The cool air bristled across the wide open space of the dimly lit parking lot. The sun was still a long way away. It was just a very faded light blue haze on the distant horizon. Most nights, it would be the dead time of night, with the world still asleep, but that night, that morning, it was far from still and asleep. Not the early pre-dawn morning after Thanksgiving.
Cars and trucks filled with holiday travelled shoppers roamed in the early morning streets. Coffee shops were already opened to the morning participants and filled with many people getting their refills. Family members would be switching out from the long lines as many would be tucked away in their vehicles while one member would brave the cold. Solitary shoppers would be heavily bundled with hunter hand warmers placed strategically throughout their body to attempt to keep them warm.
Winter was coming, and so was Christmas.
Tim stood there. He was one of the many shoppers getting ready to storm the doors into the closed department store. The store itself still had an hour before they would open to the onslaught of customers and the line outside was already stretched around to the side of the building, it’s end lost out of sight. He was glad that he was one of the few people closest to the door, but then he had also been camping there since before the store had even closed the night before.
“I’m going back to the car.”
Tim looked over his shoulder. Michelle was shivering behind him. Her face, the little he could see exposed as most of it was hidden behind her pink scarf, was pale white from the cold. Even her normally bright blue eyes seemed to be iced over with a sheen of frost. He had warned her beforehand about coming with him that it wasn’t easy to stand in the lines for hours on end. She had thought it would be fun. She could play on her phone and text people, she had told him. That had lasted fifteen minutes. By midnight, she had already been complaining about wanting to go home and come back later.
She didn’t understand.
“Okay hun. You go get yourself warmed up.” He said to her. She hadn’t even waited for him. She had already turned and was bouncing back to their little Ford Escort. The heat wouldn’t kick on for a couple minutes if it did at all, but she had blankets in there and it would get her out of the wind.
The couple next to him really came prepared. They were seated in lawn chairs, large, thick blankets pulled up to their faces, and full head gear to keep them warm. They had long since fallen asleep, and were statues to the God of greed.
Others nearby had set up tents. Those were the fanatics. They had been camped out there for two days. When Tim first showed up, he couldn’t help but find out more, like what they were there for. One of them was just there for the event of it. He just planned on picking up a couple of new DVD’s.
Michelle was shocked by the madness of it all. She was furious as first. “Didn’t any of these people have families they should be with? It’s Thanksgiving!?”
Tim just smiled. She was cute.
That she was, in her tight blue jeans that sometimes looked like they were just painted on. A wiggle fit, he called them, as he knew she had to shake her booty viciously to fit them into the small space of the pants. Then there was her slim fitting sweater that was thick enough to be warm, but still tight to her shape.
Damn he felt lucky having her there with him, even if she did spend most the time in the car.
Tim looked back behind him. People were still pulling into the parking lot and crossing over towards the distant end of the line. The stream was becoming larger, more cars were driving on the roads, and the morning was waking up in greater force.
He loved being out there for it. Just the feeling of being a part of the morning as it was waking up. The air smelled different. The cool breeze felt different. Like it was electric, pulsating intensely in preparation to what was to come.
Tim scanned the parking lot, at how the morning was coming alive, and stopped when his gaze fell upon his car. He watched as the exhaust created a small poisonous fog spitting out from the rusted tailpipe.
Maybe he should think about getting a new car instead of waiting in line for a television.
That exhaust had to be filtering into the heat. He didn’t know how she could stand to just sit in there. Then again, it was either that or out here in the cold. Just like her good looks, she would nearly die if it meant to keep herself comfortable or looking good.
Tim shifted as he noticed that she wasn’t alone in the car. She was sitting behind the wheel, but Tim could just make out another shape sitting there with her. He couldn’t see it too well, but there was definitely a dark shape moving around in the front seat of the car. It was making the whole car shake rocking back and forth. If Tim hadn’t known better, he would have thought that there was sexual feeling going on, but Michelle would never, and it was too soon after she had left.
