I'm expecting to wake up in a hospital; instead, I'm laying on a rocky floor. I stand up, and quickly check my body for holes. When I find none, I start to look around me, to take in my surroundings. I'm on a plateau; everything, even the sky, is grey, and there is a sharp chill in the air. The only thing that breaks up the grey is a card table in front of me. Seated at it is a man in a black pinstripe suit with a skull for a face. He motions for me to sit, and I realize exactly where I am.
The end had come fast, and like the cliché would suggest, was a staccato series of flashes before my eyes: me, dealing from the bottom of the deck. Me, getting caught dealing from the bottom of the deck. Me getting shot, and bleeding out on the casino floor.
I try not to think of that, but instead to focus on what's in front of me. There's a fresh deck of cards sitting in the middle of the table and a large pile of poker chips at either end. “I bet you're wondering why I did it,” I said, taking the deck out of its wrapper and handing it to him to shuffle.
“You'd lose that bet,” he replies as he gives the deck a quick, hard shuffle and passes it back to me. I tap the top card and he starts dealing. “I know exactlly why you did it,” he opines as the cards started to hit the felt of the table. His mouth doesn't move when he talks, but I can feel his voice in my head. It feels cold.
“Really? Care to enlighten me?”
“You did it because you were afraid of losing. Because you think that losing is a little bit too much like dying, only on a different scale.” He laughs at that. I'm not sure if he meant it to be ironic or philosophical.
“Isn't it, though?” I challenge hm. He ignores my question and keeps talking.
“What you didn't realize, though, is that if you're even considering cheating, you've already lost.”
If his face were more than bleached skull bone, I swear he would be grinning at me, and I want nothing more in this moment than to slap him, although I know it wouldn't do any good. I could have handled Death as a silent Grim Reaper, or even as a black-winged angel. The skinny goth girl version I would have welcomed. But Death as a sanctimonious, moralizing card player? I'm already in hell. “Ante is $5000,” he tells me, and I push in five thousand-dollar chips. He deals me my two pocket cards, but I don't pick them up, instead putting my hand on top of them.
“You're not going to check your cards?” he asks.
“Bad luck to look at them before the flop,” I explain.
He deals three cards face up, and I take a peek at the two he had dealt me. I stifle a smile as I look at the two diamonds in my hand, and the two on the table. I'm probably not even going to need the ace that's still up my sleeve.