The mansion, though luxurious and stylish, looked grim in the overcast winter day. Nikki had received an invitation from her godfather, James Franklin. She was greeted at the door by a nurse, dressed in white. She let her into the living-room and offered her to sit down. Suddenly Nikki noticed that someone else was sitting opposite her. At first it looked like a naked woman, but as she looked closer, it appeared to be a mannequin. It sat in a large couch, its hands between its legs and a nice, almost innocent face, topped by a Garçonne haircut. Nikki looked away and shuddered. The nurse was gone, but she still felt a presence in the room. She got up and examined some of the paintings on the wall. The room was decorated in conservative New England style, with dark wood and elegant furniture. She looked outside and noticed it had begun to rain slightly. A sudden noise made her turn around. The mannequin had collapsed under its own weight. Hesitantly, Nikki took a few steps in its direction and looked at its hollow structure. She picked up the head and put it on the couch.
"I see you've met Christina !" The voice sounded old, but happy and vigorous. James Franklin, standing in the doorway, was dressed in an old sweater and golf pants. Nikki felt uneasy when she heard the name
"I didn't touch it !" Nikki said defensively.
"It doesn't matter, it's not meant to be like that, not without support." Franklin's white hair looked his own and he looked a bit like Cary Grant, only smaller.
"You invited me here ?" She asked, picking up the last piece of Christina from the floor.
"Yes, dear, how's your mother ?" Franklin asked while taking a bottle out of the drinks trolley.
"She's fine, a touch of arthritis, but she's still in her own home."
"Ah, arthritis, one of the blights of later life. Unlike wine, people don't get better with age. I'd offer you a drink, but I know my godchild doesn't drink. At least that's what you told me last time. When was it ?"
"About four years ago. At dad's funeral."
"He was so happy when you were born. People usually don't make babies at his age. His career, our partnership, that was his life. If you ask me, retirement killed him."
"Yeah, Mother still wonders how he found the time to have me."
Franklin's face turned serious and put his drink down. "I hear you're divorcing ?"
"Yeah, Mike'd taken the habit of beating me, and when I'd took him to court, he had practically stolen anything I owned. It's all gone to gambling debts and expensive cars on the scrap-heap." Nikki sighed. "But, c'est la vie !" She exclaimed.
"I hear you have a young boy."
"Yeah, named him Jimmy, he's going to be two next month." Nikki looked up proudly, but couldn't hide her nervousness.
Franklin picked up his drink and went into another room, motioning Nikki to follow her.
In the study, Franklin went to sit behind a rich mahogany desk and put his drink among the piles of paper stacked onto it. He swung the heavy leather chair round and hesitated for a second before staring at Nikki. She had followed him and stood before the desk. Grasping her left elbow with her right hand and cocking her head expectantly.
"I know you're broke and I want to do something for you."
"Look, I'm not the person who takes alms."
"No, I'm going to help you and your boy, but only if you help my grandson."
"Ben ?" Nikki gave Franklin a quizzical look.
"He had an accident six months ago. Lillian and Greg are dead."
"Oh my god ! How ... did that happen ?"
"Two drunks were racing each other, they didn't see their car, it was at night and it was raining. Ben was thrown out of the car, but his parents remained in the car. All three cars went up in flames. They had just celebrated their marriage anniversary." Franklin looked at his glass.
"Since the incident, he's been catatonic, with brief flashes of clarity and he asks for ... Christina."
Nikki felt a chill down her spine and felt deep pain. "Why ?" She asked painfully.
"I don't know ... But he asks for her."
"Why don't you get someone to ... "
"We tried, but saw through it. He wants you, Veronica."
"I don't think I ever could, not after the incident."
"I'm willing to put down an account for five-hundred thousand dollars. That should pay for your house, and Jimmy's college tuition and any expenses you may ever have."
"Look, it all happened years ago, I was like ... fourteen years old and Ben was only seven or eight. We were just playing !" Her voice turned angry.
"I know this is hard for you. But if there's one chance he can get out of it. I'll never ..."
"I can't even walk into a store with mannequins in it or look at a fire ! I still have nightmares sometimes !" Nikki was on the verge of crying.
