Spectres

Have you ever stood in a shopping mall after hours, when the customers have all vacated and the entire centre has a kind of dark, mysterious, enigmatic quality to it?

Working at a jewellery shop you’re sometimes called upon to work after hours to setup new catalogue stock, putting signage up and reformatting the front show table for customers to see the various new wares. As is wont to happen in any given activity that takes more than three hours for me, I sometimes need to visit the restrooms.

The journey from my store to the restrooms down the southern end of the mall is fairly lengthy, effectively going from one end to the other. The entire area is dark, with shops closed for the night and mall lighting to a bare minimum as the security guards and cleaners sweep the place – figuratively and literally, respectively – and a few stray people who’ve exited the cinemas upstairs and come down the wrong way in the elevator making their way clumsily back up to their proper level.

The main light source for these twilight hours is to be found in the central mezzanine, where a giant, four-storey big LCD screen hangs suspended from powerful chrome chains attached to the ceiling, displaying silent movie trailers and flickering advertisements. The black night around you is pierced by the glowing technicolour images that invade the shadows, permeating the dark sheathe of closing time with their luminous messages.

The floors above and below me are similarly darkened, caressed as well by the LCD screen. There’s a cafe almost directly beneath and to the right of the screen, and with its brown and black colour scheme it is given an almost spectre-like quality, with the shadows playing off of the cash register, the barstools and the cheap internet PCs lined up beside the muffin cabinet. Behind the cafe is a deactivated escalator, leading into a passageway as black as pitch and devoid of any activity.

As I start to make my way back from the restroom – which is, conversely, brightly lit within the corridor and a stark contrast to the artificial world outside – I look onwards towards where my store sits, a lone light and source of activity in the near-dead shopping mall. There are parallel rows on either side of the floor with clothing stores, sporting goods shops, booksellers, department chains and perfume merchants, each one black and silent and still as a tombstone. The jaunty lighting from the LCD screen stretches only to the first few shops in each row, before petering out to the middle stores where the black is pervasive and unblemished by light.

Close to the store I see the outbound corridor that leads to the parking garage; because this level is effectively deactivated, with the only activity being the floor above me that houses the cinema, the garage is locked and sealed for the night. The lights that usually flood the outbound corridor are switched off, and the double glass sliding doors that allow entrance and exit to the shopping masses are not only deactivated by slightly ajar, as if their locked state has been forced open by someone. Venturing towards the doors I can see the rows of empty parking spaces, usually filled with beeping patrons who exercise mild cases of road rage and reckless driving in order to secure a spot, that give the slightly opened sliding doors an additional haunting quality – it is as if this place has been abandoned, like in 28 Days Later when Jim sees London for the first time since waking up and finds the entire area deserted.

For a few moments I forget where I am, and what I’m meant to be doing, and all I can think about is that bleak imagery. Wondering what it will look like when the end does come, and we’re left in closing with nothing but artificial towers of commercial interest and public exploitation as testaments to the world we leave behind. Thinking about the shadows that will play off of those silent monoliths as the world basks in its final, eternal sleep.

I turn back to walk into the mall proper, and go back to my store. The brilliant lighting and blue insignia shine merrily down on me and cast their presence across the dark floor as I walk back inside, ready once again to complete my tasks.

Every after hours night I see that same end, and every after hours night I am glad when I can step back into the pervading light that, at least for now, protects me from the dark.

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