The Gun-Blazing Marionettes of Blue Haven
by Richard Ong
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
They found Colonel Harriett Cassidy pinned down on the ground by a shotgun-toting figure hidden in the shadows standing at the top of the blue painted porch of a modest farmhouse.
“Eleanor, stop!” cried Donovan. “It’s all right. It’s over. The war is over! We won.”
He took the gun from the figure of a woman hidden in the shadows and gave her a hug. He turned around to face the officers. Harriett got up and dusted her uniform with some irritation.
“She’s just trying to protect the farmhouse,” explained Donovan. He wiped the sweat from his brow. “But somehow, I don’t know why, she did not receive the signal to stop. Look here, see? The shells in this shotgun aren’t real. They are splatter shots just like everything else used by the marionettes. You have to believe me. She meant you no harm.”
Sergeant Howe leaned over and whispered not so discretely to Harriett’s ear. “I say he’s a loony who spent too much time playing with his dolls.”
“Leave us, Sergeant,” Harriett snapped. “You too, Captain. Take a walk. I’ll join you later.”
“Begging your pardon, sir, but that’s not exactly a prudent course of action,” Captain Rainier began.
“I gave you an order, Captain. Look, the Marshal assured us that it was all a case of... misplaced communication. Will everything be all right, Marshal?”
“See? Nothing to worry about. Now, scoot, you two. I won’t ask again.”
Rainier and Howe saluted and slowly backed away with a growing mistrust of the town marshal overshadowing their faces. In the end, they left Harriett and Donovan alone with the apparently disarmed marionette standing in the corner.
There was a long and uneasy silence between the two. Harriett searched through the shadows, trying to make out the face of the unmoving marionette. She took a deep breath and decided to break the impasse.
“Why did you call it Blue Haven?” she asked.
“Painted the town myself,” Donovan glanced towards the blue gables and shutters of the farmhouse. Then his eyes changed in the same way he looked at her on the night Harriett told him that she had to leave to follow her own path. She made the hard choice of choosing her career over a quiet domestic life. Donovan’s eyes filled her with guilt now as it did then twelve years ago.
“I was going to give you a gift that night,” said Donovan. His gaze now took on a more wistful look. “It was our anniversary, did you know that? I bought you a blue scarf and hid it inside a rosewood box that I built as part of your gift. It was also a musical box designed to play our wedding song the moment you lift the scarf out of its hold. I was planning to you take out on a riverboat cruise afterwards where we can make love and enjoy nothing else but each other’s company.”
Harriett felt as if each word was like her own hand twisting a knife through her own heart. They both knew this had to come out sooner or later. Their marriage stifled her. She felt like a caged bird who needed to be more than a wife to a successful industrialist like Carter Donovan. Her father’s position in the War Department gave her a way out. She had never looked back ever since.
“This town,” continued Donovan with a harder edge in his voice. “This town represents everything I ever hoped to live my life for. Everything!”
Donovan’s eyes changed once again and Harriett felt a chill. Her soldier’s instinct told her to be on guard. Carter Donovan was no longer the same man she thought she knew twelve years ago.
There was a movement on the porch to her left and the marionette walked towards the yellow glow of the arc light.
Although the marionette bore the same impassive wax-like face like all the other automations they encountered, what horrified her about this model was that it also had Harriett’s face when she was young. The marionette wore a blue scarf around its neck as it hobbled towards the porch steps on its wooden legs.
“Eleanor is my middle name,” Harriett whispered. “Oh my God, Carter. Come away with me -- away from this town and this sickness before it is too late!”
“Why?” Donovan drawled. “I have never been happier anywhere else than here at Blue Haven where everything is as it should be.”
He gave her a wry smile. “I’d ask you to remain here with me, Harriett, but as you can see...”
There was the sound of a pistol being cocked. The marionette held a derringer to her face.
“As you can see, Eleanor is against the idea. I’m sorry, Harriett. I really am. But now, I insist that you leave with haste away from the farmhouse before my Eleanor does something that we’ll both regret.”
