Part 1: Two Voices: Person #1

It was 5:59 a.m. as Larry made his way from the back storeroom up the big center aisle past the heaped sales tables to the glass doors. He could feel the tension in the air as the press of women bore down on the plate glass. He hoped it didn’t break before he could get the door open. He couldn’t stand Early Bird sales. Usually he tried to hide out in the stock room for the first fifteen or twenty minutes till the blood lust had calmed down a little on the sales floor.

Larry had drawn the short straw today and there was no way he could get out of having to unlock those doors. He was sweating and his hand shook as he put the key in the lock. He held his breath hoping they wouldn’t flatten him before he could get the key out of the lock and get out of the way.

He caught one youngish woman’s eye. She was right near the front and she looked terrified. She had deer-in-the-headlights eyes. He kept an eye on her as the crowd surged past and was able to catch her elbow before she went down in front of a hippo of a woman. Then the tide of women took her. He looked but couldn’t remember what she was wearing. He stood craning his neck to try and find her again, and finally caught sight of her short brown bob one more time over by the first table. He saw a bigger woman poke her in the ribs with an elbow to get her attention. Once he could tell she was actually picking things up off the table, he knew she wasn’t hurt, and turned his attention to his next task: greeting the happy shoppers as they arrived at the check-out desk with their loot.

Part 1: Two Voices: Person #2

Zoe Sparks had no idea why she’d let her cousin Phyllis talk her into getting up IN THE DARK to come to this stupid sale. Now she was packed into this crowd of rabid women. She took deep shuddering breaths in spite of the smell of so many bodies pressed close together. The mall had air conditioning. She could make it. Any minute now, somebody would open the door and let this mob into the store and they’d move away from her. She caught sight of a jittery clerk having trouble fitting the key into the lock. She could relate. If she got out of this deal alive she vowed never, ever to attend an Early Bird Sale again!

Phyllis barked something at her just as the door was about to open. She didn’t even hear what it was, because at the same time somebody behind her shoved her hard and when she went to pick her foot up and move, she found that somebody else was standing on the back of her flip-flop. She stumbled and was on her way down in the midst of the stampeding herd when the jittery sales clerk grabbed her elbow and pulled her up. She flashed him a quick grin as she was carried along with the tide of the other women.

When the first table stopped her momentum, she clung to the edge of it and breathed in her relief. She’d survived the initial rush. There was air enough to breathe again. That is, until Phyllis jabbed her in the ribs with her elbow and yelled at her to “grab something!”

Part 2: Detached Narrator

The women crowded into the alcove before the department store’s big glass doors. The 2” thick glass held them at bay but allowed them to see all the wonders that were waiting inside for the first-comers. As it got near to 6 o’clock, the jostling and jockeying for position grew more frantic. White knuckles clutched handbags and sensible heels shuffled restlessly.

A nervous clerk opened the door and they surged through the opening. One poor woman would have been trampled in the rush if the clerk had not been there to catch her. Thus began Foley’s Umpteenth Early Bird Sale – with prices slashed to almost nothing on slightly less than perfect linens and house ware.

Part 3: Observer Narrator (Third Person)

The security guard was always amazed at the blood-thirsty behavior he witnessed when these mobs of otherwise normal women formed on the run up to a big clearance sale. He’d come in early this morning just in case they got out of hand. He halfway expected one of the little old dears to pull a .357 magnum and blow one of the other little old dears away.

He saw one old heifer barking at a small woman up near the front of the pack. Her voice carried over the heads of the crowd around her. “Pay Attention Zoe…”, and with that the doors burst open. Crap! He saw the smaller woman going down. There was no way he could get to her, somehow, though, little Larry from the shoe department managed to pull the woman up. Phew! He seriously had not wanted any tramplings on his watch. It was over in less than a minute. The only time there was any danger was right when the doors opened. Once the suburban wildebeests and wart hogs had reached the watering hole, he heaved a sigh of relief.


Part 4: Involved Author

The pre-dawn mall was filled with women and they were all heading toward the big double doors at Foleys. The excitement built the closer they go to the enormous banners on either side of the entry that read “Early Bird Sale – June 5, doors open at 6 AM Get there early!”

By 5:30 the entryway was packed to over-flowing and tempers had begun to flare a touch of murmured mass claustrophobia was beginning to manifest. Phyllis and Zoe Sparks waited near the doors. They’d gotten there extra-early at Phyllis’ insistence so as not to miss a single deal. Phyllis loved to shop this way. It appealed to her inner roller-derby queen. Poor Zoe was overcome by the press of strangers’ bodies on all sides. She was wishing she’d listened to her inner voice telling her to roll over and go back to sleep.

Larry, from the shoe department, stepped out of the store-room with his co-workers’ rude comments filtering out behind him. He was ashamed of his shaky sweaty hands. He’d always been able to steer clear of the dangerous door-opening stampede till now.

Larry turned the key in the lock as Phyllis yelled at Zoe to “PAY ATTENTION!”, and they were off to the races. Luckily Larry saw Zoe stumble and was able to catch her or she’d have been run over for sure.

In just under 30 seconds the whole herd had pushed their way into the store and dispersed. It was the most dangerous 30 seconds in retail.

Extra: 1st Person

I saw the shopkeeper stick his key in the lock. He looked through the glass and kind of “gulped”. I had a good spot almost in the front of the crowd. People were pushing and shoving behind me, but I had a tight grip on my purse and my heels weren’t too high. I’d be able to get a good head start.

I loved these Early Bird Sales! It didn’t matter if the sheets or dishes or whatever didn’t match anything. I could make them work. My cousin Zoe was kind of hanging off my right sleeve. I had to snap at her to get her to pay attention and be ready to run when the doors opened. Sure enough, when that shop boy pulled the door open, she nearly got knocked down. I heard several of the women behind her cussing her. She kind of jumped and almost tripped getting in the door, but she made it to the first big sale table right beside me. I dove in and started hunting for linens I could use. It wasn’t that I needed any bed sheets, but it never hurt to have extra. My son and his wife could always use them.

So there I was. I’d already found a couple of nice pillow cases and a king-sized fitted sheet when I looked over at Zoe and she was just standing there with her mouth hanging open. I snapped at her to grab something. What did she think we were here for?

Exercise 7 from Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin for the Madison County Writers Guild.