Authors: A.D. Folmer
Beneath the Mall of Madness
Copyright © 2014 A.D. Folmer
All rights reserved.
For my sister
Thank you for always believing in me
The first time I visited the Pacific Northwest, Seattle was the gateway to the Alaskan gold rush, logging was the major industry, and the weather was soul-suckingly miserable. Over a hundred years later, Gold Rush was a reality TV show, and I was three hours past Seattle, into the North Cascades, along what claimed to be a highway but felt more like an abandoned logging road, going about twenty miles an hour because I was stuck behind a logging truck. To make things even better, I couldn’t tell if it was raining or not because I was driving
a cloud. A few miles back I’d passed a sign indicating that there was an air force base ahead. The only trouble was, according to the internet no such base existed and, according to my GPS, the road I was on wasn’t real either.
My soon-to-be employer had foreseen this problem and e-mailed me directions and a map, along with assurances that if I drove too far I could ask for directions at the base that, if it did exist, probably didn’t welcome lost travelers.
My name is Jaspar Windisle, and I talk to dead people for a living, so I get unusual requests all the time. There are limits; however, and I would normally delete a job offer like this without bothering to reply. This offer was an exception because it was coming from an old friend. Even if I didn’t believe him when he said I was coming out here to check the site of a future mall for restless spirits, I felt I owed it to him to show up and find out what he really wanted.
I was unspeakably relieved when the road took a sharp turn back towards flat land and traffic cones appeared on one side. At least someone else had used this road recently. In just a few more miles, I saw a big sign announcing that I was approaching the future site of the KeyGate Mall, and shortly after that I found the turnoff. Surprisingly, the gravel road leading to the mall was in better condition than the highway. It was short and led to a grassy meadow that was filled with cars and people waving signs. I silently cursed my friend. He hadn’t said anything about protesters. I parked as far away from them as I could and got out of my car.
There were two distinct groups of protesters. The ones closest to me were environmentalists. They were wearing dark green shirts with slogans I couldn’t quite make out. Not because of distance, but because they’d used a fancy font that made my eyes hurt to look at. They were all wearing khakis, and about half of them were wearing shorts. I couldn’t help checking their feet, and almost all of them were wearing socks with sandals. I’d heard people did that in this part of the country, but I hadn’t believed it until now. They were going to regret their choice of footwear soon if they didn’t already. I hadn’t gone five feet yet, and my slacks were already covered in piggyback stickers. From previous, incredibly painful, experience I knew it was only a matter of time before the stickers worked their way between socks and sandal straps and caused pain.
I tried not to judge them too harshly. These days being in favor of the environment doesn’t go hand in hand with going out and experiencing the environment. As I drew closer to their group, I noticed that most of them had the air of children out on a field trip for the first time. If they thought driving for hours to get to a marshy field was a big adventure I wasn’t about to spoil their fun. As I walked towards them, I passed two green and white vans that looked like they belonged to the environmentalists. One of them had some sort of deer-like creature airbrushed onto the side, and the other smelled strongly of hemp. That might explain their relaxed attitude.
Competing for my attention was a group that smelled less like hemp and more like the worst of the great outdoors. Either it was deer season or someone hadn’t washed the scent off their clothes since last year. Most of their signs and clothes were more professional in a worrying, militia-like way, but some of the hunters joining in the protesting were desperately in need of a shower. I think some of them had come straight from hunting to wave signs. One or two of them had even brought their rifles. I wasn’t sure that was good form, and I had no intention of going over to ask. I didn’t have to wonder where they’d come from; the van they’d arrived in had the logo of their hunting club and their website printed on the side.
The tree huggers and the hunters were squared off across the field, but they were protesting the same thing. It seemed my employer really had decided that this particular patch of nowhere was the perfect place for a mall. I thought they were wrong, and not just because I’m concerned about the spirit of the earth or elk migration. We may have been a three-hour drive from the nearest major city, but if there really was a military base nearby it was bound to have its own strip malls and department stores. I couldn’t imagine there were enough people living in these mountains to justify higher end boutique stores either. None of the protestors had signs saying ‘You’re throwing money away!’ or ‘The market is oversaturated!’ They said things like ‘Stop killing the Earth,’ ‘Elk First,’ and ‘Keep the Wilderness Wild.’ That last one was on both sides of the protest.
The economic feasibility of my employer’s project was no concern of mine, fortunately. I was here to do one job for them, and that was it. I just hoped that I could get past this parking lot and into the construction site without being protested at.
I almost made it. It helped that my car’s bumper was attached with duct tape, and I was dressed less than impressively. As soon as I’d found out where I was going and taken a look at the weather report I’d unpacked all my good clothes. That left me in a turtleneck and a puffy jacket that were both several sizes too big, a pair of slacks with the hems rolled up, and boots that were patched and falling apart. It was all that was left after I’d rejected everything else as being too nice, too expensive, or too hard to find again if it got ruined. I’m only five foot one, so that last category included all of my shoes and most of my pants, except this pair that I’d bought years ago and never got around to having tailored. It’s always been difficult to find menswear in my size, and somehow the power of the internet hasn’t made it any easier.
My client today was an old friend, so showing up as a homeless person was hardly the most embarrassing thing he’d seen me do. And in my line of work, an eccentric appearance can be a bonus.
As I reached the end of the parking lot and the path leading to the construction site, the most brightly clad of the earth savers came towards me.
“I’m Fiona Whateley. Are you here for the protest?”
