A Game Of Cards

A Game Of Cards

A Story by North Dakota

A selfish man finds that his latest game may be his last.


A Game of Cards

He hunched his shoulders as the freezing rain pelted him. Stomping through the mud and muck of the swamp, Jonathon quickly jabbed a hand into his coat pocket and retrieved a small scrap of paper. On it were handwritten directions leading to the home he had received an invitation to around three days ago. With a scoff, he crumpled the paper, shoving it back into his pocket as he continued his search for the house that held his precious tournament. Being an infamous gambling man, word of Jonathon’s addiction to backroom poker games had spread far beyond the borders of his hometown. One day, in the midst of a heated game of five-card draw, a man, cloaked in a crimson duster and top hat, slipped him the very piece of paper he now carried along with a welcome invitation to a remote tournament he’d be hosting on the following week. Being the man he was, Jonathon could never find the strength to turn down an opportunity to gamble, no matter how imprudent the opportunity may be.

The freezing gambler finally trudged his way out of the mire and onto solid ground. In the distance, in a clearing on the top of the hill, he spotted a decrepit log cabin with a lantern burning in the window. A grin cracked across his face as he let his doubt melt away and be replaced by exhilarating dreams of bountiful winnings. He sprinted up the hill, greed fueling his every step as he closed in on the humble abode.

Reaching the top with a heavy sigh, he composed himself and gently knocked three times on the crooked wooden door only to be greeted with no response. Frustration building, he knocked two more times, increasing his force with each repetition. Eventually, his calls were answered as the door slowly cracked open to reveal the same cloaked man from his game last week. He spoke no words, only stepped away from the doorframe and gestured him in with a wave of the hand. Jonathon happily obliged, stepping into the dark, dingy hovel.

“Nice to see you again, stranger,” Jonathon spoke, extending a hand to the quiet man. The gesture was ignored by the stranger as he instead walked past Jonathon and took hold of the lantern that hung in the window. Now that his attention wasn’t taken by the heat of the game, Jonathon took a good look at this mysterious proprietor. His collared crimson duster was ragged, covered in soot, and the hem was completely frayed, giving him the look of a careless traveler. His black leather boots shared the same layer of soot, leading Jonathon to believe that either he frequently did his own chimney sweeping or he had a love for stomping through bonfires; neither explanation brought him any comfort. The final and most disturbing piece in his questionable ensemble would have to have been his top hat. A tall, dark hat crafted from felt that hung down so low the brim hid his eyes shrouded what little bit of his face that his duster’s collar didn’t cover.

Jonathon, feeling quite an uneasiness in his gut, snaked a hand to his waist and took hold of the hilt of his revolver.
“So, stranger, when do we…uh, start…the game?” Jonathon slowly questioned as the stranger began sauntering towards him, the lantern swaying back and forth in his hand. With each heavy step, Jonathon heard a distinct, eery tune playing in the back of his head getting louder and louder as the crimson covered creature approached. The crescendoing tune finally reached its peak and abruptly stopped as the stranger leaned mere inches from Jonathan's face and gave a wicked smirk.

“Now.” He spoke only one word before blowing out the lantern and leaving the two swept up in total darkness.

Jonathon whipped out his revolver and surveyed the room, hopelessly searching for any sign of the man in the pitch black home. Even the window in which the lantern had hung had now disappeared, leaving Jonathon to wildly speculate the possibilities of the situation. As quick as the light had gone out, it returned, only now in the form of dozens of candles simultaneously lighting across the room in the shape of a circle. Jonathon, spinning around to inspect his new surroundings, found himself in a state of utter shock.

The homely shack that he had stepped into was long gone. It had been replaced by a beautifully decorated room that spanned the length of the shack three times over. Vivid crimson and gold wallpaper adorned the large but simple room, lush velvet carpet replaced the splintering oak boards that had been underneath his soaking feet, and a grand chandelier hung proudly in the center of the room. The new abode was incredible, but lacked any kind of furniture or baubles other than a single circular oak table centered directly underneath the glass chandelier. Jonathon, bewildered and disoriented, noticed that the table also had three gentlemen gathered around it, one of them with a wide smirk crossing from ear to ear. He recognized the smirking figure as his enigmatic host who looked even more unpleasant with the lights on.

