And he came out of that box haggard and drawn, but suffering at least seemed to put him on a more even keel. (Of course, Edward Dollens as a species seem drawn to self-flagellation.) So I put him straight to work, according to the second tier of his punishment: rehabilitation through honest employment. Honest, soap-scummy, lemon-scented employment. I told him he was my housekeeper, and I did put him in charge of a number of respectable things (organizing my mail, fetching and reshelving my research books, restocking the pantry for Purple Arwen and Little Bella) but let's be honest: I wanted my dust bunnies wrangled and my shower tiles scrubbed.
And there was no living with Anna, obviously; she enjoyed heckling him mercilessly as he went about his new duties. And Tonner Edward let her, because he considered it part of his punishment. No matter what she did--handprints on the windows, potting soil in the carpet, toothpaste on the mirrors--he merely rolled his eyes, muttered darkly about "the trials of Sisyphus," and got his mop. I gave him my copy of Remains of the Day to read on his breaks ("Just don't appease any Nazis and we'll be fine") in hopes that it would soothe his pride. But ego didn't turn out to be a problem; Tonner Edward seemed resigned to mortification. So he heaved his bucket of supplies to and fro, or sorted my laundry, or hauled a white garbage bag around like a giant Santa sack. I would see him going by occasionally, a little Swiffer duster over his shoulder, his warning bell jingling softly down the hall.
("Where in the world did you get that idea?" I asked White Arwen. "I mean, Bad Cat doesn't have one. Where have you ever seen a bell on a cat?" "I had a kitty in Rivendell," she said placidly. "I found him in the valley and asked Daddy if I could keep him, and he said yes. Then Mr. Whiskers turned out to be descended from the cats of Queen Berúthiel. He kept trying to spy on all Daddy's Council meetings and report back to Sauron. So I put a bell on him. Mr. Whiskers didn't like that much, but at least we always heard him when he was trying to be sneaky.")
The bell: yet another one of his crosses to bear. Or maybe it made things easier, in a way: the Shelfians could shun him with less social awkwardness if they could hear him coming. I couldn't really blame them for feeling kind of weird about having a killer in their midst, to put it lightly. Even serene White Arwen, who had so often tried to treat his chronic aches and pains, turned away now. Not even afraid or disgusted... just disappointed. The Littlest Edward still felt terrible, convinced that he had at least partly driven Tonner Edward to acts of desperate cruelty... but he also kept a close eye on his ponies and his Bella. (Who passed her grocery lists on through Purple Arwen, refusing even to look in "the creeper's" direction. "I told you he was gonna lure someone off someday. Hope that was some good candy.") Even if the Shelfians felt that The Largest Sparklepire's terrible penance (and skill with a Brillo pad) had earned him the right to continue living, they were not ready to accept him back into their company. And he had always been so hostile that it was not difficult for them to turn their backs on him once again. But he was not bitter about it now--only chastened. The most frequent phrases to come out of his mouth in those days were, "I deserve it," "I can hardly blame them," and "Where did you put the Scrubbing Bubbles this time?"
The one person who could not bring herself to judge him was poor Galadriel, who still felt so guilty over not decoding the prophecy in time to save Ellowyne Two.
"I had it all in front of me--I had it for months, and yet--it all happened anyway. I understood nothing."
"Maybe that means there was nothing you could have done," I said gently.
Galadriel was too busy reorganizing her divinatory gear to hear anything I tried to say--her crystals, my many packs of tarot cards, her Mirror basin, her runes, Lyra's alethiometer--because she was not going to let the future take her by surprise again. Mutterings on my part ("Okay, Anathema Device, you have a good time, then") were of no avail, mostly because she had no idea what I was talking about. And there were plenty of mutterings on hers, because now that her head was--sadly--clear from the original prophecy, her vision expanded.
"You have great and terrible thoughts regarding additions to our community." She gave me the side-eye. "Mostly terrible."
"Nothing really terrible... for a while yet."
"If you say so. But the alethiometer has been going wild."
I settled down in my chair. "Hit me."
"I asked what the most immediate concern was, and it told me--Madonna, beehive, walled garden, apple."
"Huh," I said, consulting the chart. "That actually sounds kind of pleasant. Could be worse, I guess."
"And then it gave me anchor, baby, and the apple again." Her brow scrunched up. "I got the feeling that apple means something different in this context. But perhaps not."
"Well, look," I said, "I've ordered the Bella. It hasn't come yet, but maybe the alethiometer's trying to tell you about that?"
"Well, given that it's not saying anything about sour, bitchy whiners--"
"And then there's this one: serpent, helmet, sword, griffin, beehive, tree." She threw up her hands. "I don't even know."
"I think you're a bit overtired--"
"Serpent means deceit a lot," said Lyra looking over her shoulder. "I think it means a spy."
Galadriel gave her a wide, wary look.
"But sword means justice. And the squirrels, they're not just." A black look crossed her sunny little face. "So I bet it means we should send out a spy."
"But Legolas has already been going out there for months--"
"I bet beehive means someone ought to actually go in there with the squirrels, into their... squirrel-hive. Thing."
Galadriel gave her the side-eye.
I held up my hands. "Look, Lyra's the chosen one who's supposed to be able to read this thing. And if we'd let her interpret the prophecy before--" And of course I immediately regretted saying that.
Galadriel just looked down a moment. "Why don't you go talk to Legolas and Faramir about it," she said to Lyra. "Tell them what you think. Everything."
