Word Count: 1185
Prompt: speculative fiction anthology submission
A/N: Written for musemuggers, Challenge #535, Option #3 (FableCroft).
“They can’t all be winners.”
“Hm?” Fumaya startled from his thoughts and crushed the ticket in his hand. He hadn’t noticed the figure standing beside him. “I’m sorry?”
“Winners, friend. They can’t all be.” The man fanned himself with a rolled-up program. “I couldn’t help but notice you had a little losing streak just now. May I be of assistance with the upcoming races? Perhaps explain the niceties of the track?”
Fumaya swallowed. He hadn’t thought his distress was so obvious to onlookers.
As if the man could read his thoughts, he waved his hand to clear the troublesome emotion from the air. “Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Mau’leikei. I have a little experience in this area. You are not the first to be confused by the rules. Come, I will show you the way of things and you will recoup your losses and smile again.”
Fumaya blinked and then clasped the hand. “ Mau’leikei, did you say?” he asked, stressing the last syllable. “You must be a local?”
Mau’leikei laughed. “I’m no stranger to gambling, I’ll say that much. Is this your first visit to the Big Island, may I ask?”
“I’ve never been here before,” Fumaya admitted. “I’ve heard about the famed races, of course, but I can’t seem to get a feel for it. I must be unlucky.”
“Bah!” Mau’leikei said. “It’s not luck. It’s just a bit confusing for foreigners. Allow me to guide you through the process? It is delightful when one understands how to profit.”
Fumaya patted his pockets. “I’m afraid I am just about out of funds. I only have enough for one more wager.”
“Ah, then it sweetens the pot!” Mau’leikei grinned. “Gambling means nothing if there is nothing to lose, as they say. The next race is not for about twenty minutes, so we have some time for explanations. Do you understand straight betting?”
Fumaya nodded. “I think so. If I put money on a stake and it comes in first, then I am the winner.”
Mau’leikei grinned. “Very good. How about placing and showing?”
Fumaya bit his lip. “A bet on those means my stake would return money if it comes in second or third.”
“You understand very well!” Mau’leikei said. “The last thing to remember is the each way bet. That is when you split half the bet on the win and half on the place. Does that make sense?”
Fumaya frowned. “I think so ...”
“Good! Now there is only a question of which stake you shall place,” Mau’leikei said. “I shall accompany you to the bookmaker and we shall place our bets together. Do you know who you favor in this race?”
Fumaya glanced at his guide. “I heard that the German was a sure win. I was going to place all my money on it.”
Mau’leikei frowned. “It all becomes clear where you’ve gone wrong. You had a bad tip, my friend. The Germans can’t run. They haven’t won a race in weeks and weeks.”
Fumaya squinted at his program. “Uh … how about the Egyptian?”
“No, no. Wrong again.” Mau’leikei withdrew a cigarette from a gold-plated case and offered one. “Not a smoker? You’re better off for it. It’s a terrible habit, I know. It’s one of these filthy human weaknesses that I can’t seem to break. Ah, well.” He lit the end and inhaled. “Where were we?”
“The Egyptian?” Fumaya sealed his lung slits discreetly as the smoke wafted his direction. “Who would you recommend, then? Surely not the American?”
“No. The Canadian is the best bet. I wager everything on Canada,” Mau’leikei said. “Not all Canadians, mind you, and not all the time. But I have it on good authority that the human in this race—its name is Bill Hunter, I believe, which is an outstanding name for a winning stake—tolerates the jockey better than the others. So it will win. That’s a promise you can take to the bank, my friend. Germany will balk at the weight. See if it doesn’t. Some humans never adjust to being ridden. It’s something in their fragile vertebra, I think, or maybe it’s just their egos. They seem to dislike it. Huh.”
“Ego?” asked Fumaya. “You aren’t one of those Reformers? One of those HRO group who thinks that humans have a sense of self?”
Mau’leikei blew a plume of smoke past the grandstand. “I was speaking in the general sense of the word ‘ego’, friend. I should have said temperament. Ah, we’re here, place your bet and let us go see if you are a rich man.”
Fumaya filled out the form and took his ticket. “This idea of temperament is interesting. Are you saying that humans have personalities? Feelings?”
“Of course. Even my dog has a personality.” Mau’leikei threw the glowing butt of his cigarette to the ground and moved to an open seat in the stands. “The cow that became my steak at lunch this afternoon probably had a feeling before it was a steak. Doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy eating it. Everything has a purpose; I try not to think too much about it, since it gives me a headache. The important thing here is that we are fed and entertained. It’s the natural order of things, isn’t it? Does a human have a feeling? It may well, but I say: who cares? Sit down, it’s about to start. Do you see your stake? It’s number nine.”
“Ah … yes. Just there.” Fumaya sat through the now-familiar countdown and the gunshot. Some os the more stubborn entrants in the race didn’t take off with the shot, he noticed, but still needed a cattle prod to persuade them from the stall. Clouds of dirt stirred on the track from their unappealing feet. Fumaya looked away, sickened by their long appendages. He couldn’t get used to the sight no matter how long he’d been here on Earth now. He kept his gaze focused on his ticket until the humans started rounding the last bend. When they came close to the finish line, he chanced a peek. Number nine, Canada, was ahead of the others. Its pale skin streaked with that messy, leaking sweat particular to humans. Fumaya tried to watch the more elegant gray skin of the jockey. He didn’t want to be sick in front of his new friend, but these humans were disgusting. Even if he won, he wouldn’t be coming back here. He just couldn’t stand the sight.
Mau’leikei clapped him on the back. “I told you it was a sure thing! What do you think? Another round, now that you’re flush with cash? The next race is human females, and it promises to be more interesting. Perhaps they might even show adolescents later.”
“I believe I will quit when I’m ahead,” Fumaya said. He extended his hand in thanks. “Until we meet again.”
“Enjoy your winnings,” Mau’leikei said by way of farewell.
Fumaya waved goodbye. It was only after he left the track with its human pollutants that he opened wide his lung slits and breathed the fresh, free air of his adopted planet.