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What follows is a story I wrote for the upcoming holiday season. I was inspired to write it after my wife went many years ago to a sale on the "biggest shopping day of the year" and had to foot-race a crowd of people in the predawn hours to where they displayed that year's hottest toy. A few years after that, but on the same day, the doors to a local computer store were ripped from their hinges after advertising they were selling computers to the first twenty customers for something like fifty dollars each. It was so ludicrous ... I had to laugh.

However, what once was fantasy has now become an everyday occurrence. Just read a paper. People these days are one chromosome away from picking fleas off one another, and so my stories - as well as many of my colleague's - are no longer scary, shocking, or even surprising. We writers have faced our demons many times while gathering the ideas that we meld into words. To put it simply: nothing really scares us ... except reality.

I hope you enjoy it.

Joseph Miles/Author

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Merry Deathmas

By Joseph Miles
Copyright (c) 2003
All Rights Reserved

The car horn blasted in the frigid morning air, but no one seemed to take notice. It was obvious that its owner wanted the attention of one of the people standing in front of Keester's, a popular and over-shopped department store chain that boasted in their ads of becoming the “8th Wonder of the World.” The car, a sleek, black, late model Buick with equally black windows, had drifted up to the curb like some primordial creature in search of prey, and with pale blue smoke billowing from its tailpipe, it sparkled beneath the lights from the store. Though everyone turned to look, no one dared step from the line in which they stood.
There was movement as the driver's side door opened and an Italian man in his thirties appeared over the roof of the car; an opera singer of the same persuasion blared from the stereo. He could have brandished an AK-47, but it would have gone unnoticed by the line of people standing in the pre-dawn hours. Not even an incoming SCUD missile could budge the surly mob that had begun to assemble outside the store twelve hours earlier. A robust woman, who was much older than the gentleman at the curb, began spewing fluent Italian to the driver. She waved her hands wildly as his verbal barrage overlapped hers. Exasperated, he disappeared beneath the roof of the car and peeled away from the store.
Mabel Moxley huffed at the man's insolence and then returned her attention to the glass doors behind which several very nervous salespeople talked amongst themselves. It seemed they were trying to decide who was going to open the doors … and were drawing straws. A low growl rumbled deep in Mabel's thick chest as she recalled what the manager told her over the phone yesterday.
The prices in the sales paper were phenomenal, unreal even. Many thought the advertisements were in error; but after having filled their guts with a criminal amount of turkey and dressing, they learned that the prices were authentic. “Yeah, well I bet you don't even have any of this stuff!” Mabel had yelled into her telephone receiver. Spit flew from her large, greasy lips. “Probably want to give me a damn rain check, don't ya!”
She looked at her dining table. It was overflowing with food. One of her guests, her brother Art, who pushed the scale well above the 300 pound mark and was only slightly lighter than herself, had fallen asleep at the table. Cranberries, which had probably been put there by his own hefty brood, hung like fat ticks in his hair. His mouth dropped open, dripping giblet gravy onto his already dirty T-shirt that had a cartoon drawing of a man holding his crotch and a caption that read: “Baste this!”
He belched.
“No ma'am,” the male voice said on the phone, “we were prepared for this day well in advance and have more than enough merchandise to satisfy our ad.” But then in an almost sinister way he said something that would have made the average person shudder in total terror: “But you'd better come early-y.” His voice went suggestively higher on the last word. She could've sworn she heard him laughing manically when she hung up. But it didn't matter; she was going to get some of those thin, flowery housecoats on sale for five dollars each! What did her mother call them? “Moo-Moos”?
The salespeople inside began to scatter as the manager gave the keys to a rather puny-looking man with wire-rimmed glasses. Cold sweat glistened on his forehead as he searched for the key that opened the door and the manager ran for cover. As the lights went up inside the massive department store, the crowd compressed, making the huge panes of glass bow dangerously inward. Popping and cracking sounds could be heard, and it was difficult to tell if they were from people's bones or glass breaking.
A short, less heftier woman of about 30 pushed against Mabel and jabbed her rolled up sales ad into her ribs. Mabel pulled her arm out from between another woman, who was pressed against her, and planted her elbow in the woman's face. She screamed, went down, and disappeared.
The ground was no place for anyone.
Wimpy inserted the key into the door and the crowd became a single, angry entity. It moved forward even though there was no more forward room in which to move. Screams rang out as did the sounds of people gasping for air. Women shrieked. Men cursed.
The salesman glanced one last time for his co-workers, but they were nowhere to be found. He made a pitiful, whimpering sound and turned the key ever so slowly. The cogs clicked once and the crowd pushed. He could see their faces smashed against the glass in a horrendous living montage. Their mouths moved to form words that he didn't want to know.
The cogs clicked again and, with the exception of the roaring crowd, it was the last sound he heard. The door imploded, breaking the man's nose and sending him flying into a nearby end cap. He probably would have lived had the end cap not been filled with the season's “hot toy”; the shoppers covered him like ants would a small, dead animal in a remote part of a South American jungle.
Like meat from a hand grinder, they poured through the one open door. The second, adjacent door had not been opened and they came through three abreast even though there was barely enough room for two people to go through together. Some were horizontal, held aloft by the sheer pressure of the mob. They looked like canned cheese extruded onto a nonexistent cracker.
