LEARNING A NEW OPENING

PART 8

This week, absolutely no helpful hints, no shortcuts, no useful information and no redeeming social value. I hope you enjoy it anyway. Consider it a prelude to the useful information that will follow next week. Until then, have fun! -- Steve


THE PIRC HORROR

by Steve Lopez

There are sacraments of evil as well as of good about us, and we live and move to my belief in an unknown world, a place where there are shadows and dwellers in twilight. -- Arthur Machen


The ancient librarian's eyes glittered like diamonds, set deeply in their cavernous sockets. "So you want to see Jervas' notebooks, eh?" He extended a withered talon to grasp the card that Wilcox held forth for his inspection.

The shriveled old man held the card closely in front of his eyes for a moment and then returned it to the hand that had proffered it. As he looked upward at Wilcox the twin points of light within his blackened sockets blazed forth with renewed vigor.

"It's official, all right. Even signed by the dean. You certainly know which strings to pull, don't you, Dr. Wilcox?"

Wilcox returned the pass to his jacket pocket, declining to answer the librarian Phillips' rhetorical question. "Just show me to the notebooks, please," Wilcox replied.

Phillips' lantern jaw jutted forth even more prominently as his face was split by a toothless grin. "As you're no doubt already aware, Dr. Wilcox, Miskatonic University is home to the second largest occult library in the world, second only to the Vatican. We don't permit just anyone to utilize it and the inner collection is particularly inaccessible to the public at large. That card you hold, giving you unlimited access to the library's resources, must have cost you dearly in owed favors called in and new favors promised."

"The notebooks, Phillips," repeated Wilcox with an icy stare.

"Of course," the venerable replied as he turned on his heel and hobbled off across the library's main floor toward a staircase on the other side.

As he followed across the floor and up the stairs, Dr. Angell Wilcox thought once again of the strange series of events that had led him to the university's library late on a spring afternoon.

A month prior, Professor Ward Jervas, noted lecturer on psychology and Fortean science, as well as weekly chessplaying partner of Dr. Angell Wilcox, had finally been located after an absence of two days. A graduate student had found Jervas curled up in fetal position in a dark corner of the cellar of the professor's cottage on campus. The esteemed expert on the unexplained and paranormal, when touched by the graduate student, suddenly screamed and began frothing at the mouth, babbling incoherently. He was, unfortunately, quite mad.

A team of investigators descended on Jervas' home but were unable to determine the cause of his sudden dementia. In the course of their investigation they boxed up and carted away all of Jervas' personal notebooks and papers. The unfortunate Jervas was himself carted away and was now in residence at the sanitarium in Arkham. His condition had not improved.

Wilcox had always found Jervas to be a rational, well-balanced individual, though possessed of some unusual (some might say unsavory) ideas as to the nature and balance of good and evil in the world. The good doctor found Jervas' sudden collapse to be curious enough, but the further information that he'd received two weeks afterward caused him to feel a sudden rush of shock and dismay.

Ward Jervas' notebooks and papers had become a part of the "inner" occult collection of Miskatonic University's library. All of his personal writings were now locked safely away from the world's prying eyes. Wilcox had no idea who had decreed this state of affairs but he was absolutlely certain that the key to solving the mystery of his friend's sudden collapse would be found in those papers and notebooks.

Dr. Wilcox wasted no time in paying a visit to the university's dean. As the librarian Phillips had correctly surmised, Wilcox had to call upon all of his political clout to obtain the special pass giving him access to everything the library had to offer. The good doctor smiled as he remembered the cliched, obligatory warning that he'd received as the dean signed the pass: "I only hope you know what you're doing, Ange..."

Wilcox's thoughts were sharply interrupted as Phillips stopped suddenly before a chained wrought-iron gate at the top of the second flight of stairs. He surpressed an involuntary shudder as the librarian turned his skull-like face toward him and hissed, "Last stop...third floor...the inner collection."

