I get confused sometimes. I misremember instructions Miss gives me or get lost in the house or see things that aren’t really there.
That’s why right now I’m trying to sit still and enjoy my tea and studiously avoid looking outside the window at the shouting thing below.
I can wait for Miss to tell me whether there really is anyone out there. After all, it’s dangerous for me to feed my delusions by acknowledging them. My witch helpfully reminds me all the time how easily I can be seduced by fantasy.
Nobody ever comes here anyway.
Sometimes I wonder why Miss doesn’t replace me with better dolls. Dolls that know themselves and don’t make mistakes, who are happy to do a good job cleaning and don’t break down because they really thought there were soap suds in the bucket but apparently it was empty and—
I shouldn’t be the only doll in the house. Miss deserves better than me. She always tells me so. She must really love me, right?
A shadow falls over me, cast in the wrong direction toward the light of the window.
“What is that?” Miss asks, glaring outside.
At Her implicit invitation I permit myself to take a peek out the window.
Outside, a figure in black—utterly lacking Miss’s grace and dignity, but with a wide hat equal in prominence to Hers—shouts words I can’t parse and hurls a bottle to shatter against the front door.
“I-it looks like another witch?” I guess, feeling especially uncertain about such a strange sight. (It’s good that I understand it as strange, right?)
“Looks like,” she hisses. “But a witch should know better than to meddle in the affairs of another witch.”
Oh, Miss is angry. I shrink a little, try to make myself as small as possible, even if the anger isn’t directed at me.
She barely notices me, flowing down toward the door in a smooth, imperious motion.
I return my attention to the interloper. Something about the other witch summons a swirl of confused half-memories, like she stepped right out of one of my more intense delusions.
That scares me, but I can’t bring myself to look away. Even my delusions are important to me.
I barely notice how I’ve abandoned my tea (I hate it anyway) or how my feet carry me toward the door, following Miss to her confrontation with the other witch (She doesn’t love me like my—).
They’re both outside, faces unreadable (furious).
My head is a confusion of thoughts and emotions I can’t place. They don’t make sense.
I need a closer look. I creep forward, doing my best to avoid notice, which turns out to be easier than expected when they’re so focused on each other.
“…then get meddled, motherfucker!” the interloper shouts, performing a gesture with her wrists and fingers—a motion that manages to be somehow intricate and casual at the same time—and a conflagration of iridescent visual noise engulfs the house.
I’m glad to have slipped outside already, though the magic burns without heat and some delusion inside me whispers a reassurance that it would not have harmed me anyway.
Then my witch retaliates. She doesn’t move Her body, but I feel Her response in mine.
It feels like gravity snapping sideways for an instant, and suddenly the house is intact again. In fact, it was never attacked at all. The bottle thrown earlier was no potion, but an empty beer bottle. The interloper is no witch, just some drunk fool confronting her better.
No. The foul-mouthed witch shakes off the rewritten narrative with a dismissive flick of her body, returning to her own power.
“Ha! I recognize that trick,” she says. “The same shit you pulled before, like you’d just tie reality into a tidy bow and leave me outside it.”
“What are you on about?” my witch responds in baffled frustration. I’ve never seen her in a situation like this where she wasn’t perfectly in control. “I do not dally with such crass young witches as yourself. I have surely never met you.”
The Crass Young Witch cackles in a strangely charming way. “That’s right. We’ve never met. You probably assumed I was some powerless nobody you could sweep under the rug.” She gestures in my direction. “Your attention was on someone else.”
Both witches turn their eyes on me.
I must not have been as stealthy as I thought.
I cast my eyes meekly downward, terrified of the attention, worried that they’ll both turn their shouting at me, that I’ve completely misunderstood the situation, and now they’re both going to yell at me and tell me I’m useless.
“Holy shit, you’ve really done a number on her, you rotten bitch,” Crass Witch says, but for some reason it sounds more like heartbreak than the anger her words might suggest.
My hands clasped together, I twist the ring on my finger in a half-forgotten nervous habit.
“The wife…” my witch says, with a voice suggesting some sudden realization has taken place.
Gravity shudders again, and She never slipped, She never said that. (She said it.) I don’t have a wife. (Where did the ring come from?)
Time slows to a crawl, like someone’s holding it still just for me.
I look up. Both witches stare at me, daring a simple doll to break the stalemate they’re locked in.
I look down. One ball-jointed hand fidgets with a wedding ring on a flesh-and-blood hand.
I am at the center of a knotted tangle of realities. In one, the fantasy of love and acceptance; in the other, a worthless doll getting the fate it deserves.
I shouldn’t be the one who gets to decide what’s real. I’m too easily confused to be given that power.
But my wife once told me that this ring would help if She ever tried to come back for me, and I think I’d like to trust her.
Squeeze, slide, rotate, push. Just like she taught me. With a click, I hear the bomb arm itself.
Time lurches ahead in a sudden hurry. My witch lunges to rewrite the narrative one last time, but it’s already too late.
The shim falls away, two hemispheres of unreality kiss, and in a burst of imperceptible energy without sound or pressure, magic turns radioactive.
My witch and Her house fall to pieces.
I have a wife again, and my ring’s twin shines on her hand, shielding her from the antimagic cascade.
My mind is still a mess, but when she hugs me, I allow myself to feel safe enough for the tears to flow. She lets me lean on her while we leave this place.
Maybe we’ll stop by Raven Roast on the way back home. I could use a coffee to clear my head.