How a Dying Mall Taught Me Survival Skills

You’ve been kidnapped and given a choice: would you rather be stranded on an island, dropped into an unknown forest, or locked in a strange building?

As a fan of procedural dramas on television as well having spent more of my life working inside buildings, I would have the best chance to survive inside a building.

Yes, islands and forests may have potable water and food supplies. But then again, they are much more likely to harbor giant snakes, spiders and other fearsome beasts. And if I shimmied up a tree like Katniss, I would absolutely find the giant poison beehive and have no Rue to help me. Nor would I be able to string a bow or …shimmy up a tree.

If we look at historical fantastical fiction, one need only compare “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” (the ultimate strange building) versus every other book involving an island or forest. If you stayed inside the submarine, no worries. If you were on an island, only a matter of time until a monstrous creature appeared. And nowhere to hide.

The other fact is that I have been in a lot of building. For example, I interned in Congress for six months so I spent a lot of time traipsing through tunnels, passageways and reconciling rats with restored historical spaces. I also was a Resident Assistant in college that featured older buildings so again with the late night tromping on rounds in scary spaces armed only with a flashlight, clipboard and the mass of another RA clutching my sleeve while we both wished our parents could have paid for room and board without us working this job.

I also worked at Century III Mall for many years, first on the maintenance team in the food court and then at Payless Shoes. Again, a lot of time in back passageways as well as crawling on my hands and knees under tables.  I knew where the really bad chemicals were stored as well as how to push a heavy trash buggy down a hallway without hitting any of the doors or walls. I could survive on discards. I even knew where all of the mop sinks were located.

Find the wobbly chair and pull out the bad leg as a weapon. Trust me. They are never fixed, just wood glued back together.
Find the wobbly chair and pull out the bad leg as a weapon. Trust me. They are never fixed, just wood glued back together. Photo: Yinz R Reading

Food, running water and disposal of bodies – not a problem.

As a social worker, I’ve spent a lot of time inside buildings. In every inexpensive office space, there’s some sort of “kitchen” and in that kitchen, there’s a drawer where people shove the knife they use for cutting staff birthday cakes as well as other random cutlery that ends up at the office. Find that space and find your weapons. Use the coffeepot to concoct a fiery mix of water spiced up with 300 pepper packets and assorted condiments from the condiment drawer. You’ll have the bad guys screaming “my eyes, they burn” in no time flat. You are also bound to find an outdated microwave which means rotating glass, probably heavy. This is definitely useful in your fight to survive. You can hit someone on the head or use it to send SOS signals when the sun sets. Before you leave the “kitchen” be sure to check for bags. You can also find bags in people’s offices – tote bags, backpacks, gym bags. You can load yourself up nicely.

See, you could build a bomb from this drawer.
See, you could build a bomb from this drawer.

Check cubicles for that one person who always forgets their cell phone at work. It is also likely someone ‘hid’ their laptop under a desk or in a file cabinet drawer. Use these to communicate with the world. I suggest being intentionally cryptic to draw the most attention and increase your likelihood that someone rational & sane will contact the police while someone adventurous and slightly crazy will come to literally rescue you.

I should note here that I can never remember if SOS in Morse code is short-short-short-long-long-long-short-short-short or the opposite. I figure if I keep sending it with no break in continuity, they’ll get my point. It saved Bella Swan when she was locked in the panic room so whatever.

If you are in a building, remember – things typically are not well-maintained so you can find weapons in paper towel dispensers, plungers stashed near a staff bathroom, and maybe a drawer. Always check drawers in office spaces – people shove all kinds of crap in there. If you can riffle through desks, you might find a lighter, a gun or a copy of “The Office Workers Guide to Zombie Attacks” all of which could prove useful.

Other lessons:

  • Stay on the ground floor unless you are reasonably sure you can get to the roof and spell out SOS in staplers and reflective safety vests no one wears. Maybe set it on fire.
  • If you are in a mall, find the storage rooms – you’ll have an entire army of holiday decorations to utilize, most of which will either creep out or incite nostalgic longing in your foes.
  • If you are in an office space, find the “archived files” storage room because then you’ll find the mechanized shelves. These can work to your advantage.
  • If you are anyway near a nonprofit, you’ll find an old school paper cutter and there’s your blade. It is probably held together with duct tape and rubber bands, but if not it is highly likely the bolt is loose since it is 70 years old.

Stay calm. You can get out alive.


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