Twinkies actually do expire. Tim Goodwin had several boxes sitting on his shelves that were nearing their dates. He stuck orange “sale” stickers over the printed numbers and rubbed them on with his thumb. The price stayed the same.
Outside the store’s window, the giant Madison County Courthouse loomed massive and Victorian over the decaying downtown streets of London. American cities with European names are shitholes more often than not, Tim thought. He had never been to Europe, but he imagined that the real London was far nicer than this one.
Tim walked back to his place behind the counter as the bell rang and a boy entered. Dirty hoodie, saggy jeans, wallet chain, mud-caked sneakers. Tim knew his last name -Merrick- and didn’t need to know anything beyond that. He was maybe 19 and he looked like the dead. He walked with a lazy shuffle, arms hanging at his side, slouched like his spine was made of rubber. Tim wondered what had happened to kids that made them decide it was alright to look like that, shuffling around wearing sweatpants, not shaving, letting their hair grow long and messy.
The boy rustled through some packages of beef jerky and peered into the soda cooler before approaching the register.
The shot ripped through the front panel of the counter and into the boy’s gut. Pieces of metal and plywood embedded themselves into the soft flesh of his belly. Holding it low and out of sight behind the counter, Tim had pulled the trigger on the 12-gauge as soon as the young tweaker reached into his pants. The gun used to be loaded with rock salt shells, but Tim switched back to standard shot a few weeks ago, after a junkie stabbed the Indian who ran the nearby BP station.
On his back, the boy was sputtering. His teeth were yellow and rotten because he preferred pipes to needles. The front pocket of his hoodie had been replaced with a mess of torn cloth and pooling blood. His hands hovered shakily over the wound, unsure of how to touch it. The instinct is to hold the pain, to clench up, but gut wounds like this don’t leave much to hold.
Tim walked around the counter and removed the pistol from its place in the boy’s belt, just below the wound. Grimy old .38, probably stolen from a relative. Hadn’t been cleaned in ages.
The boy’s front left pocket contained a SNAP card, two keys, a dirty pipe, and three hundred dollars. Tim put a crease in the bills, slid them into his boot, and sat down with a sigh on a folding chair he grabbed from behind the counter. Swinging the cylinder of the .38 open, he looked through the six empty chambers at the heaving chest of the junkie on his floor.
After a minute of staggered gasping and plenty of bleeding, the boy’s movements stopped. Tim called the police. While he waited for the sirens, he thought about the real London.