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A moment of [Clarity]

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Entering the shop was a bad idea, and Kris knew it. But they didn’t fight their urge to go in. They couldn’t. It didn’t matter what they thought— in the end, they had to do what was expected of them, whether they wanted to or not. So, despite it all, Kris swallowed their doubts, and told Ralsei and Susie to wait outside.

“...That’s sketchy as hell,” Susie muttered, and Kris had to agree with her misgivings.

“It’s fine. Kris can handle themself.” Ralsei nodded at Kris reassuringly, and they gave their most convincing thumbs up in response as they approached the door. “We’ll be right outside. Call if you need us!”

Kris turned the doorknob and entered the building, closing the door behind them.

---------

The instant Kris stepped in, they felt claustrophobic. The shop itself looked unnatural. Everything around them looked like it was built out of trash. The walls, covered in sky blue, was complete with a painting of sun and clouds, reminding Kris of their own world. The shop itself never seemed to stay still; if Kris really squinted and focused, it was almost as if it was glitching in and out of reality. Of course, there was also...

“KRIS! WELCOME, CUSTOMER!”

Despite anticipating Spamton’s voice, Kris flinched slightly at the loud words. The voice was hearty and unpleasantly friendly. Their eyes flicked nervously over to Spamton. He was sitting there casually, glasses flashing, as if he was anticipating their arrival. Kris hated seeing the salesman. He had the ghastly proportions of a marionette puppet, and the way he talked only heightened Kris’s anxieties.

Spamton trembled slightly, as if he was holding back every fibre of his being to immediately advertise and sell. “I KNEW YOU’D BE HERE. HURRY UP AND BUY SOMETH1NG!”

Kris didn’t want to be here, but it wasn’t as if they had a choice. Might as well get it over with, Kris thought. The faster the interaction, the faster they could get out. At least they might get something out of this. They examined the wares. There were some… unique looking objects. They honestly had no idea what half the stuff even was. Upon closer inspection, there looked to be some sort of old bowtie… a broken sword… a potion made out of who knows what. Bright bursts of color flickered inexplicably in it.

Kris’s frown deepened. They were sure that most of these items were just garbage, even though they were not being advertised as such. Being sold garbage wasn’t even the main problem. No, the problem was in Spamton himself, Kris acknowledged. They just didn’t want to be around him. They were already fighting back every instinct to escape the room; their brain was screaming at them to turn and escape. To go back to their friends just waiting outside. Instead, they stood there like a deer caught in headlights.

“Don’t think I’m interested in any of this,” Kris finally admitted.

“...IS THAT SO?” If the salesman wasn’t looking at Kris earlier, he certainly was now. “MY ESTEEMED CUSTOMER, YOU’RE TELLING ME YOU DON’T WANT TO BUY ANY OF THESE [Essential Items]?”

“I don’t know if I can do anything with these. They look broken and unusable.”

Pitch black glassy eyes glinted beneath colored lenses. Spamton’s gaze was fixed onto them, a gaze sharp enough to pierce their very SOUL. Even though he was smiling, there was something almost hostile about the way he regarded them. They fidgeted under his scrutinizing gaze. “YOU SHOULD SUPPORT [Local Businesses]! I’M [Desperate], YOU KNOW! I’LL EVEN GIVE YOU A [Once in a Lifetime] DEAL IF YOU BUY!! A CHANCE TO GET [Big]!! TO BECOME A [BIG SHOT]!!! AREN’T YOU INTERESTED!?”

“I... no-”

They thought they saw a brief flash of anger in his eyes, but as quick as it appeared, it was gone. “COMING IN HERE TO WINDOW SHOP,” Spamton interrupted sharply as his mechanical smile fell. “TAUNTING ME WITH YOUR KROMER, ONLY TO LEAVE ME [Hanging] OUT TO DRY. YOU’VE GOT [Guts], KRIS!! I LIKE THAT! YOU’VE GOT… [H E A R T].” At the word, Spamton slammed his hands hard on the shop counter, and Kris jumped at the sudden movement. Spamton’s smile returned, growing wider as he tilted his head, jaws clicking as it extended to its limits.

Kris took a step backward. It was as if Spamton could feel the discomfort rolling off of them, for he laughed maniacally.

“WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING?? DON’T YOU WANNA STICK AROUND AND BUY SOMETHING? I’LL EVEN OFFER YOU A [Specil] DISCOUNT ALONG WITH THE [Once in a Lifetime] DEAL! I MEAN, WE ARE SO SIMILAR, DON’T YOU THINK? WE’RE IN THE SAME DAMNED SINKING BOAT. DON’T YOU WANT TO HELP OUT YOUR OLD PAL???”

God, there were too many questions. Kris didn’t know how to answer; instead, they shook their head. What was the salesman even talking about, being so similar? All they could think of was that they didn’t want to be here. Spamton’s expression didn’t change, but the air around him seemed to intensify, his glasses flashing as it caught the dim light. Just as though he could read their mind, Spamton pressed on with the conversation. “DIDN’T YOU KNOW?? YOU AND ME, KRIS. WE’RE TWO SIDES OF THE [Same] KROMER!”

Kris turned their head to the side, not wanting to look at the salesman, and frowned. Stop. I don’t want to hear any more of this. “I don't know what you mean.”

“HAEAHAEAHAEH!!” Spamton tilted his head forward, his body making unnatural clicking noises. “OH, PLEASE!” In an instant, Spamton was on his feet, jolting forward to stand barely a foot away from Kris. It took all of their willpower to not jump again, their eyes widening. The salesman was smiling, but it wasn't a real smile. It was something feral and wild. “COME ON, KRIS. LET’S [Drop the Act], ALREADY! YOU REALLY THOUGHT I WAS THAT OBLIVIOUS??!!! YOU. YOU’RE JUST A HEART ON A [[Chain]], AREN’T YOU? AND ME. I’M NOTHING BUT A [[Puppet]] WITH STRINGS. WE REALLY ARE THE SAME. ISN’T THAT HILARIOUS?? HAHA! HAHAHAHA!”

Kris stilled. It was true. They really were just a heart on a chain, obeying orders from a higher being. THEM. Kris’s breathing grew shallow, head down as they stared at the floor. The frozen chill bypassed the soles of their shoes and leached onto their feet. Nothing’s wrong. Nothing’s wrong. Nothing’s wrong. Head spinning, they forced themself to count down in an attempt to calm themselves, but to no avail.

It should’ve been funny. Someone who could relate to being tugged around against their own will. Someone who could discuss how messed up this whole situation was! So why wasn’t it funny?! Why were they so scared? Why weren’t they running away? Gripping their hands tightly, Kris looked to see that their knuckles had turned stark white. Suddenly, the feeling of cold sweat rolling down their body became all too apparent to them.

“...WHAT’S WRONG? ARE THEY LISTENING RIGHT NOW?” Spamton continued, his body shaking with a crazed intensity as he stepped closer to Kris, head leaning in— too close. Their mind blanked. They could smell the distinct metallic, musty scent of Kromer coming off the salesman; the tangy smell of burnt rubber and plastic, and the putrid scent of garbage.

His glasses flashed pink and yellow as glitches appeared all around him, as if the very fabric of reality was being pulled by his words. Spamton’s voice got more and more frantic and pointed. His glassy eyes focused onto Kris, seemingly staring straight into their SOUL. “Y O U. YOU, YOU, YOU. HAVE YOU. HEARD MY PRAYERS? I’VE BEEN CALLING FOR SO LONG…” Not even a heartbeat afterwards, Spamton’s head jolted back as if nothing had happened, giving a laugh that sounded like it was taken straight from a comedy show.

The world looked glassier than ever, faded and brittle except for Spamton staring directly at them. Kris wanted to scream. Everything was quiet. So quiet. They held their breath, praying that the world would shatter, taking the salesman away with it. It was too much. Everything was too much. Their actions were not their own— they had no control— they knew everything yet they didn't know anything— nothing made sense. How did he know? How COULD he know?

They wanted to scream, to call for help. They didn’t. Instead, Kris wiped their hands against their pants. Even though they didn’t look up, Kris felt Spamton’s eyes trained on them. They could feel their heart beating in their chest as seconds seem to extend longer than seemingly possible. An intense silence stretched between them, as if Spamton was waiting for Kris to make their move. However, when they didn’t, Spamton backed off, laughing. It was unnerving, but even this crazed laugh was better than silence. Kris allowed themselves to take a breath they didn't know they were holding in this entire time.

