by Cat Rambo
Deep in the bowels of the Toys-R-We in a space which smells of plastic and stale air conditioning, the Barbie aisle’s occupants are plotting, fomenting conquest. They’ve had their painted eyes on the adjacent aisles, occupied respectively by war toys and Legos, for some time now.
And as they creak back and forth, keeping balance on plastic legs, hobbled by high-heeled slippers, they’re wondering who this strange Barbie is that stands tall and proud in their midst, an odd and dilapidated, obviously used, Barbie wandered in from the shelves of some Goodwill or Salvation Army. Some aspiring barber has chopped half her hair, an experimental, punchy do. Tattoos cover her dingy skin, spirals in purple magic marker, and she’s just a little on the odd side and she hasn’t introduced herself in the time honored tradition of Barbies, as Disreputable Barbie or No-Account Barbie or Baglady Barbie or anything like that.
Instead she plunges straight into her propositions and hurries them along in her drawly gravelly voice (perhaps she’s Southern Barbie, Yankee Barbie thinks, but then mentally smacks herself, glancing over at the true blue version in her Scarlett o’Hara outfit).
“What we need to consider,” Strange Barbie says, “is our lack of weaponry. So we get those war toys out of the way first, and then we go after Lego. Once we have the Legos, we use ’em to build our Lego spaceship and off we go to explore other dimensions.”
The Barbies murmur dubiously amongst themselves. They’re not clad for out and out warfare. Their outfits run to tennis, corporate banking, and the prom. What good will spandex do against the like of catapults, machine guns, and light sabers?
“First we reconnoiter.” New Barbie says, and gestures at Cowgirl Barbie. “You there. You’ll do the trick. Let’s go.”
Cowgirl Barbie nods and follows, fingering the decorative silver pistols hanging on her belt, half hidden beneath the fringe. They creep along through the puzzle aisle, wending their way past 100 pieces, 500 pieces, 1000 pieces, a gazillion pieces until they reach the corner. They scuttle around a bin of remaindered Rubik’s Polygons and peer into the war toy aisle.
Despite the name, it’s a peaceful place. The Joes are engaged in their daily calisthenics, running laps around an old race car track, shouting hup hup hup. The plastic knights are jousting with some dinosaurs, driving them back towards the glitter of the space laser display, where Darth Vader waits, breathing heavily.
The strange Barbie squints, eyes narrowed in appraisal. Cowgirl Barbie waits, breathless, for her assessment.
“Piece a cake,” the other Barbie says. “Well, if we go about it the right way.”
They scramble back, and Strange Barbie says “First of all, we’re gonna change some names.”
The other Barbies blink.
“No more Prom Queen Barbie, Golf Pro Barbie, Moviestar Barbie, Glamour Rock Barbie,” she declares. “You there, Prom Queen, you’re, mmm, Valkyrie Barbie. Golfer, you’re Mother Goddess Barbie. Moviestar, you’re Postmodernist Barbie. Names like that. Pick ’em and lemme know what you decide.”
The Barbies exchange glances. They don’t like the sound of this at all. The new Barbie sighs and says to the air “This isn’t going to be easy, is it?”
“What do you call yourself?” one Barbie pipes up.
The strange Barbie grins, flashing pearly whites. “Ah, call me Coyote Barbie, my friends. Listen up. From now on, we’re reborn Barbies, New Age Barbies, we’re Barbies that run with the wolves, Barbies who give no quarter and take no prisoners. I can see it’s gonna take magic, and luckily I know a thing or two about this matter.”
And so Coyote Barbie dispatches the others for supplies: colored chalk, bits of glitter and spangles, tufts of fur snatched from teddy bear ears. She concocts incense from powdered Pez and the perfume supplied with the Be Your Own Miss America kit and draws a circle on the tiled floor. The Barbies step inside, shivering.
Coyote Barbie chants and lavender smoke arises, coiling around the Barbies. Lame and Lycra harden into armor, plastic combs twist and squirm into grappling hooks and lines. And faces change. Blue eye after blue eye shifts into a million colors, skins darken or pale, rosebud lips take on new hues, until a crowd stands there unlike any Barbies anyone’s seen before. Only Coyote Barbie remains her original ragged self.
“All right, Barbies,” she shouts. “Let’s open up a can of whoopass!”
With screams and shouts of glee, they rush the war toys.
It’s a bloodless victory. The war toys don’t stand a chance against this unexpected crowd. Corralled, herded into the Be Your Own Prisonwarden Kit, they give over their weapons to the Barbies, who redistribute them. The Star Trek action figures put up resistance, but once Kirk falls prisoner to Amazon Barbie, their morale weakens and they too shuffle inside the bars.
The Barbies finger all these strange new toys, guns and knives and cannons and catapults, trebuchets and ballistae, gleaming in metallic splendor, but Coyote Barbie shakes her shaven head.
“Nuh uh,” she says. “We don’t need all that.”
Valkyrie Barbie raises an eyebrow. “Then why,” she asks, “did we bother?”
“Because we could!” Coyote Barbie shouts, and waves the banner she’s acquired along the way. “Onward to the Legos!” They swarm that aisle and build castles, skyscrapers, monuments, Barbie versions of the Taj Mahal and the Tower of London. Buildings reach to the ceiling, far above the shelves, and atop the highest one, Coyote Barbie and Astrologer Barbie work on their own project, a spaceship big enough to hold everyone, a gleaming silver Lego ship like a dream of the 1940s, a cyberpunk Barbie contraption ready to spread its mechanical wings and float away.
When the Barbies climb aboard singing, only one remains behind, waving farewell as they peer out of the portholes, faces gleaming with excitement.
“You’re not coming with us?” one shouts down to her. Coyote Barbie shakes her head far below.
“Still got some work to do down here,” she shouts. “Go conquer the universe, I’ll be wandering along soon enough! Bon voyage!” She smiles as the mall ceiling parts before the rising ship, letting it slip into the sky, and waves one last time, before turning her attention to the rest of the store.
“Still work to do,” she says to the air, surveying the Toys-R-We . “Still plenty of work to do.”More stories like this by topic: Women authors