The Crescent Beach Mall in South Carolina was your basic modern shopping center-boutiques, movie theaters, eateries, and a packed parking lot-until reality unraveled on the inside. Now the mall is a supernatural oddity known worldwide as "Pandora's Box." People travel from miles around to have their chance inside; some come out, and some are never seen again.
Native to the area, Sebastian doesn't mean to cash in on the possible tragedies of others, necessarily, but he finds there's money to be made by a tour service into the bowels of Pandora. He gives visitors ample warning: if they have certain strong phobias or hidden shame, they might not want to go inside. It's up to them to listen. As his business progresses, the locals of Crescent Beach begin to realize the effects Pandora's Box may be spreading.
Children's toys become weapons, pets mutate into monsters, and the flow of time itself is corrupted in the nearby vicinity of the odious mall. Sebastian may be in over his head, but then so is the entire town of Crescent Beach. Sheriff Valerie Dunn is there to back up the morally bankrupt tour guide, but can they withstand the power-and temptation-of Pandora's Box? It's time to hit the mall; leave your psychological baggage at the door.
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Pandora 2011Accounts of the Cursed Shopping Center
By Ivan Borodin
Abbott PressCopyright © 2011 Ivan Borodin
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Wrong Reasons
December 28, 2010
"You're coming from Wilmington, right?" I glance out the window and visualize the route to my office. "Okay, Mr. Monroe, Pandora Tours is just before the mall, after what used to be Bearneck Traders. There's a pink and green sign above the door. You couldn't miss it if you tried."
I hang up the phone, lift my shoes off my old wooden desk—an oak, double-pedestal model with carved drawers—and check what's left of my hair. I'm only thirty-nine, but I've been steadily going bald since I started working at Pandora's Box. Some tour guides suffer far worse maladies: psoriasis, shingles—even warts. A little hair off the top I can live with. I'm a runt—a hundred twenty-five pounds, and five and a half feet tall in shoes, and the pate hopefully makes me look a bit tougher. In this madhouse, you can use all the toughness you can muster.
Mr. Dewey Monroe, right on time, knocks on the office door. He's a product of the modern South, which means he wears typical good ole boy casual attire: lime shorts with a bright yellow golf shirt that rolls over his beer belly, making him look like a helium balloon—the day-after-the-party variety that floats low to the ground. He has an uneven tan from playing golf and a full head of brown hair. I take him for about forty-five.
"Call me Dewey. You're Sebastian, right?"
"Yes. We spoke on the phone."
He doesn't move to come inside. "I kept the car running. Let's go!"
In the back seat of his Buick sits a southern belle: a blonde with a Roman nose, square shoulders, thin arms and a nice rack, modestly displayed in a soft pink sleeveless summer dress. I can't see her shoes, but I'd bet a week's pay she's wearing white sandals with one-inch heels. Elegance and functionality. Dewey waves at the woman. "That's my wife Glenda. Ain't she a peach?"
I take my best swing at southern charm. "I have some sweet tea in the fridge. Why don't the two of you come—"
He gives me a quick look and shrugs his shoulders. "Can't we just roll now? Glenda and I are rarin' to go."
"I can see that. There are some papers you'll need to—"
"Take it in the car. Heck, the engine's already warm."
I get a hollow feeling in my stomach, the kind you get when you realize you've forgotten to send in a credit card bill. "Mr. Monroe—"
"Dewey. You and your wife really need to step inside for a minute."
He shakes his hands impatiently, like a child demanding a cookie. "Are you trying to sell me somethin' here? It's twenty-five hundred, right?"
"That's right. The admission fee is a thousand per. I don't charge that; I simply collect it for the City of Crescent Beach. After that, it's two-fifty per person for the tour."
He pokes me in the chest. "Where you from?"
"I was born in Rego Park, New York."
"Let me ask you somethin', son. I'm from North Carolina. Y'all know that the Wright Brothers invented the airplane in Kitty Hawk, right?"
"Well, where do you think we'd be if Orville turned to his brother and said, 'Let's not fly until we have all the permits filled out'? What kind of world would we live in today?"
"I don't know."
