The Poppet Witch Speaks: A Song of Mourning

Been a while since I had a chance to sit down and write.  Meant to do it more often than this, but well, autumn is a busy time, what with getting ready for winter and all that.  I’d intended to pick up where I left off last time, but well, the poppets displayed a new behavior the other day, so I suppose I should write that down first.

I was in the workroom, measuring out ingredients for an herbal tonic I keep around for winter colds, when it occurred to me that I’d been hearing a single low tone ringing outside for some time. Setting the measuring things down, I went to the window to see what was going on.

The poppets were in the trees and along the fenceline all on one side of the property, looking fixed down the road, and chiming a single long note together in a chorus.  They’d chime the tone, it would ring unchecked and just as it would start to fade out of hearing, they’d chime again.  The same tone, over and over.  One of the poppets closer to the window saw me watching them, and bowed its head at the tilted angle that signifies sadness for them, before looking back down the road and rejoining the chiming.

I left the window and got my boots.  Something was going on, and I didn’t have a good enough angle to see where they were looking properly.

When I stepped out onto the porch, I could see clear what they were looking at, and understood.

The house down the road is a good ways through the trees, but close enough to be seen from ours.  Usually there was a light on by this time, but that night it was dark and no smoke came from the chimney.  The old man who owned it had passed away earlier that morning, and so there was no one to light the fire or turn on the lamp anymore.  The poppets were mourning their friend, who had been the inspiration behind their chiming voices, in a ritual they were creating just for him.

I bowed my head, and grieved with them.  He’d been a good neighbor, sweet and friendly, easy to laugh, and the windchimes he’d hung on his porch had been what had given me the idea to use the small, poppet-sized chimes to allow the poppets to “speak” and expand their vocabulary beyond clicking and postures.  He’d always been kind to them and sometimes I think he taught them some of the mischief they get into from time to time. We are all going to miss him, though it’s a comfort that he’ll always be remembered wherever my little poppets go.

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This was not the next installment I’d planned for the Poppet Witch’s journal or her poppets.   Really, it wasn’t a post I was planning to write at all, but well, Life happens and sorrows, too.

My next door neighbor, Dan, was the original inspiration for the poppets.  Or rather, the windchimes on his porch were.  I’d hear them ringing softly in the distance at night, when the neighborhood was quiet, and well, one night a small poppet story wandered into the room and it turned into a bit of ambient microfiction and then one thing led to another and here we are.

Dan passed away this past weekend.  As I write this, his family are in his house, working on the next steps to deal with the stupid, mundane details of life and death and what to do with the things we leave behind when we leave the world.

I can’t do anything to help them, but I can write a bit of a world that he helped inspire and make sure that he is remembered in my own small way.

The Poppet Witch Speaks

I promised I’d start writing a bit longer bits about the poppets, so here we are, the first installment of the story, from the Poppet Witch herself.  I hope you like it!

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I’m told that, given recent happenings, I should start writing stuff down a bit more than usual.  Always was bad at it, and leaving a paper trail always seemed a bad idea, but something about “documentation” and “for the love of God, what if something happens to you?!?” and all that, so I guess I’ll give it a shot.  I ain’t gonna promise to be regular about it, though, and fair warning, there’s some things you can’t pay me enough to write down and others that ain’t no one’s business but my own, even if I’m dead before anyone reads it.

Haven’t kept a diary since I was a teenager, and I feel a bit ridiculous trying to do so now, but well, here we are.  Maybe if I pretend I’m writing someone a letter I’ll feel a bit less foolish about the whole thing.  Figure I should start at the beginning so the rest makes some kind of sense, while I’m at it.

Folks have lots of theories about what the poppets are and where they came from.  Souls of lost children, mine or someone else’s, are a particular favorite.  Stolen souls, in general, seem to be popular. Bargains with devils were made, they’re devils themselves, familiar spirits summoned to do mischief, that sort of thing.  Course, they’re all wrong,  but they do amuse me just the same.

No, I think I’m not going to write down what the truth is.  Folks need a little more mystery in their life.  The world’s getting too tame and besides, too much information is bad for you.

I must say, I didn’t expect them to get as advanced as they have been.  That’s been a nice little surprise.

So what are they?  What it says on the tin, more or less. They’re dolls of sticks and twine and scraps of cloth, mostly.  Whatever’s around that works.  Like those little corn husk dolls folks make, just, well….more.  I made the first one when I was out cleaning up the dead wood that’d come down in a storm a while back, and remembered making little dolls from flowers and things in my ma’s garden while I was little.  I wanted to see if I could remember how to do it.  Poor thing was rather rough and didn’t hold together well, but it was alright.  Or it was until the kitten decided it was a toy and it got chewed up and scattered around, at any rate.

Still, I’d like having it around and I wanted to see if I could do better, so I kept practicing and trying new things until I got it right.

Honestly, it was as much of a surprise to me as anyone else when the first one got it into its head to move.  Damned near threw it into the fire before I caught myself.

The thing a lot of folks don’t realize is that witchery is a sort of science.  It’s got different ways of seeing and doing things, but the main difference is what you’re working with, really.  Also the scientists take better notes, from what I hear. A big thing we’ve got in common, though, is neither of us are particularly good at leaving well enough alone when something gets our curiosity up.

