“Can you help me find my mommy?” A little boy stands before me. He has snot on his face, looks like he needs a bath and his clothes are dishevelled and dirty. All around, he looks like every kid of about… two? Four? Six? I don’t know, I don’t even like kids.
“Ehm, aren’t you out a bit late? The store closes in like five minutes. Hell, It should’ve closed already I think.”
“But I lost my mommy!” and he begins wailing. Not snivelling, or even crying, no, wailing. Like some wild animal in a trap.
“Okay, okay. I’ll help. Just… stop that noise, okay. I need a drink, I’ve had a long day, and a wailing kid is not on my shopping list.”
Just as sudden as he started, the wailing stops. “You funny. Can you come play with me?”
“No, we’re going to find your mom, remember? And then we’re going to get out of here, before the store closes.”
The urchin runs ahead of me, and I have no choice but to follow. Independent of my lack of love for the kid, I’ve been raised to take care of those in need. Especially kids. A fatal flaw my dear mother instilled on me.
After three isles, I’m lost. This is one of those humongous stores, where you can buy everything from frozen peas to car tires, and I generally only visit the food-part. Well, and the liquor-part. But they are close together. The kids dives to the left, where we find, apparently, kids toys. Because why the hell not.
“Hey, little monster. Where are you going? We should get one of these nice store people to call your mom on the PA system.”
No answer. I try to find one of said nice store people, but they are never around when you need them. When you don’t need them, they are always stocking the exact thing next to the thing you need. It’s a law. Not one of Murphy’s as far as I know, but it should be.
The PA system announces that the store is going to close in one minute, and advices everyone to get out. “Or stay the night” I mumble under my breath. Seems like the most probable outcome for me, lost in this stupid store following a stupid kid. What does that say about my own intelligence?
After a few more minutes I’m not even worried about the kid anymore. I seem to only penetrate deeper into the bowls of this monstrosity of a store, and have got no clue how to get out of here. They seem to have everything, except exit signs. I have not seen any of the employees, and I am starting to get the feeling I will spend the night here. The store feels deserted, empty, as if I’m already the only one here. But that can’t be, right? Don’t people stock the shelves after hours? As if on cue, the lights turn down. Everything is dark, and I’m standing here between grassmowers and garden ornaments. Fuck.
“HELLO!” I yell. “HELP!”
No answer. I decide to reach for the modern day solution, and get my cell phone out of my pocket. No bars, no reception at all. Well double Fuck. I round another corner, stumbling into what appears to be brewing materials. This stores has everything, nothing surprises me anymore, I can tell you that. Between the brewing vats, the kid is playing with something. I can’t really see what he’s playing with, and I don’t really care.
“What? Still haven’t found your mom?” The kid shakes his head.
“But I know where to find ice cream! So much ice cream!”
“Yeah, well, I’d first like to find the exit. Come on.”
The urchin gets up and follows me, as if I know where to go. I look around us, hoping to find some clue, some way out of this maze. I see red liquid on the floor. Little drops.
“Are you bleeding?” I ask.
“No, it’s just Misses Wiggles.” And he holds the toy high enough for me to see. It’s a dead rabbit, a baby one and a very tiny, very dead one.
“Oke… please leave Misses Wiggles. Like, right there, on the ground, someone will clean her up tomorrow.” I try not to sound as shaken as I am. But I am getting worried. About this weird kid, with his slightly dated clothes as they seem to resemble more my clothes as a kid then what kids currently wear, and his dead toy.
“How long have you been here, kiddo?”
A pensive look comes over his face.
“Since I lost my mommy.”
“Okay, and when did you loose your mommy?”
“When we went shopping for my birthday!”
“And which birthday would that be?”
Four grubby fingers get held up high.
“Okay. And how old are you now?”
Three grubby fingers. “But almost four!”
Right. This is no help whatsoever.
The dark store has a sinister feeling, like all places have that are supposed to be busy, but are not. It’s like it’s made for so many people, that when it’s only one, or maybe two, not sure about the kid yet, it tries to suck the same energy that it sucks out of hunderds, out of that one. You have to go there, see this, touch that. The store needs you to be there, to make it come alive. And if you don’t, it gets sulky, and grumpy, and those garden hoses may be used for very different purposes.
I should put my imagination on hold. Not the best time for it now.
There are exit signs now, why didn’t I see them before? Never mind. Just.. Follow. I can just follow them. I stumble around for a good ten minutes, before I realise I’m walking in circles. And when I look down, the kid has the dead bunny again.
“I thought I told you to leave Fluffy where you found her?”
“Misses Wiggles came running back to me, I did not take her with me!”
“That bunny ain’t running nowhere no more.” I answer grimly. I could take it from him, but then I would have to touch both him and the dead, so dead, bunny. Let’s not.
“I need to find the way out, buster. Tell me where to go.”
“But I want you to stay. Don’t leave me. You need to help me find my mommy.” And the wailing starts again. It echoes through the store, bouncing against the shelves with kitchen appliances and storage boxes. It swells until there seems to be nothing more than the wailing of the kid.
“Alright, alright. But I don’t think your mommy is here anymore.” Wrong thing to say. More wailing, louder, louder until my ears feel like bursting, until I get nauseous from the sensory overload and all I want, even more than leaving this store, is shutting the kid up.
“YES FINE. I’LL HELP.” Silence. Dead silence.
