Would Dan King ever find the hidden lair of the beast master, who nightly sent his hairy hordes to maim and kill? How could he possibly locate that den of ghastly horrors in time to save his beloved from becoming the fiend's willing plaything—a creature half ape, half woman?
INTO the side-show tent the strident blare of a calliope filtered, a barker's raucous shouts, the crack of rifles from a shooting gallery—all the surging, happy tumult of Cranport's annual gala night. It was spring. Salburn's Super Shows once more were starting out on the road, and the factory town was getting a preview of its refurbished marvels.
The simple people of the community were also getting, all unknowingly, a preview of the horror that was to come before the gaudy caravan returned to its winter quarters—horror that would paint faces now ruddy under the flare of carnival torches with the grey of grisly dread; that would make screams of terror tear through throats now chortling with laughter and replace gayety with the desolation of fear-bred madness.
"Hot! Hot! Get 'em while they're red hot," a weenie vendor bawled, and from the Thriller Ride shrilled the mirthful shrieks of its tumbled patrons.
But within the canvas walls of Zortal's tent the clamor was muted by a strained, taut hush. The terraced bleachers were in shadow, so that from Dan King's front row seat the packed benches were only a mounting bank of pallid, blurred ovals. But he knew that their occupants were hunched forward, silently, almost grimly intent on the huge ape in the central arena—staring at the ape and the stocky, swart-visaged human in close- fitting tights of green silk who stood to one side, glowering and quite motionless.
Gasoline flares, high on poles, stabbed down at the hard-packed earth, filled the ring with a dancing, fitful glare. The long black lash of a cruel whip hung down along Zortal's leg and coiled at his feet, but neither by word nor sign was he giving any direction to the shaggy, lumbering primate in its incredible routine.
Naida Stone's little hand crept into King's protective one. It was icy, quivering. "I don't like it," she whispered, tremulously. "There's something wrong about it, something dreadfully wrong." A shudder ran through her slender body, so tinglingly close against his own.
"The brute is better trained than most, that's all," the young automotive engineer rumbled. But even as he said it, chill prickles scampered up and down his spine and he was conscious of a faint quiver at the pit of his stomach.
Was it some atavistic fear that crawled sluggishly in his blood, some ancestral memory of the days when Man first moved into caves and the Tree People still stalked him through steamy jungle aisles? But he had seen great apes before and felt nothing but a mild interest. In the hulking chimpanzee padding noiselessly out there, there was some eerie, too-human quality. Vaguely he, too, sensed that it had passed through some strange metamorphosis into a being neither beast nor man, into an entity beyond the pale of familiar things.
The gigantic beast, bent-kneed, long-armed, blackly hirsute, shuffled to a large mound in the center of the ring and jerked a tarpaulin from it. A stripped automobile chassis stood revealed—with bare framework—and beside it a helter-skelter pile of gears, steel rods, castings, all the multifarious parts of a car's power plant. Ranged on a canvas strip were wrenches, spanners and other implements. The polished tools splintered light into darting gleams...
Muscles tightened along the ridge of Dan King's square jaw. A murmur ran through the crowd, almost a moan. Nearly all of them workers in Cranport's two automobile factories—every man in the gasping audience had often seen just such piles of jumbled parts. King, himself part owner and engineer, of the Mayflower plant had arranged more than one such display for speed tests between crews of expert assemblers. Good Lord! Was the ape...?
The astounding speculation became actuality. The primate snatched up tools, fell on the tumbled mass of fabricated metal. With incredible swiftness it changed—with unbelievable speed a motor grew on the chassis, a crankshaft clanged into place, connecting rods were fitted to their bearings. Muscles swelled under the shaggy hide, the tremendous chest heaved as weights ordinarily handled by clanking cranes yielded to the chimpanzee's gigantic strength, were lifted and dropped meticulously into their beds. Grotesque black paws darted in intricate manipulations with a deftness, a dexterity no human laborer could surpass.
"No! No!" Naida whimpered. "It isn't doing it. It can't be. It isn't possible."
She was warm, palpitant within the curve of Dan King's arm—but in that moment he did not wonder at his daring, at her acquiescence. His throat was dry, his brain throbbed with an astoundment that was almost pain. He pulled his gaze from the fantastic performance, sought saner things for assurance of his own sanity.
Across the ring, nearly opposite, Ned Salburn leaned forward, his heavy-jowled face rubicund, his jaws working on his eternal tobacco cud. Further along was Warren Fenton, superintendent for United Motors of their Hiawatha factory, Mayflower's bitterest rival. Fenton's fox-like countenance was livid, his eyes almost popping from his head.
The emerald-clad man in the arena was somehow more erect. There was a swagger in the tilt of his, Zortal's, shoulders, in the poise of his head, as though he were saying, with gloating triumph, "I have done this. I, Zortal the Great."
From somewhere high up a hoarse voice boomed: "Come out from under that mask Pat Cooney. We know you. Come out!"
Tension broke as boisterous, almost hysteric laughter swept the big tent. The great ape dropped its wrench, twisted around to face the jester—and King's scalp tightened as he saw in the beast's russet fur a bald spot crowning its brow-less skull that had a gargoylesque resemblance to the popular foreman who had quit the factory without notice about a month before. Then the similitude was gone, the ape was altogether bestial as it loped forward, its curved knuckles brushing the ground. Light struck across its snouted, leathery countenance and the bridgeless spread of its flat nose, while the grotesque visage worked with some obscure emotion.
"Get back! Get back there," Zortal shouted, coming alive. "Get back!" He was moving to intercept the chimpanzee's path, his long, wicked lash lifting in his sinewy hand.
The ape came on, ignoring its master, thick lips snarling away from yellow fangs as it came straight for King, and he half-lifted from his seat with some dim notion of fending the brute off from Naida. Suddenly it was very near, and Dan saw its look...
His skin was suddenly a tight sheath for his quivering body, his palms were wet with cold sweat. Good God! Those were not the eyes of an animal. A soul looked out from those eyes, a tortured human soul, and in their blue depths fear crawled in a suffering terrible appeal!
Something flashed across King's vision, and there was the crack of a gun shot. No —! It was Zortal's whip as it lashed across the ape's hairy back, lifted, writhed, and bit savagely again and again into brute flesh.
"Back to your work. Back, I say!"
Clamor beat about Dan. Shouts, a woman's scream, were suddenly swallowed, blotted out, by an abysmal, thunderous roar that filled the tent with sound almost tangible, that blasted its hearers with devastating terror. The ape whirled on its tormentor. The out lash of its colossal arm was the lightning strike of a rattlesnake, and Zortal's whip was in the grip of a black, gnarled paw—was wrenched from the trainer's grip. The beast crouched, pounced. Zortal went down under a grunting, snarling tornado of hairy fury, and the flash of green silk was gone.
Dan King was somehow in the ring. He was tugging frantically at a pole at the top of which a torch flared. A shriek burbled in his ears, a shriek of purest agony. The rod came away in King's hands and he whirled, threw himself at the monstrous, snarling simian. His extemporary weapon pounded down and flame splashed on tossing, red-brown shagginess. Burned hair, frying flesh, stung its nostrils.
The chimpanzee surged erect, twisting. King leaped far back. The enraged beast loomed over him, tremendous. Its brutish mouth yawned cavernous and its bellow was about him like a black flood. Fetid breath gusted over him.
For an appalling instant fear ran icy in the engineer's veins. Monstrous arms flailed, and the giant ape sprang still roaring, to tear him apart. King's muscles exploded into swift movement, and he lunged forward to meet that cataclysmic rush, thrust the blazing flare squarely into the brute's face. The creature screamed and the man leaped back out of its reach, lithely. The flame-pot rolled across the ground, vomiting flame and black smoke.
The chimpanzee thudded to a halt. It clawed at its cooked face with huge hands, and he saw that in the deep-sunk sockets under the overhang of its forehead there were blackened cinders where eyes should be.
Naida was suddenly beside King—clutching his arm. "Dan!" the girl shrilled. "Dan! Come back. He'll kill you!"
The ape whirled to the sound, lurched blindly toward it, great paws sweeping out to clutch Naida, to rend. In a single flash of action Dan hurled the girl aside, lanced the stake at the cyclonic onrush of the maddened brute, jabbed its pointed ferrule into the ape's gaping mouth. The impact threw King backward, sprawling upon the ground; but the beast's own terrific momentum impaled it, drove the pole out through the back of its neck. Blood-rush choked off the nerve-shattering roar, and the gigantic animal pounded down, was a threshing, gory horror.
King rolled over and scrambled to his feet, frantically seeking Naida. He fought nausea that retched bitterness into his mouth.
Figures were all about him, blocking vision. Someone grabbed his hand, pulled him around. A crowd ringed him in, white-faced, spewing oaths. It split apart and Zortal came through, his green suit ripped, one arm dangling limply, shoulder askew.
King stared at him, stupid with amazement. The man's face was contorted with rage, his eyes black with fury. "Damn you," he squealed, rage thinning his voice. "You've killed him! Murderer!" The fellow's good hand came up, fisting. Dan's muscles knotted, but pudgy fingers, Ned Salburn's, grabbed Zortal's wrist.
"Stop it, you fool!" the showman roared. "Stop it. He saved your life. You'd be in little pieces now if it wasn't for him. The rest of us were paralyzed."
The trainer's thin mouth twitched. His stocky frame quivered as he visibly fought to gain control. "But—" he husked. "But he's ruined the work of years. The greatest attraction..."
"The devil with that!" Salburn came back. "You'll get another chimp, train it. I'll keep you on the payroll and next year..."