Tim didn’t stop to think about his place in line when the driver’s side door opened and he could hear her screaming. Michelle’s scream could be heard loudly throughout the parking lot and it chilled him even deeper. He tried to run as fast as he could, but his legs had long since gone numb from standing and being out there in the cold. They burned and pulled against him.
He neared the car, as Michelle was trying to pull herself out. Her hands just reaching over the top of the door were covered in blood, and she struggled against the dark shape, trying to pull herself away. He could hear her, struggling, sounding like she was trying to kick herself away, but with the windows fogged, and the angle he had ran towards her, he still couldn’t see much more than the streaks of blood coming down the driver’s side door.
“Michelle!” Tim yelled. He could see in greater detail how the passenger side window had been broken in, and the dark shape was reaching through from the other side, chasing after his girlfriend.
She was staring at him through the window as some of the fog had started to fade, making her face just a haze. Her expression was of desperation, and he knew that tears were streaming down her face. He tried to push himself even faster, to get around the door to get to her.
He rounded around the open door, quickly reaching in to grab for her hand.
“Take my hand!” Tim said. He reached for hers, but she wouldn’t grab it. Her grip remained tight on the door, fingers locked into their grasp. Her skin was covered in blood and he grabbed at her hands to pull them away. Her fingers stayed locked. She refused to look at him, and a lump was beginning to form in the pit of his stomach. There was a lot of blood. He hoped like hell that it wasn’t hers. He silently prayed to himself that it wasn’t.
He finally was able to break away her fingers from the frame, and took her hands into his. The blood was wet and sticky, and he had to fight to keep hold of her as he started pulling her out of the front seat of the car. She wrenched back, pulled away from him when her hand broke free from the door frame.
He had to pull harder. A tug of war occurred with Michelle being used as rope. He pulled with all of his strength coursing through his legs to dig into the blacktop of the parking lot. The shape, hidden in the darkness of the car, Tim couldn’t see who, or what had her, he just knew he wanted to get Michelle away from it. He pulled, harder, feeling as she was starting to come farther from the front seat of the car. Then with a sudden snap, she was broken free and lunged forward towards him.
He fell back, and Michelle came crashing down on top of him. Blood was dripping from her, and he could see the large chunk of flesh taken out of her neck. He could also see her collar bone right where skin and muscle should have been through a large rip in her sweater. Around the tear, a massive amount of red crimson already drenched her sweater around the gaping hole and it was quickly getting worse.
Tim looked to her eyes, turning her face so that she was looking at him. Her face turned, but her eyes were barely open, and looked at him with a blank gaze. Her mouth was open, but inside, her tongue flopped with the motion as Tim was jerking her around, trying to get her to snap out of it. She was gone.
He let her go, and started to pull himself out from under her. His eyes stayed locked into her lifeless orbs as the black dots continued to look back at him. She had just been there with him. Just minutes ago, she had been in line with him, talking to him.
He could already start to hear the commotion from the crowd, and some that had family members holding their place were already running over. Tim didn’t turn to look. He just wanted his Michelle, to have her eyes snap out of their daze and to stare back at him, not through him.
He didn’t even notice as the dark shape started to crawl over Michelle and continue towards him.
* * * *
Brett yawned, his eyes moist in the corner as they fought to stay open. His mouth pulled tight, and he could feel the muscles in his neck tense. His whole body was feeling like it wasn’t awake, and there wasn’t a single part of him that wanted to be there.
He couldn’t remember the last time he had woken up that early. Had he ever?
He didn’t want to be up that early now. It wasn’t even five in the morning yet. It was unnatural, uncalled for to be there, and to make it worse, he had to listen to that man just drone on and on. He was babbling something about lines and flow of traffic. Brett really didn’t care. Like he really wanted to spend his day after thanksgiving listening to some windbag who thought he could just shout out orders and that they were like sheep that would follow.
“Ha,” Brett had to fight from laughing out loud. Sheep. That was like the pack forming outside, sheep being lead to the slaughter.
Just yesterday, he had been dragged with his parents to his grandparents. Over the river and through the woods to their cramped little house somewhere lost in the corn fields of Illinois to endure a long day of his uncles screaming children. His parents didn’t want to leave until it was well past eight, which meant they hadn’t crossed back into Wisconsin until it neared midnight.
Then he had to be there to listening to this man, who on a normal day, he would consider to be a pretty cool boss. However, any man inflicting the early morning torture was no longer considered to be a nice man.
“So Brett, where are you going to be?”
Brett blinked and looked through the blue clad men and women around him to the man standing at the middle; the man who now called him out for not paying attention.
“Um, walking the line?” Brett said, thankful that Sullivan had told him the plans before Thanksgiving.
“Okay, so, grab your jacket and the item tickets and get out there. Remember one ticket per customer and make sure to pitch our services. I don’t want any computers going out without any setups. If they get to register and you haven’t sold them, you failed.”
“Failed! What the hell did he know?” Brett thought to himself. He couldn’t remember the last time he had seen the old man on the sales floor.
Brett grabbed his large heavy winter coat that he had sitting on one of the front displays, made a check for the hand warmers he had kept in the left front pocket and started to walk towards the front door. Behind him, he could hear Jim ramble on to the rest of his troops.
“Troops preparing for war, and this were the battlefield,” he thought as he reached the large front metal gate. It clattered loudly in the busy morning, and he wanted to cover his ears against the screeching metal sound. Instead he just clinched his teeth until the metal was pulled far enough to the side, and rested there in its guided path.
He stepped over the metal rail that was the guide for the gate and stood just before the large glass double door and looked out into the darkness of the morning. He could have sworn that the street lights had been on when he had pulled in to the parking lot, but now, as he looked out there, it was dark. Almost completely dark, where usually, he could see the cars parked in the lot.
The employees’ cars were always parked towards the back, and a stab of concern spawned that he couldn’t see his own car.
He reached for the lock and heard the click as it unlatched with a dead thud. Something was growing in stomach, something wasn’t right, and he had a feeling starting to twist in his insides. The hairs along his arms started to rise, and a sudden shock of what felt like electricity started to dance in the air.
Maybe it was just his fear?
“What the hell was there to be afraid of? Come on, man, wake yourself up and get out there. What the hell is there to be afraid of?” He knew he was saying it in his mind more to himself to calm his nerves, but there was still that unnerving feeling that there was something there.
There was something out there that there was to be afraid of. Why else wouldn’t he just go out there, and starting working up the line of customers. He was one hell of a salesman. He could walk that line and sell warranties to the most cranky of them and that was all commission money coming straight to his pocket. Who said it didn’t pay to be sleazy?
He started to pull on the doors, working to pull them apart. They caught at first, and then started to pull apart with ease, and Brett was met with the cold November chill that was feasting its way through the morning. It was hungry, that cold and it wanted to make him apart of it.
A shiver ran through him.
He took a step out into the darkness and was met with cold stiff plastic assaulting his face, and he instantly remembered why he hadn’t been able to see the parking lot from inside.
Jim and in infinite genius to protect the bargains, had covered the front door with that damn black plastic so no one could see into the store. Heaven forbid that anyone could see in and see that we only carried maybe two of some ultra-low priced deal. No, let’s keep the customers not knowing so they stand in line for three hours and still were not be able to get what they were waiting for.
It was no wonder why all his managers hated the damn holidays. Brett had only been working there for seven months, and he was already starting to hate them. They ruined his Fourth of July, his Labor Day, and every other single holiday since he had made the mistake of starting there.
Brett closed the door behind him and started to beat against the plastic, working his way to find its end.
“Fuck this.” He muttered under his breath.
The cold wet plastic seemed to fight against him, the darkness a small maze he was trying to push his way through. He could almost imagine how fish felt when they were trapped in the net. The damn plastic just wouldn’t seem to let him go. The wind just seemed to catch it whenever he would try to push it away from himself, and whip it back into him. It was like there were hands reaching through the plastic trying to grab him.
