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July 2010 Volume 12 , Issue 7 submit to us!

by Chris Castle -- Contributing Author [Email This Story]

I guess you could wonder how it was I came to play cards with the devil. You could wonder about the circumstances of the whole damn thing, but really, all I'm going to tell you about is the game; it's all that matters.

So, me and the devil were sitting across from one another, a busted up old table between us. We had a coffee pot, cups. The devil really likes white chocolate, that was one thing that took me aback. I guess I always figured him for a plain chocolate kind of guy. He offered me up a few pieces, too; don't let the title fool you; the devil is a very generous fellow. As soon as we sat down, he ordered us up the drinks, laid out a spread of food, really made me feel welcome. I don't know if he does that for everyone, but he sure did make me feel welcome.

Maybe he found me attractive, I don't know. I guess I'm a tall, pretty girl; I have blonde hair, which I like more than anything. But the craziest thing is, the devil sure did treat me better than the last few guys did on earth, I can tell you that much. He treated me like a lady, for starters and didn't just say whatever it was he'd think would get me into bed with him. Oh yeah, the devil has manners, second only to my daddy in that respect. Drew the chair out for me to sit on, took my coat. I mean, I can't compare him to God or Jesus, on account of not having met either of them, but he made a good impression all the same.

Ah, I can tell what you're thinking; you want to know what he looks like, huh? It says something, that even when it comes to death, we're still obsessed with looks, doesn't it? But that okay, I can understand where you're coming from. The best way I can describe him, is to say he looks a little like an angel with a scratched out face. Does that make sense? Maybe, maybe not. But it was like, whenever I looked right at him, there was a blur, a flurry of scratches where his features should be; but then when I looked away, from the corner of my eye, he looked like the most handsome man imaginable. It's the only way I can describe it to you, I'm afraid.

But I'm running away form the point, like I always do. So there, we are, sitting drinking coffee and readying to play cards. I can't remember how I reached the bar, how I came to be where I was right then, not quite. I knew something had happened, and now I was . . . balancing. And I knew he was the devil, even though we weren't introduced, not formally. It was like being in a dream but being able to breathe and blink and be real at the same time.

He laid out the cards on the table and started doing a few tricks, like Paul Newman in The Sting. He had that way of clowning, that level of smart foolishness, that was charming the way it is in some people and just boorish in a whole lot of others. Finally he took the deck in his hands. He smiled and I saw something like broken baby fingers in his mouth, but somehow I wasn't scared. I knew I was playing for my life; the same way I knew I was partly crazy. I t just felt, in that rush of a few moments, that I understood a whole lot of things all at once and I was ready. He called poker; I mean really, would you expect the devil to play anything else?

It was a single hand, seven cards. I knew that if I won I was free and if I lost I was going to spend a whole lot more time where I was but it wasn't going to be half as pleasant. I got the idea that if I lost I would see the devils face like it was meant to be; that all the scratches would straighten and I would see true horror with my last look. It should have been terrifying, and I won't lie, I was shivering a little, sure, but all in all I felt pretty good. One other thing-the devil makes a mean pot of coffee-Once I had that, (he refilled me straight away) then I was good to go.

I played cards with my dad growing up. We spent a lot of times together playing cards in the evening, out on the veranda, in the sunshine and the rain. I think it's the only time when I've ever been truly happy. My ma died giving birth to me, so it was just the two of us and that was fine by us both I think. We played and we talked, then we played in the silence and just listened to the rain. I never got bored of learning. The cards always fascinated me, and so did my old pa's face whenever we turned those cards over.

So did the devil have a poker face? HE'S THE DEVIL. He invented the poker face, most likely. But regardless, I learnt straight off, never to follow what you opponent it doing but always keep your mind on your own game. He cut the cards and dealt them out and I took them on my fingertips, trying not to notice how ice cold they felt on my skin. I looked them over and took a breath. Then we started up.

My old man died and I was left alone. The sadness never left me and it seemed like his love only showed me how everyone else came up short. To make a long story short I met with bad men with the worst intentions and only just made it out alive on more than one occasion. I guess it was all good practise for a deal with the devil, but it sure didn't feel that way at the time. But I kept on, all the same. My old man used to say ‘reach for the stars but don't ask for the moon.' I used to say that when I was recovering, when I was cold or wounded or raw. His words running through me, giving me a peace in some small corner of my heart; giving me just enough strength to keep pushing on.

That's what I whispered when I asked for my cards and made my bet. It's a funny thing; you don't bet your soul with words, or make a show of it with your hands. It's more just a slight motion, like the way two people act as one when they're in love. I guess I just moved a finger a little, or drummed my thumb against the table, but it was enough. And there it was; the cards, the coffee pot and a space someplace on the table where my soul sat waiting to go one way or the other.

He took cards and I heard his nails scrap against the surface, a thousand dying screams. I shook my head one way, then the other, shaking all that fear out of me and asked for my cards. I took a sip of my coffee and stole another breath. I looked at that space where my life sat and wondered; were other's souls bigger? Were good men and women's the size of a ship and the truly damned little more than a speck? I tried to decide if I was a good person or not. It was easy as sizing up an invisible space.

More cards rolled over, more coffee was poured. It was time to make our final gambit. I could see the handsome stranger smiling from the top tip of my cards and then I saw all the night's horrors as I looked straight up into his eyes. He lifted his cards slightly then sprayed them down onto the table. Four sevens laid out like spurts of blood on the table. I looked up and saw the jaw twitch and snap; it was the sight of neck's snapping and dreams shattering and I knew that was what passed for a smile on the devil's lips. I sighed and took my last swig of coffee, then laid my cards down flat.

Four nines.

I felt something fire past my cheeks, felt a heat that made my eyes blink and my bones lock. I knew I was almost being scorched alive, that I was being flayed by a force that I could not see and would never understand. Then, as quickly as it happened, it was over. I steadied in my seat. The roar that had seeped out of the devil was gone, forgotten, a flash of rage that could kill a nation, gone on a flash. He had regained his posture. He leant over and carefully poured me one last cup of coffee for the road. I thanked him. I guess amongst all that playing with my old man, I picked up a little cheating along the way; I like to think my pa saw this coming and had me planned and ready all the way; that's the way I like to think of it, anyway.

I sipped my coffee and then rose up; there was still the coffee pot, the cards and the same space where my life had been, but I knew now, somehow, it was just a plain old space again now; soon to be filled, no doubt. If you asked me how I did it, how I beat the devil, well if I'm being honest, I'd just tell you I cheated. But if you want to read more into it, then go ahead; maybe my daddy's loved saved me, maybe that was the lord's way, in some fashion. I guess, if you want to wrap it all up, you could just say that if you believe in playing cards with the devil, you got to believe in Jesus a little to beat him, too.

I finished my coffee. The devil stood up, gracious as ever, and nodded to me. We did not shake hands; I've shaken hands with enough conmen to count my fingers straight after and I did not want to tempt fate anymore. Instead I raised my hand and turned to the bar door. I was glad for the coffee; I got the idea it was going to be a long way home. But it didn't matter none, not really. I was ready for what came next.

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Features -- July 2010 -- Mid Month Issue