The Desperate Gambler

The Desperate Gambler

A Story by Spectral Dust

Jack pulled his old Volvo up to the parking meter and turned off the tired engine. With his shaking hands he gave his last cigarette a light. Across the street sat the sidewalk sign that told him he'd found his destination.

Walk Ins Welcome
Explore your Past, Present, and Future
$50 for 1 hr.
$35 for 1/2 hr.
Neven Will Greet You
(Down the hall on your left)

He took a drag and then crammed the roadmaps into the glove box. The long drive had been exhausting, from Vegas to Minneapolis in less than two days. He checked himself in the rear view mirror. It reflected a horrid sight: three days without sleep and a  shave can do that to a guy. The closest his stomach had come to a meal was some Beef Jerky and a donut someplace in South Dakota nine hours earlier.

His watch told him he was twenty minutes early for his appointment. Better stretch my legs and get some fresh air, he thought. There were no quarters in his pocket for the meter, so he asked a female passerby.

“Excuse me, Miss, do you have change for a dollar?”

The young lady didn’t speak, she simply dug out four quarters and handed them to the bedraggled stranger. There was nothing smaller than a five in his wallet, so he tossed it on the car, and then pulled a dollar bill from his pocket.

“Thank you.”

He stuffed the meter, and then walked through the park to an overlook on the Mississippi river near the Saint Anthony Falls. Across the streaming water gleamed the city's skyline. At his left he could see on the Historic Stone Arch Bridge toothpicks with arms and legs walking and pedaling its aged stonework.

It was here, in the historic quarter of town that Jack was going to see someone he hoped could help him. He was unemployed and nearly broke. He'd split Vegas with his last grand, but after gas, hotel and a new alternator he was down to a paltry three hundred dollars.

Jack stared blankly at the Falls and drifted back to that joyous time in March, two months earlier. It was a miracle what happened to him: he won the lottery! A whopping one hundred grand! about sixty-six thousand after Uncle Sam got his cut.

What a joy it was to tell his boss where to stick his job!


His fiancée wasn’t too pleased, however. She'd cautioned him to take it slow, but he was too caught up in the excitement to listen. They both were planning to get married soon, they simply hadn't firmed a date. He adored his daughter, Jennie Lynn, and Donna was the love of his life; but after the lottery win he spun out of control, losing thousands at the local casinos, and hundreds more on the lottery trying to win that “big one.” Then came the day of the big fight, forever etched in his brain…

“Jack, this is getting out of hand. You should get some help!”

“Oh, Donna, back off! If I didn’t gamble we wouldn’t have the money in the first place!”

“You’re not going to have any money if you keep gambling! How much did you lose this week? A grand? Five...?”

“Don’t worry about it, you’ll get your share of the damn money!”

“Oh, Jack! How dare you! I don’t give a damn about that money!”

“What are you worried about then? What the hell do you care if I gamble?”

“Listen to me, will you? You have no job. You’re thirty-three without an education! How are you going to make a living, Jack!”

“Donna, I told you, I’m going to be a professional gambler! If you loved me you'd support me on this!”

“Jack, I do love you. I want to marry you and Jennie loves you and needs you. Now, I talked to my father and…”

“What! Oh, Donna, I’m so disappointed in you! How could you go behind my back to your father!”

Donna started to cry and ran to the bedroom.

“Donna, don’t worry everything is going to be alright!”

Things were not alright. After a week of unbearable tension Jack couldn’t take it any more. He tossed a $10,000 check on the table for Donna and split to Vegas to live the new life he’d chosen for himself: the life of a professional gambler. This was no idle dream, for he and his father had been to Vegas many times in the past to gamble, poker mainly. They’d never won big, but it was great fun. Jack knew that in time he could be a professional gambler, and a good one. Once Donna saw he was serious about a career in gambling she’d give in, he was sure.

Jack called Donna from his Vegas hotel everyday. After a few weeks it was every other day. As his losses mounted and the markers increased he hardly called at all. His heart ached for Jennie Lynn and his lovely fiancée, but he was so caught up in the action that he found it difficult to think of anything else. The lease for the apartment back in Minneapolis had expired, but the desperate gambler could not bear the thought of leaving Vegas a loser.

Legally, Jack didn’t have a place to live.

It took two months before he realized that Donna was not going to give in, and she certainly wasn’t moving to Vegas, regardless. It didn’t matter anyway; by this time Jack was almost broke. Three days previous, four grand had slipped through his fingers playing roulette and craps. Jack was so distraught he seriously considered suicide. Desperate and alone, he split Vegas and headed for home without the slightest assurance his fiancee and child would open the door.



