Anatomy of a Clockwork Doll

This story would not have been possible without the creative genius of my dear friend. Thank you for letting me write and post this.

       You don't remember growing up.

        My racing heart begins to calm again as we file through the exit. Fairs aren't much fun for me since I'm afraid of heights, but somehow I couldn't refuse a ride on the flying swings. It wasn't so bad once it began. It almost felt as if I'd grown wings and taken flight, where I drifted effortlessly on a strong updraft - that is, if I were flying in a sitting position. I think that'd be quite a sight to see.
        Claire has been rummaging in her wallet for a bit now. She's been concentrating so hard on it that she's fallen behind the group of girls we're with, but not so far that she's behind me. She sighs, snaps it shut, and pushes it back into her purse. She looks upset.
        "Is everything alright?" I ask as I catch up to her.
        She gives a small shrug. "I thought I had enough money to take another ride on the carousel, but I spent it all already, that's all. I'm fine, really. It's not important."
        "How much is the ride?"
        "A dollar-fifty. Did you want to go too?"
        I shake my head. "No, I'm not a fan of rides. Here, take this, please." I hold out a crisp five dollar bill.
        "Oh- oh no, I can't- thank you very much though-"
        "It's okay, you don't need to pay me back or give me change. Just keep it. I won't miss it, I promise."
        "Are you sure...?" Her eyes widen as I nod. "Thank you so much- um... What's your name again?"
        " This may sound strange, but I don't know." The words escape me before I realize it, but as I say them I know I'm telling the truth. At least... I can't ever remember having a name.
        Claire thinks for a moment, then smiles and says, "I think I'll call you Key. Thanks Key!" She runs off to catch up with the girls, who are almost out of sight by now.

        You are a ghost.
        No I'm not. Stop saying that.
        You know it's true - you don't breathe unless you think about it, and you always hear my whispers.
        Who are you?
        Who cares? Now listen carefully. You can make this work. Only you can make it work.

        Serafina sinks dramatically into the big chair with an obnoxiously loud sigh. "I can't believe I don't know what to ask for yet! We have enough money to buy more than one thing, but my stupid parents will only get one thing that I ask for, and there's just too many things that I want!"
        "Didn't you get a TV and a car last year?" Celeste has a trace of annoyance in her voice.
        "Yeah, but that was my sixteenth birthday, so it was different, plus those were the only two things I wanted." She folds her arms and starts to pout. "This year I need a new laptop, a puppy, new headphones, and a new mattress... Oh, and a mannequin - you know, to model my outfits so I can plan them easier."
        "Pick whichever one you need the most," I suggest, but she ignores me and keeps rattling off items and animals that she'd die without. Being ignored stings a bit, but I can bear it well enough. I'm used to it by now.
        "And if I don't have a Luison Midnight handbag then I just don't see the point of living!" she wails. A single tear runs down her cheek.
        Do it.
        "Live to get another one later." I make sure to say it a bit too loudly, but still no one responds.
        You heard me. I said do it.
        I dump out the contents of my purse onto the floor.
        "Key...what are you doing..." Marceline sighs. "Please don't make a mess of my floor."
        I hold out my purse to Serafina. "Here. Happy birthday."
        She sits up and emits an ear piercing sound that I can only assume is one of excitement. "Thank you so much!" She doesn't question whether I have another bag or not, or why I've suddenly decided to give her my bag; she immediately puts her things in it.
        Aren't you glad you listened? Wasn't that nice?

        It's such a shame...
        What is?
        ...they don't even notice you until you're being useful.
        Don't start this again. I've told you before, not everything I say requires a response. It's just what happens in group conversations.
        And you hate them for it.
        No I don't. That's not true.

        No one has ever told me I could join the track team, but I think I might be able to. My legs seem to have a natural talent for speed. Unfortunately I find running to be horribly boring, even in races. I've asked Marceline several times why she loves it so much. She shrugged and said simply, "It's fun to be fast." I just can't wrap my head around it.
        She doesn't look like she's having much fun now. Even from here I can tell her jaw is clenched - from nervousness, maybe? Or just in anticipation of the starting gun? It fires, and they take off sprinting. By two laps in, Marceline is in the lead by far until she stumbles over her own shoelaces and falls off the track, landing at a strange angle. No one rushes to help her until they realize she hasn't moved. She is pulled back into the audience, and I shove through the crowd that gathers around her. "My leg, my leg," she moans, her chest heaving. It isn't hard to see the giant crack running up her shin and the dent in her knee.
        "Can you move it?" An official leans down and gently touches the side of her leg, to which Marceline responds with a cry of pain. "This is bad. You'll have to stay off the track for at least a month-"
        "But that's the rest of the season," she cries. "I can't-"
        "Wait." I reach behind my knee and begin to take the casing off my leg.
        "Key, no, you can't do that-" Marceline starts to protest and stops when the official begins straighten her leg.
        "Yes, I can." I sit down and detach it from above the knee joint. The pain jolts through my body, but I hold my breath and slide it off cleanly. The official has taken off her leg and hands it to me, making quick work of attaching my leg to hers. With a shove and a gasp, my leg becomes hers, and several people help her into a seat. I sit on the ground as the crowd moves away from me, struggling to attach the broken leg to me. No one moves to help me, and Marceline does not come back to say "thank you."

        Life isn't worth living if you don't have anyone to care for.
        I suppose that's true.
        What's the use in a life without friends?
        I don't know.

