A Stone Is Worth A Lifetime
By: Christopher Goss
Christopher McCard was a regular person who played a board game called Go. He would sit for hours in his room on his computer playing opponents from almost every part of the planet. He also spent a lot of time at the Go Club.
Nothing delighted him more than a hard won victory. Nothing depressed him more than a devastating loss. But those losses spurred him to get better and better until he finally plateaued at 10 Kyu, a beginner rank. He'd spent the past 4 years at this level.
His friends were perplexed at his inability to improve. Some quickly claimed he would never get better at all.
It was on a frustratingly hot day that we find Chris sitting before the Go board. But this time he is playing in the local Go Club. Sweat rolls down his face as he gazes intently at a board full of black and white pieces called stones.
"Ugh," Chris sighed. A huge group of his stones is about to be captured. There is no way to save them. Once again, Chris would be eliminated in the first round.
He clenched his hands beneath the table, almost as if he were trying to squeeze the life out of his thighs.
"I...I resign," Chris croaked.
His opponent looked up at him, an eyebrow cocked over hazy black eyes. They met Chris' own sky blue eyes.
"You should have resigned almost 14 moves ago. You're not going to get any better if you keep playing like this, and-"
"I know! I know already!" Chris shouted. The air was still. People turned to look at Chris as if he were crazy. "Sorry." His voice was calmer. He re-seated himself.
His opponent was David Hanamura. He was of Asian descent. He'd originally brought Chris to the Go Club almost a year ago. Chris stood out quite well because of his extremely pale skin, and the fact that he wasn't of Asian descent. His family descended from Germany or Austria. Chris could never remember which.
Chris ran a hand through his dark brown hair, wishing the sweltering heat would go away.
"Chris," David began slowly, but stopped. He then restarted. "Look, I want you to get better because I know this is important to you, but you have to learn to relax and observe the whole board. You focus solely on certain sections, and rarely tenuki."
"Tenuki?" Chris's mind was a blank.
"It means to play away from the opponent's last move. Often times, tenuki'ing can be quite large. I told you this just two days ago."
"I know..." Chris said through the lump in his throat. David had spent the past four weeks going through the basics with him, but nothing stuck. David had actually began playing around the same time as Chris did. Chris only picked up the game because of David introducing it to him.
David was currently ranked as a 1 Dan. Through only almost one year of play, he had ascended far faster than is commonly done.
"I'm going to go home," Chris stated blandly.
He got to his feet.
"Well, I won't make you stay. But....maybe you should take some time off-" David had felt uncomfortable recently with having Chris there, and that was quite apparent. It wasn't just because of Chris's Go ability, but also the way he acted. He was often loud, and this only made him stick out even further.
"Whatever," Chris said, storming from the room.
Later that night, Chris laid on his bed and looked out at the starry sky. His arm was draped over the side of the bed, and Jimi Hendrix blasted in his ears via headphones.
The song Purple Haze really summed up how he felt at that moment. He was standing in a world full of it. But only he was held up by it. Everyone else gained the ability to see through the haze.
Go was something he had put a lot of effort into, but gotten very little out of. His parents didn't understand why he played it. Of course, they hated the fact that he was spending so much time with a board game. They never told him this to his face, but he'd heard them talking about it late the other night.
His grades were slipping because he spent so much time studying the 4000 year old game. And a lot of his non-playing friends had deserted him.
But it wasn't the game's fault that all this was happening. No, it was his attitude. He had pushed almost everyone away, frustrated at his own stagnation. He didn't understand it. When he had played chess, he'd been a state champion. He'd been a Halo regional champion. He'd been a a champion at a lot of other games.
But not Go. The game eluded his every attempt to find some deeper understanding despite months of careful study.
His closed fist collided with his bed.
"I would give anything to be better at Go!"
Chris jumped, and sat up. So lost in thought, he hadn't noticed the room had gone black. Literally. He couldn't even see the moon and stars through the window. It was as if he had literally been blanketed in a haze. But this haze was black, not purple.
He was scared.
"Wh-who is there?"
A chuckling sound reverberated throughout the room, but the source could not be located. There was no source to be found. The chuckle seemed to come from everywhere, and nowhere at the same time.
"Would you give anything to be a better Go player?"
The voice was coming from his own mind! This was certainly a dream! He must have fallen asleep while thinking about Go. It happened quite frequently, after all. He played along.
"Yes, I would give up anything for Go. I want to get better. I want to be able to be the best in the world!"
