Supercenter, the Novel

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RAISED IN A RETAIL SUPERCENTER and tasked with playing war games on the Siege Arena video console, corporate sponsored Buy-All associate G.E. Westinghouse may just be the most well-trained recruit to come out of the Buy-All Virtual Training Corps – but his methodological precision in battle is often criticized as cowardly, if not somewhat apathetic. He lives in a quiet, uppershelf compartment on Aisle 17 with his young sister Nestle, an aspiring painter beholden by her imaginative renderings of outer space. Here, order is maintained by instilling a sense of fear in the resident associates that their capitalistic livelihood depends on victory in a war waged against the ideology of “Schwagism” on the distant planet Pepsicon. Upon discovering a strange blueprint and suspecting there may be more to his universe than meets the eye, G.E. ventures to the abandoned aisles of the Supercenter, where a band of insurgents refuse employment and call themselves the United Associates Cooperative. Led by one of the Supercenter’s only adults, the UAC seeks to undermine the authority of Management and plans to sabotage the minds of Supercenter Associates. As the Supercenter begins to descend into chaos, G.E. suffers from terrifying dreams that compel him to find a way, any way, beyond the walls of Supercenter #1501

I want to put an excerpt here, but rather than just the start (it’s so hard to make the start both the start and the best part), I’m going with my favorite part. This is from chapter 8 and I feel it gives a solid idea of the psychedelic, dream-like feeling that takes over the narrative around the midway point, like a glitched out 8-bit NES game that you can’t believe is still somehow running, you need to turn it off, take out the cartridge and blow the dust out, but you can’t draw yourself away from the spectacularly ruined lines of digital mayhem on your television:

Under the dim lights of artificial night, a pallor fell upon him, accompanied by insomnia. He tried exploring the Supercenter. He tried facing his ultimate nightmare head-on, to lose himself among unassociates dancing in their reverie. Benson understood that unraveling the bizarre rituals, the seedy drum circles, the apoplectic dancing—all the vagaries of which the Schwags were composed, was the most difficult task one could undertake. And furthermore, should he manage to penetrate the dynamics by which they resonated their sloth to the other associates, Pandora’s Box had nonetheless
been opened. Closing it was hopeless.

Once the lights dimmed that night, Benson crept from his stale compartment and strolled to a deserted Electronics Department filled with empty chairs, dozens of plastic snack wrappers littering the floor. The distant corner of the
Supercenter beckoned with the faint sound of empty laundry detergent tubs, repurposed as crude percussion instruments. Aisle 39, an odd development, but one well in the making, as those associates bored and restless were now prone to congregating around this aisle for reasons too primitive, too carnal, for Benson to ever fully understand. Nonetheless, he found himself pulled to its center.

When the unassociates saw him creeping near, hearts leapt to throats. But united in their common purpose, spoons and spatulas banging on tubs, they found confidence. They watched him step awkwardly into their domain. Some remained seated cross-legged. Those that danced did not see him at all—eyes closed and bodies bobbing around a psychic eddy, a whirlpool in an invisible, circular sea. At last, one of them approached the Supercenterintendent.

This one not an unassociate at all, but former Siege Arena recruit Randall Cunningham, who had hours ago failed to qualify for passage to Pepsicon. Benson resisted the urge to reprimand him, to remind the young recruit he’d never matriculate if he insisted upon cavorting with deadbeats like these instead of honing his skills in the Electronics Department. No, Benson did not—could not—speak.

Self-consciousness and anxiety gripped him as the memory of that traumatic bluegrass festival seized his mind. Perhaps Randall saw this, and perhaps acting out of sympathy, or perhaps wishing to allay his teacher’s apparent terror, Randall extended a hand, a warm smile. His open palm held human commiseration in the form of a tiny eyedropper bottle filled with a concentrated solution of hallucinogenic indole. He examined the vial carefully. Bathed in the lurid glow of lava lamps and balled strings of blue Christmas lights, the whites of his eyes shone large and iridescent, matched by the yellow contents of the vial, equally bright and iridescent among the otherwise dark scene. The Supercenterintendent, the Manager of Education, the Closed Supercenter Transition Liaison, second only to the General Manager himself, Edward Benson took the Tile Melt like he were the proselytized communicant of some unhallowed and wicked ceremony. The
harsh acerbic taste snapped him from his trance, causing him to gasp while spontaneously vocalizing something that sounded like “blurgh.”

The chemical intoxicant opened syntactical cages that, like the four-walled palace he ruled, had narrowed his perspective of the universe. A dream-like cloud descended over him. Benson unpeeled the tweed coat from his body, folded it neatly over one arm, and found himself enveloped by a profound openness, which confounded his senses, causing him to stumble sideways and fall to the floor. The grid of tile flashed and scintillated, bent and smeared upward upon shelves. Randall looked on as Benson struggled to his feet. The Supercenterintendent waved him away and the recruit simply shrugged, pressed the earbuds of his All-Pod back in and resumed his bumbling dance.

This idea appealed to Benson and, in the breast pocket of his coat, he found his own almond colored All-Pod player. Benson felt light and loose on his feet, like a marionette. His muscles weak, he found it difficult to sense the spatial orientation of his arms and legs. As a result of this loss of proprioception, he walked with a jagged, lumbering gait. He stumbled like a puppet strung with rubber bands as he untangled the earbud wires. He pressed the tiny white earbuds into his ears and pressed the play button.

The music at once pulled the puppet strings taught. The track, part of a swing-jazz collection, the Jonah Jones Quartet’s song Where is Your Heart? from a favorite film of Benson’s, Moulin Rouge, took hold of his body, pushing him onto a set of rails.

And there, under the dimmed light, in the corner of the Supercenter, as the walls turned a crisscrossing pattern of flashing pinwheels and black security orbs dripped from the ceiling like great sticky blobs of glistening ink, Benson replayed this song over and over as he danced until the artificial dawn.