Another Day of Checkers

May 23, 2012
By VictorHugo GOLD, Binghamton, New York
VictorHugo GOLD, Binghamton, New York
11 articles 0 photos 0 comments

Corpses still lie in rigor beside the dirt roads. Newspaper articles titled “The End is Near!” and “Pray for Salvation!” flow gently across the pavement of the cracked parking lots, just as they always have. The world is silent now. It's been silent for at least a month. No more street cars rushing home, blaring siren horns or 150' televisions shouting the daily headlines. Only the soft wisps of crumpled paper tumbling down lone roads fill this barren soul. Trees and wild foliage have taken their land back from the greedy beasts, turning cities into newborn forests. This is paradise, surely the promise land foretold by our ancestors.

Maurice wheeled along the sidewalk of Old Central Park. His rusted wheelchair, lined with old copies of The Economist and The Huffington Post, squeaked every time he pushed himself forward. The park was colder than usual with the fall weather setting in and the leaves falling off the trees.

“I hope Peter is still here,” Maurice muttered to himself, “it is so bitter out; I wouldn't be surprised if he stayed home.”

But, to Maurice's surprise, Peter was in his usual spot at the park table, sitting down with a checkerboard in hand. Peter looked older than usual today. His wrinkles, once only a minuscule feature to his rugged face, were as deep as moon craters. The dull gray hair under his “Bob's Mechanics” hat had become brittle and straw-like overnight.

“Peter, old friend, I am so happy you came. I thought you wouldn’t show but I rolled my way out here none-the-less.”

“Well you know I can't play checkers by my lonesome. Besides a little cold isn't gonna stop me anytime soon.” Peter smiled as he set the board on the stone table. He took his seat and settled in as Maurice took out the checker pieces from his tattered gray jacket and placed them in the according spots. The two remained silent throughout.

“So,” Peter said as Maurice finished placing the pieces on the board, “you never did finish your story from yesterday.”

“Oh, I almost forgot! So once all of the other professors and I got to the student's dormitory, it turned out that he was actually the one who stole the pigs skull.”

Peter laughed, “Crazy kid, leave'em alone for a few minutes and they start to go a bit crazy, ya?”

“Agreed, so are you making the first move today old friend?”

“The pleasure will be all mine.” Peter picked up the corner black piece delicately and began their game.

The two played in silence. They were as still as statues and half as decayed as one. The bitter fall air grew colder and began to eat at the two's exposed flesh. Maurice shivered in his chair, the wheels squeaking every time his teeth began to chatter. Peter moved his piece, taking on of Maurice's pieces. While Maurice was contemplating his next move, chattering as he thought to himself, Peter reached into his satchel and grabbed a canister of WD-40.

“Oh thank you Peter, you always have my back...or should I say my wheels.” Peter began to laugh, which soon turned into a coughing fit, but quickly recovered.

“Hey Maurice?,” Peter asked as Maurice applied the WD-40 to his wheels, “Do you think that if this never happened, this...whatever it was anyways..., do you think we would have ever met each other?” Maurice was caught off guard by the question, but quickly replied with a reassuring yes.

“King me,” Peter said.

“Already? Wow, this game is going by so much faster than I expected. We might even be able to get through one more before sundown.”

Peter coughed into his sleeve, “I sure hope so old friend.” The two continued moving the pieces across the diagonal paths of the checkerboard. On the surface, the board was cracked and ripped, showing obvious signs of aging. The once polished and smooth black and white squares have become a lack-luster replacement for the board at it's prime. But the radiance of the board still shined. A gold embroidery laced itself around the perimeter with pictures of old kings in each corner. Each king had a quote below him, to represent the dead kings before them. Maurice had always taken particular notice to the Roman king Romulus, who stood high and mighty with his brother Remus below him. Inscribed below the two read Brevis ipsu vita est sed malis fit longier. Maurice would constantly ask Peter what this mean but would never tell him, smiling happily knowing something that Maurice didn't for a change.

“Peter, what do you think about death? Everyone we know is dead. The thought just mortifies me. Do you fear it as much as I?” Maurice had obviously been contemplating this question for a long time. He always sat in silence and stared at Romulus whenever he had something deep or philosophical to say, as if Romulus himself would rise out of the boards and give him the answer.

“King me.”

“Peter! I mean it, there is not much more for us here, but what if there is even less in death. I don't think I could take it.”

“Isn't the park beautiful at this time of year?” Peter turned his head around and gazed at every tree, as if in his mind he was personally complimenting every oak, mahogany and spruce on a job well done. “This is the calm before the storm, winter that is, yet it is so beautiful. But so much deadlier. I like it either way.”

Maurice moved his piece. “What are you going on about now. What does that have to do with my question?”

“Do you like playing checkers with me everyday?” Maurice paused for a moment, Romulus didn't have the answer for him this time.

“Well of coarse I do. It's all I really have left in my life beyond sleeping or eating.”

“Then can't we just enjoy this moment right here and right now, instead of all your talking about death and the 'philosophical' truths? Before we can't enjoy it anymore.”

Maurice stopped playing for a moment to ponder what Peter meant. It was unusual to see him dodge a topic about life completely without a heated rebuttal or, at least, a story to go with it.

