Help via Ko-Fi



Helpless, unable even to move beneath the weird mental
power of the human travesty in Traffarn's laboratory,
Mary Ethredge matched wits with an insane monstrosity

A Strange Pair of Eyes

POLICE Commissioner Charles B. Ethredge grasped his wife's arm as he escorted her down the ramp and along the narrow platform that led between the deep track pits.

"There he is, Mary. just getting off the train. And that old lady in the wheel-chair must be Aunt Hermione."

They hurried forward.

"Doctor Ray!"

The powerful, though deplorably stooped old man who had clambered from the train directly behind the invalid's chair, turned and straightened.

"Charles! And Mary, too! My congratulations to you both—you know, I haven't seen either of you in—is it two years? Yes, two years. Mary, you're really more beautiful than ever, truly you are. Married life must agree with you, eh?"

He extended a sinewy, square-fingered and acid-stained hand and shook hands in turn with both the Ethredges. But, somehow, his greeting lacked the natural enthusiasm Ethredge had expected from Dr. Raymond Traffarn. Two years had evidently changed him greatly. Almost he seemed resentful of their presence. And yet, earlier in the week, he had personally telegraphed, asking the Commissioner to arrange facilities for transporting his paralytic Aunt from the station.

He directed the porters now, and the procession made its way up the ramp and out to the exit, where the limousine waited.

"Careful now," he admonished the porters as they reached it.

The driver of the car stepped down and opened the extra-wide tonneau doors; his breath was frosty with the November cold that struck down from the invisible street.

There was a momentary pause; the porters seemed undecided how best to lift the chair and its immobile burden into the car. Ethredge stepped forward.

"I'll take this side," he said. "You two men take that side, and try to avoid jarring her——" He stooped, reached toward the chair's vertical uprights.

And paused. Paused as definitely and completely as though the eyes into which he gazed, eyes half obscured behind the heavy concealing veil, had not been the eyes of a paralytic old woman at all, but the congealing orbs of a Medusa! Right hand outstretched, body stooped, he stood rigid as though he were, literally, turned to stone!

Yet, astoundingly, powerless though he was to move, his brain went on thinking, crazily, shudderingly, that those eyes were, indeed, strange; not the eyes of a human as humans have evolved, but in various ways different. Sunken behind folds of motionless, pallid flesh, only vaguely glimpsed through the obscuring veil, those eyes, as they turned to meet his gaze and stop him in his tracks, had revealed their alien nature.

The curvature of the silvery-white eyeballs was far less than that of human eyes; they must be, Ethredge knew, if even remotely spherical, enormous. And the pupils were inky black, and huge. But the greatest horror lay in Ethredge's instant conviction that those eyes had never been designed for the Skull within which they moved; their very presence in the ponderous face was an anachronism. They had turned and turned behind the narrow slits in the motionless flesh as though their rotation would never cease.

Perhaps it was the shock of glimpsing those eyes that halted Ethredge. Certainly he was unable afterward to determine whether or not the figure had flung a soundless thought-command in his face. Certainly he recollected no words. But the certainty remained with him that the will, the soul, the being within the obese swathed body had spurned his proffered assistance in one mighty, wordless concentration of malign rage.

Ethredge could not move forward. But he could, and did, move back. The thought was in him, then, that perhaps he had gone suddenly mad.

Doctor Ray said uneasily, "You'd better let the porters lift her, Charles. She seems to have taken a sudden dislike—she's very temperamental—," he concluded apologetically.

Ethredge proffered no further assistance, and the porters lifted the old lady into the tonneau of the limousine without mishap. There was a moment's embarrassed silence.

"I'd ask you to accompany us to the Van Buren," Doctor Ray hesitated, only—"

With instant, instinctive tactfulness, Mary interrupted, "You'd prefer to have this evening to yourselves, just you and your Aunt Hermione, now, wouldn't you, Doctor Ray? We quite understand. You'll come to dinner later in the week, of course—"

"Yes, yes, Mary. I'll telephone you, Charles."

Doctor Ray climbed into the limousine beside the enigmatic, shrouded figure, and the car moved slowly upward toward the street.

Mary linked her arm in her husband's and they turned away toward the taxicab stand. As they walked to a waiting cab Mary puzzledly asked:

"We've known Doctor Ray a long time, haven't we, Charles?"

"I've known him for twenty years," he said slowly.

_ "We've visited his family—up Cape Cod way—three summers ago—rememher? We met his two sisters and his brother Romayne—of course, his mother and father are dead. But I never heard of this Aunt Hermione before."

Ethredge did not reply until after they had entered the cab and he had given the driver their address. Then, as the taxicab moved slowly upward into the city's traffic he spoke, and his words, though low-pitched, were tense with a strange bewilderment, "Neither did I, Mary. I never heard of this—Aunt Hermione before, either—"

Mary's Fears

MARY ETHREDGE lifted her demitasse, took a meagre sip, and set the fragile eggshell cup carefully down. She waited until the maid had left the room, then she spoke to her husband.

"Charles," she said slowly, spacing the words leisurely so that almost imperceptible silences fell between, "there's something that's been—troubling me. It may all be silly, I admit. But I want your opinion. Would you before you go upstairs to change for your bowling?—"

Ethredge looked across the dinner table and smiled, gravely and fondly, at his wife. He knew this mood of Mary's; whatever she had to communicate was of the utmost importance, and had already received her most careful consideration. There were depths in Mary, depths and intelligence and perception....

He pushed back his chair. The little maid came running in.

"We will be in the den, Heloise. Please don't disturb us unless we ring." The little maid bobbed her lace-capped head.

Mary leading, the Ethredges Walked across the gleaming-floored hall and entered the Commissioner's small, extremely masculine den.

Ethredge took a cigar from his pocket, extended the cigarette box on the desk toward his wife, and gestured toward the red-leather divan. Mary selected a cigarette, waited while her husband gave her a light, looked at the divan and shook her head, then changed her mind and sat down. Ethredge pulled up the club chair and waited.

"Charles, this is the twenty-eighth of March."

Ethredge closed his eyes briefly, then nodded vaguely. The date had no particular significance that he could recall.

Mary leaned forward. "Doctor Ray arrived in town in November. He'd been in Canada for over two years. Over three months have passed since the day we met him and his aunt at the station. He's dined here—just twice. He's reciprocated by taking us to the theatre and dinner—just twice. And all that was before the New Year, while he was still at the Van Buren. He bought the Buena Vista estate in December, but we've not been invited there. And remember, we were never in the Van Buren suite; he always called for us. Don't you think there's something definitely strange in that?"

For an instant Ethredge recalled, with a vivid repercussion of horror, the shuddering, instinctive conviction he had felt, when he first saw her, that Doctor Ray's Aunt Hermione had not been what she had seemed at all, but something infinitely terrible. But the involuntary, crawling feeling of rising hackles at the base of his neck and down his spine was gone almost at once. Ethredge was too resilient a person, with an attorney's mind too strongly trained in realism, to let unsubstantiated fancy run riot for long. Nevertheless, he stared thoughtfully at the brief ash forming on the tip of his cigar before he replied, with careful exactitude:

"There's no question but that Doctor Ray has avoided us since his return. Still, he's told us why; his Aunt needs constant care. Too, I've a feeling that she hated me on sight—couldn't bear me near her, really."

Mary looked up startledly. She caught her breath sharply, and for an instant Ethredge believed that a torrent of words was on the tip of her tongue. But when she continued she spoke quietly, almost too quietly:

"Charles, Doctor Ray's Aunt Hermione is a myth. There has never been any such woman, on either his father's or mother's side. I spoke to Gregory Luce about her. He wired his Boston office, and they investigated."

