Black Friday: What’s at the End of the Line?

In Black Friday, the Clay family is waiting on line, talking about what they’re going to buy. But what the reader will soon discover is they are not waiting on line to receive, but rather to give.

This satirical sick tale has been compared to “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson, and was originally published in Penumbra eMag’s December 2013 issue, Volume III, issue 3.

 

The Clay family had been waiting in line since Tuesday. Now, here it was, Thursday eve, and the line had just started to move. The chapel bells pealed their cries of midnight, the beginning of a new day, Black Friday, and everyone was itching to get out of the cold and into the warmth of the chapel.

Martha Sprinkle stood near the front of the line, her straw-colored hair pinned beneath a brand new bonnet. She turned back, looking at Corra with a stare that would have caused a snake to shed its skin.

Corra bit at her bare cuticles, drawing blood. She was mousy, that’s how she’d always been described by adults, and the boys passed her by the way they did an oak, without a second glance.

“Come, Corra,” Regina Clay prompted, taking a step in the line.

Corra shuffled her feet behind her mother, kicking up dirt in puffs.

“Watch it, stupid,” Raymond Jr. blasted. “You’re getting shit all over my boots.” He pushed his sister from behind and Corra stumbled, bumping into Martha who let out a shriek.

“Corra Clay, you have to be the clumsiest girl I’ve ever met,” she said.

“At least I ain’t stuck on myself,” Corra mumbled, which was met by glares from both her mother and brother.

“Now serving seventy-three,” the man with the mustache announced from the town square.

Corra looked at the crumpled paper in her hands, the number seventy-seven scripted in perfect calligraphy.

“I’m getting a beautiful new China doll with a red silk dress covered in roses,” Martha beamed.

Her parents beamed back, her father adding, “Bet it won’t look more beautiful than you, darling.”

“Of course not,” Raymond Jr. chimed in. “You’re the most beautiful girl in the world.”

Corra made a gagging sound, met by more glares from her family, including an awful one from Martha that made her face scrunch up and turn crimson. Corra smiled, happy to see she had wiped the pretty right off of Martha’s face.

“Now serving seventy-five.”

In small steps, the line herded forward, like cattle being led to the slaughter. Corra glimpsed at her ticket again. The number hadn’t changed.

“What would you get?” Martha asked Raymond Jr., her cobalt eyes round and lifted, her lips glossy and pursed.

Raymond Jr. ran his fingers through the back of his dark hair and shrugged. “I don’t know. I’d like a new saddle and pistol, maybe even some new spurs for my boots.”

Martha giggled, as if Corra’s brother had said something interesting. Corra huffed and plopped down in the dirt.

“Corra Jane!” her mother screeched.

Corra’s heart went dead in her chest.

“You stand up this instant!” Regina grabbed Corra by the arm, yanking her so hard Corra thought her joint might snap. “Now wipe off your dress. You don’t want to be a mess inside the chapel.”

Corra wiped off her butt, catching Martha staring at her in disgust. When her mother wasn’t looking, Corra gave Martha the middle finger. Martha’s jaw gaped and she turned her back to Corra. With a sneer, Corra swatted off the last of the dirt.

“Now serving seventy-six,” the announcer stated.

Martha faced her parents, hugged them both, then kissed them on the cheeks. “I hope this years harvest is plentiful,” she said. She looked back at Raymond Jr., but her eyes had changed. They were wide, her long lashes brushing her upper lids, and the look inside of them sent chills straight through the marrow in Corra’s bones.

Corra jerked around. “I don’t wanna go in. I don’t want anything. No dolls, no dresses, not toys. Nothing.”

Her mother’s face blanched, as if Corra had just taken the Lord’s name in vain.

“I hate Black Friday,” Corra continued in a rant. “Don’t make me go. Don’t make me do it.”

“What’s the matter with you?” Raymond Jr. asked, placing his arms around Regina’s frail shoulders. “You’re scarring mom.”

Corra’s face flushed. “Scarring mom? What about me?”

Regina sobbed gently, pulling a handkerchief from her handbag. “Now, Corra,” she said. “This isn’t about you. It’s about the harvest.” She wiped her nose. “This is the season of giving, and you will sacrifice like every other girl your age. Now, stop talking nonsense, and think about what you want for Black Friday.”

Corra’s heart burned a hole in her chest as her shoulders slumped forward. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me.”

Composing herself, Regina forced a small smile. “Atta girl,” she said, pushing a strand of Corra’s blonde hair behind her ear. “Just think of all the great treasures you’ll receive after giving of yourself.”

Corra looked into Regina’s gray eyes. There was nothing left to say.

“Your father would be so proud of you, God rest his soul.”

“Now serving number seventy-seven.”

Regina wiped away her tears, pulling her daughter in for a hug. “You’ll do fine.”

Corra nodded numbly.

“Try not to screw this up,” Raymond Jr. said, punching Corra in the arm.

Corra stepped past her family through the stained glass doors of the chapel. Candlelight spilled across her path. Her shoes tapped across the marble, the noise muffled in the tapestries hanging off the walls like burial shrouds. A man wearing an ornate robe and pointed hat stood on a platform at the center of the room. Beside him, two shirtless boys wearing cargo pants held silver trays; one empty, one littered with glimmering objects Corra could not make out.

With her heart pounding deafeningly loud in her head, Corra approached the man with labored breath and forced steps. She reached the platform, her body trembling. The man motioned for her to kneel and Corra obeyed. This isn’t about you, Regina’s voice echoed.

“I welcome you on this Black Friday,” the man stated, “and offer you penance toward God. In return, you will be rewarded for your sacrifice with a gift of your choosing.” He stared down with blank eyes. “Well, my dear? What have you chosen?” His pinched words rang shrill, piercing her ears.

“I…I don’t know, yet,” Corra said.

The man tilted his head, the point of his hat askew, reminding Corra of a Christmas star on a leaning tree. “Well, this is a first. But, I suppose you can figure that out along the way.”

The man motioned to the boy at his right hand. He looked no older than Corra, maybe twelve-years-old, and as he stepped closer, Corra gasped. His mouth had been sewn shut. The boy bent low and the man chose a knife with a long blade from the ones on the tray.

“Lean forward,” the man said.

Corra began to cry, but obeyed.

It’s about the harvest.

The second boy knelt before Corra, his lips also sewn closed, and set his silver tray beneath her. Corra’s reflection taunted her from the polished silver. Her tears splattered upon it, blurring her image. Through the silver, Corra watched the man raise the knife into the air.

The boys hummed eerie chants.

“For a bountiful harvest,” the man said. “May this child be received.”

Corra felt the cold blade strike her neck, ice slicing through her spine and spindling down her nerves. Blood mixed with her tears on the tray, which moved closer, closer, ever closer, until her mind went blank; her death securing a plentiful harvest for her village on this, Corra’s last, Black Friday.

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Black Friday: What’s at the End of the Line?

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