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And You Thought Shopping was Hell
And You Thought Shopping was Hell
I sighed as I threw my black leather coat and purse on the painted black bench and slouched down next to them. Jobless and miserable I sat there, loathing the fact that I had to call my parents and tell them I had just gotten fired. It didn’t even make sense why I was fired in the first place. I was a good little Apple store worker; I stocked the shelves, got my boss Nate’s lunch from the Panda Express in the food court, and at one point had to chase down a guy who tried to steal an iPod, tackle him, and hold him down until the mall police got there. But no, in the words of Nate,
“I just don’t see the employer-employee spark,” little hand gesture here, “there.”
Well jeeze Nate, I thought, you didn’t need to make it sound like we were breaking up or something. Of course I had concluded within the first couple minutes of working at the Apple store that Nate was a bit of an odd one. I giggled as I remembered this.
Suddenly there was a â€˜SHOOM SHOOM’ sound and within a second all the lights where I was sitting had gone off. My breath caught in my throat and I rummaged through my purse to find my phone.
“Oh my gosh!” I moaned as I looked at the time. It was nearly ten o’clock and the mall was closing down. I jumped up and looked around, trying to see if there was an EXIT sign or a map to lead me out of there. Then, throwing all caution to the wind I took off at a sprint down the long hallway, occasionally twisting my head to see if there was some way out. All the stores at this point had pulled the metal bars down in front of their entrances and I was almost sure the bigger department stores had done the same. With a wail I slowed to a jog, then a walk, and finally one of those shuffle-your-feet-to-make-that-squeaking-noise lumbers. At this point I just wanted to know what I would do while trapped in a mall. Where was I supposed to sleep? What if a gang of people came in and tried to rob all the stores and killed me?! Or even worse, how the heck was I supposed to tell my parents I go fired and had decided to camp out in a mall? They’re gonna’ kill me, I thought miserably, I’ll probably get disowned or something.
I rounded the next corner and stopped abruptly. There in font of me stood two shadowy figures. They were both men, but one was tall and lanky and the other looked a bit pudgier and was holding a square object at waist-height. Slowly they took a couple steps forward, and equally as slow I took a few steps back. My heart was pounding and I could feel the hairs standing up on the back of my neck. Both men stepped forward and into the dim light cast from a wall sconce, which illuminated their faces.
“Hello, I’m a Mac,” said the tall man.
“And I’m a PC,” said the shorter one.
My mouth dropped and I froze in my place. It couldn’t possibly be them, I thought. But when I took a closer look I saw they weren’t joking. The tall man had short, dark hair and looked exactly like the guy on the commercials. So did the PC guy, who was shorter and squatter with horn-rimmed glasses and a gray suit. I looked to see what he was carrying and saw it was a large cardboard box that he was apparently wearing around his waist.
“Come with us,” said the Mac guy, “we can show you a way out.”
“Um…ok?” I said tentatively.
Mac and PC both walked over to the opposite hallway and opened a door in he wall. I walked slowly after them, hoping they were actually going to help me and not try to kill me or something. I walked up to where they stood and saw that behind the door was a very dark staircase. I gulped.
“Don’t worry,” said PC, “we’re going to lead you out, but first there are a couple things you need to see.”
“Like what?” I asked nervously. This was getting weird and half of me just wanted to run in the opposite direction and get away from these guys. Unfortunately, the other half of me was extremely curious about where his was going and caused me to remain firmly where I stood.
“Just some stuff, don’t worry,” Mac said quickly, “Are you ready?”
I nodded slowly, and we began our descent down the stairs.
First Circle: Gluttons
“Why are we going this way?” I asked breathlessly, “Why can’t we just go back through the mall?” The Mac guy walked briskly in front of us while the PC guy and I struggled to keep up. Of course PC probably could have moved more easily without that stupid cardboard box around his waist. In answer to my question the Mac guy cocked his head slightly in my direction and said,
“We wanted to show you that there are people who are having more problems in their lives than you. Losing your job and getting locked in a mall is definitely not the worst thing that could have happened.”
I had no idea what he was talking about, but I went along with it. If they were going to hurt me they probably would have done it by now, considering we had been walking for at least forty-five minutes without stopping. At this point I was just confused about how a mall could have this many layers of underground space. Every time we got to a dead end the Mac guy would just open up a random door in the hall and we would descend another staircase into yet another endless hallway. But now it was getting even stranger; the hall seemed to have narrowed, the fluorescent lights were so dingy that there was hardly any light at all coming from them, and there was this strange sound coming from further down the hall. My body tensed. As we moved forward the sound grew louder, and as soon as we turned the next dimly lit corner I could now make out what it was. The sound was of people screaming. Moans and wails and all out shrieks wafted through the air like scents on a breeze. I drew in my breath as I saw what we were headed in the direction of the sounds, which all seemed to be coming from a door at the very end of the hall. The Mac guy picked up the pace of his walk, causing the PC guy and me to groan loudly. Mac made it to the door and held the handle, waiting for us to catch up.
