IMPORTANT
A day shy of a week ago Robotech Master was out on his e-bike when an SUV struck him and drove off. According to the most recent news available, he passed away from his injuries at around 2:00 this morning. I have kept some news up on his user page and, at this point, ask that anyone wishing to leave messages or tributes do so on either his talk page or another page that can be used for such things. His account here and all of the stories he has gifted the Shifti community with will be preserved in memoriam, as we also did for Morgan.

On Display

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Author: Bryan
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Xanadu story universe


It was like a nightmare. I was terrified, surrounded by monsters and shouting crowds of people, and I couldn't move. Not even slightly.

I stood against one wall of the hallway, my one bit of fortune that I was out of the way of the main flow of people rushing past me. I had a very elegant, effeminate pose - one hand on my hip, pelvis tilted, the other hand held in some ambiguous gesture just at the lower edge of my field of view. I was completely frozen in that posture.

Behind the mysterious Mona Lisa smile locked onto my false face I was a ball of raging panic. Was I having a stroke, or some sort of weird seizure? I couldn't move!

Many of the people pushing past me seemed just as frightened as I was, and for some reason the monsters were too. After what seemed like an eternity but which must have only been a few minutes it finally clicked; there weren't any people around in costume any more, but many of the things rushing past were things people had been wearing costumes of.

It was insane, but it was still a thread of an explanation for what was happening to me and I grabbed on to it. I tried to ignore the mayhem around me and focus on my hand, turning my attention downward without actually moving my eyes. My skin was smooth as porcelain, pale and creamy, with a slight glossy finish. Not at all like the skin-tight gloves I had been wearing, but exactly like the surface of the real display mannequin I had been intending them to simulate.

I wanted to swallow hard, start sweating, maybe go weak in the knees. Please let me just be having a stroke after all! How can this be happening?

Someone bumped against my out-thrust breast as they pushed past, the touch falling directly on flesh that should have been deeply buried under the hollow plastic of my costume's chest piece. It set me rocking back on my heels and I felt vertigo, the crackling jolt of fear one gets from nearly but not quite falling, the sharp gut-level reflexive jerk of a desperate attempt to right myself... As far as I could tell I didn't budge a single millimeter.

I was good at holding still, it was what had given me the idea to try this costume in the first place. But I wasn't that good. I whimpered silently to myself, cursing my pride over how well my costume had turned out - I'd made the mask and chest piece out of parts from an actual mannequin, even using a corset to give myself the right figure - and fervently wishing I hadn't had the courage to come to this place after all.

But all I could really do was wait. The panicked flight of Xanadu's convention-goers began to slowly peter out, and my own panic began to slowly ebb as well - there wasn't much point to a fight or flight reaction if I couldn't even scream. I tried listening for snippets of further explanation from the remaining people passing by, some clue as to the cause and scope of what had happened - maybe even some reassuring word about its expected duration - but nobody seemed to have a clue.

Nobody paid much attention to me, either. I'd been sort of thankful for that when the hall had been a stream of monsters, but now I was starting to feel a different sort of desperation. The hallway was emptying out. What if I was left alone? How long would it be before help came, if it ever did?

I tried calling out with my mind, a vain hope for drawing attention that was as unproductive as one might expect. Some people did glance at me - I was probably a bit of an incongruous sight, after all - but there wasn't the slightest flicker of recognition that I was alive. I wasn't even breathing so I guess I couldn't blame them.

I'd been so proud of my costume. I was not exactly the most social of people, when I went to parties I was the type who'd stay quiet and not be noticed much. I was shy. So when I'd come up with the idea it had seemed like both a tremendous challenge to my shyness and a perfect complement; I'd dress up in a tremendously embarrassing outfit, stand out in public for everyone to see, and try not to look out of place. My nerve had failed on Halloween itself but the anonymity and cash prizes offered by Xanadu a few days afterward had coaxed me to try again.

Well, here I was.

Hours must have passed, I had no idea how many. There were always a few people around, I'd picked a main thoroughfare to do my mannequin act as practice for the contest I'd entered. I cried, I screamed, I ranted, and then finally settled into a dull mental silence - not acceptance, of course, just hopelessness. Nobody was paying attention. I'd picked a spot just outside the hall where lots of clothiers had set themselves up, damnit. Perhaps it was considered normal for a mannequin to be standing here.

When at long last I finally found I could move again it took a moment for me to actually notice it - I had long since stopped trying. But my fingers twitched and I reflexively turned my head to stare at them, not quite believing for a moment before letting the surge of relief sweep over me. I jumped out of my pose and tried to let out a whoop of joy.

My relief was briefly dashed by my complete failure to make any noise, or even to open my mouth. I still wasn't breathing and the light click of my fingertips against the skin of my face revealed that although I was mobile again I was still a mannequin. I could feel the touch directly, there was no mask there. I leaned against the wall, finally able to be as weak-kneed as I felt I should be, and tried to take stock of my new situation.

Patting down my body produced a resonant clunking noise everywhere - impossible though it may seem, I really was some sort of hollow plastic or fibreglass shell just like the real mannequin I'd used parts from for the costume. My proportions had changed to match it, too. I was feminine. Very feminine. That was almost as unsettling as being hollow; I wasn't even a cross-dresser, I'd only gone with a female mannequin because it challenged me that little extra bit more. Now the artfully sculpted contours of breasts and the hips were somehow a part of me. Gingerly rubbing my crotch, I winced at the blank Barbie-style smoothness I found under the ordinary women's pantsuit I'd been wearing overtop of the mannequin costume. I may have looked female but it was hard to tell what gender I actually was, if I even had one at all any more.

I glanced around the hall, hoping to finally let someone know what had happened to me and get some sort of help. I would have sighed in disappointment if I could have; there wasn't anyone visible. Just my luck. I can finally move and- eep!

An odd reflex suddenly seized me. I adjusted my pose, still leaning against the wall but now looking just as elegant and effeminate as I had before, then froze in place. No! No, no, no, not again! I screamed and struggled helplessly against my own rigidity. Why?

An instant later a pair of policemen came out of a door some distance away and headed in my direction. They passed by me - again, not a flicker of recognition in my direction - and continued on down the hall, discussing something in strained voices I didn't pay much attention to. I could only watch them pass and fume silently to myself.

Then as soon as they were out of view I jerked away from the wall and staggered with abruptly restored mobility. I sank to the floor and tried to breathe heavily, making heaving motions but not accomplishing much else. Having my ability to move restored after so long and then abruptly yanked away again had almost been worse than losing it the first time. At least I'd got it back again more quickly this time. Perhaps the condition was wearing off...

I heard the sound of someone running. As I turned my head to look down the hall I also reflexively composed myself, pulling my legs in to my side and putting a hand to my hip in a pose of false nonchalance. I stiffened just in time for a woman in spandex to come hurrying out around a corner into eyeshot. She glanced at me as she passed but didn't hesitate.

As soon as she was gone I could move again and I leapt back to my feet. For someone who apparently had a hollow head now the pattern dawned on me quite quickly. Oh God. Nobody can see me move! Back when I'd just been pretending to be a mannequin I had always tried to wait until as few eyes were on me as possible before adjusting my pose, but now it seemed to be strictly enforced - I automatically froze up whenever someone was looking.

