Two Crossed Pencils
Let me have 912 straight and boxed. 7184 straight and boxed. Let me have...
Balding, brown haired and brown eyed, Peter Cullen fumed as the old lady continued to spew out more Win 4 and NY Numbers. It seemed to him that she had more numbers in her gray haired head than a mathbook. He clutched his bet slips tightly in his fat sweaty hands. The tiny bodega was crowded, teens hustled in to buy junk food while older folks stood in line patiently behind the lotto machine.
"Teens, I just don't know what goes through their minds now. I was never that weird when I was a teen," the old guy in the blue jacket behind Peter mumbled.
Peter took another angry glance at the woman ahead of him, she still had more numbers. He was not sure he wanted to talk to the guy, but he was getting bored.
"What's so crazy about teens now?" Peter asked.
The old guy looked at Peter. "Have you heard of the charliecharlie game?"
"I saw this on Youtube, a bunch of teens made a diamond on paper and placed two crossed pencils. Then they chanted charlie charlie something. The stupid kids asked questions. The pencil pointed to the answer. Of course they freaked out because they thought some demon or something was answering them," the old guy in the blue jacket said.
"Next customer!" the guy behind the lotto machine said.
Peter turned around and handed the lotto guy his slips. He watched as the machine scanned and chunked out his tickets. Peter looked back, and the old guy was gazing vacantly at the front of the store.
"What happened to the kids afterward?" Peter said.
"What kids? Oh, ida know," the man replied.
Peter turned back to watch his tickets pile up. When the machine was done, the lotto guy announced that Peter owed him $35.50. Peter paid him forty and got his tickets and change. A sour hope grew in his heart as he left the store, and stepped into the cold wind slashing down the street.
Peter remembered other times he bought lottery tickets with the certain hope that he would hit. One of those slips of paper would get him some money. Once in a while he did get money, twenty bucks here, ten bucks there, his biggest win to date was one hundred bucks. Of course that was when he was making decent money. Now he was unemployed, savings going fast and some extra money would be really welcome. A familiar figure in black and pink walked up to Peter, but he was still lost in his thoughts.
"So Petey, do you think you can win enough money to hang with me?" Gina's question broke Peter out of his thoughts.
"Um, I don't know Gina. I keep tryin but I just can't get the big ones. I have bought the dream books and subscribed to almost every lotto newspaper, but none of them worked for me," Peter said while looking up and down the dilapitdated block.
A cold look crossed Gina's face then she smiled a real smile. One that lit up her brown eyes. "I gave up on that lotto crap a long time ago. But you know what they say." She grimaced as the cold Fall wind tore through her thin but sexy looking pink and black outfit.
"Yeah, you gotta be in it to win it. Maybe I should be a zombie. My luck might be better then. Good luck," Peter said.
Gina leaned in close to Peter. "I had cow brains and eggs once and you know what, I prefer eggs." She pulled back and waved before walking off to find customers.
Peter waved back and started walking down the street past lots of closed storefronts. Like him, this neighborhood had seen better days. There were too many shuttered storefronts and buildings with broken vacant windows.
He walked into his apartment, and through the hallway to the kitchen. Peter had the typical bachelor pad that was more like the sloppy guy's pad from The Odd Couple. Dusty, dirty and dishes in the sink. To be fair though, Peter let the dishes pile up until he ran out of clean ones then he would wash everything. When he started to sneeze too much, the dusting cloths would come out and things got dusted. One day, maybe I will win enough to hire a maid, he thought.
After tossing the lotto tickets on the kitchen table, he went straight to his computer. It did not take him too long to find the videos the guy in the store mentioned. They seemed pretty silly until Peter suddenly saw an image in his head of a circle with numbers from zero to nine and two crossed pencils inside.
The chair creaked as Peter leaned back, and thought about what he saw. It seemed pretty silly, but the idea would not go away. He definitely needed more money, his savings account was shrinking with the demands of rent and food. The job search was not working out. Fussing with some pencils and saying something silly would probably not hurt him. After a few seconds thinking, Peter decided to give the ritual a try. For a second, a chill raced down his back and then it was gone.
