Aphelion Issue 222, Volume 21
October 2017
 
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The Doll Factory

by Graham Catt





Ingrid had been out of work for so long that she felt awkward and out of place on her first day at the Doll Factory. Luckily, she wasn't expected to do much, as one of the older workers - a large woman in her 50s called Yvonne - spent most of the day showing her around. It wasn't a large factory, and compared to the big manufacturers interstate, it only made a handful of products. But Ingrid had never worked in a factory before, so everything was new to her.

The offices upstairs were for Management and Administration staff. Ingrid met the Marketing Manager, the Business Manager, and the Human Resources Manager, forgetting their names as soon as she was introduced. Yvonne took her to meet the CEO, but the door to his office was closed, and the sound of his voice indicated a pretty intense phone conversation.

"We'll come back later," said Yvonne. "How about we take a coffee break?"

"Sounds good to me!" said Ingrid.

The office lunchroom was located downstairs, adjacent to the main production area. The two women made some coffee, and sat at a corner table, where Yvonne took the opportunity of finding out as much as possible about Ingrid. Yvonne was something of a gossip, and Ingrid told the older woman all she wanted to know.

"You don't believe in ghosts, do you?" asked Yvonne, after a quiet moment.

Ingrid was taken aback. "Er...I don't think so, why?" she said.

"Some of the folks here reckon they've seen or heard a ghost," said Yvonne.

"But not you?" said Ingrid, both fascinated and a little frightened.

"I've never seen a ghost, but I do know that a girl committed suicide here about eight years ago."

"How awful," replied Ingrid.

"She hung herself from the overhead walkway," said Yvonne matter-of-factly, while taking a last long slurp of her coffee.

Yvonne stood up, ready to move on, already concentrating on something else. Ingrid was still thinking about the suicide as she washed her cup.

"What was her name?" asked Ingrid.

"Whose name?" replied Yvonne.

"The girl who committed suicide."

"Oh...er...her name was Karen," said Yvonne.

"C'mon, let me show you where you'll be working," she added.

As they headed out to the shop floor, Ingrid looked around for the overhead walkway Yvonne had mentioned.

*****


Ingrid was one of four people who worked in Quality Control. It was their job to check every toy for mistakes in construction, assembly, or finish. It was the easiest job Ingrid had ever done, and she couldn't help but daydream, or join her colleagues in gossiping about other people in the company.

"Did you see Zoe's new tattoo?" asked Robyn.

"Mel is going back to her husband - he's such a creep!" said Caroline.

"Have you ever seen Don drunk? He's disgusting!" said Kathy.

"Have any of you seen or heard the ghost?" Ingrid asked tentatively.

The others kept working, heads down. Ingrid began to think either they hadn't heard her, or were upset for some reason. Then Robyn spoke.

"Most of the people here have seen or heard something weird. It usually happens when you are on your own, or there are perhaps two or three people left in the building," she said.

"I was working back one night. Theresa Black was with me. We heard this groaning sound - more animal than human - coming from the storeroom. The groaning was joined by a scraping sound - metal rubbing on metal. And then the sound of someone crying. Theresa and I (stupidly) went to investigate, but as we approached the storeroom door, it slammed shut. We could still hear the sounds, and a wavering shape of light appeared in that small window of frosted glass."

"God! Some story!" said Ingrid.

"I've heard the crying," said Kathy.

"The ghost touched me!" said Caroline. "On the boob!"

"That's bullshit, Caroline," said Robyn, with a laugh. "That was the night of the Christmas Party, and you were pissed!"

"It was probably Don's hand that touched you. He tries to grope everybody when he's drunk," added Kathy.

They all laughed, even Ingrid, and no more was said of the ghost.

*****


It didn't take long for Ingrid to feel comfortable in her new job. She quite liked the women she worked with, although both Caroline and Kathy had their faults. Caroline was a big drinker and prone to exaggeration. Kathy was loud and crude and liked to talk about sex.

Robyn was her favourite, and Ingrid soon found herself going out with her on the weekend. They went shopping together, or to the cinema, or walked in the Botanical Gardens.

One day, Robyn suggested that they go for a Spiritual Reading. Ingrid had never gone to such a thing before, and was a little apprehensive.

