Monsters. True monsters lie not within the mind or the vast reaches of the imagination. They instead are much closer to home and should be feared far more than those that dwell within the temporal and metaphysical state of the mind. They lie within. Deep within each of us, it lies resting; our own personal demon resides in our own hell. It depends on the person’s will on how much that monster shows.
Those with a strong heart and a formidable will, will hardly, if ever, allow it to kick the surface. Only when they pass through the gates and into the arms of the afterlife is that monster purged, allowing only true happiness and tranquility to shine for the rest of eternity. However, in those of ill heart and sinful acts does that demon grow, fermenting on the inside. It becomes something the person isn’t aware of, their personality.
Others may see it but the holder of such a beast sees it in a different light and blames their suspicions on the accuser’s ‘narrow-mindedness’. When these souls pass through judgment, they are given one more thing in their greedy lives, eternity in oblivion with the monster within eating at them from inside. They will suffer from the beast of their own creation. It’s all a card game, each player responsible for their own decisions. Some will play to the end, and with the help of virtue, they will walk with the pot.
Others leave early empty handed. A new game is set in motion. This is not a game too many are familiar with, even though each of us plays it. Rules are in place, though vague and cannot be changed. It really depends on who or what lays their chips down to decide on the rules. Humans aren’t the only ones to play this game.
Under the merciless sun, the recent corpse of one unfortunate doe lay in a small clearing in the forest. So graceful in its life and beautiful in its death. Her death not was not due to an attack from a predator, rather she fell victim to death’s icy hand from an incurable disease.
None wanted this but it was inevitable. Just a simple act of fate playing a cruel card game with life. So here she lay, rotting slowly but surely. Beautiful she was and beautiful she is, as if she was sleeping, not dead. Though in some perspectives, it may be hard or it may not be for a simple deer to sin but this deer was as pure as the grass she called her deathbed. She lived a wonderful and bountiful life as most deer do with a family and not a care in the world. All was vibrant, perfect even for this young one.
Still, with this much purity and love stemming from such a graceful creature, there are those that wish to take it away, turning the sentiment of happiness and vibrancy to hate and anarchy. They consume without a second thought on the matter, thinking only of how they can benefit from the recent casualty. This innocent doe would not only fall prey to a premature death, but an insult to injury. A brief flash of shadow crossed the sky above the forest, tracing its mark across the clearing.
Again, and again, and again. The one entity then honed in on the deer from above, circling it again and again. Then, a second one joined in on the ring-around-the-rosie that was ensuing and then a third. Death didn’t permit the creature below to make so much as an utterance as the leviathans above danced in the sunlight. The only dance the fallen one was witness to was one of a repetitive ebony circumference-taunting merry-go-round around its body. She lay there; completely naive of to what was to ensue. The queen of hearts has been laid down flat on the table, being eyed by all players.
The elderly man lay in the comfy hospital bed, draped only in his uninteresting pale blue garb and a thin blanket. IV’s pumped and machines of all different sizes, all attached to him in organized disarray, beeped and turned in a symphony of repetitive, mind numbly dull harmonies. His gaze was fixated on the tiled ceiling above him, not really focused on the tiles themselves, but rather the thought of this being his last chamber he would experience before he passed away. There was really anything he could have done to avoid it. He knew from his childhood that his family had issues of the like that had taken other loved ones away.
By the grace of God, he was allowed to walk the earth amongst his family and friends far beyond his expected time. For that he felt blessed. He didn’t have any regrets or things that needed to be said or done. The only thing he needed was these last few moments to himself before the nurse returned and put him into a medically induced coma. This wouldn’t be the last time he would undergo this treatment, he was merely preparing for being taken from this world peacefully and within his dreams. He only has a few days left and he was ready to be taken into God’s glorious hands. Today was the last of the preparations and then in two days, he would be gone, leaving in his last artificial coma.
