Growing up, Black Friday was always late. I mean real late. I can remember as recently as just a few years ago, the main stores wouldn’t kick off their sales barrage until around 4 or 5 A.M.

Over the years though, I noticed Black Friday slowly migrated to more traditional hours. First, it was 1 A.M. Then midnight. At a certain point, Black Friday was no longer the wacky epitome of psychotic American consumerism. Shit, when the sales started occurring at ten o’clock Thanksgiving night, I considered Black Friday to be sanitized. There was no edginess to it anymore. No more lunacy. In the wee hours of the morning, this tradition was like prepping for war. But now it was so convenient. So easy. The thrill was gone. And at twenty-eight-years-old, I had come to the realization that those late-night adventures were likely never coming back. The last couple of Black Fridays I’d embarked on for our Grinter family tradition, my parents and I had gotten home before the clock even struck midnight. Before it was officially Friday.

This year was looking to be no different. Only now I had a new companion: my gorgeous girlfriend Ashley. She was twenty-seven. Like me, she had bigger aspirations for her life than where we were currently. After all, who wants to work on-line retail gigs forever… and to think, both of us had English degrees. Smdh. Of course, both of us still wrote our stories and chased the literature dream together. Even if being professional writers never quite came to fruition, we were still enjoying the ride. Not to mention we loved one another.

This Thanksgiving would be the first Ash spent with my family. They fucking loved her. And who wouldn’t? Ashley was smart and so damn pretty. Her family was from Trinidad, so yeah, she was exotic as well. And Goddamn, she was clever. Don’t let the model looks fool you, she could write a crafty mystery. I suppose surprising readers was one of many hobbies we had in common.

We’d only been dating a few months. Honestly, Thanksgiving night would be the first time we’d ever spent the night together. I mean yeah, we’d had sex and done other things. But being underpaid Millennials meant having to crash with the folks more often than not. And neither one of us had our own place. Not yet at least.

But just in those precious few months, Ashley had changed me for the better. Whether it was making me more confident in my writing or more confident in my appearance, I wasn’t that proud to be Patrick Grinter until I met her. And now I’m just fucking grateful to have such an awesome gf.

On Thanksgiving night, we were in the Grinter household. Tallahassee, Florida. Ashley knew about our Black Friday tradition. And right around 8 o’clock, my parents were gearing up to head on over to Wal-Mart. I already had my internal shopping strategy planned out: the jewelry store for Ash and then Bass Pro Shop for the folks (they were into camping and hiking). I knew I had to get Ash a nice ruby ring. No, not for an engagement… not this soon. Ashley and I both had plans to wait on that for awhile. But I felt I needed to buy her a ring because of all the sweet gifts she’d gotten me for my Birthday. Even with our meager salaries, she’d gone all out… I’m talking a new laptop, a bunch of rare horror movies. Definitely not cheap. So yeah, I felt pressured to return the favor. She deserved it, man.

But right at eight, Ash threw us a curveball. She begged and pleaded me to just go with her. She wanted us to be alone for our first Black Friday shopping spree. She said it was an intimate occasion… and shit, she made it sound like our first Valentine’s Day. But she was adamant. Even when she was being sweet and gentle, she had a persuasive energy. After a brief yet weak argument, I finally gave in.

I hated not carrying on the Grinter tradition. But then again, my parents and I could pick it back up next year. And hopefully, with Ashley.

To my surprise, mom and dad were cool with it. Dad even winked at me. Hell, mom did too!

I tried to suggest we all reconvene at Wal-Mart later, but Ash shot that down instantly. Of course, that only further amused my parents’ dirty minds.

“Oh, I know you’ll be busy,” Dad teased me.

Ashley and I both chuckled. In a frenzied rush, my parents ended up beating us out the door. They knew how fast Wal-Mart got pillaged. Especially with these earlier Black Friday hours.

