Abby swallowed against the intensity of Vic’s voice and forced herself to be strong. “Is it you, then? Because the only thing that wanted to hurt me before I came in here was you.”
Vic gave her a level, cold look. “I don’t know how it was in your reality, but in mine, that is complete BS. Sure, I gave you shit. But who gave you the black eye in eighth grade?”
Abby shuddered. “Alec Harden.”
“I thought so. And that rumor about you and Tem Brenner, that wasn’t me. That wasn’t even Tem, which I could almost see. No matter how lame you are, you’re still a step up for that piece of trash.”
Abby snorted. “You said the same thing. I mean, in my world.”
“Well, it’s true. So. Lots of people wanted to hurt you. You’re a little nerd, you make yourself a giant target, and the teachers love you. And you have the nerve to pretend you’re better than the rest of us because you don’t care what you look like or who asked you to the dance, and we all know that it’s bullshit.”
Abby blinked. She had never thought about anything like that. “We don’t – we don’t not care what we look like. I don’t. Liv-?”
“I’d rather have a good book, but you know, a good book and a guy who really meant it would be nice.”
“Dinner,” the other Liv opined. She, too, was working on some sort of protein bar.
“We’re never…” Abby huffed. “Maybe it’s just the other Abby. I don’t know. I mean.” She waved both hands. If they were ever in their own world again, it would be something to think about. “How are you doing?” she asked Vic-dying. It seemed like a better train of conversation.
Maybe it wasn’t much better.
“Once I’ve eaten – drank, I guess – as much as I can stand, I’m going to take French-me over there and we’re going to go down to the bottom right exit. I think we should be safe. We’re not going to be with you.”
“Bottom right?” Why did everyone else know more about this mall than she did?
“Someone told you about the up and left, right? I heard you saying that. That’s going to take you – right.” Vic took a long gulp of her drink. “The way I’ve figured it out, the further up the further left you go, you get more control over the way it looks, to some degree but you’re going deeper and deeper into this thing, whatever it is. Bottom right, that’s more random but it’s also, ah. It’s safer. You can’t pick, but you end up in nice places.”
She took her time about her next drink. “I don’t know, though. ‘Cause everyone I know who’s gone up-and-left hasn’t ever come back. And we were going up-and-left here when Abby died.”
“What about – that is – do you know anything about the things from the first secret mall?” Abby hesitated. “Does everyone go through there? It’s seemed that way so far…”
“What, the fancy bazaar? That place was nice, but the more I think of it, it was just bait. More bait to get us in here, right?” Vic shook her head. “So I’ve heard a few things, but it’s all rumor. None of it is anything that I can prove – I mean, there’s almost nothing around here that’s provable anyway, since it’s a bunch of stacked-together deadly malls connected by magic doors.” Her sneer was back in force. “Like some sort of Narnia thing, only a little more realistic.”
“We found a faun,” one of the Livs told her, “but I’m pretty sure she was out to get us. Which is sad, because she was me. I mean- another Liv.”
“I don’t think all of us are safe,” Vic mused. “Which means it’s even harder to figure out the truth in any of the rumors.”Want more?