I sell telescopes. I Laugh! Hear me? Hear me? Yeah, you can’t can you? I sell telescopes. Come one, come all, nerds, pervs, gift buying people. Shit who cares. I care. I’m not here, I’m there, no I’m over there, no I’m here again. Always here, but nobody knows, not even me. Why? They can’t hear me crying. I don’t cry, I rage, I rage, I rage, all night, all day! They can all die, who cares? I’ll see them when they get here.

He wasn’t sure how long he had been there. Day after day, night after night, never really knowing if he was asleep or awake. His mind, completely incapable of wrapping itself around the situation, rebuffed reality at every turn. The people, the place, everything was nothing because he was starting to believe nothing was really there, because he wasn’t really there.

After his initial wake-up, Roy was able to keep track of the days, but once the question arose in his mind, “three nights or four?”, the machine that was his consciousness began to break down. Everything was a catechism, right down to his own existence, including the passing wonder if he had ever truly been alive at all.

A short, portly British boy, less than ten years old but more than five stood next to his mother in front of the hobby shop display window.

“Is that the one?” the mother asked.

“Yes, I suppose,” he said.

“If you want a different one, we can shop around. You don’t sound too thrilled,” she said.

“No, no I don’t think so. That’s the one. It’s just that,” he said.

“What?” she asked.

“Him, he really doesn’t seem to be enjoying himself now does he?” the boy asked.

The mother looked closely at the mannequin in the display, at Roy. Another man who happened to be walking by at the time overheard the two talking. He was the type of man not prone to intervene in other people’s conversations even though he was in sales. He stepped back to the husband bench at the edge of the railing overlooking the ground floor, just far enough away to hear them without seeming like an obvious eavesdropper.

“I guess he doesn’t. But he is just a mannequin. I’m pretty sure they don’t have feelings. You know, because they’re plastic,” she said.

“But he isn’t. He has a face, he’s doing something. He’s probably lonely,” the boy said.

“Isn’t what? Plastic?” she asked.

“No mother, just a mannequin,” he answered.

At that very moment Roy’s left arm, attached to his foam and plastic body via a ball joint similar to that which may reside on an automobile, fell to his side. The arm that had been for untold time shading light from the viewfinder and for no apparent reason, including unseen changes in temperature or humidity, and apart from the speed of something that might slip due to time and gravity, moved seemingly on its own.

Much to his dismay, Roy felt relief, as if his muscles relaxed.

“Mum, did you see that? He moved!” the boy exclaimed.

“Of course he didn’t,” she said.

“Yes, yes he did, I saw it, I saw him move, look. Look at where his arm is now,” the boy said.

“I don’t think so, but it does, no. It’s just one of those things,” she explained.

The man who had been watching and listening stepped forward.

“Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Hebrews 13:3,” the man said.

“Well yes I suppose that’s all well and good, but I’ll thank you to leave us be. And what would that even mean? Really, how dare you,” she scolded.

“This is why you should never talk to strangers, let’s go, on our way then,” she said.

The mother grabbed the boy by the arm and hurried him off. The man did not scoff at her through words or any meaningful adjective of facial expression. He only stepped forward to the window and stared into the eyes of the mannequin.

John Blake, owner and namesake of the hobby store was watching the short altercation from inside behind the sales counter. Annoyed at the notion that he may have lost a sale he stepped out to confront the man in the mall.

“Um, excuse me, you mind telling me what that was all about there bud?” he asked.

The man at the window did not sway his stare away from Roy, nor did he answer.

“Hey man, I’m talking to you,” John said.

“Empathy,” the man said.

“What?” John asked.

The man quickly turned and inserted himself into John’s private space, close enough that John had difficulty focusing on his face.

“How much for the mannequin?” the man asked.

John took two steps back. With stark raving blue eyes and a jaw that could cut paper the man imposed his will through chiseled features and relentless attitude on other men without effort or grace.

“I’d like to buy that mannequin,” he said.

“For what? I mean, it’s not for sale,” John said.

“Of course it is, everyone is for sale,” he said.

“Heh, you mean every thing is for sale, and I get that but…”

“I don’t respect men who say one thing but mean another, so that could never be me. How much?” the man asked.

