So, I went to that Chinese grocery store, that one you don’t like to go to because you think it smells weird.
It used to be an Alpha-Beta.
I had some time to kill and I’ve always liked things that are exotic and cheap.
I guess I was kind of just loitering around.
This place had cubic tons of tofu.
They have the craziest stuff in here.
I found this one kind of candy that’s made with mealworms and the bag says ‘Yum-Yum.’
When I was a kid, this used to be an Alpha-Beta and I think before that it was a Piggly-Wigglies or a Ralph’s or something like that, my mom once told me.
I almost bought that mealworm candy for you because I thought that you would find it hilarious.
I had some time to kill and I really didn’t want to come home yet.
Dragon Star Lucky Food.
That’s what it is now.
I didn’t want to come home yet because you were there.
After it was an Alpha-Beta, it was a Foodway or a Valuezone.
Did you know that sometimes I go to the movies alone and I don’t tell you about it?
Did you know?
The lights in here are super-duper bright.
They sell this one kind of pink, squishy herb that would give you the strength and brains of three men.
Sometimes I don’t want to see you, honey.
I’m sorry but it’s true.
The soundtrack in this place is this wheedling, warbling Asian pop kind of thing. Tinny speakers.
A guy was looking at me strange and it made me feel like a foreigner.
But sometimes I do want to see you.
Sometimes I want to see you more than anything in the world.
“Pretty dumb name,” you said when we went in that one time.
Do you know what’s weird? Yams.
I think that the song that they’re playing is a Vietnamese cover of “Angel of the Morning.”
You said that’s the dumbest name for a grocery store that you ever heard in your life.
They have shelves all the way up to the ceiling with plaster Buddhas that light up, five dollars each.
It’s no dumber a name than Alpha-Beta, I guess.
At least you know that there’s food there.
So I thought I’d hang around there for half an hour and buy something inconsequential and then go home.
Extra-special, super delicious, yum-yum food.
Home to you.
Hey honey, look at these bitter melons, they look like footballs with the plague.
I have literally never heard of this kind of fruit.
It was a Ralph’s and then an Alpha-Beta and then a Foodway and then a Valuezone and then it was closed and derelict for years and years.
I love you very much.
Did you know?
When it was closed they nailed up plywood over the windows and doors that in a couple of years turned gray and wormy with the rain and sun and there was graffiti all over it; the big, violent, indecipherable kind.
It’s just xenophobia, is what I said.
They have the most bizarre potato things here, mutated tubers that stink.
I wonder what they’re called?
The fish section of this place is magnificent, honey: they have big old tanks of sad-looking lobsters and blue-clawed giant crabs and jittery, viral octopi and a big, fat tank of greenish water and inside it are these enormous grouper or cod or something (I don’t know fish and the labels are all in Mandarin) and they just float in there, barely alive. Just barely alive. They glub and bubble.
It’s all tons and tons of plastic crap, gross and unnecessary and made by slaves at gunpoint.
Is that a racist thing to say? Do you think so?
When it was closed I heard that homeless people and junkies and Satanists squatted inside the building.
Those oysters are obscene.
I don’t know how long the building was all boarded up and gross because that was when I moved out of state and met you.
What’s for dinner?
They have a bunch of bags of alien cereal here and each one has a cartoon character on it: a panda with an alligator mouth, a spiderlegged pink prawn doing the cannonball into a gullet, a serpentine dragon playing an electric guitar.
God, is that real?
Laminate floor. Waxed and reflective and mirrorish with sticky stains on it.
But when we moved back here it was a Dragon Star Lucky Food and all the homicidal scribbles had been washed off the walls and it had two big, bulbous, fake-jade, baby-faced lions out front, one on either side of the automatic doors.
The Asians had moved into the neighborhood while I was away. There never used to be Asians here before.
Maybe one or two.
I like Asians, I really do.
Fascinating ancient cultures of the Orient.
Swords and honor and stuff.
You know, Confucius?
