“Grab some milk!” she shouts.
“There isn’t any milk!” the girl frantically replies.
“What do you mean there isn’t any milk?!” she yells back.
“I… I don’t know,” the girl stutters. “There isn’t any here. The shelves are empty!”
“Empty? EMPTY?!? What are we going to do?! How are we supposed to dig our way to the surface when the e-vac units arrive? Without milk to fortify our bones, surely we will succumb to the horrors of osteoporosis!”
“Plus, our cereal will be so dry!” the girl adds, wailing, “It will taste terrible!”
The futility of the situation descends upon them like the eye of a hurricane; an unsettling calm that allows them just a breath before destroying it again. It is one of those seconds that seem to last an eternity, caustic and silent, like a river of oil in a sea of vinegar.
“I guess this is it,” she says soberly, unzipping her fanny pack and pulling out a clear glass vial. She pops the lid and removes two capsules. “Here, take this pill,” she says, handing the girl a dose.
“What is it?” the girl asks.
“Cyanide,” she replies.
The girl looks at the small blue pill in her hand. It almost looks like candy. She closes her eyes and exhales dramatically. “I love you, mom,” she says.
“I love you too, honey,” the mother replies.
They take the pills and, moments later, drop dead in unison.
“What’s going on?” I ask O’Donnell, nodding towards the stack of bodies piling up in front of the dairy case. It is only my third day of work at the supermarket and I am not used to these kind of mass suicides yet.
“This isn’t typical,” O’Donnell says, “They usually just buy the milk and leave. Then again, we usually don’t run out of milk, so it’s hard to say.”
“What’s so special about today?” I go.
“Have you been living in a box, man? Take a look outside. It’s the Snowpocalypse. The End of the World,” his words are remorseful and teary. “If you need to hold me, it’s okay,” he goes.
“I’ll pass for now,” I say.
“Suit yourself,” O’Donnell shrugs. He curls up in a little ball in the corner and commences crapping himself.
Meanwhile, the store manager, Larry Levinworth, is directing the human traffic. He is standing on the conveyer belt of Register 5, holding a shotgun at his hip, looking very manly each time the front door opens and the wind rushes in, blowing his mane of chest hair in all directions. I am struck with the sudden urge to sculpt him out of Ore-Ida instant mashed potatoes, but I brush off the feeling as mild angina.
Shoppers clamour at his feet. Desperately they bleat out their brand-name provisions, hoping a gentle nod of Larry’s head could lend a compass to their hectic journey:
“Tropicana orange juice!”
“Quaker Oats oatmeal!”
– and –
“Mott’s applesauce. Mott’s applesauce! Goddamnit, which aisle is the Mott’s applesauce in?!? MOTHERFUCKER, I NEED MY MOTHERFUCKING MOTT’S APPLESAUCE!!! BLAUGHHAGDADFDADFJLADFAGIGIGADFIGNHCZ!!!!!!”
Larry puts the rabid patron down with a single shotgun blast to the skull.
At the base of Register 5 is Sandy, the most beautiful of all the checkout girls. Quickly, she scans items, her arms just a blur of color and white noise. Sweat cascades down her milquetoast brow. I could just imagine how good that sweat might taste. Like butterscotch. Or strawberry. Or perhaps shrimp scampi.
A sweet-looking elderly woman stands in front of her.
“Wait, I have a coupon,” the elderly woman croaks.
Sandy gives a glance to the amassing line whose vengeful, hate-filled stares prove to her that there is no God.
The old lady hands her the coupon.
“I’m sorry,” says Sandy, “But this item is already on sale.”
“What are you saying to me?” asks the old lady.
“I’m saying your coupon won’t work on this item,” Sandy nervously replies.
“Won’t… work…” the old lady starts hyperventilating.
“I’m sorry,” Sandy meekly says again.
But the old lady doesn’t hear her. The top of her skull fissures and splits and out of her wrinkled skin steps a winged beast. The beast screeches. Jars of Smucker’s jam and Vlasic pickles shatter, sending razor-sharp projectiles flying through the air. Sandy cowers. The monster opens its jaws and goes for her head. And just as the beast is about to clamp down, greeting Sandy’s fragile brain with that final, fatal crunch, an explosion – BOOM! – rings out across the sales floor.
Larry stands over her, grinning – the gun still smoking.
Fourteen more mother/daughter combinations have killed themselves in front of me. Outside, it continues to snow. I retreat to the stockroom to look for Wayne, the stock guy, who always has a flask of whiskey in his smock pocket.
