Greetings, Loyal Readers!
The following story came about after I did some independent investigation about our current financial quandary and then watched one too many scary Black Friday videos. I hope that it's not too "real".
Every muscle in Lynn's body was as taut as an iron cable. She knew that if she dropped her guard for even so much as a second she'd probably be crushed. The last time she was in a crowd this frenetic was at a Foo Fighters concert back in 1997. She'd made the mistake of venturing into the mosh pit during a boisterous rendition of "Monkey Wrench" and barely escaped with her cranium intact. But that was a long, long time ago when people risked life and limb for something so frivolous a cause as entertainment.
Standing in that nebulous lineup for the past five hours, Lynn realized that she'd been in similar situations plenty of times before and all of them were self-inflicted. Indeed, she'd stood outside of a Wal-Mart, Best Buy or Target store on countless occasions on the eve of Thanksgiving or early the following morning. Instead of being at home, warm and cozy with her family and friends she'd often be found languishing in an outdoor queue and willfully risking exposure. All of this for the privilege of participating in an organized stampede and then getting into a shoving match with a complete stranger over a competitively priced Kindle Fire Tablet, Logitech Webcam or a leather iPad case.
'What an idiot,' she thought to herself as she braced her foot against the glass door.
She looked up and caught a glimpse of fear in the eyes of the blue-vested minimum wage junkie just inside. She imagined that from his perspective the throng barricaded behind the door must have bore a striking resemblance to the shuffling, brain-dead ghouls in George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead. Here they stood, pawing at the doors of a retail store, desperately trying to gain ingress to a place they were irrationally compelled to gravitate towards since it "meant so much to them in life".
Lynn was jolted from her mental reverie as some very large and very strong people crushed into her from behind. She battled a wave of claustrophobia as her own clenched fists dug into her torso. She had to keep her arms gathered up around her chest in order to protect her ribs from getting crushed, otherwise she'd have the air squeezed out of her like a rat in a python's grip. She could only imagine the purple and greenish bruises that were starting to appear just underneath her breasts.
She dared to reach down and make sure that her satchel was still closed and oriented in such a way that she could keep an eye on its precious contents. She knew that if it had been left slung across her back it would probably be completely empty by now. For the tenth time she unzipped it a crack just to silence that irrational voice in her head which insisted that if her money was out of sight it had probably been stolen. Mercifully, the significant chunk of her life savings was still present and accounted for. This was good since the stores had stopped taking credit cards weeks ago.
The odd sight of her money stuffed loosely into what could pass for a bank robber's sack made her think of a story Mr. Peavey, her High School History teacher had told her ages ago. Lynn hated most of her subjects but liked History because she never thought of it as a bunch of disparate fact and dates, but as a series of stories. And Mr. Peavey was very good at telling stories.
'After World War I the Allies decided to punish Germany's aggression by, essentially, invoicing them for the entire war. In order to pay these impossible debts, Germany was forced to print its own currency hand over fist, resulting in what's now known as hyper-inflation. Well, as you can imagine it didn't take very long before the Papiermark was about as plentiful and subsequently as valuable as Monopoly money. Can you imagine... pushing a wheelbarrow filled with cash down to the market just to buy a loaf of bread?'
Inflation. Debt. Fiscal Cliff. Every recent warning that Lynn heard through osmosis had since fallen on deaf ears. 'Probably because I didn't hear it from Mr. Peavey', she mused.
When the jittery employee standing just behind the threshold began to fumble with a comically over-sized key ring the crowd took this as an omen and surged. Lynn winced as a three-hundred pound man avalanched into her, smudging her cheek into the glass. Just before her face had a chance to go through it she managed to slide her arms down to the metal door handle that was pressing into her mid drift and shove back violently. It was the only way to win a modicum of space for herself and, more importantly, the microscopic passenger resting somewhere inside her belly.
Directly behind her right shoulder someone angrily shouted:
"Calm the fuck down! Push one of my kids again and I will stab one of you motherfuckers!"
The threat was so loud that the skittish store employee jumped back from the door as if tasered and then dropped his keys. The crowd instantly took this as a sign of weakness and began to shout and pound on the glass. Lynn immediately felt her innards turn to ice. Things were already starting to fall apart and the doors weren't even open yet.
"Stand back! Move back!" screamed the store clerk as he bent down to recover the keys, his eyes never leaving the roiling crowd. Absently, Lynn wondered if he was the only person to show up for work today and if he regretted that decision.
Then, from out of nowhere, she heard someone bellow:
"Out of the way! Get the fuck out of the way!"
