Professor Sidney Travison of Miskatonic University sat down to breakfast. His wife Edna pored over the newspaper, which lay stretched across the walnut table like Thanksgiving linen.
“What’s that?” asked the professor as he buttered a piece of toast.
Mrs. Travison scratched a pencil over the gray-white paper.
“Sudoku,” she answered.
“I thought that used numbers,” her husband remarked.
“It’s even harder using letters. You want to plug in more than nine.”
The professor sipped coffee absently.
“Looks like the magic squares of Abraham von Wurtzburg.”
Edna glanced up. “What?”
“Nothing. I see anything these days, I think of something obscure and bizarre. Occupational hazard for the keeper of the closed section of the library.”
He bit into his toast as his wife scratched down a final vowel.
“Finished!” she cried.
She studied the newspaper a moment longer, her smirk of triumph fading.
“These look almost like words.”
“Ah, the pattern-seeking circuits of the cerebral cortex,” said the professor. “I used to do that with Scrabble tiles.”
“I-A-K-T-H-U-L-O-S,” Edna pronounced slowly.
“What? Let me see that,” said Professor Travison.
He rustled the paper around to face him. The first line of the Sudoku square, in the blunt lead strokes of Edna’s Number 2 pencil, indeed read “IAKTHULOS”.
The spelling was not quite correct, but there were plenty of variations on that name, and, he reminded himself, the creators of the puzzle had to use nine different letters.
The next few lines read: LUTAOSIHK, HOSKTIUAL, STULIOAKH, KHLUATOSI. It did not precisely match the transcripts he had seen of the Pnakotic Manuscripts or the Eltdown Shards, but, again, each line required the use of the same nine letters, each used only once. Besides, all the old translations were approximating a language never intended for human use.
OIAHSKTLU – AKHOULSIT
Until now, thought the professor. He rose.
“I’ve got to contact the Dean. And the newspaper,” he announced. “And the chief of police. We have to round up whoever is responsible for this.”
“The Arkham police?” asked Edna. “The author’s probably not in their jurisdiction, Sidney, dear. This puzzle is syndicated. It’s in ‘papers coast to coast.”
Professor Travison froze for a moment, imagining millions of people at breakfast tables, in Krispy Kreme and Starbuck’s, at their desks and cubicles, finishing the puzzle this fine autumn morning and succumbing to the pattern-seeking instinct to pronounce these nonsense syllables.
Through an open window in the kitchen, from the direction of the university, there rolled a boom like thunder. The morning sun dimmed as smoke filled the sky.
The jazz tune on the Travisons’ radio vanished into static. Professor Travison could swear he heard the words “Ia Cthulhu!” in the white noise.
“Sneaky bastards,” he muttered.
© Michael D. Winkle
Michael Winkle is an Oklahoma bookkeeper writing again after a long dry spell. He is the author of two dozen published stories, including “Wolfhead” in Tales of the Witch World 3 (1990) and “The Curious Adventure of the Jersey Devil” in Panverse 2 (2010). His website is http://www.fantasyworldproject.com
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