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I shouldn’t be surprised that I’ve been summoned to the game. The invitation has been at my doorstep for countless, careless seasons. I’ve ignored all warnings, thrown caution to the wind, knowing one day the wind would blow me back to meet my expiration.
I’ve never been afraid of what I knew one day would come. Yet in this moment, my lungs seize up in a gripping gasp, as I’m waved to take a seat across from my mortality.
Nothing flashes before my eyes, though people sometimes say things do. My family is the farthest thing from my mind. I dare not bring them along, even in thought, to this ghastly place.
There can be no reluctance as I sit, knowing this match is overdue. But there is something worse than fear in me. Remorse perhaps? Best to hide it from my face.
I gaze down to my final game, and know no trickery can help me now. I relied too much on such things – I should’ve played differently. Every regret piling up next to me, weighing on my strategy.
But there’s no choice, my opponent will not wait – the first move is mine.
My fingers shake the cold stone pawn, and I risk a peek up across the board.
The wraith’s hood hangs low, unmoving. Did he see?
My pawn jumps in distraction to his new spot.
The shade of a hand moves its own piece with ease, as sure as he’s done countless times before. I glance to the faceless pawn in his grasp. How many has he collected? Am I doomed to join the ranks?
A cold draft sends chills down my spine. I look up in accusation. Is he breathing his intimidation at me? His shoulder raises in a shrug. I suppose it’s to be expected, this is his game after all.
The pieces move in a dance worthy of daring the grimmest of reapers, but the gambit has begun, and the specter searches for my blunder. Knights, bishops, and even royalty cannot hide from death – and so, I’m learning, neither can I.
A distant tick-tock counts down until the moment the loser must take his bow.
I sidestep every skewer, throw off every threat.
Encore men, encore! Fight off the genuflect!
The grandmaster guides me to my endgame, a path he knows too well. He leads each attack and capture as a maestro conducts with his baton’s swell.
I bury my head into my shaking hands. Can this be the end?
Out of the corner of my eye, a discovery is made. Dare I risk it? Death is on the line, after all.
Stealthily I ply my attempt at a pin.
The ghostly hand balls into a fist. He makes the proper sacrifice to save his King of the Abyss. I raise one brow at my smallest of victories and continue down the file, avoiding each restraint and bind. With each capture, I hail a small victory in my name. But with each sacrifice, I give thanks to the fallen for keeping my king safe again.
I do my best to avoid falling into the traps of my foe’s clever tactics. I even try to make him laugh, but fail with my best antics.
Alas the pieces fall, and the tempo draws my game of life to its conclusion.
Check.
He didn’t say it, but I heard it nonetheless. A bead of sweat slides from my brow, knowing this last move must be my best.
I drag my liege to safety behind a developed barricade. It’s not the victory I had hoped for, but safety by blockade.
Death draws in his icy cold breath.
Stalemate.
I meet my adversary’s dark stare. No one cheats Death, but the draw was won, fair as each board’s square.
Neither victory, nor defeat. This dilemma reaches uncharted territory, indeed. I cannot return to whence I came, and I dare not follow where he may lead.
I stare down at the board retracing steps, seeking victory that never came. My opponent sighs in slight reminder it’s more about how one plays the game.
I match his sigh, but with contentment, releasing all my dread. I even give the smallest of chuckles, ready to join the dead.
With one long gaze back, I say my goodbyes and turn back to my new friend. With a last breath of courage, I ask him, “Shall we go one more round?” and bow to meet my end.

CONTEST

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