"Next year hell!" Wrath seemed to have drained out of the man, but his countenance was still livid, tiny fires still smoldered in his eyes. "I'll have another one for you in two weeks. A better one. I know how now."
Disbelief showed in the carnival proprietor's expression. "All right then. Two weeks. But come away. Come out of here—and let's get your arm fixed."
"Dan! Dan darling. Are you hurt? Are you all right?"
King wheeled to Naida. Her white frock was dirt-smeared and there was a brown splotch across her cheek. But something in her eyes sent a thrill through him, surging warmly in his veins.
"Naida!" He reached for her. "Naida! Let's get out of this." Words were on his tongue that for months he had choked down, had hardly dared to think. "Let's get out."
The crowd parted for them. They went past Zortal, and the man lipped, "I won't forget you, Mr. King. I won't forget this." It might have been thanks, but somehow the man's green costume seemed to make him oddly reptilian, poisonous. His black, cold eyes flickered from Dan to the girl his arm encircled, and little lights crawled in them, little lascivious lights.
There was a crowd outside too, and more coming on the run, brought by swift rumor. "What happened, Mr. King?" someone called, reaching out to stop them. Dan scarcely heard, did not answer. They were in his Mayflower Eight and were roaring away, out of the Fair Grounds, out along the car tracks of the Shore Road to where the Big House stood, set far back from the road.
As a shoeless kid he had long ago brought the laundry to the back door of that house. The small girl in crisp organdie whom he would see on the lawn—black ringlets curling about her tiny, piquant face, fat little legs twinkling—had made him poignantly conscious of his tattered clothes, of the tumble-down shack in Frog Hollow that was his home. Once she had smiled at him and he had run away.
He thought he had forgotten her in the long years between, years filled with days of grueling labor, with nights of more grueling study. His inventions, his genius for the management of labor, had multiplied the production, the profits of the Mayflower plant. Even when Roger Stone had recognized his ability, had given him greater and greater responsibility, had last year taken him into partnership, Dan King had remained the kid from Frog Hollow, and the Big House a palace, with the girl who lived there unapproachable as royalty itself.
She had come into the office more and more frequently. He had been wordless in her presence, awkward, had found duties to take him out into the plant. But increasingly she had haunted his dreams, and, when her father had asked him today to take her to the carnival he had trembled inwardly...
He braked the car at the big stone gate, turned to her. "Naida," he murmured. "Naida. I love you. I have always loved you."
THE rush of night air about him could not quench the tingle of Naida's parting kiss on Dan King's lips. A vast exhilaration possessed him, joy pulsed in his big body. He wanted to shout, to trumpet it triumphantly to sleeping Cranport. "Naida is mine, all mine. She loves me. Do you hear that? She is going to be my wife!"
Trees gave way to flatlands, and the dark loom of the Mayflower plant's low buildings was unreeling to his right. Yellow oblongs showed windows still lighted in the administration building. Roger Stone was still there, then. King's sedan nosed into the cinder driveway, skidded to a stop.
The broad-shouldered man with hair that was black as Naida's save for greying temples looked up from a desk spread with blueprints and sheets of typed manuscript. Dan halted inside the office door that for the first time he had flung open without the formality of knocking, and tried to find words to tell Naida's father of that which had happened.
There was a smile of approval on the older man's aristocratic countenance "Dan, my boy," Stone said, "you've done it again. This new car will cut the feet out from under the Hiawatha Company. We'll be able to undersell them by two hundred dollars and deliver a better job for the money. I've already had Johnson send off the patent applications to Washington, and we'll be able to start production in a month. Congratulations..."
"Thanks." King brushed aside the phrases that this afternoon would have meant so much to him. "Glad you like it. But I've got something to tell you about Naida?"
The other came up out of his chair. "Naida! Something happened...?"
"No, sir. That is, nothing bad." Dan was stammering like a schoolboy. "She—I—that is... She's promised to be my wife."
Stone was a graven image, standing behind his desk. The office was deathly still. Papers crackled under his blue-veined hands as he pressed down on them.
"She's promised... to be... your wife." The words dribbled from lips that were white under his grey mustache, and there was something in the way he said them, something in his eyes, that brought a hot flush to King's cheeks. "I picked you out of the stink and filth of Frog Hollow to make a man of you, and this is how you thank me. You," contempt was a knife-edge in his tone, "the son of a drunkard who died in the gutter, of a washwoman who scrubbed my drawers, are going to give me my grandchildren. No!"
Slow anger mounted in Dan. His great hands knotted, nails digging into their palms. But he managed to hold himself in leash. "You did not make a man of me, Mr. Stone. Whatever I am, whatever I possess, I have earned. Fenton would have had you down long ago if it weren't for me. If you wish, you can have it all back, my job, my partnership in the firm. United Motors has been after me for years. I can go to them tomorrow and they will be glad to have me. You can have the new car whose plans lie on your table. I'll give them a better one. And Naida will go with me. You can't stop her. She loves me and you can't hold her."
Silence again clotted in the room. The two men faced each other, their stares clashing, indomitable, their wills wrestling in a wordless combat. Then, quite suddenly, Dan realized that Stone was an old, broken man whose hand abruptly gestured in a curious, almost pathetic movement.
"No. I can't hold her. I've never been able to do anything with her—not since her mother died, so long ago. And I need you. I need you, Dan. Just give me a chance. Let me take her away on—on a trip somewhere. She's so young. She may not know her own mind. And I am tired, sick. I need a rest. If she still wants you three months from now you can have her. And we'll go on as before."
King sucked breath in between cold lips. She was necessary to him now, part of him. Not to see her for three long months...
"You're not afraid, are you? If she loves you as she says, three months absence will make no difference. And if it should—you have no right to her. No right!"
It was a challenge he could not evade. "All right." He did not want to say it but he had to. God help him, he had to. "All right. Go ahead."
Its motor purring sweet rhythm that should have been music to Dan King's ears, the Mayflower Eight poured itself down Railroad Street. The engine sound should have been music, and the far-off hoot of a locomotive whistle wailing down the night wind should have set pulses leaping in his wrists; for Naida Stone was on that train, bringing her back to Cranport and to Dan after the three long months when he hadn't heard from her, when he hadn't even known where she was—the girl he loved better than life itself.
God! If only he had been able to wire her, to tell her to stay away. To stay far away from Cranport, from the fear-cursed town where terror ran rampant. But he hadn't known how to reach her, until the telegram had come, a half-hour ago, to say that she was on the Cannonball Express. Then it was too late—except to jump into the sedan and send it rocketing to the station so that he could catch her there, make her stay on the train, send her away.
Old Pete Foley had goggled at him, swinging back the big gate so that he could go through the high, barbed-wire fence. One of the guards had come running, the floodlights glinting on his sawed-off shotgun, to shout incoherently at him. They had been afraid for him, and he was afraid, too. With hammering trepidation running like a cold flame through his veins, he feared that which was loose in the factory town. For a weird menace had made beleaguered fortresses of the Mayflower Factory, and of the Hiawatha Motor Works on the other side of town.
The wind of his own speed stung his red-rimmed eyeballs sharply. He squinted through the windshield. Look! Even downtown here, even here in the heart of Cranport where the terror had not yet struck, where men were not yet mysteriously, awesomely missing from their homes, fear was a dark river inside shuttered, door-barred houses.
It was early, it was only eight o'clock—but the only moving figures to be seen were two patrolmen, coupled for protection, with their guns in their hands as they walked down the center of the roadway, away from shadowy alleys, from the lightless nooks that might be ambush for whatever it was that snatched men out of life into some unnamable fate. Stores were tight shut. The station plaza, as he rounded into it, was a broad, deserted expanse, its asphalt somehow gleaming ghastly under light filtering down from ornamental lampposts.
King brought his car to a squealing, skidding halt. He flung out of it, thumped stiff-legged across the sidewalk, shoved a shoulder against a swinging door. He was inside the waiting-room, was pounding between a long row of benches toward the exits to the tracks. His footfalls echoed hollowly under the high-domed roof. The place was empty of life, was filled with brooding, breathless dread. The blind was down over the ticket agent's wicket; there was no gate-man...
Dan stopped short, his skin crawling. What was that on the floor, sticking out from under the bench? A shoe— a foot! He knelt down, got his hand on it. His other hand, supporting him on the floor; found something wet, warm, sticky. The body at whose foot he tugged came sliding out, spreading a pool of its own blood.
God! The corpse hadn't any head—only a shapeless mess of pulped flesh and smashed bone where it ought to have a head. What was once a uniform was shredded grey rags, matted with clotted blood...
The oncoming train whistled again, nearer. Outside, rails hummed. Through King's retching nausea an alarm blared, and he twisted, stood up—started to run. But a tremendous form, black, grotesque, avalanched down upon him from over the top of the bench.
DUCKING to avoid the attack, Dan King's feet skidded out from under him on the blood-wet tiles and he went down flat, half-rolling. The pouncing, shaggy thing missed, thudded alongside him. King realized he was under the bench, and kept on rolling. A hairy arm darted after him. A huge paw, black-taloned, snatching for him, caught the hem of his coat. He tore the cloth away, came out into the aisle on the other side. He got his knees under him, shoved with his hands, leaped up. Two huge apes had come from hiding in the deserted waiting room of the station!
A gigantic beast loomed in front of him. Its big-thewed arms went around him, hugging him against stiff bristles that rasped his face, grated his lips as his mouth came open for a yell that the hairy hide stifled. The beast's circling hold constricted, making breath wheeze from King's lungs under the irresistible pressure. Excruciating pain seared his back, his chest, as the steel-trap squeeze caved his ribs. His fists beat a futile tattoo on the brute's sides. A yellow-toothed grin between thick black lips blurred in his burning, bleared vision.
