When you walk into the mall you expect to come out at the end of the day.
You expect to come out, at least, but it's midnight and Jule Devereaux is locked in a car at the top of the gorgeous WhirlyFunRide, high above the sprawling Castertown MegaMall. She can pound on her glassy capsule and howl at top volume, and nobody will hear. Jule is used to getting what she wants, and what she wants more than anything right now is to get out, but she's trapped.
It is past midnight. The last shopper left hours ago.
She's alone in the biggest mall in the world.
The capsule Jule is riding in is stalled at the top of the great Ferris wheel, the highest point on the astonishing WhirlyFunRide. The world- famous ride is the crown jewel in the amusement plaza of the gigantic MegaMall.
Ordinary people from all over the world save up all their lives to come to the gleaming expanse of galleries and courtyards and domes that lights up the prairie outside Castertown. They'll borrow money or sell their houses if they have to, so they can afford to land near the airport hotel and spend a week shopping at the MegaMall. They're willing to stand in line for hours, just to take this ride.
Now, rich people can come to the MegaMall whenever they feel like it and spend as much as they want- sheiks, maharajahs, billionaires- but there's one thing everybody has to do. Even presidents and kings stand in line for the WhirlyFunRide.
Tonight plain old Jule Devereaux from Castertown Junior High has it all to herself.
She should have heeded the last call, but Jule has always been hardheaded. Now the glassy car she is riding in sways in place. It stopped for the night this close to the dome.
The monumental WhirlyFunRide is the glowing heart of the MegaMall, but it is her prison now.
Two hours ago there were gazillion shoppers swirling in the maze of marble corridors; there were thousands eating in the countless food courts of the MegaMall, but the place is still and empty now. Except for work lights twinkling far, far below, even the amusement plaza is dark.
Nobody knows Jule is here. She lost her cell phone, which is why she and Aunt Christy had the fight. Worse yet, there's nobody left at home that she can call. Where most kids have mothers and fathers, Jule lives with her aunt, and now Aunt Christy is gone.
Oh, she used to have a mother and father just like everybody else, but she lost them. Unless somebody came and took them away. Ten years later, she still doesn't know what happened to them. One night when she was very small she heard shouting outside. People slamming car doors. She has no idea what happened next. When she came downstairs next morning Aunt Christy was at the kitchen table, trying to pretend she wasn't crying. Mom and Dad were gone.
Now Aunt Christy is gone. They had a big fight last Sunday. When she came downstairs Monday morning the house was dead empty. It scared her sick.
She didn't even leave a note. Jule could have phoned the police. She started to, but given what happened after her parents vanished, she hung up before the phone began to ring.
She's seen what happens to kids with nobody to take care of them. The Town Council sends them to the State Home. They would have taken her, if Aunt Christy hadn't promised to take care of her. The Town Council doesn't want anything to go wrong in Castertown, and they're quick to scoop up complainers and people who don't belong. With mighty Zozzco running the Town Council, everything in Castertown runs very smoothly. Thanks to Zozzco, the mayor keeps reminding them, everybody's happy and nobody's poor. If the police find out Jule is alone, they'll send the black car for her. There is no place in Castertown for orphans, which is what Jule is.
Or thinks she is. She doesn't know.
It still hurts to think about. What happened to them, anyway? Where is Aunt Christy now? Did she go out looking for them or was she taken? Jule doesn't know.
She made it through the first couple of days alone OK, but school's out, so she hasn't talked to anybody since Sunday night. Today the silence and loneliness got to her and she came to the mall. Just walking in her favorite entrance made her feel better, even though she doesn't have much to spend. She came in humming the Zozzco jingle kids in Castertown grow up on: "Spring and summer, winter, fall, cool kids shop at the MegaMall." She's been out here so many times that the MegaMall is like home to her, and the WhirlyFunRide?
It's better than home.
The combination thrill ride, roller coaster and gigantic Ferris wheel sends glossy cars rushing so high that they zip down the water chute at tremendous speeds. Then the sleek glass capsules hurtle around curves and up steep rises and more!
There are so many curves and loops in the Whirly- FunRide that you can't tell whether you're up or down. Near the end of the ride your car clicks into a slot on the enormous Ferris wheel and you ride up and up, into the beautiful glass dome at the exact center of the amusement park, the crown of the MegaMall. When your car reaches the top you're so high that you can see over the sprawling corridors and courtyards, all the way to the city of Castertown.
Keep riding, girl. You might even see your parents from here.
