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The World of Mercy

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Scene 1: The World of Mercy

Beauty, though often fleeting is never something that Alcina Dimitrescu ever took for granted. Every form of aesthetic perfection, be it in song or in sight, was a welcome addition to her castle. Well, that was, until she met Seraphina.

“Alcina, you must hear me out. This is the best possible solution to your problems.” Miranda assured the countess.

“I am listening.” Alcina said expectantly.

Miranda smirked and gestured to the doll she had brought. Well, not quite a doll, but certainly not human. A living automaton. Seraphina stood at a modest six feet with long, delicate limbs and a slender, deathly pale frame. Her eyes stared straight ahead, focused on something far off in the distance and yet, looking at nothing. They seemed to glow with an icy blue hue. Her hair cascaded down her back in the same white of the snow that fell outside. Without any clothing, it was clear she had not been born, but constructed.

The seams of her creation were visible at her joints. However, unlike Heisenberg’s creations, Miranda’s lines were clean and straight. Seraphina was the product of a surgeon’s hands, like a living work of art. Though, “living” was a strong word perhaps for her state of being. She was certainly aware of her surroundings, but she was not living among them as a real person would.

She was beautiful, according to Miranda, perfect even, but Alcina wanted nothing to do with her.

“She comes equipped with all manner of features to entertain you and take a look at this.” Miranda said, pulling a small pistol out of her robes.

She shot Seraphina three times in the head. Each bullet wedged itself within her skull only to be spat back out onto the floor with a clink. Naturally, the automaton did not react. She didn’t even blink.

“Virtually indestructible.” Miranda nodded.

Alcina crossed her arms and sighed. This thing was not nearly as desirable as the maidens she was used to. Would it even scream if she sliced it open? Was it capable of soft sighs and sweet little whimpers? When it came to pleasure it was the virility, the vitality of fresh maidens that quickened the blood. Was this thing capable of providing that?

“Hmph.” Was all the countess could muster.

“I thought you would be happy. You finally have a toy you can play with over and over again. I can change her face if you’d prefer another.” Miranda suggested.

“I don’t think that’s the problem.” Alcina said, pulling out a cigarette and lighting it.

She walked towards the doll and blew the smoke into its face. No reaction, as expected.

“Just try it and if you really don’t like her, I’ll get off your back about all the missing maidens. Deal?” Miranda said.

“Fine.”

“And one more thing. If you feel your, natural instincts kick in, she’s quite good with her mouth.”

Biting back a sneer, Alcina bid Mother Miranda goodbye, then walked back to the front hall to collect her new toy. Seraphina waited patiently, still and unblinking.

“Well, she said you talk, so speak.” Alcina barked, already irritated.

“Of course, Lady Dimitrescu. I am fluent in several languages including Mandarin, English, Romanian, German, French, Italian—”

“Enough.” Alcina snapped.

Seraphina shut her mouth and returned to staring unnervingly into the distance. She looked like a person, but her behavior gave her away as anything but. Alcina found her very existence annoying though, she wasn’t entirely sure why. Perhaps it was the way the automaton reminded her of herself. The body provided the suggestion of humanity, but the truth was plain. Perhaps Alcina was being unreasonable. After all, this was just a very fancy glass of wine, nothing more.

“Miranda says you contain blood to feed on. Is this true?” Alcina asked.

“Of course. If you were to bite down on my throat, breast, or inner thigh, you will find virginal blood to feed on, My Lady.” Seraphina stated.

How vulgar. Alcina neared the end of her cigarette and beckoned the doll closer. She took her final puff and then brought the burning cherry to Seraphina’s bare chest. When she pushed it into her flesh, there was no reaction at all save for the soft blackening of the skin.

“You appear to be disappointed about something, Lady Dimitrescu.” Seraphina said flatly.

How astute.

“Mother Miranda has programmed me to meet your every desire, so if there is something you wish for me to improve on, you need only say so.”

Alcina sighed and took a step back to circle her new toy.

“I’m surprised you can detect things like ‘disappointment’.”

“Mother Miranda has shown me hundreds of thousands of examples of emotional states as expressed through facial expressions. Your face is also showing repulsion and disgust.” Seraphina explained.

Alcina continued to circle her, trying to take an interest in her physical body if she could not find it in the doll’s personality, or lack thereof. Miranda did know her well. The tight little ass and perky little breasts were exactly to Alcina’s taste.

