Blue Dollars

📅 Published on July 11, 2020

“Blue Dollars”

Written by Matt Dymerski
Edited by N/A
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.75/10. From 8 votes.
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I don’t have a gambling problem. That’s the first thing I want known. It’s also what they all say, right? No, I’m not addicted to gambling, but I have a co-dependency issue with someone who is.

I’m not the coolest guy on the block, and I’m not particularly good at anything. Ted is, though, and we’ve been best friends since we were four. He’s the one who always pushes forward blindly into adventures, and I guess I’m the one who always gets him back out when things go sideways. There’s always been an element of luck to our continued physical and financial survival, but never more than now.

We’d flown out to Napa Valley for a friend’s wedding—and already ditched the reception party at around eleven. I could hardly afford to do anything; I’d only been able to come because Ted had bought me a ticket. Because I was only there on his generosity, I followed him to the quiet and rather empty bars that sparsely dotted the area. It was beautiful country, filled with vineyards and history, but it was not a party town. This frustrated Ted, of course, who began plying locals with drinks in order to interrogate them about local hotspots. “Somebody has to be having fun in this town,” he would say with a grin.

One bitter old man finally spoke up at the third empty bar we invaded. “There’s a casino, if you really need it that bad.”

We looked at our phones, but Google Maps showed nothing.

“It won’t be on any map,” the old man said, scowling at us. “Just go south from here and you’ll find it.”

Behind our informant, I saw an unhappy look on the bartender’s face. That should have tipped me off—but Ted was already thanking the old man and heading for the door. I followed quickly, ignoring the uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.

Driving through the rolling hills at night was a claustrophobic and confusing experience. Our phone signal dropped, and we found ourselves driving purely by instinct. West? South? East? It was impossible to know for sure. We stuck to the sole road until it turned to dirt underneath the wheels. That’s when I almost called the whole thing.

But Ted pulled up outside a graveyard and pointed. “Look! Cars!”

And he was right: two dozen cars were parked on the grass next to an unassuming old church that had all its windows boarded up. He’d only caught the sight across the graveyard and through the trees because he’d been looking so intently. Triumphant, he said, “That’s a hidden party if I’ve ever seen one!” and carefully drove the car between the headstones to reach the improvised parking area.

I climbed out with trepidation. Even up close, the century-old church looked dilapidated, dark, and abandoned. “Come on, this is too much.”

Ted wasn’t having it. He ran right up and pushed open the front door—and bright light and the sounds of electronic games burst forth. In a moment, he was gone, and I was left to step across the high grass alone. The fact that there was actually a hidden casino here lifted my spirits a little; maybe it was all just a gimmick to encourage people to drink and gamble more.

Funny—it still sounded quiet and looked dark until the moment I cracked the door open.

The light and noise swallowed me, and I blinked repeatedly until my eyes and ears adjusted. I was almost disappointed to find that the expansive place within was exactly the same as any of the casinos Ted had made us visit in Vegas last year. Vaguely old timey red and gold carpets ran lush under warm lighting, and drunk businessmen and their accompanying younger dates played at scattered locations throughout. An old lady glared at me, defending her slot machine, and pulled the lever only after I moved past.

Finally relaxing, I shrugged. Whatever. We weren’t going to be robbed or stabbed here. This was still Napa Valley, after all.

In fact, they were rather accommodating. A wonderfully attractive waitress came by, said hello to me, and offered me a free drink on the house. I took it with bashful surprise.

Ted was already moving about the place to scout the best games and tables. I caught up to him, drink in hand, and he settled near a roulette table. “Let’s just watch for a bit,” he said quietly. “Make sure everything’s on the level. Hidden in a church like this, I doubt they stick to gaming commission codes.”

That made sense. We watched and listened for a bit, enjoying the taste of free drinks and the sight of pretty girls, as middle-aged businessmen won and lost with varying degrees of frequency. One pepper-haired Asian suit went on a lucky streak, getting the crowd all riled up—himself included. While onlookers shrieked with excitement, he bet it all.

He lost.

“Heh, seems legit,” Ted told me. “I’m gonna head over to the blackjack tables for a minute.” And he moved off to begin playing.

“That was everything I had,” the Asian businessman said, dismayed. The two girls that had been clinging to his arms disengaged and began to look disinterested. Hurriedly, he made a motion to a casino manager, and the well-dressed but subtly subservient facilitator brought him a small suitcase. It clicked open with a rush of air, and I watched as the unlucky gambler pulled out bundled stacks of blue dollar bills.

That was odd. They were American dollars—same faces, designs, and everything—just dark blue instead of green. Was this fake money? Some sort of in-house system? Come to think of it, I saw no chips, just money. If these were the replacement for chips, why all the care to make them so similar to real dollars?

The gambler in question did not have the same qualms. He gladly placed the stacks on the table. The crowd grew energized again, and the girls began showing him attention once more.

Feeling a little strange, I moved off, seeking Ted. I found him at the blackjack table as he won a hand.

Grinning, he pumped a fist. “I like this place. Come on, play.”

“I don’t have any money for this,” I told him, sheepish.

“Here’s some.” He handed me a hundred dollar bill. I took it and sat, but secretly stashed the hundred and pulled the last of my own cash reserves from my wallet. As I always did, I would return his money back to him when he wasn’t looking. He never made me feel bad about it, and he had a high-paying job besides, but I just couldn’t stomach leeching off of someone else like that.

We played a few hands while still enjoying free drinks; I drank slower to remain soberish, but Ted guzzled away, having the time of his life. He lost quite a few hands, but played well, and actually started accumulating more money than he’d come in with. I, in contrast, lost all of my meager cash rather quickly.

Upon the loss of my last dollar, a suited man with slicked-back hair and a politician’s grin approached and leaned down between us, an arm on the back edge of each of our chairs. He spoke with a thick Middle Eastern accent, although his skin was pale enough that it was uncertain what region he was from. “Gentlemen, welcome. I don’t think I’ve seen you grace our establishment before. I am Malcom.”

“Nice to meet you,” Ted said. “This place is great. Love the free drinks.”

“Yes,” Malcolm said with a widening grin. “A small expense in the face of a casino’s profits. I am not a greedy man.”

“So you’re the owner?” I asked, not wanting to be left out.

“Yes, but think of me as your friend.” He finally moved back and stood upright. His gaze shifted to me. “I see you are out of money. Would you like to keep playing?” He motioned a manager over, and a briefcase was opened before me, complete with the stacks of blue dollar bills I’d seen before.

I glanced over awkwardly.

Ted was suspicious, but open to the idea. “What are these?”

“They represent debt,” Malcolm said graciously.

“Interesting.” Ted looked to me. “You should do it, Ryan.”

But that was not my name. “I think I’m alright, Jason,” I replied. What did he have in mind? I imagined he was planning to use these blue dollars, if needed, and then slip out. They couldn’t make us pay back a debt if they had no idea who we were.

Accepting my refusal, Malcolm ordered the suitcase closed and withdrew. “Good luck, gentlemen.”

I was left with a chill and a shiver.

From then on, I could only sit and watch as Ted gambled, talked up girls, and had a good time. The free drinks were no longer offered to me, and, indeed, none of the patrons or employees would so much as look at me. I should have noticed, but, again, my life was often lonely. I simply accepted it.

We moved from game to game, eventually ending up back at roulette, and Ted soon found himself in a situation we had witnessed earlier: energized crowd, streak of lucky wins, and a potential for a huge payoff. Despite my whispered warnings, he bet everything he had. The ball bounced, the numbers were called, and I sighed.

He’d lost.

Malcolm returned with a grin I imagined to be rather hungry, and the suitcase was offered to Ted.

Someone in the crowd squeezed my forearm in warning, but by the time I looked, it was impossible to tell who had done it. “Don’t. Let’s go home.”

“Come on, Ryan!” he shouted back. I could tell he still intended to rip off the establishment. “Let’s have some fun!” Reaching down, he eagerly pulled out two armfuls of blue dollar stacks, most of which he pawned off on me. I held them as he bet blue money on another roll. It might have been my imagination, but the stacks felt subtly warm.

He won—thankfully—but that quickly led to more bets, and I watched with a sinking feeling as my load of blue dollars shrank. The eyes of the crowd were upon us very intently now, and Malcolm seemed to be staring solely at Ted—grinning only when Ted looked his way.

“We should go,” I said again, but Ted ignored me.

There were a hundred opportunities to leave, but Ted took none of them. At long last, his final blue dollar went to the house. At that point, he whispered his intent to me, and I took off running after him a heartbeat later. I made it to the door and burst into the cool night air, but Ted remained just within.

“What are you doing?” I shouted to him. “Get out here!”

He seemed horrified. He stared down at his feet as they toed the red-and-gold carpet’s edge. “I can’t! I can’t leave!”

Malcolm approached calmly behind Ted, flanked by two suited managers.

Sensing something was wrong, I leapt forward and kept the church door from closing—but I made sure to remain just outside. “Malcolm, what the hell is this?”

