When I was a little girl, my father taught me to do everything I know. However, the one thing I distinctly remember him teaching me was how to swim.
“Come on Zizi, a little farther!” He would encourage me. “Come on you can do it!” He would cheer. He was always there when I needed him, even when I made mistakes. He always told me to stay near the lake’s edge until I was old enough to swim on my own. When I was nine, I swam out too far into the lake, confident I could make my way back without his help. I began sinking, and my stubbornness nearly drowned me.
My father acted quickly and swam out to save me. He wasn’t even upset at me for trying to defy him. I could still see the relief in his big brown eyes, his thick eyebrows furrowed.He was only relieved that I was okay. At this moment now, I felt like I was in that pool again. Everything was dark, I wasn’t breathing, and I heard voices muffled in the background. However, when I came up to the surface, it wasn’t Papa saving me: it was a bucket of ice water.
I had a coughing fit, and I felt like I would vomit as I surfaced from unconsciousness. My breathing was shallow, and everything was still blurry. I jerked up a bit as my focus continued to clear. I was strapped into a chair with my hands tied behind my back. I could feel the rope burn cutting through my wrists. I couldn’t feel the tingle of my magic either.
Before I could panic, I was mesmerized by the sinister beauty of the girl standing before me. She towered over me, only watching. The look in her eyes was almost admiring- as if she’s found a rare gem in the sand. She cradled a porcelain doll in her arms with an eerie resemblance to her. It had the same milky white skin and lilac eyes which seemed to follow my every move- as if they could very well snatch the soul right out of my body.
I couldn’t speak or so much as breathe. The silence stretched on.
I dragged my eyes away from her stare long enough to realize that I was in a room with no windows or doors. There was no indication of where I may have been. For a long pause, the girl said nothing, her movements faint if at all visible. She only gazed at me as I struggled to find logic in the mess I was in. My mouth was dry, and my jaw felt like it would fall off my already numb face. My mind was in a haze and refused to cooperate with me.
Running. I was running from something. Not something. Someone. I was running from… Violet eyes. Deep, dark, violet eyes. My memory finally cut through the haze, and I remembered everything. The roof tops. The fall. Everything was clear. And that stranger: how did he know my name?
“Pretty doll,” the girl said.
My chest tightened at the familiar skin-crawling coo, my eyes snapping back to her gaze. I couldn’t speak, and for a moment, there was only the sound of my ragged breathing.
“Who are you? What the hell am I doing here?” I demanded. My voice cracked as I tried to sound confident.
A small sweep of anger crossed her face. “Pretty dolls don’t talk like that,” she hissed. I tugged my wrists apart behind me, desperate to wisp through them. “The rope is a neutral agent. No magic for you,” the girl said. She pulled a small porcelain brush from the breast pocket of her cloak. “I wouldn’t want you to run away before we can play,” she said, softly passing her brush along my curls. “You’re so much prettier than all my other dolls. So much more interesting.”
Clearly, this girl had a few screws loose, but she should be unwilling to hurt me if she thought I belonged to her.
I had to play along. “Thank you,” my voice shook. “I bet I’m your favorite doll yet.” I forced a smile.
She nodded, cracking a small smile. “They told me to play nicer with you.” I could feel her cool breath inches from my face as she brushed along my hairline. “I broke all the other ones,” she sighed.
She pulled out a small dagger from her cloak, caressing the blade.
“I promise I’ll be gentle with you,” she said.