Jimmy’s Chess Set

When he was five years old Jimmy Higgins made a chess set in his Dad’s garage. It took several weeks of lathing and sanding, but in spring that year it was finished. His Dad had not helped him at all except to take him to B&Q to select the wood that Jimmy wanted. Some of the wood was dark and his Dad said it was from South America where tribesmen still hunted with blowpipes and poisoned darts. Jimmy had asked if the tribesmen played chess and vowed to go there and teach them when he was older, because Dad had said he thought that he thought it was unlikely that they played chess. He added that they sometimes killed foreigners as evil beings, but Jimmy was unperturbed by this.

Jimmy loved the game of chess – the strategic battle of white versus black, the silence, the simplicity compared to his cousins Playstation (not that he didn’t like the Playstaion). He was a member of a club that gathered twice a week to play, where cakes and pop were provided by bible bashing grown ups. He had even once met Garry Makarov the world champion and had a signed hat from him on the shelf in his room. Chess was symmetrical to Jimmy’s mind; the squares of dark and light. He would think of the velvet on the underside of his Dad’s expensive set where the pieces are kept as being blood red like the imaginary blood in the battle raging on the other side.

Jimmy had made the pieces in the classic design and there was no ordinary elastic band holding them in place inside the fold up set like some cheap sets – in Jimmy’s set they were held in place by expensive string that was black on one half of the box and white on the other. Black held black, white held white. Or when he was in an odd mood (like when he had stayed up to watch the film ‘The Abyss’ way past his bed time) he swapped the pieces over to the other side. The kings faces that he had carved looked grim and to Jimmy the rooks looked like warriors of strength and cunning. He played with his Dad, cousins, people at school and sometimes with the boy who lived down the road. This boy was called Sean and had most of if not all of the MASK toys from the programme that they both liked and watched together on video at Sean’s house, sometimes whilst playing chess. Sean often displayed the MASK toys neatly on his lounge floor and Jimmy was always impressed. Sean would invent stories with the MASK toys and Jimmy would look forward to the next one. Sean also had a giant mechanical plastic spider that when you switched it on it would walk slowly and ominously along. It always had batteries in it that were not run out. Sean brought it round to Jimmy’s house sometimes and they watched it walk in Jimmy’s back yard. It had a black body and red legs, it even had eight eyes – Jimmy had seen another toy spider in a shop once and it had had only two eyes, this seemed odd to young Jimmy. Sean was a good chess player and they would go out and play cricket in Sean’s garden until Sean’s mum called them in for lemonade and flapjacks. They would run in discussing the West Indies’ or India’s chances against England in the test match that seemed to be permanently on in Sean’s house all the year round. Sean’s Dad did not say much and Jimmy saw him always drinking clear water like liquid out of a glass bottle with a red label, deep down into his brown chair occasionally making comments about the game that only half made sense. Did he ever do or say anything else? Ok on occasion he could be heard revving loudly up the road in his ancient Rover, but that was about all Jimmy knew of Sean’s Dad.

At school Jimmy was bullied by three older boys whose names he did not know for sure. One was called Inkyo or something on account of a bluish mark on his face. Sean went to a catholic school a few miles away and Jimmy did not have many friends apart from Sam Moore who was always digging for treasure. He would sometimes find some as well, like bits of shiny black stones and bits of an old saucer or cup one time. He was usually found digging with sticks on his hands and knees babbling on about ship’s masts and hulls and craters. He was not very good at chess but was known as ‘Cannonball Moore’ because of his hard shot when playing football.

The bullies often chased Jimmy and gave him severe beats. They threatened that they would dump him in the Wasteland river. The Wasteland was the large stretch of ground that was the centre of the town. It was out of bounds to most kids on parents orders because of all the poison ivy and the heavily polluted river that was polluted from the factories a few miles away. Also there were hidden sewer chimneys that were ancient and collapsing down into the sewers many metres below. The sewers were not in use and were all dried up these days but had never been made safe. The Wasteland had recently been fenced off by the council with twenty foot metal fencing that had lots of razor wire on top. Not even dog walkers could go in there now, not that they ever used to because of the sewer pits and the ivy. More than one dog had died of poisoning or a fall in there after running away from their owners, their skeletons remaining where they died. It probably wouldn’t be too long before vandals damaged the fence but for now it was new and signs looked bright yellow and new with their warnings and diagrams.

