Authors: Pauline C. Harris
Pauline C. Harris
Published by Patchwork Press
Puppet, Copyright 2014 by Pauline C. Harris
This book is fiction. Any references to real events, people, or places are completely coincidental. Unauthorized reproduction of this book in any form is prohibited.
Cover art by Erica Crouch
Penelope lives in a world of advanced technology but many claim society has yet to catch up. Marionettes have advanced in the form of robots; lifelike creations remote controlled to perform super human tasks.
When Penelope makes a deal with Jed, a marionette-obsessed scientist, she doesn’t fully realize what she’s getting herself into. In order for Jed to take her away from the orphanage she lives in, she must first agree to undergo his experiments and tests, ultimately creating something no one ever dreamed possible; the first living marionette.
As Jed shows off his scientific creation to the world, concerns arise surrounding Penelope’s abilities and what she’s capable of doing. Ordered to somehow lessen her abilities, Jed makes a desperate attempt to change Penelope to make her more human, more vulnerable. After Penelope lies to the officials about her past, Jed makes sure it’s the last one she’ll ever utter. The truth is now the only thing she is capable of telling.
As Penelope struggles with her past, her disturbingly new present, and her uncertain future, she is thrust into a magically twisted world of mayhem in search of the one thing she wants, but knows she can never have. The chance to be just a girl again. To be normal. To be real.
like to watch silly videos from years and years ago of marionettes and their thick, enslaving strings. The puppeteer’s fingers flying in odd positions as they manipulate the life of their doll. The puppet as it dances or walks or jumps, coming to life with the flick of a finger, spinning alive and then melting back into listlessness. I wonder at how a puppet can look so animate, like a living thing, when only moments before it had been a pile of wood, paint and tangled strings.
The painted faces of the marionettes almost bother me; the way they appear soulless yet alive and although my skin crawls, I am implicitly drawn to the small moving figure on the screen. I can understand Jed’s obsession with them, although I can’t really relate to it. They’re mesmerizing and sometimes beautiful, but I don’t really like them. They creep me out more than they pull me in.
I watch a video of a small, sad-looking puppet as the strings yank him to life and he starts to move around. The puppeteer subtly moves the puppet as if displaying facial expressions and contemplation, telling the story of a doll who realizes he is nothing more than a marionette. He stares up at the puppeteer and the strings attaching him to this undeniably powerful force as if realizing that he has never had any choices over his life and he never will. In a way, it makes me think of myself; like someone else is always holding my strings, pulling me this way and that, manipulating my life through a series of twists and turns.
Jed is in many ways my ‘puppeteer’, though I don’t stare up at him gloomily like the marionette in the video. Jed saved me from my former life and although that freedom came with a price, I know it was well worth it. I feel gratitude towards Jed for bringing me the closest to a family I’ve ever known. And I owe him everything I have. He saved me from a fate I’d been fighting, and in return, I have to hold up my end of the deal. I still can’t believe it’s only been a few months. A few months since I was nothing more than a troublemaker and a mouth to feed in an over crowded orphanage filled with grungy children and grumpy caretakers.
And then again, only a few days. I stare down at my hands suddenly feeling as if they are no longer my own. Only a few days...
Just then I hear my name being called across the house and I swivel in my chair, sprinting toward the door. I hurry out onto the balcony that overlooks the entryway to Jed’s moderately sized home and recognize James standing below me.
“Hey, Pen,” he says with a smile and even though they look nothing alike, I can still see a trace of Jed in James’s bright blue eyes. You need to look hard, but once you find it there’s no doubt of James being Jed’s son. “My dad wants to see you.”
I jog down the stairs and pass James while walking on my tiptoes, glaring reproachfully as he tiptoes right back, regaining his height advantage. James is only about a year older than me; seventeen, but I’d always prided myself in being tall and James’s lofty form has always irked me. I stick my tongue out at him while he laughs.
Jed looks up as I walk into his overly lit study. Books lay in precariously tall piles against the far corners of the room and papers and scribbled drawings litter the three tables against the walls. When I first came to live here James warned me that his father was crazy and even though I’m beginning to believe it, I don’t really mind. It’s more of a comforting madness than a scary one.
“Penelope,” he greets me with a smile. I can’t remember how many times I’ve asked him to just call me Pen, explained to him how much I hate my full name. It makes me think of old ladies, ugly dresses and for some odd reason, cantaloupe. Not that Pen is that beautiful of a name, but it’s much better than Penelope.
I hear a sound from behind me and turn for a moment to see that it’s only Jed’s cat, Clemetice. “James said you wanted,” I begin to say. But as I turn back around, I stifle a cry of surprise as something large and dark comes flying toward me, inches from my body. I reach out my hand to shield my face and grab whatever it is, squeezing my eyes shut and ducking ever so slightly.
