Hubert Smucker found it in a bottle shop—one of those funny little stores that down-and-out losers are always wandering into in fantasy stories from the 1950s. The kind that wasn't there yesterday and won't be there tomorrow, but right now will sell you a genuine Leonardo da Vinci oil painting of a Renaissance prince who looks exactly like you for three bucks or a love potion that really works in exchange for your soul. Oh, it was a wonderful place! The shelves were overflowing with magical parasols, globes of Narnia and Barsoom, unicorn horns, zap guns, old telephones, parchment scrolls …
Hubert Smucker flinched away from the shelves, fearful that they would collapse and fall on him. He was the sort of person whom shelves collapsed and fell upon. He was the sort of person who gets named Hubert Smucker. He was a living jinx. He was the unluckiest man in the world.
But he'd read a lot of fantasy stories from the 1950s, so he knew what he'd stumbled into. And when he saw, sitting right atop the counter directly in front of the half-slumbering proprietor, a small, bright copper coin marked "lucky penny," he knew he had to have it.
"Is that really a lucky penny?" he asked.
"Luckiest that ever was," the old man replied.
The old man named a price that made him turn pale. But he paid it, scooped up the lucky penny, and feeling optimistic about the future for the very first time in his life, walked out of the shop.
At which very instant, an asteroid smashed down directly on top of him, vaporizing everything for six blocks around.
When the workers came to clean up the debris, one of them noticed a small copper coin sitting right in the very center of the wreckage, shiny and untouched.
"Hey, look at that," he said to his buddy. "This must be the luckiest penny in the world."
© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.