The Code in the Mirror (1)

"There is an abandoned mall somewhere in America. If you go there between 12 AM and 1 AM, and the lights are on, you will find a wondrous art exhibit of the exotic and macabre. You will meet a man and his daughter who are actually dead. If you don't leave by 1 A.M., the man will make you into a piece of art."

The Code in the Mirror


            It could be a cozy room save the unnaturally cold chill made worse by a rattling metal fan. Dark walls hosted mature posters of bands, horror movies, and women. A computer buzzed quietly under droning rock from some disbanded deathrock band while a half-drank cup of coffee sat next to a glowing portion of manifested code and open source.. the chair was cozy.
            In the chair was a Russian American man, age 24. He was a little clean-cut, a little rock and roll, athletic-- but not sports-inclined, and loaded on books.
            His name was Slavik Corinthian.
            And he was on the phone, “My name is Gary L. Britton. Yes, I'd--”
            The phone beeped, someone else was calling. Slavik felt his frustration and let it slide. "I'm sorry, my wife is on the other line. I'll have to call you back."
            Slavik changed over to the new caller using something closer his normal voice, "Nee-how?"
            "Hey.. is that Chinese?" It was his second girlfriend; nothing personal. He had decided not to juggle three.
            "Basic Mandarin."
            "Are we still on for tonight?"
            "Of course. 9:30?" Slavik scratched the back of his head.
            Here's hoping you don't come earlier. He thought.
            "Yep. Okay well I gotta run. I love you."
            "I love you too."
            As the two said their goodbyes Slavik got into his email and looked through his inbox. There was an unread message from an email address he didn't know. The subject said, "Scagire Mall Art Exhibit."
            Slavik was familiar with two malls in Scagire Township. Scagire Mall was the abandoned one left to rust in overgrowth. He missed it from his youth; the place had been left for a more centralized setting where a hardware store used to be even further into the past.
            Must be a chain-letter. It'll probably be entertaining.
            He opened up the message:
            "Mr. Corinthian, you are invited to an informal art exhibit marking the grand reopening of the Scagire Mall to support the arts in Scagire. Admission is negotiable."
            Negotiable?
            The email went on, "Please be there by 12 A.M. and no later than 1 A.M."
            My name isn't listed in my email account.. this must be one of my friends playing a joke on me.
            Slavik went to delete the email and the web page refreshed with the message showing, still intact. So he tried deleting it again, but to no avail.
            Must be a server-side glitch.
            He tried deleting it again, but the email persisted, "Scagire Mall Art Exhibit."
            The clock read 7:16. He would go out to meet his first girlfriend around five minutes from then, so he decided not to bother. He tried to log off of his email, but his computer had froze.
            Four gigs with nothing intensive up? Really?
            The phone rang, the caller ID showed it was Slavik's first girlfriend. He picked up, "Hello?"
            Her voice was disgruntled, "You cheated on me at a party a month ago."
            "Yes?"
            Her tone was dry and angry, "That was the third time.. its over."
            "I was just trying to keep up with yo--"
            She hung up.
            He put his cell phone down, took a sip of coffee, and stared at the frozen screen in front of him.
            'Admission is negotiable.' What does that mean?

