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Chapter 1:- The Toymaker's Workshop
The old church crouched on the corner, ignored. Dawn light crept into the chapel, filtering through dozens of tiny panes of stained glass. The workshop was once a nave, but the only worship now was that of the bald old man hunched over the form of a young lady on a table. There was a scraping as he worked the body, lovingly fitting together joints made of wood, plastic, and ceramic. The curves of the manikin took shape under his thin, gnarled hands. He slid his callused fingers along a newly-smoothed arm and grinned, showing dozens of silver-capped peg teeth.

"Soon...soon we shall see how well put together you are...my pretty little manikin...soon we shall see you dance."

The figure lay unmoving as he threaded golden wire into her scalp in the semblance of hair. Her glass eyes, tinted a misty emerald, stared vacantly at one of hundreds of mirrors hung on the walls.

The doll stirred, ever so slightly. Wooden lids blinked. The bare ceramic breast shuddered, trying to draw breath. The old man cocked his head to the side at the unexpected movement. “Oh, dear," he croaked, blinking over his mirrored shades. “So anxious. Wait a while, my pretty. You aren't finished yet. Go back to sleep, little dolly, and let Mr. Silver finish his work.”

He began to hum faintly, remembering a tune he'd heard a long time ago. He put words to the melody.

Don't you cry
Go to sleep my little baby
When you wake
You shall have
All the pretty little horses

Dapples and Grays
Pintos and Bays
Coach and six pretty little horses.

Way down yonder
In the meadow
Poor little baby cries for Mama
while birds and butterflies
Peck out her little eyes
Poor little baby crying Mama

Don't you cry
Go to sleep my little baby
When you wake
You shall have
All the pretty little horses...”

The figure fell silent, soothed by the toymaker's song. Mr. Silver continued to hum as he worked. Finishing with the hair, he caressed the bare chest of the doll, one long nail finding a small, cunning clasp and giving it a gentle flick. The manikin's perfect breast swung out, revealing a small hollow where a living person"s heart would be. He reached up to the wall.

Hundreds of mirrors reflected his wrinkled hand. Circles, ovals, rectangles, octagons, and triangles reflected the metal bench, the life-sized poppet, and old Mr. Silver. Thin fingers fluttered, hesitated, then plucked one, a pretty oval framed in pewter with silver filigree. He gazed at it a moment in delight, then scuttled to a crate at one end of the table and opened it. A whimper drifted into the air.

Shhh...it's all right, dear. I just need to borrow this from you,” the old man whispered to the contents of the box, darting a gnarled hand in. The whimpering continued as the box rocked, the contents trying to escape.

Mr. Silver's fingers withdrew, bearing a lock of hair and a piece of shadow. Humming happily, he dropped the lid on the crate and returned to work. With infinite care, he wove the lock of golden hair and the ribbon of shadow around the mirror. He smiled his peg-toothed grin, cupped the mirror in his hands, and blew gently on the surface. The mirror clouded briefly. A faint face, identical to the porcelain visage of the doll, formed in the fog. He set the mirror delicately into the hollow, closed it, and leaned close to whisper something, his breath misting the pristine surface.

The manikin's body began to change. Wood and ceramic faded into soft flesh, golden wires became flowing hair, green glass eyes blinked open, wet, aware. Where there once was a manikin now lay a young woman. Mr. Silver's hands flutters together, clasping in excitement. "We're ready now, my dear.” he said with parental glee. “Take your first breath for me, won't you?”

The doll stirred, her throat softening as the wood and ceramic became tissue. Her chest expanded. She gasped slightly as dreams, memories, and longings flowed into her mind. A snowball fight with her sister as a child, a day in autumn spent watching the red and gold leaves of the great oak near her house fall, the tenderness of her first kiss...she felt hard, unyielding metal beneath her back, a coldness which crept into bare flesh and chilled to the bone. She tried to lift her arms, but they were so heavy...

Relax, Alice,” the old man said. He stood hunched over her, far too close to be comforting to a naked woman, and wrung his thin, wiry hands together in some sort of anticipation. His bobbing bald head and peg-toothed grin made shivers of disgust roll down her body. Two silvered lenses reflected her nakedness back at her. The old man was dressed in an immaculate gray suit several decades out of style and a bright green bowtie. His coat shimmered faintly in the light of a dozen stained-glass windows. She tried to scream, but she could not remember how, and the only sound she made was the gasp of a drowning woman, air catching in her throat.

Relax, my little dolly. No harm will come to you.” The toymaker crooned as he watched her delicious struggle. “No harm...You are simply having a nightmare. Just let the life come to your limbs slowly, naturally.” She wanted to hide, to scream, to run away, to hit him, but it was an effort just to breathe. Her lungs felt painfully hollow, as if all the wind had been knocked out of her and her chest was wrapped in wood

Try to move, dear,” He encouraged. “Sit up slowly. I'll get us something to eat.”

