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Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Relationship · #2312724
The late summer night when Mrs. Richards lost the last chess game of her life
(Wordcount 1688)

With terror in her eyes, Mrs. Richards was clinging to the edge of the bed, as she slowly left this world and sank into the ultimate darkness that she had always feared. Silence settled on the house. The ticking of the old wall clock in the parlour was the only sound that disturbed her peaceful sleep. Later that morning, the coroner established that Mrs. Richards died of a heart attack at around 4:00 AM.

The late-summer night was slowly coming to an end, though the veil of mist that was covering the valley had not cleared. The crickets stopped chirping and the owl returned to its nest. The birds were still waiting for the first rays of the sun, only a faint crow came from one of the gardens, and dogs were barking at a fox that had crept under the bushes.

Suddenly, the dogs stopped barking and one could clearly hear the sound of water drops falling from the leaves as a shadow slipped into the forest near the edge of the valley and disappeared between the trees, unseen, unrecognized by anyone living in the few houses around. The branches closed quietly behind it as if it had been only an apparition, not part of this world.

Everything stood still for a moment, as if to anticipate the events that were about to unfold, then the valley came to life again. Beads of morning dew were still sitting all over the grass and the bushes, but the first rays of the sun had already pushed through the faint fog. The sunlight brought back the vivid colours on the hillside, the green of the grass and the red, blue and yellow of the wildflowers. Birds were chirping and the trees were slowly bowing in the abating wind.

People in the village got out of their beds and made their morning coffee. They watched the valley, enjoyed the scenery and the sound of birdsong. No one noticed anything unusual, the villagers were oblivious to Mrs. Richards’ passing away.

At 7:30 AM Mr. Morgan, her nearest neighbour, left his house to take a morning walk with his dog, Buster, a German shepherd. Even though he had to pass Mrs. Richards’ house halfway, he often took the back gate, because it was a much shorter way to the forest. Like others in the village, he had no contact with Mrs. Richards and he usually passed her house without looking at it.

This time, however, Buster ran straight to the door of Mrs. Richards’ house and started barking. Mr. Morgan shouted at him “Come on Buster, let her sleep!”, but he did not leave the door and kept barking. A few minutes passed and, as there was no sign of Mrs. Richards, Mr. Morgan also went to the front door and started knocking and then banging on it without any result.

He still remembered that years earlier, Mr. Richards often banged on the same door so hard that everybody could hear it in the neighbourhood. He was a drunkard. Sometimes he disappeared for days, visiting all the local pubs and even some of the bars in the neighbouring villages, and when he came home at dawn, he started banging on the door shouting “Evelyn, let me in or I’ll kill you!” Everyone knew he was aggressive when he was drunk, and when Mrs. Richards was not seen for days, they all knew the reason. They never asked where the bruises on her face were coming from.

It was Mr. Morgan who alarmed the police. According to the investigators, all the doors and windows were intact, there was no sign of forced entry into the house and that she most probably died of natural causes.

Mrs. Richards was seventy-five years old. The neighbours confirmed that she lived withdrawn in her house at the edge of the forest looking over the valley. She did not have any friends in the village. They did not think anyone visited her since Mr. Richards, her husband, died seven years ago, except for a nurse who came twice a day. The nurse, Edith, who was fifty-two years old, confirmed that Mrs. Richards had suffered from dementia for years. “She sometimes even started quarrelling with her husband who, she thought, was sitting at the other end of the table and his old dog which was also gone long ago.” she said.

In the evening, before she died, Mrs. Richards had a visitor who came around 9:00 PM. Her visitor was not an ordinary one. He let himself in the house, went to the parlour table and set up the chessboard. Mrs. Richards loved playing chess. This was the only thing she shared a passion for with her husband, but they stopped playing chess long before he died. She wasn't even surprised that her husband was standing in front of her in the dim light.

“Evelyn, I would like to drink a cup of tea if you don’t mind.” said Mr. Richards and sat down at the table. Mrs. Richards prepared tea for them, served some biscuits and talked about old friends she had not seen for long, places she had always planned to visit, but never visited, a life she always wanted to live, but never had the chance and people she liked, but never let close. Mr. Richards agreed that most people complained about lost opportunities as if they could not have done anything about it, as if they could not have done things better. They both thought that they hadn’t had such a good conversation for a long time.

After her husband died, Mrs. Richards often thought of her life with her husband, whether she would have had a better life if they had not met. Or maybe if they had had children, her husband would not have drunk that much. He might have been a happier man and probably she would have been happier too. They did not know why they could not have children. Her husband declared there was nothing wrong with him, “You are the reason, something is wrong with you.” he snapped at her. She suggested adoption, but he did not want to hear about it.

Mr. Richards was found at the bottom of a deep cave in the forest, not far from their house. He must have been completely drunk and on his way home from the pub, he slipped at the mouth of the cave and fell to his death. There was no suspect although in the village it was talked about for a long time that Mrs. Richards must have breathed a sigh of relief when he died.

The cave is called the Devil’s Hole by the locals although its official name is the Bronze Cave. Its entrance is only 10 feet away from the road through the forest. The nickname refers to the almost vertical shaft that goes down 892 feet, which then continues in a more than ten-thousand-feet-long horizontal passage. Tools from the Bronze Age, and even human and animal remains were found there. The cave is open to visitors, so its entrance is never closed.

After some small talk, Mrs. Richards playing White, began with the Queen's Pawn Opening then played the Queen’s Gambit, her winning strategy when playing with her husband, but she soon found out that this time her husband played in a more sophisticated style. He played the Dutch Defence and continued with the Stonewall that he never played before. She could certainly have adapted her strategy, but her husband’s moves were so unexpected, she got confused and was sure she would lose, but tried to remain focussed and play the best moves she could.

However, she felt more and more confused as the hours passed, and foresaw the endgame much earlier than it actually unfolded. She told her husband that for the first time since he was found in the cave seven years earlier, she felt guilty. She was sure she had not left any traces behind, but the past seven years she lived in constant fear of being suspected of murder and questioned for days until she confessed to everything. But at the same time she was calm because she was sure everything was his fault. “Don’t blame me Evelyn! It’s over now!” was all her husband said.

In the end, she started crying. She collapsed onto the table, pushing the chessboard aside and knocking over some pieces. When she looked up again, her husband was gone. She could barely breathe and felt so dizzy that she had to hold onto the table to keep herself from falling. Her husband’s words echoed in her ears that he had said in one of their quarrel before he died. “You can’t run away, I’ll be there waiting for you.”

With great difficulty, she went to the door. Her last thought was that if anything happened to her, the dog shouldn’t get trapped inside the house. As she finally lay down on her bed, she felt like she was floating between two worlds and she could not do anything about it.

The investigator reported nothing unusual in the house. There was a chessboard with some chess pieces on it, others next to it on the table, and some on the floor. There was an empty tea cup, some biscuits and some old pictures of the late Mr. Richards and their friends. However, to the trained eye, there was more to see: a checkmate where White had lost and one of the black knights was also missing.

Later that day, Mr. Morgan went out with Buster to make up for the morning walk. At the edge of the forest Buster caught some scent and disappeared between the bushes. “Buster! Stop! Wait for me!” cried Mr. Morgan, but the dog did not stop. Mr. Morgan tried to catch up with him, but Buster was much faster. “Buster! Stop! Do not go to the cave!” cried Mr. Morgan one more time. When he finally caught up with the dog, Buster was already sitting near the cave, holding a chess piece in his mouth. It was a black knight.
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