Eric was stuck at the mall.
He didn’t understand why it had been so important for his mom to drop him and his older sister Taryn off that day, but she sped off so fast that he felt slightly abandoned at the sight of the rear window through the haze of exhaust that the car left behind. And then he was actually abandoned when Taryn spotted some friends and barely paused to tell him she was going to look at earrings before she and the other girls vanished.
So Eric wandered. He headed toward the food court, but he didn’t have any money. After staring at the sign at Pretzels ‘N Cheese for five minutes, he decided to move on. Eventually he found himself at the children’s play area, the only place in the mall he actually liked. He climbed up and sat down on top of a large multicolored frog. If there weren’t so many people around, he would have tried out the elephant slide or hopscotched across the bit of the carpet that looked like a pond with lily pads. But at eleven and a half, he felt too old to do any of that… in public, at least.
From his perch he could see when his sister and her friends left the earring store and started ogling shoes in the shop next to it, shoes that his mom would never have given her money to buy. Taryn’s friends followed her into the store, probably to try the shoes on anyway. He sighed. What did his mom expect him to do here for an hour and a half? At least he’d found a good place to people watch.
For about fifteen minutes, Eric watched shoppers walking by, and made up stories in his head about them. A passing custodian, he supposed, was secretly a werewolf, and the mother with a stroller full of children had arrived at the mall by teleportation instead of a car. He turned his head away from the noisy family in search of another object when he saw his own face in a mirror.
No, it wasn’t a mirror. There was a boy on the other side of the play area, crouched on top of the multicolored hippo, a boy that looked exactly like Eric, except he looked like he needed a haircut.
Eric watched as the boy jumped down and crossed the play area. He looked up at Eric and asked, “Are you a ninja?”
“No,” Eric admitted.
“From an alternate universe?” the boy continued.
“Not that I know of,” Eric replied.
“Are you an alien?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Hm.” The boy seemed stumped. “I thought maybe you were because I was trying to guess which people walking by here were aliens and which ones were actually human.” He squinted up at Eric again. “Well, you’re either a doppelganger or we’re twins separated at birth. Which do you think it is?”
“I’m not a doppelganger,” Eric said, descending from high atop the frog. “So we must be twins.”
“Okay,” said the boy, accepting the idea rather easily. “Want to play Mortal Kombat?” he asked, pointing at a couple of ancient coin operated arcade games in the corner which were sharing a power outlet with some vending machines.
“Sure,” Eric agreed, and they set off.
“I wanted to play earlier but it’s boring unless you have a real opponent, I can win against the computer no problem.”
Eric nodded. Taryn wouldn’t play fighting games with him anymore either, ever since he made the mistake of telling her that she was easier to beat than the computer. He shared this with his new-found twin.
“Oh, you have an older sister?” he said. “All I’ve got is a younger brother, and my dad says he’s too little for Mortal Kombat.”
They reached the machines and Eric watched as his new brother fished around in his pockets for change and plunked the money into the machine.
“So what do you think?” he asked as they picked characters. “Were we adopted, or just mixed up in the hospital?”
Eric didn’t know how to answer this awkward question. “My mom’s never said anything about it…” he began.
All conversation ceased as the battle commenced, and Eric had a hard time achieving his usual victory. Their scores were nearly matching until, with a furious clicking of buttons, Eric’s opponent performed a move he’d never seen before, and “KO!!!” flashed across the screen.
“That was awesome!” Eric exclaimed.
“Thanks,” the boy replied modestly, but something about the way he said it made Eric think that he wouldn’t have been as happy for Eric if the situation had been reversed. “Hey, you know what we should do?”
“What?” Eric asked, watching as the boy searched through his pockets again.
“We should both enter this!” He produced a flyer for a Mortal Kombat tournament at a nearby gaming center. As Eric read it, the boy continued making plans. “Everybody else I know is training for the tournament there,” he indicated the flyer, “but hardly anybody knows about this machine, plus it’s cheaper and they don’t make you buy drinks or snacks here. We could meet here every Thursday afternoon to practice. What do you think?”
Eric grinned. “Will you teach me that move?”
“One more thing.”
“What’s your name?”
“What’s your name?”
“I hope you had a good time, honey,” Eric’s mom said as he climbed into the car and Taryn waved goodbye to your friends. “You looked so sad when I drove away, but Mommy really needed some ‘me time.’”
“It’s okay, I had fun,” Eric told her. “Hey mom?”
“Am I adopted?”
She gasped. “No, of course not! Whatever gave you that idea? I hope it’s not because I left you at the mall today, because I won’t ever do it again if you don’t like it.”
“No, it’s all right,” he said. “In fact, do you think I could come back next Thursday?”
|Writing Prompt #800|