Black Friday

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, of sight, of mind. You're moving into a land of both darkness and substance, of things and ideas; you've just crossed over to the Shadowed Realm.

"Are you sure she's the one, Houston? She looks awfully plain to me."

"Of course she is, Hughes. Her handbag's a Gucci, for Heaven's sake!"

"So what? Even I could own a Gucci handbag, but that wouldn't make me a supermodel."

"No, Hughes, I know you could never be a supermodel. You're just not the type."

"Houston, I was using sarcasm."

Brian Hughes and Fred Houston were two men not to be trifled with. They both sat in their high swivel chairs like demigods, facing the many small television screens, watching the proceedings in the clothing superstore from their security tapes. Little did they know, they were about to enter the Shadowed Realm.

A young woman, tall and graceful, her chestnut brown hair tied into a simple knot, a Gucci hand bag slung over one shoulder, walked into the store, the automatic doors sliding aside to welcome her in. This tastefully attired woman was Emmalee Vance, world-renowned supermodel and world-induced recluse.

She surveyed the landscape for a moment, pushing her dark sunglasses up the bridge of her nose; whatever she was looking for, she did not find it in the simple, normal shoppers that frequented the store. Smiling, she said to herself, "Thank God, no paparazzi!" Then a frown replaced her smile. "Probably because I'm slumming, anyway."

With little else to do, though, she walked forward, mingling her way through the crowd, past the check-out lines, to the racks upon racks of women's clothing. She picked out a crisp green dress at random, looked over, and grimaced. "Eurgh, no! So fifties!" She flung it to the ground, picking out a pair of pants from the rack. "Eurgh! Bell bottoms!" She flung it to the ground, picking out a shirt. "Eurgh! I hate polo shirts!" She flung it to the ground, picking out a skirt. "Eurgh, no white after Labor Day!" She flung it to the ground, picking out another pair of pants. "Eurgh! Not sweatpants!" She flung it to the ground, into the ever-growing heap of clothes and sighed. "God, this is dumb. I shouldn't have come here. I'll never find anything good."

"Can I help you with something, miss?"

She turned around, frowning. How she hated being interrupted by stupid clerks on their coffee breaks. They were always the same: holding a plastic coffee cup in one hand, obnoxiously slurping it while trying to bother paying customers with their so-called 'help'. Another reason she should not have come.

"No, thank you, I'm just browsing. Now, please, if you would just leave me alone, I might buy something out of the goodness of my heart."

She began to turn back to the clothing rack, when he said, "All right, Emmalee, if that's what you want."

The woman frowned, sliding her sunglasses off her nose to reveal a large pair of chocolate brown eyes. "How did you know—"

"We know a lot about you. At this very moment, Miss Vance, we could call up the paparazzi and tip them off that we might just have seen you here."

"They'd have a field day with it," she whispered, suddenly pale. "No, you can't do that! I'll do anything, buy anything, just please…don't call them up!"

The clerk seemed pleased, for, seemingly out of nowhere, he pulled out a blue-and-white Hawaiian shirt with a floral pattern on it. "How would this interest you?"

"Are you serious? Hell no!"

"Please, Miss Vance, be reasonable. We've been trying to sell these Hawaiian shirts for women for months; we've even put them on clearance, and we're practically giving them away. Please, we'll do anything for you to take them off our hands.

A look of pure hatred crossed her perfectly sculpted features. "Over my dead body." Oozing pure elegance, giving him the cold shoulder, she walked away to look at what the store advertised as their more 'chic' selections.

Giving each of the pieces of clothing a haughty glance, a supercilious look, Emmalee Vance knew what to do with them. "Eurgh! Too nautical!" "Eurgh! Too pink!" "Eurgh! Suspenders…in the women's section? Well, I never…"

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the Hawaiian shirt she had been shown strewn across a nearby rack. She ignored it.

