Once upon a time, a young boy went to the shopping mall with his two cousins. They were both girls, a little older than him, with blonde hair and bright eyes. They liked nothing better than to parade him around the city, pretending as if he were their younger brother, or perhaps son, depending on what sort of game they felt like playing that day. The boy, who's name was Edward, especially liked it when they took him to the toy store with the glass cases where they kept all the rare and wonderful toys that couldn't be found at any other toy seller.
Each time they took Edward with them wherever they went, they remembered why Edward's parents were trying to get loose of him to begin with: he was a very loud and rambunctious boy, who, with no regard whatever for the sensibilities of two blonde teenagers, would skip around the echoing halls of the mall making frighteningly realistic fire engine noises at the top of his lungs.
On this particular day, it had not taken long for one of the girls to lose her patience with his shrill gambolling. She marched over to him and caught him by the wrist. Kneeling down, she whispered, "Sssshhhh, They might hear you. Do you really want Them to know you are here?"
Confused, the boy looked around. A few familes walked the mall, pushing strollers or carrying large plastic bags filled with shoes or albums or jewelry boxes. A straggly old man with a yellowing beard nursed a foam coffee cup. A security guard stared blankly from behind a desk set into the wall, one hand propping up his chin.
"No, not them. Them." The girl pointed a quivering finger toward the bulbous, silver-topped garbage cans. "Inside. They'll hear you."
"What are you talking about?"
"They live inside those garbage cans, listening. And if they hear you, they'll rush out from their lair, streak across the mall in a flash of black fur and razor-teeth, snatch you up, and you'll never come out again."
The boy stopped and stared at the garbage cans. They looked big enough to house such a creature, and as he looked around, everyone else was being very quiet. Come to think of it, the only sound at all came from somewhere near the ceiling: a dull, placid piano. He looked up at his cousin, who was standing above him now, holding his hand with a wide, proud smile on her face. Solemnly, he nodded.
The rest of the way to the teen fashion store, Edward walked silently, close to his cousins, looking up and down the wide walks for streaking black fur. Perhaps his shoes squeaked louder than others? Could they hear him breathing? Why were his cousins talking so loud? As they passed row after row of benches, each one had a garbage can on either side. The boy's eyes locked on each one, watching breathlessly for the tiniest sway of its topmost, silvery swing-door.
He let out a long sigh upon crossing onto the carpet of the fashion store, the girls' favorite mall destination. He hated the store; there was nothing to play with, only a thousand round racks filled with strangely colored clothing that made ridiculous anyone who touched them. Normally, he would remain outside the store, running around the middle of the mall among the collections of benches, fake plants, wide brown rugs, and (gulp) garbage cans. He hugged one of the plastic pillars at the entrance to the store, watching the five or six cans within sight. He was thankful for the sanctuary.
Reluctantly, Edward turned eyes back to the interior of the fashion store, the pink and purple heaps making him squint and frown. Bubble gum music oozed from hidden alcoves somewhere above him. Somewhere to one side, his cousins chortled excitedly with garishly dressed and clownishly painted attendants. "There has to be something fun to do in here," Edward said to himself.
Still shorter than most of the clothing racks, he wound his way between them to the back of the store, where the clothes no one wanted waited on dusty racks. He found a particularly full rack, and thrust his hands between an orange sweater and something made from lime-green taffeta, parting them just wide enough for him to climb inside. Bunching shut behind him, the circular clothing rack became his refuge from the store, a fortress from which he could think up something fun to do.
As he thought through his options, he glanced down in the dim light which filtered through the glass top of the rack. He noticed that on the dirty floor beneath him, right in the middle of the carpet, was what appeared to be a wooden trap door, complete with a gnarled iron ring set in its face. He had never seen anything like it, except maybe in an old story book or cartoon. He stared at it for a long time, as if waiting for something to burst forth from below. On a whim, he reached down, grasped the ring firmly, and pulled the creaking door upright. Suddenly, the smell of dirty water and old burger wrappers billowed his nose. The light was just strong enough for him to see the top rungs of an old wooden ladder which led down into the steaming darkness.
A voice came from somewhere outside the world of the rack, "Edward, where'd you go?"
He set one foot on the ladder, glanced up once, and then began climbing down…