Concept Art Writing Prompt: A Visit to the Mall of the Future

Today's Concept Art Writing Prompt has a simple setting with all sorts of story possibilities: the mall. What sorts of tales take place inside this futuristic temple of commerce? Write a story and share it in the comments.

Digital artist Anas Riasat created this future shopping mall (found via reddit). Riasat is the founder and art director of the concept art shop LucidConcepts, and this mall is just one of his many scifi concept art pieces. You can see more of his work at his deviantART gallery.

Over the course of the weekend, I'll be posting the stories from the comments directly into this post. As always, if you don't want your story included, make a note in your comment.

Here's my tale from the futuristic shopping mall:

Sho pulled away from his mother, his moccasined feet padding softly down the tile floors. "Look at this!" he squealed, sliding to a halt in front of a glowing screen. When Petra caught up with him, she folder her arms and peered over his shoulder. The screen was playing commercial after commercial: cars rolling into view carrying big bows, a dozen specialized kitchen devices that would have done the work of one knife, tap water reinvented into an object of desire thanks to a handsome bottle. There was no sound, but a dull, nearly forgotten corner of Petra's brain could still supply the music and voiceovers. She frowned as she saw Sho's transfixed gaze, but the mall curators had assured her that children Sho's age lacked the context to be swayed by advertising.

"Did you really have one of these in your house?" Sho asked, leaning so close to the screen that Petra could see the light reflected on his cheeks.

She tried to smile. "We had three."

He looked back at her, eyes wide as saucers. "Three!" he whispered, then he dashed off again, dodging the actors pretending to hawk application codes, home cellulite reduction kits, and programmable fiberoptic wigs.

You couldn't actually buy anything from the mall, except from the sweet shop near the exit, which sold remarkable approximations of Nik-L-Nips and Peachy Penguins. The mass produced clothes and crude bumper stickers, the flashing edutainment toys and moldering sports jerseys were mere exhibits in this Museum of Commerce. A reminder of the time before the Credit Wars.

Petra plodded after Sho, watching as he darted from window to shop window, pressing his grubby nose against the glass. Then he paused at a window, pointed, and yelled back, "Hey, Mom, look at this funny furry coat!"

Petra picked up her pass to meet him, then followed the line of his finger and froze. "Isn't it funny?" Sho asked. "Who would want to look like a big shaggy dog?"

It was the jacket. Genuine mammoth hair lined with mammoth leather. The jacket she'd had but never really owned.

How many times had she dreamed of that bit of skin and hair? When she was a teenager, she was sure that jacket would change her life, and it had. It was the reason she'd taken out the Indenture Card, the reason she'd been sent to work at the Swinging Antelope Ranch, the reason she'd gotten caught up in the Indenture Freedom Movement. During the first days of the Credit Wars, she had stepped into a stream of anti-riot foam and the jacket had been ruined. She smiled bitterly at the memory.

Sho was far away already, screeching at a pair of radio-controlled zeppelins shaped like dinosaurs. Before turning away, Petra pushed her fingertips against the glass, as if checking to see if it would hold.

For Not_Too_Xavi's protagonists, the mall and its endless ads inspire destruction:

"The edges are showing," David whispered. "It won't be long now, right?"

Victoria took a moment. David's young eyes were much better than hers. The longer she looked, the more the edges seemed to peek through. "That's right. Not long now at all. You going to be ok?"

"I think so," David replied in a tremulous voice. "I'm just not sure how close the ceiling will be when the HD cuts out."

"That makes two of us," Victoria smiled. She clasped his shoulder, turning him gently towards her. "When they do go off you won't be the only one having trouble, ok?" David nodded. "What you have that they don't is this," Victoria pointed to his heart. "This," she pointed to his forehead. "And this," she pointed to herself.

David smiled, comforted for the moment. Claustrophobia was the least of his worries, and Victoria was glad it was only that at the moment. There were so many other things he should be worried about.

"What was it Mom and Dad said again," David asked, his arms crossed as he leaned on the rails.

"They said to love you more now that we knew what you could do."

"Not that, I mean after."

"They said to tear it all down."

David exhaled, after a moment he looked up to her, his sister standing tall and protective over him. "Then we tear it down."

Victoria smiled. "Whenever you're ready."

David nodded. He held out his arms and Victoria wrapped him in a hug. "I'm ready."

A hum rose around them, low at first and then rising atonally from a subaudible depth. "V?" David muffled.

"Yes?"

