First Day at Arkham Academy
Arkham, Massachusetts seemed to exist in a perpetual fog, a cold earthbound cloud hanging thick over the ground that clung to every building like a second coat of paint. Hubert Huxley sat in the back seat of his father's automobile, staring outside the windows at the way the headlights cut a path through the mist. Hubert's eyes closed behind their spectacles, as he tried to remember New York City, with his favorite stores and familiar streets and friends, and of course, the big city lights. He wanted to keep the town fresh in his memory, despite his family's move to dreary Arkham.
"I don't like it here," he said, looking away from the window and staring at his black shoes, freshly shined.
His father turned around and smiled at him. "What's not to like, Hubert?" he asked, angling the auto into a nearby parking lot.
Hubert ran a hand through his curly brown hair as he thought. "It's weird, papa," he finally said, encapsulating everything he felt about Arkham into a single sentence. "It's weird and it's cold, and the people don't seem to like us and I don't really like it."
"Now, Hubert, I'll admit Arkham may seem a little quaint at first, but I'm sure you'll grow used to it." His father parked the car and smiled back at Hubert. "These our hard times for all of us and I know you dislike leaving your friends in New York, but we all have to make sacrifices sometimes."
"Because of the Crash?" Hubert asked. His father had been a lawyer in New York, but the Stock Market Crash had put an early end to his career in that city. Now they had moved to Arkham, and Hubert had been enrolled in a new school. Today was his fist day.
"That's right, son," Hubert's father said, his voice low and tinged with sadness. He smiled quickly and patted ruffled his son's hair. "But your mother and I are still looking out for you, and things will be fine. I promise." He handed Hubert his newsboy cap and gave the boy a final smile. "Now you have a good day at school, and don't worry about Arkham. It's just a town like any other."
But as Hubert opened the door and stepped out into the morning air, the chill prickling his skin like a thousand tiny spines, he wondered if his father was telling the truth. Hubert swung his book bag over his shoulder and tucked his hands into the pockets of his short pants. He waved back to his father as the automobile rolled back and sped onto the open road. Then Hubert Huxley's smile fell from his freckled face, and he walked towards Arkham Academy.
The building loomed over him, untold menace radiating from the gray bricks of its high walls to the pointed spire of its high tower. His father had told him it was an excellent junior high school, and Arkham, home to Miskatonic University, was an excellent place for a boy's education. Hubert would be starting seventh grade today, and he wasn't so sure about that.
He walked in through the great wooden doors and headed down the wide stone hallway, shivering slightly despite his warm red vest. He withdrew a note from his pocket and noted the number of his classroom, then found the place without any trouble.
There were a few other children about, walking slowly to class in close-knit clumps, and every time Hubert passed, the conversations would die on their lips, and they would stare at him with wide eyes. It had been a long time since Arkham Academy had any new students.
It was still a little early when he reached his classroom at the far end of the school's courtyard of dying grass. Hubert stood outside the door and looked at his reflection in the frosted window. He straightened his tie, thinking about his mother's hands as she had made the careful knot in the morning. Hubert shuddered silently, and walked through the door.
The classroom was gray and featureless, a green chalkboard set before a few rows of identical desks, arranged as neatly as headstones in a graveyard. Already most of the seats were filled, and the students sat and talked with each other. Like most residents of Arkham, their faces contained a certain paleness, like the color had been washed away by too much scrubbing. They stared at Hubert, and he walked to the back of the room and sat down, folding his hands and trying not to meet their gazes.
He looked up at the clock and watched the seconds tick by, and then someone sat in the desk next to him. "You're the new boy, ain't you?" the voice was friendly, but with a bit of a squeak to it. Hubert looked over and saw an odd looking boy sitting next to him and grinning widely. "You're the one came from New York City. We don't get many new people in here. My name is Zacharias, Zacharias P. Gillman, and I was wondering if we could be friends."
