by Will Raven
In the spirit of the Halloween season, here’s a bone-chilling short story about Jack the Ripper and his maker.
The main doors at Corbett’s opened promptly at 10 o’clock. The Saturday morning shoppers marched in like a hungry herd ready to graze a fresh meadow.
The bargain basement hunters dashed in first frantically seeking discount items before anyone else could get their hands on them. A few wealthy patrons with cash to burn casually walked in searching for something that fit their fancy.
Among the motley crowd were also customers on a mission to buy a specific item they needed, whether for a birthday or special occasion. Other tourists ventured in just for the sheer experience of shopping at one of the largest and few remaining giant department stores.
The hulking 8-story Corbett’s arrived in 1920, occupying nearly a city block. By the 1990s, most big department stores had closed as specialty stores and online retailers replaced them. Corbett’s of New York nearly went belly-up before new ownership overhauled the retailer, blending the nostalgia and friendly service of the original store with better prices, popular new brands, and hot electronics.
The one thing all the customers had in common was a love for Corbett’s rich traditions and ambiance—the glitz and glamour, the show-stopping displays, the jovial salespersons, the fine music selection from classical to jazz, and the light, sweet smell of fragrances.
Rhoda King and her seven-year daughter, Heather, headed straight for the east elevators. Halloween was two weeks away and Heather badly wanted a Cleopatra costume after learning about the Egyptian queen in school.
Rhoda knew Corbett’s from her childhood living in the city with her parents. But she seldom made the trip across town anymore. Corbett’s was the only store in the area that sold Cleopatra costumes.
The pair walked halfway down the street level floor when Heather stopped to stare at a female mannequin with long black hair and blue eyes. The fashion model was wearing a stunning red dress and matching shoes.
Heather’s mom walked a few more steps before noticing that her daughter had strayed from the course.
“Come along, sweetie,” she called, walking back to her little girl.
“Mommy, that dummy looks so real,” she said, pointing up at the figure.
“It most certainly does,” the mother replied. “In fact, all of the mannequins here are amazingly lifelike.”
Rhoda gently grabbed her daughter by the hand and walked down the marble aisle. They passed by the perfume and jewelry departments until they reached the elevators. A female operator wearing a corporate blue dress and matching cap greeted them.
Corbett’s was one of the few department stores left that still used elevator operators over the push button system. Customers loved the personal touch and throwback to the store’s glory days.
“Good Morning, ma’am,” said the smiling operator. “What might you be shopping for today?”
“Hello, we’re looking for Halloween costumes,” Rhoda said, returning the smile.
“That would be the eighth floor. I can take us up,” the operator said. The brass doors closed and she pulled a tiny lever to engage the elevator. Heather tugged on her mother’s purse as they went up.
“Mommy, remember, I want a Cleopatra costume,” she whispered. “A purple one.”
“This is the eighth floor,” said the operator. There was a ding sound and the elevator doors opened. “Sporting goods, tools, garden accessories and seasonal items, including Halloween costumes.”
“Thank you,” Rhoda said, stepping out with her daughter. The compartment closed behind them.
Rhoda immediately noticed a large orange and black sign advertising the store’s Spooktacular Sale with 30% off Halloween costumes. Saturday and Sunday Only!
“Let’s go this way,” Rhoda said.
Heather followed as they passed the sporting goods department. A dozen treadmills were lined up in a row like planes on an aircraft carrier amid the usual aisles of sporting merchandise from golf balls to fishing equipment.
Walking a bit farther, it became obvious that they had arrived at the seasonal department.
For Halloween, Corbett’s constructed a wrought iron gate complete with blinking orange lights and cobwebs. Gigantic spiders hung from the ceiling.
The creepy entrance made Heather a touch nervous and she reached for her mother’s hand.
“Here we are, Heather,” her mother said.
Heather saw the costumes first and broke free from her mother. She rushed down the aisle looking high and low for her beloved Cleopatra costume. But there was not a sign of it. She turned the corner and suddenly stopped in her tracks.
