The bell above the OPEN sign dinged against the glass as I walked through the door of the old convenience store. It sounded faint and somehow distant, and I suspected the little clapper inside had long since been eroded away by the countless customers circulating in and out. Still, it served its purpose, and I was soon greeted by the man at the counter.
It would be wrong to say the man was old; he was in that stage where he had begun to show signs of wrinkles, but his hair was still a solid brown, and his body was tall and trim. But, amidst the details of the aging store– the vintage refrigerators leaking fluid, the faded neon lights advertising cigarettes– he seemed oddly out-of-place.
“How do y’do?” he asked, in a startlingly upbeat tone. The way he grinned while saying it unsettled me. I was vaguely reminded of how the Cheshire Cat used to smile from cheek to cheek, but this was more of an elongated smirk, one that said, “You have no clue what you’re in for.” Indeed I hadn’t.
“I’m well, thanks. I’m new to this place, so I was hoping you could direct me to what I need.”
“Sure thing,” he said excitedly. “What’re you looking for? We’ve got everything you could ever need here.”
“Herbs, mainly,” I replied. “I’m looking to make a stew to serve a dinner party.”
“That’ll do as well.”
“That’ll be in the Canned Goods section. Follow me, ma’am.” he sang, and hopped over the counter with surprising agility.
He pointed towards the first aisle, and strolled in front of me, whistling happily. I looked up. The sign read, “Commodities”. I guessed we were taking the long way around.
As I rounded the corner, I was startled by another woman who was just exiting the aisle. She quickly shuffled past me, but I was able to grab a brief glance at her face. Her hair was grey and messy, with its ends cut to uneven levels. Her cheeks looked old and sunken, and her skin was deathly pale. But her eyes were what caught my gaze.
They were young, blue and glistening, but wide open, in a state of permanent shock.
Yet her gaze was hollow, hollow like the bell on the door.
I don’t think anything could have prepared me for what was around that corner.
As soon as I walked into the aisle, I knew something was wrong.
That’s actually not quite accurate. What I meant to say was: It was blatantly obvious that this was not normal, under any circumstances.
Instead of your usual toys and seasonal goods lining the shelves, there was only one thing, or rather, several things: babies. Human babies, all just sitting there in the long, locked cages, doing things that babies do, as if this was a perfectly ordinary situation. Some were crying; others were sleeping. Looking at it from the front of the store, I couldn’t distinguish any pattern, but as I followed the man, I realized that the ones on the left were male and the ones on the right were female. They also increased with size as it continued.
Underneath the cages were tiny labels, like you’d normally find in a convenience store. I leaned in and examined one at random:
- Age: 12 weeks
- Height: 61 cm
- Weight: 4.5 kg
- Gender: female
- Race: Caucasian mix
- Defects: none
- Price Negotiable
Bewildered, I walked further down the aisle and picked another label, under a much larger baby boy:
- Age: 10 months
- Height: 80 cm
- Weight: 9 kg
- Gender: male
- Race: African-American
- Defects: Tourette’s Syndrome, hyperhidrosis
Unsettled, I picked up my pace to meet the man at the end of the long stretch.
“Are their parents here?” I asked, curious. As a mother myself, it was unnatural to see so many children without a parent or supervisor.
“Well, she’s always here,” he laughed. “Ah, that’s right, I forgot. You’re new. Never mind.”
“Who takes care of them?” I asked.
“Our staff is specialized in child care. Best in the business, although you’d expect them to be, considering the company incentives…” He poked me with his shoulder at this comment. “Nah, but they get sustenance and cleaning, as is necessary. Need to keep ‘em presentable! In any case, would you be at all interested in an extra purchase?”
He gestured toward the aisle with his thumb.
“Um… no thanks,” I said, beginning to walk around the next corner. Above it was a sign that read:
“Go on,” the man said, excitedly. A rather disgruntled-looking employee exited the opposite way, the first I’d seen in the entire store.
I stepped around the corner and was immediately greeted by the most pungent scent I’d ever encountered in my life. It stunk to such a degree that my sense of smell was instantly overpowered. One step later, I found the source.
I’d never seen The Human Centipede before, but something told me this wasn’t far off. Rows and rows of men and women stood where shelves would have been, all unclothed, and all perched above a giant trench. And every. Single. One of them. Was. SHITTING.
