by m. james moore

Dear Urth family:

  I believe it was over a year ago that I received the first package. It was a small, white, rectangular box made of flimsy cardboard, about three inches long, and was postmarked in my city but had no return address. My wife stressed for me to call the police -- warranted by no return address on an unexpected package. It was too late, I had already opened the top. If it was a bomb it would have gone off long before then I wager. It was no bomb, but I must say I was perplexed. It was merely a piece of paper on which was written, "C2-C4".

  "What does that mean?" my wife posed.

  "Perhaps it is a Star Wars droid," I said, guessing off the top of my head.

  "But why would... whoever it is, send a piece of paper in a box and not an envelope? Is there nothing else inside?" Sure enough, there was not.

  I spent the better part of the afternoon calling friends to ask if they knew what it meant. Some of them thought perhaps I'd ordered some bolt or piece to a mechanism and C2-C4 was the part number. Others speculated it could be some elaborate trick that in order to receive the next clue I needed to watch channel 2 through channel 4 on the television. Just in case, we got two other televisions from my son's room and our bedroom and stuck them in the living room with the large one tuned to those stations, but no clue came. Others thought it might refer to a chemical formula, but it was not written in subscript.

  Eleven days later we received another package, in the same form. I opened it and found a single chess piece, a pawn. It was made of some rather unusual material that I'd never seen before. It was greenish like emerald, but didn't feel like rock to the touch, more like that rough feeling of wood that had been cut against the grain. It was much too heavy to be a jewel and even had a peculiar glow when the lights were turned out. After looking at it for some time I then realized that "C2-C4" likely referred to an opening chess move, thence.

  When my wife got home, she found the opened package on the floor and ran about the house looking for me. I had not died from some anthrax as she was worried had been the case, I was merely in our closet hunting down a chessboard to put it on. My wife, still a bit on edge, reluctantly began to look for the folding chessboard we'd been given as a wedding present, and we founded it stuffed under a bunch of old books. We cleared the dust off it and was about to put the piece on the board when I hesitated.

  "What's wrong? Can't rememeber where to put it?"

  "No, it's just that I don't think we should use this board."

  "Why not? It's a chess piece is it not? Does it not go on a chessboard?"

  I could not explain my hesitation. It was a peculiar sensation as if I should definately not put this strange little pawn on this particular board. I could not adequately explain my reason, so I asked my wife to try. After handing it to her, she reached to put it down but hesitated also. She could neither explain the sense of importance that she not use that board.

  I guess rumor had spread around about then, because our daughter had told her friends about the C2-C4 matter, asking for ideas of what it could mean, and somehow through the grapevine the captain of her high school's chess club acquired our number and gave me a call. It was then that I told him about the pawn piece to confirm his idea. Interestingly enough his father was a jeweler, so I asked him to have a look at this peculiar chess piece to see if he could determine its material. Right away he suggested emerald as I had guessed but recognized it was indeed much too heavy. He examined it with the jeweler's magnifier and could not be certain -- he'd never seen such a formation of emerald or anything of the sort before.

  It was by then about eleven days had passed and we received another piece in the same variety of packaging. It was a rook made of the same dark green material. We decided that the next package we would receive we'd take to the police for fingerprinting and explain this baffling circumstance. All attempts by anyone to place either piece on any chessboard was met with an intense suggestion to do otherwise and best to leave them unset.

