The rain pattered gently in the dark of night, crystalline raindrops cascading down Robert's windshield. No matter how many times his wipers ran them through, they kept coming back. The wipers danced back and forth to the rhythm of the song on the radio.
"We can't stay this way for-everrrr..." Robert mumbled along to the radio, off tempo and out of key. It didn't really matter to him; he had one thing on his mind, and that was home. 14 hours on a cramped flight was never Robert's favorite place to be, and he was always preferential to his own living room. He had promised his wife that this would be the last trip for a while, and that he would request to be stationed at home more from his boss. He didn't have much of a shot at getting that request approved, but Robert had always been a dreamer.
Fuck, running low on gas. Kay'll kill me if I don't fill it soon; might as well do it now, I guess. Robert thought to himself as he stared disappointedly at the drooping fuel needle. The yellow roof of the town gas station was just coming into view over the horizon; that signified the outskirts of town, which signified home. He was more than ready to put this entire trip behind him and return to the place he belonged. But first, there was always an obstacle.
Robert pulled into the gas station, putting his car into park and stepping outside. The rain had stopped, which was odd considering the ferocity at which it had once berated Robert's windows. He walked up to the doors; through the glass windows, he could see that his friend Harry was manning the counter for the night.
Good ol' Harry. Not exactly the first familiar face I wanted to see, but it could be worse.
"Hiya, Harry." Robert called out nonchalantly as he pushed the doors open, immediately making a beeline for the energy drinks. Harry gave no reply.
"You awake, Harry? Or are you just giving me the silent treatment cause I had to miss the camping trip?" Robert asked jokingly as he approached the counter with his drink. He looked at Harry, and a pit began to form in his stomach.
It wasn't Harry at the counter; it couldn't be. Its hair was blocky and shiny, its face had no texture. It stared blankly at Robert with eyes that weren't real, holding a grin with fake teeth.
It was a mannequin. A mannequin that looked exactly like Harry. Its arm was outstretched, as if the lifeless husk were mid transaction with a customer. It was then that Robert realized that he was alone in the gas station; just him and... Harry.
This is a joke. It's gotta be a joke.
"Alright Harry," he called out, "you got me good. Joke's over, huh? But how did you get a mannequin so realistic? I mean Jesus, Harry, this thing is almost a spitting image of you. How did you..."
He trailed off, waiting for Harry to jump out from the back room, or from behind an aisle. He was truly alone with the mannequin. If this was a joke, nobody was stepping forward to admit it.
"Ok guys," he stammered as he backed up towards the door, "this has been really funny. Harry, you and all your gas station friends are fucked up for this one, you know that? I... I gotta go, remind me to kick your asses for this later... haha..."
He pushed the doors open behind him, shuffling towards his car. He opened his car door and locked it behind him, breathing an instinctive sigh of relief. He didn't know what he was so afraid of; his friends were playing a prank on him because he had been gone for so long, and he was letting it get to his head.
He gazed into the window one last time before pulling away. In the time that he had gone to his car, the mannequin's head had swiveled 90 degrees. It was looking out the window. It was looking at Robert's car.
It was looking straight at him.
Robert's pulse quickened as he drove away, his shaky hands gripping relentlessly on the wheel. His breathing was rapid and uneven, and he found it hard to catch his breath at all.
That wasn't possible... if anybody moved it that quickly, you would've seen them... you would've had to have seen them! So who moved that mannequin?
As he entered the residential area, Robert began to see more of them. There was a boy standing in his driveway, red kickball placed gently in his plastic hands. His face was a permanent mold of youthful joy, and a female mannequin watched him from an open doorway. There were cyclists laying under overturned bikes, cargo short clad fathers posed with lawnmowers that had long since died... it was if they were all placed instantly, with precision but without warning.
"Not much further to the house," Robert murmured to himself, "find Kay, she'll know what's going on. If this is still some fucked up prank, she's the one person who won't be in on it. I know she won't."
Deep down, he knew it couldn't be a prank anymore. A group of friends replacing one townsperson with a mannequin to fool him? Sure, it was plausible. But now the mannequins were everywhere; they were on every lawn, on every street, on every block. All of them were posed like people going about their lives; they were getting into cars, they were checking the mailbox, they were bending down to pick up the paper. Each of them, like the Harry mannequin, was an identical copy to one of Robert's fellow citizens. People he knew, people he spoke to on a daily basis... they were gone somehow, and these things stood in their wake.
Every time Robert looked in his rearview mirror, the mannequins he had passed were all looking at him. Every last one of them, no matter what they were doing, had miraculously turned their heads to stare at him. His breathing quickened even further, and his pulse was so quick it felt practically nonexistent.
