Double-Crossed by the Dean by Thomas Park

If my parents had paid a surprise visit to me this evening, they would have been surprised to have found a detective -- Detective Bunt Sidecull -- sitting in a chair at my desk, complete with the trench coat and battered hat typical of such a personage.

I had hired Detective Sidecull for two reasons: 1. I had heard of his good work on the West Coast, especially concerning the case of one Helen Gellarty. 2. I had been recently accused of murdering a peer of mine -- one Lauren Brice -- and, although all evidence pointed against me, I intended to get off of these charges scott clean, and I intended for Bunt Sidecull to help me to do so. Because I was innocent.

It was, therefore, in a spirit of hope and cooperation that I answered Detective Sidecull's questions concerning this case.

"They say you killed Lauren. Do you know why?" Bunt asked.

I put my hand to my forehead, and said, "Well, the Dean, or someone, put her body on my doorstep. They even bothered to cover up their tracks. The only person who took the trouble to sign out and back in to the dorm that evening was me, and therefore, it looks like I did it."

"Where did you go last Thursday night?"

"I went out to meditate. The festival of Shub-Niggurath was coming up -- in fact, it's tonight. I wanted to meditate on my various accomplishments, goals, and upon the black teats of the goat with one thousand young. Miskatonic has a real tradition concerning the worship of Shub-Niggurath . . ."

"Did you see Lauren that evening?"

"No. I meditated on the teats of Shub-Niggurath for about two and a half hours, and then I walked back to my dormitory, signed in, and went to sleep. I had done enough preparation -- I was ready to celebrate with the Dean and the rest of the students."

"Then, you found Lauren's body in front of your dorm room door?"

"No. Not exactly. Someone called campus police on me. I heard a knock on my door at about 3:15 AM. It was the campus police. When I opened my door, I saw, for a split second, the bloody, nearly naked body of Lauren -- then the police kicked the door completely open and immobilized me."

"Was this the first time you had seen Lauren's body naked?"

"Yes, it was. I don't date much. I had some bad experiences a few years ago, and decided to devote my time to studying and meditating on the elder gods. I had hoped to rise in the ranks of the servants of the elder gods at Miskatonic University. In fact, tonight was supposed to be an important night for me -- I was supposed to open and close tonight's ceremony."

"Was Lauren going to be at the ceremony?"

"It is possible. She used to go to a few. But she was kind of a fair-weather worshipper, and seemed more interested in working out, going shopping, and so on, than in studying. I think, in fact, that she was about to get kicked out of Miskatonic University. She didn't really show the kind of devotion that was necessary to be a successful member of this program.

"Mr. Sidecull -- do you mind if I light up a cigarette?"

"No- go right ahead," said Mr. Sidecull.

I pulled a cigarette from a box, and stared at its long, pulpy, tobacco-filled beauty. I lit the cigarette with a black plastic lighter I kept close at hand.

I was getting nabbed for Lauren's death. That was clear enough. Even though all I had done recently was to meditate on Shub-Niggurath, get ready for the big ceremony, and finish a little homework here and there -- I was getting nabbed for it. So, I might as well smoke as many cigarettes as I wanted to. They are deliciously bad for me. As for the worshippers at the ceremony -- they can have at it. Rejoice in the dark pleasures of the She-goat Goddess! I would have.

Mr. Sidecull asked, "Who will open and close tonight's ceremony, then?"

"I don't know," I said. "Let's take a look."

I tapped my PC's mouse, and checked to make sure I was still connected to the Internet. I surfed to Miskatonic University's main page, and followed a thread concerning "Ceremonies" and "Seasonal." I found, after only a few minutes, a page devoted to tonight's ceremony.

The page was black, with several shining shapes decorating it, and a few names and words in a glowing green typeface.

Dean Halsley would perform most of the ceremony, according to the website. The ceremony would be performed in accordance to the text of the Necronomicon, original version, page 43. Opening and closing the ceremony would be -- Ron Halsley.

The Dean's son!

I looked at Mr. Sidecull, and pointed at Ron Halsley's name. "It looks like Ron Halsley will be opening and closing the ceremony," I said, sounding excited. "Ron is Dean Halsley's son."