"What?" Hubert stared at Zacharias, who had a wide face and a round chin, like he had swallowed a balloon. His smile seemed to be composed of pointed teeth, and his straw-colored hair was made of thin wafts.
Zacharias leaned forward, nearly falling out of his desk. "You see, most of the guys here don't really like me, because I'm from Innsmouth, you know."
"Innsmouth?" Hubert asked. "What's wrong with Innsmouth?"
"Well, it's just different there. It's near the ocean, and the people from it, like my family before we got kicked out because of some arguments with the mayor, we're not going to stay humans forever. I'm going to grow gills and go into the sea, and dwell in splendor and glory for all eternity in the bottomless seas." Zacharias gulped and smiled sheepishly, showing more of his wide teeth. "Oh, I'm not really supposed to say that. Just pretend you didn't hear that last part."
"Okay," Hubert said, nodding. "Well, my name is Hubert, and I'm from New York."
"Big buildings there?" Zacharias asked. "And gangsters, like in the moving pictures?"
"Well, I've never really seen any, but I'm sure they're there," Hubert agreed. He paused before continuing. "Zacharias, what's Arkham like? To live in, I mean?"
Zacharias pursed his lips and considered the question. He scratched his neck, and Hubert saw he had two thin scars in his neck, which the high collar of his pea coat failed to cover. "Well, it's all right," Zacharias said. "It can get a bit wild sometimes, but it's mostly all right."
By now most of the students had taken their seats. The door slammed open, and the science teacher walked in. He shuffled over to the chalk board, and stared at the class, his thin body bent crookedly. "Good morning," he said, his voice soft. "Science will be the first order of the day. I will be your teacher in that seminal subject and my name is Dr. East." He grabbed a piece of chalk and scratched out his name in a few hastily slashed letters. "We will begin with a discussion of the human form, and the many ways in which it can be destroyed."
Dr. East was rail thin and wore a disheveled white coat, his dark tie resembling a hangman's taut noose, and his blue eyes pale as milk. His voice never seemed to rise above a whisper, and Hubert had to lean in to hear what he was saying. "Death," Dr. East whispered. "Is mankind's greatest foe. Can anyone number the ways in which a human can be destroyed? By age, yes, but there are so many others. Stabbings, shootings, fallings, starvation, thirst, immolation, and countless more…"
Hubert withdrew his composition book and a pencil and took a few quick notes. Zacharias leaned over and looked at Hubert's notebook. "I've heard that Dr. East is pretty easy," Zacharias said. "For his tests and quizzes, all the answers are either 'death' or 'resurrection.'"
"Why does he care about that so much?"
"Oh, they say that he's an inventor, and came up with some fluid that he say can bring the dead back to the life," Zacharias said with a wink. "He's a little obsessed. That's just a rumor, but I've even heard East isn't his real name."
The girl sitting in front of Hubert turned around indignantly. "Do you mind?" she whispered back. "Some of us are trying to learn!" Hubert looked at her pale angular face and dark eyes, framed by straight dark hair cut brutally short. She was quite thin, and seemed like she was going to burst into tears at any moment.
"S-sorry," Hubert stammered.
Zacharias grinned even wider. "Don't mind her, Hubert. That's Eliza Carter, her father's a weirdo, and no one really likes her that much. They live all alone in a big mansion in the hills."
Eliza scowled at Zacharias. "Don't talk about my father, you amphibious imbecile," she hissed.
Dr, East continued droning on about death, ignoring the passed notes and hushed conversations in his classroom. Hubert scrawled down a few more bits of East's lesson before the science teacher suddenly stood up and turned towards the door.
"I hope you enjoyed that," he whispered. "I think its time for your history calss now, with Mr. Armitage." Before he could leave, the door opened, and Mr. Armitage stepped inside. Armitage brushed against Dr. East, nearly knocking the smaller man over.
"Oh, terribly sorry!" Mr. Armitage cried, extending a large hand to the flustered scientist. "I can be so clumsy sometimes." Armitage seemed completely different from Dr. East, wrapped in a dark coat with a thick dark beard sprouting from his chin. A shadow hung over Armitage's face, caused only a little by the low brim of his fedora.
