The Most Important Game

Jan 20, 2009

Jeff was playing the most important game.

It was a game of chess, and the stakes were very high — the highest, in fact.

He was playing for his life. His opponent: none other than the Grim Reaper himself.

It was Jeff’s move. He fidgeted nervously, and patted down his pockets. He found an almost empty pack of cigarrettes and fished one out and placed in between his dry lips. He searched for a moment more and silently cursed his forgetfulness as he remembered leaving his lighter sitting on his bedside table.

“Got a light?” he said hopefully to the being sitting across the table.

Death answered with a silent stare, his hollow eye sockets showing no sign of even having heard Jeff.

Jeff spat out the cigarette and returned to the game. Trying to decide between moving his rook and his bishop, his thoughts drifted back to earlier in the day, before all this happened. Time seemed to move very slowly, like every second was a year.

Jeff was a typical twenty-something do-nothing slacker. He had a job changing back-up tapes in a giant data center, and the rest of his time was split between parties, bars and sleep, not necessarily in that order. Jeff had spent the night working, as usually, then slept most of the day. He was walking to meet his friends at his favorite pool hall, when he had been dragged into an alley, stabbed and his wallet stolen. He lay bleeding in the dark, and had seen Death approach. The Grim Reaper was seven feet tall and carried an honest-to-goodness scythe, honed to a sickening sharpness. Jeff remembered seeing “The Seventh Seal” back in a film appreciation class and with his last breath, challenged Death to a game of chess. The next thing Jeff knew, he was in a windowless room, sitting across a richly-appointed chessboard from the Grim Reaper.

Death made a gesture, which brought Jeff out of his reprieve and back to the moment. His hand was hovering over his bishop, and apparently had been for some time. The Grim Reaper was making that “get on with it” hand gesture, which in any other circumstances would have been hilarious to Jeff, but for some reason, with his life on the line, wasn’t. Jeff finally committed to the bishop, and nervously moved it to take The Reaper’s knight.

Jeff thought he perceived something. Something about the move seemed to have unnerved Death, if such a thing was possible. If The Reaper had a beard hanging from its fleshless skull, Jeff could have imagined the being stroking it just then. After a moment’s hesitation, which seemed to last forever, Death took Jeff’s bishop with his queen.

Examining the board, Jeff knew he had won, and looked up at death with a giant grin. Jeff could see The Reaper examining the board, and after a moment that seemed to last an eternity, Death reached out a bony finger and gently tipped his king over. Jeff heard a rush of wind, and the room and The Grim Reaper faded away, leaving Jeff standing in a dusty ruin. Jeff gaped and looked around, but he knew the truth, almost immediately.

The game had, in fact, taken an eternity, and he was utterly alone in the wasteland that was once his city.

Jeff sat down in the dust and began to cry.