Hey guys, it’s been a while since I have written anything, and I know, I have to finish The Climber story, but I have been busty with other projects. One of which is the short story below – The Gambler. It is a story about death, and what could happen beyond. I have written it for an event in Leicester, the theme of which is Life After Death. I will be performing a reading of an abridged version at the event, and also hope to expand on the story, looking deeper at the main character.
Enjoy, and let me know any feedback!
She deals him two cards, face down. The table is dark and cold, but he can see well enough to play. The only problem is, he cannot remember how he got here.
The other players must be hidden in the shadows. He can’t see them, but he can feel their eyes watching him. It’s unsettling, but he straightens his shirt collar and leans forward, hands clasped, elbows on the table. Poker is a game of bluffing; portraying an air of confidence at all times. He knows this too well.
He looks to the cards, face down on the table, then back to the Dealer. She wears a cute slight smile, unchanging on a porcelain face, her eyes cast in black shadow from the light above. She motions to his cards with a white-gloved hand, a well practiced movement, smooth yet sudden. He leans back with a stretch and a smile, glancing around him, cool as could be on the outside, trying to take the measure of the place on the inside.
Eyes back to the dealer.
Right hand on the cards.
Thumb up the corners.
See what he’s got.
The shock on his face is hard to disguise.
He raises the cards more.
On the faces of the cards are no Spades or Diamonds, no Clubs or Hearts. There are no numbers or faces, just a single word on both; ‘Nothing’. It is not the word itself that troubles him, but the terrible feeling that came from seeing it. It fills him with emptiness, as though sucking any joy or any sadness or any life from him, as though his memories are being erased, as though they are worthless. As though he is worthless. The card shows him everything that nothingness is; dull and unfeeling, devoid of life or meaning or consequence. It is the essence of absence; an awful thing to look at and a cruel thing to consider.
“What is this?”, he tries to say. But he makes no sound and the Dealer simply looks at him with those hidden eyes and that painted, unmoving smile. He shrugs it off with a glance either way, the feeling of being watched, of being vulnerable to those violating eyes in the dark, multiplied.
The white-gloved hand starts with a jerk, and hovers smoothly over to the deck. Drawing a card, she glances at it before placing it face up in one of three markings on the table.
The card glows in its place, shining with living shades of luscious greens and rich oak browns. He looks closer and sees an interconnecting tapestry of circles rotating like cogs and gears, each one made of a mix of nature – tree branches turn to reptiles which turn to man which turn to beetles – constantly shifting and winding. On the card he reads the word ‘Reincarnation’.
He looks up at the Dealer, puzzled. Then, from the shadows to the her left, a hand of bone holding two cards catches the light. Behind, a death-head obscured by the inky darkness but there nonetheless, watching and grinning a hidden grin. The thought sends a shiver down his spine.
He thinks he gets it now.
He looks back to the Dealer. He doesn’t know much about reincarnation – that has something to do with Karma, right? Do good things, get good things. Do bad things, have bad things done to you. Something about death and rebirth? But he figures he is safe, that he is, or at least was, a good person.
The Dealer taps the card and the living colours shift and slide, they clear and reform in the image of a small, round pig.
Unamused, he blinks. Twice. Then looks to the Dealer. There must be some mistake. He doesn’t deserve to come back as a pig! He was a good man, he never did anything wrong! Not compared to some of the others he knew – they were scum! He was a saint in comparison with them!
The Dealer holds her hands out, both clasped tight. She opens her right, and reveals two small nuggets of gold, humble but beautiful against the palm of the while glove. Memories flood his mind; beautiful memories of those times he had loved, laughed and truly felt alive. But as she opens her left hand a torrent of black ash and dirt and all kinds of filth wells up, flowing over the palm and seeping between her fingers. He looks to the card and the picture clears and the colours swirl and reform, revealing the image of a worm, small and insignificant, wallowing in mud.
He sits back, dismayed. The judgment is hard, he wants to argue, he wants to shout, but he has no defence. To his left the death-head lets out a chuckle, the sound of rattling bones.
The dealer draws a second card, placing it face up next to the first. This one is glowing like the other, but where the first shone browns and greens, this one shines with brilliant shimmers of gold. As he looks closer to the card, the light warming his face, he loses himself for that moment in a peace and happiness unlike anything he had experienced before. He doesn’t need to see the word written upon the card to know that it reads ‘Paradise’.
