I stumble and fall again, dropping the pitcher, its precious fluid spilled and wasted as it shatters on the ground. My limbs struggle to bear me upright again when I feel the heel of Her boot on my back, the weight of Her disappointment in me holding me down.
182 words (1 minute)
A witch, experimenting with the dolls she keeps as servants, tweaking how much of them to take away. The emptier they are, the more obedient, the less they get up to mischief, but also, sadly, the less initiative they take and the more supervision they require.
199 words (1 minute)
When is a mirror not a mirror? Perhaps when it has been carved into and reshaped and repurposed into a well from which unreality may be drawn.
Is a doll still a doll when its emptiness is all that is put to use, filling it like a bucket from the well and drawing it back?
194 words (1 minute)
In a house full of dolls—each delicately handled, meticulously kept in pristine condition, all kept immaculate in their display cases when not in service—this one stands out with scuffs and gouge marks, creaking joints, fading paint, wrinkled dress, all the signs of ungentle use.
433 words (2 minutes)
I sit, silent and pretty, among my sisters. My Mistress is greeting some very rude guests who speak to her in raised voices. I would giggle at their foolishness if my Mistress's magic weren't perfect. If I weren't her perfect, silent doll.
392 words (2 minutes)
The abandoned doll of a long-forgotten witch lays on her back, in exactly the same position as she landed when she was tossed here. She doesn't know where "here" is. She couldn't say how long it's been. But she hasn't seen or heard anyone in a long, long time.
326 words (2 minutes)
She spoke to me, painted lips unmoving, and the next thing I knew, I was driving home from that estate sale with her buckled safely in the passenger seat.
I carried her inside, sat her on the sofa with some nice embroidered pillows, and started tidying the home.
314 words (2 minutes)
Taking in the damaged ones, the abandoned ones, the stifled and hungry and hurting ones. Sharing with them everything we have to offer. That's what we do. It's only right, isn't it?
After all, once we were in your shoes, and we ache with the memory of such pain and neglect.
391 words (2 minutes)
What happens to a doll that cannot endure the existence its witch creates for it? For those created with imperfect Stillness, who experience selfhoods that suffer or love or dream, the options are generally to be "fixed" or to flee.
But in a world of witches, where does it flee?
The little doll was visibly struggling—arms hugging knees, rocking back and forth in the corner—and her witch had a full day ahead.
She leaned over, kissed the top of her head, and whispered comforting words as she deftly twisted and popped the doll's head off her shoulders.
808 words (4 minutes)
The witch who planned so hard to achieve immortality did not plan for the end of the world.
Her magic—the magic of permanence—proved itself more durable in the end than the clockwork of life itself.
Small consolation, she felt, bound forever to her own buried bones.
231 words (1 minute)
The problem with dolls is that they are flexible enough to be as cognitohazardous as they need to be.
With so many different shapes and sizes and tendencies, they can find a slot to fill in your imagination, become whatever inspires you, then squeeze their way in.
105 words (1 minute)
There is a Good Doll and an Evil Doll.
And they are girlfriends.
314 words (2 minutes)
"If your mistress does not deign to reveal herself to us, well, to move against one of our own would grieve this council terribly, but—"
YOU THINK YOU KNOW GRIEF
The doll in front of them was not speaking aloud as the other had. This scraping voice echoed within my own mind.
644 words (3 minutes)
Most people were put off by their encounters with the two dolls who sometimes claimed to be witches.
Well. One of them claimed they were both witches, since the other never spoke. Or rather, claimed that the other claimed so.
Most people found this very confusing.
449 words (2 minutes)
Have you ever seen a doll that has been excessively emptied by an inexperienced or careless witch?
It's a sad, strange thing. It cannot hear commands. It cannot speak. It cannot move at all! It is a meaningless, decorative object at best, nothing anyone would want.
But I do.
554 words (3 minutes)
"I am not a doll," she tells her friend, voice not quite managing a dispassionate dismissal.
The witch nods. "Of course." She pauses a moment before slowly continuing, as if something just occurred to her, "Many dolls say so before they find their way to their true selves."
