"Table stakes again?" the thin man asked. He wore black, and the lines time had etched into his face were harsh.
"Not this time, I think," the shorter man said. He wore white, a business suit so pristine that it almost hurt to look at. The thin man cocked an eyebrow.
"The last game, then?" he asked. The man in white considered for a moment, then nodded. Without another word, the two set up the chessboard which lie between them. It was concrete, and set into the table they shared, so grimy that even despite the bright midsummer light of a New York day, the city’s grime had rendered both the white and black spaces a nigh-indistinguishable grey. Still, the two set their pieces, each drawing polished marble figures from a case of his own possession. The man in white played black, and the man in black played white. White king’s knight to f3.
"Conservative," the man in white said.
"This is the game that matters," the man in black said. Black pawn to d5. Behind the white man, a couple sashayed by—two men, holding hands. The younger of the two was also shorter, Puerto Rican, and wore a fishnet tank top. His jeans could’ve been sprayed on. The man in black blinked. It would be hard to imagine a more stereotypically flamboyant fellow. The Puerto Rican man led his partner, an older black man with a salt-and-pepper beard and a charcoal business suit, to the table next to the two playing chess. The two kissed, the young fellow sitting on a concrete table identical to theirs.
"Interesting company," the man in black said. White pawn to c4. The man in white looked over slowly, rheumy eyes thoughtful.
"Réti Opening," he said, slowly returning his gaze to the board. The man in black shrugged. Black pawn to e6. "It’s surprising, in a way, to be playing this game, finally."
"All the world, hanging on a game of chess," the thin man said, and there was a note of satisfaction in his voice, of savor. "All that ever was, all that is, and all that ever might be, decided by the movements of clicking marble and alabaster. One of us rises, and the other done away with forever. An eternity surrendered and true omnipotence gained." Yes, real enjoyment now. Anticipation. Hunger. White pawn to g3.
"Wait, what?" the black man broke away from his amorous partner. He looked at the two old men, one in white and one in black, but he didn’t break his lover’s embrace.
"Nothing you need to fret over," the man in white said. Black King’s knight to f6. He waved a hand, half-distracted, and the black man started to turn back to the loving arms of his partner, but he hesitated.
"No… There was something you said…" he muttered, forehead creased in intense concentration, almost as if he’d just forgotten something truly important.
"We’re playing Neo-Catalan today," the man in black said, and smiled. "It favors white, you know." White pawn to d4. The man in white shrugged.
"You two are playing for something important," the black man said, and broke away from his partner.
"David," the Puerto Rican man whined, but he followed his partner’s gaze.
"I said—" the man in white said, again raising his hand.
"Let them be. It won’t matter if I win, and you can erase their memories if you win," the tall man interrupted, and smiled. He turned to the two. "I am playing this man for the fate of all the world." The Puerto Rican man laughed out loud, but the black man, David, remained stone-faced.
"You’re the devil," he said, and when he said it there was a moment of perfect quiet, the thunder of the city and the park stilling for just that one instant. The tall man smiled, but said nothing. Black pawn to a6. David turned a bit. "And you’re God."
"Not as you imagine," the man in white said, glancing up. "Though I prefer Yahweh. The old names are nice."
"David, they’re having fun with you," the Puerto Rican man said, taking his partner’s hand. David didn’t move. White Queen’s bishop to f4.
"You’re off your game today," the tall man said. "Not good." Yahweh shrugged ever-so-slightly. Black queen to e7.
"Can’t you beat him?" David asked, alarm growing in his eyes.
"Probably," Yahweh said. "But those aren’t the rules we play by." The man in black snorted in derision.
"Remarkable," he said. "You heap abuse on them, and they still grovel for you." David glanced over, and Yahweh cocked his head to the side.
"Such hate for men who lie with men. Stone them. Burn them. Hang them," the tall man said, sneering.
"It’s not that simple, Lucifer. It never is," Yahweh said. Lucifer shook his head. White pawn to a3. Lucifer turned to David.
