Weekend Serial — Atonement in Zugzwang Episode-4, featuring Robbie Cheadle!

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Fondant animals & barn by Robbie Cheadle
Fondant animals & barn by Robbie Cheadle

Welcome back to Atonement, TN, everyone.   If you saw my post yesterday, then you know that this new installment of Atonement in Zugzwang was driven by a recipe (from which I chose 3 things) created just for this post by the amazing Robbie Cheadle.  Here’s a link to the post where you can learn all about that fabulous Black Bean & Vegetable Soup.

This episode is a little longer, and I’m sitting up late to finish writing it, and do this post.  So let’s get to business.  The three random things I took from Robbie’s recipe are: chopped, carrot, and soup.


Pepper learned that the body of her uncle, Wirt (Salty) Riley was missing.  In its place a mysterious blue bottle had been left.  Inside the bottle, they found a cryptic message, “You must set up the chessboard.”  We also met a new member of the heard (more accurately called “drift”) of otherworldly glowing pigs.  Moccus has an excessively prankish nature.

Atonement in Zugzwang

Episode 4

MCS Mandalas, Pixabay
MCS Mandalas, Pixabay

The thick metal frame of the front door was cold against my hand.  A heavy deadbolt slid into place as I locked it.  Only then did I pay close attention to the glass.  The big windows on either side of the door had the same kind of glass.  It was thicker than normal.

Some kind of security glass?  Maybe even bulletproof?  But why?  A little town like Atonement, Tennessee probably doesn’t have enough crime to keep the local cops busy.  And the upgraded alarm system — again, why?  There’s something wrong in all this, I thought anxiously, and the hair on my arms stood on end in confirmation.

An unusual form of discontent settled onto my shoulders.  It wasn’t simply the industrial appearance of the remodeled service station, or the rundown appearance of its exterior.  Everything within my gaze felt strange… foreign to me.  Although I wasn’t sure whether my unfamiliar surroundings were at fault or if I was the alien presence.

“Maybe some of both,” I remarked aloud, and my voice echoed from the high ceiling and on the large metal staircase.

Looking out through the abundance of glass on the front of the place, I forced a smile and waved as Maudie got into the bank manager’s car.  Russell Skeen kindly offered to take my friend to the closest rental car agency — which was by no means nearby.

To my surprise, Maudie really was going to extend her stay in Adelle Metatron’s guest cottage.  A tiny town had never been her kind of place.  I tried to talk her out of it, saying that I would be fine.  I had already grieved for my uncle.  She didn’t have to look after me.

“I know it’s a strange place for me.  Given a choice, I’d always pick some resort.  But it’s like this place, it sort of… I guess you could say that it calls to me,” Maudie had explained, and then she chuckled.  “The town’s name.  Maybe I need to atone for something.”

Her decision didn’t seem like a good idea to me.  However, I realized she needed a change of scene after her breakup.  However, as her words replayed in my memory, I couldn’t help being concerned that she had a secret of some kind that could be harmful to her.

Maudie saw me looking out the glass door.  I gave her a mock severe look and shook a finger.  She pretended to hold a carrot to her mouth and made exaggerated chewing motions like Bugs Bunny.

Bugs Bunny Wikipedia
Bugs Bunny Wikipedia

“What’s up doc?” she mouthed the words.

Then she rolled her eyes and waved back.  My friend was an unashamed flirt.  However, we had seen Russell with his “lady friend” as he termed it.  Maudie never bothered a man who already had a girlfriend, much less a wife.  I knew they would be alright.

As the polished vehicle pulled onto the street, a van painted with colorful psychedelic designs passed.  The sun reflected brightly off Russell’s car, so I didn’t see that the van stopped at the building next door.

That location had once housed a hardware store.  Waiting to be properly hung, a sign was propped against a wall stating, “Humane Pest Removal.”

My growling stomach interrupted my morose brooding.  It was too late to have second thoughts, but I should not have turned down Russell’s offer to take us all out to lunch.

