Monday, March 19, 2012

Academic Question: King in Check

by Walt Staples

Walt left this life on March 14, 2012. He will be sorely missed here at Avenir Eclectia; we have several more of his unpublished stories scheduled. This one is perhaps the strangest of his submissions here, but shows that twisted humour of his...

“Your move.”

Abram looked up from the psychosociology periodical he had been perusing. His bishop was very much in danger from the knight. “Hmm, decent, Mclean.” He regarded the board for a moment, then his bishop slid over one square of its own accord. He raised his journal again.

The biology instructor stared at the configuration of the pieces, then smiled. “Ah. Pawn takes knight.” One of the pawns began to waddle forward. “No, not you. The other one.” The pawn stopped, managed to look embarrassed as only an out-of-place playing piece can, and stepped back as the proper one waddled over to displace the offending knight. Mclean held the deceased knight between thumb and forefinger. “Abram, you’re holding up the game.”

The psychokinesis instructor surfaced long enough to note the proffered game piece, pluck it from his opponent’s grasp, and set it down beside his other lost pieces without bothering to touch it. He scrutinized the chessboard for a few seconds and said, “Concede.”

As the pieces, both taken and untaken, waddled to their proper starting positions, Mclean remarked, “You know, Abram, if you paid a bit more attention, you’d win more often.”

Abram nodded as his white queen’s pawn slid two squares. “Yes, probably. But when would I do my reading then?”

Doctor Professor Erschreckendmann, known to most as “Doctor E,” entered the club and arrived at their table. “Ah, I see you’re using Mclean’s board this time, Abram.” He leered at the biologist and hooked a thumb at the chessmen. “Have you got them housebroken yet so they don’t void themselves at awkward moments?”

Mclean sighed. “No, I still have to be careful with the timing when I feed them.”

Doctor E nodded with questionable bonhomie. “Good, good. I’m sure you will have them trained in short order—though at the moment, they seem to have you well trained.” He changed the subject. “Have either of you gentlemen seen His Majesty about?”

Abram glanced up at the alchemy instructor. “Who? Pomphee? Haven’t see him here today.”

Mclean smiled wickedly. “Perhaps he’s hiding from you.”

“No, that generally happens after I’ve seen him,” the small man said, distracted. He turned and strode off, hands clasped behind his back, apparently lost in thought.


Doctor E stuck his head in the door and greeted the department head’s receptionist, “Mistress Bright, is your master back yet?”

She smiled. “No, Doctor, not yet. Are you sure you don’t want to leave a message for him?” Like many, she wondered at the green lights that glimmered in the shadows cast by his enormous eyebrows.

He ran a finger over his huge mustache in thought. “No…” He smiled at her. “T’would probably spook the quarry.”

“I could send a few of the gnomes to look for him.”

He pulled at his lower lip as he considered. “If I don’t kick him up by tea, I may ask you to do so.”

He smiled at her. “Don’t let him hear, but I’m beginning to be a bit concerned.”

“Do you think there’s something seriously wrong?”

He shook his head. “No, I shouldn’t think so. It’s like having one’s key in the wrong pocket. I just don’t like things out of place; especially Pomphee.”

There was a hiss as Doctor E passed a large potted plant in the hall. He stopped and examined it. A pair of bloodshot blue eyes peered back at him. Pomphee’s voice hissed at him, “Don’t give me away. Please.”

“Give you away? I’d never think of such a thing, Pomphee. Why, your bodily elements would bring at least 23 credits on the open market.” He paused. “Though, I suppose, now that I think of it, you might fetch more as a teaching cadaver.” He leaned closer. “You are hiding and that’s not a man-eating plant?”

“Yes, I’m hiding,” the department head hissed back.

Doctor E straightened. “Oh, good. I’ve always been very bad at botany.” He regarded the blue-eyed plant. “I don’t suppose you’d care to tell me what you’re hiding from, would you?”

“Professor Henpartie. She thinks I’m ‘cute.’”

“Can’t say as I know the woman all that well other than she’s known as ‘Queen’ Mim; I don’t get over to the Literature Department all that often.” He smiled sadly. “Though I must admit from the evidence of what you say, she obviously might be a case for Doctor Professor Schadenfreude over in Psychiatric Re-manipulation.”

Pomphee’s hiss became cobra-like, “Will you stop being funny and help me?”

The alchemist looked at the plant askance. “Did you just admit that I’m funny? Besides, why me?”

There was a sigh. “Because…because you make things happen.”

Doctor E crossed his arms and stroked his mustache in thought. “So the point of the exercise is to lower your ‘cuteness’ factor.” He came to a decision. “Okay, come with me to my lab.”

“But she might see me!”

“No, I think not.” He shook his head. “I doubt she’d be able to be absent from the aroma of silverfish and binder’s glue that long.” He gestured at the plant. “But, if it makes you feel better, by all means, bring your friend.”


Pomphee looked at the capsule suspiciously. “What’s in it?”

Doctor E assured him in a coaxing voice, ”It’s perfectly safe. Just fructose, an enzyme for catalyzation, a touch of tri-methylinidole, tri-hydroxybutyric acid—“

The department head shrank back in terror. “Acid?”

The alchemist shook his head. “It’s not going to hurt you.” He switched to wheedling as one would a recalcitrant 150 kilo child. “Come on, Pomphee. Just take the capsule and your woman troubles will be over.”

The big man turned the suspicious look on Doctor E. “How do I know you won’t poison me?”

The little man beamed his most beatific smile. “Pomphee, I promise you as your most ardent enemy, I am not going to poison you.”

The department head looked at him searchingly. Then accepted the capsule. Doctor E handed him a glass of brown sparkling liquid. “What’s this? Is this part of the process?”

The alchemy instructor shrugged. “No, just Dr Pepper, I figured you needed something to wash it down with.”

“Oh.” Pomphee relaxed, popped the capsule in his mouth, and emptied the glass.

Doctor E was watching his watch four minutes later when the head of the Materials Department began to sniff. The alchemist took an exploratory whiff and stepped back two paces. Pomphee continued to sniff as he looked in all directions. He turned red and asked, “Oh, dear. Is that me?”

Doctor E clapped his hands and, smiling, said, “Pomphee, I now declare you un-‘cute.’”

Without the courtesy of a knock, the lab door flew open and a tall, gangling, purple-haired woman strode in. “The receptionist said she thought—Oh! Norquist! There you are!”

Pomphee paled and replied forthrightly, “I, ah…er…uh, you see—“

Suddenly an odd expression crossed her face. She snuffed, as opposed to sniffed, first in Doctor E’s direction, then in that of her balding Lord Byron. Her pupils went to pin-points as she began to hastily back out the door. “I, I…really must be going. Lots of papers to grade you know, and all that. Tootles.” She slammed the door.

Pomphee gave a satisfied grunt then turned to Doctor E. “Er, how long is this, er, my condition going to last?”

The alchemist took another step back. “By my calculations, approximately six more hours.”

The department head was horrified. “I can’t see people like this. And I can’t possibly go home to my wife in this condition. What will I do?”

Doctor E put a handkerchief over the lower part of his face. His voice was muffled as he said, “Do what any normal intelligent creature would; hide in your office and read journals.”

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