Birthday Stories

The Widow at the DMV (Linda H birthday story)

The Shadow in Paradise Casino

Yeongdong Wine Cave expansion tunnel,

July 24, 2020

The tour guide turned around to face her group of tourists behind her in the brightly lit cave. With a spunky, youthful voice that dripped of vanilla, she said, “It took 25 days and a special tunneling machine from The Boring Company to drill this tunnel expansion. The company had to move all of the wine out of the old tunnel to fit the machine inside. Yes?”

A man wearing shorts that were a bit too short said, "Why is it boring? Tunneling sounds exciting.”

“No, that is the name of the company,” the tour guide explained.

“Why would they call it boring? Is it Boeing?”

A woman with 1930s movie star perm asked, "Boeing the plane company?”

“No, no!” said the now frustrated tour guide. “Boring. It also means ‘to drill’ in English. Elon Musk’s company!”

An older man with less hair than a shaved baboon in the crowd asked, "The guy who smokes pot on the Joe Rogan podcasts?”

“What? The Tesla car guy! He started Tesla! You know, Tesssllaaa!”

“Ohhh,” the crowd of older tourists realized.

The tour guide tapped the wall of the tunnel as she spoke. “They’re experts in tunneling. See?” brrunk! A chunk of the side of the wall collapsed inward. “Whoops.” She removed her arm from the hole. “Uhh...anyway, there’s a VR tour ahead and we’ll have more free tasting!” She swung her arms excitedly. “Follow me!”

Enticed by the free tasting offer, the tourists followed after her. But one tourist, an English teacher named Ji Young, stopped in front of the hole. Her friend Amber stopped at the same time and they looked inside. Poking up from a layer of sandy dirt was a chest lined with gold colored trim.

“What do you think it is?” Amber asked.

“Maybe… it’s a treasure chest,” Ji Young asked.

“Like Pirates of the Caribbean? C’mon, girl. How would that wind up in a cave in Korea, a hundred miles from the coast?”

“Then I don’t know! Maybe it is...power cable box?”

Amber looked at her, then at the box again. “That’s awfully fancy for a power box.”

“The cave was started by Samsung bosses. They like spending money.” She threw her hands up in a waving motion. “Like football players in a strip club. Throwing money everywhere.”

Amber reached inside and moved some dirt off the box. Some Chinese letters glowed around the lid. “What does it say?”

Ji Yeong did not recognize the letters but she recognized the calligraphy. “It’s the box of a dokkaebi…” she whispered.

“A wha…” Amber asked.

“Devil, goblin, something!”

“Like Gong Yoo? The guy from the Korean drama?”

“What?! That’s absurd! These are folklore tales. It can’t be real.”

Amber shrugged her shoulders. “Looks pretty damn real to me.”

“It is power box. I show you!” Ji Young reached inside and touched the box. It swung open. A glowing light filled the mini cave around the box. Together they stuck their heads inside. Amber’s puffy hair grazed against the top of the cave. “That’s no power box.”

Inside they saw something almost invisible to their eyes. It looked like the cleanest ice, but in a wavy form. Thoughts of her grandma entered her mind. “Halmoni told me of the JeoSeung Saja, ” she said.


“Korean Grim Reaper.”

“Come along!” the tour guide shouted down the tunnel.

“Take that shit,” said Amber. “You can sell it on Craigslist this week.” She walked away from the mini cave.

“Eww, not Craigslist,” Ji Yeong complained. “Too many murderers.” She reached inside and grabbed the invisible item. It felt like the finest silk to her hands, like she was holding water that flowed around her fingertips but never hit the ground.

“That’s American Craigslist!” Amber said. “Anyway, it’s like the Ring tape. If you sell it to some dumbass in 7 days, it won’t kill you.”

Ji Yeong followed after her. “여고괴담 was better.”

Amber shook her head. “Don’t talk to me about scary movies. Y’alls movies almost made me wet the bed.”