"In a world without airplanes, that's what. So why don't you round up all those passes and permits and hop in the passenger side of my—"
"Hey, come on, now, my father was Mr. Monroe. I'm Dewey."
"Dewey, I'll be in my office, sitting right there. If you and the misses decide to come inside for a chat, I'll be waiting. Otherwise, good luck finding a guide for the Box."
Before he can respond, I shut the office door, pull out a desk drawer, and remove a bottle of Jack Daniels I reserve for times like these. I pour a cup of coffee from a pot that's been brewing since the weekend and add a finger of Tennessee whiskey. Cognac has more class, Kahlua tastes better, but in a pinch, Jack does the trick.
Dewey and Glenda Monroe storm in. He's dragging her by the wrist, a set look on his face, like he's about to haggle with a used car salesman. His wife looks as happy as a wounded deer.
I can't help but check if I was right about her choice of footwear. Turns out I was mistaken. She wears pale blue New Balance cross-trainers. But hey, I don't feel too bad about guessing wrong. My life has been a series of bad calls.
There are two fold out chairs opposite my desk, but the couple doesn't sit. This hurts my feelings, of course. I spent eight dollars each on those at Close Out. That's sixteen bucks down the drain. No wonder I don't enjoy decorating.
Dewey says, "So what's the story, City Slicker? Are we going to Pandora, or are you gonna sit on your ass all day?"
"Would either of you care for some sweet tea?"
"Get on with it."
"Okeydokey. The City of Crescent Beach obligates me to copy your identification, and have you sign a release form." I slide two clipboards in their direction. Glenda doesn't touch hers. When Dewey hands me his driver's license, I say, "I'll need your wife's ID as well."
Glenda Monroe speaks in a high voice, full of concern, like someone's baby was ill. "What y'all need mine for?"
"You plan to enter the Box, right?"
"Yeah, but I'm with him."
I'm tempted to say I'm so sorry, but I squash that impulse.
Dewey pulls out his gold-plated money clip. The two-inch prong has the letter D engraved upon it—just in case he forgets his first name. "What'll it take to make this paperwork disappear?"
I stare out the window, a pained smile on my face. Cars race by on Route 17, citizens happily going about their business. There was a time when I was one of those blissfully ignorant people, before I ever heard of Pandora's Box. But who am I kidding? The Box didn't make me like this. I was always a crook. The Box just makes it possible to be a crook on a daily basis. "For five K we can dispense with the formalities."
Dewey slips me the bills without a second thought, so quickly that I wish I'd asked for more. He pulls Glenda to her feet, and has his hand on the front door when he looks back at me. There's fire in his eyes, because I'm not moving.
"Is there a problem, Yankee? You looking for another handout?"
"The money's fine," I say in a deliberately quiet voice. "Generous, even. The thing is, Pandora's Box has been active since May 2007. We're heading into two thousand eleven now. Why the hurry?"
Glenda (if that's her name) gives her husband (if he is her husband) a sharp look. Dewey says, "What now? Do I have to pay you more to keep your nose out of it?"
"The Box is a very tricky place. The more I know about your situation, the better I'll be able to guide—"
Dewey's had enough of my questions. He pushes Glenda through the front door, crosses my office in two strides, and pulls me by the collar across my desk. "Now, listen, Yankee Doodle, I want you to take us over to Pandora—right this minute!"
I nod and lift my hands. "No problem. Just let me get my car keys."
Dewey doesn't let go. "We'll take my ride." He pushes Glenda into the back seat. I get to ride shotgun. I guess that makes me special.
* * *
I tell Dewey to turn right at the first entrance. A large sign for Insight Cinemas announces the following movies: Zodiac, 300, Next, Black Snake Moan and Disturbia—all from the spring of 2007.
We pull into what was once a seventy-two store mall, which opened in 1986 as the Treeside Mall, then became the Constitutional Mall, then was finally called the Crescent Beach Mall. That name didn't stick, for it was inside this shopping center that the fabric of reality unraveled.
"What's the lowdown on parking?" A stupid question, even for Dewey. The mall has over three thousand parking spaces, and today, like every day, only a hundred are taken—mostly by abandoned automobiles. I've seen some of them for over a year. If a car doesn't move from this lot in a day or so, you can assume its owner ventured into the mall, but never—
"Here's what you're going to do." Dewey cranes his neck past the steering wheel, checking the sky as if some helicopter was chasing him. "Get us through security, point us in the right direction, then scram. You don't mind walking back, do you?"
Glenda chimes in. "Sheesh, y'all handed him five grand. The man can afford himself a taxi-cab."
"Are you absolutely certain you don't want me to lead you through there? It's no trouble. I'm already here."
Dewey, his left hand gripping the wheel, strikes me with the two thickest knuckles of his right. The punch cracks something in my face. For a second, all I see is a cloud of dark blue, like my vision was a television set and he'd just kicked its plug from the wall.
I get the message and point to the side entrance. I usually take people through Southern Style in front or Outdoor World Unlimited in back, just to get their feet wet, but if he's hell bent on going straight to—
"Where's the security?" asks Dewey.
"You're looking at him."
"You can't keep guards out here. The place would go to work on them."
Dewey parks in a handicap spot. "You're full of it."
"See for yourself." As we get out, I notice that Dewey locks his Buick both manually and with a clicker, as if he expected any thief to be dumb enough to try to steal from the Box.
It's only forty paces to the entrance, which is left unlocked. The mall covers a five block area and has windowless, three-story cream-colored walls. The grass nearby is overgrown. While everything inside has magically remained unchanged, Pandora allows nature to run its course.
I hold open the door. Dewey sticks his head inside, peering down a short, wide hallway that drops into the food atrium. The place is empty, like we'd just stopped by after hours. Of course, business ceased operating here three years ago. At least, all legitimate business.
Glenda asks, "Sure this is the right spot?" She unwraps a stick of gum and pushes it into her mouth, dropping the wrapper behind her. As it falls, I watch the foil bend and twist, turning to liquid, splashing on the cement like a drop of silver paint.
I say, "Oh, this is definitely it."
Dewey spears two sharp fingers into my chest. "If you're screwing with us, I'll go back to your office and mop the floor with you."
"I believe you."
Glenda says, "So when does the magic show start?"
"Just nose around in there. You'll know it when you see it."
Dewey pulls Glenda inside, then shoves me back in the direction of the parking lot, knocking me to the ground. Touchy guy. I dust myself off and start walking. Best to clear out before the screaming starts.
I figure I'll never see Dewey or Glenda again. I'm also pretty certain his Buick will stay right where he parked it, alongside the other orphaned vehicles. It's a real shame, because it's a nice ride—a 2011 LaCrosse CXS, with eighteen-inch chrome plated wheels. We should have come in my car. Dewey really should have listened to me.
I wonder what their hurry was. I'll never know. Everyone comes to the Box for their own reasons; as far as I'm concerned, all the wrong ones.
January 15, 2011
Deputy David Wales brooded in the passenger seat of a Crescent Beach police cruiser, already a step behind the beat. He had a healthy head of thick brown hair, oiled and parted at the side twenties-style, a clear complexion, and perfect teeth. At six feet tall, with strong shoulders and a slender build, he could have professionally modeled his uniform. By all appearances, the newly-minted deputy was hot shit. Then why did he feel like such a blockhead?
It had to do with his boss, Sheriff Valerie Dunn. It wasn't just the fact she was female. He was over that already, having technically been working for her since he transferred from Conway three months ago. And it wasn't because she was the homeliest woman you'd ever want to see: mustard-brown hair that stopped at the neck, a bloated face that probably made her look like her mother and her father, eyes so small as to prevent anyone from learning their color, no lips, and a stubby body. But Sheriff Val's looks didn't have the deputy upset. No, he was peeved because she refused to let him behind the wheel of the cruiser.
Rookies are supposed to drive, he thought. It's part of the training. She must know that.
Dave looked out the window as they rolled down Route 17, passing Rumble Tumble Golf, where he'd taken his wife and daughter to play when they'd first moved to Crescent Beach.
Sheriff Val said, "See that fiberglass volcano? I once putted a perfect eighteen there."
"Are you pulling my leg?"
