Death Match

Death Match

by Shellen Lubin

April 29, 2022

Story for Friday Night


He knew that Death would someday demand a chess match for his soul.

He had spent his whole life preparing for it, ever since he’d seen Bergman’s Seventh Seal in 16mm black and white on a small screen in a small Philosophy classroom in college. He understood, and he knew back then, what he must do to be ready.

He had studied every piece with all its potential moves, and every gambit ever discovered by every brilliant chess player throughout history, including Kasparov, Karpov, and Fischer. He studied chess players who had found their glory and those who had been driven mad by the game—and yes, those who had both found their glory and been driven mad. He studied those who had achieved great wealth and those who had died in poverty.

He joined chess clubs and chess competitions, and even spent a year in Russia studying all they were teaching there about the game and possible offenses and defenses. He mastered strategic chess, positional play, and all kinds of tactical maneuvers. Whatever other life pursuits he had, he continued to play chess, not willing to ever get rusty, as he knew that he had no way of knowing when his time would come.

When he grew old, he was content, knowing he was ready whenever Death came for him, and he sat there each night, among all his chess boards and chess books, ready for the death match that would be his final reckoning.

Then the night came, and Death appeared before him, looking around the room, at all the books and all the boards and all the clay and marble and glass kings and queens, knights and bishops, and hundreds of pawns.

Death looked at him—he with his firm, set chin—so alert, so prepared, ready for battle. Death looked at the board set out in front of the man who sat in readiness, then looked back at the man again, looked him straight in the eye, and smiled. “We’re playing checkers.”