Mark cut him off. “Hush, nerd. What about you, ponytail?” Jeffrey looked up from his game. “I pray to my ancestral spirits in accordance with Shinto.” Mark’s snickered. “Well, that’s something at least.” A lengthy argument followed. Initially about metaphysics but somehow transitioning seamlessly into a discussion of what items everyone needed.
“I won’t make it long without hearing aid batteries” Hugh suggested. “Won’t be able y’hear y’all kids bickerin’. Maybe that’s a good thing? But I like to be included.” So, hearing aids went on the list. “Oh, I’ll need some…products.” Fran blushed. Andrew puzzled over that until Melissa clarified that she meant tampons.
“There’s a microwave in the employee lounge we can cook with. It’ll be mostly fruits and veggies tonight but I think it’s reasonable for everyone to pick one thing they want to eat hot.” Mark scoffed. “You all eat what you like. I’m gonna eat what I like.” Andrew reiterated the reasons for eating the most perishable foods first, but Mark proved intractable.
“Listen, the silver lining to all this is that there’s no government in here. I moved out into the country to get away from mindless statist sheeple and their government god.” Andrew broke in. “Doesn’t scripture characterize Christians as sheep in need of a shepherd?” Again, Mark scowled. For a moment he eyeballed Andrew, as if deciding something.
“…That’s different. God is a perfect authority without the flaws of human politicians. Better by far to be dominated by God than by any man, however well meaning.” Andrew seemed satisfied by this, and invited Mark to help him collect items on the list. “With you? Fuck no. Besides, I don’t need any of the shit on there. I’ve got my own list. You do you, I’ll do me.”
There was some grumbling. But as food appeared plentiful, Mark was left to his own devices while the rest feasted on tomatoes, avocados, grapes and cantaloupe. There was no sense of day or night, but many hours had passed and most were exhausted. “Want me to turn out the lights?” Sarah offered. The rest declined.
“It’s not clear to me whether we’re being watched, or what else could be in here with us. I’d like the lights on for now if it’s all the same to you.” Fran glanced about nervously. Agreement was unanimous. Some of the shelving units at the ground level were cleared. Bath curtains were hung in lieu of walls, for privacy.
With the addition of bed rolls, pillows and blankets, the modest shelters were complete. At Melissa’s request, an extension cord was run to her little room so she could charge her phone. Likewise for Jeffrey and his handheld game. With everything as sorted as it could be for the first day, one by one, they fell asleep.
The next day, more goods were unloaded from the shelves to create living space up off the ground. “Don’t think this makes us safe” Mark warned, carefully easing a stack of toilet paper off the shelf above him. Sarah shrugged. “I’ll feel safer, which means I’ll sleep better.” Extension cords were strung up to everyone’s miniature apartments, and lamps were gathered for interior lighting.
“Everybody, save your seeds! Maybe we can get a farm going” Sarah urged. Breakfast was bananas and strawberries. “Cavendish bananas don’t have seeds. They’re infertile clones” Andrew said with a mouth full of banana. Melissa was still holed up in her shelving unit with a 24 pack of soda and a bag of donut holes.
“Where’s Jeffrey?” Neither he nor Melissa had joined the rest for breakfast. “I saw him climb up to the third level with one of those big family sized bags of Doritos, Mountain Dew and some sushi. That’s his place on the third level, you can see the raccoon tail poking out from under the curtain.” A muffled voice came back in reply: “It’s a tanuki tail, you filthy gaijins.”
They didn’t get away with loafing for long. When asked to make the rounds, checking to see if any of the doors were now unobstructed, Jeffrey immediately sought out the “amigo” electric shopping scooters. Melissa complained, but ultimately followed suit. With a shopping card tied to the rear of each, they made serviceable trucks, such that the two were able to restock on the way.
While they did so, the others congregated and got to speculating. “Supposing it’s not Hell. Or whatever. I mean, we’ve got plenty of everything we could possibly need.” Mark rubbed his chin. “Maybe Hell is having everything you want, the instant you want it.” Which seemed meaningful to everyone but Sarah. “I don’t want to live in a PriceCo. Do you? Is that your dream?”
