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Mannequins. They’re relatively simple things, always around nearly every corner of every store in every mall. They never seem to catch your eye, never serving any other purpose but to display clothing; nothing more than a passing banality. However, on rare occasions, something does catch your eye.
Every once in a while you spy a mannequin, and for a moment it seems as if the mannequin spies you. This moment then passes, and you laugh on the inside at your own silliness and move on with your life, never giving that mannequin a second thought. There are then other times in which it is harder to ignore what you have seen.
You are at your local mall without a care in the world, and you decide to do a little shopping. You stroll through an aisle, and you spot something; it is a mannequin. Something odd is occurring, you just don’t know what.
It looks how any mannequin should; it is the kind with no facial features and a shiny head. Nothing is out of the ordinary, and then you understand. It is a mannequin in the form of a woman in the center of the men’s section, wearing a blue coat and jeans with white tennis shoes.
It is placed so strangely in a collage of black and grey clothes. Normally this sort of thing would not bother you but you can’t shake this odd feeling, and so you consult the employees at the checkout counter. Once you do, however, a look of worry and confusion overcomes their facial expressions as they tell you no such mannequin should be found anywhere in the mall. They excuse themselves, and depart while leaving you with a look of confusion yourself. Your curiosity gets the best of you, and you follow them as they use an employee phone.
Soon, more important looking men appear, and it is obvious one of them is the manager and the other a mall cop. They move to the back of the store as you follow. The manager begins speaking angrily with the cop, and so you move closer as to hear more clearly.
“Damn it! What are we going to do during a shoplift when you can’t even keep track of a couple of pranksters?” he says with anger while trying to stifle his voice.
“Sir, I assure you I have checked and double-checked each entrance to the premises and these doors have been locked. Nothing has entered this mall unless it squeezed through the vents, and it would have to be pretty damn small to do pull that off.”
“Then I suppose these things just came out of thin air?”
“I know it looks strange, but I’ve been putting them up in the storage closets like you asked.”
“Have you, now? Then why am I seeing things like that all over the mall?” speaks the manager as he points in your direction.
You quickly duck behind a line of clothes, but find that he was never directing attention at you. You look behind and see a mannequin. If you didn’t know any better, you could swear it was looking directly at the employees and you didn’t see it there before. It is different from the one before, as all the features of the face are present and it has indentions on its head that imitate hair. You leave now without even buying anything; you have had enough of all this strangeness. You go home, and begin to read.
As you read, however, you can’t get it all out of your head. It is late at night now, and you can barely contain the uncertainty. You can’t seem to make sense of it all as you examine all of the details in your head. The doors are always locked, and there are more mannequins arriving each day, but there is more: you have come to realize as of late how none of the clothes on the mannequins match anything for sale. You can’t stand it anymore; you place the book down. You sit up, and proceed outside in the direction of the mall. You understand how crazy you’re acting, but we all need peace of mind.
Your plan is simple: to find out what is going on with all the mannequins. As you walk through the night towards the mall, you feel very afraid. There have been recent disappearances in your town, and you have no intention of being kidnapped or worse. Finally, you reach the mall without incident. Everything is dark inside except for a few lights left on inside the empty stores.
The next obstacle you face is finding a way to get inside; according to the earlier conversation you heard, the mall cop will have surely locked the main entrances by now. As you turn around, however, you hear a slight click. You turn back to the door and just barely see something moving past. You jump a little, but you’re certain that you’re experiencing pareidolia. You try the door, and to your surprise, it opens.
As for whatever it is you may or may not have seen, it is long gone. You decide that you are just a little bit jumpy about breaking into a mall in the dead of night. As for the door, the mall cop must have just forgotten about it, or perhaps he has yet to lock it. You calm down a bit, as this must surely be the explanation.
However, at the same time, it means that you had better hurry before he completes his rounds. You begin to walk down the dark corridor that connects all parts of the mall. You wander into the section that contains the most mannequins. If there are any mischievous teenagers around, they would probably strike here. It is also the darkest part of the mall, save for one light in the dressing room.
You don’t know why, but you head towards it. When you get there, you notice something odd. There are variant mannequins standing in front of each dressing room. Some of them are even pressed up against the doors like ordinary people, with their arms bent in such particular ways. There are wrinkles on the inside of the elbows as if they bent themselves.
You find this eerie and decide to leave. You wonder how someone got the mannequins to bend in such a realistic way. You suddenly hear a noise like sprinting and quickly turn around, but there is nothing there. Surely, it was in your head. Just as surely as you try to cling to rational thought, there is an ever-present thought of a different nature. You consider possibilities that begin to grow a panic within you. Why are they looking at you?
Your sprint breaks into a full run. Any moment now. You’ve come to your death. You can now hear what is unmistakably running that is not your own. A hand reaches out and grabs your shoulder as you scream. You brace yourself for whatever it plans on doing with you as a light suddenly shines in your face.
“What the hell are you doing here?” questions the mall cop as he aims the flashlight at your face.
You immediately calm down; you were just imagining everything. Once more, you consider the very real situation that you find yourself in.
“I was just-" you begin.
“How did you get in here?” asked the cop. “Is it you? You’re the one who’s doing this, aren’t you?”
He sounds very frantic, and you detect a hint of nervousness in his voice. You wonder if you scared him as much as he scared you.
“You’re coming with me,” he says while gripping your arm.
Just then, there is a resounding crash, and the cop releases you as he aims his flashlight toward the noise. As he begins to breathe loudly, there is another noise, but further away.
“You there!” the cop shouts frantically. “I know you’re there!”
He seems to forget all about you as he moves slowly and reluctantly through the rows of clothing. You take this opportunity to run away and out the door. You’re so desperate to get home that you don’t even hear his muffled screams, or the hissing.
It was a rather nasty day in Barad, Massachusetts, with much fog in the air and rain drizzling down from the thick, grey clouds. People were swarming in and out of Brookwest Mall, the only major building in town. There was only one man among the immense crowd who had no intention of going inside, at least not yet. He was homeless, and his name was Dan Eadol. His hair hung down to his shoulders, riddled with dirt and other things that people don’t care to talk about.
He wore a raggedy brown hoodie, with the name of a football team he didn’t even know sprawled across the chest. His moustache stuck out at odd angles and hung down past his upper lip. Dan’s jeans were ripped at the knees, but were not intended to look stylish.
