Imagine being trapped in a mall during a permanent blackout... with creatures that you always thought were fictional. How would you survive?
I've grown used to watching films on my own. Horror, comedy, action, drama, romance; I'll watch anything. Today is no different. Class promised to be a downer for me today, so I skipped. Plus, I need to get my mind off of Alex and all the words that we exchanged last night, when everything changed.
Films are my respite from society. Fuck the normal way of mourning mistakes.
I hand my ticket for the latest action flick of the Fall to the ticket handler. The guy, acne-ridden and baggy-eyed, gives me a sympathetic look as he hands me back my stub. I smile, signaling that his pity doesn't affect me in the least.
I pass theaters that ring out fast-paced music, and others that are quiet and empty. One has a long line-up, even though it is only three in the afternoon.
I catch a glimpse of black curly hair and almost stop, but I continue on. I've been imagining seeing Alex everywhere today, so I tell myself to just ignore the similarities and keep going.
Around me, teenage girls giggle, while boys ogle. Old couples slurp from cool straws, while sneaking popcorn from their spouses' bag. The carpeted floors smother my footsteps as I pass groups upon groups of stragglers. Several parents smile, with a hint of embarrassment, at whoever looks down at their struggling toddlers. I finally reach the last theater and check out my seat on the stub. As I walk up to my assigned seating, I notice that there are other people already in the room. Conversations are hushed, couples share kisses, chairs creak, and clothes rustle as the audience settles in to watch the film.
I smile at a woman who is blocking the entrance to the aisle and quickly settle into my seat when she lets me by. I nearly sigh with contentment. This Cineplex is my favourite of all the movie theaters because of the larger seating and the bigger screen. This particular theater is in Yorkdale Mall, the closest mall to me in Toronto, Ontario. It's perfect because it has tons of stores that I can check out on a boring day. It's also on the subway route that I take home from school. This place, ever since I learned how to get here, has been an oasis for me, especially when I'm stressed from school or just life in general.
I take a quick inventory of the people sitting around me. I like to seat right in the center of the room, so I get to see who comes in and out without missing a part of the film. I think it's mainly because I enjoy the control I get from watching everyone within my peripheral view, rather than having the perfect seat for the movie. I quickly glance over the crowd and see some stoners that are laughing at the front of the room, before the movie has even started, and some older women on a catching-up date give the two teens cold, warning stares. In the row below mine, an older man is leering over his buttery bag of popcorn at a group of pretty girls. It's like a zoo in here, and I love every bit of it.
The lights begin to dim and the noise level drops almost immediately when the Cineplex logo appears on the large screen. The darkness in the room can easily be slightly eerie, but the murmuring of a curious audience and the bass of the volume reverberating in the air pushes all fear away. Trailers for other films come and go, and a few commercials make an appearance, one of which reminds me to shut off my cell-phone.
Everything is fine as it should be for about thirty minutes into the film. My mind is almost entirely focused on what I am watching, instead of thinking about Alex, and my fingers keep digging hungrily into my bag of smarties. The protagonist of the story is about to say an effectively cheesy, yet romantic line to his new-found love interest, when a weak version of the lights switch back on. At first, my eyes strain to adjust, confused about what the hell is going on, but then slowly an alarm somewhere in the mall starts sounding, prompting me to put my bag closer to me. The people in the theatre are all quiet at first, interchanging glances of confusion. It is so still in the room that all I can hear is my breathing and the rustling of movement from the other viewers.
"What just happened?" A guy behind me finally asks.
"Hell if I know," a different guy answers, his hand locked in what appears to be a tight grip in his girlfriend's hand.
"Dude, the movie's over?" One of the stoner kids nearly yells. "That's so uncool."
"I don't think the movie's over," A woman beside me utters so low that I can barely hear her. Then, loud enough for everyone to hear, she asks, "What now?"
I shrug along with some of the other people. An Asian couple in the corner are conversing quietly and the guy looks over at us. "I think we have to go," he says, picking up his bag from the floor. His girlfriend looks uncertain for a moment, before following him down the stairs towards the emergency exit.
We all watch them leave and when the door closes we give each other weary looks.
"I paid for this crap," the older creepy guy stands up and the creaking of the chair follows him as he too heads for the exit.
Meanwhile, the alarm is still blaring in the background, low, but it's still there.
"Do you guys hear that?" I ask, grabbing my bag once more and lifting it onto my lap.
"Hear what?" the woman, whose legs I had to cross over to get to my seat, asks.
"It's an alarm," I say, biting my lower lip. "I think we do need to leave."
"I'm staying here," a girl behind me says confidently and a few others answer in agreement with grunts.
I can hear the hum of people walking out of theaters outside and I make my decision. About fifteen minutes or so have already passed since the film ended and no theater representatives have come in to let us know what's going on, I might as well go out and see what's happening for myself.
I hoist my bag up onto my back, thanking God that I decided not to bring too many things to class today, and pass by the other people in my aisle. When I'm on the stairs I look back at my audience.
"There's no point in staying here, who knows when the film's coming back on," I walk towards the theater entrance instead of heading for the fire escape like the other people, and hear some of the others packing up behind me.
"She's right, we can't just stay here…" I hear briefly, before closing the door that leads to the long hall behind me.