The marionette stood in silence. Harriett stared back at the face of her younger self and bit her lower lip. She picked up her hat, dusted it and started to walk back after her men.
“Oh, Harriett,” called Donovan. “I’m still looking forward to reading your report to the War Department. I am hoping for an unbiased assessment of our latest automatic defense armament. The number of American lives that can be saved by supplanting real soldiers with automatons in the battlefield is immeasurable. Do not forget that.”
* * *
Through the red-blood hue of the dwindling sunlight, Donovan watched Harriett’s receding form in silence.
Suddenly, he heard a loud clatter behind him and turned around in time to see Eleanor collapse onto a parlor chair behind the coffee table.
She took a sharp intake of breath as she slowly lifted the hem of her dress, revealing a double amputation below the knees of real flesh and blood. Each end of the butchered limb was attached to a wooden leg through a socket knee stump secured by a leather cowl and straps.
Donovan watched as she flexed one limb at the knee joint sandwiched by a system of metallic gears that rotated both clockwise and counterclockwise with precision. An air pump hissed within the hollow leg as she rested one rubber foot down on the porch. There was a dark stain forming on the linen bandages wrapped around her right stump.
Donovan pulled up a chair and sat across the injured young woman. Clockwork gears rotated and whirled as he gingerly lifted her right leg and rested it on the coffee table.
“Is it bleeding again?” asked Donovan with a look of concern on his face. “Just stay where you are. I need to change the dressing on your, ah...”
He struggled to find the right words,
“Stump? Oh do go ahead and just say what you mean, Donovan.”
“Look, Mary Jo. I wish... there is something that I can do to change things, but all I can do at this point...”
“You don’t need to apologize to me, Donovan,” said Mary Jo. “We talked about this already. I agreed to this charade though I still don’t understand your reasons for doing so, in return for your giving me back the ability to walk again after the accident that killed my ma and pa.”
“However,” she continued. “I fear that I will always be treated like a freak, a circus fancy.” She rubbed her right knee to ease the pain and saw that fresh blood had begun to seep through. “You’re right. My dressing needs to be changed.”
Donovan set out to work on her knee as he slowly removed the clasps that held the wooden limb to her flesh.
“I am half a person,” she said and bit her lip to keep the tears from welling up her eyes.
“Stop it, Eleanor.” Donovan said. Then his face softened as he gave her a reassuring smile. “You don’t have to face the world outside if you don’t want to. You belong here with me now. Here, drink your medicine my darling. It will make you feel better.”
“It’s ‘Mary Jo,’ Donovan. My name is Mary Jo.” She removed the auburn wig and untied the bun on her naturally dark hair. She shook her head to let the midnight tress fall free on her shoulders. Then she peeled off the waxen mask of “Eleanor” from her face, revealing the scars and stitches she earned from her recent ordeal.
“Look at me!” she cried. “I am neither your wife nor the ghost of her past.”
“Of course. I’m sorry,” Donovan said rubbing his eyes. “I’m tired, that’s all. It’s been a long day.”
The intensity in Mary Jo’s eyes softened. She gently touched his chin with both hands and slowly lifted his face till their eyes met.
“Oh, Donovan. What happened between the two of you?” she asked.
He did not reply and finished the fresh dressing on her wounds in silence. There was really nothing to be said, he thought. Harriett made her choice to leave and pursue her calling, whereas he followed his own destiny where he now belonged among the marionettes of Blue Haven who could never hurt him the way she did.
Carter Donovan stood up and walked towards the rustic rocking chair and picked up a wide-brimmed hat where it laid on the seat. With his back towards Mary Jo, he turned over the hat to reveal its underside wherein a single stick of unused dynamite lay hidden secured by a piece of rawhide. He didn’t have to use them all. A small handful of well-placed explosives were all it took to trigger the landslide.
A slow, twisted smile darkened the rugged lines on Donovan’s face. “You belong to me now, Mary Jo,” he whispered. “I have remade you in their image.”
Copyright © 2015 by Richard Ong
Author’s note: Special thanks to Reynaldo Cantu Llanos for his valuable feedback.