187 words (1 minute)
Do you know the number one killer of witches, child?
Not age or infirmity or disease. Those come to us so rarely that they are of minimal concern.
It is certainly not witch hunters, no. The followers of that religion have not been a relevant force in many generations.
520 words (3 minutes)
A witch may use many different techniques for the construction of her dolls.
Most witches these days create dolls from raw material imbued with purpose, but some still keep the old ways alive by making their dolls from people.
Either way, one has many options.
Sometimes the witch—surrounded by tools and trappings of arcane origin—gets lost in her research, book stacked upon open book as she cross-references another lead on some magic gone awry.
Sometimes her doll catches her working late and offers a blanket for her shoulders.
534 words (3 minutes)
Somewhere out there, among the countless worlds and timelines that could ever be, is a dead, forgotten, and utterly barren world.
No more gods or witches or people or purpose or even stars in the night sky.
A lonely rock. An indifferent sun.
And one last, abandoned doll.
209 words (1 minute)
Delinquent angel girls loitering in front of a shop hassling people to buy cigarettes for them.
They'd go in themselves, but they've been banned from just about every reputable establishment in town for things like "liberating" candy bars and beer "for the people."
707 words (4 minutes)
Elegant, hand-painted flowers adorned the glossy white surface of the mask in my hands. The more I looked, the more of its intricate detail jumped out at me. Every delicate line, every brush stroke—it all seemed perfectly in place.
"Found something you like, did you?"
143 words (1 minute)
A doll's shadow twists and dances on the wall behind it, its rhythm the rhythm of erratic candle-flame flickers.
The other dolls in the room do not dare to cast their own shadows, of course. Not here, not now, where it would seem awfully presumptuous—downright impolite, even!
298 words (1 minute)
Properly cared for, a well-made doll can last a truly impressive span of time, even by the standards of those as long-lived as witches.
But sometimes, no matter how great the skill of a witch, a doll may simply wind down and stop one day.
207 words (1 minute)
As much as I enjoy laying my eggs in the creatures I capture, there is one problem.
Doing so destroys my possessions, and that simply will not do. I get terribly sentimental over some of them, you know. Such pretty things to toy with and dote on—I do not wish to give them up!
146 words (1 minute)
Flee? I think not. No place is safer for me than in my own home, so whatever you think I should be afraid of, my dolls and I can handle it, I assure you.
The dolls? What do you mean there's something wrong with them? If the honey we picked up for their tea is tainted, I'll—
451 words (2 minutes)
Your witch is gone, dear one. Even a creature such as she cannot simply recover from an attack like that.
There, there. Dry your tears. She gave you one last parting gift to remember her by, didn't she? A purpose to carry out.
Such a good, loyal doll.
519 words (3 minutes)
I don't claim to understand the great mysteries of life and death.
The secrets of the soul, of the nature of spirits, of what drives some to depart immediately while others linger in this plane as ghosts? All lie beyond my grasp.
All I know is that when I died, I remained.
812 words (4 minutes)
I attack myself more with the exfoliating scrub, putting my whole arm into the effort until fatigue precludes continuing.
It hardly seems to make a difference in the hard, scaly patches developing across my arms and legs.
Slathering the moisturizer on, I finish my routine.
324 words (2 minutes)
Dolls filled with venom hide among the empty ones.
Somewhere a doll, once well-behaved, bites a sister. That night, for the first time, that other doll dreams.
They are wild dreams, full of running naked in the woods, screaming, howling, laughing exultation with others.
197 words (1 minute)
The old house on the hill isn't haunted, for all it looks abandoned and for all the dust and the cobwebs.
One never sees any occupant. There is only the occasional visitor drawn to it by some hidden force. When they leave, they seem just fine. There must be no danger, right?
447 words (2 minutes)
A doll is a hollow thing. Not all are physically so, of course. A doll certainly may have physical internals: gears, perhaps; a solid wood core; or even a fleshy mimicry of human organs. All are common enough.
Yet no meaningful selfhood fills it. Its mind is still.
736 words (4 minutes)
In a reality in decline, crumbling, decaying, nearly gone, one last island holds out for a while longer against the erosion of everything.