Then she began remembering the fateful day ...
Ben climbed the ladder, followed by Nikki. The boy rolled over the floor to allow the girl to get into the attic more easily. "I think she may be here somewhere." Nikki said.
"Who ?" Asked the boy.
"I don't know, I've seen a person here when I was here last."
"Why is she here ?"
"I heard she's a princess, who's been enchanted by a fairy."
"What happened ?"
Nikki sat down under the window in the roof and began to tell a story.
"Once there was a beautiful princess, her name was Christina. But even though she was beautiful, she was not very nice. She'd do all sorts of mischief, but no-one dared to blame her or even punish her. She'd put hot peppers on the hamburgers the palace cook was making for the guards and put salt in their coffee.
She'd also tie cans to the dogs and cats' tails and drop water balloons on passing people.
One day, she wandered into a part of the castle she never had been in. It was a very large castle, you know. There, behind a door, she could hear singing. She opened the door and saw an old woman sowing the most beautiful pink dress that little Christina had ever seen.
"Who are you ?" She asked, admiring the dress.
"I'm an old seamstress and I make dresses for nice little princesses."
"Can I have the dress ?"
"No, I told you I only make dresses for nice princesses." Answered the old woman.
Christina looked angry and jumped up and down. "I want the dress, or I will tell my daddy !"
"Your father knows you're not a nice princess." The old woman said nicely.
But Christina was not in the mood for being nice and asked the old woman again.
"I want the dress !" She jumped up and down even harder and her face turned red as she screamed hard.
The old woman shook her head gently and smiled. "But you're a naughty princess, and you'll never get it, unless you're nice."
Outraged, the girl ran towards the dress on a dummy and began to rip it apart. Pink lace and silk flew through the air until there was not a thread on the dummy. And to top it all off she shouted "Stupid dummy !" and kicked the dummy hard, which fell over.
Suddenly she could see a strange light and saw the old woman change before her eyes. Instead, she could see a fairy, holding her magic wand in her hand.
"You've been a very nasty princess." She said.
The princess suddenly became nice and smiled. "I didn't know it was you. I would never have destroyed the dress. You should have given it to me, you know."
The fairy was not happy. "I think you need a lesson. You'll become a dummy and wear no clothes until you're nice." She waved her wand and the girl felt her body stiffen. She ran out of the castle and hid somewhere no-one would find her."
Ben laughed. "And she's here."
Nikki smiled innocently and said. "Perhaps ?"
Ben looked around him, peering for the unfortunate princess. "Princess Christina ?"
"I think I can hear your mother calling you, Ben." Said Nikki.
The boy rushed down the stairs. Nikki got up and opened an old trunk. Inside was the mannequin of a woman. She picked it up and began to remove the rubber exterior. She put it on like a suit and zipped it up. She hid the mannequin behind some old planks and hid in the trunk.
After a while, she could hear the boy climbing up the ladder again.
"Mummy didn't call me, you were wrong Nikki ... Nikki." The boy poked his head into the attic and looked around. He climbed further up and began to look around, shouting her name. Then he could hear a soft noise and turned. "Nikki ?"
The lid of the trunk slammed shut. "Are you in there ?"
Ben walked over to the trunk and bent down, with his face almost on the trunk. It opened and slammed quickly. In a flash, Ben could see a face. Then it opened again and remained ajar.
"You're the princess !" The boy exclaimed.
Inside the trunk the pretty plastic face cocked its head.
"Who are you ?" The mannequin asked delicately.
"I'm Benjamin Franklin." The boy said proudly.
"You are ?"
"You're Christina, the princess."
"I'm not a princess, I'm a dummy." The mannequin mechanically sat upright in the trunk.
"Don't you remember when you were nasty and the fairy changed you into a dummy ?"
"No ..." She answered almost innocently.
The boy began telling her the story and she seemed not to remember it.
"I'll tell Nikki, perhaps she can help."
"No ! Don't tell anyone, it's a secret. If they find me, I'll remain a dummy forever."
"You do remember !" The boy exclaimed.
"Yes ... I do !" The mannequin sounded happy.
