Mysterious Padlow Mannequins

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In this thriller, disappearances provoke suspicions as a designer achieves living-legend status by creating mannequins that are so life­like, they practically replace salespersons.

Creative art-world personalities enter a den of villainy, from which few survive, in this thrilling short story.

Maturity Age 14+

Sculpting Beauty


Dahlia Padlow is a sculptor of human form. Her busts adorn a few private collections and consignment art galleries. When she crosses over to the fashion industry, her works take on an upward trajectory. She heats up the coldness of competing mannequins. In fact, at some shows, fashion runway models carry her realistic figures down the catwalk.

Brick-and-mortar department stores struggling to compete with online retailers notice a new trend. Customers engage in conversation with the mannequins a moment before recognizing they are inanimate. Then they return with more curious shoppers, increasing store foot traffic. On social media, people post pictures of themselves standing next to the lifelike mannequins.

Missing Persons

On the other side of town, Detective Megan Anthony is threading a needle through a string of missing person cases. Most are statuesque females, while a few are males. Looking for similarities other than their physical build, they are recent college graduates in their early 20s.

Family outcry moves Megan to stitch together a profile of the abductor. The suspect likely has some connection to colleges. Digging deeper, she discovers that many victims have studied subjects in the arts such as dance, drawing, or fashion. Some have courses in marketing or business.

Megan deduces that she is looking for someone in a position to lure optimistic graduates. Perhaps this person has a business in a creative industry and hires college students and grads. It’s a broad category, so the detective begins researching rising stars in such sectors.

Interns for Hire

The lifelike anatomically correct Padlow Mannequins are reminiscent of renaissance sculptures by Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni from the 14th and 15th centuries. She loves reimagining the armless Venus de Milo by Alexandros of Antioch from the first century BC.

Those with an interest in art history and sculpture consider it an honor to intern with Padlow. The word around town is that she is a temperamental perfectionist. As a result, interns do not last long. Rebekah is ecstatic to receive an invitation with the prospect of catapulting her nascent career.

“I love all your work, Ms Padlow. How can I assist today?” She asks, feeling the pressure to be versatile and excel.

“Let me take some photos of you in poses that are inspired by the renaissance era. Then I want you to use them as reference and sketch some mannequin ideas. You will need to disrobe down to your underwear for this. Is that a problem?”

“Wow. That’s quite an honor on the first day. I won’t disappoint you.”

After the photoshoot, Rebecca presents her sketches. Dahlia provides art direction to capture the emotional connection she desires.

“What’s the next step?”

“In my sculpting studio is a workshop for casting and building structural foundations. Can you help me down in the basement?”

“Sure, whatever you need.”

Unfortunate Misstep

As they descend the staircase, Dahlia gives her a shove, causing Rebecca to tumble forward, smashing her head on the floor below. Dahlia drags the warm, though lifeless body, over to prop it up with a wood and wire frame for casting.

She wraps her latest victim in plastic. Then, using one of the trucks for transporting mannequins, Dahlia drives 50 miles beyond the state border. After applying weights, she dumps the body into Lake Mead and watches, as the water bubbles and swallows the evidence. She returns to her studio to clean up crime residue and complete her next masterpiece.

Dahlia repeats this modus operandi for more than a year. During this time, fashion designers order Padlow Mannequins on which they develop many new garments. Dahlia’s work is in demand. This increases the value of her fashion sculptures.

Investigation Heats Up

The nation feels unseasonably warm weather. News reports publicize massive droughts. The resulting receding Lake Mead water levels reveal debris and human remains among the mire and seashells. Rangers call in professional divers who discover more bodies. Forensic teams scurry to identify victims.

The news and lab reports come to the attention of Detective Megan Anthony. She now has another lead. Scouring traffic footage for suspicious activity around the lake, she notices frequent trips by a white truck with company markings.

The truck identification leads to Padlow Mannequins, where a paper trail shows some of the victims interned. This adds credence to the working theory. So the detective has enough evidence to bring in Dahlia for questioning.

Upon receiving the request, Dahlia asks, “Am I a suspect for something?”

“You are a person of interest. We can talk further at the station.”

“Then I prefer to have my attorney present.”

Quickly lawyering up does two things. It raises suspicion and it prevents her from having to answer any questions. Now Megan must obtain a search warrant. Though suspecting the studio is a killing den, the scene has been compromised and lacks damning evidence.

Yes, some victims were there for short durations. Dahlia’s attorney confirms such. So latent strands of hair or fingerprints are circumstantial. The attorney even explains that drops of blood residue matching victims are an occupational hazard from working with the tools of sculpture. Detective Anthony argues with the District Attorney about the evidence and gets the reply that the case is too thin to prosecute.

Feeling duped and dejected, Megan takes a walk in the city. While passing through an upscale shopping district, she sees someone dressing a Padlow Mannequin in a department store window.

The familiarity stops her in her tracks. Swiping photos in her smartphone, she notices the uncanny resemblance to one of the victims named Rebecca. After obtaining a warrant to take the mannequin into evidence, her forensics department reconstructs a digital model of the victim and overlays it with 3D images of the mannequin. They are an exact match!

This, combined with all the other circumstantial evidence, is enough for the District Attorney to prosecute. Detective Megan Anthony arrests Dahlia Padlow, charging her with murder. Though suspected in connection with dozens of other victims, she has been convicted of only two deaths. It’s sufficient to put her away for life. The rest of the victims remain on display at a department store near you.

The End

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