YELLOW FEVER (Final installment)

He came straight up in bed, but the pain in his leg
Laid him flat, and he yelled with a curse,
“We used Jim’s deck of cards! It was perfectly straight,
And you’ll never prove anything worse!”
I said, “Mister, you’ve spun a good tale I admit,
And I don’t know how much of it’s true,
But I know that if Jim played a game for those stakes,
The winner, my friend, wasn’t you.
We were brothers, and close as two brothers could be.
I knew all of Jim’s good points and bad.
And I’ve seen him play cards with the sharpest afloat,
And take every last penny they had.
Take a look at this deck that you claim to have used,
And I’ll prove that you couldn’t have won.
They were marked by an expert for Jimmy and me,
From the back I can spot every one.
Ace of clubs, five of spades, four of hearts, king of clubs,
I could name every card to the end.
You killed him for sure, and you’re going to stand trial,
Just as soon as those stitches can mend.”
I don’t know if the weakness came back in a rush,
Or the thought that he’d lost was too much.
But the stranger passed out, and in checking his pulse,
He was clammy and cold to the touch.
He had not made a move when I turned out the light,
So I figured he’d sleep until dawn,
But I woke in the night when the dogs made a noise,
And I looked and I found he was gone.
If I dreamed it or heard it I can’t say for sure,
But it seemed that the wind and the snow
Were the tools of revenge in that wilderness land
To bring justice where law couldn’t go.
When I woke I could tell that the night had been cruel
And a test for a man at his peak.
I couldn’t but wonder if one could survive
Who was tired and crippled and weak.
Well, the answer came soon. It was well before noon
When I heard a dog’s yelp in the snow.
I could see as I broke through the drift at the door
That three dogs had a dog sled in tow.
They came back to the place where they’d last had a meal,
And their passenger came for the ride.
I could tell by the stare in his eyes that he’d died,
So I carried his body inside.
When I peeled off his clothes that were wet from the snow,
I could see that he’d taped to his skin
A yellow old parchment that turned out to be
The map that had killed him and Jim.
As I looked at that rag with a few simple lines,
I was actually struck to the core,
That a paper could kill at least two that I know,
And the good Lord knows how many more.
I figured since I was my brother’s sole heir,
And the stranger left none that I knew,
By the rights of succession, that map should be mine,
And in that case I knew what to do.
By the flame that I’d built to cook bacon and beans
I made certain that once and for all
That siren would never again be the death
Of a man who was drugged by its call.
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If you missed any of the previous installments, just scroll down and you’ll find them below.
I hope you enjoyed it.