written by Richard Hamer
The lights went out at Goneril Toys and I thought I was the only one left.
Sitting still so long had made my legs dead. It drew closer to midnight when I heard a bell ring, and the clunk of an elevator door. I bit my lip. Thick boots echoed on the floor. A torch – white, piercing – scoured the musky air. A bead of sweat trickled from my matted hair to my cheek. I twisted my head a fraction of an inch to peer through my breathing hole.
It was my worst fear – a guard. He was wrinkled and hard-eyed. I softly blew a smidgeon of fluff from my nose, and tried my hardest not to sneeze. He checked the cupboard under the cash register first, and shone his torch inside. He looked over his shoulder, then strode slowly past the shelves. He stopped and shot out a hairy hand to claw at the space behind the boxes.
He was coming closer. The wool bunched around me grew damp between the creases of my shirt. The light crossed over my mouth as he moved to the mannequins in the window display. I heard a gentle knock as he gave each a tap on the head, sniggering on the last. Then a harsh thumping rattled the window.
“It’s eleven thirty-five, can’t you read the sign?” he barked. “Six a-m means six a-m! Go home!”
The thumping rose. I pushed away some blonde strands and snatched a glance to the right. A dull crowd was seeping out from the tents in the street and massing zombie-like around the window, pressing on the glass, yammering over who was first in line. The guard stretched up for the shutters and rolled them down.
“Ain’t it still supposed to be Thanksgiving?” he mumbled. “Jesus…”
The crowd piled at the bottom as they closed, banging, pleading.
“I said go home! We’re not open!” The chink of moonlight vanished as steel thudded on the floor. “And you!” he shouted. “Get out of the bear.”
I felt my muscles lock and freeze.
“Yeah, you. I know you’re in there. You’ve got five seconds. Four…”
I wrenched my head out the teddy bear. I brushed the chunks of woollen stuffing from my eyes and pushed out the rest of my body. I scrambled coughing to my feet.
“How…” I gasped.
“I know what silence sounds like.” He tapped his grimy ear. “I could hear you breathing from the second floor. Turn around.”
He reached to his belt. I saw a flash of steely handcuffs.
“I wasn’t trying to rob you, I swear.” I stepped back and fished in my pocket. “Look, I brought money. Lots of money…”
I rustled my purse, crammed with half my savings. His sneer was unflinching. His shadow fell over me as he clicked the cuffs open.
I took one step forward and planted a knee into his crotch. A glob of spit flew from his teeth as he fell with a stricken grunt. I sprinted for the elevator. I leapt up the walkway, punched the twinkly light and slid through the moment the booth opened up.
The guard found his feet. I jabbed the button to close the doors. He stumbled up the three steps, gripping the balustrade. I jabbed it again.
“Come on…come on…”
The doors inched inward. The guard snarled as they came closer. He was ten feet away.
I zipped to the back of the booth as his hand burst through the closing gap. Four long fingers raked the air, then quivered in pain as the metal bit in. He tore them out with a whimper. The doors sealed, rumbling as he pounded them with his boot.
The only way out was up. I hit the button for the highest floor. I felt pressure on my ribcage as I closed my eyes and slid down the wall. The pounding faded. I smoothed out my skirt on my leggings and took a deep breath.
That was close…
I had to find somewhere else to hide. Somewhere at the top of the building. I drifted past the third floor, the fourth, the fifth, dreaming of what I’d find when those doors opened up. More guards? I wiped my brow, got to my feet and brushed back my hair. If I could look like I was meant to be here, I might have a chance. For a while, at least.
I reached the sixth floor. A bell rang. The doors shuddered open.
In this room there was a doll’s house. It was sumptuous and vast, set on a mahogany table. Along its side I saw cloth people, no taller than my thumb, lined up by some tiny cloth tents. I realised it was a model of Goneril Toys – the whole store and the street around, delicately crafted to scale. I peered through the folding walls at each perfectly miniaturised floor – at the first, with the mannequins, a sunken-looking teddy bear, a cloth man with strangely large ears – then at the highest, the sixth, a sprawling set of living rooms, bedrooms, plush rugs and paintings on corridors, and wide, gleaming windows on every wall.
It didn’t strike me that I was in someone’s home before my eyes caught sight of the model floor’s miniature mahogany table. There wasn’t another model toy store on top – instead there was just a doll, with a tuft of blonde hair and a purse, perching on the edge.
A slender hand reached up and took it. I jumped back, locking eyes with a little girl in a grey dressing gown. She was smiling widely at me.
Before I could speak, an old man in silk pyjamas walked into the room. He looked at me. Then he looked at the girl.
“Oh, Morgan darling…” he said. “What does Grandpa say about playing with your dolls at this hour?”
The little girl’s smile disappeared. She looked down at her feet.
“That not very nice things happen.” she mumbled.
“Yes.” he sighed. “And we don’t want not very nice things to happen, do we?”
“Good. Now I think it’s time you went back to bed.”
Morgan looked at me.
“Grandpa, can I put Becky to bed too?”
“No, no. Give Becky here…I’ll put her to sleep.”
The girl gave him the doll. My chest felt tight. She folded her arms and trudged off to her bedroom. The old man said goodnight to her. She didn’t reply.
I looked dead at him, and the doll in his hand.
“It’s a voodoo doll.” My feet were rooted to the floor. “That’s a voodoo doll’s house.”
“Oh, we don’t use that word around here.” he said with a sad, disarming smile. “We just call it business. A little twist of the trade…”
There was a barb in his voice. I felt a pain in my neck as he wrapped a finger under the doll’s chin.
“Whenever you buy something you don’t really need…whenever you go in a store and you forget what you came for – that’s all we do with things like these. We’re not like the supermarkets. We only make dolls of a couple hundred people. Crowd theory brings in the rest.”
He walked around the table. I couldn’t look away. He whispered into the doll’s ear.
“Do you remember why you came here?” I heard him say.
I thought a while. I didn’t.
He stroked the doll’s hair with his finger. I shivered as I felt a warmth slide down the back of my head. I was still while he walked to a window.
“No? Well, it’s a shame we can’t make you forget what you’ve just seen.” said the man, opening it up. A chilling wind blew in. “It’s a shame she brought you up here. You’re her favourite, you know.”
With a frown and a flick of the wrist, he threw the doll out to the sky and slammed the window shut.
The icy wind cut away, but I felt colder. And colder.