He skittered off to the side of the workshop, and Alice managed to lift herself to her elbows. She was able to see the whole place for the first time. The former church was filled with junk, bric-a-brac, and bodies. A dozen bodies in various state of dismemberment flopped along the walls or stood in various poses. Most were missing arms, legs, heads, or even whole torsos, a silent parade of deformed cripples. Every one was artificial--wooden, plastic, ceramic and cloth. Along the walls were hundreds and hundreds of mirrors, reflecting everything in the room a thousand times over in demented kaleidoscope patterns. Again she tried to scream, and again all that came out was a choked gurgle. Tears curled down her face as she drew her knees up to cover herself.

"Oh, dear," The toymaker muttered as he rummaged through a cupboard. "We seem to be out of marmalade. I suppose butter will have to do." He puttered around the crude kitchen area. The smell of toasting bread filled the chapel, adding to the scents of sawdust and mildew. "Sorry about the mess...I don't receive many visitors." A far-off siren wailed down a distant street.

She felt her limbs begin to work. Pins and needles filled her arms and legs, but that was better than the numbness. She slid off the metal bench, scratched her hip on the metal. Her legs trembled, held for an instant...then she collapsed. Alice looked for a door, but saw only the tangle of manikin bodies and mirrors. She reached for an arm, and pried a small ring of metal from it. It was a weapon, perhaps. It was better than nothing. “Huu...” she cooed, finding her voice at last.

Mr. Silver waddled back towards the steel table, bearing a tray. That horrible peg-toothed smile spread across his face as he watched her moving around. "Good, good...everything seems to be working. Here. You must be hungry. Have some toast." He set the tray down in front of her. She eyed the neatly stacked tray of buttery toast. The smell wafted through the chapel to heaven. Her stomach gurgled, but she remained unmoving.

"I bet you're cold, as well. Let me fetch you some clothes." He scuttled off to a chest of drawers, and rummaged around for a little while, withdrawing a pair of jeans, a tee-shirt, undergarments, and a pair of shoes. The girl poked at the toast, wondering if it was safe, before asking the only questions on her mind.

“Huu...who are you?” she squeaked. “What are you going to do to me?”

Mr. Silver steepled his long fingers over his pointed nose and giggled. "Perhaps I am a subconscious manifestation of your grandfather, whom you knew only briefly before he died. Perhaps I'm your father, made twisted by your repressed anger for him never being there when you needed him and the danger his line of work puts him in.” Gnarled talons snatched at the air. “Or perhaps I'm just Mr. Silver, the crazy old man in the church on the street." He set the pile of clothes next to the tray. "It doesn't matter much...you'll most likely forget this nightmare as soon as you wake up, and you'd be better off for it. Don't worry your pretty little head about it. Oh, and before you try anything stupid, the door is barred.” Alice blinked. The old man's rambling tone hadn't changed. She flinched away from the mirrored shades that were suddenly too close to her face. “You'd never get it open fast enough."

Alice shivered at the implied threat, but if this was a dream, what was it for? “Kindly stay out of my head, Mr. Silver. I don't like you being in there.” She tried to dress herself and eat at the same time, juggling underwear with buttered toast while trying to alter things with her mind. Couldn't you do that, if you realized you were dreaming? Couldn't you change the reality around you? But no matter what she pictured, she couldn't will herself away from that old church, nor escape the old man with thought alone.

The toast, however, was warm, buttery, and crispy. She wolfed it down as if it were the first meal she had ever had. The clothes warmed her, their softness pleasant in a way the table wasn't. They fit perfectly, the sensation was so familiar to her, and yet it was all so new at the same time. Now that she was clothed and fed, the old man was less like an evil old crow and more like an expectant parent getting his child ready for her first day at school. She wiped the tears from her eyes.

Mr. Silver turned back and lurched towards the metal altar. "There now. Don't you feel better?" He stopped, head cocked, and looked her over. "Look at you. So perfect...better than I ever expected. You truly are a marvel. Now, I am afraid it is time for you to return to the deep parts of sleep. When you wake up, put this whole crazy nightmare out of your mind." He waved a hand. It began to grow dark, colors and reflections and the old man fading away as her eye drooped. She felt her body relax, and lay down on the metal table again. Within moments, she drifted into a dreamless enchanted slumber.

Mr. Silver, satisfied with his task, skittered back to the wall of mirrors. He passed by the box, which whimpered again. He ignored the pitiful sound, and stood before a certain glass. He licked his lips, laid one thin finger on it, and slid it down the side, enjoying the cool slickness against his skin. A vague mist formed in the mirror's reflection, coalescing into a face. Mr. Silver smiled. "Your order is ready, lord. You may make pick it up any time you like."

The face faded away. Mr. Silver went over to the crate, opened it, and looked in. Inside was a girl, identical to the sleeping doll on the table, bound, gagged, and naked. She whimpered again, trying to say something through the gag, tears streaming from her pretty green eyes and matting her golden hair.

Shh...don't cry. Don't carry on so, dear. You caught the eye of a fairy prince, who is coming to carry you away to a magnificent magical kingdom far, far away and make you his bride. Won't that be nice? And don't worry about your friends and family―your life will not go unlived.”

The girl in the box tried to scream, but only muffled sobs emerged. Mr. Sliver sighed, closed the lid, and returned to the table. “Tch, tch.” He picked up the doll, gently set her aside in the sawdust, then picked up another of the half-formed manikins. "Back to work." he muttered, picking up his tools. He turned to the figure, and began to create.

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