The ones we judge, the ones we fear and the ones inside.
by Lucie Dickenson
The mall was shut down only minutes ago. There is no way bodies and a killer could have just slipped by all of us. I go back to the escalator and there are two women in expensive coats talking with Janice. She is a mess. Her daughters by her side, one standing, the other in her stroller. Both girls looked content, but you could tell the older one was perplexed with all the attention.
“What was your husband’s name?” asked the woman with the deep red lipstick.
Past tense? He was just here with their young son. Janice took the girls to the dress department while Barry and Danny went to the restroom. Let’s not mark him expired just yet.
Janice’s eyes welled up and she mouthed the words “Please find them.”
Her gaze went down to her girls as she tried to look stoic. Unfortunately, that ruse did not last long. She fell to the ground, scared and confused about the situation she had been handed in the middle of Nordstrom’s.
I had to do something. My best friend’s husband and son are missing, and no one can seem to find them. I mean, it’s the mall, how can this happen?
It was pure luck that I was shopping for a pair of boots when I bumped into Janice and her family. She admired the kicks I was modeling, as I strutted back and forth, indecisive about my possible expensive purchase. I heard Barry say Danny needed to go to the bathroom. His eyes were on Janice as he began to rise on the escalator, facing backwards so to see his family. Danny gave the thumbs up sign and in seconds they were no longer in sight.
Janice was busy picking up Cheerios off the floor and putting them back on the stroller tray. Third child. She said I should buy the boots and I quickly obliged. There was no one at the counter on the first floor, so I proceeded up the escalator, making sure I did not touch the disgusting handrails. I mean, who does that? It just takes a few seconds to get some deadly bacteria on your fingers. I look ahead, noticing a man holding tight to the rails. Monster. Bacteria spreader.
I stepped off the moving staircase onto solid ground. A man that looked like Barry was running in my direction. He didn’t stop, but steamrolled through me, at a speed full of intent and harm. I fell over, boots out of the box and the feeling of water dripping down my face. Disoriented and embarrassed at the same time, I dizzily looked up and I noted a small crowd of people around me. One older gentleman gave me a tissue while also extending his hand. He helped me up and I wiped the water from my face. It was then I realized it was blood. But even more disturbing was the recognition of the man. He was the bacteria handrail holder monster. My nose was bleeding, and I wiped it with bacteria man’s tissue. I am going to bleed out and die from a mysterious disease that has now entered my nose.
I felt faint, and was losing altitude, but my anxious mind was diverted by Barry running past me again, without Danny. Why was Barry running? And why is Danny not with him? It took all I had to not pass out, I stuck the tissue up my nose (to hold in the blood) while I scoured the store for Danny’s 6-year-old presence. I heard a popping sound. Three pops to be exact, and then a scream. People scattered, dropping to the floor (including me) and crying. I was scared but amazed myself that I had the wherewithal to get up and look around. Trying to find my godson seemed impossible in all of this chaos. I need to lock my eyes on Danny, he needs to be safe.
I am terrified, but I begin parting clothes on rounders to see if he is hiding within the confines of the garment racks. Each one I tear open, both arms spreading wide to reveal him, only to be left defeated. People are crying, no one knows what is happening and I am army crawling from rack to rack to find my godson. I am not even thinking “where are the bad guys?” because I am hyper-focused on my task at hand. But then I feel it. Timing impeccable and attention always needed, leave it to me to be able to one-up a mall shooting. I am having a heart attack. I begin my quick decline into death. Clutching my heart, I pull out the stained tissue from my nose. I don’t want to die with blood on my face. I also do not want to be reminded again of the terrible disease I caught from the monster. My brain will deal with that later. I spiral dramatically into my death stance when my crazy thoughts are interrupted by a loudspeaker.
“Please remain calm. The store is sealed at this time. No one can enter, and no one can leave. Please be patient while we allow law enforcement to investigate this matter.” The voice was authoritative, but shaky and full of fear.
Falling to the floor, having a heart attack, I notice a parade of cops converging onto the second floor. I hear the female officer’s radio “Code Shut Down ” I know this is a bad time to think about me, but I need to call a “Code Blue”. And a “Saline Nose Rinse”. Someone please help me, I am dying.
My current kaleidoscope vision may be skewing the scene, but it is all very surreal and sluggish. I watch as unimaginable numbers of uniformed helpers meticulously walk through Nordstrom’s second floor, looking for what I presume to be the shooters, the victims, and evidence, all at once. After each square of the store they filter through, they go to the next. It is impressive.
The amount of people in this store has led to what appears to be zero control. There are people running, crying, hiding, holding tightly onto their children. There are whispers, there is shouting and there is praying. Lights, spotlights, radios, phones ringing, text pings, all overcome the senses. I had mind-practiced what I would do in a circumstance like this, but it is the opposite of anything I ever imagined. There are people trying to escape: running down the stopped escalator, only to be met by the police and repositioned with a group on the first floor. I smell fear. It exudes from me and everyone else at the same time. My heart attack seems to subside, which gets me out of my head and back to finding Danny.