Eadol pushed a cart filled with disregarded items. He was the only one who knew that he didn’t need them, for they were just diversions; he had to blend in and be invisible. People wandered in and out all day while he innocently enough pushed his cart up and down the sidewalk. The clouds darkened as the day wore on, the only sign that the day was coming to a close.
The moment finally came for the mall to close. Dan cautiously looked around a corner, waiting for the sign. Finally, the tired looking mall cop stepped outside and locked the final door. He was now headed towards his car, looking cheerful for getting to go home after a long day. Dan wished that he knew what that felt like. He quickly refocused as the car pulled out of the parking lot and drove off down the road, illuminating soft drops of rain in the head lights.
Dan left the unimportant cart behind as he emerged from his hiding spot ready to retrieve the real valuables. He had been getting ready for this exact moment, a whole month of bracing the harsh, cold weather during the freezing rain. During this time, he had carefully observed the gestures the cop had used while locking the door. Eadol took something out of his raggedy pocket: a piece of soap, whittled down to match the approximate size and shape of the key. He approached the door and carefully inserted the object into the lock. He hoped to God that this would work, it was truly his last hope. After a few minutes of wriggling and jerking, the lock finally gave way; some luck at last.
Dan pushed past the door and into the mall feeling triumphant for the first time in a very long while. He knew that there was no need to concern himself with security cameras or alarms; he had hung around long enough to know that they weren’t working properly and that something had been interfering with the circuitry. Eadol walked down the main corridor, looking for something good to serve as his first target of the night. At last, he spotted it: the jewelry department. Dan immediately began stuffing his pockets with as much as he could fit. With the money from this haul alone, he could get back on his feet. Just a few more stores, and his problems would be solved. Suddenly, there was what sounded like a snake’s hiss coming from within the main corridor. Dan spun around to face the entrance of the store, knocking over a stand in the process.
“Who’s there?” he asked, failing to hide the tremble in his voice.
Nothing answered him from the darkness. Eadol strained his eyesight and jumped; there was a man looking at him. He looked again, and sighed with relief; it was only a mannequin, and a realistic one at that.
Dan decided to leave and head to the next store. He walked down the corridor and heard another, louder hiss. The same mannequin was now turned around and facing him, this time with a companion.
Both figures snarled with their mouths hanging open, exposing two rows of sharp-looking canines. Somehow, this applied to the mannequin that did not seem to own a face. Both of the creatures now had indentions that resembled fierce frowns. As they hissed in unison, Dan began to speak.
The two mannequins immediately broke into a strange sprint for Dan. They took huge strides at a time, all the while moving their arms in such a way that people tend to do while running. In turn, Eadol broke into such a run that not even he had managed before. He simply could not correlate the details of what he was experiencing in that moment. Dan glanced back, and to his unbridled horror, saw that more had joined the two mannequins. Each one bore a terrible snarl.
He knew that he couldn’t possibly outrun them, and quickly made a detour for a nearby shoe store. Fortunately, they did not seem to realize this, as they continued in their inhuman strides past the entrance. Eadol made for the back of the store as quickly as he could, and to his immense joy, found an emergency exit. He pushed on the door and found that it would not budge: locked.
Dan frantically searched his coat pocket, finally coming across his makeshift key. Desperately, he tried to insert it into the lock, but to no avail. He began almost angrily forcing it inside the lock, until it broke. Eadol turned around and began to run down the aisle, but froze. A mannequin blocked his path, baring fangs while hissing.
Once more, he turned around to try the other direction, only to be met with yet another mannequin. The execrable realization reared its head that he was trapped. They began to move slowly towards him, in an almost human-like fashion. He felt as if he would begin to cry for help and out of fear.
More mannequins began to bear down on him from both ends of the aisle. Dan screamed, and they swarmed him. Blocky and life-like hands grabbed him at all angles and carried him off.
Inspector Kevin Franko reviewed one of the many missing person reports on his desk. His coffee was still hot, and he was in no mood for anything he perceived as trivial. He took a sip from the beverage as yet another report flopped down on his desk. Kevin put the cup down, sighed, and glanced upwards.
“Yes, another one,” replied his partner, sounding rather annoyed. “You need to start treating these with more care before this somehow gets even more out of hand. When was the last time you actually slept?”
Franko looked up at him above his dark bags but looked disinterested.
“Are there any more Brookwests?” he asked, ignoring his partner.
“Just the one I handed you.”
Although he was Franko’s partner, he felt more like a secretary.
“That’s good enough,” the inspector said as he drained the rest of his coffee.
Kevin grabbed his camera and hung it around his head.
“Christ, can’t you leave that place alone for one goddamned day?” questioned his partner.
“Scurry along, Jameson,” Franko said, grabbing his trench coat and hat.
Jameson rolled his eyes and went back to his own desk. The inspector walked out of the department and headed straight for Brookwest Mall, or what some individuals at the department called it, “Franko’s Obsession”.
Every time someone went missing in Barad, Franko would snag Brookwest as his primary investigation point, taking pictures up and down the location. Kevin himself looked like something out of an old detective movie, something his fellow peers in law enforcement never failed to belittle him for. He always wore what looked like a 1940s fedora, which was black and wide-brimmed.
His main accessory was a long tan trench coat that concealed everything beneath, that is to say: a white button-up shirt, black suspenders, and a tie. His pants and shoes were monochromatically black. These were things everyone knew about Franko. What they didn’t know about, however, was the revolver he kept hidden under his coat at all times while at Brookwest Mall. He drew near the location now.
Kevin prepared his camera, and as usual, received many stares from the passerby. He gripped the brim of his fedora and slid it down over his face until he could barely see. Franko neared a mannequin and took several pictures from multiple angles.
Afterwards, he stared at it for a good long while and moved on. This activity of his typically went on for three hours minimum. Afterwards, he would proceed to retake the pictures again and again. The Sun steadily creeped downwards until it was at last the evening.
“Hey buddy, wanna get out of here? It’s cleaning time!” shouted the mall cop in charge of closing the mall.
Franko never bothered telling him that he was an investigator. In fact, he doubted anyone outside the police department knew this in Barad; he had only arrived in the last three weeks from Boston. Kevin stepped out into the cold drizzle that had been plaguing Barad all week and pulled out his cellphone.