Dan's knee jerked spasmodically up, found softness, drove into it The ape squealed agony and his grip relaxed, slightly—enough for King, desperation exploding into momentarily redoubled strength, to jerk free, staggering backward. The further bench caught him, held him upright. He sucked sobbing breath into collapsed lungs, had a fleeting glimpse of the primate doubling up, and kicked savagely at its agonized groin.
A shadow fell across him. He wheeled to see the other ape towering over him, its splayed feet groping for a prehensile grip on the top of the bench separating them, its columnar legs haunching to pounce.
Terror pronged King's breast. The jungle denizen launched a ferocious swoop and Dan's heels drove into the tiles, catapulting him forward and under the down-circling arc of the hairy monster's leap. His out-flung hands clutched the bench-top the beast had just left, gave him a hold sufficient to vault the high-backed furniture. He pounded down, just missing the sprawled corpse of the murdered gateman he had discovered. He hurdled the gory cadaver, pelted toward the track exits. Padding footfalls behind told him the brutes were on his trail. Almost he could feel their hot breaths on his neck.
The eerie, macabre silence that had shrouded the incredible struggle was shattered by a sudden high, wild shriek from outside. It crescendoed to a wailing, ear-piercing scream. Then there was the pound and hiss of a locomotive driving past, the screech of jamming brakes. From somewhere a thin whistle shrilled. King lurched between out-jutting brass rails, crashed against a door that did not swing open, that was appallingly immovable, locked.
His last hope of escape collapsed like a bursting balloon. He was penned in, utterly lost. Panic and despair twisted at the pit of his stomach, and he whirled to face the oncoming, bestial doom. He gasped, stung by the discovery that the savage primates were no longer intent upon him, but were surging out through the street entrance.
He reeled, snatching at the short, curved rail-lengths that had made a standing place for the guard who would never stand again. Half stunned, he fought for breath, fought to still the pound of an over-taxed heart hammering against the walls of his aching chest. Through vertiginous darkness swirling inside his skull, dim realization came that the fearful messengers of an awful death had been scared off by the sound of the arriving train.
The train! Naida! He pushed himself away from the rails to which he clung, threw himself around the barrier, thrust at the next door. That too was locked, mocked his efforts. Oh God! He had to get out there, had to warn her.
"All ab-o-o-ard," a far-off voice intoned. "All ab-o-oard." King was running wildly along the line of rail-guarded doors, was frantically trying each one. The very last swung open. Yellow light-squares were already sliding over the platform as the express crashed away. He shoved through, saw Naida peering about her, far down, a bag alongside her.
"Naida," Dan shouted, sprinting toward her. "Naida!" She came to meet him, was in his arms. His lips, that had thirsted so long, were crushed against hers in a long embrace. She was warm, dear, in his arms. "Darling," he murmured. "It's good, so good to have you back."
Then momentarily forgotten terror was back, cold at the base of his brain, and he pulled away. Chaotic words rose to his throat. He swallowed them as he remembered that the train was gone, that there was not to be another till morning. His plan to send her away was blotted out. He must think, must find a way to safeguard her. Meantime no use in frightening her...
"Dan. I've longed for you so. If Dad had been with me I would have found a way to write you. But he put me on my honor before he went away..."
"Away! Wasn't he with you in...?" Dan stopped short, sparred for time, tried to think.
"Florida. No. He took me to Miami and left the next day. Said he had wanted a long fishing trip all his life—that I wouldn't enjoy it."
King scarcely heard. They were alone on the platform. The apes might be back. The apes... Good Lord! What did the attack in the station mean? Were they the prowling menace terrorizing Cranport? Had they marked him for their next victim?
"Come on," he blurted, picking up the girl's bags, taking her arm with his free hand. "Come on, let's get going. Let's get away from here." He started off, his glance furtively, fearfully searching the shadows. He was fairly dragging her, half-running.
"But Dan," Naida protested, "why are you going around outside. It's shorter through the waiting room."
"Yes, but there's a—someone I want to avoid is waiting for me. We'll go this way." The gateman's body was still in there; she must not see it. "Look, here we are! How do you like the new car? Isn't it a beauty?" He must let the police know about the dead man. But not now, not till he had Naida indoors, safe...
"Oh, it is. It is. I must drive it!" She pulled away from him, had the door open and had slid under the wheel.
A flicker of movement, seen out of the corner of his eye, twisted King around. Shadows at the end of station seemed to be taking on rounded form, seemed to be coming alive. He twisted back, flung Naida's bag into the sedan, jumped in. "Get started," he yelled. "Quick!"
The starter whirred as he clicked-over the ignition key and the girl's small foot went down on the button. Motor roared, gears clashed, and the car jumped forward like an unleashed greyhound. Wind beat in under the lifted windshield. Darkened houses flicked past.
"What was it?" Naida flung at him, her eyes steady on the road. "You sounded so scared."
A pulse thumped in his temples, dull pain throbbed in his chest. Every breath was stabbing torture, he was corseted with agony. The battering he had sustained, the terrible squeezing, anesthetized at first by excitement, by the thrill of his sweetheart's return, were showing their effect now. He couldn't—think straight.
But he must not scare her— let the sharp-clawed fear tear at her that was slicing his own brain. He had to get her to safety, behind barbed wire, under the protection of armed guards.
"Accident—at the plant," he answered. So hard to talk, each word searing his lungs with new pain. "Got to get—back there quick. Hurry!" Once there, once safe, he could tell her.
"An accident! You're hurt, Dan. Your face..."
"No. Not hurt. Working hard—day, night. Drive fast. Tell you when—get there. Don't talk—now. Hurry!"
Working hard? Oh God! As the car hurtled through the night the torturesome weeks of which this was the culmination reeled through Dan King's throbbing mind, a motion-picture film edged with corroding acid. The days of feverish preparation for the new model. The start of production and the great ads flowering in newspapers all over the nation. Then came crashing catastrophe!
On that very same day other ads had appeared, proclaiming in staring black type cuts in Hiawatha's prices that made Mayflower's drastically lowered ones seem extortionate. Devastating cuts. Investigation had driven into King's being the certitude that Warren Fenton must have had a spy in his designing room. For the patent application had scarcely had time to reach Washington when a high board fence had gone up around the Hiawatha area, and the workers there had not been permitted to leave it Hiawatha must have made changes too...
But what changes? King had purchased his competitor's product, had torn it down and analyzed every bit of its fabric. There was no cheapening in material, in design. The only saving could be in labor.
He had met Fenton's cut with another, only to find his rival going under his price again. King was selling at cost now, but Hiawatha cars sold far below—unbelievably cheaper. Even if the unions would have stood for it, there was absolutely no room for any wages to the workers. How were they doing it?
Mayflower was equal to the new reduction. But it was suicidal. Bankruptcy stared at Dan King, swept down upon him.
He had been a very vortex of energy. He had been everywhere in the plant, cutting down every least waste, speeding up, exhorting, driving his men till they were strained to the very last pitch of exhaustion. Years of cooperation, of good treatment, had their reward. The beleaguered manufacturer had begun to see light.
Then the terror had begun. One by one his workers had vanished, gone into some eerie limbo of oblivion. At first he had thought Fenton was raiding him, but, even admitting disloyalty, if Hiawatha had won away the missing laborers with higher pay, where was his rival's saving? Even United Motors' great treasury could not stand such a drain.
Desperately King had fought on. He had put up a barbed wire barricade of his own, flood-lighted and patrolled by armed guards. He had set up cots for his men, had forbidden them to leave the place. The assembly line was moving again, was speeding up. All day long autos were spewed out of the two great plants—roared away in long motorcades to a public that was making Saturnalia of the weird battle. While the night shift labored, gates were closed, barred, sentinelled.
The conflict was at a stalemate. Battling alone, Dan King had been a staggering Atlas, carrying the enterprise on his stalwart shoulders. With the period of Roger Stone's self-exile ended, with him returning, the scales might yet turn...
Good Lord! A grisly speculation trailed across his mind. Was that the reason for the attack upon him? Was there some macabre connection between...?
He jerked upright. The road ahead curved, dipped to a fork whose right branch went toward the Mayflower works, whose left was the Shore Road passing Naida's home, going on to the Hiawatha plant. Just as his car's headlights scythed through blackness to impinge on the intersection they caught a black, huge form that had leaped back into shrubbery with the ungainly, yet swift gait of the apes he had just been battling. An ambush...!
"Stop!" he yelled, snatching for the emergency brake. "Turn back?"
Motor-sound cut off, the sedan lurched, skidded, slewed half around. Its front wheels went into a ditch, there was a rending, tearing sound, the crack of fractured metal. His auto-seat dropped sickeningly beneath King and Naida lurched against him.
"Axle smashed," he grunted, icy with realization that escape in the sedan was impossible. Darkness blotted the road now, but senses sharpened by fear brought intimations to him of a black mass moving along it toward them. The skewed headlamp beam showed a wilted, straggly garden and an unpainted, low shack. Frail as it looked, it was the only shelter—better at least than the smashed car. He tugged at the door handle of the car, knew a moment of sinking despair as it resisted his efforts. He pounded his shoulder against it and it gave.
Sprawling out, King surged to his feet. Naida was staring at him from the car, white-faced, and now the pad of oncoming footfalls thudded menacingly against his ears. He mouthed some unintelligible exclamation, dragged the girl out, was pounding toward the lightless house.
"Dan!" the girl gasped in amazement as he pulled her roughly along. "Have you gone mad?"
King pulled in a sobbing breath as his feet pounded on a creaking porch. A door faced him in the drab wall and he snatched at its knob, praying that it was not locked. It went inward to his thrust. He pulled Naida inside, slammed the door shut, leaned against it.
