Do Not Fondle the Merchandise (WIP)

This story’s been in the works for ages now. It was actually posted but I took it down to rewrite the beginning and never did get around to it. (Though I suppose someone out there will be happy to see this placeholder post and will gladly forward me a round tuit.) Here’s what I have so far. I know it’s a long read as it is but I don’t want to put the time into repaginating when I know the whole thing’s gonna be redone. I decided to go ahead and repaginate the story, because with so many others in the works there’s no telling when it will finally be rewritten…

Anyway, here it is:

On the way home from work one evening, I stopped at a clothing store to buy a white dress shirt. I had a job interview the next day, and I didn’t want to make a bad impression with a dingy or frayed shirt.The store I went to, Worth’s, had seen better days. Much better days. It had once been part of a large department store chain, but time and changing fashions had largely left the store behind. And like most department stores, the assumption was made that women do ALL the clothing purchases, so their men’s department was tiny, and buried in a far corner of the store.

I got a surprise as I retreated to the men’s corner. Various departments were displaying what must have been some new type of mannequin. They were very realistic-looking, with what looked like skin instead of the usual hard plastic coating. Many of them were obviously androids, with missing hands parts or unnatural-looking poses, but some of them were so human looking as to be unsettling. In keeping with the store’s past-its-prime condition, most of the mannequins were wearing slightly out-of-date fashions.

One that caught my eye was a vaguely Hispanic-looking model wearing a bandeau tube top and a stretch denim miniskirt. The only visual clue that this was a mannequin, besides its complete stillness, was that the ends of the arms were smoothly rounded; there were no hands. This one, too, seemed to have skin instead of the usual plastic consistency.

I finally spotted a rack of men’s shirts and got what I needed. As I took a couple of steps away from the rack, I backed into someone. At the moment it seemed like I had backed into a woman standing behind me. “Excuse me, miss,” I started, as I turned around. “I didn’t mean–” That’s when I saw that standing behind me was a mannequin that had been placed square on the floor instead of on a pedestal. I didn’t remember seeing this mannequin before I took my shirts, but I figured it must have been there all along. This one was also wearing a tube top, along with painted-on-looking black jeans clinging to a generous figure. It looked like a deeply-tanned Caucasian, or a light-skinned Black woman. I had to guess, because it had no head.

I looked around and didn’t see anyone that I could have bumped into, or for that matter anyone else. That led me back to the mannequin. I noticed that this one also had a lifelike looking outer covering, even on the headless stump. I touched its neck and recoiled at how real it felt. Then I stared at the breasts pushing outward under the tube top.

*Can’t be*, I thought, as I reached out to touch them. Wonder of wonders, it was just like touching an actual woman, except for being cool to the touch. I poked lightly at the mannequin’s chest, and it gave slightly, as if it were an actual woman. *This is creepy*, I thought, as I turned away to find a salesperson so I could pay for my shirts and get out of there.

Momentarily, a seemingly Stepford-ish young woman appeared from a back room and made a beeline for me, holding some kind of spray bottle. “Would you like to sample our new men’s fragrance?” she asked, a little too cheerfully to suit me.

“No thank you,” I replied, but she was already moving in to squirt the stuff on me. “Hey, I said no th–”

After a few seconds I started to feel a little woozy, which was odd because no cologne should have that effect on anyone. But it should have a smell, and I distinctly recall that this stuff had none. Then I blacked out…

The next thing I remember was lying on my back on something moderately soft, feeling like I was inside something that was moving, even though I myself could not move or see. I figured I was in the back seat of some kind of automobile. I felt some kind of restraints around my wrists, which evidently were also attached to something else because I could not move my arms at all. I tried to shift my position slightly, with instant feedback from my back and legs. I figured that either I had been lying there for some time, or someone had worked me over while I was out.

When my back complained about the movement, I involuntarily grunted. A facetiously sweet-sounding female voice said, “Oh, I see Sleeping Cutie is awake, and from the sound of it you’re feeling sore. Don’t worry, you’ll be getting out soon, and you’ll be able to stretch your legs then.” Whoever was speaking punctuated “don’t worry” by caressing my face with what felt like satin or silk gloves.

I wondered where this person was, if I was indeed in a car. I felt something against my head, which I figured must have been the door or side of the car or whatever I was riding in. The seat wasn’t nearly long enough to support me, so my knees stuck up in the air while my feet rested against the other side of the vehicle. *Maybe I’m in a van,* I thought.

“Where am I?” I groggily rasped.

“I suppose I could take your blindfold off. You won’t know where you are anyway,” the voice replied sarcastically. The blindfold was removed. What I saw made me think I was delirious.

No more than six inches away from my head a pair of foot-long black satin gloves hovered over the left rear footwell. That’s right, “hovered.” As in not attached to anything. They just hung there, in a space that, clearly, no normal person could fit in. “Who’s– Where– What’s going on?” I sputtered.

My confusion was just met with laughter. Whatever humor this person saw in my question completely escaped me. When she had finished laughing, the voice said, “Do you really think you’re in a position to ask questions?”

I tried again. “No, I mean there’s no room for anyone else back here. How… I mean, where…” I trailed off.

“Oh, you want to know how come you can’t see me,” the voice replied.

“Um, yeah, I guess that’s what I’m trying to say,” I said. *Among other things*, I thought.

“Well,” the voice answered, “the notebook in your briefcase is full of stories about invisible women and androids and mannequins and whatnot, so we decided to see how much you’d like them for real.”

“We?” I asked.

“Turn off the field around his cuffs,” an authoritative female voice coming from the front of the car ordered. The cuffs weren’t removed, but whatever held them in place so that I couldn’t move was removed. I sat up, slowly, in response to my sore back and legs, and then got another surprise.


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