Death had slid gracefully onto the grassy ground and sat in the lotus position. I, too, sat cross-legged opposite the hooded shadow. The Grim Reaper had scythed the grass with its flaming fingers and carved a chess-board on the ground. And it conjured thirty two pieces, half of them black and half of them white, out of its shadowy mouth. It pulled a brown box out of the thin air. I looked mesmerized as it conjured the chess pieces.
‘The white pieces are carved out of the bones of a white man,’ it told without being asked.
‘And black pieces?’ I asked.
‘Neither ebony nor black sandal formed these,’ it said, as it lifted the black king. ‘These are carved out of the bones of a black man.’
I picked up the white king and a black knight, and mulled aloud for Death to hear: ‘Where does it leave the brown man – the colourful fellow?’
‘O! He is a jolly good fellow, and I’ve taken care of him too,’ it said, and pointed towards the box. ‘Brown bones shaped this brown box, where’d lie the martyred black and the sacrificed white warriors.’
I sat overawed by the power of Death. It was decided that I’d play with white pieces and my adversary would play with black.
I opened with King’s Gambit, and offered my pawn. Death accepted the Gambit.
As we played the game, I thought about the identity of that masked image who sat with me.
Was Death a werewolf? I thought.
Was it a weirdo? I considered.
Was it a witch? Or a demon? I contemplated.
I kept thinking and I kept playing. I offered gambits and it accepted, gleefully. Then it offered counter-gambits that I resisted, sometimes. It was a game of rapid attacks and ferocious counter-attacks.
On move 11, I stroked my bishop and sacrificed it.
Before initiating move 18, I looked lovingly at my two saintly rooks. I sacrificed them, one by one, starting on move 18, an elaborate sacrificial ritual.
I gave up my mighty queen on move 22. Death had a superior army to fight the last decisive battle. It had the queen, two rooks and a bishop to support the Black King.
And I had less material, as my king commanded merely two knights and a bishop. It was my turn.
‘Bishop to King 7, checkmate,’ I said.
Death stared at defeat. It accepted defeat with grace and knelt down to kiss the ground. It prayed. Later it told me that it prayed to humanity, to forgive it for its sins. It always did that, it said.
It was the beginning of the end of that day’s daylight. A lethargic mist covered the place, and a love-bird frolicked in the garden. I couldn’t wait any longer for Death to reveal itself. I had won; a fair win indeed. It was time to encash my first wish.
‘Show me your true face,’ I commanded.