Mary Ledger was walking to Bretton's, the little perfume shop next to the Deli House. She had a lot of space to herself – the mall was nearly deserted this Monday morning. Mary liked to go on weekdays, early, when the crowds were sparse.
She passed the Deli House, with the smell of hams and turkeys and fresh bread wafting out into the hall. There were people standing around in there; odd, dissipated-looking people. They all wore the same glazed expression. Even the two girls behind the counter had a sort of bug-eyed look about them.
Mary decided not to think about it too hard. The early shift was usually about as bad as the late shift, the kind of people her late husband liked to call, "Carny-types". Bedraggled humanity. She walked past them without a second glance, and went straight into Bretton's.
Unfortunately, the staff there had the same fly-eyed look.
"Can I help you, ma'am?" one of the girls said as she came around the counter. She was polite enough.
"Yes," said Mary. The girl's eyes were driving her to distraction. Like two huge light bulbs. "I'd like to sample some Michelle Brevier, Number 7."
The girl went behind the counter and brought out the stuff. It was a pleasant apple-green, and came in a large glass bottle.
"This is one of my favorites," the girl said with a smile.
Mary dabbed some on her wrist and took a sniff.
"Hm...excuse me," she said, sweating with nausea, "I think there's something wrong with this particular sample..."
The girl looked confused.
"I'm sorry, ma'am...I'll get you another bottle...are you sure you'll be all right?"
"I'll be fine..."
The girl gave her a worried glance as she hurried back to the counter.
Mary wondered if it was perhaps the hamburger she'd eaten last night at Eddy's. She'd had some bad experiences with meat before; food poisoning wasn't anything new. But this? Was this a symptom? Some kind of weird psychological effect? Because that perfume, the one she had always enjoyed before, it now smelled to her like...like...
It smelled like rotten meat.
"Here, try this," the girl said. She dabbed on something from a different bottle.
"Oh my God..." Mary crumpled. She couldn't even hold herself up anymore. The reek of week-old fish hung in the air like a three-ton carpet.
And where were all these flies coming from...?
"I don't understand," said the girl, nearly on the verge of tears. "I don't understand at all..."
But Mary understood. She understood perfectly now. The girl's head was expanding, her eyes becoming enormous and fragmented. A cloud of flies hung around her like a halo. Mary could see herself reflected in each of those thousand red facets, her face frozen with horror.
Mary scrambled out of the shop backwards. The other salespersons were starting to take notice, and they hurried up to her, fly-mouths buzzing; but Mary was already well out of the store and on her feet, backing away into the cold clean air of the mall. The stench of death hung about her, but if she could only make it out of there, everything would be fine...
A blast of fetid wind stopped her in her tracks.
The Deli House.
She could already hear the buzzing.