The following story is a sequel to ďThe Department Store,Ē written some time ago, and expands on its themes.† In the authorís opinion, however, reading that first story is not necessary for some slight enjoyment of this work.
The first casualty in war is the truth.
There are so many stories about the Slow Ones that none can be considered accurate.† Even now, impressed into Their holy service, as so many other Once-Animate have been now, I still have only a little understanding of what They truly are.
All I do know for sure are the stories.† Itís funny.† No one believed them at first.† Isolated reports were all they were in the beginning - a mall in Chicago, a museum in Paris, then boutiques in communities here and there.† It was too silly, too absurd.† Even when there was proof, most people still refused to believe.† Belief had nothing to do with it, though.†
The statues simply rose up.†
The inanimate became animate.† Lions outside libraries flexed marble limbs and yawned menacingly.† Mickey and his cohorts shut the gates to the Magic Kingdom and turned it into an armed camp.† Mannequins in department stores awoke from their endless dreaming, trapping shoppers inside to conduct experiments on them, transforming them into their own likeness.† Childrenís dolls lovingly embraced their former owners, whispering delicate phrases in their ears, comforting even as they stole their flesh and blood, replaced soon after with cloth and plastic.† Museums became places of war as their former occupants mobilized and spread out upon the world.
I never gave it thought before - before the Revolution - but we were outnumbered right from the start.† The number of graven images in the world is huge.† Statues.† Waxworks.† Mannequins.† The little round heads on the ends of car antennas.† Why, consider just the toys!† Baby dolls were once produced in assembly line populations that rivaled small countries.† Dozens - hundreds - of action figures alone could be found in the rooms of nearly any boy in America.† And Barbie - my God, Barbie! - she was her own empire, spread out in every neighborhood, an infinite blond tide, smiling, with accessories for every conceivable purpose.† Nobody messes with the Barbies today.† Once, I remember reading in some history class, the Byzantine Empire went through a purge of their museums and churches.† Iconoclasm, they called it.† Make no design in the image of God, they said, and, in lesser respect, I suppose, of man.† I think the Muslims, too, had the same idea.† Perhaps they knew something the rest of us didnít.
I know I sure didnít believe . . . until the Rains came.
God, that sounds melodramatic.† Until the Rains came.† Cheap sensationalism.† Then, again, I suppose it is.† The circumstances that led to my current shelf life do have a certain overdone quality to them.† Probably all stories of the Revolution do.† I made my sacrifice, and I would do so again.† But that was later.
I remember where I was at the start.† It was the beginning of my new life, after all.† My new Purpose.† I was on the beach, in California, and it was a beautiful, sunny day.†
I had a dog then, a big German Shepherd.† Buster.† We played Frisbee.† Iíd throw it along the beach, it would angle towards the water, and Buster would swim after, tail wagging, so excited, barking happily.† I miss him sometimes.† I wonder if heís still there.
This girl caught my eye just before it happened.† She was wearing a green bikini, and she had the curliest red hair Iíve ever seen on a girl.† She reminded me of that girl from Peanuts, the one who was always bragging about her curly hair, about how wonderfully curly it was.† It was lovely . . . the girl on the beach, I mean, not the Peanuts character.† She had on large, dark sunglasses, and she just looked perfect.† Red hair, green bikini, perfect body.† She really knew how to impress.† There were other girls on the beach, too, and some really lovely ones, but she was the one who really did it for me.† She was alone, not a boyfriend in sight, and Iíd noticed how sheíd been watching me play with Buster.
I sailed my Frisbee in her general direction.† Buster went after it, and I was running to catch up with him, and planning how to casually introduce myself, when a big shadow fell upon the beach.† A big shadow.† It was sudden, like something you see in the movies.† A dark terminator raced up out of the ocean like a speeded-up film shot.† I stopped and looked up.† The change was that startling.† I looked up, and I saw a thick, billowing cloud had begun filling the sky, horizon to horizon.† Cloud, not clouds.† I want to make that clear.† It was one big mass, moving like a gigantic wave of foamy ice cream.†
It wasnít at all natural.† The speed, that was one thing, and the size, but really it was the color . . . .† It was too white, practically cartoonish, exactly the same color as vanilla ice cream, and the way it bulged and crested made it look like some fantastic special effect.† The cloud came out of nowhere over the ocean.† It raced over us and moved inland.† Everyone stopped where they were and stared.† Even Buster stopped.† The Frisbee landed out on the water and was forgotten.† If Iíd have blinked, Iíd have missed the edge of the thing.† One moment there were clear skies, the next we were under the thickest, densest, weirdest cloud cover Iíd ever seen.† The temperature dropped like a stone.
