Olivia pushed her way through the crowd, desperate to get where she was going. She mentally kicked herself as she ducked into one of the mall's side routes; she should have guessed that the mall would be this crowded. Still, she had promised herself a fancy smoothie and the only smoothie place near her office was in this mall.
As she looped around the corner, Olivia muttered to herself, questioning why people would still be Christmas shopping this close to Christmas. Eventually, she exited the corridor, arriving at a quieter part of the mall that sat just behind the food court. This place was quiet for a change, and the whole area had been turned into a cheap-looking Santa's village.
A shudder ran down Olivia's spine. Something about this place made her uncomfortable, but she wasn't exactly sure why. The attraction was full of people in elf costumes milling around, obviously waiting for someone, anyone, to come and partake in their festivities.
Olivia looked around the room looking for an opening that she could slip through and avoid most of the hustle and bustle. She fumbled around the random cardboard buildings and through the clusters of elves as she tried to reach the food court. However, just as she got close to a large chair on a platform, Olivia spotted something that made her freeze in her tracks.
A woman in Ms. Claus’ red, fur-trimmed dress and hat had walked out from behind one of the cardboard buildings. Olivia recognized her. In fact, she would recognize that face anywhere.
"Harper!" yelled Olivia in astonishment as she waved. The Santa woman turned before letting out a little gasp. She whispered something to one of the elves and then skipped her way over to Olivia.
"Why hello, young lady!" Harper practically sang at her friend.
Olivia gasped. "What happened to you? I've been worried sick! You walked off when we were shopping! I've been calling and emailing non-stop and you didn't even reply!"
"Gosh!" giggled Harper girlishly, "I guess I got distracted. I'm a silly head!"
Olivia shook her head, staring in disbelief. "A ‘silly head’? Are you kidding me? Harper, do you have any idea how close I was to filing a missing person’s report?” she asked sternly. “Look, whatever, I'm glad you're safe. But, why are you working as a mall Santa?" Olivia looked around uncomfortably at the hokey display of Santa's village. "I didn't know this was your sort of thing. Did you quit your job to do this?"
"Golly," began Harper again, covering her mouth as she did. Perhaps, deep down, the old Harper was still in there, knowing that something, anything else would have come out of her mouth in front of Olivia like this. Still, she couldn’t seem to stop herself as she continued on with her chipper, girlish giggling. "Golly gosh, I found my calling! Spreading happiness and joy to all the good little boys and girls!" She posed ridiculously with her hand on her hip. "I’m spreading jolly cheer, Bringing the Christmas spirit to the world!"
"Right," sighed Olivia, cringing from the very first ‘golly gosh’ as she did. It was like the Harper she knew had been replaced with an extra from some 1950s sitcom. However, while it did seem weird, it wasn't the oddest thing Harper had ever done, so Olivia opted to just ignore it. "Well. Maybe in the future at least respond to my calls? I nearly called the police."
"Whoopsie!" laughed Harper, "I'll be a better friend! Pinkie promise! I'll buy you a sugar cookie!" Her voice suddenly jumped in volume for the last phrase. In fact, Olivia had never heard Harper sound so happy.
"Sure, we'll get coffee," agreed Olivia.
Harper opened her mouth to speak but before she could say anything, the sound of sleigh bells echoed through the area. Harper stiffened for a moment before her eyes lidded. Her body language changed, her overly excited and preppy bouncy faded as she put her hand on her hip. “Well that would be lovely,” purred Harper, her voice lower and more sultry. Olivia jolted a little bit; something about how Harper was looking at her made her feel very uncomfortable. “But first, I have to make sure all the good little boys and girls get what they want this year.”
“I see,” mumbled Olivia as she looked away from Harper’s gaze, not wanting to make this conversation even more awkward than it already was.
“So you be nice and well-behaved,” purred Harper, “and I’ll buy you a treat. Okay, dear?”
“I,” mumbled Olivia, totally unsure how to react to this sudden change. “Sure. If you want. I’ve got time,” she mumbled, stumbling over her words. While Harper had jokingly flirted with her in the past, this felt more than that. In fact, this seemed nothing like Harper at all.
“Good Girl,” smiled Harper, sounding somehow imperative as she turned to walk toward the crowd of elves, her hand remaining glued to her hip as she swung her hips outrageously. Once she arrived at the large chair, she gently sat down before theatrically crossing her legs.
Olivia shook her head, trying to clear up her thoughts. She wasn’t sure what had come over Harper, but she couldn’t walk off now she had agreed to wait. Resigning herself to patience, she simply moved to a corner and hoped to stay out of the way of the elves.
A few minutes later, a woman walked into the area. She did a double-take as she looked around the display, obviously surprised by the Christmas village setup. However, when the woman made eye contact with Harper, her cheeks flushed bright red.
Olivia giggled to herself. It wasn't the first time she had seen a girl instantly fall in love with Harper. She was an attractive woman. Or, at least, she was until you got to know her. Harper made eye contact with the woman and seductively motioned for the girl to come over with a slowly-curling finger before patting at her thigh. The blushing woman hurriedly made her way through the empty line and sat on Harper's lap, giggling shyly as she did.
While they talked Olivia zoned out, debating if she should get herself a smoothie and then come back, or if it was quicker to just wait for Harper. Suddenly, a loud alarm pulled Olivia from her daydreaming. She jumped and looked around, only to see that the elves were pulling guns out of their costumes and several large metal walls were rising out of the cardboard buildings.
"What is going on?!" screamed Olivia as she looked around, a wave of déjà vu washed over her. She watched as the elves surrounded the chair, screaming at the girl as they pointed guns at her.
"Code Tinsel! Code Tinsel!" the elves screeched as the girl in Harper’s lap looked at them, her body trembling with terror. Olivia wasn't sure what to do. She looked around, hoping that someone would explain what was going on, but all of the elves were running too quickly for her to ask.
"Beginning capture protocol!" shouted one of the elves as an evil smirk crept across Harper's face. Harper reached into the white fluffy ruffle on her jacket and pulled a needle from it. Olivia wanted to shout and warn the girl, but just as she opened her mouth, someone shouted at her.
"Hey! I recognize you!" called a voice as Olivia turned, only to see that an elf was standing next to her. Olivia's brain locked up for a moment. She did recognize the elf, but she wasn't sure where from.
Before she could think about it for more than a few seconds, the elf produced a spray bottle and spritzed mist into Olivia's face. The smell of pumpkin spice hit Olivia as the world started to spin, and a wave of sleepiness washed over her.
Olivia's brain felt heavy. It was like her mind was dissolving into mist. She tried to speak, but she couldn't focus on words, and her jaw just felt so weak. She sloppily stumbled a few steps before a warm, nutmeggy darkness enveloped her brain, and she crumpled to the floor.
The elf looked at Olivia's body and then glanced at the label on the spray can. "Second time, huh. I sure hope the state of California is wrong about this stuff," she said before shrugging and running towards the seat.