“We’re in Hell! It has to be!” Fran cried as Hugh tried to console her. She and Hugh were first to awaken, but her wailing roused the rest in short order. “Not likely” Mark muttered. “Or I wouldn’t be here.” He fingered a small silver crucifix pendant dangling from his neck. “Some sort of Satanic deception though, certainly.”
Andrew was still busy exploring the place, measuring the perimeter in footsteps. Melissa sat in a heap of her discarded layers, twiddling strands of her blue-green hair while trying to get a signal on her phone. Jeffrey took a break from playing his handheld game system now and then to peer at her, swiftly averting his gaze whenever she noticed.
“I’ve returned.” Andrew stood at the edge of the group, white button down shirt moist with sweat under his arms. “Based on the lengths of the walls, were it empty, this PriceCo would have an uninterrupted floor space of approximately 205,000 square feet. That’s on the high end for this chain.”
“Great. So how’s that help us?” Melissa inquired with a weary inflection. “Well now, don’t let’s start pickin’ at each other already you kids” Hugh urged. “Or we’ll go nowhere quick”. Melissa let out a disgusted sigh and went back to browsing her phone’s network options menu.
Sarah, who’d gone with Andrew but split off in search of vegan foods, now appeared with an armload of frozen organic quiches. “Anybody seen a microwave yet?” All shook their heads. “When we find some way of cooking, I can make us all pizza!” Fran offered, wiping the tears from her eyes. “I make a wicked pizza.”
Row after row of identical steel shelving towers surrounded them. Breaking up only as you approached the frozen goods. The ceiling simply bare metal sheeting held up by periodic support columns and horizontal beams with cris-crossing struts within, tube lighting suspended from there.
“We’ve got more important things to take care of first.” It sounded promising and authoritative, but trailed off without resolution. Mark seemed keen to lead but as yet had no better idea of where to go than the rest. First order of business, once they were all awake and had accepted the apparent reality that they were inside of an abandoned PriceCo, was to try every door.
Worse than locked, they opened to reveal solid concrete. That’s what set Fran off. Second order of business was to attempt a phone call. No service on anyone’s phone. After that, introductions were made and the seven strangers began trying to piece together how they’d arrived here.
“Last thing I remember, I was at my practice doing paperwork. We’d recently admitted a bulldog with a bladder infection. It gets hazy after that.” Sarah brushed strands of her long, red hair out of her face and asked if Fran could remember anything unusual.
“I was in my pizzeria, closing. I’m not to where I can afford to hire as many people as I really need, so a lot of it falls to me. I’d finished stacking the chairs when…” She stared into the distance, struggling to recall. “When what?” She remained silent, cogitating.
“I guess I’ll go” Mark volunteered. “I was in the middle of turkey hunting. Had my A-liner set up out there, was hookin’ up the gas for heating. Dunno about after that.” He joined the circle, watching intently as each member searched their most recent memories for clues.
“So whoever put us here didn’t just nab us in our sleep. That much is apparent. I also don’t see any commonalities that would explain why we were selected.” Andrew set about making a map of the PriceCo from memory on some graphing paper he’d found. Melissa chose this point to interrupt.
“I just wanna say I noticed it’s mostly men talking. White ones, and I bet you’re both cisgendered too. I hope that’s not gonna be a pattern. Why don’t we hear what Hugh has to say? He’s a person of color, their voices are too often marginalized.” Hugh looked at her like she had two heads.
“Kiddo if I have somethin’ to say I’ll damn well say it. I’m too old to give a rat’s ass, don’t you worry about me.” Melissa appeared irritated and murmured something about ungrateful this, internalized that. “If this is really all the vegan stuff they have, we’ve got a problem” Sarah broke in.
Mark laughed. “You mean you have a problem. Who said it’s all for you anyway? Maybe I want a quiche.” She offered him one, but he waved her off. “We should start figuring out what to eat first, though. Supposing we can’t get out of here soon, some of this stuff is gonna start going bad.”
“This is why I was making the map” Andrew explained, although Melissa seemed as unimpressed as before. They’d broken up into teams of two with the intention of identifying perishable foods. “God this is so much walking”, she whined. Meanwhile Jeffrey and Mark piled deli meats into a basket, soon relocating them to one of the many freezers.
“How long’s the power gonna hold out, I wonder.” Jeffrey shrugged, false raccoon tail clipped to the back of his belt swaying as he walked. “Somebody put us here. They must be watching. Maybe this is how they get their kicks? I don’t think they’d led the lights go dark, at least.” Truly a meager comfort.
Pausing at a drinking fountain, Mark pressed the bumper. Crystal clear water issued forth which he first cautiously smelled, then drank. “Alright. We’ve got water. That’s good, the bottled and canned drinks won’t last long.” Hugh had already found himself a six pack of Dr. Pepper, and the two spotted Fran pushing a shopping cart she’d piled full of wine.
“We’re gonna need rules. For how much people can eat per day, to make it last”, Jeffrey said. “Fuck that noise” Mark protested. “I’ll eat whatever I want. Love to see you try and stop me with that fake ass katana.” Jeffrey grimaced, running a hand over the plastic scabbard dangling from his side. “It’s a wakizashi, baka.”
Soon they’d all once again congregated. “Everything that was in the open coolers is now in a freezer. A lot of this shit is dried goods, that should last a good long while. I hope you like fruits and veggies because if we don’t eat that in the next day or two, it’ll all be mush.” Only Sarah looked pleased.
“There’s fresh water. Dunno if it’ll run out, I don’t think so. It wouldn’t if this was a regular PriceCo but I think we agree it isn’t. Gotta be somewhere remote, too, or they’d never get away with lockin’ us up here.” Andrew nodded thoughtfully. Map now bearing a legend, and variety of small symbols indicating the locations of specific foods.
“You know, if power and water are coming in from the outside, we should be able to find where the utilities enter the building. Maybe there’s a service tunnel or something we could get out through.” Fran looked suddenly hopeful. “That’s good! We should make a list and put that at the top.” Andrew volunteered. “I like making lists anyway.”
It was the work of an hour to locate the utilidor. One foot by one foot, receding into featureless darkness, plainly no way that anyone would fit. “Why even build this? If it’s a service tunnel, I mean. Nobody can get in to service it.” A constant gentle whoosh suggested another possibility. “Supposing this is also where fresh air comes in? Like we’re underground or something.”
Satisfied that it was of no use just then, Mark replaced the grating, then he and Andrew returned to the group. “I’m thirsty” Melissa complained when they arrived. “That sounds like a personal problem.” Melissa glared at Mark, then returned her attention to a game on her phone. “So did you find it or what?”
“It looks like water, electricity, and air come in through the same channel.” Sarah interjected. “I’m sorry, did you say air?” Jeffrey suggested that the whole structure could be in space. “Get real. Like somebody would drop trillions of dollars building a PriceCo on Mars just to stick a bunch of randos in it.”
“I still say we’re in Hell” Fran muttered. Mark stroked his stubble thoughtfully. “Improbable” Andrew opined. “That assumes the existence of the supernatural and life after death. What is known of neurology precludes the persistence of consciousness apart from the brain.” Both Mark and Fran looked at him as though he’d just smeared shit in their faces.
“Talking out of your ass about stuff you know nothing about won’t help us get out of here.” Andrew looked wounded. “I just mean that the problem of interaction prevents an immaterial spirit from controlling or receiving stimuli from a material body, as the two substances are held to be non-interactive, hence why we cannot see, hear, touch or otherwise-”
Stay Tuned for Part 2!