A Portrait of Chess by KC

Lee looked down at the chessboard again. His father had moved the black pieces across the board to fortify certain positions, and make sure that his son could not break through the black defense.

Lee sighed. His own white forces were hopelessly outmaneuvered. Again. Just like the last game, and the one before that, and the one before that...

I'm never going to understand this game, he groaned silently. It seemed that for every step he took, his father had a counter step and a match for it. He would never win this game.

"Losing again, Lee?" came his younger brother's voice.

Mike glanced over Lee's shoulder down at the board. "Geez, Lee, even I can do better than this! Looks like he's got you every which way you step."

"And I'll keep winning until he learns some decent strategy," their father grinned. "It would be nice to see something resembling a defense, Lee. I'm getting tired of winning hands down each time."

"Just say checkmate and get it over with," Lee sighed, starting to rearrange the white pieces. Laughing as he left the dining room, Mike flopped on the living room couch to watch television.

"Now just one moment," his father interrupted, snatching his son's wrist before he could rise. "You're not leaving until the fifth game. We agreed."

"But you know you're going to win," Lee argued. "It's inevitable."

"So?" his father laughed. "Two more games, Lee. Then you can go sulk."

Lee tried to hide his discomfort as he waited for his father to rearrange the black pieces.

"And switch," the older man smiled, twisting the board around. Now Lee had the dark side

I really hate it when he comes home early, Lee inwardly moaned. He loves killing me in this stupid game.

His father moved a knight out to the forefront. Lee took one of his pawns and pushed it out two spaces, then watched as his father moved another pawn out. Lee slowly positioned his pawns in a straight line, separating his side of the board from his father's. It felt better to distance himself from the game and the humiliation of constant defeat.

"You keep lining your pawns up," his father said, shaking his head. He dropped a rook down the side of the board and took the farthest pawn to the right. "And I keep knocking them down."

Lee advanced his left horse out and jumped it out over the line of pawns. His father countered by taking his dark bishop and setting it a few squares out, effectively blocking Lee's horse in. Any which way Lee moved, he would lose his knight.

I can't believe he wants to take my horse, Lee thought dismally. He knows those are my favorite pieces.

He brought his own rook out and positioned it to attack his father's rook. In the next move, he had lost that rook. He took one of his father's pawns and immediately lost his forward knight.

Suddenly the kitchen phone rang. His father went to answer it, giving Lee a glare that told him not to move any of the pieces. As if he had ever done that before. He'd rather just take off to his room.

The phone call took longer than either of them had expected, and it was several minutes before the older man came back in. Lee slumped down in his seat and studied the board.

The pieces looked interesting, despite the fact that they hated him. Why else would he lose dozens of games in a row? The game had to be against him.

I don't remember ever winning a single game, Lee admitted to himself. I suck at strategy. If only it wasn't all about strategy.

He lowered his body, placing his arms on the table and resting his head on his arms. Now that his eyes were level with the board, the game looked different somehow. The pieces almost looked like people. He glanced across the battlefield to his father's king. The soulless plastic gave him a haughty glare, and the queen beside it seemed to laugh at him mockingly.

"You couldn't win," she said cruelly. "At least this'll make it even. This time we know we'll win."

The white knights whinnied, rearing up aggressively. Lee felt a little betrayed. He had made certain to hang onto those two pieces, even when he knew he was going to lose.

"What honor is there to live," cried one knight, "when the kingdom falls? We were failed by our player."

"No strategy," laughed all the pawns in unison. Their voices were high pitched, like annoying mice nibbling at the remaining shreds of his confidence. "No strategy, no strategy!"

Lee tore his stare from the white pieces and looked at his own, darker, players. The pawns were so brave, holding their positions even as the rook cut them down. They were perfectly disciplined, standing straight and looking forward.

The royal pair stood close together, staring, determined, over their army. The queen wrung her hands in worry over her fallen charges, and those about to fall. Her king watched the fight unfold with the stern calm of a seasoned general. Neither of them were unused to losing. They had fought for Lee several times, all of them ending in complete defeat.

His bishops had moved out, like righteous warriors of God, willing to martyr themselves in the fight, if only to smite a few of the enemy. Behind them was the last knight, preparing to follow his fallen brother into the fray and off of the board.

Lee looked in pity at his fallen pieces. His knight lay on his side, eyes wide open and unseeing. It had moved out so eagerly and obediently, and now it was dead. The rook lay beside it, a tower that had crumbled to dust. A few pawns were strewn around the two special pieces, almost as an afterthought.

But the pawns are so important, Lee growled in protest. They hold the line, they create the defense. They can win the game if used right. No, not used, he realized. Never used. Positioned.

