Checkmate

"Checkmate you filthy animal!"

The blustering wind outside shook the branches of the maple tree and the leaves responded like wild angry hands, shaking with the fiery colors of the fall, waving desperate goodbyes to the other leaves that had become as close as family.
Crestin sat backwards straddling a worn wooden chair she had purchased from the second-hand store, its paint peeling in some places and completely missing in others from continual use. Her arms were crossed and resting on the high back, watching silently as the autumn winds blew their way into Alder, Idaho.
The frantic goodbyes of the leaves echoed the rising feeling that hovered somewhere in her chest, urging her to flee from sleepy Alder, with its meandering Ruby river lazily carving out future oxbow lakes through large farms. A thick warm fogginess, more evident on hot summer afternoons, still covered the small town like a heavy blanket, defying the dynamic wind that had managed to shake loose some yellow and red leaves. Firmly grasping the few leaves it had robbed from the tree in its wispy clutch, the wind bounded away from her window down the worn road allowing calm to return.
She had to get out. Now.
Standing up quickly from her perch by the window, she grabbed her car keys from the top of the old television set, a relic from the 80’s and her jacket from the pile of clothes by her bed, and raced out of her room.
“Are you going to the store?” Guilie, her precocious roommate asked as she rushed past her in the living room of the apartment they shared. Crestin mumbled her response as she dashed out the door into the dusty air outside. Right now she could not bear the upbeat positive outlook Guilie always presented when her melancholy mood was raging. She did not want to force the muscles in her face to form a brittle smile so Guilie could be pacified for the moment, neither did she want the glum expression on her face to elicit a long chain of questions specifically designed to bring her out of her funk. Her funk suited her fine right here, right now.
She loved Guilie, her guilty conscience reminded her. After quickly realizing that she had inadvertently exiled herself to one of the most remote and forlorn places in the United States, she had sought out the most optimistic black girl she could find at her small college and befriended her and they had been roommates for almost four years.
Standing right outside the door, she slowly put on her jacket and zipped it all the way to her chin. She could hear Guilie on the other side, floor boards creaking as she walked towards her. Crestin pulled out her cigarette pack from one pocket, Cherry Crush from Blu, and a lighter from the other and turned to face the door. Guilie opened to door and had begun to say something to her when she noticed the pack. Crestin kept her eyes on Guilie’s face as she stuck one of the cigarettes into the corner of her mouth, letting it stick to the moist surface of her lips. The maternal look of disapproval on Guilie’s face pulled her thick lips into tight line and darkened her eyes. It was usually sufficient to get Crestin to stop whatever she was doing; however, this was one of the times it would not work.
She lifted the lighter to the end of the cigarette, watching carefully as Guilie deftly crafted a deepening expression of disapproval.
“What?” Crestin said, lifting her shoulders and spreading her palms, cigarette dangling from her mouth and eyebrow cocked, daring Guilie to say something.
Guilie rolled her eyes and went back into the house.
Crestin took the cigarette from her lips and carefully put it back into the still-full pack of Blus. She kissed the pack, put it back in her pocket and turned to the road to walk off the disquiet that had lodged itself somewhere in the middle of her torso.
The wind had picked up again, lifting loose earth from the dirt road in front of the apartment building and carrying it into homes to torture housewives who had just finished dusting their furniture. The road led to Main Street which eventually joined the 287. She was not going to walk in that direction. Leering Mister Grooden lived three houses down. His long searching stares raked her body making both her and Misses Gooden cringe with disgust. He would have to wait till Monday came around again for his morning treat.
The cruciferous forest that covered the hills in the distance beckoned to her, their tall peaks stretched towards the sky, their long shadows creeping closer to the rag tag collection of buildings in the neighborhood. Farmer Jacobson said he had spotted a grizzly bear and all the towns people nearby had been warned to stay away from the forest. However, Crestin was feeling dangerous fueled by the roiling emotions a gratuitous email had roused in her.
“The nerve!” she exclaimed inwardly, “The absolute gall of that little pip-squeak! I just need to scream and cry in peace then I can return to his stupid class with something other than the liquid lava of hate boiling in my veins.” Aloud she let out a low growl.
