The late afternoon sun bathed square, gray flagstones that paved the shopping plaza. The gentle babbling of the fountain in the center filled the air and provided a cooling mist that provided some relief from the heat of the afternoon. It never truly cooled off till late October in Mississippi.
Susan took a deep breath as she looked up toward the afternoon sun. There was nothing for her to do. She was clearly the third wheel in this shopping expedition. Releasing her breath she slid her bottom off the old iron chair she been sitting in and stood up. Thrusting her arms into the air she sighed as she released some of the tension from the day.
All in all it had been a good day, if one considered being dragged from one bridal shop to another fun. At first she tried to get into the groove as she watched her cousin Josephine try on dress after dress. That had lost its thrill after the first hour. She had then tried to join in on the conversations about the dress. That had lasted all but fifteen minutes before the other women in the party, polity but firmly told her to pipe down.
"There must be something to do." Susan grunted as she peered around the small shopping square that was lined with high end dress shops and office building. Highland Village, was the shopping center for Jackson's elite. Instead of a traditional enclosed mall, it was more or less a collection of connection squares. In the center of each square was a fountain.
Driven by boredom, Susan started to stroll across the courtyard. Many of boutique's where starting to close up now. Susan tended to avoid those, as many of them where owned by the Southern Baptist Elite of Jackson. And those people, tended to look down at somebody from "Down Country" as Susan who spoke with a noticeable "High Southern Accent" that is to say the accent one thinks about when they read "Gone with the Wind".
"Nothing much to do." She said aloud as she passed from one square to the next. Finally toward the end of the mall, toward a small foundation she noticed something that caught her eye. Hanging above a darken door was a fading sign that read. "Old Tyme Toy Commissary". The name along was enough to make her stop and walk toward the darken door. But there in the display window she saw something that caused her blood to turn to icy water in her veins.
For there in the display window of the shop, there could be seen a display of porcelain dolls. All the dolls where dressed to the nines, with there hair styled perfectly and there gowns looked almost like the real thing. Despite only being only sewn from cotton and satin. All the other dolls seemed to be paying homage to one doll in the center of the group. A cloth doll, dressed in a mint green sundress with brown yarn for her hair sat at the center.
"Lana.." Susan whispered as she pressed her nose to the glass of the window. Slowly she felt herself drifting into a different time and a different place. In her mind, she was standing in this same toyshop several years ago.. She was five or six and dressed in a red checkered gingham dress. Her shoulder length brown hair had been pulled back in a nice neat ponytail. A long piece of red ribbon had been tied around the base.
"Wow.. I thought somebody would have brought you by now. Its been.. A very long time." Susan said as she peered toward the doll.
Then it happen, the door seemed to swing open on its own. Susan titling her head to the side poked her head into the doorway. The sales floor seemed normal enough. The shelves where oddly enough fully stocked with wooden doll houses, china animals and tin locomotives. Model airplanes tangled from above. Children's play dresses hung from wooden hangers on pegs that had been glued into the woods of the shop.
"I guess.. Since nobody around. Its not going to hurt anything. And its not like I'm going to steal anything." She said stepping into the shop. Once she crossed from the stone paved walkway to the highly polished wooden salesroom floor. The door softy closed and a soft click echoed. Something had locked her in and in the display of the window. The doll softy smiled.
Susan quickly turned around and peered toward the wooden door that had just slammed shut. She quickly titled her head to the side in confusion as she started to advance toward the door. Reaching down and wrapping her fingers around the brass handle, she quickly noticed the door was locked. Stepping back and sighing she started to ponder how in the world she would explain this to some third rate mall cop. Then, the lights above her flipped on, flooding the room with light.
The lights reveled a wonderland of toys. The shop was divided into sections. With north wall of the shop being painted a pastel colored pink and the south wall of the shop being painted a pastel colored blue. Bright, colorful woven runs, oval in shape covered the floorboards and small tables and chairs lay scattered about. Soon the shop was filled with music, as dozens of music boxes started to come to life.
Though, she expected she should be scared and tearing the doorknob off the hinges. Susan could not help but feel herself swept up in the notes that filled the air. Slowly she started to walk into the section colored in all pink. Memories of long forgotten childhood days flooded through her head as she ran her fingers along the dusty ledges. She could almost see it, those days when having a tea party with her dolls was the highlight of her day and playing dress up was fun. Her mother always seemed to make time for those little play sessions. Now, Isabella was so wrapped up in Josephine wedding, she barely even speak to her daughter.
"We've been expecting you." A voice from behind her stated. "Welcome Susan, its been a while. We have a lot of catching up to do." The voice belonged to a tall women, one with long brown hair and pale pink eyes. One that appeared to be a older version of herself.
Susan quickly turned around and blinked and blinked again as she peered toward the women standing in front of her. She opened her mouth, but she could find no words.
"You've been a naughty girl. A very naughty girl. You broke your promise to me, and one should never break there promises, no matter how hard life becomes. My, my.. How have you grown up." The women said as she strolled toward Susan, stopping a few feet from her.
"Who.." Susan finally found her voice. "Who are you?" She asked as she choked on her words and looked up and peered into the women's eyes. The women only chuckled a little and in a soothing voice said.
"I'm Lana. And I was suppose to be your dolly, but you never came back for me, you naughty little girl." Her smile at first warm and welcoming became twisted and her lip was raised a little to show her teeth. Her eyes changed from soft to hard and echoed a almost predatory sense.
Susan blinked and blinked again as she stepped back. Slowly she back peddled till she bumped into a wall and then she gently sank down upon the ground and peered toward Lana, who was standing over her.
"What happen? What happened to that little girl. How held me long ago and for one magical afternoon. Promised me the world. She told me, I'll the queen of her magical realm and she'll be the princess." Lana said putting her hands on her hips and bending down and smiling as she peered into Susan's eyes as she reached down and wrapped her fingers around her arm and pulled her to her feet.
