It was the ultimate in two-player board games-Backgammon. Or when played by the Jackson brothers who shared a particular sociopathic twisted gene-'Killer' Backgammon. It was the first of January, 'The' day, 'B' day, the one that had been looming bringing with it a tingle of excitement, anticipation, fear-and danger of the unknown
They had played a few times this year, just practise games, a bit of fun to see what the outcome would have been if this had been the big one. But today it was the real thing. Pete hadn't eaten any breakfast, the boiled egg his mum made lay with its head sliced and broken, an ooze of congealing saffron yolk suspended where it thickened beyond movement half way down the shell. His stomach felt queasy, and if they were butterflies that were churning round in the depths of his belly, then they were the heavy metal variety with sixteen hole Doc-Martens and studded leather jackets.
Roger on the other hand ate heartily, two eggs, orange juice, toast, marmalade, three cups of fresh coffee and a piece of soft bread spread thickly with chocolate spread that he stole off his baby sister Angela. Angie grinned her wide chocolate smeared grin; she hadn't yet learned the word 'Mine' and was still at the giving-graciously-of-much-sucked-goodies-to-everyone stage. Roger grabbed his slice of spread-bread hastily before the sucking began.
Brian Jackson, the boy's father, had not yet seen any need to despise himself for teaching the lads how to play just before their ninth birthdays. And later it wouldn't occur to him that if it hadn't been Killer Backgammon, it would have been killer Snakes and Ladders, or killer Tiddlywinks or killer Ninja Twins. It was always there, lurking in the boys until their brains had matured enough to accommodate their instinct. To be fair, perhaps Pete wasn't a true sociopath. He was the quiet one, the one who walked in his brother's footsteps. Pete went where he was led, did what he was told, obeyed his stronger brother.
Roger, the eldest by four minutes, and Pete were both bright lads. Sometimes they seemed almost savant in their abilities. By the age of ten they were reading their school subjects to A-level standard. At this point the headmaster expressed concern about their behaviour. Still childlike in their personalities, they had 'done' school already and become bored. The teacher's lives were made a nightmare by the twins ever more elaborate and inventive means of class disruption. It was suggested the boys might fare better under home tuition. The teachers fell just short of throwing a party when the Jackson boys were removed from the school, but Ian Frew, their form tutor, was seen doing some sort of take on the highland fling as he watched their retreating backs for the last time.
They had learned and become bored with chess very quickly. Chess being a game of memory and skill, and them being both skilful and of excellent memory, managed to record to mental cine-film each move either one of them had ever made in any given game. When this became tedious they memorised every move made by the great masters. Their chess games stopped being games of skill and became stage-managed productions of the greatest games in recorded history.
Backgammon was something different. The boys discovered that once you introduce a die, or in this case three dice, into a game then it becomes one part skill, one part memory and three parts luck; a far more interesting cocktail. But even this only had a limited shelf life of sustained interest for them. Soon they were bored and looking for something else and that's when Roger introduced new rules to the game.
The new game when first hatched was a tame beast. They would play their game and the loser would then have the final throw of the dice. Each number representing one of the local girls. Five of them were pretty local belles, but number six represented Jenny Sanderson, the ugliest girl in town according to Roger. 'Smelly Jenny' the locals called her. She had bad breath and a musty odour emitting from armpit and nether region. Roger lost the game on this occasion; he was the ruthless player of the two, always opting to take his opponents counter rather than blocking his own to make it safe from attack. His percentage of success for his aggressive game was good, but this time the dice had been kind to Pete and rolled time and again in his favour.
Roger took the single die at the end of the game and rolled it in his moist palm, he felt the cube's ridges pressing into the creases of his .lifeline. "Come on baby give it to me, be good to me now." He let the die fly lose. It banged once against the end board and flipped back upon itself in his own home quadrant. It landed squarely on the number four.
"Lisa Barlow, nice one." said Roger with a smug self-satisfied smile. Number two, Gemma Benson, would have been better but Lisa was not a girl to be sniffed at. That first game's forfeit rested only with a kiss. After Roger had forced his lips on an unwilling Lisa Barlow the game took a dramatic step up in heat and intensity. Shoplifting, fare dodging, roller coaster rides and their first mugging all took place determined by the throw of a die.
Peter raped Smelly Jenny in the August of the following year. After he lost the game they talked about him 'courting' her and gaining her confidence. As long as a penetrative sex act took place the debt to the game was paid. Peter even went so far as to make the opening advances, suggesting they 'go out' sometime, but the ridicule of his peer group was too much for him to tolerate. He wanted out, refused to have anything more to do with the game, but hadn't they sworn in their own blood that all game commitments would be honoured in full? He begged Roger to give him another forfeit, even going so far as to offer his pocket money for a month, but Roger single-mindedly refused to give way to his brother. Both of them knew that if it had been Roger who had lost the game, the wager would already have been settled.