Phillips turned a key in a conventional padlock and the chain around the gate dropped to the floor with an echoing crash. Then he produced a large old-style bronze-colored key from a pocket of his vest and inserted it into the lock on the gate itself. After a moment's fumbling, the uncooperative tumblers turned and the hinges screamed agonizingly as the gate swung inward and smote the wall with a deafening, resounding blow.

Wilcox strained his vision to peer ahead into the gloom. Despite the fact that it was afternoon, the room housing the inner collection was shrouded in an Egyptian darkness. Phillips had limped a few paces ahead and appeared to be running a hand over the wall to his right.

"Ah! Here it is!" said the withered old man and with an odd "pop" the room was suddenly bathed in a sickly yellow light. Wilcox looked up to see that the ceiling lights were contained in glass fixtures that probably dated back to the 1920's. The fixtures had once been white, he supposed, but had turned an unhealthy yellowish color with age. Wilcox noted that Phillips, standing near the wall, looked even more cadaverous than normal, if such a thing was possible.

The claw that passed for one of Phillips' hands still rested on the light switch. Wilcox noted that the switch wasn't of the modern two-position type but instead consisted of two separate buttons, one above the other. When one of the faded brown buttons was pushed in, its twin popped out farther. Wilcox hadn't seen a switch like that since he was a boy and supposed that they had gone out of common usage a half-century or more ago.

Phillips had followed his gaze and was again grinning like a skull (minus its teeth, of course, Wilcox wryly noted). "Since almost no one except myself is permitted in here, the university board doesn't spend much money for the upkeep of the third floor. I suppose the wiring is all original, too, probably going back seventy years or better," he added, as though reading Wilcox's thoughts.

The custodian of the inner collection again shuffled slowly forward and Wilcox dutifully followed, past row after row of antique hardwood bookcases filled with scores of musty, mostly leather-bound tomes.

"They're all here, Dr. Wilcox, all of the major ones anyway. The collected occult writings from thousands of years of human history. If it's ever been banned, it's here. We have it all -- from the Marquis de Sade to the poetry of Justin Geoffrey. All of the major works: Cultes des Goules, De Vermiis Mysteriis, the Liber Ivonis, a copy of the Bridewell edition of Nameless Cults with handwritten marginalia by Aleister Crowley. We even have an original copy of the Necronomicon, and not merely the Greek version, either. I'm talking about Al Azif in the unexpurgated original Arabic. We even possess a few manuscript pages written by Abd al-Azred himself!"

Phillips suddenly wheeled, surprisingly quickly for a man of his age and condition, and stared straight into Wilcox's startled eyes. "It's all yours for the perusal, Dr. Wilcox, since you have that pass for unrestricted access. But I'll warn you: be careful what questions you ask -- the answers you receive may not be to your liking."

The doctor tried unsuccessfully to surpress a shudder and was galled to see a glint of amusement flash for a moment deep in the curator's sunken eyesockets. Regaining his composure, Wilcox impatiently motioned for the librarian to turn around and continue walking. Philips waited for what seemed to Wilcox to be a second too long before turning and continuing onward.

After a few silent moments, the pair came upon a hardwood table and uncushioned straightbacked chair sitting in what was not much more than a wide spot in a side aisle. Phillips motioned toward them.

"It's not much but it's the best we can offer you, doctor," he said. "You must understand that these books are rarely consulted and never read cover to cover. It's been quite some time since anyone other than me was even permitted in this part of the library."

Wilcox had bent down to blow a cloud of dust off the tabletop. He straightened, motioned at the shelves of books around him, and said, "Sort of makes you wonder what good any of this is, if no one is allowed to use it."

Phillips smiled enigmatically. "It's less a question of what good it does here than it is one of what evil it would do if left unrestricted in the outside world. Knowledge is power, Dr. Wilcox, even moreso in this collection than anywhere else."

Wilcox removed a hankerchief from his pocket and set to work dusting off the tabletop and the seat of the chair. The work took a few minutes and he finished just in time to see Phillips rounding a row of bookshelves with a tray in his hands. Upon the tray were a clear container of water, a glass, an oil lantern, and a box of matches.

