Tea Party

Matthew Warner

Four mannequins in bathing suits and swim caps stood in the pond, water up to their shoulders. They stood in a circle, facing each other, as a tea party place setting floated among them on a platter-sized raft.

                Joan had been hiking for the past hour to this watering hole, hoping to kick off her hiking boots and cool herself from the ninety-degree, muggy heat. She laughed at the display, obviously a Mark Cline-esque prank or even a Megan Hefner-esque interactive art exhibit.

                She waded into the pond to check it out.

                Four feet out, her limbs began to go numb. Not unusual, given how surprisingly cold the brackish, green water was. But by the time she had reached the mannequins in the center of the pond, she grew concerned the cold was too much for her. She hesitated a moment, staring at the four female figures—one wore seashell earrings, another wore swimmer’s goggles—before turning her toes on the pond’s slimy floor to wade back out.

                “Do you like the tea?”

                Joan stopped moving. Nobody here but her and the mannequins. “Hello?”

                “It’s Earl Grey, you know. And the biscuits are quite good.”

                Joan looked in all directions for the speaker before she realized the small voice came from one of the wooden mannequins.

                This was a good prank on Mark Cline’s part. Despite the deepening numbness in her limbs—she could no longer move her fingers—Joan waded closer to the floating tea set to search it for an audio device.

                “That’s it,” the voice said, stronger now. “Just one sip, and you’ll see.”

                Still intrigued, still not finding anything, Joan reached out to pick up a tea cup.

                And couldn’t move her arms.

                The mannequin across from her smiled. No longer a mannequin but a human.

                “Oh, shit,” Joan tried to say, but she couldn’t move her mouth, either.

                The swimming lady, formerly the talking mannequin, waded to shore and climbed out. She found the towel Joan had left on her backpack and dried off.

                Joan watched this with mounting terror—and an inability to blink. She managed a single movement of her tongue against the roof of her mouth to discover it had transformed into wood.

                After the formerly swimming lady had walked off down the trail, the remaining mannequins slowly, so slowly, walked around the floating tea set until they each, once again, stood on a side. Joan assumed the position vacated by the departed mannequin lady.

                She smelled hot tea and biscuits.