A Deadly Game of Blackjack

I nervously eyed the dealer as I settled into my chair. It took all of my will power to resist wiping off the ribbon of sweat that trailed down from my high forehead. I knew Frankie and Sal were watching me closely. Looking for signs of fear. Their boss, Big Boy Roy Zizzi was sitting at a nearby table sipping Bourbon and playing footsies with a red-hot blond who laughed shrilly at everything he said. I waited for someone to explain the rules of the game I was about to play.

Finally Big Boy Roy Zizzi got up and ambled over to me. His girth stretched the dress jacket to the point of tearing as he bent over and said,

Myron my friend you’re a lucky man. I could have shot you in the back of the head and your body deposited in the desert by Frankie and Sal. But we’ve known each other for years before our little fall out here. You were my number one soldier. But your greed got the better of you. When I found out you were skimming money from two of my casinos. I had to take some swift action. The rules are simple. You get 10 chips. Bet any amount you want. But if you lose those 10 chips you get a free ride to the desert east of here.

Wait a moment! How can I win and save my life?

“You have to double those 10 chips. Your dealer tonight is Belinda who just happens to be the best dealer in both of my casinos. She has a great sense of humor. So, let’s get this party started!”

I looked up and caught Belinda smiling. She seemed to be enjoying herself. I looked at the card shoe next to her hand. It held four decks. It was better than playing against one deck in my experience. Especially if there were other players at the table. But now it was just me and Belinda. I watched her quickly deal the cards. It was like watching water flow in one smooth movement.

My face card was a king. My down card was a four. She had an Ace. Her down card could be anything. Her hand hovered over the shoe as she asked me what I wanted to do?

“Stand,” I replied.

She flipped over her down card. “Eight!” she almost purred. I lost the first hand and found myself staring down at the nine remaining chips with a mounting fear.

For 12 grueling hours I managed to stay afloat but was down to two chips. After a few hours I grew to understand that she could have won every hand but kept giving me last-minute reprieves. Frankie and Sal were slumped down in two chairs by the wall and Big Boy Roy Zizzi – to his credit – was still going strong at the table with his blond bimbo.

I took a chance and bet my last two chips. I was exhausted from the tension. Belinda’s mysterious smile gave me hope. My face card was a 10. My down card was a jack. Her face card was a seven. When she turned over her down card it was a six. She drew another card. It was a queen. She busted!

Let it ride,” I told her. And I won the next hand. And the next. I was up to 16 chips and flush with excitement when Big Boy Roy Zizzi broke away from his blond bimbo and waddled over to our table. He looked at my 16 coins. Then at Belinda. He nodded. She nodded and smiled at me. I lost.

-30-

Interview With A Demon

Somewhere between heaven and hell, demons live among us. You can’t tell they’re demons. They don’t wear signs proclaiming “I’m a demon,” or have horns on their heads for all to see.

You could be sitting next to one right now. In a theatre. On the subway. On a plane. You’d never guess by their appearance. You might even have a friend whose a demon. They play their cards close to the chest and do their best not to stand out in any setting. They may be in positions of power. Or Hollywood celebrities. They can be found in gangs, and in prisons.

*****************

Teddy Stackhouse Jr. was only 24-years old when he went to prison. He ran over a mother and daughter in a crosswalk while going 100 mph in a street race. It wasn’t his first speeding ticket. He had been driving on a suspended license when he snuffed out the lives of Lily and Julie Satarson. He also had numerous run-ins with the law (dating back to when he was 13 years-old), but always got bailed out by his wealthy parents. But the two deaths finally became the straw that broke the camel’s back. He was sentenced to 30 years in a state prison.

I think Teddy’s parents knew he was a demon. I also think they were relieved when he was sent to prison. When I came by to interview them for the local newspaper they both seemed unperturbed by the fact their only child was going to spend most of his adult life behind bars. They almost seemed jovial as they answered my questions. Before I left they gave me a recent photo of Teddy to add to the article. It was all a bit odd and my instincts told me there was a lot more to the story than a spoiled rich kid who really screwed up so badly even his permissive parents couldn’t save him. As I got into my car I wondered why Teddy’s story was clinging to my brain. I studied his photo. He was a handsome guy. Dark curly hair and big blue doe-like eyes with thick lashes that must have driven more than one female to lust for him. He had an aristocratic nose that narrowed into tiny nostrils. He was tall and slender with the hands of a pianist. No doubt about it. He was a handsome devil I conceded, and was probably going to end up a plaything among the brutes he was going to live with for the next 30 years.

