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A woman agonizes over upcoming trip to the mall
1359 words
It Happened During the Holiday Season

         God, I hate crowded malls, and to make matters worse, everybody’s rude, pushing and shoving. This is weird, I’m being pushed in the direction of that door that doesn’t exist, at the end of the west corridor—but wait, there’s never been a door at the end of this hall, and yet I can see it clearly. Am I dreaming? There’s nothing but a courtyard between these two stores. I guess at one time, mall administration contemplated putting a door back there to facilitate holiday traffic, but it never happened, at it hadn’t when last looked. I ‘ve always come here because it’s nearly empty during this season and I can shop at my leisure. I have to buy a gift for my sister. The mall is packed, I mean, more so than it has been for several years. I guess area businesses must have combined to give some lucrative bonuses this year. I shrugged and shook my head. “Yeah, right, like everybody’s boss is going to provide high-dollar bonuses just because. Bosses are notorious skinflints by nature; besides, not every boss believes in Christmas.”
         “You’ve got a point, you know. We must be in each other’s private space, because I was just thinking that the business administrations in this part of town must have gone all out this year, judging by this crowd.”
I turned to look at the person speaking. “Jayson,” I screamed, “fancy seeing you here on Black Friday.”
         “Yeah, well, if I’d known that the entire city would here, believe me, I would never have braved Black Friday at this place. I don’t like crowds any more than you and Marcy can always wait for her gift. By the way, Ruby, I didn’t know you were here, you hate crowds too.”
         “Tell me about it. Hardly anybody has come to this mall for years. So, the first I decide to shop a Corners everybody else decides Corner’s is the place to shop. It’s a wonder They’re still here.”
         “Yeah, the store across the courtyard has been since last year at this time.”
         “I know, it’s just weird.” A sudden chill chases up my spine and my palms display a cold sweat.
         “Look, Ruby, I’d like to talk some more, but I’m meeting a friend in about ten minutes. I’ll call you tomorrow. I have to go now.”
         “See you around, Jayson,” I called as he walked away in the opposite direction. Things just keep getting weirder. I hadn’t seen Jayson in four years. His dad kicked him out when he discovered his male heir was gay. Oh, well. I shrugged. Shit happens.
         Just then someone pushed me with such force that I couldn’t help but go forward or do a facer right here on the mall floor. When I realized I was headed headlong into that nonexistent door at the end of the hall, I threw hands up in front of my face to protect it, from what I don’t know, that door isn’t there. I squeezed my eyes closed. This can’t be happening to me. Not here, not now. God, I hate crowds.
         Someone caught my arm, but when I turned around, no one was there. Halloween anyone? My anxiety level just ratcheted up out of reach and I quaked. I thought I was going to be sick, my heart was beating so loudly that even a ghost could hear it.
         Suddenly, I came to a full realization that I was not only alone, but I was in the wide corridor on the way to a closed store at the end of wide sidewalk and two men appeared,—the only thing I was sure about was they were indeed men—and they were currently standing in front of an empty store, but I couldn’t tell much more.          Although I feared what might happen, I ran toward them thinking they could tell me where I was and how I got here. From here, they looked like two friends having a conversation, but about what was anybody’s guess.
         As I neared them, one of the men flinched and that’s when I realized these two dudes were not only naked and they were not just standing there, one of them leaned forward and kissed the other. I might have screamed if I hadn’t been so shocked by the spectacle. The other guy tensed and, oh, my God, everywhere.
But no, fool that I was, I broke into a peal of hysterical screeching laughter, then screamed and . . . gone. They just disappeared. I looked everywhere, screamed again and ran like hell out of the courtyard into the parking lot.
         Christmas could wait. I was to busy running to care, even ran into the storefront, but there was no sign they’d ever been there and then I remembered the reason the store had closed and ran instead, into the parking lot. Last year at this time, two men were murdered as they stood in front of that store. I doubted they were nude but gay, yeah, they were but then these days, what can you expect? Two weeks later, the store went bankrupt and no one ever knew exactly what had happened. And whether gay or no, they’d seen their last holiday season. I get into my car. Slam the door and push the button igniting the engine. Hate crimes are everywhere. Now to get out of this apparent other universe and back to the mall. But How. I drove like a mad person, turned out of the parking lot, and then . . .

         I woke to the insistent ringing of the alarm on my phone. Wow, what a vivid dream. I’d been bothered ever since my sister’s call two days ago. They were having a Christmas party at her house on December 15th, could I please go to the mall and pick up some cheap snacks. Oh, well, T’was the Season, I guess. I thought I could buy my sister’s gift at the same time and kill two birds and all that. But as Black Friday drew closer, my anxiety level had ratcheted up so high, I wasn’t sure I even wanted to go to the mall. I turned up the radio so I could hear the news anchor was saying: “We’re here as Conderson’s South Mall to talk to the mall security about the recent spike in business at the mall. It seems Corner’s Novelties, the only store still doing business at Conderson’s in the light of last year’s tragic events, Mr. Carlson, what is your take on the recent spike?”
         “Ah, you know, everybody wants to say they’ve been to the scene of a crime. It’s a gruesome world we live in, Miss uh?” he asked.
         “Ms. Mildred Castle,” Mr. Carlson,” I said. Why do you make such a grim pronouncement?”
         “Ms. Castle, you don’t look like an ignoramus,” he said bluntly. “I’m sure you were here last year when those two kids were brutally shot by some so-called hate crime.”
         “Why do you say so-called?”
         “Ms. Carlson, whether those two kids were gay or not is immaterial, what is first and for most is they were human and as such, they had a right to life. How religion can harp on the right to life of an unborn kid and yet remain silent when some lunatic hates mankind so much he’d actually rob them of their rights, just because some self-righteous preacher spouts hate against gay humans. What right do these so-called Christians have to tell me how to live my life? Is it any wonder the majority of Americans are unchurched and irreligious?”
         “Right on, I cried. You’ve hit the nail on the head. Who do they think they are? One of those kids was my brother and the other was his partner.”

It had indeed been a brutal crime—each man being shot three times—and I can this because one of those two men was my older brother and the other man was his lover. And all this ushered in the season of love, peace, and joy, emphasis on “Love.”
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