Stacy became aware she was dreaming again; she recalled enough to know this was the same dream she had been having over and over. A strange dream she hadn't been able to wake up from.
Each time it was the same: She was standing bolt upright, rooted in place, stiff as a statue, unable to move or speak in any way. Her rigid body felt strange, hollow; somehow not composed of flesh and blood anymore even though she could hear and see all that was going on around her. People she did not recognize came up to her and made comments as if she didn't exist. Occasionally, Stacy in her dream could see her best friend, Jackie, posed equally motionlessly, facing her or alongside, looking hard and plastic and artificial like some store window dummy.
Stacy wondered what it all meant; dreams she knew were supposed to mean something in the real world. This recurring dream was so strange and vivid, especially the parts where another person undressed or dressed her as she stood there immobilized. Most of the time, though, it was very boring to her - even for a dream - so her thoughts wandered and Stacy forgot. Until the next time.
A face appeared before her vacant gaze; a pitiless visage she would have recognized anywhere. It belonged to her evil boss, Mr.Damon, from the boutique. He must have been a thousand years old from his appearance and that cacking laugh of his sounded like someone dying of lung disease. Mr.Damon with his humorless demeanor had turned her simple after-class job into a living hell.
Damon smiled at her, if that rictus of a grimace could be called a smile. Stacy wanted to shut her eyes and turn away but she could not budge. The old man stroked her cheek with roughened fingers and surprising gentleness. All at once he brought his fingers together into a resounding 'snap!' that brought her instantly out of her dream.
Stacy gasped, then raised her hand up to her lips; incredibly able to move normally once more. Her throat felt dry, almost dusty, and she suppressed a cough. Next to her, Jackie sneezed, then again.
"Welcome back to existence, ladies," Mr.Damon wheezed, smiling once more at some private joke.
Stacy took a step; her legs and arms felt stiff as if she had slept on a nerve. It took another few moments to realize she wasn't where she would have expected to be waking up. This looked like...
"Uhh, where am I? This looks like the dress boutique?" She stammered, still not fully conscious.
"Indeed it is my humble establishment, my dears, you are very perceptive Miss Dubrowski." Again that hacking laugh that mocked her.
"So what are we doing here, then?" Jackie prodded, finding her own voice, looking around, then down at her own appearance. "And why am I dressed like a hooker?" She commented on her short skirt, tight top, lacy patterned stockings, and thigh-high boots.
"Both of you were helping me by displaying merchandise, as was your penance. Styles have changed over the years; even a conservative boutique such as this one has to keep up with fashion. Although it is fitting that you have come back once more on All-Hallows Eve and thus are already dressed in costumes for the occasion."
Stacy had noticed she was now wearing a skintight, shiny red Devil costume, complete with little plastic horns placed in her hair and a pointed tail stuck to her backside. The high-heeled pumps that came with the ensemble seemed to be part of the catsuit. A deep Vee in the bodice emphasized an impressive amount of cleavage she had not possessed previously. In fact, her whole body felt out of balance; her proportions were different than she remembered. She stood taller, was slimmer, and had a more curvaceous figure than before. Then there was the matter of her hair, now bigger, shinier, and fire-engine red to match her costume. It wasn't a wig either, she confirmed by tugging on a crimson lock.
"What have you done to me - to us?" Stacy cried, suddenly seeing Jackie's new lush figure and lacquered-looking purple hairdo. The situation, and Damon's calm, was starting to weird her out.
"Merely equipping you to perform your positions suitably; after all, styles do change."
"Our positions? What are you talking about, you senile old coot?" Stacy demanded.
"Uhh, think you should cool it, Stace," Jackie warned, continuing to look around the store. "Take a look at where we're standing…"
Stacy glanced down and saw she and her friend were standing on a low pedestal in a flood of overhead lighting. Just behind her posed a rigid display figure, costumed as a fetching pirate, that looked oddly familiar; flanking the stiff model were two chromed support rods that were unoccupied. A moment passed and suddenly in a burst of clarity all of Damon's talk about 'postions' and 'merchandise' and 'penance' came together for her. It wasn't a dream after all!
