Book: Image of the Beast



Philip Jose Farmer

Image of the Beast

CHAPTER 1

Green milk curdled.

Smoke rose to the light, and smoke and light fused to becomegreen milk. Themilk fissioned to become smoke and darkness above. As below.

Smog was outside, and smog was inside. Green and sour. The green and sour odor and taste came not only from the smog,


which had forced its tendrils into the air-conditioned building, nor from thetobacco plumes in the room. It came from memory of what he had seen thatmorning andanticipation of what he would see within the next few minutes.

The film room of the Los Angeles Police Department was darkerthan Herald Childe had ever seen it. The beam of light from the projection boothusuallytended to make gray what otherwise would have been black. But thecigar andcigarette smoke, the smog, and the mood of the viewers, blackenedeverything. Even the silver light from the screen seemed to pull light in insteadof castingit back at the viewers.

Where the beam overhead struck the tobacco fumes, green milkformed and curdled and soured. So thought Herald Childe. The image was unforced. The worst smog in history was smothering Los Angeles and Orange counties. Not amouse of a wind had stirred for a day and a night and a day and a night. On thethird day, it seemed that this condition might go on and on.

The smog. He could now forget the smog.

Spread-eagled on the screen was his partner (possibly ex- partner). Thewine-red draperies behind him glowed, and Matthew Colben's face, normally as redas Chianti half-diluted with water, was now the color of atransparent plasticbag bulging with wine.

The camera swung away to show the rest of his body and some ofthe room. He was flat on his back and nude. His arms were strapped down beside himand his legs, also strapped down, formed a V. His penis lolled across hisleft thighlike a fat drunken worm.

The table must have been made for just this purpose of tying downmen with their legs separated so others could walk in between the legs.

There was only the Y-shaped wooden table, the thick wine-red carpet, and thewine-red draperies. The camera swept around to show the circle ofdraperies andthen turned back and swooped up to show the full form of MatthewColben as seen by a fly on the ceiling. Colben's head was on a dark pillow. Helooked straightup at the camera and smiled sillily. He did not seem to care that hewas bound and helpless.

The previous scenes had shown why he did not care and haddemonstrated how Colben had progressed, through conditioning, from impotent fear torigidanticipation.

Childe, having seen the complete film once, felt his entrailsslip abouteach other and knot each other and, their tails coiled around hisbackbone, pulluntil they were choking each other.

Colben grinned, and Childe murmured, "You fool! You poor fuckingfool!" The man in the seat on Childe's right shifted and said, "What'd

you say?" "Nothing, Commissioner." But his penis felt as if it were being sucked back up into his

belly and drawing his testicles after it.


The draperies opened, and the camera moved in to show a hugeblack-rimmed, long-lashed, dark-blue eye. Then it moved down along a straightnarrow nose and broad, full, and bright red lips. A pink-red tongue slipped outbetween unnaturally white and even teeth, shot back and forth a few times, dropped abead of saliva on the chin, and then disappeared.

The camera moved back, the draperies were thrust open, and awoman entered. Her black glossy hair was combed straight back and fell to her waist. Her face was garish with beauty patches, rouge, powder, green and red andblack and azure paint around the eyes and a curl of powder-blue down her cheeks, artificial eyelashes, and a tiny golden nose-ring. A green robe, tied at herneck and waist, was so thin that she might as well have been naked. Despitewhich, sheuntied the cords about the neck and waist and slid the robe off and showed that she could be even more naked.

The camera moved downward and closer. The hollow at the base of the neck was deep and the bones beneath hinted at exquisiteness. The breasts werefull but not large, slightly conical and up-tilted, with narrow and long, almost sharp, nipples. The breasts were hung upon a large rib cage. The belly sankinward; shewas skinny about the hips, the bones stuck out just a little. Thecamera went round, and she pivoted--Childe could not tell which because thecamera was so close to her and he had no reference point. Her buttocks were likehugeunshelled soft-boiled eggs.

The camera traveled around her, showing the narrow waist andovoid hips andthen turned so that it was looking up toward the ceiling--which wascovered with a drape-like material the color of a broken blood-vessel in adrunkard's eye. The camera glanced up her white thigh; light was cast into the hollowbetween the legs--she must have spread her legs then--and there was thelittle brown eyeof the anus and the edge of the mouth of her vagina. The hairs wereyellow, which meant that the woman had either dyed her head hairs or herpubic hairs.

The camera, still pointing upward, passed between her legs--whichlooked like the colossal limbs of a statue now--and then traveled slowlyupward. Itstraightened out as it rose and was looking directly at her pubes. These were partly covered by a triangular cloth which was taped on. Childe didnot know why. Modesty certainly was not the reason.

He had seen this shot before, but he braced himself. The firsttime, he--incommon with the others in the room--had jumped and some had sworn andone had yelled.

The cloth was tight against the genitals, and a shift in angle oflightingsuddenly revealed that the cloth was semitransparent. The hairsformed a dark triangle, and the slit took in the cloth enough to show that thecloth was tightagainst the slit.

Abruptly, and Childe jumped again even though he knew what wascoming, thecloth sank in more deeply, as if something inside the vagina hadspread the lipsopen.

Then something bulged against the cloth, something that couldonly have comefrom within the woman. It thrust the cloth up; the cloth shook as ifa tiny fistor head were beating against it, and then the bulge sank back, andthe cloth was quiet again.

The Commissioner, two seats away from Childe, said, "What thebell could that be?" He blew out cigar smoke and then began coughing. Childecoughed, too.

"It could be something mechanical up her cunt," Childe said. "Orit could be..." He let the words, and his thoughts, hang. No hermaphrodite, asfar as he knew, had a penis within the vaginal canal. Anyway, that wasn't apenis slidingout; that looked like an independent entity--gave the feeling of one, rather--and certainly the thing had beat against the cloth at morethan one place.

Now the camera swung around at a level a few inches above Colbenand several feet in front of him. It showed the feet, seemingly enormous at thisnarrow distance, the thickly muscled and hairy calves and thighs spread outon the Y-shaped table, the big testicles, the fat worm of the penis, nolonger lollingagainst the thigh but beginning to get fatter and to lift its swollenred head. Colben could not have seen the woman enter, but he had evidently beenconditioned so that he knew she would come in within a certain time after he was strapped to the table. The penis was coming to life as if its ears-buried within the flesh like a snake's--had heard her or as if the slit in its head were a detector of body heat--like an adder's nose pits--and it knewthat she was in the room.

The camera moved to one side so that it could start with the profile ofMatthew Colben's head. The thick curly gray-and-black hair, the bigred ears, the smooth forehead, the big curved nose, the thin lips, massivejawbone, chinthick and heavy as the head of a sledge, big fat chest, the outcurveof a paunchgrown with much stuffing of steak and beer, the down-curve to thepenis, nowfully up and swollen and hard. The camera moved in for a close shot; the veins were ropes run into the lanyard of lust (Childe could not helpthinking in suchimages; he fingered concepts with a Midas touch). The head, fullyexposed, glistened with lubricating fluid.

Now the camera moved up and away and took a position where boththe man and woman could be seen. She approached slowly, swaying her hips, andcame up toColben and said something. Her lips moved, but there was no sound, and the police lip-reader could not tell what she was saying because her headwas bent too far over. Colben said something too, but his words wereundecipherable forthe same reason.

The woman bent over and let her left breast fall so that Colben could take it in his mouth. He sucked for a while; and then the woman removedit. The camera moved in to show the nipple, which was wet and swollen. Shekissed him on the mouth; the camera moved in sidewise to show her as she raised herhead a little to permit the camera to record the tongue sliding back andforth into Colben's mouth. Then she began to kiss and to lick his chin, hisneck, hischest, his nipples, and she smeared his round belly with saliva. Sheworked slowly down to his pubic hairs, slobbered on them, gently tapped hispenis with her tongue many times, kissed it lightly several times, flicked outher tongueto dab its head with the tip while she held it at the root. Then shewalked around the leg of the Y and between the legs and began to suck on hispenisenergetically.

At this point, a tinny piano, like those played in the old-timebars or in the silent movie theaters, began Dvorak's Humoresque. The camerashifted to a position above Colben's face; his eyes were closed and he was lookingecstatic, that is, stupidly happy.

For the first time, the woman spoke.

"Tell me just before you're ready to come, darling. Maybe thirtyor so seconds before, yes? I have a beautiful surprise for you. Somethingnew."

The voice had been printed and run off by the police on anoscilloscope andstudied. But distortions had been introduced into it. That was whythe voice sounded so hollow and wavery.

"Go slower, baby," Colben said. "Take it easy, put it off likeyou did thelast time. That was the greatest orgasm I ever had in my life. You'regoing alittle too fast now. And don't stick your finger up my ass like youdid then. You cut my piles."

The first time the scene had been shown, some of the cops hadsnickered. Nobody snickered now. There was an unheard but easily felt shift inthe audience now. The smoke seemed to get hard and brittle; the green milk in thelight beambecame more sour. The Commissioner sucked in air so hard a rattle sounded in his throat and then he began coughing.

The piano was playing The William Tell Overture now. The tinnymusic was so incongruous, and yet it was the incongruity that made it seem sohorrible.

The woman raised her head and said, "You about ready to come, mon petit?" Colben breathed, "Oh, Jesus, just about!" The woman looked into the camera and smiled. The flesh seemed to

fade away, the bones beneath were faintly glowing and cloudy. Then the flesh was cloudy; the skull was hard and bright. And then the skull faded and flesh fell back into place.


She leered into the camera and put her head down again, but thistime she went past the corner of the Y and squatted down below the table, where the camera followed her. There was a small shelf fixed to one leg of thetable. She picked up something off it; the light brightened, the camera moved innearer.

She held a pair of false teeth. They looked as if they were madeof iron; the teeth were sharp as a razor and pointed like a tiger's.

She smiled and put the iron teeth on the shelf and used bothhands to remove her own teeth. She looked thirty years older. She placed the whiteteeth on the shelf and then inserted the iron teeth into her mouth. She held the edge of herforefinger between the two teeth and bit gently down. Then sheremoved the finger and held it so that the camera could zero in on it. Bright redblood was welling out from the bite.

She stood up and wiped the cut on the fat glands of Colben'spenis and shebent over and licked the blood off. Colben groaned and said, "Oh, God, I'm goingto come!"

Her mouth went around the head and she sucked in loudly. Colbenbegan tojerk and to groan. The camera showed his face for a second before itmoved back to a position alongside the woman's.

She raised her head quickly. The penis was jerking and spurtingthe thick oily whitish fluid. She opened her mouth widely, bent down swiftly, and bit. The muscles along her jaw lumped; her neck muscles became cords. Colbenscreamed.

She whipped her head back and forth and bit again and again. Blood ran down from her mouth and reddened the pubic hairs.

The camera moved away from her to show the draperies throughwhich she had entered. There was a flourish of trumpets. A cannon boomed in thedistance. The piano played Tschaikovsky's 1812 Overture.

Trumpets sounded again as the music faded. The draperies shotopen, propelled by two stiff arms. A man stepped inside and posed for amoment, hisright arm raised so that his black cloak half-hid his face. His hairwas black and shiny as patent leather and was parted down the middle. Hisforehead and nose were white as the belly of a shark. His eyebrows were thick andblack and met over his nose. The eyes were large and black.

He was dressed as if he were going to a movie premiere. He had ona formal suit, a stiff white shirt with a black formal tie and a diagonal redband across his chest and a medal or order on his lapel.

He wore blue sneakers. Another comic element which only made the situation morehorrible.

The man lowered the cloak to show a large hooked nose, a thickblack moustache which curved down around the ends of his thick rouged lips, and a prominent cleft chin.

He cackled, and this deliberately corny element was even morehorrible than the sneakers. The laugh was a parody of all the gloating laughscranked forth by all the monsters and Draculas of every horror movie.

Up went the arm, and, his face hidden behind the cloak, the manrushed toward the table. Colben was still screaming. The woman jumped awayswiftly andlet the man into the Y. The penis was still jerking and emittingblood and spermatic fluid; the head was half-bitten off. The camera switched tothe woman's face. Blood was running down her chin and over her breasts.

Again, the camera panned back to the Dracula (so Childe thoughtof him). Dracula cackled again, showing two obviously false canines, long andsharp. Thenhe bent down and began to chew savagely on the penis but within ashort time raised his head. The blood and spermatic fluid was running out of hismouth and making the front of his white shirt crimson. He opened his mouth andspit outthe head of the penis onto Colbert's belly and laughed, sprayingblood over himself and Colben.

The first time, Childe had fainted. This time, he got up and rantoward the door but vomited before he reached it. He was not alone.

CHAPTER 2

The Dracula and the woman had looked into the camera and laughedwildly asif they had been having a hilarious time. Then, fade-out, and a flashof TO BE CONTINUED? End of film.

Herald Childe did not see the ending the second time. He was toooccupiedwith groaning, with wiping the tears from his eyes and blowing hisnose and coughing. The taste and odor of vomit were strong. He felt likeapologizing, buthe repressed the impulse. He had nothing to apologize for.

The Commissioner, who had not thrown up but who might have lookedbetter if he had, said, "Let's get out of here."

He stepped over the mess on the wooden floor. Childe followedhim. The others came out. The Commissioner said, "We're going to have aconference, Childe. You can sit in on it, contribute, if you wish."

"I'd like to keep in touch with the police, Commissioner. But Idon't have anything to contribute. Not just yet, anyway."

He had told the police, more than once, everything he knew aboutMatthew Colben, which was much, and everything he knew about hisdisappearance, whichwas nothing.

The Commissioner was a tall lean man with a half-bald head and a long thinface and melancholy black moustache. He was always tugging at theright end of his moustache--never the left. Yet he was left-handed. Childe had observed this habit and wondered about its origin. What would the Commissioner sayif he were made aware of it?

What could he say? Only he and a psychotherapist would ever beable to find out.

"You realize, Childe, that this comes at a very bad time forus," theCommissioner said. "If it weren't for the...uh, extraordinary aspectsof the case...I wouldn't be able to spend more than a few minutes on it. Asit is..."

Childe nodded and said, "Yes. I know. The Department will have toget on itlater. I'm grateful that you've taken this time."

"Oh, it's not that bad!" the Commissioner said. "Sergeant Bruinwill be handling the case. That is, when he has time. You have to realize..."

"I realize," Childe said. "I know Bruin. I'll keep in touch withhim. But not so often he'll be bugged."

"Fine, fine!"

The Commissioner stuck out a skinny and cold but sweating hand, said, "Seeyou!" and turned and walked off down the hall.

Childe went into the nearest men's room, where severalplainclothesmen andtwo uniformed men were washing the taste of vomit out. Sergeant Bruinwas also there, but he had not been sick. He came from the stall zipping uphis fly. Bruin was rightly named. He looked like a grizzly, but he was farless easilyupset.

As he washed his hands, he said, "I gotta hurry, Childe. TheCommissioner wants a quick conference about your partner, and then we all gottaget back onthis smog thing."

"You have my phone number, and I got yours," Childe said. Hedrank another cup of water and crumpled the paper and threw it into the wastepaperbasket. "Well, at least I'll be able to move around. I got a permit to use mycar."

"That's more'n several million citizens got right now," Bruinsaid cheerfully. "Be sure you burn the gas in a good cause."

"So far, I haven't got much reason to burn anything," Childesaid. "But I'm going to try."

Bruin looked down at him. His big black eyes were as impenetrableas a bear's; they did not look human. He said, "You going to put in timefor free on this job?"

"Who's going to pay me?" Childe said. "Colben's divorced. Thiscase is tied up with Budler's, but Budler's wife discharged me yesterday. She saysshe doesn't give a shit any more."

"He may be dead, just like Colben," Bruin said. "I wouldn't be surprised if

we got another package through the mails." "Me neither," Childe said. "See you," Bruin said. He put a heavy paw on Childe's shoulder

for a second. "Doing it for nothing, eh? He was your partner, right? But you was going to split up, right? Yet you're going to find out who killed him, right?"


"I'll try," Childe said.

"I like that," Bruin said. "There ain't much sense of loyaltykicking aroundnowadays." He lumbered off; the others trailed out after him. Childewas alone. He looked into the mirror over the washbowl. The pale face resembledLord Byron's enough to have given him trouble with women--and a number ofjealous ordesirous men--ever since he was fourteen. Now, it was a little lumpy, and a scar ran down his left cheek. Memento of Korea, when a drunken soldier hadobjectedto being arrested by Childe and had slashed his face with the brokenend of a beer bottle. The eyes were dark gray and just now much bloodshot. Theneck below the slightly lumpy Byronic head was thick and the shoulders werewide. The face of a poet, he thought as he had thought many times, and the body of acop, aprivate investigator. Why did you ever get into this sordid soul- leachingdepressing corrupting racket? Why didn't you become a quiet professorof Englishor psychology in a quiet college town?

Only he and a psychotherapist would ever know, and he evidentlydid not want to know, since he had never gone to a psychotherapist. He was surethat he enjoyed the sordidness and tears and grief and hatred and the blood, somewhere in him. Something fed on contemptible food. Something enjoyed it, butthat something sure as hell wasn't Herald Childe. Not at this moment, anyway.

He left the washroom and went down the hall to an elevator and dropped whilehe turned his thoughts so inwardly that he did not know whether ornot he was alone in the cage. On the way to the exit, he shook his head a littleas if to wake himself up. It was dangerous to be so infolded.

Matthew Colben, his partner, had been on his way to being his ex- partner. Colben was a big-mouthed braggart, a Don Juan who let his desire tomake a passinterfere with his business. He had not allowed his prick to get inthe way ofbusiness when he and Childe had become partners six years ago. ButColben was fifty now and perhaps trying to keep the thoughts of a slowing-downbody andthickening flesh and a longer time to recover from hangovers awayfrom him. Childe didn't accept this reason; Colben could do whatever he wanted after business hours, but he was cheating his partner when he cheatedhimself with the booze and the women. After the Budler case, they would be through. SoChilde had promised himself.

Now Colben was dead and Budler could be in the hands of the same people whohad taken Colben--although there was no evidence to indicate so. ButBudler and Colben had disappeared the same night, and Colben had been tailingBudler.

The film had been mailed from a Torrance post office three daysago. Colbenand Budler had been missing for fourteen days.

Childe stopped at the tobacco stand and bought a morning Times. At any othertime, the Colben case would have been headline material. Not today. It was, however, a feature on the front page. Childe, hating to go outside, leaned against the wall and read the story. It had been considerablybowdlerized by thereporters who had seen the film. They had not been present at eitherof the showings he had witnessed, but Bruin had told him they were at aspecialrunning. Bruin had laughed like a bear with a sore throat, anddescribed how at least half of them had thrown up or been close to throwing up.

"Some of them been in battles and seen men with their guts blowedinside out!" Bruin had said. "You was in the Korean action and you was anofficer, right? Yet you got sick! How come?"

"Didn't you feel your cock drawing up in your belly?" Childe had

said. "Naw." "Maybe you don't have one," Childe had said. Bruin thought that

was funny, too.

The whole story was in two columns, and it covered most of whatChilde knew except for the details of the film. Colben's car had been found in aparking lotbehind a trust and security building on Wilshire Boulevard in BeverlyHills. Colben had been trailing Benjamin Budler, a wealthy Beverly Hillslawyer. Budlerhad been stepping out on his wife, not to mention his regularmistress. The wife had hired Childe & Colben, Private Investigators, to get enoughevidence for her to file for divorce.

Colben, using the tape recorder in his car, had describedBudler's moves. Budler had picked up a lovely brunette (described in detail butunidentified) onthe corner of Olympic and Veteran. The traffic light had been green, but Budler had held up a long line of cars, horns blaring, while he opened thedoor and let the woman in. She was well-dressed. Colben had surmised that her car was parked somewhere close; she did not look as if she would live in thisneighborhood.

Budler's Rolls-Royce had turned right on Veteran and gone toSanta Monica, where it had turned left and traveled down Santa Monica until it stopped a blockfrom a quiet and expensive restaurant. Here Budler had let the womanoff and driven to a parking place on a side street. He had walked to therestaurant where they had dined and wined (presumably) for three hours. Thoughthey went inseparately, they came out together. Budler was red-faced, talkingloudly andlaughing much. The woman laughed much also but she walked steadily. His balance was a little uncertain; he stumbled when he started across the streetand almost fell.

They had taken the Rolls-Royce (with Budler driving too swiftlyand weavingin and out of traffic) up Santa Monica and turned left at BedfordDrive to gonorth.

The tape was wiped clean from this point on.

Colben had stated that he had gotten some long-range pictures ofthe woman when Budler had picked her up. The camera was in the car but the filmhad been removed.

The car had been thoroughly cleaned; there was not a singlefingerprint. Some dirt particles, presumably from the shoes of whoever had driventhe car to the parking lot, were on the mat, but an analysis had shown only thatthe dirt could have come from anywhere in the area. There were some fibers; these had been rubbed off the rag used to wipe the seats.

Budler's Rolls-Royce was also missing.

The police had not discovered that Budler had dropped out of hisnormal pattern of life until two days after Colben was reported missing. Hiswife had known that he was gone, but she had not bothered to report this. Whyshould she? He often did not come home for two to four days.

As soon as she was informed that her husband might have beenkidnapped ormurdered, that his disappearance was connected with that of Colben's(or seemedlikely to be connected), she had told Childe that he was no longeremployed byher.

"I hope they find the son of a bitch dead! And soon!." she hadscreamed over the phone. "I don't want his money tied up forever! I need it now! It's justlike him to never be found and tie me up with litigation and red tapeand all that shit! Just like him! I hate him!" and so on.

"I'll send you my bill," Childe had replied. "It was nice workingfor you," and he had hung up.

His bill would be delivered, but how soon he would be paid wasdoubtful. Even if a check was sent by Mrs. Budler by return mail, it might notbe cashable for some time. The newspapers reported that the authorities werediscussingclosing down all banks until the crisis was over. Many people wereprotestingagainst this, but it would not make much difference for theprotesters if thebanks did stay open. What good did that do if most of the customerscould not get to their bank unless they were within walking distance or wantedto stand in line for hours to take the infrequent bus?

He looked up from the paper. Two uniformed, gas masked men werebringing ina tall dark man between them. He held up handcuffed hands as if todemonstrate his martyrdom to the world. One cop carried a third gas mask, and bythis Childe knew that the arrested man had probably been using a mask whileholding up astore or robbing a loan company or doing something which requiredconcealing hisface.

Childe wondered why the cops were bringing him in through thisentrance. Perhaps they had caught him just down the street and were taking theshort cut.

The situation was advantageous for criminals in one respect. Menwearing gasmasks or water-soaked cloths over their faces were not uncommon. On the other hand, anyone abroad was likely to be stopped and questioned. Onething balancesout another.

The cops and the arrestee were coughing. The man behind thetobacco counter was coughing. Childe felt a tickling in his throat. He could notsmell the smog, but the thought of smelling it evoked the ghost of a cough.

He checked his I.D. cards and permit. He did not want to becaught withoutthem, as he had been yesterday. He had lost about an hour because, even after the cops had called in and validated his reasons for being out, hehad been required to go home and pick up his papers, and he had been stoppedagain beforehe could get home.

He tucked the paper under his arm, walked to the door, lookedthrough theglass, shuddered, wished he had lightweight scuba diver's equipment, opened thedoor and plunged in.



CHAPTER 3

It was like walking at the bottom of a sea of very thin bile. There were no clouds between the sun and the sea. The sun shone brightly asif it were trying to burn a path through the sea. The August sunburned fiercelyand the more it burned, the more it cut with its yellow machetes, thethicker and more poisonous grew the gray-green foliage.

(Childe knew he was mixing metaphors. So what? The Cosmos was amixed metaphor in the mind of God. The left mind of God did not know whatthe rightmind of God was doing. Or did not care. God was a schizophrenic? Herald Childe, creature of God, image of God, certainly was schizophrenic. Levorotatory image?)

Eyes burned like heretics at the stake. Sinuses were scourged; fire ran along the delicate bones; spermaticky fluid collected to fill thechambers of the sinuses and dripped, waiting for the explosion of air voluntarilyor involuntarily set off to discharge the stuff with the mildest oforgasms.

Not a twitch of wind. The air had been unmoving for a day and anight andhalf a day, as if the atmosphere had died and was rotting.

The gray-green stuff hung in sheets. Or seemed to. The book ofjudgment wasbeing read and the pages, the gray-green sheets, were being turned asthe eyeread and more and more pages were being piled toward the front of thebook. How far to read before the end?

Childe could see no further than one hundred and ten feet, ifthat. He had walked this path from the door to the parking lot so many times thathe could not get lost. But there were those who did not know where they were. A woman, screaming, ran by him, and was lost in the greenishness. He stopped. His heart was pounding. Faintly, he could hear a car horn. A siren wailedsomewhere. He turned slowly, trying to see or hear the woman or her pursuer, ifany, but therewas none. She ran; no one pursued.

He began to trot. He sweated. His eyes smarted and flowed tears, and little flames seemed to be creeping down his throat toward his lungs. Hewanted to getto the car, which held his gas mask. He forced himself to walk. Therewas panichanging in the air, the same panic that came to a man when he felthands squeezing his neck and thumbs pressing in on his windpipe.

A car emerged from the cloud. It was not his. He passed by itand, tenparking spaces on, found his 1970 Oldsmobile. He put the mask on, started the motor, winoing a little at the thought of the poisons shooting out ofthe exhaust, turned his lights on and drove out of the lot. The streetheld more moving bright lights than he had expected. He turned on the radio andfound out why. Those who had some place to go outside the area of smog weregoing whetheror not the authorities gave permission, and so the authorities weregivingpermission. Many who had no place to go, but were going anyway, werealso driving out. The flood had started. The streets weren't jammed asyet, but theysoon would be.

Childe cursed. He had planned on easy drives to his variousdestinations that day because, although he could not drive swiftly, he could driveunimpededby traffic.

The voice of the governor issued from the speaker. The governorpleaded forrestraint and calm. Everybody should continue to stay home--if theywere able to do so. However, those who had to get out for health reasons (whichwould include the entire population now, Childe thought) should drive carefully andshould realize that there just were not enough accommodations for themoutside the Los Angeles-Orange County area in this state. Nevada and Arizona had beennotified of the invasion, and Utah and New Mexico were readying themselves. Troops werebeing moved into the area but only to act as traffic policemen and toassist the hospitals. There was no martial law; there was no need for it. Therewas an upswing in crimes of passion, theft, and robbery, but there had beenno riots.

No wonder, thought Childe. There was something irritating aboutsmog; it dideat the skin off the nerves, but people did not like to get out init, andpeople did not collect in large numbers. To every man, others lookedlike ghostscoming toward him out of the gray-greenness or like strange fishappearingsuddenly from the shadows. Strange fish could be sharks.

He passed a car with three goggled, shouted monstrosities in it. Their heads swiveled, the cyclopean eyes stared blindly, the noses seemed tosniff. He spedaway from them until their headlights were muffled and then sloweddown. Once, acar suddenly appeared behind him, and a red light flashed. He lookedthrough therear view mirror before he stopped; there were fake prowl carsstoppingmotorists and robbing, beating, or even killing them on the streetsduringdaylight, within twenty feet of passers-by. He decided to pull over, eased the car gently toward the dimly visible curb, and stopped. He kept themotor runningand peered at the car and the cop getting out of it on the rightside. If he did not like the looks of them he could still get out of the right sideof his car and take off into the dimness. But he recognized the cop, although he did not know his name, and stayed behind the wheel. He flipped open his coatand slowlyreached within it so that the cop would not get the impression he wasreachingfor a gun. He had a license for a gun but it was at home.

The cops had stopped too many to make him get out of the car andassume the stance of the friskee. Besides, there were many legitimate drivers, and within a short time, there would be so many cars on the streets that theymight as wellgive up, except for obvious cases.

Childe established his identity quickly enough. They knew of himby hearsayand had also read the papers. One, Chominshi, wanted to discuss thecase, butthe other was coughing, and Childe started to cough, so they let himgo. Hecontinued up Third toward West Los Angeles. His apartment and hisoffice were a few blocks away from Beverly Hills. He planned to go straight homeand do some thinking.

If he could think. He was in a mild state of shock. His reflexes seemed to be slow as if he had been drugged or was recovering from beingknocked out. He felt a slight sense of detachment, as if he had been disengagedsomewhat from reality, no doubt to soften the effects of the film. The smog did nothelp himkeep an anchor on things; it induced a feeling of slippage of self.

He was not burning with lust for revenge on those who had killedColben. He had not liked Colben, and he knew that Colben had done some thingswhich were criminal but he had escaped without (as far as Childe knew) even thepunishmentof conscience. He had knocked up a teenager and kicked her out, andthe girl hadtaken sleeping pills and died. There were others, although none hadended in death for the girls. But some would have been better off dead. Andthere was the wife of a client who had been found beaten and would always be anidiot. Childe had had no basis for suspicion of Colben, but he had felt that Colbenmight havedone the beating for the client, especially after he had discoveredthat Colben was going to bed with the woman. He could prove nothing; he could noteven make an accusation which would not sound stupid, because he lacked anyevidence. That Colben was neglecting the business, however, was reason enough to getrid of him. Childe did not have enough money to buy Colben out; he had meantto make it so unpleasant for Colben that he would be glad to dissolve thepartnership.

Nevertheless, no man deserved to die as Colben had. Or did he? The horror was more in the viewers minds than in Colben's. He had been hurt very much, but only briefly, and had died quickly.


That did not matter. Childe intended to find out all he could, although hesuspected that he would find out very little. And soon enough theneed to paybills would take him off the case; he would only be able to work onit duringhis leisure moments. Which meant that, in effect, he would be able toaccomplishalmost nothing.

But he had nothing else to do, and he certainly did not intend tosit still in his apartment and breathe in poison gas. He had to do something tokeepgoing. He could not even read comfortably because of the burning andthe tears. He was like a shark that has to keep moving to allow water to flowthrough thegills. Once he stopped, he would suffocate.

But a shark can breathe and also stand still if the water is moving. Sybilcould be his flowingness. Sybil was a name that sounded like runningbrooks and sunshine in quiet green glades and wisdom like milk from full flowingbreasts. Certainly not green milk. White creamy milk of tenderness and goodsense.

Childe smiled. The Great Romanticist. He not only looked likeLord Byron, hethought like him. Reincarnation come. George Gordon, Lord Byron, reborn as a private eye and without a club foot. One thing about a club mind, itdidn't show. Not at first. But the limp became evident to others who had towalk with him day, after day.

The Private Eyes of the novels. They were simple straightforwardmen with their minds made up--all black and white--vengeance is mine, saithLord Hammer--true heroes with whom the majority of readers had no troubleidentifying.

This was strange, because the antiheroes of the existentialnovels were supposed to be representative of the modern mind, and they certainlywere uncertain. The antihero got far more publicity, far more criticaltrumpeting, than the simple, stable, undoubting private eye, the hero of themasses.

Childe told himself to cut, as if his thoughts were a strip offilm. He was exaggerating and also simplifying. Inwardly, he might be anexistential antihero, but outwardly he was a man of action, a Shadow, a DocSavage, a SamSpade. He smiled again. Truth to tell, he was Herald Sigurd Childe, red-eyed, watery-eyed, drippy-nosed, sickened, wanting to run home to Mother. Or to that image named Sybil.

Mother, unfortunately, became angry if he did not phone her toask if he could come over. Mother wanted privacy and independence, and if shedid not getit, she expressed herself unpleasantly and exiled him for anindeterminate time.

He parked the car outside his apartment, ran up the steps, hearing someonecough behind a door as he passed, and unlocked his door. Theapartment was aliving room, a kitchenette, and a bedroom. Normally, it was brightwith white walls and ceilings and creamy woodwork and lightly colored, lightlybuilt furniture. Today, it was gloomy; even the unshadowed places had agreenishtinge.

Sybil answered the phone before the second ring had started. "You must have been expecting me," he said gaily. "I was expecting," she said. Her voice was not, however,


unfriendly. He did not make the obvious reply. "I'd like to come over," he

finally said. "Why? Because you're hard up?" "For your company." "You haven't got anything to do. You have to find some way to

spend thetime."

"I have a case I'm working on;" he said. He hesitated and then, knowing thathe was baiting the hook and hating himself for it, said, "It's aboutColben. You read the papers?"

"I thought that was what you'd be working on. Isn't it horrible?"

He did not ask her why she was home today. She was the secretaryof an advertising agency executive. Neither she nor her boss would have adrivingpriority.