The little girl was startled by a ghastly mannequin standing on a slab of cobblestone illuminated by a Victorian-style street lamp.
The sinister figure was fully dressed in black, with dark, piercing eyes, wavy hair, and a moustache. He wore a top hat, a double-breasted vest with silver-tone buttons, a long black cloak, a white shirt, and a red-satin jabot pinned to the throat.
In one hand, he held a dark wooden cane with a shiny metal tip and in the other a silver plastic knife with an ebony handle. It was Jack the Ripper in full costume.
Heather gazed at the menacing character and her jaw dropped. She felt a prickly sensation invade her body. Then she let out a horrific scream that could be heard clear across the floor.
“Mommy! Mommy!” she yelled. “Where are you?”
Rhoda instantly recognized Heather’s voice and ran to her side.
“I’m here sweetheart,” she said, as Heather ran into her arms.
“There’s a scary man in black and he winked at me,” she said, squeezing her mother tightly.
“Then he pointed a knife at me.”
Several customers heard the commotion and rushed over to see what happened. Phillip Dowdy, who worked in the seasonal department, was the first Corbett employee on the scene.
“Is the little girl alright?” he asked with a genuine look of concern on his face.
“I believe so, but she was frightened by some man dressed in black,” Rhoda said.
Dowdy froze for a few seconds and then realized it was the Jack the Ripper mannequin that likely scared the girl.
“Please follow me and I will show you what may have caused the trouble,” Dowdy said, leading everyone to the adult costume aisle.
Heather began squirming in her mother’s arms.
“Don’t worry, sweetie, everything will be just fine,” Heather said in a soft voice.
“I think perhaps your little girl may have been frightened by our Ripper display,” Dowdy said.
“That’s him, mommy,” Heather said hysterically. “That’s the man.”
“It’s only a dummy,” Rhoda said. “Perhaps you imagined it moved.”
“He’s real and he pointed that knife at me!” Heather said adamantly.
At that moment, the department manager arrived and was quickly informed of the incident.
“I’m very sorry that your daughter became frightened,” he said. “I assure you we’ll make some changes to the costume?”
“Even I get goose bumps looking at that mannequin,” Rhoda said. “It’s so real and repulsive.”
“Please accept this $100 gift card as a sincere gesture of our appreciation for your patronage,” the manager said.
“Why, thank you,” Rhoda said. “This will more than pay for the Cleopatra costume we came for.”
“Phillip, will you please locate the costume for the little girl?”
He quickly retrieved the costume from the next aisle. After checking it out carefully, Rhoda paid for the item with her new gift card. She and her daughter walked away happy customers after all.
Dowdy, who was quick to gossip, darted off to the stockroom, where Enzo Nicoletti was busy replacing an arm on an old mannequin. The eighth floor stockroom was where the store’s mannequins were made, stored, and repaired.
Enzo had worked at Corbett’s for more than 30 years and was set to retire in a month. He had earned a reputation as a master mannequin maker.
Nicoletti used live models or photographs to form a lifelike clay sculpture ultimately used to create a finished fiberglass mannequin. Everything was hand-painted. Make-up and real hair were added as the finishing touches before each mannequin was meticulously dressed.
“Enzo, this time I think you’ve overdone it,” Dowdy said, interrupting his colleague’s work.
“What are you talking about?” Enzo said, stroking his gray goatee.
“Your Jack the Ripper model just spooked a little girl.”
“Jack is not a model. He’s a sculpture and my magnum opus,” Enzo said. “It took three months to perfect him.”
“That Ripper mannequin gives me the creeps every time I’m near it. Like it’s watching me,” Dowdy said.
“Nonsense, my friend,” Enzo said. “Mannequins are no more real than the fiberglass they’re made of, but the finest ones give the magical illusion they are human.”
“No one makes mannequins as fine as you, Enzo,” Dowdy said. “What will Corbett’s do when you’re gone?”
“I suppose they’ll start making those cheap, headless mannequins made of plastic.”
