The first short short of a new collection that will be ongoing on Wattpad
The devil is in the details they say, but what they fail to disclose is that he is in every single one of them. On closer inspection they advise that you don’t look any closer. Leave it alone, they maintain, well enough or not. Everything must go.
That’s what the sign said. Everything must go. “Everything?” I asked myself. “What exactly do they mean by that? I wondered. I found myself walking nowhere in the dry and dusty part of town that day, dying of thirst, asking myself all sorts of stupid questions. I do that a lot. Walking nowhere, that is. It’s sort of my job. I’m a sidewalk inspector for the city. Anything wrong with your sidewalk, I write you up. The city makes you fix it. You pay. I would be an unpopular person if people knew what I was doing but they don’t. It’s not like I wear a sign or anything. I just walk around, eyes to the ground, looking for evil-doing concrete to write up in my little black book.
Here in the dry and dusty part of town there were a lot of ticket opportunities, but I was getting dizzy from the heat. All I wanted was a cool glass of water. All I saw were boarded up storefronts, liquor stores, check-cashing spots, and the last place on Earth I wanted to go into, a shop that advertised itself as Satan’s Dollar Store.
“Really?” I wondered aloud. “Everything must go?” I thought perhaps it was a general statement, along the lines of “all things must pass,” or “all good things come to an end” or “you get what you pay for”, because when I peeked inside the door I saw nothing on the shelves. It was as if the everything that had to go had already gone, but since it was the only business that seemed to be open, I went in anyway, figuring that even if they had nothing at all, they still might have some water.
It was a narrow store, six cozy aisles wide with shelves from floor to ceiling stocked chock full of empty air. Just inside the door, a man sat behind a counter, head propped up on elbows. I think he was asleep but then he stirred and half rose to greet me before settling back down again in his rickety wicker chair. He had one of those ridiculous hipster beards crawling down his neck and fingering its way up variegated paths on his cheeks. His arms were covered in green and yellow tattoos that resembled vines of tomatoes except they were bleeding. He was bleeding. It was real blood, and it was also dripping from his long and pointy nose. He was bald except for a braided pony tail that started somewhere halfway down the back of his head and extended, near as I could tell, to the faded and grimy linoleum floor.
He decided not to welcome me with words, but sort of grunted as he sat back down and wiped his bloody nose with the back of his hand. I was about to inquire about water when I noticed, at the far end of the store, a row of soda cans languishing on a lonely shelf.
“I don’t suppose you have any cold ones,” I asked him as I made my way towards those items.
“I don’t do cold,” he muttered into his beard.
I sighed but figured any old beverage would do, so I picked up one of the cans and was startled to discover how light it was.
“Is there anything in here?” I turned to ask him. “It feels like it’s empty.”
I put the can down and picked up its neighbor, which was likewise zero gee. I tried another, and another and quickly realized they were all the same, so I carried the last one I’d tested over to the counter and set it down. Maybe I was suffering from heat stroke, I thought. Maybe I couldn’t tell there was soda inside because it was my head that was empty as air.
“How much?” I asked. He looked up at me like I had eaten razor blades for lunch.
“One dollar,” he snorted, and a clump of blood flew out of his nose as he said the words, landing by my shoe. That was disgusting, but I didn’t want to be rude, so I pulled out a dollar and slapped it down on the counter and put my hand on the flip-top to open the can.
“You sure you want to do that?” he asked.
“Um, yeah,” I replied as sarcastically as I could. “Thirsty? Soda? Paid for?”
“Not soda,” he said.
“Not soda? What the?”
“Soul,” he said.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, taking a step back and shaking the empty can. It really was empty, or at least there was no soda in it. I reached to grab my dollar off the counter but he was too quick. He grabbed it and said,
“Paid for, yup. Now you got it.”
“What exactly do I got?” I asked, tossing the can from one hand to the other. “What kind of place is this anyway? You got nothing on the shelves except for these empty soda cans. Looks like a lousy business model to me. I’m just saying.”
“Tell me about it,” he sighed. “Nobody’s selling their souls anymore, and those that do, ain’t hardly worth it. Can’t get nothing for them nowadays.”
“Right,” I said. “Selling their souls, huh? Like to the devil or something?”
“You can read, can’t you?” he asked. “You saw the sign, right?”
“Oh, like Satan’s Dollar Store? Seriously? That’s a terrible name for a business. No wonder you’re doing so poorly.”
“It is what it is,” he said, and it took me a minute to realize he meant that literally. This was actually Satan’s Dollar Store.
“What can I say?” he added. “It’s a franchise opportunity, and all I could afford was this lousy neighborhood.”
“Why soda cans?” I asked.
“Preservatives,” he shrugged. “They last longer this way. That one you got there? The one you bought? Check the expiration date. It’s on the bottom.”
“January Third,” I read after turning the can over, “three thousand four hundred and ninety eight?”
“Long shelf life, eh?” he grinned, but the smile quickly turned to a grimace as he added, “like that’s going to do anyone any good.”
I did some quick calculations and discovered that my one dollar purchase had an incredible amortization rate, less than a penny a century!
“Will it go up in value?” I asked, thinking investment opportunity.
“Maybe,” he said, “if there’s ever a market for a sad sack loser. That soul, phew. Guy sold it to me for a night in Vegas with a certain showgirl. Hope he got his money’s worth.”
“She must have been something,” I mused.
“I suppose,” he said. “Meant nothing to me. I was just doing my job. Guy wants to sell, I got to buy. It’s the rules.”
“I know what you mean, man,” I said sympathetically. “It’s like with my job. I see a badly cracked sidewalk, I got to write the ticket, whether that homeowner can afford it or not.”
“You?” He shouted, rising from his chair. “You’re that guy? I got one of those tickets a couple of weeks ago. That was you? You got a lot of nerve showing your face around here. Give me that.”
He grabbed the can out of my hand and threw the dollar in my face.
“You don’t deserve him,” he said, “now get out of here, and stay out, if you know what’s good for you. I got a little black book of my own, you know.”
I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t even pick up my dollar bill as it fluttered to the ground but hustled my tail back out to the street, but I’ll tell you one thing. If you ever see a sign saying “everything must go”, don’t even give it a second’s thought, just turn your head away and act like you never even saw it. Some deals are just too good to be true.