"I'll be right over," he said. He paused and then said, "Will Ibe able to stay a while or will I have to get out after a while? Don't get mad! I just wantto know; I'd like to be able to relax."

"You can stay for a couple of hours or more, if you like. I'm notgoinganyplace, and nobody is coming--that I know of."

He took the phone from his ear but her voice was laud enough forhim to hear, and he returned it to his ear. "Herald? I really do want you tocome!"

He said, "Good!" and then, "Hell! I've just been thinking ofmyself! Isthere anything I can get you from the store?"

"No, you know there's a supermarket only three blocks from here. I walked."

"OK. I just thought you might not have gone out yet or you forgotsomethingyou might want me to pick up for you."

They were both silent for a few seconds. He was thinking abouthis irritations when they had been married, about how many times he hadhad to run out to get things that she had forgotten during her shopping. Shemust be thinking about his recriminations, too; she was always thinking about them when

they got together. "I'll be right over," he said hurriedly. "So long." He hung up and left the apartment. The man was still coughing

behind the door. A stereo suddenly blared Strauss Thus Spake Zarathustradownstairs. Somebody protested feebly; the music continued to play loudly. Theprotestsbecame louder, and there was a pounding on a wall. The music did notsoften.

Herald considered walking the four blocks to Sybil's and thendecided against it. He might need to take off suddenly, although there didnot seem much chance of it. His answering service was not operating; it had nopriority. Hedid not intend to leave Sybil's number with the police operator orSergeantBruin while he was with her. She would get unreasonably angry aboutthis. She did not like to be interrupted by calls while she was with him, atleast, not bybusiness calls. That had been one of the things bugging her when theywere man and wife. Theoretically, she should not be bothered by such mattersnow. In practice, which operates more on emotion than logic, she was asenraged as ever. He well knew how enraged. The last time he had been at her apartment, the exchange had interrupted them at a crucial moment, and she had runhim out. Since then, he had called several times but had been cooled off. Thelast time he'd phoned had been two weeks ago.

She was right in one guess. He was hard up. But he did not expectto be anyless so after seeing her. He intended to talk, to talk only, tosoothe some troublings and to scare away the loneliness that had come morestrongly afterseeing the film of Colbert.

It was strange, or, if not so strange, indicative. He had livedtwenty ofhis thirty-five years in Los Angeles County. Yet he knew only onewoman to whom he could really unburden himself and feel relaxed and certain ofcompleteunderstanding. No. He was wrong. There was not even one woman, because Sybil didnot completely understand him, that is, sympathize with him. If shedid, shewould not now be his ex-wife.

But Sybil had said the same thing about men in general and abouthim in particular. It was the human situation--whatever that phrase meant.

He parked the car in front of her apartment--no trouble findingparkingspace now--and went into the little lobby. He rang her bell; shebuzzed; he wentup the steps through the inner door and down the hall to the end. Herdoor was on the right. He knocked; the door swung open. Sybil was dressed in a floor-length morning robe with large red and black diamond shapes. The black diamonds contained white ankhs, the looped cross of the ancientEgyptians. Herfeet were bare.

Sybil was thirty-four and five feet five inches tall. She hadlong blackhair, sharp black eyebrows, large greenish eyes, a slender straightnose perhapsa little bit too long, a full mouth, a pale skin. She was pretty, andthe bodyunder the kimono was well built, although she may have been just alittle too hippy for some tastes.

Her apartment was light, like his, with much white on the wallsand ceilings, and creamy woodwork and light and airy furniture. But atall gloomy ElGreco reproduction hung incongruously on the wall; it hovered overeverythingsaid and done in the one room. Childe always felt as if the elongatedman on the cross was delivering judgment upon him as well as upon the city onthe plain.

The painting was not as visible as usual. There was almost alwaysa blue haze of tobacco--which accounted for the walls and ceiling not beingas white as those of his apartment--and today the blue had become gray-green. Sybil coughedas she lit another cigarette, and then she went into a spasm ofcoughing and herface became blue. He was not upset by this, no more than usual, anyway. She hadincipient emphysema and had been advised by her doctor to chop offthe smokingtwo years ago. Certainly, the smog was accelerating her disease, buthe could do nothing about it. Still, it was one more cause for quarreling.

She finally went in to the kitchen for water and came out severalminutes later. Her expression was challenging, but he kept his face smooth. He waited until she sat down on the sofa across the room from his easy chair. She groundthe freshly lit cigarette out on an ash tray and said, "Oh God! Ican't breathe!"

By which she meant that she could not smoke. "Tell me about Colben," she said, and then, "first, could I getyou...?"

Her voice decayed. She was always forgetting that he had quitdrinking fouryears ago.

"I need to relax," he said. "I'm all out of pot and no chance toget any. You...?"

"I'll get some," she said eagerly. She rose and went into thekitchen. A panel creaked as it slid back; a minute passed; she came back withtwo cigarettes of white paper twisted at both ends. She handed him one. He said, "Thanks," and sniffed it. The odor always brought visions of flat

toppedpyramids, of Aztec priests with sharp obsidian knives, naked brownmen and women working in red clay fields under a sun fiercer than an eagle's glare, of Arab feluccas scudding along in the Indian ocean. Why, he did not know.

He lit up and sucked in the heavy smoke and held it in his lungsas long ashe could. He tried at the same time to empty his mind and body of thehorror of this morning and the irritations he had felt since calling Sybil. There was no use smoking if he retained the bad feelings. He had to pour them out, and he could do it--sometimes. The discipline of meditation that a friendhad taughthim--or tried to teach him--had sometimes been effective. But he was a detective, and the prosecution of human beings, the tracking down, the immersion in hate and misery, negated the ability to meditate. Nevertheless, stubborn, hehad persisted in trying, and he could sometimes empty himself. Orseem to. His friend said that he was not truly meditating; he was using a trick, atechniquewithout essence.

Sybil, knowing what he was doing, said nothing. A clock ticked. Ahorn sounded faintly; a siren wailed. Sirens were always wailing nowadays. Then he breathed out and sucked in again and held his breath, and presentlythe crystallization came. There was a definite shifting of invisiblelines, as ifthe currents of force that thread every centimeter of the universehad rearranged themselves into another, straighter configuration.

He looked at Sybil and now he loved her very much, as he hadloved her when they were first married. The snarls and knots were yanked loose; theywere in a beautiful web which vibrated love and harmony through them with everymovement they made. Never mind the inevitable spider.

CHAPTER 4

He had hesitated to stop her when she kissed him all over hisbelly, although he knew what was coming. He continued to restrain himselfwhen she took his penis and bent down to place her mouth around the head. He feltthe tongueflicking it, shuddered, pushed her head away, though gently, andsaid, "No!"

She looked up at him and said, "Why?" "I never got around to telling you the fine details of the


film," he said. "You're getting soft!" She sat up in the bed and looked down at him. She was frowning.

"Have you got a disease?"

"For God's sake!" he said, and` he sat up, too. "Do you think I'dgo to bedwith you if I knew I had the syph or the clap? What kind of aquestion--whatkind of a person do you think I am?"

"I'm sorry," she said. "My God! What's wrong? What did I do?"

"Nothing. Nothing under most circumstances. But I felt as if mycock was frozen when you...Never mind. Let me explain why I couldn't let yougo down onme."

"I wish you wouldn't use words like that!" "OK, my thing, then! Let me tell you." She listened with wide eyes. She was leaning on one arm near him.


He could see the swollen nipple, which did not seem to dwindle a bit as shelistened. It might have increased. Certainly, her eyes were bright, and, despiteher expressed horror, she smiled now and then.

"I really think you'd like to do that to me!" he said.

"You're always saying something stupid like that," she said. "Even now. Do you hate me so much you can't even get a hard-on."

"You mean erection, don't you?" he said. "If you can't understandwhy mypenis wanted to crawl into my belly for safety, then you can'tunderstand anything about men."

"I won't bite," she said, and she grabbed his penis and lungedfor it with her mouth wide open and smiling to show all her teeth.

He jerked himself away, saying, "Don't!"

"Forget about it, I was just kidding you," she said, and shecrawled onto him and began kissing him. She thrust her tongue along his tongue anddown his throat so far that he choked. "For God's sake!" he said, turning hishead away. "What the hell are you trying to do? I can't breathe!"

She sat up and almost hissed at him. "You can't breathe! How doyou think Ibreathe when you're shoving that big thing down my throat?. What isthe matter?"

"I don't know," he said. He sat up. "Let's have a few more drags. Maybethings'll straighten out."

"Do you have to depend upon that to be able to love me?" He tried to take her hand in his but she snatched it away. "You didn't see it," he said. "Those iron teeth. The blood!

Spitting outthat bloody flesh! God!"

"I feel sorry for Colben," she said, "but I don't see what he hasto do with us. You never liked him; you were going to get rid of him. And hegave me thecreeps. Anyway...oh, I don't know."

She rolled off the bed, went to the closet, and put on thekimono. She lit a cigarette and at once began coughing. It sounded as if her lungs werefull of snot.

He felt angry, and opened his mouth to say something--what, he did not know, just so it was something that would hurt. But the taste of cunt madehim pause. She had a beautiful cunt, the hair was thick and almost blue-blackand so soft it felt almost like a seal pelt. She lubricated freely, perhaps toomuch, butthe oil was sweet and clean. And she could squeeze down on his cockas if she had a hand inside it. And then he remembered the thing bulging outthe pad overthe woman's cunt in the film; and the blood that had been pouringinto his penisbecame slushy and slowly thawed out and drained back into his body.

Sybil, who had seen the dawning erection, said, "What's wrong

now?" "Sybil, there's nothing wrong with you. It's me. I'm too upset." She sucked in some more smoke and managed to check a cough. "You always did bring your work home. No wonder our life became

such a hell."

He knew that that was not true. They had rubbed each other rawfor other reasons, the causes of most of which they did not understand. Therewas, however, no use arguing. He had had enough of that.

He sat up and swung his legs over the bed and stood up and walkedto the chair on which he had piled his clothes.

"What are you doing?"

"Some of the smog gotten in your brain?" he said. "It's obviousI'm going todress, and it's fairly predictable that I'm getting out of here."

He checked the impulse to say, "Forever!" It sounded so childish. But it could be true.

She said nothing. She swayed back and forth with her eyes closedfor a minute, then, after opening them, spun around and walked into theliving room. Aminute later, he followed her. She was on the divan and glaring athim.

"I haven't had such a ball ache since I was a teenager and camehome from myfirst necking party," he said. He did not know why he said it; certainly, he didnot expect her to feel sorry for him, and to do something about it. Or did he?

"Necking party? You're sure dating yourself, old man!" She looked furious. Unfortunately, fury did not make herbeautiful. Yet, he hated to leave; he had a vague feeling that he wassomehow at fault.

He took one step toward her and stopped. He was going to kissher, but itwas force of habit that pushed him.

"Good-by," he said. "I really am sorry, in a way."

"In a way!" she screamed. "Now isn't that just like you! Youcan't be all sorry or all righteously indignant or all right or all wrong! Youhave to be half-sorry. You...you...half-assed half-man!"

"And so we leave exotic Sybil-land," he said, as he swung thedoor open. "It sinks slowly into the smog of fantastic Southern California, and we say aloha, farewell, adieu, and kiss my ass!"


Sybil sprang out of the chair with a scream and came at him withfingershooked to catch his face with her nails. He caught them and shovedher back so that she staggered against the sofa. She caught herself and thenyelled, "Youasshole! I hate you! I had a choice to make! I let you come here, instead of Al! I wanted you, not him! He was strictly second-choice, and a badsecond at that! You think you're hard up, you don't know what hard up is! I've turneddown lots of men because I kept hoping every night you'd call me! I'd eat youup; you'd bedays getting out of here. I'd love you, oh, how I'd love you! And nowthis, youstinking bastard! Well, I'm going to call Al, and he's going to geteverything Iwas going to give you and more! More! More! Do you understand that, you?"

He understood that he could still feel jealous. He felt likepunching herand then waiting for Al and kicking him downstairs.

But it would be no good trying to make up with her. Not now. Actually, notever, but he wasn't quite ready to believe this. Not down there wherecertaintydwelt.

Trying to grasp what ruined their love was like trying to closeyour fingerson a handful of smog.

He strode through the door and, knowing that she expected him toslam it behind him, did not.

Perhaps it was this that drove her to the last barbarism:

She stepped into the hall and shouted, "I'll suck his cock! I'llsuck his cock, you!"

He turned and shouted, "You're no lady!" and spun around andwalked off.

Outside, in the biting veils of gray-green, he laughed until hecoughedraspingly, and then he cried. Part of the tears was engendered by thesmog, partby his grief and rage. It was sad and heart-rending and disgustingand comical. One-upmanship was all right, but the one-upman actually upped it uphis own one.

"When the hell is she going to grow up?" he groaned, and then, "When the hell am I? When will the Childe become father to the man?"

Dante was thirty-five, midway in his life's journey, when he wentastrayfrom the straight road and woke to find himself alone in a dark wood.

But he obtained a professional guide, and he had at least oncebeen on the straight road, the True Way.

Childe did not remember having been on the straight road. Andwhere was his Virgil? The son of a bitch must be striking for higher pay andshorter hours.

Every man his own Virgil, Childe said, and, coughing (likeMiniver Cheevy), pushed through the smog.

CHAPTER 5

Somebody had broken the left front window of the Olds while hewas with Sybil. A glance at the front seat showed him why. The gas mask wasgone. Hecursed. The mask had cost him fifty dollars when he purchased ityesterday, andthere were no more to be had except in the black market. The maskswere sellingfor two hundred or more dollars, and it took time to locate a seller.

He had the time, but he did not have the cash in hand and hedoubted that his check would be accepted. The banks were closed, and the smogmight disappearso suddenly that he would not need the mask and would stop payment ofthe check. There was nothing to do except use a wet handkerchief and a pair ofgoggles hehad worn when he had a motorcycle. That meant he must return to hisapartment.

He made up a pile of handkerchiefs and filled a canteen withwater as soon as he was home. He dialed the LAPD to report the theft, but, aftertwo minutes, he gave up. The line was likely to be busy all day and all night andindefinitely into the future. He brushed his teeth and washed hisface. The wash rag looked yellow. Probably it was his imagination, but the yellowcould be the smog coming out. The yellow looked like the stuff that clouded hiswindshield in the morning after several days of heavy smog. The air of Los Angeleswas an ocean in which poisonous plankton drifted.

He ate a sandwich of cold sliced beef with a dill pickle anddrank a glassof milk, although he did not feel hungry. Visualizations of Sybilwith Al troubled him. He didn't know Al, but he could not bar shadowy imageswhose onlybright features--too bright--were a rigid monstrosity and a pair ofhairy, never-empty testicles. The pump-pump-pumping sound was also only ashadow, butit would not go away either. Shadows sometimes turned out to beindelible ink blots.

He forced himself to consider Matthew Colben and his murderers. At least, hethought they were murderers. There was no proof that Colben had beenkilled. He might be alive, though not well, somewhere in this area. Or someplaceelse.

Now that he was recovering from his shock, he could even thinkthat Colben might be untouched and the film faked.

He could think this, but he did not believe it.

The phone rang. Someone was getting through to him, even if hecould getthrough to no one. Suspecting that only the police could ram througha call, hepicked up the phone. Sergeant Bruin's voice, husky and growling likea bear justwaking up from hibernation, said, "Childe?"

"Yes." "We got proof that they mean business. That film wasn't faked." Childe was startled. He said, "I was just thinking about a fraud.


How'd you

find out?" "We just opened a package mailed from Pasadena." Bruin paused. Childe said, "Yeah?" "Yeah.. Colben's prick was in it. The end of it, anyway.

Somebody's prick,

anyway. It sure as hell had been bitten off." "No leads yet?" Childe said after some hesitation. "The package's being checked, but we don't expect anything,

naturally. And Igot bad news. I'm being taken off the case, well, almost entirelytaken off. We got too many other things just now, you know why. If there's going tobe anywork done on this, Childe, you'll have to do it. But don't go offhalf-cocked and don't do nothing if you get a definite lead, which I think youain't goingto get. You know what I mean. You been in the business."



"Yes, I know," Childe said. "I'm going to do what I can, which, as you said, probably won't be much. I have nothing else to do now, anyway,"

"You could come down here and swear in," Bruin said. "We need menright now! The traffic all over the city is a mess, like I never saw before. Everybody'strying to get out. This is going to be a ghost town. But it'll be amess, abloody mess, today and tomorrow. I'm telling you, I never seennothing like itbefore."

Bruin could be stolid about Colbert, but the prospect of thegreatesttraffic jam ever unfroze his bowels. He was really being moved.

"If I need help, or if I stumble--and I mean stumble--acrossanythingsignificant, should I call you?"

"You can leave a message. I'll call you back when--if--I get in. Good luck, Childe."

"Same to you, Bruin," Childe said and muttered as he hung up, "OUrsus Horribilis! Or whatever the vocative case is."

He became aware that he was sweating, that his eyes felt as ifthey'd beenfiled, his sinuses hurt, he had a headache, his throat felt raw, hislungs werewheezing for the first time in five years since he had quit smokingtobacco, and, not too far off, horns were blaring.

He could do something to ease the effects of the poisoned air, but he could do little about the cars out in the street. When he had left his wife's apartment; he had had a surprising amount of trouble getting acrossBurton Wayto San Vicente. There was no stop light at this point on Le Doux. Cars had to buck traffic coming down Burton Way on one side and going up on theother side of the divider. Coming down to the apartment, he had not seen a caror even a pair of headlights in the dimness. But, going back, he had had to becareful in crossing. The lights sprang out of the gray-greenness with startlingrapidity asthey rounded a nearby curve of Burton Way to the west. He had managedto find a break large enough to justify gunning across. Even so, a pair oflights and ablaring horn and squealing brakes and a shouted curse--subject to theDopplereffect--told him that a speeder had come close.

The traffic going west toward Beverly Hills was light, but thatcomingacross Burton Way between the boulevards to cut southeast on SanVicente was heavy. There was panic among the drivers. The cars were two deep, then suddenlythree deep, and Childe had barely had room to squeeze through. He wasbeingforced out of his own lane and against the curb. Several times, heonly got byby rubbing his tires hard against the curb.

The light at San Vicente and Third was red for him, but the carscoming downSan Vicente were going through it. A car going east on Third, hornbellowing, tried to bull its way through: It collided lightly with another. Fromwhat Childe could see, the only damage was crumpled fenders. But the twodrivers, hopping out and swinging at each other, looked as if they might drawsome blood, inept as they were with their fists. He had caught a glimpse ofseveral frightened faces--children--looking through the windows of bothdamaged cars. Then he was gone.

Now he could hear the steady honking of horns. The great herd wasmigrating, and God help them.

The deadly stink and blinding smoke had been bad enough when mostcars suddenly ceased operating. But now that two million automobiles weresuddenly onthe march, the smog was going to be intensified. It was true that, intime, thecars would be gone, and then the atmosphere could be expected tostart cleaningitself. If it was going to do it. Childe had the feeling that thesmog wasn'tgoing to leave, although he knew that that was irrational.

Meanwhile, he, Childe, was staying. He had work to do. But wouldhe be able to do anything? He had to get around, and it looked as if he mightnot be able to do that.

He sat down on the sofa and looked across the room at the dark goldenbookcases. The Annotated Sherlock Holmes, the two great boxedvolumes, was histreasure, the culminating work of his collection unless you counted acopy ofThe White Company personally inscribed by A. Conan Doyle, once thepossession ofChilde's father. It was his father who had introduced him at an earlyage tointeresting and stimulating books, and his father who had managed topass on hisdevotion to the greatest detective to his son. But his father hadremained a professor of mathematics; he had felt no burning to emulate TheMaster.

Nor would any "normal" child. Most kids wanted to be airplanepilots orrailroad engineers or cowboys or astronauts when they grew up. Many, of course, wanted to be detectives, Sherlock Holmeses, Mark Tidds (what boynowadays knewof Mark Tidd?), even Nick Carters since he had been revived withmodern settingsand plots, but few stuck to that wish. Most of the policemen andprivateinvestigators whom he knew had not had these professions as boyhoodgoals. Manyhad never read Holmes or had done so without enthusiasm; he had nevermet a Holmes buff among them. But they did read true detective magazinesand devoured the countless paperbacks of murder mysteries and of private eyes. They made funof the books, but, like cowboys who also deride the genuineness ofWesterns, they were addicted.

Childe made no secret of his "vices." He loved them, even the badones, andgloried in the "good" ones.

And so why was he trying to justify being a detective? Was itsomething tobe ashamed of?

In one way, it was. There was in every American, even the judgeand the policeman, a more-or-less strong contempt for lawmen. This lived sideby sidewith an admiration for the lawman, but for the lawman who is a strongindividualist, who fights most of his battles by himself againstoverwhelmingevil, who fights often outside the law in order to bring aboutjustice. Inshort, the frontier marshal, the Mike Hammerish private eye. Thislawman is so close to the criminal that there is a certain sympathy between thelawman and the criminal.

Or so it seemed to Childe, who, as he told himself now, tended todo too much theorizing and also to project his own feelings as those ofothers.

Matthew Colbert. Where was he now? Dead or suffering? Who hadforcibly taken him to some dwelling somewhere in this area? Why was the film sent tothe LAPD? Why this gesture of mockery and defiance? What could the criminalshope to gainby it, except a perverse pleasure in frustrating the police?

There were no clues, no leads, except the vampire motif, whichwas nothingbut a suggestion of a direction to take. But it was the only handleto grasp, ectoplasmic though it was, and he would try to seize it. At least, itwould givehim something to do.

He knew something about vampires. He had seen the early Draculamovies and the later movies on TV. Ten years ago, he had read the novel Dracula, and found it surprisingly powerful and vivid and convincing. It was far betterthan the best Dracula movie, the first; the makers of the movie should havefollowed the book more closely. He had also read Montague Summers and had been anavid reader of the now-dead Weird Tales magazine. But a little knowledge was notdangerous; it was just useless.

There was one man he knew who was deeply interested in the occultand the supernatural. He looked up the number in his record book because itwas unlisted and he had not called enough to memorize it. There was no response. He hung upand turned on the radio. There was some news about the international and national situations, but most of the broadcast was about the exodus. A number of stalled cars on the freeways and highways had backed up traffic for atotal of several thousand miles. The police were trying to restrict passage onthe freeways to a certain number of lanes to permit the police cars, ambulances, andtow trucks to pass through. But all lanes were being used, and thepolice werehaving a hell of a time clearing them out. A number of fires hadstarted in homes and buildings, and some of them were burning down with noassistance from the firemen because the trucks could not get through. There werecollisions all over the area with no help available, not only because of the trafficbut because there just was not enough hospital and police personnelavailable.

Childe thought, to hell with the case! I'll help!

He called the LAPD and hung on for fifteen minutes. No luck. Hethen called the Beverly Hills Police Department and got the same result. He hadno more luck with, the Mount Sinai Hospital on Beverly Boulevard, which was withinwalkingdistance. He put drops in his eyes and snuffed up nose drops. He weta handkerchief to place over his nose and put his goggles on top of hishead. He stuck a pencil flashlight in one pocket and a switch-blade knife inanother. Then he left the apartment building and walked down San Vicente toBeverlyBoulevard.

In the half hour that he had been home, the situation hadchanged. The carsthat had been bumper-to-bumper curb-to-curb were gone. They werewithin earshot; he could hear the horns blaring off somewhere around BeverlyBoulevard and La Cienega, but there was not a car in sight.

Then he came across one. It was lying on its side. He looked downinto the windows, dreading what he might see. It was empty. He could notunderstand how the vehicle had been overturned, because no one could have gone fastenough inthe jam to hit anything and be overturned. Besides, he would haveheard the crash. Somebody--somebodies--had rocked it back and forth and thenpushed itover. Why? He would never know.

The signal lights at the intersection were out. He could see wellenoughacross the street to make out the thin dark shape of the pole. Whenhe got tothe foot of the light pole on his comer, he saw broken plastic, whichwould have been green, red, and yellow under more lightened circumstances, scattered about.

He stood for a while on the curb and peered into the sickly gray. If a car were to speed down the street without lights, it could be on himbefore he could get across the street. Nobody but a damned fool would go fast orwithout lights, but there were many damned fools driving the streets of Los Angeles.

The wailing of a siren became stronger, a flashing red lightbecame visible, and an ambulance whizzed by. He looked up and down the street anddashed across, hoping that the light and noise would have made even the damnedest offools cautious and that anybody following the ambulance would be blowinghis horn. He got across with only a slight burning of the lungs. The smog wasslowly rustingoff their lining. His eyes ran as if they were infected.

The sound of bedlam came to him before the hospital buildingloomed out of the mists. He was stopped by a white-haired man in the uniform of asecurityguard. Perhaps the old man had worked at an aircraft plant or at abank as a guard and had been deputized by the police to serve at the hospital. He flashed his light into Childe's face and asked him if he could help him. Thesmog wasnot dark enough to make the light brilliant, but it did annoy Childe.

He said, "Take that damned light away! I'm here to offer myservices in whatever capacity I'm peered."

He opened his wallet and showed his I.D.

The guard said, "You better go in the front way. The emergencyroom entrance is jammed, and they're all too busy to talk to you."

"Who do I see?" Childe said.

The guard hurriedly gave the supervisor's name and directions forgetting tohis office. Childe entered the lobby and saw at once that his helpmight beneeded, but he was going to have to force it on the hospital. Thelobby wasjammed and a sprawl with people who had been shunted out of theemergency roomafter more or less complete treatment, relatives of the wounded, peopleinquiring after lost or injured friends or relatives, and a numberwho, likeChilde, had come to offer their services. The hall outside thesupervisor'soffice was crowded too thickly for him to ram his way through even ifhe had felt like doing so. He asked a man on the fringes how long he hadbeen trying toget into the office.

"An hour and ten minutes, Mister," the man said disgustedly.

Childe turned to walk away. He would return to his apartment anddo whatever he could to pass the time. Then he would return after a reasonableamount of time (if there were such a thing in this situation), with the hopethat some order would have been established. He stopped. There, standing nearthe front door of the hospital, his head wrapped in a white cloth, was HamletJeremiah.

The cloth could have been a turban, because the last time Childehad seen Jeremiah he was sporting a turban with a spangled hexagram. But thecloth was a bandage with a three-pointed scarlet badge, almost a triskelion. TheMephistophelean moustaches and beard were gone, and he was wearing agrease-smeared T-shirt with the motto: NOLI ME TANGERE SIN AMOR. Hispants werewhite duck, and brown sandals were on his feet.

"Herald Childe!" he called, smiling, and then his face twistedmomentarilyas if the smile had hurt.

Childe held out his hand. Jeremiah said, "You touch me with love?" "I'm very fond of you, Ham," Childe said, "although I can't


really say why.

Do we have to go through that at this time?" "Any time and all time," Jeremiah said. "Especially this time." "OK. It's love then," and Childe shook his hand. "What in hell

happened? What're you doing down here? Listen, did you know I tried to phone you a little while ago and I was thinking about driving up to see you. Then..."


Jeremiah held up his hand and laughed and said, "One thing at atime! I'm out of my Sunset pad because my wives insisted we get out of town. Itold them we ought to wait a day or so until the roads were cleared. By then, the smog'dbe gone, anyway, or on its way out. But they wouldn't listen. They cried and carried on something awful, unreeled my entrails and tromped on them. One goodthing about tears; they wash out the smog, keep the acids from eatingup yourcorneas. But they're also acid on the nerves, so I said, finally, OK, I love youboth, so we'll take off. But if we get screwed up or anything badhappens, don'tblame me. Stick it up your own lovely asses. So they smiled and wipedaway thetears and packed up and we took off down Doheny. Sheila had a littlehand-operated prayer wheel spinning and Lupe was getting threeroaches out so we could enjoy what would otherwise be a real drag, or so we at leastcould enjoy afacsimile of joy. We came to Melrose, and the light changed to red, so I stopped, being a law-abiding citizen when the law is for the benefitof all and well-founded. Besides, I didn't want to get run into. But the son ofAdam behind me got mad; he thought I ought to run the light. His soul was reallyrued, Herald, he was in a cold-sweat panic. He honked his horn and when Ididn't jumplike a dog through a hoop and go through the light, he jumped out ofhis car and opened my door--dumb bastard, I didn't have it locked--and he jerkedme out and whirled me around and shoved my head against the handle. It cut myhead open andknocked me half-silly. Naturally, I didn't resist; I really believethis turn-the-other-cheek dictum.

"I was half in the next lane, and the other cars weren't going tostop, soSheila jumped out and shoved the man in the path of one and pulled meinto the car. That Sheila has a temper, you got to forgive her. The man washit; hebounced off one car and into ours. So Sheila drove the car then while Lupe wastrying to heave the man out. He was lying on the back seat with hislegsdragging on the street. I stopped her and told Sheila to take us tothe hospital.

"So she did, though reluctantly, I mean reluctant to take theman, too, andwe got here, and my head finally got bandaged, and Sheila and Lupeare helpingthe nurses up on the second floor. I'll help as soon as I get tofeelingbetter."

"What happened to the man?" Childe said.

"He's on a mattress on the floor of the second level. He's unconscious, breathing a few bubbles of blood, poor unhappy soul, but Sheila'staking care ofhim, too. She feels bad about shoving him; she's got a hasty temperbut underneath it all she truly loves."

"I was going to offer to help," Childe said, "but I can't see standing around for hours. Besides..."


Jeremiah asked him what the besides meant. Childe told him about Colben and the film. Jeremiah was shocked. He said that he had heard a little about it over the radio. He had not received a paper for two days, so he had nochance to read anything about it. So Childe wanted somebody with, a big library onvampires andon other things that bump in the unlit halls of the mind?

Well, he knew just the man. And he lived not more than six blocksaway, justsouth of Wilshire. If anybody would have the research material, itwould be Woolston Heepish.

"Isn't he likely to be trying to get out of town?"

"Woolie? By Dracula's moustache, no! Nothing, except maybe anatomic attack threat, would get him to desert his collection. Don't worry; he'll behome. There is one problem. He doesn't like unexpected visitors, you got tophone himahead of time and ask if you can come, even his best friends--exceptmaybe for

D. Nimming Rodder--are no exceptions. Everybody phones and askspermission, andif he isn't expecting you, he usually won't answer the doorbell. Buthe knows myvoice; I'll holler through the door at him." "Rodder? Where have...? Oh, yes! The book and TV writer! Vampires, werewolves, a lovely young girl trapped in a hideous old mansion highon a hill, that sort of thing. He produced and wrote the Shadow Land series, right?"

"Please, Herald, don't say anything at all about him if you can'tsaysomething good. Woolie worships D. Nimming Rodder. He won't hit youif you sayanything disparaging about him, but you sure as Shiva won't get anycooperationand you'll find yourself frozen out."

Childe shifted from one foot to another and coughed.

The cough was only partly from the burning air. It indicated thathe was having a struggle with his conscience. He wanted to stay here andhelp--part ofhim did--but the other part, the more powerful, wanted to get out andaway andon the trail. Actually, he couldn't be much use here, not for sometime, anyway. And he had a feeling, only a feeling but one which had ended insomethingobjectively profitable in the past, that something down there in thedark deepswas nibbling at his hook.

He put his hand on Jeremiah's bony shoulder and said, "I'll tryto phonehim, but if..."

"No use, Herald. He has an answering service, and it's not likelythat'll be working now."

"Give me a note of introduction, so I can get my foot in the door."

Jeremiah smiled and said, "I'll do better than that. I'll walkwith you toWoolie's. I'm just in the way here, and I'd like to get away from thesight ofso much suffering."

"I don't know," Childe said. "You could have a concussion. Maybeyou..."

Jeremiah shrugged and said, "I'm going with you. Just a minutewhile I find the women and tell them where I'm going."

Childe, waiting for him, and having nothing to do but watch andlisten, understood why Jeremiah wanted to get away. The blood and the groansand weepingwere bad enough, but the many chopping coughs and loud, longpumping-up-snot-or-blood coughs irritated, perhaps even angered him, althoughthe anger was rammed far down. He did not know why coughs set him onedge somuch, but he knew that Sybil's nicotine cough and burbling lungs, occurring atany time of day or night and especially distressing when he waseating or makinglove, had caused their split as much as anything. Or had made himbelieve so.

