Something Is Here
“Wake up, doll. Something is coming.”
Her words echo in the doll's mind as she wakes, just as they have for years—ever since the doll's new mistress ate her old one and dragged her back into its lair.
Such a small memory to be burned so deeply, but she's thankful for it.
Today she wakes as she always does, words echoing in her mind and the monster's looming vastness crouched on spindly legs above her stony bed. A drop of venom sizzles on her skin, another hole burned through her ruined dress.
She's thankful for the nest's lack of mirrors.
The monster leads her out of her cell and through the vast and starry space it has never cared to explain to her, along pathways of sparkling stone that tear at her feet and stain her hands with glitter when she falls.
She struggles to keep up with it and hardly tries to.
Today it leads her to the misshapen thing lying whimpering within another of its many cells: a thing like a doll but not, with improper proportions and impure flesh.
It stares up at her with big bloodshot eyes as the monster speaks in a voice like crimson silk—
The doll doesn't like her teeth. She hates how they've grown since the monster took her, misses those little pearl domes.
Sometimes she dreams about how her old mistress used to have her rest her head in her lap as she polished her teeth and sanded away those horrid growths.
Once, after a dream so pleasant and nostalgic that it woke her long before the monster came, she tried to file them down herself.
It didn't work.
The rocks she grabbed and gnawed tore as easily as the misshapen thing's flesh does, and her tears fall as freely.
When she's done, when the thing finally stops trying to plead through the ruined emptiness where its mouth should have been, the monster carefully licks away the blood that stains her lips and face and hands. It doesn't touch her tears.
“W-why?” she sobbingly asks, as her meal's body cools beneath her, as the monster slurps up spilled blood and experimentally slips its limbs through the cuts she opened. “Why did you make me do that?”
For a moment it seems confused. Taken aback. She hardly ever talks. But—
“What is the world for”, the monster asks, “if not for eating?”
“But why me?”
Its many limbs are busy, buried within the corpse: a flurry of motion just below the skin, tearing out scraps of flesh and bone—everything the doll could not bring herself to eat.
“Eating is what dolls are for. Feel how your teeth grow. How your stomach aches with purpose.”
The doll shakes her head, an objection almost like a spasm. “N-no!”
It hums a long note like a cloudy nebula's slow song, digging legs making the corpse twitchily dance along.
When it speaks again its voice comes from the hollowed corpse, and the doll stares at that slowly inflating shell as the monster drags its bulk inside.
“It is. Dolls are tools for eating. There are delicious things I am not permitted to taste, and now I will eat unnoticed.”
The doll scrabbles backwards as the corpse begins to stand, her words forgotten. It moves in odd little jerks, skin bulging and face flickering through twisted expressions; through the slowly knitting gashes in its body she can see the monster's eyes.
Finally it stands upright and stares down at where she has fallen; a too-long tongue darts out between bloodless lips to taste her rising fear. Its voice tastes like rot and mildew and dripping decay.
“There are rules, doll, and you are a tool for breaking them.”
“B-but … you ate my witch yourself! And, and …” She casts her eyes again, whatever spark drove her to speak fast fading as she thinks about what might await her, as she sees the distance mouths of all the other cells that dot the walls of the monster's nest like stars—
It smiles at her with its stolen face.
“Witches are not protected. They don't belong to the Real. They taste bad and they can fight back.” Its teeth seem longer than before. “Tools are not protected, and nothing is protected from them. Most refuse to open holes.”
The doll shivers as it runs a half-deflated finger along her face, and struggles not to retch as it cups her cheek in its and and forces her head to tilt up to meet its gaze.
“You are a useful tool. You will wait, and when this shell breaks you will open a new one for me.”
“I … I don't …”
“This is what you are for, doll. Grow your teeth long and your hunger deep as I hunt the soft flesh that fills the Real, as I kill their memories and eat their bones, and I will bring you such a feast—”
The monster says other things as the doll stares and trembles, horrible things about what it will do and the rules which bind it and what the world is, thoughts that nestle deep into her brain's spiraling web and that she can feel she will never fully shake out of it.
It tells her that the Real isn't, that it's just calcifying scum clinging to the surface of the Void; a web of forgotten spells and threads that it was meant to be forbidden to tug. A falling, breaking thing, unraveled by witchcraft and moths and things like it.
The doll doesn't know enough to object, and with her stomach so full of flesh and blood she couldn't put any force behind her shouts, couldn't interrupt the unceasing flow of words slipping from the corpse's mouth to drip rot across her ears;
and then the monster leaves.
And she's alone,
with no company but the rocks and the darkness and the horrible images that flicker across the surface of her mind.
The monster didn't even bother to lead her back to her cell, and she can't bring herself to try to find the way.
So she just sits and waits, and tries to think of what her old witch might have told her to do.