Sometimes, when you’re in the grubbier part of a city and in need of a store where you can buy or sell some sort of something (whether you know what sort of something that something should be or not), there is a shop, right where you need it to be and carrying just that sort of something that you may or may not know is the something you’re looking for. More often than not, that shop is the same shop as it is for someone else somewhere else seeking (or not so much seeking) a different something altogether. But the something is never the same something, no matter which something it is. Sometimes this is more of a figurative manner of speaking, a sensible way of categorizing the jetsam and other miscellany on the list of establishments in the capitalistic ecosphere. Sometimes it is very much literal.

To put it another way: it is oft wondered how words come to be and where, precisely, they come from. A fool will say this is an easy question; words are made by people in order to talk about stuff in a way that lets you hone in nicely on what stuff it is that you mean. Fools are lucky that the words have not yet gotten together and sued for libel.

In the worlds there are the Atnaterrans (spirits), there are the Setoterrans (humans and their lot, most of whom they try to distance themselves from via city walls or slapping them on a dinner plate), there’s a tremendous array of flora, and there are words. The words are just as alive as anything else, really, and they don’t just spring up out of nothing. On the contrary, they typically spring up out of something; a great big lot of something, enough of something that that something needs a better word for itself than something. Here we are about to see the loins that birthed the word “etcetera.”

It was an entirely unremarkable storefront. In fact, the most remarkable part was the sign, which currently read “W. H. Findings” punctuated by a red star, but was, as mentioned, remarkable. It was remarked every day, typically multiple times. When you run a business buying and selling wares as varied as those that populated the shelves in W. H. Emporium, it was hard not to be tempted by the fresh start of rebranding.

(Oh, yes, W. H. Emporium is W. H. Findings. As Root, Azriah, Vit, and Beel were walking inside, there was a man up on a permanent ladder doing a bit of post-lunch remarking.)

It’s even harder not to be tempted by a fresh store name when you’re Wirlem Halson and tempted by most things.

Wirlem, unlike his shopfront and certainly not unlike his merchandise, was a remarkable man. Usually this was not meant in the same way as the store sign, although it’s worth noting that he was on his fourth right hand.

His wrinkled and scarred head erupted with tufts of white hair in a way that less resembled a hairstyle and more so an old throw pillow that had been ravaged by a bored hound. Most plumed from his scalp, but no small amount had made its way out of his ears and nose and scrabbled like a spreading fungus around his lips and down his chin. He still had his left eye, which is a detail worth mentioning only due to how surprising most found it considering his lifestyle and some of his more questionable life choices. He had not, as one might guess, managed to retain the right. But even he considered this a fair payment to fate or karma or whatever it might’ve been.

As Wirlem arced the final stroke of an M and adjusted the position of the red star to be sure it was properly crooked, he shot down the ladder with all the caution of a man missing an eye and his first three right hands.

Azriah held open the door. Four different bells and a gong made their respective sounds at uneven intervals and unharmonious tones. Root passed under them and led the group into the store.

It was, without question, the most crowded space she had ever set foot in. Wall to wall, the room was packed with narrow aisles of shelves and tables and, in more than one spot, just mounds of unsorted goods. There looked to have been very little sorting that had happened within the last decade or so, all while new items were crammed in wherever they would fit best and with little to no regard for whether or not a customer might need to walk or reach through that empty space in order to access something else. Root wasn’t sure she would be able to see everything that the store had to offer without buying up half the stuff just to uncover the second layer. Perhaps that was the whole idea.

Signs and flyers and clippings of newspapers seemingly both intentional and unintentional quilted the walls. To the left of the door was a sign that read: “Flirmb: 40 miles,” and another below it that said: “Now leaving Obobo.” And there at the junction, according to a big yellow sign nailed to a rafter above their heads, was a “terilbear x-ing.” Root didn’t know what a terilbear was, but if the silhouetted image was any indicator, it had a lot more horns and tongues than the things she preferred to meet.

Leading the group deeper into the store, Root made her way carefully to what she could only assume was meant to serve as a checkout counter, given that the piles of things atop it were not quite as high as they were everywhere else, which meant that one might, theoretically, be able to see over the top of it to take a look at what a customer was buying or selling. As Vit and Beel and finally Azriah filed in behind her, they took up just about the last open space in the store. Root wasn’t even sure there was enough air that hadn’t been displaced by their presence for them to go more than a few minutes without choking.

“Quaint,” said Vit as they combed aside the dangling ends of some ropes that had been hung or slung about the low rafters. One of them was stuck with an assortment of buttons and pins ranging in images and slogans.

