It's the thrill. The emotion, the feeling that you can win or lose everything in an instant. That's what you believe fuels you. Until you do lose everything.
The pot burns a hole in your pocket, the saying goes, and it's oh so true. At the start it's only a little bit of money, some spare change in a machine, possibly. You will try some more, and they'll be there, letting you win. A bit. Just a few coins, enough to fool you into thinking that you can win in the end.
But you can't. Oh no you can't.
You win. You win a little more. You spend some of the money, and you'll like it. Who wouldn't? Your life gets better, and not only for you but for your family. You'll start lying, of course, since the money has to come from somewhere. But it does indeed get better, so you come back for more.
Then they strike.
You lose once. Only once. It's a setback, but it's hard. It'll hit you at the wrong moment, but hey, you've been there in the winning side, so you'll think you can recover and win again, and overcome the loss. Yes, it's a slightly higher sum, but it can't be so hard, can it? How much is it, really? Shall we mockingly call it your week's allowance, for instance? It's not that much, you can win it back.
If you're clever, you take the hint and you drop out, because you realize it's a downward spiral, a maelstrom you cannot escape from.
If you're clever.
If you're not, you fool yourself. Instead of thinking how far away from your goal you are, you still think of those things you bought that you're probably still wearing or even driving. You think you can win again. And they'll be there, lurking, waiting for you to walk back in and welcome you as if they were your friends.
That friend you made, the one who won with you and lost with you? One of them. You fool.
They'll be there, yes, waiting for you to fall.
And you do fall.
Oh, you will win again. Now and then. Just enough to keep luring you in, just what you need now to let you live one more month, one more week, one more day. Enough to let you believe you can get out. But you can't.
And they have you hooked.
You'll start losing more. People will notice. You'll start missing dates, forgetting birthdays. You'll play truant once again, only this time you'll phone your boss and call in sick.
And you're sick, indeed.
One day your wife will try to pay at the supermarket and her credit cards will be rejected. Or she'll try to reach you at your job, when they thought you were ill at home. Or she'll get a call from your children's school, saying they've received no payment in the last two months.
Or all of the above, at the same time. And you'll have to explain yourself, if you can.
But it will be too late, If you manage to get your act together, you'll realize that you've gone too far. You've lost too much, you owe too much. You could even sell everything you own now and it wouldn't be enough.
If your wife works fast, she'll get a divorce quickly and walk away, leaving you with a house and a car less. She might even manage to keep her job, or find a new one. Start a new life. Run away from the disease you are.
But you can't run away. Because they'll always find you. Now you know they will.
And you'll remember the thrill, that rush of adrenaline when you could win the pot or lose everything, and you'll realize that it's no longer there, that you just do it in order to survive.
You'll pity yourself. Nobody else will. By now you'll own money to several of them, because of course they work together, and they all work against you. In your desperation, you may come to the realization it's a large-scale operation. A part of you might admire them. You'll then offer them your services and they'll laugh in our face.
Too late. Too late.
Then he will arrive, and offer you a way out. So easy, so close. You just need to hold his hand, let him help you stand, and from there he'll take care of everything. All he needs is your signature on a piece of paper. And he doesn't ask for anything you may need, or that you've ever believed in anyway.
Through the fog you might remember that you used to like reading. That there was a story by Edgar Allan Poe you enjoyed, the one about betting your life to the devil. The one where the old drunkard clearly showed you that you shouldn't do it, since you'll always lose.
Then again, you might not.
And so, you sign. And a part of your brain might even tell you you're condemning yourself.
Once again, there might still be a functioning part in your mind telling you at the same time that you had condemned yourself long ago. But it can be worse, because at some point in the process you might have grown a conscience.
Your conscience will retire. Because, oh joy, your luck will change. There'll be no end to your winning streak. You'll pay your debts and then more. Life will smile back at you.
You'll seek her back, but she'll see through you and reject you.
They'll believe you are cheating, and teach you a lesson.
You'll find yourself sick, maimed. A derelict.
And then he'll claim his payment. Now? Yes, now. And he'll offer you his hand again, only this time it will have an open maw and will move in to devour you. What's left of you, anyway. And as you fall, you might even wonder why he bothers.
Because, you know, fortune can be deceiving.
This is my entry for this week’s Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Behold The Idiomatic! Chuck showed us The Idiomatic, a website that creates false idioms mashing up two existing ones. The challenge was to write 1000 words using one of the fake idioms you get.
I clicked on the link. Several times. It’s addictive like that. I got a number of idioms. But in the end I settled with the first two I got: “The pot burns a hole in your pocket” and “Fortune can be deceiving”, which looked like they were made for each other.
I then let myself go and wrote a sad story with a tinge of urban fantasy.