When he saw the red and blue flashing lights behind him, he felt such an unexpected relief that it startled him. He pulled over, ecstatic that there was somebody in this town who could explain what was going on, even if it was a cop who probably thought he was driving like a lunatic. He watched the cop car pull ahead of his car, parking a few feet in front of his headlights.
The door to the squad car creaked open, but no officer stepped out of the car. The door stayed open, moving back and forth gently in the wind.
"Please," Robert whispered to himself, "please be real. You can't... you can't do this to me!" He wasn't sure who he was talking to anymore; somebody had done this, that much he knew. This was a perfectly rational situation, and there was somebody at the helm of it all. He had to keep believing that, or else he would lose his mind.
Slowly, Robert stepped out of his car, approaching the squad car. Sitting in its driver's seat was a mannequin; it was dressed as a police officer, with a cheap velcro mustache and aviator sunglasses covering its plastic face. There was a half eaten donut placed comically in its right hand, its left resting cooly on the wheel. Robert stumbled back, his sense of reality fading fast.
"You... you drove to me," Robert mumbled, pointing at the lifeless mannequin, "how did you do that?! Answer me, how did you do that?! You're not real, you're not!"
Robert heard a sound from behind him, causing him to turn around. The sound was a red kickball rolling towards him. He looked up, and his blood froze in his veins.
All of the mannequins had assembled in the center of the street. Their arms were at their sides, their heads facing directly towards him. They stood in a perfectly uniform line formation, with the young boy Robert had seen at the front of the formation. Robert tried to scream, but the noise got caught in his throat. He moved for his car, but stopped; he didn't want to get any closer to the horde, and his house was only a block or two away. He turned heel and ran, slamming the squad car door shut as he ran. He heard the siren start up behind him, but it didn't matter; soon he would be home, and somehow this nightmare would all be over.
He kept running, never once turning around. There were no footsteps behind him, but he knew they were moving. He could feel them, always just a step behind him, though they made no sound in their pursuit. He could hear the squad car, though, which seemed to be taking up the rear judging by sound distance. Up ahead, he saw his front lawn come into view, and he thanked Jesus for bringing him this far.
He threw himself against his oak wood door, thrusting the key in and turning quickly, nearly falling inside. He stood up quick, locking the door behind him. His house was dark, and he turned lights on as he went, frantically heading towards his stairs. He clambered up the steps, nearly on all fours; he needed to find Kay, and he needed to get her up to the roof. He didn't know what to do after that, but if those things got inside, they'd be safe on the roof.
Robert was a businessman. Lying to people was his specialty, and right now he was lying to himself with every hopeful thought that entered his frail mind.
He was so concerned with finding Kay that when he crashed into the mannequin at the top of the stairs, he hardly even comprehended what was happening. He fell to the ground at the top of the stairs, the mannequin he crashed into practically exploding into pieces. The head rolled over to him; he saw the plastic mold of Kay's messy bun, and he couldn't hold back the tears. He stood up, looking down at the woman he loved- reduced to nothing more than plastic pieces on the floor before him.
Suddenly, there was a sound downstairs. A slight, almost unnoticeable sound: the sound of glass cracking under pressure.
They were almost in.
Robert brushed the tears away with the sleeve of his jacket, pushing on towards the attic. He quickly climbed the attic stairs, being sure to collapse them up behind him. Once in the attic, he pulled open the hatch to the roof, and forced himself through the hole. The night air hit him hard after what had felt like an eternity of trying to escape his own house. He rose to his feet, taking in his surroundings. The horde had surrounded his house, all of them standing perfectly still, their arms now raised as if they were an angry mob in a monster movie. He looked out towards the horizon, just as the sun began to rise. Coming home wouldn't bring safety, going home wouldn't bring safety- maybe the dawn of a new day would. Robert had been grasping at straws all night; any other kind of thought would push him further to the brink of insanity.
As the sun rose, it began to illuminate the rest of the town, enabling Robert to see far beyond the periphery of his own lawn.
The horde... he couldn't even call it a horde anymore... the army was closing in on him. They poured in from every street in his view. They came from every direction, from each house on each street. In the distance, he could see police cars and ambulances; it didn't matter, he knew what sat behind the wheels of each one.
Robert sighed. Somehow during the long night, the fear and panic had subsided to some hellish form of acceptance. He walked to the edge of his roof, slowly sitting down as he looked down at the mannequins surrounding his house.
Every one of them, no matter how far away they were, were all meeting his forlorn gaze. And for a brief moment of lucidity, Robert appreciated their company.