A Cautionary Tale
Neither Amy Hamilton nor Christine Baker had any special reason to be in town that day. Amy had called round at Christine's as usual on a Saturday morning. A quick tour of the village was all it took to establish that all their friends were either out or busy. As they stood near the bus stop in the main street debating what to do next a bus rolled up and the driver called out to them:
"Are you coming, girls, or are you just going to carry on blocking the road?"
Amy looked at Christine, who shrugged.
"Why not?" she said, and they both boarded the bus.
So it was that, half an hour or so later, the two friends found themselves standing outside the window of one of the nearby town's more exclusive boutiques, admiring the clothes being modelled by the display mannequins - clothes which neither of the girls could possibly afford.
"You know," said Amy, looking wistfully at a mannequin which was wearing a particularly attractive satin blouse and black velvet trouser suit, "I've always thought the dummies in this shop look much more real than any others. I mean, look at that one - you'd almost swear she was alive."
Christine laughed derisively. "She?" she cried. "What are you talking about? Anyone can see they're just dummies! Look, they're all shiny and plastic!"
Amy blushed, as she was apt to do whenever she became even remotely embarrassed. She was a shy, sensitive girl who was prone to occasional flights of fancy which even her close friends found absurd.
"Well I think they look real," she muttered. "Why are there no prices on anything? I want to know how much that blouse is."
"Well let's go in and have a look," said Christine. "It's cold out here."
Amy grimaced. "I bet it's far too much. I can never afford to buy anything in here!"
Nevertheless, she led the way in through the door. At first glance the shop was empty and a sales assistant approached them immediately. She was blonde and dressed in a mini-skirt and a designer-label sweater.
"Can I help you, girls?" she said.
"Er, no thanks," replied Amy. "We just want to look."
"OK," said the girl. "But if you need any help, just shout."
"I bet that sweater didn't cost her anything!" whispered Christine enviously, after the girl had walked away.
Amy nodded. Suddenly, she tugged at Christine's sleeve and pointed towards the back of the store.
"Isn't that Maxine Summers?" she said.
Christine squinted in the direction she was pointing.
"Yeah," she said. "I think it is. She's on her own, too."
Now that was unusual! Maxine was the captain of the senior girls' netball team and she was at once one of the most popular and the most envied girls in the school. She was two years older than Christine and Amy, but the younger girls were friends of Maxine's sister which meant that they were at least on nodding terms with Maxine herself.
"P'raps Louise is with her," suggested Amy. Louise was Maxine's sister.
"I doubt it," said Christine. "But there's no harm in asking."
The two friends made their way across the store towards her.
Maxine was flicking through a rack of dresses and had her back to the two girls as they approached. Amy nudged Christine, who glared at her before clearing her throat and speaking:
"Er, hi, Maxine. Is Louise with you?"
Maxine straightened up and glanced round to see who had spoken. She was a tall athletic girl with a mane of golden blonde hair, blue eyes and perfect features. She was the envy of many of the younger girls, including Amy and Christine, and she knew it.
"Oh hello, you two," she said distantly. "Louise? She came into town with me, but she's not here at the moment." She looked at her watch. "Tell you what, though. She said she'd meet me here at half past, if you want to hang around. Er look, I want to go and try this dress on, so...."
"Yeah, sure," Christine replied awkwardly. "Er, we'll wait here for Louise."
Maxine walked towards the changing rooms, clutching a short black strapless party dress which she had pulled from the rack. The two younger girls watched her go and Amy sighed.
"Just look at her figure," she said, enviously.
"Yeah," Christine agreed, looking down at herself. She was in fact not unattractive herself, but she was barely five feet tall, whilst Amy was a couple of inches shorter. Maxine, in contrast, was at least five feet nine with an alluring figure that neither of them could hope to emulate, no matter how much they tried.
