The rest of the story isn’t very interesting. I’ll skim through it.
The monsters, like The Old One, were gone. Every single one had disappeared from its chosen lair without a trace. The cracks vanished, and there were no more sightings of white doors with golden knobs.
I can’t tell you where they all went. Maybe they shrunk back into pitch-black crawling things and retreated to their shadowy grey dimension, now a pile of rubble. Maybe they live amongst that wreckage, subsisting off fear that, once again, trickles and drips. Maybe they’re all dead. Or maybe they were transported somewhere else, to some other plane, remote and unreachable, unless another foolish human were to create a door.
The Old One’s gate is latched and padlocked. The symbol and the X’s disappeared from my wrist. If some pending pair of morons have any desire to open a new gate, we can’t exactly stop them. But we did make it a bit harder. Noor and I burned everything she found in the wall safe.
We soon came to the unhappy realization that the monsters weren’t completely gone without a trace - their mess was still there. Half the stores were trashed. The food court bathrooms had to be bleached, sanitized, and then closed for a month before the last of the Bagiennik stink aired out. And, this time, we had to clean it all up ourselves. Because the thousands of elf dolls had disappeared as well.
On the second floor, near what we no longer called the Mural Wall, three disheveled and disoriented individuals were found milling about, utterly confused as to what day it was and how they’d gotten there.
Evie, Saskia, and Axel.
Black Friday was just as bad as I imagined it would be. A tsunami of customers inundated the food court around 7:30, when the elbowing, Mace-eyed throngs had decimated Macy’s and JC Penny and turned their hunter’s instincts towards a sodium and caffeine fix. I was called an idiot nine times, an asshole six times, and, a few hours in, a lady tried to climb on the counter and kick me in the face because I had the absolute audacity to be out of green peppers.
None of it bothered me in the least. I’d stood toe-to-toe with the embodiment of everything I’ve ever feared, and I’d come away victorious. Entitled customers were a pedestrian concern.
Corporate was, if possible, even less thrilled with the Baldwin Mall after Black Friday than they’d been before. Mostly they were pissed about the damage they had to repair, the collateral of our battle royale with the minions of The Old One.
“Well, what did you expect?” Kevin said, on the phone with his superior. “You allowed Best Buy to open at midnight. Did you not think we were asking for a disaster zone?”
But, in the weeks that followed, Corporate had less and less to be upset about. Because the Baldwin Mall logged higher Christmas sales for 2016 than any year since the recession. Considerably higher. In fact, we scored the highest sales of any mall in the county.
Kevin chalked that up to smart marketing. Smart, free marketing. It turned out the 4Chan chain had spawned a Subreddit, r/HauntedMall. Tremors of information and misinformation reverberated across the internet, growing louder and more outrageous at a rate to make a clickbait auteur’s head spin.
A week into December, the filming requests started coming from SyFy ghost hunter shows. Corporate unceremoniously rejected them all. They’d heard the rumors just like everyone else, and they didn’t want their mall turning into a Ghost Tours bus stop. It was bad for the brand.
Amateur ghost hounds with YouTube channels were banned as well. However, they - unlike their network-sponsored colleagues - weren’t technically obligated to seek permission from Corporate. Kevin was given strict orders to throw anyone with a video camera out of the mall. But Kevin was a busy man. It would be understandable if a few of them slipped, as the monsters had, through the cracks.
Baldwin Mall employees were sternly forbidden from speaking with said YouTube ghost hounds, and from inserting themselves into 4Chan and Reddit discussions that spread sensational lies. Corporate sent around a strongly-worded e-mail. I’m sure every single one of my co-workers took that e-mail to heart. None of us would’ve dared to, say, use a fake name and a throwaway account.
By the Christmas crunch, we’d amassed enough notoriety to keep the halls consistently filled with curious internet junkies hoping for their own supernatural encounter. And, while looking for ghosts and ghouls, they browsed the shops and stopped to eat.
And not all the internet junkies were disappointed. A couple reported that, while they hadn’t experienced sudden chills or shadowy apparitions, they had caught fleeting glimpses of a dog-like creature with shaggy black fur, large pointed ears, glowing yellow eyes, and a thick, full, shiny tail. It possessed catlike agility, it could jump long and high, and some even claimed to have heard it giggle or whisper in a raspy, childlike voice.
Apparently one monster was still present in our plane. I took to leaving kibble in a bowl by the trash compactor.
I remembered what The Old One said. If he defeated me, he could ride his leviathan body straight into our dimension. So it followed that, if I won, I’d receive what he promised the foolish men who’d summoned him in the first place. Success and fortune. I was a little upset I wasn’t the direct recipient of this fortune. But I was happy for Kevin. He was Corporate’s new golden boy. And that gold did, in the end, trickle down.
Four days after Black Friday, Kevin came bounding up to my register. He handed me a check.
