The Tale of Dante Marshall
Kevin Marshall was born in May 3rd, 1962, to a poor family in Brooklyn. His father worked three jobs, and barely made a living. His mom worked a part time job, and spent the rest of her time with him. Kevin’s father was hard-working and driven, but also a distant man who had difficulty expressing his emotions. He spent most of his time working, and when he was home he barely saw his son. And when he did he never really connected with him.
In 1973, Kevin’s father was flying on a flight from New York to Houston. He had received a job offer that would be able to support his family. The flight took off at 5 in the morning, and went for about an hour before all contact between the plane and the ground cut off. The plane had been flying over the Appalachian Mountains, and experienced extreme turbulence. The pilot had misread his altimeter, and wasn’t at a safe altitude, and when the plane hit turbulence there wasn’t enough room to maneuver away from the mountains. The plane crashed, with all 156 passengers losing their life. It was a crippling blow to Kevin and his mom, and it set him on a course that would change his life.
Kevin was twelve at the time of his father’s death, and he was incredibly affected. He had never really known his father, a fact that haunted him throughout his life. Four years after his father death, Kevin dropped out of school to get a job and support him and his mom. Without an education it didn’t seem like Kevin had much of a future.
Fate interceded on Kevin’s behalf. Kevin had been assisting a man as he tried to start his own business. The man was trying to start an investment firm, and Kevin was the first person hired. The founder happened to brilliant in his planning, and Kevin had the charisma and intelligence to put the business out there. The business quickly became well-known, and highly profitable. When the founder retired, he left the majority share to Kevin. Kevin sold the company for $17 million in personal profit, and invested in a chain of casinos. This investment was highly successful, and he quickly became the owner several major casinos.
Such was the case when Kevin met his wife, Kayla, in the spring of 1987. The next year they married, and in 1989 they had a son, Dante Marshall. Kevin, remembering how little he knew his father set out to make sure his son knew him, and loved him the way he wished he had loved his father.
Growing up, Dante was completely spoiled by his loving parents, and unlike his down-to-earth father, he was highly superficial. He was a brat, a kid who had everything he had ever wanted. He grew up seeing the world as a set of items that belonged to him when he wanted them. Yet there was one thing that young Dante was driven by; he always heard about how successful his father, and how it would be hard for him to live up to his father’s name. Dante wanted to be more successful than his father.
In the summer of 2012, Dante had just turned 23. He was handsome, rich, and arrogant. And he was constantly at odds with his good natured father. The conflict had stemmed up from Dante’s craving for power. He wanted to be more successful than his father, so he figured that he needed a piece of business to start working soon. His dad had bought his first casino by the age of 27, and he wanted to outstrip his dad by as much as possible. But a Casino was not in the offing for young Dante. His father loved his son, but he was not stupid. He saw that his son was young, irresponsible, and somewhat ungrateful for all the gifts that he had already bestowed on him.
Such was the case one hot summer day in Las Vegas. Dante was driving along the strip in his Ferrari, a gift from his dad, and he was mad. It had been the third time he’d broached the subject of owning a casino with his father, and once again Dante had been disappointed. As a kid who had been sued to getting everything he wanted, Dante wasn’t taking this new policy of his father’s very well.
Dante needed to blow off steam, so he went to his favorite of his dad’s casinos, La Casa del Incendio (the House of Fire). He liked playing the tables when he was mad, and lately he had decided he really liked losing his money. It was his dad’s casino, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but it ate away at his father that Dante could be so immature. It was Dante’s way of firing back for not getting what he wanted.
Dante walked into the casino and stopped for a second to bask in the red light that radiated through the entrance hall. The whole inside of the casino was light with dim, orange-red light the flickered in a way his dad had thought looked like flames. Dante nearly scoffed out loud every time he thought of that story.
“Lights that look flames. Really dad, my casino would be a lot more impressive.” Dante thought. He sighed, and walked over toward his favorite table, only to have another pile discontent lumped onto his mood. His favorite table was full, and he recognized many of the people at the table. They were some of the regulars at the casino, and it was unlikely that they would be finished any time soon.
Scowling, Dante walked over to the next closest table, one tucked away in a nook that coincided with the corner of the room. It was darker here than in the rest of the casino, and the scant red light gave an eerie feeling to the spot. The table looked about empty, and he was turning to find another table when he heard a voice speak to him.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to play at my table? Few men don’t capitalize on the opportunity.”
