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The Lorelei Signal


Dueling Dollars

Written by Elizabeth Spencer Spragins / Artwork by Marcia Borell

Seren picked the lock on the thrift store’s back door in fifty-five seconds. Stifling a whoop, she saluted the moon with a fist pump before recording the time on her score card. A glance over her shoulder confirmed that the parking lot was still empty. She took a deep breath and returned the tools to an embroidered case, a birthday gift from her grandmother.


When a garbage can clattered somewhere in the darkness, she froze. Three heartbeats later several hissing cats launched into a brawl. Seren chuckled, stepped across the threshold, and switched on the lights. After scanning the storage area, she slipped into the main showroom. Bypassing electronics, housewares, and furniture, the teen circled racks of clothing and stopped in front of women’s pants. She dropped her backpack to the floor, extracted a bank deposit bag, and pulled out a wad of cash. Her left hand flipped through the hangers while her right popped a five-dollar bill into each pocket.


As she rounded the corner and worked her way through the extra-large section, a sneeze exploded in the silence. Seren gasped, pivoted, and blinked. A man wearing a black beret was lounging against the wall beside the office door. He was holding a pistol in one hand and a handkerchief in the other.


“Didn’t mean to startle you. Allergies.” Smirking, he wiggled bushy eyebrows that were significantly grayer than his hair. “Doing some late night shopping, sweetheart?”


“No, actually, I’m on a mission.”


“Well, you could say I’m on a mission, too. Money gets lonely during the night. I like to keep it company.” He snickered. “I’d like to keep yours company, too. Especially since the cash drawer in this place is empty.”


Seren cleared her throat. “Did you know you’re bleeding?”


“What?” The gun wobbled.


“Look at your handkerchief.”


The gunman’s eyes darted to the frayed fabric. White-faced, he recoiled. “It was that stupid window. I must have cut my palm on the broken glass when I climbed in.” His voice quavered.


“Doesn’t look too bad,” Seren ventured. “A little pressure on the wound should do the trick.”


While he fiddled with the cloth, Seren edged toward the emergency exit. She had reached the end of the row when he finished knotting the makeshift bandage with his teeth.


“Where do you think you’re going?” he growled.


Seren’s left foot paused in midair, reversed course, and eased back down.


“Beats me what you were up to, but right now you’re going to transfer the contents of all those pockets to mine.” He gestured with the pistol. “Put those pretty little fingers to work.”


Seren shrugged and reached into the nearest bulging pocket. She fished out a wad of fives.


The man’s eyes popped, and he strode over to the rack. “How’d you do that? Is this some sort of magic? I saw you put a single bill in that pocket.”


“I told you, I’m on a mission. This is dueling dollars night for the sisterhood. Every summer solstice we plant fecund fives where we think they will do the most good. They multiply in the dark, and we earn points for social impact.” Seren grinned. “I’m competing in the junior division, and I’m sure to win this round. The profits from this thrift store fund the local animal shelter.”


“Right. Well, we’re going to redirect your hocus pocus my way. Pass me that deposit bag.” He extended his bandaged hand, crooking the index finger with a wince.


Seren paled. “Wait, you don’t understand. Fecund fives reproduce only when they’re freely given. If you take them by force . . .”


“If I take them by force, I’ll be rich!” He snatched the bag, holstered his weapon, and grabbed a fistful of bills. As he fingered the money, his right hand flattened and turned a dark green. He screamed and staggered backward. A wave of color rolled up his arm.


Seren shook her head as a pile of green powder accumulated at her feet. “I tried to warn you. Greed reverses the reproductive energy of fecund fives.” She went in search of a dustpan.

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Elizabeth Spencer Spragins is a fiber artist, writer, and poet who taught in North Carolina community colleges for more than a decade before returning to her home state of Virginia. Her work has appeared in more than 80 journals and anthologies in 11 countries. She is the author of three original poetry collections: “Waltzing with Water” and “With No Bridle for the Breeze” (Shanti Arts Publishing) and “The Language of Bones” (Kelsay Books).

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