By Vick Gruenler, Michael Traveir, and Gary Jr Gustafson ​

The Chess Club

The Chess Club

The first move was made weeks ago, though Autumn didn't realize it at the time. The day her little brother Jeremy crashed his bike and ended up in the hospital with a broken collarbone and concussion should have been her first clue that something sinister was afoot. But how could she have known that the rope tied across the path, hidden by overgrown bushes, was anything more than a tragic accident?

It was the black rook found in Jeremy's pocket that finally opened her eyes. As she sat by his hospital bed waiting for him to wake, she absently slipped her hand into his pocket, seeking some small comfort in the familiar. Her fingers closed around the cool, carved stone, and she pulled it out, bewildered. Jeremy didn't play chess. He had no interest in the game, and no one in their family was a player. So where had the piece come from?

The answer came crashing down on Autumn like a wave. Someone had caused Jeremy's accident, had placed the rook in his pocket deliberately. This was no accident, but an opening move in some twisted game. And she had a sinking feeling she knew exactly who was behind it.

Derrick Wells, the charismatic leader of the Chess Club cult that had recently set up camp on the edge of town. From the moment Autumn had first locked eyes with him across the high school cafeteria, she'd felt an unsettling pull toward the tall, dark-haired transfer student with piercing blue eyes. During those first weeks at school, Derrick had been friendly yet distant with her and her friends. But over time he made his interest clear, showing up unexpectedly at her volleyball games and taking every chance to talk to her between classes. His intense gaze both thrilled and frightened her.

Autumn had rebuffed his invitations to visit the Chess Club compound, making up excuses about too much homework and strict parents. But now it seemed Derrick was through asking politely. By hurting Jeremy, he had made the first move in a terrifying game of chess, with Autumn and her loved ones as the pieces. She shuddered to imagine what the final checkmate might look like, and how many innocent lives would be sacrificed.

She had to find a way to stop him, to get Jeremy and her family as far away from Derrick Wells and his cult as possible. The game had begun, and the stakes were far higher than just her heart. She only hoped she could stay ahead of his strategy and protect the king from capture. Because she had the awful feeling that Derrick wouldn't hesitate to eliminate every piece that stood in the way of making Autumn his queen.


Autumn barely slept that night, her mind spinning with questions and fear. Who else was part of Derrick's sick chess game? How far would he take this twisted courtship? She tossed and turned for hours before drifting off into restless dreams where faceless chess pieces moved around a shadowy board.

Morning came too soon, sunlight spilling through her bedroom curtains to announce a new day. A day that felt anything but normal under the circumstances. As Autumn readied herself for school, she debated whether to even go. Derrick would certainly be there, watching her reaction carefully, gauging his next move.

The Chess Club Part 2

A soft knock interrupted her thoughts. Her mom cracked open the door, concern etching lines across her face. “How are you holding up, sweetheart?”

Autumn attempted a brave smile. “I’ll be alright. Just worried about Jeremy.” At least that part was true.

“The doctors said his concussion seems minor. He should only be in the hospital another day or two.” Her mom hesitated. “The police were here earlier asking questions. They think maybe it wasn’t an accident…”

Autumn’s heart hammered. The police suspecting foul play would only spur Derrick into bolder, more dangerous actions. He wouldn’t tolerate investigations into his cult or games. She had to throw the police off, convince them that it was just a freak mountain biking mishap.

“I’m sure it was just an accident, Mom. You know how reckless Jeremy can be sometimes.” The lies tasted bitter on her tongue but she forced them out. As painful as it was to avoid the truth, she couldn’t risk her family’s safety. Not when she’d become an unwilling participant in Derrick’s high-stakes chess match.

She only prayed she could shield the king and spare her fragile pieces from this predator who wouldn’t stop until he had her in checkmate.


Autumn barely made it through the school day, constantly glancing over her shoulder and jumping at shadows. Derrick was there as usual, watching her in economics class with that unnerving stare that made her skin crawl. She did her best to act normal, to not let on that she was rattled or suspected he was behind Jeremy’s “accident.”

After the final bell Autumn went straight to the hospital, hoping Derrick wouldn’t dare try anything there. Her brother was propped up in bed, eyes glued to a basketball game on TV when she walked in. Other than the stark white bandage around his head and a bruised cheek, he looked unchanged. Relief flooded through Autumn at the sight.

“How are you feeling?” she asked, ruffling Jeremy’s hair.

He scowled and ducked away from her hand. “I’m fine. Just bored out of my mind stuck here.” His face grew serious then. “Did they catch who strung up that rope?”

Autumn froze, pulse skyrocketing. “No, why?” she managed.

Jeremy picked at his blankets, not meeting her eyes. “I just can’t stop thinking about it. That rope didn’t come from nowhere. Someone put it there, wanting to hurt someone. What if they try again?”

Cold fear washed over Autumn. What if indeed. She forced a smile, squeezing Jeremy’s hand. “I’m sure it was just some stupid kids playing a prank. Don’t worry about it anymore. You just focus on feeling better.”