About three weeks after the completion of the chess set Jimmy was walking from the library to the computer room at school when his three bullies jumped him in a dark corner of school near the old wooden train set and the off limits room where Jimmy had often seen through the door the fat dinner ladies lifting huge bottles of water. Jimmy had his chess set under one arm.

“Give us that chess box, ya little bastaad!” the big boy with the round cross face said. Jimmy made a dash for it, eyes wide, but they grabbed him and threw him hard onto the plastic floor. His chess set was snatched from him as he went down in a co-ordinated attack. They loomed over him and Inkyo said

“Were gonna dump this sad box in the Wasteland. The ivy there is the worse kind. It’ll put yer in hospital for a year or it’ll kill ya. But we know how to get past it – and you don’t do ya, ya little cretin?”
And at that they started kicking him quite viciously in the head and body. They kicked him and he heard them shouting ‘ivy’ and ‘poison’ and ‘sewers’ until he was unconscious.

A dinner lady found him and carried him into the off limits room and when he awoke his first thought was for his chess set (with calm determination to get it back) and his second thought was that he might be the first kid in school to see this room. He looked about him and saw stacks of the giant water bottles, stacks of paper towels and an out of date calendar with a picture of a British looking beach on it. The fat dinner lady said his parents were on their way to pick him up and the doctor had said he should rest for two days because of possible concussion. He was still a bit dizzy and on the way out he looked back into this room that now seemed ordinary and felt glad.

That night his parents asked if he wanted anything special for tea and he said cheese omelette. He told them that the bullies had taken his chess set and his Dad’s face had clouded over. But Jimmy did not tell them where the bullies had said that they would take it because he was aware that he was going to try and get it back as soon as he could. He went to bed with bad bruising to his head and body and set his alarm for an hour and a half before his Dad would get up for work and had plans on how he would get past the twenty foot metal fence around the Wasteland.

He awoke a few seconds before his alarm went off and was glad because his parents might have heard it and wondered what was going on and might have gotten cross. He dressed quickly and tucked his tracksuit bottoms into his socks and stuffed gloves into his coat pockets that was hung on the back of his door. Then he went into the garage and got the wire cutters which were where they were meant to be in the cupboard with its roll up front that was locked. Buy Jimmy had found the keys in the dark hall and had done so quietly and with his heart racing, eyes wide as the sky outside was beginning to brighten. The wire cutters fitted nicely into one of his waterproof coat pockets and he grabbed a dust mask and goggles off the hooks they were on and put them in his spacious pockets as well. He grabbed his rucksack and snook out the back door which had recently been oiled so it made little noise.

Outside had an atmosphere of strange quietness and chill and Jimmy stood for a moment looking up and seeing clouds that seemed to be moving both slowly and quickly at the same time. He went round the side of the house and hurried down the road. The Wasteland was not too far away as most of the town was near to some side of it. It was getting lighter and cars were crawling about with their lights on seemingly oblivious to him. When he was past the houses and onto the quiet path he knew of from occasional Sunday walks, he put on the mask, gloves and goggles adjusting the strap as his Dad had been the last one to use them.

Arriving at the fence he saw that it was indeed very high as he remembered it and his gloved hand fingered the wire cutters in his pocket. He knew that the fence went in a big oval all the way round the Wasteland – probably a few miles, he did not know how or where the bullies had got in (but he was sure they had) or where they had put his chess set. He approached the fence, this was as good a place as any as he did not have time to circle the entire Wasteland looking for a vandalised gap before Dad got up. The fence was made of very thick metal he saw to his dismay, it looked like a strong bladed saw might get through it in half an hour if it could possibly be angled correctly, but he did not have a saw or that amount of time. He looked up at the tightly wound, overhanging strands of razor wire. He was inspired now by the task ahead and thoughts of cold surveillance were known. The razor wire was high above and he put the wire cutters in his mouth and bit firmly into the rubber handle so they would stay there until needed. He moved forward without pause now and slammed his foot into one of the regularly spaced gaps in the fence, reaching as high as he could with his left hand and started to climb. His bruised body gave some stabbing grief but he carried on faster. The fence made taught metallic bending noises as he went up and his eyes were wide looking through the fence into the trees that had poison ivy all over them and all around them. Near the top and within reach of the razor wire, he held on with his strong left arm and skilfully set to work on the razor wire. He noticed that his head hurt and he felt a bit dizzy for a second, but adrenaline had been running all morning and he hardly noticed this pain or that his left arm went numb for a split second and he could have fallen backwards to his death. He blinked and this inconvenience was shunted out of his determined mind. The wire cutter snipped satisfyingly through the razor wire and he worked with speed so that his left arm did not get too tired and he could get over a fast as possible – he did not want to be seen either. He did not cut himself once through the gloves that were of thin material and felt great feelings of being glad that he had been born as the coils of wire went over the other side in one large segment and landed on the stony ground. After this good gap had been made in the wire above him, he followed climbing over the top making sure he didn’t catch his trousers on the wire to the sides of him. He climbed sideways near the bottom so that he avoided the razor wire when jumping down the last bit of the descent. He landed and turned to stare around him in a primal way.

