It had been five minutes since the last round of gun fire. Tambra breathed shallowly, concentrating to slow her heartbeat. Any noise she made might incite detection, any movement – death. She opened her eyes, lashes brushing against the carpet. From her position behind the counter, she had a partial view of the shoe store. Beyond, the stretch of visible mall appeared empty, but she wouldn’t risk getting up yet; it was safer to wait until police came.
A woman’s hefty legs sprawled a few feet away. One foot modeled a glittery red sandal….the other was bare. A sneaker display hid her upper body. Tambra had been handing her the second shoe when chaos erupted outside the store…running, screaming, a hail of bullets. She’d thrown the sandal and dove behind the counter. The customer hadn’t been as lucky.
Her phone vibrated with a text alert and she gingerly pulled it from her pocket. Slowly, slowly, she brought it to her face. It was her boss, Pauline, who had gone to the food court for coffees just before the incident. She was alive!
Are you okay Tam?
She texted back with trembling fingers. Yes. You? Is it bad out there?
Pretty bad. Any dead people in the store?
Tambra flinched at Pauline’s word choice. One customer, I think.
Shit. Blood on the rug?
Tambra didn’t reply. It sounded like Pauline was in shock. Footsteps echoed in the mall, coming closer, and she curled up tight, hiding her face. If she never saw her husband again she hoped he knew how much she loved him.
“Is anyone here?” a woman’s voice called.
The shooter had definitely been male, so Tambra raised her head and waved. She didn’t dare speak.
The woman hurried in, joining her behind the counter. “You’ve got a dead fat woman in your store.”
“A customer down, like a beached porpoise.”
“Haven’t heard any shots for a while, not sure what’s going on. I work at the hair salon three stores down. It’s a mess in there, so looks like we’ll have the weekend off. Thank God, I need a break.”
Tambra inched away until her feet touched the wall. “There are victims in the salon?”
“Yeah, staff and customers. All dead, or on their way. Hell of a way to get a mini vacation, but I’ll take it.”
“Are….are you all right?”
“Yeah, I dropped the hair dryer and ran like a rat shot in the ass…completely around the mall and back here. Can’t believe how many people got ripped up…it’s crazy. Feel sorry for the custodians.”
She wanted to tell the woman to go away. Her stomach knotted uncomfortably. Maybe shock was a common reaction after witnessing excessive violence. “Is there anyone injured out there that needs help?”
“Probably. Saw a few squirming. Not my problem though, right?”
Tambra sat up and squeezed back against the wall, putting as much distance between her and the woman as possible. She dialed 911 on her phone.
“Who are you calling?”
“I’m sure someone else has already done that. Damn, it’s quiet. Wonder where the shooter is? Hope he gets someone else instead of us.”
The phone slipped from her fingers and she fought back nausea. “What’s wrong with you?”
The woman stood up. “Nothing, why? I’m going back to the salon, get my car keys and get out of here.”
“What about the police? They’ll want to ask you questions. And the shooter…he could be out there….”
“We’d hear him.” She skirted around the counter and Tambra waited to hear her heels clicking on the mall floor. A loud popping sound erupted, followed by a triumphant shout.
“Who else wants a piece of this?” a man yelled.
The phone vibrated and she reached for it, shaking. It was Pauline again.
Crap. How am I supposed to get a coffee when the cashier’s dead? Lol. Hiding in the washroom now. Got someone’s blood on my new skirt.
It couldn’t be Pauline. It had to be someone else with her phone.
Are you there Tam? I should’ve stolen some donuts before I took off. Lol Check my Tweets.
Silence, dense and tactile, weighed down on her. Twenty minutes passed and her muscles protested their immobility.
More gunfire exploded, far off, like fireworks in a neighboring city. How many people would die in this act of violence? Cautious footsteps sounded outside the store and then softened as someone stepped in on the carpet. She strained, listening, and a man stepped around the counter, gun drawn.
She screamed, covering her face with her hands.
“Ma’am, it’s all right. It’s law enforcement. Get up, and put your hands on your head please.”
She stood, legs quivering, and the officer patted her down.
“Did you catch the guy?” Her voice wavered.
“We took the shooter down, and believe he was acting alone. We’re looking for witnesses.
“There must be a lot of people wounded.”
“Yeah, we’ll get to them. First things first. Come with me please.”
She followed him out of the store, sparing a quick glance at the customer she’d been selling red sandals to. “Are ambulances coming?”
“Probably. Had to happen at lunch time, right? Should’ve at least brought my sandwich with me, I’m starving.”
‘I must be dead,’ Tambra thought. ‘Or seriously injured and in a coma. No one would really act like this.’ She pinched the back of her wrist, and it stung. A curious smell of smoke and copper filled her nostrils and she wrinkled her nose in protest.