Jeremiah seemed to skate through the crowd. He took Childe's handand led him out the front door. It was three minutes after 12:00. The sun was a distorted yellow-greenish lobe. A man about a hundred feet east ofthem was a wavering shadowy figure. There seemed to be thick and thin bands ofsmog slidingpast each other and thus darkening and lightening, squeezing andelongatingobjects and people. This must have been an illusion or some otherphenomenon, because the smog was not moving. There was not a rumor of a breeze. The heat seemed to filter down through the green-grayishness, to slide downthe filaments of smog like acrobats with fevers and sprawl outwards and wrapthemselves around people.

Childe's armpits and back and face were wet but the perspirationonly cooledhim a little. His crotch and his feet were also sweating, and hewished that he could wear swimming trunks or a towel. It was better outside than inthe hospital, however. The stench of sweaty frightened people had beenpowerful, butthe noise and the sight of the misery and pain had made it lessoffensive. Now he was aware that Jeremiah, who was, despite being a "hippie," alover of baths, a true "water brother" as he liked to say, stank. The odor was apeculiarcombination of pipe tobacco, marijuana, a pungent heavyunidentifiable somethingsuggestive of spermatic fluid, incense, a soupcon of rosewater oncunt, frightened sweat, extrusion of excited shit, and, perhaps, inhaled smog beingsweat out.

Jeremiah looked at Childe, coughed, smiled, and said, "You smelllike something washed up out of the Pacific deeps and two weeks deadyourself, ifyou'll forgive my saying so."

Childe, although startled, did not comment. Jeremiah had giventoo manyevidences of telepathy or mindreading. However, there were otherexplanationswhich Childe did not really believe. Childe's expression could havetold Jeremiah what he was thinking, although Childe would have said thathis face was unreadable.

He walked along with Jeremiah. They seemed to be in a tunnel thatgrew outof the pavement before them and fell flat onto the pavement behindthem. Childe felt unaccountably happy for a moment despite the sinus ache, throatand eyeburn, insidious crisping of lungs, and stabbing in his testicles. Hehad not really wanted to be a good servant in the hospital; he wanted tosniff out the tracks of criminals.

CHAPTER 6

"You see, Ham," Childe said, "the vampire motif in the film couldmean nothing--as a clue--but I feel that it's very important and, in fact, the onlything I can follow up. But the chances..."

His voice died. He and Jeremiah stood on the curb of the north side of Burton Way and waited. The cars were like elephants in the grayness, grayelephants with trunks to tails, huge eyes glowing in the gloom. Thelanes here were one-way for westward traffic, but all traffic was movingeastward.

There was only one thing to do if they wished to cross today. Childe steppedout into the traffic. The cars were going so slowly that it was easyto climb upon the hood of the nearest and jump over onto the next hood and ontoa third and then a fourth and onto the grass of the divider.

Startled and outraged drivers and passengers cursed and howled atthem, butJeremiah only laughed and Childe jeered at them. They crossed thedivider and jumped from hood to hood again until they got to the other side. Theywalked down Willaman, and every house was unlit. At Wilshire and Willaman, the street lights were operating, but the drivers were paying no attention tothem. All were going eastward on both sides of Wilshire.

The traffic was a little faster here but not too fast. Childe and Jeremiah got over, although Jeremiah slipped once and fell on top of a hood.

"Middle of this block," Jeremiah said.

The houses and apartments were middle middle-class. The homeswere the usual California-Spanish bungalows; the apartment buildings were four orfive storyboxes with some attempts at decoration and terracing outside. Therewere lightsin a few windows but the house before which Jeremiah stopped wasdark.

"Must not be home," Childe said.

"Doesn't mean a thing. His windows are always dark. Once you getinside, you'll see why. He may not be home just now; he might've gone to thestore or the gas station; they're supposed to be open, at least the governorsaid theywould. Let's see."

They crossed the yard. The front window looked boarded up. Atleast, something dark and woody looking covered it on the inside. Closer, hesaw that the man-sized figure, which had stood so silently and which he hadthought wasan iron statute, was a wooden and painted cutout of Godzilla.

They went around the side of the house to the driveway. There wasa largered sign with glaring yellow letters: MISTER HORROR IS ALIVE AND WELLIN HERE.

Beyond was a sort of courtyard with a tree which bent at forty- five degreesand the top of which covered the porch roof and part of the houseroof like a great greenish hand. The tree trunk was so gray and twisted andknobbed that Childe thought for a moment that it was artificial. It looked as ifit had been designed and built as background to a horror movie.

There were many signs on the door and the walls beside the door, some of them "cute" and others "in" jokes. There were also masks ofFrankenstein, Dracula, and the WolfMan nailed against the walls. And several NOSMOKING ABSOLUTELY signs. Another forbade any alcoholic beverages to bebrought in.

Jeremiah pressed the button, which was the nose of a gargoyleface paintedaround it. A loud clanging noise as of large bells came from withinand then several bars of organ music: Gloomy Sunday.

There was no other response. Jeremiah waited a moment and thenrang the bellagain. More bells and organ music. But no one at the door.

Jeremiah beat on the door and shouted, "Open up, Woolie! I knowyou're inthere! It's OK! It's me, Hamlet Jeremiah, one of your greatest fans!"

The little peep-window slid back and light rayed out. The lightwas cut off, came back, was cut off again as the peep-window swung shut. The dooropened witha screeching of rusty hinges. A few seconds later, Childe understood that the noise was a recording.


"Welcome," a soft baritone said. Jeremiah tapped Childe'sshoulder to indicate he should precede him. They walked in, and the man shut thedoor, rammed home three large bolts, and hooked two chains.

The room was too confusing for Childe to take it in all at once. He concentrated on the man, whom Jeremiah introduced as Woolston Q. Heepish.

"Woolie" was about six feet in height, portly and soft-looking, moderatelypaunched, with a bag of skin hanging under his chin, bronze walrusmoustache, square rimless spectacles, a handsome profile from the mouth up, afull head of dark-red, straight, slick hair, and pale gray eyes. He hunchedforward as if he had spent most of his life over a desk.

The walls and windows of the room were covered with shelves of books and various objects and with paintings, movie stills, posters, masks, plastic busts, framed letters, and blow-ups of movie actors. There was a sofa, several chairs, and a grand piano. The room beyond looked much the same except forits lack of furniture.

If he wanted to learn about vampires, he was at the right place.

The place was jammed with anything and everything concerningGothic literature, folklore, legendary, the supernatural, lycanthropy, demonology, witch-craft, and the movies made of these subjects.

Woolie shook Childe's hand with a large, wet, plump hand. "Welcome to the House of Horror," he said. Jeremiah explained why they were there. Woolie shook his head and


said that he had heard about Colben over the radio. The announcer had said that Colben had been "horribly mutilated" but he had not given any details.

Childe told him the details. Heepish shook his head and tsk-tskedwhile his gray eyes seemed to get brighter and the corners of his lips dimpled.

"How terrible! How awful! Sickening! My God, the savages still inour midst! How can such things be?"

The soft voice murmured and seemed to become lost, as if it werebreaking upinto a half dozen parts which, like mice, scurried for the dark inthe corners. The pale, soft wet hands rubbed together now and then and severaltimes were clasped in a gesture which at first looked prayerful but also gavethe impression of being placed around an invisible neck.

"If there is anything I can do to help you track down thesemonsters; ifthere is anything in my house to help you, you are welcome," Heepishsaid. "Though I can't imagine what kind of clue you could find by justbrowsingthrough. Still..."

He spread both hands out and then said, "But let me conduct youthrough myhouse. I always have the guided tour first for strangers. Hamlet cancome with us or look around on his own, if he wishes. Now, this, blow-up hereis of Alfred Dummel and Else Bennrich in the German film, The Blood Drinker, madein 1928. It had a rather limited distribution in this country, but I wasfortunate enough--Ihave many many friends all over the world--to get a print of thefilm. It may bethe only print now existing; I've made inquiries and never been ableto locate another, and I've had many people trying to find another for me..."

Childe restrained the impulse to tell Heepish that he wanted tosee the newspaper files at once. He did not wish to waste any time. ButJeremiah had told him how he must behave if he wanted to get maximum cooperationfrom his host.

The house was crammed with objects of many varieties, alloriginating in theworld of terror and evil shadows but designed and manufactured tomake money. The house was bright with illuminations of many shades: bile-yellow, blood-red, decay-purple, rigor mortis-grayblue, repressed-anger orange, butshadows seemed to press in everywhere. Where no shadow could be, there was shadow.

An air-conditioner was moving air slowly and icily, as if thenext glacialage were announcing itself. The air was well-filtered, because theburning ofeyes and throat and lungs was fading. (Something good to say aboutice ages.) Despite this, and the ridges of skin pinched by cold air, Childe feltas if he were suffocating with the closeness and bulk and disorder of thebooks, themasks, the heads of movie monsters, the distorted wavy menacingpaintings, theFrankenstein monsters and wolfmen dolls, the little Revolting Robottoys, theEgyptian statues of jackal-headed Anubis, the cat-headed Sekhmet.

The room beyond was smaller but also much more cluttered. Wooliegesturedvaguely--all his gestures were as vague as ectoplasm--at the leaningand sometimes collapsed piles of books and magazines.

"I got a shipment in from a collector in Utica, New York," Heepish said. "Hedied recently."

His voice deepened and richened almost to oiliness. "Very sad. Afine man. A real fan of the horror. We corresponded for years, more than I careto say, although I never actually got to meet him. But our minds met, we hadmuch in common. His widow sent me this stuff, told me to price it at whateverI thoughtwas fair. There's a complete collection of Weird Tales from 1923through 1954, a first edition of Chambers King in Yellow, a first edition of Draculawith a signature from Bram Stoker and Bela Lugosi, and, oh! there is so somuch!"

He rubbed his hands and smiled. "So much! But the prize is aletter from Doctor Polidori--he was Byron's personal physician and friend, youknow--author of an anonymous book--I have several first editions of the firstvampire novelin English--THE VAMPYRE. Doctor Polidori! A letter from him to a LadyMilbanks describing how he got the idea for his novel! It's unique! I've beenlusting--literally lusting--for it ever since I heard about it in1941! It'll occupy a prominent place--perhaps the most prominent--on the frontroom wall as soon as I can get a suitable frame!"

Childe refrained from asking where he would find a bare place onthe wall.

Heepish showed him his office, a large room constricted by manyrows of ceiling-high bookcases and by a huge old-fashioned rolltop deskengulfed bybooks, magazines, letters, maps, stills, posters, statuettes, toys, and a headsman's axe that looked genuine, even to the dried blood.

They went back to the room between the office and living room, where Heepishled Childe into the kitchen. This had a stove, a sink, and arefrigerator, butother-wise was full of books, magazines, small filing cases, and somedead insects on the edges of the open cupboards and on the floor.

"I'm having the stove taken out next week," Heepish said. "Idon't eat in, and when I give a party, I have everything brought in."

Childe raised his eyebrows but said nothing. Jeremiah had toldhim that the refrigerator was so full of microfilms that there was little room forfood. And at the rate the film was coming in, there would soon not be spaceenough for aquart of milk.

"I am thinking about building an extension to my house," Heepishsaid. "As you can see, I'm a teeny-weeny bit crowded now, and heaven knows whatit will be like five years from now. Or even one."

Woolston Heepish had been married--for over fifteen years. Hiswife had wanted children, but he had said no. Children could not be kept awayfrom his books, magazines, paintings and drawings, masks and costumes, toysand statuettes. Little children were very destructive.

After some years, his wife gave up her wish to have babies. Couldshe have a pet, a cat or a dog? Heepish said that he was indeed very sorry, butcats clawed and dogs chewed and piddled.

The collection increased; the house shrank. Furniture was removedto make room for more objects. The day came when there was no room for Mrs.

Heepish. TheBride of Frankenstein was elbowing her out. She knew better than toappeal foreven a halt to the collecting, and a diminution was unthinkable. Shemoved out and got a divorce, naming as co-respondent The Creature from theBlack Lagoon.

It was only fair to Heepish, Jeremiah had said, to let Childeknow that Heepish and his wife were the best of friends and went out togetheras much as when they had lived together. Perhaps, though, this was the ex-Mrs. Heepish'sway of getting revenge, because she certainly rode herd on him, andhe meeklysubmitted with only a few grumbles now and then.

Now Heepish himself was being forced out. One day, he would comehome after a late meeting of The Count Dracula Society and open the front door, and tons of books, magazines, documents, photographs, and bric-a-brac wouldcascade out, andthe rescuers would tunnel down to find Woolston Heepish pressed flatbetween the leaves of The Castle of Otranto.

Childe was led into an enclosed back porch, jammed with bookslike the other rooms. They stepped out the back door into a pale green light and aninstant sensation as of diluted sulfuric acid fumes scraping the eyes. Childeblinked, and his eyes began to run. He coughed. Heepish coughed.

Heepish said, "Perhaps we should pass up the grand tour of thegarage, but..."

His voice trailed off. Childe had stopped for a moment; Heepishwas a figureas dark and bulky and shapeless as a monster in the watery mists of agrade-Bmovie.

The door squeaked upward. Childe hastened to enter the garage. The door squeaked down and clanged shut. Childe wondered i€ this door, too, were connected to a recording taken from the old Inner Sanctum radioprogram. Heepishturned on the lights. More of the same except that there was dust onthe heads, masks, books, and magazines.

"I keep my duplicates, second-rate things, and stuff I just don'thave room for in the house at the moment," Heepish said. Childe felt that hewas expectedto ejaculate over at least a few items. He wanted to get out of thehot, close, and dead air into the house. He hoped that the files he wanted werenot stored here.

Childe commented on an entire bookshelf dedicated to the works of

D. NimmingRodder. Heepish said, "Oh, you noticed that he is the only living authorwith an individual placard in my collection in the house? Nim is my favorite, of course, I think he's the greatest writer of all time, in the Gothic or horror genre, even greater than Monk Lewis or H. P. Lovecraft or Bram Stoker. He is a very good friend of mine.


"I keep many duplicates of his works out here because he needsone now and then to use as tearsheets or reference for a new anthology. He hashad manyanthologies, you know, just scads of reprints and collections takenfrom his collections, and collections from these. He's probably the mostrecollected man on Earth."

Childe did not smile. Heepish shrugged.

There was a large blow-up of Rodder tacked to an upright. Inheavy black inkbelow: TO MY FIRST FAN AND A GREAT FRIEND, MISTER HORROR HIMSELF, WITH INTENSE AFFECTION FROM NIM. The thin, pale face with the collapsed cheeks, sharp nose, and the huge-rimmed spectacles looked like that of a spooky andspooked primateof the Madagascar jungle, like a lemur's. And lemur, now that Childeconsidered it, originally meant a ghost. He grinned. He remembered the entry inthe bigunabridged dictionary he had referred to so often at college.

Lemur--Latin lemures nocturnal spirits, ghosts; akin to Greeklamia, adevouring monster, lamas crop, maw, lamia, pl., chasm, Lettish lamatamousetrap; basic idea, open jaws.

CHAPTER 7

Childe, looking at Rodder's photograph, grinned widely.

Heepish said, "What's so funny? I could stand a little laugh inthese tryingtimes."

"Nothing, really." "Don't you like Rodder?" Heepish's voice was controlled, but it contained a hint of a


well-oiled mousetrap aching to snap shut.


Childe said, "I liked his Shadow Land series. And I liked hisunderlyingthemes, aside from the spooky element. You know, the little manfighting bravelyagainst conformity, authoritarianism, vast forces of corruption, andso on, thelone individual, the only honest man in the word--I liked thosethings. Andevery time I read an article in the newspapers about Rodder, he'salwaysdescribed as honest, as a man of integrity. Which is really ironic."

Childe stopped and then, not wishing to continue but impelled to, said, "ButI know a guy..."

He stopped. Why tell Heepish that the guy was Jeremiah?

"This guy was at a party which consisted mainly of science- fiction people. He was standing within earshot of a group of authors. One was thegreat fantasywriter, Breyleigh Bredburger. You know of him, of course?"

Heepish nodded and said, "After Rodder, Monk Lewis, and Bloch, myfavorite."

Childe said, "Another author, I forget his name, was complainingthat Rodder had stolen one of his magazine stories for his series. Just liftedit, changedthe title and few things, credited it to somebody with an outlandishGreek name, and had, so far, refused to correspond with the author about thealleged theft. Bredburger said that was nothing. Rodder had stolen three of hisstories, givingcredit to himself, Rodder, as author. Bredburger cornered Roddertwice and forced him to admit the theft and to pay him. Rodder's excuse wasthat he'd signed to write two-thirds of the series himself and he wasn't up toit, so, indesperation, he'd lifted Bredburger's stories. He didn't say anythingabout plagiarizing from other people, of course. Bredburger said he'd beenpromisedpayment for the third stolen story but so far hadn't gotten it andwouldn't unless he vigorously pursued Rodder or went through the courts.

"A third author then said that the first would have to stand in line behind about twenty if he wanted to sue or to take it out of Rodder's hide.

"That's your D. Nimming Rodder. Your great champion of the littleman, ofthe nonconformist, of the honest man."

Childe stopped. He was surprised that he had run on so. He didnot want to quarrel. After all, he was to be indebted to this man, if this grandtour ever ended. On the other hand, he was itchy with anger. He had seen toomany corruptmen highly honored by the world, which either did not know the truthor ignoredit. Also, the irritation caused by the smog, the repressed panicarising fromfear of what the smog might become, Colben's death, the frustratingscene with Sybil, and Heepish's attitude, undefinedly prickly, combined to wearaway theskin and fat over his nerves.

Heepish's gray eyes seemed to retreat, as if they were afraidthey mightcombust if they got too close to the light and air. His neckquivered. Hismoustache drew down; invisible weights had been tied to each end. Hisnostrils flared like bellows. His pale skin had become red. His handsclenched.

Childe waited while the silence hardened like bird lime. If Heepish gotnasty, he would get just as nasty, even though he would lose accessto the literature he needed. Childe had been told by Jeremiah that Heepish had gottenthe idea for his collection from observing a man by the name ofForrest J Ackerman, who had probably the greatest private collection ofscience-fiction and fantasy in the world. In fact, Heepish had been called the poorman's Ackerman, though not to his face. However, he was far from poor, hehad much money--from what source nobody knew--and his collection would somedaybe the world's greatest, private or public.

But at this moment he was very vulnerable, and Childe was willingto thrust through the crack in the armor.

"Well!" Heepish said.

He cocked his head and smiled thinly. The moustache, however, wasstill swelled like an elephant seal in mating season, and his fingers weremaking asteeple, then separating to form the throat-holding attitude.

"Well!" he said again. His voice was as hard, but there was alsoa whine in it, like a distant mosquito.

"Well!" Childe said, aware that he would never know what Heepishwas goingto say and not caring. "I'd like to see the newspaper files, ifpossible."

"Oh? Oh, yes! They're upstairs. This way, please."

They left the garage, but Heepish put the photograph of Rodderunder his arm before following him out. Childe had wondered what it was doing outin the garage, anyway, but on re-entering the house, he saw that there weremany morephotographs and paintings and pencil sketches and even framednewspaper andmagazine clippings containing Rodder's portrait--than he had thought. Heepishhad had one too many and stored that one in the garage. But now, asif to show Childe his place, to put him down in some obscure manner, Heepish wasalso bringing this photograph into the house.

Childe grinned at this as he waited for Heepish to lead himthrough thekitchen and hall-room and turn right to go up the narrow stairs. Thewalls were hung with many pictures and paintings of Frankenstein's monster andDracula and an original by Hannes Bok and another by Virgil Finlay, all leaningat slightlydifferent angles like headstones in an old neglected graveyard.

They went down a short hallway and into a room with the wallscovered with paintings and photographs and posters and movie ad stills. There werea number of curious wooden frames, sawhorses with castles on their backs, which held a series of illustrations and photos and newspaper clippings on woodenframes. These could be turned on a central shaft, like pages of a book.

Childe looked through all of them and, at any other time, wouldhave been delighted and would have lingered over various nostalgic items.

Heepish, as if the demands on him were really getting to be toomuch, sighedwhen Childe asked to see the scrapbooks. He went into an enormouscloset the walls of which were lined with bookshelves stuffed with largescrapbooks, manyof them dusty and smelling of decay.

"I really must do something about these before it's too late," Heepish said. "I have some very valuable--some invaluable and unreplaceable-material here."

He was still carrying Rodder's photo under one arm.

It was Childe's turn to sigh as he looked at the growing hill ofstuff to peruse. But he sat down in a chair, placed his right ankle over hisleft thigh, and began to turn the stiff and often yellowed and brittle pages ofthe scrapbooks. After a while, Heepish said that he would have to excusehimself. If Childe wanted anything, he should just holler. Childe looked up andsmiled briefly and said that he did not want to be any more bother than hehad to be. Heepish was gone then, but left an almost visible ectoplasm ofdisdain and hurt feelings behind him.

The scrapbooks were titled with various subjects: MOVIE VAMPIRES, GERMAN AND SCANDINAVIAN, 1919-1939; WEREWOLVES, AEMRICAN, 1865-1900; WITCHES, PENNSYLVANIAN, 1880-1965; GOLEM, EXTRA-FORTEANA, 1929-1960; SOUTHERNCALIFORNIA VAMPIRE FOLKLORE AND GHOST STORIES, 1910-1967; and so on.

Childe had gone through thirty-two such titles before he came tothe last one. They had all been interesting but not very fruitful, and he didnot know that the one which was in his hands was relevant. But he felt his heart quickenand his back became less stiff. It could not be called a clue, but itat least was something to investigate.

An article from the Los Angeles Times, dated May 1, 1958, described a number of reputedly "haunted" houses in the Los Angeles area. Several longparagraphswere devoted to a house in Beverly Hills which not only had a ghost, it had a "vampire."

There was a photograph of the Trolling House taken from the air. Accordingto the article, no one could get close enough to it on the ground touse a camera effectively. The house was set on a low hill in the middle ofa large--for Southern California--walled estate. The grounds were wellwooded so that the house could not be seen from anywhere outside the walls. Thenewspapercameramen had been unable to get photos of it in 1948, when the ownerof Trolling House had become temporarily famous, and the newsmen had nobetter luck in 1958, when this article, recapitulating the events of ten yearsbefore, hadbeen published. There was, however, a picture of a pencil sketch madeof the "vampire," Baron Igescu, by an artist who had depended upon hismemory afterseeing the baron at a charity ball. No photographs of the baron wereknown to be in existence. Very few people had seen the baron, although he hadmade several appearances at charity balls and once at a Beverly Hills taxpayersprotestmeeting.

Trolling House was named after the uncle of the present owner. The uncle, also an Igescu, had traveled from Rumania to England in 1887, stayedthere one year, and then moved on to America in 1889. Upon becoming a citizenof the United States of America, Igescu had changed his name to Trolling. Noone knew why. The mansion was on woodland surrounded on all sides by a highbrick wall topped with iron spikes between which barbed wire was strung. Builtin very lateVictorian style in 1900 in what was then out-of-the-way agriculturalland, itwas a huge rambling structure. The nucleus was a part of the originalhouse. This was, naturally, a Spanish-style mansion which had been built bythe eccentric (some said, mad) Don Pedro del Osorojo in the wilderness ofwhat was to become, a century later, Beverly Hills. Del Osorojo was supposedto have been a relative of the de Villa family, which owned this area, but thatwas not authenticated. Actually little was known of del Osorojo except thathe was a recluse with an unknown source of wealth. His wife came from Spain(this waswhen California was under Spanish rule) and was supposed to have beena Castilian noble.

The present owner, Igescu, was involuntarily publicized in 1938when he was brought dead-on-arrival into the Cedars of Lebanon Hospital after acar collision at Hollywood and La Brea. At twilight of the following day, the countycoroner was to perform an inquest. Igescu had no perceptible woundsor injuries.

At the first touch of the knife, Igescu sat up on the dissectionslab.

This story was picked up by newspapers throughout the Statesbecause a reporter jestingly pointed out that Igescu had (1) never been seen inthe daytime, (2) was of Transylvanian origin, (3) came from anaristocratic familywhich had lived for centuries in a castle (now abandoned) on top of ahigh steephill in a remote rural area, (4) had shipped his uncle's body back tothe old country to be buried in the family tomb, but the coffin haddisappeared enroute, and (5) was living in a house already well known because ofthe ghost ofDolores del Osorojo.

Dolores was supposedly the spirit of Don Pedro's daughter. Shehad died of grief, or killed herself because of grief. Her lover, or suitor, wasa Norwegiansea-captain who had seen Dolores at a governor's ball during one ofher rare appearances in town. He seemed to have lost his sanity over her. Heneglectedhis ship and its business, and his men deserted or were thrown intothe local jail for drunkenness and vagrancy.

Lars Ulf Larsson, the captain, barred by the old don from seeingDolores, managed to sneak into the house and woo her so successfully that shepromised torun off with him within a week. But the night of the elopement came, and Larsson did not show up. He was never seen again; a legend had it that DonPedro had killed him and buried his body on the estate. Another said that thebody hadbeen thrown into the sea.

Dolores had gone into mourning and died several weeks later. Herfather went hunting into the hills several weeks after she was buried and failedto return. Search parties could not find him; it was said that the Devil hadtaken him.

Later occupants of the house reported that they sometimes sawDolores in the house or out on the lawn. She was always dressed in a black formalgown of the1810's and had black hair, a pale skin, and very red lips. Herappearances werenot frequent, but they were nerve wracking enough to cause a longline of tenants and owners to move out. The old mansion had fallen into ruins, exceptfor two rooms, when Uncle Igescu bought the property and built hishouse around the still-standing part.

Despite the publicity about the present Igescu, not much wasreally knownabout him. He had inherited a chain of grocery stores and an exportbusiness from his uncle. He, or his managers, had built the stores into alarge chain ofsupermarkets in the Southwest and had expanded the export business.

Childe found the ghost interesting. Whether or not she had beenseen recently was not known, because Igescu had never said anything abouther. Her last recorded appearance was in 1878, when the Reddes had moved out.

Igescu's sketch in the newspaper showed a long lean face with ahighforehead and high cheekbones and large eyes and thick eyebrows. Hehad a thick down drooping Slovak coal miner's type of moustache.

Heepish returned, and Childe, holding the sketch so he could see it, said, "This man certainly doesn't look Draculaish does he? More like the grocery store man, which he is, right?"


Heepish poked his head forward and squinted his eyes. He smiledslightly. "Certainly, he doesn't look like Bela Lugosi. But the Dracula of thebook, BramStoker's, had just such a moustache. Or one like it, anyway. I triedto get intouch with Igescu several times, you know, but I couldn't get throughhis secretary. She was nice but very firm. The Baron did not want to bedisturbed with any such nonsense."

Heepish's tone and weak hollow chuckle said that, if there wereanynonsense, it was on the Baron's part.

"You have his phone number?" "Yes, but it took me a lot of trouble to get it. It's unlisted." "You don't owe him anything," Childe said. "I'd like to have it.


If I find anything you might be interested in, I'll tell you. How's that? Ifeel I owe yousomething, for your time and fine cooperation. Perhaps, I might beable to digup something for your collection."

"Well, you can have the number," Heepish said, warming up. "Butit's probably been changed."

He conducted Childe downstairs and, while Childe waited under ashelf which held the heads of Frankenstein's monster, The Naked Brain, and a hugeblack long-nailed warty rubbery hand of some nameless creature from some(deservedly) forgotten movie, Heepish plunged into the rear of the house down adim corridor with plastic cobwebs and spiderwebs between ceiling and wall. Hedived out of the shadows and webs with a little black book in his hand. Childe wrote down the number and address in his own little black book and asked permissionto try thenumber. He dialed and got what he expected, nothing. The lines werestill tied up. He tried the LAPD number. He tried his own phone. More nothing.

Just for stubbornness, he tried Igescu's number again. And thistime, as ifthe fates had decided that he should be favored, or by one of thosecoincidences too implausible to be believed in a novel but sometimes happening in"real" life, the connection went through. A woman's voice said, "Hello? MyGod, thephone works! What happened?"

"May I speak to Baron Igescu?" Childe said. "Who?" "Isn't this Baron Igescu's residence?" "No! Who is this speaking?" "Herald Wellston," Childe said, giving the name he had decided to


use. "MayI ask who is speaking?" "Go away! Or I'll call the police!" the woman screamed, and she hung up.

"I don't think that was Igescu's secretary," Childe said inanswer to Heepish's quizzical expression. "Somebody else has their number now."

Not believing that it would work but willing to try, he dialedinformation. The call went right through, and he succeeded almost immediately ingettingtransferred to his contact. She did not have to worry about asupervisorlistening in; she was the supervisor.

"What happened, Linda? All of a sudden, the lines're wide open."

"I don't know, one of those unexplainable lulls, the eye of thestorm, maybe. But it won't last, you can bet your most precious possessionon that, Herald. You better hurry."

He told her what he wanted, and she got Igescu's unlisted numberfor him within a few seconds.

"I'll drop off the usual to you in the mail before evening. Thanks, Linda, you beautiful beautiful."

"I may not be here to get it if this smog keeps up," she said. "Or the mailman may have skipped town with everyone and his brother."

He hung up the telephone. Heepish, who had stepped out of theroom but not out of hearing range, raised his eyebrows. Childe did not feel thathe had to justify himself, but, since he was using Heepish's phone, he did owehim some explanation.

"The forces of good must use corruption to fight corruption," hesaid. "I occasionally have to find a number, and I send a ten to my informant, or used to; now it's a twenty, what with inflation. In this case, I suspectI've wasted my money."

Heepish harrumphed. Childe got out quickly; he felt as if hecould no longerstand this shadowy, musky place with its monsters frozen in variousattitudes of attack and their horrified paralyzed victims. Nor could he endure thecustodian of the museum any longer.

Yet, when he stood at the door to say good-bye and to thank hishost, hefelt ashamed. Certainly, the man's hobby--passion, rather--washarmless enoughand even entertaining--even emotionally purgative--for millions ofchildren and adults who had never quite ceased being children. Though dedicated toarchetypalhorror and its Hollywood sophisticated developments, the house haddefeated itself, hence, had a therapeutic value. Where there is a surfeit ofhorrors, horror becomes ho-hum.

And this man had helped him to the best of his ability.

He thanked Heepish and shook his hand, and perhaps Heepish feltthe changein his guest, because he smiled broadly and radiated warmth and asked

Childe to come back--any time.

The door swung shut with the Inner-Sanctum creakings, but it didnot propelChilde and Jeremiah into the acid-droplet mist. A breeze ruffledthem, andsunshine was bright, and the sky was blue.

Childe had not known until then how depressed and miserable hehad been. Now, he blinked eyes that did not burn or weep and sucked in theprecious cleanair. He chortled and did a little jig arm in arm with Jeremiah. Thewalk back to his apartment was the most delightful walk in his life. Its delightexceeded even that of his first walk with Sybil when he was courting her. Theyards andsidewalks held a surprising number of people, all enjoying the airand sun. Apparently, fewer than he--and the radio and TV experts--had thoughthad fled the area.

There were, however, few cars on the streets. Wilshire Boulevardheld onlyone auto between La Cienega and Robertson, and when they crossedBurton Way onWillaman, they could see no cars.

However, there were great green-gray clouds piled against themountains. Pasadena and Glendale and other inland cities were still in the fist of the smog.

By the time he had said good-bye to Jeremiah, who turned offtoward Mt. Sinai Hospital, the wind had slid to a halt, and the air was as stillas a dead jellyfish again. There was a peculiar glow on the western horizon; ahush descended as if a finger had been placed against the lips of theworld.

He still felt happy as he went into the apartment building. Thephone lineswere busy, but he stuck it out, and, within three hundred seconds byhis wristwatch, the phone rang. The voice that answered was female, low, and lovely.

Magda Holyani was Mr. Igescu's secretary; she stressed the"Mister."

No, Mr. Igescu could not talk to him. Mr. Igescu never talked toanybodywithout an appointment. No, he would not grant an interview to Mr. Herold Wellston, no matter how far Mr. Wellston had traveled for it nor howimportantthe magazine Mr. Wellston represented. Mr. Igescu never gaveinterviews, and ifMr. Wellston was thinking of that silly vampire and ghost story inthe Times, hehad better forget it--as far as talking to Mr. Igescu about it. Orabout anything.

And how had Mr. Wellston gotten this unlisted number? Childe did not answer the last. He asked that his request beforwarded to her employer. She said that he would be informed of it as soon aspossible. Childe gave her his number--he said he was staying with a friend--andtold her that if Igescu should change his mind, he should call him at thatnumber. He thanked her and hung up. Throughout the conversation, neither hadsaid a word about the smog.

