The breeze from the dying winter wind swirls dead leaves across the ground as my black heels thump against the pavement. The winter season was fading, but the chilling air of February was still creating goosebumps across my legs. The glass doors to the mall were decorated in obnoxious giant hearts, and love themed bear displays. As I reach for the door, my eyes catch a small glimpse of movement on the corner of my eye. My head tilts up, and a blue colored insect struggles in a thin web. The string rustles as the bug thrashes around in attempt to escape the predator lurking from a distance. The sticky web glimmers as rain drops are hit with the dim sunlight hidden behind grey clouds. The thought of seeing the long-legged creature emerge and slaughter the insect made my stomach twist. As much as the chills slithered down my spine, my eyes stared, waiting for the arachnid to appear at the top of it's web. Before I can hope for much longer, the small black spot with unsettling thin and long legs scurries from the top of the web. The insect caught, thrashes and shakes the rest of the web, almost as if he had seen the creature creeping closer.
"Excuse me." I hear a woman's light voice interrupt my intense observation of predator and prey.
"Sorry." I say quickly as I push myself through the glass doors.
I keep my eyes from looking back toward the woman, and slip through the small crowd scattered around the hall of stores. I'm surprised there are people running around on Valentine's day, I thought I would be able to see him without having a large crowd.
My legs feel cold, and numb as I bubble around the small coffee shop hidden in the food court. I pace around the entrance as my eyes scan the mall hall ways. Kids run around as their parents chase them, and the teenagers travel in small groups as they walk through the maze of stores. A couple in matching track suits sit in front of the mall fountain in the center, with a small camera on them. They wear big smiles and carry designer shopping bags as they speak into the camera. Those types of people were annoying, but I gave them props for recording in public.
I attempt to pull the bright red dress down, and my heart thumps like a drum in a heavy metal band. As much as I wanted to see him, I didn't know if he would like my transformation. I didn't know if he would think I looked insane trying to pull off this dress, or see me how I wanted him to see me. It was pathetic.
I collect my frantic thoughts and push one foot in front of the other. There was no turning back, once he saw me he would have to start a conversation. As I step through the entrance, my heart drops once I recognize his soft smile in the distance. A laptop sat on the table in front of him, and his brown eyes glistened as he stared into the bright screen. The red flannel wrapping around his shoulders matched the white undershirt he wore, and my eyes light up when I prove myself correct. I would never forget his favorite place to work.
My eyes quickly fixate on the woman walking up to him, and my shoulders tighten. Her white painted nails brush against his shoulder, and she sets two coffee cups on their table. My stomach twists as my throat clenches, and I stare at her beautiful long golden hair. Her outfit was simple but didn't downplay her naturally beautiful features. She sits close to him, and plants a small kiss on the side of his face as he gives her a generous smile. He takes her hand and brings it to his lips before lightly kissing her smooth skin. I quickly turn back, and the tears welding in my eyes are too much to hold back. I quickly rush through the doors and try to plan the quickest way out of here.
Hundreds of staring eyes burn a hole into my soul, and I try to subtly wipe the tears from my eyes. I think I spotted an emergency exit near the coffee shop, but if I had pushed through those doors an alarm might go off. The main exit was almost an eternity away, and I don't think I could make it out before the ugly cries spilled out of me. I keep my head down, and my vision begins to blur. Soon, the marble floors become a hazy beige color. My feet stumble over each other, and my body tries to adjust as my head spins.
A shock shoots through my veins, and a relentless bright light causes my eyes to squint. Once the tears are wiped away, I look up to see the shining sun beaming into the city skyline. The towering buildings stretch into the sky, and hundreds of shiny windows bounce the sun's rays onto each other. The sound of calm wind blows through the closely knit buildings, and I notice the sky seems a lot closer than normal. I look to the right, and the top of another structure is within my eye line. My knees are shaky, and I slowly walk toward the roof's ledge. My eyes look down hesitantly, and the cars sit like ants in the parking lot. How the hell did I get up here? Was this just a bad dream? Maybe I would wake up in a sweat and see Isaac lying beside me. Once I wiped the sweat away, I would hug him so tightly and tell him how much I loved him.