Over the next few weeks the boy would go up to the attic and talk and play with Christina. She was his best friend and he told no-one about her. She told him fairy tales and how it was being a princess. Ben told him he was going to ask his Grandfather to call the fairy on his phone and come undo the spell. Christina assured him Grandpa didn't know any fairies.
Then one day Ben came in, singing with joy. Christina emerged from her trunk and asked what was going on. But before the boy could answer, the light bulb flickered and popped. Except for the faint light of the window, the attic was now quite dark. Ben looked at the light and touched it. It was warm and he pulled back his finger yelling "Ouch !" He put his finger in his mouth. "It's dark now." He said sadly. Christina picked up a few candles and lit them, bringing some flickering light in the room.
"I've made a dress for you. You don't have clothes !" He said triumphantly.
He held up and old drape in which here cut crude holes for the arms and legs.
Christina picked it up and put it over her head and adjusted it as best she could. The she twirled it round. The edge of the nylon curtain touched the flame of a candle and caught fire.
"It's beautiful !" Christina said.
"Perhaps now the fairy will come ?" The boy said, but suddenly something caught his attention.
Nikki had made two tiny holes in the eyes to see through, but did not
notice the child's expression. She began dancing, unaware that her entire
back was on fire. The boy stared in stupor at her and suddenly began to
run down the ladder, crying hard. Then Nikki became aware something was
wrong, she turned round and saw her arm was on fire. She stared at the
bright spitting flames for a few seconds and ran towards the ladder and
in the hurry to get help, almost fell off. She ran through the upper floor
of the house and began to tear at the mask she was wearing, feeling the
heat in her back. The rubber costume was a bit too large, encumbering her
and Nikki slipped on the top of the stairs. She tried to grab the balustrade,
but missed. She rolled down the stairs like a limp doll. The maid who saw
the thing dropped the silver platter she was holding and cried out. A second
later James Franklin and Jeremy Mitchell emerged from a room nearby. They
could see a woman whose entire torso was engulfed in flames. James instantly
grabbed a curtain and pulled it loose. Jeremy, meanwhile ran for a phone.
James jumped on the woman who was trying to get outside and jumped onto
her, dousing the flames with the heavy linen curtain. The acrid stench
of burnt rubber and plastic filled his lungs, but he continued to smother
the flames. Jeremy arrived, followed by a butler with a fire extinguisher.
As James pulled back the curtain, Jeremy could see the half-torn rubber
mask and the crying face of his daughter behind it. He watched the sight
in shock, unable to say a word.
The diagnostic was better than expected. First and second degree burns on the head and back, together with some smoke in the lungs. The worst part had been removing the constricting rubber costume.
"Fortunately the rubber didn't burn quite as easily. The outer layer had been painted which protected it from the fire." Said the doctor.
Jeremy hesitated before asking. "How will she ... ?"
"The wounds are clean. The rubber actually protected her. She would
have sweated a lot in it. This moisture prevented worse injuries."
Nikki remembered the long years of therapy and surgery. She still had a few marks, but they were minimal.
"I know what you've been through, so if you don't want to ..."
Nikki looked up. She could barely contain her tears. "I'll do it
The young man sat in the wheelchair looking out of the large window into the park. He was of medium build, with brown hair and grey-blue eyes. And there was a slight scar over his cheek
He stared at the park but did not seem to notice the first buds of spring or the faint spring sunshine. He merely stared. A nurse entered the room.
"It's a lovely day, Mr Franklin the doctor told you to get some fresh air if the weather improved. Here's your chance." She began pushing him outside through the house. He remained entranced as he went through the house. Suddenly he saw something and turned his head towards a door. He lowered his hands to the wheels and tried to block the chair. The nurse stopped pushing him, while asking him what was wrong.
"Christina !" He cried out. Staring down the corridor. He suddenly got up and with great effort stumbled towards the attic ladder. With great difficulty he climbed the ladder and popped his head into the attic. Some parts were still sooty from the fire. And in one corner he could see Christina heaped up in a bunch.
"Christina ? It's Ben !" He sounded almost like a child.
The mannequin suddenly stirred and slowly turned its head towards Ben.
Ben crawled up to her on his hands and knees and grabbed her plastic hand.
