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Bat woke with a start, the harsh florescent lights flashing at her like a thousand suns. It was the same every morning, the terrible, jarring brightness followed by too-loud voices and the smell of coffee. Bat loathed waking up. Her favorite time of day was after everyone had left, when she could lean against the wall and relax, surrounded by nothing but sublime silence.
Naturally, she loathed mornings. She winced as the women, all in their hideous polyester shirts and ill-fitting slacks, rushed past her, not bothering where they put their feet and elbows. They weren’t the worst, however. The worst were the girls—or, as she’d come to think of them, the Gawkers. They were all the same, wide-eyed and shrill, with grabby hands and cheap perfume.
Almost as if on cue, a girl entered, the glass doors making a small ping as she did so. Bat winced; she’d come to hate the sound, and with good reason. The Gawker, as had all the Gawkers before her, made a beeline for Bat, literally shrieking with joy. “Oh, my God, Mom, come quick!” she yelped, looking over her shoulder at a tired woman in stained khakis. “Hurry up!”
Bat stiffened as the girl grabbed her, twisting her this way and that. “Mom, it’s perfect,” the Gawker breathed, not seeming to notice the effect her pinching hands had on Bat. “Isn’t it gorgeous?” Bat, despite being called “it” on a daily basis, bristled at the moniker and attempted to slither out of the girl’s vice grip.
This only caused the girl to clutch her with more force, of course, as her mother had finally reached them. “It’s pretty,” she said diplomatically, reaching for Bat. “How much does it cost?”
Bat resisted the urge to hit them. One of the many hazards of being a dress was the required body piercing, the painful-but-necessary hole punched into every gown upon birth. It held the most important accessory a dress could have: a price tag. Still, it was unspeakably nauseating to have one’s piercing tugged and torn, and Bat braced herself. To her immense relief, the mother dropped her tag almost immediately, lips curled into a sneer.
“What, Mom?” the Gawker whined. “I love it!”
“It’s way too expensive, honey,” said her mother. “Look, there’s a nice red one right over there. Didn’t you say you were looking for red?”
The Gawker’s jaw set, and Bat shuddered, steeling herself against the inevitable storm. She’d seen this look in many a girl, and it never boded well. The mother was still smiling placidly at the girl, and Bat wondered, incredulously, how she didn’t know what was coming. “I want it,” the girl said resolutely.
For the first time since entering Bat’s shop, the mother’s forced smile wavered. “Well, dear, I’m sorry, but you’re just going to have to find another—”
“I don’t want another one, Mom,” spat the Gawker. “I want this one. If you like the red one so much, buy it for yourself.”
The mother and Bat recoiled simultaneously, equally shocked at the girl’s venom. Bat had witnessed plenty of temper tantrums, true, but they rarely escalated from “quarrel” to “battle” with such speed. “It’s just too expensive,” the mother stammered finally, clearly unsure as to what, exactly, she was supposed to say.
The Gawker dead-eyed her. “Buy me,” she said slowly, enunciating every syllable with a practiced malice, “the dress.”
“Don’t you talk to me that way,” squeaked the mother. Bat snorted. It was clear that the woman had already given in; why she was still wasting energy on a lost cause was beyond Bat. “You can’t be so rude and then turn around and expect me to buy you a $60o dress.”
“I’m sorry,” the Gawker said flatly, just as Bat had begun to realize what their bickering meant for her. She’d seen plenty of unsavory shoppers before, but she’d never wanted to go home with one less than this girl. Girls like her, she was sure, would leave her in a crumpled heap on the floor and smoke around her. Girls like her, Bat panicked, would have to iron her; they’d step on her hem and pin her with large, painful pins. She began planning her escape, but before she could even attempt to hide in a sale rack, the mother and Gawker were headed for the checkout, one grim-faced and one triumphant.
“Just this, please,” the mother said wearily, throwing Bat onto the counter. Bat winced as the cashier shoved her onto a hanger, twisting her bodice at a strange angle, and then pulled a bag over her, blacking out the world.
The next forty minutes were an exercise in torture; effectively blinded, Bat was tossed about and battered until finally being unsheathed in a large, unfamiliar room. Now three Gawkers were staring at her, all with the same dead, greedy eyes of her possessor. “Look at my dress!” squealed the first, yanking roughly on Bat’s skirt. “Isn’t it fabulous?”
“It’s beautiful, Sara,” the second girl, who had a rather unfortunate nose and coke-bottle glasses. “How much was it?”
“Six hundred,” said Sara nonchalantly, as though she hadn’t pitched a fit simply to obtain Bat. “Want me to try it on?” Bat frowned. If mornings were her least favorite time of day, then “try-ons” were her least favorite activity. She was forced to mold to a human’s sweaty, misshapen body, so unlike those of the mannequins whose forms she was occasionally asked to grace. Sara was particularly repellent; Bat had no desire to be so close to someone she found so reprehensible.
Clearly, however, there was no escaping it; Sara had begun to wriggle into Bat before the dress had had sufficient opportunity to plot her getaway. Bat tensed as she was tugged and pinched into place, wishing—not for the first time—that she were just a little less beautiful. Her blessing was, in this case, a curse; she loathed making a human like Sara look as good as the girl now did.
“You look beautiful!” cried the third Gawker. “Oh, Sar, you look great.”
“I know,” Sara said, giving a little shimmy that Bat found to be rather painful. “A lot better than you, Grace,” she added, fixing the second Gawker with a stern stare. “Please tell me you exchanged that awful green thing.”
The Gawker’s chin trembled. “It’s non-returnable,” she whimpered, avoiding Sara’s gaze. “And I can’t dye it.”
“Whatever. How about you, Elise?” Sara giggled at the third Gawker’s frozen face. “Okay, I take it you’re still going with that pink cupcake?”
“I like it,” Elise said stubbornly. “And so does Grace.” She looked to her friend for support, but Grace looked away, clearly afraid to cross Sara.
Bat felt her fabric flush; she was infuriated. Of all the terrible Gawkers who could’ve chosen her, it was evident she’d been selected by the worst of the bunch. Not only was Sara bratty, cruel, and—if she was being honest—a tad bit clammy, she was conniving, so brutal that her own friends were afraid of her.
For the next few hours, Bat steamed, trying to think of how she could rebel against Sara. The idea of actually letting the girl wear her was too disgusting to entertain for even a moment, and so Bat did what she’d always feared she’d have to do. When the girl finally—finally, finally, finally—went to sleep, Bat slid over to the window and slipped into the night sky. The wind filled her and sent her spiraling up into the stars, twisting and twirling amongst the brightest constellations she’d ever seen.
Beneath her, Sara slept on, dreaming that her dress had somehow fallen out the window.