Black Friday, 2018
Duck Langston drained his rum and coke and slid his glass along the bar. It fell and smashed on the sick-stained Wetherspoons carpet, the sound of breaking glass met with an apathetic “whey” from the barflies chewing miserably into their evening pints. Duck buried his face in his hands and heard the boss of ITV’s humourless voice vibrate around his drunken skull. He needed a hit. He needed a drink. He needed a local where the bar staff were more conscious than the drinkers. But he mostly needed a hit. It had been a decade since Supermarket Sweep had been cancelled and he’d had little success since. Celebrity Camel Racing had been a disaster, to say nothing of Britain’s Got Talons, his ill-fated attempt at a celeb falconry show. Tony Blackburn never did fully regain his eyesight. Duck glanced spitefully up at the pub’s TV and what he saw changed his life, along with everyone’s in Great Britain.
A small, mousy-haired woman was elbowing an elderly gentleman in the face, apparently to get to a Panasonic TV in a 42-inch box. The BBC News chyron read “Black Friday” and scenes such as this appeared to be playing out up and down the country. Duck had seen enough. He pulled out his phone, called his assistant and headed for the door.
“Get me Rylan’s agent,” he barked down the phone, “and cancel my meeting with Richard Hammond tomorrow. I don’t fucking care what you tell him! Tell him he’s a cunt.” He burst onto the street and vowed never to set foot in another Wetherspoons.
Black Friday, 2019
“Welcome to Supermarket Sweep: Black Friday!” Rylan bounded into frame and Duck beamed into the monitor. It had been the hardest-working year of his life, but he’d made it. He thanked his stars he hadn’t burned all his bridges with ASDA, who had let them start taping 15 minutes before the store opened. He’d fought tooth and nail to have the show filmed and shown live, in a real supermarket, among real-life bargain-desperate mouth-foaming weirdos. Fuck having a studio audience. The audience were sat at home all over the country, glued to their TVs by a lucrative mixture of stupidity and bloodthirstiness. The thought made Duck giggle as Rylan read word-perfectly from his autocue.
“In 15 minutes the supermarket doors will open, and hundreds of real shoppers will go wild in the aisles for those Black Friday bargains – unless our contestants can get there first! They are… Susan and Janine! Graham and Sandra! And Penny and Susan!” Duck wondered why they needed two Susans as the contestants skipped behind their podiums, but Rylan ploughed on undeterred with the first game. While Susan 1 scrambled frantically through the shop looking for a popcorn maker marked with a purple sticker, Duck looked through the glass doors at the rapidly growing crowd of shambling, twitching drones practically clawing at the entrance, hungry to be let in.
Rylan was barely through the “contestant banter” portion of the script when the first fight broke out outside. A man in an Oasis shirt had tried to push through the throng and now lay bleeding by the trollies, his face torn with scratch marks and what looked like the telltale indentations of teeth. “Earth to Susan! Susan 2!” Rylan sang at the distracted contestant who stared nervously at the heaving, groaning mass outside, missing her cue to step back from the podium so her partner could guess whether an Amazon Fire Stick was more or less expensive than a patio heater. Seeing the fear in her eyes, Duck bared his gums reassuringly at Susan 2 and cursed her under his breath. She reminded him of his second wife, both in terms of her secondary status and the furrowed look of disapproval that played across her features.
“Spare me your hypocrisy, bitch,” he thought. He’d seen enough moralising in the last year to fill the goddamn Vatican. Marina Hyde in the Guardian had called him an “exploitative has-been who spent the ‘90s riding Dale Winton’s leather coattails.” Owen Jones had tweeted, “Duck Langston is the biggest threat to the working classes since Thatcher.” Stewart Lee called him a “fat melon” for half an hour. But Duck’s conscience was as clear as those aisles in ASDA would soon be. He didn’t start the fire, as that bald Jew once sang. Black Friday violence was an annual fixture, as English as the Oxbridge Boat Race or the Mascot Gold Cup. He’d just been the one smart enough to point the cameras and bring in the advertisers. “And to slip out the back,” he muttered as he did exactly that, feeling Susan 2’s prying eyes follow him through the emergency exit.
By the time he was settled in the production gallery, raising a glass of champagne to the bank of monitors above, Rylan was readying the players for the final sweep.
