Weirdness is coming

Hey friends!

Or friend–whoever is actually reading this. It might just be me, honestly. If that’s the case, then hey cutie!

The Rabbit Hole anthology (which will include my short story, “Foggy”) is coming very soon! It is a collection of 35 wonderfully weird stories from 35 different authors. The anthology will be released on November 1st. Only the e-book version is available for pre-order, but a physical copy will be available upon release as well.

You can find it on AmazonBarnes and NobleKobo, and Apple Books.




Ant Honey

A fable with a very specific message for a very specific person. You know who you are.

A bear was throwing a dinner party for his friends, the anteaters and the honey badgers. He was conflicted about what should be the main course.

“Of course the anteaters will want ants”, the bear mumbled to himself. “But the honey badgers will want honey!”

He knew he could prepare ants for the anteaters and honey for the honey badgers, but he wanted his guests eating the same meal.

The bear slipped into despair and considered canceling the party altogether. Suddenly, a thought struck him and his heart lifted to the sky! He concocted a new recipe, mashed ants mixed into honey. He called this Meld™ “Ant Honey”.

That evening, he served it to his friends, beaming from ear to ear. But to his shock, they seemed repulsed by the concoction.

“These ants are ruining the honey!” shrieked the honey badgers.

“This honey is smothering the ants!” slurped the anteaters.

The dinner party was a disaster and the bear no longer had any friends. He realized that Melds™ were a terrible idea and some foods should simply never be mixed.

New Anthology!

Hello everybody!

I know it has been a while since I’ve written anything here. I’ve been writing as vigorously as ever, but there was a bit of a lull in news. But now I have some exciting things coming up.

Today I would like to share the cover of a new anthology I will be a part of. It’s called “The Rabbit Hole”, and will include a polished version of my short story, “Foggy”! As you might recall, it’s the story of a father and daughter who find their boating trip ambushed by a mysterious, underwater tormentor.


“The Rabbit Hole” is scheduled to be released on November 1st! Stay tuned for updates.

Short Story – Mother

This was based on the prompt:

“Whaddaya mean that the robots have started making new robots? And what’s a ‘death laser?'”

Here’s what I came up with. Like with “Mea Culpa” I wrote this over a year ago. I also realize this is a Very Bad Mother’s Day Story, but oh well.

“Mother” by Anthony Engebretson


A battered corpse was sprawled in the middle of a concrete storm drain. This was a new one. Robin hadn’t seen it at the beginning of the day.

An electronic pulse triggered, giving Robin a pressing sensation in their upper abdomen and a general weakness in their arms and legs. This pulse was meant to emulate human sorrow. To achieve the full effect, a sensor went off in their CPU, triggering thoughts of pity.

“Such a shame,” was their vocal response.

They were programmed to feel simple emotions like sadness, joy, anger and fear. But the corpse also invoked feelings in Robin beyond any programming. They realized that bodies were piling up every day and dreaded that the likelihood of achieving their mission—the one Mother expected them to fulfill—was lessening. This thought triggered a suffocating sensation, emulating guilt and failure.

Fortunately, Robin had a self-designed protocol for dealing with these abnormalities: focusing on the task at hand. Their current task was to get a sack of scavenged provisions and machine parts back home to Mother.

To get home, Robin needed to venture into a sewage tunnel far beneath the wastes and through the concealed passageway leading to the further hidden lift. After riding the lift into the underground bunker, Robin found Mother where they had left her. She was hunched before her latest creation, tirelessly screwing in a metallic leg. It was a robot much like Robin, with a thin, bone-white frame and large eyes dominating its mouthless head. This one would be 220107. Robin was 220106.

Mother greeted Robin with a wrinkled smile.

“Hello, Robin.” She turned back to her work. “They are almost complete.”

Robin observed her trembling hands and wobbly legs.

“You must rest, Mother.” Their metallic voice came from a speaker attached to their neck.

“Oh,” Mother scoffed, “I just need some water.”

Then she collapsed. An electronic pulse triggered a pounding sensation of fear in Robin. They rushed to Mother’s aid, lifting her up by the torso and placing her comfortably on the sofa. Robin pulled a bottle of water from the sack of provisions and handed it to Mother. She slowly drank the liquid, letting it flow gently down her throat.

Observing Mother’s paleness, Robin grabbed a bottle of iron supplements they had collected from the ruins of a pharmacy.