A sudden strong draft finally pushed the plastic away, allowing him to break free. The wind, a slice of cold air that burned his skin rushed at him and the light from the parking lot revealed itself. He felt a brief relieving sensation of being free and inhaled deeply the clean cool air.
Brett had just a second to enjoy being released from the plastic before he realized that it hadn’t been the wind that had been pushing it in against him.
* * * *
Cynthia was rushing, nearly running to reach the break room where she could already hear Jim talking about how they were all going to survive the morning. It was his same speech that he gave every year. The one about what everyone was expected to do, and how certain people were sharks walking the line, while others were given directions on how to do the quick pitch on selling at the register.
Jim could sell, she definitely felt that way about him. He had no soul and would sell a warranty to his dying grandmother even if it cost her last dollar she had. He would still make the sale.
Listen to him and a person could make some money in commissions, and that she did.
But she didn’t like being late. She was never late. Her damn alarmed clock, why hadn’t it gone off. She was never late.
She knew they were already upset with her, she could tell it from the tone of Aaron’s voice when he had called wondering where she was. Thank goodness he had called. She never would have made it otherwise.
She eased her way in to the already crowded room, sneaking her way into the back of the crowd. Jim didn’t seem to notice, but Aaron did. It was probably for the best though, so that way he knew that she was there, and wouldn’t be trying to call her again. She wondered if anyone else had been late.
“Okay, everyone ready? Everyone know what they are supposed to do?” Jim called out to the crowd.
Cynthia looked over to the new guy. His name was Rick, or Randy, something with an “R”. Damn she felt sorry for him. This was never what you wanted to do for your first day. Only a sadistic SOB would put a man on his first day against the morning rush.
She looked back to Jim who was walking over with Randy or Rick or whatever his name was, and was starting to lead him out of the room. Cynthia had to step to the side to let them past, and she caught the evil stare that Jim gave her, then he turned his attention back to “R” and they were heading toward the door.
The rest of the half-awake zombies of the morning employees moved to follow, but Cynthia, her pulse racing from having to hurry, had a quicker step to her walk and was able to follow Jim out the door before anyone else started to really move.
They were all making their way from the back break area, Jim in his long quick manager’s stride, “R” eager to please on his first day and Cynthia, with her just being her normal chipper self. However, Cynthia slowed as they were making their way to the front door. She slowed, as the hairs on the back of her neck stood and she realized that something just didn’t feel right.
The front of the store was dark. Darker than normal, but that was to be expected with the plastic over the front door. Still that wasn’t it. There was something else, something that hung in the air. It was like there was a bad smell of meat gone rank, but it was so faint that she could feel it more than smell it. Then there was also that tickle of a sound. There was a thumping, like something dull being repeatedly knocked against glass.
“Holy shit, is that them beating against the glass?” “R” said as him and Jim headed toward the front door.
Jim stopped just before they both reached it.
Cynthia thought she knew why, too. It was the same reason why she slowed. He felt it too, or he heard it. After all, “R” was right. It did sound like the customers outside were hitting against the glass doors. That is, if they were hitting it in slow motion and no energy.
The repetitive pumps did make it sound like there were many of them, and they wanted in.
“It’s time,” Jim said as he checked his watch.
“Yeah, but time for what?” Cynthia thought as she watch Jim move to unlock and power on the inner doors. It was time for what?
Cynthia could hear as the other employees started to stop and stand at various spots around her. She took a glimpse at them, and she could so see them all as the walking dead as they all looked so tired and half alive.
She turned back from the crowd of employees behind her in time to watch as the inner doors glided loudly open and Jim strutted his way to the outer doors. The inner doors started to squeak back close, the loud high pitch squeal cutting through the mysterious thumping with its own horror movie soundtrack.
