This was originally written for /r/WritingPrompts: “[WP] You’re a teenager hanging with some friends, but you keep getting deja Vu. At first you shrug it off, but you keep getting a sense that you’ve lived this before, so much in fact you start being able to sense things before they happen. Then you see something life changing and have to react, fast.”.
The writer of the prompt deleted it about a half-hour before I finished writing the story, which I thought was a shame - the title was a tad disorganized, but the concept was good nevertheless. I never did post it to Reddit, but it was as good an excuse as any to revisit Morphy vs. Duke of Brunswick. Directly inspired by the text adventure Rematch, by Andrew D. Pontious.
<Pawn to e4.>
<Pawn to e5.>
I’m getting the strangest feeling this has happened before.
We hadn’t changed positions since it started. Bill and I were seated on opposite ends of the table, parallel to the wall and street-facing window of the cafe, hitting our clocks almost constantly. Sam was on Bill’s right, leaning against the window. Rachel was on my right, and Keith, who I didn’t know that well, sat next to her. Rachel had called dibs to play the winner of this game, and joked that Bill would have to take it easy on me for fear of me dumping him. Though I couldn’t yet actually see that far ahead (to either scenario), I doubted both parts of that statement quite a bit.
You’d think deja vu (or rather, the sensation that deja vu mimics) would be helpful - but how helpful would it be? Actual clarivoyance would be one thing, and would let you manipulate the stock market or win the lottery or what have you, but when you can only get glimpses of ten or twelve seconds from now, you don’t really have time to do much. It’s not so different than the reflex actions and snap judgments people do all the time. It’s not that different from just planning things out, and thinking before acting. It’s just a little more precise.
About all I’ve done with it in the nine minutes or so since I started feeling it is do marginally better at this game of blitz chess, since I have a little more time to think about and react to Bill’s moves. And even with this, I’m still losing - I’d obviously need years more practice at least before I could compete against the likes of Carlsen or Grischuk. And to make things worse, real interaction has started getting harder. I’ve started responding in the middle of a sentence, or glancing at things that aren’t yet there, or laughing before the punchline.
Or, as of two seconds ago, fighting the sudden urge to scream in horror.
<Rook takes knight d7.>
<Rook takes rook d7.>
My clock is down to nine seconds, and his still has forty-seven. He doesn’t have to win. All he has to do is stall. I have to keep the situation from getting complicated. Keep the possibilities limited.
As the car careened through the cafe window where the five of us were sitting, I saw a few things happening. The driver, pushing the wheel completely to the left, was trying desperately to avoid us, but on the thick ice outside all that did was turn the car broadside. Sam and Rachel were both too busy watching the game to notice until too late to do anything but flinch. Keith raised his hands as if to block the car from hitting him. Bill, with probably the fastest reaction time, gallantly shoved the table into me to push me out of the way, but it wasn’t far enough and my head hit the side panel of the car.
And, if I could be unnerved further, the sensation of deja vu ended there, like abruptly hitting the end of a video. There wasn’t anything more to see.
<Bishop takes d7. Check.>
<Knight takes d7.>
I have the attack, but I only have three seconds. There has to be a checkmate here. Where?
I could shove my chair backwards and bolt. Everybody would look at me, puzzled. I’d wave at them, and tell them to get out of the way, but their attention would be on me and not the window. The car would come in and hit the four of them before they had time to react.
I could throw the board at the window. Everybody would look up at the window, and then through it to the oncoming car. Sam would instinctively jump to the side and miss the front of the car by inches. Keith would still throw up his arms, but the chess table would knock him down about a quarter second before impact, and the car would roll right over him. But Rachel would try to pull me out of the way, and because I’d already be moving she’d fumble at thin air for a moment before getting hit. And Bill still wouldn’t have time to get himself out of the seat.
I could twist in my seat, kick off the wall beneath the cafe window, and push Bill onto the floor. The car’s high chassis would pass over the both of us, but Keith would instinctively reach down to help us up and get hit headfirst, Rachel would jump in her chair and get too tangled in it to get out of the way, and Sam would look our way and never see it coming.
There is a solution there. I just know it.
Oh. Yeah, I can see one.
<Queen to b8. Check.>
<Knight takes queen.>
<Rook to d8. Checkmate. Game ends with 0:00:01 remaining.>
I make the final move of the game with one second left on the clock, and, left hand on the winning rook, slap the clock and shout ‘checkmate’. Everybody looks up at me, startled by the noise, and they start instinctively standing up so that Rachel and Bill can trade seats. I throw the rook at the window, and it bounces off and past Sam’s head. With fairly good reflexes, he lunges for it, taking him three steps back. Keith follows the motion with his eyes, and sees the incoming car, throwing up his arms to block. Bill, leaning over the table, loses balance when I yank it out from under him, and starts to fall, chess pieces and clocks toppling to the ground. He’ll hit the ground at just the right moment. With the same motion, I sweep the support of the table into Rachel’s waist. Keith automatically catches her, and with her momentum and that of the table, they both stumble four steps in Sam’s direction, just out of danger.
Naturally, my momentum pushes me in the opposite direction, and I don’t have sure enough footing to take more than one step; not far enough in any direction. But the king is going to live, the other three pieces are safe, this part of the cafe is otherwise empty, and the car should skid to a halt before it hits the cashier. I’m pretty sure that’s checkmate. As the back of the car slides towards me, I hope that the driver can get out unhurt. He wasn’t really my opponent, even if his car and circumstance were what I played against.
I have time for one last thought. For the first time since this game of chess began, I truly don’t know what’s going to happen next.