The tour guide stopped everyone in front of a bar lined by shelves of bottles. On the bar were glasses filled with wine in rows of five glasses each. “Each of these glasses represent a wine from Yeondong region. We make house wine, ice wine, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, red wine, rosé…”

Ji Yeong felt chilly in the cave. Since it was 37℃ outside with 100% humidity and felt like walking around inside Godzilla’s mouth, she did not bother to bring her sweatshirt. Without thinking much about it, she held out the item. The flickering candles nearby and the LED lights in the bar gave it enough contrast for her to see it better. She realized she was holding a cloak and decided to put it on.

Amber looked back to where Ji Yeong stood, but she wasn’t there. She looked down the tunnel while the other tourists went to the bar to taste the new wines. But Ji Yeong wasn’t there. “Ji Yeong?” she said and walked forward. She felt something on the foot that she didn’t expect. “Wha-oof!” She met the wood-covered cave floor face first. The other tourists turned around and saw her on the floor.

“You’re cut off!” said the tour guide. Everyone started laughing.

“Yuk it up, assholes,” Amber said as she wiped her chin.

Ji Yeong reached out with her hand but Amber missed it completely. Wha...she thought. She can’t see me? I’m invisible! As she said that, Amber got up and walked back down the tunnel. She really can’t see me, otherwise she’d be yelling at me right now for tripping on my foot. She followed after Amber.

“Ji Yeong?” Amber said as she walked down the empty tunnel. “Ji Yeong?”

“I’m Ji Yeong,” said a taller woman with brown hair at the other side of the tunnel.

“Not you. Different one. Wearing a fluffy white dress.”

The woman and her friends continued down the tunnel while Amber stopped and looked around. Is she drinking wine without me? Amber looked around the cave and back at the bar a ways back.

Ji Yeong looked around. No one was looking at her. Now’s my chance. She stood in front of a floor light and said, "I’m over here.”

Amber looked in her direction. “Where are you?”

“Right here.” She took off the cloak.

Amber gasped in fear, clutching her chest. “Gurrlll! You almost gave me a heart attack!” Amber walked over and slapped her in the arm. “The fuck! That’s some CIA shit you got there!”

“You still want me to sell it on Craigslist to the murderers?” asked Ji Yeong.

On the bus to Seoul.

Fortunately, the social distancing rules meant that there was no one sitting next to them on the tour bus back. “How are we gonna use the cloak?” asked Amber.

“We? Weee?” Ji Yeong said. “I’m the one with the cloak.”

“All I’m saying is that there are ways I can, I mean WE can make money with it.”

“Like how?”

“You don’t have any ideas? What was your plan?”

The bus hit a bump in the road. “I was going to scare my cats with it,” she said in a snooty British accent.

“Yeah, that’s fun and all. But that don’t make green.”

“Well what’s your idea?”

In the back some guys talked loudly. “Yeah, let’s go to Paradise Casino tomorrow!” said one of the guys.

Ji Yeong looked at Amber. Amber looked at Ji Yeong. They made evil smiles and tapped their fingers villainously.

Paradise Casino Incheon Entrance,


Amber stepped off the shuttle bus, her reflective red dress sparkling in the lights of the front entrance. As she walked up the steps she thought of scenes from the Ocean’s 11 movies. She got in line with the other guests as they checked for IDs. Amber reached into her best looking purse and got her passport ready.

“You’re lucky,” whispered Ji Yeong. “I can’t go in here because I’m Korean.”

“Well, now you can,” Amber whispered back as the line moved quickly.

“You can’t enter, sir,” said the clerk to the man at the check-in.

“But I’m not Korean! See? I have passport!” the man yelled.

“Sir, Obristan is not a real country,” the clerk replied.

“Yes I am Obristani..ese! 씨발호!”

“Is your gender female as well, sir?”

“As the passport says.”

“Sorry, sir. This is clearly a fake. Next!”

