A Change of Clothes

A Change of Clothes

by Steven E. Wedel [Amazon]


It was just after 10:30 p.m. and the clothes were coming to life.

Walt Higgins stood behind the door leading to the cleaning room, watching the garments through a small triangular window. He enjoyed this spectacle regularly, as he had since his father first showed him the clothing and how it had a life of its own; residue from the people who wore the garments. Walt had come back to the dry cleaning shop after hours at least once a week ever since. The clothes had never minded.

But lately something was different. Walt's hand toyed with a small butane cigarette lighter.

A brown suit, tailored to fit Mayor Russell's ample paunch, shrugged itself off its hanger and fell to the floor. Quickly it gathered itself and stood upright, the empty sleeves of the arms adjusting the vest and straightening the crease in the pants. The sleeves also reached up to adjust a tie, not seeming to notice that the tie was absent. The suit walked toward a switch on the wall close to the door where Walt hid.

The garment moved with Mayor Russell's casual swagger, reached up and turned the switch to the ON position. Soft instrumental music filled the room.

Other articles of clothing pulled themselves from the hangers. Business suits, conservative dresses, sport coats and slacks, leather mini skirts, and formal dinner gowns all came to life. Even the blue jeans and blouse of the young girl who worked in the drug store across the street from Higgins' Cleaning were getting off their hangers and shaping themselves to the contours of her absent body.

Walt couldn't help but grin as he watched the mayor's suit walk nervously past the rack where Mrs. Russell's latest designer dress was delicately sliding off the paper-covered hanger. The mayor's brown suit went to where his secretary's low-cut red dress was tangled in the hook of its hanger. The suit helped the dress free itself, and after standing facing each other for a moment, the two began to dance slowly to the music filling the room. One of the mayor's suit arms was resting on the curve of the dress's empty ass.

All around the room, the garments collected themselves into small groups, some dancing as the mayor and his secretary did, others apparently in conversation. Some of the clothing bounced as if the unseen occupant was laughing. The white wedding gown brought it by the mother of a young girl jilted at the alter stood alone in a corner and shook with the memory of its owner's sobs.

Then Walt saw it. The thin black suit of the traveling evangelist who had come into town about a week ago was the last to leave its hanger. It majestically walked to the switch on the wall and turned the music off with a smart click.

Every garment in the room stopped what it was doing and looked at the minister's suit. Walt pressed his ear to the door, hoping to listen, but he heard only the soft whisperings of cloth. The other garments seemed to understand, however. They rustled in return. They seemed to be objecting to something by the quick, sharp sounds of the fabric. The evangelist's suit hissed back, and even Walt could feel the authority of the garment.

What could it be saying? he asked himself. It didn't matter. Walt had seen the outcome of the sermons delivered by the empty suit. He flicked the switch of the lighter, but let the flame die out. If he could only hear . . .

Since arriving in town, the evangelist had brought his suits for Walt to clean. One every day. The preacher sweated tremendously during his orations.

And every day after that first time, things had been happening to Walt's customers. Strange things.

Ben Hurley, one of the few customers who brought neck ties in with his cleaning, had been found hanging from a rafter in his basement; dangling by one of the ties Walt had cleaned the first day the evangelist brought in a suit.

Louise Duncan had actually burst into flame while wearing a polyester dress she had picked up just the day before. Dr. Duane Benson, an old friend of Walt's, had examined the body and said it was one of those strange cases of human combustion; unexplainable.

Leroy Nicklas had been strangled by his starched shirt collar while walking from his office to his car. He had fallen on the sidewalk, clawing at throat. A passer-by had seen him fall and rushed to help, thinking Leroy was choking on a bit of food. By the time they had the collar open it was too late.

All strange deaths, and no explanation found for any of them. Walt suspected the cause of the deaths was originating in his shop.

He had gone to one of the evangelist's tent revival meetings. The minister's name was Thackery Stick. He had exuded a magnetism that Walt found nauseating, though other townsfolk had acted as if they were in the presence of God Himself. Much as he hadn't liked the man, Walt had been unable to leave the meeting until it was over. The minister was like a cobra, holding his audience spellbound as he danced before them, waiting to strike.

Walt decided he couldn't let the killings go on any longer. He didn't know why or how the garments were killing their wearers. But he knew he was maybe the only person in town who understood that the clothing retained some life after it was removed. It was up to him to do something.

He banged open the door leading from the front of his shop to the cleaning room and charged inside. He shoved his fist into the dark fabric of the evangelist's suit and flicked his thumb on the lighter. His hand was sweaty, and his hold on the switch that sent butane to the flame slipped. He tried to flick the lighter again, but didn't have the chance.

The arms of the suit coat enveloped him and squeezed. Walt heard the rustling of cloth as the suit's congregation moved forward. Would they help? He tried to crane his head around to see. He could feel the menace coming from the haunted clothes. Their anger was directed at him.

Walt redoubled his efforts against the suit, but soon realized it was useless to fight, he was too old and weak to tear the cloth to shreds, and he wasn't even sure that would solve the problem; he remembered Mickey Mouse and his broom in Fantasia. Walt lifted the hand with his lighter to the back of the suit coat and flicked the switch, ready to burn with the garment.

The fabric ignited quickly, and it seemed to feel the pain. It released Walt, and he fell to the floor, gasping for breath. The suit tried to beat out the flames on its back, but only succeeded in catching the arms of the coat on fire. The congregation of clothing fell back, afraid to help their new-found leader. The suit collapsed to the floor and quickly became smoldering ash.

Walt got to his feet, fully aware that for the first time in his life he was standing among the haunted clothes. He looked at them, unsure how to behave.

The garments advanced on him. A crowd of roughly thirty sets of clothing; empty clothes he had watched dance and play for over forty years of his life. The empty arms of suits, dresses, blouses and jackets lifted toward him, wanting him. What would they do with him?

He didn't stay to find out. Walt dropped his butane lighter among the ashes of Thackery Stick's burned suit and ran for the front of his store. He pulled the door open and rushed into the chill night.

Crowding the streets were the garments of the town's people. Horrified, Walt saw that some of the clothing still held the dead bodies of their occupants. Walt saw his brother, Phil, among the garments -- his eyes popped and his thick tongue protruding between swollen lips. There were others, but Walt didn't have time to count friends. The clothes had noticed him, and were moving toward his store.

Walt started to retreat, but found the clothes inside his store had reached the front door and were trying to pull it open. He turned back and was faced with two fresh terrors.

Thackery Stick was standing about two feet in front of him, dead. The thin body seemed to be crushed within another of the black suits. Only the face was undamaged, except for a look of fear and a trail of dried blood that had run from his mouth. The head hung loosely and rolled as the garment motioned its followers to surround Walt.

There was no need, however. Walt's corduroy pants were beginning to feel very snug.