Chris was fiercely competitive. If he took an interest in a game, he wasn't satisfied until he was the best.
"I can make you the best Go player in the world," said the same silky voice in his mind. Then Chris noticed the foul odor drifting through the room. It smelled like death, if death had a smell.
A rattling sound filled the room quite abruptly. A red fire erupted near the ceiling. Chris thought the room was burning until he noticed that the fire was burning on a torch. Another lit torch appeared. The fire crackled merrily, like two identical dancers.
The rattling picked up. But he soon realized it wasn't just the rattling he heard, but also his pounding heart.
And then- And then a skull appeared before him between the two torches. Where eyes should have been protruded the body of a snake. Its elegant emerald green body was wrapped partly around the skull. The head extended from the mouth of the skull.
The foul odor of death was stronger.
Chris was backed against the head of his bed, eyes nearly popping with fear.
A voice slithered through his mind again.
"I can make you the best Go player in the world, but you will have to pay me with your soul. When I feel the time has come, you will die. Are you sure this is what you desire? You will not be asked again."
Paralyzed with fear, Chris didn't know what to do. He took a deep breath and told himself that this was probably just a lucid dream. Nothing negative could come of it.
"Yes. Make me the best ever. Please. That is what I want." His competitiveness had him resorting to begging for the proper talent.
The eyes of the snake cast a malicious glint.
"So be it- but remember, the choice was always yours."
The rattling sound grew worse and worse. It seeped into his skull, causing his teeth to chatter. The torch fires shot up into the air, and turned blue. That was when Chris noticed the bony hands holding what appeared to be some sort of blade.
A scythe! It rose into the air.
But Death waits for no man. The scythe swished through the air, and-
Chris sat bolt upright, his eyes bulging. His heart was hammering in his chest as if someone were busy playing the drums in there.
Sunlight drenched the room, cascading across his bed. His mouth was dry, and he was panting. He was shivering.
"It...it must have been a dream," he mumbled to himself. He tried to remember what had happened, but already the details were gone. He only remembered a darkness, and torches with burning flames.
He threw off his blanket and got to his feet, stretching. His heart was no longer racing. And he wasn't sweating anymore. As a matter of fact, he felt good until he looked at the clock- it was noon.
"I'm going to be late!"
Hesitantly, Chris placed his hand on the brass door, and gulped. He collected himself, and then walked in. The familiar sounds of stones being placed on wood greeted his ears. It was a beautiful sound. It was the only sound that pierced his heart and filled him with radiance.
"...Chris?" David's voice, uncertain.
"Hello David!" Chris walked over and sat down across from him. He had a Go book in front of his face and a board filled with stones. Obviously he was studying tsumego, Go problems.
Chris picked up a stone and placed it between opposing stones. "There you go. Problem solved."
David's eyes widened. The book fell from his hand and would have crashed onto the board if Chris hadn't quickly caught it.
"What's the big deal? This problem is easy." Chris was perplexed by the bewilderment on David's face. Normally any problem Chris could solve David could solve with his eyes shut.
"....Chris," David whispered. "That go problem came from the 67th Honinbo title match, Game 5. White made a mistake that cost him the game. And....and you figured it out after merely glancing at the board."
Chris blinked, unsure of what to say.
"Hm, play me in a game."
"Okay! Should we set the handicap to-"
"No handicap. We're just playing for fun, and you know I hate handicaps."
They began playing. Again, it was sweltering. The oscillating fan and stones colliding with wood provided most of the noise, with whispered words serving as the chorus.
It was halfway through the game when Chris finally noticed it. He was winning. As a matter of fact, he was dominating David. A majority of the stones David had placed on the board were dead.
People had gathered around the board, and Chris could tell from their stunned expressions that this wasn't Chris's usual game.
"I resign," David breathed.
Chris felt awkward. He had never beaten David before. His foe, and best friend, sat there with his head hung.
"I-it was just one game!" Chris shouted, earning him a few glares from older gentleman.
They played again. The result was the same. And then the details of the dream came back to his head. His mouth fell open. It hadn't been a dream. Chris was now the greatest Go player in the world.
"I'll play him," called a voice. A man dressed in a business suit sat down across from Chris when David got to his feet. The man gazed at Chris intently. "My name is Hikaru Shindo. I am a 9 Dan professional from Japan. I saw your game, and I'd like to play you evenly, if that's okay with you."