"As I intimated previously, the wiring is none the best up here," Phillips explained. "The lights have a disturbing tendency to go out, seemingly at random."

Lovely, thought the doctor. This is just the place I'd want to be stuck during a blackout.

Phillips turned and shuffled off a second time. He returned a few minutes later, laboriously pushing a cart piled high with boxes.

"I believe this is the material that you're interested in, doctor. These are the personal papers from Professor Jervas' cottage."

Wilcox opened his mouth to speak, but the librarian cut him off. "Yes, Dr. Wilcox, this is all of it. Nothing has been omitted or held back. Your pass does say 'Unrestricted Access', does it not?"

Wilcox looked at the pile of boxes, wondering if any of the contents had even been cataloged or sorted. "Why were these notes and effects brought here and placed under lock and key?" he mused aloud.

"I wouldn't know, doctor," came the unnecessary reply. "I was told to store them here, so here is where they reside. To use the vernacular: 'I only work here'."

Wilcox picked up the topmost box, placed it on the table, and began to open it. Phillips cleared his throat. Wilcox stopped and turned toward the cadaverous old librarian.

"'Unrestricted Access' means that you are permitted to look at any materials in the third floor collection. But it is not the same as 'unrestricted liberties'; there are rules for the use of these materials.

"First, nothing is to leave the third floor. Nothing from this room, none of the books, papers, or artifacts, are to be taken past the iron gate at the top of the stairs.

"Second, none of the material is to be reproduced. You may not photograph or photocopy anything from the third floor collection. You may make handwritten notes, you may type or create a computer textfile of relevant passages from these works. But exact photographic reproduction is prohibited."

Without the consent of the comissioner of baseball, Wilcox mentally added, waggishly.

"And finally, obviously," Phillips concluded with a smile, "there is no smoking."

Wilcox nodded his assent to the terms. There followed a few moments of deathly silence as the men stared at each other. Finally, the aged curator broke the silence.

"Dr. Wilcox, anything you wish to view in this room is yours to peruse. But..." he continued, his voice suddenly echoing eerily in the large hall, "my advice to you is to confine your studies to Professor Jervas' notes. There is much in these books that one might find...unpleasant. Some of these works can have strange unexpected effects on people. It was not for nothing that Abd al-Azred was called "the Mad Arab". And, of course, we know what happened to the unfortunate Professor..."

Anger flared in Wilcox's eyes. "That will be all, thank you," he snapped. "I believe I can handle things from here."

Phillips' eyes continued to glow like twin glass beads shining from within unfathomable depths. "As you wish, doctor," he said, and with a half-bow he turned and shuffled off in the direction of the gated entrance.

The sound of footsteps subsided after a few moments. Wilcox looked at the stack of boxes and realized he was alone -- alone with his own thoughts and those of a man whose mind had once been whole, but which had snapped under the strain of some secret knowledge unwittingly discovered.

Perhaps the answer does lie in one of these old musty books, thought Wilcox. But for now, I'd better start here...

He opened the top of the first box and began to rummage through the contents.


"Check," Professor Jervas announced as he slid his Bishop down the long diagonal.

Wilcox knitted his brows together as he studied the board.

"Interesting position, isn't it?" mused Jervas. "And one that you'll likely never see again."

Wilcox raised his eyes from the board and looked at his friend. "You're certainly in an odd mood tonight, Ward."

Jervas waved his hand as though to dismiss the notion. "I was just commenting on the fact that there are billions of possible chess positions and our chances of playing the same game twice are virtually nil."

Wilcox merely nodded and returned his eyes to the board.

"Chess has some interesting symbolism as well," Jervas continued. "The armies represented by the pieces, the patterns they form..."

"Ward, what are you driving at?" Wilcox said impatiently. "I'm trying to concentrate."