“What if the shelves all collapse and we get buried back there,” said Beel, eyeing the nearest aisle. It seemed to be themed around taxidermy, gardening supplies, baskets, and battered trifold boards from old school presentations. But there was also a broken chandelier stripped of all decoration as well as a door sawed in half lengthwise and now bearing wheels—the unmistakable summer afternoon project of a couple of rowdy kids.

“Can’t happen if you don’t go down there,” suggested Root.

“I don’t know if I can even fit down there.”

It was true. Root looked from Beel to the aisle and back to Beel; it would be snug, at the very least. She doubted she herself could navigate the maze without moving sideways. The servers at Oubliette Steakhouse would feel right at home.

“There a bell or something?” asked Azriah, unable to maneuver his way to the counter without most likely bringing Beel’s avalanche fears to life.

“Uh…” Root looked down, and then peeled back a few layers of newspapers and other refuse in her search. “Yeah, right here.” She pushed aside a folder packed to bursting to uncover a tarnished old bell and something else just beside it: a quart size jar of murky green water lying on its side with a note glued to the top that read “ring if u need a Hand!” There was an arrow pointing to the bell.

“Is that…?” Vit leaned closer to look at the jar. Root bent and peered inside too. It looked like a spoiled jar of pickles, perhaps, or a preserved snake coiled up. Er, no, not unless it had been chopped into segments. Was it…?

“Ah, yep, that’s a hand,” said Root, straightening up. “A human hand. In some gross juice.”

“Aye, that’s mine! My first one, any-whose,” said a voice. They all turned at once as the last modicum of free space in the store was suddenly filled by the man who had been up the ladder outside. And most of that space had been filled by his gut; his arms looked like they’d snap in a light breeze. Perhaps, at one point, they had—or at least the right one, somewhere down by the wrist.

“‘Scuse me there, yep, mhm, a’scuse. Thanks.” The man waddled his way to the counter. “Name’s Wirlem!” he said once he had sidled his way behind it. He stuck out his hand for Root. She reached for it, then paused.

His fourth right hand was made up mostly of wood and metal and things of that nature—things a bit more removed from the stock model of flesh and bone, or “the flimsy stuff,” as Wirlem often put it. Taut cords connected to the finger bits and ran up his arm and under the sleeve of his grimy shirt.

“Y’won’t break it,” he said. “Promise. ’n if y’do, I’ll build another one. They get better ’n better every time, tell y’that.”

Root took the prosthetic in her hand gingerly. As if proving a point, Wirlem clenched hard on her hand, all the cords sliding and the joints squeaking.

“Mother—!” said Root as she yanked her hand back. Wirlem grinned at her with his one-eyed, fewer-than-average-toothed grin.

“Fucker,” he finished. “Welcome to W. H. Findings. What can I do for all you fine folks today?”

“I thought the sign said ‘W. H. Emporium,’” said Vit.

“O ya, it does. Forgot,” said Wirlem, wiping a bit of the smudged remains of “Findings” from his palm onto his shirt. “Welcome to W. H. Emporium. Buyin’? Sellin’?”

“Selling, maybe,” said Azriah. He tried to work his way past Beel and Vit.

“Maybe? Well better be quick ’n make up your mind!” Wirlem coughed out a laugh.

Azriah reached the counter and held out one of the mysterious coins from Affodell’s crypt. It was enormous, better suited to serve as some sort of shipboard ammunition than currency. It took Azriah’s whole hand just to hold the one, and Root could personally attest to how heavy they were. It’d be a relief to finally part with them all in place of some real coins, whatever the exchange rate turned out to be.

Wirlem took the coin in his prosthetic hand and flipped it around. No embossment adorned either side but for the simple mark of the mirrored C’s. Wirlem looked at one side, then the other, and then without even a moment’s pause to locate the thing, plucked a loupe from a dish on the counter that also held two paperclips, a spent match, half a dozen crackers, a few scraps of paper, and at least a year’s worth of fingernail clippings. He held the loupe and coin close to his eye, studying the C and then the coin’s edge.

“Interesting. Where’d you get this?”

They had discussed this question in advance. “Found it in my grandmother’s attic,” said Azriah.

“Yeah? Your gram do much grave robbin’?”

“Uh. Excuse me?”

“She go rootin’ around in an old crypt or somethin’?” Wirlem lifted his eye to study Azriah carefully.

“Um. Er, not that I’m… aware of.”


Everyone was silent for a beat; Wirlem and Azriah watched each other with a mutual mix of distrust and intrigue. Vit broke the silence. “Well, say his grandmother did do some grave robbing. Is that probably where she got this?”

“Prob’ly, less she’s gullible as a pier at low tide. Meanin’ no offense.”

“None taken,” assured Azriah, completely betraying the honor and familial loyalty of his fake grandmother.