        "Key. You have to come, right now." A pair of hands are shaking me awake. They feel like Serafina's delicate hands, but the voice is sharp like Celeste's.
        "Huh? What for?"
        "Just...come on."
        I roll out of bed, my eyes drooping shut as I follow the girl, still half asleep. I have a bit of trouble maneuvering with my broken leg, but by now the pain is just a dull ache, unless I bump it. I follow her into the living room with a slight limp.
        "Look," she says.
        I look and see nothing. I take a few steps forward to continue looking, but my foot touches something cold and I jump back, startled. When I look down to see what my foot touched, I nearly faint.
        "Please...Key, you have to help."
        "She's..." I can't seem to make the words come out of my mouth.
        "Dead, I know. Someone stole her key- I found her here like this and... Oh, please, can't you help somehow?"
        "I don't... I don't know what I could do. Except..." I turn to look up at her and see Marceline's face. "No. You can't expect me to do that. There's no way. Not even for Claire."
        "Why not?"
        The disbelief smacks me in the face so hard that I have to look away, for fear that I'm making a strange expression. I find myself staring at the gears through the gaping hole in her back where her key should be. I can see the smallest ones that made her heart beat, just underneath the wire ribcage...
        I shudder and turn away. "Because I'll die. You know that."
        "Please. We all want her back." Her tone of voice is strange. There's something unnerving about it that I can't quite place my finger on.
        "I want her back, too, key..."
        "Please. We all want her back." She takes a step towards me. "Key. You were meant for this, I promise."
        "Well I refuse!" I shout. I'm seeing red for the first time. "I've given you all everything! My time, my money, my personal belongings, my affection, my physical body parts - and now you expect me to give up my life to bring back a friend that you've all liked better in the end, when none of you have given me a single thing except for a chintzy name. Why I've never been so angry in my entire life!"
        She looks shocked at my outburst. "Please... We all want her back," she repeats, softer this time, as if she is trying to coax me into it.
        I take a deep breath. "No! In fact, you can keep that horrid name! I can name myself whatever I please and you don't get a say in it."
        No you can't.
        "My name is Lucille," I declare. "There, now I don't owe any of you a single thing. Either come back when you're ready to start treating me like I'm more than a key to be used, or don't you dare to come back at all." I storm out of the room and slam the door behind me. The echo sounds profound.

        You're lonely.
        Yes. Yes I am. And it's all your fault.

        Five days. I know it's been five days because I keep looking out the window and watching the clouds roll by, so I see the sunsets. Five days I have been in here by myself and no one has even walked by. The dull ache of my leg had spread into my chest. I want to go out again... I shouldn't go out again.
        Why not?
        Because they're not sorry.
        But you're bored and lonesome.
        Yes, but I won't die from it. I'll be fine.
        You broke the rules.
        Rules? What rules?
        You weren't supposed to do that.
        I don't care about the rules.
        Lucille. Don't you think it's funny that you don't remember anything before a few months ago?
        Not really. I haven't thought much about it at all. I've learned to make the most of each moment. Memories are a cumbersome thing anyway.
        Then you have been wasting these five days. Why didn't you make the most of that moment?
        Because then I would have no more moments to experience. If I die...
        ...then you have fulfilled your purpose.
        What kind of purpose is that?
        Your...kind. You have to do it, or you'll sit in here for the rest of your life, decaying from your loneliness.
        That isn't true. They'll come around eventually.
        Don't you think they would have by now, if they were ever going to? The funeral will probably be today.

        I don't know what I'm doing. My body continues on without me, as if I were sitting in someone else's mind - my legs run, my gears whir as I rush to the funeral home, the pain in my leg long forgotten.
        I slam through the doors, but the crowd does not turn to look at me. Claire lays in the open casket, completely flat on her back without her key, her hands clasped over her chest. It's an eerie sight to see, but upon seeing it I know that they were right. I know there is nothing left for me but this.
        "Sorry for this," I mumble, and push over the pastor. His prayer ceases as he cries out in fear and hurries to catch himself. "Do you see me now?" I ask them.
        The crowd is angry with me, of course, but that's unsurprising. The preacher uprights himself. "Miss, I'm going to have to ask you to leave. This is a very sacred time for-"
        "Be quiet and watch me." I have no patience left for fake mannerisms. "Listen to me very carefully. I am going to take my key out, and you are going to put it in her."
        They look confused, but I don't hesitate another moment. I reach behind me and rip out my key in one fluid motion.

        Dying is a strange sensation. The gears don't stop immediately, but my body can no longer support itself, and I slump to the floor. It's harder to see now - everything is sort of...gray. I can see them taking the key from me, putting it into her back, and winding it up. As my eyes close, hers open.
        I told you so.

        I smile and hug Marceline as she runs to me. "Hey. What are we doing today?"
        She shrugs. "Let's go see a movie or something, there's plenty of time until lessons." We begin to walk down the street while she rummages in her purse. "Oh... I forgot my wallet at home," she says with a sigh.
        "That's alright! I have like fifty dollars, that's plenty for a movie and some snacks."
        "Awesome! What did you want to see?"
        "Uhh..." I try to think of some trailers I've seen recently, but I can't remember any that caught my attention. Actually... I can't remember anything at all. Huh. "It doesn't matter to me, anything would be fine."

        We sit down in the very front row to see some hyped-up action movie about a dog with superpowers. It's supposed to have a bit of romance and a whole lot of explosions. As the lights fade out, Marceline sits next to me, her arms full of popcorn.
        "Can we share that?" I ask her. She doesn't respond. I guess she didn't hear me? "Hey. Marceline." I wave my hand in front of her face. "Hellooo? Anyone in there?"
        She rolls her eyes. "Leave me alone, I'm trying to watch the movie."
        I sigh in frustration and reach for her popcorn. Her response is to slap my hand away. "Fine, fine. What's your problem today?" I ask.
        Marceline looks disguted. "Do I even know you?" are a ghost. Accept it.
        No, I'm not. That's not true.