Our species possesses a primal attraction to terror. The ancient Romans kept wild beasts for entertainment; writhed in ecstasy as they were loosed in the arena and offered helpless human sacrifice. And we - though centuries removed - are their heirs. Though we fancy ourselves a kinder, gentler sort of animal than our bloodthirsty ancestors, we still feel electricity shoot through our bones as the masked slasher disembowels the buxom high school cheerleader, or a humanoid abomination with pale skin, black eyes, and an over-wide mouth lined with sharp teeth hides in the shadows, ready to strike.
It’s all farce, we tell ourselves. The slasher is just an actor in stage make-up. The ghouls with perverted human features, sharp claws, and breath that stinks of rotten flesh reside only in our nightmares. Yet, if that were so, then how do we account for the movement we see out of the corners of our eyes as we hurry down deserted roads late at night, instinctively seeking shelter or light? Why, then, do we still fear the dark?
Biology, perhaps. Evolution. Or perhaps because, buried deep beneath the reality we experience, stuffed into mental safes to which we’ve conveniently lost the key, sleep horrors not of this world, eldritch beings bearing powers so awesome, so destructive…
Am I doing okay? That’s how you start things around here, right?
No? Come on. I used “eldritch” in a sentence, and I didn’t even know that word existed until I started lurking on creepypasta sites.
Okay, I’m sorry. I’m new here. Let’s start again. I’m Kelly. I’m 29 years old, a dental assistant by day, and an aspiring writer by night. No offense, but horror’s really not my scene.
If you’re on this wiki, I’m assuming horror is your thing. And, as such, I’m sure you’ve heard about the supposed haunting of the Baldwin Mall. Or “an unnamed shopping mall in suburban Los Angeles,” as it’s called by writers with a taste for ambiguity.
I grew up around the Baldwin Mall. I wasted my allowance money at Claire's. I folded sweaters at American Eagle for six months my senior year. Shit, my mom worked the register at Robinson’s May in the 80’s. The point is, the Baldwin Mall is the least scary place on the planet.
I’ve heard all the local urban legends. I know about the never-ending highway in Corona, that video store where they found bodies of little boys stuffed in the walls, all the ultra-violent tall tales kicked around by kids trying to shock their friends. I was thirteen once. I went to slumber parties. And not one urban legend, ever, involved the Baldwin Mall. The Baldwin Mall had zero ghost stories.
Until late last year.
All of a sudden I started seeing screwed-up post after screwed up post - on Facebook, Tumblr, even Pinterest - about unexplained shit that happened at the mall. There was the one about the little redhead girl named Janie White, who disappeared into thin air when her mom stepped out of a dressing room at Nordstroms. Another claimed there are secret tunnels leading to caverns hidden in the walls, where Chinese businessmen meet after-hours to partake in orgies and conduct ritual sacrifice. And then there was something about disembodied wails echoing through the empty mall at night - supposedly, the voices of dead children tortured and murdered at a sadistic orphanage that once stood in what is now the Baldwin Mall parking lot.
I’ll get you up to speed - all of that is bullshit.
Let’s be real. If a little white girl went missing, everybody would know. And secret tunnels? Seriously? It’s kind of racist, for starters, and it doesn’t even make sense. You can have an orgy at someone’s house. Red rooms hidden in suburban shopping centers aren’t a requirement for Fifty Shades-style sexytimes. And there’s never been an orphanage anywhere near the Baldwin Mall. A couple real estate developers bought the land from the racetrack next door in the 1960’s; it used to be a broken-down barn and a parking lot.
So yeah. I didn’t take any of it seriously. Especially since my kid cousin Damien works at the Baldwin Mall and, to my knowledge, had never come across ghosts or kidnapped children on the job. If he was aware of the rumors, he never talked about them.
Well, he hadn’t talked about them. Not until last week.
Last Saturday, Damien came over to my place to smoke, and he brought with him a typo-riddled document I’ll charitably call a work of nonfiction. Maybe I’m being too harsh. It’s not Damien’s fault he can’t communicate properly on paper; he’s dyslexic. And he’s not stupid. When we were kids I called him Mini MacGyver, because he has this innate knack for solving problems with wildly creative solutions no one else would think up.
Anyways, Damien came to see me last Saturday. And, over a pile of joints and a handle of Grey Goose, he told me everything.
What follows is his account of the events that took place at the Baldwin Mall between November 1st and November 25th, 2016. It’s told from his perspective. I just cleaned it up for him, made it readable.