I remember one time you said to me, “I don’t like fish that taste likes fish, I like fish that tastes like fishsticks.”
No, I don’t resent you.
I remember when we came here we laughed at the dried seaweed leaves in the plastic baggies with bright pink letters that said, ‘Good in Mouth.’
You know what’s another funny word? Eurasia.
“Is this a chain?” you asked me. “Is there more than one of them?”
I said I didn’t know.
Back when it was all dark and abandoned, they said that some kid from my high school – I didn’t know him – got kicked out of his house and spent the night in here and O.D.’d from sniffing glue and his heart stopped. That’s what I heard.
I was there for a long time in an aisle looking at extra happy toys made of soft, low boiling-point plastic and I realized that I was smiling really wide and I didn’t know why and I wondered if you were wondering where I was and I was wondering if you were wondering if I’d left you forever.
They said that that kid who’d died in here – I think his name was Michael and his last name started with an H – anyway, the kids in my high school said that the police didn’t find him for three days and by that time rats had eaten a lot of him.
Sometimes you bug me.
Shark-flavored and dehydrated.
But I didn’t believe them because I’ve lived here for most of my life and I have never seen a rat.
I have never seen so many Ramen noodles in my life.
The colors in here are all loud and slightly off: throbbing pinks and pustular reds and feverish yellows and gangrenous greens, like a box of crayons given hideous superpowers after an accident involving uranium gas.
And also, the kids in my high school said that when the grocery store was all nailed shut you could climb in through a rotted board in the loading dock in back and inside there were hypodermic needles and used condoms all over the place and piles of turds from humans and animals and this one guy said there was a big pentagram drawn on the concrete in what used to be the vegetable section. Cultists drew it and they sacrificed cats in there but the guy who told me it was a big liar and I hated that guy.
I read this happy rainbow box on one of the shelves that says it’s ‘Tormented Radish Babies’ which has to be a mistranslation of some kind.
Human and animal.
Did I tell you I used to work here as a bag boy when it was an Alpha-Beta?
Did you know?
Something occurred to me: somewhere in this store is a beast made of stars.
I worked here for two summers bagging groceries.
I had no idea what would happen back then, when I was thirteen and fourteen.
At some point, wandering in the grocery store at night, I thought that you must be worried and was glad.
It was a boring job.
I used to think, back when I was a bag boy, that I would never see this city again when I was grown up.
Deadly brands of Siamese jellies.
I wanted to move very far away and live in foreign lands, countries where they eat snakes and crickets and get malaria and I would be a mystery to everyone who met me and no one would ever know that I came from here.
I met you instead, honey. I made $3.15 an hour back then, can you believe that?
That was the minimum wage.
A man passed me near the dairy freezers and it struck me as odd because I don’t think I had seen anyone else in there for hours and I thought that maybe the store was closed and the man was a Black Man and not in the sense that he was an African American but in the sense that he was made of a raw, eyeless blackness and he asked me if I needed any help finding anything and I said no thank you very much and went on looking at yogurt with this strange, snaky writing on it and after a while he went away.
How long have I been in here?
A very long time.
Scary looking cuttlefish.
The brand on this box of mushroom flakes is ‘Cannibal King’ and it has a little picture of a bat-winged mummy riding a tiger and whipping a whip.
Paper or plastic, Ma’am?
Do you want your milk in a bag, lady?
Do you want the Goat Mother to play her awful bad songs for you?
They are tuneless and horrible and will make you bleed from your eyes.
Can I help you out to your car?
I put your eggs on top where they wouldn’t get all busted up.
And then I was in the meat aisle.
Honey, I was really and truly in the meat aisle.
Where are you?
Here is a shrink-wrapped bag of unidentifiable intestines.
Look, they sell every part of the pig here: pork ears, pork stomach, pork uteri, trotters.
The meat aisle is horrible and fabulous, like an inverted church where the candles are you and me.
I think about you all the time.
When I think about you, I think about your neck and your fingers and your hair and your nose and things that I remember you saying to me, honey.
