High Stakes Poker- 2. Card Shark

Her story was a love story. In the darkness, that was what she told herself.

She felt her mind slipping away from her. She could no longer remember what school she went to, what street she lived on or even what her last name was anymore. She could not tell if she had been here for a day, a month or a year.

One thing she held onto.

Zeke.

She remembered every freckle on his nose, every detail of his face, every line on his palm. She remembered the way his hand felt in her own, the way his lips felt pressed against her own. She remembered being in the car with him in those last moments, but not where they were going.

Wrapping her arms around herself, she scurried through the shadows.

Chills ran up and down her spine, despite the beads of sweat clinging to her brow. She could hear their murmurs as she moved; feel the burn of their gazes on her.

They were mere silhouettes in the distance… or maybe they were close. She really couldn’t tell. Nothing made sense to her here.

“Hey,”

Stopping, Mirabelle looked over her shoulder.

The woman’s face was weathered, and leathery but her eyes looked young. Her smile was faint, like she didn’t even know she was doing it. She stood there in a tattered dress, with scrapes on her knees and a gash on her chest. “I’ve seen you here for awhile now, always wandering. You’re not like the others. You’re like me… not just passing through.”

“What?” She didn’t understand, but why would she? She didn’t understand anything here.

“Sore loser?” A man appeared beside the woman. Tall, with skin the colour of rich ebony. His hair was short, almost the same colour of his skin but his eyes were a light brown that seemed to shine through all the darkness around them. “Wallowing in self pity after losing?”

“Losing?”

Casting a harsh glare at the man, she looked back at Mirabelle. “Yes. All of us here have lost, read the cards wrong or played them the wrong way.”

“No. No, I didn’t lose.”

The man laughed. His laugh was more a cough, like his vocal cords were too dusty to get a proper laugh out. He dropped down so his face was level with her, almost pressing his cheek to hers, he wrapped his long arm around her shoulder. “Don’t be telling those lies down here. It will do you no good. There ain’t no one here that hasn’t lost. It’s not like we all just stumbled our way here.”

Clearing her throat, the woman narrowed her eyes at Mirabelle. “Did you sit at the table with him? Did you play poker?”

“Yes.”

“And? You throw away the wrong card? Didn’t get what you needed on the river?”

“No.”

She was lifted off her feet, his hands hooked under her armpits suspending her in the air as he glared at her. “Then what?”

“I didn’t lose.” She stated.

The woman moved in close, her eyes wide as though she couldn’t fully process the words Mirabelle was saying to her. Hitting the man in the abdomen with her elbow, she snatched her up by the arm as soon as her feet in the floor. Dragging her slightly away from him, she spoke to Mirabelle in hushed tones. “What do you mean you didn’t lose? You won?”

Mirabelle pulled her arm out of the woman’s overly tight grasp. “Yes. I won. Straight Flush. King High. Or…” She thought of the symbols on the cards. “Whatever the equivalent of that is on those… odd cards.”

“Then what are you doing here?”

She looked around the darkness. It was like she was stuck in a fog, only there was almost no light. The air was thick, and it had this odd smell. “Where are we?”

“A land on the same ground we once walked, but hidden from the human eye.” His words were ominous as his hand swept through the air dramatically.

Rolling her eyes, she shook her head at him. “Honestly, after all this time, don’t you get tired of those riddles you speak in?” She looked back at Mirabelle. “Purgatory. All those who lose to him live here for a time, usually moving on rather quickly to where they belong. Either imprisoned for the fractured and splintered state of their soul, or recycled… reborn… ascended. Whatever it is you believe in. There are those,” She looked over her shoulder at the tall, lanky, mysterious man. “Who, because of the deals they made at the table, are stuck here.”

“That’s what I did.” Mirabelle felt no regrets.

Nodding, the woman’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Was it worth it? What was it, fame? Fortune? Revenge?”

Shaking her head, Mirabelle didn’t understand how she could have made a deal for any of those things. “No. Zeke.”

Swooping in, he got between the two women. “Zeke?”

Her heart began to ache with longing as her mind began to piece him together before her. “The love of my life.” She murmured.

The woman’s eyes deepened. It was evident to Mirabelle this woman’s heart was longing as well. Clutching a weak looking hand to her chest, she nodded. “And… he was okay with your choice?”

A frown creased Mirabelle’s brow. “What?”

It was time for him to intercede. “Two lives in the pot. He would have to have both of you there for the deal to be valid. You can’t throw someone else in the pot without their permission. You can only bet your own life.”

“Zeke was already gone.”

Impossible.” She hissed. “If he were already dead there would be nothing that could be done. No bet that could reverse it. You were not playing with Fate, or Time…”

“What?” She was so confused.

“Death cannot undo death.” The man said. “But he can deceive a naive girl.”

“What are you saying?”

“I’m saying that Zeke was alive and well, and Death got you to guarantee him your life, win or lose.” He shook his head in disbelief.

The woman wrapped her arms around herself. “You know the trouble with true love? It makes us vulnerable…”

Mirabelle lost her breath, her mind raced. She had bet her life… for no reason at all. She could be alive, with Zeke right now. Had it not been for her ignorance…

Death had cheated her.

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