Inconvenient Currency

“That’s it?” the 12-year-old’s eyes lit up when he realized he could afford the candy. “Really really?” he asked.

“Really,” Murray replied from behind the counter.

“Thanks, mister!” the chubby kid grabbed the candy bar off the counter and dashed out the door. Murray watched him walk out into the parking lot, and immediately trip over one of the cement stops. He tumbled down but managed to stop himself before he ate a face full of blacktop. Murray chuckled to himself as he watched the boy slowly get to his feet.

“They never listen,” he mumbled to himself. The boy limped forward for one step, then he turned and looked at Murray through the door. The boy looked down at the candy bar, then to the cement stop. He shrugged, then turned around and limped back across the street. “They never learn.” Murray only watched long enough to see that the boy crossed safely, then he sat down to wait for his next customer; there wasn’t anything else to do.

Murray’s small store wasn’t very well known in the community, despite being there for over a century. People tended to ignore it until they needed something. But, that was part and parcel of running a shop for Hell. Luckily, Hell was very organized; he had nothing to do but sit behind the counter. A demon came by to stock and clean up the store for him. Murray sat on his stool and after a few minutes decided to kill some time. He pulled out his notepad and a freshly sharpened pencil. Doodling was one of the few hobbies he enjoyed over the last century. He’d cultivated a pretty impressive talent despite the countless, constant interruptions.

A tinny jingle sounded from the door at the same time his pencil led snapped; he’d only managed to draw about four lines. He sighed and looked up to meet his new client. She was a young woman, maybe in her mid-30s, with short blond hair and a concerned look on her face. She walked up to the counter and placed a $5 bill in front of him.

“Thank you for letting my son take the candy…,” she said. She tilted her head toward the exit and Murray saw the kid sitting in a car and waiting while enjoying the last of the treat. “But, I don’t want him to fall into the habit of taking things for free just because he can,” she added.

“Well, Ma’am, I appreciate you wanting to raise your son as you see fit; however, it wasn’t free,” Murray replied. He stood from his stool just so he wouldn’t seem rude. A look of confusion clouded the woman’s green eyes. She glanced back out the door.

“Did he steal it?” she asked. “I know he did not have any money when he left the house.” Murray shook his head and smiled.

“No, he didn’t steal anything. That transaction was completed all on the level. Things here don’t cost money.”

“What do you mean?” she asked.

“The price of everything I sell is paid with something a bit more intangible than money,” Murray said. “Your boy paid the price.” The woman tilted her head at him and narrowed her eyes.

“Did…,” she took a step back. “Did you hurt my son then give him candy for it?!” she asked. Her tone was cold, but she tried very hard not to raise her voice; Murray appreciated that effort. Murray shook his head.

“No,” he said plainly. “I saw him fall on the way out,” Murray pointed to the security monitor next to the register to hint that they could watch it if she needed proof. “Did he get hurt?” She relaxed slightly, then nodded.

“I think his wrist is sprained. It’s not a big deal, but it’s his writing hand. Anyway, sorry for accusing you. But, explain this no money thing to me.”

“Simple. You take anything you want then, pay for it later. The universe decides how and when you pay for it.”

“You some kind of hippy?” the woman asked. “Or.. cultist? What the hell kind of thing is, ‘the universe decides’?” Murray shrugged.

“That’s how it works. It doesn’t matter if you believe me; your son has the candy and I’m not going to accept this,” he slid the bill back towards her.

“So, I can just walk out of here with.. anything. Everything?” she asked.

“You could, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The price grows kind of exponentially; any more than 10 items at once and you’re in for a really bad time.” She stared at him for a moment, then turned around without a word. Instead of exiting, she ventured into the narrow aisles.

She returned to the counter with two 20-packs of beer. After setting them down, she returned to the aisles. She made the trip back and forth a total of six times; each time stacking them wherever she could.

“11 of your most expensive item; ring me up or however it works,” she said. Murray glanced out the window at the boy waiting patiently in the car. His candy was long gone and he was having trouble playing a game on his phone with one hand.

“I’m sorry, I have the right to refuse service to anyone, and I refuse this transaction,” he said. The woman laughed at him.

“Fine, if you’re sticking to that, then nothing I can do. But, thank you for your kindness,” she said as she picked up the bill from the counter. “And I’m leaving these here for you,” she tapped one of the cases of beer and smiled playfully before leaving the store.

Murray waited until their car left the parking lot, then he pressed the ‘service’ button under the counter. A cloud of yellow sulfur plumed into existence in front of the counter. It dissipated quickly but left behind a lean, red-skinned demon wearing a pair of blue jean overalls.

“What the Hell is this?” the demon asked upon seeing the stacks of beer cases.

“Eh, some lady wanted to make a point but I refused the transaction.”

“You’re too soft for Hell,” the demon grumbled as he hefted a pair of cases. Murray chuckled.

“You’re the one that trapped me behind the counter,” he said as he sat back down on his stool. The demon walked toward the back with the beer.

“You’re the one that wanted your own convenience store and to never worry about money again,…,” the demon grumbled as he ventured down the aisle. Murray grabbed his sketch pad and another, freshly sharpened pencil. This time, he managed to draw five lines before the lead snapped. He automatically dropped it and reached for a new one to continue.

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