Jim an “R” were cut off from the rest of them as they stood enclosed in the vestibule. Each one taking sides as Jim guided “R” in how the front iron gates folded back away into the sides of the door.
Cynthia stopped watching them and looked to the black tarp still hanging outside the doors. She could see different shapes at different points of the black tarp, pushing through and then hitting into the front glass door.
She could hear the loud “clank” as Jim secured the gate on the left side of the door. The pounding on the door intensified.
Jim, without waiting for “R” to finish with his side, came rushing back into the front part of the store.
“Where are all my tech guys!” Jim said as he scanned through his sleeping audience. No one responded.
Jim turned back around.
“Where were they?” Cynthia had the fleeting thought as she watched Jim unlock the door and “R” flipped the power switch.
As the door slowly squealed open, even louder than the inner door, no one expected what was about to happen. The door didn’t make it halfway and Jim was just about to give his morning “get in line” speech to the customers while reaching to pull down the black tarp when all hell broke loose.
A hand reached through the tarp, grabbing Jim’s hand just after he grabbed the tarp. He barely had time to call out, “What th-” when the weight shift on the other side from pulling Jim’s arm, to pushing it forward. In a rush of flying black darker than the moonless sky, the tarp rushed forward. The first shapes, falling forward caught in it like it was a fishing tarp.
“R,” who had just kept himself a little off to the right, just missed being caught by the falling tarp. Not that it helped him much. The mass crowd, still not seen too well in the darkened vestibule from where Cynthia stood, was quickly stumbling over the first wave of the fallen and their hands quickly were grabbing “R”. Their grasp ripped and pulled at his clothes as he started to stumble back. He might have made it away from them as well, had he not backed up against the glass stationary part of the gliding front door.
It was then, as “R” was trying to push against glass that would not move that Cynthia saw what was there. At first she could only see all the pairs of hands, and disembodied arms. The hands themselves were mostly all covered in crimson and dripping, but what they belonged to? It was something like out of a horror flick, the ones that her ex-boyfriend, Kenny, used to always try to get her to watch.
Zombies? Zombies!? She could see the disfigured faces, the blank stare, and the stumbling lurches as they made their way forward. She could tell, though she had tried to never watch those films as there was too much of people getting torn apart, their intestines strewn around like bloody Christmas lights.
She had a passing reminder of having to help her mom put up Christmas lights tomorrow as she started to back up. The zombies had already reached “R” and were starting to pull him apart. They were tearing off limbs, but they were eating into him, pulling his flesh away in large strips. He was screaming in ways that Cynthia didn’t know a man could. The loud sound, not sounding like it came from human vocal cords. Then the scream seemed to fill with liquid, gurgling before it was cut off.
Cynthia hadn’t stayed around long enough to find out what caused the scream to quit. She had turned tail and run, and she hadn’t even waited to see if anyone was following. She cared about them, many of them were her friends, but right now it was survival. She was a four foot petite eighteen year old girl, nothing but a snack to those things. She didn’t plan to have herself become an easy snack.
She made it to the back of the center row when she stopped running. She was panting a little, but nowhere near yet worked up. No. Those weekly workouts she had with that hot instructor that she had been continuing to flirt with had kept her in shape.
Behind her she could hear others coming her way, running. The breath caught in her throat as she turned to see who was coming. She kept her body turned, ready to run. All her senses were alive and she felt like she was a deer who had just heard the snap of a twig.
With her head turned back, she saw shapes running towards her. Shadows dancing in the dark, nothing more than outlines running away from the lights surrounding the front.
Cynthia felt her breath catch and her chest seized. The shapes were running and images of running zombies flashed through her head. She tried to think of where to go and where to hide. Where could she go?
“Go! Go go go go GO!” the larger shape yelled. Cynthia recognized his voice. Ryan was yelling at her, and she turned back to run as they neared reaching her.
“Come on! Receiving!” Ryan yelled at her, waving his arm for her to follow. She did quickly. She wasn’t sure how many or if anyone else was following. Sure, she hoped there was, but she could only afford to think about herself and get herself safe.
