Sal’s Footwear. Buffalo Bill’s Leather. The Comfort Bean.
Without even looking, I can name each store as I walk past. We’re in the food court now.
McDonalds. Tsuang Lee’s Thai. Insta-Noodle
For almost six years, I’ve wandered this place. Not once have I come here when there were people. I always wonder if the Press-Start Games store would be less lonely with teens hanging out in front of the Playstation that sits right inside the door.
My third round of the night has once again turned up nothing out of the ordinary. As did the first two. As has every round I’ve ever made in the last five and a half years. Most security guards would probably tell you that it’s good that nothing “exciting” has happened. But me? I’m bored as shit.
Returning to my security station, lodged between a Larry’s Big ‘N Tall and a store called Timeless that sells nothing but coo-coo clocks, I find everything as I left it. The black and white of the security monitors, six in all, flashing uneventful images of various locations around the mall.
Flash. Fountain outside of Macy’s. Nothing.
Flash. Clownie’s Toys store front. Nothing.
Flash. Food court, west end, between a Taco John’s and Icey Slurpees. Nothing.
Settling back into the leather swivel chair, I reach over and pick up the now-cold coffee I set on the terminal not twenty minutes earlier. A small ring has been left behind on the surface. Add it to the pile, about thirteen random brown rings in all. All left by the same boring, uneventful coffee cups. All left by me.
I reach over and pop open the small microwave, sliding my coffee in, pressing start. Return to the monitors.
Flash. Outside parking lot, South exit. Nothing.
Flash. Main elevator, Zap Electronics in the background. Nothing.
Flash. Margot’s Department Store. Noth… wait, did something move?
Leaning forward, I press the hold button for monitor two. The picture freezes at Margot’s. Nothing. I guess my need for something to happen has led me to see things. Releasing the button, I let my eyes slide back up to the other monitors.
Flash. The Egyptian Experience. Nothing.
Flash. Parking lot, East exit. An abandoned blue van sit’s near the back. Nothing.
Flash. Right outside the security station. Noth… wait, another burst of movement!
Holding the button down again, I freeze the screen on the door right outside. Nothing. Squinting my eyes, I focus against the static-filled image. There was something, I swear it. THERE! There it is again, something moved, right near the corner!
The blood rushes into my legs again, the old anticipation from my soldier days kicks up and I swing the chair around to face the door. Pushing off with my hands, I’m at the door in an instant. In another second, it’s slung open and I’m outside. My gaze, darting back and forth, picks up nothing but mundane emptiness. Nothing here.
Damn, am I going mad? Maybe six years is too long to spend wandering these aimless halls five nights a week. The “graveyard shift” as they call it. Maybe that’s an appropriate name for it, I feel like I’m going to die here.
Back to my station. Back to the nasty re-heated coffee that is now billowing steam. Back to the monitors.
Flash. Outside the security station. Something’s there! It’s a person! Right outside the door. Where the hell did he come from? He had to be hiding somewhere, I was just out there! What is… what is he doing?
Flash. Sunglass Hut. Nothing.
Forgot to press the hold button, no matter, I’ve got the son of a bitch this time! Once again, I spring into action. Not a moment later, I’ve returned to the mall. Again, nothing. To my left, access to the main rotunda, the center of the mall. Too far to have reached in the limited amount of time. No one is that fast. The other way, a short distance to the north exit. All the doors are chained shut from the inside, no one could have gotten out that way. But wait! Those fake plastic trees by the entrance! Hah, you thought you could hide from me?
“I know you’re there! You might as well come out! You know you can’t be in here!”
No movement. No sound. Fine, you want to play hardball? Probably some young punk who snuck in, looking for a thrill. I’d be sorry to disappoint. I begin my approach, hand resting gently on the nightstick in my holster. I haven’t pulled this thing out with any serious intent since it was given to me.
A few more paces, and I’m at the trees. Nothing behind the ones left of the exit, and with another glance, there is nothing behind the ones to the right either. Not here. But where? The bathrooms! Of course, I almost forgot.