“Ah yes,” Mother said, as if her severe deficiency had never crossed her mind. “Thank you, Robin.”

Robin reached into their sack again and pulled out a bottle of Vitamin C tablets.

“These will help you absorb the iron,” they said.

“Yes, yes,” said Mother, taking the bottle. “You’re too good to me, Robin.”

Robin watched her slowly take the pills. They looked over her brittle frame, covered with sores and spots from age and various nutritional deficiencies. Robin’s line of robots had been designed to feel concern and affection for the humans they serve. But when Robin looked into Mother’s tired grey eyes, they saw how feeble she had become—the woman who built them, developed them and taught them what they knew. Robin was doing what no robot was meant to do: fearing for the future.

After a moment of rest, Mother stood and moved back toward 220107.

“You must rest more,” Robin insisted.

“They’re almost finished.”

Robin felt inclined to force her back onto the couch. But they understood her need to finish her work as soon as possible. Her mission was their own: preserving the human race.




It hadn’t been long ago when Mother’s country thrived. It dominated the world with its technological and military prowess. Megacities with great steel towers swept the land, automated farms grew food in domes to protect from the unstable climate outside, and the automated public transport always ran on time.

Mother had been a valued contributor to her society. She was the inventor of “Service Bots.” The Mark 2 variety—Robin’s kind—served any human who could afford them with unending dedication.

The country had many wonderful things, but it also had poverty, corruption, and innumerable enemies. Its great and powerful leader commissioned a powerful new weapon, one that would rotate the planet. At the push of a button it would emit a powerful beam that could wipe any city off the map.

It is unknown what went wrong. Perhaps hackers accessed the weapon or there had simply been a glitch. Regardless, shortly after it was launched into space, the weapon opened fire upon the nation’s capital with full force. The impact of the blast affected the entire world. Violent weather patterns emerged, and powerful earthquakes toppled cities and produced massive tsunamis, disease, famine and war.

Civilization crumbled, giving way to barbarism.

Mother had been fortunate enough not to be in the capital at the time of the destruction. When the world fell, she felt responsible to save her species. Her first step was to activate 220106, a robot she had standing by in one of her company’s many bunkers.

The Mk 2 service bots were built to be dependent. Mother decided 220106 needed more sophistication if it were to be a useful ally in her mission. She programmed self-maintaining and protecting capabilities. To ensure that 220106 would stay loyal to her, she developed their emotional capabilities, had them call her “Mother”, and gave them a name and the gift of personage.

Robin alone could do little for humanity at large. Especially since their purpose was to serve only Mother. More robots were needed to go into the wastes and help other surviving humans—perhaps guiding them into forming a new society.




Robin sat by, listening to Mother helplessly wheeze as she continued screwing in the new robot’s leg. They felt helpless. Stopping Mother would be a violation of their mission objective, and Mother did not allow them to help her build the robot. Robin could not understand her reasoning for this. With their knowledge and ability, the robot would have been finished long ago.

They remembered something found in a destroyed toy store. Reaching into their sack, they pulled out a dirty doll. It was in the form of an equine creature with a sad, drooping face. Robin identified the creature as “Eeyore”. Mother kept many “Winnie the Pooh” books in her bunker and read them to Robin. It was from “Christopher Robin” where they got their namesake.

“Mother,” said Robin.

Mother remained focused on her work. Robin stood and placed a steel hand on Mother’s shoulder. With a jolt she whirled around, her eyes wide with terror.

“I apologize, Mother.”

Robin held up the Eeyore doll for Mother. Though she was still catching her breath, her face lit up with a glimmer of youth.

“Thank you, Robin.”

She took the doll into her hands and looked into its eyes with a child-like smile. Almost instantly, the smile faded. She set the doll aside and returned to work.




Two days later, Robin went back into the wastes. They wandered down what was once an entertainment district, aligned with battered storefronts and weathered marquees.

Suddenly, they heard the rumble of approaching gunfire. Their protocol was to stay out of conflict as much as possible. To prevent them from taking unnecessary action, an electronic pulse simulated the sensation of pounding terror. Robin scrambled underneath a broken-down laundry van just as two vehicles came their way. The vehicles were firing at each other—one fleeing while the other pursued.

