Archive for May, 2011

“I do not need you to call me!” said Erik, and he took Death’s bishop.

“Shut your ugly little mouth,” my mother growled. “You despicable little shit. Get the fuck out of this house. Go on. You heard me.”

“But, mommy -”

“I said SHUT it!” My gaze shifted to her upraised hand, ready for discipline. I shrunk away from it. Though I had only the faintest memories of him, I imagined my father’s voice in my head; I heard it clear as I could hear my mother’s horrible slurs. “Come, Sally, the boy’s only nine.”

But she did not respond. It was that day I learned that thoughts are much less powerful than any other thing that defines humans. Weaker than any other thing that defines life itself.

My mother took my stillness as an excuse to swing. I couldn’t get out of the way in time. I didn’t have the reflexes I will attain. Her painted nails dug into my cheek and left marks that I still have. I felt my cheek. No blood. Not yet. Tears, though, were quick to come.

“Oh, quit crying, you whiny little…Look, I’m sorry. Maybe I’ve had too much to drink.”

I nodded at everything she said, however little of it I can remember. It was all I could do. If I made one wrong move she was bound to hit me again. If she hit me again I was bound to begin bawling. If I began bawling she was bound to hit me again, and it wouldn’t take long before she would be picking me up by the throat and heaving me out the door. I stood from my corner and she patted my head.

“Look, it’s okay. Go to sleep now.”

I nodded. I lurched towards my room. I heard my father’s voice again. “Happy birthday,” he said. Birthday. I remembered with a shallow nod the date. The best present I had gotten all day was the imprint of my father’s voice. I couldn’t even know if it was truly my father, but it seemed to fit so wonderfully with my built-up image of him that there was nobody else it could be. When I reached my bed, there was something on the pillow.

A fleur-de-lis bookmark.



Read Full Post »

It’s always better to sacrifice your opponent’s men.

Ivan stumbled towards the forest. He knew what was waiting for him in there, and he knew the most like consequences of following this path, but he stumbled all the same, as any fool would.

“IVAN!” I screamed. “IVAN, DAMMIT!”

“It’s the answer to our troubles,” he whispered. Whispered, yet even on my stomach and crawling to close the distance between us I could hear him as if he were by my side. “Can’t you see? The answer is here.”

“He will kill you, Ivan,” I tried. “He will rip you apart like he did – like he did to -” I couldn’t go on. Their names were too painful to speak, but Ivan knew who I meant. He turned; not over his shoulder or his whole body, but his head, as an owl does, his face empty of emotion, cheeks flushed, eyes staring right through me. “Are you not tired?” he asked. “Are you not bored of being flung about like a leaf on the wind?”

The treetops behind him shuddered. Birds called; a murder of crows flew from the far reaches of its canopy, shrieking their hideous, bloodcurdling curses. I couldn’t answer. I was hit with a coughing fit. As it ended, I felt something rising in my throat. Ivan had turned away, continuing his stumbling, his march into the valley of Death, riding six hundred less five hundred ninety-nine.

“My God,” I muttered. Again, more loudly. Ivan heard me on the third utterance.

“God?” He laughed. An evil sound.

“You were a clergyman, Ivan, how could you turn to this?”

“The wolf is come to eat all flocks, and yet it first invites us to join its feast. How could you deny such an opportunity?”

He made me sick. I couldn’t stand to look at him, and I wouldn’t have if it were possible to avoid his blank gaze. “Ivan – Ivan Stein, listen to me, he is not a wolf, he is something far greater and far more evil than any dog -”


His words reverberated on the open plain, in the depths of the woods, amongst the trees and grasses, echoing, echoing in my head with the twisted ringing of a dark cathedral’s bells –


I could hardly hear him. My own wheezing breaths took an infinitely huge amount of concentration just to perform – in, out, in, out, in, out. I calmed; I lifted my head. “No,” I whispered back. “You are not Ivan Stein. You are a monster, and good riddance to you. May you rot in the flames of whatever end you find.”

In retrospect, not a smart thing to say. He raised his arms up; he flung himself to his knees; he put forward his neck, offering himself.


A disgusting, putrid wind blew. The landscape around us erupted into fire. Dying animals charged out of the forest, only to catch light in the shimmering heat. Their roars and whimpers frightened me more than anything Ivan could do.


A deer collapsed just in front of me. I gazed into its lifeless eyes, the windows to its soul, and I wondered where Ivan’s had gone.


But I choose not to remember what happened next.


