I was on a bogus trip with some acquaintances. Not quite friends, but I thought some booze and gambling would help me forget how overworked and underappreciated I am. Something to shake things up and break the routine. I just felt so trapped. I swear that even my dreams took place in my godforsaken little cubicle.
I had never been to a real casino before. I’d read articles about how they’re psychologically designed to ensnare people in feedback loops. Those articles are spot on. No clocks or windows- it’s always fun-o-clock on the game floor. As if the rest of the world doesn’t exist, only you and that dangling carrot. Their disorienting layout might seem chaotic, but it’s deliberately, devilishly designed to send you down each of its numerous corridors. And of course, free drinks. One way or another, somebody’s paying.
Knowing the tricks, I was determined to not be made a fool of. You win some, you lose a lot, but there’s only so much I was willing to lose. For me, that was a thousand bucks. I lost that much in about half an hour.
I was enjoying a thousand-dollar martini when this stranger sits down next to me, a big dumb smile on his face. He tells me he’s just won three thousand dollars at craps. As if I asked. His breath reeks of smoke, but he’s so proud of himself, I just gotta smile and act impressed. I must be a lousy actor because he asks me how much I’m in the red. I say five hundred, and this guy gets this look like he’s Buddha or something and hands me a fifty-dollar token. He tells me to have fun, but not too much fun. Before I could ask his name or say thanks, he got up and disappeared into the crowd.
The token looked a little different from the other tokens. Instead of a flat plastic finish, it had a glossy wooden one. I thought it was a quirky commemorative thing, and none of the dealers had any complaints about me using it. Neither did I, at first.
Right away, I started winning big. Fifty turned into a hundred like nothing. I blinked and a hundred turned into five hundred. Then a thousand, then more. I won everything back even faster than I had lost it. Forget cloud nine- I was on cloud eleven.
I was about to bet on this roulette game when one of my acquaintances wanted to catch up. Roger, or Robert, something like that. He was pretty drunk and eager to tell me all about it. I had my bet locked down in my head, a hundred on black nine, but I didn’t get the chance to place it. R was rambling about something, but my attention is on the table and the wooden chip I’m thumbing in my pocket. The ball spun round and round. Black. Nine. A thirty-five-to-one payoff down the drain Dazed, I managed some small talk with R until he was satisfied, and made sure I got my bet in on the next spin. Red five. What’s the worst that could happen?
The ball rolls. Red five. Exactly correct again. What are the odds? I had won more than my generous donor at this point, but I wasn’t smiling like an idiot. Not sure what face I was making. It felt like I was getting away with something. I went to blackjack. Got blackjack. Twice. Thrice. I didn’t stick around for a fourth. Whatever, that’s not impossibly rare. Went to slots. Triple sevens, first try. I can’t say I was having fun at that point.
I won’t say how much I made that evening, but it was enough that I started to get paranoid. It’s not like I was cheating or counting cards, but I didn’t know if there was some excuse they could have for denying me my winnings. If you could call them that. It was more like early dawn by the time I left the building. All my acquaintances were long gone. I stopped by a gift shop on the way out to pick up some souvenir dice and a deck of hole-punched cards. A cab showed up almost as soon as I got to the curb.
It felt funny coming back to my crappy hotel room knowing that I had enough cash to afford the best hotels in the area. As soon as my door creaked shut behind me, I stuck my hand in my pocket, feeling the wooden chip. Of course, I didn’t turn that one in. I had to test something out. A part of me imagined that it was some elaborate scam. To turn a loser into a winner, get them to come back and bet even more the next day. A more irrational part of me said something weirder was happening.
My eyes were sore from the constantly flashing casino lights, so I kept the curtains closed, opting to work by dim lamplight. I started small, with the simplest test of luck I could think of: coin flips. I called heads. Got heads. Repeat. Repeat. Every time I flipped that quarter, it landed heads. Every time. At what point does it become more than just chance? Twenty heads in a row? Seventy-six? It’s technically possible, just unlikely. I kept checking the coin to make sure it wasn’t some gimmick toy with two heads. But no, it was only an ordinary quarter. After one-hundred heads in a row, I couldn’t take it anymore.
Next were dice. I grabbed a handful, said eight sixes, and rolled. Eight sixes came up. I pulled out the deck of cards and shuffled them. Thoroughly.
I said nine of hearts then flipped the top over. Nine of hearts. Big surprise. I said royal flush and flipped the top five all at once. Printed on the cards in a scratchy red font were the letters H E L L O.
