Wednesday, December 7
Shadow

Strings

By ABIGAIL M. ADRIATICO

Editor’s Note: This piece is one of the works in a six-part series in line with the Dapitan 2021 theme Captured. All works are written by the Flame‘s Letters staffers.

Art by LEANNE VILOG

While she was carried to the attic above the theater, Helena knew that the puppet master was not pleased. 

He slammed the glass door of Helena’s case shut as he placed his gloved hands on its surface. As his youthful face seethed with rage, contempt filled his voice as he spoke to the puppet. “You call that a performance? That was pathetic!”

 Helena tried not to flinch at every word as she bowed her head in shame. She knew her job was to give the best performance to all those who saw her. The thought that she disappointed not only the audience but also her puppet master, made her feel smaller than she already was.

The puppet master continued to berate her, ignoring the parts that she managed to do perfectly. Helena did not find it in her to defend herself and simply focused her eyes on the strings tied to the fabric of her shoes. She willed her tears not to fall in fear of angering the man any further. 

Before storming down the open hatch on the floor, the last thing Helena heard was a threat: “If you make that same mistake again, I’ll tear off a leg this time.” 

As the hatch closed with a loud thud, the whole study was submerged in complete darkness. Knowing that the puppet master would not return until the next day, Helena sank to the floor and finally let her tears flow. She hugged her knees as her sobs echoed throughout the silent room.

Helena’s life revolved around this cycle. Every day, she would be taken out of her case for a performance and she would do the puppet master’s bidding as her limbs were moved for her. That would have been all there was to it if not for her strings. 

Sometimes, for a fleeting moment, she would not feel them at all, causing her to be out of sync with the music. Helena did not know why such a thing would occur but it always angered the puppet master. The stitches on her left shoulder were a reminder of that. She could only hope that it would not happen again.

Fortunately, her succeeding performances went smoothly which pleased the puppet master. By the end of the week, while certain parts of her were being groomed, she was informed about her upcoming grand performance. 

Helena asked about it as the puppet master trimmed her hair on the work table using a pair of silver scissors. 

He explained how it would be different because it would be on a bigger stage. After some finishing touches, she was returned to her glass case. The puppet master gave her a warning look before he left. 

Helena pondered on it. The puppet master’s threatening look was something she had been most worried about. Helena felt a chill come over her as she glanced at her left shoulder. The brown thread that looked out of place was a recent scar. There was no room for a fatal mistake.  

Days passed by and her grand performance came. She was anxious long before she set foot on the stage. Before her routine began, the puppet master gave her a warning look, which only worsened the thoughts gnawing away at her composure. 

When the music came on, she moved just as the strings willed her to. She submitted herself to the bidding of the puppet master. 

Her eyes fell towards the audience before her, all watching intently with their limbs free from strings. They moved in a way that she could not and the thought made her feel bitter. With the spark of jealousy arising, she thought, “Is this really all there is to my life?” 

All of a sudden, she no longer felt the strings pulling her. However, the music was still playing. When she heard an exasperated sigh, panic filled her instantly. Without thinking straight, she immediately bolted off the stage and towards the audience. 

She heard the puppet master’s enraged voice calling her as she was dragged backward, straight into the man’s hand. Helena squirmed as much as she could but to no avail. 

Desperately, she bit the puppet master’s hand, causing him to yelp and drop all that he was holding on the ground. Helena saw the silver pair of scissors fall beside her. A thought struck her immediately. 

“It’s pointless, ” the puppet master chuckled as he reached for the scissors, “as long as I have your strings, I control your every move.”  

But Helena was faster. To the horror of the puppet master, Helena managed to grab the scissors first. 

“You don’t control me anymore,” she thought to herself.  

With one smooth snip, several strings fell on the ground. Along with it was the thud of a body falling lifelessly on the floor. F

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