She glanced up to see the crowd part like the Red Sea off to her left. Three heavy-set men and a wiry, unkempt woman were running towards the glass doors holding a newspaper dispenser above their heads. In response to this odd sight Lynn was instantly teleported back to that Foo Fighters mosh pit. At any moment she expected to get kicked in the head by a Doc Marten-wearing crowd surfer. Just as quickly she was distracted by a fleeting glimpse of the stale newspaper headline inside the box as it sailed overhead towards the door. It read:
"BAILOUT STRATEGIES FAIL TO RESUSCITATE MARKETS: INVESTMENTS AND VALUE OF DOLLAR PLUMMET"
The concrete base of the newspaper machine went through the glass window without a hint of resistance. Lynn flinched as it crashed into a vacant-looking shelf and then slammed violently to the floor with a loud BANG. She stood there for a moment, stunned, as the reservoir of humanity immediately began to pour through the improvised breach like fluid lanced from an abscessed wound.
Lynn cursed herself for taking a moment to absorb what has happening. By the time she got inside, a huge chunk of the crowd had already begun to ransack the store. She also saw that the door's defeated guardian was lying off to the side nursing an angry-looking head wound. She paused for a moment to make sure that he was alright before snatching up a wayward basket and charging into the fray.
She hurried past the racks still laden with night lights, spa kits, cameras, Blu-Rays, shower heads and designer fragrances. All of this was landfill now. Instead, Lynn sprinted through the nearly-vacant grocery, pharmacy and hardware sections, snatching up cans of tomato soup, bottles of Advil, toilet paper, batteries and several jugs of water. By the time she was done the plastic handle of her basket was bowed from the weight.
During her mad rush, she spied a furtive-looking employee hastily assembling a pallet filled with bread. Unfortunately, by the time she got there, the plastic trays had almost been picked clean. Lynn was forced to engage in a brief altercation with a panicked-looking Asian man after he tried to snatch a multi grain loaf right out of her basket. After blasting him with several choice epithets he seemed to experience a moment of clarity, gave her a knowing look that suggested penitence and then turned back towards the empty pallet.
With spurts of violence breaking out everywhere, Lynn decided that it was time to leave. En route she noticed a display shelf stocked with pads and instinctively made a bee line towards them. Just before she got there she bumped into a pair of store employees who were attempting to wrestle a customer to the floor like a pair of ice hockey referees. The jolt gave her pause for thought and it finally dawned on her that probably didn't need them anymore.
She flirted with the idea of grabbing a few packs for the distant future but decided against it after another hooligan appeared from out of nowhere, grabbed one of the store employees and whipped him into a shelf filled with razor blades. Lynn thought the better of it, turned away and began to sprint stop-start towards the exit, hoping to extricate herself from the store with both her spoils and savings intact. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
As she approached the battered front doors she quickly realized that the keymaster had plenty of reinforcements after all. A phalanx of about ten or twelve employees blocked the exit, armed with what appeared to be the entire sporting goods, hardware and hunting sections of the store. A supervisor distinguished herself from the line up, shifted a primed crossbow to her off-hand and then repeatedly stabbed a finger towards the few manned cash registers that were already beginning to back up.
By the time all of her acquisitions were accounted for, Lynn was forced to leave behind a pack of batteries. Although it was heart-rending to turn over such a disproportionate amount of cash, she also knew that it had to be done. What other choice did she have?
To add to her annoyance, the store had run out of bags, so Lynn stuffed as much as she could into her now-empty satchel and then carried the two jugs of water out in either hand. Her spirits were instantly buoyed as soon as she left the oppressive atmosphere of the besieged store. A quick glance at her watch revealed that she was also making better time then expected and she humored the possibility of cobbling together a humble repast for her husband before he got home.
It would have been great to have Bryan by her side today but she also knew that this just wasn't feasible. Indeed, it was encouraging to know that at least one of them still had a job to go to. Although his pay had been severely slashed by what his supervisors now grudgingly referred to as "austerity measures" and he was usually gone anywhere from sixty to eighty hours a week, his work was still a Godsend. Without it, she knew that there'd be no way to stay afloat financially with a kid to feed and another on the way.
Lynn came to a sudden halt as she rounded the corner and found herself staring at a small cadre of lean-looking young men, several of whom appeared to be holding baseball bats. She immediately broke eye contact with them, put her head down and resumed her course. As she felt their collective eyes pawing at her and heard their coarse laughter, she started to double-time her way towards the parking lot at the back of the store.
As she started down the dirt trail which eventually led to their apartment building one of Mr. Peavey's follow-up lectures popped into her head:
'Eventually the Weimar Republic tipped into economic anarchy. Hate crimes, violent uprisings and widespread thuggery became the order of the day. The situation became so toxic that it eventually gave rise to one of the most degenerate regimes in human history.'
Through the haze of her mounting fear, Lynn absently wondered if humanity was on the cusp of eclipsing that level of barbarism. Just behind her she heard the sound of several pairs of boots sliding down the gravel path.
And that's when she dropped the water, shrugged off her bag and began to run.
WE FAIL (AS HUMAN BEINGS)