Broke

Chapter 1

SpongeBob sat Indian-style beside his spice garden. He was reading to the plants, as he did every Monday. It's a well-known fact that regularly talking to plants helps them grow.

But SpongeBob took it a step further. He preferred to read to his spice garden. Unfortunately for him, he'd exhausted his book supply and was down to reading any kind of textual scrap he could find. Books were expensive. Today's read was the nutritional facts of the Krabby Patty secret formula. Don't worry, Plankton wasn't around.

"So then came the calories. There were 550 of them!" said SpongeBob, somewhat reading. "But only 400 were from fat!" He looked up from the label. "Gosh, isn't this an exciting mystery novel?"

"SpongeBob, help!" exclaimed Patrick, rushing into the yard. He skidded to a stop, nearly missing the tarragon. "Oh, my gosh! It's terrible!"

"What is it, Patrick?" asked SpongeBob, worried.

Patrick's eyes were wide with panic. "I can't find my tail!"

"You don't have a tail."

"I know, I said it was missing! Gosh, don't rub it in!"

"Bahahahaha!" laughed SpongeBob. "Good one, Patrick."

"Why are you laughing at me?! This is serious! If I don't find my tail, I don't know what I'm gonna do!"

SpongeBob's borderline ADD mind had stopped listening to his friend. Something across the yard had caught his attention. "Hey, look! The mailman's here!" He hurried off to see if the fish had left him anything good.

When Patrick opened his eyes from his rant, he saw SpongeBob was gone. "Huh? SpongeBob?"

A few minutes later, when Patrick was just starting to realize that maybe he should actually move if he wanted to find his neighbor, SpongeBob walked past him on his way inside. Patrick approached just as the sponge was opening the door.

"Oh, thank Neptune you're still alive!" said Patrick. "I thought I'd lost you, just like my tail!"

SpongeBob walked inside the pineapple, with Patrick following. "No, silly. I was just getting the mail." He tossed a handful of letters on the floor and flopped on the couch. "I was hoping to get some junk mail or one of those missing persons things, but I didn't get anything worth looking at!"

Gary slithered up, hearing the tail end of their conversation. The snail looked at the pile of envelopes on the floor. "Meow?" he said inquisitively.

"Yes, I know they're all bills, Gary," replied SpongeBob. "You'd think they'd stop sending me those when I didn't pay, but gosh, they just keep coming!"

"Meow!" Gary said in a reprimanding tone.

"I don't pay them because I don't have enough money! It's common sense."

Patrick listened to the two of them and wondered if SpongeBob actually understood Gary, or if SpongeBob was projecting his own voice onto the snail in a bizarre symptom of a psychotic disorder. But then Patrick forgot and continued staring in two different directions at once.

"Fine, I'll open them! Sheesh!" said SpongeBob, swiping a couple letters from the floor. He opened the first one, ripping the envelope much more than necessary because those things are hard to open without a letter opener, and pulled out a single sheet of paper. The paper then unfolded in a cartoony, accordion-like manner to ground, revealing a long list. "Uh … I think this is from my credit card company."

"Wow, you have a credit card?" asked Patrick.

"We'll just put that one aside for now," said SpongeBob as he balled it up instead of refolding it. He grabbed another envelope, shredding this one as well, and quickly scanned it.

"Who's it from?" Patrick asked. "Ooh, is it from me?"

SpongeBob frowned. "Not unless you're demanding five thousand dollars in long overdue mortgage payments."

"Hmmm." Patrick rubbed his chin. "I wasn't before, but I would consider it …"

SpongeBob opened a third letter. "Wow, this water bill is the highest I've seen in months," he said, not understanding the irony that he lives in the ocean. "And I didn't even pay those other months."

"Open another! This is like a paper Christmas!" Patrick handed SpongeBob another letter. "This one's from … the ihhhh … R'us."

SpongeBob took it. "The IRS?" he read. "Uh oh. I forgot all about taxes. Umm, we'll just leave that one on the back burner for now." He folded it into a paper airplane and threw it at an actual burner toward the back of his stove. It caught fire on impact.

"How about the electric company?" Patrick held out the envelope.

"Wow, Patrick! You read that all by yourself?"

"There's a picture of a light bulb in the corner."

SpongeBob was busy opening another bill. This one was from the hospital. "Eight thousand and three dollars?!" he exclaimed as he read it. "I gotta learn not to break my butt sand-boarding or slip on ice cubes at tough guy clubs or build pools at the top of collapsible hotels anymore."

Patrick nodded. "Those are some wise words, SpongeBob."

SpongeBob noticed Patrick's eyes were not on him. "What're you looking at, Patrick?"

"Gary over there. He's so cute when he's sleeping."

SpongeBob turned to see his pet unconscious on the floor. The snail was a pale color, overturned limply on his side, with his tongue hanging out of his mouth. Beside him lay the cause of his blackout: SpongeBob's bank statement.

