by C. A. L.
A short commentary on the danger of misused power
|I found myself on the road on the peak of a quiet hill. Four men sat on four wooden chairs around a wooden table. On the table was a large checkerboard dotted with four sets of game pieces. Behind each man was a small contingent of spectators discussing amongst themselves, occasionally coming forward and whispering into the ear of the seated man to whom they were pledged. Surrounding the hill were expansive valleys filled with people, towns, lakes, and farms. The lowland people were mired in clustered conflicts, though the men on the hill seemed completely unaware or uninterested in the tumult spreading throughout the surrounding valleys. Then I noticed the link. One of the men would move a piece on the board, and shots would ring out in the east followed by a muffled blend of cheers and screams. Another piece was moved while an armada fired upon the ramparts of a coastal village. Another piece and a makeshift bomb went off in a busy southern market. On and on this went. Alloyed birds of prey firebombed defenseless towns. Sons and daughters were torn from their families and annexed to the ranks of sprawling legions. Protesters marched in the streets, exhausted from the threats of unemployment, economic disarray, and basic rights. Piggy bank prisons overflowed with the groaning souls of faceless economic units. Blistered blood of refugee nations lined the steps of golden doors locked and bolted from the inside. Infrastructure crumbled under the feet of powerless citizens. Water basins swelled with infection then quietly boiled away. The land was scarred with trenches lined in the flesh and blood of pacifists and patriots. The air hung heavy over these people, and still, the men on the hill seemed to be in a different world, their focus directed so intensely on the game board before them that their external senses had been dulled to the point of impotence. As they played, they would at times admire and compliment each other’s moves in the spirit of healthy competition, though the pain of minor defeat and euphoria of trivial victory would quickly transmute the congenial atmosphere. They were playing to win, that was the singular criteria.
In the midst of the game, the four men leaned back in their chairs, taking a short interlude from the action. They poured whiskey, lit each other’s cigarettes, and patted each other on the back for the ‘great game’ they had been playing. The men laughed and drank and relaxed in their seats as the valleys below began to organize themselves. From all directions, the lowlanders marched in unison toward the placid hilltop. Even now, with the flow of an irate tide converging upon them, the men seemed senseless to the fury that surrounded them. It was not until the people reached the hilltop and tore them down from their simple chairs that their faces finally showed glimmers of comprehension. It was then that a childless mother emerged from the crowd and charged toward the checkerboard lying passively at the center of it all. Upon seeing her form in motion, the four cried out in harmonious terror. In a single swift motion, with frenzied rancour, she kicked the board into the air, sending the pieces flying in all directions. A great cheer went up from the elated congregation, but it would be only a brief celebration. The four points of the compass trembled beneath the thrust of four rockets that launched themselves into the unsettled atmosphere. The people watched in horror as the missiles converged and exploded above the hilltop, flooding them in the stellar fire bottled in ancient times when the first stone of pre-history was hurled through the air in anger. When the ashes of the self-proclaimed civilized world finally settled in the depths of the valleys, all that remained was the four-cornered checkerboard waiting patiently on the minds of wiser men.