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Miss Fortune: Part One
By Michael Gilbert
At some point everyone asks themselves how different their life would be if they had been given a second chance. It could come in any form you like. You could have been one number off of winning the lottery. Maybe you’re one of those people who wondered what would have happened if that ex of yours had taken you back. Whatever it is, at some point you think about those things and you notice people who were given those opportunities and it seemed to work out all right for them, on the outside anyway.
Take it from me; I used to be like that. I used to kick myself all the time for letting myself miss out on some opportunities I was too dumb at the time to follow through with. Then I started loathing the people I saw who were better off than me, and sometimes I would curse at god for picking them over me. I know better now. I don’t think god has much to do with how things like that get chosen. I think now that things all really come down to luck, and our choice as to what to do about it. At least I hope we have a choice when it comes to our own lives, that luck doesn’t rule that too. What I more importantly learned is that sometimes you are better off doing the best with the cards you get dealt, and not trying to change your hand.
The day that I learned this left me looking over my shoulder ever since. Sometimes at night I can catch a glimpse of a faint glow of green eyes watching me. They are never there when I turn around. Whenever I find money on the street, or lose a sock laundry I can feel those eyes staring at me. I was in a car wreck a week ago, a cat ran out in front of me and I swerved to avoid it, hitting the road barrier. As I got out I could swear this chilling giggling came over the radio. The sound was all too familiar to me now. I know it is waiting for me. It’s waiting for one more shot at me, toying with me as time passes. It toys with you too. With everyone.
It all started for me one night at a local casino…
What was that count again? I thought to myself as I stared down at the table. Was it up two or was it three? I doubled down last hand and I was so thrilled to win it I didn’t see the last two cards the guy to the left of me was dealt. The dealer is showing a three so my best bet was to play it safe with my twelve and stand. The old dealer makes a hand gesture on the table and flatly tells me good luck before he moves on to the guy to my left. I only recently learned to count cards, but I had never actually done it at a casino before. It’s easy to do at home on your coffee table quietly saying the numbers out loud, but when you are actually there if you are too obvious about what you are doing it’s an express lane ticket to meeting the pavement outside.
I’m here again tonight. The last time I came in I won some decent money. Not really enough money to do anything meaningful with, but enough to make me want to come back. This time I came prepared with the counting system I learned watching YouTube videos and gleaning what I could from various internet sites. This system is supposed to improve my odds at winning in the long run, but I guess that’s why the call them odds and not surety.
For a moment I look up and stare at the other gamblers on the floor. There are some people around the roulette table, the usual old women parked at their nickel and penny slots, and the other blackjack players. I look in the direction of the high roller area and see men and women in suites and nice dresses throwing money around like it was a game of monopoly. This resentment builds up in my gut so I look away. I was really just pissed at myself.
There was a time when I could have been like that. If I hadn’t dropped out of law school the previous year I could have stuck it out. I could have done something meaningful. I guess I still can, I’m still fairly young. The issue with that was I kept a dead end job at the moment. My father used to help me out financially while I was in school. He was a high end divorce lawyer for people unlucky enough to fall in love with the wrong person. Needless to say he did very well. We had a huge fight when I told him I dropped out of school. My mother had died in a car accident when I was thirteen so I didn’t have her to run to. He said I gave up too easy. I won’t admit it to him, but I know he was right.
I guess I don’t really hate those rich people over in the high roller corner of the room. I’m just angry that I couldn’t cut it to make it like they did. I hate myself for giving up, and blowing what I had away. I saw gambling as an easy fix for how I felt, and maybe, just maybe I could eventually get good enough to turn it around just enough to go back to school and try again.
I glance back at the cards to my left slightly and change the count accordingly. Statistically at this point the dealer should bust. The old man throws the other player a card and then goes back to his own hand. He flips over his down card to show a seven. There is a voice in my head somewhere that goes “Are you kidding me?” He hits and gets a queen of spades.
“Twenty, sorry about that son” The old dealer says in that flat rehearsed voice
“It’s alright, not like I was about to break even or anything” I try to be cool about it.
“Tough break” goes the voice in my head.
“Tough break” I hear somebody say behind me. Almost in unison with the thought I had. I turn my head to the side as this small sinking feeling hit my lungs. It was the kind of jarring feeling you get at weird coincidences like that. To my right was a blonde woman who looked to be in her early thirty’s wearing a dark expensive looking dealer’s uniform. A moment ago the seat on my right side was empty. She was looking at me with these green eyes. It was a strange look she was giving me, almost like she was noticing something nobody else could see. Sometimes you hear people use the term piercing gaze, that didn’t even begin to describe the vibe I was getting from her. Then she smiles at me, slowly, revealing every white tooth at her own pace. The lips hover over her canines slightly and for a moment I almost expected to see a pair of vampire fangs.
