Fungal Halo

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The more powerful a witch, the greater the impact on the world when they finally depart from it.

The works of some will linger long past their time.

One witch’s legacy in particular is spoken of in fearful whispers: the twelve or thirteen assassin dolls it left behind.

They say each doll it crafted is deadlier than the last, but you’d never recognize one by appearance. They are as plain as can be—drab, even—as though assembled by a particularly bored and uncaring creator.

And when the witch departed, its dolls went their separate ways.

Where they went, nobody knows.

But sometimes one hears of a lively witch’s house that, without warning, goes completely dark, the witch at its heart and all the dolls inside it killed by gruesome acts of violence. It happens just infrequently enough to forget the threat.

That’s how it happens that a sweet and trusting doll named Finch finds herself leading a new friend by the hand to a cozy house deep in a secluded forest, where the witch who lives there welcomes the poor lost thing into its home with open arms.

The mark on the lost doll’s chest suggests that her name is “Vi,” and she does not correct the misconception. Her new family eagerly tries to guess what it may be short for.

Perhaps “Violet,” a flower as pretty as she is!

Perhaps “Viola,” in honor of the beauty of her voice!

They flatter her. She knows how plain she is in every respect, but the unexpected kindness they show her fills her with a warmth that she has rarely felt before.

She decides it would be harmless to spend the day enjoying the attention, promising herself to kill them tomorrow.

Finch wakes her up bright and early the next morning, eager to show the new doll what the rest of them have been up to. The warm and inviting scent of baked goods wafts through the house from a kitchen bustling with dolls finishing a dizzying array of treats.

Their witch greets the new doll with a smile, sitting at the head of a dining room table increasingly covered in carefully plated scones and muffins and cookies and small bowls of rosehip jam and three kinds of tea.

“We might have gone a little overboard in our excitement,” the witch says, inclining its head in acknowledgement of the excess. “But everyone wanted to contribute something to the occasion. It’s not every day we welcome a new member of the house, after all.”

Finch leans in and whispers conspiratorially, “you don’t have to eat all of it, but you at least gotta try the scones, Vi; those are mine.”

The new doll does her best to enjoy a little of everything. With a full belly, she concludes that the violence can wait another day.

So another day goes by, and Finch offers to paint her nails. The doll they call Vi has never known what it is to be decorated in such a way, and she accepts. When shown the selection of paints, she settles on a bright yellow one to match the pretty color of Finch’s eyes.

She puts off the killing another day.

Her new family teaches her the basics of baking, and she puts it off another day.

She makes friends for the first time, and puts it off another day.

Finch gives the doll her first kiss, and she puts it off another day.

The witch asks her gentle questions about her past to determine if someone might be looking for her. She tells it no one would.

It asks about siblings. She says she has about a dozen but doesn’t know where they are.

The witch does not notice the significance of that answer.

Something inside of her draws a little tighter each day. There is a contradiction inside herself she cannot resolve.

The doll feels something like happiness, or even the proximity of safety, for the first time in her life, and nothing has ever scared her like this before.

When at last the feelings grow too much to bear, she finds a quiet night to slip away from the house, vowing to leave everyone behind and forget this place.

She almost makes it.

“Vi, where are you going?”

The voice belongs to Finch, and the doll freezes in panic.

Something snaps, and the illusion of choice bursts all at once, releasing the stored momentum of the assassin doll’s nature.

It happens too quickly for Finch’s face to even register the betrayal.

A hand through her chest, and she drops with a heavy thud.

One doll at a time, the house goes quiet.

The witch lies in a slowly widening pool of its own blood, slumped against the wall, eyes casting an inscrutable look at its assailant.

With a voice—somehow retaining its power—it asks “how many siblings did you say you had, dear?”

“Eleven or twelve.” The doll’s expression remains perfectly flat.

“Of course. I understand. And I forgive—”

The sharpened doll cuts off the witch’s last words with one last, quick movement.

It’s all over.

Six wipes the blood off her hands. A flash of sunny color peeks through the ugly smear, reminding her of what she will never have again.

The lost doll cannot cry, but she takes a long moment to compose herself.

She wishes she could have held out for just one more day.