Aphelion Issue 241, Volume 23
July 2019
 
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Casino

by Michele Dutcher



Good, church-going, city people will tell you, when it's raining and the sun is shining, that there's a rainbow somewhere -- you just need to know where to look.

Kentucky hill people, on the other hand, will tell you the devil is beating his wife, and if you don't change your ways he'll be coming for you next -- him and his little gray goblins.

6:30 PM

"So why did they build the casino boat way out here?" Arezou let her gaze wander from her boyfriend, who was driving, to the fields of soybeans and corn. She looked towards the foothills of the Ohio River Valley in the distance.

"Sin," Max answered definitively.

Arezou snorted out a chuckle. "Sin?"

"Absolutely. The good people of Floyd County Indiana were against sin, but Harrison County decided to allow gamblers to exercise their evil desires within their boundaries. And now Harrison County pulls half million dollars in taxes every year."

The dusk was quickly giving way to the total blackness of nightfall as they drove along the winding, two-lane, black-topped road.

Max shot a look at Arezou, her short, black hair framing her happy face. She was lively, talkative, outgoing -- exactly what a quiet man needed. He turned his attention back to the road. "We'll have fun tonight, love. David and Cheryl will have our keycards waiting for us. We're on the seventh floor facing the river and..."

"...and what?"asked Arezou -- glancing over at him.

"What the hell is that?" Max slowed up a little. "There are lights in that gully."

Arezou looked towards where Max was pointing. If it hadn't been almost dark, the young couple might have driven past the spot completely. As it was -- the pulsating red glow could be easily seen, emanating from the other side of a small embankment. "Maybe a car ran off the road," she stammered. "Maybe someone's hurt!"

"Do you think we should stop?" asked Max hurriedly.

"We promised David and Cheryl that we'd meet up with them by 6:30. We're already late." Whatever was producing the lights remained hidden behind a knoll, the beams becoming brighter the closer they came.

Suddenly Arezou was screaming, "Fuck Max! There's a child in the road!"

Everything went into slow motion: the screeching tires; the swerving of the car as it cut into the other lane; the thump of a small body as it went beneath the wheels of the car. The Honda Civic finally slammed to a stop. They were stopped dead in the middle of a patch of gravel on the right side of the pavement.

Silence. Silence as the couple didn't dare to breathe.

"What was that, Arezou?"

"I think it was a kid -- maybe from that wrecked car." They waited for no more than five seconds, but it seemed much longer. "We need to go back and check, Max. Maybe the kid's okay. We can't just leave him there by the road."

"You're right Arezou -- get the flashlight out of the glove-box. Okay -- we get out on three. One, two, three."

Arezou clicked the light on and she handed it to Max, who took the lead. The roadside was completely dark now -- except for the occasional passing car. From a distance of perhaps thirty feet the pair could see three small forms huddled around something on the ground. The light in back of the hill continued to flash slowly, silhouetting the small group with each pulse.

The flashlight blinked off. "Is he okay?" shouted Max, still approaching slowly.

Two of the group looked up in the darkness but did not answer back.

"They're all children," whispered Arezou frantically. "They're all just kids. Where are their parents?"

Max cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted. "I didn't mean to hit him -- he was just standing there in the road." Still no response. He tapped the light with his right palm and light shot out onto the gravel. He trained the light on the huddled group.

Arezou screamed and screamed, the sound punctuated only by the whoop of air being sucked into her tortured lungs between wails of shock and terror. Max sank slowly to his knees, the flashlight slipping from his fear-numbed fingers, and still Arezou continued to scream.

Four bald, earless, creatures with huge black eyes began to study the pair with interest. The humans wanted to run but couldn't, their bodies refusing to respond to even the most basic of commands. All they could do was wait and watch in the twilight as the gray ones turned their attention back to their injured companion.

Suddenly the thing on the ground lifted its head and opened its eyes. It began to stand and the others began dusting it off while they stood up as well. The small troop was walking up the embankment now, and as they did, their forms began to shift, changing into what seemed to be large dogs, or wolves, or...

