Do Not Pass Go by James Rumpel

Inspired by an old Swedish film, Chip Newcombe challenges Death to a board game; by James Rumpel.

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Chip Newcombe writhed on the floor next to his bed. His right side exploded with one gigantic wave of pain after another. During each fraction of a second between onslaughts of suffering, he cursed himself for not calling an ambulance earlier or at least telling his wife that he wasn't feeling well before she left for the weekend. He was too weak to move, dehydrated and feverish. His only option was to give in to the pain and pass out.

The agony disappeared. Suddenly, Chip felt perfectly normal. He sat up, relieved and confused.

"Charles Newcombe?" asked a voice.

Chip turned to see a man standing before him. The stranger was dressed entirely in black, including a tight hood that exposed only his round, pale face. Chip quickly noticed he had no eyebrows and his lips were nearly colorless.

"Who are you? How did you get in here?"

"Are you Charles Newcombe?" asked the man, again.

Maybe it was the ecstasy brought on by the miraculous disappearance of his pain. Maybe the fever had burnt out some of his neural channels. Whatever the reason, Chip felt giddy, almost like he was high.

"You know who you look like?" he said. "You look just like that guy in that old Ingmar Bergman movie, The Seventh Seal. The one where the guy plays chess with Death."

"I am Death," said the man. He spoke softly and without emotion.

"Yeah, that's the guy. I had to watch that movie for a classic film class back in college. You look just like Death."

"I am Death."

"I liked that movie but... what?"

"Charles Newcombe, today, September 24th, is the day of your death."

All remnants of Chip's previous high vanished like Chip's friend Matt whenever a waitress brought the tab.

"Wait. You're here to collect me? Is that what's going on?"

Death nodded.

"Wait a second. This can't be right. I'm a healthy 35-year-old."

"You should have done something about your appendicitis," answered Death, the slightest hint of a smirk on his face. "Your name is on today's ledger. You must come with me."

"Can't we work something out? You played chess with that guy in the movie to decide if he died or not."

"That was just a movie. Though, I will admit, I am impressed with your awareness of that film. I served as a consultant to Bergman for that film."

"You worked on a film?"

"Yes, Bergman had made a deal with the devil and the devil asked me to help Bergman out. Things are a little busier now, what with a hundred thousand people dying each day."

"Still, if you consulted on that film and said it was okay for Death to play a game to decide a person's fate, then it must be possible. Right?"

His visitor paused. Chip thought he saw a slight glimmer in Death's eyes, which was pretty impressive considering they were little more than hollow, lifeless orbs.

"I have done it in the past. It has been a long time, though. Still, you liked my movie..."

Chip started to say that it wasn't really his movie, but thought better of it.

"I'll tell you what?" said Death. "I'll do it. It's a pretty slow day. My list of people shuffling off the mortal coil is about two-thirds of what it normally is. Things have slowed down the last few months. For a while there, you people were dropping like flies."

"So, we can play a game?"

Death nodded. There was no doubt about the smile on his face, this time.

"Great," said Chip, "but not chess. I don't know how to play chess."

"What about Rock, Paper, Scissors, Scythe?" suggested Death.

"No, it has to be something a little more complicated. Besides, I've never heard of the Scythe part. What's that?"

Death pulled his boney hand out from under his cloak and curled his fingers, vaguely imitating the shape of a scythe's blade. "Scythe cuts paper, shatters rock, and breaks scissors."

"Wouldn't everyone just use scythe all the time?"

"Oh, There's one other rule. Only Death can use scythe."

Chip shook his head vigorously. "Well, I don't want to play that. How about a video game? I have Call of Duty."

"I refuse to play video games," replied Death. "I am particularly bothered by the whole 'extra lives' concept."

"I don't have much else for games," explained Chip. "I have Words Against Humanity but I don't think that works for what we want. Oh, I know, I have Monopoly. Let's play Monopoly."

