“And, rounding out our regular Metromart shoppers, we have Sgt. Pepper,” said Peter, gesturing to a gaunt man with a black ponytail.

“And, pray tell, why’s he called Sgt. Pepper?” Eric asked. “He doesn’t look anything like Paul McCartney.”

“Go over there and try to sell him one of the CD’s he’s looking at, and you’ll see,” Peter said. “Oh yes, you’ll see.”

Eric tugged on his Metromart vest and slipped out of the register alcove. “Sgt. Pepper” was in the rock section, examining a Meat Loaf CD with an utterly serious expression and pursed lips, as if it were a matter of the gravest import.

“Hello, sir. Can I…” Eric began.


He couldn’t continue. Just as he’d approached the man, Eric had been overwhelmed by the smell of pepper, which seemed to billow off the customer in waves. It was as if Sgt. Pepper had bathed in mace or accosted a marathon’s worth of joggers. What in the world could possibly have given the man such an odor other than showering under a pepper mill?

“Ah…that is…did you need…any…” Eric sputtered.

“No, I’m doing just fine, thanks,” said Sgt. Pepper. Eric, relieved, beat a hasty retreat.

“I’ll get you for that, he growled at Peter, though his face was lit by a grin.

Peter laughed. “What else could we call him but Sgt. Pepper with a stench like that? Well, Dr. Pepper was tossed around, but he doesn’t really look like a doctor, you know?”

“Doesn’t look like a sergeant either,” said Eric. “But there is something I’d like to know.”


“If you twist his ponytail,” Eric giggled, “does pepper come out his ass?”


The impact slammed Matthias against the bulkhead like a limp rag doll. He could still hear the alarm blaring, mingling with the ringing in his ears, but his body felt drained, empty. He didn’t even feel any pain, just a dull sensation in his lower back.

“Depth charge! Depth charge!” Someone—it might have been the captain—was screaming, but it was hard to hear him over the roaring and rattling that filled the air.

Matthias thought it all very silly; what good was it yelling about anything? He was too relaxed to care, and despite the seawater beginning to pool around his ankles he felt quite warm.

Everything would be all right after he’d had a little nap.