Read Full Post »

Whether I win or lose, I enjoy a game of chess – so let us begin.

“Sir? You have a visitor.” My secretary’s voice was scratchy over the intercom. I suspected her of having some sickness, perhaps the flu, but she hadn’t expressed any kind of wish to leave early. “Send them in, Janine,” I replied, already nervous. This would be my first client.

The buzzer rang, and a tall man stepped through my door, nearly seven feet if an inch. He wore a crisp business suit and fedora (or perhaps a trilby – I’ve never been good with hats), all black. From our respective positions I couldn’t quite make out his face; it was slightly shadowed by the brim of his cap. I gestured towards the large armchair in front of my desk, but he simply adjusted his hat and remained standing.

“Well. Hello.”

He nodded; the way he hadn’t said anything at all yet made me think he was a mute, though he didn’t seem to be trying sign language or writing. It was obvious he could hear and understand me, at least.

“I honestly can’t fathom why you’d come to me; I’m a completely new practitioner, after all.” This, apparently, merited no response.

Are you going to ask for something, sir?”

At this he stirred. The man lifted a skeletal arm and pointed directly at me. “I’m sorry?” I said. “I don’t understand…” His finger shifted towards the mahogany desk in front of me. Though he came no closer, a symbol appeared to carve itself into the wood. I didn’t recognize it, though the general shape reminded me of an atom with swirling electrons, and a small tensor product in the center. I cried out – the desk was a gift from my uncle, and it had been in our family for at least two generations. Even as I watched, however, the carving stopped, though not for long. The man paused, as if concentrating. Still I could not see his face, though I imagined a frown and furrowed brow. He moved his hand again, and the desk sprang back into life. The original symbol transformed and warped into a whole mural. I recognized Egyptian hieroglyphics and German phrases, Celtic words and Chinese characters, all centered around this one strange symbol.

“What are you doing? How – how are you doing it?”

Eventually it stopped. My desk, nearly empty but for a table lamp, was completely covered in these strange carvings. I scooted back in the chair, but the man began to walk towards me. I tried to speak, to yell for help, but no sound came from my mouth. The man lifted his arms and for a split second it appeared to me as if he had a thousand of them. In a flash, the desk was aflame. The man tipped his hat and stepped outside of the prison-size window behind me. I was too shocked at the fire to even consider how such a thing was possible.

“Janine? Janine!” I shouted. She came rushing in, and, with a gasp, grabbed the fire extinguisher from the wall. I heard sirens in the distance, though it was out before they arrived. It was only after I had gotten home and had a cup of coffee that I realized I was drenched in sweat.


Read Full Post »

To the Wall

The hardest part of chess is winning a won game.

At the water cooler, where all great ideas come forth, was Beatrix, Phoebe Beatrix. She was quietly sipping at the paper cup, holding it with both hands and looking worried. She did not see me, nor make any kind or sort of acknowledgement to my presence. It took a hard rap on the shoulder before she snapped up with a jerk, spilling her water down my front. I waved her hands away; there was obviously some more pressing matter at thand.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“It’s – it’s Ivan.”

“What of him?”

“Well, have you seen him?” She turned away, to the wall.

“I suppose.”

“He’s so – distant. And almost sadistic, sometimes.”

“His wife says he leaves the light on when he sleeps, and that he’s making strange markings around the house.”

“Do you think – do you think he’s joined a cult?”

“That of Cthulhu or the Westboro Baptists?”

We shared a forced laugh. Ivan was our friend, a very sensitive and often susceptible man. If something serious had gotten to him it had gotten to him deep.

“Well…will you keep an eye on him? For me – and for all of us? For him?”

“Of course.”

She fidgeted, but did not go. I waited; eventually Phoebe brought something out of her purse and handed it to me.

“What’s this?”

“Someone wanted me to give you this note.”


“I don’t know. He had a hood over his face.”

I opened it; all it said was, “MCDXXVII-33”.  I nodded and tucked it into my pocket. “Thank you.”

She dropped the cup into the trashcan and left. As I watched her short locks bounce away, I had a sudden urge to break something, to hurt someone, to find the nearest living thing and hit it.


Read Full Post »

surely you know that what you need is a pawn to confront the black king to advance to a white king or queen

“Lee!” I called. “Lee? Lee, where are you?”

“Shut it!” said a voice to my right. I turned, and there he stood. Lee was a brick of a man. His shoulders, his posture, even his head was faintly blocky and rectangular. His face was reddened, and his brown hair matted and strewn about his face. Lee seemed to tower over me, though he was only a few inches higher up.

