Written by: Olive Richardson
The glory in being a temp security guard for a dying mall is…nominal. At best. And at its worst, completely nonexistent. It pays the bills though.
And that was the exact mentality Lorenzo tucked in his belt that night, along with the standard issue flashlight and steel baton. For emergencies only.
Forester Mall was on its way out of the little village of Limberlost, and the process had only been sped up by the implementation of a brand new, four story shopping center. At the time of its conception in 1950, when discretionary income and personal wealth flourished after the bloodshed of war, Forester, or as Lorenzo heard it, was the talk of the town. A beacon of capitalism.
He passed by an old appliance stores, and in it hung a poster of a woman sporting pinned up blonde hair popping a cherry pie into an oven as bright red as her dress. He wondered to himself how much an oven like that—a real authentic one from the late 1950’s would fetch at an auction, and how it was too bad the stores were cleaned and cleared out by shopkeeps and looters alike probably before he was even of legal working age, when there came a resounding /thunk!/ that shook the dust from the floor.
Something large had fallen over, judging by the sound of it, and he headed deeper into the mall, one hand clutched around his flashlight and the other brushing his baton. The light wavered and wobbled as he walked, and he tried to keep his hands steady.
The noise had come from the first-floor department store, he was sure.
He passed over the perfume department. Walked over to the women’s clothing section, a bit unnerved by the few mannequins that still called a dead mall home, their white, sexless bodies covered in dirt and grime of fifty years, and in front of a display that once housed women’s maternity clothing, was the culprit. There, in the beam of the flashlight, he saw the head of a mannequin on the floor. The body was still upright, one hand on her hip. Kicking himself that his fear of burglars turned out to be simply this, he batted at it with his leg halfheartedly, and the head rolled under a perfume display.
Another resonant crack! Like someone swinging a heavy wooden bat, coming from the backroom of the department store. Lorenzo jumped, pointing his flashlight at the door, his baton now out of its holster and at the ready.
He swung open the doors, which in return creaked their displeasure at decades of misuse. The room had been cleaned out of almost everything—no shipment, no clothing. A couple scattered boxes here and there, but what struck Lorenzo as peculiar was the amount of mannequin heads. At least ten of them were scattered about the floor. But when he looked around, he only saw a handful, maybe two or three of complete ones—mannequins with both head and body. None were headless.
Something skittered, out of his sight, behind one of the pillars in the room. Lorenzo creeped back quietly, with no intention to startle the man or animal occupying the space with him now. He rounded the corner.
There, in the beam of the flashlight, his fingers shaking so hard that he could barely keep the thing illuminated. A mannequin, a mannequin laying on all fours, like it was a newborn learning to crawl on the floor, a mannequin he said over and over again in his head, rolling the words around his tongue and trying to keep himself calm, it’s just a mannequin a mannequin it’s a mannequin..
Until it leaped up, arching its back like a distressed cat. The mannequin’s faceless head turned in his direction with a resounding crack! like a broken neck, and Lorenzo, still backing away slowly, thought ‘it’s looking at me oh dear christ it’s looking at me’
And the thing skittered away, moving more like a man in a bodysuit instead of anything made up of acrylics and plastic, moving on the palms of its hands and the balls of its feet, back into the darkness. In the silence, the others, moving their heads in the same sickening way started towards him, and, screaming, Lorenzo bolted through the doors.
Running through the department store, he heard them suddenly, all around him, and with his weak flashlight beam he could see a glittering white as they streaked by. The doors to the exit were in sight, and as he pounded his feet to the pavement, mere feet away, something knocked him in the stomach and sent him flying.
Lorenzo landed on the cold, filthy floor, head knocking into something solid. He turned the beam on his pursuer; the headless mannequin from before, reaching for him with its fingers of glass and death.
He did the only thing he could think of doing. Grabbing into the darkness with sweat drenched fingers, Lorenzo reached and reached and finally his fingertips landed on something hard and he pulled it out with all the strength he could muster just as the headless mannequin saddled two fingers against the back of his neck and began to squeeze. Lorenzo screamed, sliding back on his hands from the freezing, dead touch, with the lost head of the mannequin in his lap. It froze, for a second, as Lorenzo beckoned for the mannequin to take its lost head back, holding it gently in his arms. But, unbeknownst to him, and very unfortunately, it wasn’t the head the mannequin was very much interested in.
With its icy hands wrapped around his neck, it began to pull.
The sun rose promptly at six thirty, and the-thing-that-was-once-Lorenzo walked outside to his car, put the keys in the ignition—not that it knew how to do that, but Lorenzo had known how—and drove away from Forester.
As it did so, the head of the late Lorenzo Morrison was already well on its way to calcifying. It turned white, and soon enough, the eternal look of horror on Lorenzo’s face—eyes wide in terror, mouth open in a never-ending scream, would fade, becoming completely formless, impossible to tell from any of the other mannequin heads that littered the floor in the backroom of a dead mall. Lorenzo Morrison, or whatever he was now, drove off and did not look back.
Shoutout to Olive for this scary submission!