The Slot Machine
By Linda Mooney
Wendell glanced at the slot machine as he headed for the front door, same as he did every morning when he went to work. It was hard to miss, sitting against the wall between the door and living room window where the morning sun glinted off its chrome and gold-like surface. As per his daily routine, he shoved a quarter into the slot and pulled the handle.
The heart again. He knew what the dollar sign and the cherry signified, but he had yet to figure out what the heart symbol meant.
Sighing, he exited onto the porch to find Herb Willis walking his dog past his house. Herb spotted him first and waved. “Hey! Did you hear? Tom Takasuki won a month’s worth of groceries this morning!”
“No, I didn’t hear that. Who told you? Tom?”
“Yeah.” Herb nodded, grinning. “Bing, bing, bing! Three little cherries in a row! Sure beats that month’s worth of gas I won back in January, what with the price of food skyrocketing.”
Wendell could relate. “Same here.”
Herb’s dog paused to pee on Wendell’s lawn, giving its owner the chance to extend their brief conversation. “What’s the most you’ve ever won?”
“I got a refund on my investment for the month,” Wendell confessed. “That was back in December. It wasn’t much. Less than twenty bucks. But it helped.” He shrugged slightly. “I don’t play a lot. Not like some people.”
Herb snorted. “Wish I could say the same. I probably load that baby up with about fifty or sixty dollars in a month’s time. If you could win anything, what would you prefer?”
What would he prefer? “I don’t know. Maybe having my electric bill paid. Hey, Herb?”
“Yeah? Hold on, Cookie,” he ordered the dog impatiently tugging on its leash, eager to keep moving.
“Any idea what the heart symbol stands for?”
“Nope. Haven’t a clue. Speaking of, I had a few friends over the other night, and we talked about that. Some of us think it means getting a month’s worth of anything you want.”
“Is that what you think, too?”
“I dunno. Maybe it means you fall in love.” The man snorted. “At least, that’s what my wife claims.”
The mongrel tugged again, whining impatiently. “Look, I’ll talk to you later, okay?” Herb called out to him. Both dog and owner continued on their way without waiting for a response.
Locking his door behind him, Wendell proceeded down the walkway to the sidewalk. Turning to the right, he headed for the corner of the block where he’d catch the 7:38 to the stop on Wallingstone Street, where he’d then walk the next three blocks to his job.
Although he tried not to, he glanced over at the little one-story, wood-frame house as he passed by. He half-hoped she would come outside, or at least appear in one of the windows, just so he could hold that brief glimpse of her in his box of memories. It would be enough to get him through another day. And where on the weekends he could reminisce over every mental snapshot.
Just as it seemed she wouldn’t show, the front door unexpectedly opened, and she stepped outside to begin sweeping off her porch. For a split second their gazes met, and Wendell felt his heart do a somersault.
“Hi, Wendell!” Murielle called out to him, adding a wave and a smile.
“Win anything this morning?”
He stopped in his tracks. She was talking to him, and his breath fluttered in his lungs. He glanced toward the end of the block where the bus sign stood, but didn’t see the familiar white transport heading toward it. Even if it was, he knew he couldn’t pass up this opportunity to share a few words with the woman. Words he would replay over and over during those lonely evenings.
“Uhh, no. You?”
She shook her head, a regretful expression on her face. “No. I’ve never won a thing, and those machines have been in our homes how long now? Going on a year, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. It’ll be a year next week.”
Again, she shook her head. The morning sun highlighted her black hair with streaks of blue. “You know, there are times I wish we hadn’t voted to end all taxing, and opt for the individual slot machines being placed in our homes instead. I’ll bet you there are people who are paying hundreds and thousands of dollars more out of their paychecks now than they were ever taxed in the first place.”
“I agree with you. I know those first few months I was guilty of over-spending on the damn thing…excuse my language,” he hastily amended.
To his surprise, she came down the steps to approach him. Wendell felt his stomach tighten into a knot as she drew nearer. She stopped on the other side of the simple picket fence, so close he could see her eyes were the color of a cloudless sky, even through her glasses.
She perused the end of the block. “Are you waiting for the bus to show?”
“Yeah.” It was a miracle he could speak, with her standing near enough to take her into his arms.
“Where do you work?”
Her face brightened. “Really? I’ve never been there myself, but I hear it’s a great place to eat. Are you a waiter or something?”
“I’m a cook. A sous chef.”
“What does that mean?’
“I mostly cut up ingredients and assist the main chef.”
When she smiled, it was as if the sun sent a halo around her face. “I bet you’re good at your job. I can’t cook worth a darn. I burn water.” She laughed softly at her own joke.
“Don’t downplay yourself,” he gently scolded, and pointed to the broom in her hand. “I’m a lousy housekeeper.”
