Death's Board

Written in response to: Set your story beyond our own world.... view prompt


Fiction Speculative

 Hello, there.

Are you afraid?

You really shouldn’t be. I’m not going to hurt you. It’s too late for that anyway.

Come sit, sit. You must be tired. Your feet are calloused. Your eyes are sun-blind. Your throat is still hoarse, unless I miss my guess. I don’t know why you all scream. There’s really no point.

I see your eyes are darting all over my table. Do you like it? I had it custom-made. Finest red pine for miles around, smoothly lacquered and impossible to stain. You swallow, and your throat moves the sound through your body.

I like bodies. They work so nicely, like well-oiled machines, like robots that each have different motherboards. Your motherboard is an attractive one. Perhaps sometime I could trace the path your throat made when you swallowed. Ha, ha. I only kid you.

Don’t be afraid to sit. You’re standing at attention. You don’t need to do that here; all those barked orders are really not my speed. Rest your battle-hardened legs, and let go of your fear. Tip your chin up to look brave, and perhaps I will admire you for it. Perhaps it will win you some of my favour.

Do you play white or black? It doesn’t matter, just pick a side. I know that white goes first, but here, it doesn’t make a difference, because I am always and forever first.

Who am I? Oh goodness, that would take ages to answer. Where are we? That isn’t something to worry your pretty head about. Just know that you can trust me… why? Well. You have no other options.

You don’t care which side. Ah, interesting! You know, most people who come here pick right away because they’d like to feel they have some control over what happens to them. What will happen to you too, if you’re lucky. But I can see you’re smarter than they are already. You shall play white.

Oh no, I don’t sit. I stand, my dear boy. I have not sat for years and years. I do not need it. But you do. You were mortal and though you are not any longer, you shall find comfort in sitting.

I know that you have questions that you want answered-- everyone who passes through here does. The answer to your questions is complicated, so I shall make them simpler: there is a Door A, which you have passed through to meet me here, and there is a Door B, which is where you will go if you make the right moves. Besides that is a Door C where you go if you make the right moves for the wrong reasons, and Door D where you go if you make the wrong moves for the correct reasons, and Door E where you go if you make the wrong moves for the right reasons, and so on and so forth. 

You may also pass back through Door A, if you make the moves that led you to where you are today, but between you and me you don’t want to go back through Door A.

Your head is swimming, I can see that. Your eyes are confused. You’ve forgotten about our game. Move your pawn, please.

As we play, I am going to tell you a story. And then you are going to answer my story and by the time we have finished with that we will have finished our game, and you can pick a door. How do I know our game will be done by then? I am nothing if not knowledge, my handsome young Marine.

Once, there was a clever, beautiful woman who grew up with seven older sisters and seven younger brothers and who spent most of her childhood in a chaotic swirl of bodies and people and loud, loud voices. She had a best friend called Willadow and Willadow was not clever or beautiful like her friend. Willadow was loud, with lots of bushy hair and big hands and feet and a bitter seed planted in her heart. Willadow wished for the kindness of her friend’s family for herself, and over the years the bitterness hardened into anger. Her lot in life had not been so generous and she envied the seven older sisters, who promised always to be a friend to their sister, and the seven younger brothers, who vowed to fight to the death to defend them.

Willadow’s hate may have stayed hidden in her heart if it weren’t for an old witch living just outside of town, who had a back stooped over in a perfect U and who spent her days mixing very wicked potions that would provide entertaining results. Willadow visited the witch to ask for a cure to her jealousy-- oh, excellent move, you’ve played before, yes?-- and the witch handed her a draught that would get rid of her jealousy, but at a cost she didn’t share, with a rather evil grin.

Willadow downed the draught and rushed back to her friend, her heart blooming with joy, but the emotion caused the bitter seed in her chest to sprout. A tree grew inside her and broke through her skin. Her thick, unruly hair became even thicker and covered her face and arms. Her big hands and feet sprouted thick claws. Bark crackled over her face and branches burst through her back. 

