#Nightmare, #Horror, #Psychological, #Suspense
The bright lights and bustle of shoppers were always a welcomed diversion for Tessa. She enjoyed being part of the crowd. She liked looking at fancy things, browsing for jewelry or clothes or shoes she didn’t need but had to have. Today, however, she was partaking in none of those things. Today, she was babysitting.
“Come on, Eddy, don’t fall behind,” she said to the elder brother while simultaneously trying to wrangle the younger. “Sam, stop pulling.”
“I want to push the buttons,” Sam said, reaching out a pudgy hand for the ATM machine.
Tessa rolled her eyes. Sam wanted to push all of the buttons. She couldn’t understand the kid’s obsession for buttons. “No,” she said. “Now come on.”
Eddy was a good kid; bright, sensible, with a knack for comprehending things beyond his age. His kid brother just liked pushing buttons – and that meant the babysitter’s buttons too.
Tessa thought bringing them to the mall would have been a fun thing. She thought maybe she could conquer two tasks; get paid while spending money all in one. But it had turned out to be a catastrophe. So far she spent her allowance in the food court just to stop their complaining, and had not been able to look at a single outfit because she was too busy keeping both eyes on two wayward boys who could somehow disappear in the blink of an eye. Tessa was exhausted.
“That’s it. We’re going home,” she announced.
“Awww!” they both whined.
“I want to ride the horsey,” Sam said.
“Can we maybe look at the bookstore one more time?” Eddy asked more tactfully.
“No and no,” Tessa said. “We’re all going to take a nap.”
“You’re my favorite babysitter, Ms Tessa,” Eddy added for good measure.
Tessa steered them back the way they had come. But to avoid getting stalled by all the arcade games with blinking push buttons, she took the longer route around. In her mind, it was worth it. Here, the mall was quieter. Mostly adults frequented the kitchen sections. There wasn’t much fun to look at, but at least the boys were too bored to try and touch anything.
“What’s that door?” Eddy stopped in the middle of the aisle to point at a rather nondescript door.
Tessa looked above it to the glowing sign. Instead of EXIT, it read COMING SOON.
“I don’t know,” she said, not in the mood for curiosity. “Maybe they’re adding on to the mall.”
“Can we see it?” he asked.
She sighed. “Okay. We’ll look. But if it says DO NOT ENTER, then we’re going straight home.”
Excited about something mysterious, Sam dragged her after Eddy and they both stood on tiptoe to see through the door window. Tessa peered through the glass, surprised to find the hallway beyond lit and decked with shop signs.
“Cool,” she breathed.
“What is it?” Eddy asked. “I can’t see.”
“Lift me up,” Sam said, hopping up and down on his stubby legs.
Tessa pushed on the handlebar and forced the door open with her shoulder. “It’s like a little, old fashioned town.” Quickly, she scooped up Sam’s hand before he could run off, then together they walked onto the cobblestone floor.
The walls were brick-laid, and colorful eaves hung over each doorway. There was an ice cream parlor, a rocking horse store, a knick-knack toy shop, and others down the corridor. But all of the windows were darkened and the doors locked.
“Well, doesn’t look like anything’s open,” she began, but then stopped. A neon light flashed just a short way down. She walked closer, curiosity getting the best of her. One of the windows was brightly lit. Above the door, the sign read BAKERY. Tessa tried the handle. It turned easily. Opening the door, she peered in cautiously and looked around. It was empty, but round tables were set out with all the chairs sitting ready for customers. Behind the counter, she could see a glass case, now empty, but with the promise of fresh baked bread and sweet rolls.
All of a sudden, Eddy ran toward one of the tables. Before Tessa could scold him, he snatched up a cup of green Jello and started eating with the spoon he found next to it.
“Eddy! You can’t just eat that!”
There was another cup of gelatin, this one blue. Sam slipped out of her grasp and joined his brother. Tessa ran after them, grabbing the Jello out of their hands. But they found more on another table. They gobbled it up as if the pretzels and nachos they had earlier hadn’t filled their tummies at all.
“Sam, Eddy, stop.”
She grabbed the current cups away from the boys, but that didn’t stop them either. Suddenly, two more cups appeared. A chill crept up Tessa’s spine. Where was the Jello coming from? And what was wrong with the boys? They weren’t behaving at all like themselves.
As she stared befuddled at her two wards, she heard a sound. A sort of laughing noise.
Turning slowly, she looked around the room. It was still empty, save for the three of them. So then where was the laughing coming from? It sounded like an old chuckle toy set on repeat, as if the switch was broken and it kept laughing over and over.
It made Tessa’s skin crawl. She shook Eddy’s arm.
“Let’s get out of here. Eddy, come on. Sam, please. Put the Jello down.”
But they wouldn’t stop – couldn’t stop. They couldn’t hear her or the disembodied laughter. And it was getting louder – or closer. Finally, Tessa took the cups away and grabbed both boys by their now sticky hands.
“I wasn’t done!” they cried.
With the boys in tow, Tessa made a run for the door. The laughing was loud now, echoing off the brick walls, sounding in her ears and drowning out all else but the panicked beating of her shoes slapping the ground. She shut off the bakery lights and yanked the door shut after them. Running as fast as the children’s legs could go, she fairly dragged them down the corridor. The laughter followed – right behind her now even though nothing was there.
Tessa’s breath came in gasps. Her thoughts were a tumble of fear and panic. They reached the exit door, and she switched off the last light as they burst through the door.
Just then, all of the mall lights shut off.
Frozen in fear, Tessa could only catch her breath; squeezing the boys’ little hands to make sure they were still by her side.
The laughing stopped.
One by one, the lights came back on. The shoppers returned. As if nothing had happened, people milled about the kitchen wares browsing products.
Eddy tugged on her arm. “Can we go home now? I’m tired.”
“Ow,” Sam muttered. “You’re pinching.”
Tessa glanced back at the door. She couldn’t see anything through the dark window pane. There was no glowing sign above it, only a notice for employees only.
Taking a deep breath, she walked away from the door, but did not let go of either of their hands.
“Yeah. Let’s go.”
Fan T. C.
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