Cynthia heard a loud scream behind her. It wasn’t all the way to the front so the Zombies must have been getting closer. She wanted to turn and look to see how far away they were, but no, it wasn’t safe.
Ahead, Cynthia could see the light disappear where the sales floor ended and the receiving department began. Her pace faltered as she could imagine once crossing that threshold, it was going to be harder to see what was around the corner. It was too dark in there; they shouldn’t be going in. Just what the hell was Ryan thinking?
Ryan didn’t wait. He kept running and when he reached the corner to turn into receiving, he disappeared into the darkness.
Cynthia didn’t linger any longer. She pushed herself harder to catch back up with them, still not sure who the second running figure was. She assumed it was Tommy. The figure was about his size and she couldn’t imagine Ryan being there without his twin.
The shadows kept bouncing around her, and she felt like she had entered into one of those fun houses that tried to scare her. She entered into the darkness and all sight was lost. The world around her felt like it was gone and the night was taking over. Like it was its own essence, it was enveloping around her and she was losing herself into some bad horror film. It was the one where everything was coming after her, everything from her nightmares.
Ryan yelled back to her, telling her to hurry. As her eyes adjusted to the little light, she could see him starting to climb his way up the roof access stairs. His boots echoing off the metal stairs as he climbed, she worried that they would be heard if any of those things were nearby.
Tommy was right behind Ryan, and she hurried over to follow them.
“Come on!” he yelled to her, urging her on.
She started to climb, looking up to Ryan as she did so. He was getting near to roof access door. She was afraid they might freeze to death once they got out there, but for the time being, she just wanted to get somewhere safe. Being on a roof where none of those things could get to her was at least one step in the right direction.
Ryan reached the top of the ladder and started to push on the door. She could hear him grunting and then a frustrated cry out.
“Shit! It’s locked!”
She kept climbing, though she already feared that they were going to be stuck there.
She heard another kind of grunt. It was one that she had already learned and dreaded recognizing.
The lights of the store turned on. The automatic timer must have finally recognized that it was time to open the store.
Cynthia could see as the first wave of zombies made their way around the corner. They moved slowly. Some of them limping, those it looked like because part of their legs had been eaten through. Most of them just stumbled, walking slowly like they didn’t remember how. It was like they were mindless to the point of not knowing who or what they used to be, but that they were moving with a purpose and a desire to do something. Like they wanted something, but didn’t know what it was that they wanted?
A sick part of Cynthia that she never knew existed until that very moment said to her, “What separated these shoppers from any of their other customers?” She suppressed the small insane laughter that had been building. The answer wasn’t all that funny after all. These shoppers wanted her flesh.
“What are we going to do?” Ryan asked. Cynthia looked back up to him. She was glad to see that she was right, and that it was Tommy there with him. She always liked it when she was right. She just smiled at herself and to them.
She was beginning to realize that she was about to die. It was strange, knowing that it was about to happen, but she was done fighting it. She looked around her. There was no place to go. The large receiving bay doors already had pounding from the other side and the familiar grunts from more zombies. So they were trapped. The only way out was up, and with the freezing cold, even that would have been a death sentence.
She watched as the zombies started to gather below her feet. They were far enough below her, that as they reached up to try and pull her back down, she was still safe.
Above her, Ryan and Tommy were working together to try and break the door open. She just watched them for a brief time. The fear that had her previously gripped her, seemed to have left her as now a strange calm seemed to have washed over her.
She felt her hand release on the cool metal, and she could feel herself falling back. Then the hands, there were many of them, and they all started to tear into her. They grabbed and they clawed, and while she could hear herself screaming she knew that her body was filled with the pain of being ripped apart. She also didn’t feel it. Like her mind was already away from it all.
And then everything she had known before was gone. She was gone, and just becoming another one of the many. One of the many cravers, mindlessly craving what they don’t even know what they are craving for. She was lost to become a part of the mass.
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