It was kind of a routine. Every day after my nine-to-five job at the hardware store, I would drop off my worn messenger bag jam-packed with papers at my room in the small flat I called home, then I would walk down to the corner grocery store with ten dollars in my pocket and no list. There was always something I needed, and for whatever reason, just being at that store would remind me of what I needed. I commonly found myself buying cleaning supplies, or replacing meals that had once occupied a small Tupperware but one of my roommates had stolen with their thieving nature and denied any connections later once the food was already eaten.
I walk down the winding road which has no sidewalk. The curbs are mildly littered with trash, and the only light is street lights every few hundred feet. Every now and then a sputtering car flies past, but otherwise, all is silent and tranquil. I continuously kick a small rock as I walk, and grumble in mild annoyance when the rock rolls out of my path and into some pathetic, dying shrub on the curb of the road. I shove my hands in my pockets and the crisp ten dollar bill gives a little crinkle. I lazily tilt my head to look upwards. My eyes are met with twinkling stars slightly obscured by thin, grey clouds flooding a deep black sky.
My fleeting attention is dragged to a flickering neon pink glow, a small beacon in the middle of a chilly night. My eyes adjust to the unusual, intense glow that is appearing and disappearing in sporadic intervals. What did it even say? I have no idea. Something with an M? No… An R? Was that sign always there? My mind brimming with curiosity, I walk over to the fluorescent light. As I get closer, the blobby glowing letters that were unreadable from a distance take a more defined shape in my vision, spelling “E-Mart” with a small bit at the bottom “now 24 hours!” They should be open then, I’ll go there instead. It is a shorter walk, and from the outside, the store appeared to be bigger, therefore probably a larger selection of brands and items. I was never able to find the exact brand of washing machine soap I needed, anyway. Convenient, I guess that’s why they call it a convenience store. I reach for the door handle, a thin metal bar shaped like half a square and haphazardly stuck to the door. I stop just as I’m about to grab the metal bar. This is probably going to be illegal, right? The sign 24 hours, but the dusty, brittle window shows no signs of anyone in there. The pale blue counters are cloaked in cobwebs, everything covered in a thin layer of dust. The ceiling gave out in some places, leaving a hole that could range from minuscule to gaping, leaving drywall rubble in a disorderly pile on the ground.
Suddenly I catch a glimpse of shining, pristine blue light coming from the depths of the store. I don’t know which moved first, my outstretched hand or my feet, but I pull down on the handle with a click and push the door inward, but only a few inches until it stops. I lightly push on the door more, but instead of an open doorway that I can walk through, the door gets stuck against a pile of rubble that’s preventing it from being opened farther. I push and push, then eventually the miscellaneous pile of cardboard boxes, drywall, and other trash slides out of the way. I step inside to be greeted with a giant cloud of dust and cobwebs that makes me cough. Some dump. I feel tempted to leave, but the blue light catches my eye again, drawing me closer and closer to the center of the building. I weave through tall, smooth metal shelves. Row after row after row after row, my only guide the glimpse of piercing blue light I can barely see through the tiny cracks separating each shelf. As I get closer, the blue light becomes brighter and brighter. I narrow my eyes into little slits; barely open at all due to the sheer intensity of the blue light. I round a corner to be met with an eerie sight; tall, metal pods with a muted blue glow emitting from the small circular windows with a thin, silver metal trim. As I move closer, my feet slightly dragging on the smooth tile floor, the bottoms of my well used and dirty sneakers squeaking against the clean and seemingly brand new tile below my feet. I stand on my toes to peer through a pod window. My eyes widen a little as they’re met with the sight of some sort of robotic amalgam, unnatural mechanical eyelids closed. I tilt my head a little bit to the right to examine it closer when the machine opens its large, round eyes with phosphorescent blue irises with silvery pupils. Shocked, I stumble backwards and lose my footing, bumping into a sleek stainless steel table, square with thin poles as support. I bump into it, knocking a small vial of a miscellaneous green liquid onto the floor. It shatters, and the liquid spreads over the floor, filling in the small gaps between tiles as the puddle grows larger and more expansive, taking on a foul stench. I take a step and a half backwards in recoil.
“Who’s there?!” I hear a gruff voice yell from the shadows surrounding me, the area where the blue light does not touch. Reflexively, I sprint across the room, not even paying attention to the squeak of my shoes that just draws more attention toward me. I fumble desperately with the flimsy handle of a pod door, and climb inside, pressing myself up against the wall to keep as much distance between me and whatever slumbering robot is standing upright, arms crossed at its chest. I hear two hurried sets of footsteps, one heavy, intimidating, and stern, the other quiet, timid, and obedient, but also slightly disheveled at the same time.
“S-Sir, I believe it was just a rodent of some sort, knocking over a vial. I think this building has a mouse infestation. It is quite old,” a smaller voice says, presumably belonging to the latter set of footsteps.
“Don’t say it so matter-of-factly, Peterson! It pisses me off.” Ah, the booming voice of the former. I hear the crinkle of papers and the sound of the latter, Peterson apparently, scuffling after the owner of the booming voice, most likely Peterson’s superior. Peterson quickly forces out a hurried apology, and begins to walk away. The larger figure follows, and I let out a small sigh of relief. The larger figure stops dead in their tracks and whips their head in my direction. I look over to the robot I’m standing next to to be met with a pair of passionate glowing green eyes with black pupils looking at me. It mutters some friendly sounding electronic gibberish, grabbing the attention of Peterson and his supervisor, and I slap my left hand over its mouth to quiet it. I hold back a squeak of pain from hitting my hand so hard against solid steel. I press my right index finger to my mouth. I doubt this machine, creature even, will understand my gesture but I decide it’s worth a shot in the heat of the moment. The machine smiles back at me as I remove my left hand and it nods in understanding, closing its wide green eyes. Thundering footsteps become louder and louder as the figure walks closer to the pod. I slide down the curved wall and curl up at the bottom, trying to be as noticeable as possible. The figure scowls through the blue glass window, and their expression falters a little when they see that the machine is resting peacefully. The figure turns around and storms off in the other direction.
“Let’s go, Peterson, we’re done here.” I wait a few minutes before daring to stand up and look out the small window of the pod, and am thankfully greeted with the sight of no one. As I stand up, the robot opens its eyes again, gifting me another kind smile and even waving as I open the pod door and step out. I close the door gently and carefully as to not alert any other robots who might not be as friendly. I wave and return a smile then quickly turn around and run to a window revealing the deep black sky dotted with thin, grey clouds. I fumble with the latch then practically throw myself out the window, not bothering to check how long of a drop. Thankfully it’s only a few feet before my feet hit the dirt, trampling a small spot of dying grass. I take off running, running, running; as far and a fast as I can. Next time, maybe I’ll make one of my roommates do the grocery shopping.