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Matters of the Heart
The man extinguished the lights on the lower level of his studio as he exited the far door. An intense blackness sank like a heavy sediment to every corner, every nook and cranny that was available, in order to escape the small eerie wash from the colored lights high above.
The faint tide of soft greens, harsh reds, and cold blues vaguely illuminated the table from which the man had been working. It was a strange piece of décor, as if some madman commissioned the fusion of a hospital operation table riddled with none too subtle gothic architectural themes.
A stainless steel table top was held aloft by grotesque black adamantine legs featuring gruesome carvings of
creation and sacrifice. Leering faces and demons from hell emerged, reaching, from the very grain, threatening to carry you back to the infinite land of pain from whence the ventured. The adornments wrapped around the wood until stopping abruptly at the point where immaculate clawed appendages poured forth, wrapping their sickle like claws in and around human skulls, still riddled with layers of rotting flesh.
Atop the table sat a stand and an assortment of tools and objects surrounded it. In comparison to the rest of the darkly featured space it was quite simple. A block of wood had been used as a base, roughly hewn from oak and sloppily stained a rich brandy color, and from what was undoubtedly the top sprang a row of what looked to be individual hangman's noose.
In this part of the room the light barely touched the gleaming table top, but a few slivers had combined into one ray just large enough to be able to see some of the things hanging from the multi-prong stand. Puppets, but not the ugly imitations of men and women used in sweet children's plays, manikins whose beauty rivaled the most illustrious human beings on earth.
A particular one stood out, hanging from the center pedestal, arms attached to strings that led to a small cross shaped instrument used to control her actions. Forever seventeen she had the most delicate features, a small perfect nose framed by eyes that would have been gorgeous to behold had they been open, high cheek bones flushed a warm strawberry color, voluptuous crimson lips parted slightly as if ready to take a long awaited gulp of icy air, and long flowing layers of hair the color of bone, stained with a single red slash, cascaded around her limp figure. She was dressed in a blood colored gown fashioned after a Victorian period dress cut in the French style. It was sown masterfully with white jewels that gleamed in the half-light like shards of a diamond star. Her body hovered, as if emulating the scene of an angel rising from the abyss, an inch from the tabletop, the
womanly figure looking disgustingly out of place in this crypt of false life.
There was a strange hum in the air, an almost palpable anticipation, and suddenly as if waking from a dream the eyes of the fragile girl fluttered open. Her bright red eyes, continuing to bat for an almost ridiculous amount of time, testing the strange new sensation.
The eyes roved around taking in the alien environment until realizing that the body they were attached to was not breathing. The body gasped, jerking suddenly, violently, and gulping in air. After calming, and further fighting back the barrage of images clouding her mind, she began to study her surroundings with more scrutiny than before. Something's missing I feel . . . . . empty? Defiantly. Where am I? Don't know. Who am I? Don't know. What's my purpose? Don't know. What am I? Don't know!
A harsh glare caught her eye as she rotated her head. Scissors, lying hastily discarded beside her. She had a sudden, desperate urge to be free and lunged forward suddenly, finding too much surprise and bereavement, that she was restrained considerably by the strings. Reaching slowly, deliberately, painfully outward she was able to finally grasp the cool handles of the scissors, and turn them, sharp ends facing toward her. She opened the blades and positioned the string attached to her left shoulder in the middle. In one quick movement she snapped the razor edges together severing the line. The entire left side of her body sagged, her right shoulder still
suspended above. She had barely managed to clutch freedom as it jerked horribly heavy away from her hand after believing the irreproachable thought to only cut one chain at a time, but was able to again position the scissors in a manner fit to downcast her suffrage of suspension.
Falling sickeningly fast and slamming the table top with a metallic chink seemed to be the final act of undoing the suspense in the air. Now that she could fully observe the room it didn't seem so foreboding, the small amount of light only revealed the even smaller amount of furniture kept in the space which was commissioned in the same dark style. The only thing that really scared her now was the high ceilings from which massive amounts of rope congealed, heading in obscure directions. One could never know what was hiding aloft, biding its time for ambush. She crept slowly forward to the knife's edge of the table a saw the insurmountable space between her and the black floor below.
The hollow feeling in her chest pushed her on, willing her to find a way down, but she quickly came to realize that making her way through the maze of dangerous woodcarving detritus was a dangerous chore. Coming to the opposite end of the luminous surface she gazed down into more emptiness trying to see if there was
something she could jump onto to cushion- she jerked back hard having seen something move below and her dress caught on the razor edge of an x-acto knife, in the process of jerking the fabric from its deathtrap she
tumbled over the lip of the table free-falling into empty air.
