Author's note: sometimes I lie awake at night, plagued by bouts of insomnia and allow the most ridiculous concepts to dance like sugarplums through my mind. And sometimes I follow them much too far down the road of hypothetically. And this time I typed it up. Very experimental, very stupid, very much not based on real people or events. Without much ado:
Two groc’ries, both alike in merchandise,
In Holesovice, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new enterprise,
Where student blood makes student hands unclean.
From forth the devot’d cults of these two foes
A pair of star-cross’d lovers split apart;
Whose supermarket feud-crushing overthrows
Doth in their split bury their poor peers’ hearts.
It was still that night, the cobblestones glinting in the streetlamps and the trees barely whispering in the chilling October breeze. It was so quiet that the sound of the rollicking laundry machine on the 4th floor could be heard for three blocks. The bars were closed down, that one Asian fusion place on the corner had long locked up, and all was well. Until a piercing scream echoed through the dorm and down into the neighborhood.
Belladonna Grimole had been having a rough day. Tram 6 had decided it wouldn’t run that morning. She’d been late for a class in the Kafka classroom and had to walk through four silent judgemental other classes to get there. The dryer swallowed seven of her 50 crown coins. But nothing compared to the absolute rage and devastation she felt that night when her own trusted suitemate came merrily through the door with a bag of groceries.
“Albert?!?!” she shrieked. “This is a Billa Only household! You knew that when you moved in. How dare you. How could you. I can’t believe you have the nerve to bring that in here!” Her roommate had the sense to look a little ashamed, but not enough to stop Belladonna’s tirade. Her shrill tones eventually pierced the ears of Boris, the head RA in Osadni. He banged on the door, letting himself in because the residents were much too distracted to notice his knocking. When he saw what was causing the chaos, he sighed and pulled the fire alarm.
Several minutes later he stood in front of all of the dorm, a frown crumpling his forehead. “Alright. I hope you know why I’ve called you here today. We need to talk about the grocery stores, Albert and Billa.”
“I don’t know if Billa is worthy of being called a grocery store…” A snarky voice called from the right side of the crowd. The left side hissed and someone hurled a tomato towards the sound.
“You feel that smushy low-quality rot? I got it at Albert!”
“See? This is exactly what I mean,” Boris continued, “This rivalry is out of control. I’m sick and tired of it. Next person to disrupt our peace, whether it be verbally or physically, will face a fate worse than death. They’ll be forced to move to Machova.” The crowd gasped. Boris wouldn’t do that to them! They’d be eaten alive. Only one kitchen for the whole floor! A commute that took less than an hour! Yikes.
The next weeks passed in tense ceasefire. Albertans didn’t find holes chopped in their reusable shopping bags anymore. Billans didn’t find their doors defaced with the iconic blue, green, and yellow Albert leaves. But they weren’t exactly all friends. Everyone knew who was who, and to associate with the enemy was taboo. Boris and his team of RAs kept trying everything they could think of. They hosted cooking events, but then Little Jimmy of the Albertans claimed to break out in hives because Billan Bill mixed some Billa flour into their joint cookies. They hosted laser tag, but even though they assigned teams it immediately devolved into guerilla warfare and sabotage, Billans vs. Albertans regardless of the colors of their vests. Finally, Boris’s best bud Britta had a brilliant brainstorm, and thus the Osadni Masquerade was birthed.
Everyone was in a tizzy, especially the three girls in room 14, the main headquarters of the Albert faction.
“I love dances!” Mabel, the sweet one, sighed, twirling around in a baby-blue gown.
“I love nighttime!” Darren, the creepy one, cooed, pulling on a high-collared, blood-red cloak.
“I love masks!” Peggy, the most rabidly Albertan one, piped, shoving up to the mirror to fix her feathered bird face.
