Τετάρτη, 15 Απριλίου 2015

THE GRAND ROQUE: THE LAST GAME

   “Whenever you are ready, Mrs. Peterson”, she heard his steady voice from the other side of the chessboard. She was in panic. Her first thought was to run away. His servant would be in the house but it would be easier to hide in the garden, or even better, if she could make it to the street. She was younger and stronger than both of them and she was afraid. Her fear gave her another kind of strength and energy.  The possibility of the thirty – two pieces following her was something that she tried to put out of her mind, although she didn’t know their powers. While he was sitting with a calm expression, which already revealed a sense of victory, the young woman felt that her heart had stopped. Small, sharp, impatient breaths accompanied her. They were the breaths that discreetly came out of the pieces and that was enough to make her shiver even more. Did she have to feel sorry for them and try to release them or were they a strange army that was about to go after her with just one nod of his? The despair made her numb. She had to react. She threw away the glass that she held and it became a thousand pieces on the slabs. The small breaths of the pieces became sharper and the knight in front of her nervously moved its legs. Perhaps pieces of the glass frightened it or even wounded it. She started running like crazy.  She went over the fence and reached the weeping willows again, the lanterns and the stone benches. She lost her shoe that got tangled in the bushes but she didn’t stop not even for a minute. His laughter tore the silence and her panting.
“Where do you think you are going, Mrs. Peterson? There is no way out”, he yelled at her and he continued gloatingly laughing out loud. 
    She followed a path that she thought it would lead to the exit. It reminded her same route to the stone alley that divided the garden in two parts. Yes, she was not mistaken, the path was only one and it led to the exit, therefore her salvation. His laughter was still faintly heard behind her along with her terror and agony. But as she ran, she felt the distance growing rather than diminishing. Now, she was certain that she didn’t remember the weeping willows there nor the house could be seen anywhere on the horizon, when she should have overtaken it. 
    
Her bare foot began to hurt from the rough surface of the stone slabs. And how peculiar indeed! The straight path was now a circular corridor, like a spiral, that continually rotated like a snail trapping her instead of liberating her. The branches of the weeping willows, even though it was not a windy night, fluttered like a natural curtain and put obstacles to her. They got tangled in her bun, which was now undone, and her hair got in her eyes, like jellyfish in the night ocean. She stumbled and fell hurting her knees but she immediately got up forgetting all about her pain. The spiral got narrow, ready to trap her forever inside it. Even though she should be heading away from Him, and leaving this nightmare behind her, his laughter with a subtle pull at the back of her neck now haunted her. It was as if he had grabbed her and was pulling her back. She had the faintest idea where she was going but her hopes of escaping were fading out as the night was getting deeper. She was mixed up in a spider web from which it was impossible to escape. All her fears were soon confirmed. The spiral-path ended again in the garden with the anthropomorphic chess board with Mr. E.X. waiting for her, holding his glass nervously.
  “I’m losing my patience, Mrs. Peterson”, he shouted at her from the other side. “Come on and behave like a woman of your age! You are not a baby anymore! No more games!” he chuckled and approached the chessboard. The young woman did the same, gasping and trying to hold her tears. 
    “You are really sick”, she screamed in vain. The enigmatic Mr. E.X. stood behind the black pawns. He was a bit taller than these and he looked like a father figure in front of, if anything else, a hideous creation. Eliza stood still behind the white pawns. She felt the glances of these female pieces counting her courage that had started fading out. It was now clear that this was more than a game like so many others that they had shared all these years. It was a game of life and death. If she had to go along with it, she would make sure to play as good as her opponent. She moved towards the white pawn with determination. She stood behind it and she was forced to push it to the centre of the board, feeling its hissing breath. 
    “At last, I see that you are getting hold of yourself”, he said and he also moved his pawn with a greater ease of course. And the most peculiar game of her life, so far, began. She aimed for the centre with her first moves making it clear that she wanted the bishop and the knight to be ready for the battle. It was so strange to move pawns that were almost her height! She had to put great effort to move them every time and that was something to draw her attention and concentration off the game. She got tired and hot. She took off her jacket and threw it on the grass. Her goal was to protect her king and that’s why she even got used to those quick looks of the black bishop and the black rook. Her moves were effective and so were her opponent’s, who, made sure not to leave his king uncovered to her challenges, sacrificed a few pawns and praised her for her smart moves just as he did in his letters. Eliza sensed that he gave her a head start and that he didn’t still give his best shot. Taking a closer look at the pieces, she saw that only her queen was made of stone without any female characteristics on it. Regardless the point of view, there was only rock and carvings. This clue was enough to feel a wave of cold sweat on her spine and at the thought of the most nightmarish scenario, she almost fainted. Would this be his ultimate goal? Would she be his next queen?
  
The game lasted about two hours that seemed like eternity to her. Space and time had taken a completely different dimension that night. She had left her old self when she passed the gate of that house and now it was too late for regrets and second thoughts. Her opponent was now on the attack. It didn’t take check long to come and of course checkmate since she had lost control. Now Mr. E.X. crossed the chessboard and approached her. He looked deep into her eyes and smiled ironically. 

     “I am sure that you could have played better, Mrs. Peterson. You didn’t give your best shot but then again, I can excuse you”, he told her pompously and stood in front of the white queen. He lightly touched its stone crone and the girl, even though she was a few squares behind him, shivered as she felt electricity run through her hair that was loose and wild some time now.  That wave penetrated her whole body and made her numb. The man still had his hands on the piece but she felt them in her stomach turning her guts inside out. She suddenly felt her parts instantly harden and freeze, as if they were made of stone. Were they? In a second, she could not use her voice, she could not feel her body, her feet were stuck together and she couldn’t move them and also her hands were now a part of her waist. She could not even feel the terror because her heart, which was beating like crazy till then, was like being at the back of a very dark corridor whose beginning and ending were not traceable anymore. The only part of her old self was her eyelids that opened and closed mechanically, absorbing images. They watched Him getting closer and kissing them with his frozen lips, putting her in her right spot on the board and removing the old pawn on the grass. He put the rest on the board and everything was ready for a future game. He stared at her but her eyes had already started their journey floating around the damp grasses from the humidity of the night, curling the leaves of the weeping willows, getting some rest on the stone benches and following the dimly lit path to the house.
At that time, the silent servant opened the window and she sneaked in the folding of the curtain which the breeze gently swept away. She stayed there just for a while and then through the corridor with the many closed doors, she slid through the keyhole and smelled the roses. She went through the gate and stepped into the dark street where no taxi would wait for her anymore.

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