"I knew you'd come back !"
James Franklin with the doctor and nurse standing besides him watched the mannequin come down the stairs. It popped off its plastic wig and opened the head. The pretty, doll-like face gave way to a young woman's face, drenched in sweat. She dropped the mask and sat on one of the steps. Tears rolled down her cheeks, while James ran towards her to hug her.
"He's sleeping !" She stammered.
"It's allright Nikki, you're both going to be fine." James
The next day the trunk was placed in Ben's room. The young man was sleeping and for the first time in months he looked happy.
Nikki watched the pile of flesh-coloured plastic parts. Hesitantly she nodded to the nurse who helped her into the costume.
After she put her hand into the rubber glove on her left hand, she cringed
slightly as nurse Forrester picked up the mask and walked behind Nikki.
She felt the rear end being put against the back of her head and the other
part close over her face. Then she felt the plastic wig being put on her
head. Then she suddenly noticed how the nurse was pouring gasoline over
her and James bring in a lit torch.
Nikki woke up screaming.
Opposite her on the table she could see Christina's head. Crying hard, she hastily put her clothes on and ran downstairs. James emerged from his room and stopped her from leaving.
"I can't take it anymore. If I do this once more, I'll go crazy !" She cried.
"I think Ben is on his way to recovery. Perhaps we won't need another
masquerade after all." James hushed her, while holding her in his
But Ben showed no improvement and after two days, Ben faintly noticed that the door of his room opened gently. A head glided in and two blue plastic eyes stared at him. Ben's face came to life and he rushed out of his chair to greet her.
But when Christina left, Ben would always relapse. Waiting for her next visit, he would remain lethargic until she returned. Each visit became longer and longer until long after dark.
"I'm glad you're back Christina. I searched the attic many times, but you wouldn't come."
The mannequin sat besides him on the bed staring into the distance.
"I thought you got scared by the fire and ran away." It said.
"No, you ran away because you burnt Nikki."
Inside the mask, Nikki tried to swallow a lump.
"I forgive you, but she was in your way. I saw it." And Ben kissed her on the cheek.
Christina turned her head towards Ben. She stared for a time at the smiling young man. Inside the sweet, innocent mask, Nikki felt sick.
"You told me she would never believe in you, so you'd never be there when you were there."
Nikki got up, but felt Ben grabbing her hand.
"Christina, I don't care about the curse. I know that deep down, you're a nice princess now. And I love you."
Nikki shuddered, clenched her teeth and tried to relax.
"I'll show you something no-one else knows." Ben got up and looked under the bed. He produced a small briefcase and put it on the bed. He dialled the right combination and popped the latches. He opened the briefcase and produced a stack of drawing paper which barely fitted in it. He began laying out the sheets over the bed. Nikki stared at the sheets. There were hundreds of drawings of her varying in style from childish finger painting to more adult styles.
"What do you think ?" Ben asked triumphantly.
"Is this for me ?" Nikki asked.
"Yes, they're all pictures of you. As I remembered you." Ben looked at them with fondness.
Then he got up and picked her hands up. Held them to his heart. "Christina, I love you."
The mannequin suddenly removed its hands from his grasp and ran away.
Nikki removed the mask and dropped it on the floor. She glanced at the somber-looking James Franklin and struggled not to cry once more. Words could not convey what stares said plainly until ...
"Christina ! Where ... "
Ben stopped in mid-phrase and watched from the top of the stairs at his grandfather and the nurse standing before the mannequin. Something was wrong with her head. But then she turned round and Ben stared in disgust at Nikki's face. The young man brought his trembling hand to his mouth and watched with horror, clutching the balustrade.
James tried to speak. "Ben, we did this for ..."
"SHUT UUUP !" He howled hysterically at the top of his lungs. He ran down the stairs and picked up the mask Nikki had discarded, stared at it and looked back at the trio. Nikki saw but an insane rage in the eyes that just moments before, were filled with love. He began to look around himself, while his grandfather tried to explain.