"Stay close?"

The hum had risen in pitch and frequency. The multitude of lights advertising everything a person could want or need began to flicker. Lines began to appear throughout the ads. Sparks fell at points, some from within the ads themselves.

A different roar had started up below them. The people living in this virtual cathedral were having their sense of place and self snuffed out.

Victoria looked down at David. The hum, which was his doing, was still rising around them and their world was collapsing, yet he looked up at her, anxious for her reassurance.

"I'll always be close D."

He closed his eyes and the hum shot through the remaining audible frequencies. The illusory sky, a prussian blue above the ads, exploded with the rest of them.

There were two things Victoria noted before the underground world went dark. One was that they really had brought it all down. The second was the last thing she saw before the dark closed in and roar of screams from a million people engulfed them. She saw the lines and the dark screens and thought, "It never was as big as I thought."

corpore-metal imagines retail spaces as a retro experience:

Gramps fumbled off his smart glasses and looked around in a mixture of horror, anger and disgust. "Seriously, who'd in their the right mind would want to go shopping in this hellish, dank, humid, drug addled nightmare of Syd Mead and Ridley Scott?"

"Who?" I asked with only a fraction of interest.

"Never mind. You don't really care anyway. Who are they trying to fool here? It's broad daylight outside. How much did they waste on this retrofuture nonsense anyway?" he fumbled his glasses back on, visibly relieved as the ad blockers settled into place.

He was a bit Parkensonian but his waldo compensated for that. He was one hundred and eight and sharp as a tack. He often said he was going to outlive us all. Medicine kept proving him right. He wasn't really anyone's grandfather, never had kids. He just liked being called Gramps. His close friends said he was born grumpy and old.

"A few million dollars, I don't know. But it doesn't matter; it's really only a tourist attraction these days. Who could afford jacked prices to pay for human clerks?"

Gramps just grunted in agreement.

We were in Macau, witnessing the twenty year collapse of the Chinese real estate boom. Nearly sixty years ago the Internet dealt a mortal blow to hardspace retail. JIT drones and autofacs skeletonized the corpse. But five years ago some bright spark at Bailian Group, which by this point owned nearly fifteen percent of the land in all major Chinese cities, had the silly idea of bringing back the experience of shopping malls. It was a stupid idea. But back then China was powerful and had money to throw away.

"I've seen enough. Come on, the mist is fucking with my filters. Africa! I can't wait to see Africa! That's where all the action is now."

cadburychalk puts a wonderfully demented spin on holiday shopping:

Olive tensed his hands around the moto-stool grips and looked eagerly to his left and right, taking in the palpable sense of anticipation rising off the assembled orphans. Only the day before, his poverty palace had won the yearly lottery, and so all the orphans living in public housing module D-MI5483 were whisked away to the upper city, where they would have the honor of being first in line for the sacred rite of Black Friday.

They couldn't actually buy anything, of course, since they were orphans and orphans are poor as shit, but their desire would be fed, via fiber optic-empathy line, directly into the facescreens of the adult ideology enforcers working down below, so that they would know exactly which prizes to battle for in the Holiday Present Dome that occurred every Christmas Eve. In the month preceding the Present Dome the bookies would usually tally a list of the most desired presents, because when the bloodshed started it was usually good to have an idea of what you would and would not die and/or kill for.

After what seemed like an eternity, a bright red orb appear on the massive glass doors. It blinked, changed to yellow, and blinked once more before turning green. The entire mass of orphans seated upon their moto-stools lurched forward, but the movement abruptly halted, and Olive could hear screams echoing back. As always, a few of those in front were not fast enough off the line, and so it took a moment for those behind them to press their moto-stools up and over the broken bodies. By the time Olive reached the entrance most of them had been ground down to mush, although an arm or a few fingers could be seen sticking out of the dark red pulp.

Once inside the mall, however, the floor opened up, and he was free to twist the moto-stool grip all the way back, feeling the cool rush of the conditioned chemical haze wash over him: as he passed by the pretzel shop, his nose was greeted by the smooth yet tangy aroma of cinnamon, butter, and human sex pheromones; the knife store gave off the heady mix of blood and the tears of minorities; but finally, Olive found his favorite store, and basked in the warm scent of excrement and terror emanating from the row upon row of sharpened metal cages, each containing a small animal whose body weight forced its flesh into the razor wires.