A fluffy tailed orange cat that had stood still as she passed by let out a low growl in reply. Woman and cat glared at each other, determining the worthiness of their potential opponent but suddenly distracted by other intruding thoughts; dinner for the cat and Professor Tucker for Crestin.
The air here was always fresh, tinged with a little pine and mingled with the clay dust that blew in from cars and trucks getting to the highway. She skipped lightly and easily over the low fence that surrounded the field of alfalfa behind the apartment building. Most of it had been harvested, rolled in large bales that lined one side of the field. Farmers did not like having their fields walked over, but she did not care. Not today. She broke into a jog to cross the field before she was seen.
Anger was still bubbling somewhere inside her mid section. She had been struggling to live in Alder and be happy despite the suspicious unwelcoming looks that were shot her way. The wind whipping in her ears as her jog broke into a run taunted her with the words she read in Professor Tucker’s email that reminded her of her first year in Idaho.
Darkie. Enemy. Alien. Savage. Foreign. Bad. Bad. Bad.
She ran as fast as her legs would carry her, straining muscles that had long been dormant, wasting away while she spent hours staring into the bright glaring light of a computer screen. She ignored the painful buildup of lactic acid in her muscles, struggling harder, pushing her calves, hamstrings and quads to excruciating levels, willing that pain to overwhelm her mental anguish.
Suddenly, her foot twisted in an uneven place in the soil and she was thrown to the ground with the full force of her weight and the inertia of her run. The wind burst out of her chest as she hit the ground, disorienting her and leaving her gasping for breath, her body suddenly desperate for another breath of oxygen. She lay still, her chest heaving, dragging in deep breaths of cool air, her heart thumping wildly in her chest, trying to restore order.
Hot angry tears burned her eyes. “Don’t you cry!” she fiercely said to herself, “Don’t you dare cry you wimp!” But like a furious volcano whose eruption she could not stop, the emotion she had been holding back all day, spewed out of an aching spot in her chest, breaking the restraints and pouring freely as hot tears, burning canyons down past the corner of her eyes and settling somewhere in her hair.
“Arrrgh!” She screamed her frustration, “I fucking hate this cesspool! Take me out of it! Take me out! Take me…” she dissolved into a torrent of huge sobs that wracked her body, allowing the frustration of injustice to flow out of her, descending into a full blown tantrum.
“It is this place,” the wind whispered to her, as it tumbled over the field, “There is an evil here that destroys the soul. It has its bony finger pointed in your direction and will devastate the person that you are if you do not do something about it now.”
Crestin sat up slowly, like a mummy awoken by mysterious forces breathing life into it, the tear flow from her eyes diverted from the pools it had created against the tangled mesh of dreadlocks at her hairline, turning to make their way over her high cheekbones to her cheeks. The solution was so clear, but had been hidden by the dark smoke of anger. Injustice only existed because the just allowed it to, when injustice becomes law, written or unwritten, revolution is made imperative.
She closed her eyes, willing the souls of massacred natives ancient and modern to come to her, her lips forming a silent prayer to her strong and proud ancestors. “Your strength and courage will strengthen me. It is in your name that I do my part to restore the balance of good and evil in the World. If death awaits me on the other side of justice, I beseech you, receive me into the safety of your arms.” With that she raised herself up from the ground, her legs a little shaky from the run and turned back towards the town. Intense pain shot up her leg from the ankle that had twisted causing her fall, but her mind would not let it overwhelm her so she could finish the task she had determined to do.
With long strides, Crestin made quick work of the distance between herself and the apartment, ignoring the shouts of the farmer who owned the field she now trampled. He made his way to intercept her and scold her, but was taken aback by the dark look that had settled in her eyes, wild and turbulent. Sensing trouble, he slunk back away from her and let her climb over the fence and return to her home. His short legs, carried his diminutive form back to his watching wife to tell her that one of the nigger girls was on the warpath.
Crestin walked to her car, a burgundy 1979 century buick with a tan hard top, pausing to look over the building she had lived in for almost four years, and climbed in. The old engine coughed to life, spewing out dark clouds of thick smoke from the exhaust. She pressed the accelerator gently, “It is for a good cause Brandy,” she said, patting the dashboard and the engine roared. Woman and machine backed out of the driveway and headed towards the Idaho State University in Idaho Falls.
