Crossing to the other side

The sky was pregnant with rain as we climbed the mountain searching for a passage to the other side. Thick clouds covered the valley below; it was getting darker, so we decided to set camp for the night. We ate our rations by the dim light of a small fire and when finished, told our tales.

In the darkest night of my life, I gambled my soul with the devil. We sat across a small table covered in green cloth. An eternal fire provided enough light to see the tablecloth and Lucifer’s face. The rest of the world was obscure.

“A two-card game”? 

The devil proposed, and I accepted without knowing the rules. The crafty old Nick dealt the cards, and slowly said: “Ace trumps, my boy” He rolled the words in his mouth with satisfied pleasure like boiled lollies.

“Sure”, I said, —“but what are we playing for”?

To my enquiry the fallen one casually responded, as if it was a trifle —“Your immortal soul of course”

“And if I win”?

This time the prince of darkness remained silent and disinterested, so I took the initiative.

“I have always desired knowledge, you know”?

His demeanour changed while he mumbled something or other, that he couldn’t wager those things anymore because it had become complicated after the apple incident.

“Then grant me just the desire”.

“If you wish”, he replied with a mellifluous smile —” if you wish”.

I began to study my hand when Satan suddenly broke into a triumphant laugh and yelled:

“By the rules of the game Ace trumps, and I will tell you what I have in my hand: if one of my cards is a Queen then the other card is an Ace. However, If I don’t have a Queen in my hand then the other card is an Ace. Either way your soul is mine”!

“You are a dirty liar, that can’t be possible. Only one of those rules can be true at any one time”! —I said with a hoarse voice as if the air had escaped from my lungs or my soul had been snatched from my body by the cold hand of defeat.

The following morning I woke up to the cold light of a winter day and my head ached in the rarefied atmosphere of the mountain. It had rained during the night and the fire had long gone out. A thick fog covered the land and it looked as if the world had disappeared. 

To this day I wonder if I ever went on that trip, who won the game and if al lthis is true even if it didn’t happen.

First published in condensed form in the Reader’s Digest: (Queen \Rightarrow Ace) \veebar (~Queen \Rightarrow Ace) \Leftrightarrow ~Ace

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