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American

This story contains sensitive content

(Warning: Contains Death)

I opened my eyes, and blinked painfully at the fluorescent light buzzing above me. It was quiet, with only the sound of a broom scraping trash into a dustpan echoing somewhere far off, and the sound of a floor buffer zooming across the floor even farther away.

           I was flat on my back, and carefully tested my cognizance on how I landed in this position. My mind carried me away to just before 1 a.m. inside the mall, crammed elbow to elbow with eager strangers. Jingle Bells played on the intercom, tinsel and twinkling lights beaming joyfully from all the stores windows. Everybody I could see was giddy with excitement, all of us waiting for the stores to open their doors so we could buy everything off their shelves for half the price. I could feel bodies pushing and shoving in every direction, and I was anxious for the doors to open already just so I could have a little bit of space to move around.

           “This is my first ever time out on Black Friday,” I said to the short, red-headed woman beside me, “I was hoping to get some candles from Bath & Body Works for my sister!”

           The lady nodded with a quick smile. I could tell she was disinterested the way her beady eyes darted around the stores surrounding us, impatiently standing on her toes and leaning her head back to catch a glimpse around the bodies that towered over her. I kept talking in hopes that I could get my mind off the big burly man pushing against me from behind, stirring up the claustrophobia I never thought I had until now.

           “My sister likes the floral scented candles, but I like the fruity ones. Maybe I can get candles for both of us! Is that wrong? Going Christmas shopping for family and getting yourself goodies too?”

           She shot me a quick glance and a guttural “ha-ha” without so much as a smile.

           “It’s 12:59!” Somebody shouted from the crowd, which was answered by an echoing stream of whoops and hoorays. The red-headed woman beside me squealed loudly and pushed her way to the front. Being so tiny, it must have been easy for her to slip between the cracks in the crowd. I had a little more fluff on my bones than she did, so I better not try to push my way through or else I’ll bounce back like a tennis ball on concrete. The sound of a heavy metal key and a glass door sliding open was the last thing I remembered.

           Okay, Janet. No memory loss to report, now how about physical damage? I sat up slowly from the floor. No broken bones. No cuts or bruises or scrapes…actually I felt pretty good. Cautiously looking around, I saw that the mob was also gone. The store lights were dimmed and all the twinkling Christmas lights were off. The intercom no longer playing Christmas tunes.

           Obviously, I passed out and missed all the Black Friday fun. What, did everybody just walk around me all day long? Nobody thought to check on the poor middle-aged lady flat on her back on the floor? Not even that red-headed lady beside me? She probably bought the floral and fruity candles I wanted and then hopped her tiny body over me rushing to the next store. Rude!

           A gentleman walked past me towards the trash can, lifting the lid and using his gloved hands to push the overflowing trash down before twisting the bag into a knot. He didn’t even look at me! Is this a normal Black Friday thing? Just whatever bodies are knocked out on the floor, clean around them and they’ll eventually come to?

           “Excuse me!” I bellowed as I lurched myself up to my feet. Instead of looking at me, he picked the heavy bag out of the bin and threw it over his back, walking away slowly under the weight of it.

           Well then, I huffed to myself. I turned towards the exit of the mall, across the large food court and started making my way towards it. I’ll have to report this! To the police station or…or the mayor! I’ll talk to the news! Create an outcry! They can’t just leave a poor lady lying on the floor all day and strip her of her dignity. My purse could have been stolen!

           I yanked on the doors, but they were locked. I twisted the little silver knob to unlock them, but they still wouldn’t open. There must be a special key of some sort. I’ll even report this to the Fire Chief. What if there was a fire and I couldn’t get out?

           I pulled and rattled the doors loudly, filling the food court with its loud echoes. “Ugh!” I let out, throwing my hands up before turning and slapping them against my thighs. The janitor who had been carrying the trash bag dropped it and stared at me, wide-eyed and mouth hanging slack.

           “Finally, I have your attention!” I snapped as I strutted towards him, “Could you please unlock this door?”

