by Josh T. Alto
About a late-summer night when Mrs. Richards died
|With terror in her eyes, Mrs. Richards was clinging to the edge of the bed, as she slowly left this side of life, to plunge into the ultimate darkness that she always feared. The bedroom door slowly closed and silence fell on the house. The coroner later diagnoses heart attack as the cause of death that happened around 4:00 AM.
The late-summer night was slowly coming to an end, the crickets stopped chirping, the owl returned to its nest and the morning dew descended gradually over the valley. Birds were still waiting for the sun, way too cold for singing, but the sound of a faint crow came from one of the houses, and dogs barked at a fox that crept under the bushes.
Suddenly the dogs stopped barking, one could clearly hear the noise of water-drops falling from the leaves and from the tree branches. A shadow passed by, near the edge of the valley and disappeared between the trees, unseen, unrecognized by anyone living in the few houses around. The tree branches closed noiselessly behind it as if it had been only a vision, not part of this world.
Some time have passed motionless as if time stopped for a few minutes, as if to anticipate the coming day, then continued on its path. The morning dew was still sitting all over on the grass and on the bushes, but the first rays of the sun already pushed through the faint fog. The sunlight brought back the vivid colours on the hillside, the green of the grass and the red, blue and yellow of the wildflowers. Birds were chirping all over and the trees were slowly bowing in the abating wind.
People in the village got out of their beds, made their first morning coffee, watched the valley and enjoyed the birds singing as if it were the most natural way of life anyone can have. No one marked anything unusual, no one marked Mrs. Richards’ passing away. The neighbours confirmed that Mrs. Richards lived withdrawn in her house at the forest looking over the valley. She did not have any friends in the village. Since Mr. Richards, her husband died seven years ago, they did not think anyone had visited her.
At 7:30 AM Mr. Morgan left his house through the back gate to take a morning walk with his dog, Buster, a German shepherd. Even if he had to pass Mrs. Richards’ house halfway, he often took the back gate, because it was a much shorter way to the forest. Like others in the village, he had no contact with Mrs. Richards and he usually passed the house without looking at it.
That morning however Buster ran straight to the door of Mrs. Richards’ house and started barking. He shouted “Come on Buster, let her sleep!” to the dog but he did not leave the door and kept barking. A few minutes had passed and as there was no sign of Mrs. Richards at the door or windows, Mr. Morgan also went to the front door and started knocking and then banging on it without any results.
He still remembered years ago, when Mr. Richards was still alive, he sometimes banged the same door so hard, all the neighbours could hear it. He was a drunkard and after he disappeared for days, visiting all the pubs in the neighbourhood, came home at dawn, started banging at the door and shouting “Evelyn, let me in, I’ll kill you!” Everyone knew he was aggressive after he drank, and when Mrs. Richards was not seen for days they all knew the reason.
It was Mr. Morgan who alarmed the police. According to the investigations, all the doors and windows were intact, there were no sign of forced entry into the house, so the report confirmed that she most probably died of a natural cause of death. Mrs. Richards was seventy five years old. “You can’t run away, I’ll be there waiting for you” was her last thoughts, that her husband told her in one of their quarrel after she said she would kill him one day.
On the evening before she died, Mrs. Richards had a visitor that came around 9:00 PM. Her visitor was not an ordinary one, he let himself in the house, went to the parlour table and set up the chessboard. Mrs. Richards loved to play chess, that was the only common passion with her husband, but she has not set up the chessboard since he died and even before he died they stopped playing long ago.
“Evelyn, I would like to drink a cup of tea if you don’t mind.” her visitor said after setting up the chessboard and sat to the table. Mrs. Richards prepared two cups of tea for them, served some biscuits and talked about old friends she has not seen for long, places always planned to visit but never went there. Life she could have lived but had never had the chance, people she liked but never let them come close to her. Her visitor agreed that most people complained about lost opportunities as if they could not have done anything about it, could not have done things better.
Mrs. Richards often thought of her life with her husband, whether she would have had a better life if they did not meet. Or maybe if they had children, her husband would not have drunken that much, he might have been a happier man after all and probably she as well. They never find out the real reason of their childlessness. Her husband declared he was alright, “You are the reason, something is wrong with you” that is what he said. She suggested adoption but he did not want to hear about it.
Her husband was found in the deep cave in the forest, not far from their house. Apparently he was completely drunk and while coming home from the last pub he visited at the other side of the forest, he slipped at the opening of the cave and fell into the depth. There was no suspect although in the village it was talked about for a long time how handy it came to Mrs. Richards.
The cave is called the Devil’s Hole by the locals, although the official name is the Bronze Cave. Its opening is only 10 feet away from the road through the forest. The nickname refers to the almost vertical opening that goes down 892 feet, then continues more than ten thousand feet horizontally. Tools from Bronze Age, and human and animal remains were also found there. The cave can be visited with permission, so its opening has never been closed.
After some small talk, Mrs. Richards playing white, started with Queen's Pawn Opening and Queen’s Gambit that was her winning moves when playing with her husband but she soon found out that her visitor played in a more sophisticated style as her late husband did. After her visitor started with the Dutch Defence and continued with the Stonewall that her husband never played and she was not prepared, she got confused and was sure she will loose but tried to keep concentrated and make the best moves she could.
After hours of playing she felt more and more lost, and saw the end much earlier as it de facto happened. It was also the first time she felt guilty since her husband had been found in the cave seven years ago. She was sure she had not left any traces behind but the last seven years she lived in constant fear of being suspected and questioned for days until she confesses everything. But at the same time she was calm because she was sure, her husband was the reason for everything.
The investigator reported nothing unusual in the house, a chessboard with some chess pieces on it, others next to the chessboard on the table, and even on the floor, an empty tea cup, some biscuits, even some old pictures with the late Mr. Richards and friends, nothing unusual. For a trained eye, there was more to see, a checkmate where white had lost and one of the black knights missing.
Later that day Mr. Morgan went out with Buster to make up for the morning walk. At the edge of the forest Buster caught some scent and disappeared between the bushes. “Buster! Stop! Wait for me!” cried Mr. Morgan but the dog, as if he had not heard him, just disappeared in the forest. Mr. Morgan tried to catch up with the dog but he was much faster. “Buster! Stop! Do not go to the cave!” cried Mr. Morgan one more time when he saw where the dog was running. When he finally caught up with the dog, Buster was already sitting near the cave, holding a chess piece in his mouth, it was a black knight.