"What the fuck?!" I hear a man shout behind me.
My head snaps back, and I notice a crowd full of people standing on the mall roof with me. A woman sits on the floor, with her food splattered onto the ground and her green eyes wide. The confusion in her eyes matched mine, and I try to pinch myself. Each time I breath in, I expect to see my dark room at three am, but I remain on the roof. The rest of the crowd scans around the roof as confused as I. There had to be about thirty people, and all of them start moving like a heard of sheep to the exit door. As they move, I notice the same couple in matching outfits. They stand a few feet away from me and ignore the crowd moving toward the exit. The man crouches on the floor to pick up the camera, and the woman assists him with the small pieces.
"We were just in the food court, how the hell are we on the roof?" He questions.
"Shut the fuck up!" She bites, "If you would've just let me hold the camera, it wouldn't have broken!"
Amongst the crowd, I spot a familiar flannel as bright as a firetruck. My attention shuts out the couple beside me, and I begin to step forward to see if it was Isaac. With the condensed crowd, and my lack of height I wasn't able to see if it really was him. Before I can get closer, the flannel disappears, and I'm left with an empty hole-like feeling in my chest.
The crowd begins to talk, and I spot a man standing toward the back of the small crowd. His shoulders are covered with a stainless black button up, and he wears a crimson silk vest like he's in about to do a performance with the birthday girl at a Quinceanera. His button up is tucked into perfectly pressed black dress pants, and a pair of black rectangular sunglasses hide his eyes. His watch is like a brick of gold, and his hair is an explosion of black ink on the finest paint bristles. His hair hangs to his shoulders, and he smiles as he places a cigarette in between his lips. His dark brown skin is decorated with unrecognizable tattoos across his neck, and his footsteps scrape the pavement as he steps forward.
"Don't be alarmed!" He raises his voice so the crowd can hear him.
"What's going on?!" Another voice questions from the small crowd of people.
"I know this is confusing, but I brought you all here to play a game." He says with a smirk.
"How did you bring us here?" Someone else shouts.
As the crowd begins to panic and shout out questions, my palms begin to sweat. I have been trying to jerk myself awake, but nothing happens. Either I'm stuck in a deep sleep, or I was drugged and somehow dragged to the roof.
"The door isn't opening!"
"Is this a sick joke?!"
"My kids! I need to get back to my kids!"
The man takes the cigarette out from his lips and blows a small cloud of smoke in the crisp clean air.
"Just play the game, I promise it will be over before you know it. Once I say go, everyone will have a thirty second head start to escape the mall. I have some of my friends who will be chasing you, and please don't let them find you. If they find you, you're out and eliminated-"
"This isn't funny! Let everyone go ass hole!"
A man with a denim jacket walks up, his dirty blonde hair sticking out of a black beanie. He was lanky, but he towered over the guy in the crimson vest.
A black shadow shoots down from the sky, and the sound of liquid spurting breaks the silence. My insides twist, and an explosion of puke erupts from my throat as the man's head rolls to the ground. Dark red blood spurts from his neck like a sprinkler, and his lifeless twitching body topples to the ground. I fall to the floor, and my breath stops as I drop to the ground. I manage to keep the oncoming vomit down, as I wonder what the fuck is going on. My knees scrape against the pavement, and each cell in my body is urging me to move. My hands tighten, and my eyes remain on the lone head that comes to a stop. His mouth drains with blood, and his dead blue eyes remain open as they look toward me.
The crowd screams in terror and my ears begin to drown out the sound. My muscles are stapled to the ground as my wide eyes stare at the creature holding a blade. Its skin is a dingy white and connects straight to a set of bones. Its face is covered in a bloody smile carved into the skull, and its deep empty sockets ooze out a goopy black liquid. Despite the skeleton stature, it's strong enough to decapitate someone while holding a giant blade. After wiping the large blade dripping with blood, it darts to the man's side.
