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David Beyt was born in southern Louisiana and lives now in Edinburgh, Scotland. He has no pets. He tweets @DrunkandBear.

Jack gets the animal home to his apartment and sets it on the counter in the kitchen. Then he just stands there watching it. He's sure there's no such thing as whatever this is. It doesn't even look like an animal really now that he thinks about it, more like something out of a fairy tale. It has wide, trusting eyes and a body like a stuffed toy. Jack puts a hand out, and the animal nuzzles its head into his palm. Its fur feels like lambswool on his fingers.
The woman who sold it to Jack had another dozen, maybe twenty animals Jack had never seen before. She was old and warty and smoking a pipe. Sitting there in the shadows between the crates and the cages, she looked exactly like the kind of person who would own a magical pet store. It kind of ruined the moment when she spoke with a thick Brooklyn accent. "Sure, buddy. Have a look around. Mi casa, su casa, y'know? No pictures, though, okay? You know how it is, man. Got to protect my investments."
Jack went from cage to cage, each animal more adorable than the last. Small, furry things purring and cooing, reaching through the bars to hold his fingers, their big eyes begging him to take them home. Jack decided on the spot to buy one, right then, no matter what it cost him. How could you find a shop full of strange and, let's face it, probably magical creatures, and not take one home?
Jack found one he liked and called over his shoulder to the old woman. "How much for this one?"
"$2,000. They're all $2,000."
Jack flinched. It would empty out his savings. He stood there a minute pursing his lips, but he already knew it didn't matter. "I'll take it."
"Oh, yeah?" he heard the old woman say. "Which one?"
"This one." Jack checked the handwritten label on the side of the cage. "Super Bowl Quarterback." He stopped after he said it and checked he'd read it right, but that's what it said.
"You've got it, buster. Bring that bad boy over here."
Jack checked the labels on the other cages. Oscar Winning Actor. Bestselling Author. Nobel Prize for Physics. Then he brought his animal in its cage to the counter. "What's with the labels?"
But the lady just looked at his purchase. "You only get the animal, pal. You can't keep my cage."
"Oh. Sorry. Sure. What's with the labels? This one says Super Bowl Quarterback."
"Sure." The old woman shrugged. "You buy this dongwu if you want to be a quarterback in the Super Bowl." She held up a finger in ominous warning. "It doesn't say you win, buddy. Don't come back here wanting your money back if you lose. That's on you throwing interceptions or whatever."
"But wait." Jack tried to understand this. "Are you saying I buy this thing, and I become a pro football player?"
"Only if you buy this one. Each of the dongwu do something different."
Jack just stood there. It was beyond farfetched, but then he was standing in a shop full of magical creatures. The farfetched ship had sailed.
The old woman leaned across the counter and grinned. "So what d'you want to be, buddy? A rock star, a banker, the president. I got them all. Anything you want, we'll hook you up."
And that's how Jack came home with the smallest, cutest, most innocent looking dongwu in the shop. All its tag said was "Power."
Jack stares at the dongwu on his kitchen counter. It nuzzles his hand some more and looks up at him. If he didn't know better, Jack would swear it's smiling at him. It looks so helpless, it makes Jack's gut twist into a knot. He feels just a bit sick thinking about what the old woman said when he carried the dongwu in his arms out of the shop.
"When you get home, pal. Kill the dongwu and eat it."
Jack looked back at her, horrified. "What?"
"Crush its head with something, doesn't matter what. Just bash it. Their skulls are really fragile. They break like an egg, and then their skin comes off super easy. After that, you just fry it in a pan, maybe with some garlic or something, but it doesn't even matter really. You do that and eat it, and you'll have your future. For sure."
Jack cradled the dongwu and felt it shivering in his arms. "Are you crazy? It's one of a kind. Why would I kill it?"
The old woman shrugged. "That's how it works, man." She grinned at him again, a friendly grin but something about it was mean. "Look, don't be so squeamish. You want to be a big shot, right? You want to be rich? You want women to adore you? This is what it takes. And think about it, when you have what you want you won't even remember that little critter there."
"Or..." She shrugged coyly. "Have a cute pet and a normal life. Your choice."
Jack lets the dongwu bury its head into his right hand. With his left, he feels along the counter for anything heavy and hard enough.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, July 11th, 2017

Author Comments

The idea for this story came out of a conversation with my wife. I think of it as, "What if the subprime mortgage crisis, Donald Trump and Theresa May all met Mr Wing from Gremlins...."

The story came together pretty well in the first draft, but it took a couple more passes to work the flashbacks in without creating a hiccup in the narrative. I've been experimenting with changing tenses in stories. Not sure why, really. It's just fun.

- David Beyt
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