Chess.com is blocked. This is a simple fact, but it’s new information for Miles Robinson. He just typed “chess.com” into the search bar of his school computer, but the site is not loading.
“Seriously?” he mutters to himself.
“What is it?” Miles’s friend, Forrest, asks.
Miles motions towards his computer. “Chess.com is blocked. How am I supposed to play chess now?”
“I think they blocked it because you play it in class–”
“I only play it when I finish my work! It can’t be my fault.” Miles stares at his computer screen for a moment. “I’ve gotta find another way to play chess… Oh, I know! I’ll just bring in my chess set from home!”
“What?” Forrest raises an eyebrow.
Forrest looks down at his watch. “Oh man, I gotta get to class! Bye!”
“Bye!” Miles stares back at his computer screen. “Another website…” he mutters to himself.
The second he gets home, Miles logs onto chessforumsinternational.com. As the name suggests, it’s an online chess forum for players around the globe. Miles makes a new post. It reads:
Does anyone know any good websites for playing online chess? I can’t use chess.com.
He hits “post,” hoping that he’ll be able to play again soon. Then, he starts his homework. He doesn’t even think about the post until the next day when he opens his computer in his first period class. There’s a single reply that simply reads:
Have you tried chessforever.net?
Miles has never heard of chessforever.net, let alone used it. But he’s desperate to find a way to fill the void. He types “chessforever.net” into the search bar and waits with bated breath as the site begins to load. Sure enough, after just a few seconds, a chess board appears. On it are two boxes that read, “Log In” and “Create an Account.” Excitedly, Miles makes a chessforever.net account.
Immediately, he starts playing a game with a stranger. The stranger is pretty good, but not as good as Miles. He gets a definitive win by the end of the game.
Miles notices a “Chat” feature on the website; a message appears in the top right” It’s from the guy he was just in a match with. The message says:
you’re pretty good
Miles responds with a “thank you.” The stranger continues:
you up for a rematch?
Miles responds with a “yes.”
The two play again. And again, the stranger asks for a rematch, but Miles has homework to do. He turns the stranger down, telling his opponent that he’s busy. The stranger replies that maybe they could do it another time and Miles agrees. Before he logs off, he looks at the stranger’s username. It’s “#1chessguy.” Miles nods to himself, then closes his computer.
The next day, Miles is at his desk when Forrest comes walking up again.
“Hey, Miles,” Forrest says. “Whatcha doing?”
“I’m playing America’s pastime: chess,” Miles responds matter-of-factly.
Forrest scratches the back of his neck. “But I thought chess.com was blocked on the school wifi?”
“I’m not using chess.com,” Miles says excitedly.
Forrest’s face turns down in bewilderment. “You’re not?”
“Nope. It’s a different website.”
Forrest checks the time on his watch. “Oh geez, I only have a minute to get to class! I’d better go. See you!”
Miles waves. “Bye!” Then he goes back to his match with #1chessguy. #1chessguy–or just Guy for short–has just made a very interesting move. He’s gone for the Pirck opening–a simple opening Miles is very well acquainted with and has already used on Guy several times.
For a moment, Miles considers that this could be some kind of trap, but ultimately, it turns out not to be. Guy was just using the opening because he thought it would be a good opening. Why did he use that opening? Miles wonders, Maybe he thought I would get cocky and mess up? It all seems a bit strange to Miles, but not enough to worry about
Guy asks if Miles wants to play another match, but again Miles explains that he’s busy. The two say goodbye to each other, and Miles starts paying attention in class. But in the back of his mind, he’s still thinking about chess. In fact, chess stays in the back of his mind for the rest of the day. Miles likes chess, sure, but chess isn’t normally on his mind this much. Maybe he just likes playing with Guy? He isn’t sure.
“Hey, do you wanna hang out after school today?” Forrest asks him just a few minutes before school ends. “I was thinking about seeing that new movie–what’s it called–?”
“No, I already have plans,” Miles cuts in.
“Really?” Forrest raises an eyebrow.
“Yes. I’m playing chess with someone–”
“Seriously?!” Forrest asks a little too loudly. “You’re ditching me for chess? You can play chess whenever, but you won’t get to see… uh, what’s it called… ‘The Big…’? Oh, nevermind. You won’t always have a chance to hang out with me.”
“Sorry.” The bell rings. “I have to go.”
“Miles!” Forrest calls after him. He huffs and mutters to himself, “Ugh, so annoying…”
The second Miles gets home, he starts playing chess again. He plays with a few strangers before Guy gets online. They play a match together, and once again, Miles wins.
