Cassie leaned against the roulette table and pushed all her chips to 23. "Place your bets on 23," she said, stirring her whiskey sour with her little finger. "It's a winner, I'm telling you."
The other gamblers ignored her. They were a mixed bunch-- middle aged men in ties and shiny suits, women in evening gowns, young men with gleaming teeth and haunted expressions. Roulette was a sucker's game. Unless you were Cassie.
The bored Cherokee man in the tuxedo spun the wheel and dropped the ball with a clatter. The ball stopped in slot 23, and the gamblers moaned. Except Cassie. The dealer pushed her winnings toward her.
Cassie finished her drink in a single gulp. She carried her chips in a basket toward the payoff window. Casinos always depressed her after a while. This one had seen better days. The Cherokee Indian reservation would never compete with Vegas or Atlantic City, but it drew a fair number of low-income tourists who couldn't afford those places. She walked across threadbare red carpet, through a haze of smoke and the smell of sweat and liquor. She passed the whirring, clanging slot machines, and paused by an old man with a fixed expression and a plastic cup full of change. She found something touching about the way he'd combed his hair over his bald spot. "You're not going to hit with this machine," she said. "You're wasting your money."
"Go away, lady," he muttered, not even looking at her.
She patted his shoulder. She concentrated on him, looking farther into the future. She sighed. "You left your pills in the car," she said. "You'll forget them, and have a heart attack in the middle of the night. Your wife won't even wake up."
"Sure thing, lady. Want to kiss my quarter for luck?"
"There's no such thing as luck." She walked on. She tried not to think of him dying, clutching his chest and spasming on the motel bed. Dwelling on the unchangeable future never did any good. She'd lost her mind for a while, a long time ago, trying to warn the Trojans about the wooden horse. She honestly couldn't remember those days, except flashes during dreams: Laocoon and his sons crushed by serpents, Troy's walls collapsed in flames, the Greeks tearing her away from the safety of Athena's temple. She'd spent that whole war shouting warnings to people who wouldn't listen. She'd done the same thing during the French Terror, and both World Wars. She had to warn people, deliver the bad news, but she'd finally learned not to care, to make herself not care, and that saved her.
She cashed in her chips. "Nice dress," the cashier said. Her red cocktail dress showed off her breasts to maximum effect, but he didn't stare.
He's sort of cute, she thought. "You'll meet a girl next week," she said. "She'll have sex with you, and then steal your television while you're sleeping."
He scratched his head. "I get off in a few hours," he said. "Want to get a drink later?"
"I don't see that happening." She walked into the dark parking lot and lit a clove cigarette. Lights twinkled on the mountains. An owl swooped over the "Wigwam Motel" sign across the street.
"Oh, shit," she muttered, and sucked hard on her cigarette. If only she could see the whole future laid out before her, like a casino restaurant buffet. Instead she only saw what she focused on, or what loomed directly in the path of her life, and sometimes she didn't get much advance notice, even for big things.
Like this. The owl landed atop the illuminated plastic teepee that advertised the casino. It spread wings and flew to the ground, then shifted to the shape of a crouching woman. The woman stood and walked toward Cassie. She was tall and muscular, with close-cropped hair. She wore a white tank top and cargo pants. The woman pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head and crossed her arms.
"The second-prettiest goddess on Olympus," Cassie said. "Want a drag?" She waved her clove like an incense stick.
"Smoking is unwise," Athena said. She raised an eyebrow and nodded toward the casino. "So is gambling. I expected more of you."
"Gambling is dangerous," Cassie agreed. "But not for me."
"I didn't imagine you would ever use your gift in such a way."
Cassie shrugged. "Things change. What brings you here?"
"I spoke to Atropos some months ago, and she told me that she'd never cut your life-thread. We all believed you died by Clytemnestra's hand, that night in the palace."
Cassie shook her head. She remembered that, at least. "I almost let her kill me. I saw the blow coming, of course. I was ready to die by then. My father deposed, Troy gone... But at the last moment, I changed my mind. I escaped."
"Clytemnestra claimed to have killed you."
"She considered me a rival. She preferred for everyone to believe I was dead." Cassie shivered and wished for a scarf. "Apollo gave me immortality, as well as the gift of prophecy. I guess I can still die by violence or accident, but since I can see the future, that isn't a problem. Even if the curse prevents anyone else from believing my predictions, I know. Apollo wanted to make me miserable, but I've learned to live with my curse. I can't keep the world from going to hell, but I can stay alive." She patted her purse. "I can even make a good living."
Athena squatted on her heels. Cassie liked her new look. Modern and competent, deadly and beautiful. Athena would probably choose Kevlar over polished armor, now.