When Amber got her passport back, she walked through the turnstile. Ji Yeong put her hand on the turnstile and jumped, going over it. The clerk heard the step sound of Ji Yeong landing and looked in that direction. But the only person walking was Amber. Phase 1 of the plan was in motion.

Inside, Amber walked past beautiful gold-lined statues and fancy decor. “Wow. Doesn’t this look nice?”

“Remember? People can’t see me,” said Ji Yeong. “You look like you talk to yourself.”

Amber took out her phone and took some pictures.

After a leisurely stroll through the noisy baccarat tables, they found their first target, the blackjack tables.

“I’ll get behind them,” Ji Yeong whispered to Amber. She sat down at the table #1 which had two older guys and someone Ji Yeong recognized from TV as a Chinese pop idol. As per the plan, Ji Yeong stood behind the players as they received their two cards from the dealer. Once she saw everyone, she knelt besides Amber and whispered “Everyone’s got high cards except you.”

“Player in the red dress, you’re first this round,” said the dealer in a stern yet friendly voice. Amber looked at her cards. “I’m feeling lucky. Hit.” The dealer passed her a card. It was a K. “URGH! Bust!” Amber threw her 5, 8, and K down in disgust. The other players were also unlucky and busted too.

The next hand came. Amber had 4 and 8, another difficult hand. Ji Yeong whispered back “their cards are all over the place. The pop star has best hand.” Amber looked at her cards and set them down. The pop star went first and busted. The guy next to her busted. Finally it was her turn again. The dealer had a 3 up. “Hit,” she said. A 10 came down. “Bust again!”

The next hand came. Amber had two 10s and placed her bet, restraining herself from showing her excitement. “Blackjack!” said the dealer. “Blackjack!” said the pop star. “Blackjack!” said the guy next to her. Fuck! What are the odds! Amber grew frustrated. “Let’s change tables before we go broke,” whispered Ji Young.

At the 3 card poker table, Amber and Ji Yeong really shined since Ji Yeong could see everyone’s cards. Knowing who was bluffing and who wasn’t gave her the advantage to increase the size of her pot. After an hour of playing, she had several thousand dollars worth of chips stacked around her. The other players grumbled from her good fortune.

“There’s somethan fishy going on here,” said an older man with gray hair with a North Jersey accent.

“I’ll say,” said a bald Korean man with dots on his forehead, indicating that he is a monk (and clearly not supposed to be there).

“What?” Amber asked. “Y’all just suck ass at poker.”

“Nobody wins this much this often!” said a young man sitting to the right of the older man. He slammed his fist on the table. “My calculations never fail!”

“Did you just admit you’re counting cards? That doesn’t work in poker!”

“Especially 3 card poker,” said the dealer. He shook his head in annoyment.

The old man from Jersey finished his shot of tequila and said, "She’s using that negro magic to beat us.”

Amber’s eyebrow twitched upward. “Really? Negro magic? Did you learn that from Bull Connor?”

The college student laughed but the older men were serious. He glared at her. “I know you workin’ some kinda voodoo magic, man!”

“You wanna see my purse? There’s no voodoo doll in there. Your face has more tells than a billboard.”

“He’s right,” said the monk. “I sense a disturbance in the force. But, she’s also right about his face.”

Amber looked around the table. All of them were angry, which made it a good time for plan B. “Ollie-ollie oxen free,” she whispered.

Crack whump! Ji Yeong walked over to the college student and kicked the left rear chair leg as hard as she could. The college student fell on his ass on the floor. The men laughed at him. “Hey!” the drunk student yelled, “You broke my chair!” at the old man from Jersey.

“No I didn’t. You’re drunk. Go home.”

“You racist muddafukka!” the college student shouted as he stood. The other students at the table were his friends and they stood up. “I’m gonna soprano yo ass. Karl, take Bald Young Fat!”

