Samantha had been waiting for nearly an hour beneath the enormous chandelier at Cherry Grove Shopping Mall. Her friends had ditched her again, and her cell phone was dead. She would have walked home, but a storm was raging outside. Instead, Samantha sat on the brick barrier surrounding the water fountain and picked at the remains of her glitter nail polish, her legs crisscrossed. Her mom would have yelled at her for sitting like that in her school-uniform skirt, but she wore black shorts underneath in case anyone was perverted enough to look.

The chandelier flickered before it went out. The piped-in hipster folk music died. A collective gasp filled the mall’s now dark belly, then only murmurs and footsteps and crashes of thunder.

The security guard held open the main doors for the shoppers, some holding bags, most empty-handed. A woman with a double stroller approached him, her voice filling the lobby. “I guess I’ll wait until the lightning eases up.”

“Ain’t going to get better,” he announced to the lobby. “I expect the roads are going to flood soon.”

At that, everyone who’d been standing there went to their cars. But Samantha stayed put.

As she twirled her brown hair, the guard approached, one leg dragging like a dog with a bad hip. He was a weird dude with nasty teeth and a snake tattoo that seemed to slither up his neck. She knew she shouldn’t judge him for his looks. Her best friend Eddie had a scar on his face, and people were hateful to him. Nothing stood out about Samantha. Her mom called her mousey, codeword for plain.

“You ought to go on home now,” he said.

“I’m waiting for my friends.”

“Well, they ain’t going to show up now.” He smiled in a way that made her stomach turn. He stepped closer and leaned in. Too close. His scent was musky, the air between them warm. “I need to go do my rounds. Stay here.” He touched her arm and squeezed it. “I’ll be back.”

He strutted down the dim corridor that led to the department store. More shoppers walked past her toward the exit with their shopping bags and baby buggies. No one seemed to notice her sitting there alone, as if she were invisible or simply didn’t matter. Would her parents notice right away if she didn’t come home?

Soon, an unnerving silence filled the mall. No more footsteps. No murmurs of shoppers, although some must be waiting it out inside the stores. Samantha went to the glass doors. “Time to walk home,” she whispered. Although it couldn’t have been later than 7pm, the sky was dark, the sun devoured by the storm. The lighting was beautiful and terrifying. A boom of thunder made her jump. She felt silly for letting it scare her. Thunder was only an increase in temperature and pressure. Nothing more. Rain blew sideways, thrashing the doors. As if to warn her to stay inside. She didn’t even have a hoodie. She could probably lift one, though.

Samantha walked with soft steps past several stores along the darkened corridor. Clerks inside tidying up, talking to each other, their faces lit by cell phone screens. No one looking in her direction.

Near the end of the hallway, music and an eerie pink light escaped Hot Topic and spilled into the corridor. The guy behind the counter was alone. If she snatched a hoodie from a carousel, he wouldn’t chase her, she told herself. No way he’d leave the cash register, assuming he noticed her at all. He was banging his head to Megadeath blaring from his phone, his body backlit by battery-operated lights that switched colors every half-minute.

Only thin T-shirts hung on the carousels near the store’s entrance. Samantha slinked around the far end of the store past displays of neon hair coloring, spiked leather chokers, and a wall of t-shirts with sayings on them that would have frightened her teachers.

At the back of the store, she found a carousel of thick black hoodies and slipped the Black Sabbath one off the hanger and over her head. Before her head was through it, the music stopped.

“You going to pay for that?” He was right there in front of her.

“No…just trying it on.”

He smiled at her, not creepy like the guard. His hair was clean-cut, his teeth perfect. No tattoos. No musky odor emanating from him. Only a heat that seemed exciting and comforting all at the same time. She felt her face flush with warmth and was grateful the light switched to green so he wouldn’t notice.

“Looks good on you,” he said.

He went back behind the counter, and whenever she looked at him, he was looking at her, too. Somehow, here in the now neon-purple glow, she was visible. Even as people walked past the store toward the entrance, his eyes were on her.

When the mall guard entered the store, she ducked behind the hoodies and crawled behind the counter.

“You seen a girl?” the guard asked.

The clerk moved closer to Samantha, now on her knees and pressed up against the counter. He put his hand on the back of her neck and gently massaged it while pressing his leg against her. Like he was petting a dog.

“Haven’t seen anyone.”

“She must’ve left with the others. If all the stores close, I can lock up early.”

“Yeah. Good idea.”

Samantha relaxed when she heard the guard’s distinctly uneven footsteps fade in the distance. The clerk went to the store entrance and pulled down the metal cage-barrier. She was on the wrong side of it.

“I need to go home.”

He smiled at her, his face now glowing in neon pink. Still not seeming to threaten her, even as he walked up to her and pulled the hoodie off her.

“No,” she said before he put his hand over her mouth, her screams muffled.