"You'll be okay," said Robyn. "It'll be fun."

Ingrid was surprised by the medium, whose name was Patty. She lived in an apartment in the suburbs, and looked like any normal middle-aged woman, dressed in a purple tracksuit with matching slippers. Ingrid was expecting something a little more mystical.

The three of them sat in Patty's lounge room and sipped herbal tea. Then Patty got out some tarot cards and dice covered in strange symbols and began Robyn's Reading.

"There's someone new on the horizon," she began. "I see dogs and a gun, and a tall man with dark hair. You will go on a journey with this person. And you will meet someone from your past."

Patty rolled the dice again. "You will come into money, although it won't be acquired easily. You will have to travel a long distance to recover it."

After about ten minutes of similar revelations, Patty turned to Ingrid and began shuffling the cards.

As Patty 'read' the cards, an odd look crossed her face. She rolled the dice too, but these seemed to confirm the message in the cards. Patty gave a big sigh and reluctantly turned to Ingrid.

"Have you recently lost anyone - family or friends?" asked Patty.

"Er...no...the last person to die in my family was my Grandmother, but that was nearly 20 years ago."

"Anyone...er...commit suicide?" continued Patty.

"No never," said Ingrid. "Why do you want to know that?"

"Well, it seems that there is someone from the 'other side' trying to contact you. They are in a lot of pain. They are surrounded by children," said Patty. "Could they be one of your teachers?"

"I don't know," said Ingrid. "Do you know their name?"

"Er...it begins with the letter R...or could be K, it's not clear."

They spent so long on Ingrid's mystery contact that there was no time for anything else. They promised Patty they would call again, then hopped in the car to go home.

"So, I'm going to meet someone who has dogs and a gun! Great!" said Robyn sarcastically.

"At least you were told normal things," said Ingrid. "I'm being chased by a ghost!"

They both laughed as Robyn pulled out into the traffic.

*****


The months passed and Robyn did not meet any new man, while Ingrid heard nothing more of the lost spirit. Caroline was transferred to Packing, and her replacement was a Filipino girl called Marcie, who was quiet but worked well. Yvonne was made Acting Supervisor of Quality Control, and proved herself something of a bully.

Then one day, something very strange happened.

The Quality Control team were checking a large consignment of 'Itsy Bitsy' dolls - one of the company's biggest sellers. 'Itsy Bitsy' was about six inches tall, with curly red hair and full red lips.

Ingrid had an 'Itsy Bitsy' doll in one hand, and a pen in the other. As she looked at each item on the Quality Control checklist she marked it with a tick.

With Yvonne hovering behind them, the team were wary of being caught chatting, so they remained quiet, concentrating on their work.

But Ingrid broke the silence with an ear-piercing shriek. The doll she'd been working on was flung into the air. When it landed, its head broke away from the body.

Everyone stopped and stared at Ingrid, waiting on an explanation.

"It bit me!" said Ingrid, with a straight face.

Most people laughed, although Yvonne's main concern was paperwork.

"Make sure you fill in a Damaged Stock form, Ingrid," she said. "The cost will come out of your next pay."

Ingrid wasn't really listening. She had retrieved the doll parts from the floor. Smeared around the little mouth was Ingrid's blood. This matched the tiny bite mark on her finger.

After filling in the Damaged Stock form, Ingrid was meant to hand in the broken doll, but she decided to keep it. Strangely though, Ingrid kept the doll in an old birdcage and made sure the door was wired shut.

*****


After the 'Itsy Bitsy' incident, Ingrid decided to go back to Patty, the medium. She didn't invite Robyn, however, as she suspected that Robyn and the other girls thought she was a bit of a nut. Every time the subject of Ingrid and her 'biting doll' came up, everyone had a good laugh.

Patty took the matter very seriously. She held the doll parts in her hands, closed her eyes, and whispered a series of strange phrases in another language. After a minute or so, she opened her eyes.

"The spirit is using the doll as a vessel. She is trying to communicate with you," said Patty.

"By biting me!" exclaimed Ingrid.

"She is in great pain," said Patty. "And she has no other way of making contact."

"Okay, how can I help her? What does she want me to do?"

"Talk to her. Make yourself available," said Patty. "Encourage her."