* * *


            It was around 11:45 P.M. and Slavik's second girl had a family conflict throwing the night into a roller-coaster ride. All the conflict left Slavik vying and succeeding for the rare occasion of getting drunk. He decided that he would take a bicycle to the abandoned mall out of sheer curiosity since he wasn't driving.
            Slavik ventured out to the garage and pulled out his mountain bike, checking over the tires before exiting out the door. The air outside was slightly frigid and breezy; it was the kind of air that was signaling a transition between Summer and Autumn. Green brush and tree-tops bustled underneath a starry sky scattered with clouds and a couple aircraft many miles apart from each other. The seldom cars which whizzed past Slavik seemed almost menacing to the undisturbed nature.
            When he arrived he found the mall as desolate as he remembered. Four old vehicles graced a near empty parking lot that was cracked and birthing grass. Some far-outer parts of the old shopping structure had collapsed where bustling storefronts once were. The front set of doors at the entrance were wedged half-open with rotting logs. As Slavik glided closer he could see somewhat dim lights through the entry-way glass, tracing down the broad hallway ceiling of a dirty food-court.
            There was a bike rack, rusted and bent in a manner where it would wobble back and forth if used; he stopped next to the orangeish-grey contraption, pulling a chain from his pocket. As he locked his bicycle in place, static burst out from inside the building from a radio, followed by instrumental music that sounded like it was from the 1930's or 1940's.
            Creepy, but I rode out here. It won't detract me now.
            Slavik paced forth through the entrance. A girl around seventeen emerged from the hall at the end of the food-court and walked towards him. She looked abnormally pale, her pink and white dress stained with red; she had bags under her wide eyes suggesting insomnia and a tormented look about her face.
            "Oh." She half spoke to herself, "We have our first visitor."
            This girl looks pretty messed up. Is that blood?
            "Yeah, hi."
            "You must be thirsty.. there's an open bar over there." She pointed to a wide assortment of booze on an abandoned counter. "Its free."
            This place is in shambles, but the floor looks cleaner from four years ago when my friends and I broke in here.
            "Alright, thanks." Slavik gave the hint of a smile.
            Well fuck it, why no--
            Slavik only made two steps towards the counter.
            'Negotiable..'
            "Hey." Slavik turned.
            The girl's gaze met his-- her eyes wide like an animal. "Yes?"
            "About admission?"
            "Oh." She half spoke to herself with her hand pointing under her mouth, her eyes traveling to the right. "You'd have to ask Rembrandt about that."
            Auditory memory recall. And 'Rembrandt?'
            "What's that on your dress?" Slavik tilted his head to the right a little.
            "Oh, my friends and I were filming a cheesy horror movie." The girl scratched her head and looked away.
            A bold-faced lie. She is showing her uncertainty and can't keep eye contact. The stains are probably blood, but dry. And there's no holes in the dress which means it was probably used as a rag.
            "You know, this dress was my mother's."
            Slavik contained himself from looking at the entrance out of some want to leave. He instead directed his gaze at the floor for a few seconds, his mind melded with his intoxication before he raised his head back at her. "Sorry for your loss."
            The girl looked towards the doors but her feet still pointed towards her subject, "It's okay. It was a long time ago."
            Before Slavik could ask her what happened a man in expensive clothes appeared at the end of hall. The strange man's voice boomed with jovial friendliness, "Hello newcomer!"
            One of his hands is in his pocket which is commonly introvertive. His posture is straight, (a tad more than this girl's) which is commonly extrovertive and shows confidence. His brow is slightly furrowed against his smile which shows a conflict in thoughts. His eyes have the same tormented, sleepless look as this girl. She is probably his daughter by facial similarities.
            "Hello." Slavik waved, with a slight smile.
            The man shook Slavik's hand with a firm grasp, "Hello, my name is Rembrandt Monticello."
            "Slavik Corinthian."
            They ended their handshake. Rembrandt pointed to the girl with an open left hand, "And of course you've already met my daughter, Carise."
            "Yes."
            Rembrandt looked past Slavik for a second, inspecting the door. Mr. Monticello took his gaze down at the floor, pulling his lips in just slightly before retracting them and raising his gaze back at Slavik.
            He's hiding something for sure.
            The young man stared back patiently and relaxed. Both men had their hands in their pockets.
            If I consciously mimic him I'll be at greater advantage for a straight answer about admission.
            "What did you mean by admission?" Slavik asked over the old music playing in the background.
            "Simply that I don't want to charge ten dollars admission if only a few people come by. This isn't exactly a stellar location yet, y'know."
            Seems legitimate.. but from the resting stress in his face and his daughter's, along with her potentially bloodstained dress, his speech could be a well choreographed lie. Then again, I'm still somewhat intoxicated. I'll check out some displays and get out of here if things get anymore suspicious.
            "Well, don't be shy, come on and take a look around the exhibit." Rembrandt motioned. "Carise can show you around."
            Carise and Slavik went towards the exhibits stationed outside of the dilapidated food-court. The young man could already catch tables and tape in the distance housing odd and frightening displays. From the food court, looking at the hall where the first exhibits were: the hall ventured left and right, then each side went forwards to new halls which lead to the final hall in back of the mall-- all in a kind of square with a couple extra lines.
