Burning Down the House by Sean Leonard

Some people think it was a large-scale prank perpetrated by technological terrorists, a real life Project Mayhem, as if there were an “Anonymous” of the retail distribution world. Some blamed faulty construction, some said there was a gas leak. Hell, I’ve heard everything from “full moon” to “global warming” to “inside job” being whispered around town. But they’re all over-complicating things. This was simply further proof that you never build over hallowed ground.

It didn’t start with Mrs. Clare’s “Kenny G Christmas” CD shouting “Face down, ass up, that’s the way we like to fuck!” at her Pinochle partners. It wasn’t when The Maltese Falcon DVDs played Pink Flamingos, or when the Jay-Z CDs played Sage Francis songs, or even when The Fast and the Furious was replaced on screen by Russ Meyer’s Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! These were just the warning signs, bright flashing “CAUTION” lights that should have been heeded.

Not coincidentally, all of the “defective” products had been purchased at the newly raised Super Super Mart, a big box megastore recently built over the newly razed Township Square Plaza. What we lost was Reckless Rick’s Records & Movies, a place that had managed to outlive The Ramones and outlast cassette tapes, but couldn’t outbid big business. What we got was a place to purchase frozen meat, power tools, sweatpants, and firearms all under the same roof. Hardly a fair trade.

The night it all went down started normal enough. I was stuck behind the service desk because Robbie had called in and the new guy didn’t even show up for his first day. None of this was surprising. What we, the employees of Super Super Mart, lacked in loyalty, we more than made up for in convictions, tattoos, and desperation, which is why we all “chose” to stock shelves for minimum wage. We had long ago run out of fucks to give. Every night was pretty much the same, just show up and do as little as possible ’til we’d eventually get fired.

“This don’t play right!” was followed by a ham of a hand slamming a Brad Paisley CD on the counter between us. A red-faced woman in sweatpants and an off -the-shoulder t-shirt breathed heavily in front of me. Near her yellowed bra strap, the fuzzy blue lines of a tattoo lay faded under sunburns and stretch marks.

“It’s scratched, ma’am.” It had probably come straight off the floor of her car.

“No, not the scratch, the music. This ain’t country, this is some kind of angry rock ‘n’ roll.”

Exasperated sigh. “Go find another copy and we’ll exchange it.” Not store policy, but fuck it.

She waddled away toward the electronics section, her place taken by a beard and sunglasses resting atop a flannel shirt. He had a Tim LaHaye book in his hands, one of the Left Behind series.

“I want to talk to a manager.”

“What seems to be the problem, sir?” Always avoid getting the managers involved. They all have chips on their shoulders and will condescend you in order to feel better about being manager of Super Super Mart, which is the equivalent of being the winner of a pants-shitting contest.

“Does this sound like a Christian fiction book to you?” He proceeded to read what I recognized as Naked Lunch. Suddenly, loud crashes sounded somewhere behind him. I left him stumbling over words to investigate.

People were streaming toward me, scared and confused looks on their normally vacant faces. I moved forward against the current and toward the back of the store. What looked like VHS tape was strung along the aisles, wrapping up shopping carts and the people pushing them. On the tv screens, ESPN was replaced by punk rock zombies searching Louisville for brains. A cardboard stand-up of Miley Cyrus was on fire, pop music cds piled around her feet like a funeral pyre. Like beeps in a hearing test, confused screams came at intervals from various parts of the store.

“Supermarché du Chaos DDC_5281” (image via Flickr user thierry ehrmann)

I decided right then to walk out. As I turned toward the front doors, the floor beneath me rumbled, then cracked. Plastic milk crates rose like coffins from the floor a little to my right. Then my left. Then behind me. One by one they tipped forward, spilling punk and garage rock records everywhere. Cassette tapes began launching out of the holes in the floor, rocketing into the fluorescent lights and sending sparks showering down.

I started running, jumping over a widening chasm in the ground before crashing into a teenage girl. As we fell to the ground, a series of crashes echoed from ahead. The front doors had all closed themselves, locking the customers inside. Towers of VHS tapes, some in clam-shell cases, combined with cheap plastic patio furniture made overseas further blocked our escape.

“I did not do that,” the young red-haired girl said.

I stood up and reached out to help her.

“We gotta get outta here. What’s your name?”

“Carrie.”

“Shit…”

I led her toward the lawn and garden section, not running but walking fast, our hands holding tight. Metal shelving collapsed everywhere around us. The overhead speakers began playing The Clash’s “Lost in the Supermarket” as we reached the gate that led outside. It was padlocked, and while I jingled the store keys, for the first and last time, I was happy to be a Super Super Mart employee.

We ran halfway up the parking lot before looking back. Flames had engulfed the building, an occasional explosion adding emphasis. We could hear screams from inside. It was then that I noticed most of my co-workers outside with us, smoking cigarettes and talking in mumbles. I also noticed Carrie and I were still holding hands. We watched together as Rome burned to the ground. Dave the stoner rolled down his window, letting weed smoke and The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” float into the cool night air.

“Seriously?”

In 1987, after hearing Poison’s “Look What the Cat Dragged In” for the first time, Sean Leonard decided he wanted to play drums. After realizing all rock stars wore leather pants, he traded in his dreams of fortune and fame for 80s sitcoms, horror movies, and punk rock. He has a constant bitter taste in his mouth. Sean has a story featured in Solarcide’s Sinthology, out this past summer.