“SPEECHLESS? I DON’T BLAME YOU, KRIS. YOU’VE SEEN TOO MUCH. [Too Far Gone]. THERE’S NO TURNING BACK FROM [[EXPOSURE TO INFORMATION THAT IS NOT DESIRED TO BE KNOWN]]. LUCKILY, I UNDERSTAND YOU PERFECTLY. WE BOTH KNOW WHAT WE WANT. MAINLY, SOME [[Hyperlink Blocked]]. SO THAT WE CAN FLY. WE’LL FLY SO HIGH THAT WE’LL FINALLY BE ABLE TO SEE THE [Light]. ISN’T THAT WHY YOU’RE HERE?? ISN’T THAT WHAT YOU WANT?!?! AM I [[Wrong]] [[Wrong]]?!”

“...Sorry. Don’t understand.” Kris wheezed. “Can’t… don’t understand.” They refused to look up again. Uncontrollable thoughts raced in their head. They wondered if they were being watched by the being controlling them. Who were they kidding— THEY were always watching, weren’t they? Unless the SOUL was out of their body, THEY were always with them; Kris could feel it. Perhaps that very being was laughing at their misfortune right now.

“...HEY.”

Kris’s eyes flicked up instinctively, but it immediately flicked back down. They clenched their jaw, and didn’t answer.

“HEY, KRIS. YOU LOOK LIKE YOU’VE SEEN A GHOST! KRIS, LOOK AT ME. LOOK AT ME! TALK TO ME, YOU [Little Sponge]! KRIS, COME ON, DO I LOOK LIKE SOME SORT OF ABERRATION?”

Kris didn’t respond. They just wanted the conversation to end, but they couldn’t find the willpower to move anything. Their limbs felt watery and frozen all at once. They felt as if they were seeing stars. It's so hard to breathe... I feel like I'm dying. They could hear Spamton talking to them, could understand him, even, but the voice seems distorted, far away. They didn’t know how long they’ve been staring at the floor, but just been staring, and—

In their mind, they called for help.

“...Hey.” The voice was soft, the humming sound of static distorting the voice slightly. It seemed as if it came from the same man that was standing in front of them, yet it was vastly different from the tone that Spamton usually took. It seemed so familiar, yet unfamiliar at the same time. They felt… a hand? On their shoulder. It was strange; an uncertain movement, but not unwelcoming. The hand pulled them into a makeshift chair that looked like it was pieced together from parts of various objects.

“...Listen to me. Focus on breathing… start counting. One at a time... you’re going to be fine.”

They listened; taking in a breath, they counted. One, two, three, four, five. Breathe out. Again, again, and again. They concentrated on counting. It was as if they were underwater, being brought back up to the surface. Kris felt their head and chest ache from reasons they didn’t want to dwell on. They tried hard not to think about their state.

"...WHAT'S [Your Name]?" The voice asked, a bit louder than before.

Kris blinked several times, trying to comprehend the absurdity of the question. "...Kris."

"THAT'S RIGHT, KRIS. LOOK AT WHAT I'M [Holding] RIGHT NOW. WHAT IS THIS?" Spamton rustled something in his hand.

Kris looked at it. It was black and made of plastic. "That's... a trash bag."

"HOLY [Cungadero]! YOU'RE [@!#@] RIGHT IT IS. IT'S A TRASH BAG!" Spamton handed it over to Kris. "BUT WAIT KRIS!! THERE’S MORE!! I NEED YOU TO TELL ME WHAT A TRASH BAG DOES… AND I MIGHT GIVE YOU A [W1LD PR1ZES]!!”

They stared in disbelief at Spamton, eyes narrowing at the increasingly weird situation. “You... put trash in it."

“LIKE WHAT?" Spamton leaned forward, shaking as if he were a game show host anticipating the most amazing answer.

"Bottles... plastic bags... cans... uneaten food—"

"UNEATEN FOOD?" Spamton almost shouted, interrupting their thought process. "WHO [In Their Right Mind] IS WASTING PERFECTLY GOOD [Edible] FOOD?? [Redirect] THEM TO ME NEXT TIME. I COULD USE SOME [Generosity]." As if he didn’t make that outburst, Spamton continued, nodding approvingly. “[Good Job] ANSWERING THOSE QUESTIONS, KRIS! YOU [Smart Cookie]!! LIKE I STATED BEFORE, YOU GET A [W1LD PR1ZE]! YOUR PRIZE IS THE TRASH BAG!”

