The Hand You’re Dealt by Levi Black
Today I’m excited to get to share a first with you: flash fiction :D. Levi Black’s full-length novel Red Right Hand, is out now! To get an idea of Black’s style, check out his flash fiction “The Hand You’re Dealt” below.
THE HAND YOU’RE DEALT
By Levi Black
Used with permission, all rights reserved.
The air was heavy with lamp soot, coal dust, tobacco smoke, and the damp mist of unwashed humanity. It clung to the inside of his throat, making it tickle, exacerbating his cough.
He took another sip of whiskey.
The finest spirits they had in the saloon.
Still killed the cough before it could hitch his lungs and make them fold in on themselves and squeeze out a fine mist of blood.
The long slender fingers of his other hand tapped the deck of cards on the table in front of him.
“I’m willing to play.”
He looked up at the voice that was soft but heavy enough to carry through the din of Friday night at the Buckboard Saloon. Payday for the men who worked the local coal mine. And for the soiled doves who fluttered among them, seeking to relieve them of their hard-earned company coin.
The voice had fallen from a man of an enviable height, dressed as a circuit preacher does, dark and dour, unrelieved black save for the stiff-starched white of the shirt that gleams like a beacon to all lost sinners.
But this man’s shirt was red, as red as the blood from his lungs.
Still, a hand of cards would pass the hour.
Kill time where you can, for it’s surely killing you.
His chest hitched.
To cover it, he sat up and motioned for the man to take the chair across from him.
The moment the man slid his legs under the table, the room seemed to dim, to muffle.
The skin on the back of his neck prickled as if someone had run their tongue across it.
The Man In Black smiled. There were too many teeth.
“What game would you like to indulge in, John Henry Holliday?”
“Sir, what permission did I give to allow such familiarity that you would use my full name?”
The Man In Black shrugged. “Knowledge demands usage.”
“My name is my own and if I do not allow it to pass my own lips, I surely would not grant you leave to allow it over yours.”
“It is not often I find someone so . . . flawed yet aware of their rights and privileges so well.”
“I am nothing if not a man of privilege, sir.” His chest tightened. So much speaking made them feel as if they were straining liquid through them.
“Please, call me . . .”
“I did not ask for, nor do I desire, your name.”
“You are a strange one. Your kind have killed and died and destroyed each other to learn my name and yet you refuse even the courtesy.”
Doc Holliday allowed a smile to tug at his lips. “Knowledge demands usage.”
The Man In Black leaned back in his chair. “Then we are back to my original question. What game shall we indulge in this eve?”
“What stakes are on the table?”
“Does that truly matter?”
“You know it does.” He reached for his glass of whiskey. A cough escaped before he could take a sip. He caught the blood in his palm.
The Man In Black’s eyes glittered. “What game would be suitable for a pair of lungs that were clear as church bells on a winter’s morn?”
He took a sip and the harsh liquid washed hit throat clear of the tickle. “I have my medicine.”
“Tis a temporary thing.”
“So am I, sir.”
The Man In Black tilted his head in acknowledgment of the truth. “We have agreed upon a game of some form, why not make it for the highest stakes?”
“I may lose.”
“Do you lose often?”
“More often than I prefer.”
“You may very well win.”
“Not if the game is rigged.”
“They are your cards.”
“Then you would deal.”
“Are you attempting to offend my honor as a gambler?”
“As a gambler? No.”
“I have no need to lie or cheat you.”
He thought about it, watching the Man In Black closely, trying to read the honesty in his night black eyes. His chest tightened a little with each heartbeat, the tickle dangling somewhere in the middle of his esophagus like a worm on a hook, waiting to catch his diaphragm and pull it up. That morning he’d woken deaf, the world silent around him.
His ears had filled with blood he’d coughed up during the night, too drunk to turn and spit it clear, and dried into hard plugs.
The tickle shook on its line and he gurgled.
“Deal the cards.” he wheezed “One hand. Five card stud.”
“The stakes as stated?”
He nodded, tossing back the rest of the whiskey.
The Man In Black took up the well-worn cards. A quick shuffle and they flew in alternating streams forming piles in front of them.
Ten cards and done in the blink of an eye.
John Henry ‘Doc’ Holliday choked down the tickle and picked up his hand.
Aces and eights.
The cough hit so hard it felt like a shotgun blast to his guts, folding him over the table as wet clots, like tiny pieces of chopped liver, spattered the rough wood of the table.
The Man In Black smiled.
About the Author
Levi Black is the author of Red Right Hand (Tor Books, on sale July 26th). He lives in Metro Atlanta with his wife and an array of toys, books, records, and comics. He’s been weird his whole life and is almost as scary as he looks.
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