Rie Sheridan Rose
Brittany's husband only appears in a mirror, but he
sips tea nd plays chess. The perfect husband you say?
But there's more here than meets the eye. Add a
long-forgotten sorcery spelll book purchased at a used
book store and a fiendish plan and you have Rie
Sheridan' Rose's "A Final Checkmate".
Rie Sheridan Rose multitasks. Her short stories appear
in numerous anthologies, including "On Fire", "Hides the
Dark Tower", and "Killing It Softly" Vols. 1 and 2. She
has authored twelve novels, six poetry chapbooks, and
lyrics for dozens of songs. She tweets as
A Final Checkmate
by Rie Sheridan Rose
fingers caught against the imperfections in the silk of
my skirt and I forced myself to stop smoothing it as I
took stock of my preparations — the best china on the
tea table, the ebony and ivory chess set arranged
against the mirror, my chair square to the glass. Just
as Liam preferred things. Everything in place.
I glanced at the clock on the
mantle, heart pounding in my chest. It was time.I
perched on the edge of the chair, holding my breath as I
studied the mirror, straining for the first sign — a
flicker of movement in the reflected hallway door and
there he was.
He glided to the
chair on his side of the mirror, sinking into it. My
heart swelled at the sight of my beloved husband. I bit
my lip as his features replaced mine above the chair on
the other side of the glass. What did he see in the
mirror? Did he see me, or himself? Surely, he saw me
— otherwise, why did he sit and smile so?
“I’ve missed you, Brittany.”
That breathy voice sent shivers through my very soul.
“And I’ve missed you, Liam.
It’s been so long.”
“I’m sorry, my
sweet. It isn’t always easy to get through.”
“Fancy a game?” My restless
fingers toyed with a pawn.
He dipped his head. “Of course.
You go first, my dear.”
I moved the pawn and a piece
slid across the board on his side of the glass. He
smiled and moved his knight. It changed places on my
“Would you like some tea?” My
voice was a halting whisper.
“That would be lovely.”
Lip caught between my teeth in
concentration, I carefully poured tea into two
cups, watching it fall on the other side of the glass.
It was so odd.... No matter how many times I saw it — my
hand pouring the tea in the mirror, while Liam sat in
his chair and waited for his cup to fill — I couldn’t
reconcile it with reality. My reflection and the spirit,
or ghost, or whatever he was, replacing me in the chair
couldn’t co-exist, but they did, so I accepted it. At
least we were together. I wasn’t sure I really wanted to
know what he saw anyway....
He picked up his cup of tea and
sipped it. “Smashing, as always.” He flashed the gentle
smile I loved so much. “I believe it’s your turn.”
I bit the tip of my thumb as I
studied the board for a moment, then pushed my bishop
He chuckled. “I’ve taught you a
bit, I see.” He slid a pawn to stand against mine.
“Liam...” Something had been
niggling in the back of my mind for some time now, and I
toyed with the hem of my skirt as I gathered my courage
to ask. “When can we be together again?”
He sat back in his chair,
shaking his head with a sigh. “Darling, I thought you
understood. This is all there is for us. To be honest, I
don’t know why we have as much contact as we do. You do
remember I’m dead, don’t you?”
I shivered. It was a fact I
tried to forget whenever possible. An image flashed
through my head — the policemen coming to the door with
the news: Liam’s car crushed at the bottom of a cliff,
the guardrail above it shattered. Evidence of fire. No
indication he suffered. Sorry and all that.
“I — I believe it’s my turn?” I
pursed my lips in concentration, then moved my queen to
face Liam’s knight.
“Brittany,” he murmured,
leaning forward in his chair, “you mustn’t take it so
hard. We still get to have tea, play chess, have a few
laughs — that’s far more than most in our situation.”
Tears blurred my vision, pain
threatening to strangle me. “It’s not the same, Liam,
and you know it.” I splayed my hand against the glass of
the mirror — it burned like ice. “I want to touch you.
To hold you in my arms….” Sobs tore from my chest.
Liam shifted in his chair,
placing his hand over mine on his side of the glass. “I
know, my love... but there’s no way for you to do that.”
He paused. “Unless...”
A chill raced up my spine, my
heart knocking like a jackhammer. “Yes?”
“I suppose there would be
nothing stopping us being together... if you died.”
I jerked away from the mirror,
cowering back into the comforting depths of my chair.
Of course what he said made as
much sense as any of this did, but it was a terrible
thing to contemplate. After all, I wasn’t even thirty.
My life was far from over — even if I’d be without Liam.
I’d get by. Maybe even love again in time...
“I—I think I’m getting a
migraine, Liam. Sorry to cut our visit short, but I need
a little lie-down. Shall I leave the board for next
Not waiting for a reply, I fled
the room at a run.
down on the bed, I succumbed to the ever-present grief.
Tears soaked my pillow in moments.
In this room, there
were no mirrors. The one over the dressing table was
thrown out the day I woke up to find Liam watching me
Memories swept through me. The
day I met Liam in that musty little book shop downtown…
I was looking for a volume of Keats, and he, something
about sorcery. We’d laughed at the incongruity — he a
button-down student grinning sheepishly over the
spell-book in his hand. He was adorable. And I did...
adore him. From practically that moment on we were
When he asked me to
marry him, it was the brightest moment of my life. Just
as the policemen’s visit was the blackest.