The night had arrived and, oh boy, were they ready. Everyone met in the courtyard, which had been decked out with lights and streamers. Boris was at the door making sure people were properly masked, adding duct tape and cardboard where necessary to truly obscure identities. Inside, it was raging. Someone had snuck in Becherovka which made everyone warm and friendly and Christmas-scented. The music was loud. The night was young. No one could recognize even their own roommates, let alone determine supermarket allegiances. “Call Me Maybe” came on and the dance floor flooded. Mabel was in her element, making friends, dancing hard, and then she froze.
Across the courtyard was a boy. A boy wearing a beautiful green half-mask and staring at her. She smiled. He smiled. She beckoned. He began to wade his way through the crowd. He arrived and smiled down at her. She grinned. He was cute. Darren gave her a thumbs up over his shoulder and Peggy did something obscene with her tongue. Then they melted into the throbbing dance floor. Mabel stood on her tiptoes and put her face by his ear.
“Hi.” She smiled. “I’m Mabel.”
“Uh, hey,” he smoldered back. “I’m Winston. Want to go get some snacks and a beer or something? We can hang out in the hammock.”
“Yeah. I’d like that.” They ambled out onto the street to head to the supermarket. And then Mabel turned left. And Winston turned right. And they both froze.
“Uh, wait. Were you about to head to… Albert?” He asked.
“Are you going to Billa?!” Mabel felt distress rising in her chest. She took several steps backward. Winston looked shell-shocked.
“Uh, Mabel, Mabel! Why are you an Albertan? Deny your grocery and refuse your friends. Or agree to date me and we can become potraviny outcasts!”
“Oh Winston. I trust you to know the best food. Just tell me you’ll date me and I’ll never go to Albert again!” Winston’s face lit up and he grabbed her hand.
“Uh, heck yeah, like, thirty times yeah!” He cried, and the pair danced down Delnicka. The night passed in a haze of kisses and food, and ended with Mabel giving Winston her most prized possession: a cardboard coaster she’d stolen from a bar in Brno. From that moment on, the two were in love.
Unfortunately, things are never as simple as they seem. If Peggy was the poster child for Albert, Fergus Proloton was her match in the Billan ranks. Fergus was also Winston’s roommate and best friend. He was known for being able to identify someone’s grocery faction within three seconds of glimpsing their shadow. And so when his best friend disappeared with a girl, Fergus knew immediately that she was an enemy and likely some sort of undercover agent. This would not do. He snuck through the dorm the next morning and slipped a note under the door of Room 14: “I KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING, MABEL. MEET ME IN THE COURTYARD.”
Room 14 was once again in a tizzy. Darren found the note first, since she was nocturnal, and gave it to Peggy. Peggy woke Mabel and demanded to know what was happening. Mabel denied any knowledge and snuck out. Peggy and Darren pretended not to see her and then followed.
The courtyard was empty and strewn with the remains of the party the night before. Skeletal strands of twinkle lights hung half-heartedly across the buildings and the corpses of Chinese lanterns littered the cobblestones. In the center, pacing, was Fergus. He was dressed dark and sporty and held in his hand a pocket knife. “Mabel! I didn’t think you would dare show your cowardly face.”
“What do you want, Fergus, my friend?”
“Your friend?!?! How dare you mock me!” He stalked forward and shoved Mabel’s shoulder. She stumbled back and smiled.
“We are friends! Afterall, I’m practically a Billan now. Winston and I are going steady.”
“What?!?” Peggy hollered, stalking out from the bush she’d been immersed in. Fergus lunged at Mabel, his cheeks flushed with rage. Mabel stepped aside and tried to catch him in a hug. Peggy lunged forward and took advantage of Fergus’s distraction to trip him. He tumbled onto the ground. She sprung up and landed a foot on his chest, rummaging in her bag for her peashooter.
“I’ve got you now, scumbag.”
“Peggy, no! He’s Winston’s roommate!” Mabel dragged Peggy off and pulled her arms back. Fergus took advantage and leapt to his feet. With a tarzan-like bellow he
shoved his hand into Peggy’s pocket and triumphantly held up her phone.
“Let me see…” He scrolled through her photos. “Perfect.” With a few taps of his fingers and a flourish, he was victorious. “I hope Boris likes pictures of students with illegal alcohol in his dorm!”