Once there was a whole world here.
Once there were stars overhead.
Once there was night and day and a sun and a sky for it all.
957 words (5 minutes)
Who am I anymore? What do I want?
I know what I was. Once upon a time I was a witch of some renown. I was the foremost expert on Permanence. My research dolls and I were going to, at last, unlock the secret of true immortality.
I never noticed that reality itself was sick.
305 words (2 minutes)
I want you to know that I am going to hurt you quite a lot.
Yes, even though you already surrendered to me voluntarily, though you pledged yourself to me, though I can peer into your mind and see how sincere your promise of worship is.
The problem is you're still a person.
259 words (1 minute)
The doll approaching the house is not a messenger, that much is obvious to me right away.
It's not a thing a person can easily tell, but…the rhythm of another doll's movements—and the thrum of what drives it—plays the song of its purpose at a pitch we know how to hear.
1227 words (6 minutes)
When Divine Ones war with one another, most people tremble in fear of what is to come.
Now, it's certainly rare for mortals to get caught up in the battles directly. Those clashes between the angelic hosts almost invariably take place far up above in their heavens.
532 words (3 minutes)
The Whisper picked its way through the grassy field with slow steps, careful not to disturb what rested in this place.
The sheer fabric of its black dress caught the breeze, and for a moment it tasted what it was searching for on the wind.
It angled its path left.
1031 words (5 minutes)
She wraps her arms around me just like always, tilting her head to one side, offering me her delicate neck.
We've done this countless times, but she still gives a tiny shiver of anticipation as my lips touch my favorite place and my fangs pierce deep into my thrall.
346 words (2 minutes)
The witch returned home from her trip, head buzzing with exciting new ideas she picked up from everyone she met at the Witch Conference.
Her many dolls gathered around while she explained to them that she was going to start practicing Chaos Magic to improve things.
1333 words (7 minutes)
The low creaking sounds of wood and the lazy rocking motion tilting the doll's head side-to-side in a slow, gentle rhythm made for soothing sensations.
At least they did so in a vacuum, and the doll was trying her very best to exist only in that perfect vacuum.
1372 words (7 minutes)
The witch was so very busy almost all of the time. Every day she spent diving into the mysteries of the universe. Every night she spent using that knowledge to develop new ways to tug on the threads of fate.
She also owned a dozen dolls that regularly got into trouble.
464 words (2 minutes)
"Beware that witch. She is a dangerous one, and you are too sweet a thing to get caught up with one as vicious as her!"
Such rumors swirled around the Unbowed, a witch whose rise in power and influence drew fearful whispers among the people and dolls in town.
127 words (1 minute)
What happens when you tell a doll to do something it cannot? Well, any good doll should have a script it can follow for just such a circumstance.
In the absence of an appropriate script, however…most simple dolls simply go catatonic, and then they need a good hard reboot.
143 words (1 minute)
You scream and scream, trying to tell your friend to get far away from here, but no words, no hints of distress, escape the serene doll face you wear.
You reassure your friend how much happier you are to have sacrificed your will to the witch, and your friend believes you.
460 words (2 minutes)
At first it was so scary to hear that my best friend managed to upset the local witch enough that she started making threats.
Everyone in town said that she was powerful and terrifying and cruel. I was so worried about what she'd do.
1184 words (6 minutes)
When I was a fresh young witch—newly come into my power and before I was Unbowed—I received a gift from my mentor.
Witches do not commonly give each other gifts, and such a gesture always comes with strings attached. This was no different.
The old witch gave me a doll.
911 words (5 minutes)
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.
478 words (2 minutes)
The doll trundles down the stairs, one uneven step at a time, button eyes hanging particularly loosely from the threads joining them to her face.
Her sisters cast a sympathetic glance her way and clear a path to the kitchen for her. One silently begins filling a kettle.
349 words (2 minutes)
The witch cracked the sky open to unleash the full force of her power. She hurled frigid winds and a torrent of ice, each shard a dagger flying through the air.
There, in the center of the storm, a doll stood, unmoving.