Fiona was a few inches taller than me. She was thin and had delicate features that looked vaguely Eastern European. Her eyes were large and black and had just a hint of red. The red might have been picked up from the poppy tucked behind one of her ears. Her black hair was fine, straight and hung to her waist. She was wearing a long cotton robe tie-dyed in shades of pink, orange, and purple that completed the flower child look. It was an African print and imbued with occult power, but I didn’t know that at the time. What I did know was that she was holding a sign proclaiming ‘Elk First’ in one hand and a plate of vegan cupcakes in the other.
“No, I’m not,” I told her. She frowned at me.
“You’re with Jesticorps?”
“No,” I said. “I’m just consulting for them.” For a substantial amount of money. I wasn’t sure if they were overpaying me, or if I was undercharging for my services.
You’d think the going rate for a psychic evaluation would be standard given how many practicing psychics there are. It is not, however. Oh, it’s easy when people have hotlines or storefronts with posted rates, but few people are willing to come forward with either what they charged or what they paid for fieldwork like this. People who charge an arm and a leg in private while presenting themselves as altruists in public complicate matters further.
“What kind of consulting?”
“I’m a psychic and I’m going to ask the spirits what they think about the new mall,” I told her.
“I’d imagine if there are any they’d be pretty pissed,” she said.
“You’d be surprised what spirits are okay with,” I told her. “But we’ll find out soon enough.” She was still staring at me. I guess that was normal. Most people who do this kind of thing either take care to look as mystical as possible or as professional as possible. Usually, I aim for professional. It’ll be a cold day in Hell before I wear leather pants, whole dead animals or eyeliner. Her stare was kind of creeping me out though. Her eyes weren’t just dark; they didn’t seem to have whites at all. It was like making eye contact with a shark.
“I didn’t know anyone was demanding the spirits be consulted,” Fiona said. I shrugged.
“It’s trendy right now. I’ve consulted the spirits about much more ridiculous things so that someone can say their project is spirit approved.” Fiona made a face.
“That seems disrespectful,” she said.
“Yes, well, they don’t seem to mind answering, and my customers don’t seem to mind paying in advance.”
“Wait, do you really think you can talk to spirits?” she asked.
It was a fair question. I myself assumed that everyone else in my field was a fraud until proven otherwise. And I couldn’t talk directly to the dead, which was what most people assumed I meant when they heard the word spirits. Since I didn’t have many other skills to recommend me, I’d jumped on this business opportunity with both feet. To Fiona I just said:
“Maybe I can, maybe I can’t.” I pulled out my main prop, a fine steel chain with a ring at one end and a chunk of polished amber at the other, and let the amber swing. “Do you think it’s possible?” My pendulum is very mystical looking. The setting holding the amber is shaped like a demon, and the ring is carved to look like a snake. The steel chain has gotten me accused of using magnets to cheat, but I’d rather be accused of fraud than get a silver chain that might break. Apart from the expense of replacing it, I’ve become fond of the shades of the creatures trapped in the amber.
Fiona looked at my pendant with disgust.
“Not with that,” she said.
As if in response, the pendulum twitched. It was a movement I could easily have created by moving my fingers. I knew it wasn’t. The shades of the insects that had been trapped in the amber were reacting to being exposed to light. I’m no expert on the psychology of million-year-old insects, but they didn’t like being out in the open and with my power giving them a bit of strength, they could try to do something about it.
I don’t like to bother the little guys, so I put the pendant away.
“A pendulum that points towards you is a neat trick, but not very useful,” Fiona said.
“Are you a psychic?” I asked.
“Then how would you know?”
“Ah, there you are Jaspar!” A familiar voice called out, interrupting us. “I was worried you’d gotten lost!”
“Of course I showed up,” I told him. “You’re paying me.” He laughed.
Stephen Trenton was representing Jesticorps, the company that was building the mall. I’d known him for centuries. He was a wizard, and he looked more like a psychic than I did today. He was wearing a long tweed coat over his dark gray suit, and his orange hair was messy and plastered to his head. The last part was probably because of the yellow hard hat he was holding in one hand. I would have shown up whether he paid me or not, and he knew it. He’d rescued me from a fate worse than death after all.
My earliest memory is of being locked in a cold, lightless room with no door and nothing to eat or drink. I don’t know how long I was trapped in that place. It seemed like an eternity at the time. All these years later it still seems like I spent more of my life locked away than I have free. Steve was the one who opened the door and let me out. It turned out that I had been trapped in his family’s mausoleum. When he found me, I was half mad and looked like a ghost myself. I hadn’t even spoken English or much of anything else. Steve took me in and taught me how to speak and how to behave in polite society, and he’d done a decent job of not holding it over me. We’d lost touch for most of the eighteen hundreds, but we’d found it easy to get in touch in the information age, and he’d been enthusiastic about my new career as a psychic. He’d never approved of my attempts to pass myself off as an ordinary human and I had to admit it hadn’t always gone smoothly. He’d even requested my services from time to time. I’d never had a reason to regret taking his jobs. I suspected that he was once again helping me out since his jobs had always been easy and in nice locations. This was the first time he’d summoned me to the middle of nowhere, and that should have been a hint that this job was going to be rockier than usual.
“I am,” he agreed. “Shall we get this over with?”
Some of the protesters were yelling, and there had been an increase in sign waving since he showed up. He must have been a frequent visitor to the site.
“Sure,” I said.
“See you later,” Fiona said to me. “If you change your mind about protesting you can have a cupcake.”
“Does that go for me too?” Steve asked. Fiona shook her head and giggled.
“Only if I can take pictures and mail them to your boss.” Steve looked at the cupcakes longingly.
“No,” he said at last. “I like my job.”
To get to the actual construction site, we had to walk to the far end of the field and go down a short dirt road. The future mall was still nothing but a bunch of stakes in the ground. There were signs all over the place declaring that it was private property, and copies of the building permits were tacked beneath them.