There are a lot of things I’m unsure of… but there are some things I know are the way they seem. And I’d like to tell you a story, a story about both categories- what I know and what I don’t know.
Thankfully, I know where to start the story, and what’s more, I know the setting in which it begins- my brother’s chess club.
Only, it was not my brother’s chess club, like the one that I go to every thursday, like the one where they hold tournaments for us Bay Area people, like the one in the basement of the Calvary Church on the corner of Virginia and Milvia streets. No, this place was my brother’s chess club, but not the same chess club.
First let me explain this chess club. My brother, David, graduated from UC Berkeley with a major in Political Economy and English. Almost a year ago now, he started his first business, in the basement of a church. Along with some friends from high school and college, he began running a chess club- a place for the public to come and play the friendly game with eachother. This club has grown a lot since last August. Tournament turnouts are higher, membership stats have soared, income from private lessons has gone up.
Now this place was different. Sure, it was a chess club that my brother ran, along with the friends who help him run the club I go to every thursday, the club I have described above. But this club was somewhere else- still in Berkeley, still in a church, but somewhere else. I don’t know the intersection, the address, or anything like that. One big difference was that this club was not in the basement of the church- it was the church. What I mean by that is that the entire church comprised the chess club’s rooms, its office, the tournament hall, all that.
So here we were, at my brother’s chess club, this other chess club that I wouldn’t be able to find now even if I tried, because I have this hunch that maybe it doesn’t exist anyway. And here I was, TDing- that’s short for ‘tournament director’, so, ‘directing a tournament’- in my brother’s place. For any of this to make sense, you have to understand that my brother has a girlfriend in China. And at the time, he was in China, visiting her. His colleagues were supposed to be TDs, but they flaked out, so the responsibility fell on me. My brother had taught me how to TD before and I hung out at his club a lot, you see.
I jumped into the role, paired the players, told them to start the clocks, all that. I sat in the office and exchanged banter with some chess players I knew- some, students of David’s, some, kids who came there from time to time- while messing around on the club’s computer which was, needless to say, as sucky a PC as the one in the chess club I go to every thursday. It was all very fun and not too demanding at all.
As the first round neared its ending, however, all the smooth procedure came to a halt. Screams issued from the tournament hall- from a room that is supposed to be quiet. Not screams of shock or fear, but yells and shouts of anger. I dashed out of the office and headed for the tournament hall. When I got there, I saw something I had no idea how to handle, despite all my TD training.
Two chess players were standing facing eachother, murderous intent clear in their eyes.
Every eye in the room was fixed on them, pieces were dangling in midair from limp raised arms, clocks were running, except for those that had already flagged due to negligence on the part of the shocked player. Fright was clear on some features, confusion on others, disturbance on yet more.
And on the faces of the two players who were facing eachother was hatred.
“What happened?” I ask Steve, who is standing against the wall next to the door I entered through, looking a bit more frightened than most. I don’t blame him. I was pretty scared myself.
“Argument… over a rule… escalated…” he whispers.
“That’s all?” I ask. He nods mutely.
That’s when the two players drew knives. This really startled me, and not really the fact that they were threatening eachother with knives but the face that they had knives. Since when did chess players pack weapons to deal with eachother? It seemed so absurd I wanted to laugh, yet I was still mesmerized.
They lowered themselves, got comfortable, got ready to commence your classic knife fight. I yelled out and moved my feet, though my mind was fighting my body’s instinctive will to do so.
I managed to get between them, but I did not manage to stop them.
I could feel their cold metal penetrate my clothes and my flesh, I could feel the blood gush from the wounds, I could feel the weight my clothes gained as the fluid was soaked into them, I could feel the ground, painful against my knees as I collapsed.
And that was the last thing I felt- that pain in my knees.
After that, everything went black.
Was that… death?
It didn’t feel like I was looking into pitch darkness, though. It felt as if my eyes were shut. And so I tried- and succeeded in- opening them. What I saw was something that didn’t look too far from the world that I knew, the world that holds the other chess club, that one that I don’t go to every thursday, though if you add all the differences up I guess it looked very strange in contrast to the world you and I know.
It all seemed unreal at the time. My clothes were torn and stained red as if they had kept the wounds of the knives, but my body was intact and and I felt fine. I was sure I’d died, having been pierced through the heart and stomach. But here I was, looking no worse than I had the morning of the incident. I didn’t pay much attention to my surroundings at the time, being so absorbed in my life and all.
I mean, what would you do if you’d just been killed?
…and not actually be dead, that is?
Or was I? I never believed in an afterlife of any kind. I was atheist. In fact, I always feared the idea of afterlife because I knew that if there was one I was going to the ‘hell’ section for:
a. my disbelief in all things religion
b. my love of ‘wrong’ things
c. the fact that I really am not a good person
But here I was.
I must have just fallen asleep. And woken. But then what of my shirt, shredded and bloody? And what of these memories, that were so vivid? Had I just been asleep? No… something had happened. I’m not sure what it was, and believe me, I was even less sure at the time, but I know and knew that something had happened.