At the end of the street the pursuing vehicle, an old mini-van, veered to a halt. Its inhabitants, sickly men and women wearing dirty old coats, climbed out. The pursuing vehicle, a bulky truck, halted and men decked in leather and war paint leapt out. Both parties fired wildly.

Unable to watch the bloodshed, Robin turned their head. The battle only lasted seconds. An empty silence set in. Robin waited for several minutes, keeping an ear out for the faintest utterance.

There was nothing.

Robin scrambled out from under the van. Their danger pulse ceased and they followed their curiosity and move toward the vehicles. As they came closer, the gun smoke dissipated, revealing bodies strewn about. All of the combatants were dead.

A pulse of dread triggered in Robin. There was nothing a robot could do to preserve humanity if they were simply going to kill each other. At this rate—as far as Robin understood— there would be no more humans in a decade.

They distracted themselves by focusing on exploring. This was a new part of the city for them. Wandering several blocks from the entertainment district, they came upon a monolithic concrete building. Rusted letters were plastered along its side: “Service Bot Inc.”

Robin was amazed they had never known about this before. They had spent two years scavenging robot parts from a defunct bot here, a ruined shop there—having no idea that a goldmine was just around the corner.

Inside the factory was desolate, much of it overtaken by foliage. Parts were scattered throughout the floor, many rusted and useless, but others in perfectly adequate shape.

Robin felt overjoyed, especially considering how pleased Mother would be. But Robin’s joy triggered a thought that made them reflect on their earlier anxiety. It would be all for nothing if humanity was doomed regardless. Even Mother herself had little time left.

Then Robin remembered something Mother had told them. They had asked her why she was called Mother. What was a mother? What was her purpose? Mother told Robin that a parent’s task was to pass on their knowledge and legacy to the child. It was the child’s purpose to take this legacy and build upon it, becoming something greater than the parents had ever been.

“Every critter dies,” Mother had said. “Even Robots do eventually. But immortality is possible. It’s achieved through their offspring.”

A pulse of excitement surged through Robin. They gathered as many unworn parts as they could. There were some blanks in their mind as far as how to build a robot. But they knew they could easily learn, if only by trial and error.




Robin wondered if Mother knew about the factory. They thought it logical that she would, but perhaps she had long forgotten it was there. They decided not to tell Mother about it or their project. They wanted it to be a surprise.

Three months after Robin began construction of their robot, Mother finally completed 220107. She named them Winnie.

Winnie, like Robin, needed nurturing and intensive programming to reach a more sophisticated level of thought and emotion. Watching her read and play with Winnie gave Robin a strange sensation. Mother put all of her focus on Winnie, except when she needed Robin to retrieve supplies. They longed for her attention again and began to feel an irrational animosity for Winnie. They were determined to work harder than ever to please Mother.

Construction of Robin’s robot went smoother than expected, and it was completed with very few mistakes.

The machine finally completed, Robin looked upon its milky white limbs. A strange sensation pulsed through them. The pressing sensation in their abdomen was deceptively similar to sorrow. But the thoughts they had with it were joyful. They had created life. The robot would need teaching and guidance before it could reach Robin’s sophistication, but Robin felt up to the task.

The first step was giving the robot a name. Robin didn’t need to think long before deciding on one. The new robot’s name was Eeyore.




Mother was delicately wiping grease from Winnie’s leg when Robin triumphantly marched into the bunker, Eeyore at their side. Mother’s eyes widened.

“Robin,” she said, her voice cracking. “Where did you find this?”

“I built them, Mother,” Robin boasted. They introduced Eeyore and explained their epiphany. The only way robots would preserve humanity’s legacy was by succeeding them. By the end of their presentation, Mother’s face was ghostly pale.

“Shall I retrieve more iron?” Robin asked.

“Stay away from me,” Mother said.


Robin stepped toward her and she scrambled away like a frightened animal. She snatched a wrench from her workspace and swung it at Robin, her eyes frenzied and spittle flying from her mouth. Robin felt a sensation of terror. Was Mother ill?

“M-mother, you must rest.”

Mother turned her attention to Eeyore, who was standing by the bunker entrance like a mannequin. She whipped past Robin and slammed the wrench into Eeyore’s head.

“Mother!” Robin shouted.

Mother continued bashing the robot, which took each blow acceptingly. The all too familiar terror pounded through Robin’s body. They rushed forward and grabbed Mother by the arms, whirling her around. She tried to resist, but could not slip her brittle body from Robin’s powerful grip.