I didn't pause to consider the craziness of my conclusion, the hours I'd already spent with nothing to do but reflect on what had happened had led me to just accept it at face value for now. Though I would have still preferred to go for help I now realized I had to get someplace more private before anyone else happened by. I turned and stumbled through the door into the nearest room.

It was the clothier's display room. Oh, just great! I almost panicked at the sight of another mannequin, but I forced myself to remain calm and save the panic for the next time I couldn't move. This was just an ordinary real mannequin, I remembered seeing it before when I'd first been scouting the place out.

I had to find someplace to hide, there was nobody in here right now but that could change at any moment if someone happened by. It was a small room but there were some partitions set up at far end. I ducked behind them and breathed an imaginary sigh of relief, followed by an imaginary gasp of alarm - despite not being able to breathe I still reflexively went through the motion when startled.

The partitions had evidently been set up to create a changing area and after ducking behind them I'd been confronted with several full-length mirrors. It was one thing to realize conceptually that one had become an animate mannequin, but it was quite another to actually see it. It took a moment for me to realize my stillness was only from shock rather than being physically frozen in place again.

I'd picked a slightly abstract mannequin as raw materials for my costume. Her face had arched brows over painted blue eyes that curved smoothly into the bridge of a nose, down to sculpted lips curved in a slight smile. Her scalp was smooth and hairless and the ears were just raised patches on the sides. I stared at that face, not bothering to wonder how I could actually see with fake eyes like that, and strained to change my expression.

I may have been mobile now that nobody was looking but that smile was as solidly frozen in place as ever. I gathered up the will to drag my attention away from it and sat down with my back to the mirror, trying to think about other things.

Okay. I'm safe from view for the time being... what do I do next?

There were still sounds filtering in from elsewhere in the building and it was clear that whatever had happened was still going on - there were occasional shouts and moans and other less identifiable noises. I couldn't make any noises myself and for the time being it probably wouldn't have been a good idea anyway. How am I going to tell anyone what's happened? If I freeze up whenever anyone can see me...

I could write a note. I flexed my fibreglass fingers and nodded, reassuring myself I was capable of that at least. I just needed to find a pen and paper.

I stood up again and listened carefully, then peered out around the edge of the partition to make sure the room was still empty. It felt like my heart was pounding nervously, though I suspected it must be just my imagination considering my chest seemed hollow. I stepped out and began hurriedly searching. I found a tailor's marking chalk straight away but couldn't find any paper. Inspiration came quickly, though; I grabbed a dark blue T-shirt and ducked back behind the partition.

The chalk showed up well on the dark fabric, though I had to write large for it to be legible and so couldn't fit much in. "Ted Thompson, not a real mannequin, please help." Short and to the point. Now... I pulled off the blouse I'd been wearing and prepared to put the shirt on in its place.

I hesitated, my attention captured again by the mirror. Partly it was just seeing my upper body bare like that - feminine, featureless and glossy - but also there was the nagging sense that a navy blue T-shirt simply would not work well with the rest of the outfit I was wearing.

I couldn't believe the thought was occurring to me, let alone that I couldn't get over it. Rather than waste time fighting it, though, I finished stripping. Holy crap, I am Barbie... My nude body didn't look real at all, even discounting the fact that I was really a guy. I didn't even have separate toes, and I had seam-like creases encircling my upper arms and thighs. But at least I felt comfortable putting the shirt on now that there was nothing to clash with its style, ensuring my message would be prominently displayed.

Next I needed something to cover the rest of myself. Real or not, Barbie-crotch or not, I felt naked. I stepped out from behind the partition to see if there were any jeans in the area.

The strange posing reflex rose again. Oh shit! I had only a second to guide my reaction and no idea what to do with it, but somehow I put myself into just the right position - thumbs hooked in the bottom edge of the shirt to pull it low and knees slightly bent, head cocked at a slight angle to give my modest pose an almost playful air. I froze.

A man in a rather battered tuxedo staggered into the room, heaving a huge sigh of relief and leaning on one of the tables for support. "Good god, what a mess out there." He muttered to himself.

I waited, trying not to blush even though I doubted I actually could. Now that it was too late to do anything else and I had time to think about it I worried that my plan to get help had been a good idea. Perhaps I should have stayed hidden...

The man's eyes wandered over me as he rested, settling on my chest, and I stifled both another urge to blush and also a surge of hope; he'd noticed the message I'd scrawled there. Considering how I'd wound up displaying the shirt so provocatively I knew I shouldn't have been surprised by the attention, but I didn't want to count my chickens just yet.

"Frickin' vandalism," the man muttered. He pushed himself up from the table, walked over, and brushed at my chest with his hands. I stood there smiling helplessly as he wiped my plea for help away.

The man went back to leaning on the table, sighing heavily, and I echoed the sentiment in my own mind. Please go away now. Naturally, he remained there for hours - some of the merchandise was apparently his and he refused to leave it unguarded. It was an even more boring wait than the hall outside had been - most of the panic I'd felt out there was gone now and monsters weren't passing by any more. Even the distant noises of chaos were starting to die down.

I found myself slipping into a sort of trance due to the lack of stimulation. When a couple of firemen finally stopped by and forced the tuxedoed man to leave with them it took a moment for me to realize I'd regained mobility again. I hurried back behind the partition, sinking to the floor and hugging my knees to my plastic breasts as I sat staring into the mirror.

Okay, don't cry, I thought dully. There wasn't much chance of that, fortunately; by now I felt a bit numb. Maybe I was tired, it had been rather a long time since this had all begun. I tried to take stock.

Should I give up? I shook my head vehemently. That was silly. Give up and do what? Well, nothing, I guess... I looked at the other mannequin, the real one, and silently sighed. I guess you've got it easy. I don't want to do nothing. I'm alive, damnit!

I retrieved the chalk and rewrote my message, then found myself a reasonable pair of pants to go with the shirt this time. I considered heading out in search of someone to display it to, but decided against it for now - too many uncertainties. Who knew what could still be going on out there? The whole world might not make sense any more. I sat on the edge of a table to wait.

It was far more boring doing nothing while mobile than it had been while I was frozen in place. I'd found a watch and the time ticked by, it was past eight PM now. But finally the now-familiar urge hit and I reflexively leaned back on my elbows, crossing my legs to strike a relaxed pose on the desk. I froze.

The firemen were back. One did a double-take when he saw me and I once again resisted the urge to blush; for some reason I kept falling into these sorts of artful postures, displaying myself prominently for whoever came by. By now I was sure that urge must be part and parcel of my overall condition.

More importantly, though, the fireman who was staring at me was reading my shirt. He pointed it out to his comrade. "Hey, I think we may have another one here... like that harp, remember? I bet she can't move." His comrade seemed a bit dubious but had evidently seen enough other strangeness that he didn't raise any objection.

Hope blossomed in my chest and for the first time I strained to increase the subtle smile fixed on my lips. Then I gave a silent yelp as he picked me up by the waist, hoisted my rigid form awkwardly over his shoulder, and carried me outside.

It was a disorienting ride and if nothing else confirmed that I was a lot lighter now than I had been just that morning. As if I needed any more proof that this incredible thing had actually happened to me. The monsters that had been rushing past me in the hall back then had apparently spread out over the convention center's grounds in the hours since, fortunately with a lot less panic going on now.

