I was walking home from school on an unusually dark afternoon when I felt a pair of eyes staring right at me. The gaze stung my cheeks like an infant’s fingernails, drawing blood beneath the fragile flaps of flesh. Sneaking crisp breaths through my teeth, I peered into the deserted toy store window to my right as the sky cracked above me and began to cry.
The reflection in the glass was shadowed by the store’s October display: stuffed boogeyman dolls, smiling ghosts sewn into children’s hoodies, candy corn pillows pricked with voodoo pins. It was a jarring collision of the adorable and the grotesque.
I couldn’t see much mirrored back at me in the window — only the white moons of plastic eyes staring blankly into the contours of my face — but I could feel the eyes on my neck, stuck to the hairs on my skin as if pasted there with Elmer’s glue. As raindrops began streaming down my nose and sinking into my backpack, I nudged the door aside and ducked into the store. Above me, the bell dinged a hollow welcome. If it dinged a second time, I would know I was being followed.
Wringing icy droplets from my hair, I stepped past a display of yellow-eyed Beanie Babies, whose mismatching limbs had been stitched together like the unearthed body parts of Victor Frankenstein’s monster. The shop itself hadn’t changed much since I was a child, but the merchandise was — eerier.
Perhaps, when I was younger, I simply hadn’t noticed the way the dolls’ pale necks seemed to creak as I trudged by, their glassy pupils marking my every footstep.
The toys were lined up on wide, white shelves leading to the cash register on the far wall. The seat behind the cashier’s desk was empty, but I could hear the faint echo of footsteps pacing slowly back and forth behind the door to the storage room. The owner must have been using the rainy afternoon to restock shelves.
“Excuse me?” I called. A shock of lightning sent my voice soaring an octave higher, and I yelled over the thunder, “Excuse me!”
As the heavens’ drum roll subsided, the fluorescent light bulbs died above me, leaving me shivering in silent blackness.
The footsteps in the storage room limped to a halt.
I swallowed my heartbeat and backed up until my spine bumped into a quivering wall. Plastic tubs tumbled onto my head and shoulders, dumping rubber spiders and stringy, gooey creatures into my hair. Panting now, I stumbled backward through the shelves — past the screeching rocking chairs, the green goops of ghoulish Play-Doh, the dolls and their vicious, beady eyes. My chest surged with relief as I dove for the door —
And my lungs collapsed when my hands slammed against the glass.
With the door fogging over under the heat of my breath, I pressed my forehead against the glass and finally met the eyes in the reflection.
They were plastic, and yellow.