The parking lot was full of lost souls.  Their footsteps crunched against hard, cold cement.  Hands shoved into pockets, fighting to stay warm.  White wisps of breath danced into the air, weaving in-between their shadows against the pale lamp post light.  Eyes met darkness and then those penetrating headlights.  There would be no rest for them tonight.

The ride along the country streets was vacant, but not for long.  Traffic lights flashed red and then green.  Tires bumped along in quiet, and minds were full of memories.  They remembered the wine, whose bottle now laid on its side.  They remembered the empty plates that once held all that they could eat.  Now, they sit here against cold, rubber seats, whereas their chairs next to their hearth remained empty, begging for them to remain home, but they were called away.  And now they were here.

The school bus dropped them at the curb.  Its yellow, glass doors slammed shut.  Without hesitation, the engine roared, taking off.  The driver didn’t waste time, not wanting to be trapped here, and left them behind, in the cold and the dark, and slowly they trudged down to their assigned outlet store, knowing what was to come.

The bright lights inside gave comfort to the cold darkness.  Warmth chased the chill away.  Hands were released from pockets, and feet kicked the floor, shaking off the snow.  Breath escaped into the air, and eyes took in all that stood before them.  But then the glass doors slammed shut, locked in place.  Time to go to work.

The storeroom was now empty.  The shelves were stocked.  The racks were full.  Registers clicked and clacked.  The staff wore bright yellow shirts that made them stick out against the growing darkness, targets for the mayhem to come, but they laughed and talked instead, anything to kill the growing tension.  But in the distance, they saw it, the golden caterpillar that now weaved its way here, and with it would come a million arms of chaos.

The wait was over.  The golden caterpillar arrived, engulfing the roadways under it, and the screams of brakes, the annoyance of honks sounded off into the night.  Its eyes glared red, lighting up the darkness, and its legs spilled out across every vacant parking lot, now consumed.  Its hands split into a pouring sea of the hungry, the rampant, who would soon reach these doors.  Its voice rumbled in its throat, rising higher and higher, and it was a voice that could warm the heart of fear, that could annihilate tonight.  And now their shadows were seen, spreading across the outlet mall, spilling over each other like a mob that would have no fury but a mindless rampage to destroy everything in sight.

Twelve hours and counting.  They set their watches, wincing at the scratches against the door.  If only they could stay home, their minds begged, but they needed to be here.  They needed the money, and this was the price to be paid.  And again, they flinched as another struck the door.

“It’s time,” the manager yelled.  “It’s time.”  He waited until each one of them arrived at their assigned stations.  He gave a swift look over the merchandise, satisfied with what he saw.  He then glanced at those behind the registers, noting their fear and anxiety.  “Ready!”  They tensed with his word.  “Set.”  His eyes and theirs fell on those pressed against the door, begging to come in.  “Hello, Black Friday,” and with his last breath, he opened those glass doors.

There was no hesitation.  They came on swift wings.  Security failed to hold them back and drowned beneath them.  Their screams were muffled under a thousand feet, and the hungry stretched their hands, their claws out into each and every direction, snapping on what they desired.  If another dared grab the object of their affection, a battle would ensue, and the victor would leave, leaving the wounded behind.  There was no time to care.  This was war.  They were on a mission.  Nobody was going to stand in their way, and the store was gone, lost in mindless mayhem with a piercing wail from the golden caterpillar.

Six hours to go.  The store was a mess.  The shelves were already empty.  The racks were destroyed.  Paper, boxes, bags decorated the floors.  They were still coming, never to relent or fall back, and they swarmed the small outlet store, pressing those in yellow shirts up against the walls.  Anticipation was replaced with anger as they asked for what they wanted, only to be told that their object of desire was now sold out, and they screamed a bloodcurdling scream of loss and fury.

Break.  One hour of freedom.  Sandwiches and soda were brought into the break room way before the chaos erupted.  Now, that food and drink was devoured, filling those on the edge of exhaustion, and they still had hours to go.  If only they could go home, their minds begged, but there was no going home.  There was only going back into the melee that waited for them behind those stock room doors, and they shuddered at that thought.  But if only they could survive the rest of their shift, they could go home, leaving the night crew to take over where they left off.

One hour to go.  Rays of sunlight broke through the darkness, giving false hope because they were still coming.  Warmth and cold danced as strangers, toe to toe as those glass doors swung back and forth.  Lights flickered overhead with intensity, and a thousand voices were the wind that swept through the small store.  The madness was here to stay, and it screamed with the word, “Sale.”  But the stockroom was now empty, and their hunger went unsatisfied.  So, instead of leaving, they destroyed, attacking those, who tried to wait on them, but the true relief, their escape from this rampage was the arrival of the night crew.

