Everything that exists, exists within Malicesons. It’s that kind of shop. It doesn’t specialise, and it isn’t high class. Some of the departments are gilt-edged marble wonderlands of beauty and grace, others show scraps of concrete where the passing decades have caused the glue below the floor tiles to degrade into nothing.
Malicesons exists on the edge of a square. When it was founded, the square was the village common, but now it’s a faux-rustic cobbled wasteland of artfully angled marble-facade concrete walls forming a complex labyrinth around a crumbing war memorial, black and grey as the sky above it, shimmering and glinting gently in the sheen granted by the halfhearted drizzle of the British home counties.
Alice was beginning to get very tied of sitting by the war memorial in the rain, and of having nothing to do. Once or twice she had peeked into the bank her sister was meeting in, but there was no sign. So she was considering in her own mind whether the warmth of drinking coffee would be worth the trouble of getting up and finding a coffee shop, when suddenly a man in an ill-fitting suit ran very close by her. There was nothing so very remarkable about that, and nor did Alice think it so very out of the ordinary to hear the man say to him self “Fucksocks, I’m going to be late a-fucking-gain”, but when actually he took a pocketwatch out of his ill-fitting waistcoat pocket, looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for his wallet had been pulled out with the pocketwatch and landed on her shoe. So, being a fairly diligent and friendly sort, she walked briskly after the running man. He paused at a small side-door to one side of the giant glass Malicesons enterence, scrabbled at his pocket for some keys, and waved his keyfob at a worn bit of wood by the door. The door opened, and he hurried though. Alice caught the door before it closed, and followed him, not really thinking of how she was going to get out again. The door clicked closed behind them.
The store wasn’t open yet, and wouldn’t be for an hour or more, and the corridor Alice found herself in was brightly lit, absolutely still, and silent save for the squeaking of the trainers of the hurrying suit, and the quiet echo of Alice’s boots on the tiles. The corridors went on and on for a while, passing a few wooden doors white save for a small label. “Jams” said one, “Maps & Pictures” said another. The man in the suit stopped at the end of the corridor, which was capped with a painting of autumn leaves, and turned left though a door, where Alice followed him a moment or two later.
The shop was dark and still as she exited the corridor, looking around to find the man in the suit and slightly regretting the decision to follow him in the first place. They appeared to be in a furnishing department, full of deep sofas and glass tables topped with fruit that would be tempting were it not entirely wax. She spotted him in the near distance, and picked up the pace to follow him. As she passed a shelf Alice noticed something and paused. A small plastic snowman lay forlornly on the path in front of her, obvious and crushable in the middle of the carpet. She picked it up and looked around for the shelf it had fallen off, but couldn’t see one. Alice wasn’t surprised – Maliceson’s not having any kind of Christmas department was almost proverbial – but then the query remained, where had it come from?
She walked towards the man in the ill-fitting suit, who in turn was heading towards a door. Not wanting to drag this out further, and wondering why she hadn’t thought of it earlier, she called out to him.
“Hello? Excuse me?”
The effect was somewhat electric. The suit appeared to jump a couple of feet in the air, presumably taking the occupant with in. He span around and landed like a watered cat, spikes and sharp edges as far as could be made. There were a lot of sharp edges, too. He – the badge on the suit pocket said “Richard”, which could also be the occupant – was medium height and would have been slightly shorter than Alice even without her heels and his weird semi-crouch defensive stance. Resisting the urge to laugh at him, Alice waited patiently until he gathered enough of himself together to say:
“Who are you? How did you get in?”
“My name is Alice, and you dropped this outside. I’ve been trying to catch you up to give it to you.” Alice handed him his wallet.
“Oh,” said presumably-Richard, “Thank you. Thank you very much. I should show you out, though. We’re not actually open, and you shouldn’t really be here.”
“Sure”, said Alice, “Oh, I picked up this, you should put it where it belongs, or in lost property or something.” she gave him the snowman.
If the effect of calling out to him shocked Richard, it was a slight tremor compared to how he reacted to the snowman. Turning white as a sheet, he actually seemed to cower from it for a second or so, before whipping a handkerchief from his pocket and grabbing it from her hand before she could react. At this point he bolted directly for the same door he was originally heading to, which slammed shut – locked, she discovered shortly afterwards – behind him, leaving Alice alone in the dark and empty store, as the echo of the door’s closing faded across the shop away from her.