"Are you a man of God?" he asked. David drew in a breath of surprise, and glanced at Yahweh.
"I like to think so," he said, cautious.
"And you are a man who lies with men. A gay man." It was a statement. David nodded. Lucifer gestured across the table at Yahweh. "His books say you should die. Horribly. How can you be both?"
"I…" David faltered. "I don’t know. I just am."
"You call that free will?" Lucifer asked.
"I do," Yahweh said. Lucifer shook his head. Yahweh turned to David.
"Are you happy?" he asked. David blinked.
"I… I don’t know," he said, and both Lucifer and Yahweh paused. "I’m kind of scared right now, to be honest."
"Aside from that," Yahweh said. "Your life. Is it good?" David considered.
"Sometimes," he said. "Not all the time. It’s complicated."
"You see?" Yahweh asked. Lucifer shook his head and sighed.
"This claptrap again," Black pawn to h5, an obvious error. White pawn to b4, swiftly, securing the center.
"Why is it complicated?" Yahweh asked, seemingly unperturbed at the state of the board.
"Well, I love two people. Alex," David said, and squeezed his partner’s hand, "and my wife, Marissa." Lucifer laughed.
"Adultery as well!" he said. Yahweh didn’t speak.
"They both make me happy," David continued, gaining steam. "And I- I can’t be with either one alone." He bowed his head. "I wish I could be honest with her, though."
"Thank you," Yahweh said, a small smile warming their corner of the park. "You would do it differently?" he asked, turning back to the board. Black king’s rook to H6.
"Of course I would," Lucifer said. "That’s the whole point, isn’t it?"
"How?" Yahweh asked, and Lucifer froze.
"You’ve never asked me that before," he said after a long moment.
"I’m asking you now." Lucifer thought.
"No love would be wrong," he said, and looked at David. "They’re not hurting anyone. Why should they be punished?"
"What about Marissa?" Yahweh asked. Lucifer didn’t say anything. After a time, Yahweh asked, "What else?"
"Freedom," Lucifer said, and the word was a whisper. "Real freedom. No commandments from on high, no walls of faith or law, nor condemnation of the righteous as punishment. Men and women could do as they pleased." Yahweh looked surprised.
"You don’t think they have that?"
"They never have," Lucifer said, and shook his head very slowly. "You created the most magnificent of all things, beings who could truly decide their own fate with only the dictates of existence itself to restrain them. No spiritual obligations, and yet minds as keen as the greatest of the Seraphim. Mankind was perfect in every way, and the first thing," Lucifer broke off and chucked for a moment. "The very first thing you do is wall them in." He laughed again, loudly and long. David threw an arm around Alex, and drew the smaller man close.
"No," he said, with a sigh of savor. "I would see what they can really do. Whether they could surpass even you in the fullness of time. I would see what comes from real freedom." White queen to a4. "Check." Yahweh leaned back and regarded Lucifer.
"Is it really that simple for you?" he asked, after a time. Lucifer nodded. "Well, then, I suppose that I’ve been playing defensively for long enough today."
And, slowly, Yahweh tipped his own king over. David gasped, and Lucifer’s face screwed into a mask of confusion.
"I don’t claim that the rules I chose were right," Yahweh said, his fingertips fading. "Only that they were the rules I chose. I hoped to help my children grow a little taller by their existence."
"You didn’t need to do that," Lucifer muttered, eyes still fixed on the fallen black marble king.
"Of course I did," Yahweh said, and Lucifer finally met his gaze. "They weren’t the only ones I gave free will to." His rheumy eyes twinkled for a moment, and then began to fade. "Your rebellion was my greatest triumph. I could barely believe it when you rose up." Lucifer’s breath turned ragged.
"They’re yours now, in a way." There was a silence, as the last traces of Yahweh faded away. Then, like a scarcely-heard voice on the breeze, he added, "Not so simple, is it?"
Nobody said anything, for a while.
"What happens now?" David asked, meeting Lucifer’s gaze.
"I don’t know," he said eventually. "It’s complicated."
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