Horror shined in their eyes.  They struggled to push past those that blocked their way to the store room, but a thousand hands grabbed onto their arms, trying to pull them in.  Their feet struggled to walk as fast as they could, but they were bombarded with question after question, questions that they could not answer.  They just got here, taking the school bus as close as it dared go, and they hadn’t even put on their yellow shirts yet.  But the mayhem didn’t care, snapping at their laziness to not respond with what they wanted to hear.  Where had their humanity gone?  They were now pieces of the golden caterpillar that held traffic in a deadlock.

Freedom.  The staff exploded from the stores, throwing off their yellow shirts.  They moved through the swarms that crowded around stores, dodging any grasp or question.  They were off shift, so they didn’t want to be bothered.  All they wanted was the yellow school bus that would rescue them from this chaos and take them back to where they began.  And then, they could finally go home, but instead of being happy at that thought, they shook.  They trembled because they would have to return tomorrow and the day after that to tango with the yellow caterpillar and its minions all over again, but not now.  Now, they were free, and there was the yellow school bus.

The night crew had no such luck.  The hours dragged by.  The shelves were broken.  The racks were crippled.  The floor was showered in debris.  Fingers crunched against register, and voices engulfed each other, screaming the word, “Sale.”  And they kept on coming, and they refused to go away.  Even when those glass doors closed back in place, locked one final time, they struck the door, sending the night crew jumping back, but they would not let them in.  Make them wait until tomorrow, their minds begged, and tomorrow would come on swift wings.  And they were not going home.

Have you ever seen a war zone?  Bodies lied in its wake.  Smoke rose up into the air.  The echo of gunfire was still loud and clear.  Destruction reigned supreme, and pulling the pieces back of an ordinary day would take a lifetime.  But the night crew didn’t have that long, and they wanted to go home.  They slowly picked one part of the store and started there, knowing that they could be in that spot for hours to come.

And hours went by.  Finally, the store was put back together.  The floor was cleaned, and now black garbage bags filled to capacity waited to be thrown out.  Nobody dared go outside, not even to the dumpster because they would slip in, and they would have to start all over again.  The shelves were still bare, but the racks were filled with whatever was left.  They wouldn’t be satisfied tomorrow, and the morning crew would pay that price.  But they would be rescued by the night crew, and the night crew would have to stay behind like tonight.  But for right now, their job was done, and it was one in the morning, the crossroads of Friday into Saturday.  And they just wanted to go home.

The glass doors slowly opened.  The night crew slipped out with garbage bags in hand.  A shadow moved, and they froze.  It was only a stray cat, and the manager urged them on.  He turned to close and lock the door, thinking they were home free, but as they took another step, one of them appeared.

“Are you open?”

“Are you kidding,” the manager thought.  “No.  Ten a.m.”

“Okay.”  A shadow of a person wavered before them.  “I’ll wait.”

The night crew watched that person slip away.  He melted into a growing line around the store.  Hungry eyes met their gaze as they huddled together for warmth.  Their hands were folded with anticipation of what they would soon hold.  Their breath rose up into the air in sync, hearts beating together, tendrils of the golden caterpillar that would never go home.  It was released from its cage, and it was here to stay right through Christmas, and after that, this place, this store would become a ghost town.

“Last bus,” the manager yelled.  “Hurry, unless you want to stay here.”  He watched the night crew run as if their lives depended on it.  He padded his coat pocket, making sure the money was safe.  It was his job to go to the bank and drop it off, but he couldn’t let anyone outside the store know how much he was carrying.  He hurried to his car as fast as he could go, but the shadows circled around behind him, filling him with fear.  “Home free.”  He jumped into his car and slammed the door shut, frantically pushing the lock button.  “One day down.  One month to go,” and his voice trembled with that thought.

As his car warmed up, fighting to stay alive, the yellow school bus rose into view.  It peeled away once all were on board, bypassing the yellow caterpillar, who merely shrugged at its annoyance.  The monster was tucked in for the night, and its arms and legs itched with readiness, waiting for those glass doors to open.  And those on board that bus would have to return to do this song and dance again.  The manager had to return for the night shift tomorrow night, but his mind begged him to stay home.  Call in sick, but if anyone dared to call in sick, they would be looking for another job real soon.  And jobs were scarce.

As the manager slowly left the parking lot, shrouded in darkness, he sought out the radio stations still thriving along the air.  Music melted his fear, his tension, and his fingers uncoiled around the steering wheel.  His heart was free to beat, and warm breath escaped from his lips.  But as he paused by the red traffic light, the final exit to escape the mayhem that tormented him until now, fear and terror struck home, horror stories on the news of the world gone mad.

“Shooting erupted at a local mall.  Mass mayhem in the streets.  Local employee gets trampled in store.  Multiple car accidents reported.”  A long pause.  “Yes, folks.  The yellow caterpillar was king tonight.  Hello, Black Friday.”

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