Having seen the usual 80s teen movies, sometimes when I was a teenager I would go up to Turramurra Quix, the petrol station/convenience store on the highway, and hang around. What I expected to happen I’m not sure. I’d buy slurpees and drink them and wait. No telephone booth hurtled down from the sky containing a time travelling version of myself. No gang of punks came to pick me up and take me on adventures.
These days I’m an adult and I have a bit more control over my adventures. One of these recently was to transform my house into the All Night Convenience Store.
This was not just an exercise in nostalgia! This was a homage to the Kelly Link story ‘The Hortlak’, which is set in a convenience story at the edge of a chasm. This chasm is populated by zombies, who come in and pester the convenience story clerks, one of which is Eric, the narrator, who is a bit bemused by everything, and his boss Batu, who wears strange pajamas and has lots of secrets.
The story is from the collection Magic for Beginners, which I came across at the Leichhardt library, picking it up because I liked the cover. I don’t only judge books by their covers, but usually they provide some clues. The cover of Magic for Beginners had a painting of a girl holding an ermine, by the artist Shelley Jackson. I borrowed the book and became an immediate fan of Kelly Link’s stories, they made me feel excited and energetic in the way that fiction hadn’t for a fair while. They were weird, cool stories, with thrift stores, creatures, ghosts, twins, magic, and people struggling through these strange worlds. By putting normal people into highly unusual situations, they captured something of how I feel about everyday life. I don’t live in a house with a chasm by the side of it, in which a society of peaceable zombies lives, but maybe if I did my feelings of unease would be better explained.
We decorated the house for the book club meeting that was to happen in the living room later that night. There was a game where we drew dogs while wearing blindfolds, a pair of elaborate collaged pajamas that held a whole life story, a zombie hand made beautiful in an illustration, a mix tape of convenience store and zombie moments from films, and the smashing of a bubblegum egg with a hammer. And lots of Mountain Dew, which is drunk throughout the story, but had not been tasted by me for about fifteen years. It tasted the same, like being at a video night with girls from school, tucked away deep in the suburbs.
We left the zombies up overnight, to spook people walking home late at night and taking their dogs out in the morning. As I lay in bed I could hear them creaking out there, speaking in a language I could not understand.