"Great! Everyone already thinks I'm a crackpot!" said Ingrid, with a laugh.

The following week at work, Ingrid mumbled a brief prayer each morning before getting out of her car. And while working, she kept an eye on her surroundings, looking for signs, contact from the spirit world.

"Are you okay?" Robyn asked Ingrid one morning. "You've been a bit preoccupied this last week or so."

"Yeah, sorry, I have had things on my mind," replied Ingrid.

"Well, if I can help, let me know," said Robyn.

Ingrid hesitated, then, piece by piece, she told her friend about her visit to Patty, about Patty's advice, and about her daily prayer.

Robyn didn't laugh, as Ingrid expected her to, but she leant forward and gave Ingrid a hug.

"Silly girl," said Robyn. "You should have told me from the start."

"We can work on this together," she added.

*****


The following week, Robyn came to work with a large bag under her arm. When she saw Ingrid, Robyn gave her a wink and whispered, "After work tonight!"

As the end of the day approached, Ingrid began to worry. How would they explain the fact that they would not be leaving with everyone else?

Of course, Robyn had it all under control. She told Yvonne that they had Social Club matters to attend to. This wasn't hard to believe, as both Ingrid and Robyn were in the Social Club, and Robyn was the current secretary.

It seemed to take ages for all the other workers to leave. The Management staff upstairs, in particular, worked well beyond closing time. The last to leave was Don, the CEO. He gave Ingrid and Robyn a wave, then disappeared out the main door.

"Finally," sighed Robyn, as she reached into her bag and pulled out a large jar of salt. She gave this to Ingrid, then took a big ceramic pot out of her bag.

"While I get this ready, you can start with the salt," said Robyn.

"Er...what do I do with it?" asked Ingrid.

"You need to say a blessing - just something simple - then, as you ask the spirit to leave, you sprinkle a little salt. Keep on going until you run out," explained Robyn.

"Is that what we want it to do - leave?" asked Ingrid.

"Isn't it?"

"I guess so. I just don't want to make it mad," said Ingrid.

As Ingrid made her way around the factory sprinkling salt, Robyn started a small fire in her pot, and began throwing handfuls of herbs onto the flame. Before long, clouds of fragrant smoke began to billow into the air.

"What are you putting in there?" asked Ingrid. "It stinks!"

"Some sage and thyme, a few cloves, some cinnamon, some garlic powder," replied Robyn.

Once all the salt had been sprinkled and all the herbs had been burnt, Ingrid and Robyn waited in silence, although they didn't really know what they were waiting for.

"C'mon, let's go," said Robyn. "I don't think we're going to see anything tonight."

"How will we know if it worked?" asked Ingrid.

"You won't get bitten by any more dolls, I guess," replied Robyn, as she packed away her salt jar and ceramic bowl.

As she swung her bag onto her shoulder, and walked towards the exit, Ingrid just behind her, they heard a violent tapping.

They both turned in time to see an office stool dancing frantically, as though it were trying to walk. Then it launched itself in the air and smacked into Robyn's face. Thankfully, it was the cushioned seat that hit her and not the metal legs, and she was more shocked than injured.

"Jesus! Let's get out of here," yelled Ingrid, as she grabbed Robyn's hand and dragged her towards the exit.

They were only a metre or so from the door when it slammed shut. Ingrid tried frantically to open it, but the doorhandle wouldn't turn.

Robyn turned and ran towards the storeroom.

"There's another door through here," she yelled.

But before Robyn could reach the storeroom, the ladder attached to the overhead walkway swung down like an enormous pendulum, and hit Robyn full in the face. She was hit so hard that she flew backwards, her feet lifting off the floor. Ingrid screamed. Robyn was on the floor at her feet, unconscious and bleeding, her face a mess of deep cuts and bruises.

*****


After spending several days in hospital, Robyn went home, where she was to stay until advised by her doctor. Apart from the cuts and bruises to her face, she had also damaged one eye. Ingrid visited her every few days, but felt so guilty about Robyn's injuries that she seldom stayed long.

As the accident had happened at work, Ingrid had to write a report explaining the incident. Of course, she left out all reference to the spirit 'cleansing', and simply said that the overhead ladder had suddenly swung down and hit Robyn

"But why was she going to the storeroom?" asked Yvonne, after reading the report.

