Hidden Mall 56: Out of the Brier Patch

‘Via’s stuff turned out to be in a record shop a few rooms down.  She had her own nest there, but it looked more like a hovel or a hut than a comfortable place to stay.  She muttered something that sounded almost like an apology, but Abby really wasn’t listening. She had caught sight of the people on one of the record sleeves.  ‘Via was right. She didn’t want to know what the rabbit-them looked like.

Up and to the left meant retracing their steps and then crawling up a ramp to a second-story sort of area, where the sunlight was much brighter and some old music still was playing.  At least, Abby hoped it was old. In the place where one might imagine a mall would have a fountain, this one had a garden, overgrown, but with some obviously ready vegetables. They took a minute picking things; ‘Via looked ashamed and wouldn’t looks straight at the garden.

Had she not explored at all ?  Had she just been parked in that one store, waiting for someone to show up?  How depressing that had to be! How miserable did you have to be, to just camp in one spot and never come out – or how frightened?

Abby put that aside to worry about later.  She had someone with her now who hated her and had already tried to kill her once, and yet she couldn’t bring herself to leave her behind.  

She kept leading them up and to the left until they had no more up and no more left to go in this maze of brier-twisted hallways, and then holding her breath and holding Olly’s hand, she opened another door.

It was almost – almost a relief to shimmy through the round doorway and stand up her full height. It was nicer to look around and see no dead bodies, no robots, no people, nothing at all but the grey dim light of the nighttime emergency lights in an empty mall.

“This is-”  Olly looked around.  “This is the one I came in through.  No. It’s not, but it looks a lot like it.  Just dead now.”

Abby moved towards the dimmed mall map.  “It’s similar to the one we came in. But it’s – well, like you said.  It’s dead. “

“Maybe, ah.  Maybe a different word?  I mean…” Liv cleared her throat.  “I mean. We’ve seen a lot of death.  Maybe just… empty.”

“It doesn’t just feel empty, though,” ‘Via protested.  “It feels like, like a skeleton mall.  Like it’s—”

“Okay okay.  I get it. I get it.  This isn’t a place we stay, one way or the other.  Maybe we don’t eat anything here?” Liv rolled her shoulders.  “I mean, I know I’m not one to talk, but we, uh.”

“Liv’s right,” Abby agreed.  “Let’s try to not eat if we can avoid it.  Let’s try to just get through here fast, oka—”

‘Via and Olly were staring straight ahead, taking steps slowly backward into Abby.  Not for the first time, Abby wished she was taller.

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