Dr. East stepped out of the way. "Never mind," he said. "Good day, Armitage." He stepped into the hallway and left. His footsteps breaking into a run were audible the second the door was closed. Mr. Armitage looked back at the class with eyes that were the color of dying coals, and smoldered in his brow.
"History," Armitage muttered, sitting on the desk. "The study of what has once been. Eons ago, when man first crawled out of the primordial mists, he set foot upon a world shrouded in mystery. Time has passed. Some of the mysteries have faded. But not nearly all."
Eliza turned around and looked at Hubert. "That's not Mr. Armitage," she whispered. "I don't know who that is but it's not Mr. Armitage." Her face was pained and she bit her lip.
"What?" Hubert asked. "How do you—"
"His brother, Professor Armitage teaches at the Miskatonic University, and they've seen my father before, visited our house. That's not him." She looked back at the teacher and raised her hand. "He doesn't even know what he's talking about."
Armitage stared at her. "Yes?" he asked. "Who are you, then?"
"Eliza Carter, sir," she said curtly. "I was wondering when you were going to start on American history. That's what we're learning this year, isn't it?"
"American history…" Armitage asked, licking his lips. "Hmmm. Well, I do know a few things about that. Did you know that this very building, in this very town, has a special place in New England colonial history?" His dark eyes twinkled as he leaned forward. "You must know that Arkham Academy is not built on solid ground. Catacombs and caverns wind their way through the dark earth, and in 1699, it was here that the Blackburn Coven of witches chose as the headquarters of their dark rituals. They were pursued here by the townspeople of Arkham after their witchcraft and sorceries were discovered, and never seen again."
Eliza rolled her eyes. "We all know about the Blackburn Coven, and Baldric Blackburn, and how they were caught sacrificing children and dealing with the devil."
"Do you now?" Armitage clenched his hands like he was wringing invisible necks. "Well, I suppose you know the purpose of their dark dabbling in forbidden magicks and occult lore? You know that they were attempting to use the blood of children to create a bridge across the stars, to the very heart of the blasted universe, and bring the cold, void-spawned beings to our doomed world and wipe out pathetic mankind in an orgy of gibbering madness?" He clenched his teeth and shook his head. "Break for lunch," he announced quickly, and then slouched in his chair, like the life had gone out of him.
Hubert sat stunned by Mr. Armitage's strange speech while the other children headed outside with their lunches, or sat within the classroom and talked, eating their foods on their desks as if rambling diatribes against reality were a common occurrence in Arkham Academy. Finally, Hubert reached into his book bag and withdrew a brown paper bag, containing the lunch his mother had packed for him.
Zacharias stood up from his desk and pulled a bag of cold fish from the burlap sack that served as his book bag. "What are you eating, Hubert?" he asked. "Salmon for me. I do like salmon."
"Just a pastrami sandwich," Hubert said, pulling the sandwich free from the bag. It was wrapped in yesterday's newspaper, and Hubert carefully pulled out the wrappings and set it aside. He looked up and saw Dr. East slam open the classroom door and step inside, looking everywhere and whispering to himself. Despite himself, Hubert leaned in to see what was going on.
Dr. East was bending down, staring under the desks, pressing his cheek to the floor as his eyes darted madly about the room. "Where is it?" he asked, his voice shaking. "It was right in my pocket, right in my pocket! Did it fall out? Roll under something? Where?" He noticed some of the students, as well as Mr. Armitage, staring at him. He stood up, his nervous laughter sounding particularly manic. "I lost my…medication," he said, speaking slowly. "A syringe, filled with liquid. Neon green. You haven't seen it have you?"
"I'm afraid not, Dr. East," Mr. Armitage said calmly, his dark eyes fluttering open. "We haven't seen anything like that anywhere. Maybe you left it in your office."
