As soon as the Marquis de Blois had left, the winter morning sky over the campus returned to its previously sunny and crisp state. Sunlight shone from the French windows into the parlor that had been buried in darkness, and the cries of songbirds echoed in the distance.
Cécile heaved a great sigh. Her tensed muscles loosened, and the smile returned unbidden to her youthful face.
“Oh, that was a shock. I had wondered what it would be like to meet a famous marquis like him, but to think he was such a terrifying person!” she whispered to herself while assembling her documents and walking out of the room.
Students were running up and down the hallway. As they passed by Cécile, the young aristocrats greeted her with a polite, but cheerful, “Miss Cécile, good morning!” She answered them with a smile, but from time to time would look down at her feet uneasily.
I wonder what kind of girl she is. Her own father called her a wolf. What on earth…
A few minutes later, Cécile would find the answer to her question.
Freshly-cut grass, delicately-ornamented fountains, and enormous, clearly artificial-looking flower gardens dotted the exquisite French-style garden that took up most of the campus. During springtime, squirrels would climb and dart between the benches and gazebos placed at strategic intervals, but now they were hidden, luxuriating in their hibernation in the distant forests.
A small building, only a few months old, stood deep in the gardens.
It was a colorful, and yet somehow odd-looking building, that resembled a gingerbread house out of a fairytale. That tiny house, with its first and second floors connected by a winding iron staircase, appeared slightly too small for any human to be living there. It was truly peculiar-looking, and seemed to have been constructed according to measurements that were miniaturized from their proper size….
Cécile walked up to the small entrance, and carefully put her hand on the doorknob, whose aspect brought to mind the aroma of a freshly-baked muffin. It felt cool to the touch, chilled by the winter air. She squeaked in surprise at the sudden sensation, then collected herself, and turned the cold doorknob.
The interior of the gingerbread house—a villa hastily built for the daughter of the de Blois family, in accordance with their instructions—was permeated with a funereal darkness that put to shame the negative atmosphere in the parlor earlier. The air felt suffocating, as if draped by a dark, heavy shroud that was closing in on Cécile little by little. She gulped, and then slowly stepped into the darkness.
The inside of the house was crammed full of dainty furniture that appeared slightly shrunken down from normal proportions. There was a small chest bedecked with gleaming enamel embellishments, a green claw foot table covered by a charmingly-embroidered tablecloth and cluttered with small silverware, and a rocking chair sitting beside the window. But the tiny resident of the villa, the youngest daughter of the House de Blois—Victorique de Blois—was nowhere in sight.
Darkness crept through the house.
Sensing an intruder, the darkness languidly turned to regard Cécile, looming over her as if about to swallow her. Cécile’s feet became rooted to the spot, unable to move. She narrowed her hazel eyes—and then caught sight of something amassed in another room beyond the darkness.
That something did not seem to fit with the rest of the cutely-decorated house.
It evoked a feeling of violent dissonance.
…She laid her eyes upon mountains of books stacked high in immense numbers.
The heavy, leather-bound books were heaped into many piles, crowding out the air with smothering knowledge. There were books of medieval religion written in Latin, mathematics, chemistry, history … all books that looked so difficult that even Cécile as a teacher would have felt reluctant to read them.
That sinister voice of the Marquis de Blois echoed in Cécile’s ears.
The first one is … books!
That meant the daughter of the marquis was somewhere in this darkness. Cécile swallowed nervously, then took a determined step into the gloom.
As she did so, she felt herself step on something. It made a dry crunching sound.
Cécile cautiously lifted her foot, then bent down to take a look at what she had stepped on. Her eyes crossed inadvertently.
Dusted liberally with powdered cinnamon, it was in fact … a delectable macaron.
With a look of doubt upon her face, she squinted at the area beyond the darkness.
There were macarons, chocolate bonbons, and candies in the shape of animals scattered all over the floor, radiating in a circle around a shadowed figure. Cécile stood up, and remembered the voice of the marquis.
The second one is sweets!
And the third one is…
Stepping into the darkness, Cécile absentmindedly spoke aloud the word running through her head.
