It’s been a long time since I posted anything on here. Life got in the way of me writing. Life also got in the way of me watching anything to write about. I now find myself in a job which isn’t going to require lots of time spent commuting and late nights, so I can get back to watching stuff, and then writing about stuff once again.
I did do the odd bit of writing on my commutes, so thought I’d add a couple of bits, peppered in among my normal film and TV drivel. The following was written very quickly for a short story competition. It’s based on a real shop in the town where I live, one which causes a lot of speculation. This was my take on that speculation. I don’t think the ending really works, but heck, here it is…
“Do people even buy dresses like that anymore?” mused Sara to her friend as they passed the shop. “I mean, I know a lot of little girls like to dress up as princesses or fairies, but how many mums would buy one of those monstrosities? Really?”
“I guess someone must do,” Gemma replied, “That place has been going for years. Since I was a kid. You know, around the time they invented clothes.” She chuckled. “Not that I have ever actually seen it open, or anyone going in it…”
The pair stopped and looked in the window of the large property which sat on the corner of a cross roads. There were a dozen blank-faced little girl mannequins in various stiff-armed poses peppered around the front window. Behind them was a black curtain, with a black canopy over the top of the window shielding them from the light. Each of them was wearing a variation on the same dress; a short-sleeved top and large, flouncey A-line skirt with many petticoats, each in it’s own lurid shade of red, pink, purple or orange, all festooned with bows, lace and sequins.
The women stared at the shop front, taking in the dust and rips to the red curtains behind the mannequins. The interior of the shop wasn’t visible from the street, just the slightly macabre window dressings. Sara stared at her dishevelled reflection and adjusted her scarf and hat.
“That’s true you know. I’ve not ever seen it open either. It must do at some point though. The window displays are always changing, so someone must at least go in to do that I suppose. There aren’t even any prices on the dresses. I bet they must cost a fortune.”
“Have you ever seen anyone in there though? No? Spooky, huh?” Gemma said as they wheeled their bikes around the corner.
Sara asked her partner about the shop later, as she had lived in the seaside town since she was born, and often entertained their guests with local urban myths and gossip that had been handed down through the centuries.
“Leila, do you know anything about that odd kids’ dress shop down on the High Street? Gemma and I were saying we have never seen it open” she yelled from the kitchen, hoping it would reach Leila in the sitting room.
“What? Hannah’s? Yeah, that is a weird place,” Leila yelled back. “I think I did go in there once as a kid”
Sara walked through from the kitchen, with the hot pan and spoon from the stove still in her hands.
“Really? What was it like? Can you remember?” she stared intently while still stirring the hot pan.
Leila looked at her with mild confusion as she said “Vaguely. I guess. I remember it was a very sunny day, and I went in with my mother. It was really big inside, and they didn’t have any racks of clothes, just old fashioned glass counters, filled with buttons and ribbons. The carpet was red, definitely. Seemed like acres of the stuff. I remember my mum telling me how she had been in there as a child, too. A woman in her 40’s helped us. I remember her looking like something from Upstairs Downstairs, but that must be my imagination as this would have been… hmm… probably 1980 something…”
“Why were you in there?” Sara said, still stirring the now cooling pot.
“I don’t know, some do or other my Mum wanted me to go to looking like a china doll I expect. I was kind of lucky she didn’t live much longer than she did, or I’d have ended up dressed like Barbie well into my teens.” Sara gave her a softly disapproving look. She had got used to Leila’s black humour about her mother’s passing.
Sara looked online that night to see if she could find out anything more about the place. There was a website for the shop, but like the place itself it was nothing more than a blank front page, just pictures of the same dresses as in the shop window with the name and address of the premises.
The following day Sara grabbed her laptop and went to sit and work in the coffee shop opposite Hannah’s. She positioned herself on one of the stools at the window, so she had a clear view of the shop front, and set up her laptop.
Throughout the morning she watched the bustle of the busy road as shoppers went about their business and delivery vans came and went, but there was no sign of movement from the shop itself. Sara started to search online forums to find out if anyone else had talked about it, and to her surprise there were no other mentions of the shop other than its own website.
As she was about to order her 4th coffee of the day the young man behind the counter asked her what she had been doing, as he noticed she hadn’t spent much of the day engaged with the spreadsheet on her laptop screen.
Sara talked with the other barista too, and they exchanged gossip about the shop, from it being the front for a mafia money-laundering operation, to all the mannequins actually being murdered children. All the theories seemed highly unlikely, and all would still require someone to actually be present on the premises at some point. None explained why the dresses on the mannequins in the windows were still being changed. What everyone did agree on was that the shop had been open for several generations, and had been named “Hannah’s” after the first owner’s daughter. It had been a fully functioning shop until the late 1980s, when seemingly without anyone noticing it just didn’t open its doors again.
