A Major Event

The man stood stoically in front of the shuttered store front, wrapped in a heavy winter coat and thick wool scarf. A dark film covered the windows of the free-standing building, but in spite of this it was well-maintained compared to the slightly seedy buildings on either side of it. It was early – barely six o’clock – but the enthusiastic and the desperate were already prowling for Christmas Eve bargains. A few skeptical passersby had glanced at the man, and then at the dark store front, and passed on.

Just after six o’clock, another man joined him. “Waiting for them to open up?” he asked conversationally.

“Yes. The hours say 7-2 today, but they open whenever they’re ready for people.”

“Who are you shopping for?”

“My wife. She only asked for the one thing, and someone told me it was available here.”

The newcomer glanced at the darkened windows, and then at his companion, but neither of them spoke. He shifted nervously from one foot to another, rubbing his hands briskly together to warm them against the light snow that had started to fall. “My name is Simon, by the way.” He reached out his hand to the man.

The man shook the offered hand, and said “Nice to meet you, Simon.”, before retreating back into his thoughts.

Simon looked at him suspiciously, and planted his feet more firmly on the ground. They stood in silence for another ten minutes, until a woman walked by the short line forming in front of the door. She walked up to the men, and asked what they were waiting for.

Simon answered cheerfully “Just want to see if there’s anything worthwhile inside” The man gave him a strange look, which he ignored. Dropping his voice conspiratorially, he continued “This guy was here when I came up. Says he’s getting something for his wife that they only sell here – but he’s awfully tight-lipped about what is it. I reckon it’s the newest iPhone that’s been impossible to find, but even if it isn’t that it’s got to be something good.”

The woman cast a sideways look at the man, and shuffled into position behind Simon. Over the next half hour, the line of three people turned into twenty as rumors about the store got passed on to any new arrival. With each retelling, the supposed contents of the tiny building became more impressive. They had the new iPhone. It was actually a new gaming system that hadn’t been announced. People in line by 7 would be given vouchers to test new jetpack technology. As the snow started falling faster and the temperature dropped, the faces of the waiting crowd set into lines of grim determination. The clock on the bank across the street moved steadily towards the fatal hour.

As the line grew, the expression on the first man’s face changed from slightly upset, to extremely stressed, to absolutely appalled. He cast worried glances down the row, and then back to Simon, who had started both the line and the rumors. Finally, he couldn’t stand it anymore. “What did you tell them was here?” he nervously asked Simon.

Simon smiled at him smugly. “Nothing. Nothing at all. But you know how people get – just follow whatever’s going down at the moment. I can’t be expected to stop them.”

“But…why are you here? It’s really a very niche store.”

“You’ve inspired me with your enthusiasm.”

“Enthusiasm…no. You really should go. There’s nothing here to interest so many people.”

“So why are you so interested?”

“I’m not. I told you, it’s what my wife wants. Please…please go.” the man’s voice cracked on the last word.

Simon’s eyes narrowed as his expression turned into a scowl. The woman behind him, who had heard the conversation, tittered angrily.

“You just want it all to yourself.” She hissed. “And you won’t get rid of us that easily.”

The man cast hopeless glances at them, and buried his head in his hands.

As he did so, the bank clock across the street changed to 7:00. The temperature dropped to zero degrees. And the door silently opened up to the crowd in front.

And then everything happened at once. The man had not noticed the opening of the door directly in front him. As he blocked the way, the crowd behind him let out an angry screech, and Simon pushed him roughly out of the way. He was crushed against the side of the building by two dozen people pushing to enter through the single door that led into the dimly lit store. As the last person managed to force his way inside, the man toppled to the ground, bleeding from a gash in his forehead and gasping for air. He struggled to pull himself through the door as it slammed shut behind him.

Inside the store, chaos took hold. The horde of people who had stampeded the door to get inside had had time to realize that they were standing in an empty store. Angry murmurs started to run through the group as they took in the single room, with no exits or shelves of merchandise. Accusations started to fly.

“Where is this great buy you told me about?”

“There are no iPhones here – I could’ve gotten one on 6th street if I hadn’t wasted my morning here!”

“Don’t blame me, I heard it from that woman over there in the red coat.”

As tempers rose, a few people pushed angrily towards the door, only to discover that it had locked automatically when it closed. Simon shoved several people out of the way and yanked on the handle, but it didn’t budge. He wrapped his arm in his thick winter coat and attempted to smash the glass, but an instant later he recoiled with a howl of pain. Through the glass windows, he could see the bloodied man outside, slumped against the wall as the snow fell furiously in the street.

As he stared, the noise behind him suddenly stopped. He turned slowly towards the center of the silent room, and his startled gaze fell on a figure that had appeared out of nowhere. The figure was tall and heavily cloaked in black, with a long-handled scythe in its hand. Simon felt his temper rising. He rushed towards the figure, ready to beat whoever it was to a bloody pulp, but it felt like he was moving through molasses. Suddenly the figure raised the scythe and slammed it on the floor, and the room went black.

****

Half an hour later, the man became dimly aware that he was being loaded onto a stretcher. As he drifted in and out of consciousness, he could hear frightened sounding whispers around him. Struggling to clear his head, he opened his eyes and groaned at the piercing light reflected off the snow. There were ambulances and police cars everywhere, but most of their crews were just standing around, unsure what to do.

Snatches of conversation came into focus as he lay there.

“23 people, and every one of them…”

“Just unbelievable”

“Carbon Monoxide…but how…”

“…door wasn’t even locked…”