The waste basket tipped, splashing it various contents onto the dark floor. Paper, scraps of fabric, and wood shavings where the things that had saved her from a shattering fall. She laid there stunned, but then remembered the scuttling movement she had observed from above and fear began to sink its icy claws deep within her.
A sharp pain met her hasty slide backward toward the point where one of the monstrous claws seeped into the floor. Whipping her body around she saw that she had run into the splintered remains of another
marionette- that - that- LOOKED LIKE HER! She had come face to face with the failed attempts at creating the beautiful creature that was her! If screaming where possible at that moment the rafters of that deep room would have rung with the horrid sound of her mangled voice.
But she couldn't scream, not when curiosity overwhelmed, and the emptiness throbbed unbearably. She slid foreword, her gown making the soft serene sound of calm waves on the beach as she moved. Her hand crept tentatively toward the shattered figure of herself and she softly caressed the side of its battered face, hoping that this poor thing had not had to feel real pain.
Something lying behind the sorry thing caught her attention and immediately when her eyes locked on the object the emptiness began to stab immense pain throughout her entire body. It was a simple thing, made from the carved white wood of a willow tree with a very small ruby in the center. Heart.
The word flitted through her mind but she had no clue what it meant. Clutching her chest she found a kind of indent toward the middle of her left breast and hooking her finger under a slight lip she pulled firmly outward. It was a sort of compartment, an empty one, but still- she immediately understood and reaching gingerly over the limp figure of her other self she gripped the small wooden object with a familiarity that was uncanny to her.
It fit perfectly sliding into the empty space suspended by small metal bars that seemed to run throughout her body. She didn't feel any different! What was wrong? The door, she hadn't closed the door to her heart. Almost reluctantly she slid the door into place and it made an almost pleasing wooden click if it hadn't been for the
overwhelming sense of horror growing inside of her.
Her wooden frame snapped back savagely, the back arching almost to the breaking point and her body was sent into paroxysms of agony. She could feel the metal bars throughout her form expanding, changing from iron to flesh, sending tendrils of veins shooting into emptiness. Muscles and tendons wove into the fabric of her being and thin layers of seamless wood peeled from her face and arms as flesh replaced the unneeded covering.
She began to panic as a new feeling pored forth from the point where her newfound heart was placed. Warmth spread throughout her veins and arteries, an elixir of pure fire that pulsed rapidly, hungrily, consuming her in heat. After coming to terms with this new sensation she quite liked the feeling of the hot blood running rapidly in and out of the beating monster that was her heart.
She softly touched the perfect snow-white skin of her arms and moved slowly to her face reveling in the sensual softness. Standing she felt the silkiness of her dress washing over her athletic form and begun to run handfuls of the fabric between her fingers laughing joyously to herself.
Come! Come with us you must hurry, you have to hide yourself! A thousand voices converged on her mind making her jerk around in circles trying to pinpoint the origin of the strange musical voices. They were
everywhere and nowhere! Tearing down the walls of her mind, but not truly vibrations of sound traveling through the fabric of space and time.
She gasped as thirty or more manikins crawled from every secluded corner of the room, some even
dropping from above, landing heavily not seeming to be fazed after falling from such a great height. They scrambled toward her, always repeating their warning and looking around with suspicious dread. Their cold wooden hands grasped her, urging her to come with them. Come! Come with us you must hurry, you have to hide yourself! They wore a variety of costumes, all brightly colored shades of yellow, green, or pink and flowing like watered silk. But strangely none of them were flesh and blood like her; they were all still trapped inside their fragile wooden carcasses. She thought then that she was one of a kind, that she alone possessed a heart. Sadness crept into her mind, but later she wished desperately that she had been the only one.
"My darlings, my sweet little pets, step away from the poor girl before you frighten her. She has had quite an ordeal!" a beautiful woman stepped forward with the grace of a queen, her voice layered with all things sweet, but deep within the folds of joy an unimaginable sadness dripped forth like an icy poison.
Her gown made the clothes worn by those around her look like rags on a beggar. Deep blue waves of
fabric fell gracefully from her figure covering the floor around her in a pillar of rich cloth. Her dress too was sown with gems, a mix of pure diamonds and burning sapphires.
The girls eyes traveled to the face which was mostly covered by an extraordinary mask the same color as her dress but shot through with deep gold. Delicate patters adorned the bulk of the covering, spiraling into
eternity until halted suddenly by the edge of the mask.
