Kids in the Hall

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December 21, 2019 by The Citron Review

by Will McMillan


On its feet after the first half of the meeting, the congregation in question had only just cracked open their songbooks when the Smurf doll, resting in the lap of a child, sprang to life and began tearing through aisles, cursing and screaming and insulting Jehovah. It took three Elders to capture the toy—possessed by a demon and a knack for harsh language—and force it out of the Kingdom Hall. An impromptu exorcism, performed right there in the hall’s parking lot, expelled the demon and allowed the doll to be disposed of with safety.

The story was a virus, mutating in detail as it spread: the Smurf took a bite out of the child it sat next to. Then it didn’t just take swipes at Jehovah, but individual members of the congregation as well. Later, it emerged that it ran onto the stage were the Elder was speaking, screamed at a pair of elderly widows, then fled out the doors. The only constant trope was that the doll came to life, and because the doll was a Smurf, they were clearly the preferred vehicle for demonic possession.

By the time the story infected my congregation, every sort of doll became suspect. What began with a Smurf might infect a Barbie, then contaminate a He-Man or Voltron.

“I don’t like the eyes,” said my mother, holding my Optimus Prime in her hands. She held his body away from her own, as if Optimus might transform in a moment, charge up her neck, and tangle his wheels within the curls of her hair.

“But… he’s a good guy…” I said.

“And what about Smurfs?” she replied. “Aren’t they supposed to be good guys?”

Garbage bags were produced, and every toy with limbs and a face found a new home inside of a trashcan. The threat of possession swept through our Hall like a wave, leaving only empty toy boxes. Barbie’s dream car would rust, sitting idle. X-Wing fighters lay prone, dead without pilots, and arms would fold around pillows at nighttime, taking the space where teddy bears used to be.

“Trust in Jehovah with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding.”

As children, we were hit with this scripture every time we suggested a solution other than death to our playthings.

Bible in hand, an Elder was giving a talk from the stage. A man named Ba’laam had been riding his donkey when it began speaking, warning Ba’laam of trouble ahead. Furious, Ba’laam began beating his donkey until an angel appeared, forcing Ba’laam to stop. The donkey was talking because it was trying to save him. The congregation murmured its approval, pleased a creature without the natural ability to speak had found a voice.

Absorbing this story in silence, I scribbled the face of a Transformer I once owned in the back of my songbook. In line with the scriptures, I attempted to abandon my own understanding.


Will McMillan was born and raised just outside of Portland, Oregon. His work has been featured in The Sun, Sweet, Hobart, and Memoir literary journals, among others. He’s also appeared on The Sun audio podcast as well as This American Life. A die-hard Pacific Northwesterner, he prefers the outdoors to the indoors, wears shorts in the winter, and thinks umbrellas are for suckers. 


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IMAGE CREDIT: Jill Katherine Chmelko. Protest Road, Winter. 2019.

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