He rests back in the chair, his eyes closed, feeling peace flow through him like molten gold, soothing his muscles and calming his nerves. He takes a deep breath, savouring the moment. Who would have thought it? Paradise, heaven, a place of peace and warmth. He had always thought it a fairytale. But then, he supposed, no one could ever truly know what is on the other side of death, except those who have witnessed it first hand. Everything he had seen, everything he had known, was from one perspective, from one side of the veil with no glimmer of what was happening beyond.
When he opens his eyes, he is met with the dealer’s painted smile. She reaches out and presses an index finger to the glowing card. A shiver of dread washes over him. The card starts to spin violently. The yellowy-gold glow of heaven turns to flickering reds and oranges. To accept that there is a heaven is to accept that there is a hell.
At first he goes cold, feverishly so. Small beads of sweat forming on his chilled face. The fiery glow of the card suddenly blots out to a perfect black that seems to draw him in. His ears hear no noise, but his mind is racing with a whirlwind of terrible screams, unspeakable murmurings and the cries of those he once loved. He screws up his eyes, hands against his head, trying to stop the voices, stop the horrible thoughts, stop the disturbing images flashing through his mind.
It was not a physical pain, but it was unbearable nevertheless; an awareness of unending fear – his fear – that fed the card, allowing it to grow larger and larger. The voices grow louder, whispering hidden things into the centre of his mind. Hidden things that he wishes he could unhear. He tries to call out for help, but the Dealer’s faces is awash with images, as though projected from some unseen source, flickering too fast to take note. But he recognises each. All those times he cheated, all those times he argued, lost his temper, lied. Got violent. Hurt people. The black void grows larger, the card now all consuming, dragging him close, sucking him in as he teeters on the edge. He stumbles.
And then it stops. And the death-head unseen in the shadows chuckles again, the sound of cracking of knuckles.
He looks to the dealer. To the two cards on the table. The worm that he could become. The blackness of hell. And it hurt him. It hurt him to know that if either one of these realities were true, then this is the punishment he deserved. All of his life he had been betting on this moment. All of his actions accumulating a debt which must be paid in full if there is any consequence in death.
He looks to his own cards – Nothing.
This is what he had believed.
This is what he had placed his bets on.
And after seeing the alternatives, he hopes like hell that he was right.
But he has two ‘Nothing’s. Two of a kind. He’s got a good chance of winning.
The terrible sound of the death-head’s mocking laughter catches his attention and from the inky shadows two cards hit the table, sliding face up into the light. One reads ‘Hell’, the other ‘Reincarnation’.
Then there is a draw. Two of a kind all round.
The dealer’s shadowed eyes stare directly into his as she slowly draws the next card.
The final card.
The card to win or lose the game.
The card to win or lose his soul.
Please, God, let it read ‘Nothing’!
She raises it.
And the Death-Head chuckles.
Due to the dark nature of the story, the abridged version that I will be reading out at the event has been edited, in collaboration with my wife, to make it more accessible and keep a sensitivity to people’s different circumstances. After all, the aim of this provocative piece is to get people thinking, not to condemn or hurt people. For this reason we have added a foreword and afterword written below. I also wanted to keep it neutral; not ignoring grace, but choosing not to speak of it, as it is not my place to do so, in the context of the story, anyway.
Why do people choose to believe certain things about death?
Is it easier to believe that there is nothing, than to consider something worse?
The following is a piece of written fiction exploring this question.
What would you place your bets on?
It is indeed a scary thought to consider that we may be judged against everything we have ever done. If we were then told that the standard we were to be judged against was the highest possible standard, and that all will fall short, it leaves little room for hope.
On a similar note, to accept that God is real and that the Bible is true, and therefore accept the existence of heaven and of the spiritual realm, in turn means accepting less desirable truths regarding the existence of hell itself.
With this in mind, it may be simply easier for people to pretend none of it is real and that we merely cease to be.
We should also consider that for some, the prospect of eternal life is not a good one. For those who have had struggles in their life, whether physical, emotional or mental, it may be that they simply want life to stop. For them, there could be an anticipation of a peacefulness in there being a complete ending and absolute nothingness at the end of a difficult life.
But what’s the real question here?
If those with faith in God are wrong, and there is no heaven or hell, then they lose nothing. Those without faith gain nothing either but we are all in the same boat, we are all in the same place. However, if those with faith are right, then question stands; what is the consequence of our choice?
I am considering extending the piece, talking more about the main character in his life. I hope to almost double the word count, and then enter it into a few local short story competitions.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy! Have a great day!