“Do you remember that curio shop I once took you to?” she asks. “The one you loathed and made me promise to never take you to again?”
I nod. Of course I do. I don’t think I could ever forget it.
She sighs, and shakes her head.
I hate seeing miss like thi — No, I shouldn’t say — think that. Please tell me more, miss.
The head shaking stops. “Alright,” she says, sighing again. “I have some shopping I wanted to do there today. Nothing significant. Would not take long at all. I had originally considered keeping you here — as usual — and going on my own, but I realized that the experiment might be more… interesting if you went in my stead. My thought was that you would report what you saw. The goal — besides my own amusement, of course — would be to test the range of the spell I placed on you. I should be able to hear you for the entirety of your excursion. My curiosity, however, lies in whether it would become more difficult to hear you as you walk further and further away from me.”
You say it would not take long?
“That is correct, but —”
In an instant, I decide to show confidence in her. I love helping miss with her experiments.
For a moment, she is completely blindsided by my assertion, gobsmacked at my surprising inburst.
“Good doll,” she says with a smile. Good doll… She giggles. “I will do everything possible to make it a comfortable experience. All I ask is that you report what you see, and anything that happens to you. I assure you, it will be safe.”
“Last chance before you change your mind.”
Send me out.
As I finish dusting the halls of her home, I hear a voice calling me.
“My doll!” shouts the voice of my radiant mistress, “Please return to me in the library.”
Under normal circumstances, I would not hesitate to resist her commanding demands, but today I have a new tool at my disposal.
It is nearly finished, miss. Should I pause my task before rejoining?
“No, my doll,” her voice booms again. “Please finish up and rejoin me once your task is complete.”
I resume the last of my dusting — first, using the extended arm to clean the tops of door frames I cannot normally reach due to my short stature.
I love being her little dolly and all, but my height can be impractical. I’m so thankful mistress has my needs in mind.
I finish dusting the door frames, and move onto the very last part of my task — picture frames. Each framed picture in these halls shows such magnificent views, which miss has told me are of places quite far away that we are unlikely to visit anytime soon.
Miss is always mindful of my limits, but it’s surprising that she’d ask me to push past them for her experiments. This doll agreed to help, though, so I am unable to complain.
I finish my work, and meet my incredible mistress in her library. As she’s shown many times today, there is an enormous smile on her face. I love seeing her smile, I think to myself, and she graces my hearing with her magical laughter.
“I’ve finished preparing everything you’ll need today,” she says. “This is your last chance, my doll. Are you certain you want to assist with this task?”
I look into her eyes. I love helping miss with her experiments.
“What a wonderful doll.”
“Why of course you are. To brave something so unpleasant, simply to please me? It’s a wonderful thing to do.”
She leans toward me, and — oh!— plants a kiss on my forehead. Energy radiates outward from where she made contact. It fills me with warm love, I tell her. She leans back, away from me, and looks me up and down.
Is something wrong, miss?
“Not at all,” she assures me. “I believe this should suffice.”
What did you do, miss?
“Always a clever doll! I placed an illusion on you. Onlookers should not see you as the doll you are — a pity, if I’m being honest — but you’ll be spared of the negative attention I know you fear. The spell should last several hours, unless I dispell it on my own.”
I didn’t think this would take that long, miss.
She smiles again. “It won’t. I only gave you more so you would feel secure and confident. I don’t want my doll to be fearful out there. I want a curious doll to tell me how it sees the world.”
“Good doll. Now, I’m surprised you haven’t asked about the last detail; How could I expect you to shop if you cannot speak?”
I could dispell—
She places a finger on my face, above my chin, and my thought simply ceases.
“That wouldn’t exactly be condusive to our experiment, would it?” She hands me a letter. “Give this to the clerk behind the counter. It has everything you’ll need to transact with. Simply hand it over, be still, and in no time at all you’ll receive my parcel. I’ve made sure of it. You won’t need to say a word.”
I understand my task, miss.
“Always such a good doll for me, you are. I have one more thing to say: If for whatever reason you cannot handle it, make your way back. Just be sure to let me know if you do.”
Miss simply wants me to acknowledge the risk—
“Good doll, that’s exactly right!”
A mental gasp — Yes miss, I will be mindful of my limits.
“That’s all I wanted to know.”
The door shuts behind me, and I am thrust into the world.
No reason to wait, I think to myself as I start walking. Just take one step, then the next, then… Before I know it, I’m already an unusual distance from our home. Everything here is still familiar. There’s miss' garden of strange plants, so many rolling mountains in the distance. Miss says they’re simple hills, but she’ll never understand how enormous they look to me! At least she hears me as I think this.
I continue walking down the dirt road leading away from home, until I reach a road made of something that’s not dirt. What a strange looking road! It’s all black, surrounded by grey slabs, painted with intermittent lines. I’ll never get used to it, no matter how many times I see it.
I look around. To my left, further downhill, is a mass of small houses — so much smaller than our home!— a place that miss refers to as “into town” and to my right, the unnatural blanket of a road leads into a hole in the mountain — no, the hill — atop which our home rests.
I focus my attention to the hole in the hill. That’s where the Tunnel is, so I continue my walk in that direction. It’s so dark inside the hill, nothing like the sunlight pouring all over the world around me. I’m glad I won’t need to go inside.
I reach the point where the road and the hill meet. The white slabs at the side of the road split away from it, for a few steps following a wall built into the hill until they stop at a door.
I’ve reached the Tunnel, miss.
My hand reaches toward the Tunnel’s door’s handle, and turns it. Miss, you were right. It takes no effort to open. With the Tunnel open to me, I step in, and in not even a moment, I felt it take me away. As I step out of the Tunnel, its door gently closes behind me.