“Alright. So what’s your idea?” Sarah mulled that over before speaking. “I think it’s some kind of experiment.” Fran’s eyes lit up. “Ooh, you mean to take people from different walks of life and see how they deal with a situation like this?” This time, Mark was the one to object. “What useful data could possibly be gained from that?” Initially, no answers were forthcoming.
After some silence, Hugh started in. “Back in my day, when they were still sending men to the Moon, they would coop ’em up first in all kinds of cramped places. For days, weeks, even months. Just to see if anybody would snap.” The only problem, evident to everyone, was that they weren’t the least bit cooped up. Rather the PriceCo seemed a wastefully large, well apportioned living space for just seven people.
“It…moved”. Nobody turned to look until he grew louder. “IT MOVED!” Andrew stood before one of the shelving units near the end of the row. Sure enough, there were skid marks on the floor. It had been turned 90 degrees. “Who did this?” Nobody spoke. “WHO DID THIS? Do you realize what you’ve done? My map is ruined!”
Fran blinked. “It wasn’t me.” The rest said the same, one at a time. “Wait, you’re worried about your map?” Andrew unfolded it and pointed to the rectangle representing the now turned shelving tower. “It’s no longer one hundred percent accurate! One of them moved! Now it’s ninety six percent at best! AT BEST! Even if I move it back I’ll know! I’ll know it was moved! The map is ruined, I’ll know it was moved!”
Sarah stepped in to comfort him. “My brother’s like this. He’ll be alright, just needs some time to settle down. Andrew, what if I help you make a new map?” The rest were nonetheless plainly put off by the outburst. “He’s got a point though. Who moved it?” Everyone present denied doing so. Just then, Melissa and Jeffrey returned with their odd little electric trucks piled high with loot.
“Hey, did either of you move a shelving tower?” The two stopped the carts and shook their heads. “One of ’em moved?” Soon they were off their carts and studying the rotated shelving tower with the others. “Nobody’s owned up to it? But we’re the only ones in here.” Mark narrowed his eyes. “That spastic probably moved it himself for the attention.”
Nobody else agreed. Melissa suggested it was a ploy by the two cisgendered hetero white men to create apparent danger as a pretext for seizing control. This, too, went over like a lead balloon. “That’s really creepy though. Somebody should stand watch tonight.” Mark assumed Sarah meant him. “What’s in it for me?”
She looked wary. “…Pick whatever you want from the shelves.” He pointed out that he could already do that. “What do you want, then?” A lecherous grin slowly spread across his face. “Ugh, no. I’ll do it myself.” Andrew eagerly volunteered to take first watch. He clenched his fist, fire in his eyes and muttered “They ruined my map.”
The rest of the day was spent interconnecting the shelving towers with walkways made from wooden planks. Ladders were affixed to the exterior with zip ties for easy movement between levels, and Andrew had the idea to supply water to every abode by a gravity feed system.
He’d busted one of the drinking fountains off the wall with a sledgehammer, then run a hose from the gardening section over to the ever growing apartment towers. It now snaked up around one of the supports, terminating in a buoyancy valve inside a plastic barrel being used as a water tower.
Once full, the water level would pull the buoyancy valve shut so the barrel didn’t overflow. When anyone on the levels below wanted water, they had only to turn the spigot on their level. “This is amazing!” Sarah gushed. Andrew surveyed his work, then offered his own appraisal. “No it isn’t. Very basic plumbing. The hard part would’ve been obtaining a pressurized source of fresh water, but we already had one.”
She didn’t let up until he took some amount of credit, although her persistence confused him. “Hey, where’d you get that?” Mark gestured to the discarded sledgehammer. “Tools section, where else?” Mark lifted it and examined the head. “How many were there?” Andrew looked contemplative, then estimated perhaps fifteen to twenty. “Can you show me where?”
Stay Tuned for Part 3!