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Alex Trepan in Midnight Shopping – Chapter 2 Prawn Ring

Dave. It was Dave. The head was Dave. It was Dave’s head. His eyes were still moving. Alex could feel Dave looking at him, with a sharp but fading burst of fear. And the words “brain jam”. Dave’s face settled into a frown of confusion and a small pool of blood and prawns. Dave was the nicest security guard Alex had ever met. After his third visit they’d had a quiet chat to establish that Alex definitely wasn’t here to creep around Alice (almost certainly her name), the check out girl who always took the night shifts; he just had trouble sleeping. After that potentially difficult conversation Alex had bought some weed off him. And now here he was, Dave’s vital juices mixing with a product Alex would forever associate with Kerry Katona.

Cautiously Alex stood up and looked over to where Dave’s head had come from. (He’d assumed the traditional cringing posture when the fridge jumped.) The lights flared for a moment and then slipped inevitably into an unnerving horror film slow-strobe. Alex’ eyes kept being drawn to irrelevancies in the stuttering light – Aunt Bessie’s face beaming creepily over her Yorkshire puddings, Captain Birdseye smirking before being hidden in the thick blackness again. Alex heard a weird clattering noise circle him steadily up and down the adjacent aisles, like wooden cutlery falling down a spiral staircase. Now Alex wasn’t stupid, but he’d cheerfully admit that he wasn’t that bright either. Not bright enough to just walk away. Besides, Dave had always sold at a reasonable price and Alex figured he owed him something. In the flashes of darkness Alex heard a snarl and the clattering receded into the store.

The thing (Alex was trying really hard to persuade his brain that calling it ‘The Decapitator’ would not be in their best interests) sounded like it had headed for the bakery and spreadables section. And so that’s where Alex would be heading. Damn. Anything capable of tearing a man’s head off was bad news. Dave was a big chap too, in the mould of failed police applicant or ex-bouncer looking for an easier life in the store security game. Quieter than coppering, but it kept the kind of action you see around sports discount shops. Dave had certainly enjoyed taking chav shoplifters down. So this probably wasn’t a shellsuit-clad illiterate. And what was the deal with ‘brain jam’? Maybe that’s just how it feels when your mind is dying and all those half finished thoughts and sensations are jammed up with nowhere to go. Alex didn’t know how to feel about sharing Dave’s dying thoughts, but the fear felt like sound advice.

With that in mind Alex took precautions. He debated taking Dave’s head with him, and wondered why it had even occurred to him. He picked up his basket again and chose a circuitous route. Following the typical logic of supermarket layout, between frozen foods and sandwich spreads he was able to pick up a pack of disposable lighters, liquid barbecue lighter fluid, a garden fork and a torch, but no batteries. The fork was really hard to fit into the shopping basket but he managed to wedge the tines (surely they’re still tines even if they are a foot long) through the mesh. He also found sewing kits, recordable DVDs and shitake mushrooms in oil; they were less useful for now, but he noted their locations for future shopping trips. Carefully he crept around the croissants and the fresh crêpes.

The first thing he noticed were the feet. They were two feet (which is usual), but they were two feet, two feet off the ground. The intermittent gloom hesitantly revealed the rest of the body. Alex knew it was Dave from the faux-police epaulettes. And his missing head. Something was holding him up. The lights chose that moment to return; Alex craved the darkness. The, well – there were lots of things that leaped into Alex’ mind but he felt a sudden kinship with H.P. Lovecraft’s apparent inability to describe the nameless horrors in his stories. Alex went with ‘thing’. It took a while to resolve what he saw into sense. The ‘thing’ was a writhing mass of tiny crayfish swarming over each other in fountains of pincered shells, the flow creating a continuously tumbling and rising man. It manipulated the headless corpse like a ghastly toy.

As he snuck (snook? sneaked?) closer, crouching behind a stand filled with cookies and tiny muffins he realised that the collected crayfish thing was talking quietly to itself. It sounded like shells spilling down a slide. In the rattle and scrape he picked out a grinding spech.

“Oh Davey, oh poor Davey, couldn’t help us-selves could we Dave? Mmm, trusted Dave helping yourself to our jam. Oh dear, poor Dave. Lovely jam.”

Okay. Tesco; two in the morning; just Alex and a sack of mental crayfish. He reflected that his life had gone very badly wrong somewhere. The crayfish thing was still burbling to itself while puppeteering Dave’s body.

“Our brain jam. Not for the thieving. Just had to put it in the boxes and let it go. But no… you had to get a taste. Greedy Dave. Bad Dave. Selling our brain jam.” The crayfish waggled Dave’s body back and forth violently, like a child that wouldn’t stop crying. “Stupid Dave. We knew you took it. Shouldn’t have tried it. The jam’s ours. Could have worked out for you but no… Too greedy. No jam now. We’ll take it all back.”

Abruptly the heap of crayfish roared to itself and burst into a flood of scuttling which ran over and under shelving into the next aisle, taking just a moment to rip clawfuls of flesh off Dave’s body as it fell to the ground. They stuffed the clots into their mandibles without breaking stride. They were heading for the preserves. Jam. An almighty crash of glass followed. Alex stepped away from the tattered corpse of Dave. He was slightly glad the man’s head had already been removed. Hard to believe a drug dealing security guard was mixed up with a dodgy jam ring. Do drug dealers get their drugs from crustaceans? He’d never worried much about the chain before.

Alex peered round the corner at the sticky, glassy mess of jars and jam. It looked the tide had gone out and trapped the crayfish in glutinous heaps where they gorged on the goop. Clean up in aisle three.

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