I am in the meat aisle.
I am in the meat aisle.
What’s a trotter, exactly?
I am in the meat.
I didn’t come home because you were waiting there and sometimes I just want to be alone for a little while.
When I was somewhere in the meat aisle, honey, something came out and brought me in and I have never been the same since.
I think that the thing that got me had horns and udders and tentacles and I think it has been around since before the Big Bang and it had whiskers, too.
At some point a word got stuck in my head and the word was ‘Balinese’ and I couldn’t stop thinking it.
Sometimes I think I’ve been thinking that word for a hundred years.
You know, you were right: it really does smell funny in here.
I think that I’ve grown fish scales all over me and little piggy hooves.
It came out and got me, honey, it enveloped me and dragged me into the structure of the building and I did not resist. Not that much.
When I grew up, I thought that there would be adventure and sex and terror and trains and hacking through the undergrowth with machetes and dusky women with their teeth sharpened with files but I met you instead and you were good, too.
Have some dried lotus, honey.
Have some prawn crackers.
Have anything you want made out of tapioca.
I felt its sinewy claws on me and it sucked me into the refrigerated wall of egg cartons and I was with the eggs, but not chicken eggs.
As I’m sure you’re aware, I never came home.
Did you know?
This used to be an Alpha-Beta.
The music in here has changed from perky Tokyo love songs into this wet, sick, flute sound that’s like blasphemous.
Drums and tom-toms.
I work here again and I still make minimum wage but now I have a place to sleep – I sleep on the light fixtures.
My boss here is really mean.
Sometimes I love you so much I want to scream.
I didn’t feel like going home and I’m afraid I never did.
I hated my job, back when I was alive.
This has absolutely nothing to do with any pentagrams on the floor, believe me.
In the back of the store there is a loading dock made of horn and another one made of muscle and true things come out of one of the docks and untrue things come out of the other and I prefer the untrue things.
This used to be an Alpha-Beta and I used to work here and then I went away for a little while and was a living thing and now I work here again.
Salted headless croaker.
Michael H is here too, the high school glue boy.
I am not Management, I am a worker.
The H stands for Hell and the rats really did eat him.
And other things.
Good In Mouth.
That’s where I am.
That’s why I never came back.
Dragon Star Lucky Food.
I wonder how many years have passed sometimes, when I remember what years are.
It walked but should have crawled.
I am nothing but a big spaghetti dinner.
Come and find me.
I am a Bag Boy again.
Eyes and balls.
I never left the city, but I think I became mysterious.
I want to see you again, honey.
I hate this place.
They have colors in here that are nowhere else in the world and don’t have names and they make your teeth grow longer when you see them.
I believe that the grocery store and I are in the Land of Gath.
I want you more than anything.
Did you know?
Dried Jew Fish.
Honey, you wouldn’t believe all the crazy stuff they have in here: The Squid God and The She-Thing and The Great Dread Silent One. Funny things like that.
I keep waiting for you to come in here.
Go to the meat aisle.
I will give you candy and sugar cookies.
I’m near the eye of prawn.
I think you will someday, inevitably.
Someday when you have almost forgotten me and you will be bored and you will come in here and maybe you will remember that we came here once together and you will never come out.
You will come in looking for little tissue-paper parasols and collapsible lanterns.
Look at me, my baby, my dear, I am behind the needlefish, I hover above the chow mein, I am under the strange roots.
You will find me.
Oh, my honey.
I will hold you in my arms and I will never let you go.
John Medaille has been published on Escape Pod, Pseudopod, Labyrinth Inhabitant Magazine and The Three-Lobed Burning Eye and is working on a short story collection called: Hideous Tales of Doomed Spacemen, Demonic Cameras, Protoplasmic Flesh-Eaters, The Supernatural, U.F.O.’s, Interdimensional Beasts, Evil Children, Misunderstood Robots, Telephone Calls from Beyond the Grave, Mayhem, Murder AND THE MACABRE!
If you enjoyed his story, let him know by commenting below!