Ethredge looked at his wife, then down at the lengthening ash on his cigar, then back at his wife again.

"You must have had some very good reason for doing—this," he hazarded. "Some reason of which I am as yet in ignorance." But the back of his neck felt cold, and the flesh on his scalp was tightening.

The torrent came, then. The walls of Mary's restraint broke, and with them broke her composure, so that her words sounded queerly, and her hand shook so violently that the cigarette ash splayed across the gold and blue rug.

"Charles, dear—you know that I have reason. You know that I must have very good reason for doing such an unpardonable thing. You must have felt it, too; you just said that on that night in the terminal you felt that she hated you. Oh, Charles, the hatred in her struck out at me, too, like a—like an evil command blazing in my brain. I couldn't move, Charles; I could just stand and feel that hatred washing through me. Charles, dear—no human brain has such strength! She's not a woman, Charles—Doctor Ray's Aunt Hermione's not a woman at all; God knows what she is, but she's not human...!"

Ethredge sat still, the expression on his face unchanged, though with the revelation that Mary, too, had experienced that harrowing—and until now perhaps unbelievable—storm of paralyzing malignity, little ice-cold currents shuddered along his nerves and the beat of his "heart became a mad pounding. Yet he must not alarm her more, and so he waited for an appreciable moment before he spoke, very quietly:

"You have not told me everything."

She regained control over herself.

"No." Her right hand lifted to her neck, fumbled in the bosom of her dinner dress, and produced a small lavender envelope. She shook its contents out in her lap.

"Charles—these are newspaper clippings. I haven't them all, because I didn't suspect at first. But—those girls who have been disappearing recently...."

Ethredge shook his head.

"You're wrong, darling. You've let conjecture take hold of your mind and prey upon your thoughts until it's developed this—absurdity." He rose, came over to the divan and sat down beside her, took her right hand in both his own.

"Mary, I felt that same—horror of Doctor Ray's mysterious Aunt Hermione that you've described. I'd no idea that you'd—suffered so. Probably she is a very vindictive old creature; we can't both be wrong in our impressions, can we? But this—this is impossible, Mary. There can be no connection. There's only a madman's, or a fiend's motive, behind those disappearances. You know yourself that Doctor Ray is a harmless old soul, while the old lady's almost a centenarian and a hopeless paralytic."

Mary's hand, held so fast between his own, was cold and slightly trembling. She sat looking straight before her, and he knew that all that he had said had not swayed her convictions. Presently she turned and looked at him levelly.

"You are stubborn, Charles. You have always refused to accept other than the most conclusive evidence." She paused, then slowly continued, "Here is something concrete, then. Doctor Ray kept the suite in the Van Buren until he moved into the Morehouse estate on December twenty-seventh. These disappearances began just four weeks later, on January twenty-fourth, and they have continued uninterruptedly ever since.

"But Charles—here is the point; every girl who has disappeared has been placed at the time of her disappearance—that is, so far as is possible—in the Buena Vista district!"

For a long moment Ethredge did not speak. Then he said sombrely, "Buena Vista is outside my jurisdiction. But I will find out what I can."

Mary's small fingers squeezed his hands fondly. Then she added, the words urgent and glinting hard, "You might find out, also, from what source Doctor Ray obtained the funds with which to buy the Morehouse place. He was retired on half pay, and he is not a wealthy man—"

She struggled to suppress a shudder that would not be suppressed.

"Some day, Charles, we will learn why that old lady would not let us touch her. I think that she was afraid that if we touched her flesh we might suspect what she was!"

Ethredge Acts

ON the following Monday morning Police Commissioner Charles B. Ethredge arrived at Police Headquarters on the stroke of nine. Parking his car in the reserved court and, swinging his flat, tan leather briefcase in his right hand, he climbed the worn marble stairs to his office without pausing even to glance at the teletype on the first floor. Entering the big, austerely impersonal room he shed his overcoat, hat, and scarf, and, tossing the briefcase on his scarred and ugly oaken desk, sat down and unbuckled its straps. At ten minutes past nine he picked up his telephone and talked with the switchboard.

"Have Peters come up whenever he's free."

Detective-Lieutenant Peters of the Homicide Squad presented himself almost immediately. He entered the room squarefootedly, walked across the ash-grayed carpet to a chair beside the desk, and sat his solid, middle-aged figure down without saying a word. But he was grinning like a gray-haired full moon. Ethredge, at sight of him, smiled too, though gravely. For these two dissimilar men—perhaps as widely divergent types as one might ever hope to find and bring together at one time, were the staunchest of friends.

Ethredge pushed the neatly arranged papers across the desk.

"Tell me what you think of this, Peters. When you've finished I'll tell you those things that can't be put down in black and white."

Peters, asking no questions, ran through the whole miscellaneous accumulation with a ferret-like rapidity amazing in such a sto1id-looking man. When he had finished he looked up composedly.

"These disappearances have all occurred in a territory of which Buena Vista is, roughly, the geographical center."


"Buena Vista's an exclusive suburb. No gangsters there; couldn't be—all residential estates. So that rules out organized vice. Of course, there's the love cult possibility. Or the chance that all this is the work of some depraved, wealthy misogynist. Both possible, but highly improbable. In neither case would it have begun so abruptly, or continued with such uninterrupted regularity.

"You write here that Doctor Traffarn came to Buena Vista on December twenty-seventh, and that the first recorded disappearance occurred on January twenty-fourth. That is not strong coincidence, but it is strengthened by the Buena Vista Police Department's statement that there are no other new residents of the district. And your comment about the pseudo Aunt Hermione certainly points to a definite mystery of some kind."

Ethredge leaned over the desk.

"Peters, I'm going to tell you about that Aunt of his—"

Quietly, exerting great care not to exaggerate, he related both his own and Mary's reactions to her. When he had finished Peters sat silently for perhaps three minutes. At last, weighing his words with painstaking deliberation, Peters spoke:

"God! It might be almost anything. If we presuppose that all this began with Traffarn's coming to Buena Vista, and that the disappearance of these girls are attributable either to him or to this—paralytic creature you have described, we are immediately confronted by any number of possibilities.

For example, in the brief time that elapsed since his return from Canada and his purchase of the Morehouse estate Traffarn banked checks drawn by several wealthy men—checks aggregating close to a quarter of a million dollars. Yet his pension is only six thousand a year. What is the truth behind this?

Of course, there is the possibility that he has resumed experimentation, and that these funds represent the backing of some private syndicate. The Morehouse estate is sufficiently secluded so that he could work in both peace and quiet. The delivery of large quantities of extremely peculiar apparatus to the estate strengthens this theory. Weakening it is the certainty that those men, all of whom are reputable, would not back any disreputable or illegal enterprise.

So, still holding to our original presupposition that there is a connection between these vanished girls and Doctor Traffarn, we are confronted by two alternatives—either the girls came to the estate of their own free will, which is so improbable as to be practically impossible, or Doctor Traffarn's backers do not associate him with the disappearances at all.

In view of the fact that Doctor Traffarn had no callers whatsoever, other than tradespeople, the second alternative is probably correct.

Too, he gets along with only one servant, a definitely unprepossessing butler—a paroled thug. Where, and why, did he secure this man? All in all, the whole setup looks odd. There may be something hidden behind all this camouflage—something damnably unpleasant—"

Ethredge would have interrupted, but then Peters continued, "Of course, this money he has received may be in payment for services already rendered. But what services? They must have been extraordinary. Perhaps Traffarn has discovered something—a gland extract—?

