“We can’t go in that way. My sister said that way is the fucked way. It’s Friday the 13th, we gotta go in on this side.”
Jenny was gesturing wildly with her flashlight towards a red awning tucked farther in the back of the complex. I was certain someone from the street would see us so I blocked her body with mine in an attempt to shield her jittering strobe light from any passing travelers.
“It’s a mall, you dipshit,” I hissed, visions of being arrested and losing my scholarship and shaming the family name dancing in my head. My mom was going to kill me anyway if she found out I wasn’t at Amanda’s for a sleepover like I’d promised. I didn’t need a record on top of it. “There’s tons of entrances and exits, it doesn’t matter which one we go in. Especially not for the date.”
“It does!” Jenny waved the flashlight again, realized her mistake, and clicked it off decisively. “My sister said—”
“Jenny, your sister works at the Dairy Queen.” It was mean but it was true. And we were wasting time.
Melinda snickered behind her hands. I got the feeling she didn’t really like any of us, not really, we’d all been friends for a while and at a certain point it gets too hard to make new friends so you just sort of… stick together, I guess.
Meanwhile, Amanda was unsurprisingly silent.
The more I thought about it, honestly, the more I wondered why I was even there with the three of them in the first place. I mean, I remembered the hard details of the whole mess: the Friday the 13th talk, the banter about haunted locales, the dare to enter the abandoned mall. It was all so stupid and inane and in my heart of hearts I knew I’d outgrow these girls, if I was being honest, I’d outgrow them and leave them behind when I left for college but something still made me follow them to Crestwood and search for the fabled “special entrance” to the abandoned piece of shit mega-mall.
It was my own fault, really.
Jenny jabbed her unlit flashlight at me menacingly.
“You’re a bitch. Ashley knows what she’s talking about. She was out here with her friends senior year on their Friday the 13th. She knows.”
Yeah, Ashley’s friends. The stay-at-home mom, the army grunt, the one who pretended that her kid was actually her little brother until the poor boy was old enough to properly traumatize/tell the truth to.
I knew I was going to outgrow them, I really did, I actually knew that none of us would’ve been friends if we hadn’t been in the same study hall early on freshman year. We had been stuck with each other like rats in a cage and had managed to trick ourselves into thinking it was fate — that we were supposed to be together.
Or maybe it was just me who knew the whole thing was a fluke. Maybe they all thought it was forever.
I don’t know. Either way, we went towards the entrance under the red awning where Jenny’s stupid older sister Ashley said was the “right” way.
“Did Ashley ever actually get in here?” I asked. I was the one asking questions, see, because no one else asked questions. God, I was so tired being the only one in the group with a brain.
“I don’t know. I mean, she said this was the right way, but she didn’t say if she… or maybe she did. I don’t know.” Jenny dug into her pocket and produced a dull pocketknife. She began digging at the lock of the door without any sort of rhyme or reason.
“You think there’s alarms or anything?” Melinda asked, nervous. Finally, someone else thinking with some sort of sense.
“It’s abandoned, dumbass.” Jenny shot her a poisonous glare.
“Only for a few years,” Amanda offered quietly. She was trying to be helpful, she was always trying to be helpful, but no one acknowledged her helpfulness. As per usual.
“If there isn’t any power, there isn’t any alarm system.” I was still more concerned with the people driving by, the ones who’d be interested in shutting down a couple of stupid teen girls trying to break into a dead mall complex.
God, the whole thing felt so… toxic. I hadn’t really noticed it until then, the way none of us fit quite right but we had been forcing it for so long, four puzzle pieces that belonged in other spots of the puzzle but had been hammered together by a psychotic child intent on making it work.
There was a loud metallic click and Jenny looked up, grinning triumphantly.
“Got it,” she whispered, and because we had no choice, because we’d been following her blindly since freshman year, we followed her into the mall.
I guess Ashley, as much as I’d wished for her to be wrong, had been right. I’d heard talk of the different entrances at Crestwood leading to boring, empty corridors. Barren Sears showrooms. Nothing interesting, that’s for sure.
The first thing we saw was a gaping crater that emptied into an inky pool of dark water. Where had the water come from? Rain, a leaking pipe? It didn’t matter, it had all puddled at the end of a broken-down escalator. At the foot of it swam blind white fish, milky-pale. They bumped into each other in a sad sort of bungling distress.