"I've been thinking a lot about symbolism lately," Jervas replied. "Many religious ceremonies, especially those that seek to call upon 'higher powers' or some other form of greater mystery, incorporate symbols and icons. For example, Haitian voodoo rites make extensive use of objects and symbols to call forth the spirits. Classic Satanic ritual is another excellent example of the use of symbols and patterns. Medieval Armenian legendry speaks of sorcerers who scratched symbols in the earth to invoke demons. Even -- "

"Ward," Wilcox interrupted, "what does any of this have to do with chess?"

"Why, everything, Ange," Jervas replied. "Symbols, patterns..." His voice trailed off.

Wilcox laughed. "You mean to suggest that someone might use a chessboard as a religious icon to call forth demons?"

Jervas looked at him, annoyed. "No, no, no! Think for a moment: the entire game consists of patterns and symbology. What if someone unknowingly created a pattern, a position, that accidentally called forth powers from another plane of existence? I mean, could such a thing be possible?"

Wilcox looked at his friend incredulously, unsure of how serious Jervas was about what he was saying. "Doubtful," said Wilcox, pushing a pawn one square forward to block the check. "But did Ambrose Bierce play chess?" He grinned at the look of annoyance his levity provoked. "Your move..."


A storm was brewing. Wilcox could hear the distant rumble of thunder. He'd spent hours searching Jervas' notes and so far only found one entry that had stirred his memory and made him recall that months-old conversation:

Last night, as I played chess with Wilcox, I had a sudden thought. Could manipulating a set of abstract representational objects (i.e. a set of chesspieces) have a similar effect to that produced by many religious ceremonies, e.g. the calling forth of some power greater than mankind? Has this ever occurred, either by accident or design? More research is required...

Wilcox felt the need to stretch a bit. Ward certainly had some odd ideas, the doctor thought as he reached for the vessel of water and the glass. Something caught his eye as he filled the glass and he raised the carafe over his head so as to read the lettering stamped on its underside.

"'House of Luveh'," Wilcox read aloud, "'Dunwich, Massachusetts'. Hmmmm...a very expensive piece of glassware to be furnished by a college library." As he spoke, he saw a sudden movement from the corner of his eye. Wilcox was so startled that he nearly dropped the carafe he was still holding. A dark shape had darted through the air to vanish behind a bookshelf.

Wilcox laughed. "A bit of paper blown by a draft. Perhaps a bat -- who knows what might be living up here?" He stopped suddenly, realizing that he was speaking aloud. Whistling in the dark, he thought as he continued to dig through his friend's notebooks.


"Ward, I realize that our work here at the University requires us to keep an open mind, but do you realize how crazy your idea sounds? Gateways to other worlds? Intelligences from beyond, both benign and malign?" Wilcox stared at his friend incredulously.

Jervas smiled at him. "Ange, I teach Fortean Science. It's a discipline that requires me to look at the larger picture, not only the physical sciences as you do. I have to consider philosophy, religion, even superstition to find answers to the questions posed by my work. Supernatural events have been reported during the ceremonies of all major religions: stigmata, levitation, posession, speaking in tongues. All of these are seen as signs that a presence from beyond has responded to the ritual."

Wilcox snorted. "Chess isn't a ritual."

"Isn't it? Thousands of people in this country alone, millions worldwide, travel to a chess club every week. A player makes this trek on the same day, at the same time, every week, week after week. He sits down, places a set of abstract figures on a board in a predetermined pattern, and begins to move them about in a set of familiar, often repeated gestures known as 'book openings'. A visitor from another world might mistake this for a religious ritual of some kind."

Dr. Wilcox laughed loudly but stopped when he saw the serious expression on his friend's face.

Jervas continued, "There is every reason to believe that a combination of symbology, ritual gestures, and spoken words can call forth entities beyond our understanding. Ange, we teach courses here at Miskatonic in which ritual magic is a key area of study! These things exist -- there is even ample evidence offered by local events! Check the newspaper archives: every few years there is another mysterious disappearance or reports of revivals of obscure religious sects right here in Arkham!"