           As he gazed on, I patted self-consciously at my short greying bobbed hair. I’m sure it was a mess after laying on the floor all day, but that wasn’t my fault. As I got closer to him, it was almost like he was staring through me, a look of horror as his face went pale and eyes glued to the doors, so round I thought they very possibly could fall out.

           “Ben! Ben!” He hissed, still frozen.

           “What!” called out a younger man. The sound of the floor buffer stopped, replaced by the sound of heavy boots tramping along the floor. Ben rounded the corner, agitation clearly written on his face.

           “The doors! They just moved, man!”

           “Probably just the wind, David!”

           “Nah, man. I saw it. That wasn’t the wind.”

           “It was me!” I yelled out, completely flabbergasted by the idiocy unfolding in front of me. “You can’t ignore me forever!”

           “This your first holiday season you workin’ here?” said Ben, his voice a little softer.

           “Yeah, so?”

           “This place is haunted,” Ben said gravely. David tore his gaze from the doors to Ben.

           “Whatchu mean? Don’t be tryin’ to scare me now.”

           Haunted? I’m no slender lady, I know he saw me rattling those doors! I listened as they continued their chat and ignored me.

           “Every Black Friday, somebody always ends up dying in here. These people…they are just that eager to get the sales they are willing to be trampled to death over them. At night, you’ll hear the doors rattle or light switches flip. The guy before you saw a table flying into those very doors last year.”

           David’s eyes weren’t the only ones about to pop out now. I felt my own jaw go slack with fear.

           “You mean somebody died here today?” I gasped. How awful!

           David continued, his voice cracking slightly. “Who died today?”

           Ben shrugged, “Some lady by the Bath & Body works.” He pointed towards the store opposite us, right where I was laying just moments ago.

           “That’s wild, man,” David laughed nervously, rubbing a hand across his stubbled chin, “people dyin’ over their own greed. I don’t get it.”

           “Yeah, well. No ghosts ever harmed anybody but they’ll spook ya now and again,” Ben shrugged, stomping his way back towards his floor buffer. “But it’s only tonight you’ll hear them wandering about. By midnight it always stops.”

           He pointed up to a giant clock in the center of the food court. Ten minutes until midnight. Good grief, I didn’t want to see any ghosts. Time to go.

           “Can you please open—”

           I had made the motion to grab Ben’s arm sternly in an effort to finally get his attention, but my hand went straight through him. I watched as he jumped slightly and whirred around, goosebumps rising on his arm where I tried to lay my hand.

           Wait…am I the dead lady?

           There’s no way I was trampled to death.

           Not me. I’m alive. I just came here to get candles for heaven’s sake!

           I panicked, and tried again to grab at Ben…again, my arm went straight through him.

           Again, and again, and again. I’d have better luck trying to grab ahold of smoke.

           How is this possible? I panicked as a cold bead of sweat dripped from my forehead. What happens after midnight? Where do I go if I’m dead?

           Six minutes now.

           Can the heart of a ghost still feel panic? I jogged my way to the doors, thinking if I just broke free from the mall I’d be fine. I’ll have my life back! I can’t be dead; my mother and sister would be so disappointed. Who would take care of my poor cats for me? If I would have been a sensible woman in my prime, I would have married and had kids and they’d take care of my precious balls of orange fluff…maybe not though. I only adopted cats because I needed someone to come home to. If I had a husband or kids, would I even have cats?

           Five minutes to go.

           I gave up on shaking and rattling the doors. Looking back, Ben nor David where in sight. Maybe they thought I was an angry ghost…well I am, I guess. But not at them. Who am I mad at? The red-headed woman with the beady eyes for not stopping to check on me? The large man behind me? I presume he’s the one to have trampled me first. Ben and David for not unlocking the door?

           Four minutes.

           My perfect, younger sister for her comments yesterday over Thanksgiving dinner? “Ohhh, I would just love some candles! Bath & Body works has gotten so expensive over the years. My favorite Autumn Rush scent is being released for Black Friday only! If only I didn’t have these babies to look after!”

           Do I blame her twin babies? No…that’s wrong. Her babies were annoyingly cute.

           I suppose my mother, and her response to Abbey’s desire for Autumn Rush scented candles?

           Three minutes.