“Remember the bonus for the items on my shopping list – that’s the margarita machine, a Kindle and the Peppa Pig paddling pool – and don’t miss those inflatable bonuses; pop them open and who knows what weaponry might be inside!” Duck watched the contestants peel away one by one, bearing down on their trollies like human shields as they screeched around corners, quickly filling up with speakers and hair straighteners. Susan 2 burst open a giant inflatable banana and awkwardly holstered the handgun within. “10 seconds ’til opening time!” Rylan hollered. The throng outside chanted atonally along with his countdown. Graham was frantically jumping up and down on an inflatable jukebox when the double doors slid open, and barely had time to raise the enclosed frying pan meekly in front of his face when the tide of fevered shoppers crashed inside, trampling him underfoot; the first of many Black Friday fatalities.
Susan 2 watched in horror as Janine was crushed beneath the DVD shelf, Naomi Watts’ Diana jutting bloodily from her temple. Two old ladies reached for the same TV and tore rabidly at each others’ faces. Sandra, who hadn’t even been running the sweep, now lay dead in the Manager’s Special basket, soaking in a pool of blood. Rylan ran into the fray to try to calm the crowd, when two men with trollies hurtled towards him, crushing the presenter between their metal grilles. His eyes popped from their sockets and one landed in the pick ’n’ mix. Duck gleefully surveyed the scene from the safety of the gallery, laughing as Susan 1 was decapitated by a whirling frying pan.
“I guess that makes you Susan 1 now,” he cackled, tapping the screen where Susan 2 was cowered in the corner. Duck jumped as a wild, gnashing mouth leapt into shot, devouring the cameraman as the picture turned sideways. Duck tilted his head and watched the action as captured from the blood-slicked floor (“Clean up in aisle four,” he laughed), before a boot stomped the camera out of transmission.
Susan 2 heard a scream. “Penny!” she thought, the sound of her friend snapping her out of paralysis. She crawled towards the scream, recoiling just in time to avoid a baby who had managed to commandeer a trolley, and saw Penny scrambling to avoid a woman madly swinging a machete, the empty carcass of an inflatable champagne bottle stuck to her one remaining shoe. Susan 2 fumbled for the revolver in her waistband and pointed it with a shaking right hand. She hesitated and was struck by a stack of boxes of headphones that knocked her to the floor, the pistol falling from her grasp. The woman raised the blade above Penny’s chest and Susan 2 reached out for the gun when a trolley roared across her hand, the wheels severing two of her fingers, searing pain blinding her vision. This time Penny revived her not with a scream but a retch, her insides falling open like the supermarket’s sliding double doors. Susan 2 knew she had to get out. Her eyes fell upon the emergency exit she’d seen that oily bastard slither out of earlier like the gummy worm he was. With a burst of adrenaline she rose to her feet, grabbed the gun and ran towards the back door, not looking back as she slipped on Penny’s small intestine. She regained her balance and broke through the exit, barely noticing the cry of “Help…” that rose from the stairwell below. She gasped breathlessly out onto the street and ran all the way home, where she remained for an entire year.
Black Friday, 2020
“Britain is open for business!” declared Prime Minister Kirstie Allsopp, signalling the first Black Friday under the newly ratified Black Friday Act. Written by business tsar Sir Duck Langston, the law gave every adult citizen a £200 voucher to be spent on the high street on one day and one day only. Sir Duck chuckled at his own genius while pouring himself a celebratory rum and coke before plonking himself down on his Italian leather sofa, purchased at full price following the announcement of his knighthood. As the Tory PM answered questions on his giant TV, or at least parroted slogans like “shop ’til you drop”, Duck reflected on the best year of his life. After the infamous Supermarket Sweep broadcast, he had quickly overtaken Richard Osman as the most powerful producer in the country, with the added decency of staying behind the camera. And if today is a success, a seat in the House of Lords would be his; his friend Kirstie had guaranteed it. And it would be a success – the TV revenues would take care of that. But the real beauty was that his critics would be too busy wringing their hands and writing their Guardian columns to notice the cash go straight into his pocket. Who can stop him? Kirstie? Not bloody likely when he’s her biggest donor. The boss. Number one.
Susan 2 lifted the revolver in her good left hand and still smelt the blood that stained its barrel a year ago today. Tears stung her eyes as she remembered the friend she couldn’t save and the show she once loved, when Dale’s smiling face would bless her happy childhood home. When she heard about Supermarket Sweep coming back she didn’t hesitate to apply. But she’d hesitated when her teammate needed her, and now Penny was just a wet mark on the shop floor where the chaos was soon to repeat itself – albeit with Joel Dommett hosting.
