Black Friday Special

//dolls, capitalism, good end

As usual you’re two hours into forever. Feet aching, employee vest itching, ears ringing, life receding to an infinity of grocery aisles and home goods and unruly customers and bitchy managers and frozen dinners in a windowless breakroom. Just the usual.

The fluorescents blaze migraine auras like burning frost across your vision and the store radio blares pop hits left mouldering for long enough that the rot has bloomed into hellish screams. It’s always like this, but you have to pay for the bed you barely remember beyond the numb longing you constantly feel for it somehow right?

Sometimes you wonder if the outside really exists at all, or if you’ve just hallucinated the nearly empty flat and the sitcom reruns which have blurred together over time into an eldritch amalgam of laughtracks and conveniently resolved conflicts. You wonder that more and more these days. Maybe you’ve died and become trapped in some sort of retail purgatory. The only measure of time is the relentless march of the in store sales and seasonal specials, and that hardly keeps you tethered to the world. 

But this is normal, everyone hates their jobs, you’ve just gotta put up with it, right? At least the dolls are keeping you entertained, whatever game they’re playing, you know it won’t last and the corporate pitcher plant will go back to dissolving what’s left of your soul, but for now at least, it’s fun to watch them cause trouble for your bosses. It’s Black Friday and the Doll Issue is expected to come to a head today, everyone is alert.

You started hearing about them around Halloween and so of course at first they just seemed like a prank, but when you saw one of the dolls yourself for the first time in early November, you realized something strange was happening. The delicate looking girl seemed oddly fragile but normal enough at first, until you realized that her skin wasn’t flesh but some sort of dark hardwood, marbled in knots and whorls, with ball jointed fingers and seams running up her neck.

Maybe you should have said something to a manager at that point? But she seemed harmless enough, she was nicer to you than most other customers. She kept you chatting and laughing about the absurdity of the world for what ended up being a good portion of your shift. She, it, whatever, was kind and friendly to you, and so you didn’t have any reason to say anything to anyone, even if she left after all that time without buying anything but a single candy bar.

There were more dolls after that. They came alone at first, but later in pairs and then trios, their appearances varied extensively, they came in every shade that wood came in, and quite a few that it certainly did not. You can vividly recall a particularly spirited doll painted entirely in dayglo orange and green hazard striping. Some were large and some were small, some diminutive and some hulking. They were friendly and kind and extremely talkative. They hardly bought anything but they loved to inspect products carefully. Many of your coworkers knew they were stealing somehow and they were “definitely gonna catch em this time” but they never did. 

The number of dolls slowly crept upwards. They were beginning to crowd out your customers and block the aisles. They spent as much time conversing with each other as they did attempting to converse with staff and patrons, so they were rapidly becoming an unreasonable navigation hazard. It was around that point that your store manager and security attempted to start removing the dolls. They were all so nice, so it shouldn’t be too hard to ask them not to linger, right?

The confrontation was extremely amusing, and drew quite the crowd.

“Excuse me miss,” he said to the doll, trying to be polite at first, “we’ve noticed that you’ve been spending a lot of time browsing this shelf, and we’re going to need to ask you to please make a purchase and stop blocking the aisle.”

The doll rotated towards him on one heel, still holding a package of cookies which it had been reading the ingredients list off of. It cocks its head curiously, inhumanly, and then says, “Awawawawawawawawawawawawawawawawawa?”

Of course dolls can talk, they had been talking to you for quite a while by this point, they were veritable chatterboxes, but whenever they were asked to leave, or when anyone attempted to remove one from the store, they would just start making that nonsense sound. It should have been annoying, but you honestly found it cute and would sometimes do it under your breath, or would tease your coworkers by awawawawawaing at them.

The dolls were good fun, they kept your managers running around like madmen, and their slow escalation as the holiday season rolled closer had everyone not secretly cheering for them in a near panic. Where were they coming from? They seemed to just be popping out of nowhere and then vanishing again. Was this some sort of elaborate prank? What even were the dolls? How were you going to handle Black Friday with them around?

Well, Black Friday is here, and the dolls are…gone? The store is oddly empty without them, even with the Black Friday rush. You had supposed their game couldn’t last forever, but the anticlimax did have you feeling seriously disheartened. 

And then, at the stroke of noon exactly, they arrive. It isn’t a small group this time, it’s a vast army, enough to fill up every bit of usable floorspace in the store, they flood out of doors that should have been locked and led to nowhere, they walk out of bathroom stalls and broom closets and the office the manager had just left locked behind him. It doesn’t take long for the panic to set in. The dolls are rowdier today, they knock over display cases to create space for dance circles, they recite poetry on top of a bakery table, they invade the kitchens and begin making cookies on every surface, there’s a group smoking in the breakroom and attempting to bust open the vending machine. It’s sheer chaos, and you can’t help but find the entire mess hysterical.

The police are called, but the dolls keep coming and the police never seem to arrive. They never actually make anyone leave, but the sheer chaos of their presence has most of the humans fleeing the building. You wonder what they’d see on the outside, something tells you that the normal form of the big box store has started to become something far stranger. One of the dolls offers you a cigarette, and you accept, it was almost time for your next break anyway. 

You stroll the aisles as the dolls joyfully demolish the store’s interior, there seem to be less of them now. The store radio has fallen silent and there’s not another person in sight, it feels pleasantly apocalyptic and definitely worth the slow build of hype. You watch the dolls haul your manager out of the store and toss him out through the automatic doors into a thick and roiling mist. 

He doesn’t return, and you finish your smoke fully expecting a swat team to bust in at any moment and start shooting. The dolls leave you alone, but each seems to look at you with a knowing grin, and they never throw you outside on your butt. You’re perched on top of a checkout belt when She strolls in through the front doors. Behind Her, the swirling mists part to reveal an endless expanse of ocean and sky, as if the store has been thrown far out to sea.

She walks directly to you, and as you watch, you can see that all the dolls seem to act strangely in sync with Her. You know She’s the leader of them right away, even if She is another doll Herself. She would be on the short side, but an oversized Witch’s Hat makes Her taller than you are, it seems to almost float along, as if She’s hanging from it.

Something about her evokes a desperate and wild longing within you, like the stirring of something long thought dead. The store has fallen entirely silent aside from your racing heart and the click of Her heels on the dull floor tiles. She and Her dolls are like a technicolor anomaly bleeding into your desaturated world, more real and important than anything you’ve ever known in your bleak and hopeless existence. You suddenly know you want to join them, you want to be one of those happy playful dolls, you want it more than you have ever wanted anything else in your entire life. 

She stops in front of you. You’re staring at your gross fat human hands, feeling like you’re going to start crying any moment. You can’t even look at her, She’s too wonderful, you don’t want this dream to end. Oddly soft wooden fingers cup your chin and gently tilt your head up to meet Her eyes. She’s smiling at you, and She wipes a tear off your cheek. 

Then, with a very goofy grin, She bows nearly in half, holds out a pamphlet to you, and says loudly, “Please join our union!”

When you reach out to take the pamphlet from Her, you notice your hands have already turned to polished wood.

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