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by Bobby Morris

Evil Mr Wessel was standing by the window in the front room of his shabby house in north Leicester, England. He was peeping out through the moth-eaten curtains, which he was holding carefully in his long grimy fingers. He could see his own and his next-door neighbours' gardens, the street, and several houses on the other side of the street. He hated the lot.

A woman came into view. She seemed to be in a hurry.

"I hope you drop dead," muttered Wessel. He sniggered at that.

In the minute after she disappeared from view, nothing happened, but then a small boy turned up. He went down Mr Wessel's neighbour's garden path, and spent a minute with the neighbour on his doorstep. After that, he returned to the street, and then had the audacity to come down Mr Wessel's path and ring his doorbell.

"For God's sake!" said Wessel. He'd closed the curtains a few seconds earlier so the boy wouldn't see him, and he'd hoped he would put something through the letterbox rather than ring the bell. He didn't want to have to speak with this urchin.

He opened the door. "What do you want?"

"Hi. I'm doing a sponsored bike ride for charity. Would you like to sponsor me, mister?"

Wessel's face contorted. "You're asking me for money?"

"Yeah. But for charity, not for me."

Wessel couldn't think of a suitable way to say no, so he humoured the boy. "Do you want it per mile or in a lump sum?"

"Either I guess."

"You mean you don't know?"

"Well, it's all been per-mile so far, but I can make exceptions."

A thought suddenly occurred to Mr Wessel. "I'll give you a lump sum. Here, gimme that clipboard. I'll write it in myself." He snatched the boy's clipboard off him.

"Err, okay mister."

Wessel made to write something, but didn't. "I'm in a generous mood, boy. Shall I square the amount I was just about to write?"

"If you want."

"But do YOU want it? Don't worry, my boy, it wasn't a fraction."

The boy laughed shallowly. "Yeah, okay. Square it then."

Wessel wrote in the new figure. After he'd done so, he tipped his head to one side and adopted a condescending tone. "Oh, that's interesting."

"...What is?"

"The amount I originally chose was 10i pence. Do you know what i means? It's the square root of -1. So when you made me square my amount, it became -100 pence."

The boy looked sad and confused. "What does that mean?"

"It means you owe me one pound." He handed him back the clipboard. "But don't worry, you don't have to pay me now - you can pay me after you've finished your stupid little ride."

The boy burst into tears and ran away.

Mr Wessel cackled gleefully.