The grinning man gave a small laugh. “I told you that my money was a form of debt. People like your friend here never listen. They think that they can cheat the house. Perhaps that would be possible if the house, in this case, were not a demon. But it is—I am—and he is now indebted.”

I stared up at him, trembling, but it seemed that I was not in direct danger. The next question was obvious. “What does he owe?”

“The same thing that is always owed,” Malcolm told me, his grin widening along his cheeks in a starkly inhuman manner. “Each blue dollar represented a portion of his soul. If even one remained, there was a chance he might win it all back, and more, thus I would not technically own him. With not even one blue dollar left, he has no chance of escape. He is mine.”

Looking past him, I saw the patrons and the employees watching us. I understood: they were all his. The Asian businessman I had seen gambling had been one of us, free, but no longer. I looked back to Malcolm, thinking about his explanation of chance. “So you operate by rules then?”

“Of course. I am a demon, rule-bound by nature. This type of thing must be enacted fairly.”

Ted still struggled with the invisible threshold, his eyes on me, his expression desperate.

“How do I get him out?” I asked, my pulse racing. If the roles had been reversed, I was sure Ted would have had a plan, but I had no idea what to do.

Malcolm laughed softly for a full five seconds before answering. “There is nothing you can do except leave. To buy back even a single blue bill, he must have money. He has no money, therefore he cannot buy back the single blue bill required. Believe me when I tell you that this is not my establishment’s—how do you Americans say?—first rodeo.”

Ted began screaming, but a gesture from Malcolm silenced him. Ted continued moving and opening his mouth, certainly, but no noise came out.

Heart thudding in my chest hard enough that I feared I might pass out, I reached in my back pocket and slipped out the hundred dollar bill. “How many of his blue dollars will this get me?”

“It must be his money, not yours,” Malcolm replied, his expression uncertain for the first time since I’d seen him.

“It is his!” I shouted. “He gave it to me to hold!”

A manager whispered in Malcolm’s ear, and a frustrated sigh followed. “At current exchange rates, that hundred will purchase twenty-one of his blue bills.”

The other manager opened the suitcase, showing twenty-one loose bills, and I scooped them up before dropping the hundred in their place. Without warning, Ted’s screams became audible again, and he fell forward into the graveyard with me. Grabbing him by instinct, I kept him from falling completely down, and Malcolm stood staring at us with anger. Now that his careful veneer was fading, I could see ghastly undertones in his skin, and the pale outlines of numerous gnarled horns on his head—and on the heads of the managers beside him.

Ted accepted the twenty-one blue dollars from me and stood, slowly recovering his wits and breath. “Jesus, they had me.” He gripped my shoulder. “You got me out! You got me out! You always do. Thank you, thank you.”

I nodded and began backing away from that unhallowed place. “There was no way we could have known.”

“Care to make another wager?” the demon at the church door asked. “Now that you know what we are, there are greater winnings available. How would you care for immortality? Perhaps the power of flight? Or precognition? We can gift you these things, assuming you win enough.”

Ted stopped following me and turned to look back at Malcolm’s charred face.

A terrible sinking feeling overcame me. “Don’t!”

“Imagine how much we could win if we could see the future!” Ted said, still frozen in place. “We’d be set for life!”

“He’s lying!” I shouted.

“I cannot lie,” Malcolm replied with amusement. “You know this.”

“I’ll just bet twenty,” Ted called back. “I’ll still have the one, so I’ll still be free!”

I kept screaming, but Ted staggered toward that open door and pushed within. Fully gruesome now, Malcolm gave me a maggot-filled smile—and the door shut of its own accord.

Opening and closing the rotted wood a few times, I discovered nothing but a musty and abandoned church within. I could also now see that the cars parked outside were rusted and ancient, with models ranging from modern to classic. Those that had come here over the last fifty years had never left. Surely I wasn’t the first to turn down the blue soul money? How had I never heard of—

The old man at the bar.

His bitterness.

He’d lost somebody here, to this place, to Malcolm, and Ted had been an obviously doomed soul from the start. Telling him had simply sped up the inevitable.

I began the long walk home. I was alone now, but that was no longer my biggest fear. I’d done my part. I’d pulled a lucky last-minute move and saved Ted from a demon uniquely suited to his flaws—but he’d chosen to go back anyway. There was nothing I could do but go on alone and wonder when my own particular brand of demon would fall across my path. On that day, I, too, would be lost. Thus was born Malcolm’s demonic confidence: even with friends to offer one last chance at escape, we are all human.

We are each our own doom.

Rating: 9.75/10. From 8 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Matt Dymerski
Edited by N/A
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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