For all the years I have lived, tonight was the first time I ever worked the darkest day of the year. It has become the worse of my nightmares come true this day. I have witnessed horrors no one should be allowed to bear witness to. I have watched as friends were swallowed whole and their flesh torn asunder before my very eyes! They requests from the unending crowds in the most unappreciative ways shall forever ring into my ears as I attempt to close my eyes from the echoes of their ghosts…
I fear only upon death shall I find relief from these terrors…so I write now, recounting the experience in my vain attempt to lessen these pains rather than continue to rock in a corner whispering how I am just a boy…I am…just…a boy…
It all started out well and good enough. A day of thanks spent with my wonderful family, eating good food, and rejoicing in the coming season was once again the norm. I ate and drank, sang happy songs with everyone and relaxed in their company. The aroma of freshly made pies filled the air and the hot turkey assaulted my senses, making me smile. Each family member conversed with the next, congratulating each other on accomplishments or lightly teased about failures.
Even still, my heart and mind was heavy. While the rest of the family sat around shifting through magazines in order to find the best deals for the next day, I knew I would be on the other side of the battle than they. I would be the one in the store, ever vigilant of those around me, desperately trying to stay safe. They would be rummaging through the hoards trying to find what was left at good prices. When they would be waiting in line, I would already be donning my battle uniform and preparing myself for the coming rush. In just a few hours, the sleep induced by the turkey’s tryptophan would be rudely interrupted by the screaming of an alarm clock in my ear.
Still…I slept and had a dream of a time of warm sun, smiling faces, and peace for all those around me. As I kneeled down to hug a dog I lost years ago, a high pitch howling caused me to leap violently from my warm bed and my eyes scanned about the room, my brain completely confused as to where I was. Slowly, the fog cleared and the howling turned into a loud buzzing coming from my night stand. With trembling hands, I turned my alarm off and sighed deeply, both in annoyance and worry, over what I was now expected to do. In the soft glow given by my alarm clock, the three o’clock burning holes into my night vision, I slowly prepared for battle. My name tag was straight, my shirt and pants freshly pressed, and my face cleanly shaven as it would be easier to clean the blood when it is not blocked by facial hair.
Stepping to my vehicle, I took one last look back at the security of my home. I practiced a few smiles to the reflection in my window, watching the roll of my breath as I exhaled, and chuckled to myself. Taking a deep breath, I entered my car and turned the engine over, noticing how even it sounded both tired and afraid. As the engine warmed up, I fiddled with the radio, settling on a soft, calming station to keep my nerves under control. There would be enough to fear later…right now, I had to set the precedent of being strong and brave lest I fall into the pitfall of sorrow before the time was right. It was now time…and so I left my driveway and headed into work.
My approach was mostly uneventful as I encountered little in the way of other vehicles. Perhaps the pitiful economy we have all been told was going to have an effect this year and things would be much calmer? I easily found a parking space and quickly entered into the employee entrance. The warmth of the store was immediately welcoming and everyone greeted each other with hugs and handshakes. After all, no one knew if we would see each other again at the end of the day. No one could ever know…and yet we accepted it so well…we have always been fools, though.
The management directed all of us into our positions to weather the coming storm. One of my best friends at work, Ricky, was to be stationed near the front of the store to help anyone in that area, while I was put on the register. While protected from many of the problems of being on the floor, the register battlement held its own perils. I worried immensely for Ricky’s safety, as he would be near the entrance and would be completely exposed to the unrelenting terror of the hoard. As we were dismissed, with less than an hour and a half before the doors opened, I am not ashamed to say I hugged my friends tighter than I have ever hugged another man. After all, after this night, it is what we would become: Men.
Standing at my post I heard it. A small thud followed by a soft rumbling beneath my feet. Initially I believed it to be my imagination, but it happened again, this time with more emphasis and the rumbling lasted longer. Looking over at my co-worker manning the register beside me, her eyes were glazed over and she just stared straight ahead with no emotion. She was one of the most seasoned of us all, having worked four previous years during Black Friday.
“Sarah…” I asked, just above a whisper. She did not respond…she didn’t even blink. I felt the ground move and the thud even louder. “Sarah..!” I managed to bark out to her. Like being attached to a swivel, her head creepily turned towards me, no soul visible in her eyes. “Sarah…what is that?” I questioned as the rumbling reached a fever pitch with no pausing. “They’re here…” Sara spoke to me with dry lips, “They shall soon be upon us.” As a chill ran down my neck, causing me to shiver, I simultaneously felt ice fill my veins.
Upon my shoulder death stretched its bony fingers and gripped me tightly. Death’s breath blew past my ear in a frozen breeze. Suddenly I was shaken and I turned, fully expecting to see the empty sockets of a hooded skeleton staring back at me. I sighed with relief when it was my manager staring back at me. “Just breath, kid. It’ll be alright,” he stated, slapping my shoulder, “This your first time?” I could only nod as I felt the rumbling stop, but heard a crashing on the entrance. “I..I’m scared, sir…” I spoke softly, feeling my throat tense. “We’re all scared son. Just do your job and you’ll be fine,” he told me as he walked toward the door with keys in hand. “He will be lucky to make it, you know,” Sara stated matter-of-fact. When I looked at her, she once again wasn’t even staring at me. She just kept her eyes toward the front of the store.
