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Checkers and King: Flash Fiction

Chris has written more than 200 flash fiction/short stories. Working Vacation was 21st out of 6,700 in the 2016 Writer's Digest competition.

Jonathan had been known as Checkers in this little Hoosier town since around the middle of the Great Depression. He didn’t go to school back then, so every day he played checkers in front of the barbershop with the old men of the town. When the weather was bad, they carried the board inside and continued the game.

Checkers never did have a family, but he always had a dog, usually a stray he picked up along the road between town and his place out in the Indiana countryside. If he was lucky, the dog would learn to chase up a rabbit or a covey of quail.

Over the years, he’d had seven dogs, each one carefully named, King, like in the game of checkers. There had been one bluetick coonhound, a German shepherd mix, a border collie, two beagles and a short haired bird dog. His current canine companion was a big redbone.

King rode in the passenger’s seat of the pickup truck with his head out the window and his long, floppy ears flowing straight back. The wind caught his lips and turned them into a broad smile. The man and his dog were never far apart. Checkers felt especially close to this version of King and knew the big dog would be his last.

On Saturday, the town was holding its annual checkers' tournament in the park. Checkers had never failed to participate and, to everyone’s delight, had never failed to take home the trophy. He had heard there was a new boy in town, a teenager who was going to take part in the competition. He was good, people said. He was very good, others agreed. He might give Checkers a challenge, a few suggested. The boy might beat Checkers, one or two whispered.

The old man won game after game in the tournament. Between each one, King would approach Checkers and whine. Checkers would take a little time to scratch the dog and rub his belly with a shaky, wrinkled hand. He could tell the dog was ill, so he resolved to win the tournament quickly and pay a visit to the vet.

An Old Man and His Dog

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That was until he met the teenage boy who was also winning every round. The old man and the boy faced off in a lengthy game of checkers that would be handed down for generations as oral history.

The boy moved. Checkers analyzed the boy’s choice, looked over at King to be sure he was comfortable, then turned back to the board. One by one, pieces were removed from the board. In the end, Checkers could not move. His only choice was to concede the game.

The teenage boy was shocked. He hadn’t expected to beat Checkers. He even looked over the board to see if there was a move they were missing. But Checkers had made the right call.

The people were sorry to see Checkers lose after all these years, yet they were happy to see the boy recognized for his skill. When the award ceremony was almost over, Checkers strode to the front and asked to be allowed to speak for a moment. He called the champion to his side.

“I want to recognize this young man, not only as the fine checkers player he is but also as a gentleman and sportsman. When he could have gloated about beating this old man at his own game, the boy was gracious, the epitome of a good winner.”

Checkers cleared his throat, looked at his feet as he shuffled them on the concrete floor, then continued. “From this day, my ninety-eighth birthday, and onward, I will be known in this town, not as Checkers, but as Jonathan. And you, young man, will be known to one and all, as Checkers. The crowd gasped as one.

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Jonathan led King to the old pickup truck and lifted him onto the passenger seat. The man and his dog drove away from the park and went directly to the veterinary clinic.

Later, Jonathan recalled the veterinarian’s words. Cancer, she had said. Widespread, she had added. Jonathan didn’t have the money it would take to treat the dog’s illness. Even if he could have afforded the treatments, there were no guarantees and very little hope.

Jonathan made the dog as comfortable as he could. Now it was simply a matter of waiting. He brought water and food to his friend. He scratched behind his ears and rubbed his belly, but King was failing day by day. Finally, Jonathan sat on the floor beside King and closed his eyes.

#

The deputy knocked several times before twisting the doorknob. He had grown up in this county and was used to seeing Jonathan in town. No one had seen the old man for many days, so the deputy decided to investigate. The kitchen was clean and orderly. The living room was small with a recliner against one wall and a wood burning stove at the center of the opposite wall. The dog’s bed was next to the stove.

The deputy scanned several framed photos on the wall. Each one was of Jonathan and a dog. The seven photos told the man’s story that had stretched out over nearly a century. There were no pictures of Jonathan and a woman or of children and grandchildren, only of the man and his canine friends.

The officer’s gaze returned to the big redbone’s bed beside the stove. Jonathan and King lay side by side. For the second time in a matter of days, Jonathan had conceded the game.

