Estimated reading time — 10 minutes
Three and seven; the fold was imminent.
I looked conspicuously around at the other two player’s faces to see if they were pleased with their hands. Number two gave a slight gaze of confidence in his elevated eyebrows and balanced lips. He has to have something good in his hand if he’s giving those kinds of looks under these circumstances. I looked over to number five. Apart from his intimidated look, his hands were shaking so nervously that I was surprised he could even get a good read on his cards. He’s clearly cracking under the pressure; he can’t take much more of this. Hell, I’m not even sure if I can.
There were ten of us at the start of the game, now only three remained. Time is ticking down; one of us is going to be the winner of this twisted game of poker. Our lives are on the line after all.
It’s hard to recall how I got here. I came to Vegas to get a weekend away from the norm I was used to. I booked a hotel planning to spend the money I made that week on slots and gambling tables. The last thing I remember was yelling at one of the dealers in the casino during a drunken stupor, and then I woke up here with nine others just as confused as I was. When we first woke up most of us were begging for answers, others were screaming for them. We were trapped in individual chairs by leg restraints, unable to move our legs the slightest inch, yet our arms could be moved about as freely as we wanted to. We were trapped and gathered for unknown reasons, in some dark room, in some unknown location.
We all had a look about us, the one thing we all had in common; gamblers. People who spent way too much of their time at the tables for one more chance at hitting it big. Like the stench of flirting with chance countless times reeked abundantly on our sweat ridden clothes. It was the sole reason as to why we were kidnapped and restrained around a poker table; the monument to all our sins.
The room itself was dank and filthy. Grime and muck littered the plastered walls like a rotted carcass. A single light hung down from the ceiling over the poker table that sat before us, just enough to illuminate the surroundings so we wouldn’t be completely grossed out by the state of the room. A heavy steel door was the only sign of escape from this hell hole, though it’s not like we were in a position to make a run for it anyway. The only other items of interest in the room were two cameras in opposite corners along the wall and a single speaker system just above the door. That was how our captor would communicate with us.
“Number seven!” the man over the speaker yelled. “Make a choice, you’re holding up the game.”
I was kicked out of my train of thought and looked back down at my hand. Three of diamonds and the seven of clubs; a pretty shitty hand no matter the situation. Of course, the flop hadn’t taken place yet so it was still pretty earlier to cast out my chances completely. There were no chips on the line in this game. This was a special kind of game, one that was being watched over by a psychopath.
“I’ll check,” I said as I tapped the table twice.
“Good,” the voice over the speaker said. “Now we can finally move on with our lives. Two, you’re up.”
That voice over the speaker, he was the one who locked us in here. I only know that because he stated it clearly enough for us all to hear. A few minutes after we woke up he interrupted our panic to tell us why we were here. He said he collected us because we all had a gambling addiction, something that was rather common around the Vegas casinos. Since we liked to play so much, he offered us a chance to play his own little game of gambling with fate.
The rules were simple; a ten man game of Texas Hold ‘Em with no chips involved. The person with the weakest hand at the end of each round would be disqualified and “dealt with” as he put it. Folds were allowed but in order to keep the game going each player was only allowed five folds for the entirety of the game. Last man standing gets the reward, twenty-five million dollars. Before the game began, he proposed the chance for any one of us to drop out of the game. He said that those who chose to drop would be sedated and woken up back in their hotel rooms as if nothing happened. But once the game started, those who chose to play would have to continue playing until they lost.
I don’t know why I didn’t raise my hand to be taken out. I would’ve woken up back in my hotel room, packed my things, and jumped on the first plane back home. None of us wanted to back out with that kind of reward on the table; we were all too enamored with taking stiff chances. I’ll give the guy over the speaker credit for one thing; all of us do have an addiction.
“I’m going to check as well then,” number two said. He seemed overtly confident in his hand, but it could all very well be a façade. It’s never easy to judge people in poker.
Two was the oldest out of the ten of us, and therefore likely had the most experience. He made it this far after all, so something had to be keeping him going. He had a grizzled voice which audibly displayed his wear and tear over the years. He seemed calm and collected, as though he had curiously been in this type of situation before. Maybe he really did; like I said, never easy to judge people in poker.
“Good choice Two,” the voice behind the speaker said. “Five, you’re turn.”
