Ted Parker could never resist a bet.
For years he just said it was a hobby, that he just did it for the cheap booze and love of poker. But after five years, a ruined marriage and a million in debt, he inwardly knew he was a poor, drunk gambling addict.
He'd never admit it to anyone. Since he could talk, he was a smart ass, strong willed and charasmatic cheapskate. Many women referred to him as "the worst date I ever had" or "Tanked Ted." Every night he roamed the Kaw Nation Riverside Casino looking for a jackpot and some unlucky women.
He'd just sit in the casino, 4 a.m., fixating on the Ruby Red 25 cent slots. Every now and then he'd bring his non filter cigarette to his lips, grumbling something unknown to him and those around him, shaking his head.
Every 30 minutes he'd refill on his bourbon and coke with dollar draw beer. Only two bartenders could serve him, the male ones. He had a tendency to plow his way through women with an irreverent, obsessive, destructive tenacity.
On one pathetic night, after trolling through the penny slots and trudging past the blackjack tables, he stumbled to Lucky 7 Leprachuan progressive jackpot. He had 5 dollars left. His old woman, the sweetest and most niave of them all, had called him constantly for the past hour.
Save it for a pack of cigarettes, or let it ride? He grabbed in his pocket, reached for the five. Nothing there, damn, he spent it on the Star Wars game while waiting for the bathroom.
After a fake cough, he got up. A hand on his shoulder startled him. He jumped back a little, with an air about it to ensure he didn't seem weak. Ted slicked back in brown hair and wrinkled his tanned, aged face.
"Woah bud, you startled me." Ted croaked, standing back in awe to the 6'5", pale man standing above him.
"Sorry for the alarm." The man said, in the tone of a lonely, old man. What the hell? Ted thought. No money and now a creeper trying to invade his space.
"Do you mind if I talk to you?" The (awkward, dull) man asked. Ted could only nod and fiddled for his cell phone. Maybe he would pick up for Darlene this time, let her pick him up and tell her he loved her again to get something for himself.
"I'm Fred." The man bellowed to the fidgety Ted.
"No kiddin'? I'm Ted. nice to meet you. So what do you want to talk about?" Ted figured he had to be in some sort of a conversation, didn't like abruptly ending someone at the beginning, maybe in the middle.
"Want to live forever?" Fred asked. Ted looked into his eyes, for an instictive reason of protection. For the first time the green eyes shown out, surrounded in yellow scum instead of the usual white. Fred's eyes were lined with a dark brown; and he seemed to not be able to quite look back at Ted.
"Of course." Ted scoffed. "Who doesn't?"
Ted turned away and began to walk off. Fred put his veiny, white hand on Ted's shoulder. "It's not a joke."
Ted reached around him, felt the card the man was holding near his neck.
"Thanks bud. I'll look into it." Ted said, knowing his first plans were to trash the thing in the parking lot.
"It pays well." Fred said. Ted paused, he never could resist a bet.
After a 5 minute phone call Rita was there to pick him up in a beat down Ford Bronco. She was in her 30s and still desperate to find the love that everyone knew didn't exist in these times. The first person to prove it was Ted, but he knew the only person to put up with his crap was this selfless, pathetic enabler.
"Hi honey." she said.
"what's up with that?" Ted snared.
"With what?" she queried.
"Calling me honey." Ted mumbled. He leaned back and began to drift to sleep.
"What class eh?" She chimed. In her she knew the feelings he had for her would be, at their most, a cloudy mass of intrigue and pity. She knew he couldn't get how an educated gal could be any amusement in an alcoholic nobody. He pitied her for not being pretty enough to clout her wit and esteem into a pretty sweet package deal.
Oh well. She thought. The summer dusk began to paint a perfect mural onto the unending Oklahoma sky as she carried her unpleasant non-beau to his house. She could smell a trash fire from out east and the smallest hint of rain. She looked to him, saw him half awake and knew nothing could be perfection, but this wasn't so bad.
Rita helped Ted up to her second floor, garage apartment. The only theme she could manage for her dump was that of rogue. Crimson red curtains, dingy red rug convering old hardwood floors and too many stains.
Ted fell onto the soft, pink couch in the south corner of the living room. Rita casually suggested, "I have spiced rum and Dr. Pepper, a couple old beers left over by the ex. I feel like indulging your habit and having some company." She sat next to Ted. He looked up at her, sat up and said okay. He picked a movie. She poured the drinks. They barely touched; but to Rita it felt like making love. To Ted it felt like another distraction to the inevitable.
