The Doll Master by Ilnaz Faizal


A large, shabby factory stands in the middle of nowhere. The outline of buildings can be seen in the distance. Occasional cawing breaks the silence. 

A crow sits on a telephone pole. It soars down and lands on a window-sill that leads into the main factory floor. 


Factory workers are seated at rows of long tables. They are all clad in the same dull grey jumpsuit that matches the tables and walls. 

People of various ages and ethnicities are seen working. The only things they have in common are their hunched backs, droopy faces and bloodshot eyes. 

On the tables are doll-sized furniture: beds, chairs, cabinets, and more in a rainbow of colours, greatly contrasting the setting around them. 

In the middle of the factory is LEAH (early 20s), a quiet woman with dark hair. She works on a wooden dining chair, painting it yellow. Her fingers slowly become stained yellow as she paints a chair, puts it aside, and starts another. She is disinterested in her work. 

A loud bang makes her look up. The MANAGER enters the factory room. He wears a button-up shirt with noticeable pit stains and his stomach slightly hangs over his belt. 

Leah’s eyes follow him as he walks past all the workbenches without looking at anyone. He climbs some stairs and enters a small office that overlooks the entire factory floor. Inside, Leah can see him sit down at his computer through the office window. 

She gets up and her chair makes a loud screeching noise. No one pays her any attention, save for MARNIE, the older woman with several wrinkles and box-dye red hair who sits next to Leah. Marnie side-eyes Leah as she gets up, before returning back to her own work. 

Leah brisk-walks past rows of tables, all with workers in the same position, working slowly. Among the things we see being worked on are cupboards, beds, tables, and curtains. As Leah gets closer to the stairs, we also see her pass people working on dollhouse roofs and walls. 

She climbs the stairs and knocks on the door, clearly confident. 


Come in! 


As Leah enters, the man is lazily tapping away at his computer. He sees that it’s Leah and sighs. 


Yeah? What is it? 

She takes a deep breath 


Sir, I’d like to talk to you about the new ideas I mentioned yesterday. 


Yeah…those. What about them? 


I’ve actually come up with a few new designs for the interiors that I think will really appeal to children nowadays. 


(clearly not paying attention) 



And if I could just show you some sketches-


Listen, Layla. 




Right, right. Look, we don’t really need new things right now. All this talk of, new this! New that! It’s useless-

The room begins to spin around Leah. She blinks repeatedly and sways back and forth. The manager’s words begin to fade away and a loud, high-pitched, feedback noise replaces it. Leah’s face scrunches in discomfort as she tries to concentrate on his words. She sweats and gasps for air. It’s all becoming too much. 



Leah blinks rapidly. She looks around and the room is no longer spinning. Her breathing steadies. The manager stares at her, waiting. 


I- I’m sorry? 

He lets out a long sigh and leans back in his chair.


I think you should stop tiring yourself out with these “ideas”. Don’t you? 

Leah clenches her fists. 


Yes sir. 


Good. Now get back to work. 


Yes, sir. 

As she turns to open the door, she glances at the frames on the office walls. Photos of the manager with classy-looking businessmen, all big smiles and shaking hands at awards ceremonies. Newspaper articles praising the company’s success in the toy industry, with pictures of the manager alongside company executives. 

Leah sneers at the displays and slams the door shut. 


Leah resumes painting chairs. Her brows are furrowed and her face wears a scowl. Marnie looks at Leah, then back at her own work. 


He turn you down again huh? 

Leah continues painting a chair. 


The mans a fox I tell ya’. Sits on his ass all day and then steals the credit for all our work. 

Leah’s grip on the chair tightens. She adds another coat of yellow paint, even though the colour is already opaque. 


Darlin’ I keep telling ya’ that he ain’t ever gonna listen. One of these days, all your pestering is gonna make him-

A wooden crack interrupts Marnie. The two women look into Leah’s palm where she holds the now broken chair. Three of its legs snapped off. 



You better not let him find that, or else it’ll come out of your paycheck.


I know. 

She stuffs the pieces into her pocket and picks up another chair. 


A STARRY-EYED GIRL (younger than 10) sits criss-cross in front of a large, ornate dollhouse. She is in a lavish bedroom, the furniture all too big for her. Framed photos are hung on every wall, some of the girl with a man and a woman, many more of the girl alone. A pink stuffed bear sits against the pillows on the bed behind the girl. 

The girl holds a small doll (like a Barbie, but smaller) in one hand and its hairbrush in the other. She gently brushes the doll’s hair. Grinning, she opens the front of the dollhouse to reveal its interior. Inside are several other dolls, male and female, big and small. 

