The white chess squares formed an “x” on the board, as if trying to cross out the black that so greatly outnumbered them. It was unfair, Lisa thought. Unfair the tiny, snow-white squares had to stand up to the overbearing black.
“How is anyone supposed to win this game?” she mumbled in desperation. She had two rooks and two pawns, both on the first four white blocks making up the “x.” The rest of her set was gone. Or, perhaps “gone” wasn’t the right word. The rest of her set had never been there, period.
The devil smiled, content, conspiring, a cat’s smile. He had a full set of pieces — except for the rooks and two pawns — each on a black box in his rows; the white squares stood out, naked, blank, and empty.
It was her move; white always goes first in chess. But this wasn’t normal chess. What kind of chess board was this? Why didn’t she have a full set? How was she supposed to win with only two pawns and two rooks?
She fingered the pawn on the far left of the board; she had to start somewhere. She had never been good at strategy. She moved the pawn forward one space. As soon as the piece touched the black, the white was consumed; Lisa watched in horror as her pawn darkened. The devil smiled wider; it was his turn now.
He moved the pawn – Lisa’s pawn, now black – back toward her. She hoped when it touched the white square, it would turn white again, but it did not.
Now he was holding his hand out; the devil had something for her. Lisa was afraid to take it, but what choice did she have? She held out her palm and the devil dropped two dice into it; they were dark red and looked like they were covered in dried blood.
“What am I supposed to do with these?” she whispered, dreading the dice she held. She wanted to hurl them away from her, but was afraid of what might happen once they landed.
The devil didn’t answer her, just smiled even wider, impossibly wide. And she understood; she could win the game if she gambled.
She rolled the dice in her hand for luck, and tossed them onto the board; they landed near the center of the “x.” Two dots on one, one dot on the other. A loss.
It was her turn again, but what good were the rooks, who could only move in straight lines, and would end up off the white and be consumed, or the pawns, which could only move diagonally if attacking another piece?
Lisa’s tongue was sticking to the roof of her mouth; it took her several tries before she could manage, “Again, please.” She took back the blood-red dice and threw them, her heart beating wildly in her throat. A four, this time. She picked up the dice again; if she could just manage to get another four…
But no, now it was eleven. Another loss.
The devil moved his bishop up several spaces, and Lisa watched the chess piece, afraid it might suddenly jump off the board and bite her. “Again,” she whispered between dry lips. A twelve. Another loss.
She would always lose. She knew she would. It was impossible to win this game.