Susan felt she was being watched, and she was. On the other side of the room five life-sized manikins sat against the wall, staring at her with dead eyes. Between her and the dolls, the floor was strewn with bandages, fake wounds and makeshift slings and splints. As she worked, Susan found herself humming the tune to that old Michael Jackson song ‘Smooth Criminal’. She paused, looked up at the dolls and sung the line “Are you OK, Annie?’ Seven years ago she had been at a bus stop when a man who had been running to catch the bus had a heart attack at her feet. She had no idea what to do and the notion that this man could die infront of her terrified her. That day someone else at the bus stop knew what to do and the man survived. The next day Susan enrolled in a first aid course. When she had her two children her obsession with safety was overwhelming, and she began teaching the first aid courses as a release. The stars of her lessons were the cardio-pulmonary resuscitation dolls that lay against the wall. They were called Resuscitation Annie, and their face was modeled on a young Parisian girl who drowned in the river Seine in the late 19th century. The dolls had inflatable lungs so that students could watch the chest rise and fall if they performed the correct CPR procedure and movable joints so that they could be moved into the recovery position. Susan had heard all the jokes; cries of “Breath damn it breath!’ as melodramatic individuals pumped furiously at a dummies chest, the Frankensteinien utterances that the lifeless corpse is now “alive, it’s alive!” And of course, there was always one student who gropes the doll’s molded plastic breast and steals a kiss.
Susan sat on the floor, rolling up bandages and repacking the first aid kits from her last lesson. The afternoon sun filtered through the windows, throwing elongated shadows across the room. It was bare; a desk, a water cooler, a few educational posters taped to the walls. At the end of the room a door led out to a corridor. At the end of the corridor was a flight of stairs and at the base of those stairs was the street outside and at the end of the street outside was Susan’s’ car and beyond that lay her weekend; her daughter’s netball game on Saturday morning and then the mad drive across town to reach her son’s soccer game. The door to Susan’s left was to the storage closet, which must be repacked with all the equipment which currently lay scattered across the floor, The door to Susan’s right opened into a small office with a filing cabinet, a pot plant, a chair and another desk, upon which sat the exam papers from the class which had just finished. The last of the first aid kits packed away, Susan stood, stretching her back. Then she heard it. A single breath. More like a gasp really, as one does when surfacing from the bottom of a swimming pool. A deep, life-giving gasp that draws oxygen far down into the lungs, filling the chest and silencing that voice that screams out ‘Air! Air! I need air!’ Susan spun around in alarm. She was no longer prone to hysterics; the cornerstone of good first aid is to always remain calm, however there was something unsettling her this afternoon. The setting sun was stretching on like it didn’t want to give in to darkness and the silence of the empty office block filled the atmosphere with melancholy desperation. And now she was hearing things. The room was still empty. The five CPR dolls still studied her and Susan still had to mark her student’s written exams before she could go home. Susan let out a breath, unaware that she had been holding it, and in response the water cooler gave a rude burp. A few fat, slow bubbles of air rose from the bottom of the water jug and lazily made their way upwards towards their comrades in the pocket of air above the water line. Susan smiled, mocking her own sense of alarm. “Leaps tall buildings at a single gurgle,” she said to nobody.
Susan collected the first aid kits from the floor and carried them to the storage closet. She opened the door with one hand and felt along the wall for the light switch. All four walls held shelves of equipment: first aid kits, gloves, splints, slings, blankets, resuscitation masks, defibrillators, first aid manuals and countless other paraphernalia that she and the other instructors used to teach their skills. Susan stepped outside to collect the CPR dolls from the far side of the room and stopped. That’s creepy she thought. For the first time she noticed how the eyes of the dolls seemed to be following her around the room, like those old portraits which no matter where you stand look like they are staring right at you. One of the doll’s heads had fallen to the side, its toothless mouth hanging open in a mocking leer. She pushed the doll’s head back, gripped it under the jaw and began heaving it to the storage room. The doll slid down the wall, its arms flying upwards, entangling the limbs of its friends. Susan was wondering again why they made them so damn heavy when she pulled on the unexpected resistance, slicing her palm on the ragged edge of plastic. She dropped the doll like it was stranger’s old tissue and looked at her palm as a thin line of blood welled up and slowly dribbled down her hand. She was used to the sight of blood; had treated more than her share of traumatic injuries since her training. Always in the wrong place at the right time, she often thought to herself. She entered her office and, using the first aid kit from the drawer of her desk, washed and bandaged the wound before returning to the dolls.