  It was another eleven days that the next package arrived. We, with cooperation of the police, notified the post office to be on the look out for such a package being received the the days leading up to that point and not to touch it in order to take any fingerprints off it for the sake of possibly knowing who was sending them. However, the post offices neither saw such a box in its mail for that day, nor had any notice from window attendants of such a package being sent. Despite this, when our postal carrier was digging in the container for our alotted mail in his postal wagon, there was just such a box there amongst the unrequested credit card applications, bills and catalogs. He was startled when he saw it, as he had presorted everything into the slots of the container himself so he could deal them each out as he drove along in the wrong-sided wagon. It had not been there when he sorted our mail, and had no idea how it got there. He carefully looked around, peeking around the corner of the wagon, but no one was in sight. No cars, no pattering of running feet as if it had just been planted in that slot of the container and its planter were evading being seen. He even checked underneath, but still no sign. He knocked on our door personally telling us of the peculiar incident in the wagon and we notified the detective who was already present and waiting for that day's delivery personally, in case someone slipped it into our mailbox themselves after the postal carrier had passed. It was another pawn of the identical material. It too refused to be placed on any board we had. We decided to merely keep them in a wooden box for safe keeping. Both the piece and the mailing box were dusted.

  Not so much as a speck of anything. The ink of the postmark was tested, but the chemical tracing matched none of the ink pads used to postmark such mailed items at any of the city's post offices. Whoever was sending these was using a fake postmarker and had comitted some sort of crime that made the police even more interested in the perplexity.

  Eleven days later, the postal carrier for our route was replaced by the city's top detective, Simon A. Theodore, who sorted our mail personally, drove the route himself keeping careful and watchful eye on our specially set aside allotment of mail for the day. Not one box before our mailbox was the strange package present in the mail sitting on the dashboard of the mail wagon, but sure enough it was there. The detective admitted to having glanced sideways to be sure not to hit our mailbox (as we live in a cul-de-sac and maneuvering is required) and the box had not been there as he had confirmed dozens of times before, but sure enough it was sitting there plainly on the dashboard.

  I was out running an errand -- we were out of hotdog buns -- when that fourth package arrived, a knight. It matched all of the other pieces in material and standard design. My son picked it up, glanced over it, and tried something he'd been considering doing -- forcing himself to put the piece on that original chessboard we found under the books from weeks earlier, in spite of any feelings he should do otherwise. I had just returned when I saw an ambulance in my driveway and rushed in. Apparent the piece had become glowing hot in his hand when moved within the vicinity of the board and had given him second-degree burns to the hand that held it, but fell to the carpet at room temperature as it had not seered the floor. It was at that point that we decided not to touch the pieces much anymore, but use metal grilling tongs when handling them to be safe.

  It was after the next package that we noticed items around the house were missing. In past recollection, we suspected we had merely misplaced something such as one of my wife earrings. The next time the other earring had found itself such a good hiding place that a thorough scan of the house revealed no sign that there even existed such an ear decoration like it aside from its twin. We had never connected these incidents as having to do with the chess pieces we were being delivered, until this very afternoon. The detective was over for his usual survey of the incidents leading up to the appearance of the next piece. On this particular day a continuously recording digital video camera was mounted inside a sealed box with a light inside, containing our mail. The detective was walking from the kitchen and we were watching Days of Our Lives in the living room when we heard a loud pop outside and the detective exclaim, "What the..?" He made his way to the front door to examine the pop-noise, but stopped. One of his shoes was missing. He claimed to have had it midway through the room but somehow in midstep it had gone missing. No one was looking at his feet, they were concerened with the pop. We suspect the disappearance and the pop were at the same moment, perhaps as a distraction.

  The pop turned out to be a blown tire on the mail wagon. It had run over a nail the driver hadn't seen lying there. Upon opening the sealed container, inside was the three-inch box plain as day. Upon examining the digital recording, the light inside had flickered the same moment of the pop outside the wagon, as if the jolt of the wagon had disturbed its wiring causing a brief blackout of the light inside. In fact, it was exactly two frames of darkness inside the box when the little white box appeared, previously having not been there. This piece was another pawn.

  Eleven days later, the police had opted to simply skip our house's delivery of mail. However, the little white box materialized inside our streetside mailbox even though the detective was standing there the moment the wagon passed us on. The detective had opened the mailbox just to see, and sure enough it was there. This time the piece was a bishop. Our living television was also missing, and no one had noticed it vanish, however it went, because no one was in the room at the time. A queen.

