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Eleanor

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When Lonnie first sees the doll in the antique store window, it beckons her closer. The sensation isn't one she's ever experienced before — a deep, eternal longing in her chest. For whatever reason, she wants to protect the doll. It doesn't strike her that it might be in danger perched there on the store shelf; she just wants it close to her so that she can prevent such an atrocity before it occurs.

Before long, she's heading home with the doll sitting beside her on the passenger seat of her car. She carefully buckles in her new acquisition, minding the short pigtails of raven hair. They're so intricately tied up with moss green bows, and she wouldn't want to hurt them. 

Lonnie always wanted children, despite never being able to settle down and have a family. No matter who she dated, it was never the right time; there wasn't enough money or they were too busy with their careers. She wishes she would have put her foot down at some point, because if she's learned anything, sometimes a family just happens. It's impossible to plan out every detail. No family is perfect, no matter how hard people try to fit themselves to whatever mold they've decided is best for them.

Although the doll isn't exactly her child, it's something for Lonnie to take care of. For years now, all she's had to take care of is herself and her one-room apartment in the middle of downtown.

When she sets the doll on the couch, she looks into her acrylic eyes — brown and swirling with flecks of green — and decides that her name will be Eleanor. That's what she would have named her daughter if she ever had one, after her own grandmother.

If she had anticipated her purchase, she would've arranged a display for her in advance; an elegant glass case would suit the doll well, protecting her from the worst of the elements. But when Lonnie looks at her — at Eleanor — something tells her she's better off not being confined.

No, Eleanor wouldn't like that at all.

She leaves a blanket beside her in case she's cold in the night, and Lonnie chides herself all the way to bed. Of course she won't need a blanket; she's just a doll, after all.

In Lonnie's dreams, there is nothing but darkness. The pitch-black surrounds her, and no matter where she runs, the abyss never ends. She wakes up before it can swallow her whole, the sunlight streaming from the window snapping her back to reality.

On the couch, Eleanor's mouth is open in a wide smile. Lonnie has to blink a few times to make sure she isn't imagining it; just yesterday, the doll had a relaxed sort of expression on her face, but now she almost looks happy. If Lonnie didn't know better, she'd say the coral flush on her round cheeks is brighter now, too. The blanket she left out is wrapped around her in a snug bundle as if she had indeed felt the chill last night.

All of that is impossible, of course, and Lonnie blames her hyperactive imagination on not having had her morning coffee yet. But even with the caffeine in her system, everything is the same. Eleanor still smiles at her as she sips from her mug, and Lonnie keeps eyes thinned as she watches for any more changes.

There isn't anything else, at least nothing quite so sudden. There's the slow shifting of Eleanor's eyes, following her around the room. When Lonnie is looking at her, their gaze remains in place, staring forward, as they should. But when her attention is drawn away — to wash her cup, to make breakfast — the moment she looks back, the doll's eyes are angled ever so slightly in her direction.

It can't be real. The presumed movement is enough to set her on edge, the hairs on the back of her neck sticking up, but they're small enough for her to wave it away — or try to, at least.

As Lonnie prepares to settle in for the evening, she gives the doll a long look: skin made of silicone vinyl, with a ruffled dress of seafoam green. There's something about her that makes Lonnie feel uneasy — something about the constant stare that she can't quite define — so she turns her around to face the back of the couch.

"There," she says to no one in particular, but Eleanor is still in front of her to hear every word. "There's still the blanket, so it'll be fine. As if dolls get cold, anyway."

In the morning, the doll is facing away from the couch again, perched at the edge of the cushion, far from where Lonnie had set it. She wouldn't have set it so close to the edge, worrying it might tumble onto the floor. The hardwood floors could scratch its delicate skin.

Eleanor doesn't seem to share her worry, sitting on the edge of the couch as if waiting for whatever her owner decides to do next. Lonnie picks her up, clenching maybe a little too tight in her haste. The doll smells old — of dust, of long-dead flowers. She can hear the sound of her arms twisting in their sockets, like the slow graze of a nail against glass, as she squeezes her.

She drops the doll, letting it fall to the floor as if she hadn't just been worried about dropping it. The doll is fine when she bends down to pick it up — still whole and quieter somehow; its glaring eyes are finally silenced as they look away from her, peering out the window.

And then there's a strange, dark liquid seeping from its eyes, dripping down its cheeks to stain the once beautiful dress.

Blood.

She hadn't meant to hurt her; it was just her fear that overcame her. She tries to hush the doll, cooing at it as if it's crying. In the silence of the apartment, it's all she can hear: the nonexistent wail of her newfound friend.

"I'm sorry," Lonnie says, pulling Eleanor to her shoulder in a hug. She pats her back softly, feeling the cool trickle of blood down her neck. "Why didn't you tell me you were different?"

It's a rhetorical inquiry, seeing as how Eleanor cannot respond — and because it's what she's been saying the whole time she's been here.

Notice me, she had screamed, her voice silent and yet booming. See me.

Lonnie nods. "I see you now. There's no need to fret."

When she sets Eleanor back on the couch, she's stopped crying. Lonnie wipes at her with a tissue, but her dress is stained. Ruined.

"We'll have to get you a new one," she says. For the first time, her apartment feels full of life — finally bursting with the heart and soul she's craved for so long.

When the doll's arm creaks up to touch her hand, cold and rough against her skin, Lonnie smiles.

Eleanor would like a new dress very much.