“I’m not that pretty” She laughs slightly. I turn my head slightly back to the table. I must have looked stupid staring back at her like that. Normally I would have blushed staring at a woman like that but for some reason I wasn’t getting the blood to my face fast enough. Instead there was this drained feeling.
“Sorry, didn’t see you sit down was all” I tried to brush it off.
“I forgive you….for now…” Out of the corner of my eye I see her smile that vampire’s smile again.
The dealer interrupts her and asks how many chips she is going to buy. She tells him five dollars’ worth.
“Ma’am, it is a five dollar table but are you sure you don’t want any more?”
“Five dollars will be just fine”
The cards get dealt again and see I have a fifteen total for this hand. I realize I had completely forgotten the running count I was keeping. The moment that thought crosses my mind the woman turns her head towards me and says “It all comes down to luck anyway” in a quiet voice. I’m not sure anyone else at the table heard that.
I might have thought she was with the casino, catching card counters, but she was playing like all the other people here. Still she had my attention as we played. I have never said this about anyone else I have ever met but she was eerily fascinating to watch. She was pretty of course, but not the kind of pretty you would see on television or in a fashion magazine, more real to life features, she wasn’t thin (not by today’s standards anyway), but I would not call her fat either. She wasn’t tanned at all but not really pale either. What drew my attention the most was how she played.
It was like watching a child playing a game of go fish. She was just kind of doing things, hitting, standing, doubling down, not really looking like she was considering anything. I would have thought she was just another dumb blonde girl except she was winning…every hand. At first I just blew it off as dumb luck, then after about five hands I started getting angry. I was playing to basic strategy, modifying my bets and my play as I thought the count was going, and I was slowly losing. In contrast I had woman sitting next to me seemingly without a care in the world never losing her smile, making ridiculous plays and having them pay off.
By the tenth hand I was just awestruck. This woman had a hard nineteen for a hand and she picks up her chips and places them by her bet and says “Double down”. The dealer was staring at her incredulously, as was I, and asked her if she was sure. She only giggled at him and nodded her head. She had this look on her face almost made me want to swear she was drunk, but she didn’t have a drink, didn’t even smell of booze. The dealer sighed a bit as he took the next card out of the shoe and placed it next to her hand. There was only one card that would help her, and there it was, a two. The guy to my left roars with disbelief and the dealer laughs. I just keep staring, not even caring about my losing streak. She didn’t seem surprised, or happy, just this look of drunken contentment. Calmly she picks up a five chip and pushes the rest to the table and stands up. The dealer asks her what she doing with her chips and the only thing she says is “Easy come, easy go”.
She turns over to me and says “Hungry? I was just about to go over to the diner if you are interested.”
I was dumbstruck at the sudden offer. The only thing I managed to say was “Sure”. I didn’t even really think about it. As I was cashing out what little I had left I had a short conversation with myself. Maybe she was an elite player who got kicks out of impressing new players; she did catch me counting cards…didn’t she? Maybe she worked for the casino, her outfit does resemble a uniform, but I had never seen any like it before, black with golden trim and silver buttons.
I caught up with her as she entered the diner adjacent from the casino floor. She placed a small handbag on the table and motioned for me to sit at the chair opposite her. It was a nice looking place. It was a hotel diner and casino, not like Vegas or anything but definitely cared about, well furnished and well kept. There was even decent rock music playing overhead at just the right volume to still hear the people at your table. A waitress came over and asked us what we would like to drink. I checked my lightened pockets and I asked for water. The woman only said “No, thank you”
“Normally I’m the one who has to ask somebody out” I joked. She only stared at me with those green eyes of hers as we sat down, her smile no longer present. She reached over the table offering me a handshake. I clasp her hand, noticing an expensive looking ring she was wearing.
“I’m Jake, and you are…Mrs.?”
“Sorry I thought you were married” She looked down at her ring.
“Well, in a way I am. I’m married to my job” She lets go of my hand.
“What is your job?” As soon as I say this I can hear the beeping and whirling noises of a slot machine hitting a jackpot. At the sounding of the slot machine the woman’s eyes slowly close and she gave a contentious smile as the intoxicated look returned to her face.
