Gimme A Smile by Mike Strange

by Mike Strange

The Tacoma City Mall had been abandoned for some time. Aside from the odd squatter or two under the entrance, no one had been back inside the place since it was shuttered up back in ‘85. This made the site a perfect place for a bit of urban exploration, Jade had thought. She’d played a hell of a time getting any friends to come with her. Most of them complained about getting nailed for trespassing, others simply wanted no part of it. But then Jade met Freddy, a shy nerdy transplant who seemed all too eager to please.

Word had it that Freddy, head of Tacoma High’s AV Club, had access to some killer video equipment. To get her hands on it, simply enough, all Jade had had to do was throw a few empty promises his way and shove her chest into his face a few times.

Early in the day, Jade had gathered extra film for her Polaroid and a few other sundries, called her boyfriend about a date that evening, and cooked up a decent alibi for this afternoon. As far as her beleaguered parents knew, she was getting tutored for her sagging History grades. At roughly the same time her father rolled his eyes when he read her note, Jade was sneaking up to the back entrance to one of the vacant mall’s stores. She slung her backpack to the ground, kicking up a small dirt cloud. Freddy rubbed his nose in anticipation of any allergens as Jade rummaged through her pack, pulling out a pry bar.

“Are you sure there’s no other way?” Freddy asked.

Jade grinned as she slid the bar alongside the door’s lock and gave it a good shove.

“Of course,” she said, still smiling. “We could just waltz into the front.”

Freddy’s Adam’s apple bobbed at the very thought of the exposure, but before he could protest, the door popped open with a dull click. Jade quickly shouldered her pack and pushed the door open, wincing slightly as the rusty hinges squealed in protest. She turned back in the doorway and stared at Freddy.

“You coming, hot stuff? Or am I gonna have to carry all that, too?” She asked, eyeing Freddy’s duffle bag. He immediately kneeled and hoisted the bag, the sweat beading at his brow.

“No, no, I got it. Wouldn’t want you to wear yourself out,” he said through gasping breath. Jade flashed a wicked grin as she stepped back through the door, disappearing into the darkness. After clicking on the flashlight, she looked around the empty room with fascination.

“I think this was Sherman’s Shoes,” she said, pointing to the wall. Freddy gazed at a blank space on the wall where a sign had been clumsily hung; he could read the barely visible HERMAN on the wall above a remaining slat of pegboard and a few scattered papers. He unzipped his bag, shouldering the VHS camera. Jade shined her light his way as he checked for a tape. After retrieving and loading a suitable blank, he switched on the camera’s light and started filming.

He fiddled with the camera’s controls as Jade headed towards the break room door. Freddy turned towards Jade just as she gasped. Stumbling with all the equipment, he made his way to her. She was staring at a message streaked across the employee lounge door, ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER. Freddy stiffened as soon as he read it, while Jade started giggling.

“What? What could be funny about this?” Freddy asked, trembling. “Maybe the cops or someone put it here to warn people of trespassing.”

“Get real,” she snorted. “My brother used to work here; someone painted that after a Black Friday sale about a million years ago. He said it was hell on Earth.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, either that, or this place is home to a suicidal cult”

“You’re not helping.”

Jade stepped past the mural and opened the lounge door into the store. A sweep of her flashlight revealed hanging dust and a few empty shoe boxes scattered here and there. The protective cage door at the store’s front was hanging half open to the darkness beyond. Jade crouched underneath the cage and shone her light into the vast corridor. She whistled slightly and urged Freddy to follow. She shone her light to the left and to the right, sweeping along the great void. Freddy moaned slightly at the idea of traipsing into the dark. Dust floated freely as their flashlight’s beams danced along the empty store fronts. Jade could barely keep the grin off her face as she imagined Freddy’s unease. She didn’t hate the guy, but she didn’t feel bad for him either. Just another goof to step on – on her way up, she mused.

While caught in her reverie, Jade didn’t even notice the shards of warped and rusted metal in front of the abandoned arcade, Joy’s. She cried out as she stumbled over the scrap, dropping her flashlight. After a second, Freddy collapsed behind her, sending his pack of equipment scattering around, sending echoes cascading into the void around them. Frantically searching for her flashlight, Jade grabbed and pawed all over the ground as Freddy grunted and thrashed around in vain. After a second, she saw the light’s beam casting shadows across the entrance to the old theater.

In a horrific moment, Jade locked onto a pair of eyes staring out from the theater’s entrance. Stifling a scream, she grabbed her flashlight and forced it towards the sinister gaze. Her fear reached a fever pitch, then relaxed as she realized she was staring at an old A Nightmare on Elm Street poster. Behind her, Freddy coughed explosively, causing Jade to jump.

“You ok back there?” Jade asked. “Or do you need an iron lung?”

The cough continued for a second before Freddy managed to mumble in the positive.

“Too much dust,” Freddy said roughly. “You alright?”

“I’ll be fine. Where’s the camera? Sounded like you dropped a Radio Shack back there.”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Where’s the light?”

