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The One-Armed Bandit

By Amelia Ell

Meet Denim. Denim was a 21-year-old unemployed student who’d never held a severed hand—more on that later. At the moment, he wasn’t thinking about a severed hand and hadn't been for about two weeks (somewhere around the average span of time a reasonable person goes without contemplating a severed hand). In fact, he was currently absorbed by a fierce hankering for pizza that had been accumulating ever since his non-blind roommate ordered Ultimate Meat Trio and decided not to share. On second thought, none of Denim’s roommates were blind—it was him who had terrible depth perception, leading him to constantly misplace things just a little closer or farther away than he was expecting to find them. So, naturally, he took a $20 bill from his wallet, refused to put on glasses, and fired up his car to drive to Papa John’s. Denim and his two non-blind flatmates happened to live conveniently across the street from Papa John’s but he always got in his car, drove across to the parking lot, and drove the pizza back home out of spite for the fact his driver’s license wasn’t technically valid without his prescription pain-in-the-ass glasses. Besides, there’s nothing like the smell of a car filled with cheesy, meaty bread in a cardboard box.

It occurred to Denim for the first time while waiting for the street to clear that perhaps there was a reason for suspending his license if he couldn't properly decipher the road. This wouldn’t have crossed his mind if the sun hadn’t suddenly appeared to be 92.99 million miles closer than its usual 93 million, causing him to swerve from its deceiving path right into Little Caesar’s. That’s where his non-blind roommates habitually got pizza even though he’d never liked it. He liked it even less now that it just impaled his wrist and cleaved his hand right off in the collision.

“Is everything alright?” asked the freckled teen behind the counter who Denim assumed must be Little Caesar.

Denim considered this. Apart from the car-sized hole in the front window and a thin web of engine smoke that was pooling into the street, the incident was largely harmless. On the other hand, he had no other hand. “It certainly could be better. That was my Social Security Hand.”

“Your ID Hand?” gasped Caesar. “Anything could be better! It could have been your leg. It could have been your head! At least then we’d be able to identify the corpse.”

Denim looked down at the disembodied hand sitting in the seat beside him. Contained in that poor, unsuspecting hunk of flesh was the microchip that was implanted in everyone to confirm their identity. Losing it was like losing your ID card—but worse because you also lost a hand.

Denim sighed. “Could I get a medium Ultimate Meat Trio pizza?”

Cautiously, Little Caesar tiptoed over the shattered glass to point to a paper sign taped to the remnants of the front door. “Sorry,” he frowned. “We don’t serve unidentified people.”

“What do you mean?” Denim asked, dressing his bleeding limb with free napkins courteously over the self-serve ketchup tray.

“I mean ‘No ID, no service.’ It says right here.” The teen pointed to the sign and shrugged.

“What? That’s ridiculous. I’m right here and”—he fumbled for his $20 bill—“I have the money.”

“Sorry, man.” Another shrug. “Don’t you have a driver’s license or something with your name on it?”

“Well, I do, but I’ve left it in my apartment…” Which he’d need his ID to get into. Smart move, Denim.

“Here, take this,” offered Little Caesar, holding out an empty pizza box towards the lonely hand on the carseat.

Trying not to think about it, Denim gingerly placed the appendage in the box and carried it out to his apartment. It was a genius strategy, apart from the awkward pressing of his disembodied wrist to the automatic sensor on the door’s lock pad.

“Ooh, did you finally bring pizza from Little Caesar’s?” Asked Corduroy, Denim’s roommate, as he walked in.

“Of course not,” Denim replied, opening the box to reveal the monstrosity inside before his common sense had a chance to catch up with him.

“Oh my god! That’s a severed hand!” cried his other roommate Polyester.

“It is a severed hand.”

“Well, whose severed hand is it?!”

“It’s mine.” Denim held up his napkin-covered stump of an arm to display. “Now, all I need is my wallet and I’m going to buy some pizza.” He groped around on the table for his wallet, but was either reaching just too close or barely too far for it, as per usual.