"There might have been one or two mulligans, but it was a righteous blue score. I worked there all through high school. You come to know a place. Learn the give and take of the Astroturf."
"You should have gone pro, Sheriff. It would have been an easier life."
"Naah, my drive ain't worth shit. I'm all about the short game." It was a self-deprecating reference to her own small stature, and it made Dave feel like a turd for sulking.
Sheriff Valerie Dunn drove the cruiser beneath a long stretch of spreading live oaks, their trunks so enormous as to raise the cement and brick around them, the earth winking at man's attempts to contain the relentless march of its elements. "Let's make a stop in Roosevelt Beach."
Deputy Dave rubbed his jaw, which was clean from a fresh shave. "What we fixin' to do there? Order some grits?"
The sheriff gave her deputy a disapproving frown, then swung the cruiser toward the water. Roosevelt Beach was a carry-over from the days of segregation, and was, as described in the south, the colored section of Horry County.
In 2011 it remained a hodge-podge of thrown together wooden houses. Carolina summers had burnt their colors to pistachio green, banana yellow and lemonade pink. The annual parade of alphabetical hurricanes—Ike, Henry, Laverne—had beaten down the yards to untended grass and lopsided shrubbery. Yet the neighborhood had a raging heartbeat, with square television sets providing the laugh track, and wild children filling the cracked streets with high pitched laughter.
The cruiser rolled alongside two young black women walking in line together.
Desdemona, the one in front, was shaped like a beach ball. Two strings held up her white halter, which exposed fat arms and a wide, smooth back. She was maybe four and a half feet tall and quite possibly two hundred pounds. But if she was disturbed by her obesity, she didn't show it. She was a walking smile, with quarter-sized teeth. Bangs dangled before her squinting eyes, and her long braids trailed behind her, held by her sister, who matched her step for step.
Her sister, Ruth, was a thin black woman with cornrows. She was dressed in a neat, ocean-blue T-shirt, and clearly enjoyed braiding Desdemona's hair. As they walked, they chanted a song from childhood, and Dave got the feeling that these two—now in their twenties—had been performing this ritual ever since they could take their first steps. As the cruiser rolled up, the pair slowed, not quite halting, not quite falling silent—just slower and softer, as if they were a stereo, and their volume had only been lowered.
Desdemona said, "What's the haps, Sheriff Val?" Ruth, behind her, kept right on braiding, humming the same song, providing light background music.
The sheriff said, "How's your momma, girls?"
"She fine," said Desdemona. "How's your poodle?"
The sheriff whipped out her wallet, flashing a snapshot of a white, short-haired Maltese with onyx colored eyes.
Desdemona said, "Oh, he so cute."
Ruth broke her song—for only a second, "I want one, I want one, I want one," then went straight back to singing and humming.
Desdemona said, "I got a hook-up at the pound, but Momma won't let us claim it. She says we need to have our own place to live first."
Deputy Dave saw his opening. "It sounds to me like your mother is a smart woman." Nice try, but it didn't work. The girls went mute, dropping their chins and looking over their noses at this unknown white man.
The sheriff closed her wallet. "Let me ask you something, girls. Were either of you sitting out on your balcony last night?"
"Uh-huh," said Desdemona. "Grandma was over, and the house was hot from all the cooking, so we went out there for some air."
Excerpted from Pandora 2011 by Ivan Borodin Copyright © 2011 by Ivan Borodin. Excerpted by permission of Abbott Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Wrong Reasons December 28, 2010....................1
Fire-Breathing Mall January 15, 2011....................11
Disabled Parking Bay January 21, 2011....................31
The Big L February 6, 2011....................47
Lost Art February 20, 2011....................71
MPIA March 8, 2011....................119
The Fish Tank March 27, 2011....................129
The Beast with Three Backs April 3, 2011....................145
The Prop Gun April 12, 2011....................171
The Bucket List April 14, 2011....................187
Black Snake Moan April 18, 2011....................201
Secret Origin April 24, 2011....................217
The Endless Matinee May 16, 2011....................227
Soul Bait—Part One June 5, 2011....................247
Soul Bait—Part Two June 5, 2011....................269
Book Club Suggestions....................299
About the Author....................301