The next piece from our series of creative writing Saturdays.

Years ago, I accompanied my mother into the neighborhood Wal-Mart so she could run a couple errands on the way home.  As I toddled along next to her, I noticed some very significant things.  Most striking was the fact that the parking lot outside the behemoth of a store seemed to be larger than my entire elementary school, parking lot included.  As we neared the array of automatic sliding doors, I looked up and saw that the glowing sign fixed to the granite wall was composed of letters that seemed taller than my house.

Once we had passed through the entryway and selected a shopping cart, I surveyed my surroundings and realized, with a mix of awe and fear, the majestic expanse of the interior.  I looked down aisles filled with anything anyone could possibly need, from staple removers to swimming pools; aisles so long they seemed to converge on the horizon somewhere in what must have been a different country.  I followed my mother through what seemed like miles and miles of nothing but happy yellow smiley faces pointing to things like “2 for $1!” and “Buy 4 and get the next 1 FREE!”—numbers and phrases that clearly meant something wonderful indeed.  I stared with wide eyes and sat speechless during the trip home.

*****

A few days after my thirteenth birthday, I once again joined my parents in a typical excursion to our local Wal-Mart, on a mission to retrieve some replacement weed-whacker wire.  Little did I know:  my adolescence—and the resulting aversion to all things déclassé—had rendered me allergic to the place.  I had fully expected to go in, grab some wire and perhaps some M&Ms, and get out.

But as I set out down the lawn-care aisle, I began to notice something different from my previous experiences.  The long, fluorescent bulbs high up above me seemed to cast all the Miracle-Gro bottles and garden rakes in a pale, ghostly light.  I started blinking uncontrollably to keep my vision from clouding over with a drug-like fog.  I took a deep breathe to try to calm down, but the air was laced with the acidic scent of cheap floor cleaner that made me gag and grab my forehead in pain.  I knew what it was now: the smell of bargains and the sweat of bargain hunters.

I stumbled dizzily for a few paces before colliding with a charcoal grill that was on display, knocking the lid off and onto the tiles with a resounding crash that did wonders for my already mounting headache.  Feeling faint, I sank to my knees, calling out for my parents.  I heard a small child whining a couple aisles away—probably in response to my inadvertent percussion accident—and then what I guessed to be its mother.

“You want the pikachu toy, right Bobby?  You want the pikachu?  YOU WANT IT!?  Then you’ll SHUT THE HELL UP!”

The outburst crushed me face first into the sandy grit of the floor tiles.  “Help, please help,” I gasped, raising an outstretched hand to the shoppers around me: the cry for help of a dying man, but they continued on with their bargain hunting without so much as a glance, their eyes fixed straight ahead like robots, programmed .  In my delirium I concocted what seemed like a most brilliant solution: I’d trojan horse my way out of the combat zone. I used the last of my strength to reach up above me to the fertilizer shelf and rip off a sign that read “CLEARANCE” in banana-yellow boldface.  I plastered it onto my forehead, faking a lucid grin at the elderly couple making their way towards me. I tried to look appealing as my eyes closed reflexively to prevent further scarring from humming lights and poisonous vapors.

“Look, Ethel,” said a tired but hopeful voice from somewhere above me.  “This is half price!”

I stretched my grin out further until I thought my face would rip in half.

“No, dearie.  It says “clearance” on it, see?  Right there.  Clearance.  It means it’s out of season.  Not ripe.”

My body twitched and I curled into a fetal position: I was going to die here.  They probably wouldn’t find my body for weeks, hidden away somewhere among heavy bags of special-formula dog food.  I clawed my way along the floor toward reddish blur of what I hoped was the exit sign, my eyes burning, my face bloody.  The last thing I saw before I collapsed into a semi-coma was a smiling yellow face giving me a “thumbs up” sign, one eye closed in a knowing wink.

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