Dust on floor, dust on the air, dust on his skin. It’s comprised mostly of ashes; cakey gray ashes from incense cones and sticks set to burn drift on the air like hazy pollen over expansive fields of cotton. This house has no windows, no ventilation system, just the misshapen front door that dangles out of line with its frame, attached there only by the last remaining hinge; at least the gaps let the light in. And the mosquitoes, and the rats, and the hornets… but at least they let the light in.
He has no appliances, no running water, no electricity; he drinks from a stream that runs behind his house, a stream polluted by gasoline and oil and old toxic paint dumped into the woods by one of the many corporations based up back here in the industrial park. He knows it’s not a safe place to be living but his family was here first, they came to Treeburg long before the capitalists raised their concrete barns and loaded them with human cattle to milk dry running their assembly lines. Now he’s the last one left back here, all the other families sold out or simply died off. He’s all alone in these dark and dank woods… well, except for the djinn.
It’s always the same one for him – blue skin, indigo beard tied in a knot a foot below its chin, violet hair protruding in meter-long spikes which shoot out in every direction from its mountainous bumpy scalp. It always has golden cuffs on its wrists, it always wears a belt of ancient, corroded chains bound tightly around its waist, it always keeps its arms, the skin scaly like pythons, folded before its chest; it always has that same deranged, sadistic look in its eyes, those terrible red eyes, like rubies soaked in blood and left out to collect the light of a harvest moon. Whether he burns the sticks or the cones it’s always the same djinn, it appears from the smoke and fades when the embers go out, but he knows it’s always there. Even when he can’t see it, he knows it’s always there watching him, keeping tabs, making sure he doesn’t waste the sacraments. He serves the djinn, you see, he’s a humble servant to one greater than he can ever hope to be, and the djinn serves the Great Old One, and the Great Old One serves… well, he doesn’t know, but all masters are little more than servants to a greater force. The planet is a red cell, a carrier of bloody slavery through the veins of the Universe as The Void, the black heart of Existence beats on and on and on; the land bent under the humans, the humans bent under the incense salesman, the incense salesman bent under the djinn, the djinn bent under the Great Old One; an endless cycle followed orders bound by chains and left to spin eternally, never breaking, never pausing, never offering even a speck of mercy.
But the chains are rusted, and the djinn will soon be free. Then the incense salesman will finally be relieved of his position, the Great Old One will be appeased; the djinn will rest and the incense salesman will be let alone to die in peace at long last. Maybe he’ll even be left to live; his free samples have collected plenty of souls, planted plenty of Energic siphons throughout this mortal coil – surely his own will be left off the table. Not that he has a table… or chairs… or anything aside from his bed. There’s no frame, just a mattress, an old and moldy mattress stuffed with jagged rusty springs and leaves and grasses and hair, his own hair which he pulled from his head during his innumerable fits of insomniac rage, anything to make the pain more bearable, he’d stuff it with his own skin if he could… but lo, he cannot. He must serve the djinn. So much was his wish, a wish he did not carefully make, a wish granted and a contract signed in a medium far more binding than blood; a contract which is almost up.
All he has left are the boards. He got rid of all the cones and the burners to go along with them, and now, all he has left are the boards. The useless boards, the last bit of work performed on day fourteen of one’s two-week notice, done for no other reason than the djinn whims it so. There are eight of them total, nine if you count the one he uses to sustain the djinn’s material form, but of course that one doesn’t really count. When his divine task is complete it will burn off in a fountain of sparks and leave nothing but a black scorch mark on his floor, a scorch mark he won’t need to clean up, for as the smoke fades and the embers die out, so too shall the incense salesman.
“Do not be so sure, fool,” bellows the djinn, looking down at the shivering human with disgust. “Your tenure here may not be complete when you’ve finished that which you started; men have many masters… though you are not even worthy of being called a man.”
The salesman says nothing. He merely keeps his knees pulled tight against his chest as he lays there in the dust, his body twitching in pitiful, sickly convulsions.
“I have long grown tired of your presence, child; you have but a single duty left. Make your wish and get on with it so we may both be free of one another.”