I find Wayne, piss-drunk, doing donuts on the motorized hydraulic pallet jack. He giggles like a schoolgirl.
“Justin!” shouts Wayne, “You gotta try this!”
“No thanks,” I say.
He stops the jack. “What’s wrong with you, dude?” he says. “Did someone poop in your coffee this morning?”
“No, nobody pooped in my coffee this morning. I’m just a little worried because I just found out it’s the End of the World,” I admit.
“Pshaw,” Wayne waves me off insouciantly, “Let me tell you the secret to life. You can’t let the little things get you down. Every day is the End of the World. You just never noticed before.”
“I guess,” I say.
“Anyway,” Wayne says, “I know something that’s going to cheer you up.”
“Uh, okay,” I go, “But if you about to pull your weiner out again, I’m seriously going to hit you.”
Wayne puts his weiner away. He places his arm around my shoulder and whispers in my ear, “I know where to find some milk.”
I look at him in disbelief. “You lie!” I shout.
“Shhh!” he goes, “If Larry finds out I’ve been stashing it, there’s no doubt he’ll fire me… from a cannon! No joke. I’ve seen him do it.”
“Take me to it,” I tell Wayne.
He looks over his shoulder to make sure we’re not being followed/wire-tapped/infiltrated and motions for me to follow him.
Larry Levinworth has placed a leash around Sandy’s neck. She is in her bra and panties. Larry wears a Burger King paper crown and has declared himself the official King of the Universe. He confidently pulls Sandy around the supermarket. She follows obediently on her hands and knees, wrist-deep in the slush that coats the floor. A few customers have taken to worshipping Larry. They erect a shrine to him out of Bumblebee Tuna and Green Giant vegetable cans. They burn copies of Us Weekly at its base to appease their Lord. Larry nods with approval.
In the back, Wayne leads me to a mountain of Kraft Yellow American cheese, stacked up to the ceiling. He points to it. Apprehensively, I begin removing bricks until, at the mountain’s center, I unearth the much lauded Last Gallon of Milk.
The expiration date on it reads 1983 and it’s warm. Very warm. I hold the Milk in my hands like the last precious relic of some forgotten culture.
“How?” I ask in awe.
“I’ve been saving it for a rainy day,” he says, “Or, as the case may be, a snowy day.”
“We have to tell O’Donnell,” I tell him.
Wayne shakes his head in agreement.
We head back onto the sales floor. “O’Donnell,” I call out. My voice battles the patron’s screams and satellite muzak to be heard. O’Donnell looks up from his fetal position. I wave the Milk in my hand. His ruby-red face lights up as a devilish smile bisects his grapefruit – the fabled Milk of Ages; it’s here, and it’s real! We’ve all heard the stories, passed down from generation to generation – for it has been foretold, one day a Milk will come, unlike no others, it ushers with it the dawning of a New Era – and it is then, on that day of Final Judgement, the sinners and saints shall ascend to their thrones and each soul, large and small, shall know what it has done. We thought it the stuff of fairy tales, Sunday schools, and paranoid delusional internet chatrooms. But as sure as I hold this Milk here in my hand, every prophetic word of those childhood stories come flooding back to the banks of our collective memory:
I feel like Noah. And this Milk is my Ark.
O’Donnell stands up and starts running in our direction when suddenly a rouge cantaloupe rockets past us. It hits the wall next to O’Donnell and explodes. He is struck by the shrapnel.
“My eyes! My eyes!” O’Donnell screams, “There’s citric acid in them.” He collapses onto the floor.
“Don’t worry O’Donnell, I’ll save you!” I shout.
“Justin, don’t!” yells Wayne, but it’s too late. I grab a Boar’s Head Genoa hard salami from behind the deli counter and swashbuckle my way over to O’Donnell. He lays there paralyzed, bleeding, smelling like a fruit salad. He coughs.
“It hurts,” he strains, “Oh God, it hurts!” His voice weak and far away. “I don’t think I’m going to make it.”
“Don’t say that, O’Donnell,” I say, the tears welling up.
“I’m so cold,” he whispers.
“Well, we are in Frozen Foods,” I tell him.
“Just promise me one thing,” he goes.
“Anything,” I tell him.
“Just protect that Milk. No matter what, protect the Milk. I’d like to believe that somewhere – out there – there’s a place with no snow. I want you to take the Milk to that place, Justin. Promise me you’ll do that.”