“Shut up,” he repeated, “or they’ll getcha.”

“Who will ‘getcha’?”

He didn’t say anything. He just started shaking his head and took a step back.

“Lee, come home with me.”

Still nothing. More shaking. Another step.

“Lee, what’s my name?”

He stopped moving. “How should I know, man?”

“Lee, that’s not funny, now what’s my name?”

He started shaking his head again, took another step back.

“Lee, what’s my name? What’s your name? Get away from the ridge, Lee. What’s your name?”

He brightened at that. “Lee!”

“Lee what?”

“Lee…Lee.” He frowned.

“Lee, please, it’s not funny -”

I heard a scream of some kind. Not a scream of pain or fear; a battle cry, an unworldly yell. Lee whimpered and sank to the ground.

“Lee, what did he do to you?” I stepped towards him. He made no movement. I kept going until I could feel his panicked breath on my ankles. I leaned down and picked him up in a firefighter carry. As we got farther away from the cliff’s edge, I heard him mumbling. I asked him what he was saying.

“Who -” He stopped as if his tongue were tied.


“Who am I?”

“Your name is L -”

What am I?”

I stopped, and looked into his eyes. There was only blank fear there.

“You are a pawn,” I whispered, “but one day there will be an exchange.”


Read Full Post »

The most powerful weapon in chess is to have the next move.

Why WordPress? you might ask. Why not Blogspot or Tumblr? you might add. To me, WordPress has always felt more…refined. Like a good book you have just opened for the umpteenth time, yet its pages are still crisp and clear as ever.

Who are you? you might ask next. I highly doubt your name is actually “Ampersand”, you could continue. I don’t like games, and I don’t want answers, nor do I have any to give besides these two, so I shall describe three men, and you can pick whichever one you like best for me to be.

Jon Oackley Hargrave, born August tenth, nineteen-fifty. His hair is receding, but he presses forth with a brave combover. Jon knows four languages including Pig Latin and English, and despises automobiles of any kind. He always rides his bike everywhere, except on cross-country trips, where he takes a plane or boat if possible. Jon made it to college but not out of it, and has only ever worked at a factory for airplane parts.

Rutherford Smith-Manhattan, born February seventh, nineteen-eighty-four. Fresh out of law school, Babe Ruth (as some of his closer friends call him) is an avid baseball fan and, in his spare time, horror novelist. He’s tried art of many kinds, but the best he could do was a stick-figure comic. Luckily for him, he got a rather generous sum of wealth from his parents’ inheritance, who both died long ago: his mother in a plane crash and his father – well, nobody really knows where his father went, so it’s entirely possible he’s still alive.

Adolf Chernov Threbi, born November eleventh, nineteen-seventy-seven. Adolf is a father of two who generally is the stay-at-home side of the family, thanks to his cursed name. When he isn’t raising the kids, he either is running his Internet business – an general-help phone line – or woodworking. They live on the river, you see, and he promised to bring his children out on a boat, which he has yet to make, though not for lack of effort. He simply hasn’t had the time or money to get all the materials he needs, but Adolf keeps trying, because he is a very loyal man and always keeps his promises.


Read Full Post »

The blunders are all there on the board, waiting to be made.

“You cannot defeat us,” sneered Ivan. “We are many, we are powerful, and we do not stop.”

“But you can be stopped,” I said. “Even the strongest of his servants can’t survive twenty-four pellets in their skull.” I pumped the gun for good measure.

“Would you like to try that out?” He spread his arms, baring his chest, his face, his neck. Surprisingly, he had no scars. The tattoo of a dying flower that I knew had had once borne was no longer there.

I had to do it. I had to stop him before he got to anyone else, but I could not watch my own handiwork. I shut my eyes, turned my head, pulled the trigger –

A roar –

A flash of light –

A kick in the shoulder –

I looked. He was not there. I shifted my glance to the ground, but there were no gruesome remains to see. His voice by my neck, a near-silent whisper – “Told you.” I whipped around, weapon ready, fists too if need be, but in that time Ivan had gone. Again, I looked downward. There, at my feet, was a leaf, blackened as if burned and yet whole. I grimaced. I reached into my coat, and dropped next to it the fleur-de-lis bookmark.

He was not done with me, I knew. It did not take long before my phone rang. It could only be him; my other contacts stopped calling long ago. “We are but dwarves,” he said, “and there is one difference between us: some of us ride on the shoulders of giants, and others are squished beneath their feet.”


Read Full Post »