Brief Encounter

or Why Girls Shouldn't Talk to Strangers

by "Nicky"

She was tall and blonde, wearing a black jacket, short grey checkered skirt and black opaque tights. After a moment's hesitation I began to follow her up the steep hill. She neither increased nor slackened her pace, neither did she look round, although she must have heard my footsteps behind her. By the time she reached the junction with the first side street I was only a few yards behind her.

"Excuse me," I called out. "Have you got the time?"

She ignored me and continued walking up the hill.

"Excuse me!" I repeated firmly. "Have you got the time?"

"Twenty past eleven," she replied, turning for the first time to look at me. She was not especially pretty and her face broke into a sardonic smile as she saw how I was dressed.

"Nice skirt," she remarked, before turning away to carry on walking up the hill.

"Do you think so?" I asked.

"Nah, not really," she replied, over her shoulder.

"So why say it?" I challenged her.

"I was joking," she replied.

"Well I like yours," I called, before a flash of inspiration occurred to me and I yelled after her retreating form: "But it'd look better still on a mannequin!"

That did the trick. She turned and slowly retraced her steps, stopping some twenty yards away from me with her arms akimbo and her hands on her hips.

"What did you say?" she asked.

"I said your skirt would look better on a dummy," I repeated, smiling.

"And what's that supposed to mean?"

"Well you don't amount to much as you are," I said evenly, looking her straight in the eye. "But I think you'd make a superb shop window dummy, or display mannequin. I'm sure you'll be a lot happier like that, and you'll certainly be more useful."

"You're a pervert!" she exclaimed. "There's something wrong with you!"

"Very probably," I replied smoothly, keeping my eyes firmly fixed on her sneering face as I began to walk slowly towards her.

"Now don't move— Oh, I forgot, you can't! Now, let's get that horrible sneering expression off your face and see if we can't make something decent of you. Let me make a suggestion...."

The girl said nothing. She simply stood and stared vacantly at me as if she was hypnotised. By now I was standing directly in front of her. With the fingers of my right hand I adjusted her facial muscles until her expression was set in a half-smile. Then I moved her hands and arms so that one hung naturally by her side and the other was held out in front of her. She was already standing in a suitable pose, with both feet planted firmly on the ground and her legs a little way apart, so I closed my eyes and began to concentrate.

When I opened my eyes a few minutes later the girl was still standing stock still before me, apparently staring at me, but she had not moved an inch and her eyes were dull and lifeless. I satisfied myself as to the nature of the change that had occurred to her by grasping her hand. It was cold and hard, and her fingers were rigid. Her arms too were stiff and the surface of her skin had a slight sheen, like eggshell. In fact her whole body was hard and solid and unyielding. Her face still bore a smile, but now it was the everlasting smile of a mannequin. In her new form she clearly belonged in the window of one of the dozens of dress shops in the city centre.

The question now was whether I should try to move her, or leave her standing here on the street corner to be discovered by the next passer-by. Hearing laughter and the sound of footsteps climbing the hill I decided to leave her for the moment and retreated to a safe distance to watch the fun.

A party of four — two girls and two boys — came into view. They were laughing and chattering until they saw the frozen figure of the recently-mannequinised girl bathed in the glow of the streetlamp.

"Hey what's this?" said one of the boys.

"She's had too much to drink," said the other boy. "Hey love, you alright?"

The two girls crowded round.

"Is she alright?" said one.

"She looks funny," said the other. She grabbed the statue's arm, presumably meaning to rouse the girl from her catatonic state, but let go instantly, as if she had been stung.

"Eeee!" she cried. "She's all cold and hard!"

The jolt had disturbed the figure's balance. Slowly, almost as if in slow motion, it toppled over and hit the cobbled street with a clatter, coming to rest with its sightless eyes staring up at the starless sky. One of the girls screamed, but the boys laughed.

"It's just a dummy!" they jeered. "Come on! We've wasted enough time."

One of them made as if to give the statue a contemptuous kick, but his girlfriend put out a restraining hand.

"There's something weird about it," she said anxiously. "It doesn't look like a real dummy. It's all in one piece. Real dummies have joints. Their arms come off, and that."

She looked more closely at the dummy's staring face and suddenly stuffed her hand into her mouth as if to stifle a scream.

"Ohmigod!" she said quickly. "I know her! I mean, I don't know her, but I've seen her! She left Shades just before we did. I'm sure it's her! She was blonde and she was dressed just like this and she came up this way."

The others looked at her strangely.

"What are you trying to say?" said her boyfriend incredulously. "That she was alive in Shades, but now she's been turned into a dummy? What have you been taking tonight?"

"Nothing!" she snapped. "Will you stop and think for a minute! What's a shop window dummy doing up here anyway? It's far too real-looking for the poxy shops round here anyway. And it certainly wasn't here when we came down."

"P'raps somebody pinched it and brought it up here for a joke," suggested the other girl.

"Yeah," chimed in the other boy. "C'mon! It's bloody cold standing round out here."

He leered at his girlfriend and squeezed her arm, and she retaliated by slapping his face.

The little group slowly started to move on up the hill, leaving the lifelike dummy lying on its back in the middle of the road. The girl who said she had recognised it hung back for a few moments, but eventually she shrugged and followed her companions up the hill.

Emerging from my hiding place, I hurried over to where the girl-dummy lay and stood for a few minutes looking down at her. She gazed blankly up at me. She was, of course, more real than the group of teenagers had imagined. If they had dared to lift her skirt and pull down her tights they would have found, for instance, that she was equipped with a full set of genitalia, albeit perfectly modelled in flesh-coloured plastic.

As I gazed at her in pleasant contemplation my thoughts were interrupted by a female voice.

"She is real, isn't she?"

I looked up sharply. It was the teenage girl who had previously recognised the dummy. She was standing about ten yards away, darting curious glances at me and at the dummy.

"That depends what you mean by real," I replied evenly. "If you mean that she used to be a living girl like you, then yes she's real."

The girl drew in her breath sharply. Her voice, when she spoke, was brittle.

"What have you done to her? And why are you dressed like that?"

"I dress like this for comfort. As for what I did to her, I merely suggested that she would be happier and more useful as a mannequin. Deep down she must have agreed, and so. . . she became one. Some people are very suggestible."

The girl just stared at me, uncomprehendingly. I held her gaze and began to walk towards her. She, on the other hand, neither moved nor spoke, but stood stock still as if hypnotised.

"Take you, for instance," I said, still staring at her. "I think you're probably quite suggestible. I'd like to suggest that you used to be real, too."

Smiling, I reached out and began to adjust her facial expression....


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