Jade turned to face Freddy, but the blinding light from the camera forced her to turn back, covering her eyes.

“Ok, ok, Hitchcock. Jesus, I want to see past today, y’know.” Jade said.

Freddy merely grumbled in response, turning to shoot the pile of debris. Jade looked at the pile, doing a double take. For a second, she thought she saw blood. She rolled her eyes; realizing that it must be a gathering puddle from the leaking ceiling. She continued scanning towards the empty food court that was just ahead. Once she got there, She walked into the dining area, slowly spinning around and staring as her flashlight pierced the darkness.

“It’s hard to believe this is where it happened,” Jade began. “It was right here.”

“What happened?” Freddy asked, his voice still a little raw.

“Johnny Lee Mallard. The Food Court Killer? C’mon, you gotta know about him, it was all over the news” Jade said. Freddy only gulped in response.

“Oh yeah, I forgot that you’re new.” Jade said, hiding her smile.

Jade made her way towards the former Chicken Box restaurant. She focused her beam on the counter; the light revealed several deep slash marks. She fingered them thoughtfully as she shone the beam on the wall behind it. It was pockmarked with several fist-sized holes intermittently spattered with what looked like dried brown paint. She hoisted herself up onto the countertop and readjusted her flashlight’s beam.

“Yeah, good ol’ Mallard. His girlfriend used to work here. She was apparently a good girl. Real levelheaded and all that,” Jade said, sitting on the counter. “But Johnny was no nice guy. Turns out he was possessive. Like scary possessive.”

She paused long enough to flick her eyes towards Freddy, only seeing his black outline behind that camera. She even thought she saw him shiver. “One day, Mallard wanders into the mall and sees some guy with his arms around his girl. He loses it, but keeps it on the inside, y’know? He wanders over to the Hoffritz and grabs the biggest knife he can find off the wall and walks back over to the Chicken Box. He stabs the guy, pinning his hand to the counter,” Jade says, slapping her hand on the countertop to punctuate.

“While the mystery man is clawing at the knife, trying to pull it out, Johnny pulls another knife out and gives the dude an Italian necktie, right in front of the Sunday lunch crowd. The guy collapses, blood running from his throat like Niagara Falls and shit, so he’s just hanging off the counter, unable to drop.”

Jade paused long enough to let her words echo just a bit.

“Then lover-boy Johnny sees his girl. She’s frozen in terror, right? He dives over the counter, wicking that knife around like a wind chime. He’s in such a blind rage that he doesn’t hear the cop screaming at him to drop it. Before he can redecorate his girl’s neck, Dirty Harry squeezes off his hand cannon, perforating Johnny with half a dozen slugs.”

Jade let her voice hang in the air. For just a moment, she thought that she could hear whimpering in the distance. She listened carefully for a few seconds. Hearing nothing more, she shrugged and continued.

“That’s not even the best part, buckaroo,” Jade chuckled. “The paramedics, more cops and even firefighters showed up to clean up the mess. Turns out someone even had a heart attack watching this unfold. Bunch o’ little kids saw it too. Probably gave ‘em nightmares for life. Anyhow, Johnny gets strapped down and shipped off, his girl is bundled off by her parents. The guy Johnny saw her with? It was her uncle, just dropping in to wish his niece a happy sweet sixteen.”

Freddy stared forward, not saying anything. Jade couldn’t help but notice how much he was trembling now. Unable to help herself, she continued. “The police on the scene say that they’re gonna see Johnny ride the lightning for this, if he lives. Sounds good, huh?”

“Yeah,” Freddy said, his voice quivering.

“But not all is well. Turns out the ambulance never arrived at the hospital. It was found an hour later up the road in a ditch,” Jade said. “Both attendants were missing their heads. Mr. Mallard was nowhere to be found.”

With that, Jade leapt off the counter and shouted. Freddy stumbled over backwards, nearly going for a spill. Jade laughed for a moment before composing herself. After the last echo of her laugh subsided, she paused. There was definitely another sound now; slow, yet deliberate. Almost like a whisper. Instantly stiffening, Jade spun on her heels and pointed her light in the direction that she thought the sound was creeping from. Nothing. Just a few floating dust motes and the gulf of the abandoned retail landscape.

“What was that,” Freddy asked. “That sound?”

“I dunno,” Jade said. “Maybe someone screwing around?”

“I don’t want to find out,” Freddy said huskily. “Let’s go.”

Freddy turned and headed away from the food court with a sudden quickness that caught Jade off guard.

“Wait!” She shouted. “Hold up.”

Jade gave chase, this time scanning the ground to avoid any debris. She looked up intermittently to look for Freddy’s light, which was waving crazily as he ran full force back the way they came. Behind the blood roaring in her ears, Jade could just barely make out two words:

Help me.”

The message seemed to swirl around her head, worming its way into her thoughts. She ran harder and harder, trying to stay one step ahead of her growing fear. Suddenly, Freddy’s light disappeared in a crashing sound ahead.

“Freddy!”

Help meeeeee….

