Return to Contents Fantasticoe 2001 - 10th Anniversary Issue
We met for the first time down by the mailboxes in front of our houses. I gathered my mail and was startled by the old man who lived next door. "Morning sir." He spoke in almost a whisper. He looked as though he were over 100 years old in the haze of the morning mist. I greeted him with a smile.
"So your new to this neighborhood young man?"
"We just moved in three days ago. Been really busy with the moving and have not had a chance to get out of the house. I'm glad we were able to meet neighbor."
"I see. Did I notice you have two young daughters?" He asked.
"Yes, I sure do… Why do you ask?"
"The old man who lived in your house before you had two daughters… Pretty little things… A shame what happened to the eldest."
"I'm sorry, what do you mean? What happened to her?"
"Oh… They never told you about what happened in that house?"
"No, no one has said a thing." I was a bit bewildered.
"Have you got time for a story? I think you ought to know what happened seeing as you just moved in."
"Hmmm… Sunday's are always a good time for a story. It'll keep me away from the yard work for a little while. Come sit on my porch."
"No young man, we'll go sit on my porch. I try to stay clear of that house." His skin paled at my offer.
"Ok, I guess I can come by."
"Come, you really do need to know." He said as he began hobbling towards his small cottage house. I had to walk slowly to keep from overtaking his elderly pace. As we sat on his front stoop he withdrew a cigar, lit it, and began his tale.
Before they both passed away, every Sunday evening two older men, Frank and George, would play a game of chess in George's parlor. The same parlor in that house you just moved to. Their Sunday chess game was a tradition that lasted nearly twenty years. Both men were happily married. Frank had no children but George had two very healthy and successful girls. His oldest daughter was 35 and working as a lawyer in Boston and his youngest had just turned 31 and was looking to join a successful psychiatric practice in Province Town. The aging men found time passed more pleasantly when they kept active and competed with each other. Although the two men had grown up together in the same neighborhood on the east side of Cornwall England, their relationship had always been one based on ruthless competition. Since primary school the two men had competed viciously over everything from girls, to grades, to athletics. In their retired age they were unable to compete in the assortment of activities they had before; so, they put all their efforts into the Sunday chess game. In fact, not only did they compete viciously, but they also placed a wager on the game. Each game had a dollar bet, but they decided that on the 1000th game the wager would increase to $1000. By now exactly 999 games had been played. Frank had won 999 times, and George had not yet won a single game. George couldn't let Frank win the 1000th game. He had been put to shame every Sunday for almost twenty years and owed Frank $999. All George could think about was winning the 1000th game and earning his dept back, as well as his pride. George became so paranoid about the possibility of losing the 1000th game that he decided to make sure he would win. He would cheat. He decided to put half a dose of his prescription sleeping pills in Frank's coffee so that Frank would become extremely groggy and unfocused on the chess match. George's plan didn't work exactly as he thought it would. Frank never finished the game. He suffered a seizure resulting from a bad reaction to the prescription medicine George had slipped in his drink. Frank never awoke from the coma. George's pride was forever lost that day.
George became ill, and depressed after that day. He began separating himself from his family. He did nothing but sit in his parlor in front of the chessboard and weep, feeling sorry for himself. He never touched the pieces, which were perfectly placed in their proper position. He just stared at the black pieces in front of him, and the white pieces across the board. It was just like always, but without his opponent. He realized he would never be able to win that final game and gloat in front of Frank's shocked face. Around 10p.m. George would have a few shots of whiskey and retire for the night. In the morning he would go right back to staring at the chessboard as he had the day before. His wife couldn't get him to eat, talk, or move. He was totally gone, lost deep inside himself. He was like this until the Sunday two weeks after Frank had passed away.
On this particular Sunday everything was exactly the same except a white chess piece had been moved. George knew this move. It was Frank's favorite opening. George thought it strange that someone had moved the piece. His wife knew nothing about how to play chess. He didn't know what to think of the situation so he moved a black piece and watched the board intently, hoping something would happen. Nothing happened. Once again George had his nightcap and turned in for the night. He did not mention the moved piece to his wife. He never said much to her anymore. Early the next morning George awoke to discover another white piece had been moved. He found himself quite boggled by what was happening, but he had this feeling he should avoid the questions and just play the game as he knew how. George moved another piece and sat and waited. Still nothing happened. George poured himself a glass of scotch and puzzled over the board until he grew tired and went to bed.
"Forgive me if I bore you young man. I tend to ramble on in my old age." Whispered the old man.
"No, please… Continue." I urged him.
"Fine then young man."
