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Nightmare Plays Blackjack

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Dead. The whole place was completely dead. Weekdays were never busy, especially after midnight. The retirees had gone home, the rich college boys had taken their last chips to the cage and called their rides, and anyone left standing was hidden in the maze of slot machines. You shifted from foot to foot in your position behind the table, hands on the layout tapping to the rhythm of the shitty blues song playing over the speakers. One more hour to go before you could close the table and go home. Your watch was the most-watched thing in the room.

The front doors all opened at once, revealing only blackness behind them. An icy wind shot into the casino, knocking the papers from the pit podium and sending hundreds of freshly sorted cards from a closed table to the floor. You pulled your arms in and steeled yourself against the wind, staring at the doors. A summer blizzard? A tornado?

It slowed, and the blackness revealed the smallest man you had ever seen. He was dressed professionally, but garishly, with orange glasses and a tie that clashed horribly with his shirt. Once he had passed the security post (ignoring the guard’s request for ID), you could see that his mouth curled like a cat’s.

The next thing to enter was a massive, star-spangled cape. It appeared suddenly, not bothering with the doors at all. There was a massive pair of navy pauldrons and a grey, helmeted head holding up the cape, while ornate golden jewelry weighed it down again. A pair of black, triangular shades hid their eyes. The pair moved into the room, ignoring the closed roulette table to sit at the first open table their path. Which, unfortunately, happened to be yours. The strange, enormous person sat without even moving the chair. The tiny one was hidden by the table. Scramble, struggle, flip. The chair thumped to the floor, finally accessible. You stifled a laugh. The giant was laughing openly with amusement. A supervisor came forward to assist, tipping the chair back into a standing position. They were fully prepared to slot their hands beneath his arms and lift him into his seat, but C.S. shrugged out of their grip. “I’m not a child. Tip the chair back over.” Once it was properly misplaced, he loaded himself into the chair with his feet against the seat. The bewildered supervisor, to their credit, understood immediately, tipping the chair back up with him in it. He thanked them flatly. His arms barely reached the side bet circles.

You blinked and money appeared on the table. An enormous pile of unsorted bills and about a pound worth of gold coins. You stared at it in disbelief. Literally none of this was legal tender for your neck of the galaxy, and this was an intersolar casino. You looked up at the man (probably) that had thrown them out. There were actual, real stars inside his cape instead of anything resembling a body. You weren’t about to inconvenience whatever god this was, and all of this money had to be good for something, so you counted out the numbers and made mismatched piles of bills, giving out the same amount in chips. The small man provided a tidy stack of bills that were, thankfully, legal tender in the area. He received a much smaller stack, but one that was undoubtedly more accurate. A floor supervisor spotted you putting literal gold into the money box and strode over as quickly as possible, panic on her face.

“Sir, you can’t u-”

Your supervisor disappeared in a puff of smoke and aerosolized blood. Nightmare’s companion waved a handkerchief at the cloud, attempting to keep the vapor away from his well-pressed suit. The large one spoke loudly enough to attract the attention of anyone who hadn’t already run. “I am Nightmare. This is...what was your name again? Who cares. He’s Customer Service. We are going to gamble here and take home the ‘high rollings’, as they call it.”

Dead. You were completely dead.

You glued a smile to your face and kept your eyes firmly on the layout. “Of course sir, and best of luck to you! Place your bets, please!” You dealt as quickly as your shaking hands would allow, leaving your players with a 12 and a 14. Your turned over a king. A poor start. A quick check revealed-no. Oh dear, you’re going to be vaporized. Squeezing your eyes shut, you turned over the second card, revealing the ace beneath. A perfect blackjack.

Nightmare seemed confused. “What does that mean? Did I win? None of our cards match.” A way out. You had a chance to escape this alive. You grinned wider, stretching your cheeks to their limit while putting your hands out to either side. “We hit twenty-one on the dealer hand, folks! That’s a table win! Now that’s what I like to see!” You pulled out a full stack of red chips and cut them into matching stacks for both players. Your eyes met C.S.’s through his garish orange glasses. They were full of understanding and empty of sympathy, his grin wider than it had been. He murmured something that was difficult to understand over the hum. It sounded something like, “We seem to be in a similar position.”

Hazarding an upward glance earned you an eyeful of white, blade-sharp teeth. Nightmare was grinning like a shark, curled so far over the table that he had a bird’s eye view of the game. “Well done.” It was between a hiss and a purr, but whatever it was felt like someone sliding the point of an icicle down your spine. “Again.”