Roger laid the plans. He arranged it all. It was Pete's penis that actually did the deed, but Roger was there, holding her down over the bonnet of the stolen car. As he struggled to force his limp penis into its less than pleasant target, Pete's eyes were fastened on his brother's erection. Roger was getting off on the brutal act and not for the first time Pete wished that their roles were reversed. He didn't perform well and was ridiculed for many months by his brother. After several minutes of fumbling with the blindfolded girl he managed to gain partial entry, he thrust half-heartedly a few times and then let his limp dick slide from its unwelcome place. He hadn't ejaculated, but a waft of unwashed female sex smell rose from between her legs. He felt dirty, shamed, and he vomited at the side of the road. Roger dragged him back into the car while he was still wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. They had to make their escape, and Roger was worried that Pete would forget that they had agreed not to speak while they had the girl captive. Roger graciously blamed his brothers vomiting on the cans of strong lager he'd had to enable him to go through with his debt and they sped away in a screech of tires leaving Jennifer still bound and blindfold sobbing on her knees in the wake of their muddy tires.
Things were 'hot' for weeks afterwards. Pete contemplated suicide, while Roger kept a scrapbook of all the media coverage. Door to door enquiries were made. Roger talked confidently to the police officers and Pete kept quiet, speaking only when directly addressed. "Yes, That's right I was with Roger all night, we played backgammon."
They were advised that purely as an act of procedure they may be called upon, along with the rest of the town's male population, to give a blood sample for DNA testing. Pete panicked, surely the game was up. Even though he hadn't actually shot his load in Smelly Jenny there'd be other 'stuff' wouldn't there?
Then he remembered being sick only a few yards from where the assault had taken place. Three spewed courses of fresh DNA. He waited for the police to come for him. For three days he jumped at every stray noise, he didn't sleep, didn't eat. Roger told his mum that Pete was in love and their mum smiled benevolently and reminisced about losing half a stone when she'd met their dad. The boys both waited, Pete on the point of emotional collapse and his brother with an air of tense excitement, but nothing more was heard. The case fizzled away to nothing and Jennifer's attackers were never caught.
That was when Roger decided that they'd have to curtail 'Killer' for awhile. He was buzzing and high with the knowledge that they'd got away with such a serious crime. He talked about their daring often, and Pete would hear Roger's bedsprings creak late at night as his brother held Jenny's stolen, crusted knickers.
That was when it was decided that they would play 'Killer Gammon' once a year. The game itself would take place every January the first. Roger took it all very seriously and made an index of forfeit cards, each one more imaginative than the last. Pete wanted out, he swore that he'd never play Backgammon again, but his brother had him captive. There was no escape for Peter; Roger had evidence to prove that it was his brother who had so viciously raped that poor girl last year. Pete was trapped.
The first of January came all too quickly for Peter that year after raping Jenny. Roger had won the last game so it was his choice of forfeit card. He shuffled them with an air of solemnity suitable for the grand occasion and spread the dozen cards out face down in front of him. He took an age to choose, hovering his forefinger over first one then another of the home-made cards. Finally he brought his finger-of-doom down on the fifth card from the right. He turned it slowly and began to read aloud.
This was a two dice card. Die one.
1) Jump off the six bridges onto the
electrified lines below.
2) Throw yourself in front of a train during the evening rush hour on April Fools Day.
3) Run across all six lanes of the motorway when conditions are poor. If you make it you get to play again next year!
4) Free-fall from the school tower at three thirty five on a Friday afternoon during term time.
5) Do a bungee jump at the autumn fair - cut the harness after the safety checks have been done. If you do not succeed in cutting the binds, then roll again and take your chances with the next forfeit.
6) Slit both your wrists in the bath on Mum's birthday.
1, 2 or 3 The Loser
4 The Winner
5 Both of us
6 Neither of us
The colour drained visibly from Pete's face. Roger kept the forfeit index under lock and key in his old boarding school trunk. Pete had only been mildly curious to know what was written for their future anyway, for most of the year he tried to forget that 'Killer Gammon' ever existed. When he couldn't forget, he felt sick and as the awful turn of each year approached he became ill and withdrawn. Up to now the game had only brought about harm to others, never to themselves apart from the obvious risk of consequence. Pete knew his brother was unhinged, knew that even he himself must be at least halfway mad, but to go this far was unbelievable. Almost all the options led one way. Straight to death without passing through life.
He wanted to give himself up, to go to the police, confess all, take his punishment and see the light go out of his mother's eyes. But roger was sitting across the table staring at him. His face was closed, his eyes steel grey and hard, unflinching. He was watching the gamut of emotion pass across his brother's face and enjoying every second of his suffering. "It could have been worse brother dear. Oh there is one so very much worse."