"Eurgh! Too baggy!" "Eurgh! Too bright!" "No good choices here." She turned to the rack behind her.

"Hm. That's weird." The floral shirt had moved onto that rack. "I'm not taking the hint!" she yelled out, cupping her hands around her mouth to allow the sound to travel better.

Still, she turned and walked away to a different rack. "Eurgh! Too…eek!" Out of the rack, she had pulled out a clothes hanger with the same floral shirt on it. Dropping it to the ground like it was made of hot metal, she swiveled around to the other rack. "Eek!" The floral shirt was now draped across it instead. She turned another way, only to find a mirror, the floral shirt standing—no, hanging right behind her. "Eek!"

There was no way that clerk was moving so fast. She had to do something, and fast, before seeing that shirt everywhere drove her mad.

She ran. Not caring that her hair was loose, not caring that her sunglasses had fallen away, not even caring that she had dropped her Gucci handbag, she ran to the checkout area, elbowing her way through a line of elderly and middle-aged women to the front, where she found the strange store clerk she had seen earlier. She collapsed, panting, to the counter. "Please, please, tell it to stop following me. I'm seeing it everywhere. I just want to be left alone!"

A puzzled look crossed his face. "I don't understand. What's following you?"

As if on cue, the floral shirt, out of nowhere, suddenly wrapped around Emmalee's head, constricting her airflow as she screamed.

Mass hysteria broke loose. All at once, every customer in line conveniently decided to buy more clothes and mob the other side of the store, far away from the strangling shirt. They ran, squealing and shrieking, dropping all their purchases to the floor as they ran; others were quick to follow their lead.

The store clerk was the only one to keep his head. Picking up the phone receiver, he dialed a number. "Hello? Houston? We have a problem."

"Yes, I see, Hughes."

"But it's not according to plan. Surely—"


"But she's in danger!"

"Hughes, get out of there! You're my best man. I'd rather lose her than you."

"But she's our big break, Houston! Without her, the store'll go bankrupt, and we'll both be out of a job!"

"Hughes, move! That's an order!"

Sighing, he hung up the receiver and shook his head. "Sorry, Miss Vance. You may be a damsel in distress, but I'd rather be alive than be your knight." He beat a hasty retreat.

However, Emmalee was not particularly interested in his speech-making at that moment; she was far more interested in what the shirt had to say. "Nothing personal, lady, but the big boss wants to see you."

"The… the big boss?"

"Sure. He's coming here now. He's bringing everyone, and we're all going to—ah, here they come now."

The shirt unwrapped itself from her head and floated next to her. She would have been tempted to run, had she not been completely surrounded. It seemed like all the store's clothes had converged on one thing: her; baggy extra-large t-shirts, sweater vests, overalls, the works, all of them the most unfashionable clothes in existence.

Then came the one she knew to be the big boss: a painted mannequin wearing a leopard print suit. He made a gesture, and all the clothes began to move closer, and closer, and closer, closing the circle around her.

"What… what do you want with me?" she asked with a whimper, breaking the silence.

No answer.

"What do you want with me?" she asked again, this time in a wild, banshee-like shriek.

Still no answer.

The big boss stood right in front of her. It pinched her arm.

"Ow! What was that for?"

No answer. The clothes merely came closer and closer.

Finally, there came a voice out of the crisp green fifties dress she had looked at earlier. "Are you sure there's enough for everyone? She looks kinda on the skinny side."

Then Emmalee understood as the big boss gave a curt nod. "No. No, this can't be happening!"

The clothes were on top of her now.

"No! No, no, no, no, NO!"

Emmalee Vance, age twenty-two, a supermodel by profession. She lost her sunglasses, Gucci handbag, and self respect to simple, inanimate objects, in a sale variously described as a going-out-of-business sale, everything-must-go sale, or a Black Friday sale, that day she ventured into the Shadowed Realm.

A/N: This was written for the fourth Lounge Forum challenge. All due apologies go to Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone.