He hadn’t been known as Neal for years. He hadn’t been known as anything. He’d been wandering around the Afterlife – for how long? An eternity? Two? And he hadn’t seen anyone else. He’d felt the time pass. He’d felt his loved ones die, but he hadn’t been reunited with any of them. He’d felt wars and famines and genocides. He’d felt babies being born, and innocent laughter and the depths of human generosity.
But he hadn’t seen anybody. Or heard anybody. Until now. At first, he thought he was dreaming, but the last time he’d slept was when he was alive. Still, there they were, six people – humans, all of them – he could feel their humanity – sitting around a table, playing poker.
“What’s your name?” asked a pretty lady with red hair and red lipstick who didn’t know and didn’t care that those colors were supposed to clash. And she was right. He liked the clash. It looked like the sounds his favorite band made when he’d been alive. Her husky voice was jarring in its normalcy, with Neal having existed in silence for so long.
Neal had to think about it. “Neal,” he said. “I think.”
“Good to meet ya, Neal.” This came from a boisterous Texan with a cowboy hat and everything.
“Have a seat.” The invitation came from a petite blonde with sharp eyes and short, clean fingernails.
And it felt like an invitation. It was like climbing into a buddy’s warm truck on a cold night, that mix of familiarity and anticipation in the air.
Neal sat in the empty chair and realized that his hand had already been dealt. “I don’t have anything to gamble with,” he said.
“We deal in souls,” a black man with a sweet smile and sad eyes said, breaking it to Neal gently. “You only have one, but that’s enough to get you in the game.”
In the middle of the table was a pile of chips. The chips were formed of a luminescent violet fog. The players had similar chips in front of them. The sharp-eyed lady had the most. The Texan had none left in front of him. He’d gone all in before Neal had sat down.
Neal hesitated. He’d walked into a trap but what was the trap, exactly? The empty chair must have belonged to someone else at some point. Somebody who had run out of chips. Somebody who had started out with only one? Perhaps. Many times, in fact, he could feel the truth of that vibrating through his body.
And everybody at the table had chips in front of them, which meant that they were comfortable taking other peoples’ souls. It also meant that they’d all taken the chance that they were now asking Neal to take. They’d all come to the same realizations he just had.
Neal wanted to rise, to walk away from the table. But the aeons came crashing down on him, paralyzing him. Who knew how much longer he’d be alone, if he got up and walked away now? What if another several eternities from now, he just came across another table – or the same one, with different players? How many tables could a man walk away from before he gave in and stayed, just out of sheer loneliness?
He looked around the table, and forgave them all.
Opening Line Prompt taken from here: https://www.plot-generator.org.uk/opening-line/