"No," he lipped. "I'm not crazy, the world is." Naida was a pallid spectre in darkness. "Tried to keep it from you, but horrible things are loose in Cranport." His searching fingers, fumbling for a key or a bolt, felt splintered metal of a smashed lock. Furniture bulked vaguely in the gloom, he lurched for the largest, got hands on a heavy table, tried to drag it toward the door. "Help me."
Naida sprang to his assistance. The table moved, smashed against the portal just as unshod feet thumped on the porch beyond and a body thudded against the door. The whole structure shook to the impact. The girl screamed once and clung to King. Then a snuffling, animal sound came from outside, and at the same time—in the very room with them—they heard the slither of stealthy movement! The rustle of fabric scraping against the floor! Something was creeping craftily toward them...
THE menace outside, the menace within, clutched King's throat with choking fear. Of the two the mysterious, crawling threat inside was the more imminent, the more appalling. The ape would be held back for a moment at least by the hasty barrier. Naida came up against him, he could feel her trembling, could hear her choked whimper. He got a hand into the pocket of his jacket, found wood matches. Got one out, scraped a thumb-nail across its head.
Murk fled when the match flared. A shabby, drab room sprang into flickering existence... a doorway in a scabrous wall. A hand, grey, skeleton-like, grasped its sash, low-down. A fleshless, cadaverous countenance hitched into view, almost level with the floor. Mad eyes glared at King from sunken, dark sockets and the barrel of a shotgun shoved out, lifted with snouting menace.
King leaped catapulting across the chamber. He had his fingers on the gun-barrel. It came away easily, too easily.
Naida shrieked, and the scrape of the barricading table cut across her scream. "I can't hold it," she screamed. "He's coming in." King whirled. The dark wall was slitted by white light from his wrecked car's headlights. The slit widened, was jogged by the table, by Naida's shoulder, was blotched by a silhouette beyond the door—by the tall black outline of a shaggy ape-flank.
The gun-butt jarred against his shoulder. "Get away," he yelled. "Get away, Naida!" The girl's white form swept aside, out of the line of fire. Gun-roar blasted, thunderous in the confined space. There was suddenly a jagged-edged, gaping hole in the door. A howl of rage and pain shrieked through the night.
King fired the other barrel and the roar of his shot was deafening. When the ringing in his ears faded, he heard a thin whistle and receding thumping sounds that quickly faded out to silence. He got to the door, scrambled over the table, peered out through the gap he had made. Vague, lurching shapes were just vanishing into night-invested shrubbery.
He wheeled. "They're gone," he gasped, shaking. "They're gone, Naida."
"Light. Make a light, Dan." The girl's tone was stifled, taut. A moan sounded, not from her.
King got out another match, snapped it into flame. Naida looked fearfully toward the doorway at the form that lay there. Dan King found an oil lamp and got it lit.
The figure at which Naida stared, wide-eyed, was a flaccid, deflated old man. Sparse, white wisps of hair barely covered his scalp, his skull was visible through the tight, almost transparent skin on his age-yellowed visage and wrinkled lids drooped over bulging eyeballs.
King went and looked down at the scrawny, half-clothed form. The thin back lifted and fell with shallow, labored breathing, but King's spine prickled as he saw the ancient's trailing legs, saw that they were horribly twisted, broken as a wanton child would break a despised doll.
Recognition palpitated in the aching throb of Dan's brain. This was Sean O'Flaherty, pensioned off by Roger Stone two years ago. This afternoon his son Francis had begged for leave to visit the ailing father, had not returned by nightfall. Now King knew he would never return. This was not the first visit the apes had made here tonight...
There was a sudden rattle in the old man's throat, the frail, tortured body arced, blood gushed from between thin lips. Then Sean O'Flaherty fell back, was still.
"A fighter to the last," King muttered. Evidently the old man had been aroused from a numbed coma by the noise of his and Naida's entrance, had thought them the simian marauders returning, had dragged himself along the floor on a mission of vengeance.
"Dan. Oh Dan," Naida quavered, shuddering. "What is going on here? What awful thing is going on?"
King got his arm around her, held her close. "I thought I could keep it from you—but listen..." Rapidly, concisely, he told her of those past terrible weeks. "That's why I was in such a rush to get to the plant, you'd be safe there. Now—with the car wrecked— I don't know what we're going to do."
"They're afraid of the gun, Dan. They ran away when you fired."
He shook his head. "I've got a hunch they'll be back, Naida. There's something peculiar about those apes, about the whole thing—the grim, purposeful way they fight, the peculiar whistle that controls them... I have a queer feeling that a human is behind their activities, some human fiend..."
He broke off. The thrum of an approaching car came clearly in, rose to a roar, cut off. King wheeled to the door as footsteps thudded, lifted his shotgun. "Hello there," someone called. "Hello inside. Anything wrong?"
"Who's there?" King challenged. "Who is it?"
"That you, King...? Thought I recognized your car. This is Fenton—Warren Fenton of Hiawatha."
"Wait." King reached the door, pulled aside the table. Fenton came in, slim, dapper, his sharp face anxious.
"What—" he began. "Oh, hello, Miss Stone. I didn't know you were..." Then his expression changed as he saw King's weapon, as his eyes darted to the corpse on the floor. "Great Jupiter! What's happened?"
"Plenty," King snapped. "The damn beasts that've been raising hell around the country got one of my best men here— killed this poor old man, almost got us. Apes, Fenton, great apes running wild!"
"I'll be damned. Apes!" Astonishment was vivid in the man's face. Was it acting or... King quenched the half-formed thought. Nonsense. He couldn't have anything to do with them. "Have you notified the police?" Fenton finished.
"The police! I've been trying to get Miss Stone to a place of safety. Take us to Mayflower, will you Fenton? I think we can get through now."
"Can't. I'm sorry. I've got to get back to the plant right away on the hop. But I pass the Stone place, I'll drop you off. You can 'phone the cops from there and I'll chase some of my guards over to help you till they come."
"Take us to your plant. I'm afraid..." King checked at Fenton's narrowed eyes, at the suspicion flaring in them. "Oh all right," he said wearily. "I understand. You're afraid I'll see your secrets."
The inside of the Big House was musty-smelling, fetid with the dust of disuse. Dan King locked the tall entrance door as Naida switched on light. He turned. "Where's the 'phone?"
Naida's hand came up to her throat. "Dan! I forgot! It's no good. We had it disconnected when we left."
A pulse throbbed in King's temple, but he managed a grin. "Never mind. Fenton's guards will be here soon. You go and wash those smudges off your sweet face. I'll stay on watch down here with this gun, but I don't think there's any real danger any more. We're too close to Hiawatha for them to attack us." He knew there was neither rhyme nor reason in the words, but he had to say something to quiet the girl's apprehension, to dim the little fires of terrible fear in her eyes.
"I—I had rather stay down here with you, Dan. I'm afraid. I'm deathly afraid."
The man made his tone firm. "Now do as I say. What kind of wife are you going to make if you're going to argue every time I tell you to do something?"
Naida smiled wanly. "Wife. How good that sounds! All right, dear. I'll obey." She turned from him, climbed tiredly upward.
King's tortured gaze followed her till she was out of sight on the landing above. Her small feet pattered along the upstairs hall. From outside leaves rustled, somehow ominously. Was it the wind soughing through the foliage or...? Apprehension swelled within him, tightened a squeezing hand to his heart. Then sudden anger brought a pulsing, red mist before his eyes. He wouldn't cringe here, waiting for an attack. He would go out, drive them away. He shot back the door-bolt, was outside.
Night shrouded the landscaped grounds, lay like a silent death-shroud over the lawn. The thick bole of an ancient locust blocked his vision and he strode a pace or two forward to get beyond the obstruction. A huge shadow dropped out of its foliage, hurtled down on him. The back of his head crashed against the tree-trunk and the World exploded into whirling, coruscating nothingness...
PAIN was a dark sea on which Dan King floated, slowly lifting, slowly sinking to the long roll of its slow tide. Now it changed to meshed network clothing his body, constricting, relaxing, tightening again with a leisurely, demoniac pulse. Pain throbbed in his every cell, his every sinew. It bathed him, seeped through him—a dull, queasy agony as though molten, hot quicksilver had replaced his life-fluids.
Light beat against his closed lids, searing his eyeballs, pressing against them like gouging thumbs. King moaned. Dim thought crawled within him and summoned up a nightmare memory of whispering voices, vague forms moving in a blaze of white light, piercing black eyes set in a swarthy face the lower half of which was grotesquely obliterated by white blankness. There had been a horrific black countenance, too, somewhere in the seething, vertiginous phantasmagoria—a dark browless visage that had been primitive evil incarnate... Steel had flashed, sharp steel descending toward him...
There was a stiffened silence about his torment, and the feeling of walls closing him in, and a sense of utter helplessness. Where was he, what had happened to him? What had happened to Naida whom his carelessness had betrayed? Had the apes...? Naida! The name was a tortured shriek in his blurred consciousness...
He was on his feet, staring about him wild-eyed, reeling with vertigo engendered by pain. He was in a small, white-walled room. The bed on which he had been lying was its only furnishing. There was an open window high up over the bed—but it was steel-barred.
King staggered to the door of the cell-like room. It was locked. He backed away, hunching a shoulder, crouching for a battering rush at it.
Sounds came from beyond the door, the padding movements of some ponderous body. Something brushed against the panel like bristles of a hairbrush scraping across it. Hair lifted at the back of King's neck and his lips snarled back from his teeth. A key clicked over and a throaty voice rumbled, outside.
