by Andrew David Barker
They stand, huddled together, waiting in electric excitement.
Breath touches the cold air, ephemeral plumes. Few speak, and those who do, mutter in low voices. The winter sun is rising, illuminating the wave of bodies in a brightening orange glow, yet it offers no heat. Many have been here through the night, and still, more have come, all queuing since closing time the previous day, their feet sodden and numb and caked in snow. Those that have come here before can be singled out by the bags they are laden with. Their appetite is too great to leave this place for even a moment. All return once they have experienced the wonders within.
The doors are to open at six o’clock sharp, and with mere minutes to go, the vast crowd have begun to jostle and shove one another towards the towering, sun-gloried entrance.
Those at the front are crushed tight against the glass, their fingers clawing madly. Hundreds of eyes peer in. They can see the lobby; neon-lit store names beckon, their colourful displays line product after wonderful product, and red banner Sale signs splash across shop fronts and hang from gently swinging ceiling hooks. In the heart of the Mall, the escalator waits.
Suddenly, the fibreglass/poly-resin fountain to the right of the escalator bursts into life and a ripple courses through the crowd. The little fibreglass boy begins to pass water through his tiny fibreglass penis into a shallow well sprinkled with coins. He will urinate for the next fifteen hours. This is followed by a cheerfully synthetic melody which, without warning, booms through the Mall’s sound system.
The multitudes are now clamouring.
A fat man, his hands blue from the biting cold, not to mention the multiple bulging shopping bags he fights to keep a firm grip on, is crushed hard against the glass. His breath strangled up, he passes out and is soon shoved to the floor, where his obese body is kicked and trampled on by countless feet. His blubber is soft and pleasing to walk on. He is just one of many who will suffer this fate before the Mall’s great glass doors open to all.
And open they do. At six sharp, there is a loud click and a low humming motor begins to part the towering double doors. There is a vast surge forward, and the sound of a hundred or more souls vocalise their need to enter the Mall. It is a chorus of intensity. Many of the first to cross the threshold are simply shoved through the slowing widening gap and spill out into the Mall, falling to the floor. Not one of them will make it back to their feet. Those that do manage to remain vertical, however, run full pelt to their chosen shopping outlet. Viewing this from the outside is torture for those still trying to get in.
They claw, and gouge, and shove, and bite, and kick, and crush, and scream their way into the Mall. The glass doors finally part, locking into place, leaving an entrance sixty feet wide. Now the crowds spew in, rushing through the Mall like a charging army of ants – a human infestation, filling every possible corner within seconds.
The escalator swells with an endless stream of shoppers; its mechanical staircase carpeted with several trampled bodies. Blood colours and runs the jagged grooves of step after step. A sprawled female hand wedges itself between the footplate and a rotating step at the top of the escalator, mangling itself beyond all recognition. Mechanisms sputter and groan. Out kicks an electrical charge, hissing and cracking through the lobby, then the staircase grinds to a stop. Shoppers stumble into one another, right themselves, groan, and then proceed to walk the escalator to the second level.
In a clothing outlet on the second level, three women fight over the last dress on a particular rack marked 50% off. The women, two middle-aged, the other barely out of her teens, grab and pull at the soft fabric of the garment. The dress ultimately tears, pulling apart, sending the eldest woman down hard on her rump. Vulgar language is used by all parties involved; voices raised enough to turn heads from all corners of the store. The young girl claws at the middle-aged woman left standing. However, the woman moves fast, swiping the girl’s arm away and in a liquid movement, punches her hard in the face, splitting her nose, snot and blood, across her once pretty features. The dress would have only fit one of the two women. The eldest.
Over in the food court, the masses are already filling the aisles. They clamour to get to the front, jostling and shoving as they did outside. Once served the patrons are asked by dead-eyed employees of the eatery if they want the Extra Large Meal for just one ninety-five more. Most, if not all, say yes.