"Ward, that's because of the history of the town. That 17th-century witch hunt business brings all sorts of oddballs here. Besides, chess is just a game, not some religious ritual."

"Yes, but what if it was mistaken for a religious ritual by some other power? What if one of those billions of chess positions had the effect of calling forth such a power? What if it could somehow open a gateway to our plane of existence, just as it does in dozens of religious rituals?"

Wilcox looked at his friend for a long moment. "I think you're off your nut, Ward," he said finally.

"Ange, there is a world we cannot see, a world that coexists somehow with our world, overlapping it. It is filled with visions and beings more wonderful and more terrifying than any human imagination could ever conjure up. What if a doorway could somhow be opened between these worlds? What would that mean for the person or persons who opened that door?" Jervas, noting his friend's look of incredulity, leaned forward over the chessboard and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. "What if I told you I've found proof?"

Dr. Wilcox stared at his friend and tried to decide if his learned friend was serious or was attempting to perpetrate a hoax. Unable to determine what was on his friend's mind, Wilcox simply slid his Rook over two files and announced "Check".

Jervas said no more on the matter that night, but gave Wilcox a strange knowing look as he departed that evening. It was the last time Wilcox saw his friend lucid and whole.


Before long, in the fifth box of notebooks and papers, Wilcox found what he'd been searching for. At the bottom of the box was a new-looking notebook with a bookmark protruding from between the pages.

As Wilcox flipped to the marked page there was another clap of thunder, very near to the library this time, and the yellowed lamps flickered ominously. Wilcox stood and placed the notebook on the table. He reached for the ancient oil lamp, lifted the chimney, and lit a match. He adjusted the wick as the lamp flared to life, then replaced the glass.

Better to be safe than sorry, Wilcox thought.

"Sorry..." came the echoing hiss of a low voice, followed by a far-off sound that was similar to a monkey's chatter.

Wilcox's eyes flew open wide and he stood completely still, unable to move. A cold tingle ran down his spine as a sense of dread overcame him.

Suddenly Wilcox cried out in pain as the still-lit match burned his finger and thumb. He flinched and involuntarily tossed the match, where it landed, extinguished and smoking, on the table.

He looked around him and had the claustrophobic feeling that the bookshelves had somehow moved closer. Dark shapes moved at the corners of his vision, yet always seemed to vanish as he turned to confront them. The doctor briefly toyed with the idea of giving up his quest and returning downstairs to the library proper, but he remembered the "unrestricted access" pass and what it had cost him. With an involuntary shudder, he placed his fears squarely behind him and returned to the notebook.

Wilcox discovered to his surprise that what he had supposed was a bookmark was actually a flat envelope containing a few newspaper clippings. All were from a small newspaper published in West Virginia. The first clipping was an account of the mysterious death of a local man. The second recounted an incident in which a man was discovered wandering the downtown streets aimlessly, babbling incoherently to himself, and was subsequently admitted to a hospital for "observation". There were several more clippings, all depressingly in much the same vein, all describing sudden deaths and mental illnesses.

Wilcox noted halfway through his perusal of the clippings that the entire batch was dated within a six week period, in the summer of 1994. He continued to skim through the clippings, with nothing in particular catching his attention. Nothing, that is, until he reached the final clipping.

Local police have determined that a common link has been found connecting the sudden deaths and mental illnesses that have affected a dozen area residents. All of those affected were participants in a chess tournament held locally two months ago. Authorities have closed the community center where the tournament was held pending further investigations.

Dr. Wilcox felt a sudden shock. This was what I've been looking for, he thought excitedly, as he tore open Jervas' notebook and began to read the entries contained therein. Repeated phrases scattered throughout the entries began to catch the doctor's eye as he read:

It seems that all of the games from the event were published in a small newsletter called the 'Shenandoah Valley Chess Review'...Further investigation indicates that a copy of the 'Shenandoah Valley Chess Review' was found near all of the fatalities...The insane man found wandering about downtown had a copy of the 'Shenandoah Valley Chess Review' rolled up in his pocket...Local West Virginia library contacted, no copies of the 'Shenandoah Valley Chess Review' available...I plan a trip to the area to see about obtaining a copy of the 'Shenandoah Valley Chess Review'...Complete run of the 'Shenandoah Valley Chess Review' obtained at local used book store at exorbitant price...