When her friend saw her, she screamed, and all the seven young brothers and seven older sisters came rushing out of the house. Upon seeing the hideous tree monster, they fell upon her with axes and kitchen knives. They tore poor Willadow to shreds. And to ensure that she would never again hurt their little sister, they each transformed themselves-- the older sisters into hawks, finches, and owls, and the younger brothers into sharks, trout, and slender minnows. They took a piece of Willadow each and travelled far and wide, hiding the shreds of her body. You bring out your queen too early, my friend.

Now, Willadow’s clever young friend could have continued on with her life as I’m sure many people in her position would have. She had other friends, of course, who were as pretty and fortunate as she. 

But people with good hearts like Willadow make friends with good hearts, and the clever young woman knew she could not rest knowing she’d killed her friend. She transformed herself into a simple wood sparrow and flew into the forest to search for the witch. She hid in the trees by her cottage till the witch came out carrying a basket. The clever woman snuck inside and flew into the eaves of the cottage, to wait for her return. 

She sat patiently until the witch had gone to bed, then waited even longer until the moon shone on her wrinkled, warty face. She did not feel tired and she flew down right beside the witch’s ear. She whispered, ‘Tell me the name of the spell that brings people back from the dead.’ And the witch, deep in her dreams, murmured the name. Then she said ‘Tell me the name of the draught that cures any curse.’ And the witch whispered the name of the draught as well. Finally she chirped, in her sweet bird voice, ‘Tell me the name of the river that helps people find anything that’s lost.’ And the witch told her about a river deep in the forest that would lead whoever followed it where they wanted to go. The young woman flew around in the witch’s hut until she found what she needed and then she transformed back and set off into the night.

Are you tired, my friend? Please, play a little bit longer. Surely you can’t tire of stories, the lies they spin and the truths they tell, what they reveal about a storyteller and about the people who listen. Each story has a lesson, remember that. And in the place you are in now, stories are the only currency I have. Spend them wisely and you will progress where you wish to progress.


The clever woman followed the river to find the first piece of her friend. Each hunt was a journey in itself. She found Willadow’s fragments in seven great castles and seven peaceful towns, and in each she met men and women who offered her a place with them, who said that she could stay. The clever woman met men she could have fallen in love with and saw the ghosts of children she wouldn’t raise. She admired the curving figure of women by the fountain and thought about the friendships she wouldn’t have. Sometimes her resolve would begin to crack, but she had a quest and she left each time without a goodbye.

The clever young woman continued to search until she had gathered every piece of Willadow, and then she stitched her back together with care. She whispered a spell and Willadow came, blinking sap-green eyes. 

“You are alive,” said the woman joyfully, blinking back tears. But Willadow, in her monstrous form, mistook the tears for fear.

She roared and showed her terrible teeth, then sprang upon her friend and tore her to pieces. Then she looked at what she had done and some of her humanity was remembered. In horror, she ran into the forest and lived out her days there, killing the people who dared to come near her, each year becoming wilder and wilder as her sapling heart grew every emotion except jealousy, grew them in abundance, with plants sprouted on her thick-furred body for every quiver of feeling, until finally, she was too stiff and heavy to move. 

She is the largest tree in the forest.

The end.

What do you think? Do you like my story? I’m rather proud of it myself. 

You’re frowning. I suppose it wasn’t your favourite. A bit rude, but to each his own, I suppose.

Perhaps it was the ending. Ah, you humans, always wanting things tied up neatly in a red ribbon, sweetly packaged to suit your desires. You don’t think perhaps that each character got what they deserved? That perhaps instead the clever woman’s fate should have been filled with the years of happiness she was promised in her travels?

Well, my dear, you forget that the story isn’t just about a clever woman who looks for her friend. It’s about the friend who was torn in the first place, by the siblings of the woman. The pity you should be feeling is for Willadow, who didn’t have a good family and who became a monster for the rest of her days, who tried dabbling in witchery just to hide her unhappiness. She made her moves and whether they were right or wrong is something that you and I will have to decide for ourselves. 

Do not mind the fog. She likes to listen when I talk. Do not mind the bird circling overhead, he cannot harm you. We only want the best for you, you know. 

Why don’t you tell us something? Tell us about yourself. Your name, perhaps, although I can’t keep track of such things. Tell us who you were, who you are, and who you would have wished to be.