“Why do you even want it? Who wants a mannequin?” John asked.

“What’s your name?” the man asked.

“John, John Blake. This is my store,” John said.

The man’s demeanor became abruptly personable as he offered his hand.

“John. My name is also John. I’m in sales John. In the right setting, this mannequin could be beneficial to my customer,” the man said.

“Oh hey, pleased to meet you,” John said submissively.

“So we have a deal then? I’ll pay your price and you’ll have him moved to the loading dock. I prefer he be kept in one piece,” the man said.

“What? Um, no, no. Look, it’s not even mine man. The mall, the mall has a room downstairs that’s full of these things. I could put you in touch with,” John said.

“Sporting goods John,” the man interrupted.

“What’s that now?” John asked.

“Sporting goods John, in case you were wondering. I do business with some of the largest sporting good chains in the country, including those that are right here in this mall. You see, it has to have the look. They already have mannequins John, but they’re milquetoast. Plastic, generic versions of men, like so many men. The weapons I sell do not kill John, any more than the reading glasses in your breast pocket kill. But if you broke them, if you took the lens out and sliced my artery you will have killed me, and you wouldn’t be plastic. With him, I could sell reading glasses, with him I could sell intent and that’s really what it’s all about now isn’t it John?” the man said.

John stood bewildered and intimidated, stuck to his knees in uncomfortable silence.

“I guess, but like I said, maybe they have more like it,” John said.

“Like him? No, they do not,” the man said.

“Say, um, what did you mean before when I first walked out, empathy? And I don’t know how we got away from it, but I gotta wonder why you chased that woman and her kid away,” John said.

“There is power in empathy, John. It has a power all its own. It’s about seeing through other people’s eyes, hearing what they hear, feeling what they feel. I only told them what the scriptures say about it, nothing more. As it happens, the boy has it, the mother does not. There’s nothing I could do about that,” the man said.

Again, John was perplexed at the man’s answer. He was beginning to think the man was not quite all there and just wanted him to leave.

“Look I’m not sure what that has to do with the price of tea in China, but your little speech probably lost me a sale. And if you are in sales maybe you should have some empathy for me. I guess what I’m saying mister is I don’t need you to make a habit of it. You know what I mean?” John said.

“A man does not have to be a God in order to recognize a God’s existence,” the man said.

He nearly smiled as he touched his index finger off his brow, turned and walked away.

“Freak,” John said quietly.

He took the man’s place at the window, staring into the eyes of the mannequin, Roy’s eyes. It took him a few seconds to notice the mannequin’s head had been turned slightly and both arms were now at his side.

“What the? Who moved you?” he said to himself.

John went back inside to inspect the window display. He put the mannequin’s extremities back where they were, turned the head back, cinched down its red hat and stood back.

John, it’s me, it’s me!

Roy swung his arms back down to his side.

“What the?” John asked.

John moved the arms back into position only to watch it happen again.

“Well shit, no wonder they freaked out. Huh,” he said.

John left the display in route to his office in the back of the store.

Wait! Wait! For God’s sake help me!

“Yes hello Betty. Look, I got this mannequin in the window here, probably been here since I opened up, yeah, yeah, for sure, well it seems like it’s wearing out or something. Well I set it up and a second later it just kind of falls back to where it was. Yeah the arms, and the head too. I was hoping you had something in storage, you know, trade this one out. Oh he will? Great, I’ll get it ready. Yeah, yeah, I want my shirt back anyways,” he laughed. “Hey as long as I got you on the phone, what the hell happened to Roy. Roy, the security guard. I could of used him here just a few minutes ago. No not kids, some guy, a real psycho. Yeah, I’ll keep my eye out, yup, thanks a bunch,” John hung up the phone.

At the end of the business day John removed Roy from the display window, took off his clothes and left his bare plastic body leaning up against the sales counter. He changed out his own shirt for the faded tee just to annoy the mannequin.

“How do you like that? Always looked better on me anyways. Maintenance is coming to trade you out for a newer model. Sure are takin’ their damn sweet time about though,” John said.