I looked across the large open room.  Yes, it had been renovated from the erstwhile gas station.  However, it remained coldly impersonal.  Uncle Salty might have collected antique trinkets in his travels, but the man had no flare for decorating.

The blue glass bottle that had been left in its place when his body was stolen caught my eye.  I had put it down on a long bar area that was otherwise bare of adornment.  The note in the bottle about a chessboard made me forget my growling belly.  I set about systematically searching the place.

♣ ♣ ♣


Within a couple of hours, I had investigated every closet and every room.  I had used a flashlight to look inside every cabinet, and there were a lot of cabinets.  Uncle Salty always was an organized person.

The mysterious note about a chessboard wasn’t my only reason for searching.  I also hoped to find something, anything that made me feel connected to my uncle.  However, I was disappointed not to find any memento or personal item belonging to Salty.  There were a few clothes and general things, but nothing important — and certainly no chess set or gameboard.

Maybe there will be some personal things in whatever Russell’s security truck brings, I hoped.

Poised halfway inside a large cabinet, I heard a faraway noise that I couldn’t identify.  I sat back on my heels and listened.  It was a faint grunt-grunt that repeated irregularly.

That refrigerator has seen better days.  Maybe it’s making the sound, I thought.  I wonder if it’s about to bite the dust.  If I were going to stay here, I’d probably need to buy a new one...

Who am I kidding?  Why would I move here?

From my new lower position, I noticed a floorboard immediately beside the wall.  It was unfinished-looking compared to the others, as if the side had been chopped after the floor was installed.

Removing a bobby pin from the “messy bun” that held my rose-gold hair out of the way, I was able to pry up the piece of flooring.  Something small glimmered in the dark recess.  It was a gold unicorn.

The trinket was real gold and certainly antique.  When I moved to inspect it under a light, I noticed the base of the sculpture.  I had no knowledge of chess, but it occurred to me that perhaps the unicorn was a piece from a specialty chess set — one of the fantasy type.

I put the unicorn in a drawer in the black tiled bathroom, so I wouldn’t lose it.  Then I washed my hands and face clean of the dust from my investigation.

The Chanel jacket I had gotten at the thrift shop was on a hook on the door, and I moved to put it on again.  My hands grazed over the gold buttons.  I remembered Donny Metatron’s odd reaction to seeing the unicorns embossed on the buttons, which were not original to the jacket.  The young man had been upset, but I gathered there was something humorous to whatever it was.  Or rather that it was funny as long as you were not him.

“Surely not…,” I muttered, touching the buttons.

Retrieving the unicorn from the drawer, I compared it to the ones on the jacket’s buttons.  The tiny figures were identical to the little statue.

♣ ♣ ♣

A bang at the front door caused me to jump.  When I went to investigate, I saw the dark top of someone’s head above a huge soup pot.  On one hand was a tattoo of an om symbol.  Looking down, to the hem of blue jeans, I saw whimsical athletic shoes patterned to resemble mice, as if each foot was a big mouse.

“Sorry!  I tried to use the pot to knock.  I didn’t mean to sound like I was breaking in,” a man’s voice called from beyond the stainless-steel container.

Hurriedly, I opened the door.  He came in, apologizing the while.

“My mother always said to greet new neighbors with a vegetarian treat.  Guessing that you have skipped lunch,” he paused to effortlessly lift the huge pot onto the stovetop.  “And knowing that they’re bringing Salty’s stuff over — Russell asked me if I would help you move the heavy stuff around — I made black bean and vegetable soup instead of treats.”

The man was on the slim side, certainly not heavily muscled.  I would have thought the big soup pot was nearly empty, because filled, it would have been quite heavy for him.  However, when he lifted the lid, I saw that it was completely full.  The aroma was heavenly.

