#fridayflash : the meaning

It wasn't fair, and it especially wasn't fair because the silly beasts couldn't even remember how the tradition had started. Everett stood at the edge of the shopping mall parking lot and sighed. He scanned the expanse of asphalt, completely packed with cars as it was, and carefully checked for any signs of movement.

There were three cars prowling the laneways in search of a nonexistent empty spot. One of them was following a plump man pushing a shopping buggy away from the mall entrance. Everett watched the man's movements and smiled to himself, just stopping short of showing his teeth. The driver of the following car was an idiot. Even from where Everett stood, it was obvious the man was just going to load up his car and return to the depths of the mall again.

The whine of an electric motor cut through the cold thin air. A security guard was headed his way on patrol. Everett had dressed well to ward off suspicion — a dark wool coat, black muffler, and his favourite pre-war brogues — but the mall cop might still stop and talk to him, assume one of the cars nearby was his and that he needed help starting it or something. He picked his way between the cars and emerged into the laneway, hands stuck in his pockets because that's what they did when it was this cold. The frozen slush crunched beneath his feet.

He scolded himself. He did this every time, and ought to know better by now. Sunset fell at half-past four this time of year, and by five he was out hunting, eagerly sniffing out strays. But the prey were all in a hurry too, and between five and seven was the meal-time for most of them.

He picked his way across the parking lot, glancing up every once in a while, willing the giant towers with the enormous lamps shining from them to fail. Just one. That's all he needed. Just one, and there would be a nice dark patch for him to wait it out.

But of course they hardly ever failed. They were almost as durable as he was.

The security guard went by on his ridiculous golf cart at the last point Everett could either continue to the mall or change to pretending he was just leaving it. He pushed the glass door open with a sigh.

"Shopping this time of year sucks, eh buddy?" said a man using the door beside him. Everett noted the man was wearing a suit, just like he was, but with a parka instead of a wool overcoat.

He gave the man a noncommittal smile and made a point of turning a different way once they were inside the mall. Unless the man was heading straight to the toilets, it would have taken too much time, effort, and risk to focus on him.

Everett hated malls. They were sort of all right when they first opened. In the main corridors at least, there had been plenty of places where the only visibility was gained from the illuminated store signs. But starting in the late 1980s, owners started adding skylights and track lighting, until there was hardly a dark corner in the entire building. It gave him a headache just thinking about it. 

And now, just when everything was properly dark for as long as it could be, the night of the actual winter solstice, they put up even more lights, used up even more of that electricity they were always harping about reducing. It was a wonder this lot had any night vision left at all. Total idiotic hyporcisy.

He browsed a floor plan, remembering that now that he was indoors he should take his hands out of his pockets. He found the toilets, wandered down, but found there was a queue right out the door. Hardly the secluded sanctuary he needed. He shrugged and smiled at the last man in line, and headed back to the main level, making a point to study a different floor plan.

He tried the hobby store. It was so packed he couldn't get in.

He tried the pet store, but it wasn't any better. He did note that, worse come to worst, they had rats on sale.

He tried the shoe repair shop. It didn't have any customers, but a gaggle of the proprietor's relatives had dropped by. They were discussing the logistics of Christmas dinner as if planning a military operation, and Everett strode on, shaking his head. Shouldn't their servants be worrying about who was making which dish? Did anyone even have servants anymore?

He paced the corridors, browsing the occasional shop in case he got noticed by security. He tried to pay attention when he reached an exit, focusing on the old, the sick, the weak, but the patterns were too complicated, the crowds too dense. The endless noise and light was making his head throb. He remembered a similarly crisp night when he'd waited under a moonless sky for revellers to make their way to the henge. They'd been within sight of the bonfire before they'd realised that old grandfather wasn't trailing behind them anymore.

At last the clerks commenced the ritual of pulling across the gates and locking up for the night. A disembodied voice announced everyone had to leave the mall. Everett considered hiding in the men's toilets until he remembered that security always checked there, and besides, he might be seen by a different guard on the way out.

At last the mall was nearly empty, but not empty enough for him. He spotted Parka Man exiting, and decided to tail him to his car, just to feel like he'd accomplished something.

Parka Man's car was in the farthest corner of the lot, in the faintly-lit area between two of the lamp towers. He didn't notice Everett until he held up a key in the dim gold light, checking to see if it was the right one for the car.

"You again," said the man. He nodded at Everett's empty hands. "Didn't find any presents after all?"

"Almost," said Everett, and sank his fangs into the man's neck.