“You are making yourself a danger to the mission,” Robin said.

“That isn’t the mission,” Mother sputtered. “Oh god, I should have known this would happen! You were a mistake!”

This stung Robin. They looked to Eeyore and saw that pieces of the robot’s head were scattered all over the floor.

“You killed them,” Robin said. They felt another odd sensation. It was particularly odd because it was like feeling nothing at all. It was numbness. A cold, empty sensation like life had been drained from the world.

“I destroyed it!” Mother said, still fighting to break from Robin’s grip.

Robin realized what they were experiencing: grief. Hearing Mother call their Eeyore something so degrading as an “it” after savagely murdering them filled the void with rage. Robin began to squeeze harder on Mother’s body, pressing her arms against her torso. She let out a cry of pain. Robin held nothing back. They had found out how to complete the mission. Mother made herself an obstacle to this. They were happy to squeeze the life out of this vile woman.

“Winnie! Help!” she screamed.

Winnie, who had been sitting by and watching, leapt from their seat and grabbed Robin’s shoulders.

“Release Mother,” Winnie droned.

But Robin continued squeezing. They began to feel bone cracking under the grip, and Mother let out a ghoulish wail.

“Release Mother,” Winnie repeated over and over. Winnie began to squeeze as well, and while Robin couldn’t recognize physical pain they understand a threat to their person. They threw their head back and bashed it into Winnie’s repeatedly. Fortunately for Robin, the back of their model’s head was far tougher than the front, so Winnie took the worse damage. After several bashes, Winnie loosened their grip and slumped to the ground.

Mother turned their attention back to Mother, who lay rigid in their hands like a grey porcelain doll. Her eyes were wide and lifeless. Robin dropped her to the ground and stared at her pale skin glowing in the bunker’s light. It was beautiful. They did not feel satisfaction, nor did they feel sorrow.

They collected the reusable parts from Winnie and Eeyore and buried Mother in the wasteland. Her grave was marked by a plank that simply read: “Mother”.

Then they moved on, toward the factory—the new cradle of life. Finishing the mission was the only thing to help them find their purpose after losing those they loved.

Deep down, Robin felt that Mother would have been proud.

How to cut an apple

I. Choosing your apple

When cutting an apple, you must first have an apple. Trying to cut an apple without an actual apple present is a fool’s errand and a potential symptom of dementia.

So what kind of apple do you choose?

Frankly, any kind will do. My personal favorite is Golden Delicious. It’s coloration ranges from green to yellow. Do NOT mistake it for Granny Smith. Granny Smith apples are tart and sour. Golden Delicious apples are fluffy and sweet. However, if you choose to cut a Granny Smith apple, that’s fine too.

It’s important to know the distinctions between apples. A famous American choice of apple is the Red Delicious. It’s the big red curvy thing you think of whenever you think of an apple. It’s also rather overrated. There’s also Gala, Fuji and Honey Crisp (one of which I think always tastes like melon; it’s kind of weird, definitely not my cup of tea. Although, sometimes a Golden Delicious will also taste like melon—those are never good days).

But I just named some of the common ones. There is a world of apples out there. Do your research and pick the type that’s right for you.

II. Cutting your apple

Once you have an apple, place it on a table. Any kind of table will do. I suppose a kitchen or bathroom counter would also work. You could also use a desk, a shelf, a chair, the hood of your car, or the floor.

At any rate, it would be best to put the apple on a cutting board. If you do not have a cutting board… why not? It doesn’t have to be a granite or oak cutting board (although, if you could overlook the initial cost, either one of those would be a long term investment that keeps giving). A cheap, plastic cutting board would do.

Place your apple on the cutting board (for those who still refuse to get a cutting board, I will not adjust these instructions to make it accessible to you. Get your asses to Wal-Mart or wherever and pay the $10 or $20 it costs for a cheap cutting board. Or don’t. But the cutting board will remain a factor in my instructions). Then you will want to find an apple cutter. Make sure the circle in the middle of the apple cutter is surrounding the apple’s stem. Once you have it properly adjusted, press down. You have cut your apple.

But I suppose that’s cheating. For those of you who do not have an apple cutter (again, why not? If you are the type of person who wants to cut apples [which, if you’re reading this, you obviously are] then an apple cutter would be another worthwhile long term investment), you’ll want to use a knife. Any knife will do.