The girl kisses the doll in her hand and gently seats her at the dining table of the dollhouse, in between a man and a baby. Together, the three dolls look like a family. The girl’s smile reaches her ears. 


Leah’s door creaks loudly as it opens. She winces at the noise and slams it shut. She flips the switch next to the door, only to realise that the only light in the apartment does not work. 

She takes a step to her kitchenette and retrieves a box of matches from a drawer. She shuffles to her nearby dining table where she lights a candle. 

Digging into her pocket, she removes the broken chair. She places it on the table before returning to the kitchenette’s drawers, rummaging around until she finds a roll of tape. 

Her hands delicately tape each leg back to the chair. She takes the chair to her single bed, that spans almost the entire width of the apartment. Next to it is the only window in the studio. There’s a large crack running through it. 

In the narrow space between the bed and the wall, sits a scuffed-up, wooden dollhouse. The roof is half-painted a ghastly pink and the brushstrokes are amateurishly visible. The exterior is covered in dark brown stains of dirt residue. This dollhouse is nothing like the ones the factory manufactures. A throw away. 

Leah wedges herself between the bed and her dollhouse. The space is so cramped that the wooden edges of the dollhouse dig into her kneecaps as she sits criss-cross in front of it. 

The dollhouse furniture is all mismatched in numerous colours. Some furniture is taped together, evidence that the yellow chair is not the first thing Leah has broken. There are also a few dolls. Their colour faded and faces smeared, something out of nightmares. 

Leah places the fixed chair in the kitchen. She examines the house, but it’s hard to tell what she’s thinking about. She removes a female doll from the bathtub and brings it to the kitchen. She notices some tiny plastic utensils, and makes it pick up the knife. 


Like a little girl, she pretends the doll is cutting food on the kitchen table. She hums a light tune as she moves the doll’s right arm up and down, the knife loosely hanging from its hand. 

The knife drops. It bounces off the doll’s foot and lands on the kitchen floor.


Leah halts and frowns. She picks up the miniscule knife and places it back on the table, then lays the doll flat on the kitchen floor and carefully closes the dollhouse. 

Behind her, on the bed, a pink, half-stuffed bear with one eye sits against the pillow. 


Leah and Marnie sit at their workspaces, fixing together tables. There is a wall-mounted TV facing all the workers. It can be heard in the background but no one pays attention to it. 

Marnie puts down her work and stretches her arms above her head. Her back cracks. 


I’m gonna get a drink before I become a hunchback. Want anything? 

Leah shakes her head, not looking up. Marnie walks away. Leah puts down her work and stretches her back. The TV is playing the news. It catches Leah’s attention. 


In local news, Vanessa Halstead, wife of esteemed entrepreneur William Halstead, was taken to the E.R last night after she sustained injuries in a cooking accident. Reports state that Mrs. Halstead received three stitches after dropping a knife onto her foot. 

Leah freezes. 


Mrs Halstead was found by one of the staff members passed out on the kitchen floor and brought to the hospital shortly after. 



Leah jumps in her seat. Marnie is standing over her, a can of Coke in each hand. She offers one to Leah. Leah takes it and begins sipping the drink. Marnie looks at the TV disapprovingly. 


Man, people be gettin’ on the news for almost anything nowadays. 

Leah hums in response. 


Heck, I always thought trophy wives had people do the cooking for them. Probably the first time she ever picked up a knife! 

Marnie chuckles. Leah takes one more suspicious glance at the TV before returning to her work. 


(fading out) 

Vanessa Halstead, née Jones, was married to William Halstead late last year. She is most famously known for her time… 


Through the window, we see an orange-red sunset illuminate the sky. Leah is sat in front of her open dollhouse. She’s staring at the doll that lies on the kitchen floor, her brows furrowed. She picks up the doll and examines its feet, but finds nothing strange. 

She sighs and puts it down. The other dolls are spread throughout the dollhouse. All mimicking human actions. Leah is drawn to one doll standing on a balcony. It holds a watering can over a small flower bed attached to the railing.

She picks up the doll and removes the watering can from its grasp. The doll’s smile is carved into its face, but the paint that once used to indicate its eyes and mouth are now gone. 

She tosses the doll back and forth between her hands. She abruptly stops. The doll is dropped into her lap and she closes the dollhouse. She picks up the doll and pauses. 

Determinedly, she sits the doll on the roof. It has no balance. She cups her hands around the doll, creating a barrier. After a few seconds, the doll stills. Leah slowly removes her hands and leans back. She stares at it, it stares back. 