"Er...the main door was stuck. We couldn't open it," said Ingrid.

"But didn't the ambulance staff enter by the front door?"

"Mmm...yeah, you're right," replied Ingrid. "I didn't think of that."

In the following days and weeks, Ingrid expected some sort of retaliation from the spirit. After all, she was just as guilty as Robyn. But there were no biting dolls, no flying stools. She began to believe that Robyn's 'cleansing' might have worked.

But the next time she saw Patty, the medium was concerned, even angry, that Robyn and Ingrid had attempted a spirit 'cleansing' without proper guidance.

"You might have made the situation worse," said Patty. "You might have invited bad spirits into the factory!"

Ingrid became flustered and distressed. "I don't know, I was just doing as Robyn told me."

Patty could see that she had upset Ingrid, and attempted to calm her. She reached over and clasped Ingrid's hand. "Sorry to upset you, dear," she said. "I can help you. But you'll have to bring me something from your workplace."

"What sort of thing?" asked Ingrid.

"It can be anything - a tool, an item of stationery, something that's made there, even an item of rubbish," explained Patty. "Bring it to me on Thursday night and we'll do a proper 'cleansing'."

*****


Ingrid took her time in choosing a suitable item for Patty's 'cleansing'. At first, she chose a teacup from the lunchroom, but decided that this was a bit ordinary. Then she found some correspondence in the rubbish - a cancelled invoice from one of their suppliers. But Ingrid decided she could find something even better.

Ingrid finally chose an incomplete 'Itsy Bitsy' doll. The doll had limbs and head attached, but no facial features, no clothes. Someone might realise there was a doll missing, but they wouldn't spend any time looking for it.

"That's perfect!" exclaimed Patty, when she saw Ingrid's doll.

"Now I'm afraid you can't be present while I'm doing the 'cleansing', as there is a danger the spirit might attach itself to you," explained Patty. "But there is a Coffee Shop on the corner. Give me about an hour, and when you come back I'll be done."

After her terrifying experience with Robyn, Ingrid was more than happy to miss out on Patty's 'cleansing'. She found the Coffee Shop Patty had mentioned, ordered a coffee and something to eat, and sat down at one of the booths. Ingrid attempted to read a book she'd taken with her, but couldn't concentrate for more than a few minutes. She couldn't help but imagine what Patty might be going through.

Ingrid left the Coffee Shop early, but took her time returning to Patty's apartment. It had been raining all afternoon, and everything was dripping, both road and path decorated with puddles, each one reflecting the stars and lights above. For just a moment, the world seemed peaceful, even beautiful.

She climbed the stairs at the apartment block. All was quiet on Patty's floor, except for the sound of a television coming from 6G.

Ingrid knocked on Patty's apartment door. There was no response and no sound from inside. She knocked again, a little harder, at the same time calling Patty's name. Still no response.

Ingrid began to panic, memories of the 'attack' at the Doll Factory fresh in her mind.

She beat on the door, shouting for Patty over and over.

Ingrid was so caught up in her hysteria, that she didn't notice the two men behind her. They were the father and son from 6G.

"Hey there, what's going on?" asked the son, a burly individual with shaved head and tattoos up both forearms.

"Can we help you?" asked the father, a soft, comfortable looking man, with weepy blue eyes.

Ingrid turned to them sobbing. "My friend might be in trouble. She's in there, but not answering. I can't open the door."

"I can kick it in, but the landlord won't be too happy," said the son.

"If we call the police, they'll do the exact same thing," said the father.

The son didn't need any more encouragement. He put his shoulder to the door, aligning it with the lock, then slammed his full weight against it. The door popped open with ease.

Ingrid rushed into the apartment, the two men behind her. The room stank of smouldering herbs, and Ingrid soon found the pot Patty had used for her 'cleansing' - but where was Patty?

There was no sign of Patty in the study or bedroom. Ingrid even looked under the bed.

"I've found your friend," called the father. "We're gonna need an ambulance, I'm afraid."

Ingrid gasped and ran through the apartment. She found father and son in the bathroom. She could see that the shower curtain had been torn down, and on the floor, half wrapped in the curtain, was Patty, her open eyes staring at the ceiling.

