Friday, July 5, 2013
Henderson’s Fine Apparel and Home Goods was closed for a year before Jake and his buddies finally got around to exploring it. It wasn’t that they hadn’t ever thought about breaking into the two story brick building downtown before then. They’d discussed it dozens of times after school when they were at Travis’s house stuffing their faces full of Doritos and Sour Patch Kids and playing World of Warcraft. Most of the time it was all they could do not to think about it. It was just that old man Henderson had been paying a security company to watch the building since the store closed down. The few kids who’d been bold enough to try and get in hadn’t made it past the bottom floor. The last thing Jake’s mom needed was for Jake to be carted home by his ear and fined for trespassing. They were barely making rent on their crappy little one bedroom apartment as it was. She would rip him a new one and before it had time to heal, the both of them would be out of money and a place to stay. Travis and Jonah knew this so they didn’t try to goad him into risking it all…but now that old man Henderson was dead and the security company was out of an assignment…well, the goading had started up full force.
The night Jake finally gave in the three of them were walking their bikes through town while they ate their vanilla and chocolate swirled cones from the Twisty Treat. They had to pass Hendersons to get to the road that led back to Travis’s place and so it was hard not to think about going inside when the building loomed directly over them.
“Dude, we’ll just stick our heads in for a minute or two,” Jonah elbowed Jake in his side and Jake missed his mouth and ended up with ice cream on his cheek.
“You mind?” he grumbled as he wiped it off on his shoulder.
“Security guys’ve been gone for a week. If we don’t go in now somebody else’ll beat us to it. Come on. Five minutes. That’s all we’re asking,” Travis said. He bit off the entire top of his ice cream and swallowed it. Jake waited for his face to wrinkle in pain when the brain freeze set in, but his skin just paled the tiniest bit. Nothing ever affected Travis. He was basically bulletproof. The only twelve year old Jake knew who was—of course it probably had something to do with the fact that Travis’s family was loaded and that his parents were the Ken and Barbie of their small town. Nothing bad had happened to the kid. Ever.
Jake shrugged, borrowed Travis’s own loose limbed swagger, and tried to look like he could care less about anything when of course he had no choice but to care about everything. Every part of his life was tenuous, balanced on a wafer thin wire. Most days he was sure that he couldn’t keep balancing, that his mom couldn’t. It was exhausting, but they had no choice. When his dad went to jail for check fraud, he’d left them with nothing but bills and scandal. They hadn’t rallied so much as survived…and it was getting harder all the time. He'd promised his mom no screw ups. He’d given her his word.
Jake looked up at the building and it’s blacked out windows. The place looked like it could be haunted, but this didn’t scare him. It was hard to feel more terrified than he already was on any given day. Instead of terror he felt longing. Every kid in town would find a way inside that place soon. There could be stuff left in there…things that old man Henderson left behind when he closed his doors. Who knows? There might even be a toaster inside. That would be awesome. Pop Tarts were Jake’s favorite breakfast food and he hadn’t had them warm in a year. Travis was right, if they didn’t go now others would and all the good stuff would be gone.
“Five minutes, then. But no more.” He rolled his bike towards the store and the other boys whooped and followed.
Ten minutes later they were inside. It should’ve taken longer. Jake had half thought they wouldn’t get in at all because the security guys always kept the store’s back door chained and locked and the heavy duty security gate pulled down over the front entrance. He'd heard that none of the guards ever had to step foot inside the actual building. They'd only patrolled the perimeter to check the doors and windows in case they were broken. And they never were, until that night. The chain was on the ground, snipped in two and the door was cracked open like an invitation.
It was so dark so they could barely make out anything until Travis pulled out his iPhone and put on his flashlight app. They were standing in the back store room. It was crowded with cardboard boxes, all of them empty. The boys hurried forward, eager to get out into the main part of the store. The air was stale and hot. Jake pulled his shirt up from his stomach to wipe the sweat dripping off of his nose. The store had twelve foot high ceilings, but the heat and dark made it feel closer. Travis led through another door and then they were out in among a dozen or so metal rounders with empty hangers on them. Beyond them was aisle after aisle of metal shelving—bone colored and bare in the dim light.
