Strangers: The Card Shark


Never gamble in a game you can’t win.

It’s sound advice, though rarely followed.

This evening, I went out to Coffin Farm to sit a bit with Vaughn, one of the older Coffin cousins. He was 90, and not blessed with the great age of his earlier relations. Soon, that line of the family would die out, and it would be a sad day for me. The Coffins had been in Cross as long as the Bloods, and I felt a special affinity for them.

When I reached the farm, I found Vaughn alone in his parlor, which was strange. I had never seen him without one of his older boys around, and the fact that they were absent irked me. I asked where they had gotten themselves to.

Vaughn told me that a new hired-hand had come on, and he was doing a hell of a job. The Coffin boys were out in the small bunkhouse, playing cards with the fellow.

When I asked where the man was from, Vaughn frowned. He had asked the same question, and he had been given an answer, but he couldn’t recall what that answer was.

For a man his age, this would be par for the course.

Not for Vaughn Coffin. The man remembered everything.

It left me with an unsettled feeling, so a little later when Vaughn dozed off in his rocker, I went out to the bunkhouse.

I found two of his sons, Dan and Michael, and a stranger at the table. In the fourth chair, John’s held only a pile of clothes, and no one seemed to notice.

As I stepped further into the room, the hand was thrown down, the cards revealed, and Dan vanished. The son’s clothes collapsed, and the stranger’s eyes rolled up into his head for a moment, his eyes black instead of white. There was the unmistakable grinding of teeth, and a moment later, the stranger was once more grinning and chuckling, his eyes as normal as any man’s might be.

Stepping fully into the room, I put to rounds into the stranger’s face, knocking him out of his chair. As Michael screamed in surprise, I gave the forty-year-old a backhand and sent him in to sit with his father.

The stranger on the floor tried to move, and I emptied the rest of the Colt.

I hate the Hollow.

#horror #monsters #supernatural #death

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Nicholas Efstathiou

Husband, father, and writer.

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