He approached the trees and it was just light enough to see them clearly, not just as a dark mass of poison. They were primitive looking things and looked tired and happy with dull triangular leaves swaying slightly in the breeze. The ivy was all over the trunks in thick masses. And the ground was knee high in the stuff. He walked left around the edge of the trees next to the fence until ivy blocked his way after a few metres. ‘Might as well go in here’ he thought. So he waded in with a nice buzz of anger aimed at the bullies. He trod carefully looking out for gaping sewer pits or possibly slow worms (were they poisonous as well?). The ivy seemed alien, sentient and devious but did nothing except threaten unspoken; it was the colour of death – a sort of purplish green. On went Jimmy under the enveloped trees where it was always dim.

Eventually he emerged through a gap in the thick ivy making sure that none touched his face and saw his chess set ahead!! He stood breathing loud muffled sounds through his dust mask. But at the same time he saw what the chess set was on; a massive rusting sewer grid several metres across supported by crumbling brick structure three feet high all around. The chess set was right in the middle of the grid, out of reach but it looked ok – folded up and not smashed. He wished he had a rope to lassoo the chess set and was so happy he had located the set that he started looking for a long stick to reach with. Sweat and a crazy grin were on his face. But he knew time was running out – he had gone in an unplanned zig zag through the trees because of the ivy and this had cost him a good chunk of time.

He could not find a stick long enough so not panicking he stepped up onto the sewer grid structure. He inched out across it towards his chess set that the hateful bullies had taken the day before. The grid was rusty and creaked and bits of it crumbled down into the blackness below. How far down was it, he wondered? Behind him he heard disturbing sounds of crumbling brick and dust. Just a bit further now… and a few careful seconds later he bent down triumphantly and lifted his chess set! But when he stood up the bruise on his head rang out a stinging pain and he felt his legs start to go weak and saw stars in his fading mind. He thought quick as a flash that he had to make it off the grid or he might fall through the rusty grid if he fell down in an unconscious heap. His left foot went stumbling back then and it went straight through one part of the metal grid, he cried out and lurched sideways leaping as light footed as his half gone mind would allow and half knew that he fell onto the floor at the side of the sewer structure at the same moment as part of the old brick wall tumbled down beneath him. He passed out from his concust head.

When he woke up he was clutching the chess set and was uncomfortably sprawled on the bricks. He had only been out cold for a couple of minutes but realised with horror that his dust mask had come off. He grabbed it up and put it back on as quick as he could. Now he had to get out of here. First he checked that all the chess pieces were within the fold up set – they were. So he took one look back at the scene of his near death and hurried back up towards the fence, putting the chess set in his bag as he went.

He found the place where he had climbed over and gladly noticed no one was around, the houses were some way off. He climbed back over with the terrible knowledge that his lungs would be full of poison ivy particles. Landing on the other side he hurried back towards home hoping that his parents were not up yet.

Halfway up a quiet uphill road not too far from home Jimmy was shambling up just as an ambulance was going down towards the main road. Jimmy waved to it as frantically as he could and then collapsed unconscious, his face now purple with ivy poisoning. The ambulance pulled up and out dashed the paramedics.

Jimmy awoke as he was being wheeled up the ramp into the back of the ambulance on a stretcher bed. He quickly glanced around and saw to his great relief that an ambulance man inside the ambulance had his rucksack on his lap, with the goggles and mask as well. Then out of the back of the ambulance he glimpsed the backs of the three bullies who had been on their way to school early to play on the computer when they had seen the ambulance pull up down the road from them! Now they turned around as the back doors of the ambulance were being pulled shut by another ambulance man. The ambulance started moving and Jimmy heard the bullies running alongside it shouting loudly

“We told you about the poison ivy, we told ya, we told ya!” The pain in Jimmy’s lungs increased like a cave full of vipers and he passed out as the ambulance switched on its sirens, accelerated and sped away.



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