“What is it you wanted to tell me, doll?” she asks.
“Miss, isn’t it strange that a doll can talk?” I respond.
A puzzled look on her face. “No, I don’t think it’s strange at all,” she says. She steps closer. “You’ve been my doll for quite a long time, and you’ve never brought up this discomfort before.”
“N—not discomfort! It’s just funny to think that these materials can produce speech.”
“Magic, my doll.”
I nod in response.
“Though, that does give me an idea,” she adds. She takes my hand, and I see a fire in her eyes. “Follow.”
She lays me down on the table of her workshop. Though it’s been an age since I first awoke on it, its familiar support still feels welcoming in a way unlike anything else in this world.
“Shall I explain my plan?” she asks.
I shake my head.
“Quite sure, then?” she asks again. “It’ll be a significant change.”
“You’re trustworthy, always,” I tell her. It’s what I always say when she needs a boost in her confidence.
She smiles at me, and kisses my forehead. Her hands reach for my head, I begin to feel the sweet warmth of her magic as it permeates my being, and a moment — a terrifically long, excruciatingly extended moment — the world blurs… I lose sight of her, of her workshop, and even of myself until—
Just like the first time, the world makes itself known in an instant. A sense of welcoming envelops me… I am on her worktable.
It’s strange, I think to myself. Miss isn’t here to greet me.
I hear a giggle from outside the room. I would know that voice anywhere. As I turn toward the door, it opens. Light pours into the room, obscured by a dark figure.
It always feels like a blessing to see that radiant figure, I think to myself.
An arm rises to meet her face, and she giggles once more.
“Oh, this experiment is already paying off wonderfully,” she says. “I didn’t know you enjoyed the view that much.”
I tilt my head in confusion. She continues her approach toward me. As her face becomes clearer, she asks “Well, what do you think of it?”
Miss, I don’t know what to think of it, my thoughts echo, I don’t know what’s different.
“I didn’t think it would turn out so precisely perfect. Can you really not discern any difference?”
Miss, I already told you I feel the same.
“Now doll, patience. Listen carefully. Think a bit harder about what’s changed.”
Listen? Miss, your words confuse me. I don’t hear—
As the realization sets in, my posture straightens and I reengage eye contact with her.
I can’t speak anymore.
She smiles. “You did say it was strange,” she says. “I devised an interesting alternative to experiment with. I must say I am quite amused by how you react to my appearance. You’ve hidden your true thoughts quite well, but no more.”
Will anyone else be able to hear my thoughts?
She shakes her head, and wraps her arms around me.
“There’s no need to worry, my doll. Whatever slips out will only be between the two of us.”
This didn’t bother me. She’s perfectly trustworthy.
She giggles again, squeezing harder. Oh, it feels incredible.
“Does it, now?”
I raise my hands to my mouth, covering it. Oh she can really hear everything now!
“Yes, my doll. Before we leave this workshop, I want to let you know one more thing.”
What could it be?
“If at any point you would like your voice back, tell me ‘how strange it is that I talk to an unresponsive doll’ and the spell will break.”
Yes, I understand.
I’m a good doll!
She giggles again, grabs my hand, and leads me out into her manor. Moments later, the bells of the manor clock begin to chime. Each one resonates through the air, nine in total. It’s teatime!
“Indeed. Off you go. Don’t let me keep you.”
I turn in place, and begin walking toward the kitchen.
Miss was so quick with that experiment…
Normally, I wouldn’t be speaking aloud when alone. But now, I feel something in me pushing me to—
Wait, no. That’s not it, silly dolly! You’re just thinking to yourself!
I shake my head, and continue making my way to the kitchen.
It would be terrible of me to keep interrupting— eep!
I stop in my tracks for a moment. I need to get my bearings.
I start walking again, and soon enough I reach my destination. I look around the kitchen for a moment, and spot the kettle. I walk to it, pick it up, inspect it, fill it with water, and set it to boil. Each of my motions is precisely practiced — this is something I’ve done many times over countless days of being her doll, and in proper doll fashion my body executes the routine without a thought — I open a cupboard where some of her tea is stored, and begin reaching for the usual blend…
I begin scanning the other teas.
Miss deserves something extra special today.
I pick up the box with her favourite blend, bring it to the counter, and scoop up the precise amount of leaves needed to make her most perfect tea. Next, I carefully arrange the leaves into a bag to be steeped and—
Ah! It’s done boiling!
I am slightly off-routine today, of course, because I took just a bit too long to select a blend. I finish preparing the tea bag, place it in a teacup, pour the boiled water, and wait.
Waiting is a trivial act for any doll. Some might say that all we do is wait, but they would be wrong. There is something in the precise machinery of my construction that makes it trivial to measure the exact passing of time as I observe it. Effortlessly, I let each moment tick away until the right moment comes. I pick up the tea and begin walking to the tea room.
