“Look at this deal for Black Friday, honey!” Ralph pointed out to his wife, Sandy, “And this one. Do we need a new lawnmower?”
She glanced over as she was putting the last clean dish away. The Thanksgiving feast was over and she sighed as her kitchen was finally clean again. “You really want to fight all those people on Black Friday? Again?”
“This one’s having the purple balloon deal again!” Excitement was in his voice.
“Not that again,” she groaned, “I almost broke my ankle last year to get you that Blu-Ray player.”
“But you got it and I love you for it.” He put as much appreciation in his voice as he could, then kissed her, “But you have to admit 50% off was a hell of a deal and you use that thing as much as I do.”
Last year they had a plan; Ralph’s plan. While he stood near the purple balloon that was in the TV section, his wife stood by the one in the Blu-Ray player section. The Purple Balloon deals gained popularity two years ago. You didn’t know which items were being slashed to half price until the balloon popped and little cards fell out. They had the item picture, description, and part numbers on them. There would be at least three different choices and last year Ralph and Sandy were lucky to grab the TV and Blu-Ray.
“But what do you think we need now?” she asked, looking around the room. The 64” TV Ralph fought for last year covered half the room.
“I’m thinking surround sound system.”
She groaned. He was such a commercial stereotypical man sometimes. Every time she saw a dumb commercial where the husband lost his mind in an electronics store, she immediately pictured Ralph. She looked around the room again, trying to imagine where he would mount it all. They didn’t have any children and other than Black Friday, they didn’t really splurge on themselves.
“What time do we have to be there?” she asked as she gave in.
“I love you!” he kissed her again.
After the news, they saw another Black Friday commercial and Ralph started pointing when he saw the purple balloons.
“I’ve got my eye on two different systems. I hope at least one of them is in this deal. Otherwise I’ll have to wing it.”
Sandy rolled her eyes and only lifted an eyebrow half in interest. They both looked up at the booming commercial voice:
We’re doing things just a bit different this year. Last year the items on the 50% off sales were put up on social media on the east coast within minutes, therefore ruining the random chances for those in the other time zones. We want everyone to have the same opportunity as everyone else. This year the balloons will all burst simultaneously, regardless of different time zones. Ensuring everyone has a fair chance at getting the best deals. The ads that were put out do reflect your current time zone.
“I can kind of see their point,” Ralph remarked, “It’s cheating when you already know which one is going to be on sale. I bet all the 50% off ones were already in people’s carts before the balloons popped last year.”
“Doesn’t matter to us anyway,” Sandy laughed, “since we’re on the east coast.”
Three hours before the balloons were scheduled to pop, Ralph and Sandy were already at the store. Ralph was pleased to see the majority of the crowds were clustered around the TV and Blu-Ray balloons, just like last year. Seems there wasn’t as much interest in surround sound systems despite the bright balloon floating ten feet above their heads. There were a few people milling around but it was more casual; everyone was relaxed. Ralph smiled as he counted them. This would be a piece of cake. He had positioned himself and Sandy apart so they had access to the entire selection. He longingly eyed a 75” 3D TV that was mounted right below another purple balloon and was considering a plan change until he saw Sandy shake her head at him. He laughed and nodded. Just the surround sound system this year.
Luckily the TV’s were playing so there was something to watch. Many were just on their phones, texting or checking into social media. Ralph looked back and forth at the only two TV’s he could see from where he was standing. One channel had a popular animated movie on, the bright colors boasting the great effects of that model. The other had the news on. Ralph couldn’t hear anything and they didn’t have on the closed captions so he could only guess what they were talking about. Behind the news reporter was the Homeland Security logo so he assumed they had heightened security for traveling again. It happened every year. That’s why he and Sandy rarely flew. Most of their relatives were within driving distance anyway.
As it got closer to the time, Ralph was disheartened to see more and more customers packing in around he and Sandy. It might be more of a fight this time. He looked at his watch and saw there was only 15 minutes left. He made his way to Sandy, only eight feet away but with a dozen men and woman between them.
“New plan,” he whispered to her.
She looked at him questioningly.
“Everyone has to take to the time to look at the cards that drop, then figure out where they are. I’ve already pretty much memorized where everything is. So you grab a card and tell me the manufacture and model and I’ll grab it. Two hands free.” He waggled them in front of her for emphasis.
“Works for me,” she whispered back, happy that she wouldn’t have to elbow anyone out of the way to get an item this time. Inwardly she sighed as she was resigned to the fact that she would still be in the thick of it. She had to be close enough to Ralph to give him the information.
The crowd chanted aloud with the digital countdown.
“- 5 4 3 2 1!” The balloons burst in a rain of cards and powder.
Powder? There wasn’t powder last year. There was sparkly confetti with the cards.
Almost immediately everyone began coughing as they inhaled the clouds that floated around them. Screams began and cut off quickly as everyone struggled to breathe. Men and women knocked each other trying to get away only to fall to the hard floor. Ralph saw Sandy drop, blood seeping from the corner of her mouth and nostrils. He reached for her but fell to his knees, coughing, his blood hitting the floor beneath him. With a shaking hand he picked up a card and read it in shock. His vision blurred as he lost consciousness; barely registering the two words on it.