It was time to call Donna. He felt sick with fright and humiliation. The rush of the Falls was too loud, so he stepped away from the overlook before he dialed.

Five rings later, someone answered.

“Hello?” said a gruff, male voice.

Jack hesitated, speechless, and then he hung up.

“Oh, no,” he thought, “she’s found someone new.” The thought was like a punch in the stomach. His mind began to swirl. “What have I done?” he mumbled.

The appointment was in five minutes. He headed for the small, historic building on Main Street to see Neven, a local psychic with a reputation for fortune telling. It was foolish, but at this point, what had he to lose? In his desperation he was willing to try anything that might give him a game advantage and help him plot a winning course of action. That was just like Jack, always trying to beat the system, and a fortune teller seemed a good way to buck the odds. It would only take an hour, he reasoned. Then he would call Donna.

Jack and the psychic sat across from each other at a small mahogany table. The high ceiled office was scantily dressed: a bookcase filled with occult treasures, an antique floor lamp, and two Queen Anne chairs, one each side of the bookcase. The wall above was graced with a large, framed photograph of the famous clairvoyant, Edgar Cayce.

Neven was a kindly gentleman, distinguished in manner and appearance. He explained his fee and that he may not be able to connect with the "other side." It wasn't up to him, he said, whether or not the spirit world wanted to communicate. Jack felt at ease in his presence, and it felt good to sit in a chair that didn't require pedals under his feet.

It was almost ten minutes into the reading before Neven said anything that meant anything to Jack...

“Okay, I got it,” Neven said, presumably talking with the spirit world. “Yes, she’s saying something about trains. Yes, um…little trains. Must be model trains.”

Jack flinched. “Well, I had a model train set up in the basement, It was--”

Neven interrupted with, “She says you really loved those trains; um, they really meant a lot to you.”

“Yeah, well, I still have them; they're in my closet.” He meant Donna’s closet, of course.

Neven continued with his psychic impressions. “Yes, um…she’s trying to give her name again. Something with an 'L'; like in maybe, 'Lucille.' Yes, that’s what I’m getting.”

“Yes! Yes, that was my mother!” For a moment Jack forgot about his dire circumstances.

“She says she loves you. Yes, she wants to make sure that you know that she loves you, no matter what,” Neven said.

Jack felt an emotional stab. He suddenly recollected a conversation he'd had with his mother shortly before her death. She had spoke those very words: “Jack, I’ll always love you, no matter what.”

Neven nodded his head as if he were affirming a whisper. “Yes, she says that it’s a big mess. Um…she’s showing me a pickle.” Then he chuckled and said, “Yes, she says you’re in a pickle.”

Jack was snapped back to reality with that grim reminder. “That’s an understatement.”

Neven sat and listened to the other dimension briefly before continuing his reading. “She says your father did not want to be present because he’s ashamed; he blames himself.” Jack’s father, Dick, had died one year previous, almost to the day.

“Yes,” Neven added, “She’s telling me that your father feels he was a bad influence on you. He can’t forgive himself.”

Jack only sat and listened. He didn’t know what to say.

“Do you have a daughter?” Neven asked.

“Yes, yes I do. Her name is--”

“Wait, please, let me see if I can get it from…” Neven paused. Then he continued with, “Starts with a 'J,' as in 'Jessie' or maybe, um…I’m not sure, is it Jessie?”

“No, actually it’s Jennie, um…Jennie Lynn.” Jack was surprised at how close the psychic had come to the correct name.

“Yes, thank you,” Neven said. “Your mother is telling me that she watches over her.”

Jack was beginning to feel a little fuzzy minded. He wasn't sure what if it was from the exhaustion or the psychic reading.

“Okay, she wants to make sure you know she loves you. And...that it wouldn’t hurt if you prayed now and then, either,” Neven said with a smile.

That was certainly his mother talking; she'd always been a woman of faith. Jack never was one for religion or praying. Only twice in the previous twenty years had his feet graced the church aisle, for his parents' funerals.

The session was about to end, and so Neven was about to wrap things up. "She's pulling her energy back now. Yes...she's gone." Then he smiled at Jack and said, “I hope that was some help to you.”

Jack didn’t want to get off the chair; something didn’t seem right. He felt confused about what had just happened.

“Well, okay, thanks,” Jack said, standing up. Then he stopped and sat back down and nervously asked, "Say, I was wondering...I heard that you can see into the future., I thought...if there was something you could tell me..." his voice faltered with embarrassment.

