Black Petals Issue #105, Autumn, 2023

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BP Artists and Illustrators
Mars-News, Views and Commentary-Chris Friend
Cards Fiction by Gene Lass
Barfly: Fiction by Gene Lass
Case Study: Fiction by Martin Taulbut
Delivery: Fiction by David Kloepfer
Joy (noun): a source of delight: Fiction by Noah Levin
Master of Dream: Fiction by Ash Ibrahim
Nightshade: Fiction by Adam Vine
Red Popsicles: Fiction by Caitlyn Pace
Temporally Closed: Fiction by J. Elliott
The Mansion Dwellers: Fiction by Robb White
Time for a Change: Fiction by Lamont A. Turner
Bernie's Friends: Flash Fiction by Phil Temples
Death Visits the Sapling Trust: Flash Fiction by Paul Radcliffe
Monster: Flash Fiction by Zvi A. Sesling
Sleep: Flash Fiction by Kurt Hohmann
Welcome, Ghouls: Flash Fiction by Cindy Rosmus
Ode to Chateau Marmont: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Cadaver Dogs: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Phases of the Moon: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
The Darkest Octave: Poem by Kenneth Vincent Walker
Green Man Standing: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
The Day That Mary Went Away: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
The Northern Migration of Souls: Poem by Joseph V. Danoski
Gone West: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
If I Scream: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
Witchery: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
Carry On: Poem by Simon MacCulloch
The Song of the Dead: Poem by Ben Huber

Gene Lass #1: Cards

105_bp_cards_sophia.jpg
Art by Sophia Wiseman-Rose 2023

Cards

Gene Lass

 

            D.J. laid the 10 of clubs on top of the jack of hearts, glanced at the remaining cards, and pulled three more out of the deck. No luck. Three more. Five of diamonds on six of spades, then the 4 of clubs on the 5. Not bad. The front door opened.

          D.J. looked up and saw a man, medium height, pale, red hair. He stood in the doorway, looked across the otherwise empty bar, then walked in and sat at the bar a few stools down from D.J..

          “Quiet night,” he said.

          D.J. put a cocktail napkin in front of the man. “Wednesday’s always slow. Though really that’s every day but Friday or Saturday.”

          The man nodded. “I bet it’s busy then though. Or during football season.”

          D.J. shook his head. “That don’t matter. No football team in Montana.”

          The man smiled. “Of course. Silly me.”

          “What can I get ya?”

          “What are you having?”

          “Coffee. I’m working.”

          “You’re going to let me drink alone?”

          “I’m here. And I’ll be drinking coffee.”

          “Well, then I’ll have a beer.”

          D.J. nodded. “Bottle or can?”

          “What’s cold?”

          “It’s all cold.”

          “Then surprise me.”

          D.J. slid back the lid of the ice chest and stuck in his hand without looking. He pulled out a can and put it on the bar.

          “Looks like you’re getting a Bud Light. Let me get you a glass.”

          “Of course. We must be civilized.”

          D.J. poured the beer into a glass mug. “Want to run a tab or just have the one?”

          “A tab is fine if you think I’m good for it.”

          “I’m not too worried. You want snacks? I have to ask nowadays. I got peanuts, mixed nuts, mixed nuts without peanuts, pretzels, and popcorn. I don’t have gluten free pretzels, so don’t ask. If you don’t want gluten, eat some nuts. If you don’t want any of that, eat some chips. They’re 50 cents a bag and probably about to expire.”

          “Given those choices, I think I’ll go with pretzels.”

          “Good choice.”

          D.J. filled a bowl with Rold Gold minis, then pointed at the T.V. remote.

          “Turn on what you like. I think there’s hockey on 3. Maybe bull-riding on ESPN. No movie channels.”

          “Thanks.”

          D.J. picked up the cards and flipped out three. Nothing. Three more. He put a 2 on the ace. He sipped his coffee and frowned.

          “Coffee too cold? Or is it a bad batch?”

          D.J. shook his head slightly. “Time to clean the cup.” He poured what he had in the sink, reached for a fresh cup, and filled it.

          “You may be right. Pot’s old, too. Time to make more or make tea.”

