Amanda Invades the Museum

by Michael J. DeLuca
(USA)

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 http://mossyskull.com.


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