All or Nothing – Short Story – October 2nd, 2020

All or Nothing by Rick Jurewicz

 

Twelve dollars and eighty-four cents.

That is what the rectangular ticket read that had been spit out of the thirtieth slot machine that Patrick had played that night. He had walked into the casino earlier in the evening with his last $200 in cash. That was over three hours ago, just before 9 p.m. It was now just a few minutes before midnight. He was actually surprised that his run of ups and downs had lasted this long.

At one point, he had been up to nearly $600. That was only thirty-five minutes ago. There had been a run of luck, and the machine he was playing was on a hitting streak. Patrick decided to go big. He kept betting the max, just knowing that the winning machine was going to hit big one more time. That lucky spin never came. Now, $12.84 was all that was left. Patrick felt empty.

It was a Tuesday night, and even though a casino that was open 24/7 could always be found with plenty of patrons at all hours of the day and night, the crowd was relatively sparse. The machines that sat empty still rang out in all of their many bells and whistles to get your attention, always screaming out the promise of the next big win.

Patrick wandered in a seemingly aimless manner, glancing from machine to machine, wondering with each little turn of his head if maybe the one right in front of his eyes will turn that twelve-eighty-four around for him. He’d stop occasionally and touch a slot machine’s handle, tempted to slip his ticket into the slot and give it a pull. Gripping the ticket in his hand, he’d slowly move it toward the lighted arrow that read “Insert Ticket Here”, and then he’d stop himself and move off in another direction, his eyes frantically searching for the right one.

He found himself almost in a daze as he stumbled into a far off corner of the casino that he had rarely perused before. On busier nights, the far off corners were the ones that were taken up by the cranky, chain-smoking old ladies with their strange mannerisms and ritualistic tokens placed upon the machines to bring them good luck. You didn’t dare mess with these ladies ways of doing things, and they made it their special mission with all of their cigarette smoke and irritatingly irrational gestures to repel anyone who moved in too close on their bank of machines.

But tonight, there was only one lady sitting at a machine in this old corner. She did not fit the bill of one of those other ladies. Perhaps it was too late on a Tuesday for those ‘Crazy-Eighties’ to be out and about at the casino. Maybe they had appointments the next day? Maybe they died? Who knows?

Patrick had no place to be early on a Wednesday, or any other day of the week. Early mornings were for working people, and Patrick had lost his job over a month ago. The kind people that had given him a job at The Lumber Place didn’t take well to him being spotted at the casino on the same day that he had called in sick for work. And Patrick’s wife – and now soon to be ex-wife – didn’t take kindly to him losing his third job in six months because of his gambling addiction.

Patrick knew he had a problem. But Patrick also knew that all he needed was that next big win and it would solve that problem. And that was the biggest part of the problem.

So here he was, in this desolate corner of the casino, in a place that didn’t seem as bright and alive as the rest of the casino floor, standing in a sort of dumb haze as he watched the little old lady playing the strange looking slot machine at the far end of the bank of machines.

There was a figure atop the machine that was a very detailed portrayal of a very tall, very dark-skinned man with a top hat adorned with feathers, beads and tiny skulls. His face had white markings painted across it that made it look skull-like in appearance. The man was holding a cane that looked like a snake, and he had a snake wrapped around his shoulders as well. The man had a long, red coat draped over his shoulders that the snake was resting upon. A brightly lighted sign above the game screen on the machine read “Papa Legba’s Bayou Billions”.

Patrick stepped closer to the machine as the little lady in the chair in front of the machine excitedly clapped and cheered as the icons on the screen lit up vibrantly and spun around in a wild manner. The dollar amount on the screen read $555.70.

Patrick blinked his eyes a few times and looked closer, making sure he was reading it right. That was when he noticed the stack of printed cash-out tickets the lady had sitting on the edge of the game screen. The top one had $1,024.18 printed on it. Patrick’s eyes widened.

“Jesus,” he said as he stood just behind the lady. The little lady jumped, startled by the sudden appearance of a stranger behind her.

“Oh, dear me! You scared the bejeesus out of me!” the little lady exclaimed, while at the same time letting out a small burst of laughter.

“I’m so sorry,” said Patrick, gently placing his hand on her shoulder. “Looks like you are having quite a run there, ma’am.”

