“It just seems like poor marketing,” said Vit. The four of them stood on the street outside the store. The sign above the door, in big letters painted to look like they were formed by strings of sausage links, read “Wurst Mart.”

“But it tells you exactly what they sell,” said Beel. “Wouldn’t that be good marketing?”

“But it’s called Wurst Mart. Like Worst Mart.”

“You just said the same thing twice.”

“I said it with an O the second time. As in it’s ‘the worst,’ you know?”

“I know,” said Beel glumly.

“Root, what do you think?”

“I don’t know. It’s like a pun or something, right?”

“A pun about being bad?”

“I don’t know.”


“I don’t think they put this much thought into it. The sign makes it clear what we’ll find inside. I’m with Beel.”

“Yeah, it looks fine all written out, but imagine people talking about it in conversation. ‘You can get that over at Wurst Mart.’ ‘Worst Mart? Gross, I’ll go somewhere else!’” They gestured at their example like it lay out before them and looked from Azriah, to Beel, to Root, then went around again.

“What would you call it, then?” asked Root.

“I don’t know, but definitely not Worst Mart. Maybe…” They scratched the teal half of their brow overlooking their four green spider eyes. “Sausage Center.”

“That’s not very good.”

“It’s alliterative!”

“They don’t start with the same letter.”

“They don’t need to, it’s the same sound. Fine, what about ‘Kielba-shop.’”

“These are bad, Vit.”

“Hey, I haven’t had long to think about it, you put me on the spot.”

“Doesn’t matter,” said Azriah. “Let’s go.” He led the way to the door.

“What if we use sausage in our group name? The Sausage Four. Or Five. Hey, yeah, imagine we called ourselves the ‘Wurst Crew’ or something. Wouldn’t that make us sound bad?”

“We don’t need a sausage-themed group name,” said Root.

“Yeah, I don’t want to go giving anyone any ideas,” said Beel.

“Hi, welcome in!” said the spirit behind the counter. His name tag said “Mett,” and below it, “Wurst Mart Employee.”

“See?” said Vit, reading the name tag. “‘Mett—Worst Mart Employee.’”

“That’s me,” said Mett with the cheer of someone who hadn’t been subjected to the prior conversation and naïveté of someone unaware of the silently lurking O that Vit had swapped in. “What can I do for you all?”

“Excuse my friend here,” said Azriah. “We’re just looking for… what was it… bratwurst and—”

“Cocktail bratwurst and beans cocktail,” said Root, who was afraid the concept was now branded into her mind permanently.

“Ah, no can do,” said Mett. “Sold out this morning.”

“Oh, come on.”

Mett looked up startled at Root. “Oh, uh, pretty hungry, then? I do have plenty of the mystery link surprise.”

“What is that?” asked Beel.

“Oh, they’re pork sausages, but each one has a random smaller sausage hidden inside. I think it’s how the company uses up the defects or the stuff that isn’t selling. Some of the combinations are actually nearly palatable.”

Azriah hadn’t moved at all since Mett broke the news. Now he leaned forward and spoke again.

“Listen, is there any way… could you just maybe, uh, check the back?”

Mett’s face took on a faint edge. (Root wasn’t sure what to call it—an under-ear chin? Second forehead?) His expression changed as well.

“I’m sorry, but we don’t have any.”

“You can’t just… look?”

Mett sighed and walked away, muttering something about the back room not working miracles “anymore.” About a minute later, he reemerged.

“All out. Sorry folks.”

“Is there anywhere else we might be able to get some?”

“You can try the factory where they’re canned across town.”


Mett pointed out through the windows and to the left. “All the way down the road, take a left at the fountain, straight ahead another couple minutes and then it’ll be on your right. You can’t miss it.”

“Thank you.” Azriah was already headed for the door.

“Now that’s more like it,” said Vit. They’d reached the canning facility. A big sign on the gate out front read “Bratbest Foods, Inc.”

They passed through the gate and made their way up to the tall doors in the center of the building’s facade. Several bulky spirits were loading crates into carts parked in neat rows along the path’s sides.

“Hello there,” said a spirit standing by the doors, their attention fixed on the clipboard in their pinchers and on the comings and goings of the spirits moving in and out of the building beside them. They didn’t even glance at the four of them. “All tours for the day have been canceled due to an unfortunate incident involving a worker’s fing— excuse me, I mean there was a small spill. The floors are still wet. Can’t have anyone slipping in the blood.”

“You mean water?” asked Vit.

“The water.” The spirit checked off several lines. They finally looked up. “Did you say something?”

“We’re here looking for a product, actually,” said Azriah. “We need some cocktail bratwurst and beans cocktail. Just a can.”

