They decided on a comedy and went to the nearby outdoor mall a little after noon. The parking lot was packed and Bill wound his way through the cars to find them a spot while the girls circled. Several pigeons startled away from a lost bagel as he approached an empty spot and signaled the girls. The sun was half buried behind a layer of clouds but Bill couldn’t tell if it was cold or not. Heather was wearing a light sweater but Julie had refused to wear more than a long sleeved shirt claiming it was fine out. Once they had parked Billy followed them in to the complex. He hadn’t ever visited this particular mall, crowds weren’t his thing and he preferred shopping online. They passed several restaurants and a couple of coffee shops facing off against each other across a plaza. There was an outdoor fireplace in the center that several under dressed teens were huddled around.
The theater was at the far end of the complex, wedged between a trendy clothing store pumping out obnoxious bass and a well-lit chain bookstore. Bill couldn’t remember the last time he’d browsed a bookstore and drifted through Julie while thinking about it.
“Careful, man, I can still feel that.” She rubbed her arms a little.
“It’s okay, just watch who you’re drifting through, strangers might freak out.”
Heather had gone up to the ticket machine to buy tickets and waved at them to hurry up. Bill followed them through the door and past the bored looking employee checking tickets. He didn’t even glance up as Bill passed, and a couple teenage girls flounced through him on the way to the bathroom. Heather purchased drinks and popcorn for them as well, and a bottled of chilled coffee which she tucked away in her purse when Julie reached for it. “After the movie, you know how you get.”
“Fine…” Julie punched the straw into her drink and went ahead into the theater with the popcorn. They found seats at the back and Bill sat beside them even though his legs weren’t tired.
He hadn’t been to the movies in ages either, or had anyone to go with. The movie was fairly funny, and he accidentally let out a spooky, echoing laugh at one point that sent Julie and Heather into a fit of giggles. They spent most of the movie whispering to each other and laughing at pretty much everything, and by the time the credits rolled they had finished their drinks and Julie was munching on the last of the popcorn. They were much quieter leaving the theater, and stopped just outside.
“Any objection to checking out the bookstore, Mr. Esler?” Heather asked. He shook his head and they ducked inside quickly. Julie disappeared into the graphic novels section while Heather browsed the craft books. Bill wandered over to a table covered in hardcover books. They were all old classics, re-released in a neatly bound hardcover edition. He found a copy of old fables he’d had as a kid and managed to shift it out of the pile just enough to get a look at it. It was wrapped in plastic so he couldn’t open it but the binding seemed sturdy enough. If he ever thought to come here in the future a copy might make a nice bedside read.
“These are lovely hardcovers.” Heather actually startled him a little, appearing next to him with a few books tucked under her arm. She wasn’t looking at him, which he quickly realized was probably to avoid looking crazy. “I haven’t read a lot of these. I’d like to but things are so busy. Maybe when Julie is out of school I’ll pick one up.” She was speaking softly so nobody else would hear, even though the store was largely empty. One of the books that had been perched near the edge slid off suddenly. Heather picked it up slowly and set it back in place, gesturing for Bill to follow her.
Julie had four books in her lap and was halfway through one in her hands when they found her sitting on the floor in a clear area. She held up the books hopefully and Heather sighed. “All right, but I expect you to help me with the yard work next week.”
“Sweet!” Julie managed to stand up while holding all five books, which Bill could now see had a bunch of cartoon girls reading books on the cover. He wasn’t sure what to make of it, but they were headed to the register now so he followed behind, glancing at the fancy hardcovers as they passed.
Out in the cool air again, Heather took both bags of books and somehow managed to fit them in her purse, pulling out the coffee from before to hand to Julie.
“Think so?” Julie asked.
“Just being there wasn’t enough. Someone’s taking interest.”
Julie peeled off the safety seal and shook the drink, glancing around, “You may want to stick close to my sister, Billy boy. Things are gonna heat up.”
Billy gave her a confused look as she chugged the entire bottle and handed it back to Heather.
“Just stay close to me, Mr. Esler. Julie is going to discourage some unwanted attention you attracted at the theater.” She stuck the bottle back in her purse as the world seemed to darken around them, “Area’s out of time, but try not to break anything big.” She called to Julie, who was taking measured steps out into the center of the plaza.
“Come get some, you coward!” Julie called out into the eerily blue-tinged dark that surrounded them. A large, gangly figure that seemed to be all arms and legs except for a round ball of a torso stepped towards the teenager. It towered three times her height and lifted an arm to swat at her. Bill stepped forward, alarmed, but Heather put out an arm and somehow stopped him.
“She’ll be fine, just stay by me in case there’s more.” Heather seemed completely relaxed as the giant arm swung down at her sister. It made contact and Julie was swept up into the air, but instead of being batted away she clung to it’s long brown fur and began climbing her way up the arm as it frantically tried to shake her loose. Bill could see trails of blue light where she grabbed it that were soon spreading to cover it. It bellowed a hideous, echoing noise and thrashed around as it’s arms was soon engulfed in what he realized was blue flame. Julie reached it’s torso and proceeded to leave small fires in a ring around it’s center.
The creature finally managed to dislodge her and she hit the ground rolling. It turned and stomped noisily off into the distance, knocking over a bench on it’s way and bellowing louder. Julie stood up and brushed herself off, and Bill could see her hands coated in the same blue flame. It disappeared by the time she walked over to them and the sky started returning to the midday light it was supposed to be.
“What?” Bill couldn’t think of anything to add and left it hanging as he looked from one sister to the other.
“Well done, I think it only got the bench.” Heather gestured to the bench, which was laying on it’s side now despite no other evidence of the creature remaining.
“Who are you?” Bill asked as Julie started digging around for one of her books in Heather’s purse.
“I think that’s a conversation best left for when we’re back home and won’t look crazy.” Heather dug the book out for her and started back to the car, “Right now, just know you’re safe as long as you’re with us.”