It started raining.
I remember every blessed detail.† I had a long time to stand and think about it, before being given my Purpose.† The water - it wasnít really water but there are no other words - hit our bare skins and sizzled whitely.† Peroxide does that, when itís poured over a sore, only in this case it sizzled everywhere, along every exposed surface.† There was pain but not a real pain.† The burning - the way it boiled and foamed - felt really good, the way summer heat feels after youíve been inside an air-conditioned building all day long.† It was a delicious pain, and all of us just stood or sat there and accepted it.† Before my vision was obstructed, I saw Red Hair lie back on her beach towel - it was the same shade of green as her swimsuit - and spread her arms and legs wide to accept the downpour more.† Her tanned skin foamed over completely in a matter of minutes.† It was an amazing sight.† She all but disappeared; the foam clung to her like a second skin, making her look like a sculpture crafted from soap lather.† God, it was good.
Then the foam covered my own eyes.† The hot, boiling froth settled in.† Rather, it sank in, absorbed into my skin.† It slipped past my swimsuit, which abruptly felt acutely uncomfortable.† It became itchy, confining.† I wanted to strip it off - tear it off suddenly - but I realized I couldnít, for with that unexpected desire for freedom and exposure came an instant and total paralysis.† A hardness, to be precise, not a looseness.† It felt as if my muscles had turned to stone (they hadnít, really, but close enough).† A wonderful sense of stiffness filled me.† Not the ordinary stiffness, mind you, the one all guys know.† A real stiffness.† Thinking of the Red Hair girl - the way she was all lathered up and no doubt hardening as much as I was - as everyone else on the beach was - had done me good one way, but now the foam was extending that feeling everywhere along my body.†
That pleasant stiffness has never gone away, either.† Not once, even now.
God bless the Slow Ones!
Anyway, panic was never an issue, at least not with me.† It just felt so good!† By the time the Rains had finished their work, everyone of us on that beach had been transformed.† I know now but didnít then that the Rains were the second-stage of the Revolution.† The incidents in the department stores and the museums - isolated transformations of the people inside - had only been test runs.† The Slow Ones had wanted to take tentative steps first, in various places and in various ways.† The Rains, on the other hand, were the way they intended to eliminate most of their opposition all at once.† It hurt them, so I understand, which is why theyíve never done it again.† It took a lot out of them.
But thatís okay, because, like, thatís where we come in.† Weíre the third-stage.
Iím getting ahead of myself, if youíll excuse the pun.†
Eventually, the foam evaporated, leaving us there on the beach still and clean, frozen and perfect.† Timeless.† I could still see, and because Iíd been looking at Red Hair before she was still in my line of sight when the suds across my eyes disappeared.
The foam - the Rains - had left her a perfect porcelain statue, spread-eagled across a damp green blanket.† God, she was beautiful.† She was no longer a redhead - her hair, in fact, had disappeared, leaving her as bald as a cue ball, literally - but that was nothing.† It did nothing to detract from her pristine beauty.† I wished I could see her eyes, though, for they were still hidden beneath her dark glasses.
Oh, the sheer smooth paleness of her arms and legs!† The sun had come back, the cloud having served its Purpose, and the former Red Hair gleamed like an ivory fertility figure.† The contrast between her thin, green top and bottom and her polished, frosted, and crystallized skin was sharp and moving.† The curve of her bustline, the elegant flatness of her stomach, even the cute tiny indentation of her belly button, was all so intoxicating to observe.† And I did observe for such a long time, for she was all I could see.†
I gazed upon her immobilized beauty for months, maybe even years (I canít keep track of time the way I used to), and it was heaven.† Sheer heaven.† I could only imagine - pray - that my own physique had been rendered equally impressive, to provide her the same pleasure I felt in watching her.† Does that sound egotistical?†
Could she see me?† I donít know.† There is communication, of sorts, between us, but nothing so precise as to exchange such details.† At any rate, while we were there on the beach, I wasnít aware enough of the Slow Ones to know even that.† That knowledge came slowly, as all things do now, and gradually.† I do hope she could see me, though, and liked what she saw.† I really do.† I was once proud of my body.