“Why’s that?” asked Vit.

“This here’s crypt currency,” said Wirlem, handing the coin back to Azriah. “Only found in crypts. ’s what the C’s’re for.”

“And if you were to say what it’s worth…?” asked Azriah.

“I’d tell you it’s worthless,” said Wirlem.

Worthless? This has to be gold. It can’t be worthless!”

“Well, ya, any coin’s got its worth in raw mater-yul. But I ain’t buyin’ it regardless. Terrible invesmin’.”

“If it’s got value in the metal, what makes it worthless?” asked Vit.

“You know how money works?”

“Yes. Er, mostly, I think.”

“Shells ’n radulas ’n helixes ’n all that lot’ve got value, see, ‘cuz pretty much any buddy’s gonna tell you they do, includin’ bankers and gover-mince and all those phonies.” Wirlem hacked another laugh. “Backed by somethin’, somewhere. Now, this crypt currency, see, now these’re different. Some folks’ll say they got value, but only some, ’n the rest of the folk either don’t understand it or don’t care for it or won’t accept it as legal tender in their shops ’n whatnot. That makes it real hit’r’miss. ’n they’re not backed by anythin’, see, now that’s the problem at the heartuvit. These big buggers sposedly got value ‘cuz someone, somewhere did some math ’n decided they got value, ’n you just gotta take their word for it about how much value they got. Doesn’t help that that’s the guy who started out with all the crypt currency in the first place—’n how he managed to trick those first couple bastards into buyin’ some off ‘im for regular old money beats me. Now the more math they do, the more it’s worth, or so they say. Bunch uh crooks takin’ advantage uh those without much goin’ on up there, y’know? Now if I was t’buy it off ya, who knows—those folks could come round sayin’ they crunched the numbers ’n now it’s worth negative monies ’n I gotta pay up. No way—volatile stuff and flimsy as a hand.” He thudded his prosthetic fist against the counter to emphasize his point.

“That all just sounds like regular money… but worse,” said Azriah.


Azriah looked at the coin in his hand. “So you’re saying our best bet is to just drop them all down a sewer grate and be done with it?”

“‘Em all? Your gran been into quite the crypts, then?”

Azriah’s face reddened. “Oh. Uh, yeah, guess she must’ve been. We have a few more.”

Wirlem scratched his chin. “No—now I’m not sayin’ you have to part with ‘em at all, if it suits ya, and neither way so promptly. If you find a guy who thinks they’re worth somethin’, you can always pawn ‘em off that way. Get you a pretty penny at least. Just that I’m not that guy.”

“Any chance you know of anyone?” asked Vit hopefully.

Wirlem sized them up for a lengthened moment. “Yeah, yeah I can tell you where t’find someone. Here, lemme write down the address fur-ya.” Wirlem grabbed a scrap of paper from precisely the spot Root wished he hadn’t. “Other side uh the city, mind you.”

“That’s not a problem. Thank you,” said Azriah, taking the slip of paper between thumb and forefinger and shaking off a stubborn nail clipping. He pocketed it and then wiped his fingers.

“Anythin’ else I can do for you all? Anythin’ I can sell ya?” Wirlem pointed to a sign behind the counter which Root hadn’t noticed before amidst everything else that cluttered the walls. It read: “Why buy new when you can get used for the same price!”

“I think we’re all set,” said Azriah. “But here—for all of your help.” He shook out a couple of coins—real coins—and handed them to Wirlem.

“A pleasure, a pleasure. If you folks are ever needin’ anythin’ else you just swing on by the W. H. Shop of Wonders, y’hear?”

“Oh, I thought it was W. H. Emporium,” said Vit.

“Was. Gonna follow y’out ’n make some adjust-mince.”


Wirlem Halson chuckled to himself as he erased Emporium. Those kids, he thought. As if I haven’t gotten around, seen a thing or three. Grandmother’s attic—ha! He shook his head. He had a store policy, tried and true: if someone’s selling something, never push for details on where it came from. Only loses business, and if the authorities came looking for something—well, they could just try to find it, then. Anything real suspicious he made sure to tuck away in just the right spot so it would only come to light again when just the right customer came poking around. That was the proper way in a business like Wirlem’s.

If memory served, there were still a handful of officers who had gone searching through the inventory across the years and never come back out, but they’d turn up eventually, when the right folks came by. A school anatomy teacher, maybe, on the hunt for a new model.

He had another store policy, too: never let on more than you know. Those kids had bigger business than a couple of fakey coins. Much bigger. But that was none of his business.

He leaned back and took a look at the new sign. Yes, that would do. He craned his neck and gazed out across the streets of Midden. Hm. Yes, while he was at it, perhaps it was time for a change of scenery.