‘All Along the Mall’, Chloe N. Clark

Illustrations © 2015 L.E. Badillo

 [ Released, © 2015, L.E. Badillo ]

Tamsin woke up at seven am, on the dot, every morning. She had a very set routine. She woke, she showered, she ate, and then she shopped. She tried, always, to cover at least 17 shops each day. That wasn’t as many as some but it was more than many.

She’d been preparing for years and was in the best shape of her life. She would get selected this year. She must have built up enough credit by now. She could feel it deep inside her. Her Vacation was coming.

Tamsin was almost to a new section of the Mall. She tried to calculate how many sections she had covered since she had begun shopping but it seemed like an infinite amount. She sometimes soothed herself to sleep at night, when her feet were aching from walking and she could hear cash registers still dinging echoes in her ears, by trying to remember what shop she had been in at various points in her life. There was the kitchenware’s store she had bought a knife in on the day that her sister was taken. There was the toy store with the large selection of fantastical creature puppets that she had been in when her parents left her. She remembered staring at one of the puppets: its flopsy ears, four legs, and gray fur. She had reached out and touched it, reading the tag as she did so, Rabbit, and wondering how to pronounce the word. Was it like Ray-bit or Rab-bit or something else entirely?

The first shop of the morning sold candy. Tamsin liked the different flavors that the companies imagined up. Watermelon was her favorite. It tasted sweet and effervescent, like a flavor that would never stay on the tongue for long, and it never did. She bought a pound of butterscotches, though they were too cloying for her. She would give them to some of the Mall children when she saw them. Placing the candies on the store’s counter, she watched as the ShopGirl rang them up. The ShopGirl wore a pink jumper and her hair was in a braid, tied off with pink ribbon. The stiches done to keep her mouth shut were also in pink thread. Talking slows transactions was a motto of the Mall. Tamsin knew this and understood it, but sometimes she dreamed of those stitched up mouths. Sometimes she woke up screaming and was delighted to find that she could still scream. The cost was seventy-three credit dollars. Tamsin pushed across her favorite card. The one she considered lucky. It had a picture of water on it. Neon blue so that it almost glowed. The ShopGirl slid the card through the scanner. It beeped once and the transaction went through. She handed Tamsin a plastic bag with the bag of butterscotch candies inside of it. They weighed almost nothing, Tamsin thought as she took the bag.

“Thank you,” Tamsin said and the ShopGirl nodded her head once, efficiently. Tamsin let a thought flit through her mind for a second: How many of her people still said Thank you? She thought of asking, but of course that would be foolish. Some mouths cannot speak. Talking slows transactions.

She walked back into the main Mall walkway. Thousands milled about her, many already carrying dozens of shopping bags. The plastic bags rustled against one another; this was one of the main sounds of the Mall. There were ways of carrying multiple bags well—some tied the shopping bag handles together and then strung them over their shoulders—and ways of not doing this well—the people who tried to wrap as many bag handles around their hands as they could. These people usually ended up losing the circulation in their fingers. She had seen many a fellow shopper with several nubs on their hands in place of fingers. Tamsin only had the one bag so far. She had much still to do with her day. She struggled her way between the throngs. Someone yelled out her name.

Tamsin spun around, looking for where the voice had come from. She saw no one she recognized. Had she imagined it? It had sounded so real and the voice had seemed so familiar. She kept walking, knowing that she would understand which store to go into when she came to it.

She stopped in front of a store called Boxed In. It sold boxes in all shapes and sizes. She had heard about it, wondering how there could be boxes in shapes other than squares. She stepped inside. There were many shelves filled with boxes. There were boxes in every possible color. She saw a box shaped like a heart. It was the color of Blue Raspberry candies. She picked it up and took it the counter. The ShopBoy wore a brown sack dress-like thing. It may have been designed to make him have the appearance of a box. His lips were stapled shut—thick metal edges sticking out from his skin. Tamsin preferred the candy store ShopGirl’s pink thread much better. The box rang up as 64 credit dollars. Tamsin used her lucky card again. She watched it get scanned, taking the plastic shopping bag containing the box when the ShopBoy handed it to her. Tamsin thought that her mother would have liked the box. How many shops had it been now between the time she last saw her parents and the box store she had just stepped out of? They had taken her and her sister into the toy store and given a credit card to each of them. They had told them to be brave and to keep shopping. They said they’d see them, again, that they just needed to get enough credit and they’d see each other again. Tamsin and her sister, Rosalie, had believed them. Now Rosalie was gone for good and Tamsin couldn’t even remember how many shops she had been in since that day.

She felt nauseous, a spinning in her head, and so she headed towards the closest bank of restrooms. As a platinum card holder, she was allowed use of almost all of them. She swiped her card and entered the nearest. She braced herself against the sink, feeling everything turning around her. She tried to focus on her image in the mirror. She steadied herself, breathing in and out, in and out, looking closer at her image as she did so. She looked worn, like one of the PhotoShop portraits you could buy and then look at so many times that the picture began to smudge off, the colors leaking out into the air. She looked smudged away. She turned on the faucet, placing her palms beneath the water. It was ice-cold. She must be in one of the level 3 bathrooms. No hot water. She splashed her face a couple of times. The water dripped down her face, down her neck, dotting her shirt. She looked at the time stamp on the wall. It was already almost noontime. She shook off the feeling of sickness, the queasy churn in her abdomen, and rushed back out into the Mall walkway. Thousands around her, milling about.

“Tamsin!” She spun around at the sound, again expecting to find no one actually calling for her, and came face to face with Prahn. Prahni had been shopping since she was very young, from what she had told Tamsin, not even remembering when her parents had abandoned her to the Mall. She was a rare one in that she hadn’t inherited a parental shopping card but had instead worked her way to getting one. Tamsin and she seemed to have the same shopping path.

“Prahni. How are you?” Tamsin’s voice held the slightest tremble, left over from the nausea and the spinning, still.

“Good! Wonderful! I’ve managed six stores already. And you?” Prahni was a fast shopper. Tamsin wondered how it was that she couldn’t have amassed enough credit yet. Maybe she was one of those who used up their credit to help get family members out of hock. Tamsin , knowing that Prahni had several younger siblings. Tamsin tried not to think of the hock shop where people’s family members stood in lines waiting to be pawned out. There were some who waited for decades and decades until a great-grandchild finally was able to release them.

“I’ve only been to two. I’m really behind today.”

Prahni peered at her. “You don’t look fabulous. Are you not feeling well?”

Tamsin tried to shrug. “I think I forgot to eat this morning. That’s all.”

There were rules in the Mall about sickness. Tamsin knew these rules too well. She thought of Rosalie being taken, her sister weeping and shaking and screaming out for someone to help her. She thought of the ShopGirl who had had walked out of her shopspace to stare at Rosalie. Tamsin remembered that there was something strange about the ShopGirl’s eyes. She was crying. There were rules. As the Mall Police told people: there had to be rules in such a large population. There had to be rules.

Prahni nodded. “One must always remember their breakfast. It is the most important meal of the day.”

Tamsin returned the nod and tried to smile. Did she consider Prahni her friend? Did Prahni consider Tamsin her friend? Would she tell the Mall Police if she thought Tamsin might be ill? “I better get going. So many shops to hit, you know.”

“Of course, of course. Get something to eat!” Prahni walked on with a wave and a smile.

Tamsin looked around and chose her next shop, trying to ignore the way her vision blurred for a moment as she turned her head.

Ten stores. It felt like defeat as Tamsin returned to her bedset. She had one of the nicer ones in the district as it had an attached, instead of shared, bathroom. She would have to move on from it soon, of course, as she was almost done with that district of the Mall. She lay down on her bed and stared at the ceiling. It was two feet above her and she sometimes stared so intently at the imperfections in it that she would see them imprinted on the backs of her eyelids when she tried to force herself into sleep. They were like her own constellations. She paused at that thought, trying to remember how she knew what a constellation was, having never seen the night sky. She remembered. It was her grandmother. She had seen the sky once and had tried to describe it: how the sky at night was a particular shade like the darkest Blue Raspberry candy and the stars were a kind of white light, like shining plates, dotted across that darkness.

There was a sound. A knocking that woke her up. She sat upright, her head smacking into the ceiling. She gasped in pain and tried to pinpoint the sound. It came again. A loud knocking. Someone was knocking on her door. She knew that it had to be the Mall Police. She pictured the black suits they wore and the clubs they carried. Those clubs with the nail heads sticking out.

She got out of bed and walked to the door. She would not run from them and she would not scream. It was a promise she made to herself, knowing she would never keep it. No one ever kept that promise. She opened the door. It was not the Mall Police, but rather a smartly dressed woman holding a Mall scanner in one hand.

“Tamsin Elle Twothirty?” she asked.

Tamsin nodded.

“Delightful! I am Harriet Emme Fivesixtytwo, Mayor of this Mall District. I am pleased to announce you have reached Vacation credit level.” The woman smiled brightly, tilting her head to one side.

Tamsin didn’t know what to do. She could feel her body begin to shake; she knew the tears would come quickly. “I made it?’

“You made it!” The Mayor practically gave a little hop when she said it. “You are to collect any items you wish to take with you and come with me. We mustn’t keep your from your Vacation, mustn’t we?”

Tamsin nodded, dazed. She changed her clothes as quickly as she could and grabbed a few things. Some watermelon candies she had saved up and a few other items. Then, she followed the Mayor.

The Mayor’s office was a square of about ten feet by ten feet. Her desk sat in the far end and a set of four chairs was in front of it. Tamsin followed her into the office, noticing that three of the chairs were already taken. Tamsin sat down in the remaining one. The three other people barely glanced at her, preoccupied probably with their own Vacation thoughts.

The Mayor sat down across from them. “Oh, how brilliant! How positively brilliant! Four of you elevated to Vacation status in one day. My Mall district should be so proud!”

Tamsin snuck a glance at the others: two men and one other woman. The men looked about her age and the woman looked maybe a decade older. It was hard to tell age in the Mall, some people just lived inside their years more.

“Oh, Vacation days, how I miss them,” the Mayor continued. Her voice cheerful, eyes sparkling, and yet something seemed off about the words. Mechanized, like a robot talking about the person they had been programmed to love: the words and tone were right but it lacked something deeper.

Tamsin shifted in her seat. The Mayor spoke again, “It has been decided that you four will visit the fields as your beginning Vacation destination. They are so beautiful this time of year! Gorgeous!”

One of the guys frowned. “Don’t we decide where we go?”

The Mayor tilted her head slightly to one side. “Decide where you go? On Vacation? Not for your first three levels of destination. You pick the fourth. It has been decided. You have fields, forest, ocean, and then your choice. It has been decided.”

Tamsin had heard of the fields in whispers only. She hadn’t thought it really existed, thinking that it must have been some sort of fairy tale told to the Mall children. She tried to ask a question but her mouth felt too dry to speak even.

“So, any last minute questions? You’re all ready for your Vacation?” The Mayor asked brightly. They all nodded.

She stood up from her desk. “To the Elevator, then!”

They followed her from her office and into a well-lit hallway. At the far end of the hall were the silver doors of the Elevator. Tamsin had heard of it— heard of its doors which slid open and took you in, like a mouth opening wide.

She was last in line. The others walked quickly, their footsteps sending tap-tap echoes up the walls of the hall. She looked at the silver doors. They almost seemed to shimmer, but that must have been the gentle flickering of the fluorescent ceiling lights.

The Mayor stopped at the doors. She pressed a button on the side panel. There was a loud dinging sound and Tamsin jumped. She looked around, embarrassed, to see if any of the others had been startled but either they hadn’t or they were hiding it well. The doors slid open. The inside of the Elevator was covered with a deep red felt, it gave it a disconcertingly textured look, like a tongue. The others stepped inside. Tamsin took a breath and thought of her parents as she stepped inside.

As the doors slid closed, music began to play. It had voices. Singing, she knew that was what it was called. It wasn’t the normal bips and bloops of the Mall music. The Mayor pressed a button on the inside panel. The button simply read Fields. The Elevator box room began to shake and shiver. Tamsin could feel her heart begin to pound, feeling the room rising. She saw one of the guys close his eyes tight, his lips moving as if he was silently composing words for Prayerland. The other woman stared straight ahead, grimacing. The other guy watched his feet as if trying to figure out why he could sense movement without being in motion. The Mayor bobbed her head along to the music, grinning in such a way that the inside of her mouth seemed comprised entirely of teeth. Tamsin felt the Elevator begin to speed up; it felt like she was falling in reverse. Then it jerked to a halt. The dinging sound came again. Tamsin didn’t jump but she did feel her breath catch.

“And here we are! You are to cross the fields to the next Elevator. Enjoy your Vacations!” the Mayor said, beaming a smile at them.

The doors of the Elevator slid open. Light poured in. It wasn’t light-light though like the kind in the Mall. This light hurt and Tamsin blinked rapidly. She noticed the others doing the same, the woman even shielded her eyes.

“Go on now, enjoy!” the Mayor said and made an ushering motion at them. They stepped out into the fields.

The ground felt uneven beneath her feet. Tamsin tried to gain her footing, it wasn’t hard like the floors of the Mall, as she looked around. There were endless rows of strange plants. They were tall and thin and green. There were bundles attached all along the stalks with strange blonde hair poking out. What kind of creature could be inside? Tamsin stepped towards one of them. She reached out. Behind her there was a ding. She jumped and spun around. The Elevator doors had closed. They were left there. They were alone.

“Shit, the fields,” one of the guys said. The others all turned to him. He studied their faces for a moment before continuing. “I’ve heard things. You know, stories?”

They all nodded. They had all heard things. Whether any of them had believed what they heard no longer held any point. They would find out soon enough for themselves. Tamsin knew they were all thinking it. She knew that the panic was rising in all of them and that if it got out of control there would be no stopping it.

“I’m Tamsin,” she said. She thought names were an easy subject to jump to. Everyone had names.

“Lorraine,” the other woman said. She had a throaty voice—deep and a little scratchy.

“Tom,” the guy who had been muttering prayers in the Elevator said.

“Mark,” the other guy said. He was the one who had mentioned the fields.

They all stared at each other, waiting for someone else to make the first move.

“Well, I guess, we should get moving. We need to cross this place sometime or another,” Mark said. He turned to face the direction they would go in. It was just through the fields and on the other side would be the next Elevator. They just had to go through the fields.

The fields themselves looked endless. The stalk plants went on and on. They began to walk towards the stalks.

“Just keep going straight. Just straight. Nowhere else but straight,” Lorraine said.

They stepped amongst the stalks. Tamsin saw one of the bundles up close. The green leaves split open and the blonde hair fell out in hunk of strands. She reached forward and touched it. Something ridged was inside.

“Don’t stop moving,” Tom said. Tamsin blushed at him having noticed her doing something so stupid.

They continued to walk.

“Where do you want to end up?” Tamsin asked him.

He shrugged. “I never much wanted to go on Vacation.”

“What do you mean? How could you not?” she asked, having never met anyone who didn’t want to go on Vacation.

“I don’t have any reason to. There’s no one I know still out there,” Tom replied. “What about you? Is there someone out there you’re hoping to find?”

“My parents. They’re by the lake. They said they’d wait there for me.”

He looked at her, a sideways glance, and she thought she saw pity in his eyes. “Well, then, we best get you to the lake.”

“You have anyone in the Mall?” she asked. He had to have someone.

He shook his head. “I have a wife and a son. Just not anywhere I can get to, yet.”

“I have a sister. She got sick.” Tamsin said. She liked saying “have” instead of “had.” She thought of Rosalie, trying to grab her hands as they drug her away. She thought of the ShopGirl crying. Tamsin had known; of course she had known who her sister had loved. She knew it like she knew her own name. The tears of the ShopGirl, though, had brought it all to Tamsin. She hadn’t seen anything so beautiful before and she had understood Rosalie more in that moment than she ever could have believed possible. She had wanted to tell her, to whisper that she understood everything suddenly. For a second, she believed she still would and then Rosalie’s hands had slipped out of any possible reach and she had disappeared into the fast merging crowds.

Tom nodded but he didn’t say anything back. There were no words necessary. They walked forward. Somewhere something screamed out in the fields.

“What the fuck was that?” Mark said from in front of them. He looked around, wildly. “Was that a person?”

“Let’s hope it wasn’t,” Lorraine said. “Keep walking.”

It had been hours. Tamsin was sure they had walked for hours, though she had no way of telling the time without the timestamps of the Mall. The sky had dipped into a cooling darkness, causing Tamsin to wonder how it was that the sky could change. The fields continued. Sometimes the stalks would snap at her. They were sharper than she would have thought. At one point, she noticed her hand was bleeding but she couldn’t even remember the moment of the actual wound. Out in the fields, sounds came slipping across the distance to them. They were often shrieks. One she knew had to be human; it held such terror.

She had been watching her own feet for a while, for longer than she cared to think about, looking up she realized that the others were gone. She looked around. They were nowhere in sight.

“Tom! Lorraine! Mark!” she yelled out. She stopped before she did it again. What if something out in the fields heard her? She tried to slow her breathing, to calm, to focus. She knew she had just been walking straight. She decided to just keep going, figuring the others must just be out of her line of sight. She took a step forward and then she heard it. There was a sound of something moving towards her, coming from her left.

She turned to the sound. It was something walking towards her, it did not run, but it walked with a purposeful gait. Something running at her would have been less frightening in that moment, its purposeful walk meant that whatever it was wasn’t afraid that she could escape it. She tried to think of some kind of prayer to say. She wanted to pray for it to be one of the others. It wasn’t. The thing that came out of the stalks walked on all fours. It had long legs and long arms. It had a long nose and sharp teeth that it showed off at her as it lifted its head. Its otherwise human head. It blinked as it saw her then seemed to smile. Its lips pulled back from its teeth, so she could see just how long its fangs were, as it scratched at the dirt in front of it with its clawed fingers. She took a step back and it took a step towards her. Then she ran. She ran as fast as she could, forgetting to even think about going straight. The leaves of the stalk plants cut at her, ripping at her clothes and skin. Her hair got caught at one point, strands were yanked out of her scalp. She thought she heard something scream. Was it her?

Tamsin kept running until she fell. She didn’t bother standing back up, waiting. She waited for it to come to her. To devour her. It didn’t. She waited for several minutes and nothing came. She sat up, blood dripping down the side of her face. She looked around. There was nothing to see, but there was a sound. It was a wet tearing. She stood to her feet and began limping towards the sound, though she knew she shouldn’t. She peered through the stalks. The creature was hunched over something. Its golden fur glistened in the moonlight. She didn’t want to look at what it was doing, but she saw enough. She recognized Tom’s clothing. She saw the splashes of dark red something. She ran again in the opposite direction.

She ran for a little while and then finally broke free from the stalks. In front of her were Mark and Lorraine. They looked back at her. In front of them was the Elevator. They stared at her, at her wild eyes, at the blood on her face and the tears in her clothes.

“Tom?” asked Lorraine.

“It—he—” She gave up, just shaking her head instead.

“I think we can go then.” Mark said and he pressed the Elevator call button. The ding echoed out into the open air as the doors slid open. They stepped inside.

Lorraine looked at the side panel, selecting the button that read Forests. The doors slid closed and the music began. They all expected the rising feeling and yet it still sent a jolt up Tamsin’s spine.

The ride went slightly faster. The doors slid open. She looked at the others. “We have to keep together this time.”

Mark turned back to her. He offered his hand. He looked to Lorraine. She didn’t offer anything. Tamsin took his hand. His palm was sweaty. He didn’t look nervous, but his fear came through in his hands. There was always something that gives people away, their deepest thoughts. A shake in the voice, trembling lip, hands reaching out to grab.

They stepped out into the forests. The trees were immense. She had only ever seen the tiny model ones at the DollMall store. She wanted to touch them and stepped towards them, Mark’s grip on her hand held her back. But she wanted to touch them. She saw something carved into the body of one. Letters. Someone’s name. Lorraine moved in front of her, staring at the names. She went forward and touched the letters, ran her fingertips over them. Tamsin saw the tears going down her cheeks.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

Rosalie looked at her. “They’re going to come. They’re going to take me. I’m sick.”

Tamsin shook her head.

Rosalie smiled, sad but trying. She stared out across the Mall to the shop on the other side. The one she went in every other day. Tamsin followed her sister’s gaze, willing her to share her burden. Tamsin could keep secrets and she would for her sister. Rosalie smiled again and stepped out into the Mall walkway. The Mall Police were already there. They circled her.

Tamsin yelled out and grabbed Rosalie’s hands. Rosalie, at last, seemed to change her mind. She screamed, clutching tighter to Tamsin, and her scream was like windows breaking, like alarms.

They pulled her, trying to yank her from Tamsin’s grasp. They raised their clubs. One aimed his at Tamsin. Rosalie let go of her. She let go of her. Tamsin felt her sister’s fingers releasing her and in them there was a plea to let go. The ShopGirl came out of her shop. Those tears.

Lorraine stood at the tree for a moment. She turned back to Mark and Tamsin. “You know I had a girl. A daughter. Her name was Natalia. She had a gap tooth and her fingers were short. She hated her fingers. She thought they weren’t beautiful. She really thought that. How could she? How could she not know that every single thing about her was so beautiful?”

Lorraine sat down, sliding her back against the tree.

“Lorraine, we need to go,” Mark said.

She shook her head. “Go. That’s it. That’s it.”

Tamsin wanted to go to her. She didn’t. Above them, something was moving in the tree branches. It was getting closer and closer to their level. “Lorraine, please, come.”

Lorraine said nothing. She looked up at the trees and saw whatever it was. She nodded, as if inviting the thing to come to her. There was an understanding. Mark pulled against Tamsin, taking her away. Behind them, something shrieked as it leapt from the trees. Lorraine never made a sound.

They made it to the Elevator. They got inside. Tamsin couldn’t stop thinking about how Lorraine hadn’t even screamed. How she had looked up at what was coming and there had only been acceptance in her eyes. Acceptance and maybe some sort of relief.

The ShopGirl had locked eyes with Tamsin after. They had stared for a second at one another.

Mark pressed the button for Oceans. They rose again. The music played. The doors opened. They stepped out onto a beach. She had seen pictures on puzzles of beaches. She had marveled at how the ground could look so golden, so clean. Someone had named it for her. The ground by the sea was called sand. She had liked the word. It felt good on her tongue, soft at first and then hard towards the end. Crisp.

It gave beneath her feet. How could anyone walk far over sand? She stumbled and fell, palms burning against the sun-warmed sand. Mark helped her to her feet. They started to trudge across the sands. She looked out at the ocean. The waves were wild and frothy. There was something out there in the water. She didn’t know how she could tell. She just knew. She tried not to look.

They reached a mound in the sand. It was a castle someone had built out of the sand. They both stopped to stare at it. Mark crouched down by it.

“Do you have anyone out there?” he asked.

She nodded. “My parents. They promised to meet me at the lake. You?”

He shook his head. “I loved someone once. They took him away.”

“He got sick?” she asked.

Mark laughed. “You still call it sickness? You don’t understand do you?”

“Understand what?”

“Sickness is just the word for anything human. It’s not a fucking contagious cough.”

She stared him in the eye. He wasn’t lying. She was sure he wasn’t lying. “My sister got sick.”

“And did they take her away?”

“They took her,” she responded.

“But, not away away, right? In front of you?”

She nodded.

She had closed her eyes as they raised the club but closing eyes doesn’t block out sound. That sound. The wet crunch of it. Her sister’s whimper. She opened her eyes, wanting to rewind time. She wanted to have given her sister that, at least. Not looking away. Rosalie’s body was hidden by the pack of Mall Police.

“No!” Tamsin screamed, lunging forward. Someone stopped her. Someone stepped in front of her. The ShopGirl. She shook her head at Tamsin. The Mall Police turned as one to look at them. They all cocked their heads to one side simultaneously. They opened their mouths slightly. They had such sharp teeth. How had she never noticed what sharp, sharp teeth they had? She wanted to attack them, to rain her fists upon them. The ShopGirl put a hand on her shoulder. Tamsin looked up at her face and a tear fell from the ShopGirl’s eye and splashed against Tamsin’s own cheek. Could someone provide the tear’s for someone else?

Then they surrounded them. Tamsin closed her eyes again. She closed her eyes as tightly as she could. She waited for the pain. There came nothing. She opened her eyes and the Mall Police were gone and the ShopGirl was gone and Rosalie was gone.

 [ Emerging, © 2015, L.E. Badillo ]

She nodded at Mark. “I never saw her body, though.”

“You never do, do you? It’s always just there in your mind that it happened without proof.”

“Your, your person? Was he all you had?”

He shrugged. “He was all I had left.”

Mark stood up and kicked his foot into the castle. It crumbled and there was no way to tell that it had once been anything other than sand. From the water came a sound. A roaring and splashing of something coming towards them. Mark took a shuddering breath. “Go, Tamsin, find your parents.”

“No. Come with me. We can run and we’ll both make it.”

“We weren’t ever supposed to. That’s our Vacation after all.”

She didn’t understand him. “Come on. Come on with me!”

She grabbed his hand but he shook her off. Something gigantic was rising from the water. Mark spoke through clenched teeth, “Run, Tamsin. Please, run. Make it worth it.”

She ran. She ran as fast as she could. The Elevator was there. She thought of looking back. She needed to see. She stopped running. She began to turn. The Elevator dinged and the doors opened. She went inside without turning back. The doors closed and there were no more buttons for her to push. She felt the Elevator lowering. They were taking her back to the Mall. She knew it then and she should have known it all along.

The doors opened and the Mayor was staring in at her. The Mayor said, “so, it was you after all. I wondered which of you still had someone left.”

Tamsin stared at her. “Please, I thought I got my choice now.”

“Where is it that you’d still want to go? Don’t you see what it’s like outside the Mall? We keep you safe?”

“I want to go the lake.”

“We keep you safe. You know what’s out there. You have people left to live for, don’t you? Isn’t there a reason to keep going? To stay here and continue your shopping?”

Tamsin set her shoulders back, planting her feet firmly upon the ground. “I want to go to the lake. I was promised.”

The Mayor blinked. “No one wants to keep going out there. You’re in shock.”

“Take me to the lake. I get my choice. Those are the rules.”

The Mayor tapped a foot against the ground, looking around as if for some words floating in the air that she could use to convince Tamsin. “You’ll be more productive if you stay.”

There was a sound of footsteps coming. The Mall Police. Tamsin stared at them. The Mayor smiled. Tamsin said, “I want to go the lake.”

The Mayor’s smile disappeared. “Fine. That is your decision.”

The Mall Police approached. One of them switched his club to one without spikes. It was just a bat. He raised it. Tamsin didn’t close her eyes.

Ding. Ding. Ding. Tamsin opened her eyes. She was in the Elevator. Her head ached, blood was caked on her face. The doors opened and she looked out. There were pebbles. She could see pebbles, smooth and wet. She drug herself out of the Elevator. Everything hurt, her vision blurred in and out. She heard the Elevator doors close behind her. She heard waves. Small waves. The lake. The pebbles felt cold. She would lie there for a while and stare at the sky. The stars were out. They looked like nothing she could have ever imagined. She’d just stay there for awhile. Just a little while and listen to the waves. They sounded soft and rushing. The sky was so bright. Eventually, she knew someone would find her and carry her somewhere like home.

© 2015 Chloe N. Clark

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