There were screams and crashes coming from all around me. It was my Baldwin Mall alright, but the epic version.
I’d fallen near a kiosk that sold an as-seen-on-TV hairdryer, the type where saleswomen corral female customers into mall makeovers. Three girls stood in a circle by the stand, brandishing three of those fancy hairdryers like guns, aimed at a small army of the evil Ewoks from Axel’s film. They looked like teddy bears, but with long jagged claws, walrus tusks, and thick, flabby noses.
The girls chanted a rhyme over the whirr of the hairdryers. “Watch out for the heartless Redcap, because he’d rather see you dead. He’ll squeeze out all your blood, and wear it on his head.”
At the moment, the Heartless Redcaps weren’t looking too good. One weakly raised a clawed hand, then let it fall. Two had already collapsed. Their blood-dyed hats were bone dry.
I didn’t have time to marvel before my headset crackled to life. I heard Kevin’s voice.
“Damien, do you copy? Please respond if you can hear this!”
I ignored him. I approached the crack I’d been ejected from. I traced it with my fingers, prodded it, and even tried running through the wall - Platform 9 3/4 style. Nothing. It was just a crack. As a means of transportation between dimensions, it only went one way.
Noor. That… thing had Noor. I had to get back.
How had she gotten there?
I staggered into the hallway. The two Black-Eyed Girls flew past me, viciously pursued by a blue-skinned hag in a dress made of something that wasn’t leather.
CRASH! I jumped. A large plastic egg had landed at my feet.
“Sorry!” Avni Ali yelled. She hopped back into form, then roundhouse-kicked the head off another roaming mannequin.
I looked to my right and almost screamed. Adam and Tyler had a mile-long, meter-thick red worm wrapped around a support post. Long rubber gloves on their hands, they tied the colossal invertebrate’s fleshy bulk to the post with Tyler’s scarf-rope. It looked dead.
Adam noticed me looking. “Mongolian Death Worm. It ate a clown.”
I ran the rest of the way to Grandma’s Attic.
Through the glass door, I could see flickering light. The door was unlocked. I slammed and locked it behind me, then immediately peered about for lurking supernatural creatures. Nothing moved, but the life-sized, porcelain snow princesses were gone. This didn't surprise me. I’d always suspected they’d come to life one day, with a taste for human flesh. Today was their day.
The big photograph, the picture of three children standing on a beach, had been taken down. It rested on the floor. In its place was a small wall safe. It looked as though the picture had been hung to hide the safe, and the safe was wide open. Wide open and empty.
The air smelled sweet and spicy. I turned towards the source of the flickering.
Behind the register was a door.
A now-familiar white door with a gold knob. Except, unlike the other doors, this one was slightly ajar. I looked down.
At the foot of the door, a little altar had been set up, complete with a lit candle. A cinnamon Acatec candle, mounted on one of the little stands they sold at Lady Grace. There were chairs on each side of the candle, occupied by toys.
To the left was a mutilated teddy bear. It had been cut open then hastily stitched back together with red thread and stuffed with… rice? White kernels leaked from the bear. To the right was a mutilated doll. Her eyes had been X’d out with black marker, a hand was sliced off, and a pair of scissors stabbed through her torso.
And, looped around the candle, was something very familiar. My cross necklace.
The candle danced, little black shadow figures tumbled. Ever so slightly, the door edged open. It was inviting me in. It wanted me to walk through it.
I needed to go back. I needed to save Noor. Entranced, I clutched the handle.
Then I stopped.
I stepped back. No. This wasn’t right.
The Old One needed one thing. Me. So why hadn’t he followed me?
Why, instead of coming after me, had he instead lured me to his shadowy grey dimension, then snatched Noor as… what? Another hostage? The whole mall combined was no match for that Godzilla-sized, tentacled thing he’d turned himself into. Why had he waited so long to take that form?
Because he couldn’t.
The Old One couldn’t take his monstrous form in our world. In our dimension he was weak.
