ARTICLE #22 [First published in December 1988 Chicago Point]

The Encounter

It was a cold and damp night in late October. The trees stood like sentinels against the moonlit sky. The autumn leaves were losing their fragile grip as the swirling north wind rushed between the outstretched branches. I was walking in the crisp night air, communing with nature and the forces that be. Lashed by cold winds across my face, I sought shelter in a nearby place. There ahead was a pub with red neon lights -- the answer to my present plight. When I entered that haven door, I noticed that only a few had braved the night.

As I approached the bar to order a drink, I recognized a familiar sound rising from the back. It was the rhythmic click of rolling dice and the sudden bang of slammed checkers. I had heard this often over many years of play. The sounds brought back an indelible memory of excitement and pain.

Drawing closer to the noises, I saw three nervous players glued to their chairs. They were totally oblivious of my intrusion as the volatility of the game held their complete attention. A titanic mental and emotional battle was in the making. The inability of anyone to land a blow on the soft underbelly of the other’s position brought out the moans and groans of anguish and frustration. The silence of uncertain expectation heightened the tension, and the rattle of the dice cup became the drum roll before the execution. Pressure took it’s toll as calm demeanor gave way to pleads for numbers. The panic had set in giving voice to the fears. I felt the anxiety surface as quivering lips muttered:

Double trouble. The cube’s on sixty-four.
Beavers and Raccoons have sprung this trap door.
Falling into certain doom,
Will I get out? Will I survive?
What magic number can end this dread?
Winning or losing is hanging by a thread.

I nervously fumbled for a cigarette, not wanting to miss a second of what was happening. As I turned to reach for my lighter, everything fell silent. The game had stopped. Nobody was around. Where did they go? How did they get out? As I looked down upon the board with bewilderment and disbelief, I saw the identical position that the others had been playing. There on the board, a faint green glow was coming from a pair of dice. When I tried to pick them up, they scattered like two frightened bugs.

Whoa! I leapt back. Frozen by fear, I could only stare and gape at their effort to evade my grasp. After a while, the dice came to rest. Breathing a deep sigh of relief, I looked up to see if I could safely flee. To my own amazement, on my very flight, I stopped and pocketed the strange pair of dice. My curiosity got the better of me. I was determined to find out what made them tick.

When I got home, I put them in a glass jar and waited days for something to happen. After a month, I got tired of the vigil and put the jar into a desk drawer.

About a year later, I heard noises coming from my desk. When I opened the drawer, I saw glowing dice rolling around in the jar. As I opened the lid to get a better look, they jumped out. The brighter they glowed, the larger they grew. A mouth was beginning to appear. Menacing red eyes grew over the mouth. Then a deep voice threatened, “You got away last year, but you will pay dearly.”

Nervously, I asked what they wanted. They gave me a sardonic smile exposing their formidable sawlike teeth and said, “We heard that you were good. Let’s see how good.”

Fortune Cookie
Imagination in backgammon brings both fun and pain. Without these, why do we play?

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