The supermarket exploded shortly after Angir’s eyes drifted from a dirty-looking starling to the discarded outer leaves of a TV magazine lying flat at the edge of the car park. He began to imagine sexual acts between TV presenters and soap stars, performed in front of a panel of judges like on X-Factor. He imagined an orgy at a party for all the people who had ever been an X-Factor judge, only Simon Cowell choosing to opt out, crazed on power, watching from afar, perched on a diving board. The narrative of the scenes inside his head afforded Angir no amount of arousal, the internal voiceover like some early experiment of character vocals in a nineties video game. When he looked away, suitably satisfied by the climax, the starling had moved on. And then the supermarket exploded.
He thought too of the future; the future he could spend with either Diana or Rosie Jones, picking the ripened fruits to decorate and defile the concrete world. And he would carve a sideways heart for Diana or Rosie Jones upon the rainbow bark; a sideways heart, forever unjoined, forever an equation to remind him that 3 is greater than the power of sideways love. And yet he will never copulate, let alone procreate. Her 3rd child will be born beneath that tree, beneath branches creaking with the weight of unbreakable hutches, beneath primary colours swirled in buds. And she will pretend it to be his, and it will never be a problem. Dr Young would hear of this vision of Angir’s and bat it away as pure myth – but myth with an affordable pricetag. And Angir will buy it, as he always does.
Inside, on some forsaken aisle, an attendant prices down the 9/11 snowglobes, unaware of their desperate portence of the imminent. He sticks the new prices on the base of the globes thereby activating the scenes; tiny fragments of glittery plastic tickling against the hovering American Airlines 11, pre-entry and the tail end of United 175, mid-orgasm and the defiant towers between; apocalypse event-time conflated to fit the domes, to convey a shorter tale. The attendant is quick in his task and at one point the whole tableful are twinkling supernovae in the gift department cosmos. But the ecstasy is short-lived as one by one the debris storms settle and are still again. The attendant thinks; its more like a Hypermarket in here. He thinks; when do I get a break? He thinks; what have I done with my namebadge? He will not survive. His name is unknown; he will be unrecorded. There is an unexpected item in a bagging area.
Angir’s van proudly displays a tabloid newspaper on the dashboard – a dashboard he has come to believe is roughly 33% constituted of the one that killed Princess Diana. The newspaper is an old edition, thirteen months old, and is missing a certain key section of its third page. Angir’s project in the van’s interior is now complete since he began it thirteen months ago. Each wall, the ceiling and the floor, are papered with softly pornographic images of the glamour model Rosie Jones, his potential future bride, Goddess of the Graffiti Tree. All the pictures display her topless and in each picture both nipples are visible. In each nipple is a pin and strung between all the pins are taut pieces of string. Angir has calculated the distances between each occurance of nipple and the angles created. The results have been pleasingly patterned. He can now begin drafting the written part of his thesis, provisionally titled; “Symmetry Beauty and the Mathematical Beast: A Study into the Dimensional Regularity of Nipples in the Model Photographs of Rosie Jones.”
A live action museum piece for the future; the graceless dance of the trollies and their honey-glazed charioteers observed by CCTV peering into the past – to the time just before the end. Cells sludging through artery aisles, life-threatening blockages at the unheathiest spots; by the smartly priced meat, or the reduced to clear mould-bombs. From the CCTV distance, a distance measured also in the passage of apocalyptic time, the colourful wares are drab and lifeless – unending glass and card holding fakeries and duff jewels. The trollies fill up, the dance is slowed, oblivion is heralded and the message falls on ears stuffed with pasta sauce and Florette.
Deep in the freezers, forgotten hunks of poultry reanimate through ice, sluggish but patient; Value Price is forming and will soon awaken. Chicken wing meets Turkey leg, wraps and folds, stretches on, meets Chicken breast meets Duck and Goose, meets another Chicken wing and a leg and more. It will never be discovered in the depths of that cavern, covered by the fresher produce, the newly slaughtered. But the more untouched the fowl are, the more Value can begin to long for its freedom – and with that longing will come life.
This is what the futureteers are seeking; the origins of their Lord and scourge. They pick at each other’s thumbs, idly. They are frustrated by the primitive mechanical eyes, so two-dimensional and distant. Days of footage yet. Days of this morbidly obese dance.
In the safest section of the supermarket, furthest from the epicentre, Braemar too was imagining sexual acts involving the X-Factor judges and some of her fantasy scenes were remarkably similar to Angir’s. Her imaginings were rendered more vivid due to the fact that she had been rota-ed to work the Home Technologies section and the arrangement of plasma screen TVs – sixteen simultaneously tuned – were displaying a quarter-final of that same apocalyptic TV show which infiltrated so many minds. Sixteen Barlows became Walshs and then Barlows again, the slightest of delays with the outer machines causing a brief ripple effect across this oceanic panorama of HD British glamour.
Braemar and Angir had only met once and the meeting had been brief. He had purchased a loaf of Warburton opiate seed and cocoa bean bread (£1.39), a bottle of Take That cider (reduced to £2) and a copy of Nuts magazine featuring Rosie Jones, for his pleasures, for his van, for his thesis. She had served him and checked his ID. He was 29, but looked young. He had glimpsed at her namebadge, pinned to her bosom, and ‘Braemar’ had lodged hard in his brain like a shard of burning girder. While walking away he remarked to himself, out loud; ‘What a nice name.’ She had forgotten him instantly, but the link was now made.
The sixteen O’Learys became Xs became blackness, a brief void, gawping, became adverts. Braemar would never find out who made it to the next round.