Arezou said something odd now. "Look Max, they were only deer. You hit a deer and it walked away with its family."

Max stood up, brushed his pants off, and enjoyed the feeling of relief that had crept up on him. "Yeah," he laughed, "it was only a deer."

One of the deer turned to look at them as it reached the top of the small knoll before disappearing into the red pulsing glow.1

7 PM

"Well there goes my cellphone," said Vicky, checking it once more before shoving it into her pocket with disgust.

"It's because we're heading onto the boat. They block the signal so people won't cheat at the poker tables," answered her mother.

The pair crossed a sturdy, metal gangplank covered with carpet. This was the moment Jean enjoyed the most: that magical blast of lights, clanking, and bells ringing as they walked through the door. The blast of sounds from three hundred machines overwhelmed her senses and she smiled. The four decks of the boat were decorated to suggest a saloon at the height of the 1850s San Francisco gold strike. There were more Greek columns than a Parthenon. Deep reds with swirls of gold ran through the carpets.

"Which machine do you play, mom?"

The sixty-year-old woman was like a kid in a candy shop. "I like the Munsters and Egyptian Queen..." Jean's eyes happily darted from one row of slot machines to the next. She led Vicky past the groups of gamblers hunkered around green-felted tables to six rows of slots towards the back of the room. "Here, Vicky, you can play 'Rakin' in the Green' and I'll play 'Creature from the Black Lagoon'. It has a great bonus game." Jean started quietly singing, "Let's all go to the snack bar...let's all go..."

The mom and daughter laughed together, seating themselves on the black vinyl seats. Vicky pulled a twenty out of her wallet and pushed it into the machine's slot, but it wouldn't go inside. She tried it a second time, but the slot machine still wouldn't take her money. "My machine isn't working mom."

"Mine isn't either, Vicky. They're probably full of cash already. There's a machine way in the back that always takes my money." She began to lead Vicky towards the back of the room. Side by side stood two identical machines with their backs against the wall. They looked at the grotesque comic-book images that covered the dome over-looking the actual rows of tumbling symbols. "This Alien machine has never disappointed me." As she stood before it, the machine sprang into life. They watched as the rows of symbols began to tumble automatically.

Jean slid a twenty into her machine and Vicky did the same. They began to press buttons. "Look, mom, I won fifteen credits! How long do you want to play?"

"Let's play for about an hour and go back to the room and watch a movie. We can open the curtain and watch the barges go down the river."

"Yeah, it's a great room. Do you have your keycard?" asked Vicky.

Her mother checked her purse. "Yep. Room 716."

"Oh, look, mom. I just won eighty credits!"

Mom could not have been happier.

8:15 PM

"Arezou and Max are on their way down," said Dave to Cheryl, clicking his cellphone shut.

"Late as usual," she answered, rolling her eyes. Dave and Cheryl were sitting on the patio in the warm night air, just outside the enclosed pool area. The couple, now in their forties, had been together for over a decade. Dave was tall and dressed simply in jeans and a dark blue collared shirt. Cheryl was dressed in a one-piece swimsuit with a fringed scarf wrapped around her from the waist down.

"Arezou said something about hitting a deer," mumbled Dave as if apologizing for the couple. His face brightened as he looked into the pool room and saw Max and Arezou skirting the jacuzzi.

"Sorry we're late", said Max, opening the sliding door to the patio and stepping out. He was followed closely by Arezou who volunteered: "Yeah we hit a deer."

"How horrible for you," gushed Cheryl dramatically. "Did it hurt the car?"

Arezou and Max looked at each other but neither had an answer. Max finally said, "I don't know. We didn't check..."

"But the deer got up and walked away -- so it wasn't hurt!" interjected Arezou.

"Did you pick up your room keys from the lobby?" asked Dave to the young couple.

Max and Arezou brought their cards from out of their pockets. "7th floor," said Max.