Chris was taken aback, and felt delighted. A professional wanted to play him! But surely he would lose. Whatever magic he had had wouldn't work, would it?
Oh but it did. By move 40, the professional resigned with a stunned expression.
"Your opening....I have....I have never seen anything like it. And your stones are so graceful, but they also have the a sharpened edge."
The whole Go Club stared at the board even more confused then before.
"But how? He's just a 10 Kyu! He's lost almost every game since coming here," David screamed. He pointed a finger at Chris. "You must have been sandbagging this whole time!"
The room buzzed. People whispered to each other. Chris sat there with his face blood-red.
"N-no, I wasn't sandbagging. I just, I discovered my talent last night."
Hikaru offered him a gentle smile, "while I find it hard to believe you went from 10k to 9p over night, I'm impressed by your play. I would like you to represent the USA in the World Amateur Go Championship.
(Important note: I am not going for accuracy with the WAGC. This is a different event but with a similar premise.)
"As such, I will inform the AGA that I have reached a verdict. Do you accept?"
Chris glanced around at all the faces. They were all confused. Then his eyes drifted over to David, who was still glaring at him. Then his expression softened, and he nodded.
"Go for it," David said. "I....I really don't understand where this explosive talent came from, but you should go. I believe in you."
Chris said, "thank you David." He turned back to Hikaru. "I'll do it!"
Chris spent the next 4 months playing Go. He never lost once. He never had a contested game. His grades also improved. He was happy again. Slowly his old friends came back into his life, but he still spent a majority of his time playing Go.
At the end of the fourth month, Hikaru had played 4000 games and lost zero times. The go world was exploding with excitement over this American who had become so good. Nobody could believe he had gotten so strong seemingly overnight. And there was even a whisper that he had defeated the Honinbo title holder in an online match!
So nobody contested his selection as the USA representative. As a matter of fact, it was unanimous.
It was when he was boarding the plane for Tokyo, where the WAGC was taking place, that he noticed a funny feeling in his stomach. He blinked, and rubbed himself. The feeling disappeared.
He shrugged it off and got onto the plane.
"I can't believe you let me come with you!" David looked around excitedly as he and Chris walked around Tokyo. It was such a strange place for Chris.
"Don't worry about it," Chris said, smiling. But he felt tired despite getting a full night of rest.
That night, he and David played a game. Chris, of course, won. They sat there and talked.
"Chris, if you win this tournament, you've got to try and become a professional. I think you should regardless of what happens, but you're amazing! The first game of the WAGC is going to be broadcasted live on every major Go online server. Man, you've got this!"
"Well, I want to focus on the tournament at hand. I'll definitely try my best. Thank you for believing I can win."
"Dude, you beat a 9 Dan professional in an even game. There's no way you lose this tournament!"
Chris nodded, grinning. "Oh fine then, you're right. I'm going to mop the floor with them!"
And then the funny feeling hit him again. His face paled. He got up and ran into the bathroom. He threw up.
"Chris! Are you alright?" David leaped to his feet and ran to the bathroom door.
Chris wiped off his mouth and laughed.
"Relax, I just ate something weird today. I've had a lot of food I'm not used to, so that probably messed up my stomach. I'm fine."
But Chris was starting to wonder. The feeling passed again, but he still felt remarkably tired.
"I think I'm going to turn in for the night."
David nodded. "Good night. Just make sure you're ready for tomorrow."
The next day was the start of the WAGC. Representatives from all over the world were there, and so the announcer had to speak in many different languages. Chris felt worse off than he had the day before, but he wasn't going to pull out of the tournament. He wanted to be recognized as the best ever. And this was the start to that very goal.
The tournament was taking place in a large gym of one of the local high schools. The room was nicely air conditioned, and Chris was delighted to see all the beautiful Go boards. It really felt special to be there.
Chris was greeted by a lot of fans, and Chris was surprised to find out he had already beaten a good majority of them online. But they were cheerful and upbeat.
Finally, the pairings were announced and Chris took his seat. His opponent took his seat as well, and the games began.
The sounds of stones being played all over the room reverberated throughout his mind and his heart. In fact, his heart was racing with excitement.
He closed his eyes and smiled. He felt oddly peaceful. Relaxed. He heard the sound of a stone hitting the board before him. Eyes closed, Chris grabbed a stone, and it fell from his hand.
After what seemed to be an eternity, the stone hit the board with a resounding klack! and that was the last sound Chris heard before he died.
I like salad.