Abby shuddered. We are in a horror movie. “We – we really are. Okay. This way, towards the security office, and let’s hope that it’s still there when we get there.” She started walking, pulling her friends closer and wishing idly that she had more hands.
Better not wish that when I’m going through a door, she mused, or I might end up with four arms or something.
They walked straight down the middle of the hall. Nothing in front of them was moving or changing, but they could hear something shifting behind them. When they reached an intersection, Olly toed the line of tile between the two halls. “Look. It’s a slider. The whole mall is like one of those puzzles.”
“Shopping in here must have been a challenge,” Abby mused. “Imagine going in the changing room and coming out in a different store?”
“Heck, trying to find where your mom parked the car.” Liv snorted. “Or — well, anything else. Where’s the food court?”
They turned slowly, all of them at once. The map was still where it had been, but where there’d been a Foot Locker, now there was some sort of lingerie store.
“Right, I have no idea how that works or why,” ‘Via muttered, “but I think we’d better keep going forward.”
They turned back around and walked forward. The store they’d been heading to hadn’t changed — maybe there was a set amount of time that someone had to be looking away — so Abby kept steering them towards the security office, or at least where it had been on the map.
“Do you think this is, uh, it’s like the sharks?” Liv’s voice was a whisper, and she kept looking around and over her shoulder. “I mean, uh, not that it might bite us, but that it came after the mall wasn’t a mall anymore? Or, I mean was it ever a mall? Or did someone design a mall like this on purpose? One mall that keeps changing its mind about where everything is, just because it wants to?”
“It’s even creepier if you pretend the mall has sentience,” Olly hissed. “Whether or not it wants to bite us.”
“I know, I know. But — I mean. Okay, the robots mall, sure, I could see that being that way on purpose. The vines one seemed like something that had happened after a catastrophe. The sharks, the fire, sure. But the the rabbit mall, the Narnia mall, the creepy horror show mall. What about those? And this — oh, and the hanging mall. I mean. Who plans a mall like that?”
“Maybe-” ‘Via trailed off as if unsure she should talk. Abby glanced over at her, hoping to encourage her into her ideas. All the Livs had good ideas — when they weren’t going a little nuts on strangers’ candy, at least.
‘Via cleared her throat. “Maybe, uh. Maybe they’re more like possibilities? Like, the malls that could be? Because didn’t you say, didn’t someone say, that they’re not really all real? I mean, that they don’t connect to the real world. So maybe they’re just like, um, prototypes? Things that could have been? I mean, some of them have people, lots of people, but a lot of them are just empty. So maybe someone just – thought them up? Or something did?”
“That… you know, that’s rather reassuring,” Liv decided. “That’s a lot better than people designing these places for other people to try to shop in.”
“I think some of the real malls we were in, back in real life, are bad enough for that,” Abby joked — well, not really joked, but she was trying to be funny, at least.
Behind them, she heard the soft sound of buildings moving. She glanced over at ‘Via. “The question is, I guess. How did we end up, then, inside conceptual malls?”
“Magic.” Olly held up her free hand. “Don’t look at me like that. You know magic is an option. I mean, we don’t know it, but I think it has to be considered. If not that, then the whole Mall is just a giant multiversal being, and before we say like L-Space, only shopping — or before we talk about the fact that we have to be careful the trolleys don’t kill us — yes of course I’ve read all of Pratchett’s books, I’m still you, I mean…” Olly shook her head. “We really, really need a better language for that — okay, L-space. Not quite that, but sort of like a single entity that crosses dimensions. So why couldn’t it exist in theoretical dimensions? I mean, since it’s in every — well, many — universes?”
They were all quiet for a moment. Abby, at least, was considering all the theoretical and fictional malls that she knew of. She twitched a little bit. “Hopefully,” she muttered, “the ones from my worst dreams don’t show up.”
“Well,” ‘Via offered cheerfully, “as long as you’re not thinking about them while you’re opening the doors.”
“That’s, uh. That’s really helpful, ‘Via.” Liv thumped ‘Via in the arm. “Let’s talk about something else, hunh?”
“Let’s –” Abby gestured. “I think we’re almost there.”
They moved past the closed and grated food court stores, the sign pointing to Security Office in front of them. Abby’s breath was coming way too fast. What if this didn’t work?
What if it did?Want more?