Turning to face the left wall, I see the bathrooms. Male. Female. Pushing open the door to the female bathroom first, I make a quick glance in, flashlight guiding my view. If it’s some male punk, like I suspect it to be, he’d probably hide in the female bathroom to try and trick me. They told us in training that a lot of break-in’s try this tactic. However, nothing.
Pressing against the door to the men’s bathroom, I… can’t seem to get it to budge. Another shove shows resistance too. Is it locked? I never lock the bathrooms, no need to. I fumble around with the dozens of keys attached to my hip, here it is First Floor Men’s Bathroom – North Side. Sliding the key in, turning, allowing the door to slowly slide open with little force…
And there he is! Right behind the door! And he’s moving at me! With the quick-draw of a desperado from an old West film, I swing forward, arcing down, striking right above the right shoulder. The figure doesn’t give way at all, and the pressure from what I hit couldn’t possibly be from a human arm.
Given the proper time to focus, my eyes begin to make out what I struck. They widen. Is this some kind of trick?! Who the hell had time to put this here.
A mannequin. Full-figured, with all the limbs and head. I recognize it as one of the display mannequins from Margot’s. It’s even wearing the khaki summer-shorts and blue and white stripped tank top. The sunglasses that once rested on top of it’s head are now lying, broken, on the cold tile below.
I can’t help but laugh at myself. The first time I draw my weapon and attack, and I clobber a mannequin. Great job, Chuck. The mall is safe once again! Hah, son of a bitch. I suppose I’ll have to let the opening manager for Margot’s know someone is playing a cruel joke. I don’t really feel like lugging this piece of shit all the way over there right now.
I turn to return to my station, and again I’m met with a surprise. A figure, another mannequin? Straight across, just standing in front of the Baby-Soon infant clothing store. This one, identical to the other one except it has no clothing on. Was it there before? I could have sworn I looked that direction? Maybe I forgot to because I was so focused on the plants? Whatever, I don’t care. I’m going back to re-reheat my coffee and thumb through a fishing magazine. I’ve had enough of playing Mannequin Warrior for one night.
I never thought I’d be so glad to see those uneventful screens. My coffee once again gone cold, is once again slid into the microwave, which is once again started up. The uncomfortable chair feels like home as I sink back into it. My heart rate has returned to normal, everything has returned to normal.
Flash. The Family Dollar Discount Store. Nothing.
Flash. Outside the security station. A figure?! No, that’s not possible?! I was JUST out there. Who… wait. Is that…? It is! It’s a mannequin! Right outside the door! Now there is no possible way I missed that?!
Swinging back around, stick already drawn, I burst open the doors ready to swing at… nothing? Nothing. There is nothing outside the door. That’s it, I’ve finally lost it. Rubbing my eyes, I slowly turn to head back into the station. I need to take a nap. I must be tired. I’ll just go in and skip the coffee and… wait.
It’s gone. Out of the corner of my eye I see the entrance to the Baby-Soon. No mannequin. Just normal nothing. Did I imagine it was there to begin with? Whatever, I’m going to go into this security station. Shut the door, lock it, and take a nap until my shift is over. Until I can walk out of this place and forget all about it.
Leaning back, I put my feet up. A soft sigh escapes as my eyelids slip closed. The ding of the microwave startles them back open, but for only a moment. As they close again…
…The coffee?! I could have sworn I put it in the microwave when I turned it on?! But it’s sitting right there! I put something in the microwave, didn’t I?! Pulling my feet off the terminal, I swing the chair to face the microwave. To my surprise, the window is blackened over with… smoke? Jesus, what did I put in there. I can see something but… what is it? Opening the door…
In a moment, the chair is kicked back, sliding into the wall opposite the microwave. No, this… this isn’t possible. This doesn’t make any sense! That’s…
A mannequin hand!
Charred black, but unmistakably the hand of a Margot’s mannequin. But it’s different somehow, it’s not holding the normal flat pose that the mannequins all have. It’s… it’s clenched in a fist? I go to pick it up… ow, dammit! It’s hot!