My name is Damien Garcia. I was born in Los Angeles County, and spent my early childhood in the suburban California sunshine. When I was seven, my mother died. I was shipped to a tiny Florida town to live with my father. My dad’s a good guy, but he’s a long-haul trucker and spends weeks at a time on the road, so I was primarily raised by my widowed grandmother.
My grandma’s a sweet lady. Devoutly Evangelical, strict but fair, nurturing, bakes muffins. She also keeps a sawed-off shotgun under her bed and spent election night holed up in the church basement with her bible-study group, praying in preparation for the apocalypse inevitable when “that evil woman” or “the tinted whoremonger” took over the country.
I needed to get out.
I was a ticking clock. If I’d stayed with my grandma, that clock would have eventually reached midnight, and I would have turned into Ted Cruz.
Through some miracle, I graduated high school, then slaved at Wal-Mart for two years to fund my escape. In August of last year I rolled a 2005 Chevy off Dirk’s Discount Car Lot, packed my things, and drove until the humidity broke and the desert stretched before me, then eventually gave way to glimmering concrete jungle.
Los Angeles. Well, Altadena. Not exactly the Los Angeles that small-town kids from Florida dream about. But Altadena is where the old house was - the house where I’d once lived with my mother and grandmother. At that point, it was occupied by my Aunt Fiona and cousin Kelly. They were selling it. But, until escrow closed, Kelly said I could live there rent-free.
It was a bit disconcerting, sleeping in my childhood bedroom. After my mom’s death it devolved into glorified storage; to get to my bed, I had to stumble through an obstacle course of moldy cardboard boxes. If I’d been a good cousin and sorted through them like Kelly told me to do a hundred friggin times, I would have found my old toys. Legos, Matchbox cars, action figures. The books of logic puzzles I’d stolen from my grandmother.
I’d have also found my mom’s stuff, which my grandmother held onto until her own passing. I’d hoped someone tossed her collection of 80’s troll dolls, but had an inkling they were still lurking among the cardboard wreckage, just waiting to eat me in my sleep. I don’t understand why she liked those things. Something about their pinched faces, castrated bodies, and eerily realistic plastic eyes raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
And books, lots of books. Novels. The Big Book of Fairy Tales, which my mom read out loud to me every night at bedtime. Old reference books of myths and legends. Spell books, even. Ledgers of herbs. I remembered her herbs. When we lived there, the house always smelled like incense.
My mom had been into Witchcraft, Wicca, all that stuff. She was a horror writer, and a horror fiend. Her first novel was published a year and a half before she died. Blue Gables Manor by Olivia Shannon - that’s my mom! Look it up on Amazon.
There was a desk in the room as well, and on it, an early 2000’s model PC. Somewhere, buried in the virus-infested corpse of that dinosaur, was a Microsoft Word document containing my mom’s second novel. She’d never finished it.
After I settled into my time capsule of a man cave, I went to the Baldwin Mall to look for a job. I enquired about a Help Wanted sign at a little hot dog and hamburger kiosk in the middle of the food court. The new owners - a friendly Korean couple - hired me on the spot. Jackie’s Dogs. It’s an okay place to work. Minimum wage, but full-time and the job’s easy. I handle the register, pour drinks, assemble hot dogs, and sometimes jockey the grill.
I’d worked there nearly three months when it all started. And it started well before Black Friday. The first strange thing that happened to me happened on the first of November.
At the Baldwin Mall, employees have to park in the H section, outside Macy’s. Don’t get me started. All I’ll say is that both the four-story structure and the lot adjacent to the food court are nearly empty during the week, so it makes zero sense for me to leave my car in Siberia and hike across the mall to get to work every day. It’s a bullshit management power move, and every employee knows it.
My shift started at noon. I pulled into the H section at 12:05, red-eyed and hung over after my and Kelly’s cool-people-only box wine and bootlegged Chucky movie Halloween party, with what I hoped was a coffee stain on my red work shirt.
I stepped out of the eighty-degree heat and into the air-conditioned Macy’s, and guess what I heard. Seriously. Take a guess. Keep in mind it’s November the first. The day after Halloween. A Tuesday.
Carol of the Friggin Bells. That’s what I heard. Some jangly college-rock rendition of Carol of the Bells, blasting through the speakers. There were mannequins in reindeer sweaters. Garlands of fake pine needles, dusted with glittery puff paint, hung festively from the ceiling.
The last of the fun-sized candy wrappers hadn’t been swept off the ground, and they were breaking out the white puff paint.
