Various documents from a time before now

This is where old stuff is retired at the end of its pointless existence. Sometimes things get created and retired at the same time.

Widely applauded as a modern masterpiece of short fiction, The Toymaker's Doll is reproduced here for the first time. Breathtaking in scope yet possessing an ethereal beauty, this is a work of literary art that will leave you wondering. It was a leading contender in the 2003 Commonwealth Short Story Competition, receiving critical acclaim from both literary experts and general readers alike. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of the author.

The Toymaker's Doll - by Anton Dominovich - 2008.01.18

Toymaker lifted himself up and started to crawl through the air duct again. Wafers of rust slipped off the walls and struck the floor of the duct with a barely audible thunk, dissolving in miniature dust storms. Toymaker hated rust. It seemed to stick in his throat far more than it should and sought out his lungs as if to torment him all the more. He was sure it was deliberate. But for now he would tolerate it, he always did. Somehow it wasn't so bad if he pretended not to notice.

A particularly large chunk dropped, sending up a cloud of particles that rushed straight for his nose causing him to sneeze violently. Toymaker momentarily lost his grip, slipped, grabbed and slipped again. "It's not happening, it's not happening" he gasped and sputtered sliding back two feet before regaining his hold. The mind game worked. Suddenly he felt his lungs were filling with winter-crisp air and he started to move forward again, more slowly this time, he dared not enrage them twice in one day.

The duct was cleaner now and he made good progress in spite of the weight he carried. Toward midday he reached the first junction and stopped to rest. A pipe had cracked and the dripping oil had formed a small pool. Toymaker drank greedily, he was thirstier than he'd imagined. The oil soothed his throat and he lay back letting his eyes close slightly, there was still time. A faint clattering startled him, abruptly he looked up. Two children were running past, like him, eager to get home. They scuttled like rats, their pink and blue school bags bouncing alongside. It reminded him of autumn days long past with the red and blue leaves blowing across the crusted boards, the only colour in a landscape of endless grey. He'd liked the grey it was soothing somehow and quiet, so very quiet, sometimes he could even hear his own blood flowing. It made a sort of swishing sound, whispering to him as it journeyed through the tangled corridors of his body.

Toymaker roused himself, the insistent squeal of his watch commanding him to move on again. He hoisted his burden and began crawling through the duct once more. The canvas had worked loose and part of the doll's head protruded, it's eyes rolled loosely in their sockets searching everything, seeing nothing. Toymaker tried to push it back inside but the canvas was old and rotted, he thought it might break apart so he left it staring blindly as he ventured on.

The air duct was narrowing now as it passed over the core, and it was hotter. Toymaker had to press against the sides so both he and the doll could pass together. His fur had become matted with sweat and rust, how he hated rust. The doll's head scraped against the wall and slivers of porcelain skin peeled off. He thought he heard it screaming. Then the duct widened again and started to slope gently downward, it would be easier now. This section was newer, it had been replaced only two years ago. Toymaker's claws clattered lightly on the metal floor as he picked up speed. Soon he would be home. Past the final junction, the hollow sounds of the approaching exit enticed him. Then he was paused on the edge of the duct, looking over the world. He glanced once more at the doll. It's face was chipped, one unseeing eye stared back. He knew they would be angry. Toymaker tightened his hold on the canvas bundle, then lowered himself carefully from the air duct, turned, and started for home.