“And I’m sure sales will suffer accordingly,” Dowdy said, as he stacked boxes of candy on a cart for shelving.
Enzo spent the remainder of his shift touching up the faces of mannequins set to showcase a new women’s fashion line. He closed his workshop at 6 p.m. and paid a visit to Jack the Ripper on his way out.
“Jack, we’re going to have to make a few changes to you tomorrow,” Enzo said to his grand creation. “That knife has got to go.”
The store promptly closed at 10 p.m. and the employees and cleaning crew cleared out an hour later.
That left Charlie Scott, Corbett’s night watchman since 1984. Although the store had multiple security cameras and an alarm system, it kept old Charlie around because he once stopped a crazed gunman from killing the store manager over a refund dispute. These days he often slept through much of the night shift.
The next morning Enzo arrived at nine o’clock. He grabbed a cup of coffee and got busy styling the hair on a mannequin set for display in the men’s clothing department. A few minutes later, Dowdy walked in.
“Good morning, Enzo,” he said. “Looks like there’s a real Jack the Ripper on the loose.
“You’re kidding me?” Enzo said.
“Two women were murdered in the fog over the past couple nights,” Dowdy said, handing Enzo the morning edition of The Times.
Enzo sipped nervously at his coffee and began reading.
Police early this morning found the remains of two young women apparently victims of a Jack the Ripper style killer. The throats of both women were cut from ear to ear.
The first victim, Elizabeth Morgan, was on her way home from her job at The Gentle Touch massage parlor on Westminster Avenue. The 24-year-old woman’s stomach was removed. Her face was mutilated and her eyes cut out.
The second victim, Annie Cole, was a frequent late night patron at The Blue Flamingo bar on Chapel Street in the Red Light District. The 30-year-old woman’s body was discovered in a back alley two blocks from the bar. Her tongue was sliced off.
The gruesome killer carved out Cole’s liver and kidneys with surgical precision. She had more than 100 lacerations to her face and body.
Enzo had read enough. He put the paper down and rubbed his forehead repeatedly.
“To think that some sick, pathetic excuse for a human being did such atrocities,” Enzo said miserably.
“Just like old Jack the Ripper but a different time and place,” Dowdy said.
“Speaking of Jack, I need to make some changes to the old London maniac.”
Enzo walked out on the retail floor feeling a sudden pit in his stomach. He began to regret his latest Ripper creation. He thought perhaps it would have been better to do Frankenstein for his Halloween masterpiece.
At least he was a fictional character. But the mystery surrounding Jack the Ripper was too intriguing. Since the real killer was never caught, Enzo only had composite sketches from London artists in the 1880s to go on. He loved the challenge and opportunity to dive into his imagination.
By the time Enzo finished his thought, he found himself at the feet of Jack the Ripper. Enzo looked into the mannequin’s cold eyes and removed the fake knife. Just holding The Ripper’s artificial murder weapon gave Enzo a strange sensation, especially after hearing about the recent butcheries.
Enzo then began checking over the costume when he noticed bloodstains on the Ripper’s shirt and cloak. The sight paralyzed him with horror.
Did I do a vile deed? Did I achieve the unspeakable—changing a mannequin into man? Or worst yet, a monster?
He started back to get a new shirt and cloak for The Ripper costume when he noticed a knife missing from a locked display rack. Perhaps someone purchased it and the clerk forgot to restock the item, he thought.
Enzo then hustled back to the stockroom. He picked out new clothing for The Ripper and completed the change before the store opened. He returned to his workbench and stuffed the bloody items in a box with other damaged goods
Throughout the day, Enzo fiddled with mannequin parts and couldn’t focus. He left at his usual time and drove straight home with a heavy mind.
I must return to the store tonight, he thought. I must know that my creation is truly a mannequin and not a menace to society.
Shortly before midnight, Enzo went back to Corbett’s, carrying a loaded gun in his coat pocket. He used the service entrance knowing it was on the same level where Charlie worked.