"I don't know if you can hear me," the fireman grumbled as he went, "or even if I'm just crazy for talking to an ordinary dummy someone's playing games with. But anyway, in case you didn't know, everything's gone a bit crazy here. It looks like everyone turned into whatever they were costumed as, somehow - God only knows how. I'm going to just put you down out here for now since I have no idea what else to do, but don't worry, I'm sure somebody's getting organized somewhere. I'll get the police to take your name."

The little speech didn't tell me anything I didn't already know but it was still a tremendous relief to have someone actually talking to me even though I couldn't answer. They laid me out on the lawn near a bench, my reclining pose from the table still serving reasonably well flat on the ground. I was a little frightened to be left alone again - or rather, with nobody who knew what I was - but I tried to calm myself with the assurance that at least now someone knew.

I spent all night out there. I didn't get uncomfortable, even during the light rainstorm that briefly blew through. At one point a man with an official-looking clipboard came by and tied a string with an orange tag on it around my arm, the high point of the night. I listened in to all sorts of conversations, caught glimpses of all sorts of people, but by the time the wee hours of the morning came around I was starting to get bored. And a little worried.

Nobody other than the tag man had come for me, and stranded out here in the open like this with so many people around I hadn't had any opportunity to become mobile again. Had I been forgotten? If I spent too long frozen in place, would I even be able to move again when the chance arose?

At last, around noon the next day, a large truck pulled up on the grass nearby. A pair of men got out and began carefully loading some of the detritus that had accumulated on the grounds into it. They eventually got to me, hoisting me between them like a piece of lumber and carrying me inside. I was torn between fear that perhaps I had slipped between the bureaucratic cracks and was being hauled off to a landfill or something, and relief that I was finally being attended to in some way. My fear was somewhat allayed by the apparent care they were taking, wrapping me in a tarp and securing me against one of the walls with a tie-down.

They slammed the door shut I was finally able to move again. It took me a while to get disentangled from the tarp and tie-down, though, and the truck had already been traveling for a while by the time I got out of it.

I found a secure seat on a partly smashed couch, stretching my arms and running my fingers over my body. God, it's good to move. Even if this still feels freaky as hell... I straightening my wrinkled clothing as best I was able. The message I'd written on my shirt was faded by the sun and rain and I didn't have anything handy to refresh it with, so I checked the tag tied around my arm to see what it added.

Evidence lot ID 99372-18, property of Tom Tomson? Oh hell. Bureaucracy had indeed failed me, someone had wound up with the idea that I just belonged to me rather than being me. They hadn't even spelled my name right. I couldn't exactly blame them, though, considering I was still having a hard time believing I'd been turned into a living mannequin myself. The situation had no doubt never come up before now.

What could I do about it, though? I started hurriedly rummaging around through the truck's contents looking for anything to make a better note with, being as careful as I could amidst the truck's jostling not to make any noise. I didn't want to draw attention that might freeze me up prematurely again.

The clipboard that tag-man must have been carrying was here. There were plenty of sheets of paper. But try as I might I couldn't find anything to write with. It was incredibly frustrating, made all the more so by my inability to wipe that damned smile off my face. I can't even get properly angry, damnit! I tossed the clipboard on the floor, then sat down next to it and hugged my knees to my chest.

I was a mess, smudged with dirt from lying outside all day, clothing disheveled, shoes missing. I hated it. I stayed down there and felt miserable for a minute, then sighed. Maybe I can do something about that, at least. I shouldn't waste my moments of mobility.

The trip couldn't last much longer so I got busy. I stripped off my old clothing, wiping my plasticized body down with the shirt and carefully re-tying the tag around my wrist. Then I took the small tarp I'd been wrapped in and fashioned a simple toga with it, tying it around my slender waist using the tie-down as a belt. It looked obviously makeshift, of course, but I felt better anyway; it actually fit perfectly with my surroundings.

I was finished just in time, the truck was pulling into a parking lot. I hadn't previously had this much advance warning that I was about to be seen so I took a moment to select a spot carefully, leaning back against a large cabinet facing the door. The truck stopped, I heard the men coming around to the back door, and the posing reflex kicked in; I laced my fingers behind my head and folded one leg up to give a relaxed and sultry appearance.

I froze, the truck's back door rolled up, and the two men hesitated in confusion. I would have done the same if I could since it was only then that it really dawned on me what I'd just done. I'd set myself up as if the back of the truck was some sort of storefront display; I was modeling the latest in shipping tarp chic and showing off the random detritus "wares" arranged around me. Why the hell did I do this? It seemed like the right thing for some reason...

"Okay, that's weird. Didn't we stow that dummy over there?"

"Yeah. And her clothes are off. What's with that?"

The two men puzzled over me and I tried to mollify my own confusion with the positive fact that at least I'd got their attention somehow. One of the two remained to keep an eye on me, preventing me from making any further attempts to set up clues, while the other went to get their supervisor. Soon there were three people arguing about what to do with me. I began to feel hopeful.

Unfortunately, the grip of bureaucracy was powerful. The supervisor declared that he'd send queries to find out what was up, given the unusual circumstances of Xanadu, but that evidence was evidence and in the meantime it should be processed as normal. The two men reluctantly climbed into the truck and began unloading its contents, myself included. I was at a police impound lot of some sort and they took me into a storage unit, propping me up against the wall. At least my little display drew attention... Hey! Crap! The mover pulled the tarp off of me and took it back to the truck, leaving me unexpectedly naked.

Okay, maybe not the best thing to have worn.

When the storage unit was nearly full they pulled the door shut, leaving me alone in welcome darkness. I could move again. I waited for a moment for my eyes to adjust before trying, though; the place was rather cluttered and I didn't want to trip on anything.

I probably had hours at least before anyone came back and with the amount of miscellaneous junk stored in here I was sure to be able to figure out some way to leave a message for them. But I wasn't quite ready to start on that. First I found a reasonably soft place to sit and then I spent a while trying to get my own thoughts in order. What am I going to do?

I had friends and family I needed to contact. They'd know I was missing and would be looking for me, but I didn't think any of them knew what sort of costume I'd been wearing - I'd preferred not to show it off to people I knew until I had won an award to justify it. I examined the tag tied to my wrist again, now the only thing I had on, and was glad for even that small bit of misleading identification. In this condition I looked nothing like I had before and I supposed I could easily become lost if I wasn't careful. I shuddered at that thought.

Even after all the time I'd spent over the past few days frozen in place, it hadn't really dawned on me until then just how helpless I was. If I locked up any time anyone could see me, how was I going to convince anyone I was really alive and not some sort of elaborate prank? That fireman who'd carried me outside had suspected but he was long gone now. And even if I did, what could anyone do about it? I had no idea what had happened at Xanadu, but even with my fairly dim understanding of science I knew none of this should be possible.

It had happened anyway and I had to deal with it somehow. I got back up, put my hands on my sculpted hips, and surveyed my surroundings. There was a lot of furniture in here, including several office desks that looked promising, and stacks of plastic bins that could hold any number of things. I need a pen and some paper.

