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Archive for the ‘Future’ Category

The isolated pawn casts gloom over the entire chessboard.

I spun myself around in the wheeled chair at the sound of footsteps, feeling like a TV mafioso. Ivan was there, just as I had last seen him. There wasn’t a chance anyone else would show up. The entire street was deserted, left for the festival across town. “Hello, Ivan.”

“Rutherford.” He spoke curtly, wanting to get this over with. On the other hand, I wanted to drag it out and make him suffer for what he’d done. “What are we doing here?”

“I am going to kill you today.” He laughed.

“You’re going to kill me?”

“Well, I’m going to engineer your death.”

“How?”

“You’ve survived fire.”

“Yes.”

“Bone-crushing impact.”

“Easily.”

“A death-grip chokehold from an insanely huge python – I still don’t know how we got into that one.”

“Yes.”

“And perhaps most shockingly,” I said, trying to resist laughing, “bullets!”

“Yes.”

“Now, I’ve done some thinking, along with some research, and my conclusion is that there is, in fact, one force on Earth that can rid me of you once and for all. It is a force so powerful, so indifferent, even more than nature itself, that perhaps you would be better off dead in the first place rather than have to face its wrath. But I am going to let its wrath envelop you, because I have come to hate you for what you’ve done.”

“We were friends, were we not?”

“Yes. And maybe we still are. But I hate you.”

“You have found my demise, you say.”

“I have.”

“There is nothing on Earth that can even damage me. Not while I have the Master to protect me.”

“No, no, that’s not right. There’s nothing of Earth that can hurt you. But there’s something on Earth and not of it, right now, and it’s coming here, to kill you.”

“Spit it out!”

“Oh, I think it speaks for itself, really.” With that I ducked under my ruined and ashy desk. The piercing tendril of darkness shot out from behind me over my head, wanting to impale me, and finding, yes, a fleshy target to eviscerate. But this time, it would not be an innocent caught up in this mess. It would be Ivan.

“M…Mast…ter…” he croaked. Slowly he slid to the ground, gutted, bleeding like a stuck pig. The monster that was his former Master retreated, thinking it had destroyed its target – me. Ivan had been hidden from sight ever since he tried to convert me to his Master’s service. The beast never knew it had lost a faithful servant. I tucked a bookmark into the crack between Ivan’s skin and his mask, and went along my way, whistling.

Just as I had expected, all those I had lost were returned to me. Chance, Phoebe, Lee, everyone. I threw myself into Phoebe’s arms and wept until I knew that they were real, and not a figment of my overactive imagination. I could hardly believe I had gotten them back.

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“I’ve been quite looking forward to this little game,” and he took Death’s other castle.

Ivan is right. I am tired. I am tired of being attacked mercilessly. I am tired of seeing the people around me torn down. I am tired of being flung about through space. Most of all, I’m tired of being flung about through time. I can see every portion of my life at once. I know when checkmate will be. I know when my story will end. But that also gives me a kind of freedom. I can’t die until certain things come to pass. And when they do, I’ll be able to do whatever I want for the last few hours of my life.

Then again, I’m also dead. My life does not just flash before my eyes. My life is piled on me all at once. I am dead and I am alive, and I’m graduating high school and being conceived all at once. It’s a strange feeling, but it also gives me a certain insight into death.

You may think dying is something sweet. You may believe in an afterlife. You may think that it’s endless nothingness. You may think that the energy that makes you up is released and brought back in something else. You may believe in past lives.

When you think of dying, you may be picturing the friend you lost or martyr you worshiped. You may imagine them, as I sometimes did, turning their head over their shoulder, face split into a smile, their last laugh ringing through your head.

The truth about dying is that it’s just a verb. That’s it. Every day, millions upon billions of poor people are starving. Every night, insomniacs everywhere are staring out their window, cursing at the moon. Verbs. And yet scientists and theologians don’t spend their entire working lives trying to figure out what happens afterward.

But you don’t care about that. You don’t care about dying in and of itself, though it might be something to be concerned about. In fact, I’d be more concerned with dying than death. That’s what people care about – death. The state of being dead. Of being no longer alive. I don’t mind that bit. It’s fun, really.

If there’s an afterlife, then you don’t need to worry about death. You’ll be more or less alive anyways. And if it’s just nothing – then you don’t need to worry about it. Because by the time it comes around, you probably won’t even remember it.

