The Ace Of Spades
November 3, 2012
— ace of spades, demons playing poker, Devil, flash fiction, halloween story, poker game, royal flushes, scary halloween story, short story, unique poker, vice
By Roge Slater
This is the third piece in a series of Halloween specials here on strange bOUnce. The brief was simple: all stories must begin with the same opening line, and revolve around a poker game played by demons. Writers were encouraged to then let their imagination decide the rest, imprinting their own unique style on their version of this seasonal short story.
They sat around the poker table.
Each was more foul, their actions more onerous, than the previous. Like an eternal optical illusion there was no start and no end, but an increasing spiral of evil, intensified by each realisation and every thought.
And yet here, no one individual was the most evil.
Not even Mephistopheles, the keeper of souls; his every breath coated with the odour of rotting flesh as the spirits he holds pass momentarily from one world to the next. Each transition increases his power, sees his attraction to the evil that remains in all of us grow like clouds of smoke rising from a new fire, rolling and folding, increasingly emergent with every final breath.
Or Amy, benign in name but far from it in spirit: a senior demon in Christian theology and the presiding demon of Hell. His aura was that of intense fire, engulfing, capturing the weak-spirited that found themselves nearby, each adding to the power and the demonic wiles of the pretender to the throne. Manipulative and capable of multiple existences, one of them was here, sitting at this table of wrath, while others maintained his quest for power in another plane, waging battle upon battle against humanity.
Then there was Leviathan: transforming at will from sea monster to serpent, a ruler of hell and the afterlife and one third (the most evil) of the triad of Kings. Alluring and luring at a glance, then in a split second transforming to the most evil of monsters, not to devour his pray but to feast on the terror that his image creates.
Finally, together yet apart, adjacent and yet opposed, Abaddon (The Destroyer) and Astaroth. A Prince of Hell and a Chief Devil respectively, each responsible for the evils that are lust and temptation. Each capable of guiding their disciples to torture and damnation in perpetuity, destined for the eternity that is the second level of hell.
A swirling draught created a circle around the table and inside this invisible ring the thoughts and wishes of these five most evil demons were transmitted — without acknowledgement or sound — an ethereal pentacle linking each to each other as a vehicle of transmission.
The game began in a void. Not the silence that may be expected, but in a silence that was overpowering and all-encompassing in its depth, as the combined evil sucked at the atmosphere, draining it of any sensation — even drawing in the light, dull as it was, into the vacuum of soulless destiny.
The combatants — for that is what they were — were each gaining strength from their foes as one evil fed another, tipping the balance of power one way and then another as destiny balanced precariously on the edge of the chasm the game had created in the very heart of time. Each card chosen and each card laid in turn ripped and tore at the feint threads that were holding humanity together.
Every laconic movement of these combined evils stirred up a yet more dense and pungent fog than its predecessor, until the room was filled with the dank mist of death. Then the atmosphere would momentarily abate as the demons awaited their final card; the card that would decide the victor, the card that would grant a temporary authority over peers and ethereal empires, the card that would complete the sequence.
With no sense of passing minutes, hours, days, years, aeons, the game continued, each hand played and won with uncountable souls bet and lost, but still the sequence was incomplete; no hand was great enough to achieve the pinnacle of demonic mastery.
The stakes grew higher with every round. Spirits were the currency bartered and traded, the service of the living rated higher than the eternal adulation of a dead servant, and the bloodletting of a thousand disciples beaten by the eternal torture of the lustful living. The destruction and devastation being wrought on humanity at the turn of each card would take generations to recover — if any real recovery was possible — but in truth, humanity was the master of its own destruction, providing the want and the need (and more importantly the power) that these demons both needed and thrived on to go about their business.
The bartering was not of the physicality of life, but of destiny, as each card was laid. Earthly tragedy was played out with every hand, the supplication of races their only plea for leniency, but even these pleas were too numerous and ever weakening to be resolved.
And then it was time.
The cards were about to fall one more time; the sequence would be complete.
The pack had been turned and shuffled and dealt a thousand times, and now, finally — though the players didn’t know it — the final sequence, that which would determine the future of both evil and destiny, was at hand.
The stakes had risen like insatiable flames on a hay bail this hand, each player sitting with four cards of a royal flush, each in a different suit (as the five were playing Demon Stud using a De La Rue pack with the fifth ‘Royals’ suit added to Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds and Spades), yet none could see even their own cards any longer as swirling clouds of darkness enveloped the table. Each knew they sat on a winning hand, yet were oblivious to the repeated thoughts in their soulless minds that their opponents too could be victors, their own greed and lust for power finally becoming their destroyer.
Each of the final five cards was laid in turn, each bringing one side of the ethereal pentacle to a crescendo of intense light. As the final card was laid and the five pointed star completed, there was a rush of air stronger than that if all the hurricanes of the world had combined, the intense volume greater that a multitude of concurrent explosions. In unison the demons shattered as if they were glass. The fine dust that remained was caught by the winds and distributed throughout the very substance of time.
As the wind subsided, the dust and darkness cleared and all that remained were those final cards.
The Ace Of Spades by Roger Slater is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.