“Let’s go find mommy! You can stay here until we do! I know where to get ice cream. All the ice cream you want. Though I can’t eat it.” He looks sullen. As if having ice cream and not being able to eat it is somehow worse then losing your mom in the store.
Still not sure about this kid.
“Do you know what day it is?”
So far, so good.
“Okay, and what year?”
Thoughts are happening. “Ehm, 1997. I think.”
Fuck. I have no way to answer that.
“Right. Let’s find your mom. And the exit.” At this point, I’m not sure whether I want the creepy little kid to get away, or feel saver knowing where he is.
I’m getting hungry. There is no exit. I don’t believe in exits anymore. I just want food. And something to drink. I found a bathroom, so that’s good. But I’m one of those people who get grumpy and depressed when hungry. And I am getting so, so hungry. My cellphone tells me it’s 2AM, I’ve been in this store for three hours. The kids shows up, and goes away again. He’s on and off with me, I stopped trying to track his wherabouts.
“Hey, satan’s spawn.” And there he is again, he does come when called.
“I need food. Where is the food?” How on earth have I been able to walk three hours in this horrible store without finding anything edible? I tried to find my way back to the bathroom once I got thirsty, but it randomly disappeared again. All I see are shelves and shelves full of clothes, carparts, appliance, toys, gardenthingies,… everything but food. And I want food.
“I can bring you to ice cream. So much ice cream!”
“Yeah, sure. Whatever, Ice cream is still calories. Lead the way.”
I follow him and his bunny, misses whatcha-may-callit. No clue. I need food.
“Are you going to play with me forever?”
“I am going to eat first. I need food.”
“Ice cream is this way!” And within seconds, there is food everywhere. Banana’s, apples, oranges. And I see cookies and chocolate. It seems the easiest thing to just stray from the path, and walk towards the food. Get it, eat. Everything will be better after I’ve eaten. But, somehow, I can’t go there. The kid leads me to the frozen section, and my feet wont go left or right. Was I slightly anxious before, I’m getting terrified now. I’ve seen to many horror-movies to have any faith left in my own survival.
“Hey, let me eat a banana.”
“Banana’s are yucky! Let’s get ice cream.” My feet still wont listen, and my arms aren’t long enough. All the food we walk past, stays just out of reach. Just… two centimeters too far. The same goes for the drinks. I see orange juice, and apple juice, and grape juice… But I can’t touch it. Can’t go near. I stumble, and get up again, but nothing changed. My feet follow the exact steps of the tiny monster. By now I am sure that he might have been a kid once, now he’s something else.
“Please, let me get something to drink.” No answer, and we walk on. I feel like the girl with the red shoes in the fairytale, doomed to dance forever.
We walk into a great closet, a freezer with an open door. “Nononononono… NO! DOn’t do this to me. NO!” But I can only follow, walking towards my own doom and demise. When we’re in the back, he reaches up.
“See! Ice cream. All kinds! Even more then in the store.” We’re in the biggest freezer I ever been to, the storage room for the whole store. It’s like a little store on it’s own.
As soon as I touch the ice cream, I feel my feet get released. I can walk again. Scared as hell, I grab the ice cream I’m touching and try to run out of the freezer. I can hear the door closing, but I can’t find my way. The freezer seems to stretch further and further, the shelves get longer with every step, and when I reach the end of a shelf, another appears. When I finally see the door, my only possible savious, I get to witness it falling in it’s lock. A definite “THUD” that says closed forever and ever. The freezer get’s dark, as a fridge after the door closes. I bang my fists against it, willing it to open, I scream, I yell, I beg. But it won’t open.
The kid appears at my left elbow.
“See, ice cream.”
“Scram it, stupid ghost. I want to get out of here. I don’t want to play with you forever. I don’t want ice cream. I want a beer, and my doritos, and my couch.”
The wailing starts again. So, so loud. I can’t do anything but sag to the ground, hands over my ears. I lose all sense of being, of time, of me, until all gets black. I’m not even cold.
When I wake up, the room is full of people. A girl sits sobbing just outside the door, two women are talking to a policeman, and a guy is touching me. Or rather, my body. I get to watch from the outside.
“Frozen to death.” Is the verdict.
“Did you see anything yesterday, miss?” asks a policewoman to the sobbing girl.
“No, I always check the freezer. Also, there are sensors in there so nobody can stay in there. The door won’t closes while there is anything above 25 degrees in there, security measures.” Answers one of the other women for her.
“He must have gotten in there after hours, but how he got the door to close on him… I really don’t know.”
I’m trying to tell them what happened, about the kid, about everything. But they can’t hear me. Worse, someone walks through me. I feel oddly detached to it all. As if it is not my body, my life they are talking about.
The kid stands in front of me.
“Can you help me find my mommy?” The rabbit he holds sniffles his hand.
“Yeah, well, little else I can do now, is there?” His face lights up, somehow I’m not even mad. He just wanted a playmate, and he got the one he could find. I feel no emotion at all, not even about my own early death, or about the fact that I might be doomed to ghost here forever. It’s all so pleasantly, peacefully numb.
“Have you met Misses Wiggles?”
“Yeah, we met…” And I walk after him through the store. Behind me I hear the older of the two woman say something to the younger one.
“This happened a few years ago too, same day, also with the walk-in freezer. We replaced the door and the security system then, but it seems so random. And at the same time, not.”
“Come on, Alice. Don’t tell me you believe in ghost stories. Let’s get everyone here some coffee, we’re going to need it.”