© 2018 Chris Mills

Comments

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on September 14, 2018:

Lawrence, Thanks for taking time to read this story and to leave a comment. I'll get over to your profile and see what you have been up to. Nice to hear from you.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on September 12, 2018:

Chris

Finally getting to read this great little story, not sure why it didn't show up in my feed, (maybe it did and I just didn't notice) but I want to apologise for not getting here sooner.

Loved the story, it just seemed to flow.

Lawrence

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on July 08, 2018:

Shauna, I read your comment a long time ago. Sorry about the delay. haha, the biceps will start sagging any day now, I'm sure.

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on June 28, 2018:

Wow! Between the goose bumps and the lump in my throat, this story really pulls at my heart strings, Chris. This would make a great movie!

I don't know about you being an old man, Chris. Those biceps of yours put many a young man to shame!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 26, 2018:

Dora, I like how you are able to see into a story and beyond. Thank you for those comments.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on June 26, 2018:

Touching and beautifully told. It shows the beauty of the human spirit in both the young and older players. Life is a game, after all, and there are some who concede instead of losing. So many morals could be drawn from your story.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 26, 2018:

Rinita Sen, Thank you for reading my story. I appreciate knowing what you liked about it. The Shakespeare similarity was not intentional, but is interesting.

Rinita Sen on June 26, 2018:

The seven pictures made me think of Shakespeare's seven ages of man, not sure if that was intentionally done.

The story itself is touching, without being dramatic about the end of the two lives. My favorite part was when he hands over the title of 'Checkers' to the young boy.

Thank you for sharing, Chris.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 25, 2018:

RedElf, I'm glad the story was satisfying and meaningful to you. I can relate to your story about killing critters. In a big short story competition where we have a forum to share our stories with other participants, I got many comments on the fact that I dared threaten to kill a dog in my comedy short story. It was part of the comedy and no dog got even a scratch. Even the judges commented. Most people thought it was funny.

RedElf from Canada on June 25, 2018:

Having had to help more than one animal friend cross the Rainbow Bridge, I was deeply moved by your fictional account. The characters resonated deeply with me. Lovely story, lovingly told.

Funny incident - last fall, I was at one of those horrible plot-crossroads in my first mystery novel. I knew I had to bump someone off, and was torn between the kidnapped twins and/or their dog. When I mentioned my dilemma to my sisters, (also writers) both immediately replied. "Oh, no! Don't kill the dog!" Actually I found a much worthier victim, but it shows how much even the idea of harm to a critters can tug on our heartstrings.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 25, 2018:

Thank you, John. An innocent animal's death can be as moving as a human character's death, I think.

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on June 25, 2018:

A wonderfully written and touching story, Chris. I am a dog and chess lover so that made it all the more enjoyable. A great read.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 24, 2018:

Doris, Thank you. The ending felt very natural when I first wrote it.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on June 24, 2018:

Wow! What can I say except that it was a breathless ending to a lovely story. You always write a great story, Chris.

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 24, 2018:

Thanks, Eric. How did you come up with that comparison? :) Take from it whatever helps you through another day.

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on June 24, 2018:

Really good. I get lost here. I am the dog?

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 24, 2018:

manatita, I'll take your word for it. Thank you. I think this old fellow lived a very satisfying life and was happy, in the end, to go with his dog. I wish it was so peaceful and pain free for all.

manatita44 from london on June 24, 2018:

A brilliant build-up to a great ending! Awesome piece!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 24, 2018:

Sean, Thank you. I don't mind admitting that I don't see these things in myself or my writings. That you do and that you say so means a great deal. Blessings on you and your family.

Ioannis Arvanitis from Greece, Almyros on June 24, 2018:

My Brother, Chris, you are not just a unique writer, you are a Great Spirit, a Human with a Heart that beats on His Supreme rhythm, that is your source! I am happy because my sons can learn a lot from your stories!

Gratitude!

Sean

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 24, 2018:

Thanks, Bill. Organization and plotting make the story. I appreciate the good words.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 24, 2018:

Brilliantly organized and plotted...not an easy thing to do with such a short story....loved the reflective ending, Chris!

Chris Mills (author) from Traverse City, MI on June 24, 2018:

Venkatachari M, Thank you for your thoughts about my stories. Yes, the ending was sad, but to me, it was very natural, even peaceful.

Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on June 24, 2018:

A very fantastic story even though the ending was depressing. You are great at narrating these stories. Enjoyed very much.