“Does that bother you?” The countess asked casually.

Seraphina actually blinked. A moment passed before she finally answered.

“The appropriate emotional response is not irritation, but concern. My primary purpose is to satisfy and delight you. Until I am able to do so, there will be…turmoil.”

Perhaps this little thing was slightly more amusing than Alcina initially thought. At least it could make her laugh.

“You speak so strangely, but then again, you came from Miranda so, I am not surprised you’re not quite right.” Alcina said wryly.

“Does Mother Miranda have a reputation for imperfect creations, My Lady? That information is in conflict with my records.” Seraphina reported.

Alcina laughed again, really letting herself go a little bit.

“Do tell. What do your records on her say?”

“Mother Miranda is an absolute authority with excellent taste in everything and, by far, the most attractive form in the village, possibly the world. Her brilliant mind is unparalleled and her…My Lady, why are you laughing?”

Alcina’s laughter grew louder and little tears formed at the corners of her eyes.

“Ohh, that’s too good. Of course, Miranda would have you spouting some overinflated nonsense to flatter her ego. How many times a day did she have you rattling that off?”

“On average, I recited facts about Mother Miranda in her presence between five and seven times per day.” Seraphina confirmed.

Alcina wiped her eyes and shook her head. So, the doll didn’t understand rhetorical questions. Perhaps the doll was slightly more charming than she initially thought though. At least she was funny.

“Well, let’s get you dressed and then we can figure out what to do with you.”

Alcina took Seraphina up to the room that she planned to keep the doll in and surveyed the clothing Miranda had sent along. Mostly crotchless panties and lacy things. Alcina sighed. Did Miranda think the castle operated like a cheap brothel? Well, Miranda probably did think that considering Alcina had a pile of corpses to show for her recent indulgences.

Regardless of the quantity or brutality of the couplings, they’d all happened behind closed doors. Alcina was a Lady, after all.

 Seraphina, for her part, simply waited in the middle of the room, waiting for her next order or question. Unmoving, unblinking. Just waiting.

“I’ll have one of the maids bring you one of their uniforms and you can wear that until we see the tailor. Do you require food?” Alcina said.

“No, My Lady. My systems are entirely self-sufficient.”

“Alright. Well, you can stay here until…”Alcina thought for a moment, but really, she wasn’t sure when she would bother coming back, “later, I suppose.”

“Very well, My Lady.”

Alcina nodded and she left. A few minutes later, a maid entered and provided her with a simple black dress with an apron to drape over it. Seraphina had never seen anything like it before. It reminded her of, perhaps Mother Miranda’s robes, but less complicated. It certainly didn’t have the golden embossments or the intricate meanings behind every little insignia.

The only symbol on the frock itself was the emblem of House Dimitrescu, which Seraphina knew well. The rest of the garment was devoid of personality. She put it on without a word. The maid didn’t speak to her either and made a hasty exit.

Then Seraphina was alone. Mother Miranda’s lab had been so loud, so active, but now there was nothing but quietness. After a few hours the candles that had been lit extinguished themselves, melted wax spread out in a pool around them. Night came and went. Then another and another after that. All the while Seraphina waited, standing, unmoving in the center of the bedroom. No maids had come to tidy the room, which she noted as strange.

Sometimes, Seraphina could hear a faint buzzing coming from the vents. This was most likely one of Lady Dimitrescu’s daughters trying to spy on her. Regardless, that was the most stimulation she received that week. She noted this in her internal logs.

Finally, on the ninth day of her extended isolation around noon, the door opened and Lady Dimitrescu ducked inside. She looked quite uncomfortable, angry even.

“You’re still here.” Alcina growled.

What a strange statement. Where else would Seraphina be? Though the automaton knew that Alcina was not human anymore, it still seemed that she possessed their strange irrationality.

“Let’s get this over with.” Alcina snapped.

She pointed to the bed and Seraphina nodded.

“How would you like me, Lady Dimitrescu? On my back or would you prefer—”

“Silence.”

Seraphina closed her mouth and waited, once more, to see what Alcina would do next. The countess seemed conflicted about something, as indicated from her darting eyes and repetitive pacing.

This observation was correct. Alcina was, indeed conflicted. She was hungry, that much was certain, but she didn’t want to feed on this thing with a human’s face. Perhaps she was simply too much of a traditionalist. She’d been feeding on maidens for decades. Why had her appetites suddenly become a problem?

