I sat in the dingy little bar, leaning over the bar itself as I indulged myself in another pint of beer. “Nothing better than this” I think to myself as I lean down, nigh on almost lying on the countertop itself. Mind you, that’s a good way to get my clothes smelling like beer and even getting kicked out.
The door at the entrance of the place creaked open with a squeak of the door, and so walked in a pair of patrons, Tim, a slim fellow with more hair than he could do anything with, with his opposite, Gary, a larger man with no hair besides his eyebrow and beard. “Oi oi!” One called to me, I couldn’t tell which, I’d been at the bar for a while now. Regardless, I tilted my head to see them approaching the bar, “how’s work holding up?”. Tim enquired, slightly concerned at the way I hunched over.
“Fine, just a pain in the arse, as usual. More hours though, 9 hour shifts. It’s a bloody horror.” I shifted, I already knew what came next, as the other two ordered. “That and the wife won’t stop nagging about having a kid.” I drank deeply from the cup. “Matter of fact, she doesn’t stop nagging, full stop.
I knew the two, plus the bartender, wouldn’t repeat this to anyone else, this truly was a speak-easy.
“You reckon a game or two of Rummy will help take your mind off things?” Gary interjected. I’ve always been one for a casual game or two of rummy, once I even won about 40 odd quid from these guys. “Why not, I could do with the distraction.”.
We relocated to a small circular table that was out of the way of the majority of the establishment. So getting up for a piss wasn’t exactly easy, but the staff preferred we didn’t play card games out in the open.
The pack of cards hit the table, tossed ontop of it carelessly. “I’ll deal” Tim said. But before he could even pull a card from the deck, a rather overdressed, tall and slender fellow leant over the table.
He smiled at the group of us, grinning from ear to ear. His getup was something you’d of seen out of a cabaret or something equally as fancy; a dark red suit with black bowtie, a white shirt and red trousers, accompanied by red socks and black shoes.
“Good evening, pleasure to be meeting you all, quite a pleasure indeed!” He spoke enthusiastically, If it weren’t for the fact that there was no static sound, he sounds like he’d fit in perfectly on one of those old radio shows, that and his words flowed quickly yet clearly, giving little to no time to respond.
“Please excuse my sudden visit, but I saw you were playing some rummy over in this corner and thought I’d join in, it’s been years since I’ve had a round or two!” Everyone was left dazed to some degree by the sudden appearance of this oddly tall man, they didn’t even notice how he knew they were playing rummy before even a single card was dealt, regardless, he took a seat at the table before anyone could interject. Must’ve just overheard what we were talking about.
“May I?” He asked, his palm held out towards Tim, who had been holding the deck. hesitated, but decided why not, and slid the deck towards this mysterious bloke.
“Much appreciated! I must say dealing-” He paused as he dealt clockwise, giving everyone a card each rotation within a second. “Is one of the best bits.”
“Oh! I forgot something ever so important!” He exclaimed. “I really, properly haven’t introduced myself! My name is Alastor. Many apologies on my behalf!” The other two gave each other a knowing look, and before anything else came out of Alastor’s mouth, they both stood up, making excuses about going home early, and left.
“Oh come now boys, just one round? Rummy is always much more fun the more people are playing after all!.” But both departed, refusing politely. How odd of them to just up and leave.
“Oh well, still, a one versus one game of Rummy is still entertaining to some extent.” he took back all the cards and began to skillfully shuffle, before serving them out again and he tapped the top of the remainder of the face-down deck. “I’m wondering though, perhaps you’d like to make this even more entertaining, to make up for the fact your friends decided to leave us. We can up the ante, so to speak”
Normally I wouldn’t bet, especially with a stranger, but the amount of drink gave me an awful dose of dutch courage.
Alastor leant in closer now, his grin made me reconsider briefly, but he said something unbelievable. “How about this; if you win, I will aid you in whatever you desire; money, women, drugs. Whatever takes your fancy for a sole year. However, if you lose, you’ll still get my aid, just as I outlined, but for a lifetime, just with the caveat of selling your soul to repay your debt you’ve accrued when you unfortunately pass away”
“He’s taking the piss” I thought to myself. Selling souls? Easily getting cash? Bunch of poppycock, I might as well play along.
“Alright, well, it seems like a win-win for me regardless,” “It’s a deal, then?” Alastor offered his hand towards me, and I regrettably shook it. A mistake I’ll regret forever.
If you’re familiar with Rummy, you know with just two players it can go pretty fast, but this game felt like it took a long time. Alastor’s never-ceasing smile was as good as any poker-face. Holding mine was no problem, this wasn’t my first time.
I was building a fairly good hand, 5 of a kind, 3 through 7 in spades, just needed the 3 now.
A few more rounds passed, and eventually it was Alastor’s turn once again. He decided to take from the top of the facedown deck, and to my horror, he laid down half of his card on top of the table, a royal flush of hearts.
Fortune was turning for me though, I had enough for a straight flush. I kept eying up Alastor, but that never-ending smile kept his situation hidden. “Come now, trying to read me? I appreciate the effort in trying to win, but you’re making me blush” He jested. In some kind of retaliation, I laid my cards out, 3 through 7 of spades. Just had a few more; 8 of spades and clubs, as well as their aces, as well as a ace of diamonds.
“Ooooh, a good hand indeed, however…” Alastor, quickly laid out the 9, 10, jack, queen and king of spades.
“Oh my, it seems I’ve won, how magnificent! My, the fun we’ll have once you finally die. Mind you, you’d still owe me your eternal soul for any of the debt you accrue when asking me for favours even if you did win” He paused, his smile becoming slightly more sinister, his eyes squinted a bit as the room around me seemed to fad into a dark static, for lack of a better description. “Afterall, I never said that you wouldn’t owe me anything if you won, I just said you could request things. But nothing in life comes free.”
I, in frustration, threw my cards in front of me, and realized I was holding the Dead-man’s hand, before returning my eyes to Alastor.
“That and you made quite a big bet, practically going all-in just to satisfy your cravings, living the perfect life perhaps. All you have to do is just call and I’ll be there.”
Alastor shifted and stood up, looking down at me like a master would to his dog. “I’ll be waiting for the day you die, of course, for my repayment. But perhaps in future, remember that when you’re gambling with souls, the house will always win, but for now, I bid you adieu.”
And like that I was damned, if my final hand didn’t confirm that, then Alastor certainly did.