Thursday, September 20, 2007

Toe to Talon

Long, spiny fingers lay like ribbons over the two cards. The knuckles stretched opaque as if the thin bones themselves were apt to split their fleshy casement at any second. Triangulated fingernails slightly pressed into the green of the table and though my gaze was transfixed by the wraith like hands and their slow elegant movements I could feel the oppressive eyes scorching my face with study. I stole a glance at him and for a moment all was still between us.

I looked quickly back at his skeletal digits and struggled to gather my thoughts. The forefingers traced tiny circles almost breaking the felt, and after a moment at most, hypnotically they tempted me to look elsewhere. I felt transfixed, a puppet at the end of a taunt string, tugged smoothly by those fingers. I resisted, but as I slowly lost the battle, my eyes tracked upward with his rising hands, seeing his ebony shirt, loosely folded over his thin frame. A fabric so dark, it appeared a pool of limitless empty black. His right hand with it's clawed fingernail moved upward slowly guiding my gaze to the bony point that was his chin.

My eyes now on his face, I was only more compelled to look steadily upward. Where I dared not look before, I was now helpless to the pull of his scorching eyes. Up past the thin and wasted nose, up past the points of the twin inverted spade tattoos that spilled into his hollow cheeks like dark tears, until at last I saw his encircled eyes. Those vacant, sunken eyeballs steadily focused on mine. I felt stripped naked and exposed before him.

For a moment all was still between us.

Then with a rush, noise dulled and muted, all filtered away. I lost concept of mood or temperature or even time, there were only his eyes. They enveloped me. It was as if their stare swallowed me whole, deeper into their dark depths. Within a fleeting heartbeat all else was lost. I struggled to swim through the force of their cyclonic tug.

Thought ceased, unsustained and forgotten. Even my involuntary systems like breathing and blood flow seemed to stop with an icy chill. I was overcome in the miasma. Only emptiness.

Then a lone thought, called to me from my strangled consciousness, a survival instinct not yet quelled and it urged me to break the gaze. Panic suddenly reset my body, and though I strained to look away, though I knew I must, I could not. I felt a paraplegic in a burning building suddenly ironically regaining the feeling in my legs only to feel the lapping suffocating white hot flame overcome me.

The panic quickly replaced by a slow dull rhythm and even my basest survival instinct was overcome when a guttural, echoing atonal voice rang out, "The only choice is to fold. All others bring darkness. The only choice is to fold. All others bring hellfire." My right hand started to move my cards to the muck, I wanted only to end it.

Just as I was about to release them...

...suddenly, inexplicably I found resistance anew.

My hand hovered there...

...and then a new voice rang out.

It was my own, but as if spoken by another and it said, "I call."

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