Παρασκευή, 1 Ιουνίου 2018

THE FOUR LANTERNS - DEAD MAN’S HAND

“You see, I am not that good at poker” Astor apologized.
“Oh, do not worry about that, my dear, none of us is. The essence of the game lies somewhere else. It will be an honor if you participate” Lucier said caressing his moustache. 
Astor had one of his usual insomnias that night and he walked around the hotel. He reached the “fortune room” as it was described in the elegant inscription on the door. He got in and found three elderly men sitting on the last felt table at the back. They cordially welcomed him and asked him what he did for a living. 
“I am a naturalist and I study the blue butterflies in Peru. I just got back from my last expedition and I came to rest for a few days at the hotel.”
“Splendid, you will definitely have a lot to bet the pot. It will be just one deal” Lucier said enthusiastically. They had stacked the chips and spoke casually. They wore dark suits, hats and shiny cufflinks. They introduced themselves and he tried to remember their names. The most skinny and talkative was Lucier, with the moustache. Cretine wore glasses and Jisten talked loudly. 
“The rules are not the issue at all. We have reached an age where things far more important than poker rules are slipping away. We don’t bet money. We use experiences and memories, superior to money. Lucier is a textiles trader, Cretine is a taxidermist and I am a cellist. We all have our stories.”
Astor already felt his curiosity piqued and didn’t need to think a lot about it. 
«Ι will gladly join you tonight” he said and sat by the table.
If he had any doubts about his playing they disappeared within the first five minutes.  His poker co-players were lazy and did not hesitate to even ask the others about card combinations. Cretine asked, revealing two of the cards he held in his hand with childish naiveté if it made any sense to try to make a sequence but not all in the same suit, making the others laugh.  
“I was not sure of that either, my friends” Jisten giggled too.
In between the game they talked about their journeys and shared many weird stories that had happened to them. Jisten told a story that made an impact. He talked to them about that mysterious woman in Vienna. She had come to listen to him in a concert with the city’s philharmonic orchestra and when he finished she found him with tears in her ears. She didn’t say a word but she shook his hand and gave him a note saying that his music had moved her very much even though she was deaf-mute. Three men without any trace of arrogance and competition who laughed with their ease and enjoyed the mutual sympathy that had been developed. They looked like boys in the middle of a mischief. After the second cognac in the dining room, where they had met a few hours ago, Cretine proposed a poker game. But none of them was a good player. “It doesn’t matter gentlemen, let’s just say that the winner will get to share his greatest adventure he has experienced so far.” 
Towards the end of the game, which didn’t last long, the players were concentrated on their cards and seemed focused. Jisten and Lucien had one pair, Cretine had nothing and Astor won the game with a two- pair of aces and eights. 
“Oh, you proved yourself a great player, Astor! Congratulations! I hope you have decided which great story to share” Jisten said.
Astor put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a small box. 
“I think I’d better introduce it” he said and opened the box. Inside there was a huge white butterfly with its wings folded. It looked as if it was sleeping upon a cloud of cotton. The elderly men admired it. 
«Τhis is the butterfly for which I travelled to Peru and stayed awake for several nights in the forest. Most of this species have blue and black wings. Evening types, just like us, they fly lazily within their area, as if patrolling. I was waiting still. Three nights had passed and I still hadn’t caught it because it made strange maneuvers as if was trying to impress me, let me see what it can do. It was as if the butterfly knew that I had come for it and tried to avoid me, to save some time. 
“Ιt is like the Death game” Jisten said laughing loudly. Everyone knows that he has come for them and they try to escape in vain.”
“That is a strange thing to say, my friend” Astor told him and stared at him. “You are absolutely right because in the end I managed to catch it and now you get to admire it yourselves. A creature so rare and eerily charming.”
The three men looked at the butterfly for long. It had magnetized them and they said that this story was a fine one and the winner had gained their appreciation and admiration. “This evening was a total success. I think we should call it a night” Lucier said.
“I think you didn’t understand a thing from the story with the butterfly. No matter how hard you try, there is no way of escaping my friends” Astor said without moving while his co- players ran to the door which they found mysteriously locked. 
In the morning the cleaning ladies found the three men down on the floor. The doctor announced that their death had come late at night. Their heart had betrayed them. No one saw Astor with his white butterfly leaving the hotel. 



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