Fear exploded in Dan King's soul, fear of that which was outside, of that which was coming in. He whirled, leaped to the bed. Reached high, grasping the bars, and pulled himself up to the sill, crouched in the window embrasure. Behind him hinges squealed, and an animal fetor, a bestial miasma, tainted the air.
He dared not look back, down. His hands folded around the bars, wrenched. Incredibly the steel rods were bending, were twisting. Strength surged up in him. He felt muscles bulging across his back, felt his upper arms swell, his neck cording. Stone split with a sharp report and the bars were lose in his hands. He lurched out through the opening, toes gripping the framework.
His legs straightened, catapulting him out from the sill, hurling him in a long arc out through darkness. Foliage was a rustling, blacker silhouette against a black sky and his arms flung out ahead of him, fingers curling. Leaves whipped across his face, twigs lashed him, and his clutching hands closed on rough bark of a limb that bent, dipped under the sudden weight of his body, but held. He pendulumed, threshing through the treetop. He let go of the branch he held, was falling, falling—had caught a still thicker branch where it forked out of the trunk.
His heels dug, rasping, into the bole; his knees clutched it. He was immobile, frozen against the friendly tree. He looked back, peering squint-eyed. Leaves, branches, were blackly laced across a white square that stared at him out of a dark wall. Great God! It was yards away from the nearest bough that could have supported him. He couldn't have jumped that distance! No man could have, impelled by whatever panic, by whatever terror.
But he had done it, amazingly he had done it and he was free. For the moment at least. From somewhere below shouts came, and a lane of light lay suddenly across greensward. Shadows cut it, the shadows of running men, of beings formed like man. King chuckled, was on the move. Some instinct told him how to do it, how to use his new found strength, his new dexterity in swinging through these treetops, in walking surefooted along bending limbs. He made no more noise through the leaves than the light breeze.
The sounds of the hunt travelled off, the hunters at fault. He would have liked to see them—known who it was that had taken him captive. The mystery of the terror, he knew, lay there for him to fathom. But a greater need drove him, a greater emergency. He must get away from here. He must get to the Big House on the Shore Road and find out if Naida were safe.
Dan King's nostrils flared. He had never before noticed how the damp night emphasized odors. He could distinguish the fresh green aroma of growing plants, other smells, staler, that reminded him of a zoo. From his right came a mixed odor of road-tar, gasoline, oil, a smell that could be made by nothing else but a highway. That was where he must go, then, to the right.
The clump of trees which was an easy path to his uncanny skill petered out. But the last branch arched over a high wall, and from beyond that the road-smell came very strong. Dan King worked out along the bough, hand over hand, till it dipped beyond the barrier. The highway was fully fifteen feet below, but, not stopping to think, King let go his hold.
He swopped downward, landed on all fours. Bent arms and legs took the shock like springs. He was scarcely shaken. He rose, threw an apprehensive glance about him. The sky was overcast and it was very dark, but somehow his sight, like his sense of smell, had grown keener, more acute. He made out the high lift of the wall over which he had come, its crenellated top, running off into the distance. There was only one wall like that near Cranport, the one bounding the old Fosdick Estate where the Salburn Shows wintered. The Salburn Shows... Speculation stirred within him, eluded him...
The physical prowess, the sense of well-being that filled him despite the still throbbing ache to which he had awakened seemed to be matched by a corresponding mental sluggishness. What was the urgency beating at him, the dread that blanketed him? Oh yes! Naida! He must get to Naida's home, must find out whether she was there, whether—they had taken her, too.
They... The thought made him afraid again, dreadfully afraid. He was loping down the dark road. He stooped over, his arms hanging loosely in front of him, his hands curled. He could run faster that way. He came out into a broader boulevard. An orange light hung over the intersection from a wire running across between two tall poles. This was Shore Road, the Big House stood a mile to the left.
King started to turn in that direction. Sudden light blazed all about him. He whirled, saw an interurban trolley driving down upon him. It meant help, help to get quickly to Naida, human aid to battle the menace of the apes so mysteriously ravaging the countryside. He lifted his arm in signal. Brakes grated, the trolley was slowing. It loomed over him, the motorman peering out. The man's face went suddenly livid, incredulous terror flared into his eyes. And the car picked up speed, thundered past, careened down the road.
King stared after it, stunned. The fear of death had been in that florid countenance. What was there about himself to...?
He shrugged away dazed speculation. He had no time for pondering, no time to fathom the car-man's startling behavior. He must get to the Big House, must get to Naida. He was loping, bent-legged, shambling-footed along concrete hot with the August sun that burned his feet. He swerved to grass plots at the sidewalk's edge, found the footing firmer, easier. He sprinted past widely separated dwellings that were lightless, blind. Nobody lived out here any longer, they had moved into the center of the town to huddle for mutual protection against the frightful creatures that came by night to carry people off from their very beds. He'd been a fool, a witless dunce to have let Fenton persuade him to take Naida to the Big House.
Oh God! Was she there? Was she in the grim structure, back there in the woods, suffering Satan alone knew what tortures? He stopped stark-still, paralyzed by sudden indecision. Should he go on? Perhaps he should go back for help...
A siren wailed in the distance, the siren of a police cruiser! It screamed nearer, coming fast. Thank God! Oh, thank God! He would stop them, tell them what he knew! Here was help! The car rushed nearer, its headlights two green spots in the darkness. King jumped out in the road, waving his arms above his head, shouting.
The siren cut off. An orange spark flashed among the dark bulks of the hurtling car's occupants. Another. Dust spat from the concrete in front of him, a car track clanged, and tardily the double crack of rifle shots reached Dart King. They were shooting at him! At him! Gun-flare spat again, and something zoomed past King's ear, like a buzzing, virulent bee.
He spun around, a black mass of trees looming at the roadside. He leaped for them, was in among them, was scrambling up a shag-barked trunk. The police car squealed to a stop, through the leaves he saw men spraying out of it, rifles like sticks in their hands. They were in under him.
"We've got the damn devil!" someone shouted. "He's in here somewhere. Anyone sees him, shoot to kill!"
Underbrush threshed as heavy, sweating men ploughed through it. The sharp odor of their bodies stung King's nostrils. He could tell where each one was by the hiss of his breathing, by his aroma. He slipped silently through the arborage, working west, toward the Big House. He was quivering within. He was a hunted beast, an outcast. By some strange trick of fate every man's hand was against him, to capture, to slay.
THE trees along the route he took were evenly spaced in long rows that spread away from him on either side. The tang of rotted, fermenting apples was acrid. This was an old orchard, abandoned, run wild. Recollection stirred. There was just such an orchard alongside the Stone mansion. Was this it? Was he so near, so very near? So near, and so damnably far—with armed men below him, eager to blast him with their bullets, to make carrion of him...
Foliage thinned. He was at the end of the grove. He lay along a bough of the last tree and squinted out. A pulse thumped in his temple. There it was, the place that was called the Big House, majestic against the lowering heavens. The roof over the kitchen-addition jutted out at him from the high blackness of a windowless wall; ended below him, thirty feet away.
Man-smell was pungent in King's nostrils. His hackles rose, and he peered down into the murk of the cleared space between. A still, shadowy figure was down there, tense. Light from somewhere glinted on metal, the barrel of a rifle!
Dan's neck swelled. Small muscles in his face knotted, tightening his upper lip in a soundless snarl. Saliva drooled from the corners of his mouth. This was one of the men who had shot at him, who were hunting him down. He was waiting there, waiting to kill Dan King, to keep him from his mate. Hate was a dark flood in his brain, hardening into sly craftiness.
King gathered his legs and arms under him, slowly, carefully, so as to make no warning sound. He was crouching now on the bough, his sinews quivering with leashed eagerness.
Now! He dropped, fierce hands outstretched, down on his enemy. A white face flashed up at him, and he pounded down on the man. His fingers flashed to a soft throat, dug in. The body under him arched. Hands tore at his strong arms that were like columns of steel. Eyes stared into his own out of a purpling face, eyes black with agony and incredulous terror.
King's blood ran riot with triumph. In savage longing he wanted to tear, rend this weakling he had so easily conquered. Wild laughter rattled in his chest. His knees crunched into a soft belly. He gouged viciously...
The eyes into which he glared glazed over. The man was struggling no longer, was limp. Suddenly Dan King retched. Realization swept him with a sick nausea, and his throttling claws opened. Good Lord! What was it he was doing? What in God's name was this ferocity that boiled turbulently within him, this clamor to kill, to destroy, to sink his teeth into warm flesh? He rolled away, rose, stood trembling, shivering with a grisly dread.
A whistle shrilled. Others answered, one by one, from every point of the compass. A long quiver ran through the flaccid figure on the ground, and pulled-in breath squeeched.
"Who's missing?" a distant voice said. "Someone didn't answer." Then, "Jack'." Alarm was a knife edge in the bawled call. "Jack Parker! Where are you?"
"The other side of the orchard!" another voice. "Hell! Maybe the blasted thing got him." Running sounds came nearer, fear-shot curses. "Jack! Jack!"
Panic blazed in Dan. He whirled away, leaped the steps of the kitchen, twisted its door knob. The portal resisted him; he crashed a huge fist at the dull gleam of the key-plate. Metal snapped, and the door flew open.
He was inside, had shut the door behind him, was crouched against it. Muffled voices came through. "Here he is! Gees! He's only half alive." "We'll never get the... now; he's out in the fields." "The house...? "Naw, it's locked up, the Stones have been away for months. Come on guys, we've got to get Jack to a hospital, quick." Voices hushed by dread, by a queasy terror of something their owners did not understand. Sounds of thudding feet, going away, of a whimpering moan. Sounds of a car rushing away, police siren screaming its melancholy, fearful wail. Then quiet...
