The day’s unfortunate happenings had led Janie to run to the Mall. She didn’t know why she was there. She just knew she had to get out of that God-forsakin’ school and away from Ellie. Ellie who was supposed to be her best friend in the whole wide world.
Janie had always gone to the Mall when things were bothering her, and things were bothering her big-time today! Her whole world was crumbling all around her, and she just didn’t know what to do.
She crouched down to peek in the small square window.
The lower floor of the Mall was lit up like the Fourth of July. She gasped when she became aware of the strobe light that spun in the center of the room, sending an magical display of rainbow prisms all over the walls.
There were beautiful women everywhere, dressed in long, elegant gowns, high heels and shoulder shawls, possibly as a fashionable defence against the cold.
The men were just as handsome. Fashionable suits and ties with cuff links and a handkerchief in the breast pocket. Not a hair was out of place anywhere, and no one was without a smile.
A tear dripped from Janie’s eye. She’d been like that no more than an hour ago, when she’d been with her beau, Jimmy. That was until she’d caught him and Ellie kissing in the middle of the dance floor.
Enraged jealousy welled up within her again. A steady stream of tears now fell as she watched the couples waltz in a carefree manner. They moved so gracefully to the beat of the intoxicating music, intermingling with the lights from the strobe light.
Janie closed her eyes. She wished as hard as she could that she could be there in the middle of all that elegance, that she had the most handsome prince of the ball, and that everyone was watching her with envy.
But something weird was happening! She couldn’t pinpoint it, and certainly didn’t dare try, the feeling was so out of this world.
The air switched from cool to warm as she felt someone put a small cup of punch in her hands.
She opened her eyes and looked around. She was completely astounded! She was seated at the collation table, near the punch bowl in the ball room at the Mall!
She couldn’t believe her eyes, for this couldn’t possibly be happening. She shook what felt like cobwebs out of her head and looked around again.
Some of these beautiful people appeared familiar to Jamie, but she couldn’t place them.
Nor could this be happening, for if the small town she lived in had a ball, it would be advertised for months and months beforehand. She wondered why they’d kept this incredible affair such a secret.
She became conscious that the ladies’ eyes were moving her way. They were all talking about her and studying her as if she were a princess or something. They were making appreciative comments about her beautiful gown, and every single one of them knew her name.
Janie tried to talk to them, but her lips wouldn’t move. They were frozen together by fear, or disbelief, or something. Janie wasn’t sure what.
Without warning, a handsome young gentleman was beside her. He held out his hand for her as if asking her to dance. He looked like a memory of Jimmy with his dark hair and blue eyes. He bowed and she curtsied, suddenly knowing exactly what to do.
They waltzed around together on that ballroom floor for what seemed like hours. Spinning, turning and dipping until Janie could take no more. She begged the young gentleman to let her sit down and have another glass of punch to slow the spinning of the room.
He graciously acceded to her request, and sat beside her holding her hand. His hands felt cold, she grasped them tightly to warm them.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t quite catch your name,” she said, trying to be as polite as possible, knowing that she was on fragile ground here. After all, she didn’t want this one to slip past her and go straight to Ellie.
“Oh, my name is Jim,” he murmured with a quiet smile.
“Hi, Jim! I’m Janie.” She returned his smile politely.
“Yes, I know who you are. You pass by my window every day on your way home from school”
“Your window?” She was puzzled now. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said, trying to sound mature, and sensing that she was failing lamentably.
She received no answer as, just then, the music started up and he again whisked her onto the dance floor.
Janie felt happy and exhausted as the dance ended and the clock began to strike midnight.
She gasped, “Midnight! I was supposed to be home by midnight!” Mom and Dad are going to kick my butt for sure! she thought. I’ll be grounded until the second Tuesday of next week!
“Come on Janie, it’s time to go home,” Jim murmured, holding out his hand to her.
All of a sudden, Janie didn’t want to go home with Jim. She wanted to go home by herself. Janie ran down the hall and, passing the stores, she ran to the front door of the Mall. To her horror, she realized all the stores were dark and deserted.
How can they be locked? Janie asked herself. There was a ton of people in there!
Then Janie noticed something really strange: there wasn’t a single mannequin in any of the dress shop windows. Where could all of the mannequins have gone, she wondered.
The front door was locked. She couldn’t get out.
Janie ran back the way she’d come, and passed the ball room as people were leaving, down the hall to the left and towards the other entrance. Everything was dark and all the windows were blank. Janie shuddered.
She tried the doors. They wouldn’t budge either.
Janie began to scream and cry. She wrestled furiously with the handles. “Come on you weird bastards! Let me outta here!” she screamed.
Janie slid to the floor, pawing at the door like an untamed animal desperate for escape.
“Come on Janie, honey, it’s no use.” Jim was right beside her, holding out his hand, smiling at her comfortably, eagerly and almost wickedly. “You’re of us now. Let’s go home!”
“One of you? What do you mean I’m one of you?” Janie screamed, making sure if anyone passed by they’d be able to hear her.
“You’re one of us mannequins now. You’re home, safe and sound, with just one man and all the women here to envy you. Just what you wished for… Remember?”
Janie gulped, her heart sinking in her chest. She did remember. She tried to get up, but her legs were suddenly unresponsive. Frightened tears began to flow freely.
“Don’t worry, Janie, the other Janie has taken your place at your home: the mannequin who wished she could be you for the rest of your life. You two wished it at the very same time and that’s how it works down here!” Jim smiled at her. “I know you’re feeling a little stiff, honey, don’t you worry, grab a-hold of my hand and I will help you!”
Janie surrendered. She had no alternative. She knew when she was beaten. She felt like screaming, but nothing would emerge from her throat. Her throat felt stiff and her arms were locking up.
“We’ll have to hurry to get back to my window in time before we freeze permanently here! Come on Janie, try to run!”
o o o
Janie awoke the next morning to the sound of her alarm clock.
“Time to get up and go to school, Janie! Come on!” Her mother’s voice shattered her reverie.
Janie hurriedly dressed and went down for breakfast. Her mother was running around like a mad person giving her father the agenda for the day. “And the garden club will meet here today at noon…” Her mother kissed her absentmindedly on the forehead as she made good her escape.
Janie felt as though she was dehydrated and almost hung over. She tried to recall the happenings of the night, but she couldn’t. She felt as though cobwebs had taken over her memory, and she couldn’t shake them away.
She raced down the street. She passed the old dime store, the pharmacy, and straight up to the Mall. She loved going to the Mall and looking in the windows at the mannequins. All of them were dressed so elegantly in their expensive clothes. She had gotten to know all the mannequins and, as stupid as it sounds, she’d even named a few.
Her favorite window was Janie and Jimmy’s. Janie was dressed in a beautiful pink taffeta gown and Jimmy had on a three-piece suit with the handkerchief peeping out of his pocket. For some reason this morning, Janie felt a twinge of jealousy as she passed the window.
She shook her head. She glanced at the Janie mannequin again. She could of sworn she had seen one small tear drop from the eye of the motionless mannequin.
Jim just stood there and smiled. Comfortably, eagerly and almost wickedly.
– Angie Rossi
Salem, Oregon, USA.