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One week left for Christmas shopping, you better get out there! There are so many sales happening!
Just don’t go too crazy…
…or this flash fiction might happen.
“Ma’am, I’m only here to help you. I can’t do that if you don’t talk to me.”
She doesn’t answer right away. She doesn’t do much at all in those moments, holding still like a vice was around her body. It doesn’t even seem like she’s breathing. The drink in her hands has only been halfway downed, the marshmallows long ago melted into a white film. Her painted nails are puncturing right through the Styrofoam cup, a slight dribble of brown liquid already staining her uniform’s sleeve. That was not the only stain on it, the rest is covered in spots of gore.
I wait a few moments, hoping she might answer, maybe at the very least take a drink from that cup. I wait a few more before finally sitting forward in my chair and placing my hand on her shoulder. She shudders, then looks at me. Her eyes are blood-shot, and her hair falls limp over her left side. She doesn’t do anything about it, just looks at me. It’s almost a shock when she finally speaks.
“You ever work retail, Doctor Parse?” she said, her words almost angry.
“No, I can’t say I ever have.”
She crushes the cup in her hand and flings it across the room towards the garbage can, causing a brown arc of liquid to stain my carpet. I don’t say anything, but someone was going to have to pay for that. Probably me.
“Then I don’t think you can help me,” she says. Her eyes go hard again and she goes back to sitting still.
I move closer and sit next to her, she goes in further, her arms as close to her body as possible. My arm goes over her shoulders and I pull her into a hug. Her muscles stay hard, but her arms drop to her sides, and a soft noise comes from her. It takes me a moment to realize that she’s crying. Just a long stream of tears and choked sobs. I pull her in tighter and she finally relaxes for a moment.
“They train you for it…use simulators even,” she says.
“For what?” I ask, pulling a blanket around her and stepping away. She pulls herself into a cocoon, but keeps her head exposed.
“For the holidays. You know, the Sales Rush.” She’s shaking underneath the blanket, but she keeps talking, almost as if holding it in was physically hurting her. “They disable the panic buttons…they don’t actually work…it was my first year…nobody was brave enough to tell me…I needed money, you know?”
“I’ve heard rumors about it, but why did you decide to work there in the first place?” I ask, trying to coax as much data out of her as I can, for both of our sakes. I give a quick glance at the one way glass across the room; I can’t see them, but I know there are two agents watching us.
She scoffs without jest, like I had just said something profoundly rude. “Decide? No one decides their jobs anymore…all the good ones are gone…you take what you can get,” she looks at me with that glare again, “but I don’t suppose you would not know about that Doctor Parse.”
She goes back into her own mind and I just sit a few minutes watching her, waiting for her to get over her anger. I walk over and make her a drink, then place it on the table next to her. She turns to look at the steam for a moment, letting one of her hands hover over it, watching the smoke pool underneath her palm.
“One thousand five hundred thirty-three people were waiting outside,” she says finally, picking up the drink and draining it in one continuous sip, slamming the empty cup back down on the table. She turned to look at me. “And that was just the beginning of the day.”
“That is a lot of people,” I stated dumbly.
“You’re damn right that’s a lot of people. That’s a concert, that’s a suburb through your door in one go. We had a guy on entrance duty…I never even learned his name.” she says, her posture slumping. “We were all hired a week ago…there wasn’t time to learn everyone’s names.”
“What happened after that?” I ask, perhaps pressing her a bit, but the image of those two on the other side drove me on, the long pistols that weren’t pistols on their hips; the small ear-mounted devices hooked up to their shades.
She wipes her eyes before continuing. “We had it under control, then Gerald…” she trails off for a moments.
“You said his name when we brought you in? Someone you know?”
A few more furtive wipes across her eyes and a steadying breath. “Yeah, he was my boyfriend. Well, not officially…but we went on a kind of date…the day – the day before.”
My hand goes to her shoulders and I look her directly in the eyes “You can tell me anything,” I say simply, matching her serious gaze.
“It was the sale…the god damn fucking sale. It was hectic before, but when they announced the buy-one-get-one-free…it was madness…the numbers doubled…people could not even fit through the doors anymore…”
Her eyes move to look at her feet, her arms crossing across her chest.
“I was the furthest in the back of registers…it’s the only reason it wasn’t me…we lost the first few guys in those seconds…one didn’t even get to say anything…just gone, like that…” she snaps her fingers for emphasis, then spends a few seconds looking at her hand.
“But Gerald, he was smart, he got two or three others to the same register…he was managing it. I would have tried to help…but my line was so long…I happened to be looking when it happened,” she shivers and breaths heavily for a few seconds, “One of them…just leapt over the counter…started screaming about sales tax…then they all started…so many at once, I pressed my panic button…nothing happened, they just kept vaulting over.”
I reach out to comfort her again and she slaps my hand away, running her hands through her hair with her eyes wide. “He tried…I couldn’t get to him…it was too late…I ran, I ran out of the employee exit, the crowd was behind me yelling at me to come back. I wasn’t the only one running, they took him down instead of…I was just lucky…” she looks down at her uniform and runs her hands over the red marks.
“They ate him. All for some fucking sale…they ate them alive….”
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