Each morning upon awakening, George found that another white piece had been moved. The style of play was eerily like Frank's. George didn't believe in ghosts, but another white piece was definitely moved each morning. What other explanation could there be? He didn't bother himself with questions that couldn't be discovered. He continued to play the game. About a week into the match, George awoke after a strange and frightening dream. In the dream, Frank came to him and said that if at any time George quit the game, or lost the game, George would fall ill and die. Frank also warned that if George lost his queen his wife would fall ill and if he lost his one of his knights or bishops his girls would perish, the eldest first. George shivered and was unable to fall back asleep. He decided to go look at the chessboard again. George didn't know exactly what to think of the dream, but suddenly to his horror one of the white pieces began moving. George froze in terror; his mind went blank, his throat dried, and his stomach turned. He became extremely nauseous.
Fortunately George was in a good position compared to his phantom opponent. This helped his mood to the point where he could finally sit down in front of the chessboard and continue playing. It seemed as though Frank's ghost, or who ever George was playing had gotten the best of him. Now it was George who was extremely tired, as well as scared. Above all that, he was playing chess with someone who he couldn't even see. George moved a black piece and almost instantly a white piece was moved. George moved again but suddenly realized he had made a horrible move. He would have to defend his king in the next few moves with his knight. If the dream were reality, he didn't even want to think about what would happen to his eldest daughter. The phantom player saw the mistake George had made and took advantage of it. George had to sacrifice his knight in order to protect his king and his life.
The match continued on into the night, suddenly the phone rang in the next room. George swallowed; anxiety filled his body. He got up and cautiously lifted the receiver to his ear. "Sir… Forgive me…" A woman sorrowfully informed George that his daughter had suffered a seizure and fallen down the stairs to her death. George couldn't speak, he felt extremely ill. He hung up the phone and ran back to the chessboard. His wife didn't need to hear the news and the circumstances he was involved in at the present time. It was too strange to be coincidence. Not only had the dream proved true so far, his daughter had died from a seizure, as Frank had two weeks before.
George broke into a cold sweat, he felt like he was about to have a heart attack. His hands twitched in fear. He made his next move and held his breath. Suddenly he cried out an unearthly bellow as he realized he had been tricked and he was going to lose his queen. He got up and ran to the bedroom.
"Young man, perhaps I shouldn't be telling you this story seeing as you just moved in that house." The man said almost inaudibly.
"No, please continue, I am quite interested." I said uneasily.
"Ok, but you won't like what you hear."
He peeked into his bedroom and found his wife sleeping peacefully in bed. George felt trapped. He didn't know what was going on. Was he losing his mind? Should he wake his wife and tell her about their daughter? George had never felt so helpless in his entire life. Finally, he raced back to the chessboard to continue, hoping this was all a bad dream. After a few more moves George lost his queen. George froze in terror. Slowly he began to get up and walk to the bedroom. Reality set in and he sprinted as fast as his old legs would take him to the bedroom. At first he couldn't get himself to open the door and look inside. Finally he slowly opened the bedroom door. There was evil in the air. He could smell death, and feel emptiness as he entered the room, although his wife looked as though she was peacefully sleeping where he had left her. George walked over to her side and bent over to kiss her forehead. As his lips touched her skin, he gasped. Her forehead was cold and clammy. As he reached down to her neck to check for a pulse he vomited and his face became streaked with tears. George knelt to the floor, the smell of his own vomit made him nauseous. He got sick again. This time it was nothing but bile, and the taste soured his mouth.
Only after washing his face and getting a drink of water was he able to return to the chessboard. The game continued. George felt as though he was gaining an advantage over his opponent. His opponent made a blunder and George took advantage of it. George continued to put the pressure on his opponent. He started feeling better and better with each move. Finally he got to a position where he could win in just a few more moves. The invisible opponent started playing slower, taking up more and more time each move. George was so upset, he saw a way to win, but his opponent wouldn't move. Two hours went by, and finally a white piece was moved. The move was a total mistake; it wouldn't help in any way that George could see. George moved again. Too late, he realized why the phantom player had made the strange move. He was setting up to attack George's bishop. George couldn't let his daughter die. There was no way he could save his bishop and not lose the game at the same time. He cursed the phantom player and realized what he would have to do.
The next morning the police found his wife's dead body peacefully resting in bed. She had suffered a heart attack and died in her sleep. George had totally vanished. The only evidence they could find of his existence was a black king that had been overturned on the chessboard. It was lying in a pool of blood. Tests later proved that the blood belonged to George.
"You man, I am sorry, I must leave now. I have to prepare breakfast for the old woman. Excuse me."
"Wait sir, is there more you can tell me?" I asked as he stood and began trudging towards the front door of his house.
"I'm sorry young man, that is all I know. Stop by tomorrow afternoon if you like. Invite your family." He opened the front door and left me alone on the porch to contemplate what I had just heard. I shivered as I stood to return to my new house.
Acknowledgments: Thanks to the Coe College, Hickock Hall computer lab for allowing me to type the first draft of this paper in solitude. Thanks to G, Elliott, and the University of Puget Sound for inspiration to write this story. Thanks to Coe College for the giving me the idea to include the fire extinguisher in the story. A special thanks to Terry Heller for hosting such a cool class for J-term. Thanks to Quinton McClain for proof reading.
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