The festering pile of human flesh that sat in the courtyard reminded her why, even if she couldn’t see it. So much death that not even her ravenous little flies could keep up with it. The memory only made her angrier. Well, perhaps that was what this gift was for, after all. Being indestructible, Seraphina could be a stress ball and a quick meal.  

Alcina lunged forward focusing the wealth of her rage on the beautiful doll in front of her. She plunged her fangs into the fabric of the maid uniform and then into the false skin beneath, ripping and tearing as she pleased. Blood poured from the temporary wounds and Alcina lapped it up feverishly.

Seraphina said nothing. She was fulfilling her purpose. Though she didn’t know exactly what happiness might feel like, she suspected it was like that.

Alcina dragged her slender form further into the bed and then tore into her own dress. She gave into the dragon in all of its desires after a long week of denial. She didn’t bother warning the doll about anything, nor preparing her for the onslaught.

Even if she had prepared her, it wouldn’t have mattered. This was the doll’s purpose. Her body was perfectly suited to the task.

A low growl left Alcina’s lip as she moved her jaw to lower, to the doll’s thigh and bit down once more. Her large, clawed hand reached up and clasped around the doll’s neck.

“Let’s see if you’re as durable as Miranda said you were.” She threatened.

She ripped a chunk out of Seraphina’s thigh. Her grip on the doll’s throat was strong enough to snap steel. Her claws sunk into her pale, soft skin, drawing more blood out of her reserves. All the while, the doll didn’t make a sound. She barely moved.

“Fuck. Do something, you—” Alcina snarled, but the rest of her order died in her throat as Seraphina’s eyes snapped to her own.

“What would you have me do, Countess Dimitrescu?” The automaton asked simply.

She was covered in slashes and blood with Alcina’s claws punctured through her sleight frame, yet her voice didn’t betray any of this. She wasn’t even affected by the hand that would usually cut off a human’s airway, preventing any sort of speech. Seraphina was not human. Not at all.

Alcina withdrew her claws and finished her meal. It was mechanical and devoid of the ferocity from before. After a few minutes of this, she pulled away and wiped her mouth.  

“Are you satisfied, Lady Dimitrescu?”

Alcina didn’t return to the bedroom.

Scene 2: The Dream of Mercy

“Mother, when are you going to tell us what’s in the west wing’s bedroom?” Bela asked, feigning disinterest.

Alcina sighed and poured herself another glass of wine. Was it too early in the day to finish the bottle?

“It smells like a maiden, but no one has come or gone from there in days, so if it were a maiden, she’d be starving to death by now.” Cassandra added.

“What smells like a maiden, but isn’t one?” Dani wondered aloud, pretending to marvel at the finger on the end of her fork.

“It also smells like Mother Miranda. So, perhaps a new sister!” Cassandra concluded.

“It’s not your sister.” Alcina growled.

“Well, what is it then? The anticipation is killing me. I think of nothing else.” Bela whined.

Alcina barely tasted the wine in her mouth. Wasn’t this one of her favorites?

“It is a doll.” Alcina answered finally.

“Like Donna’s?” Dani asked, eyes wide.

“No.” Alcina said.

“Well, then what—”

“Enough questions. We’ll be rid of her in a few weeks after I deem the trial a failure.” Alcina explained. Her tone left little room for argument.

They resumed their breakfast quietly, so quietly in fact, that they could hear unfamiliar footsteps making their way through the front hall toward them. All four women turned to the double doors that entered into the dining room and a moment later, Seraphina entered the room.

At first, no one said anything at all, too shocked to comment on this or even greet the doll. There was something about her that was…wrong. Finally, Alcina found her voice.

“What is the meaning of this? I have not called for you.” She said imperiously.

“There is a new directive in my log today. I must find some sort of stimulation to maintain my current learning patterns.” Seraphina explained.

Dani nodded as though she understood and well, considering she had a few screws loose, she probably thought she did. Cassandra and Bela laughed.

“Her manner is so strange, Mother! What words she uses.” Bela remarked, helping herself to another bloody organ on her plate.

Cassandra raised her knife and threw it at Seraphina. The blade landed thickly in her throat, but there was nothing after that. No scream, no admonishment from her mother, no laughter from her sisters. Seraphina’s eyes looked at the knife and then she calmly pulled it out of her throat. She approached Cassandra to return the knife and everyone at the table seemed to flinch away from her. Why did they do that?

