The first thing O noticed about the casino was the wild electric multi-colored whirring machines in full tilt. The mechanic echo spun in the air, catch or be killed invisible. O watched the sounds entrails snake through the aisles of the poker and blackjack tables, jump over the shoulders of howling men in suits and ties; the dying men in rags and lies. O moved through the restaurants and bathrooms, seeing hundreds of people chase a dream to make their middle better for their end.
The feeling of manic hope overwhelmed O. They never believed humans could decoratively lie to themselves. The orchestrated effort of risk for comfort for an inevitable end almost made O feel like it could work, though they knew it would never be so. For every toss of the dice or deal of the deck or spin of the wheel, all bets do eventually come to a close.
Then, O found their target.
A Reverend turned around at the bar, a cross dangling from his splayed, weary fingers, and sucked sharp on a cigarette lit in his mouth. He followed the sound as it popped and cracked in the infinite number of pockets in the gambling hall. O caught the Reverend’s eye. The Reverend’s blood felt as if it suddenly drained from his body.
“You know the end is just as sweet as the beginning,” O murmured over the Reverend’s shoulder.
“You’re liar,” the Reverend murmured. “I can smell the sin on you.”
O chuckled, steadying themselves on the back of the Reverend’s chair.
“Sin…” O hissed. “Such a juvenile thing your kind c. The moral imperative your order duped billions into believing was the sole truth weighs on you, Reverend. I can see it on your skin as a fine film of ash. It’s sickening and sad to see a man of faith drowning in their falsities.”
“I don’t want your pity.”
“I’m not giving it to you,” O said. “I am only here to deliver the truth.”
The Reverend bowed his head and began to pray.
“Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle,” the Reverend whispered.
“Oh, stop,” groaned O.
“Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil; may God rebuke him, we humbly pray; And do thou, O Prince of the Heavenly Host, by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan and all evil spirits who wander…”
“Saint Michael was always one to fight the process,” O sighed, talking over the Reverend. They clicked their tongue and observed an older woman — 95 years old — take a coin from her old purse, kiss its shiny metal, drop it into the slot machine, and pull the lever. “He never trusted you to handle the end on your own. You never saw that as patronizing?”
“…through the world for the ruin of souls,” the priest finished.
“So?” asked O., “Feel any better?”
The Reverend did feel better until an immense pressure on this chest. It felt like an invisible rock resting on his ribs. The Reverend struggled to breathe, feeling the impulse to reach out to O, who merely watched. Suddenly, the Reverend fell physically full but in the worst way. He felt like everything inside of him was pressing up against his skin. A burning sensation began to smolder around the lining of the Reverend’s heart. Images of scorched earth and irreverent flames flashed across his mind.
“Saint Michael…” the Reverend mumbled. “Guide me.”
O turns the Reverend around in his chair and gazes deep into his eyes. The others at the bar seem to ignore him. They think he’s just a lonely priest who’s had one too many. He comes in often, whispering prayers to himself while he sips his whiskey and watches sports. They are not there for him. They are there for themselves, their end of a long hard day.
“You are one with yourself,” O told the Reverend. “You never needed anything — no saint or church or God — for strength. All you needed was yourself.”
The 95-year-old woman begins to shriek with joy. She has won the big pot. Everyone around her claps and cheers as the Reverend’s life slowly begins to fade. The Reverend listens to O’s words seeing, in their death, no angel comes down from heaven to aid him. God is nowhere. There is only O.
The Reverend collapses to the floor as O melts back into the crowd.
Before he leaves the casino, a young man, down on his luck wearing a sullen look on his face, spots O. Something about them pulls the young man to them. The young man feels a sense of direction.
“Hey, buddy,” the young man says. “If I give you a free chip, you mind telling me how to win? I haven’t lucked out on shit all night, but you look like the kind of person that knows what to do. How about it?”
O takes the chip, moves it from finger to finger, then hands it back to the young man. He frowns.
“Try again,” O advises him. “There is always a chance at a new beginning, but I do not assist in that.”
The young man took the chip, colder than he remembered it before, and stepped back. O slid through the double doors as paramedics came rushing in. They had one more stop to make.
Mitchell Duran is a writer of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. He has been published in Black Horse Review, Drunk Monkey, The Millions, BrokeAssStuart, and more. He lives in San Francisco, California. Find more work at Mitchellduran.com