Dante nearly jumped out of his skin. At the table, barely visible in the shadows was an old man, hunched with age, yet still with a menacing air around him. Was it pride? No, it was something else, something Dante couldn’t put his finger. The man sat alone, hunched over, he looked to be a cripple. He wore a loosely fitting red polo, with a weird three-pronged spear thing instead of an emblem that Dante had ever seen before. In his lad, he had a case of chips, but they didn’t look like normal chips. Each one was unique, individual , and he clutched them in a very protective way, as though he had had a hard time collecting them, and was loath to let them go. Dante let go of his breath and sat down.
Dante played with the man for about an hour, losing almost everything he had brought with him, and winning almost nothing. At the end of the exchange, semi-happy with himself, and mentally preparing for an earful from his father, Dante stood to leave.
“Wait.” Said the old man, “ A question before you go?”
“Why not?” thought Dante. Then, out loud, he said, “Shoot.”
“Why is it a man like you comes to a casino? Comes to a casino, loses everything, and ends up happy?” the man asked, his old, pitch-black eyes boring into Dante’s.
“My father.” Dante said contemptuously.”It’s his casino, y’know. House of Fire, what kind of theme is that? He became tycoon by the time he was 30, yet he won’t help me get started. I mean, all I ask is for one casino, one venture to prove to him I can work. One chance that I could build on, yet he won’t have it.”
Dante sighed, then sat down. He wasn’t sure how he felt just having directing his tirade a at a stranger, but it felt good to have it off his chest.
“Your father must have been a great success. Is that why you’d like to start? To be successful?” The man stared at Dante again with his cold black eyes. He seemed to penetrate Dante, like he could see through him. The perceptiveness of the man unnerved Dante, but he figured he already had started speaking, and owed to the man to accommodate him as he had accommodated Dante’s anger.
“Yes, I would love to be successful, but not just at the same level as him. I w…I wish that I could be on another level. That I could surpass my father, and make a name for myself. I mean, I’m not gonna be anything special in history, compared with him. He was a poor man he turned himself into a tycoon, and I have everything already. I mean, there’s no way you can compete with a story like his, unless you completely outdo his success.” Dante sank back in his chair, semi-surprised that he had said he wanted to surpass his father, but also sure that it was what he really wanted.
The other man looked pensive for a moment, and then a twinkle appeared in his eye. It was an almost disturbing vision, that spark in the hole that was the old man’s eyes. Dante shivered, and wished he had something more substantial than t-shirt on.
“You want to be more successful than your father? That may be possible.” Said the man slowly. “But you would have to trust me.”
“Trust you?” said Dante, uncomfortably noticing the glowing gleam in the man’s eyes.
“Yes, trust me. I may be able to get you what you need, but it will cost you.” The man’s stare intensified and Dante had turn away for a moment.
“You could make me more successful than my father?”
“How much will it cost me?” The moment the words were out of his mouth, Dante thought they were a mistake. Before he could figure out how to retract them the man started speaking again.
“Dante, I will give you any one thing you wish, and for one price only.” The man held up the special set of chips. They were old and battered, and some of them even looked burned under closer inspection. “How would you like to be another chip in my collection?”
Dante sat confused for a moment, and in that moment he began to notice small details about the man that he hadn’t noticed before. The man looked worn, as though he had been spread thin over many years, and was becoming old and tired. He had no hair on his arms or face, and he was extremely pale. His hand twitched, and Dante noticed that it looked as though it had been burned and not been quite healed. The man had calluses on his left hand, in a pattern that looked as though he used it to wield some form of one-handed tool. He looked back at the man, in the eyes, and he looked deep in his eyes, expecting see the haunting blackness again. The man’s eyes were just as draining, but they looked like they had a fire in them. It was a weird sensation, because Dante couldn’t tell if it actually looked there was a flame, or if it was just the intensity of his gaze.
“I…I…your chips…I…” Dante stuttered, lost in the man’s eyes.
“Yes, Dante. I just want one more chip. You won’t be the first, and certainly not the last. Many men have agreed and I have given them exactly what they wanted. My offer is appealing isn’t it?”
