Five of Hearts: 'Nightmare'
Gee, it was a long, long time ago. It was when this white hair was dark brown and these here knobby knees were brand new. It was when I saw a Gun. The real deal.
Naw, naw, not that old shooter that there man had a few years back. That warn't no Gun! That were a cheap tossoff with a crude heart inna handle. You saw that man die in his own blood. I sure wish youse hadn't...
Listen up, chilluns. My old bones won't be knocking around these here parts much longer, and I has more than a few stories what to tell you afore I goes. Gather round...I's only gonna say this once.
I was 8, 10, hell, maybe 12-ish, Lord knows I can't remember. The part I remembers best is that I was cocky and oh-so-sure of mahself.
Just loungin' around the saloon, I was, lookin' for a quick drink, smoke, or pick-up poker game. Like you, Johnny. Almost exactly like you. Yeh see, these here old bones are more mobile than you give 'em credit fo-
Alright, alright, I'll continue! Gimme a sec to catch mah breath.
So, heres I was, and heres was old Mickey Malone. Yes, he sired old Pappy Malone, and yes, he sired Elizabeth, Johnny. Barely managed to make Pappy afores he died, anyway.
This here Mickey what you might call a rustler. Dunno if that reely fits him, though, he was more of a killer whenever he put his mind to it. Mickey was a bad, bad sort, so naturally, every boy looked up to him and wanted to be menacing like him. What his only redeeming feature was that he was always kind to them, and proud as punch of his baby son. He lost his family to a fire, ya see. Messed with him real bad, it did. He-
What's that? The Gun? You just wanna hear about the Gun. Alright. Here's what happened.
A sneaky stranger cames inter town, and when Mickey wanted his gun, and sneak up to him in the middle of the night to get it, him what was blew Mickey's head off.
Heh, he, he. Happy now?
Oh, so now you want to hear the real story. Well, that was the real story, Mary Ann. I'm sorry that Johnny had to spoil it for you. Okay, baby, I'll tell it. Thank you for saying please.
Dis stranger comes up in the dusk, when the last line of sun is what's on the horizon. He's dressed all in a dark, dark grey. Not a straight black like his hoss was, though that hoss was a fine, fine Arabian. This hoss, though, made all the old 'uns who warn't nappin' set up and take notice. For its mane was white, and its eyes were a shade of pink. Like an albino, see, but it's coat should have been white, too, not this dull shade of black that what made this horse become part of the shade it crossed.
He rode up to our saloon and dismounted, and tied his hoss to the post. The hoss didn't twitch after he left it, but I's what saw it's eyes tracking him as he went into the bar. I follered him. Most everybody did. We's all wanted to see what this there stranger was, and a few stopped to inspect his horse. That hoss didn't move a muscle, not a whinny, not a tailflick came out of it. Even the flies just buzzed around it like it wasn't there.
I entered the saloon. This man jest strode up to the bartender and held up his finger for one. Sat down and didn't say a word. Ignored all the glances directed his way. Just sat and drank his whiskey in silence.
He had finished his whiskey some time later, and jest stared into that there glass, ruminating.
I was working up the courage to approach him, and I's almost had it, too, when we's all hear an agonized scream from outside, and a sound of sobbing. The stranger stirred a bit, and methinks that he sighed, but he still made nary a noise. He got up, with his gray leather greatcoat swirling around him, raised a finger for another, tossed the coin on the bar to get it, and turned on his heel and strode outside. His coat parted a bit as he turned, and I catch a dark flash, like light glinting off darkened steel. That flash stuck around in my eyes for an annoying time, so my vision warn't as good as it coulda been.
I follered him outside, to find him facing Mickey Malone. Mickey was standing in front of Ralphie, a big lanky brute of a boy, with a habit of doing first and thinking later. Ralphie was sobbing. What remained of his hand was wrapped up in a crude hankie, with blood staining the dry dirt. The hoss was jest standing there, jest standing there...with blood trickling down its chin. I watched as a pink tongue stained with red cleaned its mouth off, removing th' criminal trickle.
Mickey growled 'I don't know you or this devil beast of yours, but you best pay for this boy' hurt or geddouta town. We tolerate no killin' here.'
A coupla snorts arose at this, but Mickey shot a look at the crowd, and a few faces turned pale or ducked out of sight.
The stranger finally spoke, his voice surprisingly loud and smooth. Slightly high-pitched, too. Curious for a man that size. 'Did he touch the horse more than once?' he said.
Mickey blustered 'So what if he did? Ain't no hoss got a right to bite off a young man's fingers!"
The stranger paused and turned his head, transfixing Ralphie with one glinting black eye.
'Did he look in the horse's mouth?'
Ralphie gulped and turned pale.
The stranger repeated 'Did he look in the horse's mouth?'
The square was quiet. The silence of fear, pain, an' shame.
'AAAAAH, WHAT'S ALL THIS DARN RUCKUS ABOUT? AIN'T NO SOUL DISCONSIDERATE ENUFF TO CAUSE THIS MUCH PEACE!'
Everybody snapped. The stranger and Mickey most of all, pointing their guns at Old Man Mallard who stumbled out of the bar with a bottle in his hand. He went crosseyed, starin' at the barrel that graced the end of his nose.
'...well, barkeep said that yore room wuz ready, sire' he blubbered out, staining his pants, afore the cheap drink took its toll and he collapsed in the dust. Nobody notice Ralphie edge towards the main street and then take off runnin'.
The old man wasn't the only one paralyzed by the sight of the stranger's gun. We was all staring at it. But only Mickey and I, I do believe, noticed the most curious part about that fine shootin'-iron.
