The steady beat of EDM pulsed in Connor’s headphones as he perused the aisles of the Walmart. The incandescent lights above illuminated the empty aisles with not a soul in sight as the young man pushed the nearly empty cart through the aisles. His fingers ran gently over the boxes of brightly colored cereal beside him. He stopped, plucking the box of peanut butter and chocolate knock off from the shelf. He tossed the first box into the cart with a delightful thud. “Babe, one box or two?” Connor asked, pushing the headphones off one ear. He glanced around as he found himself addressing the air. “Babe?” He asked again, his voice raised a little. Silence met him. He pulled off the headphones and waited. “Alright Connie, very funny. You can come out now.” Connor applauded before resting his hands on his hips. The lights shone down on the empty aisle as Connor waited. Without the headphones he could hear the low buzz of the appliances around him. He gripped the cart and pushed it to the end of the aisle, peering around the ends to see if he could spot his girlfriend.
“Connie? Baby, this isn’t funny.” He shouted as he pushed the cart up the aisles, glancing down each aisle as he went. His footfalls echoed around the empty Walmart giving a beat to the monotone melody of the background humming. He reached in his pocket only to find his phone dead when he pulled it out. He shoved it roughly back in as he glanced around. Connie would do this from time to time. Hide when he paid more attention to his phone than to her, then jump out and scare him when he least expected it. She was generally pretty patient when he hadn’t noticed. But Connor couldn’t think of a time where she had waited this long to spook him.
Connor slowed and stopped. The hum of the building the only thing he heard. He felt his breathing quicken as he glanced about at the empty store. Memories of being swept away in a crowd like a twig in a flood bombarded him as he placed his weight on the cart. He had been separated from his parents for hours as he had ran around the amusement park. His eyes squeezed shut as the endless drone of his environment pushed on his senses. The sense of loneliness and insignificance rocketed around the inside of his mind and Connor feared the pressure on both sides would crush his skull. He took a long slow breath in and then out as he looked around. He was alone.
Of course he couldn’t be truly alone. This was a store. That meant employees. That meant a PA system to call Connie with. Connor glanced around at the seemingly endless aisles. He blinked as he tried to gather his bearings. Which way had he come from? Which way was he going? He looked around, slowly then swiftly turning on his heel until he again gripped the cart to steady himself.
Empty aisles stretched in every direction. Except they were in rows of parallel lines. Two rows of parallel aisles, yet no matter how Connor turned he was always surrounded by those same two rows. Almost as though the room turned with him, and Connor felt his stomach turn sower as he tried to find a front or back of the store. He dropped to his knees and felt hot tears well up as pressed his back to an aisle. The whining noise seemed to scream at him and yet it hadn’t seemed to increase at all in volume. He could hardly hear his own pitiful sobs over that constant, unyielding, monotonous whine. The lights beat down on him as though he was under a focused spotlight of a thousand suns exploding perpetually. Perhaps if he stayed still long enough someone would find him.
For surely he was not alone.
Not even here, in this place and in this hour could he be alone. No not even in a time when all the gods have named forsaken and refuse to look upon could Connor be truly alone. And even he knew this. And rightly, he ran. The cart abandoned he ran forward, down an aisle or past it he knew not which. All he knew was that as he ran his footfalls did a valiant if pointless battle against the buzz of the superstore. His voice hollered his love’s name into the endless abyss of aisles as he turned down random aisles and all along the store. His eyes grew red with tears as he ran screaming down the endless and maddening aisles filled with cheap packages of brightly colored products.
Eventually though his feet slowed, his mouth dripping foam, and his legs burning. He felt alone again. But knew he couldn’t possibly be, and longed for the ignorance that he had once had. For of course he wasn’t alone. They were here. With him. He couldn’t see them, though he thought he caught glimpses at the end of aisles he dared not enter or behind him when he dared turn back. He did not hear them, save for what any crazed fool would call echoes of his footfalls. These were clearer and louder than his own, even if they kept perfect time with him.
Connor found his fingers dragging over cans of soup as his legs trembled. Human blood stock, C’thuli-o’s, and canned fear felt cold on his fingertips as he wandered. His breath heavy and dry on his cracked lips. His footing failed and he stumbled to his knees beneath the unending brilliance of the incandescent light and the deafening hum.
Even as he collapsed Connor knew the truth. He was not alone and it would all be over soon.
By TKH Hamilton