“Oh,” the lady turned, looking back to her machine. “Yes, I certainly am! I wasn’t though. Not until I found this lucky machine.”

“You…you won all of this on this machine?” Patrick asked, astonished.

“Why yes! It just keeps on hitting. I’ve never been so lucky,” she said, following the statement with a very wide yawn.

She’s getting tired. Good, Patrick thought. I need to get on that machine.

“Do you mind if I take the machine next to you? It’s kind of a lonely place in here tonight,” Patrick told her.

“Oh…well, no. Not at all,” she said, although there was a slight hint of hesitation in her voice.

Patrick was measuring her up in his mind. He guessed she was somewhere in her eighties, just like the usual crowd that haunted this hazy corner of the casino, but he was certain that she was not a part of their little cult. She seemed pleasant and happy, and even more so, kind of welcoming.

He slipped the $12.84 ticket into the machine and chose the smallest amount he could bet. On this particular machine, the bet was fifty-cents. Twelve-eighty-four was now $12.34. Then $11.84. And then $11.34. And on it went, steadily dwindling away.

He paused between spins, drawing out the time as much as he could as the little lady kept spinning and winning. In the amount of time that Patrick turned $12.84 into $6.84, she had grown the amount on her screen by another $77.

Patrick was getting desperate, and he couldn’t keep up the waiting forever. He noticed the lady lick her lips a few times as he glanced in her direction whenever she had an exceptionally good spin. She coughed a couple of times, and Patrick looked around them to see if any servers were within their view. There were none to be seen.

Good.

“Ma’am. I am going to get myself a glass of water. Would you watch my machine while I’m away? I know I don’t have much money in it, but I’d hate to lose it,” he said with a friendly smile across his face.

The lady looked up at him, giving him a strange, longing stare. He could see it for certain right then and there. There had been no servers by in quite a while now, and she had been there at that winning machine for some time. The lady had gotten very thirsty as she played her game.

“Ah…yes, okay,” she said to him.

Patrick narrowed his eyes and cocked his head to the side in a manner that feigned sudden realization. “Can I get you something as well?”

The little lady smiled brightly, almost unconsciously nodding her head. “Yes! Yes, that would be wonderful! Water, please.”

Patrick smiled and nodded once to the lady. “One glass of water, coming right up!”

He was only gone for five minutes before coming back around the corner holding two large plastic cups of water. He paused and looked around them. There were still no others within view of the lady and the machine. He started toward her, stepping slowly until he was within six feet of her. He then took one final glance over his shoulder to make sure he was in the clear before taking his left foot and crossing it in front of his right. He pushed off with his right foot in a mock trip and stumble in the direction of the lady, as if he’d been hurrying the drink back to the parched woman.

He came down hard on one of his knees, tossing the cup of water in his right hand to his side so he could use his right hand to break the fall, while the other cup of water went straight into the lap of the little old lady.

She let out a startled gasp. The water was cold, and she stood up surprisingly fast for a woman in her eighties that had been sitting in the same spot for so long. Patrick looked up from the floor with embarrassment in his eyes.

“Oh my god, oh my god, I’m so sorry ma’am,” he said, pushing himself off of the floor and exaggerating a limp from his ‘injured’ knee. He staggered away long enough to get a stack of paper napkins, and gave them to the lady to dab at the spilled water on her trousers.

“It’s…it’s quite alright. I’m fine,” she said, looking at the slot machine screen once again, and then looking up at the dark eyes of Papa Legba staring down at her. “I think it’s about time that I get going anyhow.” She grabbed the tickets on the machine and awkwardly walked on past Patrick. She stopped about ten feet away and turned to look at the machine once more, and then looked at Patrick one more time. She wished him good luck, and walked away.

Patrick smiled, satisfied with himself. He felt no shame for his actions. He felt desperate, and desperation kicks in a survival instinct. He now had a means to reclaim himself. He could make it right later. Somehow. Donate to a charity, perhaps. Spend time at an old folk’s home, maybe. But that can come later. This was now.

