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A gush of wind shook the bare, winter trees surrounding the concrete monster. Alice and Dodgson stared wide-eyed at the looming structure. This was their first trip to Wonder-Mart, but town gossip had made the superstore eminent. Alice didn’t feel quite right about this excursion, but Dodgson had begged her for months to take him to Wonder-Mart. Dodgson tugged on Alice’s sleeve.
“Can we go inside? I’m cold,” the boy whined impatiently, his eyes watering and his lower lip protruding. The icy wind whipped against Alice’s bare, pale legs, but she still didn’t want to step inside the huge building. Alice didn’t like big spaces. Nooks and crannies suited her much better. Nevertheless, Dodgson’s pleading wore Alice down, so she walked up to the doors. Alice let out a yelp when the doors flew open on their own, as if they were glass guardians to some strange land. Dodgson rolled his blue eyes at his sister.
“It’s a door, Alice. Relax. Can we go in now?” he grumbled, crossing his chubby arms and sulking. Trembling, Alice stepped inside. Her eyes flickered everywhere. There was so much to see, from the poor, tortured looking washing machines, to the morose toy trains, condemned to toot their horns and ding their bells for eternity in this condemned place. Alice looked at the poor washing machine and gave it a small smile, and to her shock, the huge appliance twisted its circular face into a beaming grin. A small gasp escaped from Alice’s lips.
“Dodgson!” she shouted, “come here! This washing machine just smiled.” She scanned the store, glazing over the miles of long, white aisles. Dodgson was nowhere to be found. Her stomach flipped upside down and her throat felt like there was cotton stuck in it.
“Dodgson!” she screamed, tears welling up in her eyes, making her navy eyes look turquoise. No, this couldn’t happen. This awful place was enormous. For all she knew, the washing machine could be evil and trying to kidnap her brother. From the distance, Alice spotted a man running towards her. As he approached, the appliances trembled and shook like newborn puppies. The washing machine turned on the spin cycle and backed into the corner. The man turned towards Alice. The first thing she noticed about him was his eyes. Most people would call them brown, but Alice noticed flecks of red dotting the iris, giving him the gaze of a madman. As he spoke to her, his nametag swung like a pendulum, enticing Alice. Mr. Williams, Wonder-Mart manager, Mr. Williams, Wonder-Mart manager. It was maddening.
“Miss, what on earth are you screaming for?” Mr. Williams asked, his booming voice echoing. Alice wanted to reply, but she couldn’t stop staring at the nametag. It seemed to call to her eyes, telling them to never stop looking, watch the nametag. Mr. Williams, Wonder-Mart manager, Mr. Williams, Wonder-Mart manager.
“Excuse me, Miss, I am talking to you!” he screamed. Alice felt like a small girl. She didn’t like screaming. Whispers seemed much prettier, so soft and delicate, almost like the lace that lined the edges of her party dresses. Finally, she managed to look away from the nametag.
“Oh my, I do apologize. I’ve lost my brother. His name is Dodgson Carroll. He’s quite small and he’s got curly blonde hair,” Alice said. The urge to hop on one foot came over her, so she was bouncing around the store while Mr. Williams glared at her. Adults puzzled Alice. They never responded to whims or urges, just chipped away at the rigid, steel path they were walking on, never taking their eyes off the course. Mr. Williams looked her up and down, those burning eyes searing her blonde curls and knobby knees.
“Very well,” he said coolly, “continue with your shopping, Alice.” Curious, Alice thought, she didn’t remember introducing herself to the manager. Mr. Williams turned on one heel and walked away. Alice shivered. She didn’t know what to do, where to turn, what was real or whether this was all in her head. Knowing her, she may very well be sitting in math class, daydreaming. As her grey haired, sad eyed mother said, “You never know with Alice.” It was true. Some days Alice was so happy, she felt like she could go on for eternity. Her heart would swell up and she loved everything so much, it made her eyes shimmer with gleeful tears. Other days, Alice was so sad that she was convinced that the burning in her throat and the icy hand of loneliness would never go away. On those days, Alice was afraid she would always be Alice Carroll. How strange to be terrified of yourself. Every day, Alice heard about rapists and bombs and watched an awful disease destroy her father, yet her greatest fear was herself. Curious.
Alice decided to walk down to the pastry aisle. Her brother loved sweets. Nothing could bring a smile to Dodgson’s face faster than a plate of chocolate chip cookies. Alice looked around the pastries. She didn’t spot a sticky nine year old anywhere. However, a plate of raspberry tarts caught her eye. There was a small sign that said “eat me” propped against the tarts. Alice smiled. Samples were the best. She took a greedy bite into a luscious tart and relished the tangy raspberry flavor. Alice’s bliss didn’t last for long. After she swallowed the last bite of tart, her tongue started to swell. Her mouth felt like it was being stretched like taffy. Alice didn’t understand what was happening, but she was pretty sure that there was something off about those tarts. She looked at her reflection in the glass display case. Her mouth didn’t look any different. Alice knitted her eyebrows. Weird. Alice heard a little voice in her ear.
“Hey, kid. If I was you, I’d clear out right now.” Alice gasped and looked around. Nobody was in the pastry aisle. In fact, all she saw was a broken Panini maker next to her. Oh man. Maybe she was insane. She looked at the machine that could talk and tenaciously whispered,
“Excuse me?” The Panini maker understood her. This was too strange.