She felt weak in the knees. "You… you turned us into… mannequins?" Stacy gasped for air, afraid that the next breath might be her last.
"The choice was yours, if you would recall; I simply arranged the details." Mr.Damon supplied.
Memories came flooding back, the Halloween prank she and Jackie had planned on their boss, the elaborate preparations, their posing in the darkened store to scare him, then their abject fear when the tables had turned and Damon had manifested his true powers. On them.
"Ohhhhh," Stacy wailed as the truth, incredible as it seemed, sunk in. She could not believe it.
Jackie seemed to be taking events more in stride. "So, Mr.Damon sir, how long have we been - uh - assisting you here in your floor display?" She was less amazed by her new supermodel appearance; he'd saved her a fortune in plastic surgery and cosmetic bills.
"Time has passed, my dear; your existence was not missed," the old man replied obliquely.
Stacy was dazed; she stepped around the confines of the platform like it was a prison cell, learning to walk again, adjusting her balance to her changed proportions. Checking out the third mannequin, she gazed deep into the figure's glassy green eyes and finally attached a name to the still features. "Isn't this Ashley Palachinko?" she wondered, recognizing her nemesis.
"Yeah; what did that bitch do to you that she ended up as a dummy?" Jackie added. "Not that she didn't deserve it…"
"It is of no matter; she is serving her penance justly, I can assure you," Damon wheezed, "which brings relevance to the purpose for this conversation. While leniency is hardly my nature, there is an errand that would benefit from your assistance."
"Name it - I'll do anything to keep from going back into that lifeless limbo," Stacy declared, knowing she might not get another chance.
"Me, too," Jac chimed in quickly but not before sneaking a wink at her friend.
"Very well. This humble establishment is expanding; there is another store opening in a nearby regional mall before the winter holidays. Perhaps you young ladies could arrange for some others of your kind to join the display staff?"
"Huh…?" was all Stacy could manage to say.
"Great; sign me up," Jac filled in. "Let's get going then, there have to be a ton of parties…"
"She's lying," blurted Stacy. "She just wants to get away from here so she can escape."
Jackie glared at her friend. "You don't know what you're saying, Stace, I…" her voice cut off abruptly at the snap of Damon's fingers. The purple-haired girl was frozen in mid-word.
The old man looked at her closely, seemingly peering into her soul, muttering almost to himself, "So very bold, Miss Wilson, although you are far from the first attempting to deceive me. No matter; the truth will out sooner or later. Goodbye, once again." He waved his hand slightly.
Stacy watched as Jackie closed her mouth, raised her hands into a familiar pose, and a far-away gaze came into her eyes. Moments later, they glazed into place as her skin took on a plastic, artificial sheen once more. Lines appeared at her wrists and around one leg, places where a mannequin could be disassembled for dressing. It was all over quickly; Damon lifted the now hollow figure that had just been Jackie Wilson and placed her back on the support rod that held her rigid body upright. Jac wobbled slightly in position, which only emphasized her dramatic transformation.
"Oh, God, I'm sorry Jacki," Stacy thought remorsefully, not knowing if the mannequin of her friend remained aware, "but it was you or me…"
"So true," cackled Damon, "however that choice had not been made yet. Miss Dubrowski, you show surprising initiative for one so young. This can be promising." He coughed on the words.
Stacy stood tall, stating, "I'll do what I have to do." Just don't put me back on that pole…
"Return here with two fresh volunteers, without encumberances, and you will have accomplished your task," he stated. "For your boldness, you shall be granted additional skills, forget not that if you fail, your fate has already been ordained," Damon continued, stepping up to Stacy and placing the tip of his index finger on her forehead briefly; it was the first time he had ever touched her.
It was as if she had been struck by lighting; Stacy's knees almost buckled as he mind flashed with instantaneous knowledge, confidence, and power that surged throughout her being. She was visibly affected, immediately standing straighter and smiling back at the old man with conviction.
"Thank you, sir; I will not disappoint you," she stated, then turned and walked directly into the cinder block wall of the store, knowing what she was now capable of. A brief outline of light silhouetted her disappearance as she transitted time and space.
Mr.Damon merely cackled that wheezing laugh of his as he walked back to the office.