Steve Gergley ~ Mannequin

After work, I find a head­less man­nequin lying face down in my dri­ve­way. The man­nequin is dressed in a gold tuxe­do and pol­ished, black leather oxfords. A crust of red crys­tal clings to the crag­gy stump of the mannequin’s neck. The bot­tom half of its right leg is bent upward the wrong way, as if the unfor­tu­nate plas­tic being jumped (or was pushed) from the rooftop of my new house.

Coming home to this scene fol­low­ing an exhaust­ing day at the ware­house, I am con­fused and also annoyed. For the past two hours I have been fan­ta­siz­ing about the unopened box of Honey Bunches of Oats with Cinnamon Clusters wait­ing for me on my kitchen table, but now I must deal with this tir­ing non­sense instead. So I sit in my rum­bling Honda, grip the rub­ber ring of the steer­ing wheel, and think about what to do. Pausing the exper­i­men­tal black met­al blast­ing in my ears, I turn up the heat and study the mannequin’s fan­cy out­fit. Why a tuxe­do? Are its black leather oxfords a sym­bol for me to decode? Is this elab­o­rate scene a threat of some kind? I can’t tell. I under­stand less about the world with each pass­ing day.

Huffing a hot breath into my hands, I glance at the glow­ing dash­board on my right. It’s 10:23 p.m. and neg­a­tive three outside.

I’ve been liv­ing in this house for almost six months now. Aside from my PS5 and flat screen TV, my mea­ger and worth­less pos­ses­sions are still trapped in the plas­tic con­tain­ers I bought from Walmart the day I moved out of my last apart­ment. Though I ful­ly intend to unpack even­tu­al­ly, I under­stand that my things might live in those con­tain­ers forever.

Shortly after buy­ing this house, I took to the inter­net and dis­cov­ered that the pre­vi­ous res­i­dents, a Jack and Sarah Matthews, were a pair of child­less octo­ge­nar­i­ans who died in the same bed with­in a span of forty-eight hours of each oth­er. That bed is now my bed. The bed I sleep in every night. The same bed I will soon return to in a mat­ter of hours. Last week­end I drove to Topine and paid a vis­it to Mattias the Mattress God to buy a new mat­tress that had not been recent­ly sweat­ed and slept and died upon, but every one of those non-death mat­tress­es were extreme­ly expen­sive, so I did not buy a new mat­tress. I did pur­chase a new set of sheets how­ev­er, and those have made a big improve­ment on both my sleep, and my peace of mind.

Now my stom­ach grum­bles in impa­tience. So I turn off my car and inves­ti­gate the man­nequin lying in my dri­ve­way. Resting my hands on my knees and lean­ing over the corpse, I dis­cov­er that the thing reeks like a dead ani­mal. But a light prod of my boot to the intact left leg con­firms that the man­nequin is indeed made of plas­tic. Studying the red crys­tals stuck to the mannequin’s sev­ered neck, I see that there is a thin dust­ing of iden­ti­cal stones worm­ing down the cen­ter of the flag­stone path in front of my house. Following this path, I soon arrive at my front door. Here I drop to a squat and watch as the trail of tiny crys­tals sneaks under the thresh­old of my front door and con­tin­ues inside the house.

Seeing this, I turn around and look back at the man­nequin. Then I walk into the mid­dle of my lawn and squint up at my roof. But with no moon out tonight to pro­vide extra illu­mi­na­tion, I can’t see any­thing up there in detail.

So I unlock my front door and care­ful­ly step inside, mak­ing sure to not dis­turb the glit­ter­ing trail of small red crys­tals on the ground. The house is warm; the lights are off; my flat screen and PS5 are still here. Apparently, I have not been robbed.

I flick on the lights and look down at the floor. The line of red crys­tals mean­ders through the cen­ter of the liv­ing room, stops in front of Mr. and Mrs. Matthews’s old couch, then takes an abrupt left turn and darts down the hall­way toward the bed­room. Seeing this, I slip my phone out of my pock­et and start dial­ing 911. But I stop myself a sec­ond lat­er. What would I even say to the oper­a­tor to explain this sit­u­a­tion? How would I make them under­stand what my life has been reduced to? With an exhaust­ed sigh, I return my phone to my pock­et and fol­low the crys­tals on the floor.

Moments lat­er I snap on the hall­way light and see that the trail abrupt­ly ends in the mid­dle of the hall­way, just under­neath the door in the ceil­ing that leads to the attic.

In the six months I’ve lived here, I have not yet entered the attic. This is by design. In gen­er­al, I am not a fan of attics. They are places I do not like to go. Perhaps that makes me super­sti­tious. All I know is that good things rarely hap­pen in attics. But it appears I have no choice on this occa­sion. These are the things one must do as a home­own­er. So I make an excep­tion and pull the string above my head.

The attic door swings open. The wood­en lad­der slides down. A glit­ter­ing pow­der of red crys­tal clings to a rung near my shoulder.

When I poke my head through the door­way a few moments lat­er, I see that the attic is emp­ty. The floor­boards lay bare. The air is cold and stale. With each cau­tious breath, spiny dust tick­les the back of my nos­trils. Despite all this, it does not take long for me to find the trail of red crys­tals on the floor.

From here the trail leads to a dormer win­dow look­ing out over my dark­ened back­yard. Tracing my fin­ger along the nar­row sill in front of the win­dow, I come away with a sparkling fin­ger­print of tiny red stones.

But this is as far as I go. So I turn around and make a show of laugh­ing in good nature, in case the ghosts/spirits/whatevers of Mr. and Mrs. Matthews are wait­ing to push me off the roof to my death, like the poor plas­tic soul in my driveway.

Oh, ho ho,” I say out loud to the emp­ty attic. “That’s very clever, my friends, but I will not be step­ping onto the roof of this house in the mid­dle of January. I thank you for the intrigue, however.”

The instant these words escape my lips, I scram­ble to the door in the floor and quick­ly climb down the lad­der. Then I smash the attic closed and jog back to the front door to make sure it’s still locked. It is. From here I blow out a relieved sigh and tug off my heavy work­boots. I turn on the TV and click over to HBO. In the kitchen, I wash my hands and grab my cere­al off the table. I slide a sweaty jug of milk from the fridge. When I walk back to the liv­ing room, a pair of man­nequins with the faces of Jack and Sarah Matthews are sit­ting on oppo­site ends of the couch, star­ing at me with eyes of red crystal.


Steve Gergley is the author of The Great Atlantic Highway & Other Stories (Malarkey Books ’24), Skyscraper (West Vine Press ’23), and A Quick Primer on Wallowing in Despair (Leftover Books ’22). His short fic­tion has appeared or is forth­com­ing in X‑R-A‑Y Literary Magazine, Pithead Chapel, Maudlin House, Always Crashing, Gone Lawn, Rejection Letters, and oth­ers. In addi­tion to writ­ing fic­tion, he has com­posed and record­ed five albums of orig­i­nal music. He tweets @GergleySteve. His fic­tion can be found at: