Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2019 finalist, Grace Henson! Grace finished 8th grade this past school year. The story she submitted is called “Just a Chess Game”
“Clean Grandpa’s attic,” they said. “It’s not that bad,” they said. Well, the mile high stack of boxes and inches of dust said otherwise. Annalise let out a long sigh and went back down the ladder to get cleaning supplies from the closet.
“Excuse me…” She slid past her brother who was vacuuming the living room and headed to a closet of cleaning supplies. Pushing bottles aside on the shelf aside, she grabbed the duster, a web broom thingy, some bottles of cleaner, and of course, trash bags.
“What the heck did Grandpa put in these?” she asked. The boxes felt like they weighed a ton! Finally able to move some boxes off the huge stack, she opened the first box she could get to. Filled with old trophies. The second box had… apple cores?
“Alrighty then…” Annalise trailed off, a bit creeped out. Dropping the second box into a trash bag, she turned around to find a chess board sitting on a stack of boxes arranged like a table. Only a white pawn had been moved, but who moved it?
“Who would even be up here to play chess?” Playfully, she moved a black pawn on the opposite side of the board. “Your move, white.”
She turned and began going through the rest of the boxes. Clothes, really old Halloween candy…
She turned, hearing her brother from downstairs.
“Ya?!” She peeked down the entrance to the attic to look for him. She looked a bit odd with her head hanging upside down like that. He wasn’t anywhere in sight. She leaned out more.
“David? What did you want?” Her hand slid on the faded polished wood handle and she tumbled down the ladder. She did a weird swivel in the air trying to grab the ladder again. She caught it just barely, but apparently her foot did too. She tripped backwards and landed in an odd position on the floor. She looked like a pretzel in a way.
“Annalise, I–” Her brother came down the hallway and stared at her.
“What are ya doin down there?” As he helped her up, Annalise grumbled about her falling down the ladder and how she was not very happy about it.
“So what was it you needed?” Her face was a small scowl, and her eyebrow was raised. Her brother sighed.
“I was just gonna say we’re heading home. I didn’t know you’d be falling down ladders.” He laughed lightly. Annalise scowled again but let out a small “Ohh..” David shook his head at her and headed out the door with her following behind him.
The next day they came back to continue cleaning, and lucky for Annalise, she got to continue cleaning the attic. Halfway through a box of china plates she noticed the chess board again. Someone had moved another white chess piece. She stared at it for a moment, thinking. The house had been empty for almost a month. She shrugged it off and moved one of her pieces.
“I guess I’m playing now.” She gave a smile, then turned to open another box when she heard a loud thump and a crash. She froze where she stood, unsure of herself. If something important had fallen… she was dead meat. Slowly she turned to see what had happened. A box had fallen off a stack and landed exactly where she had been a second ago, with glass from a lamp scattered from the open box.
“What the..?” She inspected what was left of the lamp and used a nearby broom to sweep the glass away before continuing to clean. Including gagging while cleaning the cobwebs, sneezing from flying dust, and even scraping her finger on a metal piece in another box. “Ouch!” She pulled her finger back and examined it; lucky it was just a scrape, but it still was bleeding. She carefully went down the ladder this time and wandered to her bag in the kitchen to find a bandaid.
“Mm… better,” she said before noticing how silent the house was. She wandered into the living room, then Grandpa’s bedroom, then the basement. She was beginning to think they left her there, but why would they do that?
She stood in the kitchen again, dumbfounded. Where could they be? All their stuff was still there. Annalise headed up into the attic again. She moved the garbage bags aside and sat down. The ladder creaked and Annalise smiled. Someone was there. She saw the head of red hair and tilted her head. No one she knew had red hair. The red hair continued upwards as whoever it was scrambled up the ladder.
“Who are you?” she asked while scanning him. Jeans, some old rock band shirt, and Converse.
“No time for introductions, but my name is Aaron. Did you or did you not move a chess piece?” His tone was anxious and he seemed very fidgety.
“Why?” was all Annalise replied.
“Just answer please,” Aaron half begged whilst being annoyed.
