A million stars blanketed the Texas sky. The stars were so bright that the two men riding horseback were able to see the dirt road clearly. The men were riding to a town called Olive Tree.
One man did all of the talking, his voice boomed in the quiet night.
"So many people think they control their own fate. I used to think that. That's actually why I got myself in this gold mining business. But I learned from the Dealer. He taught me that ain't the case. That ain't the case at all."
The man spat out some tobacco juice. It wasn't a clean spit, a little bit dribbled on his bushy grey beard. The brown streaks on his beard made it apparent that he is accustomed to poor spitting.
"See a man gets dealt a stack of cards in life. He has no choice but to play them. You can't play someone else's hand, because you ain't got their cards. That's where the choice comes in, how do you respond to your cards?"
Luke said nothing. He used to talk more, when he lived in Boston. But when he made his way West he gave it up. In the West you need your instincts, and you can't hear your instincts if you were talking. It's a wonder Harrison, the man presently jabbering, was still alive.
"This place we are headed to, there is a special card dealer that changed the way I see the world. The cards he deals let you glimpse at the cards that God has dealt you. He lets you draw five cards. Five cards that show you what's coming your way in the near and the distant future. I didn't believe it at first, but I went there over ten years ago now and three of my cards have come true. Bet you are wondering which is which huh?"
Luke remained silent. He was skeptical of many of Harrison's statements. They had entered into an agreement several weeks ago when they took mutual cover from a storm in a burned out cabin. They were both searching for the Treasure of Arenado, and it was easier to work with a partner. They agreed that if they found it, they would split it down the middle. Luke was hell bent on finding it as quickly as possible. But Harrision was privy to take the meandering road to his goals. However, few men were as successful at finding gold as Harrison was. The two men shared a deep lust for gold. Harrison had a lust for gold nearly as insatiable as his lust for women. Luke wanted to find the gold so he could finally have the one thing he had been missing all his life: independent stability.
Harrison continued, "Well I'll tell ya! The first card that came true was that I would kill a man in a gunfight. I did that about a year after I drew the card. He was trying to ambush me and my donkey after we had done a little mining. I shot him dead. I drew another card that told me I would fall in love but not get to stay in love. Horribly tragic, eh? I met a woman in San Antonio. I tell you she had the bluest eyes you ever did see. Eyes you could jump right into and take a swim in. Only problem was it turned out she was a whore and was only trying to milk me for cash. Boy I was devastated. Next card had told me I'd get lost in my quest for gold. Lo and behold I did! I nearly starved crossing the desert. Had to kill my donkey and live off its flesh and blood."
Luke nodded, he was still unconvinced. He didn't trust Harrison. He could tell the man spun stories and told a fresh lie every other breath. But he didn't have much of a choice.
"The last two cards I pulled ain't came true yet. But I know they are bound to. One told me I'm destined to get shot in the head and die, the other told me I'm supposed to find a man that will take me to the Treasure of Arenado. I know'd that second one has to happen first. Some men would be scared to know how their life ends. But not me. Each and all of us know that we gotta go someday and there ain't nothing we can do about it. Least I'm gonna be rich before I get shot!" Harrison cackled.
"And guess what kiddo? I think that man that knows where the treasure is gonna be you!"
"And why is that?" asked Luke.
Harrison spat and smiled a brown toothed smile, "Just a feeling."
"That's why I'm taking you to meet the Dealer. I look at you and I see your soul shimmering like a clean hunk of gold. I bet you are gonna draw a card that will tell you exactly where our treasure is."
Harrison continued to jabber about his days digging for gold the rest of the way to Olive Tree.
* * *
By the time they reached the saloon it was almost midnight. Olive Tree, a town with about ten buildings, was totally quiet. Harrison and Luke tied their horses to a post. The full moon cast long shadows down the street.
Harrison looked at Luke, "Now it's all been arranged. We are going to go in there and you will draw your cards. Like I say, I believe that you will draw a card that leads to Arendao. If that be the case we will saddle up and be on our way.``
Luke stared at Harrison, "And if I don't draw that card?"
"That ain't gonna happen. I knows you are gonna draw it." Then he turned around and walked into the saloon.
Luke didn't trust it. He made sure his six shooter was loaded. If things didn't go as the old man expected, Luke was prepared to be ready for anything.
He walked through the two half doors and saw that the saloon was nearly empty. Several large candles provided some dim lighting. The bartender behind the counter was cleaning a glass, he nodded at Luke. Harrison was already at the bar and it appeared he had already put down a shot of whiskey, he gestured for Luke to come over. Luke eased into the stool next to Harrison. The bartender put the glass down and left the room.
"Don't get too comfortable. Gulp down that whiskey and go to that corner table. That's the Dealer."
Luke turned around, and realized he had missed the figure sitting in the corner. He wore a dark cloak over a shapeless body. Luke was suspicious, but there wasn't any turning back now. You can only play the cards you have been dealt.
Luke went over and joined the Dealer. A wax candle flickered between them. The Dealer said nothing. Luke couldn't see the Dealer's face behind the cowl of his hood. They sat quietly for a moment. Then a cold wind seemed to blow through the saloon. All of the candles went out except on their table.
The Dealer pulled a stack of cards out of the inside of his cloak and placed them on the table. Luke studied the deck. The back of the cards looked unlike any cards he had seen. Tiny red devils danced around three knitting women: The Fates.
The Dealer shuffled the deck and as Luke stared at the Dealer's hands he realized that they had no flesh. His hands were literally bones. He shuffled the deck magnificently, his skeletal hands moved nimbly over the cards, but it seemed effortless.
Finally, the Dealer placed the deck on Luke's side of the table.
A voice that seemed to come from inside Luke's skull hissed, "Draw the first five cards."
Luke did as he was told.
The face of each of the cards were unbelievable. He saw moving images of himself, presumably in the future. He studied the cards intently. How was this possible he wondered?
The voice whispered in his head again, "This is your future. Whatever you do. This destiny cannot be changed. These are the cards the stars dealt for you long ago. Respond to them as you will."
Luke placed the cards down on the table. The cold wind blew back through the saloon. The Dealer was gone along with his cards, and all of the candles were relit.
"What'd you see?" Harrison called across the room, "We going to find that treasure?"
Luke stood up and walked straight out of the saloon. Harrison chased after him.
"I knew it! I knew you were my man! Haha! Where we headed? Was it a map?"
Luke saddled up on his horse, "I'm not your man Harrison."
Harrison grabbed his leg, "You gotta be!" he shouted, "You gotta be. You want to know why? Because I saw your face in my card! That's right! Now lead me to the treasure damnit."
Luke stared coldly at Harrison, "I didn't see you in the card Harrison. The treasure is mine. I'm sorry."
Luke started to ride off, Harrison cursed after him, "Get back here you bastard!"
Then Luke heard a gunshot and felt pain shoot into his left shoulder. He looked at his arm, it had merely been grazed.
"I'm not going to kill ya! But I'll do what I gotta do to get to that treasure. I'll rip your arms and legs off but keep you alive then I'll leave you at the site of the treasure and bury you in the sand! The treasure of Arendao is mine!"
Luke reared his horse around and pulled out his six shooter. He fired a single shot at Harrison's head.
The man sank to his knees, dead.
"You wouldn't have to bury me in sand. The treasure is in the mountains."
Luke rode his horse eastward into the rising sun to fulfill his destiny.