I found plenty of paper right off the bat, several of the bins were packed completely full of miscellaneous files. And, after a much harder search, I found a worn pencil lodged in the corner of one of the desk's drawers. Yes! I pulled up one of the chairs and sat down to write a detailed description of my plight. I only got half a page done before the pencil's lead snapped, my stiff fibreglass fingers apparently not well suited to handling the implement delicately enough, but it was enough to lean back in the chair with an immense sense of relief. I'd explained that I wasn't really a mannequin and that I was just temporarily frozen whenever people were nearby.

What's my next priority? I turned the chair and looked around the dim interior of the storage unit, now lightly ransacked. I could look for something to sharpen the pencil with, I supposed, and try to write more. But I already had the important stuff down and other things were nagging. Eventually someone would be coming to see me and I was still completely naked. I hadn't come across the dirty shirt and jeans I'd been wearing when I got in the truck, and they weren't in good condition to be worn anyway, so this might be a problem...

I spent hours searching the place top to bottom, rummaging through every bin and shifting around the furniture, but there was nothing - not even a tarp this time. It was incredibly frustrating, but eventually I realized I was just going over the same territory again and again. I forced myself to stop, carefully putting everything back approximately where I'd found it and then sitting down on the chair again to put my legs up on a desk.

I was starting to feel a bit tired. I still wasn't sleepy but my physical energy was going down a bit for the first time since this had happened to me. I wasn't sure what that signified, I was magically animated plastic and so probably didn't have any conventional biological functions, but in a way it made me feel a little more real. I gently rubbed my smooth, hard skin, tingling a little and wondering if I would ever be flesh again...

Footsteps were coming, jolting me out of my self-absorbed reverie. They stopped outside and the lock rattled. I jumped to my feet with a soft, hollow clunk, silently cursing my lack of clothing one more time and looking around to see if I'd forgotten anything important. I felt the posing urge rise, shoving aside any remaining hesitation, and I fell into the best stance I could think of - feet set firmly apart for stability, one hand up before my chest for the barest modicum of modesty, the other held out in a gesture toward the sheet of paper on the desk as I glanced in its direction.

I froze. The storage unit's door rolled up, flooding the interior with late afternoon sunlight and revealing the same three men as before.

They hesitated and I strained to keep my eagerness in check even though it didn't really matter now that I was paralyzed. Look where I'm pointing, there on the desk. Damn, I wish I'd grabbed that paper. Oh well. Come on, guys, stop staring at me... I blushed inwardly at the scrutiny.

"Well, I'll be," the older man who was apparently in charge exclaimed. "It did move, didn't it. I definitely remember you put it over there, and in a different position."

"Glad I wasn't imagining it," one of the two movers muttered.

The other nodded. "After everything I've seen over at the convention center I didn't really doubt it. All kinds of weird shit's going on now. So what do we do about it?"

The older man stepped in and peered more closely at my face. Down. Down. There. I felt like I was flicking my eyes in the direction of the paper, though of course they were really just painted on so the gesture must have been entirely in my mind. The man glanced that way anyway, fortunately. I let out a silent cheer when he picked the paper up and gave it a read.

"Well, this is interesting," he said at last. "This note claims to have been written by the mannequin. You know that under any other circumstances I'd be on someone's case for messing with evidence for the sake of some stupid practical joke..."

"Like anyone would believe this under other circumstances." The other mover chuckled nervously. "So what do we do with it?"

"If she's moving around we can hardly keep her in here," the older man decided. "What if she messes around with the other stuff?" For once that vague half-smile fixed permanently on my face was completely appropriate considering how thoroughly I'd already ransacked the place without it being noticed. I was also a bit miffed that that would be his first concern, though. Bureaucrats.

"How about a hazard hut?" One of the movers suggested.

The older man nodded. "Good idea. You and Gil move her over, I'll go start another file. Where's her tag?"

Oh crap! I could clearly see that my wrist was bare but my attention had been too focused on the paper to notice until now. Did I lose it while I was putting everything back? Crap! It could be anywhere in here!

The three men did a cursory search and didn't find it, putting the older one in a disgruntled mood. "Well, I'll put her down as a Doe for now and see what's missing from the manifest later. Get a move on, you two. We're going to be dealing with plenty more junk to come yet."

I was light enough that it only really took one to lift me, the other tagging along to open and close doors for him while their boss took my note away. With both paper and tag gone I felt truly naked now, and being carried across the impound facility slung over the shoulder of a burly mover certainly didn't help. But I tried to assure myself I was making progress. Whatever this 'hazard hut' I was being taken to may be, they were making special arrangements and so I would be less likely to be lost in the shuffle.

It turned out that they were taking me to what was essentially a high-security version of the unit I'd just been in, a building with a series of walk-in chain-link storage lockers inside. They set me down in one and the two stepped back for a moment, looking me over.

"Do you think there's really a person in there? Man, that sounds stupid when I say it out loud..."

The one named Gil chuckled. "Yeah. Still, considering everything else we've seen. Hey, mannequin-person! I guess you can't nod or anything or you'd have done that already, uh... Oh, I know." He took a pen out of his breast pocket. "Got any paper?"

Oh, yes! Gil tore a couple of pages out of a small notebook, setting them on the floor beside my foot. "There. If she moves again she can leave another note, maybe write down her name."

"Heh. The things you do. Lock 'er up, let's go."

They closed the door of my locker and headed out. Okay, this is a lot more sparse, but I've got what's really important. I thought to myself. They left me a way to communicate more. Once I get moving again maybe I can request... uh... My train of thought was derailed by growing concern. They're gone now. Why can't I move again? Seconds ticked by, then minutes, and I was still completely rigid. I started to panic. Just when I'd finally started getting past this nightmare scenario, had it finally happened? Was I stuck permanently?

Fortunately before the panic got too far out of control I noticing a motion sensor and security camera within line of sight up in the corner of the room. Oh thank God! A theory leapt to mind and I seized desperately at its conclusion; I was still immobile because I was still being observed, even if only by a VCR. It was a relief to figure out why I was still stuck but it was also intensely disappointing. Great. That means I'm probably going to be stuck the whole time I'm here. I wonder how long that's going to be...

I stood there for days, it was hard to keep track of exactly how many without windows. In a way it was easier than the hours I'd spent out on the lawn at Xanadu, though; I had an inkling of what might be going on now and although I didn't sleep I spent a lot of those four days slipping into a sort of meditative state where time passed quickly. I dubbed the state my "boredom trance."

Still, every time someone entered the place I snapped right out of it instantly and I felt a surge of desperate hope. They were always coming to drop off or deliver other things, but at least I tended to be noticed as they passed. My embarrassment over my nudity was competing with an increasing craving for attention, any attention. If nothing else I just wanted to be noticed, to be seen.

I always felt most conflicted when it was Gil who came by. He'd always stop to take a look at the paper lying beside my foot, like he was checking up on a personal project of his, and the frustration of not being able to use it made me want to scream. But at least he kept checking. Finally, on what I figured was around my fourth day there, he opened the door to my locker and came in to retrieve it.

He took a moment to examine the papers before putting them in his pocket with a sigh. "Well, mystery mannequin, the boss is back to thinking I'm playing some practical joke on him." He was speaking to me this time, I exulted, not just glancing in my direction. "And we need the locker space now. Ready for another trip?"

