The sun hid behind the clouds as a chilling wind blew through the window of Kim’s truck. She slowed at the intersection, looking both ways before making a turn on Ellen Avenue. She turned the large black steering wheel of her delivery truck looking down the road she could already see the sign for Kent Commons Mall peeking out. Kim made it a half a block before the traffic started to crawl. She sat back and relaxed, it was early, and there was no use getting worked up over Saturday morning traffic. Her phone buzzed in her pocket before she heard the ringer in her air bud. She hit the button, not having to guess who it was.
“Hey babe,” Her boyfriend said.
“Hey baby, you getting ready for work?”
“Nah, I don’t have to go in until nine, but I ain’t worried about that because today’s a special day,” He said in a sing-song tone.
“No it ain’t, what you talking about?” Kim lifted her foot off the brake and eased the truck forward.
“It is, what date is it?”
Kim passed the intersection with the drugstore and old appliance repair shop on the corner and shook her head. “It’s Saturday.”
“Nah, what’s the date?” He heavily pronounced the ‘T’.
“Boy, I don’t have time to deal with you,” Kim passed the old K-Mart store and soon the faded yellowish-white and burgundy Kent Commons sign started to appear in the distance. “Hold up, hold up.”
Kim slowed as the light turned from green to yellow. She was four cars back and knew she wasn’t going to make it, but she was only a block away now.
“What’s so special about today baby?” Kim finally asked.
“It’s the twenty-ninth,” He said. “It’s a leap year.”
“A what?” Kim jerked her head back, easing the truck forward again.
“You know, a leap year, comes like every four years, it’s special. So you know we gotta celebrate.”
Kim grinned at the tone of his voice. She knew what he wanted to celebrate all right.
“That’s not a holiday,” She laughed, pressing down on the brake to make a turn into the ashy cracked parking lot of Kent Commons Mall.
“It must be,” He said. “It’s on the calendar.”
“Well I’m not off, so it’s not a holiday,” Kim said as she cruised through the empty parking lot. She heard her boyfriend suck his teeth, and she laughed.
“Aye, the internet said it, not me,” He said
“Fine, we’ll celebrate when I get off, but I gotta get back to work baby.”
“Okay,” He said. “Have a good day, love you babe.”
“Love you too,” Kim said, ending the call.
Kim slowed to look down at the address on her scanner. It had been a while since she had been to this mall. Even though it was a little after seven in the morning, she doubted it would get any livelier. She drove up to the entrance of the food court, on one side, where there used to be a burger place, was a leasing sign, the most common feature of the mall now. She looked down at the address again. She needed to go to docking area three. So she turned right, driving alongside the dingy off-white stone siding of the mall. Passing an old anchor, which use to be a Sears. She saw the docking area up ahead. There were no other trucks, which meant she could get in and out quickly. Parking, she unbuckled her seat belt and hopped out of the truck. A strong cold wind blew past her, but with it, so did the warmth of the sun, hinting at the makings of a good day. Walking around the side of her large brown truck, she opened the back door and looked for the right package, finding it on the shelf on the left. It was long, but not heavy. She picked it up with ease, letting her scanner hang from its strap in the pit of her elbow.
Entering the mall from the delivery entrance, she noticed that no one was at the check-in desk; in fact, it looked like there hadn’t been anyone here in a long time. She continued walking, heading down the hall that leads out into the mall, opening the door into a sea of vacant storefronts. An instrumental song hummed through the old mall speakers as the faint smell of food and floor wax filled her nose. She put the package in front of her to read the name, it was addressed to a Neilson Green of Custom Photo. She’d never heard of that store, but she hoped it was in this wing. The dull lights lit the empty corridors of the mall as if they too struggled to stay alive. A few lights were out, but only over the empty stores. She pasted a dollar store with the gate down and lights off. It looked like there was at least one store here. She passed the old R&B Fashion, which use to be her store when she was in high school. It was kind of sad to see the mall in this condition, but this was a changing world. She looked at the address again, she wished the scanner told her which wing it was in, but sometimes it was no use anyways because it was not uncommon for stores to relocate to a different spot in the mall.