The woman from the hair salon hung face first over a bench, her feet dangling a few inches from the floor. A small, scarlet puddle darkened the tile beneath her head.
“Oh my God.”
The officer laughed. “Get used to it, there’s lots more.”
And there was. She started straight ahead, but horrors lurked in her peripheral vision…families, elderly couples, employees, all strewn on the floor in frightening montages. A man crawled out of a clothing store dragging his legs behind him, seemingly unaware that one side of his face flapped against his shoulder.
The cop kept walking. “Ambulance is on its way buddy.”
Tambra rushed toward the man, but the officer grabbed her arm. “Sorry, all survivors are being taken to the restaurant. “
“But that man needs help…”
“He’ll get it.”
She swiped at tears and followed him to the restaurant where a waitress unlocked the sliding door to let them in. Cheers erupted from a small group of people at the bar.
“You made it,” a girl shouted. “Good job.”
“My…..my boss Pauline is out there, in the washroom by the food court.”
“She’ll be fine,” a guy behind the bar said. “Gunman’s dead now. What’ll it be? Drinks are on the house today.”
“Selfie!” the waitress announced, holding up her camera. “Hey, I should make a Facebook group for us. We can call it ‘Living Legends’ or something.”
Tambra studied the animated faces. Didn’t they realize what was going on? “There are dead kids out there. Are you all crazy?”
The cop touched her shoulder. “Calm down. Have a drink. Everyone needs to chill here for a while until we get a chance to ask questions.”
The waitress let him out, and Tambra turned back to face the survivors. Sirens escalated in the distance and she hoped to God it was ambulances.
The bartender set a glass of ice water on the bar and indicated she should take it. “It’s a good day to be alive,” he said. “The guy behind me in the bank got shot square in head and pinned me under him when he fell. Not cool. Yeah, I don’t actually work here, but what the heck right? I’ll give it a go. Now we just need a volunteer to fry up some burgers in the kitchen.”
‘Don’t go back there,” the waitress said. “Blood everywhere. I slipped in it. It took me five minutes to get it off my hands.”
Tambra found a table in the corner farthest from the bar. Everyone ignored her and proceeded to behave as though they were celebrating someone’s birthday.
She texted Pauline. Police are here. Gunman is down. Survivors are at the restaurant.
Thanks. Will head up there. Can’t believe all the people asking for help. Wow. Help yourself, right?
The waitress let Pauline in when she knocked, and Tambra scrunched down in her seat, trying to be invisible. A few minutes later several policemen arrived.
“Okay, people, we need to take statements quickly. I think I can speak for all my men when I say we just want to wrap this up and go home.”
She slipped over to the bar, and Pauline turned, drink in hand. “There you are girl! Sorry I couldn’t bring you back a coffee.” She laughed, and ran a crimson hand through her hair.
“Are…are the paramedics here?” Tambra asked.
“Yeah,” one of the cops said. “Poor bastards. Would’ve been easier if people had just died, but now they gotta deal with all these screaming, torn up victims. Not fun.”
“What is wrong with you? With everybody? There has just been a massive mall shooting. Are you on drugs or something? Do you even care? You are the most selfish, heartless people I have ever met in my life.”
They stared at her, eyes dull, and she realized she would say no more. She was afraid. After giving her statement an officer escorted her from the restaurant, and then outside. Reporters pushed their mics over police barriers. A hoard of people milled behind them, snapping photos on their phones.
“Did you see anyone actually get shot?” a reporter asked. “What’s the aftermath like? Can you detail the scene inside?”
“How soon do you think the public will be allowed in to shop?”
“Did you witness any looting? I would think that would be the first thing on everyone’s mind…what can we grab and get away with?”
One reporter shoved her mic directly under Tambra’s nose. “Were there dead children?”
She ran to her car, fumbled the key in the lock and fell in. More survivors emerged from the mall, and her pursuers scrambled back to the entrance. The phone vibrated….her husband. Finally, someone sane in the midst of insanity.
“Honey, are you okay? I just heard the news.”
She exhaled, clinging to the safe familiarity of his voice. “Yes. In shock though. It was terrifying…”
He cut her off. “Okay, great. Hey, there’s nothing to eat here. Can you stop and pick something up for dinner on the way home?”
Angela Maracle is a dance studio owner and mother of two. She was placed second in the flash fiction Chest Writing Contest, sponsored by Mike C. Paulu and is currently one of six finalists shortlisted for the 2014 short story contest at defenestration.net. She has been published in Microfiction Monday and will be appearing in the September issue of The Rejected Writer. You can follow Angela on Twitter.