Oh, yes! Anywhere but here, so few people come! I didn't really register the full meaning of the words until after he'd already swept me off my feet, though, and then I started to become nervous. Wait. What about the stuff I wrote? He doesn't believe it?

Gil didn't answer, of course, and my euphoria gave way to a string of horrified speculations. I'd been lost in the system. The tag, I'd lost my tag, they had never come to give me another one. Was I finally going to be thrown out? I didn't want to die, not even in this condition, and certainly not in some trash compactor or garbage truck! I'm Ted Thompson! Damnit, I belong to Ted Thompson! Lot ID number 99... uh... I couldn't remember and I couldn't tell him even if I did.

But fortunately my worst fears were soon allayed. I was carried back across the impound yard to the main storage units again. Not the same unit I'd first been put into, I noticed as soon as Gil had rolled the door up, but at least not one that looked like it was full of garbage. It was stacked with cardboard boxes and chromed metal racks of various sorts. Gil set me down at the back by the racks and gave me a pat on the shoulder. "There you go, back with your own kind." He took a new tag out of his pocket, a green one this time, and tied it to my wrist.

As soon as the unit's door slammed to the ground I was able to move again. I almost didn't believe it, it had been so long, and I stayed in place for a moment while I convinced myself. Then I lowered my arm and made the motion of a deep, shaky sigh.

Back to square one. Worse than square one. I looked at the tag on my wrist and it had only a simple label on it: "Unclaimed."

Damn it! I keep leaving clues. Clue after clue. People just keep on losing them. I grimaced inwardly, realizing I was perhaps being a bit unfair - I was the one who'd somehow lost my original tag, after all. With the excitement of the trip wearing off I started slipping toward depression thinking about all the opportunities I'd missed so far. But I only spent a moment on that and then I forced myself not to waste this one. I was in a new storage unit with all new stuff, I figured I should start checking out what I had to work with before anything else.

The first box I opened lifted my depression quite thoroughly. Haphazardly stuffed into the cardboard box was a bundle of blue cloth. I excitedly started pulling items out, smoothing the rumpled fabric and draping each one carefully over the racks to make sure they didn't get dirty.

The the storage unit appeared to be holding most of the contents of a small clothing retail store. There were display racks, a cash register, shelving units, price stickers, hangers, all with green tags like mine. But most of all, there was clothing. It was all women's clothing, true, but having just spent who knew how many days standing completely naked I wasn't about to judge.

Well, I wasn't about to judge just on a gender basis. I didn't dive right into the first outfit I found, taking careful stock of what was available first. It was mostly various sorts of evening gown, with some accessories like jackets and belts and hats in a few of the boxes. There were a few pairs of nice pants that looked more unisex, and I spent several minutes trying to settle on those. But they weren't representative of the available stock, they must have been thrown in with the majority of the goods here from some other source.

Oh, come on. Why do I care? I knew I shouldn't, but for some reason it really was important - being seen in the wrong outfit almost seemed more wrong somehow than just staying naked. I reluctantly folded up the pants and put them back at the bottom of one of the boxes. I chose a red dress instead as it matched one of the few pairs of pumps I'd been able to find among the accessories. It was good to have shoes again, even though my glossy surface finish had remained miraculously unscuffed I hadn't liked walking around on concrete barefoot.

Once I was finally clothed I was able to pause for thought. I felt better than I had in a while now but in a somewhat disturbing way. I'm not just acting like a mannequin because I freeze up like one, I reflected as I lightly adjusted the fabric of the dress to make sure it hung smoothly. I need to display things. Not a want, I tried to reassure myself, but some sort of weird gut-level instinct like the one that kept forcing me into evocative poses whenever an observer came near. I thought back to how I'd felt the need to find matching pants for the dark blue T-shirt back at Xanadu and realized it'd been affecting me even then.

It was an unsettling thing to confront but after everything else I'd been through I thought it would be silly to let that be the thing to eat at me. What I really want to display now is some sort of message. I hadn't come across anything as helpful as the pencil and paper I'd found last time, but the price stickers gave me an idea; I kept a couple of rolls out while I neatly folded the rest of the clothing and packed it all back in boxes. If nobody thought I was a real person any more I probably had lots of time before someone checked in on me, I could use that time to spell out words with these things. My name would be the first priority.

I only got "To" done before someone came to the door and started rattling the lock on the unit's door. I jumped up in surprise and no small amount of annoyance; Come on, why now? But it occurred to me that if Gil had come back and saw me like this it might still be enough to rekindle his suspicions, so I tried not to have regrets as I allowed myself to fall into a confident pose in the seconds I had before freezing. My dress swished from my last movement, rippling for a moment, but settled into stillness just before the door rolled up. This curse times things well, I sighed.

Ah, damn. There wasn't any point in restraining my disappointment considering I couldn't express it anyway. It was the other mover, Lionel, the one that Gil hung around with a lot. He'd always been the more skeptical of the pair, even making fun of Gil once when he'd been checking on the paper he'd left for me to write on. But he was carrying a piece of paper of his own this time and he made a beeline straight for me. He didn't notice the stickers I'd been messing with and didn't seem surprised that I was clothed now - I wouldn't have expected that level of attention from him anyway - but I was still cautiously heartened by his apparent interest. He unfolded the piece of paper and taped it to my chest before I'd had the chance to give it more than a glimpse, I saw that something was written on it in heavy black marker but couldn't make out the words. If I could just glance down...

He didn't seem likely to give me the opportunity any time soon, unfortunately. Lionel put an arm around my waist and hoisted me up, carrying me cautiously to the door and peering around the corner. A horrible possibility occurred; was he stealing me? His furtive attitude was suspicious and I tingled with dread at the thought of what perverse motives he might have for that, but the mysterious note taped to my chest didn't seem to fit. I had no idea what he was really up to.

The impound yard seemed deserted for once. Lionel hurried across it, carrying me awkwardly with him to a small administrative building. He set me down, punched a code on the keypad next to the door, and brought me inside. Okay, probably not stealing me... Lionel set me in the middle of the small reception office inside and hurried back out. The moment the door shut I pulled the paper off my chest and read it.

"Enchanted princess, can only be freed of curse by kiss of handsome prince."

What?

The posing urge hit at the same moment. I was too confused to influence it in any meaningful way, freezing in a simple stance with the note held out in one hand. I'd only had a few seconds of mobility, was Lionel coming back in for some reason?

A beep and a flashing green LED on a panel beside the door drew my attention. I groaned. Security system again. Damnit. And again in a room with plenty of writing materials just out of reach...

I spent the night there. It hardly seemed fair, it was Sunday already - I could see a calendar on the desk - which meant I'd had only a few hours on my own in the whole past week. I still had a hard time believing it, I'd spent the better part of a week standing completely rock still.

I wasn't hungry or thirsty or even tired. How long could I keep this up? The boredom trance helped, but the hands of the wall clock still crept slowly through the night. By the time the door finally opened to admit the first worker I was back to feeling the same desperate need for attention I had developed in the hazard hut. He wasn't anyone I recognized but it was still wonderful to be noticed - he jumped in obvious surprise to see me standing there in the middle of the room. Please, look at me! The note's stupid, I have no idea what Lionel was thinking, but I need help!