Five never stopped shaking. Between the circumstances around him and the fright of being locked away in some dark room playing a game of poker, he couldn’t control himself. He looked to be the youngest out of all the players, it would’ve come to a surprise to me if he was any age above twenty-one. His glasses were constantly on the verge of dropping off his nose as sweat dripped off his skin like rain drops. It surprises and astounds me how he managed to make it this far; dumb luck I suppose. Still, he didn’t look like he could take much more, and aside from the current condition of his well-being his hand probably wasn’t all that great either.
“I, I don’t want to do this anymore,” Five said nervously. “I can’t take this. Let me out!”
“You had your chance Five!” the voice replied. “You all had a chance to leave but none of you took it! Seven of you already paid for it and you’ll be next if you don’t play your fucking hand!”
Tears started streaming out of the corner of Five’s eyes. He was on the verge of a total psychotic breakdown. He clearly didn’t want to go on; at this point I’m certain none of us did. He was clearly taking it the worst.
“Come on son,” Two said. “I know this is messed up but we don’t have a choice. You’re out of folds, you’ve got to play.”
“Easy for you to say,” Five said behind his blubbered sobs. “You’ve only used one so far! What if I lose this hand? I don’t want to end up like the others.”
The others, how easily they dropped like flies. Number eight was the first to go. She was a pretty young thing, probably in her late twenties if I had to guess. Her final hand was a two and a four, the weakest among the lot of us that round. The man over the speaker thanked her for playing and told her she would be seen out. That was when a large figure who looked to be dressed as some sort of executioner from the past entered the room, grabbed her chair, and dragged her off beyond the door. It was faint from behind the metal, but we could hear her blood curtailing screams echoing from down the hall. It was enough to send all of us into paranoia. Most of us tried to force ourselves out of our chairs and screamed to be let go. That was when the voice told us we had our chance to leave, but the cold truth was that we all chose to stay. We had to play out the game until only one was left. It took a few minutes before everyone had calmed down enough to continue playing, but since then the game has been continuously played with shaking fingers and frightened looks.
Now we were down to three players. Myself and Two both had two folds remaining, Five had none left to spare.
“Seven!” the voice shouted. “Did you forget you’re dealing this round? Play the flop!”
I looked down at the deck of cards in front of me, a stack of cheap cardboard that hung our fate in the balance. We all had proved we loved gambling with fate by agreeing to play this game, but none of us had gambled to such an extreme before.
I slowly picked up the deck and began to play the cards. Burn, flip, flip, flip.
The flop consisted of the Ace of Hearts, the Jack of Spades, and the Six of Hearts. My hand was looking weaker by the second. Two kept his composure while Five continued to sob behind his two cards.
“Well well well,” the voice said, “interesting line up. Seems you’re stuck with those cards Five, but will either of you two want to fold I wonder?”
My chances of winning this hand were looking slim. I had two folds left, maybe now was the time to use one of them. I’ve played poker plenty of times before, and this type of lineup usually didn’t turn its way back around in my favor. Reluctantly, I had to do it.
“Fold,” I said as I tossed my cards towards the middle of the table.
“Hmm,” the voice replied, “interesting choice Seven. Though I can’t really blame you, your hand was pretty sad.”
I gave a disgusted look to one of the cameras. I had half the mind to flip off that annoying prick behind the speaker, but I didn’t want end up like the others nor push my luck. It was something I wasn’t used to.
“I’ll check,” Two said with a sigh.
“Do I have any other choice,” Five said in tandem with sniffles from his nose.
“Keep dealing Seven,” the voice said.
I dealt the next cards out onto the table. Burn, flip.
The Six of Clubs laid out next to the line of faced up cards. Two looked back at his hand; Five began to sink deeper into depravity.
“Check” Two said quietly.
I looked to Five to get his response, but he was in no condition to speak. The tears continued to flow from his eyes as he slowly met my gaze with his own. In his eyes I could see absolute loss; the loss of strength, the loss to continue, the loss of all hope within him. He was broken to his very core, lost in a realm between horror and misery that he saw no way of exiting. Fate had played its hand; Five was left to face the consequences.