At that moment Pete knew only that he wanted to die. Most of the forfeits prophesised that he would, he could go away quietly and kill himself or he could play the game and hope, hope with every fibre of his screwed-up being, that he could throw a five and take his brother to his death with him. That would kill the evil game once and for all.
With grim resignation written on his face and banishing all show of weakness, Pete began to set up the board without a word. He was finally beyond caring. Nothing mattered now except the possibility of throwing that last die and watching it roll on to the blessed number five. He could have opted for a four or six preference which would keep him alive, but he just wanted the game and both of its opponents to stop forever. If dice could be willed to a certain conclusion, Pete would will this game or die trying.
The game began and Pete didn't even try to win. He played his usual cautious game. Not a word was spoken. Each boy locked in his own world of chaos. A film of sweat had broken out on Pete's brow by the time he had just four counters in his home quadrant. Roger looked cool and confident. Only the way he bit down hard on his lip gave any clue to the level of stress he was under. Roger was a fighter, he didn't want to die, and everything rested on this game. One part skill, one part memory and three parts luck, and even if he won the game he still had two chances out of six to die. He trembled with excitement as he took Pete's counter off the third prong in the second quadrant and placed it on the bar.
Roger began to bear-off first; it was still anybody's game. Pete was only behind by one move, a couple of hefty doubles and the game could be thrown either way. Pete rolled a two and a three. His hand was steady as he took his final pieces into the home run. Roger wasn't so composed. Winning was everything to him. His hand shook and sweat broke out in huge beads on his brow. For once the positions were reversed. Pete held all the power, the control, because he was trying hard not to win. All he wanted was a journey to death with his dear brother riding pillion.
Roger threw a double five in the closing seconds. The doubling cube was on thirty-two and now in his favour, it could mean some hefty points, but the game points held no interest for the brothers these days. With a shudder of triumph he removed the last four counters from his number one position. The game was his. Pete was left with two white counters remaining on the board. Pete sat up slowly. Roger was beaming. Pete smiled too. A small smile, a smile that was more than halfway to insanity.
This was it. Let their fate be decided on the throw of the dice. Roger picked up the dice, shook them in his hand, kissed them and then ceremoniously handed them to Pete.
Pete had no good luck ritual. He closed his eyes and sat quietly with one die in each hand. He inhaled and threw the first brown cube. This one was for the method of forfeit.
"Four!" shouted Roger triumphantly. "Oh fuck man, jumping from the school tower just as all the kids pile out. There'll be parents in cars and teachers and kids all over the place. Wicked."
Pete continued to sit with his eyes closed concentrating hard on his breathing. He concentrated all his thoughts on the number five. Both of them had to die. It was the only way to stop this madness. He could jump from that tower, but only if his brother was jumping to his death alongside him. Pete inhaled and then slammed the single die hard against the end-board of the Backgammon game. It flipped back on itself and rolled three times before it came to a stop.
Pete waited with his eyes closed for the outcome, but Roger was silent. One second more of not knowing. Sweet ignorance. Two. Three.
He opened his eyes and registered for the first time that Roger was wearing a suit and tie for the grand occasion. He'd been playing the game with him for the last twenty minutes without ever once looking anywhere but at the board and his brother's face. The green tie had small white diamonds on it. Emerald and white suited Roger. He looked suave, cool, elegant in a manly sort of way. Pete didn't want to stop looking at his brother's green tie.
He had to look though. He had to know. He lowered his eyes slowly, as though the effort was just too much for his lazy face to manage.
The die showed six white dots. Like the diamonds on his brother's smart tie. Nobody would die. This time. The game lives on.
The next year had been tame by comparison. Roger was furious with the card that he picked, he said it was the worst of the whole pack. This was a one die card.
1) Book a flight and attempt to smuggle drugs
2) Steal, kill and eat raw a pet rabbit.
3) Wank in the lounge to a porno when Mum's due home from work. If something goes wrong and she doesn't walk in and catch you, roll again.
4) Have sex with another man.
5) Take a packet of laxatives and walk round the supermarket until you shit yourself.
6) Go with a prostitute.
As Roger read out the card and saw the look of horror growing on his brother's face, he warmed to the card. Okay it was chicken-shit after what they played for the year before, but there could be some fun in there if the right number came up. Pete's mind was reeling.
"Fucking Hell man. This is the tamest card?"
"You betcha sweet bro, you betcha."
Pete had dreaded this moment for twelve whole months. Some of the forfeits were horrible, but at least nobody was going to die this year. He felt light-headed with relief. What was sodomy and drug charges compared with throwing yourself off the school tower to an almost certain death? He went into the game with an almost devil-may-care attitude. He found that he was even enjoying it. He played a tough game and really wasn't bothered so much about losing. "Hey at the end of it I live," he thought.
