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Phantom of the Mall by Tom Lichtenberg
SUMMARY: The settlers were dispatched to a distant world to prepare the way for the great migration. Everything went according to plan, a little too smoothly, perhaps. Now there's only one thing missing in New Town, just a minor detail.
Phantom of the Mall
by Tom Lichtenberg
Copyright 2011 by Tom Lichtenberg
He awoke too early on a Saturday in August with a feeling he had never felt before. He sat up in bed and tried to classify it, but the mood eluded him. He yawned and stretched, looked at the clock and yes, it was eight o'clock, too early. He could not go back to sleep. He sat up in the bed, and looked around the room. The orange-glowing digital clock rested on the dresser top beside the bed, next to the imitation bronze bed lamp. The walls were white, and there was nothing on them, except over by the door a poster of the General looking calm, austere, and confident. The sheets on the bed were white, the blanket neon green. The desk, chair and dresser were all painted chocolate brown to match the phone.
There was nothing on the desk, the chair was neatly tucked beneath it and the closet door was closed. Thin carpeting covered up the floor, a sort of not quite brown. Everything was immaculately clean. Francis yawned again and blinked. He was vaguely troubled by a dream, but it was gone, no memory remained of it, and he was up again too early, on a Saturday at that.
Now that he was awake he might as well get up. He wouldn't get anything accomplished by sitting there in bed. He climbed out and made the bed, smoothed the sheets, and neatly tucked the blankets in, carefully arranging the pillow in the middle, inspecting it, then padding off into the bathroom in his flannel blue pajamas. Francis felt the cold tile on his feet and disapproved. "I forgot the slippers." The bathroom light was bright, the room was sparkling clean, white tiles and silver mirrors gleamed. One hair was lying in the sink, not too far from the drain. He picked it up and dropped it in the basket on the floor. His feet were cold. "I'd better get the slippers," Francis thought, so he turned off the light, and padded back into the bedroom, opened up the closet door, bent down, and picked them up. He took them over to the bed, sat down, and put them on. Standing once again, he smoothed the bed where he had sat. Returning to the bathroom, he turned the light back on, and observed the image in the mirror. The short blond hair was cut just so, suggesting slanted bangs. The mustache was thin and starkly outlined. The eyes were a light blue, the face was thin and pale between a small mouth and a high forehead. He appeared to be quite calm, and he was pleased. "I'm still in good shape," Francis thought, "The years haven't ruined me yet."
It was time to comb the hair. He did this cautiously. The fine-tooth comb slid gently through the strands, rearranging to perfection. "My Goodness," he thought, "I forgot to clean the teeth! Something is definitely wrong!" He remedied that problem by quickly cleaning them. "No harm done," Francis told himself, "it's all right after all, I'm just not totally awake. What else?" he asked himself. "That's it," he thought, "it's time to put the clothes on."
He gathered the pajamas, and took them to the bedroom, where he put them in their drawer.