"Good God, Commissioner, if we start supposing anything like that the thing becomes positively gruesome. But we know—or do we?—that the girls are still alive; bodies are damnably hard to dispose, oi, and so far there's been no evidence. Still, I'd like to look over that place—"

Noncommittally Ethredge observed, "We've no grounds for searching the place. The Buena Vista Police wouldn't act. There might be the damndest legal repercussions if they didn't find anything."

Peters shrugged. After a moment he began to hum softly to himself.

Ethredge, listening to that tuneless music, curled his fingers and stared absent-mindedly at their nail-tips. Presently he said:

"I think that if Mary and I were to drop out there some evening Doctor Ray could not evade admitting us to the house. I imagine, too, that as we entered we could manage to release the catch on the front door...."

The humming stopped. As though absent-mindedly, Peters stared about the room, at the long stark windows, at the steel filing cabinets and the oak bookcases—everywhere but at the Commissioner. Finally he looked down at the worn gray rug.

"You know, Commissioner," he said, suggestively, "I make an ideal burglar. When I want to I can get around as quietly as a tomcat in a bulldog's backyard."

The Horror in Trafiarrfs Home

BUENA VISTA is a small suburb. The tourist passing through sees only a collection of notion shops, a few unobtrusive and spotlessly neat grocery stores, the Firehouse, Police Station and Post-office—all harmoniously built of burnt umber brick and English fieldstone, a half dozen small and very exclusive shops—branches of Fifth Avenue and Paris firms, and three or four tiny but extremely snobbish—looking churches. The estates lying back in the hills or down along the shore are invisible from the highway; the tourist may suspect their existence but he never sees them. He is not intended to.

On this particular Thursday evening Charles Ethredge and his wife drove slowly through the village and turned off on the narrow macadam road that leads back to the Morehouse and several other estates. It was scarcely seven-fifteen o'clock but the Ethredges were already in evening dress. They sat together in the front seat of the sleek sixteen-cylinder sedan, and to all appearances the car contained no other passenger, but they nevertheless conversed at intervals with a bulky laprobe spread out carelessly in the rear seat. Ethredge did most of the talking; the laprobe had little to say.

Ethredge was speaking over his shoulder. "Our story will be, Peters, that at the last moment some one gave us three tickets for tonight's Philadelphia Orchestra concert. 'Knowing how much you admire Stokowski, Doctor Ray—you've no phone installed yet, so we drove right out—'"

The laprobe chuckled.

A moment later the car turned off the macadam, crunched briefly along a loose gravel driveway, and rolled softly to a halt. Ethredge turned his head.

"We're here, Peters," he said quietly. "Good luck. We'll wait up until we hear from you." Then, "There's someone in the hall looking out, Mary. Shall we go in now? Are you sure you can go through with it all right?"

"Completely confident, Charles."

There was the sound of Ethredge getting out of the car, then Mary's door opening, a soft satiny rustle, and the solid chunking of steel against firm rubber chocks. Peters, listening, heard their footsteps crossing the gravel, then the opening of a door and conversation too blurred by distance and the steel body of the car to be resolvable into definite words. The door closed, and there was silence.

Warily, Peters waited a few moments; then he opened the left rear door of the car and slid quietly from beneath the robe down into the gravel. The car shielded him from the house now, and presently, avoiding the fan of illumination from the entrance hall and the yellow light from the living room windows, he reached the concealment of a dark mass of unkempt shrubbery close to the house. Obscurely as a drifting shadow he crept up to" the portico and flattened against the door, pressed his ear close against the white-painted wood. Silence. Slowly his fingers turned the brass' knob....

The door opened, he snapped the night-lock on, and closed the door behind him. As he had expected, the hallway was deserted. From the living-room at his left he heard the murmur of voices; light showed along the narrow crevices beneath the living room door and a smaller door, beneath the stairs, that led into the butler's pantry. But the closed room on the right was dark.

Peters paused only an instant, then he was through that door and lost in the darkness beyond.

For the fraction of a second, then, his nerves crawled. In the profound gloom, across the room from him, something had moved. But, as his eyes became accustomed to the blackness his tenseness lessened; no other living thing was in that room. That whitish movement he had glimpsed across the room had been merely his own reflection, ghostly and fragmentarily sensed, rather than seen, in an almost invisible plate-glass mirror sunk in the wall above a shadowy marble ?replace.

He waited, then, for what, seeming hours, was probably no more than a few minutes. The pair of intervening doors blotted out all sound from the living room, although once he heard the butler pad down the hall and leave the house, returning within a few minutes, apparently after having made a complete circuit oi the grounds.

The occupants of this house feared something. What? Discovery? Interruption?

Abruptly, shattering the nerve-racking stillness, the living-room door opened, and a chatter of voices emerged into the hall. Peters thought he detected a hint of false insouciance in Mary's staccato phrases; Ethredge was laughing and joking a trifle too boisterously. The third, and, to Peters, strange voice, was a shade too high pitched; there was a shadow of taut unease behind its apologetic words.

"—as much as I would have enjoyed the concert—my Aunt's condition—I seldom go out any more, Charles—"

"You should have a telephone installed. Keep in touch with people..."

"I'm afraid that would be impossible. My Aunt's becoming terribly sensitive—"

The voices moved toward the door.

"We're really sorry, Doctor Ray, that you can't—"

Peters heard the goodnights clearly, the sound of Ethredge's car driving away.

The man by the door remained there for an appreciable moment before, slowly, he walked back down the hall and re-entered the living-room. After a brief moment he came back into the hall and climbed the stairs to the second floor. But he was not alone, now. Something had come from the living-room with him and climbed the stairs with him; the sounds of their footsteps and of their conversation were lost in the silence above.

And as they passed, Detective-Lieutenant Peters, crouching behind the door of the black deserted room, felt the pores of his body swell and stiffen and the individual hairs on his shriveling flesh stand erect in a sheer animal ecstasy of horror.

For the sound of that something's walking had not been the cadencing of human footsteps! That something had passed along rapidly, taking two steps to each of Doctor Traffarn's one, and its passing had been almost undetectable, as though its feet were bare or softly sandaled, or as though its feet were not feet at all, but perhaps paws. And it had stepped on each stair twice, as though its stature were very slight or its legs very short.

But it was not the sound of the thing's walking that was the greatest horror—the horror that brought stifled scream after scream to Peters' throat and drove beads of icy sweat from his shriveling pores. It was the sound of the thing's conversation.

For that unseen something had been talking to Doctor Traffarn as superior talks to inferior, as employer talks to servant, as baron talks to serf. And the timbre of its voice had been a mouthing, as though it possessed no teeth, like a bird, and no jawbone or bony structure whatever to its oral cavity, like no known biped that walks this earth!

Yet its words had been recognizable, and in their recognizability lay, for Peters, the ultimate horror....

How long he lingered there in that darkened, mausoleum-like room, fighting the recurrent and uncontrollable shudderings that brought the sweat pouring in intermittent rivulets from his clammy flesh, Peters afterward did not, could not, know. But it must have been for a considerable time. Despite his terror of the unknown something he had heard there still remained in Peters a reserve of sanity which gradually began to reassert itself.

Later he vaguely recollected trying locked doors at the rear of the room, doors which he subsequently learned led into a small, informal parlor. Mostly, however, he remembered merely listening, listening to nerve-shattering, unbroken silence.

Once the butler came from the rear of the house, went out into the grounds, and, faintly, from a distance, Peters heard the clang of iron gates. After an appreciable interval the butler returned.

