I go to that new dollar store.
It is very nice. It is a clone of the seven other dollar stores in the area. They breed and split off like amoebas.
I’m there for exactly 3 cans of ravioli, but I still walk through every single aisle, marveling that everything costs exactly one dollar. A CD player and a bag of chips are both one dollar. A package of rubber bands and a glass plate are both one dollar. My soul and a roll of toilet paper are both one dollar.
I want to scoop up every product, every cheaply packaged good, gather them to my chest and slam them all on the checkout line and scream: “ARE YOU SURE?”
I don’t do that.
The air is stiff and smells like carpet. The music playing overhead is tuned down, like it’s perfunctory white noise to hide some obscene sound. There’s that show, that one I watch on repeat about the serial killer and the plastic sheets, and how he makes kill rooms so he doesn’t get caught.
It hits me.
I’m in a kill room. A sterile, quiet, segment of reality where I can be dispatched with no evidence.
My normal reaction of pure terror is muted, just like the music. Taylor Swift tells me to “Shake it off” which I’m doing surprisingly well, so she deserves my thanks. Mainly, I’m just irritated that I can’t even buy canned food without having to fight some all-consuming evil.
I begin walking, briskly, towards the aisle where the ravioli is. There is nothing, only ravvy-O-lee. It’s time to take a stand in my life, and squid-gods, drugstore employees and fucking Santa Claus will not stop me from eating uncooked microwavable food.
The store is empty. It’s a ghost town. It’s Tombstone before the shootout. Am I Wyatt Earp or am I the idiots who die funny?
In the canned food aisle, there’s a small child with an orange plastic gun. He’s dressed in green overalls and his hair is extremely red. He’s like a bad cartoon drawing of a kid.
He aims the gun at me and pulls the trigger, clack-clack!
Instinctively, I duck.
Behind me, potato chips explode as bullets tear through them, spilling the guts of Frito Lay all over the floor.
I pull myself out of the aisle as more plastic gunfire erupts. My stomach is turning, something is boiling inside me, hot bile building, making me cough, retch, gag–,
I lean over and vomit onto the floor.
Writhing in the pink, Pepto-Bismol-esque vomit, is a long, slender tentacle. It twists and splashes in the liquid, then recoils as more gunfire hits the area around us, striking the carpet, knocking a display of coasters off the rack.
I crawl away, staring at the mutant that came out of my body. It ignores me, and begins to slither towards the gunfire, towards the boy.
I peek around the corner and watch as it dodges past more bullets, like storming a beach. The boy tries to stomp on it with his Transformers light-up sneakers, but the tentacle snags his foot and wraps itself around his leg, snaking up to his chest and around his neck. The boy gasps, and then collapses, the plastic gun tumbling away.
The boy is unconscious by the time I step over him to grab ravioli. As I’m walking away, I glance back and see that he is melting into a pool of black sludge. It looks like motor oil.
The tentacle slithers over to me. I hesitate for a moment, then lean down and let it crawl up my arm, then it dives into my shoulder, my skin absorbing it easily. With a final, wet slurp! the tentacle is gone.
The cashier who rings up my purchases glares at me. I think for a moment he will try to kill me, but he flinches when I raise my hand to pay him in assorted dimes, nickles, and lint-covered pennies.
He doesn’t give me a receipt.