Daniel and the Mall by Ethan Holmes is a short story exhibiting society’s burgeoning addiction to their cell phones. It’s also an entertaining story demonstrating how easy it is to cause chaos and panic, even if you’re an unarmed and very angry teenager.
Daniel and the Mall, By Ethan Holmes
Daniel was an unhappy boy most of his life. When he was fourteen, his father went to jail for molesting his own daughter. His mother was a Bible-thumping whack job who couldn’t figure out whether to pray about her problems or cut her husband’s testicles off and kill him if he ever got out. She carried a lot of anger and bitterness around with her and handed most of it down to her son.
I won’t go into any more of his background except to tell you that he grew into his teen years rebelling fiercely against any authority, took to robbing convenience stores and stealing cars and generally became a walking time bomb. Then one day the bomb went off.
It’s amazing to watch a human brain, normally occupied by life, conjure up a plan of evil genius when focused on perceived revenge. Daniel was intent on revenge against society in general for having, somehow, done him wrong. What he came up with was brilliant.
He didn’t have the spine to perform the shootout-of the-day like so many before him. It’s been done over and over. You steal an assault rifle and an automatic pistol, a bunch of ammo and head for the local movie theater/store/post office. You kill and maim a bunch of innocent people who had nothing at all to do with your life and then you commit suicide or let the cops use you for target practice.
No, Daniel wanted to do something different, something unique. He finally came up with a plan designed to prove to the world how angry he was and how easy it was to show it.
Daniel got up one bright, summer day and dressed in four layers of clothes. The first layer was a pair of light blue gym shorts and a white tank top. The second layer was a larger, baggier pair of tan cargo shorts and a black Nirvana tee-shirt. The third layer was a gray sweatshirt and nylon gray sweatpants with a San Francisco Giants baseball cap turned backwards on his head. The final layer was black sweatpants and a black hoodie, both baggy enough and large enough to cover everything underneath. He wore black Nike tennis sneakers with no socks and he stuck a pair of black flip-flops and a red-streaked, punkish wig in the front pouch of his hoodie. Then he headed for the local mall.
It was 3:30 p.m. and Daniel paid for a matinee showing of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ at the AMC Movie Theater at the far western end of the mall. He took a seat in the back row of the theater, just inside the left aisle directly behind two teenaged girls. He scanned the area taking note that there were only about thirty people there. He looked around, smiling as he saw that better than two-thirds of them were busily pecking away or staring at their cellphones. It looked like a firefly convention in the darkened theater.
Waiting until the moment the theater was completely dark and the coming attractions had just begun, Daniel reached over the seat backs in front of him like a darting hummingbird and snatched both of the cellphones from the two girls. He hurled them toward the front of the theater and quickly ducked behind the seats and scurried toward the aisle to his right. He stifled a giggle as the girls screamed several times.
The two girls reacted exactly as Daniel thought they would. First, they screamed in shock and fright because someone had reached over them in the dark. They looked at each other with their mouths hanging open and screamed again. Then they both stood up and shook their hands as though they were being sprayed with cat urine and screamed again simultaneously.
“OH, MY GOD! OH, MY GOD!”
Daniel didn’t have time to stop and enjoy the fact that they were literally freaking out because their cellphones were gone. He waited for just a second or two at the end of the row and once again the two girls reacted just as he thought they would.
Both of them frantically ran toward the front of the theater and dropped to their hands and knees searching for their beloved phones.
Daniel smiled again as he peered over the seat in front of him and saw that the commotion had done just what he hoped. Everyone’s attention was on the two panicked girls in the front. He slinked across the right aisle and slid in behind a woman and two kids. The woman was sitting there holding a cell phone lit up in mid-text as she peered into the darkness trying to figure out what was going on. Daniel reached over and snatched her phone, hurling it back in the direction he had just come from.
The woman screamed; the kids laughed. Daniel ducked back behind the seats and headed for the aisle by the right wall. The woman stood up, cursed and looked in the row behind her. She couldn’t see much of anything. She looked at the girls, the kids and back at the row and stomped off in the direction of her phone.
“I’m callin’ the cops!” She yelled this at no one in particular.
By now, the theater was rapidly being enveloped in the growing commotion. A few people yelled at the girls to go sit down and quit screaming. Others just kept poking away at the screens on their phones. Now they had something to text about to their friends. Only the three people who had their phones snatched knew what the reason was for the turmoil.