Childe decided to do some thinking, and, while he was doing that, he had better attend to some immediate matters--such as his survival. He drove to the supermarket and found that it had just been reopened. Apparently, themanagerwas staying on the premises, and several of the checkout women andthe liquorstore clerk lived nearby. Cars were beginning to fill the parkinglot, andpeople on foot were numerous. Childe was glad that he had thought ofthis, because the shelves were beginning to look bare. He stocked up oncanned goodsand powdered milk and purchased a five-gallon bottle of distilledwater.

On the way back, he heard six sirens and saw two ambulances. Hospitals werenot about to complain of lack of business.

By the time he had put away the groceries, he had made up hismind. He would drive out and scout around the Igescu estate. He had no rationalcause to do so. There was not the thinnest of threads to connect Igescu with Colben. Nevertheless, he meant to investigate. He had nowhere else to go andnothing todo. He could spend the rest of the day with this doubtlessunrewarding lead, andtomorrow, if the city began to return to normal, he would start on adefinite and profitable case, if one showed up. And one should. There werebound to be many missing persons, gone somewhere with the smog.

CHAPTER 8

The drive out was pleasant. He saw only ten cars moving on thestreets; twowere police. The black-and-whites, red lights flashing but sirensquiet, racedpast him.

Childe went west on Santa Monica Boulevard, turned right atRexford Drive, and began the safari through the ever wealthier and more exclusivehouses and mansions (northward was the hierarchical goal). He went up ColdwaterCanyon andinto the hills, which are labeled on the map as the Santa MonicaMountains. He swung left onto Mariconado Lane, drove for a mile and a half on thenarrow, winding, macadam road, almost solidly walled with great oaks, firs, and highthick bushes and hedges, turned right on Daimon Drive, drove for amile pastseveral high-walled estates, and came finally to Igescu's (if Heepishhad givenhim correct directions).

At the end of the high brick mortared-with-white wall, threehundred yardspast the gateway, the road ended. There were no walls to keep anybodyfrom walking past the end of the drive. Whoever owned the land next to theBaron's felt no need for enforcing privacy. Childe drove to the end of thepavement, andafter some maneuvering, turned the car around. He left it with itsrear againsta bush and facing down the road. After locking the doors, he put anextra key inthe earth under a bush (always prepare for emergencies) and thenwalked to the gateway.

The wall was ten feet high and topped by iron spikes betweenwhich were from four to six strands of barbed wire. The gateway was a single heavyiron grill-work which swung out when electrically actuated. He could seeno keyholes. A tongue of metal must insert into a slot in a metal fitting in theside of the gateway. The grill-work was painted dull black and separated intoeight squaresby thick iron bars. Each square held a sheet of iron formed into theprofile ofa griffin with the wings of a bat. This was a grade-B movie touch, but, ofcourse, only coincidence. The bat wings probably had some heraldicsignificance.

A metal box six feet up on the right post could be a voicetransceiver. Beyond the gate was a narrow tar-topped road which curved anddisappeared intothe thick woods. The only sign of life was a listless black squirrel, (The radiohad reported that all wild land birds had fled the area.)

Childe walked into the woods at the end of the road, He ignoredthe TRESPASSERS WILL BE VIGOROUSLY PROSECUTED sign--he liked theVIGOROUSLY--to walk along the wall. The going was not easy, The bushes and thorns seemeddetermined to hold him back. He shoved against them and wriggled a few time: andthen the wall curved to the right and went up a steel hill. Panting, hescrambled up onall fours to the top. He wondered if he were that much out of shapeor if the smog had cut down his ability to take in enough oxygen.

The wall still barred his way. After resting, he climbed a bigoak. Near the top, he looked around, but he could see only more trees beyond thewall. No branches offered passage over the walls.

He climbed down slowly and carefully. When he was a child, he hadat times thought that he might prefer to be Tarzan instead of Sherlock Holmes. He had grown up to be neither, but he was much closer to Holmes than toTarzan. He wouldn't even make a good Jane. Sweat ran down his face and soakedhis undershirt below the armpits. His pants were torn in two places, asmall scratch on the back of his left hand was bleeding, his hands were sore on thepalms anddirty all over, and his shoes were badly scuffed. The sun, insympatheticaltitude with his spirits, was low. It was just about to touch theridge of thewestern hills he could see through a break. He would have to go backnow and conduct a tour of the wall some other time--if ever. To run and bumble throughthe woods in the dark would be more than exasperating.

He hastened back to the car, tearing a button off his shirt thistime, andgot to it just at dusk. The silence was like that in a deep cave. Nobirds twittered or chirped. Even the buzz and hum of insects were absent. Perhaps thesmog had killed them off. Or, at least, thinned their ranks ordiscouraged them. There were no sounds of airplanes or cars, sounds which it had beendifficult to escape anywhere in Los Angeles County night or day. The atmosphereseemed heavywith a spirit of--what?--of waiting. Whether it was waiting for himor someone else, and what it was waiting for, was dubious. And, after heconsidered the feeling, he found it ridiculous.

He got into the car behind the wheel, remembered that he had lefta key inthe dirt under a bush, started to get out to retrieve it, thenthought better ofit, and closed the door again. He drummed his fingers, wished he hadnot quitsmoking, and chewed some gum. He almost turned the radio on butdecided that, inthis stillness, its sound would go too far.

The suncast fell away from the sky at last. The darkness aroundhim became thicker, as if it were the sediment of night. The glow thrown by themillion lights of the city and reflected back onto the earth was missingtonight. Therewere no clouds to act as mirrors, and the surrounding hills and treesbarred the horizon-shine. Stars began to thrust through the black. After awhile, thealmost full moon, edged in black, like a card announcing a death, rose above the trees.

Childe waited. He got out after a while and went to the gate andlooked through, but he could not even see a faint nimbus which might haverevealed that, somewhere in that dense blackness, was a large house with manylights and at least two people. He returned to the car, sat for perhaps fifteenminutes longer, and then reached for the ignition key. His hand stopped aninch from the key.

He heard a sound which turned his scalp cold.

He had hunted enough in Montana and the Yukon to recognize thesound. It was the howling of wolves. It rose from somewhere in the trees behind thewalls of Igescu's estate.

CHAPTER 9

He was tired when he returned to his apartment. It was only ten

p.m. but he had been through much. Besides, the poisoned air had burned away hisvitality. The respite of the breeze had not helped much. The air was stilldead, and itseemed to him that it was getting gray again. That must be one of thetricks his imagination was playing him, because there were not enough cars onthe streets to account for another build-up of smog. He called the LAPD and asked for Sergeant Bruin. He did notexpect Bruin tobe there, but he was lucky. Bruin had much to say about his troubleswith traffic that day. Not to mention that his wife had suddenly decidedto get outof town. For Christ's sake! The smog was gone! For a while, anyway. No tellingwhat would happen if this crazy weather continued. He had to get tobed now, because tomorrow looked even worse. Not the traffic. Most of the refugees shouldbe past the state line by now. But they'd be back. That wasn't whatwas worryinghim. The crazy weather and the smog, the sudden departure of thesmog, rather, had resulted in a soaring upward of murders and suicides. He'd talkto Childe tomorrow, if he had time.

"You sound as if you're out on your feet, Bruin," Childe said. "Don't youwant to hear about what I've been doing on the Colben case?"

"You found out anything definite?" Bruin said. "I'm on to something. I got a hunch..." "A hunch! A hunch! For God's sake, Childe, I'm tired! See you!" The phone clicked. Childe cursed, but after a while he had to admit that Bruin's


reaction was justified. He decided to go to bed. He checked his automatic-answerdevice. There was one call. At 9:45, just before he had gotten home. MagdaHolyani hadphoned to inform him that Mr. Igescu had changed his mind and wouldgrant him aninterview. He should call back if he got in before ten. If he didn't, he was not to phone until after three the following afternoon.

Childe could not go to sleep for a long time because of wonderingwhat could have made the Baron change his mind. Could he have seen Childeoutside the walls and decided to invite him within for some sinister reason?

He awoke suddenly, sitting up, his heart racing. The phone wasringing onthe stand beside him. He knocked it over and had to climb down out of bed to getit off the floor. Sergeant Bruin's voice answered him.

The crooked hands of the clock on the stand touched the Gothic style 12 and

8. "Childe? Childe. OK! I'd feel bad about getting you up, but Ibeen up sincesix myself. Listen, Budler's car was found this morning! In the samelot Colben's car was found in, how you like that? The lab boys, what'reavailable, are going over it now."

"What time in the morning?" Childe said. "About six, why, what difference does that make? You gotsomething?"

"No. Listen, if you got time," and Childe outlined what he haddone. "I justwanted you to know that I was going there tonight in case Ididn't..."

He stopped. He suddenly felt foolish, and Bruin's chuckledeepened thefeeling.

"In case you don't report back? Haw! Haw!"

Bruin's laughter was loud. Finally, he said, "OK, Childe. I'llwatch out youcheck in. But this deal about this vampire--a baron, no shit? A reallive Transylvanian vampire-type Rumanian baron, what runs a line ofsupermarkets, right? Haw! Haw! Childe, you sure the smog ain't been eating awayyour braincells?"

"Have your fun," Childe said dignifiedly. "Have you got anyleads, by theway?"

"How the hell could we? You know we've had no time!"

"What about the wolves, then?" Childe said. "Isn't there somesort of law about having wild animals, dangerous animals, on the premises? Thesesounded as if they were running loose."

"How do you know they were wolves? Did you actually see them?"

Childe admitted that he hadn't. Bruin said that even if there were laws against keeping wolves in that area, it would be the business of theBeverlyHills Police or perhaps the county police. He wasn't sure, becausethat area was doubtful; it was on the very edge of Beverly Hills, if he rememberedright. He'dhave to look it up.

Childe did not insist on finding out. He knew that Bruin was toobusy to beinterested and even if he wasn't busy he probably thought Childe wason a false trail. Childe admitted to himself that this was most likely. But hehad nothingelse to do.

The rest of the day he spent cleaning up his apartment, doing hiswashing inthe building's basement machines, planning what he would do thatevening, speculating, and collecting some material, which he put into histrunk.

He also watched the TV news. The air was as motionless and as gray as lead. Despite this, most of the citizens seemed to think that conditionswere returning to normal. Businesses were open again, and cars werefilling thestreets. The authorities, however, had warned those who had left thearea not to return if they had some place to stay. The "unnatural" weather mightcontinue indefinitely. There was no explanation for it which could be provedor even convincingly presented. But if normal atmospheric conditions didreturn, itwould be best for those whose health was endangered by smog to stayaway, or toplan on returning only long enough to settle their affairs beforegetting out.

Childe went to the supermarket, which was operating at almostsixty percentnormalcy, to stock up. The sky was graying swiftly, and the peculiarghastlylight had now spread over the sky from the horizon. It subdued thehuman beingsunder its dome; they spoke less frequently and more quietly and eventhe blaringof horns was reduced.

The birds had not returned.

Childe called Igescu twice. The first time, a recording said thatall calls would be answered only after six. Childe wondered why the recordedcall of the evening before had said he could phone in after three. Childe calledagain a fewminutes after six. Magda Holyani's low voice answered.

Yes, Mr. Igescu would see him at eight that evening. Sharp. Andthe interview would be over at nine. Mr. Wellston would have to sign apaper whichwould require that any material to be published could be bluelined byMr. Igescu. He could not bring a camera. The chauffeur, Eric Glam, wouldmeet Mr. Wellston at the gate and would drive him up. Mr. Wellston's car wouldhave to be parked outside the wall.

Childe had hung up and taken three steps from the phone when itrang. Bruinwas calling. "Childe, the report from the lab has been in for sometime but I didn't have a chance to see it until a coupla minutes ago."

He paused. Childe said, "Well?" "It was clean, just like Colben's car. Except for one thing. Bruin paused again. Childe felt a chill run over his back and


then up his neck and over his scalp. When he heard Bruin, he had the feeling ofdeja vu, ofhaving heard the words before under exactly identical circumstances. But it was not so much deja vu as expectation.

"There were hairs on the front seat. Wolf hairs."

"You've changed your mind about the possible worthwhileness ofinvestigatingIgescu?"

Bruin grunted and said, "We can't. Not just now. But, yeah, Ithink youought to. The wolf hairs were put on the seat on purpose, obviously, since everything else was so clean. Why? Who knows? I was looking foranother film, this time about Budler, but we didn't get any in. So far."

"It could be just a coincidence," Childe said. "But in case Idon't reportin to you by ten tonight, if it's OK for me to call your house thenyou bettercall on the baron."

"Hell, I probably won't be off duty by ten and no telling whereI'll be. I could have your call relayed, but the lieutenant wouldn't like that, we're pretty tied up with official calls and this wouldn't rate as that. No, callSergeant Mustanoja, he'll be on duty, and he'll take a message forme. I'll contact him when I get time."

"Then let's make it eleven," Childe said. "Maybe I'll get hung upout there."

"Not by the balls, I hope," Bruin said, and, laughing, clickedthe phone.

Childe felt his testicles withdraw a little. He did not care much for Bruin's humor. Not while the film about Colben was still bright inhis mind.

He took three paces, and the phone rang again. Magda Holyani saidthat she was sorry, but it was necessary that the interview be put off untilnine.

Childe said that it would make little difference to him. Holyanisaid that that was nice and please make it nine sharp.

Childe called Bruin back to report the change in plans. Bruin wasgone, sohe left a note with Sergeant Mustanoja.

At 8:30 he drove out. From Beverly Boulevard, the hills appearedlike ghoststoo timorous or too weak as yet to clothe themselves with denseectoplasm.

By the time he had pulled up before the gateway to the Igescuestate, nighthad settled. A big car inside the gate was pouring out light from itsbeams upthe private road away from the gate.

A large form leaned against the gate. It turned, and theextraordinarilybroad-shouldered and lean-waisted figure of a giant was silhouettedagainst thelights. It wore a chauffeur's cap.

"I'm Mr. Wellston. I have an appointment at nine."

"Yes, sir. May I see your I.D., sir?" The voice sounded as if it were being pounded out on a big drum. Childe produced several cards, a driver's license, and a letter,


all counterfeit. The chauffeur looked them over with the aid of a pencil- thin flashlight, handed them back through the opening in the gate, andwalked off to one side. He disappeared behind the wall. The gate noiselessly swunginward. Childe walked in, and the gate swung back. Glam strode up, opened therear door for him, and then shut it after Childe was in the back seat. He gotinto the driver's seat, and Childe could see that his ears were huge and atright anglesto his head, seemingly as big as bat's wings. This, was anexaggeration, ofcourse, but they were enormous.

The drive was made in silence; the big Rolls-Royce swung back andforth effortlessly and without any noticeable motor noise. Its beamssprayed trees, firs, maples, oaks, and many thick bushes trimmed into variousshapes. The lightseemed to bring the vegetation into existence. After going perhaps ahalf a mile as the crow flies, but two miles back and forth, the car stoppedbefore another wall. This was of red brick, about nine feet high, and also had ironspikes withbarbed wire between the spikes. Glam pressed something on thedashboard, and thegate's grille ironwork swung inward.

Childe looked through the windows but could see only more roadand woods. Then, as the car came around the first bend, he saw the beamsreflected againstfour gleaming eyes. The beams turned away, the eyes disappeared, butnot before he had seen two wolfish shapes slinking off into the brush.

The car started up a steep hill and as it got near the top, itsbeams struck a Victorian cupola. The drive curved in front of the house and, asthe beams swept across the building, Childe saw that it was, as the newspaperarticle had described it, rambling. The central part was obviously older and ofadobe. The wings were of wood, painted gray, except for the red-trimmed windows, and theyextended part way down the side of the hill, so that the house seemedto be like a huge octopus squatting on a rock.

This flashed across his mind, like a frame irrelevantly insertedin a reel, and then it became just a monstrous and incongruous building.

The original building had a broad porch, and the added-onbuildings had alsobeen equipped with porches. Most of the porch was in shadows, but thecentral portion was faintly illuminated with light leaking through thinblinds. A shadow passed across a blind.

The car stopped. Glam lunged out and opened the door for Childe. Childe stood for a minute, listening. The wolves had not howled once. Hewondered what was to keep them from attacking the people in the house. Glam did notseem worried about them.

"This way, sir," Glam said and led him up the porch and to thefront door. He pressed a button, and a light over the door came on. The door wasof massive highly polished hardwood--mahogany?--carved to represent a scene from(it seemedlikely) Hieronymous Bosch. But a closer look convinced him that theartist had been Spanish. There was something indefinably Iberian about thebeings (demons, monsters, humans) undergoing various tortures or fornicating in somerather peculiar fashions with some rather peculiar organs.

Glam had left his chauffeur's cap on the front seat of the Rolls. He was dressed in a black flannel suit, and his trousers were stuffed intohis boot-tops. He unlocked the door with a large key he produced from apocket, swung the door open (it was well-oiled, no Inner-Sanctum squeaks), and bowed Childe on through. The room inside was a large (it could even becalled great) hall. Two halls, rather, because one ran along the front of the houseand halfway down it was a broad entrance to another hall which seemed torun the depth of the house. The carpets were thick and wine-colored with avery faintpattern in green. A few pieces of heavy, solid Spanish-lookingfurniture sat against the walls.

Glam asked Childe to wait while he announced him. Childe watched the giantstoop to go through the doorway to the center hall. Then he jerkedhis head to the right because he had caught a glimpse of somebody down at the farend justgoing around the corner. He was startled, because he had seen no oneat that end when he came in. Now he saw the back of a tall woman, the floor- length fullblack skirt, white flesh of the back revealed in the V of the cut, high-piledblack hair, a tall black comb.

He felt cold and, for a second, disoriented.

He had no more time to think about the woman then, because hishost came to greet him. Igescu was a tall slim man with thick, wavy, brown-blondhair, large, bright green eyes, pointed features, a large curving nose and adimple in hisright cheek. The moustache was gone. He seemed to be about sixty-fiveyears old, a vigorous athletic sixty-five. He wore a dark-blue business suit. His tie was black with a faint bluish symbol in its center. Childe could not make it out; the outlines seemed to be fluid, to change shape as Igescu changed position.


His voice was deep and pleasant, and he spoke with only a tingeof foreignpronunciation. He shook hands with Childe. His hands were large andstrong-looking and his grip was powerful. His hand was cold but notabnormallyso. He was a very amiable and easygoing host but made it clear thathe intended to allow his guest to remain only an hour. He asked Childe a fewquestions abouthis work and the magazine he represented. Childe gave him glibanswers; he wasprepared for more interrogation than he got.

Glam had disappeared somewhere. Igescu immediately took Childe ona guidedtour. This lasted about five minutes and was confined to a few rooms on the first floor. Childe could not get much idea of the layout of thehouse. Theyreturned to a large room off the central hall where Igescu askedChilde to sit down. This was also fitted with Spanish-type furniture and a grandpiano. Therewas a fireplace, above the mantel of which was a large oil painting. Childe, sipping on an excellent brandy, listened to his host but studied theportrait. The subject was a beautiful young woman dressed in Spanish costumeand holding alarge ivory-yellowish fan. She had unusually heavy eyebrows andextremely darkeyes, as if the painter had invented a paint able to concentrateblackness. There was, a faint smile about the lips--not Mona Lisa-ish, however-the smile seemed to indicate a determination to--what? Studying the lips, Childe thoughtthat there was something nasty about the smile, as if there were adeep hatredthere and a desire to get revenge. Perhaps the brandy and hissurroundings madehim think that, or perhaps the artist was the nasty and hateful oneand he had projected onto the innocent blankness of the subject his ownfeelings. Whateverthe truth, the artist had talent. He had given the painting theauthenticity ofmore than life.

He interrupted Igescu to ask him about the painting. Igescu didnot seem annoyed.

"The artist's name was Krebens," he said. "If you get close tothe painting, you'll see it in miniscule letters at the left-hand corner. I have afairly goodknowledge of art history and local history, but I have never seenanother painting by him. The painting came with the house; it is said to beof Dolores del Osorojo. I am convinced that it is, since I have seen thesubject."

He smiled. Childe felt cold again. He said, "Just after I came in, I saw awoman going around the corner down the hall. She was dressed in old- fashioned Spanish clothes. Could that be...?"

Igescu said, "Only three women live in this house. My secretary, mygreat-grandmother, and a house guest. None of them wear the clothingyoudescribe."

"The ghost seems to have been seen by quite a few people," Childesaid. "You don't seem to be upset, however."

Igescu shrugged and said, "Three of us, Holyani, Glam, and I, have seen Dolores many times, although always at a distance and fleetingly. Sheis no illusion or delusion. But she seems harmless, and I find it easier toput upwith her than with many flesh and blood people."

"I wish you had permitted me to bring a camera. This house isvery colorful, and if I could have caught her on film...or have you tried that andfound out she doesn't photograph?"

"She didn't when I first moved in," Igescu said. "But I did shoother and the developed films show her quite clearly. The furniture behind hershowed dimly, but she's much more opaque than she used to be. Given time, and enoughpeople to feed off..."

He waved his hand as if that would complete the sentence. Childewondered if Igescu were putting him on. He said, "Could I see that photo?"

"Certainly," Igescu said., "But it won't prove anything, ofcourse. There is very little that can't be faked."

He spoke into an intercom disguised as a cigar humidor in alanguage Childedid not recognize. It certainly did not sound Latin, although, unacquainted withRumanian, he had no way of identifying it. He doubted that Rumanianwould have such back-of-the-throat sounds.

He heard the click of billiard balls and turned to look down into the next room. Two youths were playing. They were both blond, of mediumheight, wellbuilt, and clothed in tight-fitting white sweaters, tight-fittingwhite jeans, and black sandals. They looked as if they could be brother andsister. Their eyebrows were high and arched and the eye sockets were deep. Theirlips werepeculiar. The upper lip was so thin it looked like the edge of abloody knife; the lower lip was so swollen that it looked as if it had been cut andinfected by the upper.

Igescu called to them. They raised their heads with such a lupineair that Childe could not help thinking of the wolves he had glimpsed on theway up. Theynodded at Childe when Igescu introduced them as Vasili Chornkin and

Mrs. Krautschner but they did not smile or say anything. They seemed eagerto getback to their game. Igescu did not explain what their status was butChilde thought that the girl must be the house guest he had mentioned.

Glam appeared suddenly and noiselessly, as if he slid spacesaround him instead of moving himself. He gave a manila envelope to Igescu. Childe glancedat Igescu as he removed the photo frame the envelope, then he lookedup. Glamhad gone as swiftly and silently as he had entered.

The photo was taken from about forty feet during the daytime. Light floodingin from the large window showed everything in detail. There wasDolores del Osorojo just about to leave the hall through a doorway. The edge ofthe doorwayand part of a chair nearby could be faintly made out through her. Shewas looking back at the camera with the same faint smile as in herpainting.

"I'll have to have it back," Igescu said.

CHAPTER 10

"As you say, a photo proves nothing," Childe said. He looked athis wristwatch. A half hour left. He opened his mouth to ask about thecar accident and the morgue incident but Magda Holyani entered.

She was a tall, slim, small-breasted woman of about thirty withbeautiful although disproportioned features and thick pale-yellow hair. Shewalked as if her bones were flexible or as if her flesh encased ten thousand delicate intricately articulated bones. The bones of her head seemed to bethin; hercheekbones were high, and her eyes were tilted. The mouth was toothin. There was something indefinably reptilian about her, or, to be more exact, snakish. This was not repulsive. After all, many snakes are beautiful.

Her eyes were so light he thought at first they were colorless, but, closer, they became a very light gray. Her skin was very white, as if sheshunned not only the sun but the day. It was, however, flawless. She had nomakeup whatever. The lips would have looked pale if she had been standing next to awoman with rouged lips, but set against her own white skin they seemed dark andbright.

She wore a tight-fitting black dress with a deep square-cutbodice and almost no back. Her stockings were black nylon, and the high-heeledshoes were black. She sat down after being introduced, revealing beautiful, butseemingly boneless, legs from the mid-thigh down. She took over theconversation from Igescu, who lit up an expensive cigar and seemed to become lost ingazing intothe smoke.

Childe tried to keep the conversation to a question-and-answerinterview, but she replied briefly and unsatisfactorily and followed with aquestion eachtime about himself or his work. He felt that he was beinginterviewed.

He was becoming desperate. This would be his only chance to findout anything, and he was not even getting a "feel" of rightness orwrongness aboutthis place and its tenants. They were a little odd, but this meantnothing, especially in Southern California.

He noticed that Glam was busying himself nearby with emptying theBaron's and Magda's ash trays, refilling the glasses, and at the same timemanaging tokeep his eyes on the woman. Once, he touched her, and she snapped herhead back and glared at him. Igescu was aware that Childe was taking this in, but he onlysmiled.

Finally, Childe ignored her to ask Igescu directly if he wouldcare to comment on the much-publicized "vampire" incident. After all, it wasthis that had brought him out here. And so far he had not learned much. Thearticle would be spare, if indeed he had enough data to make an article.

"Frankly, Mr. Wellston," Igescu said, "I permitted this interviewbecause I wanted to kill people's curiosity about this once and for all. Essentially, I ama man who likes privacy; I am wealthy but I leave the conduct of mybusiness to others and enjoy myself. You have seen my library. It is veryextensive and expensive and contains many first editions. It covers a wide varietyof subjects. I can say without bragging that I am an extremely well-readman in many languages. Ten shelves are filled with books on my hobby: precious stones. But you may also have observed several shelves filled with books onsuch subjects as witchcraft, vampirism, lycanthropy, and so on. I amsomewhat interested in these, but not, Mr. Wellston, because I take aprofessionalinterest."

He smiled over his cigar and said, "No, it is not because I am avampire, Mr. Wellston, that I have read in these subjects. I took no interestin them until after the incident that caused you to come here. I thought thatif I were to be accused of being a vampire, I had better find out just what avampire was. I knew something about them, of course, because after all, I do come from an area in which the peasants believe more in vampires and the devilthan they doin God. But my tutors never went much into folk-lore, and my contactswith the local non-nobility were not intimate.

"I decided to give you this interview so that, once and for all, this nonsense about my vampirism could be quelled. And also, to divertattention from me toward the only truly supernatural feature of this house: Doloresdel Osorojo. I have changed my mind about photographs for your article. Iwill have Magda send you a number. These will show some of the rooms in thehouse and various photos of the ghost. I will do this on the condition that youmake it clear in your article that I am a man who likes privacy and a quietlife and that the vampire talk is nonsense. After getting that out of the way, you maystress the ghost as much as you like. But you must also make it clearthat there will be no other interviews with anybody and that I do not like to bedisturbed by curiosity-seekers, spiritualists, or journalists. Agreed?"

"Certainly, Mr. Igescu. You have my word. And of course, asagreed, you willedit the article before it's published."

Childe felt a little dizzy. He wished that he had not acceptedthe brandy. It had been four years since he had drunk anything, and he would nothave broken his rule now, except that Igescu had praised the brandy as being sorare that he had been tempted to try it. And he had also not wanted to offend hishost in anyway if he could help it. He had, however, not had more than onetumbler. The stuff was either very potent or he was vulnerable after the long dryperiod.

Igescu turned his head to look at the tall dark grandfatherclock. "Your time is about up, Mr. Wellston."

Childe wondered why the baron was so concerned with time, when, by his ownadmission, he seldom went any place or did anything particularlypressing. Buthe did not ask. The baron would have regarded such a question as tooimpertinentto answer with anything but cold silence.

Igescu stood up. Childe rose also. Magda Holyani finished herdrink and gotup from the chair. Glam appeared in the doorway, but Igescu said, "Miss Holyaniwill drive Mr. Wellston to the gate, Glam. I need you for anotherduty."

Glam opened his mouth as if he meant to object but shut itimmediately. Hesaid, "Very well, sir," and wheeled around and walked away.

Igescu said, "If you'd like some more material for your article, Mr. Wellston, you might look up Michel Le Garrault in the UCLA library. I have copies of two of his works, first editions, by the way. The oldBelgian had somevery interesting and original theories about vampires, werewolves, and other so-called supernatural phenomena. His theory of psychic imprinting isfascinating. Have you read him? Can you read French?"

"Never heard of him," Childe said, wondering if he would havefallen into a trap if he had professed familiarity. "I do read French."

"There are many so-called authorities on the occult andsupernatural whohave not heard of Le Garrault or had no chance to read him. I recommend that yougo to the rare book section of the UCLA library and ask for Les Mursecroules. Translations of the original Latin were made in French and, curiously, inBohemian, and these are very rare indeed. There are, as far as Iknow, only tenLatin copies in the world. The Vatican has one; a Swedish monasteryhas two; I, of course, have one; the Kaiser of Germany had one but it was lostor, probably, stolen after he died at Doorn; and the other five are in statelibraries at Moscow, Paris, Washington, London, and Edinburgh."

"I'll look him up," Childe said. "Thanks very much for theinformation."

He turned to follow Igescu out and saw the woman in Spanishdress, high combstuck in her black hair, just stepping into a doorway at the end ofthe hall. She turned her head and smiled and then was gone.

Igescu said, calmly, "Did you see her, too?" "Yes, I did. But I couldn't see through her," Childe said. "I did," Magda Holyani said. Her voice shook a little. Childe


looked at her. She seemed to be angry, not frightened.


"As I said, she has been getting more and more opaque," Igescusaid. "The solidifying is so subtle, that it's only noticeable if you comparewhat she was six months ago with what she now is. The process has been very slowbut steady. When I first moved in here, she was almost invisible."

Childe shook his head. Was he really discussing a ghost as if itexisted? And why was Magda so upset? She had stopped and was staring at thedoorway as ifshe were resisting the impulse to chase after the thing.

"Many people, more people than care to admit, have seen ghostlyphenomena--something weird and unexplainable, anyway--but neither thephenomenondoesn't repeat itself or else the people visited ignore it and itgoes away. ButDolores, ah, there is another story! Dolores is ignored by me, exceptfor an occasional picture-taking. Magda used to ignore her but now she seemsto be getting on her nerves. Dolores is gaining substance from somewhere, perhaps fromsomeone in this house."

Certainly, the story of Dolores was gaining substance. If a photo of her was no evidence that she existed, neither was the fact that he had seenher. For some reason, Igescu might have planned this whole thing, and if he, Childe, wereto run after Dolores and try to seize her, what would his hands closeon? He had a feeling that he would grip solid flesh and that the young womanwould turn out to have come into existence about twenty years ago, not one hundredand fifty.

At the door, he shook hands with Igescu, thanked him, andpromised to sendhim a carbon of the article for editing. He followed Magda to the carand turned once before getting in to look back. Igescu was gone, but a blind hadbeen half-raised and Glam's bulldog face and batwing ears were plainlyvisible.

He got into the front seat with Magda at her invitation. Shesaid, "My jobpays very well, you know. It has to. It's the only thing that wouldmake it endurable. I almost never get a chance to go to town and the onlyones I can talk to, ever, are my boss and a few servants and occasionally aguest."

"Is it hard work?" Childe asked, wondering why she was tellinghim this. Perhaps she had to unburden herself to someone.

"No. I take care of his few social obligations, makeappointments, act asmiddle man between him and his business managers, do some typing onthe book he's writing on jewels, and spend more time than I care to stayingaway fromthat monster, Glam."

"He did nothing definite, but I got the idea that he's quiteattached to you," Childe said.

The beams swept across trees as the car went around a corner. Themoon was up now, and he could see more distinctly. He could be wrong, but itseemed to him that they were not on the same road he had traveled on the wayup.

"I'm taking the longer, no less scenic, route," she said, as ifshe had read his mind. "I hope you don't mind. I feel that I just have to talk tosomebody. You don't have to listen to me, of course, there's no reason why youshould."

"Pour it on me," he said. "I like to hear your voice."

They passed through the gateway of the inner wall. She droveslowly, infirst gear, as she talked, and once she put her hand on his leg. Hedid not move. She took her hand off after a minute when she had to stop thecar. Theyhad driven off the road onto a narrow stone-covered path which ledthrough abreak in the trees to a clearing. A small summerhouse, a round woodenstructure on a high round cement base, stood there. Its open sides were partially coveredwith vines, so that its interior was dark. A flight of cement stepsled up tothe wide entrance.

"I get very lonely," she said, "although the baron is charmingand does talk a lot. But he's not interested in me in the way some employers are intheir female employees."

He did not have to ask her what she meant by that. She had puther hand on his leg again, seemingly as accidentally or unselfconsciously asbefore. He said, "Are there wolves out here, too? Or are they all inside theinner wall?"

