Something is Seriously Wrong at the Crystal Oasis Mall
The structure loomed on the horizon. A glistening pyramid surrounded by miles and miles of barren void. We had left the tiny town of Walker's Spring about 5 miles back, being careful to travel in the early hours of the morning to avoid being noticed. In a small town like that, seeing a strange car driving out to the abandoned mall would likely raise eyebrows, and we didn't want some over-zealous old coot tipping off the local authorities before we even got the chance to get inside. However luck appeared to be on our side and we didn't see a single soul on our journey and before long we were pulling up to Crystal Oasis Mall, the pride of bumfuck nowhere. Jason pulled the car over and we got out. The building was massive, way bigger than the photos he had shown me would lead you to believe. A huge mall encircling a giant glass and white painted steel pyramid which contained a leisure center, gym, spa, swimming pool, casino and hotel. A true consumerist Mecca.
And it had never seen a single customer.
Jason had found out about the place a few months back. Back in 2007, the mayor of Walker's Spring had decided to capitalize on plans to build a new highway a couple of miles outside of the town, and believing they could bring in some of the many thousands of motorists which would pass by each year, ordered construction of the Crystal Oasis Mall 'The Ultimate Shopping Resort'. Three years and a ridiculous amount of money later, the Mall was complete… just in time for the plans for the highway to fall through. It never opened its door to the public and now just sits there, forever waiting to welcome customers that will never arrive.
The building was surrounded by what looked like an endless wall of chain-link fence, frequently dotted with signs warning us that the property was protected by a company called Black Dog Security, but Jason, who had been in the urban exploration scene a lot longer than I had, reassured me that he had scoped the place out thoroughly when he drove up a month back and told me he had never seen a single guard. I suppose this place is so far out of the way that they assume no-one would even bother trying to break in. A fact that, as we were climbing up to the roof a mere 15 minutes later and heading towards an unlocked maintenance entrance Jason had located on his prior scouting mission, was clearly wrong.
As we made our way inside, the sudden change in light from blinding sun to a dark service corridor illuminated only by our flashlights left me all but blind, but I felt my way forward, with Jason taking the lead, and moments later the pair of us opened a steel door and came out into the mall. I was immediately stunned. I had been in a couple of abandoned malls prior to this one, but this clearly dwarfed them. The size however was not the most surprising aspect. That was just how pristine the place was. There was no litter, no graffiti, no broken glass or empty beer cans, or signs of wildlife or vagrants living here. If I hadn't known better, I would have thought this place had been open only hours earlier, not closed for the better part of a decade. The other strange thing about this place was its inhabitants. Mannequins. Dozens and dozens of them. Positioned throughout the mall as if they were shoppers browsing the windows, or friends chatting to each other, or families in awe at the huge pyramid in the center of the building. I assume they had been set up to demonstrate what the place could look like when open to potential buyers of the site but truth be told, I found them a little unnerving. The though of them here in this place all alone, year-in, year-out. I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck begin to rise as I imagined looking away, only to look back to see them staring up at us. My flight of fancy was thankfully interrupted by Jason waving me over towards the no longer functioning escalator which would take us down to the ground floor.
At the bottom, he reached into his backpack and pulled out a map he had managed to print off online and began tracing a path with his finger, muttering to himself about which way to head first. The plan was to explore the place until sundown, before making our way into the hotel, and camp for the night in one of its rooms before getting back to the car at first light. Finally he looked up from the map and turned to me, but just as he was about to speak, a sound caught our attention, echoing from deep within the mall.
A telephone was ringing. The shrill noise piercing the vast empty silence of our surroundings. I looked at Jason who simply responded with a confused look. The power, water and phone lines should have been cut off years ago.Looking at each other once more, we started to move in the direction of the ringing. It was coming from deep inside the mall. We had hardly made it across the courtyard however, when the ringing stopped. For a couple of seconds everything was utterly silent, and then another phone started to ring, closer to us this time.