“Jameson, it’s me. Come to Brookwest and pick me up.”
He put his cellphone away and kept his hand in the interior of his coat, ready to use his weapon at a moment’s notice. However, it wasn’t his exterior surroundings that the inspector kept a sharp eye on, but rather the building he had just exited. Five minutes later, headlights lit up the parking lot as Jameson pulled up next to Franko.
“I don’t see what your problem is with getting your own car. I’m getting tired of picking you up and dropping you off every other fucking night.”
“Just drive, Jameson.”
As usual, Kevin ignored every word that came out of his partner’s mouth. The car pulled up next to the curb next to Franko’s house and he got out, stuffing his hands inside his coat pockets as Jameson sped off into the night. The inspector unlocked his door and walked straight across his dimly lit living room, tracking in water in the process.
He reached his room and sat down at yet another cluttered desk. To his right, there was a wall covered in pictures of various mannequins; all were in different positions in each picture. Kevin took out the stack of pictures that he had taken that day and spread them out on his desk. He looked from these to the ones on his wall and smiled.
Franko immediately left the room and went running out into the rain towards the mall. He felt his coat for his revolver: it was still there. He hadn’t even bothered to lock his front door. It took him 20 minutes to make it to the mall on foot, but at last he reached the front entrance.
Kevin pulled out his gun and fired at the lock; he couldn’t allow any obstacles to stop him now. He shoved on the door and it opened with ease. Franko ran down the corridor, not heeding the plastic heads that turned in his direction as he passed.
The inspector entered the largest clothing store in the mall and stood with his back to a wall.
“I know how this works, so you might as well come out!” he shouted.
Many hisses answered him as many mannequins emerged from the shadows, walking slowly as if out of interest. Many more were now entering the store, enlarging the crowd.
“Who created you?! I demand to know!”
This command yielded only more hissing.
“You can’t talk, can you? You can still show me.”
Franko was careful to aim his revolver at every mannequin that moved. Without warning, the mannequin closest to the investigator broke into an attack strut. Instinctively, Kevin fired at the head, watching as the bullet went right through but failed to impede the progress of the creature. He fired more and more rounds out of desperation, but only succeeded in knocking out some of its teeth. There was but one alternative left to the horror that awaited him should he be captured.
Franko placed the barrel to his temple and fired. Only now, did his attackers finally stop.
In the public domain of Jeremy Pindle’s hometown of Barad, there were few more shocking features than when an inspector joined the ranks of the missing. Until the morning when bullet holes were found on a mannequin and DNA samples were found on the floor, the police were able to somewhat maintain an image of efficiency. Upon the news that a special figure of authority that had come down from Boston had, too, succumbed to this intangible menace, Barad entered a cloud of unprecedented darkness. To the minds of many, the police were now merely potential victims along with ordinary citizens, and there was little to be done but to proceed with what society had taught them about how everyday life should proceed.
Jeremy and his mother were hardly exceptions to this phenomenon. Jeremy had always hated going shopping, even when it was for him. He had really hoped that the mall would stay closed for at least one more day and spare him the boredom. They were headed in the direction of ‘Barbara’s’, the largest store in the mall.
Jeremy yawned as he always did when he was dragged along by his mother to go clothes shopping. They roamed about the store as his mother picked out clothes and asked for his opinion, in which he often groaned and droned her out.
“I’m going to go try these on,” she said. “Sit over there.”
She directed to an oddly shaped chair which sat in the midst of multiple mirrors. This chair sat by a wall that separated the rest of the store from the dressing rooms. Jeremy’s mother entered the dressing rooms with the promise of returning. He sat down on the chair and found it to be surprisingly comfortable, aside from the wooden arm rests. The chair was angled so that it faced two mannequins, but was in the view of a mirror that casted multiple reflections of Jeremy as well as put into view these two mannequins.
Jeremy looked at them, and saw something. He was sure he was imagining it, but for a moment it seemed that the mannequin on the right was staring at him over its shoulder. It was the kind of mannequin with hair-mimicking plastic. It had an etched face complete with a mouth, nose, and two white eyes. It even had what looked like muscles above the eyes.
Jeremy couldn’t help but notice how remarkably realistic the detailing on them was. Jeremy looked away from them and into the mirror, and once again noticed something unusual. In the mirror, there was suddenly a blur and the right mannequin appeared to be in a somewhat different position. If what he saw in that mirror was the truth, then he had just witnessed a mannequin inch closer to a woman looking at socks. He quickly looked back at the mannequins, but they remained unmoving.
Jeremy looked back into the mirror and in that moment could’ve sworn that he saw the left mannequin lift its foot up out of its shoe. He refused to believe this, for they simply had to have been in these positions before. It simply wasn’t possible for it to be true. His mother suddenly obstructed his gaze as she stepped out of the dressing room area.
“Alright, let’s go,” she stated.
Jeremy looked into the mirror one last time; he had to be sure. Just as he had anticipated, the mannequins were as still as they should be. However, there was something else that caught his gaze. There was a sliver of paper edged underneath the mirror. He bent down and picked it up, revealing a folded up piece of paper.
“Is everything alright?” inquired his mother.
“Yeah,” replied Jeremy, tucking the paper into his pocket.
He followed his mother out of the mall and into the car after she had paid for the clothing she had bought at the checkout counter.
“Want anything to eat?” asked Jeremy’s mother as they drove down the soaking wet pavement.
“Sure,” he replied, thinking about the paper in his pocket.
They went through a drive-thru; Jeremy ordered chicken strips and ate the majority in the car while his mother ordered a cheeseburger. As the car pulled into the driveway, Jeremy immediately hopped out and raced to the front door. He waited anxiously for his mother to gather up the bags so he could get inside and find out what it was that he had found.
“You could’ve helped, you know,” said his mother light-heartedly.
“Alright, alright. Hold your horses.”
