Poison and the cure

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Good, bad, flatline

‘Isn’t Meese the plural of Moose? Or is it Mooses?’ Michael asked when the Meese woman had walked off. The lights were getting to his eyes. It doesn’t matter how much coffee you drink, you can’t make your eyes untired.

‘I think she’s nice.’

‘You know that “nice” used to mean ignorant?’

‘Michael...shut up?’

‘Anyway, why does she have to check up on us all the time?’

At 3:11 am on the Casino floor people don’t cast any shadows. An odd thing to notice but then you tend to notice odd things when you haven’t had much sleep, and won’t any time soon. Your mind makes obscure connections, thinks of things it wouldn’t normally think of.

‘Don’t these guys ever stop?’ Michael asked, indicating the punters.

‘You’ll get used to it.’ Peter told him.

They stood in silence for a few seconds, contemplating the punters.

‘You think she’s having a good night?’ Michael asked, just for something to say.

‘She always has a good night.’ Peter said, sighing.

“She” meant Amelia, who was supposed to be a sort of informal hostess/waitress/good luck charm at the card tables. She was very good at it apparently.

Close by an elderly Indian man’s luck bottomed out after two hours of getting close to the jackpot on the one armed bandit. He stared dumbly for a second at the machine. He looked around himself in bewilderment as though he were lost, then trailed off towards the exit on shaky legs, mumbling. Opposite from where he was playing a young white man dressed in a t-shirt and baggies slammed the machine he was playing with his palm.

′ Shit! You bitch!′ He screamed at it.

’Can’t you even give me a taste, you whore?′ He asked it plaintively, stroking the handle. He drew a couple of looks from two old ladies passing by, who were otherwise awestruck by the bright casino floor. The other gamblers continued gambling, feeding their money in, not noticing each other, their own luck required their full attention and to take notice of someone else’s was bad form, and could hurt their own.

’This is one weird job man.’Michael said.

’Just standing around all night. Do people actually try to fiddle with the machines?..And that funny test they made me take? Did you have to do it as well? “Just give these guys some chips and stand next to them while they play.” What the fuck was that?

Hey, you get free room and board, and a nice salary. I mean I’m not complaining but....We don’t do anything!′

‘Don’t we?’ Peter asked quietly. He gave Michael a deadpan stare. Michael shook his head.

’How long ‘you been here? Not trying to be funny or anything but you look youngish still.’ He glanced around.

‘I’ve been here five weeks.’

‘What were you doing before?’

‘Nothing. I got retrenched from the bar where I worked. The building I was living in burned down. Ten people were killed, burned alive..Seriously!.I didn’t have a job and they were going to kick me out anyway...I slept in my car for a few days but then it got stolen while I came in here to try my luck....’ He rubbed the sparse growth on his cheeks. Michael shook his head in sympathy.

‘I haven’t had a job since I left high school, just been bumming off my mom for the last five years..’

‘You’re lucky you had that.’

‘Not really, I had this big fight with her...the night before I was going for my first interview..You know, I was a total moron..thinking I’d get a job the next morning so I could say whatever I wanted...I didn’t get the job and I had to go back and beg her to let me stay there until I could get a job. I pleaded for half an hour before she finally gave in...’ Michael laughed.

‘I just kept saying “Pretty please? Pretty please?” You know, that works really well. I got it from a guy who stopped me on the street one day and asked me for twenty cents. I waved him off, like I always do to beggars..but then the guy just launched into this loud, plaintive “Pretty Please?” assault. Before I knew it I was grinning and reaching for my wallet saying “OK, OK.” I mean the guy was a couple of years older than me and looked like a student or something..and he was genuinely begging, not standing there and expecting people to feel sorry for him or stealing..No he was right there in their faces, begging and pleading..sincerely. .without any shame. I thought that was pretty cool, so I used it.... Hey,’ Michael checked his watch.′ you want to get some grub?′

‘Might as well.’ Peter said after a moment realizing that the last had been a question, aimed at him. He felt slightly embarrassed, he had started to tune Michael out.



The Cafeteria was half full. It was a buffet restaurant, the cheapest restaurant at the Casino, and so the most popular. All the lower level staff had their meals comped there. A prevailing smell of Sweet corn and mashed potatoes with a sharp tang of Broccoli greeted them. The menu was predominantly vegetarian but they alternated the days up between burgers and hot dogs. Tonight was hot dogs.

By a strange quirk they discovered that they both had had similar incidents with slaughter houses which had put them off meat altogether. They had mashed potatoes and sweet corn, with a side order of Broccoli smothered in white sauce. The dessert was chocolate pudding with cream, but all the cream was gone. They sat down to eat.

They ate in silence for a while. Peter stopped eating in mid chew. He closed his eyes, his mouth fixing in a grimace. He swallowed. Michael hadn’t noticed. Peter shoved his tray away from him.

‘I have a theory.’ He said, swallowing convulsively and downing most of his coke.