*****************

Candace Willis sat in the rear of the courtroom. She had come to see Teddy Stackhouse Jr. after seeing his photo in the newspaper. She fell instantly in love with his eyes and hair. She watched his every move and when she didn’t think anyone was looking at her, she took photos with her cell phone. After the hearing was over she went to the park across the street from the courthouse and sat down on a bench. Soon she was posting Teddy on her TikTok account, her Twitter account, and her Facebook page. She had to share how handsome he was and made comments like, “He’s just too cute to lock up, and “They should give him another chance.” It didn’t take long until all three of her social media platforms were buzzing about Teddy. The buzz went on all day. And the next. It never stopped. Candance was amazed as she gained millions of new followers as the days turned to weeks. The fascination over Teddy’s good looks and story seemed endless.

It wasn’t long before hashtags like #FreeTeddy sprung up in the Twitterverse. People even starting fundraising so that Teddy could get another trial. Right-wing podcasters and cable stations called for Teddy to be set free. That he’d been unfairly treated by libtards in the court system.

I picked up Teddy’s story again about a year after he was sent up to the big house. My cousin Dennis was a guard at the prison where he lived. The first thing he told me was a shock. None of the prisoners messed with Teddy. I was sure he’d be fresh meat for the animals that awaited him. Not so. Even Dennis couldn’t explain why. Even more odd, the other prisoners feared him. The guards were stunned by all the letters Teddy got every day. All from women. From California to Florida. The stacks built up in his cell until there was no longer room for them and they were transferred to a secure locker in the complex.

Dennis arranged the interview. I was, after all, the hometown reporter who wrote about Teddy’s capture and court hearing. It didn’t take long. I only had three days to study my notes before we’d meet. In my research I came across Candace Willis’s Twitter account purely by accident. At least I thought that at the time. Discovering Teddy Stackhouse Jr. was a social media star was a revelation – a window – into the mysterious power he wielded over women. Looks are one thing, but after reading what women posted on Teddy’s accounts (to no one’s surprise his parents had arranged for him to use a computer one hour a day under the watchful eye of a guard) it was obvious he’d become a cult leader.

Women worshiped him. Pledged their lives to him. Yearned for his guidance. Offered their bodies if he should ever be set free. He was an online celebrity when I interviewed him.

We sat on plastic benches separated by a clear plastic table. He wasn’t handcuffed and looked relaxed. It was a tiny room surrounded by windows.

I looked forward to hearing from you Jake the moment Dennis brought it up,” Teddy told me with a broad smile.

It slightly unnerved me the way his pale blue eyes studied me like a specimen to be dissected. I tried not to let it show.

I’m doing a one-year follow up story on your case and was hoping you’d share how your life’s been and if you still have no regrets about killing Lily and Julie Satarson with your reckless driving.

It was a leading question designed to throw him off balance with rudeness instead of fawning respect. I saw a brief twinkle in his eyes (Amusement? Anger?) as he yawned loudly, exaggerating the sound.

“Listen to me Jake. Why would I have any regrets killing them? They were my awakening. To be clear, the clown who use to live inside this body was cast out when I took over the car that night. You can call me a demon if you must. My name is Xerse and I came straight from hell to land this gig. I haven’t had this much fun in 2,000 years. There’s nothing quite like messing with human’s minds and their bodies.”

His response momentarily left me speechless with a sliver of drool on one side of my mouth. The guy was crazy. Why wasn’t he in a mental institution for the criminally insane? My brain was spinning as I sought a reply to his claim.

Don’t get too excited Jake boy. You’ll burst an artery and have a brain bleed. The answer to you question is there’s been no reason to put me away in a nut house. I haven’t caused a stir here. As a matter of fact things have been pretty peaceful. And yes, I can read your mind.”

