Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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BOLTON mountain's forest-darkened loom screened the sun, filling the long valley with eerie, ominous shadows, but the narrow road was still a dusty ribbon climbing through breathless oven-heat. A brooding, impenetrable silence swallowed the clatter of his laboring car, and Jack Foster fought a queer feeling that the ancient lonely hills resented his intrusion.
A tree-clad spur jogged the rutted trail just ahead. Foster slowed for the curve... Breath gusted through his thin lips and his foot came down hard on the brake pedal.
The rattletrap's abrupt stop jolted Dan Tolman's plump body against his seatmate. "D'you shake Lizzie apart this time?" the khaki-clad Tolman drawled drowsily, not bothering to open his eyes.
Foster wiped the back of his hand cross his forehead, smudging into mud the sweat and dust filming his lean, weather-beaten countenance. The incredible thing was still there! "Take a look, Dan," he said softly. "Take a look!"
The tight quiver of horror in his chief's voice pried Tolman's reluctant lids apart, and then he too was gaping wide-mouthed at that which blocked their passage. "Gosh!" he gasped. "Great jumpin' jeepers!"
The scarecrow figure lay athwart the road, curiously like a man who had crawled that far and could crawl no further. But it was utterly beyond reason that it could have gotten there of its own motion. For the mildewed, leprous clothing was shredded away in places to expose only seething putrescence. Here and there, green scummed rods and nodules showed, that were the ribs and joints of one long dead, and the uncovered head was a worm-gnawed skull. One arm was outflung to end in a skeleton hand fisted so that only the tip of its grisly forefinger touched the dust.
"Are we there?" a sleepy, boyish voice came from in back.
Foster pulled his slit-lidded stare from the macabre object, jerked around to the jumble of dufflebags and surveying instruments filling the rear of the car. "Not yet," he growled. "Log across the road."
A pair of very blue eyes peered past the edge of the tarpaulin that outlined a slim form recumbent on the back seat. "I'll help pull it out of the way." Ted West's white fingers shoved down the canvas.
"Don't need you. Go back to sleep." Foster's tone strangely compounded gruff command and a curious gentleness for which he himself could not account. "We'll take care of it." The youngster's eyes closed again and Foster turned away. "Come on, Dan." There was warning to discretion in his glance. "Let's get busy."
Decrepit springs creaked gratitude at release from Tolman's rotund weight. The engineer slid lithely out of his side of the car to join him. Little spurts of thirsty gray powder rose from their heel-prints as the two strode to the gruesome object... and the obese Tolman lurched to a sudden stop.
"I'll be...!" he wheezed. "Letters!" His pudgy finger stabbed at a wavering furrow in the dirt. "It's written something."
They stood there, rigid; Foster tall and gaunt-framed, Tolman a roly-poly dumpling slightly ludicrous in his sweat-blackened trappings of an outdoors man; staring incredulously down at the message scrawled in the dust.
"Turn back," it said, "for the dead will defend their gra..."
Finished, the warning would somehow have not been quite as sinister as it was with that ghastly forefinger resting on the downstroke of that final "a," where whatever weird life had animated it abruptly had fled. But there it lay, and, although Jack Foster's leathery, hard-bitten face was expressionless, tiny chills scampered his spine, and his scalp was a tight, prickling cap for his skull.
For a moment he weltered in the grip of supernal terror, and then he managed a sickly, humorless grin. "Cute jokers in these parts," he forced past the constriction in his throat. "Digging up a corpse to welcome us."
"Digging!" Tolman's exclamation was a thin squeal. "Digging!" >He threw a shaking arm at the steep hillside lifting from the road-edge. "Look!"
Foster twisted to see that out of the woods, a patch of sere, treeless grass had been gouged, that the yellow blanket folded over serried, oblong mounds of a burial ground. Eroded, moss-slimed headstones leaned askew in crazy rows and between them a trail of pressed-down stubble ran upward from his very feet. It was at this that Tolman had gestured, at the place, dead in the center of the cemetery, where a dark-brown, somehow obscene tear in the saffron sheet ended it.