Stifling a scream, Ingrid grabbed at the father, who pulled her to him and rubbed her shoulder compassionately.

"There's something in her throat," said the son, as he squatted down and attempted to remove the object. "It's jammed in there real hard," he added.

The object finally came out with an ugly slurp. The son looked at it in astonishment. "What the fuck!!" he exclaimed. The father was equally horrified, but said little. Only Ingrid was unsurprised. After the events of recent months, she had come to expect the worst.

The object that had been lodged in Patty's throat was the 'Itsy-Bitsy' doll.

*****


The police were mystified by Patty's murder. They could find no fingerprints, no point of entry (except where the neighbours had forced the lock), no motive, no stolen items, and no possible murderer. They did suspect Ingrid for a moment, especially when they learnt of Robyn's 'accident', but after interviewing her, they decided she was incapable of killing anyone.

Ingrid came close to telling the police about the 'angry spirit' in the Doll Factory, but decided that they would not only not believe her, but would probably put her in a psychiatric hospital.

She also considered leaving her job at the Doll Factory. The work was easy and the people pleasant enough, but she couldn't stand the supernatural nonsense. On the other hand, she couldn't bear the thought of being unemployed again. The financial stress alone was unbearable.

And then there was Robyn and Patty. Wasn't she just abandoning them if she left? Surely the 'right' thing to do would be to confront the 'spirit' once and for all. But how? Who would help her?

Ingrid rang a couple of spiritualist bookshops, some people listed as 'mediums' in the phone book, and something called the Pyramid Spiritualist Society, but no one wanted to help her get rid of the murderous spirit

Then, one Saturday, she saw something on the noticeboard at the local shopping centre that looked promising. It advertised someone by the name of Rosh Otor - a medium who offered Spiritual Readings, Past-life Regression and Dream Interpretation, as well as Spiritual Cleansing and Exorcisms. The photo on the advert displayed a bald, middle-aged man with dark skin and a big belly. He wore a colourful mumu and had a star drawn on his forehead.

Rosh Otor was exactly the sort of person Ingrid imagined when she thought of a 'spirit medium'.

Ingrid rang Mr Otor when she got home, and was disappointed to get his answering machine. But it wasn't long before he rang back - a deep, breathy voice with just the hint of an accent.

"Miss Ingrid, I believe you have a problem?" he said.

Ingrid did not intend to tell Rosh Otor everything at their first meeting, but found that once she'd started she couldn't help herself. She told him about the suicide, the strange sights and sounds in the factory, the biting doll, Robyn's attempt to 'cleanse' the factory, her 'accident', and finally, Patty's death.

"That's quite a story, Miss Ingrid," said Rosh Otor. "And what would you like me to do?"

Ingrid was confused! Wasn't it obvious? "I was hoping you could help me get rid of this spirit before it hurts someone else."

"An exorcism, yes, I could perform an exorcism. I have done this many, many times. Always successful," said Otor.

"So...er...you can help me?" asked Ingrid, still a little confused.

"Yes, of course," replied Otor. "But you must pay in advance."

"Oh...er...yes. And how much will it cost?"

"An exorcism is most expensive," said Rosh Otor. "Costs one thousand dollars."

"I see..." said Ingrid, her enthusiasm gone. "I'll have to get back to you, Mr Otor. That price is a little higher than I'd anticipated."

After the call, Ingrid sat in a daze. She'd felt sure that Rosh Otor was going to be the one to help her. But one thousand dollars was way beyond her capacity to pay. She was still paying off bills she'd accumulated during her period of unemployment.

But then, was it even her problem? The Doll Factory was haunted, after all. It was their employee that committed suicide. Shouldn't they pay for the exorcism?

The more Ingrid thought about it, the more she grew convinced that the Doll Factory was responsible. But how was she going to get them to pay?

Ingrid decided to speak to Yvonne. Yvonne had turned into a bit of a bully since getting the Acting Manager role, but she did think the ghost existed, so should be sympathetic, at least.

*****


For once, Yvonne was speechless. She reached for her beer and drank the entire glass. Ingrid watched on, waiting for a response. Having lured Yvonne to the pub on the pretext of a 'friendly chat', Ingrid had described the 'angry spirit' situation in great detail, up to and including Patty's death.