"Is there a reason why Dean Halsley would have chosen Ron to lead the ceremony, besides the fact that he is his son?"

"Actually, yes -- Ron and I have been competing for many of the most important duties and ceremonial roles at Miskatonic. I have been really kicking my ass to get a spot in ceremonies like the tonight's festival of Shub-Niggurath, and Ron is usually one of several people I end up knocking off the list when I succeed."

"In fact, tonight, Ron was the runner-up candidate for the opening and closing of the ceremony."

Bunt Sidecull looked interested, suddenly.

"So," he said, "the Dean's son is the person who is going to replace you for an honorary position tonight -- and you have been competing with him a lot lately?"

"Yes, that's correct," I said.

"That gives me an idea," said Mr. Sidecull. "But I am not sure about this idea -- and I still have some questions about Lauren. You are sure that you did not know Lauren very well?"

"Really, I hardly ever talked to her. She would have been more my type in high school. I just know she had been slacking off a lot lately, and hadn't been showing a lot of interest in Miskatonic's programs."

"You weren't, for example, sleeping with her?"

"No way!" I said. "I have been celibate for years."

"And you weren't drunk or on any kind of drugs last Thursday night?"

"No. I smoke cigarettes and drink coffee. They are my drugs. I don't get wasted anymore -- I prefer to meditate on Shub-Niggurath, Hastur, or even Cthugha. I get a better buzz following in the footsteps of my professors and deans."

"All right," said Bunt. "My next question is -- what is this Necronomicon?"

"It is a book that is full of important rites, spells, and pieces of knowledge. It was written centuries ago by the mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred."

"Is this the same Necronomicon I can find in paperback at most used bookstores?"

"No," I replied. "This is the very real source of those and all other imitations. The real Necronomicon contains a lot of worldly and otherworldly wisdom. Its text forms the basis of most of Miskatonic's ceremonies and a great deal of our studies, as well."

"Can you show me a copy of this book?"

"Sure," I said. "I have a cheap John Dee translation right here, in my bookcase."

I found my Dee translation, and was about to open it, when I saw that Mr. Sidecull seemed a little upset -- or at least, puzzled.

"This is the John Dee translation that you have?" he asked.

"Yes, it is."

"And the Arab, Alhazred wrote the 'original version'?"

"That's correct, Mr. Sidecull."

Bunt sighed, sounding a little disappointed. "Then how," he asked, "am I supposed to find out what is on page forty-three of the original version?"

"Don't worry, Mr. Sidecull," I said. "There is a formula I can use. The original version was written onto 214 pages. The Dee translation contains all of the original drawings and markings, all roughly proportional to the original, only the Dee translation is paginated and translated a little differently. Let me say that 43/214 is equal to x/189, which is the length, in pages, of my Dee translation. X, then, or the page detailing the ceremony of Shub-Niggurath should be approximately: 38!"

I opened my Dee translation to page 38. A festival in praise of Shub-Niggurath was detailed there. Roles to be played by various people were described -- including one person to open and close the ceremony, and another to enact the rest of the ceremony -- including -- and here I tensed my forehead a little -- a sacrifice of some kind . . .

I showed page 38 to Bunt Sidecull, and he read it quickly, and stopped, curious, at the same point in the text that I had -- at the part that described a sacrifice.

The details of the sacrifice had been omitted from the Dee translation, nor had I expected to witness a sacrifice had I participated in tonight's ceremony. The previous owner of the book had, however, provided Bunt and myself with a little illustration.

An arrow, in pencil, curved away from the missing portion of the text to the side of the page, where the text's tabs ended. In this blank space was drawn the circle and arrow that has designated, since ancient times, femininity. Above this feminine symbol was drawn a skull and crossbones. What appeared to be a beer tap punctured the circle of the feminine sign, and dripped drops of dark fluid -- blood, apparently.

"What is this?" asked Bunt, pointing to the penciled sketch.

"That's no joke," I said. "The guy who used to own this translation used to sneak the book into the special collections room at the Miskatonic University library, and tried to pencil in various symbolic or textual pieces of text the Dee translation was missing."