For twenty thousand dollars.
“That necklace we found,” he said excitedly, “was worth more than I thought! Sixty grand! No idea where it came from, though. There’s never been a Tiffany’s at this mall.”
The obvious thoughts sprung to mind. I could buy a nicer car. I could afford a decent apartment. First, last and deposit would be cake - and with the remainder, I could put in a state-of-the art gaming system. Or, perhaps, a vacation. A week drinking in Mexico. I’d never seen so much money in one place in my life. I wondered what Noor would do with her share.
Then, I felt like an asshole.
Noor worked at Grandma’s Attic that day. I found her gift-wrapping a box for a middle-aged female customer, who was loudly bemoaning the fact they’d sold out of the Christmas Dream Dolls with a green dress and blue eyes. Now she’d have to settle for a Christmas Dream Doll with a red dress and brown eyes, even though her granddaughter had specifically asked for green and blue.
“It’s going to ruin her day,” the lady wailed. “I don’t know how you people sleep at night, making little girls cry on Christmas.”
Noor smiled sympathetically. “How old is your granddaughter?”
The lady froze. Noor’s nonchalant response deflated her like a balloon.
“She’s, um… eight,” she said finally.
“Oh, that’s lovely,” Noor cooed. “I used to have a sister about that age. She loved her dolls.”
The lady processed Noor’s words. When she realized their implication, her eyes bulged. She looked at the ground as Noor finished wrapping, then wordlessly took her wrong-colored doll and shuffled to the door. Halfway there, she turned around.
“Thank you so much, dear!” she said. “And, um… happy Ramadan!”
Noor graciously thanked her as I approached the register.
“Nice new trick. Better than recording them on your phone.”
She shrugged. “I’ve got something for you,” she said.
She reached under the counter and pulled out my big wooden cross on a cord. My bulky prop. For the first time in years, I saw it as something more.
My cross had incurred the wrath of the Bagienniks. It had been used in an ancient ritual. It led Noor to me like some metaphysical Google Maps. In the world of religious accessories, my cross had street cred. If I were to live up to my name and perform an exorcism, my cross might actually scare the demon.
Noor smiled. “I guess the thing finally did you some good.”
I took the cross and put it in my pocket. “I’ve got something for you, too.”
I placed a check on the counter.
“What’s that?” she asked.
“It’s my third of the necklace money. Wait a few days to cash it.”
She immediately pushed the check back to me. When that didn’t work, she tried to force it into the pocket of my jacket. It was mine, she insisted. She’d already gotten her third, she couldn’t possibly accept such a gift, she owed me so much for saving her life twice, I deserved the money more than anyone.
“Noor, shut up.”
She did. Tears leaked from her eyes.
“Take it,” I said. “Go get your cousins.”
I might have been The Man The Old One had Chosen. But we’d all have been screwed without The Woman The Old One Couldn’t Intimidate.
It’s been a few months since Black Friday. I’m scrawling the last of this from my new apartment in Eagle Rock. It’s nothing fancy - just a studio with a bed, a couch, and a little kitchen - but it does the trick. It’s quiet, which will be good for next fall, when I start college at PCC with Evie. General engineering for now. I’m thinking maybe aerospace when I transfer.
Evie’s asleep on my bed. I’m writing quietly because I don’t want to wake her. We’ve been dating since Christmas.
We still work at the Baldwin Mall. Lina’s on maternity leave; I’m acting manager while she’s gone. Saskia just quit - she has her own YouTube channel now. Horror-themed. She reads creepypasta and talks about urban legends and unsolved mysteries, that type of thing. Kevin promoted Axel to Assistant Manager. He loves the job. He even tucks in his dress shirts.
I killed time earlier scrolling through my Facebook news feed. Noor posted more pictures, from the top of the Eiffel Tower this time. She was smiling in a blue hijab and a USC sweatshirt, arms around two skinny, grinning pre-teen boys.
This is the part you’ll all find interesting. Saskia shared a link to her newest video: The Legend of The Baldwin Mall - The Moguls and the Toymaker.
Here’s a rough transcript.
Saskia, dressed in black leggings, red lace-up boots, and an oversized Slender: The Eight Pages t-shirt, is on camera, standing against a wall of horror movie posters I recognized from her and Evie’s apartment.
“Hi there, LadyBlade Legion! Today, we’re going to be talking about a recent urban legend making the rounds. Actually, considering how much this puppy’s blown up, I’d hesitate to even call it an urban legend. It’s practically it’s own fandom. The Baldwin Mall.
What, you might ask, if you’ve been living under a rock for the last six months, is the Baldwin Mall? Wikipedia will tell you it’s an indoor shopping center in an upper-class suburb of Los Angeles.