The two friends saw Maxine talking to a sales assistant before being ushered into a vacant changing cubicle. The assistant seemed to be checking that she was alright before drawing the curtain. She then stood outside the cubicle for a few seconds before walking away. Christine and Amy waited patiently, occasionally glancing over at the changing rooms, and were a little surprised when Maxine did not reappear after five minutes or so.
"Hi!" said a bright voice behind them. Amy and Christine turned round to see their friend and Maxine's sister, Louise Summers, smiling at them. She was carrying a couple of shopping bags, which she put down with a grateful sigh. She was more down to earth than Maxine, but she had the same bright blue eyes and perfect skin and the makings of a good figure. In two years time she would be the envy of the junior girls, just as her sister was now.
"What are you two doing here?" she asked.
"Waiting for you," replied Amy. "Maxine said you were coming."
"Oh, right," said Louise. "Where is she?"
"We were just beginning to wonder. She went into one of the changing rooms over there to try on a dress about five minutes ago, but she hasn't come out yet."
They waited for a couple of minutes more, but still Maxine did not reappear. Louise picked up her bags and the three girls sauntered over to the changing rooms.
"Which one was it?"
"Er, this one, I think," said Christine, pointing to the nearest cubicle.
"Maxine!" called Louise softly.
There was no answer.
The three girls looked at each other.
"She probably doesn't like us hanging around out here," suggested Amy.
"Nah, she'd just yell at us," objected Christine. "Anyway, it doesn't normally take ten minutes to try on a dress!"
"Are you sure this is the right cubicle?" asked Louise.
"Positive. Anyway, it doesn't matter which it is. She hasn't come out of any of them."
"Maxine?" Louise called again, a look of puzzlement on her face. She flicked the curtain, peeked inside and gave a little squeal of fright, as if she had been stung.
"What's the matter?" cried the other two girls in unison.
"She's just standing there, looking at herself in the mirror," said Louise, who looked visibly shaken. "But something's wrong. She doesn't look real!"
Christine looked strangely at her. Then, on impulse, she tugged at the curtain, which flew open. The two girls gasped. Amy peered in behind them and let out a squeak. Maxine was not in the cubicle. At least....
What was in the cubicle was a mannequin - a shiny plastic dummy, like the ones in the window and dotted here and there throughout the store. It was wearing the dress that Maxine had taken in to try on, it had long, golden blonde hair and big blue eyes, and, most disturbingly of all, it had Maxine's face! It was facing the mirror, as if looking at itself in a grotesque parody of the girl it so closely resembled.
"My God!" cried Christine. "Where's Maxine? And what's this doing in here?"
Louise reached forward doubtfully and touched the dummy's hand.
"It's all cold and hard!" she cried fearfully.
Christine took her gently by the arm. "Of course it is!" she whispered furiously. "It's a dummy! It's nothing to do with Maxine - it can't be!"
"But it looks just like her!" objected Louise.
"P'raps she's been doing some modelling on the side," suggested Amy.
Christine and Louise looked at her angrily.
"What?" Christine cried derisively. "And this is a model of her which someone's put in here to confuse us, is it?"
Louise began to cry. Embarrassed, Amy blushed and turned away. Christine scowled and punched her in the arm. "Just shut up, will you?" she hissed fiercely.
Just at that moment someone else came up behind them and spoke:
"What seems to be the problem, girls?"
Christine, Amy and Louise stared at each other, open mouthed, then with one accord they whirled round to find themselves face-to-face with the sales assistant who had shown Maxine into the changing room. She was tall and slim, and her black hair was tied in a long French braid.
"Er, nothing thanks," muttered Christine, but she was interrupted by Louise who sniffled and said in a panicky voice:
"My sister's disappeared! She went in here to change, but she never came out, and all that's here now is this window dummy!"
The sales assistant reacted rather oddly. She looked at Louise, then at the mysterious still figure in the changing cubicle, and she smiled, not at all pleasantly.
"How strange," she said blandly. "But this is clearly one of our mannequins. I don't see how it can have anything to do with your sister."
