What would you do if you were a retired general? At first, two generals in this situation are happy to reminisce. But soon they become bored, and start to wonder about what could be the ultimate game and competition between the two of them. The following is Bernard Suits’ writing from one of my ten favorite books of all time, and ellipses indicate where I have removed longer sections… enjoy!

Ivan and Abdul … had been officers of general rank before each was retired and ‘elevated’ to the post of ambassador in the backwater capital of Rien-à-faire.

Medieval War Both had established brilliant military careers in the service of homelands which had frequently been at war with one another…. So the two warriors were overjoyed at the opportunity their appointments afforded them for going over all of their old campaigns together. But after a few month, when they had reviewed all the victories and defeats from every possible angle…, they grew weary of their reminiscences and sought other diversions.

Sport seemed an obvious pastime for a couple of shelved warriors to take up, since sport seemed to them to be a kind of substitute, or polite, kind of warfare. It soon became evident to them, however, that sports were like warfare only in the most superficial respects. Specifically, they found that sports were hedged round with the most outrageously arbitrary restrictions.

In golf, for example, you were expected to use a golf club to get your ball out of a sand trap even when your opponent could not see what you were doing. And in tennis, you were expected to call a ball foul or fair honestly even when your opponent was not in a position to check your call. Chess was no better, since surreptitiously to alter the location of pieces on the board — obviously an effective tactic — was ruled out. Golf-Tennis

But since they could find nothing better to do to occupy their time, they continued to play these games, although — as the diplomatic colony to its delight soon became aware — with a difference. Whenever the rules could be broken without detection or retribution, they were broken. …

Things reached their fated conclusion in a climactic chess match. … The first game proceeded normally for six moves. Then Ivan made the move which was the beginning of the end. Utterly ignoring the rules governing movement of the pieces, he illegally moved his queen to a square which put Abdul in check. The fascinated audience waited breathlessly for Abdul’s response to this outrage. It was not slow in coming. He simply removed Ivan’s queen from the board and put it in his pocket. Ivan in turn was quick to respond. In a trice he had nimbly rearranged the pieces on the board so that Abdul’s king was in checkmate, crying, ‘I’ve won!’

charlemagne chess

‘Wrong, my friend,’ screamed Abdul, and gathering up all of the pieces except his king, he flung them to the floor.
‘Abdul, you can’t do that,’ said Ivan in outraged tones. ‘I won the game the moment you were in checkmate.’
‘So you say,’ responded Abdul, ‘but you were obviously mistaken, for there stands my king, quite free to move.’

Ivan had not, of course, expected such a transparent tactic to succeed with the wily Abdul. It had merely been a diversionary move so that he could, while his opponent was momentarily distracted, secure Abdul’s king to the board with the quick-drying glue he had all along held ready in his hand beneath the table. Then, of course, before you could say ‘scimitar,’ Abdul snatched a bottle of solvent from his tunic and freed his king. Ivan’s hand immediately shot out towards the king, but Abdul grabbed his wrist in time to forestall the assault. For a full minute they were locked in a frozen tableau of force and counterforce (evoking spirited applause form the audience), before they broke apart, leapt from their chair and began to circle each other warily. …

They fought all that night
Neath the pale yellow light,
And the din it was heard from afar.
Huge multitudes came,
So great was the fame
Of Abdul and Ivan Skavar.

The legend then incorrectly goes on to recount the game as ending in a tie with mutual destruction of Abdul and Ivan, followed by some sentimental reference to a tomb rising up where the blue Danube flows….

In fact, the two friends met the following afternoon at their favourite cafe. Said Ivan, ‘My friend, that was the best chess game I’ve ever played.’
‘Oh, unquestionably,’ replied Abdul.
They drank their aperitifs in companionable silence. Then Ivan spoke again.
‘Still, there is something that bothers me.’
‘Indeed,’ said Abdul, ‘Perhaps, you know, the same thing is bothering me.’
‘I shouldn’t be surprised. If you are thinking what I am thinking you will have realized that it will be impossible for us to ever play chess again.’
‘Just so. The instant of setting out the pieces for a game would be the signal for us to start a battle whose weapons had nothing whatever to do with chess, since the only moves either of us will accept are moves that really coerce, either by force or by deceit. For, since we will not abide by the rules of the game, the winner can be only he who has gained final mastery of the situation. And, of course, it’s not only that we can no longer play chess. For the same reason, we can no longer play any game, for games require that we impose artificial restraints upon ourselves in seeking victory, and we refuse to do that.’
‘Exactly,’ said Ivan. …

