Tales from the Mall

Music Makes The World Go Round

Author: IceWing <icewing[at]one.net>

Summary: The title says it all.

Feedback: It's the coin of the realm. Don't be cheap.

Chapter 1

Date: Early October, 1996
Location: Skunkarific Music, Sunnydale Palisades Mall

Feeling a bit nervous, Matt tugged at the collar of his shirt as the manager looked over his paperwork one last time.

"Well, everything looks to be in order," said the prematurely balding man whose nametag read 'Store Manager' underneath the sloppy handwriting which indicated his name was Gabe. "Got copies of your license, filled out your W-2, emergency contacts and next of kin..." He looked up, glancing at the mostly one way mirror which served as the window in the small office. "You're expected to be here on time, make sure you clock in and the employee manual is under the register." He stood up and put the paperwork into the file cabinet which flanked the entrance then led the newest employee towards the front of the store. "Welcome aboard. Go ahead and clock in and remember you're not to close the store early unless you call me first." Gabe pointed to the cordless phone underneath the register. "My cell is the first speed dial, but it better be an emergency if you call me. Now," he said as he pulled his jacket on. "Store closes at nine. Check the schedule in the back to see when you're on next. If I need you in before your next shift, I'll call. That's time and a half if you come in to cover for somebody who skips out. Any questions?"

"Wait…" said Matt, confusion in his voice. "Nobody else is going to be here tonight?"

"Nope, just you kid. You said you know how to run a register, right?"

"Well, yeah, but I…"

"That's half the job right there. You don't have to stock anything tonight, just answer any questions you can. Anything else, just tell them to look it up on the internet or something. The gate locks on its own when you pull it down. See ya later kid…"

And with that, Gabe was gone, leaving a very confused young man standing in the store entrance, surrounded by CDs and holding a blank trainee name tag in his hand.

It was still a couple of hours before closing, his first day of work, and Matt was more than a little on edge.

As he looked out the plate glass front wall of the store, he was more than a bit shocked about how empty the mall seemed. 'I mean, I know it's a school day, but this is nuts,' he thought as he looked out and saw only a handful of people walking around the marble tiled concourse. He'd always heard people in California were odd, back in Colorado Springs, but before he'd moved out here last month on a full ride to UC Sunnydale, he'd never really understood the term 'the sidewalks up'. But man, did they ever in this town.

On campus it wasn't so bad, but once you got in town, man, if it was dusk, it got real quiet, real quick.

With a shrug, he flipped to the next section in the employee handbook. He'd already looked at the music magazines on the shelves and there was only a single one he wasn't a subscriber to. The store's computer didn't have a modem so surfing music sites was out and he didn't really feel like reorganizing the CD's which always seemed to get fouled up when customers were around. So, in an effort to better himself as an employee, not to mention figure out what could get him busted from what was a cake job, he had decided to read the manual for the job.

His fingers were still a little bit dusty from pulling the three ring binder out from under the counter. He hadn't seen that much dust in… ever, as far as he could tell. And why the old, it had to be old, it was buried in the dust, name tag had just been left there, he didn't want to even think about that… It was no wonder this place seemed to do such lackluster business, even if they did have the best selection in town. The boss was a fricking slob and didn't even want to stick around and do his job. 'I mean,' he thought. 'What kind of boss leaves a brand new employee alone on their first night?'

The section on employee dress code now read, and its guidelines of "Employees are required to meet public decency laws" and his eyes were skimming over employee discounts when the beam for the electric eye was broken and a small chime caused him to look up and observe the two people who had just entered the store.

And, frankly, he was glad that he had. The two sisters, he assumed, walked close to each other. The younger one was probably twelve or thirteen and reminded him a little bit of the girl from the Harriet the Spy show his kid sister liked to watch. Her older sister though, was definitely an eyeful however. But, despite her look and attitude, Matt figured she was jailbait as well. 'Anyway,' he thought. 'I don't need a complaint about flirting with customers on my first day on the job.' Flipping the handbook closed and sliding it back under the counter, he straightened his shirt and greeted the two as they each grabbed a basket and headed for the rows of music. "Afternoon ladies. Anything I can help you find today?"

The older one was pulling a list from her pocket as she glanced at him then unfolded the list. "Hey Matt," she said casually as she moved down the rows. "Good to see ya again."

The young man paused for a moment, but his thoughts of 'Have we met?' were interrupted by the younger girl. "About time you showed up. The guys they've had here since we got back, are about as clueless to music as Harmony is to reality."

"Yeah," said the older girl as she picked up a CD and then looked at her list. "Not to mention the deadhead who worked here."

"He knew classic rock pretty well though, even if he was ungrateful undead," chimed in the younger girl, a grin on her face.

"Sorry Dawn, but that was a bad pun even by Xander standards."