Dark-brown! That earth was too newly upturned to have been bleached to grayness by the torrid sun. And—"Good God!" Foster heard himself croak. "It—it hasn't been dug. It's been pushed up, from underneath, like—like a turtle pushes itself out of the mud!" Little light worms writhed between his narrowed lids and his skin was an icy sheath for his body.
"Pushed up..." Dan Tolman whispered, as if he could manage no louder sound. "It pushed itself up out of its grave and crawled down here to..."
"Shut up, you fat fool!" Foster snarled, and then the crisp grass crackled against his boot-soles as he plunged up the hill. He had to see—he had to make certain... His toe stubbed stingingly against a stubble-hidden stone! He sprawled forward...
His palms thudded deep into clammy moistness of grave-loam. The odor of putrescence was fetid in his quivering nostrils and he stared down into a noisome charnel-pit; stared at rotten, earth-caked coffin-boards that seemed incredibly to have been forced upward by some grisly, unhuman pressure from within a mouldering death-box.
But there was something else, something at the sight of which a steel band squeezed the pounding throb of Foster's temples. Dented deep into the chocolate-hued earth, for all the world like the spoor of some prehistoric, abysmal monster, were marks that could have been made only by hands, by clawing furious skeleton hands, scrabbling to lift their owner from the bed where, by all the laws of God or man, he should eternally have remained.
Tolman's rasped panting gusted above him. "Out of his grave," the fellow gibbered, his voice a thin squeal. "He climbed out of his grave to warn us away. We got to go back, Jack. We got to get out of here quick before..." He choked to silence, as though gelid fingers had suddenly tightened on his throat.
Foster thrust himself to his knees. A livid sunset spread the sky with lurid, ominous red, and out of the unearthly glow, the forest seemed to be charging down upon him like some black and spectral cavalry. Its threat impacted on him with almost physical violence, was answered by a new surge of dark panic in his veins as instinct shrieked warning of an unseen, hostile gaze fastened upon him.
He lifted erect, his hackles bristling. "I..." he began, cut off. As though materialized out of the arboreal shadow, someone stood at the clearing's upper edge. Lank, almost cadaverous in his emaciation, the man's hatchet face was sere and yellow as the grass at his feet and his tiny eyes glittered from between their wrinkled lids with some strange mockery.
An instant of silence, brittle with electric, voiceless antagonism, ended in a dry, cackling voice, "Thet's good sense, stranger. Ye'd better be turnin' back 'fore dark comes an' the Old Uns start out after ye."
Swift anger blazed in Jack Foster, burning away fear. "You...!" he barked, his big hands fisting. "So you're behind this stunt." He leaped the grave, thudded stiff-legged toward the fellow. "If you weren't twice my age, I'd break your neck."
The other was motionless, a faint, acrid smile playing about his fleshless lips. "What stunt d'ye mean?" he queried. "I don't know what ye're blatherin' about."
Foster was spraddle-legged in front of him. "You know damn' well what I mean. Putting that corpse in the road. You'll have to go a damn' sight better than that to scare us off."
"Corpse—in the road?" The man's eyes shifted past Foster's threatening bulk. "Whut corpse?"
"That one." Foster twisted, flinging out his hand to point down—and froze. It wasn't there! Nothing was there except the dust-gray, empty road and the nose of his flivver, just visible beyond the bend.
The upthrust tumulus of the grave still gashed the burial ground, and Dan Tolman stood above it, his fat-drowned eyes still glassy with fear, his obese body quivering, jelly-like. They could not both have been fooled by the same illusion. But what had happened to the cadaver?
Foster wheeled back to the man. "It was there, right there. A skeleton in our way..."