I walked through Macy’s and into the mall itself. The mall’s built into a slope, so I entered on the second floor. On my way to the escalator I passed the other second floor entrance, perpendicular to Macy’s, with sliding glass doors leading out to the G lot. The mural entrance.
We called it this because there was an actual mural painted on the wall. It was of an ugly man, facing a silhouetted audience. The man was of indeterminate age and indeterminate race, dressed in a brown monk’s robe. He had the a face like a turnip, a long beard and stringy grey hair, a twisted walking stick, and an angry snarl.
I had no idea who the man was supposed to be, or exactly what someone, at some point, had thought this questionable artwork would add to the mall-going experience. It should have been relatively benign - it’s not like I was looking at slaughtered corpses or anything blatantly disturbing. But it emitted this negative aura. The mural, and the man, terrified me, for reasons I can’t put into words.
It was older than dirt, too. I remembered it from my childhood, when my mother would take me to the Baldwin Mall so I could play with legos at the toy store. KB Toys had been a couple spaces down from Macy’s, so we’d always parked in the G lot. I’d close my eyes and clutch my mom’s hand as we passed the painted man and his two-dimensional domain.
Now, the KB Toys is long gone. Of all the shops I remember from my childhood trips to the mall, maybe 90% of them have since closed. Even the huge Robinson’s May department store folded. But the mural stayed.
I passed Foot Locker, Pirandello’s Fine Foods, Wet Seal, Claires, and then The Bridge, which is what we employees called the narrow corridor leading to the newest addition to the Baldwin Mall - The Promenade. They’d just completed that section over the summer. New outdoor shops, a couple chain restaurants - Cheesecake Factory, Olive Garden, etc. Suburban classy places. It had been an expensive, time-consuming construction project.
As I took the escalator down, I noticed there were cracks in the wall by the upstairs bathrooms - not deep, but noticeable, like black spiderwebs against the white paint. I looked down. There were cracks in the tile floor, too.
The whole mall was falling apart. Instead of building The Promenade, they should have invested some money into maintenance.
Macy’s wasn’t the only store getting into the Christmas spirit early. The mannequins in the window of Abercrombie & Fitch were decked out in knit sweaters and scarves - you know, necessities for surviving the harsh Southern California winter. A long hairline crack stretched across the glass.
There were red and green felt elves in the window of Grandma’s Attic Toys and Dolls. They caught my eye, in spite of the conscious effort I make not to look through that window. On the other side of the glass, life-sized porcelain dolls stand on display, catching innocent pedestrians in their vacant laser gaze. I guess there are people who collect life-sized porcelain dolls. Probably people with no real friends.
The doll store’s older than dirt, too. My mom dragged me in there a couple times, whenever she was stricken with the urge to expand her troll collection. It was called Takano Toys then. The store was there when my mom and aunts were little girls and, according to Fiona, for years before that. Takano Toys opened with the Baldwin Mall in the 1960’s - only JC Penney had been around as long.
Along with the life-sized porcelain dolls, Grandma’s sold doll-making supplies, stuffed toys, and all manner of useless cutesy crap. So the presence of the elf dolls, propped between the smooth white legs of the Snow Princess Limited Collection, wasn’t so much surprising as it was unsettling.
They were small, floppy, and seemed cheap. The red and green felt bodies were adorned with white lacy ruffles and fluff ball buttons. The heads looked handmade - lumpy pink balls with painted eyes, red lips, and bat ears.
I must’ve been staring at the elf dolls longer and more intensely than I’d intended because, when I looked up, I locked eyes with a girl staring intensely at me. An employee. A Muslim girl with a scarf around her head, about my age, sneering. I’d never seen her before. I raised my eyes and plodded off. She probably thought I was a weirdo. I’m sure Grandma’s Attic attracts its share of perverts looking for sex dolls.
In the atrium at the center of the mall, the first of the fake Christmas trees had been set up, trimmed with lights and spherical, metallic baubles. Santa wouldn’t be making appearances until after Thanksgiving, but his giant sleigh had been dragged out of storage. Children were climbing on it. Their parents were taking pictures.
And with the fake pine needles came the peppermint. Peppermint mocha at Coffee Bean. Peppermint bark at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Shop. Candy cane brownies at Mrs. Fields. I considered stopping for one of the above during my lunch break. Peppermint had been my favorite flavor when I was a child and, though I’d lost my taste for it as I grew up, I did enjoy indulging in tactile nostalgia during Christmastime.