"It's her!" insisted Louise. "I know it is! What have you done to her?"
The sales girl just stared at her. Her smile had vanished.
"Don't be silly!" she replied. "It's just a mannequin. It must be coincidence that it looks like your sister!"
"OK, but what's happened to Maxine?" Christine broke in. "We saw her go in here, but she never came out!"
The sales girl's expression changed ever so slightly. She gazed at Christine as if weighing her up before replying.
"Did you now," she said quietly. "Well that's unfortunate."
"What do you mean? What's going on?" gasped Amy, edging away from this strange girl. She was frightened, but had not yet sensed the real danger.
The sales girl ignored her. She stood facing Christine, who visibly cowered before her gaze, and when she spoke her voice was coaxing, yet with an unmistakable undertone of menace.
"That's very unfortunate," she repeated. "But are you sure that your friend didn't come out while you weren't looking?"
"Yes. I mean, I don't know! I-I don't think so," stammered Christine uncertainly. She felt the hairs on the back of her neck prickle with fright. Something monstrous had happened to Maxine and it was obvious to her that this girl was somehow responsible for it. Fear welled up within her, yet she was transfixed and unable to tear her gaze away from the girl's jet black eyes
"It's a pity you're so small," the girl murmured, so quietly that Louise and Amy could barely hear her voice. "We don't really need anybody your size. But we can't let you tell anybody what you've seen, just in case they believe you. Now, don't worry. I'm not going to hurt you, and you'll thank me in the long run, I'm sure you will. After all, you'll still look the same and you won't feel anything once it's done! No, don't try and move! Just look at me!"
The last instruction was hardly necessary. Christine was being mesmerised by the tall girl's stare. Instinctively she stepped back, but found herself pressing against the wall. There was no escape! The sales girl's eyes glowed red before changing into two enormous black holes which threatened to suck the frightened teenager's very soul from her body! Christine tried to scream, but her mouth would not open properly and nothing came out! She could neither move nor feel any physical sensations. She seemed to be floating on a tide of blackness. Then the darkness engulfed her and she knew nothing more....
Amy and Louise were struck rigid with horror. They did not understand what was happening, but they could both see that Christine was frightened out of her wits; yet she continued to gaze up at the strange girl's face as if hypnotised. Amy clearly saw the fear in her friend's eyes as she shrank back against the wall and saw her lips move, as if she was struggling to cry out, but no sound emerged!
Suddenly, Christine lurched forward, away from the wall. She grabbed wildly at the sales girl, as if to stop herself falling, but as she did so her arms grew stiff and stopped halfway out in the air. Her face briefly registered a mixture of surprise and alarm, before it relaxed and froze into a blank stare, while her skin took on a plasticlike shine!
Louise came to with a jolt. No longer spellbound, she turned with a cry and almost fell over herself in her scramble to get away, leaving her shopping behind in her panic.
The sales girl lunged at her in a desperate attempt to catch her, but Louise evaded her clutches and kept running until she was safely out in the street. Scowling with frustration, the girl turned back to Amy, who stood rooted to the spot in shock and horror, unable to believe what had just happened to her best friend before her very eyes!
Christine neither moved nor spoke, but remained frozen in place with arms outstretched in a mannequin-like pose. Her skin looked like smooth, shiny plastic and she gazed blankly at Amy with wide unblinking eyes that betrayed neither recognition nor awareness!
Amy turned to run, only to find that the sales girl's hypnotic gaze was now fixed on her! Only too aware of the danger, she tried to tear her eyes away but it was too late ― she was now transfixed and completely powerless to move. The sales girl grinned but said nothing. As Amy struggled to break the spell, the other's eyes seemed to grow larger and larger, as if they were about to swallow her up. She tried to scream, but her mouth would not open properly and the sound which came out was little more than a cross between a squeak and a gurgle....
"Oh! Very nice, but aren't they a bit petite for the window?"