The gun itself was a beauty. Glossy ebony formed that revolver's handle and the gunmetal was a deep, deep bluish-black, with inlaid silver curlicues. The barrel was pretty durn long, bout 8 inches or so. But that wasn't the most striking part about the gun.
A silver heart with a fancy 5 innit was inlaid at the bottom of the handle, right where the crosshatching met the smooth ebony and just above the end of the handle. The gunslinger had long, slender fingers, and they shifted to cover that 5, the only bright part of the gun. He quickly holstered it, and everybody's eyes followed the fluid motion. Mine and Mickey's most of all.
Turning around, the stranger flipped 5 coins to Mickey, one right after the other, his dusky fingers producin' them from some hollow deep in his coat.
'Take these. Give them to the boy. Tell him that I apologize for my horse's behavior. Also tell him to never let it see him again.' With that, he swirled inside, the coat billowing around him as the door-flaps parted to let him enter.
Mickey hesitated for a moment, thinkin', afore he headed off toward's Ralphie's mam's place. As he done so, his hand brushed the handle of his own slugtosser. I done seen many strange and frightenin' thing's but one of the most terrifying things on a man's face is unbridled greed. And in Mickey's case, greed for the Card...
The rest of the afternoon passed in a blur, the bar quieter than usual. Did I mention that the saloon's made like a circle, with nice big bay winders on every side? Yes, about 10 years ago it burned down, some say from another Gun, and they rebuilt it in a square, the way it shoulda been in the first place. Anyway, it's still smack dab in the middle of town. Youse could often tell who was bein' hunted, because they'd either sit with their backs against whatever part was shadowy at the time or they'd jest head upstairs. One of the strange things was, only 10 winders were broken in 50 years. The oldest winder was even saved from the fire. It's tinted black and amber now, but youse can still see through it.
Yes, yes, you know these things. Pardon your old uncle a few minutes of rememberin'.
Anyways, eventually the stranger come out on the massive porch that circled the whole saloon. He just set there in a rocking chair, tilted him hat over him head, and slept, apparently. Not a body bothered to wake him when the town went to bed. We'd all seen the killin' look in Mickey's eyes. I hid outside in an old beer barrel with a bunch o' peepholes, just across from the stranger, and set up to wait. A few shots from a warm bottle of whiskey kept me awake, but I's was still nodding off when a man comes along, creepin' fit to beat a cat. From his boots, he looked to be Matthias Johnson, a sometime drunk with a vicious streak. Matt was known for him tracking skills when he warn't passed out with a bottle of Dead Scratch.
Anyway, that there hoss, the creepiest hoss I's ever seen, stamps its foot once. Once. The only movement it make all day, and Matthias never seen it.
The gunslinger's eyes open under his hat, and I nearly try to back up afore rememberin' where I was. His eyes, yeh see, had turned silver. As it was, my bottle clinked into the iron hoop, and for a second I thought that I was dead meat. Deader than the Black Joker, so they say.
However, Matthias was so fixin' on the glint of silver in the holster that he completely miss the dark shadow creeping up behind him. All of a sudden, it lashes out, and I see the brawny arms of Mickey Malone as a garrotin' wire wraps around old Matt's throat. Felt sorry for the pore bastard then.
Well, it was over in a coupla seconds, with the dust soakin' up Matt's blood as Mickey lowers him corpse to the ground quietly. I had closed my eyes, so I can't tell you what it looked like, Johnny. I open them up a peek to see that Mickey is towerin' over the gunslinger, with his shining wire at the ready. He raise his hands up above his head, stretchin' the wire as tight as he can, and grin, mouthin' summat that I can't tell what is. The gunslinger, still breathin steadily like a babby, chest risin' and fallin', flick his shiny eyes around, and they fix on me.
They narrow, and I almost die of fright.
Then they flick to the side and down, and with a blur of motion the Card is out and up by his side. He whirls out of the seat, his greatcoat flapping like the wings of a desert hawk.
Did I mention that there was a new moon on that night? The sky was dark, and only the closest of people could even see another. So I could barely see the two, and almost missed the puff of smoke as the Card blasted right through Mickey's bloody wire and his head with the same silver flash. The Five of Hearts made nary a noise, but Mickey claps his hands to his ears afore what that part of his brain that warn't paintin' the winder behind him 'membered that he was dead. The gunslinger squeaked the chair around so that Mickey fell into it, and then tilted Mickey's hat down below the new hole in his head. He left him there, gently rockin' to a stop, an' I swear with me dyin' breath that he winked at me as he passed by with a rustle.
I watched as he sheathed the Card and mounted that horse, if it was a horse, and spun around, galloping off into the darkness beyond the town, leaving behind a man with half a throat an' a man with half a brain. As the sun rose the next day over Mickey's corpse, we all noticed one thing: it cast no shadow.
And come to remember it, neither the gunslinger nor that hoss of his cast one either, nor left no tracks. Pr'haps that's why they stick to the shade.
And there's the tale of the Five of Hearts, chilluns, the Card that lets its user see in the dark like 'twas day, move wi'out a sound, leave nary a trace, and kill silently. The Card that forever strips the souls from the dead and binds them to itself.
Truly the stuff that a Nightmare is made of.
|Spades:||2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - J - Q - K - A|
|Hearts:||2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - J - Q - K - A|
|Clubs:||2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - J - Q - K - A|
|Diamonds:||2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - J - Q - K - A|
|Jokers:||Red Joker - Black Joker|
|Introduction - The World - Gameplay - Stories of the world |
On the Attainment, Ownership and Passing of The Cards
Variant Rule: Hands