14 comments

Drama Fantasy

The view through the window wall at the study's rear is something sublime, something suffocating. There are two grown, well-educated men in the room, and neither can bear to look through the flaring glass for more than a few moments. In much the same way, they cannot bear to look at each other. Their gazes tend toward, and soften over, the intricately patterned maroon carpet beneath their feet. 


“Kafkaesque is the word,” says the younger man.


“I’d say Lovecraftian,” offers the elder.


“Oh, you know what? Do you remember the rightmost panel of Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights?


A squinting glance through the glass. “Quite.”


“Yes, quite.”


Felt is the presence of another man, an ancient man, an oil man. He is a pair of lifeless black eyes bulging from a flat face etched with lines, immortalized in muted color and confined by a spotless, ornate golden frame. The word for him is severe, and it’s nearly as apt in death as it was in life. 


The windowpane flashes overwhelming white for an instant. As it fades once more into an orange haze, the old house groans. Ice cubes rattle inside the pair of crystalline glasses which flank the empty bottle of whiskey on the elder’s desk. The cubans have yet to be sparked, but the aroma of smoke is overwhelming.


“There’s something I want to say to you, son, but I can’t seem to find the words.”


“I’m sure you’ll find them. There’s still time.”


“I’m afraid there isn’t. Not really.”


“So our chances of survival are slim. Don't you think we ought to hold out hope?”


“Not according to any astrophysicist worth his salt.”


“Surely things could have changed since Friday’s forecast?”


“Surely. However, the fact that there hasn’t been a forecast since Friday is not-so-good an omen.”


“Quite.”


“Yes, quite.”


“Say, how about we set up a game of chess?”


“Yes - alright, Junior. Let’s do.”


Father and son approach a small table topped with a slick lacquered chess board. They shift the uncomfortably fashionable chairs ninety degrees, setting the game parallel to the window and ensuring that neither player’s focus will be too much disrupted by the spectacle outside. As they place fine pieces of ebony and ivory in their proper squares, Junior is reminded of his first lessons with father.


This is first and foremost a test of wit. 


As Junior learned it, chess is a beautiful and historic game defined by mounting tension, rational response, and mutually assured destruction. In a game between masters, each move logically preempts not just the next move, but a long series of expected responses. How, then, is there such variation in the ultimate arrangement of the board? It has been argued that the unique features of a given match often result from a complex coalescence of player psychology.


Look sharp. Yield the central files, yield the game.


Junior makes the first move, advancing his ivory king pawn two squares. Senior develops an ebony knight, threatening the advanced pawn. They move instinctively, automatically. Throats clear, pieces clack on the board, eyes dart through potential lines of attack. The game clock is set, but its comforting tick cannot be heard over the howling Hellscape outside. Either way, time is running out.  


Openings are small talk, forgone conclusions. A smile and nod while you prepare your attack in silence.


Junior sets up well, eyeing a strong diagonal. “I know you usually like it quiet, but, ah, circumstances being what they are, should we talk?”


“What for?”


“As you said, this may be our last opportunity.”


“True enough. What I mean is, is there something specific you want to talk about?”


“I want to talk about Mother.”


“In that case, I think we’d better just play.”


“Why won’t you talk about her?”


“Because if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not spend my last moments in misery.”


“No, come on. I don’t mean right now, I mean ever.”


“Blunder.”


Junior’s heart sinks, and his focus returns to the game. His light square bishop is hanging. In an average game, this is a small loss, but against his father, such imperfections are unacceptable. As the bishop is taken, there are beads of sweat forming on Junior’s brow and upper lip, signs of weakness. A little prayer that father won’t notice.


A decent player can survive. A good one can put together an attack. The greats know when to back off.


They are trading pieces now, ruthlessly clearing the board of cohesive formations until only a few pieces remain. As Senior gains the advantage, Junior regroups in his king side corner.


“Did you play chess with your father?”


“No, of course not. Empire to build, all that.” Senior lends a subtle tilt of the head toward the framed painting opposite the window. “On my ninth birthday, father sat me down and taught me the rules - the same ones I’ve taught to you. He said to me, son, you learn chess, you learn to make it in this world. After that, he left me to learn the game on my own, or play it with your aunts.”


“But what sort of a lesson is that?”


“How do you mean?”


“Chess is a game about deception.”


“Chess is a beautiful and historic-”


“Please. It’s nothing more and nothing less than one of the many pastimes men have invented so that they never have to engage in earnest conversation with one another.”


While each of Junior's assertive moves crack sharp against the surface of the board, Senior's slide. The older man moves with a confidence belonging to the incredibly wise and the incredibly foolish alone.


A father registers the faintest trace of disrespect in his son's tone. “You’re probably right. But if it is so, it’s not for no reason.”


“I’d think you’d want to be able to speak honestly with any man.”


“You never met my father.”


“I wonder if I've ever really met mine.” Junior takes a beat. “I will thank you, though, for making time to play chess with me every now and again. No matter how mad I was at you, I always looked forward to it.”


“Me too.”


Bend, but don’t break.


The room is flooded with an incessant white light as the tremors become disruptive. Books wiggle out of place on the shelves and the whiskey bottle rolls off of the desk to shatter across the rug. 


The game devolves into an endless chase, two opposing kings and two opposing knights moving from corner to corner, narrowly escaping clever traps. It occurs to both players that this could conceivably go on forever, but they carry on making moves. Suddenly, as the trembling grows stronger, the painting of the severe man comes free of its hooks and clangs out of sight behind the cabinet below, snapping the men out of their trance.