"Jehosaphat! You saw him!" Was it fear that flared in the tiny bleared orbs into which he glared? "You saw Hi Bolton! I thought—God have pity on you! God have pity—for they won't."
Foster's fingers flashed to the man's scrawny arm, dug in. "Who won't? Whom are you talking about?"
"These—" the sweeping gesture included the whole plot. "They know! They know you're agoin' to drown them out with your water dam and they..."
"That's it, eh! Listen, hillbilly. You and the rest of the moonshiners around here can't stop the survey from going through, nor the dam from being built. There's a half-million people in the city that need water, and this valley's going to be a reservoir from which they'll drink. All your tricks can't stop it."
"Tricks." The old man wasn't resisting Foster's grip, but his snarl was defiant, menacing. "They wuz another bunch come here to measure the hills fer thet reseyvor—ask them about what you call tricks. Ask them—if you can find them."
Foster's brow puckered. What could have happened to the crew whom he and his companions were replacing? The Western Union man back at Oscadon, where they had left the railroad for the climb into this valley, had told him of two white-faced, dazed men coming into his office to dispatch their telegram of resignation to headquarters and hop the first train West. "They wuz actin' like the very devils of Hell was after 'em," he had said.
Their chainman hadn't been with them, and they had made no explanation of his absence. "Listen, Mr..."
"Perkins. I run the general store down at the forks."
"Listen, Mr. Perkins. You tell your friends they're monkeying with a buzzsaw when they tangle with me. I'm not going back. I'm running that survey through, and Hell and high water won't stop me. Now git," Foster's powerful biceps exploded, flung the fellow into the woods.
The engineer twisted. "Come on, you yellow-bellied tub of lard," he snarled at Tolman. "We've got a mile more to camp. It'll be dark before we get there."
MOONLIGHT sifted only sparsely through thick foliage roofing the tiny clearing, so that Stygian shadows lumped almost solid in the underbrush. They were grotesque, black beasts—Jack Foster cut his thoughts short, cursing himself for a jittery ass.
"Careful with that transit," he snarled. "If you smash it, I'll break your neck."
He could see the youngster's big eyes gazing reproachfully at him, then Dan Tolman blundered between, bowed under a huge mass that was the tarpaulin within which their rations were now bundled. Foster slid his own impedimenta to the ground.
"All right," he grunted. "This is the place." His hand went to the flash lamp at his belt. Somewhere on the painful climb from where they had had to park the flivver, it had gone out and, encumbered as he was, he had been unable to adjust it. Now its white beam sprayed out and the shadows rushed away into the woods.
But they left something that brought a curse to his lips. A sagging tent, one wall torn as though someone had literally thrown himself through it to escape from horror. A theodolite, half-buried in campfire ashes, its lens cracked and its brass tube already smeared with verdigris. A surveyor's field-book, ripped almost across, drifted over with dead leaves.
"Wha—what do you think happened to them?" Ted West chattered, setting down his load. "It must have been something terr—"
"I don't know and I don't care. Nothing's going to happen to us." Was he sure? Was he dead sure? "Get busy. Dan, there's a pile of wood all cut, start a fire. Ted, break out a pot and open a couple of cans. I'll get the tent straightened out. Hop to it."
AS long as he drove himself and the others to the business of making camp, Foster could keep eerie speculations out of his pulsing thoughts. But while they ate, an aura of threat seemed to brood about them, lurking in the circle of darkness the flickering flames kept at bay but could not dissipate. The scanty meal over, he found new occupation for the others, and sat, pulling on a rank pipe and trying to pierce the ominous obscurity of the forest.
At last he brought his attention back to his companions. Tolman was like an obese phantom, his face sheet-white and fearful as he worked to make an orderly pile of their belongings on the spread tarpaulin. Ted was just finishing washing the mess kit with water from their canteen.
Why did the slim, frail-looking lad's eyes also keep wandering with brooding dread to the tight, black circle of the forest? He had slept through that outré incident at the graveyard and they had told him nothing about it.
