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Of Sneakers, Birthdays, and a Truly Malicious Monday
It was Monday. It was common knowledge that nobody ever really liked Monday, but Monday was the only day available at such short notice.
Two adults guided the line of excited, bouncing children down the mall aisle. One led the disorderly line, while the other dragged on the wrist of a particularly wayward boy. An unusually quiet girl trudged along morosely at the back of the group, and the chaperones glanced back over their shoulders every few minutes to be sure that she was still there. None of the other children noticed her lagging behind, though. They were too busy gazing with rapt eyes at the many wonders the mall provided.
There were entire shops dedicated solely to rare, beautiful chocolates and oversized multihued posters directing the children to stores full of toys. The second floor opened in the center to reveal a two story tall cavern, where voices echoed. Everywhere the eye could see, there were dozens upon dozens of teenagers. The teenagers walked the mall like they owned it, wearing dark sunglasses, scowls, and ear buds trailing from their ears as they chattered on their cell phones.
The younger boys and girls gazed, spellbound, as a couple of ring-studded seventeen year olds shoved their way out of a store and into one of the chaperones. Some of the more daring children even began making plans for their own teen years.
Proudly presiding over this entire melee was the crowned girl at the front of the line, the one temporarily dignified by the title of “Birthday Girl”. A paper party hat was perched like a precarious crown on her head, and her brunette hair was neatly plaited. She surveyed the mall as if it were her own great kingdom, seeming almost surprised that those around her did not bow down as she passed. All of her playmates turned minions watched her with envious eyes. At least, all except the two bringing up the end of the line.
The girl trudging along in the very back stood out strongly from the rest of her group. Instead of looking around herself in wonder, her head was hanging low and her shoulder length blond hair had fallen forward to shade her eyes. Her overalls and tennis shoes contrasted sharply with the other girls’ dresses. Unlike the rest of the children, she looked vaguely disappointed to be spending her precious fall vacation in this place. Most importantly, she was not looking where she was going.
The dissatisfied girl knew that she couldn’t get lost as long as she followed the shiny new sneakers of the boy just in front of her. They were an unusual shade of blue that she found almost hypnotic, and squeaked loudly at every step. Virtually unaware of the splendor around her, the girl concentrated on following those blue shoes.
So far this strategy was working well, but this was obviously not a stable situation. The attention span of little boys is highly variable, and clearly this undersized one’s was not going to be focused on the line for much longer. What was soon to happen would be painfully obvious to the chaperones in retrospect. At this time, though, the group was nearing their destination and the adults were finally starting to relax. They even stopped constantly checking behind them for the girl that lagged at the rear of the frenzied line.
That same girl continued to follow the reassuring squeak of those blue sneakers. She was lost in her own little world, daydreaming about how she would spend the rest of her single week of freedom.
Then Fate cast her die.
At that moment, the group rounded the corner. Suddenly the child who had been unconsciously leading the girl found himself face to face with an enormous, two story toy heaven. He thought he heard a far off choir of angels, and unconsciously stopped. The girl behind him did not hear the choir, but, she did notice the disconcerting silence that replaced his sneakers’ rhythmic squeaking.
At that moment, the inattentive chaperones led the rest of the group around another corner and out of sight.
The boy was still staring up at the store, the glow of toy heaven glowing on his face. Only now did the girl glance up. She threw her gaze around disorientedly, not recognizing this as their destination.
“Where… where did everybody go?”
“Dunno.” They had an entire display dedicated to transformers.
“Wait!” She ran after him. “Wait! But where is everyone?”
“Dunno.” They even had collectibles!
Her small voice turned as accusatory as it could. “I was following you!”
The boy seemed to notice for the first time that they were not, in fact, where they were supposed to be. “Where are we?” He asked plaintively.
The girl sighed loudly, stomped over to a nearby stool that she saw by a play area, and plopped down heavily. The child who had misled her followed.
“So… what do we do now?” he inquired.
“I don’t know. YOU'RE the one who got us here.”
They sat there for a few minutes, staring around with wide fearful eyes, unaware that the rest of the group was just around the corner. At least, the girl’s eyes were fearful. The boy was torn between being scared and wanting to live in the store for the rest of his life. The general hubbub, which had once only been annoying to the young girl, had now taken on a more sinister tone. She shrunk closer to her stool every time a stranger’s eyes passed over her.
After a while a woman in an officer’s uniform strolled over, and the girl’s head snapped up.
“Excuse me? Are your parents around?” the woman inquired.
The boy’s head jerked up and he stared at the woman with round eyes. He looked almost as terrified as the girl felt.
“N-no, ma’am. We’re lost. We were here for a birthday party and – we got lost. Do you know where everyone else is?” she implored.
The officer managed to explain that no, she did not know where their group was but yes, she would help them find it. She worked to get their phone numbers out of them, and then allowed them to sit on their stool and panic in peace.
After what felt like several hours but was really more like ten minutes, the harried chaperones showed up. The young girl and the boy with the blue shoes were immensely relieved. The chaperones appeared suitable pleased, too. The adults thanked the officer, then led the children past two small stores to where the rest of the group had been waiting.
The rest of the partygoers seemed more thrilled with finally being able to ingest cake than with the safe return of their playmates, but they put on a good show.
It has been eight years and that one unusual, little girl has never gotten lost at the mall again.