Jade’s light felt along the darkened hall, looking in vain for Freddy. After a second or two, she spotted him lying in a heap less than twenty feet from the debris pile they stumbled over earlier. Making her way over, Jade grabbed Freddy around his shoulders and attempted to hoist him up. He launched up with a spastic jerk, sending Jade falling over backwards. He turned towards her, revealing his face; not the thin, pale visage she remembered, but a mask of coagulated blood and exposed muscle.

Unable to speak, Jade nearly dropped her flashlight. Freddy opened his mouth to speak, but only a blackened rope of blood leaked out.

“Help me, Jade,” Freddy spat.

Before she could make a move, the camera’s light stabbed through the eerie scene. She held up her hand to shield against the brightness.

“F-Freddy? What’s going on?”

She turned her light back behind her, eyeing the wounded man on the floor. His neck seemed perforated, slowly oozing a steady stream of blood. With dawning horror, she turned her flashlight back towards the camera.

 The fall. The voice. The puddle. That whimpering.

The camera’s light shut off. Jade’s flashlight beam illuminated a man with a strange face that she instantly recognized from old newspaper clippings: Johnny Lee Mallard. After dropping the camera, Johnny reached behind his back and drew out a large knife, running his finger across the edge, drawing blood.

He then slowly drew his bloody finger across his mouth, smearing a dark red smile across his lips.

“Good to see there’s fans of my work,” Johnny said, leering at the prone Jade. “Come on, honey. Gimme a smile.”

After a moment of panicked fear, Jade found her legs and stood, shoving Johnny and heading for the shoe store. Feeling a piercing pan in her shoulder, Jade stumbled but didn’t fall. She kicked backwards behind her, striking Johnny. Hearing a grunt of pain, Jade pushed onward, bursting into the Sherman’s Shoes break room. She snatched the back door open, bright light flooding in. Momentarily blinded, she shielded her eyes. After a moment, she slammed the door behind her, forcing it shut with a stray two by four.

She heard pounding from behind her as she raced along. Without thinking, she threw herself into her car, firing it up. She threw it into reverse, flying backwards out of the parking lot. For a brief moment, she turned the car around, facing the mall. Johnny stood outside;  knife gleaming in the sun, the bloody smile etched across his face. Jogging lightly, he headed towards Jade. Pressing the gas, she peeled out just as Johnny ran full tilt towards the car.

Instead of tearing out of the lot, in a snap decision, Jade jerked the wheel towards Johnny. Screaming, she slammed into him, pinning him against the wall. Then everything went black. Later, Jade opened her eyes groggily, coming to in a bright room.

“There you are,” a calm voice said. “We were wondering when you’d come back to us.”

Jade sat up with a struggle before a gentle hand held her back.

“Don’t move too quick, honey. You’ve got a concussion. Seems you got into a bit of an

accident.”

“Where the hell am I?” Jade asked.

“At North Ridge Hospital, hon.”

Jade finally made eye contact with the nurse; her vision swam.

“Where is he?”

“Who, hon?”

“M-Mallard. I hit him with my car. He knifed Freddy. Where is he?”

The nurse looked over to the doorway, nodding her head. With that, a police officer strolled in, quickly folding a newspaper under his arm.

“Ma’am, I’m Officer Norman, I found you at the scene,” he began. “I’ll have a few questions for you once you get up and moving, but I wanted to check in on you.”

“What are you talking about?” Jade asked.

The nurse left the room as Norman sighed. “Ma’am, when we found you, you were pinned behind the wheel of your car, screaming hysterically.”

“What about Mallard?”

“Mallard?”

“Yeah, Johnny Lee Mallard. He was there! He must have been hiding out there. I hit him with my car.”

“Ma’am, I think you might have been mistaken.”

“No…no. He was there. He killed Freddy.”

Norman drew up a chair, sitting eye level to Jade.

“Ma’am, there was no one there,” Norman began. “ We found a knife and a few traces of blood on the hood of your car, but that was all. We recovered your friend from inside the mall, but we didn’t find a single other trace of anyone else. We’ll need to ask you a few questions as soon as possible.”

The nurse came forward, gently reaching out for Jade. “It’s alright, honey. You’ve been through a lot.”

“No, you don’t understand,” Jade roared. “Who the hell do you think killed Freddy?”

“It’ll be fine, dear. Just relax…gimme a smile.”

Jade turned her wired expression towards the nurse. “What did you say?”

The nurse, taken aback, looked at Jade in surprise. “I didn’t say a thing, hon.”

Jade’s vision swam; she felt lightheaded. As she slowly slipped from consciousness, she was sure that she saw a man’s face in her window. She feebly tried to get the officer’s attention, pawing at his arm and groaning. As she looked on, the man in the window traced his finger along his bloody lips and grinned. She then slowly, mercifully, slipped into the black.

 


About the Author

Mike Strange is a bizarre individual. When he’s not trying to rid the world of boredom, he’s passionately pursuing writing. As a fervent observer of life’s weird side, there’s never a dull moment in his crazed existence. Somehow, he became a husband and father; he’s also cursed to care for two wild carpet sharks, or what  normal people call cats.