Our Friend Ashley

Our Friend Ashley

By: James G. Boswell –

Whitney wrapped a piece of yellow cloth around her mannequin’s waist, then used some chalk to mark the spot where it overlapped. Her roommate, Amanda sat next to her at a desk in their studio apartment and sketched dress designs on tracing paper with a graphite pencil. A thunderous “boom” made Whitney topple to the floor and made Amanda snap her pencil against the pad of paper. The lights went out, and Amanda looked at Whitney and said, “What was that? It felt like a bomb went off or something.”

Whitney scoffed and said, “I can’t deal with this right now. I need to finish my final project for my dressmaking class and I’m way behind schedule.”

“I know what you mean. My fashion drawing final is next week, and I’m not prepared at all.”

A strange violet light shined through their fifth-floor balcony’s sliding glass doors and lit up their apartment with an otherworldly glow. Perplexed, they walked out onto the balcony and saw a huge purple cube in the sky. The cube folded in upon itself over and over again as spherical energy pulses shot out from its center. Each pulse created the sound of an explosion and made their apartment shake. This continued for several moments before the entire cube folded up completely and disappeared with a resounding electric “pop.”

As Whitney continued to stare up into the sky, Amanda turned around to go back inside and gasped. Whitney looked to see what was wrong and was frightened to see that her mannequin now stood in the balcony doorway. Its hands covered the lower half of its face as if someone had posed it to look shocked and surprised.

Amanda smacked Whitney’s shoulder with the back of her hand and said, “What the hell is that about, Whitney?”

“I didn’t do that. I was out here with you.”

They both looked at the mannequin with expressions of confusion and fear.

Amanda said, “Whatever, I’m gonna find out what’s going on,” then rushed through the doorway and knocked the mannequin over. It struck the ground with a hollow plastic “thud.”

Amanda picked her phone up off the desk where it was connected to its charger next to Whitney’s and pushed the button to turn it on, but the screen remained dark. Frustrated, she pushed the button a few more times with no success, then slammed the phone down. She grabbed Whitney’s phone and took it over to her.

“My phone’s not working for some reason. Use yours to get onto Reddit or Facebook and see if anyone posted about that weird cube thing in the sky. Everyone in the city must’ve seen and heard it. Someone must know something.”

Whitney looked at the mannequin on the floor, then took her phone from Amanda and tried to turn it on. However, its screen remained dark as well. “That’s weird,” she said. “I’ve been charging it all day.”

“I’ve been charging my phone for a while, too, and it won’t turn on either.”

A scream pierced the air, followed by the sound of gunshots. They looked back out over their balcony and saw a group of soldiers at the far end of the neighborhood. The soldiers were clad in black tactical gear and had rifles slung over their shoulders. As Whitney and Amanda watched in horror, the soldiers dragged people out of their homes and forced them into the cargo beds of black military trucks. Two teenage girls tried to run away but were gunned down before they could escape.

Whitney and Amanda were startled when someone pounded on their apartment’s front door and said, “Open up!”

They went back into their apartment and Whitney noticed that the mannequin was no longer on the ground or anywhere in sight.

Amanda said in a hushed voice, “We need to find someplace to hide.”

Whitney rushed over to the closet and opened the door, but hesitated when she saw that the mannequin now sat inside. It seemed as if someone had posed it to look like it was hiding, and its face was buried in its knees and its hands covered its head. Before she had time to think about it, Amanda pushed her into the closet and closed the door. They pressed themselves against the back of the wall behind the coats, shirts, and other articles of clothing that hung there.

They heard a wooden cracking noise as someone kicked in their front door. Then someone said, “This is just a small studio apartment, sir. I don’t see anyone inside.”

Another voice said, “Check it out. If you find anyone, bring them downstairs and put them with the others. If they resist, shoot them. Remember to confiscate any firearms you find, and don’t take too long.”

“Yes, sir.”

Whitney and Amanda heard one set of footsteps walk away while another began to slowly circumnavigate their apartment. Then they heard the intruder pull out the desk drawer and dump its contents on the ground. The floorboards creaked loudly, and Whitney guessed the person had crouched down to look under their beds. The footsteps padded over to the tile floor in the kitchen nook, and they heard the pantry door’s hinges let out a small groan as it opened.

Finally, the footsteps started to come closer to the closet door, and Whitney and Amanda held each other’s hands as they shook in fear. The doorknob turned, and the closet door began to open.

“Hey, let’s go,” said the voice from the outside hallway. “Time’s up and we need to move on.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Did you find any firearms?”