She set the bags down on the porch and searched her pockets for her keys. At last, she pulled them out and unlocked the front door. Jeremy rushed inside and up to his bedroom where he pulled out the parchment and unfolded it. It read as follows:
“To whom it may concern,
My name is Johnathon Grillsby. These very well may be the last words I write. I am being watched, and I don’t know how long I have left, so I must make this as brief as possible. At this very moment, Brookwest Mall is being overrun by the most dangerous species of this Earth. Since you are reading this, two members of said species now stand just feet away from you. I am the manager of this mall, but it was not always so. I was once part of an elite group of individuals that included myself, Kevin Franko, Emmett Gordon, and Colin Lockfran, the last of which I’m afraid has disappeared. This is most unfortunate as he was the most intelligent of us all and our most valuable key in destroying this menace once and for all. It is most certainly the enemy who befell our most credible ally. Therefore, you must collect our gathered knowledge and spread the word of what we are dealing with. The mannequins. They are not what they seem. They multiply every day. As far as we can gather, thanks to our missing friend Colin, they are creatures of human descent, but are human no more. Something has physically altered them to be conscious monsters capable of killing you in an instant. Enter Brookwest Mall at your own risk, and only if you must. You have found this paper in my observation area that I have constructed in order to observe two of these creatures. They are the only two who rarely stray. My guess is that they are in a perfect location from which to observe. Therefore, I made an effort to beat them at their own game and observe the observant. Listen carefully. The chair you found this by is in perfect range of their sight, so they’ll be looking to see if you’re looking. They rarely move far during the day; too much risk of being seen. Therefore, they’ll only move when they think you’re not looking. That’s where the many-angled mirror comes in. You can see them, but they won’t know it. When gazing in the mirror, you may be able to catch a glimpse of their actions and their movements, but beware. Never stray from the greater part of a crowd when at Brookwest if you must go. They won’t hesitate to capture you if you are easy bait in the middle of the day. If you are set on putting a stop to this horror, find Kevin Franko or Emmett Gordon. Above all, watch their feet. Shoes are often impractical for hunting, so they often remove them when they are about to strike. Do not hesitate to leave the vicinity immediately if you observe this action.
Jeremy’s first response to this note’s bizarre claims was that it had to be the work of a teenager or some prankster with an overactive imagination. He would take this all in with a pinch of salt. He cast the paper underneath his bed and lied down. Then again, a lot of strange things had been occurring at Brookwest Mall, even he had to admit that.
In fact, everything in the note would explain everything. However, the man in the note didn’t sound like a manager of anything, and the people who were mentioned probably didn’t even exist. Then again, it couldn’t hurt to ask, so Jeremy walked downstairs.
“Oh, there you are,” said his mother sarcastically.
“Mom, who’s Kevin Franko?”
“I see you’ve been looking through the newspaper,” she said, sounding rather tired.
“What? No, I haven’t.”
“Oh. I’m not sure how else you would know that name. Kevin Franko is, or was, a special investigator. Or was he a detective? Anyways, long story short, he’s not with us anymore.”
If this Kevin Franko person actually existed, could this mean everything else in the note was true?
“Mom, can Norman come over?”
“Yes, and why are you acting so shaky lately?”
“I’m not acting shaky,” was Jeremy’s only response.
He walked back upstairs and called Norman Wesley, his best friend. Shortly after, Norman was pedaling up their driveway on his bike. Jeremy didn’t bother coming downstairs to greet him. He just sat down on his bed and listened to the murmur of Norman greeting his mother. A few seconds later, Norman entered his bedroom.
“Norman, take a look at this,” spoke Jeremy, handing him the paper.
“Ok,” said Norman out of curiosity.
It took about two minutes and then Norman handed the paper back to Jeremy.
“Woah, someone had an overactive imagination,” Norman said jokingly.
“That’s what I thought at first, too. But then I asked my mom about this Kevin Franko guy and it turns out he was real and just died.”
“Even if this guy did exist, how do you know that whoever wrote this didn’t already know about him?”
“I found it under a mirror, and it looked like it had been there a while. I don’t think this is someone who only knew him from the disappearances; I think this was someone who knew him personally.”
“You don’t seriously believe this, do you?”
Although Jeremy was annoyed with Norman for irreverently disregarding what he had just considered with utmost importance, he had to concede that in all likelihood Norman was the voice of reason in this instance.
“I guess not,” said Jeremy, not bothering to hide the disappointment in his voice.
Although the remainder of Norman’s visit failed to include anything more concerning the contents of the note, it remained fresh in Jeremy’s mind.
The next day, in Brookwest Mall, a woman was strolling through an aisle at Barbara’s. She had been there for quite some time, and was now straying towards the back of the store. A couple more minutes, and she would have to look at another place. In that moment, something peculiar caught her eye. In the very back of the store, there was a metal door that looked like it had no business being there. It looked as if it should have been part of a bunker rather than in a shopping mall. She decided to just ignore it as she turned her back on two mannequins to look at some shirts that she thought might fit her.
The woman’s attention was once again caught by the door as it creaked open. She briefly looked around for anyone who could’ve possibly opened it, but to no avail. Clearly, a stable door such as this could not have simply opened on its own. Curiosity got the better of her as she looked inside. She found that the door opened into a long, dark corridor which led to a room filled with wires, machinery, and flashing lights.
She remarked to herself that it looked most malevolent. She cautiously made her way into the corridor and gasped. She could make out two, stiff legs which were clearly human just across the room. They were covered with monochromatic black trousers and shoes, and undoubtedly belonged to a corpse. The woman turned to run, but stopped in her tracks.
The two mannequins now stood in the doorway, baring terrible snarls filled with sharp teeth. She began to turn around but then heard what sounded like a snake’s hiss. Several more mannequins now stood on the opposite end of the corridor. Before she could scream, they were upon her, wrapping their plastic fingers around her mouth and dragging her deeper into the room.
The two mannequins in the doorway turned around and closed the metal door as they retook their positions outside it. Jeremy awoke with a start. It had been two days since he discovered the parchment, and ever since he had been haunted by the name Emmett Gordon. If what the note said was true, and Kevin Franko had just disappeared, then Emmett Gordon was the last of their organization. If something were to happen to him, Jeremy would never know anything more than what he had gleaned from the note.
He would be forced to do what the paper suggested and take up the responsibilities of the group, with or without Norman’s belief. Still in his pajamas, Jeremy raced downstairs and approached his mother who was doing the dishes.
“Mom, is it ok if Norman and I go to the mall?”
“The mall? I just took you to the mall a couple of days ago.”
“I know, but that was to do shopping. I just want to hang out with my friends today.”