          The stranger laughed. “That reminds me of my favorite quote from Abraham Lincoln. Not his most famous, but my favorite. During the war, he visited an Army camp and they brought him a cup. He drank it and said, If this is coffee, bring me tea. If this is tea, bring me coffee.

          D.J. laughed. “That’s pretty good. Yeah, bring me somethin’ that ain’t whatever this is.”

          “Indeed. Ah! Boxing!”

          D.J. looked up at the screen. “Eh. Lightweights. They’ll just dance and hug. Won’t get a knockout. You need pay-per-view to get the good stuff, the heavyweights.”  He shuffled and dealt himself a new game. He put a red 4 on a black 5.

          The stranger glanced over at D.J.’s game. “I forget what movie had the line, ‘Solitaire is a dull game even if you cheat. It’s bloody awful if you don’t.’”

          D.J. nodded. “I tend to agree. No point if you cheat, though.”

          “If you do, you’re only cheating yourself?”

          “No. If I’m going to cheat to win, I might as well say I won and not even play. Build cardhouses or something instead.”

          “You might be the last honest man in the world.”

          “Doubt it. The world’s a big place. There must be some other guy who’s not an asshole.”

          The stranger smiled. “Well honest man, it looks like those cards are itching to play something other than Solitaire. Or you are.”

          D.J. smiled back. “You bet I am. I haven’t played in years. Too many Mormons in this town. Go Fish is edgy for them.”

          “Poker then?”

          “Sure,” D.J. said. “That or gin rummy. No money, though. Can’t bet what I don’t have.”

          “Understood. Business here isn’t exactly bustling enough for you to be throwing your dollars away.”

          D.J. shook his head. “Nope. Not even dimes. Fresh beer?”

          “Sure. Still on the tab.”

          D.J. pulled another bottle from the ice chest and pushed the cards toward the stranger.

          “There. Shuffle and cut. What’s your name, pal?”

          The stranger picked up the deck carefully, shuffled, fanned the cards, shuffled, cut the deck into sections, put them back in a different order, and shuffled again. He pulled the top quarter inch off cards off the deck, revealing the queen of diamonds.

          “Bud. It’s really ‘Bub’ but I go with ‘Bud.’ People remember that better.”

          “I can see that.” D.J. held his hand over the deck for a minute, concentrated, then cut the deck deep. He flipped over the jack of clubs. He shrugged.

          “Tough luck.” Bud smiled.

          “Yeah. Your deal.”

          Bud shuffled again. D.J. cut, Bud dealt. Two down, one up.

          “Five card draw, nothing wild. Just a warm-up.”

          D.J. was showing an 8, Bud a 5.

          “I’ll take one,” D.J. said.

          Bud dealt him a 4.

          “Looks like you got my 4. I’ll also take a card. A 3 – no help for me.”

          D.J. raised his eyebrows. “I’ll take another one.”

          Bud dealt him a 3.

          “Wish I had that. I’ll take another one. Seven. Put us together and we have a straight. Ready for one down?”

          “Yep.”

          D.J. flipped over his hole cards and smiled.

          “I had the one 8 up, and two more down.”

          Bud smiled back. “Too bad. Straight.”

          D.J. shrugged, picked up the cards, shuffled, and dealt.

          “Five card draw, jacks are wild.”

          D.J. won that hand. And the next. Bud won one, then another. D.J. refilled the bowl of pretzels and poured himself a beer.

          “Ah! The honest man is human after all!” Bud said.

          D.J. chuckled. “I’m allowed one. Then it’s back to coffee.”

          “Fair enough. Say, as much as I like playing poker without betting, it gets dull pretty quick.”

          “Want to switch to rummy?”

          Bud waved his hand.

          “We could. Or we could keep playing. I’ll spot you a buck, even five. We can play for pennies, chips, toothpicks, I don’t care. Anything real to make this more interesting.”

          “Nope. I’m not going to borrow from you, I’m not going to take from you. And playing for toothpicks is for little kids. Rummy 500.”

          “Suit yourself pal. It may take a while.”

          “I’ll make more coffee.”

          Bud shuffled and dealt. “Seven cards for you, seven for me. I don’t suppose you have real food around here. Burgers or something? Chips and pretzels just aren’t enough to sustain a person, you know?”

          “I haven’t run the grill since Tuesday and it’s too late to turn it on now. How about a pizza? I could put a frozen one in.”