Roy felt energy from every word directed towards him. The feeling of strength and control welled-up inside his composite body like a plant growing exponentially.

Keep talking man, please.

A few minutes after the closing announcement cleared out the last of the shoppers a man dressed in a gray jumpsuit with a matching hat pulled low stopped in front of the store and tapped on the window. He pushed a large cart, the sort that might be used in a post office for mail or packages, metal framed with sidewalls of dingy canvas.

“Well it’s about effin’ time, I got things to do!” John chastised.

John unlocked the door and looked inside the cart.

“What the hell is this? You guys were supposed to send me up a new one, not just parts. Parts won’t do me any good, this one is worn the hell out. You get it?” John said.

“I’m sorry sir, I’ll have to look at the work order again,” the man mumbled.

“You do that. Well, you can take this one back with you anyways. Here, gimme a hand, it’s heavy. I’ll get the legs,” John said.

“It’ll just take a second,” the man said.

He removed a pair of glasses from his pocket and looked closely at the forms on the clipboard he held in his hands.

“Look. That shit doesn’t matter right now. You screwed up. People like you always screw up. It’s expected. Now I told you already I have things to do, so grab this damn thing so we can toss it in the cart, and you can get the hell out of here,” John said.

Again John reached down and grabbed the legs of the mannequin and once again the maintenance man was messing with his glasses. John stood up even more enraged than before, just in time to hear something snap.

The man swiped the lens from a broken pair of readers across John’s neck, severing his Carotid artery and instantly soaking his faded tee with a torrent of blood. He shoved John into the cart, removed his hat, exposed his now familiar face and glared at John through piercing blue eyes.

“One and one-half inches John, deep enough to release the power of empathy. Not yours, his. It works both ways,” he said.

John was unconscious within seconds and died moments later, never to be seen again.

That night, back in the window Roy wept. His tears stained the price tag on the telescope. It was the last one in stock, a display model on closeout, priced to… move.

“Hey, stop! What the hell you little spooks up to? Did you just steal that? Gimme that, let’s see what you got,” Manis demanded.

Roy Manis was the second shift security guard at the Miller Creek Mall. A blatant bully and overt racist, he may have had a promising career on the police force if not for the formerly stated. He was tops in his class at the academy, a crack shot with a keen sense for detecting criminal behavior, a virtual future shoe-in for a gold detective badge. Unfortunately for him, as much as it was likewise fortunate for the city, his success bred arrogance, a trait that led him all the way to the unemployment line.

As if a drowning event at the beach wasn’t tragic enough for the visiting family, then officer Manis somehow thought he would garner accolades from his fellow officers by kicking sand at the mourning siblings of the drowned boy, an incident caught on film by local news crews.

The camera however was not sensitive enough to discern his words from so many others amid the chaos of the scene. Witnesses would testify that what he said was eviler and more wrong than any one person could imagine.

The hearing held by the fire and police commission ruled the testimony as hear-say and ordered it stricken from public record. Manis himself decried the accusations as baseless lies and that he was only attempting to kick away a bee that had fallen to the beach. He surmised that had any one of the children been allergic, the situation could have become even worse and he should in reality be rewarded for his actions. The commission wholeheartedly disagreed.

The boys at the mall were well aware of Manis’ reputation for cruelty to children and complied out of fear.

“You let those boys go right this instant. And give them back their bag. You have no right to harass them. Do you really think they’d steal something and then take a bag too? With our logo on it yet? And spooks? Are you kidding me? Go on boys, you’re fine. Come see me next time I’ll have a little something extra for you,” she said.

“What? It’s a Halloween store right? Spooks, goblins, that sort of thing? Look, just because you work here doesn’t give you the right to tell me how to do my job,” Manis said.

“You see what it says on the sign? I’ll help you in case you can’t read. It says Seely’s Unique Boutique. That’s me, that’s my name, Tempest Seely. I don’t just work here, I own this place. You, Roy Manis work for me, and I swear to God if I catch you harassing any more of my customers, and for that matter, anyone else in here, I’ll make your life a living hell,” Tempest said.

“God? Ha, that’s a laugh. I thought witches like you didn’t believe in God. And no, I don’t work for you, I work for the owners of the mall,” Roy said.