I searched for their eyes but I didn’t see any.
“I bet there’s some cool stuff in here,” said Jenny, who wouldn’t look at the fish. She skirted past the escalator and hurried away.
“Jenny, the fish,” Amanda whispered, but as usual she was too quiet for anyone but me to hear.
“There’s no fish down there.” Melinda was being sharp, mean, but I think it was because she was so scared. She was sticking close to Jenny and keeping her eyes low.
Jenny was pointing at something past the escalators, a metal gated door that cut us off from something deemed “The Pasta House.”
“That’s it,” Jenny said softly. “Ashley told me, it’s in the Pasta House. No one else has actually gotten in there, if we get in we’ll be legends.”
Legends as what? Stupid loser high school chicks who risked their futures for something dumb?
I had to remind myself I might have been the only one in the group risking anything, honestly.
I mean seriously? The Pasta House? Fuck.
Jenny went at the metal grate with her pocketknife. I didn’t help. I didn’t even offer verbal encouragement, honestly. I just wanted to go home.
Why had this whole place become abandoned in the first place?
I tried to remember but I had been too little. I watched lamely as Jenny jimmied open the metal gate of the Pasta House.
Amanda tapped at my elbow. I looked at her and she shook her head silently.
For a brief moment I considered not even following Jenny any farther. I considered just turning around.
I think that’s what saved me.
Jenny and Melinda ducked under the metal gate, first one, then the other. A tight, tense moment passed before one of them — I’m not sure which — jerked the metal gate upwards.
I mean, I guess it’s not even just my hesitation that saved me. If I’m being fair, Amanda saved me too.
Amanda grabbed my shoulder and forced me down to the ground. When I tried to resist, she slapped a hand over both my mouth and hers.
I don’t know how she knew, but… god. She knew.
Jenny took only a few steps into the abandoned restaurant before her gait became disjointed, jerky. It was like watching an action figure move with all its limbs hanging at odd angles.
Melinda just sort of… crumpled into herself. Like, didn’t even go that far. Just fell into herself. And then didn’t move again.
There was a weird sort of air that came out of that place. A weird sort of… smell.
Melinda didn’t move again but Jenny turned towards me, jerky, jittery, a strip of shuddery film that never made it to a projector.
Jenny smiled, her lips spreading so big, so wide. She began to tear at her face. She was laughing.
Nails cutting through the soft skin of her cheeks. Cutting through the prettiness of her sexy sweet good looks. Cutting through muscle and tissue and bone and all the while she laughed.
Amanda told me in her quiet, helpful voice:
I did. I ran. I think Amanda did, too, but I couldn’t see.
I think there was something in the air. Something behind that metal gate. Something they were trying to hide from us.
When I woke up in the ambulance the paramedics said I’d had a seizure. I mean, it made sense; I couldn’t remember a lot of what had happened at the mall. I couldn’t remember what had happened when we got to the Pasta House. I mean, I suppose I thought I could, but — it couldn’t be right.
That doesn’t matter. I’m just waiting for the right time to leave. To get out, to take someone new to the mall with the blind fish and the strange air coming from the Pasta House.
I feel like if I take someone else there, they’ll take Melinda’s place. Jenny’s place. I don’t know why I think that but I feel like it’s right. Like it’s… in my bones somewhere. You know?
They were shitty friends but I loved them and it didn’t matter that I would outgrow them, I want someone else to take their place in the eerie damp aloneness of the Crestwood Mall.
The idea that they’re there? Alone? Or, god, even together? It’s too much.
And Amanda? I mean fuck, Amanda did her part at the mall. But now? She just fucking sits there. Just sits there with her wide gaping mouth. Her white-streaked hair.
I swear, she even looks older. Frail and lame and, you know what, if I’m going to say it — weak. She’s just as weak as the rest of them.
I knew I didn’t need any of them but I thought at least maybe Amanda wouldn’t disappoint me, you know?
But she just fucking sits there, looking old as shit, older than she should look, doing nothing for our friends who wait at the Crestwood Mall for some sort of release.
So I guess it’s up to me. Today I have to convince the guards, the nurses, the doctors. I have to tell them why today it’s important that I go to the Crestwood Mall and help my friends. And today, it’s important I get going. Right away.
After all, Saturday the 14th, 1991 is as good a day to start as any.