The quiet of the apartment is loud. Nothing happens. Leah slowly raises her right palm to the doll, but stops centimetres away. She visibly gulps. Suddenly, she slaps the doll off the roof. It’s sent flying onto the floor below where it lands on its side. 

Leah stares at the motionless doll, then slowly crawls over to it. She picks it up and vigorously moves its limbs every which way, scanning all over its body. 

A loud tap on the glass breaks the silence. Leah yelps and drops the doll. She turns around and sees a crow on the windowsill. She snatches the doll from the floor and throws it on her table. 

The crow continues tapping on the window as Leah climbs onto her bed and moves towards the glass. The crow cocks its head side to side and taps again. Leah glares at it, then bangs on the glass. The crow flies away. 

Leah flops onto her bed and spreads out starfish-style. She grabs the ragged pink bear that sits against the pillow and pulls it close to her chest. She kisses its head softly, and slowly closes her eyes. 



The little girl sits in front of her open dollhouse, a doll in each hand. One male and one female. She moves them about, as if they are dancing together, but her face is sad. Shouting can be heard from outside the room. 


You’re never home! How am I supposed to believe you when I don’t even see you?! 

MAN 1 (O/S) 

Shut the fuck up! You keep accusing me of stupid shit, but you’re just insecure and useless! 


Useless?! You’re a pathetic loser!

MAN 1 (O/S) 

And you’ll always be second best! I don’t need you! 

The young girl glances at her door, then back to her dolls. Her eyes are watery. Her grip on the dolls tightens, and she moves them more forcefully than before. 


I don’t need any of you! 


How could you say that!? Are we nothing to you!? 

The little girl stops moving the dolls. Her cheeks and nose are bright red. A loud, high-pitched feedback noise rises and partially drowns out the shouting. But the combined noise and shouting is insanely overwhelming. The girl presses her hands to her ears and screws her eyes shut. 

She runs to her bed and grabs the pink stuffed bear. She rips the blanket off the bed and climbs under it. 

MAN 1 (O/S) 

Leave! Take her and go! 


I hate you! I HATE YOU! 

The young girl squeezes the bear to her chest, and throws the blanket over her, covering her whole body. The feedback noise dies down. Her sobs are heard from under the blanket. 


Leah sits at her workspace, her right leg bouncing. Her eyes are glued to the TV. On her table are three large silver cans, unopened. 

An advertisement for organic honey plays on the TV. Her leg bounces faster. 



Hey. Stop dreaming. Do your work. 

Leah side-eyes Marnie and stands up. She takes a can and brandishes a flathead screwdriver. She shoves the screwdriver under the lid and pops it open. The can is filled with bright green paint. She does the same to the other two cans, when the news jingle plays on the TV, and her head snaps up.


Good day. Today’s top stories include winners of the recent Winter Olympics, as well as relations between the US and the UK. 

Leah’s eyes never leave the TV. She picks up a can in each hand and walks to the table ahead of her. She sets a can down. 

MAN 2 

Thanks Leah! 

Leah walks away without acknowledging him. She walks ahead to the next table and sets the other can of paint down. 

MAN 3 

Ah just in time! Was running out of paint. 

Leah turns around and walks back to her workspace. She picks up the last can. 


First, in local news… 

She freezes. 


The Halstead estate has reported the passing of their groundskeeper of 30 years, Elliott Smith. 

Her eyes are hypnotized by the screen. The can hangs loosely in her grip. 


Reports state he committed suicide by jumping off the roof of the Halstead estate, late last night. 

Leah’s eyes widen. 

In slow-motion, the can falls from her grip. She tries to catch it, but stumbles backwards and collides with the table. The can crashes on the ground and green paint explodes everywhere. Leah slips and falls backwards into the giant puddle, drenched from head to toe. 

The loud clang of the metal can against the cement floor draws everyone’s attention. They stare in shock. The huge pool of green sticks out in the dull factory. Leah is frozen. 


What’s going on? Why’d you all stop working? 

The manager rushes up to the accident. 


What the fuck happened?! This is a mess! Who’s going to pay for this wasted paint?! You! 

He points at Leah. Marnie rushes over and helps her to stand. Leah’s shoes slide around in the paint as she rises. She holds onto Marnie’s arms for support. 


This is all coming out of your paycheck! No, y’know what? Don’t even bother expecting this month’s pay. You’re not getting any! 

Marnie lets go of Leah. Leah turns to the manager and hangs her head. She clenches her jaw and fists. 