Foster tapped his pipe bowl against his heel, made sure the dottle fell on bared earth hemming the fire. "Time to turn in," he grunted. "We're making an early start in the morning. How about it, Ted?"
The youngster lifted from his task. "I—I'm through, Mr. Foster. Where do I sleep?"
"I've reserved the bridal suite, Mr. Van Astor," Foster grated with heavy sarcasm. "Do you prefer violet or rose perfume in your bawth? In the tent, of course," he roared. "Like the rest of us." Then he was wondering once more why he felt so damned brutal every time he bawled the apprentice out. Was he going soft?
God, but the kid looked scared. Probably his first night in the woods. Till you got used to the silence, and the little sounds that only made the silence more profound, it did make one jittery. "How're you getting along, Dan?"
"Take me fifteen minutes more."
Foster came to a decision. "Take your time. It'll help keep you awake. But have your gun handy."
Tolman jerked erect. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that we're standing guard tonight. There's something screwy about this layout and I'm taking no chances on being hopped while we're asleep. It's eight now. You wake me at midnight and Ted'll take the last watch, four to dawn."
"There ain't no buts. That's the way it's going to work. Come on, kid."
Foster switched on the battery lantern he had hung from a nail on the tent-pole. He had made a single bed of their blankets on the ground. No matter how hot the day had been, the forest night would be cold and that way they would have more coverings. He stooped to pull off his shoes.
Ted stood there, motionless. He hadn't even taken off his thick lumber-jacket. "What the hell are you waiting for?" Foster demanded.
Good Lord! The kid was actually blushing! What kind of pansy...?
"D-d-do you mind if I turn out the light, sir?" he stuttered. "I—it—it attracts the bugs."
Foster's eyes narrowed. He started to say something, changed his mind.
"Go ahead. Put it out if you want to." Darkness clotted inside the tent, and something very like a sob came out of it. But after a while, Foster heard the soft sound of someone crawling under the blankets and, stripped to his undershirt, he followed. The kid had gotten the blankets disarranged. Foster's hand fumbled to get them straightened out, touched the warm skin of an arm, was suddenly nerveless, trembling.
"I'll be everlastingly damned," he whispered.
No man, no boy, had flesh as soft as this, as palpitantly resilient to one's fevered touch. This was a woman's breast his fingers had brushed. A half nude woman—! Foster pulled in aromatic, feminine fragrance with a gasping, long-drawn breath and was suddenly afire.
"Please. Please!" the girl sobbed, tugging at his arm. "Please...!"
Foster's response was to pull her closer, to fumble with avid lips for the pulsant spot under her ear where the hot blood flowed near the surface. "Cut it," he murmured. "You wouldn't be here if you didn't want it."
A long shudder went through her body, and she was struggling no longer. "I—I can't help it," she sobbed. "But—but I didn't know—I would have to—sleep with you."
"You didn't... What the hell's the idea of the masquerade, then?"
"Lenny. I came to find Lenny."
"Lenny!" It was like a douche of cold water. Here, like this, she was thinking of some other man! He pushed her away.
Tried to push her away! She clung tenaciously. "But I've got to find him," she wailed; "he was with that other party, and when he didn't show up, I had to go look for him. I know a little about surveying, so I dressed like a boy and managed to get assigned to your outfit. You'll help me find him. You will... Jack?"
Foster tried to get her little fingers free from about his neck. "Sure," he grunted bitterly. "I'll go looking for your boyfriend..."
"My brother. Lenny's my brother and..."
"Why didn't you say so at first?" He wasn't trying to get rid of her any longer. "Sure, I'll help you find him. In the morning. But tonight..." His fervid caress followed the smooth curves of her quivering back, an electric thrill racing up his arm to feed the flames of his ardor.