Oh the joy of the pet shop! Most of the other orphans had rushed to see the newest technobaubles and electro-gizmonics, gawking over the fully-functional rape victim dolls or My Lil' Genocide playsets, but for Olive, true happiness came from the old-fashioned pleasure of watching animals suffer. He drove his moto-stool back and forth in front the pet shop for the rest of the day, touching himself all the while, and only left when security finally came to reclaim the moto-stool. They shot Olive with a tranquilizer and threw him over the railing, and it was a whole minute and a half before his body exploded onto the spires of the poverty kingdom below.

angusm envisions the mall as a virtual — and forbidden — space:

The year Joe unlocked the Mall, I was about eight. My sister Marla was nearly sixteen. Joe was probably nineteen or twenty, and even at eight I sensed that there was something vaguely creepy about the amount of time he spent hanging around my teenage sister. In hindsight, I realize that Marla knew all along what Joe wanted too. But he had promised that he would unlock the Mall.

All three of our parents were away a lot. Jean - Marla's bio-mom - traveled for business. Cindy - my bio-mom - and our dad both worked on-site at the Hydro-Gro station five days a week. That meant that Marla and I spent a lot of time at home, technically alone, but actually socketed into the VILLE.

VILLE? Virtual Interactive Localized Learning Environment: they used to be the big thing, before someone decided that kids had to actually interact face-to-face if they were going to grow up properly socialized. In the VILLE, you could take classes anywhere. Push a button, and you could go tramping through a virtual Cretaceous swamp with kids from Missouri, Malta and Myanmar, or learn physics on the moons of Jupiter, or get taught fractions by a friendly six-foot grasshopper, or ... you get the idea. It sounds fun, but we grew to hate it. Everything was a teaching point. Everything was a lesson. You haven't seen remorseless education until you've seen a VILLE. Marla, who'd had eight more years of it than I had, dropped one 'L' and called it VILE. 'Time to get locked up in durance vile', she used to say every morning after our parents left for work.

Our doting parents didn't want us goofing off while they were away. The entertainment channels were strictly locked down. From 9 until 6, Marla and I did our lessons in the VILLE, under the watchful eye of the house systems. Our parents had big plans for us. Goofing off was not permitted.

So when Joe (who was actually Jean's clone nephew, which is how he had access to the house) told Marla that he knew how to unlock the Mall, we were ready.

"The best part," he said, "is that I can make it look like you're still both in the VILLE."
Sold. I don't blame Marla for turning a blind eye to Joe's dishonorable but transparent intentions. I would have done the same in her place.

Getting access to the Mall was like being handed the keys to Aladdin's cave. There were four thousand virtual shops. Marla would stand in the center of our studyspace for hours, waving her hands to summon up stores, strolling into them, then dismissing them with another wave of her hand. She could shop all day and never grow bored.

Joe didn't get bored either. Joe liked to watch Marla try on different outfits, robing herself in intangible garments made out of light. In the end, I was the one who found it dull. I wanted to visit the toyshops, but Joe and Marla were calling the shots, so we spent the afternoons in one clothing store after another, trying everything but never buying. After the first excitement had worn off, I was ready to go back to my Cretaceous swamp.

The whole thing came to an end quite abruptly one afternoon, when Joe finally suggested to Marla that she might be ready for a new interactive educational experience. He described it in some detail, whereupon Marla screamed and the house systems kicked in. While Joe was able to dupe the low-level routines into ignoring our unauthorized shopping trips, an actual scream woke up the security sub-process, setting off a wave of consistency checks that exposed the whole scheme and brought our parents flying back from their jobs post-haste.

So, no more Mall. No more Joe, either. His permissions were revoked and he was sent to live with his other clone-family in Reykjavik. Marla and I were sent back to the VILLE.

I wasn't too sad about the way things turned out, but Marla was heart-broken. For the rest of that summer, she shuffled around the house hollow-eyed and haunted. Sometimes in the VILLE I would see her staring at rows of quadratic equations - her lessons were even less fun than mine - her eyes unfocused, as if somewhere behind the thickets of numbers she could still see the glowing shops and plazas, the dressing rooms and the window displays, the numberless treasures of the Mall.

Faz.Alam imagines this scene would serve as a future teaching tool on the evils of advertising:

The class filed through the museum, looking at each of the flickering displays with as much disinterest as they could muster. Billy B took a short degree of disinterest in a display showing the history of McDonalds, picking his nose and smearing the snot against the screen. In the background a large holographic vista of the twenty first century skyline was visible.

The Teacher raised her voice, as if something exciting were happening.

