Looking my opponent directly in the eye, I slowly took another Barbados Nut seed from the bowl and, after the slightest pause for dramatic effect, placed it in my mouth. The crowd gathered in the old warehouse roared its approval. In my peripheral vision I saw wads of money exchanging hands.
“Wait!” roared Thorne. “He has to swallow!”
The referee—I have no idea what his name was—waved his hands, quieting the throng of onlookers, then looked at me and nodded.
I regarded Thorne from across the table and smirked as I bit down and began chewing. Seconds later I opened my mouth to prove that it was empty.
“Seven for DeSoto!” the referee announced. “They’re tied now, seven apiece.”
More money was exchanged in the stands. Thorne stared at me with smoldering eyes, his anger and hatred obvious. Few had ever dared go beyond five seeds before, and Thorne was accustomed to winning every match.
We both sat back to wait the five minutes until the next round. I could see Thorne fuming. I had matched him seed for seed at each round and now, just past the half hour mark, we were well into the time frame when their poison would begin to take effect. In fact, I already felt a sharp pain in my gut and fought the instinct to vomit.
I knew Thorne experienced the same. Soon enough the nausea would get worse. Then the flatulence, diarrhea, muscle cramps and dizziness would kick in. After that, a lingering death if neither of us chose to vomit. The longer one waited, the better the chance of dying. Hell, wait long enough and even puking your guts up was no guarantee of survival. That’s why a stomach pump was kept on standby.
Of course, the longer one waited, the more money there was to win. The rules stated that whoever threw up first was the loser. The other would get a cut of the House’s winnings, and with each seed eaten and the frenzied betting that ensued, that cut got bigger and bigger.
I needed this money, so there was no way I was going to call it quits. I’m sure Thorne was determined to hang in there out of pure spite.
Five minutes elapsed and the spectators hushed as the referee pointed at Thorne. A coin toss had determined that he’d go first in each round. Without hesitation, he grabbed a large seed from the bowl between us, then popped it in his mouth and dry swallowed it whole. The crowed went insane when he revealed his empty mouth.
“Eight for Thorne, Seven for DeSoto!” yelled the referee.
“Beat that, you bastard,” Thorne sneered at me. I could see from the pallor of his skin that the poison was working its mojo on him. I doubt I looked any better.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t feeling like utter crap, but like I said, I needed this money. I took another seed and ate it, albeit a bit slower than the last one. Waves of nausea washed over me.
A foul smell suddenly cut through the air. I gazed at Thorne. He looked bad. His complexion was as pale as a ghost. He was grasping the table with both hands, no doubt feeling the affects of vertigo. The smell was originating from him, or more to the point, his pants. What had probably started out as just a fart had evidently become something much worse. The SOB had actually soiled himself.
“Need some tissue?” I mocked.
“Up yours,” he said. Well, he tried to say it. The last word elongated into a cough and then became a full blown retch when he proceeded to blast the contents of his stomach all over the table.
“DeSoto wins!” the referee exclaimed. The crowed erupted in a fanfare of shouting and swearing. Money moved between owners again.
I was too busy motioning to the guy holding the stomach pump to notice any of it. As he approached, I was dimly aware that I had won. I smiled. Yes, I needed this money.
Baby needs a new pair of shoes, after all.
Jameson T. Caine has at one time or another worked as a carpenter, meat cutter, shipping clerk, forklift operator, assembly line worker, long haul truck driver and ordained minister. Currently he drives a tanker truck by day and calls himself a writer by night, the latter fueled by a steady diet of soda and cheese puffs. He has stories appearing in the forthcoming Devil's Food anthology and issue number five of Sand. He lives in Northern California with his wife and two dogs. Visit him online at http://jamesontcaine.blogspot.com/.