"743. A great room! Overlooking the Ohio river -- it'll be a blast for the four of us to spend some time together -- and gamble our little hearts out." Dave looked at Arezou and smiled coyly. "I have something I rolled myself that is calling our names, Arezou -- if you'd like to indulge."

Arezou seemed delighted at the thought. "Let's do! It will relax my nerves."

"We'll need to go down to the stream, of course," said Dave, giving a nod to the other guests inside pool area. "But we'll be right back." He gave Cheryl a peck on the cheek before bowing slightly at Arezou to lead the way.

Max seemed to be mildly steamed as he watched his girlfriend go around the side of the building with Cheryl's boyfriend. "Don't worry about it, Max. They'll be right back. They're lucky their jobs don't spot check them for drugs like ours. In the meantime, you and I can have some drinks sent out and enjoy the evening. Right or wrong?" Cheryl sat upon one of the plastic lounge chairs, and patted the one next to her.

"You are absolutely correct. I'll take a Jack & Coke -- make that a double."

Around the corner, Dave was standing still, looking transfixed up at an oak tree.

"What is it?" asked Arezou, looking up.

"It's a huge white owl, Arezou. You're bound to see it! It's right there in the lower branches."

The woman looked up into the branches, but the light was too bright and she raised her hand to shade her eyes. "I don't see it, Dave. The moon is too bright! I can't see anything."

"No, Arezou, no. It's right there -- it has huge dark eyes and is about 3 feet tall. It's sitting..."

Arezou was surprised to see a creature with huge brown eyes looking down at them. "You're right," she answered dreamily. "I can see it now."

9 PM

Three members of the Louisville Ghosthunters Paranormal Society were at Waverly Hills, leading one more well-paying tour. The chief barker led the small group up some crumbling concrete stairs onto the roof of the five-floored vacant building.

"Just step right on out onto the rooftop, ladies and gentlemen," shouted the Barker joyously. "Don't mind the dirt, it's safe enough." He took the hand of a teenage girl and helped her onto the thirty by forty section of the roof. She smiled and the barker was delighted to be the center of her flighty attention.

"Fred, Russell, make sure everyone gets out of the building okay," he shouted. The two co-guides helped the struggling old ladies up the steps reluctantly.

The sky was devastatingly picturesque. A thousand stars glittered like rhinestones on a navy-blue satin blanket. The abandoned sanitarium, obsolete since antibiotics had made tuberculosis a rarity, stood at the crest of a large hill, so the view of the river valley to the north was also breathtaking.

"If you got 'em, smoke 'em," hollered the barker, reaching into his shirt pocket for smokes. A full half of his small band followed his lead, a dozen flames bursting into the darkness of the clear night. Two dozen people at $30 a pop. Nice pay-off for a two-hour stroll.

The barker took a long, deep draw off his cigarette before continuing his prepared tour speech. "If you'll direct your attention past the suburbs at your feet, past the tall buildings of downtown, and then over the river, you'll see a building in the distance lit up like the Fourth of July. Who wants to venture a guess at what that structure is?"

"The casino," answered Jon True, one of the guided, quickly but authoritatively.

"Exactly right," said the barker, looking over the young man who had answered so quickly. "Most people don't get that answer right away," he said. He drew another puff off his gold-stripe Marlboro Reds.

"I work there as a security guard," Jon told the group.

"Really? A security guard -- well, that explains it."

"I watch the gaming tables for -- well -- irregularities."

"Oh, well, there it is," said the barker. "Let's finish our smokes. We'll be headed back inside in five minutes." As the crowd followed the barker and the teenager to the west side of the flat roof, Jon and his wife walked closer to the north edge, the side facing the river.

"It really does shine," Jon told Tonia, placing his arm around her waist.

"It's bright, for sure," Tonia said. "I wonder how much money it costs to keep those lights on? LG & E must make a fortune off them."

"I wouldn't hazard a guess," he lamented. It was pleasant to stand there, just appreciating the quietness of the cloudless night.

"What's that other big light, Jon?" asked Tonia finally. "That big one hanging by the casino's hotel?"

"Where?"

"That one, silly, on the right side."