Wilcox continued through the notebook, reading entry after entry in which Jervas, an avid chess student, played over and annotated the individual games from his set of the small-town chess newsletters. With a heavy sigh, thinking that he was wasting his time, Wilcox flipped to the end of the notebook and began riffling pages backwards until he spotted the last pages covered with his friend's scrawl.

The last pages of his friend's final notebook contained the moves and handwritten notes to a chess game. Wilcox scanned backwards until he found the citation: Lopez - Byers, Martinsburg, 1994.

Suddenly, with a deafening crack that made Wilcox jump, the yellowed lights went out, leaving Wilcox sitting in a small circle of illumination provided by the old oil lantern. Chuckling ruefully, Wilcox produced his pocket chess set from inside his jacket and set up the pieces for a new game. When the pieces were in place, he began to read Jervas' final notebook entry.


1.e4 d6 2.d4 Nf6 3.Nc3 g6

The hypermodern Pirc Defense, unusual for players as poorly-rated as these.

4.Nf3

Badly played. 4.f4 is better.

4...Bg7 5.Be2 0-0 6.0-0

White's position is solid, though he has nothing to brag about.

6...a6

6...c5 was better.

7.e5 dxe5 8.dxe5 Ng4 9.Bf4 Qxd1 10.Raxd1

It makes no difference which Rook makes the capture.

10...Nc6 11.e6

A ridiculous move. White gives up occupation of the center (a long-term positional consideration) for the gain of a pawn (a short-term tactical consideration).

11...Bxe6 12.Bxc7 Rac8


Wilcox shook his head as if to clear it. He took a second look. Jervas' final notebook ended with the notation "Rac8" with no further moves, commentary, or writing of any kind.

The doctor sighed in disappointment at the incomplete game score. Suddenly his disappointment vanished as he felt a lurking fear growing in the back of his mind. Could Jervas' sudden madness be connected to this chess game? His friend's words seemed to echo audibly in the darkened library:

What if one of those billions of chess positions had the effect of calling forth such a power?

"I don't believe it," Wilcox muttered aloud. He turned to the stack of boxes on the cart. He ripped open box after box, carelessly tossing the lids left and right as he frantically searched through the contents of each carton. As he sifted through piles of notebooks and papers, he thought he could hear eerie laughter eminating from elsewhere in the library, but as soon as he stopped rustling papers, the laughter ceased.

Wilcox stood completely still, his eyes shifting to and fro as he vainly attempted to see beyond his lantern's small circle of illumination. The storm still raged outside but, aside from the periodic crash of thunder, all was silent.

The doctor's hands returned to the boxes, sorting through piles of papers and books. He once again heard the weird, chattering laughter, this time louder. Chalking it up to an overactive imagination aggravated by his gloomy surroundings, he continued his search.

At last, he found what he sought. At the bottom of one of the boxes was a small stack of slim booklets. Their covers read Shenandoah Valley Chess Review.

Wilcox anxiously skimmed through issue after issue. The booklets were small photocopied affairs, printed with the help of some computer chess program. Someone could have entered the moves manually and never even looked at a chessboard, he thought. Small diagrams appeared within the gamescores, seemingy placed more to pad out each issue to a marginally respectable length than for any pedagogical purpose.

At last the doctor found what he sought. The final game of the final issue was a thirty-move game, presented without diagrams as Lopez - Byers, Martinsburg, 1994. Wilcox eagerly returned to the chessboard with his prize. His finger traced across the gamescore until it found White's thirteenth move. Smiling triumphantly, Wilcox reached for his pocket chess set and made the heretofore missing move for White.