Daniel nonchalantly stood up and looked around as though he had just arrived, searching for a seat. He walked down the same row of seats he had just slunk down as the two girls up front started yelling again.
“I can’t find my phone! Please help me! Somebody help me find my phone! Oh, my GOD!”
Someone in the dark yelled back.
“Fuck you and your damned phone! Sit the hell down so we can watch the movie!”
The coming attractions and snack bar commercials played on as Daniel sat down in the middle section of seats about halfway down. In front of him were two men, laughing and poking each other as they shared photos on both their phones of the same naked woman holding pompoms on a football field.
Daniel sat there for a moment, the angry memories of his imprisoned father surging up inside him. He was waiting for one moment; just the right moment.
As the men chortled and made crude remarks, that moment Daniel had been waiting for arrived. The coming attractions ended and the screen went black for just a few seconds as the movie started. That’s all Daniel needed.
He didn’t even stand up. He simply slid forward in his seat and sharply banged both men on the shoulder opposite him; one on the left shoulder, one on the right. Predictably both turned in opposite directions and cursed simultaneously.
“What the fuck?!”
Daniel slid his long, thin arms forward between them, snatched their phones out of their hands and hurled them toward the right front corner of the theater. As the darkened screen began to light up with the movie production logo, the clatter of the two phones hitting the uncarpeted floor down in front could be heard.
The two men stood up and repeated themselves.
“What the fuck, man?!”
Daniel was already sliding toward his left down the row of seats, headed for the emergency exit door on that side of the theater.
The men stood there befuddled, momentarily unable to decide whether to look for whoever had done this or head for the corner of the theater to find their phones. It didn’t take them long to figure out why the two girls were down in front already.
As they stood there, they heard a loud clang as the emergency door was flung open. Instinctively, everyone in the theater looked in that direction. A blast of blinding white sunlight lit up the doorway and a dark silhouette exited the theater and slammed the door closed. Most, if not all, of the people turned sharply away from the brilliant light and didn’t see a thing.
“Stupid people! They’re so fixated on their fucking, little phones, they don’t even have the sense to chase me!”
Daniel was correct in his assessment of what he had just done. Of the five people whose phones he had snatched and thrown into the darkness, not one of them chose finding him over finding their precious phone. The fun was just beginning.
He headed down the covered walkway that connected the theater with Dillard’s, one of the anchor stores of the mall. He walked through the store looking not unlike any other teenager mall-surfing. Proceeding out the front entrance of the store and onto the upper level promenade of the mall, Daniel spotted his next target and slowed down.
He stopped at the wood and glass railing that lined the edge of the promenade looking down onto the lower level. He was pleased to see a large water fountain below him.
He turned to the two women he had spotted standing in front of Spencer’s, each with a stroller containing a small child and a bunch of packages and bags. Both of them clutching their phones, animatedly pointing at them and laughing.
Daniel pulled the strings on his black hoodie so that it tightened around his face, slightly distorting it. Then he put on his best ‘poor, little kid’ face and approached the women.
He addressed the shorter of the two wearing a white tennis skirt.
“Excuse me, ma’am. I don’t have a cellphone and I need to call my mom for a ride home. Could I borrow yours for a minute to call her?”
The two women looked at each other in surprise. The one he addressed responded.
“You don’t have a cellphone? Really? What’s the matter with your parents; they can’t afford one?”
Daniel ignored her rude ignorance and stood there silently doing his best to look helpless.
The two women looked at each other for a moment and the taller one handed Daniel her phone.
“Here, you can use mine. Call your mom and tell her to get you a cellphone.”
Both women laughed as she handed the phone to Daniel. He smiled and thanked her. He brought up the dial pad on the touchscreen and pretended to dial a number as he turned his back on the two women. Walking slowly from the women and acting as though he was talking to someone, Daniel reached the wood and glass barrier a few yards away. The two women, chatting as they waited, looked up in time to see Daniel appear to fumble the phone right over the railing and down to fountain below.
The taller woman yelped and ran over to the railing followed closely by her friend.
She turned to the friend, “He dropped my fucking phone in the fountain down there! Oh my God!”
To Daniel’s amazement, the women ran right past him toward the escalator, leaving their strollers, kids, packages and bags right where they had been sitting when he approached them. He looked over at the strollers as the women ran down the escalator yelling, “Oh, my God!”
