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  • Ujwal Mantha

The Game of Life


“The only thing I remember of my old pops was his chess set. It was the only thing he ever gifted me, that, and a lifetime supply of second-hand smoke. Anyway, welcome to room 3B of the SECOND CHANCE chemotherapy clinic, I’d stand up but then I’d probably hit the floor soon after, which might put a damper on this lovely evening.”


Imagine a medium sized toilet, now if you are not part of the uber rich whose medium sized toilets come with their own helipad, then you have got a good idea about the size of the room we are in. The patient lays weakly on the bed, his skin almost as white as the sheets. He smiles warmly with warmth his body does not have in ample supply. The patient has a guest who sidles over to the bedside, pulling up a plastic chair and gingerly taking the patient's hand, feeling for a pulse. He turns his head to the corner table where there sits an ornate jade chess set that they had been discussing just moments before.


“So, lay it on me Doc, how much more of this stuff will I need to take?” gesturing towards the inky bags of chemicals hanging off the IV drip like potions from the dusty shelves of some forgotten mage.


“Oh, you’re done with those. In fact, you’re dead”


The patient grinned weakly, “Yeah I know that, I already cancelled my sunset cruise to Bora Bora, how much time do I got though?”


“You misunderstand me, you are dead right now.”


The patient did not say anything for a few seconds. His smile slowly dissolved as he took in the silence of the room. There were no rhythmic beeps from the EEG nor the gentle hum of the life support machine. He stretched out his arms to see that they were whiter than usual. It was like he had been doused in moonlight. He turned back to his guest to see that the white lab coat had faded into an inky black robe. It was not the black of darkness, not the kind where nightmares frolic. It was the black of long sleep, cool shade, and the endless night sky.


“I’m Death, if you haven’t already figured that out”


“Nice coat”


“Thanks, it’s vintage”


“So, I suppose this is it huh?


“Yeah…something like that…. Say….do you want to play?”


“What”


Death, whose skin had turned to wisp and faded into air, was now a bleached skeleton, white as milk, in a black robe which it wore rather well. It pointed a skeletal hand at the chess set.


“Chess.”


“Oh, yeah I suppose”


The guest would have questioned that and probably should have but he was, understandably, in a bit of daze.


The jade chess set glided over to the bed. Death caressed the pieces and they began to glow faintly. It was an antique, one of thousands that had been hewn as souvenirs in the 18th century. One side was polished and now gleamed with faint green light. The other was rough and sandy, glowing a softer shade.


“Polished starts first”


“Why so?”


“Well my dad used to say that someone had to really work on the polished pieces to get them to be this way, so we let them start first as a testament to their hard work.”


“That’s poetic”


“He always used to play polished”


“That probably had something to do with it”


The patient chuckled as the game began.


There is something about the Game. Not chess in particular but any game. With its imaginary rules and arbitrary victories, people can lose themselves in a game. The patient forgets the trivial matter of life and death, disregards his unique position and saves his attention for his rough knights and sandy pawns. He vaguely wonders how he can feel their ridges and textures even as he is supposedly dead, but those thoughts can wait.


Chess is the gentlemen’s war, quiet and reserved. Pieces begin to fall. A hand of wisp and a hand of bones move swiftly and silently, two blurs over a carved board of black and white.

And then it is over.


The hands slow as the patient sidles his knight over to the polished King, trapping him.


“Checkmate, but oh my…. You must be the best I’ve ever played”


“Well you’re definitely the best I’ve ever played”


Death rose and stretched. It reached into the folds of Its coat and pulled out a large glistening scythe. Its blade was mesmerizing and shone with all the colours of the rainbow. It plopped the scythe into the hands of the rather bewildered patient and proceeded to step out of its dark robes ,folding and gently placing them next to the scythe.


“Battledore, that’s what I beat the old guy with, 403 years 6 months and five days ago. It was like playing a dervish, I do not know how I won. But chess is fun too, we should play again sometime.”


“What am I supposed to do with these?”


“Well that’s The Scythe, you use that to sever people from the mortal realm. It is intuitive and extremely user friendly. The robe has a bit more of a learning curve, it’s got these trans dimensional properties that you’ll eventually get the hang of.”


“What”


The patient saw his hands slowly dissolve into the moonlight coming through the window just as Death’s skeletal body seemed to be growing a hazy layer of skin. Rough whitish cotton clothes descended on a waif like form. Death was now dressed in what seemed like poor peasant’s garb, an arrow shaft sprouted from his chest, but he did not seem to mind. He had kind and tired eyes with a scraggly beard and a threadbare cap. He took the cap off and bowed before the patient who was now nothing but a very puzzled set of bones.


The patient who was now Death drew the robe close to itself and picked up the scythe. The peasant gestured towards himself and the iridescent blade.


Death brought the scythe down in a swift arc that, for a moment, was a blinding rainbow in the middle of the room. It sliced through the peasant and he began to dissolve.


“Good luck” he smiled as he became one with the moonlight. The room was silent once again, except for the whispers of the wind rustling through the trees outside.


Death sighed and drifted out the window, its rainbow scythe disappearing into its robes as it melted into the night.


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