Lee sat back up and looked at the board. If he looked closely, he could make out a faint pattern created by both sides on the checkered board. It was as if there were faint paths for each piece, a kaleidoscope that only the plastic army could see closely. Move even a single pawn and the entire picture changed, like a thousand different oil paintings.

So fantastic... Lee realized. It's like a magical battle. Using strategy only mars the picture. Strategy is like trying to categorize dreams.

"Lee, why don't you just give up?"

Lee didn't even bother to look at his older brother. "Ryan, leave me alone."

There was a streak of blond hair by his left eye, and then his youngest brother's face was hovering over the board. All of the players cowered at the sight of this new giant, then stood back up when they realized that he was not in the game. He didn't matter. Nothing mattered but the game.

"If you move your knight here," Ryan said, pointing to the square beside an indignant rook, "you'll block off dad's bishop. Then you can move your queen to the forefront and do some damage before you die."

Lee shook his head and closed his eyes. "Thanks, I think I'll just let him continue with the slaughter."

"Then you're doing a good job," Ryan laughed.

"Did you ever win against dad?" Lee asked derisively.

Taken off guard, Ryan mumbled something and backed away. He looked at Mike, who was watching a horror film, and decided he'd rather read a book. He pulled something with a lot of pictures off of the shelf and sat in the recliner in the corner.

Lee glanced into the living room to see which film Mike was watching, and just happened to catch a nasty evisceration of a young girl. Unnerved, he turned back to the game.

Something isn't right here, he realized, studying the board. The players seemed awkward. It shouldn't look like this. Something should be different.

"I'm back," his father said loudly, sitting back down. "That was your mother, boys. She said she's working late again--"

They all groaned.

"--but that we can order out tonight," he finished. "Don't worry, you won't have to suffer my cooking again. I've already ordered pizza." He looked at the board to make sure that nothing had changed, then grinned. "This should only take a few more moves."

He castled his king and rook, then watched as Lee moved his other knight out.

I'm sorry, horse, Lee apologized, but I have to see the pattern.

"Don't feel bad," the knight replied, and the horse whinnied in agreement. "We serve our player."

His father moved his queen out, then started to chuckle when Lee moved another pawn forward.

"Trying to be aggressive?" he laughed, taking Lee's second, unguarded, rook with his bishop. "Best stick to defensive maneuvers, kid."

Lee moved his knight to the right position, then blinked. The game froze into place, and paths appeared around every piece. He had to hold himself from reeling back in shock. It was like a flower opening up before him, revealing the magician's secret.

The pattern was so obvious it was painful. Everything was where it was supposed to be. He frowned when he saw that the pattern was against him, that there was no way out. Again.

His father moved his queen through his broken defenses and took up the perfect position against his king. Lee moved his queen to counter. The two women glared at each other, the white queen like a snake about to strike, the black queen like a she-wolf protecting her cubs.

"How dare you violate the sanctum of the home?" the black queen cried.

"If you don't like the battle, get off the field," the white queen laughed.

The next move robbed Lee of his last knight. A pawn cruelly struck him down, and the horse reared in terror before it could be taken off the board. Lee sat upright when the knight died. It was like losing a friend.

"Well, it's nice to see you finally taking an interest in the game," his father said in surprise, misinterpreting his son's actions. "Now you can see how you're strategy is failing."

Lee nodded vaguely. He kept his face toward the board, but out of the corner of his eye he could see his fallen knight, tossed aside like a meaningless piece of plastic.

"And I believe that's check, and mate," his father smiled. He began to rearrange the white pieces before Lee could even verify the move. But Lee didn't have to look. He'd heard the queen's scream already.

"And switch," he started to say, but Lee interrupted him.

"Let me stay black, if you don't mind."

His father blinked, then shrugged. "All right, but if I get the white pieces, then I go first again."

"Not that it matters much," Ryan laughed.

A white pawn moved out arrogantly into the middle of the field. Lee watched it move out, then looked for the pattern. Black and white checkers showed him where to place his pawn, far off to the left side. It was like taking a portrait of the game.

His father moved his bishop out beside the pawn.

And the portrait changed. The pattern was different.

Lee followed the pattern, allowing the king, who could see everything on the field better than he could with his aerial view, conduct the battle. The checkers pointed out the spaces between his father's pieces, and the pawns charged out into the field, swords at the ready.

His father chuckled again. "Still lining your pawns up, huh?"

To his right, Ryan laughed with him.

Lee barely heard them. As his father's rook came out, predictably to kill his troops, Lee's first knight leapt out over the line into enemy territory. His father brought out the same bishop, but this time the pattern wasn't against Lee. There was no strategy, but the portraits were definitely taking him somewhere. He took his second knight and brought it to bear with his other knight.