Her high cheek bones blushed a soft blueberry, the familiar curve of her lips stained the color of azure, hair pure white, and oceanic eyes studded with a supernova of gold flecks that shined with intelligence, and again, a deep haunting sadness.
The woman rushed toward the girl, taking her in her arms in a crushing embrace and planting a light kiss on her cheek she whispered so that only the girl could hear; "I have missed you so Valendrain my darling!"
puling away she let her hand linger on the confused girls cheek.
"What-who are you?" she mumbled swaying slightly from shock. The name that the woman had spoken sounded familiar, but it seamed strange that she would address her with a name that was clearly not her own.
"Of course! You do not remember, how could I ever forget. All must be explained, but not here. We have to escape before HE comes back. Come fallow me.
"No! No I will not fallow you until you explain everything."
"Dear, we haven't time you must hurry before-"
"I said no." Valendrain clenched her fists roughly pushing the strange woman from her.
"I feared this would happen," she said with a deep mournful sigh. "Gabriel, come here, its time that you and Valendrain be reunited." The crowd of puppets parted slowly as the first male manikin that the girl had seen came forth, his head downcast.
Something strange happened to Valendrain the moment she saw him. Her heart gave a wicked jolt and something tried to surface from a tightly locked part of her mind. The boy was perfect, eternally seventeen like her his hair the same white as all the others but with a single red slash. His clothes in the same style as hers, though a little dusty from being subjected to hiding in the dark confines of this prison. As he looked up slowly his crimson eyes locked with her and his body gave a jolt. Standing taller than before he walked to her quickly grasping her hands with his own, which were the only others of flesh and blood in this place.
They were made for each other. That much they knew, and as they stood gazing into one another's souls they felt a sudden strange sense of completion.
"We're staying." Gabriel said not turning toward the woman he was addressing.
"You heard me. You have not found a way out because you and the others cower and skulk in the
shadows, not making decisions, waiting for fate to decide your future. We fill triumph where you have failed."
"You are signing your death warrants! Please I lost both of you once and I do not want to- "
HE IS COMING. . . the voices of the others screamed suddenly into the emptiness. WE MUST ESCAPE. HIDE HIDE HIDE, THE EVIL ONE IS COMING, THE ONE WHO DID THIS TO US! The activity in the room was suddenly frantic. Every one scattered maniacally in all directions looking for a place to hide.
The door across the room was wrenched open violently as if the man entering knew somehow that his creations were escaping. He roared when he saw the couple standing in the middle of room not able to react fast enough.
In four giant steps he was upon them, gripping both by the middle and slamming them both to the shiny tabletop. Giving a shrill whistle he continued to look not at the girl but at her companion.
"I killed you once Gabriel do I have to do it again?" there were sharp scuttling noises from below and wooden arms began to sprout over the lip of the table. The man gave a harsh laugh "I don't believe that you've had the opportunity to meet yourselves." The shattered remains of the two manikins failed attempts crawled painfully across the table top toward the man and his captors. "if you can belive it they hold quite a grudge to toward their replacements, if I let them they'd tear you apart in their quest to become you! I find it quite
interesting to watch the way they behave" the ugly manikins circled around but did not advance until the
command was given "Hold her, and bind him!"
They exploded toward the two, his doubles picking up the string and fishing wire that littered the table and binding his hands and legs, pulling him roughly into a streamline position, and hers grabbing roughly at her arms holding her back form aiding her soul mate. The man cackled again and lifted the serrated edge of the knife from the table. Arching it back suddenly and then trusting it violently into the small helpless manikin strapped to the tabletop. He screamed in agony but his cry was cut short as the disgusting puppets put their hands
roughly over his face.
"NO!" Valendrain lunged almost breaking away from her captors but they held firm.
She watched as the knife ripped open the chest of her lover and the evil man pulled the small bloody lump from the broken body. As his heart came forth his skin metamorphosed back into smooth wood, the bloody
beating heart turned from flesh to wood the ruby gleaming out from the stained wood.
As if in a final act of horror he crushed the wooden heart throwing the pieces to the floor of hell. He turned slightly toward Valendrain; "your turn my pet."
She continued to scream, "NO, NO, NO!" but her doppelgangers paid no head to her cries of agony. She was strapped to the tabletop, her hair billowing out around her framing her face with snow, all except for the one crimson streak.