The rest of the internet will tell you it’s the site of the original Hook-Hand Killings. That an insidious gas leak in the food court causes shoppers to hallucinate. That it’s a portal to another dimension, that unimaginable creatures created by botched government experiments are kept in the basement, that children are kidnapped for sacrifice by a demon-worshipping cult that meets in the secret rooms built into the walls.
Before last November, the Baldwin Mall had zero ghost stories. Now, it has a thousand. So what really lurks in the shadows as you enjoy your Cinnabon and Boba Tea? To answer this question, we must look to the history of the Baldwin Mall. A history that was, until very recently, lost to gentrification, exodus, and time. And we must become acquainted with the two men who built the Baldwin Mall.”
A photograph appears on the screen. It’s of two men in their 40’s. One's Asian, fit, handsome, wearing a suave suit and a million-dollar smile. The other's white, paunchy, balding, wearing what I’m sure he thought was a suave suit and a goofy grin. Saskia narrates over a slideshow of the pair.
“Takashi “Jackie” Matsumoto was a dynamic figure - a self-made real-estate millionaire, World War II veteran, world traveler, amateur anthropologist, and family man. Dave Browning was an old army buddy of Matsumoto’s, a tax attorney, and a man of many contradictions. He possessed a sharp legal mind, but little ambition. He was an unapologetic hedonist with a penchant for booze and gambling, but also deeply spiritual, always searching for answers perennially out of his reach.
In early 1961, the San Gabriel Racetrack put a considerable chunk of their property on the market. Jackie Matsumoto wanted it. The site - with its proximity to major streets and lovely mountain view - was the perfect location for a premiere shopping mall. And for Matsumoto, the racetrack was a long-held chip on his shoulder.
Years before, while he risked his life as a translator with the US Army, his Japanese-American mother and sisters had been housed against their will within the racetrack, then shipped from there to an internment camp. The day Matsumoto owned a piece of his family’s prison would be the day he achieved his American dream.
Matsumoto invested a significant amount of his personal wealth and secured a large bank loan. The rest of the funding for the Baldwin Mall was provided through an unofficial loan from one of Browning’s connections, a Carmelo “Mel” Sciatta. Sciatta needed a convenient place to put four million he’d skimmed from The Madrid Casino in Vegas, ideally before the Feds, the Mormons, or his bosses in Chicago came looking for it.
Construction of the South Baldwin Shopping Megaplex began in November of 1963. But Matsumoto’s American dream soon devolved into a logistical nightmare. Various misadventures slowed construction. Blue Bell Enterprises - the corporation Matsumoto owned a third of - declared bankruptcy after a land deal went bad, leaving him without a steady source of income. And, on October 28th, 1964, Mel Sciatta was found, dead of a heart attack, in the driveway of his Las Vegas home.
The next day, October 29th, Sears & Roebuck pulled out. The Baldwin Mall, barely a month before its grand opening, was without a fourth anchor store. And the news got even worse. Mel Sciatta’s affairs were to be taken over by his eldest son, Raphael, a vicious mob enforcer. Browning knew it was only a matter of time before Raphael Sciatta followed the paper trail to his father’s missing four million - and to them.
Things looked bleak. And here is where our story takes a turn from Scorcese film to Steven King novel, and local history blurs with late-night bar talk.
Here’s what we know. Jackie Matsumoto and Dave Browning met at their empty mall the evening of Halloween, 1964. Neither was seen again until late the next morning. A maintenance crew arrived midday on the 1st; they claimed there were singe marks on the tile floor, the air smelled like a combination of “pine tree and rotting eggs,” and a section of the wall had been hastily, recently re-painted.
Some infer Matsumoto retreated to his home during the night, collected a trunkful of literature relating to magic and rituals, then returned to the mall. Others say Browning had been seen hanging around the sort of bookstores with curtained back sections dedicated to the occult. Still others claim they drove through the unfinished parking lot that night, and caught sight of discolored flames dancing behind the plate glass walls. And a few swear they saw three figures dancing along.
Two days later, The Broadway signed on to be the fourth anchor, and the Baldwin Mall was soon bustling in preparation for its Grand Opening.
On Friday, November 13th, 1964, Jackie Matsumoto - his wife and children by his side - presided over a ribbon-cutting ceremony. The attendees of the event were treated to a buffet in the food court and, aside from minor issues with the lights turning on and off, the mall seemed in perfect working order.”
The next image that appears on screen made me jump. Matsumoto, boasting his signature cheesy grin, holds an oversized pair of scissors to a big red bow. His beautiful wife stands beside him, wearing a tasteful blue cocktail dress and a glamorous diamond necklace. A pear-shaped yellow diamond, rimmed with pearls. Tiffany’s, I assume.
“After the ribbon cutting, Matsumoto’s personality underwent a shift. He became jumpy, neurotic, and something of a recluse. His friends claimed he’d gotten a tattoo on his left wrist - rare in those days, particularly amongst the business elite. He also began spending a lot of time with an unlikely associate: Hayao Takano.
