Lexi sat behind the counter, flicking through a retro magazine from the early 90’s.
Most of it was stuff like TOP TEN REASONS TO GET EXCITED FOR TEEN WOLF 3, completely dated, but there was one article near the back that stood out; Satanism, Troubled Youth and the Renewed Threat to the Goat Community.
She looked up, checking the tables in the caffé area nearby, and then the video shelves at the far end. There was one guy standing in the horror section, but he didn’t seem to be picking up any cases, and the tables had the same five customers she’d served earlier.
Hitting the back of her head in a Bōlian attempt to stamp out yet another migraine, she returned to the article.
‘By nominal definition, Satanism is built on the altar of Satan. Modern practitioners have, with some success, attempted to befuddle the public by relating it to feminism, to Lilith and her rejection of both Adam, her soulmate, and Eden, the garden of paradise. Yet, the real truth has always lurked behind the curtain, and now in the basements of abandoned warehousses in rural Wisconsin too. This is where young believers in Lucifer have been found fornicating with the corpses of goats and drinking animal blood from pseudo-medieval goblets bought for bargain prices at Walmart.
Traditionally, Satanism has fed on the apathy of those who sneer at it. The idea that it’s a thing to dabble in when you’re a teenager but will ultimately leave behind when you settle down into a career. A harmless side-stop on the path to adulthood.’
Lexi put the magazine down, and murdered a whistle.
If the article were my only source, she thought, I’d think Satanists were really nuts. But I’ve seen quite a few of those old 80’s filmns since I started working in this place. I know the real Satanists are corporate CEO’s and Libyans.
Actually, Lexi had seen a lot of filmns full stop since she started working there. It’s not like there was much else to do. Each shift was a void of eleven hours, and about six of those were spent sitting behind the counter, either staring at her phone or the larger [and flashier] of the two VR plazas across the street.
The only customers they got, night or day, were the art students, immersion hazers and random groups of hipsters. But mostly the art students.
If she had to guess, she’d say they came more for the videos than the caffé part, and even then they never rented any. Just stood there, sketching.
A few days earlier, Lexi had got so bored, she decided to ask one of them – a girl in a beret and scarf [it was eighty-five degrees outside] – what it was she was drawing.
‘Concept, more than an image.’
‘It’s quite complex.’ The beret girl pointed her pencil at the picture of the T-800 on the case. ‘I’m drawing the figure…then later I’ll draw the store around it. Maybe some collage elements too.’
‘That’s a concept?’
‘Futurosity. The terminator, representing the future, versus the past…the video store. No offence.’
Lexi stared at the futurist’s picture, unimpressed. She was no expert, but it didn’t look very good.
‘You don’t mind, do you?’ the girl asked, more assertion than question.
‘Not really.’ Lexi gestured around the VHS shelves. ‘We don’t get many customers here in the past. Not buying ones anyway. Might as well be useful as an art studio if nothing else.’
‘Actually…that was my next question. How do you stay in business?’
‘Hmm. You’d have to ask the boss.’
‘Where are they?’
‘Daytime? No idea. Juana only comes in at night. Not much for talking though. Or customer feedback, to be honest.’
Lexi looked at her picture a little longer then turned to walk away.
‘You know…the past always eats itself in the end.’
‘Your store, this nostalgia business. I don’t mean to be the harbinger of doom, but it won’t last forever.’
There was a knocking sound on the counter, followed by a jovial male voice. Either her colleague, Jammer, or a reanimated John Belushi. Probably the former. Lexi yawned, blinked performatively out of the daydream, flashback, dagger memory, whatever it was, and looked up.
‘You know, I wish just once they’d pretend like they were actually gonna buy something.’
Jammer paused to shove half a panini into his mouth, swallowed with only token chewing, then continued. ‘I mean, the whole point of vintage is you buy the shit. You don’t just look at it, you own it…physically.’
‘Who are you on about?’
‘That guy…the art student. Didn’t you see him?’
Lexi looked around the video shelves then over at the door, but she was clearly too late. Rotating slowly back round, she asked Jammer what he was doing back so soon.
‘Boredom. Big time. Only place nearby is the Lux and if I go in there…afternoon gone.’
‘And the doctor?’
‘Took four Panadol instead. Feel way better now.’
