The errand boy cursed his luck, turning down the back alley with his parcel in hand. He hated making runs to witches, most especially to witches that hid in the depths of the old city. The roads were perpetually broken, threatening to throw him right off his bike. The signs were old and decayed, lettering long ago weathered and covered up.
Eventually he made his way through the maze of twisted turns and offset bricks, showing up to a door plainly marked “The Sapphire Sanctuary.” He banged on the door, double checking the shipping label on the package. This was definitely the place, unfortunately.
A viewport slid open, a pair of lit eyes looking through. “You the delivery boy?” A soft voice asked.
“Sure are miss,” he held a clipboard up. “Can I get a signature?”
“Yeah, yeah.” The door opened, the witch hastily scribbling something illegible on the invoice and handing it back. She looked him up and down, pursing her lips. “Need a drink or anything? You look like you could use it, maybe another twenty pounds while you’re at it.”
“No miss I’m fine.” He knew there were nice witches out there, but he always seemed to get picked to deliver to the less sensitive ones. “Thank you for your order.”
“You sure, I’ve got some great potions for a kid like you-“
He turned around, hopping back on his bike and leaving as quickly as he could. Witches were good at talking you into doing stupid things like accepting any food they offered. He was pretty sure half the alley strays he had passed had learned that lesson the hard way.
In his haste to get out of the awkward conversation with the witch, he didn’t notice a shifting in the shadows behind him, the glint of something awakening. A more ancient sense pricked up inside of his mind, warning him that something was wrong… but he didn’t pay attention.
He continued his rounds for another eight hours, working over his shift to get through the queue. Dispatch had overloaded them yet again and the more senior couriers left the moment they could, leaving him to pick up the remnants.
By the end of it, he opened the door to his apartment, pocket a little heavier with overtime pay and legs weak from a day of hard biking. His mind drifted to one of his last deliveries, as he put a pot of coffee on to start his night, a witch that was more pleasant than the rest.
“You have a hunter’s mark on you, boy,” she whispered, grabbing the package and darting back behind the door frame. “Line your door with silver dust tonight if you want to live.”
He laughed to himself, dumping the grounds in and turning on a computer. As if he could afford silver dust on a courier’s salary. Probably just some witch being superstitious, trying to sell him something. If he believed everything they said, he’d never get any sleep.
He slumped on the broken sofa, sighing as he looked up at the ceiling and listened to the water begin to boil. What a life… maybe he should have gone to college, like his dads had told him to. They went to a nice engineering school together. He could have been an engineer.
A creak echoed out through his apartment, making him perk up as he looked around the room. Something didn’t feel right… but the apartment was also perpetually in a state of disrepair. Things creaked an awful lot. He shook his head, pulling a cigarette out of his pocket and flicking it alight, taking a long drag and closing his eyes.
“Hi darling!” A voice rang out, making him choke for a second on the smoke and opening his eyes to see… something.
A doll had situated itself on top of him, brilliant yellow eyes peering down at him as it straddled atop him. Its frame was far different from any servitor dolls he might see in the streets, more life-like… and far more animalistic in nature. Long, pointed canine ears sprung from the top of its head, a long and full tail whipping around behind it. He also was becoming very aware of the claws springing out of its hands, as the doll wasn’t being particularly careful about how it gripped his arms.
“Excuse me-what the fuck are you doing in my apartment?” He tried to scramble out from underneath it, but the weight was a little much. “I- you can’t- uh, stand down!”
It whimpered, pulling back from him and sitting on the floor with a pouting expression. “What’s wrong? Did it do something wrong?”
“No- yes? Yes, actually. Why are you in my apartment? Who are you? Why shouldn’t I call security?” He cursed softly, looking at his arm, now gently bleeding from where the doll knicked it with one of its claws. “What’s going on?”
“It saw you outside of my Miss’ sanctuary!” It beamed with excitement. “This one’s Miss told it that it was, uhm, how did she say it, ‘too bloodthirsty and a waste of magick,’ so she told it to go be someone else’s problem! So now it’s your problem! You’re its new Miss!”
“I- okay that’s really messed up but also no, no I am not. I have not made any sort of pact or deal or agreement with you, you understand? No binding words or faespeak or any sort of bullshit that binds my soul to some random TOS I never read. I do not consent, please leave.”
“Miss can’t mean that! You’re perfect for this one. It can smell how perfect you are for it.” It crept forward, now fixated on the blood beginning to drip off his arm. “It can help with that if Miss wants.”
“I- I am not your Miss, please stop calling me that, it’s very uncomfortable, and no you do not need to help with this, you caused this!” He swore as he looked at the carpet, thinking about how hard that was going be to get out of it. “Where’s a fucking towel…”
“Right here Miss!” It handed him one of his towels, the boy begrudgingly accepting it, before thinking about how it possibly could have had one of his towels handy. “See! This one can be very helpful. It can get you anything Miss needs.”
