“Hold it in… Hold it in…” A surge of anxiety gripped Luna’s chest. She tried to soothe herself. “Don’t cry again! Not now!” Cities made her uneasy, but there was nowhere else to go. Her soul felt hollow and empty without her husband by her side. Losing Will and his crew in the mining accident was almost too much to bear. There was no one left and nothing to do but move on with her life. Luna loaded her worldly possessions into her old Buick and drove away from the mountain with her antiquated map.
Lost in the unfamiliar roads of New York City, she wove through the traffic lanes, around orange barriers and spilled containers of garbage from last week’s power outage. Without warning, the clutter she’d piled on top of the boxes in the back seat began to fall as she swerved this way and that. A stuffed bear that had been a gift from Will tumbled off the top of a box onto her lap—she picked him up and kissed his nose. Distracted she swerved and barely avoided a cat racing across the street after an oversized rodent. The rancid winds howled through the narrow streets into the car; she rolled up the window to escape the smells. Feeling rather conspicuous, Luna wished she had a more modern electric car.
Arriving at the intersection closest to her final destination in Manhattan, she parked in the first available curbside spot near an alleyway. Getting out of the car proved difficult since she’d pulled too close to an oversized light post. Each available inch was covered with cards and posters. Above the halogen light, she read a sign; all is well. She very much doubted that. The address was on Park Avenue, and she hurried along in search of the number. The building was much taller and narrower than any she’d ever seen before. It appeared to vanish in-between the surrounding wider structures. The only entrance door seemed to be made of a textured stainless-steel material. When knocking produced no result, Luna pushed on the cold door, and it swung open against the adjacent wall.
Dust particles floated through streams of light from the windows that stood fifteen feet off the floor. The light highlighted some areas and left others completely dark.
“Hello? Is anyone here?”
“Yes, come forward.” The woman was dressed in a long-ragged multi-colored skirt with wavy dark hair piled askew on top of her head. She looked larger across the middle than her gaunt extremities implied, due to the quantity of fabric coiled around her like a snake.
“Hello.” Luna shivered. “Um, this building isn’t quite what I expected. I’m supposed to start work in clothing distribution. The man who interviewed me—Mr. Snit—didn’t tell me much. He just said I should come and find a woman.”
“That’s my name. Sorry, I wasn’t in the video, but I don’t like modern gadgets.”
“I am one, so as I said, that’s my name.” Without further explanation, Woman handed Luna a pile of miscellaneous items. “Here, take this stuff, organize it into categories and bins. There’s lots more over there against the wall. It’s all donated for my projects. I have urgent business elsewhere at the hospice facility. Time is of the essence. Lots of transfers to load.” Woman turned away and walked out the door.
“What? I don’t understand,” Luna mumbled to herself. She gazed down at the colored cloth. On top of the pile sat spools of thread and a collection of brass jewelry. She moved forward to an empty table and let the items tumble off onto the bare surface. Spreading everything out she realized they were pieces of clothing. In the corner to her left, sat massive mounds of garments that formed the shape of upside-down ice cream cone.
A voice spoke from behind her. “Hello, I’m Finn.”
She spun around, paused, and then extended her hand. “I’m Luna.”
“My hands are covered in oil, can’t shake, sorry.” The dark-skinned man smiled, and his brilliant teeth glistened in the dim light.
“Woman said something about transfers. What was she talking about?” Luna frowned.
“It’s not my place to explain, Woman will tell you more at some point.”
Not knowing what else to do, Luna excused herself and found a bathroom. Locking the door, she pulled her cell phone out of her overalls and auto-dialed Mr. Snit. He didn’t answer. After some meditational deep breaths, Luna unlocked the door and began to wander around. She saw thirteen dark wood school desks. Six lined one side of the room and six the other, with a massive desk at the head of the class. In each chair sat a stiff figure with an arm extended over the surface. At the end of one arm, a hand grasped a pen which hovered above a pile of paper.
“Excuse me?” Luna feebly inquired.
None of the figures moved or said a word.
“They’re not alive, yet.” A voice echoed behind her.
She looked over her shoulder, “Oh, Finn, you startled me. I’m not sure what to make of this place. What are these things?”
“They’re life-size dolls. I felt the same way when I first arrived. Aren’t their eyes awesome?”
“I guess,” Luna replied. Walking further down the aisle, she looked to the left side to what appeared to be the female section. On the right side, there were only men. Focusing back on the female in front of her, Luna peered into her eyes. They weren’t glass, but a solidified jelly with vivid hazel irises. Its skin seemed to be a tinted polymer, the complexion was practically flawless with thin brown eyebrows and a full head of auburn hair flowing down the back. The fingers were long and lean, with every joint creased and authentically painted to perfection. But then, without warning, the hand holding the pen moved across the page. Luna jumped back a few steps. She moved closer and examined the writing. It was the letter ‘B’ with stylized curves.
“Gave you quite a start.” Finn’s nose wrinkled as he laughed. “We need to get back to our assignment before Woman returns. A day’s pay is only given if we do our work.”
“I never expected this place, it’s weird. Maybe I should have asked more questions, but I’m out of money, and it’s all I could find.”
“You’ll get used to it. The rooms in the back loft are pretty sweet. One of them has your name etched on a piece of wood on the floor. If you’re nervous, lock up at night.” Finn slicked back his curly mop of black hair and then pulled two containers of food out of a metal cabinet. “This slot is yours from now on. It gets stocked each day, but I don’t know who…”
“Thanks, I’m pretty hungry.” She interrupted, took the container and began eating. With her mouth a little full she said, “I’ve got a lot of sorting to do. Where’s your workstation?” Luna thought the guy seemed normal compared to everything else.
“Through that door.” Finn gestured behind him. “I lube and maintain the machines that make the dolls. No one other than me and the artist—I call him that but I think he’s more of a scientist—can go in there without Woman’s permission. Don’t know why, it’s just her way. She’ll be back soon with new transfers. Don’t know how she does the transfer, she kicks us out of the room.”
Luna went back to her sorting tables without delay. She wondered what this place with so little light, held beyond Finn’s doors. Not liking her dark thoughts, she put a dress in its matching pile, then a few blouses, and on and on. After several hours passed, she heard a noise. It came from the other side of the room; the head desk was empty. The occupant stood at a blackboard writing. Luna walked a little closer and noticed another figure across the room in the shadows. The letters on the board curved up and down in straight lines across the surface. The first formed a string of words written in a neon yellow chalk — ‘not what I expected this would be. I’m Professor Brandice.’ Under that, the professor began writing the letters of the alphabet. The doll’s voice came out from somewhere deep inside as she read the letters out loud. Then Luna understood. Her new employer was a Soul-Grabber. This doll, now Professor Brandice, was a teacher before her soul traveled out of her body at death and into Woman’s storage vial. She shuddered to think about the possibility of her deceased husband being trapped inside one of these dolls.