The first thing that registered was the sunlight.
Olivia sat back on the grass, staring at the sky. Where did all this yellow come from?
The sun was richer than it had been moments before, more vibrant. More alive. And it was such a simple thing--the sun being more awake--that gave this place an unmistakable vibe of life, much more than oversaturated hues in your clothes could.
The next thing Olivia took in was the Longport Factory. Or, what had once been a factory called the Longport Factory, according to the rusted sign lying in the grass nearby. The place was just a first floor and half of a second one, filled in with vines and trees and birds. Its raw concrete edges and its soft grey contrast to the emerald green gave it a strangely peaceful feeling, and Olivia found it quite beautiful.
The last thing was the dolls.
There were Barbie dolls and rag dolls and Madame Alexander dolls and American Girl dolls. Moxie Girlz dolls and Bratz dolls and Monster High dolls. Porcelain dolls and baby dolls and Lalaloopsy dolls. Fairies, rock stars, mermaids, hair stylists, campers, Girl Scouts, pirates, schoolchildren, vets, astronauts. Dolls fashioned after movie characters. Dolls fashioned after important historical figures. Dolls fashioned after other dolls. Dolls with button eyes and dolls with full articulation and dolls so tiny they had their own corner sectioned off so they wouldn’t get stepped on. The dolls walked and talked and played and laughed, played tag and drank tea and strummed plastic guitar strings and sat at little card tables. Through it all, a jazzy, slightly off-sounding song was playing.
They were awesome.
Cameron was standing slightly apart from Olivia, watching her take in the spectacle.
“Humans,” Cameron laughed. “Always so amazed. Come on,” she said kindly, turning and stepping forward.
Olivia expected the dolls to turn and stare at her uncomfortably, but their faces were always smiling, so if one turned their head to look at Olivia, she smiled back at them, and they seemed satisfied.
She navigated her way very carefully through the short crowd. It was certainly not a little crowd in terms of quantity, but in terms of height it was the smallest crowd she’d ever seen. The moment Olivia truly felt excited was when she passed by a group of Victorian-dressed porcelain dolls in masquerade masks and ballgowns, conversing among themselves near a wall. They were taller than most, up to Olivia’s waist, and had glowing faces and full curly hair. Something about them broke Olivia out of her shock.
Cameron guided Olivia to sit at one of the small tables. It was a card table, but the legs had been sawn through. A group of Monster High dolls sat in the center of the table, one of them beside a dragon. They waved to Olivia as she sat down. In the other chairs were several American Girls and a whole group of Raggedy Anns, and of course Cameron. One last chair was empty.
“Is it nice here, or what?”
“It’s...it’s so…” Olivia struggled.
“I’m speechless,” she finally finished.
“Where’s Margaret? And Alice and Ember and Lily and all the rest?”
“They’re on their way. You want a cupcake? Hand me the box, Emily.”
One of the American Girls slid a white paper box across the table, carefully avoiding the little dolls in the middle. Inside were three yellow cupcakes with blue wrappers and delicate white icing swirls.
“Margaret said lemon was your favorite,” said Cameron.
“It is,” she replied, “thank you.”
Halfway through the first cupcake, she noticed the dolls were watching her intently. She gazed back with unease. Their unmoving smiles, which had moments ago been comforting, were now slightly disturbing.
“Is everything okay?”
The dolls finally averted their smooth gaze, as a familiar red-clad figure stepped into view.
“Margaret!” Olivia said, immediately standing to gather the beloved toy into her arms.
“Hey, Olivia,” came the soft Southern voice. It wasn’t easygoing or cheerful; it was worrisome.
Olivia sat Margaret in her lap. Margaret, who smelled like strawberries and had eyes as blue as the sky and hair that was always messy; who wore a red-and-white dress and no shoes. There was something sacred about an old toy, one you spoke to in frightened whispers while hiding from your fighting parents or held through all your dreams while you slept. Olivia’s other dolls (who she could now catch glimpses of running and playing with the others) were wonderful, but she would give up all of them for this ancient friend.
It was even cooler since she could talk now.
“So what’s with this huge gathering here?” asked Olivia. “Cameron said it was some sort of party, but…”
“No,” sighed Margaret. “It’s not a party. It’s a meeting.”
“A meeting? For what?”
A Barbie doll scurried forward carrying a pair of red rubber sandals onder each arm, and handed them to Margaret, who put them on while she spoke. Olivia felt a question at the back of her mind, but she couldn’t quite place it and left it for later.
“Well, we’ve been having a bad problem these last few months. Used to, the only enemy we dolls had was adults, and teenage boys. Just the ones who were jerks. But now we have someone new bothering us. They want to…”
Here Margaret’s voice grew sharper.
“They want to rob us of our life. They want to take our consciousness for themselves, and form an army to overrun everyone. That’s why we called you here, my friend. We need to fight.”
“I’m ready whenever you are,” Olivia chimed in confidently. “No way someone’s taking you from me! Especially not now. Who is this enemy?”
Margaret gave a little shiver. The dolls at the table were looking down at it in respectful silence, and the thin crowd that had gathered to listen shuffled awkwardly on the dusty concrete floor.
“The enemy,” Margaret replied, “is mannequins.”
A few dolls visibly shuddered and turned away. Some made dreadful noises and covered their faces with their little hands. One of the tall Victorian dolls Olivia had passed earlier--well, she seemed to be crying slightly into her handkerchief.
“Mannequins?” Olivia was a bit surprised. “But I thought you all would get along great! Why not?”
“Olivia,” Margaret said flatly, “you’ve been afraid of mannequins ever since you were seven. You know the answer to that better than I do.”
Olivia had been trying to hide her panic, but it was proving difficult to restrain herself. Mannequins? Mannequins! They were so different from dolls! They were so blank and so eerily perfect and towered above all else so flawlessly--they were scary because of their lack of mistakes. Their lack of anything. Mannequins had no features, and so no room for error. They were everything Olivia dreaded--perfection, maturity, adulthood, plastic.
“They’re planning an attack on our headquarters here,” said Margaret. “We need you to go to the mall later today--most of them live there--and listen for them to speak. It takes a lot of patience, and good ears.”
“I’ll do my best,” I said, shaking Margaret’s hand.
Lemon Cupcakes: Part Two
The first thing that registered was the sunlight.