Belk mocked the two figures standing before her gaping mouth. Twisted into an unnatural grin, her glass filmed jaws derisively both spat and whispered a temptation and challenge, encompassed in the solitary word emblazoned over her yawning portal.
This was not a request, but a command. Her will sat fully behind that word.
Ash filled obelisks heralded the will of Belk, filled with smoking remnants of cigarettes and humanity. Standing between these twin ashen fixtures were two figures. The first, brow furrowed with purpose and trepidation, was myself. I stood before Belk as a challenger. Duty laden, my resolve was fixed on passing through her wicked depths. I had set out to win a token of victory, a scarf for my mother, and I was to achieve that goal no matter what wretch or monster barred my passage. Beside me stood my brother, equally trepidatious, but possessing the courage of a companion. He stood beside me in my purpose with loyalty and dignity. Armed with honor alone, we gazed at the sprawling tyrant. The command of Belk hung in the air, beckoning us with a dripping sarcasm. To obey her will seemed a despicable course to take, but beyond Belk’s monstrous jowls lay both glory and a scarf. To forsake the fell path before me would be to forsake both my knighthood and my mother. Girded with the armor of our resolve, we strode toward the jaws of Belk.
The shimmering doors silently slid, slinking away from our noble strides. Not one door, but two cowered before our knightly might. But treachery is the way of cowards. Not a second after admitting us through their glistening threshold did the servants of Belk close fast, leaving us to face whatever horrors awaited us in those enchanted halls. Wafting on the heavy air, an oppressive scent filled our lungs. Stretching out before us twisted countless paths through the halls of Belk, running in and out of lines of countless and wondrous garments. Banners hung from the ceiling, depicting half clothed figures, their faces bearing no passion, only a humorless gaze. They bore no smile or frown, their lips hung lifeless just as their image. Taken aback by the pitiful sight, I turned to the figure beside me, standing still and resolute as I was. Revulsion jolted through my body as I stared not at the face of some fellow adventurer, suffering through the enchantments of the halls we both labored in, but with a bloodless creature, transfixed in a grotesque stance. His barren face bore no features. Devoid of humanity, his ghostly pallor marked him as a denizen of this fell realm. These hapless creatures filled every street, loomed over every corner, and stood paralyzed beside each stand of the halls of Belk. I know not if they were some creature, bent to the will of Belk, or unfortunate travelers, fallen to one of her enchantments. They stood still, not daring or able to move.
Belk herself sang out an enchantment, filling our ears with ancient songs of the past made to infiltrate the ear and constrict the heart. My brother and I steeled our resolve and set our gaze on the bleached road that lay twisting before us. We trod down the curved streets, venturing not off of the path set before us. Trapped behind glass lay wealth too wondrous to account here, decked with gems and fine metals. Great coats lay stretched out on racks, guarded by those faceless, immovable armies. We strayed not, passing beyond the rumbling escalators and dashing through the vast displays of Belk’s wealth. Joy pierced our hearts as we saw with great relief an opening by which we could make our exit. As we quit the store, and our nostrils and ears were set free from the enchantments of Belk, we faced a bustling city. The crowd before us carried on as if by enchantment, filling the high walls with shrieks and groans.
Down the glimmering halls we set our path, past horrors and wonders. We bore witness to pulsating darkness emanating from a gateway bearing the name Aeropostale. The thick shadows and pounding music spoke of horrors worse than Belk lurking behind their fell portal. Further on, tempting scents of coffee filled my heart with strength, but I dared not accept drink from those who offered it lest as Persephone, I be condemned to remain in the Underworld. Jutting from the ground lay a field of snow, sparkling with unnatural shades of purple, blue, and pink. The snow, warm to the touch, surrounded an empty throne. Its high back spoke of tremendous power and beckoned me to mount it. Its calls of power paled in comparison with my resolve to complete my quest. With a firm will, I denied the beckons of the throne and carried on. We came upon a waist-high wall with various colors splashed upon its surface. Beyond the kaleidoscopic barrier lay ruin upon ruin of various vehicles, rising from the tiled floor. Series after series of wheels, doors, and seats lined this field. Running between, through, and over the violent and shattered sculptures were scores of children, shrieking and grinning, as if the graveyard around them were commonplace. Indeed, in so wondrous and terrible a land, only children could keep their sanity. We carried on our journey, wavering neither to the left nor to the right. Up to the kiosk of scarves we strode. I purchased the scarf, and we turned promptly around to begin our journey out past the automotive graveyard, icy throne, luscious coffee, and pulsating darkness, and up once again to the looming Belk.
Her exit now an entrance, in order to leave the hall of horrors and again taste the sweet air of the outside world, I had to again venture through Belk’s depths. Through the doors again we walked. Down the winding paths. Through the enchanting, terrible scents, past the immovable armies, but as we walked, a fearful realization dawned upon us. Where before the path led us toward an exit, we were faced with more twisting paths, more bloodless men, and more enchantment. Down the path we ran, through the aisle we shot. When escape seemed only a faint dream, my eye spotted the lights of freedom, the sun blaring through glass filmed portals. Desperate for release, we raced toward the light. Hope filled my heart. Joy welled up at our impending release. Just as fast as it grew, so did our hope come crashing down, for standing before us was not an exit, but a mirror. The lights of escape were but a facade: an image of true freedom. Back down the path we set, our hearts yearning to see the end of Belk. Down the road we stumbled, past the horrors a third time, when at long last we came upon the welcome sight of an exit, shining with the glory of the chariot of Apollo. Beside the exit lay a red star, rimmed with a single word. Macy’s. The cavern of horrors we had undergone was not the same as we had entered! The walk from the face of Macy’s back to where we began was long, but free. We set out from the sprawling behemoth victorious, but humbled.