The man glanced down at the note and promptly burst out laughing. He thought it was a joke. Hell, it was a joke, a colossal cosmic joke on me. Evidently Gil's suspicions about my condition had brought him much mockery from his co-workers as the days had passed and I hadn't done anything to prove them. They'd thought someone was moving me around when none of them had been looking, and now Lionel had actually done it for real.

I received a number of kisses and lewd fondles before the boss arrived and threw a fit, ordering me hauled back to the storage unit I'd been taken from. I threw a silent fit of my own, screaming inside my head like I hadn't done since the first day I'd spent frozen, but by the time I was alone again I'd exhausted my outburst and simply sank to the floor in despair.

There hardly seemed much point now in leaving a message, who would believe it after that stunt? Nobody seemed to care any more. I tried it anyway, spelling out a plea for help on the floor using the price stickers. It was Gil himself who grumpily cleaned it away. Based on his grumbling he'd apparently been suspected of pulling the 'enchanted princess' prank himself. He didn't want any more trouble.

For the next couple of days my every attempt to draw attention failed. I changed clothing on a regular basis, I rearranged the boxes and racks into an impromptu display for myself, but I only had one other visitor and he'd just rolled his eyes at me while adding more boxes to the collection. Apparently the joke was getting old to these people. I didn't understand how they could be overlooking the fact that I was moving around in there in ways that couldn't be explained by ordinary pranking, but I finally had to just accept it - the more I tried to get them to believe the more inured to the possibility they became. I tried making a break for it on my own one night but that didn't work either; I was able to unlock the door just fine from the inside but I discovered that any time I was about to do something that would bring me into line of sight of an observer I would briefly freeze in place until I stopped trying. There were either night watchmen or video cameras somewhere out there, the surveillance seemed continuous.

I was tired of trying. I still didn't need to sleep, of course, but I was becoming emotionally drained. And the extra time I'd been spending mobile seemed to be sapping me of physical energy too, I found that after spending so long without being frozen my movement had started becoming more and more sluggish. I wound up standing motionless for hours on end purely of my own accord. It felt like there was just nothing better to do.

On the third day, though, something new finally happened that managed to bring back some of the old confusing mix of hope and fear again. I heard a truck pull up outside the storage unit. I'd become so low on energy that it felt like I was moving through molasses but I still responded promptly to the posing urge, even somewhat eagerly. I had dressed myself in a nice white blouse and tan skirt that I hadn't been seen in before.

Two men - not Gil and Lionel this time, some other pair of movers - started loading the contents of the storage unit into the back. Don't leave me, please, don't ignore me... Yes! I trembled excitedly inside my rigid facade as I was loaded along with the rest of the things. "Last chance for gags," I heard one of the two mutter to the other. He snorted in response. "Glad this thing's finally shipping out."

Shipping out, what did that mean? Once again I worried I might be destined for the dump, but I reassured myself by noting the care that the two were taking with me. Just like when I'd been brought here from Xanadu in the first place. The truck got moving and so did I, but the brief period I'd spent frozen during loading hadn't given me much energy back so I only used the opportunity to shift myself into a slightly more stable position. I also took the opportunity to make sure I still had my green wrist tag. I'd been very careful not to lose this one.

The ride didn't last very long so I evidently wasn't being taken back to Xanadu. I found my curiosity had only been temporarily suppressed by the depression of the past few days, reawakened now by this sudden change of circumstance, and wondered what had really happened back there. I'd only picked up snatches of conversation about it while at the impound lot. Would I ever be free of this bizarre curse? Who knows? I'll worry about long-term plans later, once I finally convince someone there's a person trapped in here...

The truck came to a halt and I composed myself, waiting impatiently to freeze. It took a little while. Some sort of activity was going on outside, I heard lots of people moving things around and a low murmur of conversation. Finally the truck's door latch opened and I posed, arms slightly spread to present myself with a flourish.

I'd been taken to some sort of small warehouse or large loading dock with rows of tables bearing all manner of boxes and other items spread out on them. Over to one side a whole bunch of folding chairs were set up facing a small wooden podium. The movers started unloading the truck, putting its contents onto tables with the rest. I was carried out and placed standing at the end of one of the tables myself. The man who put me there used a marker to write a number on my tag, checked something off on his clipboard, and left me there.

What was going on? There were an awful lot of people, they were circulating through the tables and looking at all the stuff - myself included. Some of them were quite thorough in their examination, lifting my skirt and unbuttoning my blouse. I hadn't been seen by this many people since I'd been at Xanadu and I found the experience both humiliating and strangely thrilling. Intensely thrilling, I was being looked at by so many people... After being ignored for so long the tingling sensation of all that attention was almost orgasmic.

Soon a man went to the podium and announced that they were ready to begin whatever event it was that I'd been drafted into. The rest of the people all headed over to the chairs and sat down. "Okay," the man at the podium started. "Lot 271, miscellaneous vinyl records with sleeves. Bidding opens at ten dollars. Do I see ten? Ten. Fifteen, do I? Fifteen..."

Oh my God. It was an auction, they were going to sell me. It made perfect sense, of course - I was tagged "unclaimed" and space had apparently been getting tight at the impound lot considering all the random junk they'd been hauling out of Xanadu. But selling me? My imaginary heart was beating hard. I couldn't believe this.

"Lot 284, full female display mannequin with outfit." My heart skipped a beat and then hammered harder. That had to be me, there weren't any other mannequins here. "Bidding opens at ten. Do I see ten? Twenty? I see thirty." It was racing by so fast, and from where I was standing there was no way I could see who was actually bidding on me. "Thirty... forty. Do I see fifty. Fifty. I have fifty... once, twice. Sold to 21." He banged his gavel. "Okay, lot 285, chromed clothing hanger racks. Opens at ten..."

My head was spinning. I had been sold for fifty dollars. To whom? I had no choice but to just wait and find out who bidder 21 was. The auction eventually concluded, most of the people filing out of the room and the remainder dispersing to start collecting their goods. The anticipation was dreadful. Who was going to take me, and where? I'd slipped right out of the system, nobody would be able to trace me back to Xanadu now.

Bidder 21 was a statuesque woman in worn denim. She loaded me into the back of a station wagon outside, laying me among some boxes and bundles of cloth with reassuring care. I definitely wasn't going to the dump on this trip, wherever it might be leading - she'd paid good money for me. Soon we were off, the view from the driver's seat keeping me rigid but at least allowing me to see some of the car's surroundings.

She drove for quite a while, taking us out of Orlando to some other nearby city or suburb - I wasn't sure which one. Lost, lost... It would be completely up to me now, I had to somehow communicate my plight to this woman who had no idea that I might be anything other than just a regular mannequin. The thought should have been foreboding but I found it exciting instead and it took me a while to figure out my own feelings on the matter. This was an opportunity for a fresh start; all the mistakes and missed opportunities I'd had since Xanadu were moot now.

I was psyched. I had escaped the idiots at the impound lot, I knew what my limitations were, I would do it right this time. The car pulled into a parking space at the side of a busy city street, shop signage just visible along the buildings I could glimpse from my vantage point. "Home sweet home," my erstwhile owner murmured, getting out of the car and going around back to unload me. I strained to catch a glimpse of the store she was referring to.