"I think what he was trying to tell us was that tonight's ceremony involves the blood of a recently murdered woman!"

Bunt looked surprised, then resolved. He told me to stay put, donned his hat and coat, and left my dorm room/prison cell in quite a hurry.

"Don't leave your dorm room", he said. "I'll be back."

Bunt Sidecull pulled a piece of paper from his trench coat pocket. It was a map of the campus of Miskatonic University.

He knew that Lauren had been buried at the campus cemetery, together with Dr. Nathaniel West and several other people of some historical importance.

He found the cemetery on his map -- it was Northeast of the dorm, and on, generally, the Northeast side of campus -- bordering on a forest.

The sun was setting, so Bunt didn't have much time.

He began walking briskly towards the cemetery.

He walked between several dorms and classrooms -- all of old brick or block, and covered with ivy you would hardly call lively -- it was profuse yet somehow dead-looking -- the leaves, perhaps, were too waxy or too dark to seem healthy.

He found the graveyard in about twenty five minutes.

The sun was setting to the West of the graveyard; its orange rays illuminated a jumble of worn and cracked gravestones, shattered by the noontime heat and by years and years of exposure to Northeast US weather. A few trees, stilted, leafless, and grown spasmodic, oozed sap and shed pieces of bark and the eggs of horrible, predatory insects all over the graveyard's overgrown lawn.

There were a few newer-looking gravestones to the cemetery's North side.

He approached this newer group of gravestones.

He did not have to look for long in order to find what he wanted to find.

The grave belonging to "Lauren Brice, May She Rest in Peace, having been taken at such a Young Age to the Land of Dreams" had been violated -- and recently.

Most fresh graves look somewhat tampered with. They tend to be covered in dirt that has been packed a little higher than ground level, in order to enable it to sink to ground level with the passage of time.

Lauren's grave, however, had been recently disturbed. There were shovel-marks along its periphery and its dirt was at points higher and at points lower than ground level -- as though the gravedigger had been extremely drunk when he dug her grave.

Sidecull thought otherwise -- he thought that Dean Halsley or one of his associates had unearthed Lauren's grave -- and stolen her body.

Bunt Sidecull was standing over her grave in the rapidly-setting sun, trying to decide what to do, when he heard something.

He heard singing.

Not your normal, everyday kind of singing, but -- more specifically -- chanting. Deep, atonal chanting, as though the singers were in a state of trance, or, perhaps, of awe -- and hence, hadn't even bothered to "tune" their lungs and windpipes.

The chanting was coming from the forest to the cemeterys' Northeast -- from a distance of about a half mile, as far as Bunt could tell.

Bunt started off into the forest.

Bunt Sidecull had a hard time navigating his way through the ever-darkening forest, but he had the chanting for a guide. He gave himself two or three huge bruises on hard-to-see trees that had fallen, and quite a few scratches from the hidden branches of deciduous trees.

At one point, the chanting stopped, and Bunt Sidecull thought that perhaps he had become lost entirely. Then he saw the lights.

About three hundred yards ahead and slightly to his left was a gigantic fire whose light was just visible between the trees, and whose orange light cast a sinister glow above the treetops.

Bunt drew closer to the light, stepping lightly, and trying to keep quiet. The ever-increasing orange glow of the bonfire helped him to avoid bruising or scratching himself further, and from making too much noise.

Bunt made his way to a tree that was about ten yards from the bonfire. He positioned himself behind the tree, took off his hat, and peered around its thick but skeletal trunk in order to see what the bonfire illuminated.

A group of people -- perhaps as many as three hundred of them, were standing around the bonfire in a nearly-complete circle. The ceremony's adherents were wearing long, black robes -- much like the robes traditionally worn at a graduation ceremony, excepting the customary pointed caps. Most of the adherents were standing still; a few were swaying gently.

To the Northeast of the bonfire was a small mound, perhaps three feet in height and eight feet in diameter. On the mound was a wooden podium, which probably had been wheeled to the clearing earlier that day.

To the right of the podium stood a young, dark-haired man, who was wearing a black robe just like the robes the other adherents were wearing. Behind the podium stood Dean Halsley.