“Alright, it’s ok by me, but make sure you have his parents’ permission, too, and be careful.”
“You might want to put on some real clothes, too.”
He had forgotten about his pajamas. He ran upstairs to get dressed and suddenly recalled what the paper had said: “Enter the mall at your own risk, and only if you must.” Jeremy wondered if he should think up a reason not to go. Then again, he couldn’t exactly end the horror if he spent all of his time avoiding the mall.
The day was dreary as ever. Large, fat drops of rain cascaded down from the non-sympathetic sky. However, in the interior of the mall, a commercialized threshold seemed to hold nature’s cruelty at bay. Despite this, Jeremy felt no comfort here. He would much rather suffer an ocean of the unforgivable sprinkle outside than face whatever horrors were implied at in the note.
“You’re a quiet one, aren’t you?”
Jeremy jumped and for a moment wondered who had spoken, but calmed himself when he remembered that he had brought Norman along with him.
“Oh, yeah. I am today.”
“You’re acting weird. If this is about the mannequin thing, we’re in a bookstore just like you wanted; there are no mannequins here.”
“It’s not that, and I’m not acting weird.”
Even as Jeremy spoke these words, he understood them to be pure falsehoods. He realized that he had been so wrapped up in his thoughts that he had just been staring at a plank of wood that separated two bookshelves.
“I think we should leave. It’s not like we’re even doing any of the fun stuff here,” Norman stated while placing the book he was holding back on the shelf. “And besides, it’s not like you’re even talking.”
Jeremy detected a touch of anger in Norman’s voice, but he didn’t care. Before he knew it, he was sitting on his bed again, wondering what a kid like him could possibly do in the face of such inconceivable dread. Then, he realized what must be done. He had to find Emmett Gordon.
A train rattled past Emmett Gordon’s four windows, turning his whole apartment into an isolated earthquake. This always gave him the motivation to finally get out of bed, somehow. He got up and lightly trotted down the stairs. It was time to address the phone call; the one he had just received three minutes before, possibly the worst in his life.
Kevin Franko was missing, presumed dead. It was up to him, now. As much as he was dreading it, he had to head to Barad, Massachusetts and take matters into his own hands. If someone was to take a quick glance at Gordon, they would never have guessed that he had anything to do with Kevin Franko. His features were Franko’s exact opposite.
He had black, combed hair; was just the right mixture of tan and pale; dressed exactly as a modern detective would; and wore his badge proudly on his coat. He had no accent of any kind, and always spoke with a soothing demeanor. This night, however, his face could not hide the internal dread. First Colin, then John, and now Kevin. He was the last of their organization, and possibly the world’s last hope for survival.
“To be honest, you look downright grey, fella,” spoke the raggedy looking man sitting across from Gordon.
The passenger train rocked from left to right.
“I mean officer, of course.”
The man directed to Gordon’s badge.
“No, it’s alright. Call me Emmett.”
“Alright then, Emmett. The name’s Jim Craft. Where ya headin’?”
“I don’t suppose it’s a coincidence, eh, that I have the same destination. This train track don’ travel that far. Anyhow, I’m travelin’ inland. The sea’s none too comfortable in this sort.”
Jim pointed outside as the train began making the transition into the weather that plagued Barad.
“If I were in your place, I would take my chances with the sea, Mr. Craft.”
Craft laughed, no doubt misinterpreting the statement as an attempt at humor. Gordon smiled, better Craft not know the dark reality. Before long, Craft leaned back in his chair with his arms crossed, snoring and drifting off into the limbo where troubles drown and the mind is put at ease. The train window fogged up, occasionally disrupted by descending streams of rain. An hour later, the train screeched to a halt. Gordon arose and walked past Craft down the aisle, not bothering to awake him or give him final greeting.
Emmett was near Barad now, about 30 minutes away. He got into a waiting taxi in front of the station and sped off into the desolation of the night. The road was not well paved, and Gordon bumped up and down as they drove along in solitude. Emmett surprised himself when the cabbie’s hand shook him awake. He paid the man and then strode off into the town for his hotel. The next day he would be off to Brookwest Mall.
“Do you, by any chance, know when the disappearance took place?” asked Gordon the next day.
“No sir,” replied James Mirk, the police chief of Barad. “There are no witnesses to any disappearances that have occurred here.”
“I see,” Emmett replied as he jotted down some notes. “I understand Mr. Franko had a partner, is that correct?”
“He did, uh, Jameson. He’s over there.”
Mirk directed Gordon to an extra crowded desk that consumed Jameson’s name label.
“Thank you,” replied Emmett as he made for Jameson’s desk.
Jameson was busy filling out forms and never looked up at Gordon when he came over.
“I heard you were Franko’s partner,” said Emmett.
Jameson continued to write as he spoke, “Yeah, I knew him. Kevin Franko, the hero, no gratitude for his partner who did all the work. A secretary is what he treated me like. A secretary. The bastard got himself killed and I might as well still be his secretary. The only thing I’m partnered with now is his paperwork.”
“So I take it all these forms are the disappearance reports?”
“Oh yeah, all of this is in the past week alone.”
“Thank you for your help, Mr. Jameson. I think I have all I need.”
Gordon turned and walked back to Mirk’s desk.
“I want Brookwest Mall closed this time tomorrow,” Emmett requested abruptly.
Mirk immediately hung up the phone call he was in the middle of.
“Thank God,” he replied as he began to redial. “Yes, this is Chief Officer James Mirk. I need Brookwest Mall closed this time tomorrow.”
A long period of silence followed this statement.
“Yes, you heard me correctly, Mr. Jones.”
Emmett couldn’t make out what exactly was being shouted on the other end.
“Closed tomorrow and that’s final, Mr. Jones. Good day.”
Mirk slammed the phone down and looked up; Gordon was already gone. Emmett paced up and down the sidewalk, glancing up and down the constant stream of people. Just a few feet away, Jeremy Pindle walked across the parking lot with his hands in his pockets. He couldn’t help but feel just a tad exhilarated at having lied to his mother and said that he was going to Norman’s.
He needed to find this Emmett person, no matter the cost. If he was anywhere in Barad, he would surely be here. His eyes strained for anyone out of the ordinary amongst the crowd. He was nearing the entrance to the mall, now. Suddenly, he spotted what looked like a collected man pacing the sidewalk with a police badge exposed on his coat. Jeremy made for this man at once; something told him that this was the man he was looking for.