“Boy don’t you-” the older man said as he stood up but the college student palm-struck him in the nose. His friend slugged the monk in the side of the head and it was brawl time. Security ran over to the table while Amber scooped up all 25,000 in chips and fled the scene.

Since the poker tables became ‘brawl-hala’, the pair moved onto the craps tables. As planned, they picked a table with a lot of people to maximize their income. Ji Yeong stood by the empty side of the board to watch the dice roll. Craps is a game where the player has to pick a number or whether the player throwing the dice will end the round (pass/don’t pass). But they weren’t playing the normal way; they were playing the Ji Yeong way...

Amber put a bunch of her chips on 8. The player with the dice, a Japanese woman with a Fran Drescher perm, threw the dice. Ji Yeong scooped up one of the dice and spun it around in the air and landed it to match the first dice. Four and Four. Amber won another 5,000 in chips. The dealer looked at the people standing at the edges but didn’t say anything. The dealer moved almost all the chips to her. Amber moved everything to the Don’t Pass bar. “Do you know how to play this game?” the dealer asked.

“Trust me, I’m feeling luucckkky…” Amber said with enthusiasm. The shooter threw the dice. As they rolled towards the end of the board, Ji Yeong batted them around the end of the table until they wound up One and One. “Whoo hoo!” Amber shouted.

“There’s a damn ghost at this table!” the Japanese woman said as she walked away, broke and in disgust.

The new round started with Amber as the shooter and Amber put the massive stack on the Five and Five bet box, which had a payout of 5 to 1. The other players doubted her luck and put everything on other numbers. Amber threw the dice, they spun around the table, bouncing off chips which made it hard for Ji Yeong to grab. One dice hit the backboard and Five came up. The other bounced past her fingers and off the top rail, then fell back down and landed as a Four, which Ji Yeong promptly flipped to a Five.

The crowd cheered. Very good looking men patted her on the shoulder and she fist-bumped members of the crowd.

In the security office, the staff looked in confusion at the scene on their screens. “Are the dice broken?” asked one of the operators.

“There’s no way a first time visitor is that lucky,” said a female operator.

“Have we asked the dealers to rotate the dice?” asked the first operator.

“Yes. He changed them after the third roll, but she keeps winning.”

A tall debonair black guy wearing a thin tux entered the security office. “I hear you have a problem,” he said with a London accent.

“Mr. Larkin, this woman has won nine out of the last ten rolls. She’s over 400,000 in chips.”

“Lucky lady,” said Mr. Larkin, “but that’s hardly cause for concern in our world.”

“Look at these rolls,” said the female operator. She rewound the tape and showed the dice bouncing up and down.

“That...that…” Mr. Larkin’s mouth was agape.

“There’s no one close enough to the table to make the dice do that!” said the first operator.

“It’s a ghost…”

With 500,000 in chips, they decided to take a break and see other sights in the sprawling casino complex. To talk, Amber took out her phone and pretended to make a call. “Yoo, that was fun,” said Amber.

“You’re gonna break me off some of that, right?” Ji Yeong whispered. “I did most of the work.”

“Of course, girl! I got you! You wanna hit up Walker Hill too?”

“I think they close at midnight.”

“We still got time.” Amber was about to say something else when a conversation happening at the far side of the pool caught her attention. A man her age wearing a speedo stood in front of a teenage girl. She tapped Ji Yeong on the shoulder and pointed.

“Don’t you know who I am?” said the man in a deep voice he clearly didn’t possess normally.

“No...should I?” asked the girl.

“I’m Branch Willow, the top cycling star in the world! I won the Tour De France back to back.” He flexed his shoulders, lifting his pegs.

“That’s nice...I guess.”

“Why don’t you come to my room? I can show you all my medals.” He looked away in amusement. “So much much gold…”

“Hey Ji Yeong?” Amber asked.

“What?” she replied.

“Ollie-ollie oxen free.”

“Target in sight, commander.”

