Originally published with Sparrow’s Trombone November 14, 2021
They wake up at a red light. The main street is empty and the sky grits overhead like a stale air freshener. Once the light clicks, they, the two of them, coast, then pull into the only place that knows them: K-Mart. No other building is named. First Man shuts his car door with ease, his palm hovering an inch away from the door as he presses it shut. Second Man climbs on top of the car. He jerks in a three-point turn, his shoes scuffling the black windshield. He hops down. He climbs onto the car again—the hood this time—hops down, then shuts his door with a flat, open hand, his fingers fused together.
Blank and textured, the parking lot is pristine. Its white lines are as unblemished as bleached rats. In the flowerbeds, dirt is level. Tree trunks taper into tall, thin cones and tree leaves move in grouped panels like paper snowflakes sliding through each other. There is no wind. The air smells like hot plastic. The two men run through the parking lot. Every few yards, they jump. Their arms spread out; their legs pull up. They are like red plastic monkeys freed from their barrel. Their identical yelping butts together in layered abrasions. Every time, it is the same yell.
After a few laps, they, the two of them, sprint to the K-Mart storefront. Smeared across
the black windows is a stripe of unmoving sheen. Only light is reflected: nothing else. Second Man runs full-speed at the automatic doors and stays in place while doing it. An inch of air stands between him and the glass as he slides side-to-side. His face is blank. First Man flicks his body away from the building in a series of short, quick stomps. He waits at the doormat, jumping in place until Second Man arrives.
They manifest inside K-Mart with their arms horizontally outstretched, sides overlapping
into each other until they hiccup apart. Their shoes glide across the floor, as if on ice, until they stand unique without fingertips touching. Then they put their arms down. The air smells like hot plastic.
On the shelves are red boxes. Their covers bear the impression of words at a distance, but
up close, appear thin as tasteless gum stretched over an anxious tongue. The boxes duplicate across the shelves infinitely. These ones say “Doritos.”
A cashier stands at her checkout lane. Her red polo clings to the sharp angles of her body. Her hair is a solid clump in the shape of a painted helmet. “Help me,” she says. Her lips do not move.
Second Man punches her. His fist phases through the back of her blonde head, hair undisturbed. “Help me,” she says. “Help me.” He continues to punch her with identical amounts of force and when she turns, the inside of her head flickers into focus like the inside of an apricot-colored eggshell. Her eyes are blue on the inside, too. “Help me,” she says. “5” appears in the air and the two men return to the front of the store. 4…Guns manifest in their hands. 3…Guns. 2…Not any particular type beyond black and clicky. 1…
The fluorescent lights die, then snap.
Flash. Bang. Air crunch. Sparks halo the ends of barrels. Imitation electric guitar screeches against a canned beat. Everywhere, gray bodies shuffle forward in repeating step-drag sways. Their groans compound together in dissonant rumbles. When hit, their bodies whiplash.
Redness splashes; dissipates like smoke. Bullet wounds never appear. Pierced bodies crumple, then fade seconds later.
The two men twist and flicker. They pivot in circles, stances unwavering like Barbie dolls
on rotating platforms. They jump and they crouch. And when their guns click softly and the
flashes do not come, they sprint into the aisles soundlessly. Their blurred surroundings chunk into clarity gradually.
They, the two of them, are separated.
First Man passes a glowing first aid kit. It’s hover-spinning four feet off the ground. He runs backwards into its illuminated radius and the kit tornado-drains into his head. Within this aisle, every box says “Coca-cola.” Groaning radiates from the other side of the shelf. First Man raises, lowers, then raises his gun before side-stepping around the corner. Enemy is partially embedded in the shelf. At the sight of First Man, it tries to shuffle forward, but as its patchy arms reach, Enemy remains in place. It returns to neutral position. Even standing still, its torso rises, falls, while hands clip through the shelves. Its open mouth is red and flat. Nostrils—shut. Enemy is cycling through actions when First Man pulls a knife out of the empty space beside his hip. Eight stabs later, Enemy’s body jerks horizontally, coming to rest three feet off the ground in a twitchy stasis.
Gunfire gargles from the other side of the store.
As First Man explodes from his aisle, he sees Enemy dip it’s head into the neck of Second Man. Second Man screams with his mouth shut, then falls to the ground. Blood pools under his chest. There are no visible marks on his body.
Floating nearby is a grenade. First Man first charges. Enemy clumps together, stepping through each other, through Second Man. They drop from the ceiling. From the ground, they erupt, displacing hexagonal dirt clumps that tumble, then vanish over the unblemished tile floor. With a grunt, First Man throws the grenade. It smacks into a shelf. It oscillates between two boxes. First Man darts right. Enemy. Darts left. Flails. Boom.
His body rockets over the aisles in a drawn-out arc. He’s a spinning pinwheel; his limbs
overcooked spaghetti. When he lands, his torso is halfway inside a glowing circle. A hovering gun twirls through his head. Still standing at the checkout counter, the blond cashier stares at First Man with flat eyes and trapezoidal lips. “Help me,” she says. The universe fades to black against a backdrop of exploding synth tones.
They wake up at a red light.