"I don't know.." Susan said peering into Lana's pale pink eyes. "I don't remember making those promises.. I just remember holding you one afternoon, cause the shopkeeper said something like 'Lana looks just like you, maybe she could be your big sister?' and we'll.. I wanted you. Mommy promised if I was good and did all my homework and brought home good grades, she'll buy you for me." Susan stuttered out as she forced her brain into overdrive as she started to awaken long sealed away me memories. "But a huge snowstorm came and mommy.. Mommy could not get to Jackson to buy you."
Lana blinked and blinked again as she hauled Susan up and smiled as she peered toward her new play thing. Smiling a wicked little smile she took a step back and nodded her head, making out she understood where Susan was coming from. Slowly she opened her mouth and said.
"Oh I know about the snow storm." She said showing her teeth again. "And I can understand that. That's why I hide from the other buys, but.. As I can recall, your mommy took back to the shop a few weeks after Christmas. Instead of buying me, you brought something else. You brought another dolly. You brought Autumn.. Because she looked like your mother." She growled the last part and pulled Susan close to her, she then came face to face with her. "Now your going to pay for that."
"Only because.." Susan started to slowly back away, her eyes glued toward the sparkling pink orbs peering into her soul. "Only because, we could not find you! We thought somebody had brought you! Honestly I'm a good girl." As those words rushed from her mouth, she felt her footing give way and with a cry she fell backwards and landed on her tail bone, She quickly got up and started to craw away.
"Susan." Lana said taking a deep breath as she watched her fall backwards and land on her bottom. "Seven years have passed. Seven long years, do you think I've forgotten anything in those seven long years." She reached down and wrapped her fingers around her neck and gently she knelt down beside her.
Susan closed her eyes as she felt the fingers wrap around her neck. Taking a deep breath she closed her eyes and started to count back from ten, this had to be one huge nightmare. There no possible way this could be happing, there was something. Something wrong here.
"Seven years, do you know how many months are in seven years? Be a good girl and take a guess." She whispered softy into her ears as she crooked her neck over and peered into her eyes. She lifted her top lip to show a row of white teeth. "Take a guess."
"I don't know.." Susan whimpered as she felt something warm then wet spread between her legs. She whimpered louder as it dawned on her, she just peed her pants. And no matter how hard she racked her brain, she could not think of anything.
"Eighty four months.." She said shoving her head down into the hardwood floor. "Eight four months I've been waiting one you. Watching the world out there change, watching the word go on. For eighty four months I've been waiting for my princess to return. And now she back." Lana whispered softy as she wrapped her fingers around Susan long, brown ponytail. Slowly she pulled her head up via the tail.
Susan felt tears forming at the edge of her eyes as she felt her head being lifted up. Her eyes widen as she once more found herself looking into the sinister grin. Finally she managed to shutter out.
"Please.. Let me go." She was on the verge of tears now, "Please, let me go and you can return.. Return back to dolly land. I promise you.." But she was cut off with a harsh slap to the face. The open palm of Lana's hand stung her cheeks and silenced her.
"It seems, you've become quite a brat in these last seven years," Lana said sighing as she stood up and then forced Susan to stand up as well. She then turned on her. Quickly she reached over and started to roughly remove her clothing, starting with her blouse.
"And a tomboy too," She muttered as she removed the blouse, then off came her bra and her belt and her jeans and finally sitting on her but her shoes and socks. Soon Susan was standing before Lana naked as the day she was born.
There was little Susan could do as she was stripped bare, the harsh slap to the face had forced her into a stunned silence. She was afraid to move, her mind was racing and her heart seemed to beat some nine hundred miles a minute. Could this really be happing? Could she really be trapped in a toystore? Could the one thing she wanted from her long forgotten childhood, the only doll she really wanted, be standing before her, stripping her bare and looking her up and down like a choice piece of roast. Then she felt her cheeks starting to sting again.
"Answer me. You better start answering me when I talk to you girl. Or else its going to be eighty four months before somebody sees you again, do you understand me?"
"Yes.." She said as she lifted her hand to rub the spot where she was slapped.
Lana blinked and blinked again as she raised her hand and slapped Susan again across the cheeks, her eyes burned like jelled fire and her facial expression harden before becoming soft. The echo of the slap still filled the room and Susan's cheekbones where starting to turn red from the force of the strike.
"Come with me." She said as she reached down and graphed Susan by the ear and dragged her to her feet. Once she was standing, she dragged her across the polished wooden floor toward the far end of the store. The floor had been painted green, and painted jungle mural's lined the walls. The floor was littered with jungle theme toys and games and in the center of the small section there stood a white canvas tent, scaled down in size to fit into a child's bedroom.
"Where are we going?" Inquired Susan as she passed the tent. She hoped Lana would answer her. But she did not, instead she pushed on. Passed the tent and through a door marked. 'Employee's only' and through that simple wooden door she dragged Susan. The pair soon vanished behind the door and the shop grew quite and still. The first fingers of dawn where starting to creep across the flagstones in front of the shop. The shadows of the night where retreating and a light dusting of frost covered the varies plants, that where housed in the planters outside. The fountains had sheen of ice across them. And the morning news paper carried the following headlines.
'Susan Elizabeth Mari Bell of Vicksburg, Ms. Has been reported missing. Susan age, 13 went missing later yesterday afternoon in the Highland Village Shopping Plaza off of Interstate 4500 and 55 North Exit 100. She has brown hair and pink eyes, she was last seen wearing a white blouse, and jeans. Any person or persons having any information retaining to her disappearance is asked to contact the Jackson Police Department at 655-560-8976, a reward has been offered..'
End of Part 1