By Enola Jones

JD came walking down the store aisles, whistling, his hands in his tight jeans pockets and a paper tucked under his arm. He grinned as he turned into the cafeteria and joined the others.

“Please tell me that’s not what I think it is,” Ezra moaned around a mouthful of chicken kiev.

“Of course,” JD laughed, sitting down on the other end of the picnic-style bench. “Only the best in trash reporting!”

Ezra’s green eyes rolled to the chuckles of the others.

“What’s caught your fancy this time, son?” Josiah asked, reaching for another hamburger and earning a glare from Nathan as he did so.

Chris leaned forward. “You do know that paper prints garbage, huh?”

JD nodded. “That’s why it’s so much fun to read! But I thought you’d get a kick out of this. Made me laugh.”

“Lay it on us, kid,” Buck laughed, and then he sobered. “You ate, right?”

“Not yet, but this is so ---“

“Eat,” six voices spoke in unison and Ezra pushed his other piece of chicken toward JD. Vin did the same with his half-drunken beer.

“Not thirsty?” Chris asked Vin.

“Nope,” came the gentle answer. “I’ll share yours.”

This time it was Chris’s green eyes that rolled, even as he pushed his drink toward Vin.

“What page?” Buck asked as he opened the tabloid.

“Feventeen,” JD slurred as he ate.

Buck flipped the paper to that, and frowned. “’Boy Elopes With Deer Statue’?”

“The other one!” JD chuckled.

Buck looked down, and burst out laughing. “’Security Cameras Detect Store Dummies Walking, Talking’! Look at this, it’s like the Sims!” He turned it so they could see the picture with it.

It did, indeed, look like something out of the Sims computer game. Ezra snorted. “That was obviously photographed off of someone’s computer screen.”

“They don’t even look real!” Vin growled. “Least they can do is get real ones!”

“That’s Mercer’s,” Nathan pointed out. “Trash tabloid’s done it again – told a bold-faced lie.”

“Right,” Buck nodded. “Everybody knows the mannequins at Mercer’s are just mannequins!”

The clock on the wall of the cafeteria struck six. “Well, ladies,” Chris chuckled. “Time to go back to work. Everyone ready?”

A chorus of ‘yes’es reached his ears. JD jogged away to put the paper back. Ezra and Vin worked to clear their debris from the cafeteria and Nathan and Buck took care of the grill and microwave area.

Then it was time to go.


The first of the employees arrived at seven, and deactivated the alarms. She walked inside, turned on the lights, and noticed nothing out of place – except one copy of the Manifold was crumpled. She lifted it out, skimmed through it, chuckled at the article about living mannequins, then closed it and put it back where it belonged.

Making a cursory note where everything was, she chuckled as she worked to get the new displays set up. “You guys,” she grunted as she moved her seven favourite mannequins into the central display area. “You have become so popular….”

She moved around each of them, fussing over each one of them as she added final touches. She’d named each of them after characters in her favourite show, and she loved the mannequins like they were real.

“Chris, you need a hat today. Definitely. Let’s try this baseball cap…. Perfect.” She brushed the blond realistic hair from his perpetually half-scowling face and moved to the next one.

“What do you say, Vin? Would you care for some jewelry today?” She gazed into the painted blue eyes and chuckled. “No, I didn’t think so. How about this instead?” wrapping a purple bandanna around his neck, she tucked the ends into the open collar of his shirt.

“You two…I think would go together today.” She moved the tall one with the rooted moustache into a seated position and sat the teenage-appearing mannequin beside him, moving their arms as if they were reading. She got a copy of Outdoor Life and put it in their hands, so it looked as though they were reading together. “There you go, Buck – JD – planning a camping trip. And if you are….” She moved the dark-skinned one closer. “Nathan here will have to keep an eye on you!” Laughing, she moved the oldest mannequin over. “And Josiah will have to keep an eye on all of you…”

She turned to the last one…and blinked. “Ezra, what ever is that on your face?” She took the corner of the cravat the dapper, auburn-haired mannequin wore and daubed at his mouth. “Looks like someone’s been trying to feed you. What is that, chicken?” She chuckled and shook her head. “Some people….”

Still chuckling, she went to open the doors for the other employees. Within the space of an hour, Potter’s Mercantile in Four Corners, Arizona sprang to life in the small corner of the mall it inhabited.

Customers arrived and milled about, buying and browsing. The mannequins were stared at, mused about….

Generally ignored.

But still….they had a job to do. And they did it well.

And when the lights went out and stayed out – Potter’s seven haunted mannequins went about their second job.

Roaming and protecting like they had protected the land a century before.

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