Art by Melissa Mead
M is for Mall
by Tim Pratt, Jenn Reese, Heather Shaw, Greg van Eekhout
The mall walkers would arrive an hour before the shops opened, when it was so quiet that all you could hear was the hum of the air conditioners and the soft clip-clop of their sneakers on the buffed floor. Decked out in their jogging suits, they'd stride down the concourses, swinging their arms with elbows bent, keeping their old hearts fit. It was a nice little thing the mall did, opening the doors early for the senior citizens so they could get their exercise in a safe, sheltered environment. They scheduled me to work early morning security.
The mall was shaped like a cloverleaf, but the walkers traced a more complicated pattern than that. They'd hoof down the central walkway, then stop about halfway, right before the Hallmark store, head back until they got to the Florsheim Shoes. Then, up the escalator they'd go, walk a mere twenty yards to the pet shop, go right back down the escalator, looping this way and that, up and down, back and forth. It seemed like a crazy, random route, but there was nothing random about it. They walked the exact same pattern every day.
One day I asked Ed about it. He carried his own oxygen in a metal bottle and breathed through a plastic tube in his nose, but he was there every morning, keeping a brisk pace.
"Everyone walks a pattern," Ed said. "From cradle to grave. But it's not until you've walked it long enough that you see the maze you're in. People all over the world throughout history have made labyrinths. You'll find them in the great European cathedrals, or on stones the Celtic wise women passed down from mother to daughter, or in the rock etchings of the Hohokam. Theseus found a monster at the center of his labyrinth, a wild man-beast. Some people find God, or the Great Spirit."
That all made a lot of sense to me.
"What's at the center of your labyrinth?" I asked him.
He just smiled and kept on walking.
About a month after that conversation, the mall installed kiosks in the middle of the walkways, ugly stalls selling hair extensions and shitty jewelry and wind-up toys. It was an easy way to raise rental revenue with minimal development costs. Mall management plopped a stall hawking cell phone accessories right in the middle of the mall-walkers' path.