After the event, during his hunt for Braemar and supplies, Angir will discover that an aisle holding alcohol has remained miraculously unaffected by the blasts. Within he will find Karl; lord-protector of the spirits, a level 36 liquor-lizard from a mutant realm, wearing a charmed amulet of bottletops and ringpulls, charged by an angry god to guard this stronghold of fortified wines. Ever-thirsty, Karl will be sustained by droplets of rain seeping through the sagging ceiling. The liquids with the darkly glass will be the lifebloods of mysterious crystals, percentaged jewels. He will have stacked the boxed wines at one end of the aisle to block off the tunnel and will always clutch two broken bottles close to him, his weapons. Angir will arrive and remove a brandy without divine permission. Please drink responsibly, Karl will rasp before setting upon him with a flurry of stabs and slashes. Angir will lose two fingers and two and half pints of blood before escaping emptyhanded.
Like ulcers, departments had grown upon departments in this doomed supermarket; a tyranny of pricetags and sale signs spreading their insipid influence into the knocking down of walls and the merchandising of imagined space. In the PETS department, Saskia was idly wondering what PETS might stand for when she was greeted by Braemar, now just starting her break from supervising televisions. Together they poked along a row of caged animals, coming to a stop at the display rabbits, entrapped within unbreakable hutches. Below, pre-hutch bunnies were contemplating their current environment, wondering how they might attempt to frolic upon unnaturally occuring sawdust in a 5ft by 5ft container, in the hope that a passing admirer might proffer something vaguely edible for a performance.
The unbreakable hutches, a new design, contained eternally captured display rabbits, now safe from foxes, sharp-fingered children, violent and unsanitary animal activists, and suicide bombers. Incidently, the hutches will also prove impervious to the imminent apocalypse. Braemar stared at one safe rabbit, a grey lop-ear she had named Artemis. She was huddling in a corner of her hutch, sketching blueprints for an electric heater using a carrot fashioned into a pencil. On the far side of the impenetrable perspex, Artemis had stuck up poetry written in an ancient Rabbitian language. With the help of Braemar, Artemis would be the only rabbit in past and future history who would manage to escape this fortress of hutch.
The Starlings murmurated for a final time above the roof of the supermarket before joining Simneon on his cherry picker opposite. In the heart of that swirl an ancient mechanism activated, and a thousand million birds transported through the epicentre from the past to the future and vice versa, vice versa until the present itself could no longer be sustained and all the pilgrims below passed half a nanosecond with no knowledge of any existence whatsoever. Were it not for the mind tranquilisation caused by their doomed dome of deliverance – this citadel of chickpeas, this temple of tomato, this palace of peri peri sauce – two hundred and forty four human beings would have mentally collapsed and become misshaped vegetables, reduced to clear. Had just one of them looked up at the Starlings, they might have died happy and hence been saved from a worse fate.
The supermarket was about to explode and most of these shoppers would survive in one way or another. At the apocalypse, it will be the survivors who suffer the most. Simneon could not have known this, but the Starlings certainly did. Their murmurations finished, they could hold the inevitable no longer. They flew to Simneon. One stopped by Angir, tried to pass on the message. But Angir’s mind was elsewhere. And then the supermarket exploded.
Perched on the end of a grain of rice sits a grain of coucous, contemplating its surroundings. It is encased within a chickpea, itself held in a conchiglie pasta shell. They are wedged into the flesh of a lime around which a noodle has been wrapped and the whole package is held inside the centre of a large granary bap, nestled inside a frozen yorkshire pudding. The frozen yorkshire pudding is in its plastic wrapping, of course, but has been rudely stuffed into a small free range corn-fed chicken. The chicken is in a shopping trolley, but is hidden inside a watermelon. The watermelon is concealed inside a bag of BBQ briquettes upon which a child sits enshrouded in multiple layers of clothing. Over the clothing is a radiation suit, government issued, which has been glazed with one layer of golden syrup followed by a topcoat of rapeseed oil. Finally the child’s older sister leans over the side of the trolley and hugs the child close. The mother pushes, checking her list. The father trails behind, checking his mobile.
Thus the modern family prepares for the boom.
The couscous grain slips and divides into two. The force of it rips upwards and through the brains of both children. The mother screams. The mother explodes. The father stutters. The father explodes. The supermarket quakes.
Simneon, adorned in Starlings, receives their missive. He blinks and triggers his device.
The supermarket explodes.
Thus the modern family expires.
The atomic schism killed the vast majority of the world. The fusion bomb in the supermarket, detonated the splittest of seconds before by Simneon, equalised the nuclear gale and protected the stricken building and the immediate surrounding area. The human race was now reduced to two hundred and thirteen trolley-grasping shoppers and workers, unable to leave their brave new world, surrounded by perpetual apocalypse.
On the cherrypicker, at the edge of the carpark; Simneon the Saint and Dr Young stood together, adorned with Starlings.
‘You know a week ago the supermarket ran out of supplies. People drove here from miles around, vans stuffed full of food, full of clothes, electricals, fucking greetings cards, deodorant, sellotape, old newspapers whatever, and they filled the trolleys, all of them, and they went inside and they put all the stuff onto the shelves, every last item, back into position where they would have been, every last rotting banana, every tub of liquid ice cream, every item under the sun, they put it all back, they cleaned every shelf as they went, they swept the floor, they hugged the shop assistants, they reconnected the lights in the welcome sign, everything,’ said the doctor.
Simneon did not reply. He watched the dust settling, picked out signs of life.
‘These fucking birds,’ muttered the doctor, flicking a starling off his shoulder. ‘What now?’
‘We need to visit the morgue,’ said Simneon.
Dr Young nodded. ‘A day later,’ he said, ‘the supply line came through. The management chucked out everything that had been returned and restocked afresh. No fucker noticed.’