Intruding thoughts bearing the hysterical voice of her mother and the sometimes chiding, sometimes shouting voice of her father, pounded heavily upon her brow, generating a low level migraine that she ignored. Their warnings shattered against the strong face of her resolve, their loud jangling noises quickly diminishing into squeaky mousey sounds, then POOF! They were gone and replaced by solemn silence. She was alone again.
287 wound around the foothills of the hills that surrounded Alder, carving out their toes as they dug into the Earth’s foundations. The scenic route was often peppered with road-kill that the conscious driver was careful to avoid. Unseeing Brandy and Crestin bumped over a few squirrels and an otter that had climbed out of the Ruby River. University Road slowly branched off from the 287, passing by the School of Music, before coming to an abrupt halt in front of the Main Hall. The large yellow no parking signs in front of the School of Music cautioned the daring, barely making a difference to Crestin, whose haste caused her to park too close to the curb, making Brandy’s wheels squeal against it.
She popped the glove compartment open and pulled out a short army knife she had purchased for protection and tucked it into the waistband of her jeans. She jumped out of the car and half ran to the door of the building, heading straight for Professor Tucker’s office. She knew he was carrying on a clandestine affair with the black secretary that served the professors in the school, no secret to the students, and he would be here, waiting for his evening indulgence before he returned to his slowly wrinkling wife whose mind had been conquered by Alzheimer’s disease.
The large double doors opened noiselessly but Crestin turned and shoved them back into place causing a deafening metal against metal slam that shattered the glass door. She let out a feral scream that bounced off the walls, down the long corridors on each side of the foyer, reaching students who were studying for their midterms and disrupting evening classes. A few doors opened and watched as she marched down the hall to Office 312.
The door was locked. With the force of her anger fueling her muscles and steeling her bones, Crestin rushed at the door, breaking the handle and bursting into the room. The black secretary lay on her back, her legs akimbo, privates on display. Professor D. Tucker faced the doors, hand reaching for his quickly retreating erection as though to capture it before it was completely gone, red angry veins and blotchy age spots marking his skin like a child-drawn map. Crestin saw the look of shock being quickly replaced with a harrowing mixture of fear and disgust, but ignored it.
Faster than a gunslinger, her iPhone popped out of her pocket into her hand and she snapped a picture of the scene displayed before her.
“Get dressed,” she growled at the secretary, “and have some self respect!”
The secretary scurried around, looking for the pair of panties that had been carelessly discarded and were hanging from the PhD frame behind the large desk.
“GET OUT!!” Crestin bellowed, irritated by her movements. Her eyes stayed trained on Professor Tucker who was slowly pulling up his boxer briefs and trousers around his waist.
“What do you want?” he drawled out.
Crestin’s high incredulous laugh crackled like an aging witch. “Me? Want something from you, you piece of shit?”
“Get out of my office!”
“Or what?”
A small crowd had begun to gather outside the broken door.
He strode towards her and attempted to reach for her arm, his aging eyes missing the quick flash of silver as she whipped out the knife she had tucked into her belt, slicing into his outstretched palm.
“Muther fucker!” he exclaimed, “What is wrong with you?”
Her whole demeanor changed. “Sit down!” she ordered, the commanding note in her voice compelling him to obey. She turned to the crowd jostling each other to get a better look. “Fuck off!” she yelled at them, sending them scurrying from the entrance.
She walked over to him and said in a low tone, her eyes burning with hatred, and said, “This is how it is going to go. I will keep this picture. I will not come to class so you never have to see me again. You will give me an A in this class and with it being my last semester, you should have no problem with it. I have a copies of your “secret” email in a draft email, ready to be sent to the TV and radio stations, the Dean, the Chancellor, the Mayor, the Governor, the Senator and the NAACP. You make one move and you and your precious career are toast. Do I make myself clear?”
The knife that had inched its way to his throat drew a drop of blood from the surface of his skin. He looked up at her menacing form.
“Yes.”
She turned to walk away.
“Hey, nigger!” he called.
She turned back to him and heard the deafening sound before she felt the tear in her chest. The force threw her body to the ground. She lay still, her mind trying to grasp what had happened to her before life left her body. She could just barely see Professor Tucker as he walked to her, pull the knife from her belt and put it in her hand, find her iPhone and put it in his pocket. He leaned over her body as her vision darkened.
“Checkmate, you filthy animal.”

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