So, this story was written in about 2003, and was created as part of a ten minute writing challenge I took part in. We weren’t told the prompt (plastic) until a moment or two before the clock started ticking, and I think the spontaneity and brevity did the tale a few favours. It’s presented here as it was written in those ten minutes (bar a few spelling amendments), and when the challenge was over I kind of forgot about this story and moved on to the next.
It’s an odd length for publication, or at least it was in 2003. There are some pretty decent markets now for flash fiction though, and around 2014 I eventually stumbled across the story again and submitted it to an online magazine called Blood Reign, who rather nicely published it that same year.
The idea behind the story makes me smile though, so I’m posting here in the hope you’ll feel the same …
I expected brains as well as beauty; I thought as I pulled the axe free from Lucy’s skull. The retreating blade squeaked against … no, not bone.
Plastic. Her skull was made of plastic, a thick shell smooth on the outside and oiled within with some stinking black resin like melted rubber. I peered into the breach in her head, finding it as hollow as her promises had been back when we were lovers.
She had a new lover now, or at least she had before everything had crossed over into the Twilight Zone, before I started to see that they were all …
Before I started to see everyone as mannequins.
I still don’t understand how it took me so long to realize their true nature. Looking back, I see now they’d been plastic all the time, fake people fooling me with synthetic smiles and polymer platitudes. But no longer. About a month ago, I started to see it.
There was something in their eyes, or more accurately, there was something missing from their eyes. A spark, a glint, a humanity. A month ago, by strange coincidence the same day that Lucy ended our relationship, I sat on a train and saw that the eyes of my fellow passengers were as dead and unfeeling as the eyes of dolls, orbs of plastic, their interiors inked with make-believe irises and pupils.
I drank that night. I drank and thought about the Plastic People. I next saw Lucy a week later, when she came to collect the last of her belongings from our … from my apartment. She’d been wary, expecting me to plead for reconciliation. I’d expected to do that too, until I saw how flat and counterfeit her gaze looked to me now. She carried off her clothes and CDs and books in her plastic arms.
After that, I saw them everywhere. My work colleagues, smiling with laminated teeth. My friends, feigning concern at my whiskey-breath when their own exhalations reeked of burnt nylon. My father, crying fake tears on the anniversary of my mother’s death. All of them mannequins, all of them plastic.
Last night, I drank more than ever. This morning, I endured the cliché of waking up in an alleyway, next to a skip. There was a mannequin in with the rubbish, a manufactured one this time, from a shop window. Its naked head and one of its arms had come loose – the arm jutted upwards, slender fingers reaching for the dawn, and suddenly I knew what I had to do, and where to make a start.
Now I heard a key in the front door, heard a voice calling Lucy’s name. The lover.
I stayed where I was, waiting. As soon as he entered the room, as soon as he saw what I had done to his fellow mannequin, he screamed.
That scream … for a moment it had sounded real, full of shock and horror and fright, an impressive illusion from one so artificial. His painted eyes snapped wide, his gaze leaping from Lucy to me, and from me to the axe in my hands.
The axe was at my side, lowered, the resin-greased blade almost touching the carpet.
I glanced down, and for one horrible, dizzying moment I imagined that the severed limbs and ruptured torso at my feet were flesh and blood, and that Lucy’s eyes, staring up at me, were wet with real tears. The world lurched around me, too loud and too bright. I think if what I was seeing then had been real, if my axe really had sliced through meat and tendon, scattering bone instead of plastic, then the sight of it would have driven me insane.
But one blink and that terrible lie was gone, and there was only the broken shell again, a nerveless facsimile that had once tricked me into giving it my heart when it had none to return.
I looked back up at the lover, and heard his scream for what it truly was now, an empty, echoing bellow from a hollow chest. His eyes were wide, and though there seemed some glimmer in them, I wasn’t fooled. They were doll’s eyes, as plastic as the rest of him, and there was no more life in them now than there would be when I cut them out of his skull. I smiled, and raised the axe.