‘…But an awful lot of people do seem to play chess and golf, you know, without getting into a brawl.’
‘Civilians, old boy, civilians.’
‘Still, Ivan, look at all we’re missing. I sometimes wish I could play by the rules.’
‘Wishes don’t cost anything, Abdul. The question is, can you play by the rules?’
‘I suppose not.’
‘Of course not. We are what we are.’
‘Then it looks as though we’ll have to go back to reliving our past glories for the rest of our days. Maybe it’s just time to pack it in, Ivan, as a noble Roman would have done.’
‘I don’t think it has quite to come to that, my friend.’
‘You have an idea, Ivan, I can tell.’
‘A germ, Abdul, a germ. I’m going to sleep on it, however. Tomorrow at the same time?’
‘Very well. Till tomorrow.’

Next day Abdul found his friend already seated at their table at the cafe smiling broadly at the tumbler of vodka before him.
‘Tell me your idea at once, Ivan,” said Abdul, seating himself at the table.
‘At once, my friend, at once. I have thought about it all night and most of the day, and I am satisfied that the logic is absolutely compelling. There is one, and only one, game left for us to play.’
‘What game, Ivan? What logic?’
‘A fight to the finish, my friend.’
‘What! Ivan, you must be mad!’
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This site, that I think of as “zen stories,” has been a wonderful site that I come back to again and again. I also like the comments of people below the stories. Look around, see which stories here you like. Here’s one of them:

The Gift of Insults

There once lived a great warrior. Though quite old, he still was able to defeat any challenger. His reputation extended far and wide throughout the land and many students gathered to study under him.

One day an infamous young warrior arrived at the village. He was determined to be the first man to defeat the great master. Along with his strength, he had an uncanny ability to spot and exploit any weakness in an opponent. He would wait for his opponent to make the first move, thus revealing a weakness, and then would strike with merciless force and lightning speed. No one had ever lasted with him in a match beyond the first move.

Much against the advice of his concerned students, the old master gladly accepted the young warrior’s challenge. As the two squared off for battle, the young warrior began to hurl insults at the old master. He threw dirt and spit in his face. For hours he verbally assaulted him with every curse and insult known to mankind. But the old warrior merely stood there motionless and calm. Finally, the young warrior exhausted himself. Knowing he was defeated, he left feeling shamed.

Somewhat disappointed that he did not fight the insolent youth, the students gathered around the old master and questioned him. “How could you endure such an indignity? How did you drive him away?”

“If someone comes to give you a gift and you do not receive it,” the master replied, “to whom does the gift belong?”

A little girl liked a little boy very much because he was round and smiley and he crawled everywhere. This little boy was much smaller than the little girl.

He always came to the park with his mother when the little girl came to the park with her mother. But while the little girl walked to the park like a big person, like her mother and like the other mother, the little boy sat in his carriage and he smiled a lot, but he never walked because he was still too small to walk. In fact, he was too small to walk, and too small to talk, but the little girl liked to talk to him anyway.

Sometimes the little boy’s mother would take him out of the carriage and put him on the grass and the little boy would crawl and fall onto his stomach, then lift himself up, smile, crawl some more, and fall onto his stomach again. And all this time the little girl’s mother and the little boy’s mother would be speaking to each other. And at the same time, the little girl would be speaking to the little boy.

The little girl told the little boy while he was crawling about how one day he would be big like her, and he would be able to walk like her, and he would be able to eat food with his hands, and even with a spoon and a fork, and he would be able to sit with the big people at the big table. And the little boy crawled.

The little girl told him how one day he would be able to look at her with his eyes and say something to her and how she would understand him and she would say something back to him. And the little boy crawled.