“Wait…” Corduroy sounded suspicious. Then, reaching into some invisible quantum space between Denim’s two fields of vision, he warily snatched the wallet. “Denim would never get pizza from Little Caesar’s…”

“I didn’t get pizza!” Denim thrust forward his flappy fragment of carcass, flinging a glob of red curdle. “Does this look like pizza to you?”

“No indeed.” Corduroy narrowed his eyes. “You didn’t get pizza—you got a severed hand!” “What devilish business!” Polyester gasped.

“You aren’t really Denim at all, are you?” accused Corduroy. (At this, Polyester gave another gasp.) “For all we know, you could have lost your arm anywhere.”

Denim was flabbergasted. “But the fresh blood?”

“Nonsense! That’s just ketchup.”

“Oh no, this happened to my cousin’s girlfriend,” Polyester shivered. “Just another one-armed bandit without an identity claiming someone’s name and stealing their livelihood. How did you get your nasty hand on Denim’s ID chip?”

This was absolutely useless. Denim slammed the door on his roommates as they continued their spy-thriller revelation scene. He was off to seek the only help he had left.


“Welcome to Papa John’s pizzeria: where pizza and paradise meet,” came a deadpan voice from the back of the little shop. Papa John was a graying middle-aged woman who had artfully accentuated her under eyes with an unfortunate choice of eyeshadow.

“Papa John! I didn’t know who else to go to! My arm was skewered at Little Caesar’s and he wouldn’t sell me a pizza and now-now my roommates won’t let me into my apartment and-and—” Denim crumpled to his knees. His world was devastated in a pizzeria, yet here he found himself once again, afraid that he might never be the owner of his own name again.

“Little Caesar! That sick stuffed-crust deep-dish dipstick…” Papa John bristled at the mention. “You aren’t the first one.”

Denim curled himself into a tighter ball, noting that the ketchup tray on the table was questionably full.

“You got your hand with you?”

Denim nodded.

“I know someone who’ll reimplant your chip, no questions asked.” She leaned closer over the plastic counter. “10 doors down to the right. The butcher there supplies the meat for all the pizza places in the district. She also offers some less-than-legal services. You’d better get going before she closes for the night.”

With a word of thanks, Denim began down the alley with his dripping box. It was stone cold by the time he reached the 10th door.

“Who’s there?”

“I’m—well, I don’t have an ID to prove it, but my name’s—”

“I don’t care about your name. Who sent you?”

“Papa John. She told me—”

“Ah. Another one.” From the darkness, emerged an old woman in a once-white apron brandishing a knife disconcertingly large for her size. “Take a seat.”

In the middle of a room was a barber chair that looked like it was picked up off the curb after a rainstorm and sundried in a patch of tomatoes. Once he settled into the crusty cushion, the butcher pried a handful of dental extraction tools and a ceramic plate from a duffel bag on the floor. It took Denim a moment to realize the dish she was holding was meant for his severed hand. It made a gentle liquid noise as he passed it over to her.

“Good. Now just lie back and you’ll have your precious chip in no time.”

“My hand too?”

“No, dear; that one stays with me.”


Denim woke up in a heap at the foot of his apartment. His arm was stitched up into a neat stump, but the missing digits were nowhere to be seen. Regardless, he was willing to settle for the familiar click of his door unlocking as he scanned through.

Inside, his roommates were sitting around the table, enjoying an Ultimate Meat Trio pizza.

“Ah, Denim! Good to see you!” Corduroy greeted. “Yesterday we had someone break in, claiming to be you.”

“It gave us quite the fright!” chimed Polyester. “Here, take a seat. It’s still warm!”

Denim lost no time grabbing a slice. All he’d wanted for the past 24 hectic hours was some good pizza.

“Mmm. I just love bacon and pepperoni.” Polyester stared lovingly at his lunch between mouthfuls. “Though, one has to wonder—what’s the third meat?”


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