This man doesn’t need a name. Names are a formality in which were given to those whom others had time to learn about the person, which this wilting man didn’t have. Anonymity in a game gave the time actually playing a much higher value. For the time being, we’ll call him John Doe. Old to him, Mr. Doe was in his late seventies suffering from cancer. What type of cancer? Again, that information is a formality. So this elderly man is dying and nothing can be done to save him, though it’s not a hated demise or feared in any way. He lived his life as a proud Christian and would leave this world as one.
He has everything to live for but willing to give it up. No matter how many tears are wept and no matter how hard experts try, he was going to die. His wife had died a few years back, given to God unexpectedly due to an inebriated driver. He cursed the man who did it and at some points in time, wished he was the one in that car or that the other had passed with his wife of over half a century. Before his bed he knelt at night and prayed for God and insisted for him to give him an answer. The man knew what God wanted for him and lived the rest of his life grudge free and loving those around him.
One could say this man was quite well off, not being born into his money, but making it over time in a small family operated business. A community hardware store which was very prosperous that, under his management, financially boomed. He saved a sizable amount of money and gave an equal amount to various charities and to his local church that he has been attending for a rather large portion of his life. The father there graciously accepted and the church thrived. The man didn’t live extravagant however he did buy some nice things for himself and his family. It wasn’t greedy for him to do so; most rich people lived the life of someone in that income bracket. All was well for the majority of his life. The man lived without sin nor grudge.
He was pure. The king of hearts is a respectable card in the game; however there are those who wish to take the kings riches and bounty. The nurse casually strode into the man’s room and, after a nod; she silenced the king, allowing him rest. Leaving the room, she was completely unaware of what came around the counter at the visitor’s area, people led by a separate nurse. All the woman saw was hearts in their eyes, though through theirs, they only saw diamonds. These black cards of misfortune held in the hand of the naive followed the path for the elderly man’s room, their feet marching in determined though subtle manner.
The time for waiting was over; the aviators of death settled, this was their next target. Slowly, they circled each other mechanically, losing altitude all the while. They flew and flew, descending on the harvest not unlike sharks. Black feathers danced in the air above as the came off the dirty wings of these jacks. Some consider these creatures jacks-of-all-trades, as far as their species was concerned. They weren’t picky, quite adaptive actually. Able to survive and thrive off anything they find and moving as a group, they seem to be closer than family though we are more than certain that they have very different agendas.
They only work as one to accomplish tasks at a more efficient rate and manner. Cries from these birds of prey are heard calling out across the vast forest. A few smaller winged animals scatter from the surrounding area, not wanting to challenge one of these monsters. Their suites and mystique may seem promising to some, though others know they don’t hold much merit. The Jacks are carefully laid out.
A heavy wooden door belonging to the room of the near deceased man, opened pensively. The second nurse had shown them the room then left to return to her desk to deal with other jacks. Uncaring hands opened the door to the room with false smiles to greet a man that didn’t even know they had. Each came into the room, one slightly aged and balding, a woman and a man whom obviously were connected on a platonic level, and an extravagant looking woman. Who were they? Well as I’ve explained, formalities are unnecessary in this situation though their connections we can brush up on.
The balding man was the elder’s little brother, about in his late sixties, the man of the couple was the elder’s son with his wife dutifully at his side, and the woman was the housekeeper. Each took their respectable spot around the man whom they’d told others they cared for so much, giving lamely glances to each has they shuffled around. The one seat in the room was taken by the finely dressed woman, the balding man sat on the edge of the bed, and the couple stood to his right. Each gave each other looks of indifference before one of them finally piped up.
“He dead?” The balding man inquired groggily, clearly haven’t been awoken from some drunken stupor to come here.
“Open your deaf ears.” The woman retorted after a tut.
“Huh? The hell you think they are? I can obviously hear you. Can you hear me though? I asked if he’s dead yet.” The shiny-headed drunk said, catching the weary woman’s eye.