Actually, that’s not true, it needs to be sharper than a butter knife. I would recommend a utility knife that has a small and slender blade with a sharp point and a serrated edge. At any rate, find a knife—a butter knife will not be enough, a pocketknife or a box cutter will be inefficient, and a machete or a sword will be overkill.

First, I would recommend coring your apple. Take your knife and cut a deep circle around the stem (actually a pocket-knife might not be bad for this particular task). Once you have your circle completed, pull the core out with all your might. Remember to hold your apple steady so that it won’t slide off the cutting board. Once that is done, cut your apple down the middle, cut the halves down the middle, and so on.

III. Conclusion

Hopefully that’s good advice. I’ve never cut an apple that way; I just use an apple cutter (or apple divider, if you will) like any sensible human being would. That is, I use an apple cutter if I’m actually cutting an apple, which I rarely do. Usually I eat an apple the old fashioned way. I bite directly into the whole enchilada (apple, that is) and work my way around. I eat it until there is nothing left but a pathetic blackening core. Sometimes I even eat the seeds. Apple seeds contain cyanide. If you eat around 200 finely chewed or ground seeds, you will die.

However you choose to eat your apple, eat your apple. Don’t just buy an apple and let it sit in your fruit bowl until it turns brown. Yet make no mistake; eating your apple won’t keep the doctor away, that’s bullshit. Do you really think eating apples is going to stop you from having cancer, or a heart attack, or Alzheimer’s? Or that it will keep you from inevitably shriveling into a pathetic husk as all creatures do?

Eating well and exercising will only keep you sharp until death pulls up in a screaming black hearse and says, “Get in”. Nothing you’ve done in life will save you then. Do not resist. Hop in. Death is your friend. Its embrace is bittersweet as 200 finely chewed or ground apple seeds.

Still, an apple is a tasty and healthy addition to anybody’s daily diet. It goes great in a pie!

Short Story – Mea Culpa

I wrote this story over a year ago following a prompt. The prompt was:

“A Medieval Italian peasant appears in a drugstore in Texas. He has a message to deliver.”

This is what I came up with, for better or worse. I hope anyone reading this enjoys!

“Mea Culpa” by Anthony Engebretson


Shirley tapped her crooked fingers on the dusty counter. The clicking rang throughout the empty shop.

She sighed and wiped her face with an already soaked towel. The air conditioning was broken and it was hotter than ever outside. On top of that, the yellow walls were peeling, the pipes were leaking, the oven in the apartment upstairs was broken and for the past few months, the whole building stank like something had died.

Just another day at Filch Drug Store.

A large black snake slithered along the shelf of condoms. Seeing it made Shirley leap from her seat as quickly as her brittle body could handle.

“Fred!” she shrieked. “Fredddd!”

She screamed for two more minutes until Fred shambled out of the back room, smacking his lips.

“Yeah?” he droned.

“Where the hell were you?!” Shirley fidgeted, her eyes on the snake.

“Inventory check.”

“Inventory check my ass! You were sleeping!”

“Nope.” Fred yawned.

Shirley pointed at the snake. Fred squinted his eyes in its direction for a few moments before slowly nodding.

“Huh, guess we better do something about that.”

You better do something about that!”


Fred picked up a three-month-old magazine from the rack along the counter, rolled it up and shuffled over to the snake. The creature gazed at the approaching old man with caution.

“Go on, now.” Fred prodded its head with the magazine. The snake hissed angrily.

“You’re just pissing it off!” Shirley snarled.


The snake drooped onto the floor and slithered away from Fred.

“See, there ya go,” Fred muttered to his wife.

He followed the snake as it crawled along the floor and through a gaping hole leading to the outside.

“Huh,” said Fred, observing the hole. “That’s no good.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake!” Shirley moaned.

“Guess that’s how these critters keep getting in.”

“Where’re all these snakes and lizards comin’ from anyway?” Safe again, Shirley sat back down on her creaky old stool.

“It’s Texas, dear.” Fred shuffled back toward the counter.

“We’ve never had this many before and you know it!”


“Whole town’s gone to hell if you ask me. When’s the last time we ever had an honest customer? Just a bunch of dirty ole junkies. Scratching and moaning at the door like goddamn animals!”

