Universally enthusiastic chaos-artist & storyteller

Chapter 31: Ernest Clipper

We leave Bar-B together.
The sun is out, children are playing and running around joyously.
It makes me feel annoyed even though I don’t want to feel that way. I clench my fist.
“Are you sure you wanna leave like this?” Melody sounds uncertain.
“It’s fine. Jaxogeras knows it’s not personal.”
“And Inquiry?”
I huff “With him it is personal.”
“I see.” The old lady puts a hand on my shoulder “If it helps. I don’t think he’s any happier with this arrangement than you are.”
“Then why-?”
“Because it’s the best way and you know it too. I’m sorry things turned out the way they did but now we have to deal with the cards we’re given. We can’t go back. Life’s just like that sometimes.”
Hearing it from her makes my heart feel tight. “Right.”
I still remember Delaylah in shambles right after she and Melody broke up. The accusations she flung to herself. Things she wished she did. Things she wished she didn’t.
I can’t imagine her side of the story being any different.
“How do you deal with this feeling?”
The old lady stops and sighs “Ah…I’ll…uh. Let you know when I’ve figured that out for myself.”
I hug her carefully.
She hugs back weakly “Just know what happened to Stegarius is not your fault.”
“But what if the boy is right? If he only died because I killed that horrible woman-”
Melody lets go of me and looks me in the eye “I don’t think conflicts like this are meaningfully solved by the pointing of a finger. I believe your story when you say the boy changed him, I believe Inquiry’s story when he says it was Stegarius’ idea. I think both of them sound like things Stegarius would do.”
“Leaving his family behind?”
“Doing everything in his power to help the people around him.”
I clench my fists again “But his life wasn’t something he was allowed to give up right? That’s not his place, it’s wrong.”
“Then whose place is it?”
“No one’s you’re just not supposed to die.”
“I’ll die.”
“You’re human, it’s normal for you.”
Melody scoffs indignantly “That doesn’t make it suck less you know.” she grumbles as she crosses her arms at me accusingly.
“Right…I’m sorry.”
Melody sighs “We shouldn’t be arguing about this. We should be looking at solutions “You said you had a reporter to talk to?”
“Right.” I pull a silver cigarette case from my pocket and open it to reveal a couple dozen business cards. “Where are you? You little rat- ah.” The card is black with gold lettering saying ‘Ernest Clipper, head-reporter for Unebre uncovered’
It’s been how long since I’ve seen this man last, I sure hope he hasn’t changed jobs since then. “Melody? You have a phone right?”

“Prishtoli darling how nice of you to call.”
“Uhu, look Ernest we need to talk-“
“Where are you right now?”
“Viola’s but-“
“I’ll be there in five.” The line cuts after that.
“Oh-! Uh…hmm.” I look up at Melody with a shrug “I think he’s coming this way.”
“Really? Oh, well, I need to set up the dining room for dinner soon but I think room four checked out this morning. I’ll check.
“Thank you.” I put the receiver back on the hook and get up to stretch my legs.
It feels weird to know he was here so recently.
To know that he and the boy lived here for a time.
It leaves me with a lot of strange emotions.
I’m glad Melody and him managed to find one another again before the end. But wouldn’t it have been better if he managed to stick around for longer?
He wouldn’t stay, even for the love of his life?
“Prishtoli! I am so ecstatic you called!” Mister Clipper practically falls through the door and jumps towards me as if he’s trying to keep me from running away. “I was so worried for you when you were gone. And not just me of course, your fans were too. Just what happened? You’ve been keeping very coy about it.”
I’m starting to remember why I dislike being around this man. “Miss Violet is checking for a room for us. Please be patient until then.”
“You’re a professional like always.” His eyes practically sparkle in my direction “But for the sake of my pounding heart, you are okay now?”
“I…I’m alive-”
“Oh…he’s already here?” Melody asks pointing at the reporter.
Unfortunately “Uh huh.”
“Well room four just left but-”
“Splendid, lead the way.” Mister Clipper jumps from his seat and to the stairs, Melody looks at me and asks softly “Do you need me to come along?”
“If you can spare the time it would be very much appreciated.”
She nods understandingly “I’ll get the sign.”