Silence, and the musty smell of old meals in Dan King's nostrils, of cold stove-metal. Darkness, and the feel of being enclosed, the stifling sensation of being shut in—a sensing of eerie shapes bulking about him, prickling his spine, bristling the hairs at the back of his neck with taut fear.
He battled down frantic desire to get out of here—out into the open. The house was so silent, so dreadfully still. Naida! Oh God—they had taken Naida! She was gone! She was back there in the place from which he had escaped and filthy, lascivious paws were mishandling her palpitant body—leathery black paws dripping with the blood of their victims.
He sprang erect, unaware that his knuckles had been resting on the floor, and thumped across a cold stone-place, out through a doorway. He was at the rear of the wide entrance foyer, and stairs lifted beside him, slanting up out of darkness into darkness. His throat worked, whimpering. Her name blasted out of his heaving chest.
"Naida," he shouted, despairingly, not daring to hope for an answer. "Naida!"
Small thumps struck the ceiling over him. A pale shape showed above him, wraithlike, a shape he could just see through the stair-rails. Then his heart leaped to a startled, fear-thinned cry.
"Dan! Oh, Dan dear!"
"Naida! Are you all right? Are you...?"
She was coming down. "I've been so frightened, Dan. You were gone when I looked for you, and Mr. Fenton's men never came. I've been hiding up here in the dark, so terribly afraid. What happened? Why did you go away?"
A switch clicked. Light sprang into being. The jetty cascade of her hair framed her dear face, her curving, red lips. Luminance struck through the sheer silk of her nightgown, limning the luscious curves of her body. Hot desire swept Dan like an up-surging wave, choked him. He wanted her, wanted... He came out into the light.
Naida's mouth jerked open, and a scream knifed out of it. Her eyes were wide, terrified. She spun around, dove for the great front door beyond, her shriek ripping the dusty air. King sprang after her— and something leaped at him, out of a doorway to his left.
He whirled to it, met the glare of a horrific visage—a brutish, hairy countenance. A pallid arm flailed out at him. He crouched, then leaped to meet the Thing's leap. He crashed into glass! Glass shattered about him, the shards ripped him.
The Thing was gone. No! It had never been there. Dan King stared, incredulous, at the ruined remnants of a tall mirror! In jagged fragments of glass still jutting from the frame, he saw broken reflections of a white, unclothed torso, of a bristle-blackened jaw.
Realization exploded in his reeling brain. The Thing he had thought about to attack him had been his own reflection. It was he! He was no longer Dan King. He was something half ape, half man. He was a grotesque, loathsome freak, a thing of soul-shattering horror, of terror unspeakable.
No wonder the motorman had been all but paralyzed with fear at the sight of him! No wonder the police squad had come screaming out to shoot him down like some unspeakable foulness! No wonder Naida had plunged out...
Naida! He spun to the open door through which she had gone. There she was, a white figure running across the lawn, running toward a high hedge that half-screened the pale ribbon of the highway. She screamed...
Two huge, black forms surged out of the greenery. Naida twisted, shrieking, but they had her. She was thrown over the shoulder of one, and the couple vaulted the hedge. A horn hooted, beyond, and a car motor roared into action.
King catapulted out of the door, down the steps, hurtled across the lawn, crashed through brambles. He was out in the road, racing after the rushing sound of the auto. A red tail light winked at him, mocking, dwindled to a point, vanished.
Oh God! Oh merciless God! She was in their clutches! His Naida was in the power of those who had made him the unspeakable monstrosity he was!
Scarlet rage shook Dan King, horror unspeakable gibbered at him from rustling darkness. The terror-beasts had swooped upon Naida. She was in the hands of grisly, cruel monsters who were all the more terrible because of a mysterious, human intelligence that seemed to direct them, control their outrages with a cunning uncannily not brutish. Naida was in their hands, and he himself was stamped with the mark of the beast, was an outcast against whom every man's hand was turned. He was a changeling, besweared, transformed by some evil metamorphosis, a leprous monster every man must flee from in terror, or fight to kill. Naida was in desperate danger, and he was powerless to help her, powerless to summon aid—alone, weaponless, naked...
Naked! Clothed, hatted, he might not be so terrifying an apparition. His awesome appearance masked, he might get close enough to someone to explain himself, to tell his unbelievable tale, get help to Naida before it was everlastingly too late. Wait! The glimmerings of a plan began to form in his aching, tortured brain. His own plant was miles away, far to the other side of Cranport. But Fenton's was nearby, just over the ridge to which the road began to mount. Men with guns were there, autos...
He wheeled, sprinted for the open door of the Big House. Some of Stone's clothes would surely be there! The need for haste screamed at him. A terrible urgency hammered in his racked soul. Hurry! Before the fiends had time to set to work on Naida! Hurry! Before the man with the half-face and the piercing eyes could consummate that awful change in her. Hurry! Please God, let him be in time!
King lurched wearily along the ten-foot fence surrounding the Hiawatha plant. He hadn't been able to button the trousers he had found. Stone's shoes didn't fit him and he was still barefoot. But the borrowed topcoat, tight across his shoulders hid his nakedness and a broad-brimmed hat was pulled low down over his face. If he could have shaved...
A five hundred watt lamp, ahead, spilled light in front of a high gate. King got to the circle of glare, pounded on the barrier. A small door in it opened, a man slouched out, short-barreled rifle lying across his palms, finger on the trigger.
"What the hell?" he demanded, leering at King out of beady eyes in a pinched, pasty-complexioned face. "What d'yer want?"
"Get Fenton! Get the other guards, rifles, cars. I've located the terror hideout and it's got Naida Stone," Dan King shouted. No! Oh God! He couldn't make his tongue form another single human word! All that came out was a chattering roar, an animal cry, wordless, unmeaning. His skin was a cold sheath for his body, ice-crystals formed in his veins, damming the blood-rush. The change was still going on, he was more nearly an ape now, a beast. He had lost the faculty of human speech! He could no longer tell this man, tell anyone, what he wanted, what was happening to Naida, how to find her!
The man's gun jerked up, snouted at Dan's chest. "Come out o' there," he growled. "Come out before I blow yer guts t'rough yer backbone." Amazingly there was no surprise in his tone, no fear. Only gruff command.
King jerked his arms up over his head. His hand touched the brim of his hat in passing, knocked it off. The guard grunted.
"Hey Harry, Gyp," he bawled, not turning, keeping his weapon rock-steady on King. "Cm out here. Look what I got. One o' the monks dressed up, walkin' around saucy as ye please an' bawlin' at me."
Two other low-browed, high cheek-boned roustabouts ran out into the light. "Hell," one yawned. "Yuh're drunk, Baldy. It's—" He saw King, stopped. "By Gawd, so it is. Someone's goin' ter get the works fer this funny business."
Their talk, their acceptance of his unholy appearance, trailed an impossible speculation across the dizzy chaos of King's mind. But what mattered now was that he had to make them understand, had to get help to Naida. He licked his lips, tried again. All he could manage was senseless chatter.
"Bring it inside." The one called Harry seemed of a slightly higher caliber, was not quite as uncouth, as gangster-like, as the others. There was something vaguely familiar about his broad features, his narrow, agate-hard eyes. "March it over to the barracks. I'll 'phone up you're comin'."
Then King remembered that face—pictured under flaring headlines. "Bollinger Leads Jail-Break. Public Enemy No. 1 and a Dozen Lifers Shoot Way to Freedom!"
"Christmas!" Gyp mouthed. "There's goin' ter be hell ter pay over this. The boss is goin' ter want ter know how it got out, an' why. I vote fer bumping it off an' ditchin' it in th' swamp. That way, the boss won't know nothin' about it."
King shook his head, trying to clear it. Dread closed in about him once more. These men would kill him out of hand, and then Naida was lost, irretrievably lost.
"You was on the wall this evenin', wasn't you, Gyp?" Bollinger said softly, meaningfully. "Or was you in th' guardhouse playin' poker when you ought to have been on the wall, watchin' that none o' them got out?"
"Hell!" Gyp swung around on him. "What's it to you where I was." He reached under his left arm-pit, cursing. An automatic was suddenly in Bollinger's hand. Baldy's gaze shifted to the byplay.
King saw his chance. He leaped, lashing at Baldy's gun. Somehow it was in his hand. It was a club he swung full-force against the man's head. It landed, crunched sickeningly. There was no longer a face where it had struck— just a puffy, blood-covered place. He was past Baldy's falling body, had smashed a devastating fist against Bollinger's jaw, had whirled to the other man. That one gaped, his eyes goggling, his mouth open. King left the ground in a long leap. As he came down his hand clamped on the wrist of a hand which was rising with a black automatic in it.
He twisted. Bone cracked and the man screamed, piteously. King's other hand, the clubbed gun somehow jolted from it, found the fellow's throat. He felt gristle scrape under his powerful constriction, saw blood gush from the fellow's mouth. Wild triumph surged in him... Then the roar of a gun blasted from the ground behind him.
A red hot iron seared across King's scalp, darkness exploded inside his skull. He slid down into a sick blackness...
THE crash of a stamping machine, the scream of a power- lathe, seeped into Dan King's sodden sleep. For weeks, for months, those sounds had pounded their infernal obbligato into the cat-naps he had snatched wherever outraged nature had finally asserted itself. The crash of machinery, the strain under which he was working, the grisly, mysterious menace of the terror outside, had given birth to weird nightmares, troubling even the sleep of utter exhaustion. This last one had been a beauty...
King forced his leaden lids open. He was lying on the floor of the assembling-room balcony, was faced so he could look down on its floor. He blinked, dazedly. Queer! Was he still dreaming? Those weren't men posted along the moving conveyor. Not men tightening bolts, fitting in gears, bearings, building cars as they moved past. They were apes, huge black apes, brute-visaged, hairy, their grotesque hands flashing with uncanny skill like—like the chimpanzee he had killed at the Salburn Shows, that memorable night.
