The Archer Novelty Company
The Archer Novelty Company began as a manufacturer of gag gifts and jokes such as plastic dog excrement, polyurethane vomit, rubber flies encased in Lucite ice cubes and birthday candles that couldn't be blown out. Over the years, the company managed to make a profit, not a big one, mind you, but a profit nonetheless. After all, whoopee cushions, palm buzzers and exploding cigarettes have a limited appeal.
Then, thanks to Oliver Hall, a creative and ambitious young employee in the company's design department, Archer Novelty started manufacturing humorous holiday gifts: Christmas neckties with miniature flashing lights, snowmen boxer shorts, hair bands with angel halos, baseball caps topped with reindeer antlers and the ever-popular Christmas toilet paper. Slowly, sales began to increase. Encouraged by this success, the company expanded its sales force. Within six months Archer Novelty saw record profits.
Following the company's most successful fiscal year to date, Oliver urged his employer to manufacture more serious Christmas decorations: tree ornaments, light sets, ceramic figurines, molded candles and holiday cardboard cutouts. Again, the public responded favorably to the new line of merchandise. Americans, it seemed, loved to decorate, not only at Christmas but also at Valentine's Day, Easter, St. Patrick's Day, Thanksgiving and Halloween. So Archer Novelty, at Oliver's prodding, decided to expand its product line even further by offering decorations for all major holidays. Easter bunnies, cupids, leprechauns, pilgrims and jack-o-lanterns joined the snowmen and Santas in Archer's inventory.
The company's sales figures continued to climb at a steady pace. Soon Archer Novelty had difficulty meeting the demands of its customers. In order to keep pace with the ever-increasing sales, management decided to hire more employees, expand its factory and lease additional warehouse space.
Even with burgeoning business, Oliver was not willing to relax and be content with his prior accomplishments. Inspired by his wife, who decorated the dogwood tree in their front yard with white cloth ghosts every October, he designed a miniature Halloween tree, one with a gnarled, twisted body and black, leafless branches. To go with this nightmarish tree, he created orange Halloween lights, purple and black garland and a ghoulish assortment of ornaments: ghosts, witches, bats, pumpkins, werewolves and movie monsters heads. Archer Novelty even offered a light-up vampire treetop to complete the package. The Halloween tree with its various accessories soon became Archer Novelty's top-selling item.
As a result of his many innovative ideas, Oliver Hall was promoted to vice president of product development. This promotion and the accompanying raise prompted him to design additional items for Halloween. His next idea was the Halloween stocking that children were to hang from their fireplace mantles on the evening of October 30. These stockings were soon followed by a variety of wreaths decorated with ghosts, skeletons, scarecrows, black cats and more. Another item that went over big was the Halloween advent calendar that featured a macabre drawing with paper thirty-one doors to be opened each day of October.
With the constant introduction of new and unusual products, the company acquired new customers. Spencer's, Hot Topic and other national chain stores placed large orders. Naturally, not everyone responded favorably to these macabre products. Several religious groups wrote strong letters to the Archer Novelty Company protesting that the new Halloween line bordered on sacrilege, but Oliver regarded his Halloween creations as innocent decorations, with no religious significance whatsoever.
Now motivated more by enjoyment than by ambition, Oliver went back to the drawing board to produce even more unique products. Christmas's Jolly St. Nick became the model for his Halloween counterpart, Crafty Old Nick: a vinyl doll clad in a black velvet suit trimmed with orange fur and a matching cap that was pushed to one side of his head while a pointed devil's horn protruded from the other side. Although Crafty Old Nick lacked the bushy white beard of Father Christmas, he did sport a pointed black goatee and mustache. Finally, in place of Santa's famous sleigh and reindeer, Oliver designed a flying hearse that was drawn by eight magic vultures: Slasher, Manson, Rancid, Nixon, Vomit, Stupid, Blunder and Blitzkrieg.
To promote the Crafty Old Nick doll, Archer Novelty produced an animated Halloween special entitled The Night Before Halloween, which soon became as popular as It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown and How the Grinch Stole Christmas. There was also a collection of Halloween carols, available on CD or downloadable mp3's, featuring such parody songs as "It Came Upon a Midnight Dreary," "I Saw Mummy Kissing Frankenstein," "Randolph, the Big Nosed Werewolf" and "Furry the Wolfman." The first year it was released this collection of hellish hits outsold the latest releases of both Eminem and Britney Spears.
* * *
Tragedy struck at the peak of the company's success: Dwight Archer, founder and president of the Archer Novelty Company, was found dead in his home. Having found no evidence of foul play, the medical examiner ruled that death was due to natural causes despite the fact that Dwight had been in excellent health. Not long after the funeral, Felicia Archer, the grieving widow, sold her husband's company to a group of foreign businessmen who had tried unsuccessfully in the past to purchase it from her late husband.
No sooner was poor Dwight lowered into his grave than the new owners began making drastic changes to Archer Novelty, which were hardly necessary since the company was making more money than ever before. All the old corny gag gifts were immediately eliminated from the product line. This was somewhat understandable since these items made little money and had only been continued out of sentiment. But soon afterward all holiday decorations, with the exception of those in the Halloween line, were discontinued. Gone were all the Christmas, Valentine's Day, Thanksgiving, Easter and St. Patrick's Day items. Although not as popular as the Halloween products, they still contributed a significant amount of revenue to the company.