“A great choice,” Susan 2 acknowledged grimly, casting her eyes across her wall of Supermarket Sweep heroes whose excited faces were blu-tacked above. There was Susan Smithson, the 1995 contestant who’d found basmati rice with just seconds to spare; Susan Bumble, the 2001 legend who located the cream cleaner in record time; and Susan 1, whose severed head was last seen mounted onto a trolley driven by a baby. Susan 2 put the barrel in her mouth and cocked the pistol. The doorbell rang. Tutting at this ill-timed inconvenience but succumbing to the politeness with which she had been raised, she lowered the weapon, walked to the door and pulled it open. Before her, as though she was dreaming, stood Susan Smithson, now in her 60s, and Susan Bumble, brandishing an uzi.
“Let’s get this motherfucker,” said Smithson.
“He’s not going to be there!” Susan 2 yelled over the blare of sirens and helicopters. The glowing ASDA sign swayed above a sea of carnage, the letters flickering like dying fireflies.
“It’s our only hope,” said Bumble, clicking a magazine into her submachine gun. Crouching behind a row of burnt-out cars, they headed towards the now notorious supermarket, then jumped backwards as a trolley rushed past them, black smoke streaming from its petrol-spitting engine. A laughing, screaming family rocked about inside it, flesh and skulls hanging from its grilles, stacked high with discount goods and speakers blaring Slipknot at ear-bleeding volume. An iPhone box flew out and landed on the concrete where a gaggle of zombified bargain hunters leapt upon it, hissing at one another like feral cats.
“Don’t look,” said Smithson, pressing onwards as screams curdled from the angry pile of writhing bodies. “Bloody Apple users.”
As they approached the storefront, Susan 2 laid eyes once again on the murderous mass of ASDA customers, feeling the same spine-chilling fear that froze her to the podium 12 months prior.
“We’ll never make it past them,” said Bumble. “Cream cleaner was one thing; I draw the line at cannibal hordes.”
Susan 2 unfroze: “I know a back route.”
The Susans clambered through the fire escape, setting off an alarm barely audible above the wailing shoppers and distant gunshots. Crossing the stairwell, another noise, faint yet familiar, cried out from below. “Help…” The three women spoke in unison: “I know that voice!” They clambered hurriedly down the stairs. The sound was coming from a huge walk-in refrigerator beneath the shop floor, and it took all three Susans’ strength to heave open the door. In front of them stood Dale Winton, shirtless, muscles bulging, a smile spreading across his once perfectly tanned face, now pallid and wet with blood.
“Susan! Susan! Susan!” he shouted, guessing at least once.
“Dale!” called Susan 2.
“We thought you were dead!” declared Bumble.
“And how are you so ripped?!” added Smithson.
“Two years of this,” Dale demonstrated, punching the cuts of meat that hung around the fridge, sending bloody chunks flying against the gently humming walls.
“I won’t ask what he’s been eating then,” thought Susan 2, swallowing a sicky burp.
Sensing their horror, the old pro tried to explain. “Duck Langston faked my death two years ago. I knew too much. He used to get drunk in Wetherspoons and tell me all about his plans to launder money from ITV. Pathetic snake didn’t even have the balls to kill me, so he knocked me out and locked me down here. Black Friday is the only time of year I know what day it is…” He tailed off as screams filled the vents and footfall rang like thunder above their heads, slabs of meat swinging like freshly hanged men.
“It’s started,” whimpered Susan 2, defeated.
“But,” Dale grinned, “I know where he lives.”
The four shell-shocked survivors fell into the street just as a grenade exploded inside the store, shattered glass whizzing overhead.
“Those inflatable bonuses are getting out of hand,” observed Bumble. But Susan 2 was watching Dale, who looked strangely peaceful as he breathed unrefrigerated air for the first time in years, a glistening meat hook held casually at his side. Just then, the turbo-charged death-trolley whipped around the corner, and Dale, reacting instinctively to the rapidly approaching stench of flesh, spun around in a low arc, catching the trolley’s front leg with the bright steel hook. The death-wagon flipped end-over-end, sending the family, speakers and boxes spilling out onto the road.