‘Maybe security figured out where we are’, I muttered, suddenly feeling much less enthusiastic about exploring. But Jason shrugged off my concerns. ‘If they knew where we were, they would have come to kick us out. This is something else.’ His eyes were glittering, and I knew that look all too well. It was the same look that had got us into hot water many times when we were younger, the desire to get to the bottom of a mystery. He would not rest until he figured this out.
We followed the ringing down one side passage and up another as it stopped and started again, getting closer all the while. Finally, we emerged into another massive courtyard. The open space extended right up till the roof of the mall, where the glass roof allowed sunlight to shine down on a defunct multi-tiered fountain. This area was packed with mannequins; sitting on the edge of the fountain, pointing up to the higher floors, looking into the various storefronts. Our attention was drawn to one of the stores however, from which the ringing emanated.
Jason marched into the shop, which appeared to be some sort of pet store, without pausing for a second. He walked around the counter and reached under it with a triumphant ‘Aha!’ Lifting the handset to his ear, I quickly saw his expression deflate. ‘What is it?’ I asked, curiously. ‘Just some weird static-y noise’ he replied, listening for a few more seconds before handing me the phone. It sounded like static alright, but had a weird cadence to it, one that I couldn’t quite place. Bending down, Jason started to examine the device while I hung up. ‘Hmm…this seems to be some sort of intercom device for the mall.’
That explained how the device could still be working, assuming the control room of the mall still had power. But it didn’t explain why the phone was ringing. Jason was also thinking along the same lines, for he quickly pulled out his map and started planning a detour to investigate the control room. He soon gave up however, since the room did not show up on the plans. Reluctantly, he put away the map and started to move deeper into the mall along his original route.
We spent the next few hours exploring all that the mall had to offer. We visited stores for luxury goods, food courts, a multiplex and even an ice skating rink tucked away on one of the upper floors of the building, all with their complement of plastic patrons. Jason was beside himself with excitement and constantly snapped away with his camera, while I kept wondering about why someone felt the need to bring a small army of mannequins into a defunct mall.
As it approached evening, we slowly began making our way towards the center of the pyramid, where the hotel was located. It was a tower, starting at ground level and climbing right up to the apex where the luxury suites were. Our plan was to work our way up and find a nice room to camp out in. However, as we got closer, it became apparent that something was different about this area. Firstly the mannequins, so common everywhere else, were nowhere to be found within a large area around the hotel. Secondly, unlike the spotless condition of the rest of the building, these areas were covered in a fine layer of sand. There was also something in the air, different from the stillness of the rest of the building, like a clammy hand pressing down on our skin.
With the sand crunching underfoot, there was no way we could be stealthy, yet we hunched down and started moving close to the walls as we walked closer and closer to the towering structure ahead of us. The last rays of the setting sun penetrated the glass of the pyramid and painted everything with a rich, golden hue. We finally made it to the entrance of the hotel, a massive revolving door of steel and glass, though it appeared to be burnished gold thanks to the light. Jason was the first to walk through, and I followed a second behind.
‘Alright, let’s have a quick look around the ground floor before we – ‘ Jason was interrupted by a loud rumbling noise quickly getting closer. As one we turned to the doors and took a step back in shock. Three large, pitch-black dogs stood on the other side, staring at us with golden eyes, mouths open and growling. Although I had been around my fair share of dogs growing up, these sounded like nothing I had ever heard before…wait! The phone! That low, static like noise…it was one of these animals for sure. ‘Well shit, looks like security has guard dogs’ Jason said, backing away slowly from the door. I followed him.
The dogs however seemed to have no desire to come into the building. Instead, the one in the middle raised his head and started to cry out. A long, yipping cry. ‘Wait a second, that’s no dog’ Jason shouted, eyes widening. ‘That’s a jackal.’
“How do you know?”
“It’s those ears, they’re very distinctive,” Jason said softly, still looking at the jackals with some trepidation. “But I don’t think jackals get that black. Seems odd.”
“Maybe they’re some kind of mixed breed?”
“Could be. Why are they here though? There is no prey here. Someone must be feeding them.”
“Should…should we follow them?”
I explained my idea that the sound we had heard over the phone was probably coming from these jackals. Or dogs. Or dog-jackals. If we followed them, maybe we could find the security system, or something useful, at the very least. Jason agreed it was worth a shot, so we moves towards them slowly.
