Wednesday, 1 April 2009 - 8:43 pm

Hard hail

The mall is a strange beast. We arrived after a couple of hours’ walking this morning, stepping past the acid-streaked signs welcoming us to Paradise Arms and pointing us to parking.

The car parks still had a lot of cars sitting there, some with the doors standing open; the bomb had gone off in the middle of prime pre-Christmas shopping time and left a lot of people stranded at places like these. It looks like they took whatever they could out of the cars and then abandoned them in favour of walking, leaving their interiors to the untender mercies of the rain. I wonder where they all went. That time feels so long ago now; they could be anywhere.

The outside of the mall was marked with graffiti tags, both faded and fresh. That put us on the alert as we pushed our way inside. It was surprisingly tidy inside the mall; I’m used to finding wares scattered all over the floor, trodden on and discarded in favour of something better. The shops did have that turned-over look, as if everything had been picked up and put back down again, just slightly out of place. Careful thieves came here.


We were looking at the mall map when we heard the first sign of life. It felt so weird, standing in front of a plastic board and trying to work out what shop was where, as if it was any normal shopping day, as if we had come with money to spend. The interruption brought us back into the time After, turned us from shoppers to scavengers, and the world made both more and less sense again. A skitter of movement in the lack of music, the clip of a heel against the hard floor. It’s frightening to know how qiuckly the weapons leapt into our hands, and saddening that I didn’t hesitate over it at all.

My heart was thrumming against my chest as we clumped up, little ones in the middle. Dillon wanted to be up front, but I kept him behind me with a fistful of his shirt in my free hand. Ben lined up with the rest of us, a dark look in his eye, and my worry for him spiked. I was afraid that he would do something stupid and reckless just to dull the pain inside, or perhaps to vent it.

Realising that we were in the middle of the thoroughfare, Thorpe moved us over to the doorway of a bedding store. We shifted just in time; a hail of random missiles peppered the floor we had just vacated and made us shrink further into the store. Ornaments smashed on the floor, metal bowls clanged, even candles thumped down and rolled away. Following the objects were voices shouting at us to get out, leave here, this was their mall, get out.

We looked at each other, temporarily safe behind the glass front of the bedding store. We had no idea how many of them there were, and while they sounded young, there was no knowing what they had managed to get their hands on. They pelted the doorway with household decorations every time we peeked out. We called out for them to stop to give us a chance to leave, but they didn’t seem to hear us.


It was a few minutes before I realised that we were two people short. Matt and Alice were missing, and a quick search of the store didn’t find them. I was terrified that something had happened to them, that they had been stolen away by our unseen enemies. After Ben’s loss, I was determined not to lose anything – or anyone – more.

I was just about to suggest we go confront the ornament-chuckers when Matt reappeared. I smacked him for scaring me like that; he smiled and told me to stop being silly. In that moment, I saw a shard of my old friend, reassuring and confident and never unkind, even when he was telling me to calm down. It was enough to make me relax again and give him the chance to explain.

He and Alice had gone out the back way and circled around behind our attackers – there’s a way if you know how to navigate the back corridors and doors of a mall. Matt had had lots of practice in that when he was stuck with the Sharks. They were just kids, he said. No-one over fifteen or sixteen. Alice was still there, keeping an eye on them.

We decided to split up. A couple of us stayed in the bedding store, shouting answers to the attackers every now and then. The rest followed Matt around to meet up with Alice, to surprise them from behind. Sax stayed with me to keep up the pretence that none of us had moved.

The shouting was our cue to move. I crept out, and when no ornaments came hurtling towards me, ran up the thoroughfare towards the fight. There weren’t many of them and they were facing people a lot bigger than they were, but those kids were fighting hard anyway. I don’t like how hard we had to hit them to make them stop; I don’t like that some of our number hit them more than was necessary and had to be stopped.

By the end of it, we were all bruised and I could taste blood from where a teenager had split my lip. The kids were all sitting on the floor, having been tossed or shoved into a lump there, while we stood in a ring around them. They were all rebellious glares and wishing that they held the weapons we were keeping them at bay with.

Of course, then we had no idea what to do with them. What could we do? We couldn’t let them go free – they would just attack us again. We couldn’t watch them forever – there weren’t enough of us to do that and anything else at the same time. We were in a standoff, and the only hope for a decent resolution was to talk to them. I don’t think any of us was very optimistic about how that would turn out.


It sounds like Masterson is making himself unpopular again. I’d better go make sure they don’t staple him to a wall or anything. When did I turn into everyone’s mother?