Alex slammed his front door behind him and stormed into the street, his mind full of other peoples’ anger. Fucking terraced houses. Great for saving a few quid on gas by absorbing the heat of your neighbours but the walls were paper thin and it made everyone’s life your own. Tonight, both sets of couples had enjoyed blazing rows. From the left (25) Alex had endured hours of shouting; the booming tones of the guy and the screechy wailing of his harpy. They had followed that up by throwing stuff. In the right corner (21), Elaine and her current man Kevin (they were all on nodding terms for hedge trimming) had gone from spitting vitriol at the tops of their voices to angry, bitter sex with no noticeable change in tone. You can only turn the television up so far.
Finally, unable to contain the four-pack of anger, anguish, bitterness and bile Alex had simply left the house. The psychic backwash trailed behind him as he walked down the street, clinging to him and irritating cats who prowled through the stream. There were a few benefits to being highly empathic, all negated by living near other people. When Alex was much younger and the voices started he’d thought he was going mad. Eventually he realised that everyone else was mad and he was just listening in. That was after he’d put holes in his skull though.
Ideally Alex would find a lovely chalet on a hilltop, or near a stream. In the middle of nowhere. One day he’d be able to flee all that pointless mental jabbering. Sure, he’d learned a few mantras which helped to block it out, but meditating with mantras blocks everything out and sleeping tablets do that just as well. But Alex didn’t like the next day fuzziness of pills, like walking through a squeaky polystyrene landscape. So instead he put up and made quite a lot of noise to himself about it. Occasionally his talents were actually helpful, though in order to focus on anything other than the general vibe of another person they had to be getting really passionate. Alex was good at winding people up to that point; it’s why he often had a black eye. What he excelled at was recklessness; Alex was unsure whether trepanning himself had preceded or succeeded his ability to do stupid things.
The cold night air helped to shift the useless load of their minds and the headache that had swollen all evening was dissipating. Alex had no desire to return home where the lovebirds were likely fucking each other to death and number 25 were onto the power tools. Deep inner sigh. Deep outer sigh. The roads were dead so he took the opportunity to amble down the dashed white line like a teenager with an iPod. He was startled out of his reverie by a rust speckled white van that came out of nowhere, honked like a bastard goose and swerved across the road and off up into town. The sudden adrenaline boost got him to the pavement in an accelerated heart beat. Great, now Alex was even more awake. In his newly hyper-alert state he briefly noticed the slick of water left in the van’s wake and the faint scent of brine: “hope the dick drowns in it”. He grumbled further about how terrible white van men were, mainly spouting old clichés since he’d little experience in dealing with anyone who performed a useful trade in society.
In theory he could wander the streets like a lost stalker or go a bit further and fall over in a field. All night Tesco was his only hope. When you need to shift someone else’s bullshit only retail therapy will do the trick. Initially Alex had scorned the rise of the twenty-four hour supermarket as further evidence of how depressing humanity had become. The very idea that someone would choose to shop at two in the morning. Absurd. Alex dropped in at least once a week. It was a boon for the insomniac driven insane by twenty-four hour news. It had become a private nocturnal playground for Alex.
The car park was almost empty, save for a handful of staff cars and that bloody van. Hopefully it was just a seafood delivery and the store’s karma wouldn’t be upset. He pushed through the sea of trolleys into the glaring capitalist wasteland. The land was covered in its comforting blandness of produce, populated by desperate brands begging for his notice. He felt like the Snow Queen of Narnia, roving the aisles of excess in search of something new, something special to turn into stone. Ooh, Turkish Delight. He relished wandering the forest alone, finding peace in the gentle buzz of the lights and hum of the refrigerators.
From a distant part of the store came the sound of breaking glass. Alex chuckled to himself at the thought of Mr Beaver being told off by Mrs Beaver over some Dolmio-related mishap. He fought the sudden urge to cheer – this wasn’t a bar. Or if it was, it was the kind with no customers, and no staff either. There was always a skeleton crew lurking somewhere, smoking outside the fire escapes and avoiding the harsh fluorescent glare that robbed them of their diurnal rhythm. But not tonight. Perhaps it was spirits re-stocking time at the far end. Alex didn’t really care though; he’d had his fill of people.
He moseyed past the frozen foodstuffs, marvelling at the life-bestowing properties of Omega-3 in fish fingers and how delightful the lives of chicken breasts must have been before they became chicken breasts. He could never quite avoid the image of the bucket of chicken heads and spines being pounded into nuggets. He was so intent that he missed the next few breakages and the first flicker of the lights. There was an astonishing selection of party foods which thoroughly distracted him, so vile did they seem. He was half tempted to buy some and burn off the adrenaline shakes with grease.
He noticed the next crash of glass though. The vertical freezer rammed tightly with prawn rings bounced up in the air next to him before smashing back down, scattering glass and tiny crustaceans everywhere. This was not just bad shelf stacking, this was sackably poor shelf stacking. It had frightened the living crap out of him, along with his headache. So that was good. The human head that bounced over the top of the freezer wasn’t.