Beyond the darkness was yet more darkness. She felt a negative force as strong as what she had earlier encountered with the marquis—no, much stronger. Seized by terror, she could not make a sound. She stood gazing into an abyss of true darkness, heavy and black, as if the gates of hell had been opened in that very spot.
Cécile halted, her legs trembling uncontrollably.
The figure in the darkness was staring steadily at her.
Cécile closed her eyes, and pricked her ears. She could hear a faint rustling sound. Whatever was there had noticed her presence, and had slowly begun to move. In her mind, she contemplated the image that remained from that split-second glimpse. Just as the Marquis de Blois had said, this was … this fearsome creature was…
…enveloped in endless layers of white, luxurious frills.
Cécile slowly opened her eyes.
The figure was right in front of her. Cécile cried out in surprise.
Every thought in her mind vanished in an instant—that this was the daughter of the Marquis de Blois, that she was one of the grey wolves spoken of in legends passed down in this country for centuries, this unsettling darkness. Sitting before her, looking up at her with narrowed green eyes…
…was a magnificent porcelain doll.
Silken blond hair, flowing down to the floor in a shining cascade, like a velvet turban come undone. Small rosy cheeks. Emerald green eyes that glittered like precious stones. Her sumptuous dress, bedecked in French lace the color of ebony and countless layers of three-tiered white frills. A miniature top hat ornamented with coral sat upon her small head like a crown.
That porcelain doll—no, that tiny girl who looked like a doll, was lying upon the floor, her arms and legs sprawled out, her face remarkably expressionless and dispassionate, looking much like a discarded toy. The only movement came from one of her small feet, clad in lace-up shoes. It twitched once, then stilled.
The girl—Victorique de Blois—suddenly opened her green eyes, and gave Cécile an intense stare.
Cécile nervously opened her mouth, feeling as if she ought to say something. But her throat was dry, and she could not find the words.
Several moments passed.
Finally, the girl parted her small, cherry-red lips in an unnaturally abrupt movement, like a marionette with its strings being pulled.
“Who the devil are you?”
Cécile gasped. That voice was at startling variance with the girl’s appearance, which reminded her of an ethereally lovely porcelain doll. It was a low, hoarse, melancholy voice, and made her sound like an old woman….
However, that strange voice was perhaps curiously befitting to the ineffable quality of light reflected in her green eyes—somehow sorrowful, and quiet, like that of an aged person who had already lived for a hundred years. Cécile was speechless with awe. And then she found herself once again overcome with fear as Victorique stirred slightly. In that moment, Cécile felt unease grip her heart, intuitively understanding what it must feel like to be a small animal in the sights of a predator.
“Are you my enemy?”
The husky voice asked her again. Handfuls of white frills made a crinkling sound, as if annoyed at Cécile’s terrified inability to answer.
Cécile shook her head violently, still unable to manage even a single word.
At last she regained her faculty of speech, and whispered in a trembling voice, “A-are you a doll…?”
Hearing this, Victorique’s eyes began to gleam dangerously. The greenness of her eyes seemed to intensify with her anger. “How rude!”
“My name is Victorique de Blois. I am a fully-fledged human being!”
When Cécile attempted to speak again, what came from her lips was instead a shriek. Victorique had lifted up a heavy book with her small hands and thrown it at her. Cécile cowered as the book hit the wall with a heavy thud and slid down to the floor.
The room fell back into silence.
Victorique howled like a wild animal, her small body shaking all over. Cécile uttered a shrill scream, but it was drowned out by Victorique’s howls. At last Cécile deciphered the words hidden in her wails.
The little beast was crying out, “I’m bored!”
“I’ve already read all of the books here. I need more. Lots more. Bring them to me. Bring me books. I’m bored. I’m so bored!”
Cécile turned her back on the terrifying girl, and ran away. She fled from the darkness, tripping over her own feet, escaping that house that looked like a toy dollhouse.
She timidly looked back. The howling had stopped, and now all she saw was merely a small, quaint gingerbread house, sitting by itself, looking lonesome.
Cécile fell to the ground in a stupor. Warm rays of sunlight radiated down upon her from the clear winter sky.