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House of Cards
It was the typical bar scene. Glassy eyed, tear stained faces gazing blankly into their exotic amber drinks believing all the answers to their fickle issues were staring back at them, in the form of whatever they were drinking. Right, what idiots. Then the masses would leave and come back in a day’s time with a whole new set of crises to drink to, as if they had problems. The funniest part was, their troubles were all the same. They never varied. Breakups, job losses, gambling, a new addition to the family, I’ve heard it all. These moronic individuals had absolutely no individuality. From the day I opened up the Raven’s Call I hated all these miserable gossips and head cases, and this place. I hated this place that never evolved.
Heaven’s Crossing was a prison to me; a prison that kept me shackled in its grip for a good part of my life. That is, until I entered the wood behind my house, the wood no one dared enter, and I drank from a sparkling pond I could see my reflection in. I should have listened when my mother told of the deadly forces that lurk in the thick of the trees; I should have, but I was curious. And so now, 120 years later I return to the prison of my childhood, my reflection still the same as when I first saw it the eternally clear depths. I cannot grasp why I am revisiting this dark part of my soul, but Heaven’s Crossing is once again drawing me to its streets, the streets I ran from so long ago.
I opened the scathed mahogany door and was instantaneously confronted with the familiar, pungent aroma of a few adrift souls shackling themselves to the newly waxed bar table and stool with the unwholesome mixture of exotic amber firewater and the occasional cigarette. The manager of the place, Willy, from his name tag, looked up when I entered, his slate gray eyes pursuing me like he was on a crucial hunt, I, of course, being the succulent prey. I found the table at the back, in a far off corner away from the head cases and miserable gossips at the bar and from the curious, prying eyes of the bizarre manager .
My table in the corner was, for lack of a better word, a catastrophe. It was like the unspoken areas of cities, in shattered ruins and desolate, pushed into a spot away from all decent society and disregarded entirely. My former oak table, it was an insult to even call this thing a table anymore, was covered in a thick layer of dust, and was held together by thick wooden boards, patched hastily with duct tape, one leg shorter than the rest. But, alas, I perched my self there anyway, remembering the days where the Raven’s Call was a decent joint to have a drink or meal in. Well, at least it was a clean place to eat or drink in. I, personally, made sure that was accomplished. I was not about to let this business I fashioned and built fall by the waysides and develop into one of those immoral places by the dock. Apparently, though, this manager doesn’t care what happens to it.
Anyways, I was sitting at the table content to keep to myself and be alone when this Willy character saunters right up to me and begins gawking wide eyed, his mouth hanging open like a child waiting for his first bite of dessert after dinner. I turned my chair away from his broad figure, wholly ignoring the fact that he was there, making it obvious that, under no unreasonable terms, I did not wish to speak with him. But, unsurprisingly, he began to talk to me anyways, his brash and raspy smoker’s tone sending the first kisses of goose bumps running down my spine.
“Excuse me sir, but why are you sitting at this sorry lump of wood when there are so many other tables?” Willy asked me, his hulking form slumping against the table making it creak and groan.
“For your information, Willy, this table used to be of fine wood and architecture, and besides this table is the farthest from any human existence in my, I mean this, establishment.”
“Oh is that right? Well what can I get for ya? You look like the wine type, ya wanna see our wine menu?”
“There was never a wine list here before, and no, I want a scotch and soda, stirred not shaken, on the rocks.” With that I dismissed him, not enjoying the odd way he was gazing at me, as if I was a famous musician, or like he knew me, or something. Besides, his inferior manner of acting was extremely irritating.
About fifteen minutes later he returned to my table, with my scotch and soda, shaken, not stirred as I requested. The service here! It is awful! At least in my time the drinks would be served as the customer requested and in a shorter time. But of course, I don’t own the place anymore so I can’t have a hand in its management.
Anyhow, I turned my back to Willy once again, and once again he didn’t leave, just kept his eyes infuriatingly trained on my back, as if he didn’t have others to bother or to stare at.
“What, what do you want Willy?” I asked through gritted teeth.
“ You look really familiar, just like the owner, um what was his name? Oh, Matthew Nelson you have to be him, you’re a spittin’ image.”
I went blank, and my face was burning. How did he Know? How did he have any idea at all? I made sure when I left no one would know I owned this place.
“Um, no,” I laughed, “I’m not Matthew Nelson, I don’t even know him.”
“Ya have to be him, no one can look exactly like somebody else, and you look exactly like Matt, even ya suit, it looks like somethin’ he would wear.”
“It’s Ma, I mean, no, I am not this man I do not even know who he is, and what is wrong with my suit?” I raised my voice, I couldn’t deny this much longer, I knew he knew, but how?
By this time the head cases and gossips began to listen in to our exchange, even in their drunken stupor, and I started to feel imprisoned again, by these people; these people who care for nothing but finding flaws in others and ruining their reputations.
“Nothing, come here and look at this picture if ya don’t believe me, then tell me it isn’t you.”
He pointed to a black and white photo of me taken over 50 years ago, enlarged and hanging on the opposite wall from where I was sitting. I glared at it for a long time, the whispers and murmurs from the drunkards lost in my ears. I felt my heart thumping in my chest trying to escape, my face was burning, and when I glanced at my hands, they were tremulous. How could I have forgotten that, how? Now I have to give an explanation, and I don’t have any lies to furnish.
“Um well, its similar but…”
“Ok if that doesn’t convince ya,” he said talking more to the inebriated people than to me, jumping on a table. “this will. When I was a kid my pap told me a story about the owner of this here bar. He said that one day a large man came into the bar, acting weirdly and that he started shooting people up. Only two people survived, my pap was one of them. The owner apparently put himself in front of him so he could get away. The owner was shot 16 times in the chest, all in the region of the heart. My pap said they never found the owner and that the next day any trace that he owned the place was gone. But pap said too that he saw the man walking away.”
I was stunned. I remember that day clearly, and I hated to. I remember saving that man and I remember gazing in his eyes as I walked away. I could feel beads of sweat building on my forehead, and the air suddenly felt as if it were made of smoke. The eyes of all these people were on me waiting for an answer. I can’t take it anymore, not all these stares I have no choice, they won’t stop.
“Stop! Ok, you want to know the truth, yes ok? Yes I am Matthew Nelson, and yes I owned this establishment once, why, why do you even care? All you people ever did was get on my back about stuff and I. Am. Sick. Of. It.” I roared seeing red.
“ Ha ha ha, I was just kiddin’ with ya, no need to get angry. The owner is dead.”
“Oh I am him. I am Matthew Nelson.” I hollered, and with shaking hands I unbuttoned my shirt down to my heart and there, dead center, was 16 bullet scars, rising and falling with each heavy breath.
I thrilled at seeing the disbelief and horror in these gossips’ and head cases’ eyes. I took a deliberate step, leaping off the table, and all these people, they fell backwards horrified. Even Willy, cowering in shock, when he revered me a few seconds earlier.
I left that place, not even bothering to pay for my drink. I drove off, seeing the horror on the hypocrites faces. Those people, obsessed with tradition and their rules, I was content knowing that for the first time I broke their rules their way of thinking and living, and their prison came tumbling.