He sat down at the slot machine and looked at all of the wild icons on the screen. There were skulls with ruby eyes, rattlesnakes, voodoo dolls, a zombie face, and more. The big icon – the real money icon – was Papa Legba’s top hat, adorned with beads and skulls just like the one atop of Papa’s head on the figure that towered above Patrick now as he sat in the chair in front of the machine. Patrick looked up at the figure, whose eyes would glow red every so often during the game play. As he stared up at the eyes, Patrick had an eerie notion that someone was watching him.

A jazz tune started blaring out of the speakers on the slot machine, and the sudden eruption of sound brought Patrick’s eyes back to the animated screen. There was a scene of a street parade, just like a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, with hundreds of little cartoon faces cheering and dancing in the crowds on the streets and from the balconies overlooking the revelry in the lane below. The words “READY TO PLAY” flashed in red letters on the screen, and just below them were the instructions “INSERT TICKET”.

Patrick took his ticket with his last six dollars and eighty-four cents and held it to the ticket slot. The slot pulled the ticket in, and the ticket value appeared on the screen. The minimum bet was fifty cents, so Patrick started with the minimum.

The first spin yielded all five top hats in a row, a maximum win. The win paid 100 times the bet amount, immediately paying $50 on the bet.

“Yes!” Patrick said out loud. He looked around him, but there was still no one around that could see or hear him.

He decided to up the bet to one dollar. He hit the play button, and while that spin did not hit the max, it did add another $25 to his total. He was very pleased still, and kept on playing.

About a half an hour went by, and in that time Patrick’s total went up to nearly $750. He was up to betting $5.00 a spin, and he was having mixed results, but it was still going decent for him. More than a few times, he considered pressing the max-bet $10 button, but he decided to not try and push his luck too far.

His second half-hour didn’t go quite as well. At one point, he was over $1000, but that amount didn’t appear on the screen for long. One-thousand became six-hundred in a matter of only a few minutes. Then three-hundred. And finally, Patrick was back down below $100. Patrick was beginning to eye that $10 button. All it would take was a couple decent hits at max-bet and he would be back over $1000 again…and then he would take it easy again on the bigger bets.

Patrick pressed the $10 button. The spin yielded nothing. He hit it again, and again. He whittled the dollars on the slot machine screen down to $10.32.

His hands were shaking. His palms had gotten sweaty as he watched the dollars disappear before his eyes. He thought about going back to fifty-cents bets, but his gut was telling him to hit it again. He reached out his hand and nervously pressed the spin button.

Icons scattered across the screen, mismatched and uneven. Nothing.

The machine automatically printed and ejected the ticket, now below the minimum bet amount. He looked down at the ticket in his hand.

“Thirty-two cents. A single penny for every goddamn year of my goddamn life,” Patrick muttered to himself. He stood up from the chair in front of the machine and slipped the ticket into the front pocket of his old dress pants he used to wear at work.

Patrick turned and started to slowly wander away from the machine. The jazz song started again from the machine’s speakers, much louder than it had been the first time. The sudden burst of sound startled Patrick, who turned around quickly and looked at the towering slot machine. He squinted his eyes, tired from staring at the slot machine screens for so long that night, trying to better make out the words in red letters that were flashing on the screen. He stepped closer to get a better look.

“GIVING UP ALREADY?” The question continued to blink on and off of the screen while he stared with mild confusion.

Patrick looked around himself. There was still no one else in sight. Then he looked back at the screen.

“Giving up already…what the hell?”

“CARE FOR ANOTHER TRY?” The words changed on the screen.

“I…I don’t have enough to bet,” he said, feeling foolish as soon as the words left his lips. He was talking to a slot machine – and not in the way the Crazy-Eighties scream, “Come on, big money, big money!” He was conversing with the machine.

“WELL. WHAT DO YOU HAVE LEFT TO BET? SOMETHING DISTINCTLY YOURS,” the machine replied on the screen.

“I don’t know…what you mean,” he said, looking around himself again to make sure no one saw him talking to the machine. He was beginning to think someone was messing with him. He looked up to find the security cameras, but he didn’t find one with a view of that particular machine. He found this to be very odd, knowing that casinos had cameras on everything on the gaming floor.

“WHAT WOULD YOU GIVE FOR TEN FREE WINNING SPINS?” the machine asked.

Patrick looked up at the eyes of Papa Legba over the screen. They were glowing their full red now. Once again, Patrick felt not only like they were looking at him, but now he felt as if they were looking right inside of him.