That first one was years ago, now, but I still remember it like it was yesterday.  It was just a bit after dark, in late fall.  Day’d been pretty normal…I’d spent most of it dealing with getting the gardens set for winter and sold a few teas and things to the local folks, Himself was off doing his thing, as usual.  I was getting dinner ready, when I noticed that the cats were sitting quietly side by side instead of fighting, staring at something.  Figuring it was either a mouse or a bug, I went to take a look.  It wasn’t a mouse. It was one of the little dolls, standing in the middle of the living room floor, looking back at me.  When it tilted it’s head, I yelled and moved to grab it and toss it into the fireplace.  I stopped because it raised its hands in front of its face, like it was trying to protect itself, and well, it was obviously scared and well, I ain’t a monster.

After shooing the cats out of the room, I sat down on the floor so as not to spook it more than it already was (the poor thing was shaking so much I had a concern that it might actually rattle itself back into a pile of sticks, and that wouldn’t do at all), and started talking to it just like I would any scared critter, and waited to see what it would do.  After a bit, it stopped rattling, took a few halting steps closer, and looked at me like it was expecting me to do something.  So, I did the first thing I thought of.  I held out a hand, and it climbed up, sat down, and wrapped an arm around my thumb, for all the world like it was settling into its favorite chair.

Over the next weeks, it took to following me around, and would climb up onto a nearby shelf or look at me until I picked it up and put it where it pointed me to bring it so it could watch what was going on around the house.  I taught it to make different sounds in certain patterns for important things like “yes”, “no”, “help”, “please”, “thank you”, and all that.   It was a curious little thing, and seemed generally good-natured, though it had moments of oddly intense…staring, isn’t quite the right word, given it’s lack of actual eyes, but it’s close enough.  It would fix it’s attention on you so hard you’d almost swear you could feel it, and you weren’t sure what, exactly, it was thinking.

Not gonna lie, it was a bit unnerving at first, but we had a talk about it and got some ground rules sorted.

One day I found it in the work room, looking at the half-finished bits of others I’d been working on.  Hadn’t touched them since the night it walked itself into the living room, so it was the only one finished at the time.  It looked so sad it hurt to see, and I decided I needed to finish them and see about making it some others of its kind.

That’s a story for another day, though, and I’ve used up enough daylight writing this much for now.

The Problem With Poppets

“Once there was, and once there was not…”

That is how the old stories start, isn’t it?  Once there was, and once there was not a village far, far away,  just over that ridge there, that bordered a forest as old as time and older than sin, and in that forest was a little house the color of brick and old blood in which there lived a witch…

What?  Yes, dear, I know that’s a run-on sentence.  It’s an old woman’s right to ramble.  Hush, now,  and let your old Baba think.  Where was I?  Oh, right…

…in which there lived a witch…

As witches go, the villagers didn’t *think* she was a bad one, but they weren’t sure, and one can really never be too careful when dealing with uncertainties like that, can we?  After all, her house looked more or less normal, and she hadn’t actually eaten anyone, that they were aware of, and her cats seemed nice, as did the odd man who lived with her, but her garden had a tendency to grow things with berries that looked too much like eyes looking back at you, and fruits that were just a little too strangely colored to be quite right, and then there were the poppets….There was a rhyme about them, though no one knew where it came from.

“Poppet of bramble, branch, and twine

Face like moonlight, and voice of chime…”

Damn, I can’t remember the rest of it.  Something about flattering them and asking them not to steal things that were yours, like your name, or your shadow or something like that.  Don’t get old, kids, your memory gets to being fuzzy and you forget things at the most inopportune times…

The poppets were odd little things.  They should have been much more disturbing then they were, but they had a certain whimsical charm to them I’m told.  Well, at least as long as the sun was out and you knew there were other folks around.  I wouldn’t swear that they were as charming when the sun went down, and I don’t want to find out for sure.  Like the rhyme goes, they were odd little figures, human-like, cobbled together of sticks and bits of brambles and leaves, held together with fine twine, with heads of bleached linen and faces that were drawn onto the fabric.  The witch had placed them around the property, gathered in little groups in the trees and on the fences and you would swear they were watching you when walked by, whispering and chattering among themselves, with voices that sounded like those tiny little wind-chimes you see at the flower shops.  No one ever saw them move, but they were rarely where you saw them last, even if only a few moments had passed.

Some things it’s just best not to think about…

Some folks swore they heard the poppets chiming in the village in the middle of the night, but everyone knows that once the sun goes down, you’d best be indoors and you never look out the windows.  There are things out there in the dark that don’t need to be met, and it’s best to just  let some things be.

What was that, my dear?  Ah, yes.  So it is.  I’m sorry, my children, but I’m told that it’s time for your old Baba to take her old bones to bed.  It’s getting late, and you should run along home before the sun goes down.  Remember to close the curtains, and if you hear the chimes, it’s probably just those little metal chimes from the flower shop blowing around in the breeze…

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No, I have absolutely not been staring at the tangled vines outside the window, and thinking how much they looked like little people sometimes and wondering if I could remember how to make little dolls from sticks and string like I did when I was a kid.  Why do you ask?