"Listen, Ben. We thought ..." Ben suddenly grabbed into the golf caddie standing besides the stairs and took out a club hitting James on the head with it. The old man fell over, while his grandchild continued to hit him hard. The nurse who tried to stop him got hit herself many times. Nikki ran away to find a phone. She ran into the study and picked up the phone. She waited for a long time for an answer when Ben emerged at the door, the bloody golf-club in his hand.
"No, wait ! I never wanted to ... "
Nick hit her on the shoulder with the club. The costume absorbed part of the blow.
"YOU BITCH ! WHERE'S CHRISTINA ?" He shouted.
"IT WAS ME !" She cried.
Ben lifted the club to hit her again and hesitated. Nikki had fallen
onto her knees and raised her arms as shields. The golf club touched the
hook of the phone. Ben grabbed Nikki and dragged her into the kitchen.
He threw her violently against the floor and leaned on her with one knee.
He popped open the refrigerator and produced a hypodermic needle. He uncapped
it and popped the needle into her arm. Slowly, Nikki felt increasingly
drowsy and collapsed.
As she woke up, Nikki could see Ben leaning over her, applying something
on her face. The almost overwhelming smell of glue pervaded the air. Ben
finished off and picked up Christina's face. She felt that her hair and
face were covered with glue. He popped the mask over her face and closed
it tight. Then he emptied the tube of glue into the plastic wig and put
it over her head. Inside the mask, Nikki eyes teared from the fumes and
in shock, she passed out.
The stench of the glue still bothering her, she was dragged up the stairs
to Ben's room. She did not struggle. Ben picked her up over his shoulder
and carried her to his room. And delicately put her on his bed. Ben caressed
her and kissed her on the forehead. Nikki bunched her fists and hit him
in the face. She tried to get up, but still felt dizzy. She slammed with
her shoulder against the doorpost and ran into the corridor only to be
tackled by Ben.
Ben finished tying down her hands and legs with adhesive tape as Nikki came round again.
"What are you doing to me !" She cried.
"You tried to get away Christina, that wasn't nice, you're becoming a nasty princess again."
"I'm Nikki, I'm not a princess or a dummy !"
Ben lashed out. "YOU'RE CHRISTINA !"
"I'm NIKKI ! It was all make-belief !"
Ben began shaking her and shouted that she was Christina. Suddenly the phone rang. Ben stopped and dropped Nikki back in the couch she lay on. He picked up the phone. She could hear a faint whisper in the horn.
"Fine, I'll call him as quickly as possible. Yes, Ben's improving. Yes, bye." Ben had imitated his grandfather's voice perfectly. "I used to imitate grandpa at Christmas parties. It was doctor Sharim, he's going away for a few days and referred me to one of his colleagues, but I forgot to note his phone number down."
Inside the mask, Nikki felt the glue harden and tugging at her face.
But she had stopped crying.
Ben sat besides Nikki and put his head on her shoulder and his hands on her lap. "I'm so happy you're back Christina." He said, while kissing her.
"I'm happy to be back." The mannequin answered.
Ben slipped his hand towards her breasts and caressed them. Then he began kissing her on her plastic lips. Forcing the tip of his tongue down the tiny aperture in her lips. He climbed onto her and kissed her passionately. The mannequin quivered as he grasped her. He caressed her smooth plastic surface and stared into her unblinking blue eyes.
"Ben ?" She suddenly asked.
"Would you cut me loose ?" Inside, Nikki tried to sound as nice as the mask itself.
Ben picked up a pair of scissors and cut through the tape. She grabbed him and hugged him. They embraced each other and rolled onto the carpet.
Then, Nikki suddenly grabbed the poker by the fire and hit Ben with
it. He grabbed it and pulled it out of her hand and slapped her hard several
times. Then he hit her with the poker over the head, many times over and
over. The fury burning inside him, feeding him with wicked pleasure.
As his fury subsided, Ben suddenly realised what had happened. In panic he kneeled besides her and shook her. "Christina ! Forgive me, I didn't ..." The plastic head rolled limply to its side. And some blood poured out of its mouth. He picked up the dummy and shook it, implored it to live, and cried its name. As he cried out in pain, it slipped out if his grasp and fell limply on a heap on the floor. It's head resting against his body at an awkward angle. Ben held his hands to his face and howled in agony.
