by Michael Adam Robson
There was a banging on the service door behind me, and I fumbled for my shotgun.
Laughter grated. "First time, kid?" Leaning on the door was a smirking soldier in body armor, shotgun hanging in one hand. It was Big Ben, head of security for the ground floor. Ben was a hardened veteran, but even he seemed on edge. The smile on his scarred face didn't touch his cold eyes.
The polished white corridors of the mall burned with harsh fluorescent light. Walls and windows were plastered with advertising, bold black letters on angry red and acid yellow: 75% OFF ALL MERCHANDISE! 80% OFF TODAY ONLY!! 90% DOORCRASHER!!!
"It's almost time, isn't it?" I asked, raising my voice over the rattling gates and muffled shouts outside. The animals were hungry.
Smile fading, Ben looked around at the men posted in front of every store, glanced up at the snipers on the upper levels. "Yeah, it's time. Get ready." He turned and touched his earbud. "Open it up."
The squad at the main entrance unslung their weapons and fanned out on either side of the doors. Their leader punched the red button. Sirens wailed and flashed, and the steel cages rolled slowly up.
And the crowd boiled in, squeezing under the gates as they opened, shouting, pushing, trampling, rushing in every direction. I braced myself and gripped the reassuring weight of my weapon.
"Just protect your store, and stay out of their way!" Ben yelled, and then he waded off through the rising tide of rabid shoppers.