“Uncle, shut up and listen.” The younger man said, trying to get him to listen.
“What fer’?” He responded, an air of irritation looming in his voice.
“The heart monitor.” The younger mans wife stated flatly. The room went quiet for a moment before the man said in realization,
Their eyes fell back on the elderly man with a new found longing, not for his life, but for something more.
The ravenous birds were coming lower and lower to their meal. Their wings grazed the treetops and they broke apart. One by one, they swooped into the clearing and, more directly, towards the doe. Wings spread, slowing the rapidly increasing decent. The first to arrive hovered momentarily before coming to a complete rest near the head of the fallen. Two others came in, similar to the first, though a bit more abrupt. They all surrounded the carcass, their bald heads glowing in the afternoon sun bathing the land. They looked around to make sure they were alone and that the feeding would go uninterrupted. Satisfied with their surroundings, they took glances at one another, eying each other up to see who would go first.
Though they could digest just about anything, they couldn’t digest each others hatred. They didn’t want to offend another for fear they wouldn’t help in the next hunt, however if they continued this brooding, nothing would get done and they would end up dead themselves. It was the first who had the audacity to take the first curious peak at the doe’s neck. The next hand was underway with none of the players folding or backing down. Time to see how far they’d go to get what they desired in the end.
Each person in the room looked at each other wearily before one finally spoke up.
“What’s he planning on doing with his stuff?” The younger said, unabashed about bringing up a touchy subject about his father. Well, to these four, touchy wasn’t the right word. It was the reason they each were here after all.
“The hell if I know…” the drunk said before reaching into his worn out jean jacket for his flask.
“Well, I’m sure he wouldn’t die without putting me into his will.” Said the woman in the chair adorning her fluffy mink coat.
It was the arrogant wife that spoke next. “Not before my husband, surely.” The other woman looked at her incredulously.
“Please, I was with him for the last bit of his life, helping that…eh…” She almost directly bashed him in front of his son, not that she cared too terribly much. Instead, she chose the higher route. “…respectable man with anything he needed. He, on the other hand, left as soon as he could and hardly ever visited. The nerve of some people.” She turned her head and raised her nose in the air as if to dignify herself.
“Maybe, with that attitude, he didn’t put you in at all.” The younger replied starkly. The other looked back aghast, as if she was royally insulted. She opened her mouth to speak but closed it shortly after with a “Hmmph.” And crossed her legs, her nose back to its ‘dignified’ look though scrunched up as if she smelled something foul.
The husband eyed a bottle next to the old man on the bed. He couldn’t read the text very clearly though know its contents. Morphine.
“Hey honey, hand me that bottle.” The young man said to his wife. She didn’t even give it a second thought has she handed him the bottle, her attention was occupied by the stuck up housekeeper across the bed from her. He took the bottle, looked at it briefly before turning the bottle in his hand and popping a few out in his palm. He screwed the cap back on, pocketed them, and threw the pills into his mouth, swallowing them almost instantly. Far be it from him to wonder whether or not his dying father needed them, he was going to die and if he hadn’t taken them. He would die from the constant suffering he was put under with these two women and that goddamn drunk. He chuckled to himself as this thought crossed his mind.
“If you have such a problem with who’s on the damn will, just write a last little note on a piece of paper and sign it like him.” Low and behold, the bald one was the one who had the audacity to try something like that. The others went silent for a moment. After a brief second, the overly dressed woman began rummaging through her things to try and find the utensils necessary for said plan. He himself just went back to drinking his flask and looking about the room.
Black feathers flustered as the first pecked at the neck. The rustling was quelled fairly quickly as the second went at the mid section. The third made an irritated gesture and looked back to the first who was pecking and nudging again. For a moment, it thought about another out burst but the thought was replaced by the one in which brought him here in the first place. Hunger. He was hungry and that’s why he’d come with these two. He was so caught up in formalities that he’d spaced it. He then gained control of his thoughts and looked to the doe’s rather tantalizing back strap and haunch. He forgot about he others rudeness and began pecking away at its back. The second had apparently gotten tired of poking at the flank of the doe and started pecking on the back right shank. The meal would surely last this one a week but he wanted to start out lean. The first was starting to make a hole in the neck, going right for the innards of the jugular, the sweetest part. The bet was raised and each player called.