His eyes moved back to the screen.

“I don’t have anything left,” he said, finally feeling a wave of shame wash over him.

“YES, YOU DO. HOW ABOUT…TEN FREE WINNING SPINS FOR ONE YEAR OF YOUR LIFE?”

“What? What does that…I don’t know what that means,” he responded. He then shook his head. “This is ridiculous. Like that even really means anything. Sure. One year of my life. Ten winning spins. I’m in! This is crazy anyway.”

The red words disappeared on the screen, replaced by two buttons, one that read YES and the other that read NO, with the words ACCEPT OFFER beneath the two choices. Patrick reached out and pressed YES. No sooner than he pressed the button, ten free spins counted up on the free spin meter. The words PRESS SPIN had been grayed out, and the words PULL LEVER were flashing. Patrick found the lever on the right side of the machine, styled as a rattlesnake, and pulled it forward.

The machine lit up and spun wildly, and the five hats came up in a “V” shape on the screen. “1,000” came up on the screen, followed by a “2X”. The spin brought the total to $2,000.

Patrick’s jaw almost hit the floor. He pulled the lever again. Once more, it was a big hit. Not all were as big as the first spin, but when the ten spins were completed, the total was more than $7,000.

“Oh…my…god!” Patrick said excitedly, laughing to himself at the total. The ticket automatically ejected from the machine.

“No…wait! I want to keep playing!” he said, speaking directly to the machine.

He tried to insert the ticket back into the machine, but the machine kept rejecting it.

“Why won’t this damn thing work?” He was getting frustrated. He looked back at the screen.

“YOU STILL WANT TO PLAY?”

“Yes. Yes! I still want to play,” he responded feverishly.

The words disappeared from the screen. Several seconds went by before the screen read “TEN SPINS – THREE MORE YEARS OF YOUR LIFE”.

There was only a moments hesitation before Patrick replied, “Yes, alright. Three years, sure, whatever!”

The YES and NO reappeared, and Patrick quickly hit the YES no sooner than it appeared on the screen. This run of ten spins brought him more than double what he had won on the first round, once again spitting out the ticket when the round was over.

Still, it was not enough for Patrick. Offer after offer came, and ticket after ticket piled up on the machine, right where Patrick had seen the old lady stack them as she had won. Thousands and thousands of dollars worth of tickets lay on the machine. Patrick was so deeply caught up in the moment, he hadn’t noticed that a young couple had come up beside him and was watching him play.

“That’s quite a haul you’ve got there, old timer!” the young man said gleefully.

Patrick snapped out of his gaze at the screen and turned toward the man and woman with a snarl. The couple shuddered at Patrick’s glare and stepped back suddenly. The woman bumped into another slot machine behind her, not realizing in that moment that her phone had dropped out of her purse and onto the floor.

“Get away from me!” Patrick snapped at the couple. “Get out of here!”

The man and the woman turned and retreated from the dark corner. Patrick let out a sudden cough. His throat had gotten very dry. He realized how much he could use a glass of water now himself, but he didn’t dare leave his chair. He coughed hard again, bringing his hand up to his mouth. In mid-motion, Patrick froze, staring in disbelief at his raised hand.

The skin on both of his hands was shriveled and grayed. His fingernails had grown long and started to curl. His wrists looked thinner as well. He looked back in the direction that the two people had run off in, but they were far out of sight. He then slowly turned back to the slot machine screen and stared at the shining, flashing lights and images on the screen. For a moment, the screen went completely dark. The dim lights of the dark corner of the casino revealed a startling reflection in the blackened screen.

His face was sagging, his eyes deep and darkened, sunken into his skull. The hair on the top of his head had thinned to the point of baldness, while the hair on the sides had grown into a long, yellowed gray. A long, scraggly beard had grown on his face that matched the color of the yellow-grayed hair on his head.

Patrick looked at the stack of tickets on the edge of the screen. He slowly reached out for them and touched the tickets. The images returned to the screen on the machine.

“What…have…I…done?” The words came out as little more than a whisper. He thought for a moment about the little old lady that had been sitting in that same chair before he had tricked her out of her seat, and he began to wonder if she left that chair looking far different than she had when she first sat down.