“I am Wiccan Mr. Manis, and my beliefs regarding supreme deities is almost certainly beyond your comprehension of who or what God may be. Rest assured security guard, the rule of three will be harder on you than most, and that, Mr. Manis is a fate you have indignantly earned,” she said.

“Yeah whatever, freak,” Manis said walking away.

He whistled often but only when he was alone. He never really gave it a thought, even though he was pretty good at it. Tonight, like so many others he whistled his way through his rounds, making certain that he was alone in the mall.

He made it a point to stop in front of Seely’s window and give the store a long, hard, finger.

“Fuck you witch,” he said to himself.

Directly across the mall, also on the second floor was the hobby shop. Blake Gift and Hobby. Roy considered the owner John Blake to be a friend of his. He vowed repeatedly to give John’s store extra attention due to their perceived relationship. “Nobody is taking nothin’ from you John, I guarantee it.”  It was a sentiment John both appreciated and abhorred, much like making a deal with the devil, when the devil doesn’t know that you know it’s him.

Roy stood staring into the display window of the hobby shop. Front and center, mired in hanging cardboard planets, oversized plastic aliens, and spaceships stood the Interstellertron 3000, the last telescope anyone would ever need. At least that’s how it was marketed. In Roy’s case, it would be the only telescope anyone would ever borrow, something he did quite regularly.

As the only security, Roy kept a key for every store in the mall on a huge steel ring attached to his belt.  He even had keys to the pull-down security grates meant to keep people like him out. He took macabre pleasure in pissing on the wall in various places like Seely’s, knowing that even though it would most likely be dry the next day, it would still maintain a foul and hard to find odor.

A faceless gray mannequin wearing a red ball cap backwards, blue jeans and a faded tee the owner brought from home peered into the viewfinder of the telescope. One plastic, immobile hand appeared to salute the stars while the other shaded the viewfinder from the many fluorescent suns of the mall.

“Move over buddy,” Roy said.

He slid the mannequin to the side in order to more easily remove the telescope from the display.

“You got it made buddy, just sittin’ here lookin’ at asses all day long,” Roy said.

He left with the telescope shaking his head, lamenting his luck compared to that of a store front mannequin.

The roof of the mall was Roy’s personal sanctum sanctorum, a holy place where he is self-allowed to violate the neighborhood.

The majority of houses surrounding the mall were of the same basic, post WWII simple construction. Often, only the lower panes of many of the bathroom windows enjoyed frosted glass.

Roy set up in his usual spot hidden alongside a giant HVAC unit. He kept a mental list of which houses he’s had the best luck seeing women in various stages of undress. He gave them names he thought best suited their physical attributes. His favorites included Big Blondie, Hair Girl, and Black Mamba. It only took one, and after that, it was usually less than a minute before he had to zip up his blue khaki guard pants and get back to work guarding the mall.

Mid October and business at the mall was booming, especially for Tempest Seely. Although her boutique regularly offered items some would consider a few shades darker than contemporary, the autumn season was by far her busiest. Costumes and specialty items available nowhere else pinned her squarely on the insider’s destination guide to one offs and unique Halloween fanfare.

A woman, definitely not young but undeterminably old stood quietly at the counter inside the boutique. Her head was wrapped in a tightly crocheted scarf that at one time used to be red. Her dress was plain and gray but vaguely Victorian, its white accents tarnished by time. Her skin and eyes were dark brown and if a person looked closely enough, they would see the ink of ritualistic tattoos under her eyes, but most people never got that close.

“Lady Pireau, how good to see you,” Tempest said gleefully.

“You as well. You are well, I know this to be,” Pireau said.

“Yes, yes, very well. And what do you have for me today?” Tempest asked.

“I have as you asked girl, they will harm no one, and no one may cause harm with them. I have seen to that,” she said.

Lady Pireau lifted a large burlap bag the size of a toaster oven onto the sales counter. Inside were two dozen perfectly hand crafted, tirelessly impotent voodoo dolls.

“They are absolutely incredible!” Tempest gushed looking into the bag.

“Come back to the office and I’ll get you paid,” she said.

