Authentic Fauxflakes

  • Reading time: seven-and-a-half minutes
  • Word count: 1434
  • Published: 12 dec 2013
  • Author: Matador the First
  • Copyright: Matador the First, 2013


Inside Kmart Quickbreak stopped halfway to the men’s room. The store’s greeter had made him head back there to clean up his gash but when our hero eyed the flier that wrapped around the bleeding cut and was encased in a plastic grocery bag he decided it was good enough and turned around and headed toward the seasonal section.

Few stores smelled so plastic. This one drowned itself in it, and then drowned the unsuspecting customer: the only known suicide–murder. Few stores embodied and embraced must and dirt the way this one did. Few national stores hadn’t been remodeled between 1989 and 2012. This one bucked the trend. Quickbreak figured the old-plastic smell, must, dirt, and yellowed crooked shelves and chipped floor tiles formed the very core of corporate’s brand image. “Still,” he said, “at least it’s not Wal-mart.”

Kmart’s seasonal section had been transformed into a fake-snow faux-wonderland inhabited by dozens of trees. The plastic bag around Quickbreak’s arm crinkled whenever he scraped a tree branch or bumped into a shelf or a display riser. The store’s unsettling quiet meant he heard with intense and unfortunate clarity very poor versions of Christmas songs he’d hated even before they’d been bastardized. The song playing right now very nearly always threw him into conniptions, Santa baby, hurry down the chimney tonight, hit me with a hammer, and end my misery right now. He panicked, fearing his expressions and off-key lyricizing would draw the attention of some employee, but as he panicked and grimaced his way amongst the trees he bumped into no employees.

“I’m starting to hate shopping for Christmas decorations. It’s a real brick to the face.”

“But it gets better when someone’s along to help you,” a fellow customer said.

“It gets worse. Much worse. All you can think about is leaving soon as you can, or punching the other person in the face.” He sniffed. “Or both.” He scratched his forehead. “Or maybe at least ask yourself why you didn’t stop for a drink first. And then you realize it’s nine in the morning.”

“That’s just because the people you shop with don’t know what they’re doing.”

“No one knows what they’re doing unless they’re you.” He sneezed. “Which is terrifying because even you don’t know what you’re doing, when you think about it.” He rubbed his nose with his nonbagged hand. “Jeez. Lot of fake snow in here.”

“It’s a good touch.”

“You’re kidding.”

“No.”

“…”

“So that’s actually a yes?”

“I have no idea how anything about the voice of my voice or the face on my face could make you think I like all this fake snow.”

“It’s the joy of winter, I see it in your eyes.”

“They’re watering.”

“Mine too. Childhood memories. You can’t have Christmas without snow.”

“Sure you can. I’ve done it here for years. So’s the rest of the area.”

“Out-of-towners want the experience, though.”

“Out-of-towners come here to get away from the snow. They complain every time we get a cold front and I complain every time they complain.”

“Corporate says snow’s festive.”

“How would you know what corporate wants for their Christmas setup?”

The faux-snow man pulled a small plastic rectangle from his pocket. “I work—”

“Oh good God.”

“—for corporate.”

“You’re wearing a torn red hoodie over a faded red polo, and beat-up black khakis and canvas sneakers.”

“Well. Not for corporate directly. For this store.”

“Since when?”

“Which is owned by corporate. Got transferred here from Colonial.” He attached his nametag to his shirt. Quickbreak didn’t read it. “About—no. Exactly a week ago.”

“Never seen you. Last time I was here was only—actually, more than a week ago. I think. I stand corrected. Probably.”

“At Colonial they said I talked too much about how great Michigan winters are.”

“Did you have snow machines there?”

“They wouldn’t let me.”

“You do know they make proper ones.”

“What I’ve set up works fine.”

“No it doesn’t. They’re shooting out crap that’s got the texture of petrified Frosted Flakes. Doesn’t really look like snow. Or even fake snow.”

“You know something better.”