“READY TO PLAY?” the machine flashed the words in red once again.

Patrick looked at the words, his tired eyes aching more than they ever had before.

“I…can’t,” he said to the machine.

The words disappeared from the machine for a long moment. Then, another message appeared.

“HOW ABOUT A NEW DEAL? ALL OR NOTHING.”

“What do you mean?” he asked, groaning the words from his lips.

“BET IT ALL. EVERYTHING YOU HAVE. ALL YOUR TICKETS. ONE LUCKY SPIN. YOU WIN, YOU KEEP IT ALL – AND GET BACK YOUR YEARS. DEAL?”

“But…what if I lose?” he asked.

“ONE LUCKY SPIN. BET IT ALL – YOU CAN’T LOSE.”

Patrick narrowed his withered eyes at the machine. “Can’t lose. Heh. Sure. What I got to lose now?”

Patrick took the stack of tickets from atop the screen and placed one after another into the ticket slot. The machine took every one of them. After he had placed the tickets in his hand into the machine, it brought the total bet to $35,454. But Patrick knew the stakes were far higher than that.

Patrick paused as he stared at the screen. He waited impatiently for the red letters to appear once more.

“READY TO SPIN?” The words YES and NO appeared below the question. Patrick reached out unsteadily. His hand trembled as the long fingernail neared the glass screen. He had to curl his knuckle to tap the screen because the nail wouldn’t make enough contact with the glass to activate the button.

“PULL LEVER”.

Patrick reached out and gripped the throat of the rattlesnake lever as tightly as he could, and he pulled back on the lever.

The first column spun longer than it had before, and a single icon – the top hat – locked on the screen. The second column followed suit, spinning longer than usual before locking on the second top hat. The third and fourth followed in the same pattern.

Patrick’s heart began to race. His eyes went wide with anticipation as the fifth and final reel went round and round…

 

On the far side of the building away from the curmudgeonly man, the young couple that had been startled by the man’s growling rudeness was ready to walk out the front entrance of the casino. The woman reached into her purse to find her phone to check her messages.

“Honey…honey, I can’t find my phone,” the shaken woman told the man.

The man helped her look for it, checking the floor around them.

“You know, I bet it might have fallen out back in the corner when you bumped into the slot machine by that crazy old guy,” he told her.

“Well, I’m not going back there by myself,” she told the man. “That guy creeped the hell out of me!”

“We’ll go and get it together, babe. No worries.”

The couple walked back together to the far corner of the casino. As they turned the final corner around a bank of slots to look for the phone, the woman let out a scream that carried through the entire casino.

A pair security guard came running to the area. The woman’s head was buried in the chest of her companion as the man stared in horror at the sight before him. The security guards rounded the corner and stopped dead in their tracks. The younger of the two turned away and ran to a nearby trash can and vomited his chicken salad sandwich dinner away into the can.

The man who had been sitting at the slot machine was now slumped against the button panel of the machine. The skin on his face was stretched tight against his skull. It had shrunken and had become deeply darkened, almost a pitch black, a stark contrast to what gray tufts of hair remained on his face and head. Where his eyes should have been were mostly empty sockets, with some remaining remnants of flesh within them. His right hand, the one that had pulled the rattlesnake handle so many times throughout the night, dangled to the right side of the rest of his decomposing corpse. The bones of his fingers protruded through the man’s skin in spots near the knuckles where the flesh appeared to have rotted away.

The older security guard radioed for assistance and an ambulance, although he knew the situation for this poor guy was long past that. The guard stepped closer to examine the body further when he noticed something on the floor beneath the man’s chair.

It was a slot ticket. The guard had guessed that the man may have dropped it, or it had fallen from the man’s sagging pants pocket. The guard picked up the ticket. It read “32 cents”.

The slot machine burst out into jazz music once again, causing everyone who had gathered in the immediate area to jump, including the guard. He looked at the screen and saw the street lined with all of the party people singing and dancing and having a good time. From the looks of the shriveled and decayed corpse in the chair before him, the guard could never have guessed the stunning likeness the man in the chair once shared with the newest member of the festive cartoon revelers, standing upon one of the balconies on the brightly lit screen, waving and cheering as the parade in the street rolled on by.

 

 

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