“Help, help!” the child yelled.

A young boy, maybe ten years old dodging around customers and under clothes racks was busy running for his life with mall officer Roy Manis hot on his heels. The boy crashed directly into the arms of Lady Pireau, accidentally but possibly quite instinctively finding the very safest place to be.

“I got you, you little thief,” Roy said grabbing the boy’s arm.

“Unhand the boy!” Pireau screamed.

She raised her fully extended arm into the air easily breaking Roy’s grip.

“Manis what did I tell you about harassing kids in my store, this time you’ve gone too far!” Tempest protested.

“This little shit stole a pretzel out of the hot case at the food court. Seen it with my own eyes. Shoved most of it in his big damn mouth before I could even catch him,” Roy said.

Lady Pireau stroked the side of the boy’s face and held her other hand over his heart.

“That is because this boy has not eaten anything but trash in days,” she said slowly, quietly.

Lady Pireau wept silently, looking down on the boy, letting just a few of her tears drop onto his forehead. She spoke quietly.

“Let the belly always be full of this boy who has suffered,” she said.

She looked up at Roy, still grabbing for air after his run, face dripping with sweat and anger.

“And let he who has caused suffering, suffer unto himself his dire envy. Release him to things not meant to be to know what he has become,” she said.

Lady Pireau reached into the bag and removed one of the dolls.

“There will only be twenty-three my dear,” she said.

“Oh don’t worry about that, I would be glad to pay you in full,” Tempest replied.

Roy stood dumbfounded at his lack of willingness to pursue the issue any longer to the point where he inexplicably felt like he had to walk away.

“Oh and Roy, tell the people at Hot Sam’s I’ll be down to pay for his pretzel a little later would you please?” Tempest asked.

Roy was only able to obediently nod affirmatively as he shuffled out of the store.

The rest of his afternoon passed without trumpets or parade. He couldn’t wait for lock-up. With winter just around the corner, the cold fall nights were starting to affect Roy’s routine so the earlier the better. Once again he found himself in the hobby store display window.

“Hey buddy, how’s them asses today?” Roy laughed.

“Not to worry, I’ll have her back in a flash,” he said leaving.

Safely tucked into the shadow of the HVAC unit it didn’t take long for Roy to score.

“Oh baby! Black Mamba it is!” he said excitedly.

He unzipped his pants.

Far into the distant neighborhood a black woman stood topless with her back to the window. She was readying her bath as Roy waited with bated breath for her to turn around and inadvertently give him exactly what he came for. He grew increasingly impatient as she held her motionless pose for what seemed like an unnatural amount of time.

What the hell are you doing? It’s cold out here. He was amused by his own thoughts although be it only temporarily. Suddenly and without warning, an unexpected and overwhelming feeling of dread draped over him. His lecherous smile fell flat with all the anticipation of a man in a barrel about to go over the falls.

The Black Mamba, suddenly familiar, turned to face him. She stared directly into the telescope, far into the backs of Roy’s eyes, but somehow deeper. Lady Pireau then snapped her fingers across her face. In a blinding flash, Roy fell backwards into a state of unconscious, crashing hard onto the gravel covered roof of the mall.

He wasn’t sure how much time had passed. It took him a few seconds to even realize where he was. A good sign to him was that nobody was in the mall so he felt it couldn’t have been that long. He briefly remembered the flash and then recalled seeing Mamba and connecting her with the woman in the store earlier. So jarring was the revelation that he didn’t realize at first that he was not able to move anything besides his eyes. Even at that, they moved very little. They recognized no color as if he was looking out through lenses of dark gray or black.

Initially, Roy suffered through a few solid minutes of sheer panic until he caught his reflection in the glass. There, he saw himself in a red cap turned backwards, wearing blue jeans and a faded tee the owner brought from home. He was inconspicuously bent down over the Interstellartron 3000, shading the viewfinder from the lights of the mall. He could not move, he could not make a sound, he could only watch through gray eyes, one narrow view of the world outside his window.

A groundswell of end of the world terror and hysteria overtook him. His mind passed out, but his plastic mannequin body stayed steadfastly poised over the telescope.