Meander

Hawthorne walked around the empty mall aimlessly. He wasn’t supposed to be there. No one was.

The shops had long since been abandoned; a few of them boasted bits and bobs still littering the scant shelves. It reminded him of an old pop song lyric, “just to prove that we were here…”

He shook his head and his sleeping bag when he found the right spot. This was so not worth twenty bucks.

But, a dare was a dare. Hawthorne had to prove his manhood, or whatever.

Gibby was full of bad ideas- this being chief among them. Last month, he dared another friend to surf a moving car down a residential street. Luka was fine, but he wet his pants when Gibby stopped suddenly before she got to the stop sign.

Gibby was the queen of the burnouts and loadies. She had the best shit, and she was willing to share, provided you did what she dared you to. If you didn’t, no one would talk to you.

Hawthorne snuggled down into his sleeping bag and thought of Gibby and her haunting amber eyes. He imagined her cock-sure grin when she picked him up in the morning. She may even hug him.

After twenty minutes, he gave up on sleeping. There was too much nothing going on in here. He usually fell asleep to the ambient sounds of his mom’s apartment- the soft voices of the neighbors coming through the walls, the flick of his mom’s lighter as she smoked, the blare of the tv.

It was soothing to him, but here in the old mall, there was nothing.

Hawthorne sighed and got up. He left his sleeping bag where it was. He was near the exit that Gibby was picking him up at in the morning. He’d grab it on his way out.

Most of the security gates were down and locked in the empty stores. He tried each one as he passed, hoping for an open store. There wasn’t much to take, but that would make it all the sweeter when he found something.

Gibby would hug him for sure when she saw he was brave enough to swipe something while he was in here.

He didn’t hear the second set of footsteps following him up the dead escalator. He didn’t even think to look behind him when he got to the second floor.

His pursuer followed, quiet as death and twice as quick. When Hawthorne got to the old music store, the would-be stalker grabbed him around the waist.

He shrieked.

A grim smile split the follower’s face as he held Hawthorne tight. Wings unfurled from his back and soon they were flying out of the hole in the skylight. Hawthorne screamed the whole way up.

And, the whole way down when the creature dropped him. He only stopped screaming when he hit the tiled first floor.

Red eyes and black wings took off into the cool night.

Hawthorne twitched on the floor. He didn’t realize he had been bitten by the creature. The bite was probably the only reason he was still alive. His back crunched and shifted against his will and he screamed out again.

Gibby pulled her mom’s car into the parking and parked in front of a defunct department store. She honked her horn and lit a joint. Fifteen minutes came and went before she cut the engine and exited the vehicle.

Hawthorne was probably going to jump out and scare her. She knew it, she just knew it. Well, she’d let him scare her.

Then, she’d tell everyone how she found him sucking his thumb and still asleep when she went to pick him up. It was her word against his, and who would they believe?

Gibby tripped over Hawthorne’s sleeping bag as she made her way through the abandoned mall. Yeah, he was going to pop out at her. She rolled her eyes and steeled her nerves.

“Come out, wherever you are!” She called. She picked her way all over the first floor, winding and trying to pull up the security gates as she passed the stores. They were all locked tight against her prying.

She wandered aimlessly, hopping up on a kiosk just to see if it would hold her up. It did; she had a slight frame. When she had exhausted the first floor, she started to climb up a dead escalator to the second floor.

Like her erstwhile friend, she didn’t hear the footsteps behind her. When her pursuer grabbed her, though, she spun around in its clutches and sprayed mace all over the front of her attacker.

The creature, she didn’t know what else to call it, screamed and grabbed her tighter. It raked its teeth along her neck, getting the mace residue in the wound. It was her turn to scream.

Wings unfurled from the creature’s back and it carried her up and up into the early morning light before dropping her.

Hawthorne smiled as he listened to her screams until they stopped with a thud. He blinked his red eyes against the dawn and swooped back inside the mall.