“Jesus Christine. We’ve been in line for almost twenty minutes now,” Blake said in a huff. “Relax. You know, just a few decades ago, it would’ve been a million times worse,” Christine replied. “You can’t hold it just a little longer?”
“No. I gotta go. Just take my damn card,” Blake said as he shoved his debit card into her hand. “My pin is 3891. The cashier won’t ask for the pin, but if he does, it’s really not that hard to remember. Take my coat while you’re at it, I’m burning up.”
Christine put on a pouty face and grabbed his arms pleadingly as he tried to maneuver out of his jacket. “You know I get stressed about these things!” she argued. With a frustrated sigh, Blake draped the coat over her shoulder, turned around, and rushed out of the line, brushing past people as quickly as he could without knocking them over.
The mall was as crowded as he’d ever seen it; last time he was here, he was sure it was going to go out of business. Black Friday has that power over people, he guessed.
The bathroom was just as much of a chaotic game of push and shove as the rest of the building. It didn’t take him long to realize that every urinal and stall was occupied, and the line was not short. The pain was beginning to grow, and he began to move about in a panicked way, standing on his toes to see any opening. At this point, he didn’t care if someone had to get floored. It was that or a new pair of jeans, and he certainly wasn’t waiting in another line for those.
Just as he gave up all hope, he noticed a stall at the back corner, the last one. It’s door was completely ajar, and nobody had seemed to notice it. Elated, he squeezed his way through, and bolted for it.
Once inside, he locked the door as quickly as he could, and made for the toilet. Within moments, he was relieved, and a sensation of pure ecstasy overtook him. Deciding he didn’t want to quite go back into the horde of consumers, he took a moment for himself. He did wonder why nobody else had taken this stall; it wasn’t broken, nor particularly filthy. In fact, it only seemed to have one piece of graffiti, a small little scribble near the bottom of the furthest corner. He squatted down to read it. “1983,” he read aloud, before his forehead shot forward into the wall and slammed it, his vision now black.
Blake’s head pounded with miserable, throbbing pain. He must’ve slipped into the wall, but he could’ve sworn his head was pushed into it. Maybe a person just as desperate as him broke into the stall.
Either way, he thought to himself, he better find Christine and get home. Hopefully he wasn’t concussed. As he opened his eyes, though, he realized it was dark in the bathroom too. For a second his adrenaline pumped, thinking the blow had knocked him blind, but he noticed a faint light coming in from the other side of the bathroom. Confused, he rose to his feet, undoing the latch. The interior was murky, and he reached for his phonelight. “Fuck!’ he exclaimed. He had left it in his coat pocket.
Making his way out of the bathroom, he realized not only were most of the lights in the building off, but it was empty, too. Had he really been out cold for that long, and had nobody found him? Did Christine really just up and leave the store without him, and not tell a soul he was missing?
Stopping in the middle of the hallway, he soon realized something else. The few lights that were on were bright pink and blue neons, tucked amongst various odd decor. Strange geometric designs, in seemingly meaningless patterns. Palm tree statues, white everywhere. Glendale Mall had a lot of interesting design choices, but a retro aesthetic was not one of them. The place looked like it had been ripped straight out of his mom’s high school scrapbook.
Blake didn’t know if he should feel scared, but the sheer oddity of the situation mostly just stunned him. He could not make heads or tails of what was going on, and that bewilderment was all he could really process.
He decided to aimlessly wander back towards the store Christine was at, or at least where she was at. Without a legion of shoppers to block his path, he was there in a moment. But the storefront was not Tagg, the new age shop Christine raved over. The over-the-top sign atop the entrance read, “Polygon’s”, flanked by some kind of 8-bit creatures on either side. It was an arcade.
As he stepped foot into the arcade, the bizzarity of things began to become clearer, and he felt the tinge of fear seeping into his soul. Nothing about this was right. It felt way too concrete to be a dream; every sensation he could consciously account for. The soft give of the ridiculous carpet, the vague smell of pizza and plastic, the buzzing of the lights and machines, the taste of dryness in his mouth.
He rounded one of the pillars, and jumped back in fear. He crashed into one of the machines, and quickly scrambled to his feet, staring at the figure ahead. A kid, wearing baggy jeans and a striped shirt, was eagerly playing one of the cabinets, pounding away at the buttons and pulling the joystick this way and that. But the kid wasn’t alive. There was something ghostly, ethereal, about his appearance. He was translucent to a degree, and he glowed a soft blue. He was an apparition.
Blake sprinted out of the arcade as soon as he got the courage to move. He looked back, expecting to be pursued by some kind of spirit. Not looking, he ran into someone else.
“Woah, woah! Take it easy, kid! You could’ve trampled me!” the man said to him.
Blake turned his head towards the man. Modestly dressed, wearing bright and small sunglasses, and sporting a devilish goatee and mustache, the man certainly looked odd, but there was nothing frightening about him.
“And who the fuck are you?” Blake yelled at him. “And where the fuck am I, and-”
The man shushed Blake, gently grabbing his arm and and raising a finger over his lips. “Hey now. Hush. It’s okay, everything will be fine. Give me a moment to explain, follow me.”
Blake began to hyperventilate as the man led him towards a padded stool in the center of the plaza. The pair sat down, and Blake stared at the man intently, rubbing his hands over his head.
“As for who I am? I’m just a traveler. I’m neither here nor there, for very long anyway, but I sure like to make my way around everywhere. As for where you are? You’re in Glendale Mall, of course. That’s where you started, and you didn’t leave. The question you should be asking is when!”
The traveler slid a piece of paper to Blake, who began reading.
“Twenty-two dead in Black Friday stabbing attack at Glen Palms Shopping Center,” the headline stated. It was dated Saturday, November 26th, 1983.