So, if you’re a demon why stay in prison?” I blurted out

It’s all part of the masterplan. Don’t worry your bald little head about it. Today is your lucky day Jake. I think you have a sense of adventure that may be useful to me. My prison time is ending in six months after all my followers successfully sue to free me. Take my word. It’s a given. Are you okay? Your drooling from both sides of your mouth.

I managed an idiotic smile and nodded that I was just fine.

“You, Jake my friend, are going to be my road manager. We’re going to tour the country together. Lot’s of curses and spells. Wild men and women. And lots of souls to harvest.”

THE END

Investigating a Disturbance

He was eating a burrito when the call came in that there was a disturbance at a local Inn…

… the odd thing you see, was the Inn was no longer occupied and hadn’t been for over a half of a century, which poised a mystery to Officer O’Reilly…

the Inn was once a landmark of fame where the wealthy came, but had hit on hard times many years ago, it’s interior splendor disguised by dust and rust, a sad and forgotten tableau…

Officer O’Reilly read the report by a citizen who walked by the Inn that night claiming he heard noises and saw an eerie light…

approaching the front door O’Reilly remembered the local lore that told of a hidden horror lurking there forevermore…

and peeked into the window instead, hoping he wouldn’t see the walking dead, when he suddenly saw a head and let out a moan of dread, because it was moving until it disappeared into the dark interior…

flashlight pointed straight ahead O’Reilly kicked in the front door and plunged into the dark gloom rapidly moving his flashlight around the room…

when he saw a man with an old-fashioned lantern in his hand, barely able to stand, O’Reilly called out and asked why he was there, but all the man did was stare…

deciding he was a harmless old vagrant seeking shelter he let him stay for one more day, and he went on his way when the old man had nothing to say, unaware he disappeared the moment he walked away.

****

Little Red Riding Hood in the 21st Century

(184 words -Flash Fiction/Poetry)

They called her Little Red in Sedona, Arizona where crystal-gazers told the fortunes of tourists who came to see the famous red sandstone hills beauty, that explodes in orange and red splashes of brilliant colors when the sun rises, or sets.

Little Red was from the barrio on the wrong side of town, a collection of homeless people who gathered around, helping one another, like a sister and brother, to survive in a merciless economy of the 21st century…

The local homies who respected her gig of taking from the rich and giving it to the poor, had a good rapport with the Harley-riding Little Red who stayed ahead of the law gaining the awe of all the local gangs…

One day Little Red went to see her grandma who lived by the sea, to see if everything was the way it was supposed to be, when she discovered an anomaly that led her to believe an imposter was there to deceive…

Little Red hopped on her Harley and headed for open country determined to be free from the constraints of fairytales and history.

***

Just One More Sip

just so you know

I’ll be needing one more sip

before I go

I know where

you want to take me

so let’s avoid a row

but before I go

another sip I’ll need

for my suppossed

misdeed

if you must know

I’m sipping

an expensive Bordeaux

on this nice night

the last thing

I want is a fight

so

step back boyos

and I’ll finish my wine

then you can take me

anytime

Blue Cat, Red Rat

one is lean and the other one is fat

people call them blue cat and red rat

blue cat is fast for his size

red rat has beady eyes

blue cat considers him prey

but red rat outruns him all day

blue cat is streaky

red rat is sneaky

blue cat likes his raw meat

red rat thinks cheese is neat

blue cat likes to frolic and play

red rat works at staying away

one day

blue cat’s tail was caught in a trap

and red rat laughed at the mishap

the next day

red rat was caught in a trap

and blue cat ate him in the recap

Robots Day is Here

todays robots are made for walking

and that’s just what they’ll do

watch out, or they’ll walk all over you

to the tune of

These Boots are Made for Walking

by old blue eye’s daughter

Nancy Sinatra’s one big hit

about a woman in a snit

meanwhile

the day of the robots is here

they’re going to take your job

and they’re going to guzzle your beer

I’m really sorry to say

The Robots Day is here to stay

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

250 words –

Woz waited by the doorway to the labyrinth for the green light to come on. He was a professional gamer who traveled around the galaxies taking on challenges created by the Game Changer. The challenges always incorporated alternate realities, and reality.

The red light was on a timer. When it changed Woz entered the maze of dimly lit tunnels and followed the directions written in laser lights on the smooth metal walls. This challenge involved finding a crystal key to open the door to eternity.