We weren’t sure they would actually take us anywhere, but once we got within a few feet of them, they turned and headed off, making their way around the hotel. We jogged behind them, trying to keep pace. One of the animals, the smallest one, slowed down to match our speed, and soon we were on the other side of the hotel.
Here, there was another pyramidal structure, a much smaller version of the gleaming hotel behind us. It looked like it could contain a maximum of 3 floors. Its doors were simple, and one of them hung wide open. We walked through the entrance and were hit by a gust of air conditioning.
It was dark inside, with a few flickering tube lights illuminating a rather large room. One side looked like a typical office, with cubicles and monitors, all of them switched off. The other side looked like a bunch of security monitors, with at least a hundred TV screens showing different parts of the mall. Strange that they were all on and working, when the place seemed so abandoned.
I moved closer to the screens, recognizing some of the places we had just come through. Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. Stunned, I turned to the screen I could have sworn it happened at, but all was still.
“Jason, I’m pretty creeped out. Can we go?”
I didn’t want to show weakness in front of him, but I had an itchy feeling all over my body. I’m not a believer of omens, but the last time I felt this sensation was when I was in Boston, and after that a rushing passerby knocked me into the street, and I broke my arm. So why take chances?
He followed my gaze and settled on the same screen I had. On the display was the fountain, the mannequins seated around and on its edge.
The twinkle had returned to Jason's eye. I was having trouble squashing my panic down, but somewhere between the strangeness of our canine guides, the eerie solitude of the rest of the mall's inhabitants, and my mounting dread, my friend had found his adventurer's spirit again.
"Black Dog Security," he said, turning to me and gesturing to where the jackals had calmly left our sides. "I'll say."
There's something about having someone braver than you calling the shots that can put the scarediest person at ease, and Jason has always had that effect on me–even if it was only temporary.
I reasoned I must have been mistaken, or maybe I'd just seen another of the animals passing by. After all, if a couple of bored young dudes could breach this place, what's to stop a bunch of weird coyotes?
With the help of the security cameras, we retraced our steps on the map and marked off the path to this room, then ventured out again, the fear still perched like a gargoyle in the back of my mind. Clearly something was going on here. We had apparently-tamed beasts, a security room up and running after almost a decade without visitors, the ringing phones–and of course that unshakable feeling.
I no longer spoke out loud as we explored. I whispered, strode slowly, tried to keep myself together. We were en route to the second story overlooking the courtyard and chatting quietly when somewhere near the marching staircase on the other side a phone rang out again. Jason looked out across the expanse and froze. I watched him cast his eyes down, saw his crooked explorer smile slip from his face.
Down below us the once-dead fountain had sprung back to life, a fact we hadn't noticed until that shrill sound shook us awake. Now the sound was deafening, and as we stared in horror, that fear welling up in me again, I noticed a difference in the mannequins–before they were lounging, soaking in the commercial ambiance, but now their nearly-featureless faces were contorted, wracked with plasticine pain.
That itch grew stronger. Just like Boston. And those black dogs shot into our line of sight and launched onto the plastic people jaws-first, rupturing their non-skin into crimson.
The phone rang again.
Jason unfroze. He ran. I followed. We picked our way across the mall, animal minds working overtime trying to find some path to safety. Almost every corner we turned there were more of them, more faces of pure white, more jackals of deep black. We wound through the hallways, through done-up storefronts, past food courts and fixtures, up dead escalators and over benches.
Through some combination of deathly fear and luck, we made it back to an area we recognized–the place we made our entrance. Jason and I practically dove out of the service corridor and into the harsh cold of the desert evening. Abandoned tools threatened to trip us as we left the vicinity, and under Jason's heavy breathing I could have sworn I heard that ringing and the animals' calls, melting together so they could barely be distinguished.
When we got back to the car and peeled out I noticed the time. 2am.
That seems impossible. But so do a lot of things about what we saw.
I wish I could tell you we found out what's going on at the Crystal Oasis Mall, but this is real life. I don't have any answers.