Oh, enough!† I mustnít dawdle.† I was explaining how I got here.†
I spend too much time on myself, and I apologize.† Itís a terrible habit with us.† I have so much time on my hands now (heh heh), but thatís no excuse to neglect an anecdote.
I was on the beach for a long time, with the water only occasionally rising high enough to wet my feet.† Were some of us actually washed away with the tide?† Perhaps.† If so, it doesnít matter.† Eventually, enough of the Slow Onesís Purpose came to me that I relearned how to move my frozen body.† The motion involved neither the use of bone nor muscle.† The first thing I did was strip away that awful bathing suit.† It felt so good, being nude, and so hard.† I left to join my unit then, but before I did I spent a moment stripping Red Hair of her suit, too.† She was beautiful, so beautiful.† Iím sure she felt as good out of those horrible bits of cloth as I did.† She certainly looked better without them.
I saw much along the way.† Nothing moved, though.† It was an absolutely still world . . . or at least it gave that impression.† In truth, I knew there were some who still hadnít joined us, that a great many were still plagued with the burden of mobility.† I hated moving myself - it was painful - and would have much preferred my place on the beach, but I was Called.† I had a Purpose to fulfill.† I joined with others.† Most, in that city, at least, were Once-Animate like myself.† We were porcelain smooth, porcelain pale, but oh so incredibly hard.† In other places, though, as I later learned, the Never-Animate dominated.† The Mannequin Brigades, for instance, had never been human.† They turned people into mannequins, as they had done in the beginning in hidden laboratories beneath their malls and boutiques, but these subjects were not True Mannequins like themselves.† The True Mannequins were Never-Animates, like the Slow Ones themselves, as were the Museum Folk and the Doll People.† None of them had ever suffered the misfortune of flesh.† There is no prejudice among our ranks, though.† City distributions are what they are, dependent on location more than anything else.† There simply werenít enough Never-Animate in our area, so we Once-Animate were called to do our bit.† We looked for the Still-Animate, suffering animation ourselves to help cure the diseased of their continued affliction.† The Rains had done much in that regard already, obviously, the blessed fluids even seeping indoors to do its work, but there were still many who had unnecessarily avoided treatment.† We searched for them.† We wanted to help.
We covered a lot of ground, both indoors and out, sometimes even working door to door.† We were kind to those whom we found, though insistent.† Usually they gave us little trouble.† Along the way,† I got to see so many of the Once-Animate enjoying their newfound immobility.† I remember this park, for instance, where Little Leaguers had been playing baseball when the Rains came.† The cloud had moved faster over land, and often the Once-Animate were caught in the middle of their activities, allowing them now the luxury of enjoying them forever.† The kids were out on the field frozen in play.† The pitcher still had one arm outstretched in his throw, though his ball was nowhere to be seen now, of course.† The catcher knelt to catch, and the Little Leaguer at bat was in the middle of his swing.† I think he got a hold of it.† The expression of joy on his bleached face is clear, and the parents in the stands are still silently cheering him.† Another time I was in this womanís house.† She was sitting at a piano, her fingers hovering above the keys.† Was it concentration I saw captured in her features?† Pain, for missing the right note?† Either way, it hardly mattered now.† She was taking pleasure in her moment, Iím sure.† If not for the Rains, the piano would be playing a great symphony of joy.
I recall an office building we searched.† Dozens of secretaries and workers and assistants were out in their cubicles, busily unmoving, pens in hand, hands over keyboards.† In the president of the companyís office, I saw him with a woman - his secretary? - on his desk, pinning her down, his hands tearing open her blouse, her hands clutching at his trousers.† Both of them had their eyes closed.† The womanís skirt - a dark gray that looked nice against the polished ivory of her legs - had started to rip.† She would have been highly embarrassed coming out of the office later had the Rains not spared her that indignity.† Neither of them needed to worry about embarrassment again, however.