Shoulder-length hair hung loosely, obscuring his face as he leaned over the stove.  It fell back as he straightened.  I tried not to show that I was surprised when I looked at his face.  There was a large scar along one side of his rather long nose.  Balancing the long nose and frightful scar, he also had a firm jawline, and a rich tenor voice.

Briefly he tilted his head as if he heard something from elsewhere in the house.  I thought I might have detected a slight noise.  I gave another concerned thought for the refrigerator.  However, a mischievous glint flickered in his dark eyes.

“If you aren’t into vegetables, the soup would be great with ham or pork roast too,” he remarked with a Mona Lisa like smirk.

At his words, a high-pitched squeal came to my ears, followed by a retreating rustling sound.  I looked up sharply.

“Don’t worry,” he told me with a true smile, looking back toward the glass door.  “That was probably just Chip pealing out in that muscle car he drives.  Oh!  I’m sorry again.  I should have introduced myself first thing.  I’m Bheema Parvati.  I live next door where I’m setting up my business.”

Abruptly, I remembered Russell Skeen’s remark, “He also offered to help you with anything heavy.  I’d take him up on that.  He doesn’t look it, but the man’s as strong as an elephant.”

Further conversation was interrupted when the security truck from First Bank & Trust arrived.  The guards unloaded several huge wooden crates, and an assortment of antique furnishings and paintings.

Bheema Parvati must have known my uncle quite well.  He went straight to the cabinet containing bowls as well as the drawer where the flatware was.  He dished up generous portions of the soup for the guards, and then for the two of us.

“I never could claim social graces.  I hope that wasn’t inappropriate or presumptive of me to do that,” he said, motioning with his bowl of soup when the security guards left.  “I used to check on Salty a few times a week.  He usually pulled me into a game of chess.  I was never a very good player.  Of course, he didn’t mind that since he liked to win,” he added with a fond chuckle.

I shook my head, as my mouth was full.  I told him that it was fine.  Then I thanked him for being a friend to Salty.

Should I tell him about the note? I wondered.  For that matter, should I even mention the bottle that was left in place of Salty’s body — or that the body was stollen!  I wish I weren’t always so distrustful…  Caution.  Yes, be cautious.  Everything and everyone here is strange to me.

“I was never any good at chess either.  Although Uncle Salty did try to teach me when I was a kid,” I began, deciding to approach at least part of the situation.  “I understand there was a chess table.  Do you know of it?”

“Yes.  It’s a beautiful piece.  I believe he said he got it in Germany.  It dated back to the 1700s.  I packed it myself.  It should be in that crate over there,” Bheema stated and rinsed his empty bowl in the sink before moving to the large open area where the crates were left.

A prybar lay on the top of the crate.  He opened it easily.  A moment later he unwrapped an exquisite wooden game table.  It was elaborately carved, and the chessboard was made of inlayed onyx and red jasper.  I immediately forgave my uncle for his poor decorating sense.  He clearly had fine taste in antiques.

The note had said, You must set up the chess board.  I reasoned that no matter how elaborate, it meant more than just the table.

“Are the chessmen inside the table somewhere?  In a compartment or something?” I asked, but Bheema shook his head and frowned.

“Dan Barrett’s people packed everything.  I only packed the table.  I asked to do that — a way of doing a last thing for Salty,” he replied, but he looked concerned.

He picked up the manifest I had signed as the guards were leaving.  Then he read the list of contents attached to each crate.  In a gesture that seemed to be an anxious habit, he pushed back his glossy black hair.

“None of the descriptions on the manifest match the chess pieces,” he started, but then took a hopeful tone.  “Each piece in the set is unique.  The packers may not have realized what they were.  Hopefully they are in there somewhere.”

He motioned to the several huge wooden crates.  My shoulders sagged at the thought of all the unpacking.

♣ ♣ ♣

Gordon Johnson, Pixabay
Gordon Johnson, Pixabay

That night I triple checked the alarm system, and every door and window.  I focused on coaxing myself to feel comfortable and at home in my strange surroundings.

