"I lived a normal life. Really ordinary. Worked as a lawyer. Had a wife and two kids. I never cheated on my wife. Went to Church as a family every Sunday. I regularly donated to charity. Gave my kids everything, time, money, affection. I can honestly say I was a good man. Too bad I died early."
"I see. What else can you tell me?"
"Well, I took up Bible study as a kid..."
"Oh, so tell me what you know of the Bible then."
"Do I look like someone who has time for jokes?"
"Alright. There's the Old Testament, and the New Testament. The Old Testament is basically made up of epic tales and folklores passed on through hearsay and word of mouth. It tries to explain how the world came to be through the Christian point of view. The New Testament has the four Gospels - Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which is about the life of Jesus and the prediction of His second coming, the end of the physical world, and the beginning of life everlasting with Christ in the Kingdom of God. More?"
"I doubt you have anything more to tell me."
"Yup. This isn't the Kingdom I was hoping to find."
"What did you expect? A host of angels welcoming you with lights and clouds and singing?"
"Do you believe in God?"
"Of course. Why else would I have taken Bible study and attend Mass every Sunday?"
"Do you know that there are more than four Gospels?"
"My parish priest would slap you if he heard that. Father Larry was very strict back in his prime."
"The Word of God, the Good News, like any other story, has many versions and many variations among the earliest Christians. The life of Christ is no exception. There are more than thirty versions. There's even the Gospel of Judas, and according to it, he was the most loyal apostle. That's why Jesus asked him to betray him. Unfortunately, religion often gets in the way of God. The Catholic Church chose to omit all the other versions to protect the institution, which was being persecuted by the Romans at that time. The New Testament was compiled haphazardly to suit the purposes of men, and thus hinder his faith. It was one of my greatest achievements."
“Who are you?”
"My name is Lucifer."
"So I’m in hell then."
"Not yet. Contrary to my reputation, I'm not that bad. A long, long time ago I was an angel once. I can't just take you without your consent. It's not how the game works. You still have a chance. God's greatest gift to man is choice, but that privilege ends at the same time his life ends. Like Jesus, I need to tempt you. It's tough to be the bad guy, you know? A lot of rules I need to navigate around, but nonetheless, I found loopholes in the Grand Design. Consider this your last temptation."
"Does everybody have to go through this ordeal?"
"Wow, you have a good deal going for you here. Whatever happened to Judas?"
“He’s up there somewhere, seated beside the Son.”
“I have to say, you managed to fool everybody by omitting him and the other Gospels.”
"I know. Let's get started then. I don't have all eternity. Actually I do, but there's a long line waiting to be tested."
"Before we begin, tell me your heart's desires."
"All of them?"
"Top three will do. Don't lie, I'll know if you do."
"Well, fame, fortune and good health, but I guess I died before I could get any of those, especially good health. I wanted to become a professional poker player, but I couldn't leave my job. And my wife wouldn't let me. I also had to think about my kids."
"Have you ever envied someone who had everything you ever wanted?"
"Okay, let's begin."
"Whoa. Where are we? This certainly beats oblivion."
"The penthouse of the Bellagio. When you wake up, you are the greatest poker player in the world. You've won more bracelets than Doyle Brunson, Johnny Chan and Phil Hellmuth, not to mention more money than Andy Beal. You have one day, and then I'll be back. See you later."
Billy Dougherty woke up in an enormous king-sized waterbed. He had a strange dream about selling his soul to the devil. He laughed silently because he almost felt like he did all his life. He got out of bed and went outside to the balcony and watched the afternoon sun set over Las Vegas. He slept during the day and went to work in the night. This was the only time he saw daylight in his profession. He was a poker player, and a damn good one.
He was called Billy 'Gates' by his peers because of the amount of money he has won in such a short span of time. Some say he's extremely lucky, but skillful pros know he has a natural talent of reading people. He is adept in knowing what other players have in their hands, almost like a psychic ability. He's just twenty-three and he's won the Main Event, No Limit Texas Hold’em in the World Series of poker a record four times, and has an unprecedented total of sixteen WSOP victories under his belt. Texas Hold'em is the Cadillac of Poker, the Main Event, because it can make or break a player with just one hand, by going all-in with all his chips in one go. So far, the only result Billy has ever seen was him breaking other players.