But Liam was dead
now. He was dead and yet he was always there in the
mirror. Lately he’d been making those casual comments
about how they could be together if I were dead….
I didn’t want to be dead.
On the other hand, I was so
soul-crushingly lonely. It wasn’t as if I could discuss
these things with anyone. I’d be certified if I told a
soul I played chess with my dead husband on a regular
basis. No, not in my dreams. In the parlor.
The sobs wouldn’t
stop coming. I was afraid my life could never be fixed.
Perhaps Liam was
right. If I died, we could be together. Wasn’t that what
I wanted more than anything else in the world?
I bolted up on the
bed and reached for the bottle of sleeping pills on the
nightstand. I’d never taken more than one or two of them
because they made me feel fuzzy. Almost two dozen in the
My hands shook as I
drew a glass of water from the bathroom tap, slumping
down again on the edge of the bed. “I’m coming,
Liam...,” I whispered, swallowing the pills with great
gulps of water. They tasted bitter, which seemed somehow
Cramps shot through my system
like lightning bolts, but I curled into a tight ball and
rode out the pain. Until I finally floated away…
The world came back into focus
sometime later. I groaned in confusion. Didn’t it work?
Weren’t pills supposed to be the easiest way to commit
I said it — at least to myself.
So, why was I still in the
bedroom? Why wasn’t I dead?
Fighting back more tears — I
seemed to be always leaking these days — I stumbled into
the bathroom to wash my face. The face in the mirror
appeared pale and drawn, but otherwise no different than
it had been an hour... two hours? ago.
I sighed. Perhaps a cup of tea
would make me feel better. Drifting through the house to
the kitchen, I brewed a new pot. The fragrant steam was
I wandered into the living
room, still set for tea with Liam. I plopped down in my
chair and sipped my tea, idly studying the chess board.
I leaned closer with a puzzled
frown — jolting backward with a strangled scream, and
dropping my teacup to shatter on the floor.
The pieces were reversed.
I always played white in our
games, and Liam black. The ivory pieces should be on my
side of the board, but the ebony were directly in front
I shoved away from the table,
sending chessmen flying right and left. Running to the
front door, I jerked it open and froze.
The world outside the door was
unrecognizable. Instead of a busy street with cars
rushing to and fro and all the trappings of urban life,
a primeval forest of ancient giants soared to the sky.
The sickly-sweet stench of decay poisoned every breath I
took. I clapped my hand to my mouth as my stomach
heaved, threatening to spew its contents.
Slamming the door, I put my
back to it, futilely trying to block out the madness
beyond. What was going on? Unless... did I succeed after
all? Was I dead?
I flew to the kitchen telephone
and dialed the first number I could think of. Mother
would know what to do. She always knew.
ululating tone screamed from the phone. Maybe I’d keyed
in the wrong number in panic. I tried again, but the
results were no better.I yanked a knife out of the
drawer by the stove and slashed it across my palm,
praying the coppery scent of blood and a lash of pain
would prove my growing fear unfounded.
Nothing. I blinked as the gash
closed of its own accord.
Was this Hell?
Where was Liam? He’d said we
could be together if I died. Well, it looked as if I
very well might have, so where was he?
I searched the house from attic
to cellar, but there was no sign of him anywhere. With
each step I took, a little piece of my sanity broke
I began to sing
softly, “Lavender’s blue, dilly-dally, lavender’s
green... if you were king, dilly-dally, I’d be your
queen....” He used to sing that old song to me while
we courted, reversing the words to fit.
Reversed... everything was
reversed now. The chessboard, the song... my relation to
the mirror. I awoke behind the glass. In the world
within it. Like Alice’s looking-glass...
A sudden thought struck me.
A terrifying thought.
My memory looped back to the
bookstore — to the spell-book he’d tried to hide from
me. I’d never seen it again, but did that mean he hadn’t
bought it? Or just that he was good at keeping secrets?
Had this all been a ruse? A way
to reclaim his place?
I raced back to the
parlor and skidded to a stop when I saw his image in the
mirror. The chair on my side of the glass remained empty.I
sank into it, heedless of the broken crockery at my
“There you are, my dear. I
wondered where you’d gone. Exploring your new world,
“What have you done?”
“Me? I haven’t done anything.
You — now, you’ve gone and killed yourself. Such a
tragic loss.” He bent down and began replacing the
pieces on his chessboard as he made his points. They
flew into place on my board. “I’ve just come home after
a long business trip to find you. The car accident? I
was thrown from the car at the top of the cliff. Dazed
for several weeks... then back at work as usual. My
co-workers can vouch for that. Amazing what proficiency
in astral projection can do for one. After all, I’ve
never been a hugger, so no one noticed that I was a bit
more stand-offish than before.”
Words welled in my throat — a
retort, a question, a thousand things I wanted to say —
but I swallowed them all, determined not to give him the
“And now, my dear,
you’ve given me my freedom once more. I’m no longer
stuck in that bucolic nightmare world. I’m back in my
bustling city with everything restored. Long live
sorcery.” He reached forward and moved a piece on the
He sauntered from
the parlor, laughing.
“No!” A scream
ripped from my throat as I banged my fists bloody on the
The hollow sound of
the front door closing was my only answer.