Story by
Cole Webber
Artwork by
Alexander Sinn

Walter Mandrake hung his head above his whisky glass. It glimmered in the low light of the closed shop, the open sign sending that sole neon message out to the street. It was a small shop, selling only a few things. It was only so big as some people’s closets. He let one customer still wander the aisles behind the locked door of this sort of pawn shop. He rubbed his hands over his thick beard, greying too soon, took a sip, and darted watchful eyes across to the man’s as they browsed the sparse items on the sparse shelves. “A lot is lent out tonight,” he said, a gruff quiver in his voice. The man, eyes swollen and purple from sheer dehydration, nodded silently, his head still shivering with awkwardness and shyness. Walter was waiting. He looked out the window to the claustrophobic street, and pictured in his mind the hill above.

A shot rang out.

“I’ve got to go,” Walter said, and guided the man, hand on his back, to the door. He unlocked it, led them into the cold, gritty, damp street that seemed so old it may have shit running through it from bedpans tossed out the window, and locked the door behind him. The only light was the cold blue CLOSED on the dirty puddles in the streets. Not even stars. There was too much smog. “Come back tomorrow,” Walter nodded at the man, “I’ll have at least one more added to the collection.”

“What time do you open?”

“4 in the afternoon, might be a long night tonight,” he shifted his heavy jacket around him and set off the damaged street, up to the hill where the sound still echoed and the crows flied disturbed.

He made it to the clearing.

Black birds ballet above in a cacophony of flapping wings and whistling winds.

The figure lied on the ground, dark splatter oozing into the dirt, his leased object lying, returned.

The lessor walked over, and picked up the shotgun. It gleamed with blood, mixed with the loose and corroded soil in a coagulating mixture. Walter pulled out his handkerchief, and began wiping it off for reloan tomorrow. The cloth was long since mixed with the inkblots of other lives lost. The husk of ribcage and skull curled over itself, rumbled, and let out a raspy reprise: “Help me,”

It caught Walter as much by surprise as he could be surprised anymore. He blinked slightly, and lumbered his teddy bear body over in the mud, padding his boots thick with it: made from dirt and blood. “Help me,” the figure was saying through a half shattered jaw, pleading with his one eye not gone. “Finish the job… please…”

Walter looked over the barrels of the shotgun. It was still loaded.

“$100 extra,” he said. The man on the ground hissed at him through half clenched teeth and leaking tongue. “Help me… I can’t… get it… to you… now.”

“This ain’t no charity,” the lessor said, cocking the gun, “$100 extra. You’re making me into a murderer,” although they both knew he had already done the same, and that no one would come looking for him.

“I gave you… everything I had… for the… rental…”

“Bullets aren’t cheap,”

They’re not a hundred dollars, singed the dying man’s bleeding out brain.

“Fine,” he muttered with nearly his last breath. He was clinging with hands, nearly gone from circulation, at his ripped open chest. “It’s… apartment 212…. in….b-block 14… go past the eviction notice… and………”

But there was no response. He waited for a while. The sky didn’t change except for the birds, who died down from their feather wind and began coming back to scavenge. A crow landed on the dirt, apart from the expanding pool of mud from the once-man’s head, and looked inquisitively at Walter. It cocked its head, and let out raspy noises, ‘Cruel world, cruel world.’ Walter shot the final round at it. Dumbfuck bird, I thought only parrots could do that. Maybe we’re all parrots

Walter shrugged it off, returned to the man, kicked him gently in his ribcage; no response. He was done. He might try rooting around the apartment, but… if there was an eviction notice, what more could be left? He stopped by anyways on his way back to the shop, but only found moist cardboard boxes, moulding food, and furniture with its roach-eaten foam exposed. 

The next day he flipped the switch on the small electronic sign from CLOSED to OPEN. The sun was setting through the cracks in the crumbling buildings and roads around the store. The sun was setting on the world for yet another day, as it did and would, always. His customer from the previous day was waiting by the door. The slim, struggling, shaken, seemingly meth-eaten man, but with too clear a head for it to be destroyed only by drugs. He bolted in as soon as the door was opened. The ding of the door chime had hardly finished its rattle. Walter nodded at the man. “I need to do it tonight,” he said, “they’re after me… everyone… unpaid debts.. and…” Walter didn’t answer.

The man darted between the wire and pegboard shelves. Bottles of pills and concoctions. Rat poison. All too expensive because they were one time use only. A noose of rope. A toaster. And the shotgun, still a bit dirty. The blood had dried to the same undifferentiated black mass that began to line everything in the store, everything in the town like soot. And yet his eyes drew him to that one like a moth. Walter noticed from behind the counter. “That one goes quick,” he said, “it’ll be gone tomorrow.”

The man brought it to the front, and fumbled with the crumpled and dirty bills in his pocket.

“Where will I find you, and when?” Walter said.

The man stammered and wondered for a moment.

“Go to the hill above town,” Walter instructed him, having done this many times. Too many times. “I’ll hear the sound and know. And… aim carefully.”

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