One day, the little girl told him how in the future when he grew up very big that she would be very big also and that then they could be married because he would be a daddy and she would be a mommy and they could have little boys and little girls who would crawl all the time and the girls could wear pink dresses and the boys could wear blue overalls. But while she was telling him this, the little boy fell onto his stomach, and he said “agg! garrr!” And the little girl smiled and said to him again, in case he didn’t hear, “That’s right, blue overalls.” Then she went back to her mother, and she took her mother’s hand and they walked home.

blue overalls Another day, she came to the park with her mother, and the little boy was there with his mother. The little boy was sitting in his carriage. The little boy’s mother said to the little girl, “It rained last night, so I don’t want to put him on the wet grass.”

So the little girl knew why the boy was still sitting in the carriage. The little boy smiled when he saw the little girl, and he moved his arms, and he looked like he wanted to crawl on the ground. And the little girl came up close to him, and she said to him in a whispering tone, “But you can’t go on the ground today. Remember what I told you when I am very big and you are very big and we are married and we have a little boy who wears blue overalls – remember the blue overalls? Well, you wouldn’t want our little boy to get his blue overalls wet because it rained last night, would you? Well that’s why,” she whispered, “that’s why you shouldn’t crawl on the grass today.”

This is based on a true story. On the theme of yesterday’s date, here it is.

There was a little boy, and he went on a trip with his family. He was six years old. He had a sister who was 13 and a brother who was 10. The whole family went to Washington DC. They went because they wanted to see the museums, and they wanted to look at the White House.

They drove for a whole day to get to Washington DC, and when they got there, they drove to their hotel, put all their bags in the room, and went to dinner near the hotel. After dinner, the father drove the car around a very spacious area where there was a big rectangle of water, and there were many large white statues. His father told the children that they would go up close to the statues in the following days. Then it got dark, and they went to their rooms and slept.

The next morning, they got up early and went to the first museum. This story is about that museum – it was the FBI.

The whole family went into the FBI museum, and it was very dark, and there were guns in cases, and places to have your fingerprints fake-taken, and a lot of important signs on the walls that his sister read to him. The little boy stayed close to his Mom and his Dad, and sometimes, he stayed close to his sister and brother. He held his Mom’s hand, especially when the woman who was telling them stories was talking about the Mafia. In the Mafia, if somebody did something against the Mafia, then that person’s finger would get cut off.

During the whole museum walk, the little boy kept asking, why? and why? and why? And he kept holding his Mom and Dad’s hand. It was very interesting. There were so many secret things that he learned.

The last room was a big hall, and everyone in his family sat down: his sister, his brother, his Dad, his Mom, and him, in that order. Then the lights dimmed in that large hall, and the FBI people started shooting at targets to show how to shoot correctly. It was very loud and he covered his ears.

Then when they were done shooting, he put his hands down from his ears and took his Mom’s hand again. The FBI people at the front asked if there were any questions. Some man raised his hand and asked a question about the guns that the FBI people had shot with, and an FBI woman answered him. Another man asked about the top ten most wanted list. An FBI woman and an FBI man were answering the second man’s question. The little boy stood up next to his Mom so his head was near her ear. He said to her, “I want to ask a question.”

“What do you want to ask?” she whispered to him.
“Why do people kill people?”
His Mom said, “Maybe they don’t know the answer. Maybe it’s because people want to hurt people.” She saw that her son had a concentrated look on his face, and she asked, “Do you still want to ask the question?”
The boy said, “Yes.”

Just then the woman at the front was finished answering and asked, “Other questions?”
The Mom said, “Go on,” and the boy raised his hand.
The woman at the front said to him, “Yes?”
And he asked while standing up leaning against his Mom, “Why do people kill people?”

It was quiet in the large hall for a moment.

Then woman at the front sighed quietly, and said in a calm voice, “We don’t know why people kill people. It may be that people think that what they are doing is right, and that it makes sense for them to do it. It may be that that’s what they’re told to do, and they do it. It could be that they are trained to do this. … It could be that people who kill other people are just bad. Maybe they kill because they have a wrong view of the world, because they think that killing someone will be good for them. Maybe some people are bad people. Do some of these thoughts answer your question?” she asked the boy.

