By Melissa Gill
Lola, a clown plush doll, landed inside of a glass box. Her arrival provoked Dino, a growling purple dinosaur, who rattled her stitches. She jumped back into a corner where Baby Doll rested on a soft orange skateboard. The Baby blinked her giggly eyes and pointed at a metal claw hanging high above them. Lola gasped. Her eyes wandered out of the glass walls into the pitch-black arcade.
“Where am I?” Lola asked, the sutures forming her mouth ripped open. Behind her fabric face, a cloudy cotton tongue came alive.
The Baby squealed and pointed at the metal claw again. Lola scooted further away from Baby, squishing Dino’s face.
“Can’t you keep still? You’re smashing my nose. I’m not letting you ruin my chances of being chosen,” Dino snapped, readjusting his sunken face.
“Chosen?” Lola whispered, her eyes touched the ceiling where Baby pointed. “Chosen for what?”
“The Silver Spider decides our fates. If Silver Spider takes you away, they choose you. When they choose you, you leave with the Giants. The small Giants love playing with us until they grow bigger,” Dino said, his fiery eyes cooled down.
“What happens if they don’t pick you?” she asked.
“If you aren’t chosen, you either end up on the Prize Wall or in the Junk Box,” he said. His voice shook when he mentioned the “junk box.”
“What’s the Junk Box?” she asked. The ominous name shivered her threads loose.
“It’s where toys like us are destroyed. No one ever makes it out of the Junk Box. If a Giant doesn’t take you by the end of the month, you either end up in the Junk Box or on the Prize Wall. Most of us end up in the Junk Box,” Dino nodded towards the Prize Wall. He pushed his head up through a few glittery bouncy balls.
Lola glanced at the Prize Wall. The dim light outlined other toys that resembled Dino and more bouncy balls. None of the dolls looked like her. She gulped, and a cotton ball slid down her throat. Her button eyes widened.
About an hour later, the arcade came back to life. All the lights shined bright. The games blinked, whistled, and dinged throughout the venue. Children poured through the doors. Parents sat on the sidelines eating pizza and scrolling their phones. On weekends, people roamed happily through the maze of entertainment.
An energetic girl with a green bow in her hair walked up to the claw machine. Lola’s heart jumped with excitement. The young Giant’s round, dark eyes resembled her own. The girl scanned the pile of toys. She recognized Lola’s red polka-dotted dress and rainbow hair from a popular cartoon.
“I want Lola,” the girl said, as she dropped tokens into the slot. Lola sighed with relief. All her hopes of surviving the Junk Box fell into this small Giant’s hands.
The raven-haired girl stuck her tongue out as she moved the joystick sporadically. All the toys stared up at the Silver Spider traveling in circles. When the claw stopped, all the toys released their heavy breaths. It swung above Lola’s head. The little girl pressed a red button, releasing the claw from the ceiling. The Silver Spider landed sideways on top of Lola’s arms. She reached out to grab the claw, but she had no fingers to grasp it. The chain retracted back, empty. The cheerful girl turned red. She kicked the machine twice. Lola sighed as she watched her ticket to freedom storm away.
“It’s okay,” Baby told Lola, “it happens to everybody.” The Baby’s voice box released a shrill cry. Lola wished she could cry, but she had no voice box.
She imagined being cradled in a young girl’s arms. Lola hoped for a little Giant to braid her frizzy hair and cuddle her after the lights went out. More than anything, she longed to befriend a young Giant like the raven-haired girl. She pressed her button eyes against the glass wall like a child in awe of a storefront display.
A few hours later, a tall, hairy Giant with two smaller Giants stood in front of the machine. One of the smaller giants begged for the Dino toy, and the other one whined for Lola. In the hairy Giant’s hands, he carried a bucket of tokens. He hovered the Silver Spider over Dino and Lola at least ten times each before his patience wore thin. His daughters crossed their arms and furrowed their brows. Their father failed to catch the toys they wanted. The girls refused to leave without prizes. With his remaining tokens, he won each of them something. One of them got a bouncy ball and the other one got a plushy skateboard. The rest of the toys still floated in the sea of toys. After another disappointment, Lola’s faith grew harder to keep.
Five minutes before closing, a Giant wearing glasses stepped up to their machine. Butterflies swirled in Lola’s stomach again. He slid tokens into the machine. All the toys puffed their chests and gave him puppy dog eyes. Lola kept her eyes on the Silver Spider. The Giant gently pulled the lever towards the girl clown doll. His approach appeared more calculated than earlier players. The rainbow strings on top of Lola’s head raised as the robot claw inched closer. He pressed the red button, and the Silver Spider dropped. The Spider’s legs wrapped around her waist. She winced as the metal pinched her squishy body.
As Lola ascended towards the black hole, she waved goodbye to the other toys. Her fragile heart tightened with worry for those she left behind. Her limp body plopped into a black cave. The black cave’s door screeched open as another claw grabbed her. This claw was softer than the last one. The Giant tucked her under his armpit. As he left the arcade, he held his head high. Walking towards his car, he said, “My dog will love playing with you.”