“You would have hit my carotid artery if I had one. If I were an ordinary human, I would have died in about 7 minutes.” Seraphina stated.

Cassandra took the knife from her hand.

“Ok.”

Seraphina then turned to Alcina.

“Lady Dimitrescu, could I perhaps service you on my knees while you finish your breakfast?”

“Oh my god!” Bela burst into laughter.

Cassandra and Daniela were not far behind. They howled with laughter, their cheeks turning pink with second-hand embarrassment.

“Seraphina, you can wait outside in the garden.” Alcina growled.

There was an edge in her voice that confused Seraphina to no end. Why was she so angry? Was she always angry?

“I do not know where the garden is, My Lady.”

“Find it, then. Follow the flowers.”

It was good to have a task, Seraphina thought as she promptly walked through the double doors to the exterior of Castle Dimitrescu. It had been so long since she’d had anything to do at all. A soft, warm feeling manifested in her chest. Was this comfort? Perhaps.

The garden was a brief walk, but it was the greenhouse and the empty pots that gave it away, not the flowers. There were no flowers in the middle of Winter. Nothing but snow and dead things. The wind blew in fifteen second bursts and they whipped her white hair all around Seraphina’s face. Then, once again, she waited.

“I was hoping you would get lost.” Alcina said, pulling on her cigarette.

“Then why didn’t you ask me to get lost?”

Alcina chuckled ruefully again and took another drag on her cigarette, but she did not answer.

“May I ask you a question, Lady Dimitrescu?” Seraphina asked.

“Go on.”

“I have the impression that you do not like me. What is it that I have done to warrant this? I seek to satisfy your every desire and if—”

“Stop.”

Seraphina stopped. Alcina sighed and smoked for a few moments without following up on that, trying to think of the right thing to say. Though, what did it matter? This was nothing more than an empty shell that looked like a person. Why was she even bothering to explain herself?

“I have no interest in a lifeless doll. I will call Miranda and ask her to remove you from the castle.” Alcina said finally, turning to go.

“Please, My Lady.”

The countess stopped.

“I am not a lifeless doll. I am a biological automaton and my primary directive is to satisfy you. Before you deem me a failure, you must know that I have many skills and talents.” Seraphina insisted.

Alcina actually turned around.

“Oh? What do you do?”

Seraphina took on a long and graceful posture before performing a perfect Pas de Basque. She then moved into the a few steps of one of Alcina’s favorite ballets. Of course Miranda taught her that. Regardless of the reason for why Seraphina knew to dance this particular scene, Alcina had to admit that she was pleasing to look at.

“Do you know what happens at the end of the first act?” The countess asked after a short time.

Seraphina came to a stop and answered in an even tone.

“Overcome with shock at Duke Albrecht’s deception, Giselle goes mad with grief and dances her final dance before her heart gives out and she dies.”

“Mm. Can you imagine such a thing? A shock so deep that you feel as though you will die. The pain of that moment so great that your life, and all of its moments, is summoned up before you. Do you understand something like that?” Alcina asked, growing rather quiet.

“I am not sure. That is not something I have ever felt.”

“But you do feel things?”

“I feel everything you do.”

Alcina flicked the remainder of her cigarette into the snow.

“I doubt that. Now, let’s go inside. I’m certain my daughters would like to see Giselle.”

Seraphina nodded and followed. As it turned out, she knew several entire ballets as well as a small collection of operas. Though she could only dance one part at a time for the ballets, she could sing multiple parts for the operas. The Dimitrescu family spent the day surrounded by Seraphina’s music and by the time that dinner rolled around, they had all accidentally grown a little fonder of the automaton.

Even Alcina had to admit she was amusing after all. Perhaps she could call Miranda at the end of the week to return the thing. It had some use after all. She still didn’t prefer it over a proper maiden though. Speaking of which, there was a serving girl that had started to bleed recently. Perhaps no one would miss the countess if she slipped out of the opera hall and had a little snack.

“Lady Dimitrescu.”

Alcina barely concealed a huff as the automaton made its way to her side.

“Yes?”

“I wanted to thank you for having me perform this afternoon. It was nice to have purpose and to move. My systems will operate much more smoothly now.”

“I see. Well, you’re welcome.”

