I posted a longer version of this story a month ago, here, but I was never satisfied with it. The story works best I think as short flash fiction, so I chopped out the unnecessary material and made a few other changes. I’m much happier with this version. — Rob
Mike plopped his American Eagle down on the counter at Sal’s Pawn & Metal Emporium. He figured it should be good for $1,500 or so — enough to get by until payday. Behind the window at the counter, a decrepit-looking man who resembled the farmer in the famous painting American Gothic, only mummified and with a longer and girthier neck, carefully picked up the platinum coin with a bit of tissue, as if it were a dead cockroach, and eyed it with a distinct look of disdain, his lip curling to one side. He then dropped the bullion piece back down onto the counter and slid it back to Mike. “We aren’t interested in ghetto metals here,” he said.
“Ghetto metals?” said Mike. “What the fuck man? It’s platinum!”
“It’s ghetto platinum,” croaked the wormy man, his Adam’s apple gyrating up and down with his words like an anxious ballsack.
“What the fuck is ghetto about it?” asked Mike.
The scrotum-throated man looked down at the disk of platinum on the counter. “Mixed isotopes,” he sneered. He pointed a bony finger at the bullion piece. “You’ve got a good six isotopes in there, all jumbled up. We’ll take a single isotope if you have it, but we don’t want your ghetto blend.”
“The fuck you say?” said Mike. “You just bought three Indian Head eagles from that old lady ahead of me. I know for a fact those coins she sold you are ten percent copper and only ninety percent gold. My platinum is 0.9995% pure.”
The guy behind the window shrugged. “Pulling copper out of gold is like picking a bit of lint off your shirt. Isotopes are more of a bother. When’s the last time you had mixed isotopes of gold, hmmm?”
A second scrotum-throated man, who had joined the first man behind the window, made a sound like a snort, followed by a long series of honking sounds that resembled laughter. The two men could have passed for twins — mutant twins, but twins nonetheless. The talking scrotum neck turned to the second one and honked back. “Nark Nark Honk Nyuk Nyuk Nark!”
Mike looked around the small vestibule of Sal’s Pawn uneasily. Maybe coming here was a mistake. He didn’t set out to come here. In fact, he had never even heard of this place and was surprised to come upon it accidentally while driving away from Dick’s — the pawn shop he regularly frequented — which was unexpectedly closed that day.
The small vestibule was dark, the walls having been painted a cheerful flat asylum green, and a tart aroma saturated the air that resembled a blend of fungus and bleach. To the right was a door that presumably led into the actual pawn shop. Mike had seen the old lady ahead of him go through that door, apparently having been buzzed through. It was locked previously when Mike had tried to enter.
“Tell you what,” said Mike, pointing towards the door, “maybe I’ll just go through into the pawn shop and browse around a little while.”
“Members only,” croaked the scrotum-throated man.
“Members only? This is a pawn shop, right?” asked Mike.
“It is,” said the man.
“So, how do I become a member?” asked Mike.
“Bring us something useful,” said the man. The man’s jowls flapped about as he spoke, like a pair of elderly breasts that had long ago lost their battle with gravity. His entire face in fact seemed to sag in sympathy with his ballsack of an Adam’s apple. His expressionless and bloodshot eyes were excessively exposed beneath, where the lower eyelids had peeled away to merge with anchor-like dark bags of flesh that hung below them. The man’s lower lip no longer seemed to have the will to reach up and complete the seal with his upper, leaving his yellowed lower teeth on perpetual display.
Mike was feeling a little insulted and more than a little anxious. “Okay then,” he said, “what else do you buy? I need cash.”
“Got any thorium on you? Or maybe terbium? We could really use some non-ghetto terbium if you have any. Pay you top dollar.”
“I don’t have any fucking thorium or terbium. What do I look like? A periodic table?”
“How about something with a little pep then?” said the talking scrotum neck. “Got anything with negative mass?”
“Negative mass?” asked Mike. “You mean like, antimatter?”
The non-talking scrotum neck started laughing (or nark-nyuking) again. “Do you not have schools on this planet?” asked the talking one. “No, not like antimatter. Antimatter, like regular matter, can have positive or negative mass. But we don’t want either flavor of antimatter, since we don’t have anything to store it in.”
“Well, I don’t have anything with negative mass then,” said Mike.
“Hmmm, said the scrotum neck. How about imaginary mass then. Got anything with imaginary mass?”
“Imaginary mass?” asked Mike. “You mean like, antimatter?”
“Nark Honk Nyuk Nyuk Nyuk!” laughed the non-speaking testicular-throated man. The talking one shook his head. “No Sonny, not like antimatter. What is it with you and antimatter? Is this a fetish of some kind?”
“Well what the hell are you asking for then?” said Mike. “Negative mass, imaginary mass … speak some fucking English and tell me what you want?”
The talking guy behind the counter pointed a bony finger at the platinum piece. “See that?” he said. Multiply its mass by negative one and you’ll have negative mass ghetto platinum. Multiply it’s mass by the square root of negative one, and you’ll have imaginary mass ghetto platinum. For shits and giggles, multiply it’s mass by the negative square root of negative one, and you’ll have ghetto platinum with negative imaginary mass. We would actually buy that, even if it is ghetto, because negative imaginary mass items are hard to come by. But what we don’t want is your fetishistic negative imaginary mass antimatter platinum, because antimatter sucks.”
“I give up,” said Mike. “I don’t have any of these things you’re talking about. Can you think of anything I might actually have on me that you would be willing to buy from me? Maybe my car? Or my watch? It’s a Timex.”
The two scrotum necks nark-nyuked back and forth for awhile. After a bit, the talking one turned back to Mike. “Ten bucks for a sample of your DNA. We’ve got a–um, a kind of a petting zoo. Of course, a DNA sample isn’t enough to gain membership in the store.”
Mike didn’t inquire further about the petting zoo comment. He let scrotum neck scrap some cells from the inside of his mouth, took the ten dollars, and left. At least it was enough to gas up his car on the way home.
— R. S. Huber