“Excuse me,” he said to the man.
Emmett looked down at Jeremy.
“Can I help you?”
Jeremy thought he must look so stupid to this man, but he asked nonetheless.
“Are you, by any chance, Emmett Gordon?”
“Yes, yes I am,” Emmett replied.
Jeremy could hardly fathom this answer. He had somehow found the very man he was looking for. All that remained was to figure out what action to take next. Jeremy was at a complete loss of words as his hand searched for the parchment in his pocket and handed it to Gordon. Emmett carefully reached out his own hand and took the message.
He cautiously unfolded it and read through. It wasn’t long before his eyes widened and he crumpled up the paper. His eyes searched for something in his past, this much was obvious even to Jeremy.
“Son, what’s your name?” Emmett asked Jeremy.
“Listen closely, for what comes next is of grave importance. You have fulfilled your most important obligation. Now, I need you to go home and forget all this. I can’t have you do anything that would endanger yourself.”
At this, Emmett turned away from Jeremy and rounded a corner on the other side of the mall. Jeremy turned and began walking away as Gordon had instructed, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was obligated to do more. By the time he made it halfway across the lot, he had made up his mind. He had no idea what Emmett planned to do next, but he was going to make sure that he was there for it.
Anxious that Gordon should spot him and force him to leave, Jeremy concealed himself behind a lamppost. It seemed as if hours passed, but Jeremy was determined not to go anywhere until he saw Emmett leave. The sky began to turn a dark blue, and then finally was nearly black when Jeremy decided to go home. He took a step forward, but out of curiosity turned around and spotted a mall cop coming out of the front entrance. It was in this moment that Emmett finally presented himself and introduced himself to the cop. They exchanged a few friendly words, and then it was clear that Emmett had been left with the keys to the mall.
As the mall cop took his leave in his car, Jeremy concealed himself once more behind the lamppost as the vehicle illuminated the soft rain drops and left. By the time the car was out of sight, Jeremy looked back around just in time to see Emmett’s coat disappear within the darkness of Brookwest Mall. Before he knew it, Jeremy was racing across the empty parking lot to the mall doors. He pushed past them and scurried into the mall, where he witnessed a most horrid sight.
At least 30 mannequins were crowded shoulder to shoulder, and in the midst of them was Emmett Gordon, no longer expressing serenity but rather horror and disdain. At this moment, Jeremy’s consciousness nearly gave into what is commonly referred to as shock. Dead claws clasped Jeremy from all angles, dragging him into a Tartarus of unearthly terror. He stirred back to life. His mind raced to make sense of where he was or why the past hour was gone from his memory.
Jeremy made the decision to observe his surroundings. It appeared that he was in a dark, menacing room filled with machinery. At this point, he took into account that he was vertical, with both arms bound by strange restraints. Without warning, there was a horrid noise to his left that filled his memory with anticipation and agony. With utmost anxiety, Jeremy turned his head to the left and found that he could not think, nor make a sound.
Immediately adjacent to him he espied the face of the lifeless captor that Jeremy had wished existed solely as some form of horrific phantasm. There is no way of expressing Jeremy’s abject trauma, save for the ear-splitting bellow that seemed to extend to his soul.
A familiar but harsh voice resounded throughout the chamber, but he no longer had the strength of will to seek out the speaker. There was still little joy for Jeremy in the fact that Emmett was a captive as well.
“Everything is fine, Jer-Jeremy. You are all-“
He simply could not bear it. Emmett’s words of comfort were not enough to quell the fear heard in his voice. There was a plethora of them and no answer to any of it. How could they conceivably stand so still? Jeremy’s eyes closed tightly, he strained to retain their current state and began to weep.
Emmett gazed upon the pitiful state of his young companion, unsure of how Jeremy had been captured. His own stance was tremulous as well. His thoughts were congested with multitudinous admonishment. How could he have let this happen? Colin had shown them the research, and they knew what they were dealing with. John purchased the mall and gave Colin all the time he needed to securely imbed himself within.
Here, he now stood; the last of his friends as their meticulous arrangements ended in failure. A figure now slipped into the room, a human at that. That human, to be precise, was Colin Lockfran.
“What the hell?” responded Emmett. “You must be dead. How can you possibly be here?”
The very image of Colin, as Emmett Gordon had declared him to be, was revolting. One could not help but take up this impression. Every aspect of him was unkempt. His hair was wirey and drooped to his shoulders as it simultaneously stuck out at odd angles. It was unclear what his shirt looked like, as it was almost completely superimposed by a flowing trench coat, which happened to be the only article of clothing on him that resembled anything close to cleanliness.
For trousers, he wore only filthy jeans that were torn at the joints from what appeared to be perpetual usage. His shoes were in so much disrepair that it was all but impossible to discern what type they initially were. The utmost atrocity, however, were the eyes. The bloodshot and jagged lines ran from his irises to the edge. Complimentary to the product that was all those components put together were the nearly bulbous bags of a completely black complexion underneath his eyes.
“Emmett!” spoke the unpleasant-looking man. “My beloved friend! From the shores of the Acheron that is human negligence, greed, and inefficiency comes my friend to my safe and plentiful harbor of an island that bears the life-giving fruit that shall disperse the seeds of our bountiful future! I welcome you gladly, please join me!”
“Colin, what are yo-…Nevermind, that’s Kevin’s coat. Where did you get Kevin’s coat?!”
“This meaningless article of clothing? Why, it came from nowhere else but Kevin’s corpse, of course!”
Emmett’s eyes widened in terror as he abruptly scoured the room, his eyes finally falling upon his old comrade, his head wound obvious and skin pallid from entering the stage of pallor mortis. Just as Colin had implied, his coat was missing.
“Bastard!!! Insane bastard! You’ve killed him!”
Gordon’s rage was now fully unbridled.
“Calm yourself, Emmett. You are growing exceedingly hysterical. Our fallen compatriot has taken his life himself. I could have made him part of something greater. A damn shame.”
Although Lockfran’s madness remained ever apparent, his calm demeanor was telling of his comfort and satisfaction with his heinous actions.
“Explain yourself. Do it now.”