Death wrinkled his small, bone-like nose. "Monopoly isn't much fun with two people."

"Yeah," said Chip, "It's too bad a couple of other people aren't dying here with me."

"I got it," said Death. "I'll just go get the Grim Reaper and his most recent client. He's kind of quiet but I think he'd be up for something different. Wait here. I'll be right back."

Death disappeared and Chip immediately doubled over in pain, every symptom of his appendicitis returning with vengeance.

After what seemed like hours but, in reality, was less than two minutes, the pain evaporated. He looked up to see Death sitting at a card table that had been set up in Chip's bedroom. Also, sitting at the table was a hooded skeleton and an elderly woman. The Monopoly game that he and his wife had bought ten years ago and never played was already set up.

Death motioned toward the open chair. "Have a seat," he said. "Grim Reaper and Mrs. Edna Schwartz, this is Charles Newcombe."

"You can call me Chip." He sat down across from Edna.

"I get to be the car," said Death as he reached for the piece.

The Grim Reaper pointed to the dog. Edna, who appeared to be in some sort of shock, shakily grabbed the top hat.

"I guess I'll be the thimble." Chip placed his piece on the Go space. "Can I be the banker?"

"No," replied Death. "Since this game is a competition between you and me, we should have an impartial player be the banker. Will you be the banker, Grim?"

The Reaper gave a skeletal thumbs up.

"Roll to see who goes first," commanded Death.

The Grim Reaper picked up the dice and rolled a seven.

Edna slowly raised her hand. "I have a question," she said in a barely audible whisper. "How are we going to play Free Parking?"

"I've always played where all the fines and taxes go there and whoever lands there gets that money," said Chip.

"Those aren't the official rules," said Death. "You aren't supposed to get any money for Free Parking."

"It's a house rule," insisted Chip.

Death shook his head, "You can't just make up your own rules for games."

"Look who's talking, Mr. Rock Paper Scissors Scythe."

"Okay, you have a point. We'll play it your way."

Edna rolled a five, Chip rolled a nine, and Death rolled a three.

"I guess I'm first," said Chip. He picked up the dice and dropped them in the center of the board.

The game had begun.

An hour and a half later, things were not looking good for Chip. Early success had faded quickly and he had been forced to mortgage everything he had except for his green monopoly. He had managed to keep three houses on each of those properties but they were his only possible sources of income. Things got dramatically worse when he found himself landing on Edna's Kentucky Avenue.

"Kentucky Avenue with a hotel will cost you $1050," said Death, giddy at Chip's bad fortune.

Chip started adding up how much money he could get for his remaining houses and property. It was not enough to cover his debt.

"How about a trade, Edna? Remember, I gave you a good deal on the B & O Railroad."

"Sure," said the old woman. "You're such a nice boy. Why don't you just give me Vermont Avenue and we'll call it even."

"You can't do that," shouted Death. "That's not fair. Besides, that property is mortgaged."

"I'll pay off the mortgage. I'll have to mortgage one of my houses, but I can cover the $50."

The Grim Reaper shook his finger at Chip. He then held up both hands, fingers spread.

"You're right, it's $55," said Chip. He grabbed five ones from his minuscule stack of cash and handed it to the Reaper.

"That's still not a fair trade," insisted Death. "You two have been in cahoots the whole time."

"Hey, you and Grim are doing the same thing. Why else would he have let you have Park Place for two utilities? It's all part of the game."

"I'm protesting."

"Let's let the banker decide. Mr. Reaper, is the trade I and Edna want to make acceptable by the rules?"

Without hesitation, the Grim Reaper raised his thumb.

"Okay, Okay," huffed Death. "Let's just keep playing." He picked up the dice and tossed them. He slammed his car down a little harder than normal as he counted out the spaces. It was obvious that Death was getting frustrated though Chip found this technique for moving his playing piece less annoying than at the beginning of the game when Death was constantly making motor sounds as he moved his car around the board.

