Short Story

The Valley of the Dolls

by Melissa Minners
 

For Justine, whose discussion regarding a broken hand inspired this story.

 

                As Sonya drank her coffee, trying to concentrate on the television and her favorite novela, she couldn’t help but feel a chill run up her spine.  Sitting on the couch in Rita’s living room, she was surrounded by dolls – Barbie dolls, china dolls, dolls with fancy dresses, dolls made up to look like historic figures, dolls holding other dolls.  They were everywhere – on book shelves, on tables, on the floor, even on the very couch she was sitting on.  She had had to sidestep around dolls just to sit here on the couch.

                This was the first time she had been in Rita’s apartment, but she understood why Rita didn’t invite many people over…or rather, why most didn’t return.  It also explained Rita’s lack of love life when you thought about it.  Sonya couldn’t think of a single guy she knew who would want to sit in this living room with thousands of eyes staring at him from every corner of the house.  Yikes!

                “Hello?!  Sonya?!  The show’s over.  Where’ve you been?”

                Sonya stopped staring at the doll nearest her cup of coffee and looked at her co-worker/friend Rita.  “Sorry.  Distracted I guess.”

                “I caught you,” Rita said, rather smugly, “looking at my dolls.  Cool collection, huh?

                “Oh,” Rita searched for something polite to say.  “It’s quite a collection alright.”

                “Yeah, a lot of these just fell in my lap,” Rita bragged, spreading her hands, trying to encompass her collection and failing by arm-lengths.  “Some of them I commandeered from my kids when they weren’t looking.  Some I ordered on the Home Shopping Network.” 

As Sonya squinted her eyes in disbelief, Rita’s eyes widened with happiness.  “Have you ever watched the Home Shopping Network?  They have the most amazing dolls!  Collector’s items, every one!  I know they are worth more in the boxes, but it’s so much fun to pose them!”

Sonya couldn’t understand why one would have to be surrounded by so many dolls…or why it didn’t creep them out sometimes.  “But isn’t it spooky…I mean…at night…alone here in the apartment…all those eyes?”

Rita laughed incredulously.  “Seriously, Sonya?!  Are you seriously scared of my dolls?  They’re not scary.  They can’t do anything to you!  You can move them around, pose them any way you want to.  They can’t hurt you!  They’re just dolls!”

To prove her point, Rita picked one up, spun its head around, bent it in various directions and put it back down on the coffee table.  As Sonya watched Rita place the doll on the table, she noticed the doll’s face.  The expression on the doll’s face with its head facing its back and, in doing so, facing Rita, was one of disgust.  Sonya closed her eyes and looked back at the doll.  The expression she thought she had seen was gone, replaced by a sweet looking angelic face…or maybe it always was the angelic face and Sonya was just imagining things.

Anyway,” Rita continued as she picked up their coffee cups.  “It’s time to go to work.”

Sonya sighed and got up, entering the spare room to pull her coat and purse off of the bed.  She chuckled to herself about being so spooked by inanimate objects.  But as she passed through dolls on her way into the living room and more dolls heading to the front door, she kept feeling as though she was being watched.

Yea, though I walk through the Valley of Dolls, I shall fear no evil,” she mumbled, shuddering to herself.

What?” asked Rita, before grabbing her keys and heading out the door. 

Nothing,” said Sonya, hurrying after her.

*****

                When Rita got home that night, she was tired.  It had been a rough day at the store, what with the holidays coming.  Her back was killing her and her feet felt as if she had walked across red hot coals all day.  She couldn’t wait to kick off her shoes, make herself a cup of tea and sink down on the couch to watch all of the shows she’d missed while at work.  She reached for the hallway light switch and flicked it on, but nothing happened. 

                “Dammit, the friggin’ bulb blew again?!  Never buying store brand, cheap-ass…”  But Rita never got to finish her sentence.  As she took a step in the direction of the living room she felt her foot collide with something and down she went.  As she fell, she knocked over a bunch of knick-knacks including an expensive Capodimonte porcelain floral decorative piece. 