Making her way to the empty food court, she passed a few custodians talking amongst themselves. She nodded to them politely as she walked around the empty water fountain with the old clock, before heading to the wing where Sears used to be. Following the path on the floor, blotted with large darkened squares where kiosks use to be. She saw up ahead a few stores that still looked open. Two on the right, one looked like another discount dollar store, the other was a nail salon. The Custom Photo was on the left. The gate was down, but the scanner said that this was within the desired delivery time. She hoped they were in there. She looked around the small shop that smelled faintly of old perfume. On the walls were custom printed t-shirts and posters. Along the walls were glass cases filled with cameras and equipment that wrapped around the store. She heard a noise in the back and called out.
“Hello, Mr. Green?” Kim peeked through the gate.
A man appeared shortly after, he looked to be in his mid-thirties, with short light golden blonde hair. She smiled when he saw her, and Kim stepped back so he could lift the gate.
“I didn’t know anyone was open in here,” Kim said.
“Haha, yeah, it’s not a lot of us that’s for sure,” Mr. Green said. “But in the wing that use to have the Dillard’s, there’s a mini-golf place.”
Kim smirked. “They holding it down for yawl?”
“I wish,” The man laughed. “But you know, I’d leave too, but honestly the rent here is so cheap. I mean I make all my business online, I just wanted to have a workspace. Though I wouldn’t mind moving into a space off Kale Road, there’s a small strip mall there.”
“Near the craft store?”
“Yeah, Bailey’s,” Mr. Green said. “But they’re asking for double what I pay here.”
“Yikes,” Kim cringed.
“It’s not ideal,” Mr. Green signed for the package and turned to get the sign off form for Kim to sign in the back. “But you know what, what can you do?”
“You right,” Kim laughed a little as she looked at some of the cameras in the case.
“Excuse me miss.”
“Huh?” Kim looked up, thinking Mr. Green had come back with the form, but she could still hear him in the back.
Kim shrugged and continued to look around the store, it was pretty basic, but Mr. Green did good work. She heard a blip of voices and looked up, but the sound faded as quickly as it occurred. She paused, thinking there must be something wrong with the sound system. Mr. Green poked his head out from the back, breaking her train of thought.
“Sorry about this, but I need a second to print out another form,” He said. “I can’t seem to find it, and I swear I put it on my desk, but I can’t find the darn thing.”
“It’s okay, take your time,” Kim said.
“Thanks,” Mr. Green said. “I’d hate to keep you on a leap day.”
“It’s no problem, really,” Kim said.
“It only comes once every four years, makes you wonder where it goes.”
“Huh?” Kim looked towards the back, who was that talking? But she didn’t see anyone else here.
Mr. Green was still in the back, so Kim brushed it off again, turned and looked out at the mall. She could barely hear the instrumental music coming from the speakers, the sound was fading in and out. From behind her, she heard another blip of voices, but this time it sounded like laughter. Someone who worked with Mr. Green must be helping him, though it was early for staff to come in, she wasn’t surprised. After all, in an attempt to save the mall there use to be businesses of all different kinds, even a dentist office, which meant people were arriving all times of the day. She thought she heard Mr. Green in the back talking about how things slowed down when the last anchor left when she tripped over something on the floor. Kim flailed to keep her balance, looking over her shoulder to see what it was, but there was nothing there. Embarrassed, Kim played it off and walked out into the mall again. Today was a Leap Day or Leap Year, whatever her boyfriend was going on about. It didn’t make any difference to her; it was the same as any other day. When Kim didn’t hear anything coming from the back, she started to head back into the store, but stopped when she heard the faint sound of Dancing Queen playing over the speakers. She walked further into the mall, and the smell of pizza and ice cream wafted by her noise. Kim stepped just beyond the threshold of the store when the lyrics ‘You are the dancing queen’ blasted loudly between her ears, startling her half to death. Kim stifled a cuss, but when she opened her eyes, she found herself in a sea of happy, chatty, people. Kim froze. She looked at every store, which was alive and full of people. She turned around and looked up, the Custom Photo was gone, replaced with a video store, that was clearly open and packed with people. Shoppers gave her weird looks as they walked past. A man in a brown blazer and tie, excused himself and Kim jumped, now realizing she was standing in front of a now very busy store.
