“I’m definitely a summer,” Lucy says, flicking through the rack of blue dresses.
I groan internally. Another “What season am I?” convert. I twist my lips into a smile. “But of course you are! Look at that beautiful ash hair and rosy cheeks. We have many items in blues, purples and pinks that will look très chic on you.”
Lucy beams with the usual twenty-something selfie-obsessed exuberance. She gazes around the plush carpet and gold furnishings of my empty shop. “All these amazing clothes but zero customers? You need a social media presence. I didn’t know Jolie Femme Boutique existed until I got the email. Talk about a hidden gem, tucked down this alleyway.” She laughs. “You know, I can’t even remember entering the competition. But wow–a one hour styling session plus a free robot. What a prize!”
A few minutes later, after Lucy’s ignored all my style suggestions, we head to the change rooms with the items she’s chosen.
She pauses when she sees the plastic sheeting covering the walls and floor.
“Redecorating,” I say.
She shrugs and enters with her complimentary champagne, drawing the heavy crimson curtains shut behind her.
“Call out if you need help with sizes,” I say, before locking the door to the changerooms and walking back out front.
Darkness. I sense Lucy wake. She flails her arms and legs against the straps that bind her to a wooden chair in the middle of the boutique. Her fingers strain to reach her jeans pocket.
I could watch this scene for hours. Instead, I flick the lights on.
“Looking for this?” I hold up her phone, then smash it on the floor. She screams like I’ve broken one of her physical appendages, not a virtual one. “I’ve been watching you for a long time, Lucy,” I say.
“What?” she says groggily, pulling at her straps. “I only met you today, weirdo.”
I chuckle and reach under my chin, ripping off the skin façade.
“G-G-Gary from Accounts?”
I chuckle again. This time when I reach under my chin, my true form is exposed.
Lucy gasps, even vomits a little. I rub two of my tentacles together with glee.
“W-w-what are you?” she says.
“You know the saying: when a baby first laughs, a fairy is born?”
Lucy nods slowly.
“When a teenager first says, ‘OMG what is she wearing?’, one of us is born. We exist to save the world, eliminating one fashion disaster after another.”
“Fashion disaster? What are you talking about? I have great style.”
“Oh, Lucy.” I shake my head. “Yesterday you wore tartan pants to the office. You are the definition of fashion disaster. Luckily, we believe in second chances. For the next hour, your job is to sit there nicely, absorbing my Fashion Essentials 101. Then your test begins – three chances to choose an acceptable outfit. Three fails and…”
I wheel out the sleek red FB-6713X. “Latest model. Programmed to scan outfits and calculate a fashion score out of 100. Anything less than 75 equals failure. Bonus: pass the test and you get to take the robot home with you.”
Lucy makes a weird noise, a cross between a sob and a squeak. She mumbles, “This isn’t happening.”
I hit play on my PowerPoint presentation. “Let’s begin.”
“I’m ready to choose my first outfit,” Lucy says after I undo her restraints. Instead, she bolts to the front of the shop and desperately tries to open the door. She yells and screams.
“Soundproof,” I say.
After a few seconds, she sobs and sinks to the floor.
“Did I mention there’s a time limit for the test? Better get cracking.”
Lucy drags herself to the closest rack and removes a purple dress and orange shoes.
I sigh. “I fear you are not taking this seriously.”
I click a button and the wall between the front and back sections of the boutique retracts. Two of the plastic covered changerooms contain ladies, each gagged and strapped to a wooden chair.
Lucy yelps, putting her hand over her mouth. “Mom?”
The lady’s eyes bulge. Her arms strain against the ropes. Lucy runs towards her but I wrap my tentacles around her waist, yanking her backwards. “Ready to start taking this seriously?”
Lucy sobs, then looks at the other woman. “Who’s that?”
I mock surprise. “You don’t recognize your old childhood friend Tammy? The one who helped shape your fashion sense? The one who told you it was okay to wear double denim?”
The robot whirs and blinks before finally displaying the number 13.
Lucy looks down at her innocent green t-shirt and white shorts incredulously.
“Strike one. Weren’t you listening at all? White shorts are a big no-no. Time to say good-bye to your friend.” I press a button and a blade erupts from the wall and decapitates Tammy. Blood spurts from her torso as her head rolls back and forth on the floor.
Lucy screams. Her eyes grow wild. She grabs a pair of stilettos and stabs all four of my eyes before my tentacles can stop her. I stumble around blind, then something heavy falls on top of me. Blackness.
Thirty minutes later, my eyes have regenerated. I push the shelves off my body. Lucy’s gone. The mom’s missing too, her hacked-off bindings dangling over the side of her chair. The still closed can’t-be-opened-by-humans front door has scratch marks all over it. Damn. I only just repaired that after last time. “Lucy, come out, please. There is no escape. You have two chances remaining to pass the test.”
I turn the FB-6713X’s thermal imaging sensor on and immediately spot them, huddled together under a pile of winter coats. Idiots. Winter is so last season.
It’s been a month since Lucy’s replacement started at the office. She began well – tailored suits, pumps, the whole deal. But yesterday, she wore polyester pants – ugh. I’ve got the email ready to go. It all depends on her outfit today.
Jane Brown is a web programmer and short fiction writer who lives by the beach in Australia. Her stories have been published in The Centropic Oracle, Etherea Magazine and Every Day Fiction. She can be found on Twitter at @janebrownau or at JaneBrownWritesAU.wordpress.com.