The traveler snatched the paper back. “You got a clue now? Rewind the clock 40 years and then move it forward a few hours and here you are.
Blake felt sick to his stomach, and a little lightheaded, on top of his dull head pain from earlier. His brain desperately searched for any legitimate logic or reasoning to cling to, and it eventually found a weak point in the traveler’s facts. Though small, and still explaining next to nothing, it was the only thing Blake’s mind could ground itself to for now.
“Well, how could you find this newspaper, in the mall, talking about Black Friday, when it’s dated Saturday, and it's supposed to still be Black Friday now? And the mall name isn’t even the same!” Blake spat at the traveler, who looked back at him somewhat befuddled.
“I never said the paper was from now. Like I said. I like to wander, and I don’t stick to times or places for extended periods. The paper was just something I thought would help you figure things out. Also, the mall got rebranded after all that. I’m sure this isn’t new news to you in your day?”
Blake still looked puzzled, and the traveler sighed. “You aren’t a local, are you? You really never heard about the Glen Palms Black Friday stabbing spree? I mean, they had to bulldoze the place, sell the lot, build a new one a decade later. It was a whole thing,” the traveler explained.
“I mean, my girlfriend and I are both new to the area.” Blake shook his head and then stood up. “But that doesn’t explain what the hell is going on!”
The traveler stood up. “Patience isn’t your strong suit. Trust me, you wouldn’t be here if you couldn’t handle it. Just shut up and follow me, I want you to meet some people.”
Hopelessly lost, Blake really didn’t have a choice but to follow the traveler’s commands. They began to walk down the hardly illuminated corridors. Soon, the traveler stopped Blake, and pointed out another one of the bluish people, like the child he had seen before. “See that woman? She died here earlier today. Her soul is now tied to this date, this location, going through the motions she did right before she passed. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what happened to her.”
The traveler led Blake up and down the store, pointing out more and more of the ghosts. “You already saw the kid in the arcade?” the traveler asked. Blake nodded.
The pair returned to the center of the plaza, this time standing near the water fountain. The traveler looked expectantly at Blake, as if Blake was supposed to have some kind of revelation or gained some insight. “Well?” the traveler asked.
“I- I don’t know. How could someone do this? On a day like Black Friday, so many people around?”
The traveler put his hand on Blake’s shoulder. “That’s just the thing. It was so crowded, so many people getting knocked over and moved about, that nobody was paying any attention. All the killer had to do was keep his blade covered by his sleeve, get real close to his next target, and from an outsider view he was just pushin’ the poor person out of the way. Not that anyone cared to look. And he’d go from place to place, not doing a bunch in one spot. He only got caught when he slipped and stabbed himself. His dying breath was a confession to the police, right about where you are.”
Blake looked at the traveler in a mix of awe and horror. “Jesus. Well, if you took me here to teach me the history or something- you really did your job. You should really take me back though. I gotta go back. I can’t really handle all this shit, I need reality back. I don’t know if you’re a halluc-”
“You really aren’t curious who did it?” the traveler asked, almost disappointed. “Fine! Okay, what kind of sick fuck could do this?” Blake shouted in a shrill voice. He hadn’t noticed, but the ghosts had surrounded him and the traveler. “Look, here he comes,” the traveler stated.
A shadowy figure approached, making its way through the ghosts of the people it had slain. It moved purposefully towards Blake, but he could not discern its identity, not even when it was mere feet from him. The traveler stood up, and walked behind the figure, placing his hands on its shoulders.
Blake blinked, and the figure changed. In fact, it was no longer a figure at all; but rather, a mirror, being held up by the traveler.
Blake stared into his own puffy eyes, watched his chest rapidly rise and fall. The only differences were the clothes and hair in the reflection, reflecting the contrasting times. Blake buried his head in his hands and let out a bawl, before looking up again. The traveler had his hands on Blake’s shoulders, and the mirror was gone. The ghosts all pointed at him, their fingers extended in spectral unison.
“No, no, no, what the fuck? I couldn’t have! I wasn’t even born! How… what… this is insane! It wasn’t me!” Blake screamed.
“Search inside yourself. You know it to be true. Think about your life. How many signs have you gotten? You were an accidental birth, correct? Conceived during Mom and Dad’s honeymoon, in a hotel room just a short half hour from here? Numbers, they’ve always pointed you to this year. No coincidence you moved here, either.”
Blake pushed away from the traveler, who no longer bore an easily recognizable form, his face seeming to shift and contort yet remain motionless at the same time. “I- I don’t get it. How does this make any sense? It doesn’t!”
“Lift your shirt. Your scar under your right ribs- where do you think you got that from? Looks about… this wide,” the traveler said as he pulled a blood-stained switchblade from his pocket. “You aren’t what you think you are. You have a destiny, a calling beyond this world, and you are only beginning to realize it. Reject what you know, seize your blade, and do what needs to be done,” the traveler commanded Blake, slipping the knife into his hands.
Blake stuttered as tears streamed down his face. “What are you… damn it! I gotta go!”
The traveler grabbed Blake’s face. “You do gotta go, and when you do, you’ll have what it takes.” The world once again fell into black.
Blake awoke in a sweat on the floor of the bathroom. The lights were on, and he could hear the commotion of people. He couldn’t believe what he had just experienced. There was no way it had been a dream, it was so vivid. But yet, there was no way it had happened. It felt like only a couple of moments had passed, despite how long his experience had seemed to take. Already, it felt like a strange memory.
He looked down, noticing an object tucked into his hand. It was a switchblade, the one the traveler had handed him, bloodstained and all. He stared into the steel for a long time, feeling something deep within him claw at his mind, challenging his conscience and filling him with urges. After a period of futile deliberation, he decided the traveler was right. He knew what needed to be done, and he did have what it was going to take.