"Yes…" Dr. East said, already springing up like a malfunctioning wind-up toy. "My office." He dashed from the room.
Hubert shrugged and went to his sandwich. As he ate, and half-listened to Zacharias's talking about various types of fish, his eyes chanced to look at the old newspaper lying on his desk, and stared in the face of Mr. Armitage, who glared back at him in a black-and-white mug shot. Hubert's heart raced as he grabbed the article and read the headline.
"Oh no," he whispered, his eyes darting over the words. "Dangerous criminal lunatic escapes from Arkham Sanitarium." He looked down at the article and read it quickly. 'Danvers 'The Demon' Studge, wanted for numerous accounts of murder, theft, conspiracy, and searching for occult knowledge into what man was not meant to know." Hubert looked up from the article and stared at Zacharias. "This isn't good."
Eliza turned around and stared at the picture. "So he's an insane cultist," she said, sniffing. "I knew it." She smoothed down her plaid dress. "Well, Hubert, what do you think we should do about it?"
"I, um, I don't really…" his mind raced, and he looked up at Danvers Studge sitting at the front of the room, but he couldn't think of anything. By now, the lunch break had already ended, and the students found their way to the classroom. Studge stood up and welcomed them in with hands outstretched, a predatory grin playing on his unshaven face.
Studge smiled down at the class and folded his hands. "Right, children," he said. "How about a field trip? You don't require permission from your parents or anything. We won't be going far."
Hubert turned to stare at Zacharias and Eliza as they walked down to the basement of Arkham Academy. "We have to warn the others," he said through clenched teeth, not wanting to be heard by the dangerous Studge. They were the last in the single file line of students marching down the winding stairway into the dusty and darkened basement. Studge led the way, but he constantly checked over his shoulder, and one hand was tucked menacingly into the folds of his dark jacket.
"What are we gonna do?" Zacharias asked. "They're not gonna believe us -- an Innsmouth boy, the new kid, and the girl with the crazy father! And then Danvers the Demon will find out and fillet us or something!"
Studge looked back at them and Zacharias fell silent. Eliza stopped and pulled them close. "We run," she said. "First chance we get, we run back up here and find a teacher and have them call the police." She narrowed her eyes at Zacharias. "And don't talk about my father!"
They had reached the bottom level of the basement. It was dark as pitch, and Studge pulled a lighter from his pocket and switched it on, providing a small circle of sickly yellow illumination. He looked around the decaying boxes of musty old tomes, shelves and cupboards in various stages of collapse, and even the white bones of a skeleton lying in a jumble on the dirt-smeared cement floor.
"Ah…" Studge said, licking his lips as they reached a metal gate built into the wall. He pulled it aside, and extended his hand, showing the dark stone walls of a twisting cave. "This way, students!" he declared. "Just a bit further, and I'll show you the greatest sight of your young lives!"
They walked into the basement, and down the narrow tunnel. Hubert slipped on the rocks and Zacharias steadied him. The Innsmouth boy's flat ears pricked up and he tapped his stubby fingers on the stone wall of the cave. "Water," he said. "I can hear it, not far off. Must be some underground stream or something."
They continued to walk forward, and the tunnel widened and other passages split off from the main route, leading into labyrinths spiraling like writhing worms deep under the earth. Hubert looked at the walls and noticed carvings etched in the stone, unknown characters and sketches of impossible designs, many-angled, many-eyed and deeply malevolent. A few shafts of light trickled down from holes in the ceiling, providing just enough light to see.
As they walked deeper into the caves, they saw several old wooden torches hanging from the wall in rusted rungs. Studge grabbed one and used his lighter to set it afire, then hefted it down the tunnel. "Yes!" he cried. "Almost there, children!"
He walked a bit further, and came to a wide circular stone chamber, with a grotesque altar built in the middle. Danvers Studge walked around the altar, smiling as he rubbed his hands. The altar was a horrid thing, carved from a single stone pillar. It showed some terrible monster, winged, fanged, and bristling with tentacles and eyes. It many maws were reaching upwards, like it was begging to be fed. Skulls lay scattered around the feet of the altar, their sightless sockets staring at the cave ceiling.