“Yeah.” Fred plopped the magazine back onto the rack.

“Our shipments are late… We never even got a check for that fire.”

Fred sluggishly nodded; he’d forgotten the fire.

Shirley shook her head and buried her face in her hands.

“It wasn’t supposed to be this way!” she yowled.

“Oh, come on now.” Fred shuffled to her and limply patted her back. She shook him off and he threw his hands up in apology.

The front door flew open and a pale, emaciated man limped in. He slammed the door behind him and cautiously peeked out the front window.

“Well see, there you go. A customer.”

Shirley shot Fred an exasperated glare. “Does that look like a customer to you?”


The man was dressed in what looked to be a rutty white robe that cut off at his knees; discolored torn blue hose covered his legs. He wore a blue stocking cap that was so long it made him resemble a cone head. He looked like someone who got lost on the way to the Renaissance fair. Fred sighed and nodded: definitely a junky.

When he deemed himself safe from whatever he was running from, the man turned to the elderly owners of the shop, who stood stiffly watching him. He feebly approached them, his dirty face contorted in agony. In a harsh, whispery voice, he spoke to them in a language they couldn’t understand.

“We don’t speak Spanish,” Fred explained.

“That’s not Spanish! You’ve heard Spanish!”

Fred shrugged.

“Some kind of Italian, I think,” Shirley decided.

“What’s he saying?”

“I don’t know. I don’t speak Italian!”

The man looked at them both, his voice cracking into a remorseful whimper.

“Tell him to leave,” Shirley hissed at Fred.

Fred casually leaned on the counter. “Hey, mister. You should go.”

The man didn’t stop.

Shirley nudged Fred. “Throw him the hell out of here!”

Fred sighed. He tottered around the counter and toward the man.

“Alright buddy.” Fred made limp shooing motions with his wrists.

The man stopped. He was almost child-sized compared to Fred’s tall, yet stocky build. He shrank as Fred towered over him.

“Don’t have to go home…” Fred didn’t bother finishing the statement.

The man had something clenched in his left hand. He opened his palm to reveal a little brown pouch. He opened the pouch, allowing Fred to peer inside.

“Per Dio. Per Dio,” the man whispered over and over.

“Huh,” Fred observed. “Hey hon, wanna come look at this?”

Shirley sighed irritably and waddled over to her husband.

“What the hell is this, Fred?”

She looked into the pouch the man kept pried open. Inside, there was a small pile of gold coins.

“Holy shit!” Shirley squeaked.

“They real?”

“I don’t know…”

The man closed the pouch while the couple gazed at him curiously. He pointed to the pouch and pointed upward. “Per Dio…”

Trembling, he made the sign of the cross and whimpered, “Mea culpa… Mea maxima culpa…”

Suddenly, the man heard or sensed something that made him jerk and scramble to the store window. Peering out, he gasped and charged into the back room.

“Hey!” Shirley and Fred both shouted at him, with varying levels of enthusiasm.

The couple shuffled to the window. They couldn’t see very well. It had been awfully dark and foggy outside lately, even though it was also quite hot. They figured it was just El Niño or something. They never really paid attention to the news and rarely left the store lately. Fred was the only one who even had gone outside in the past few months. It was just to take out the garbage.

All they could see in the muddled darkness were the silhouettes of tall, lanky figures, at least five or six.

“Huh,” Fred muttered.

“You think they’re after that guy?”

“Nah. Well, maybe.”

“Could they be the mob or the cartel or something?”

“I guess.”

The figures began moving toward the shop.

Shirley wheezed, “Should we hide?”

“Might be a good idea.”

“Well then, let’s go!”

They shuffled into the back room where the mysterious man was curled up among cardboard boxes. Shirley slammed the door shut and locked it. Her eyes darted around the room.

“Where’s the gun?” she demanded.

“Gun? Oh…” Fred rubbed the back of his head.

Outside they could hear the sound of the front door opening and feet stomping along the floors. The mysterious man whimpered.

“It’s in the bathroom,” Fred explained

“Why the hell is it in the bathroom?!” Shirley hissed.

“I was cleaning it…”

“In the bathroom?!”

“I also had to go…”


Shirley limped to the back room’s window. Her ankles felt swollen from today’s unusual strain.

She struggled to get the window open. It seemed sealed shut.