  We took out the mailbox. We put our son's television in the living room. We kept all the pieces in a wooden box in the closet. What next? A storm is what came next. A thunderstorm came eleven days later, and the deluge was so intense the family and I waited in the living room as the wagon drove by, skipping us on purpose again. At the moment we heard the wagon pass, the power went out. It came back on not a few minutes later as the downpour ceased. When we opened the door to the porch, there was the little white box on the welcome mat containing the next pawn. We took it up and then began taking inventory of what went missing this time. Now, until now whatever-it-was had only been taking items. It wasn't until my son asked where his sister was, when we began to panic. We could not find her anywhere. The police put out a county-wide alert for her, who had become a small celebrity as part of a profile on our family on the local news regarding such a peculiar incident. The next day we read in the News of the Weird of our story, and not two days later the Today Show asked us for an interview, which we did.

  We prayed. We sought psychics and paranormal investigators to be present when the package was delivered again. We sought counseling but none knew how to cope with this incident exactly. None of it seemed to help.

  Eleven days later, the King arrived in the same sort of packaging. We were so exhausted with this whole fiasco that how they came about didn't matter anymore and we were actually considering moving except for the idea that our daughter might try to return home to no one. Search teams uncovered no odd discoverings in the neighborhood, no sign of struggle, nothing even resembling clues to finding our daughter. We just tossed the king into the wooden box and closed the lid, entirely fed up with the situation. My wife began to worry about whether our son was next, and began to cry hoping that she would be next so she'd see the end to this terrible game that was being played with us. Vacationers came to meet us, Roswell enthusiasts insisted it was aliens teleporting the pieces to us. Geologists and rock specialists could not identify the material the pieces were made of. We tried to carry on as best we could, however difficult that might seem.

  Eleven days later, another pawn arrived and our bed vanished. In every single incident, someone was not looking when the box appeared and whatever item it was vanished. Eleven days later, the second bishop arrived and the sofa went missing. The regular mail resumed, assuming the appearances were not going to stop until the entire board layout had been delivered, in excruciatingly slow order. It wasn't so much a nightmare for me but merely baffling. By now news had reached clear around the globe. The BBC had done a special on our circumstances, Italian newspapers ran special issues detailing each appearance of each piece, the disappearance of each item, and one on the estimated chemical makeup of the material they were made of. Theories festered on the Internet with such an intensity that I could no longer use email without having thousands of messages per day. It didn't matter, because the computer was gone by the time the second knight arrived. Before that was the seventh pawn and out of thin air (though no one saw it) went the cat. The New York Times published a special edition filled solely with letters it had received detailing theories, some intricate and some remarkably simple. An investigator vanished while using the bathroom when the eight pawn arrived. It was nearing the six-month mark when the final rook arrived, and my wife disappeared.

  We now had a full set of one color stored in that wooden box, and I was just about tired. Eleven days after the second rook came a large white package -- the board itself as well as another note. The board was made of simple oak and aspen squares, with a mahogany frame and base. It was wrapped in the same type of material as the other small boxes, with ink matching the same as all the other postmarks, and with no return address, of course. The note had the movement of G7-G6 on it. I wondered if I had better put these green pieces on this board, and when I tried to (using tongs) I had no hesitation. In fact, I dared to put the last few on the board myself with my own hands. No heat at all. It felt in my mind that I was doing the right thing -- putting these pieces on this board. However, that was when we realized my son had vanished.

  I was now a nervous wreck, wondering how exactly I would keep up the house no family left, with dozens of fanatics camping out in our neighborhood, and police coming in and out almost every day but especially every eleven days. The police were very kind in enforcing a security area around the streets so the mail wagon could deliver our packages without interruption and none of the alien fans could pillage the house. One of them had already wrapped our mailbox in aluminum foil, but that didn't work either.