I had already told Ash my plans about stopping off at the jewelry store. She was enthused but insisted we stop at Gap first. Yeah, I know… Gap. Like we were all back in middle school. I gave her shit about the choice, but at my boo’s insistence, I damn sure drove us to the strip mall. Our journey propelled by an endless loop of Christmas tunes.

To nobody’s surprise, Gap wasn’t very crowded. Like I expected, everyone was probably losing their shit in Wal-Mart or some other huge chain during the opening hours of this obnoxious All-American shitshow.

The entire strip mall looked empty. Then again, nobody coveted Ross or TJ Maxx on Black Friday. Those were reserved for the most desperate of shoppers. The ones who struck out on the really good deals.

Chuckling, Ashley and I held onto each other as we made our way through the cold. All the beer and wine from dinner still had us jolly. Gap the Black Friday equivalent of our drunken nights crashing Waffle House.

Gap looked to be in the Christmas spirit. I saw fake snow spray painted on all the windows. A plastic Christmas tree could be seen inside.

The cool breeze made me shiver. Ashley hugged me closer. Her pretty smile warmed my heart at least.

“We gonna get you some new jeans,” she joked.

“Hmm, you like me wearing those tight ones?” I asked.

I felt her pull me in even closer. “You know it.” Her warm lips gave me a kiss. “We getting you skinny jeans.”

Inside the bright store, they only had a couple of clerks working. Yeah, Gap knew what was up. They’d get the Wal-Mart or Hollister stragglers closer to midnight.

I saw a handful of customers. Teenagers, and a young mother with her ten-year-old boy. The typical Gap clientele.

Even in Gap, Ashley went fucking nuts. Like a coupon collecting grandma, she grabbed stacks of clothes. Half of them were for me… Hey, I wasn’t gonna argue. My gf was stylish.

In the very back of the store, we stopped near the dressing rooms. Ashley handed me about ten pounds of clothing. “Here, at least try on the skinny jeans!” she insisted.

Straining, I struggled to hold the tower of shirts and pants. “Gotcha.”

“I love you,” she said.

“I love you too.”

Ash leaned in and gave me a soothing kiss. A sweet kiss, I might add.

Seeing stars, I watched her pull back. I stared on at her enchanting smile.

“Go change, Patrick!” she said.

We went into our separate rooms. I tried on everything. One after the other. Maybe the mirror was too flattering. Or Ashley’s taste was that brilliant. I gotta say I looked pretty hot. The skinny jeans were fire…

Full of drunken holiday joy, I took a pic in the mirror for Ash. When I saw the time, I realized I’d been in here for well over ten minutes. And Ash hadn’t sent me one text… or shit, not even a pic of one of her many outfits.

Alarm bells shattered my festive mood. Normally, I’d have ten pics from her. Maybe twenty considering she was carrying more clothes than a sidewalk vendor.

A loud scream made my unease turn to fear. “What the fuck…” I said, nervous.

Intense crashes and bangs echoed toward me. I heard cries and whimpers. And even more screams. The store was so small every noise sounded like a piece to a colossal panic. And as the noises continued, the screams grew louder and more agonizing.

“Ash!” I yelled. Scared, I struggled to take off the skinny jeans. I felt like I was tearing my flesh off in the process. Goddamn, they were tight!

I heard thuds. Not like a shelf or a book had fallen… but something heavier. A body.

A cascade of hits banged the windows. Aside from the yells and cries, I heard a nasty cackle. A cackle void of all humanity.

Terrified, I staggered to the dressing room door. The pants were tight, but they couldn’t stop me from running. And they wouldn’t stop me from finding Ashley.

“Ashley!” I yelled. I opened the door and ran through a small hallway leading into the store.

The noises got louder and more disturbing. They overpowered Gap’s terrible pop music. The screams sounded so helpless. Thuds and slams erupted one after the other, forming an unsettling soundtrack. And above all, there was that cackle. And then a vicious snarl.

Upon stepping foot into the store, I felt a harsh whoosh push me back into a clothes rack. All the shirts grabbed me. Straining, I struggled to break free of their sticky touch.

