"It's a long story, love."
"I have time." You said.
He returned his gaze to you. "It may be a little hard to believe."
You cocked an eyebrow and crossed your arms. "Arthur, honey, I just watched a doll I bought yesterday at a yard sale come to life in the middle of my living room."
He walked over and took a seat on your couch. You followed and sat next to him.
"Well" he began "I guess it all started a good two hundred years ago…
"I believe it was the year 1810, the height of industrialism in England where it all started. Back then, I was a middle class factory worker. I lived in a very nice home for the time; it was two stories high and considered very nice for the time period, though it was considerably smaller than your home. Still, this was before the standard of living was changed…
"Anyways, I lived in that house with the woman I loved, a young woman named Louise. She was a petite little thing; very short, scrawny, thin. She could easily be confused for a child really! But she was very pretty. Lovely hazel eyes, fair skin, long, strawberry blonde hair. Every day was the same thing for us; we'd wake up extremely early, she'd make us a quick breakfast, then off I'd go for a long, hazardous shift at the factory while she stayed at home and do the housework. Then, after a fifteen hour shift, I'd walk back home with my meager earnings for the day, the two of us would eat dinner and then go to bed to restart the cycle the next day.
"But the thing about Louise was that she was very sickly. Her small stature was a drawback really. All the smog and smoke and pollution and waste…she couldn't take it. She fell gravely ill. She was so sick and weak that she couldn't even lift her arm to hold her spoon. She spent her days in bed, coughing, wheezing, and dying a slow painful death. I quit my job at the factory so I could take care of her; I loved her more than any job in the world.
"But her condition wasn't improving in the least. It only got worse and worse. Her throat began to swell. Without treatment, it would swell shut, not allowing food or water or air to pass through. But I was an unemployed, middle class ex-factory worker! There wasn't a doctor within a hundred miles that would work for what I could pay him! Believe me, I tried; I went to every doctor, nurse, and physician I could find, begging for their help, making promises to pay it back gradually or to work to pay it off. There wasn't a single taker. We were turned away by every single one." Arthur paused. He had tears streaming down his face.
"S-sorry, love. W-where was I?"
You could tell that this story was painful for him, but you wanted to know so much. You were having an internal battle with yourself over whether to ask him to stop or not.
"Anyway my family, that is the Kirkland family, have experience in the use of magic. But it causes us nothing but trouble, so I didn't dare use what I know on dear Louise. However, I happen to have known a spell caster who lived a ways outside of town, deep in the woods where she would be safe from any burning stakes. I reluctantly left Louise at home and set out to find her.
"When I reached the tiny cabin in the forest, I asked the spell caster for her assistance, offering what little sum of money I had. She refused to take it, saying a good deed was its own reward. She told me of a spell she could use that would cure her fully and immediately, but it came with a grave price; my soul. She said that so long as we had our love for each other, we could share a soul and still be whole. But should our love be lost, my soul would go with her, leaving me behind.
"Believing our love was eternal, I accepted the offer without delay. She created a brew and handed me a flask filled to the brim and corked. I hurried back to Louise and made her drink every last drop. As the spell caster promised, she was instantly cured. She was on her feet, eating and breathing as though she'd never been sick a day in her life.
"Things began to return to normal. I found work in a textile factory and began to bring in a new income. I would go home to my lovely wife who'd be waiting with a dinner on the table and arms open to greet me. We'd go to bed smiling and wake up the same way. Things were going very well, so I chose not to tell her about the price of the spell.
"But then, as time passed, I noticed Louise had been growing more and more distant. She'd sleep far as she could from me, she stopped hugging me when I walked in the door, she'd talk less and less at dinner, and she'd retire to bed long before or long after I did. I didn't say anything. I'd figured that the monotony had gotten to her.
"However, one day I came home from work to find her waiting just inside the door with a pack suitcase. She said that she was grateful for all I'd done and that she'd never forget it, but that she'd fallen in love with another…and out of love with be. She gave me a kiss on the cheek while I stood there mouth agape and eyes staring into oblivion. She trotted out the door and into an impressive, sleek carriage. Inside sat a handsome, young, obviously rich man. Without a single look back she climbed in and I watched them leave me far behind.
"The moment they were out of sight, my body felt hollow. My heart stopped beating, my blood stopped running, my breath stopped coming, and my muscles felt weak. I began to shrink. My eyes hardened over and became buttons, my hair was replaced with yarn, my skin became fabric. And that was that. I was a doll. A children's toy.
"That night, under the light of the midnight moon, I returned to this form. Responding to my first instinct as a depressed, recently and unexpectedly divorced man, I headed to the pub. To sum up a long night, I got drunk and passed out. As soon as the morning sun hit my body through the window, I returned to a doll. The bartender saw me laying in the floor, so he picked me up, uttered something or other about grown men carrying around toys, and tossed me in the alley with the trash.
"That's where I was found by a little girl. She pulled me off the ground and ran home with me excitedly. That night, when she fell asleep with me in her arms, I transformed right beside her. More amazed than startled, she spent the night playing with me as well as the nights after. She called me her 'Secret Prince'." Arthur smiled at this memory. You could tell he cared about this little girl and was grateful for her kindness.
"But then" he continued "Her father discovered me; what I was. Outraged, he discarded me immediately. But, somehow, I got back to the house and into her room. He tried to get rid of me again and a again. He tried burning me, trashing me, even burying me. But every time, sometimes worse for wear, I would return against my will. It had something to do with the curse I could tell.
"Then, the girl's father found out how to get rid of me; I had to be willingly taken by someone else. He gave me to a friend of the little girl's. The friend, terrified that her doll transformed into a person, then gave me to a friend of hers, and so on and so on, child after child, I was passed around. I circled the globe and then some with more children than I can count, each giving me away and each leaving some kind of mark on my body, be it a tear, a stain, dirt, hanging thread, or fraying seams. The pain each of them caused me hurt more and more every night.
"Eventually, I ended up with Alfred. He thought I was some kind of zombie toy and took me from a friend of his around the time her was nine or ten. Upon discovering the curse, he of course tried to get rid of me like all the others but to no avail; no one wanted me and he couldn't throw me away or burn me. So he buried me in his basement, a sort of loophole in the curse I would call it, no windows or light. I couldn't transform, which I was grateful for, my human form only brought me pain."
"So that's why he was so desperate to get rid of you when I dug you out of the box." You said.
"Yes, that's right. I suppose he forgot about me. I was down there for many years, gathering dust like the rest of his rubbish. Until, eventually, I ended up in your hands." He reached his hand over and held yours tenderly. He looked into your eyes. "You're the first person in two hundred years to show me any kindness. Rather than causing me pain, you cured me. Fixed me. Healed me. I could never fully repay what you've done for me." He pulled you into another hug, resting his head on your shoulder.
"Arthur", you said, returning the hug "I'm so sorry for all that's happened to you. You've been through more pain than any one person deserves."
"It's not your fault, love." He said with a small smile "I made my own mistakes."
"Is there any way to break the curse?" you asked.
He stopped hugging you and returned his gaze to the floor. "No idea love. Every curse can be reversed, but I never bothered to ask the spell caster how to break it. But I don't care about that. I just want a place to stay; someplace where people won't be giving me away the first chance they get, a place where I won't feel like a monster. I want a home."
You began rubbing his back to relax him. "Don't worry", you said "You have a home here."