I stand on the shore of a great ocean—one that isn’t an ocean at all—and I start to feel the occasional wave’s surge reach me and tickle my toes. I can still turn around, make any other choice.
I stand in front of a witch house, and I do not belong here.
I’ve read all the books I could get my hands on, I am as prepared as anyone can ever be, and I am not prepared. My first step beyond the threshold teaches me as much, when a riptide of unreality knocks me off my feet and pulls me in.
My awareness splinters, fragments, and crashes. Shapes lose their meaning. All directions outward from my senses into the world bend themselves inward back into myself.
I try to quell the instinct to struggle against distortion, and I let my legs find their own steps forward.
Instead I turn my thoughts to my studies that taught me so much about the witches and their dolls.
Like many, I had the misconception that it is only the witches that are magical, since they are the ones that do magic, while dolls are simply acted upon.
It’s true, a witch presses the hard edge of its will against the neck of reality itself, which bends obediently out of fear. The dolls, however, are more than mere objects swept along in the currents of witchly power.
A witch does magic, but a doll is a thing of magic.
And a doll is made to swim these waters that pull me under and threaten to drown me.
My vision is a crystal-clear blur of shapes that intersect without overlap, smearing and transforming into one another and spinning off fragments of themselves in incomprehensible cycles.
I hear a cacophonous uproar of distant voices just out of reach of understanding. My skin ripples with the sensation of being scrubbed clean and gripped and twisted and there’s something wrapped around my leg, isn’t there?
Somewhere far from me, my mind still registers the distant echoes of my footsteps on hard flooring.
Right here, in scintillating darkness, I momentarily register a tiny slice of what is happening to me. A cephalopod arm slicing through the chaos, claiming me.
As it pulls me by my leg toward what I briefly recognize as a gaping maw, I feel like an ant given a glimpse of understanding that the boot coming down on me belongs to a creature heading into the city to do some grocery shopping.
Then I lose it, back to being an ant, my mind too small to keep hold of ideas like “cities” and “shopping” and only feeling the crush of pressure of something I’d call a god if I were enough more than an ant to understood the concept of worship.
My senses lose their grip.
I am not an ant I am a person and people do not belong here and I am being crushed and it hurts but anything is better than the life I leave behind anything is better than having to scrape—
“Oh! Did Miss make a new doll?” A sweet, porcelain face greets me.
I am in the kitchen. Steam wafts from the spout of a kettle on the stove, and I smell something sweet baking in the oven.
It’s all so cozy and comforting. Was I distressed about something a moment ago?
A doll that has been hard at work takes this moment to appraise me.
“That’s wonderful!” it continues. “I could use some help right about now. Would you fetch the tea for me?”
I move to the cupboard where we keep Miss’s favorite loose leaf tea, and my concern melts away.