For a heart-stopping moment, Abby thought they were back home.
The mall looked normal. It looked right. The signs were in the right places, the stores looked normal; even the music sounded right.
“Where is everyone?” Liv whispered.
Abby turned slowly in a circle, moving all of her friends with her. “Where is everyone?” she repeated. There was – there was literally nobody around.
“No corpses,” ‘Via pointed out. “That’s a plus.”
“No anyone,” Olly added. “Not sure that’s a plus or a minus.”
“Looks like everyone just – vanished.” Liv made a soft noise. “But the power’s still on and the stores are still open. Should we–”
“–Find a change of clothes first, then go for the security office? Definitely.” Olly nodded firmly. “And then the food court.”
“I,” ‘Via muttered, “need a shower. Badly. Why don’t any of these malls have a gym?”
“Well, let’s check a map.” Abby turned in a circle again until she located the nearest map. “Here it is. Okay, we want the security office first…”
She found that she was whispering, maybe because of the emptiness of the place. Maybe because she didn’t want anything that was here to sneak up on her.
The map had a security office, a small gym down a side hallway, several restaurants, and their favorite clothing stores. “Let’s be sensible. Security office, then food, then clothes, then shower.”
“Since when are you the sensible one?” ‘Via muttered her complaint like Abby wasn’t supposed to hear it. Abby blinked.
“Aren’t I always the –”
“No.” That was all three of them.
Abby looked at Liv in confusion.
“Okay, well…” She shrugged and looked away from Abby. “Like, sometimes? You are? But sometimes you get so caught up in your little crusades that it doesn’t really matter if I forget what time it is, because we were never getting out in time anyway…?”
Abby winced. “I — okay. I, uh. I guess I never thought about it that way.”
“You’re a lot more low-key than a lot of, then my Abby was,” Olly offered. “At least here. I don’t know what you’d be like at home.”
“Me, neither,” Abby admitted. “I’m still — it’s hard to take in, you know? That I might be — that some version of me is — the bad guy.”
“Security office?” Liv offered quietly. “We can wig out after the shower.”
“Right, right.” She squeezed her friend’s hand and checked the map one more time before heading towards the Security office.
She blinked, turned away, and turned back.
“Guys….” The map was different.
Liv peered at the map. To Abby’s other side, ‘Via and Olly did the same.
“Some places aren’t moving. Or haven’t moved. But some have. Like, this here.” ‘Via stuck her finger on a store. “That was over in the blue area the first time. I was thinking about stopping there for a new bra. And this place here, that was a lot closer before. But the security office hasn’t moved yet.”
“I guess we move fast. Or…” Abby bit her lip. “If we left one person looking at the map — no. No.” She shook her head. “We’re not risking anyone getting left behind.”
“We could… leave two and two…?” Olly offered slowly. “No.” She shook her head. “It seems wrong. It seems like splitting up in a horror movie.”
‘Via’s laugh sounded a little bit hysterical. “Doesn’t seem like anything. It is spitting up, and we are in a horror movie. Or hadn’t you noticed?”Want more?