Author: Rick Tobin
Choxthonzu wandered towards ghastly yellow glows of a huge, throbbing sign disrupting grim darkness, below which shadowy figures scurried from a cement block, like ant farm residents, hoisting grains to distant abodes. Choxthonzu was drawn below the throbbing neon where delicious insects fell to cold asphalt, ready for his quick tongues to whip wriggling fare into his slender mouth aperture. This unexpected feast refreshed him after a foolhardy trek far from an unscheduled landing site. Choxthonzu glanced skyward outside the strange edifice, focusing on dull-red glows approaching a sun’s length away, far from human detection.
Using his tactical encounter training, Choxthonzu grabbed a gray grocery cart with squeaking wheels, and then followed entering shoppers, imitating them as they collected various objects from stacked isles of foods and odd wares. Choxthonzu’s cart was filled with a dozen cantaloupes and a single bottle of whiskey. His trail led to a checkout counter tersely managed by an emotionally warn and boisterous tyrant. He wondered if this human could provide directions back to his spacecraft. The stout, haggard matron behind the checkout counter looked away temporarily as she droned through memorized customer greetings.
“Welcome to Sav-U-Mart. How are you doing?” She seemed dazed while wiping the slime from the conveyor belt.
“I need directions.” Choxthonzu stood still, waiting.
“So, did my ex. Please put your items on the belt. I…” she paused, gasping air past her tortoiseshell glasses balanced carefully on her bulbous nose while focusing on her customer. “Christ…a bit early for Halloween, isn’t it? Or, did you think this was like those other stores that care less how you dress?” She bobbed her head, scanning Choxthonzu’s yellow bumps and spindly legs within his silver organo-metallic jumpsuit.
“I don’t mean to offend. I need help to find my ship.”
“Harbor is out the door. Take a hard right. Get a map. You boat people—snowbirds. Bunch of weirdoes. Can’t read, either, huh?” She points at a sign over the register that warned Ten Items or Less.
“Must I do something else?”
“You have more than ten melons and a bottle of booze. Just let me count them and get you out of here so I can serve my regulars”
“What else can I do?”
“Will that help?”
“Need stamps or ice?”
“Need cigarettes? Got a photo ID? You might be a disguised rich kid pulling a fast one.”
“I assure you I am quite old.”
She set the bottle aside “Nice try. Heard that before. No ID, no booze.”
“What if I had coupons?”
“Forget it. Paper or plastic?”
“I don’t want either. I just want directions.”
“Fine, brought your own bag. Credit or debit? Do you need help out to your vehicle?”
“I can’t find it.”
“If you need help, go to the Service Desk. Enter your membership number when the screen comes up. Be sure to type in your phone number to get coupons. Want to donate to the Save the Earth fund?”
“I want to save Earth. Would a coupon help?” Choxthonzu did not touch the screen.
She lifted her store phone and called out, “Signal Black on counter three.”
A security guard appeared.
“Harry, take this crackpot outside. He won’t pay. Not one coupon. Next in line, please. Have a nice day”
“Please, let me save you!” Choxthonzu cried out as he was ejected out the front door.
When Choxthonzu finally reconnected with his scouting craft for evaluating Earth’s mass evacuation, his commander asked, “You met them. Are they willing to leave?”
“I’m not sure,” Choxthonzu replied. “Not without coupons.”
I do hope the aliens aren’t reading notalwaysright.com (which this story reminded me of). They might decide humans aren’t worth saving.
Loved the story. Still puzzled about the title though (I was expecting a completely different story based on the title).
Brilliant stuff Rick…. I have a sense that you drew this story from many years of observing human interaction in supermarkets… it is fascinating to watch as our species hunt and gather and graze. 🙂 😉