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The cowboy leaned against the vending machine, his Stetson pulled down over his brow, flipping a coin into the air over and over again.

Mandy’s momma had always told her to stay away from strangers, so she waited in the car while Momma went into the Post Office to get the mail.

The skinny man flipped the coin again, over and over it tumbled, sparkling in the sun.

Momma had told Mandy to get some quarters out of the glove box and get herself a candy or a pop out of the machine at the laundromat. It was right there in front of the spot where Momma had parked the car.

But so was the man with the short stubby hair on his face and a cigarette sticking out of his mouth. Over and over the coin tumbled. He hadn’t been standing there when they drove up, but in the time it took Mandy to find three quarters he’d walked up and leaned against the candy machine. Now he was just standing there, flipping his coin.

Mandy looked through the tall glass windows of the Post Office and saw Momma talking to Mrs. McCray.

Lord knows how that lady loves to talk, and when she gets going… Mandy knew it could very well be a good long while before Momma came back out.

He didn’t look mean or scary. He wasn’t doing no body no harm just standing there.

Mandy got out of Momma’s Lincoln and walked right on up to the vending machine. She reached up to put a quarter in and watched his coin tumbling through the air, over and over again.

She put the second and third quarters in, and pressed B2, licking her lips as she waited for her grape pop to fall. Nothing happened.

Nothing but that coin sparkling in the sun as it tumbled. The cowboy spoke, and his voice sounded like tarred sandpaper dragged against a cheese grater, thick and dark and harsh. “Looks to me like you’re one shy of a buckaroo, Little Bit.”

“But it’s only s’posed ta cost…” but Mandy stopped when she saw the white sticker with black numbers. Sure enough, pops were a buck a piece now. Her shoulders slumped. She’d dug and dug through that glove box. There weren’t no more quarters.

None but the one the cowboy flipped in the air once again. “Ya know, I might be willing to part with this here quarter, if you’d be willing to make a fair exchange.”

“I ain’t got nothing, Mister.”

“You got a soul, ain’t you?”

“I reckon so. Daddy says there ain’t no such thing as God or Heaven or Hell or souls, but I think he’s wrong. Grampa says he’s too drunk half the time to know his a-s-s from a hole in tha ground.”

“Is that so? Well, I have it on good authority that, ahem…” the cowboy cleared his throat, “all those things are real, and you most certainly do have a soul. Less you’ve sold it already, it stays with you till you die.”

“Oh no, Mister. I ain’t sold it yet. How much you think it’ll go for? Grampa says Daddy’ll pawn anything for a carton a’ beer. I don’t want no beer though, that stuff smells nasty.”

“I couldn’t agree more. Tell ya what,” he tucked the quarter into a front pocket of his worn jeans. “How bout I grant you a wish instead. You see, if you sell me your soul for naught but a quarter, well you wouldn’t get more than just this here pop.” He hooked a thumb at the machine, then knelt down eye level with Mandy. “But you sound like a smart kid, and I know your soul’s got to be worth more than just that. What do you say? How much is your soul worth, Mandy?”

“Well, I don’t rightly know, Mister. How bout a pop and a candy bar?”

“Pshaw… a pop and a candy bar? Come on now little one… you can do better than that.”

Her eyes lit up when she remembered her Momma taking her to that big ole candy store in the mall. “A whole candy store. I want to go to that candy store with enough money to buy all kinds of candy. I want to eat candy until it makes me sick!” Mandy squealed with glee at the prospect.

The stranger straightened up and said, “Done.”

###

“I tell you Mrs. McCray I’m at my wit’s end with the man. Oh, we’ll talk about this later. Don’t want Mandy to hear.” Mandy’s Momma glanced into the car, but didn’t see her little girl inside. She wasn’t at the vending machine in front of the laundromat earlier. Panic set in as she searched the area and came up empty.

Firetrucks roared past in a red blur, headed toward that new mall she’d just brought Mandy to a couple weeks before. Her little girl had been so excited to see the candy shop especially. She couldn’t have cared less if the place burned to the ground, though, she just wanted to find Mandy.


I wrote this flash fiction to today’s prompt over at The Daily Post, Vending Wishes.

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