The fluffy woman was now scribbling furiously away on a piece of paper, obviously trying her hand at the idea of forging a new will. She huffed in frustration, crumpled up the paper and started over on a new sheet. She was standing over her notepad on the doctor’s table on the other side of the room. The husband was now sitting where she had been and was sprawling out in it. Clearly, the morphine was kicking in. The wife was now steady staring at a ring that the elderly man wore on his right hand; obviously it was to symbolize his marriage to his wife. Well, ex-wife, now that she was pushing up the same daises the old hag had planted in her life when she was around, she thought to herself. She eyed it carefully, contemplating taking it. He wouldn’t mind, he’s dying, and he’d want her memory to live on right? Right? Her memory could live on on something other chick’s finger, for the right price of course. She leaned over to it, raising her hand slowly to it.
The drunk one was looking at the monitors and various machines that blinked and beeped in his face, as he was only a few inches away from them. It always irritated him, his brother that is, and how he was always the better one. He was the one to succeed and thrive while he was stuck in his hoe-dump of a home on the bad part of town with the threat of being kicked out by his landlord with no real aspirations or hopes to motivate him further. Deep down, a fiery red hatred seethed and lapped at his cold heart. Then that was replaced with a strange sort of relief. In a sick sort of way, he enjoyed the idea of him here in this hospital. Then again, he was still living and would still be breathing for at least the next three days. If only he could speed the process up… He peered around the machine and saw the heavy utility plug that was fit snug into the wall. His slow mind raced at the possibilities. Still, in any game, curve balls had to be thrown. No one ever said that the poker life was easy. Some one always had an ace. There was a knock at the door.
As the three nibbled thoughtfully on their lucky find, they’d forgotten to make sure the coast was constantly clear. Usually, someone would stand on post and be on the look out for anything that could be labeled as trouble. None were looking though, as something rustled in the bushes nearby. One of them took note of this and perked its head up. It wasn’t too long afterwards that a wolf had emerged from the foliage and was making a line for the three. If the animal was headed for them directly, the first wasn’t sure but wasn’t ready to risk it. He let his companions know of the coming threat.
An explosion of squawks and hurried wing beats filled the air as the three flew from the ground and up into the sky. Even though they were worried about their lives, they didn’t travel too far. They took refuge in a nearby tree, their vicious claws latching forcibly on a thick branch jutting out of the large oak. Readjusting themselves, they saw the wolf below looking up at them in amusement.
The second cawed in irritation though the wolf shrugged it off. He went over to the rotting doe, giving it a few short sniffs. Clearly, the wolf wasn’t interested or maybe that it was already full. Regardless, it gave one last taunting glance towards the three then trotted off back into the woods it came from. The three looked at each other, tension and uncertainty in their eyes. Sitting in the tree, they waited for a long while, making sure that the intruder was far away.
The third gave a quick scout out before returning and giving the OK for them to resume. They flocked back down to the forest floor, returning to their original spots, gorging themselves in the sweet flesh. Always a bluff, the ace, though not a toss-away. If played right, the ace could be devastating, and in this case, the foolish heart was a cop-out.
The door had opened shortly after to the friendly, kindhearted face of the nurse that had brought them back here. Apparently, the one who was supposed to be watching over this patient was out to coffee. Each one in the room snapped to an innocuous pose so as to avoid suspicion, other than the high one in the chair of course. He merely straightened up and put a hand to his head as if he was mournful or thoughtful. He couldn’t do much else. The bald one turned around the machine and was looking at his brother with longing, the woman of eloquence was writing a final note to the one she took care of, expressing her sorrow, the wife put her hand that was reaching for the ring on the shoulder of the brother without hesitation.
The scene to anyone who came by was one they saw far too often of with families. However, to anyone who knew what these heartless few's agenda was, they’d think twice about keeping their wallet in their back pocket. It was sickly even. They operated as one, sentient, well-oiled machine or rather, as if it was rehearsed. As the nurse came in, poking her head in ever so slightly, she saw the inconspicuous act and left with a simple, “Oh sorry, didn’t mean to barge in. I’ll come by in a few more minutes.”
As the door shut, each of them peered from their unmarked spots, waiting for the next stage direction. All of it was a bluff to them. They husband slumped back in his chair, the wife looked at the ring again before feeling damn near obligated to take it with her disgusting conscience, the brother gripped the railing of the bed tightly deciding whether or not he should do it, and the caretaker gave up trying to write a new will, angrily shoving her notepad back in her purse. She, instead of brooding to herself, began thinking of a new plan. With an inquisitive tone lacing her voice, she asked,
“Does anybody know who the money is going to?”
“I think e’ said e’ was goin’ to give it to the church.” The drunk said through gritted teeth.
“What about his pension checks?” The wife remembered. Why hadn’t the eccentric thought of that before? This little girl was smarter than she was led to think. With that she got out her notepad and began scribbling once again, new ideas flocking to her. She would get at least some of this old man’s money if it was the last thing she did. The husband brought up something else the others had thought about, but just about forgot. Through his hazed mind and with slurred words, he said,
“What about his house, his car, and the dog?” Again, the drunk was the only one who seemed to know the answers, getting more and more infuriated the more he thought about it.
“The house is being auctioned off, money goes to de’ church, the car is probably in the will somewher’, and that dog…” He took a drink of his flask, swished it around in his mouth, then spat in the trashcan before continuing. “…Fuck that dog. Have it euthanized and buried with his wife. I ain’t going to keep it.”
As it’s been mentioned, these jacks aren’t too bright nor are they caring. People who know people like this tend to refer to them as jokers. Fairly useless and not too funny, though in this game, they are essential. This game doesn’t resemble any game you’ve seen thus far. Kings and queens rule the table though jokers can be quite the annoyance if not dealt with. Usually, those who put these cards down are risky and don’t think too much, thus losing their pot and walking away a fool. They never do win in the end, the merely show up for the thrill. If you get the chance, ask them how they feel about their last game. In hell.
Fur ripped and skin tore as the three veraciously ate. It was an organized and meticulous act of disharmony; then again, such was life. The third was busy peeling away a strip of skin on the doe’s back while the second was busy stripping the leg. The first was well on its way to grabbing an artery in the neck. Almost…almost…. Though the wolf had past, they didn’t want to risk losing their queen to the ace. Stomachs needed to be full though, before they left, leaving all three torn between their justified fear of the wolf as well as the other fear of starving. Ignorant to what was happening, the doe was far-gone, though the body rotted and festered upon the ground and within the guts of these beasts of unashamed gluttony. The game was coming to a close, with only a few more cards to play. It was becoming tenser and tenser with each minute.
The variance of people in this room needed to clear out with what they could. An assumed visit turned to grab at greed. The quicker they could clean this man out, the quicker they could leave. The wife picked up the old man’s chilling hand and began to thumb around with the silver and gold emblazoned ring. The husband was trying his hardest to sober up, as he knew they would clear out soon. The fluffed one was writing and flipping through her phone for numbers before dialing one of them, obviously finding a loophole in the man’s post-Morten plans and giving her lawyer a call to find out if she was right. And finally, we return our attention to the bald one, now looking once again at the plug attached to the box keeping his only brother alive. To him, it was simple enough, his mind just about made up. He reached out, hesitant at first, he recoiled his hand. Then, with new found determination, reached out once again, a moderately steadier hand.
Plucking and pulling, the first had gotten a hold of the artery it was searching for and began to snake it around the muscles, eating some of the more adamant strips of muscular tissue and pushing weaker ones out of the way, I strenuous process but it would be worth it in the end. Loose feathers flew about the air as the piece the third was working on snapped with a satisfying noise, the ambient atmosphere of this clearing becoming a flurry of feathers and sounds of crunching, squawking, and ripping which permeated the air.
With a satisfying click of a phone, the “refined” woman gathered her things, throwing them in haphazardly, and saying something along the lines of being done here and that she’d be by the car, she took her leave, the sound of her high heels clicking as she was heard down the hallway outside. She had left the door ajar, which only instilled a sense of rush and adrenaline in the wife as she slid the ring off the old man’s hand and into her pocket. Everyone was putting their cards down; it was time to see who would win and who would not.
The third gulped up his strip of flesh and took to the skies, not needing much else for the time, as he was also fearful of the demon dog’s return. The second had since moved up from the leg and decided to take it with him. With a feeling of haste, he began to tug and pull on the leg, attempting to rip it completely off. Tearing and popping now replaced the sound of simple ripping. The first tore a heap of tissue and muscle out in it’s attempt to alleviate and extricate the artery it was after. It didn’t matter too much, just a messier meal later.
After feeling the ring hit the bottom of her pocket, the wife then went off to collecting her husband from the chair. After heaving him up, she supported him by the hip and he did the same as to avoid suspicion when leaving. They gathered each other and hobbled subtly but surly out the door into the hallway after the woman. The only one left in the room was the drunk one. Left with only his older brother in a bed and hate in his hand, he pushed the machine’s cart out to reach further back, his hand mere inches from the plug.
The queen of hearts’ leg ripped from the rest of her body with the noise of Velcro. It wasn’t a terribly difficult task, to take the leg, as the few days of rotting prior to the harvest had loosened the skin and muscles old on the appendage, it was only the bone that was an issue with, in itself, didn’t take long either. The bird of prey pulled it a few feet from the carcass, biting into it for a better grip, and spread it’s wings to rise up to the sky after it’s companion in survival. The first, now alone, pulled and tugged, ripping the mass further and further out of the hole in the doe’s neck led by the thick pipe of still blood, shredding muscles and the esophagus.
A greasy, dirty hand was met was a firm plastic plug in the wall. A drop of sweat bubbling on the surface of his head, just above his eyebrow.
A neck was strained as the effort became ever more strenuous. The struggle was just about over.
A firm old on the plug felt the racing heartbeat within his hand…
Tendons parted, cold blood spilled…
Full of a new found confidence…
Exerting with unwavering determination…
Plastic met tile, clattering and recoiling to the machine, eliciting silence.
A mass of meat splattered out onto the forest green.
Standing back up, the ensuing sound was of people walking about with their normal business outside the room.
A cool breeze brushed over the bird and its prey.
With that, he turned and walked into the hallway, closing the door with a sweaty hand and an emotionless face.
Putting into one pile, he got a good grip on it all, wings spread. After one strong wing beat, he was airborne and was on his way to his nest.
He did want to die in his sleep, he thought to himself, and hopefully now we can have the spoils of that will sooner.
Survival. Survival in its most primal form. There was no time for second thoughts. He didn’t care for the one he’d taken the meat from. He merely thanked her with his black heart.
And so, the cards were played and the result was shown. There was no winner, there never is, was, or will be. The king and queen of hearts are discarded. It’s not that they had a bad hand; it’s just the name of the game. Now don’t think that these people don’t have a heart. They do, and it’s blacker than cold and hard as a rock. The only question that remains is this: How will you play the game? Will you have your inner monster on your shoulder helping you or will you take the loss on the chin and walk away a better man. If you take anything from this, let it be that not only humans play this game we’ve come to know as the unknown.
Vultures do too.
Written by FantasyPhantom