Matt looked at the two, not really sure what to make of them. "Umm… Ok…" he said, confusion evident in his voice. "So, you don't need any help then? I mean, from me, and not professionally?"

The older one looked up from her list again. "Huh? Oh, no, sorry man… We've got to replace some CD's… Some goons thrashed the house and the entire music collection got slagged."

"Hey Faith," called the younger one. When the older girl looked back at her, she continued with her question. "Do you remember who sang that one song, Mama Says?"

Faith, at least Matt assumed that was her name, thought for a second before answering. "Was that Bloodhound Gang?"

"Yep, that's it…" said the younger one as she moved through the aisles till she found the section she wanted and flipped through the CDs. Finding what she thought she was looking for, she plucked one of the CD's out and read the back… "Damn," she said. "It's not on this one… Was that off their second album?"

"Might have been…" Faith turned back to Matt. "Do you have their second album yet?"

"Its…" He stopped, trying to get a grip on this surreal situation. "There's talk of another album soon, but no release date."

Faith looked back at Dawn and shrugged. "I'll add it to the list… You finding anything?"

"Not a lot," came the dejected response. "I've got a few, and," she help up her own list. "I've been jotting down some more names I remember but can't find on the shelves. How's your hunt coming along?"

"Eh… Looks like Matt hasn't had time to get the import section up to snuff yet. There's not even a couple of Rammstein or Lacuna Coil yet."

"I don't think Lacuna Coil is out yet."

"You sure? I could have sworn they had their first album out last year."

"Yeah, I'm pretty sure. Next year, maybe, but I'm not holding out hope."

Matt slowly eased his way away from the two and moved for the security of the counter. Hell, he wouldn't even care if they shoplifted. Not, he thought nervously that the one he thought was called Faith would have any places she could slip anything, but still…

The store was set to close in twenty minutes when the pair finally brought their final basket to the checkout counter, adding it to the three which were already sitting there.

Faith was pulling CDs out and setting them on the counter when Dawn commented on the last the older girl had just set down.

"Two? Ok, I mean, I'll grant that in some circles, the White album is considered a must have, but why two copies?"

"Giles isn't real happy that I borrowed his copy in the first place, much less the fact that its not exactly in mint condition anymore. You'd think him not being librarian any more he'd get over the whole pristine, no holes melted in stuff fetish he's got."

"Ah… Reason for duplicates: Fear of Ripper. Got it. That's all you had to say."

"And you're buying Metallica?" asked the younger girl.

Matt looked up in surprise and spoke before he could stop himself. "Definitely considered to be one of the premier metal bands of all time. I mean, how can you not respect 'One' or 'Enter Sandman'?"

Faith grinned. "You know they rock."

"That's not why I hate them and you know it," came the irritated response.

"Come on… You can't be pissed about that still…"

"Wanna bet?"

"Maybe they won't take Napster down this time around?"

"Yeah. They're sellouts and care more about the green and their filigreed platinum record frames than they do about their fans or their music."

"Whatever…" said Faith as she rolled her eyes. "Refusing to buy an album before you've even made the oath not to buy the album. Now THAT'S some fucked up causality."

Matt wondered if there was a roll of duct tape he could use to keep his head from exploding at the surrealness of these two and just kept on scanning the CD's. As he did so, he couldn't help but read some of the titles to himself. "Aerosmith, Queen, Alanis Morrisette, Jethro Tull, SkyClad… Hmm, never heard of them. Definitely have an eclectic musical selection here," he said quietly.

"Well, like we said, our CD's got trashed and we figured we might as well make sure we've got everything we like," said Faith as she flipped through one of the magazines on the counter. "Oh, god, I can't believe these guys are still on tour," she said, pointing one of the ads out to Dawn. "The Dingoes are better than these guys." She snapped her fingers and looked up at Matt, who was busy scanning the CDs and removing the security tags. "There's a local band, Dingoes Ate My Baby. You should really look into getting their CD in here. And hurry up and get the import section up to snuff."

"Umm.. Ok… I'll… Talk to the manager about it."

Faith smiled. "You do that."

Matt hurriedly finished scanning the order and hit the total button, only to have his jaw drop. "Good God."

"Goddess actually," muttered Dawn but only Faith heard her and grinned.

"That comes to... That can't be right," he said as he ran his finger down the receipt. "No, that's right… A hundred and eighteen CDs comes to a total, including tax, of two thousand, two hundred thirty eight dollars and forty-six cents."

Dawn whistled as Faith slid a thin plastic rectangle from her pants pocket and handed it over to the young man.

Matt took the credit card and looked at the name on it. "Umm…" he looked down at the card again and then at Faith. "You know, you really don't look like an Alex to me."

Faith opened her mouth to say something, but was stopped by Dawn elbowing her in the stomach. Looking over at the younger girl, Faith spoke. "What the hell was that for, D?"