There was another crack of thunder from outside the library and suddenly Wilcox was aware of a slight vibrating sensation from beneath his feet. He was reminded of his teenaged nephew's electric football game and he imagined himself skittering across the floor like one of the tiny plastic players. Then, following another crack of thunder, the vibration ceased as suddenly as it had begun.

Wilcox shook his head, then rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand. "Probably just someone waxing the floor," he muttered. Then the thought hit him: the electric power was out due to the storm. How could someone be waxing the floor?

The doctor stopped rubbing his neck and raised his head. It was then that he saw the eyes.

There were dozens of sets of eyes staring at him from outside the circle of lamplight. They glittered like rubies shining from the depths of some dark pool. Wilcox, startled, dropped the pocket chess set. It smote the floor and broke into pieces, sending chessmen rolling off into the darkness.

His first impression were that the eyes belonged to rats, sitting on the bookshelves, brought out of hiding by the darkness of the sudden power failure. He reached for the lamp, and raising it above his head, immediately wished that he hadn't done so.

Surrounding him were dozens of small creatures that defied description. They were tiny, the size of a small dog, jet black in color, and winged. They looked at him malignantly and, at the sight of his startled expression, began to laugh maniacally with that unearthly chattering sound that Wilcox had heard earlier.

Wilcox, shaking uncontrollably, hastily put the lamp back on the table, knocking over the carafe of water as he did so. The water splashed over the chess magazine and Jervas' notebook as the carafe rolled off the table and, like the plastic chess set, smashed into shards on the floor.

The doctor, nearly numb with horror, began to slowly back away from the unholy congregation of chattering things. He was instantly aware of a dark figure entering the circle of lamplight from the opposite side.

Wilcox tried to run, tried to walk, to crawl, to move away from the clawed creature that approached him, but his body refused to respond. The eldritch horror moved closer with a sickening meaty thump, as though its limbs of propulsion were of a design unsuited for this world. It lurched forward again, sending the table sliding to one side. Wilcox's eyes widened in terror as two huge talons reached forth, grasped the doctor by the sides of the head, and slowly began to squeeze.

The worst part for Wilcox wasn't the pain or fear. It was the understanding; for, in his last moments of life, as the blood filled his mouth and flooded his sinuses, as the world around him went black, he knew.

He knew.


The third floor of Miskatonic University's library was bustling with police and medical personnel, none of whom had an "unrestricted access" pass.

"Not a mark on him," the detective mused as the gurney carrying Wilcox was wheeled away. "Just some blood seeping from his mouth and nose."

Arkham's chief medical examiner looked at him. "I won't know until I perform an autopsy, but I would imagine that he suffered an acute catastrophic cerebral aneurism."

"Say what?"

The doctor looked at the policeman wryly. "His brain blew up, detective."

The detective grunted in reply and sifted through the papers still lying on the desk. "We'll never know what this stuff was; it's too badly water damaged."

The doctor peered over the detective's shoulder. "Looks like a chess book of some kind. Look at the right-hand page," he said, pointing. "This is a chess notation for White's thirteenth move..."

"It's the only thing legible on the page. The rest was destroyed when the poor guy spilled that water glass." The detective kicked at the loose chess pieces lying on the floor. "Brain exploded, eh? Remind me never to take up chess."

The two men were the last to leave. Phillips, the librarian, met them at the top of the stairway. "All finished, gentlemen?" the venerable asked.

"Yup," said the detective, turning to take a last look at the third floor repository. "You know, this is an awfully strange place to come to study chess," he observed, as Phillips closed the wrought-iron gate with a resounding crash.

Phillips grinned cadaverously as he chained and padlocked the gate. "It all depends on the position one is studying," he said, and started back down the stairs, laughing.


Affectionately dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft


I'm very interested in reading your opinion of this (or any other) issue of ElectronicT-Notes, as well as my book Battle Royale. I invite you to post comments to our ChessBase Users Group or else you can e-mail me directly.