Looking at my phone, I resisted the temptation to call anyone.  Bheema made sure I had his number before he left.  He also reminded me that he was just next door.

I almost called Maudie, but she already had a date with someone from the bank.

The mysterious note in a bottle, demanding that I set up the chessboard…  It had gotten under my skin.  I went through half the crates without finding any chessmen. I was too tired to do more that night.  However, I didn’t believe the pieces would be in any of the wooden crates.

In the bathroom, as I was removing my makeup and getting ready for bed, I opened the drawer where I had placed the unicorn figurine.

“Maybe you really are one of the chessmen at that,” I murmured.

Searching an old memory of playing the game with my uncle, I tried to recall which piece went on what squares of the board.  I took the unicorn to the chess table and placed it on the square for the knight.  That was as close as I could come to “setting up” the table.  It wasn’t anything to brag about, but it made me feel less anxious.

I turned out the lights and went to bed.

Exhausted but restless, my dreams were filled with strange sounds, and impossibly blue eyes.  Bright blue eyes that were not human.

♣ ♣ ♣

 Much like Pepper, it’s late and I’m too tired to think of an amusing way to close this post. 

Friendly comments are encouraged.  Hugs!

♣ ♣ ♣

Sir Chocolate and the Fondant Five

Sir Chocolate and the Fondant Five

Universal Links

Kindle: relinks.me/B096H254VR

Paperback:  relinks.me/191241676X

♣ ♣ ♣

The Atonement Series

Atonement kindle covers Cat eyes shelf 2023

Atonement, Tennessee

Full series of e-books with one click:  relinks.me/B087JV25JT

Kindle:  rxe.me/HGSVA8A

Paperback: relinks.me/1481826948

Also in Spanish, translated by Olga Núñez Miret! The title for the Spanish-speaking market is Expiación y Magia

Atonement in Bloom

Kindle:  rxe.me/5RRBLH

Paperback:  relinks.me/1726882128

The Glowing Pigs, Snort Stories of Atonement, Tennessee

Kindle   rxe.me/LTBDNH

Paperback   relinks.me/1725891972

♣ ♣ ♣

This is a work of fiction.  Characters, names, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, locales, or events is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2023 by Teagan Ríordáin Geneviene

All rights reserved. 

No part of this work may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without permission.  Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.

All images are either the property of the author or used with permission, or from free sources.

102 thoughts on “Weekend Serial — Atonement in Zugzwang Episode-4, featuring Robbie Cheadle!

  1. I think I have a crush on Bheema. 😉 I’m super intrigued by this chessboard. I love her setting up the only piece she has. It makes me wonder if she’ll find the pieces one at a time. And her thrift store jacket’s buttons! You are so creative!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Robbie’s soup looked delicious – no surprise there. Unicorns! I like the connection with the buttons and I’m anxious to see what becomes of that. Neighbors that show up with food are always welcome.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Reblogged this on Graffiti Lux Art & More and commented:
    Teagan is at it again!
    Her new weekend serial is shaping up to be exciting. She’s only 4 episodes in, so it’s easy to catch up and enjoy her wonderful imagination.
    Teagan uses random “things” from readers to drive her stories, and you can join in the fun.
    I was honored to be a driving force in episode 2. More, I drew an image of Pepper, the star of “Atonement in Zugzwang”.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. 🙂 That’s great feedback about the goosebumps, Kamal. It’s hard for me to know whether I’ve achieved that reader reaction. I’ve been wanting to write something with the Bheema character for a long time. Robbie’s recipe helped me develop him some. Many thanks for reading and commenting. Hugs.