But Studge wasn't looking at the altar, instead walking to the corners of the room. Hubert looked at him, and shuddered in the cave's chill when he saw what it was Studge had found. There were bodies on the ground, desiccated, long dead corpses dressed in ragged clothes and lying sprawled in the corner. They wore faded black frock coats, frayed cravats and dusty tricorn hats, each topped with a set of goat's horns.
"The Blackburn Coven!" Eliza whispered. "This must be them!"
"But I thought they escaped down here and ran away?" Zacharias asked. "What happened?"
Studge knelt down beside the bodies, planting the torch in a small hole in the ground. He looked back at the Arkham Academy students. "Stay put, children," he said, pulling an automatic from his coat. "This won't take long." He looked down at the corpses as he reached into his long coat again. "Yes…the Blackburn Coven fled here and tried to open their portal to allow the Old Ones entry. But they failed, because they had only their own blood to pave the stones of the cosmic path, and the Old Ones require the blood of innocents. The Blackburn Coven was far from innocent, and they bled to death for no purpose, their eldritch knowledge lost for all time."
Studge withdrew a needle from his coat and held it up to the light. "Luckily, these things have a way of changing." The syringe was filled with glowing green liquid, and Studge slammed it into the chest of the nearest withered cadaver. "When I heard 'Dr. East' was teaching at Arkham Academy, the plan came to me. A fellow inmate had whispered to me tales of the good doctor's experiments in the re-animation of dead tissue, and I knew then what must be done."
Hubert tapped Zacharias's shoulder. "We have to go," he said. "We'll just slip off. He won't notice. We have to run and get help."
"Yeah," Zacharias agreed, and looked back at the corpses. "By Dagon's flippers," he gasped. "It's working!"
The green liquid sunk into the bodies, and one by one, they began to stand. They flexed their long stilled muscles and shook their withered gray flesh as they came shakily to life. Some of the Arkham students screamed, but Studge raised his pistol and covered them, preventing any escape. Studge grabbed the torch and held it high. Long closed lids slid upon the faces of the Blackburn Coven, revealing sightless sockets. They stared at him, their bodies poised in expectation.
"Begin the invocations!" Studge shouted. "Recite the oaths long forgotten to the minds of men! The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones will be!"
Hubert and Zacharias edged their way to the back of the crowd, ducking low and hoping they would not be seen turned to go, but Eliza grabbed Hubert's arm. "I'm going with you," she said. "Father would want me to stop this."
"Fine," Hubert answered, too nervous to even argue. He took a step down the tunnel, and then another. Studge didn't seem to notice. Behind him, he could hear the corpses babbling. They spoke in strange syllables, impossible words that did not sound like they could come from a mouth with just one tongue. The words slipped and slithered from the mouths of the dead men while Studge watched in glee.
Hubert, Zacharias and Eliza reached the rear of the group and the darkened tunnel beyond. They started tiptoeing away from the chamber, and that was when Studge spun around. "Trying to run?" he asked. "Oh, don't be doing that!" He leveled his automatic and fired.
Inside the enclosed space of the cave, the noise was deafening. Hubert felt his heart pound wildly as he legs starting moving under him, like the components of some malfunctioning mechanism refusing to stop. The bullet crashed into the cave floor behind him, chipping up rock and causing Hubert, Zacharias and Eliza to move even faster, disappearing into the darkened cave and dashing down the first tunnel they saw.
Behind them, Studge's laughter mocked their flight. "Next one of you little brats tries to run, he gets a bullet in the brain! And don't worry about those three. There are worse things than me and the Blackburn boys down here. I'll leave them for the Shoggoths…"
Hubert blinked his eyes, gulped down his fear and kept running. His eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness, and his legs ached enough to make him stop. He felt the stitch in his side and sucked in stale air, then sunk down to the ground. Zacharias and Eliza stopped as well. For a few seconds they caught their breath, and then look around. They were in another tunnel, seemingly far from the one which they had entered.