Roger won again. It had to be said that Roger was and always had been the better player, he seemed to have an instinctive knack for knowing when to take wild chances. Occasionally he came unstuck, but more often than not his daring flourish paid off.
Pete rolled his single forfeit die, this time with his eyes wide open. Please don't let it be four two or one, he begged silently. The other three were all bad, but nowhere near as bad as those.
The die rattled on the board. Pete gulped. He almost cried with relief when he saw that it had landed on number three. Embarrassing yes, but he could live with that. Wank to a porno in the lounge when Mum's due home from work. He could do that.
The following day both their parents were back at work. Their dad was working late, perfect. Mum was due in just after five that afternoon. Roger hid himself in the bedroom with the door open so that he could hear everything that went on. A few minutes before five Pete put his film in the recorder. He'd need a few minutes to get in the mood he told his brother, actually though just the opposite was true. He had problems not in getting in the mood, but in holding back from coming too soon. Within minutes of stroking his hard penis he was close. He tried to tell himself that this was because of the mechanic on the screen screwing the model type from behind, but he knew that it was the thought that any second his mother was going to walk into the room and catch him with his dick in his hand.
He slowed down the pace of his stroking. She was late. Jesus Christ where is she? He couldn't hold out much longer. He heard her key in the lock and pretended not to hear as she called out to them. His movements increased. Roger answered and he heard his brother clattering down the stairs.
"Where's Pete?" he heard his mother ask.
"In the lounge I think, probably got his headphones on and can't hear you."
He heard the door handle turning and there was his mother, her face making an 'o' of surprise like some tacky blow-up doll. And Pete was shooting his load to the ceiling. He even let out a moan as he came. Roger said it was 'awesome.' And that he'd never seen their mother so freaked.
The evening meal was a quiet affair. Both Pete and his mum were embarrassed and only answered when spoken to. It was uncomfortable but Pete felt the stirrings of another erection under the table as he thought back to when his mum had walked into the room. He was in an excellent mood. Another year over and nobody dead.
That was last year. Breakfast was finished now. Pete couldn't sit looking at his congealing egg any longer. He thought back to his brother's words of the previous year. "The tamest card in the pack."
Whatever the game held for them it wasn't going to be as easy a ride as the year before. Pete shivered with excitement. He was actually looking forward to the game. What the hell was happening to him? Was he becoming as sick as his brother?
Roger changed the rules. It was his game he said, and he had every right to make adjustments to the rulebook as he went along. This year it was decided that they'd play the game before taking the card.
They played blind; not knowing what heinous and horrible forfeits the cards had to offer. This year Roger had added several new cards to the pack. He looked pleased with himself as they played turn for turn.
Pete played hard. He had to win this year. He was sick of his brother beating him time and again. This year it was his turn. He played recklessly, borrowing Roger's gameplan, sharing his tactics. It worked for his brother so why not for Pete? But it didn't work for Pete. He lost.
"Never mind bro. Tell you what. As a gesture of good will, I'll let you pick your own card this time," said Roger.
The air of tension in the room seemed to be stealing all the air. Both boys were breathing hard, their eyes alive and alight with the thrill of the game. Each dressed in their smart suits and colourful ties. Each with his own maniacal expression.
Pete felt no dread this year. He picked his card with a hand that held only a slight tremor, and he read aloud in a high breathless voice. This is a two dice card.
1) You will kill your Mother.
2) You will kill your Father.
3) You will kill your baby sister.
4) You will kill the dog.
5) You will kill your brother.
6) You will kill your self.
1, 2 or 3
4, 5 or 6 Don't do it!
Roger let out his breath in a juddery whoosh. "The big one Bro. Numero Uno. The killer card."
Pete sat back in his chair and smiled warmly at his brother. Fifty fifty chance to kill or not to kill. He rolled the first die, and then immediately after rolled the second. His eyes flickered straight to the dice. He felt a moment of sadness. It was a shame that the game had to end. He'd really begun to enjoy it.
They buried Roger on the second Thursday in June. He'd been sick. Mentally ill, it was a shame. Sometime round the beginning of the year it was that he showed the first signs of extreme paranoia. Nervous he was, jumpy all the time. Didn't trust anyone. Not even his own brother.
Pete was the last to leave the grave. He stood looking down into it, a broken man with the loss of his brother. They were so close. He looked up to Roger, relied on him. The flowers were beautiful; everyone said so. Pete had insisted on buying a wreath of his own for his brother.
They loved playing backgammon you see. Quite competitive about it they were.
Yes it was a lovely wreath. Two dice. A five and a two.