The older player ignored the pattern and pushed his pawns farther. Lee only slightly shook his head. His father was fighting the pattern.

Lee allowed the bishops forward into the meandering path, watching as the clergy made their way after the horses. They barked insults at the other bishops.

"Heretics," the black bishops called out.

"Infidels," said a white bishop.

"Non-believers," his dark knight laughed. "Yield while ye can, lest ye taste our steel!"

There was so much confidence dripping from their voices that the white pieces leaned back, trying to understand what had changed. They could sense what his father could not. Something was not right.

"Do not worry, my king," the white queen smiled. "It is not important. We shall win. We always do."

The white king nodded, ready to move his rook out, when Lee's father ignored the piece's orders and advanced the bishops again.

Lee watched the ever-changing painting, then guided his pieces through the pattern. His king was gracious enough to hear Lee's suggestions, like an advisor, but Lee knew the king could see the pattern better than he ever could.

Now Lee's father sat up in his chair, hovering over the board in concern. His brow furrowed as he studied the board. He knew something wasn't the same. He put his fingertip on the rook, then took it off and placed it on his knight. The white knight came up beside the black one.

There was a terrific joust, but the black knight lost despite his bravery and skill. He was thrown aside onto the table.

The pattern adjusted, and Lee slid his bishop into place. His father decided it was no threat and looked for a good route into Lee's defenses. He took his white queen and started to ease her into Lee's side of the board.

"You always leave yourself wide open," he laughed, but now he did not sound so confident.

Lee took his remaining knight and leaped over two black pawns and a rook. It landed in place, then held still so as not to attract attention. Lee had to smile in appreciation of the move. It was perfect.

The white queen came in like a serpent, once again cornering the black queen.

"Stand aside," the white witch hissed, "and let a real monarch do her job."

This time, however, instead of crying, the black queen smiled.

"Turn around, dear, and look behind you."

Confused, the white queen turned just in time to see Lee's knight, hidden in a field of white and black, return over the lines and trample her into the dirt. She didn't even have time to scream.

Lee grimaced. At least it was quick, he said, trying to console himself. That was too much like that horror movie.

"She'll be back," the black queen laughed, "she'll always be back. It was pleasant to see what had been done to me before, done to her."

"Nice," Lee's father admitted, gravely worried now. "I didn't even see that coming."

"I did," Lee whispered.

Ryan glanced up curiously, then decided that Lee's little victory was incredible luck and went back to the book.

Now the pattern flowed with Lee, and the painting was more and more of shadows and victory than white light illuminating his failures.

His father took his white rook down the column, ready to take Lee's queen. As rapturous as a saint, she willingly gave herself up to be run down by the tower, bidding her king a fond farewell. Lee's father sighed in relief. That threat was taken care of.

Now Lee struck, pushing his bishop into the enemy defenses. The white pawns shrieked in alarm as they were penetrated, and the other bishops, too far to help, prayed for their king's life.

His father was startled and moved to guard his king. There was no piece in position to kill the bishop, but he could block it with another piece. A black knight took the white square diagonal to the king.

Lee, the pattern, and the black forces had been counting on that frantic move.

His rook tore up through the side of the board and ran over a pale bishop in the rush to assume his post. Just one more move and they game would be over.

Lee's father took the rook with a pawn en passant. "Boy, I'm glad we agreed to have that maneuver," he smiled.

Lee nodded. "So are we," he whispered, but so low that his father didn't know he had said anything.

The pattern showed the dark king where to place the closest pawn, now out of danger from any other pawns, and Lee moved in accordance. The white king screamed in terror as he realized he was trapped. Nothing could save him now.

"Checkmate," Lee sighed, leaning back in his chair. The painting was surreal, colorless, and totally flawless.

The black forces cheered silently. Pawns uncharacteristically high-fived each other, the knight reared in victory, and off of the board, the fallen pieces smiled and laughed and laughed. A black bishop knelt, crossed himself, and proclaimed that the battle had been won only by divine providence.

The older player stared at the board in disbelief.

"Impossible," he said softly, shaking his head. "You didn't use any strategy. Your moves were chaotic."

"And that's why I won," Lee smiled, just barely remembering to say 'I' instead of 'we'.

"What did you say?" Ryan's voice came over his brother's shoulder's. "Lee won? He actually beat you?"

Their father nodded. "You did it, son. Not bad. Not bad at all."

Mike glanced at them from across the couch. "Are you serious? How'd you do it, Lee?"

Lee smiled secretively. "With a complete lack of strategy."

As he replaced the other pieces, the king and queen embraced. The entire force turned and saluted its player.

And with a brave army, he added mentally. On the board, the players held still, waiting for the first move of the next game.