Kris stared in stunned silence before giving a huff of amusement, feeling the trash bag crinkle in their hands. "...I'm good." They handed it back to Spamton, as they were not interested in taking it; they had plenty of the stuff back at home.

They felt themself slowly calm down. Thinking about it now, they were starting to understand; Spamton was trying to distract them with those ridiculous questions. Kris looked down, feeling embarrassed. They cursed themself for letting things get out of hand, even though they knew they couldn't control it. Most of all, they were tired. Really damn tired. How long have they been there...? They let out a shuddering breath.

“JEEZE, KID…HONESTLY…!” Spamton sighed, an unnatural, breathy noise that glitched out in the middle. He ran a hand through his hair. “YOU’RE [Worse] THAN I THOUGHT. YOU’RE ALMOST AS PALE AND [Dead Inside] AS I AM! AND YOU’RE THE ONE WITH THE [HeartShapedObject]. I CAN’T SELL YOU ANYTHING WHEN YOU’RE LIKE THIS, Y’KNOW!” The salesman began to move, and Kris could hear the vague shuffling of objects being moved around. “ALL THAT STUFF I WAS TALKING ABOUT EARLIER? FORGET IT!! DON’T [[$#!^]] YOURSELF OVER IT!!! IF YOU DON’T WANNA SAY ANYTHING ABOUT IT, DON’T SAY ANYTHING.”

Kris heard a small thump, a sound that brought them back to reality, and something moved into their field of vision. Slowly, reluctantly, they lifted their head just slightly, enough to see… a cup of some sort of liquid sitting on the counter. It had a brown tint to it. Confused, they looked over to Spamton, who was sitting on the other side of the counter. They couldn’t see his eyes through the multicolored glasses, but Spamton jerked his head towards the cup, almost impatiently. Kris’s arm moved slowly to take it.

Spamton’s body clicked, his shoulders moving up in a shrugging motion. “I GET IT. IT’S A PRETTY [[@#@!#]] TOPIC, ANYWAYS. LET’S MOVE ON.” Spamton clapped his hands together enthusiastically and tucked them under his chin. “LISTEN, YOU DON’T EVEN NEED TO BUY ANYTHING IF YOU DON’T WANT TO!! THE TRUTH IS, I CAN’T FORCE YOU. SO I WON’T FORCE YOU. JUST. MAYBE LATER?? LISTEN TO MY [Great Deal]. THE [[Once in a Lifetime]] DEAL ABOUT BECOMING A [[BIG SHOT]]!”

They were still trembling slightly, but if Spamton noticed, he didn’t show it. Hesitating, Kris stared at the cup, letting it cool down to something akin to a tepid sludge. They swirled the liquid around the cup suspiciously. They didn’t know if it was safe to drink; it was sketchy at best. Where did it even come from? Screw it. They took a sip.

It tasted of anger, sorrow, and unfulfilled promises of joy. Some form of coffee, Kris concluded. They hated it. The drink looked more like a weak tea than coffee; there was a strange, murky color to it that said more about the taste than it ought to do so. It had an oddly offensive aftertaste to it. They wished they were back at the diner, drinking hot chocolate; the thought made their chest ache. Still, they didn’t lose any HP from drinking this; at least that was something. They stomached another sip.

“KRIS, LOOK AT THIS.”

Kris glanced up in confusion as Spamton began to rattle off once more. The salesman had something clenched in his hand.

“I’M A [GenerousMan], SO YOU CAN HAVE IT FOR THE LOW, LOW PRICE OF [Free]! IF YOU BUY NOW, YOU WON’T NEED TO GIVE ME ANY PAYMENT UNTIL YOU [Die]! IT’S SO GENEROUS I’M GONNA HAVE A [Heart Attack] RIGHT AT THIS VERY SPOT!!!”

Spamton revealed the object in his hand like a magician revealing a magic trick. Kris looked at it. It was blue and oval shaped.

