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MONSTROSITY
of EVOLUTION

By THORP McCLUSKY

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

CHAPTER I
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—"

CHAPTER II
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 bo...

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