The Game of the Devil


Photo by Jacob Blodgett

“I would like to play the Game of Kings.”

The man sat at the table, alone except for the board game in front of him. He sat there for a while, staring at the board as if the people milling around him did not matter. He wore a hooded cloak, which covered most of his face, and all black shirt and pants. He could have been Death himself. I walked to his table, fully taken in by him.

“Excuse me,” I said. “Are you waiting for someone?”

“Only for the right one,” he mumbled in a deep, rumbling voice.

“Aren’t we all?” I gestured to the empty chair. “Do you mind if I play?”

“What game do you wish to play?”

“Excuse me?” I asked, wondering if he was joking.

“There are thousands of games around the world. You asked if you could play a game. Which one from the thousands do you wish to play?”

Any normal person would simply walk away or call the police about a crazy old man, but he had made me curious. I sat in the chair, “I would like to play the Game of Kings.”

He smiled and from under the table pulled out the white pieces. I noticed that they were intricately carved and looked like relics from an ancient civilization of craftsmen. The king was just and proud, the queen beautiful. The pawns, unlike their modern counterparts, looked like soldiers ready to die for their king.

“Not many know the old name,” he said, snapping me out of my trance. “You seem to have a fascination with the detail of the pieces.” Once again, he smiled. “I admire that about you. Most would have ignored them, throwing away their beauty.”

“Not me, sir. I am interested in them. I’m a museum curator.”

“An eye for beauty.”

“Yes, it is one of the requirements,” I said, now smiling up at him. “I would like to see the black pieces too.”

“As you wish.” He pulled out a black box and opened it. The contents were both beautiful and horrifying. Inside the box were figures that could have been agents of the Devil himself. The pawns were demonic creatures from nightmares. The knights were horsemen that chased after sinners and dragged them screaming back to hell. They were the complete opposites of the white pieces.

I sat there, horrified yet enthralled by the statuettes standing in front of me. Cautiously, I reached for one, as if it would come alive and devour my being.

“Do not be afraid,” the man said, startling me. “They will not harm you.” I reached for a piece and gingerly held it up. The base read “king”, and as I looked at the rest, I realized why it was so terrifying. The eyes seemed to burn into the soul, and the figure was wrapped around the throne like a serpent. I returned it to the man, who arranged all of the pieces for play.

“Thank you for letting me see them,” I said. He took the black king and placed it in its position.

“I hope you won’t mind. I took the liberty of having you play as white. I will play with the black pieces; It is a habit of mine,” he said, looking down at the pieces.

“That’s fine,” I said. “Alright, white moves first.” I moved my left knight in front of the bishop’s pawn.

“A good move. Out of twenty moves you chose that one. It has no importance, of course in the first few moves, but later it could make the decisive difference,” he mumbled. He moved the pawn in front of the king by one space. “Protecting the king.”

This went on for a time, both of us moving the pieces to counteract each other. We fell into a space where it was only us and the game, reading each other’s movements, formulating strategies. I was so deep into the game that the first move to knock out a piece shocked me.

I moved my pawn to take his rook, the angel rose from its knee and obliterated the dark tower. That is when I felt the chain. Shocked, I looked down and saw a chain connecting me to the table.

“What is this?” I screamed. “What is this chain?”

“It is a Chain of Hell. You came not knowing who, or rather what, I am. I am The Master of Games, a soul condemned to play for my freedom. In any game I play, I am the victor.”

“Wait,” I said, “if you are playing for your freedom and you win every time, why are you not free?”

“That is the twist, the true rule passed down by all other masters: all players will lose. The loser will be sent to hell, and the winner will be chained to hell for all eternity, or until he is defeated.” He paused to allow me to absorb the information. Then he said, “It is your move.”

“This cannot be happening. This is impossible,” I thought as I looked down at the board. Yet I could feel the truth. I looked up and smiled. “I will lose,” I said.

“You can try. The winner is decided by the last move. Now, make your move,” he said, clearly out of patience. I commanded my bishop to attack the pawn. It stood, moved to the demon, and turned it to ash. The game went on, both of us annihilating each others pieces. It became clear that I was playing at my best. I could see that I would win. The moment was set when my last knight targeted the king and charged. When the demon was dethroned, the last chain slid up my leg, along my chest, and coiled around my neck. The man looked relieved. He gazed into my eyes and stood. He walked to me, taking the cloak off of himself and placed it on me. He bent over and said, “Thank you for the game, my friend.”

I sit here now, sending souls to the depths. Playing. Always playing.