It was the most obscene thing I’d ever seen in my life, although, it was certainly not the most surreal thing I’d see that day.
The man saw my reaction and said, “Yeah, most newcomers have that look, too. Once you come here enough, though, you learn to get used to it. It’s okay, we can skip this one if you want. I don’t blame you.”
I stuck by his side as we walked past. Before it went out of view, however, I caught a glimpse of their faces. I hadn’t noticed them before, having been distracted by the odor.
They were all looking at me, with their mouths gagged and their eyes tearing, as if they were crying for help.
The next aisle was labeled: “Frozen Goods”, and I tried to imagine what twisted interpretation lay behind the corner. Dead bodies on meathooks? People encased in ice, their blood turned blue from the cold?
As it turned out, I wasn’t far off the mark.
There were lines of freezers, and inside each was an array of bodily organs, organized and sorted by size and type. Lungs, kidneys, and hearts were laid on shelves, with prices I could see ranging upwards of $10,000.
“Normally, our products were only available through the black market and the deep web,” the man stated. “Of course, we didn’t want to be associated with any illegal activities, and when… certain circumstances came to rise, we were able to set up this here store.” He smiled, waving his arms and rotating as he took in his work.
“So… you’re implying this is legal?” I questioned, shuddering.
“Yep. 100%. Everyone here abides by rules and regulations. We like to think of ourselves as a community, here. Of course, we do have the occasional outlier who snaps, but we provide… paid leave, for such situations, as per the government’s orders.”
We swiftly passed through the freezer aisle and moved on to the next. This one was labeled, “Dry Goods”. I played the guessing game again. Shriveled corpses? Dehydrated organs?
Both, as a matter of fact. They were hanging from hooks, and were separated into limbs, head, torso, and all the organs that didn’t require freezing. The faces were distorted into blobs, with empty, glaring eye sockets that seemed to suck all the light out of the area.
After that came “Beans and Nuts” (pay-by-the-kilo brains and genitalia in solution), “Fruits and Vegetables” (exactly what you think), and “Baked Goods” (again, exactly what you think). I was also introduced the rest of the staff, who all seemed pleased, despite what was occurring around them.
Then, on the second-to-last aisle, we came to one called, “Butcher Meat”.
I’d seen all types of human meat on the way there; what could this possibly be? It’s not like it’s an entirely new concep–
My thought was abruptly caught off as I witnessed one of the most bizarre scenes I’d ever witnessed in my life.
In front of me, instead of shelves, was a single row of something that resembled… flesh. Meat. But not like what was being sold across the store; instead, this was a solid wall of pulsating, bleeding offal.
And I could see several people at the end, trying in vain to escape out the other side, cowering in fear as tentacles of the stuff reached out and grabbed them, one by one, dragging them into the mass.
“Talk about consumer goods,” the man said, wheezing with laughter. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I use that same stale joke every time.”
“Is that… where I’m going?” I asked, with some trepidation.
He laughed again. “Of course not, miss. We consider this our… members-only club. A premium shopping experience. But if you really want to, I won’t object.”
I politely declined.
The man then turned the opposite way and stopped, pointing at a shelf.
Ingredients: * Herbert Cho * Herbert Danforth * Herbert Wellington * Herbert Vasquez
I unscrewed the lid and was greeted by the distinct, pungent aroma of rotting eyeballs, glands, and cartilage.
I smiled. My informant’s tip had not disappointed. Not at all.
“And you said you wanted some Rosemary, too?” He grabbed another jar off the bottom shelf and handed it to me. “It’s a distinct flavor, but it pairs well with most spices.”
“Yes, that’d be lovely,” I said, screwing the lid back on, now with the same smirk I’d seen on the man’s face when I entered. “I’m sure my clients will be pleased.”
“I’m sure they will.” He grinned.
We strolled over to the register and bagged the items.
“How much will that be?” I asked.
“No charge,” he said. “First-timers are free. That does rely on the promise of your continued business, however. And I must warn you…”
He gestured towards the aisles, where a faint wailing could be heard.
“My fees are known to be steep.”
I smiled. “I’ll be sure to send my clients your way,” I said. With that, I grabbed the bag and calmly pushed open the door, walking outside to my car.
And with the familiar, hollow ding of the bell, I saw out of the corner of my eye that the sign on the door had flipped over to read: CLOSED.