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I had a really disturbing experience Christmas shopping the other day. I went to the mall to buy some presents. This mall was your standard shopping center bustling with people eager to spend money on various shiny trinkets and overpriced clothes. I don’t frequent shopping malls so I didn’t have any particular stores in mind, just enjoying the sights and sounds of the holiday shopping season.

I just started wandering aimlessly, slowly weaving my way through the masses of people. I usually like to people watch, imagining that everyone I pass has a life just as complex as mine, never to see each other again. I should have paid better attention to my surroundings that day.

After what felt like a few minutes of wandering around completely oblivious to my surroundings, I started to notice things that were a little off. It’s hard to explain what exactly caught my attention at first.

Maybe it was because I didn’t notice the annoying Christmas music anymore and everything around me sounded dull.

Maybe it was the way that I stopped noticing the names of the shops that I walked past.

Maybe it was the slow realization that I had failed to keep my usual high level of situational awareness. Whatever the case was, I could tell that I needed to shake myself out of my lazy funk and get on with my day.

You know the feeling that you get late at night when you’re procrastinating so hard that your brain finds every excuse to keep entertaining itself with increasingly trivial thoughts to distract your willpower from focusing and being productive? I could tell that I was entering this zoned-out state and I kept telling myself halfheartedly to rouse myself.

Eventually I managed to shake off my stupor bit by bit. It started slowly. I found it odd that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t recognize the shops anymore. They seemed to me like the generic backdrop of a video game that creates the illusion of an immersive environment, but it’s beyond the playable limits of the level.

That’s when I knew that things were wrong.

That’s when I started to noticed the people around me. There were hundreds of people in this mall. It was the holiday rush after all. But the more people I walked passed, each one seemed too familiar. It was like I was seeing deja vu after deja vu. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it, but then it clicked.

It’s like I keep seeing the same people over and over again. That’s when I did the double-take. I saw a pretty girl with short, blonde hair in a green and white striped dress carrying a white handbag walking past me. After about 10 steps, I saw her again. I then stopped and looked at her, and noticed what looked like an identical copy a few yards ahead of her. Strangely I felt a soreness in my legs like I had been walking for hours.

As I looked at these two girls thinking it was such a coincidence they were wearing the same outfit, people around me started to slow down and started to take notice of me. That was weird. Usually people in a crowded mall completely ignore you or walk around you. I started looking around at the other people around me that had begun to stare at me. Everyone looked strangely familiar. The curly brunette middle aged woman in the blue blouse with a red skirt. The guy about my age with auburn hair in a pink polo and khakis. The black teenager with a red baseball shirt and jeans. It was like there were only five or six different kinds of people that were copied and pasted all around me.

The more I noticed startling similarities, the more they payed attention to me. I looked around with rising anxiety that I was in a crowded mall with five or six people and dozens of their doppelgangers. They didn’t say anything, they just stood still and stared at me. Suddenly the center of attention, I nervously waved and said hello to the blonde girl in the green and white dress. She didn’t respond. I tried to approach one of the red-haired guys wearing the pink polo and khakis and ask him what was going on.

For every step I took towards him, he backed up, keeping his distance. I tried asking the others what was happening, and they all backed away and filled in the space behind me, always keeping their distance. It was dead quiet. All I could hear was my own breathing and my steadily rising pulse.

At this point my nervousness and unease had grown to just shy of panic and hysteria. It no longer looked like the mall I first entered. The floor tiles were whiter, the colors around me dull and lusterless. There were no more Christmas decorations. I started to try and find an exit, to leave this terrifying place but I couldn’t find one.

At the end of every stretch of faceless shops I took the escalators to a different level and was greeted by the identical floor of people staring at me, unmoving except to move out of my way and fill in the space behind me. Every time I reached the end I took another escalator to another floor and came across the exact same sight. After what felt like hours walking to different floors I stopped, nearly hopeless I would find a way out of this never ending silent hell with these strange, staring people.

Then I heard a sound behind me and nearly jumped out of my skin. I whipped around and saw a little girl standing behind me with a look of curiosity on her face. She was deathly pale with stark white hair but I was relieved to see someone who looked at me without a blank, emotionless stare.

“Do you need help?” she asked.

“Y-yes please,” I managed to stammer, grateful to have someone who actually spoke to me.

“You don’t belong here,” she told me.

I was more unnerved by the cold authority in which she spoke to me than her appearance.

“Yeah, I think you’re right,” I nervously responded. “Where am I? I can’t find a way out of here. Can you show me?”

“You don’t belong here,” she stated again. “I will show you the way out. Follow me,” she said as she turned and started walking. I followed her through the crowd of unspeaking people, copy after copy slowly moving out of the way for us, still staring at me.

I had a million questions racing through my head. Where was this place? Where was the familiar mall I was just in? Was I in a dream? Who are these people? Who is this creepy little girl and why does she know where to go? Seeing as though I had exhausted all my other options to find a way out, I had no choice but to follow her.

