Showdown At Brackewind Bay Shopping Mall
Once upon a time, there was a small house in a smaller town. Inside the small house lived four tall people and one smaller one. The smaller one’s name was Michael. Michael grew up wishing that one day he would become the leader of all the larger and smaller towns across the nation. Michael studied fastidiously at his elementary school, paying special attention to situations relating to his leadership aspirations. Political editorials, election results, and critical analysis of governance were the focus of his thoughts and dreams. When a mock election for smaller people under the age of twelve surfaced at the local mall, Michael went straight away and entered. Thus began his enrollment into the “Leaders of Tomorrow” competition.
In the lineup for the contest, Michael met a fellow contestant by the name of Mollie. Mollie lived in Scaggsville, a bigger town close to Michael’s. She was the winner of the South Buck’s County Spelling Bee (or so she said) and she was also the Vice-President of her home-room class. She thought she was surely the right person to win the contest. Judging her by her pink runners and the little yellow balls that hung from the back of her ankle-high socks, Michael begged to differ. He thought a real leader would require a much better color sense. He also thought they would need to have much better smelling breath. Mollie’s breath smelled like sour milk, corn-nuts, and pickles.
The contest was to be held over the course of the next four weeks and all the campaigning was to be done inside the Brackewind Bay Shopping Mall - in the centre of the mall to be more precise. All the usual fake plants, booths selling cheap sunglasses, homeless people on benches, and that twenty-five cent, electric-rocket ride (that never took you anywhere) had been pushed out of the way to make room for a grand stage surrounded by mini-electoral regions.
Michael’s region was just to the left of the stage and Mollie’s was to the right. Each electoral region contained a small table where candidates could place all the information about how they would lead if they were elected. The competition would be decided at the end of the week when constituents (or whoever happened to be in the mall that day) could vote. These shoppers would decide which small person was the most able to lead the country at some undetermined time in everyone’s future. The winner would take home a two-hundred-dollar shopping spree at Toys R Important, the local sponsor of the competition. Anyone who voted would also receive free mall parking that day.
Once the taller people at Michael’s house came to understand the social significance of their son winning the competition at such a populated, public event (the competition was being held at the height of the Christmas shopping season), they got nearly as excited about it as Michael. Soon, the entire small house became a hive of electoral campaigning. The dining room table was quickly converted into an operational headquarters where ideas for banners, placards, pins, t-shirts and stickers could be formulated.
After some consideration and conversation in Michael’s household, it was decided that Ted, the minister from the big white church down the street, would become Michael’s primary financial backer. With money from Ted’s ministry, Michael could promote his electoral platform with ecumenical efficiency. Ted would provide the glue, tape, scissors, and a set of “Wet Look 8 Piece Pastel Embossing Markers” from Toys R Important to make nifty placards. In exchange for the church’s help, Michael was told he had to display a banner stating his soul’s allegiance to the Pentecostal Church of Living Truth at his campaign table at the mall. Considering how nice the pens were that Ted was giving him to use, Michael figured this to be an easy obligation.
As the days moved closer to the election campaign (the contestants were given a week to display their political platforms before the election day), Michael’s small house bustled with activity. Ted, or some other member of his church, was there every afternoon to help him put together his campaign. Soon, banners, placards, pins, t-shirts and stickers were all assembled offering such slogans as “A Vote for Michael is a Vote for Jesus!” or “Michael Found Truth and So Can You!” Although Michael didn’t exactly agree with the co-opted rhetoric of his campaign, he certainly understood the necessity for the financing. Michael had originally wanted to talk about how Bernard’s Swamp was getting all icky from the pig farmer’s pig poo seeping into it, or how the school he went to had leaks in the roof and asbestos insulation, but Ted had explained to him the importance of getting elected first and dealing with these mundane issues afterwards. Michael would need Ted’s rides to the mall every day to campaign, so he had agreed wholeheartedly.
Christmas shopping was in full swing as Michael and Ted set up their booth. Mollie, wearing a pink poodle dress with a large yellow ribbon in her hair, was busy setting up her own “electoral region” across from Michael’s. Mollie waved hello, but on Ted’s advice, Michael didn’t wave back. “You can’t trust a girl whose parents don’t go to church Michael,” Ted cautioned. “Until she finds God, she is doomed to hellfire and brimstone. You don’t want to be affiliated with that, do you Michael?” Michael had thought this a slightly alarmist concept seeing as Mollie was only about eleven, but he figured Ted was a taller person and he thought taller people generally knew what was right, so he hadn’t waved or even smiled at Mollie the whole morning, even though he really wanted to.