Realization blasted through him. No! It wasn't a dream. Would to heaven that it were! Great Lord above! These weren't his own works! This was the Hiawatha plant. Those were great apes working down there, dexterously, with a deftness no human could surpass. They were apes! No wonder Fenton could cut under his price, cut it down to where there was no possible leeway for paying labor. He didn't pay labor?!
Fenton had been at the show that night, had seen the miracle Zortal's eerie genius had accomplished, the training of a brute to do everything a man could do. He had made a dicker with the trainer, had gotten him to train hundreds of the animals...
To train! Good Lord, where could they have gotten so many, trained them all in so short a time? Full understanding swept on King like a dark avalanche. They didn't train them! They made them! They took humans and by some Satanic alchemy turned them into chimpanzees, set them to work with escaped convicts—killers—as guards over them. As guards, not to keep out the terror that had devastated Cranport—to keep it in! Fenton, Zortal, were the prime movers of the frightful scene—the demons behind it! It was they who had desolated Cranport's homes, shucked them like crackling nuts to extract the kernels that were food for their greed! That demoniac chemistry was at work in his own blood, was making an ape of him, was turning him into one of these brutish monstrosities...
It was no dream. Oh God! It had been no dream. His long odyssey of terror, the weird alternation of man and beast within him—now one, now the other ascendant—had been no nightmare. He had not dreamed the hunt through the orchard, and Naida's capture.
Naida, his Naida was in their hands, they were at work on her. They were making an ape of Naida! Dan leaped to his feet, tried to leap. Cords cut into his arms, his legs. Cords gashed him, held him immovable. He was bound, helpless to save himself, to save Naida...
He groaned, rolled over. Feet thudded, and Bollinger's narrowed, murderous gaze looked down at him. A livid bruise decorated the gangster's jaw; there was clotted blood on his lips.
"So you're awake, you...!" The epithet dripped foulness. "I've got a mind to smash your brains out like you did poor Baldy's."
King stared up at him. Even this killer, this calloused spawn of the underworld, would help Naida if he knew what was being done to her. He must tell him about Naida!
"Woof, waroo," he chattered. "Grrumph."
Horror, despair, twisted his vitals. Intelligible speech was gone from him forever, speech and the last glimmering chance of aid for Naida.
"Cripes," Bollinger gritted. "I don't know why Zortal says you got to go back so he can finish you up. Your face looks like a monk's now, even if you ain't got no hair on your chest, and you sure talk like one. Here, see how you like this."
He stooped, swiped vindictively at King's head with his open palm. There was the glint of metal in it, then the flat of an automatic crashed against King's temple. Pain split through his head. He arched up, throwing himself at his tormentor, fell back as thongs cut into his arms, his legs. Bollinger rained blows upon him, snarling, eyes slitted and gleaming sadistically. King's head was ringing. Dizzy black clouds were swirling before his sight, through the agony of the terrible beating. He writhed... was dimly aware that the blows had stopped. He clung to shreds of consciousness desperately and heard another voice above him: "Harry, you fool, quit that. Zortal will tear your liver out for it."
"The hell with Zortal. Nobody cracks Harry Bollinger an' gets away with it. If Zortal—"
"Shut up, you ass. Here he comes."
King couldn't get his eyes open, couldn't think. He lay in his welter of agony and heard approaching feet click, heard an eager voice snap. "Where is he? Where's the rat that escaped?"
"Right here, Mr. Zortal. Here on the floor."
Through his nausea, through the black clouds swirling about him, drawing him down into their oblivion, King was conscious of someone standing above him, of an inimical, hating gaze beating down on him.
"Who did that? Who beat him up like that?"
Bollinger replied, "I did. He sloughed me an' I took it out o' him. What do you say to that."
There was the sudden sharp sound of an open hand slapping flesh. "This," Zortal snapped. "This."
A howl of rage and the sound of a scuffle followed. A soothing voice spoke: "Hold it, Harry. Y'gotta take it an' like it. They've got us dead to rights, remember. If they turn us in we burn."
King lost his slender hold on awareness and went down, down into a miasmic darkness, into a stupor that was not quite wholly unconsciousness, so that vague intimations reached him of his being lifted and carried off, of the rattle and sway of a moving auto, of his being carried again. He was viciously thrown down on some hard footing, the shock of the impact brought merciful oblivion...
When consciousness drifted back, a fetid, animal odor, assailed King's nostrils. He forced his heavy-lids open to darkness that pressed in on his eyeballs. He lifted instinctively; dazedly unsurprised that he was no longer bound. Dread sucked at him like the stinking mire of a bog and red sparks drifted in the blackness. Spots of red-glowing fire came menacingly toward him. Fear flared within him, and even in that moment of overpowering terror and awful despair, plucked at the very vitals of his being, as the thought of Naida seared across his pulsing brain. Then something growled in the sightlessness, and, black against black, he was aware of a plunging, gigantic bulk.
Sudden light sprayed in and Zortal stood framed in a doorway. The illumination showed Zortal, showed a huge ape leaping at King. Zortal's arm was uplifted, a lash hissed from its quick down-flick, writhed around the beast's belly, flung it backward.
King crouched, leaped at Zortal. The whip caught him with a fiery sting, stopping his rush. It jerked away, struck again, cutting into him, wrung a squeal of agony from his hoarse throat. He slammed to the ground, groveled, his arms covering his head, his body quivering to the virulent, merciless torture of the lash.
It stopped at last, leaving him a broken, bleeding thing. "That's your lesson, King," the man snarled. "You'll behave, now, till I come back for you." He laughed, gloatingly, humorlessly, and there was grisly threat in the weird cachinnation.
He turned to the ape that had been attacking King, and his whiplash flicked out, driving the brute before him, driving the lumbering anthropoid out of the doorway. King saw a passageway beyond, then the door slammed shut, cutting off light.
He lay prostrate, whimpering, beaten, heedless to the rustling sound of another simian coming toward him. Death would be welcome now, death would release him from the torturing thought of his loved one helpless in the hands of the sadistic demon. But a rough tongue licked his wounds, warm spittle drooled along his aching flank. A shudder of revulsion shook him. He rolled away...
Above him a square of light, crossed by a close pattern of black bars, flared into existence. King rolled to it, struggled upright, reached hands up to its sill. He pulled himself up, looked through... Horror burst upon him—soul-shaking horror...
NAIDA STONE came awake to the terror of the dark room where she had been imprisoned, to the terror of wall-muffled, bestial roaring. Her bare feet thudded as she leaped from the bed, her heart pounding, fear clutching her throat. She crouched, staring into darkness. The ferocious sounds suddenly ceased, after one wild, high shriek of an animal in torment. But the silence that followed seemed alive with furtive movement.
The outlines of her ceil became vaguely visible—the glimmer of walls, the darker outlines of a door. Naida bit her lip, forced her cold limbs into motion. She reached the door, found the knob. But there was no use; it was still locked as it had been when first she had recovered consciousness and had battled for release, only to sink at last into a stupor of exhaustion.
A sob formed in her chest, welled out from between her writhing lips. What was happening out there? What had happened? Were the monsters whose prisoner she was battling for her, for possession of her? Had one conquered, was he even now coming for her? Footfalls thumped beyond the door, came nearer. A scream contorted her vocal cords, then aborted in a soundless rasp. The knob twisted in her hand that still held it and a key clicked.
Naida's shoulder was against the panel, her legs were stiff, her feet gripped the floor. The door moved in, slowly, inexorably. A slit of light at its edge increased as the girl's bulging eyes watched it, widened— and she could not stop it. A black hand showed, jogging the light, closed on the door-edge. With the additional leverage the barrier swung more rapidly inward. Naida's legs buckled, and she slid to the floor, lay there quivering.
Shoes tramped in along the path of light. Shoes! Relief flared in Naida, and she rolled over, looked along trousered legs, along a white robe, seamless, to stocky shoulders of a white-gowned man looking down at her, his face swarthy, glowering.
The man was Zortal, the animal trainer she had seen at the carnival so long ago! Understanding flashed through Naida's dizzy brain, release from nightmare horror. In his absence some of his apes had escaped, had carried her off. He had returned, punished them, come to release her.
"Oh," she gasped. "Oh, I am so glad you are here. So glad..."
She stopped, her scalp tightening. Why did he smile so grimly, so menacingly, why did his black, piercing eyes fix upon her unclothed form so hotly?
"You are glad," slow words dropped down to her. "That makes me happy. I had not anticipated such a reception."
Her lips were icy. "What—what do you mean?" she managed to ask. "What do you mean?"
His smouldering look was a lewd caress. He gestured. "What could I mean, gazing at a body so beautiful, so divine. The actuality is even lovelier, more enticing than the promise I discerned when I first saw you. Do you remember, that night at the circus when your lover killed my clever creature, the first reward of my researches, and incurred my undying hatred? I have not forgotten, I hated him for that, and I hated him even more because you were his. I promised him a special fate, but I promised myself—you!"
Naida twisted, was on her feet. "No," she choked. "No! You beast, you filthy beast! I'd die before I let you touch me!"
Zortal's lids narrowed. Through their slits his eyes were somehow reptilian, and there was a hiss in his accents. "You disdain me?" He shrugged, and his smile was an obscene grin twisting across his face. "You refuse Zortal the Great? Well, Zortal shall not force you, but he shall have you. Willingly he shall have you. Come."
TO Naida's agonized comprehension it was clear only that he had retreated from his monstrous proposition, that he was motioning her to the door. She went past him, out into a lighted corridor.
