Convenient Incidents

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The Incense Salesman
The Keeper’s Finds (Part 2)

The Incense Djinn

Dust piled on the floor, dust hanging on the air, dust fused to his skin. It’s mostly ashes – cakey gray ashes from incense cones and sticks long burned drift on the air like hazy pollen over expansive fields of cotton. This ratty shack has no windows, no ventilation system, just the misshapen front door that dangles far 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 at all; he drinks from a stream that runs behind his ratty shack, a stream polluted by gas and oil and old toxic paint dumped into the woods by one of the many crooked corporations based back here in the Treeburg industrial park. He knows it’s not a safe area to live, but his family was here first, his family came to Treeburg long before the capitalists raised their concrete barns and loaded them up with human cattle to milk dry running their assembly lines. Now he’s the last one left back here on Melanie Queen Road, all the other families sold out or simply died off. He’s all alone in these dark, dank woods… just him and the incense 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 mountainously bumpy scalp. It always has gold 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 puffed chest; it always has that same deranged, sadistic look in its eyes, those terrible crimson eyes, like cut rubies soaked in the blood of virgins and left out to collect the light of a harvest moon. Whether he burns incense sticks or incense 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 the incense djinn he knows it’s always there watching him, keeping tabs on him, making sure he doesn’t waste any of the sacraments. He serves the incense djinn, you see, he’s a humble servant to one greater than he can ever hope to be, and the incense djinn serves the Great Old One, the greatest one anybody could ever hope to be, 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 incense djinn, the incense djinn bent under the Great Old One; an endless cycle of followed orders bound by chains and left to spin eternally, never breaking, never pausing, never offering a single moment of mercy.

But the chains are rusted, and the incense djinn will soon be free. Then the incense salesman will at long last be relieved of his position; the Great Old One will be appeased, the incense 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, released plenty of lesser djinn into this most mortal of coils – surely his soul will be left off the table. Not that he has a table… or any chairs… or any furniture aside from his bed. There’s no frame to it, 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 incense djinn. So much was his wish, a wish he did not make wisely but with poorly chosen words, a wish granted and a contract signed in a medium far more binding than mortal 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 because the incense djinn whims it so. There are eight boards total, nine if you count the one he must use to sustain the incense 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 incense 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 worthy of being called a man, you sniveling little insect.”

The incense salesman says nothing. He keeps his knees pulled tight against his chest as he lays there in the dust of his life’s work, 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 incense salesman unclenches his legs and weakly brings himself 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 incense djinn waits.

“I wish…” the incense salesman whispers harshly, then draws a wheezing breath into his clogged, polluted lungs. “I wish for the faculties to complete my final task…”

The incense djinn, without so much as a smile on its ancient, terrible face, snaps its callused fingers. A laptop computer appears in the air and crashes down on the incense salesman’s fragile 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 wretched presence of the blue incense djinn hanging in the dusty air, like a grinning phantom waiting for its next victim to slip into sleep.

Investing a great deal of energy, the incense 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 incense djinn, the pain washes away as the tears fall down his dirty, dusty 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 incense salesman knows it won’t respond to his clicks; dragging his raw, bloody finger across the scratched trackpad, Scotty Mells brings the cursor to the blue Text button, and then he presses down.

The Law of Attraction

[You have disconnected.]

Stranger: [F19, not a bot] Kik: V^ikta00 (Remove the ^ symbol.)

[You have disconnected.]

Stranger: M 69 horny gay and ready to play

[You have disconnected.]

[You have disconnected.]

[You have disconnected.]

Stranger: [F19, not a bot] Kik: Vik^ta00 (Remove the ^ symbol.)

“Well that settles it. You’re definitely a bot.”

[You have disconnected.]

It has been a 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 sleepy consciousness of more than twenty thousand potential shoppers (on average) over the course of the day as they rip on down County Road 511 going fifty miles per hour on their way from absolutely 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 why would potential clients materialize when it’s convenient for Cyrus? The nameless caller wasn’t even looking to buy anything 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 shoddy burners now, mesmerized by how they kind of sort of look like a pair of titties… titties tattooed with stars and crescent moons with wide golden nipples.

“Yeesh, I really need to get off Omingle.”

But he won’t. Just like his habit of collecting desirable junk – especially desirable junk which belongs to other folk, because that makes the junk 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 Doctor’s advice, which goes something like this: in order to change one’s behavior, one must first change their 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 just a big 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 backwoods group home kids would have deemed downright lofty, how they are the sole reason he can’t stop going on Omingle. Cyrus blamed his dad’s strict disciplinary style, distant behavior, and caustic, sandpapery language for his inability to see himself as an equal to other men, and he blamed his mom’s toxic habit of going out of her way to pull petty nonsense solely for the sake of making him uncomfortable and 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 roommates, 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 kept coming back. So, he started seeing a therapist.

According to the Doc’, all that new-agey spiritual hullabaloo about reality starting in thought 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 in one’s life. That is to say, if one spends their time thinking about how they’re a failure and that they’ll never go anywhere in life, they’ll unavoidably wake up on their fifty-sixth birthday to their unblinking senile mother hovering over them with an unfrosted cupcake sporting a half-eaten wax 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 Cyrus’s doctor is aware, it’s not the whole truth of the matter. Reality is… well, reality is this strange, complex thing which many claim to understand but none truly understand. No species of physical beings living in the modern age really knows how it works, especially not any of the humans; for all we hairless monkeys know, our kind baselines somewhere on the bottom half of the consciousness spectrum, meaning there’s a whole lot more stuff 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 our wooden caves. The idea that one can change their entire reality simply by thinking some positive thoughts is a nice thought and all, very fun to play along with, but… that’s just what it is. A nice thought that’s fun to play around with.

