The Chess Masters. Short Story.

I’ve finished the book ‘The Shining’ and I plan to watch the movie soon, though I do know there are massive plot changes like (GIANT spoiler) Wendys hair is blonde in the book. I know there are a few things that are not in the book just from the general knowledge of the movie that everyone has (all work no play/come play with us for ever and ever and ever/here’s johnny!)

I don’t really know how to feel about the ending of the Shining, there was an extra chapter that was kinda unnecessary, if anything it made it worse because it made me want to know more. I am trying to speak in general terms here so as not to ruin it for anyone (apparently the movie does differ a lot from the book). I think having a “this is what happens to characters” ending is fine as long as you tie it up a bit rather than “this is what happens to characters a week later” and then leaves you in the dark about the rest of their lives.

As to the Game of Thrones, seriously, what’s with all the incest? Is it really necessary? also, inbreeding? Yes I know that it would take a few generations for serious defects to start showing and that it isn’t an instantanious thing, but an entire family line based on brother & sister being together? A seemingly really long family line. where is the deformity? (plus the whole ‘ew’ aspect of it)

I’m also reading Coldheart Canyon, which is strange, I don’t know how I feel about it yet. I got it second hand and something I didn’t notice in the shop was that there was a message, written inside the book on the front page in italian. I’m going to translate it at some stage, just out of curiosity. One of the things I like about second hand books (apart from stumbling across things like the above) is that the books absorb smells, sometimes very apt smells. Some of the book smells like old cigarette smoke, but not all of it, but it seems to slightly match up to the book itself. It could be that it’s always there and I just don’t notice until smoking is mentioned, but it doesn’t happen all the time. It’s interesting though.
I hade the same experience with a second hand Rose Madder, there were a few pages that smelled of flowery perfume, but it was at the point in the book where perfume/scent was mentioned.
That kinda thing really helps heighten the experience of reading a book. It also makes you wonder about the previous owner.

Anyway, on with the show!

 

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The Chess Masters.

 

Two old men sat on the bench, looking at a chess board. They were ordinary men, at least, at first glance, they were ordinary, but if you stopped and looked at them, as hardly anyone ever did, you would see that there was something odd about them. what that something was you would never know, but it would be there, something off about them both and late at night, as you twisted and turned in your darkest dreams your mind would scream at what you had witnessed but in the morning it would be gone, brushed away with the webs of a thousand fading dreams. A vague unease would cling to you for a few days, perhaps for a month or two, but eventually it would fade with the memory of those two old men.

They wore similar clothes, both wearing long, grey woollen jackets, regardless of weather, each wearing a pair of highly polished black shoes and black trousers. Both wore caps that had a slight overhand, protecting their eyes slightly from the sun. One of them smoked a pipe from which long thin streams of smoke issued continuously, the smoke sailed straight upwards, ignorant of the wind and instead only concerning itself with getting ever higher. Between the two old men sat a chess board, its chequered surface filled with impeccably carved pieces, the longer one gazed at them, the more details became apparent. Each one had its own unique face and design. One of the old men reached out and, with almost disturbingly long fingers, gently lifted and moved a pawn. He set it down with a muted click, then leaned back. Around them the scenery changed, no longer did they sit in a park, instead, they were high above a city, gazing down from a mountain top, around them thousands of trees were bursting into bloom, thousands of tiny petals were at the winds mercy, flying through the air. Whomever’s turn it was chose the setting for their deliberation, it had always been that way and always would. No one in the park noticed that the men disappeared, the bench which they had previously occupied would remain empty for a few days, as though people were waiting for it’s aura to be cleansed. Streams of people that passed by as they vanished took no notice of them at all. It was better that they went unnoticed, or at least, it was usually better. Sometimes they revealed themselves to make things more interesting. They had been hailed as Gods and Devils, Demons and angels but really, none of those terms were correct. They were neither benevolent or malevolent, they were neutral, they cared not for human affairs or how they turned out, not directly anyway. There power was great, much greater than that of a mere god, for the gods were puppets in their hands too. Their pieces on the board represented the entirety of the universe. They moved from world to world, raging war against one another on their chess board. Once one had lost they moved from that world to the next. The battles lasted centuries, millennia. They shaped worlds form their beginning to their end and took great pleasure in each move. Though they were powerful, the board was the more so. They merely placed its pieces. They knew not the effect each move would have on the world, they did not know how their movements shaped it, nor how the world would look when they left, but they took great satisfaction in both their wins and losses.

They had feared that they would bore of the game, but this had never occurred for each game, though lasting forever, seemed to only last hours. While one deliberated their move, the other saw what havoc or pleasures their last move wrought. They had been worshiped throughout time, by many people and many worlds, cults springing up trying to curry favour, but they could do nothing, not consciously. They had each wondered exactly how far their influence spread, but, as they played, they did so in silence and neither was willing to be the first to break it. They did occasionally speak to one another, but never for long and never more than a few words in their old, twisted language. Those that heard them speak went insane, their minds buckling and collapsing before the onslaught they brought.

No one knew where they came from, yes there were myths, there always is, but none, not even the men themselves knew. They have no memory of the before, their entire lives, as far as they are concerned, have been spent playing. Perhaps somewhere there are others like them, raging their own battles across chessboards but they have yet to cross their paths. They only have each other and they are content. The longer they play the more they become certain that once a number has been reached something will happen. When they finally finish playing one another, when one of them finally wins once and for all, something great will occur, but what it is neither knows. Both have their theories from the end of the universe to freedom from playing, but they are merely theories. This knowledge, this certainty, caused them to play slowly, deliberately. Each wanted to reach the number and both wanted to win. They had each kept track of their numbers and so far, they were roughly even. Every now and then one of them would pull forward, but the other would quickly catch up and the slow, steady dance continued.

As they sat the trees around them grew, leaves falling and growing, time for them was meaningless, a day seemed a second, a year and moment and a century an hour. When the old man with the pipe finally reached out, he placed his fingers on the piece he would choose, then carefully moved the knight forward. The board glowed for a moment, then the pawn the the knight had taken melted into the board. The other man frowned slightly, then smiled. Around them trees died and new ones grew in their place. A forest fire had begun to spread, thick black smoke billowing around them, as the fire reached where they sat the old men disappeared, reappearing a top a sky scraper, gazing out at the sprawling metropolis. Their game was almost over now, what would happen when they finished neither knew, it depended both on who won and how the board itself chose to orchestrate the finale. Sometimes the world entered a utopian state, living in peace until the end, other times it ended in fire and storms which tore the world apart at the seams. They had watched numerous worlds grow old and die peacefully and thousands of words that died violently, destroying everything in its death throes. Neither outcome bothered them too much, there were other worlds and other games to be played. The only thing that mattered was that they played well.

Beneath them people moved about their lives, oblivious to the men above them, playing with their lives with each move, deciding their fate, striving to win at any cost, regardless of the torment they may cause. They could always stop playing, allow the world to shape itself, but really, that wouldn’t be any fun.

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About Alan James Keogh

I am a 24 year old writer who somehow tricked U.C.D. into giving me not only a degree in English and Classical studies, but an Hons Masters in Creative Writing too. Visit my blog where I post short stories twice a week (Monday and Wednesday) and an installment of a serialised novel on Fridays. I did consider writing this in the third person, as though it was written by someone else, but Alan is not comfortable writing in the third person as it seems kinda creepy and unbalanced so Alan decided it was probably best to write in the first person. He hopes it went well for him.
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