They end up talking over the chess chatting service to get to know each other. Miles talks about how he doesn’t just like playing chess; he also likes to play Othello and snakes and ladders. Guy talks about his love of soccer. Though they don’t get very personal, Miles feels like he knows Guy much better now. Soon, though, it’s time for Miles to go to bed, so he bids Guy farewell. He promises to play with him tomorrow.
The next day, Miles gets up and immediately receives a message from Guy. He texts Guy until he gets to school, but then Guy asks if he wants to play a few games. Miles says yes.
Forrest comes in. “Hey, Miles. What’s going on?”
“Not much. I’m just playing chess with Guy.”
“Oh. It’s his username on chessforever.net. I didn’t realize I never told you. We’re actually pretty good friends.”
“And how long have you known him?”
“A few days.”
Forrest raises an eyebrow. “…Right… Anyway, I gotta go. See ya!”
“Bye,” Miles responds.
Miles is too busy chatting with Guy to notice much around him. . Guy is talking about the time his toaster caught fire while Miles remembers the time his oven caught fire..
Miles is surprised that Guy and him have become such great friends so fast. They have so much in common, it’s almost weird. Almost.
The match ends with Miles winning. Miles expects some sort of sarcastic remark to his win, but instead Guy says:
I guess you’d better get back to class now…
Miles’s heart skips a beat. How does he know I’m in school…? Oh, I know, he just guessed that I was in school because he probably is too.
yeah… i’ll play you later tho?
Guy agrees to play more during Miles’s lunch break and again after school. Classes seem to fly by, and before Miles knows it, it’s lunch time.
“Miles!” Forrest says the moment Miles walks into the cafeteria. “I forgot we had lunch together. So, do you wanna workshop the–”
“Actually, I already told Guy I’d play chess with him. We can still sit together though.”
The two pick a table. Forrest starts eating, but Miles starts playing chess.
“Did you forget your lunch at home today or…?” Forrest asks.
Miles doesn’t respond.
“Miles, if you–”
“I’m trying to concentrate,” Miles asserts. “If you would just let me…”
Forrest sits across from Miles silently. He eats his ham and cheese sandwich with a frown. He tries to start a conversation a few more times, but Miles just stops answering. Soon enough, the lunch bell rings, and both Forrest and Miles go back to class.
In class, Miles continues to play with Guy. He avoids as much classwork as he can without getting in serious trouble. When he gets home, he doesn’t do any homework, he just plays chess with Guy. There’s a point where the two stop texting all-together and only play chess. They don’t even ask each other whether they’re up for another game, they just keep going.
The sun sets and rises. It’s first period. Forrest walks in. “What’s up, Miles?” he asks unenthusiastically.
Miles doesn’t respond.
Miles is completely focused on his computer screen.
“What, are you playing chess again?” Forrest looks over Miles’s shoulder at the computer screen. “What? Miles, that’s a black screen.”
Miles just keeps clicking on his trackpad. If Forrest didn’t know any better, he’d say that Miles was playing chess.
“Miles! Cut it out! Quit ignoring me! For God’s sake, the screen is black!” A student glares at Forrest. He sighs. “Fine.” He storms out of the classroom.
First period comes and goes. Miles is still playing chess. He even plays as he walks through the hallways to his next class. He plays in second period. He plays through lunch.
In the cafeteria, Forrest walks up to Miles. “Look, Miles…” Forrest starts. “I know I was probably overreacting earlier about the whole you-ignoring-me thing, but… I mean, it just kinda hurts, you know?” He leaves space for Miles to respond. But there’s only silence. “Miles…” Forrest just sighs and walks away.
Meanwhile, Miles is entranced in yet another game with Guy. They only text occasionally because they’re playing timed chess, which Guy suggested. They don’t want to take up any time by typing to each other.
After finishing another fervent game, Guy asks Miles if he wants to call so that they can talk while playing. Miles says that he’ll call Guy as soon as he gets home.
And he’s true to his promise. He ends up getting home late, though, because he has detention–which he somehow managed to play chess through. Then he eats the dinner that his mom made for him before she left for her job. Finally, he goes up to his room and gets ready to call Guy.
“Hello, Guy,” Miles says. He waits for Guy to make the first move in their newly-started match. But he doesn’t. His only response is silence. “Guy?”
There’s a strange sound in the other line, like the sound of a phone dropping to the floor.
“Hello?” Miles asks.
There’s no response. The music abruptly stops.
Miles goes silent.
Someone behind him says, “Hello, Miles.”