By Jan Cronos
A gambler’s bargain
“Stop draggin’ the child out at night. You’re poisoning his
Grandfather’s eyes were vacant ovals. “Boy’s getting big,
aren’t you, sonny?”
The small boy stretched up straight and tall. “Sure am,
“He needs to be around a man.” Grandfather shook his
fist and his gold ring glinted hard and cold.
“You still blame me for Don’s death, don’t you?”
Grandfather bared his teeth like fangs. “You sucked the
life from my son. You drew the manhood right out of him.”
She covered the boy’s ears. “I bore him a child. You
“I want to go with Gramps.” The boy pulled away from his
mother and took Grandfather’s hand. His green eyes were almost black in a
bright pink face.
“No. I hate you!”
Grandfather tousled the boy’s wavy hair. “He’s got his own
mind like his Gramps.”
Mother wrung her hands. The nails were chipped and dry. “I
don’t want you dragging him to those horrible places. You best take care of
him, old man.”
Grandfather clucked. “Sure will, right, sonny? You’re no
Momma’s boy, are you?”
The boy stuck his tongue out at his mother. She flushed as
he and Grandfather strolled from the house. Soon the old man and the boy headed
towards the parkway.
The stars were faint, timid eye blinks in utter blackness.
Hazy halogen lamps hung from steel pillars. Cars roared by, their swollen
headlights scaring shadows that fled like wraiths. The old bench was worn, an
isolated cripple surrounded by stocky wooden companions who’d yet to feel the
“Can’t we sit on the new benches, Gramps? This one smells
Grandfather chuckled. “I’ve known this bench a long time.
It’s old, but so am I.”
Under baggy clothes, Grandpa’s flesh hung loosely, as if
vital fluid was drained by Time’s vampirism. His glazed eye sockets glimmered.
“What happened to Dad,” the boy asked, “did Mommy hurt
“Not now, boy.” Waving his hands, Grandfather
muttered strange words the boy couldn’t understand. “Hold my hand tight.
Take-off’s a little rugged, but you can take it.”
There was a rumbling noise as the bench jolted, then lifted
into the air. An icy wind froze the boy’s cheeks. “I’m afraid.” He squeezed
Grandfather’s hand as his guts churned. The world around them blurred. Time stopped.
With a jolt, the bench landed.
“No worries. I’m here. Now, quick boy, tell me what you
see,” Grandfather ordered.
The darkness receded gradually. “There’s lots of people
“They’re…not people…exactly.” He shivered. “Gramps, I don’t
like it here.”
“What are they doing, boy?”
“Sitting around a table.”
“Has it got green felt?”
“Plastic chips too?”
“I think so.”
“Ah, now we’re talking.” Grandfather rubbed his hands
together. “Take me there, sonny.”
The boy took his hand and led Grandfather. His small hand
was icy in the older man’s warm one. At the table, a fat, gray-faced man with
skeletal fingers was dealing cards.
“Where you been, old man?” He wet his bony finger with a
shellacked tongue and continued dealing. “That your boy?”
Grandfather shook his head. “My grandson. Son’s dead.”
“Right. Call.” The man threw a few red chips onto the
Two specters rose and left.
“What are they playing, Gramps?”
“It’s called Galactic Hold ‘Em.”
“Sit down, sit down!”
The boy and his Grandfather sat down and a waitress came
over. She wore a tank top with three cups and her two noses were both pierced.
An upside down cross dangled from her pierced chin. She placed a glass in front
of Grandfather and thrust her spongy crimson lips against his ear.
“This one’s on the house, old man.” Her voice rattled.
“I’m blind, not deaf,” Grandfather retorted, grasping and
fondling her with spindly fingers. “Nice. None for the boy—he’s still too
“Then what did you bring him for,” she muttered, striding
off in a huff.
“Deal me in,” Grandfather urged.
“You’ve got enough for the buy-in?”
“You betcha,” replied Grandfather, taking off his gold ring
and tossing it down. He patted the boy on the head. “It was your Father’s. I
give it to him; took it back when he passed. And I plan to win big.” He patted
the boy’s head and grinned. “He’s my lucky charm.”
The boy glowed at these words and leaned against his
The waitress returned and placed a huge pile of red chips
in front of the old man, whose face lit up as he fingered the smooth plastic.
“Read the cards to me, boy, read ‘em quick,” Grandfather
whispered, “but whisper so they can’t hear.” His hand gripped the boy’s arm so
hard the boy yelped.
“Sorry, boy,” he said, “but I need you.”
“I love you, Gramps,” said the boy, after he whispered the
names of the cards.
“Ten thousand,” the gray-faced man muttered, tossing a
handful of red chips onto the table.
“I’ll see ya,” Grandfather said, “and raise ya five.” The
old man squealed with glee. He won the first pot and the second. But,
after an hour, Grandfather had no chips left.
“You’re short,” growled the gray faced man, “ante up.”
“Wait,” Grandfather yelled as a serrated murkiness
“Leave my Gramps alone,” the boy screamed.
The shade shimmied around Grandfather. “He has no eyes,” it
The gray-faced man jabbed a finger.
Silent smokiness enveloped the boy’s face. With a thud, two
round green objects fell from his sockets and rolled onto the felt. The boy
cried out and fainted.
“No!” Grandfather yelled. “Please! That’s my grandson. Give
me a chance to win ‘em back. Double or nothing.” Grandfather’s lips were tight
and his hands trembled.
“Okay, but we take his soul and your damn ears too if you
lose.” The ghoul laughed.
“I’ll read the cards for you,” the waitress offered.
“Thanks.” He rubbed her bare arm. “Bring me luck.”
“I’ll try,” she said, jiggling her jugs. “But you can never
beat the house.”
The gray-faced man shuffled and dealt.
The waitress spoke softly in Grandfather’s ear. His nose
“What you got,” Grandfather demanded.
“Four aces.” The gray-faced man smirked. “Now gimme
“I got you beat, alien demon,” Grandpa retorted. “Straight
The gray-faced man slammed his fist down. “Crap. Give back
the damn eyes.”
With a sigh, the old man gently carried his unconscious
grandson to the bench. When they landed back home, he carted his grandson into
“What did you do?” exclaimed the boy’s mother.
“Sorry,” the old man mumbled, as she stared at her little
boy in horror.
Grandfather blinked. His new eyes shone like emeralds.
Cronos, email@example.com, who wrote BP #89’s
“Grandad’s Legacy,” writes in the NYC metropolitan area. Genres include science
fiction, fantasy, and speculative fiction. Formats range from flash fiction to