It had been six weeks since Ella had shook hands with the Devil and she was still looking for her replacement. He’d said ‘the penny would drop in another world’ so she’d figured out that the soul he wanted must turn up here in this aptly named bookstore. There wasn’t much foot traffic in the shop, probably due to the erratic opening hours and the suicidal nature of the books, so she turned up every Thursday to the divination classes hoping to find the person whose life she would take. By this time she’d had quite enough of Marie’s off-beat chanting and was wondering if an eternity in high school might actually be preferable to hearing Mrs. Murphy harp on her husband beyond the grave.
Then one Thursday Greg walked in late, apologizing profusely, his chocolate lab retriever in tow. His dog walker had cancelled on him, he said, so he’d brought her with him. Sara was the first to fall to her knees and bury her face in the dog’s shiny coat.
“Oooh she’s so cute,” she said. “What’s her name?”
Ella sat up straight in her chair, her eyes wide. ‘The penny would drop in another world,’ the Devil had said. And here was a Penny, in Another World. But he couldn’t mean for her to live as a dog until she was 99, could he? Ninety nine in dog years? That God damn asshole Devil. That’s exactly what he’d meant! She wondered if she could renege on the deal, but then thought better of it; she didn’t think she could outwit Mr. Gabriel.
Ella took a moment to think about it. Would she rather live a new life as a successful, gorgeous human being? Naturally. Would she rather eke out the rest of her eternity as a high school reject as opposed to living the relatively cushy life of a lab retriever in a middle class family? Hell no. She’d have a hot owner she could lick, she’d never have to work, she’d have no worries or stress, just days filled with food and belly rubs and toys and food. Maybe this dog thing could work?
Ella had been so lost in thought that she hadn’t noticed the ruckus that was going on in the room. When her focus returned she saw Onyx the cat in a karate stance and poor Penny cowering under Greg’s chair. Marie whisked the cat into her arms and told Greg he’d have to take Penny downstairs into the other room as she was “disturbing the karmic energy of the room.”
Greg jumped up and he and Penny traipsed down the spiral staircase to find a place for the dog to chill for the remainder of the class. “I’ll help you!” Ella shouted suddenly, springing out of her seat with her bag in hand and following the man and dog downstairs.
The downstairs room was a small, tight place with rows and rows of books that didn’t look like they’d given up on life just yet. Greg was looking for a nook where Penny would be content to chew on her rubber bone. There were piles of old shirts and rags in one corner of the room – what on earth goes on in this bookstore, thought Ella, shaking her head – so she pretended to search for something that would make the dog more comfortable while watching Greg and Penny from the corner of her eye.
She pulled the hunting knife she’d been keeping in her bag out and held her arm by her side, shuffling bit by bit closer to her prey. Greg dropped to his knees to look under a table, no doubt to see if there were any electric cords that would be tasty to a curious dog, and Penny came sniffing around his butt.
Now, Ella thought.
She raised her arm and just as she was about to plunge the knife in, she tripped on Penny’s leash, her legs tangling in the cord. Penny, Ella and Greg all fell on top of each other in a heap, him shouting in surprise, Penny giving a sharp yelp. Ella knew she wouldn’t get another chance, so she hiked her arm upwards and back and stabbed and stabbed, the blade searching for flesh. There was screaming – from her or Greg, she wasn’t sure – and barking and then a blast of light and a loud POP and everything faded to black.
Ella woke up slowly, her head pounding. Her mouth tasted like mould. She snapped her eyes open, eager to see her surroundings, hoping against all hope that she didn’t see her high school walls. But as she looked around her, she saw the same little room in the bookstore she’d been in just a moment ago, although it seemed much larger than she’d remembered it before. She swiveled her head and saw someone running down the stairs.
“Oh my gosh are you okay?” said Frank, “boyfriend” of the Biebs. Ella opened her mouth to speak but realized Frank wasn’t even looking in her direction.
“I…I don’t know what happened, I think I passed out,” said Greg. He was holding his head, looking dazed and confused. Frank was helping him get to his feet. There was a black stain on the back of Greg’s pants, as if he’d sat in something gross. From her vantage point, Ella couldn’t tell if it was blood or not, just that the stain and Greg and the room, in fact everything, just seemed inordinately huge.
Ella’s eyes opened wide. Oh my God, she thought. I think it worked. I think I’m Penny.
Just then, Greg gave a yelp. “Penny!” he shouted. “Penny, no!”
Ella’s tiny, carapace head snapped up just in time to see the dog’s huge maw rushing towards her. “What the HELL!” she shouted just before Penny grabbed her up in her mouth, crunched her to bits and swallowed her down.
“Oh Penny,” said Greg, crouching down in front of the happy dog. “You little devil.”
— end —