Shopping. Maul.

Palmer watched the young woman with curiosity. He sat at a small table in the mall’s food court. Holiday shoppers flowed around him like slow-moving traffic going this way and that. The murmur of the patrons sounded like a dull roar to his ears.

He stared at the brown-haired woman sitting down at the edge of the food court near the main hallway. Every few minutes she stood from the table and walked into the crowd. No matter how he moved in his seat, Palmer could not see what she did in the crowd. Whatever she did; she always returned to her seat with her eyes closed. And she always pulled a wallet out of the pocket of her purple coat, kept the cash, closed her eyes, and tossed the emptied wallet back out into the crowd. Then she would open her eyes and wait some more. Palmer had no idea how much she’d stolen but he watched her do the routine at least five times since he sat down with a slice of pizza. At first, he thought she was a run-of-the-mill pickpocket, but the closed eyes kept him interested.

After several minutes she moved again and Palmer decided he wanted to be closer to the action. He and left his table and immersed himself in the crowd trying to keep the brown-haired girl in his sight. Her bright purple made it easier because everyone else was wearing reds, greens, and gold. The strange woman approached a tall man whose attention was on a short woman next to him. Palmer had a direct view of the woman as she walked toward the tall man. She walked right into him, but Palmer noticed she closed her eyes a split second before the impact. The tall man stopped and looked around with a confused look, then shrugged and continued walking along with his lady friend. The woman in red slowly, and deliberately walked back to her seat at the edge of the food court, as if she were counting steps. Several people bumped her on the way, but she moved forward without acknowledging them. They all stopped for a second and looked confused before moving on again, even though the woman was right in front of them.

Palmer waited by the pillar for her next move. After a few minutes, she stood again and walked into the stream of people. She approached the male half of another distracted couple. Palmer left his spot but walked at a slow pace. He did not care enough about her theft to interrupt, but he was curious. He waited until after she lifted the wallet. As she walked back to her seat with closed eyes he tapped her on the shoulder. She froze but did not turn around. Palmer tapped her shoulder again, but this time he talked to her.

“Why is everybody acting like they can’t see you?” he asked. She turned around, with her eyes still closed, and faced his general direction.

“You can?” she asked.

“Yeah,” he chuckled. “Why are your eyes closed?” The woman sighed but did not open her eyes. She turned around.

“C’mon,” she said. She returned to her seat, one step at a time, but was surprised when she opened her eyes and saw Palmer sitting down across from her already. He leaned over the table so she could hear him over the crowd’s non-stop chattering.

“So what’s the deal?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” she shrugged. “When I block off my senses other people ignore that aspect of me.” Palmer nodded intently.

“Okay. That sounds neat, but what does it mean?” The woman rolled her eyes, but a faint chuckle escaped her mouth.

“If I close my eyes other people can’t see me. If I put in earplugs they can’t hear me, stuff like that.”

“Awesome! So if you plug your nose they can’t smell you?” The woman nodded, then paused.

“Are you saying I smell bad?” she asked with a raised eyebrow. Palmer laughed but put his hands up to protest.

“Not at all. I’m just trying to figure out how it works. So what happens if you cover your mouth? They can’t taste you?” They both laughed, but the woman shook her head.

“I’m Deborah, by the way. You can call me Debbie. No, I don’t think anything happens if I cover my mouth. I’ve tried it a few times, but never noticed anything.”

“Hi Debbie, I’m Palmer,” he smiled. “Why not try it now? If covering your mouth never did anything before maybe it’ll affect me differently.”

“Sure, okay.” Debbie shrugged. She took a deep breath and placed both hands over her mouth. Something changed the second she did, but Palmer did not put his finger on it right away. They both looked around to check for any magical effects and noticed the river of customers stopped flowing. Everyone in the area looked confused as they tried to yell at each other but no sound came out of their moving mouths. That’s when Palmer realized the background din of the shoppers was gone. He panicked.

“Stop it!” he yelled at Debbie.  His voice carried around the silent food court causing all eyes to fall on him. One man pointed at Palmer and started yelling silently. His face turned red with anger, spittle flew out of his mouth as he tried to make some sound.

“……GET HIM!” his voice finally returned. Palmer looked at Debbie. She took her hands off her mouth to apologize.

“I’m sorry!” she said, then closed her eyes as the crowd closed in on Palmer.

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