Flash Fiction

Flash Fiction: Empty Pockets

Here’s my take on this week’s Author Aerobics: Tense Challenge and another dose of #FridayFlash.


Empty Pockets
By T. S. Bazelli

Rick tugs at his baseball cap, pulling it over the rim of his shades. He takes one extra look in the rear-view mirror. His chin is thick with stubble, and it hides cheeks still round with baby fat. He tries to hide the hunch of his shoulders, to keep his fingers steady, but already he’s losing the battle.

He doesn’t look at the security guard as he enters the building. He doesn’t know their names. The big one’s got a mean right hook. The bald one’s got hands that leave bruises.

Rick breathes deeply, and walks out into the middle of the floor, his feet quiet against the frantic pattern of the carpet. The air is cool and recycled, carries with it the scent of cigarette smoke. Around him, machines make pinging sounds, signaling the exchange of money, and the promise of a good time. They noises are soft and dull, lulling him as he walks. It is only here, in the darkness between machines, that he feels at ease, but he knows the coziness is decieving. Overhead cameras watch silently. He prays they haven’t recognized him yet.

Rick scans the rows of machines, concentrating, walking quickly. The pain in his ribs is still fresh and new. He knows he’s taking a chance, but he’s on to something this time. He has a secret. He knows how to beat the system. Rick makes a quick spiral of the casino, past Jade Monkey’s, Pirtates Treasures, and progressive poker. They all glow for him, a sweet honey glow, and though he’s tempted, he stays focused. He only needs a few minutes, with the right one.

Bingo! He spots the machine in the distance. It sits in a quiet corner, empty seat set out at just the right angle, as if someone has just risen from that space. This machine burns bright, emitting luminescence in all colors of the rainbow, visible only to his trained eye, the right aura.

He slides onto the upholstered leather stool. It’s molds around the contours of his body, and he lets out a sigh, as the machine sucks the last twenty out of his fingers. Rick knows the routine. He touches the screen for good luck, and murmurs softly. “I know you’re special darlin.”  It blinks, alluring, ready, and hungry for his first dollar. A coy one, he thinks. He knows she will warm up to him, if he works her just right. He doubles his bet, picking out a few lines on the screen. He knows she will be kind to him. She is still glowing brightly with promise.

She takes his twenty without hesitation. They’ve only had a few moments together and she needs more. He empties his wallet and turns his pockets inside out. All he comes up with are a Juicy Fruit wrapper and some tissues.

“Rick!” The voice is deep and it rattles him right off his chair. He hears knuckles cracking. He presses the button one last time, trying to eek out her secrets. She was still glowing, so ready to pay out. “Didn’t think you would be back so soon.”

“I don’t want any trouble, man. I just, you know, was headed home from work and decided…” He plays it all cool like.

“You’re not welcome here. Don’t make me throw you out again.”

Rick slides out of the warm chair, his head down, and his body burning. He was so close he could taste the coin in the air. He balls his fists. His body still hurts from last time.

“I’m going!” Rick shuffles back towards the doorway. The security guard follows closely, and keeps walking until the sliding doors, swoosh closed behind them.

The guard sighs, and presses a five dollar bill into Rick’s hand. “Hey Rick, get some help. You probably have a family or something don’t you?”

Rick folds the five in half, and tucks it into his breast pocket. He doesn’t look back, until the bright lights of the casino can no longer touch him. I was so close, he thinks. He can almost feel the weight of the money in his empty pockets.

He curls up on the front seat of his car, and lays his head against the window. He knows his luck will change. He has a gift. He turns the key and drives away. The next casino’s only a few blocks away.

20 Comments

  1. Ouch. You can feel the way his addiction has warped his reality – and an unconventional choice to tell a story about addiction. Unless, of course, he really can see when a machine is about to pay out…

    1. Maybe he can, or maybe he’s just addicted. I prefer to let you make up your mind. Not all that unconventional really, not if you know gamblers, and the rituals the truly addicted go through.

  2. Wow. What an informed short story. 🙂 You seem to know what you’re writing about—a definite plus. At first I had no idea what was going on—I thought maybe he was going to rob a grocery store. But you’ve done a good job keeping your story focused here. Gut Arbeit!

    -j.p.

    1. Thanks J.P. Unfortunately, you’re right. I’m not a gambler myself, but I’ve seen it all first hand. This is a touch more magical than most stories though.

      Did you find that you didn’t know what was going on confusing? Should I have mentioned it was a casino earlier? Or does that add to the tension?

      1. Yah, it was a little confusing. But it added a sense of mystery to the piece. I would suggest only hinting a bit stronger at the sense that it was a place of (so-called) enjoyment. Cause at first I thought the pinging noises were cash registers maybe, lol 🙂 The frantic pattern of the rug is a great clue however. -j.p.

  3. “He plays it all cool like.”

    Love it. Love the sound of the line, and the fact that he is obviously NOT playing it cool, but he thinks he is.

    This story is rather sad, since it’s so true for so many people, but you did a great job with it.

  4. It’s good of you to leave that precognition up to our discretion. I read it as he was just an addict. That ending is too sad for me to achieve the escape velocity of “it’s okay because he’s magic.” I hope he gets help, but that will require him getting way out of town.

    (I think there is a missing word in the second sentence: “He one extra look in the rear-view mirror.” Probably “He gives one look”?)

  5. I didn’t find the beginning confusing. And you tell the story very well. I’m with John about leaving the magic up to the reader. We know he believes it’s magic, and that’s what’s important, and what makes this story so sad.

    Excellent tale.

  6. I enjoyed this piece! I think you pulled of the tragic hero very well. You managed to create a narrative that makes us feel as certain as the character that he is the expert gambler that he thinks he is. We’re right there in his addictive mind and we too are convinced for a moment, but we’ve been duped. The sad thing is that we know he’s got a problem but he doesn’t. How you managed to pull that off, I’m not sure. But, bravo! 🙂 I commend you on a tough-to-pull off narrative slight of hand.

  7. I really liked your piece. I wasn’t confused. I liked the way your descriptions slowly painted the picture of his environment. The sounds the machine made, the guards, the carpet, how he saw the machines. Each piece came to life as I read them, and what do you know? I found myself in a casino, without you telling me it was one. Great, great work.

    Thanks for sharing it with us all.

  8. Good story! I agree that it’s best just as it is–leaving it up to the reader as to whether he’s a simple addict or has actual magic inside of him. Personally, I read it as he’s a gambling addict, but it would be a fun angle if he could actually sense which machines could pay. Well done!

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