Amanda Invades the Museum

by Michael J. DeLuca

By a first super­hu­man feat of flight, Aman­da scaled the hill­top defens­es of an open-air doll muse­um which focused on depict­ing in minia­ture the sev­er­al cen­turies between the colo­nial era and the indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion.

Built on the ruins of a civ­il war era fort, the muse­um took a pen­tag­o­nal shape. A cob­bled stone walk­way pro­ceed­ed along what had been the ram­parts, pro­tect­ed from a sharp drop on either side by iron rail­ing. The har­bor stretched into dark­ness below, dust­ed sil­ver. In the dis­play cas­es recessed in the floor on either side of the walk­way were the ball­rooms, par­lors, the­atres, suites, lodges, cab­ins, and long­hous­es of the dolls. As Aman­da walked along the cob­bled cause­way, crouch­ing to study details of tiny par­lor scenes, the diver­si­ty of sets soon made it clear she could per­form any num­ber of peri­od dra­mas, as well as mas­quer­ades, time-trav­el epics, fairy inter­ven­tions, or rev­e­la­to­ry psy­chic journeys. 

It was very ear­ly on a week­end, long before the staff arrived or even the sun. Her breath cloud­ed in the moon­lit cold. She broke into some cas­es and began rear­rang­ing the dolls. 

In the mid-nine­teenth-cen­tu­ry sec­tion, Aman­da pushed her arms and head between the bars of the rail­ing to place two doll chil­dren prone on the floor of the orches­tra pit at a minia­ture Sym­pho­ny Hall. The seats were packed full of over­dressed, shad­owy, whis­per­ing fig­ures. At the podi­um, she posed a man who’d recent­ly been wav­ing a sig­nal lamp at a train depot. 

“We must oper­ate, with respect to life and exis­tence, as though an elite crowd of sym­pho­ny enthu­si­asts were observ­ing our progress at all times,” said the signal-man. 

“Didn’t the archi­tects real­ize they had neglect­ed to include a roof?” asked Mar­garet, hold­ing hands with Blinky Jack on the floor of the pit. “What hap­pens when it rains?”

“I suppose,” ven­tured Blinky Jack, yawn­ing, “they must play only brass instru­ments and cym­bals, things imper­vi­ous to mois­ture. That’s a shame. But it is fine to be able to see the stars from indoors!”

Mar­garet iden­ti­fied for Blinky Jack the rel­e­vant con­stel­la­tions pass­ing over­head in the rapid­ly revolv­ing sky: the Horde, the Ora­cle, the Mal­let, and the girl chained to the Pega­sus. The Ora­cle, Mar­garet explained, had to reach the Mal­let and use it to break one of the links on the chain; this would enable the girl to ride the Pega­sus prop­er­ly and use the Mal­let to defend her­self against the Horde. But the whole thing was neverending.

Out­side the many entrances to the orches­tral cham­ber (in what were in fact the train depot, governor’s par­lor, and the lob­by of the Omni Hotel), dolls bat­tered them­selves against the locked doors, try­ing to break through. 

Blinky Jack attempt­ed to com­pose a song about the hero­ic exploits of the Ora­cle, using a lot of dif­fer­ent choral parts appro­pri­ate to a large hall with such won­der­ful acoustics. Mar­garet shout­ed him down, at which point the infu­ri­at­ed crowd burst in through sev­er­al of the doors at once, catch­ing up the symphony’s audi­ence in its fren­zy and con­verg­ing on the stage.

The sig­nal man raised the lamp that was attached to the end of his arm and let it swing a few times like a censer. A train passed through, enter­ing stage right, expos­ing its heav­ing flanks to the angry crowd long enough for Blinky Jack and Mar­garet to climb aboard, then belch­ing smoke as it accel­er­at­ed off, stage left.