‘About what?’ Asked Michael looking up and abruptly loosing his own appetite. Over Peter’s shoulder he had just spied a middle-aged white woman with too much makeup on pick her nose while chewing. He pushed his own tray aside.

’Luck.’Peter said simply.

‘Oh ya?’ Michael shifted in his seat so he didn’t have to witness the rest of the show.

‘Mmhm.’

‘What is it?’

‘Well,’ Peter began, looking a bit embarrassed.

‘I think there are three kinds. Good luck, Bad luck, and No luck...’

‘Yaaa, ok...’

‘And I think people either have Good luck, Bad luck, or No luck...’

‘What, you mean all the time? Just one or the other or the other?’

‘Well, basically yes.’ He took a sip from his coke.

‘Just taking the Casino as an example.. I think the people with Good luck play the tables, and the people with either Bad luck or No luck stay on the Casino floor with the machines..of course sometimes you’ll get someone winning a jackpot here or there but, those are just the exception.’

‘Mmhm, and how did you come by this theory?’

‘Well... I, for one, have very bad luck..You get a lot of time to observe with this job I...and I realized that everyone I saw was losing. I haven’t seen one person win in all the five weeks since I’ve been here!’

‘I don’t know...You can’t have bad luck all the time?’ Michael looked skeptical.

‘No?...Take a look at my tray.’

‘Why?’

‘Just look.’ He pushed it in-front of Michael, shifting some of the sweet corn aside.

There was a cockroach’s head staring up at him.

‘The rest of that went down my throat.’

‘Oh, gross! but that.. doesn’t prove anything. It’s gross but it could have happened to anyone.’

‘Look again.’ Peter said, shifting some of his mashed potatoes and then some of his broccoli, revealing various limbs and chunks of cockroach barely hidden.

’That’s not bad luck,’Michael said pulling a face.‘I’d say someone here doesn’t like you.’

‘It happens all the time, things like this...you were right next to me all the time. Do you have any pieces of cockroach?’

Michael queasily shifted his own food around but found nothing suspicious.

‘We dished up from the same places, didn’t we?’

‘OK, it’s weird, I’ll concede that, but...’

‘But nothing...Oh fuck...’

‘What?’

‘Look over your shoulder..’

Michael looked. A man was choking on something. His wife was giving him the Heimlich maneuver. His face was going purple as his eyes roved, madly bulging. His wife administered the move and a fat piece of hot-dog came shooting out of his mouth, well slobbered, bouncing limply on the floor.

Michael turned back to Peter grinning. He looked at Peter with his head cocked at an angle.‘...You see. it wasn’t just you.’

‘Let’s go.’

‘Ya, you’re making yourself nervous.’

They walked aimlessly around the Casino floor.

‘Don’t worry...I have a theory about you too.’ Peter said.

Michael wasn’t worried.

‘What is it?’

‘I think you’re flatline.’

‘Excuse me?’

‘Your luck...It’s non.’

‘Non?’

‘Yes, nil, zero. I think you have no luck. No good and no bad.’

‘Fuck you.’

‘No...I’m not trying to insult you..’

‘Well, fuck you anyway.’

‘It’s probably why they hired you..They’ve gone through about one a week, on average, since I got here..’

‘One? One what?.’

’One flatline. ’

‘Bru..just..’ Michael was speechless. What do you say to someone who is so paranoid?

‘No, listen to me. Try this OK? Put a coin in this one here.’ Peter said indicating a machine.

‘Why? What’s it going to prove? No one ever wins the first time they try.’

‘No just do it. I want to see something. You play three times and then I’ll play three times.’

Michael saw that he wasn’t going to get out of it, so deciding that he had nothing better to do, he relented.

Michael put his coin in and pulled the arm.

Cherry. Pear. Grapes.

He looked at Peter as if to say “You See?“.

‘Play again.’

Michael put the money in and pulled the arm.

Pear. Grape. Money bag.

He made a disgusted sound, hastily inserting his third coin and pulling the arm.

Seven. Cherry. Pear.

‘Agggg, it’s bullshit anyway. You can’t judge how lucky a person is with only three tries.’ He said glaring at the machine almost wistfully.

‘You think so? Watch this.’

Peter stood in-front of the machine. He inserted a coin and pulled the arm.

Grape. Money bag. Cherry.

‘Told you.’ Michael said smugly.

Peter inserted his second coin, pulling the arm once again.

Lemon. Pear. Money bag.

‘Mmmhhm.’ Michael was grinning at him.

Peter held up his third coin.

‘Watch this.’ He said confidently. He put it in and pulled the arm.

Seven. Seven. Seven. An alarm went off.

‘God! You hit the fucking Jackpot!’ Michael screamed over the blare. Peter was looking blankly at the machine. Clearly he had not expected anything like this. His eyes widened as he stared in shock at the machine. Then abruptly the machine stopped jangling and went blank for a few seconds. Then reset itself.

“Please insert coin”, it told them. They both stood staring at it mutual looks of incredulity on their faces. Peter’s face dropped.

‘You see? I fucking told you! Didn’t I?’ Peter raged, angry with himself now for falling into his own trap.

