Aug 10, 2020
A child, who cannot cope with the responsibilities adults place on him, gets lost at the store.
(Originally posted on AO3.)
I gave myself the random prompt of “shoelaces” to write a short horror story for and came out with something relatable. And by relatable, we are talking about how being a child is inherently scary because the adult world is alienating and traumatizing and capitalism makes it all worse.
Pat can’t tie his shoelaces.
He’s 6 years old and he knows he should be able to by now, like all the other kids at school can.
And he does know how, on some level. But when his fingers go to do it just like his teacher told him to, they can’t seem to do it right. The knot always loosens and pulls itself free.
The other kids laugh at him but he stills asks the teacher for help. He asks his mother too, but she complains as she kneels down to help, that she won’t buy him velcro shoes instead because he needs to learn to do it himself.
Fussing with his shoelaces always gets Pat into trouble, just like now, as he searches for his mother who got impatient with how long he was taking.
He’s lost her near the school supplies aisle, where she just walked off with the cart and without him.
He calls out for her repeatedly, trying not to cry, and checks the surrounding aisles to see if she’s still nearby. But she’s not there.
Adults walk so fast. How did she get away so quickly?
Strangely, no one’s around. No adults to help him and no other children for company either. The store is huge, empty, and dead silent.
Are they closed? He wonders in a panic. Would they close the store and leave him inside all night?
Pat starts to run, checking every aisle, intent on checking the whole store if he has to— when he trips on his shoelaces, falls flat on his stomach, and pushes himself back up with his hands. Ouch.
The shoelaces again. He gets on one knee and tries to tie them over and over but it doesn’t work, the knots keep loosening and falling limp as wet noodles. He wipes at his eyes, wishing his mother could help him.
Where was she? Didn’t she care enough about him not to forget him? Why didn’t she come back and look for him?
Slowly, one by one, at the far edge of the auto department, the lights begin to shut off with loud, mechanical clicks that echo throughout the entire store.
The air leaves his lungs as he decides to ignore his shoelaces so he can get back up and run for it.
Mother and shoelaces be damned, he has to get out of this store before they turn all of the power off. He doesn’t want to spend the night in a place he doesn’t know, much less some cold, dark, and empty store.
If only he could find an employee, then he could ask them for help, but there’s not even one person to be found anywhere.
He runs from the darkness, trying to locate the front doors of the store, as the steady extinguishing of lights approaches his direction. Every aisle is devoid of life. The distance to the front of the store feels like miles to Pat’s short legs.
Before he can get anywhere close to it, the world goes pitch black with a final loud, mechanical click.
That stops Pat in his tracks. He looks around. In the darkness, there are tiny lights above coming from mundane parts in the ceiling but they are not big enough to be useful in the slightest.
Pat wants to stop and burst into tears but his mother always told him that isn’t going to help. Grow up and use your head. Instead, he tries to stay calm and keep walking in the direction where he was heading.
He walks slowly so as not to trip and fall again or crash into something, but still bumps into various racks full of products he can’t see and shopping carts that were left abandoned.
Pat trembles. He’s getting thirsty and hungry and tired but he continues to walk. Even if it takes him all night, there’s a chance he might find the door outside, even in this darkness.
The darkness is like the inside of a mouth surrounding him. Weren’t the front doors made of clear glass? Even at night, some sort of moonlight should be able to enter them and allow him to see. Maybe he’ll find them that way.
All he can do is keep walking in the same direction, the one he knows should lead him there.
Hours and hours pass as his legs get sore and his throat goes dry.
Finally, he reaches what seems like a wall. Reaching the edge of all the nothingness he’s wandered fills him with optimism. He remembers there being some smaller shops in the area near the front doors. If he can feel where the shops start and end in the wall, then he can locate the exit.
He trails the wall with his hands, feeling the bumpy, cold bricks, and starts walking to the right.
He walks and walks.
The amount of time that has passed without a single change in the wall is bizarre. He slides his hands all over it and keeps walking steadily but doesn’t feel anything except the bricks.
So much time passes that he reaches a corner in the wall and yet there’s no hint of a shop or a door or anything, except wall, wall, wall.
How is this happening? Has he messed up somehow? But he’s only been doing one thing. There’s no way that even someone like him could fail at something as simple as feeling the wall for a door. At least, he hopes not.
He keeps walking in the same direction, hands on the wall, and there’s another corner, and another corner, and another corner...
He’s walked and touched the side of the wall for hours and there’s nothing on the walls at all. It all feels exactly the same. In this darkness, he can’t even tell if this spot in the wall is one that he’s already touched.
Pat will cry if he has, so he keeps hoping that maybe, just maybe, he hasn’t passed this spot yet.
But there’s no door.
Just wall and wall and wall and wall and wall and wall and wall and wall.