The train was inap­pro­pri­ate­ly scaled. Aman­da left it smok­ing in the hotel lob­by and took Jack and Mar­garet north along the walk­way, around one cor­ner of the ram­part, to the 1920s Low­ell Mills. She piled the raggedy seam­stress dolls out of the way into a near­by horse-rac­ing pavil­ion, and let Blinky Jack and Mar­garet walk alone on the cat­walks among the hulk­ing black tex­tile machines, which smelled of engine oil, dust, and scorched elec­tri­cal wiring. Snow flur­ries fell inter­mit­tent­ly, big crys­talline shapes like lace doilies. 

“Spiderwebs,” said Blinky Jack. “Made by the spi­ders who run these machines in the daytime.”

“They’re not spiders,” said Mar­garet, peek­ing out the win­dows at the pile of dolls. “They’re women like me.”

“Have you noticed this place doesn’t have a ceil­ing either?”

The sig­nal man float­ed high over their heads, dan­gling aloft from his lamp, which flit­ted back and forth, puls­ing gen­tly, shak­ing him like a rhodo­den­dron leaf in win­ter. “With respect to life and existence,” he called, “ we must oper­ate as though we were pro­pelled by a set of unfath­omable machines, which are always upon the brink of slip­ping a cog or short­ing a cir­cuit, plac­ing us in inescapable danger.”

“I think, said Mar­garet, “he’s try­ing to catch a snowflake.”

“Let’s help,” said Jack. He ran about under the white-speck­led dark­ness, mak­ing the cat­walk shake.

“Stop it.”

Out­side on the race­track, the heaped seam­stress­es rose jerk­i­ly to their feet. Aman­da kicked and shook the minia­ture machines and rat­tled the win­dows of the mill. 

“It’s the Horde,” said Mar­garet. “They’ve found us again!”

“If it’s wasn’t the Horde,” said Blinky Jack, “it would be some­thing else.”

“What’s that sup­posed to mean?”

“You act like it’s you against the world. It’s not. What’s he here for?” Blinky Jack indi­cat­ed the sig­nal man. “To help you. What am I here for—decoration?”

Aman­da shat­tered a few of the win­dows and threw a seam­stress doll through one of them. The doll clipped the edge of the cat­walk and fell limply among the machines. Mar­garet screamed.

The sig­nal man’s lamp final­ly struck a falling snowflake. The mill and machines dis­ap­peared in a flash of white light, and a pow­er­ful wind lift­ed Mar­garet and Blinky Jack into the air. 

“Whoosh!” whis­pered Amanda. 

With prac­tice, she had learned how to hov­er over the tops of the cas­es, like a giant car­pen­ter bee. In this way she could avoid the rail­ing all togeth­er, trav­el­ing quick­ly from one set to the next. 

She arced across the aisle to the Boston Neck secu­ri­ty check­point on the night of the Bat­tles of Lex­ing­ton and Con­cord. Blinky Jack and Mar­garet sat in a big rus­tic bed upstairs at a snug inn, while below in the street, men in bright uni­forms stood guard with bayonets. 

Jack and Mar­garet cud­dled, because it was cold and there was nobody to light the fire. The sig­nal man had gone off somewhere. 

Jack ven­tured to peek out from under­neath the cov­ers at the sky. 

Mar­garet shrieked and pulled him back under. “You’re here to sup­port me, to shore up my weak­ness­es and give me comfort—not to take all the risks and win all the glory.”

“Then why am I the inside spoon?”

From out­side came the clang of sword against bay­o­net, the pop of gun­fire, and a steadi­ly-build­ing white roar that sound­ed like the angry mob at Sym­pho­ny Hall and the vin­dic­tive wind at the tex­tile mill put togeth­er. Plus the train.

It grew uncom­fort­ably warm under the covers. 

“What do you have that it wants?” whis­pered Blinky Jack, try­ing to shake off Margaret’s embrace as their bod­ies grew sticky with sweat. “The Horde, I mean.”

Mar­garet fought him with a growl. “Nothing!”

