Flash fiction on "the game that must not be played."
|All in the Game
I first heard of the game that must not be played when I was on shore leave in Hong Kong. That was in 1994, in the back streets of the slums where the stalls stayed open all night and mugging was a career. Ah Song, my self-appointed guide, told me of the game.
“Good game for Chinese fellers,” he said. “But not for foreigners. The Master too good at cards. He bleed you dry.”
I took his word for it and moved the conversation on to drinking places, my real preoccupation at the time. I soon forgot all about the game and was not reminded of it until a similar night in Rio a few years later. It was interesting that there seemed to be a forbidden game in Brazil, as well as China, but no more than that. I really wasn’t a gambling man.
After that, I heard mention of the game occasionally in various ports around the globe. Always in the darkest, dangerous parts of the city and with a warning against getting involved. It was almost as though I was being worked on, the mentions and the taboo conspiring to pique my curiosity until my resistance was worn down.
If that was the intention, it worked eventually. In 2019, on the trip I’d decided would be my last, a sewer rat in the back streets of Marseilles accosted me. “Hey, Monsieur, you want good time? You like les femmes belles? Or maybe le booze cheap, cheap? I get you what you want, no trouble. Maybe gamble un peu, huh? You like les cartes? Ah, I see you want gamble. Muscat he know best gambling places, he show you.”
I could see where this was going and decided to cut to the chase. “How about the game that must not be played?” I asked.
His patter ceased immediately. “What do you know of that? C’est not for les foreigners. C’est le jeu interdit. Taboo, tu connait."
He fought a long rearguard over it but I persuaded him in the end. He took me down a dark alley and, after several bends and twists, we arrived at a shed leaning up against the wall of a dilapidated house. My guide pointed at the door of the shed.
I paid him a few francs and entered. When my eyes became accustomed to the darkness, I could see that I was faced with nothing but a man sitting behind a low table. He was dressed in the robes of a Chinese mandarin of the 19th Century, even down to the long pigtail. Without saying a word, he invited me to take the seat opposite him at the table. I sat down.
It has become obvious why he is called the Master. He took me for everything I have, from my money to my possessions, my pride to my self worth. And now we play one last hand. I have nothing left to gamble but my blood.
Word Count: 497
Prompt: The game that must not be played.