“We welcome all youth to Mall of America®, however on Friday and Saturday evenings youth under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult 21 years or older from 4 p.m. until close.” – Management
They don’t want any trouble makers, you see. That’s why they made the rule. Too many suspicious youths without enough economic value. Too young, too brown, too risky.
They got goods for soccer moms, WASPs, closet pedophiles, alcoholic fathers, spouse abusers, amateur arsonists and meth technicians looking for the right kitchenware. But they got nothing on their shelves for “thugs.”
Thugs. I think is the word they used for us. Underage kids who didn’t look like the version of American traditionally awarded an Oscar. A goddamned liability to some tight-ass stuffed shirt in a whitebread corporate office somewhere.
The day we discovered the Horrible Truth was the day I was supposed to get lucky. A big splurge on a night with my girl at the Mall’s Nickelodeon theme park.
Krista was the first to be caught by the lard-laden, fat ass rent-a-cop. Not even a real pig. Just fakin’ -bacon. She said his breath was hot and smelled like Bud Light and failed American dreams cause Krista’s a poet that way.
Anyhow, the bastard grabbed my girl by the arm when she was trying to get on the roller coaster. I had just come back from the bathroom when I saw Krista shrieking and fussing. The pig asked where her guardian was and she told him to fuck off, which was the right thing to do, if you ask me. But he didn’t like her answer. And next thing you know she was dragged away by a bunch of bleach blonde Martha Stewart clones created by the Better Image Eugenics Imperium on the second floor. They keep them around for situations like this. The ladies shook their heads, and wagged their tongue as they spirited her off to Security. Cause you know, they’d never let their children run wild like that.
I told the bastards to let her go. But assholes like that never listen. Instead the rental cop’s eyes started glowing and his gills started fluttering like they do with all security guards. And that’s when the two dudes in the SWAT outfits repelled down from the ceiling. They were all hulking and raging, and I swear to god they had a net. A real honest-to-god net like out of one of those old cartoons. The dudes grab my shirt and start asking for my ID and proof that I belong here. And they drop the net over my head before I even have a chance to produce my ID cause I’m gonna be sixteen next month and it isn’t the big of a deal. But I guess it is to them.
So I’m dragged away with Krista, screaming and cursing, to the Security Desk. The Chief Mall Warden breaks out the standard-issue iron maiden and the water board and Krista and I are getting scared as hell that we’re going to be tortured and shipped off to one of the Mall’s reeducation camps when this creepy white dude in an aquamarine suit and matching top-hat enters the office.
“Oh dear, oh dear, what have we here?” As he flailed his arms, I caught a glimpse of a black armband with an orca emblazoned across it. And then I recognize him. It was Wally Wanker from the Mall of America’s Sea Life Aquarium. He claims he’s Willy Wonka’s lesser known nephew. I claim he’s weird as fuck. Or at least I would have if his army of Sea-Men hadn’t started dancing around us singing a sound in rhyming couplets about how us “kids from hood” were, “grumpy, and gang-ish and up to no good.”
The hood? Gangs? Fuck these racist little bastards! I was from Edina! I gave the little aquatic turds the finger and Krista was so freaked out she just… couldn’t…even. And I don’t blame her.
All I know is that Wally did some kind of secret handshake with the Warden and off we crowed surfed on the shoulders of the little blue people with fleshy fish faces and too-strong arms.
“Where…the hell…are we going?” I shouted, rapidly losing whatever calm I thought I might have had. “Put us down!”
“Yeah, seriously! Enough with this creepy shit. Let us go!” Krista yelled.
Wally turned his head towards us as he skipped merrily up the escalator leading us to our cruel fate. His head turned one-hundred-and-eighty degrees in our direction. “You seem so blue, whatever for? You kids have won the Behind the Scenes Tour!”
My heart ran cold. It was worse that I had thought.
The next three weeks ran together in a blur of ceaseless chanting, aquamarine velvet track suits, Pavlovian fear conditioning and fish guts. We sat for hours starring at the jellyfish floating without a care in the world. We began to envy them.
There were so many of us, swimming and diving in tanks while humming along to tedious rhyming couplets—Krista’s skin growing looser and more transparent every day as as she frolicked with the dolphins.
Bubbles pooled from my nose as my gills skimmed across the water. My unblinking manta ray eyes reflected back at me. I gurgled and gaped as I tried to catch a glimpse of the tv in the break room. There was nothing good on. Just some news story about a bunch of teenage kids that had gone missing from the Mall of America. Sounded like thugs to me. I slid away from the glass and let my jaw fall loose as tiny flecks of plankton glided into my mouth.
Allison Spector is a New Jersey ex-pat who escaped to the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. Her work has been featured in The Cost of Paper;Molotov Cocktail Magazine; Five2One Magazine; Moonglasses, among others. She is the author of the novella Let’s Stalk Rex Jupiter! and can also be found in the All Trumped Up anthology. Upcoming work is soon to be released with the Mad Scientist Journal. You can follow her and her strange tales on Twitter at @inspectorallie.
Music in recording by Ohmlab.