"And here we enter the twenty first century" she said animatedly. "Can anyone tell me any major events that happened in this era ?"

Sally A put her hand up, and didn't even wait to be acknowledged by the teacher before screaming out her answer.

"Generation Ships !"

"Ah no," replied the teacher "Those only came in the twenty second century. Actually the twenty first century is referred to as the dark age of space travel, as very little of it happened"

Billy B nodded to himself. That's why the twenty first century was so boring. He drifted off again and gazed upon another exhibit, letting the teachers voice fade into the background once more.

This one was a massive touch screen, showing a ton "advertisements" from the twenty first century. They were squares of moving pictures, populated by unbelievably happy faces. Some of them people, some of them cartoons, all of them emitting a low chatter about the various products they were selling. One of them in particular caught his attention, of a woman excitedly proclaiming at how sexy a brand of toilet roll made her feel. Billy B reached out and touched it, and suddenly it exploded in a cacophony of noise, as several other adverts popped up out of nowhere, three of them with a woman talking about a plant known as "The Live Jasmine".

He suddenly felt an arm pull him away.

"Beware with the adverts" said the teacher. "They are an ancient evil from the very birth of the net. They would pounce on unsuspecting users and subject them to mental torture"

Now the class began to become more interested.

"From what we know of these early days of the net, these programs would roam the net, and attack unsuspecting users. In some cases, they even stole their user information"

The class gasped.

"The adverts would often depict humans in the midst of incomprehensible behaviour, and lure users into clicking"

"Like the Spambots " said Sally A, still desperate for the teacher's attention.

"Exactly, That's another thing the 21st century gave us. Although the Spam bots back then were nowhere near as dangerous as the ones we encounter today."

"Did the 21st century actually give us anything good ?" asked Billy B in what he imagined to be a sarcastic way.

The teacher laughed.

"Of course not"

Jesse_Pluim describes the fall of an elite mall security officer:

Big guns. Bigs guns with two barrels, laser guided bayonets, double explosive shells, and a red/white/blue racing stripe. That's what you're probably thinking when you hear: Mall Cop. I bet you're also thinking about devil-may-care swaggers, leather jackets, shiny platinum badges, and long hours spent signing portriat shots for orphans. Well, stop thinking. Who told you to think in the first place? Why don't you shut up for a second and give someone else a chance?

That's right, I used to be a Covert Undercover Mall Technician. A CUMT. I was the top CUMT; probably the biggest CUMT in all of California. Until I lost it all.

At first, I thought all my problems had to do with that owl I hired to cover for me so I could hang out in the bathroom and drink a bunch of gin, but really they started when I got addicted to drinking gin in the bathroom. It's so easy to blame the owls.

There I am, bottle and funnel in hand, laughing at some really funny graffiti about my mother, when in walk a couple of guys in sharp suits. I recognized Mr. Thompson right off: a thin, balding, pleasant looking old mafioso; but in my experience nothing about the mafia is pleasant-except for the hats. Some of the hats are quite nice. I stood still. Maybe they wouldn't see me in plain sight if I stood still.

"Jerry's out. He got nabbed sticking up a record label this morning," Thompson said.

"What are we going to do, boss? The senator's ship is spinning in now."

"Shad up, will ya?! I'm plotting over here!" He paced. "We need a patsy, see? A big dumb guy that can whip an extension cord around, actin' all crazylike while we climb aboard."

"Do you want me to call Todd?"

"Na, he's gettin his hair re-greased today. Can't call in a man on grease day."

"What about the bum?" The lackey said, pointing to me.

I wanted to tell him that I wasn't a bum, but an undercover mall agent. Then I remembered I was an undercover mall agent. I'm not making that mistake a seventh time.

"You want to make twenty bucks, bum?" Thompson turned to me. Oh man, did I?! I figured I could get some work done in the process.

"Oh man, do I?!" I said.

"Good, when the senator makes his speech at the Jamba Juice, I need you to whip this extension cord around really fast. Hit a few people, scare the children, you know, one of ‘em good ol' fashioned terror jobs."

"I understand completely." I didn't understand anything, but when you've got twenty dollars like me you don't need comprehension. Also, I was drunk.

"Any questions?"

"Yes. How many weeks of vacation do I get?"

"None."

"Shit."

"Any other questions?"

"About that vacation…"

"You don't get a vacation."

"But…"

"You're on in ten minutes."