“I want to warn you, this next sight may scar you for the rest of your life. Be prepared to experience the agony, horror, and pain that resides behind this door,” he said in a low, menacing voice. I gulped then nodded slowly, requesting him to open the door. He took a breath, and then swung the door open.
All at once we were blinded by the most vibrant white light I could have ever imagined. My hand flew to my eyes and I squinted around to find its source. Just then I felt a shove from behind me and I tumbled forward down a very long flight of stairs.
“Ow! Ow! Ow! OW!!” I yelled as I fell. Finally after what seemed like forever I landed in a heap at the bottom of the staircase. I groaned, and then looked around to see where I was. The bright light had dimmed significantly, and as I looked up I saw it had been caused by a huge chandelier that was hung directly in front of the staircase.
“I’m so sorry!” I heard a voice say from behind me. I turned and saw the PC guy lying right behind me, his box smashed and his glasses askew.
“I was trying to keep up with this idiot” he pointed angrily at the Mac guy, who was also lying groaning in a heap a few feet away “and then there was that stupid light that I never get used to and I guess I just fell into you.” At this he looked at the Mac guy and said, quite angrily, “I banish you, you are banished.” I laughed a little while rubbing my throbbing arms, then looked around to see where we were. Honestly, I was surprised at what I saw.
It appeared to be a giant closet, with high shelves lining every available space on the walls and stuffed with every type and color of clothes you could imagine. There were coats and hats, jeans and skirts, and every t-shirt or blouse you could think of. On top of everything else there were enormous counters where I could see gleaming necklaces and bracelets, and behind them hung giant handbags and small purses in shiny leather and animal furs. I was so awestruck by all these things that it took me a couple seconds to notice groups of people tearing at the clothes from what appeared to be fetal positions on the carpeted floor.
“What the heck are they doing?” I asked my guides awestruck. These people were just sitting on the floor wailing and having psychological meltdowns while I was standing right there.
“Well these are the gluttons,” the PC guy answered “they are the people who spend all their money and possessions on designer clothes, shoes, and various other expensive things.” He looked at me and smiled slightly, then pointed to one of the shelves.
“Go tell me what brand of clothing is in that rack,” he said. I was still shocked that I was in this situation, but nonetheless I was curious to see what he was talking about so I approached the rack and grabbed the first thing I saw. It was a very nice wool coat, with black velvet trim on the sleeves and collar. I smiled a little and without thinking pulled out the tag. My eyes widened as I stared at that little slip of paper. The coat was actually Prado, a cheap Prada knockoff, made in China and worth about $5.00. I dropped the coat to the ground and walked slowly back to my guides.
“So their punishment is to stay here and be depressed because all they have is cheap clothes?” I asked in disbelief. This was all so weird that I didn’t fully comprehend what was going on.
“Basically yes,” said the Mac guy “I know this is all really weird, but we need to go on to the next room.” I looked at him, and then at the long staircase we had just fallen down.
“Couldn’t we just take an elevator or something?” I asked in a somewhat irritated voice. The crazy glutton people were still howling in the background and I just wanted to get out of there as fast as possible. On top of that I really didn’t want to fall down the stairs again.
“Nope, sorry” he said “Gotta’ go up the stairs.” The PC guy and I looked at each other and groaned. This was going to be a fantastic voyage, I thought sarcastically, I can only imagine.
Second Circle: Nosy Shop girls
After what seemed like forever we finally made it to the top of those stairs. The Mac guy seemed perfectly fine, while the PC guy and I had pretty much dragged ourselves up the last quarter of the stairs and were now leaning against a wall panting and sweating profusely. The Mac guy just stood there smiling at us in that sort of I-feel-really-bad-for-you-maybe-you-should-hit-the-gym kind of way, and then shut the door to the Glutton room. Oddly, even though when we were walking to this room a few minutes ago I could hear every scream and cry of the people there; when Mac closed the door the sounds were immediately extinguished. I thought about asking why that was but figured it was a stupid question and decided not to. I looked up to notice Mac standing next to a door in the side of the hallway.
“Was that there when we came down here?” I asked confusedly, considering I hadn’t noticed that door before. Mac smiled.
“Well yeah! Of course it was ya’ little nut!” he exclaimed while giving my head a condescending little pat. I glared at him.
