Originally posted August 17, 2022
Beatrice sniffs the air uneasily, unsure of herself in a way that she once vowed she would never be. Something has changed, something has shifted within her home's generous confines, and she hasn't the slightest idea what. An absence in the air; a lack of smell and noise.
"Cinnamon," she calls, "I need your eyes."
The doll doesn't answer her. Its warm, welcoming scent doesn't swell in the air around her as it pads towards her waiting hands.
She tries calling the others—she can't smell them either, but perhaps, perhaps ...
It takes her what feels like an eternity of wandering her home's halls until she finally finds them, her only guides the tapping of her cane and the warmth of her heartbeat thrumming behind every wall and beneath every floor.
In her afterthought of a garden.
As she stumbles down her steps and the smell of her dolls fills her mind with all their myriad spices the outside world blooms into her mind; her dolls' eyes painting over the gap where her own sight should be. They're all crowded around ... what is that, a rock?
"Miss, miss!" Ginger happily chirps. "Look what we found!"
She doesn't have any choice but to look. Her dolls, horrible things that they are, refuse to turn to look at her; she doesn't dare risk stumbling closer.
There's something on the rock, something small and bright ...
Cinnamon leans in closer; another doll stretches out two fingers towards the little swirled button-thing, a leaf held tightly between them. Something soft and squishy stretches out of the button towards the green offering, eye-stalks waving cautiously as it nibbles at it—
"Miss, it's incredible!"
"... it's a snail, Meg."
Probably the worst thing about this, for Beatrice, is the way her dolls ignore the obvious frustration in her voice. They just ooh and aah over the interloper, acting like they've never seen one before. Horrible things.
"Are you all done?"
"No, miss! It's still eating!"
The expression beneath Beatrice's mask turns from frustrated to worse. This is intolerable.
"My dears. Have you forgotten your duties so thoroughly?"
That, at least, draws their attention, as they glance too-quickly between her and the snail. Years and years ago the quick motions would have filled her head with pain and her mouth with bile, and even now it's uncomfortable in a way she thought she'd made them fully understand. Apparently not; she makes a note to restart that course of conditioning once she's dealt with the interloper and the dolls are all back inside.
"N-no, miss," Nutmeg stammers, "it's just, it's just, it's so cute ... it has everything it needs right there with it ..."
"Nutmeg, give me your hand."
The doll understands what she means. Of course it does. But it doesn't obey; she doesn't feel the limb blossom into her awareness like it has so many times before.
"... w-why, miss?"
"Because I told you to. Now, Nutmeg."
"B-but ... what are you going to ...?"
The doll surely already knows; Beatrice can hear the unshed tears pooling in its every word as they drip down to foul its voicebox. An answer would be a waste of breath.
Ginger stands and faces her, its little voice full of a defiance that Beatrice thought its conversion had cured for good. "M-miss, you can't hurt it. This one is sorry, b-but we won't let you. ... s-sorry."
Her ire waxes at this last intolerable display, and (secure in the knowledge of exactly where her body is, and exactly what ground is beneath her feet) she advances forward towards them.
Half the dolls flee. Ginger stands rooted to the ground, terrified, its defiance wilting.
And Nutmeg stays crouched by the snail, muttering something under its breath as it desperately tries to coax the little monster onto its fingers—an attempt to help it escape? Laughable. Beatrice flexes her will, forcing her way into the little doll's brain, tugging its strings—