Once Lyra was out of earshot, she turned back to me. "There was one more. I didn't want Lyra to know. Just two symbols. Hourglass and bird."
The last time hourglass had come up, it had been in reference to Ellowyne Two's death.
"I'll keep an eye on Edward," I said.
Meanwhile, Legolas and Faramir Two--who, somehow, had become the de facto leader of the Shelfian army, even though Fugagorn represented the Middle-earthians on questions of state--actually took Lyra's suggestions to heart. Which is how I came to stumble across their new field agent while I was sweeping leaves off the back deck.
"Are you sure this is gonna work? Because I'm really, really not."
"It is totally gonna work," said Legolas, beaming. "Skippy's gonna infiltrate for us, no problem."
So I had both death and rodentia on my mind when I began to hear noises at night. My first thought was squirrels--not because I, like Little Edward, was terrified that enemies of the Shelf would sneak in through the roof and into the house, INTO THE HOUUUUUUUUSE!!1!, but because we had had a rather large colony of them at our old one. I am talking bowling with acorns all night long. And at this one, we've had the occasional mouse or two as well. So when I hear noises at night, I assume it's some small animal doing something I'd rather it not do, but I'd also rather not get up to stop it in the pitch-black middle of the night, either. These noises were more of a wandering and a shuffling, a stumbling and sometimes a knocking, but for all I knew, the possum was toddling around the attic, and that was an even better reason not to go take a look at dark-thirty.
I did ask Tonner Edward to go in and look for squirrels, rats, mice, even an errant bird (and extermi-nom as necessary), but he only shook his head--the attic was not a place to which he wanted to return.
(I also asked if he was sure there could be no dollpires. "If you kill them first or drain them entirely, they don't come back," he said, without looking up.)
Galadriel turned the little Ouija board I'd given her for Christmas over in her hands. "I did not want to resort to this," she said. "It is a dangerous thing. But... I have my suspicions."
DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS AT HOME
THESE DOLLS ARE PROFESSIONALS
And so we gathered on my desk: Galadriel, the most powerful enchanter in the room; Serafina, the second most; Tonner Edward, who was both drawn to self-flagellation and looked like he might pass out from it; Ellowyne One, because... well; and myself. Lyra wanted to "play" as well, but Legolas was more than happy to divert her with a knife-and-dagger play fight. The four dolls all put their fingertips on the tiny planchette; I sat back and kept an eye out for imminent phenomena.
I think you know where I'm going with this. We wouldn't have been doing it if we hadn't had a pretty clear idea of who we would end up talking to. My actual fear at the time was that something terrible would happen as an indirect result. ~SPIRITS COMING THROUGH THE PORTAL~ and such, elbowing their way through willy-nilly and then refusing to leave, ectoplasm, demonic doll possession, etc., and then I would have to find tiny Ghostbuster action figures to clean up that mess and I wasn't looking forward to the expense. So who we contacted was not the part that surprised me.
"Is anyone listening? Spirit, are you there?"
The planchette swerved to YES. Galadriel jumped back.
"Go on," I whispered.
"Spirit..." she began again, more hesitantly this time. "What is your name?"
We all furrowed our brows when the planchette slid to W--but Y-N-N-I-E made it a bit more clear. Tonner Edward turned a delicate shade of green.
"I didn't know she had a nickname," I said. "I guess that means... you're Ellie?"
"Well, since she got here, yeah," said Ellowyne One, flipping back a curl.
Galadriel was focused now: "Where are you?"
We were looking so intently at the board--on which nothing was happening--that it took us a moment to hear the voice. It wafted down so softly that we could only hear the sound, not the words; we all strained in the direction of the ceiling vent, whence it seemed to come.
"Use the board to tell us--"
"Yes, obviously you are in the house," Galadriel said impatiently. "Where in the house?"
We all stared at the board.
I'm in heeeeere... the voice called, audible now, and this time, it seemed to be threading through the hall.
And that was when the rest of the original prophecy finally hit me. "You guys," I said, "she's in the attic."
"Of course she is," said Tonner Edward, squeezing his eyes shut.
"I should have thought of it before--"
Red and white and house. I had even considered giving it to Little Edward--
Except for the whole death thing, the afterlife seemed to be treating her well.
"I live in the Happy Home now," she said, looking up at us. "Except that it's too small. All I can really do is sit on the balcony, or curl up on the bottom floor." But even that must have been a tight squeeze--more like a burrow than a room. "And there's no one in it to haunt."
She looked up at us hopefully.
Then we heard a cry from the doorway: Ellowyne One had gotten tired of waiting for us to report back. She gazed upon the spectre of her sister-self in abject horror.
"Her dress--she has a new dress! With ribbons! And boots! Boots--we can't ever share!" She turned on Edward in a passion of grief: "I WANT A GHOST OUTFIT! I WANT TO DIE!"
It took five minutes for Galadriel and Serafina to pry her off him. Weeping piteously, Ellowyne One had to be forcibly borne away from the scene.
And so Edward and I were left alone, in the dark attic, with the late Ellowyne Two. He looked paler than she did. A ghost-blush bloomed over her ghost-cheeks.
"Do you like my new dress?" she asked shyly.
His dry mouth worked for a moment. "It's... very... nice."
"Would you stay and have tea with me?"
"I... I can't... drink tea."
"Well, neither can I," she said, smiling.
And that was how Edward--guilt-stricken, masochistic Edward--ended up with a standing daily appointment for afternoon tea with the ghost of the doll he had murdered.
(Secret Life read-through; fan community; TV Tropes page)