His name and face was already a household name, especially because of all his endorsements, commercials and occasional TV sitcom appearances. It helped to have good looks along with his phenomenal skill. He sometimes felt like a rock star, having groups of women running after him wherever he went. Security had to restrain them, but Billy sometimes brought a few of them up his suite and had a little fun.
There was no doubt of his god-like stature in the world of poker and in Vegas. Everywhere he went, he was treated like an emperor. Everything was usually on the house, since his appearance alone brought in droves of people to the casinos. Not that he needed the freebies, he had a few million dollar companies and partnerships on the side. He had his own designer clothing line. He had an online poker business. He had a book that became a bestseller overnight. He had it all.
Tonight, he was going up against the Corporation in a televised high stakes No Limit Texas Hold'em event. The Corporation consisted of the best poker players in the world. Big names like Doyle Brunson, Phil Hellmuth, Gus Hansen, etc. were going to try to take Billy down heads-up on national television. The first person to take all his chips wins. Unlike Andy Beal, the eccentric billionaire who went up against the Corporation a few years ago, using cash as leverage, Billy fought them on even ground, and the stakes were harsher than cash. Andy Beal lost cash he could afford, but Billy was putting his reputation, his livelihood and everything he owned on the line. If he lost tonight, he would quit playing poker and close down his businesses. If he won, the Corporation would quit playing the game, and he would become more than a legend.
Billy stretched and went back in his over-the-top luxurious suite. First deal was in an hour, so he had to hurry. Having a butler sure made everything easier, having his clothes and dinner prepared ahead of time. All he had to do was take a quick shower, get dressed, grab a quick bite, go down to the casino and take his seat on the table. Tonight was the night he was going to cement his place in history as the undisputed king, or ace, of poker.
When the elevator doors opened, media men were already there waiting for him. His public relations assistant escorted him to the private high roller table. The Corporation was already there.
Unfortunately, Billy never played that game. He had a massive seizure and heart attack before the first deal of the biggest game in poker history…
"You said I had one day."
"I'm the devil. I lied."
"You said you weren't that bad."
"But I never said I was good. Besides, if I let you enjoy too much you might not take my offer anymore. If you want that life, then you must give me your soul. Plus, as I said, there's a long line waiting to be tested."
"What if you've ticked me off too much that I won't accept it anyway?"
"More than two thousand years of experience say that this isn't the case for you."
"That's your trick isn't it? Nobody can get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, but you can give people a glimpse of a perfect life they can have."
"Yep, ingenious isn’t it? So what is your decision?"
"I'm with you."
"Splendid. Would you want to play that big poker game now? I can put you right back in that very moment. Any other requests before I send you off?"
"Yes, and no thank you."
"Don't worry, God's Kingdom is pretty boring. You won't miss a thing."
When the elevator doors opened, media men were already there waiting for him. His public relations assistant escorted him to the private high roller table. The Corporation was already there.
Billy shook hands with them, showing his respect. He grew up watching them, and he took up the game because of them. But now, it was the changing of the guard. It was his time.
His first opponent was none other than the legendary Doyle ‘Texas Dolly’ Brunson, the Godfather of poker. Dozens of cameras surrounded the green-felted table, all eyes on Doyle and Billy and the inconspicuous dealer. The dealer shuffled the deck and the first cards were dealt.
Billy took a peep at his hole cards and found the Ace and King of spades. Billy bet a small bet, trying to disguise the monster hand he held. Doyle responded with a heavy raise, his signature aggressive play. Billy put him at either a mid to high pocket pair or a bluff. He had studied Doyle’s game all his life and he knew he was more likely to be bluffing. With Big Slick in his hands, he made a smooth call.
The flop came Ace of diamonds, King of hearts, and Seven of hearts. The flush draw was a potential threat, so he bet a huge amount, trying to make Doyle buy the next card. Doyle did. The crowded casino was going crazy. The Corporation was among them, pumping their fists.