That night Sara lay awake in bed, turning different scenarios over and over in her head. Leila had long since dropped off to sleep and was snoring softly next to her. She had been chastised by her earlier in the evening for getting obsessed again. It was just part of her personality, obsession, and she normally wouldn’t sleep well until she had got whatever she was obsessed with out of her system. At least this was a slightly healthier obsession than making the perfect pie, although she felt she had got pretty close with that one with her creamy chicken and ham creation. Resigning herself to another night of obsessive behaviour, she threw some clothes on and left the house.
Standing outside the imposing Victorian building Sara found herself wondering what it was she hoped to accomplish by being there. There were no lights, no sign of movement, no way in to the shop that had been apparent during the day either. No, she was pretty sure she would be spending the night staring at an empty building in the blistering cold and howling wind. She leaned her bike against the low wall opposite the shop, and sat down beside it. The black awnings looked like a gaping mouth below three monstrous sash window eyes on the floor above them. Looking to the upper floors she caught a glimpse of something she hadn’t noticed before, a tower on the roof. She stood on the low wall so she could get a better look, and as she did so a gust of wind blew, knocking her backwards. As she fell into the flowerbed behind she could have sworn she saw a flickering light coming from one of the upper rooms. She brushed herself down and tried to stand on her tiptoes on the wall to catch sight of the light again. There was nothing. Maybe it had just been her eyes playing tricks on her as she fell. She then realised she must have fallen on her arm, as a shooting pain was radiating from her wrist. It looked like she might have broken it, and it certainly felt that way. She picked the bike up with her good hand and started to wheel it awkwardly back across the empty street, but as she got to the kerb it toppled over and fell in the road, just outside the rear door of Hannah’s. The rear tyres whirred in the wind, but then there was a creaking sound which didn’t come from the bike. The rear door of the shop was ajar. The shop was open. Sara stood, frozen, for a moment, and was unsure what to do next.
“Well, are you coming in then?” said a thin voice from behind the door.
Sara was fairly sure that her eyes were now about to pop out of her skull as she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“You need to have your wrist attended to. I can help you, but only if you come in”, came the thin voice again.
Sara picked up her bike and wheeled it inside.
It was pitch black at first, but soon her eyes began to adjust as she picked out the slivers of streetlamp light coming through the holes in the black screen around the windows.
She offered a tentative “Hello?” into the darkness.
“Come up the stairs” croaked the reedy voice.
Looking to her right Sara saw the stairs, so balanced her bike against the counter, which was just as Leila had described it, and went upstairs. A light shone from under a door in front of her, and she opened it. Inside was bathed in warm candlelight and the glow of a fire. A woman in her early 40s stood by a large wing backed armchair near the window, which Sara noticed was completed covered with cardboard.
“I’ve been watching you” the woman said, her rasping voice not marrying with the elegant figure in front of Sara, who just as Leila had said looked like something from a bygone era.
“Yes, sorry. I… it’s just… you never seem to open” she stuttered.
“No, we don’t. Because I can’t” the woman replied curtly. “Now, show me your wrist. I can bandage that up and you can be on your way”
Without thinking Sara thrust her wrist forward, as there was something particularly commanding about the way the woman spoke.
“What do you mean you don’t open? How do you… I mean… who are you?”
“I’m Hannah. This was my mother’s shop” The woman said, as if this should have been obvious to Sara.
“But… how can you be? I thought the Hannah the shop was named after was born in the 19th century” Sara puzzled over the statement as she replied.
Hannah began to bandage Sara’s arm, and explained her story. She was the daughter of the original owner, and had grown up in the shop and large flat above it while Queen Victoria was on the throne. Her mother was meticulous in her attention to detail in everything she did, from the seams on the dresses to the buttons being arranged in size order in the glass display cabinets. Everything was organised with military precision and cleaned to a glistening shine. Somehow Hannah’s mother had become so caught up in ensuring the shop was perfect that she forgot to carry on sending Hannah to school. No-one ever came looking for her, so she carried on living in the shop, helping her mother sew and clean. Her mother continued her dress making, continued in her fastidiousness and Hannah grew up as part of the shop. Before she knew it weeks had passed since she had left the building, then months. With no-one to look for her and so much work to do, leaving just didn’t seem to matter anymore. She retreated to the flat above the shop, cleaning and pressing an endless line of dresses for her mother, then placing them lovingly on the mannequins in the window late at night.
One day Hannah woke to find her mother very, very ill. She realised it had been years since she had left the building, and was unsure even what year it was. She took her dying mothers hand as she watched her chest rise and fall slowly.
Her final words to her daughter were “Hannah, my dear. I am leaving you with a great gift and a great burden. You are part of the shop now I fear. As long as the mannequins stay dressed in the window you will stay part of it all…” and with that she faded away.
Hannah took a while to reflect on what her mother had said, and soon came to realise she meant it literally. She had spent so long within the walls of the shop she was part of it now, somehow frozen in time like one of the mannequins.
“The problem is, you see” Hannah said to Sara as she grasped her arm, “that once you come in to the shop you can never leave”