's 2016 Horror Write-off:

Dead Mall

Submitted by Erin Drinnon

They're tearing down the abandoned shopping mall in my hometown next week.

I spent a lot of time there when I was younger. Not that it was particularly entertaining, but there was nothing else here to do. The mall had been on the decline since they built a Walmart across the street and, like so many others, it gradually emptied. It's been empty for almost two years now, and they've finally decided to demolish the old building to make way for some new business. I think that's why I came back. I guess I wanted to see the place again before it's gone. I don't know. Whatever the reason, I found myself sneaking through a back entrance on a humid Thursday morning the week before demolition's slated to begin.

There's something weird about being in a place that's meant for crowds of people when it's empty. It's like a frame on a blank canvas. Physically, the place is the same, but that missing element changes its meaning. I decided to turn left from the food court where I had entered, walk down to the old Sears store, and then turn around and come back.

Dust stirred up in the wake of my footsteps swirled in the beams of light coming down from the skylights. I was glad to have come in the morning instead of after dark. The place was eerie enough in the light. The whole thing smelled a little like death, and I was startled by the movement of the occasional cave cricket elsewhere in the hallway. There were more than I'd expected, but it made sense for them to be there. There had been a sort of infestation since the mall was built, and it was worse on this end of the building. I've always hated those things. Their legs are thick like frogs' legs, and when they die, they don't dry out like most bugs do; instead, they mold and rot like old fruit. I plotted my course down the hallway around giving them a wide berth.

I made my way down the corridor, dodging the crickets as well as fallen ceiling tiles and other debris, the sounds of my footsteps and breathing echoing off the fake-marble floor and the glass of the empty storefronts. About halfway down the hall, I noticed the hum. It wasn't mechanical - it sounded human, almost feminine, like a woman humming a flat note, never stopping or changing in pitch. It spooked me, but I still dismissed it as the wind blowing through some hole in a wall. I didn't want it to be anything else.

As I neared the Sears, the hum intensified, along with the smell of decaying flesh and the amount of crickets. There's probably just some dead rat or squirrel nearby, I told myself as I pressed on. The ability of the human mind to come up with rational explanations for inexplicable things is really astounding. The door of the old Sears store was wide open. I decided to step inside for a second or two. When I crossed the threshold, the pungent smell of death was overwhelming, and the hum surrounded me. I pulled a flashlight out of my bag and shone it out in front of me.

At eye level, the light faded into darkness. Shining it at the floor, ceiling, and walls, however, revealed that every surface in the room was lined with cave crickets. They moved in undulating formations on the floor, rendering me unable to exit without wading through them. Suddenly a wave of the smell came over me, and the hum changed pitch. It shifted upward, as if asking a question. I turned again, and my light hit the source of the hum.

About ten feet from me stood a woman. She wore a white dress, black hair falling to her bare feet. She looked me in the eye, stopped humming, and began to open her mouth as if to speak. I'm not sure if I can describe what happened next in enough detail for it to sound as real as it was, but when she opened her mouth, crickets just started falling out of it. This waterfall of giant cave crickets just poured from her mouth. She never broke eye contact with me.

Naturally, I turned and ran, crickets be damned. I neglected to explore any of the rest of the mall; I had seen enough for a lifetime. Any nostalgia I would have felt is now gone, replaced by a crawling sensation I can't shake. I can't stop feeling invisible bugs on my skin. I want to be curious about it, but I'm just sick. I almost feel like I should tell someone what I saw, but who? I can't tell the police for fear of being arrested for trespassing, and furthermore, what could they do? Who would even believe that? I don't know. I don't even know what I believe at this point. All I know is, I'm getting out of town before they tear the place down and she gets out.