Closing Time
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It's gonna take a lot to drag me away from you
There's nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do
I bless the rains down in Africa
Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

He sits, alone, on the edge of the fountain. The fountain itself is dry - it's been a good month or so since he turned it off. The pennies and quarters that were tossed in in happier times lie there still, undisturbed, beginning to gather dust. Above him, the glass rotunda is dark, permitting only vaguely the dull sheen of the autumn moon to shine through. He turns his head this way and that, toward the four concourses that extend away from the grand fountain, the crowning masterpiece of this shrine to capitalism. There's nothing, of course - nothing but the dimly-lit walkways, and the darkened upper level, and dozens upon dozens of shuttered storefronts, and in the distance a steel barricade to keep out the rest of the world - and over it all, the faint, tinny echoes of a Toto song reverberating through the empty arcades.

It was springtime when the mall closed for good. He remembers those last chaotic weeks - how the reports on the news grew more and more dire, how more and more of his co-workers at the Bon Marche stopped showing up for work, how he had to work harder and harder at first, until the customers started getting fewer and far between. He remembers showing up for work and being called to the office by one of the floor managers. He remembers being told that the store manager hadn't shown up for work for three days now, and the worst was suspected. He remembers being told that they'd tried to call corporate and noone had answered. He remembers being put in charge of the floor because someone had to do it - and he needed the money if he was going to be able to take care of his wife and daughter if things kept going the way they'd been since everything started going sour.

He remembers the day he showed up for work, and nobody else did.

He remembers the tense meeting in the mall office with the representatives of the other stores and the mall management. He wasn't qualified to be there, but there wasn't anyone showing up who was more qualified, either. There was a cautious optimism about them - the news was saying the government was testing a cure, that they were ready to distribute it worldwide any day now, that it'd be a long road ahead but everything would be OK in the long run. What was important was that everything got shored up and secured so that business could get back to usual once the crisis had passed. The mall was probably going to have to close soon - but it'd be back before anyone knew it.

He remembers his car breaking down on his way in the next morning. He was two and a half miles away when the engine quit in the middle of the road. He coasted to the curb and cranked the ignition, but it just wouldn't turn over again. He called roadside service. Nobody answered. He tried to flag a ride. Not one car passed him along that road that morning. He walked the rest of the way.

He remembers that last conversation with the others. Fewer than a dozen of them had even shown up that day. They all had better places to be - sick family to tend to, babies to take care of, rumors of a place out in the country that hadn't been hit yet. He remembers arguing that his claim was as valid as theirs, but in the end, he didn't have a ride, and noone else was willing to give him one. Someone had to lock up, and keep the place clean and tidy until things blew over. And so they left, one by one, and he turned the key that lowered the great steel barricade across the entrance, and was left alone.

Six months gone, he thinks to himself as he reclines on the edge of the fountain. The power's still on, at least. He doesn't know how long that'll last - whether the grid's still functioning out there, or whether there's a generator somewhere in the bowels of the facility.There's still light to see by. The refrigerators and freezers in the food court are still working - he's in no danger of starving as long as they stay up. He checks his phone every now and then - no bars. He can access the internet from the PCs in the Best Buy, but most of the websites he knows are down, and the ones still up haven't been updated for months now. The most recent video he can find on Youtube is of a man in an apartment somewhere in New York praying for forgiveness for mankind's sins. Now and then someone posts on a message board or in a comments thread asking if there's anyone out there. He always responds. They never answer back. It was six weeks ago that he last heard a pounding noise on the steel barricade - whether it was another human being or something else, he knows not, and he was too afraid to find out.

The music on the PA halts. A voice announcement comes over the loudspeakers. He recognizes it - it's his own, after all, recorded in those last days before he closed the doors. "Attention, Northgate employees, customers, and visitors - the mall is now closed. Please conclude your business and make your way to the exits at once. On behalf of the mall and all its tenants - good night, good luck, and Godspeed."

No sooner does the message conclude than the lights across the mall dim and go out, leaving only a handful of emergency lights remained lit. He stands up from the edge of the fountain and stretches before making his way into the mattress store just off from the food court. There's a queen bed on display that was never meant for anyone to actually sleep in. He throws himself upon it, covers himself with a comforter salvaged from the Bon, and closes his eyes.

Maybe tomorrow he'll get the call that the government has lifted the quarantine and they're going to start opening things up again. Maybe the power will flicker and go out for good. Maybe tomorrow he'll hear his wife banging on the barricade, their little girl in tow, and they'll be a family again.

Or maybe he'll wake up to the sound of his own voice opening the mall, and spend another day tidying up and mending things as they break down, and spending his hours by the fountain while Semisonic echoes through the empty building.

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