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Art by Melissa Mead

M is for Mall

Tim Pratt's stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror, and other nice places. He's won a Hugo for his short fiction (and lost Sturgeon, Stoker, World Fantasy, and Nebula Awards). He lives in Berkeley CA with his wife and son. Find him online at timpratt.org

Jenn Reese lives in Los Angeles and is currently writing a middle-grade adventure series for Candlewick Press. Her stories have appeared in Strange Horizons and the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology Paper Cities, among others. Follow her adventures at jennreese.com.

Heather Shaw is a writer, editor, gardener and aikidoka living in Berkeley, California with her husband and son. She's had fiction in Strange Horizons, Polyphony, The Year's Best Fantasy, Escape Pod and other nice places. She just finished her first middle-grade novel, "Keaton T., Junior Gene Hacker" and is looking for representation. For more, visit heathershaw.org

Greg van Eekhout's fiction for adults and children includes the novels Norse Code and Kid vs. Squid and stories published in Asimov's, Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, and other places. He lives in San Diego, CA. For more information, visit writingandsnacks.com.

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.
I figured Ed and the others would complain to me, and I'd tell them to talk to management, and it would be a long and tedious battle that the walkers would ultimately lose. But it didn't happen that way. The first day the cell phone kiosk showed up, the walkers stepped right up to it, halted, turned around, and marched right out the doors, not even stopping for Cinnabons on the way out.
The very next day, a meteorite came screaming down like a bullet fired from God's own gun and turned the mall to shrapnel.
I found another security guard job at the Galleria downtown. It's an upscale mall, and nobody gets let in before hours. So I work overtime, wandering a path that's a little less random everyday, keeping my eyes cast toward the skylights above.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, March 30th, 2011
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