“You heard me. Get out of here. Mr. Williams don’t like thieves and he’d have your head if he knew you stole his tarts,” the machine replied. Alice still couldn’t believe she was sitting here, talking to a Panini machine. All this time she had been trying so hard to get her peers to talk to her. She could have just talked to the pencil sharpener and been in a lab group with the projector. Suddenly, Alice heard boots clomping on linoleum. She had a nagging suspicion that Mr. Williams wasn’t far away. Alice sprinted as fast as her spindly legs would carry her. As stressed as she was, there was something Alice liked about running. It was comforting to know that even though she had a psychotic manager on her tail and a newly discovered ability to talk to appliances, she could still run away. Nobody could ever take that from her. Breathing heavily, Alice lurked between aisles, watching her back for a certain red-eyed madman. Thankfully, she didn’t see Mr. Williams. Alice stumbled over a blender that someone had left in the middle of the aisle. Oddly enough, the blender was crying. Blender tears weren’t like human tears. They were iridescent and smelled like car freshener. Alice wrapped her arms around the basin of the blender. She whispered to it like her mother used to when she was young.
“Shh, hush now, it’s all right. You’re safe. Everything’s going to be ok.” The little appliance sniffled.
“Thank you. That’s very nice of you, but I’m afraid there’s not much you can do for me,” it squeaked.
“Would you like to talk about it?” Alice asked. She felt an odd sense of kinship with this blender.
“I don’t know if you’ll understand, but I’ll tell you anyway. My wife died last year. The manager was having one of his fits, and he just smashed her into a thousand pieces. She was young. I’ve been going through a rough time ever since. I haven’t made a proper smoothie since she died. I’ve tried everything. I’ve done purees, batters, and sauces. Nothing is right. I just can’t make smoothies like I used to. I’m useless.” Alice’s heart broke for the poor soul. It was as if she was talking to her own reflection, a looking glass girl, but instead of seeing her face, she saw a blender. Useless. What a cruel word. God knows how many times Alice had been referred to as useless, by her parents, her teachers, her schoolmates. Alice could feel a warm tear run down her cheek.
“Don’t say that. Nobody is useless. I’ve lost somebody as well. My little brother is missing right now, and I feel useless too,” Alice said. An idea struck her at once.
“Hey, how would you like to come home with me and my brother? We’ve got lots of fruit at my house. You’ll learn to do smoothies again.” This time, the blender spewed glittery, vanilla scented tears. Alice was so wrapped up in happy thoughts of making smoothies with Dodgson that she didn’t hear the dreaded sound of boots on linoleum.
“Touching,” a cruel voice sneered, “but you aren’t going to be making smoothies any time soon, girlie.” Alice could feel those crimson eyes burning. Her stomach started churning and sweat flooded her palms. Mr. Williams, Wonder-Mart manager. Mr. Williams, Wonder-Mart manager. It never stopped. When she turned around, Mr. Williams opened his palm. The glass body of the blender shattered into tiny shards. Mr. Williams screamed,
“Can’t win against telekinesis, Alice. Now off with your head, and your brother too!” Dodgson. Mr. Williams couldn’t win. Telekinesis or not, Alice wouldn’t let anything happen to her brother. She picked up a plate and hurled it at Mr. Williams’ face, the ceramic carving intricate lacerations. Mr. Williams yelled barbarically and with a snap of his fingers, the light fixture came crashing down on top of Alice. She had never known pain like this. Her arms and legs were covered in blood and the heavy light fixture had knocked all the breath out of her lungs. Every body part was screaming for Alice to stop, to give up. Her eyelids drooped, and her head felt fuzzy. The scent of blood was sickening and Alice could feel the raspberry tart creeping back up. Mr. Williams showed no mercy. He cut the cable to another light switch. The bones in Alice’s legs sent white-hot pain resonating through her entire body. Everything vibrated with agony, and Alice was sure that the veil between life and death was thinning as the agony worsened. Mr. Williams cackled. Alice’s stomach flipped upside down when she saw that the twisted manager was holding her brother’s arm. No, no, not Dodgson. Her brain was screaming two different messages at her, one crying out for her brother, and her legs crying out in pain. Mr. Williams raised his hand and the shattered glass from the blender hovered in midair. All Alice could do was scream.
“No! No, please sir. I’ll do anything! Take me instead!” Raw, animal desperation and fury silenced the pain and Alice labored towards Mr. Williams. A cruel cackle escaped his scarred face.
“All right, now. I’m a reasonable man. I propose a fair exchange. Freedom for freedom, if you will. You will be the manager of this Wonder-Mart for the rest of your life, and the boy goes free.” Alice looked around at the horrible store. This was the last place she wanted to spend eternity in. Every instinct told Alice to say no, to run like she was trained to. She stared at Dodgson. Dodgson was the only person who loved Alice. He didn’t think she was crazy or a trial to the family. He listened when she talked about crazy things like talking blenders or streams that sang songs. He had given Alice so much in nine short years. Now it was Alice’s turn. Her heart pounded and she could feel the blood swishing in her ears.
“I accept.” Mr. William’s flashed an evil grin and turned towards her brother. He said to the small boy,
“You have 60 seconds to get out of this store before I behead you. You are not to speak to your sister unless you want her head to roll, understand?” Dodgson nodded. Alice couldn’t bear to watch her little brother scamper off outside. They would forget each other. Alice was sure of it. Mr. Williams placed his nametag around her neck. It now read Alice Carroll, Wonder-Mart Manager.
Everything was different now. Tarts didn’t make people talk to appliances. Blenders didn’t get married. Dodgson Carroll was just a name to her, and a strange one at that. From then on, washing machines didn’t smile. Neither did Alice.