KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 4: Fall 2015
Haibun Story: 781 words

Value Added

by Bruce Holland Rogers

For years, Sam enjoyed his new life. He got up when he felt like getting up. He could start work in his robe and slippers, in the living room, with the television on for company and his laptop perched on his knees. He enjoyed the hunt, searching for the online auction listed in the wrong category or with spelling errors, or spotting the item that, purely by chance, had been overlooked by other buyers: the 1889 Carson City silver dollar selling as if it were a common mintage, the 1962 Popeye lunchbox bid up to only 95 dollars, antique peacock art-nouveau brass door pulls for little more than the cost to ship them. He could buy at a discount on one site, then sell at a premium on another, or even on the same site. His garage held color-changing light bulbs, a carton of kinetic watches, some black steel hunting knives, tin toys, and whatever else Sam had researched enough to know the market. He bought from the impatient—people who were moving house or auctioning an estate—and was patient about selling. He did well. His great-grandfather had been a peddler, and Sam romantically supposed he had resumed the family trade.

But then Sam caught fragments of a television documentary about high-speed trading on Wall Street, something about the shortest wire being worth millions. An interviewee said, “Basically, these firms are the parasites of buying and selling.” Sam stopped buying and selling to pay attention to the program. Apparently, investment firms competed to have the fastest communication between their own computers and the computers of the stock exchange. With the shortest wire, a computer could see bids and offers before anyone else. If an owner were willing to sell for less than a buyer offered to pay, the company’s computer could both buy and sell in a fraction of a second...and keep the difference. This was called arbitrage, taking advantage of “inefficiencies.” Without the high-speed trading, the buyer and seller would have arrived at a price better for one or both of them. Arbitrage computers bled buyers, sellers, or both, and contributed no benefit to anyone but their masters.

When the program ended, Sam carried on as before. He got an order for all of the hunting knives at three times what he had paid for them, plus shipping. He scooped up a rare Invicta Lupah for 27 bucks and a Star Wars Sandtrooper new-in-box for thirteen. He’d ask $125 for the watch and thirty for the toy. These were good transactions, but Sam felt uneasy.

That night, Sam dreamed that he was a black, limbless hunger, a blob of desire with teeth. He woke up to a childhood memory of swimming in a pond and emerging from the water to find leeches attached to his ankle, his thigh, above his elbow, on his butt... In a terrible moment before the bathroom mirror, Sam saw his place in the world with clarity. He wasn’t a peddler in the honorable tradition of his great grandfather, staggering from town to town under the burden of his wares—the pots and pans and metal spoons and whatever else he could hang from the wooden frame strapped to his shoulders. Sam’s ancestor had added something of value to his goods by walking them right to the customer’s door.

What did Sam add? What difference had he made? He was nothing more than a conduit, a collector of tolls. He fed on inefficiency. Someday, a computer would be able to do what Sam did, connecting buyers and sellers for the benefit of both with no broker in the middle, or perhaps doing automatically, parasitically, what the shortest wire did on Wall Street. Whatever he bought, he sold it on unchanged, unimproved.

For days, Sam left orders unshipped. He bought nothing. He developed a headache that followed him into sleep and greeted him every morning, along with the question: What did he add?

He’s still in business, though his volume is down. He is more deliberate in his buying, and before he can list anything for sale, he has to spend some time looking at it, thinking about it, getting to know it. Now if you buy a 1797 British coin from Sam, it will arrive with a slip of paper, hand lettered with great care.

Twopence copper King
whether tyrant or scapegoat
Is here Gentle George

With a Russian mechanical 24-hour watch of Cold War vintage you will receive:

One spin of the earth
Continents turn together
Hands sweeping the stars

As for the Dutch trade bead:

Deepest water blue
Cremation urn for a fly
Pockmarked like the moon

Bruce Holland Rogers
Issue 4, Fall 2015

lives in Eugene, Oregon, and teaches writing as a permanent faculty member of the Northwest Institute of Literary Arts MFA Program (Whidbey Writers Workshop), a low-residency program which is unaffiliated with any college or university. It is the first, and thus far the only, program in the United States to be offered by an independent organization of writers.

Rogers writes short fiction of various sub-genres and styles, including mysteries, science fiction, fantasy, experimental, and literary. His short stories have won a Pushcart Prize, two Nebula Awards, the Bram Stoker Award, two Micro Awards, and two World Fantasy Awards; and have been nominated for the Edgar Allan Poe Award and Spain’s Premio Ignotus.

He sells subscriptions to his stories * by e-mail at:

[* Note: Annual subscriptions (36 stories) are also available as premiums for readers who wish to support KYSO Flash.]

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Renaissance, a fine example (in 232 words) of the “Fibonacci prose sonnet,” a variation of the Italian sonnet structure as adapted by Rogers for flash fiction, in Flash Fiction Online (August 2010)

Counting and Multiplying: The Birth and Evolution of the Three-Six-Nine, more fun with another challenging fixed form; from the writing series, Technically Speaking, at Flash Fiction Online (December 2008)

Tea Party Rules: The Story Contract, a discussion of the implicit contract between writer and reader; from the writing series, Technically Speaking, at Flash Fiction Online (May 2011)

Numerous links to other writings may also be found on Author’s Page at Flash Fiction Online.

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