He placed the tip of the knife to her chest, dimpling the flesh of her left breast. Gasping between her heaving sobs she was able to say at last
"Why. . . . WHY. . . . WHY!" He stopped in the act of raising the knife.
"You were once my daughter." She had not expected that. "Gabriel was your fiancé."
"No, why can't I remember any of this. It can't be true! It can't." he heaved a deep mournful sigh.
"Yes-it is. I killed you. It is complicated. You need not know."
"Tell me," she whispered the words but he flinched as if she had struck him.
"For years and years, since before you were born I was a puppet maker. Far and wide people sought after my skill because of how lifelike my manikin craft had become. I began to experiment with ways to make my puppets alive so that I could possibly keep a few a servants to aid me in my work. I cut myself from our family, spending all my time in the workshop. I had started to resurrect, if you will, demons from hell and placing them in the puppets. Always being careful never to give them a free will of their own, and that's when it happened. In the afternoon of a cold autumn day I needed to go to the hardware store to refurbish my woodworking supplies. It was cold, and immediately upon entering the car I turned the heat up to full blast. I was not paying attention and backing out of the drive way rather hastier than usual I ran over the neighbor's small son who had been
riding his bike carelessly down the center of the street. I hoisted his barely breathing body from the ground and carried him in to the workshop. I had a sudden selfish idea, if I had resurrected demons, why not save the soul of this poor boy. I encased his soul in a sapphire and set the glowing gem into a small heart shaped piece of wood. After fashioning a manikin after the boys appearance I placed the heart in his chest, and much to my surprise he came alive. It seemed that enclosing his spirit in the gem had somehow fused life into the wood. He was a great companion and understood why I never told anyone about his untimely death for fear of arrest. That was when Gabriel entered the picture. You had always been the perfect daughter, did everything I said, and I loved you dearly. You announced that you were to soon be married and that you would be leaving. I would not have it! You were mine, and that damn boy was far to nosy. He began to snoop, trying to find out why I always was in this workshop ding secret work. Gabriel stole the key and stumbled upon my notes and the manikin of the boy. He misunderstood and destroyed my life's work, and furthermore planned with you to run away convincing you that I was evil. I found the destroyed workshop and learned of your attempt at escape. Regretfully I snapped. I
murdered him first plunging the knife into his young chest. I ripped his heart out and in a small act of regret saved his soul. Unfortunately you walked in and would not stop screaming. So I killed you to, and then your poor mother. Anyone who came to close to finding out the secret of my work was illiminated. But I always saved their souls. After the destruction of the small boy and his sapphire heart I vowed to never make any of my puppets live again, for if I never gave any of you hearts you could not possibly break mine. In a small moment of immense grief I fashioned you and Gabriel hearts, and now see where it has led us! back to where we started!"
The man stood suddenly, before the girl could adequately react and digest the information. He raised the knife In a hard wicked arc and brought it down, plunging the cold steal deep into her chest.
"This must be done Valendrain."
In the moments following the images of her former life burst through the iron walls that her mind had set up to keep her from the pain. The feel of the knife in her body brought back every thought, and most vividly the first time she was murdered. As she recalled these things the heart in her chest began to splinter. As the man reached inside of her and pulled out her broken heart she screamed one word that almost killed the man as
effectively as a knife.
"PAPPA" The man seemed to wake from a long stupor.
"Oh my God," he dropped the splintered remains of the heart its ruby rolling across the floor and coming to rest at the foot of the blue dressed woman who was once the girls mother. She picked it up, a tear sliding from underneath her mask as she baked once more into the deepest shadows of the room. "I will fix this!" he swept the hideous manikins from the table and picked up a needle and thread trying in vain to sow the gaping bloody hole that ripped across the girl's now wooden chest. He hung the pair of lovers side by side on the rack, back where they had started. His body was racked by sobs as he stumbled across the room a roar escaping from his heaving body. Gabriel and Valendrain looked toward each other from their places above the table top, and Gabriel whispered to her softly all memories draining form his mind for the last time.
"Who are you?" A tear now slid down her cheek as the memories of her short lives flitted away form her, but with her last breath she said;
"I'm sorry- know that I love you." Her beautiful eyes closed for the last time and with her last thought she mused peacefully to herself. We don't realize just how important a heart is until we have to earn one ourselves. Thus, the matters of the heart should be left to the possessor of this thing, this missing piece to the final ultimatum that determines the choices made toward your eventual downfall, or the absolute resurrection of who you are meant to become. Not to those, who even out of love, wish to control the power of the heart for themselves.