      1. Sorry about the nightmares, Teagan. I also have nightmares and they are usually about people’s health problems. For years and years I woke up thinking I hadn’t given Michael some or other medication and he had stopped breathing. I’d actually get up and walk all around the house trying to remember what I had forgotten …

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Bushwa! Robbie that has to be the worst nightmare anyone could have. Mine often involve the house being on fire and/or noises and smells. I usually can’t return to sleep afterward, and like you get up and search the house. This time I dreamed of an electrical storm and it “hitting” an appliance which caught fire. I woke up seeing the flash, and smelling the wires burning. I guess I really was tired, because I can’t believe I went back to sleep (eventually). I rarely can after a dream. I also get sound or odor dreams that are linked to PTSD, “episodic cranial sensory shocks” some people call Exploding Head Syndrome. Silly name for something very distressing. I’ve had to learn to tell the dream from reality, and it isn’t easy because there is no “dream” other than the noise or smell.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a fantastic episode, Teagan. Tired or not, you did a great job. I love that you incorporated Robbie’s recipe into the story. So clever! And my curiosity of piqued by the missing chess pieces.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. A super episode, Teagan. I am now wondering about the chess set. I’m sure there is an answer, but it will be good to find them. The soup sure came at the right time. Looking forward to the next episode.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Another great episode, Teagan 🙂 I love the soup, and thought of Scooby-Doo when you spoke of the van. I look forward to this game of chess 🙂 Hugs xo

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I love this episode!
    It’s all so exciting.
    So cool the way the vintage Chanel jacket is playing, with its gold unicorn buttons.
    That soup is my kinda soup.
    I could go on, but instead will reblog this tomorrow!
    Keep on writing! Hugs!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Resa. It’s a nice surprise to see you during your “break”. I hope the work on Charlotte’s gown is going well. I look forward to seeing it.
      Re the Chanel jacket: Yes, I love it when a reader thing continues to play a part in the story.
      Actually, I really appreciate your feedback about the excitement — I was afraid I had written a boring episode.
      Heartfelt thanks in advance for reblogging. It’s kind of you to take the time when you have so much going on. Take good care of you. Hugs winging back to you.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Catching up on visiting blogs is part of my break’s plan. Reblogging w/o comments is a way to stay in touch, while sharing.

        No blogging at all ….. I’d miss everyone, too much!
        Right, now back to Charlotte’s gown!

        Liked by 2 people

    1. You are so kind, Robbie. Heartfelt thanks for the recipe and images. It really did drive this episode.
      LOL, when Bugs Bunny popped into my head, it suddenly felt sooo Maudie. So the carrot from your soup helped develop her character. Wishing you a relaxing weekend. Big hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, GP. I actually slept pretty well last night (which is unusual for me). So that’s a start. The PTSD stuff has been draining me. The doctor says that with the fight/flight/freeze response activated so much, my adrenaline is always flowing, which makes anybody tired. She calls it adrenaline exhaustion. I’m very much ready to just be lazy today. Plus it’s a nice rainy day, which encourages me to be that way. Hugs winging back to you.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. This is getting very interesting, Teagan. And it’s getting very ‘Teagan’ as well. I’m trying to decide whether I’d rather be a light sleeper in her situation or if a deep sound sleep would be better. Strange place, strange noises and it sounds like one of the glowing pigs is close by.

    I hope you have a great weekend!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Haha. It’s helpful to know that subtilty came across, Dan (about the sleep).
      I think you’re right about the pig… and I have a hunch it’s Moccus. His mischievous personality could be endearing. However, I don’t know yet if he is good or bad. As Honeybell said, he’s been expelled from Atonement twice already. I guess we’ll see. Stay safe and warm. Hugs.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I love antiques, so I anticipate plenty of fun here. And the neighbour sounds like a promising character too. Great use of Robbie’s recipe, and another intriguing episode. Thanks, Teagan! (And it didn’t feel long at all)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m happy to hear that, Olga. Yes, developing Bheema’s character is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I put him in a short story in 2018. Although I’m afraid it might be a difficult challenge. I see him as a gentle soul, but one who can quickly become fierce if protecting something or if provoked. In these short installments, that won’t be easy to portray.
      Take good care of you. Hugs.

      Liked by 1 person

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