A garbled message chokes out of the PA system.
“The go-go-government … collapse … save yours-”
With its dying screech it paints a clear picture. No one is coming to save us. I hold back a gasp as they shuffle past me. Their heels scraping on the vinyl floor tiles, hands outstretched, and I pray to a god that seems to have left us. They’re on the hunt for the next victim, the next bargain. All around are the rotting replies of the consumers.
We tried to keep them out. The team barricaded the door with mannequins, their plastic body parts jammed into the handles. But it was all in vain. Our supervisor, oblivious to the danger, flung open the doors and her arms in a grand gesture of welcome. She didn’t last a minute.
I stare at my own flimsy name tag. Hello, I’m Jack written in blood red. Maybe I could reason with them. As the last member of staff, I could layer discounts on top of the Black Friday deals. I could be… useful!
But the plan sours the more I think about it. What about when the shelves emptied? What about when the back room was truly out of stock? I’d be …
Stale breath blasts my ear. I whip around to find a consumer with two lipstick stripes slashed down her wrinkled cheeks. She yanks me to my feet in one aggressive motion. Her eyes are sunken and lifeless. Spit dangles in front of my eyes.
“Everything in store is on sale, Jackkkk!” she hollers.
The commotion attracts a horde to assemble, drawing nearer with each shaky step. I twist and squirm to escape but her grip is vice-like. The nearest consumer wields a kitchen knife still wrapped in its plastic casing. He shambles forward.
“It’s 50% off-” then in a dead monotone he continues “limited items, terms and conditions apply see in store for details!”
Panic rises from my stomach. I don’t want to stick around to see what 50% off a human means. I twist around for something, for anything. And then I spot it. In the distance, above the consumers rises a great pyramid of televisions. Or rather, where the televisions were this morning. Now there’s only one television left untouched at the top. Its price, $1499, too steep for even the most devoted shopper.
I contort my body just enough so I can stretch my leg and kick out with all my might. THWACK! My black regulation shoes connect with the lipstick consumer’s stomach. She reels back in surprise. The consumers let out a collective groan to retaliate. But I’m already tearing across to the TV stands. My hands fumble in my pockets as I dodge left and right. Fingers searching for the hard cap. Yes! I pull out the red marker just as I reach my destination. My heels leave the ground as I teeter on my tip-toes. Bright bold letters slash across the LED display.
$1699 now $1499
The remote is just where I left it. I point it - like a laser - at the screen changing it to the shopping channel and dive for cover. Consumers stop in their tracks. The sounds of incredible deals echo around the store. All of a sudden a roar builds from the groaning. A mad race to the marked-down item begins. Clawing and biting and shoving their way to the front, anything goes. Even the lipstick consumer is lost in the chaos.
This is my chance. While the horde shambles to the back of the store, I sprint out the collapsed doors. I’m back into the shopping mall - in the wide open. It’s so bright out here and disorienting. But a groan bring me back. I’m too exposed. My shoes scuff in the scramble for cover and I roll from fake shrub to fake tree. All the while, collecting my breath and listening for stray shoppers. It takes a while but finally, I reach it. No Man’s Land…
The food court.
It stretches like an open field before me. Apart from the tables there is hardly any cover to the enemy line. A few hours ago the PA had provided a glimmer of hope. Something about a resistance forming in the bathrooms, but its hard to believe that anyone made it past this. Now that the PA’s gone, its likely that so too has the will of the survivors. Ultimately, it’s not worth getting trapped into a smaller space. And it seems that there’s others who think the same. If I strain, I can just make out the faint whimpering of workers cowering under food displays. But I can’t help them. At least that’s what I tell myself.
I shut it out. I have to focus because a new group of consumers are patrolling the tables. These lot are different from the ones from my store. Where the others shambled these stride. Their muscles propel each starving step towards a deal on protein powder or superfoods. My heart sinks as I realise… they’re from a different target audience. I look at my scraggly toothpicks for legs and gulp. There is no way I can outrun them. Curse you past Jack for not living up to that New Years Resolution! But something tells me unless I have a yoga mat or dumbbell on hand a distraction wouldn’t work either. They live for the chase. And the only way I’ll live is if I keep hiding and wait for an opening.
The lights flicker as they pace around in circles. Occasionally one steps up to another and they aggressively flex. A storm of grunting and teeth-baring passes before they are back to pacing. This gives me an idea. What if I got them to fight each other somehow? After all, the only match for a big consumer is another big consumer. Eureka! The layout of the shopping mall starts to play in my head. If I came back the way I came on the left would be a small electronics store. Surely there could be something there to help me. It is enough hope to convince me to stand. I scurry out from behind the table and creep my way back plant to plant like before. But what I see stops me in my tracks. The store has been stripped bare.
I rush in, throwing caution to the wind. No, no, no, no! There must be something they didn’t touch. Something too expensive or too old to care about. My hands refuse to feel the empty shelves beneath them. They search tirelessly for anything. But tears well and cloud my vision. The realisation stings; I’m never going to leave alive. I feel like screaming and almost do when I trip over something solid. Behind me is the oldest, chunkiest CD player known to man. And the tears stop. I scramble around the brick to see if there’s anything in it. The dust falls off as a compartment creaks open. Inside, is a CD.
Its cover is blank.
The brick-player is heavy but I manage to haul it back to the food court. My noodle arms shake when I finally put it down. I really should have stuck to that resolution. But no matter now, I have to focus on the task at hand. With a trembling finger I push the start button. Nothing. Wait does it even have batterie-
RISING UP BACK ON THE STREETS TOOK MY TIME-
The music claps around my ears. Eye of the Tiger will do it! I duck before the consumers see me. From my hiding spot, I can hardly hear anything over the drum beat but the passion of the music is undeniable. The tables shake under the immense noise or at least that’s what I thought until I saw a pair of consumers crash over the table. They struggle, locked in an intense grapple for power. And by the sounds rising around the food stalls they aren’t the only ones. Once again there’s no time for hesitation. I get up and dash across the opening. Ahead, I see a few workers sprinting for their lives. Everyone has the same thought, if I can reach the carpark then I’ll be free. The carpark, the carpark, the carpark!
Eye of the Tiger fuels me on, holding off the weak feeling in my legs. My shoes squeak with each step. Adrenaline pulses with the beat and sweat is pouring off my face. I can see it. It’s so close. I think of my little dog at home. I think of my mum and how proud she was when I landed this job. I think of my bed. My cosy little bed… how I just want to collapse. In front of me, the automatic doors glide open like the gates of heaven. The cool air rushes to meet me. I’m so close. God, I’m so close.
When the beeping goes off.
The beeping of the mall detector. All of a sudden the doors slam shut. My freedom shatters. In horror, I look down at my hands and cry out. It dawns on me. I’m still holding on to the CD player. I’ve still got it and the song is blasting a triumphant track to my doom. Suddenly, consumers pour out of every store in the mall. The color drains from my body. All manner of shambling, lumbering, sprinting beast coming after the last deal in the store. The last piece of humanity.
But I won’t let them have it. A new cloud of clarity takes over my brain. I found it first. No one else wanted it before when it wasn’t going. When it wasn’t a steal. That CD player… it was mine. Gently, I place the brick-player down behind me and turn my back on the doors of freedom. My lips pull back into the snarl of a caged tiger. My greying hands form into claws. A cacophony of screeches and wails compete above the music. But I stand my ground.
The only way they’re taking my CD player.
Is over my dead body.