I challenged myself to write a 500 words or less short story to evade this writing rut I've been in. Here's the result!
The Dollar General is not real. He is as sure of this as he is sure that he is standing in it, aisle five by the canned fruit and noodles. He knows it is not real because his reflection in the frozen food fridge has too many limbs and too many teeth, and because of the distinct hum that runs through the floor beneath his feet, and because, from the outside looking in, the lights are all off and the windows are boarded, the property vacant. The only sign of something, from the outside, is the crumbling remains of a parking lot with its ever-present red pick-up idling a choked engine by the double doors.
Ignoring the tooth and limb reflection lurking behind him, he mentally runs through his grocery list. Spaghetti noodles. Check. Milk. Whatever it is in the dairy fridge that replaces that gallon he takes has claws. He slams the door. Toilet paper. In the cleaning aisle, he comes face to face with a deer, eyes empty and reflective. More accurately, a thing that might have truly been a deer, once, but was no longer. A thing that resembled a deer until you got too close. Something else inhabiting a deer’s body. He snatches the nearest pack of toilet paper from the shelf and avoids the empty, reflective glow, the mouth full of teeth.
Batteries. The dollar candles in this aisle are lit and flickering on the shelves, a suspicious string of nonsense drifting from the next aisle over – greeting cards and cheap party decor. He grabs a pack of double A’s, stepping over a small mountain of coverless paperbacks and mushroom clusters poking through cracks in the linoleum as he does so. A can opener. The home goods aisle, if it can truly be labeled as such in a discount store, is riddled with creeping vines that snake behind the plasticware and checkered dish towels, holding the cooking utensils hostage. He decides against the can opener, after all.
He’s halfway to the register, at the end of his mercifully short list, when the lights flicker and disappear, leaving only the candle glow on the unmanned counter in front of him. The corners of the not-real Dollar General are encompassed in an impermeable black pierced only by the aforementioned candles and the reflective deer-eye glow emitting from aisle four. Gaze purposefully forward, he approaches the unoccupied counter and bags his own groceries, leaving a few crumpled bills tucked alongside a defunct card reader flashing binary, grateful for the exact change wrangled from the depths of his jean pockets.
As he steps out into the nearly vacant parking lot, a voice close at his back hisses a small thanks, come again and the automatic doors click shut behind him, whisking him into the quiet night.