Episode in an Arkham Pool Hall

Damn, but that big guy with the fishy eyes is good! thought Joe Morton as he watched the mousy guy get his clock cleaned. Should have put some money on him.

The place was Stafford’s Billiards in Arkham, Massachusetts, and the time was New Year’s Eve. And Stafford’s was hopping.

Joe felt sorry for the little guy — he with his threadbare suit and thick, owlish spectacles. He kind of looked like Don Knotts. Probably one of them professors from Miskatonic. But what the hey, who said teachers couldn’t celebrate New Year’s too?

Still, the guy looked very out-of-place in Stafford’s.

The little guy had been ahead by a half dozen games, remembered Joe, as he pulled on his Budweiser. But then the big guy came on almost like . . .

No! It couldn’t be. Yes, it was! Don Fishlet, from over Innsmouth-way! Professor ‘Knotts’ was getting hustled by an ex-professional pool-shark!

Yessiree, Fishlet had won the Nationals a while back, and had gone on to become the spokesman for Kasson Tables way over in Babbitt, Minnesota. Then he just sort of dropped out of the spotlight — it was rumored he had monkey on his back — and Joe had heard rumors he had retired to quiet, reclusive Innsmouth, Fishlet’s original birthplace.

Now Joe really lamented not putting money on him. Hauling a rig down the Aylesbury Pike put food on the table . . . but just barely.

“C’mon, sonny,” boomed out Fishlet. “How’sabout one more? Maybe your luck will change again.”

“Yeah, Prof, show ‘im how it’s done!” echoed Fishlet’s sidekick, as he began to rack up the balls yet again in answer to the little man’s nod. And now Joe made his face too: Adam Schepke, another from the pro-circuit, who had again faded from public view. So they’d both ended up here, in the Miskatonic Valley? Who was next: “English Pete” Worth?

Joe turned his attention back to the game at hand. He had to hand it to the Professor . . . he kept his cool. He merely muttered under his breath before each shot and smacked them balls in as sure as any player worth his salt in Arkham. And that would have been good enough against anyone else — but not against Don Fishlet. “Trick-Shot Don” just fired those balls in like they were made of steel and the pockets had been lined with magnets!

As the evening wore on, the Professor was soundly beaten over and over again, first by Fishlet and then by Schepke in turn (with him winning a couple games now and then, just to keep their fish “hooked”). And each time he just smiled and handed over the money they had wagered on. But near midnight, the Witching Hour, that smile began to waver. Still, he seemed determined to win back some of his greenbacks.

Shortly, Joe noticed, it grew deathly-quiet in the packed pool hall, all eyes intensely-trained on the game at hand.

“I don’t understand it, gentlemen,” sputtered the little Professor. “All evening I have put into practice what I learned from the book — utilizing the Angles of the (What was it he had said? Was it ‘Tog Klotter’? Joe wondered) — yet you still continue to beat me!”

“Y’can’t learn to play pool by using no book, sonny,” said Fishlet, leaning his giant frame on his pool cue and sounding rather sympathetical to the little man. “Why don’t you quit while you still have some dough left?”

“But, hey,” piped up Schepke, sensing the imminent loss of their meal-ticket, “it’s almost midnight — maybe your luck will change, Professor!”

“Indeed,” was all the little man said, wiping his spectacles, and continuing to play on.

Joe looked at the clock hanging over the bar. It was then only five minutes to midnight. The noise had picked up once again as the jukebox blasted out its assortment of ‘country crooners’ and ‘dixie dolls’. But just then the guy sitting on the stool next to Joe’s leaned over and said, barely above a whisper: “Say, aren’t those two guys pros? They look familar –”

And though he stood a good fifteen feet away, and though the lilting voice of Lorrie Morgan — if not the chaotic sounds of the crowded bar itself! — should surely have drowned out the patron’s voice — even so, the little man overheard, his gaze turning upon Joe’s neighbor, his eyes blazing!

It was the Professor’s turn to break again, Schepke having scratched on the ‘8’ last game, and as he stepped up to take his shot all grew deathly-quiet once again, the jukebox stuck between songs. He seemed self-assured once more. He looked upon Fishlet and Schepke with unmistakable derision — almost as if he saw them as bugs in need of squashing. As he drew his stick back and slammed the cueball forward for the break the sounds of “Auld Lang Syne” could be overheard dimly from somewhere outside the building — and the little man shouted something in a strong, steady voice.

“Ee-yaa Day-o-Loth!” it sounded to Joe, followed by some less-comprehensible gibberish.

And damned if that break shot didn’t clear the table!

The cueball spun around and around surely, bouncing off bumper after bumper, each time connecting with no less than three balls — and they all went in when struck! Joe couldn’t believe it; neither could the other spectators, including Don Fishlet. The pool-shark moved directly over the table and stared down flabbergasted at the supernaturally-animate cueball — a cueball which still hadn’t come to rest, even after all the other balls were in. Even now the cueball was still rebounding from bumper to bumper, its trail creating an intricate web on the table. At last it came to rest, and a pattern — the intricate cueball-drawn web-design — began to glow redly!

The pool-shark stared down into the center of the web-design, dumbstruck. Then a light of ultimate horror lit in his eyes and his face contorted in sheer terror.

He tried to run, but wasn’t fast enough. Something — a dog? — a shark? — both? — something came up through the web-design and snapped horribly before receding again — leaving behind a headless body!

Joe was buffeted by a wave of nausea. And he wasn’t the only one. The silence of the room was broken by the sound of violent retching.

When the sounds finally came to a halt, all eyes turned again upon the now red-drenched green of the pool tabletop.

The Professor seemed taller now, as if his eldritch power somehow amplified him physically. His eyes still blazed. He reached out and casually dislodged the headless body from the tabletop. It flopped upon the floor like a burlap sack of grain, and emptied itself like one too. Only wetter. Then he knelt down and began to pull the balls from the pockets and racked them up again as if nothing out of the ordinary had ever occurred.

Slowly, unsteadily, a very shaky Adam Schepke began to get to his feet. Whimpering audibly in the corner, where he had fainted upon seeing the ghastly fate of his former friend, he tried to put some distance between himself and the pool table . . . but he seemed to be having trouble putting one foot in front of the other.

As if in slow motion, the terrible figure turned upon him.

“No, my friend, I think not,” spoke the terrible once-tiny, now-seemingly gigantic figure with an air of blood-chilling certainty. “I regret that I cannot retain the Hound of Tin-doll-ose for further service, according to the Revelations of Glohk-ee,” Joe heard him say, “but Day-o-Loth granted, I do have other means at my disposal!”

With that he uttered yet another eldritch chant, and a slithering sound began to make itself known beneath the surface of the table green. Something long and green and ringed with suckers snaked forth from the pockets and made their way steadily toward the frozen form of Schepke. The tentacle coiled about his wrists and ankles and dragged him kicking and screaming atop the pool table. Then the rack of pool balls separated and began to move about as if alive and crack and split open to reveal jagged-toothed mouths. They descended upon the screaming figure and began their ghastly work with a slight buzzing sound.

“I guess this gives a new meaning to the words ‘8-ball'” said the guy on the barstool next to Joe Morton, and he began to cackle madly just then, his mind nearly gone.

But the laughter cut off abruptly when the terrible figure shot him a look. Then the figure seemed to shrink in upon itself again, becoming the little Professor once more. Donning his coat, the little man called out:

“Happy New Year, gentlemen! Enjoy it while you can, for the Earth’s original Masters are returning. Their New Year — Their New Aeon awaits!”

Then he went out the door, leaving a pool hall full of stunned and sickened patrons and a pair of inert bloody lumps behind.

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