After forcing themselves through Chinatown, not out of ignorance but of inebriation, Ted finally crumbled into Rita the confusing event that had transpired before she picked his sorry ass up.
"He told me I could live forever." He whispered in between puffs of his musky cigars.
Rita sat up from the rug on the floor. "Who did that?" She asked.
"A really tall, creepy looking fucker." Ted shrugged. " I think he was part of a cult."
"That's weird." Rita bemused. "My co-worker Tammy said her daughter got asked something about living forever while she was sacking groceries over at Dillon's."
"Fuck off." Ted snapped, using Rita's fear of him to avoid feeling like all the other bums. Rita just sat on her knees, silently, begging for the inspiration to say something that would really put Fred on his ass.
"Sorry..." She mumbled.
Ted sat up and began to rub Rita's back. He knew he was too rude. He hated he indulged his rage in her. But he hated more he couldn't just let her live in reality, just let her realize they'd never be anything and she was wasting her time.
Rita stood up. "I'm going to bed. You can crash here if you want." She began to cry; but Fred would never know. It was her pride in hiding how unbelievably in love she was with the rare parts of Fred he never knew he showed her. Fred drifted off to sleep, to the most safe and comfortable couch he ever knew. Tomorrow he might give the strange man a call, just to kill a little curiousity.
In the morning Rita was already gone to work. Ted, of course, had that desperate key from her. He decided that since he was currently jobless and without any entertaining occupation besides gambling he'd go see Fred and see if he really eternity in a lab in a strip mall on the outskirts of town. It was only a couple of blocks away anyways. He could walk.
Going down the street he didn't really think about what might possibly happened. Ted just pondered the dream about the crabs. Somehow, in his dream, he was in the casino. They had a new game. You picked up crabs with a net. You had so much time. How many you got, you'd get cooked for you in a meal. He walked to the game. He tried it. But no matter what, he would scoop past the orange, floundering crabs to the dead, gray crab on the bottom.
When he got to the Eunogenics lab by the KFC and nail salon, Ted almost doubted himself. But what matter did it make? Everything would disappoint him eventually, why not something new for a little entertainment. Fred was already waiting outside. He lobbed over to Ted, smiling on one side of his mouth.
Fred screeched out to Ted, "So you're saying yes?"
Ted mumbled, "Let's see if you're a fibber."
Fred, "Oh...I'm not."
The two made their way into the lab, but more of an empty office. It was just gray, just sitting there. When Fred pulled out a needle and a serum bottle, Ted convinced himself this was just a gag. Whatever...the depression had him on the wave; and he figured if he lived forever debt wouldn't be a problem. There. A little bit of the real reason came through. Whatever...Whatever...
Before Fred put in the needle, Ted stopped, "Don't I need to sign something? Don't you need to explain to me what happens?"
Fred smiled, "No pal. No worries. We pay you 10,000 dollars to live forever. Nobody will do it though. They don't ever believe it. Only you and a couple hobos have agreed. It will catch on, no worries." Fred's mouth still creaked to the side. His yellow eyes quivered.
Ted said yes. To him, it felt like suicide. "Ok." He said. The needle went in. The serum worked through him.
For the next 20 minutes, all Ted could see was red and black lines swirling past each other, then all back. He felt a sharp pain to the arm he received the shot.
"What the fuck is this shit?" He shouted. Damn. It hurt.
Just below his right elbow, his arm was gone. He just had a chair and desk beside him. Fred was gone. Everything looked like desert.
Ted shouted. Nobody was there to respond. His arm didn't bleed, like he was made of cement. He looked over his shoulder and saw that his arm had been knicked off by a sliver of metal that had swung by in the wind. But what was this desolate area? He hadn't gone anywhere.
Through emptiness he spotted out the familiar spots again as he walked. He had just walked past the KFC five minutes ago. The bank's steel beam skeleton remained. Finally, a reality struck Ted as he processed the view of bodies in the street. The massacre of the impossible inevitability. The world dried out finally. Fred gave Ted the only serum that worked. But that wasn't in Ted's mind.
He made the walk back. He mumbled to himself, "Hi honey."
Up the stairs, above the garage, the building barely holding up. Still there, the pink couch in the corner with Rita's skeleton lying on it, waiting. Smoke butts and Chinatown on the coffee table. Before he had himself in all the world. Now all the world could be was him. And all the world would be was Chinatown, cigarette butts and Rita.