For the first time in her life, Debs thought that she was in America. The strangest thing of all was that it felt so ordinary. She’d always imagined that it would be like some magical moment, some beautiful culmination of nearly three decades spent watching shiny Hollywood films, enthusiastic Youtube videos and immaculate TV shows. But, like something from the middle of a dream, it felt oddly mundane.
A few minutes earlier, Jake had quietly raised his phone and pointed it at a scuffed marble urn. The tendrils of a withered plant reached out of it like a zombie’s hand. He whispered: ‘Stay out of shot. I’ve got to get the angle right, if our reflections are seen in any surface…‘
Debs rolled her eyes: ‘I know. I know. But, honestly, I don’t think that anyone’s going to be too bothered about a few people sneaking in here. It’s hardly the crime of the century.‘
Jake sighed: ‘If this goes viral, someone’s probably going to notice. I mean….‘
Debs let out a quiet chuckle: ‘If I remember rightly, trespassing is a civil offence. This place is abandoned, who’s going to sue? Anyway we’re historians, not thieves.‘
With a hint of a grin, Jake hummed the Indiana Jones music. A second later, the phone clicked. The noise echoed through the cavernous hall. It bounced off of metal shutters and grimy tiles. On a faded poster, a man with a perfect smile almost looked surprised. A few seconds later, the noise was followed by the quiet pattering of rain. A minute later, the first water droplet splashed onto the tiles below. It was, Debs thought, the closest thing to a wash this place had probably had in weeks.
Jake walked over to what was once a MVC video shop. Standing back from the large wall of steel shutters, he angled his phone towards the sky blue hoarding and centred the screen on the navy blue losenge logo.
With a hint of a sigh, he said: ‘I got my first horror movie from here. Zombie Flesh Eaters. I’d seen it advertised in a game mag. A proper full-page spread about how it had been banned in the ’80s. How I convinced the guy behind the counter that I was over eighteen…‘
‘Oh my god, the nostalgia!‘ Debs laughed ‘I think I’ve probably still got that magazine somewhere. But, I always remember getting video tapes from that place. It was back when everyone was going over to DVD. For a while, you could get things on both. And then the videos were moved to a separate shelf.‘
‘Which kept getting smaller and smaller.‘ Jake laughed. His phone clicked again. ‘By the end, the videos were so covered with special offer stickers that you couldn’t even see the titles.‘
‘I heard that, if you went there one day, they actually paid you to take them away. Of course, it was a school day. These things always happened on school days. And it was usually someone’s cousin or older brother who supposedly went there.‘ Debs grinned.
‘Folklore.‘ Jake laughed. ‘These days, it’d be pics or GTFO. I miss folklore.‘
‘Oooh, we should get some footage. Like in those dead mall videos from America.’ Debs fumbled for her phone.
‘I told you. What about the reflections? If we’re seen…‘ Jake started.
An impish smile crossed Debs’ face ‘If you’re worried, we could try talking with an American accent during the video to throw everyone off. Let the cops in Texas or wherever worry about them gosh darn kids sneakin’ into the mall.‘
Jake stared at her blankly for a second before creasing over with laugher. As he caught his breath, his voice became a disjointed hybrid of southern accents from Britain and America : ‘Genius! I love it!‘
For a while, they walked the halls with phones held aloft, their accents shifting from Californian to Hawaiian to New York to Georgian every few seconds. When the low battery symbol flashed on Jake’s phone, they reviewed the footage. Jake raised his eyebrows: ‘It’s convincing! I don’t believe it, it’s actually convincing.‘
‘Too convincing.‘ Debs muttered. A puzzled look crossed her face. Like a picture of an old church, the place on the screen could have come from literally anywhere. It would have seen the same rituals, the same nameless crowds and the same hallowed songs. She could have been in Seattle, Paris, Tokyo or Moscow and the footage would be the same. Yet, she thought, it didn’t feel strange. Like something from the middle of a dream, it just felt boringly ordinary.