“I…” Dante’s throat was dry, and he trailed off again. His eyes were drawn again to the mark of the three-prong spear on the man’s shirt. No! Not a spear! A fork! But it wasn’t any fork, it was too long and sharp…and it clicked for Dante.
“You’re…you’re the devil!?” Dante said, half a question, half an accusation that had sounded stronger in his head.
“Think of me as a broker, Dante. I just want to give you what you want. And what I ask in return is so simple, such a good deal. All I want is your service afterward.” His stare was so intense now, and Dante could barely stand it.
“I…you could make me…more successful than him?” Dante’s head was reeling.
“Yes Dante, that and more. I can make you way more than your father. You just need to decide if you can take what you want.”
Dante was silent. He wanted this. He wanted this so bad. Plus, this was crazy there was no devil, and no god. His father, a devout Christian, believed such things, and if that was so it probably all nonsense. This last thought brought Dante confidence, and he acted on it.
“Alright, I’ll do it. I’ll give you my soul, and in return you make me more than him.”
The man smiled. “Then it is done, Dante. You’re probably right in think that I don’t exist. I’m just the broker. Just the broker.” And the man reached out and shook Dante’s hand. His hand was cold and smooth, like piece of polished ebony, and when he pulled away, a chip lay there. The man laughed, and then stood, precariously, on his crippled leg. He held up the chip, and burst into fire. It burned a brilliant, bright white for a second, blinding Dante. When Dante’s vision cleared, he was alone. It was as thought the man had walked into the shadows and disappeared.
Shuddering, Dante left the casino quickly. He looked down at his hands. They were cold and clammy, and he was sweating. It couldn’t have been real, could it? he thought. He needed fresh air and took a walk down the strip.
It was a bright and sunny day outside, and Dante realized how cold he felt. He walked for about an hour, before he felt better. He was being ridiculous. There was no way what had happened was possible. He must just have been tired, had a bad dream. He checked his wallet, and it was full again, as he had never lost anything. He laughed at himself, but it sounded weak. He laughed again, this time more strongly, and kept walking.
About a month later, Dante finally got what he wanted. His dad had found that managing one of his casinos was too time consuming, and so he gave it to his son. Dante accepted the position smugly. He had deserved it. He had been good and obedient since he had last asked for a position, and it was obvious to him that his father had seen that he was mature enough.
This would be the first success of Dante’s to come in the next year. A few months later, his success would lead to him buying three more casinos, creating a chain larger than his dad’s was at ten years older than Dante was now. Dante used his money to expand. One of the ways he liked most when expanding was to buy the land of schools whose funding had run out. It was cheap land, and he made a huge profit.
Over the next 25 years, Dante created a casino empire larger than his Dad’s by far. He had everything he ever could have hoped for. And he had done it all himself, no thanks to his lousy father. Dante had ended up running his father’s casinos out of business by making similar themed, but more advanced versions of his dad’s casinos. Dante hadn’t even spoken with his father for fifteen years, and he was just fine with that. Things couldn’t have been any better until one day in October.
Dante had been looking at buying the land of another high school to make another casino. He had been relentless in negotiations for the land, and he was driving home when he got a little lost. He was in the middle of a run down neighborhood, and the sun had gone down. He drove around for several hours, before finally stopping at a gas station to ask for directions.
Dante got out of his car, and saw a man standing off in the distance. The man was hunched and had a cane. His back was to Dante, and as Dante started to approach him, the man turned around.
The man was pale, and looked like he had recently been burned. His eyes were a haunting, fiery black, a fiery black that haunted Dante in his darkest nightmares.
“You seem to have lost the way my friend. Don’t ever forget how you got where you are, and you’ll never get lost. Trust me, you’ll end up heading South anyway.”
The man turned down a street and disappeared, leaving Dante scared out of his mind. Dante had successfully kept himself in denial about his success all these years, and it was a huge blow to him. He ran back to his car, and locked himself in. He lay there over two seats, out of view from anywhere other than right next to the car window, and spent the night quivering and trying to pretend he hadn’t; seen what he had seen.
It was a wakeup call to Dante and, now that he had surpassed his father, he didn’t really know how much he valued success. He decided to take a more detailed look at what he’d done, and was disturbed to find out that he didn’t really care much for success, only beating his father. His bubble burst, and he began to feel a little sorry. He decided that he was going to rectify things before he died, that he would fight the devil for every bit of his soul.