“Let’s go!” shouted Susan 2, leading her friends to the trolley and righting it with surprising ease. They piled inside and Dale turned the key that stuck inside the makeshift engine. It spluttered and died. Daddy death-wagon was on his feet, dragging his gammy leg behind him, arms flailing in front. “Come on!” Susan 2 yelled at Dale, and then, catching herself: “Please.” He turned the key harder this time. The engine choked again. Mummy death-wagon was now approaching too, brandishing an AK-47. Susan 2 wondered aloud, “Where’d all these guns come fro-“ before a hail of bullets cut her off mid-thought, her ears ringing an endless scream.
Frisking herself for bullet wounds, she saw smoke dancing from Bumble’s uzi, its clip freshly emptied into the Kalashnikov-toting monster below.
“We call that the pricing gun,” Bumble quipped, but the feverish father was upon them before she had a chance to reload, and up close she saw he was wearing Rylan’s rotting face. He grabbed her shirt and she dropped the gun. Dale turned the key once more and the engine revved into life, rocketing the trolley forwards with a now dismembered arm still clinging to Bumble’s chest. She unclasped its stiffened fingers and threw the arm into the debris as Dale steered the bumping, careening trolley through the rubble with the effortless cool of a tanned professional handling a motorboat.
Susan 2 noticed that Smithson had been quiet. “What’s up?” she called above the rumbling engine noise. The elder Susan had scooped up a handful of boxes that had fallen from the trolley, and held a wrench and a pair of voice recorders proudly in front of her.
“That basmati was no fluke,” she winked.
Using the wrench as a rudimentary brake, the gang skidded to a halt outside Sir Duck’s luxury apartment. They talked Bumble out of shooting their way in and used the wrench to quietly force the lock, sneaking inside and hiding in the hall where they could hear the half-cut government official barking down the phone: “You’ll get your share, Kirst; I just need your guarantee that HMRC won’t come snooping when I pocket the ITV dough.”
“You’ve got it, Sir Duck,” came Allsopp’s reply on speakerphone. “Or should I say Lord Langston.” Duck chuckled and hung up, only to turn around and see the last person he expected.
“Next time you’re at the checkout and you hear the BEEP,” the voice recorder beeped as Dale pressed stop, waving the machine at Duck’s stunned face, “think of all the fun you could be having on…”
“Supermarket Sweep!” the Susans joined in, stepping into Duck’s plush living room.
“Susan 2!” spat the producer, backing against the wall, “I thought you’d been killed.”
“That broadcast was cut short, wasn’t it Duckie?” she said. “And now you’re going down for corruption.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” he scowled.
Dale waggled the recorder again and said: “Do you really want to play Dale’s Bluff?” Suddenly Duck turned and pulled the enormous TV off the wall and threw it at the meddlesome foursome. It sent them falling backwards, knocking the recorder from Dale’s hand. In the instant it took them to regroup, Duck had run and the recorder was gone.
“I think I know where,” said Dale.
They ran down the street after Dale, Duck’s slippery silhouette sprinting in the distance, before disappearing into a building. Panting for breath they reached the Wetherspoons and crashed through the doors. A glass smashed against the wall behind them. Duck reached for another, downed its rummy contents and hurled it at Dale’s face. The barman caught the glass with lightning reflexes.
“Oh, now you can catch,” Duck snapped.
“Give it up, Ducky boy,” said Susan 2.
“It’s over,” agreed Bumble.
“You’re nothing but a bargain cunt,” offered Smithson.
“You’re too late, losers,” snarled the knight of the realm, “I already destroyed your precious tape recorder.”
“You mean this tape recorder?” Smithson waved tape recorder 2 mockingly at him. Incensed, Duck lunged at Dale, grabbing him by the throat and sending a copy of Wetherspoon News flying across the room, falling open on an article about Brexit.
Susan 2 raised the revolver in her left hand and aimed. “Let him go.”
Duck smashed a bottle of vinegar and held a shard of pungent glass to Dale’s neck. “Hand over the tape recorder.”
This time, Susan 2 didn’t hesitate. “Duck,” she said, and Dale did. The bullet hit the producer in the gums. He felt the life draining out of him as three gameshow contestants and a sometime presenter gathered round his bleeding body.
“What a waste,” sighed Smithson.
“Sarson’s vinegar,” added Bumble.
“Retail value: £1.59,” said Susan 2.