"Hey, It's almost quitting time," Stacey nudged her friend Jackie. "You ready?"
"Sure, I've got my stuff right here. Not too many customers anyway…"
"Probably getting their kids prepared. Are you sure you're up for this?"
"Yeah - don't you chicken out on me!"
It was Halloween, and the two salesgirls had dressed up for the holiday. Instead of her usual dress, Stacey was costumed as a cowgirl; complete with ten-gallon hat, tight faded jeans, and snakeskin boots she had borrowed from her brother. Jackie had tried something more adventurous: for today she had become a showgirl, coated in clingy Lycra and sporting a feathery headdress. It suited her shapely figure well. Stacey thought that she was prettier, but it was her co-worker who already had a live-in boyfriend.
The girls had waited for this holiday to play a trick on their boss, a solemn bookkeeper type known only as 'Mr. Damon.' His first name was never spoken; he never chit-chatted, so the sales help knew very little about him. Someone had nick-names him 'The Vampire' and it had passed from clerk to clerk, probably for years now. He had an uncomfortable air about him and usually held the expression of someone smelling a dead fish.
"Shh, here he comes!" Jackie whispered. They made themselves busy while their boss carefully made his way up the aisle, pausing once to straighten one of the clothing racks. For a manager of a small boutique, he seemed to be always concerned about something; usually something the girls considered trivial. He took his job, and himself, too seriously.
After what seemed like an hour, he finally reached the counter where they were stationed. Looking up from his neat clipboard he seemed to see the girls for the first time.
"Ah, Miss Wilson; Miss Dubrowski, how is business today?" He never used their first names, either.
"Quite slow," Jackie responded, "total receipts for my register are only seven hundred forty one dollars and thirteen cents." Their boss always wanted to know the exact numbers. Down to the penny.
He thought for a moment, an activity which also seemed to cause him discomfort. "That is considerably lower than the expected sales for this period of the year."
"It's a holiday, sort of," Stacey put in, "Halloween."
The man looked up at her words, as if she had interrupted his calculations. "All-hallows Eve. That would explain your non-standard attire."
"We're going to a party later, Mr. Damon. Besides it's the spirit of the season to dress up and play trick or treat." She added. "A lot of stores are closing early tonight…"
He frowned, as if experiencing a sudden cramp. "I see. Very well; you may leave at this time now. Lock the front door as you go and do not forget to clock out. I do not pay my employees to go to parties." Without another word, he turned and retreated back into the office.
"Thanks!" Jackie said, but there was no response.
The girls changed the sign to 'Closed', secured the door, and turned out the lights. The store was quiet and empty, save for the mannequins in the floor displays and windows. Reflections from passing traffic outside sent beams of hazy light flickering through the shadows.
"Ready?" Stacey whispered. Jackie nodded, and the two picked up their bulging purses and began tiptoeing towards the back of the store. Along the way, they each picked up a garment from the racks. Stacey chose a silky pantsuit and Jackie picked a clingy mini-dress. Once in the bathrooms, they quickly changed out of their previous costumes and into the store's garments. Out of their bags came sheer pantyhose and high-heeled shoes, along with hairspray and makeup.
Quickly they made up their faces and teased out their hair so it would look different. Jackie added a long wig fall to her usually short style; Stacey merely brushed out her curls into a flip of coppery strands. Helping each other, they added extra eye makeup and false lashes, along with more blusher than either had ever used before. They were trying to look just like the display figures in the store and were successful. This was just like playing dress-up when they were kids.
Stacey pirouetted in front of the mirror. "How do I look?"
"Super - like a living Barbie Doll! I think that barrette is a superb touch…"
"You look great too, but almost too much so. It's spooky how much you look like one of those dummies."
"That's the whole point, silly." Jackie had opened the bathroom door and peered out. The shop floor was deserted, but a gleam of light from under the office door confirmed their boss was still there. "Ready? Let's go; very quietly." She turned off the overhead lights and slowly opened the door, trying to avoid making a squeak.
Together they tip-toed across the tile floor, trying to keep from making a sound. Slowly they made their way up to the display they had chosen earlier. It was right along the corridor to the front; there was no way Mr. Damon could miss walking right past them. Carefully, Stacey moved the two mannequins to the edge of the raised platform, leaving enough room for them to assume the center stage position. The display figures were not heavy, but one of the glass bases scraped the riser, setting up a chattering rumble that echoed for a few seconds after she quit pulling on it. The vibration almost masked another noise; the sound of a filing cabinet door closing and the screech of a metal chair on concrete.