Once the tables had been properly set up, so that people could peruse the many banners, placards, pins, t-shirts and stickers, Mollie came over to Michael’s booth and had a good look around. “Why, that’s a wonderful color you have chosen for your posters. So bright, so fresh, soooo….wet!” Mollie said.
“Yes, that’s the “Wet Look 8 Piece Pastel Embossing Markers from the Toys R Important store. They are specifically designed to look especially wet,” Michael replied.
“Michael! Don’t converse with her please. She is distracting you from the Lord’s work we have begun here,” Ted cautioned, laying out the various crosses he had brought along to give away for a small donation. “Go on little girl. You don’t fool me with your pagan causes. I saw your poster about global warming. I suppose you’ve been praying to some Earth Mother that you will win this election? I’m afraid the Lord has taken this occasion for his own. This is an opportunity for his light to shine down on our little mall and bless these people with information about our Pentecostal Church of Living Truth. We may be new, and the Presbyterian Hall of Blessed Saints may have a larger congregation, but with His blessing and a little motivation from young Michael here, ours will become the favored place of worship in this town. Now run along little girl. We have work to do –the Lord’s work!” With that, Ted went back to hanging his assortment of crosses.
“Goodbye Mollie. Good luck,” Michael said, rubbing the top of his right shoe with the sole of his left shoe.
“Good luck to you too Michael,” Mollie replied, swinging the white pom poms that dangled from her little pink poodle dress.
The next week was a whirlwind of tall people crowding around the various booths asking all sorts of questions of the contestants. By now, there were twelve in all: six girls –Mollie being the prettiest of course, and six boys –Michael being the shortest. As the afternoons in the mall rolled by, Michael noticed that far fewer people were stopping at his booth than Mollie’s. Michael watched the cherry-colored vein on the side of Ted’s temple get larger and larger as the days continued. “Don’t they understand we are here to offer redemption?” Ted asked Michael. “Do they not realize the opportunity they are just casting aside? I think we need to give the Lord’s message a helping hand. After all, in Hezekiah, chapter six, verse one, God tells us He helps those who help themselves!” Ted packed his crosses and the empty donation can into his carrying bag and headed for the mall exit doors.
“Where are you going?” Michael asked.
“All shall be revealed,” Ted shouted back over his shoulder on his way out.
Michael waited for the whole rest of the day for Ted’s return. While Ted was gone, Michael made the unilateral decision to remove the crosses and display some of his own information about Bernard’s Swamp and the asbestos problem at the school. When he did this, tall people began to wander over to Michael’s booth with increasing frequency. Michael was invigorated by the unexpected interest. He talked at length and loudly about the critical problems the town faced, and all the various solutions he had that would make him a great leader someday. He expounded on the need to remove the poo from Bernard’s Swamp, advising that the frog population there was in a desperate situation. Michael also proposed the idea of removing car traffic from Brackewind Bay’s one-block downtown area, allowing it to become a sort of artisan village to attract more tourists. He spoke of government grants that could be accessed to remove the asbestos from the school and how the community centre could be used as an ad hoc education facility while the renovations were completed. Michael spoke eloquently, with specific solutions to real problems.
As Michael talked, the crowds began to accumulate under the Pentecostal Church of Living Truth’s banners. When one tall lady asked what all the religious rhetoric was doing at Michael’s booth, Michael said he wasn’t quite sure, but he thought it was because “Ted was lonely and needed some more people to attend his church.”
The morning following his most successful day of campaigning, Michael awoke and rushed down to the mall, eager to augment his growing popularity. This day was voting day for the Leaders of Tomorrow competition. When he arrived, the mall was already teeming with over-zealous Christmas shoppers swarming from one store to the next, packages in hand and really small people in tow.
Squirming his way through the crowds, Michael arrived at his booth. Ted was still nowhere in sight. Relieved to find himself alone again, Michael embarked on a multitude of conversations with the people that stopped and crowded around his booth to hear his now-famous platform. As the morning gave way to afternoon, the crowd hadn’t let up. Michael handed out what must have been at least a hundred “I promise to vote” pins before the mall’s clock chimed five bells, announcing the incoming tide of husbands and housewives having gotten off work. The day had been glorious. Even Mollie had come over to congratulate him on his blossoming electability.
Then Ted arrived.