Their trays full and rich, patrons find a place to sit and eagerly devour their burger, fries, fried chicken, or drum stick of choice. Packaging and wrappers are cast to the floor; half-eaten meals are left for others to knock to the raising waste. All are happy once they have food, they are quiet while they eat and (moderately) tolerant of others.
Over the tannoy, a female voice announces an Amazing New Deal on Mobile Phones. The latest upgrade of the Galaxy 920 has hit the stores. The Galaxy 1020, the female voice continues, has everything the 920 had, but with all-new added features: built-in GPS, 12-megapixel wide-angle camera with F-1.8 aperture in 4K, full 5.8” 3D touch screen and 1000s of free apps. Patrons are asked to visit the Phone Market on level 3.
The rush is immense.
Many are trampled and crushed as they make their way to the third level. The store is ransacked, the phones sold out within minutes. There is a near-riot with those turned away.
The mall continues to heave. Shoppers buy and buy and buy. Versions of your favourite pop hits, played entirely on pan pipes, now echo down through the levels. Mall Staff drive loading carts to pick up the debris and the dead and take them through a door marked No Admittance towards the back of the building. Shoppers do not notice any of this happening. It is simply done.
The friendly female voice intermittently cuts into the music, her pitch several decibels louder than the continually looping songs. She informs shoppers of exciting new deals, half-price specials, two-for-one offers and many, many other enticing wonders throughout the Mall. After each announcement, the pan pipes pick up from where they left off. Shoppers rush from store to store searching for each new offer in question. They have to have it. They need it. It will complete them.
A woman collapses outside a reputable clothing store. A vein bursts in her head and she goes down hard, the nine or more bags she was struggling to carry spill out across the aisle. She lies there dying, watching the endless stream of feet walk past.
The friendly female announcer cuts into the chorus of ‘My Heart Will Go On’ and jovially informs bargain hunters that the latest upgrade of the Galaxy 1020 has finally hit the stores. The Galaxy 1120, she continues, has everything the 1020 had, but with these amazing new features: built-in GPS, 11-megapixel wide-angle camera with F-1.7 aperture in 4K, full 4” touch screen and 1001 free apps. She then asks patrons to visit the Phone Market on level 3.
The rush is immense. Their old phones dumped in bins on their way to the store.
Many find that once they are too laden with bags and bags filled with purchases, they simply drop their load and begin their search for new bargains. The thrill of the browse, the satisfaction in the transaction, the razor smile on the clerks face as they take your money and hand over your store-branded bag is what makes us happy. It is a wonderful thing.
High above in the Mall’s glass roof, the sky is darkening. The female announcer cuts into the pan pipes version of ‘Dancing Queen’ and explains that the Mall will be closing in ten minutes, but shoppers just have time to get that special item they’ve all been looking for. She reels off a smorgasbord of incredible deals, half price, cut-price, two-for-one. Shoppers race through the aisles, moving from one store to the next, snapping up every bargain they can find. The queues are long, but there is fever in the air and a great sense of fulfilment and achievement. The clerks pack your bags, take your money and smile. They move in unison. Their matching uniforms stating the sense of honour and pride they have in their work. It is a wonderful thing to behold.
Two minutes till closing, shoppers bag laden, feeling good and full and just, shuffle towards the exits. The friendly female in the sky wishes them all a good night and best wishes from all the staff at the Mall.
Outside the air is biting, flakes of snow flutter on the wind. The night sky is a dark grey slate of clouds. The shoppers steadily make their way out into the empty car park. No vehicles are parked as no one drives in this town. Nobody needs to.
The great glass doors hum towards closure. The multitudes turn and watch the last few meters click into place. And there they remain. The snow begins to fall, heavy now. The shoppers, laden with their day’s purchases, stand and wait. And there they will wait until dawn rolls around once more and those great doors once again open to heaven.
They will do this night after night after night. There will be no homes to go to, no shadows of age. No other way to exist. There is only The Mall.
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