"Quick," Jackie hissed, "he's coming! Get into position." Jackie stepped up onto the platform at the same instant as Stacy and the both almost pushed each other off the narrow riser in pantomime before regaining their balance. The light went out inside the office. Only a few seconds were left; hastily Jackie assumed the pose she had practiced: Feet apart, twisting slightly at the waist, hands held stiffly out to her sides with fingers spread. She composed her features into a stiff, smiling expression that mimicked the typically vacant display look. Beside her, Stacey took a similar pose, placing one hand lightly on her hip and the other as if she were starting to wave to someone. Her stance was a half-step that gave a pleasing sway to her hips and allowed her to show off her slim legs inside the slacks.
Stacey could see that they had just gotten ready in time; the office door opened and their boss was walking towards them, putting on his hat. There were only a few more seconds before both of them would jump towards him and yell 'Boo!'
Beside her, Jackie suddenly let out a muffled mumble that sounded like she was trying to say something. The second time Stacey understood her friend's cry of "I can't move!" just as she discovered her own body was also stiff as a board. Her response of "Be quiet" was equally unintelligible because she could not open her mouth to speak either. Stacey watched as Mr. Damon leisurely walked closer and closer. It seemed to take hours, but only a few seconds had elapsed.
At first it seemed as if he did not see the two motionless girls, posed in the floor display. Then he abruptly turned to face them. His features were twisted into a very unusual expression - it looked like he was smiling…
"Well, well, what have we here?" he addressed the frozen tableaux, knowing full well the two could not answer him. "Miss Dubrowski - you are looking very elegant tonight in that suit. And Miss Wilson - all set to party in one of the store's best selling dresses. While you both are lovely, why are you still here?" He mused, then answered his own question. "It wouldn't be because you were trying to scare… me?" He looked up a their blank faces, then started what sounded like a hacking cough until Jackie realized he was laughing at them. "Indeed -- that is the most amusing concept I have heard in a very long time." He wheezed again. "Of course you understand now that frightening people is my job; not yours. I admire your chutzpah, however…"
Both Stacey and Jackie were scared now; if they could have budged their knees would have been shaking. As it was, they remained standing rigidly in place while he lectured to them. Stacey began to get a very bad suspicion they had gotten in way over their heads on this prank.
"Also, your choice of - disguise - is most inspirational. You both display these wares most effectively, almost as if you were fated to do so. One might wonder if you were golems in a previous existence. Or victims of a Medusa." Damon reached over and adjusted Jackie's pose slightly, moving her arm to a more pleasing angle. She remained there as soon as he let go. "Almost perfect, Miss Wilson." He focused his attention on Stacey and moved her hand further from her hip so that there was a gap in between, then tipped her head up fractionally so she no longer gazed at the office door. "There; much better." He stepped back so they both could see him.
"Well then, you realize that an indiscretion of this magnitude cannot be simply let pass unnoticed. That is not ever permissible. However, your intentions were good, if misdirected. So, since you seem to enjoy acting as mannequins the easiest penance would be to simply let you stay in that form for a short period - say ten or twenty years…"
Stacy was terrified, but could not utter a word. Her thoughts screamed 'NO!' at her smug boss. He picked up his head and looked directly into her eyes as if he had heard her.
"You would prefer something else, Miss Dubrowski? Penance can take many forms…"
Stacey felt suddenly very warm and caught the scent of sulfur in the air. The heat continued to increase until she wanted to choke. Anywhere she turned the stifling temperature was there. Visions of flames danced in her mind. 'You win…' she thought back at him, and the heat vanished.
"Certainly, although this is something you cannot win. Perhaps, in time, you will comprehend that. You both should be grateful; my superior is not nearly as forgiving as myself." He grinned like a rictus. "Do you have anything left to say?"
This time it was Jackie's thoughts that reached his mind, 'Who is going to pose us, change our clothes?'
His answer was curt, "Anyone who wants to, Miss Wilson, maybe even that young stockboy you despise so much." He raised his arm, fingers set to snap. "Or even myself, if I do not forget who you were and throw you out someday."
He could hear their mental gasps just as he began the 'snap!'
Stacey heard the click of his fingers begin, then her body was transformed. She could actually feel herself become absolutely rigid as her skin turned to plastic resin and her eyes to glass. Her last breath was stilled as her lungs vanished and her joints metamorphosed into the peg-and-sockets couplings of a display figure. Sound turned to silence as her ears solidified. Somehow she retained vision but could only see where her eyes were gazing. Out of the corner of one eye she saw Jackie changing at the same time; her skin became very smooth and took on a glossy sheen as if painted; she knew her own figure now looked just as artificial. And just as permanent, affixed stiffly to clear glass bases.
Mr. Damon glanced briefly at the two new mannequins that had been Stacey and Jackie. "Happy Halloween, girls!" He chuckled his farewell, patting them on their frozen cheeks. Letting himself out the front door, he placed a small sign in the front window. It said 'Help Wanted, inquire within'.