It's weird, how a place can be so good to be in, and so bad for you.
Before Zozzco came, the whole town was poor. Nobody knows exactly what happened but people say that certain promises were made. The Zozzco Corporation and the Town Council of Castertown struck a deal. Money began pouring in. Suddenly everybody had a job! The glistening shoppers' paradise blossomed in the prairie like a gigantic flower.
Now the town is rich. The Castertown MegaMall and surrounding parks cover four square miles, and that's not counting the monorail or the international airport where bedazzled shoppers fly in every day just to cruise the galleries and shop the stores where they can find anything they want and everything's always on sale.
Nobody knows exactly how big the MegaMall really is. It's laid out like a gigantic honeycomb, except the bees aren't finished yet. Its boundaries grow and grow.
There are mall maps, of course, and store directories- at least for the sector where you happen to be wandering- but you can't begin to guess how many sectors there are, or what's going on in the parts you aren't allowed to see.
We're afraid to ask. Our town is riding high and the mall is magnificent, aren't we doing well?
Jule Devereaux is a lucky girl. When Zozzco gave Aunt Christy a job, Jule got her own Family Pass. She can go to the front of line and get on the WhirlyFunRide any time she wants.
Today it felt like the right thing to do. And it would have been, if she hadn't been so set on riding that she broke the rules and stayed on after LAST CALL.
Not me, she said to herself when the horn blew. Nobody tells me what to do. When her capsule hit the platform, she hid under the seat until the attendant slapped the door shut and the wheel moved on to let the people in the last few cars get out.
Soon she was the only passenger on the WhirlyFun- Ride.
Everything moved faster after that.
The car sped along, back into the whirly part and up the roller coaster and down the water chute. Jule was howling with excitement as her car came up the last peak and clicked into its slot for the spin on the Ferris wheel that brought you down to earth. She wanted it to go again. Again.
Then the wheel shuddered and stopped for the night.
The lights in the car went out. Jule was stuck at the top.
She yelled and banged but a hundred yards below, the attendants were busy shutting down. Frustrated, she tried to open the glassy door so she could throw something. She'd do anything to get their attention, but the capsule was shut tight. The overhead lights went out. "Don't go," she shouted, even though there was no point.
Foolish as it was, she tried willpower: Find me. As if that would work. The workers are gone. MegaMall Security stops patrolling after the mall shuts down. They're watching on banks of monitors in locked offices somewhere far away from here. Besides, on camera one kid waving and pounding at the top of a ride is no more than a speck, even if you happen to be looking.
Except for a string of work lights at the base of the giant ride, the amusement plaza is dark. It's long past closing. The crystal chandeliers are set to dim and the last attendant has left.
She is stupendously alone.
If only she hadn't lost that phone! OK, she lost it at the skating rink where she wasn't supposed to be in the first place, which is how she and Aunt Christy got into the fight. Even people who love each other get mad and say stupid things. It happens, you know?
It's late. She's beyond hungry. The air in her tightly sealed prison is getting stale.
To cheer herself, Jule pulls out the brand- new Maglite she bought when late afternoon sunlight still played on the crystal dome. The beam is tiny but powerful. Lying on her back, she aims it up into the great glass dome above the Ferris wheel. She is cheered by its tiny reflection in the gently curving glass. It glints like a new star. She wedges the miniature flashlight into her shoe and aims it at the sky. It is shining upward long after she drops into sleep.
Why not sleep? Until the morning cleanup crews arrive, she's alone.
Or she thinks she is.
Jule Devereaux has no way of knowing that there are figures stirring in the deep shadows far below. In the shadows, even denser shadows move. Two swift, dark shapes course back and forth in the courtyard of the abandoned amusement park. Quick and ravenous, the scavengers slouch along, scooping up half- eaten candy bars, small change, lost wallets and forgotten toys. Anything they can't eat they will take back to their leader, who . . .
Distracted by a reflected light, one of the intruders looks up. The silence is punctuated by an ugly hiss. "Ssssst!"
The other looks up to where he is pointing. A rush of air escapes him like poison gas. "Hsssss!"
Together, the two scavengers spit and mutter, consulting. Then they turn as one, and like a pair of hunting ferrets they slither out of the courtyard of the amusement plaza and into the uncharted corridors beyond, hissing with excitement as Jule sleeps on.
Excerpted from The Night Children by Kit Reed.
Copyright © 2008 by Kit Reed.
Published in 2008 by A Tom Doherty Associates Book.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.