That fire burned her, too. He felt it in the silky warmth clamped so tightly to him, felt it blaze hotly in the firm roundness of her breasts against his chest. Her mouth crept, dew-moist, across his cheek, found his. Her petal-soft lips crushed against his, avid, urgent.
Thrill after thrill surged through him, through them both. They were caught up in a wild ecstasy. The furnace of their contact melted them together in blissful oneness...
A SCREAM, high, shrill, sliced in through the tent walls, a wail of agony and awful terror. Gun-bark punctuated it, a single shot—and then silence smashed down, the ominous, black silence of the ancient woods.
Jack Foster rolled away, surged to his feet, catapulted out of the tent. A ruddy glare lighted the clearing—beat unavailingly against the forest's dark wall—but Dan Tolman wasn't there.
Tolman wasn't there. No sound, no sound at all came out of the mysterious black depths of the trees to show where he might have gone. No threshing of the underbrush— How could it be possible? Dan Tolman's portly form, moving of itself or being carried, could not conceivably pass noiselessly through the thick growth...
"Dan," Foster shouted. "Dan." The impenetrable murk took his bellow, quenched it. There was no answer, utterly no answer from the Stygian gloom. But the nape of the engineer's neck bristled with ancestral fear as, for the second time that day, he sensed the gaze of inimical eyes upon him.
Something was out there, crouched in the blackness just outside the lurid circle. It was waiting for him to wander out of the protecting firelight, waiting to pounce upon him as it had pounced upon Dan, and drag him away to some terrible doom.
"Jack!" Ted, he knew no other name for her, was at his side, in her stockinged feet, unutterably feminine in spite of her brief masculine shorts and shirt; the firelight stroking the long, delicate curves of her softly youthful figure. "You must save him, Jack." Her eyes dilated, was it with terror or with the last remnant of passion from which they had ruthlessly been torn? "Here." She thrust his shoes at him, and his gun. "You must."
Even in that moment of indecision, of fear of the grisly unknown, he could not tear his eyes from the fascinating temptation of her lovely, trembling body. His hand reached out for her with unwilled greed.
Somehow she evaded him, though she appeared not to move. "I've got my gun and I'll be all right," she answered his unspoken thought. "Go! Maybe—maybe they'll lead you to Lenny."
"Where?" He groaned. "Where? I don't know which way to go."
"Toward the graveyard. That way," pointing. "Hurry, or you'll be too late."
A muscle twitched in his cheek with surprise. "How—how do you know about the graveyard?"
"I wasn't asleep. Are you going?"
Challenge, perhaps contempt, showed in her pert face. "Or are you afraid?"
"Give me those shoes."
Brambles tore at Foster's bare legs, half-seen tendrils whipped across his face. The firelight faded and the damp blackness of the trees closed about him. Underfoot the invisible carpet of mold was spongy to his tread and, save for the rustle of dead leaves, the swish of the underbrush against his flanks, he pushed through thick, almost tangible soundlessness.
Through silence—but he could not rid himself of the sense of another presence close by, a something, sentient yet somehow not quite human, clogging his footsteps, watching his every move. He twisted again—again there was nothing behind him but ebony murk and the towering forms, blacker against shrouding black of the moveless trees.
What would he find at the graveyard to which the girl had sent him? He must be very near it.
A bluish luminance floated suddenly in the darkness ahead, an eerie, shapeless glow. Foster's gun jerked up, his trigger finger curled. Relaxed. Rotted wood glowed like that, he had remembered, with a weird radiance born of decay— But rotted wood did not move, drifting soundlessly between silhouetted tree-trunks!
A nightmare paralysis struck down on Foster, held him unable to move, unable to think. The blurred luminance came nearer, its motion utterly soundless. It firmed, took shape. Took horrendous, monstrous shape. A great head set neckless on shoulders slanting steeply to merge with a bloated, enormous torso. Cavernous eye-pits, writhing, distorted mouth. A flat, dark triangle where a nose should be. The blue-luminant skin blistered, leprous, somehow ineffably foul. Horror incarnate, the horror of dissolution, of death so noisome the grave-worms would spurn it!