“I offer a draw,” says Junior, rising from the table and extending a sweaty palm.


Senior stands to meet his son’s hand. They shake for an awfully long time, until the long-coming meeting of their moistening eyes.  


Senior takes a measured breath. “What a cruel trick it was that she left you those baby blues.”


Junior feels a frog in his throat and yanks his father toward him. They share a hug, a gesture not even thought of since early childhood, since Junior's mother was around as the go-between. If tears fall, they disappear into the cascade of sweat brought on by the light.


“I wish I could remember her, Dad. I’m sure she was lovely.”


“The thing I wanted to say to you. I’ve found the words. Your mother - she whispers them to me even now.”


“Okay.”


“I love you.”


“Quite.”


“Yes, quite.”


The game clock would expire, but its internal mechanisms have melted. A book shelf tips over onto the chess table, scattering the pieces over the floor. Pained are the wails of the old house. The study’s rear window splinters, sending a blinding whirl of shards into the room, cutting everything inside to ribbons and scorching whatever remains. 


The father and son do not feel pain - only the smooth rise and fall of each other’s cherished last breaths.


September 13, 2020 19:56

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

14 comments

Amy De Matt
20:11 Sep 23, 2020

Wow, impressive! I picked up several things done well. First, this is a great example of show, don’t tell. The action painted a picture for me. Second, you do a great job of mounting the tension with your setting and the action of the story. Third, you had something to say and you said it a nuanced, non-obvious manner. I’m learning, A.G. Looking forward to reading more. Well done!!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Rayhan Hidayat
04:21 Sep 20, 2020

This was awesome! The descriptions were incredibly vivid, but it was the banter between father and son that really sealed the deal. Dialogue flowed seamlessly, and the running “Quite,” “Yes, quite,” exchange is highly amusing. I especially love how their relationship is so broken that it took an apocalyptic weather catastrophe to get them to make up. Keep it up! 😙

Reply

Show 0 replies
Molly Leasure
19:06 Sep 17, 2020

I love this. The relationship between the father and son is so cleanly displayed, without having to drag through the detail of it. Also, I rather enjoy the banter between them and the juxtaposition of the banter to the weather. :)

Reply

A.G. Scott
19:14 Sep 17, 2020

Much appreciated

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Maggie Deese
04:52 Sep 16, 2020

Wonderful story, A. g. ! Your writing style was clean and concise and you nailed this prompt without being too wordy. Great job!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Charles Stucker
07:26 Sep 14, 2020

Very clean writing. I found no glaring errors in sentences, though the exchange about ["I'd say Lovecraftian," says the elder. ] grates because of the near juxtaposition of the words say and says. It might change to "I'm inclined toward Lovecraftian," says the elder. I am unsure which extreme weather is being seen. Particularly since physicists are mentioned. We are notoriously outside meteorology, unless you include astronomical events. The emphasis on light which is slow enough to heat up without immediately vaporizing rules out a Tung...

Reply

A.G. Scott
15:09 Sep 14, 2020

Yes, I was extremely disappointed to find that solar flares cannot destroy life on earth. Ah well, good thing I could tag the story fantasy. Call it the apocalypse. Thanks for your time.

Reply

Charles Stucker
15:14 Sep 14, 2020

Not to be a spoilsport, but I rather prefer not having to wake up every morning hoping the forecast won't be, "Today everything dies- including you." Except when I need to mow the lawn, and then I could say, "At least I got out of that chore..."

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Dhananjay Sharma
09:04 Sep 25, 2020

Simply beautiful. I am speechless. Kindly go through mine. https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/contests/60/submissions/35763/ Looking forward to collaborate with you.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Vanessa Marczan
03:53 Sep 25, 2020

Marvellous! What a great scene, perfect characterisation, very smooth dialogue and what I love was what wasn't written- great restraint when you could have dumped a bunch of backstory and narrative on us. I could really visualise junior and senior and the space, and the impending end of the world. It would make a wonderful short by Wes Anderson (because I love his work and it just had that vibe, and I hope you don't mind that!)

Reply

A.G. Scott
04:07 Sep 25, 2020

I'm a big Wes fan, so of COURSE I don't mind. :) Funnily enough, I also prefer the things I don't write to the things I do! I'll be sure to check out something of yours soon.

Reply

Vanessa Marczan
06:30 Sep 25, 2020

🤦🏻‍♀️ I know you know what I meant about the things you don't write haha- it seems to not sound anywhere near as sincere as I intended it

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Jessica Primrose
16:46 Sep 18, 2020

I really liked this story. I think you really took advantage of this prompt and made a concise as well as an engaging story. I liked the relationship between the father and son. The reader could tell they shared a close bond and were trying to make the best out of their last moments. Truly heartbreaking. I especially liked the concept of an apocalypse as an extreme weather condition, definitely unique. There's maybe a bit too many dialogue exchanges, though, and I think it would be better if you shortened them. I would expand on the i...

Reply

A.G. Scott
17:13 Sep 18, 2020

Thanks for your time. For me, I wouldn't shorten or remove any of the dialogue because the son's drive is to get his father to talk to him. It's a relationship that's been awkwardly formal and uncommunicative since the mother's passing. The idea is, it'd take a god damn apocalypse for a proud father and son to share their feelings. If they seem calm, it's for three reasons: they're drunk, they've been warned long before, and as they watch it unfold they're a little bit in shock or disbelief. I do think the latter reason is communicated...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply