“I’ll Take Those Odds” Part Four

It’s October, my favorite time of the year! And even though the pandemic has altered some of my holiday plans, I’ll still decorate my house and enjoy a good bonfire or two and maybe find a corn maze. I’m also really excited about all the quality, spooky TV this October. We’re currently watching Ratched on Netflix, and I am eagerly awaiting the release of The Haunting of Bly Manor this Friday. The Haunting of Hill House was so good, so I hope this next season is just as spine chilling and unsettling. It must be acknowledged that The Haunting of Hill House was nothing like the book. I expect The Haunting of Bly Manor will only borrow loosely from Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. As an author, how do I feel about this? I wonder if Shirley Jackson and Henry James were still alive, how would they feel? I don’t know. I’ve never had someone borrow pieces of my work to create something else. I probably wouldn’t mind if it was as good as The Haunting of Hill House.

Photo by David Menidrey on Unsplash

Anyhow, spooky season is back, and I’m ready not to sleep at night for reasons beyond the upcoming election and the pandemic and the overall state of the world. I’ll take fictional horror over real horror any day, thank you very much.

Speaking of horror, this is a good time to remind you that you can purchase Mountain Gap Book’s Haints and Hollers: New Ghost Tales from Appalachia from Amazon and the Mountain Gap Book’s website. It is excellent under the covers or campfire reading.

Now, on to the writing. Here’s part four of my short story in progress, “I’ll Take Those Odds.” I’ll include a few lines from part three to get us back into the story.

"Excellent. Second player bids first." Death set their glass down, indicating they'd like another pour. Charlotte filled their glass as they studied their hand. 
"I bid ten," Death decided. 
Charlotte nodded and looked at her hand. That was a high and sure bid. "Double nil," Charlotte replied after a moment.
Death laughed. "Bold, Charlotte Reeves, bold. It will be a shame to kill you."
"Bold moves are all I have left," Charlotte explained. She discarded three cards from her hand and took three more from the pile. 
Death leaned in, propping their elbows against the table. "Now the question is, did those three cards just help you or hinder you?"
Charlotte licked her lips. "Let's find out."

"Excellent." Death smiled. They considered their cards for a moment before making the first move. As they were doing so, Charlotte noticed their glass was empty and refilled it. "If you're trying to get my liquored up so I'll mess up, it won't work. I'm not mortal, so I don't get drunk."

"That wasn't my aim," Charlotte assured. 

"Being a nice hostess, then, are you?" Death took a drink and eyed her over the glass. "You wouldn't be the first person to try that trick." Death smiled again. "Your turn, darling."

Charlotte examined the cards on the table, took a breath, and made her fist move.

And so it went, as the minutes ticked on. Death would play and Charlotte would play. A glass would be drained and filled again. Albert would breathe heavily from his crib and Charlotte would fight the urge to go and check on him. At least he was breathing. All the while Death was telling her stories, stories about the people they'd bested, stories about the people who'd lost. 

"Want to know who the biggest crier was? Go on, guess," Death goaded.

"I don't have the faintest idea," Charlotte replied, her tone calm but cold.

"Alexander the Great, wailed the entire time. 'Oh, please don't take me! Please don't take me, I have so much more to live for.' He would not shut up." Death chuckled and took a drink. "Abraham Lincoln was surprisingly stoic, considering the circumstances. Maybe death was preferable to politics?"

Death played another round and Charlotte paused in her motions. "What's the matter, can't follow suit?"

Charlotte ignored them and played a spade. Fortunately for her, it was a low spade. "Looks like I win again." Death reached over and collected the cards, adding the trick to their pile.

"Careful you don't sandbag," Charlotte commented.

That seemed to ruffle Death just a little. "You concentrate on your own hand, Charlotte Reeves."

The air in the room got uncomfortably cool. Charlotte cleared her throat. "Who else made a big fuss when you took them?" she asked. "Who else would surprise me?"

Death considered it for a moment. "Napoleon, although that's probably not surprising. Men tend to cry more than women."

"Also not surprising," Charlotte added.

"Except when children are involved, of course," Death leered. They watched her for a moment. "Genghis Khan was especially fun." Death leaned back and launched into the story.

When the story was done, the game was almost over. Neither of them had reached 500 in the first hand, so they'd had to draw again, but now the end was close. "You said you don't know where husband Frank is, right?"

"That is correct. He is still among the living, somewhere."

"And you don't know what my future holds?"

"My suspicion is it ends tonight."

"But if it doesn't, you can't tell me where I'll be in a year's time?" Charlotte pressed.

"I'm not a prognosticator, no."

Charlotte nodded and they played on in silence, but it was less than comfortable. In those last moments, Death was finally starting to pay attention to the cards on the table. The liquor had run dry, and there were no more stories to be told. "Wait a moment . . ."

"500!" Charlotte proclaimed.

"That's not possible." Death scrutinized the cards. "You cheated," they accused.

"You can't cheat death," Charlotte pointed out. "But you can beat it, fair and square."

"How?" Death was dumbfounded.

"Because you and I are the same, neither of us is God. You don't know what will happen tomorrow anymore than I do. And you don't know everything about me. You said I grew up rough and tough, and that's the truth. I grew up at my Daddy's card table, and I learned everything there is to know about life and death at that table." She took a deep, cleansing breath and looked Death right in the eyes. "Albert will be staying with me."

Death laughed, high and loud. Then their face turned terribly serious and it seemed less human than ever before. "You may keep your child, Charlotte Reeves, for now. You tell no one of this night, do you understand me? No one!"

"I understand."

"Your win saves him this time, but it does not make him immortal," Death pressed on. "If he rolls out of his crib or falls from a tree, or succumbs to the next, foul pestilence, he's mine. Do you understand that?"

"Yes," Charlotte replied, her voice barely a whisper.

Death leaned back, their expression softening. They looked fondly about the small house. "Enjoy your life, Charlotte Reeves, such as it is."

And with that, Death was gone, leaving only a lingering chill behind. Charlotte sat for a moment longer, frozen to the chair. Then she sprang into action, going to the stove and stoking the fire before hurrying to the crib and collecting Albert carefully into her arms. He fussed a little. "It's all right, Albert, Mama's got you. Mama's always got you."

Copyright Anne G'Fellers-Mason, 2020

I think there’s one more portion left to this story. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it.

Usually this time of year I’m in rehearsal for “A Spot On the Hill,” the cemetery play I do every year. The pandemic has changed that this year, but you can watch past stories from the show on the Chester Inn Museum’s YouTube channel.

Until next time, friends, get your spooky on in a safe manner!

Photo by Łukasz Nieścioruk on Unsplash

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