The salesman unclenches his legs and weakly brings himself up out of the dust, resting in a kneeling position. His eyes are glazed and red, his mouth hangs open and foamy drool dribbles from his bottom lip. The djinn waits.
“I wish…” the salesman whispers, then draws in a wheezing breath through clogged lungs. “I wish for the faculties to complete my final task…”
The djinn, without so much as a smile on its ancient, terrible face, snaps its fingers. A laptop computer appears in the air and crashes down on the salesman’s head, knocking him unconscious. When he comes to, the incense stick and the board from which it burned are both gone, replaced by a long black scorch mark… but still he feels the djinn’s presence, hanging in the dusty air like the demented smile of a phantom waiting for its next victim to slip into sleep.
Investing a great deal of energy, the salesman opens the laptop. His eyes burn and sizzle when the light strikes them, but the pain does not last, the pain is not like the djinn, the pain washes away as the tears fall down his dirty face. On the screen is an assortment of boxes and text, the home page of a website called Omingle, and the interests box is already filled out. The Video button is grayed out and the salesman knows it won’t respond to his clicks; dragging his raw, callused finger across the track pad, Scotty Mells brings the pointer to the blue Text button, and then he presses down.
The Law of Attraction
[You have disconnected.]
[F19, not a bot] Kik: V^icta00 (Remove the ^ symbol.)
[You have disconnected.]
M 69 horny gay and ready to play
[You have disconnected.]
[You have disconnected.]
[You have disconnected.]
[F19, not a bot] Kik: Vic^ta00 (Remove the ^ symbol.)
“Well that settles it. You’re definitely a bot.”
[You have disconnected.]
It has been a long, long, long day at The Keeper’s Finds, Treeburg’s premier (and only) secondhand shop and auction hall. Located in the Monksville Plaza alongside County Road 511, the awareness of Keeper’s presence is injected into the consciousness of more than 20,000 potential shoppers (on average) over the course of the day as they rip down County Road 511 going fifty miles per hour on their way from nowhere special to somewhere equally as mediocre. Cyrus, the keeper of the shop’s brilliant title, cannot for the life of him figure out why nobody will give him a chance and stop off for a peek at his finds. For the first half of this dead day he just sat around listening to the same classic rock songs he listens to every day until he finally had enough and went to get himself a bite to eat. Of course the phone rang when he was halfway out the door, because when would potential clients materialize when it’s convenient for Cyrus? The caller wasn’t even looking to buy either, he was just trying to pawn off some junk incense burners that Cyrus didn’t even want but accepted anyway.
Cyrus is looking at these two burners now, mesmerized by how they kind of sort of look like titties… titties tattooed with stars and crescent moons with wide golden nipples.
“Yeesh, I really need to get off Omingle.”
But he won’t. Like his habit of collecting desirable junk – especially desirable junk which belongs to others, because that makes it twice as desirable – Cyrus is hopelessly addicted to Omingling. The therapist he sees on some weekends is trying to help him break at least one of these habits, and Cyrus is trying his best to follow the man’s advice, which goes something like this: in order to change behavior, one must first change one’s thought patterns.
Cyrus didn’t have the most wonderful childhood (by his own standards) and his parents weren’t exactly classroom helpers if you’re eating the apple I left on your desk; for a long time he spent the majority of his waking hours thinking about how he’s a fuck up, how his parents irreversibly damaged his psyche and ruined his chances at a normal life by raising him in a fashion that some inner-city group home kids would have deemed downright lofty, how they are the sole reason he can’t stop going on Omingle. He blamed his father’s strict discipline, distant behavior and grinding, caustic, sandpapery language as an excuse for his inability to see himself as equal to other men, and he blamed his mother’s toxic habit of going out of her way to do things solely for the sake of making him uncomfortable or upset as an excuse for his inability to look a woman in the eye, let alone speak to one.