"No bitching at the guy for doing his job. He's new to this whole thing. He Doesn't know you," she said, emphasizing the first two words in the sentence. "And you come in here, buy two grand in CDs and then try and pay for them with Xander's card? Can you blame him for being suspicious and doing his job."

Faith scowled for a moment, then sighed. "No, I guess not," she said, but didn't seem happy about it as she held her hand out for the card. When Matt had returned it to her, she reached into the inner pocket of her jacket and pulled out a thick roll of bills, all of which were displaying Ben Franklin on the front. "Cash going to be ok?" she asked.

When he nodded, Faith counted off twenty three of the hundred dollar bills and laid them on the counter, then, after a moment, pulled a final c-note off the roll before tucking it back in her jacket.

"No need for change if you'd be willing to do us a favor," she said as she set the lists she and dawn had been working down on the counter, and then fanned the cash out on top of them. "We've got a list here of a bunch of bands and albums we're on the lookout for. We'd really appreciate it if you'd give me a yell when those come in, and they will but it might take a while. How's that sound to you?"

Matt looked at the money on the countertop, which was almost enough to pay for a semester of his tuition, and then at Faith, in disbelief. "Umm, sure lady. Whatever you want."

Faith grinned a thousand watt smile as she patted him on the cheek, slipping the extra c-note in his shirt pocket. "Good choice. Now don't you be forgetting about this when you get promoted and we'll make it worth your while."

Dumbfounded, Matt just stood there while the two grabbed the five bags of CDs. "Come on, D," said Faith as the two walked out of the store. "Let's hit Cinnabon before they close up for the night."

And with than, Matt was once again alone in the store.

As he put his nametag and the list the girls had left with him in his locker in the back of the store, Matt wondered if all of his shifts would be so… Surreal. The two girls, well, their family obviously had some mental issues they needed to work out, but hell, who was he to turn down a hundred bucks for not really doing anything. Not mention, in a couple of years, he might just give that Faith girl a yell, see if she might like to go dancing.

Or, maybe not. He really didn't need the hassles of trying to keep up with a girl like that. "Who you trying to kid man?" he asked himself. "Girls like that, they wouldn't even look twice at a cat like me."

With a shrug, he shut the locker before heading out front and pulling the gate closed for the night.

Three months later

Matt was jamming out to the heavy metal beat that flooded the store while he was putting out the new stock. Another hour and the mall would be open and he'd have to turn it down, but until then, he could rock out while putting this weeks shipment out.

"And," he thought as his long hair flipped up and down as he moved another batch of CDs across the aisle. "I'm actually going to be able to understand how the music is laid out. Score on for sneakiness." Gabe had agreed to Matt's new layout for the store, provided that he could get it done without a major hassle to the customers. Hence, Matt being in early again and able to enjoy the time alone with his music.

Reaching down into the plastic crate, he pulled out a rubber-banded batch of six CDs. A new arrival from the distributor, or, in this case, he thought as he peered at the shipping label which was attached, from one of the indie labels on the east coast. Looked like an indie group but until you actually listened to an album, it was hard to say. "Nerf Herder," he read aloud with a chuckle… "Somebody's got…" his voice trailed off. "Damn, I've actually heard of these guys… Where…" He let his thoughts wander for a minute. "Nah…" he said as he thought he remembered where he knew the name from.

He was about to put the CDs in their spot, when his curiosity, or was is something else, got the best of him.

CD in hand, he walked back to his locker in the rear of the store and pulled a piece of paper from the bottom of a stack of magazines. "No fucking way," he said in a near whisper.

Right there, in neat handwriting, in the middle of the list, was the name Nerf Herder, as well as… He flipped the CD case over and sure enough, the two song titles which were written by the name of the band were on this CD.

This pre-release copy of an album which was by a band nobody had ever heard of…

Swallowing, Matt began to walk to the front of the store, CD in one hand, handwritten list tightly held in the other.

Setting both of them down on the counter, he turned the volume down on the stereo system and then reached for the phone.

The telephone had barely had a chance to finish its first ring when Mikki pounced on it like it was a small rodent.

"Umm, hello?" came the nervous voice across the wires when there was no answer by the young were.

"Hi," came the somewhat shy answer.

"Uh… Hi… Would, um… Faith be around?"


"Well, could I…" the speaker stopped as he heard the sound of Faith's name being yelled, then the phone being tossed across the room.

"You've got Faith, who's praying?" came the response as the dark haired young woman plucked the phone from the air.

"Uh… Faith?"

"Yes…" she said, dragging out the word for almost a full two seconds, like she was talking to a small child. "Who's this?"

"Ummm… This is Matt, from Skunkarific?"

"That a question or a statement music man?"

That threw him for a second, at which point Faith took a small amount of pity on the young man. "What's up, Matteus?"

"Well… One of your CDs is in… And I was hoping you could come by and get it."

The End


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