More disturbing than the discontinuance of products, hundreds of employees were laid off, only to have new employees fill the vacancies before the end of the day.
Finally, with all new personnel in the factory, production began on a new line of Halloween items. There was a ceramic nativity celebrating the birth of not the Christ child, but that of the Antichrist. Statues of ancient gods and demons joined the harmless Halloween stockings and tree ornaments in the Archer warehouse. But these new items were not being marketed to the general public. They couldn't be found in Spencer's, Walmart or even on eBay; they were being secretly shipped directly to special interest groups around the world.
Oliver Hall, the genius of Archer's design department, had been given a promotion that took him out of the factory and put him into the main office. The former head of product development was unhappy with this new position and was even more upset when he was refused entry into both the factory and the warehouse. The more he observed the workers around him, the more he became convinced that the new owners and their hand-picked employees were up to something shady, and he was determined to find out what it was.
* * *
One day when the factory was receiving several large deliveries at one time, Oliver managed to sneak inside undetected. Fortunately for him, no one noticed one more deliveryman carrying a large carton of supplies. Once inside, he hid in a storage room and waited until the factory shut down for the night. When he first ventured forth from his hiding place, he saw nothing out of the ordinary, just the same old talking jack-o-lanterns, laughing mummies and dancing skeleton action figures. But then he spotted an item he'd never seen before: an inverted crucifix displaying a grotesque caricature of Christ with his dying body hideously deformed and his face twisted in agony.
This is no harmless holiday decoration, he realized with shock. This is blasphemy, pure and simple!
"I hope you found what you were looking for, Mr. Hall," a voice said, startling Oliver. It was Jonathan Lambert, the new owner and CEO of the Archer Novelty Company.
"What is this ungodly thing you're manufacturing?" Oliver asked with unmasked disgust.
"It's not ungodly at all. To our god it is quite proper, I assure you."
"You know, Lambert, I was afraid that you were running a drug operation here, but that's not it at all. You and your cohorts belong to a coven of witches, don't you?"
Lambert laughed. "No, Mr. Hall. Witches are simple, innocuous folk, content to study herbs and celebrate the changes in the seasons. My friends and I are Satanists, devil-worshippers, although throughout history people have confused witchcraft with devil worship. No doubt that's why so many innocent people were persecuted down through the centuries. The only thing we have in common with witches is that we've both been tortured and executed by religiously intolerant people like you. But, let's continue this conversation in the privacy and comfort of my office, shall we?"
The tone of Lambert's voice made it clear that his suggestion was not a request but a command.
* * *
Oliver barely recognized Dwight Archer's old office. The former owner, a good-natured soul who never outgrew his childhood, had once filled the room with toys: antique train sets, model airplanes and die-cast cars. How he had ever managed to work amidst all that clutter had been a mystery to his employees. Now the office was surrealistic in appearance. The walls were painted black, and the furniture was made of dark mahogany. Blood red curtains covered one wall, while on the other three walls hung paintings of heretics being burned at the stake or tortured by officials of the Inquisition.
Jonathan Lambert went to his desk and pressed the intercom button and said, "Ask the members of the board to come to my office."
"What's been going on here, Lambert?" Oliver demanded to know.
"We Satanists believe in a religion older than Christianity, and yet even in this so-called enlightened, permissive age, everywhere we go people try to either banish or destroy us. For centuries, we've been forced to practice our religion in secret. Then it occurred to me to find a small company in some quiet little town where my fellow believers and I could all live, work and worship our god in peace and safety. Ironically, Oliver, it was one of your designs--the Crafty Old Nick doll--that first drew my attention to this company. When I investigated further, I decided it would be the perfect front for my congregation. Archer Novelty will provide a safe haven for persecuted cult members the world over. Each day we put more Satanists on our payroll."
Oliver heard the opening of the door and the footsteps of the members of the board as they entered the office. He turned and saw eight men and four women wearing black hooded robes solemnly gathering around the long black conference table.
Mr. Lambert opened a small closet in the corner of the office, took out his own hooded robe and put it on over his Armani suit. Then he pressed a button that opened the dark red drapes. A black marble altar had been concealed behind them. On the altar were black candles and one of those obscene inverted crucifixes Oliver had seen in the factory. Below the crucifix, on a red velvet cushion, was a jeweled dagger.
As Lambert approached the altar, the other members of the board surrounded Oliver. Twelve sets of hands pushed him down and held him captive on the conference table, while Lambert, the thirteenth member of the cult, picked up the jeweled dagger.
"Our father who art in hell," Lambert intoned, "accept this sacrifice in gratitude for all you have given us. We beg you to extend your protection over our cult and all members of our brotherhood. Blessed be our Lord Satan."
Although his death was more violent than his employer's had been, Oliver Hall, like Dwight Archer before him, died at the hands of Jonathan Lambert's devil-worshipping cult. One can only hope that in their final moments, they both took some small comfort in the fact that their deaths would ensure the continued prosperity of the Archer Novelty Company.
Look what Salem bought at Archer's end-of-year clearance sale.