            When the two arrived at the end of the food-court to the new hall they took a left. In front of them was a wall full of framed paintings which were of surreal landscapes.
            Carise immediately went seven paintings down, "When your done looking at those you should see this one, its one of my favorites."
            There were art exhibits in what were once empty storefronts as well. When Slavik was finished with a row of pictures he would go inside a store to see the bizarre things showcased. The first room had mostly bones of various creatures put together into all new creatures and when he got to the second row of paintings he found them all to be grim and grotesque portraits; these two groups of pieces were enough to leave a feeling of fear pitted against his inquisitive nature.
            Slavik checked the time on his cellphone which said 1:00 A.M. He heard a loud clang of metal coming from the food-court.
            What was that? Did something fall..?
            The second room had worn tiles and a stained ceiling from a leaky roof-- quite like the first room. A slightly rusting security gate made of steel had been left behind at the entrance which Slavik also took notice of. Molds of screaming faces and outstretched hands strained outwards from the walls. The molds were painted very realistically and their sculptor(s) had given meticulous attention to detail, even to the point of fake strands of saliva dangling from within some of the mouths.
            Twisted.
            The lights shut off and the room went pitch-black. Slavik heard a kind of loud, hissing laugh.
            Fuck this.
            Slavik grasped the rusted gate and forced it to the other side of the entry-way, trying to hold it shut without making himself vulnerable to its gaps.
            It was only minutes later when he heard the hissing sound again maybe forty or fifty feet away over the old music. Whatever 'it' was, he could hear its breathing in the darkness. He held tightly to the end of the gate while being as stationary and as silent as he could be.
            The lights came on revealing the busted up floor, the faces on display, and everything run-down as it was. Slavik peered out towards where the hissing had been.
            Rembrandt was standing in front of some benches, in the spot, with a raised eyebrow and his arms crossed, "Are you okay, sir?"
            I need to get out of here now.
            "Yeah." Slavik pulled back the security cage. As he did so one of the heads on display fell to the ground startling him. "What the!?"
            "Oh, I'll get that." Rembrandt quickly paced into the store as Slavik quickly paced out of it.
            "I think its time for me to be going. Its getting late."
            Rembrandt kept up his charm, "If you'd oblige me I'd like to show you one more exhibit with the most fantastic artistic pieces few of the world has seen. I assure you that admission will not cost you a dime."
            He might try to charge me if I don't give in.. or I could just bolt it.
            Slavik decided and sprinted towards the food-court.
            When Slavik got back to the food court, Carise was standing before him with a worried look. He could see that the first set of doors were barred from outside, the second set somehow barricaded with a flipped car in case he tried to smash the glass.
            I'm in serious shit now. I could take a couple of those glass fifths from the bar and use them as weapons.. but that girl's opinion of me could be a weapon too. I'll try her first.
            Stepping in closer, Slavik looked Carise in the eyes and caressed the side of her face with sincerity, "Carise, can you show me a way out of here?"
            "…"
            "Please?"
            Carise looked down and she half-talked to herself, "I.."
            The lights went off again.
            "Carise, get out of here!" Slavik yelled. He charged at the makeshift open-bar and grabbed two bottles with a clunk.
            The lights turned back on to reveal Carise holding Rembrandt back. The girl's pale hands and neck had elongated. Her fingers were now abnormally sharp and stabbing into her father's back. Rembrandt smiled at Slavik with a grin of an unnatural width, a sneer upon his face, and a blackness in place of his eyes.
            "Why leave when you haven't seen all the displays?" Rembrandt hissed in a low, alien pitch. The monstrous man began laughing as random ceiling tiles fell to the ground and shifting body-bags attached to nooses dropped down in suspension all around the food-court.
            Slavik dashed back out of the food court as the mall lights flickered on and off and Rembrandt struggled to free himself from his daughter's bony grasp.
            The young man turned right to the side of the hall of art in which there were collapsed spaces where stores had once been, though no collapse showed exit. Halfway through this hall with Slavik's eyes on a new entrance, he heard Carise screaming at the top of her lungs along with the new voice of Rembrandt yelling.
            Moments later there was just silence-- under his breath as he ran.
            When Slavik was almost to the entrance he ran past a room sealed off with a creaked open door bursting with cold air and an unbearable smell that caused him to cough and gag. He didn't look back.
            Slavik got to the new set of doors, already knowing they hadn't been blocked off. He threw one of the bottles into the door, shattering the glass. He heard an incredibly fast pace like a sixteen-count beat echoing down the hall as he crawled through the hole of broken glass.
            At the next door he repeated the process cutting himself up accidentally and shattering the glass to the outside. His heart pounded wildly as he made his escape into the empty night.
            My bike.. its a risk, but I have to grab it.
            Slavik ran around the mall towards the front entrance, he could no longer hear anything following him.
            At the entrance to the mall, all the vehicles in the parking lot had vanished. There was no light or sound coming from the inside of the structure. Slavik quickly unlocked his bike-- poorly pocketing the chain. He peddled away sober and at full-speed towards the desolate road which would take him back home.