Covid has thrown me for a loop this month. I am forced to rely on my Work in Progress for the NOVEL WRITING post for this work. My writing time has been seriously curtailed for a while, and I will get back to projects in their proper order as soon as I recover.
Canto 1 – The Toy Store on Mockingbird Lane
Hannah was ten, looking more like her Asian-born father than her Texas-born mother Brittany, but she definitely had her mother’s passion for things that were exotic, unusual, or simply out of place.
“Look at that spooky old toy store, Mom! Doesn’t it look like a haunted house? Can we go in there and look?”
The little building on 1300A Mockingbird Lane in Dallas was built like a Victorian house from the 1800’s. It was hard to tell if the place had been painted white so long ago that the peeling paint made it look like that, or if someone had intentionally painted it light gray with black speckles. Brittany’s curiosity was peaked.
“That store has been there for as long as I can remember. But I’ve never been in there. They used to tell me it only sold old, antique toys.”
“I don’t wanna buy anything,” pouted Hannah. “I just want to look for ghosts.”
Brittany laughed as she pulled into the parking lot that served the two office buildings that surrounded the toy store and kept it in perpetual shadow all during the sunniest of days.
“We don’t have long to do this. We have to meet Daddy at five so we can go to the movie this evening.”
“It won’t take long. I can almost hear the spooks calling to me.”
Brittany laughed again as she collected the parking ticket from the lot’s operator in his little booth.
“Businesses are closing soon, Ma’am. You don’t have long. I close the gate for the night at six o’clock.”
“It won’t take us that long. We are just going to look in that old toy store.”
“Aunt Phillia’s Toy Emporium? You don’t want to go in there. Nobody hardly ever goes in there. And when they do, sometimes, the police have to show up later for something bizarre that happened.”
Brittany looked at the old Hispanic-looking guy over the top of her sunglasses. He looked serious. But that really only made her want to have a look inside even more.
“I hope something happens that makes the parking fee worth the money.”
“You are braver than I am, lady. I remember when I was a kid, some white boy disappeared in there. They never found him.”
He was seriously trying to scare her out of going in. But Hannah was hopping in her seat, anxious to get out of the car.
“The parking spot is F13, over there in the southwest corner. You have to be out of here by six or your car is locked inside the gate.”
She laughed. “No worries!”
She managed to park, and Hannah burst out of the passenger seat, headed for the store. By the time she got to the front door, Hannah had already disappeared into the store.
Inside the front door, there was a man sitting behind the check-out desk. He had an antique-looking cash register there, and his clothes were definitely long out of style.
“That house monkey was yours, I take it,” said the man. He was apparently old… or old…ish. Somewhere between forty and a hundred and forty. He had a flattop haircut, white hair, and super-thick lenses on his glasses that magnified his eyes, making him look like an eerie sort of owl-man.
“That was my daughter, Hannah, yes…”
“She took off for the wooden toys in the back of the store. I’ve got nobody back there to supervise her, but what trouble can she get into surrounded by wood-goods?”
That struck her as funny. She laughed. “We’ll soon see.”
Looking around the store, she was fascinated by what she saw on sale there. One wall was covered by marionettes, all of them with unusually large and roundish eyes, and all of them hanging from their control strings. There were shelves of costumes and masks, stuffed toys that looked threadbare and poorly sewn together, metal wind-up toys that walked or rolled on wheels, bows with sucker-tipped arrows, porcelain dolls whose eyes looked positively real and alive, staring as if they wanted or needed something from Brittany, and a far wall lined with books, children’s books, classic books, and encyclopedias.
“Hannah? Remember, we were just supposed to be looking for a moment. Hannah?”
There was no answer. So, Brittany walked down the metal wind-ups’ aisle towards the wood-goods in the back.
Suddenly a child’s voice was screaming. “I’m on fire! My dress is on fire! Mommy! Help me!”
Brittany was instantly panicked. But it wasn’t Hannah’s voice. And Hannah had been wearing a Miley Cyrus t-shirt and blue jeans. Still, she ran to the back of the store.
Standing there in front of a wall of wooden cars, trucks, trains and train cars, carved wooden boats, and baseball bats was Hannah, completely naked, her black hair now completely snow white.
“Where are your clothes?”
“I had to tear them off. They were burning.” There were ashes and bits of burned rag on the floor around her. And most alarmingly, the voice coming out of naked Hannah was not Hannah’s voice.
“Hannah? What is going on here?”
“Oh, I am not Hannah. My name is Molly Beeman. I just have her body now.”
“What?” She also began to realize that her own clothes were different. The dress she now wore had puffy shoulder things on it. It was made of a patterned material that she thought was called “gingham.”
“Hannah, let’s get out of here.”
She pulled the naked girl to her, picked her up and carried her to the front. There she saw the same old ghost of a man, sitting and staring with his magnified eyes.
“I see you found what you were looking for…”
“What have you done to my daughter?”
“…Molly, you only have three months to play with it. Be wise and you may actually get your mother back.”
“What?” cried Brittany. “What are you talking about, you… you… crazy old man!”
She burst out of the store through the front door. But she was horrified to see that her car was no longer there. Neither was the parking lot, or the office buildings it served. In fact, there was now what appeared to be a linoleum store and Mexican Cantina where those things used to be. Then she saw an old-timey newspaper stand. It was abandoned and empty. She ran to it. There were newspapers there. She saw a headline about how the U.S. Eighth Air Force suffered the loss of 60 bombers on the Schweinfurt–Regensburg mission. That happened on the 17th of August. World War II? The paper was dated August 24th, 1943!
Hannah cuddled against her, still naked in her arms.
“Just hold me, Mommy. Nobody has held me since I burned to death.”
Brittany stared at the pale Asian-American face with snow-white hair. This thing in her arms was no longer human. It was a porcelain doll, cuddling her with jointed, porcelain arms. It’s porcelain face smiled at her. This thing in her arms was no longer her daughter.
2 responses to “The Haunted Toy Store… Canto 1”
That is a strange start,however I enjoyed it and look forward to see where it goes.
I hope to get back t writing that soon. But I can promise you, from the story already written, that it definitely gets weirder than that.