Then slowly, noiselessly, Peters opened the door, and stole like a fleeting projection from a magic lantern across the illuminated hall and vanished within the deserted living-room. The door behind him whispered as it closed.

The darkness was intense, and Peters stood rigid as a tensing cat until he had satisfied himself that no living person or thing other than himself breathed or lurked within that room. Then he drew a small electric torch from his pocket, adjusted the lens so that it would emit only the narrowest cone of light, and began systematically to prowl the room.

The tiny circle of light, moving purposefully and cautiously, scrutinized each chair and sofa and table; once it paused while Peters' stubby hand appeared and flicked through the leaves of a book lying on an end table. It moved toward the front oi the room.

And then every nerve in Peters' hyper-taut body leaped in screaming unison as the moving beam outlined a face, and the shadowy uppermost part oi a wheel-chair!

It was almost like some madly conceived portrait—that abruptly revealed face against the straightbacked chair, the whole composition starkly moulded within a circle of pitiless light and framed in deep, deep darkness. But it transcended any portrait ever attempted by human hands.

Not because of the face—that ponderous, obese mass of flesh upon flesh that looked as though it would never grimace or frown or smile of itself again, it was so utterly still. No, not because of the face, nor because of the veil that lay tumbled across the right shoulder in a position wholly alien to any ministration of loving hands. No, not because of the face or the veil.

But because of the horror that stared at Peters from deep within the fat-encircled eye-sockets—the horror that stared and stared and stared at Peters until his mind whirled and he forgot all time and space and meaning, forgot even who he was or why he was there—!

For there were no eyes within those sockets! Only blackness!

Peters' mind did not hear the small thud with which the electric torch slipped from his nerveless fingers to the floor. Neither did it hear the butler's footsteps approaching from the rear of the house, the opening door, the sharp, startled oath and snarled command. But his ears heard, and automatically he turned about and lifted his hands above his head.

The butler touched a switch, and lights blazed in the room. Gun in hand, he walked purposefully toward Peters. Peters' eyes stared glassily, not toward the butler, not toward anything.

Something was descending the stairs—!

And then, as a galvanic shock causes dead muscles to leap, as freshly applied torture causes mercifully unconscious wretches to revive, the sight of the small tittering horror that had come down the stairs and was now skipping across the room toward him seared Peters' benumbed brain into agonized consciousness.

He screamed—

Traffarn's Secret

THE room, save for the ticking of the tall grandfather's clock and the crackling of dying embers in the fireplace, was tensely still. The two persons—the man in full evening dress, the woman swathed in a quilted dressing gown—had not moved or uttered a word for many minutes. The man rose, put two more logs on the reddening embers, and sat down again.

Perhaps the gesture, the physical act of replenishing the fire, impelled him to speak. He said, sombrely, "I think they've—got Peters."

The grandfather's clock, as though to emphasize his words, struck slowly—five deep mellow notes. Mary Ethredge shivered and drew the dressing-gown closer about her body.

"It's been-nine hours, Charles."

Her husband nodded. "Yes. And no complaint has been made to the Buena Vista Police. They've—got him. They're holding him and not saying a word."

"Perhaps they've—killed him."

Slowly Ethredge shook his head. "I don't think so. As far as we know they haven't killed anyone—yet. I think that there's still a spark of humanity left in Doctor Ray." He rose abruptly, and stood looking down at his wife. "You'd better take some luminol and go to bed."

Mary looked up, smiled faintly.

"Charles, I'm not going to bed until we've heard from Peters."

Thoughtfully, Ethredge nodded. He turned back to the divan and sat down again. He had expected this answer from Mary.

He said quietly, "If there's no message from Peters by nine I'm going back there."

"If you go, I go with you."

She had never heard his voice before as she heard it now. It was level, flat, almost terrifyingly colorless in its unanswerable finality.

"No—I'm going alone."

She said nothing. The grandfather's clock ticked on.

Night dragged into day. Heloise, her sloe-eyes still sleep-softened, came into the room ind exclaimed something startledly. Ethredge laughed.

"Coffee, Heloise. In here."

After he had drunk his coffee Ethredge went upstairs, shaved and changed and came back down. He was shrugging his shoulders, and Mary knew that he wore a shoulder holster between his coat and vest.

Nine o'clock came, but no message from Peters. Matter-of-factly, Ethredge rose to his feet, slipped into his ulster and picked up his hat and gloves. He smiled reassuringly at his wife.

"You have everything quite clear, Mary? That, if Peters calls, you are to have the Buena Vista Police send a car to notify me at Doctor Ray's at once? And that if you do not hear from me by noon you are to get in touch with Cassidy?"

Mary nodded. She could not trust herself to speak.

Ethredge considered. "You have my written complaint—in case it becomes necessary to use it. Cassidy can arrange for the warrant. So—don't worry, sweet—"

She was in his arms, then, and for an instant he held her close, kissed her. Then, almost roughly, he pushed her away, turned, and, with the long, limber stride she knew and loved so well, walked from the room.

The distance to Buena Vista is not great, not over eleven or twelve miles. Ethredge made good time; at that hour he was driving against the incoming traffic. The lanes leading out of the city were relatively free of cars. It was barely nine-thirty when his big sedan turned in the gates of the Morehouse estate and rolled up the curving gravel approach to the house.

The butler, his brutish face enigmatic, admitted Ethredge to the house, took his coat, hat, and gloves. To Ethredge's surprise, he said, then: "Doctor Traffarn has been half-expecting you, Sir. Will you step into the library?"

He opened the door of the same informal livingroom with which Ethredge was already familiar, and inclined his head. Ethredge nodded curtly and walked forward. The door swung shut behind him.

He saw the old lady instantly. She sat as she had sat last night, before one of the windows, her ponderous features hidden behind a heavy veil, her profile toward the room. To all appearances she might very well have remained there all night, the position of her body and of her wheel-chair seemed so utterly unchanged.

"Good morning, Charles. Please sit down. I have been—waiting for you."

Ethredge looked at Doctor Ray's stooped though still magnificent figure sitting there beside an oval-topped table. There was a faint, grim smile on the man's cragged, impassive face. Ethredge's gray eyes narrowed.

"I see that I may come right to the point," he said harshly.

"Yes. There need be no beating about the bush, now. You have meddled too deeply, Charles."

"Very well." The muscles along Ethredge's lean jaw tightened. "What have you done with Peters, Doctor Ray?"

The old physicist deliberated for a moment before he replied. When he spoke his measured words were quiet, almost gentle.

"He is upstairs—with the others."

"The girls?"

"Yes. But—a moment, Charles. Neither they nor he have come, or will come, to any harm." He lifted his right hand beseechingly. "You have known me through enough years to understand that there is neither cruelty nor vanity in me, Charles. So—believe me when I tell you that you are interfering, or attempting to interfere, with the orderly completion of an experiment that may advance mankind in one brief stride several million years toward its ultimate evolutionary destiny, an experiment which may, within one short generation, transform men into gods!"