“Okay, everyone! It’s time!” My manager call out as I heard his keys enter the door.
I cannot even tell you honestly I remember when everyone piled in. I heard screaming…a screaming of sheer terror and pain as my manager disappeared into the wave of ferocious shoppers. One moment he was there and then…he was just gone. As the shoppers rushed past me in a blur I have only seen in action movies, time seemed to stand still. Slowly I looked over at Sara who was now grinning…but it was as though she were possessed by a demon. Her eyes burned with fire, her teeth fully visible, and the wind whipped her hair about her face. Something cold and damp hit my face in droplets. Touching my cheek, I wiped it off and then peered at my fingers. Blood? Time suddenly caught up with itself and as the shoppers cleared away from my location, the long trail of red on the floor let me know all I needed…my manager was dead and we were down a leader.
The hours passed and it was finally my time to have a morning meal. Gratefully relinquishing my post, I pushed past the crowd and entered into the employee break room. My coworkers were all huddled together for protection, a small electronic candle sat in the middle of the break room table for light. I heard not a sound besides a few heavy breaths. Reaching for the light switch, my hand was grasped tightly. I looked down to see Michael, terror stricken with tears in his eyes, shaking his head. Pressing a finger to his lips, he begged me to be quiet. When I sat down, a note was passed to me. Still, not a word was spoken and the only light available to me to read the note was the electronic candle, and my eyes were still not used to the darkness. “Silence…they are attracted to our sound!” the note read. I continued to read the next line, “They made their way in when they heard us laughing…they can see light under the door. DARKNESS AND SILENCE!” I felt the eyes of everyone upon me, so I looked up. Their eyes pleaded with me to understand, so I simply nodded my replay and began to eat my left overs. I ate them cold, in fear of letting our position be known.
When it was my turn, I carefully, and quietly, exited out of the employee break room and attempted to make it back to the register. My headset fired up and I heard my name called. “What’s up?” I asked. “We need you on the floor. You’re off the register. Go to electronics for the last half of your shift,” the replacement manager told me. It was a death sentence. I couldn’t even argue…I couldn’t even think! Like a zombie, I made my way into the electronics section and swallowed hard, ready for the deep level of Hell I was about to endure.
“You there!” a man screamed at me as he charged my area. “Y…yes?!” I asked, already starting to shake. “Ye…eyee..yeees!?” he teased me, stomping his foot, “I want a Playstation 4! I can’t find any!” Looking around for help, one of my new battle buddies simply shook his head and gave me thumbs down. I turned to face the behemoth as he leered down at me. “I’m sorry, sir, it doesn’t appear we have anymore…” I informed him. “Bullshit!” his voice rang out above the crowd, making my ears hurt, “Get one from the back!” What could I say? What could I do? There was no “in back” when it came to game systems especially. This was not going to be a battle I would survive. “I’m sorry, there are none in the ‘back’. We had a limited supply and ran out hours ago,” I told him as calmly as my shaken core would muster. “Listen, kid, I don’t care if you have to pull one out of your ass! Get me one!” he screamed and grabbed me by the shirt. As I shrieked in terror, just knowing my soul was going to be sucked out of my belly button, I flailed my arms, praying to God for help.
If ever there was a question in my mind to God’s existence, there no longer is. As my prayer ended, a flash of blue and the sound of bodies hitting the ground happened before me. The ogre who had been grabbing me was trapped, kicking and screaming, beneath two police officers as they tasered and handcuffed him. The officers stood the man out and gave me a thumbs up as they drug him from the store. I was covered in sweat completely, and my legs barely managed to keep me up. “How can this get any worse?” I thought to myself. I should have known better to ask, because as payment for the rescue of my very being, God was now going to collect the fee. Looking up into the crowd, I watched as my best work friend, Ricky, was swallowed by the crowd near the front of the store. He would not receive the saving I would. The tearing of cloth, the screams of pain, followed by the gurgling of his breath rang out above the noises of all else. A bright red arterial spray shot up into the air and spattered against the ceiling, only to fall as a red mist upon the group tearing him apart. As they parted, his bloody skeleton remain on the ground, twitching slightly.
“Get to the restroom!” my head set shouted. After a few moments of silence, I keyed up and asked, “Me?” “Yes, you! We have a Code Brown Level Seven in the men’s restroom!” the voice squealed in panic. While death would be a welcoming embrace, a Code Brown was the last level of Hell…and a Level Seven signaled the need for a full head to toe suit… I began to vomit at the mere thought of it. I rushed to the storage room and suited up…unaware at the true nature of what I was about to see.
I entered into the restroom, countless people waiting outside, and began to instantly weep. Someone didn’t even try…they simply put their asshole right against the wall and let go. I cannot say what the person possibly could heave eaten during Thanksgiving to give them this kind of super power…but I knew they at least had corn. I could see the warping of the air from the smell itself and was instantly grateful for the filter I was breathing through.
For the last two hours of my shift I cleaned that mess. Had I not looked up, I never would have seen the strings of shit dangling from the ceiling…and would have been done sooner. I know now, the true horror of humanity in its most secret and intimate of locations.
Now at home writing, hoping to end this hell I see before me, I know it will not help. All that can save me now is the silent slumber of death… After all…I am…just…a…boy…