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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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“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.

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