Not for the first time, Poppy thought to themself, “Which is worse, the sting of the first needle’s bite or that of the hundredth’s?” They’d hardly finished the thought before their Witch inserted the hundred and first.
Once the pain had subsided, they continued internally, “On the one hand, it’s always surprising just how easy it is to forget how much that first needle hurts.” Prick. “On the other, they just get worse and worse as she goes on…” Prick.
Whichever it was, the doll couldn’t be sure. Prick. All they knew was that the pain of having their Witch wound them over and over again with that expression of sheer malice on her face was the worst pain of all. Prick. She never had a reason for these sessions that the doll could discern. Prick. She’d just dress Poppy up in rags or wigs they’d never seen before and stab at their clothen body with such spite and animosity she never showed her other dolls. Prick. No, they never had to suffer these sessions. Prick. As best Poppy could tell, it wasn’t ever for anything they had even done. Prick. “But if that’s this one’s Purpose, there’s no helping it…” Poppy thought to themself.
Finally, without a word of gratitude or remorse, the Witch unceremoniously dropped her doll to the desk she worked at. The pain of all the needles rattling through Poppy’s body at once as they hit the wood was their Witch’s signal that their session was over; their Purpose had been fulfilled. Closing the door without regard for how the heavy thud resonated through Poppy’s ragdoll form and shook the needles once more, they were left to clean up after their Witch’s work.
The going was slow and agonizing, pulling each needle out one at a time. It was all Poppy could do to not collapse after pulling one out. The reminder that the needles would jostle inside Poppy once more if they did fall over was all that kept them upright. It was a predicament that never failed to make them wonder why they’d been Made with the ability to feel pain. The possibility that it was another piece to their Purpose was the best Poppy could guess at. The possibility that Poppy was simply Made to suffer was the worst they could guess at.
So long was this process that night inevitably fell, leaving Poppy to continue their seemingly endless extrication by candlelight. Pull. Rest. Pull. Rest. Pull. Rest. It wouldn’t be until the moon was visible high in the night sky through the atelier’s open window that they finally freed themself of the final fixture. It also wasn’t until then that Poppy realized they weren’t alone.
Drawn to the room by the light of the candle’s flame, a lone moth sat atop the lantern’s lip, staring down at Poppy. She wore a quizzical expression as her wings lazily flapped for balance, leaving a thin film of dust on the glass lens of the lantern. Without any regard for privacy or propriety, the moth asked, “Why do you do that?”
Poppy wasn’t sure whether to reply, much less how. Their Witch had always said not to talk to moths. She’d called them “psychopomps of the Unreal,” whatever that meant. But then again… she’d never told Poppy not to talk to moths, it was simply an instruction they had heard the other dolls receive. Poppy considered themself lucky if their Witch ever spared a word for them...
In the absence of any direct instruction though, it seemed to Poppy that they were free to do as they pleased. Besides, it would be rude to ignore the moth, they figured. “This one isn’t quite sure they understand your question. Why does this one do what, exactly?” Poppy inquired.
The moth flitted down from her vantage point, getting much closer to Poppy’s personal space than they’d prefer, her face mere inches from Poppy’s own. “Put up with it,” she answered unhelpfully.
“Put up with wh-what?” It would have been hard for Poppy to work out the moth’s meaning under normal circumstances, but she was now using her antennae to feel up Poppy’s body. The sensation of her bristly appendages running over the rough cotton used in Poppy’s construction sent chills up their stitching. Poppy fearfully considered the possibility that they were being sized up for a snack.
“It hurts, doesn’t it?” Her eyes stared unblinkingly into Poppy’s shining buttons as her antennae continued whatever it was they were doing, hastily running over their chest, their neck, even their face. It was all Poppy could do to answer her question.
“Oh, that… This one… supposes it does. But if that’s this one’s Purpose, then there is no helping it.” Poppy couldn’t help but wonder why they were being so forthright with this strange creature. It must have been her unusual demeanor, throwing Poppy off-balance.
She began to maneuver around Poppy, putting her hands on their shoulders, her feelers wrapping around their head, her mouth closing in right next to where their ears would be, had they been anatomically correct. Poppy stood transfixed to the spot, unmoving, though only for lack of the ability to shiver or quake. Breathily, the moth whispered, “But there is.”
“How?” Poppy’s response carried the same eagerness as a man overboard clawing at a lifeline.
There was a hunger in the moth’s voice as she answered, “Change. Remake. Metamorphose. Take your pick.”
“This one can… change…?” Their Witch would never approve of it. It was lunacy to think of it. Heresy, even. A doll existed only for their Witch’s needs… or so their Witch had said. Yet the possibility called to them.
“If you want to,” she replied, inching even closer to Poppy’s backside, ever so slightly tightening the grip her feelers held on their head.
Slowly, carefully, trepidatiously Poppy gave the slightest of nods. That’s when the moth took her first bite.
By morning, Poppy’s memory of their chance encounter would be nothing but vague wisps of distant dreams. Leaving them alone on the office table, dazed, confused, and slightly smiling, the moth declared to no one in particular as she flitted out the open window, “Purpose really is the best midnight snack.”
For once, Poppy was not in pain. For once, Poppy was Still.