‘Got the packet in my bag, if you want some?’
Lexi shook her head, looking at the street outside. ‘So you just did nothing for your whole lunch hour?’
‘Ate lunch,’ he replied, holding up the panini.
‘Sorry, but we’re not exactly overrun with landmarks here.’
‘You could’ve tried the new art college.’
‘Fuck, no way…’
‘Why not? It might surprise you.’
‘Sure, surprise me by being even shitter than I already think it is.’
Lexi shrugged and checked on the customers in the caffé area. Only five of them, and they’d all ordered already, but there was a chance at least one of them would have a hand raised for refills.
‘No point going there anyway, it’s full of those guys. Ban yeh cunts as Ming says. They’d rather go and wank over a nine hour Bela Tarr filmn than mix with locals like us. Us localians.’
‘I heard they’re doing exhibitions now,’ muttered Lexi, tapping the back of her head again. ‘Experimental stuff.’
‘Come on, it only opened, like, two minutes ago…how are they gonna have exhibitions already?’
‘It’s what I heard.’
‘And anyway, they’re students. What have they got to say about anything? Barely in their twenties, no life experience. No grit. They’ll just paint some black square or something and say it’s the universe, the bleak house of existence, some shit like that.’
Lexi opened her mouth to argue, but closed it again when the door slid across and another guy walked in. It was weird, usually there were more women than men, but today it was the other way round. And the even weirder thing was, they were all foreign. Well, the new guy might be local, but the other five…all of them spoke with a noticeable accent.
Lexi picked up the pad from the counter and took it over to the new guy sitting on his own in the booth by the window.
‘Hi there, what’ll it be?’ she asked.
‘Blueberry pie,’ he said back in a rough accent, possibly Greek, not even looking at the menu.
She returned to the counter, trying to pin the voice to a country.
‘And another thing,’ continued Jammer, apparently unaware that she’d left and come back, ‘art colleges don’t even make good artists. It’s true, name me one famous artist who actually went to art college, who actually studied art…’
‘Blueberry pie for the new guy.’
‘…there’s not even one. What, blueberry pie? Again?’
‘Jesus in a diode, we’ll be out of it soon…there’s like three slices left.’
‘Yeah, it’s kinda weird.’
‘Not weird, bizarro. Every guy comes in, blueberry pie. Every guy comes in, foreigner. Every guy comes in, guy.’
‘You noticed that too?’
‘I notice everything, everywhere, at all times.’
‘And another weird thing is…none of them are looking at the videos.’
‘Yeah…that’s not weird.’
‘Which means boss lady is gonna scold us again. Force us to watch Videodrome for the four hundredth time. Fuck, my headache’s coming back just thinking about it.’
‘Long as it’s not Robocop 2…’
Lexi looked around and saw one of the earlier customers with his hand in the air, like it was school time or something. Didn’t these foreigners know how to shout?
She walked over with her pad, but there was no need as all he asked for was coffee. In fact, he asked without even looking up; his head was stuck in some book that was either called Chants de Maldoror or Lautrêamont.
Returning to the counter, she picked up the coffee pot and poured some out. Stirred it a little. Added milk. Then, when she got back to the table, she asked him where he was from. This time he put the book down and looked at her.
She asked him what had brought him to a little out of the way town like this.
‘This is a city, no?’
‘Fresno…sure, I guess some people call it that, but it’s not one of the famous ones. Usually people go to LA or San Diego or San Fran. To be honest, they’ll go to Bakersfield before they ever come here.’
‘Oh…well, my girlfriend lives in Fresno. This is why I come.’
‘Ah, sweet. Is she a local girl?’
She was about to ask him how they met, but Jammer yelled out, saying the order for blueberry pie was waiting on the side.
‘Sorry, I gotta go…’
The Frenchman nodded and went back to his book.
‘Where’s this one from?’ asked Jammer, smirking. ‘Italy? Portugal?’
‘Ah. Frenchman…that’s why.’
‘Tell me, is it you seducing him or him taking a shot at you?’
‘Come on, I saw you. You were talking to him for ages, way more than you ever talk to the ugly ones.’
‘Just being polite.’
‘Sure…and it’s merely a coincidence he’s French, right?’
‘Just get the coffee, Belushi Face.’
