In the distant future, a Walmart in Cleveland, Ohio is a World Heritage Site. It is at an excavated and preserved location where people vacation and teachers march their students to see how their ancestors lived. A reenactor, blue vested and labeled “How Can I Help You?” greets the crowds like a jovial clown. They ask how tall people are as they shuffle into the museum, and when people answer they smack their head and feign ignorance.
“What did you say? I don’t know metric!”
People laugh and try to convert the distance they’ve traveled into “Standard.” The reenactor assists. “You can call me JANET!” they say, pointing to their identification badge. “I’m here to help!” ‘Janet’ then explains that although happiness and civility were required by all Walmart “team members” it was not always so simple. “Our ancestors had an elaborate, yet very subtle, way to communicate. Civility was the ideal, but often short tempers were the norm.”
To illustrate, another reenactor, labelled “BRAD,” walks up and Janet and Brad begin yelling about the price of an item. The crowd watches in wonder.
The tourists continue past Janet and Brad and see displays of ancient tools, television remotes and eBooks, as quaint and exotic as stone tools and wooden teeth. Maps are stretched across one of the renovated walls depicting the rise and fall of the commercial empires. The “Age of Walmart” is central, and shows its expansion from the American South to the entire globe, highlighting the problems and benefits it brought to various people in uneven quantities, before collapsing in on itself as the display explains, “empires are bound to do.”
Visitors also learn about the twenty-first century literary figures Danielle Steele (no relation to the twenty-third century political assassin), and James Patterson (relation to the twenty-fourth century space explorer). There is even an exhibit talking about the early “smart phones.” People coo and awe, blinking their eyes as they capturing pictures to upload to their virtual streams.
“Look everyone! We’re at the Walmart World Heritage Site!”
The thoughts form, are released to the world, and slip into the collective consciousness.
In one “aisle” a visitor brags about how they and their partner have traveled to over twenty different World Heritage Sites. “Now, this is a great place and everything, definitely a symbol of culture, but if you really want to see something go to the Starbucks in Atlanta. It’s one of the few left in the world and they actually let you stand in line to get something to drink!”
A family from Tokyo nod their heads in interest.
“I mean, just think of it,” they continue, “having to wait in line for something? It really made me think about how our ancestors had to live. Absolutely amazing.”
“Well,” one of the Tokyo visitors replies, “that really is something, but we just got back from the Chennai Memorial.”
The woman stops and nods her head gravely.
“They have it set up so these invisible wires will play the voices of those who died in the attacks. It’s really eerie. Kind of like walking through a garden of the dead. In fact, we saw them installing the new hologram feature when we were there. Soon you won’t just hear what the people said on their phones during the attacks, but also the images that were captured. It will be just like you were there.”
In the aisle next to them people look at the displays of things called “bar codes.”
“This was a consumer society,” Janet informs them. “People of the past consumed to live, to enjoy, and to stabilize some of the specific national economies. As such, our ancestors here in the American Midwest, specifically, devised elaborate and sophisticated rituals to ship, display, and purchase goods. Our world heritage site is a testament to that history!”
There is also an exhibit that displays the ancient sign of—
Janet tries to explain.
People ask repeated questions.
Janet tries to explain some more.
No one is able to understand.
Further from Janet is another reenactor, this one though does not wear a blue vest, but instead has a dark hooded sweater. The material is soft to the touch, and the reenactor’s pants are made from the same material, only it is a faded red.
“Yes, one of my ancestors was fairly active in this period,” the reenactor explains to a group of students. “They robbed— that’s stealing the money from people like Janet and Brad over there who worked for the commercial empires— several stores, just like this Walmart here, before being stopped by the law enforcement.” The reenactor continues, explaining that their dissertation, soon to be published by the prestigious McDonald’s Press, will argue these criminal figures where culturally necessary transgressions against the major commercial empires, so that the empires could foster a sense of fear and sympathy to legitimize their power over society.
The students listen in wonder, secretly thinking about how they would have fought the empires too if they had been alive in those ancient days.
“Although, my ancestor would not have necessarily robbed one of these stores,” the reenactor continues, gesturing toward the expansive warehouse market. “In fact, they targeted what were called ‘gas stations.’ Much smaller. Easier to manage. They took the money from nearly seven of those establishments before being caught by the government.” To illustrate further the reenactor puts on a mask from their pocket and pulls out a handheld weapon. The reenactor points it at Brad who is walking by and suddenly the weapon spits smoke as it screams to life.
The students recoil in morbid fascination, simultaneously enthralled yet horrified. Brad falls to the ground bleeding and screaming as the students blink their eyes rapidly.
Blink, blink, blink.
Click, click, click.
The entire scene unfolding for the world to witness.
“HELP!” Brad screams in pain. “HELP!”
“Where’s the mother fucking money!!!” the reenactor yells.
And then just as the violence unfolding in front of the crowd becomes too much, Janet intervenes, placing a stabilizer over Brad’s forehead, and the blood instantaneously reenters their body, the bullet holes evaporating one by one. The three stand, hold hands, and bow to the audience.
The crowd, by now not just the original students but also the family from Tokyo and the bragging frequent travelers, loves it. They have never seen anything quite like it before. One tourist adds to their visual upload, ‘Wow. I’ve seen reenactments before of battles at Gettysburg, and Okinawa, and Sydney, but nothing like this. The violence was so intimate.” Before posting the tourist adds a link to the reenactor’s ancestor, the one who robbed seven smaller “gas Walmarts,” and include archival footage of the ancestor’s court trial.
Towards the end of the day, before the site closes for the evening, Janet, Brad, and the reenactor tell the crowds that in just a few weeks they will be recreating an event called “Black Friday,” and that the tourists could, if they wanted, come and participate in the trampling of a Walmart team member. The audiences listen with fascination before returning to pushing the shopping carts around in frenzied circles, laughing as they nearly miss one another.
Finally, the families shuffle out to leave, stopping at a number of “fast food” recreations where they eat an authentic twenty-first century meal. They laugh at the grotesquely oversized drinks and bitterly salted fries. Children marvel at the hard plastic figurines that come with their food. Leaving, they see the final exhibit, a dedication to something called a “cart corral.” The sign openly admits historians don’t know why it was used, considering the store’s entrance was only a mere walk away. The sign concludes it is one of those many things lost to the sands of time.