The spirit was back to scratching out notes onto their clipboard. “Sorry, that product has been discontinued.”

“You’re fucking kidding,” said Root.

“We only need one can,” said Azriah. “You must have just one lying around.”

“If we did, it’s been recycled into mystery link surprise—now with twelve new flavor combinations including the rare mystery link-stuffed mystery link for a triple-flavor combo.”

“What do we do now?” asked Vit.

Root watched a crate go by. “Anyone feel like playing the sausage lottery and cutting open some mystery link surprise?”

“Gropply probably wouldn’t eat them after that,” said Beel.

“Damn picky eater. You’re right.”

“The clerk at Wurst Mart said they’d sold the last can today, right?” said Vit.

“Yeah. So?”

“Maybe he’ll tell us who bought it.”

Azriah threw up his hands. “I’ll try anything at this point,” he said. Then as an amendment, added, “Except anything getting carted out of this place.”

They had to sidestep a spirit hawking something out of a tiny stand on the street in front of the Wurst Mart. He jumped in front of passersby, holding a leather pouch cupped in both hands.

“Beans!” he called. “Magic beans! Just one of these little morsels will grow you a stalk as high as the clouds! Only four easy payments of nineteen ninety-nine plus fees!”

“Gropply wasn’t kidding,” said Root. She ducked around the man and came back up with one of the pouches from his stand between her fingers. She tipped the contents into one hand.

“These are just rocks painted green.”

“How can you be sure?” asked Vit.

“He only painted the top half.” She let the beans and emptied pouch fall into the gutter.

“And these will cure you of any digestive ailment!” His voice faded as they entered the store. “Three for a whorl or five for two!”

“Hello—” said Mett, looking up. “Ah, you’re back. Any luck?”

“Apparently the product has been discontinued,” said Azriah.

“Oh, really? That’s a shame, it got a fairly average number of sales. Some of the products have hardly sold a unit in years. Well, is there something else I can help you find instead?”

“Sort of. You wouldn’t happen to remember who bought the last can today, would you?”

Mett’s face sort of puckered in on itself, which startled Root until she realized it seemed to be the way his particular spirit form expressed some emotion. She waited patiently and somewhat queasily while his features migrated back to their proper locations.

“Yeah, I remember her. Hard to forget. Not every day you… sorry, why do you ask?”

Azriah took a moment to correct his stance, which had rudely angled itself away from Mett and his morphing face all of its own volition. He cleared his throat. “We were just hoping to see if we could buy it off them, is all. We really need a can, see.”

Mett looked anxiously between them. “I don’t know, I don’t think we are supposed to be giving out the personal info about our customers.”

Root scoffed. “It’s a sausage shop, how strict can the confidentiality be?”

“Well, there’s a saying, see—”

“Just a name and address,” said Azriah. “We won’t bother them, and we’ll offer a more than fair price.”

Mett’s eyes were drawn to something out past the front windows. He hesitated. “All right, I can tell you who bought it. If you can just do something for me…”

“Why am I not surprised,” said Root.

“That guy out there with the beans. He always sets up outside our shop, drives customers off because they’re too busy looking down and walking quick to notice the shop, you know? My boss says I need to tell him to bug off when I see him, but I just don’t really like the confrontation, so…?”

Root groaned, but she wasn’t interested in adding to their tab of wasted time. She spun on her heel and flung open the shop door. A few people looked up, but barely, careful to avoid the piercing gaze of the “bean” seller.

“Hey, bean guy!” she shouted.

“…will make her fall in love with—” The spirit selling the beans paused and turned to face her. “One mantle plus tax,” he whispered through the left side of his lips.

“Get the fuck off this street, yeah? No one’s buying!”

“Well that’s just not true, I have many customers.”

“They’re just painted rocks,” she called to the people on the street.

“Are not!”

An acrid smell rolled across the street as Root flicked a finger towards the stand. A blade of smoke sliced through the hanging pouches, their contents spilling and skittering across the street with the sound of a handful of thrown gravel. The seller, red in the face (which was not his natural color), scooped up his stones and hurried away with his stand.

“She was the right person for the job,” said Beel to Mett. “She has a bit of a tone problem.”

“I’ve had enough of this string of favors and bartering. And what’s he gonna do, get the town guard? He’s a con man.”

“He might, actually, yeah,” said Mett. “He has an in. He’s convinced most of them that he’s got a type of bean that can justify their actions.”

“Ah. Might be best we hit the road, then.”

“Well, thanks. I’ll give you the address you’re looking for.” Azriah laid out the paper with all the rest of their guiding info. Mett added an address to one open spot.