Kim moved back towards the wall pulling her hands to her chest as girls with big curly hairstyles and bright clothes gave her odd looks. She saw so many men in full denim outfits and acid wash jeans she felt like she was in an episode of Saved By the Bell. Looking around at the store names, she recognized a few, but the colors and fonts were different, older. Where was she? She fumbled around in her pants pocket to pull out her phone, the time read seven forty-five, but that couldn’t be right. This mall was dead and what mall was this lively at almost eight in the morning? She stuffed her phone back into her pocket and decided to join the crowd, looking at all the faces. Everyone seemed completely normal, as if there was nothing strange going on at all, but strange Sounds continued to pop around her, like biting mosquitos. It made her jump, but she played it off, best she could, but it picked at her nerves. Where on Earth was she?
Making her way slowly to the food court she had to stop to fully comprehend what she was seeing, bright neon lights zing-zagged across the ceiling like a retro arcade. She forced a smile as people walked around her, so not to appear out of place, but it was truly unbelievable. Looking around, a wave of nostalgia washed over her. Was this some kind of joke? Did she pass out somewhere? She walked slowly to one of the tables with its dated colorful designs and ran her fingers over the smooth surface. It felt real enough and that’s when the sound of water filtered through her ears, over music that seemed to play Dancing Queen on repeat. Was the water fountain on too? She turned around and was shocked, it was livelier than she had ever seen and grand in all its splendor. She walked towards the fountain, crystal clear water pumped from a circular tile pedestal in the middle. On top of the tile green lush plants sat, perfectly placed, around the large metal base that held up the clock. She followed it up to see the clock and it looked as if it hadn’t aged a day, but there was something off about the time. It exactly matched the time on her phone, but that couldn’t be.
“What is going on?” Kim muttered under her breath.
She walked towards the wing that housed the Dillard’s. It was just as lively as the rest of the mall, eerily so. This was so strange, she was sure she was trapped in a dream.
“You’re not from around here are you,” A smooth voice spoke over the chatter of the mall.
Kim turned around and about laughed. A young black man with a hi-top fade pushed himself off the wall. His three layers of long gold chains swayed smoothly across his black turtle neck. He popped his black bomber jacket, straightening it out, walking towards her in a pair of cut black jeans. Kim choked on her words, she was definitely dreaming.
“You alright, cause you looking kinda lost?” He grinned, then held out his hand. “I’m Raymond, and I’d be happy to show you around.”
Kim held out her hand as she smirked. This man was corny as hell but smooth. She might be impressed if this wasn’t so weird.
“I’m good,” Kim said as she looked around him. “But um, where are we?”
Raymond raised an eyebrow. “Girl, now I know you must’of hit yo head, because we up in Kent Commons, the only mall in the county.”
He laughed, and Kim laughed with him, but in discomfort. This couldn’t be right. There was no way this was the same Kent Commons, the run-down mall down Ellen Avenue.
“Nah, that can’t be,” Kim half-smiled. “I haven’t seen this place this lit, since, I don’t know when.”
Raymond laughed again, holding his stomach with his large smooth hands. She brushed off his tease, but that only made him grin more.
“Ma’am, this what Kent looks like every Friday night, dope and ill as ever.”
“Friday?” Kim jerked back.
“Friday, February 29th, 1980, baby,” Raymond did a little dance, moving his hips in a way one would do in the club.
Kim forced a smile, her facial expression shifting between amusement and confusion. 1980 what? Friday? It was definitely Saturday when she woke up this morning, if she woke up this morning. Either this fool was crazy, or she was having a fever dream, and she was leaning towards the latter.
“I’m sorry,” Kim backed up a little. “I’m just a little confused, let me call someone right quick.”
Raymond allowed her some space as she pulled out her phone. He seemed curious about it and watched her. She smiled at him and unlocked it and scrolled through her contacts to find her boyfriend, only to realized she didn’t have a lick of service. Furrowing her brow Kim pulled down the top bar and looked for wifi, but there was nothing.
“Everything alright?” Raymond asked again.
“I-I don’t know,” Kim finally said.
“It’s alright, it’s a big mall I get lost too,” Raymond nodded towards the Dillard’s. “I got a few coins for the payphone, unless you hungry, maybe a little food would clear your mind.”
Kim looked back at the Dillard’s. Would calling someone even work? It didn’t even look like she was in the right time period anymore. Her stomach growled, she was a nervous eater, but Raymond reached out a hand and cupped her back.
“Don’t worry, I know how to fix this,” He said. “A bunch of my posse work at the Hechts, they know just about everything about this town. Whatever question you got they can help.”
