Chess Mansion by Curi Roseberry

If you ask me how I ended up tied to this Louis XIV chair in the dwelling of one Dr. Absalom Musgrave, if you ask whether or not I entered his dark hilltop mansion of my own free will, or maybe if you ask if I'd ever heard of such a person before, I don't have a proper answer for you.

I have no idea how I became tied to this chair, and Dr. Musgrave isn't exactly a running faucet of information either. He rides around behind me in one of those remote control wheelchairs... okay, I know it isn't actually remote controlled, that gives the impression that someone besides himself is controlling his wheelchair from some remote location, and that simply isn't true. What is true, though, is the contraption makes an insufferable whirring noise and he maneuvers it around with a joystick. This is no advanced joystick, either. It reminds me of early arcade games, and there is certainly an abundance of what gamers might refer to as ‘poor response.’

So what we have here is a girl tied to an extremely uncomfortable antique chair—did the French expect people to actually sit in these things?—with some kind of rope which I fear could have been woven from camelhair. I can feel the rash spreading across my skin without even needing to know where this particular natural fiber originated. Dr. Musgrave is inexpertly piloting his wheelchair, trying to gain inches on me but more often than not just crashing into the dining room table. There is a formidable glass cabinet of preserved oddities to his left, embalmed rodents, pickled punks, and six-fingered taxidermy hands and the like, and I keep wondering what is going to happen when the chair suddenly spins out of control and heads straight for that cabinet.

Philomena. Philomena was the one who actually tied me up. Surely the old man couldn't have done it, he can barely lift his arms. She must've been the person who led me into this horrible place as well. I sniff at my clothing; had I been chloroformed? I'll have to remember to thank her for that later.

The absence of banging noises tells me that Musgrave has given up trying to circumnavigate the dining room. He's settled in front of a chess board and asks if I know how to play. I lie and tell him no. He says he doesn't care and wants me to call out the moves for a game anyway, even though he's seated behind me and I have to painfully wrench my neck to get a good look at the board. How do I know you're not cheating, I ask, if I can't see the game?

“I am cheating," he tells me, “that's how you know.”

I shrug my shoulders, surprised that I can do it at all in these restraints. He pays no attention and starts calling out positions on the board. I guess this is what life is like for a senile old man who kidnaps others and trains his housekeeper to tie them to the furniture for blind, impromptu chess games. Well, even if I can't see the board I can still hear a losing match when it's being called out from behind me. I easily have checkmate in nine moves. If you've absorbed the story thus far you may have serious doubts about this next statements, but I assure you they're as true as I am sitting here tied to this chair.

The old man does not take losing well. Right about now is when things start to get weird. He knocks over the pieces, confirmed not only by a clatter but by a white bishop which rolls across the floor and rests near my foot. In another situation I may have asked, “Do you have Scrabble? Or maybe Battleship?” but these are not the types of flippant remarks one makes when one is captive in a stranger's home, especially when said stranger seems to be a few lightning storms short of a Frankenstein. I'm quite worried I will anger Dr. Musgrave further, and perhaps escalate his erratic behavior. My father is known to say, “Eighty percent of the things we worry about never happen,” and this particular worry falls solidly into the twenty.

“Apologize,” he says, wheezing, and continues to run his wheelchair into the dining room table. The scattered chess pieces contribute by making his navigation even more difficult.

“For winning the chess game?” I ask, not because I'm reluctant to make a crazy apology to a crazy man, but to clarify.

“You are insolent.” He coughs as loudly as I suppose he can, and the wheelchair whirrs violently in agreement. If he could I figure he would stand up from that chair and start kicking things around, cursing up a storm while dusty antiques fly in various directions. His cough is deep and full of phlegm; I try not to think about the tiny moist particles that land on my shoulder.

“I apologize!” I say, trying to calm things down. It doesn't work. I can hear the creaking sound of wood and a loud snap as his wheelchair rolls over and breaks one of the chessmen. He somehow maneuvers to the cabinet and starts to fumble with a key around his neck. He's about two feet in front of me now and it's the first time I've had a close look at him. His long white hair frames a dark, hollow face, and two sunken black eyes swim in the center, like chocolate chips dropped into a bowl of milk. Upon closer inspection what I mistook at first to be wrinkles—and he has his fair share of those—are actually tiny vertical scars, drawn in a parallel pattern all about his face. I can't imagine where they could have come from, it isn't as if a doctor would take his scalpel and spend hours creating tiny, near-invisible straight cuts across someone's skin, right?

Dr. Musgrave's hands are skeletal and his eerily long fingernails are quite curled, I can tell as he forces the key into the lock.

“Tea?” Philomena says, and presents me with a cup as if my hands aren't tied to a chair. I shake my head in refusal as it’s most certainly spiked with something. She sets the searing hot teacup on my lap anyway like this is a most reasonable thing to do. I wonder for an instant if I could somehow stand up and knock it off, but that would only result in a scalding hot mess all over my legs.

Philomena has a clump of curly black hair and is dressed in a skimpy French maid outfit. She disappears behind a door.

“You will never leave this place,” this fossilized madman tells me. He's won his war with the cabinet lock and reaches behind one of the pickled punks. Despite his gnarled hands, he’s somehow extracting a rusty, yellowed cylindrical container. It looks like it could be full of toxic gas, I’m not really sure.

“I will leave,” I say. “He's going to come for me!”

It's a cruel laugh, and loud—a louder sound than I expected the old man could make. “He'll never come. You are prisoner here.”

I've heard these threats before and they bore me. I've been having this same exact conversation since I got here, in some form or another.

“He's going to come,” I insist, “and there's nothing you can do about it.”

“You are mine!” the doctor counters, and shoves the container under my nose. It emits a type of swirly amber smoke, with tiny bright skulls inside. My only response is to hang my head and close my eyes. Maybe the bastard is right, maybe he really isn't going to show.

“What did I tell you?” Musgrave spits in my ear, just as I'm about to lose consciousness.

The door swings open, almost thrown off its hinges. I summon just enough strength to look up and notice that it's him. He's finally arrived in his flashy silver sports car.

He presses his palm to the old man's forehead and the doctor collapses to the floor with a wail. Same for Philomena, whose teapot crashes to pieces, and that's the end of that.

He unties the camelhair ropes and says with a grin, “You didn't think I was coming, did you?”