The goddess of wisdom squinted up at Cassie. "I never asked you. Why did you spurn Apollo's love?"
Cassie laughed. "Since when do you ask about love? You're the maiden, the warrior virgin." She sat cross-legged on the sidewalk and stubbed out her cigarette. "Apollo gave me the gift of foreknowledge, and I knew immediately that our relationship wouldn't last. I knew he'd curse me for leaving him, too, but I couldn't do anything about that."
"You believe the future is preordained, then," Athena said slowly.
"Troy burned, didn't it? The Titanic sank. No one listens when I warn them. I can't make anything change."
"Come with me," Athena said. She stood and walked into the casino.
Cassie followed her to the cash window. "Get some chips," Athena said.
Cassie pushed bills through the slot to the cashier. "Yes, I'm sure," she said absently.
"Seems like you can't stay away from me, lady," the cashier said, grinning. "Sure you don't want to get a drink?"
Cassie took her chips without speaking. The cashier sighed and looked away. Athena tugged Cassie's elbow and led her to the roulette table. "Place your bet."
Cassie shrugged and took her place at the table. She put all her chips on 17.
"Are you sure about that?" Athena said. "That's the winner?"
Cassie rolled her eyes. "Yes. What's your point?"
Athena crossed her arms. The wheel spun and the ball dropped. Cassie didn't bother looking at it. She waited for her winnings.
Athena put one booted foot on the edge of the roulette table and shoved. The dealer and other gamblers shouted as the heavy table fell. The roulette ball bounced across the carpet, and chips spilled around their feet. The pit boss rushed toward them, shouting.
"What the hell are you doing?" Cassie demanded.
"You lose," Athena said. "I guess it wasn't such a sure thing after all."
Cassie blinked at her. The pit boss grabbed Athena's forearm. She turned and pulled his wrist, tugging him off balance. She slung him hard, and he careened into a blackjack table. Cards went flying. Everyone in the casino turned to look at the commotion, except for a few die-hard slot players, including the fixated old man with the upcoming heart-attack. His eyes never left the spinning lemons and cherries.
"Think about it," Athena said. She sprinted for the front door. Cassie cursed and trotted after her.
The ball should have landed on 17, she thought, breathing hard.
Athena ran for the Wigwam Motel. She went through a dirty glass door into the lobby. Cassie caught up with her by a soda machine. She took off her left shoe and rubbed her sore foot. "Why'd you do that?" Cassie demanded. "That was a week's winnings I just blew."
"You used to be one of my worshippers," Athena said, feeding change to the vending machine. "If your brain hasn't rotted completely, think about what you just saw." She pressed a button, and took a bottle of blue sports drink from the machine.
"What do you want from me?" Cassie demanded.
"I want you to follow your once-wise heart," Athena said. She drank from her bottle, draining it in a long gulp, then threw it into a garbage can. She pushed open the glass door, letting in a draft of cool mountain air. Without looking back, she transformed into an owl and took to the sky.
Cassie wiped her face. She walked toward the casino thoughtfully. She hesitated by a row of cars, then sought out a particular automobile. She stopped at the old blue Datsun and tugged on the passenger door. The old man, so intent on getting to the slot machines, had left his door unlocked. She opened the glove compartment and rummaged until she found a small bottle of pills.
She waited by the car until the dispirited old man from the slot machines approached. He mumbled and rubbed his head, staring at the gravel and his feet. He saw Cassie and said "Who're you?"
Cassie smiled and held out the bottle. "My pills," he said. He squinted at his watch. "Past time to take them, too." He unscrewed the cap and deftly flipped three pills into a palm. He dry-swallowed them. "Thanks," he said. "How'd you know I'd forget? You know my wife?"
Cassie patted his hand silently. Then she walked into the casino to see if the cute cashier still wanted to have a drink.
I wrote this one at Clarion. Karen Joy Fowler made some really good suggestions for it, which I pretty much disregarded, I'm afraid. Cassie might turn up in a novel one of these days, though (it's one of the many books I've made notes and a partial outline for), in which case I plan to take Karen's suggestions regarding her personality.
I love mythology, of pretty much all sorts, and I think that shows in this story. The setting here, in Cherokee, North Carolina, is more than a little sketchy. I've been through there many times, but I've never actually been inside one of the casinos-- hence the half-assed nature of the description.
I like Cassandra, the original, mythic one, I mean. I feel bad for her-- for her despair. I wonder why she never realized she could do things? If nobody will listen to you, take action!
But I guess that's not really what that myth is about.
If you're so inclined, send me mail.