He nodded his head, standing and leaning against his Mom.

Welcome to Story Tuesday. :) Here are other places you may want to check out on Story Tuesdays!… Dave’s site and Jason’s writing area.

Anthills are little hills of sand, in which an entire ant population can live. Anthills look like upside-down ice cream cones – the base of the anthill near the ground is wide and the tip of the anthill is just one small grain of sand.

One day, an ant wanted to build the tallest anthill that he could. He was a small ant, and he didn’t think he could build the tallest anthill just by carrying the most sand. He knew many ants had to work together to build massive anthills. Now we all know how anthills are made – ants start from the bottom, carry enough sand in their little mouths to make a wide base for the hill, and keep building up, higher and higher. Then the queen ant gets the royal privilege of carrying the last grain of sand to the very top of the sand hill, and when she drops that grain of sand onto the anthill, all the ants gather below and they clap their tiny little antlegs, meaning that an anthill has been completed. The small ant wanted to build an enormous anthill – he wanted everyone to be proud of him – his mother ant, his father ant, his two sister ants, and especially the queen ant.

So the small ant got to thinking, “How can I build the tallest anthill there ever was?” And he thought, “Well, I don’t need to make my anthill look like an upside-down ice cream cone. I’ll make my anthill look like a ladder going all the way up into the sky.” And the small ant got so excited by his idea that he started making a plan to match his idea. He said to himself, “I’ll just make all the sand grains stand up straight.” So the ant went to the sand pile (which some might say looked like an unintentional anthill to begin with), and he started carrying back pieces of sand in his mouth. And the small ant put all the grains of sand in one spot, and the spot started growing higher, and the ant was so excited. The ant’s mouth was sticky when he carried the sand to his new tallest anthill, and so that stickiness made the sand stick together. But then the ant looked closer at his new tallest anthill, and he saw that his anthill was beginning to drop away – his anthill had a thin top and a wide bottom, and the small ant kept taking sand from the bottom and moving it to the top, but the sand would just come down again and again and make a wide bottom and a thin top. Then the ant started licking the sandpile up because he knew that when he saw little children lick an ice cream cone up, then the ice cream cone changed its shape and grew taller. But, alas, every time, with every one of his licks, the sand kept falling back down to make a wider base and a thinner top.

So the ant grew quite sad, and he went walked around the woods, with his head down, very very sad. And then he came to a tree and he sat underneath that tree, and he started crying because he still wanted to build the tallest anthill, but he didn’t know how.

All of a sudden, he felt a leaf on his shoulder, “There, there,” said some part of the leaf, “Why are you crying on such a marvelous day – you should be playing and celebrating.”

“Oh, who are you?” asked the ant.

“I am the grapevine that grows along this tree, see? Look up, and you will see me all around the tree, my leaves growing up and up and up. Why are you crying?”

“I wanted to build the tallest anthill, but the sand kept falling down…and…” and then the small ant started crying again.

“Oh, that’s not so bad,” said the vine.

“What do you mean it’s not so bad?”

“Well,” answered the grapevine while moving her leaves to emphasize what she was saying, “There are many ways to make something tall.”

“Why? How do you mean?” asked the ant, and with that he stopped crying.

“Well, look at me for instance. I am not very strong, but I am very tall because I hold on to the tree delicately along each of my leaves.”

“How do you get to be so tall?” asked the small ant.

“I started from the bottom, and kept reaching up, and every time a new leaf of mine grew, I made a small bond to the tree, a light hold, just to hold me a little taller.”

“Oh!!” said the ant, suddenly getting his energy back, “maybe I can make my anthill very tall too!”

“Maybe you can. Enjoy the marvelous day,” said the vine.

“Thank you! Thank you!” said the ant and ran back to his home.

Suddenly the ant knew how to make the tallest anthill. The small ant went back to the sandpile and brought over some grains of sand in his mouth, and he pushed the grains of sand into the tree bark to make the sand stick, and the sand stuck. So the small ant climbed his tree-anthill and put more grains of sand on top, and more, and more, and soon the anthill was going up into the sky.