Dean Halsley was wearing a purple robe. His medium-length gray hair blew wildly in the breeze created by the heat of the bonfire. He was speaking with some animation -- apparently -- as Bunt saw, screwing up his eyes to see better -- he was reading with great vigor the passages from a book or from some form of writing.

The Necronomicon, thought Bunt Sidecull.

Dean Halsley stopped reading for a moment, and shouted out something that sounded like, "Yaaah!"

The hundreds of adherents shouted, "Yaaah!" in response.

Dean Halsley beckoned to several of the adherents.

Four stocky male figures in black robes approached the podium, and moved behind it, to a spot that Bunt couldn't see. They bent down, and seemed to disappear for a moment.

The four black-robed men reappeared bearing something slender, long, and white.

It was, realized Bunt, the naked body of Lauren Brice.

Dean Halsley called out, once again, "Yaah!", and the adherents responded with a "Yaah!"

Dean Halsley gestured for the four black-robed men to follow him. He approached the bonfire. The five men stopped about ten feet from the blaze -- ten feet being about as close as a person could have gotten to it without getting burned.

Dean Halsley pointed to the ground before him.

The four men set the body of Lauren Brice down on the ground before the Dean.

Dean Halsley pulled a long knife from the folds of his purple robe. He muttered something too soft to hear, and violently slashed a cut in Lauren's breast. He bathed his knife in the slowly-welling blood of Lauren Brice, and flung the blood into the bonfire, crying, "Yaah! Shub-Niggurath!"

The crowd shouted in response, "Yaah! Shub-Niggurath!"

A huge wind blew through the trees and through the clearing. The bonfire tilted and swerved crazily. Then, in the heart of the bonfire -- something appeared.

It was huge -- gigantic, in fact -- over twenty feet tall. It had the head of a demon -- beastly, murderous, full of spite -- its body was -- no -- it could not be -- but it was -- it was covered with horrible, cancerous, ulcerous, black teats, each horrifyingly erect, and prepared to feed, in some Tartarean way, its young.

The demon turned towards the body of Lauren Brice, and leered at its body with an ever-increasing hunger -- with a horrible, diabolic bloodlust.

It opened its arms to the dead body of Lauren Brice, its multifarious nipples standing erect with a terrible lust.

Then, Bunt Sidecull saw what a man ought never to see -- he saw what drove him screaming and gibbering like a madman through the woods of the Miskatonic, back past its horribly half-alive ivy, back to the dorm of the innocent man who had hired him . . .

The dead body of Lauren Brice had stood up, and walked, seemingly of its own volition, into the fire, and into the embrace of the foul she-demon!

When Bunt Sidecull returned to my dorm room, he seemed like a man changed. No longer was he the calm, cool, collected detective I had hired to help me with my case.

His eyes were skittering crazily like twin gyroscopes momentarily off-kilter, his mouth seemed frozen open in a silent scream, and his hat -- it was nowhere to be found.

He grabbed me furiously by the shoulder, and said, "The demon -- it thirsts -- the body -- it walks -- IT WILL COME!! IT WILL COME! WE MUST LEAVE!"

I pried his hands off of my shoulder, and started walking toward my closet, in order to pack up some clothes -- but Bunt grabbed me from behind and forcefully impelled me, like a father impels a nasty boy, out of my dorm room, out of the building, onto the parking lot, and into his old brown Fairmont.

He started his car, and drove the two of us off of the campus of Miskatonic and to the North. He stared straight ahead while driving, and remained silent -- unwilling to answer my questions regarding our destination, and unwilling, even, to look to his right or to his left.

It was many hours later, when we passed over the Canadian border, that I realized that he was taking me, and, perhaps both of us, as far away from Miskatonic University as was possible -- and with some certainty never to return.

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© 2003 Edward P. Berglund
"Double-Crossed by the Dean": © 2003 Thomas Park. All rights reserved.
Graphics © 1998-2003 Erebus Graphic Design. All rights reserved. Email to: James V. Kracht.

Created: May 3, 2003; Updated: August 9, 2004