So Dante began to start funneling money into a government schooling program. He decided he would it up to the students he displaced by bolstering their funding for books and other schools supplies. And he started going to Church.
He tried to get in contact with his father as well. He called him many times, left him many messages about how he was sorry that they no longer saw each other, and that he felt bad that his Dad couldn’t maintain a successful business for a long time.
He went about this for several years. Dante found out later that his father, along with his mother, had passed away years prior to his attempts to reconnect. So Dante began to try to make up for his failing in this area by redoubling his efforts to help the students whose schools he had razed. He began to travel around the country, but in the back of his mind he felt as though it wasn’t working.
And he received his confirmation on a dreary day in April. It had rained all morning, coming down in torrents and flooding the single road between the Hawaiian retreat he was staying at and the closest city. In was a majestic place, but very secluded, and with all the rain, the dirt road washed away. No one could come to them, and no one could leave. Dante was walking out a short while away from his condo, when he saw smoke rising through the downpour. It was a curious sight, and Dante went to investigate.
Dante walked about 80 yards before finding a clearing, where a roaring fire was burning. The rain was still falling heavily, and the sight of the fire burning while wet gave him the chills.
“Beautiful weather, isn’t it?”
The voice came from right behind Dante, and whirled around to the old man standing behind him. He looked no different from when they had first met, even though Dante had aged a lot. And Dante had not aged well. He was old now, and just as crippled as the old man. Dante shuddered and tried to not to be afraid.
“I have changed.” Dante said. “I am a different person than the one you once knew. I have donated a lot of my fortune and repented. I have purified my soul, and it doesn’t belong to you anymore!” Dante stood as tall as his form would let him, emboldened by his own bravado.
The devil spat contemptuously at Dante’s feet.
“Bah. You are no different. You deceive yourself my friend. You do irreparable damage to children, and then offer them an insubstantial band-aid, and think you’re redeemed? No Dante, the only difference between how you are now and when we first met is that you are more like me. We are the same now Dante, cripples, old and wasted. But I embrace my twisted nature, while you deny it. Which is more sinful? I do not know. You are now on my level, but you are not long for this world, while I, I shall endure as long as fools like you continue to accept my corrupt bargains.” The devil turned, and few of his special ships on the fire. They sustained it through the droves of rain. The devil dug deep into the depths of darkness that served him as pockets, and pulled out a chip. It was nothing special, but Dante tensed upon sight of it. It was his chip, and it was about to take the drop into the fire.
Dante gave a formless shout of despair and anger. He picked up a slick rock of the ground, and hurled at the devil, and then turned and run. The rock hit the devil square in the head, but he just laughed, a horrible, jarring laugh that crawled into Dante’s ears and chased Dante further away from the clearing. All the while Dante ran, and the laughs echoed on his ears. Dante ran, slipping in the mud, tripping on rock, scared out of his mind. The laughter was in his head, it was everywhere.
Dane had to escape. He ran and ran. The laughing. It scarred his eardrums and ricocheted around inside his skull. He was running on the bank of a river. The ground was slippery, and the river overflowing. He had to get it out. He had to purge himself. Dante plunged into the river, yet the laughing stuck with him. He bobbed up and down in the waves, and was carried on at a breakneck pace by the over-filled river.
There was a waterfall in the river, and Dante was speeding for it like a bullet out of a gun. Like a bat out of hell. Dante was drowning. The water sloshed in every orifice of his head, and any open space has suffocated by the fiendish hilarity of the devil. The edge of waterfall rushed up, and for a split second Dante flew.
But as all things that go up, Dante must come down, and come down he did. He smashed against the rocks like a battering ram, and then rolled back into the river. Dante’s body floated down the river, broken. A bend appeared in the river, and Dante’s body finally escaped the river. Standing in wait was an old man, a poker chip in his hand.
The old man laughed, and flicked his wrist. The chip flew across the water, skipping like the flattest of stones. It skidded off a rock jutting out of the water, and careened off into the water. The chip floated for a second, then sunk like the Titanic in the onslaught of the overflowing river.
“The broker always wins, because he can bet as many times as he wants. The player only has one shot. And that is why I will always exist, to prey on men. For men will always fall to me until they cease to be men.”