For years, Hollister’s Toy Shop on Pembrose Lane was a beloved destination of the city’s residents. Within the confines of his workshop, Mr. Hollister produced mechanical wonderments the likes of which no one had ever seen: wind-up tin soldiers who could march in perfect formation every time; brass puzzle boxes that, when solved, unfolded to reveal a length of train track and a locomotive, complete with tiny engineer and functioning whistle, that would roll along it; tiny trapeze artists that, without seeming to move at all, could nimbly turn somersaults back and forth across a suspension of wire. He crafted clockwork automota of animals, mechanisms that would pace, or leap, or climb, or even swim, all with nothing so much as the pressing of a button or the turning of a key.
He dealt also in the simpler entertainments, in whirlygigs and shadowcasters and zoetropes, in magic tricks and intricate jigsaw puzzles. And not just for the wealthy or the priviliged were the whimseys of Mr. Hollister. Come Christmastime each year he would personally deliver donations to the cities orphanages and poor houses, gifts of colored, flashing tops, of delicate kites, and fine soft plush animals, each constructed by his very hand. To the children of the city especially, his shop was a place of wonder and dazzlement.
To all, save one: his tiny daughter Sophie.
She was a sprightly, fey thing, little Sophie, forever posessed of a particularly anemic countenance with a nature as sallow to match. Though never an outgoing child, in the company of her mother or other children a small spark of light and color ignited within her, though it never quite caught into flame. Whenever her father was around, however, the matches of her spirit refused to strike at all. In family portraits she could be mistaken for one of her father’s mechanical marvels, albeit one broken and stilled.
No one knew why, and it was never spoken of. But there were some who passed rumors and gossip, in the back of tea rooms and pubs of lesser repute, that the entirety of Mr. Hollister’s craft was born in an attempt to win the heart of the daughter who could not, or would not, love him in return. As to why as upstanding and generous a gentleman such as Mr. Hollister could be hated so by his own progeny, no one of polite society dared venture an opinion, though said opinions were certainly held.
In the winter of her tenth year, little Sophie contracted a wasting illness, to which she inevitably succumbed. While her mother fell into a deep morning, eventually leaving the city entirely to retire to her family’s lands upstate, it was Mr. Hollister who was most bereaved. For the child’s tombstone he created a miniature mechanized elephant. At sunset of each day it would raise up onto its hind legs, trunk raised in salutation, and trumpet one single, sad note.
From then on Mr. Hollister began to slowly detach from society. He appeared less and less in his store, trusting the minding of it to various assistants and clerks while he retreated further into the workshop. Finally, after Mrs. Hollister departed, he vanished from public sight entirely. Less than a year later, the toy shop closed its doors to Pembrose Lane for good.
What caused the fire, no one knew. Perhaps some chemical compound used in the creation of fine mechanics combusted, or perhaps Mr. Hollister himself set the shop ablaze. What is known is that the building was razed in the flames, and the charred body of the toymaker himself found within.
Something else was discovered, as well: a trapdoor in the floor of the workshop, leading to a second, smaller workshop below, only lightly touched by the flames. Here, nestled in sconces lining the walls, were three dozen identical dolls, each a simulacra of poor departed Sophie. As with the elephant, at sundown of each day the dolls sprang into life, though there was no sound save that of their internal mechanics. Each merely raised their right hand to point at the center of the room, eyes glaring in unmistakable anguish, as if to level an unspeakable accusation upon their creator.