“What in God’s name is this!?” a posh gentleman with a large gut and a purple vest exclaimed. The figure held no answer, he only looked past the older man, locking his gaze onto Jonathon.

“Won’t you kindly take a seat?” he spoke deliberately and slowly, his baritone voice shaking Jonathon to the core. With a heavy reluctance, Jonathon crossed the room and joined the trio, returning his revolver to its holster, but keeping his hand on it. It was more than a mystery to Jonathon as to how the other two had appeared, but he pressed on nonetheless.

The grinning figure sighed, finally finding himself ready to speak freely.

“Welcome, gentlemen, to the most important game of your lives.”

“I’d like to know what kind of ungodly magic this is, good sir!” the older man exclaimed.

“Y-Y-Yes! What has happened!?” the second guest finally spoke, drawing Jonathan's attention immediately. The stuttering man had the look of a doctor, with his wire frame glasses on the bridge of his nose, his jet black hair slicked back, and a bulky leather bag by his feet. Both his hands and his voice constantly shook; Jonathon assumed he was easily frightened.

Jonathon remained silent but observant, anxiously awaiting the answer to the duo’s questions.

“All explanations will come in due time, gentlemen.” Suddenly, as if out of thin air, the top-hatted figure produced a deck of cards and laid it onto the table. “The game is five-card draw,” he spoke authoritatively and with resolve.

“But what are the stakes?” Jonathon, finally finding his voice, inquired. This elicited a chuckle from the elusive figure at the head of the table.

“The greatest stakes of all for the greatest player of all,” he openly mocked Jonathon, causing the gambler to release a low growl as he took his hand off of the revolver and gripped his cards as they were dealt. Jonathon was not a man to back down from a challenge, no matter how foolhardy the circumstances.

A few silent moments went by as the trio observed their cards. The silence was shattered by the eldest of the table scoffing and pointing at a card from his hand.

“What is this!?” The elderly man shouted, slamming his card downs and demanding an explanation. The duster-clad figure was silent for a moment before releasing a slow chuckle.
“It really is dreadful etiquette to reveal your hand, you know.”

“Explain yourself!” He lifted one of the cards from the table to reveal an image of a withered man laying in the desert with a murder of crows pecking away at him. The figure snatched the card from his grip and ran a finger along its edges.

“Pride will lead a man down many terrible paths, will it not?” the figure questioned.

“I suppose so,” the elder replied, feeling a wave of uneasiness wash over him.

“And will wrath not soak the ground red with the blood of your fellow men?”

“What is your point?” The figure once again traced the edges of the card before laying it back on the table face down and returning it to the other four.

“While it may escape the eyes of the law, my friend,” the figure leaned forward with a wink, “nothing escapes the eyes of God.”

The elderly man lifted the card to find that it was now the king of clubs. With a bewildered look on his face, he continued the game, switching three of his old cards, including the dreaded king, for three new ones. Jonathon double checked his cards for any kind of special image. He found no magic, only an awful hand that needed to be traded.

“H-hey!” The doctor followed in the footsteps of the elderly man and flipped his card around, revealing a provocative image of a buxom woman in a brothel. With heated cheeks, he turned away from the card as it was handed off to the head of the table.

“Idle hands are the devil’s playthings, William,” the figure spoke, his grin returning, seeming even more crooked than before.

“H-h-how do ya know my name?” William squeaked out, his southern accent accidentally rising to the surface.

“A loving wife can be heartbroken by a weak man’s lust, William.” For the first time, Jonathon took notice of the figure’s eyes. They were deeply sunken emeralds in his skull, barely noticeable underneath his hat. They bored into the doctor, not really looking at him, but instead through him; the figure was trying to gaze upon the contents of his very soul.

William reached forward and ripped the card out of his hand, only to find it had changed once again to an image of a bespectacled man stabbing a shovel into the ground. William gasped in surprise and dropped the card to the table, locking eyes with the wicked figure once more.

“Lust can truly cause a man to lose sight of his sanity.”

“For God’s sake, can we just play the game without your theatrics!?” the elderly man pleaded as William shakily collected his cards.

“But, my good sir, are we not playing as you speak?” The figure placed his chin in his hand as the elderly man rolled his eyes.

