The man sat forlorn and destitute the totem of sorrow as the man opposite stood raking with a yellow-toothed grin his winnings off the table. The man sat a while longer with his phantom gold after the other had left with it actual. He heard fireworks. The door had opened and he thought the owner was to kick him from the den until a voice so thunderous as to rend the world to its core spoke behind him. The man did shudder.
“Down on your luck, son?”
The man had not turned and he did not reply—the creature had walked already to the opposite side of the table and sat. Its face was childlike in its ebullience, smiling gaudily toward him with bronzed teeth and trimmings, and sanguine rope threaded through coins becoming a satirical moustache the profession of his wealth. It was not until later the man had accepted everything he wore was gold.
The creature poured a cup from a kettle turned cold that sat on a tea table beside them fabricated from such an assortment of broken and spare wood as to appear like a patchwork weaving. The creature drank regardless.
“Why, son, you’re missing the celebrations.” it had said after.
“Who are you?”
“Well, there’s no real definitive answer I can attest to with any veracity—I’m known by many a name depending on whomever it is you find yourself talking to—but I am in all truth the one River King.”
“What are you?”
“Now there was a woman riding a pig bigger than a boat just outside then and you’re saying you’re surprised enough to ask me direct what and who I am?”
“I’ve seen the pig—seen a lot of things,”
“Then what’s your take?”
“I wager you to be a different being altogether. You’re no creature identified or falsified either.”
“Well, it seems your wagering skills are adept in some circumstances.”
“Does it look like I gamble?”
“I ain’t ever seen a gambler as well off as you,”
“You haven’t seen any good ones. Everything I own came through the means of bargaining. Not one article pertaining to me or my goods ever came without the unmitigated consent of whomever may have boasted its ownership.”
“No one’s that good.”
“What say you and me play a game? Find out.”
“I ain’t got anything to bet,”
“Sure you do, son, sure you do!”
“And what would that be?”
“That’s correct. You got nary material left in this world but that which holds your bones. The man whom just left made sure of that. You did too.”
“If I win?”
“Well my case is special, I do hold in my possession wealth, so I have no need to gamble my own self. You may have some of my fortune if you do win and I do have a lot.”
The man paused.
“What’s there to think about?” the creature said, “Where will you go after tonight? I know you—that look you wear. You haven’t got a single outlet to which can save you. Not now. You’ve burned every bridge you had, haven’t you, son?”
“You’re right. I ain’t got anywhere to go from right here save the gutter. But living life free as a dreg is better than being a slave or whatever it is you had in mind.”
The man had got up to leave.
“Now hold on, son,” the creature said, “I see you’re a man of resolution. How about we make a deal? One not based on the determining of chance wherein our virtue is based on that which we mutually put at risk, but rather attuned to our own capacities.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“You have conviction enough for self-preservation. Prove to me now that you’re not riding on the coattails of what last bit of pride you have and take back what you’ve lost with your own hands, not those of fate. I want you to go to that man and get from him what you’ve lost here tonight and in return I shall pay to you it tenfold.”
“That’s correct. You sure as all things know he isn’t gonna give it back willingly son.”
The man thought about the choice given to him and he did think a while.
“Alright,” the man had said, “but are you going to tell me how I’m going to find him?”
“That I am, son, that I am. You wander a bit, I’ll find you when I’ve learned all there is that you’ll be needing.”
With this the creature had gotten up and left so quickly as to put into question whether he had been there at all. The man followed suit shortly needing to shake the rust of the encounter off and went out onto the wicker-laden streets turned cadmium and ruby and boisterous to mull in its festivities.
Electric sky pulses. Flaxen-gold sparks bloom above in the dome of the nebulous sky mottled with grey plates of cloud. The man saw between smoke flashing cardinal red and gold now the people of the revelling drawing themselves emblems of amiability as he exited through an alley and through to the creek that slit the town in half. He squatted on the bank amongst the hummocks and the sand fine and tangled with watercress flashing the colours of the sky above. He watched for some time people passing along the bridge down the creek. Red envelopes floated atop the amber water. The creature had arisen behind him.
“I know where he is and will be.”
The man stood up.
“He’s drinking now. Got that pouch with him. Best you wait till he goes home and stores it some place safe.” The creature said, “Meet me back here when you have it.”
The creature had told him where the yellow-toothed man lived and where he was, and left once more. The man had gone to where the yellow-toothed man was drinking and watched him for a time before following his drunken stumbling back to where he had lived. The man waited a while longer before entering the hut.
The man thought he would cheat the creature and searched in the only room the hut held for more than what he had lost. He opened a footlocker by the bed and felt with his hands a pile of coins when the yellow-toothed man arose and threw himself at the man reeking of stale sweat and alcohol. The two fumbled with the yellow-toothed man’s fingers at the other’s throat. The man having been sober flipped the yellow-toothed man over onto his back to where he let out a howl so terrified as to sound like the wailings of some animal, and in the man’s own fear he silenced the yellow-toothed man so as no one could hear and they could not be found.
The yellow-toothed man went limp and had not moved for some time. The man arose. Flash of fireworks ignited the room and burned crimson the pool of blood on the floor and his hands. The man stood in horror then sat on the bed and looked out onto the back wall for some time. Music played on in the street below.
The festivities had fizzed out of date when he exited the hut severe and morose over what he had done. Smoke pools in the streets. Ashen morning bleeds to crimson for the air-starved workers rising with the Sun. Grey day. He went now to the creek gripping in his blood-caked hands the pouch fattened with what else he could find. The creature was there.
“My,” the creature said, “it seems your resolve does not stop at theft for insurance of life, does it?”
The man looked at him.
“It’s alright,” the creature said with his emblazoned grin, “what’s done is done and there’s nothing to be sorry for. Here, give me that pouch.”
The man gave the creature the pouch and the creature held it for only a second before producing a satchel and bringing forth an empty pouch which he ballooned and filled with coins from the satchel. He then gave it to the man.
“There,” the creature said, “as promised: your losses reimbursed tenfold.”
The man clutched the pouch and turned. The creature spoke up,
“You ever lose again or allow yourself to be in the needing of recompense or restitution I’ll be around.”
The man turned over his shoulder to see the face still smiling infantile in its malignance. He then walked up the embankment and turned again to see the creature gone.