May 4, 2010
By , Wayne, PA
“Mommy,” said Teddy. “When do I get to pick out a cookie?”
“Now,” she said and smiled. Bells tinkled as she pushed open the door to the bakery. Teddy was deciding between a chocolate chip and a peanut butter cookie when a shrill siren echoed through the mall. Red lights were flashing. “We are experiencing technical difficulties,” the intercom crackled. “We estimate that the mall doors will be locked until the end of the week. Please find somewhere to spend the night and mark it with one of the red tags our employees are giving out. When you are done this, you may continue shopping.” Outside the store, chaos was erupting. A frantic mother was running down the hall, her screeching child in her arms. She wasn’t the only one. Teddy couldn’t figure out the problem, but he was scared. Why were these people screaming? The only thing wrong was that he had to leave without his cookie. His mom firmly took hold of his hand and marched to the entrance of Macy’s, hoping against hope that the door would open. It was locked, and so was the next door.
“Mommy,” Teddy asked. “What’s happening? What did the nice lady say, Mommy?” His mother shushed him.
“It’s all right, honey. We just have to find a comfy bed to sleep on tonight. You can even jump on it. Then we’ll get you a cookie somewhere else, if you’re quiet. OK, sweetie?” Teddy was still scared. People were still screaming, and he heard the crash of breaking glass. His “nice lady” was still talking, but nobody could hear her over the pandemonium going on. This didn’t seem right at all.

There was a JC Penney employee standing about fifty feet away, holding a bucket of what could only be the tags. Mrs. Hatford ran towards her, pulling Teddy along behind. A burly man shoved her out of the way, and when the mob cleared, all the girl had left was a small red shred of a tag that matched the scrape on her cheek. One man was lying on the ground, holding his ankle. Mrs. Hatford covered Teddy’s eyes.
“Honestly!” she muttered. “It’s not the end of the world.” But her face was pale and her hands were shaking.

Five security officers were driving the crowd out of JC Penney.
“There’s no room left!” one of them shouted. “If you haven’t found a bed yet, you’re not going to! Everyone will be all right, and some stores have agreed to start giving out food to the people who didn’t bring enough money for it. If anyone has a small child with them, they have priority. Would those people come with me, please?” Teddy and Mrs. Hatford joined a small line next to the officer, who led them out of the store and the barrage of booing. They were taken to a modest nursery with animal wallpaper.
“The space in here is limited, too, so you’re lucky you got here first,” the officer said. “I would stay in here until things die down a bit.” Teddy was still shaken and hungry. He started to cry. What was happening?

Six days later, Mrs. Hatford was quite sore and stiff from sitting on the nursery floor for so long. She had called her husband the first night and managed to reassure him that everything would be ok, but her cell phone battery quickly ran out. She had managed to keep a level head about her situation, but it was clear everyone else thought doomsday had come. Yesterday when she was getting food, someone even tried to snatch her purse. Yes, the situation was serious. But they were going to get out of the mall soon and the sun would keep rising and setting no matter what happened!

The woman sitting next to her with a four-year-old girl in her lap introduced herself as Mrs. Paige. Privately, Mrs. Hatford thought she was a bit of a gossip, but she kept her opinions to herself. When you are stuck in a mall for six days straight, you need all the information you can get. Apparently, the previous night one woman had tried to shatter the glass doors in TJ Maxx with her elderly father’s cane, and the security guards had to restrain her. Nobody had seen her since. It was really starting to seem like there was no way out, and Teddy’s mother knew she had to do something about it. The food wouldn’t last forever- it was already starting to run low in some stores, and for some reason, the security officers had taken away the only TV in the nursery. What excuse could the owners of the mall possibly give for keeping them here this long?

Back at their house, Mr. Hatford was anxiously watching the TV for any sign of news about his family. He had tried going to work, but he found it impossible to concentrate on his clients’ needs. So today he had simply called in sick. CNN was back on! (“It’s about time,” thought Mr. Hatford.) “Terrorist Attack on King of Prussia Mall” read the screen. The camera switched to footage of broken glass. “Last night, a woman attempted to break out of the mall by throwing a heavy snow globe at the glass doors. She was apprehended before she could escape, but the hole is big enough to put a hand through. One shopper managed to slip a piece of paper through to the police, who are trying to gain permission to break into the building. The hole is now guarded 24/7 by suspected terrorists pretending to be security officers, and the police have decided not to break in for fear of hostage death.” Teddy’s father sat in shock. The situation was far, far worse than he had imagined.

“Shhh,” whispered Mrs. Hatford. She and Mrs. Paige had just watched one of the security officers punch in the code to the Restricted Access door- 2748693. Who did Mrs. Paige think she was? James Bond? As a general rule, it is hard to follow people if you can’t stop talking! Mrs. Paige sneaked a peek over her shoulder (something that was obviously meant to be subtle) and tried to enter the code while pretending to be checking her nails (something that was also not going too well). The room they walked into was filthy; there were cigarette butts scattered across the floor and a half-eaten doughnut on the table. All the mall’s TVs were in there, tuned to the news, and there were screens set up for viewing the mall through the security cameras. The guard was nowhere to be seen. Mrs. Paige immediately started opening drawers, searching for any hint of a clue. She opened one drawer a little too quickly, spilling its contents all over the floor. What was Mrs. Hatford doing with this idiotic woman?! The flashing TV screen caught her eye. Something about terrorists, and malls. She pulled up a chair and began to watch, horrified at the chain of events that was unfolding.

Teddy was hungry. He hadn’t had dinner that night, and everyone else had gone to sleep at least an hour ago. It was no use being scared anymore, because nothing had happened, and he knew if he were scared, his friends would think he was a sissy. Where was his mom? He wanted to leave the nursery, with its gaudy pictures of clowns and animals. Teddy knew his mom would be super-proud if he found her, so after checking that all of the moms were asleep, he pushed open the door and found himself in the middle of a disaster site. Debris was littered all over the floor, and the ice cream stand nearby was a mess. He picked up a pretty piece of green paper. Teddy couldn’t read yet, but he knew his numbers. This one said twenty. He wandered past the shops, liking the feeling of being the only one awake. Teddy turned the corner and saw a door that didn’t look like the others- a perfect place for exploring. (Teddy wanted to be like his hero Diego when he grew up.) When the door opened, he found himself in the dirtiest room he had ever seen. It was full of TVs and there was a doughnut on the counter! Teddy quickly scarfed it down and looked around. There was yet another door in the corner, and someone was making quite a lot of noise on the other side. He pushed it open carefully (he was getting pretty good at this door-opening business!) and found a dingy bathroom. His mom and the nice lady from the nursery were handcuffed to the handicap rail next to the toilet, their hair messy and faces streaked with tears.

“Teddy!” his mom cried. “They’re coming!”

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