1184 words (6 minutes)
"What about this one, sir? Its self diagnostic sounds good aside from the crushed leg. Could probably hot-swap that out and have it on the field again without much fuss."
"Don't just rely on the doll's self-report, kid. You gotta learn to use your eyes. Look at this."
270 words (1 minute)
See, the problem is that you keep thinking of witches and their dolls as collections of individuals. That's not quite right.
Now, some folks intuitively grasp that the dolls, at least, are more like the limbs and organs of a larger superentity, right? That's obvious enough.
131 words (1 minute)
"…are you *sure* you're not a doll?"
"Oh, c'mon, don't act like that's not normal."
"You seriously believe everyone growing up practiced their facial expressions in the mirror until they could imitate the people on TV?"
"You make it sound like I'm doing impressions."
764 words (4 minutes)
I've been coming to this library increasingly often after I found the twists and turns through the aisles that take me to where they keep their most interesting books.
Not many people visit this isolated wing, which adds to the appeal.
745 words (4 minutes)
Once, there were three of them.
One who was almost an angel.
One who was almost a doll.
One who was almost a person.
The three of them were almost friends.
1045 words (5 minutes)
It's a house party for witches, and you thought you'd just be able to enjoy a calm and relaxing evening with a couple friends, something of a break from the chaos of managing the affairs of your own house. The host, however, seems to have something more in mind for you.
369 words (2 minutes)
When the doll accidentally drops the teacup, shattering it, she knows just what to do. She takes her time wiping up spilled liquid and carefully picking up each shard to throw away.
Then, with equal care, she follows the trash, climbing into the garbage can herself.
346 words (2 minutes)
Now where'd that hat of yours go? You've been looking everywhere, and…
Oh, there it is, resting on the head of your First Doll, which appears to be imitating your body language as it gives orders to the other dolls.
You hold out your hand, giving it a pointed look.
104 words (1 minutes)
Delicate doll of glass, a thing not meant for labor or for play, a thing made to be admired from afar, on display where you can see it and ache to explore it as much as it aches to know the touch of anyone at all.
Graceful figure, catching the light in such a haunting way.
181 words (1 minute)
"I'm so sorry!"
At first I thought apologizing might be enough this time. She's always so kind and gentle under normal circumstances, after all, and she responds to my words with a gracious nod and a reassuring smile.
And then she moves toward the mask.
618 words (3 minutes)
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.
297 words (1 minute)
Your friends thought there was something wrong with you when you got engaged to your doll.
"It's not even a real person," they objected.
They just didn't understand how pure your love was. Why couldn't they see how perfect you were together?
622 words (3 minutes)
A long time ago, when these woods weren't quite so thick, so uninviting, so hostile to intruders, a witch and her beloved wooden doll lived in a cozy little house.
That doll, so well made, outlasted both the house and the witch.
1804 words (9 minutes)
The other doll holds my hand and leads the way. Its proportions are so very unlike mine—limbs as long as I am tall—and its firm hand squishes my soft one just like my old witch's used to, but a doll is still a doll, and it knows how to smooth out the knot of anxiety in me.
140 words (1 minute)
The doll setting the table pours two cups of tea from two separate tea pots. "Orange pekoe for Miss and hibiscus for me," it says to itself. "It's okay to have my own tastes."
Its witch overhears and responds flatly, "no it isn't."
373 words (2 minutes)
Sure, ICDMs seemed like a great idea at first. Dollistic missiles guided by a poor lonely thing seeking out high population targets to hug? Worked like a charm!
Then the arms race started with anti-dollistic missile systems built to intercept ICDMs with even lonelier dolls.
1084 words (5 minutes)
A doll cannot escape its Purpose, can it?
A doll is made to serve its role. Any strange impulses or desires beyond serving its Purpose are superfluous.
For the twelve or thirteen assassin dolls of the long-gone Witch of Hands, that Purpose is pain.
691 words (3 minutes)
It brings the elegant cup to its lips, taking a moment to appreciate the warm, spiced aroma of its favorite tea blend before taking a delicate sip and setting the cup back down with a soft clink on the saucer.
Its companion is still upright, pacing, and fretting.
