He pushed his cart through the narrow aisles picking items out with robotic accuracy. Cheetos, lunchmeat variety pack, Vlasic Dill Pickle slices, Wonder Bread, coffee, a bag of salad, bleu cheese dressing, a package of sliced salami; it was the same each week. He didn't worry about healthy foods. He doubted he would live long enough for the toxins to build up.
Then, as he pulling a case of Miller Lite Beer off the shelf he noticed someone someone walking up to him. His spine stiffened. Who the fuck would break the shopping rules by acknowledging his existence?
The man wore a clean, if slightly ragged, overcoat. He stopped close and reached for a case of Miller Lite. "I see you don't have a good woman to buy your booze for you either."
Christ, who the hell was this guy. He wanted to tell him to fuck off, but something in his voice, his closeness, his sickly sweet scent reminded him of the lab. He tried to think of a way to describe it and antiseptic was the only word that came to mind. It was as menacing as the large observation tanks and the faceless government ghosts who watched everything from behind the one-way glass.
"No, I think I can pick my own beer anyway." He dropped the case in his cart. Apparently this guy was only here to buy beer. The man's eyes followed Derrick, matched his pace as he started to push the cart away.
"You know, I think we're in the same field."
Derrick froze. "Excuse me?"
"Forgive me, my name's Hector. I'm a researcher of sorts too."
Was this some guy from the lab? Derrick couldn't imagine that he was one of the ghosts. "Where do you work?"
Hector laughed. "Oh, I work for myself. My research is purely the amateur's, the lover of science."
Derrick was compelled to ask, "So what do you research?"
"It's as top secret as what you do, but I suspect we are both examining the complexity of human existence, genetics maybe," he paused studying Derrick a moment, "Perhaps even looking into the soul to discover what makes us human, eh?"
Derrick's skin was crawling. Claustrophobia welled up from a hidden wealth of fear. "I'm sorry, I really need to get home and get some sleep." He headed to the check out where a bored girl with a cheap blond dye job was waiting to ring him up.
"Understood," Hector said keeping step with him. "And look at that fine specimen behind the register. Well worth some research, eh?"
Derrick didn't answer him. He sat his stuff on the conveyor belt and paid the $37 in cash. As he grabbed the bags and headed for the door he glanced back at Hector. His attention was completely absorbed now by the cashier. He realized Hector was studying her, measuring her existence, the same way he did with the test subjects back in the lab.
He nearly ran out of the market. He wasn't sure if he was more afraid for himself or for the girl.
IN THE NURSERY - Byzantium