"This is all a little hard to believe," said Yvonne, after a minute or so. "But enough staff have seen or heard something, I shouldn't be at all surprised."

"Would you help me get rid of it?" asked Ingrid.

"And how do we do that, Ingrid?" laughed Yvonne. "Do you have a magic wand?"

"I've made enquiries with a very good medium. He's performed many exorcisms and is always successful," explained Ingrid. "There's just one hitch."

"Yes?"

"It'll cost us one thousand dollars," revealed Ingrid, her face glowing red with embarrassment.

"Crikey!" exclaimed Yvonne. "I hope you're not expecting me to cover that?"

"Not at all, Yvonne," said Ingrid. "I thought we might be able to get the Factory to pay for it. After all, they are sort of responsible."

"I don't think Don would see it that way," replied Yvonne.

"Could you speak to him, please?" said Ingrid.

"I'll think about it," said Yvonne, her face revealing nothing.

The next time Ingrid saw Yvonne, the older woman slid an envelope into Ingrid's hand. Inside the envelope was ten crisp one hundred dollar notes.

"Well done, Yvonne, that's brilliant!" gushed Ingrid. "How did you do it?"

"It turns out that Don has heard the ghost too. He didn't need much convincing," explained Yvonne.

"Oh, by the way, there's just one condition," she added. "I've got to be here when the medium's doing the exorcism."

"Okay," replied Ingrid. "Sometimes these mediums can be a bit fussy about having people watch them, but I'm sure we can work something out."

"I'll give Mr Otor a call," she added. "We'll try and set something up for next week."

*****


Rosh Otor closed his eyes and raised his hands, as though conducting an orchestra. He stepped gingerly around machinery and equipment, eyes still closed, and began to recite a series of incantations.

Yvonne and Ingrid watched on from the lunchroom doorway. Otor hadn't been too pleased to have them present during the exorcism, but allowed them to stay providing they keep out of his way.

Rosh Otor seemed to have found something, as he had stopped near the door to the storeroom, and began to speak louder, until his incantations resembled a chant. In response, the storeroom door slammed shut. Then the lunchroom door shut, causing Ingrid and Yvonne to jump in alarm. Other doors around the Factory slammed shut too.

Otor did not seem perturbed. He stopped chanting and moved slowly through the Factory until he reached the spot where Karen had supposedly committed suicide. He raised his hands once more and began to whisper another set of incantations. The overhead walkway groaned, the ladder that had injured Robyn rattled. Ingrid began to worry that the whole thing might come down.

Ladder and walkway remained in place - it was Rosh Otor that moved, lifting off the floor and hovering just a metre below the ceiling. He had obviously not planned this, as an expression of panic appeared on his face for just a moment, before he was able to resume his chanting.

"Do we get our money back if he can't do it," muttered Yvonne.

"He'll be okay," replied Ingrid, although she really wasn't feeling so confident.

Rosh Otor was still suspended in the air. His chant had transformed into something desperate and shrill. It sounded like he was begging to be released rather than ordering the spirit to leave. Then he began to turn - at first slowly, like meat on a rotisserie, then faster and faster, like a spinning top. Otor gave up all pretence of control, and started to shout in desperation.

Yvonne and Ingrid looked on, feeling helpless. "Let him go!" yelled Ingrid. "You evil bitch!"

The spirit responded by hurling Rosh Otor down the length of the Factory, and slamming him into the corrugated iron wall. He hit the wall so hard that he left an Otor-shaped indentation.

The women were so shocked they said nothing, but ran to Rosh Otor's side. There was nothing they could do. His limbs were broken and twisted, his skull flattened, his eyes bulging from their sockets. Ingrid began to cry. Yvonne was looking for Otor's purse. She found it and removed the one thousand dollars they'd only just paid him.

"What are you doing?" blurted Ingrid.

"He's not going to need it. Besides, he didn't finish the job," replied Yvonne.

Yvonne rushed to the lunchroom, grabbed her cardigan and handbag, and hurried towards the main door. Ingrid was still sitting with Rosh Otor's body.

"C'mon Ingrid," she said. "Let's get out of here!"

"Shouldn't we call the police or an ambulance?" asked Ingrid.

"You saw what that thing did," said Yvonne. "I'm not hanging around to get turned into a flapjack."

