Skinny-Liv and Abigail rushed through the door, only to find themselves in a room lined all around with doors. Behind them, they could hear faun-Liv shouting. “Not that way! No, not that way!”
“Shit.” Abigail closed the door behind them. “If you were Liv – well. Which way would you go?”
“Never the first door, never the last door, never the middle door,” Liv answered immediately. “Probably – well, look, the problem is, I didn’t drink the magical Kool-Aid candy or whatever it was. I’m not the one leaving my friends – or self, whatever – behind. So I could be wrong. And if I’m wrong, we might never see her again.”
Abigail huffed. “That’s not – we have to. We have to find her. She’s my friend.” She knew she sounded plaintive. She also knew she was pleading more with the universe than with this Liv in front of her. “She’s… I keep an eye on her.”
“I know.” Liv’s voice was more gentle than it ever was. “You always do a good job of it, too. Come on, let’s pick a door. We can guess or hope or – wet footprints!” She pointed down at the quickly-fading splashes on the ground. “She stepped in the puddle I made. Yes!“ She grabbed Abigail’s hand and pulled her towards a door. “I hope she finds her damn beavers soon so we can stop chasing her around like this. It’s not – it’s not safe.” Her hands squeezed tighter on Abigail’s.
“No. It’s not. But maybe if we keep going we can find home soon enough.”
“Maybe…” Liv looked uncertain. “Maybe. I don’t know. I feel like that first mall cursed us, don’t you?”
“I thought it was the lady with the books — but you didn’t go to her. She’s the one that pointed out the door that led to the first bad place.”
“Assuming that that was the first bad place… Well. Have you found any good places yet?”
“I thought this one was going to be, but… well, it didn’t turn out to be very nice.” She gestured at the door. “Let’s go?”
“Let’s go.” Liv swung the door open and they stepped forward.
Smoke and soot hung in the air, a thick, choking fog. Abigail pulled her shirt up over her nose while Liv, who had planned ahead, wrapped a scarf over her face.
“This—” Abigail choked on the words.
“Mmm-hrrm.” Liv tugged her forward with a grunt. “Mmm.”
That’s very explanatory, Abigail didn’t say. Where were they going?
Where appeared to be down stairs.
Down stairs and through a broken-glass window and into what looked like it had been a Sears. Sears wasn’t on fire, and the smoke wasn’t as bad in this part of the building.
“But – “ She took a breath. “But where. Where is Liv?”
And where were they going to go? She turned slowly in a circle. “Back door.” She tilted her head. “If we have to. What happens if we go outside?”
“Have you found an exterior door yet? Because the closest I’ve been to outside was that treehouse, and I’m pretty sure that was still in the mall. I don’t think we can get outside – which, uh. Might mean that I can’t go home with you. Even if we don’t find your Liv, and we really ought to. As annoying as she is. Am I always that annoying?”
“Only when you’ve had too much sugar. Or maybe, well, too much magical candy and then someone promising you they’d show you Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. Oh, we should look at the fountains. If we can get there without being burned, that is. We have to try, at least…” She realized her heart was sinking. She was also starving. “If we get out of here, I am never going to the mall without snacks, a weapon, and a first aid kit again.”
“If we get out of here, I’m just never going to the mall again. I’ll do all my shopping online or at polite little boutique stores that don’t try to eat you.”
“I haven’t – okay, I’m not going to tempt fate. We might go around a corner and find one that wants to eat us. “Okay. Let’s see. If I was Liv – If I was Liv on a drug-induced search for beavers, I would probably go to the toy store. Or I’d go to Rue 21, since she seems determined to find that. or a book store.”
“You know her better than I do.” Liv made a face. “I wonder how different we are. Like, how different you are from – from Abby. Or the satyr-or-faun or whatever she was, how different she is from us?”
“I wonder – I wonder a lot of things. But, uh.” Abigail started walking slowly back towards the mall. “This is awkward, but – are your parents still together?”
“What? Yeah. There was this bit of a fight when I was eleven but – oh. Oh, really?” She put her hands over her face. “Did Dad…”
She didn’t want to guess at what Liv might be asking, and she didn’t want to answer, so she just waited.
Liv took that as answer enough. “Damn. No wonder she wants the fantasy world. But still. We have to find her. We have to – can I take her home with me?”
“About as likely as her taking you home with her. And what would I do, anyway?”
“Come home with us, too? I bet you could fit in just fine, being – well, being Abby.”
“If we find any sort of world that looks right, we’re taking it,” Abigail decided. “All three of us. And whoever else we find. And if some other usses find us-”
She was cut off as the floor shook and a rumble came closer and closer, down the main hall of the mall.
“Run!” Liv suggested, and they ran.