Black and White
"Ha" Sara said taking my knight with her queen. The queen really was Sara's piece. It suited her so well. She was a very powerful person who could move seamlessly in all directions and follow through to her goal. She lead the game with grace and when she moved everyone watched to see where she'd land. I looked at the board for a moment and moved my rook to capture her queen
"Check mate," I replied smiling as I reached across and flicked her king over.
"Darn it," she cried "Will I ever win against you?"
"Nope!" a smug grin slid across my face. Eliza and John, our knight and our rook, came over at that point.
"This guy bothering you?" Eliza asked giving Sara a hug from behind. Eliza had a way of coming at things sideways or thinking of a thing in five different ways. During one of our conversations— just to mess with me, I swear,— she had explained why theft should be legal. As soon as she was done with that she promptly explained why theft should be punishable by death. The experience left me a little disoriented but not for long. I knew the ways of the knight.
"You won," John said to me. Right to the point, just like the rook. Straightforward people are a rarity these days. John was a good friend to have. He let you know how the world lay.
"He always wins" Sara said, laughing "The only person who has come close to beating him was Sasha and even she didn't get that close."
Sasha, who was reading her physics textbook under a tree, looked up at that. She smiled quietly and went back to her textbook. Sasha was a very quiet, controlled girl, a little odd but still a great friend. She was the bishop of the group, always moving at a bit of an angle from everyone else. The queen, the knight, the bishop and the rook. It seemed fitting that all my friends were chess pieces.
"Time to be heading home," I said putting my chess set into its case which lay open on the ground.
"See you tomorrow," John said standing up. Eliza walked over to where Sasha was sitting as Sasha scrambled to get her textbook in her bag. She took Eliza's hand and pulled herself up. They left through the school gates talking over ideas for their short stories for English. Sara stood waiting for me to finish packing. I gently slotted the queen into her groove and did up the snaps of the wooden box I kept my set in. I got up, swung my bag over my shoulder and walked out of the school gates with my queen.
Sara and I had been walking home from school together since we met in the first week of high school. She had seen my chess set in my bag and challenged me to a game. Over the course of the game Eliza, Sasha and John had come over to watch, offer advice and laugh. We've been fast friends ever since that game.
It had turned out that Sara and I only lived a few blocks from each other and so had been walking home together for years now. We would joke and talk and laugh. The walk home had become one of my favourite parts of the day.
I was brought back to the here and now when we finally got to her house and then it was off home for me to tackle my homework.
The next day Sara wasn't in school. She didn't get sick often, so it was a little odd. The whole day felt wrong, like trying to play a game of chess without a queen. I was glad when the day was over. It was my job to bring Sara any homework she missed when she was sick. I said goodbye to my bishop, knight and rook and headed for Sara's. Her father opened the door.
"Athene!" he cried seeming surprised to see me. "What are you doing here?"
"Hi Paul, I brought Sara her homework," I said, handing over some papers and a textbook. He took them automatically.
"She's not here," Paul started to look worried.
"Wasn't she sick today? She wasn't at school..." I was confused and was starting to get a little worried myself.
"She left just fine this morning," he murmured. "Sorry Athene, I've got to make some calls to make," he closed the door.
Sara wasn't home? She hadn't been at school today. I rushed home, planning on going up to my room and call my friends, seeing if any of them had seen her.
When I made it up to my room, there, in the middle of my desk was a note, on top of it, lying down, was a chess piece. The piece was a queen that had been knocked over. I picked up the note: "Your move". I checked the back. There was an address there. I knew instinctively what it meant. Trembling, I picked up the phone.
I met my friends outside the address indicated on the note.
"What's wrong?" Eliza asked when she and Sasha showed up. John turned to corner and hurried over a minute later.
"On the phone your voice was not well controlled," Sasha looked me calmly in the eye. I looked at them one by one and took a deep breath to start the story of what had happened in the last 24 hours.
"Sara left for school yesterday. She never got there and never came home—."
"Sara wouldn't skip school," John said matter-of-factly. I nodded and continued.
"When I got home last night on my desk I found a white queen that had been knocked over. Under it was a note, saying 'your move' and this address.
"And...?" Eliza was waiting for an explanation.
"Athene sees us all as chess pieces. Ones our personalities resemble" Sasha's eyes were bright with understanding as she spoke. "I am the bishop. I move at an angle from the rest from the rest of the world. Eliza, you're the knight, able to move in many directions at once. John you're the rook. You go and think in straight lines. Sara..." Her voice trailed off.