"Yeah, you're right, Tonia. What the heck is that? Nothing's suppose to be there... I thought I knew every inch of that property."

They stared at the large yellow ball of light that seemed to hang in one of the hillside crevasses close to the casino.

"It's not moving," said Tonia.

"But it seems to be rotating," replied Jon. "What the heck is that?"

"Two minutes, people! Put 'em out or suck 'em in," shouted the Barker. "Let's head back inside."

The crowd began to mull around, making their way reluctantly towards the stairwell. The Trues, however, stayed transfixed, looking towards the spinning sphere.

"Come on folks, everyone goes inside now," interrupted the barker.

Jon shifted around to face him. "This would be a great place to watch for UFOs," he said.

"UFOs," laughed the barker. "There's no such things as aliens." He put his hand on Jon's shoulder. "Now let's go back inside and I'll show you some ghost-people. You're gonna love 'em."

9:45 PM -- Room 743

Max sat on one bed and Cheryl sat on the other holding the remote. "There never is anything worth watching on the TV -- especially out this far." She pressed a button on the remote, smiled at the program that appeared, and sat back on a stack of pillows.

"Where could they be, Cheryl? It's almost 10 o'clock."

"I'm with you, sweetie. But we shouted and shouted for them before coming up. I guess they'll get here when they get here."

Max shook his head and crossed his arms. "Well, I hope they're having fun," he seethed.

10:05 PM

Boom!

Arezou was certain someone had just slammed a fist into her chest. She took a step back and grabbed where it hurt. She looked around. She was alone, in the middle of a field. The moonlight was bright and reflected of the distant hills and the tops of the rows of corn. She took a step forward. This time the punch to her heart kicked her back and off her feet. She landed on her ass with a thud that made her teeth rattle.

"Stay where you are, Arezou," Dave said. "We're in a field and that's an electric fence! I'll come to you!"

She pulled herself up and saw him now, heading towards her. Her mind to clear, and she saw the Casino lights up the hill, in the distance.

"Are you okay, Arezou?" he asked, grabbing her shoulders and looking into her eyes.

"Yes, but what happened? How did we get here?"

"Did you see it?" asked Dave, beginning to shake her. "Did you see it? -- The ship, I mean. It was over there..." He turned around and pointed into the field.

"What ship, Dave?"

His face went blank. "I...don't...know. There was something up there, floating over the field, but I can't remember what it was." He looked at Arezou who watched him quizzically. He saw the lights in the distance and relaxed. "We had better head back. Max and Cheryl will be worried about us."

"Well, what time is it?"

Dave looked at his analog watch. "It's dead. The second hand isn't moving and it says it's 4:35. Let's just walk back." Dave took her arm and they walked to the patio where their mates were no longer waiting.2

2:45 AM

Something had awakened Jean. She couldn't really put her finger on it, but she thought something was in the room. She looked at her daughter safely sleeping before she got up and walked towards the bathroom area. There was a mirror and sink in the middle with a shower room on the left. On the right was a room large enough to change in, with a toilet at the back. She looked at herself in the mirror, grabbed a clean washrag, and turned on the hot water. She put the hot rag on her face and then laid it on the back of her neck. How silly she was to worry. Everything was fine -- this hotel room was just unfamiliar, nothing more.

Jean sat back down on the bed looking at her sleeping daughter, relaxing a bit, knowing Vicky was okay. Something ran past her, there at the foot of the queen sized beds. She knew what had awakened her now -- something had tugged at her bedsheets. Suddenly she was screaming in terror. "They're here Vicky! They're back!" Her daughter did not move. "Vicky, wake up!" she screamed, placing her hands on the young woman's shoulders, trying to shake her, but she slept on. "Why won't you wake up? We have to get out of here!"

Jean felt a warm hand on her left shoulder, and somehow it was impossibly reassuring. She lay back down in her bed, and began to sleep. Before Jean closed her eyes, she looked over at her daughter, only to notice that Vicky's eyes were now wide open.