I stopped in front of Sephora. Normally, the staggered displays of eyeliner and zit cream are like wallpaper to me, but I saw their shelves and counters - like the window display of Grandma’s Attic - were liberally spattered with the exact same sort of elf dolls. Same red and green felt bodies, same pink plastic heads, same gaudy collars and fuzzy buttons, same paranoia-inducing eyes that, now, seemed to follow me.
A loud DING!DING!DING! jolted me from my thoughts. I whirled around to see a small boy abusing the bell at Lady Grace Candles. Fucking Lady Grace Candles. Someone there had the brilliant idea to put a hand bell - one of those you see at hotels - by the cash register. The kids go crazy with the thing. And something about the acoustics of the place makes the bell unnecessarily loud. I know a couple people who work at Spencer’s Gifts next door. They say they hear the Lady Grace Candles bell in their sleep.
I caught Lina’s fiery eyes ten steps into the food court.
“You’re fucking late,” she snapped, through bites of bacon-wrapped hot dog with cottage cheese and anchovy chips, as I logged into the Jackie’s Dogs register. “I’m about to explode!”
“I’m sorry, I…”
“Just remember,” she said as she pushed past me and out the kiosk’s corral doors, “I know where everything is in this kitchen. And I know how to use it all as a weapon.”
Lina’s a pretty chill manager. But she’s also five months pregnant, and she slides into hard bitch mode when she needs to take a piss and her cover hasn’t shown up. I’ve told her she should just lock the register and make a run for it - the bathroom’s, like, fifty feet from us. What’s the worst that could happen? Someone sneaks in and steals out sauerkraut? At noon on a Tuesday, the Baldwin Mall is a ghost town.
I zoned out and stared into Daniel’s Jewelers, directly across from our stand. Daniel’s Jewelers had a hologram girl set up. She was on constant replay from opening to close, voiced by cleverly-hidden speakers. But the projector was set up at the wrong angle for the person-shaped screen, so she always looked cartoonishly out of proportion. All the employees called her Minnie. I avoided making eye contact with her.
Instead, I watched two men in grey jumpsuits. One was holding a ladder, and the other was standing on the ladder and painting over something on the wall by Daniel’s Jewelers.
“D, can you grab two packs of buns from storage?”
I turned to see Lina re-enter the stand, less peeved.
“Um… sure. Do you know what those guys are doing?” I gestured at the maintenance workers.
Lina shrugged. “No idea. Can you get those buns now, before the lunch rush?”
I refrained from pointing out the buns we already had were more than sufficient for the three customer-deep “lunch rush” we could expect on a Tuesday, and trotted off to our storage room.
Every shop and restaurant at the Baldwin Mall has its own storage room. They’re all located down a hallway across from the food court bathrooms, perpendicular to the high double-doors leading to the loading dock and trash compactor.
I got to ours, unlocked the door, and let it close behind me. I grabbed two packages of buns from the massive mountain piled on a shelf, next to the boxes of ketchup packets and rows of dusty, probably expired, jars of pickles. The industrial freezer, where we kept hot dogs and hamburger meat, hummed pleasantly.
There was a knock on the door. Unconcerned, I opened it.
A little boy stood at the threshold.
He was, maybe, ten. He wore a red hoodie with the hood up and jeans. Shaggy black hair hung over his forehead. He hunched, facing the floor.
“Hey, kiddo,” I said amicably. “What are you doing back here?”
He mumbled something. I noticed his hands. They were extremely pale, snow-white, and flawlessly smooth. I envisioned the poorly-constructed hands of a mannequin.
“You lost, buddy?” I asked. “Can you look at me?”
The kid’s head shot up. His face was smooth, white, and flawless, just like his hands. His mouth was small and red. And his big eyes were pitch-black. There were no whites. There were no irises.
I stepped back, feeling like I’d been squeezed like an accordion, all the air forced from my lungs. The kid smiled.
“Hi, Damien.” His voice was a high-pitched chirp. “Can I come in?”
“No!” I stammered. “Go away!”
If the kid had come any closer, I would have lost my shit. I reached for the door handle. The kid grabbed my wrist.
My wrist burned in his grasp. I think I screamed.
The next thing I registered was the bare-bulb ceiling light, and Lina’s voice.
“Damien, what did you do?”
I blinked. My head hurt. My arm hurt.
“D, you okay?” This was a man’s voice.
I rolled over and sat, seeing stars. I’d been lying on my back on the floor of the storage room. Lina and Axel Vasquez, the head security guard, stood over me. Axel offered me a hand up.