“Miss, are you okay?”
“I’m wonderful” she giggles a bit as her eyes open again. I admit this woman made me a bit uneasy, but I was too drawn in by everything I had seen to just walk away now.
“Do you work here at the casino?”
“Today I am. Why don’t you ask me what you really want to ask me?”
“What do you mean?”
“At the card table. You want to know how I did what I did”
“How did you do that? It was like you knew what card was coming next” at that time I thought she might be one of those people you see on the news sometimes who have superhuman memory. I thought she might have kept track of where all the cards were. It was a far-fetched explanation I know, but I was at a loss for anything else rational.
“I didn’t know. It was luck”
“Luck…” She must be playing with me.
“So why did you win all that money if you weren’t going to keep it”
“I didn’t win anything I just moved it around a bit is all. It was fun”
“Do you keep everything you have ever gotten? Every dollar you earn at your job, does it sit in a bank somewhere or do you send it elsewhere?”
“Well everyone spends their money, but I don’t see how that has to do with your casino chips”
“So it’s not really yours then?”
“Are you talking philosophically? I guess in that sense nobody really owns anything”
“Why do you say that?”
“Well, ultimately you can’t really keep anything”
“And that is my job.” She smiles that drunken vampire smile of hers again as she closes her eyes and rolls her head.
“I’m still not getting it…is something wrong?” She ignores me, seemingly lost in something I can’t quite grasp.
“Somebody here just lost two thousand dollars at the roulette table” As I hear her say that, I can hear aggravated yelling in the distance. She has to be putting me on, I thought to myself. Whatever this woman was on she was really feeling it now. It was like waves of euphoria were washing over her as her body quaked slightly. Her giggling turned to laughter. I felt uncomfortable like people were starting to stare at us. Her laughing died down a bit as she tilted her head down towards her lap. She still had that smile on her face with she slowly brought her head back in my direction. Those green eyes opened as her tongue came out and licked her lips.
If this were any other woman I would have thought I was being hit on. This woman however made me feel like I was a deer staring a wolf in the face. A sudden instinct kicked in somewhere inside me, to run. I wanted to be far away from this woman as possible. I think the only thing that kept me from doing that right then and there was the fact we were in a public place. I would look stupid running away from a pretty girl in front of everyone. I always thought there was some irony about mankind being at the top of the food chain for our intellect and yet so fucking stupid to be able to ignore those kinds of voices.
“So tell me, what is it that you would want if you could have anything” She came to instantly and stared at me with that gaze. I didn’t like it, I wanted to look away from her eyes but I found that I couldn’t. This feeling entered my throat that worked its way down into my chest. At once I found myself talking without meaning to. I told her about how I dropped out of college last year. I was going to law school to become an attorney like my dad. I dropped out because it got too hard and I just gave up. I saw it as years of my life spent on something that may or may not work out. My dad was helping me with the tuition and when I gave up he cut off financial support completely. I told her all of this, every personal detail I wouldn’t tell anyone. I told her about how bad I felt letting my dad down, about how he tried to raise me on his own after my mother died.
“I guess if I could have anything, it would be the money to go back to school”
“So what you want is a second chance?”
“You could say that” I admitted. My control returned and I found I was breathing a bit heavier than normal. I didn’t want to sit here with this woman anymore. I tried to tell her I had a movie date with my girlfriend and I started to get up from the chair. What I heard next made me sit back down.
“You don’t have a girlfriend Mr. Reynolds”
I never told her my last name. She was right though, I didn’t have a girlfriend.
“How did you…” She interrupts me
“I’m going to make you an offer Mr. Reynolds. I can give you that second chance you want”
“What do you mean?” I hate to admit it, but I was curious.
“All you have to do is play your favorite card game again” She says this as she reaches into her handbag and pulls out an odd looking single deck of cards. The backs of which had a black and gold pattern to match her uniform. “The game is blackjack, rules are the same except you cannot surrender hands, and you play to ten hands before you cash out. It will be a game you won’t be able to walk away from once we begin”
“I don’t even have money to bet with”
“Its alright, you have ten chips to start out with” She pulls a handful of solid black poker chips from the handbag and pushes them towards me. “All you have to do is come out ahead at the end of ten hands, and I make sure you get your second chance”
“What happens if I don’t come out ahead” I didn’t fully believe what I was hearing but I just couldn’t pull myself away.