"Gary!" SpongeBob hurried over and took the snail in his arms. "Speak to me, Gary! Are you okay?!"

Patrick bent over and picked up the paper. He looked at it briefly before grinning and turning to SpongeBob. "Hey, you've got plenty of money!"

SpongeBob looked up. "Huh?"

"Yeah, it says here you've got over four thousand dollars!" He held the paper in front of SpongeBob. "See?"

"Patrick, there's a minus sign in front of that. That means I've got negative four thousand-some dollars!"

"Oh."

"What am I gonna do about Gary? I can't take him to the vet! I don't have any money!"

Patrick waved him off. "Psssh. I faint all the time. I lose all kinds of blocks of time. It's not a big deal."

"So you think he'll be all right?"

"Sure! He'll be back to digging up houseplants and soiling the carpet in no time!"

"Phew, that's a relief." SpongeBob dropped Gary and stood up. "Thanks, buddy."

"No problem! That's what friends are for!"

SpongeBob glanced over to his now shredded pile of bills. "But I still gotta figure out what to do about all these."

"Eh, don't worry about that," said Patrick. "I've never paid a bill in my life, and look at me! I got a great life! Living under a rock, rolling around in sand, neglecting other people's pets. It's awesome!"

SpongeBob shrugged. "Well, okay! I'll forget about them then!"

"Great! Now let's go get you to buy us something to eat!" Patrick turned toward the door. "I'm starving!"

"Okay! Just gimme a second. I gotta take care of something first." SpongeBob gestured with his arm and created a large rainbow. He jumped on it and slid down it like a slide to the First National Bank of SpongeBob. Otherwise known as a cauldron-like pot. But instead of any money inside, it was stuffed full of envelopes. SpongeBob added the new bills to the collection. "First step to fiscal responsibility is organization!" he said proudly.

"Let's get ice cream," said Patrick, who hadn't been paying attention to SpongeBob, but instead was fantasizing about chocolate chip cookie dough. There was a considerable amount of drool around his mouth.

"Sounds good to me! Just gotta check and see if I've got enough cash." SpongeBob patted his sides. When he didn't feel anything, he frantically reached inside his pockets. "Huh?! I can't find my wallet!"

"Maybe it's with my tail."

"Patrick …" SpongeBob froze, a terrified expression on his face. "Do you think it's possible that if your wallet has such a large amount of negative money, that it will implode in on itself?"

"As a physicist? Yes."

SpongeBob ignored Patrick's assumption of a scientist of the laws of physics and continued to panic. "I'm worried, Patrick. Maybe this bill thing is worse than I thought."

"Some Neapolitan would definitely help!" said Patrick, butchering the pronunciation of the second word.

"No, no. I think I need to take care of this now."

Patrick stopped grinning and lowered his eyelids halfway. "Well, good luck with that."

"You're leaving?"

"SpongeBob, I have important matters to attend to," said Patrick in a smug voice as he walked toward the door. "And those matters are all various ice cream flavors."

"Okay, then. See you around, bud—" The door shut, cutting SpongeBob off. " … dy."

SpongeBob sat completely still in silence. Then he jumped up triumphantly, having just been inspired by an idea.

"I know what I'll do, Gary!" he said, hands proudly on his hips. He'd forgotten Gary was in a debt-induced coma. "I'll just write a letter to all the bill collectors pleading for more time to get the money! They'll understand. I mean, they're people. They have hearts, right?"

Silence. No one was around to answer him.

"Right!" he replied to himself.

SpongeBob went to his desk to compose the most sympathy-warranting letter he could. He smacked a piece of paper on the desktop, holding a pen in the other. "Okay! Here goes." He tried to plan what he'd say in his head. "Gary, do you think 'I beseech thee' is too formal? …Gary? Oh, right. You're unconscious." He shrugged. "All right, here goes …"

Dearest Bill Collectors,

I'm afraid that at this time I cannot pay your various dues. Please allow me more time to acquire the desired funds. Unless you want to just forget about it all together. That'd be great. Because I really have no money and to be honest I have no idea how I will pay all you guys. I'm sorry! Really! Please don't repossess my stuff. I really like my stuff. I need it to keep in my house. Oh, and don't take my house either, please. Thanks.

Sighed,

The undersigned

SpongeBob took a moment to read over his letter. "Perfect! How could they say no to that?"

"I dunno, SpongeBob," said Patrick. He was suddenly hovering over SpongeBob's shoulder with two dripping ice cream cones in each hand. "I don't think you're supposed to sign your name 'the undersigned.'"

SpongeBob swiveled around in his chair, slightly annoyed. "Hey, who's the expert here, Mr. I've-never-paid-a-bill-in-my-entire-life?"

"Oops, sorry," said Patrick. "I forgot."

SpongeBob grinned and looked down at his letter. "Hopefully this will solve my problems for now!"

"I wish it would solve mine."

SpongeBob's smile disappeared as he remembered something. " … if only I could afford some stamps."

To be continued.