Lexi picked up the pie and took it over to the new guy, who was now surveying a map with scrunched eyebrows. She glanced over as she got close and saw it was Fresno.
‘There you go,’ she said, laying down the plate. ‘One slice of blueberry pie.’
‘Thank you,’ he replied, in a foreign accent.
She turned to head back to the counter, but something intervened, forcing her to turn back around and bug the new guy. ‘Sorry for intruding, but…are you French too?’
The man stared at her, mouth half open, either to add more or just make it easier to breathe.
The door opened and another customer walked in, a guy in a FILA shirt and FILA jogging pants.
Lexi went straight over and directed him to a booth with a Beverly Hills Cop poster on the wall, asking if he wanted any coffee to start things off.
‘I would like one of the blueberry pie. You have this?’
‘Slice of blueberry pie, yeah, we still got a couple.’
‘I want this. Thank you.’
She smiled and walked away, thinking, fuck, it really is like some other country in here today. And every one of them wants blueberry pie. Was this a prank? One of those clama vlogs?
‘Another foreigner, another slice of blueberry,’ she said when she got back to the counter, lowering her voice a little.
Jammer grunted and told her Fresno was probably the new melting pot or something, and the town council had forgotten to inform everyone.
‘Yeah, but it doesn’t make any sense…we’re in the middle of nowhere. Ask most Americans, they don’t even know where Fresno is…or what it is. How the fuck did these guys hear about it?’
Belushi Face shrugged and passed her another plate of blueberry pie.
‘Might need another Panadol.’
‘God, just go to the doctor.’
She muttered, ‘fuck’s sake,’ under her breath then carried the pie back to the table, asking the customer again if he wanted anything else.
‘No, this is okay. Thank you.’
‘You just visiting too?’ she asked, staring at the plate.
‘What do you mean, visiting?’
‘Nothing, I’m just curious…we’ve had a lot of customers the last few days, all of them from overseas. I was just wondering if the UN was in town or something.’
‘The UN? I don’t understand.’
‘Never mind, it’s just a little thing of mine. Enjoy your pie.’
‘I’m here to see my girlfriend, not for UN,’ he explained, tone about as robotic as it was possible to get.
‘Wah, another girlfriend.’
‘Yes, she lives here.’
‘Fresno the new Paris. What’s her name? Maybe I know her?’
‘I do not think you know.’
‘You’d be surprised…this place is smaller than you think.’
‘No, you not know. Very certain.’
He picked up the fork, smiled and dug into his pie.
‘Okay, mystery man,’ Lexi mumbled to herself as she headed back to the counter. ‘See how that attitude goes for you.’
She sat down on the same stool as before and looked around the caffé, counting out the numbers.
Seven people. And not one of them local.
Her hand poured out some coffee on autopilot, the other one grinding knuckles into the side of her skull, both stopping immediately when she saw Jammer raising eyebrows at her.
It was weird…there was that girl a few weeks back, they said that was probably a guy from out of town too. And now these ones. Was Fresno on a list she didn’t know about? Some kind of creep haven for dirty foreign guys who liked young girls?
The door slid open and yet another man walked in. This one was young, eighteen maybe. He was also Asian, Chinese if she had to guess. Which she really didn’t want to cos there was an eighty-nine per cent chance she was wrong.
‘I reckon that just about covers all five continents…’ said Jammer, laughing awkwardly, a fifth Panadol in hand.
Lexi watched the new guy take the booth with the Puppet Master 2 poster, and noticed one or two of the other foreigners watching him too. Maybe it’s not the UN, maybe it’s an inter-gang rumble, she thought.
The potentially [eleven per cent] Chinese man called her over, looked at the menu then ordered an americano and a slice of blueberry pie.
She didn’t bother to write it down.
‘You here to see your girl, too?’
‘Here, in this town. Are you coming to see your girlfriend?’
He looked up at her, hands closing the menu like a bible.
‘No, I don’t have a girlfriend.’
‘Never mind then. We’ve got a plentiful supply around here. I’m sure you’ll find something.’
She walked back to the counter and told Jammer to get another slice of infinite blueberry pie.
‘Mother of all God,’ he said, adding a stuttered whistle.
‘Really getting kinda freaky now.’