The blan­kets came loose, open­ing up to the sky. Aman­da had set fire to the inn. She flit­ted over it like a colos­sal ghost, warm­ing her hands and feet in the orange blaze, direct­ing the action like a con­duc­tor, glanc­ing often at the blue line in the sky where the sun would rise. In the street, a red­coat doll took the head off a deliv­ery boy.

“What’s that?” cried Jack, point­ing off across the har­bor at a point of lamp­light burn­ing in a steeple. “Do you think it could be him—the sig­nal man?”

“It must be!”

It was only a bit of paint­ed scenery. The Boston Neck dio­ra­ma end­ed at the water­line. On the oth­er side of the wall was a minia­ture Long Wharf, at the peak of the whal­ing era. Beyond that were the steep hill­side and the har­bor, sil­ver with snow. Aman­da had the sig­nal man in her paja­ma pock­et. Dawn was coming. 

The bed took flight just in time to save them from the inn’s col­lapse. Aman­da pinched out the smol­der­ing cor­ners of the quilt. She set the bed down on the deck of a whal­ing ship, left the sig­nal man doll beside it in a pile with a few oth­ers she’d col­lect­ed from the hotel lob­by and the bank, then flit­ted off to gath­er stock. 

Jack and Mar­garet sat in bed, awake and terrified.

The sig­nal man climbed to his feet and shone the lamp around the deck. A woman in a soiled ball­go­wn sat slumped against a boil­ing vat. A vari­ety of men in mis­matched suits and beat-up hats lay scat­tered in painful positions. 

At a kick from the sig­nal man, a face­less farm boy in plaid and a milk­maid in cal­i­co untan­gled them­selves from each oth­er, brush­ing off bits of straw as they but­toned their clothes. Mar­garet moved away from Blinky Jack in bed. “Who are you real­ly, sig­nal man? What are we doing here?”

“With respect to life and existence,” said the sig­nal man, “We must oper­ate as though each of us were the remains of a whale, processed and dis­trib­uted for many use­ful pur­pos­es, greas­ing the cogs of com­merce, indus­try, fash­ion, and art, but car­ry­ing the con­stant mem­o­ry of a once-beau­ti­ful soul.”

Tame har­bor waves lapped against the ship’s flanks and the pil­ings of the wharf, repro­duc­ing in minia­ture the white noise of the Horde.

“I don’t think he can help us,” said Blinky Jack. “I don’t think he wants to.”

He jumped down from the bed, ran to an over­turned bar­rel of tools—harpoons, curv­ing blub­ber knives, ham­mers and tongs—and drew out a heavy wood­en maul. The stars turned.

“Stop that,” said Mar­garet. “Put that down. I told you, you’re here as my com­pan­ion. If I want, I can flick my fin­gers and make you disappear.”

“Don’t,” said Blinky Jack. “You’ll regret it. You’ll miss me.”

The crum­pled, mis­matched men began to twitch. The lady in the ball­go­wn looked for­lorn; the sig­nal man approached her, offer­ing his hand. She accept­ed, and they danced. The farm boy went for Mar­garet. The milk­maid came for Blinky Jack.

Mar­garet got her foot tan­gled up in the blan­kets; instead of leap­ing to the deck like Blinky Jack, she fell and rolled off the side of the bed, pulling pil­lows and bed­ding on top of her. The farm boy gath­ered her up in a bundle.

The white noise of the waves inten­si­fied. The whal­ing ship rocked as the surf slapped its flanks; whiskers of foam spray reached into the rig­ging, where they dis­si­pat­ed into mist, min­gling with the snowflakes which had again begun to fall. The sig­nal man and his part­ner danced vig­or­ous­ly, caus­ing the light of the lamp to wob­ble and spin. The mis­matched men lurched to their feet, adjust­ing their bat­tered caps and bowlers and the lapels of their coats to fend off an evis­cer­at­ing wind.

Blinky Jack swung the maul, strik­ing the volup­tuous hips of the face­less milk­maid, mak­ing her fold at the waist like a rag doll and top­ple into the sea. Mar­garet was scream­ing as though with delight. He lunged with the maul like a ram, dri­ving back the near­est of the mis­matched men, hurl­ing him­self through their tot­ter­ing crowd, chas­ing the sound of her, which grew ever fainter and hard­er to dis­cern from the noise of the Horde. 