“No bodies in here!” the assistant manager screamed out. I recognize the voice as the assistant manager, from the frequent shopping I do here. The police quickly moved their search to the offices adjacent to the fitting room.
I swear I thought I saw someone maneuver their way out of the dressing room. Maybe there are actually bodies in there, and the assistant manager is part of the cover up? He was stalling so the assailant had time to slip away. And how is he part of the investigation? He is not an officer? Why wouldn’t the officer check himself?
As people oddly follow in pairs behind the investigators, I went against the masses and checked for myself. Nothing. But I know I saw something. And all these distractions, like the incredibly selfish teenager and her mom still trying on clothes while this is all going down. Don’t they understand this is an active crime scene?
I am astounded at my abilities right now. I mean I have handrail monster bacteria running through my blood stream and just got over a heart attack. I would have been in bed for days at home after all these health threats, but here, in this store, it is as if nothing has happened. Health wise I mean. Of course, something has happened. There was a shooting. And my godson and his father are missing, but I am talking about me.
Televisions are mounted above couches by the dressing rooms. They are on, freakishly telling the news story about us. “Breaking News” is the headline, with the subheading “Mall Shooting Fatalities Unknown”. It is a live picture of the outside of Nordstrom’s. This is too much. I look around and some others are watching with me. There is speculation about the suspect and possible victims. How do they have this information from the parking lot? I am in here and have no idea. My mind races to my dear friends. I quickly look up, asking for a sign that it is nothing has happened to them.
There is chatter around the couch that a woman downstairs can’t find her husband and son. I see Janice at the escalator. I hobble over to her, not wanting any blood to suddenly gush or a resurgence of my heart condition.
I hear the woman in the fur coat “ What was your husband’s name?”
Tears forming, she mouths the words “Please find them” to me.
She is crying, her girls went from content to looking scared. I tell them to be strong, that I am going to find Daddy and Danny. And when I do, we will all go out for Buffalo Wild Wings later. They seemed to perk up a bit and I saw a smile on Kayla’s face. Although she was confined to the stroller, she was old enough to walk and understand her auntie. I give her a kiss on the forehead and tell Janice I am going to find them. She cannot even compose herself, she is a wreck, understandably. I need to help my friend. I think she is in shock.
I make my way around the stroller and a few mannequins, finding myself in the perfume section of the store. I cannot be around this amount of poison. The symptoms come on quick. My brain will first become foggy and then I will go into an odd fatigued thinking regimen. It has happened so many times before. I know I have only seconds to pass through this area before I succumb to my neurological impairment. Security is not allowing anyone to move between floors now, but I need to get back to the dressing room and away from these smells. I know I saw something up there. I allow myself to get out of my obsessive thinking and I notice I have been leaning on the glass of the Calvin Klein perfume display, with no ill effects. Huh. Interesting. I take a few of the free samples to remember that this is a perfume that does not make me feel sick.
There are people being questioned and sectioned off from others. Many are still on the ground hiding behind displays. I am taking my signals from the police, who don’t have guns drawn, but more in an investigative mode. Seeing this, I feel a bit more comfortable and I am able to get back upstairs to the mysterious dressing room. It was easy, I know this store like its home. There is a back staircase that goes from the first-floor storeroom to the second floor. I look around again in the dressing room, it appears empty, but my senses tell me a different story. I notice a rack with discarded clothing hanging on it. I move the clothing to one side and to my surprise and delight I see Barry.
Before I could smile or say anything to this amazing find, he jumps me. I fall to the ground, cue the nose bleed. He is so much larger and stronger, I know better than to waste any energy struggling. Barry covers my mouth with one of his hands. Completely gross. I try to bite him, but there was no slack to enable me to get any of his skin. Squeezing my eyes tight, I did what I could never imagine, I licked his palm. Immediate involuntary regress of his hand. Without thinking I took the perfume samples and poured them out on his face, and thankfully, into his eyes. He recoiled, and I squirmed out from beneath him, screaming. First because Barry was a crazed man and second because my tongue was infested. I needed mouthwash, stat.
I must have looked worse than I imagined because running out of the dressing room screaming, with blood running out of my nose, created a whole new stir on the second floor. People matching my pitch began screaming too. The scene was a scary, warped, a cappella performance.
I was able to get my story out to the police. They found Barry. I can only assume he is being questioned for the what I still think was a shooting, his son’s disappearance and the wild assault upon me. I saw the assistant manager in the make-shift questioning room as well.
Janice was brought up to me and I greeted her with an enormous hug. She melted into my arms. There were many questions she was asked. And then it was my turn.
I sat there darting my eyes from one officer to the other, as they took turns interrogating me. I realized that I had not washed my hands or face. I did not care about the nervous shaking or heart palpitations that I was experiencing. And I was okay with the bacteria on my tongue. I was not dying. I was living, albeit in an imperfect world. A sometimes violent and unimaginable world. But a world where I need not contribute to its fears.