“Is there something wrong Peter? Did I say something to offend you?

Peter took a deep breath and looked away from Maurice, almost completely turning his back from him. He loudly coughed into his jacket sleeve and dropped his head to his torso, as if he was putting his ear to his heart to see if it was still beating. The park was even more silent than ever before. Only the sound of two lonely beating hearts filled the area with last essence of sound.

“Maurice, you remember all the stories I told you about my experiences as a mechanic, right?”

“Of coarse.” Maurice said moving a piece on the board, leaving peter with only two pieces left. Maurice noticed the grim tone in Peter's voice but sat in a hushed posture.

“Well I never told you about my son. He worked with me on auto parts for over twenty years, since he was a small lad. But one day, while working on a muscle car, the wires that were holding the cap up snapped. My son was working on the axle below, he never even saw it coming. The car crushed the lower half of his body.” Tears rolled down Peter's face, dropping onto the board. Maurice rolled up to him and placed his brittle ebony hands on Peter's shoulder to comfort him.

“I will always remember the look on his face as everyone, including himself, tried to get the car off. Deep down, in his heart he knew that there was no hope left for him and that he was as good as dead. His face reflected it, especially in his eyes. The eyes that always had a young sense of enthusiasm and immortal youth now had a solemn look of acceptance. Under his breath he muttered about descending angels wrapping around him and bringing him back to their kingdom. Back to his mother. Amid my screams I only saw his face, forming a sort of smile that said 'I've seen so much beauty and joy in my life. It may be too soon but I am content.' I rushed to him, just in time for him to die in my arms.”

Maurice reached out to him but he flinched at the sight of his hands, as if spooked by this hand entering the spheres on his flashback. “I had no idea, I am so sorry.” Peter got up and walked a few steps away from the board and Maurice.

“I have come to terms with that now, like how I have come to terms with the death of my wife and daughters and loved ones. But now I must come to terms with myself. Maurice, my dear, dear friend, I am dying and I don't have much time left.”

Maurice wheeled over to Peter in a mad dash, his tires practically leaving skid marks on the tiles. The board had been knocked over in this dash, flinging red and black chips all over the bark. A black piece cracked in half on impact, leaving little shards spread around. “You don't mean that. Peter, look me in the eyes and tell me you don't mean that!” Maurice's eyes shifted for a moment and noticed the blood on the sleeve Peter has been coughing into.

Peter looked Maurice dead in the eyes, in a way that he never has before. It was as if Peter was staring directly into all of the beautiful memories that he experienced with Maurice since the disaster, and even further looking into his own past. He smiled.

“Maurice, I have to thank you for everything. Every game of checkers, every story from your teaching days, every laugh and every tear. I wish these days could be immortal, but they are only as immortal as the people in them. I am happy I got to spend my last days here, with you.”

“Peter! You can't die!” Maurice cried. Tears were forming in Maurice's eyes and his lip began to quiver. He grabbed a hold of Peter's hands and squeezed them as hard as he could, trying to squeeze all the life he could into him. But Peter just stood there, a menacing giant with a small smile of acceptance looking down at his best friend.

“I am sorry, old friend. I really am. But do not cry.”

“But I can't be alone! I can even comprehend a day without you. Whose gonna bring the board? Whose gonna take your place on the stone bench beside our stone park table? There is no one left but you and I, and I can't live this life by myself.”

“My friend, my dear friend. Grab the board off of the ground, put the pieces back in their place. We will play one last game together and we will tell stories and laugh together just like every other time. I might even tell you what that quote really means.” Peter smiled at his best friend, taking his hand and walking him back to his spot. Maurice picked up the board slowly and Peter grabbed the pieces. Together they played once more, Peter smiling and encouraging his friend to do the same. In the back of Maurice's mind he knew his friend was about to leave him, but he was not going to let that fact stop him from another day of happiness with him.

Maurice rolled to the park the quietly, not even muttering to himself as normal. The old corpses of the past still remain as they always have, in the same positions they have always been in. Newspaper articles flow in the wind. It was the same stroll that Maurice took everyday. When he arrived to the stone table the area was empty and silent, just like everything else in the world, only filled with the usual sights and a small note on the center of the table. Maurice rolled over to the table, grabbed the note and unfolded it.

“Our life is short but is made longer by misfortune. That is what the quote on the board is. It was the misfortune of the disaster that brought us together, but it was your love and kindness that kept me alive for as long as I could. In death I will never forget these moments that are eternally ours and ours together, I surely hope you do the same.”

-Peter David Vancleef

Maurice closed the note and put it into his pocket, rolled into his usual spot and stared into the sky. The leaves on the trees have all but faded away, as if they all fell at once. The coldness was bitter and brutal now, creating frost that covered the decayed stone bench, making it shine elegantly with rays of sunlight. Maurice looked at the lone bench and grew depressed, but smiled in remembrance. Clouds same over the sky, turning the blue sky gray and dim. A single snowflake dropped onto Maurice's face. It was winter now, the first winter in human existence with only one human to enjoy it.

The author's comments:
The last two men on Earth play a game of checkers while they spend the rest of human existence together

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