Just days before Christmas, and throughout the toy stores, children were begging: They all wanted more.

"Look, Mommy!" said the child in a shopping cart at the Toys R Us store in New Carrollton. The tot had spotted a $3 plastic "Cabbage Patch Crawling Doll," a real piece of junk.

But when the mother decided that the previously selected "Family Curl Barbie Doll" was enough, the kid howled and tried to fling herself out of the cart in a rage.

As other shoppers stalked the aisles with carts filled to the brim, baggy-eyed employes dressed in Santa's helper-style candy-striped shirts wearily assisted the demanding clientele.

"I want a He-Man," a small boy insisted as his mother yanked him from one toy display to another. She asked an employe if the store carried that item. "What kind of He-Man?" the employe asked the boy. The boy looked at him like he was nuts. "TV He-Man," the boy replied. "There are all kinds of He-Man," the employe said. "The one who lives at Greyskull," the kid said. When told they were sold out of that one, the once-beaming child turned manic-depressive, sullen and withdrawn as he pouted around the store.

Toys R Us was doing a bustling business, staying open from 8 a.m. until 1 a.m. Somewhere in all of this, there must have been some Christmas spirit. But it certainly wasn't the night that Prince George's County police were called in to break up a dispute between two customers trying to purchase the same toy.

And this was not happening only at Toys R Us. At the Bradlee's department store in Fairfax earlier this month, a 27-year-old woman was injured during a stampede for Transformers -- the metal cars, planes and guns that turn into robots.

"This is not my idea of the way people should act at Christmastime," said Katherine Van Hart after being released from a hospital with a sprained ankle. "I was on the ground and people were running over me . . . . I thought for sure I was going to get killed."

Said 9-year-old Adam Koplan, who was also shopping at Bradlee's that day, "I didn't think adults behaved that way. You had Transformers in your hand and people bigger than you were grabbing them."

Over at Sullivan's toy store on Wisconsin Avenue, about 100 people queued up, starting at 4 a.m., to buy one of 48 Cabbage Patch Dolls. Earlier in the week, the store sold more than 300 Transformers in less than an hour.

The fact that these "hot item" toys have little, if anything, to do with Christmas doesn't matter. The kids want them. They must have them. Now.

"Jimmy got one," one kid whinned when his sister told him that he didn't need a set of six-shooters and handcuffs. "We don't have that much money left," the sister said kindly. "I don't care," the boy said, reaching for a rack of pistols.

It was hard to understand. Why this mad rush? What about those homely Cabbage Patch Dolls, which now have wardrobe options that make them the best dressed and most expensive junk since Barbie?

For the boys, there was a run on GI-Joe killer dolls, A-Team Blowgun Gliders and imitation Uzi submachine guns. Only Zorro and Tonto dolls seem to be collecting dust.

The last call for shoppers at Toys R Us was issued just after midnight. A father who said he had been in the store for nearly an hour slumped on a now-empty toy shelf and muttered to himself. "Why have I spent all my money on this mess?" He reached into his loaded cart and checked the price of a "See and Say" talking clock and repeated himself.

"Daddy, Daddy, can I have these?" his son yelled out, appearing from around the corner with two handfuls of plastic Army figurines. "No, put that back," his father said. The boy just stood there stone-faced, looking like a character from a Stephen King movie. Only when his father stood up did the boy back up around the corner.

The child appeared to have learned a lesson from adults about this holiday: 'Tis the season to be greedy. Had the Three Wise Men been inside area toy stores this past week to witness this breach of peace caused by plastic, metal and cloth, surely they would have settled for greeting cards instead of gold, frankincense and myrrh.