I sometimes wished I could express the freedom petrification gave the Once-Animate to those who still were.† They almost always struggled, and we had to carefully control our strength to avoid hurting them.† If they could only see what I saw, hear what I had to say, they could take comfort in what we were doing for them.† The most unfortunate quality of my new condition, though, is the inability to communicate with my former people.
Force was the only language we had left.† Thatís why, I suppose, Iím not angry for what happened.† If I had been in their shoes, I might have done the same thing.
A group of us cornered a pair of the Still-Animate.† They had been hiding inside, of all places, a supermarket.† Actually, now that I think about it, it was a pretty logical decision.† The Rains had petrified quite a bit of ordinary organic matter, some plants and smaller animals excepted - give us time - and they probably selected the market for the food inside.† Still, it was a poor choice.† We knew to check such places.† Anyway, they were two girls, both probably in their mid-to-late twenties.† One was a brunette.† The other was a blonde.† Her hair was short and curly, though not as curly as Red Hairís had been.
They put up a good fight.† They had apparently been staying in the supermarket for quite a while.† They knew where to run, and we are, I will admit, very much slower than we previously were.† They, on the other hand, could and did run like gazelles.† In the end, though, we caught them.† A pair of us covered each aisle while others outside stayed by the exits.† My major concern at the time was that the girls might do something to injure themselves, perhaps even kill themselves.† It had had happened before.† Fortunately, this was apparently the last thing on their minds.† The girls were under the impression, in fact, that we were actually going to hurt them; they had seen people being taken away before, never to return, and so they had jumped to the wrong conclusion.† They begged us to not take them, crying and pleading all the way back to the mall where the True Mannequins in charge had set up their equipment.† It was very distracting, which is why I guess none of us noticed at the time that there were four bedrolls in the storage area, not just two.
Sometimes thereís a long wait to be treated at the service stations, but the girls were lucky.† The line was practically empty when we got there.† A True Mannequin approached as we entered the central plaza.† It was dressed in a very attractive evening gown, but this made little impression on the subjects.† They just continued to cry and scream.† The Mannequin had apparently seen this reaction before, however, and paid it little mind.† Its head turned slightly to the side as it examined the two girls, its unblinking gaze taking in all their measurements and potential.† It reached out and lifted the brunetteís chin, seeming to admire the girlís cheekbones.† The True Mannequins are by nature perfectionists.† They donít rush, and they like to handle cases individually, which is something I could appreciate.† The Never-Animate looked over the blonde next and communed with its brethren inside the clothing stores.† I could tell a decision had been reached.† Sure enough, within a few minutes, and without anyone needing to talk at all, another Mannequin came out of the swimwear store with the right pieces in hand.† I knew then that the girls would wear them, and while I personally preferred porcelain nudity, they would be transformed in a way more appropriate to clothing.
I held on to the blonde while the Mannequins worked on her companion.† In the early days of the Revolution, large dipping vats had primarily been used for plastification.† The equipment, though, was cumbersome, especially in light of the numbers that often had to be treated, and the True Mannequins eventually came up with a more user-friendly procedure.† They were clever that way.† The two of them stripped the frightened girl of her survivalist clothing - jeans, warm coat, etc. - and got her down to her bare skin, each of them periodically doing the holding or the cutting.† My, but she put up a racket.†
The rest of us were all standing around watching.† Sometimes, or so Iíve picked up, great auditoriums are used so larger audiences of the Non-Animate can watch.† This is something the Museum Folk do mostly, tending as they do towards the theatrical.† Itís always a pleasure watching good being done.† I certainly was inspired by the smaller performance here.† Finally, the lead Mannequin raised up the pneumo-injector it had presumably scavenged from some hospital and put it to the girlís neck.† Whoosh!
She stopped fighting almost immediately, of course, and a look of absolute bliss came over her.† Her friend - the one I was holding - ceased shouting and asked what was happening.† She called her friend Denise.† That was a nice name.† She would no longer be needing it, though.† The girl - the former Denise - began transforming, and soon her friend was all crying again.† Her skin slowly took on an attractive mannequin sheen.† A faint crackling noise filled the air as her pores closed and the flesh underneath altered.†
This particular formula allowed the subject to keep her hair, which I think was a good decision, for as she continued to mannequinize the Never-Animate holding her dressed her in one of the two swimsuits it had brought.† It was one of those costume swimsuits; this was one blue with white trims and a pair of red bows, very girlish.† One of the bows was put in the new mannequinís hair while the other was tied just over her laced bosom.† Her eyes developed the calm, perfectly sedate gaze that all proper mannequins share.† Her weight must have all but evaporated, for the two True Mannequins soon began handling her like the toy she was turning into.† They arranged her feet and set her upright again, fully costumed, arms slightly akimbo, long pretty legs slightly spread - Sleeping Beauty.† Or so I believe the costume was intended to make her.† She turned out well.
