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Friday short story time: "Backgammon: The Movie"

Backgammon boardToday’s Friday story is about, well, backgammon. Basically, I’ve been bemused for a while by the need for a movie about the old board game Battleships. (Or “Battleship” if you’re American, and yes, they’re really doing that. It has Rihanna in it.)

So I thought, this must be suitable for some cheap satire. What’s another game that features almost no actual plot whatsoever that I can nail a story on to?

Well, I may not have quite found a part for Rihanna, but I think backgammon is the one nonetheless. For those unfamiliar, a backgammon board looks like the nearby picture. It features two sets of counters trying to move past each other on the big triangles.

I know what you’re thinking, sounds ripe for big screen adaptation, doesn’t it? Hollywood agents, form an orderly queue.

Backgammon: The Movie

By Nick Bryan

Taking a deep breath, Wilf stepped out from the tunnel entrance to grip tightly onto a huge stalactite hanging in front of him. He and his friends were trapped by a cave-in, the rocks were falling behind them, and they’d agreed, this was the only way out.

Not that he’d been looking forward to it. They had to clamber all the way across the cavern swinging between rock-spikes, make their way down some stone handholds at the other side, then climb between upwards-pointing stalagmites on the ground level, murky darkness below them. Then, once they’d crossed the damn cave twice, they’d finally be close to home.

He had his best gripping gloves on, not to mention tiny picks at the tips of his boots. They’d agreed to bash hooks into the spikes for attaching ropes, which reduced the risk from instant death to a few broken bones.

Nonetheless, this was among the most unsafe things he’d ever attempted, and Wilf had climbed Everest.

He breathed a little easier when, held only by scissored legs, he managed to draw back his hammer and put a hook in. The stactite was huge, but there was still worry in his gut that, when he struck the point, it would crack all the way across, the bottom would fall off, and he would tumble, tightly clutching the falling tip with his thighs.

Thankfully, that didn’t happen. With a sigh of relief, hoping the other guys couldn’t hear, Wilf threaded the rope quickly through and pulled tight. There was no guarantee this would hold, but it was better than nothing. They’d managed to secure the other end pretty hard on another hook back at the start.

But now, of course, it was time to repeat the process. Each spike meant another hook, another chance to fall. The only up-side was the tiny winch on his waist. If he fell, theoretically he could pull himself back up to the last hook he’d used. If the hook held.

The next two spikes passed without incident. He dropped one hook, but let it go. Meanwhile, behind him, his first teammate leapt out to join him. Sam, less experienced but curiously athletic, wrapped himself around that rock like a mouse trap closing, before quickly threading his safety line through the hook.

Christ, Wilf thought, best get a move on, otherwise there’d be a traffic jam. Maybe he should’ve let Sam go first, rather than trying to lead from the front

Still three spikes until they hit the back wall and the bottom level, which would surely be easier. Ella, the final member of their team, was just swinging out now. She was nervous, less seasoned than Wilf and not as naturally cat-like as Sam, but she’d insisted she could do this. And with the constant tumbling rocks behind them, it wasn’t as if she had much choice.

Wilf smashed a hook into the last hanging stalactite and looked to the ladder. This was it, he thought. All he had to do was unclip his safety line for the descent, because it was nowhere near long enough to go all the way down.

He took a look behind him and saw Sam just behind. Ella, meanwhile, was making her way much more slowly. There wasn’t much to do from here; hopefully seeing them succeed would encourage her.

So he let his safety line come away and leapt for the wall. It was as if someone had carved a ladder into the wall, and he loved them for it. Barely halfway down, he felt chips of stone fall onto his head as Sam joined him.

Determined not to hold anyone up, Wilf reached the bottom and leapt onto the first upwards stalagmite quickly, before beginning to shuffle around it, the picks on his boots doing a lot of work. Sam was there waiting for him to go.

But no sooner did he jump for the second spike, there was a rumble from the other side of the cavern. Worse still, a sqawk. Wilf looked up, expecting a cave-in, but no such luck. It was a swarm.

A gaggle of furious, black-furred monkeys emerged from the opposite side, the cave they’d been aiming for.

The little bastards were crawling all over the rocks, needing no safety equipment, covering the distance at a speed even Sam could only dream of.

Just what he needed, Wilf thought. A rival team. And although he’d dug in hard with the boots, he doubted it would withstand full-on impact with a monkey.

They were getting closer. And suddenly there was a squeal from above as Ella, apparently put off by the simian swarm, finally fell. To Wilf’s relief, the hooks held, and, only two spikes from the end, she started winch and slowly hummed back up.

Nonetheless, taking in her plight left him unprepared for the ape assault. They were almost on him now, still wailing.

And, as the lead monkey tensed its legs and made the leap, so did Sam. Jumping across from the previous spike, as Wilf shielded his body with the one arm he could spare, Sam managed to get in the way of the monkeys, grabbing a couple round the throat.

Finally, he caught one by the arm, but, with no space on the spike left to grip, that was all he had time to do.

Because, at last, with a resigned smile, Sam lost his uncanny balance and fell off into the darkness, taking a few monkeys with him. Clearly Wilf had inspired more loyalty in the team than he’d realised.

Somehow, this loss seemed to deter the remaining monkeys. With yelps, they retreated. Into the same exit Wilf was heading for, but he had little choice.

With a glance upwards, he saw that Ella finally starting on the ladder, unaware of Sam’s sacrifice. Well, Wilf thought grimly to himself, they mustn’t let it be in vain. With a grim mutter, he struck out for the next stalagmite.

Some of you might think that movie heroes are rarely called Wilf. I’m pretty that’s racist, guys. Much like my inability to write a positive portrayal of monkeys.

Anyway, copyright me 2012, please ask before stealing, I’m certainly willing to negotiate for the rights. Email me at and let’s chat.


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