She went to open the main door, but found it locked. The door handle wouldn't move at all. Yvonne reached into her handbag and removed a bundle of keys. She found the key to the main door and inserted it into the lock. But the key would not turn. It was as though the lock mechanism had been welded in place.

"Shit!" snapped Yvonne.

"This happened the night I was here with Robyn," called Ingrid. "There was nothing we could do."

"Is there a window in the lunchroom?" asked Yvonne, as she made way across the Factory floor.

"I don't know, Yvonne," answered Ingrid, as she followed Yvonne, leaving behind the crumpled remains of Rosh Otor.

There was a window, but it was too small to climb through. Not only that, but it didn't appear to open, and there were security bars on the outside.

"So much for that idea," said Yvonne.

While watching Yvonne inspect the window, Ingrid had become aware of odd sounds coming from the Factory floor. It sounded like the rustling of a small animal - a rat or mouse. Not one animal, however, but dozens of them.

"Yvonne, do you hear that sound?" she asked.

*****


Ingrid reluctantly looked into the Production area - she gasped, let out a squeal, then slammed the lunchroom door shut.

"Omigod!" she stammered. "It's a fuckin' army!"

"What are you talking about?" said Yvonne. "What army?"

"Dolls! 'Itsy Bitsy' dolls! Dozens of them!"

The dolls began scratching at the lunchroom door. In the gap between the bottom of the door and the floor, the dolls began thrusting and slashing with an assortment of sharp objects. As they did this, the dolls muttered something angry but incomprehensible.

"What are we going to do?" said Ingrid. "I don't want to be beaten to death by dolls!"

"Exactly! They're dolls! Little dolls!" said Yvonne. "We can kick them, stomp on them! We're like giants to them. There's nothing to be afraid of!"

"I guess so," said Ingrid, although she didn't sound convinced.

"Now, there is one phone downstairs, so we'll try for that one first," said Yvonne. "Otherwise, we'll go upstairs and use one of their phones. It might be safer up there anyway."

"Okay, get ready to stomp," she added.

Ingrid nodded feebly.

They were not prepared for the wall of dolls that greeted them as they swung the door open. There were too many to stomp on, so Yvonne used her handbag to knock them out of the way. Ingrid had found a metal utensil in the lunchroom cupboard and used it as a bat - smacking the dolls in the face.

But there were so many dolls that they made very little progress. When two were knocked aside, another four took their place. And apart from the sticks and knives, the dolls used their sharp little teeth to bite the women's legs.

Neither of them were near the downstairs phone, but the stairs to the upstairs offices were just to Ingrid's right. Yvonne called to Ingrid and pointed to the stairs. Ingrid nodded in response. She had just lost her utensil, and the dolls were celebrating by stabbing her in the ankles repeatedly.

Ingrid was upset, but she was also becoming angry. With an almost superhuman effort, she stomped and kicked her way to the stairs, climbing a few to put some distance between herself and the dolls.

She looked back for Yvonne, but saw that the other woman had fallen, her body swarming with dolls. She was lying face down on the floor, a doll on the back of her head plunged a knife into her again and again, cackling with joy as it did so. Others danced on her back as they stabbed her with stick or knife.

Ingrid looked on, horrified, for a moment or two, then turned and ran up the stairs. Once inside the Management section she shut and locked the door.

In what seemed a small moment of peace, Ingrid leant her back against the door and breathed deeply. As the sounds of madness trickled up from the floor below, Ingrid began to sob.

*****


She tried every telephone on the top floor, but the lines were completely dead. She sat in Don's office, her head in her hands, at a loss to know what to do, when the faint smell of smoke drifted into the room. Ingrid walked through to the common area - smoke was billowing out from under the door leading downstairs. Accompanying this was the crazed laughter of the 'Itsy-Bitsy' dolls.

"Shit!" growled Ingrid. "Are they trying to smoke me out or burn their way in?"

Either option was unappealing, so Ingrid had to consider another way out of the building. While the window in the lunchroom was fixed shut, she wondered if the second-floor windows might be more flexible. Ingrid went from office to office, checking each window, but, like the lunchroom window, they were all bolted shut, with bars fixed to the outside.

