Author : Damian Knoll

The doorbell rang.

“Welcome to the Emporium,” I shouted over my shoulder.

Before the door closed, a gust of bone-splitting December wind sneaked inside and coiled around my ankles. I quickly shoved the stack of old vinyls aside and laid the refurbished Stradivari on the shelf. When I turned, the chimpanzee was sauntering around the fat 1973 contrabass that greeted my customers at the entrance.

The chimp was a Tru Pet, a deluxe model, 2031 or older. You can always tell by the way they shuffle their legs; starting in 2032, they nixed that awkward primate sway. He wore a top hat, bow tie, a vest, stripped pants, and ankle boots. The laces were neatly tied. A silver chain connected a pocket of his vest to the gloved hand of his owner, a tall, willow-thin lady wrapped in a giant faux fur coat.

I cranked up my smile. “Ready for Christmas, Ma’am?”

She stopped at the counter, grey eyes the color of the overcast sky outside.

“I’m afraid not,” she said, and slid the hood of her coat back.

Her face was symmetry unleashed. A Michelangelo study. Too good to be human.

“Not to be rude,” I said, “but Tru Pets must be accompanied by a certified human.” I pointed at the DNA-scanner by the register. “Would you mind?”

“Oh,” she said, “I get this all the time. Do I really look fake?”

Well, you’re blending in quite nicely, Miss Cruella Deville.

The chain rattled softly; at the other end of the leash, the chimp plodded around, a labored breath rasping in his throat.

“Ma’am, I’m just a simple shop owner. I don’t make the rules.”

She removed her glove and laid her hand under the lasers that flickered on the console. The machine beeped once. Non-altered DNA, the display read.

Wow, she was one for the ages. That’s what humans should never be: perfect.

“How may I help you?” I said.

She leaned closer and whispered, “He’s dying.”

“Who’s… dying?”

She glanced at the chimp, who was lightly tapping a tambourine.

“Amadeus,” she said.

“I’m deeply sorry, Ma’am,” I said, “but… this is a vintage musical instrument shop, not a hospice for deluxe pets. I’m afraid—”

“Amadeus wants to learn to play an instrument. It’s his last wish.”

An ape with a bucket list? Merry Christmas.

“I see. Well, he certainly likes the tambourine.”

“Not enough of a challenge,” she said. “He had an I.Q. upgrade two years ago. I paid a fortune.”

I looked around. “How about… the trombone? It requires a one-hand manipulation, then blowing into—”

“The tumor is on his lung. Blowing is not an option.”

She pointed her pristine index finger at the nearby cello. “The cello.”

“The cello?”

“Why not?”

“Not to be rude, Ma’am, but… the coordination required for—”

Suddenly, the dissonant strums of a guitar rang in my ears: the chimp was clenching the riff of the instrument with one hand, while randomly plucking its strings with the other.

“I’m just a poor boy, though my story’s seldom told,” Amadeus began to sing in his hoarse voice. “I have squandered my resistance for a pocketful of mumbles…”

Simon and Garfunkel. 1968. Hell of an upgrade.

“Still a man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest…”

He gently set the guitar back on its rack.

“There we go,” I said.

“I’ll stick with the cello,” Cruella said matter-of-factly.

By the time they left with the cello in its velvet case, it had started to snow again. The angry wind kept the snowflakes from touching the ground.


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