A dry, mocking laugh cackled against Foster's ears, crescendoed to a peal of triumphant cachinnation, broke off. The Thing came on...
Orange-red flame jetted from Foster's gun, though he had not consciously willed the trigger pulled. Gun-bark, shocking, reverberant, released him from terror-numbed rigidity. He fired again, and again, point-blank into the loathsome figure. And again. He could not have missed. By no possible chance could he have missed. But the Thing was not halted, nerve-shatteringly was not affected at all by pumping, lethal lead. It sprang!
Jack Foster's muscles uncoiled, were released springs hurling him sidewise, dodging the ferocious lunge of the dread apparition. He whirled to run. The Thing confronted him, its glowing, fleshless lips parted, drooling. He spun again and the Thing confronted him, its glowing, fleshless lips parted, drooling. He spun again, and incredibly, the Thing was once more before him, its handless, tentacular arms reaching out for him.
The appalling truth burst upon him. There was not one, but many of the entities, the avatars of horror whom bullets could not kill. They surrounded him, a ring of luminous putrescence incarnate. A ring that now was closing in on him with the slow sureness of inevitable doom.
Foster crouched, threw himself at that tightening wall. His fists flailed out, pounded into fetid, chill softness that absorbed them with a sucking squidge, somehow revolting. He struck again and again, frantically, unavailingly, while his stomach retched and spewed bitterness into his throat at the foulness that cushioned his frenzied blows and robbed them of all effect. He fought grimly, hopelessly, and abruptly could fight no longer as the blue, clammy substance enveloping the Thing swallowed him, clamping his arms, his legs, in a wet, gelid viscidness like all the awful fears of primeval man appallingly made concrete.
The putrid, death-scented substance folded over him, as if the invulnerable Beings had coalesced into one mass of protoplasmic, revolting jelly, and so coalescing, had swallowed him within its nauseous bulk. It thrust into his mouth, his nose. He could no longer breathe. His heart pounded against its caging ribs. Excruciating agony fanged his laboring lungs. Rocket-burst coruscated into flaming eruption within his skull, blinked out. Death, at least, the thought flickered through his last faint thread of consciousness, would bring relief from terror and pain.
DEATH was compact with anguish that tore at Jack Foster's soulless body, that seared his chest with heaving agony. How could that be? Death—is oblivion. His eyes opened. He thought they had opened, but the blackness that pressed against their aching balls was utterly lightless. It was somehow solid, holding his tortured body motionless, clamping his arms tight against his sides, straight-jacketing him in a merciless vise.
Death—is oblivion. The recurrent thought blurred through the weltering anguish of Foster's brain. It is not pulsant pain. It is not sepulchral, earthy fetor that pulls in and out of tortured lungs with each labored breath. A dead man cannot breathe!
A corpse cannot know this incubus of apprehension weighing upon one, this throbbing dread. It cannot jerk its legs, in a spasm of convulsive terror, to pound against harsh rough wood. Not dead. Not dead! But what?
An earthy, sepulchral stench in his nostrils, straight boards hard under him, tight against his sides, close above him. Boards—wood— Oh God! Oh merciless God! He was not dead. But he was in a coffin. He was buried alive!
Every nerve, every cell shrieked protest at that ultimate horror, combining all the fears that man can feel. Dread of eternal dark, of hunger, of thirst. Fear of death. Terror of madness! Not that! Holy Mother have mercy. Not that! Even as the incoherent prayer formed, Foster could feel crazed laughter shaking his breast, quivering in his larynx, jerking at the muscles of his jaw...
And then he was rigid again as muffled voices penetrated into the dank murk of his living tomb. Voices—he could not make out what they said, but one of them was Ted's, and the other a man's, must be Dan's! Thank God! Oh thank God! They were near, they were searching for him!