Neven didn't speak; he simply picked up a rock crystal on the table between them and held it in his upturned palm. He stared quietly at the crystal for thirty seconds...sixty seconds...ninety seconds. Then he spoke earnestly and without cadence:

"The cross and the bell is your salvation," was all the psychic said.

Jack jumped the last syllable with his desperate anticipation. "The cross and the...the cross...the bell?" he stammered. "I don't think I, I don't know what that means."

Neven's countenance became suddenly serious. He glared intently at Jack and said slowly, methodically, "That' know."

Jack was so taken aback by Neven's abrupt change in demeanor that he felt intimidated. He also felt embarrassed because he realized his desperation was showing through. After an uncomfortable silence, he pulled thirty-five bucks out of his pocket and dropped it on the desk.

“Well, that was really interesting,” Jack said, “thanks for your time.” He stuck out his hand for Neven to grab.

“My pleasure,” Neven said while they shook hands, “and have yourself a pleasant day."

Jack headed out the exit and onto the busy sidewalk. The theatre down the block was showing a hit, so the antique street was busy. The cafes and restaurants were a cash cow for the waitresses taking tips. He glanced down the block to his dusty, four-wheeled companion, and then headed for the café to fuel his aching stomach and get some jingle for that damn parking meter.

Jack ordered coffee and donuts from the pretty, teenage girl, who then prepared his order in a jiffy and rang up the tab.

“That’ll be three-twenty-five, please.”

He fumbled for his wallet but his pocket was flat.

“Oh, God! My wallet!”

Out the door he bolted, into the street and in front of a car. The car load of teenagers came to a screeching stop.

“Hey, watch it old man!” yelled a long-haired punk out the window.

Jack was washed over with relief when he saw the wallet still on the car. “Oh, thank God” he exhaled, still panting from the run. He jogged across the street to the café and walked up to the counter with his wallet in hand.

“Whew!” he gasped to the cashier, “I thought I lost my wallet! Sorry about that.”

Jack lifted the wallet and opened it, but the leather pouch was empty. Someone had snatched the cash but left the wallet.

Without saying a word he slowly walked to the exit like an entranced zombie.

“Sir, your coffee?”

He walked past the awninged café tables, across the street and through the park to the trail that led down to the river's edge. Down the trail he bumbled, to a secluded spot where he could be alone. After ten minutes of lethargy, he took a hard look at himself.

“I must be some kind of idiot,” he spit out. "I threw away a good paying job, abandoned my family, and lost $40,000 gambling in less than three months. I'm nuts."

He laid back into a soft spot of sandy river bank and closed his eyes. He felt so weary, humiliated, and confused. His mind wandered to his encounter with the psychic. How could he have known the things he had? Was it a true miracle or some kind of trick? Jack’s exhausted consciousness began to fade. His last thought was, “I have to call Donna.” Then his mind fell into oblivion.


The first thing Jack noticed when he awoke was that the sun had traveled quite some distance to the right. He checked his watch: it was 5:15 p.m. He brushed himself off and headed up the path, still groggy. The more he walked, the more refreshed he felt. The three hours sleep had really soothed his fatigued mind.

Time to call Donna.

He pulled out his cellphone and flipped open the lid. The battery was dead.


Jack pulled himself up the trail to the park and headed for his car. It wasn’t until he got halfway through the park that he noticed his car was gone. The city had towed it; not because he hadn’t fed the meter, but because this happened to be the day the street was to be cleaned. He recalled the “No Parking After 5:00 p.m.” sign, but never expected to stay anywhere near as long. All his possessions were in the trunk: clothes, toiletries, jewelry he was going to pawn for cash, and Jennie's birthday present, a jumbo-sized teddy bear.

“Oh, God d****t! D****t! Damn!” Jack screamed.

Some pedestrians were staring at him. He needed a scapegoat and the only one he could think of was Neven.

"There is no 'salvation' for a man in my position!" he screamed out, recalling the psychic's prediction. "Liar!"

He marched across the street to the old building, straight to the psychic's office. He was going to demand his money back, that’s what he was going to do! It was too late, however; Neven had already closed for the day.

Jack stumbled back to the sidewalk and gave his face a vigorous rub with both hands before exhaling a loud moan. Then he started to walk, to no place in particular.

It was over, he realized. Donna would never take him back now--he was just a fool. There was no way he could face her father, Stan, who never liked him in the first place. This would be all his future father-in-law needed to prove to his lovely daughter that Jack was the loser he knew him to be.

