Game of Chance

(a Magical Midlife Mom humorous short story)

“C’mon,” Regan waved at the person lagging behind her. “It’s over here.”

Patrick grumbled as he followed the strawberry blond teenager beneath the glaring, flashing lights. “Why in Queen Mab’s court would you drag me here?”

“Because this is what I want!”  She narrowed his eyes suspiciously at him.  “Or are you going to renege on our bet?”

“Of course, I won’t,” Patrick said, acting as if he were offended by the very idea when in fact, he had seriously considering ducking out of the mall.  As a leprechaun with luck magic, he thought he could easily win a coin toss with his boss’s girlfriend’s teenage daughter. If he would have won, she swore she would convince her shifter boyfriend Lucas to stop napping on his favorite office couch while in wolf form.  He was beginning to resent the stray hairs all over his clothes whenever he sat down for a sip of afternoon tea.

Instead, Regan had beaten the odds and correctly called heads.  Now he was in her debt instead.

Patrick glanced at his distorted, red-haired reflection over a large screen with dancing anime characters, his dour expression at odds with their radiant smiles and terrifying large eyes. “You could use my luck magic for anything, and you chose to take me to the local arcade?”

“Anything within reason,” Regan corrected.  “And you’ll understand once you see the machine I need help with.”

They wove past a gaggle of middle schoolers jumping around the dancing rhythm game and dodged a toddler running in terror after watching her father shoot at zombies with a plastic gun. Patrick had no idea what on earth he was expected to do until Regan pointed at the row of shiny transparent machines filled to chest-level with colorful characters.

“The claw machines?” he asked in outrage as Regan pulled out a prepaid card that would activate the machine. “You expect my luck magic to win you something out of one of those?”

“Not just something.” Regan pressed her forehead against the see-through plastic to scan the prize plush animals.  She let out a squeal of glee when she spotted her prey. “That thing.”

Patrick followed her finger to a spherical plush in the back row.  He had to squint to make out the details on the black and white blob: pointed ears, cute little paws, and a goofy grin with exaggerated canine teeth.

“You want a dog stuffed animal?” he asked skeptically.

“It’s a wolf, not just a dog.  And it’s a special kind called a reversible plush.  You can twist it inside out so that another wolf appears, only the opposite side is all grumpy and frowny.”  She clenched her hands near her cheeks.  “I want it so bad!”

“Then just order one online.”

“I can’t!  They’re sold out everywhere.”

“Then just buy a different one. I’m sure there’s thousands of wolf toys to choose from.”

“But not one like this. It reminds me of Lucas.”

“Within reason, just as you said.”  Patrick eyeballed the robotic claw hanging from the machine’s ceiling.  “My luck magic can’t work miracles.  These things aren’t made to actually win.  I’m a leprechaun, not a miracle worker.”

Regan wouldn’t be deterred. “C’mon, Patrick.  Pretty please?”

“Oh, all right.”  He settled himself in front of the joystick that controlled the claws.  “As long as you’re paying.”

“Of course!” Regan swiped the prepaid card.  The machine, which had been playing muted carnival music, roared to life with extra blinking lights and doubled its volume.  Patrick winced.

“Here goes nothing.” He hit the start button.

He moved the joystick around, the claw jerking like a marionette falling off its strings over the pile of plushes.  He positioned the claw as best as he could over the wolf and frowned.

“I don’t think it’s going back far enough.”

“It’s fine,” Regan reassured.  “Just try it.”

“Okay.”  He tapped the button to activate the claw.  It lowered, Regan and Patrick both leaning forward in anticipating.

It completely missed the wolf plush, skittering back toward its initial position.

“See?” Patrick said. “Not winnable.”

“It might take a few tries,” Regan said, swiping the card.  “Try again.”

Patrick begrudgingly wasted two more attempts on the target.

“It’s no use,” he said. “Maybe we should try that fluffy kitten with the cowboy hat over there.  I bet I could get that one.”

“The cat doesn’t remind me of Lucas,” Regan pouted.

“It should,” he grumbled under his breath.  “He sheds as much.”

“What did you say?”

“Nothing.”  He motioned for her to swipe the card again. She complied.

On the fourth try, as Patrick pushed his luck magic as far out as he dared, something did happen. One of the claw’s three prongs managed to snag the wolf’s plastic tag.  It lifted up out of the pile into the air.

“You’ve got it!” Regan cried.

But the claw jolted at the top of its apex, and the wolf bounced back down.  At first, it looked like it would roll down an incline straight into the prize hole.

“Yes!” Regan screamed in delight.

But then rolled past into a corner near the front where the claw could never reach.

“No!” Regan’s face crumpled.

Patrick slapped an angry palm against the machine.  “That was shite!”

“Sir!” A uniformed arcade employee wandered over to the pair.  “Do not strike the machine!”

“But this whole thing is rigged,” Patrick’s face turned red.  “How can you possibly expect us not to get angry?”

The employee took a step back from him.  “Sir, if you don’t calm down, I will have to throw you both out.”

Regan stepped in between them.  “I’m sorry. He’s just upset.”  She put a hand on Patrick’s shoulder.  “Just forget the wolf.”

Patrick’s brow furrowed. “But you wanted it.”

“It’s okay,” she said sadly. “You tried.  I won’t hold you any further on the bet.”

The employee watched them warily as she trudged away from the row of claw machines.

Patrick wavered, looking from Regan and back to the stuck wolf plush.  It was just one shove away from the hole.  It just needed a little push.

Or a little magic.

Patrick closed his eyes, channeling his luck energy, feeling it build in his fingertips.  He knew it wasn’t good to let his luck magic out in large quantities, but he couldn’t bear that look on Regan’s face.

She’d have her stupid wolf plush.

Something with him vibrated. No, something external.  The ground beneath him shook.

Then everything around them shook.  Machines knocked into each other.  The air ducts in the high ceiling above them swayed.  Light all around them flickered on and off, and not because of a strobe effect.

“Earthquake!” the employee cried out.

Regan flipped back around, her mouth an astonished ‘O’ as she stared back at a grinning Patrick. Then her eyes flickered to the claw machine…right as the wolf plush teetered to one side and fell into the hole.

“Yay!” she yelled, running back to the machine.

Patrick blew out a breath of exertion and the earthquake stopped.

As Regan bent over and grabbed the wolf plush, hugging it to her chest, the employee stared at Patrick in horror.  “The shaking…did you…?”

“Cause an earthquake?” Patrick laughed.  “Of course not.  That’s crazy.”

“He’s not crazy,” Regan told the employee.  “Just lucky.”

The employee gaped after them as they headed for the arcade’s exit.  The other patrons—the father and toddler and the middle schoolers—were all chattering excitedly about the bizarre earthquake.

Regan twisted the wolf inside out, showing off a darker colored wolf with more sinister bared teeth and angry, V-shaped eyebrows.  “See? Just like Lucas!”

Patrick chuckled. “I’m glad you like it.”

“I do.”  She stroked its head.  “You know, I bet Lucas wouldn’t sit on that couch if you bought him a nice, wide doggy bed.”

“Really?” Patrick asked in surprise.

“Yeah, he loves them. Just make sure it’s for a really big dog.”

“Will do.”

So Patrick did win the bet, after all.  They both did.


Catch more luck magic in the Magical Midlife Mom series, a story about how Regan's mom saves her from being the dreaded Chosen One.