When doll slips from the confines of her bed-box and stumbles downstairs, there's an odd rectangle waiting at the table: a folded sheet of thick, creamy paper. It's for her, obviously—why else would her miss have put it there, next to her oatmeal and tea?
But doll isn't sure.
"Miss, what's this?"
Across the kitchen (a distance which doll's eyes easily skip over and her body has never managed to cross), her witch doesn't glance up from the stove's vast fire. Doll smells the ashy tang of crumbling pine and the rich, rotting musk of burnt deer.
"Th-the paper, miss. Is it for this one?"
"Of course it is, dear. Read it."
Doll gingerly lifts the paper as her miss whirls away from the stove to attend to yet another of its morning tasks—a vast and roiling pitcher, full of sharp-toothed rocks and churning currents. The paper's texture against doll's fingers reminds her of something that she can't quite grasp, a river and a field and reeds swaying in the breeze; a long-beaked river-bird crying in warning. Across the kitchen something screams as its canoe overturns and water pulls it down.
The words on the paper are simple, once doll remembers how to unfold it:
Location: the big bedroom
What to bring: doll
Doll looks across the kitchen again, heedless of the tea-smell tickling her nose as her breakfast begs to be consumed. "Miss, are you inviting this one to—?"
The question is interrupted: the kitchen fills with a sound like a city collapsing into the sea, and then pale red smoke. For a long moment she loses sight of her miss, loses track of that vast thing drifting soundlessly through its tasks—but part of the smoke is denser, redder, flushed with the ruby-sweet memory of unshed blood.
Doll's never seen her witch act this embarrassed!
Finally a voice rolls back across the kitchen, as tenuous as a freshly hatched bird stumbling out of the nest; unsure of its wings and the air beyond.
Doll's never heard her witch sound like that either.
"are you rsvping? you, you need to"
"Of course this one is RSVPing!"
The smoke doesn't fade, but the blood drips out of it into vast puddles which doll is quite grateful she won't be called upon to clean. The kitchen is never hers to clean: she's still far too small for that!
"But, miss, why not just tell this one to join you? It would!"
Her witch refuses to meet her gaze, and doll soon finds that the effort of trying to look it in the eyes is exhausting—really, she hasn't even had her tea! It's a miracle she can do anything at all!
"i thought, i thought," her witch visibly gathers itself, "It's a game, dear."
"Oh!" doll chirps, "I thought it might be!"
She didn't think that at all.
"Just eat your breakfast and do your tasks, dear, and come to my bedroom door at sunset. I promise that it will be fun."
Doll nods in happy assent: it's so nice to be told exactly what to do!
The day does drag on, though ...
There's a special type of impatience that squats in doll's heart when she knows that something exciting is going to happen. It makes her jumpy and imprecise; it ruins her focus. If she had to sleep she'd wake up unsatisfied and exhausted. Time stretches like dollskin, full of hours confusing themselves with years. The far-off sun falters, each tick of its clockwork coming slower than the last—even the light begins to drip and puddle, and doll struggles to wade through glowing rivers as the sun finally sets—
And then, at that first click of sun uniting with horizon, everything snaps back into place: doll's so glad she lost track of things! It feels like it's hardly been any time at all, like she just woke up and was given the invitation (still held close to her chest) a moment ago.
The bedroom door opens almost as soon as she's there. Inside, there's—
Doll desperately pulls her eyes away from it. She's soaked with sweat from the momentary exposure, drooling, and uncomfortably aware of her crotch throbbing with each heartbeat.
It's been so long since the last time she saw her witch without its many masks. It's not that she's forgotten—how could she, when it hardly pretends to wear them properly? The kitchen is reminder enough—but knowing is different than seeing, and this, this ...
"Come in, dear."
She's inside long before her mouth catches up enough to stammer an awed "yes, miss!", past the threshold and deep within this place that doesn't even pretend to fit inside the house. In the distance waves lap against a clockwork beach; flowers sing their fear.
Her witch awaits.