You just keep getting on my nerves! You stick your nose everywhere but you can’t even do your job right?! You’re USELESS! 

Leah slowly lifts her head. Her eyes are ablaze. Her chest rises and falls rapidly. 

The manager is still berating insults at her, but his words fade away and are replaced with the loud, high-pitched, feedback noise. His mouth moves erratically, spewing words like ‘filth’ and ‘pathetic’. Leah looks like she’s about to explode. 

The screwdriver is on the table, right next to Leah. Without looking, she reaches down and grips the handle. She moves to pick it up, but a hand grabs her wrist. Leah turns. It’s Marnie. Marnie subtly shakes her head. They share a look. Leah grips the handle a little tighter, then releases it. 

The feedback noise slowly fades away. 


You will clean this up before the day ends. Got it?! 

Leah nods. Tears almost spill out. 


Well. Since I’m here, I might as well announce this now.

He moves to the front of the room where everyone can see him. 


So guys, the big bosses upstairs have been telling me that they’ve been really impressed with your work! And because of your efforts, they’ve seen an increase in sales cause of the increase in dollhouses made! Give yourselves a hand! 

He claps enthusiastically. Scattered applause follows.


Anyways, they’ve asked me to pick an employee that I think has shown outstanding effort here to be interviewed for a promotion! 

Leah and Marnie are at the back of the crowd. Leah’s eyes light up. 


So! For their amazing contribution here, the winner is…AIDAN! 

Her face drops. AIDAN (pimply-faced with long blond hair) goes up to the manager and shakes his hand. Everyone applauds. Leah looks like she’s been stabbed. Marnie notices and rubs her back. 



Hey, it’s ok. I know you had so many ideas and plans for the dollhouses. They would’ve done amazingly. 

Tears stream down Leah’s cheeks. 


It’s just…some people aren’t fair. And they don’t acknowledge you. But it’s ok to only be second best sometimes. 

Leah’s face changes. She’s no longer crying. A fire sweeps over her eyes. 


Leah stands over her dollhouse. She scowls at it, then picks it up in both hands. She moves to the front door, but stops at her table and picks up her box of matches.


Leah marches down the hallway, slightly staggering from the hefty dollhouse weight. She starts hearing things. She blinks rapidly and winces. 

MAN 1 (V/O) 



Pathetic loser. 


Stop trying. 



MAN 1 (V/O) 




MAN 1 (V/O) 








Leah stands in the empty parking lot. Her face is splotchy and she sniffles loudly. The dollhouse is at her feet, cracked and split open. 

She takes the box of matches out from her pocket. She strikes a match and takes a long, hard look at the dollhouse. She spits on it and throws the match down. 

The flames spread quickly over the wooden material. Through the rising dark smoke of the burning dollhouse, Leah looks on stoically. The blazing orange fire illuminates the dark night. A crow perched on a nearby telephone pole watches Leah, then flies away. 


Leah and Marnie sit at their workspaces, painting red tables. The news jingle plays on the TV. They both look up. 


Breaking news. At approximately four A.M last night, the Halstead estate was caught in a horrific fire. Fire department says the fire lasted for an hour, encompassing the entire mansion. 

Images of a large mansion engulfed in bright orange flames and dark black smoke flash across the screen.


It is with deep regret that we report the death of seven people, including William and Vanessa Halstead. Owners of the Halstead estate. 


Dear God, That is horrible! What on Earth could’ve caused such a huge fire? 


Who knows. 

Leah turns to Marnie. 


Maybe somebody made a grave mistake. 

Leah returns to her work. Marnie stares at Leah, confused. 


With the death of William and Vanessa Halstead, police have now begun to search for the sole beneficiary to the Halstead fortune. Eleanor Halstead, William’s only child from his first marriage. Police have no records of her, speculating that the child took on her mother’s maiden name after the split with Mr Halstead. 

A photo of the young, starry-eyed girl appears on screen. She has dark hair and wears a white dress. Cuddled close to her chest, is the pink stuffed bear. 


(fade out) 

If you have any information on Eleanor Halstead, please contact the police at… 

Marnie’s eyes dart back and forth between the TV and Leah. She shifts uncomfortably in her seat, as Leah quietly continues to paint tables. Leah’s mouth twitches as she suppresses the urge to smile. Her hands slowly become stained red. 

Ilnaz Faizal is a Malaysian girl who writes poetry, prose, and screenplays (both for university work & for her own pleasure). She spends her time dreaming up and writing down scraps of fantasy, horror, and romance – most of which are never read by others. You can find her other writings on Twitter at @Ilnaz_Faizal

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