Like clockwork, my arrival is perfectly timed such that my witch’s tea has finished steeping to her preferred level. I set her drink onto the tea table, she removes the bag from the cup, I turn to be seated, she brings the teacup to her face, I face her, and as I sit down, she begins tasting.
She finishes her first sip, and says “Mmm, I had wondered what kind of surprise you had in mind. Though you had let it slip that it was coming, I’m surprised you were able to keep the exact nature of it a secret.”
My head tilts. What do you mean? I ask mentally.
“Oh? How quickly you forget—”
Oh right! When I talk…
Miss giggles at my words— my thoughts— and takes another sip.
“Silly doll. How I look forward to hearing what other amusing thoughts float around in that dolly mind of yours. Still, I must confess… I expected you to be somewhat chattier. There were moments where I would have been unsure of what you were up to, had you not been doing something I knew you could do reliably.”
What do you mean, miss?
“There were moments where it seemed you weren’t thinking at all. Perhaps it should be unsurprising; You’ve done this many times before. You’re a good doll indeed! With a mind so still while you do the chores you’re assigned.”
A few more sips, and she finishes her tea.
“Be a doll and clean it all,” she says.
Her words meant the end of this daily ritual, and I responded as usual. I get up, pick up the empty cup, give my witch a slight bow, and respond, Yes, miss, as always.
Though my response is practiced to a honed perfection, it doesn’t quite come out the same way. My posture straightens. Ah, right. She giggles, and I begin making my way to the kitchen.
“I do genuinely adore hearing your thoughts, doll,” she says as I leave. “Though if I won’t be entertained by your mundane actions, perhaps I will simply need to find something new to give you.”
I respond with the mental equivalent of a gasp as my walking pauses.
“Should I take it to mean you accept?” she asks.
My response is an instant You’re trustworthy, always, and in turn she giggles.
“Good doll. I’ll think of something— ah!” She giggles at her thought, though I know not what it is. “In the mean time, keep me company in your absence.” Her next words strike my core, altering it ever so slightly: “That’s a command, doll.”
As I make my way back to do my usual after-tea tidying, my witch’s words continue reverberating deep inside.
I must accompany miss.
I’m not with miss…
The reverberations perturb me, but do not disturb me enough to disrupt my duty.
Miss is… listening!
I arrive in the kitchen.
Miss commands me to accompany her with my dolly thoughts, yet I must also clean up after tea. I will multitask to abide by her commands.
I begin with the teacup. Rub, rub, rub away all the residue, I think to myself as I perfectly and precisely clean every inch of the teacup. Once I’ve given it the perfect amount of attention, I go to set it aside— No. An extra special tea needs an extra special clean. I continue to rub, rub, rub away at the bottom of the teacup, making extra sure it meet’s miss' exacting standards. Only the highest standards for my witch. The words flow in my mind with little effort. I wonder how it feels, to hear a doll’s every thought? Many of miss' preferences seemed strange to me, and she’d previously assured me that others found her stranger still. None but miss can hear me now. I pick up the saucer plate. Better make sure this is extra clean! Once I finish rub rub rub" “bing the plate, I set it aside with the clean teacup. I hope miss is enjoying the show… I exchange my dishcloth for a drying cloth. No sense making these wait to dry. Cloth in hand, I wipe away every last little bit of remaining residue from the dishes. Everything back in its place, now! I double check everything else to ensure that nothing is left out. Nothing amiss, here.
My task complete, I am left to ponder what should be done next. A moment later, I remember Everything back in its place, now! and heed my own cue, making my way back to see miss.
As I return to her tea room, I see she is reading a book. I consciously try to think to myself What are you reading today, miss? and watch as she smiles such a lovely smile, turns to look at me with deep eyes so easy to lose myself in, and says “Oh, doll, I adore when you flatter me so. As for the book, I was simply experimenting. I have a most adorable doll’s voice in my head now. I simply needed to know how well I would be able to focus on other tasks while I listened to the sweet song your mind sang in mine.”
For a moment, my thoughts feel scrambled — I can only guess what miss heard — but after a moment I regain my composure. Was the experiment a success? I ask.
She nods, sets the book aside, and gets up. “Yes,” she says. “It was a little strange at first — quite distracting, really — but eventually I was able to continue my book.” She wraps her arms around me, and I let out a moan as she squeezes. “You did very well, good doll —” Good doll! “— a very good doll, in fact. You were absolutely adorable. Nearly every moment you were absent, I could feel your devotion in my heart.” Of course, miss.
She frees me from her warm and loving embrace, stands straight and now towers above with all of her power, and tells me “I know what I’ll have you do next, but it’ll be a challenge for you and I have no desire to simply impose it without your consent.”
I stare for a moment. You’re trustworthy, always, I assure her.
What would you have me do?