“HAVING A [Breakdown]?! STUDIES SHOW EATING CAN HELP REDUCE STRESS AND ANXIETY! STILL HAVING PROBLEMS? THAT MAY BE [Acid Reflux] AND [The Impending Doom of the Whole World Crashing Down on You]!!”

“...What is that?”

“A [PIPIS]. A FRIED [PIPIS].”

“...What does it do?”

“WHAT DOES A [PIPIS] DO??” Spamton repeated incredulously. Kris would’ve cringed if he wasn’t looking at them so intently. “MY [PIPIS] IS [All Purpose]!! BUT THIS FRIED [PIPIS]? YOU EAT IT.”

“And I... can have this? …For free?”

“Y E S.” Spamton gritted out. “IF YOU— JUST. YES. TAKE IT. TAKE IT BEFORE I CHANGE [My Mind].”

“...Thank you.”

Spamton seems taken aback, and doesn’t answer for a brief moment. Kris studies the look on his face; the expression they find there is different from the one they saw earlier, although they can’t put their finger on why. There’s always something strange about the way Spamton smiles. It almost seems like a grimace, like smiling physically hurts him. But the look he had just now seemed just a bit more genuine.

Whatever it was, Spamton quickly recovered from it. “HEY, NO NEED FOR THANKS! WOULDN’T WANT TO LOSE A BELOVED CUSTOMER, WOULD I?” Spamton waved a hand dismissively. “ANYWAYS, EATING THINGS WHEN YOU’RE HAVING A [Mental Crisis] ALWAYS HELPS. [[You’re Not Yourself When You’re Hungry]]. TAKE IT FROM A GUY WITH EXPERIENCE, KRIS! MY [PIPIS] HAS [Saved] LIVES, I TELL YOU!”

Eating the fried pipis, Kris settles with a nod in response to the salesman as they chewed the food thoughtfully. It didn’t taste too bad, all things considered.

“IT’S NO WONDER WHY I DON’T MAKE ANY SALES, I KEEP [Giving] AWAY MY MERCHANDISE,” Spamton laughs after a beat, but there was no malice behind the words. “I’M KIDDING, I DON’T EVEN SELL MY [Pipis]. I WAS NEVER A SALESMAN FOR THE MONEY, ANYWAYS!!”

Kris lets out a puff of air, raising the cup of coffee to their lips, but thought better of it once they got another whiff of it. They put it down on the counter. Kris felt themselves relax just slightly.

“NOT A LIGHTNER OF MANY WORDS, ARE YOU?” Despite barely having a second of silence, Spamton started talking again. “THAT’S WHY I’M THE SALESMAN. WE ALL KNOW THE SALESMAN DOES [99.99%] OF THE TALKING! AEHAEHAHAEHEHA!”

Kris took in a deep breath and leaned back. They debated whether or not they should just leave, or stick around and address whatever it was Spamton wanted to talk about. They flipped the pros and cons in their head. But it didn’t really matter, did it? In the end, THEIR curiosity won over their own personal feelings, like it always did. But it was different now. Even if they didn’t have full control, they were ready. Kris stated that to Spamton.

“READY FOR WHAT, YOU [[Funky Worm]]???”

“The deal you were talking about earlier. You wanted me to listen?”

“AH, YES.” The salesman seemed to brighten immediately at this, flashing far too many teeth in the process. Kris felt themselves a twinge of regret. “THERE’S NOTHING BETTER THAN [Great Deals], I’M TELLING YOU. YOU LOOKING TO BECOME [Big], [[BIGGER AND BETTER THAN EVER BEFORE]]?” Not really, Kris thought in their head. They decided to not respond, but they didn’t need to. Spamton went rambling on. “SURE YOU ARE, I SAW YOU WALKING PAST THE DUMPSTER, TOOK ONE LOOK AT YOU AND SAID, ‘THIS IS A LIGHTNER THAT WANTS TO BECOME A [[Big Shot]]’!!”

Kris didn’t mention how they were the only Lightner that Spamton saw. After the sentence, Spamton whipped out a strange looking program and placed it in front of them. Kris looked at it, then back at the salesman, giving him a raised eyebrow. Spamton flashed his award losing smile.