Takano was a mysterious figure who’d lived a tragic life. He emigrated to America in 1933 with his wife and three children. Not a year later, his wife and his young daughter, Shigekgo, were struck by a car and killed.”
Pictures appear on the screen of a family in modest clothes. The father, bony, balding, and long-faced. Three children. Two boys and, the youngest, a girl. A doll hangs from the little girl’s hand. A felt doll with a ruffled collar, fluffy buttons, and a lumpy face.
“Takano was employed by bottling plant outside Little Tokyo. In his spare time, he constructed dolls and puppets for his children and the children of friends. Jackie Matsumoto had known the two Takano sons, also translators during the war; his mother met the elder Takano in an internment camp.
What the two men spoke of during their clandestine meetings is a matter of conjecture. We do know that Takano was regarded amongst the older Japanese immigrants - those raised in the Old Country - as something of a mystic; an expert in the repulsion of evil spirits.
We also know they, at some point, talked business. Takano Toys opened on the first floor of the Baldwin Mall. It's unclear why a businessman like Matsumoto would do such a favor for a broken, arthritic old man. But the shop opened just the same, with red and green elf dolls in the windows - dolls based off a favorite toy Takano had made for his daughter years before.
The Baldwin Mall opened for business on November 27th, Black Friday, 1964, to resounding success. The only questionable element of the day was the presence of a strange piece of wall art.”
The next image chilled me more than it should have. It’s an old photograph of the Mural Wall, and the mural had not changed in the slightest detail since 1964. Same ugly, turnip-faced man in a brown monk’s robe, same nasty snarl, same silhouetted audience.
“No one knew where this curious mural came from. Mall workers stated it had just appeared one morning, as though hurriedly painted overnight. When questioned about the bizarre decoration, Matsumoto stuttered and refused to name the artist.
The mall had a very profitable Christmas season. On January 6th, 1965, Raphael Sciatta went down in a hail of bullets outside the First Bank of Las Vegas. For all intents and purposes, Jackie Matsumoto and Dave Browning were out of the woods. But neither seemed content nor relieved.
On March 10th, 1965, Matsumoto and Browning sold the Baldwin Mall to a New York outfit, The Reiner Group. They were likely lowballed, but neither cared. The bank loan was paid back, the younger Sciatta brother, Lewis, was given a cut, and both Matsumoto and Browning left the state.
Dave Browning moved to Texas with his wife and children, where he died of kidney failure ten years later. Jackie Matsumoto relocated to New York, took a job with Goldman Sachs, and lived quietly until his death in 1996.
Which leaves us with Hayao Takano. There was a clause in the sales contract stipulating Takano be allowed to keep his shop indefinitely, at a rental fee so low it was practically charity. So Takano stayed. Takano Toys stayed. When Hayao Takano passed away in 1976, his son took over the business. The store remained in the family until his granddaughter retired in 2015.”
The slideshow ends. Saskia is on screen once more, talking to the camera.
“So, what is behind the haunting of the Baldwin Mall? A serial killer? Cult activity? A vengeful poltergeist? And do spirits still lurk under racks of clothing and behind gold-knobbed doors?
Well, the favored theory - the canon - says Jackie Matsumoto and Dave Browning conjured something that Halloween night in 1964. They opened a gate between worlds and allowed a spirit, or a demon, into ours. An entity who could grant them the financial success they needed. An entity they thought they could control.
But the entity tricked them. It challenged them to a contest, one the men could not win. So Matsumoto hired Hayao Takano to dispose of the entity. Takano couldn’t banish the spirit, but he could trap it. He trapped it in one of his elf dolls and they buried the doll deep underground, where asphalt would be laid, where it would never be found.
The entity, however, wasn’t gone. The mysterious mural popped up as a note payable of sorts. Takano and his descendants stayed to make sure the thing never got loose. For fifty years, it remained in its box.
Until the summer of 2016. During the construction of a new addition to the Baldwin Mall, the asphalt was torn up and a deep hole was dug. The doll was found, and the entity was released.
Some say the entity is still hanging around the Baldwin Mall, waiting for an appropriate opponent for the contest it was denied, half a century ago. But others believe that the spirit - and its servants - have been defeated. They had their fight, and they lost.”
The picture of the Mural Wall, from 1964, is shown again. Then it switches to another image, taken at the same angle, captioned ‘November 26th, 2016.’ I’d seen that photo. I’d been there when Saskia took it.
“I, myself, am of the latter group. Because the mural - the mural that materialized out of nowhere, the mural that, according to maintenance workers, had been painted over multiple times, only to reappear in full the next day - has disappeared. There’s nothing left but a white, unbroken wall.”
Written by NickyXX