“For the last time, I am not your Miss.” He pulled out his phone, starting to dial on it. “Please get out of my apartment right now or I’m calling security to drag you out.”
“Miss is so mean!” It whined, pouting at him as it walked back into the shadows. “Sleep well Miss!”
He breathed raggedly for a moment, poking his head around the corner eventually to see where the doll had gone. There was no back door to where it had gone, but sure enough, it had vanished without a trace, leaving nothing but his bloodied arm behind as evidence of its presence.
The next day he went about his rounds as usual, trying desperately to get the memory of the night prior out of his mind. He hadn’t made an agreement. He’d kept denying the doll. He was fine. Magical things like this, they had to follow rules. He was fine. He was safe.
“Hey, Jon, you know anything about dolls?” He asked another courier as the two sat at dispatch, scarfing down some food.
“I don’t swing that way,” his coworker laughed. “But really, nah not really. Just see them walking around a lot these days. Ton of the things around.”
“They only stick around witches, yeah?”
“I think so. I know a buddy tried to buy one, couldn’t get it to do anything he wanted. Obstinate little things if you don’t have the magic to reign them in. He ended up returning it to the witch who sold him it.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought too.” He blinked, a brief haze coming over him. “Well, back to work then.”
He volunteered for overtime this time, working well into the twilight hours, trying to put the thoughts of the strange canid doll behind him. Yet, on his final delivery of the night, as he dropped a parcel off on the porch of some dignitary, his thoughts started to drift back to it. For all its trouble, it did genuinely seem like it just wanted some company. He’d heard about witches being cruel, maybe it just needed…
No. He shook his head, looking up at the rising moon and coughing slightly. Couldn’t start feeling sorry for these things. They were dolls after all, they didn’t actually have feelings. Just thinking toys that witches used for their own purposes. Not his problem.
He returned to the apartment, putting on a pot of coffee and slumping on the couch again. His legs burned after two days of nonstop overtime, but at least it distracted him from the nonsense of last night. Maybe he should order in, spend that money… he was pretty hungry.
His dreams were restless, visions of running through the city streets, panicked and desperate. The smell of rust and salt in his nose, the taste of blood in his mouth… the sound of violence behind him, the feeling of satisfaction.
He woke before his alarm, blinking through the sweaty heat of his blankets. He slumped against the wall of his shower, the cold water shocking him back to reality. He was too stressed out, he needed to work it out of his system. Couldn’t let these things get to him.
He continued to work himself to exhaustion for a week, until finally dispatch looked at him with pity and asked if he was in trouble with a debt collector. His manager told him to take a break, reminding him he was no good to anyone worn out, sending him home for a long weekend.
The dreams hadn’t stopped, though, and soon enough night came as he lay on the couch, staring at the ceiling and blinking through clouded thoughts. What had happened to him? Did that doll drug him? Surely nothing could have lasted so long…
He could hear it. He started up, looking deep into the shadows of his room. He could see it, far away, slipping from shadow to shadow. It was coming for him. He had to run. He had to get away. He slammed things into a courier bag, darting out and grabbing his bike.
He kept running. He took the night train out of the city, sending his manager a text that he’d come down with something and wouldn’t be in for a while. He rode across the countryside, biking places he’d never seen, catching trains he’d never taken. He had to keep running.
Eventually, he couldn’t keep running. He collapsed next to a field of crops, tumbling down a ditch and landing on his back, staring up at the full moon above. He was exhausted, starving, feverish. He couldn’t keep going. He couldn’t even remember why he was so panicked.
The doll’s frame came up over him, the smiling glint of its face looking down at him. “Hi Miss! It missed you, but it had a lot of fun following you. Can we do that again?”
“Can you just… kill me already?” He panted, closing his eyes. “I can’t keep this up…”
“Silly Miss, a doll can’t kill its witch! This one has to take care of you.”
“I’m… not a witch. I’m not your Miss. Just… make it quick?”
“Miss doesn’t understand his own abilities. That’s okay: this one can help with that.”
The wolf doll leaned down to kiss his neck, tips of fangs pushing against his skin. He took one final breath, offering a prayer to whatever gods might be listening, and waited for the end to come.
Instead, fire hit his veins. The doll bit down hard into his shoulder, agonizing pain spreading through his body as his world lit up. Countless lights swirled in his eyes, a memorizing and haunting view of the magicks hitting his blood as the doll bit even deeper into him.
When he came to, the once-errand boy stood up, a blooded doll sitting on its knees next to him, licking blood off of its hands in between small howls at the moon above. He shifted uneasily, aware of a newfound weight behind him, a far crisper night than he remembered before.
He cursed under his breath, instinctual knowledge starting to creep into his mind, magical rites starting to carve themselves into his thoughts. His veins burned, a permanent reminder of the magicks that now coursed within them.
“How does Miss feel?” The doll chirped at him, standing up and gently licking the dried-wound on his shoulder.
“Fucking witches…” He muttered, picking up his bag and starting back towards the road.