“Perhaps there are other skills I may delight you with.” Seraphina offered.

“Why do you care whether or not I am delighted by you?” Alcina sighed.

“Mother Miranda has programmed me to—”

“Yes, yes, I know. But what’s in it for you?” Alcina snapped.

What a question. What a strange question. Seraphina thought for a moment and then responded plainly.

“I have seen what happens to Mother Miranda’s projects when they are deemed failures. I wish to—to…I do not wish to be decommissioned. There are many things I have yet to experience and I wish to experience them.”

Alcina sighed. A doll with a sense of self-preservation. How droll. Then again, was that not exactly the sort of thing that Alcina liked in her prey? Was it not that delicious little human desire that tasted so good going down her throat?

“So, you wish to experience things, as you say, but you do not react to anything. How can you call that experience then?”

“I often do not know how to react without instruction. However, if you teach me the reactions you like, I can provide them.” Seraphina assured her.

Alcina shook her head. It wasn’t the same if she had to tell her everything. Then it wasn’t real.

“Are you incapable of providing your own reactions to what you experience?” Alcina asked, growing bored with this already.

Seraphina thought about this for a moment. Alcina’s questions and requests were proving to be much more confusing than any of Miranda’s trials had prepared her for. She’d thought her work would be simple, but it seemed she was not measuring up to the task.

“My Lady, I wish to think on this. Please, give me a few hours.”

Alcina snorted.

“Knock yourself out.”

Then she walked to the door and took her leave to find that serving girl. Seraphina watched her go and then set off on her own quest, though to be fair, hers was much more difficult.

After all, Alcina found the serving girl in the kitchen, cutting up vegetables for the servant’s luncheon. The kitchen went quiet as soon as the countess entered. Fear filled the air and though Alcina would have preferred, perhaps, a different flavor to the meal, tears were a familiar seasoning.

Seraphina, back in her room, was thinking. She was thinking quite a lot. Was she capable of creating her own responses to stimuli? It was a simple question, but the solution was not perfect, and thus, needed to be rerun. She’d broken down her options at least a hundred times by then.

Yes, she was capable of providing seemingly unique responses to stimuli. She just had to run the stimuli through her memory bank for “correct” responses and then choose the average based on overall best results based on several metrics including ‘affection following the event’, ‘lack of injury to the responder’, and ‘repeatability’.

Seraphina sighed to let some of the heat out of her brain. Performing that process over and over again based on rapidly generated stimuli (a common occurrence when dealing with Alcina, it seemed) was a lot to ask of her internal processors.  The process was so complex and so involved that, by her exacting calculations, it would take at least a minute to perform optimally. Any less than that and she would have a much higher error ratio.

She ran the numbers again. No. She removed one of the metrics. Maybe she didn’t need to increase affection with every interaction. Sometimes neutrality could work. But there was already a deficiency with Alcina’s affection for her.

The automaton felt her inner thoughts grind to a halt and she sighed to let off the steam. Why wasn’t this working? Why did the answer to her problem reveal itself to her as it always had before? Was…Did this mean that her perfection was nothing more than a perception? Just a part of her programming?

If that were the case, then what other bits of information were wrong too? Seraphina stood in the middle of the room and she thought a lot of things.

Scene 3: The Eternity of Mercy 

Alcina Dimitrescu was not, by most accounts, a patient woman. She was more known for her impulsivity, if anything. So, when the automaton didn’t come out of her room for the fifth day in a row, Alcina decided to intervene. See, when she was the one doing the ignoring, it was perfectly fine. She was a countess after all, and it was her castle to spend time with as she pleased.

However, the days of silence from Miranda’s little gift had become grating. Why wasn’t she working to ingratiate herself to Alcina? The monster tried the handle of the bedroom door, but found it locked. She knocked.

“You’ve had enough time to think. Let me in.”

Silence. Irritation quirked the countess’s brow. She took a deep breath and broke down the door. Strangely enough, the room was empty. Nothing but cobwebs and silence. Alcina pursed her lips and considered where the machine may have gone. Perhaps back to Miranda? No matter, surely she’d turn up in time. And yet, even with that conclusion in her mind, Alcina found herself looking for the doll in rooms she hadn’t visited in months. She checked the servant’s quarters and the opera hall. She even checked the castle dungeons. Nothing. Was it truly gone?

Finally, her feet led her to the exterior of the castle, and then, she went to the garden. The snow stretched for miles and miles.