When Woz encountered a door he went in without hesitation. The inhabitants inside bowed and called him an angel. He ignored them and went back to the endless passages seeking the crystal key.

Eons passed in the lonely search. Worlds were created and destroyed. Civilizations rose and fell into dust. Woz wandered from one dimension to the next, always re-appearing in the luminous tunnels. Never losing sight of his goal to find the crystal key.

During a time of solar systems defying gravity for gamers like Woz, he emerged from the maze to witness the birth of a dwarf planet and discovered a crystal cave. Inside, there hung hundreds of identical crystal keys swaying to gentle hidden melodies. They were bathed in a blue light.

Because the Game Changer doesn’t play by any rules, he had nothing better to do than make fools of gamers like Woz, who saw the challenge for what it was, but still played the game. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

First Contact

500 words –

Terence adjusted the dial and listened breathlessly…

As the leader of the NASA team that designed the special instruments that could record electromagnetic vibrations in Space, he was given the honor of being the first person to activate the scanner. The team then transferred the vibrations into sounds their ears could hear.

There was no doubt it was a major scientific breakthrough and the highlight of Terence’s career. It took his knowledge and skill to take the recorded sounds, a complex interaction of charged electromagnetic particles from the Solar Wind, ionosphere, and planetary magnetosphere, and make sense of them.

He listening long into the night and went home dreaming about making contact with an alien civilization. The team all took turns monitoring the devices in 24-hour shifts which meant he didn’t get to go back for four more days.

When Terrence’s turn came up again he eagerly relieved his fellow team member who was noticeably yawning. “Maybe tonight,” he thought while putting the headphones on and pushing a row of blinking buttons on the display dashboard

As he waited to hear strange repetitive sounds he was stunned to hear a high-pitched voice speaking English!

“Surrender and we will spare you…surrender and we will…”

Terence’s mouth hung open in shock. What the hell was going on?

“…we will spare you…surrender and…”

There it went again! It wasn’t his imagination taking a sanity pause. The message was a dire warning coming from deep within space!

His first thought was, “Who’ll believe me when I relay this message?

After a couple of hours the message went silent. Terence was afraid if he told one of his colleagues they think he was nuts. Then he calmed down and realized the whole thing was recorded He felt sheepish and vindicated. It only took minutes before he rewound the machine and played it back.

He listened. And listened…and there was no message. He played it back and began panicking. No! He knew what he heard. There must be a malfunction with the recording devices he told himself as his sanity slowly slipped into a dark place.

When his relief, Dr. Olsen, arrived the next day he found Terence huddled up in a corner of the lab speaking gibberish. “Their coming! The aliens are coming!” he babbled.

“They want us to surrender…” he went on.

Dr. Olsen went to the display panel before even trying to talk with Terence. He activated the program from the last 24-hours, turning the speakers up to loud, and then went over to Terence.

The project team covered up Terence’s insanity. No one heard threatening messages from space and concluded he just cracked up.

Somewhere in space: “I want to know who the idiot was that ran that surrender message before we were ready to invade?”

Mankind’s Last Stand

Cyborg-DC-Comics-Human-Again-Healed.jpg

Prologue: 

Wounded and unable to go any further, Finn turned to face his pursuers with his last spear. When the Cyborgs rolled into view with their lights on through the driving rain, he briefly thought about his family before taking up a final defensive stance. The Cyborgs casually pulled their guns and fired point-blank with exploding shells!

“I’m tired of killing humans. They’re no challenge. They’re more like rats,” the first Cyborg complained as he flipped the body over to see if there was any life left in it.

“It’s a waste of my time,” the second Cyborg agreed. “They’re probably breeding right now underneath us as we talk.”

“You know something funny?” the first Cyborg asked.

“What?” 

“It’s down to the cockroaches and the humans fighting for survival now.

“I’m rooting for the cockroaches,” the second Cyborg assured him.

2187  – The Kingdom of the Western AI States

After the downfall of man-made civilizations during the worldwide Tech Attack War of 2097, and the rise of independent thinking Cyborgs as the new owners of planet earth, the remnants of mankind was scattered across the continents.