He paused. His voice, his body had begun to tremble ecstatically. His eyes gleamed; his whole face was momentarily transfigured. After a moment he went on, more calmly:

"Charles, I have discovered a way to hasten evolution, not by speeding up the life processes to provide more transitory generations, but by activating the chromosomes, the genes, in the individual himself. I am the first man to reproduce, in the laboratory, the cosmic radiation that has, from the beginning, bombarded earth, the cosmic reagent that turned non-living slime into primeval protoplasm and has actuated, through the eons, its slow climb upward. More, I have learned to amplify its intensity a billionfold—!1

1: The cosmic radiations Dr. Traffarn refers to are no doubt a part of the solar and stellar radiations to which science has long attributed many of the miracles of life on earth, and possibly on other planets as well. Many scientists held that life was fostered by living spores floating through space, and bursting into activity upon landing on a fertile world. But the newest discoveries, proven to a great extent by the intrepid pilots of the stratosphere balloon, Explorer II, indicate that living spores cannot live long under the influence of the extreme cold of interstellar space, nor even of the upper stratosphere. Thus, it would seem that life is caused by radio-active radiation horn in the heated interiors of flaming stars, or even in the radio-active core, and flung out into space, to bombard livable planets with an intense and constant force, there causing the chemical reaction that is life.

And the bombardment of rays continues, causing constant change, constant evolution of that life toward more complex and varied forms. There is not doubt that mutations are an extraordinary and phenomenal result of constant exposure to inconceivably powerful and basic vibrations and radiations of a radio-active nature.—Ed.

"Look!" Swiftly he stooped and stripped shoe and stocking from his right foot. With a distinct sensation of shock Ethredge saw that his small toe had atrophied until it was no more than a slight protuberance far back on the side of the foot; the other four toes had grown together in a curious, arching wedge.

Ethredge muttered an abrupt oath. Doctor Traffarn, still stooped, replaced his stocking and shoe. He straightened, then, and continued:

"Yes, I have evolved myself-many thousand years. I cannot show you my—teeth as proof, because unfortunately," he smiled slightly, "I lost my natural teeth many years ago. But the hair on my head is much finer than it was, and my skull has deepened; you can see these things for yourself. My cerebration has improved—"

Again he paused. Then he added bruskly, "You see now how I obtained money. I sold, to a number of men, the privilege of brief exposure to my apparatus. You know those men. You know how they have—changed—"

Ethredge knew. Without exception, their wealth had multiplied, their power skyrocketed....

A queer, twisted, somehow wistful smile flitted across the old physicist's cragged, worn face.

"Charles, I want to send myself still further up the evolutionary ladder. But I have not, as yet, dared—"

"Why?" The question was sharp, incisive as the crack of a pistol.

Again the twisted smile.

"How would you like to evolve, and, as you evolved, watch all mankind seemingly retrogress, become in your eyes as the beasts appear to you now? You see? I have gone as far as I dare, for the present. I cannot go farther until I have ascertained one thing more-— whether or not my new race can reproduce its kind."

Ethredge stood up, then.

"Doctor Ray," he said quietly, "I hope, for your own sake, that those girls and Peters have not been harmed. For I believe that you are—mad, and I would not want to see you spend the remainder of your days in a hospital for the criminal insane—Doctor Ray, I am going to search the house—"

His left hand gestured an unmistakable command.

"Stand up, Doctor Ray. You are coming with me." Then, "Good God!"

From the veiled, statuesque figure seated in its wheel-chair, half facing one of the long windows and doomed, apparently, to look out through the interminable dragging hours at the slow shifting of the day, had come a high-pitched, tittering chuckle! Ethredge wheeled swiftly.

"Good—God!" he repeated, hoarsely.

The figure's high-throated and full-breasted waist had fallen abruptly, stiffly forward, like a hinged door! As a dragonfly emerges from its cocoon, as a snake crawls from its skin, a monstrosity was wriggling and twisting through that aperture, to stand poised on the figure's knees for an instant, and then jump lightly to the floor.

"Good God! Good God Almighty!" Ethredge was thinking, over and over, in inane, mindless reiteration. That thing—that horror that had come from within the seeming body of a harmless old woman, and that was now skittering across the floor toward him—


IT was small—hardly over three feet tall. One-third of its height was head—a head almost twice the size of a man's, utterly, obscenely hairless, and almost perfectly spherical. The nasal orifices were reduced to naked slits set far down in the unseamed, featureless curve of face. The mouth was a small, toothless, membrane-lined ring of rubbery muscle. The earshells were vestigal, mere ridges of cartilage surrounding naked holes leading into the globelike head. The eyes were enormous, inches across, with tremendous, staring pupils. The whole head was a peculiar dead-white in color, and it was striated over its entire surface with a multitude of tiny bluish veins.

The neck was a grotesque spindle; the body was small as a three-year-old child's, and oddly proportioned.

The legs were slender, frail-seeming shafts shod in soft, glove-tight stockings of some heavy knitted material—possibly wool.

The thing wore a snugly-fitted and obviously amateurishly tailored garment that had apparently been cut from a silk pajama suit; this one-piece garment completely covered its body from ankles to throat—excepting its babylike, delicate and nailless-fingered hands.2

2: The weird creature described here is an accurate conception of an evolved human being, as it might be untold generations from today. Through the ages, we know from actual skeletal remains, that the human race has evolved along steady and definite lines, through a series of progressive mutations. Beginning with the great ape, we progress through the Pithecanthropus, the Neanderthal man, the Piltdown man, and on up to the modem man. In each, the body characteristics have evolved along a steady trend of increased cerebration, gradually receding chin, less sloping, more elevated forehead, less pointed ears, less stockier body, and smaller, long-fingered hands, capable of more delicate and exacting performance. Assuming that the progression will remain constant, future evolution is bound to bring a human being constructed as here described. However, it must be borne in mind that environment plays a powerful part in evolution, perhaps a part as dominant as that of the cosmic rays themselves, in shaping the creatures it surrounds. Thus, a great deal depends on what happens to the earth itself in coming ages. There may he drastic changes, and terrible catastrophes, whose consequences may be a greatly altered environment, and therefore a greatly altered evolution.—Ed.

Horrible as it was, remote as might be the kinship now, yet Ethredge knew, knew unmistakably, that the thing was of human ancestry.

It had left the wheel-chair and was approaching the two men.

"Good God!" Ethredge was muttering, again and again. His right hand stabbed within his coat, tugged at the automatic. He heard his own voice, racked, unrecognizable, babbling, "Stand where you are, you damned—gargoyle!" The gun in his hand lifted....

"Lower your weapon."

Ethredge never knew, afterward, whether the thing had actually mouthed the command, or whether its tremendous brain had emitted a telepathic impulse of superhuman intensity. But his hand, as though suddenly stricken nerveless, dropped to his side. The horror nodded its great head once or twice, and tittered. It padded forward with little short steps to the center of the room.

"Take his weapon," it directed, and now it definitely spoke the words, in a thin, liquid falsetto. Doctor Ray withdrew the gun from Ethredge's limp hand and placed it on the table.

Again the thing resumed its horrible tittering. Then, abruptly, it stopped, and began, in its slurred, gurgling falsetto, to speak.

"Startled you—when I came out of my shell, eh? I supposedly appearance, to the eyes of your kind, is a trifle grotesque? That is why we made the image; when people come here, or when we travel about, I hide within her, and I watch everything that goes on through her empty eye-holes—from behind her veil. She is made of composition and aluminum mesh; she is really very life-like, eh? And she is necessary; were people to glimpse me they would become alarmed. I am evolved five hundred million years beyond your kind—"

The thing chuckled. "Yes. And yet, oddly, only two years ago I was a Canadian woodsman, a hunter and trapper and guide, a single man—Pierre Brunelle by name.

"Doctor Traffarn knew me well; I had been his guide. He asked me to become his subject in an experiment, an experiment which would advance me ten thousand years along the evolutionary path. I did not understand, but I had confidence in him, and I consented.

"That experiment was repeated, not once, but many hundreds of times. Gradually I became as you see me now. As my intelligence expanded I redesigned Doctor Traffarn's primitive apparatus; the newly completed equipment you will presently see is my handiwork. The great plan—the plan to advance all mankind half a billion years in one short generation—is also mine.

"Only, I do not as yet know if the mutations you see in me are fixed, transmissible from generation to generation. But I will soon know. When the girls are ready, when they have progressed up the evolutionary ladder to a plane equivalent to mine.

"Then, if we can reproduce our kind, we will begin to evolve the race. Doctor Traffarn will be among the first. Your spy—the man we caught prowling this house last night—will of necessity be among this number. You, too, will be included. Before we permit you to leave this house we will have evolved you fifty thousand years—for with increased cerebration of a man of the seventieth century you will automatically be no longer our enemy, but our ally. "There will be others—certain carefully selected men.

"From this small nucleus I will build the super race of the world!


The thing turned, and, with strange, incongruous dignity, pattered toward the door. Ethredge, though his whole mind and soul revolted, followed; a wave of telepathic command almost as tangible as an arm of steel swept him irresistibly along. He felt himself walking from the room and steadily, mechanically, climbing the stairs to the second floor. The grotesque, diminutive horror clambered before him; vaguely he realized that Doctor Traffarn climbed beside him. The monstrous-headed obscenity pushed open an unlocked door, and abruptly they three were within an immense and peculiar room.

That room had been created by the simple procedure of knocking out all the partitioning walls throughout the entire second floor of the east wing of the house. Every window was heavily, opaquely curtained.

Down the full length of the room extended two parallel rows of seven foot cylinders, transparent and seemingly built of glass or crystal. These cylinders were set in two long insulated bases, and they were surmounted by room-length lintels of the same black stuff. A bewildering complexity of heavily insulated cables arced along the tops of the parallel lintels and sprang from the ponderous bases, and along the further wall a bank of grotesque and enigmatic mechanisms softly whined.

Ethredge, as he stared and stared at those parallel rows of seven foot, glasslike columns, felt his senses reel and his mind go numb. For, suspended within those cylinders by delicate, silvery harnesses fitting snugly beneath their armpits, their tapering toes dangling inches above the cylinder bases, were the nude. graceful bodies of the vanished girls! And, surrounding each girl, pouring about and through her body in unbelievably beautiful iridescence, was a rainbow-like radiance that constantly sparkled and scintillated, yet, like some strange neon glow, never changed.

The eyes of those girls were open—! Yet Ethredge instinctively knew that there was no consciousness behind those blankly staring orbs; all mundane consciousness was submerged infinities deep beneath the surge of cosmic radiance that searched even the atoms of those girls' beings and swept them headlong up the evolutionary slope that ends only the silent gods know where.

The monstrous-headed thing was pattering down the farther row of shimmering crystal cylinders. It stopped, then, and turned about, and its unhuman, tittering chuckle gurgled above the rhythmless whine of enigmatic mechanisms.

"Come," it reiterated.

Ethredge, drawn by a leash of telepathic command too strong for any man's brain to resist, walked slowly down between the parallel rows of gleaming cylinders and their suspended, radiation-bathed female forms. And as he walked his mind was thinking wildly, "God! He's imprisoned them like—like bugs in bottles—!" He approached the small, littering horror.

The thing raised a spindle-like, silkclad arm, and pointed.

"Your—spy," it chuckled.

Slowly, Ethredge's gaze lifted. Yes, it was Peters within that iridescent cylinder before which the thing had halted; through the scintillant glow he could distinguish the calm, solid face and iron-gray hair. Yes, it was Peters, hanging there stark naked.

The thing lowered its arm and tittered, horribly.

"He has been there seven hours," it explained. "Tomorrow, at dawn, we will set him free. In that time he will not have so far evolved that he cannot go back into the world and resume his place among your kind. But he will have become one with us. Just as you, presently, will become one with us."

The horror paused, then implacably continued, in its liquid, gurgling speech, "You see, there are thirty chambers. Twenty-one contain my girls, and your spy occupies the twenty-second. Eight remain for casuals like you, and do not fear that they will not be occupied from time to time. For months must elapse before my girls are sufficiently evolved—

"But—come—" It pattered to the empty and darkened cylinder beside that in which Peters hung, and touched a control. One side of the seven-foot cylinder opened like a curved, transparent door, and within Ethredge saw a dangling silvery harness and intricate, gridlike metallic terminals protruding from floor and ceiling.

"The radiations are destructive to clothing. You will have to disrobe."

Though his will was fighting desperately to break its invisible shackles and resume control of his body, Ethredge slowly began to remove, his coat. Doctor Ray approached, between the rows of shimmering cylinders; soulsick, Ethredge saw his own hands extend the coat to the old physicist. His fingers lifted toward his throat, fumbled and tugged at the knot in his tie...

Someone pounded, loudly and frenziedly, on the door!

For an instant Ethredge thought wildly that this must be the police. But then he knew that that could not be; it was hardly ten o'clock—almost two hours would have to elapse before Mary would telephone Cassidy.

No, it could not be the police.

The monstrous-headed blasphemy seemed, momentarily, to hesitate. Then its unspoken command seared deep into Ethredge's brain:

"Do not move."

Doctor Ray went to the door, released the bolt, and flung it open. The butler, gray-faced with fright, stumbled into the room.

Close behind the butler walked a woman. Clenched in her small right hand was an extremely efficient-looking .25 calibre automatic.

"Charles!" That abrupt cry was an anguished pleading. Through the lane of glowing cylinders the woman saw her husband; if, in that instant, she was aware of her utterly alien surroundings or of the tittering, gargoylish creature there before her, she gave no sign. "Charles—-! I had to—follow you here—!"

A False Evolution

ETHREDGE could not move, could not speak; his body just stood there—petrified hands touching the knot in his tie, rigid face a mask of horror. And, gradually, as Mary looked at him, at Doctor Ray's seamed, implacable face, at the monstrous whining mechanisms, at the twin rows of flame-bathed, crystal-imprisoned women, at the small disproportionate abomination that had left Charles' side and was now approaching her, the pupils of her eyes dilated, her lips and her lower jaw began to tremble, her slight, slender body began an intermittent shuddering. The gun muzzle wavered; the knuckles of her clenched right hand were slowly turning blue.

Calmly, Doctor Ray stepped forward and twisted the small automatic from her stiff fingers; the rat-faced, trembling butler exploded a prodigious, whistling sigh and lowered his arms.

"This woman outwitted you, Guilio," Doctor Ray said tersely. "See that you are more alert in the future. That is all; you may go back downstairs now."

The man stumbled from the room with almost indecent haste; Doctor Ray closed and locked the door.

The thing resumed its awful tittering. Presently it paused and said, Mrs. Ethredge—you see that I recognize you—it is fortunate that you came here today; it is probable that after we returned your husband to you you would have suspected the change in him; it is best that we evolve you both simultaneously. Yes, you have done us a great service by placing yourself so conveniently in our hands—"

By not so much as the faintest shudder did Mary, her small sweet body stonily immobile beneath the awful thought-dominance of the thing, signify that she had heard. Only the pupils of her glazed eyes grew, and grew.

Ethredge's half-maddened brain was fighting with the black fury of utter desperation to regain even an atom of control over his petrified muscles. And in that moment a wild surge of incredulous hope swept him as he realized that his right hand had moved—infinitesimally, like an arthritis-stiffened claw.

Instantly he knew the explanation.

The monstrous-headed horror possessed the will power of many men. When it had turned its thought-commands upon him his body had frozen into stone-like immobility or walked, zombie-like, as the thing directed. But now the horror was imposing its will upon not one, but two, persons, and the intensity of its commands were in just that degree diffused; even its tremendous brain possessed limitations!

Ethredge was struggling, vainly fighting to force his body forward. But only his right hand moved, very slightly, toward the abomination.

In that horrible moment—so horrible that even Doctor Ray's face had grayed as he realized what infinite torture these two persons were enduring—the thing tittered. It began, then, to walk back and forth before Mary, chuckling and gurgling to itself.

The grayness on Doctor Ray's face was deepening.

"What are we waiting for?" he asked harshly. "Let's end it quickly—put them where they won't know—what is happening to them—any more."

The thing stopped its pacing, stood swaying back and forth.

"'Let's end it quickly?' Why? There is no hurry. I am appraising their revulsion and their resistance to me; all this represents valuable knowledge which I have not as yet acquired. You see? She even wishes to speak to us; she has something of great importance to communicate." It nodded its great head thoughtfully, then it said to Mary, "Very well, you may say whatever you will—"

Horribly, Mary's face came alive. Only her face; the rest of her body remained woodenly still. But her lips writhed and twisted, and she moaned—It was like no sound Ethredge had ever heard. It was awful with comprehension of the things the tittering blasphemy planned to do, bleak with agonized realization that, incarnate in that small, monstrous-headed obscenity before her, there lived, not only her own doom, but the doom of all mankind!

In tortured, disconnected phrases that were nevertheless implacable with conviction, she poured forth the thoughts of her stricken brain. And Ethredge, immobile, almost, as stone, sensed that she was directing her words to Doctor Ray, to Doctor Ray—who had not as yet evolved as had this other.

"You can't—do it! You can't—condemn all the people living on this earth today to serfdom while you gradually make our kind over into creatures like—that! You can't! Almighty God would not permit—!"

The small monstrosity gurgled appreciatively. It had begun to teeter back and forth on its spindle-like legs; apparently it was very highly pleased. But the grayness on Doctor Ray's face was deepening, and his seamed old hands were beginning to tremble.

"There is no God," the thing crooned mildly.

Utter disbelief swept Mary's tortured face.

"Yes! Yes! There is a God, and He is not cruel. He may seem remote, He may even seem unreal, but He is not cruel. And this thing you propose is cruelty, terrible cruelty, and God will not permit it—"

She paused, and looked at Doctor Ray. But the old man, though his face was gray as a death-mask, did not speak.

For he believed that, though the race would suffer now, afterward would come Utopia.

Desperation lined Mary's face. And yet, though she knew that it was hopeless, she must make Doctor Ray understand, must point out to him the single, inescapable factor which, in his blind enthusiasm, he had failed to consider—the single factor which would doom his evolutionary blasphemies as surely as he was planning now to doom his own kind. Her gaze fastened wildly on Doctor Ray's gray face—clung.

"You can't succeed," she babbled piteously. Her agonized eyes were misting, bitter tears welled from beneath their lids. "You can't succeed—and you must stop this awful work before it has gone too far. You can stop it now, because you have evolved only one of your—creatures. But humanity will not be able to stop it after you have created many more—

"It isn't evolution—this thing that you have done! This creature that you have created isn't man as man will someday be—it is an abomination that would never have evolved of itself.

"This earth will change. The continents will drift, the seas will find new beds. The atmosphere will be different even the length of the days and the very light from the sun will change.

"And the creatures that will live then will be the descendants of ancestors who, through the generations, will successfully resist every fluctuation in the terrestrial environment, and transmit, through mutations, their immunity to their descendants.

"A man of our time could not live then. He would die, because he would be an anachronism. Earth, and the stars, and all the universe, would have evolved, but he would not have evolved with them. He would lack the mutations to protect him.

"Just so this—thing of yours will surely die—living in our time. He is a blasphemy made up of our present evolutionary trends—horribly accentuated. Not one single influence that does not exist in you and in me has gone into his development; he is only a magnification and a distortion of characteristics we possess today.

"Men are becoming more intelligent -and so he has tremendous brain, but no more racial memories than we possess. Our jaws are receding and our teeth becoming less, and so his face has just gone on dwindling until it is nothing but an—expanse. In other ways we are changing, too, and he reflects and magnifies them all.

"But he reflects none of the beneficial and strengthening mutations that will mould future mankind, because the circumstances through which those mutations will arise have not yet come about.

"Doctor Ray—this horror that you have created and plan to reproduce over all the earth is not even an anachronism from the distant future; he has no place in any time! He, and all his kind you bring into the world, will die because they are unbalanced accentuations, because they are unnatural, because they are environmental monstrosities.

"Look at him, if you do not believe me; you can see the death in him—now. Look at the blue veins on his scalp—see how the bones in his skull have thinned to permit his huge brain to grow -—listen to his voice. There is death in him now, and I believe that he himself knows, though he will not admit to himself the truth. Ask him, ask him if he believes that he will live, even—five years—!"3

3: Mary has expounded a basic truth that cannot be disregarded. It is only through actual and slow building up of natural evolution that a species can gain the necessary resistance and strength to maintain its own life. A slow impression of environmental factors on the chromosomes and genes, to be passed on through the generations in a slow building up of racial strength and virility.

The great dinosaurs failed in this respect, and were not able to adapt themselves to their environment. Thus they vanished from the earth. Pithecanthropus Erectus apparently ran up a blind alley, so to speak, and outstripped his environment. He died.

And so it is with all life. Placed in modern times, the Piltdown man would not survive. He would succumb to the commonest disease, positively fatal because he has built up no age-long resistance to it. And 50, it is quite evident that a completely evolved creature will not be able to cope with a vastly different environment from that actually bred into its constitution.—Ed.

Cylinders of Horror

WITH a convulsive shudder, she paused. Only her eyes went on speaking, pleading with Doctor Ray, asking him to look upon the horror he had created, asking him to—question the thing. And as the slow seconds passed she saw that the aged physicist's face was graying, the stoop in his shoulders deepening, his strong hands trembling again.

The thing, that had been for a moment silent, resumed its tittering. Only more violently, more recklessly; almost there were undertones of madness in its liquid, gurgling mirth. Convulsive laughter racked its frail body.

It spoke.

"The thought—the conception—that I am only an anomaly that will presently, quickly, die is absurd!" The horrible tittering went on.

But Doctor Ray's lips were moving, forming soundless words.

"God—affronted!" he was murmuring. "Evolution—time—violated—!"

His jaw muscles tensed, his sunken cheeks ribbed with knotted, iron-hard bands.

"Ask him, Mary?" he whispered slowly. "Child, I need not ask him, for I see that he—knows—what will be." His voice strengthened, then, as he spoke to the thing—though he still spoke quietly.

"You who were once a man—you who were once—Pierre Brunelle; I am sorry that I ever made you—what you are. I can never undo that wrong, but I shall always provide for you, and you shall always dwell with me. Perhaps, together, We can accomplish many things; I believe so, for you have superhuman intelligence.

But we must end, now, these mistaken experiments. For, until men become as gods, until men become able to evolve environment simultaneously as they evolve the life within that environment, these experiments are pre-doomed to failure. And I think—I think that that day will—never come—"

He stopped speaking, for the thing had resumed its awful tittering. And through its gurgling laughter came its almost unintelligible speech: "It is too late, now, to discontinue what you have begun. For you have already evolved—me. And I have mental powers—powers of will—"

It spoke no more. But swiftly, stunningly, its tremendous brain poured forth a surge of malignant thought-command that surpassed its former effort as a glare of lightning surpasses the gleam of a candle. Beneath that terrific impact Doctor Ray and Mary reeled like stricken cretins. And then, with ghastly simultaneity, they turned, and faced the twin rows of gleaming cylinders, and shambled, with hurried yet dragging footsteps, toward those cylinders that yet were darkened, without occupants!