“I promise,” I softly say, “I promise.”
His eyes go white. His muscles fall limp. One last bowel movement fills his khakis and he dies. I close my eyes and whisper a prayer. A few customers shove me out of the way and tear into his stomach, foraging through his intestines for what little crumbs of Planter’s peanuts they could find, undigested, inside.
Outside, snowflakes the size of footballs fall. They pile up quickly. At least four feet has fallen already and the dark, cloudy, billowing skies show no signs of respite. Eddie, the cart boy, tells us he spotted some polar bears in the parking lot. They were making love to SUVs. The radio reports that an emergency meeting of the House of Representatives to discuss possible evacuation procedures had quickly devolved into a massive orgy/battle royale. The vote is split evenly along party lines. There is no help coming.
We are on our own.
Larry is in his office, reviewing the security footage. Sandy does a sexy dance nearby. She dances and cries and her tears turn Larry on, but he is too enthralled by the images on-screen to pay any attention to her or her perfectly proportioned ass.
Larry sees me retreating from O’Donnell’s expired corpse. He sees the Milk in my hand. A sinister smirk crawls all over his lips. He grabs his shotgun, throws the leash on Sandy, and heads back to the sales floor.
Wayne and I reconvene in Aisle 5.
“What’s the plan, then?” I ask.
“Beats me,” Wayne concedes. He pulls out the flask and takes a sip.
The florescent lights overhead start to flicker. The muzak is interrupted by the foreboding wail of untuned violins. At the end of the aisle stands Larry, as tall and as granite as the blotted out sun. He is backlit by a red glow emanating from the register’s scanners. He shadow sprawls out across the floor, ending at our feet.
A legion of shoppers gather behind him. They are people from all walks of life – teachers, policemen, priests and doctors. Larry demonstrates their collective power by having them sing a few bars of The Oscar Meyer Weiner Song.
“What the fuck?” Wayne says to me, “What is happening to them?”
“I don’t know,” I reply.
“It’s like they’ve been brainwashed or something,” he says.
“Perhaps it’s all the years of subliminal messaging that the advertising industry has shoved down our throats,” I say, “All the commercial jingles and billboard salvation; all the pressure and speed of our capitalist culture – it’s like they’ve been turned into…”
“Zombies!” Wayne finishes my thought.
Larry points towards us. Without question, the zombies charge.
“Run!” shouts Wayne.
We run from the horde, throwing anything we could find behind us to impede their advance: Butterball turkeys, Charmin toilet paper, Crest toothpaste, Coca-Cola Classic. The products are consumed in their wake; their progress never slowing.
“What are we going to do?” huffs Wayne, his voice trembling with fear.
“Over here!” I point. We pull a sharp right and duck into the stockroom. Wayne continues running, but I stop.
“Come on!” he shouts, “They’re coming! They’re coming!”
“No,” I say defiantly.
“No?!” he gasps, “Are you mad?”
“Perhaps I am,” I go, “But I’m tired of it. I’m tired of running. It’s this place – it’s changed us. Just look at ’em out there. We’ve been seduced by its convenience. We’ve let it subvert us, homogenize us, package us and resell us. But underneath its trusty, brand-name facade, it’s decaying, quickly, right in our hands. Well no more, I say! This is my food! And my store! And my Milk! And my life! And I say it’s time we fought back!”
A display for Chips Ahoy! has distracted the horde for the moment. The sale is too good to pass up. Ravenously, they tear at the packages of cookies. The violence of it is enough to damn any Keebler elf to an eternity of nightmares.
“This is our chance,” I whisper to Wayne, peering through the stockroom window, “Are you ready?”
“Ready,” says Wayne.
And I scream:
We come roaring out to the stockroom on top of the motorized hydraulic pallet jack. Wayne pilots us straight into the mob. The Chips Ahoy! display tips over and flattens a few of them. The rest claw at us. One of them rips off my shoe. “Sweet, Nike’s!” the zombie says. Kicking free, I stand up on the jack and reach into the fanny pack around my waist. Grabbing a handful of coupons, I toss them into the air. Like ticker-tape the coupons rain down on the crowd and their attention quickly turns to the savings:
“That one’s mine! I had it in my hand!”
“No you didn’t.”
“Yes I did.”
“Fuck off, cocksucker!”
“You fuck off!”
“Give me my damn coupon!”