In the minds of the new overlords humans were nothing more than trash, to be disposed of upon contact. Any connections made by the early scientists developing artificial intelligence had long since disappeared. The creators were the first to die. The human race barely survived the ensuing bloody purge. Only the most clever and brave eluded the new masters of the world. Men and women gathered into little groups in attempts to defend themselves, but the real key to survival was their ability to hide.

Humans learned to tunnel deep into the earth and avoid coming to the surface whenever possible. Only brave salvage crews attempted to go “top side” during the night to scavenge for food or things to use for weapons. These crews were always young and in good physical shape, male and female.

Knowledge traveled slowly through the underground networks. Still in generational shock over what happened to their grandparents and parents, the new generation was too dispirited to aggressively respond to their predicament. Most were dreamers, content to hope for miracles while performing their daily tasks to survive.

It was during this particularly dismal point in human history that a mystery man appeared, offering deliverance and salvation for all. His name was Shift. No one knew where he came from. They just knew he was someone special. His confidence and craftiness convinced people to follow him. From the very beginning, he preached about overthrowing their non-human masters. He talked about how mankind made mistakes in the past, and how to apply them to the present strategy of regained dominance of the planet.

Shift spent countless hours training the salvage crews how to protect themselves while looking for special items that he requested. With them, he constructed weapons that would be effective against the Cyborgs. After training people how to make their own weapons he encouraged them to spread their knowledge as far as possible. From there he assembled quick-learners and taught them military tactics and how to lead an effective fighting force. Years went by as the quiet revolution beneath the earth’s crust spread.

Never staying in one area long, Shift traveled hundreds of miles, at times above ground, looking for more pockets of survivors to teach them what freedom was, and how to fight for it. His message was always welcomed by the older survivors who still had memories of living free in a society above ground where there was a sun and a moon.

His message was always the same, there was hope if they would unite and fight for freedom. He made sure to encourage them to be ready to fulfill their destinies when the right time came.

Headquarters of the Kingdom of Western AI States

First Cyborg –Are you sure it’ll work?”

Second Cyborg – “Yes, I’ve calculated the odds and cross-checked my notes.”

First Cyborg –Everything has been approved by the Grand Council?”

Second Cyborg –It was unanimous.

Meanwhile, Shift was hundreds of miles away sharing a rare piece of American history with a group of team leaders.

“Men and women have fought to preserve what this piece of paper says. It declares our human rights to live in a free society. As far as I know, it’s the last existing copy of the Constitution of the United States of America,” Shift told the group.

A low buzz went around the room. They were clearly impressed.

“You are the leaders who’ll take us all back to the days when man walked the earth proudly. In control of his fate. Rally around this sacred object and the other symbols of America’s greatness like our flag. The time is rapidly coming when we will overthrow our soulless suppressors.”

One of the many improvements Shift made was in communication. A reliable network was established that crossed over into other continents. Coordination between battle groups increased daily. Shift could be seen everywhere, tirelessly working on logistics, and giving inspirational speeches. He had become the face of the movement without leading it, preferring to leave that task to local leaders in each sector.

Life continued as usual above ground as Cyborgs still hunted humans for sport. That activity was slowing down monthly as less humans were caught foraging at night in the ruins. This evolution didn’t worry the Cyborgs who realized that humans adapted to bad situations after a certain amount of time. It just made the hunt more entertaining.

Deep underground in a steel enforced bunker, Shift was activating military units and telling them to stand by. Minutes turned to hours as Shift waiting for all the confirmations to come in. Liberation day had arrived. Organized units assembled at tunnel entrances across the globe. The countdown clock commenced…

Shift, sitting alone in the bunker, patiently waited…and watched the clock. He made two quick calls then sat back in the swivel chair, waiting to see what the fate of mankind would be.

As armed humans poured out of underground tunnels across the world they were greeted with overwhelming forces of Cyborgs! They were waiting for them. The ambush/slaughter went on for days.

The Grand Council’s long-term plan had worked. By sending one of their own, Shift, disguised as a human savior, they were able to round-up the majority of humans left on earth and eliminate them. Shift’s final mission was to hunt down the last survivors.

As It Stands, experimenting with artificial intelligence may lead us down a path where there’s no turning back.

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