by M.A. Carr
A game of Russian Roulette, but with a game of Poker
|Millstone was coal mining town that sat about 5 miles of Dunderberg, California. It was a quiet town where everyone knew one another. They even made friendly talk when wagons were passing by and when they stopped at the local Saloon. Miners, farmers and even towns folk loved seeing the travelers pass through Millstone. But this particular night, something felt odd.
For the first time in a few years, there was a torrential downpour and people seemed to be cheery about the rain. But what they didn't know was that they were going to have an unexpected visitor. While cowboys were waiting for the storm to ease, they began playing a game of poker to pass the time. The doors swung open to see a visitor in all black with a bandanna covering his face walked through the door. The Saloon grew quiet when the unexpected visitor walked to the bar.
"Whiskey. No Ice," he told the bartender. His tone was deep and a bit raspy when the bartender didn't reply back.
There was a group of cowboys sitting in the far corner of the Saloon with the cards still in their hands. The taste of tobacco juice with some gunpowder felt a little burn on the back of his throat as he chugged his drink. Slamming the shot glass on the counter, he made his way towards the four cowboys playing a game of Poker.
"Hey?! What about the pay?" The bartender yelled.
Stopping in his tracks, he looked at the bartender with an sharp glare. Looking forward again as he continued his way towards the table and asked, "Anyone care if I join in?"
The cowboy who was tipping in his chair and asked, "What's on the line?"
"Your soul," the visitor answered.
"You're joking, right?" the cowboy smirked tossing the cards on the table. "I mean, who are you coming in here and wanting to join us for our souls? What are you? The grim reaper?"
"Name's Ryder, but everyone calls me the Taker."
"Why the Taker?"
"That's for you to find out."
All four men fell silent and agreed to the let "the Taker" join in a single game of Poker. "Name's Wayne, by the way. This is George," who was tipping in the chair. "And this is Billy and Dean. What's up for grabs besides our souls?" Wayne joked.
In his coat pocket, The Taker took out what looked like a normal silver pocket-watch as he tossed it on the table. Without staring at the cowboys he said, "This watch contains all the souls of the people who lost at a game of Poker. For each game, one soul would be taken when it came down to the last two people. The winner of the watch gets to set the souls free."
Billy scoffed at the claim and shook his head in disbelief.
The silence filled the Saloon, while Wayne began shuffling the deck to start the game. They didn't know what to say about their guest but then yet, they were curious about him. "I bet that nothing will happen if one of us loses," Dean dared.
The Taker sat down with eyes watching his move and reached back into his coat. "We'll play with these," he suggested. From the eyes of the cowboys, all they saw was a normal deck of cards. What they didn't know was that the cards contained a curse. These cards could sense who's soul was going to caught by the pocket-watch. Shuffling the deck of cards, one by one he was looking at each of the cowboys and seeing who's going to lose. Once he dealt the cards to everyone, they were ready to play Poker. Inside the Spades contained a smoking skull that the Taker could only see. As it would help him see who was going to be next.
Time was beginning to pass by when George became the first to leave the game with only a two-of-a-kind. Once George got out, the other three cowboys stared at the watch, hoping that one of them was going to win it. He could tell that they wanted the watch, but time would tell who would be the last one in the game. George continued to tilt back into his chair, while the other three were getting a little anxious. They weren't sure whether the Taker was bluffing about the whole soul catching watch. With the bandanna still covering his face, they couldn't tell at all.
The speeding process began when Billy and Dean folded their cards, while it was Wayne and the Taker as the last two. There wasn't nothing else to bet with other than the pocket-watch. So in a way, there wasn't much that could be at stake other than their soul at least. The Taker had a feeling that Wayne had a good hand, but how good was it? Laying all the cards on the table, Wayne gave the Taker a big grin and started to grab the watch. But the Taker stopped him so he could show his hand; a Royal flush all in Spades. All four of them became dumbfounded about what had happened. At this point, Wayne was starting to feel horrified about what might happen next. As he slouched in his chair, the Taker took back his pocket-watch and made his way towards the door.
Wayne had gotten up and shouted, "I knew that you were bluffing about that watch."
All the Taker could do was give him a hidden grin and made his way out in the storm.
Later that night while everyone was asleep, the storm subsided a little. The Taker had found out where Wayne lived and made a visit to him when he was alone. He found the lone cowboy sitting on his bed and said, "Time to pay your end of the bet."
"How did you find me?" Wayne demanded. "What do you want from me? My soul or are you still bluffing?"
"Time to pay your end of the bet," he repeated.
Without keeping an eye away from the Taker, Wayne searched for his revolver. But couldn't feel around for it in time when the Taker began swinging the watch back and forth. It was a sort of a trance that the Taker had put on Wayne, while he sat himself down on his bed. At a steady pace, Wayne could see his soul starting to leave his body as he didn't have the strength to fight back. The body became limp against the wall as the watch stopped swinging. The Taker felt energized after the transfer of the soul. While he left the limp body on the bed, it was time for the Taker to leave Millstone and continue his travels.
Later that morning, Billy stopped by to see if Wayne was around when he came across his body. With his lifeless body on the bed, Billy ran out of the house as he yelled, "WAYNE'S DEAD! WAYNE'S DEAD!" George wasn't too far from Wayne's house and ran inside to make sure it wasn't true. Right behind him, Dean walked in noticed something laying next to Wayne's body; It was the Ace of Spades. As it showed the smoking skull inside of it this time.
Three pale faces like they had seen a ghost, as they stared at one another. They came to realize that the Taker wasn't bluffing at all. While George and Billy stayed behind to find a way to cover their friend, Dean had gone out and asked everyone about the visitor from the previous night. An old farmer overheard Dean asking around as he couldn't help, but overhear.
"Why are you asking about the Taker?" the old farmer demanded.
"You know what I'm talking about?" Dean replied.
The old farmer had let out of a heavy sigh and said, "Yeah. I know him."
"Who is he?"
"No one really knows, that son," he began. "But the story goes that he's known as the Western Boogeyman. There isn't much of a backstory to him but on stormy nights, he searches for Poker players to add to his soul collection. Guess you can say that he's the Devil in disguise. The loser of the game has to lose his soul in order for him to feed. The silver pocket-watch contains the lost souls of Poker players.
Dean seemed stunned from what he was hearing.
"Unfortunately, there's no way you can defeat him," the farmer added. "The more souls he collects, the stronger the Taker gets."
The farmer could tell that Dean played Poker with him the previous night along with Billy, George and Wayne. "The best way to honor your friend, is to bury him on sacred ground," the farmer suggested. "Even though he took his soul, it's the least you could do for your friend."
Dean didn't know what to say as he listened to the old farmer. Billy and George carried his coffin into the cemetery and hoped that their good friend would be honored and hope that somehow the sacred ground could help.