Ted’s head could be seen moving through the crowds in the direction of Michael’s booth, folks parting like the Red Sea for him as he strutted in boldly, elbowing people aside. In his hands were nothing less than fire and brimstone. An arm raised in the air, Ted stormed into the centre of the mall, his fist gripping a stack of photographs. “Come ye all and see the Devil’s work,” Ted shouted. “See what ye have done, oh children of sin! I have before you photographs! Photographs taken in places hidden from the morality of our pious town! Photographs of men from Brackewind Bay soliciting prostitutes down on fourth street over in Scaggsville! Come one, come all! See for yourselves who here is not without sin. See who needs the guiding light of the Pentecostal Church of Living Truth to save himself from eternal damnation! Now, please…no grabbing…I have copies! It will do you no good to tear up your picture Mr. Beckenstein!”
Word passed throughout the mall like electricity, shocking and animating all who heard what Ted was revealing at the electoral region to the right of the stage. A mob of tall women pressed its way in towards Ted, forming a tornado of bee-hive haircuts, winter coats, and flying handbags. Dozens of arms extended, grabbing at the photographs held high over Ted’s head.
“Women of Brackewind Bay, take this apocalypse as a sign of your pending salvation,” Ted screamed as he threw the handfuls of photographs into the air where they glided down onto the waiting herd. Muffled screams rose from the women as they hastily passed the photographs back and forth within their posse.
“Danny, how could you? I even bought that cheerleader outfit for you in the spring!” One woman shrieked.
“Lord, it’s my Robert! The lying bastard! He told me it was just a little chafing from the dollar-store underwear I bought him! I wondered how that could be contagious!” Another lady yelped.
“It is time to bring these sinners to The Pentecostal Church of Living Truth for redemption! Bring your filthy husbands and I will wash away their sins!” Ted bawled from the stage where he had now positioned himself. “We meet Sunday morning at nine! Ours is the only place of worship where God’s ear is listening! Bring these sinners in for an audience with the Lord!”
As Michael looked around, he noticed that most of the men had already exited the mall. All that was left was a seething crowd of red-faced wives, on their knees, pouring over the crumpled photographs strewn about the floor, scanning the pictures for any sign of their spouses. No one was listening to Ted.
Then it happened.
A particularly paunchy woman lost her balance and fainted when she got a hold of a picture of her husband entering the Peach Bottom Inn with an unchaste concubine at his side. As she went down, the rim of her hat caught the cardboard stand atop the booth beside her. It wobbled and came crashing down, the weight of the banners, placards, pins, t-shirts, and stickers increasing its momentum. As it fell, it hit the little boy from the booth next to it in the head, sending him scrambling into his own booth, knocking his down as well. The procession continued in a series of collapsing tables and displays all through the centre of the mall.
As the wave made its way around the semi-circle of faux-electoral regions, Michael scrambled out of the way, hiding himself beneath the mall Christmas tree located behind the stage. Pushing aside empty boxes wrapped neatly to look like massive presents with enormous potential, he crawled through them to the back wall, safely out of reach of the now-stampeding legion of womenfolk. In the shadows of the fake coniferous branches and vacuous packages, Michael espied the shape of another small person hiding next to him. He also smelled her breath. It was Mollie.
“Hello Michael. I’m really not too sure what’s going on out there, but I think the competition might be over,” she said, sliding up next to Michael.
“I do believe you’re right Mollie,” Michael answered. “I think Ted has caused quite a scene, as my mother would say. By the way, you ran a great campaign. I bet you would have won.” Michael blushed at the sight of Mollie’s toes tapping his own in a mid-air shuffle inspired by the Here Comes Santa Claus song playing over the loudspeakers above them.
“I’m not so sure of that. People really liked you Michael. Perhaps we could do this again next year? And maybe next time we could run together?” Mollie asked.
“That sounds swell, Mollie. I’d like that,” Michael answered, a bucketful of pride rising up in his throat.
The following year passed with fewer incidence in the smaller town of Brackewind Bay. Boys and girls played in the streets as they always did, and the two churches continued to battle for the souls of the iniquitous. Husbands were much nicer to their wives and the wives did a lot more shopping than they had the year before. Unfortunately for Michael and Mollie, there was never another “Leaders of Tomorrow” election campaign put on in the mall, as Toys R Important had backed out as its sponsor, due to the nature of first year’s debacle. However, Michael and Mollie did go on to become the President and Vice President of the Save Bernard’s Swamp Environmental Foundation, where they succeeded in ridding the swamp of its problems.
Eventually Michael and Mollie married, made some smaller people of their own, and bought a house on the edge of the swamp where the sulfurous smell covered up the stink of Mollie’s breath, allowing Michael to love his beauteous bride dearly. They raised frogs in the swamp and sold the legs to that French restaurant over in Scaggsville, right next to the Peach Bottom Inn. All in all, they were pretty happy and lived so ever after, right up until they died.