Peter shrugged. Vague fears were not going to stop him from making some money. It took him about fifteen minutes to make his number choosing board. Then he watched the videos to find out what to say. He was going to change the formula a bit though. He took a deep breath and let it out. For some reason, he felt like he was at a point of no return. What ever he was going to do now would not be undone. An image rose in his mind of himself with big wads of cash in his hands. Then he puckered up to kiss something. That made Peter laugh a little. The idea of him kissing some creature for cash was good for some more laughs. Then the levity drained away and was replaced by desperation. Peter nodded. He resolved to kiss Charlie if the numbers worked. It was just a kiss, its not worth too much.
"Charlie Charlie, I want to know, what are the NY Numbers and NY Win Four for tomorrow! Charlie Charlie, I want to know, what are the NY Numbers and NY Win Four for tomorrow!" Peter said.
The room seemed to get cooler. Minutes passed and nothing happened. Peter stared at the still pencils. Just when he was thinking about the whole thing was a waste of time, the pencil on the top moved. Peter grabbed a pad and another pencil. Just as he asked, the pencil first pointed out the digits to the NY number, 920. Peter blinked in surprise but he managed to keep his eyes on the pencil for the NY win four number, 6241.
"Wow, thank you Charlie, if these hit, I owe you a kiss," Peter said with a smile.
As if in reply something moved the dirty dishes in the sink. Peter did not turn around for a few minutes then he went to watch tv. When the lotto results were shown on channel 7 at 11 pm, he was ready with his tickets. After three minutes, all of the tickets were ripped to shreds. All of them were losing tickets. He went to bed wondering if the numbers Charlie gave him would win some money. A more scary thought snaked into his mind. Did Charlie even have a face or even lips?
The lotto guy looked at Peter in surprise when he saw that Peter had only two numbers to play. "Are you slipping?"
"Nah, I am going to win," Peter said with a smile. Deep down he wondered if the numbers were any good. He would find out tonight. The day dragged like the clocks were filled with molasses. Several agencies called, but they only offered jobs in other cities. Peter did not have a car so those calls were a waste of time. He just kept hitting the job boards, and slowly the day ground down to evening. Peter only posted his resume to three job boards, he did not expect any replies but maybe something might happen.
Finally, 11 pm arrived and the live lotto results were being shown. Peter's eyes began to widen as the balls were announced, each one a match to the digits he got from Charlie. When both winning numbers were announced, Peter had to put his hands up to his eyes to push them back in.
"Holy crap Charlie, maybe I should pucker up now!" Peter said with surprise. He would have to go to the store to find out how much he won. Something moved in the kitchen, but Peter was too excited to be scared.
The lotto guy took Peter's tickets so he could scan them. Peter on the other hand was focused on the guy's face. Winning a thousand dollars would be good.
The lotto guy's eyes widened. "I'm sorry but you have to go downtown to 125 Beaver street. Congratulations!"
"Wha-what?" Peter said in surprise.
The lotto guy gestured for Peter to walk around the side of the lotto machine. Peter walked around while wondering if his wildest dream came true.
The lotto guy whispered,"You won thirty g's from the Win Four and twenty g's from the Numbers. We can't pay that out here, you have to go to Beaver street for that. Put that money in a bank real soon or you will make a mugger very happy."
Fifty thousand dollars was a nice win, that was enough for paying Peter's rent for a few months as well as some expenses. Other fun thoughts filled his mind, but Peter reluctantly broke them off to get his tickets back. Several hours later, Peter was back in his apartment. He was still giddy about the money. Now he had some time to search for a job without having to take anything that came along. Also maybe he had enough to take some courses. A cold greedy thought crossed his mind. Maybe he could get more money, fifty thou will only last so long.
Peter stopped and thought. It seemed kinda greedy to ask for more than fifty thousand. Then again, rent was eight hundred and fifty. That money only brought him five or six months before things were bad again. Maybe he won't find a job within that time? Peter rushed to pull out the paper with the numbers and do the ritual again. When he had the new numbers he watched some tv and went to bed.
He found himself standing in front of the bodega looking through dirty broken windows. The store was empty and dark. A smell of rotten candy wafted out. That made Peter cough. The windows were smashed and it looked like a hurricane had swept through the store. In the distance, he could hear galloping hooves. Peter looked away from the decrepit store. A small pink pony with a lavender and white striped mane ran by, fear was in its bright blue eyes. It glanced at Peter and squealed before galloping even faster down the block.
It would have been funny in another place, but not here. Peter surveyed the area. The buildings all looked like they had been abandoned for years. Empty windows gaped like sightless eyes. Then he heard the noise. Tik, tik tik. It sounded like someone was walking on stiletto heels. A feeling of dread swept through Peter. He pinched his arm. It hurt and he was still here.
A female figure slunk into view. Before her there was a smell. It reminded him of a landfill, but one that only saw the worst of garbage. Stuff that would never break down over the centuries. Peter could not see the face of the woman, his eyes slid off of her face like they were greased. The woman was so close now that Peter could see more of her. What he was seeing of her now was making his stomach churn.
She looked like she had curves alright, ones that would fling even the most savvy driver to his or her death. Also the woman seemed overstuffed, the poisonous pink and deathly black of her outfit barely contained the corpselike bulk. There was something sickening about the jiggling. No jam or jelly, just something viscious and vile. Finally the woman or what ever it was stopped in front of Peter. He wanted to step back, maybe have at least several blocks between himself and this creature.
"Are you Charlie?" he said while trying to hide a grimace of disgust.
A voice like Gina's, like a shark plush toy is like a real shark, replied. "Nope, I just work for him. I am authorized to speak for him and to collect for him..."
Peter wanted to ask collect what, but deep down he knew.
"You owe him a kiss and probably a lap dance," The creature said.
Peter would rather stick his lips into a shredder than kiss what was standing in front of him. A lap dance was definitely out of the question.
"How about I make things easier for you and me. You give me people and I can forget about you," The creature offered.
The idea of giving people to this thing that slouched before him was kinda attractive, but then Peter wondered how he was going to get people.
"How am I supposed to get people?" Peter said.
The creature sighed. "Really? Okay, it's real simple, stop looking at my boobs and listen carefully," it said with an annoyed voice.
Peter had stopped looking at the creature's massive breasts a long time ago when they still jiggled when the being stopped walking. Now, he was just looking around the creature. It was just too disgusting to look directly at it. Peter wondered if he could choke on his own vomit in a dream.
"You will have number choosing parties. Get other people to say the chant, and I pick their numbers. You hook up ten people in two weeks and we are good. You will never see me again. You got it?" The thing said.
Then there was a snap and a rustle. The creature held a black pen in one hand and a contract in another. "Oh yeah, there is a contract you gotta sign. This keeps us on the level. You cheat, I gotya. I cheat, you owe nothing," The thing said while holding out the items.
Even though the letters seemed to squirm, Peter could still read the contract.
"What? You have even more issues? Grab it and read it! Take your time. I don't want anyone saying you did not have enough time to read the fine print," the creature held out the contract for Peter to read.
Peter grabbed the contract. He was glad to be looking at something that was not so vomit inducing. What ever the paper was made of, it felt slimy and dry. He had an intense desire to wipe his hands on his pants, but Peter managed not to. He read the whole thing, it read like a regular contract in real life. That is, it was filled with mind numbing legalese, but he managed to plow through it. Even the fine print was scrutinized carefully.
"Can I get the pen now? I want to sign," Peter said.
The creature handed him the pen. It looked like a black bic pen, but when it touched his hand, his fingers started stinging and burning.
"What the hell?" Peter said with surprise.
"Freakin sign already! What do you think we just use regular ink?" The creature said in a really annoyed voice.
Peter placed the bottom of the contract over his left arm then he scrawled his signature. The ink looked thick and red. Peter guessed it was his blood. The pain faded from his hand. He gave the creature the contract and pen.