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The pieces scattered upon the crags.

“What?”

“Dead.”

Ivan’s body language did not suggest any kind of glee at delivering this news, but I suspected a sick smile behind his mask.

“Dead. Dead?”

“Dead.”

“Who? How many? Dead. What?” I was at a loss. I couldn’t comprehend his words at all. It seemed too unreal.

“All of them. Everyone.”

“Chance.”

“Dead.”

“Janine.”

“Dead.”

“Derek.”

“Dead.”

“Lee.”

“Dead.”

“Svenja.”

“Dead.”

The last name was too painful to say at first. I swallowed my despair for a moment. “Phoebe.”

“Dead.” He gave a prompt reply, and his voice was completely empty of inflection.

“He killed them.”

“Yes.”

“You killed them.”

“Yes.”

“They’re dead.”

“But they don’t have to be.”

“What?”

Ivan reached up as if about to remove his mask, but instead only adjusted it on his face. He began walking in a circle around me, pacing, slowly, as a predator closing in on its prey. As a dog, patting down the ground before laying itself to sleep.

“The Master could bring them back.”

“At what cost?”

“Loyalty.”

“Whose?”

“Yours. Theirs. You would be a valuable addition to His ranks.”

“Would I, now?”

He paused in front of me. I had refused to look at him as he went about his circle, but now I gazed into the darkened eyes of the disguise. Slowly, I began to laugh. A quiet, insane laugh. One from a man who knew he had lost it all, but kept betting anyway.

“Come with us.” He reached out his hand.

“What if I refuse?”

“Then you die.” Simple. Easy. An obvious answer.

“Well, we can’t have that, can we?” I whipped my hand out of my pocket, where I had hidden the pistol. I aimed it level with his head. “Hands up, Ivan.”

“You tried that once already. With a shotgun, no less!”

“Hands. Up.”

He chuckled, as I had. He raised his arms. “What now?”

“Now I shoot.” This time, I wouldn’t make the same mistakes as I had before. With my eyes trained on his masked face, I pulled the trigger, once, twice, three times, until the only thing that resulted from it was a clicking noise. Ivan’s torso was riddled with bullets and he was bleeding badly. One shot had ripped apart his mask and another had gone straight into his neck. He would die, and I would be at peace. Ivan staggered backward. His heel slipped on a loose rock, and, arms flailing wildly, he fell off of the cliff. I turned and walked away.

“HELP!”

It was a trick. A ploy. I wouldn’t fall for it.

“HELP ME, PLEASE -”

I lied to myself, silently repeating, Won’t turn, won’t turn, won’t turn.

I turned. I rushed back to the edge. He was there, holding on, barely. “Help me, please -” One of his hands slipped. He followed it with his eyes as his body swung above the rocky death that awaited him below. “Please, it’s me, it’s Ivan, I’m your friend -” His other hand was sweaty. Slowly sliding away. I grabbed him by the wrist.

“Thank you -”

And I threw him off the face of the cliff.

I searched my pockets for a bookmark to leave. There was only one, burned and charred. It was little more than a cinder. I dropped it anyway, at the place where Ivan had last stood. I jogged back to my car and drove away at speed. After I had gotten a few miles away from the place, Ivan’s voice spoke from beside me, as if he were sitting in the passenger’s seat.

“You have made a grave mistake,” said the voice. I swiveled my head; there he was. I’m imagining it, it’s survivor’s guilt, it’s a hallucination – he slapped me across the face and I redirected my gaze to the road. There he stood, the Gentleman, the Businessman, the Duke, there in the middle of the street, wavering as if a mirage. I swerved, crashed, flames licked my face and I closed my eyes. My tears evaporated as soon as they began to run down my face. Ivan’s laugh rung in my ears.

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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 -”

“QUIET.”

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 –

“IVAN STEIN I AM NO LONGER.”

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.

“MY MASTER, O MASTER, SHOW THE LAMB YOUR POWER -“

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.

“ASHES TO ASHES, DUST TO DUST, THE TRIUMPH OF MAN SHALL ONE DAY RUST -“

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.

“APPLES TO APPLES, LEAVES TO LEAVES, THE TRIUMPH OF MAN SHALL GRIEVE, SHALL BLEED -“

But I choose not to remember what happened next.

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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.

“Yes?”

“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.”

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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.”

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