She was leaning closer now, and her perfume was so strong that itseemed to soak into his pores. He felt his penis swelling and he took her handand moved it so that it was on his penis. She did not try to take her handaway.

He reached over and ran a finger down along the curve of the leftbreast and down the cleavage into the breast. His hand went on down and slidbetween the cloth and breast and rubbed over the nipple. The nipple swelled, andshe shuddered. He kissed her with many slidings of his tongue along hersand over her teeth. She fumbled along his zipper, found it, pulled it slowlydown, andthen probed through the opening of his jockey shorts. He unbuttonedthe front of her dress and quickly verified what he had suspected. She worenothing beneaththe dress except for a narrow garter belt. The breasts were small butshapely. He bent over and took a nipple in his mouth and began sucking. Shewas breathingas hard as he.

"Let's go in the summerhouse," she said softly. "There's a couchin there."

"All right," he said. "But before we go any further, you shouldknow I'm unprepared. I don't have any rubbers."

He would not have been surprised if she said that she had some inher handbag. It wouldn't have been the first time that this had happenedto him.

But she said, "Never mind. I won't get pregnant."

Shakily, he followed her out of the car, sliding past the wheel. She turned and slid the dress off her shoulders. The moonlight gleamed on thewhitest flesh possible, on dark wet nipples, and dark triangle of pubic hairs underthe garterbelt. She kicked her shoes off and, clad only in belt and stockings, swayedtowards the summerhouse.

He followed her, but he was not so excited that he did not wonderabout cameras and sound devices in the summerhouse. He knew that he was good-looking, but he was not, after all, a god who swept all women before him on a tide of desire. If Magda Holyani seduced him on such short acquaintance, she either was very hard-up or had a motive that he might not like if he knew. Or, possibly, both. She did not seem to be faking her passion.


If, for some reason, she thought she could lead him so far, turnhim on and then turn him off, she was going to be surprised. He had suffered agood part ofyesterday with a painful ball-ache because of his unfinished lovemaking withSybil, and he did not intend to suffer again.

Inside the house, he looked around. There could be no camerashidden here. If there were any, they'd have to be attached to the trees on theedge of theclearing, and he could not see how they would be able to film much, even if theywere equipped with black-light devices. The vines and their supportswould bar anything except patches of skin and an occasional glimpse of a heador limb. Besides, what did he have to lose? Blackmail could not be the objectof such a game.

Magda yanked off the blanket acting as a dust cover for the sofa. She turned then, the moonlight falling through the vines dappling her pale skin. Childe took her in his arms and kissed her again, ran his hands down herback--she had the muscle tone of a young puma--the inward fall of the waist and theoutward fall of the hips. The garter belt annoyed him, so he sank to hisknees and unfastened the stockings and pulled them down and then pulled down onthe garterbelt. She kicked them to one side and put her hands on the back ofhis head and pulled him towards her cunt. He allowed her to press his face againstthe hairs, and he ran his tongue out and inserted it just below the opening ofthe lips andtickled the clitoris with its tip. She moaned and clutched himtighter.

But he stood up, sliding his tongue up from her cunt and alongher belly andup to her nipple, which he began to suck again. He stepped backwardsuntil she fell on the sofa, her legs sticking out, her heels resting on thefloor. Then he got down on his knees again and licked her clitoris once more andthen slid down and thrust his tongue again and again into her vagina. She began totwist her hips a little, but he reached up and pressed down on her belly toindicate that she should hold still.

Her cunt tasted as sweet as Sybil's and the hairs seemed to besofter. He put one finger inside her cunt and another finger of the same hand upher anus and then, working the hand slowly in and out, rubbed his tongue back and forth over her clitoris and then later tongue-fucked her while his fingersincreased the speed of their in-and-outs into her cunt and anus.

She came with a scream and a sudden tightening of thighs abouthis head. The grip was so strong that he could not move his fingers.

He could stand it no longer. He had had no emissions for twoweeks because of involvement in a case which he had wound up just before Colbendisappeared. He had been busy night and day and when he managed to snatch somesleep even hisunconscious had been too tired to whip up a sexual dream. Then thefrustration with Sybil had made him hypersensitive. In a minute, he was going tocome, whether he was in Magda or the air.

"I can't wait," he said. "It's been too long."

He started to get down beside her and to help her scoot up on thesofa so she could lie full length. But she said, "You're ready to come?"

"It's been too long. I'm full to bursting," he groaned.

She pushed him down and ran her tongue along his belly and wethis pubichairs with her saliva and tongue and then closed her lips upon thehead of his cock. She slid it back and forth in her lips twice, and with a screamthat matched hers of a moment ago, he burst in her mouth.

He lay there, feeling as if a tide inside him were withdrawing tosome far-off horizon. He did not say anything; he expected her to get upand spit outthe stuff, as Sybil always did. Sybil also always immediately brushedher teeth and gargled with Listerine. Not that he blamed her, certainly. Hecould understand that, once the excitement was gone, the thick ropy stuffcould become disgusting. He knew how it tasted. When he had been fourteen, he andhis fifteen year old brother had gone through a period of about six months whenthey hadsucked each other off. And then, by mutual and silent consent, theyhad quit andthat had been the last of his homosexual experiences and, as far-ashe knew, ofhis brother's. Certainly, his brother, who was such a cocksman thathe must be a compulsive, hated fairies, and once, many years later, when Childehad referred to their experimentations, his brother had not known what he wastalking about. He was either too ashamed of it now to admit it or else had actuallyburied it so deep that he did not remember.

But Magda did not leave him. She audibly swallowed several timesand then renewed her sucking. He sat up and bent over so he could cup herbreasts in his hands while she was mouthing his glands. And then, just as his peniswas at almost full erection, he thought of Colben and the iron teeth. This woman could

be the actress in that movie. She looked up at him suddenly and said, "What's wrong?" "Listen," he said, "and don't get mad. Or laugh. But do you have

false

teeth?" She sat up and said, "What?" Her voice was thick with fluid. "Do you have false teeth?" "Why do you want to know?" Then she laughed and said, "You want

me to take

them out?" "If you have false teeth." "Do I look that old?" "I've known several nineteen-year-olds who had false choppers,"

he said. "Kiss me and I'll tell you," she said. "Certainly." He held her tightly while he probed her mouth with his tongue. He

sniffed in the wild-beast odor of his own semen and tasted the thick-oil gluey- seemingproduct of his own body. Far from being unpleasant, it excited him. She had her hand on his cock, and, feeling it swell, immediately withdrew fromhis arms and went down on him again. Evidently, she did not intend for him to findout if she did have false teeth or perhaps she thought that his tongue wouldhave determined that.

Whatever her reasons, she would not tell him, unless he were touse force, he was sure of that. He leaned back and let her work on him. And after a while he rolled her over and she opened her legs and took his penis gentlyin her fingers and guided him in. He had no sooner sunk in to the hairs thanshe squeezed down on his cock with her muscles and continued to squeezeas if she had a hand inside her cunt. And then, once again, thinking of thefilm, hebecame soft. He remembered that bulge behind the G-string of thewoman in the film.

"For God's sake," she said. "What's the matter now?"

"I thought I saw somebody in the shadows," he said, the onlyexcuse he could grasp at the moment. "Glam?"

"It had better not be," she said. "I'll kill him if it is. Sowill the baron."

She stood up on the sofa and called, "Glam? Glam? If you'rethere, youasshole, you better start running and fast. Otherwise, it's the otherend of the wolf for you."

There was no answer. Childe said, "The other end of the wolf? What do youmean?"

"I'll tell you later," she said. "He's not out there; if he is, he isn't going to bother us. Come on, please. I'm ready to explode."

Instead of reaching for him, she got down off the sofa and crossed the summerhouse to a small cabinet on a stand in the shadows. She came back with a bottle with a squat body and a long narrow neck with a wide mouth. Itwas half-full. She drank some, swished some in her mouth, and still, holding it, pressed her lips against his and squirted the liquid into his mouth. It was hot and thick and slightly tart. He swallowed some and immediately felthis anxieties draining off.

"What the hell is that?"

"It's a liqueur made in Igescu's native province," she said. "It's supposedto have an aphrodisiac effect. I understand that there isn't any trueaphrodisiac, but this stuff does one thing. It burns away theinhibitions. Not that I thought I'd ever have to use it on you."

"I won't need any more of it," he said. His penis was rising asif it were a balloon being filled for a transatlantic voyage. A beam of moonlightfell on it, and Magda, seeing it, squealed with delight.

"Oh, you beauty! You great big beauty!"

She lay down and raised her legs and he entered again and then, for a longlong time, said nothing. It was a peculiarity of his that if he wereblown at the beginning, he took a long time coming the second time. Magdaseemed to have an almost unbroken series of orgasms during this time and when hefinally cameshe clawed his back until the blood ran off. He did not mind at the time, butlater he cursed her. It was a theory of his that women who clawedyour back whenthey came were actually attempting to prove how passionate they were, but he was willing to admit that he could be wrong.

They lay there for some time by each other, not saying a word. They weresheathed in sweat and would have been grateful for a breeze. But theair was as still as before.

Finally, he said, "There's no use your playing with it. Not forsome time. I'm shot out. I could stay and be all right within an hour, but Ihave to gopretty soon."

He was thinking that he was supposed to have called Mustanoja bynow.

"I'm not unsatisfied, baby," she said, "but I could be whipped upinto enthusiasm again and I'd like to be. You don't know how long it'sbeen for me!"

She reached for the bottle, which was on the floor by the sofa. "Let's have another drink and see what happens." He watched her to make sure that she drank again out of the


bottle before he drank. He took a small swallow and then said, "What's this about Glamand the other end of the wolf?"

She laughed and said, "That big ugly dumbshit! He wants me, but I can't stand him, and he'd probably try to rape me, he's such a moron, buthe knows that if I didn't kill him, Igescu would! You must know about thewolves, sinceyou mentioned them. I was walking in the woods one evening when Iheard one of the wolves howling and snarling. It sounded as if it were in pain, or, at least, in trouble of some kind. I went up a hill and looked down in ahollow, and therewas the female wolf, her head in four nooses, and the ends of thenooses tied to trees. She couldn't go back or forward, and there was Glam, all hisclothes off except for his socks and shoes, holding the wolf by the tail andfucking her. Ithink he must have been hurting her, I don't know how big a femalewolf's cunt is, but I don't think they're built to take an enormous cock likeGlam's. I really think she was hurting. But Glam, that animal Glam, was fuckingher."

Childe was silent for a moment and then he said, "What about themale wolf? Wasn't Glam afraid of the male wolf?"

She laughed and said, "Oh, that's another story," and she laughedfor a longtime.

When she stopped, she raised the bottle and poured liquid on hernipples andthen on her pubic hairs.

"Lick it off, baby, and then we'll make love again."

"It won't do any good," Childe said. But he rolled over andsucked on her nipples for a while and finger-fucked her until she came again andagain andthen he kissed her belly, traveling downward until his mouth wasagainst thetight hairs of her cunt. He tongued off the liqueur and then jabbedhis tongueas far as he could until his jaws and tongue hurt. When he stopped, he was rolled over by her strong hands and she gently nibbled at his penisuntil it rose like a trout to a fly. He mounted her from behind, and she toldhim to be quiet, he did not have to wear himself out. She contracted themuscles of her vagina as if it were a hand and this time he kept his erection. Heseemed to be getting a little dizzy and a little fuzzy. He knew that he had made amistake drinking that liquid; it couldn't be poison, because she wouldn'thave drunk it also. But he wondered if it had a property of becoming narcotic if itwere on epidermis. Could its interaction with the skin of her nipples andcunt have produced something dangerous only to him?

Then the thought and the alarm were gone.

He remembered vaguely an orgasm that seemed to go on forever, like the thousand-year orgasm promised the faithful of Islam in heaven when they areenfolded by a houri. There were blanks thereafter. He could remember, as if he were seeing himself in a fog, getting his car and driving off whilethe road wiggled like a snake and the trees bent over and made passes at himwith their branches. Some of the trees seemed to have big knotty eyes and mouthslike barkycunts. The eyes became nipples; sap oozed out of them. A tree gavehim the finger with the end of a branch.

"Up yours, too," he remembered yelling, and then he was on abroad road with many lights around him and horns blaring and then there was the sametree againand this time it beckoned at him and as he got closer he could seethat its mouth was a barky cunt and that it was promising him something he hadnever had before.

And so it was. Death.

CHAPTER 11

He awoke in the emergency room of the Doctors Hospital in BeverlyHills. His only complaint was sluggishness. He was unconscious when he had beenpulled outof the car by a good Samaritan. The Beverly Hills officer told himthat his car had run into a tree off the side of the road, but the collision wasso lightthat the only damage was a slightly bent-in bumper and a brokenheadlamp.

The officer evidently suspected first, drunkenness, and second, drugs. Childe told him that he had been forced off the road and had been knocked out when the car hit the tree. That he had no visible injury on his headmeant nothing.

Fortunately, there were no witnesses to the crash. The man whohad pulledhim from the car had come around the curve just in time to see theimpact. Another car was going the opposite direction; it was not drivingeratically, asChilde had reported, but this meant nothing because the car couldhave straightened out. Childe gave Bruin and several others as references. Fifteen minutes later, he was discharged, although the doctors warned himthat he should take it easy even if there was no evidence of concussion.

His car was still on the roadside. The police had not had ittowed in because the trucks were too busy, but the officer had removed the keyfrom the ignition. Unfortunately, the officer had also forgotten to give itback to

Childe, and Childe then had to walk to the Beverly Hills PoliceDepartment toretrieve it. The officer was on duty. A radio call resulted in theinformation that he was tied up and would not be able to drop by the departmentfor at least an hour. Childe made sure that the key would be given to the officerin chargeof the desk, and he walked home through the night. He cursed himselffor havingburied the extra key under the bush outside Igescu's.

He had tried to get a taxi to take him home, but these were toobusy. Itseemed that everybody thought that the smog was over for good and wascelebrating. Or perhaps everybody wanted to have some fun before theair became too poisoned again.

There were three parties going on in his building. He put earplugs in assoon as he had showered, and he went to bed. The plugs kept most ofthe noise out but did not bar his thoughts.

He had been drugged and sent out with the hope that he would killhimself in a car accident. Why the drug had affected him and not Magda was aninterestingquestion but one that did not have to be considered at this time. Shecould have taken an antidote or relied on someone else to take care of her after Childe was gone. Or it was possible--he remembered what he had thought duringthe time--that the liquid contained something which did not become a drugunless it contacted human epidermis?

He sat up in bed then. Sergeant Mustanojal He should have beenworryingabout Childe's failure to call in. What had he done--if anything?

He phoned the LAPD and got Mustanoja. Yeah, he had the note butBruin didn't seem to think it was important and, anyway, what with being so busy- what a night!--he had forgotten it. That is, until this Beverly Hillsofficer called in about him and then Mustanoja had found out what happened and knew hewas not at Igescu's so what was there to worry about, huh? How was Childe?

Childe said he was home and OK. He hung up with some anger atBruin for making light of his concern. However, he had to admit that there wasno reason for Bruin to do otherwise. He would change his opinion after he foundout what had happened last night. Perhaps, Bruin could arrange with theBeverly HillsPolice Department...No, that wasn't going to work. The BHPD had farmore immediate duties than investigating what was, objectively speaking, avery hazylead. And there were certain things, important things, about theevents that Childe was not going to tell them. He could skip the summerhouseactivities and just say that he had been drugged with the brandy in the drawing room, but theofficers were shrewd, they had heard so many false tales and part- true tales, somany omissions and hesitations, that they picked up untruths anddistortions as easily as radar distinguished an eagle from an airliner.

Besides, he had the feeling that Magda would not hesitate toclaim that Childe had raped her and forced "perversions" upon her.

He had gotten into bed again but now he climbed out swiftly oncemore. He felt ashamed and sick. That drug had overcome his normalfastidiousness and caution. He would never have gone down on a woman he just met. Healwaysreserved this act--even if he were strongly tempted to do so--forwomen whom he knew well, liked or loved, and was reasonably sure were free ofsyphilis orgonorrhea.

Although he had brushed his teeth, he went into the bathroom andbrushed again and then gargled deeply ten times with a burning mouthwash. From the kitchen cabinet he took a bottle of bourbon, which he kept forguests, and drankit straight. It was a dumb act, because he doubted that the alcoholwould kill any germs he had swallowed so many hours ago, but it, like manypurely ritualacts, made him feel better and cleaner.

He started for bed again and then stopped. He had been so upsetthat he had forgotten to check in with the exchange or turn on the recorder. Hetried the exchange and hung up after the phone rang thirty times. Apparently, the exchangewas not yet operating again or had lost its third-shift operator. Therecorder yielded one call. It was from Sybil, at nine o'clock. She asked himto pleasecall her as soon as he came in, no matter what time it was.

It was now three-ten in the morning.

Her phone rang uninterruptedly. The ring seemed to him like thetolling of afaraway bell. He envisioned her lying on the bed, one hand droopingover the edge of the bed, her mouth open, the eyes opened and glazed. On thelittle table by the bed was an empty bottle of phenobarbital.

If she had tried to kill herself again, she would be dead by now. That is, if she had taken the same amount as the last time.

He had sworn that if she tried again, she would have to gothrough with it, at least as far as he was concerned.

Nevertheless, he dressed and was out on the street and walkingwithin a minute. He arrived at her apartment panting, his eyes burning, hislungs doublyburned from exertion and smog. The poison was accumulating swiftly, so swiftlythat by tomorrow evening it would be as thick as before--unless thewinds came.

Her apartment was silent. His heart was beating and his stomachclenching ashe entered her bedroom and switched on the light. Her bed was notonly empty, ithad not been slept in. And her suitcases were gone.

He went over the apartment carefully but could find nothing toindicate "foul play." Either she had gone on a trip or someone had taken thesuitcases so that that impression would be given.

If she had wanted him to know that she was leaving, why hadn'tshe left the message?

Perhaps her call and her sudden departure were unrelated.

There was the possibility that they were directly related butthat she had told him only enough to get him over here so that he would worryabout her. She could be angry enough to want to punish him. She had been mean enoughto do similar things. But she had always quickly relented and tearfully andshamefullycalled him.

He sat down in an easy chair, then got up again and went into thekitchen and opened the secret compartment in the wall of the cabinet rear, second shelf up. The little round candy cup and its contents of white-paperwrapped marijuanasticks--fifteen in all--were still there.

If she had left willingly, she would have disposed of this first. Unless she were very upset. He had not found her address book in any of the drawers when he


had searched, but he looked again to make sure. The book was not there, and he doubted that any of the friends she had when they were married wouldknow her whereabouts. She had been dropped by them or she had dropped themafter the divorce. There was one, a life-long friend, whom she still wrote tonow and then, but she had moved from California over a year ago.

Perhaps her mother was ill, and Sybil had left in a hurry. Butshe wouldn't be in such a hurry that she wouldn't have left the message with therecorder.

He did not remember her mother's number but he knew her address. He got theinformation from the operator and put a call through to the SanFrancisco address. The phone rang for a long time. Finally, he hung up and thenthought ofwhat he should have immediately checked. He was deeply upset to haveoverlooked that.

He went into the basement garage. Her car was still there.

By then he was considering the fantastic--or was it fantastic?-possibilitythat Igescu had taken her.

Why would Igescu do this?

If Igescu was responsible for Colben's death and Budler'sdisappearance, then he might have designs on the detective investigating the case.

Childe had pretended to be Wellston, the magazine reporter, but he had beenforced to givehis own phone number. And Igescu may have checked out the so-calledWellston. Certainly, Igescu had the money to do this.

What if Igescu knew that Wellston was really Childe? And, havingfound out that Childe had not gotten into the serious car accident he had hopedfor, hehad taken Sybil away. Perhaps Igescu planned to let Childe know thathe had better drop the investigation...no, it would be more probable thatIgescu wantedto force him to break into the estate, to trespass. For reasons ofhis own, of course.

Childe shook his head. If Igescu were guilty, if he, say, hadbeen guilty ofother crimes, why was he suddenly letting the police know that thesecrimes had been committed?

This question was not one to be answered immediately. The onlything as ofthis moment was whether or not Sybil had gone voluntarily and, if shehad not, with whom had she gone?

He had not checked the airports. He sat down and began dialing. The phonesof every airline were busy, but he hung on until he got through toeach and then went through more exasperating waits while the passenger lists werechecked. At the end of two hours, he knew that she had not taken a plane out. Shemight haveintended to, but the airlines had been overburdened ever since thesmog hadbecome serious. The waiting lists were staggeringly long, and thefacilities at the ports, the restaurants and toilets, had long queues. Parkingfacilities no longer existed for newcomers. Too many people had simply left theircars and taken off with no intention of returning immediately. The authoritieshad imposed an emergency time limitation, but the process of towing awaycars to make room for others was tedious, involved, and slow. The trafficjam-up aroundInternational Airport demanded more police officers than wereavailable.

He ate some cereal and milk and then, though it hurt him to thinkof all the money wasted, he flushed the marijuana down the toilet. If shecontinued to be missing and he had to notify the police, her apartment would besearched. On the other hand, if she were to return soon and find her supply gone, shewould be in a rage. But surely she would understand why he had had to get rid ofthe stuff.

Dawn had arrived by then. The sun was a twisted pale-yellow thingin a white sky. Visibility was limited to a hundred feet. The eye-burning and the nostril-scorching and the lung-searing were back.


He decided to call Bruin and to tell him about Sybil. Bruinwould, ofcourse, think that he was being unduly concerned and would think, even if he didn't say so, that she had simply left for an extended shacking-upwith some man. Or, possibly, Bruin being the cynic he was, she was shacking upwith some woman.

Bruin called him as he stood before the phone.

"We got a package in the late mail yesterday afternoon but itwasn't openeduntil a little while ago. You better get down here, Childe. Can youmake it in half an hour?"

"What's it about? Budler?" And then, "Never mind. But how did youknow I was here?"

"I tried your place and you didn't answer, so I thought I'd tryyourex-wife's. I knew you was still friendly with her."

"Yeah," Childe said, realizing that it was too early to reporther missing. "I'll be down in time. See you. Unh-unh! Maybe I can't! I have to getmy carfirst and that may take some time."

He told Bruin what had happened but censored the summerhouseactivities. Bruin was silent for a long time and then said, "You realize, Childe, that we're all doing a juggling act now, keeping three balls or more in the airat the same time? I'd investigate Igescu even if you don't have anythingprovable, becausethey sure sound like a fishy lot, but I doubt we could get into thatplacewithout a court order and we don't have any evidence to get an order. You know that. So it's up to you. Those wolf hairs in Budler's car and nowthis film--well, I ain't going to tell you about it, you got to see it tobelieve it--but if you can't get down here on time...listen, I could have asquad carpick you up. I would if this was ordinary times, but there's noneavailable. Tell you what, if I'm out, you can get the film run off again, I'llleave word it's OK. Anyway, it might be shown again for the Commissioner. He'sup to hisass in work, but he's taking a special interest in this case, and nowonder."

Childe drank some orange juice, shaved (Sybil kept a man's razorand shavingcream for him and--he suspected--for other men) and then walked tothe BeverlyHills Police Department. He got his key from the desk sergeant andasked if it were possible to get a ride with a squad car out to his car. He wastold it was not. He tried to get a taxi, could not, and decided to hitchhike out. After fifteen minutes, he gave up. There were not many autos on SantaMonica Boulevard and Rexford, and the few that did go by ignored him. He did not blamethem. Picking up hitchhikers at any time was potentially dangerous, but inthis eerywhite-lighted smog anybody would have looked sinister. Moreover, theradio, TV, and newspapers were advising caution because of the number of crimesin the streets.

His eyes teary and the interior of his nostrils and throatfeeling as if hewere sniffing in fumes from boiling metal, he stood upon the corner. He could see the house across the street and make out the city hall and thepubliclibrary across the street from it as dim bulks, motionless icebergsin a fog. Far down, or seemingly far down, Rexford Avenue, a pair of headlightsappearedand then swung out of sight.

Presently a black-and-white squad car passed him. When it wasalmost out of sight up Rexford, it stopped and then backed up until it was by him. The officer on the right, without getting out of the car, asked him what he wasdoing there. Childe told him. Fortunately, the officer had heard about him. Heinvited Childe to get in and ride with them. They had no definite goal at thatmoment; theywere cruising around the area (the wealthy residential district, ofcourse) butthere was nothing to stop them from going that far out. Childe had tounderstand that if they got a call, they might have to dump him out on the spot, and he would be stranded again. Childe said that he would take a chance.

It took fifteen minutes to get to his car. Only an emergencywould have forced them to speed through this thick milky stuff. He thanked themand then started the car without any trouble, backed up, and swung towardtown. Fortyminutes later, he was parked in the LAPD visitors lot.

CHAPTER 12

Budler was in the same room in which Colben had been killed. The first scenes had shown Budler being conditioned, going through fear andimpotence atfirst and then confidence and active eager participation. In thebeginning, hehad been strapped to the same table but later the table was gone anda bed took its place.

Budler was a little man with narrow shoulders and skinny hips andlegs, buthe had a tremendous penis. He was pale-skinned and had light blue eyes andstraw-colored hair. His pubic hairs were a light-brown. His penis, however, wasdark, as if blood always filled it. He had an unusual capacity forsustainingerections after orgasms and an unusual supply of seminal fluid.

(Both victims had been men with hyper sex drives, or, at least, men whose lives seemed to be dominated by sex. Both were promiscuous, both hadmade a number of girls pregnant, been arrested or suspected of statutoryrape, and wereknown as loudmouths about their conquests. Both were what his wifedescribed as "creeps." There was something nasty about them. Childe thought thatthe victims had possibly been selected with poetic justice in mind.)

The woman with the garish makeup, and thecreature?--machine?--organ?--concealed behind her G-string, was anactor; shespecialized in sucking cock and she took out her teeth several timesbut she did not use the iron teeth. Every time he saw her remove the false teeth, Childe tensed and felt sick but he was spared the mutilation.

There were other actors, also. One was an enormously fat womanwith beautiful white skin. Her face never appeared. There was anotherwoman, whosefigure was superb, whose face was always hidden, usually by a mask. Both of these used their mouths and cunts, and once Budler buggered the fatwoman.

There were also two men, their faces masked. Childe studied theirbodies carefully, but he could not say that either was Igescu or Glam or theyouth whohad been playing billiards. One of the men had a build similar toIgescu's andanother was a very big and muscular man. But he could not identifythem as anyone he had seen at Igescu's.

Budler must have had a latent homosexual tendency which wasdeveloped, possibly under the influence of drugs, during the conditioning. Oneof the men blew him several times, and twice Budler buggered the big man. Thethird man appeared in one scene only, and this time it was in what Childethought would bethe grand finale. He braced himself for something terrible to happento Budler, but aside from being exhausted, Budler seemed to suffer no illeffects. Budler and the three men and three women formed many configurations with, usually, Budler as the focus of the group.

The Commissioner, sitting by Childe, said at this point, "This isquite anorganization. Besides the six there, there must be two, at least, handling thecameras."

The last scene (Childe knew it was the last because theCommissioner told him just as it flashed on) showed Budler screwing one of the well- built women dog-fashion. The cameras came in at every angle except that whichwould show the woman's face. There were a number of shots which must have been taken through along flexible optical fiber device, because there were close-ups of aseeminglygargantuan penis driving in under a cavernous anus into anelephantine slit. Thelubricating fluid flowed like spillage over a too-full dam.

And then the camera seemed to inch forward along the penis, nowquiescent, and into the slit. Light blazed up, and the viewers seemed to besurrounded bythousands of tons of flesh. They were looking down at the penis, awhale that had crashed into an underseas cave. Then they were looking up at theceiling ofwet pale red flesh.

Suddenly, the light went out and they were back again, looking atBudler and the woman from the side. The two were on the bed, she face-down andher arms to one side and her buttocks raised by a pillow under her stomach. Hewas straddling her, one knee between the legs, and rocking back andforth.

Suddenly, so suddenly that Childe gasped and thought his heartwould stop, the woman became a female wolf. Budler was still astride her and pumping slowlyaway when the transformation took place. (A trick of photography, ofcourse. A trick involving drugs, surely, because Budler acted as if the womanhad metamorphosed.) He stopped, raised his hands, and then sat up, hispeniswithdrawing and beginning to droop. He looked shocked.

Snarling, the wolf turned and slashed.

It happened so quickly that Childe did not understand immediatelythat the powerful jaws had taken the penis off close to the root.

Blood spurted out of the stump and over the wolf and the bed.

Screaming, Budler fell backward. The wolf bolted the organ downand then began biting at the man's testicles. Budler quit screaming. His skinturned blue-gray, and the camera left the wounds where the genitals had beenand traveled up to show his dying face.

There was the tinny piano music again, Dvorak's Humoresque. TheDracula burst through the curtains with the same dramatic gesture of the capethrown aside to reveal his face. The camera traveled down then and verified what Childe thought he had seen when the man entered but had riot been certainabout. The Dracula's penis, a very long and thin organ, was sticking out of thefly. TheDracula cackled and bounded forward and leaped upon the bed andgrabbed the wolfby the hairs of its flanks and sank his penis into it from behind.

The wolf yowled, its mouth open, a piece of testicle falling out. Then, asthe Dracula rammed it, driving her forward and inching along on hisknees, thewolf began tearing at the flesh between the legs of Budler.

Fadeout. TO BE CONTINUED: in blazing white letters across thescreen. End of film.

Childe became sick again. Afterward, he talked with theCommissioner, whowas also pale and shaking. But he was not shaky in his refusal totake anyaction about Igescu. He explained (which Childe knew) that theevidence was too slight, in fact, it was nonexistent. The "vampire" angle, the wolveson the estate, the (supposed) drugging of him by Igescu's secretary, thewolf hairs found in Budler's car, the wolf in the film, all these certainlywould make investigation of Igescu legitimate. But Igescu was a very rich andpowerful manwith no known criminal records or any suspicions by the authoritiesof criminal connections. If the police were to do anything, and he did not seehow theycould, the Beverly Hills Police would have to handle theinvestigation.

The essence of his remarks was what Childe had expected. He wouldhave to get more conclusive evidence, and he would have to do it without anyhelp fromthe police.

Childe drove back through a darkening air. The weird white lightwas slowlyturning green-gray. He stopped at a service station to fill his tankand also to replace the broken headlamp. The attendant, after stamping the formfor his credit card, said, "You may be my last customer. I'm taking off justas soon as I get the paperwork out of the way. Getting out of town, friend. Thisplace hashad it!"

"I may follow you," Childe said. "But I got some unfinishedbusiness to attend to first."

"Yeah? This town's gonna be a ghost town; it's already on theway."

Childe drove into Beverly Hills to shop. He had a difficult timefinding aparking space. If it was going to be a ghost town, it did not seemthat it would be so soon. Perhaps most of the people were getting supplies for thesecond exodus or were stocking up before the stores were again closed. Whatever the reason, it was two and a half hours before he got all he wanted, andit took a half-hour to drive the mile and a half to his apartment. The streetswere againjammed with cars. Which, of course, only speeded up the poisoning ofair.

Childe had intended to drive out to Igescu's at once, but he knew that he might as well wait until the traffic thinned out. He spent an hourreviewingwhat he meant to do and then tried to call Sybil, but the lines werebusy again. He walked to her apartment. He was goggled and snouted with a gasmask he had purchased at a store which had just gotten a shipment in. So manyothers were similarly masked, the street looked like a scene on Mars.

Sybil was not home. Her car was still in the garage. The note hehad left in her apartment was in the exact position in which he had placed it. Hetried to get a long-distance call to her mother put through but had enoughtrouble getting the operator, who told him he would have to wait for a longtime. She had been ordered to put through only emergency calls. He told her itwas an emergency, his wife had disappeared and he wanted to find out if shehad gone toSan Francisco. The operator said that he would still have to wait, notellinghow long.

He hung up. He walked back to his apartment and re-checked theautomatic recorder with the same negative results. For a while he watched thenews, mostof which was a repetition or very slight up-dating of accounts of thesmog andthe emigration. It was too depressing, and he could not getinterested in the only non-news program, Shirley Temple in Little Miss Marker. He triedto read, but his mind kept jumping back and forth from Budler to his wife.

It was maddening not to be able to act. He almost decided to buckthe traffic, because he might, as well be doing something and, moreover, once off the main roads, he might be able to travel speedily. He looked out atthe street, packed with cars going one way, horns blaring, driverscursing out theirwindows or sitting stoic, tight-lipped, hands gripping the wheels. Hewould not be able to get his car out of the driveway.