"Was—Is— my queen," My voice was hard.
"Your move," Eliza whispered. John looked at the building.
"Let's got in there and save her.
"Wait," Sasha said. "Well want these," She reached into her bag and took our ear bud communicators like they had in TV.
"Put them in" She demonstrated. "We'll be able to talk when we are in different rooms, so we don't have to yell."
"Why did you just happen to have these?" John asked.
"In case some like this ever happened," Sasha smiled smugly. Eliza laughed. I took out the ear bud and slid it in.
"Let's go. Sara's waiting," That sobered them. I put my hand on the doorknob.
"Wait!" Eliza called. "Shouldn't we call the police?"
I thought about it for a moment. "That, I think, would be the wrong move."
I pulled open the door and stepped inside, the rest of the group following. The fading light from outside was the only source of illumination. It showed a large room, very deep and high. We walked forward. The floor was covered in black and white tiles.
"Sara?" I called out. The doors slammed shut. I whipped my head around just as the last of the light disappeared through the closing door. I had just enough time to think 'Uh-oh' before I felt someone grab me. A cloth closed over my mouth and nose. A sickly sweet scent filled both. I struggled and tried not to breath but it was no use. Before long my world went black.
I work up lying on a glass floor. Beneath me and the floor were perfectly square rooms. I counted. Eight long and eight wide. The floors of the rooms alternated between black and white. There were large white chess pieces in the first two rows of the rooms except in the last three in the very first row on the right. In those rooms were John, Eliza and Sasha. It was something very familiar, a chess board. The largest I had ever seen.
In the middle of my room, there was a table and on it, a chess board and a note. I looked around one more time: no doors or windows. I sat down and picked up the note.
The rules of the Game
All moves made on the board above are replicated on the board below.
Some rooms are booby-trapped, defuse them carefully.
Any piece lost will never be regained.
If you lose, you die.
May the best man win.
I looked down at the board. I was white. I felt almost naked without my queen piece there. I was settling into the mind of the game when a groan distracted me. I looked around, saw nothing. Another moan, this one much deeper. What the?
"Good, they work," Sasha's voice sounded from the ear piece.
"Sasha, Eliza, John you alright?" I said realizing where the voices came from. I received yeses from all three.
"Listen up," I said quickly and quietly. "Here's what's going on," I explained the whole situation to them finishing up by reading the rules. There was a pause when I finished talking.
"You can do this," John's voice sounded in my ear.
"I trust you," came Eliza's response.
"As do I," Sasha quickly followed.
"In that case," I said looking down at the board, "let the game begin." I sunk into the deep concentration of a game against a serious opponent. I reached out and moved a pawn. Below me the equivalent pawn moved. A black pawn moved to a corresponding position on both boards. And so the game went on. Click, click. Click, click. Click, Click. I surveyed the board. I had lost two pawns but had taken my opponents rook. Acceptable sacrifice. I saw what I had to do next.
"OK guys, time to bring you into play." They would not be an acceptable sacrifice. "Sasha move diagonally up three to the left." I moved her piece. I heard breathing through the ear piece, then.
And so the game went on. Moving pieces and friends alike. I stayed concentrated and the game was going well until half way through a move, Eliza started screaming.
"Oh god! This room is on fire!"
"What!" Three voices replied in near synchrony.
"It's on fire, I can't find a switch, or water or a valve or—" Her voice dissolved into coughing.
"Eliza!" Sasha's voice was trembling. "ELIZA!" She screamed. I heard footsteps and watched her start to move below me.
"STOP!" I yelled. The footsteps ceased. "no cheating remember?"
"Damn it!" Sasha bit out. She was starting to cry.
"Eliza," John's voice was crisp and clear. "The room's on fire with no way to shut it off, right?"
"Yes," came the reply.
"And you're half way through your move?"
"Then keep moving. Get out of there!" There was a long pause. The sound of a door slamming and some more coughing. Then silence.
"Eliza, are you all right?" Sasha cried. "Eliza are you all right!" She was almost screaming.
"Quit your worrying, Sasha," Eliza's raspy voice came over the ear piece. "I'm still here for you. I'll be alright."
That was the most emotional any of us had ever seen Sasha.
After that scare I lost a pawn and a rook in quick succession. That brought my attention back to the game. I moved my pieces with care and thought. Pieces were lost and taken, booby traps were disabled. We had reached the end game.