Jonah groaned. “Dude, there’s nothing in here at all. This sucks.”
They walked over to the narrow escalator that led up to the second floor.
“Come on,” Travis started climbing, his face shiny with sweat, his eyes eager. He didn’t seem to care that there wasn’t anything inside worth taking. Jake was pretty sure that in Travis's head that iPhone was becoming a fiery torch and he was envisioning himself as some kind of urban Indiana Jones. He wasn’t going to want to leave until he’d explored every inch of the place.
Once upstairs the boys ran smack into a crowd of mannequins in various poses. At first glance it almost looked like a bunch of people dancing at a club…if the club didn’t expect anyone to wear clothes. Jake’s eyes flitted to the one next to him. It was a woman with narrow eyes and full, pursed lips. Her breasts were practically at his eye level. He stared without realizing that he was. Travis clapped him on the back. “Got a new girlfriend?”
Jake snorted and tried to act like he thought this was funny. He felt his cheeks get hot.
Travis draped an arm around the mannequin and put one hand on its breast. “Too bad she's all plastic,” he said. Jonah laughed and grabbed another mannequin so that he could do the same thing. Jake watched them and shook his head. They looked ridiculous. He walked a little ways away so that they wouldn’t try to get him to cop a feel too. There was something eerie about being in the middle of so many fake people. He kept feeling like they were watching him, like if he turned his head quickly enough he’d catch one of them moving its head so it could see him more clearly.
A faint giggle sounded out of the darkness to his left. He jumped a little at the sound and then forced himself to calm. Travis. He must’ve lost interest in his plastic date and was messing with him now.
“Cut it out,man,” he grumbled.
The giggling stopped—was replaced by a scraping noise, like something heavy and metallic was being dragged across the floor towards him. Jake’s skin erupted into goose flesh.
“I said cut it out,” he said, his voice borderline angry now. He hated when Travis tried to freak him out. Usually it didn’t work...but these mannequins and their eyes. Suddenly all he wanted was to leave. There wasn’t anything good left in this place for them to find. It was stupid to thing that there might’ve been. Cold Pop Tarts weren’t all that bad.
Suddenly a scream erupted from behind him somewhere. He turned and looked at the place by the escalator where Travis and Jonah had been a moment ago, but he didn’t see them. Were the mannequins closer together now? He could barely see over their upturned arms and tilted heads.
“Jonah! Travis! Quit screwing around!” Jake called. But then the scream kept coming--became a chorus as another joined the first—both of them raw and horrible like the kind people in a slasher flick do when they’re being gutted alive. “Jonah! Travis!” He called again, this time screaming himself, but he couldn’t hear them…or they weren’t answering. His heart slammed against his rib cage, beating fast enough to make his temple throb. He began to weave his way back through the plastic bodies. Twice he got his arm or jeans pocket snagged on their finger and felt sure that they were making a grab for him…but that was ridiculous. They weren’t alive. That was impossible. Someone else must be in here with them. One of the guards? Other kids? The police?
Whoever it was they were really freaking Travis and Jonah out...or hurting them...
The screaming cut off and then there was a silence that made the blood roar in his ears. He opened his mouth to call to Travis and Jonah one more time, but he couldn’t get his voice to work, or maybe he was just afraid to try because then whoever made the other boys scream would come for him too. He swayed a little on his feet, his shoulder bumping the mannequin next to him. He looked over at its face, so close to his that he could see the tiny chips in the paint that made up the whites of its eyes. He backed up a little, his arm knocking into another mannequin. He was surrounded on all sides by mannequins, the path he’d just walked completely blocked off now. The one behind him had its left arm out like it had been about to grab his shoulder. Jake spun in a circle, afraid to take his eyes of any of them for more than a second. He staggered forward and pushed the one with the chipped pupils. He had to get out of there. He had to find Jonah and Travis. The mannequin tipped backwards and Jake waited for it to fall so he could step over it and make a beeline for the escalator. But it didn’t go down at all. It righted itself and instead tipped forward in his direction instead. Jake let out a scream as the mannequin’s face came closer and closer, its pursed lips slowly splitting into a too wide grin.
Story by: Amy Christine Parker
Photo by: Hector Lion