I looked on at my jacket, disgusted. Fresh blood decorated my clothes like a layer of red paint.

A thunderous shriek pulled my nervous gaze. I scanned the store. Horrified, I sunk back into that clothes rack, back into the bleeding shirts. I didn’t care about all the blood sticking to my clothes… that gore was nothing compared to what I saw before me.

I felt my iPhone slip from my grasp. Just like my stomach.

Like a red snowstorm, blood covered the store’s marble floors. Moist crimson was all over the clothes, signs, and photographs of smiling models. Gap had been turned from a family-friendly retail outlet into a fucking bloodbath.

As if they were store decorations, severed limbs scattered about. Heads, arms, torsos.

The windows appeared spray-painted not with white but red. Blood so thick, you had no chance of peering out into the dark parking lot.

Small red handprints were smeared across the glass doors. No one had gotten out… not even the child.

A conglomeration of organs even decorated the Christmas tree. A severed head stuck on top like a gruesome star.

I realized the cries had died off by now. Literally died off. I heard nothing. Nothing except for chewing. Someone was having a real messy feast…

Scared, I stepped away from the bloodied clothes and looked all around the store. “Ashley!” I yelled, unable to hide the quivering fear in my voice.

A huge whoosh sent me staggering back. I stopped and looked on, simultaneously awestruck and horrified.

Fast and ferocious, Ashley flew from the back of the store. Her wings monstrous and scaly, the utter opposite of her smooth skin. Blood was all over her fresh Gap clothes. The blood and smeared flesh on her face resembled unique make-up. She looked like a Christmas Angel from Hell.

Graceful, she landed right in front of me. Then I saw the smug smile on her face. A smile of blood-stained fangs.

“Hey, Patrick,” she teased me in her sultriest voice.

I couldn’t say a word. My uneasy eyes just looked on at her. But I wasn’t getting cold feet. Ashley was still so gorgeous. Radiant even with all the gore. Like a pin-up model for vampires.

Playful, she held up a severed head. A female’s head. The woman’s mouth was still open in a most horrifying scream. Judging by the tattered flesh and ripped-out chunks on the woman’s face, Ashley had been snacking on it.

“It’s delicious,” Ash said. Grinning, she tossed the head behind her.

I didn’t run or freak out. I just stared at Ashley’s hypnotic eyes. They were so bright, I got lost in them.

“Do you love me, Patrick?” Ash asked. Her grin remained. She was confident in my answer. She just knew what it’d be.

“Yes,” I answered, scared but with conviction. I did love her, after all.

Ashley strolled up to me with confident steps. “I love you too.”

Before I could throw my arms around her, she grabbed the back of my neck and leaned in.

With a flourish, her fangs only grew longer. And sharper.

They went straight into my throat. At first, I felt pain. Then relief. Such brief pain had led to immense exhilaration.

Closing my eyes, I moaned with pleasure. Yeah, I felt the blood streaming down my neck. My blood. And I felt all the blood and gore on Ashley further tarnish my clothes. But I didn’t give a shit. Not at this point.

“You like that, baby,” Ash whispered in between the “embrace.”

“Yes,” I said softly.

Ashley continued biting into my neck. A soft, tender bite.

Enjoying it, I pulled her in closer, further pressing her against my jugular.

I felt a change within me. Even more confidence than what Ashley had already imbued me with. The changes all felt so… rejuvenating. I felt handsomer… for once, I was Ashley’s equal on the physical attraction meter.

Ashley backed away from me.

I opened my eyes to her beaming smile. My strong-as-fuck contacts disintegrated and fell to the ground. My vision was 20/20… shit, it felt like 80/20. I could see everything so clear. Like HD eyeballs.

Intrigued, I studied myself. My skin was paler. My muscles more pronounced. Like one of those crazy workout programs had been accelerated throughout my body.

I heard whooshes right behind me. The wings. I’d grown an identical set to what Ashley flaunted.

Excited, I cried out. I felt my teeth were bigger. One eager touch led to my finger getting cut by a fang. But I didn’t care. I was in a club. Club Ashley. And she’d welcomed me in with open arms.

