by Mark Budman
If you shop at Walmart even occasionally, you’ve probably seen John Doe exiting with a cart full of frozen pizzas and beer and toilet paper. But you hardly noticed him. He blended in with the elements so well that you’d need Sherlock Holmes’s attention to detail to spot him in the crowd. You wouldn’t know about his dreams or aspirations. You wouldn’t care if he wanted to become a star though his talents were few.
But one day, as he strolled through the exit door, another shopper blocked his path. She looked strange even by Walmart standards: pointed ears, nose and chin, and a collection of warts big as strawberries. Her eyes shone like two faux rubies.
John tried to guide his cart around her but she kept blocking his way. Then she thrust a small bag in his hand and vanished.
John examined the bag. It contained a plastic box and a receipt. He proceeded outside and opened the box. There was a puff sound. A small blast of yellow, pleasant-smelling gas escaped. And that was it. John shrugged, threw the box into the garbage and headed to his car.
Then his insides churned and a bout of hiccups took over. He felt like he was bursting. In minutes, he grew to a height five times taller than before. When he entered the store an hour earlier, his height was 69.7 inches, average for a white American male. Now, though stooping, he was 348.5 inches, which is 29 feet, give or take, and he dwarfed his cart and the gawkers. Unlike the Incredible Hulk, John’s clothes grew proportionally, except for his pants and skivvies, to the delight of some and envy of others. His eyes flashed laser beams and bolts of lightning danced on his back.
The store manager called 911. At first, the operator hung up on him. Eventually, after calls from numerous people, the SWAT team came, but John shot up to the skies and turned not just into a single star but a whole constellation. The pic of this constellation, first taken by the most junior member of the SWAT team, was an instant success on Instagram. It had became popularly known as $5.10 because it resembled five rolled up dollar bills for the torso, hands and feet, and a dime for the head. It inspired a doll, “Johanna,” sold at Walmart for that price. It was also a success, and became the number one stolen item nationwide for the month of August.
As for the stranger, she hadn’t been seen again, probably because there were enough stars in this galaxy and not enough shoppers at Walmart.
Mark Budman was born in the former Soviet Union. His writing appeared in Five Points, PEN, American Scholar, Huffington Post, World Literature Today, Daily Science Fiction, Mississippi Review, Virginia Quarterly, The London Magazine (UK), McSweeney’s, Sonora Review, Another Chicago, Sou’wester, Southeast Review, Mid-American Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Short Fiction (UK), and elsewhere. He is the publisher of the flash fiction magazine Vestal Review. His novel My Life at First Try was published by Counterpoint Press. He co-edited flash fiction anthologies from Ooligan Press and Persea Books/Norton.