I take one look at the space between the mannequins and frown.
“No way,” I say, shaking my head.
“C’mon, Shae,” pleads Lizzie. “It’s perfect. They’ll never expect it.”
“Not gonna happen.” I glance around the darkened department store. “What about our original plan? Hiding in the fitting rooms.”
Lizzie rolls her eyes. “Sure, if you want to be found in less than a minute. That’s the first place they’ll look.”
My best friend has a point there. We wouldn’t last long.
“Okay, fine.” I point at the lingerie-clad mannequins. “But we’ll be pretty obvious up there in our street clothes.”
Lizzie grins in a way I immediately don’t like. “Who said anything about street clothes?” She gestures at the racks of lingerie surrounding us.
“Oh, no. Absolutely not.” My face flushes just looking at the barely-there scraps of fabric clinging to hangers. “It may take longer, but the guys will still find us. And then I’ll die of embarrassment.”
Lizzie is already rummaging through the merchandise. “Just trust me on this. I work here, and I know my way around lingerie. I’ll find something tasteful for you.”
I look at my watch. “Two minutes, Lizzie. We have two minutes to hide. We gotta go. Now.” This after-hours game of hide-and-seek is beginning to feel like a bad idea.
She holds out something black and lacy. “Here, put this on. Very elegant. Totally you, Shae.”
I scowl at the garment and cross my arms. “What the hell is that?”
She looks at me like I have two heads. “It’s called a teddy. Standard bra and panties, but the bra has a lace skirt that comes down to mid-thigh.” She raises an eyebrow and shakes her head. “You seriously don’t know your lingerie, do you?”
“All I know is I’m sure as hell not wearing that.”
Lizzie holds the garment out expectantly while flipping through hangers with her other hand. “Ah, I knew it was here somewhere.” She pulls her hand from the rack clutching a sheer blue piece of fabric and holds it up to herself.
“Where’s the rest of it?” I ask.
She flashes a devilish smile. “The rest of it is optional. This nightie’s all I need.”
“You can’t be serious. I can see right through that.”
“Exactly.” Lizzie tosses the black teddy at me. “Now or never, Shae.”
I look at the garment in my hand and have to admit it’s quite elegant. My brain’s logical part is begging me to drop the teddy and hide in a fitting room. Who cares if I’m found right away? At least I’d have my dignity intact.
I try to drop it. I really do, but my hand won’t open. A less logical part of my brain is rebelling. To my horror, I kick off my shoes and start unzipping my jeans.
“Where will we hide our clothes?” I hear myself asking as I continue to undress.
Lizzie’s already naked and pulling the nightie over her head. She points with her chin. “In that basket over there.”
“Got it.” I slide out of my jeans and unbutton my blouse. What the hell am I doing? Why am I not running? I try to regain some motor control, but it’s no use. Thirty seconds later, I toss my clothes on top of Lizzie’s in the basket.
I turn back to my friend, and we just stare at each other. Lizzie looks like she stepped out of a lingerie catalog. As expected, the nightie leaves nothing to the imagination, but she’s rocking it.
“Damn,” says Lizzie, nodding at me. “You are smokin’, Shae.”
I look down at myself for the first time, and my eyes go wide. Shit. I’m actually wearing it. Maybe I don’t look half bad. I glance around for a mirror to test that theory.
We both freeze as a male voice calls out from the store entrance. “Ready or not! Here we come! And we WILL find you!”
Lizzie and I share a glance and rush to the platform. There’s just enough room for the two of us between the equally revealing pair of real mannequins. Lizzie immediately assumes the perfect pose with her left hand on her hip and her right arm hanging loosely by her side. She stares into space with a vacant expression.
“You need to pose,” she hisses between her teeth like a ventriloquist. “And remember… mannequins don’t smile.”
“I know that,” I whisper back. My brain is still trying to process how Lizzie talked me into this, so I just assume the mirror image of her pose and wait. Symmetry is good, right?
Voices are getting closer. I try to think mannequin thoughts.
“You thinking what I’m thinking?” asks Derek.
“Changing rooms,” says Brett with a grin. “And maybe if we’re lucky, they’ll be changing.”
I can see them out of the corner of my eye now. Oh, shit! They’re gonna walk right in front of us. Why did this display have to be next to a walkway? It’s too late to run and put my clothes back on. Be the mannequin. Be the mannequin…
“Hey, good call walking through the underwear section,” says Brett.
“My favorite place in the store,” replies Derek. “These mannequins are hot!”
They glance at the four lingerie-clad figures on the platform as they walk by. I force myself not to move. Not to look. Not to breathe.
They keep walking. I’m pretty sure they looked right at us. Holy shit, it worked. When they’re out of earshot, I risk a whisper.
“Lizzie, you’re a genius. I should never have doubted you.”
“That was just the start, Shae. They’ll be back.”
I glance sideways. Lizzie’s face is blank. Like there’s seriously nobody home. Damn, she’s good.
A few minutes tick by until I hear voices coming closer again. At least, I think it was just a few minutes. I’m already discovering ‘mannequin time’ can be deceptive.
“Did we check every changing room?” asks Brett.
“Yeah, dude. Every single one. Those two are better than I expected.” As they approach, Derek raises his voice. “We’ll still find you! You can’t hide forever!”
They stop in front of our display, facing away from us.