"But what if I'm a cop?" I blurted uncontrollably. Damn it! Strike one.

They both laughed. Then I started laughing. I laughed louder and harder and longer than they did to make sure they didn't think I was a cop. Smooth. Real smooth.

They repeated my instructions another three times. I didn't tell him that I would be writing all this down later and putting in on the internet. These criminal types tend to tense up and and get all quiet when they're recorded for posterity. I practiced swinging the cord around a few times and, after cracking in the lackey's front teeth, I was ready to roll.

One day, a lot of people will ask me how I walk the hard line between criminal and a CUMT. No one has actually asked me that yet, but I spend a lot of time thinking up snappy answers like, ‘The tight rope of justice ain't got a net, dame." Things like that. That's not really a great example. I have better ones at home. I'll show you later.

Anyway, I approached this job one step at a time. My plan was to let Thompson get his twenty dollars worth of extension cord whippings and, then when things got hairy and/or illegal(er), my cop training would naturally kick in. Instinct.

The mall was polished white plastic illuminated by white light behind white frosted glass with latex white logos applied with white gloves by white people. It looked like heaven or the restroom at a fancy strip club. The kind of strip club that will throw you out for tipping strippers with cabbage. The kind of strip club in San Francisco. At 320 Broadway. Last Tuesday. Bastards.

There I am swinging my cord like a billy club (some things are just in the blood) at the back of the Jamba Juice when I see Thompson and his lackey rubbing their hands maniacally. What's their game? I thought.

Oh! The senator is coming up. Shut up, Brain! No time for questions.

"Good day, fellow Jambians! I am so pleased to be surrounded by such great Californians and such delicious, all-natural, healthy snack alternatives! Who would have thought? Me, a simple boy, from a simple mansion and simple summer homes in Malibu, Tahoe and Shasta would be the front runner of the Jamba ticket and the next president of this great state! From where, by the way, our all-natural berry extract and banana slurry is processed by hard working Oregonians. God bless them, and let's hope they survive long enough to get their citizenship."

Thompson gave me the cue and I started twirling the cord up to whipping speed. I had my eye on a group of teenagers horsing around in the corner. Yeah, I'm going to whip them good, I thought.

"My friends! I came here today to warn you of a great threat to our democracy, our freedoms, our children, and our cutest pets. I am of course talking about the factory chemical drenched toilet creature, Cinnabon." The crowd booed, myself included. "Cinnabon wants to raise your taxes! Cinnabon wants all your guns for itself! Cinnabon thinks it's fine for bleached flour and artificial flavoring to mix! Cinnabon-"

Whoopa-Whoopa-Crack!!

I let loose right into the teenager's ironic Star Wars shirt. He squealed as I wound up for another go. The crowd was screaming things like "Get Down, he's got a whip!" and "Save the the children!" and "Oh, that's where that bum smell was coming from!" On about the third or forth wind-up the end snapped and shattered an expensive looking juicer. So far it was no going as planned. But you can't sit around complaining about it, just because it's not going your way. There's no whipping money in that. So I shortened the cord and started hack-whipping the furniture. Shoddy production is the mother of innovation.

I was pretty into my violence, but I managed to catch a glimpse of Thompson and his gang roughing up the senator, stealing his keys, wallet, and cigarettes. I thought that I should probably do something about that, being a cop and all, but I had only given about $17.30 worth of lashings. Five more minutes and I would go after the gang.

But it was too late. They had taken off in the senator's ship seconds before I finished. Damn it! Another case slips though my fingers. I stepped over the senator's swollen, wheezing body on my way back to the bathroom to finish my gin. What a day.

I finished off the bottle and counted my twenty dollar bill. One. One bill. It was all there. I let the owl have the rest of the day off and told it to go get a Jamba Juice on me. Not because I felt bad for it for being stuck in that dumb owl body or anything. I had called the real police and planned on framing it for the whole whipping fiasco.

I still got canned. Basically, it came down to the owl's word against mine and the jury believed the owl. Story of my life.

They eventually caught Thompson and his gang. Apparently, they were hired by the Committee to Reelect Sbarro's Pizza to wire tap the Jamba National Committees's telephones on board the senator's ship. I'm not big on the details. The closest I get to government is when I print my own currency. And I haven't done that in weeks. But I digress.

As for me? Well, here I am, sitting in a public library telling my story to new friends on the America's Most Wanted message board … Wait, got to go. Some fat kid with a walky-talky is telling me I can't drink in here. Goddamn liberals.