"Pennsylvania Avenue, that's mine," laughed Chip. "I've still got three houses on there, so you owe me $1000."

After two hours, Chip's luck finally ran out. He moved his piece along the board landing on Park Place.

"Yes," cried Death, "You owe me $1500 and I'm not making any deals. Pay up, Bucko."

"Okay," Chip shrugged and took a deep breath. "I can mortgage everything and I'll have enough to pay with about $15 left over."

"Why don't you just give up," said Death. "You put up a good fight, but you know I'm going to win. There is no escaping death when it's your day."

A light rapping sound drew both Chip's and Death's attention. They looked to see the Grim Reaper tapping his finger against his wrist.

Realization hit Death like a hammer. He stared at the digital alarm clock next to Chip's bed. In bright red neon, it displayed 12:17.

"Wait. It's after midnight," exclaimed Chip. "It's no longer the day of my death. You missed it."

Death looked crestfallen. His expression was even more solemn than usual. "Yes. I missed your deadline, no pun intended. Both you and Edna are free to go on with your lives until the next time you appear on the list. Unfortunately, for Edna that won't be very long."

Edna's expression quickly changed from a smile to a frown.

"So, I'm not going to die of appendicitis?"

"No, you'll live. In fact, your appendix is perfectly healthy."

"Thank you. Thank you."

"Congratulations, Chip Newcombe, you bested me this time. Your name will come up again someday and I will get my revenge."

"I'm sure you will. Maybe next time we can play Risk."

"That's not a bad idea," said Death. Without another word both Death and the Grim Reaper disappeared.

"Excuse me, Chip," said Edna, "could you give me a ride back to Happy Trails Retirement Home?"

"Sure. It'll be my pleasure."

"It was a very smart plan, getting Death to play Monopoly," added Edna as they walked toward the door.

"I thought it was a good idea. I mean, when have you ever heard of someone actually finishing a game of Monopoly?"


  1. Excellent story! I especially enjoyed the motor noises from Death! :)

  2. There was a lot of humor in this, which I really enjoyed. It had a nice resolution that I did not see coming, too. The description of his initial anguish was great. The stakes were high…literally life and death.

  3. The one-liners made me giggle, and the details of the games were spot on. Why do people always want to be the car in Monopoly? :)

  4. James did a nice job of pitting Chip, Death, the Grim Reaper and Edna against one another in a seemingly typical game of Monopoly. I agree with Duane: the motor noises from Death were among the highlights of the game. Others were the inevitable disputes over bargaining between allies and the way in which Free Parking was addressed; I felt for a moment that I was eight years old again. As usual, James combined the extraordinary with the usual in a convincing manner. Nice job, James.

  5. This story is a very funny and inventive work of genre fiction, with great pacing and dialogue. It has that Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams vibe. I particularly love the discussion about free parking and house rules between Death and Chip! Also the punch line is so apropos - who ever really finishes a game of monopoly?!?
    Great job!

  6. This is an awesome story, Jimmy! Being an only child, it put a lot of pressure on my parents (especially my Mom) to keep me entertained. Especially living in Northern WI in the winter! We had a bowl that we cut up pieces of paper and wrote the name of a dozen or so games on we used to play. Then we would just draw one out and play it when we wanted to. Kept it random in a good way! I loved Monopoly but my Mom did not but she was always a good sport when we drew that one out. Great Memory! Thank You, Jim!

  7. I too, enjoyed this story. It kept me laughing. Well done, James.

  8. Louise BraithwaiteJune 17, 2023 at 8:02 AM

    Great work, loved the humour in this.

  9. Such a fun idea, playing monopoly with Death, Edna and the Grim Reaper joining in, the Seventh Seal as the inspiration. Fast paced, funny, terrific James. Well done.

  10. Death was very accomodating! Funny story, could be a Monty Python episode. Well structured also, with the unusual characters playing games and death getting steadily outwitted. We are all rooting for Chip.