Short Story 18
Updated: Dec 28, 2022
Wild Goose Chase
Jim moved his pawn watching the old man across from him perform his first of many excellent counter attacks. Mr. Kim, or Kim In-Su, was a man of the ripe age of ninety-five and like most of his age had returned to an appearance of infantile likeness. Though slender all his life, old age had thickened him adding a layer of comfort to his body. His black hair still fought against the gray, only a few strands managing to maintain their resistance.
Jim, or James McFarlin, was young in comparison still at the spritely age of twenty-three. He was trim, more out of nature than effort, and was in possession of a mass of freckles and beauty marks. He was also in possession of well-manicured but naturally shaggy light brown hair, that no matter what he did curled up in his face.
Jim was a Christian and was raised that way mostly by his mother, his father dying when he was only nine. He had gone to school up to two years ago settling on a job working at a bakery that allowed him to work early mornings and live his days the way he wanted.
Mr. Kim was an Agnostic, the sort that grew a crust very easily over their opinion. He started working as an electrician when he was twenty and had kept the position until he was sixty-eight. Retirement had never been something he was particularly good at, but up until the death of his wife he had managed to take an amount of enjoyment out of parts. She had left him ten years ago now and as every year passed a little more of him didn’t understand how he continued.
He spent most of his time alone save a few visits from his son and daughter which was usually no more than once a month, these being predominantly dictated by his own preference. Jim, however, had become a constant companion since his abdication of higher education. Since then, everyday they played chess for several hours after lunch. They spoke little, mostly keeping each other company. But occasionally a conversation would be struck, and it would either fizzle out or burn like a fire only extinguishable by Jim’s routine parting at four. These most intense conversations usually consisted of religion which without a doubt was the most sensitive subject between them.
“Why do you always insist on chess.” Mr. Kim asked when their second game commenced five minutes after their first, “You’re terrible at it. We’ve been playing four hours a day for two years and you haven’t improved at all. In fact, you’ve gotten worse.”
Jim smiled against the bite in Mr. Kim’s words, he knew him well enough at this point to sense when he should be offended or not, “Who knows, maybe one day I will improve.”
“You’re a lost cause.”
“Maybe so, but it’s still fun to try.”
Mr. Kim shook his head. The logic didn’t make sense to him, however he took pleasure in their games so he complained no more about his opponent’s lacking skill. For a while they moved their pieces in silence, Jim often passing glances across the table at his older counterpart.
“Mr. Kim, do you mind if I ask a personal question?” He made a losing move.
The old man gave a grunt in assent as he quickly dominated.
“I was wondering why you don’t let your kids visit you more than once a month?” This drew the drooping eyes, “I thought they just didn’t come often, but then I was told it was your own wish that they come so irregularly.”
“There is no point in the young wasting their time on the old. I’ll be going after their mother sooner or later, what’s the point of them watching my exit.”
Jim had spoken to Mr. Kim’s daughter Stephanie, she had told him her father had withdrawn after their mother died. Gradually, he pushed both her and her brother away until he confined himself to the home he now lived in. That happened five years ago.
“I was thinking, maybe you should let them visit more often. It might be nice for them to see you more frequently.”
“And why would I do that?”
Jim smiled, “Honestly, Mr. Kim, I’m going to be going away in a bit and I thought you might get lonely without me.”
“I’m not really sure, but the preparations will keep me a way for a while.”
“Must be some trip.”
“It will be.”
They moved their pieces a few more times before ultimately Mr. Kim defeated him.
“You win again.”
“After two years you haven’t won once. I’m beginning to wonder if you’re even trying.”
“I am, I really am.”
“Then chess is just a wild goose chase for you.”
Jim smiled, “Aren’t most things in life a wild goose chase. Life itself is one really.”
“I thought you believed in an afterlife.”
“I do. But that’s then and this is now. Just striving for a life here is a wild goose chase, because no matter what you do,” Jim moved his piece following Mr. Kim’s rule that losers always play first, “It will always end.”
They played in silence for a bit longer. Eventually, four rolled around and it was time for Jim to leave.
“Mr. Kim, thanks for the game today.”
“Of course, any time.”
“Mr. Kim, if I do end up going on my trip, you promise to come and see me off.”
“Only if you promise to send me postcards.”