When the last of the manikins had been placed in the storage closet and the door to the closet locked, Susan sat behind the desk in her office and looked at the stack of exam papers she had to mark. For a moment the thought of a cool drink on her verandah occupied her mind and she was close to walking out the door. However, she knew that the thought of the unmarked papers sitting on her desk would haunt her weekend. She picked up her red pen and began marking. It was 5:46. The other offices in the building would be closed, their inhabitants heading home. So why is someone knocking on my door? Susan asked, as she became conscious of a dull tapping noise from outside her office. Susan stood, walked out of her office to the front door of the training room and opened the door. She found a warm breeze coming up the stairs at the far end and nothing else. The familiar corridor called to her, and the sweet summer breeze carried perfumed reminders of her home and family; of the jasmine plants on her verandah, the moist, saccharine smell of her daughter’s shampoo and the alcoholic sharpness of her husband’s aftershave. It was nature conspiring to tempt her away from her work, to lure her into the indulgent weekend. Susan slammed the door closed and twisted the lock on the door handle, sealing herself together with her work and away from temptation. The tapping came again, surprising her with its clarity. From here, it sounded more like clapping than tapping. It came from the storage closet behind her.
Susan approached the storage closet slowly, fearing an imminent confrontation with a mouse, or worse, a rat. She fished her keys out of the pocket of her trousers and slid the right one into the lock. The clapping from the closet ceased. For a moment Susan believed that she heard hurried voices within the dark room. She turned the key, felt the inner bolt run free and opened the door. Darkness. Moving slowly, trying to overcome her own creeping sense of panic, Susan stepped into the room and pressed the light switch on the wall, bathing the room in incandescent light.
The closet was a mess. No mouse could have done so much. First aid kits were strewn across the floor, their contents flung across the small room. Bandages were wound around shelves and crutches and even hung from the light fixture like crepe paper at a party. Wooden splints were shattered, shelves were wiped clear, the floor a junkyard of medical refuse. The CPR dummies had been thrown from their resting place, their arms and legs twisted into contorted shapes. Constructed like some school-boy prank, one doll sat against the wall, its arms holding a first aid manual open across its lap, its finger pointing at a passage while reading glasses balanced on its nose. Another doll lay on the ground, a bandage half-wrapped around its arm. Susan’s eyes traced the bandage to the hands of another dummy which lay on the ground nearby. The scene was explicit: the dummies had been practicing first aid, the one with the manual in its hands giving instruction to the others. It reminded Susan of that macabre picture of a group of dogs sitting around a card table playing poker. Beside her, Susan caught movement.
She spun to face the movement and an involuntary scream escaped her. It was another CPR dummy, standing a foot from her, its arms stretched out as if to grab her. The doll rocked forward and Susan fled the closet, swinging her arms at the doll as she did, knocking it to the floor where it landed in silence. She ran across the training room into her office, slamming the door behind her, dragging deep breaths into her lungs while her mind tried frantically to comprehend what she had just experienced. After a moment’s thought she twisted the lock on the door, shutting herself in. She become heavy and lethargic as her body’s rush of adrenalin was absorbed into her system, and sat in her chair behind the desk facing the door. She half expected the dummies to come staggering after her, clawing at the door like the zombies in horror films, but they didn’t. There was silence in the building. Susan picked up the phone on her desk and began to punch in the numbers for the police, but paused. What would I say? Resus. Annie has come to life and has me trapped in my office? It was absurd. Dolls don’t come to life, even if they have been given cardio-pulmonary resuscitation. As the shock of the moment passed, Susan began to doubt what she had seen. She tried to reason that the rush of air from her opening the door had caused the doll to rock forward, and a trick of the shadows made it seem to reach for her, and whether she had really seen the sickly smile spread across its face as she ran from it. She had half convinced herself that stress and dehydration had impaired her senses, caused her to hallucinate, when the pacing began outside the door.