The shorter woman’s cell phone was sitting on the canopy of one of the strollers. Daniel calmly walked over and picked it up. He glanced at the sleeping children in the strollers. He turned back toward the railing and launched the cellphone high into the air. He knew, by the trajectory, that it was going to land perfectly in the same fountain.
The taller woman was already in the fountain, having ripped her shoes off at the edge and wading in panic stricken. The shorter woman was at the edge vigorously cheering her on when they both saw a splash in the pool of the fountain. The woman already in the fountain walked straight toward the splash, reached down and came out with a phone.
She held it up and stared at it for a couple of seconds and then turned to her friend, puzzled and confused.
“Hey, Doris, this looks like your phone.”
Doris held up her hands as though she should have been holding something. Her face turned from astonishment to dismay as she clapped her right hand to her belt on her hip.
“That rat bastard threw my cell phone down here too!”
Both of them looked up at the railing but Daniel was nowhere to be seen. He was already halfway down the promenade toward the center of the mall where the food court was located. He turned into a small hallway that led down to a janitorial closet and removed his hood, turning his Giants baseball cap around so the bill was pulled low over his face. He stepped back out onto the promenade.
Some kids around Daniel’s age were in front of him as he walked and one of them had on baggy pants hanging around his hips. An Ipod was sticking halfway out of the back pocket with a long thin white cord running up to a pair of earbuds firmly planted in the kid’s ears. Daniel snagged the Ipod, pulled the cord and pitched it over the railing just as two shabbily dressed Mexican guys walked past the group headed in the opposite direction.
As quickly as the music stopped coming through the earbuds the kid turned around and felt in his back pocket. Daniel didn’t say a word. He just pointed at the two Mexican guys while keeping his face low under his cap.
The kid in the baggy pants stopped, confused for a moment. The rest of the group kept going, not realizing their friend had stopped. Daniel kept moving as he heard the Ipod kid yelling at the Mexicans to stop.
Looking down at the food court from the upper level, Daniel could hear a growing hubbub from the west end of the mall where he had entered. The kid and the Mexicans were already shoving each other and his companions were rushing back to see what was happening. Daniel smiled as he could hear more noise farther down the line where he had thrown the two phones into the fountain.
He headed down the escalator and into the food court. There he headed straight for the rest room. Mall traffic was light and he waited for a moment as the last two men left the rest room. He entered one of the stalls and quickly removed his black hoodie and sweat pants. He stood on the toilet seat and shoved them up onto the acoustic ceiling tiles. He turned his baseball cap inside out and put it back on, pulling the bill down. Now he was dressed all in grey.
He left the restroom and, just as he anticipated, a few people were looking around suspiciously as though they had some information about something. A mall security guard actually startled Daniel, tapping him on the shoulder.
“Hey, kid. You see anyone around here wearing black sweats and a black hoodie?”
“No, sir, I ain’t seen nothin’.”
Daniel kept his face angled away from the man as he replied.
The guard’s radio cackled and he walked away talking into it. Daniel headed for the far side of the food court.
At a table in front of a small restaurant selling Greek Gyros, four people sat eating sandwiches and French fries; a woman, two boys who appeared to be about eight or nine years old and a small girl who looked no older than four or five.
Daniel slid into the chair at the table next to them so hard that it spilled the soda nearest to him. It was a deliberate move. The woman shrieked as Pepsi went splattering all over the table and headed for her lap. The two boys laughed and jumped up and the little girl on the far side of the woman happily munched her fries.
“Oh, shit! You boys get some napkins or towels.” The woman dabbed at the growing puddle with a napkin and turned to glare at whoever had done this.
Daniel was already gone. In the moment it took for all of them to be distracted by the sudden, jarring spill, he had grabbed her cellphone sitting by her plate. While the two people behind the counter of the Greek restaurant were occupied with getting towels and napkins and helping the woman, Daniel reached over the clear, plastic counter top and dumped her phone in the fryer. He grinned as it made a loud pop and sizzled. He had more reason to grin as he headed out of the food court. He could hear her screaming as he walked toward Macy’s.
“Where is my goddamned cellphone?”
Daniel entered the store. He had scoped this out before. The two weakest spots in here were the make-up department and the jewelry counter. First, there was a slight change to be made.
