Children of the Mall
by Eric J. Krause
Shane’s eyes flickered open when he heard the clanking of a gate rising. He’d slept all the way to mall opening time. He stayed hidden in the planter, hopeful he wouldn’t draw any attention when he popped up. The last thing he needed was for someone to see him and question why he was hiding in the fake plants. He hadn’t been home in a while, and he had no intention of going back now.
He snuck a quick glance and found the coast clear. Most of the stores in the Eastvale Mall hadn’t opened for business yet, but there was enough activity to show that it was about that time. Shane rolled to the back of the planter, took another peek, and jumped out. He found Chase, Sonia, and Daisy waiting for him.
“Why didn’t you guys wake me?” he asked.
“Sorry,” Sonia said.
“Yeah, we just got up ourselves,” Chase added.
Shane shrugged and grinned. “Doesn’t matter. No one noticed.”
“So what do you guys want to do today?” Chase asked.
“Who cares?” Daisy said. “We live in the mall. We can hang out for as long as we want.”
The others laughed and high-fived. They spent the day just like they did any other day. They listened to CDs in Music Hut, browsed the magazines in Bernie’s Book Barn, and snuck as many free samples as they could from the food court. Sonia and Daisy spent an hour or two trying on clothes at the various boutiques, while Shane and Chase took turns with other teens on the new video game consoles in Pete’s Game Shack. They met up again at mall closing time, four teens hidden from adult view.
“What’s going to happen when summer ends?” Daisy asked as they sat under a palm tree, one of the few live plants in the mall. “When school starts, we’re going to stick out in the middle of the day.”
“Are our schools going to miss us?” Sonia asked. “Do you think our parents are still looking for us?”
“I don’t even remember what my house looks like,” Shane said.
Chase chuckled. “Me neither. My mom and dad are a blur, too.”
The girls shared a look that proved they both had the same lack of memory.
“Who cares?” Shane said. “We’re living the dream. We live in the freakin’ mall. How awesome is that?”
The others murmured their agreement, then the topic shifted. It had been a day like any other, and the night proved the same. The teens couldn’t even remember how long they’d been living like this.
The next morning and lunch hour went like any other. It wasn’t until mid-afternoon, when they decided to horse around by throwing a football in The Locker Room, Eastvale Mall’s biggest and best sports store, that everything changed.
Shane looked around to make sure no employees could see them before tossing a pass to Sonia. She caught it with ease, showing off a bit of tomboy skills he didn’t think she possessed. He then changed his mind a bit when she threw a wounded duck to Chase, who made a spectacular sliding catch down the baseball mitt aisle.
Chase got up, faked a handoff to Daisy, then rolled out to the main aisle. Shane started to run that way to create a better passing lane when he saw Chase headed straight towards a store employee. Neither saw the other, and Shane didn’t have time to yell a warning. Instead of a crashing encounter, though, Chase passed right through the oblivious employee, who continued to shelve merchandise. Chase sprawled down the aisle.
“What happened?” Sonia shouted as she and Daisy maneuvered for a better view. Neither had seen the kneeling employee. Chase stood up, his face pale.
“What’s the matter, Chase?” Daisy asked as she rushed over to him.
The employee sprung up out of his crouch and took a step back, right into her. Just as Chase had done, instead of colliding with the employee, Daisy passed through him.
The employee again didn’t notice, but Daisy dropped to her knees, her face just as pale as Chase’s.
“What’s going on?” Sonia whispered to Shane. “She passed right through him.”
“Chase did, too,” was all Shane could think to say.
As the employee walked away, Shane and Sonia ran to their friends. “Are you okay?” Shane asked.
Chase looked up at him and Sonia. “My name is Chase Rogers. It wasn’t my fault. The light was green. The other car ran the red light.” Tears streamed down his cheeks. “It was my first drive in the car by myself. Tell my mom I’m sorry about her car, but it wasn’t my fault. It wasn’t my fault.”
Chase started to fade away. “Tell my mom and dad I miss them. The light, it’s calling me.” He vanished.
“It was so dark,” Daisy said, drawing Shane and Sonia’s attention.
“What did you say, Daisy?” Sonia asked.
“I couldn’t see anything. I hadn’t seen anything for days, not since the man took me. I never got to say goodbye to my family. The man promised I’d see them again, but he lied. I just saw dark, felt pain, then nothing. Can you say goodbye to my family for me? I’m Daisy Elliot.”
Then, like Chase, she faded. “The light is beautiful,” she said before she vanished.
“What just happened?” Shane asked.
“They were ghosts,” Sonia said. “I think that means we’re ghosts, too.”
“What? No. I don’t feel like a ghost,” Shane said.
“What’s your last name?” Sonia asked. “Why are you here? Why don’t you want to be with your family? I don’t know those answers, and I’m guessing you don’t, either.”
Shane thought hard but had to agree. “I have no idea. But we’d remember how we died, though. Wouldn’t we?”
“Chase and Daisy did, once they went through that guy,” Sonia said. “Maybe we should try that. You heard them. They went into a light. I want to go into the light. That’s what we’re supposed to do, right? When we die?”
“But we live in the mall,” Shane said. “How can we get any better than this? All the fun, all the food, all day every day.”
“There’s more, Shane,” Sonia said, her voice a whisper. “Chase and Daisy found it, and I want to find it, too.” She ran out towards the front of the store, detouring at the last second to run through a different Locker Room employee. Like Chase and Daisy before her, Sonia collapsed.
Shane rushed over to her, but by the time he got there, she’d already begun to fade. “I’m Sonia Banks. I died with my parents in a plane crash. I’ll finally be with them again.” She paused and smiled at him. “You need to find the light, too. It’s so pretty.” Then she was gone.
Shane walked out into the main part of the mall. They were wrong; this was the place to be. But how would it be alone? He didn’t want to be lonely.
Then he noticed them. Three teens about his age. They stood out from the crowd, though he doubted anyone else could see them. As he approached, they looked at him with uncertainty in their eyes.
“Hi. I’m Shane.”
The three, one boy and two girls, didn’t answer. All three looked at him and then around the mall.
“Did you guys run away to live at the mall, too?”
“Live at the mall?” the girl with short blonde hair said.
“Yeah,” the girl with long brown hair said. “That sounds right.”
All three looked at Shane and smiled, and he smiled back.
“C’mon,” he said. “Let me show you the cool places to hang out. Then I’ll show you how to mooch enough free samples at the food court to make a meal.”
Copyright © 2008 by Eric J. Krause