I stand still for a moment, breathing shallowly and feeling the weight of something hard yet crushed between my shaking fingers. I hear Jed’s melodic laughter float through the air; not mocking or cruel, but excited. I open my eyes one at a time to see that the object Jed hurled at me is a book. Or,
a book. The spine is bent backwards, the cover splayed out, revealing its words as pages slip from within the tightly interwoven paper as if I’ve ripped out its insides. I drop the book in shock, watching as it thuds to the floor, making clearer the five finger indentations lining its jacket.
I notice James standing in the doorway and when I turn I see that he has a disapproving look plastered on his face, although it isn’t directed at me. I turn back to Jed, ready to demand an explanation for his assault when he speaks over me.
“You see, James?” he asks with a smug smile. “I told you it would work.”
ed has a few of the newer robot marionettes in his study, although they’re so different from what marionettes used to be, I wonder why they call them that at all; why they don’t make up some new name. They’re tall and imposing with oddly life-like faces and bodies. They look exactly like a real human other than the fact that they slump, completely still, when turned off. I used to observe Jed puppet the large marionettes with his remote control, watching as they did some unbelievably fast card trick or crushed a paperweight to dust in their hand. But after awhile I grew tired of their painted faces; like clown paint adorning someone’s features. They bother me just as much as the old ones do.
“Some people still like to believe that it’s magic that powers these machines,” Jed always says to me with a shake of his head. “That’s what happens when technology moves faster than its people; they don’t understand the inner workings and they don’t care to try.”
He used to have me sit in his study while he demonstrated the various tricks that his marionette could perform, so I would just sit curled up on the sofa, half asleep, while he droned on and on. I had always thought his captivation with these robots endearing and somewhat quaint; at least he had something he loved to a point he could just rant on and on about it. It took me a little longer to realize that his obsession went further. And that it involved me.
I remember James giving me odd looks and making even odder remarks about my being here. Wondering why I would come, asking if I really knew what I was getting into. I had dismissed him at first but once everything started to sink in, I began to doubt what I had done. I wouldn’t say I regret it, because I don’t. It’s just a price I paid. A big one. I knew I would fight to escape my fate, I just didn’t realize the cost.
My mind wanders back to the orphanage – dim memories except for a small few. I remember the owner of the orphanage, “Mr. L” to all the kids because of the ridiculous nature of his last name. I remember the way he used to smile at me. The way he’d stop in the hallway to talk to me sometimes on one of his few visits. Even after what I’d done and what I’d gotten into when I was older, he had always looked at me like he understood. It was silly, but I always used to pretend he was my father. I used to play games with myself, saying that he was coming to visit me, not just check in with all the children. The fantasy got far enough that an aching hole began to form in my chest, wishing that everything I dreamed about in my spare time was actually true. I eventually ran out of creative ways to convince myself of this lie and all the scenarios I had gone over in my head slowly began to fade away. I remember when Jed first smiled at me the skin around his eyes crinkled just like Mr. L’s. I remember when he talked to me and how he talks to me now. Not with pity, disappointment, or anything hidden in his eyes. That’s what captivated me about Mr. L and it’s what drew me to Jed in the first place. Although unlike Mr. L, Jed has more of an agenda. He has his experiments - his life.
“It’s just science, Penelope. Science,” Jed would coax when I’d ask about it. No further explanation, no ‘inner workings’ as he calls it. I suppose he might not even know the inner workings. After all, who does? Jed’s kind of science is relatively new and extremely ambiguous. He most likely just fiddles around with things until they turn out the way he wants. Actually, I’m sure of it. Jed isn’t the kind to follow any rules or directions.
“Pen?” a voice asks, pulling me out of my thoughts. I turn to look at James, sitting cross-legged beside me in the grass. He’s twirling the thick, green blades between his fingers and then tossing them into the small pond at our feet. The sun is out today, although it keeps peeking in and out of the clouds, making me cold then warm again.
“Sorry,” I say, “I was thinking about Amabel.”
James half-laughs. “His puppet?”
He looks as if he’s going to laugh again and say something witty or amusing, but then he catches my expression and his eyes soften. “It’s not all that bad, is it?” he asks quietly.
I immediately shake my head, suddenly feeling bad for my mood. “No, nothing like that. I mean, I’m so grateful to Jed; if it weren’t for him I’d still be at the orphanage.” I stifle a shudder, thinking of the long days, dull faces and gray colors.
“But...?” James prompts.
I look at him. “I just don’t like...I don’t know, being compared to those things.” I shrug. “It’s different, that’s all.”
James is silent.
“I’ve never liked them, you know.”