“What do you mean?” Liv-1 stared at her. “Wait.”
“No. No…” Liv-2 sounded horrified. Nauseous. “That means all the moving around, all of the trying to find a door home. It was useless?”
“Not useless.” Liv-old put a hand on each young Liv’s back and pushed gently. “Look. All that running around means sometimes you can move more than you think you can. The younger ones, they can’t do it without a partner. But it’s good. The more you move around the more you know this place.”
“But you’re… how do we get out? How do we get home?”
“Worry about staying alive first. That’s the first step. Look, I can’t take you back to the annex – the place you found me. You freak them out, and they’re just trying to survive. They can’t take that kind of stress when they’re trying to focus on the next meal. So this place, this place is pretty bad to look at, but the good news is, nothing ever happens here. It’s all gone. It’s dead.”
“If… if it’s all one mall, how can you be old enough to be my mom? You’re me.”
“Getting your head back on, aren’t you? Those crystals can really fuck with you. You know the sad part? The Back-Mall wasn’t even meant as a trap. Not even that awful place you sometimes end up in, the book store. I don’t know what happened, but I know that the Back-Mall just used to be a place for people who were a little off, a little different.”
“You didn’t answer her question.” Liv-2 twisted around and poked Liv-Old in the arm. “Did you go into the mall in high school?”
“Of course I did, I grew up very similarly to both of you, I’m sure. I went to the mall almost every weekend.”
“Yo know that’s not what I meant. Did you come in here the same time in your life as we did?”
“Yes.” Liv-old’s voice dropped low and quiet. “Yeah. I came in here when I was a teen. And I have been looking for a way out ever sense. As far as we can tell… you only get out when the mall wants to let you out.”
“And the mall hates me.” Abby wrapped her arms around herself. “It’s trying to kill me.”
“That’s question number two,” Liv-Old agreed. “Come on, this way. It’s not much, but it’ll do for a little rest.”
It was the back room of a sporting goods store. Two tents had been set up, one in front of the other, nearly blocking its door, and a crossbow sat across the entrance to the frontmost tent.
“I camp out here sometimes. Well, you can probably tell that. Look, there are two things you have to answer – maybe not you, but it has to be an Abby and Liv team. The Vics and the Sandies don’t care enough, and the rest are either completely stuck or just… like me, stuck in a little circle. So there’s two things-”
“How many times have you given this talk?” Abby felt bad, interrupting an adult, but on the other hand, it was Liv.
“I’ve lost count,” Liv-Old admitted.
“You walk a lot of pairs through here? There’s two sleeping bags in the far tent, and it’s set up so you can guard it.”
“I’ve lost count,” she admitted again.
“So what do you want us to look for?” If the mall doesn’t eat us.
“You have to find out why the mall seems to attack only Abbies. And you have to find a way out.”
“Oh, is that all?” Abby felt tireder than she could remember feeling ever before.
“And stay alive, all three of you. But first.” She gave them a little shove. “Some sleep. I’ll keep guard.”