Open 2021 Open Stories - Lanka Bhavishya


A Castle of Cards
By Lanka Bhavishya


I twinged at the loud ping of the parlor bell, the glass door swinging open to present Barry Greenstein with a crooked smile.


I rolled my eyes at him.


“Now that we have the Robin Hood of poker on the aisle, shall we begin the game pals?”

Without wasting another second I dealt the already shuffled cards among the six of us seated around the oval table. Five cards each, face down.


“We’re seeing you a lot lately Dan. Are the resources running low?” Hoyt, the cowboy remarked. I didn’t have a poker nickname so they called me by my name.


“Boss fired me last week,” I informed him, trying to appear rather nonchalant, “I need the money. Shall we continue?”


“Sure. And since you’re desperate, you’re betting blind and cowboy goes Ante,” Greenstein guffawed, but with an air of authority he obviously held in our posse. We complied, putting our bets into the pot in the middle. My heart thumped as I lifted my five. Five cards of the same suit- Hearts. I had the king, Queen, Jack, Ace and a Deuce - a regular flush.

“Not bad!” I thought to myself. I could go on for more than a couple of rounds with it.


There was silence in the table as everyone calculated their chances. It was going to take a while.


I eased myself into the chair and stared down at my cards, calculating. As the waiting moments slugged by, the air around the parlor began to still, making it damp, even heavy on some shoulders. It was quite unusual for a winter evening like this but definitely not less uncomfortable.


I slouched further into my chair, eyes never leaving the flush when I noticed something bizarre. Did the king just… flicker his eyes? I blinked and glanced around the table just to make sure I hadn’t fallen asleep or something. I looked back down and my mind went for a sudden swirl as on cue, all the five cards started to stir with life- eyes, lips, hands all moving on their own accord, turning into artificial embodiments of the characters they played. A slight chill ran down my spine as I witnessed five pairs of printed eyes finally fall on me- cold, calculating, mischievous eyes staring me up with a sense of occult mock amusement.


I snapped my focus from the odd enchantment to the sound of coins filling up the pot to a quarter. The bet was at a hundred dollars and it was my turn. There was already a lot of money at stake so I took time contemplating.


“Go for it.” I heard a voice from somewhere close. I looked down at my cards. It was the Ace speaking. I blinked in pure daze as it continued to mouth.


“Although I’m the minister of a kingdom, we are quite similar Dan – You and I. We’ve been veered back and forth from being the lowest roll on a dice to the highest rank, as per their convenience. But at the end we’re just lonely hearts craving for recognition, aren’t we? Ask yourself, how much vigor do you have? Raise the bet and weigh it out.”

After the shock of receiving advice from an unsuspecting pack card receded, I actually thought about it. He was right though, wasn’t he? I decided to go with it and raised the bet to a hundred and fifty initiating another round. By the time it ended, the bet was raised to a three hundred. I looked back at my cards and found the Deuce smiling at me.


“I am the hog – the highest valued card in the German deck. They used to worship me as I could beat the king with only two pips. Now look at me- misplaced in a foreign world and reduced to a worthless numeral! Your boss called you worthless too, hadn’t he? Of course he couldn’t recognize the noble in you. Don’t you want to show him your real worth?”


I didn’t think much thereafter, raising it to a four. I noticed how the brows raised around the table. Another round passed by in a jiffy with some players folding and some adding a few cents to keep game going.


“Milksops.” I snickered. It was the third round and my turn again.


I glanced at my tarots for the day and began a dialogue with the sad Queen who seemed to have started crying.


“I was fifteen when I was pawned off as a trophy to my husband- the king. He drinks a lot, gambles and neglects his responsibilities. He lashes out and blames me for the fall of our kingdom. But I still love him and I always will, for he is the bread winner of our family, the protector of my honor. I know even you haven’t treated your wife too well, but you still owe her a dignified life, don’t you?”


My heart weighed down as she slapped the truth right at me. She was right. I was no different than the king. Before I could contemplate further, another voice spoke up.

“I’m Jack- The young prince who grew up without a father’s love. While he wagered away our life, I was stripped off the promised rights and honor. I loathe him for neglecting me. Just like your son loathes you. But I still hope you can make it up to him.”


I closed my eyes as tiny tears formed around its corners. Subconsciously, I found myself fishing out a crumpled note from my pocket and filling the pot.
It was the final round as four players had folded their cards, giving up. Now it was just Greenstein and me. The tension rose in the parlor as other people began to join in as spectators.


I gulped eyeing the money toppling over from the pot. The chances were bleak but I needed to take them.


“What Dan? Scared already?” Greenstein commented and others sneered behind him.


“I don’t think he’s going to raise it further. He’s always been a weakling.” David Devilfish cooed at me.


“There are six hundred dollars at stake.” I said looking at the King for a word. The king clicks his tongue and scoffs.


“The king of hearts… pfft.” He slurred lazily. “I bet you would have noticed it by now. Why these fleas don’t respect me. I am fair and do not have a moustache like the other kings. It has reduced my manliness to a rat’s! They say I can’t father children because I look like a woman and preached love instead of war. They even called my son illegitimate. I had to prove them wrong, didn’t I? You were called a weakling too. What would you do?”


I shook my head in defiance and got up from the chair. Everyone watched with wide eyes as I flicked open my ancestral watch and tossed it into the pot.


“It was worth a two hundred in 1980s.” I said. Greenstein watched me with a spiteful gaze before adding his own two hundred and calling for a showdown. The player with the highest hand was going to take the pot home. I breathed in a puff of air as they signaled us to flip our cards.


The parlor went unusually silent before a sharp noise blared, numbing my ears. I listened carefully; it was a shrill laugh echoing from the opposite of where I was sitting. The winning wild card – the Joker lay in my contender’s palm, gazing at me and laughing loudly.


“You are a fool.” He said, holding onto his stomach. “I was a commoner who used to entertain these royalties back in their sumptuous court rooms. They beat their thighs and laughed at me when all I did was impersonate them. I wonder who the real fools are!”


The jester stopped laughing and looked at me seriously.


“They were bestowed with everything the world had to offer, yet they went on to narrate a sour tale of their losses, justifying it with their entitlement and foolishness, holding onto false images of the world and themselves. They were all once fine nobles before they fell into this trap and kept falling further and further until they lost everything, just like you have. No one can determine the future in the game of chance called life. The royalty may fall and the ordinary may rise. There’s only one rule to this- if you don’t play well you lose. Remember, No one can really build a castle out of a just a pack of cards.”


His voice echoed through the parlor and the entire universe as my fellow companions passed me pitiful gazes and condolences.

Lanka Bhavishya from India is an amateur writer. 22 years old, studying PG in Geography


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