          “Excellent.”

          They started to play. D.J. sipped coffee and ate from a bowl of microwave popcorn while Bud ate his pizza. The game was pretty close. D.J. lagged behind at 20, 30 points a hand to Bud’s 50 or 80, but then closed the gap with a monstrous 120 point hand. He then got on a roll, pulling ahead until the score was 470 to Bud’s 430.

          “Heh,” D.J. chuckled, shuffling. “I must have learned something from Grandpa after all. He taught me to play. I almost never beat him.”

          Bud downed a shot of Jameson’s, then sipped more of his beer.

          “Everyone learned from their grandfather. It’s what grandfathers do. Take you fishing, teach you cards, teach you pool.”

          “Absolutely,” D.J. said. “Way things are supposed to be.” He laid his cards down.

          “I’m out. I have the 2 and 6 to go on your straight. That’s 10 points. Then three tens for another 30. That brings me to 510.”

          Bud tossed down his cards. “Shit. You caught me with two aces and a bunch of little ones. You win.”

          “Heh. Yes, I do.” D.J. gathered up the cards. “Go again?”

          “Not 500,” Bud said. “It’s too late. How’s this – no money, that’s clear. But I’ll make you one bet just to bet.”

          “Okay.”

          “I bet I know your real name.”

          “It’s on the license behind the bar. You could probably read it from there.”

          “No. That says ‘D.J. Totten.’ I know your real first name.”

          “That’s a legal document, Bud. D.J. is my real name. Has been all my life.”

          “You know that’s bullshit my friend. You name is a pun. You were named after your parents. Your mother was Dee, your father was named Jay. As was your card-playing grandfather. So your actual name is Dee Jay, not D.J.”

          D.J. felt his pulse throb in the middle of his forehead. His mouth went dry, his palms wet.

          “Do you know who I am?” Bud said pleasantly.

          “Your name’s not Bud.”

          “No. But I told you that. I said people call me Bud. I have many names. I knew your grandfather during the war. Did he ever talk about Korea?”

          “Not much. Almost nothing. He said it was really hot and really cold.”

          “It was. Your grandfather killed 27 men in Korea. He only knows of a fraction of them, the ones he could see. He just kept firing into the dark, not knowing what was there, killing men he never saw coming for him. He was a very pious man, despite being a skilled killer. I’d like to tell you I have him now, but I don’t. So instead I’ll make a play for you.”

          He picked up the cards, fanned them out in front of D.J., showed him both sides. He collapsed the deck, shuffled, shuffled again.

          “Here’s my offer: One game. Five card stud, nothing wild. If you win, your financial debt goes away and this bar, your livelihood, will keep you comfortable until you retire an old man. If I win, your soul is mine and you’ll spend the rest of your life knowing you’ll be simmering in a vat of acid for eternity, burning away as your flesh grows back and burns again.”

          He put down the deck.

          “Shall we play?”

          D.J. stared at the deck. “You’ll cheat.”

          “I could, but I won’t. The rules between us are clear, as are the rules of these contracts. I must give you a choice, and we must play for real. You could deal if you’d like.”

          “I think I will.”

          D.J. picked up the deck, looked at the cards. They were the same as they ever were. Carefully he shuffled them and offered the deck to Bud to cut.

          Bud waved his hand. “No. Lay them out.”

          Two cards down.

          “What if I don’t like my hand?” D.J. asked.

          “Then fold. You know how to play.”

          D.J. dealt one card up to each of them. Seven of clubs to Bud. 10 of diamonds to D.J.

          Bud peaked at his hole cards.

          “I’ll take one.”

          Ten of clubs.

          D.J. drew. Ace of hearts.

          “Very nice. I’ll take another.”

          Bud got the 10 of spades, giving him a pair of tens showing. Sweat broke on D.J.’s brow.

          “Dealer takes one.”

          King of spades.

          “Still in, Mr. Totten?”

          “Yep. You?”

          “Of course.”

          “All right then, last one down.”

          D.J. dealt one more to each of them. He picked up what he had.

          “Well?”

          “I call,” Bud said simply.

          D.J. flipped his cards.

          “I got the straight this time, 10 through ace.”

          “You were very lucky. However, as you know, I have the other two tens. And also sevens. Full house, Mr. Totten. You lose.”

          D.J. felt faint. He broke into a cold sweat and grabbed the bar. He stumbled backwards until he bumped against the back wall.

          “You should sit down,” Bud said. “You don’t look too well. Have a glass of water.” He pointed his finger and a beer glass slid down the bar, filling as it travelled. It came to a perfect stop in front of D.J., who didn’t touch it.

          “No. I don’t want anything from you.”

          “Drink the water, it’s good. What’s the worst that could happen? Your soul is already mine. Don’t worry. You’re not dead yet. That will be years from now. I prefer to watch my opponents suffer and worry, or better yet forget their situation. They go on with their lives thinking this was a joke or a dream, and then one day they’re in Hell. That surprise never gets old.”

          D.J. sat down on a stool behind the bar, sweating. He put his head on his hands.

          “Just take the bar. Take it.”

          “No deal, friend. You have nothing I want. The only thing of value you did have is mine. It’s over. Look…” He gestured at the clock on the wall. “Closing time.” 

          D.J. laughed. “I guess it is.” He walked to the till at the middle of the bar and began pushing keys.

          “That’s the spirit! The last honest man indeed. What’s done is done. Accept the consequences. A deal is a deal. Your grandfather would be proud.”

          With shaking hands and sweat on his lip, brow, and chin, D.J. brought Bud the bill. He cleared his throat.

          “So, I keep an honest house here. If you look up at the board you’ll see the charges match what’s on your bill.” Bud’s eyes looked up at the vintage rear-lit plastic display board mounted on the wall.

          “Four bottles of beer – those were $3 each, and two shots of Jameson’s. It’s during the week so those are half price, $2.50 each. That’s $17 for the drinks. Pretzels in a bowl are free.”

          “Excellent! Money well spent!”

          From nowhere, a red leather wallet appeared in Bud’s hand. He opened it and pulled out two 20s.

          “Do you accept cash?”

          D.J. cleared his throat again.

          “You forgot about the pizza. It’s not on the menu.”

          Bud looked at the empty plate on the counter. “You gave it to me. We shared it.”

          “No. I made it for you, upon your request. You asked for it. I ate popcorn. I sold you drinks and a pizza, and you ate and drank them all. Pizza is not a regular menu item.”

          “You didn’t tell me the price.”

          “And you didn’t ask. But you still ate the whole thing. Given that it’s a specialty item, the only one I have ever sold in this establishment, there’s no pricing history to go on. The price for this unique item is one soul: Mine.”

          “No.” Bud shook his head.

          “Yes. I believe that’s fair. The pizza costs $6.99 retail. I was born with my soul, it cost me nothing. You were willing to spot me five dollars to play with you. Instead you got a $7 pizza in exchange for something that cost me nothing. I think you came out ahead.”

          Bud stared at D.J. for a moment. D.J. forced himself to hold his stare, unsure if Bud’s eyes were dark brown, black, or blood red. Perhaps they were all those colors.

The room felt cold. In his mind, D.J. was screaming.

Bud started to smile. He laid the two 20s on the bar.

“There are rules. You played a good game. Perhaps we’ll play again one day.”

He rose from his stool and walked to the door.

“Maybe,” D.J. said. “Hope not.”



Gene Lass has been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years, working in all forms of media from newspapers and magazines to books and blogs. He has written, edited, co-written, or contributed to more than a dozen books, and has published 9 books of poetry, the most recent of which, American was one of the Amazon Top 100 Books of American Poetry. His poetry has appeared in Every Day Poems and The Albatross. His fiction has appeared in The Albatross, KSquare, Electric Velocipede, Schlock!, Coffin Bell Journal, and Black Petals. His short story, “Fence Sitter” was nominated for Best of the Web in 2020. 




to turn on the tv/change channels?

Sophia Wiseman-Rose is a Paramedic and an Episcopalian nun. Both careers have provided a great deal of exposure to the extremes in life and have provided great inspiration for her.  

 She is currently spending time with her four lovely grown children and making plans to move back to her home in the UK in the Autumn.  

 In addition, Sophia had a few poems in the last edition of Black Petals Horror/Science Fiction Magazine

 

https://www.artstation.com/sophiaw-r6

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