by David W. Jones
© 2007 David W. Jones
The door slammed behind us, its motion stirring the fog that filled the cavernous space we’d stepped into. Empty echoes came back, distorted by time and odd shaped spaces hidden somewhere in the fog. The fog smelled of stale garbage and diesel fumes.
A step ago, on the other side of the door, the air had been clean and airconditioned, the mall filled with the reassuring sounds of people talking, its floor smooth and shiny new.
Now the floor under my sandals was rough, rocky with lumpy stones that clattered away as I shifted my left foot off a sharp rock.
The fog slowly started swirling around about twenty feet in front of me and my girlfriend, like something was coming toward us. A jerky sort of scraping sound came from the direction of the swirl – a dragging, halting step.
My girlfriend turned toward me and said, “Umm, Lauree, I told you -”
“I don’t want to hear it,” I snapped.
“You don’t have to be rude just cuz you’re hungry. Going this way was your idea.”
Before I could respond, a shopping mall janitor stepped out of the fog where the scraping steps had been. He didn’t look special – just another one of those old, slightly-creepy looking guys that I’m sure are bred somewhere like dogs to be janitors. He even had nicotine stains on his teeth when he opened his mouth, licked his lips, and smiled.
“You girls lost?”
I looked at my girlfriend, but she just glared back at me. She’s my best friend, but she can be really brain-dead sometimes, you know? So I looked back at him and said, “Yeah, somebody said this was a shortcut to the Gulp’n’Go Burgers on the other side of the mall. You know how we get there?”
The janitor slowly licked his lips, like he was tasting his lunch again. A really tasty, recent lunch. Then he lifted up a clipboard I hadn’t noticed before in his hand and marked something on it. I glanced around and saw that the fog had crept around us, right up to our backs. Then the janitor looked over our heads into the fog and spoke.
“Hey! Gotta shipment for Gulp’n’Go Burgers.” He looked us up and down. “Looks a little raw, it’ll need some processing.”
“WHAT?!!” my girlfriend screamed. I turned and stared at her. Then a thick, hairy – uh, no, furry! – hand reached from the fog behind her and clamped around the side of her head. The thick wrist turned a little, and her head was suddenly lying sideways on her shoulder. I saw her eyes swinging wildly around in panic as she started to fall. Another thick hand came from the fog and held her upright.
Then a hand clamped onto the side of my head. A hard twist, a sharp snapping sound, pain – then all I COULD feel was the rough scaly skin on the palm of the hand grinding the backs of my earrings into the skin behind my ears.
My girlfriend’s wild eyes suddenly fixed on mine. Then she said something. Even though she had no breath anymore, she and I had learned to read each others’ lips ages ago.
“I told you the sign said ‘Employees only’ – ” Then her eyes glazed over and closed. I guess cuz she had screamed she had less breath remaining than I did.
She was lucky.
A voice growled behind me, speaking in some snarly language. Shapes – things – came out of the thinning fog, and began carrying us toward what looked like industrial-size food processors.