The Dressing Doll - Interview with the Coven
Context: This story was submitted as part of #EmptyOctober's prompt for day 30, "Coven."
"So it's my understanding that you wish to join our coven, Mister Alist—"
"Miss. Alice," the applicant firmly interrupted.
"Ah, right! Miss Alice…" the coven leader repeated, letting the name roll over her tongue experimentally.
Between her close-cropped silver hair and the custom-tailored suit she wore, the elder witch had the air of a woman trying to keep her finger on society's pulse. Her one bit of traditional adornment was the hat, the symbol of her sisterhood, that she hung from her chair.
Her office in general exuded professional authority. It was covered in more awards and accolades than most witches could ever hope to achieve; Ink 500's top CEWs, multiple publications in Magick, even a photograph of her hobnobbing with the Agatha Harkness.
In one corner, her smiling face reflected back at them from behind the glass frame of a rainbow-splattered New Salem cover page on which she proudly featured. "Duvessa Cross Speaks Out! The Importance of Coven Inclusivity and Intersectionality," it boldly proclaimed.
"Gosh, I'm sorry about that," the real Duvessa said, attempting to start over. "That's so hard to get right, you know? Especially looking at your history here." She held aloft a ream of parchment; the resume Alice had sent in as part of her interview.
"Ah yeah… I guess there are some… standouts there," Alice admitted, trying not to show her embarrassment.
"I'll say! A letter of recommendation from the dean of the Academiae ad Maleficum himself? Most impressive. Those are not easy to come by. He's quite the demanding sort."
"You… don't know the half of it," Alice responded, laughing uncomfortably. "He was my direct mentor before he was granted the deanship. He could be… quite exacting…"
"Truly! But such a fine establishment for a young warlock like yourself to come up in."
Mustering what waning patience she had, Alice explained, "It's a fine establishment for a young witch. You said warlock."
"Oh, I suppose I did. But it is an all-boy's school, so you were a warlock at the time. Isn't that right?"
"Yes, but… nevermind…"
"That does segue rather conveniently though. Tell me, when did you first feel Lilith's call drawing you to the witch's art?" Duvessa inquired. "That must have been quite the thing to experience given your… circumstances. I can't imagine it myself."
"I mean, it's only now that I realize I'd been hearing it all my life. I always just shrugged it off, thinking it was something all…" Alice paused, tensing before continuing, "…warlocks heard but… she never stopped calling."
"And yet it's taken you this long to decide to answer?" The coven leader's tone betrayed more than a hint of disbelief. "You must admit, it's a bit late for a... career change... at your age. Is it not?"
Ignoring the slight, Alice responded, "I suppose, however there are resources your prestigious sisterhood possesses that I would draw on to further a new direction in my craft. As you know, the Academy has precious little aid to offer one investigating the mysteries of Dollcraft"
"Yes… well… I must admit, what caught my eye about you was not a novice Maker seeking my sisters' secrets." Duvessa's countenance took on a hungry, predatory glare. "You bring knowledge, experience, and talent in Magicks we sorely lack here; Academy Magicks."
"I'm… I'm trying to leave those behind," Alice stammered, trying to bring the conversation back on track. This interview was not going anywhere close to how she had hoped. "I said as such in my application. They are… ill-suited to both my current craft and my current goals."
"Yes. Yes. Your 'experiments.'" The elder witch didn't even bother to hide her disdain. "What I'm proposing is far grander though. An exchange of secrets. Your Academy learning for our coven's knowledge. It's a fair trade."
"It was my understanding that all is shared freely within the sisterhood," Alice answered. "'To not share with one's sisters is a betrayal of Lilith's gift.' Those were your words according to one interview. That hardly seems to square with the offer you're extending me."
"Yes, well, that's for our… fully-fledged sisters," Duvessa said, bemusedly. "I'm not entirely sure that one of your talents is quite the right fit for that. You understand, don't you? Regardless, we could both stand to benefit a great deal from each other. Come. Work with me."
"No… No, Miss Crosse, I'm afraid this interview is over."
"Well, I'm sorry to hear that. My door is always open to one of your… unique qualifications, Miste—Miss Alice. Should you ever change your mind."
"Don't count on it," Alice spat back.
Elsewhere, two dolls were busying themselves, seemingly attempting to burrow a channel in the flooring of their Maker's manse as they paced anxiously back and forth.
"She's going to hate it," said Natrium.
"It's ugly," said Celestine.
"This is a terrible plan."
"It was that one's bright idea!" shouted one.
"That one agreed to it though!" retorted the other.
The two were about to descend into mutual awawas when suddenly the front door burst open, their Mistress silhouetted in the doorframe, the air around her shimmering with curses.
"Stupid fricking covens…" The entryway rug completely unwove itself. "Stupid academies…" The door shut itself with a cacophonous slam. "Stupid supposed sisterhood…" A nearby vase shattered. "Arrrrrgh!!" Alice roared as she crossed the threshold.
The two dolls got straight to work, pulling off Alice's cloak and boots and guiding her to her favorite seat without interrupting a single step. A fresh pot of tea was already brewed and steeping, though they both worried that chai wouldnt be strong enough for the mood she was in
"Six times now! Six! How many more of these humiliating interviews am I going to have to sit through for even one to take me seriously?!" Alice cried out rhetorically.
Pouring a cup of tea from the pot, Celestine cautiously asked, "So… they didn't give Miss her Big Hat?"
"No, no my dear doll, they did not. Those are for 'fully-fledged sisters,'" Alice mocked.
"This one is sorry, Miss," Natrium apologized faultlessly. "You deserve your Big Hat."
Dejection filled Alice's voice as she sighed, "In due time… I'll just have to… apply elsewhere."
The two dolls saw their opportunity.
"If it please you, Miss…"
"…these ones had a thought."
"That's a dangerous thing for dolls to be having," Alice mused, perking up slightly, despite the simultaneous spike in anxiety. "What was your thought?"
"Well, we heard once…"
"…that sometimes if you can't make something on your own…"
"…store-bought is fine."
"So we thought…"
"…'Why not the reverse?'"
"If they won't give you your Big Hat…"
"…then making your own is fine, right?"
From behind their backs, the two dolls pulled out the most comically oversized witch's hat she had ever seen. It was ostentatious. It was gaudy. It would certainly be the Biggest Hat in any room. Alice would have to figure out by what Magicks they hid it behind their backs later.
It was also far beyond their sewing capabilities, she noted.
"You… how did you… this is… where did you get this?" Alice stammered.
"Well, she told us not to say…"
"…but Satin stitched it."
"It was this one's idea though!"
"Nuh-uh! It was this one's!"
"Satin made it…?" Alice asked, interrupting the two before they got too into it.
"Uh-huh! She said it was…"
"…'for a new sisterhood.'"
"Whatever that means."
Hearing those words, it was all Alice could do to not drop the tea cup she'd been handed. Placing it down, gently as could be, she accepted the hat from the two dolls, eliciting the widest smiles she'd ever seen them wear.
Placing it atop her head and taking a moment to adjust the overly wide brim, Alice declared, "Yes. You're absolutely right. Making your own is fine. Now come, you two," she said, grabbing her dolls by the hand, "We have a lot of work ahead of us."