“THAT’S WHAT THIS BABY IS FOR!” Spamton tapped the empty space next to the program. “THIS KEYGEN IS THE KEY, LITERALLY, THAT WILL MAKE US BECOME BIG. NOT ONLY THAT, BUT WE WILL GET TO GO ON [A Ride around Town on Our Specil Cungadero]. THE POSSIBILITIES ARE TRULY ENDLESS. IF YOU BUY NOW, I’LL EVEN THROW IN THIS GREAT DECAL ADVERTISING MY BUSINESS!”

Spamton made a wide motion at what Kris thinks is the “decal”. It was a piece of paper with the words ‘SPAMTON G. SPAMTON #1 SALESMAN 1997’ along with a phone number poorly scribbled on it. Kris sighed, feeling as though they were about to get scammed. Nothing the salesman said about the KeyGen made any sense. Was it really that miraculous? Did the KeyGen contain the power to break them free of their fates? If so, how?

Then again, nothing Spamton said ever made a complete amount of sense. Whenever he spoke, it contained just the right amount of vagueness, and the truth was always tangled with lies. What did he mean by getting ‘big’? To see the ‘heavens’? Maybe it was just an elaborate ploy to get them to fetch something expensive for the salesman. Kris wouldn’t put it past him to pull something like that. Either way, Spamton wanted it, and he wanted it bad. Kris blinked down at the program, as if staring at it would give them more answers about Spamton’s nonsensical rambling. “Okay… how much is it?”

Suddenly, Spamton started to rattle off a list of numbers. “4306… 42779… 28504… 55…”

Kris narrowed their eyes. Were the prices always changing? They suppressed a huff of disbelief and shook their head, amused despite themself. They waited until a low number before nodding. “I’ll take it.”

“HAEHEHAHAEH! DELICIOUS KROMER! IT’S A DEAL!” Spamton cackled, reaching over to shake Kris’s hand. The salesman shook hands as enthusiastically as if he had just won the lottery, or met his favorite celebrity. They allowed their hand to be shaken like a limp noodle, keeping their composure despite half wanting to yank their hand away from such rough treatment. “I KNEW YOU HAD AN EYE FOR [Great Deals]! I’M ALWAYS RIGHT ON THE NOSE!”

Kris felt their Kromer being absorbed. Spamton slid the program over to Kris, who took it and examined it carefully. Kris furrowed their eyebrows, wondering what they just got themselves into. Spamton’s gaze followed the program, seemingly locked onto it with a feverish intensity.

“NOW, ALL YOU GOTTA DO IS GO TO THE QUEEN’S BASEMENT. UNLOCK THE BASEMENT THERE, AND GET THE EmptyDisk. THEN RETURN IT TO ME [ASAP].”

If it was a scam, it was a damn complicated one. Kris thought about the EmptyDisk and the deal. They were still highly skeptical about the whole thing, but they were also interested. At the very least, it must be pretty important if it was hidden in the Queen’s basement. Kris nodded. “And then? What happens afterwards?”

“WELL.” Spamton gave a knowing smile. There seemed to be a strange tinge of sympathy in the salesman’s voice, as if he was trying to explain something that Kris can’t quite understand. “THEN, YOU AND I WILL BE BIG ENOUGH TO REACH THE HEAVENS. TO HAVE [[Hyperlink Blocked]]. TO BE [[BIG SHOTS]]. WE’LL HAVE IT ALL.”

“I still don’t understand what you mean by all that.”

“AH, THERE’S SO MUCH TO EXPLAIN, I CAN’T STAND IT!! MY HEAD IS GOING TO [Explode]!!” Spamton’s face began to glitch out rapidly. “IT’S ALMOST TOO PAINFUL TO THINK ABOUT, IT’S THAT GOOD!! IT’S RIGHT IN MY GRASP. [[Hyperlink Blocked]]. [[Blocked--Blocked--Blocked]]!! HAEHEHEHE, I— oh god, I’m so sorry, I won’t say it again— ''

There was an unnatural screech as Spamton’s eyes go blank. Kris watched in horror as the salesman jolted back, falling to the ground, before becoming unnaturally still. Kris stood up in alarm, stiffening in fear. They had no idea what to do. Did he need help? How could they help him? Should they call their friends? Kris started to reach out, uncertainly. Before they could touch him, though, with a disturbing 180, Spamton straightened up instantly with a hiss of pain, like a puppet that's being yanked on its feet. Kris quickly withdrew their hand in alarm.

