The Poker Game

Author’s Note: A new bit of short fiction for you guys to enjoy. All critiques and comments are appreciated :)

‘I need a drink.’

That was the thought that kept echoing in Jim’s mind as he drove down the main street in the small, secluded, sink hole of a city that had been his home for the last two years.

Angie’s furious screams were still ringing in his ears. The funny thing was that even now he wasn’t sure what she had been so angry about, not that it real mattered. It was a pattern that he had long gotten used to: she screamed, he left, he drank, he went home, and then he had three days of silence before things went back to normal.

He pulled up in front of one of his favorite haunts, a small, dimly lit bar situated near the center of town. In the two years he lived here, he had never heard the place’s name. Supposedly it was printed on the sign above the entrance, but the paint was so faded it was completely illegible. He wasn’t sure if even the bartender knew, and if he did he wasn’t sharing.

Jim walked through the front and sat down at the bar. The bartender was a grizzled old man with dull eyes and a stony expression. He didn’t talk much, and generally only looked at you long enough to take your drink order. When the man looked at him he order a beer and sat back to take in the scene.

There were five other men in the building. Two of them were at the bar with him, one slumped over a table by himself, and then two sitting in the corner, playing what looked like a game of poker.

As he stared at the pair, he noticed there was something…off about the two. The shaggier of the two men seemed normal enough. He had a short, scraggily beard, tanned, wrinkled skin and worn, loose fitting clothing. The man he was sitting with however, had clean shaven, almost skeletal features, a buzz cut, and black suit tailored closely to his form. As he stared at the man in the suit, a small chill ran down Jim’s spine, like someone was standing over his grave.

Jim turned to the bartender. “Hey, what’s the story with those guys?” he asked, nodding his head towards the players.

The bartender glanced over briefly before returning to his work. “They meet here every few years to play cards. I don’t know when it started, but it’s been going since before I started working here.”

Jim looked at the old man curiously. “How long ago was that?”

“About fifteen years.”

Jim leaned back in his chair and sipped at his beer. Every so often he would glance at the back table, and noted that every time he looked the skeletal man’s expression was a shade sourer than the time before. His playing partner, by contrast, was a blank slate. It didn’t take a master of observation to know in whose favor the game was tilting.

Jim sat there for another hour, nursing his drink, before he heard a violent crash come from behind him. He spun around on his stool just in time to see the pale man standing beside the remains of a flipped over table. The entire man’s body was rigid and his hands were clenched into fists.

For one brief moment Jim swore the temperature in the room dropped by six degrees and the entire bar held its breath. Then, just as quickly as it came, the moment passed as the man turned around and stormed out of the bar without a word.

The shaggy man chose that moment to rise from his seat, dust off the peanuts shells from his clothing, and ambled over to the stool next to Jim’s.

“You okay, man?” Jim asked.

The man gave him a laid back smile. “Right as rain,” he said. “He’ll cool off. He always does.”

“For your sake, I hope so,” Jim said. “That guy looked like he was ready to kill you.”

The shaggy man shot him a peculiar look before he released a hearty chuckle. “Listen kid, I know I just met ya, but let me give you a little advice. If there are two things I’ve learned during my time on this earth, it’s this: one, never worry about what cards you’re dealt, only how you play them.”

“And the second thing?”

“Death might be a decent Chess player, but he’s shit when it comes to poker.”

© Sam Dougherty 2013


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