“Ya, I moved a black pawn yesterday and a bishop today. So what’s up with me doing that?” Annalise was weary about this stranger but he looked like he wasn’t a threat to her.
Aaron was freaking out. She had moved a chess piece. She moved a chess piece! He took a deep breath.
“Because that chessboard is what caused your grandfather’s death,” he replied. Annalise gave him an odd look.
“The chess board.” She wasn’t amused. “Did my cousin put you up to this? Are you one of their friends? Cause this isn’t funny,” she scoffed.
“No- this isn’t a joke. I don’t even know your cousins. I mean that exact chess board is
cursed with bad luck.” He eyed it like it was death weapon.
“And me moving the pieces is bad because?…” She had decided to play along.
“You have to win the chess game in order to get rid
of the bad luck.”
Seriously? That’s the best he could come up with? Let me guess, ‘I’ll die if I don’t win,’ Annalise thought.
“Well, yes. That’s exactly correct,” Aaron replied. She fixed her gaze on his and narrowed her eyes. ‘Now what is he up to…’ she thought.
“I’m not up to anything, but yes, you’ll die if you don’t win the game– and you are allowed a partner to help you try and win if you like,” Aaron replied. If her jaw could hit the floor, that would be the time it was gonna.
“And yes, I just read your mind. I do it to people all the time. No, I can’t control it happening but I can focus it on certain people. Now, knowing you made a move today we can sit down and play.” Aaron started to walk over to the chess board.
“But then where is everyone?” Annalise asked, since he seemed to know everything. All he did was shrug.
“When you play the game everything else disappears– except people like me,” he replied.
“What do you mean by that?” she asked.
“The chess board is a strange thing. Sometimes everyone else disappears while you play, sometimes nothing happens. It’s just the way it works,” he tried to explain.
They sat in front of the chess board and waited.
“So who moves the other pieces?” she said while scanning the board. Aaron shrugged.
“No idea, I never see anyone else.” The white pieces hadn’t moved since she last saw them. Annalise felt more and more skeptical. Aaron just sat there quietly.
“Well,” Annalise said.
“Is a piece gonna move?” Annalise was drumming her fingers on the boxy tabletop.
“Well– sometime soon, maybe.”
Aaron let out a breath and shook his head. “However long it takes for it to make a move.” Annalise puffed out her cheeks and waited.
It was like it was floating! Or a ghost was holding it! Her eyes were glued as the piece
seemed to hover in the air and move. It was the white knight. Then a figure seemed to appear in front of Annalise.
“Grandpa?” Annalise said under her breath. Aaron tilted his head.
“Can’t you see him? He’s sitting across from us. Right there.” Annalise pointed at the ghostly figure of her grandpa. Aaron shrugged.
“I don’t see anything. Now.” He eyes began to scan the board. “As far as I know, it–”
“He,” Annalise cut in.
“Alright, as far as I know he can’t hear us. But let’s still be quiet.”
Annalise nodded to Aaron and scanned the board as well. “What abo–”
“No, his bishop could take it,” Aaron replied before she finished.
“You can’t stop reading my mind, can you?” she asked as she turned to face him.
Annalise ended up moving another pawn. Time ticked by and Annalise started losing hope. Her grandpa had taken one of her black bishops, four of her pawns, a knight, and almost had her queen. She sighed and set her head on the table.
“Come on, don’t give up now. We can still do this.” Aaron smiled to her, hoping to cheer her up. She just shook her head and mumbled to herself. He could tell what she was thinking, but
didn’t say anything. She kept thinking about how she could see her grandpa in front of her playing chess with her. Memories of her playing chess with him floated around too. Aaron sucked in his lip. He didn’t want her to lose. He’d already helped others do that enough, he had his own bad luck to deal with and it wasn’t from the chess board.
“Come on. Look at your pieces. What can you take in order to help you get his king?”
She sighed and let her eyes lazily scan the board, then shrugged. “Can’t I just leave? Just
go away from this. I’m not gonna win anyways…” Her voice sounded quiet and tired as her mind drifted towards her grandpa and how the real cause of his death was still unknown.