Jack knew he had only one option. In his pocket he found his last six dollars in the world, a five and a one. He stumbled upon a small market at the corner of 2nd and Vine. The snacks would kill the hunger pain, and the other small item he purchased would be needed later that night. It would be dark soon and he could do what he needed to do.

The church down the street chimed its bell for Saturday evening mass as he exited the store. Slowly down the sidewalk he walked, toward the church; not because he had any intention of entering, but because he had no place to be.

The church doors were open to the warm summer air. It seemed to him like a large mouth that beckoned him to enter. He saw no other parishioners climbing the steps. With nothing to lose, he carried his defeated self up, and through the door. At least he could sit down and rest his tired bones.

After his eyes adjusted from sunny bright to stained glass dim he walked to a middle pew, genuflected and sat down. There were few in attendance, maybe ten people at most. He sat dazed, going through the motions like everyone else, standing, crossing, and kneeling. At one point he actually cried. This was during the homily when the priest spoke of God's unconditional love. When the collection plate reached him, he dug in his pocket and pulled out his last dollar. I won’t be needing this, he thought. He dropped the bill into the basket.

The service ended but he was in no hurry to leave. Two pews in front of him sat an elderly lady that he could hear sniffling; everyone else had gone. Jack prayed one last fervent prayer to God; not for help, he knew it was too late for that. No, he needed forgiveness for what he was going to do.

Jack was going to kill himself.

He was going to find a cozy spot by the river and cut his wrists. The razor blades he'd bought at the market were in his pocket. Never before in his life had he felt so lost, so hopeless.

Jack crossed himself, and then staggered to the church doors and into the setting sun. As he descended the steps he looked to his left and noticed a slender brunette standing near the entrance with a small child who was chewing nervously on her finger. He headed the other way down the sidewalk a very short distance, and then he stopped. Confused, he turned to see the woman and child silently staring at him. Without speaking, he staggered to the woman who was looking at him without expression. Slowly he fell to his knees before the woman and wrapped his arms around her legs.

Jack wept uncontrollably at Donna's feet.

Donna lowered herself to her knees before him. She cupped his sobbing face in her hands and said, "It's going to be alright, now. Everything is going to be alright."

"Oh, God, Donna, I'm so sorry! I'm so very sorry! I don't know what's wrong with me," Jack cried out.

"Jack, we love you; we've been praying you'd come back to us."


"Oh, Jennie Lynn! Honey I love you, and I missed you!" He kissed his daughter on the cheek and squeezed her tight.

Jack and Donna both stood up in each other's arms.

"Well, did you have fun, Mr. Lucky?" she asked with a grin.

"Oh, Donna, I'm...I'm sick. I can't stop. I can't stop gambling."

"I know, sweetheart, it's an illness. You can get help; we'll get help together," she said, wiping a tear from Jack's face.

"Oh, God Donna, I love you."

Jack sobbed while his beautiful fiancee soothed his shoulders.

After Jack calmed down to a managable cry, he asked, "I don't understand, how did you know I was here?"

"Well, we didn't. We were driving around and heard the church bells, and out of the blue, Jennie said she wanted to say a prayer for Daddy." She pulled Jennie up from the sidewalk, and smiled at her. "So I told her the best place to say a prayer is in church. Jack, we were in the back row; we saw you."

"I said a prayer to Jesus, Daddy," Jennie said, pointing to the cross on the church sign.

"Oh, Honey, thank you." Jack gave his daughter another kiss on the cheek.

Once again Jack was overcome with emotion. He wrapped his arms around his loved ones and pulled them close to his breast.

They slowly walked their way to Donna's car, for it was time to go home. It was in the car that Jack learned who the man was that had answered the phone. It was the maintenance man painting the apartment, as part of the lease renewel. It was for that reason that she and Jennie were out and about, to evade the paint fumes. She also gave Jack some other news that was bound to make him happy: The ten grand he'd left behind was in the bank in entirety. With that money they would rebuild their lives. They would get married and spend the rest of their lives together, for better or worse. In their own way, they would live happily ever after, facing life's challenges together, as families are called to do.

The church bell rang its final call of the evening. At the same time the belfry lights came alive, shining brightly upward, illuminating the large white cross above.

They passed the church as they drove away, but Jack never noticed the church sign on which his miracle was written:


© 2012 Spectral Dust

Author's Note

Spectral Dust
Photo of playing cards is public domain material, off the internet.

My Review

Would you like to review this Story?
Login | Register

Share This
Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


Added on March 5, 2012
Last Updated on July 25, 2012
Tags: Gambling, Supernatural, miracle, family