Kim trusted his smooth smile. He had the whitest teeth and softest lips. His dark brown eyes calmed her nerves. Was he getting cuter? Kim shook off her feelings, no, she just wanted answers, this was no time to get caught up. She agreed and followed him to another wing in the mall. Walking next to him, pockets of loud noise startled her again, like someone was shooting off fireworks in her ears. She looked around, but hid her discomfort with a smile every time Raymond looked at her. This was starting to make her feel uneasy, but she continued to follow Raymond. Kim looked into the stores, hoping to calm her nerves. She saw people browsing and picking through items, but she gasped when it looked like some people were frozen, like a glitch in a video game. She looked harder, slowing down a bit, but Raymond led her on.
“It’s a leap day you know,” Raymond said. “It only comes once every four years, makes you wonder where it goes.”
“Huh,” Kim looked up at Raymond.
Raymond laughed, “It’s nothing, aye look at them suckas wasting they money of them bright ass clothes, I prefer black personally,” Raymond looked into her eyes and Kim smiled in response.
She stole a look behind her at the store but things appeared normal again. Walking through the neon lit food court her eyes were blinded by the purples, pinks, and greens, blaring brighter, then dimming out. They passed the fountain, but the clock flickered, between eight-ten and eleven-thirty. She furrowed her brow. What was up with the time? She looked again and it read eight-eleven. Dancing Queen repeated on the speakers again, muffled at times as if the speakers struggled to play it. Kim winced, but Raymond led her down another wing, smiling bigger than ever.
“Not my jam, but it’s cool to skate to,” Raymond stopped and looked at Kim. “You alright? You really looking runned out?”
“Um, yeah I’m good,” Kim pressed her hand against her pocket and pulled out her phone again, the time read eleven thirty-five.
“What’s that thing?” Raymond asked.
“My phone, it’s-” Kim slurred when she looked up and thought she saw a glimpse of the old tables from the Kent Commons mall. She furrowed her brow and looked around Raymond.
“Phone?” Raymond laughed, “Can’t be, that small thing.”
Kim laughed with him as he led her along, the lyrics ‘You are the dancing queen’ started up again only louder.
“New mall, but the speakers must be acting up again,” Raymond said with his face facing the other wing in the mall, anchored by Hechts.
Kim slowly nodded, but she couldn’t shake the feeling of darkness moving around her. She felt like she was being crowded, but there were hardly any people near her. Then the odd smells returned, this time a mix of dirt and pastries, confusing her even more. Moving towards the Hechts, a store her grandmother use to shop at, she was starting to feel a little better. Raymond led her in.
“Hold up right here,” His he said as he held up his hands and dashed off towards to the men’s department.
Kim nodded, looking around the shoe department. It was quite busy with mothers hurrying their children along and department store clerks tending to customers. Kim spotted a group of young black girls in acid wash jean outfits and brightly colored tracksuits laughing with their friends as they passed the women’s section to go out into the mall. She spotted a few pants suits, a little tacky, but she remembered her aunts use to wear them. Looking up to find Raymond she couldn’t spot his hi-top anywhere in the store that seemed to stretch forever so she decided the do a little browsing. The bold winter colors weren’t that bad, but nothing she would wear. She spotted a few boxy brightly colored striped blouses and thumbed through a few pulling out a bright blue striped one, set on a darker blue background. Would it be weird to try it on? Was she even on the clock anymore? All this obscurity was starting to erode the logic center of her brain, but if being a woman has trained her for anything, it was getting ready fast. She took a blouse from the rack and dashed towards the fitting room. There was no harm in trying something on. There wasn’t a clerk to greet her, but it was okay, it was just one blouse. She ran into the light seafoam green fitting room with sandy brown fitting room doors. She giggled, passing by the doors without a care, but her smile faded as the room started the glitch just like those people from before, shifting from soft seafoam to a faded dull light sickly green. Kim froze as she looked at the fitting room doors that flickered between a sandy brown and a dingy poorly painted white. She lowered the blouse to get a better look, watching the colors change.
“What the?” Kim made a disgusted face as the smell of mold broke through the perfumed scent of the fitting room.