The distant sound of an approaching engine alerted them that the bus was nearing the stop. Wendell knew if he wasn’t there, it would continue on. So did Murielle.
“Hurry! Go! I don’t want you to miss your ride. We’ll talk more later, okay?”
“Okay. ‘Bye!” He took off running, but already he knew his day would go smoothly because she had spoken to him. He’d seen her, and talked with her, and hopefully someday they’d be able to spend more time in each other’s company.
That evening, after work, tired but still riding the emotional high from that morning, Wendell entered his empty home. Seeing the slot machine, on a whim, he took one of the quarters he kept in the machine’s well and dropped it in. This time, however, instead of pulling the lever, he slapped the large PLAY button.
He stared in shock at the three red icons now glowing, and the machine dinging its congratulations. After a full minute, the lights went out, and the slot machine resumed its usual silence. From the back room he heard his computer chime, letting him know he had a message.
Numbly, he walked into the converted bedroom. The word CONGRATULATIONS! flashed on the monitor, accompanied by CGI confetti. Wendell sat in the chair and clicked the PRESS button highlighted in the lower right-hand corner. The screen went black, gradually fading to white as the message finally appeared.
CONGRATULATIONS, MR. ARLO! YOU HAVE WON YOUR HEART’S DESIRE!
EXPECT PAYMENT WITHIN THE NEXT HALF HOUR!
—The Gaming Commission
He blinked in confusion. He’d won his heart’s desire? That’s what the heart-shaped icons stood for?
What was his heart’s desire? Even he didn’t have the foggiest idea what to expect.
The doorbell rang, jolting him back to the present. Still mulling over the cryptic message, he went over to open the front door, too preoccupied to check through the peephole first to see who it might be.
Murielle was the last person he expected to find standing on his welcome mat.
Flipping on the outside porch light, he noticed the chagrined expression on her face, and an instant of alarm flashed through him.
“Murielle! What are you doing here?” He checked the yard behind her. “Are you alone?”
“Y-you’re not going to believe this, but…” She half-laughed, half-sighed. “I got this crazy urge to play the slot machine just a few minutes ago. It came to me totally out of the blue. I mean, I only play it once a day, in the morning. But for some crazy reason I can’t explain, I felt like I had to play it just now. And you know what? Three hearts came up! Just like that! Ding, ding, ding! But what was crazier was that I got a message from the Gaming Commission telling me that I’d won my heart’s desire, and…and I was told to come to this address to claim it.” She shook her head in confusion. “Isn’t that the nuttiest thing you’ve ever heard?”
“No. No, it isn’t. In fact…” He also chuckled. “The same thing just happened to me. Look. You can look at my machine and see the three hearts still there. And I got the same message from the Gaming Commission. Only, it didn’t give me an address to go to. It told me to expect payment within the next half hour.”
Her eyes widened. “You got the three hearts in a row, too?”
“Yeah. And I have no idea what it meant when it said I’d won my heart’s desire. Do you?”
A cool breeze blew over them both. Wendell saw her shudder, and realized she didn’t have a sweater or anything to keep her warm. He stepped aside and gestured for her to enter. “Come inside. I was getting ready to heat up the beef burgundy I’d brought home from work. Have you had supper yet?”
“No, but I can’t intrude on you.”
“You’re not intruding. You’d make me very happy if you’d accept my invitation.”
It took her a split-second to make her decision. She smiled shyly. “I would love some beef burgundy. Thank you.”
She entered his home where they proceeded to discuss their similar experience over a good dinner and a fine wine. And after a while, they no longer wondered what winning their heart’s desire meant, because what they had right then was exactly what the both of them had been wanting for long, long time.
Erotic Sci-Fi/Paranormal/Futuristic Romance
by Linda Mooney writing as Carolyn Gregg
Word Count: 25.6K
$2.99 e / $6.99 p
A "Choose Your Ending" Romance
Asa Kelby, Director of Entrapment for WesCept, never knows what his job will entail day in and day out. After the earth passed through a comet’s tail, wiping out 90% of all animal species, life changed drastically for both humans and remaining animals. Gone is the surplus of meat for meals, domestic pets, and farm animals. But companies like WesCept are working hard to reverse that.
Scientists have developed a machine that can reach back in time, seize animals of all shapes and sizes, and transport them forward to current time to repopulate the Earth, bringing those species back from extinction, and also provide food for meat-eaters. The biggest problem is they have no control over what animals the Grabber will trap, or even WHEN in history those animals will come from.
At great risk, Asa’s boss tells him to turn up the power on the Grabber, in hopes of bringing in bigger game, but they weren’t quite expecting it to bring in something quite as large or prehistoric as they are soon facing. When the mistake is realized, it’s too late, and they get more than they bargained for. More than the history of Earth itself ever knew existed.
And it will shake the very core of everyone’s belief as to humanity’s past.