I recently had a silly idea for a short story, so I wrote it. Now I will share it with you. I wrote it all tonight and did not really edit it at all , so…
The zombie apocalypse began and ended on a Friday at a Toys’R’Us in Pittsburg, California.
Just after sunrise on November 28th, 2020; a blue-polyester-smocked associate unlocked the sliding glass double doors. A stampede of Starbucks-fueled bargain shoppers roared through the opening, slamming the associate this way and that as they fanned out in search of the best deals. The hottest toys.
The hottest toy for Christmas 2020, the one at the top of every media-savvy American child’s Christmas list, was the iStar. A plastic star-shaped recording device that plugged into the USB port on anything with a screen, that captured the image of any kid (or adult) in view and plugged it into a range of specially designed shows and music videos. All iStar programming was sold separately, movies coming soon. Every character on the ten highest-rating children’s programs had one six months before they became available to the public. The iStar had been drawn into several popular cartoons and onto the boxes of all the sugariest cereal. A QR code for a music video featuring a boy band, two pop stars, and the future owner of the iStar had been lovingly tucked into each of those boxes of cereal by a mechanized arm.
Every person in the canvas-roped line wrapping from the front doors back to the dumpsters knew exactly what they were there to get. The iStar, on sale from 6 am to 6:30 am for $250 (down from a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price of $300.)
It was a steal.
Not to be outdone by the marketing prowess of the iStar team, Toys’R’Us associates had been in the store since midnight, erecting the massive display at the back of the store. They crafted pyramids of pricy remote-control vehicles and limited-edition dolls in every pathway a parent might traverse on the way to their prize. Pricing signs were changed from black to red, though the numerals remained the same.
It took two and a half minutes for every person in the line outside to force their way into the store. The total was a handful of bodies over the fire code limit posted by the door, but the minimum-wage line wrangler stationed out front had lost count and interest after the first thirty seconds. He entertained himself by snapping surreptitious photos of the chaos within the store with his phone, the built-in camera peeping just over the edge of his smock pocket. An app posted them directly to the internet.
Balding and braless pajama-clad parents elbowed their way down the aisles, denting boxes and knocking them to the floor where they were crushed under the feet of other determined shoppers. Every nose was red and running, every cheek pink from the cold November morning, but they spared little thought to their comfort. The Pittsburg Toys’R’Us had received a shipment of only 100 iStars, a fact that most of those parents had called ahead to check.
The fight was pure accident. Debbie Coffman, a forty-year old mother with twin pre-teen girls at home, was reaching over the head of the man in front of her when someone slammed into her from behind. Debbie, built like a five-foot-eight gumdrop composed of pure muscle, knocked the man in front of her into the iStar display and fell on top of him. Gold foil-stamped boxes tumbled from the shelves, snatched in mid-air by those with keen reflexes.
For a moment, all seemed still. The man who had run into Debbie, having been tripped by the tangled feet of other impatient consumers, reached to help her. She rose triumphant, an iStar box wrapped securely in her crossed arms. Debbie turned and lowered her head, ready to shoulder her way back through the pressing mob to the cashiers.
“Hey, hey! Lady, I can’t give my kid this shit!” The man who had been knocked into the display had righted himself, and his fingers were hooked into the half—crushed box of the last iStar. Debbie would have ignored him, might never even have realized he was talking to her, if he had not then hit her across the back of her head with the crumpled box. He lunged at her, his arms wrapping around her neck as his clawed fingers scrabbled at the box ensconced in her arms. The man who had helped Debbie up swung a fist at her attacker’s ear, and reached for the crumpled box with his free hand. His kids could live with a wrinkled box.
Only one person properly saw what happened next. Toni Martin at Customer Service, recently promoted from Cashier, watched the brawl ripple outward from the back of the store in real time on the surveillance feed. She saw customers with iStars tucked under their arms climbing shelves, climbing each other as they attempted to get away. She saw one man grab another by the ears and smash his face into toy brick display, saw the body disappear from view as a triumphant hand raised a blue-and-gold box above the seething crowd. Other hands reached up, clutching and dragging until that hand and box, too, disappeared from view.
She saw the skateboard deck that caved in half of Debbie Coffman’s face, swung by the owner of the Chevy dealership. Dark drops and light chunks of biological debris splattered onto the people pressed in all around the pair, many tried to back away from the man attempting to pry the box from Debbie’s arms. Toni saw a little blonde woman in a turtleneck scale the side of a shelf full of action figures and leap onto the Chevy dealer’s back, ripping his left ear off with her teeth.
That was when Toni locked herself in the manager’s office.
The manager himself was an enthusiastic twenty year-old named Todd, who had stationed himself in the center of the store at 5:59 am ready to assist customers and answer their questions with a smile. The first wave had shoved him into a knee-high bin of red rubber balls, falling into which was his first inkling that things may have escalated beyond his control.
Toni was a practical girl. She had locked herself in in the manager’s office for three reasons: it was just behind her at Customer Service, it had food and surveillance cameras, and it had access to the Cash Office. It also had the button for the riot shutters, which she punched immediately on entering. She watched the video feeds darken as metal shutters rolled down over every window, entrance, and exit to the store. Pittsburg had been a rough town for a long time, and with all the new anti-terrorism Acts the government had passed in recent years, Toys’R’Us had some very secure protocols to protect their material interests.
From then on, it was a waiting game. Toni sipped a Coke from Todd’s mini-fridge as she watched school bus drivers and Little League coaches chewing on each other’s faces, iStar boxes forgotten underfoot. The co-workers who had not considered nine dollars an hour incentive to try and stop the melee had banded together and fought their way back to the break room, wielding tee-ball bats and superhero shields. A few cashiers had abandoned ship when she activated the riot shutters, recognizing the alarm and slipping through the doors before the metal panels dropped.
By midnight everyone not behind a locked door was dead. The security company had called to check on the alarm and advised Toni to wait out the situation. When she could not stay awake any longer, Toni dragged Todd’s fridge into the cinder-block-walled Cash Office and locked the door.
The Cash Office was boring, but nothing short of a bulldozer could get at her in there. Toni relieved herself in the safe, both because she found it amusing and because the heavy door blocked the smell. Three days later the phone rang and Toys’R’Us corporate headquarters informed her that the National Guard had cleared the building, so she was safe to come out, and that she had been awarded Employee of the Month for protecting the Cash Office and containing the outbreak.
Toni Martin was the sole survivor of the zombie apocalypse.