Tony Alekhin is sitting in a deck-chair on a beach, dying. In his hand is a piece of paper on which is written the last game of chess he played. The board is set on the sand in front of the chair, and the sand where his opponent would have sat is scuffed. Footprints lead away, but then disappear. The board is mostly empty, and it is clear that Tony has won.
A solitary seagull floats on a thermal, drifting with its wings spread wide above a golden, sandy beach. A ship's horn sounds mournfully, dragging through the air like a dirge, and the seagull responds, a sharp, pained cry of loss. The horn sounds again, and again, but the seagull no longer deigns to reply. Down below it has seen something, and it wheels round, its wing cutting through the air and taking it down.
On the beach the wind scours sand over an abandoned chessboard, trying and failing to steal pieces still standing. The black king rolls around on its side, the monarch fallen at the last, trapped behind the very pawns that should have been defending it. Something drips onto the sand, a spot of darkness amidst a lesser darkness, but the edges are already fading, returning to the gold of the rest of the beach. Another drip, and then another, but the gaps between them are growing longer. There is not much blood left now.
Tony Alekhin, descendant of professional chess-players and husband to a fashion designer, lolls in the deck-chair. One hand still clutches a piece of paper, and though it flutters in the wind there's enough tension in his muscles still to keep it safe. His eyes stare upwards, but they're vacant and his pupils are wide; tiny black holes into which his universe is disappearing. Somewhere below his eyes, his throat is red and ragged, flesh parted by a serrated blade and freed to stretch and tatter in the unceasing wind. His chest moves, but barely, tired muscles straining to pull air down his throat and inflate his lungs, seeking to oxygenate what blood hasn't already leaked out and fed the sand. His mind feels slow, but there is a thought still forming, a worrying thought, something that brings with it the dread that not enough thought was given when they still formed at a normal speed.
Tony is sat on the white side of the board.
The sand on the other side, though the wind is smoothing it, scattering grains across the board as though attempting to fulfill an ancient king's promise with sand instead of rice, is still disturbed. Someone has sat there, though the sand gives no indication of how long for. Footprints still lead away, deep and heavy, and glittering at the bottom with tiny jewels of newly formed glass. They step away with an inhuman stride, and then vanish utterly after just six steps.
The seagull screams, but the ship is not responding now, and the muted thunder of the surf grows louder as the tide comes in. The seagull banks again, and lands, claws digging into the wrinkles on Tony's forehead, wrinkles that he'll not need to Botox again. The bird stands motionless, resisting the wind, waiting for a sign that Tony is unhappy with his visitor, but none comes. The seagull shuffles, squawks to itself, and then leans forward jerkily, bobbing down and pecking out an eye.
"I won," thinks Tony, the thought finally completing. As the seagull pecks his other eye out, a sense of dread washes over him.