After the Storm

Submitted into Contest #122 in response to: Write about a character who’s stuck in a shopping mall.... view prompt

4 comments

Drama

There were, no doubt, better places to hide out, but this one was available. The storm was coming. Already, the heavy rains pounded against the large glass wall of the main mall entry.

Deciding that the glass was likely to turn into shrapnel when the storm fully hit, Angel moved deeper into the pitch-black mall, the crowbar she’d used to break in hanging from one hand. Her phone provided a little light, at least for now. She didn’t dare check how much battery it had left.

The drumming of the rain echoed in the empty promenade, louder now. A bright flash illuminated the empty store fronts, followed by the boom of thunder that hurt her ears.

She looked up to realize that the entire promenade had massive skylights for a roof. That, combined with the sheer amount of glass in the empty store fronts made her more nervous.

Angel tried to remember the last time she’d been here. What brought her back to the city she’d fled she couldn’t say. Years ago, when the stores were still open and the mall was packed daily, this was a happy place for her. She wasn’t sure what had killed the mall, but it was a dead, dusty thing now long faded like her memories.

Aside from some graffiti, though, the inside looked untouched. Another bright flash followed immediately by the boom of thunder pulled her head back into the present and presented a possibility.

She shined her phone’s light at the sign she’d glimpsed in the lightning flash. The restrooms and mall office were down a hallway just ahead. No exterior windows, no skylights, it would do.

The end of the hallway presented her with the restrooms and a heavy door to the office. She tried the door, but it was locked. Angel tried to break the lock with the crowbar, but the door was sturdier than the outside door she’d jimmied.

The sound of glass shattering and the sudden increase in pressure motivated her to run on to the restrooms. There was no door on the men’s, but the women’s restroom was still whole.

Angel sat down against the inside wall, feeling the air pressure pulsate as the door opened and closed, pumping like a bellows in response to the gusts. She turned off her phone’s flashlight to save her battery and darkness made her eyes strain to get the light that didn’t exist.

She closed her eyes, listening to the storm raging outside. The door was spending more time opened than closed, the wind raging past in the hallway outside. The steady drumming of the rain was punctuated with the percussive sound of branches or other detritus striking the skylights like mallets on a giant drum.

The faint echo of a whimper caught her attention. It was a dog, she was certain, and it sounded as scared as she was. She turned on her phone’s flashlight and called out, “In here, puppy! In here!”

The whimpering drew closer. A small mutt, curly brown coat soaked, showing the emaciated frame beneath, slunk in, ears down, tail between its legs. It bumped its nose against her hand and rolled on its back, shivering.

Angel turned off the flashlight and lifted the feather-light puppy into her lap. “You look how I feel,” she said. She stroked the wet fur slowly, giving the scared pup time to trust her.

“I think,” she said, “you’ve been living on the streets as long as I have. If we make it out of here I’ll make sure you get some food, okay?”

The dog licked at her hands, tentative at first, then gaining confidence. It tried to burrow under her sweatshirt, and she helped it. “Yeah, I don’t have much, but I can share some warmth at least.”

Every crash of thunder, sound of breaking glass, and large strike of rubble against the skylights made the dog tense and shiver. Angel cradled the scared animal under her sweatshirt and rocked it slowly, as she had rocked her baby once.

“I never got the chance to be a mommy,” she said, “but I’ll be one for you.” She remembered the day, what should have been the best turned into the worst day of her life. Her small son, cradled in her arms, umbilicus freshly cut, as he lay still and lifeless. The doctors tried, for what seemed like hours, but there was nothing they could do but let her say goodbye. Tears ran down her face, mirroring the rain outside, as she remembered the day that made her run away from her own life.

By small measures, the puppy she cradled calmed, until it finally slept, sucking on her sweatshirt. A sad smile crossed Angel’s face, as she continued to rock the sleeping puppy.

The storm tailed off so slowly Angel didn’t notice until it was silent. Her hips and back hurt from sitting on the tile floor. She realized that she could make out the sinks and stalls. Light was coming in from somewhere.

Angel rose, careful not to drop the puppy, that stirred and tried to lick her face as she took it out from under her sweatshirt. She put her phone in a pocket and picked up the crowbar with her free hand.

The door to the restroom stood open a crack, a small branch wedged under it. She forced it open the rest of way with her shoulder and stepped out into the hallway. Leaves and small pieces of branches littered the hallway. She turned the corner to the main promenade, where the morning sun poured in the shattered skylights.

What appeared to be an entire tree lay in the main walk, surrounded by shards of glass. Not a single skylight had survived the storm.

The puppy squirmed. “No, I can’t set you down in here, you’ll cut your feet. Let’s get out of here.”

She walked out of the shattered main doors to the path of the storm’s destruction. The river had flooded and taken over the lower parking lots. Pieces of building material and trees were piled against one wall of the mall. The construction site to the south had been scrubbed clean.

A heavy sigh escaped Angel’s lips as she realized that her squat was gone. She’d known it wouldn’t last forever, but at least until the construction was done would’ve been nice. She walked to a grassy island in the parking lot and set the puppy down.

Her phone still had a little charge, and she still had the one important number in it. She looked at the number and locked her phone. Was that why she’d come back? She would have to get something to eat soon, and she wasn’t likely to get any water at the fast-food places, since they’d all be closed.

She wondered if the water in the downtown park bathrooms, four miles away, was working. At least she wouldn’t die of thirst, then. The park was a good place to panhandle, too. She could get at least enough to buy something off the five-dollar menu at the taco place…assuming it was even open.

A whimper at her feet brought her back to the present. The puppy was begging to be picked up. She picked it up, holding it on its back Ike a baby.

“You’re a cute little girl, aren’t you?” She scratched the puppy’s belly. “Well, I promised to feed you, and I can’t do that without help, can I?”

The puppy nibbled at her fingers, play biting turning into an attempt at suckling. Angel took a deep breath, unlocked her phone and hit the “call” button before she could change her mind. The line on the other end rang once, twice, then was answered.

“Mo—mom?” Angel’s voice broke. “I—is it okay for me to…I mean, can I come home?”

November 27, 2021 19:35

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4 comments

Yves. ♙
21:18 Dec 05, 2021

So glad I can read the other approaches to this prompt! I love your idea-- stuck there not because the mall is locked or someone is keeping her there, but because your main character can't be anywhere else. Really clever way to interpret the prompt!

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Sjan Evardsson
14:52 Dec 07, 2021

Thanks. I'm glad I was able to entertain.

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Keya Jadav
04:58 Nov 28, 2021

This is a different story of yours I have read till now. The emotions have been captured beautifully, creating a place of sympathy in the reader's hearts. The protagonist's kind yet brave personality has been displayed amazingly. Great way to end!

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Sjan Evardsson
15:25 Nov 28, 2021

Thanks for the kind words.

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