“I don’t think they’re hiding over here,” says Brett, surveying the racks of lingerie. “This stuff is too skimpy to hide behind.”
“Yeah, dude. I think you’re right,” says Derek. “They’re probably in the winter coats. C’mon.”
They turn back the way they came, but Brett happens to look sideways at us. He stops in his tracks.
“Hold up, bro.”
Derek stops and looks at Brett. “What? We’re wasting time.”
“Look at the mannequins,” says Brett. “The two in the middle.”
They walk up until they’re standing a few feet in front of us. Shit, shit, shit…
“What about them?” asks Derek. “I mean, I like mannequins in lingerie as much as the next guy, but we need to go find the girls. Now.”
“But they’re right here!” Brett exclaims, pointing at us.
“Those are just mannequins, dumbass.”
“No, I’m telling you it’s them.” He squints. “Oh, damn! Lizzie’s got no panties on!”
Shit. I wait for the phones to come out. I imagine the mortifying photos making the rounds on social media. I want to run, but my body rebels and continues to stand motionless. I think empty thoughts and hope for the best.
Derek rolls his eyes. “Dude, you can’t be serious. I mean, I can kinda see a resemblance, but they’re freakin’ mannequins.” He walks closer. “Watch.”
To my horror, Derek reaches out and taps on Lizzie’s left thigh. I hear a hollow sound.
What the fuck?
“See?” says Derek. “Mannequins.”
“No way!” Brett reaches for my arm and knocks on it.
Seriously, what the fuck?
I realize I’ve been holding my breath and sucking in my stomach the whole time. I try to exhale, but nothing happens. My heart was racing when they first walked by, but now I can’t feel it. Is it even beating?
“Yeah, you’re right,” says Brett as he looks me up and down. “This mannequin is too hot to be Shae. Don’t get me wrong, dude. She’s pretty cute, but there’s no way she looks like this without her clothes on.”
I didn’t know whether to be flattered or offended. I decided to split the difference and slap him anyway, but my arm won’t move.
“Exactly,” says Derek. “Now quit ogling the plastic ladies, and let’s go find the real ones. Maybe you’ll see what Shae looks like without her clothes on.”
Now I want to slap both of them, but my body won’t respond. I’m pretty sure my heart isn’t beating.
Brett grins. “Now you’re talking, man! What are we waiting for?”
Derek rolls his eyes. “That’s a good question. C’mon.”
The two pigs disappear from view on their way to the outerwear section. I try to look sideways at Lizzie, but my eyes won’t move. They’re locked in place, staring straight ahead.
I start to panic. What the hell is happening? I methodically try to move every body part, but nothing is cooperating. My heart is no longer beating. I don’t remember when I stopped breathing.
Do twenty minutes go by? I don’t know. Mannequin time is so confusing.
Two young men come into view.
“So much for the coat section,” says one of them.
“Yeah, I’m ready to give up,” says the other. He cups his hands over his mouth and shouts. “We give up! You can come out now!”
Nothing happens. Whoever he’s yelling at doesn’t appear.
“Ugh, screw them,” says the first one. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Yeah, dude. I’m done with this.”
They disappear from view. A door opens and closes. Silence.
I try to remember why I’m in the store. How did I get here anyway? Did I come alone? Who were those guys?
Hours pass. At least in mannequin time. I wait patiently.
The lights come on. Two women stop in front of me.
“Where did these mannequins come from?” asks one.
“Hmm, I don’t know,” says the other.
“Well, I don’t have time to worry about it,” says the first. She squints at the mannequin next to me. “Put some panties on that one. This isn’t a porn shop.”
“Yes, of course.”
“And call Lizzie. She’s late for her shift.”
The first woman walks away while the other picks up the mannequin and lays it on the floor. The woman disappears, comes back with a pair of blue panties, and puts them on the mannequin. Then she lifts it back onto the platform, standing next to me.
“That’s better,” she says and walks away.
Another hour of mannequin time passes. Customers enter the store. Women are browsing lingerie on the racks nearby. A few awkward husbands are among them. They try not to make eye contact with each other while their wives shop. Young boys shopping with their moms steal furtive glances at us.
I’m trying to remember something. What is it?
The hours roll by, the people leave, and the lights turn off again. The store is quiet.
I feel like I forgot something, but I can’t seem to think of what it is.
The lights turn back on. The shoppers come in. Then they leave again. The lights turn off. This cycle repeats itself many times. I lose track of the days and nights. I chalk it up to mannequin time.
One day it hits me. I’m trying to remember why I’m here. That’s right! I feel relieved.
But what’s the answer? Why am I here?
Isn’t it obvious, though? I’m a mannequin. I model lingerie. I am good at what I do.
The feeling of relief dissipates but is not replaced by anything. Why should I feel? Mannequins don’t have emotions.
Weeks go by. My thoughts start to slow down. Mannequins do not need to think.
So one day I stop.
Copyright 2022 Olivia Quinn
If you spend as much time around mannequins as I do, the story ideas will start to flow. This story arose from a prank I pulled on two co-workers at the department store where I work. One night after hours, I secretly stayed behind while they were prepping the store for a sale the next day. I posed as a mannequin and waited twenty minutes for my opportunity to scare the shit out of them. While I was waiting, I imagined becoming a mannequin. I went home afterward and wrote this story.