A yell formed in Foster's throat, was choked off by a scream, by Ted's scream. "Don't!" a frantic, pitiful entreaty came distinctly to him. "Oh don't! Let me go!" Struggling bodies thudded to the soft earth, clods thudded on the coffin-top. Clear through the mouldering wood came the man's hoarse, passion-shaken breathing, the rasp of fabric torn by violating fingers. And the girl's gasped moan, hopeless, pleading: "Oh God! Ohhhhh!"
Realization of what Dan was doing to her exploded in Foster's brain with a blaze of white-hot rage, exploded in his muscles with a burst of superhuman strength. He drove frantic knees against the rotted timber above him, arched his whole body and battered it against the penning boards with maddened fury. For an eternity, it seemed, he fought to get free, fought to get loose so that he might avenge the brutal act that was being accomplished within his very hearing. For an eternity the indomitable casket resisted his frenzied efforts. And then, quite suddenly—the wood split, moonlight silted in, and Foster surged out of the burial box.
Surged out into the open, earth-sided pit gazing at which he first had known eerie terror, surged out of the mouldering death-box that once had been Hi Bolton's. He scrambled out of the gruesome crypt, and hysteria twisted within his breast as he saw in the crumbling loam the traces of the struggle in which Dan had forced from Ted that which the girl had been so willing, so eager to give to himself...
But where were they? Where was she? Foster's final, frantic clutch at the top of the dirt pile brought a small avalanche down upon him, his hand touched the clammy chill of dead flesh...
And he was staring, staring at the bloodless, immobile face of the girl his arms had enfolded in the passion-filled gloom of a woodland tent. The brown earth covered the rest of her figure, but that countenance was unmistakable, the close-cropped, boyish hair of her disguise, the finely-chiseled features that his fervent lips had kissed.
The beast had taken his spoil and then he had slain her! She was dead, terribly dead! A sob wrenched Jack Foster's dry throat, burbled from between his gelid, cracked lips—and a crackling, obscenely triumphant laugh rattled through the fearsome night.
It jerked up his head from that dreadful death-mask. The black, gaunt rectangles of gravestones jagged the moonlight-pallid blanket of sere grass. The Nubian forest ringed the burial ground, somehow closer, somehow ineffably more fearful. But there was no hint of movement, no sign of any presence, human or ghoulish
Abruptly the graves glowed with the peculiar, fungoid luminescence of the monsters who had vanquished him and interred him alive. They were spewing out bloated, monstrous forms that surged at him from every side. Oh merciless God! They were sweeping upon him once more. They were not done with him! Cat-like, they had been playing with him, had tendered him escape only to snatch it away. Now they were pouncing upon him for the kill.
Grisly hopelessness sapped all strength from Foster, filled his veins with an icy flood, clamped his water-weak limbs within a shell of infinite despair. They were upon him. Their terrible tentacles writhed to take him out of the blue-glowing tight wall of their menace... Gun-bark pounded from the dark fringe of the woods.
Gun-bark—thought seared frigid through the quivering pulp of his mind—Dan! It had been some other, not Dan, who had done this thing to Ted. But somehow, Dan had gotten free, was fighting to rescue him—Mad laughter wrenched Foster! Bullets could not harm these beings from beyond the Veil...
Queerly, their slow incursion of infinite terror had halted at the pounding sound, halted as if with fear. Pow! The gun sounded again—and suddenly, there was a gap in the ranks.
The small thunder rattled. Another Thing slithered to the ground, collapsing like a ripped flour-bag. And another! Now, amazingly, the rest were scattering, were slithering across the graveyard and vanishing into the woods.
"Jack! Jack! Are you all right?" Ted's voice called from the trees. Ted's voice! But Ted was dead, here at his feet—Ted was coming to him, running across the stubble, undressed except for the torn shreds of her underclothing, an automatic in her small hand jetting fiery destruction at the vanishing ghouls.