The speaker was the blonde sales assistant, who had arrived just in time to see Amy's skin turn shiny and plasticlike as she too stiffened and froze into immobility. The girl with the French braid turned and scowled at her.
"That's the one for the window," she replied, pointing at the changing cubicle in which the tall, blonde mannequin that had once been Maxine Summers still stood, staring blindly at its reflection in the full-length mirror. "These two little brats interfered and I had to do something with them. There was a third one, but I couldn't hang on to her. She got away."
The blonde frowned. "That's a pity, but no-one'll believe her, anyway."
She wandered over to Christine and Amy and studied them closely for a few seconds, secure in the knowledge that neither girl had the slightest awareness of her scrutiny. The two friends neither moved nor spoke as they stood in front of the changing rooms like a pair of life-sized dolls, gazing with unseeing eyes into each other's shiny, blank plastic faces!
"Don't they look cute!" the blonde cried, her frown giving way to a wicked grin. "I wonder if they feel anything?"
"No, of course not," replied the other. "They're mannequins! Solid, hard, plastic dummies. How can they feel anything?"
To make her point she rapped smartly on Amy's bare forearm. The unfortunate teenager's body wobbled and rocked stiffly back and forth on its heels, but there was no other response. Amy's skin felt hard and smooth, yet cool and strangely pleasant to the touch. Her expression was fixed in a blank stare with painted lips curved into a permanent smile. Like Christine, she had been reduced to little more than a perfect facsimile of her former self and there was nothing to suggest that she had ever been anything other than a lifelike mannequin!
"I meant inside," murmured the blonde girl. "You know, just before they change."
"Oh, I don't know! I don't see that it matters much. They can't feel anything now, that's for sure! Make yourself useful and help me shift them!"
"OK. Where are we going to put them?"
The girl with the French braid hauled Maxine's inert form out of the changing cubicle before replying:
"This one can go in the window. The other two'll have to go in the stockroom for the while. We'll decide what to do with them later."
So saying, she lowered Maxine's rigid vinyl body to the floor, lifted her bare shoulders and began to drag her towards the front of the shop. Maxine's wide blue eyes gazed unseeingly at the ceiling during this undignified journey, yet her face was moulded in a slightly ironic smile, as if she was aware somehow that, although she would never move again, in her new form she would at least stay young and beautiful forever!
The blonde girl scooped up the smaller dummy that had been Amy Hamilton. Cradling the youngster's vitrified body in her arms, she glanced at the third figure, grinned and said:
"We'll be back for you in a minute. Don't go away!"
There was no reply, nor any sign that Christine had even heard her. Her finely moulded features remained quite impassive and her sightless eyes never wavered in their ceaseless stare as the equally perfect mannequin that had once been her best friend was carried away.
The shop was almost empty of customers, but a teenage couple had made their way back towards the changing rooms. The girl began flicking through some dresses on a nearby rack, while her boyfriend looked around in boredom. He smiled at a pretty teenager who stood alone near the cubicles, but she stared blankly at him and did not respond. Idly he wondered how she managed to stand so still, until he realised with a sudden thrill that she wasn't real at all, but an incredibly lifelike mannequin! There was something oddly familiar about the dummy's face, though. With a jolt, he realised that it looked exactly like a girl he had seen out in the street a few minutes earlier! Puzzled, he peered into the model's dull grey eyes and was about to stroke its smooth plastic cheek when the sales girl returned, scowling, and snatched the figure away from his fingertips!
Staggering slightly under the weight of her burden, the sales girl turned on her heels before heading off in the direction of the storeroom. Startled, the boy shrugged and watched her go before turning back to his girlfriend, who had by now selected a dress from the rack and was looking around for an assistant.
The sales girl with the French braid had just arrived back from the front of the shop.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
"Yes please," the girl replied. "I'd like to try this on."
The sales girl smiled at her.
"Certainly," she said. "Would you like to follow me?"
Still smiling, she turned and led the girl towards the changing rooms