"How do we get back?" Hubert asked, standing up and shivering in the underground chill. "Do any of you know the way back to Arkham Academy's basement?"
"No clue," Zacharias whispered. "But you heard Studge! There's a Shoggoth down here! It's gonna gobble us up!"
"What's a Shoggoth?" Hubert asked.
"Well, it's really bad, and always hungry and um…" Zacharias paused. "I don't really know much more than that."
Eliza frowned. "They're very rare, anyway. I've heard they only live in Antarctica. Studge is a maniac and must have been bluffing to frighten the others." She pointed down the tunnel. "Let's go this way, Hubert. Perhaps we'll find something."
Not knowing what else to do, Hubert followed Eliza down the tunnel, with Zacharias bringing up the rear. The Innsmouth boy looked over his shoulder constantly, and then suddenly stopped and sniffed the air. "Water," he said. "It's on the other side of this wall somewhere..." He felt along the stone with his hand, and then pointed forward as the tunnel forked. "Ah. Should be right down that way."
"What good will water do us?" Eliza asked. "Are you thirsty?"
"We can swim away," Zacharias said. "It must link up with Miskatonic River, and from there, we can get help." He smiled to himself, his temporarily lost jubilance returned. "Then we get help, save the day, and everyone goes home happy."
Eliza was quick to retort. "It must be several leagues to swim until we reach the river, you fishy fool," she muttered. "Do you think you can make it?"
"I'm from Innsmouth," Zacharias replied proudly. "I'm good at swimming." He stepped ahead of Eliza and Hubert and started down the tunnel. The two other children followed, keeping their hands on the narrow cave walls and feeling the rough stones scrape against their arms and legs like the hungry teeth of countless beasts.
"Eliza?" Hubert asked. "Why did you call Zacharias a fish? You don't believe those things he says about himself, do you?"
"Many bizarre things are true in Arkham, Hubert," Eliza replied. "You had best get used to it."
"Oh," Hubert agreed. He paused for a few seconds, trying to think of something to say. "You know, this is a little like Tom Sawyer. When they were lost in the cave, you know?"
"Is that a book?" Eliza asked. "My father refuses to allow any books written after 1850 into our house, a rejection of the moderns, he calls it."
"Well, I thought it was okay." Hubert stuffed his hands deeper into the pockets of his vest. "I could, uh, loan it to you, if you want."
Very briefly, a smile appeared over Eliza's face. "I wouldn't mind that," she said.
Hubert smiled back, and then heard a noise somewhere behind him. It was like a bird's chirping song, high-pitched and mellifluous, but strangely terrible to hear deep underground. The lilting sound came again and again, gaining louder each time it repeated. Hubert froze and looked over his shoulder as he heard the strange song again. "Tikel-li-li," sounded once more, and Hubert saw something slither forward in the darkness.
"Run!" Zacharias shouted back to them, already dashing forward into the darkened tunnel. Hubert stayed put, staring as the Shoggoth slid into his view. It was big enough to fill up the entirety of the tunnel, and its shape changed as it rolled over the rocks and oozed between the walls. It was the color of rotten vegetation, speckled with glowing orbs that reminded Hubert of the eyes of frogs. He sat stunned by the shifting, gelatinous creature, until Eliza grabbed his arm and pulled him forward.
Again, they ran down the tunnel, hearing the Shoggoth's song behind them. Hubert tore his gaze away from the Shoggoth and ran, tripping over protruding rocks, banging his body on the walls, but ignoring all discomforts to put more ground between himself and loathsome gooey monstrosity. His breath came in ragged gasps, and he could hear Eliza and Zacharias in similar states. But still they ran.
Then he heard another noise, which he first thought was the roar of another great beast, but soon realized to be rushing water. A smile crossed his face as he the tunnel turned the corner, and led to a large chamber bisected by an underground stream. The Shoggoth sounded far away and Hubert and his companions stopped to rest.
