By Sam Swalgin
The last employee left for the day, leaving me alone in this chasm of a warehouse. The ceiling was 30 feet above me, but I could still hear the rain panging against the tin roof it bore. I stood at one of the large windows that faced the parking lot, watching my coworker’s vehicle take its owner anywhere other than here.
“And then there was one,” I sighed. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to this job.” The supply closet was only 10 feet away from me, where my trusty broom was waiting for me, but as I looked over the sales-floor, chills ran down my spine at the sight of hundreds of faces staring at me.
“Why did I ever take a job at a mannequin storage facility? I must be out of my damn mind.” I put my long hair up in a ponytail before donning my hat. Anything to keep my red hair out of my face.
One step. I only took one step before I heard something clatter in the back of the room.
“Hello?” I called out. “Is someone there?”
Nothing responded, and I called myself crazy as I reached the supply closet. I opened the door and smiled at the broom I named “Ol’ Reliable,” since she was the same one I used for the past year without fail. I grabbed her handle and started sweeping the floor, as I’d done almost every night. As I reached the source of the earlier noise, I saw that nothing was out of place that would’ve caused anything to make any sound.
“Huh. Weird,” I thought out loud.
Most nights, my routine had consisted of listening to music as I worked, taking a moment here and there only to catch my breath or change the song. That night, however, I decided I needed the silence to help clear my mind. So, I started my route, sighing at all the garbage that was left behind instead of properly taken care of. I swear, some of these guys just love to make my life difficult, I thought as I cleaned up strewn trash.
Next was the offices upstairs, where everyone took care of selling, records, and anything else that had to do with those dummies on the sales-floor. I took out my spare keys and went to unlock the office door, when another sound from the direction of the mannequins caught my attention.
I quickly went to the railing and leaned over, determined to find out what was going on. “Who’s there?” I yelled. “You’re trespassing!”
Holding Ol’ Reliable as a weapon, I made my way back down the steps and froze at the bottom stair. Everything inside was telling me to lock up and run, to get out of harm’s way, but I had to protect this place with everything I had.
Without a paycheck, who would pay my bills?
So, I slowly made my way to the dummies, my heart racing faster with each tentative step I took. Part of me was glad that the stupid dolls were lined up so evenly, placed into several rows of ten with a path down the center.
“Whoever’s here, I’ll have you arrested for trespassing, you know!”
Again, nothing responded. Just when I thought I couldn’t get any crazier, I saw a shadow move in the corner of my eye. It dashed from one side of the aisle to the other, but when I went to catch the intruder, no one was there. Just another row of mannequins standing there, lifeless as they should be. Although, one of them was turned to face the aisle, unlike the rest of them that were to face the front of the building.
“This isn’t funny!”
I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder. With my eyes pinched shut, I spun on my heel and started using my broom to take down the intruder who dared to touch a defenseless young girl such as myself. Once I was sure the perpetrator was down, I hesitantly opened my eyes, only to find another dummy lying on the floor. I used the now broken handle of my broom to poke at the mannequin, making sure it was just a lifeless doll.
“I’ve gotta get out of here. This is too much for one night.” I looked at Ol’ Reliable, her handle in shambles and her bristles all messed up. “Oh girl, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you that badly.”
I saw another shadow move through the dolls, and I knew it was definitely time to go. So, with keys and broom in hand, I went to the supply closet to lay the old girl to rest. As I walked, I swore I would hear another set of footsteps behind me. When I stopped, they stopped. I went, they followed. Finally, I was sprinting to the closet, the second set of steps finally disappearing.
I fumbled with the key for the closet, cursing myself for even locking it back up in the first place. My heart was beating in my ears, my stomach was in knots, and my legs were going numb with fear. I turned around to see a mannequin running straight for me, and before everything went to black, I suddenly had a moment of clarity.
I never locked the closet to begin with.