I bring out the old wooden ladder, unsuitable for use, and stand it on my rooftop terrace. The air is moist, but there will be no rain in California. The moon is bright and I am in no hurry, gin at 3 a.m. is not a thing to be rushed. I sip it, lick my lips and watch the ice battle in my glass, as I gently encourage it.
I inhale deeply, sucking in the stale night air, and set the glass on the bar. The ghost is late tonight.
I have no move on the chessboard to ponder. I undid the ghost with a wicked endgame last week, tonight I’m setting up a new game; it’s perfect, eerie, still, with a harsh heat and a huge moon. We will play for hours, maybe finishing half a game between my gin and our discussions. I take the chess board from behind the bar and set it on the coffee table, which is flanked by two uncomfortable new-agey chairs my wife bought. The wind blows, warm and heavy, and I walk
to the edge of the terrace. I lean against the railing, watching the lights twinkling, listening for hearts breaking across Los Angeles.
“I visit mostly for the view,” the ghost says behind me.
I snicker. “Well you don’t visit to learn any chess, that’s for sure,” I say, standing straight but still looking out over the city.
“I enjoy the game… constant variety and planning,” the ghost says.” “But, I admit I am not the most expert player.”
“You’re too hard on yourself,” I counsel. “It is good to be aggressive, but don’t let your opponent capture more pieces than you have captured; always be even, or as close as possible. Know the value of your pieces and positions. Have you gotten to play with anyone else lately?”
“You are the only one I have played with for the last 200 years,” he says. “I think I played my best in the 14th century.”
“I am sure you did,” I say, as I move toward the table and begin set up the pieces for our game. “What was that time like?”
“Ah, the romantic days,” he mumbles, his voice trailing off and a smile appearing across his gray, vapory face. “It was brighter at night. I could see the whole universe when I looked skyward. I was in Africa a lot, always searching for writing utensils.”
“Were pens really cool back then?” I ask, as I place my last pawn in its opening position and begin setting up his pieces.
“A quill and ink from the 14th century would indeed be very cool today, but it was just one of the harder things to find back in those days, so that’s why the Devil chose it. The Devil likes to make
it hard sometimes.”
“But not all the time?” I ask.
“No, sometimes he wants ghosts to find the easiest most boring thing for 700 years straight, just to frustrate us and bore us to tears. We are just locating whatever is his latest whim. Sometimes we are limited to one house, and need to find one item, sometimes we can roam the globe and find a variety of objects,” the ghost says. “He takes pleasure in giving us small tortures. He is a lot like an uneducated school prankster who gets glee from making someone repeat an awkward phrase or trip on their shoelaces. You know all this, I have told you.”
“Yes, but you tell it so well,” I say. “I enjoy the stories as much as the chess.”
“I am just glad you bring the ladder out for me every night, so I can accomplish my goal,” the ghost says. “Ghosts are just scavengers, tortured to have to find things every night, things we can’t even touch. Oh it does make the Devil laugh. But, at least we have a goal. We know what the point of our cold, foggy existence is. You sad living bastards don’t even know what to live for, or what the point is.”
“The point of living is to enjoy a top-shelf gin on a spectacular night, on an expensive rooftop terrace while fingering the delicate carvings of a fine chess piece, and contemplating,” I say.
“You are a simple man.” the ghost says. “It is good to be simple. It is good to pursue simple joys, and not pursue simple rage and jealousy. People have been finding more sophisticated ways to
hide their rage and envy every century, but it is still there in way too many people. In some ways I think society was better when there were feuding families and duels and dictators, even anarchy
and martial law; fear was more apparent and allowed. It could be spotted and dealt with, it was not buried, smoldering beneath, ready to bite, and always denied.”
“You are a talkative ghost tonight.”
“Sorry. Is it my move?”
“It has been for a while.”
“I apologize. I am vociferous tonight,” the ghost says. “The Devil found out I was coming here regularly for my scavenger hunts. He is not happy and is sure to punish me in some petty way
and in all likelihood I will not be able to return.”
“But what happened?” I ask, biting my lip to deny my future of lying in the cold bed next to my wife for the entire night from now on.
“The moon, I suspect. The moon is full of envy. It sits still and lights the sky for beautiful and despicable actions it can never take part in. It can only watch, with longing,” the ghost says. “I suspect the moon whispered something to the Devil, and I will be scavenging something else in another part of the world soon, something hard to find in an area with people who never see ghosts and never play chess.”
Mike Hammer is a 38-year-old resident of Cleveland, Ohio. He studied Creative Writing at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green Ohio. Hammer is a freelance writer and marketing specialist who was born in Pittsburgh and lived in Greensboro, NC, New Orleans, Cleveland and Toledo, OH. He likes to read and attend plays and concerts.