"God!" Ethredge thought, as they stumbled down the lane of cylinders toward him, "it's overpowered us, now. Once we're within those chambers all thought will be blotted out—we'll begin to become like—him! And if he can keep on unmolested for a few months more—until he's made us all-thought monsters like himself—he will be in command of a race that will dominate the world—!"

Unerringly, as though driven by some cosmic homing instinct they were powerless to disobey, the grizzled, stooped old man and the amber-haired woman moved past Ethredge and halted before the next adjoining pair of darkened, vacant cylinders.


That command was not spoken. It was not transmitted by any puny displacement of the air molecules in the room; no sound recording device ever built by man would have detected the tremendous fact of its existence. But it blazed in the brains of those three like the light in the center of a sun; their hands, their bodies, moved hurriedly, jerkily, to obey! Mary's small fingers fumbled at the clasps on her rough tweed skirt; Ethredge's, Doctor Ray's hands lifted to their collars.

And then, striking from what seemed infinite distance, came a strange, familiar sound! Faintly, faintly, but growing; it was a rushing, ululant wailing! And as it grew it resolved itself into unmistakability; it was the shriek of a police siren tornadoing toward the house!

Abruptly, as the horror diverted, to a degree, its attention to this new menace, the gripping agony blazing in the brains of the three lessened to bearability. Almost intolerable exultance seized them as they realized that they could even move their hands and limbs a little, that the things awful telepathic powers were being diverted.

The scream of the siren crescendoed, and whined into silence; the house trembled as the downstairs door burst open and thudding footsteps and demanding voices filled the hall. The rush of sound swept through the downstairs rooms and moved toward the first-floor staircase.

The horror came, then to an instantaneous decision. It teetered swiftly forward, unlocked and took the key from the heavy door, Opened the door and stepped into the hall. The door started to close.

The thing's intentions were plain. It planned to lock the door behind it, subdue the interrupting policemen, and then, returning, resume its sway over Ethredge, Mary, and Doctor Ray before they could escape that second floor room.

The door was closing, though slowly.

And then, in that last split-second before the door would have completely closed, the monstrous-headed horror shuddered, tottered, and pitched forward on the obscenity that was its face!

For, in that instant, it had relinquished its telepathic control over the three within the room. Perhaps it had forgotten, in the stress of that moment, Mary Ethredge's small revolver, lying at the bottom of Doctor Ray's jacket pocket. But Doctor Ray had not forgotten. Instantaneously, as the power to move of his own volition had flooded back into his being, he had stabbed his fist into his pocket and fired through the fabric!

Ethredge was plunging through the door. The hallway was a confusion of voices; bubbling, gurgling sounds were issuing from the shapeless, vestigal lips of the thing on the floor of the hallway.

Ethredge was through the door. Doctor Ray and Mary were pressing close behind him. Swiftly he babbled over his shoulder, "We must keep them from—that room—!" Hurriedly he stooped, picked up the key from the rug, and locked the door.

He looked at the ring of suddenly awe-stricken, suddenly horror-blanched faces confronting him. He wondered, crazily, if he could speak to these men without revealing the awful terror he had undergone.

Words came. "It's all over, boys." His voice sounded strange, too high-pitched. "This thing was a—freak; you've heard of freaks—? Circus freaks—

"This poor devil went—mad, and became violent. Doctor Ray had to shoot him—in self-defense." He nodded significantly to Cassidy. "Will you remain, Cassidy—and Captain Donaghue too?

"The danger has passed, now. The creature is dead."

But the creature was not dead. Its bubbling, gurgling breathing that had apparently ceased resumed for an instant, and from its shapeless lips issued three mumbled, liquid sentences, "She—spoke—the—truth. I would never have lived—a lifetime. I knew, but I was determined to try..." It relaxed, then, and this time it sank inescapably into the timeless black slumber of eternity. This time the thing that had once been Pierre Brunelle was truly dead.

Hours later, in the early, deepening April twilight, four tired men and an all but exhausted, amber-haired woman walked from the old Morehouse home and climbed into Police Commissioner Ethredge's big sedan. Doctor Ray, grown since morning incredibly aged and stooped, stood wearily in the portico and watched them go.

Just before the motor purred into life Ethredge said, significantly, "That pseudo-butler'll keep quiet. He knows that, even if he talked about this, he wouldn't be believed. And in any case he's afraid we might revoke his parole. He's glad enough we sent him packing with his salary and his freedom and a gentle hint——"

"Yes." Cassidy sighed explosively. "Lord!; we did a powerful lot of work doping those girls and spreading them all over the city in hotel rooms. Traffarn did the right thing, though—putting a hundred dollar bill in each one's handbag. They'll never learn where he took them—he was cagey enough to make sure that the car curtains were drawn when he brought them to Buena Vista." He paused, then added thoughtfully, "Say, what was he up to, anyway?"

Ethredge's face was expressionless.

"Some new electrical beautifying process—" he said carelessly.

"They were beautiful," Mary said softly.

The car wheeled down the driveway, passed through the open gate to the macadam road. Ethredge knew, without looking back, that Doctor Ray was still standing there, watching them go. And he did not speak, for he was thinking of those strangely altered, strangely beautified girls, wondering how the, to them inexplicable, change that had come over them would affect their lives, wondering to what uses they would put their unaccountable new charm, their newly deepened intelligence.

Perhaps for them, perhaps for everyone, it would all turn out for the best.

"But I can't understand," Cassidy stubbornly persisted, "why Peters—! And why did we smash all the equipment? It doesn't make sense—"

Ethredge laughed; a dry, wary chuckle. "Peters was snooping, on my instigation—and got caught. And Doctor Ray decided to destroy the—equipment because he was dissatisfied with its performance—"

Cassidy was silent for a little while, thinking. The car had almost reached Buena Vista. Then, in a. perfectly matter-of-fact tone, he added, "I understand, Commissioner. A pity, isn't it, that that thing he shot had to get out of hand?"

Ethredge knew then that Cassidy knew, as Peters certainly knew, as perhaps even old Captain Donaghue of the Buena Vista Police vaguely suspected. But no one of them would ever mention this again. The case was solved, the file closed, and in the backs of these men's minds it would remain, shadowy and bizarre, horrible and unspoken, to their dying days.

Very quietly Ethredge answered, and his words were like the gentle closing of a book, "Yes, it's a pity. But it's over now, and tomorrow the thing will be buried. Next week Doctor Ray's sister is coming down from Massachusetts to live with him—to keep him from brooding too much. So, Cassidy, it's all over—now."

The car turned off the macadam into Buena Vista's Main Street. Directly ahead, two blocks down the elm-lined, quiet thoroughfare, Ethredge saw the burnt-umber Police Station, his immediate destination. For Captain Donaghue would get out here, also Cassidy, who had driven to Buena Vista in his own car. Only Mary and himself would remain.

"Thank God," Ethredge said fervently to Mary, as he drove slowly down the brief and peaceful street. "Thank God you called Cassidy before you followed me to Doctor Ray's. Thank God that, in your anxiety, you set the time for eleven o'clock instead of twelve—"

His sinewy hand reached out and grasped her small warm fist. Her fingers opened, intertwined with his own, and clasped them tightly.