I’m in the alleyway now, miss. I hope you can still hear me well enough. I remember what you said to me, that “the city” is much farther from home than it feels. I have faith that your magic is powerful enough for you to hear me.
Light pours into the alleyway. I follow it and reach “the street”.
Miss, you still never explained why you call this road “the street” while the other close to home is “the road”. Might I guess that it’s because it’s in the city? It’s the only difference I can think of.
My foot begins to lift off the ground, but I recall miss' instructions. I should report what I see, miss. I nearly forgot!
There are people on the sidewalk, some walking and some standing and talking to one another. There are large machines on “the street”! “Cars,” I remember you calling them, and there are people trapp — no, “driving” inside! They’re all moving so slowly! Even a doll like me could outpace them. Miss, why don’t they simply take the Tunnel where they need to go? It all confuses me — thank you that our home is so much simpler than this place.
My head tilts down for a moment.
I miss it already. My posture straightens. Ah! I’m already so close! Just a little further, then my task will be complete, and I will be able to return to our home.
I turn, and begin walking along the street’s footpath. As I walk, people pass me — some starting in front and passing behind, some startling me when they appear in front of me from behind. Everyone is in such a hurry here. Then again, I am hurrying as well! I continue walking at my brisk pace, until I reach a point where the footpath curves off sharply.
I’m at “the crosswalk,” miss. Just like last time, there are other people crowding around, being still until the time comes to cross. It’s easy to remember what to do. I just cross the road with the others. Follow their lead, and it’s safe. They’re the experts, after all.
When the time finally comes to cross, the people around me start to walk. Like with miss, I try to walk in lockstep. It’s very difficult to keep up the pace when the people around you all walk at different speeds! The discomfort from the pace isn’t enough to stop me, and soon enough I’m on the other side of the street. Just a little further to go, miss. After passing by a few more buildings, I find myself in front of the shop.
I’m here, miss. I’m at the shop. I know you said everything would be taken care of, but I still remember how unpleasant things were last time. I—I’m going in, miss!
As I step toward the mouth of the shop, the glass panes move aside in response to my presence. Such strange magic doors! I continue walking, and find myself inside the store. As I step to the counter, I see them. Miss, it’s the clerk who said such terrible things to me last time I accompanied you here. Th-they’re looking at me—!
“Ma’am, do you require assistance?”
Y—you don’t— Right, I can’t answer anymore.
I take out the envelope, and hand it over. They’re reading it now…
“…picking up, are you? Yes, the order’s ready. I’ll just be a moment.”
They’re going to the back now, miss. I don’t know how, but they’re not being rude today! Oh, here they come.
They put a box on the counter, and push it toward me. “Here’s the lady’s order, ma’am. No need to respond, but might I say I’m thrilled that the lady has moved on. Your predecessor was so boring and lifeless! Give the lady my regards.”
Lifelike? Ma-am?! Miss, I— Oh! The illusion! The clerk must think I’m somedolly else! I better take your box before the illusion begins to wear off. Okay, in my hands, and we’re off.
Moments later, I return to the loud, bustling outdoors.
I’m outside now, miss. I’m coming home.
I make my way back to the crosswalk, wait for the right time to cross, and on my way back to the alleyway, I notice in the corner of my eye a strange reflection. I stop walking for a moment, and approach the doll in the wind—
What?! M-miss! I’m a girl! The reflection! It looks just like you do when I surprise you! My face can’t articulate like this! How? Is this…? This must be the work of your illusion! Miss, I look so strange as a person. I’m very thankful you didn’t make me one for real. I would have been so upset! O—oh, I better continue making my way home. If you can still hear me, I’m sorry for the anger, miss. You did brilliantly.
I step away from the fake reflection, and continue the short walk to the alleyway. I’m almost at the Tunnel, miss. Just have to feel out the handle like you showed me, and… ah! Got it. Turn, push, step, and…
“Wonderfully done, my doll.”
Miss? What are you doing here?
“Welcoming my lovely doll back into my fold, of course. Come, hand the box over and let’s make our way back home.”
Yes, miss! Lead the way.
“Very well, my doll.”
As we step away from the road and make our way back onto the path, miss breaks the silence.
“I trust you’ll forgive my transgression. I did not forget that you would prefer not to look like that.”
Do you see the illusion too, miss?
“No— Well, not quite. I see if as a sort of shimmer. My chosen disguise, with my beautiful doll still half visible behind.”
All I saw was the disguise, miss. I would say given that the clerk said such mean things about me, the clerk didn’t see me at all.
“As I suspected, doll. They have little affinity for magic despite claiming otherwise. Now, I know.”
Is that the reason you wanted me to go alone, miss? To test your illusion against them?
“Correct, my doll. The results speak for themselves, of course. Thank you again for your overwhelming trust. I promise not to ask you something like that of you for a very long time.”
Miss, you forget so easily. “Oh?” You’re trustworthy, always.
In response, she simple looks away and gives me her wonderful, beautiful smile, and then gives an incredible, delightful giggle as she leans over, sweeps me off my feet with such overwhelming strength, and plants a perfect kiss on my forehead.
“I appreciate your trust, my doll. Still, I won’t soon send you again to another situation like that.”
May I ask a question, miss?
What of the spell? The one that keeps quiet… and gives you special access?
“Special access, you say? You’ve made it clear that I have access to all kinds of special things with you. If you mean how I hear every little thought you have… Oh-ho! Things will stay that way for quite a while longer. That I get to be an exclusive audience to your musing, I will not soon give it up.”
Then may my company entertain you for as long as you desire, miss.