Final Hand

-a flash of something and he was…

Where was he?

At a black table, in a black room. It was all darkness, even the thing across from him, darkness moving in darkness upon the darkness.

We will play. The voice was not a voice, boulders grinding on bedrock in the depths of the sea, menacing.

“play what?” he tried to ask, but he had no voice, made no sound.

The figure reached into the blackness before it and a deck of cards came into being, a deck that shuffled itself in angles impossible, angles that hurt to try and focus on, planes without surfaces sliding perpendicular to perception until one moved towards him and

hurting hurting ow stop it please it hurts her arm, wrenched behind her back, pain as her older brother ground knuckles into the top of her head-

The memory was his sister’s. She was four, and he was the tormentor.


But how was he to play, what was the game? As he hesitated, the darkness in front of him seemed to grow and swell, he tried desperately to understand how to-

Suddenly a memory came, bright and unbidden. Young; his sister had had to stop trick or treating early, disappointed; she’d cried at how little candy she had, so without being asked, he’d put some of his treats into her Halloween bucket.

A small silvery coin dropped onto the sin, and both disappeared.

What had he done? Memory of- something?

It was gone.

But he understood the game now.

And its stakes.

So they played, and each time a fresh Card appeared and a fresh sin blossomed into his mind, he wracked his memory for something, anything, to make amends for it. Thousands, tens of thousands of slights, treacheries, cruelties small and not so small, each countered by a coin of charity, decency, respect, each pair vanishing from his mind as soon as it was played.

But the purse of his memory was growing light, and deck seemed undiminished.

Until the time when there was nothing left save another Card sliding towards him, a sin that made him weep though he had no eyes, sob though he had no lungs, choke though he had no throat. He knew he’d lost not only the game, but all of things that had made him whoever he’d been. As the darkness rose around him, the thought but wait, I forgot and a single tiny coppery coin appeared.

Not nearly enough to pay the outstanding debt.

But it was the last memory of goodness, the one thing left, not to spend, but to take with him.

The darkness would be incomplete.

Tuesday Night

It was a Tuesday night, and we were out drinking at the box. My days off were Wednesday and Thursday, so it was my weekend at that point, but it didn’t really matter much in those days; I didn’t start work until after noon most days, so every night was beer o’clock. On the corner, out front of the convenient store, there was this… I dunno, I think it was some sort of electrical or phone switching box, about waist-high, coated in some sort of hard, stippled green paint. There was a fence of aluminum tubing, just short of waist-high, on three sides of it, spaced such that if you were leaning on the fence, the box was the perfect height and distance away to put your beer and your snacks.

No open container laws, so we called it “the box,” and met there every night. Across the sidewalk, there was a trash-can that we’d sometimes use to play at “throw the empties away.”

Drunken gaijin playing beer-can basketball on the sidewalk.

I don’t think I’d been there long that night when my phone played the little section of MIDI Bach that I used to have as a ringtone.

“Ohmygod, are you watching the NYC live news?? Two planes just hit the world trade center. bush says terrorism”


I really thought I had more to say when I started typing this, but we all know the rest of the story.

In a year, some young person in the United States is going to raise their right hand and swear away the next four years, or however much less is granted them, of their lives. Someone who has never drawn breath while the towers stood.

Yeah, that’s all.