The Old One sent minions after me because he was too weak to face me himself. He had gathered some strength, he could temporarily turn into a black-eyed human and freak me out, but he couldn’t do much actual damage. Not until I was dead. If he wanted his “body fit to hunt,” he needed three wins out of five.
The Old One wanted me to go back for Noor. He was banking on home court advantage. On the assumption I’d barge through that door and back onto his plane, where he was a Lovecraftian horror and I was the powerless one.
I slammed the door shut and blew out the candle. Like an optical illusion, the door faded into unbroken wall.
I leaned on the register. My hand brushed loose paper. There was a mess of it laid out - old pictures, a map of the mall, some notes in some Asian language, and a loosely-bound old notebook with similar writing.
I pulled out my phone to use as a light source, and was immediately distracted by the twenty-three missed calls and mass of text messages from Noor. My phone was still on silent. I shoved the rice-filled bear aside, sat, and read through all of them.
Call me, call me, please call me, seriously Damien I need to talk to you. After eighteen of those, I started getting somewhere.
5:08 Damien I don’t know why you’re ignoring me, but THIS IS IMPORTANT. If you get this, PLEASE read it
5:08 I FIGURED OUT YOUR MISSING CLUE
5:10 Remember the Furby? The Furby that started talking with no batteries? Remember how I was recording you on my phone? I had that recording saved. And I got everything the Furby said. I listened to it at least fifty times.
5:12 I assumed it wouldn’t be in a language you don’t understand because the clue was specifically for you. Then I thought about the gate symbol tattooed on your wrist, and how it’s upside down. So I imported the audio file to my roommate’s computer. She has sound editing software, and I was able to play it backwards.
5:15 Backwards didn’t work. So I wrote it out phonetically to see if I was missing anything. I tried turning the individual words backwards. That didn’t work either. I listened to the recording a few more times, and realized the tone of the syllables was very defined.
5:15 The syllables were backwards. I turned them around, and it was English.
5:17 The Furby’s message was: behind the children at the water. Seventeen, nine, twenty- nine.
5:19 There’s a wall safe, Damien. It was behind a picture at Grandma’s. The numbers are the code for the combination lock.
5:20 I think the safe belonged to the family who used to own the store. I opened it, and I found pictures, and maps, and a notebook with Japanese writing. It looked like a spell book. And there was one section in English.
5:23 It looked really old. I don’t know why they left it there when they sold the store. It seems like one of those obnoxious plot devices that get overused in movies. Important, dangerous mystical things are just lying around, to be found by the protagonists when it’s convenient.
5:25 The section in English was all about other realms, mystical planes, things like that. It said “cracks go out, doors go in.” And there’s instructions for creating your own door.
5:26 It’s too hard to explain here. PLEASE call me.
I put my phone down and flipped through the notebook. Like Noor said, one page at the very end was written in English. I skimmed it. The Daemon Realm. Tangential planes where all sorts of horrifying creatures lurk. Humans are highly discouraged from entering other dimensions, but if one really, really wants to, here’s an easy-to-follow list of instructions.
Yeah, I got what Noor meant. It really was a cheap horror movie gag.
The instructions explained how to create a door. Cracks go in, doors go out. To travel to another mystical plane, one must create a door. Beings from said mystical planes sneak into our dimension through cracks. If one wishes to find an individual who is trapped on another plane, a possession of said individual must be used in the ritual. And it must be a possession of symbolic importance.
My cross. Noor had created the door to find me. And there were more texts.
6:50 WHERE ARE YOU??
6:50 They’re everywhere! The monsters.
8:12 I found Kevin in the security office. He yelled when he saw me and then he started babbling. He says you followed me through a door. Damien I DIDNT GO THROUGH ANY DOORS
11:03 Damien I’m coming to find you.
At that final text, shocked, I checked the clock. It was 11:25. Had time sped up for me while I was hopping dimensions?