“No, we have to finish this. Come on.” Aaron tried.
Annalise looked across the board to where she saw her grandpa. He sat there waiting for her to play her turn. She shook her head.
“Bad luck– so be it.” She got up and wandered into the kitchen and grabbed her bag. Aaron tried following her.
“Wait wait wait, hey. Come on. You gotta follow through. You can’t just walk away like a quitter just because you’re afraid you’ll lose.”
She just shrugged again in response. “I’m bad at chess, always have been. Maybe everyone will appear soon and things can go back to normal. See ya around.” She waved and walked out the door. Aaron let out a sigh and held his head in his hands.
“You can’t run away from a problem, Annalise.” So he sat on the counter and waited. She’d be back soon enough, hopefully.
Walking. Walking. Walking. That’s all she did, no person in sight. Her mind ran off to
who knows where and back while she started to think. Maybe Aaron was right.. She just didn’t
want to do it. She knew she’d lose and she’d be stuck with bad luck. She just knew it, her grandpa was always better than her at chess. She felt fine about playing the game until she saw the ghostly figure of what looked like her grandpa. He would surely tell her off for quitting if he was here. Her footsteps fell silent and she took a deep breath. Aaron was right, wasn’t he…. she needed to finish the game. She didn’t want to be a quitter. She stood there stubbornly for a few minutes, debating it. She loved her grandpa and always played chess with him even though she was no good. But seeing his ghost pulled at her heart. If she finished the game he would likely go away again. But while this game continued, she couldn’t see any of her family. ‘All or one,’ she thought before the squeak of shoes sounded.
Once the door creaked open Aaron put on a small smile from where he stood.
“Ready to continue the game?” he asked. She nodded and headed towards the attic. She noted the garbage bags were gone as were a few more boxes.
“I took it upon myself to lighten your load. You seemed to be taking forever.” He chuckled and headed up the ladder after her.
There it was, the chess board. Annalise walked over and sat down. It was still her turn.
“Now, take a look. I see at least five possible moves and two that might give you an advantage,”
Aaron said. Annalise nodded, just now noticing how similar Aaron looked to some old pictures of her grandpa. The black chess piece clunked when she set it back on the board. As soon as she did a white piece moved. She looked over at Aaron.
“Go on, you got this,” he encouraged. She smiled and turned towards the board. Time to actually focus.
She was about to put Grandpa in checkmate but she stopped mid move. “Aaron, if I were to win… would you disappear?” she asked while looking at him. She figured her ghostly grandpa would diappear as well. But since Aaron couldn’t see him, she didn’t say anything about him. Aaron stood thoughtful for a moment.
“You’re the first person to ask me that. I don’t exactly disappear, I just won’t be here once you win,” he said with a smile.
“So, you teleport?” she asked.
“Not exactly. But I’ll see you again. I’ll make sure of it.” He lets out a laugh while moving her hand to set the piece down. “See ya around, Annalise,” he said, giving a short wave.
Her voice caught before she could ask him a question and her gaze flickered towards the board and saw it was gone. She looked up and, ghost Grandpa was too. She turned to look for Aaron, but he was gone. She heard footsteps and turned to look down the ladder.
“There you are, Anna.” It was her cousin, using his nickname for her.
“We’ve been looking for you,” David laughs from beside her cousin.
“Me? I’m still cleaning the attic,” she replied.
“Ya, your mom said you’re heading home for the day.”
She nods to her cousin. “Alright, I’ll be down in a sec.” She disappeared from view and looked back towards the table of boxes. She could clean those out tomorrow.
With a smile, Annalise slid down the ladder and headed out the door with her family, listening to their stories of their good luck from cleaning the house and finding old trinkets. She smiled to herself. It’s not like anyone would ever know or believe her. Well, Aaron would, but she had no idea where he was. So Annalise sat back in her seat smiling again, knowing she just won her first ever chess game, saved herself from a life of bad luck, and got to see her grandpa one last time.
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