The final card was the King of Diamonds. It was as though the king himself jumped off the card and swung his axe right across Five’s neck. The poor kid couldn’t control himself at the sight of the king. He started to beg and plead for his life to be spared. And for the first time since the game had started, pleading from one of the players was answered.
“Wait,” the voice said, “don’t flip your cards yet. Number Two, look into Five’s eyes. Look at the desperation on his face. This kid doesn’t want to lose; he doesn’t want to face the consequences of a loser. You can prolong his loss you know. If you fold now, you can give Five another shot at staying in the game. Of course, that’s at the expense of you losing one of your folding privileges. Are you willing to throw away a victory in order to give him another chance? Come on, you like to take gambles; you’ve been doing it all your life. What makes now so different? Just remember what’s at stake.”
For a few moments, Two couldn’t take his eyes of the cards lined up on the table. He seemed to be deep in his own realm of thought, oblivious to the constant pleading coming across the table from Five. It seemed to me that he was thinking long and hard about the possibility of helping Five. Was he willing to lower his chances of winning by raising Five’s chances ever so slightly? But then the more obvious outcome came to mind. He wasn’t sure how he was going to tell this kid he would be signing his death certificate.
Two looked up from his cards and stared right into Five’s bloodshot eyes. And with a look of absolute anguish, he did just that.
“I’m sorry kid, I really am.”
Two flipped his hand over on the table revealing the King of Spades and the Six of Diamonds; full house. Five couldn’t utter a word. With a trembling hand he flipped his cards with solemn absolution. The Two of Clubs and the Four of Hearts. His fate was sealed in black and red.
“Tisk, tisk, tisk,” the voice said with wickedness. “Thanks for playing Five, but I do believe it’s time for you to go.”
The metal door swung open with a clang as the executioner made his way towards Five.
“No please, don’t do this!” Five yelled. “I don’t want to die. I’ll never go near a gambling table again, I learned my lesson. Just let me go!”
The executioner attempted to drag Five away in his chair, but the violent thrashing and flailing was too much for him to keep under control. As though possessed by the devil, Five was hell bent on prolonging his death in any way he could. The commotion continued as the voice behind the speaker broke over the screaming.
“Please shut him up, won’t you?”
With quick timing and maneuvering, the executioner was able to wrap his right arm around Five’s neck, putting him in an unfaltering strangle hold. Five began to choke for air as he clawed at the massive arm of the executioner. I gazed upon the scene with a horrified look, wondering how it all could have come to this. Two could only close his eyes and look away, attempting to set himself as far away from the scene as he could. It wasn’t far enough.
Pressure became tighter and tighter as Five desperately tried to cling for life. I watched as Five’s eyes began to roll into the back of his head to the sound of choked gasps of desperation. And with a forceful grunt and swift motion, the executioner snap shifted his entire torso to the right, breaking Five’s neck with a thunderous crack. As he loosened his choke hold around Five’s limp lifeless body, his chair fell back towards the ground emitting a heavy thud. The executioner caught his breath, grabbed the top rail of Five’s chair, and dragged his body off beyond the metal door. Deafening silence filled the room as Two and I sat there in disbelief. It wasn’t until the voice spoke again that the dreadful silence was lifted.
“And then there were two. You both should be congratulating yourselves for making it this far. I’m sure the others would wish they were in your position, too bad for them that they aren’t with us anymore. Think of this next round as a game in honor of their memory. I can’t say this hasn’t been fun, but I do believe we should wrap this up, so Two why don’t you go ahead and deal?”
I looked over to Two with morbid fright. He hadn’t moved an inch since Five had been killed. He was far off in his own repression, attempting to block out the horrors that surrounded us both.
“Two!” the voice blurted. “Pick up the fucking deck and deal the cards!”
He looked up to me with the same look as Five had before I flipped the King of Diamonds. He looked like a man who had seen too much, experienced too much. The tears flowed down his cheek like the tears of a man who was willing to simply let go and fall into the pits of despair. I imagine I had the same look in my eyes as well.
“Whatever happens,” he said, “I’m sorry.”
I gave a quick nod in agreement.
“I am too.”
He slowly grabbed the deck of cards from the table, gave a slow sluggish shuffle, and dealt out two cards for each of us. With trembling hands I slowly swiped up the cards and looked upon them with utter terror.
Four and nine; the fold was imminent.
Credit To – Mike Kane
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