So once again, we had a Shelf Justice Council, this time on my desk.
There was no indignation this time; it was terrible and serious. Well, except for Ellowyne One in her new mourning outfit; she was enjoying that. And there was also Anna; it was a high holiday as far as she was concerned.
"I'm thinking--fire," she said with an energetic flash of her hands. "Eowyn's our sparklepire expert here" (Eowyn looked far more somber, and also horrified) "and she says that's really the only way to do it."
"That's the only way to do it," Tonner Edward agreed dully. "I can help you gather the wood. There's a lot of dead branches behind the house."
"Excellent. We can probably use the barbecue outside. There's the gas fireplace, I guess, but we don't want it over with too quickly. A good smoky wood fire takes longer to burn. We'll have to tie you up, of course, get a proper stake to lash you to--or there's also the grill itself, I suppose. I mean, you seem to be cooperating admirably, but when you get right down to it, sometimes the self-preservation instinct just takes over."
"Tying won't work. I'd break any rope if I tried to escape. I wouldn't try. But if I did. You should probably dismember me first."
"Oh, that's good."
"That's usually how we do it when we kill each other. Dismemberment first and then the burning."
"Lizzie and I can probably manage that." (Elizabeth shot her a look of pure WTF.) "You know, this is really going to be the best vampire execution I've ever run. It'll be really nice working with you on this, I think--"
"OKAY, LOOK," I said, "no one is getting executed, so just shut up about the wood and the gas and the dismemberment, what the hell."
"WHAT. WHAT? WHAT? NO! HE KILLED SOMEONE! HE KILLED SOMEONE! WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? HE IS A MURDERER! WHEN AM I EVER GOING TO GET TO KILL A VAMPIRE IF I DON'T GET TO KILL ONE NOW?"
"She's right. I really can't think of a better occasion on which--"
"SHUT IT, EDWARD."
The thing is, doll justice isn't quite the same as Big People justice. For one thing, he had "killed" Ellowyne Two, but in terms of property ownership, I hadn't actually lost anything. She was still there and just as dressable as ever; it's just that the other dolls would be creeped out if I kept her out and around. If I "executed" Edward the way Anna wanted, I would lose property--fairly expensive property at that. And I hate to say it, but--I liked him. I felt sorry for him, and I felt guilty, and I felt responsible, even though I'd told The Littlest Edward no one else was to blame. If I don't take care of them and protect everyone and keep bad things from happening, who else is supposed to?
"Look, here's what I've decided. It's a multi-tiered punishment, so I hope everyone finds it sufficient, because I kind of don't care if you don't. The first part is: he has to spend a week in his box. In a drawer. In the cedar closet."
This drew gasps of horror from the other Shelfians; Pan shuddered and clung to Lyra's shoulder, and Serafina put her arm around them both. Even Edward's eyes went wide.
"That's pretty good to start with," Anna said warily.
The thing you have to remember--that you may not know--is that dolls, conscious "living" dolls like the Shelfians, have a huge, crushing fear of being boxed up and forgotten. The fear is so powerful that it's immediate and irrational--after all, they don't need to breathe; there's no actual physical harm that comes from being boxed up or shut away. But even if you know you'll be let out, it's a harrowing psychological experience (so they tell me).
"Keep in mind that he doesn't sleep, either. So he'll be conscious for all of it. He can't even pass out from agony or anything. And of course he'll have nothing to feed on, either."
Even Anna seemed impressed by this. Edward bit his lip, but otherwise took the pronouncement of sentence like a manpire.
"The second part is--well, it's part hard labor and part honest vocation. Both Little Edward and Little Bella have work, so I think you need something to do as well. So... you're going to keep house for me. I've got some heavy-duty cleaning I need done, and you've got the time, what with the not-sleeping, and you need to keep busy. You can start with scrubbing the shower. Once you get out of the box, I mean."
And that's when Anna started laughing. "That's his punishment? You're going to make him a janitor?"
"No, he--he will be my housekeeper, and besides, that is good honest work and--"
"JANITORIAL WORK IS WORK LIKE ANY OTHER WORK--!"
"THEN WHY DID YOU SENTENCE HIM TO IT!"
"That's not the sentence, that's--the rehabilitation part--!"
Tonner Edward held up one hand, much the way he had the other time. "It's all right. I accept it. If she wants to mock me, I accept that as well. I deserve worse."
"So... then... are you guys okay with that?"
Fugagorn, the Fug of Men, spoke for the other Shelfians (Galadriel was too distressed by her role in the whole thing to weigh in): "Look, I don't understand these tall people at all. I don't know what kind of savage race they are--no offense, Elizabeth--"
"None taken," she said. "Pirate."
"--so I can't tell if this is fair or not. What does the other tall one think?"
I had thought that Serafina would come down on the side of wanting to remove any potential threat to Lyra, but I was not counting on the serenity of witches: "I reserve the right to kill him in the defense of myself or those I love. Aside from that, it is none of my affair."
"Oh... kay, then. And what of the fallen maiden's... uh. Kin?"
Ellowyne One shrugged. "As long as I get her clothes, I'm fine with it."
Fug blinked. "Well--then--fine."
"Wait, wait! What if he does it again?"
"I would rather die than hurt someone again," he said quietly; it was the first time he had expressed remorse aloud. "Not that I expect anyone to believe that."
"If he does it again he should be put in his box for good! And I want that to include hurting any animals as well!"
"All right, all right! All animals not expressly set aside for hunting--and yes, Eowyn, that includes Windfola--are protected under our original agreement. I'm just asking him to continue abiding by that. Nothing's changed."
"And he should wear a bell."
"Like a cat," said White Arwen. "So that we can hear him coming."
"But hearing him wasn't the problem, she knew he was there, because that was the whole point of it, tricking her into the--"
"Sure," said Tonner Edward, throwing up his hands. "I can wear a bell."
With no further objections, we all sat there a moment.
"I suppose I should get started, then," he said.
When I came back up from cedar closet, the room was quiet. I went ahead and turned off the overhead light and let everyone settle down to sleep; it had been a long day for everyone. (Except Ellowyne One, I guess, who was sorting through the clothes that were now all hers.) I sat back down at my computer, the room dark but for the glow of the laptop monitor, which isn't unusual; I often get up in the middle of the night--to get a drink of water, maybe--and sit down at the computer for a moment to see if everything's all right in the world.
Everything was not all right in the world. There it was, the second message in the inbox. And the email spared me nothing--it was all there, up front, in the subject heading:
(Secret Life read-through; fan community; TV Tropes page)