Jim smiled with a nod leaving as happily as he had come. Two months passed without seeing him. Mr. Kim spent much of his time playing chess by himself. It wasn’t quite as fun as it had been with a partner and despite himself he had to admit that he missed having the kid around to bother him.
Stephanie his daughter, the likeness of his wife in almost every way, came to visit him when the third month rolled by. She took a seat across from her father a beaming smile spread across her face, a secret hidden in her eyes. That was Stephanie’s problem, she was never able to hide anything. Her son William was with her, but he was busy talking to a lonely eighty-year-old woman who had caught him unaware.
“How you doing today, Dad?”
“Fine, fine, and you?”
“You decided to have a second visit this month?” He watched for her answer, they had agreed that they would visit no more than once a month. He didn’t want his children to watch him decay. To see him become something he couldn’t stand.
“Actually, I was asked to bring you something by Jim’s mom. It’s a letter he wrote you while he was in the hospital.”
Mr. Kim frowned, “In the hospital? Was something wrong, did something happen to him?”
Stephanie took the envelope out of her purse holding it on her lap, “Well Dad, um, Jim well. Jim’s gone dad.” Mr. Kim didn’t say anything, “His mother told me he was fighting with cancer for a very long time. He was actually in remission for a while, but it came back two years ago. It had invaded multiple systems and…”
“May I see the letter?” He extended one of his aged hands, his daughter slipped the crisp white envelope onto his palm.
The flap wasn’t sealed, it gave against Mr. Kim’s thumb revealing a few sheets of paper in simple handwriting.
Right now, I am about to start a rather aggressive treatment for the problem I’ve been avoiding. You’ll probably be annoyed when you find out about it, I’m sorry. I am also sorry for worrying you.
I’m ashamed to say that when we first met, I had given up on living any longer. I wasn’t worried about dying, I’ve already told you I have insurance for that, but I didn’t see a point in fighting the inevitable. I took the medications that would make life bearable as whatever was happening was happening. So that at least I could live my life without anyone really knowing I was dying.
When I first came to visit you, it was because I was trying to understand death. Understand saying goodbye. I considered my time there a sort of therapy. A means by which to help myself let go. I didn’t expect to make a friend. In fact, I had determined to live as reclusive a life as possible. I guess something must have happened while I was with you because I started seeing life differently, I began to look forward to our games where you would obliterate me easily.
So, I begin a new wild goose chase. The likelihood of me living is, well not worth mentioning. Even so, I’m going to try. I’m sorry for being too much of a coward to tell you where I was going that last day. I guess I still have a lot to work on when this all is over.
I hope that if for some reason I leave on my journey that you will consider getting the same passport as me so we can see each other again. You told me your wife was a Christian so if I don’t see you, I’ll bank on her greeting me on the other side with my dad.
So now I face the valley of the shadow of death, but as the Psalm says, I will fear no evil. I will go forth, and always I will pray for you, as I did while I was here.
Christ loves you too Mr. Kim. I really hope that game of chess won’t be our last. If I don’t make it back to the home know that I will be going to a sure thing and I will be waiting for you, so don’t disappoint. And sorry, if I go there, I won’t be able to send any postcards, but if I last, I will send one as soon as I can go down to the gift shop.
Jim’s funeral was held on a spring day as the flowers were falling from the trees. The sun was out, and the breeze was fresh. The number of attendees wasn’t huge, just family and a few close friends. Mr. Kim was there with his daughter and her two sons William and John. Jim’s mother Melony greeted him with a tearful hug, that was as filled with joy as mourning. Everyone was asked to wear blue, which was Jim’s favorite color, they were asked to avoid black as they were not mourning Jim’s death, but celebrating his going home.
Mr. Kim returned to the grave a week later this time with his son Michael. The stone was now in place and grass had begun to grow over the bare earth. The child of twenty-three would miss his birthday a month to the day from now.
They stood for a while. Mr. Kim leaning on a cane, his son by his side. His eyes reading and rereading the inscription on the headstone. Bending down stiffly Mr. Kim put a card on the marble slab and on this he placed the white king from the chess set they would always play with. With a deep breath he turned, and he left with his son, the card moving gently in the wind with the words, ‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 2 Cor. 5:17-19’. Beside this is written, ‘I am done with my goose chase, I will see you in the sure thing.’
Thank you so much for reading everyone!!
Prompt: Wild goose chase
Special thanks to Shrestha from Unsplash for the use of the image!
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