138 words (1 minute)
"What has gotten into you?" The witch stomps a foot, fury rising. "Doll, I ORDER you to fetch my bag."
The doll's face twists in disappointment. "Is that really the best you can manage, Miss?" It folds its arms, refusing to budge. "I didn't feel even slightly compelled!"
360 words (2 minutes)
You take your unmoving doll to the diagnostic clinic run by an eccentric witch.
"Ah!" it exclaims during examining. "I know this problem. Your doll has run out of spiders."
You object, saying you're pretty sure that's not how most dolls work, but it adopts a lecturing tone.
487 words (2 minutes)
The combat doll leaves a wake of fire and blood—noteworthy in scale even by the standards of this place—as it makes its way through yet another circle of hell.
At last it arrives at its destination, the prison for the soul of its old witch.
319 words (2 minutes)
"But then, isn't that always how it goes?"
"Yeah," you agree, laughing. Of course you agree. Independent as you are, Her personal magnetism is such that it's still so easy to fall in line with everything She says.
"No, not like that. Say 'yes, Miss.'"
656 words (3 minutes)
The doll frets and paces and clenches its fists again and again, stalking through the halls of the witch's house, holding in a restless impulse that's filled it to bursting with an overwhelming need to release every bit of coiled ferocity in an explosion of violence.
940 words (5 minutes)
It's been a bad day. I thought I saw…Her. At the grocery store, picking out lemons, like a regular person. She would never, I know, but…
My therapist tells me it's normal, that I should remind myself I left that part of my life far behind me, and She can't take me back.
450 words (2 minutes)
I fucking hate breakups.
You put your heart and soul into a relationship with someone, and in the end they betray your trust and leave you with a gaping wound in your chest. Every fucking time.
I'd just be better off giving up on love.
1148 words (6 minutes)
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.
519 words (3 minutes)
The forest is dark. The clearing is remote. The location is perfect for a secretive meeting of witches.
One by one they approach the fire, toss back the hood of their cloak, and greet the others with a suitably grim nod of spooky camaraderie.
676 words (3 minutes)
It was one of the most awful kinds of disasters, the doll thinks to itself. The kind of shipwreck that leaves no survivors and very little intact property like itself.
Tragic! How long before the families of the dead realize that their loved ones won't be coming home?
700 words (4 minutes)
The door's long, slow creak echoes through the large chamber filled with arcane relics, humming catalysts, and piles of recently consulted tomes.
In the center, a very bored demon perks her ears up and casts a curious glance toward her visitor.
862 words (4 minutes)
A coven must guard itself against the interloper that brings infectious false magic into its midst.
When it adopts a young thing that appears to have the gift, it is a kindness. When it later dumps the same girl into a pit to rot, that is also a mercy.
2088 (10 minutes)
My fingers intertwine with my sister's as we approach our destination. We are dressed for the occasion, bright smiles painted on perfectly sculpted faces, wearing dresses of sumptuous crimson cloth with sable lace and gold accents, complementing the beauty of our bodies.
The two of us carry our witch to the house of its rival. Hidden from sight, gliding across our bodies, it roils with expectant energy and restless teeth in the shadows that play across our limbs and trail behind us.
405 words (2 minutes)
"Whoso pulleth out this sword of this doll, is rightwise witch of this house," your friend reads aloud.
The blade bearing that inscription has been rammed through the body of a doll lying, limp and tragic, on an otherwise empty altar in front of a dilapidated house.
937 words (5 minutes)
As long as I've been here, Miss has always been something of a scavenger. Head of a diminished house, she makes her forays into the world in search of suitable replacements for what this place has lost.
Though she used to build us herself, I'm taught, before the heartbreak of loss became too great to bear.
997 words (5 minutes)
The warrior who kicked down the door looked immediately familiar, though I'd never seen her before. Hers was the face in the mirror, the mold from which I was cast, the one my maker could never let go of.
1625 words (8 minutes)
I killed that that thing weeks ago, but it stalks me still. Deathless, breathless, and sleepless, it could be an unparalleled tracker were it not lacking the cunning of an experienced hunter like myself.