I walked into my living room to find my daughter, Mary, sorting through our family photos. My wife was helping her out, with the two of them laughing and reminiscing upon the various trips we've taken and the experiences we've had. I joined them with a cup of coffee and observed what they were doing.
"Alright, now this one goes here -"
"Nope! We went to Venezuela AFTER the huge wedding. Right, honey?"
I looked up from what the two were doing to look my wife in the eyes. She was developing the first traces of wrinkles, but her youthful features still resonated just as much as they did when we first met. A soft smile offset a pair of piercing, green eyes and defined cheekbones.
"That's right," I affirmed. "We were there for two weeks before I came down with a case of la venganza de Montezuma." We all laughed at this and the assimilation of Mary's project continued. She was doing this for a school project as one of those activities to "find your roots." A little superfluous, maybe, but nothing harmful. I had finished my coffee and was about to return to my work when an emergency broadcast blared from every single television set in the house. The regular messages flickered as if something had interrupted them; almost as if a series of messages were intended to divert our attention from the real danger. The messages flashed on the screen in bold, black letters:
STAY INSIDE, UNIDENTIFIED AIRCRAFT IS GUNNING DOWN EXPOSED CIVILIANS
STAY INSIDE, UNIDENTIFIED AIRCRAFT IS GUNNING DOWN EXPOSED CIVILIANS
"Oh my God," gasped Mary. "Are we going to be safe, dad?"
I couldn't be honest with her. If she knew the possibilities, she could have panicked and ran outside in a fervor. Instead, I decided to handle the situation with a rational mindset.
"Of course, Mary. Go in mom and I's bedroom and grab your sleeping bag. I want everyone in one place tonight so one of us can alert the other in case anything happens. Sweetheart, you go grab the crank flashlights and the gun. I'll lock the doors and make sure no one's outside."
While we went off to do our assigned tasks, I noticed something as I was securing the front door. Along the street, red flares had been placed along the ground in addition to big, red "X's" that were drawn at every intersection. This, is when I suspected that this aircraft had not been as "unidentified" as the government had led us to believe. I wasn't familiar with their protocol, but I knew a quarantine when I saw it. Casting my suspicions aside, I went into my bedroom. The flashlights and gun were sitting on the nightstand. Loading a clip into the pistol, I crawled in bed beside my wife and went to sleep.
The sound of klaxon sirens jolted me awake. I brandished my .38 handgun, cautious of whatever made the alarms blare as loud as they did. I looked to my left to see my wife and child still under the covers. Breathing a sigh of relief, I clambered out of bed to check the condition of things. The sets still displayed the same flickered messages. I had the ability to pause my programming.
I did, and was surprised at my find.For a moment - just a mere millisecond, a fragment in time - a picture flashed on the screen. It appeared to be a low quality image of a skull with a radioactive symbol on its head. Under it was the caption "OBEY." A red flag went off in my head, but thus far I thought it was all just a coincidence. Wary from what I had just seen, I went outside to see what else was affected.
By the time the sirens had died out, the air was filled with Glenn Miller's Moonlight Serenade, which played through unseen speakers. Cars were in the streets, but they weren't parked; in fact, the grand majority of them were still running, and some of them were crashed into each other. Approaching one of the vehicles, I made a strange and horrifying discovery.
That wasn't a human driving the car. It was... a mannequin. I initially thought that someone or something put it inside of the car as a joke. Upon closer inspection, however, I found that it was wearing clothes and a watch. Out of curiosity, I checked its pockets - they were full. The statue of what looked like a middle-class businessman on a work-related commute had a wallet full of money and an expensive looking wristwatch. His face was caught in an expression of laughter as he was smiling and appeared to have his hand in front him. Realizing the gravity of the situation, I ran in my house to check on my wife and child.
At a glance, everything in my bedroom seemed normal. Mary and her mother hadn't moved since I went outside and came back, which worried me given what I had seen. I pulled back my daughter's sleeping bag to find her shiny face and sleepy expression artificial and immovable. Her mannequin was the same size as her as well, right down to the curl of her nose and the shape of her toes. Lifting her up, I found that this sick replacement of her weighed almost nothing. Whoever did this got not only her skin, but also her sandy blonde hair down to the pigment. Feelings of rage and desperation surged through me as I found my wife had reached the same tragic, mysterious fate.
Whatever was going on reeked of conspiracy and planning. This was further exemplified when I raided my fridge for possible resources only to find that every item had been replaced with a plastic, false counterpart.
Remembering my family albums spread out on the coffee table the night before, I analyzed them for any changes. In every single photo, me, my wife, and Mary were mannequins. I was horrified. The faces and expressions were spot-on. For the first time, I barely recognized my own face. My smile was so empty.
No amount of personal vindication targeted towards me or anyone else could have warranted this carefully thought-out and executed heist of reality. Picking up my gun and car keys, I set out to see if anything was left.
Pile-up after pile-up obstructed my path and slowed my travel through a series of unsettlingly quiet suburbs. Mannequins were behind the wheels of every single car. Men, women, and children sat eerily still with expressions of various degrees caught in various moments; an irate father yelling at his children in the backseat, a jaded traffic guard allowing a flock full of eager school children to cross the street, and two road rage fueled women engaged in a silent shouting match at a static traffic light. Just like I had seen earlier, red X's were spray-painted at every intersection. I kept on driving until I reached a barricade where my subdivision met the road that led to town. I stepped out of my car to find nothing but mist in every direction past the barriers. Extending my hand to feel it, I discovered that it burned skin at the touch.
That settles it, I accepted to myself. I'm trapped.
A car didn't really seem necessary at that point, so I meandered about towards my house. In an alley just before the border between the neighborhood and the mysterious beyond, there was a boy with a can of spray paint vandalizing the side of a house. A smile was on his face, but it was pained and somewhat forced. His finger was stuck on the nozzle of the can, with most of its contents gone from the hours he must have been stuck there. A drop of runny, black paint ran down past the the figure's fingers and dripped onto the asphalt. The message he sprayed on the brick wall said this:
I HAVE NO MOUTH BUT I MUST SMILE
Suddenly, the music faded out and a voice came over the loudspeakers. It was crisp and unusually clear.
"Thank you for observing the work that was so dutifully prepared by Futureline Industries. This environment will commence nuclear self-destruction in ten minutes."
Conveniently enough, a lead box laid on the ground near where I stood. The same song from before faded in smoothly as a countdown commenced. I went inside a nearby house and grabbed a pen and paper where I managed to get all of this down. I'll be surprised if this makes it through the rubble, but I sure as hell hope it does. May God rest my soul and deliver justice upon those who have condemned me.
- January 5th, 1960
Donning a pair of black leather gloves, the soigne, superficial millionaire entered the gallery with his retinue. His recent project cost him a total of $70 million, but he knew he would make a profit if this sold. This much was a guarantee - Sinclair Gustav's art always sold for the highest prices at any showing his work went to. The man's conscience was unusually clear for someone who had made an entire neighborhood of people vanish; everyone who greeted him was completely unaware that at heart, he was a cold-blooded killer who got the job done for the highest bidder.
After much cheer and champagne, his most admired realist painting was sold for a total of $100 million. The night's "hot seller" depicted a mannequin ablaze next to a writhing, suffering man who was on fire as well. He smugly grinned as the title was announced, sealing his place in both fame and infamy: Humannequin.
In that neighborhood - in those vaporized, ashen ruins - the Moonlight Serenade continued to play from speakers that were barely left standing...