The storage room was a disaster.
The freezer was off and open, and every single package of hot dogs had been torn apart. There were partially-thawed hot dogs all over; broken, crushed, gnawed on. Pickles were stuck to the walls, the floor and even the ceiling. Bits of bun and plastic packaging were littered among smashed dogs, balled-up chunks of ground meat, and flaccid pickles. Someone had squirted ketchup on the white walls.
Squirted ketchup, then finger-painted with it. The number 24. Over and over. Up and down the walls, from the floor to nearly the ceiling. 24, 24, 24.
Then, like a kick to my stomach, I remembered the mannequin-like little boy with the pitch black eyes.
“Are you kidding me, Damien?” Lina snapped shrilly. “Are you high? What were you thinking?”
Axel stood behind her, arms crossed, frowning. I’d always imagined Axel as a cartoon bulldog, particularly when he pulled out the “tough” look he was currently trying for. At that moment, though, I was too distressed to find him endearing.
“There was a kid here,” I said frantically. “Um… he had white skin and black eyes.”
Lina exhaled dramatically. ”God! You kidding, man? A kid with white skin and black eyes did all this?”
I looked to Axel for support. But, judging by the look on his face, he had none to offer. If he actually were a Loony Tune, his eyes would be projecting from their sockets to the shriek of a train whistle.
Lina wasn’t quite as cartoony. “I’ve got to tell the Lees about this, Damien. And I’m not going to lie for you.”
“It’s not him.” Axel finally spoke, in a forced low pitch. “We’ve had a few incidents of vandalism lately. Kids from the middle school, they dare each other to do dumb crap.”
I smiled at Axel gratefully. He gave me a short nod.
“I’ll get maintenance to clean this up," he said.
I think Lina believed Axel, but still, she glared at me for the next seven hours. I rang up chili dogs and poured soft drinks like a zombie. There had been a boy. I hadn’t dreamed him. He must have knocked me out, then gone at our supplies like the Tasmanian Devil because… I didn’t know. It seemed extreme for a middle-school prank. And why “24”? Not “poop,” not “screw you,” not “eat my dick.” Just the number 24, all over the wall, in ketchup.
There was a bump on my head and a bruise on my left inner wrist, the one the kid grabbed. He’d grabbed hard. The bruise was purple and turning black; it looked like apocalyptic watercolor. Axel had offered to drive me to the hospital. I’d refused. At worst, I’d be called a delusional psycho raving about demon-children. At best, I was a grown man who’d gotten my ass kicked by a brat who hadn’t hit puberty.
Before close, Axel came to talk to me. I’d shot the crap with him a couple times before; he usually worked the overnight shift. He was thirty-ish, chubby, with a buzzcut to hide his prematurely-receding hairline and a big nose. He gave, maybe, 75% of a crap about his job - enough to watch the cameras and walk the rounds, not enough to tuck in his white dress shirt. He liked to talk.
Then, though, he was suspiciously terse. He asked how I was.
“I’m fine,” I told him. “Did you find the kid?”
He nodded unconvincingly. “Yeah, and I’d prefer if you didn’t talk about it. Corporate knows there’s been vandalism, and they don’t want it getting out to the customers or the employees.”
He knocked on the counter, then walked off dutifully. I hadn’t forgotten the look on his face when I told him about the boy with pale skin and black eyes.
As I walked back to the parking lot, I glanced through the window of Grandma’s Attic. The girl with the headscarf was still there, counting the register. The elf dolls stared up at me. Maybe it was my head injury talking, but I was sure there were more of them than there had been that morning.
I didn’t want to catch the girl’s attention, so I turned away towards Abercrombie & Fitch. The window was no longer cracked. I hadn’t expected them to fix it so fast.
The same two maintenance men, in the same positions, were back at it again. This time, they were slopping white paint over a patch of wall between Macy’s and the dark, empty space that had once been The Disney Store.
The freaky cherry on top of my day in the Twilight Zone, though, didn’t drop until I was sitting in my car.
At Jackie’s Dogs we have a dress code, but the Lees care about enforcing it to the same degree Axel gives a crap about his job. So long as we’ve got red shirts, close-toed shoes, and name tags, they’re peachy.
Well, the Lees hadn’t been there on November the first, and I’d been in a rush. Consequently, I’d forgotten to put my name tag on that morning. I realized this when I found it in my cup holder.
So how had the black-eyed, mannequin-skinned kid known my name?
It's a bad day to wear a red shirt. Read the next chapter here.
Written by NickyXX