At seven, the traffic suddenly became normal, as if a plug hadbeen pulledsome place and the extra vehicles gulped down it. He went into thebasement, drove the car out, and got into the street without any trouble. A fewcars drove down the wrong side, but these quickly pulled over into the rightlane. He gotto Igescu's before dusk; he had had to stop to change a flat tire. The roads were littered with many objects, and one of these, a nail, had driveninto his left rear tire. Also, he was stopped by the police. They were lookingfor a service station robber driving a car of his make and color. Hesatisfied them that he was not a criminal, not the one they were looking for, anyway, andcontinued on. The fact that they could concern themselves- with amere holdup atthis time showed that the traffic had eased up considerably, in thisarea, atleast.

At the end of the road outside Igescu's, he turned the car aroundand backed it into the bushes. He got out and, after removing the gas mask, raised the trunk and took out the bundle he had prepared. It took him some timeto carrythe cumbersome load through the thick woods and up the hill to thewall. Here he unfolded the aluminum ladder, locked the joints, and, with the packon his back, climbed up until his head was above the wire. He did not intend tofind out if the wire was electrified. To do so might set off an alarm. He pulledup the longrubberized flexibile tunnel, a child's plaything, by the rope tiedaround its end.

He hoisted it until half its length was over the wire and thenbegan theunavoidably clumsy and slow maneuver of crawling, not into it butover it. His weight pressed it down so that he had a double thickness between himand the sharp points of the wire. He was able to turn, straddling the wire, and pull theladder slowly up after him with the rope, which he had taken from thetunnel and tied to the ladder. He was very careful not to touch the wire withthe ladder.

He lifted it up and turned it and deposited its end upon theground on theinside of the wall. Once his feet were on the rungs, be lifted up thetunnel and dropped it on the ground and then climbed down. He repeated thisprocedure atthe inner wall up to the point where he reached the top of the wall. Instead of climbing on over, he took two large steaks from his backpack andthrew them as far as he could.. Both landed upon leaves near the foot of a largeoak. Then he pulled the tunnel back and retreated down the ladder. He sat with hisback against the wall and waited. If he did not succeed with this stepwithin two hours, he would go on in, anyway.

The darkness settled, but it did not seem to get any cooler. There was no air moving, no sound of bird or insect. The moon rose. A few minuteslater, ahowling jerked him to his feet. His scalp moved as if rubbed by acold hand. The howling, distant at first, came closer. Soon there was a snufflingand then a growling and gobbling. Childe waited and checked his Smith & WessonTerrier .32 revolver again. After five minutes by his wristwatch, he climbed overthe wall, pulling the tunnel and ladder after him as he had done at the firstwall. He laid them on the ground behind a tree in case anybody should bepatrolling thewall. Gun in hand, he set out to look for the wolves. The bones ofthe steaks had been cracked and partially swallowed; the rest was gone.

He did not find the wolves. Or he was not sure that what he did find were the wolves.

He stepped into a clearing and then sucked in his breath.

Two bodies lay in the moonlight. They were unconscious, whichstate he had expected from the eating of drugged meat. But these were not thehairy, four-legged, long-muzzled bodies he had thought to see. These werethe nude bodies of the young couple who had played billiards in the Igescuhouse. Vasili Chornkin and Mrs. Krautschner slept on the grass under the moon. Theboy was onhis face, his legs under him and his hands by his face. The girl wason her side, her legs drawn up and her arms folded beside her head. She hada beautiful body. It reminded him of one of the girls he had seen in the filmsand especially of the girl Budler had been fucking dog style.

He had to sit down for a while. He felt shaky. He did not thinkthat this was possible or impossible. It just was, and the 'was' threatenedhim. It threatened his belief in the order of the universe, which meant thatit threatened him.

After a while he was able to act. He used tape from his backpackto secure their hands behind them and their ankles together. Then he tapedtheir mouths tightly and placed them on their sides, facing each other and asclose togetheras possible and taped them together around the necks and the ankles. He was sweating by the time he had finished. He left them in the glade andhoped thatthey would be very happy together. (That he could think this showedhim that he was recovering swiftly.) They should be happy if they knew that hehad plannedto cut the throats of the wolves.

He headed toward where the house should be and within five minutes saw its bulk on top of the hill and some rectangles of light. Approaching iton the left, he stopped suddenly and almost fired his revolver, he was soupset by theabrupt appearance of the figure. It flitted from moonlight intoshadow and back into shadow and was gone. It looked as if it were a woman wearing anankle-length dress with a bare back.

For the third time that night, he felt a chill. It must have beenDolores. Or a woman playing the ghost. And why should a fraud be out here whenthere was no need to play the fraud? They did not know that he was here. Atleast, hehoped not.

It was possible that the baron wanted to shock another guesttonight and sowas using this woman.

The driveway had five cars besides the Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. There were two Cadillacs, a Lincoln, a Cord, and a 1929 Duesenberg. Neither wingshowed a light, but the central part was well-lit.

Childe looked for Glam, did not see him, and went around theside. There was a vine-covered trellis which afforded easy access to the second storybalcony. The window was closed but not locked. The room was dark and hot and musty. Hegroped along the wall until he found a door and slowly swung it out. It was a closet door in which hung dark musty clothes. He closed the door andfelt alongit until he discovered another door. This led to a hallway which wasdimly litby moonlight through a window. He used his pencil-thin flashlight nowand then to guide himself. He passed by a stairway leading to the story belowand the story above and pushed open a door to another hallway. This had noillumination at all; he fingered his way to the other end with his flashlight.

Sometimes he stopped to put his ear against a doorway. He hadthought he hadheard the murmurs of voices behind them. Intent listening convincedhim that nobody was there, that his imagination was tricking him.

At the end of this hallway, twice as long as the first, he founda locked door. A series of keys left the lock unturned. He used his pick and, after several minutes work, during which the sweat ran down his eyes andhis ribs and he had to stop several times because he thought he heard footstepsand, once, abreathing, he solved the puzzle of the tumblers.

The door opened to a shaft of light and a puff of cold air.

As he stepped through into the hallway, he caught a flash ofsomething onhis left at the far end. It had moved too swiftly for him to identifyit, but hethought that it was the tail end of Dolores skirt. He ran down thehallway asquietly as he could with his sneakers on the marble tile floor (thiswas done in much-marbled and ornate-woodworked Victorian style even if it was inthe Spanishpart). At the corner, he halted and stuck his head around.

The woman at the extreme end was facing him. By the light of afloor lampnear her, he could see that she was tall and black-haired andbeautiful--the woman in the portrait above the mantel in the drawing room.

She beckoned to him and turned and disappeared around the corner. He felt a little disoriented, not so much as if he were beingdisconnected from a part of himself inside himself but as if the walls around himwere beingsubtly warped.

Just as he rounded the corner, he saw her skirt going into adoorway. Thisled to a room halfway down the hall. The only light was that from thelamp on astand in the hallway. He groped around until he felt the lightswitch. The response was the illumination of a small lamp at the other end on astand by ahuge bed with a canopy. He did not know much about furniture, but itlooked like a bed from one of the Louis series, Louis Quatorze, perhaps. The restof the expensive-looking furniture seemed to go with the bed. A largecrystalchandelier hung from the center of the ceiling.

The wall was white paneling, and one of the panels was justswinging shut.

Childe thought it was swinging shut. He had blinked, and then thewall seemed solid.

There was no other way for the woman to have gone. Do ghosts haveto opendoors, or panels, to go from one room to another?

Perhaps they did, if they existed. However, he had seen nothingto indicate that Dolores--or whoever the woman was--must be a ghost.

If she were a hoax set up by Baron Igescu for the benefit ofothers, andparticularly for Childe, she was leading him on for a reason that hecould onlybelieve was sinister. The panel led to a passage between the walls, and Igescumust want him to go through a panel.

The newspaper article had said that the original house hadcontained between-walls passages and underground passages, and several secrettunnels which led to exits in the woods. Don del Osorojo had built thesebecause he feared attacks from bandits, wild Indians, revolting peasants, and, possibly, government troops. The Don, it seemed, was having trouble with tax- collectors; the government claimed that he was hiding gold and silver.

When the first Baron Igescu, the present owner's uncle, had addedthe wings, he had also built secret passageways which connected to those in thecentral house. Not so secret, actually, since the workers had talked aboutthem, but nodrawings or blueprints of the house's construction existed, as far asanybodyknew. And most of the workers would now be dead or so old they couldnot remember the layout, even if any of them could be found.

The panel had been opened long enough for him to know that it wasan entrance. Perhaps the baron wanted him to know it; perhaps Dolores, the ghost. In any event, he meant to go through it.

Finding the actuator of the entrance was another matter. He pressed the woodaround the panel, tried to move strips around it, knocked at variousplaces onthe panel (it sounded hollow), and examined the wood closely forholes. He found nothing out-of-the-way.

Straightening up, he half-turned in an angry movement and thenturned back again, as if he would catch something--or somebody--doing somethingbehind his back. There was nothing behind him that had not been there before. But he did glimpse himself in the huge floor-to-ceiling mirror that constitutedhalf of the wall across the room.

CHAPTER 13

The mirror certainly was not reflecting as a mirror should. Norwas it reflecting grossly or exaggeratedly, like a funny-house mirror. Thedistortions--if they could be called distortions--were subtle. And asevasive as drops of mercury.

There were slight shiftings of everything reflected, of the wallbehind him, the painting on the wall to one side of him, the canopied bed, andhimself. It was as if he were looking at an underwater room through a window, with himself deep in the water and the mirror a window, or porthole, to a room ina subaquatic palace. The objects in the room, and he seemed to be asmuch an object as the bed or a chair, swayed a little. As if currents of coldwater succeeded by warmer water compressed or expanded the water and sochanged theintensity and the refraction of lighting.

There was more to the shifting than that, however. At one place, the room and everything in it, including himself, seemed almost--not quite- normal. As they should be or as it seemed that they should be. Seemed, hethought, becauseit struck him that things as they are were not necessarily things asthey shouldbe, that custom had made strangeness, or outrageousness (a peculiarword, whatmade him think of that?), comfortable.

Then the "normality" disappeared as the objects twisted orswayed, he wasnot sure which they did, and the room, and he, became "evil."

He did not look "weak" nor "petty" nor "sneaky" nor "selfish" nor"indifferent," all of which he felt himself to be at various times. He looked "evil." Malignant, destroying, utterly loveless.

He walked slowly toward the mirror. His image, wavering, advanced. It smiled, and he suddenly realized that he was smiling. That smile wasnot utterly loveless; it was a smile of pure love. Love of hatred and ofcorruption and ofall living things.

He could almost smell the stink of hate and of death.

Then he thought that the smile was not of love but of greed, unless greedwas a form of love. It could be. The meanings of words were asshifting andelusive as the images in the mirror.

He became sick; something was gnawing at his nerves in the pit ofhis stomach.

It was a form of sea-sickness, he thought. See-sickness, rather.

He turned away from the mirror, feeling as he did so a chill passover his scalp and a vulnerability--a hollowness--between his shoulders, as ifthe man in the mirror would stick him in the back with a knife if he exposed hisback to him.

He hated the mirror and the room it mirrored. He had to get outof it. If he could not get the panel open in a few seconds, he would have to leaveby thedoor.

There was no use in repeating his first efforts. The key to thepanel wasnot in its immediate neighborhood, so he would have to lookelsewhere. Perhapsits actuator, a button, a stud, something, could be behind the largeoil painting. This was of a man who looked much like the baron and wasprobably hisuncle. Childe lifted it up and off its hooks and placed it upright onthe floor, leaning against the wall. The space behind where it had been wassmooth. No actuator mechanism here.

He replaced the painting. It seemed twice as heavy, when helifted it up asit had when he had taken it down. This room was draining him of hisstrength.

He turned away from the painting and stopped. The panel had swunginward into the darkness behind the wall.

Childe, keeping an eye on the panel, placed a hand on the lowercorner of the portrait-frame and moved it slightly. The panel, however, hadalreadystarted to close. Evidently the actuating mechanism opened it brieflyand then closed it automatically.

He waited until the panel shut and again moved the framesideways. Nothinghappened. But when he lifted the painting slightly, the panel againswung open.

Childe did not hesitate. He ran to the panel, stepped throughcautiously, making sure that there was firm footing in the darkness, and then gotto one side to permit the panel to swing shut. He was in unrelieved black; the air was dead and odorous of decaying wood, plaster falling apart, and a traceof long-dead mice. There was also a teaser (was it there or not?) ofperfume.

The flashlight showed a dusty corridor about four feet wide andseven high. It did not end against the wall of the hallway, as he had expected. Awell of blackness turned out to be a stairway under the hall. At its bottomwas a small platform and another stairway leading up, he presumed, to anotherpassageway onthe other side of the hall.

In the opposite direction, the passageway ran straight for aboutfifty feetand then disappeared around a corner. He walked slowly in thatdirection and examined the walls, ceiling, and floor carefully. When he had gonefar enough tobe past the baron's bedroom, he found a panel on hinges. It was toosmall and too far up the wall for passage. He unlocked its latch, turned hisflashlightoff, and swung it slowly out to avoid squeaking of hinges. They gaveno sound. The panel had hidden a one-way mirror. He was looking into a bedroom. A titian-haired woman came through the door from the hall about sevenseconds later. She walked past him, only five feet away, and disappeared intoanother doorway. She was wearing a print dress with large red flowers; herlegs werebare and her feet were sandaled.

The woman was so beautiful that he had felt sick in his solar plexus for amoment, a feeling he had experienced three times, when seeing for thefirst time women so beautiful that he was agonized because he would never havethem.

Childe thought that it would be better to continue his exploring, but he could not resist the feeling that he might see something significantif he stayed here. The woman had looked so determined, as if she hadsomethingimportant to do. He placed his ear against the glass and could hear, faintly, Richard Strauss' Thus Spake Zarathustra. It must be coming from theroom into which she had gone.

The bedroom was in rather somber taste for a beautiful youngwoman; thebaron's room, if it had been the baron's room, would have been moreappropriatefor her. It was far cheerier, if you excepted the wall-mirror. Thewalls were of dark dull wooden paneling about six feet up from the floor; abovethem was a dull dark wallpaper with faint images: queer birds, twisted dragons, and the, recurring figures of what could be a nude Adam and Eve and an appletree. There were no snakes.

The carpet was thick and also dull and dark with images too fadedto be identified. The bed was, like the baron's, canopied, but it was of aperiod hedid not recognize, although this did not mean much, because he knewvery littleabout furniture or furnishings. Its legs were wrought-iron in theform of dragon's claws. The bedspread and the canopy were a dark red. Therewas a mirror on the wall opposite. It was three-sided, like the mirrors used inthe clothingdepartments of stores. It seemed to be nothing extraordinary; itreflected the window through which Childe was looking as another mirror above alarge dullred-brown dresser.

There was a chandelier of cut quartz with dull yellow sockets forcandles. The light in the room, however, came from a number of table and floorlamps. Thecorners of the room were in shadow.

Childe waited for a while and sweated. It was hot in the corridor, and thevarious odors, of wood; plaster, and long-dead mice, became strongerinstead of dying on a dulling nose. The teaser of perfume was entirely gone. Finally, justas he decided that he should be moving on--and why was he standinghere in the first place--the woman came through the door. She was naked; hertitian-red hair hung loosely around her shoulders and down her back. She held a long- necked bottle to her lips as she walked toward the dresser. She pausedbefore it and continued to drink until only about two inches of the liquid wasleft. Then she put the bottle on the dresser and leaned forward to look into themirror.

She had taken her makeup off. She peered into the mirror as ifshe were searching for defects. Childe stepped back, because it seemedimpossible thatshe would not see him. Then he stepped forward again. If she knewthat this was a one-way mirror, she did not care if another was on the other side. Or supposedthat no hostile person would be there. Perhaps only the baron knew ofthis passageway.

She seemed to find her inspection of her face satisfactory, andshe mighthave found it very pleasing, to judge from her smile. Shestraightened up andlooked at her body and also seemed pleased at this. Childe feltuncomfortable, as if he were doing something perverted by spying on her, but he alsobegan toget excited.

She wriggled a little, swayed her hips from side to side, and ranher hands up and down her ribs and hips and then cupped them over her breastsand rubbed the nipples with the ends of her thumbs. The nipples swelled. Childe's penis swelled, also.

Keeping her left hand busy with her breast, she put her righthand on her pubes, and opened the top of the slit with one finger and began torub her clitoris. She worked swiftly at, it, rubbing vigorously, and suddenlyshe threw her head back, her mouth open, ecstasy on her face.

Childe felt both excited and repulsed. Part of the repulsion wasbecause he was no voyeur; he felt that it was indecent to watch anyone underthese circumstances. It was true that he did not have to stay, but he washere to investigate kidnapping and murder, and this certainly looked worthinvestigating.

She continued to rub her clitoris and the hairy lips. And then-here Childe was startled and shaken but also knew that he had somehow expectedit--a tinything, like a slender white tongue, spurted from the slit.

It was not a tongue. It was more like a snake or an eel.

It was as small in diameter as a garter snake but much longer. How long itwas he could not determine yet, because its body kept sliding out andout. It kept coming, and its skin was smooth and hairless, as smooth as thewoman's belly and as white, and the skin glistened with the fluid releasedfrom her cunt.

It shot out in a downward arc, like a half-erect penis, and thenit turned and flopped over against her belly and began to zigzag upwards. Itcontinued to slide out from the slit as if yards of it were still coiled insideher womb, andit oozed up until its snaky length was coiled once around her leftbreast.

Childe could see the details of the thing's head, which was thesize of a golf ball. It turned twice to look directly at him. Into the mirror, rather.

Its head was bald except for a fringe of oil-plastered black hairaround the tiny ears. It had two thin but wet black eyebrows and a wet blackMephistophelean moustache and beard. The nose was relatively largeand meat cleaver shaped. The eyes were dark, but they were so small and set sofar back that they would have seemed dark to Childe even if they had beenpalest blue. The mouth was as much a slit as the vagina from which the creaturehad issued, but it briefly opened it and Childe could see two rows of littleyellow teethand a pink-red tongue.

The face was tiny, but there was nothing feeble about itsmalignancy.

The woman's lips moved. Childe could not hear her, but he thoughtthat she was crooning.

The snaky body resumed its climbing while more of its body slidout of the pink fissure and the dark-red bush. It rounded her breast and went upher shoulder and around her neck and came around the right side andextended a loopoutwards and then in so that the Lilliputian head faced her. Thewoman turned a little then, thus permitting Childe a quarter-view of her profile.

Her hands moved along the ophidian shaft as if she were feelingan unnaturally long penis--hers. Her slim fingers--beautiful fingers-traced the length and then, while one hand curled gently back of the head tosupport thebody, the other slid back and forth behind the head as if she weremasturbatingthe snake-penis.

The thing quivered. Then the head moved forward, and its minutelips touchedher lower lip. It bit down, or seemed to, because she jerked her headback a little as if stung. Her head moved forward again, however; and hermouth wide open. The head was engulfed in her mouth; she began to suck.

Childe had been too shocked to do anything but react emotionally. Now he began to think. He wondered how the thing could breathe with its headin her mouth. Then it occurred to him that it would be even more difficult for it to breathe when it was coiled in her womb or whatever recess of her bodyit lived in. So, though it had a nose, it perhaps did not need it. Its oxygencould be supplied by the woman's circulatory system, which surely must beconnected through some umbilical device to the other end of the thing.

That head. It had belonged at one time to a full-grown man. Childe, with norational reason, knew this. The head had belonged to the body of anadult male. Now, through some unbelievable science, the head had been reduced tothe size of a golf ball, and it had been attached to this uterine snake, or theoriginalhuman body had been altered, or...

He shook his head. How could this be? Had he been drugged? Thatmirror and now this.

The body bent, and the head withdrew from the woman's mouth. Itswayed backand forth like a cobra to a flute, while the woman put her hands toher mouth and then removed a pair of false teeth. Her lips fell in; she was anold woman--from the neck up. But the thing thrust forward before she hadput theteeth on the dresser, and the tiny head and part of the bodydisappeared intothe toothless cavity. The body bent and unbent, slid back and forthbetween her lips.

At first, the movements were slow. Then her body trembled, andher skin became paler, except around the mouth and the pubes, where the intense darkeningspoke of the concentration of blood. She shook; her great eyesfluttered open; she stared as if she were half-stunned. The thrustings of the bodybecame swifter, and more of the body appeared and disappeared. She staggeredbackwards until she fell back upon the bed with her legs hanging over the edgeand one foot resting on the floor, the other lifted up.

For perhaps ninety seconds, she jerked. Then, she was quiet. Thesnaky bodylifted; the head came out of the lips and turned with the turning ofthe upperquarter of body. A thick whitish fluid was dribbling out of the openmouth.

The shaft rose up and up until all but the last six inches werelifted from the woman's body. It teetered like a sunflower in a flood and thencollapsed. The tiny mouth chewed on a nipple for a while. The woman's handsmoved like sleeping birds half-roused by a noise, then they became quiet again.

The mouth quit chewing. The body began a slow zigzag, retreatinto the dark-red bush and the fissure, trailing the head behind it. Presently, the bodywas gone and the head was swallowed up, bulging open the labia as itsank out of sight.

Childe thought, Werewolf? Vampire? Lamia? Vodyanoi? What? He hadnever read of anything like this woman and the thing in her womb. Where did theyfit in with the theories of Le Garrault as expounded by Igescu?

The woman rose from the bed and walked to the dresser. Lookinginto the mirror, she fitted the false teeth into her mouth and once more wasthe most beautiful woman in the world.

But she was also the most horrifying woman he had ever seen. Hewas shakingas much as she had been in her orgasm, and he was sick.

At that moment, the door that opened onto the hallway movedinward. Childe felt as cold as if he had been dipped into an opening inpolar ice.

The pale-skinned, scarlet-dipped, black-haired head of Doloresdel Osorojohad appeared around the doorway.

The woman, who must have seen Dolores in the mirror, grayed. Hermouth dropped open; saliva and the spermy fluid dribbled out. Her eyesbecame huge. Her hands flew up--like birds again--to cover her breasts. Then shescreamed so loudly that Childe could hear her, and she whirled and ran towardsthe door. She had snatched up the bottle by the neck so swiftly that Childe was notaware of it until she was halfway across the room. She was terrified. No doubtabout that. But she was also courageous. She was attacking the cause of herterror.

Dolores smiled, and a white arm came around the door and pointedat the woman.

The woman stopped, the bottle raised above her head, and shequivered.

Then Childe saw that Dolores was not pointing at the woman. Shewas pointingpast her. At him.

At the mirror behind which he stood, rather. The woman whirledand looked at it and then, bewildered, looked around. Again, she whirled, and thistime she shouted something in an unidentifiable language at the woman. Thewoman smiled once more, withdrew her arm, and then her head. The door closed.

Shaking, the woman walked slowly to the door, slowly opened it, and slowlylooked through the doorway into the hall. If she saw anything, shedid not care to pursue it, because she closed the door. She emptied the bottlethen and returned to the dresser, where she pulled up a chair and sat down onit and then put her head on her arms on the table. After a while, the pinkishglow returnedto her skin. She sat up again. Her eyes were bright with tears, andher face seemed to have gotten about ten years older. She leaned close to themirror to look at it, grimaced, got up, and went through the other door, whichChilde presumed led to a bathroom or to a room which led to a bathroom.

Her reaction to Dolores certainly was not the baron's, who hadseemed blase. The sight of the supposed ghost had terrified her.

If Dolores were a hoax, one of which the woman would surely beaware, whyshould she react so?

Childe had a more-than-uneasy feeling that Dolores del Osorojowas not a woman hired to play ghost.

It was, however, possible that the woman was terrified for otherreasons.

He had no time to find out what. He used the flashlight in quickstabs to determine if there was an entrance to her room, but he could findnone. He went on then and came across another panel which opened to another one-waymirror. This showed him a small living room done in Spanish colonial style. Except forthe telephone on a table, it could have been a room in the houseshortly afterit was built. There was nobody in it.

The corridor turned past the room. Along the wall was a hingedpanel largeenough to give entrance to the other side. There was also a peepholebehind a small sliding panel. He put his eye to it but could see only adarkened room. At the periphery of his vision was a lightening of the darkness, as iflight wereleaking through a barely opened door or a keyhole. A voice was comingfrom somewhere far-off. It was in a strange language, and it seemed to becarrying ona monologue or a telephone conversation.

Beyond this room the corridor became two, the legs of a Y. Hewent down each for a short distance and found that two entrance panels existed onoppositewalls of one leg and an entrance panel and peephole on opposite wallsof the other. If, at another time, he could locate a triangular-shaped room, he would know where these passageways were.

He looked through the peephole but could see nothing.

He went back the passageway and up the other leg to the panel andopenedthis. His hand, thrust through the opening, felt a heavy cloth. Heslid throughcarefully so that he would not push the cloth. It could be a draperyheavyenough to keep light on the other side from shining through. Ifanybody were inthat room, he must not see the drapery move.

Squatting, his shoulder to the wall and squeezing his shouldersso that he would not disturb the cloth, he duck-walked until he had come to thejuncture oftwo walls. Here the edges of the draperies met. He turned and pulledthe edgesapart and looked through with one eye.

The room was dark. He rose and stepped through and turned hisflashlight on. The beam swept across a movie camera on a dolly and then stopped on aY-shapedtable.

He was in the room, or one much like it, in which Colben andBudler had spent their--presumably--last few hours.

There was a bed in one corner, a number of movie cameras, somedevices the use of which he did not know, and a large ashtray of some dark-greenmaterial. In the center of its roughly circular dish stood a long thin statue. It looked like a nude man in the process of turning into a wolf, or vice versa. The bodyup to the chest was human; from there on it was hairy and the armshad become legs and the face had wolf-like ears and was caught in metamorphosis. There were about thirty cigarette stubs in the dish. Some had lipstick marks. One had a streak of dried blood, or it looked like dried blood, around thefilter.

Childe turned on the lights and with his tiny Japanese cameratook twentyshots. He had what he needed now, and he should get out. But he didnot know whether or not Sybil was in this house.

And there might be other, even more impressive, evidence to getthe policehere.

He turned off the lights and crawled out of the panel into thepassageway. He had a choice of routes then and decided to take the right leg of the Y. This led to another hall--the horizontal bar of a T. He turned right againand came to a stairway. The treads were of a glassy substance; it would havebeen easy toslip on them if he had not been wearing sneakers. He walked down sixsteps, andthen his feet slid out from under him and he fell heavily on hisback.

He struck a smooth slab and shot downward as if on a chutey-chutewhich, ina sense, he was on. He put out his hands against the walls to brakehimself but the walls, which had not seemed vitreous, were. The flashlight showedhim a trapdoor opening at the bottom of the steps--these had straightenedout to fall against each other and form a smooth surface--and then he slidthrough the darkopening. He struck heavily but was unhurt. The trapdoor closed abovehim. The flashlight showed him the padded ceiling, walls, and floor of a roomseven feet high, six broad, ten wide. There were no apparent doors or windows.

He smelled nothing nor heard anything, but gas must have been letinto the room. He fell asleep before he knew what was happening.

CHAPTER 14

He did not know how long he had been there. When he awoke, hisflashlight, his wristwatch, his revolver, and his camera were missing. His headached, andhis mouth was as dry as if he were waking up after a three-day drunk. The gasmust have had a very relaxing effect, because he had wet his shortsand pants. Or else he had wet them when the steps had dropped out from under himand he had begun his slide. He had needed to piss before the trap caught him.

Five lights came on. Four were from floor lamps set in thecorners, and onewas from an iron wall-lamp shaped like a torch and set at forty-fivedegrees tothe wall.

He was not in the padded chamber. He was lying on a huge fourpostered bedwith scarlet sheets and bedspread and a scarlet black-edged canopy. The room was not one he had seen before. It was large; its black walls were hungwith scarlet yellow-trimmed drapes and two sets of crossed rapiers. The floor wasdark-glossybrown hardwood with a few crimson starfish-shaped thick-fibered rugs. There were some slender wrought-iron chairs with high skeletal backs and crimsoncushions on the seats and a tall dresser of dense-grained brown wood.

It was while looking around that he thought of the dread of ironand of the cross that vampires were supposed to have. There were iron objectsall over the house, and, while he had seen no crucifixes, he had seen plenty ofobjects, suchas these crossed rapiers, which made cruciforms. If Igescu was avampire (Childefelt ridiculous even thinking this), he certainly did not object tocontact with iron or sight of the cross.

Perhaps (just perhaps), these creatures had acquired an immunityfrom these once-abhorred things during thousands of years. If they had everdreaded iron and the cross, that is. What about the years before iron was used byman? Or the cross was used by man? What guards and wards did man have thenagainst thesecreatures?

Shakily, Childe got out of the bed and stood up. He had no timeto search for a secret wall-exit, which he thought could exist here and whichhe mightfind before his captors returned. But the door at the far end swungopen, andGlam entered, and the big room seemed much smaller. He stopped veryclose to Childe and looked down at him. For the first time, Childe saw thathis eyes werelight russet. The face was heavy and massive as a boulder, but thoseeyes seemedto glow as if they were rocks which had been subjected toradioactivity. Hairshung from the cavernous nostrils like stalactites. His breath stankas if he had been eating rotten octopus.

"The baron says you should come to dinner," he rumbled. "In these clothes?" Glam looked down at the wet patch on the front of Childe's pants.


When he looked up, he smiled briefly, like a jack-o'lantern just before thecandle died.

"The baron says you can dress if you want to. There's clothesyour size ornear enough in the closet."

The closet was almost big enough to be a small room. His eyebrowsrose when he saw the variety of male and female clothing. Who were the ownersand where were they? Were they dead? Did some of the clothes bear labels withthe names of Colben and Budler, or had borne the labels, since the baron would notbe stupidenough, surely, to leave such identification on.

Perhaps he was stupid. Otherwise, why the sending of the films tothe Los Angeles Police Department?

But he did not really believe this about the baron.

Childe, after washing his hands and face and genitals and thighsin the most luxurious bathroom he had ever been in, and after dressing in atuxedo, followedGlam down several hallways and then downstairs. He did not recognizeany of thecorridors nor the dining room. He had expected to be in the dining room he had seen yesterday, but this was another. The house was truly enormous.


The motif of this room was, in some respects, Early GrandioseVictorian-Italian, or so it seemed to him. The walls were gray black- streaked marble. A huge red marble fireplace and mantel were at one end, andabove the mantel was a painting of a fierce old white-haired man with longmoustachioes. He wore a wine-red coat with wide lapels and a white shirt with thickruffles around the neck.

The floor was of black marble with small mosaics at each of the eightcorners. The furniture was massive and of a black dense-grained wood. A white damascene cloth covered the main table; it was set with massivesilver dishes and goblets and tableware and tall thick silver candleholders whichsupportedthick red candles. There were at least fifty candles, all lit. Alargecut-quartz chandelier held a number of red candles, also, but thesewere unlit.

Glam stopped to indicate a chair. Childe advanced slowly to it. The baron, at the head of the table, rose to greet him. His smile was broad butfleeting. He said, "Welcome, Mr. Childe, despite the circumstances. Please sitdown there. Next to Mrs. Grasatchow."

There were four men and six women at the table. The baron. Magda Holyani. Mrs. Grasatchow, who was almost the fattest woman he had ever


seen. The baron's great-grandmother, who had to be at least a hundred. Vivienne Mabcrough, the titian-haired woman with the man-headed

snake-thingin her womb.

O'Riley O'Faithair, a handsome black-haired man of about thirty- five who spoke a charming Irish brogue. And now and then a few sentences in anunknown language to the baron and the Mabcrough woman.

Mr. Bending Grass, who had a very broad and high-cheekboned facewith a hugeaquiline nose and huge, slightly slanted, very dark eyes. He couldhave been Sitting Bull's twin, but something he said to Mrs. Grasatchowindicated that he was Crow. He spoke of the mountain man, John, Johnston, "Liver EatingJohnston," as if he had been a contemporary.

Fred Pao, a tall slender Chinese with features that could havebeen carved out of teak and a Fu Manchu moustache and goatee.

Panchita Pocyotl, a short petite and beautiful Mexican Indian.

Rebecca Ngima, a handsome lithe black African dressed in a longwhite native costume.

They were all expensively and tastefully dressed and, thoughtheir speechwas not free of foreign pronunciation, their English was fluent,

"correct," andrich with literary, philosophical, historical, and musical allusions. There were also references to events and persons and places that puzzled Childe, who was well-read. They seemed to have been everywhere and, here he felt coldthreadingthe needle of his nerves, to have lived in times long dead.

