The Ace of Hearts | Teen Ink

The Ace of Hearts

March 27, 2019
By seven_worlds GOLD, Lakewood, Ohio
seven_worlds GOLD, Lakewood, Ohio
17 articles 0 photos 11 comments

Favorite Quote:
"That's what the voices in your head are for, to get you through the silent parts."
-David Levithan, Will Grayson, Will Grayson

He calls himself The Gamemaster.  Whatever you do, don’t let him tempt you.

The old man’s words echoed through Jacob’s head as he took the long trek back up the hill.  Though his clothes were brand new, freshly ironed, they looked disheveled, ragged across his body.  The lines embedded in his face came out in the moonlight, and the skin on his face sagged in exhaustion. He had no personal belongings on him, just a single, small piece of paper in his paper in his hand. The ace of hearts.

He had just made a grave mistake.  

Why hadn’t he just listened to the old man?  Even past the copper mug he was using to collect what he needed to get by, he seemed wise enough.  The desperation in his voice told Jacob that he wasn’t messing around.

Why couldn’t he have just listened?

Jacob glanced down the incline behind him, back at the small shack that was already starting to fade in the orange sunrise.  It looked different in the contrasting light of the sun, nothing like its regular business hours under the moonlight. It could have easily mistaken for an abandoned shed by a simple passerby, but Jacob, he knew.

That’s where the devil resided.

Or something or other. The creature who had just ruined his life, or what was left of it.  It was all the same. Devil, demon, goblin, gamemaster. The only thing that resided in that run down shack was pure evil.  

Jacob’s hand was shaking as he brought it to his stomach.  An hour ago, as he was walking into the shack, he had been determined to come out with the pain subsided completely.  Now, it was nothing close. His chest ached, and the pain throbbed through his body with each step. It breached everywhere but his right hand, the one that held the card.

It’s cancer...cancer of the heart…

Trying to ignore the pain, Jacob focused on the card.  It was all too standard, it’s cheap plastic rubbing up against his skin.  It seemed like something you could get for a buck at the dollar store. However, there was something about it, something that only the tips of his fingers could detect.  The most miniscule beat drummed from it, like the beat of a heart, or a clock ticking down.

At this point, Jacob didn’t care.  He would do any errand or milk run or chore for the Gamemaster, as long as it meant years.  More time, the Gamemaster had hissed, playing cards shuffled across the table.  Why play with bits of green paper when you can bargain years instead?

Of all people, the old man knew the price of losing to the Gamemaster.  He had told Jacob, in a last attempt to persuade him, that he was supposed to have seventy six long years, but a single game with the Gamemaster had withered it down to a day.

Jacob wished he hadn’t been so skeptical.

There was one thing the man didn’t know about, however.  A rush of luck that Jacob had been fortunate enough to find.  

A forfeit, or a counter, if you like, the demon had said.  Just one little chore, and you can have back all the years you lost.  I’ll even throw in a new heart.

It was a soul.

Jacob needed to collect a soul, one that apparently belonged to the Gamemaster.  He gave no explanation, no destination, no name. Just the ace of hearts and a word of good luck.

Jacob had no idea what the card was for.  Did it belong to the soul he was looking for?  Was it some kind of tracking device? The light patter that it gave off told him that it wasn’t just a regular card, something important. It seemed impossible to figure out, but no matter what it was, it was sure as hell a ticket to his freedom. He turned it over in his sweaty palm, desperate to treat it better than a regular ace.

He continued the shameful trek back to his house.  He lived in a small town, twenty one miles to the closest city, surrounded by nothing but farmland.  It was perfect, when he thought about it. Hardly anyone would be able to find the shack at the bottom of the hill, concealed by miles of corn.  The Gamemaster had nothing to fear, no one to find him. Unless, of course, they wanted to.

Jacob soon arrived at his house, his thoughts having time to simmer, boil, and increase his anxiety.  The sun had risen, the newly sunny day seeming too cheerful for the grim circumstances that he was under.  There were too many unanswered questions, too many explanations that the Gamemaster had refused to give. His thoughts were blabbing so loudly, that he barely even noticed the card beginning to tap louder with each step.

He stepped up onto his porch, dreading facing his wife.  It seemed impossible to put a casual, “everything’s okay” smile on his face when fear was tearing him up inside.  He swung the rickety screen door open and dug a key out of his pocket with sweaty hands. Even looking at the door, he felt guilty.  It had broken, its chestnut wood chipped at the beginning of the month. All the money had been going to his health, and they had barely any left to fix a silly door.  There was just barely enough to feed their six month old daughter, Ava.

The door reminded him of why he had gone to the Gamemaster in the first place.

Only as he walked through the door and into the house, he noticed the card again.  It was thumping, almost like a pulse. Not faster, just harder. Louder. A jolt of fear shot through him, and he dropped the card, its organic behavior sending a chill up his spine.

Cards should not be able to do that.

Averting his eyes, he shut the door behind him quickly, still trying to keep quiet as to not wake Beatrix and Ava.  The last thing he needed was a demon in his house.

When his eyes landed back on the card, he jumped back, ramming into the door.  The card...had moved. And an arrow had been drawn over the heart.

Cards should not be able to do that, either.  

The black arrow that was over the heart was pointing in front of Jacob, like a signal.  Maybe he was right, then. The card must have been a tracking device, or a sort of magnet to the soul he was looking for.  With a new hesitant hope, Jacob reached down and took the ace of hearts back. In utter disbelief, he found that as he turned the card, the arrow rotated, always pointing in the same direction.

Toward his staircase?

He was no longer in shock from the magic of the card, only focused on retrieving the soul that would set him free, give him his lengthy life back.  Floorboards creaking, he walked up his staircase. As the arrow moved with every twist and turn of the stairs, the hallways, his confidence grew.

Finally he stopped at a door, cracked open.

The beating of the ace of hearts had grown heavier, and it continued to grow as he stepped into the room.  The yellow curtains did hardly anything to block out the rising sun, and a golden glow protruded from every corner.  There, in a chipped, white crib, lay his daughter.

Jacob had been so focused on following the directions of the card that it took him a moment to process where he was.  Momentarily unimportant, the beating of the card seemed to fade as he looked at his daughter and took in where he was.  The arrow had vanished from the face of the card.


It couldn’t be.  It couldn’t be Ava.  Jacob’s eyes widened, and a chill ran through him, even in the heat of the morning.  Thoughts and emotions gushed through his head, and he tried to come up with every possible counter to every sign that was pointing to her.  The card could be faulty. There could be someone else right outside his house.

He inched forward, careful not to step on the floorboards that he knew were squeaky.  Reaching down into the crib, he brushed a hand over Ava’s smooth wrist, and found exactly what he had feared.

The beating of the card matched her pulse.  

Every thought or question was gone now.  There was nothing but sadness and defeat in Jacob’s mind, and it pushed out of his eyes through tears.  Ava was the soul. Ava was the soul that Jacob needed to get his seventy-six years back. Memories that had yet to happen flashed before his eyes as he looked at her face, sleeping so peacefully.  

It was a lose-lose situation.

If Jacob turned his own life back over to the Gamemaster, he would be leaving Ava and Beatrix with no money, no father or husband.  But if he turned Ava over…he knew he would never be able to forgive himself. Without question, he knew what he had to do.

With one last look at Ava, he tore the ace of hearts in half, its lock of Ava releasing. The Gamemaster could save his spare heart.  Jacob’s had been broken from the moment he decided to stop and help a poor old man.

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