           I walked over to the Bath & Body Works and cupped my hands over the glass, peering into the dim and empty store.

           “Janet, dear, why don’t you go Black Friday shopping tomorrow, hm? Find Abbey a nice gift for Christmas?”

           Mother winked back at Abbey, who smiled smugly.

           “Oh, mother. I’m not going out in all that craziness tomorrow! I’ll wait a week until things cool down.”

           Abbey’s smile dropped, “Bath & Body Works always runs out of their Autumn Rush before it’s even midday on Black Friday.” She let out a sigh, turning her sullen eyes to her laughing babies smashing peas with their fingers on their tray. “That’s alright, don’t bother.”

           Mother shot me a haughty look that meant nothing other than, your sisters’ husband is deployed, go get those candles and show her your support!

           I rolled my eyes and jabbed a fork in my turkey. Abbey gets what Abbey wants. I always had a sneaking suspicion mother could never forgive me for not providing her grandchildren. Seeing how close she has gotten to Abbey since her double baby debut has only instilled this thought. Her eyes sparkled when she spoke to Abbey, and almost entirely deflated with boredom and exhaustion talking to her other, forty-two year old daughter.

           Two minutes.

           My eyes adjusted to the darkness in the store. Whatever chaos had ensued throughout the day, it didn’t show. The shelves had been completely restocked and floors cleaned. Green tinsel with red Christmas ornaments attached to small bottles of scented hand sanitizer decorated a large white tree. Pyramids of circular bath bombs and lotions on tables listing sale prices glared back at me. A row of sinks on a long marble counter lined by at least twenty different colors of hand soap.

           One minute left.

           I looked over at the far left corner shelf. A whole entire shelf of shimmering labels with large red and orange maple tree leaves fluttering in a blue sky. I squinted at the elegant, tiny red font: Autumn Rush. Black Friday had come and gone and here’s Abbey’s favorite candle…also in the forms of lotions, hand soaps, sanitizers, bath bombs, and body butters…all reading Autumn Rush.

           “Oh, Abbey!” I said out loud, feeling anger well up behind hot tears.

           Ten seconds.

           I wasn’t just mad at her and mother, though. I was mad at myself for letting them push me around all these years. Always coming to their beck and call. If I would have just stood up this one time, I wouldn’t have been pushed around by all these strangers and trampled to death.

           I sighed, pulling myself away from the window.

           3…2…1….

           ----------------------------------------------

           “You made it David, first haunted Black Friday!”

           David looked back at Ben as he locked the mall doors behind him. The sun was beginning to peak over the horizon, the cold sky cascading magnificent shades of pink and orange around them. “Yeah man, that was crazy. Any more haunted holiday stuff I should know about?”

            “Nah,” chuckled Ben, walking to the parking lot with David. “That’s about it. You planning on sticking around or are you gonna quit like all the other chickens?”

           “I don’t like ghosts, man…especially angry ones. Them doors rattling like that? Angry. Not sayin’ I’m gonna stay, but I’m not sayin’ I’m gonna go neither.”

           “Whatever you do, don’t come to the mall for Black Friday shopping,” laughed Ben, waving goodbye before stepping into his small blue Honda.

           As David climbed into his own car, he felt goosebumps on his arm again as he glanced back at the mall, the silhouette of a large woman taking form behind the glass doors, peering out at him. He blinked and she was gone.

           “Yeah, I’m gonna quit,” said David to himself before starting his car up and pulling out of the lot.

December 01, 2021 23:14

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6 comments

Connie Elstun
05:39 Dec 09, 2021

I liked your countdown!

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Michelle Colpo
23:37 Dec 09, 2021

Thank you for reading my story, Connie!

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Yves. ♙
23:26 Dec 05, 2021

Ooh, a twist! This was a really neat way to involve the holiday season with being 'stuck' inside a mall. Very clever approach; thanks for sharing!

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Michelle Colpo
07:45 Dec 07, 2021

Hello, Yves! Thank you for taking the time to read my story, I truly appreciate it!

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Boutat Driss
15:19 Dec 02, 2021

nince tale. I love it.

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Michelle Colpo
04:53 Dec 03, 2021

Thank you for reading!

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