Tabitha novel: Tabitha goes shopping

Tabitha had a good view of the city from the top of the motorway bridge. The whipping wind blew the smell of human shit up from the sewage treatment works down below. Off to her left sprawled a consumers’ paradise, a roofed shopping centre the size of a town.

There was no sign that the creatures had come here; but then there weren’t any cars here either. Trudging through acres of car park as the sun rose, Tabitha pushed her red hair from her eyes and squinted at the far entrance to the shopping centre. Huge, heavy shutters stood solid behind the glass doors. There was no sign of entry, no evidence of looters. The place seemed to have been locked up one night and never opened again. Tabitha willed her hands to become black alien metal, cold and clawed. She slammed her fist into the locked glass doors, slipping in through dented metal and cracking shattered glass beneath her boots. Looking at either wall she spied a red light flashing on a little box. Rather than set the alarm off by forcing the steel shutters up, she punched a black fist through them and tore a jagged door for herself. She bent the steel back into place behind her as best she could and realised she was still the cautious type, superpowers or not.

She was a dust-darkened wanderer in a pristine white palace, as bright and silent as heaven. The shopping centre was spotless, untouched, a temple to everything the creatures didn’t need. The place was colossal, a roofed city. Tabitha stood before a large map telling her that She Was Here, and studied it carefully even though she’d been here a dozen times before. Perhaps the place felt so alien now, she thought, that the shops could have moved around somehow. Over on one side of the centre lay a gigantic food hall. On the far side, past fake streets lined with shops, stood a courtyard with an artificial sky. Her stomach growled at the prospect of real food, and she set her heart on the burger place.

Escalators lay frozen as she passed by streets of shuttered shops. Daylight gleamed against unsullied shop windows, pristine and spiderless. A giant fountain stood motionless, its pool of water still as a mirror. Beneath the surface she spied a hundred tossed coins, and thought how they’d never mean anything again.

‘Hello?’ she said into the empty white around her. She didn’t know why; she knew no one was there. Maybe she just needed to hear a voice, after a week of solid silence.

‘What did you wish for?’ she said, sitting on the edge of the fountain and looking at the nearest coin beneath the water. It was only when she couldn’t pick the coin up from the bottom that she realised she still wore alien hands. She fumbled with the coin edges, but it was useless. These were hands for killing, hard and brutal. It was strange how much more comfortable they felt than her own. She pulled her black claw from the clear water, and felt sorry that she’d even rippled the surface. The coins’ owners were dead now. She could at least leave their wishes to rest in peace.

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