Three of the playing cards laid face up on the kitchen table [8 (Heart), King (Spade), King (Diamond)]. A charcoal pinstriped suited man peeked at his cards before looking back at the 12-year-old boy. The boy ran his tongue across his braces, peeking at his cards slightly.
“You’ve played well so far, Larry. So well, far better than I thought you would. It’s a shame this game has to end.”
“Dude, are you gonna shut up or are you gonna make the turn?”
The charcoal pinstriped suited man slipped his hand beneath one of the facedown cards in the middle of the kitchen table, revealing it as a King (Heart).
“This is quite interesting. Your move, Larry.”
Larry’s chips glowed brighter as he pushed them all into the rest of the pile. “I’m all in, dude. You got the balls to follow me in, or are you gonna fold like a pussy?” The charcoal pinstriped suited man’s chips glowed just as bright as he pushed all of them into the pile.
“It’s time to see what the river brings.” The fifth card is an Ace (Spade). “Call.” Larry revealed an Ace (Heart) and a Five (Club).
“Full house, dude, Aces and Kings. Think you can beat that?” The charcoal pinstriped suited man revealed a King (Club) and a Seven (Heart). Blood trickled out of Larry’s mouth. Each drop that touched his skin turned it to stone.
“Wghah ghav yoah don to me?”
“The same thing you did to your friends when you played this game. You all knew the stakes going in.”
The blood poured faster out of Larry’s mouth, stone creeping up his body until he was a statue sitting at the head of his family’s dining room table. The chips melded into a column of light, shattering the ceiling above. The pinstriped charcoal suited man collected the cards, placed them in a black tin, then sealed it tight. He didn’t look back at the other statues sitting at the table as he left Larry’s house.
You did well, Nathaniel. The words buzzed in the pinstriped charcoal suited man’s ears as he walked to the faded midnight black Camry parked adjacent to the outside curb of Larry’s house. I should have thought of playing against children first.
“Parents were more protective back then. It wouldn’t have worked. Your previous host would have been shot on sight.”
That…is quite true.
Nathaniel opened the driver’s side door of his Camry, settled in the driver’s seat before putting in the keys. The local talk radio station played the news about the death of the Hightower family, of Timmy Hightower’s struggles to wake up from a coma.
Nathaniel, start finding players for the next game.
“This quickly? We need to lay low for awhile.”
This is a rare opportunity. If we can get him… Make it happen, Nathaniel. Do you understand? Nathaniel nodded as he turned the ignition, set the Camry to D, and drove normally out of Larry’s neighborhood.
“How’s the father doing?”
“Not so well. He had to be sedated and taken to the hospital. You wouldn’t being doing that well either if you found his kid and four of friends…”
“How did they do it though, Chief? Did each kid slit the others wrist and then watched each other die? Where’s all the blood?”
“All of these are good questions. This is just too damn weird for our detectives to handle. I mean, they’ll have to try and figure out what happened. It’s their job, but I don’t think they’ll solve this. I might need some outside help.”
“Outside help? Like FBI?”
“No. I think I’m staying local on this one.”
“Wait. If you’re thinking who I’m thinking, this might even be too weird for him. Besides, he…”
“I know. I know. I hope he makes it. We need him more than ever.”
Where am I? Why did you do this? WhereamI? Whydidyoudothis? WhereamIwhydidyoudothis?
Leopold Franz watched Timmy Hightower’s eyes flutter beneath his eyelids before snapping open.
“You’re…awake. Thank God. I thought…I lost you.”
“You’re at…St. Joseph’s. You, your mom, and dad…got into a really bad accident on the highway.”
“But my mom’s already dead and my dad is…”
Leopold placed a finger to Timmy’s lips. “Good…you’re in there. I need you to…relax. In a minute or two, the night nurse is going to come in and check on you. You…need to act like the boy as best as you can.”
“Why should I trust you?”
“Because he’s asked me…to make sure I watch over you while you are in this body.”
“I can escape this body. Watch.” Timmy Hightower grit his teeth, clenched his fists, shut his eyes. The EKG played faster. Timmy opened his eyes and noticed how he’s still tethered to his hospital bed. “Why isn’t this working? Why am I here? What have you done,” Timmy asked the ceiling.
“We’ve got about…thirty seconds. The boy’s memories…are intact. Access them…and use them. You’ll need to play along…in order to get out of here.”
“Do you trust me?”
“I don’t have a choice do I?”
“You do. If you say who you really are though, it’ll be written off…as brain damage. You’ll be in here…a lot longer.” Leopold heard the sneakers of the night nurse squeaking closer. “Well?”
Timmy closed his eyes again, thrashed beneath his eyelids before opening again. “Uncle Leo, is that you? What happened?”
“Timmy, thank God. I thought…I lost you. You, your mom, and dad got into a really bad accident on Highway 27.”
“Are…they ok? Where are they?”
The night nurse walked into Timmy’s hospital room, watched Leopold take Timmy’s hand into his. She held back her own tears as a slowly sobbing Timmy dived into Leopold’s chest, Leopold’s shirt muffling Timmy’s questions, snot, and wails.
The boy is awake now. You know what to do.
Nathaniel took five random playing cards from the black tin, placed each one in a white envelope, then sealed them. The mailing addresses slowly appeared in gold cursive, with a subtle crimson outline around each letter. He stuck a forever stamp on each envelope, then stacked them in a neat pile. Nathaniel placed them in his inner pocket before walking out of the motel room, to the mailbox at the front of the hotel, feeding it the envelopes one by one.