“No, sir.”

“Alright, let’s get moving.”

The footsteps receded from the closet and out into hallway. Whitney and Amanda waited for what seemed like hours before Whitney finally opened the door and saw that no one was there.

Whitney sat on the couch with her mannequin beside her while Amanda leaned against the wall across the room. Twilight covered the apartment in semidarkness.

Amanda said, “We’ve been holed up in this apartment for more than a week and we’re completely out of food and water. There’s no power and our phones never started to work again. We need to go out there and see what we can find.”

“But what about those soldiers? If they see us, they’ll kidnap us or worse.”

“That’s a chance we have to take.”

Whitney put her arm around the mannequin’s shoulders and pulled it closer.

Amanda said, “I don’t know why you like that creepy mannequin so much. I feel like it’s watching me.”

“Don’t say that about Ashley. She’s our friend.”

Amanda stared at her for several moments with a look of disgust, then said, “Since when did you name it? You’ve gone crazy, Whitney. Seriously, you’ve completely lost it.”

Whitney looked at her with tears in her eyes and clutched the mannequin tight as if it was a stuffed animal.

Amanda sighed and said, “Whitney, look, we have to get some supplies. If we don’t, we’re going to die. It’s that simple. Everything electronic seems to have stopped working ever since that weird cube thing appeared in the sky, and we have no idea why those soldiers were here or what they want. Whatever’s happening, we have no control over it.”

Whitney cringed and said, “I know we need to get food and water, but what if our families come looking for us and we’re not here? Someone needs to stay.”

“You’re right.”

“I don’t want to stay, but I don’t want to leave, either. I’m afraid either way.”

“Me too, but we have to decide who stays and who goes. Once we have some supplies, we can figure out our next move and see if there’s a way we can contact our families.”

Amanda took a quarter out of her pocket, then held it out to Whitney and said, “Heads I go, tails you go, alright?”

Whitney nodded.

Amanda flipped the coin, caught it on her palm, and then slapped it onto the back of her other hand. She looked at it, then showed it to Whitney: It was tails.

The next morning, Whitney slipped out of her bed as the sun first started to rise, careful not to wake Amanda. The dawn’s light spilled across the floor as she pulled on her clothes. She then tiptoed past the mannequin which still sat unmoving on the couch.

She made it to the smashed-in apartment door and started to leave, but then she felt something tug at her pant leg. She turned around and saw that the mannequin was now right next to her in a kneeling position. Its head was tilted back to look up at her, and it had one hand against her leg in the place where she felt the tug. Its other hand lay flat across its chest, and it looked like someone had posed it in a pleading gesture as if to say, “Please don’t go.” Whitney looked and saw that Amanda was still asleep in her bed on the other side of the room.

Whitney walked down the hall to her apartment and looked inside through the open doorway. Moonlight bathed the living room in an ethereal glow, and she was able to make out the edges of the desk against the wall. She entered and placed two full grocery bags down on the desk, then reached into one of them and took out a candle and a box of matches. She lit the candle and put it down next to the grocery bags. The candlelight danced throughout the apartment and sent shadows everywhere.

She noticed something out of the corner of her eye and jumped when she saw what looked like a person sitting on the couch. The flame’s light reflected off their dark brown hair, and Whitney breathed a sigh of relief when she recognized it as Amanda’s.

“Oh, Amanda. I didn’t realize you were awake,” she said as she turned and started to take things out of the grocery bags. “I made it to the supermarket several miles away, and the place was totally abandoned. The power was out there, too, so I had to smash one of the sliding glass doors to get inside. I was able to grab some bread and cans of food and bottled water, plus some candles. I didn’t see any other people except a few dead bodies that looked like they had all been shot. It was horrible. I think the soldiers kidnapped everyone else.

“Sorry it took me so long, but I decided to wait until after dark to come back just in case there were any soldiers still around. Are you alright?”

There was no answer.


Whitney looked back at the couch, but no one was there. She turned around and saw that the mannequin stood next to her with its arms outstretched as if someone had posed it in a welcoming gesture. Frightened, Whitney picked up the candle to get a better look and realized that someone had draped Amanda’s scalp over the mannequin’s head. Her tangled hair spilled down its left shoulder like an ill-fitted wig. Blood covered its face.

Whitney yelped and dropped the candle. Its flame went out when it hit the ground and enveloped everything in darkness. She felt the mannequin’s arms close around her like a cold plastic machine. It pressed its face against hers and wiped blood across her cheek. Whitney screamed, but Ashley didn’t care. Her friend had come home.

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