The turn came the King of diamonds. Billy had made the full house with three Kings and a pair of Aces. Billy went all in. Doyle remarkably called. Billy flipped his cards over, stood up and smiled at Doyle. Doyle smiled back and flipped his cards over, revealing Pocket Rockets, a pair of Aces. He also made a full house, but he had three Aces and a pair of Kings. Billy was dominated from the start, and he played right into it. It was pandemonium in the casino, the Corporation hugging each other. But there was still one card left, the River.
The dealer dealt the card and flipped it over. It was the King of clubs. Billy had hit the quads. Four Kings. He beat Doyle. He jumped up and raised his arms in triumph. But he noticed so was the Corporation. He checked the table again. His cards were not the Big Slick, but the Beer Hand, a Seven of clubs and a Deuce of spades. He could not believe his eyes. He looked at the dealer, and like a jolt, his heart stopped beating and he was hit by a massive seizure. He recognized the dealer, and somehow he changed the cards Billy was holding. He fell to the ground but never took his gaze off the last thing he ever saw. It was the face he had dreamt of, the face of Lucifer.
“No! What happened? I already gave you my soul!”
“Fool. There was no test. You’ve been in hell all along. Hypocrites like you who claim to be men of God don’t even deserve a chance. Lawyers like you are my favorite. You use God to make yourself credible in order to pursue your avaricious ends. You will have to live the life you dreamt about and before you can reach it, you will fail over and over, each time becoming more tragic, more heart-wrenching, again and again and again, until your pitiful spirit has shriveled into nothing. In the end, you won’t even get to achieve anything, you will just become a useless speck of dust. You will lose everything you ever loved. There will be no joy or fulfillment for you, only pain and suffering, for all eternity. Shuffle up and deal.”
“So tell me your story.”
“I lived a normal life. Nothing really spectacular. I never married, and my parents died when I was young. My friends were there to help me, but I never did take off on my own. I managed to scrape a few bucks to pay the rent and buy a few commodities, but that was about it. I wasn’t really religious, never went to Church, much less read the Bible. One thing I’m proud of though was I never gave up trying. I’m sorry, but I don’t have much more to tell you.”
"Child, you are not judged by what you know, or don't know about the Bible, or God. The essence of faith is not about scriptures or Bible passages. Actions and deeds without true faith are empty and meaningless. The Good News, no matter what the version, even if it's a totally different religion, or no religion at all, the Word of God is about the faith of the heart. Science, logic and dogma are merely obstacles to true faith. The mystery of the universe and life is what keeps the human spirit going. Humans weren’t designed to know everything. If they knew everything, what is there left for them to believe in? To find the Kingdom of God, you must find it in your heart. And today, you’ve found it, child. You never gave up, and you remained true to yourself and to your friends. The odds were stacked up against you, and it would have been easy to just give up. But you believed in yourself and pushed through. You found it in your heart. Welcome to the Kingdom of God."
The greatest bluff of all time is the devil made us believe that heaven is a place, but in fact it is really a state of mind which can only be achieved by a leap of faith.
I was gunning for a light read, but I guess the philosophical guy in me took over in some parts. I was inspired by the National Geographic special about the Gospel of Judas. I watched it in my hotel room while on vacation in China.
I tried playing with the form and structure a bit, having two contrasting conversations, and then the total absence of any dialogue during the poker scenes. I also tried to imply some mysterious subtleties like not identifying who the speaker was in the second conversation. I left it up to the reader to imagine who it was.
To the non-poker players, I hope you weren't overwhelmed by the technical poker stuff. I was rushing to finish the story, and the first thing that came to mind was my second favorite hobby, poker.
I rushed this story, so there may be a few parts that are shady and dodgy.
A general note about my scoring: I scored all the entries from the viewpoint of "professional quality." Fives (and even fours) will be rare and mean that in my opinion those works were ready (or nearly ready) to be published in a professional magazine.
you've got a pretty good story here. I was worried about halfway through that it was going to be a cliched, play-poker-for-your-soul story. You took it in a different direction though, which I was glad to see. Still, this is a story about selling your soul to the devil and other than seeking a way into heaven, the main character wasn't really searching for anything, so you lost some points on creativity there. It was a little too much Oh God, You Devil for me (a fine movie, but it's been done).
I liked the flow of the story, and the ambiguity of the gatekeepers to heaven and hell at the beginning and end of the story really worked for me. Having the devil keep interrupting him in his dream sequences was a nice touch and good way to move the story along. It kep the scenes from running too long and worked perfectly with your theme of punishing the main character for all eternity.
The biggest problems I had with the story were that we don't learn why "Billy" deserved his punishment (other than that he was a lawyer and used his faith as a badge instead of truly believing). I'd like to find him more despicable and worthy of the fate he has in store for him. He did seem to live a decent life and took care of his wife and kids. So why does he deserve such a punishment for all eternity?
Secondly, the ending gets way too preachy for my taste. Like the Death's Embrace story, I think you missed the appropriate ending to your story by about two paragraphs. I think shuffle up and deal is a much stronger ending point. You've already made the point that you then belabor in the last paragraph. By being more explicit and pounding the point home, it actually loses its power (and turns off anyone who might actually need the lesson).
Actually, I don't mind the going one more line and having the "So, tell me your story." as the ending. This would make the reader assume that we all must face the devil's test in order to get into heaven, which would be a fun and creative take on the old story.
This is just my opinion, but remember that the two most important parts of any story are the beginning and end. The beginning draws the reader into the story and a bad beginning will turn off readers before they even get a chance to find out if the story is any good. The ending is the part the reader will remember the most after finishing the story. A lot of how much a reader likes the story is tied up into the ending. A powerful ending will make even a mediocre story memorable. A bad ending will surely kill a even a great story.
Thank you so much for taking time off your busy schedule to read our stories Will.
Yeah, I was rushing to finish the story that I did not have enough time to read it again and make some revisions. I just had a friend read it and he gave me a better idea that Billy's last hand should have been two 6's and the flop should have had a 6 instead of a 7, thus making him 6-6-6. I'll try to put that in along with your suggestions, Will.
As for the searching part, VestDan never really said explicitly what the character must be searching for, as long as he was searching for something. I thought the 'being dead' criterion was more important for him. As for this story, he was searching for the Kingdom of God.
Again, thanks for your time Will. Hope to see you around in the forums more often.
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" I came to them in a flock of ravens that filled a northern sky at dawn...
Magic shall be written upon the sky by the rain but they shall not be able to read it;
Magic shall be written on the faces of the stony hills but their minds shall not be able to contain it..."
A very interesting and creative story. However, I somehow disliked the characterization of Lucifer. “It’s tough to be the bad guy” – bah! The whole paragraph is in my opinion rather weak, and the other dialogues with Lucifer are not that much better. He just isn’t very tempting, nor really evil or mean or whatever – he’s just an absolutely flat character. And the last two paragraphs should just be deleted. If you would have finished your story with the climatic “shuffle up and deal”, it would be much better (although this paragraph is still too descriptive). But with the following paragraphs, especially with this moral at the end, all tension is gone.
I would have expected more. Even the really good poker-parts can’t thus increase the style-score much above average.
As I said in the beginning, I think the story is rather creative though, although the “pact with the devil for success”-idea is overused already. All those flashbacks back into hell when your main character was just enjoying his life are great. Still, reductions in the score for not including something the main character is searching for.
Flow/Structure: 4. The last section is nice, but seems more like a tacked-on moral than a part of the story itself. It would probably have been stronger with the ‘fool you!’ ending and without the short counter-case.
Mechanics: 4.5. No real complaints, but you have to EARN a 5, can’t just not-fail, into one ;).
Creativity: 2.5. Feels very much like two or three Twilight Zone episodes I can think of. It’s not done badly at all, but from a creative standpoint, doesn’t cover much new ground.
Style: 3.75. Straightforward, really, works well enough that I can’t point at anything and call it a flaw, but not so well as you can’t improve yourself.