“Don’t just let him take you!” he shout­ed. “Can’t you under­stand love when you see it?”

“…flick my fingers…” came Margaret’s voice, as though from far away.

There was smoke on the wind. The city of Boston was burning. 

Blinky Jack ducked between two stum­bling pup­pet-legs and glimpsed the farm boy car­ry­ing Mar­garet towards the gang­plank. The sig­nal man swished past with his princess. The brief, wild light of his lamp illu­mi­nat­ed a sec­tion of wharf, which was crowd­ed with seam­stress­es, sailors, train engi­neers and tick­et-tak­ers, pow­der-haired judges, duelists, red­coats, min­ute­men and over­dressed sym­pho­ny enthu­si­asts. Blinky Jack struck the shins of the farm boy with his maul. Mar­garet, in her bun­dle of blan­kets, was spilled to the deck. 

He had bare­ly reached her when the sig­nal man reap­peared, his dance part­ner now dan­gling stiff from his elbow like an emp­ty valise, the lamp steadi­ly shin­ing. “With respect to life and existence,” he said, “we must operate—”

Blinky Jack swung the maul at the lamp.

“Don’t!” cried Mar­garet, too late.

The lamp explod­ed. Every­thing went dark. 

Amanda’s giant fin­gers pinched the back of Margaret’s night­gown and hoist­ed her out of the dio­ra­ma. She was cry­ing with the dawn in her eyes, hold­ing up a small, limp form. “What do you think you’ve been doing? Look! Look what’s hap­pened to Jack.”

Now Mar­garet was cry­ing too, con­ceal­ing her face in her sleeve.

“What did you think was going to happen?” Aman­da shout­ed. “You didn’t believe there was a Pega­sus. You pre­tend­ed it was stars. Now—” Her voice caught. She shook a long­shore­man out of his coat and blew her nose. “Well? You want­ed this. Take it. Inde­pen­dence. Pow­er. You want­ed to be the cen­ter of things. Go ahead, take it.” Aman­da grasped Blinky Jack’s corpse by one foot, spun him off into the dawn, and shoved the bloody maul into Margaret’s hands. 

For the first time, Mar­garet was high enough that she could see over the walls of the dio­ra­ma and across the snowy bay. She felt the high wind. 

The white noise hadn’t been made by waves slap­ping the hull of the whal­ing ship, nor by the crack­ling fire in the Boston Neck dio­ra­ma, nor the shud­der­ing tex­tile machines, nor the inap­pro­pri­ate­ly-scaled train, nor even the over­dressed orches­tra crowd. A snowflake struck her, large, lacy, and wet.

The sun was shin­ing on the hill; soon it would rise enough to light the bay. 

“What did you do to it, any­way, to make it so mad?” asked Mar­garet. “The Horde.”

“Same as you did, darling.”

It approached out of the East, rid­ing the wind, trum­pets crackling. 

Amanda’s eyes glazed and her hand fell open, drop­ping Mar­garet through the frigid, snow-filled air, towards the rip­pling glass waters of the harbor. 

Mar­garet, grip­ping the ham­mer, took flight, leav­ing the city burning.

Michael J. DeLu­ca’s inter­nal land­scape is per­haps best approx­i­mat­ed by a lit­er­al inter­pre­ta­tion of Cas­par David Friedrich’s Wan­der­er above the Sea of Fog. He attend­ed the Odyssey work­shop in 2005, is a mem­ber of the Home­less Moon writ­er­s’ cabal, and his fic­tion has fea­tured in Apex, Inter­fic­tions, Beneath Cease­less Skies and Onirismes. Two of his first efforts at trans­la­tion appear in Three Mes­sages and a Warn­ing: Con­tem­po­rary Mex­i­can Short Sto­ries of the Fan­tas­tic. Read his blog at

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