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The Bell and The Bitcoin

This fairytale was my entry into the first round of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2021. It placed 11th in the group and thus gave me a headstart on points in the second round.

Once upon a time, a young woman left her parents’ home in the suburbs to go to the big city and make her own life as all young women should. She thought she wanted to become rich and famous.

“Vroom, vroom,” she said as she drove along because her scooter was electric and didn’t make a sound.

After a while, the young woman saw an old pirate sitting by the side of the road holding up a sign that said WHATEVER 4 BITCOIN. She had already passed him when curiosity got the better of her, and she stopped, parked her scooter, and walked back.

“What does it mean?” the young woman said and pointed to the sign.

The old pirate flipped up his eyepatch so he could better see her.

“It means,” he said, “that I’ll give you anything you want if you give me some bitcoin.”

“Are you some kind of creep?” she asked because she wasn’t sure.

“No,” he said, “But there isn’t a lot of money in old-school pirating these days. Collecting cryptocurrencies has some of the same vibe, though.”

“Okay,” she said. “Then make me rich and famous, and I’ll give you the bitcoins I mined during the pandemic.”

“Deal!” the old pirate said. “Here’s what you do. You go down to the abandoned boatyard and find my old ship. It’s the third boat on the third dock by the third entrance, and it’s called Hello Hi Water. By the helm, there’s a bell, and when you ring it, a vision will come to you and tell you what to do.”

“Why don’t you just do that yourself?” the young woman asked. “You could ask for all the bitcoin you want.”

“Who’s to say I didn’t?” the old pirate said with a wink, and evaporated.

“Hey,” she yelled, “you forgot your bitcoin.”

The old pirate appeared again with a pop.

“Oh, right,” he said. “Let me give you my account number. And by the way, next to the boatyard, there’s a parking lot where you can get your scooter charged,”

The young woman transferred the bitcoin, and the old pirate thanked her and then vanished for good. Alone again, it occurred to her that it could all be a scam.

But if I stop now, I’ll never know, and then for sure I’ve been a fool, she thought. So she googled the way to the abandoned boatyard, and to her luck, it was only seven miles away because her scooter would soon run out of battery. As the old pirate had said, there was indeed a charging station at the parking lot.

After having plugged the scooter in, the young woman walked through the third entrance to the third dock and found the third boat, if it could even be called that anymore. It was definitely more high water than hello. It had a hole on the stern and was tilting toward the slip. The hull was overgrown with slimy seaweed and barnacles where it was underwater. The sail was torn to rags, and a seagull had made its nest on the helm. Only the bell seemed untouched by time and weather. A fine, polished brass one.

So, thought the young woman, here goes nothing but hundreds of hours of work. And then she went onboard and waded up through the knee-high water to the bell.

“I want to be rich and famous,” she said out loud because there was no one around to hear her. Then she rang the bell once.

A vision appeared where the dodger windows used to be. It showed the young woman getting married to a handsome man in the very wedding dress she now was wearing and the couple leaving the church in thousands of flashlights from the paparazzi. Then the vision shifted to her sitting in a courtroom, a leg and an arm in casts, and her face badly bruised. The judge let the gavel fall, and her husband was taken away in handcuffs while notes and more notes rained down on her.

“Is that all you got?” the young woman said to the bell. “I should marry for fame and divorce for money? I don’t wanna do that! Try again.”

She rang the bell twice, and now she was wearing a hospital gown. Another vision showed her parents lying dead in a warehouse full of opioid pill bottles. Then the vision shifted to her receiving the keys to the warehouse and being guided through a door that said OWNER into a vast corner office.

“What?” she exclaimed. “I should inherit a fortune and be known for how disgustingly it was made? I don’t wanna do that! Try again.”

Then she rang the bell thrice, and boom, she was wearing fatigues. The vision now showed her sitting in an army tent somewhere in a jungle smoking a cigar behind a desk with piles of money on it and heavily armed bodyguards around her. Then it shifted to children dressed as soldiers marching by saluting her with hands to their berets and eyes that were dead.

“A warlord? A private army of drugged-up kids? Really?” she said. “I don’t wanna do that! You know what? Maybe I don’t want to be rich and famous. Maybe being rich and famous as a measure of success is something that the capitalist patriarchy came up with to keep us buying whatever they’re selling. And maybe you’re just a stupid old bell in a stupid old boatyard.”

And with that, she went off the boat and off the dock, and out the entrance. She grabbed her now-charged scooter in the parking lot, and she drove into the big city where she founded a non-profit organization to help people who had been duped by bitcoin scams. She lived happily ever after.

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