I practically jumped out of my chair, dropping the cards onto the carpet and knocking over the lamp, plunging the room into darkness. Klutz. I scrambled to find the light switch, unsure of what I had seen. I found the switch eventually but was seized by this feeling that I shouldn’t turn the light back on. It felt like someone was in the room with me. But what was I going to do, stand around in the dark with them?
I clicked on the lights and the room was oddly normal. The lamp and cards weren’t even knocked off of the desk. I blinked and flipped all the cards over. They were just normal playing cards. I double-checked them all and chalked up my reaction to too much alcohol and adrenaline mixed with not enough sleep. Crawling into bed and passing out was about all I had energy left for.
The next day I went straight to the casino and started winning again, more cautiously this time. I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was watching me the whole time. Kind of a ridiculous thing to worry about in a room full of people and security cameras, but even still, it felt wrong. But I won a lot.
That night, on my way to the hotel, I got so distracted thinking about the darn wooden chip that I didn’t realize someone snuck up behind me. So stupid. He demanded that I empty my pockets or he would kill me. I’d never been mugged before. Of course, it would happen when my wallet was full of more cash than I had ever seen in one place. So much for luck, right?
I turned around to see he was pointing a gun at my head just a few feet away. Immediately, I emptied my pockets. I didn’t think twice. My hands were shaking so bad and my bones felt like rocks. Just, numb. But all that feeling came back to me when I realized I was about to hand over my wooden chip. I asked the mugger if I could keep the chip. He says to hand over everything or he’d blow my head off. It’s just a worthless souvenir, I told him. So stupid. He asks me if I want to die today. I put the chip back in my pocket but continue handing him my wallet.
The mugger took a step forward, making some threat when he tripped over his foot and fell on his face. I heard a bang and he stopped moving. The back of his head fell off and I ran away as fast as I could.
I didn’t gamble anymore after that. With my winnings, I saw great shows, terrible stand-ups, and had fancy overpriced dinners. Even after all that, there was plenty leftover. I probably could have stayed forever using that wooden chip to keep winning, but the thought didn’t cross my mind. The only thing that repeated in my head was ‘don’t have too much fun.’ Knowing that I would always win turned the games into something else. They weren’t fun anymore, but it felt good to win. I couldn’t give it up. I wouldn’t give it up, not for anything.
I figured that the creeping feeling I was getting was because I was worried that the guy who gave me the chip would come asking for it back and that he wouldn’t be too nice about it. Or that I’d get mugged again. I don’t know how it worked. Yeah, I was paranoid. It was enough to get me to leave a full day early, without my acquaintances. I booked a last-minute flight home and crawled into my tiny bed, clutching the wooden chip. I hardly slept.
The next day, there’s this huge news story of a plane that went down in a freak accident. My god. A flight out of Las Vegas. The plane I would’ve been on before I rescheduled. How lucky. No survivors. I went to the toilet and threw up.
The next few days are a blur. I called in sick and stayed in bed.
One day, I got in my piece of junk car and drove to a convenience store. I bought some cigarettes and a scratch lottery ticket and scratched it off. It was worth ten thousand dollars. I threw the ticket in the trash. The wooden chip burned in my pocket. Maybe because I was clutching it so tight my knuckles turned white.
A homeless man was begging outside of the convenience store, jangling coins in a little plastic bucket. He smelled of cigarettes and had a friendly smile. I gave him a hundred bucks, but he just looked afraid. I asked him if he wanted more and he shook his head and tore up the hundred. He wouldn’t look me in the eye, just looked right past me and started shouting, telling me to go away. He wouldn’t stop shouting even as I got in my car and left.
On the way back home, I drove past a nasty car accident on the path I had just taken to get to the convenience store. Brutal T-bone. Ambulances and all. I just passed by there earlier. Seems I barely missed being a part of it. A child was crying. There was a mangled body on the road.
Something came over me. You could say I went a little crazy. I took the nearest route to the highway and floored the gas pedal, going from forty to fifty to sixty, then faster and faster. No police officer would stop me. There weren’t even any other cars for some reason. I knew if I crashed, I would somehow miraculously survive.
The last thing I recall was laughing or crying when I saw something shift in my rearview mirror. Like someone was in the back seat.
Everything went black. A few months later, I woke up in the hospital, hooked up to a machine barely keeping me alive. I can’t move any part of my body, except my eyes, which I’m using to dictate this story to the computer. The doctors say that I’m beyond lucky to still be alive. Don’t I know it? Complete recovery is nearly impossible, but at my current rate, I might be able to move my fingers again in just ten short years. I don’t know where the wooden chip is anymore. I’ve asked, and it wasn’t one of the items recovered from my car crash. If any of you happen to come across it, if someone offers it to you, don’t make the same mistake I did.