Reaching out, the brown door faded to white and back to brown again. Touching the wood, it felt real enough, but her fingers ran across chips that weren’t there. She picked at the door, when it flickered to a pale white, peeling at it revealed a sickly dull brown, one that looked dirty from years of use. She jerked her hands away when it popped back to a lively sandy brown. What was going on? This must be a dream, but she wished she would just wake up already. Suddenly the door swung open and Kim stumbled back looking into the small cramped room in pure horrible as hundreds of women clipped between each other in a tangled blob of arms, legs, and faces all dressing and undressing at the same time. Kim screamed, dropping the blouse as she ran from the fitting room, gasping and reaching towards the exit, as darkness followed behind her. Collapsing onto the floor outside of the fitting room, Kim could barely catch her breath when she heard the clerk and looked up only to find a mesh of three bodies looking down at her.
“Can-Are-Are I-you-you help-alright-okay you-ma’am-miss? The mass said in unison, extending out its three arms.
“No! Get away,” Kim jerked back, grossed out by the jumbled up mess.
She crawled to her feet and ran towards the front of the store as the sound around her intensified and faded out like a radio with poor reception. She covered her ears, pushing past masses of bodies she didn’t know were there or not, cartoonish mash-ups of too many people setting on chairs at once and groups of parents shuffling children clipping in and out of each other like a video game. Her heart pounded against her chest as she stumbled, when a pair of strong arms caught her.
“Are you okay?”
She heard Raymond’s voice as she slammed into his body. Breathing hard, she felt relieved, but terror soon found her again when she looked up at his face, that clipped between the man she first met to the face of a sweating angry man with cold black eyes. Kim gasped and jerked back, but she couldn’t break away from his strong grip.
“L-let go!” She cried out.
“Are-You you-ain’t okay-going mama-nowhere.” His voice mashed together in both tender and angry tones.
Kim screamed, throwing all of her weight to break from his grip. She stomped on his foot and he hollered, but she used this moment to break free. No one seemed to notice her screaming as if she wasn’t even there, but everything in the mall was flickering. The smells of dirt and junk food overran her senses as she struggled to maintain her footing. Behind her she could see the Raymond she met and the angry sweaty Raymond that hid beneath him running after her closing the distance. Kim sprinted from the Hechts. She needed to get out of here, but she didn’t know how. Screaming, she ignored Raymond who growled and shouted at her. Kim simultaneously hit and passed through people as she ran through the food court passing the fountain with the clock that now read eleven fifty-eight. She started to cry, but at this point the entire mall seemed to fade in and out to the point where she could barely tell what was here and what wasn’t. Then the thought of the Custom Photo flashed in her mind, if she could only make it back, but in her panic she could barely remember which wing it was in, so she ran towards one of wings just to get away from Raymond who was closing the gap. He growled at her and when she looked back he only looked worse, now a horrifying mash-up of three different Raymond’s in different worn and torn period clothes.
“Get-Get-Get back-back-back here-here-here!” He reached out with wild eyes.
“No!” Kim screamed.
She pushed past a person, knocking them out of the way, causing them to clip between a group of teenagers. Her heart pounded as she looked up and saw the fiercely blinking word ‘Video.’ She threw herself into the store, but was smacked in the face by an invisible gate. Pain stung her face as she cried out screaming and screaming and screaming as Raymond’s voice echoed louder. Kim shut her eyes, clinching to the gate that could be felt but not seen, then everything went silent. Kim sobbed with her eyes closed, but it was only her cries she could hear. Afraid, she slowly opened her eyes and in the darkness she could see the glass cases of the Custom Photo. Clinging to the gate, which she could clearly now see, she pushed herself back, looking up and around at the Kent Commons mall she was used to seeing. Shaking, she reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone, the time was twelve o’ one, March 1st, 2020, on the notification bar the 4G displayed all five bars, along with a sea of text, email, and Twitter notifications. With trembling hands she saw her boyfriend’s text messages, there were nine total, the first read:
Where are you?
Kim blinked several times, before unlocking her phone and calling her boyfriend.
“Baby?” He said.
“Darrel,” She said with a trembling, but happy voice.
“Baby where you been at? You were supposed to be home hours ago? You okay? Where you at?”
“I’m fine,” Kim slowly controlled her breathing, clinging onto her phone.
“Well, we missed the leap day,” He said. “It must have passed us by.”
Kim sobbed quietly, but echoing through the corridors, her voice hitched when swore she heard Raymond’s voice.
“I wonder where it goes…”