"To the right," Zortal called. "The door to the right."
The girl whirled, snatched at the door she saw before her. It opened, she plunged through, stopped, aghast. This was not the way out! It was another room. A table flashed before her vision, its top a white slab at the sides of which angle-irons rose, centered by open metal cuffs. Near the table a great ape squatted, its handcuffed wrists chained to the arms of the chair in which it sat. Over the huge, hairy animal, steel bars were fitted vertically across a great square opening in the wall...
She spun about. Zortal was in the doorway, coming in, grinning evilly, triumphantly. She sprang at him, clawing for his lascivious eyes. He seized her wrist with one rubber gloved hand, held her off, ripped her nightgown from her with his other. Even in her terror, her outrage, a hot flush burned her cheeks as she knew that she was naked before him.
He pulled her to him, his fiery breath gusting over her face. His burning lips slobbered on hers. She flailed at him with her free hand, with ripping nails.
He lifted her, insensible to her cries, her flailing nails, the kick of her naked foot. He threw her on the table, and magically her wrists were in the metal bracelets that he snapped closed. Springing to the foot of the table, Zortal grasped her flailing feet, forced them down, and cold metal clamped around her ankles, held her helpless.
Naida's screams rasped into voicelessness, into terror-numbed quiet. Zortal chuckled, threw a white sheet over her so that only her heaving chest, her head were exposed. "I shall not share the sight of your beautiful curves with another," he lipped, "just yet."
The girl lay gasping, exhausted. Fear crawled gelid in her veins, squeezed her pulsing brain. A hospital odor was acrid in the thick air about her, blending with the fetid stench of the ape. She turned her head to the brute, seeking its snouted, black face rather than the evil, leering countenance of the man. Movement above pulled her gaze to the cage-front.
Hands gripped the vertical bars, a face came into sight, a hairy face. Oh God! A monstrous creature, ape-faced, man-bodied, hung in the barred aperture, leering out at her, pounding at the steel. It was the appalling beast from which she had fled when Dan's call had brought her downstairs.
Dan! Mother of Mercy! Her soul was pronged with recollection of the man she loved, with fear for him. This caged thing must have struck him down, must have killed him even in the moment he had called to her. Its mouth worked, hideously, stark madness glared at her out of its eyes in which there was a shuddersome, almost human semblance. Its long white arm reached out to her...
"Antonio," Zortal called from the doorway. "Antonio, I am ready." A surgeon's mask of white gauze was over the lower part of his swarthy face, making him gargoylesque, somehow weird. Another man came into the room. This one was also gowned in a half-sleeved robe of white, was also masked with white gauze. A white turban covered his skull, came low down on his brow, so that all that could be seen of his face was agate-hard, merciless eyes and thin nose.
"Who are you," Zortal spoke sharply. "You are not my assistant..."
"No." The second man answered, hoarsely. "I'm Crandall, one o' the guards. Antonio got sick and he knew I once studied medicine, so he 'phoned up to the plant for me to come and help you. He said for me to tell you that I wouldn't squeal—that you can trust me."
Zortal appeared doubtful. "Can you give an anesthetic?" he inquired.
"Ether or gas?"
"Ether, on a cone."
"We shall go to work, then. The woman, first."
"She don't look sick."
Zortal laughed, shortly, gruesomely. "No, Crandall, she is not sick. You are about to see such an operation as none of your professors would believe possible. Only the great Zortal knows the secret of it—and it shall die with Zortal. But this much I can tell you, so that you may help me intelligently. I am about to excise a certain gland from this chimpanzee and transplant it in a new place, in the body of this woman—" Zortal broke off. "There's the ether can, on the shelf behind you, also the cone."
Crandall picked the things up, started dripping ether on the mask that was to go over Naida's face. From a sterilizer Zortal lifted a scalpel, came toward her. His eyes were wide now, staring.
"Go on," Crandall muttered. "What's this gland business for?"
Zortal's chuckle was the evil chortle of a madman— or a fiend. "You shall see. In half an hour her human attributes will fade. Her features will coarsen. She will chatter instead of speaking. She will—"
"A monk! D'you mean that's how...?"
"That is how I make the apes you have seen," explained Zortal, nodding toward the ape-man shackled near the table. But Naida heard no more.
"No," she screamed. "No! You can't do that to me. You can't —!" Her body arched, straining against the metal that gripped her wrists, her ankles. "Kill me— but don't do that to me. Don't, don't, don't!"
Zortal bent over her, the keen scalpel poised. "You had your chance. You refused me. Now you shall be unable to refuse. Before the change is completed I shall possess you, and then I shall give you to the others. You shall have the honor of proving whether they can breed...!"
"Hey! Leggo!" Zortal whirled to Crandall's sudden shout. The assistant's mask was ripped away by the clutch of the ape-man's hand that had suddenly reached through the bars. The creature's other long arm was clawing out for him, and he was snarling, growling bestial fury. Crandall jumped forward, out of reach.
"Bollinger!" Zortal yelled. "You are Bollinger, not Crandall."
There was suddenly a black automatic in the other man's fist. "Yeah," he lipped. "Bollinger. D'ye think you were going to get away with slapping me. Me!"
The ape-man behind the caged aperture roared with rage, his bellow shaking the room, rattling the instruments within it. Naida's screams added to the pandemonium, while the howls of another simian that had come up beside the ape-man rent the air as it aided him in shaking the bars, in tugging at them with a violence, a fury, that seemed to be bending them.
But through the tumult Bollinger's shouted words impacted on Naida's ears. "I conked Antonio and then I got into his clothes thinkin' maybe I could muscle in on your racket before I put you away. That's no good, but this still is." Gun-bark detonated suddenly through the riot—then again and again. Orange flame streaked at Zortal. On his white gown a red splotch showed. Like a ripped meal-sack he crumpled to the floor.
The shock of it momentarily stilled the pandemonium. Naida's screams choked off, the caged animals, the shackled beast-thing in the room, were silent. Bollinger came slowly around to the girl, advanced slowly to her side.
"Now, my pretty," Bollinger lipped, "let's look you over." With his unoccupied hand he twitched away the sheet with which Zortal had covered her. "Mmmm," he breathed, licking his lips. "Ni-i-ce!"
Feet pounded outside, the door crashed open. "Zortal!" Naida's father's voice sounded incredibly. "Have you heard anything of Naida...?" He stopped abruptly, stood stark-still in the doorway, his eyes on the girl. "Oh God! Naida!"
"Stone," Bollinger gasped. "What the hell are you after?"
The older man twisted to him. "Bollinger," he shouted. "You've got a hand in this! I'll turn you over to—" Flat gun-report stopped him, he swayed, his face suddenly greyed. He grabbed at the table-end for support.
"Squeal on me, will you?" Bollinger gritted. "That'll shut your trap."
"Murderer!" Naida shrieked. "You've killed him...!"
The ape in the chair lurched. His heavy seat toppled against Bollinger, and the slayer stumbled backward, against the wall-cage. Clutching, reaching out between the bars, the man-ape had him. Strong fingers were about his neck, were digging in. The man's eyes popped from their sockets, blood vomited from his mouth. Then he hung, a limp, bedraggled, lifeless thing, from the grip of the monster that had avenged Naida's father.
"Daddy," the girl yelled, futilely straining to get to him. "Dad! Are you hurt?"
Roger Stone's tortured countenance turned to her. "Yes," he gasped. His hand was clutched to his breast and wet redness dripped through his fingers. "Yes. He—he got me. Can you—forgive me, Naida—before I die?"
"Forgive you? For what?"
"For—all this. I—was the cause of it—all. I couldn't—see you married to washwoman's son. I had—bought Hiawatha that day from—United Motors. King—didn't know it."
Color was draining out of his face, but somehow his voice had grown stronger. "I planned to ruin Mayflower and King with Hiawatha's competition, prevent your marriage that way. I motored back here from Florida, by night, meaning to give Hiawatha the new—car. It would take six months to adapt their plant. Too long. Fenton told me about Zortal's miraculous act at the carnival—and I got... idea. I sent for Zortal and he told me what he could do. I was desperate—offered him Mayflower when it failed—could be bought in for a song. He accepted."
"But what did he do, Father? What was it he did for you?"
"Made apes of men so that we could have their work for nothing. They kept only memory enough to be able to go on with their usual work. It— " Stone gurgled, blood bubbled at his lips, he lurched, dropped...
"Naida!" Dan's voice, hoarse, rumbling, sounded in the murder chamber. "Naida!" The girl twisted. Her name was coming from the lips of the being that had been in the cage! The being—it was Dan. Dan! "Naida! Oh God! I can talk again. I can talk!"
With the help of the other beast-thing he had pulled some of the bars out—escaped from the cage!
She fought the manacles chaining her to the table, surged fruitlessly against them. "Dan! What have they done to you?"
"Not—changed yet!" came a new voice. A shirtless, staggering man clung to the door-jamb, his hands clutching it, blood streaming down his white, pain-twisted face, from a wound in his scalp. "Not all changed. Started to, but not time for transfusion—treatment to complete... job. Zortal hadn't made transfusion yet. Gland alone—not enough, is being absorbed. Man again—soon."
Antonio—it must be Zortal's assistant—pitched forward, thudded down atop her father's sprawled legs.
"Thank God," Naida gasped. "Oh thank—" Running feet pounded outside, a policeman barged in, a rifle coming up to his shoulder. "What's all the shoot-in'...?" He stopped, gaped unbelievingly at what the room held.
Naida's mouth twitched. "I... oh—" with a convulsive shudder she fainted in the arms of Dan King, who could talk again—who was slowly becoming a man once more!