"When you wake, you better get to work," The creature said. Then it giggled.
Peter hoped to never hear such a sound full of hunger and malice ever again.
He found himself lying on his bed with a neatly folded contract on his chest. Peter was tempted to flick the paper or whatever that stuff was made of like a poisonous spider, but he remembered one of the clauses. Damage could invalidate the contract, and that over stuffed creature in black and pink would get him. He barely was able to tolerate standing next to that thing. It would be quite horrible to have it touch him. Peter carefully placed the contract in a drawer then he got ready for his shower, there was a lot of planning he had to do.
Again the lotto guy's eyes widened. "Jeez, Pete you are doing well. Looks like you will be heading down town again," he said.
When Peter checked the amount, he was suprised it was only a total of twenty thousand. He grinned, it was still welcome. He put the money in the bank, and rushed back uptown to his apartment.
Several hours later, Peter had four people in his apartment. He did some light cleaning, but anyone could see the spots he missed. The folks here only cared about winning numbers.
"I hope this charlie is an angel, I don't want to be dealing with no demons." An old black woman said.
"Nah, charlie is a good being," Peter said while hoping to calm her fears. The other three people seemed pretty nervous about this topic too. He could see their eyes darting around his apartment like any moment demons would appear and drag them down to hell.
"Ok folks, please say the chant so we can move on," Peter said.
Ms. Chatterson wheezed a bit, but she said the chant along with the others. A few minutes later, the pencil picked out some numbers. Peter could see the greed in the eyes of the other people. On the other hand, Ms Chatterson had a genuine warm smile on her face. "If I hit, I am going to donate most of the money to the church I go to, Hillside Baptist Church."
Peter did not care what these people did with the money, he just wanted to be free. To show he had some heart, he smiled and nodded at Ms. Chatterson. He smiled just a bit wider when they all gave him fifty dollars. The next few sessions went even better. When word got around of the first group of folks hitting big and sharing a large jackpot totaling one hundred thousand, Peter had no problem getting more people.
The next few days flew by. Peter had number choosing sessions every day. He was a bit surprised and relieved that people did not cause trouble. He was even more happy that they paid him money before they won. At first he asked for fifty, but now he was asking for hundreds and later even thousands. People paid without a fuss because they knew it was an investment on something that would reward them greatly.
This was his last day on the contract, and he had managed to get twenty people. Peter wanted to get some more money before he quit cold turkey from lotto and numbers. This time he was asking for ten thousand. To his surprise, he still got four more people and a special guest. Gina had shown up with 10g's in a black leather bag.
Peter did not care about the other people, they were nothing against his freedom, but he sorta knew Gina for years. Well, he did not know where she lived or what her full name was but they had some interesting conversations. An image of the pink and black wearing creature made Peter shrug. He did feel sad about getting Gina hooked up with the creature, then again he never wanted to see it ever again. Gina lost out against his desire to be free. That night he smiled and cheered on the desperate people as they chanted.
"Thanks Peter for the chance for me to leave this life behind with some cash," Gina said with gratitude in her brown eyes.
Peter smiled, "I wish you well in your new life."
When his guests left with bright eyes full of hope for a better future, Peter waited until they were out of the building. Then he destroyed his equipment. He was never going to gamble again. Peter went to his drawer in his bedroom to check on the contract. It glowed redly, and faded away. A laugh flew out of his mouth, he felt so light, he expected his head to bounce against the ceiling. He was never going to see that monstrosity again.
Peter strode down the street, in a few days he would leave this area and go on a vacation. Maybe he would never come back. Then a large black man ran up to him and screamed. "My Gramma died screaming about a demon in pink and black! Her poor old heart gave out from fear!"
Before Peter could react, the man shoved a pencil into both of Peter's eyes. His eyes exploded in a blaze of pain, and he tumbled to the ground with his hands over his savaged eyes. While he screamed in agony and fear, Peter could hear a familiar giggle filled with malice and hunger.
He would hear it for the rest of his life and afterwards.