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Story 4

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 @RieSheridanRose.


A Final Checkmate
by Rie Sheridan Rose


My 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. Everything perfect.

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 board.

“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 forward.

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 time?”

Not waiting for a reply, I fled the room at a run.

Throwing myself 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 sleep.

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 inseparable.

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 bottle.

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 fitting.

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 suicide?


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 soothingly familiar.

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 of me.

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.

A high-pitched 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 away.

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 feet.

“There you are, my dear. I wondered where you’d gone. Exploring your new world, were you?”

“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 satisfaction.

“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 chessboard. “Checkmate.”

 He sauntered from the parlor, laughing.

 “No!” A scream ripped from my throat as I banged my fists bloody on the mirror.

 The hollow sound of the front door closing was my only answer.

The End

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