NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge #2 (Sept 16-18): Group 42, Ghost Story/A Toy Store/A Mop

My Friend, Art

A young man has trouble relating to others and finds comfort and companionship

in a ghostly presence which resides in his mother’s toy shop.

***

“You’re special,” Mama said, “Someday they’ll see that. Until then, you’ve just gotta hold on. You’re not the one with the problem, honey, they are.”

She was trying to cheer me up as she mopped the wide plank flooring of Hockman’s Toy Store. Mama bought the place when old man Hockman died.

I sat on the front counter sipping cherry coke in my Members Only Jacket, unsure of what to say. That jacket was the mark of “cool kids.” My single mother stretched to buy it, but it didn’t help me.

“It’s not that easy, Ma,” I said, “Bullies are bullies because they enjoy it. They pick on me because I’m different.”

The truth was that this was just the way it had always been.

Most fifteen year old boys were spending their Friday nights at the movies. My weekends were typically spent right here. I had a hard time with people, but the dolls never gave me a hard time. I always came away from them feeling a connection and couldn’t say the same about time spent with people.

I got my favorite doll, the one I named Meg. She had auburn hair, freckles, and green eyes. I sat there stroking Meg’s hair and talking out my troubles. A voice came into my head that I had heard many times before.

“They’re wrong, you know. Knowing yourself doesn’t make you weird. I can take care of your problem. You just have to listen to me.”

This voice only showed up at Hockman’s during quiet moments when I was alone. He told me to call him Art. I thought I was going crazy, but when we began having actual conversations, I realized this was more than just my imagination.

“Alright, Art,” I half-seriously entertained his suggestion, “What do I have to do?”

I wasn’t sure what he was capable of, and to be honest that scared me.

“First thing you gotta do is bring ’em here,” he said. “I’ll do the rest.”

“You’re not going to hurt them, are you?” I asked.

“Naw. Just teach ’em a lesson.”

If things were ever going to be different, something had to change. I needed to stand up for myself. I’d been dealing with daily wet willies, swirlies, being stuffed in a locker, and worse for years and I was more than tired of it. If someone wanted to help me get back at these mean kids, I’d go along with it.

“I’ll try to get them to come, but I’m not sure it’ll work.”

Monday after school, Nick was alone. He was the meanest one, with white-blonde hair buzzed so short he was practically bald. His clothes were always dirty and threadbare.

I approached him, unsure of how he would react.

“Hey,” I started.

“What do you want?” he sneered.

“Hey.” I said again, this time with purpose. “We have new candy at the store and need taste-testers. I don’t know anybody. You wanna try some?”

“What’s the catch?” he asked, sizing me up.

Gulp. Could he see through me? I was lying through my teeth.

“No catch. I can’t eat it all. Weak stomach.”

He laughed.

“Shocker there. Weak like the rest of you. Sure, I’ll come.”

Gotcha! Boy, was that easy.

We walked there together. I could hear Art telling me to lead him into the back room and I started unwrapping samples.

As they dwindled, Nick told me I was too stupid to amount to anything and that my mother should place me in an institution. He told me there isn’t any place in society for people who can’t learn to interact with other people. Then he slapped me, hard.

When he slapped me, something came swirling from within my favorite doll Meg and entered Nick’s body. Nick went stiff and straight like a board, and collapsed onto the floor with a resounding and sickening thud.

Once he recovered, Nick extended his hand with a friendly, crooked smile I had never seen before.

“Hey, I’m Arthur,” he said, “I think we’ll be great friends.”

I was confused about what just happened.

“There was a child. I was cruel to her. I followed her here and beat her up. When I did, something came from one of those dolls and swirled through the air before pulling me from my body. I became trapped in that redheaded one you like. The police were called. My body was carted away. That day I ceased to be human. I wrestled for years to overtake you, but you were too strong. I had Nick here within a minute or two. Now he is in that blonde doll and I have a body again.”

“You’ve been using me?” I cried.

“Just biding my time.”

Mama heard me.

“Break. The. Doll.” she said, more serious than I had ever heard her before.

“What?”

“Break it. That’s the only way to release the spirit.”

I broke it into as many pieces as possible. Mama told about her frightening experience with a doll as a teen. She visited a shaman, but never fulfilled the ritual because she was afraid that Arthur would come back. She worked at Hockman’s and purchased it to protect others from the power here. Nick’s soul would be returned to his body and we would seal things to send Arthur on. He would be as a wisp in the wind, unable to attach to anything.

My mother chanted. Louder and louder she grew. The words became difficult as Arthur fought like crazy to hold on to Nick’s body. He finally let go and Nick returned to his body, grateful and exhausted.

After that night, I never played with dolls again. I cannot imagine a closer friendship than the one that Nick and I share. I forgave him and he taught me how to relate to people, and for that, I will be forever grateful.

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