The athlete took a step towards the surprised girl. “Hey, I’ll give you a ride you’ll never for-GWAA!” sploosh! A hard pull from Ji Yeong sent him off his feet and into the pool.

“Ohmigod Ohmigod!” the girl screamed.

“Get outta here,” Ji Yeong whispered to the girl. Spooked, she ran from the pool.

Kiosk line, a few minutes later.

Carrying all the chips in heavy buckets became difficult for Amber, so they headed for the cash-out kiosk. While they waited in line, Ji Yeong whispered to Amber “Hey, that guy looks familiar.”

Amber looked to the right. Sure enough, it was a famous person. It was Michael Jordan. With him were several other men, many of whom carried buckets full of chips.

“Yeah, it’s him,” she whispered back.

“Ooohh, do you think he’s here to play basketball?”

“Gurl, he’s here to gamble. Jordan’s a gambling addict.”

“Hello, sista,” said Michael Jordan to Amber. He jiggled his can of chips.

“Um...hi,” Amber responded, looking kinda bored.

“Wanna bet if I’m wearing Hanes?”

“Man, you too old for that!” When Amber looked at him she noticed an open garbage can nearby, at the corner of the hallway leading back to the baccarat tables. “Tell you what?” She took out a piece of paper from her purse and crumbled it into a ball. “If you can make a shot with this ball into that garbage can from here, I’ll give you everything I won today.” She turned her head and winked in Ji Yeong’s direction. She snuck around Jordan and the rest of the line to stand by the trash can. “But if you miss, I’m taking everything in all your buckets.”

Jordan seemed taken aback by this braziness. “Girl, just because I’m retired doesn’t mean I don’t got game.”

Amber shrugged her shoulders. “What? You scared? Thought you were the GOAT? Should I text Lebron?”

“Oh, you playing me? Girl, I win everything.” He took the paper from her and spun around. “Nothing but net!” and tossed the ball towards the trash can.

Whap. Ji Yeong saw it was going to go in and she batted it away with her palm.

Jordan stood there, mouth open, confused. The other gamblers in line laughed. “But but but, there must’ve been a cross breeze!”

“Oh well, too bad, so sad.” She pointed at the entourage and pointed down to her feet. “Y’all bring me that money.” Jordan’s bag men carried the buckets over to the kiosk as she approached.

“This is bullshit,” said Jordan.

“Didn’t you know?” Amber asked. “This hotel plays by the JORDAN RULES!” The group of gamblers and staff laughed so hard some of them dropped their chip buckets. Jordan stomped off and kicked the ball of paper in anger.

Inside the security center, the staff stopped laughing as Jordan stormed off. Mr. Larkin was the only one not laughing. “There’s no way that shot missed. Something’s not right.”

“You really think there’s a ghost, sir?” asked the male operator.

“No...but I smell a cheater.” He looked at the console. “Is there an infrared camera installed here?”

“Only the front door. To check for Covid and stuff.”

“Bring up the temperature cam on the main screen.”

They watched the camera as Amber walked down the stairs. She showed up as a normal color. Then a black spot appeared in the camera. The temperature reading was -280. Absolute Zero. This man-shaped blob of impossible temperature followed after Amber. The female operator dropped the lollipop from her mouth.

“It...really is... a ghost,” said the now scared male operator.

“Not ghosts. This is experimental technology. Bring up her name,” said Mr. Larkin as he crossed his arms. “We need to find out how she did it.”

Amber and Ji Yeong got into the cab and sped away just as the casino security raced to the stairs. They had won 800,000 dollars. Ji Yeong took off the cloak. The driver never noticed since like most Seoul taxi drivers, they watch dashboard TV not the road.

“Whoo. That was fun!” said Ji Yeong.

“Yeah. We gotta do this again!” said Amber

“I think the casino’s gonna put our names on a list.”

“Girl stop!” Amber playfully hit her on the arm. “They didn’t see a thing! Literally! Besides, what else are you gonna do with it? Be a superhero?”