“You will never be able to get another chance again, at anything” She says this as I touch the chips pushed over to me; they were smooth, cold to the touch, and lackluster. As soon as I touch them the woman smiles again. “It has begun”
“What? I didn’t say I wanted to play.”
“You touched the chips, at the tables they make you touch chips that aren’t originally yours before you use them. You touched them, you play.”
I noticed my throat was dry and I looked around for the waitress. I hadn’t gotten my water yet and that’s when I noticed the waitress was gone, in fact the only ones in the diner were myself and this woman. I could no longer hear the music playing either. The air in here had suddenly just gone still. I couldn’t even hear the noises of the casino coming in from outside.
“Where is everyone?” I was definitely on edge now, looking around the room for anyone. The hairs on the back of my neck were standing up as gooseflesh appeared on my arms. I stand up and start calling for the waitress.
“Waitress? You and I are right here” She giggles at me as if I asked a silly question. “Sit down Mr. Reynolds. We have a game to play.”
I step outside the diner and back into the casino floor. Nobody was there, not a single person, no security guard checking IDs at the front, no dealers, and no gamblers, there were not even any old women putting pennies into slot machines. Some movement caught my attention out of the corner of my eye but it was only a roulette wheel still spinning, slowing down as the marble clacked into a slot. As I stare around a bead of sweat rolls down my cheek.
“Mr. Reynolds” I spin around to see the woman at one of the blackjack tables standing at the dealers spot, the black and gold deck in a dispenser. I never saw her get up from the diner, or heard her move. She points at a solitary stool at the opposite end of the table.
“Sit down” She orders me. I started walking hurriedly to the front doors. I pulled out my car keys instinctively. I was half expectant of her to start chasing me; I even took glancing looks behind me. She was still standing at the card table, smiling at me as I made away from her.
I start speed walking in the opposite direction of her, passed rows of slot machines. The machines are dead and lifeless. Then I see her again, the smiling figure between the rows of machines, moving in step with me but always standing there. I can’t see her move but she is right there keeping pace beside me. I go off into a full sprint. I’m zig zagging through the maze of machines; I start to hear the whirling sounds as one by one the slot machines kick on as their reels spin madly. Some spew coins onto the floor like waterfalls as I pass.
I turn the corner, trying anything to shake her. My feet catch a pile of coins on the floor and I fall. As soon as I hit the ground I spin to my back and look up. Nothing is there, nothing but the machines kicking on and off. This sensation touches my right ear and brushes my hair. I spin painfully hard on my tailbone to see her standing over me. This thing resembled her. The out stretched hand had elongated itself and her fingernails took on a sinister sharpness to them. Her jaw was off its hinges and gave way to a wide gait revealing edged teeth as those green eyes sank into the skull, darkening as they went into a faint glow.
“I know you want to play with me” It said.
I scrambled up, nearly falling again as I took off straight for the exit. A couple of my fingernails bent painfully as I scrapped the ground as I got to my feet again. My hands plunged into the jeans I was wearing, frantically searching for my car keys. I had them out as I collided with the door release bar. I had a split second to grab the door again as I drop my car keys, holding onto it for dear life.
When I collided with the door it did indeed give way to the outside. As to what outside I was peering into, to this day I am not sure of. I was looking at nothing. To say there weren’t any cars would assume I was looking at an empty parking lot. To say I was looking at an empty lot would mean I was still looking at a field, at ground, dirt with a sky over it. I couldn’t see any of that. I saw nothing, nothing but a black void giving way to infinity. It was a sickening feeling peering into it, watching my car keys tumbling downward, their jingling swan song fading as I lose sight of them.
“Mr. Reynolds” I hear her voice behind me. My head turns to my back as I see the same horror now half an inch from my face. Through that terrible mouth came a scream that sent a shock through my stomach and the blood racing through my veins like fire. I jumped.
I could not tell you how far I fell, or how long I cried. Failing wildly as I screamed my throat raw. I do remember starting to drift off into my own thoughts as I finally was able to shut my eyes. I remember thinking to myself I would be lucky to finally hit the bottom in my sleep. Sometimes, I wish I would have.
“Mr. Reynolds” I hear the voice of the woman say sweetly. I open my eyes meekly and the smiling figure of the woman is there, behind a card table I find I’m sitting at. Her features were normal again, as if the horror behind that sweet face never existed.
“It’s time to play” She giggles.
Credit To – Author Mike Gilbert. Special Thanks to Bob Vetter and Eric Garcia for their input.
**This is the first entry in the Miss Fortune Series, which will be published one entry per day from Nov 14-16.