I watch as the burnt-black, slightly melted hand drops to the floor. My eyes widen as the hand falls open, the fingers spreading like a human appendage, and in it’s palm…
…that’s… a purple heart medal? My purple heart medal?! The one I received during my time in the Gulf War? But how… that’s home in a case on the mantel? I don’t even have time to attempt to figure any of this out when I notice something flash next to me.
Flash. Outside the security station. Not one, but several figures!
Flash. Sunglass hut. Figures?! More of them?!
Flash. Outside parking lot, East exit. Mannequins, dozens, standing motionless throughout the parkinglot!
Flash, Outside the security station. More figures than before.
Without thinking, I leap to the door, pressing down on the lock button, sealing myself inside. What am I hiding from? Mannequins?! They’re not real! They’re fake humans, plaster and wire. Held up by a stick! This is ridiculous, there is no way there are mannequins. I’m hallucinating. That’s it! Or a dream?! I did fall asleep in my chair, watching the dull nothings flash across the screen. I just have to wake up.
Scraping. Behind me. Turning, I immediately glance at the hand on the floor. Or where the hand would have been. It’s not there. The medal, the hand, everything, gone. The door to the microwave, closed. The glass, clear as it was before. I can make out the coffee cup as it sits gently inside, undisturbed.
Scraping. Not behind me, above me? The ventilation duct in the ceiling?! Ah, so you bastards think you can sneak attack me?! Crawl through the ducts and bombard me from above? Not on my watch, you fake bastards!
With my stick drawn, I unlock the door and swing it open. Mannequins greet me, the same stale, empty glare from their featureless faces. Swinging, I smash the nearest one to the floor. Stepping over it, I swing at the next, it’s head shattering, splintering in half. I shove my way through them, pushing. Mannequins, everywhere.
In a full sprint, I knock my way through the motionless enemy. None of them moving, except for their descent to the floor from my shoves. I make my way for the escalator. I have no time for the chains on the doors, I’ll take the emergency exit on the second floor, the fire escape exit.
As I reach the base of the escalator, which itself remains motionless, I look up at the line of soldiers that await me. Naked, no eyes, no mouths. Just human shapes, standing idly on the cold, metal steps. One after the other, I fling them behind me, crashing down to the ground, piling on top of each other at the base at the bottom. Only a few more steps and I’m at…
That blue and white stripped tank top! Those khaki shorts! So, it’s you that started all of this, is it? Are you their leader?! I don’t care, I’ll smash you like the rest!
Raising the stick above my head, I’m about to let it come down on the head of the enemy general, but something stops me. I gasp as I notice the hand. An arm in a thin blue and white strap leads down to it’s hand. Balled up in a fist and black, burnt, the lines between the fingers nonexistent, blurred over by melted plaster. Between where two fingers once were, the medal hanging, dangling, moving slightly as if there was a breeze.
Or as if the holder just stopped moving…
I stumble back, as if expecting a strike. Wildly swinging the nightstick, frantic. I’m not going to let you get me! I won’t! Fuck you and your entire army! I…
And in an instant, I feel gravity take over. Legs over head, head leading the march. The fall. I’ve sent myself right over the railing, and down I go. One story wouldn’t be so bad, if it wasn’t for the fact that…
Head first, I smash into the freshly-shined floor. The pain of a broken neck is unreal, it starts at the top of your spine and explodes throughout your entire body. My head, cocked to the side, rests on the cold floor. I watch as blood begins to pool in front of my face. A haze, like the static of the security screens, begins to filter in like a mist. I try to blink it out, but it doesn’t work. It just gets harder and harder to see. My sight, almost in black and white, fading. Fading.
I close my eyes for a few seconds, and open them again. Standing, right there, not a foot away, in my fresh blood – The feet of a mannequin. Motionless, but there. I attempt to move, to push it away, something, but my body doesn’t respond. A slight smirk slides over my face. Oh, I get it. The joke is on ol’ Chuck, ain’t it? My unmoving death bringers. You think this is funny, don’t you?
Here I lie, completely unable to move. Paralyzed, just like you. I’m just a mannequin, modeling the latest style of desperation. Just a helpless nothing. Fake. Just like you…
Flash. Blood. Nothing.
Flash. Mannequin legs. Nothing.
Flash. Me. Nothing.