"Lacey's Lingerie." I burst out laughing inside my head, there really wasn't any other reaction I could have. There were a couple of mannequins already set up in the front window modeling the most ridiculously sexy feminine undergarments and the thought of me joining them... it was either laugh or cry, and I was feeling too hopeful right now to cry. The woman - I guessed she must be Lacey, or at least I might as well call her that - manhandled me laboriously through the front door.

"Oh! You found one!" A younger woman hurried over from behind the cash register to help Lacey get me inside.

"Thanks, Kate." Lacey chuckled. "Yeah, good luck - it was the only one in the lot, and look, it's perfect. Flawless finish."

"And a cute smile. Get her in back?"

They carried me through the store and I tried to take note of every detail I could in passing - no security cameras that I could see, thank God. And not just lingerie, the store was large enough to have diversified into sleepwear and swimsuits as well. I felt quite out of place in the dress and shirt that had fit in so well with the stock in the storage unit, but blushed inwardly at the rising irrational desire to change into something more representative of this place's goods. When I get the chance I'm going to surround myself with nothing but ordinary T-shirts and bluejeans, I sighed. But one thing at a time.

The stock room in back was cluttered and a little cramped. As soon as they'd set me down Kate hurried back out to the till and Lacey started moving packages around to clear some more space. There were pens and paper aplenty in here, I looked forward to Lacey leaving me alone for the night with this stuff. I started pondering what sort of note to try this time, what sort of evidence to leave that would make it absolutely clear I wasn't part of a joke...

Lacey was unbuttoning my blouse as I pondered, running her hands under my clothing over the plastic skin of my shoulders and upper arms. I tried to ignore the touch, I'd suffered far worse invasions of my personal space in the past week. Then she took a hold of my left arm and gave it a firm twist.

My arm popped cleanly off just below the shoulder. I barely felt it - just a slight tug - but it quite thoroughly derailed my train of thought. Holy shit! She slid my arm out the end of the sleeve and carefully set it on a shelf. I was no longer able to feel what it touched, the arm was definitely severed. She repeated the procedure with my other arm and then slid my blouse off up over my head.

I felt like I should be hyperventilating. This was something new and very frightening, even though some back part of my mind was calmly noting that it was actually standard procedure for mannequins. How else would someone be able to put clothing on them? But I can dress myself! Holy shit! Holy- I cut myself off, took a deep mental breath, and tried to regain my calm. If my arms could be so easily taken off I assured myself that it must be equally easy to put them back on.

Lacey examined my torso closely, running a finger over the blank stumps of my shoulders and murmuring "smooth seams!" In an approving tone of voice. I grimaced. Good to hear. Now put me back together, please? Unfortunately she wasn't finished yet. My hopes sank further when, despite my dress coming off without trouble, she took my legs off too. She set my torso down on a box, storing my legs on another shelf, and only then did she pick out a bra and panties to fit me with.

I'd always felt helpless when frozen but this took it to a whole new level. I was just thankful that I didn't have a seam around my neck too; being reduced to just a head would have been more than I could handle. Lacey tucked my torso under her arm and headed back out into the store. There still weren't any customers at the moment so Kate came over to watch as Lacy placed me on a shelf over racks of undergarments. "I thought you were going to put her up front?" She asked.

Lacey chuckled. "Yeah, later on. But I'm not about to start rearranging everything in the middle of the week, I've got other things I need to do today. She's got good, clean connectors so I figured I'd use her as a partial for now. I'll see how she fits in front later."

I spent the day there, uncertainty gnawing at me again - what would happen when night came and I was alone but limbless? There wasn't anything to do but wait, of course, and so I waited. Lacey headed out to do whatever it was she needed to do and Kate spent the rest of the day minding the store, doing what seemed to be reasonably brisk business. I smiled for the customers but nobody seemed to pay me much mind. Kate closed shop around ten, there was a clock over the front desk I could see from my perch. I squirmed nervously inside my skin while waiting for her to leave, waiting to see what would happen...

As it turned out, nothing much. I remained frozen, even unable to move my phantom limbs. I had been looking all day and seen no trace of motion sensors or security cameras and was sure there weren't any. There was no way I was being observed now, I would have felt it. But the disappointment wasn't long-lasting; there wasn't really anything I could do as just a torso if I were mobile anyway. I settled in to a boredom trance for most of the night.

The next few days were similar to those I'd spent in the hazard hut. I had the same sort of trepidation from not knowing whether I'd regain my mobility when the experience was over, and the same sort of hopefulness that I'd finally get a chance to tell someone my story when it was. But the similarities weren't exact. Even limbless I found myself feeling somehow more complete than I had since Xanadu.

I wasn't stashed in storage, rarely visited and nearly forgotten. I was being seen and I was showing off what I wore. I thought I could actually feel the gaze of customers tingling over me, giving me energy for when I could move again. It was actually quite a good feeling, though it took me a long time to admit it and I remained embarrassed by the state they saw me in. During the night when I wasn't as distracted I spent a lot of my time pondering what I would write when I had the chance, going over every detail to ensure there was nothing missed and no mistaking it for a joke.

Closing time on Friday. Lacey had been working there herself that day and was going around to check the racks, a routine I'd become quite familiar with, and was almost starting to slip preemptively into a meditative state when she stopped in front of me and reached up to take me down from my perch. "Okay, Mona, I've got just the thing for you."

Excitement burst in my heart. I was finally going up front! Lacey laid me down at the feet of the mannequins at the front window, left me there for a minute, and then returned with my limbs bundled under one arm and a plastic bag in the other. The contents of the bag came first, my new outfit; an incredibly sexy black teddy, a negligee to go with it, and a pair of high-heeled shoes.

I just couldn't muster up any distress at that, only eager impatience as she fitted me into it. Come on, come on, leg me... Yes! She pressed each limb back into position, gave each a firm twist, and feeling was restored. Oh, yes, up I go! She pulled down one of the other mannequins, standing me in its place, and I couldn't help but feel like the subtle smile they'd nicknamed me for had become a smirk. Sorry, sis. The smugness was reinforced when Lacey transferred the old mannequin's blonde wig to my own head, the first time since I'd changed that I'd had any sort of hair.

Lacey took the old mannequin away to the back room, finished closing up, and departed. There were still a few cars and pedestrians outside the window, but there was a sense of inevitability now; the traffic was becoming more sparse and any minute now I'd be able to move.

I was able to move. I backed away from the window, careful not to bump anything but moving quickly to get out of sight. Then I practically danced as I headed for the back room, so light on my feet I didn't even have to give thought to walking in the high heels. I could move!

Paper, pens, door closed, no one to see me until opening time the next morning. I sat down and forced myself to think carefully before getting to work, remembering all the plans I'd made for this moment while I'd been just a torso. I had all the details ready to go, I'd gone over the full story in my head innumerable times while I'd waited on that shelf.

I wrote for hours, filling a small stack of paper with details of what had happened to me and ways to prove it. Then, once I was done, I sat back and stared at the stack for what must have been hours more. I had thought so much about how I would get my story out, but now that I'd written it I started to realize how little I'd thought about what I would do afterward.