“Nooooooooo! Don’t send a picture to Boris!” Peggy screamed, sliding to the ground. Darren came out of the bush she’d been in and caught Peggy, sobbing. “Darren, help me to the room. It’s done now! I’ll be sent to Slezska for sure. Pantry moths for both your groceries! I’m a goner! Goodbye, life. Goodbye, Osadni!” As the last words were leaving her lips, Boris came storming out of the dorm, his phone clutched tightly in his shaking hand.
“Pegaret Joy Smitherson. What is the meaning of this? Did you have alcohol in your room?” Peggy looked down at the ground in shame. “Come with me. I hope your bags are packed.” Boris marched her out of the courtyard. Mabel stared. Darren hissed. Fergus cackled.
“Look what you’ve done!” Mabel was filled with rage and guilt. If only she hadn’t held Peggy back. If only she’d let her shoot peas at stupid Fergus. He deserved it. He deserved the worst things in the world! Invigorated with anger, Mabel burst forward, shocking Fergus and snagging his phone straight from his own hand. It all happened so fast. It wasn’t hard to find proof of his illicit dorm activities and it was even easier to send a quick email to all of the building RAs. Her heart warmed with revenge. “Alright, Darren. Let’s go home.” She tossed his phone onto his stomach and left, grinning with the knowledge that he wouldn’t be around for much longer.
That night all of Osadni was in shock. Two of their most prominent residents were gone, no word, no trace. Winston was shocked when he came home from class and found all of Fergus’s belongings missing. The bedroom was weird and echoey. His toothbrush looked so lonely on its shelf. The walls were bare and even Fergus’s pet dust bunny looked bereft and sad. But nothing hurt as much as hearing that not only Fergus was gone but, according to the rumor mill, he had been driven out by Mabel. Mabel, whom Winston trusted and loved and had agreed to go steady with. What should he do? He still liked her, damn him. He still liked her. But she’d ratted out his own roommate. He was distracted from his pondering by the doorbell. With Peggy gone and Darren reclusive with grief, it was definitely not a ding-dong-ditch, so he sighed and answered it. It was Boris.
“Uh, hey there Boris. What can I do for you?”
“Is Mabel here?”
“Uh, no… why?”
“I see you haven’t heard about the Courtyard Debacle. Pegaret, Fergusward, and Mabelene had a horrible fight. Pegaret and Fergusward have been dealt with, but Mabelene is still at large.”
“Is she going to be exiled?”
“She broke the rules. She physically restrained two other students. When I find her… let’s just say I know a Machovan who has an empty bunk bed.” Winston reeled with shock. Would Boris really do something so terrible to someone so sweet and amazing? He spent the remainder of the evening staring out at the limp leaves dangling by the edge of their stems on the tree by his window. How could he and Mabel still be together when they lived so far away? He needed help from someone clever, someone quick, someone with a lot of power. Of course! Why hadn’t this occurred to him sooner? He grabbed his keys and went to find his salvation.
The fourth floor was deserted, as always, and Winston’s footsteps echoed like there was a ghost following him. He read carefully over the emailed instructions he had received from Peggy: to find Darren, his best hope of contacting the missing Mabel, he must come to the fourth floor in the dark of night wearing three scarves. He then must leave two glasses of cranberry juice on the ground by the hammock. After waiting for one hour beneath the computer desks, he would meet Darren. The hour ticked by achingly slow, and when he finally unfolded himself from the fetal position his joints creaked and cracked like a spooky graveyard tree.
“Yesssssss.” A shadow hissed, moving into a shaft of moonlight to strike a dramatic pose, cape billowing in the breeze from an open window. “Why have you called
“We both know this division is crazy! Because of silly groceries Fergus and Peggy and Mabel are all gone. I need your help.”
“You are the sneakiest creepiest person I know. And I need to find a way to be with Mabel.”