There were no windows in her office and cat-like Susan crawled to the foot of the door. She placed her ear against the ground and looked out under the door. She could see a thin stretch of carpet and shadows moving along the ground, cast by unseen legs as they walked back and forth. Susan no longer questioned her own sanity. She knew what was happening on the other side of the door and knew that they wanted to get in, to get to her. She didn’t pause to question how such a thing could be, but moved to her desk and picked the phone back up off the receiver. There was no dial tone. The phone line was dead. Susan slowly placed the phone back on the receiver. The phone box was down on the ground floor, She thought. How could they….. But she knew; she had left her keys in the door to the storage closet. All the keys to the building were on that chain. They can get outside. They can also get in! As if in response to her thoughts, there was a banging on the door, and Susan looked up in alarm. The door handle was moving, as if someone on the other side of the door was trying to open it. It’s only a matter of time until they find the right key, Susan thought. She pulled open the drawers on the desk, searching for anything that might be useful. She found the scissors from her first aid kit, her fingers closing comfortably around it, holding it like a dagger. The door swung open.
It was Annie. One of them. The manikin stepped into the office, its limbs stiff as if fighting against the onset of rigor mortis. On the corner of her mouth was a smear of crimson. In any other situation Susan would have taken it for strawberry jam, but she knew it wasn’t. She suddenly understood. She recalled the cut to her palm and realised that enough life had finally been breathed into the dolls. It was impossible, yet she knew that for the last four years her teaching had sustained the flicker of existence in Annie, keeping her alive until a drop of blood could give her strength. A drop of blood was enough to animate the plastic, but not to compensate for a human body. And that is why the manikins are hungry, why they thirst for blood. The doll took another stiff step towards Susan, who backed away, until she felt the corner of the office behind her. The manikin walked on, its inflatable chest rising and falling with each step until it stood before her. It placed its cold, solid hand on her cheek, and stared into Susan’s eyes, its painted pupils seeming to draw everything in. Susan brought the scissors down, driving the point into the manikin’s chest, the sharp steel easily puncturing the plastic. But the doll felt nothing. It gripped Susan’s head with both hands and pulled her towards it. Susan flailed out at the manikin, but it ignored her. She drew the scissors out of the doll’s chest and plunged them into the side of the manikin, where its kidneys would have been, had it been alive, but it did nothing to stop the inevitable pull of her face towards the doll’s. Susan could now feel the cold breath of the doll on her face. The manikin pushed its lips against Susan’s, and some detached part of her mind thought that they must look like lovers in an after hours office tryst. The manikin’s toothless mouth bit down on Susan’s lower lip and tore the flesh away. Susan’s scream of pain and terror filled the empty building and as the last whisper of her sanity fled, she realised she was going to be eaten alive.
* * *
Mary Ablett was locking the front door of her café, when she saw Susan Halliday step out of the Red Cross Headquarters. Mary saw her lock the door behind her and step stiffly onto the street. She cried out a greeting, but Susan did not hear. The sun was just setting, and the long shadows made it difficult to tell, but Susan looked different somehow, Mary would later tell police. Mary was sure that it was Susan she saw though, because she was wearing the same clothes that she had on when she bought a coffee at lunch. Mary watched as Susan stiffly walked down the street and around the corner. She must have had a fall, Mary told police, because she was clutching at her side, by her kidney.
Monday morning. Peter Harvey walked down the corridor to the training room. The police had been in over the weekend, but hadn’t found anything suspicious, and he could use the room. Besides, they had witnesses saying that she had left the office around 6pm. Peter sighed. He had liked Susan, but all the same was pissed off about having to take her class this morning. It was his morning off. She probably just shacked up with some young bloke, he thought. God knows she whines about her kids enough. He opened the office and dumped his lunch bag on the desk. He opened the door to the storage closet to set up for the lesson, and at first didn’t realise anything was amiss. The shelves were neatly stacked and the five CPR dummies sat passively against the far wall. Then he realised one of the dolls wasn’t a doll at all. There were four dolls and a perfect, white skeleton, picked completely clean. Susan must have bought it before she ran off, he thought. To help explain all the bones and how to treat breaks. He reached out to pick it up and somehow scratched the top of his arm on one of the neighbouring dolls. Son of a bitch! He cried as a jagged line of blood traced across his forearm. He walked out of the closet to dress his wound, wondering if he had really seen that amused twinkle in the doll’s eye.