Through the salesman’s crooked glasses, Kris could see his eyes. Spamton’s gaze, glassy as a dead man’s, flicked back to an entirely pitch black, as if he were possessed. They felt weak to their stomach, and a familiar sense of dread crept back into their body. Kris gripped their hands so tightly they could hear their bones creak— were they just imagining it? Once again, Spamton looked at Kris, but Kris had a sinking feeling that he was looking at more than just them. No, he was also addressing THEM, wasn’t he? Kris didn’t know at this point. And it scared them.

“YOU CAN TAKE A GOOD LOOK AT A T-BONE STEAK BY STICKING YOUR HEAD UP A BULL’S [@$!], BUT WOULDN’T YOU RATHER TAKE THE BUTCHER’S WORD FOR IT?”

“I… what?” Kris’s voice was a barely contained whisper.

“WHAT I’M SAYING IS... I [Know]. WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT. TAKE MY [Word] FOR IT.” The words were slow, as if Spamton had to physically drag it out of him. Kris raised their hands in understanding. Nothing made sense, but now wasn’t the time to ask. They could feel their hands trembling slightly, but they didn’t care. Spamton smiled and relaxed, seemingly placated by the gesture.

“HAHA… ANYWAYS, I DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING, KRIS! EVEN IF I DID, I WOULDN’T SAY. I COULDN’T SAY. Knowledge costs you.” Spamton smiled wistfully, as if he had a sudden moment of clarity. His glasses briefly flashed with static; white noise filled the air before quickly dissipating. The sudden change to a somber tone caught Kris off guard. “... KNOWLEDGE ALWAYS COSTS SOMETHING. THE [Inflation Rates] JUST KEEPS GOING UP!!! AND IT’S NOT EVEN [[Satisfaction or Your Money Back Guarantee]]!!”

There was a long silence. Kris wondered if Spamton was waiting for some sort of response. Spamton reached into a pile of miscellaneous garbage and fished out a styrofoam cup, pouring some coffee into it before downing it. He then filled it up again. Kris slowly sank back down into their seat, taking their cup of half empty coffee in their hands. They didn’t really want to drink it anymore, but held it just for the feeling of having something in their hands.

“You’re right,” Kris said, and left it at that. A moment of shared understanding seemed to pass by them. The salesman didn’t reply, instead opting to look away into the distance, his hand around the styrofoam cup like a man drinking a particularly fancy glass of wine. If they weren’t sitting around in a shop practically built from garbage, Kris might’ve believed it, too.

Kris replayed snippets of their previous conversations in their mind. They were very different from Spamton, sure, but they also had similarities too, didn’t they? Now, sitting here in silence... it really was funny. In the span of a few minutes— was it a few minutes? — they went from being threatened and related to, to being comforted, to not knowing what the hell was going on, and now they were sitting in amiable silence with probably the strangest and craziest salesman around. In the distance, Kris could hear the ringing of a phone.

They gave a huff of laughter, though out of insanity, trauma, or just happiness, they didn’t know. Perhaps it was a mix of all of them. And perhaps that was alright, after all. The initial huff quickly dissolved into bursts of laughter— it sounded rough, unfamiliar, and awkward, like they didn’t really know what to do with it. Spamton seemed just as surprised as Kris was about it, for his previous thoughtful grimace turned into confusion, before he also smiled, a large grin tinged with the slightest amount of worry and bewilderment.

“YOU HAVE QUITE THE [Laugh], KRIS. YOU SHOULD DO IT MORE OFTEN.” Spamton tilted his cup towards them, a stray ray of light catching his glasses. “HEY, WITH ENOUGH PRACTICE, YOU CAN BE JUST LIKE ME! FOR A [One-time Fee] OF [$4.99], I CAN SHOW YOU HOW TO LAUGH LIKE A [@#^@%^!# Madman] THAT’LL [Scare Away All The Customers]!!! WHADDYA SAY??”

Rolling their eyes, Kris leaned forward in an attempt to elbow the salesman. They were close enough to reach, but Spamton veered back in time to avoid it, holding his cup high in the air.