He went to the men’s clothing section and slipped inside one of the changing rooms. He removed his gray sweatshirt and the nylon, gray sweatpants. He took off his baseball cap and put on the wig he had shoved in the pocket of the sweatpants on his first change-out. He also took the flip flops which he had transferred to the rear pockets of the gray sweatpants and put those on. He stuffed the sweatpants in one sneaker, the sweatshirt in the other. He stood on the small corner bench in the change room and lifted the acoustic ceiling tile. He threw both sneakers up there and replaced the tile. Now he was dressed like a punk, surfer teen with streaky hair in baggy cargo shorts, a black Nirvana shirt and flip flops.
Back out in the main area of the store, Daniel headed for the make-up counter. Only four people were in the area; the counter clerk, a single customer, a store employee stocking shelves in the ‘Teens’ section and an elderly security guard by the store entrance who was actually nodding off.
The customer was an elderly lady who had dyed her hair so red it had turned an eerie orange. She was sitting on a stool as the clerk applied a ghostly white powder to her face. Daniel had to suppress outright laughter as he heard the clerk tell the old lady how beautiful she looked while dusting her up to look like she was already dead.
He eased his way over, acting as though he was looking for something.
“Can I help you with something? You appear to be lost!” The clerk said this with marked sarcasm.
He took the opportunity to move closer, now standing between the two.
“Well, like, dude. I was wondering if you, like, had any perfume for like, my girlfriend. Is that some there?”
Daniel stuck his hand out, pretending to point, and knocked the container of facial powder off the counter. It went all over the clerk and the floor.
“Well, you little shit! Look what you’ve gone and done!” The clerk was livid.
The orange-haired lady slid off the stool.
“Oh my, my. What a mess!”
She half-heartedly brushed at the powder all over the clerk, trying fruitlessly to help her get it off her dark blue jacket.
While the two of them were occupied with this, Daniel used the time to abscond with the old lady’s cellphone sitting on the glass counter right next to her flower-embroidered, canvas purse. By the time the two of them looked around, he was gone.
Heading for the far exit, he had to pass through the jewelry department and it couldn’t have been set up better for him if he had called in ahead of time.
A young woman had been looking at rings. Her purse and cellphone were sitting on the counter around the corner from where she and the clerk were currently viewing some additional choices. It was almost too easy as Daniel floated by, snatched the phone and kept walking straight out the door of Macy’s into the bright warmth of the late afternoon sun.
He looked at the two cellphones in his hands, smiled, dropped them onto the sidewalk, crushed them both under his feet and started walking. Once he cleared the mall parking lot he headed for an underpass of the nearby highway. There he stripped down to his final change of the tank top and gym shorts. He removed the wig to reveal his natural sandy blonde hair. Removing the soft dirt from a hole he had dug previously, he buried the remaining items under the underpass and climbed the steep embankment up to the highway.
Daniel stopped for a moment and turned back toward the Macy’s he had just exited. He smiled as he saw the elderly security guard with a few of his colleagues standing over the spot where he had crushed the phones. They all had their radios in their hands. Within seconds, two police cars screeched up to the entrance and, as Daniel turned to walk away, another went screaming right by him, sirens blaring, headed for the mall.
That evening he found the news particularly satisfying and entertaining. Every channel was blaring news about the ‘terrorist attack’ at the mall by multiple assailants stealing and destroying electronic devices. To hear them tell it, in all their glorious ignorance, there had been at least four attackers, starting with the “vicious and mysterious assault in the movie theater”.
Daniel watched, at once fascinated and amused, as he saw rough video and still images of himself in various stages of his disguises. What was most amusing and satisfying was the utter chaos, panic and confusion he had caused with this single, well-planned expedition to the mall.
He learned that fear, agitation and hysteria are all highly contagious. He learned that knocking people out of their routine, for even a fleeting moment was easy. Causing them discomfort of any kind was a sure-fire ingredient for panic. Most of all, God help you if you mess with their beloved cellphones.
They tried him as an adult. He was actually turned in by his own family who recognized certain little details about him on TV. His mother vowed never to have anything to do with him again and assured him that he would burn in the fires of eternal damnation for his sins.
Nothing like a mother’s love; is there?
Daniel and the Mall by Ethan Holmes is a short story which will be a chapter incorporated in an upcoming novel in progress titled 5:23.