There's a crowd of people walking towards the front of the theater and from the very back, where the film I was watching is located, the scene appears almost chaotic. Some kids are crying and couples are comforting each other with hand-holding. I frown when I fail to see any Cineplex workers gathering up the crowd, or even entering any of the other occupied theaters. Someone shoves me from behind and I realize that I've walked towards the front without thinking. I shake my head and excuse my way through the crowd towards the girls' washroom to my left. The scene in the washroom is a lot different than that of the theaters. Here, the lights are so dim that when I push one of the stall doors open, my heart jumps at the sudden darkness. I contemplate my decision. Should I stay with the crowd outside? Or should I use the washroom and just get it over with, in case I can't use it later? I'm standing in front of the stall, looking into the darkness, like the biggest dork when a girl, maybe a few years older than me, rushes into the bathroom and into the stall nearest to the entrance. Well, there's my decision made for me.
I'm just flushing the toilet and putting my bag back on when I hear a loud crash from outside. It isn't like any crash that I've ever heard before. Nothing like in the movies, nor any crashes you might witness on the road. Instead, it is a mixture of glass breaking and metal scratching the ground, as if it were dragging something along the way. The sound sends shivers through every part of my body and I unlock the stall door. The girl that had raced into the other stall before me is already standing by the sinks, her head tilted as if waiting to hear another crash. I force myself to think of something else as I put soap on my hands and realize, a bit too late, that the automatic taps won't be working.
"Shit," I mutter, slipping my bag off. I grab my opened bottle of water from the sleeve on the side of my bag and begin to wash the soap off of my hands.
"Did you hear that outside?" The girl looks at me, concern masking her pretty face. Her blue eyes appear glassy in the dim lighting and her full lips are currently being attacked by her nervously chewing teeth. She's a bit shorter than me, but not by much and her blond hair is tucked into a neat ponytail. She gives me a weird look and I turn away from her.
"Yeah, probably the generators or something," I know it's a lie before it even leaves my mouth, but why freak out over potentially nothing? "Here," I say, trying to distract her. "You can use the rest."
I place the bottle of water in front of her and we both stare at it before she finally reacts. As she washes her hands, I have a distinct feeling that we need to stick together. We may be strangers, but we're strangers in the washroom together when no one else felt like going to the washroom, away from whatever craziness is ensuing outside. I look at myself in the mirror as she finishes up and note my single sideways brown braid, my light brown eyes, and the stern expression on my face. If Alex were here, he'd try anything and everything to take this frown off my face. But he isn't, so I've got to deal with this myself.
"Listen, did you come with other people?" I ask when she finally finishes up. "Are there others waiting for you outside?"
She shakes her head and I feel an odd sense of relief. I put my bag back on and head for the exit, my new companion behind me.
"What the hell is going on anyway?" I mutter, mainly to myself, but the girl hears me and answers, "It's a blackout."
I stop and look back at her. "That's why all the lights seem to be out?"
"Yeah, and I got as far as the escalators before coming back here. The whole damn place is out."
I'm quiet for a moment, trying to collect my thoughts. "Why'd you come back here?"
The girl shrugs, visibly uncomfortable. "I had to use the washroom."
I nod, accepting her excuse, but something tells me that she's just as glad as I am for the company. "Okay, did it look bad out there?"
Now it's the girl that's quiet, seemingly lost in her thoughts before she finally answers. "Yeah, the whole place is out and I mean, the whole mall. It's creepy too… it's only almost four, yet it's so dark out."
I smile at her, despite the fear slowly creeping under my skin and making my bones ache with worry. "I'm sure it'll be fine."
The girl weakly nods before we leave the washroom. Everyone that was once in the hallway is now almost out of the theaters and the quiet of being so far away from the crowds is starting to tug at my nerves.
"C'mon," I urge, walking briskly towards the others.
Even before we get anywhere close to the crowd of people, we can hear the shouts and the screams of terror. Then, another BOOM shakes the building, nearly knocking me onto the ground. This time, the sound is clearer and my eyes widen as the echoes of pain and fear intermingle with that of breaking glass and clashing metal. What the hell is happening out there?
I run with the girl at my heels towards the escalators where people are now trying to backtrack their way into the theaters. I force my way through the crowd, curiosity taking over any politeness I might have had in any other situation. When I finally get through the crowd, I nearly stumble backwards. The scene of destruction nearly makes me recoil with terror, but the girl is there, prepared for the scene I had so naively ignored.
"We need to get out of here!" Various voices scream in tandem, shoving others aside.
"We're all going to die!" Others join in.
I try to shut the voices out as I take in the scene downstairs. People are crowding the escalators, deciding whether to come up or come down. There are several fires alit in Chapters, the bookstore right across from the Cineplex. There is glass everywhere, along with the metal frames that held the windows up for various stores in my immediate line of sight. I look down at a crowd of people by the doors, which are now nearly destroyed, and my heart nearly punches through my chest at what I see…
WHAT THE FUCK…
I look away from the sight and share a look with the girl, who is now clenching her jaw. She nods curtly and we push back from the frightened crowd of people and from those… people downstairs.
We race through the crowds and avoid looking at the people around us. A couple rushes past us towards the escalators and the stairs holding hands, and I briefly let myself think about Alex.
"Hey," the girl makes me focus with a tug on my sweater. "We gotta go!"
I look around us and realize that I've stopped walking. The girl and I look at each other, then at the people behind us. The posters of Now Playing films are stained with something red and several kiosks where the tickets are sold for cardholders are on their sides on the floor. There is no carpeted flooring here, so the erratic footsteps of the panicking crowd deafens me. The girl and I both turn and reach for each others' hands. We head for Chapters, which is connected on the second level with Cineplex, fighting off anyone who rams against us in their panic. We're almost across the walkway, trying our hardest to not look down at the chaos, when someone pushes us hard from behind.
Two things happen right as we are falling. One, the push is hard enough to knock the girl and I against the railing of the walkway and two, we both go right over.
Then everything goes dark.