Cards in Canada by Holly Zuiderveen

They square up the table,
Each man a wall
Guarding his castle: the kings, queens,
Jacks of all suits.
A house of cards
At his command.

They make alliances.
They have played euchre and fished together twenty years;
There are no secrets but the five cards in their hands
And secrets do not matter.
There is always a winner –
I suppose there is a loser, too,
But the next man deals and maybe the loser wins this time.

What would those feudal kingdoms
Stained with their own blood
Think of these four common men playacting at war?

One of them,
A farmer with cedar-post hands,
Rubs the left corners of his cards.
His partner,
Who burned off his fingerprints in the shop,
Taps his cards on the cracked tabletop.
Their arms are brown and warm;
Their beers are cold.
These moments mean something.


Russ was dying. He could feel it, in his icy, frozen to the core bones. No part of his body was spared from the cruel chill of the mountain. His feet were cracked and bleeding, leaving a trail of crimson with every step he took. His fingertips were numb to the point where he almost wasn’t sure they weren’t there anymore. For all he knew, they’d broken off miles ago. Russ only took a breath when he couldn’t wait any longer, as his icy throat begged him not to. It couldn’t bare much more of the pain that came with the air from the harsh winds. Even his eyes were nearly frozen shut, not that it mattered. All he knew was that he needed to keep moving. He needed to get away from it; whatever it was.


The creature, that Frozen Bastard, as Russ called him, had appeared with the blizzard. Russ had been doing nothing more than ice fishing in his cabin when the storm appeared. He’d checked the weather before he left, and there wasn’t supposed to be even a flake of snow falling today. That had been a damned lie, and a deadly one at that. Russ had driven up to his favorite fishing hole in the mountains, thinking that it was going to be the perfect day to catch a fine dinner. Not so warm that the ice would melt, but not so cold that he’d find himself regretting the trip. This time, regret had found him.


It started with shaking of his tiny cabin, the kind of shaking that only came with the strongest of winds. Then the temperature dropped, making Russ’s nose run and allowing him to see his own breath. His winter coat and hat weren’t doing him much good at that point. He’d peaked out, trying to find some sort of explanation for the change in the air, and found himself in the middle of a harsh, unforgiving vortex of snow and ice. Pushing his way out the door, which was more difficult than it should’ve been with all wind coming at him, Russ walked outside only to discover that he couldn’t see so much as a few feet in front of him. Not even the cabin would keep him safe in this. The only thing he could do at that point was head back to the truck and try to make his way home. That was the plan until he heard the screech.  A screech that cut through the deafening sound of the wind and got Russ to turn in an instant. What he saw before him chilled his soul more than any winter ever had.


At first glance, one might have thought it was a human; frozen, alone, and looking for help. It took only one more glance to see that whatever this thing was, it had been iced over far more than any human ever could’ve survived. Though it’s figure was that of a naked man, it had no eyes in it’s head, only two empty chasms of eye sockets. The entirety of it’s body was a pale blue color that almost made it look transparent. There was no muscle on it, being so thin that you could make out every bone in its body. What looked to have once been a mouth was now frozen, with it’s face contorted in a way that gave off the air that it was trying to release an age old scream. But if the mouth was unable to open, where did the screech come from? As best as Russ could tell, it was from a hole dug into its throat, a gapping one that looked as though it had been carved out by hand. He didn’t know what this thing was, but Russ wouldn’t have guessed it to be from this world.


Russ turned to run, but found the snow he was standing in to be so deep that his boots were stuck. He yanked as hard he could, but was only able to get his feet out of the boots. The snow was bracingly cold on his feet, but that was of no concern at the moment. That Frozen Bastard was on all fours, and looked ready to chase him. With another screech that echoed through the mountains, the creature took off after him, the mad dash now underway. It was unfortunate for Russ that he’d taken off his gloves minutes ago to get at his toolbox, because the day wasn’t going to get any warmer.


An hour had passed since then, and Russ still found himself running, if one could even call it that anymore. In reality, it had become more like trudging. That Frozen Bastard was still behind him, still screeching away to him to let him know the chase was not yet over. Russ had been wondering why it hadn’t caught him yet, seeing as he’d slowed down to a snail’s pace at this point. There was only one conclusion that he could come to…it was waiting for him to give up. Luckily for the Frozen Bastard, it wouldn’t have to wait much longer. Unable to move his legs even one more step, Russ fell to his knees, spitting out a trickle of blood as he did. No man could keep running in a place like that for an hour. This, Russ was certain, was where he would meet his end.


Russ could hear the creature approaching him from behind, slowly continuing on it’s hands and feet towards the man. Once the Frozen Bastard had reached him, it reached out a finger and poked Russ, backing away as soon as it did so. When the man grunted and fell onto his belly, the creature came back, rolling Russ over onto his back. It started to grope at Russ with it’s hands, which were somehow even colder than the poor man’s bare skin. Before long it reached Russ’s throat, taking extra time to touch it. The Frozen Bastard grunted and shook his head, pawing at the area behind him. Whatever it was looking for, it found.


The creature’s hand came back up holding a narrow rock with a pointed end. It took the Frozen Bastard a moment to make sure it had the right end, running its fingers along it as though it needed to be certain. Once it seemed satisfied, the creature raised the rock high above it’s head, placing two fingers on the lower part Russ’s throat. This was when Russ realized what was coming. He tried to grunt in protest, as useless as he knew that was, before the Frozen Bastard pulled his fingers away and plunged the rock into the spot where they had been. Blood poured out of Russ’s throat as the creature pulled out the rock. Something about the warm liquid felt almost comforting on Russ’s icy skin. With that finished, the Frozen Bastard continued his work, feeling further up until he found Russ’s eyes. There was a much shorter wait for the horror to begin this time. Cold thumbs made their way to Russ’s eye sockets and gradually began to add pressure. More and more pressure was added, dragging on the experience, until the orbs popped like a pair of grapes. Finally, the creature dug around in the remaining sockets, clearing out the mess the eyes had left behind.


With its work now complete, the creature let loose a noise that Russ almost would’ve described as happy, and then walked over to his ankles. Taking an ankle in each hand, it started to drag the man across the frozen ground, the weight of his body not phasing it in the least. Russ was dragged for what he could only assume was miles into the increasingly cold mountains. Somewhere in that time, with Frozen Bastard not even noticing, his body surrendered to the cold and allowed it to take him to a new place. A place that he prayed would be far warmer than where he was now…

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