If only she could take her own advice instead of feeling trapped in this nightmare chess match. That night Autumn tossed and turned, wondering what revealing new move Derrick might make next. Wondering if anywhere in town was safe from his clutches.

Here’s a continuation building on the new details:

Autumn tossed and turned all night, thoughts consumed by Derrick and his sinister chess game. When morning light crept into her room, she had only managed a few fitful hours of sleep. Dark circles ringed her eyes as she shuffled through her morning routine before school.

She considered confiding in her best friend Debbie about the twisted game Derrick seemed to be playing. Debbie was one of the most loyal and caring people Autumn knew. They told each other everything, and Autumn desperately needed someone to talk to.

As they met by their lockers before first period, Autumn pulled Debbie aside, voice lowered. “I need your advice about something. And you have to promise not to tell anyone.”

Debbie linked her arm through Autumn’s. “Of course, what’s wrong?”

Taking a deep breath, Autumn told her all about the black rook, her fears about Derrick and the Chess Club being behind Jeremy’s accident. As she spilled everything, Debbie’s forehead creased with concern.

“That’s really scary. Derrick always seemed a little…intense. But I never thought he’d go this far.” Debbie shook her head. “What are you going to do?”

“That’s what I don’t know,” Autumn admitted. “I feel like I’m just a helpless piece in his twisted game. Like he could make another move at any moment that will put someone else in danger.”

Debbie squeezed her hand supportively. “Don’t worry, we’ll figure something out. I won’t let him hurt you.”

Autumn managed a small, grateful smile. She felt better already, relieved that someone knew the truth so she didn’t have to shoulder the burden alone.

If only she could see the conspiratorial look that passed between Debbie and Derrick across the hallway as they turned to go to class…


Autumn couldn’t stop replaying the chilling encounter with Derrick in her mind. She had just quit the Chess Club for good, no longer able to pretend everything was normal there. Derrick’s expression had darkened instantly, his piercing eyes narrowing as he said too calmly “it’s your move then…”

Later that evening, her father wandered the midway alone, killing time that he usually enjoyed with his daughter – she had homework, and had to studying at home with her friend Debbie. He didn’t notice Derrick slipping silently behind him until they nearly collided at a food stand.

Her father startled, then laughed. “Whoa sorry, didn’t see you there!”

Derrick’s mouth stretched into a tight smile. “No problem. Out here all alone tonight?” His eyes narrowed, a cobra assessing prey.

Yes, Autumn’s father said, I usually spend this time with my daughter, but the truth is I am boarded without her. It is the look on her face, and the fun she has, that makes me happy. It isn’t the same without her.

“Wow, I wish I could spend that kind of time with my dad,” Derrick lamented, “but he’s dead now. Don’t know if he even ever took me. I guess it’s why I come, but your right, it’s not a lot of fun by yourself.”

I agree, said Autumn’s Father emphatically, I know, since we are both alone why don’t we go around together? Come on, it will be fun!”

“Ok, sure…” Derrick feigned reluctance, but inside he knew had scored a point. Soon he hoped the pieces would fall into their places, and he would score once more. He always won.


Derrick kept pace alongside Autumn’s father as they wandered the colorful carnival midway. “Quite the impressive rollercoaster they’ve got here,” Derrick said casually, gesturing toward the towering ride looming ahead. Screams echoed from the plunging cars. “Have you tried it yet?”

Her father chuckled. “Was just looking at that. Not sure this old heart can handle something so extreme th ough.”

“Oh come on, live a little!” Derrick gave him a friendly slap on the back. “I’ll ride with you, it’s completely safe.”


Here’s a continuation:

Autumn paced the hospital waiting room, fraught with worry over her dad now in emergency surgery. When her cell phone pierced the tense silence, she jumped.

“Hello?” she answered anxiously.

The doctor’s solemn voice came through. “Your father made it through surgery, but I’m afraid his injuries were extensive…”

As the doctor described shattered bones and internal bleeding, Autumn sank into a chair with a choked cry. This couldn’t be happening!

Just then, a chilling, familiar laugh sounded. She’d forgotten Debbie was still on speaker phone after insisting on waiting with her. Autumn glared at the phone.

“What’s so damn funny?” she shouted.

Debbie kept cackling. “Oh Autumn, don’t you get it by now? You belong to Derrick – you’re his queen!”

Cold understanding washed over Autumn. “You…you’ve been helping Derrick all this time…”

“Ding ding ding! We have a winner.” Debbie snickered. “I’m his most valuable player. His spy keeping tabs on his precious queen.”

Autumn stood, fists clenched and fury racing through her veins. “This isn’t over. I won’t let him own me or rule my life like it’s all just some game!”

Debbie snorted. “Too late. He’s already won, stupid girl. But by all means, go confront your king if you want. His mansion’s on Chestnut Hill Road. Good luck storming that castle.”

The line went dead just as Autumn stormed out to face Derrick once and for all. She was through being anyone’s pawn. If this was a game, then it was her move now. And she was taking her power back, no matter what it took…


Autumn stood mesmerized by the giant chessboard room stretched out before her, head dizzy with shock. The massive board and chess-piece furniture seemed to mock her with the grim truth – this whole time, her life had been nothing but a lethal game to Derrick Wells.