Their verbal blows quickly turn physical as the petty name-calling segues into fisticuffs. Wayne pulls the pallet jack through to the other side as the horde of zombies start mobilizing into several armies. Things soon escalate into a full-blown nuclear arms race. All factions of the crowd have their own atomic warheads:
“Give me my coupon!”
“Veni vidi vici, asshat!”
“Ba-da-da-da-DA, I’m lovin’ it!”
The nukes are launched. They explode in a maelstrom of untold devastation, the likes of which Aisle 9 has never seen. Splattered guts drip from ceiling tiles and shelving units. Umberto, the janitor, comes out, puts a WET FLOOR sign down, and retreats back to his closet apartment.
Wayne and I watch from the end of the aisle.
“We did it!” says Wayne.
“Not quite yet,” I gravely reply.
We pull the pallet jack around to where Larry is standing. Wayne revs the engine. Larry lowers his head, curling his eyebrows into malevolent arches. His face looks like neo-gothic architecture; stone-cold bloodlust fuels his armada. Sandy can only watch, tea-saucer eyed, as Wayne hits the gas and we speed towards them.
Larry lifts the shotgun like it were a part of his own arm, so versed is he with his weapon that if he weren’t trying to kill me with it, I’d think it were poetry. Wayne squeezes the throttle until his fingernails crumble and
* BOOM! *
the shotgun sings as we slam into them. The pallet jack careens wildly out of control. We crash through the giant, plate-glass window at the front of the store and all four of us are tossed outside, into the Snowpocalypse.
It is minus 40 degrees outside. Sandy’s teeth chatter and her nipples go hard and I can’t help but look and become slightly aroused. Wayne has been thrown into a snow drift. He lays motionless. I stumble over to him. “Get up,” I say, kicking his leg. No response. “Wayne?” I kneel down and shake him harder. He rolls over and where his face used to be is a gaping, bloody hole. Wayne is dead. I want to cry but my tears turn to ice cubes before they can leave my eyes. I exhale a solemn breath. Gently, I pull the flask out of his smock pocket and pour a final sip down his shattered jaw. “Goodbye friend,” I say as the snow starts to bury him.
I am overcome with emotions; so fast they surge inside me I only have time to name them before they’re gone:
Larry is hurt, but he’s still breathing. I squint in his direction until one final emotion, the only emotion, solidifies in my soul:
He is on all fours. The blood leaking from his nose paints the ground beneath him psychedelic. “I admire your spunk,” Larry says, getting to his knees, “But I hope you realize, it’s all useless. You’re too late. One man can’t make a difference. It’s the End of the World. Nothing you’re going to do is going to change that.”
“That may be,” I say, “But you’re forgetting one very important thing…”
“Oh yeah? What’s that?” scoffs Larry.
“I’m drinking Milk,” I say, “And it does a body good.” I pop the lid of the warm, decades-expired Last Gallon of Milk, bring it to my lips and start chugging.
My entire body shakes. My stomach turns. I have a bout of diarrhea. And then I grow. My clothes tear off and fall to shreds as swollen, oily muscles canvas my torso. I gain height until I’m 10 feet, 20 feet, 30 feet tall! Larry is taken back a moment, but soon regains his composure and begins unloading round after round from his shotgun. The bullets have no effect on me. They just bounce off my rocky skin and disappear into the blizzard. A wave of terror washes over him. He feebly drops the gun and looks up at me, agape and helpless.
“One man might not make a difference,” I boom, my voice so loud and deep it causes avalanches to fall all around us, “But he can sure try, can’t he?”
And I step on him.
I pick up Sandy and place her on my shoulder. Larry is just a red stain on the pavement. The polar bears and SUVs pick at his remains. I smile triumphantly.
I begin walking. The snow continues to fall. Even at 30 feet tall, it is still up to my knees. Sandy clutches onto my back hair. The wind is unforgiving. Sandy scrambles up to my collar and clings onto my ear.
“Justin,” she says, her sweet voice desperate, small, and afraid, “Where are we going?”
I look out to the distance. Nothing but white in every direction. All is silent, cold, and lifeless.
“I don’t know,” I tell her.
And off we go.
DANGER_SLATER is highly-volatile and could explode at any moment! To be safe, don’t use your Danger_Slater around open flame. Don’t expose your Danger_Slater to direct sunlight. Do not look your Danger_Slater in the eye or you might turn to stone. Danger lives in New Jersey. The only devil he’s ever seen lives in his bathroom mirror. It needs to cut its hair.