4a. Midnight Market - Part I

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Late-night retail therapy trips to the all-night Kmart were one of those things that stayed the same

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Late-night retail therapy trips to the all-night Kmart were one of those things that stayed the same. Sometimes you just needed to be in a different place. It felt good to buy something new. Even just a plate for $1, or a tea towel, or a plastic mug.

There was something soothing about the bright aisles of a discount department store at two in the morning. You were always welcome. Things were neat and put away and ordered. You could afford something. Midnight Kmart was a land of possibilities.

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Geoff held Naomi's hand and half walked, half dragged her through the night, away from the drunken howls of revellers at The Witches Brew, away from the nightmare spider crushed to a wet clump on the dirt floor of their shack, away from the beach and the barren palm trees and towards the distant glow of the K-Mart sign.

Cars were only as useful as the roads they were connected to, and around their neck of the woods, the streets were a broken cobweb of dead-end alleys and lost highways covered in makeshift camps, street food stalls and illegal drinking holes.

Jars of undead fireflies lined the street. They weren't in-line with the couple's animal liberation beliefs, but even Naomi had to admit they looked pretty. After the pub, there was a butcher that sold mostly insects. Grasshoppers were abundant in Skeleton City and the primary source of protein for the undead. Not that any of them needed it. Then there was the fishmonger that sold octopus, pulled straight from the dark ocean on the other side of the roadside park.

They passed the neighbourhood shops and then a few non-descript houses and a four-storey block of flats, home to a group of old ladies who lived alone with their cats.

Naomi didn't talk about it much, but Geoff knew that she missed her cat from their before life. She often wandered the streets near the cat lady's block, hoping to see a stray kitty.

Like the human inhabitants of the underworld, the undead animals that came from above had lost their physical regeneration abilities. Their fur didn't keep growing. Their lungs didn't pump air. They arrived in the underground half decomposed. The rest of their coat, skin and organs soon followed.

The great thing about cats though, was that they were still cats, whether they had skin or not. That's what kept Naomi coming back, she had told Geoff. The essential cat-ness of the creatures.

They still sat goofily with their jaws half open

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They still sat goofily with their jaws half open. Watching them, Naomi could picture what their perfect pink tongues would look like sitting unaware in their mouths as they were distracted mid-lick by a sound or a smell or a pat.

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As they walked, Geoff could see a change come over Naomi. Slowly her shoulders became less hunched. He didn't need to pull her along. Soon they had walked far enough that the worst of the spider fear Geoff saw earlier had lifted.

"Are you okay?" he asked. It was the first words either of them had spoken since leaving the shack.

"I suppose," Naomi said.

Maybe she wasn't ready to move on from the spider just yet. Geoff refocussed onto the road in front of him.

They passed an old church with two fence posts in its front yard, probably where a sign used to be bolted. Sitting underneath the space where the sign should have been was an old looking skeleton, hunched over a large green bottle, with a cloak draped around him.

His bones seemed impossibly wide in the dim street lighting. Geoff looked again and was surprised to realise that what he was seeing wasn't bone at all but the pale, clammy skin of the man.

 Geoff looked again and was surprised to realise that what he was seeing wasn't bone at all but the pale, clammy skin of the man

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Geoff pulled on her arm. He didn't want to get stuck there trying to help the guy.

His face had looked like a skull at first but standing closer Geoff could see that his long nose and sunken eyes were tightly wrapped in flesh, the same as the rest of his body that was visible. He didn't look healthy though. He looked like he was dying, even more than his current state of decomposition.

The thought occurred to Geoff that maybe the guy had drunk enough to preserve his skin through some sort of alcoholic mummification.

"Hi," Naomi said. The man looked up at them, and his eyes glowed like cats eyes in the dark.

"What can I do for you, young corpses," the man said.

Geoff wasn't too sure of the guy's age now. His skin had a waxy sheen to it, but his complexion was clear, he had few wrinkles. Underneath the cloth that he wore like a cape, he had dense black hair. It seemed to disappear into the night. His voice was clear and thick.

"I just wanted to check that you're okay," Naomi said. "You seemed... lost" She stumbled for the right word.

You seemed drunk and homeless, Geoff thought to himself.

The man took a slow sip from his green bottle and didn't move his gaze from a spot somewhere between Naomi and Geoff.

"We're all a little lost down here," he said.

Oh great, he's a philosopher as well, thought Geoff.

Naomi squeezed Geoff's hand. She looked up at him. This was usually a signal, a hint. What did she want? Probably to try and help the guy.

Geoff sighed. He fumbled for something nice to say. "We're doing a bit of retail therapy," he said, "can we get you anything while we're out?"

The man thought for a moment.

"Some more beer couldn't hurt," He said and grinned up at them.

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