“Don’t touch me,” I said angrily as I walked up to the door and wrenched it open. The head rub had suddenly put me in a super nasty mood, coupled with the fact that I had just walked up what felt like a mile of stairs. Frankly I could care less what was behind this door.
Again I was assaulted by the wails and screams of people. This time, however, I wasn’t blinded and shoved head first down an endless flight of stairs. There was no bright chandelier in this room, nor were there clothes racks and shelves. Instead the room was lit by the sickly white light of long fluorescent light bulbs, shaped like tubes and shining through their plastic covers high above us. The room was just as large as the last one, but instead of resembling a closet this room looked more like an abandoned grocery store. The cream white shelves were bare and stretched horizontally from one wall to the other, making it hard to see where the screaming people were in relation to this strange interior design scheme. I walked slowly into the room and I could hear Mac and PC start walking behind me. I approached the first shelf and, if I wasn’t mistaken, heard the sound of crinkling paper followed by a dull â€˜THUD’. Curious, I walked to the end of the row and peeked around the other side.
I wasn’t sure exactly what was going on when I first saw it. From where I stood I could see a group of people who seemed to be hitting something that lay on the floor with the large shopping bags they carried in their hands. Stupefied and almost laughing at this sight I turned back around and asked my guides, baffled,
“Um, do either of you want to explain this?” Mac stepped forward and pointed around the shelf.
“Take a closer look and see if you can tell what they’re hitting.”
I shrugged and poked my head around again. Then I gasped. I couldn’t see it before because of all the people obscuring my vision, but when I looked closer I realized that the thing they were hitting was a person. A woman, I guessed, and also apparently the source of the screaming I had heard. She just lay there; writhing and covering her face and head with her arms while trying to turn away from the blows.
“Ok, so it’s a woman. But why are they hitting her?” I asked.
The PC guy spoke up.
“Well this room is where they send all the overly nosy shop girls,” he said, “the types who like to either follow you around the store and spy on what you’re looking at, or the girls at the registers who make the snide remarks about what you’re buying.”
He gestured towards the people with the bags.
“As you can see, the punishment is to be beaten with the bags of the people they annoyed. Each row of shelves holds one shop girl, and the closer you get to the back wall the more annoying they get.”
This is so damn weird, I thought to myself. I could understand the punishment well enough because those types of people always made me so mad, but why didn’t her manager just fire her or something? They didn’t have to send her to this dungeon five miles below the mall. This all seems so familiar, I thought, I think I read something like this somewhere.
“Let’s go,” I heard Mac say behind me, “There’s one more room you need to see.”
So the whole trying to figure out why I’m having a déjÃ vu moment thing would have to wait. At least there aren’t any steps this time.
Third Circle: Daddy’s Girls
As we turned and walked out the door I noticed directly across the hallway the door that we were headed towards.
“Ok I swear that door wasn’t there before!” I exclaimed. â€˜Where these things keep coming from?’ I asked myself. The Mac guy just smiled as he had before and I seriously hoped he wouldn’t pat my head again.
We made our way over to the door and this time it was the PC guy who opened it. I started to walk through but the both guys grabbed me from behind and pulled me back.
“NO!” they both yelled as they yanked me back.
“Are you insane?!” Mac yelled at me in disbelief, “Didn’t you notice that there’s no way down?”
I was so startled by their reactions that it took me a moment to realize that the doorway dropped off into what seemed like a dark pit. Slowly I walked toward the doorway again and peered over the edge.
“Oh my gosh,” I breathed. Below me was an enormous chasm that seemed to go on for miles. Except for the tiniest light at the bottom that glowed like the flame of a candle amidst the darkness there was only black. I squinted against the light to see if I could figure out what was down there, but the only thing I got out of doing that were apparently burnt corneas.
“Ok I know there are more people down there but since I can’t see them could you just tell me what they’re doing?” I asked my guides. They looked at each other, and then the PC guy spoke.
“Have you ever seen the show â€˜My Super Sweet Sixteen’?” he inquired of me. I nodded my head in reply. That show had always made me want to scream, what with all the spoiled brats and they’re expensive parties. Those things cost the equivalent of a small house!
“Well then you know how the girls on the show act towards their parents’ right?” Mac asked.
“Well yea, snobby little rich girls,” I said, “but what’s that got to do with this?”
PC guy spoke again.
“Yea well this is where they’re sent,” he said as he looked over the ledge.
“Huh?” I said.
“You know how they’re always asking their dads and moms for money right?” Mac guy asked.
“Yea,” I said.
“What do you think they’re doing down there?” he asked again.
“Um,” I said hesitantly, “I dunno, working?”
“Exactly!” said PC, “Their punishment is to work down in this ditch to pay off all the money they borrowed from their parents for shopping and those extravagant parties.”