“Apologies for the room. I haven’t had the time to clean it yet.” Melody scuttles to the window and opens it up to get rid of the smell of humans.
“Don’t worry about it miss…” Mister Clipper leads.
“Viola, I’m the owner of the establishment.”
“She’s also a dear friend of mine and will stay here for moral support.”
“Sounds like there’s a tough story to tell?”
“Splendid! I mean not that it happened but uh-I’m ready when you are.”
I take a deep breath.
Think back…
“It was a normal evening like any other. I’d finished the set for the evening and I was doing the usuals when Phillis, my manager, knocked on the door. She told me there was a guest for me. I don’t usually get guests, at least not from anyone who’s not a nosy reporter.
The guest in question was a woman with a short stocky build and mouse grey hair despite looking pretty young otherwise. She didn’t introduce herself or explain to me what I owed the honour. Instead, she gave me a piece of paper telling me it should mean something to me.
I opened the paper and felt sick to my stomach at the sight of a doll’s heart laid out in pencil. Now, for context, most dolls never see a doll’s heart in their lives we just…know when we see one. It’s an instinct that’s hard to describe.”
The reporter hums along as he writes things down. I’m almost anxious for him to make a quip or comment but he just…pays attention.
And it’s stressing me out.
“What happened next?”
“I was confused of course. So I asked a bunch of questions but she wouldn’t answer any of them. Imploring me to come with her. Promising she’d be able to explain everything if I just followed her.” I chuckle painfully “As a doll I didn’t expect to be in danger. I’m a pretty tough lady.”
“I’ll say.” Ernest concurs.
That makes me smile just a little. But then my eyes cast down again. “So I followed her. She wouldn’t tell me where we were going of course but there’s this door in the channel and she led me down this ladder and into these tunnels and as we entered the dark I started to feel uncomfortable. Like something’s wrong. Like I might be in danger after all. And then everything stopped.” I feel sick. I reach out for Melody’s wrinkled hand and hold it like a lifeline keeping me in the present.
“Stopped?” Ernest pulls up an eyebrow “What do you mean by that.”
“Like I’m no longer there. I don’t see anything, don’t hear anything I’m just…gone.”
“But how?”
“I don’t know how!” I snap “There’s some machine and it knocked me out and by the time I woke up again I was in a cage. Locked away like some circus animal or exotic pet. The woman was there. I asked her what’s the meaning of this. What she’d done to me and she told me I have to do something for her.” I huff indignantly “Like it’s the done thing to kidnap someone and then ask for a favour!?”
Melody squeezes my hand. I smile at her with little conviction.
“What was the favour?”
“She wanted me to open up my chest, expose my heart, she wanted to take it-” I look down at my chest, my hands hovering over the fabric of my blouse protectively. “It’s only then that I saw what they had done to me. The gashes and the scratches underlying the torn fabric of my dress. She’d tried to break me, using force to get to my heart. And now that that failed she decided to ask expecting me to say yes for some reason.” I let go of Melody’s hand, she reaches out but I ball my fist, anger rising inside of me. “The woman was crazy, of this I am certain.”
“But then you escaped?”
I chuckle dryly “I wish. The cage was tough, much tougher than anything I could break on my own. Believe me, I tried. For two weeks I was in that thing, off most of the time, sometimes ‘activated’ in an attempt to talk me into complying again. Each time I checked my body for scratches and scrapes as they grew from my chest to my back and steadily grew deeper.”
“That’s awful.”
“I tried to talk them into letting me go but to them, there were only two ways this went down. Either one day they’d break through my wooden exterior through this arduous grinding down of my body, or I’d grow so tired of waiting for the inevitable to finally happen I’d give up for myself.” I want to cry.
Mister Clipper looks shocked, his mouth hanging open slightly, his eyes big, flitting around the room uncertain where to look “I…I don’t know what to say to that.”
I huff “That’s okay. I…got rescued. One of my older siblings, a man by the name of Stegarius busted his way into the den and killed the alchemist who captured me before releasing me from my cage. I’d never seen him that… angry, it scared me to see him like that but I know him. I know he did it out of protection because he saw it as the only way to free me.
But he knew that what he’d done was a crime. A doll has never been arrested for murder before. The reason why being…” I leave a meaningful pause “The punishment is death and we take care of such matters ourselves.” I wrap some hair around my finger and keep my eyes on the old lady.
No one speaks.
Outside the wind howls, blowing leaves to and fro.
I wish I could go back to the club already.
I’d put on something nice, and write a song to get these feelings out.
Something in the old language, something for me.
And then I’d sing it to myself.
And I’d feel better.
“Did you kill him?” Mister Clipper’s words feel like a dagger in the temple.
I remind myself to control my voice.
This is all part of the plan.
Keep calm.
“He killed himself, I couldn’t have forced him to open up that door as much as that alchemist couldn’t force me. But he knew the rules as well as I did.
He opened the door, I pulled out his heart with these two hands and that was that.”
“But he rescued you!” The man retaliates indignantly.
“Yes, I know, I am painfully aware the only reason I’m sitting here now is because he made the ultimate sacrifice. I pleaded with him, begged him to just hide the body and leave. Fake suicide or an accident, anything other than killing himself. But he wouldn’t listen.” I break my voice “He didn’t want to be a murderer on the run from the authorities. Didn’t want to risk me getting falsely accused or spreading fear around dolls in general. If it weren’t me doing it he’d find someone else who would.” I let go of my hair and reach out for Melody’s hand instead. “He didn’t die unloved. We’ll be holding a ceremony in the church in three days. It’ll start at midday and last three hours after which his heart will be up for viewing at the church for seven days so the ones who live far away have time to travel here. After that, we will lay him to rest. I’d like to extend an invitation to all his family and friends. Could you add that in the article?”
“Of course but…aren’t you afraid you might attract the wrong kind of attention?”
I shrug “The man touched many lives and I wouldn’t know all of them I would feel bad if people who wished to didn’t get to say goodbye.
I don’t think the alchemists would dare turn up when we’re all together.
If people turn up to protest the death of a hero or the execution of a murderer outside the law let them. The public is allowed their opinion, but this is doll culture. I’m not happy about it but I’m not apologising for it either.” I get up “But that’s the story, any questions?”
“You said ‘You take care of these matters yourself’, does that mean other dolls died this way?”
“I couldn’t say, this is the first funeral I’ve been invited to, but these are siblings I haven’t seen in decades and they might as well be dead. Anything else?”
The man looks at me quietly for a couple of seconds.
“Then I think we’re done here. Thank you for your interest, I look forward to reading your piece.” I get up and signal to the door.
“Yes uh, thank you for your time.”
As the door closes I get up, walk to the window and just stare outside for a bit.
“You did well.” Melody reminds me.
“Thanks. now let’s just hope the kid doesn’t screw it up.”

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