Will it benefit you? Ha! No one has ever asked that. But I can tell you don’t like to waste time. I will say this: currying favour with those greater than you have been a driving force for humanity for as far as I can remember (and I remember quite a ways back). It would perhaps be in your instincts to impress those greater than yourself, but I am not human, so I can’t promise that it will help you on your journey to have my good favour. All I ask is that I know who you are by the stories you tell me.

I cannot even remember how I died.

You died in front of a fireplace. I served you scotch before you passed. You were young and then you were old, and nothing more needs to be said about that. 

But I am a marine?

Dear boy, you do not exist on the spectrum of present-tense any longer. You were a marine, yes. You rose and fought and bled, and you drifted off withered in an armchair the colour of the blood you spilled. 

How old was I?

In human years, about twenty-four. Ripe for my picking.

But you said I was old…

For men who see things they shouldn’t see before they’re half-grown, age is nothing more than a worn-out pair of shoes you happen to wear. You are older than men twice your age and no amount of cigarettes or alcohol will change that. 

It must be so peaceful to be nothing any longer. You’ve finished everything about yourself and been wrapped up to be delivered to my doorstep. 

This is your new plane of existence, at least in the existential sense: grey spectral shapes flitting around you, trees that could very well be something other than trees (which of course they are), and me, your companion with the grating voice and the warm hand who carried you cheerfully from your exhausting circumstance of Living. Be welcome, friend, and enjoy me while you can, for our time together is short and we have only a few billion years before everything that we are is cut from the strings. You must, as the Living say, enjoy it while you can. 

Make your move, please.

February 19, 2022 18:08

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Tommy Goround
21:42 May 18, 2022

Ha. I was just going to comment that your speed might be intruding. And then you stopped narration? If "the end" was an intermission and I went out with an A&W root beer to the foyer to talk about this Clockwork Orange short story... I would sit there and linger next to the people in tuxedos that are discussing your story. They would ask if the Marine had made a baby. I would think about the symbology of a tree growing out of a belly. One person would say that we use fantasy to discover new themes and concepts that are too vanilla in t...


Waverley Stark
01:32 Jun 08, 2022

you make such lovely suggestions with such clever writing it's almost poetic. i've never had a response like this to something i've written before... i rather appreciate it, in all its oddness. thank you very much. this story does need some editing. is there anything you've done that you'd like me to read?


Tommy Goround
20:33 Jun 08, 2022

Thank you. Very kind. It's fun just to sit here and read.


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Tommy Goround
21:36 May 18, 2022

"are you tired my friend". Well yes. The voice allows for the quick pace. I am analyzing if a marine playing chess has anything to do with the witches are sister. Palhouiac calls this "hiding the gun" but my brain is trying to be useful and read in an active fashion, (to provide feedback). I dunno. I am taking obvious breaks...your prose is thick and mingling several stories. Did not love the name..."whadayu?" Looked symbolic but he plot points are already a mystery.... It is still working. ...


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Tommy Goround
21:31 May 18, 2022

So just switched tenses and storylines. My "writing mechanics" says you really have to separate the into from the witch with the tree belly. But Stephen king starts the sentence with "and" and Kerouac publishes a 36 hour meth story about road trips. So I dunno. You have broken convention....


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Tommy Goround
21:27 May 18, 2022

"I am nothing if not knowledge"... You just gave me choices a through e and I thought of the game candyland or shoots and ladders where you have to come back.... I was wrong about Frank Stockton because he only gave two choices... And now you are calling the protagonist a Marine. Hmm....


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Tommy Goround
20:49 May 18, 2022

Be right back. Cop pulled me over...


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Tommy Goround
20:48 May 18, 2022

Door A and B... You are building suspense and getting away with first person pronoun. (Like twenty uses but I don't care); it works...are you going Frank Stockton Lady or the Tiger. I don't know. It's not boring...


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Tommy Goround
20:45 May 18, 2022

"who am I?" Your gonna say death. You better after dropping the lines about Ingmar Bergman"s chess game against the devil. Opener? I dunno. You are unraveling plot and theme slow... Be right back....


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