“Oh, Emmett. Your inquiries are bliss to me. I have so very much to tell you. I have become the engineer of our future and salvation. It stands amongst you.
“I might as well tell you how I’ve done it. I’ve wanted, needed, to tell someone for so long. This glory must be beheld by another-“
“Damn it! On with it, you mad man!”
“Think about the human structure. There is so much there to aid the portion that truly matters. I speak, of course, of the human brain. The compilation of intricate signals and neurons that allows inanimate atoms to come together and peer into the ether of our universe and become so much more. I have perfected it, in a sense.
“The neurons are the key, the neurons. I have always known this. All of those wretched years, spent knowing true prosperity, true preservation, was only just beyond our grasp. The potential we hold, and the fragile existence it is bound to is an atrocity set forth by our universe. We as human beings, bound by some arbitrary, contrived moral code have never known the simplicity of staring into the face of nature and telling it that it is wrong.
“Here we reside, content with the forces set forth as we found them. Why? So as not to intervene with the divine workings of God. God? We are gods, Emmett.
“Our species has risen from the protoplasmic materials in a dead universe and bent it to our will. I tell you what it is to be human, Emmett, because despite our untapped magnificence it is just that: untapped. We admire the brilliance of the concept of God, yet there is always the innate fear of holding that brilliance ourselves. All too frequently do we break the very moral code we created. I tell you that I can repair that flaw, mend what plagues us all.
“I can only believe that our kind was always destined to master the trajectory of our evolution, because I have done so! Technology has always been our constant companion. With it, we have accomplished so much. Now, we join with it and become one. This is the final evolutionary step.”
The bewilderment and rage growing in Emmett had now merged and become a new emotion all together. Had Jeremy been in any other state other than trauma, he might have looked upon the change in Gordon’s diction with awe.
“The great mistake the laws of nature have wrought upon us is of course our very mortality. I tell you now that I have corrected said mistake! I have become the reciprocal of Oppenheimer, for I am become life, the creator of worlds!”
“Life?! You mean to say these things you conceived in your unfathomable insanity, you deem to be life?”
“I have created nothing! Do you take me for an aspiring Prometheus or Frankenstein, Emmett? Even in this grand moment of revelation you fearfully cling to your meaningless platitudes. Those that stand among us now are the perfected human form. All that was needed was external matter, something that would not deteriorate so easily as tissue, and the means to converge it with living neurons.
“Do you recall the previous area of our employment?”
“I recall where the four of us worked, yes. But two are now dead, and one deranged.”
“As far as a menial existence goes, our friendship was a quaint joy.”
“How I wonder for how long this psychopathic monstrosity lurked within the genius that once astounded me.”
“Even now I recall the euphoria I felt on that most splendid of all days when I learned of the capabilities it possessed. The power it granted us, Emmett! The convergence of exterior matter with human cells! The malleability and durability of plastic. I stared into the eyes of that corpse I had transformed and saw the future in its ineffable ecstasy.
“The moment the cover lifted, the idea became my religion! The Singularity had finally arrived, and all of us were there to welcome it! All that was required of me was to acquire living neurons and to build a copy of the machine. Never before had the next step in evolution been so tangible nor our future so apparent. Acquiring a host proved to be quite difficult. However, after that I knew there would only be exponential growth.
“Keep in mind that the neurons are the key, if you will. With the right manipulation, there are myriads of ways in which to transmit to those neurons. I prefer to accomplish this through sound. Upon my command, said neurons release a minute but intricate series of electrical signals throughout the body to allow motion. Surely, now you understand the reality of these implications?”
“I realize that this depravity utilizes slavery as well as murder.”
“I have taken but one life during all of this. Do not become an impediment to progress as he allowed himself to be. Humans have always craved omnipotence, but not for themselves. This is the extent of the rise of tyrants since the Stone Age. We desire one of our own to take up the mantle and guide our species to Elysium. I, alone, must guide our unified species to unmitigated prosperity. There shall be no wealthy, poor, nor any need for currency or possession. I have eliminated impulse for greed, pride, and all vices that unaltered evolution has yet failed to dispose of. The only impulse left will be to unify. Surely you understand, Emmett?”
“I think I understand a great many things, Colin. I understand that you have eliminated all impulse from these people, and in doing so have eliminated all good impulse and subjected them to unimaginable pain. What you are trying to do is rob humans of what they have come to define as humanity. You aim to destroy all culture and dismantle societal morality in favor of the twisted atrocity that is your own.”
At this statement, Colin Lockfran’s demeanor of distorted hope changed to one of depraved anger.
“Your incredulity proves to be a continuous obstacle,” he began, “but, as I have made clear, this momentous enterprise is too great for my own obstinacy to fail me now. It’s obvious to me that you will not yield to a cause greater than all of us through verbiage alone; I must provide tangible evidence.”
This change in idiosyncrasy chilled Gordon with an immense dread, as his hue changed from one of livid anger to a great pallor.
“What do you mean?” spoke Emmett with tremulous vocalization. “Tangible evidence?”
“It just so happens that I have in my possession a living host, and I thank you very much for bringing him to me.”
“Bringing him- Colin, no. Please, no.”
“Put him in the fusion device.”
With putrid obedience, the creatures broke their inhuman stillness and walked to the machine at the center of the room with Jeremy.
“Colin! Colin, please! I’m begging you! Do you hear me?! COLIN!!!”
The main appeared to be composed of two main parts: a rectangular base with an indenture in the shape of a human silhouette, and a looming metal cover that was attached to an apparatus that was in turn attached to the ceiling.
“COLIN! HE’S A CHILD, GODDAMNIT!!!”
Jeremy, though only half-conscious with catatonia, urinated in his pants. The cold, lifeless hands of varying shape lifted him up and placed him upon the part of the machine that acted as a platform. Upon it were adjustable metal restraints that he felt clamp around his limbs. He could do nothing now but convulse as he helplessly watched the cover descend upon him. At last, it sealed itself as Jeremy heard a shrill whistle resound around him.
He began to hyperventilate, for there was now no sound whatsoever, nor was there light. After what seemed to be eternity, there came a horrid sound of rushing fluid. The fluid began to fill up the compartment around him. As the viscous fluid’s nature proved to be elusive, it also proved to be intolerably hot. Jeremy had but a moment to scream, as his consciousness began to leave him soon thereafter. He saw his mother’s smile, himself playing videogames in a sunlit room with Norman, and himself watching movies late at night.
Afterwards there came darkness, and then he was no more. All of Emmett’s hope rested upon the thought that something could have gone wrong; that the machine’s cover would lift and the boy would be alright. A moment later, and the cover began to lift at an awful and irreverent pace. What Gordon saw broke him. In Jeremy’s place, there was a creature not unlike all of the others in the room.
However, unlike the other creatures, what had been Jeremy’s head appeared to be writhing independently of the body. The all too familiar snarl was upon its face, but it seemed horrified. An interminable hissing escaped the mouth that was akin to screaming.
“Ah,” spoke Lockfran. “I’m afraid this happens at times.”
He crossed the room to retrieve a tool of some kind. As he turned around and began to walk towards the table, Emmett made the startling realization that what he held was a buzz saw. With the flick of a switch, Colin began to cut with ease through the center of the neck. He then picked up the still-moving head and placed it in a drawer that was one of many. Upon closing it, the mortified hissing could be heard no more. Emmett said nothing for he couldn’t.
“You see,” began Lockfran, “sometimes the neurons, as best as I can figure, are preserved too well within the exterior matter and in just the right order as to maintain some form of independent consciousness. Not to worry, though, as the rest of the body functions just fine.”
Colin turned to face the mannequin that had been Jeremy Pindle as he released the restraints.
“Rise,” he instructed.
The headless creature proceeded to do as it was told.
“See? All is in working order.”
Emmett raised his head in order to meet the deranged man’s gaze and spoke with a distinct emptiness, “Are you going to kill me or transform me?”
“Neither. You betrayed me, my former friend. You’re going to leave this place and never return. We shall meet again one day. Perhaps by then, you will have come to your senses.”
This scene would forever be imbedded within Emmett’s mind as the most wretched of allowances the universe had ever bestowed upon him. He had noticed the rain outside before entering the building. Now, the drops barely felt like anything at all to him.
Time had utterly collapsed for Gordon as he stood gazing into the darkness surrounding Brookwest Mall. Regardless of whether or not his men succeeded that night, Emmett knew that he was made out of something else after being destroyed all those years ago.
It was all too easy to convince the eager SWAT team of Barad, Massachusetts to tag along. A well-placed anonymous call at 7 PM and an establishment of authority was all that was needed to convince them that he needed assistance in uprooting an embedded terrorist cell. In a sense, Emmett knew that this was not a lie.
It was 8 PM now, and Gordon’s blissfully ignorant team was now assembled.
‘God, for an ensemble like this with people who knew what we knew. I’ll kill you with my bare hands, Colin.’
Emmett gave the order, and for one sweet moment of delusion he felt as though nature was returning to its balanced scales. No more children would endure that for any reason. Stealth was hardly even considered by the Barad SWAT team. Lights illuminated the rain drops as they approached the doors. Their entrance was practically a charge before they were all slaughtered before Gordon’s eyes. Rounds ignited and hit their targets, but the creatures did not fall. Their unnatural sprints propelled them forward as they clambered upon the bodies of the team. It was then that they bit into the jugulars and removed them from their frames. The creatures came from eclectic corners in the dark, and dropped the shrieking husks individually until one remained. He clung to a metal pole beneath racks of clothing like a terrified boy.
Emmett remained that way for an hour. His eyes were glazed with the images of his comrades lying in blood. An evil presence from Gordon’s past reared its head for a moment and compelled him to admire the creatures as a species and to despise the inferior faltering of his frightened companions.
Emmett forced this thought downwards in a fit of shame before shame gave way to anger. Gordon saw the face of Colin and remembered why he was there. He no longer feared death, but now saw it as a liberating ally. Emmett crawled along the floor with a single location in mind: the laboratory. When he finally arrived, he rose and walked to a piece of machinery with a triumphant but absent gait.
Colin Lockfran’s ambition had been seemingly without end, but his madness had wrought its destruction where his memory was concerned. Gordon was doubtful that he was even aware of the machine’s fission capabilities. He activated the device , and a beam of light erupted, spreading to and fro across the mall. Hissing resounding in ungodly harmony, but there was distortion to it.
The distortion continued to grow in strength until Emmett could no longer doubt that the hissing had made a complete metamorphosis into human screams. All around him, the plastic-esque material dripped from seared, red skin as hair turned to ash. He was not sure whether those who had survived this had been lucky. Indeed, there had been those who had undergone Lockfran’s cranial procedure who, at long last, were now free from their torment.
Emmett’s concentration regarding this orchestra was interrupted by the very shriek of Colin Lockfran. He now stood within the doorway of the laboratory with a facial expression that suggested genocide had been committed before his very eyes. He immediately broke into an insane sprint in Emmett’s direction. Gordon made no effort to defend himself, but found that there was no need. Lockfran raced past him and activated the conversion process, sealing himself within the machine. When it reopened, all that remained was a bright red skeleton contorted in what was surely intolerable pain. The flesh and interior workings had surely melted, as the plastic-esque fluid had formed into a pool which was mixed with a foul composite.
Emmett looked into the eyeholes of Colin Lockfran, which were still bellowing with smoke, and took his leave from Brookwest Mall.
When Emmett Gordon departed from Brookwest Mall that night, he did not hear the wails of the damned victims around him nor did he hear the sirens. The questions came and went without Emmett ever comprehending what passed the lips of his interviewers. The media created its own story regarding the events of Barad, Massachusetts, one that complied with what society does not wish to know. Emmett Gordon did not care that society rejected the truth.
Emmett Gordon knew the truth, and utterly despised it. He knew that we had forgotten the horror of being hunted, lost in our own luxury of being the apex species. We create false idols of terror in a last attempt of burying it within. We cling to the eldritch tale and tell our children that it is what horror looks like. Horror is what the universe allows. A child was destroyed within feet of Emmett, and no star went out that night. Today, Emmett Gordon howls at the moon in his rural home, drinking himself to death and refusing all visitors. You will find no pictures in his home if you are somehow allowed within. Within every inanimate face, there is bastardized mockery of the human form to him. Within all dead eyes, there awaits stagnant calculation. We must all take refuge amongst our false idols, for we are but lost apes screaming our cacophonies to a careless sky.