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When they opened a new IKEA store a few miles from my home, little did I know this would prepare me for inter-galactic space travel. The titan blue box finished it’s month long and near-silent birth only recently – the store pasted against the horizon as a deity defiant monolith marked in four letters from a human alphabet, likely chosen by some complex Deep Thought machine constructed eons ago by aliens. We’d seen the thing, my wife and I, growing and assembling in-place for the better part of a year. No workers to be seen, just more of the giant each time we drove by. Maybe the new IKEA store didn’t need human workers – perhaps some tin suited government man squared off the empty location with his thumbs and index fingers, then sat a tiny case on the ground and opened it. Inside the case: one even smaller silver cube with a glowing red button. Box on ground, button pressed, he walks away, and the construct starts pulling in materials from surrounding buildings. A length of wire here, a board there, bricks rolling toward the box as if pulled by magnetic forces. Then summer hits and bam – an IKEA store big enough for God to use as a gazebo. I never wanted to visit, but the place whispered smokey thoughts directly into my brain. ”You must come to the store,” it whispered. “You need a new couch and – my my… pillow cases on sale, honeydew green.”
On a Sunday, we drove without speaking – eyes fixed through the windshield into the middle distance, the store tugging my hands and feet with invisible sinew to operate the car. Moments of lucidity came over me in waves, the first when I noticed the uncanny amount of security. No rhyme or reason seemed to attach itself to the security, charged with corralling an endless herd. There were people in uniform, cop cars, people in t-shirts holding light wands, store staff with walkie talkies, and the occasional fire rescue personnel looking all official and confused. At least five different people waved our car in a direction toward parking – the traffic jamming up for a quarter mile beyond the store’s actual limits. No main door to speak of, we park in an adjacent lot likely belonging to tax attorneys and start shuffling toward the open parking garage in a group that congealed from all perceivable angles. Large lower-case signage is everywhere and of little assistance, my wife and I choosing instead to follow the crowd, hoping it tapers toward a door or a staircase and not some terrible fire. Hope is a funny word here, more or less after we parked the car we felt like crying. We move out one door and into another, rinse and repeat, fresh air here, IKEA air there. Eventually we’re shuffled, along with the hundreds of others, in and around a particular space enough times to where we’re completely disoriented and finally at the mercy of angry looking and very sweaty IKEA staffers. This is when I start to understand what’s going on: it’s a government drill. How could I not have seen this? We’re in a live exercise that’s meant to prepare us for the colonization of Mars.
Arrange yourselves for preparatory furnishings here. Please stand between the dashed white lines there. Yellow bags are at the top of the stairs, if you need yellow bags elsewhere they are scattered throughout the complex. Citizen 51125, put that coffee down. Remember, IKEA has your best interests at heart.
I’m not entirely sure what the yellow bags are for. Large bins sit at various intersections along the white-lined paths, and in each are dozens of crumpled translucent yellow sacks. Some people use them for their water bottles, purses, and other carry along materials. Some carry their shopping in their bare hands, and stash the yellow bag under-arm. Some look at the yellow bags and put them over their heads, right before they extend their arms outwards and simply fall back over the top floor railing. Perhaps the yellow bag is a signal of some sort, or maybe a multi-purpose survival device. The straps can be used for breathing when clasped around your jaw, and the yellow canvas can be cut into strips and boiled into a nutrient rich soup.
There’s no map. We follow the herd, back to back, shuffling around the walkway as some take the opportunity to point at the illuminated merchandise. There’s a cafe, maybe two, it’s hard to tell as it’s always roped off by lines and security – always close but still so far. Shower curtains and bed linens sit on shelves and bins, chairs and couches hung on the walls. My wife keeps reaching for my hand so we don’t lose one another, and I keep pulling it back to myself – instinctual hormones course throughout my body: I need both hands to defend from attack.
The walkway moves you from pseudo-room to pseudo-room, areas walled off with the furniture and accessories arranged how you might have them in your new apartment on Mars. Things are lit up like a 1950’s GE commercial touting the “kitchen of the future” with your self cleaning countertops and microwave oven. Straight lines and wood grain are everywhere – an array of couches and fold-out beds pushing just slightly over your comfortable spending limit. We don’t dare sit on any cushion in site – stepping out from the three-person-wide snake of people might result in you not leaving the store until sometime around 2017, or if my theory is accurate – you’ll miss your hyper-sleep frost shuttle to Mars. Big swinging two-way metal doors sit in the corner of each new arena we enter – and to us this signals escape. We step from the snake and quickly make our way, hoping that the metal door leads to salvation. Through it now – our faces return to the dour. More of the same, as if we’ve glitched something in the Matrix and the door simply led us to another portion of the snake. “We need to get out of here,” we dart with our eyes, and we’re again holding hands. We dip back into the shuffling herd and pray for exit signage.
New in our children’s department – displays with race car beds and primary colored tables. Please usher your larva to this area for visual stimulation. Coffee is for closers. Remember, IKEA equals savings. If you don’t buy something we will boil your soul.
There are children everywhere. Besides making the mistake – along with everyone else – of visiting the place a mere five days after it tore into our realm, at least half of the drove are pushing miniature people in baby strollers. Why would they do this, why would they wheel in their offspring – sometimes in double-strollers, to this chaos? I suppose it makes sense if my theory is sound, a mass exodus off the planet would require one to bring the family as a unit, but am I completely certain this is an experiment? Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s the real thing.
The children’s furniture areas are the tightest of the taper, exhausted and unsympathetic new parents leaving the strollers stranded in the white-lined shuffle area while their little ones destroy the model bedrooms, coating everything in a thin sheen of phlegm, saliva, and sticky half-gummed apple slices. Sturdy and steadfast, we shuffle shuffle shuffle. Past the this, past the that, past the whatever that was that cost $679.99. Signs start to speak of a cafe – food – surely the waypoint with exit directions. We leave the snake and shuffle to another corner of this big blue box – a cafeteria – food! It only lasts so long, the feeling. The little buffet style food court is packed with it’s own snake, at least one hundred or more zombies forming a long and winding line, all waiting for their turn to cough into their hands then fumble for a food tray. I look to my wife and we share a moment. We’ve picked up nothing for our little place on Mars, and we haven’t eaten. Time has lost meaning at this point, so we embrace, and prepare to make this our final bastion as the earth caves into itself.
Courtesy elevators are not to be overcrowded and are to be used for last minute restroom breaks only. Please remain in an orderly line and proceed through the complex. The core shuttles are now activating. Remember, at IKEA, savings are everywhere. If you try to leave we will unhinge your mind and replace your blood with ants.
The elevators, we hadn’t even seen them – dammit it was worth a try. Inside the elevator, three times the size of a normal hotel-kind-of-elevator, there was us, and seven other silent couples tightly gripping strollers. We didn’t press any buttons – didn’t remember seeing any if I recollect – we just moved. Down it traveled, and when the doors opened we saw our opportunity. Nothing really said “exit”, but we saw completely unused escalators heading further down to the surface so we made a break for it. We rode down, past the several staircases we’d ridden up into the complex, passing an endless snake of people unable to fight the voices in their heads. Parking garage, there it is – run. We speed walk past security, they’re everywhere and don’t seem to notice us – even the garage has staff on every floor waving cars around. The sky, almost there. We jog to the car and get inside. People, people everywhere, this is no way to shop, no way to live, no way to be. Holding hands and with a deep breath, the car starts, and we agree to never speak of this again. Moments later, we’re at the mall.