Now the ant had chosen a very tall tree, so tall that the ants could not see where in the sky the tree ended, and the small ant wanted to build the tree-anthill right up into that nothingness, into that sky at the top of the tree. The small ant kept building all day and even when it was dark out, he kept building all night, and in the morning, the anthill went right up the tree into the sky, into the nothingness.

Then all of his ant friends came and they ooed and ahhed, and asked, “but how did you know to build such an anthill?” The ant smiled to himself because he knew the vine had helped him. Then the ant invited the queen ant to carry the last grain of sand up his tree-anthill. And once she had come down, everyone clapped for the ant with the great idea for the tallest anthill!

Birds are usually found in the sky, which is where they like to be. But sometimes, birds can be seen in the sand, burrowing holes in the sand, moving their small wings here and there, shaking up a small sand storm.

There was a bird named Melody. She was called Melody because she sang a lovely clear ringing melody. Melody was once flying and playing between the trees with her friends Flutter and Highnote. Flutter sang always in a fluttery, wavy voice and Highnote sang with such a high voice that all the animals in the forest would hear her. Melody, Flutter and Highnote were playing tag between the trees. Melody was “it”, and Highnote kept singing in her high voice, “Melody can’t catch me, btzrrrrr, btzrrrr, Mel can’t catch me.” And it was so hot that day, even in the covered forest, under the trees, it was all Melody could do to fly to tag Flutter and Highnote – flying kept Melody cooler because she could spread her wings. But when she was just sitting on a branch in this heat, Melody would get so hot that she would wonder if her head wouldn’t pop from the sheer heat. Luckily flying made her feel better.

Eventually Melody caught Highnote, and then Highnote became “it” and flew after Melody and Flutter, singing in her high voice, “I willllllll get you!” The three birds finally tired from flying so much and playing so much tag, but the problem was that if they stopped playing and went to rest on a branch, then they would all get so hot and then become worried that their heads would pop.

But, alas, there was no choice, eventually but to slow down and rest on the branches. “Brraaiii-brraaii-brraaii, oh, what shall we do about this heat?” flittered Flutter. “Ptsi-ptsi-ptsi,” sang Melody in return, “we have to get out of the heat,” and with that she flew from the branch onto the ground which was muddy and sandy.

Melody chose a sandy spot on the ground and started to beat her wings all around her and move around in circles, making a small sand storm. Highnote and Flutter watched her from above, wondering what she was doing. Finally when the sand cleared, Highnote and Flutter could see that Melody was burrowed deep in the sand, and was calm and no longer fidgety from the heat. “Why did you do all that?” sang Highnote. “Because,” breathed out Melody, with a sigh of relief, “because it’s cool down here.…”

Flutter and Highnote immediately flew down and went through the same ritual as had Melody moments before, throwing up a small sand storm, beating their wings about, circling in the ground, until they too were comfortably seated in the sand. It turns out that sand lower than the earth’s surface stays cool longer, much longer. Melody, Highnote, and Flutter spent the rest of the afternoon singing to each other from their small cool islands in the sand.

So, you see, it is only sometimes, but sometimes we can find birds not in the sky, but in the sand.

:) From a friend of mine who emailed this:

    And here’s a quick lesson regarding attention. Yesterday I read an article on my laptop as I tied my shoes. Little did I know I’d tied the pull-string to my window blinds into my shoelaces. When I walked away I pulled the blinds up almost yanking them off. So, remember, if you tie your shoes without paying attention, the whole window treatment could come down.

“But, Mama, what if I need to get away from a bad person? How can I hide? I’m so big,” asked the Giant in a hesitant tone. He was very sad. The Giant was scared that he wouldn’t be able to hide if he needed to.

“Well,” answered Mama Giant, “there are three solutions,” and at this the Giant moved his ears closer. “You can pretend to be a tree, you can learn to run really fast, or you can look up.”

“What do you mean?” he asked for he was just a young Giant, and couldn’t follow his mother’s logic so fast.

“We are so large, my son, that we are easily the height of sycamore trees and the width of the centuries-old redwoods. The only thing you need to learn is tree posture. Tree posture is a little wiggly at the top where the thin branches are and strong and sturdy on the bottom, you think you can do that?”