“You’ve come to jusssssst the right persssson.” Darren grinned menacingly, her fangs gleaming, “I’ve hatched a plot. All we need is a suitcase, a wardrobe, and three Bloody Marys. You’ll pack your things as if you are moving to Machova. I hacked the servers to put Mabel first on the waitlist to move back in to Osadni, so with you gone, she’ll be sent to your room. You’ll be hiding in the wardrobe, so when she comes in you jump out, you both live happily ever after.”
“That’s brilliant! But why the Bloody Marys?”
“I don’t work for free, you ssssstupid idiot clown.”
Meanwhile, Mabel was celebrating. She had just received the news that someone had moved out of Osadni voluntarily, which meant that she could move back in. When she heard her new room number it sounded familiar, but she didn’t realize until she was walking down the hall with Boris that the room she was assigned was Winston’s.
“Wait. Boris. Doesn’t someone live here?”
“Not anymore! Some sap willingly left Osadni! Said something about wanting less space and a smaller kitchen.” Mabel felt doom and despair building in the pit of her stomach. It can’t have been Winston. He can’t be gone. She braced herself as Boris opened the door, hoping desperately to see that familiar Hello Kitty! bedspread. But the walls were pockmarked white. The mattress was tremendously bare. Even Fergus’s old dust bunny was gone. Mabel couldn’t even step foot in the room. “What’s wrong?” Boris asked.
“I can’t do this. I hate Osadni! What is this dorm without Winston? What’s the point? I can’t do it! I want to go back to Slezska.” Boris looked alarmed and offended.
“Whatever.” He took the keys back and pointed towards the stairs. “Door’s that way.” Mabel left, her suitcase in tow, glum and gloomy and utterly devastated. Boris stepped into the room to double-check the windows were closed. His steps creaked through the floor, waking up Winston, who had been sleeping in the wardrobe. Winston burst out, mistaking the footsteps for Mabel’s.
“My love!” He burbled.
“Winston? What are you doing here?”
“Boris????? Where’s Mabel?”
“Mabel just moved to Slezska. She thought you had moved out for good.” Winston collapsed in grief.
“Darren was supposed to text her! She was supposed to know it was all a ruse!” Darren popped out of the other wardrobe.
“Darren ssssssent the text to the wrong Mabel.” She hissed defensively.
“How did you text the wrong person? Mabel is your best friend!!!” Darren flipped her cloak over her head and scuttled off, muttering “invisibility, invincibility” repeatedly. Winston was left with Boris. “Boris. I am moving out of Osadni for real this time. I’m moving to Slezska!” Boris took several deep breaths before speaking.
“Fine!” He said, throwing the keys on the ground. “I’m sick and tired of all this moving back and forth. I’m just a normal Czech college student trying to live my life and this job has eaten my soul. You students always have some problem and always expect me to waltz in like a wizard and magically solve it! Well, I’m done. Move to Slezska for all I care! I’d love one less student to bother me about how to open the washing machine or to troll all my whiteboards with stupid drawings of gnomes or to sign up for my RA events and then not show. I’m sick of it all! And for the record, I shop at Tesco!” Winston slowly crept away from the crumbling RA, quietly weeping at his loss, his suitcase dragging forlornly behind him.
It was again a still night. The cobblestones still gleamed, the leaves still whispered, the laundry still rollicked, Belladonna Grimole was actually having an okay day. And the residents of Osadni gathered in the courtyard once more. Boris stood at the front with a list of students. “Alright people. You may have heard the rumors about the second floor. I am here to confirm them. The entire floor is empty. Everyone either moved out voluntarily or because of grotesque disrespect for the rules of this dorm. Those of you remaining will only remain remaining if we settle this grocery store feud for once and for all. It is the cause of the loss of many of our dearest friends, including the notably peaceful and innocent Mabel and Winston.”
“What’sssssss going to happen to all the empty roomssssss?” Someone called from the shocked crowd.
“That’s the good news. All those who participate in the healing of the supermarket rift will get singles!” There was a rousing cheer as Billans and Albertans put aside their differences in the interest of privacy and antisocial behavior. Boris was showered in grocery bag confetti and as he bodysurfed over the crowd, he finally felt a moment of peace.