I had a job once as a night guard. It was at an old department store in my home town. Gold Springs used to be a booming mining town, but once the mines dried up the people went with them. The whole region has a past as a hard drinking, rough and tumble town. Now it’s just another dying rural town perched on the edge of desert.
The store was two stories and had an escalator. It was a huge novelty for the region, and it was funny how when we were kids that was what got us excited. Not the prospect of new toys, but that we’d be able to ride an escalator! It was the only one within 100 miles, so it was kind of a big deal at the time.
Anyways, I was back from college for the summer and was hired on nearly as soon as I applied. No drug testing or anything like that, just handed me an ill fitting uniform, flashlight, and told me to call the cops if someone broke in. I didn’t have any problems with that last part. I’m not exactly the confrontational type, but I couldn’t imagine that I could get in to too much trouble guarding a dying department store.
It was my first night and my flashlight beam played over the racks and racks of discounted clothes. Rumor had it a Kohl’s was opening about 25 miles away, so this place was likely to shutter its doors soon. It was a pity, since the building was a beautiful, ornate store built originally in the ’30s. The future was expected to be bright, so the whole town is filled with overly ornate buildings for the region.
The stonework inside reflected my flashlight somewhat as I moved down the aisles. I came to the escalators and they were shut off. Walking up the escalators I felt a ping of nostalgia. I’ll need to stop in here during the day sometime was what ran through my mind.
It was then I heard something hit the ground on the second floor. My heart skipped a beat as I switched off my flashlight and hid behind a clothing rack.
Underneath one of the few operational lights, a single mannequin had fallen over. I laughed at myself and switched my light back on. Propping the mannequin back up next to its partner, I moved on down the rows. The mannequins were all naked, another sign of this place slowly inching into oblivion. I checked the upstairs bathroom and played with my phone for awhile when I heard a sharp crack from where the mannequin had fallen.
Running now, I turned the corner and stopped.
The second mannequin had its arm up as though it had thrown a right cross, hitting the other mannequin in the face.
I wasn’t alone. I called the cops and they said someone was on the way, but since it was a county sherriff’s office, they wouldn’t make it for at least 30 minutes. I cursed under my breath and switched off the light again. I had to get out of there before whoever it was found me. I had no doubt they were messing with me at this point, trying to scare me out of the building, and I’m not ashamed to say that’s exactly what was happening to me.
Crouched and moving quickly down the escalator, I stopped to hide behind a rack of clothes to get my bearings. I peered out from behind a stand of two more mannequins, and then looked backwards towards the escalator. I knew the elevator was shut down for the night, and even I didn’t know how to get it back on, so anyone had to come down these stairs.
I stealthily crawled across the aisle to the next clothing rack when I heard a creak behind me. Spinning around and falling on my ass, I shined my flashlight at my previous hiding location.
One of the mannequins had its hands around the throat of the other mannequin, who appeared to be frozen in place struggling to get out of its grip.
It was then I heard shuffling from all over the store. Nearly dropping my flashlight, I broke into a sprint for the front door but stopped when I saw them.
Three mannequins, just standing in front of the door. One of them had a kitchen knife from what I was sure was one of the display models.
I could feel their dead eyes boring into me as I heard shuffling behind me again. I dodged to the right and looked behind me.
The mannequin that had been choking the other one had now pried the other’s head off. It had punched a hole into its skull and was holding it up to its mouth, pantomiming eating.
Then with a crash, one of the mannequins from upstairs fell over the railing of the escalator, shattering when it hit the ground. Turning back to the doors, I saw only two of them there now. My heart pounding, I started to sprint towards them. Brandishing my heavy Maglite like a club, I cracked open the skull of one of the mannequins guarding the door.
I wound up to hit the other one when a pain shot through my calf. I collapsed to the floor and upon turning around saw the mannequin with the knife splattered with fresh blood. My blood.
As soon as I took my eyes off of them I heard the other mannequins collapse as though I had really bashed their skulls in. I cried out in pain and began to scoot backwards, trying not to take my eyes off the thing in front of me.
Upstairs I heard the fire alarm go off, and the flaming body of another mannequin toppled over the railing, igniting the carpet and rack of clearance women’s apparel right next to it. I heard a clink of metal on tile and saw that the knife wielding mannequin had been slowly dragging itself to me, the knife dragging along the ground in its frozen grip.
I stared at it as I heard more shuffling coming from the escalator. A lot of shuffling. My hand searching while I never broke eye contact, I found my dropped flashlight and swung hard down other the thing’s arm. It shattered on impact, the knife skittering away. Standing and hobbling, I shoved through the front doors just as the smoke began to burn my lungs. I stumbled out into the parking lot and locked the front doors. I could see at least 10 of those plastic corpses frozen in place at the bottom of the escalator, staring at me, mouth agape, as the fire slowly melted them.
Melted them alive. Hearing a pounding on the glass, I looked down to see the armless mannequin was trying to escape, but it was no use. I just stared at it. The worst thing though, is I could swear I heard the screams of the ones locked inside with the fire. It spread quickly, and it wasn’t 15 minutes until the firefighters arrived, followed shortly by the cops.
They took my statement and I told them someone had stayed after the store closed and started the fire before sprinting out the front door. Based on my reputation around town, they took my word for it, and I’m sure that the owner of the store was happy to get the insurance money for the weathered building.
I don’t work nights anymore, or go to malls. I order all my clothes online.
Because last time I went to another department store, I was watching the mannequins cautiously.
When I turned my back for just a moment, I heard a sliding noise.
The mannequin was staring back.