Author: Michael Pomroy


Penelope let her head fall back against the wall, a thin sliver of flat space nestled between minimalist display shelves. The recessed lights glared down from above, unrelenting suns in a desert of beige and brown. Her mother picked up a suit jacket–black and plain, just like the last few suit jackets–and held it up critically against her father’s chest.

“What about this one?” Her mother asked.

“I don’t know about the gold,” her father replied, flicking at the buttons. “I’m not a fan of gold.”

Penelope let out a sigh, hoping the noise would be recognized for the mournful lamentation it was meant to be. Both of her parents ignored her, as parents had a habit of doing with eleven-year-old children.

“I have to go to the bathroom,” Penelope complained.

She didn’t, but any excuse to go in search of entertainment was a good one.

“It’s over by the boys’ section,” her mother said, without looking up. “Come straight back when you’re done.”

Penelope slipped away from the men’s department, out into the large main aisle circling the department store. The place was empty these days, ever since it started to look more like a sleek electronics boutique than a clothing store. Sparse racks holding only a handful of items apiece lined her path, trying to convince customers this place was trendy now. She thought it looked like a sad shop going out of business.

There were two open doorways near the boys’ section when she got there, but only one sign overhead indicating the restrooms were here. Both halls were identical, both short with a turn at the far end, so Penelope picked one at random. If she was wrong, she’d probably find herself in a back storage room and a worker would usher her back.

There were no doors, only the turn, and when she went around the corner she was forced to stop. The hall ended a few yard away in a staircase going down.

Penelope turned back the way she came, but around the corner she found only a blank wall where the entrance should be. This never happened when she went to a public restroom before. Did she get turned around somehow? No, surely the matching beige walls worked as an optical illusion hiding the exit. Like a funhouse at a fair, that was the only explanation. She’d have to go find one of the back room workers for help getting back to her mother.

Penelope went back to the stairs and started down them. They were cement, and at the bottom she could see a tile floor lit by fluorescent bulbs. There was nothing dark or ominous, it was nothing more than a retail store’s lower floor, and there was another sharp turn at the bottom.

This one led straight to an opening, and a blustering crowd of people. They were dressed strange, in loud, bright colors and mismatched fabrics, laughing and chatting as they strolled through rows of stalls.

It was like no department store Penelope ever saw. The great, cavernous ceiling rose high above, supported by thick, cement columns, and the light filtering down from the dim, flickering bulbs was so poor that many stalls had their own lights. Or, in some cases, torches. Some stalls were made of wood, some were little more than blankets laid out on the floor with tarps overhead pretending to be roofs.

As Penelope let the tide of people take her, she inspected the booths she passed. Some had clothes, as strange and fantastic as those everyone here wore, while some had carved wooden toys. Some had strange-looking items clearly meant to be home decor…if one’s home was a fairytale witch’s cottage deep in a swamp, anyway.

She walked for several minutes, until the novelty wore off and she noticed she couldn’t find the stairs. She began to search for a store worker, hunting for a bright blue t-shirt and khaki pants among the robes and cloaks and pantaloons. But there were no workers, and no signs, and no checkout counters.

“Step right up and come on in, see the oddest of the odd at the Bizarre Bazaar’s annual collectible coin show!” A voice bellowed up ahead, over the noise of shoppers. “Doubloons and Dollars, florins and Cents, if you’re looking for money, take a stroll through our tent! We’ve got it all, folks, the rarest of the rare for the keenest of collectors!”

The crowd slowed ahead, but Penelope was small, and squeezing her way to the front was no difficult feat. There was a man there, tall and thin, with a top hat at least half his height and trousers with black and green stripes. He held a walking cane he clearly didn’t need for walking, which he used to open the entrance flaps of a huge, gaudy, pink tent.

“One day only!” He bellowed. “Then everyone packs up shop until next year!”

The man was the closest Penelope came to somebody who worked here, and despite his odd clothes he seemed like someone who could help. He tipped his hat to a nearby woman and ducked into the tent, and as the crowd dispersed Penelope followed them into the cool interior.

It was quieter here, almost muted, voices murmuring instead of shouting and laughing. Rows of tables in the large tent brought to mind the comic book convention she’d been to once, with serious-looking buyers hemming and hawing over their wares.

The man with the tall hat was walking down an aisle, and Penelope hurried to follow. Two women passed in front of her, bringing her up short and allowing him to escape, and when they passed he was already stepping through another flap at the far side of the tent. Penelope ran after him, only to find herself tripping over someone’s extended foot.

“Watch where you’re going!” The spindly man complained, drawing back the legs he had stretched out in front of him. “You could get hurt! Or worse, break something.”

“Sorry,” Penelope mumbled as the man helped her up. “I’m sort of lost.”

“You can’t be ‘sort of’ lost, you’re either lost or you’re not,” he said. He looked her up and down, eyes lingering on her jeans and t-shirt. “From the look of you, I’d say you’re definitely lost.”

“I didn’t mean to be,” she defended, looking at his table and its strange collection of brightly colored coins. “I went down a hall, and then the exit was gone. Is this real money?”

“Is it…?” he sputtered. “Of course it’s real money! Mithril from the dwarven mines! Crystal coins from the elvish mountains! That in the middle is one of Charon’s own obels, traded in for Dollars on his last vacation! Honestly, what do they teach their children up there in the Above?”

Sensing she offended the man, Penelope looked down at her feet. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to be rude.”

The man “harrumph”ed and neatened the arrangement of the coins on the table. “What did you say your name was?”

“Penelope.”

“Ah, now there’s an interesting name.” He looked thoughtfully at his collection, tapping his fingers on the table, and seemed to come to a decision. He pulled out some keys, locking up the case and covering it with a blanket. “A very interesting name, indeed. Come on, keep up. The stairs are over this way.”

Relieved beyond words, Penelope followed the man as he loped out of the tent, melting back into the crowd.

* * * * *

Fifteen minutes later, Ignatius Therowen Montestrunk III returned to his display table. He hummed a cheerful tune as he removed and folded the blanket, and unlocked his display case so the collectors could see his wares. As a richly appointed woman came over, gazing with delight at the rarities on display, Ignatius took a small case from under his cart.

He flipped it open, gazing lovingly at his personal collection. These were his most prized coins, ones he made himself, each literally one of a kind. He would never sell these pieces, this very special money was Ignatius’ pride and joy.

Still humming, he slipped a bright pink coin from his breast pocket, and carefully nestled it into an empty space.

He had a Cash, a Frank, a Goldie, and a Ruby. And now, he had a Penny, too.

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