The glass in the second door ruptured, sending several people spilling through. One man wearing a parka that he planned to fill with merchandise bled profusely from the throat. He lay on the floor and tried to staunch the bleeding himself by holding his blood covered hands upon his own wound. But no one noticed. Those that began pouring through the broken door stepped on him as if he were some bizarre organic floor mat. His screams were an eerie contrast to the “Walking In a Winter Wonderland” that played on the store PA.
Mabel approached the door. She had prepared for this moment by raising her arms above the crowd so she could bring her purse or umbrella down on any “idiot” that got in her way. As she moved to go through the door, a younger man tried also, and Mabel pushed her bulk against him. His head became ensnared between her and the thick, metal door frame and was almost removed as she squeezed into the store. His right ear sheared off and fell to a floor that was becoming coated with blood and human body parts. Some were slipping and falling in the gore, which was just as dangerous; if anyone fell to the floor, they never got back up. The hundreds of feet trampled them into unconsciousness.
The sales help had all but disappeared early on, and the cashiers, frightened by the riot, had left their registers and ran for safety at the back of the store. One unfortunate saleslady knelt upon the platform of a display rack. Her torn, shredded clothes were spotted with blood. She cried and screamed in terror above a sea of grasping hands, each one wanting to bring her down for reasons unknown. She screamed wildly and began kicking when one fist found her ankle. But it was to no avail; another hand assisted the first and together they snatched her from the platform. The woman clawed the platform and then went down. Her screams echoed throughout the brightly lit department store.
Mabel finally saw her quarry: the Moo-Moos. With her hands still poised above the crowd, she made her way over to the rack of thin, cotton housecoats, where dozens of women fought. Many were in need of serious medical attention, but that didn't stop them. And it didn't stop Mabel. She brought her meaty elbows down upon the heads of the women surrounding the rack.
“Get the fuck outta my way, bitch!” she said as she approached the now destroyed rack.
She took the leather straps of her purse in both hands and pulled them over the head of one woman who immediately stepped into the spot that Mabel had just cleared for herself. She pulled back on the straps with all her strength. The woman gagged and clawed at the tough, leather cords around her neck. Her eyes bulged and Mabel thought they would shoot from her face like a tiny pair of bloodshot tennis balls in an automatic server. The woman removed her hand from her throat just long enough to give Mabel the finger. It shook and jerked in her face before finally going limp. Mabel released the woman. She collapsed to the floor of the department store from hell.
Mabel screamed and brought her fists down upon the rack when she discovered it had already been ransacked. “Damn it!” she shrieked. “Now they'll probably want to give me a fucking RAINCHECK!”
She glanced around in hope of finding someone not guarding their merchandise and found a lady slumped against an end cap. Her hair was gone in places and she was bleeding from her nose and mouth. Her legs were bruised to the point of becoming mush.
Mabel didn't care. For in her hands she clutched five of the ugly housecoats. Mabel looked at her and turned away from the rack, her expression was both unreasonable and terrifying.
“Please … help me,” the woman said. She was weak and near death.
Mabel reached down and grabbed the housecoats and the woman suddenly came to life, reanimated like some ghoul from a 70's horror flick.
“Take your hands off my stuff, you fat bitch!” she screamed.
The woman rocked backwards and planted one of her high heels that she wore strictly for this occasion into Mabel's portly gut. Mabel screamed as the heel penetrated her abdomen and probed her intestines, filling her cavity with old chewing gum and filth from a million parking lots. With one last effort, Mabel brought the point of her umbrella down into the woman's face, stabbing her in the left eye. The woman released the housecoats as the tip of the umbrella tapped the bony back of her eye socket.
Mabel staggered back, still clutching the blessed Moo-Moos. She bled profusely and felt like she was going to faint. “Damn," she said weakly, "she was tough. I think I need to sit down for a second,” she told no one in particular.
The crowd had already begun to thin, but there were bodies littered everywhere. They would announce later on the evening news that close to 60 people had died and that hundreds more were injured, some in critical condition.
Mabel slumped onto a display bench. Her ashen face was glistening with a coat of sweat. “Next year,” she panted, “next year … I'm bringing my gun,” she said. With the housecoats rolled up and tight against her bleeding gut, Mabel fell over on the bench. Her eyes never closed.
Out of nowhere, a girl around the age of 15 ran past Mabel. In one lightning fast move she snatched the housecoats, sending Mabel's body to the floor. She landed face-down atop a gentleman whose face had been nearly torn off. Cheek to bloody cheek, they seemed to comfort one another in some strange postmortem way.
As “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” boomed over the PA, the girl thief easily jumped over dead bodies in a now vacant Keesters and ran through the broken glass with the housecoats billowing out like huge, floral-patterned wings.
A massive shelf display crashed to the floor just as the music on the PA stopped long enough for the promotional recording to play: “Be sure to get you and your family one of our very own homemade turkey sandwiches at our snack bar for just 99 cents each,” the cheerful female voice said, “and as always, thank you for eating at our Keesters!”

“Merry Deathmas,” by Joseph Miles, Copyright (c) 2003, All Rights Reserved

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author's imagination or are used fictiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coicidental.