Department stores are creepy. There’s a Hudson’s Bay near my house, and if I’m going to or from the stores past it, it’s way faster to walk through than around. But only if I can navigate the sunless, timeless void that is a department store efficiently to get directly from one entrance to another. All these qualities (no natural light, large, always emptier than there were designed for, labyrinthine) made it seem like a perfect setting for a horror scene when I got turned around while trying to B-line from upstairs entrance to downstairs exit. Add in the fact that this novel is so much about class, and the symbolism of what a department store represents culturally made it even more fun.
Wilson ducked habitually into the entryway of the department store and stomped the snow from his boots before pushing the huge glass door open with his whole body and stepping inside. He was greeted by the usual Formica flooring, overflowing displays with scattered mannequins, and eerie muffle. His feet seemed to have a map of Byron’s usual route through the place, he let them carry him straight ahead, then left. As he approached the large mirrored column marking the corner ahead of him, he caught sight of a person behind him. A mostly shadowed form at the far end of the store with a glint of slivery-blue around the eyes as they moved up and down what must have been Wilson’s own shape. Wilson felt the slight shiver of a gaze scanning up him and turned, but the store was empty behind him. He turned back, focussing decidedly on the path he recognized around the corner to the right and not looking in the mirror again. He realized he actually remembered the whole route now: halfway down this side, the escalators are on the right, then at the bottom slip through cosmetics to the left and out the doors. All around him, more mirrored columns peeked out from between shelves of shirts and sweaters, or pots and pans. He continued avoiding looking at them and searched for the escalator, which was much further along than he remembered. When his eyes reached the end of the path ahead, he saw a dead end where a bunch of barbeques were displayed in a horseshoe. He stopped. He turned. He scanned both sides of the walkway in front of him. Seeing no sign of the escalator, he started walking, retracing his steps to figure out where he had turned wrong. Reaching the corner where he’d glimpsed the reflection, he felt his body trying to stop as a jet of panic coursed around it. You imagined it! Just find the escalators and get the hell out of here. He pushed through, and rounded the corner, but found his gaze locked to his own feet. He forced his head up and saw an empty store. Told you. Straight ahead, he could see the hazy light creeping in through the entrance, where he’d come in. The two entrance/exits were the only real source of natural light in the store, so they were unmistakable. Feeling a desire to be back in that light, he kept walking and turned into the short hallway leading to the doors, but instead found himself in a bedroom show area with several lamps right near the entrance.
“What the fuck?” he said aloud, and turned on his heel again. He stared ahead at the displays that he was sure he remembered seeing when he came in a minute ago. Maybe I’m just tired. I should just leave and walk around. Except now he didn’t know where the entrance he’d come in was. Right. Dammit. Continuing to look around, he started to doubt his certainty that these were the same displays he’d seen. They were so… flawless. Every stack of clothes in a perfect, pin-straight line. Not an item or a speck of dust out of place. Why did everything around him suddenly look so alien, like he was looking at it from the wrong angle somehow? Suddenly, the innermost ring of lights in the ceiling switched off, leaving blackness where the centre of the store had been. The outer light, right above him now, did the same and slippery chill ran up Wilson’s spine. The central ring, the largest of the three, seemed to strain for a moment, growing slightly dimmer, then snapping back to full brightness. But then it continued to grow, brighter and brighter until Wilson had to squint against the white glare, which still left the rest of the store shrouded in shadow. A movement drew his eye and in one of the columns, he saw that form reflected again, but this time pure white, as if it was part of the light. The form was gliding down from the light to land on the ground, but it must have been a maze of reflections, because Wilson couldn’t see it except in the mirror. It drifted to the ground and Wilson’s heart stopped when he saw that blue glint again, and felt not just the sense of the gaze, but the malice in it. His heart started again, roaring furiously against his ribs and he turned to the right, away from the original reflection, and ran.