“I can do that Mama.”

“Ok, then the second way to get away from a bad person is to learn to run really fast because each of your steps is twenty times the length of the bad person’s steps… so you can get away fast!”

“Ok, and what else, Mama?” “Well, look up,” and the Giant did. “What do you see?”

“The sky and some branches, and that hill over there.”

“That’s right, little one,” Mama said to the Giant. “That hill is your savior – you can walk to that hill in three steps while it would take regular people sixty steps, and then you can pull yourself up to that ledge in an instant, and roll on that hill and disappear from view!”

“Wow, thank you Mama!” and the Giant hugged his Mama, “I will work on my tree posture, and on running fast, and on lifting myself – yea! I’ll be saved from any bad people!” …and with that he closed his eyes, and took his afternoon quiet-time under the trees.

“Mommy, are elephants like dinosaurs?” asked the little boy.
“Well…what do you mean?” questioned his Mommy.

“If the dinosaurs went extinct, then aren’t there some animals that came from what the dinosaurs used to be like?”
“You mean, ‘Are there some animals that are descended from dinosaurs?’ ”
“Yes, I think. What does “descended” mean?”
“It means animals that were born from animals that were born from animals that were originally dinosaurs.”

Theropod “Yes, are elephants descended from dinosaurs, Mommy?”

“Well, people don’t say that elephants are descended from dinosaurs, but there are creatures that you know that people say are descended from dinosaurs. Want a clue?” asked his Mommy.

“Yes, tell me.”

“Well, this is an animal that you might think is fast and can sometimes look like a small dinosaur or like a small dragon. Usually this animal has an interesting skin. The skin could be a puffy material or even more rarely scaly like an alligator. And the animal walks on short legs. This animal also comes in many, many colors.”

He thought for a moment, and said, “Alligators?” Then immediately, “Lizards?!”
“Well, people say that lizards and dinosaurs were not related even though they looked very similar to each other,” said his Mommy.
“Well, but how about an elephant? Elephants are big, they walk with very loud footsteps, and they have that interesting skin you talk about, right? Are elephants like dinosaurs?” he asked again.

“‘They’re not exactly like dinosaurs. How about something smaller?” asked his Mommy.
“But how could something smaller be descendable from dinosaurs?”
“Descended from dinosaurs,” said his Mommy.
“Descended from dinosaurs,” he repeated.
“Well, what dinosaurs do you know?”
“I know the bronotsaurus who is huge and eats only plants, and I know the TRex, who eats animals.”

“What about those theropods that look like the TRex?” asked his Mommy.
“The ones that are big and eat animals?” asked the boy.
“Ok,” said the boy.
“Imagine those smaller,” said his Mommy.
“Ok,” said the boy.

“What do they look like?” asked his Mommy.
“Like small dinosaurs,” said the boy.
“And how would they have moved?”
“Fast, like they didn’t like running, but still like they could run,” said the boy.
“Ok, what else moves fast on the ground?”

Pelican “Well, that’s funny! Dogs can move fast, and birds that aren’t flying can move fast.”
“Ok, so let’s think about birds,” said his Mommy.
“They’re fast?”
“They are shaped like small dinosaurs when they stand on the ground?” asked his Mommy.
“Could birds be descended from dinosaurs?”

“Maybe…” the boy thought for a moment, “but that’s weird.”
“Ok, it’s weird, but could it have happened?” asked his Mommy.
“Yes… a bird is a small dinosaur?”
“I’m not sure that it’s actually a small dinosaur, but it may be descended from a dinosaur!”

“So not elephants… but yes birds?… That’s good: when I see a bird, I can think of a dinosaur,” decided the boy happily.

There was a boy named Meredith and a girl named Hunter. They were best friends and they were eight years old. They were always together. When people met them for the first time, they always asked, “Who’s Meredith? And who’s Hunter?” Meredith really liked being a boy with a unique name: his friends called him Dodo (which supposedly is short for Dith in Meredith). Hunter really liked being a tomboy: she loved it that teachers taking roll-call on the first day of class always expected her to be a boy. Hunter could run faster than most boys and could lift heavier items than most boys. Meredith was an exception.
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