By C.M. Saunders
Lewis was a gambler. Always had been. For a while, during his marriage, he had stopped 'playing games with money' as his wife had instructed, but every day he had to fight the urge and every day it was a little harder to resist the temptation. It was the promise that seduced him, the promise of untold riches in return for minimum outlay and a dose of good fortune. It could happen to anyone, he told himself, and his turn was surely just over the horizon. Inevitably he was drawn back into that murky world; slowly at first but then, when he started losing, desperation took over. Soon they lost the house and the car, then he lost his job and his wife. He remembered the last words she had ever said to him, “Go to hell...”
Slots-a-Fun arcades, with its clever double meaning, were a common sight around the seaside resorts where he now resided in a succession of dim one-room bedsits, and even in the off-season the places attracted a steady stream of clientèle. Today he stumbled across a new arcade. This one was called Slots-a-Pain. It didn't have the same ring about it as Slots-a-Fun. In fact, the play on words didn't exactly work very well, and Lewis guessed it was just a cheap imitator. Even so, he couldn't resist stepping over the threshold. It wasn't like he had anything else to do that wet Friday afternoon.
Remarkably he seemed to be the only player there. Maybe word hadn't caught on yet, or maybe the place was just opening. The slot machines were different here. Although they functioned by the same basic principle, he had never seen any quite like them in all the places he had frequented. All were festooned with the obligatory array of brightly-coloured lights designed to draw you in like moths to a flame, but these ones had names like 'The Hangman', 'Devil's Bridge' and 'Trapdoor to Hell'. They must be working to some kind of theme, Lewis thought to himself. Clever. Every successful enterprise had a gimmick, something to set it apart from the competition.
A good gambler always had pocketfuls of change, and after rooting around until he found a fistful of acceptable coins Lewis made his way over to the machine named 'Trapdoor to Hell'. For some reason this particular machine appealed to him, and he had learned over the years to trust his instincts. He studied the machine for a moment. It looked straightforward enough – all you had to do was hit the 'shuffle' button and line up four of the same images. So simple even a child could play it.
He dropped the first coin into the mechanism and hit the button. A flash of lights, some flickering images, and then... nothing. Dammit! He dropped in another coin, then another, and another, working himself into a frenzy. Sometimes he was close. So close that a hollow demonic voice boomed out of the speakers, laughing and taunting him. The images he had to match fit the general theme of the establishment. Usually you had love hearts or bunches of fruit to play with, something uplifting. Here you had grinning skulls and devil's pitchforks. But this machine was ripe. His instinct told him so. It was ready to blow its load any minute.
Soon Lewis was down to his last coin, his final throw of the dice. He kissed it first, then dropped the coin into the machine. There was the now-familiar flash of lights and sequence of flickering images as one by one they fell into place. But this time...
HE WAS A WINNER! The four images slowly fell into place, and they matched! Lewis whooped with joy and danced a little jig. But what were those fucked up images? A terrified-looking man screaming and falling?
At that moment the trapdoor to hell beneath his feet gave way, tipping Lewis into the fiery pits that awaited him below. As he fell, he screamed...
Copyright © C.M. Saunders (2012)