I didn’t have time to puzzle over it. I had to save Noor. I paged through the notebook and the discarded papers, desperately searching for any information I could use to defeat The Old One. I needed to find a Japanese translator. Why did it have to be Japanese? Half the mall spoke Chinese. Most of the other half spoke Spanish, me included. But I could count on one hand the people I’d met in my life who could read Japanese.
Karen Naguro, maybe? I’d seen her upstairs, drawing a seven-pointed star on the break room door while Dante Riggs from Blaze attempted to wrangle a giant dragon bird with a pizza peel.
I caught a glimpse of the symbol, The Old One’s gate, on my wrist. No. There was nothing in that safe that could help me. The Old One was feeding off me. I was the key, not the notebook.
I obviously didn’t measure up to The Old One in his dimension. I needed to turn the tables and lure him into ours.
I was the key.
My eyes rested on the map of the mall. I stared at it despairingly, remembering the ruined, crumbling version in which The Old One hid, with the blue-black mold and the creeping parasites, sucking on diluted fear and anger.
I was the key. And there was one clue I hadn’t deciphered. KB. KB Toys.
Mom and me, sitting on the floor of KB Toys, building a sprawling, multicolored Lego castle. We’re adding the finishing touches, placing tiny lego men in their battle stations. Mom asks what I want Santa to bring me. I say I don’t know.
I do know. She knows, too. There’s only one thing I want for Christmas. And it doesn’t come from a fat man’s burlap sack.
She says we have to go home. It’s getting late, and Grandma will have dinner ready soon. I beg to stay “just five more minutes.” They’re handing out candy canes at the register. She promises me a candy cane when we leave.
I tell her I’m scared. I’m scared of the monsters in her story. I’m scared they’re waiting for us at home. She laughs and tells me it’s all make-believe. I don't believe her.
“Does the monster eat the little boy in the book?” I ask, wide-eyed, lip trembling.
I studied the map. I thought about the grey, collapsing mall. I remembered there was one storefront that had been completely destroyed. I could swear I saw light beyond the wreckage. Which store was it? I’d passed Forever 21, Abercrombie and Fitch… I’d been backed against the wall of Spencer’s. It was the space between Abercrombie and Spencers.
Lady Grace Candles.
“Does the monster eat the little boy in the book?” I ask, wide-eyed, lip trembling.
Mom stops laughing. Her cherry-red lips droop. I can see the dark circles under her blue eyes, her ashen skin pressed hard against jutting cheekbones. She’s in pain. She’s so, so tired. Then her emaciated face breaks into a cherishing smile.
“No, of course not,” she says, grabbing my hand.
“How does the little boy beat the monster?” I ask. I’m about to cry.
Lady Grace Candles. The one store in the mall with no cracks. No doors. No elf dolls. The one store completely devoid of supernatural activity. Why? What repelled the monsters? What destroyed that particular section of the Old One’s grey, shadowy dimension?
Like she promised, Mom takes a candy cane from the bowl and hands it to me. I cheer up a little as I tear off the plastic. Candy canes are my favorite. Mom’s smile grows. She can protect me from the monsters in my head.
I hungrily suck on my candy cane. Mom ruffles my hair.
“Wanna know how the little boy beats the monster?”
I thought about Axel’s film. The Tall Man had knelt down for a little girl. She, unafraid, offered him a cookie, and The Tall Man recoiled like it was poison. The cookie looked like the seasonal ones they sold at Mrs. Fields.
The elf dolls always smelled sweet. Evie said they smelled like weed. The scent was familiar, but I didn’t think it was marijuana.
“Wanna know how the little boy beats the monster?"
I nod, mouth still full of mint and sugar. Mom leads me out of the toy store. I, completely occupied with my treat, don’t resist. Hand in hand, we walk towards the mural.
Mom points to the sticky, red-and-white sweet. “With that.”
“With candy canes?” I ask.
She nods. “Yeah! Monsters are scared of candy canes.”
