Magic comes with a price
The man called Tiny was a three hundred pound monolith who barely fit into the jail cell. He sat on the floor, forcing his cellmate, Watkins, to retreat to the upper bunk bed.
Watkins perched over the edge of his thin mattress, looking like a squirrel on a branch studying the cat below.
“I’m not staying long. I’ve got a Get Out of Jail Free Card.” Tiny flashed the small orange card with black writing at Watkins. This card may be kept until needed or sold. GET OUT OF JAIL FREE. It looked like the Chance card Watkins remembered from Monopoly, complete with a black and white drawing of a man wearing a striped prison uniform being kicked out of jail at the pointed end of a boot. Except that instead of a bald man with a handlebar mustache, the card displayed a color likeness of Tiny’s face, with its thin goatee, round jowls, short, flat nose, and brown hair. Watkins scrutinized the card, then Tiny, then the card again. He frowned.
Watkins’ frown annoyed Tiny, and had he not been in a good mood because of the card, he would have pummeled his cellmate into jelly. He balled his fingers into a tight fist and imagined Watkins’ face as he punched his open palm. “You’ll see. I got it from a witch who I played a Monopoly game with for real money.”
“There are gambling games of Monopoly?”
“Yeah. Just like poker.” He took in a deep breath, then coughed when the dank prison air filled his lungs. “If you’re smart, you can win big, and I’m smart.”
Watkins scooted forward on his bed. “How much did you win?”
“I cleaned her out. Ten thou. She owed me more, too, but didn’t have it on her, so she offered me this Get Out of Jail Free card instead of the other five grand.”
Watkins was about to ask, “And you believed her?” but bit his lip. That would not have been a prudent thing to say. Get along, stay alive was the cellmate rule. Instead, Watkins asked, “What are you in for?”
“Armed robbery. A bank job gone bad.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“Yeah, so is the guard. He’s dead.”
Watkins took a slow breath to give himself time to formulate another question. “How’d you smuggle the card in? They’re still doing body searches, right?” It had been nine years since the latex glove mill, but Watkins remembered entering Longstreet Prison as if it happened only yesterday. Nothing that’s not part of a human body gets past the long fingers and bright lights.
Tiny growled. “I told you. She’s a witch. The card’s magic.”
“When did you play? Before or after the robbery?”
Tiny narrowed his eyes. “What difference does it make?”
Watkins shrugged. “I’m just curious.”
Tiny lifted himself off the floor, leaving an impression of his body in the cement. “After. I needed cash.”
“How did you know she’s a witch?”
“You ask a lot of questions.”
“Sorry. There’s not much else to do in here.”
“If you’d seen her, you’d know. She had a thin face, long chin, pointy nose with a wart at the end of it, and black, oily hair. The broom in the corner of her room swept by itself, no human attached. A large pot bubbled in the fireplace and I heard squeals inside it. Plus, this black cat kept rubbing against my legs. So, yeah, she’s a witch.”
“If she’s a witch, why did she let you win?”
Tiny beamed a half-toothed smile toward Watkins. “Who knows? Only a witch thinks like a witch. Maybe it was my good looks and shining personality.” Tiny waved the paper card in the air. “Well, it’s been nice chatting with you, but I’ve got to go.”
“Wait, wait!” Watkins waved his arm. “Just one last question?”
“What is it?”
“How do you make it work?”
“I tap the card three times like this.” Tiny brought his forefinger to the card. On the third tap, Watkins propelled himself off the top bunk and onto Tiny, wrapping his arms around Tiny’s neck. The card flamed like it had been soaked in kerosene and touched with a match. A roaring whoosh like a jet engine set to maximum thrust filled their jail cell. The burning card spun, enveloping Watkins and Tiny in a ring of cold fire.
Watkins opened his eyes, but could not see. The air smelled old and stale. He ran his palms along the contours of the cramped, metal space in which he found himself, using his fingertips as eyes. The metal was as hard as the bars of the cell he just exited, but unlike prison bars there were no gaps.
The shape was unmistakable.
He frantically examined the walls again, but nothing changed except for his state of anxiety which leaped from bad to unbearable.
This isn’t happening
Nausea swelled in his belly, but he dared not throw up. I’m inside a metal dog.
From somewhere nearby Tiny screamed, “Help me!” Metal reverberated as Tiny whomped his fists against his enclosure. “Get me out of here! I’m in a battleship.”
A roar like a boulder tumbling down a mountain rattled Watkins. He shivered, hoping that the things in motion would not crash into his container. When the thundering stopped, a woman’s gravelly voice said, “I rolled a five.”
“Stop, don’t pick it up!” Watkins screamed. “I’m inside!” He pressed his hands tight against the metal walls to brace himself. Up and down five times he went, as the dice commanded. He crashed into the walls as if he were in an elevator oscillating violently between two floors.
“Park Place, but I already own it,” the woman said.
The avalanche roared again, rattling his old, friable bones. A man’s voice said, “Eleven.”
“Looks like you’re cleaning me out,” the woman said. “One more move and I’m going to have to declare bankruptcy.” She strummed her fingers on the table. “Can I interest you in a ‘bank error in your favor’ card?”