However, that’s not to say it’s all bullshit. Cyrus’s doctor is a very successful and wealthy 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’s traveled the world giving other researchers the 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 Cyrus’s doctor can tell, the positive thoughts themselves don’t cause the change in reality, it’s the human being 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’ll need to bring me closer to success, abundance, and above all, my best life,’ well, they’re 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 reality 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 whenever 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 consignment inventory. Cyrus’s only real expense is rent, and the sales tax of course, but that 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 Cyrus holds online, he would be bankrupt, and he knows it very well. He holds one of these auctions each month, and the current one doesn’t close for another week; next month’s is already set up, and now, as closing time slowly approaches, Cyrus has just about 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 every random chatroom connection only brings him closer and closer to the edge of isolation-induced insanity? It’s not like there are any more old songs to add to his classic rock 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 yet another 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 local 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 are connected to a random stranger. You both have Treeburg and North Jersey in common. Say hi!]

Stranger: hry

You: Hello.

Stranger: wahts yeur nmae

You: Cyrus. You?

Stranger: semlsl

You: Excuse me?

Stranger: smllse

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: A free sample? 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: plseae

Stranger: I wnat 2 gvye yjo fere smleap

Stranger: psleses

Stranger: L’ii evlea ryte nuw

Stranger: lpseas

Stranger: ferr elpmas

You: All right all right, relax.

Stranger: ldsgfsd

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 taken 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 by trade – 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 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; he 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 in which they reside) are not inanimate at all; quite the opposite, to tell you the truth. They’re all imbued with the spirit of a once living being; the cursed objects all have a perception, a certain awareness about them, they all have quirks of character that will manifest in ways to change the life of whoever decides to use them. The cloaked man also said the objects 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 cloaked man merely shrugged his shoulders and left the shop without another word. No contact information, no organized list detailing what the curses will do to their victims, 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 uses 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 cursed 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 supplies, it’s that they just 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 smoking 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 back up the three 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 hot 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 shameless intention of performing some more Omingling while he waits for his client to arrive.

And that’s when he sees the djincense salesman.

Cyrus Morgan

The guy can’t be a day over 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 – if he had any to flex with. 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 bony, skeletal excuse for a right hand, he grips a stack of incense boards.

They stand off like duelists for a moment, then Cyrus decides to be sociable.

“Well hello there, son,” 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, Smells. 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 of steps towards this obvious result of flagrant parental neglect and child abuse. “Do you need hel–”

“Bathroom,” Scotty coughs, snapping his neck back towards Cyrus. “You havva bathroom?”

“Uh, yeah,” Cyrus says slowly, turning to point towards the back-back. “It’s through there. Go down the stairs and it’ll be right on your left when you pass the glass display case.”

Smells hobbles rapidly through The Keeper’s Finds, his arms flailing behind him like paper streamers in the wind. When the boy’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, Cyrus,” he says to himself under his breath. “If you did, you’d’a wound up just 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 then turns to delve into the back-back and knock on the bathroom door to make sure the kid Scotty Mells 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 whole face pressed firmly into the glass. Not sure whether to feel fright or excitement, Cyrus ambles swiftly down the steps and approaches Smells from behind.

“You all right, Scotty?” Cyrus asks, laying a tentative hand on Scotty’s jagged right shoulder. “You… you still breathing?”

“Breathin’,” Scotty wheezes, his voice creaking like Cyrus’s computer chair at home. “Breathin’, yes, you hear’ih’too? You hear’ih talkin’?”

Cyrus’s brows furrow and his lips curl into a befuddled scowl. “You said what now?!”

“The pipe,” says the rusty 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 surprised joy, ‘I totally called it.’ Even so, this kid looks about one crisscross away from cha cha sliding with the devil straight into the pale 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, and 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, then unlocks the cursed display case from behind. Carefully reaching between the nasty old 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 soon.’ 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–”

“Whadda’bout th’herbs?”

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 jadeite 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’ called it again!” Cyrus shouts, reaching for the wall of firearms. Over the course of his life, Cyrus has been bullied, talked down to, made to feel inferior while standing next to a pile of fresh horse 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 pulls down the black decommissioned 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 the stolen twenty-dollar cursed smoking pipe.

“You get back here, you fuckin’ scoundrel!”

DUH’DUH’DOO and three 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 mint-condition G.I. Joe transport vehicle is reduced to smoldering scraps of cheap plastic.


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 fuckin’ piece’a shit? You served in the Goddamned 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 the trigger with all his might. A single shot goes off. The bullet beams through the screen of Cyrus’s laptop then through 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 along the path of the power lines straight towards the Monksville Reservoir.

But Cyrus doesn’t know that. At this stage of the game, 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 ransacked, bullet-ravaged shop – just looking around at the ruined display swords, the decimated front door, the G.I. Joe toy lookin’ like it 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 me hundreds to get fixed,” he admits to himself quietly as he drags his feet over to the register table 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 little circles, then butted with a crescent moon. In other words, it’s generic, it’s a low-end piece of garbage that Cyrus 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 broken glass off his seat, and then plops himself down to look at his reflection in the laptop screen. He doesn’t see his face 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 folk 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 don’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, congregation zones for counterfeit goods and rip-offs waiting to happen. But plenty of resellers make money running secondhand shops, and you know what? Half of them don’t boast nearly as interesting an inventory as The Keeper’s Finds… plus, Cyrus 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 get replaced, that’d be the first thing to pop up when the laptop turned on. If the laptop repairman sees that Cyrus is an Omingler, well… that would 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 true success story, Cyrus overcame adversity and beat his upbringing and still found a way to own a home and his own business, and so what that he doesn’t have many friends? That doesn’t make Cyrus 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 table with the back of the laptop, then, with one finger, the finger he always uses to send 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.”