When he found himself leaving high school and thrust into the real world, Max never imagined that meant working a minimum wage job at a ghost mall. There hadn’t been a single customer in their small kids toy store for over an hour, and as he kept looking at his watch desperate for the clock to hit 6pm he sighed in boredom.
“What, got nothing to do either?” In walked Marla, she worked at the store across from his that was filled with all kinds of oddities only grandmas would find interesting, the store itself called The Great Glassware. A boring name for a boring store, it fit perfectly and Marla with her bright green hair and multiple facial piercings stood out like a sore thumb working there.
“Yeah, only about an hour left of my shift thank god” Max huffed, in response Marla let out a dry laugh and shook her head.
“Damn kids and them not wanting to work anymore” despite being only a year older than him, she often teased him about ‘still being a kid’ and lovingly referred to him as a child. Max ran a hand through his oily black hair, his fingers getting slightly tangled near the ends of his shoulder length strands before grabbing a hair tie and putting it up into a loose ponytail.
“Man if you only knew how dead it is in here, at least you get a few old ladies every day. I don’t think I’ve seen a single customer in weeks. I have no clue how we’re still open”. He wasn’t wrong, the old toy store was clearly decaying as many of the products had begun to collect dust no matter how many times he cleaned up and no one seemed to ever come through the entrance beneath the neon sign stating ‘Big Top Toys’.
“Well I have a surprise for you then! An under construction area is near where that one record shop used to be, just a bit further down the hall past the food court!” Marla sounded so excited, her eyes shining in anticipation and it was very obvious she wanted to go see what was going on and wanted Max to join her.
“Let me guess, this means I have to leave my work to come with? You know my manager is going to flip her shit if I do that again man” Max huffed and, as much as he wanted to go, knew he couldn’t risk his job to go exploring again despite also knowing his manager barely cared anyways as long as no one stole from the store while he was away. It’s why he was the only one working shifts, there was no one else willing to sit in an empty store for hours on end just for a measly few dollars a week. It was barely enough for the kid to live off, but it was still a living.
“Y’know what, fine I’ll go with you. But this is the last time I go on a ‘mission’ with you”, he made sure to do air quotes around mission and Marla simply laughed in response, knowing he said this every time but never stuck to it. As he got up from his desk chair behind the counter, he took one last look up at the security camera above his station and gave it a curt nod before following Marla out. Like many abandoned malls, the amount of for lease signs littering empty store windows outnumbered the open stores by a lot. As they slowly passed the old food court, the two took notice that only one place remained in business, the old KFC stood a proud beacon of light in the dark corner of the mall surrounded by vacant and run down stalls that at one point bustled with life no longer there.
“Damn, how far away is this thing Mar?” Max panted trying to keep up with the speed walking girl ahead of him, not used to this much exercise despite not having been walking for more than maybe 5 minutes at this point.
“Only like one or two more turns and then we’re there, it’s a restricted area but I’ve noticed no one ever patrols over there so we can probably sneak in pretty easily kid. Just remember when we get there not to make too much noise, don’t want to draw any attention to ourselves ok?” Max gave a slight nod in response, not used to her sounding so enthusiastic about any of her previous adventures around the mall. Within less than two minutes, they’d finally made it to their desired location and stared at the big “under construction” caution tape surrounding a huge wall with a small white door opened just a crack, its paint chipping off from repeated use over time. It seemed to the two that this section of the mall had never existed before and came as a surprise to be here at all. As they snuck in through the doorway, a squeaking rang out and took over the dark corridors behind them and with a loud thud, the door slammed shut behind them. The inside of the area they entered was eerily silent, more so than the mall itself had been.
“Hey Mar?” Max began, “maybe we should go back? I mean my manager will freak out if she sees I’m not there again and I can’t afford to lose this job. I gotta pay my bills y’know?”
“What, are you a scaredy cat?” Marla teased back, and with that Max quickly shut up. He looked around tentatively, curious yet cautious of this new environment before his eyes landed on something in the distance. A line of perfectly porcelain white mannequins stood in the dark beyond, positioned facing the doorway they entered through and completely naked and still. Their poses were each unique, as if they had picked the poses themselves. The bodies were all slim and feminine, a slight shine from the faint light source of the window on the wall reflecting off each one at seemingly the exact same spot. The faces were intricately carved and looked almost human except for one detail, each of the mannequins had all facial features except for eyes.
“Hell no, I’m out” Max knew when he got that tingling feeling up his spine and the twist in his guts that it was better to be seen as a coward than end up a victim and right now he felt like he was a protagonist in a horror movie. As he turned and twisted the door handle, nothing happened. The door refused to budge as if locked from the outside despite no key hole being visible at all.
“Mar can you help? It won’t move!” Max’s heart rate began to accelerate as Marla tried pulling too to no avail.
“What the fuck? Why isn’t it opening?!” At this point he started to panic, if even she was getting scared then something was truly wrong. In all his time knowing her, Max never once saw Marla afraid of anything. To see the anxiety rise in her eyes was a sight he never thought he’d ever see. The two looked back, trying to search for anything within the now locked space to use to jam the door open as something caught their eyes.
“That thing.. it wasn’t that close before right?” Marla was right, one of the mannequins seemed to have inched closer than before by only a tiny yet noticeable bit. The sun now reflected off its eyeless face instead of its porcelain body, the pose changing to something much more uncanny with its arms bent back at an awkward angle and face jutting forward in an unnatural and seemingly impossible way. They turned back to the door before looking back again, the mannequin once again changing poses to now having its hands seemingly clawing at its eyeless face, a black liquid pouring from where eyes should be, coating the once white fingers in an inky substance. Max felt his heart rate rise and his breathing quicken, nothing about this was normal and he desperately looked for a way out as Marla began to shake in fear. Her eyes were locked onto the mannequin as if that could keep it in place, as if it would stop whatever was happening.
“Mar.. Mar what the fuck is happening?! This.. this has to be a sick joke right?!” Max could barely speak between his heavy and fast breaths, Marla made no response and Max quickly glanced at her to check that she was ok. She lay passed out on the floor, somehow that same black liquid poured out of her mouth like vomit and her eyes rolled back into her skull, looking like two porcelain orbs instead of eyeballs. He began to panic more as he felt a hand grasp onto his shoulder tightly, refusing to let go and holding him in place. Shakily, he glanced over his shoulder and the mannequin’s face was right beside his. He felt his entire body go limp, something wet dripping down his face as he lost all control of his limbs. He was able to see but was powerless to move, a passenger in his own body.
The mannequins began to all move towards the two, shifting and twisting in ways that shouldn’t be possible as they grabbed the two teens and carried them deeper into the darkness. They laid the teens onto two tables, strapping them down with tight black belts around their legs, arms, and throats, as precaution despite both teens being completely incapacitated currently. Heavy silver metal masks were placed over their faces, small holes for breathing being the only source of letting any small fragment of light in. A tube was then connected to the holes and a white liquid swam through and into the mask, the teens both letting out loud screams and squirming and tugging against the bindings that held them still as the boiling liquids hit their skin. Over their body another mask lay and the liquid filled that mold as well, boiling blisters piercing through once soft flesh and gasps for breaths being the only sound other than the filling of the metal. Soon after, only a few minutes later, the room fell silent and the mannequins removed the molds from the teens.
The next day, when Max’s manager came into work, he found Max sitting silently at his desk. His body lay still and stiff, white as porcelain and perfectly smooth. His face was carved to perfection and his once oily hair was no more. He looked like a perfect replication of himself chiseled right down to his nose and mouth. The only missing feature was his eyes, forever sunken into his face for the rest of eternity.
Credit: Elliot Matthew
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