Spamton somehow managed to look offended, his mouth dropping in an almost comedic manner. “WHOA!! KRIS!! WATCH IT!!! I’M HOLDING SOMETHING, HERE! MY [Tastes Awful But It Works] [[50% Off]] DILUTED COFFEE! DO YOU KNOW HOW DEEP [In the Hole] I AM, KRIS?? I CAN’T AFFORD TO [Spare] A SINGLE DROP OF THIS!!”

“I’ll pay you to upgrade your coffee,” Kris muttered good naturedly. They made a show of looking disgusted as they swirled the light brown liquid around their cup. “This tastes like crap.”

“WOW!!! MX. [Money Bags] OVER HERE, HUH?? DRINKING [Premium] [100% Concentrate] DRINKS?! YOU SHOULD’VE SAID THAT YOU’D PAY EARLIER, KRIS!!” Spamton’s glasses flashed as he vibrated with excitement, then, as if he was uncertain whether or not Kris was playing him, he asked, “YOU’RE [Offering]? YOU’RE REALLY [Offering]?? TO GIVE ME [Insert 200 Kromer Here]??”

Kris nodded. “Yes.” Buying the salesman a drink was probably a better move than buying whatever junk he was offering on the table, anyways. They reached out to shake his hand once again. Spamton practically snatched their hand, shaking it as enthusiastically as he did the first time. They could feel their arm getting sore by the moment… and their pockets getting lighter.

“KRIS!!! THAT’S A BIG SHOT MOVE THERE! IT’S A DEAL, THEN! NEXT TIME YOU VISIT, [100%] PREFERABLY WITH THAT EmptyDisk, I’LL BE SURE TO HAVE A [Premium Roasted] COFFEE FOR YOU, FRIEND!”

Friend. They couldn’t fight the growing smile on their face. “Sounds good. Though, I’d really prefer some hot chocolate.”

“AH? HOT CHOCOLATE…?” The corners of Spamton’s mouth turns. “HAEHEHAHEAHA! I SEE, [I See]! YOU’RE A CHOCOLATE [Connoisseur], AREN’T YOU? WELL, I’LL BE SURE TO REMEMBER THAT! OLD SPAMTON HERE NEVER FORGETS A [Your Information Has Been Saved].”

After getting their hand freed from Spamton’s death-like grip, Kris decided that it was about time to go. It was probably long overdue, they thought. Their friends were probably worried to death, and might strangle them when they step outside. Kris wouldn’t blame them. “Alright. Well… I should get going now.” Kris smiled as they stood up. “Thanks again for the food.”

“COME AGAIN, KRIS! DON’T FORGET TO BRING BACK THAT EmptyDisk! I’LL BE WAITING— OH! AND DON’T FORGET-”

Startled, Kris turned around again in anticipation, only to find themselves face to face with a piece of crinkled paper.

“YOUR DECAL.” Spamton cackled in delight, practically shoving it at them. “HELP ME ADVERTISE MY SERVICES, WON’T YA, [BIG SHOT]?”

---------

“Sorry it took so long, guys.” Kris exited the store, closing the door as quietly as they entered.

“Kris! Everything alright?” Ralsei turned towards them, a worried expression on his face.

“Yeah, geeze, for real. What took you so long, Kris?” Susie grumbled. “We thought you died in there or something.”

“Just made some conversation,” Kris smiled, providing an apologetic shrug, before showing them the KeyGen. “And I bought this.”

“The hell is that?” Susie’s eyebrows quirked, a mischievous toothed grin plastered on her face. “Is it something illegal? Nice.” They were sure she was just joking, but whatever they had in their hands sure felt illegal.

Ralsei gave a wink. “We were hoping you were buying candy. And that you’d share it with us! Right, Susie?”

“NO. SHUT IT.” Susie snapped back playfully.

Kris smiled at their friends’ banter. It was familiar; comforting. They looked down at the program they held and examined the KeyGen carefully, turning it in their hands. A strange item, given to them by an even stranger man. They couldn’t help but feel curious about the mystery surrounding this item. Well, they’ll see what they can do about that EmptyDisk. Who knows, maybe it really could do something about their chains. It would be great to be free of this control. Kris could feel themselves brighten with a sense of hope.

After all, what’s the worst that could happen?