As the year nears its end, here is the 21st story in the “Fiction by Numbers” flash fiction series. This week, a deal with a supernatural twist…
* * * * *
“What’d you bet?”
A drop of sweat ran down Matt’s face. What was he betting? His home, his life, his family’s future?
How had it come to this? He looked around the barroom, at the silent patrons sitting in the dark corners, and then at the man opposite him – Willy O’Hara, moneylender of last resort.
“I said,” Willy was shuffling a deck of cards, “What do you bet?”
Matt could think of nothing except Lily, his five year old daughter, and how she’d cried after the kids at school teased her about her battered shoes. Then Tim thought of the final letter of demand he’d received from the landlord, threatening to evict the family in a week’s time.
“All I’ve got.”
“All you’ve got?” the moneylender grinned, “let me look into your soul.”
Willy O’Hara’s eyes were pale blue, and his skin translucently white. The room had a stale musty smell, like dead things. It was at the busy intersection of two highways, on the outer edges of the city centre. The bar was like something from a different era of history, not Sydney in 2014. The whole place creeped him out. Tim had no idea it would be like this, when they’d told him to come and see Willy.
“Look at me straight,” Willy said. He gave Tim a piercing stare and nodded, “Not everyone gets out of here,” he said, dealing out the cards, “It’s up to me to decide if they do.”
The strange patrons came closer, as the game of 21 began.
Tim wanted to run. Instead, he picked up his cards. He raised his brows. He had a damned good hand.
Keep a poker face, he told himself.
Round after round, the cards added up to the magic number, beating Willy every time.
Willy eventually pushed across all his earnings, enough to clear all Tim’s debts. Enough for him to by Lily new school shoes, hell, enough to buy a new car to drive her to school.
“Take it,” Willy said, “Get your family out of trouble. I told you I see into your soul. If it’s selflessness, then, maybe I let you leave. But if it’s not -” he stared at the silent patrons.
Tim picked up the cash. He fled the bar, certain never to return.
* * * * *
An exercise in microfiction