“They make snow machines you use in a production environment. I mean in a theatre or something. They put out a foam or a soap that actually looks a lot like snow.”

“…”

“Though that would be pretty slippery, so you’d have to put some carpets down. But carpets would make this area look way better than the rest of the store, so you couldn’t put carpets down. Which means no proper snow machines because hey, slip hazard.”

“…”

“You could just put down some wet-floor signs, I guess. But that would clash with the aesthetics. Which you obviously don’t care about here.”

“You don’t like my setup.”

“It’s not your setup. They had this up on the first of the month.”

“But they didn’t have the snow machines.”

“Yeah. I could see back then.” He coughed. “And breathe.”

“That’s just the Christmas spirit overwhelming you.”

“I’m so overwhelmed I need safety goggles and a dust mask to survive it.” Quickbreak walked through the displays, following extension and power cords along their paths under rugs and piles of fauxflakes, cords knotted into each other, none of them taped down or ramped over or hidden very well or in fact intentionally.

“We have safety goggles in hardware.” The employee was following Quickbreak. “And dust masks. Just a few aisles over.”

“I’ve got a simpler idea.” Our hero stopped at a power strip that had way more cables plugged in to it than it had sockets for. “Cleaner—my God—more eleg—I’ve never seen so many tri-taps in one—”

“What are you—you’re not gonna—I mean that took a lot of time to—”

“Nah.” Quickbreak turned around and patted the employee on the shoulder and then faced the power strip again. “Just going to find the switch. I wouldn’t—there it is—I wouldn’t dream of ruining—what kind of swi—of ruining such a—what is with this switch?”

“I taped it down.”

Without hesitating our hero tore off the tape restraining the switch and snapped off the power strip. The machines’ motors hummed slower and fainter till they died. The employee’s face faded somewhat but Quickbreak was fine murdering a bit of Christmas spirit since he could “breathe again. I can think. Now what can you tell me about your trees?”

Before the employee could answer a manager holding a clipboard walked up to them, probably stopping the employee from making a comment he’d regret. “Mitchell, you know where the spill station is?”

“No. Haven’t seen it in—”

“Ahp, that’s lunch for you.” The manager looked up from her watch. “Closing’s going to be a bitch tonight.”

“…”

“Unless you’re fine not eating.”

“I’d rather eat.”

“Then get lost.”

Mitchell sprinted toward the other end of the store.

“Make sure to clock out this time!”

Still jogging, Mitchell spun around and saluted and faced forward again and kept running.

The manager turned to Quickbreak and smiled. “What can I help you with, sir?”

“Well I was looking at the trees you—”

“Ahp, that’s lunch for me, too.”

“What about the eye thing?”

“Corporate’s inspector won’t be here till tomorrow. Plenty of time for me to find the station and get rid of it.”

“Aren’t you required to have those things?”

“Nope. Costs too much to have them, so corporate says we have to get rid of them.”

“Wouldn’t it cost more to get rid of them?”

“Not all our stores have them. People see them at one store, they’ll expect them at all our stores, and we can’t afford to put stations in all our stores so we’re taking out the ones we do have.” She looked at her watch again. “I’m terribly sorry, I’ve got to go.”

“What about me? Christmas trees?”

“Feel free to look around. We’ve got a good selection.”

“The labels don’t make any sense.”

“I’m sorry, no one’s available to help with those.”

“I’ll just pick the cheapest one, then.”

“Mitchell’s still got to get it out of the stock room for you.”

“I’ll buy the display.”

“That’s against corporate policy.”

“Great job keeping your customers happy.”

The manager shrugged. “Corporate’s designed our policies based on years of research and focus groups. We’re still in business, so they’ve got to be doing something right.”

“…”

“Mitchell will be back in half an hour.”

Our hero sat in a rusty metal folding chair that had been hiding under one of the display risers. “I’ll be waiting.”


“Authentic Fauxflakes” is the ninth section in a twelve-part story. You can follow the story as it's posted to the home page or by tracking its tag.

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