“Fred!” she hissed at her idly looming husband.


Fred clumped to the window and the two struggled to push it open.

A pounding came on the door of the back room.

“Open up,” a deep, gravelly voice said on the other side.

The mysterious man wailed. Clutching his gold, he scrambled over to Shirley and Fred, cowering at their feet.

The couple slowly started getting the window open; hot, acrid air from the outside seeped into the room. Shirley left the work to her husband while she peered down at the pouch the mysterious man was cradling.

“You know, Fred.”


“If the mafia or whatever’s after this fella, then the gold must be real.”

“I guess…” The window was about a quarter of an inch open.

“What if we take the gold for ourselves and leave this guy to the wolves.”

“Well… I guess we could finally pay for repairs.”

“Screw that. I mean, we can get away from this damn curse of a store, start a new life somewhere.”

“I thought this was our new life?” The window was almost half open, barely enough for the mysterious man to crawl through, but not enough for the elderly couple.

“We’re coming in!” the deep voice boomed.

“I thought it was… But it’s the damn death of us and you know it!”

“I don’t know if I want to steal again.” The window came to a halt, half open. It was still not enough. The couple wouldn’t be able to stretch or bend far enough to get through the space.

Something massive cracked against the door. The mysterious man wept, recanting something in his language.

“Come on! Get it open,” Shirley screamed, “and whaddya mean you don’t want to steal again?”

“Felt kinda bad about it…” Fred’s back cracked as he tried to jerk the window up.

There was another crack against the door. It was about to break.

“Y’know what,” Fred sighed, “I think that’s actually as far as this window opens.”

The door burst into pieces. A gang of tall, naked pale men marched into the room. Their faces were almost skeletal, their eyes hollow and black; their lean bodies were contorted and animal-like.

Their leader raised a claw-like finger and beckoned the mysterious little man to come to him. In his deep booming voice he said something in Italian.

The mysterious man screamed and scrambled for the window, pushing Shirley and Fred aside. Two of the monstrous men stepped forward and pulled him from the window by his legs, dragging him to the leader, who snatched the pouch from his hands.

“Throw him back to the snakes,” the leader thundered.

The two thugs dragged the little man out of the room while he screamed in terror.

The leader chuckled and turned his attention to Fred and Shirley, who had stood like mannequins as the scene unfolded.

“Oh, Fino. Thought he could offer this as penance to his ‘God’. Show that he’s sorry. Of course, he stole this gold from one of the moneybag pushers in the ‘Greed’ sector.”

Shirley and Fred stared at the leader gapingly. Shirley nudged Fred to say something.

“Er… So, you fellas the Mafia?”

Shirley glared at her husband, who shrugged.

The leader and his remaining gang laughed, a deep dissonant sound that shook the entire building.

“You’ve been in Hell for three months and you don’t know what a demon looks like?”

“Hell?!” Shirley gasped.

“Huh,” Fred mumbled.

“You didn’t notice all the torment and suffering around you?”

“I never really go outside, but Fred!” She smacked her husband. “You’ve been outside! How could you not know we were in Hell?”

“Never really looked around,” Fred shrugged.

Shirley turned pleadingly to the demonic leader.

“But why?”

“Well, you know that fire you folks had? You don’t remember getting any repairs afterward, do you?”

“Why do we deserve to be here?”

“You deserve to be where all the other thieves are! Stealing from your boss…”

“He was an asshole!” Shirley snarled.

“Yes he was; he’s getting his, I assure you. Look, if you were stealing out of necessity, we’d let it slide. But you all just wanted to go buy some awful little drug store in middle of nowhere, Texas.” The leader pointed an accusing claw at the couple. “You’re not even licensed pharmacists!”

Fred shrugged again.

One of the demons nudged the leader. “We should go, boss.”

“Yes. Lots of work to do. Enjoy your eternal punishment.”

The demons filed out of the room. Shirley hobbled after them.

“Wait! But… Why did the damn drug store have to come with us?” She found herself in the middle of the store once the last of the demons vanished into the darkness beyond the store.

Another wall peeled and gunky water leaked through the ceiling in several different places. Over in a corner, the soda machine coughed, sputtered and died.

Shirley looked around her, groaned and gently fell to her knees, sobbing.

Fred, meanwhile, remained in the back room, shaking his head. “Huh, well how about that.”