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Chilling Wizardry of Black Magic Spreads a Nameless Terror over the Desert Night.

A Complete Novelette of Grisly Thrills

The Dude Ranch Horror

By Richard Tooker

Hellhounds on the Rim

BLACK CANYON had been well-named. As I steered the car between the huge, leaning boulders at the gateway, and down the twisting, rock-gored trail to the chasm's bed, the desert night boiled up around me like liquid pitch.

Each jolt of the lurching car rasped my jumpy nerves. The headlights were playing weirdly over a gnarled tracery of mesquite trees—great, bulbous- armed saguaros—rocks like grinning devil idols.

Fighting the steering wheel down the dangerous descent, I could at last appreciate Joe Baxter's closing warning in his letter of a week before:

Whatever you do, Frank, don't come at night! They'll get you sure.

I had laughed at what I thought an attempt to frighten me. But it wasn't funny now. Three hours before, I had left Wickenburg. The last sign of human handiwork had been a sand-worn guide post, reading: Rancho Grande 10 Miles. Ten miles of hellish Arizona road. Grades that melted brake bands or pulled down the engine to a panting whisper of laboring pistons.

I didn't wonder now that Rancho Grande was a popular resort for vacationers who wanted to play cowboy. It was certainly back to the wild!

The car nosed over a hump, dived dizzily into a murky hollow. A rattling, nerve-racking whir burst out of the night almost squarely in my face. A thud on the windshield, and the racket ceased. Only a cicada, I told myself, but it had sounded like a hurtling witch's token.

Then the descent was over. Sooty darkness heaved up at me like an ocean wave as the car leveled off on the sandy, comparatively level bed of Black Canyon.

I threw on the brakes, stopped. I needed a recess for pulling myself together. I let the motor idle while I mopped my face. Ahead, the motionless car lights glared like monster eyes upon a tumbled grotesquerie of the canyon wall.

Poison green clusters of cholla leered at me from the rocks. Squat barrel cacti leaned from the gashed slope, silently intent. I reached down, felt the cold butt of my pistol, lashed to the steering wheel post with the cartridge belt. There was some comfort in the feel of the corrugated rubber.

"They'll get you sure!" Joe Baxter had written in a strange, cramped hand. He hadn't been clear as to what. I had scoffed at his odd allusions to something inhuman haunting Rancho Grande.

Ever since Joe and I had gone over the top in France as buddies, I had taken my danger by the horns. But now, as I sat there in the dark car, I wondered if I hadn't gone too far. Anything could happen in this hellpit of Arizona desert. An army of lunatics could have hidden within a hundred yards of me.

Across the farthest reach of the headlights' fan something moved silently. I couldn't believe it at first. The snake-green branches of a dense mesquite shrub were moving there ahead! Without a sound that I could detect, the tree glided across the headlights' fan. It paused once, as if to look and listen. Then on again, disappearing in the inky border of the night on the left.

Macbeth at Dunsinane flashed to mind. But I didn't believe in witches and moving forests. I steadied myself grimly and shouted out the car window, "Who's there!"

"Who's there!" The boulders flung back a startling shriek, like a clammy slap in the face.

I thought of my pistol, considered an attempt to bluff whoever was out there behind that moving tree. But I couldn't bring myself to act. I sensed something in those rocks beyond ordinary understanding. Something was staring at me from that inferno of nocturnal shapes—something not right.

THE motor coughed and died. An eerie stillness rang in my ears. My hand quivered as I clawed at the tightly-set brake lever. I wanted to get away from those devilish eyes that were watching from the night.

My foot had just pressed the starter button when a horrible racket smote me from behind. A scream—a roar—something between the two. It couldn't have been more than ten feet behind the car!

For an instant I was powerless to move. No wild beast could have uttered such a sound, nor any human that I could conceive. I sat helplessly through an eternity of seconds, waiting like a charmed bird before the jaws of a serpent.

Then I became aware that the motor was running. Subconsciously, my foot had finished the pressure on the starter button.

I didn't dare look back as I shifted gears and roared ahead along the twisting trail. I drove as if a legion of devils pursued me. Rancho Grande couldn't be more than a few miles farther on. Never before had I craved the sight of human habitation as I did now.

Like dead, brittle bones the dry sage rattled along the bumpers and running boards. Rocks gouged at the tires, thumped the chassis hollowly.

I drove recklessly, yet I could make little speed. Fifteen miles an hour was enough to threaten me with a crash. And I had to hold the road, keep upright, with that thing out there.

Trees that walked and a fiend that shrieked like a monster maniac! There had been something to Joe Baxter's warning. There was something wrong at Rancho Grande, and I, Frank Morrison, vacationing Los Angeles private detective, was finding it out in the throes of a blinding terror that I'd never dreamed was possible for me.

Ten minutes or more I drove like mad, pedaling the brake, spinning the wheel around hook turns, over ruts that threatened to split the tires. My heart hammered in my throat. I had the hair-raising notion that something was hanging to the back of the car, crawling in to get me.

Directly ahead, as I rounded a sharp turn, a massive, russet brown boulder loomed up across the ruts in the sand. My pulse raced as I stepped on the brake. The front bumpers collided with the ponderous bulge of the rock as I came to a jolting stop.

A landslide had stopped me. But was it an accident? Convenient for someone to stop me now. "They'll get you sure!" Joe had said.

I could hear my own unsteady breathing as I sat there straining my eyes to either side of the massive obstruction on which the headlights glared. The right was impassable—a yawning arroyo there would stall me. I might make it on the left, over a hump of small boulders.

THERE was a rattle of rubble along the rim above—a trickle of stones and sand like icy fingers tapping at a dark window. My scalp crawled. That hideous scream again! Higher up now, yet directly above.

I yanked my gun from its holster, stuck it through the car window and fired three times at the wall on the right. Red spurts stabbed the night as the rocks gave back splitting echoes.

My trigger finger tensed for another shot, but I held my fire. I'd be a fool to empty my gun now. Listening tensely, I could hear piggish, grunting noises above me. With pistol cocked, I looked out under the edge of the car top.

Faintly I could see the rugged canyon rim above, bulking up against the starlit sky. Something moved up there among the rocks. My blood turned cold as I made out two hulking, grotesquely human heads and shoulders straining at a huge boulder.

One look was enough. They were trying to crush me with an avalanche!

I dropped m...

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