                “Damn!”  She’d paid a lot for that Capodimonte.  As her eyes adjusted to the darkness, Rita noticed movement back towards the hallway.  She felt a distinct chill of nervousness race down her spine.  Could someone be in the house?  She heard a distinct whirring in the spot where she saw movement.  As the whirring drew closer, Rita began to laugh.  There, before her, was Baby That-A-Way half-crawling toward her, the right hand of the doll held straight out as always. 

                Damn doll never did work right, thought Rita.  Must’ve hit the button on her back as I fell.

                As Rita struggled to get to her feet, she yelped in pain.  The pain spiking through Rita’s ankle was enough to make her want to puke.  Rita was on her knees when she heard a distinctive creaking to her right.  Her eyes widened in horror as she realized where it was coming from – the six-shelf bookcase…the bookcase for which she had to stand on a stepstool to reach the top – was teetering back and forth.  Suddenly, the bookcase went over, crashing down in Rita’s direction.  She dropped flat to the floor and cringed waiting for the horrific pain she knew was coming.

                But though books and knick-knacks went crashing down on her, Rita never experienced the crushing pain that such a heavy bookcase falling on top of her should have produced.  She popped open one eye and was astonished to discover that the bookcase was so tall, the top end landed on the arm of the couch, suspending its fall.  She giggled nervously at her good fortune and raised herself to her hands and knees as she prepared to crawl out from under the bookcase. 

Then she heard it: Wrrrrr….wrrrr…wrrr.  Baby That-A-Way had somehow righted herself and she was crawling towards Rita.  There were other sounds, too…the pattering of tiny feet coming from atop the toppled bookcase…and the distinctive laugh of the pullstring doll known as Drowsy.

Sing me Rock A Bye Baby,” Drowsy giggled as Baby That-A-Way drew closer.  Rita scrambled to get out from under the bookcase, cutting herself on various broken decorative items, but not even noticing the pain, so desperate was she to get away from what used to be such an innocent doll that now looked so menacing as it approached.  As she finally exited her semi-prison, she limped toward the front room, only to trip yet again on something unseen. 

Scrambling backwards on all fours, Rita closed her eyes and opened them several times, trying to blink away the impossible picture before her.  Dolls…dolls everywhere, crawling, scrambling, hightailing it towards her, all with a certain menacing intensity about them.  There were dozens upon dozens heading her way. 

No…nonono…this can’t be real!  I must be dreaming!”

When her back hit solid wall and Rita realized there was nowhere else to go, she opened her mouth and let out a single bloodcurdling scream.

*****

Sonya hung up the phone in frustration.  She had hoped the two could eat breakfast at the diner before the start of their early shift at the store, but it was 6:30am and Rita wasn’t answering the phone.  Thinking she might be in the shower and thus unable to pick up the phone, Sonya headed over to Rita’s apartment in hopes that by the time she arrived, Rita would be ready to go.

As Sonya pulled on to Carpenter Lane, her eyes widened in disbelief.  Dozens of police patrol cars and a couple of ambulances were parked in front of Rita’s house.  Sonya parked at the top of the street and walked down, astonished to see the crowd of people standing outside in what was normally a quiet neighborhood at this time of the morning.  They were all looking toward Rita’s house and some were pointing at the broken front window on the second floor where Rita’s apartment was situated.

Suddenly a shout went up in the crowd as the front door of the apartment house opened and medics exited the house maneuvering a stretcher between them.  Sonya edged closer to see better.  As the medics filed past, Sonya could see Rita laying on the stretcher, wide-eyed, hair in disarray.  The minute Rita spotted Sonya, she popped up, breaking free of one of the stretcher belts.  The blanket covering her falling to reveal that Rita was encased in a straight jacket.

The dolls!  I was wrong!  They aren’t just dolls!  They aren’t!  They CAN hurt you!!  They aren’t just dolls!” she screamed as the medics struggled to load her into the ambulance.  As they closed the doors, Sonya could still hear Rita screaming her new mantra. 

After they drove away, Sonya turned and looked up at the window on the second floor.  Was that blur in the window the doll that Rita had twisted up in the living room the day before?  She blinked and the image disappeared.  She shuddered.

““Yea, though I walk through the Valley of Dolls, I shall fear no evil,” she mumbled as she made the walk back to her car, peering over her shoulder every now and again to make sure that none of Rita’s tormentors followed her.


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