"It will take it a little bit of time to cross the water," Eliza said. "They can swim, but not well." She moved to the edge of the river and slowly set her foot into the stream. It sank down, but she reached the bottom. Carefully, Eliza crossed. She looked back to Hubert and Zacharias. The Innsmouth boy was staring at the stream. As Hubert and Eliza watched, he removed his felt jacket and tossed it behind him.
"Zacharias?" Hubert asked. "You're not going to swim in that, are you?"
"It links up with the Miskatonic," Zacharias explained, walking to the water's edge and kneeling down. He set his palms into the water. "I'll swim out through there, fast as the current, and get the police." He looked up from the river and gave another one of his wide grins to Hubert and Eliza. "It should be easy."
"Tell them to find Professor Armitage as well," Eliza said, nodding. "He may be needed. Good luck."
"Thanks." Zacharias leapt forward and dove into the shallow water. He swam in jerks and shakes, only occasionally using his arms to pull him forward. As Hubert watched, he dipped into the deeper waters and vanished under the stream. Hubert stared at the spot of water where Zacharias had vanished, and then heard the Shoggoth's twisted bird song.
Yelping in terror, he leapt across the river. He landed halfway in and stood up, then Eliza grabbed his arm and helped him out. They ran together towards the nearest cave, and into another winding tunnel. The Shoggoth followed, rolling slowly over the river and then sliding after them into the tunnel.
But the beast was tireless and its prey was not. Eliza and Hubert continued to run forward, fear at their unnatural pursuer driving them further into the caves. Hubert's ragged breath came in beats, and he did not how long he ran. Then he saw light up ahead. He pointed towards one of the tunnels, and he and Eliza wordlessly ran down that passage. But as they neared the end of the tunnel, Hubert felt the bottom drop out of his stomach, and a new fear rising in his heart.
The chanting of the Blackburn Coven filled their ears, as they emerged behind Danvers Studge and the terrible altar. Studge was still holding his pistol, covering the rest of the Arkham students, who cowered in the corner. Danvers the Demon nodded his head in time with the chants of the Blackburn Coven, adding his own shouted words. "Ia Cthulhu!" he shrieked, without warning. "Ia Yog-Sothoth! Ia Shub-Niggurath!" He laughed after every exclamation.
Hubert tried to slow his run, and skittered to a halt. Eliza stopped as well, but then the Shoggoth let out another strain of chirping, and Studge turned around.
Without hesitation, he hurled the torch down the narrow cave passage. It struck the Shoggoth, and the shadows danced like a mad man's etchings come to life as the Shoggoth writhed about in the growing flame. Its lilting song became a high-pitched shriek, loud enough for Hubert to cover his ears and close his eyes until the awful noise faded.
But when it did, Studge grabbed Eliza's arm and dragged her forward, pulling the struggling girl to the altar. "Fortune favors me tonight!" he cried. Studge reached into his coat, withdrawing a long curved dagger. With the firelight from the dying, still burning Shoggoth reflected in the clear side of the blade, Studge placed it to Eliza's throat. "The invocations are almost complete. Now to shed the blood of the innocent!"
Something snapped in Hubert. "Leave her alone!" he yelled and leapt at Studge. He grabbed Studge's arm, allowing Eliza to step away, and then drove his fist into the deranged occultist's chest. Danvers Studge cursed and grappled with the boy.
Despite all of Hubert's efforts, he was a twelve-year-old boy and small for his age, and Studge was a veteran criminal and fighter. The battle was over quickly, when Studge slammed the handle of his dagger against Hubert's forehead, and knocking the boy to the ground. Danvers Studge grabbed Hubert's collar and forced he boy against the altar.
"Oh don't struggle, don't you struggle!" Studge snarled. "Don't you know? We're in a depression. We must all make sacrifices!"
