Congratulations @Lancie for the well liked story,"The Pact". You've earned a gold medal this time! Send me your contest theme for the next contest. Contest (169) - Theme: "Last Card" courtesy of @DarkTesseract. All four stories were very good in this contest. Coming in second was @DeadMoon with "The Canary and the bad men". Thanks again to all the forum members who entered and who voted. ____________________________ The Pact [1100 words] Passport! Charlie tore another drawer from his desk and shook the contents onto the bed. He hurled it to one side with the rest scattered on the floor. Quivering hands dove through old keys, dead batteries, envelopes and bank statements. Passport! His clammy hands clasped the small leather bound document. He let out a loud sigh. Oh, thank God. Charlie whirled around to the small bag he'd shoved some clothes into and tucked the passport into a side pocket. He patted his pockets to locate his wallet, then pulled it out to quickly thumb through the cash inside. He'd closed his two accounts earlier that afternoon. Prickly heat started to intensify on the back of his neck. Charlie tugged the zip closed and hurled himself and the bag downstairs into the front door. “Where do you suppose you're going, Charles?” Charlie felt the heat rise. Sweat began to seep through his linen shirt. He jiggled the handle but the door didn't move. Oh, God. “Not God, Charles,” the voice was velvety and deep. Charlie turned slowly. Down the corridor, in his kitchen, he could see a hooded figure sitting at the table. “Come and sit down. We need to talk.” Charlie edged slowly into the florescent light of the kitchen, hugging his bag like a shield. The figure lent forward. A hand slid out from the black fabric and perused the bottled of alcohol that lined the wall. “You look like you need a drink. Get a couple of glasses.” Without taking his eyes off the figure, Charles fumbled in the cupboard and produced two tumblers. “Do you...drink?” Charlie croaked. He watched the pale hand select a bottle of whisky. “I partake in most vices. And you always have such nice stuff.” Charlie sat heavily, pressing the bag tight against his chest to stop himself from shaking but he could feel his heart beat humming against the leather. He watched the long, slim fingers slide over the bottle like tentacles as he poured the whisky. Charlie waited as the figure raised the glass to his hooded face and took a long sip. “What do you want?” Charlie blurted. Sweat slid down his back. “It's time, Charles. You know it's time. Where were you going?” Charlie shrugged. “Anywhere,” he look down at the glass of whisky. His throat was dry, water would have been better. “I thought I had a bit longer.” “No such luck. Everyone thinks that though, so don't worry.” The figure raised the drink back up to his darkened face and finished off the drink. “I tell you what. I'm not unreasonable, and you're a gambling man.” Charlie's eyebrows perked up. “If your card is higher than mine, you get another five years. Best of three. How about that?” Charlie nodded. “Alright.” “Shake,” the voice demanded. His slender hand reached towards Charlie. They shook, and Charlie felt a crackle of heat run down his arm. The figure pulled a pack of cards from his pocket and began to flick them between his hands. He laid six cards on the table and flipped over the first card. “Five of clubs.” Charlie moved towards his card. His heart sank. “Two of diamonds.” “Two left. Both have to be higher.” The figure rested his fingers on the second card. “Tell me again what her name was.” Sudden cold passed over Charlie's body. “Alice,” he whispered. The name tasted sour on his lips. “Most people wish for endless riches or power. You surprised me, Charles.” Charlie couldn't see his face, but he sensed he was smiling. The thought made his stomach churn. “You wished for Alice.” The figure flipped his card open. “Seven of diamonds.” Charlie tapped his fingers against the bag. He took a deep breath and turned his second card. “Nine of hearts.” “Interesting,” the figures low voice growled. “How long did you stay with Alice before you got bored?” Anger rumbled in Charlie's stomach, but was quickly swallowed up by his doubt. “Eighteen months.” He swallowed the sickly lump forming in his throat. "I didn't get bored. She wasn't right." "She was what you wished for," the figure reminded him coolly. He tried to remember the real Alice; the cool, dark haired girl with shining eyes. The girl who made his heart skip uncontrollably whenever she was near. She was laughter and life, but she was going abroad for a year, following her adventurous spirit. Leaving him. He didn't know for how long. Not the Alice the figure gave him. The jealous, besotted, creepy shell that made him fear for his life, that crept around after him in the shadows like a ghoul. He should have known, and it sickened him. The figure turned his final card. “Six of spades. One more, Charles.” Charlie struggled to grip the last card with sweating, trembling fingers. A red Queen gazed at him. His stomach flipped. Oh, God. He drew a long, uneven breath and pressed his head against the bad still clinging to his sticky chest. “Fair enough,” the figure said. “I'll see you in five years.” “Wait,” Charles said suddenly. “Can you put her back to normal? Can you...erase me? What I've done to her? Properly and fairly. No more of this craziness. No more tricks. Just restore the old, happy Alice.” The figure lingered a moment, then eventually nodded. “Alright. One last card. If it's higher, you put it right and I'll come with you. If it's lower, I'll come with you anyway. It's win-win, isn't it?” The figure started to chuckle. “Fine. I'm in a good mood. Last card. I'll even let you deal.” Charlie took the cards and shuffled. He tried to picture the time he saw Alice. She'd been thin. Her finger nails were bitten down to the bone, she scratched at her arm and bounced rapidly on her heels. Eyes, dull and unfocused, darted back and forth as she mumbled incoherently. Just a greasy wraith of a woman. Charlie put down two cards. “You first,” he said as confidently as he could. The figure turned the card. “Nine of hearts. Your turn.” With flushed cheeks and his hair slicked to his forehead Charlie turned his last card. He smiled weakly. “Ten of diamonds.” He reached over and picked up the glass of whisky still sat on the table. Lifting it to his lips, he downed it. The sour warmth ran down his throat. “I mean it. No tricks.” The figure waved his hand. “It is done. Ready?” he stood, a giant wall of black fabric. Charlie nodded. “Let's go.” Heat swallowed them up.