3:05 AM

Jean could see the familiar blue flashing lights in the tree's branches that surrounded the parking garage. There was the low pitched rhythmic hum of the ship in the distance.

In front of her were three gray creatures, leading the way through through the building. She looked to her left and there was a creature six feet high, whose face was triangular, the color of a peach. She should have been terrorized, but his presence seemed familiar. He looked over at her and the slit that was his mouth smiled. He sent a thought to her, "Do you like my jacket?" She looked down at his body and saw he was wearing a plaid, green sport jacket. Jean laughed breathlessly. "That is the ugliest jacket I have ever seen!"

She could tell he was amused by the way a vein on the right side of his skull moved. She could see the covered walkway that connected the Hotel to the Casino. She looked down and noticed the ground had fallen away below her. The parking garage was behind her -- she worried about her bare feet scraping against the tops of the weeds, but she was hovering now. "Go back under," the creature to her right told her, and she it was hopeless to resist.3

7:45 AM

Vicky was up early, feeling completely refreshed. She opened up the heavy curtains to let some sunlight in, leaving the shears closed. She opened her suitcase, grabbed a tee-shirt and some jeans, and headed into the bathroom. Her mother began to wake up.

"Hey, Vicky. Are you up already?"

"Yeah. I figure if we get an early start we can get the breakfast buffet and have still have time to play the slots before checkout time."

Jean sat up, putting a pillow in back of her to prop her up. "It sounds like a plan." Vicky sat down on the bed beside her. "I'm really glad we got to spend some time together. Did you sleep well?"

Vicky thought about the question for a moment before answering. "The room is great, of course. But..."

"But what?" asked Jean.

"It's just that, when we're together, sometimes I have bad dreams."

"Really? What kind of dreams, Vicky? I'm always interested. Maybe I can help you decipher them."

Vicky sat down on the bed she had slept in. "I don't know, mom. They're really strange." She took a deep breath. "I dreamed that you and I went up a staircase that was so bright I had to close my eyes. When we got to the top, a door opened and we went inside this apartment in the sky. There were children running around everywhere and a couple of them took my hands and pulled me to the right, and some others took you in a hall to the left. There were large windows in the halls and I could see the night outside and the lights of the Casino. I saw a man and a woman in the Casino, looking up at me. The children showed me around small rooms in along the curved hallway -- and finally they took me inside a room where you were lying on a table with tall, skinny doctors standing around you. I could tell they were doctors because they had instruments coming out of the walls. I wanted to help you, because you seemed to be in pain, but I couldn't say anything. One of the doctors turned to me -- he had a mask on like the others -- and he said with his thoughts, 'Get her out of here. She is not to be brought in here again.' His eyes were huge and odd and you could tell he was angry at the little gray children." Vicky looked at her mother and shrugged. "And then I woke up."

The mother and daughter burst out laughing together. "I have no idea what that was all about," said Jean. "Go get dressed, Vicky. I'm next up for a shower."4

THE END

1 Actual event Salem Indiana 10:30 PM October 1979
2 Actual event Salem Indiana March 1980
3 Actual event Bellingham WA 1988
4 Actual event Clark County IN 1990


© 2011 Michele Dutcher

Bio: Michele Dutcher has been published in various online magazines including AlienSkin, Bewildering Stories and Aphelion. She has a Bachelor of Science from Indiana University with minors in religion, art and social sciences. She lives in a carriage house in Old Louisville, Kentucky with two evil cats, a sweet-natured Border Collie named Miss Dukes, and one possibly depressed ghost. (Let us hope that Miss Dukes is prepared to fend off fiendish plots against her by the aforementioned evil cats.) Ms Dutcher's most recent Aphelion appearance was Turning Out The Lights, December 2010/January 2011. As 'bottomdweller', Michele is a frequent contributor to the Aphelion Forum, commenting on other authors' work and entering Nate Kailhofer's monthly flash fiction challenges. Her story opener The Vanishing Stone won the November 2010 "leftovers" challenge and formed the basis for the January 2010 challenge....

E-mail: Michele Dutcher

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