House of Cards
I had left school about 30 minutes ago.
Walking down the streets of this unknown town, I felt a sense of relief. I didn’t know anyone here. No one knew me. Moving here had been an impulse. I had an overwhelming sense that I needed to leave. Leave everything behind. That overwhelming need to escape is what propelled my feet forward and somehow I ended up here, in Black Heart. Run down, gothic, bustling with my type of people. Thieves. Gangsters. Fighters. Survivors. It was as if this place was a siren and I had somehow heard its call.
Black Heart was at the center of Chicago, a black heart pumping its black blood to the rest of the city. Even walking on the asphalt, I could feel its black magic pulsating under my feet. This town was bewitching and I was instantly under its spell.
The thing about spells, however, is that they don’t find you a place to live. At least not until you wish someone dead or suspiciously strike gold. Arriving only 2 days ago, I hadn’t secured a place to live. It had been at the bottom of my priority list but now, it was suddenly at the top. I had no problem finding a bench to sleep on but if I wanted to live here, for however long it was going to be, I needed a roof over my head.
I pulled a card out of my back pocket and read the address scribbled on it. I looked at the house plate of the house I had stopped in front of. 26 Grisley, it read. The place looked less like a home and more like a larger version of a wooden shed. It was a house of cards, ready to collapse at the slightest gust of wind. I was afraid to even breathe.
Walking around the place, I looked for something that resembled a door. I had already made 3 rounds around the place when a door flung open to my left. I stood planted as a man trudged out angrily mumbling to himself. Behind him, the door shut, camouflaging with the rest of the house. It was as if it was never there. There wasn’t even a doorknob so I failed to understand how he got in and out.
I took a step forward and at the sound of leaves crunching under my feet, the man turned around. In two seconds he had a rifle in his hand and it was pointed at me. He stared me down, his blue eyes narrowing.
“What are you doing trespassing on private property?”
“Don’t you know? You’re supposed to put your hands up in this situation.”
“Why, are you going to shoot me?”
“Don’t tempt me.”
Looking at him, I noticed how old he was. He was probably a grandfather. His back was slightly arched but he easily towered over me by a good foot. His hair still had a few black streaks but the entirety of his beard was white. The way he handled the gun obviously showed he knew how to shoot. I didn’t think he would shoot me but I didn’t dare move. Who knows? The slightest sound or movement might set him off. I didn’t step forward but I also didn’t raise my hands in surrender.
“I hear you’re looking for a tenant.”
“Who’s asking?” he said, cocking his gun.
“Our mutual friend recommended this place.”
“I don’t have friends.”
“Not the popular one?”
“I haven’t got a patient streak.”
“Shoot them all dead?”
“One shot each and six feet underground.”
I internally smiled at his dark humor.
“So, about that room?”
“What’s your name?”
“None of your business.”
“You going to shoot me?”
“I haven’t decided yet.” He looked at me for a long time before, narrowing his eyes as if trying to judge my character, before he finally put the gun down. “There’s a small shed a few ways down. It’s cluttered. A lot of tools in there. Easy to saw your hand off. You have to work your worth. Help fix up the place. I live here in the main house with my granddaughter. She’s a monster, she is. The devil incarnate. Think you can handle it?”
I nodded. “About rent-“
“$420 a month. No negotiation. Get a job. You’re responsible for your own food so don’t expect any charity. I don’t got a heart.” He pointed in the way of the shed. He started to turn away then turned back. “You know how to fight?” I nod. “Good. I don’t need another dead tenant. Too messy to clean up. Oh, and by the way, watch out for the rats. They get nasty at night.” He started walking away.
“What do I call you?” I yelled at him.
“Jack,” I think I heard him say as he walked away.