I gave her a wicked smile. What we had before was romance. But now, with all these changes, we were real equals both in body and spirit. We had true love.

Grinning, Ashley stole a glance at my skinny jeans. “Hey there, stud.”

“I’m getting them just for you, babe.”

Chuckling, she gave me a passionate kiss.

We were inches away from our next kiss when Ash stopped me.

“Do you hear that?” she asked with an excited grin.

“What-”

“Listen!” Ash motioned toward the front counter.

I always listened to my baby. And in the silence, I realized my senses were better than ever. My sight and everything else.

Together, Ashley and I listened to incessant quivering. The scared whimper of someone behind that counter.

Ashley grabbed my arm. “Come on.”

Before I could prepare, Ashley lifted off and took me with her.

A quick trip through the air. She was much better than I was. Like a veteran pilot.

Together, we landed on top of the desk. Our collective strength almost busted it. All the papers and bags went flying everywhere.

“No!” a terrified male voice screamed.

Leaning down, our eyes marked the man cowering under the counter. An overweight male clerk who was totally helpless. A man who knew he had no chance at survival.

“No! No, please!” the man cried. He cowered against the edge of the desk, literally backing himself into a corner.

Our hungry eyes marked him. Blood dripped off our fangs like a gruesome faucet. Over and over.

“Oh God!” the man begged. “Please! Don’t hurt me!”

Ashley looked at me with a wicked grin. I returned her my smile of fangs.

“No!” the man continued.

Ash gave me a quick kiss. “Let’s go.”

Like starving tigers, we pounced right on the man. At first, his cries were ferocious. But once the onslaught of slices, bites, and rips happened, the man’s voice became drowned out by all the blood pouring from his mouth. All the ripped flesh dangling off his throat.

Goddamn, the flesh tasted amazing. Better than whatever we had at Thanksgiving. I knew what me and Ash were having next year come Turkey Day…

In a matter of seconds, the man was nothing more than shredded flesh. His blood and pieces stuck to our fingertips and fangs. He was headless and faceless. Just a smorgasbord of red pulp attached to bones.

I guess I was hungry during my first kill…

Covered in the man’s gruesome remnants, Ashley pulled me in

for another tender kiss. Just as romantic and sweet as all the ones we had earlier. A kiss fit for a movie or the cover of an exploitative romance novel.

We got ready to leave. Of course, we changed back into cleaner clothes. Now that we had the store to ourselves, we also grabbed bags full of our most coveted items. I tossed Ash a clean purse. Regular price four-hundred dollars, but now free because of Red Friday. No wonder Ash was able to get me so much cool shit for my Birthday…

Holding hands, we made our way toward the locked glass doors. The ones Ashley had apparently locked right before massacring the entire store. Before she turned the store into a Gap Of Death. We walked so close our wings touched. We were closer than ever now…

“So what’s next?” I asked.

Ashley smiled at me. Even with fangs, that smile was so pretty. “I’m thinking somewhere bigger. Maybe Governor’s Square.”

“Whoa! A real mall!” I exclaimed.

“Yeah.” Not a bad idea since they had so many jewelry vendors. Now I obviously didn’t have to worry about the price as well. Not now at least. “Then Bass Pro Shop right after that?” I asked. A devilish grin overtook my lips. “There’s still gonna be a shitpile of people there, you know.”

Squeezing my hand, Ashley leaned in closer. “Mmm, sounds fun.”

Here it was not even eleven o’clock. We still had so many places to go. So many hours left in this shopping frenzy. This feeding frenzy.

The crowds would all still be out and about. All those vulnerable people would be so clueless. They’d just be busy shopping for T.V.s, toys, and all that other bullshit. While Ash and I… well, we’d be shopping for them.

First up was Governor’s Square Mall. I figured Black Friday was the busiest the mall would ever be. Like a flashback to the malls’ glory days of the 80s and 90s. And tonight, Ash and I gonna party like it’s 1999.