Granted, these are legitimate concerns for a child or teenager (or anyone who’s stuck living at home well into their adult lives, and yes, it still counts as living with your parents if you’re paying rent. You’re not a roommate, you’re not housemates, you live in their house under their rules they set for you to follow. Just accept it already), but Cyrus moved out in his early twenties. Cyrus is in his thirties now, Cyrus’s parents are both dead – restfully dead, he doesn’t even see them in his dreams anymore – and he lives on his own. Cyrus is his own man with his own life, and he’s responsible for his own self. Cyrus first acknowledged all this a long time ago, right around the time he went searching and found his answer to the question of why his business wasn’t running as smoothly as he wanted it to: the New Thought philosophy. He tried to apply the spiritual teachings of the internet’s hippies to his professional life to distract him from his qualms over his lack of a social life, and at first it seemed to be working, but after a while he just wasn’t getting the results he was looking for and the negative thoughts of self-loathing came back. So, he started seeing a therapist.
According to the doctor, all that new-agey spiritual hullabaloo about reality starting in thoughts and how all thoughts eventually come true is something, but it’s not the whole thing. It’s more like getting the right answer by using the wrong formula; take the law of attraction, for example. The law of attraction states that positive or negative thoughts bring about positive or negative experiences into one’s life. That is to say, if one spends their time thinking they’re a failure and that they’ll never go anywhere in life, chances are they’ll wake up on their fiftieth birthday to their senile mother standing over them with an unfrosted cupcake sporting a half-eaten candle. On the other hand, if one spends their time reassuring themselves that things will only go up and that life is good and God is gooder, then they’ll surely end up as a success in their own eyes.
This is a very nice idea, it’s a fun thought experiment to run, but as far as the doctor is aware, it’s not the whole truth of the matter. Reality is… well, reality is this strange, complex thing, and humanity only makes up one of the trillions of gears which churn together to make it all happen. No species of physical beings living in today’s day and age really knows how it all works, especially not the humans; for all the hairless apes know, we baseline somewhere on the bottom half of the consciousness spectrum, meaning there’s a whole lot more between us and God (or whatever you’d like to call that which sits at the top) than there is between us and the inanimate rocks we crush up and use in the building of wooden caves. The idea that one can change their reality simply by thinking positive thoughts is a nice thought, but… that’s just what it is. A nice thought.
However, that’s not to say it’s all bullshit. Cyrus’s doctor is a very successful man – he’s the world’s top expert on schizophrenia spectrum disorders, he owns just about every single house on the street he lives on and he travels the world to give other researchers a chance to pay him in return for hearing the sound of his voice – and he didn’t get that way solely by reading a list of affirmations to himself every morning. It took hard work, it took drive, it took motivation and determination and unrelenting willpower; as far as he can tell, the positive thoughts themselves don’t cause the change in reality, it’s the human behind the thoughts that does, as well as any higher beings looking out for that human and arranging opportunities in an opportune way.
In essence, the law of attraction and all those belief systems that branch off from it are methods of motivation; if one wakes up every morning and thinks, ‘Another day in hell, I fucking hate my life,’ they aren’t going to spring out of bed and seize the day, they aren’t going to get their work done. If one wakes up and thinks, ‘Today, I am going to manifest everything I need to bring me closer to success, abundance and my best life,’ well, they’re certainly going to have a better (and likely more productive) twenty-four than the other guy.
When he opened The Keeper’s Finds, Cyrus affirmed every morning that he would accumulate the coolest inventory of any secondhand shop ever, and that’s exactly what he did. Folks came out of the woodwork looking to sell him their junk to be displayed in his store and/or auctioned off online; he filled up the entire shop in less than a month. But then, when it came time to sell it all and collect his share, things didn’t move so quickly. He spent an hour every morning and night affirming that he would get troves of customers, that his shelves would empty out each day; he made himself totally open to the flow of wealth and abundance, but yet the spigot stayed dry. At first he thought he manifested the influx of goods too hard, but then he met the doctor and learned of one man’s beliefs about the world’s currently popular spiritual beliefs, and it helped level him out. Cyrus still at least somewhat believes in the law of attraction – like the doctor said himself, no human really knows how it all works – but he knows now that humans are much more inclined to take money than to give it up, and that’s just what it is.
But yet, just like how he continuously goes back to Omingle, Cyrus can’t stop taking in new stuff. ‘It’ll probably move fast,’ he always tells himself when the opportunity to fill more of the store’s limited space comes up, and yet the things never move fast. That’s why he doesn’t outright buy stuff anymore – wasting space on junk that’ll never sell is one thing, but wasting money on it? Entirely another. There will never be a shortage of sellable stuff, so as long as it means more frequent transactions, he may as well take a smaller cut of the total take. He’s probably making about the same profit anyway, as he doesn’t have to pay for his inventory. His only expense really is rent, and the sales tax of course, but that latter only comes up when he actually sells something. Which he hasn’t today.
Or this week.
Or this month.
If it weren’t for the collectibles auctions he holds online, Cyrus would be bankrupt, and he knows it very well. He holds one of these each month and the current one doesn’t end for another week; next month’s is already set up, and now, as closing time approaches, Cyrus has nothing to do. So why not go on Omingle, right? So what if he’s doing it because he feels like he has to, so what if the interactions only serve to make him more depressed and less motivated to do something about his life, so what if he’s getting closer and closer to the edge of isolation-induced insanity? It’s not like there are any more songs to add to his playlist on Spotify, he already put up all the good ones. ‘It’s not like I have anything better to do.’
And so, despite all the bots, scammers and horrifically playful old men, despite knowing much, much better, Cyrus clicks the Text button underneath the Chat now… heading and waits as he’s connected to a random stranger who plugged the same tags into the interest bar as him: north jersey and Treeburg. He’s basically given up on meeting a friend/woman through this black hole of a website (unless the opportunity comes up, in which case, kowabunga), but if he can lure some bored dude or dudette into his shop and get the chance to collect some cash? Well that’s not giving into his addiction at all.
No, not at all.
Hell, that’s just the law of attraction.
A Random Stranger
[You have connected to a random stranger. You both have Treeburg and North Jersey in common. Say hi!]
Stranger: wahts yeur nmae
You: Cyrus. You?
You: Excuse me?
You: Are… are you trying to typeSmells?
Stranger: yse. waht rea y3w d0gni
You: Sitting behind a cash register. You?
Stranger: ywo ukro ni s+03r
You: I own a store, yes.
You: A secondhand shop. I resell old stuff.
Stranger: kwel1 1 sel1 djincence spplieus, dyou wnat a f3r3 smp4le
You: Sure. Can you bring it to my shop?
Stranger: wehre si teh soph
You: Across 511 from Melanie Queen Road. I’ll assume you’re from Treeburg; do you know the industrial park?
Stranger: yse. Wuht iz yeur sohp kalled
You: The Keeper’s Finds. I’m closing up soon, you’ll have to hurry.
Stranger: lI’l eb hetre jsut as fsat sa I nac
Stranger: u w9 fur mw
Stranger: I wnat 2 gvye yjo fere smleap
Stranger: L’ii evlea ryte nuw
Stranger: ferr elpmas
You: all right all right, relax
You: Yes I’ll wait. Just hurry up, I want to get some soon.
[Stranger has disconnected.]
A Cursed Object
“Good lord, that guy couldn’t spell for shit,” Cyrus says as he does the ol’ lean back in his chair to stare at his reflection in the screen. “Oh well. At least I’ll have some face to face interaction, right?”
The air conditioner hums as a cool breeze flows out the dusty air ducts in answer. Cyrus looks over to the paintings hanging on the back wall – the good paintings, not the garish pieces of shit he should never have accepted but did because Hey, maybe someone’ll want ‘em for five bucks, who cares if I only get a dollar and fifty-six cents if-and-when they sell? Every penny counts in retail, so said my dad, who was a mason – and their eyes aren’t looking back at him. He gets up to turn off some of the lights early so he can scoot right after this incense dude comes through, and purposefully takes the long way around the front so he can pass the paintings. The eyes don’t even follow him across the room. As he steps down into the back-back, Cyrus fights back tears.
“All I want is some human company, God. Is that so much to Goddamn ask for?!”
Cyrus doesn’t get an answer. He’s surrounded by inanimate objects.
Well, that’s not strictly true; here in the back-back of his store is a massive collection of inventory that Cyrus doesn’t necessarily want the town’s police officers to see if they stop in for a look-around when they’re supposed to be out patrolling the streets. Among this collection there are bongs, firearms, blades far longer than the legal five inch maximum if they were going to be sold to minors, some taxidermy animals from distant continents that were stuffed before it became illegal to do so, and a whole display case full of allegedly cursed objects. According to the man who brought them in – he was really kindhearted but definitely a weird one, wore a hooded cloak that was black on the outside and purple on the inside, and he spoke in a terrible monotone that made Cyrus want to brain himself – the cursed objects (and the display case they came in) are not inanimate at all; quite the opposite, really. They’re all imbued with the spirit of a once living being; the cursed objects all have a perception, a consciousness about them, they all have quirks of character that will manifest in ways to change the life of whoever decides to use them. He also said they were all extremely dangerous and should not exist at all, let alone be left in a shop where mortals could easily access them; Cyrus asked the man why he was trying to sell them if that was the case, but the man merely shrugged and left the shop without another word. No contact information, no organized list of what each object was actually cursed with, nothing. Cyrus almost threw the whole lot out, but then he figured Well, they’ll probably move fast, there’s nothing like rumors of a curse to get stuff out the door. But yet here they stay, all these cursed animate objects sitting inside their cursed display case that Cyrus now owns so his shoppers can look at what’s inside but never buy.
And what a coincidence it is that Cyrus hasn’t made a single sale in his shop since the day he got that case of stuff. What a coincidence, indeed.
Hey, that may change today though. If there’s anything Cyrus knows about internet folk who communicate through Omingle, especially those who make a living selling incense, it’s that they love to exchange money for worthless shit, especially worthless shit with a story they can tell to make them feel superior to those they’re telling it to. This is Cyrus’s chance; this Smells guy might be coming here to unload some free incense boards, but he’s going to leave with something from this display case. Even if it’s something small, like that little jadeite spoon pipe or the mickey mouse watch with the hands that cover the mouse’s eyes, Smells is buying a cursed object today.
Decidedly leaving the lights on, Cyrus walks up the stairs from the back-back into the back and then up into the front. He stops at the lounge area and, with his back to the door, makes himself a cup of coffee to fuel his upcoming social interaction. With a steaming Styrofoam cup of sludge in his hand, Cyrus turns around and starts towards his laptop with the intention of performing some more Omingling while he waits for his client.
And that’s when he sees the djincense salesman.
The guy can’t be more than nineteen years old, and he probably weighs about that in pounds. His hair is black and scraggly, and patches of his pale white scalp shine out like moonbeams through gaps in the clouds on a dark and stormy night. His mouth is mostly toothless, his eyes point in different directions and his arms and legs are wider at the joints than they are where the muscles would be – should be – growing. He looks like he hasn’t slept in days and smells about the same, and Cyrus isn’t sure if the wet stain in his pants is from urine or if it’s just sweat that leaked down from his soaked shirt. In his skinny, skeletal excuse for a right hand he grips a stacked pile of incense boards.
They stand off like duelists for a moment, then Cyrus decides to be sociable.
“Well hello there,” he ventures nervously. “You must be Smells.”
“Yeahp,” the kid exhales, his voice the sound of tearing paper. “They calls me Scotty Mells. I have yer free samples.” He raises the boards up. As he does, his arm begins to tremble as if it’s not in his control, as if the weight of the boards was too much for him to bear. “Wheres you wan’em?”
‘Scotty Mells… S. Mells, very clever.’ Maintaining the distance between them, Cyrus says, “You can just leave ‘em next to the other two burners. There, by the register.”
Scotty Mells, his smile crooked and gummy, looks over at the burners on the front table. The boards fall to the floor like pick up sticks, or better yet, like his dusty bottom jaw. His vision begins to go blurry and though Smells can’t feel it happening, his torso begins to convulse as if he was about to heave.
“You all right Scotty?” Cyrus asks, taking a couple steps towards this obvious result of flagrant neglect and child abuse. “Do you need hel–”
“Bathroom,” Scotty coughs, snapping his neck back to Cyrus. “You havva bathroom?”
“Uh, yeah,” he says slowly, turning to point towards the back-back. “It’s through there. Go down the stairs, past the glass display case and it’ll be right on your left.”
Smells hobbles rapidly through The Keeper’s Finds, his arms flailing in the breeze like paper streamers. When he’s out of his line of sight, Cyrus lets go of a heavy sigh and takes a long drink of his coffee. The he goes into the back, not to keep tabs on the kid through the doorway but to look at himself in the mirror.
“You really ain’t had it that bad, Cy’,” he says to himself under his breath. “You could’a wound up like that little bag’a’bones, nothin’ to do and nowhere to go with only the hope of death to keep you goin’. Good lord, the doc’ was right, I am the problem.”
Cyrus turns to delve into the back-back and knock on the bathroom door to make sure the kid Scotty didn’t throw up too much blood, but apparently, Scotty never made it there. He’s on the floor in front of the “cursed” display case, kneeling there with his face pressed firmly into the glass. Not sure whether to feel fright or excitement, Cyrus ambles down the steps and approaches Smells from behind.
“You all right, Scotty?” he asks, laying a tentative hand on Scotty’s jagged right shoulder. “You… you still breathing?”
“Breathin’,” Scotty wheezes. “Breathin’, yes, you hear’ih’too? You hear’ih talkin’?”
Cyrus’s brows furrow and his mouth curls into a befuddled scowl. “You said what now?!”
“The pipe,” says the sawblade as it cuts through the dry log. “That green pipe with all the angles. It’s speakin’ t’me.”
‘Holy shit,’ Cyrus thinks to himself as befuddlement becomes joy, ‘I totally called it.’ Even so, this kid looks about one crisscross away from cha cha sliding with the devil straight into the moonlight. “Ah, I see what you’re gettin’ at. Here, why don’t you stand up for me and I’ll unlock the case so you can get a better look.”
Scotty Mells stands up without using his hands and then leaps back two feet like a gymnast. Cyrus doesn’t let his face reveal what he’s beginning to assume about this strange bony boy who came into his shop past closing with gifts bared. He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out the keys anyway though, then unlocks the display case from behind. Carefully reaching between the monkey’s paw and the shot glass shaped like a laughing skull, Cyrus grabs the jadeite pipe and removes it from its dust-defined space. ‘Sheesh, I guess I need to clean this thing.’ In hopes of instilling a certain implication, Cyrus locks the case back up, then hands over the pipe. Scotty holds it like a baby kitten and begins to salivate.
“Ah, like that, do ya? Yeah, it’s a nice piece, made of jadeite if I’m not mistaken. Came along with the whole case, believe it or not – guy who brought it here said all the stu-”
Cyrus drops his train of thought. “Herbs?”
“Th’herbs in th’bowl?” he croaks like a roadkilled frog.
Cyrus looks into the bowl – the empty bowl, the bowl so clean (aside from the dust) it appears as though it’s never been packed, let alone smoked – and sees no herbs. “What, uh… what are you talkin’ about, bud?”
Scotty brings the bowl close to his mouth and licks up the mouthpiece, coating his already gray tongue in fine, powdery dust that’s probably just as cursed as the rest of the junk in that old display case. He then looks up to Cyrus with wide eyes, then back to the bowl, then back to Cyrus. Then, he turns around and sprints out of the back-back like a bat out of Hell.
“Oh fuck no, I fuckin’ knew it!” Cyrus shouts, reaching for the wall of firearms. Over the course of his life he’s been bullied, talked down to, made to feel inferior while standing next to a pile of shit, but if there’s one thing his backwoods Treeburg upbringing and the parents that came along with it taught Cyrus, it’s to never, ever, let someone take advantage of you, no matter who they are. He takes down the Vietnam-era M16 and slams the stock into his shoulder, pulling back the bolt and letting it fly. Then, he storms up the stairs and begins to fire upon the general direction in which Smells took off with his twenty dollar cursed smoking pipe.
“You get back here, you fuckin’ scoundrel!”
Duh-Duh-Doo and two decorative swords are shattered like the cheap pieces of shit they are.
“I ain’t agree to no trade, you ain’t gonna steal from Cyrus Morgan!”
Duh-Duh-Doo and a fully stocked G.I. Joe transport vehicle in pristine condition is reduced to smoldering scraps of cheap plastic.
“Fuck yOU MOM, YOU GIVE ME BACK MY FUCKIN’ ICING PACKET, YOU KNOW THE TOASTER STRUDEL DON’T TASTE AS GOOD WITHOUT IT!”
Duh-Doo-click and the glass of the shop’s front door comes down like Cyrus’s foot as he stomps the ground in rage.
“How are you gonna fuckin’ jam up now, you piece of shit? You served in the fuckin’ rice fields but you can’t stop a burglar?!” He punches the side of the gun three times and then levels the barrel towards the register area and pulls back the trigger with all his might. A single shot goes off, the bullet beaming through his laptop screen and out the side window behind it.
Scotty, who got into the woods before Cyrus even climbed back up the stairs, ducked low to the ground as soon as the first burst went off. He hears that last bullet zoom over his head and pees himself a little bit, giving his sweaty pants a hint of ammonia for good measure. When ten seconds pass without the firing off of expletives nor bullets, Smells takes off in the direction the voice in the pipe commands him to, leading him straight towards the Monksville Reservoir.
But Cyrus doesn’t know that. At this point, Cyrus has completely forgotten about the scraggly boy who came in and stole some merchandise that’s never been so much as looked at by a potential customer. He’s standing there silently in his shop – his bullet-ravaged shop – just looking around at the ruined display swords, the decimated front door, the G.I. Joe toys that look like they rolled over an IED. He looks at the smashed side window, the broken laptop, the pile of shitty incense boards laying scattered on the floor beneath bits of broken glass.
“This is going to cost hundreds to get fixed,” he admits to himself quietly as he walks over and bends down to pick up an incense board. It’s very light, damn near weightless, and the groove is lined by inlaid gold tone stars and circles, then butted with a crescent moon. In other words, it’s generic, it’s a low-end piece of garbage that he won’t be able to sell to someone even as firewood. He lets it clatter back to the floor. “Maybe even thousands…”
Cyrus walks around the register table, clears the glass off his seat, and then sits down to look at his reflection in the laptop screen. He doesn’t see it though, as the screen is spiderwebbed and ruined; all Cyrus sees is a view of his shop through the bullet hole in the screen he made himself.
“What… what the hell am I even doing? All I do is sit on this computer and try to talk to strangers while hoping for, for what? For random humans to come through here and give me their money for this random shit I’ve hoarded together? This don’t even make any fuckin’ sense.”
And he’s right, it doesn’t. Humans are not likely to give up their hard-earned dough in this world, especially not to random sleazy guys who own resale shops. These places are scams half the time, a congregation zone for counterfeit goods and ripoffs waiting to happen. But plenty of folk make money running secondhand shops, and half of them don’t have nearly as interesting an inventory as The Keeper’s Finds… plus, dude does great with his online auctions, they pay for the rent on this place and all the bills back home, and then some! There’s a disconnect though, there must be – why can Cyrus be so successful an online auctioneer but so unsuccessful a salesman?
He looks at his laptop again. He’s not going to get it fixed, he can’t. The last thing he was doing was chatting on Omingle; were the screen to be fixed, that’d the first thing to pop up. If the laptop repairman sees that Cyrus is an Omingler, well… that would just be embarrassing. That would prove that Cyrus is just a creepy, gross individual who resides among the scum of the Earth… but Cyrus isn’t like that. Cyrus is a success story, Cyrus overcame adversity and beat his upbringing and still found a way to own a home and a business, and so what that he doesn’t have many friends? That doesn’t make him a bad guy, that just means his story isn’t over yet. That just means there are more chapters to be read.
And in order to proceed to the next chapter, one must first turn the page and leave the old one behind.
Cyrus lines up the little wheeled garbage can he has tucked under the register desk with the back of the laptop, then, with one finger, the finger he always uses to press the enter button on all the messages he sends, he pushes the broken old laptop over the table and into the garbage can.
“I am never going on fuckin’ Omingle again.”
Be well Commons~