"CHRISTIIIINAAAAAA !" He shrieked.
He kneeled besides it again and began talking to her for some time.
He held her and talked to her and sang to her.
"What did you say ? Yes it was a nice song." He suddenly said. He picked her up and put her down on the couch, arranged her and cleaned the blood from her face.
"I'm sorry I had to hit you, but the naughty princess was waking up and I wouldn't want that to happen ... Really ? You forgive me ? ... I love you too."
Ben spent the evening with Christina, telling her stories and hearing the stories she told him in his mind.
"I'm leaving you to rest. You sound tired ... You want to sleep ... Fine, I'll get a blanket ... No, no problem, really ... Of course, you're used to sleeping like that. Goodnight then .... Bye."
Ben took a shower, but did not resist taking a peek. In his bathrobe,
he went back to check on Christina who sat in the chair, sleeping. He returned
to his room and went to bed.
The next day, Ben greeted Christina with a kiss on her forehead.
"Would you like something for breakfast ? No, but I can make something if you like ... No, okay then."
Ben went to the kitchen and took some eggs and bacon from the fridge and began to cook the eggs. He looked for a knife to slice the bread, but couldn't find it. In fact most of the knives were gone. Ben rummaged through the drawers. On the pan the eggs were burning. Ben looked under the sink, but found nothing. He turned to check out the eggs when he stared directly in Christina's face, slightly teetering before him.
"Looking for this ?" She said grimly, and stabbed him clumsily in the stomach with a large knife.
Ben cringed with pain, clutching his wound.
"Christina ! How could you !" He staggered, holding himself on the edge of the kitchen sink. Christina assisted, impassively smiling as always, at the scene. Suddenly Ben picked the pan from the fire and struck the mannequin with it. The blow sent her sprawling over the sink and Ben began hitting her several times on the back, with the edge of the frying pan. He dropped it and picked up the knife she had just stabbed him with. The mannequin slipped and fell on the floor. In a final moment of indecision, Ben held the knife in his fist, ready to stab her. He dropped the knife and ran to the fridge. Nikki began to move and tried to get up. She looked around and reached for the knife, which was promptly kicked away by Ben. Holding a needle in his hand, he grabbed her arm. Nikki kicked him in the groin and slipped his grip. Stunned, she stumbled out of the kitchen towards the pillow behind which she had hidden the knives. Ben followed her, clutching his wound and crying out for her. She collapsed in the middle of the room. Ben dove upon her. He punched her in the back and neck. Then he grabbed her by the head and began slamming it against the floor. Unluckily she had landed with her face barely beyond the thick carpet's edge. For many times, the plastic head bobbed up and down on the hard tiled floor until Ben stopped. He turned her round and tried to listen for breathing. He gasped as the wound sent waves of pain through his body. He reached out and grabbed a pillow, which he put against his stomach. He dragged himself along the floor but then stopped. He turned round and looked at the plastic woman on the floor. Then he turned round and saw the real Christina waiting for him.
"Kill her and I will come for you." She said sweetly.
Ben pulled himself from the floor and like a zombie stumbled towards the study. Straining under the blood loss, he opened a drawer and took out a pistol. He then struggled back to where Nikki lay and with a supreme effort of will, cocked the gun and aimed. He dropped the pillow to hold his shaking hand and aimed.
"I won't come if Nikki's here." He could hear behind him.
Struggling, Ben lifted the gun and wiped the sweat and blood from his face with his upper arm's sleeve.
He did not hear the policeman utter a warning.
A shot rang and Ben froze like a rock. He could now see the policeman
with his smoking gun. On his knees, he could hear Christina call him. The
gravity took hold of his limp body and he keeled over. Although his heart
had already stopped, Ben fought to move his head where Christina was waiting
for him. He could see her blowing him a kiss. He smiled back.
Two men wearing white coats stared through the window at the veranda. Sitting in a wheelchair was a woman. Her nose was thick and crooked, and she had a deep scar over her left eye.
"She would sit in the chair for hours, she only responds to the
name Christina, though her real name is Veronica. And when she partially
lucid, she asks if a man called Ben has asked for her."