Hubert saw flashes of brightness behind his eyes, and saw Studge standing above him, the dagger raised high. His classmates were screaming as the dagger slowly came down. He heard the chanting of the Blackburn Coven reaching a peak, their words going faster and faster until a slurred mass of glossolaila and spittle spewed from their long dead lips. The walls of the cave started to glow and steam emanated from the floor. Hubert looked into Studge's grinning, stubble-clad face.
Then a gunshot echoed through the enclosed cavern, and Studge stepped backwards, screaming as he dropped his knife. Hubert turned around and saw blue-uniformed policemen storming into the room, tommy guns in their hands. They stepped ahead of the children, one officer running towards Studge and wrestling him to the ground. The Blackburn ceased their chanting, and stared at the police in mute surprise.
"Damn you!" Studge hissed, as handcuffs were slid onto his bleeding hands. "Lock me up again, I don't care! You won't stop me! The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones will be! Ia! Ia!"
Two fellows in suits stepped into the room, and Eliza smiled brightly at them. "Professor Armitage!" she cried. "You made it!"
"Ah yes." Professor Armitage patted his paunch belly, and smiled at the girl. "I suppose it is thanks to your friend, Zacharias, that we arrived. I'll admit, I was much distressed by his message, but everything seems to have worked out all right in the end." He patted the shoulder of the younger man standing next to him, who shared his wide forehead and wore similar spectacles, and bore a purple bruise on his pleasant face. "We even found my dear brother Nicolas, your history teacher, locked inside a supply closet at the school."
Zacharias ran forward, dashing between the Armitage brothers and running to join Hubert and Eliza. Behind him, Danvers Studge was led away and the police covered the Blackburn Coven with their sub-guns. Zacharias was soaking wet, and the water dripped down to the cave floor as he approached. "You're okay?" he asked. "He didn't hurt anybody?"
"He almost got Hubert," Eliza exclaimed, brushing dust off of her sweater as if nothing had happened. "He was going for me I think, but Hubert attacked him. It was quite chivalrous. Thank you, for that."
"You're welcome," Hubert replied, scratching his head. They walked out of the cave, joining the rest of the class, who were being led by police officers with flashlights out of the tunnel and back to the basement of Arkham Academy.
Behind them, one of the officers jabbed a thumb at the Blackburn Coven. "Say, Armitage, what do we do with them?"
Professor Armitage sighed. "Destroy them, I suppose. And hope that their forbidden knowledge is lost forever." He turned away, as the tommy guns blared behind him, bringing death once more to the members of the Blackburn Coven.
After they were led back into Arkham Academy and the school day ended, Hubert and his friends walked outside. His father was already waiting for him, his automobile parked behind the cluster of police vehicles near the school's entrance. Hubert waved goodbye to Eliza and Zacharias as he ran to his father.
"Hubert! What was going on in there? What are these cops doing here?" Hubert's father embraced his son, and relief, calm and safety washed over the boy like a cool wave. "What happened?"
"Well, this cultist guy was impersonating our teacher, and he tried to sacrifice us to release a bunch of ancient gods. But Zacharias, he's part fish or something, he swam off, and got help, and I was nearly sacrificed, but then the police came and I wasn't." Hubert smiled at his father. "It's okay though. The cultist was stopped, though he did promise to get out, and the coven of witches was destroyed."
"Hubert." Fear lent a tremor to his father's voice. "If you don't like it here, if you don't feel safe, we can go back to New York, and get a smaller apartment, and I'll find some other job, and your mother can start work. Are you sure you don't mind it here in Arkham?"
Hubert thought about the nervousness that came with the new town, and the nameless terror in the re-animated corpses of the Blackburn Coven, the keening cry of the Shoggoth, and the madness of Danvers Studge. But then he remembered Zacharias's courage and easily extended friendship and the smile flitting across Eliza's pale face like some elusive tropical bird against a steel gray sky, and he found himself shaking his head.
"It's a little strange," Hubert said, as he and his father walked to the automobile to begin the drive home. "But I think I'll get used to it."