Jonathon trembled as he slowly traded two of his cards for a couple of hopefully better ones. He feared what he would find once they entered his hands. The gambler locked eyes with his host as he placed a hand on the two new cards. He gulped, and with one quick motion, he lifted the cards, one in front of the other, and gazed into them. The first was an image he had been more than familiar with. A portrait of a devious gambler in one of his many heated poker games, only with particular focus on his hands. Reaching into his sleeve, one would see the gambler slipping an ace into his hand in place of a seven of hearts.

“A fistful of dollars can make any man’s dream come true, can it not?” Jonathon felt himself shaking as those emerald eyes were directed at him.

“M-Money’s what makes the world go round, right?” Jonathon forced a nervous laugh.

The figure confidently nodded, gesturing for him to see the other card. He nodded as well, obliging to the intimidating man’s request. Jonathon slipped the second in front of the first to find a disturbingly grim image. Laying in a freshly crafted coffin, Jonathon saw a man who looked eerily similar to himself dressed in his Sunday best with his arms across his chest. With a start, he dropped the card, swearing that the eyes opened to look at him just before he let go of the card and immediately picked it back up.

“But a quest for wealth will drop anyone into an early grave.” Jonathon shook his head and lowered the cards. Raising them to eye level once more, he found them to have returned to their original images.

As the time came for hands to be shown, the elderly man found himself to be the only one without even a single pair to save him. Releasing a quiet obscenity, he raised his head with a forced smile.
“So, how much were we wagering?”

“Your money’s no good here, aristocrat.” The figure leaned forward across the table. “All the dollars in the world couldn’t save you now…“ the figure ominously chuckled as he violently snatched the man by the throat and pulled the elderly man over the table. The vested victim’s hands clawed at the iron grip of the figure as he felt the life drain away from him. With each agonizing second, the elderly man’s skin became thinner and more pallid. His muscles decayed and disappeared, and his body itself shriveled into a husk. Moments before his final stale breath left his body, the elderly man saw the emerald eyes flicker to a shade of crimson even darker than his duster, giving the elderly man a righteous terror to take with him to the afterlife.

With a lazy flick of the wrist, the man’s body was dropped from the table. Both Jonathon and William watched the corpse fall lifelessly from the table.

“Another hand, boys?” the figure inquired with a cocky grin as he reseated himself and gathered the cards. The doctor rose from the table, grabbing his bag as he did so.
“Y-y-you’re a monster! You’re a d-d-devil!” William reached into his bag, retrieved a pistol, and cocked it.

“Oh, dear William… “ His dark chortle reverberated throughout the room. The figure’s face quickly contorted to a grimace as he looked up at the fleeing doctor. “If only you knew how right you are.” William fired three shots in a row at point blank range, but the figure remained unharmed and unmoved. A few moments passed by without movement or sound. Both William and Jonathon held their breath as they watched the top-hatted man slowly begin to stir. The figure turned to face the terrified William, all three bullets rolling around in the palm of his hand.

“By any chance, did you lose these?” The doctor backed away from the table in horror, sliding his back against the wall. With a snap of the figure’s fingers, the wall behind William twisted and reshaped itself underneath him.

The doctor, flailing and screeching, stumbled and fell, finding himself in the bed of a casket. Before he could lift himself from the coffin, it slammed on him and nailed itself shut. Jonathon leapt forward to pry the lid open, but the oak coffin spontaneously combusted underneath his clammy hands. He backed away from the coffin as it continued to burn into ash right before his eyes. Pure horror rose up from his chest, but was caught in his throat as a scream attempted to escape his pallid lips. Not knowing what else to do, the gambler rejoined the monster at the head of the table. Jonathon, sweat dripping from his brow and scream still trapped in his throat, couldn’t even find the strength to flee from the table as the only other man left turned to him with a smile.

“In it to win it, aye?” the host inquired with a warm smile.

“God almighty…" Jonathon muttered to himself, bringing a genuine guffaw from the dark and imposing figure.

“Jonathon… you know there’s no God here.”

© 2017 North Dakota

Author's Note

North Dakota
Just something I've had written for a while.

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Added on October 27, 2017
Last Updated on October 27, 2017


North Dakota
North Dakota


I'm an amateur author who enjoys writing more than anything. I hope to improve my writing style and etiquette through the criticism of others. So, any review or criticism would be greatly appreciated,.. more..