Now Entering Houdenville

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Episode 2
A Trip to the Market

Sully tries not to think about being in other places. Houdenville is home.


Sully waited in line at the grocery store, trying not to be too interested in the man ahead of him who was carrying a wrapped package under one arm. It was a really prettily wrapped package, shiny pink paper and multicolored ribbons tied into a puffy bow on top. It also looked like it was either leaking or had been set down in something wet at one point, because the paper had a brown-edged stain on it. He couldn’t tell if the cashier had noticed or not, but he knew it was entirely possible the man had noticed and just didn’t care – Carl was a nice enough guy most of the time, but caring about what other people did just wasn’t part of his makeup. At least, not unless it affected him in some way.

Sully didn’t hold that against the guy. In fact, sometimes he wished he could be more like Carl, care a little less, stand up for himself a little more. He wasn’t wired that way, though, and he never had been. Well, except for that one time…but Sully tried not to think about that one time if he could help it.

The man with the package finally finished his transaction and strolled out of the store, and Sully stepped up into his place and put his basket down, eyeing the pile of coupons Carl was still trying to deal with sympathetically. “Coupon clipper?”

“Thinks he is – half of this is either expired or for things he didn’t buy.” He pushed the coupons off to one side and pulled the basket over. “I’ll sort those out later, you’ve got ice cream.” He started ringing things up, stopping at one point to fish a coupon out of one of the stacks. “Hey, that works – a dollar off, even.”

“Thanks.” Sully cocked his head. “You look tired.”

Carl laughed. “Well, yeah – a bunch of zombies rose in that field behind my house last night, they were partying pretty hard and woke me up. Benny showed up and made them tone it down, though.” He tapped the side of a plastic deli container which was sitting on the counter and had a handwritten sign taped to it that said ‘Houdenville Police Uniform Fund’. “City council is trying to make them buy their own greasepaint now, the boss said we could put this up – we’ll either make enough money to get a crate of the stuff for them or shame the bean counters into doing the right thing for once. If you’ve got a nickel to spare, every little bit will help.”

Sully did not have a nickel, but he had a quarter and six pennies which he gladly pushed through the little slot cut in the top of the container’s lid. “No way they can get it wholesale online and then split the cost between them, like a co-op?”

“Bite your tongue, Sully.” Carl was grinning, though. “That’s pretty much what we’re going to do if we collect enough change, though – order it from our supplier and then just give it to them.” He reflexively checked the carton of eggs. “One of these is cracked, want to go get another one?”

Sully shook his head. “I’m going to eat it as soon as I get home. I felt like an omelet this morning.”

“Okay.” Carl kept ringing things up. Houdenville Market carried a good selection of products and kept their markup reasonable – enough so that nobody had ever been interested in starting another grocery store in town, anyway – but they didn’t have all the fancy bells and whistles a really modern store would have like scanners and self-checkouts. Sully sort of liked that about the store, though, the fact that it felt more laid-back than the high-tech stores he’d been in in other places.

Sully tried not to think about being in other places, though. He’d been in a lot of them, but Houdenville was the only one that was home.

Finally his groceries were all registered and bagged up, he’d shown his ID – a formality they always observed even though everyone knew who he was – to get his mushrooms, and then Carl was handing over the bags and Sully headed out the store’s pressure-activated automatic door into the morning sunshine. He packed up the bags carefully into the basket on the back of his bicycle and headed back home as quickly as he could, mindful of the ice cream and in a hurry to get it into his freezer. And then he could make his mushroom omelet and eat it, and after that he’d doubtless be feeling a lot more mellow and stop thinking about things he didn’t want to think about. Because it was really better for everyone if he didn’t.

*~*

Rhonda found the present on her porch that afternoon, wrapped in pink paper and tied with multicolored ribbons. She observed it from a few different angles, then picked it up and shook it gently; the contents reacted with a soft thud. She smiled and took it into the house to unwrap it, inhaling the scent leaking through the paper – visibly leaking on one side down at the bottom – appreciatively. Jackie was just so sweet sometimes…

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