Alan landed with a thump, but it wasn’t grass he landed on, and he wasn’t on the cliffs anymore. He struggled to his feet and took in his surroundings. He was standing on a large wooden shelf. All about him were funny looking creatures, some almost human and others seeming like a mix of decrepit body parts and faulty components. He peered over the edge of the shelf and saw, much to his horror, that he was very, very high up.
Far below was a shiny chequered floor, made up with tiles as big as fields. Above him were long, bright strip lights. Some were flickering, randomly illuminating more bizarre looking creatures on identical shelves opposite. Alan felt like a tin of beans in a giant supermarket. Apart from the odd grunt and scratch, and some repetitive pipe music throughout the store, the whole place was silent.
“Can the Moon come to checkout two for a price check please?” came a voice over the PA system.
The sound of the announcement kick-started Alan’s brain; he could only assume that he was in some kind of supermarket run by the heavens, which made him quite worried about his purpose as a shelved item. Nothing this strange had ever happened to him in real life, so he assumed that it was all a dream. It was then that he remembered the words of Man, and the idea that this could be the beginning of his long awaited adventure became prominent in his mind. He looked to his right and noticed that a short, flat looking man with very pointed features was staring at him.
“Hello,” said Alan, nervously. He didn’t know what else to do, panicking was pointless and he was still very much in a daze about the whole situation.
“A talker,” said the flat man, “that’s good; most of these things are too useless or too damaged to talk. What are you here for?”
“Here?” said Alan, “where’s here?”
“Where’s here!” answered the flat man. “You must be more broken than I thought. We’re in the rejects section of the Heavens Store.”
“The Heavens Store?”
“Yes, the Heavens Store,” said the flat man, bemused by Alan’s ignorance. “This is where we are sold so that we can fulfill our purpose and help in the running of the world. You must have been here before?”
“Never,” said Alan.
“Ah,” replied the flat man, scratching his head in confusion. “You must be a niche product then, what’s your purpose?”
“I’m a cook,” said Alan.
“A cook? I’ve never heard of one of those before,” said the flat man. “What’s a ‘cook’?”
Alan didn’t want to explain anything; he just wanted some answers, and some solutions. “My name is Alan,” he said, not wanting to ask any questions without first making acquaintance. “What’s your name?”
“My what?” replied the flat man, obviously confused. “Well… I’m a fence, so I suppose my name would be Fence. You must be Alancook, pleased to meet you.”
“Who are you? Why are we here? What’s going to happen to us? How do I get out of here?” The questions burst out of Alan.
The flat man was very puzzled indeed; this was possibly the most bizarre conversation he had ever had. Luckily it was also the most bizarre conversation that Alan had ever had, and the flat man seemed keen to set things straight.
“I am a fence,” he said, “or a part of a fence at least. It was my job, along with many others just like me, to fence in any stray clouds that had wandered away from the flock. One day I was part of a great big fence over Mexico, and we had grouped lots and lots of clouds into quite a small area. After a while they got angry, because clouds don’t like being too closely packed, and in an unfortunate accident I got zapped by lightning, which caused me to break. Because I am now a broken fence, I got sent for re-sale in the rejects section of the Heavens Store, which is where we are now. As for what will happen, I don’t really know; I’ll just wait here until I’m sold and maybe fixed, but most likely I’ll be retired or recycled. That’s the only way out of here.
“Retired?” said Alan. He didn’t like the sound of that word, not in the way the flat man said it.
“Most things are retired eventually, especially if they’re broken. You might get lucky and be recycled, I’m sure some of your components are still of use.”
“But I’m not broken!” said Alan. “I’m a human being; all of my components are perfect just the way they are!” Panic had started to settle in at the prospect of being ‘retired’ or ‘recycled’. It no longer felt like a dream, or a nightmare; it now felt very real. The flat man seemed too busy wallowing in his own self-pity to notice Alan’s plight. There was a mournful tone to his voice, but he seemed quite accepting of his fate.
“I am of no use now,” he said. “I have no purpose.”
Alan stood quietly for a while, trembling. Every event since his walk on the cliff ran through his mind over and over again. One of the strip lights flickered, as if to announce some revelation that had formed in his head.
“I’m an alarm clock,” he said. The flat man’s head turned slowly, as though he had heard some noise that he didn’t recognise.
“You what?” he said.
“I remember now,” continued Alan. “The evening breeze referred to me as ‘another alarm clock’, I got sent back because I wasn’t needed. I’m not broken.”
“You’re a return!” laughed the flat man. “You’re in the wrong section, second hand goods are way down there on the other side.” He pointed to Alan’s left. Far in the distance on the shelves opposite he could just make out the words ‘second hand goods’. “Lucky for you,” said the flat man, “you still have a use, but you need to get over to the other side.”
Alan looked around; he might as well have been asked to hop from London to Edinburgh. “That’s impossible,” he said.
“Of course it is,” replied the flat man, “you think they want everything swapping shelves on a whim. You’ll have to wait until someone comes past with a trolley, then you can jump into it, and when they get to the checkout you’ll be found and put back in the second hand section, or if you’re lucky you could end up with the brand new goods. They have some laughs over there; I could tell you some stories…”
“That’s a good plan,” interrupted Alan. “I haven’t seen any trolleys though, how often do they come around.”
“Oh… I expect someone will pop by within the next thousand years or so,” replied the flat man.
It took a while for this to sink in. Alan thought a month was a long time, this was twelve thousand months. He thought long and hard. Even if he did manage to get to the second hand section, he would still always be an alarm clock on a shelf in the Heavens Store. A long and weary existence was opening up before him; it occurred to him that he might never return home. So far, the whole experience was turning out to be a bit of a crappy adventure.
“I have to escape,” he said quietly.
“Escape!” The flat man laughed. “He thinks he can escape!” He turned this way and that, nudging some of the surrounding creatures. “Did you hear that, he thinks he can escape!”
Some of the other creatures began to grunt and clap, and soon the grunts became muffled laughter. Before long there was absolute pandemonium. Laughter filled the air, but not merry laughter, it was like the laughter of a bloodthirsty crowd at an execution, and it was Alan who was to be executed.
Anger and confusion welled up inside him. His thoughts were a haze, nothing was clear in his mind any more, everything felt distant and intangible. The laughter got louder as it began to spread. It mixed with the repetitive pipe music, creating an onslaught of hellish sounds.
Alan span around; he was dizzy and almost numb. His balance faltered through vertigo, anxiety and fear. Reality seemed to be fading away from him. He held his head as if it was going to burst and stumbled closer to the edge of the shelf. His mind was on fire, pleading for the noise to stop, screaming for a way out.
The creatures advanced towards him, like hell’s infantry. Confronted with the line of demons, Alan retreated and caught his heel on the raised edge of the shelf. He tripped and fell.
He looked up at the flickering lights and frenzied creatures rushing away from him. Some of the demonic forms were leaning over the edge of the shelves and watching as he fell, cackling and pointing. He felt the rush of wind on his back and accepted his fate; the fear and anxiety left him. Alan closed his eyes and let go of his thoughts.