‘What the fuck just happened?’ Michael asked flabbergasted.

‘What do you think?’ Peter snapped at him.

Michael was speechless. He kept looking back and forth from Peter to the machine.



Peter stalked around moodily, Michael silently trailing him.

Their route was arbitrary, weaving through the machines, glaring blearily at them and the punters who played them.

‘Hey, Peter!’ A voice said behind them. At first just one among many other voices, but it persisted and eventually penetrated Peter’s thick net of fury and depression. His head turned. It was Amelia. She was walking across the Casino floor towards them, smiling.

The Casino insisted that she wear a purple sequined dress and have her blonde hair tied up behind her in a complex roll. The dress made her look like a purple, sparkling mermaid with legs. It seemed to accentuate her bright green eyes.

The two of them couldn’t help smiling as she approached. She tended to have that effect on people.

’Hi. What ‘you guys up to?’ She asked as she stood before them, beaming.

‘Not much.’ Peter said. It seemed that his gloom had lifted.

‘Good, I’m starving! You want to come with me and get some food? It’s really hectic over there. Janine had her arse grabbed twice!..I had to beg for twenty minutes, to get some food in my tummy. ’

‘OK.’ They both said at the same time.

As the two of them followed her off the Casino floor Michael’s ears faintly registered something. It sounded like an alarm going off. He glanced back briefly. Someone had just won a jackpot. Right where they had just been standing.

‘Lemon Meringue! Cool!’ Amelia said. The other two exchanged a look. Michael burst out laughing.

‘What?’ Amelia asked, her face in a state of pleasant expectation.

Michael was still laughing.

‘You just proved my theory for Michael here.’ Peter told her.

‘What theory?’

‘He has this idea about luck.’ Michael explained, recovering as they sat down.

‘You’ve got good luck, he’s got bad luck and I’ve got no luck.’

She didn’t seem too impressed.

Peter filled her in on the rest of his theory.

‘I think you make your own luck.’ She said dismissively.

Peter stared at her for a moment.

‘Easy for you to say.’

She looked frankly at him, her mouth flickering slightly with amusement.

‘Don’t get all bent out of shape. It’s not my fault your little theory is wrong.’

‘Wrong? How the-How do you know it’s wrong?’

She stared at him, looking between him and Michael.

‘I’ve seen some weird shit that definitely proves something.’ Michael told her.

‘Like what?’ Amelia asked setting her fork down. Michael told her about the food and then about the jackpot.

‘And what do you think that proves exactly?’ She asked when he was finished, her head nodding.

They started at her blankly, uncomprehending.

‘I mean did you really expect any other result? No, think about it. Did you really expect anything different? Don’t look at me like that! I’m just saying..You were literally trying to prove how bad your luck is. I’ve been here longer than either of you, OK? And I think I know a bit more about luck..Just listen...Luck is very strange, it responds to you.’

’It’s like a... rhythm that you fall in step with. Think of it like this.. There are three choices you could make in any given situation.′

‘Only three?’

’Just listen.

Action, Reaction, or Inaction. These are like the governing factors that rule your life and you tend to lay down a pattern according to what you expect of the world. What you expect, the world tends to give you.′

They looked at her, mulling it over.

’Luck is the consequence of your choices.’

’Of course you’d say that because you’re both lucky, and decisive.’ Peter told her.

Amelia made a pained face at him.

’According to you, I put those cockroaches in my food? And made the slot machine reset after I won the jackpot? ’

Amelia sighed.

’ Oh No, that was the casino.’

Michael gaped at her. Peter snorted.

’You think there’s anything that happens in here that isn’t controlled for a specific outcome? We are all here because we have a low-grade psychic ability. We can project our mood within a certain range. That’s what the test is about. ’

They frowned at her, glancing around, noticing how many cameras there were around suddenly.

’They need you guys to stay in your lanes, mood-wise, just like they need me to stay in mine. It keeps the ball rolling, the wheels turning, and the money flowing.’

’Wait, so the casino is making me believe I have bad luck? Bullshit, I had bad luck before I came here. ’ Peter said after a moment.

’I’m still hung up on the psychic thing..Can we do anything else? ’ Michael asked, smiling indulgently and wiggling his eyebrows.

’You guys are idiots. I don’t know why I bothered. ’

She got up and walked out onto the casino floor.

’Come on, don’t be like that Amelia..’ Peter called after her.

They got up and followed her.

’Hey, I’m sorry for making fun of..’ Michael broke off.

Three unattended machines spontaneously hit jackpots in a row, right where they were standing.

’Shit. ’ Amelia commented.

Michael and Peter paused, then each claimed one of the machines, their faces lit with the joy of winning.

’Guys, don’t you see what’s happening? Don’t be what they want you to be. If you start playing their game you will lose...because it’s their game, and they’ve already decided the winner. Them. Every time. The house always wins.’

They weren’t listening. The whole casino floor was lit up with jackpots, bells ringing, lights flashing, people scrambling, fighting each other, proudly staking their claims. Winning.

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