Was this for his benefit? An addition to the hoax? What hoax? It was then that he got another shock, because the baron


addressed him againas Mr. Childe. With a start, he remembered the first time. He hadbeen too dull to have realized then what that meant.

"How did you learn my name? I carried no identification with me." The baron smiled "You don't really expect me to tell you?" Childe shrugged and began eating. There were many different

dishes on the sideboard; he had been given a wide choice but had decided on NewYork-cut steak and baked potato. Mrs. Grasatchow, who sat on his left, had a platterwith an entire bonita fish and a huge bowl of salad. She drank before, during, and afterthe meal from a gallon decanter of bourbon. The decanter was fullwhen she sat down and empty when the dishes were cleared off the table.

Glam and two short, dark, and shapely women in maid uniformsserved. The women did not act like servants, however, they frequently talked withthe guestsand the host and several times made remarks in the foreign tonguethat caused the others to laugh. Glam spoke only when his duties required. Heglanced atMagda far more than his duties required.

The baroness, seated at the opposite end from her great-grandson, bent like a living question mark, or vulture, over her soup. This was the onlyfood she was served, and she allowed it to get cold before she finallyfinished it. She said very little and only looked up twice, once to stare a long timeat Childe. She looked as if she had only recently been brought out of anEgyptian pyramidand as if she would just as soon go back into the crypt. Her dinnergown, high-necked, ruffle-bosomed, diamond-sequined, red velvet, looked asif she had purchased it in 1890.

Mrs. Grasatchow, although as fat as two sows put together, had aremarkablywhite, flawless, and creamy skin and enormous purplish eyes. When shehad been younger and thinner, she must have been a beautiful woman. She talkednow as if she thought she was still beautiful, perhaps the most beautiful anddesirable woman in the world. She talked loudly and uninhibitedly about the menwho had died--some of them literally--for her love. Halfway through thedinner, and two-thirds through the gallon of whiskey, her speech began to getslurred. Childe was awed. She had drunk enough to kill him, or most men, andshe only hada little trouble with her speech.

She had drunk far more than the Chinese, Pao, who had downed muchwine during the evening, but not much relative to her. Yet nobodyreprimanded her, but Igescu seemed concerned about Pao. He was speaking to him in acorner, andthough Childe could not hear them, he saw Igescu's hand come down onPao's wrist, and Igescu shook his head and then jerked the thumb of hisother hand at Childe.

Suddenly, Pao began to shake, and he ran out of the room. He wasin a hurryto get out, but Childe did not think that he was about to vomit. Hedid not have the pale skin and desperate expression of one whose guts are ready tolaunch their contents.

The dishes were cleared and cigars and brandy and wine wereserved. (My God! was Mrs. Grasatchow really going to smoke that ten-dollar cigar andpour down ahuge snifter of brandy on top of that whiskey?)

The baron spoke to Childe:

"You realize, of course, that I could easily have had you killedfor trespassing, for entering, for voyeurism, et cetera, but mostly forentering? Now, perhaps, you would like to tell me what you are up to?"

Childe hesitated. The baron knew his name and must, therefore, know that he was a private investigator. And that he had been a partner of Colben. He must realize that, somehow, Childe had tracked him down, and he must becurious about what had led Childe here. He might be wondering if Childe had toldanybody thathe was coming out here.

Childe decided to be frank. He also decided that he would tell the baron that the LAPD knew he was here and that if they did not hear from himat a certain time, they would come out here to find out why.

Igescu listened with a smile that seemed amused. He said, "Ofcourse! And what would they find if they did come out here, which they are notlikely todo?"

Perhaps they would find something Igescu did not suspect. Theymight findtwo naked people tied to each other. Igescu might have a difficulttime explaining them, but they would not be a dangerous liability. Justpuzzling tothe police and inconvenient to Igescu.

At that moment Vasili Chornkin and Mrs. Krautschner, fullyclothed, entered. They stopped for a moment, stared at Childe, and then walked on in. The blonde stopped by Igescu to whisper in his ear; the man sat down and orderedsomethingto eat. Igescu looked at Childe, frowned, and then smiled. He saidsomething toMrs. Krautschner. She laughed and sat down by Chornkin.

Childe felt even more trapped. He could do nothing except, perhaps, make abreak for it, but he doubted that he would get far. There was nothingfor him to do except drift with the current of Igescu's wishes and hope that hewould get achance to escape.

The baron, looking over the brandy snifter just below his nose, said, "Didyou get a chance to read Le Garrault, Mr. Childe?"

"No, I didn't. But I understand the UCLA library is closedbecause of the smog."

The baron stood up. "Let's go into the library and talk whereit's quieter."

Mrs. Grasatchow heaved up from the chair, blowing like analcoholic whale. She put an arm around Childe's shoulder; the flesh drooped liketangles ofjungle vines. "I'll go with you, baby, you don't want to go withoutme."

"You can stay here for the time being," Igescu said.

Mrs. Grasatchow glared at the baron, but she dropped her arm fromChilde and sat down.

The library was a large dark room with leather-covered walls andmassive dark-wood built-in shelves and at least five thousand books, some ofthem looking centuries old. The baron sat down in an overstuffed leather- covered chair with a wooden back carved in the form of a bat-winged Satan. Childe sat down in a similar chair, the back of which was a carved troll.

"Le Garrault..." the baron said. "What's going on here?" Childe said. "Why the party?" "You aren't interested in Le Garrault?" "Sure, I'm interested. But I think there are things of much more


interest just now. For instance, my survival."


"That is up to you, of course. One's survival is always up toone's self. Other people only play the part that you permit. But then, that'sanother theory. For the present, let's pretend that you are my guest and mayleave at any time you wish--which can be the true situation, for all you know. Believe me, I am not telling you about Le Garrault just to pass the time. AmI?"

The baron continued to smile. Childe thought about Sybil and gotangry. Buthe knew that it would do no good to ask the baron about her. If thebaron had her, he would admit it only if it served some purpose of his.

"The old Belgian scholar knew more about the occult and thesupernatural andthe so-called weird than any other man who ever lived. I don't meanthat he knew more than anybody else. I mean that he knew more than any other man."

The baron paused to draw in cigar smoke. Childe felt himselfgetting tense, although he was making an effort to relax.

"Old Le Garrault found records which other scholars did not find or else saw in these records what other scholars missed. Or possibly he may havetalked to some of the--what should I call them? unmen?--some of the unmen, thepseudo-men, and gotten his facts, which we shall theory, directly from them.

"In any event, Le Garrault speculated that the so calledvampires, werewolves, poltergeists, ghosts, and so on, might be livingcreatures from a parallel universe. Or a number of parallel universes. You know what aparalleluniverse is?"

"It's a concept originated by some science-fiction author, Ibelieve," Childe said. "I think that the theory is that a number, perhaps aninfinite number, of universes may occupy the same space. They can do thisbecause theyare all polarized or at right angles to each other. Those terms areactuallymeaningless, but they do signify that some physical mechanism enablesmore than one cosmos to fill the same quote space unquote. The concept ofparalleluniverses was used and is being used by science-fiction writers todepict worldsjust like ours, or only slightly differing, or wildly different. Likean Earth where the South won the Civil War. That idea has been used at least three times, that I know of."

"Very good," the baron said. "Except that your examples are notquitecorrect. None of the three stories you are thinking about postulateda paralleluniverse. Churchill's and Kantor's were what if stories, and Moore'swas a time travel story. But you have the right idea. However, Le Garrault wasthe first to publish the theory of parallel universes, although the publicationwas so restricted and so obscure that very few people knew about it. And LeGarrault did not postulate a series of universes which diverged only slightlyat one end of the series, that is, the end nearest to Earth's cosmos, anddiverged more thefurther away you got from Earth's.

"No, he speculated that these other universes were nothing at alllike Earth's, that they had different physical 'laws,' that many of themwould be completely incomprehensible to Earthmen who might broach the 'walls'between the universes."

"Then he said that there might be 'gates' or 'breaks' in the'walls' and that occasionally a dweller of one universe might go into another?"

"He said more than that. He called his speculation a theory, buthe believed that the theory was a fact. He believed that there were temporarybreaks in the walls, accidental cracks, or openings which sometimes existed becauseof weaknesses or flaws.

"He said that creatures--sentient and non-sentient--sometimes entered our universe through these breaks. But they have forms so alien that thehuman brain has no forms to fit them. And so the human brain gives them forms toexplainthem. He said that it is not just a matter of humans seeing thealiens as such and such. It is a matter of the aliens actually being molded intothese forms because they cannot survive long in this universe unless they haveforms that conform to the physical 'laws' of this universe. The forms may notconform one hundred percent, but they are close enough. And, in fact, an alienmay have morethan one form, because that is the way the human sees him. Hence, thewerewolf, who had a human form and wolf form, and the vampire, who has a humanform and a bat form."

This man is really putting me on, Childe thought. Or else he isso insane that he actually believes this. But what is he leading up to, that heis one of the aliens?

The baron said, "Some of the extra-universals came hereaccidentally, werecaught in the flaws, and were unable to get back. Others were exilesor criminals, sent by the people of their world to this Botany Bay--thisEarth."

"Fascinating speculation," Childe said. "But why do these takecertain forms and not others?"

"Because, in their case, the myth, the legend, the superstition, call it what you will, gave birth to the reality. First, there were thebeliefs and tales about the werebeast and the vampire and the ghost and the etcetera. These beliefs and tales existed long ago, long before history, long beforecivilization. In one form or another, these beliefs existed in theOld Stone Age."

Childe shifted to relieve his discomfort. He felt cold again, asif a shadow had slid over him. That shadow was of a hulking half-brute figure, bulge-browed, ape-jawed. And behind it were other shadows of figures with longfangs and greatclaws and strange shapes.

The baron continued, "There is, according to Le Garrault, apsychicimprinting. He did not use the word imprinting, but his descriptionmeant that. He said that the aliens are able to survive for a short while in their own form when they come to this universe. They are in a state of fluidity, ofdyingfluidity."

"Fluidity?"

"Their forms are trying to change to conform to the physical lawsof this universe. A universe which is as incomprehensible to them as theirswould be to an Earthman. The effort sets up stresses and strains which wouldinevitably tearthem apart, kill them. Unless they encounter a human being. And, ifthey arelucky enough to be from a universe which enables them toreceive--telepathically, I suppose, although that term is toorestricted--enables them to receive the impressions of the humanmind, then thealien is able to make the adaptation. He is enabled because hecomprehends theform in which he can survive in this world. Do you follow me?"

"In a way. But not too well."

"It's almost as difficult to explain this as it is for a mysticto explainhis visions. You realize that my explanations no more fit the facts, the true processes, than the description of the atom as a sort of miniaturesolar systemfitted the true processes."

"I understand that, at least. You're using analogies."

"Strained analogies. But the theory says that the alien, if he islucky, encounters human beings who perceive him as something unnatural, which he is, ina sense, since he is not natural to the human universe. The humans donot absolutely reject him; it is the nature of humans to try to explaineveryphenomenon or, I should say, describe it, classify it, fit it intothe order of natural things.

"And so the alien is given his form, and a certain part of hisnature, bythe humans. There is a process of psychic imprinting, you understand. And so, willy-nilly, the alien becomes what the human believes him to be. Butthe alien still retains some of his otherworld characteristics, or I should saypowers orabilities, and these he can use under certain circumstances. He canuse them because they are part of the structure of this universe, even thoughmost humans, that is, the educated, that is, the reconditioned, deny thatsuch powers, or even such beings, can exist in this universe."

"You were enjoying your filet mignon and your salad," Childesaid. "I thought vampires lived only on blood?"

"Who said I was a vampire?" the baron replied, smiling. "Or whosaid that vampires live on blood only? Or, who, saying that, knew what he wastalkingabout?"

"Ghosts," Childe said. "How does this theory explain ghosts?"

"Le Garrault said that ghosts are the results of imperfectpsychicimprinting. In their case, they assume, partially assume, the form ofthe human being first encountered or, sometimes, they result from the belief ofa human being that they are the ghost of a departed. Thus, a man who believesin ghostssees something he thinks is the ghost of his dead wife, and the alienbecomes that ghost. But ghosts have a precarious off-and-on existence. Theyare never quite of this world. Le Garrault even said that it was possible thatsome aliens kept shuttling back and forth between this world and the native worldand were actually ghosts in both worlds."

"Do you really expect me to believe that?" Childe said.

The baron puffed again and looked at the smoke as if it were asuddenlyrealized phantom. He said, "No. Because I don't believe the ghosttheory myself. Not as Le Garrault expounded it."

"What do you believe then?"

"I really don't know," the baron said, shrugging. "Ghosts don'tcome from any universe I am familiar with. Their origin, their modus operandi, are mysterious. They exist. They can be dangerous."

Childe laughed and said, "You mean that vampires and werewolves, or whatever the hell they are, fear spooks?"

The baron shrugged again and said, "Some fear them." Childewanted to ask more questions but decided not to do so. He did not want the baron toknow that he had found the room with the cameras and the Y-shaped table. It waspossiblethat the baron intended to let him go, because he could dispose ofthe incriminating evidence before Childe could get the police here. Forthis reason, Childe did not ask him why Colben and Budler had happened to be hisvictims. Besides, it seemed obvious that Budler had been picked up by one ofthis groupas a victim of their "fun." Magda or Vivienne or Mrs. Krautschner, probably, hadbeen the woman Colben had seen with Budler. And Colben, followingBudler and the woman, had been detected and taken prisoner.

The baron rose and said, "We might as well rejoin the others. From the sounds, I'd say the party is far from dead."

Childe stood up and glanced at the open doorway, through whichlaughter andshrieks and hand-clapping spurted.

He jumped, and his heart lurched. Dolores del Osorojo was walkingby thedoorway. She turned her head and smiled at him and then was gone.

CHAPTER 15

If the baron had seen her, he gave no sign. He bowed slightly andgesturedChilde to precede him. They went down the hall--no Dolores there--andwere back in the dining room. O'Faithair was playing wildly on the grand piano. Childe did not recognize the music. The others were sitting at the table or onsofas or standing by the piano. Glam and the two women had cleared off thetable and were carrying off the dishes from the sideboards. Mrs. Grasatchow was nowdrinkingfrom a bottle of champagne. Magda Holyani was sitting on an ironskeletal chair, her formal floor length skirt pulled up around her waist to exposeher perfectlegs to the garter belt. Dark-red hair stuck out from under thegarter belt. Ahalf-smoked marijuana cigarette was on the ashtray on the table byher side.

She was looking through an old-time stereoscope at a photograph. Childe pulled her skirt down because the sight of her pubic hairs botheredhim, and hesaid, "That's a curious amusement for you. Or is the picture...?"

She looked up, smiling, and said, "Here. Take a look yourself."

He placed the stereopticon against his eyes and adjusted theslide holdingthe picture until the details became clear and in three-dimensions. The photograph was innocent enough. It showed three men on a sail boatwith a mountain in the distant foreground. The photograph had been takenclose enoughso that the features of the men could be distinguished.

"One of them looks like me," he said.

"That's why I got this album out," she said. She paused, drew indeeply onthe marijuana, held the smoke in her lungs for a long time, and thenpuffed out. "That's Byron. The others are Shelley and Leigh Hunt."

"Oh, really," Childe said, still looking at the picture. "But Ithought...Iknow it...the camera wasn't invented yet."

"That's true," Magda said. "That's not a photograph."

He did not get a chance to ask her to explain, because twoenormous white arms went around him from behind and lifted him off his feet. Mrs. Grasatchow, shrieking with laughter, carried him to a sofa and dropped him on it. He started to get up. He was angry enough to hit her, and had his fist cocked, when she shoved him back down. She was not only very heavy; she had powerfulmuscles under the fat.

"Stay there, I want to talk to you and also do other things!" shesaid.

He shrugged. She sat down by him, and the sofa sank under her. She held his hand and leaned against him and continued the near-monologue she hadbeen maintaining at the table. She told him of the men who had lustedafter her and what she'd done to them. Childe was beginning to feel a littlepeculiar then. Things were not quite focused. He realized that he must be drugged.

A moment later, he was sure of it. He had seen the baron walk tothe doorwayand looked away for a second. When he looked back, he saw that thebaron was gone. A bat was flying off down the hallway.

The change had taken place so quickly that it was as if severalframes of film had been spliced in.

Or was it a change? There was nothing to have kept the baron fromslippingoff around the corner and releasing a bat. Or it was possible thatthere was, objectively, no bat, that he was seeing it because he had beendrugged andbecause of the suggestions that Igescu was a vampire.

Childe decided to say nothing about it. Nobody else seemed tohave noticed it. They were not in shape to have noticed anything except what theywere concentrating upon. O'Faithair was still playing madly. Bending Grassand Mrs. Pocyotl were facing each other, writhing and shuffling in a parody ofthe latest dance. The redhead beauty, Vivienne Mabcrough, was sitting on anothersofa with Rebecca Ngima, the beautiful Negress. Vivienne was drinking from agoblet in onehand while the other was slipped into the front of Ngima's dress. Ngima had herhand under Vivienne's dress. Pao, the Chinese, was on his back, hislegs bent tosupport Magda, who was standing on his feet and getting ready to do abackward flip. She had taken off her shoes and dress and was clad only in hergarterbelt, stockings, and net bra. She steadied herself and then, as Paoshoved upwards, soared up and over and landed on her feet. Childe thoughtthat her unshod feet would have broken with the impact, but she did not seemto be bothered. She laughed and ran forward and did a forward flip over Paoand landed in front of a sofa on which Igescu's great-grandmother sat. The oldwoman reached out a claw and ripped off Magda's bra. Magda laughed andpirouetted awayacross the floor.

The baron had sauntered over to behind the baroness and had leaned over to whisper something to her. She smiled and cackled shrilly.

And then Magda ended her crazy whirl on Childe's lap. His headwas pressedforward against her breasts. They smelled of a heady perfume andsweat and something indefinable.

Mrs. Grasatchow shoved Magda so vigorously that she fell offChilde's lapand onto the floor. She looked up dizzily for a moment, her legs widespread to

reveal the red-haired slit. "He's mine!" Mrs. Grasatchow shrilled. "Mine! You snake-bitch!" Magda got to her feet unsteadily. Her eyes uncrossed. She opened

her mouth and her tongue flickered in and out and she hissed. "Stay away!" Mrs. Grasatchow said in a deeper voice. Had shereally grunted?

Glam entered the room. He scowled at Magda. Evidently he did notlike to see her in the almost-nude and making a play for Childe. But the baronfroze him with a glare and motioned for him to leave the room.

"Stay away, huh?" Magda said. "You have no authority over me, pig-woman, noram I afraid of you!"

"Pigs eat snakes," Mrs. Grasatchow replied. She grunted--yes, shegruntedthis time--and put one flesh-festooned arm over his shoulders andbegan to unziphis fly with the other hand.

"You've eaten everything and everybody else, but you haven't, andyou aren'tgoing to, eat this snake," Magda said, spraying saliva.

Childe looked around and said, "Where are the cameras?"

"Everything's impromptu tonight," Mrs. Grasatchow said. "Oh, youlook so much like George."

Childe presumed that she meant George Gordon, Lord Byron, but hecould not be sure and he did not care to play her game, anyway.

He pushed her hand away just as she closed two fingers on hispenis, which, to his chagrin, was swelling. He felt nothing but repulsion for thefat woman, yet a part of him was responding. Or was it seeing Magda and alsosharing in thegeneral atmosphere of excitement? The drug, which he was sure he hadbeen given, was basically responsible, of course.

Magda sat down on his lap again and put her arms around his neck. Mrs. Grasatchow, snarling, raised her hand as if to strike Magda, but shelet it dropwhen the baroness called shrilly across the room. At that moment, apair oflarge doors swung open. Childe, catching the movement at the cornerof his eyes, turned his head. The baron was standing in the doorway. Behind himwas the billiard room or a billiard room. It looked much like the first one he had seen. The blond youths, Chornkin and Krautschner, were playing.

The baron advanced across the room and, when a few paces behindChilde, said, "The police don't know he's here."

Childe erupted. He came off the sofa, tossing Magda away and thenleapingover her and running toward the nearest door. He got to the hallwayand was jerked violently off his feet, swung around, and pressed close toGlam. The great arms made him powerless to do anything except kick. And Glammust have been wearing heavy boots under his pants legs. Certainly he acted asif he did not feel the kicks. Perhaps he didn't. Childe may have had littlestrength.

As if he were a small child, he was led into the room, Glamholding hishand. The baron said, "Good. Good for him and good for you. Yourestrained yourimpulse to kill him. Very commendable, Glam."

"My reward?" Glam said.

"You'll get it. A share. As for Magda, if she doesn't want you, and she saysshe doesn't, she can continue to tell you to go to hell. My authorityhas its limits. Besides, you aren't really one of us."

"You're lucky I haven't killed you, Glam!" Magda said.

"You have depraved taste, Glam," Mrs. Grasatchow said. "You'dfuck a snake if someone held its head, wouldn't you? I've offered you help..."

"That's enough of that," Igescu said. "You two can play dice or agame ofbilliards for him. But the winner saves a piece for me, understood?"

"Dice won't take so long," Magda said.

The baron nodded at Glam, who clamped a hand on Childe's shoulderfrom behind and steered him out of the room. Magda called, "See you soon, lover!"

Mrs. Grasatchow said, "In a pig's ass, you will!" and Magdalaughed andsaid, "He'll be in a pig's ass if you win!"

"Don't push me too far!" the fat woman shrilled.

Then Childe was being steered down the hall to its end and aroundthe corner and down two flights of stairs. The hall here was of large grayblocks of stone. The door before which they halted was of thick black wood with ironbosses forming the outline of an archaic and grinning face. Glam shifted hisgrip fromthe shoulder to the neck and squeezed. Childe thought the blood wouldbe pushedout of the top of his head. He went to his knees and leaned his headagainst thewall while his senses, and the pain in his neck, returned. Glamunlocked the door, dragged Childe into the room by one hand, and dropped the handwhen he came to the far wall. He completely undressed the feebly resistingChilde, lifted him up and snapped a metal collar shut around his neck. Glampicked upthe clothes and went out, locking the door behind him.

There was a single unshaded light in the center of the ceiling. The floor was covered with straw and a few blankets. The walls and ceilingswere painted alight red.

When his strength came back, Childe found that the metal collarwas attached by a four-foot-long lightweight chain to an eyebolt sunk into thestone of the wall. He looked around but could see nothing to indicate that camerasor eyeswere on him. The walls and ceiling seemed to be unbroken. However, it was possible that one or more of the stones was actually a one-waywindow.

There was a rattle at the door. A key clicked in the lock. Thedoor swungopen. Magda entered. She wore nothing--unless you could count the keyin her hand. She stood there smiling at him. Suddenly, she whirled. Shesaid, "Who isthat?" and he got a glimpse of her back, of the egg-shaped hips, asshe went swiftly into the hall.

There was a thump and a gasp. Then, silence.

Childe had no idea of what was happening, but he supposed thatGlam or Grasatchow had attacked Magda. He had not thought that they woulddare, sincethe baron had made it plain exactly how far they might go.

He waited. A sound as of a bare body being dragged along thestone floor came to him. Then, more silence. Then, a whispering. This sound wasnot that of a human voice but the friction of silk against silk.

He jerked with fright.

Dolores del Osorojo entered the doorway. With a swirl of skirts, she turned and closed the door. She faced him then and advanced slowly towardhim, herwhite arms held out to him. She was not transparent or semiopaque. She was as solid as young flesh could be. Her black hair and white face and redlips andwhite swelling bust were solid. And sweet.

Childe was too scared to respond to the arms around him and thebreasts and lips pressed close to him. He was cold, although her breath was hotand the tongue she slid back and forth over his tongue was hot. Warm salivaleaked from her mouth over his chin and down his chest. She was panting.

Childe tried to back away. The wall stopped him. She pressedagainst him, and he lacked the will, or the strength, to try to push her away. Hewas still trembling.

The woman muttered something in Spanish. He did not understandthe words, but her tone was intended to be soothing. She backed away and beganto undress swiftly. The dress slid off, and the three petticoats, and then theknee lengthunderwear and the long black stockings and corset. Dolores, in thenude, was amagnificent woman. The breasts were full and the nipples, almost aslarge as theends of his thumbs, pointed upwards slightly. The pubic hair wasthick and black and a line extended from it upward, like the smoke from a distantfire, to hernavel. The fluid beginning to soak her hair and run down her legshowed how deeply impatient she was.

Childe, seeing these, felt less afraid. She looked too much ofthe protoplasm, too little of the ectoplasm, for him to believe to thecore of his mind that she was truly a ghost.

He was far from being at ease, however. And when he tried hislittle Spanishto ask her if she could release him, he realized that she had nointention of letting him loose. Or else she was not able to do so.

He repeated his request that she get the key from Magda. Sheshook her head, indicating that she would not do so or she did not understand him. Perhaps--hehoped--she meant to release him but only after she had gotten whatshe wanted What she wanted, for some reason or other, was Childe.

Not that it was any mystery about what she wanted. The reason whyhe was her choice was the mystery. At present, he could do nothing to find out.

She kissed him again and again and finally she began to play withhis peniswhile she kissed him. He could not get an erection; the touch of herfingersturned his flesh cold as a dying man's, and he shrank from her. Hewas, literally, spooked.

Finally, she quit kissing him. She backed away again andinspected him withstabs of her black eyes and then frowned. But she approached again, speaking insoothing but incomprehensible Spanish, and got down on her knees inthe straw. She took his limp penis into her warm mouth. She began to suckslowly, while thetips of her fingers touched the insides of his thighs where the thighand bellymet. His flesh began to warm, and the penis, as if the blood, oncefrozen, hadsuddenly become fluid, began to fill out. The old familiar but neverboringsensations began to come back. He put his hands on her hair andpulled the highcomb out and let it flood loose around her shoulders. He moved his hips back andforth.

Suddenly, she had unmouthed his penis and was kissing him again, running hertongue around his mouth. Then she took his penis and, rising to hertoes, letherself down upon it. It slid up into her cunt; she moved back andforth a few times, and he came.

There are orgasms and there are orgasms.

This was so exquisite that he passed out, very briefly, duringthe ejaculations.

It was as if she had sparked within the chamber of her cunt, asif a centuryand a half of chastity were loosed along the shaft of his cock. Or asif she had generated a current that shot lightning down his nerves. So intensewas the sensation, he was not sure that he was not burned out--literally. Perhapssomething electrical had been discharged.

Childe was restricted to an upright position because of thechain. He told the woman, the ghost, or whatever she was, to get the key from Magda, but she paid him no attention except to look at him when he was talking. Hecould not understand why she did not get the key, since it was to her advantageto do so. And then it occurred to him that she was probably afraid that hewould take off and leave her. And she did not want that, because she had too much tounloose. Or so it seemed to him.

He was limited in his area of activity and angle of position, butDolores was ingenious. After she had sucked his penis into a full rigidityagain, drawing in on it with just the reverse action of blowing up a balloonbut with the direct effect of blowing and had licked off and swallowed thespermaticfluid and cleaned off his penis in the process, she released it. Shegot down onher hands and knees and turned away from him and then stood up on herhands, herlegs spread wide. She let herself fall frontward, toward him, and herfeet struck the wall on each side of him. After working her way forward onher hands a little, she was in the position she wanted. He thought at first ofrefusingher, but after considering that she might leave him locked up if hedid, hegrabbed her hips. His penis went past and under the anus and into theslit and she rocked back and forth.

Like Magda, she could squeeze upon his dong with the muscles ofthe vaginalsheath. He moved only a little, pulling her hips in to him with shortsavagejerks. Within a few seconds, she was shuddering and sobbing, apparently havingone orgasm on the heels of the next. Her cries were in Spanish. Heknew little of that, but he could catch, "Oh, holy fucking virgin mother Maria! Oh, fatherof the big cock! Fuck! Fuck! Shit! Shit! Oh, Christ, blessed Jesus, ah, sweetJesus, he's fucking me! Fuck me, blessed flesh! Sweet flesh, fuckme!"

At that time he did not think about her words; he was justreacting. But hewould remember and wonder. If she were the daughter of old Don delOsorojo, thesheltered daughter of the weird old grandee, she had a surprisingvocabulary. But then, during a century and a half of hanging around live people, she could be expected to pick up words she might not have heard before death. But whyhadn't she learned English in that time?

Now, he did not think of what she was saying. He was taking along timecoming, so long that he was able to turn her over, or around. Her arms were then braced below her, her feet against the wall, her cunt rammed againsthim, andshe pushed back and forth while he reached down and rubbed herbreasts and nipples with his hands. She had strong muscles; she could remain inthat human-arch position, her head hanging down, and rock back and forthand occasionally stab her ass forward with no support of his hands underher hips.

After what seemed a long time, he jetted. Dolores screamed withthe crescendo of climaxes. Then she let her feet slide down the wall while he helpedease her weight with his hands on her buttocks and then clamped herlegs betweenhis arms and let her slide on down. On the floor, she lay on herback, pantingand looking up while spermatic fluid fell drop by drop into her openmouth. Then she scooted a little to one side to let the drops fall on her breastsand rubbed the sticky stuff over them. The chlorox odor of the fluid and theodor of sweat were strong in the chamber.

When her breathing became normal, Dolores rose and gave him along tongueyspermaticky kiss. Her hand fondled his testicles.

He turned his head away and said, "No more, Dolores. Or whoeveror whatever you are."

His legs trembled. Fucking in bed was demanding enough, butfucking standingup took twice as much out of him. And it seemed to him that Doloreshad means for draining him of more than the normal quota of energy. For a fewseconds, shehad given him energy--he would swear that she had discharged acurrent down his penis--but then the orgasms had been so exquisite that they hadopened gates todrain the reservoir.

He had no objective reason for thinking so, but he felt that shehad robbed him of a certain amount of vital energy and strengthened andsolidified herself. Certainly, she had seemed flesh enough when he had felt her. But now, she seemed to have somehow become even more solid.

Dolores, seeing him shake so, said something, smiled, and heldher finger upas if to tell him to wait there. (What the hell else could he do?) And she left the room. In a few seconds, she was back with a bottle of red wineand a bigchunk of filet mignon. (Did she have secret access to the kitchen?) He said no to the wine but eagerly ate the meat. Although he had finished supperonly ahalf-hour ago, or so it seemed, he was very hungry.

Dolores tilted the bottle to her lips and drank. Almost, heexpected to seea dark column going down the throat and into the stomach, as if she were a transparent figure in a stomach-acid commercial. But he could seeonly theAdam's apple moving.

If he was hungry, she was thirsty. She kept the bottle to herlips until itwas half empty. She may have intended to fully empty it, but a noisecame through the door, which she had left ajar. Dolores jerked and droppedthe bottle. It fell on its side and spurted red wine on the straw.

She bent down and scooped up all her clothes, rolled them into abundle, which she placed under her right arm, and then kissed him swiftly, breathingwine and sperm. She ran to the wall on his right; her left handpushed along thejuncture of two gray blocks. With a groan and a squeak, a section ofwall, consisting of blocks six high and four wide, swung inward on the leftside. The interior was dark. Dolores turned and smiled and threw something thatglittered. He lunged for it, but the chain jerked him back, cutting off hisbreath, and theobject bounced off his fingertips and fell on the straw.

It was the key to the lock on the metal collar.

The darkness swallowed Dolores. The section, squeaking andgroaning again, swung shut.

A huge head with huge jowls, large purplish eyes, and a high- piledblue-black hairdo, came around the corner of the doorway. Mrs. Grasatchow.

From behind her came excited voices. The fat woman's eyeswidened. She pushed the door open and waddled across the straw to Childe. Heslowly drew backthe foot he had extended to try to move the key toward him.

Mrs. Grasatchow sniffed loudly and then screamed, "Jism!" Shegrunted like asow about to give birth. "Who's been here? Who? Tell me! Who?"

"Didn't you see her?" Childe said. "She went down the hall!" "Who?" "Dolores del Osorojo!" Mrs. Grasatchow's, skin was naturally pale and made even whiter


by her powder. But she managed to turn more white.


The baron, a long cigar in one hand, entered the room. He said, "I thoughtit would be Dolores. Only she..."

The fat woman whirled swiftly, as graceful as a rhinoceros, whichis hugebut can be very graceful in certain movements.

"You said...you pooh-poohed Dolores! You said she couldn't be anydanger tous!"

The baron looked shrewdly at Childe before answering. He puffedon his cigarand said, "It didn't seem likely that she would ever get enough plasmlongenough to harden it. But I was wrong."