A slow clap echoed from the shadows as Derrick himself emerged, flanked by chess club members appearing one by one to stand like sentinels around the room’s edge. Each gaze was cold and calculating, awaiting Derrick’s commands.

“Welcome, Autumn,” Derrick purred, advancing toward her across black and white tiles. Up close, his eyes were devoid of warmth or conscience. “So glad you’ve finally embraced your true place here with me. As my queen.”

Fury boiled up in Autumn as she recalled her father’s still body being wheeled into the ER. “I’m no one’s queen or pawn,” she spat. “I know what you did to my father, you psycho!”

Derrick glanced to a female member posing slyly by a carved marble rook. “Dear Debbie brought me up to speed on that little…accident. So distressing.” The clients laughed softly.

“You tried to kill him!” Autumn shouted.

“He was in my way,” Derrick said calmly with a casual shrug. His lips curled into a cruel smile. “Now, where were we? Ah yes, the queen joining her king at last…”

He grabbed Autumn’s wrist and she reacted on pure rage-fueled impulse…

Before he could protest further, Derrick had steered him toward the coaster’s entrance line. As they climbed into the front car, her father gripped the lap bar, knuckles white.

High above, Derrick’s icy eyes followed the tracks that would soon send them careening perilously close to the bare ground at breakneck speeds. His mind raced with possibilities. Tragedy was known to strike such dangerous rides…

The car climbed slowly up the first peak. Derrick shouted over the clacking, “Hope you’ve got a good grip old man!”

As they nosedived downward, he wrenched the lap bar up with sudden brute force. Her father’s stunned shout was lost in the wind as he was jettisoned out into open air.

Derrick peered over the side as the man tumbled brutally into a metal barrier. The rollercoaster rambled on, oblivious. Eyes glinting with sick satisfaction, Derrick whispered, “There goes your rook.”


Autumn stood mesmerized by the giant chessboard room stretched out before her, head dizzy with shock. The massive board and chess-piece furniture seemed to mock her with the grim truth – this whole time, her life had been nothing but a lethal game to Derrick Wells.

A slow clap echoed from the shadows as Derrick himself emerged, flanked by chess club members appearing one by one to stand like sentinels around the room’s edge. Each gaze was cold and calculating, awaiting Derrick’s commands.

“Welcome, Autumn,” Derrick purred, advancing toward her across black and white tiles. Up close, his eyes were devoid of warmth or conscience. “So glad you’ve finally embraced your true place here with me. As my queen.”

Fury boiled up in Autumn as she recalled her father’s still body being wheeled into the ER. “I’m no one’s queen or pawn,” she spat. “I know what you did to my father, you psycho!”

Derrick glanced to a female member posing slyly by a carved marble rook. “Dear Debbie brought me up to speed on that little…accident. So distressing.” The clients laughed softly.

“You tried to kill him!” Autumn shouted.

“He was in my way,” Derrick said calmly with a casual shrug. His lips curled into a cruel smile. “Now, where were we? Ah yes, the queen joining her king at last…”


Derrick grabbed Autumn’s wrist and she reacted on pure rage-fueled impulse…

“I’ll never be your queen!” Autumn shouted, wrenching away from Derrick’s grasp. “You manipulative psycho, look what you’ve done to my family!”

“I’ll never be your queen!” Autumn shouted, wrenching away from Derrick’s grasp. “You manipulative psycho, look what you’ve done to my family!”

Derrick’s smug smile wavered. The watching cult members shifted uncomfortably as Autumn whirled to face them.

“And all of you – don’t you see he’s just using you as disposable pawns to get what he wants?”

The pawns glanced uncertainly at Derrick. He laughed though it sounded forced. “She’s clearly distraught. Pay her no mind.”

“Distraught? You put my dad in the hospital when he did nothing to you!” Autumn cried. “Who’s next – my mom, my brother? When does it end?”

The members broke into anxious whispers. Debbie played anxiously with a bishop piece, conflicted emotions playing across her face.

Encouraged, Autumn turned her blazing gaze back to Derrick. “Admit this was never about affection, just obsession with some delusional fantasy of controlling me like I’m your property!”

Sweat beaded Derrick’s brow and he loosened his collar. For once, words failed him under the heat of her verbal onslaught.

“Face it, Derrick. Your sick game ends now because I REFUSE to play.” Chest heaving, Autumn waited as the truth sunk in.

She didn’t look back at Derrick’s anguished cry or see the single tear tracking down his hollow cheek. The chess kingdom crumbled in her wake, its hold shattered. She was finally free.

Behind her, Derrick’s face twisted in denial and desperation. “Come back!” he screamed after her retreating form. “I never lose!”

He whirled on his followers, spittle flying from his lips. “Don’t just stand there – go after her!” His wild eyes landed on Debbie’s concerned face. “She thinks she can just leave? I promise she’ll regret this!”

His maniacal laughter echoed through the empty corridors as the screen faded slowly to black…