You attempted to pick up the cards to begin a new hand, but Nightmare was holding his. He could keep them, then. You dealt a second hand, this time giving yourself a five.

C.S. seemed to play his hands as a normal person would, doubling on his elevens and splitting his aces. Every hand he played was done exactly according to strategy. You felt safe enough to actually take his bets when he broke. Nightmare, on the other hand, seemed to be unsure of what game was actually being played. He demanded any cards you dealt that matched his own and didn’t bother to count the amounts. You only managed to get his cards from him after convincing him that he could exchange matching pairs for chips. Not that it mattered. You were prepared to tell him anything as long as you remained alive.

The casino had emptied completely save for the three of you. The supervisors that were still alive had left, the cage cashiers had run free, and the customers were long gone. Nightmare’s chip stack grew steadily, and a stack it was, seeing as Nightmare had put all of his chips into a single, four-foot tower. He had been betting well over the table maximum for a while now, and a few agonizingly complicated blackjacks had left you completely out of lower denomination chips. You had to very politely request that he return the tower to you so you could exchange the chips for higher denominations. When you ran out of chips entirely and left your table to get more, he helpfully unlocked the other tables’ trays and floated their chips to your tray.

Hours had passed. Dawn had come, birds were singing in the distance, and you were still playing blackjack. Your wrists screamed and your head was thick with exhaustion. Nightmare, thankfully, had grown to like you over the course of the night. You played the part of sycophant well, giving his compliments on his plays and asking questions about anything he mentioned. You cracked the occasional joke back and forth and your smile had grown genuine. Nightmare was a childish idiot, but it was easy to figure out how to keep him happy.

As it turned out, the best way to lighten the atmosphere was poke fun at C.S. The little manlet had been read for filth, but his kitty smile stayed firmly in place even Nightmare told vivid stories of every mistake the man had ever made and every embarrassing thing that had ever happened to him. At some point he had floated a chair over for you (mostly so you could reach the top of his chip stacks), as well as the entire contents of the bar. Nightmare guzzled shitty beer like it was water. You watched him pour the last one between his massive teeth and pop the glass bottle into his mouth. Horrifying sounds followed, just like they had with every bottle before that.

Nightmare slammed his hands onto the table, making it jump. “All right! I’m bored, let’s go. Dealer, help me carry my chips.” He scooped up two massive handfuls and left you to gather the others. You used a tray lid to carry them to the cage behind him. The empty cage, with no one available to cash out.

“I’ll just, um, cash you out then!” You didn’t know how to cash people out, but you rounded the corner anyways, coming up behind the counter and organizing the chips he had dumped unceremoniously onto it.

“Did I roll high?” Nightmare’s tone was disturbingly childish for the giant, ancient wizard you had recently learned he was.

“Higher than anyone in this entire casino.” He had every chip in the casino.

“Excellent! How much money is that?”

“Let me check…”

After what seemed like an eternity of counting, you came to a total of over 400 thousand dollars. Digging around netted you a way to access the cash. Fuck it. You dug the bills from their slots and started piling them into Nightmare’s waiting hands. The faster he left the better. You’d be fired for sure, but at least you’d be safe.

The money disappeared into his cloak. You smiled at him, now safely behind a counter without any cards to give him. “Thanks for coming! Feel free to return anytime, unless you want to try the other casinos in the area!” Please go to any other casino. Please.

“Hmm. Perhaps later. I like what I have now.” He turned to leave. You’d never loved the sight of a man’s back so much before. “Come.” C.S. waddled dutifully behind him, not even glancing back at you.

About halfway down the casino floor, Nightmare stopped. “I said come. We’re leaving.” C.S. was still directly behind him. You stared at them in confusion. Nightmare huffed in exasperation and made a small gesture before your view changed. You were much closer to the door now and a lot higher. A tightness around your middle indicated you were clutched in a giant, skeletal hand. The screech of metal indicated the money boxes were following.

“W-what are you doing?” You wriggled in your panic, but he held fast, seemingly uncaring.

“You’re the only dealer who plays fair and I want to play more later. So you’re coming with! Lucky you~” The door got closer and closer. The last thing you saw was C.S. smirking at you from the floor before you were stuffed unceremoniously into his cloak and saw no more.