She checked the window in Don's office last, and was relieved to find that it opened. Ingrid dragged a small table to a spot underneath the window, then climbed upon it. She opened the window as wide as it would go, then jammed it open with a can she'd found in the rubbish. There were still bars on the window, but Ingrid found that they were loose! One bolt was hanging off, while another was missing completely.

Ingrid was frantically trying to loosen the bars further, when the door leading downstairs swung open to the sound of splintering wood. A torrent of blackened 'Itsy-Bitsy' dolls burst into the room, followed by smoke and flame.

Ingrid was able to get the door to Don's office closed, but not before six dolls squeezed into the room. As the dolls moved to surround Ingrid, flashing their shark-teeth threateningly, she grabbed one of the golf clubs leaning against the wall in the corner, and began swinging the club at the little dolls.

She had never played golf before, but found it easy when she imagined each doll head was a golf ball. After only five minutes, Ingrid had destroyed the six dolls that had followed her into the room. She ignored those dolls still scratching at the door, and returned to her efforts of removing the bars from the window.

One bolt was missing, a second came out easily. Ingrid found that she was now able to move the bars from side to side, thereby loosening a third bolt. The fourth and last bolt was stuck solid, and Ingrid realised she'd need a spanner, pliers or a saw to get this bolt out. She stepped back and sighed with frustration.

The dolls outside were becoming increasingly raucous, beating their tiny implements together, shrieking and screaming, every now and then flicking a lit match under the door.

Ingrid tried the bars once again. She realised that while she couldn't remove the fourth bolt, it was loose enough for her to be able to swing the bars around and out of her way. For the first time, Ingrid could squeeze her head and shoulders through the window and work out how she was going to get down.

There was nothing directly below her - just a smooth brick wall. But less than a metre to the left was a service ladder. If only it were just a little bit closer! As it stood, she would have to drag almost her whole body through the window, stay somehow suspended in the air, wrap her fingers around the ladder's rungs, and then swing across to the ladder. It was an impossible task.

Ingrid dragged herself back into the office. A dozen matches lay on the floor - some still burning. The back of the door was on fire, little flames licking black shapes onto the wood. On the other side of the door, the dolls had begun an incomprehensible chant, beating in time to the ugly song.

Frantically, Ingrid looked around the office for something that might help her escape - an electrical cord or some rope, something with a hook on the end? She sorted through the golf clubs, and found one that might serve as a hook, either helping her to the ladder, or lowering her nearer the ground.

There was the sudden sound of splintering, and the increased chatter of the 'Itsy Bitsy' dolls, as they became excited over the possibility of breaking into the office.

Ingrid grabbed the golf club, and clambered onto the table near the window. As she pulled herself through the narrow gap, she heard the door break open behind her. The swarm of dolls found her immediately, but couldn't reach her, as the table she'd used was just too high. Growling, the little figures scoured the room for something to help them climb onto the table.

Meanwhile, Ingrid was on her knees at the window ledge, clinging on to the window frame with one hand, the other hand holding a golf club as she attempted to reach the ladder. The club was a little heavier than she'd expected, and she found it hard to control. Ingrid leaned forward, until only the tips of her fingers held her onto the ledge.

When a series of painful sensations bit into the backs of her legs, Ingrid lost control of her delicate balancing act, and tipped forward. She flailed about with the golf club, but merely bashed it against the wall before losing it. Then there were dolls climbing up her back and pulling at her hair, and her fingers no longer held onto anything.

*****


Ingrid fell onto her back - it felt as though every breath she'd ever taken had been knocked out of her. She closed her eyes and prayed for the ordeal to be over.

"Let the dolls come and take me," she whispered. "I give up!"

Then Ingrid noticed that several dolls had followed her out of the window. They lay still and silent about her - tiny, harmless dolls!

The sound of a siren echoed about the night, and Ingrid realised that the air was thick with the stench of smoke. Soon, someone would find her and carry her to the ambulance, and she would be asked how the Doll Factory had burned down.

"I don't remember," Ingrid would say. "I don't remember anything at all."


THE END


2017 Graham Catt

Bio: "I am a South Australian writer of poetry and short fiction. I have published seven poetry collections and a dozen short stories in magazines around the world."

E-mail: Graham Catt

Website:Graham Catt

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