He knew Charlie would likely see him on the security camera. Enzo rang the buzzer off and on for nearly five minutes before Charlie finally appeared to let him in.
“Hello, Enzo, what brings you here at this hour?” Charlie asked, looking like he just awoke from a nap.
“I need to put in some overtime to get a Halloween display ready for a big sale tomorrow morning,” Enzo said.
“Well, it ain’t the first time they got you working the graveyard shift to meet some crazy deadline,” Charlie said.
“I’ll be working in my shop and may go out on the floor to set-up the display,” Enzo said.
“Okay, I’ll be right here,” Charlie said. “Take this flashlight with you.”
Enzo rode the elevator to the eighth floor and got off. It was dark and creepy. Using the flashlight, he walked nervously toward the stockroom. He entered the double doors and immediately flicked on the floor’s main lights. He took a deep breath and went back out to the adult costume aisle. He looked for The Ripper but he was gone.
Enzo began walking wearily toward the sporting goods department, checking each aisle when the floor lights shut down again. The darkness fueled Enzo’s fear. He felt Jack lurked in the shadows watching his every move.
Suddenly a deep, eerie voice spoke, “So you’ve come for me.”
“Who’s there,” Enzo said, gripping the gun tighter.
“It’s Jack the Ripper in the flesh and blood.”
“Show your face,” Enzo said, straining his eyes.
“I’ve waited for over a century to show my face again. And you made it possible, Enzo,” The Ripper said.
“But it’s not possible.”
“Your wild imagination brought me back to life,” Jack said devilishly.
“You’re a vicious killer, and you must be destroyed.”
“But we all need you, Enzo. Just like you need us to live out your fantasies,” The Ripper said.
“You’re sick!” Enzo said, edging closer to a mannequin he created. It was Ashley Love, a tennis player with long, sexy legs. She had brown eyes and curly brunette hair. She carried a tennis racket and wore a pink skirt and yellow blouse.
“But Enzo, I’m your masterpiece,” Jack said. “Don’t you fully appreciate the magic of your art?
Enzo didn’t answer him. Instead, he whispered into the tennis player’s ear.
“I need you, darling,” he said, touching Ashley’s lips. “Go and distract Jack, while I get some more help.”
The next second the noise of shattered glass shook Enzo. In a rage, The Ripper smashed one display case after another.
Ashley came to life and unflinchingly ran toward the noise like a soldier following orders.
“Here I am, Jack,” she said seductively. “Want to play with me.”
The Ripper felt both desire and rage toward the sensual call. He leaped down from a high shelf. His black cloak opened like bat’s wings softening his landing.
He appeared before Ashley, full of lust and hate. She darted to the left, but Jack managed to slash her right leg. She groaned but kept running.
At that moment, Enzo latched on to Slugger Joe, a huge baseball player with bulging arms and a wooden bat. Joe was one of Enzo’s favorite sports mannequins. He wore a batting helmet and was decked in a blue pinstriped uniform.
“Slugger Joe, I need you,” Enzo said. “Go and save Ashley.”
The burly athlete moved into action. Jack could hear his cleats. Click. Clack. Click. Clack.
Fast coming near. The Ripper hid behind a rack of baseball pants until Slugger Joe approached. Another step and he lashed out at the player, cutting deep into his left arm.
Joe instinctively turned with his right arm forward. He whacked Jack in the ribs with his bat.
The Ripper let out a sinister growl and fled for cover. Slugger Joe buckled to one knee, dropping the bat at his feet. Blood poured down his injured arm.
Realizing The Ripper was injured, Enzo heckled him.
“Feeling good, Jack,” he said loudly. “Come and get some more,” he said.
There was brief silence. The utter stillness unnerved Enzo, but he stood ready with gun in hand. Then with the fury of a wild bull, The Ripper charged at Enzo. He steadied himself and fired two bullets into Jack’s chest.
But the relentless killer lunged forward, stabbing Enzo in the stomach. He fell to the floor in pain.