“Sorry for the trouble,” said Azriah. “Uh, let’s grab something to add to our supper while we’re here, yeah?”

The others shrugged in uncommitted agreement. Root watched the door. She picked at a scab near her elbow.

“What would you like?”

“Surprise me,” said Azriah. “Actually, don’t. I feel like you could.” He scanned the selection behind the counter. “Just half a dozen of those. Yep. Thanks.”

They hurried off down the street, lime-colored pebbles underfoot.

“So this is the address, huh?” said Vit as the four of them looked up at the place.

“I don’t like it,” said Beel.

“You’d say that about anywhere,” said Root.

“But this one has bones littered all around the entrance.”

It was true. Bones weren’t so common in Atnaterra, given that spirits didn’t have any, at least in the traditional sense, but outside this front door in particular, bones were very common. In fact, bones were more common there than most places in Setoterra. Bones were more common there than in Root’s body, which was generally her threshold of how many bones should be in any one place—give or take a few.

The doorless opening was ginormous, at least fifteen feet high and burrowing into solid stone, a gaping cave in the hillside. Only pitch blackness lay within.

“How do we know we have the right place?” asked Beel. “I don’t see a number or anything.”

“There’s no number on the address,” said Azriah. “I just assumed addresses worked a little different around here—that they used these strings of letters instead.”

“What’s the string of letters?” asked Vit.

“K-E-E-P O-U-T.”

“Looks like we’re here, then,” said Root, indicating the sign next to the entrance bearing the same code.

Beel sniffed the air. “Smells like something burning.”

“Does it?” Root tried to discreetly pull up the collar of her shirt and sniff. Wasn’t her.

“Does this mean we have to slay a dragon for a can of beans?” asked Vit.

They all shared a shrug and then the subsequent silence.

“Well, you first,” said Beel to Root.

“What? Why?” Root paused. “Fine,” she added, and not wanting to give Beel time to elaborate, she stalked into the cave.

All around a long, mahogany table sat a dozen of the dullest people imaginable. Each of them had a degree in business, and somehow that wasn’t even the least interesting thing about them. It was actually rather near the opposite end of the list.

Beige walls encircled them, hung at precise intervals with soulless stock art of minimalist depictions of sausages. Most were just ovals on an otherwise blank canvas. The most interesting thing in the room to look at—by careful and malicious design—was the board at one end of the table depicting an assortment of lines which, when all added up, amounted to nothing that anyone with a half-functioning brain couldn’t visualize perfectly with the simple words “downward trend” or the inverse. But for the room’s occupants, it would take something of a team effort to assemble a half-functioning brain, so pictures were readily provided.

“Something from our lineup is going to have to get the axe,” said a voice hardly distinguishable from the rest. “Here we can see the market performance of the mystery link surprise, one of our wurst sellers…” The spirit’s hand traced the line as it went from low to lower. He lay the board flat, revealing a second beneath it. “This is the yearly performance of cocktail bratwurst and beans cocktail…” Again, he followed the line with one hand, gently guiding the eyes and attention of the others in the room along the straightforward trajectory. Couldn’t have them getting lost along the way, of course.

This second line started somewhere around the middle of the graph and ended just the same. About halfway along, there was an ever-so-subtle dip and recovery that those at the far end of the table had to squint to notice at all.

“Well, obviously the cocktail bratwurst and beans has to go,” said one of the figures at the table. “I mean, just look at those losses.”

“Agreed,” said the spirit at the board. “All others in agreement?” A wave of nods made its way around the table. “Great. Meeting adjourned. Another great day of making money.”

One head broke from the masses and looked around. Its associated hand rose uncertainly into the air.

“Uh, yeah, the intern?” said the spirit at the board. The others looked and then settled back into their seats in annoyance.

“Well, I was just wondering… We learned in school that it’s better to discontinue products that don’t sell and keep making products that do. It’s something about the ec-o-nomics. So wouldn’t it be best to discontinue the wurst seller?”

Snickers crossed the table. The intern sat lower in his chair.

“Look, I know you’re new to all of this, so let me break it down for you,” said the spirit at the board condescendingly. “You can’t just go around discontinuing the products no one buys. What would be the point in that? No, you have to discontinue something that sells, something that’s someone’s favorite. Otherwise, who is going to think about the product wistfully for the rest of their life?”

“Oh, I see. I guess we haven’t gotten to that unit yet.”

“Guess not. All right, now if we’ve answered all of the silly questions for the day…?” Another round of laughter. “Great. Now I’ve got a meeting with a client. We’ll be jerking each other off in my office, so no one bother us.”