The maniacal, echoing laughter emanates from aisle 17. It peels forth heartily from his chest, pouring into the world with its infectious rhythm; the entire scene is engrossing. How many adults ride a giant bouncy ball, let alone while wearing a Darth Vader mask and wielding a lightsaber? How many grown men challenge kids to jousting while riding them? Apparently, this man does.
Several parents step in to take their children away from the chaos, citing various excuses to remove them from it. Others have their phones out, taking video proof and silently hoping it will go viral. The man doesn’t care; he doesn’t let the gray in his hair slow him down. He’s bouncing up and down the aisle, dolls and Lego boxes and plastic action figures thrown asunder in his wake. He’s swinging the lightsaber like a lasso over his head and laughing with a gleam of happiness in his eyes. He looks truly alive and free.
The chase begins! The man screams “Tally Ho!” at the top of his lungs, pausing his laughter only for a moment. Then he turns a corner, as the 8 children, each on their own bouncy ball, each a different superhero bounce in tow. Batman, Wonder Woman, Iron Man, Captain America, Flash, Wolverine, Spider Man, and a Ninja Turtle each echoing their own peel of a war cry, their diminutive bodies issuing forth a pale comparison of Darth Vader’s. Their own giggling laughter mixes in with their parent’s in an overwhelming amorous sea.
Up and down the various aisles they go, past confused shoppers in the Tupperware aisle; each in turn sharing in the jovial event. Each snickering, some even taking out their own phones to capture the raucous parade as it passes by. Darth Vader acting as a ringleader, a humorous version of the Pied Piper, calling out his war cry every so often, his brigade echoing soon after.
The parents have all formed a group, each making small comments to each other, still with their phones and video recording, allowing a respite of tantrums and rule issuance to melt away in the special moment. I stand just outside the circle of them, no child of my own in their little masquerading army. I just want to share in the moment, however brief it may be.
They make their way towards a huge display of various items surrounding a pearl-white piano in the center of the store. They’re bouncing and laughing in a sort of circled wagon style, the children plainly lost in the masquerade; the parents not wanting to stop the special memory unfurling before them. Everyone, witnesses and participants, shoppers and employees, are all smiling and laughing and reveling in their inner child’s glee. All except the blonde in the white coat. Her face is completely devoid of humor; her demeanor is all business.
The sound of a shotgun round being chambered is iconic, unmistakable, and sphincter-release inducing. It’s barely audible over the ruckus. I recognize the motion before it registers in my brain as to what’s about to happen. The woman’s face has fury in every feature; her jaw is clenched tight, her right shoulder is moving backwards as she seats the butt of the gun into it. Her dirty blonde hair is flaying out around her head and shoulders from the motion of spinning into a line of fire. She screams wildly as the trigger is pulled, knocking a parent off their feet and into the air from the force of the blast.
Darth Vader’s mouth goes slack, the children abandon their bouncy balls, running and screaming, some frozen with fear, most urinating themselves. Another round is chambered and Click-Clack goes the shotgun. The parents have started running towards their children, placing their bodies between them and the deranged woman wielding the gun.
From Darth Vader’s mask another smile begins to slowly spread. This one a terrible sneer slowly starting at the corners of his mouth towards the middle. He reaches into his waistband, producing a pistol and taking aim. It’s then that I realize he’s taken off his mask. A flash and small puff of almost invisible smoke and the volume drops to a dim whining.
Something hurts in my stomach. Confusion. Eyesight fuzzy and unfocused. I double forward with the sharp inhalation of breath. BOOM, Click-Clack. My hand pulls away with a bright red viscosity smeared all over it, as if I dipped my hand into whatever this is. Blood. My blood. I look down at myself as I drop to my knees. BOOM, Click-Clack. The shells of the shotgun are strewn across the tiled floor, the brass casings accentuating and highlighting the red shell casings. I look up as Darth Vader fires another shot seemingly at random into the crowd. BOOM, Click-Clack.
Darkness begins to invade the edges of my sight, growing closer to dominance with each pulse of my weakening heart. The ground looks so comfortable, the cold white tile feels so nice against my cheek. The rounds being fired and the screams of the stores patrons are distant, down a hallway, in another building, blocks away. The flash of Darth Vader’s gunfire like paparazzi at a red carpet.
As he releases the empty magazine to the ground, he and the woman with blonde hair embrace each other. I briefly notice he’s aroused; rock hard, actually. Their kiss is the kind countries go to war for, their love and lust so obviously intertwined. Their hands so gracefully reloading their respective weapons with practiced motions. It’s mesmerizing. They stare hungrily at each other as they turn to look for more targets.
Darth Vader reaches up and pulls off his mask. It falls to the ground as the man walks away. I notice the shininess of the black against the dark that is my vision. I realize this is the way it always was. My stomach has always hurt this bad; my blood was always leaving my body, pooling around me. It was always this cold. I try to smile as I remember how many times I watched the movies, argued with friends over which one was best. I can vaguely hear sharp pop of the man’s pistol, the BOOM, Click-Clack of the woman’s shotgun. I try to laugh and speak out loud, “The Em-“ The exhale is forever.