I remembered the manoeuvre someone had once used to beat me. I moved Sasha to take a pawn, John I slid to the other side of the board, my pawn captured a rook. Finally I slid Eliza into place.
"Checkmate," I whispered and gently pushed over the king. "My game."
Underneath me all the walls that separated the rooms sunk into the floor. At the other side of both the big rooms a section of the wall swung open.
"Eliza!" Sasha ran over and wrapped Eliza in a hug.
"It's OK Sasha, I'm here for you." Eliza murmured stroking Sasha's hair and kissing her forehead. "I'm safe, Don't worry." Sasha tilted her head up and they kissed. I stood there slack jawed. I certainly hadn't seen that one coming.
"Sara's waiting," John said, standing by the entrance to the next part of this building. That shook us out of the shock and we headed towards the doors. Sasha and Eliza were still holding hands. We went through the doors and through a short passage that led to a black and white room. Sara was slumped on a bed against one wall.
"Sara!" I cried and started rushing towards her. A man in a black and white robe stepped between us.
"Athene, you have proved—"
"What the hell have you done to Sara!" I yelled, my eyes burning with anger.
"You mean your queen? She is merely asleep," Sara's eyes flashed open, her finger came up to cover her mouth. Sh. "You have proved yourself through the Right of the Game—" Sara slowly and silently stood up.
"Don't you know to never take your eyes off your opponents queen?" she said and kicked him in the ribs. He went over clutching his side. Sara started to step over him.
"And don't you know to never take you eyes off your opponent?" He growled. His arm shot out, stun gun in hand. Sara jumped but was not fast enough. The blue crackle came into contact with her bare leg. She started to crumple. I ran forward and caught her as she fell.
"Sara? Are you OK? Sara?" I cried shaking her gently. No reaction. I held her unconscious body close. The man stood up and dusted himself off.
"You, Athene, have proved yourself in the Right of the Game. You have beaten a member of the Order. You make now join the Order of Kings," He held out his other hand, in it two rings, one black and one white. He wore an identical set. "You have great potential. Although, you would have won more quickly had you been willing to sacrifice your pieces." He gestured at my friends. Sara moaned. I lowered her to the ground. "With the Order you will learn to see them for what they are. Pieces to be manipulated, nothing more."
I stood up, seeing red. Of all the things this man had said and done this made me the angriest. I stormed up to him and slapped his had aside. The black and white rings flew into the grey corner of the room.
"You kidnap Sara, my queen," His other hand came up. I grabbed his wrist and slammed in against the table. He dropped the stun gun and clutched his wrist. "Tell me I should be willing to kill my friends." I punched him in the stomach. He curled over. "And then ask me to join your stupid order so I can learn how," I pushed him to the floor and held him there. I had never been so angry in my life. "Well guess what?" I closed my hands around his throat "It's my move." The man cowered.
A hand touched my shoulder. "That's the wrong move Athene," Sara said calmly. I turned around and let go of his throat. Sara stood there, behind her the rest of my friends were looking scared. I looked back at the man I had been attacking. Saw what I had done. I started crying. Sara pulled me into her arms.
"I'm sorry," I sobbed. "I'm so sorry."
"He messed with all of us," She said stroking my hair. "Besides, I think we all wanted to give him a good kicking."
"I couldn't stand the thought of someone making me willing to hurt you guys," I managed through the sobs. Sara helped me up and cleared my tears away.
"Let's get out of here," she said holding my hand and walking over to the group. I held back firmly. Still holding Sasha by the hand, Eliza lead us to a door on the left side of the room. She opened the door into a world of colour. Eliza and Sasha lead us out. Sara noticed the girls holding hands.
"So, they finally got together," She murmured smiling. I smiled back and squeezed her hand. "And so did we!" She was laughing a little.
We crossed the street into a park. We were on the east side of town, a good half hour walk away from anyone's house. Sara and I sat on a bench. John stood next to us and Eliza and Sasha sat on the grass and leaned against the bench. I looked around at this world of colour realizing that it wasn't all black and white but made up of a thousand shades of grey. The world was not so easily defined. I took comfort in that thought and in the feel of Sara's hand in mine. It was a beautiful day. For the first time in quite a while a smile spread across my face.
"So," I said. "Anyone up for a game of chess?"
For a while, groans joined the birdsong in the air.