That made sense. If I were one of those parents I’d have wanted my kid to work off that money too. But then something occurred to me.
“But what happens when they pay all the money back?” I asked, “Do they just leave or something?”
“Well, not exactly,” said Mac, “Most of them do finish paying off their dues, but what happens to them is that the money they earned…”
“Blows up in their face,” interrupted PC.
I gaped, and then stifled a laugh. Sucks for them, I thought. I looked back down into the pit, but then suddenly felt a little twinge of sorrow for those people. Sure they were really annoying and wasteful, but this seemed kind of harsh. Would they ever be able to leave? Or would they just stay down there for forever?
“Oh they’ll be able to leave,” said PC from behind me. Startled, I let out a little yelp and then spun around. I had completely forgotten they were there. Of course the whole mind-reading thing didn’t help either.
“What do you mean?” I asked quietly, “You just said they can only leave if they pay off their debts.”
PC and Mac smiled at me.
“Well yes,” said Mac, “but they can only leave when a special type of person comes to get them.”
I blinked at this. That made absolutely no sense. A â€˜special’ type of person? What the hell did that mean? I was really getting annoyed with this whole thing. First, these two idiots show me a pit full of little rich girls working themselves into stupors over debts they apparently can never pay off, and then when I asked if they could ever leave this hellhole my guides decide to play a guessing game with me and not just give me a straight-flipping-answer! I clenched my teeth and resisted the urge to just start screaming at them, just when I was nearing the end of my willpower string Mac chirped,
“Well, time to go!” and started off down the hallway again.
I stood there awestruck for a second, wondering how he could not feel my anger and complete dislike for him at this point.
“Wait, that’s it?!” I asked intently.
“That’s it,” he replied over his shoulder.
For some reason my brain wasn’t fully comprehending what he was saying and it took me a few more seconds to realize that he meant he was leading me out of here. I shot a glance at PC who seemed to be waiting for me to move. He was just standing there, holding that stupid cardboard box around his waist and smiling knowingly. I smiled back, and then took off after Mac. He was already about a yard ahead of us at this point but I caught up pretty quickly as he rounded the corner at the end of the hall. He walked over to a door in the right side of the wall, opened it, and flipped on a light switch. I walked through the doorway and groaned.
“Mac, do we really need to climb more stairs?” I whined.
“Oh will you just go!” he exclaimed. I turned and put my foot on the first step, but then noticed something and turned back around.
“Where’s PC?” I asked. He apparently hadn’t followed us.
“Oh he can’t go up these stairs,” Mac said, “his box won’t allow him to. Anyway he’ll be fine, he has another way of getting back upstairs.”
Probably something easier than this, I thought to myself as I started up the stairs. One by one we slowly made our way up the dumb staircase. I looked ahead and could see the faintest light of the outside, but that light seemed miles away at this point and I was wondering if I could make the climb without keeling over. Right then we had gone about a third of the way, but I was already panting. My feet slammed against step after step and my hand grasped the handrail so tightly I could feel my knuckles going numb. Halfway there, I thought. I looked up at the lights Mac had turned on and noticed that they seemed to be glowing brighter than they were back at the beginning of the staircase. In fact with each step up the stairs I took they seemed to glow twice as bright as the last. I smiled to myself at that thought and didn’t exactly know why. It just seemed comforting. We were three-quarters of the way there and I was feeling a little stronger. I tried to put some speed on these last few steps. Just get out of here, I thought to myself, just get out and you can go home.
“A few more steps,” I heard Mac say from behind me. I took a deep breath and kept going. We were almost there and the lights were glowing even brighter than before. Twenty steps, fifteen, ten. I could feel my heart beating like it was about to explode, but I kept going. Five, four, three, two, one…
“FINALLY!” I exclaimed. We burst through the doorway and found ourselves in the parking lot right behind the mall. I was so elated I felt like I could just run circles around the whole area. Fortunately my extremely sore calves were throbbing and if I’d tried to do that I probably would have pulled something.
“Mac thank you so…” I turned around and he wasn’t there, “Mac?” I scanned the whole parking lot but didn’t see him. Then I looked back at where we had come from and saw that the door that had been there was gone. Weird, I thought as I turned back around. I saw my car a few yards away and began to speed walk towards it. I really wanted out of this crazy mall at this point and I didn’t care if my calves caused me to have to crawl to my car. I reached the car, yanked the handle, remembered I’d locked the car, said some choice words under my breath as I pulled out the keys and unlocked the car, climbed in, jammed the keys in the ignition, and practically screamed for joy when it started up. Weirdest day ever, I concluded in my mind as I pulled out of the parking lot and on to the freeway home.
Bronx, New York
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