It was sunny when you left home, so you didn’t take an umbrella. An hour later, you’re caught in a torrential downpour. You run into the first store you can find — it happens to be a dark, slightly shabby antique store, full of old artifacts, books, and dust. The shop’s ancient proprietor walks out of the back room to greet you. Tell us what happens next!
“Hey there, young man. Welcome to Walmart. Can I help you find something?”
“Walmart, huh?” I ask. “My Grandpa used to tell me about Walmart stores. I thought they were all gone though. Do you mind if I look around some?”
“Help yourself boy but take this.” He pressed a flare gun into my hand, “It’s a big store, we’re a little short staffed, I’m not sure what all’s here anymore so, if you get lost or you need any help, just signal. I’ll come a runnin’.” He turned to shuffle back towards the customer service counter.
“Uhm, sir? I am gonna need an umbrella. Where would I find those?”
Without turning he pointed into the store, “Aisle 17, ‘bout halfway back.”
I looked in the direction indicated. It was dark back there and the aisles of merchandise seemed to go on forever as they receded into the gloom. I could faintly make out a flickering amber light in the distance. It looked far away. This must be a huge store.
I glanced up at the closest end cap, Aisle 3, I think he said 17, “Sir?” I turned back but he was gone. I couldn’t see the customer service counter anymore in the gloom and there seemed to be tendrils of fog creeping towards me from that direction. I shrugged and turned, I started moving in the direction that I hoped Aisle 17 lay.
After only a few steps, it got hot, humid, muggy, and I was surrounded by trees. Must be the garden department. Birds called in the distance from what was most likely the pet section. A light rain began to fall, I sensed movement to my right. Golden eyes glowed down at me from the boughs of a tall, tropical tree. What the hell kind of store is this? I bolted and ran.
I was gasping for breath and the rain was getting harder when I got to the river. I could hear monkeys howling in the distance. That flickering amber light I had seen before was just inside the trees on the other side of the river. Thinking it might be a campfire, I headed that direction.
The river was easy to ford, only about three inches deep with a firm sandy bed. I scooped up a few handfuls to quench my thirst; it tasted sweet, clean, fresh. Lightning flashed in the distance and out of habit I counted 1 one thousand, 2 one thousand, 3 one thousand, then the crack and rumble sounded loud.
The glow from the campfire was not far now, I estimated about 500 yards inside the trees. Some instinct made me approach with caution. I peered out from the trees into a small clearing where the campfire was burning. It looked like a young family huddled around the glow. There was a mom, a dad, and a girl who looked maybe 10 – 12 years old. “Hello,” I called and the dad was on his feet immediately. He had a rifle in his hands leveled in my direction.
“Who are you? What do you want?”
“I’m looking for aisle 17, I need an umbrella. I think I got lost.”
“Did the greeter send you to aisle 17?”
“Yeah, he sent us to 17 as well. We stopped for snacks. We’re on our way to Buffalo.”
“Buffalo? Really? This is Austin.” I said.
“No, it’s upstate.” Mom chimed in. “Come on over and warm yourself. I’m Eunice, this is Paul, and our girl here is Sandy. We got separated from our boy, Andy, a couple days ago. Maybe you saw him? I’m sick with worry.”
“How long have you been here?” I asked.
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