The man keeps his smile and raises his hand that holds the cigarette.
"Listen to me! The next person to make a peep, dies!" His voice booms through the wind.
The screams die instantly, and my breath is shallow as I wait for him to speak. My lips quiver as a scream tries to plow its way through my throat, and I cup my mouth to keep from making a sound. My eyes stay glued to him, and he slowly wipes the drops of blood that had splattered across his cheek.
"As I was saying, everyone will get a head start to run. Ones who make it out without getting caught by my friends..." He gestures to the creature beside him, "Will get a chance to live an amazing life."
The crowd remains silent, and I let out a slight breath when my lungs begin to burn. The gasp of breath air is so silent, but the man looks toward me, and my head grows dizzy. When he notices me separated from the crowd, tears blur my eyes and I let out a small whimper. I squeeze my face tighter in hopes I can suck the sound back in, and his hidden eyes draw away from me as his head turns. The tears sting my cheeks as they fall, and my vision clears once they empty from my eye sockets.
"I have five friends that will be walking around inside the mall, if you get caught by one of my friends, you're eliminated. You guys are the lucky bastards who get to play the game, everyone inside the mall will wait until the game is over to get sent back to this reality. There is no maximum number of winners, whoever makes it out the mall gets to win the chance of a lifetime. Any questions?"
He asks with a smile and scans the crowd with his glasses still propped on the bridge of his nose. His pure-white teeth are like snow, but the longer I stare the more my insides twist.
"W-why do we have to play?" I hear a woman hesitantly ask.
My eyes dart to the crowd, but the woman remains a mystery. The man chuckles, and he takes a step forward. As his shoe plants to the floor, the crowd quickly takes a step back.
"Who doesn't love games?" He asks, "Any other questions?"
"How are we supposed to beat those things?!" I hear a man question.
"I'm not an ass hole, there are safe zones spread all around the mall. Plus, there's a dagger at the top of the mall fountain. This dagger could kill my friend with just one cut, so everyone has a chance to get out alive.
"Where are the safe zones?!"
"There's only one dagger?!"
"Your thirty second head start, begins in three..."
As he begins to count, the people bust through the double exit doors. The crowd quickly grows smaller as they stampede over one another,
"Two....one.... thirty second starts now!" He announces, and the creature beside him remains still.
He looks toward me, and smiles as his lips begin to move with the count down. His voice is so quiet, I can't hear him speak, but I can read his lips mouth the number twenty-five.
I stand on my wobbly legs, and they begin to move on their own as I race across the roof to the exit door. Without shutting the door behind me, I jump down the dimly lit set of stairs and tumble onto the people heading in the same direction. They curse at me as everyone tries to squeeze through the single door leading to the top floor. The woman I landed near, shoves me back and I topple to the ground. Her eyes are struck with fear, and her sweat dampens the red bangs scattered across her face as she stares down at me. She rushes through the door and grabs the door handle.
"I'm sorry." She whispers through a raspy voice, and slams the door shut.
I let out a gasp, and scramble to my feet in order to push the door open. The door remains shut, and I begin to frantically push on the bar door handle. As much strength as I muster up, it seems like someone had thrown a boulder in front to keep my trapped in the back. The door doesn't budge, and I let out gurgling cries as I begin to bang my hands on the door. My fists begin to throb, and my mind reverts to that creature. It's not too far behind me, my time has probably run out and at any second it will get down here. I turn my back to the door, and my limbs grow numb as I wait for that creature to get down here.
I'm going to die, and I'm the first one out of the crowd to go. I knew I was weak, but I never thought I would be the weakest. If only I would've just run when everyone else did, maybe I would've survived a bit longer. That guy's death was quick, maybe mine will be quick enough to skip the pain.