She was in his arms, warm, palpitant, unmistakably alive. "Jack..."
"All right, sweetheart. All right. Thanks to you. But...?" He gestured voicelessly to the corpse at his feet.
She pulled away from him, knelt to it, her little fingers stroking the dead cheek. A sob retched her. "Lenny," she gulped. "Oh Lenny..."
Understanding burst upon Jack and he was kneeling beside the weeping girl. "Dear," he whispered. "Sweetheart. Your brother is dead, but you have avenged him." His arm slid across the throbbing flesh of her shaking body, pulsed with the infinite dearness of her.
"But that won't bring him back to life, Jack. My twin brother—I loved him so...
"You've been so brave, you'll have to keep on being brave." If he got her thoughts away from her loss... "But how—how...?"
"I—I waited till I thought they had had time to clear away from the camp, and then I followed. My idea was that they would take you to whatever place they had hidden Lenny and I could rescue you both. But I got twisted around in the darkness. I found the graveyard at last, saw their footprints here in the dirt—and then Dan Tolman was beside me. He..." She choked up, and madness itself leered ghastly from her eyes. "Ohhh...!"
"But how did you know to come here?" Foster asked hurriedly, fighting to save her from the remembrance of horror. "You were asleep in the car..."
"I wasn't. I was watching. I saw him drag the corpse from the road while you were running up here, and hide it in the bushes. Later, I saw him substituting blanks for the cartridges in your gun.
"Dan... Tolman! It can't be...!"
"There he is." She stabbed a shaking forefinger at one of the shapeless, limp heaps her blasts had brought down. "After... after what he did to me, he heard you breaking out of the coffin and tore away. I ran after him in the woods, lost sight of him. Then that horrible laugh brought me back, and..."
Foster didn't hear the rest as his hand quivered with revulsion, touching again the clammy, sepulchral viscidness that had struck such terror into him. But now he saw that it was simply a mass of wet clay thickly plastered on a loose robe of black fabric, so thickly that when his flailing fists had pounded into it, the force of his blows had been rendered impotent as though the wearer had been armored with feather pillows against them. The robe was topped by a hood that had been molded into a horrific mask. Turned with the black lining out, it would effectually merge the individual it caparisoned with the lightless forest night.
Queasily Foster tore the stuff away, and Tolman's fat-drowned eyes stared glassily at him. "I'll be damned..."
"That other one is Perkins, I think. Tolman's uncle." Ted's voice quavered. "A gravestone near the roadside told me the secret of that relationship. But I had found out before that Perkins' store was the wholesale depot for the hill-dwellers' moonshining operations. Tolman was the city agent, and their operations were making them both wealthy. The dam would have wiped the whole business out, and that precious couple led a band of their neighbors in a wild attempt to scare away all surveyors and stop the project."
"Scare us!" Foster grunted. "Maybe they didn't fill in the grave because they didn't want really to kill me. But—" He jerked an expressive thumb at Lenny West's moribund face. "Your brother..."
"He was killed by accident. He fell into a gully while running away, and broke his neck. They didn't intend him to die..." The girl lost her hold on bravado. Her sentence broke on a sob and she whirled, darted away.
Jack Foster plunged after her. His long legs devoured ground and he had her in his arms. "Wait," he gulped. "Wait for me, my darling..."
Her little fists pummeled his chest. "You don't have to pretend," she wailed. "You don't have to pretend you still love me."
"You must hate me, despise me, after what Tolman—did to me. I'm sullied, Jack. Stained..."
"You little fool," he murmured, his mouth greedy against her neck, her dear warmth tight to his trembling frame. "You silly little fool. You couldn't help yourself, could you? No more than you can help loving me."
Somehow, then, it didn't matter that Lenny lay dead at their feet, that the moon silvered horror. "Jack," Ted whispered. "Oh my dearest dear!" Her lips were feverish against his, and their blood blazed, hot with a single, consuming fire.
Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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