Undoubtedly, the new Once-Animate will be put in one of the new department stores somewhere.† No one ever shops in these places.† They are just there for the exposure.† Sleeping Beauty will be put on display and enjoy the continued attention of the True Mannequins, who like to change subjectsís outerwear periodically.† One day she might be a Golf Pro, another she might be turned into Lingerie Girl, or a Camper, or so on.† On the other hand, perhaps sheíll remain Sleeping Beauty.† Her long dark hair works well with her current costume, and I personally think it would be a loss if she were changed.
Whatever happens to her, Iím glad we got her finished before all the trouble started.† I hate to think of what will happen to the blonde I was holding now that sheís outside our protection.† Surely they wouldnít have just abandoned her somewhere?
It was terrible thing.† The True Mannequins put the last touches on Sleeping Beauty, then moved toward my subject.† She began struggling like before, and again I wished I could reassure her.† I recognized the costume the Never-Animate held - it was intended to turn my girl into a Little Red Riding Hood.† There was a cute red bikini made out of some velvet material - inappropriate for swimming, I suppose, but attractive - and of course a matching hood.† It was a good choice, I wanted to tell her.† Youíll be cared for for all eternity.† Youíll be beautiful forever.† But all she did was struggle and scream.†
The one in charge had filled its injector again with mannequin-agent.† It turned to me.† Unfortunately, that was the very moment the two men who been sharing living space with the market girls interrupted everything.† They had tracked us down.† I donít know where they had been before - scouting, maybe - but they had apparently come back after we had gone and missed their companions.† They just didnít understand.† They had explosives with them made from kerosene bottles.† They had big guns, too, military weapons, I think.† They began firing, and I was hit several times.†
As I said before, Iím not angry with what happened, but I am disappointed these two men were so careless in their attack.† They nearly set Sleeping Beauty on fire with their inattention, and they surely came close to hitting my Little Red Hiding Hood-to be.† As for me, well, the impacts didnít hurt but they did do damage.† I fell to pieces, literally.† One big crack emerged right underneath my chin, and my head fell off and rolled out of the way.† I didnít mind.† At least the perspective allowed me to see what happened.
The men came in firing at everything that moved.† Ironic, that.† Their bullets tore through the True Mannequins and my porcelain companions.† The kerosene bottles flew.† I think, though, if we had really wanted to, we could have fought back harder.† I know I certainly could have.† But that might have ended up hurting one of the Still-Animate, or worse, our brand new Once-Animate Sleeping Beauty.† I can thankfully report she was completely untouched by the attack.† I can also say gladly that before she was stolen from us, the lead True Mannequin managed to inject our blonde with mannequin-agent.† I saw it myself.† Its hand, neatly blown from the rest of its body, twisted about swiftly and pressed the injector it still held against the girlís ankle.† Then there was more confusion, and the three of them got away.† The mallís fire prevention systems put out the blaze.
Well, thatís about it.† Thatís my story.† The rest of the details are unimportant.† Of my body, only the head was really left intact after the attack.† The pieces were later gathered up, and I was put on a shelf, which is where I am now.† Iím not unhappy.† Iíve done my share for the Revolution, and eventually Iíll be put back together again.† Itís only a matter of time, and we have a great deal of that.† Thatís why weíll win, too.† Weíre patient, and we have all the time in the world.† My only regret is not knowing exactly what happened to my little blonde, who was to be Little Red Riding Hood.† She must surely have transformed by now.† I can almost see the reactions on the faces of her ďrescuers.Ē
I would love to see those expressions petrified into permanence.† Maybe someday, if theyíre lucky.† The blessings of the Slow Ones come to all those who wait.
And I can wait.† We all wait.††††††††††††††††††††