We approach the scary mural, the scary painted man who haunts my nightmares. I hold out my dripping candy cane like a sword. It isn’t working. I’m still terrified.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course!” she says, wonder in her voice, the voice she uses when she tells me a story. “Do you know what good witches do when there are evil spirits in their house?”
I shake my head.
“They burn incense,” Mom says. “They burn incense that smells like…”
And, just like that, I knew how to shove The Old One through his own fucking gate and send him crashing into our dimension. How to force him to fight on my terms. I knew. I’d always known.
Camera 5A. The zombies, trapped on the stalled escalator, were under ambush. Kevin switched to 7B. He saw the team of employees, armed with wooden weapons, firing bouncy balls and rubber bands at will.
Camera 6B, outside the second-floor bathrooms. A boy from Old Navy - Jordan Ramirez, he’d learned - stared down a child-sized humanoid with green froggy limbs, a face like a spider monkey, and a water-filled indent on its head. Jordan pulled a cucumber from his satchel.
The Kappa darted forward, snatched the vegetable out of Jordan’s outstretched hand, gobbled it down, and looked at the boy hopefully. Jordan took a step back, produced another cucumber, and set it on the ground. The Kappa lunged, too quickly. As it collected its treat, it inadvertently tipped its head, spilling the water.
Camera 19A. A shadow outside Godiva gathered itself; condensed into a tall, bony figure in a loincloth. Its skin was brown and charred, sloughing off inhumanly long extremities. It had no lips and no nose, but three holes puncturing its elongated face. And where its eyes should have been there were only deep, empty sockets. Joe Tapia faced down the extending monstrosity. The creature reached for him.
Joe pulled a rosary out of his pocket.
The charred-black Boogeyman threw its head back, laughing uproariously. It was speaking to Joe. Mocking him. Joe then threw the rosary. The Boogeyman caught it, held it in skeletal hands, and started laughing again. Then, as a gesture Kevin guessed the thing thought a high insult, it hung the rosary around its neck.
Kevin breathed in. He choked back vomit. The infected feces stench was in his mouth, coating his sinuses like hot slime.
But, on the bright side, the Boogeyman had made things way too easy.
Camera 1C, Daniel’s Jewelers and the right half of the food court. The Lizard Man leaned against the counter of Tsukaya Grill, head lolling, a half-eaten cut of prosciutto hanging from a limp claw. More accurately, a half-eaten cut of prosciutto soaked in Nyquil. It had been a good idea. Kevin was a little upset he hadn’t thought of it himself.
Camera 2C. A torso-shaped blob hovered outside Jackie’s Dogs on bat-like wings. Despite the lousy video quality, Kevin knew the light was glinting off of foot-long talons, and this was the top half that went with the eviscerated bottom in 11B. A floppy cord extended from her mouth. The straw-like tongue she used to pierce the wombs of pregnant women.
Lina was still at the grill, her back turned. The tongue inched closer and closer.
“LINA!” Kevin yelled over the radio.
He needn’t have worried. In one swift movement, Lina slammed an iron-hot spatula right on the tongue, pinning it to the stainless steel prep table. Kevin heard the inhuman screech. He got back on his radio.
“Scissors! She doesn’t like scissors, ashes, garlic, or salt!”
Lina was one step ahead of him. With her other hand, she procured a knife and sliced the tongue clean off. Another screech. And, over the chorus of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer echoing from Best Buy, Kevin heard Lina’s battle cry.
“I know where everything is in this kitchen, bitch! And I know how to use it all as a weapon!”
Camera 17A. Something caught Kevin’s eye. A young guy, tearing across the mall, yelling something to the employees he passed.
Damien. It had to be Damien. Had Noor - the real Noor - found him? And what had he found behind the gold-knobbed door?
Damien stopped in front of Lady Grace Candles, threw open the door, and disappeared inside.
But really though, what architect of fear hasn't borrowed from Lovecraft? Read the next chapter here.*****
Written by NickyXX