“You don’t belong here,” she told me a third time. “I hope you weren’t frightened. The way out is just over here,” she said flatly as we made our way to a short, narrow hallway that was thankfully empty of the staring people. There was an elevator on the right side with a single button on the wall and a small maintenance closet with a wooden door at the end of the hallway. She stopped in front of the elevator door and turned to me. I looked behind me and the silent people were all crowded around, just outside the entrance of the hallway, staring at me.

“Here is the way out. This will take you home,” she said as she motioned towards the elevator door.

“Thank you very much,” I said to her as I pressed the button to summon the elevator. The little light in the middle of the button lit up and I heard the whir of motors as I heard the elevator slowly making its descent. I stood there, my mind racing with questions and my stomach quickly twisting in knots with terror as the elevator got closer.

The elevator arrived and with a soft ding, the doors opened up to a stainless steel paneled interior. It looked normal enough, but why did I feel such a sense of dread? I stood there, unable to will my feet forward to the elevator, knowing in the depths of my soul that to enter that elevator would be my doom.

The little girl became agitated with my hesitation. “You must get in the elevator. It will take you home,” she commanded.

I turned to look at her. Her face a scowl and her tiny fists curled in anger. It can’t end like this, it just couldn’t. Why can’t I just accept my fate and get in the elevator? This didn’t make any sense. Without even thinking, I lunged for the little girl, grabbed her by her arm and waist, and hurled her through the closing doors of the elevator as hard as I could. As soon as my hand touched her cold flesh she started screaming at the same time as the masses of people just outside the hallway started screaming. The moment the little girl landed in the elevator, her pale skin started to crawl as if something monstrous was trying to escape from within.

In unison with the horde of people outside the hallway she screamed, “YOU DON’T BELONG  HERE!!! YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO GET IN THE ELEVATOR!!!” with a deep and deafening growl that shook the walls and floor. The stainless steel panels of the elevator came alive and twisted and morphed into dark and terrible blades and spikes, stabbing into her growing and mutated flesh.

As the doors closed the creature in the elevator barely resembled the little girl from before. Instead she grew into a twisted and grotesque demonic thing with hideous fangs and claws, her once pale skin turned a deep maroon with dark ichor spilling from the gaping wounds the walls of the elevator were inflicting.

The legion of staring beings outside the hallway started racing towards me in a frenzied horde. I spun to the maintenance closet as quickly as I could and leapt for the handle. Assuming full well it would be locked and I would get torn to shreds by the blood thirsty mob right at my back, it was slightly ajar and I opened it to see a cramped closet habited by a faucet and drain, mop bucket, and a shelf of paper towels. I slammed the door as hard as I could behind me and thankfully it automatically locked.

I sunk to the ground in the pitch black closet as the door started pounding. The shrieking outside the door was deafeningly loud as I uselessly put my hand over my ears as I involuntarily started crying in terror. The pounding on the door and the screaming grew louder and louder in waves that threatened to sweep me away. Eventually it became too much for me to bear and I passed out.

I woke up shaking in the fetal position with my hands still clamped tightly over my ears in the tiny closet. My tear stained cheeks were red and swollen. My ears were ringing so loudly but the pounding on the door had stopped. It was silent outside the door.

I sat in the darkness for what seemed like hours straining to hear anything. Nothing. I tried to put my face as close to the floor as possible to see under the door but there was a rubber seal at the bottom (presumably because of the faucet). I waited. Eventually I worked up the courage to touch the handle. I slowly opened the door and peered out to see a small hallway with an elevator door where it had been before.

The ringing in my ears had subsided enough for me to hear the familiar Christmas music playing. Beyond the hallway I saw throngs of people bustling about their holiday shopping. I stared intently at them, refusing to leave the small closet. Everything was as it should have been. Everyone was passing the small hallway too engrossed in themselves to notice me. I left the closet as the door closed behind me and I stepped into the hallway. I saw the exit to the mall directly across from the hallway where I was standing and I wanted so desperately to leave this place and never come back.

Did I imagine all of this? Was I going crazy? Did I make all of this up? I walked to the end of the short hallway and looked behind me. There were wooden splinters covering the ground and deep gouges in the closet door. The handle had been ripped off and was nowhere to be seen. I heard the elevator motors start whirring as the elevator began its descent.

My stomach started its familiar twisting as it had done before as I sensed that damn elevator was coming for me again. I walked as quickly as I could from the hallway towards the exit to get away. Thankfully I reached the exit doors before I heard the faint ding of the elevator doors opening. I don’t know what possessed me to turn around and look, call it morbid curiosity I guess. I saw a little girl with white hair step out the elevator. Something tells me that I’m not supposed to be here.

Needless to say I’m doing all my shopping online from now on.

Credits to: Gray_1


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