I'd long ago admitted to myself that it didn't seem likely I was going to go back to normal any time soon, certainly not based on what few snippets of news about Xanadu I'd heard discussed in earshot since I'd been changed. How would I go about living my life like this? All those friends and family members I'd so desperately wanted to see again, did I want them seeing me?

Well, no matter what I ultimately decided I was still going to have to tell Lacey what was going on. I didn't want to wind up dismantled again and I was starved for human interaction, one-sided though it was likely to be. I added a footnote on my most recent thoughts and tucked the papers into my bodice. Then I went to wander the aisles of the store as a way to kill the rest of the night, exploring all the nooks and crannies I'd been looking at for the past few days from my perch on the shelf.

I found a newspaper to read. I was in heaven.

Lacey was the first one in the next morning and she found me sitting in a languid, sexy pose behind the register. She was naturally quite startled and hurried over to check on me, cocking her head at the sign I was holding. "This isn't a joke, I'm from Xanadu," she read. "Okay..." Tentatively, as if expecting me to leap up and startle her at any moment, she reached over and took the additional pages I'd written. She was still reading them when Kate arrived a short while later.

"Hey, Kate, check this out. Have you been following that Xanadu thing?" She motioned Kate over and began describing the circumstances of her discovery. I smiled excitedly - that was two people now who knew. And they were both looking at me!

Kate looked dubious. "You serious? You're not pulling one on me?"

"I was thinking the same thing of you, this disclaimer aside," Lacey chuckled nervously and gestured at my sign. "But look, her elbows and knees are bent differently now, and her neck too. If this is a joke it's really elaborate, someone's gone and replaced Mona with a different mannequin of exactly the same style just to screw with us."

They discussed the matter a little while longer and finally decided to put my claims to the test. They carried me to the back room, set me down inside, and left me there alone for a moment. I regained mobility as soon as they closed the door and, moving carefully so as not to make any moves that might cause me to freeze up prematurely rather than give myself away, I wrote up another note that simply read "it's true, I'm not a replacement." I finished just in time, clutching the note in my hand as I slipped back into a provocative display pose and froze.

"'It's true,'" Lacey read. "Well holy shit. Maybe it is."

"Who're we supposed to call about something like this?"

Lacey shook her head. "Haven't a clue. We should call someone, though. Can't have a living mannequin running around in here, can we? Those Xanadu people can be dangerous from what I've heard." She looked thoughtful. "Though she's evidently behaved herself so far, we didn't even know what was up until now."

"You only just put her arms and legs back on yesterday," Kate suggested, "maybe that's why?"

Lacey nodded and I winced inwardly. "Makes sense. I suppose the logical thing to do would be to take her back apart again until this is sorted out. But that seems wrong somehow. I mean, there's someone in there." She rapped her knuckles lightly on my forehead and then immediately apologized. "Uh, sorry, Mona. Or rather I should say Ted... though that name seems wrong somehow too," she chuckled, flustered. As nervous as I was about the threat of being disarmed again, and despite all the time I'd spent like this now, I still blushed a little.

"So what should we do?" Kate insisted.

"Go open up the shop," Lacey decided. "I'll ask our mannequin here what she thinks we should do with her. Him. Whatever."

Kate reluctantly departed, leaving Lacey to ponder me in silence for a moment. "Well, then. I guess this is going to require a lot of note passing. You really can't move except when nobody's watching?" She paused and then chuckled again. "Guess so. So, assuming you can hear me just fine, I'm going to step out for about ten minutes and let you write me something. Tell me who I should call and what I should do with you in the meantime."

She left and I quickly turned to the note paper again, but this time I had a hard time thinking of what to write. I'd put some contact information in my longer letter already, but I really wasn't sure who I wanted to have see me like this - it was embarrassing enough already with Lacey and Kate knowing what I was now and they didn't even know me. But Lacey was right, I had to contact someone, so I wrote that she should contact my sister. She lived out of state, it'd take a couple days for her to get here. Hopefully enough time to brace myself.

As for what to do until then...

I didn't want to be dismantled again, it was just too unsettling. And I'd spent days alone in the impound yard's storage sheds, I didn't want that again either. "Don't know what to do now," I finally wrote. "Just please don't take me apart again." I looked down at my teddy and considered adding a request for a change of clothing.

No time, I felt Lacey coming. I struck a sultry pose - having just reminded myself of what I was wearing I was caught by a stronger than normal urge to display it well - and froze just in time for her entrance. She took one look at me and chuckled, amused by my apparent attitude despite the surrealism of the situation she'd been suddenly presented with. "Okay, let's see what you wrote behind my back." She picked up the page and read. "Not so verbose now, eh? Well, I'll give this number a call. If there really is a Ted Thompson who's among the missing from Xanadu this should at least confirm it. Then maybe I'll call the police. In the meantime..." she sighed, chewing her lip thoughtfully. "I won't take you apart, but I really should keep an eye on you."

That meant hauling me back out into the storefront again. I silently objected that we'd hardly traded any notes at all yet, but Lacey was apparently feeling a bit unsettled by my mysterious movement and preferred to minimize it. She set me down next to the front counter and Kate eyed me with open fascination while Lacey reread some of my notes. I tingled under her gaze.

Then Lacey phoned my sister, Sarah. The longing to reach out and take the receiver was almost painful despite the fact that I couldn't make a sound even when I could move. But although I only heard one side of the conversation I was relieved that Sarah was apparently willing to accept Lacey's story. I had indeed been listed as a missing person for the past two weeks now. I've been found now. Thank God. Lacey started discussing whether Sarah would be coming down to pick me up or if she should just mail her my notes.

And then, amazingly, something diverted my attention from that. A customer entered the store, a young attractive-looking woman with a shy demeanor. Glancing around the store, her eyes fell on me and stopped. Oh, wow. It's even better when I'm not in pieces... I trembled inside, a little overwhelmed. She was examining the sexy teddy I was wearing. After a moment's hesitation she came up to the counter.

"Excuse me, is that new?" She pointed at me.

"Uh, yeah, we just put her in the front last night, but, uh, took her out for adjustments..." Kate stammered awkwardly.

The customer shook her head, her shy smile almost mimcing my own. "No, I meant the outfit."

"Oh! Heh. No, but we didn't have many in stock until recently."

Kate was a saleswoman at heart and once the topic was off of me she fell smoothly into a pitch. She soon took the customer away to the shelves. Then Lacey hung up, jolting my attention back. "Well, she can't get up here until tomorrow," she told me quietly. "And she wouldn't commit to taking you off my hands until she's spoken with you, which I guess will mean note passing. So I guess you'll be spending another day here at least."

I nodded to myself. A day to nerve myself up and figure out what to say to my sister, and to try to figure out what to do after that. Perhaps someone had figured out a cure by now, or even just some explanation of what had happened that might eventually lead to one. I'd stopped trying to figure it out myself long ago.

The door's bell tinged and another customer came in, a somewhat more matronly woman than the first who nevertheless still gave me a solid tingle with her attention. Man, I'm going to be well charged up to move tonight. Maybe I should be back up in the front window? I let out a silent chuckle and tried to let go of some of the embarrassment that had dogged me since Xanadu. One more day on display, and then... I didn't know. But I could relax with the knowledge that finally others would be helping me figure it out too.

Just one day on full display. I wonder if I'll miss it.