Seraphina was just standing there, locked in a whirlwind of her own thoughts.

“Lady Dimitrescu, you’ve come to find me.” The automaton declared.

“Obviously.”

“I’m afraid your previous assertion was correct. I am a failure and I am ready to be returned to Mother Miranda for decommissioning.”

Alcina sighed and lit a cigarette. She smoked so often. More and more with every passing day.

“That’s it, then? What changed your mind?” She asked.

Seraphina’s gaze snapped to that of the countess.

“I am not capable of providing you with organic, authentic reactions per your request. Thus, I am not perfect and therefore, unworthy. If I cannot fulfill my purpose, then there is no reason for me to continue operations.”

Alcina looked at the doll, at the thing, and, for the first time, saw more than just an amalgam of limbs and sophisticated machinery she couldn’t hope to understand. For the first time, Alcina saw Seraphina.

“Really? What happened to that desire to live that you mentioned?”

“Without purpose, there is…nothing. Why would operations continue?” Seraphina asked flatly.

“Because that is what living things do. We live.”

“Am I a living thing?” Seraphina asked.

It was a question neither of them really knew the answer to. What did it mean to be “alive” anyway? Was it the breath in her lungs? The blood in her body? No, it was something far more important than that.

“I suppose that depends on your definition of ‘life’.” Alcina said.

“Life is defined as such: The condition that distinguishes animals and plants from inorganic matter, including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change preceding death.” Seraphina recited.

“Well, do you not function? Do you not grow?” Alcina asked thoughtfully.

Seraphina blinked at her.

“Does this mean that I have to die? To live at all?”

The winter wind blew around them. If that were so, then was it the same for Alcina? Two immortal, virtually indestructible creatures discussing the finer points of life and death, two concepts that, for all intents and purposes, were beyond them.

“Perhaps.”

“You have given me another impossible request, My Lady. Further proof of my failure.” Seraphina said calmly.

“Well, before you go, will you dance Giselle for me once more? It has been too long since we’ve seen ballet at the castle.”

Seraphina nodded.

“Of course, My Lady.”

They returned to the opera hall once more to while away the hours with grace and poise. Seraphina sang the entirety of La Traviata after that, then Norma. All the while, Alcina watched and listened and enjoyed it. There was nothing else to do.

Winter was always quiet at the castle. Even Lady Dimitrescu’s daughters, usually boisterous and vicious, were quieter as the days grew colder. They slept more often. The staff seemed to move quieter. The night was long. There were no hunts to take or wines to make. Silence…save for Seraphina and her clear, bright voice.

When the music came to an end, the automaton took a bow. Alcina didn’t clap. She beckoned the doll closer and when she was close enough, fed from her chest.

“My reserves need refilling.” Seraphina said quietly.

“Must you ruin the moment with such things? The only sound that should leave your lips is a gasp or a sigh.” Alcina growled.

Seraphina sighed. Alcina smirked. That sounded more like the maidens this thing was supposed to be. She sank her fangs back into the warm, soft flesh of her meal and drank to the gentle sound of her sighs.

And so, Alcina didn’t call Mother Miranda that day, nor the day after. She fell into a routine with Seraphina. She’d listen to her sing, watch her dance, and then feed on her if she were hungry. It was still largely mechanical, but with every repetition, something seemed to come to life in the automaton.

But maybe it was just the mixture of new reactions that made it seem so. Gasps and sighs blended with new little reactions. On the fifth repetition, Seraphina added moans. They were quite effective. On the seventh repetition, Seraphina tried speaking, but that was an abject failure. Her words were still too stilted, too cold in their delivery.

On the tenth repetition, it was Alcina that tried something new. In the midst of her ravenous sucking on the inner side of Seraphina’s thigh, her hand moved higher and cupped the apex of the doll’s legs. The flesh there was warm and wet, and for a moment, Alcina forgot that Seraphina was not human. She slipped her finger inside the folds and was rewarded with a loud gasp followed by a long, breathy whine.

Heavenly. She stroked the inner walls of Seraphina’s cunt, drawing out more melodious noises. After a time, Seraphina tensed up and let out an appropriately loud howl of pleasure. Alcina chuckled and didn’t bother to think about whether or not it was real. She simply enjoyed it. There was nothing else to do.

They carried on like this for weeks and then finally, Spring came. With Spring came many changes. Rain instead of snow. Flowers instead of ice. Laughter and life instead of cold, indifferent silence.

Seraphina spent more time on her own. She fixated on the garden as it bloomed and tended to the flowers day after day. No one asked her to do it. No one told her to keep up with it. It seemed she simply chose to and that was more than enough.

It was midday, sometime in May, Alcina thought, when she would speak with Seraphina for the final time. They’d spent the morning in the garden, as usual. Bela, Cassandra, and Daniela chased each other through the field behind them. The wind whipped around them. It was warm.

“Who knew you’d have such a green thumb?” Alcina remarked pleasantly, turning a rose back and forth to observe its petals.

“I believe I take pleasure in it.”

“I would say so.”

“Then perhaps I am alive after all.”

Before Alcina could reply in a gentle agreement, Seraphina froze. A black ooze began to pool at her joints and then, run down the pale flesh of her limbs. She turned to Alcina in time for one long, black tear to pour down her face. There was confusion, then despair, then a burst of anger, and then, finally acceptance. If death was inevitable to achieve the status of “alive”, then why bother fighting it at all?

Alcina moved towards her and let Seraphina rest in her arms. She dabbed the black, soupy mess from her face and cradled her gently. Even an empty death commanded reverence.

Then the monster sang. With every line, the body in her arms became more still.

 

“Addio, del passato bei sogni ridenti,

Le rose del volto già son pallenti;

L'amore d'Alfredo pur esso mi manca,

Conforto, sostegno dell'anima stanca

Ah, della traviata sorridi al desio;

A lei, deh, perdona; tu accoglila, o Dio,

Or tutto finì.

Le gioie, i dolori tra poco avran fine,

La tomba ai mortali di tutto è confine!

Non lagrima o fiore avrà la mia fossa,

Non croce col nome che copra quest'ossa!

Ah, della traviata sorridi al desio;

A lei, deh, perdona; tu accoglila, o Dio,

Or tutto finì.”

“My Lady, I—” Seraphina whispered, her voice tempered with fear.

Then, when it was truly done, Countess Dimitrescu carried Seraphina back to the castle and called Mother Miranda.

“Alcina! You haven’t returned her, so I assume things with precious Seraphina are going well?” Miranda mused.

“She’s dead.”

“What? How did you accomplish that?” Miranda pressed, her shock outshined by her intrigue.

“I didn’t. One moment she was gardening and the next her body wept a black substance and then she ceased.”

“Ceased what?”

“Everything.”

Miranda hummed thoughtfully to herself, then launched into a detailed explanation of the phenomenon that Alcina had witnessed. However, Alcina wasn’t listening. She was thinking of the long, black tear and the final words of her doll. Gratitude. Would Alcina’s life end so peacefully, if it would end at all? She suspected otherwise. Would she miss Seraphina? Would she—

“Well, the next one will be better, I assure you. Give me a few months and—”

“No.” Alcina said evenly.

“No? It’s going to take that long whether you like it or not, Countess Dimitrescu.” Miranda sneered.

“I don’t want another one.”

A statement that Miranda was not expecting.

“Why on Earth not? You enjoyed her for months.”

“I’m going to keep her body, if you don’t mind.” Alcina said, ignoring the previous statement.

Then she hung up the phone before Mother Miranda could say anything else. The countess lit a cigarette and smoked it down to the filter. She put it out in the ashtray on her vanity and looked in the mirror for a long time.

How long would it take for her to forget the brightness of Seraphina’s voice or the timbre of her gasps? Would she miss her in the morning or would afternoon be harder? What was the point of tasting life if only to return to the cold silence, even in Spring?

Alcina eventually set Seraphina up in the garden among the flowers where she would be frozen in beauty forever. She visited more often than she liked, though less and less with every passing month until finally, the automaton was forgotten entirely.

The unerring weight of time stripped the doll of its flesh, leaving only the intricate, silver frame behind. A skeletal monument to beauty, however fleeting, and its quiet assurance that life is unknowable in its purpose, only that it is.

In passing one day, the new gardener would stop to clean the thing. She decided to restore it on nothing more than a whim. As she pressed the silver polish into the metal framework, she spied a small inscription on the femur in a very small script. 

“In my dreams, I am beautiful and dancing, but when I wake, I am so, so still.” 

Strange, the gardener thought. Then she returned to her work.