  I set the board down on the floor away from the table we had in the middle of the living room, assuming the furniture would go next, or me. The packages were addressed to me, so I had half-hoped that I would not disappear because without me the intended recipient would not be present to receive the package.

  Eleven days later, a red pawn arrived. It was identical in every way to the green pawn I had initially received except that it was now of a red hue. I set this pawn on the opposite side with no hesitation.

  Every eleven days each successive red piece arrived, and, as usual, something else disappeared -- sometimes investigators, sometimes furniture, sometimes drapes or ceiling fans or clothing. I dared not get another cat for anticipation that would vanish also. In every single case whatever it was took whatever was gone the split second someone wasn't looking. Once one of the invesigators was walking toward the door and as obscured my vision of the stereo that was playing to ease the tension, the stereo itself vanished, with speaker cords falling to the ground with a slap, as the living room carpet had by then gone also. The music instantly muted since the stereo was no longer present, and the investigator walking past had not noticed it disappear, in whichever way it did, in her peripheral vision as she was focused on leaving before the next package arrived part in fear that she might disappear herself.

  Finally the fourth rook, the second red one, arrived, and away went the only remaining chair in the room right out from under me while I was leaned back in it snoozing, not caring what went next or when the mail even arrived. The table was still there, so I put the chessboard back upon it, and I placed the final rook upon its appropriate corner square. I wondered what to do next, so I merely resorted to attempt to move the red piece (being the lighter color, seemingly) from C2 to C4, a regular opening pawn move. No trouble there. I knew that the green's turn of G7-G6 was next, but when I reached for it, it began to glow white hot like before. Was it.. "his" turn? I stared at it for hours on end before finally giving up and going outside. There was the media circus in full glory awaiting to know what happened inside once the final piece had been set. I told them what happened, police were all over the place checking things here and there, and hundreds of questions were immediately hurled my way. By now I had been quite used to such antics and could probably sleep through a dozen tornadoes with the noise I had to tolerate. Most of my neighbors had moved away. I answered their questions, though.

  When I went back inside, I walked around the house trying to find a good place to possibly resume my nap when I saw a twinkling object on the floor of my bedroom -- the earring we were missing. I immediately brought it to an investigator and by nightfall the whole world already knew about it.

  The next morning, I found the second earring in the bedroom and discovered that the green piece had been moved from G7 to G6. Having studied up on chess until I was blue in the face, I made my move and heard a plop on the floor. It was the detective's shoe.

  The next move was made each night while everyone was asleep, and any cameras poised to try to catch the move in action went black for exactly two frames of video. Some of the cameras recorded the move at 3:00 AM while others caught it at 2:15 AM and others at 1:00 AM although they were all synchronized. None of them caught the move at the same hour of the night, and when one caught it early and showed the piece had moved to its new position, none of the others showed any indication of movement until their time came. Everyone was thoroughly baffled. I just wanted my family back.

  And they did come back, in order as they had disappeared and each time in a manner of which no one was looking in that direction when they came back -- just the same way that the boxes had arrived. The could not explain where they had been -- they all reported that they thought one second earlier they were doing such-and-such activity when they had actually disappeared. They had not actually gone anywhere, except forward in time perhaps. There were fantastic reunions and the world stood in awe of each item's and each person's reappearance to real time. Each morning I made a move in response to the green side's turn.

  It dwindled down to green's king and one pawn against my king. I easily took green's pawn rather easily just as my recliner appeared in the corner that I had been leaning back in.

  It wasn't for a week or so that green made another move, and one day, the entire chessboard, pieces and all, was gone. That was the last we ever heard of the pieces until you reported receiving a small white box in the mail at your home in the Australian outback to the local sherriff. Word got to me of your predicament, and having never heard of our story since you had formerly no access to mass media, I thought I'd write to you what happened to me, from my perspective. I hope you can beat the green pieces, I am curious as to what might happen -- but I wouldn't dare think of what might happen if you lost. Good luck.


  Samuel Willenborg