"What did she do to Magda?" Mrs. Grasatchow said. The baron shrugged. "We'll have to ask Magda that when she comes

to. If she does."

The doorway was filled with the body of Glam. He carried Magda, still naked, in his arms. Her head lolled, her long blonde hair hung down, herarms and legswere limp.

Glam said, "What do I do with her?"

"Take her upstairs to her room. Put her to bed. Tell Vivienne tolook at her."

Glam's expression flickered from stone-mask to somethingunreadable and back to stone-mask. The baron said, "She's defenseless now, true. But if I were you, I wouldn't try anything."

Glam said nothing. He turned and carried the woman off. The twoblond youths, Chornkin and Krautschner, looked in, each from a side of thedoorway.

"Did you see Dolores?" the baron said.

They shook their heads. The baron glanced at the section of wallwhich had opened for Dolores. He opened his mouth as if he were going to tellthe youthswhere she had gone and to send them after her. But he closed hislips.

Childe thought that perhaps the baron preferred to keep certainsecrets. Didn't he trust the two? Or did he think it would be futile to chase after her? In any event, he must think that Childe had seen the exit.

"She has to be flesh enough to fuck," Mrs. Grasatchow said. "Lookat the redness of his cock and the jism."

"I can see," the baron said dryly. "Magda's key was gone. Childe, do youhave it?"

Childe shook his head. Igescu went to the two youths and theywhispered fora moment. Then the youths turned their backs to each other and wentoff down the hall, bent over, searching. The baron came back in and said, "Takeyour eyes offhis cock, and help me look for that key."

"Here it is!" Mrs. Grasatchow said.

She stooped, picked it up, and straightened, groaning. The barontook it and put it in his jacket pocket.

Childe tightened his lips. He had no chance now, unless Dolorescame back to help him. He doubted that she would. Although she bad thrown the keyto him, shehad not made sure he had had it, and she had had time to do so. Thegesture hadseemed to say that he could escape if he were agile enough and cleverenough. Perhaps, she was resentful of her long, long frustrating imprisonmentin incorporeality. She might have wanted him to suffer, too. After all, she had taken him, not because of affection or love but because she needed anobject torelieve herself on.

But she was partly on his side. That was his only hope, atpresent.

The baron left the room, and, in a few seconds, the two youthsentered. The boy had the key. He unlocked the collar, and he and the girl, eachholdingChilde by an arm, hustled him out of the room. They passed two doorsand entered the third, which was already open. This was a room the size of theone he had just left, but its walls were oak-paneled, the ceiling was paintedlight blue, and the floor was covered with a thick Persian rug profuse withswastikas inside circles. There were a number of collars hanging from chains attachedto bolts sunk into the wall, however. Childe was again held by a metal collar.

This room must have no secret entrances.

The baron looked at his wristwatch and said, "We have to dosomething abouther. She wasn't dangerous until she got enfleshed. But everything hasits disadvantage. Now she's dangerous, she's also vulnerable. We can dosomethingabout her, and we will. I'm going to call a conference."

Mrs. Grasatchow pouted. She said, "Now Magda's out of the way, I'd thought..."

"Half an hour. No more," Igescu said. "I'll send somebody down toescort you. You wouldn't want to be alone on the way up."

The fat woman started. It was as if a tidal wave were racingthrough herflesh.

"You mean I...I... have to worry? That I'm in danger?" She bellowed with laughter. "We all are," the baron said. "All of a sudden, our security is


gone. This," he stabbed a thumb at Childe, "has something to do with it but Idon't know what. He's a focus of some sort. Maybe Dolores has been waiting forsomeone like him all these years.

"Half an hour," he said. "I mean it. And don't use him up. Istill want a piece of him."

The baron left, closing the door behind him. Mrs. Grasatchowstarted to take her clothes off. Childe's legs began to shake again.

CHAPTER 16

He told her that she was wasting her time. He did not tell, herthat, evenif he had not been drained and weakened, he would have been unable torespondpositively to her. The enormous hanging breasts, the tremendousbelly, whichcurved out and overhung the genitals so far that they could not beseen in the shadows and folds, the hips, sackish with fat, the tree-trunk legs, repulsedhim. He doubted that he could have gotten a hard-on even if he werein full strength and had not had an emission for a month.

Mrs. Grasatchow said, "That spook-bitch sucked you dry, heh?" Andthen she laughed. She was close to him; the blast of alcohol made him feellike vomiting. There must be almost two gallons in that pony-sized gut.

She had brought into the room a large bear-skin-purse and abottle of wine and a bottle of Scotch. She poured the wine over his belly andgenitals and thengot on her knees and licked them off. He did not respond.

She came up off her knees like a boulder tossed up by a volcanicexplosion. Her hand struck him on the side of his jaw. He saw comets and fellback, half-unconscious, against the wall.

"You little asshole!" she screamed. "You may look like George, but you surearen't the man he was!"

She waddled to her purse and took out a silvery cone about twoinches long. "This will put some life into you! Once it's in you!"

Grinning, she approached him. He shrank back against the wall andthen leaped out at her, striking at her. Laughing, she caught his wristand turned it until he cried out in agony and sank to his knees as far as the chainwould allow. Choking; he tried to stand up again, but she forced him downuntil he was almost unconscious again.

He regained his senses to find himself turned around, his face tothe wall. Something--he knew it was the cone--was being shoved up his anus.

"You've never had anything like this, little man!" she crooned. "Never! You'll not forget this night, as long as you live! Oh, little man, Iwish I were you just now, so I could fuck me!"

The cone burned at first and made him feel as if he had to shit. After about half a minute, it seemed to turn icy and to become heavy, as if itwere a lead sinker just removed from a freezer. The coldness and heaviness spreadout, uphis intestines, coil after coil, like a snake racing ahead of the IceAge buttoo slow, into his testicles, which became bells ringing withchilliness, intohis solar plexus, and, at the other terminus, into his penis. Liquidnitrogenpumping into every tube of his body.

He squirmed as the stuff fell down the shafts of his legs andflapped slowlyspiraling up the shaft of his trunk. The powerful bands of the fatwoman tightened, and she said, "Quiet, little lover. This won't hurt you, and you'llbe a man such as you never were!"

The icy weight lapped at the base of his brain. His neckbones andhindbrain felt crystallized. He could distinguish each vertebra and each cellof the cerebellum as a frozen entity. He could also feel the individualvessels of his penis slowly filling with half-frozen blood. By then, Mrs. Grasatchowhad turned him around again and was down on her elephantine knees and sucking onhis penis. She grunted as if she were a sow tearing into a corncob, but, as faras he could detect, he was being treated gently enough. Her jaws did not move, only herlips, shaped around the glands, moved. He could feel nothing. Hemight as wellhave had a hundred local shots of morphine over his body and onemassive shot in his penis. But if his brain was receiving no tactile message, part ofhis bodywas. The penis, like an independent creature, a leech stuck in hermouth and drawing blood from her tongue, was gradually filling up.

When she felt that it was as swollen and rigid as it could be, she stood up. She said, "You're not going any place, not now!" She unlocked thecollar and putthe key in her purse. He tried to run from her to the door, but hislegs wouldnot move.

She lay down on the floor and spread her thighs open--it was likethe Red Sea splitting to make passage for the horde of Moses--and she said, "Eat me!"

Obediently, although his frozen brain tried to push out a messageof resistance to his nerves, he got down and spread the slit open andprepared totongue the clitoris first, as was his habit.

She said, "No, idiot! The other way! Sixty-nine!"

He crawled up onto her and swiveled around. She took in his penisuntil his hairs pressed against her lips. He could not feel this, but he lookedthroughthe space that existed briefly between their bodies and saw the hairsand the narrow band of the root. He flicked the tip of his tongue over the"little penis." A "little penis" this clitoris was. He had never seen such anenormous one. He did have some difficulty getting to it, however, because herbelly wasso huge. It was like having to curve over a hill, hanging upsidedown, to lickat a spring in a crevasse at the bottom of the hill.

The worst of it was, he felt no sexual stimulation, only disgust. But he had to do exactly as she said, and his organs, outside of the brain, mustbe responding to some sensory input.

At another order, he withdrew his penis from her mouth and turnedaround and inserted it into her vagina. He began pumping slowly but soon speededup inresponse to her command. She began groaning and moaning, turning herhead from side to side, crying out in a foreign language, rolling the greathips sidewaysand then thrusting and now and then lifting herself up from the waistand grabbing his buttocks and pulling and pushing him.

He did not know how long they were in this position nor whetheror not he had an orgasm. But the time came when she rolled him off her, theuncouplingwetly announcing itself, and got above him and eased herself downupon his penisand moved the great body as lightly and swiftly as a toy balloon onthe end of a string. After what seemed to be a hundred orgasms, judging by hernumber of frenzies, she got off him and went to the corner after her bottle ofwhiskey. Heseemed able to move a little of his own volition, so he turned towatch her. She sat on the rug, leaning against the wall, looking like an over- yeasted mass ofdough.

Childe became aware that he was gasping. He could hear his breathrattlingin and out, but he could not feel the thudding of heart nor themoving of hisribs.

Mrs. Grasatchow downed at least a fourth of the quart and thenlooked at her wristwatch.

"Forty-five minutes," she said. "Igescu will be furious."

She heaved herself up and said, "Hmm! What's wrong? He said he'dsend somebody after me."

She opened the door and looked down the hallway. Childe tried torun toward her then, hoping to knock her down with his momentum and get awaydown the hall. He only managed, after a seemingly long time, to get to his feet. Ifhe had exerted himself prodigiously, he did not know it. Reception from hismuscles was still cut off.

On seeing him move, the woman's eyebrows went up, and she said, "Do you feelthat suppository burning now?"

"No," he said. "It's still cold and heavy."

"You'll feel it in a moment. You'll think a hot-air balloon is going up yourass!"

A laughquake shook her. Afterward, she said, "That stuff has avery peculiareffect. You didn't feel anything while you were fucking me, but wait. I wish I could take advantage of you then, but you'll have to enjoy yourselfwith yourself."

She looked at her wristwatch again. "Maybe I won't go. I thinkIgescu hasforgotten me. Or he knows I'll be very angry indeed if I don't getall of you. Now, you just stand right there, little Georgey Porgey Pudding Pie. I'll fix youup again, and double the effect. I don't want you acting up on me."

As if a bore tide had reversed and was running back to sea, thecoldness and heaviness became warmth and lightness. The second effect startedwhere the first had ended, in the brain and the tip of his glands. The warmth andlightnessraced inward from all borders and met in the region of the cone, inhis anus, where, for a second, it burned as if a meteorite had just ended itsfiery curvethere.

He cried out with the pain.

The fat woman said, "Oh, oh! It's happened!" and she charged, onehand opento grab him and another cone in the other hand. She seemed to grow aslarge asthe wall. Her flesh shook like a loose robe in a stiff wind. Childe launched himself at her, his hands out to grab her ears, because he meant totear them off. He would have to fight savagely to get past her to the door. Even when he had his full strength, he would have been outmuscled by her, not tomention outweighed.

His hands caught her ears, and his face thrust into one breast asviolently"as if he had been dropped from the ceiling onto her. She screamed, because he had bitten down on the excrescence suddenly appearing between histeeth. It was- her nipple, as he found out when he got up from the floor where shehad thrown him. He spat out the piece of flesh--the nipple and some white skinaround it--and rose shakily. She was still screaming and rolling back andforth and clutching her mutilated breast.

Childe did not wait to completely recover from the impact of thefloor. Fighting dizziness and a pain in his shoulder, he kicked her betweenher legs asshe started to roll toward him. His big toe disappeared momentarilyin her slit. She screamed again. A flailing arm knocked his leg out from underhim. He fell crosswise on top of her belly. She clamped her arms down on hisbuttocks and then one hand slid down to grab his testicles. With a desperate jerk, he turned over to face her, still crosswise, seized a breast, and twisted.

Her arms came up; she screamed again. Childe rolled away acrossher bellyand down her legs. It was like rolling down a small hill. He got outof the wayof her kicking legs and leaped up and came down with both bare feeton her face. Her head was driven back against the floor; her nose was smashed; blood burst; her eyes crossed.

Again, he leaped and came down with both feet on her belly. Hesank deep. Her wind whooshed out, as if somebody had opened a big door to adistillery with a strong cross-draft. He almost gagged. But he jumped a third time, once more on her face. Her nose became even flatter. Her eyes rolled up until onlythe whites showed. Her mouth was wide open, braced like a sail against the windof her agony to get her breath back.

And, at that moment, the cone reversed its effect. It was as ifthe entire coition with her had been recorded with a glass window betweenhimself and his nerve endings. He could see but could not hear. Now, the glass wasgone, and hecould hear the rerun. With this difference.

He was no longer frozen. He now felt everything exquisitely; hecould feel his cock in her mouth and between her breasts and in her cunt, eventhough theywere no longer there.

During the fight, though he had not been aware of it, he had hadan erection. Now, he jetted, and the delayed-reaction orgasm stormed hisbody. Hefell to the floor and writhed helplessly, if ecstatically, in itslightnings. There was nothing else, for the moment, he could do.

CHAPTER 17

When he could regain control, he got up and staggered toward thedoor. Although his penis no longer spouted, it remained as hard as beforeand did not have the delicious emptied-to-good-purpose feeling of an after- orgasm. It didfeel pleasurable, increasingly pleasurable, as if he were againworking up tocoition. He could, however, ignore it for the present.

Mrs. Grasatchow still lay on her back, arms and legs outflung, her mouth open, and her eyes open and showing white, as if hardboiled eggs hadbeen stuffed into the sockets.

He noticed a large turd spread out on the rug between him andMrs. Grasatchow. So, he had been "scared shitless" sometime during thefight. He hadnot known when he spurted out the excrement; it did not matter. Hewas sure that he had expelled the turd and not she, although it was possible thatshe had when he had jumped on her face. It was, however, so far from her that hedoubted it.

Gingerly stepping by the turd, he walked to her purse, which wasnear the door. In it he found the key to the door. She had locked the doorafter lookingdown the hallway the last time. He unlocked it and, carrying herpurse, wentdown the hall toward the room in which he had originally beenimprisoned.

First, though he hated the idea of any delay, he had toinvestigate theother rooms along the hall. There was always the chance of otherprisonersthere. Perhaps Sybil was in one. Six doors were closed. Three wereunlocked and contained not much of interest. Three opened to the key from the fatwoman's purse.

The first two were small rooms with padded walls and floor. Thethird contained some furniture, modern Danish, with a color TV set, a well- stocked bar, a pool table, and cartons of cigarettes and cigars and boxes ofmarijuanasticks and bottles with pills of various sizes, shapes, and colors. It looked as if it might be a rest room or recreation room. The occupants couldrelax here between their working bouts in the other room. There was also a largebureau with a mirror, which he did not think was one-way. The top of it wascrowded with cosmetics and held some wigs.

He opened the drawers, hoping to find some clothes he could wear. Before he could examine one, he was overcome with another semi-epileptic orgasmand jettedover the clothes in the top drawer. There was a washroom which heused to clean his genitals, face and hands, and his mouth. He drank several glassesof water and returned to the bureau.

There were some T-shirts and gym shorts. He found some that werenear enoughto his size and put them on. Then it occurred to him that he wasgoing to haveanother ejaculation soon and would be very uncomfortable. It waseither that or stick his cock out. He decided on the latter, although he feltridiculous. And he looked ridiculous in the mirror. A knight with a stubby delicatelance. Some knight! Some detective! A private dick become public.

There were some socks but no shoes. He put the socks on andcontinued his search. If only a weapon were here. No luck. Too much to hope for, ofcourse. The two lower drawers were crammed with flat transparent plasticenvelopescontaining something unidentifiable. He opened one and shook out thecontents. It fluttered out like a transparent flag to a length of about sixfeet. It had four extensions, a thick mass of hair on one end, and a circularpatch of hairin the middle. Just beside the thick mass of hair was a small red valve like that on a child's plastic inflatable swimming pool. He blew it up andfelt weakened by the exertion before he had completed the job.

After seeing what he had, he was horrified, although he hadsuspected whatthe result would be.

Somehow, Colben's skin had been stripped from his body and madeinto a balloon. The apertures: earholes, mouth, anus, and the mutilatedpenis, had beensewn over with flaps of skin. His eyes had been painted blue, and themouth was painted with a facsimile of labial red. The pubic hairs were stillattached, andthese, together with the sewed fold between his legs, gave him awomanish appearance.

Childe did not have time to deflate him. He pushed him sailingaway, andfrantically removed the contents of the other envelopes. One was thehead of Budler. He presumed that the wolf in the film had eaten the rest ofBudler or so mangled it that it could not be used for a balloon. His head wentspinning overand over toward the corner, where Colben, turned upside down by theweight ofhis hair, and the valve on the back of his neck, stood on his head.

There were a number of women, only four of whom had the rightlength orcolor of hair for Sybil. Despite this, he inflated all of them. Whenhe had blown up the last one, he was panting as if he had run a half-milethrough thesmog. The effort was only partly responsible. He had been so certainthat the last one would have Sybil's features.

He sat down and sipped on another glass of water. There werethirty-eightskins at one end of the room. Most of them were upside down, but afew had fallen against the others and leaned one way or another. The lightfrom a lampin the corner shone through many of them so that they seemed a mob ofdrunken ghosts. The draft from the air-conditioning moved them back and fortha little as if they were phantoms of the drowned.

Thirty-eight. Twenty-five males. Thirteen females. Of the males, fifteen were Caucasians, seven were Negroes, three were Mongolians orIndians. Of the females, nine were Caucasians and four were Negresses.

All were adult. If any had been children, he would not have beenable to endure it. He would have run screaming down the hall. He thought hewas tough, but he would not have been able to stand the sight of the inflatedskins of children.

As it was, he was angry and sick. More angry than sick at themoment. What were they planning on doing with these...these corpse-balloons? Fillthem with hydrogen and send them flying over Los Angeles?

That was probably exactly what they would do. It would be on apar, no, would surpass, the effrontery of the films.

He rose and took a bottle of vodka by the neck and went back tothe doorway of the room in which he had left Mrs. Grasatchow. She was sitting upand vomiting. Blood was still trickling from her nostrils. On seeingChilde, shesnarled and managed to lift herself to her feet. Blood and vomitsmeared her immense belly.

"You'll beg me to kill you!" she screamed.

"Why will I?" he said. He stepped inside the room. "Before I killyou, Iwant you to tell me why you did that to all those people? And why didyou stripoff their skins?"

"I'll rip your balls off!" she shouted. She charged him then; hebraced himself, the bottle lifted high. But she stepped on the turd and herfeet shot up and ahead of her and she fell heavily on her back. She lay there, groaningbut seemingly knocked out. He hit her, once, on the side of her headwith the bottle she had dropped and then locked the door to the room. Thebottle in one hand and her purse on the other arm, and his penis sticking out--whata hero I make! he thought--he entered the room in which he had first beenchained.

But he came out of it at once and went into the recreation room. He needed evidence. The police wouldn't believe much of his story after he toldit, butthey would have to believe that a part of it was true when he showedthem Colben and Budler. And another picked at random who might turn out to havebeen reported missing.

The deflation was as ghastly as he had expected. The air hissedout, andBudler and the woman shrank like the witch on whom Dorothy had thrownwater. But Colben--he always was slippery--got away and shot around the room, butting intoseveral of the phantoms and knocking them heads over heels. He cameto rest draped over the bar. Childe pulled him off the bar then as he hadpulled himaway several times when he was living. He rolled him up and stuffedhim into the purse on top of Budler's head and the red-headed woman.

The section of wall opened for him after a number of experimentsof runninghis hand along the juncture of the blocks which Dolores had pressed. He steppedinside with a pencil-flashlight taken from the purse. The sectionswung shutbehind him, and he began walking slowly. The passageway was warm anddusty andnarrow. It led past several rooms, each of which had a one-way mirrorbut no entrance that he could detect. They were similar to those lining theother hallway. A stairway confronted him. He walked up this uneasily, although he didnot think that it could be a trap, since he was so deep in the earth.

But he could not be sure. At the top, he was in a passageway which offeredhim two routes. There were prints in the dust, a long pointed shoeprint whichhe presumed was the baron's and those of a dog's or a wolf's. The latestled to his right, so he decided to follow them. One way was as good as another; and something had to decide him.

His flashlight showed him several squares in the walls. When heopenedthese, he saw through one-way mirrors into a number of rooms, one ofwhich he thought he remembered. It was a Louis Quatorze bedroom, but it didnot seem quite like the one he remembered. It did have an entrance through thepaneling. He took it and after stepping softly around it and looking into thebathroom, knew this was not the same room. The queer disturbing mirror wasmissing. Hestarted to open the door to look out into the next room or thehallway butthought better of it. He placed his ear against the wood and was gladthat he had done so. The murmur of voices came through the wood.

The keyhole let him hear more clearly but not clearly enough. After turningoff all the lights in the room, he turned the knob carefully andeased the door open. The voices came from the end of the hall. He could see partwaydown it but not far enough to see the speakers. The voices were identifiable, except fortwo. These could be Chornkin's and Krautschner's, since they had notspoken whenintroduced or at the dinner table. They could also be those ofnewcomers.

"...much energy from Magda, as I said before," Igescu was sayingloudly. Heseemed angered and, perhaps, a little frightened. "I think Doloreshad gatheredenough around her to take tangible and enduring shape, enough torender Magdapowerless for a moment and suck her almost dry. She didn't kill Magdabut she came damn close. And then Glam, that damn fool! he deserved what hegot! Butthen what can you expect from his kind? Glam fucked her, although I'dwarned him often enough what might happen. I think be thought he was safe. Butthe very actof fucking gave her energy enough; she came to and found Glam in her, how she hated him! And you saw Glam!"

The strange male voice interrupted softly. Childe could notunderstand what he was saying. Igescu's reply was loud enough.

"Yes, Magda got the energy but not enough! She's stuck in stasis, and she won't get out unless she kills another! Which will mean someone here, in this house!"

The strange female voice spoke then; it was even softer than themale's. Igescu said, "Childe would do it! I had other plans for him, but Ican give themup! We have to find Magda first and get her to Childe! Otherwise...!"

"Dolores?" Mrs. Pocyotl said.

Childe could almost see the baron's shrug. The baron said, "Whoknows? She's X! A dangerous X! If she can do that to Magda, she can do that to anyof us. But I doubt that she could attack more than one of us at a time and I think she'd have to surprise us, just as she must have surprised Magda! So, we'dbetter hangtogether, as...

A shout interrupted him. Footsteps sounded. The group was goingaround the corner and down the stairs to the cause of commotion. More shouts. He swung thedoor wider and peeped down the hall. The only one there was BendingGrass, wholeaned his stocky form against the wall and cocked his head to lookdown the stairway. Then somebody called his name and he disappeared.

Childe ran down the hallway to the only door opened. This was bythe head of the steps, and the group had been assembled outside it. He stuck hishead in. The room was strange, looked more like a movie director's idea of aTurkish harem than anything else. There were rugs and drapes and cushions andottomans and even a hookah and a dresser so low that Magda must have had tosit cross-legged while she looked in the mirror. There was a marble-linedbath sunk level with the floor. It was almost large enough to qualify as asmall swimmingpool. Beyond it was a low marble enclosure which presumably hadserved Magda asa bed, since it was piled with cushions and pillows and canopied withmany silkveils.

Glam's black soft-leather boots stuck out over the enclosure. Childe walked swiftly in, past the bath, which was full of cold water, and lookedover the marble railing. Glam had died with his boots on. Also, his pants. Hehad stripped off his shirt and undershirt and pulled his pants downaround his knees, but he had been too eager to bother taking all of his clothesoff.

There was blood on his pants and much blood on his body. Bloodhad spurtedout from his ears, nostrils, eyes, mouth, anus, and penis. Somethinghad violently squeezed him. The ribs were caved in; the arms wereflattened; the hipbones had been pushed inward toward each other. Not only blood hadbeen expelledfrom every aperture. The contents of the bowels and about six feet ofthe bowels themselves had been pressed out of his anus.

Near the bed, a section of wall stood open. Whether Magda hadtaken this or Igescu had opened it to see if she had taken it, Childe could notknow. But he could not linger long here; his route of escape was suddenly nolonger a matterof choice. Voices announced the return of the others. He might havehad time to slip back through the door and up the hallway, but he did not darechance it. He went through the opening in the wall.

Before he had taken a dozen steps, he was seized. He groaned witha despairing ecstasy and braced himself with both hands against thewalls while he spouted and shook. Afterward, he cursed, but he could do nothingabout his condition. He walked on. His penis still stuck straight out andslightly at anupward angle, like the bowsprit of a ship. The cone was workingwithin him. God knew how long its effect lasted, how long it would take to meltentirely away.

Almost, he decided to hide in the passageway near, the still openpanel andeavesdrop. But every second he was in this house meant recapture anddeath, andhe was frightened because of what had happened to Glam and of whatthe others had said about Magda. Frightened was not strong enough. He was closeto panic. And this was strange, because the terror should have taken from himany sexualstimulation whatsoever. Under these circumstances, he should havebeen unable to retain an erection.

But there it was, independent of his other feelings, as if aswitch had been thrown to place his genitals on a separate circuit. The cone, whatever it was, must not only be the prime mover of his state, it must also be theprime feeder. It had to be furnishing the energy to keep manufacturing all thisspermaticfluid at such an extraordinary rate of speed. Generally, whenunusuallystimulated, when first in love, or sometimes when the marijuana hithim justright, he could have three or four orgasms within several hours. But, usually, one or two in an hour, and he was done for four or five hours. He hadsometimes twitted himself with being the most undersexed private eye inhistory, without, of course, really believing his self-deprecation. But now, he seemedto be a fountain with a never-ending reservoir. And, of course, he would beso in a situation where it was the last thing he wanted.

Thus, when he thought he was far enough away from the paneling, he turned on the flashlight. And he saw the white figure of Dolores coming towardhim. Her arms were open and she was smiling. Her eyes were half-lidded but bright, andtwo patches of wetness shone on her thighs. It seemed to be hismisfortune to encounter over lubricating women. However, after a century and a halfof enforced abstinence, she could not be blamed.

She barred his way. She was solid flesh enough, no man knew thatbetter than he, yet he hesitated to attack her. The fate of Magda was warningenough. Moreover, there was the chance that if he did what she wanted, hemight work offthe effect of the cone. It was just possible. And he thought that heprobablyhad no choice, anyway. So he put down his purse, turned off theflashlight, anddropped his pants. She pulled him down on her and he put his penis inswiftlyand began to thrust without preliminaries of any kind. He had hopedthat he would come at once, but even though he now had her soft wet flesharound his penis, and though the pleasure was somewhat heightened, he was unableto disengage himself from the automatic effects of the cone.

At length he came and then, when; he tried to pull himself away, he found himself unable to. Her arms looked feminine and soft enough and feltso, but shehad the strength of a python in each.

Thinking of pythons made him think of Magda, and he became evenmore alarmed. If she came upon them now, she would have himhelpless...thosecoils...Glam...He shuddered even as he began to pump again. His skinhad turned cold and his hairs felt as if they were bristling in the static ofterror. His anus was a dot of ice, a bull's eye for Magda if she crawled upbehind him and raised her head to unloose a hammer stroke.

He groaned and muttered, "I must be out of my mind, I'm reallybelievingthat crap!" and then he groaned again, this time because he wascoming oncemore.

It was no use. Lying with Dolores was not canceling or evendiminishing theeffects of the cone. And he was certainly not stupid enough to bangaway at herfor the sheer pleasure of it while his life was in danger. Especiallysince he had had enough of this "pleasure" to last him for a long time.

He tried to break loose. Her arms did not tighten, but they alsodid not relax. He was not going to get out until he had satisfied her or wasunable to keep an erection, and she was not going to be satisfied for a longtime and he did not know how long he would last, but he suspected that it wouldbe for hours and hours.

Remembering what he had done to Mrs. Grasatchow during the fight, he bit down upon Dolores' nipple. His bite did not take the nipple off, butit was painful enough to cause her to open her arms and to scream. He wasout of her embrace and had jumped away to where she could not reach him, pulledup hispants, stooped to pick up the flashlight and purse, and was runningdown the passageway, before she had stopped screaming.

The noise, of course, would be heard in Magda's room if thepaneling werestill open, and they would be investigating. His flashlight beambounced up anddown and then went off into darkness at a corner. He stopped andprobed around. Apparently, he was at a dead end, but he did not believe it. Shoutsbehind him sent him into a frenzy of tapping and poking against the wall toactivate whatever mechanism moved this section. He felt somebody brush hisshoulder, somebody spoke in Spanish, and a white arm reached past him andtouched a cornice. Another arm pushed in on another cornice. The blank wallbecame a blank darkness in which the thin beam was lost. A hand pushed him onthrough--heseemed to be paralyzed for a few seconds--and then he turned just intime to see the section swing back into place. Beyond, the beam from a largeflashlightflicked into existence.

A hand, still sticky from playing with his penis, slipped intohis and the white figure led him down a passageway and up a flight of steps. Thedust was thick here; he sneezed resoundingly several times. Igescu would haveno trouble following them because of their newly made footprints. They had toget out ofthe secret ways, for a while, anyway.

Dolores, whose footprints were as clear as his, seemed to realizethat theybetrayed them. She stopped before a wall, unfastened several latchesand slid back the section. They stepped into a room with gray-and-white marblewalls, redmarble ceiling, black-and-red marble floor, and furniture of white orblack marble. The chandelier was a mobile composed of thin curved pieces ofcolored marble with sockets for candles.

Dolores led him across the room. She had dropped his hand and herright handwas pressed against her breast, which must hurt very much. Her facewas expressionless, but the hot black eyes seemed to promise him revenge. If she had wanted it, she could have abandoned him in the passageway, hethought. Perhapsshe wanted to take revenge personally.

He caught a glimpse of them as they passed a tall mirror. Theylooked like two lovers who had been interrupted in bed and who were fleeing a jealoushusband. She was naked, and his penis, still wet and tipped with aglobule ofspermatic fluid, was projecting from his fly. They looked comicalenough; thepurse added an incongruous, doubtful, touch.

There was nothing comical about the pack behind them. He crowdedon Dolores' heels and urged her to go faster. She said something and half-ranthrough thedoor and down a luxurious hall with thick carpeting. Near the end ofthe hall, by a curving stairway with marble steps and a carved mahoganyhandrail, shepushed open another door. There was a suite of four rooms done inopulentEdwardian style. The bedroom contained the entrance to the intramuralpassageway; a bookcase slid aside to reveal an iron gate of twosections secured by a combination lock. Dolores turned the dial swiftly as if she hadmuch practice with it. The two sections of gate were pushed aside. Whenthey were onthe other side, she pushed them together and spun the combinationdial on this side. Apparently, this action activated a mechanism, because thebookcase slid back into place. The light through the opening had shown him thatthey were notin a passageway but in a small room. Cool air moved past him. Doloresturned on a lamp. He saw several chairs, a bed, a TV set, a bar, a dresser withmirror, books, and cabinets. The cabinets held cans of food and delicacies; one cabinet was the door to a well-stocked refrigerator. A door off the room ledto a bathroom and a closet full of clothes. Igescu could hide here for along time ifhe wished.

Dolores spoke in Spanish, slowly. He understood the simplesentence. "Here we are safe for a while."

"About my biting you, Dolores," he said. "I had to. I must getout of here."

She paid him no attention. She looked at her breast in the mirrorand murmured something. Teeth marks and a red aureole ringed the nipple. She turned and shook her finger at him and then smiled, and he understood thatshe was gently reprimanding him for being over passionate. He must not biteher again. After which warning, she took his hand and pulled him toward the bed.

He lunged away, tearing loose from her grip, and said, "Nothingdoing! Showme the way out of here! Vamanos! Pronto!"

He began "to inspect the walls. She spoke slowly behind him. Herwords were clear and simple enough. If he would stay for a little, he would beshown the way out. But no more biting.

"No more nothing," he said. He found the control, a piece ofcorner carving which could be moved on a pivot. The dresser moved out on one side. He went through while Dolores yelled at him from the room. She sounded somuch like Sybil giving him hell, although he understood not a word, that he wasable to ignore her. He carried a sharp-edged rapier, one of a set on thewall, in onehand and the flashlight in the other. The handle of the purse wasover his left shoulder. The sword gave him confidence. He did not feel so helplessnow. In fact, if he got a chance, he would leave the passageway and walk outthe front door and if they got in his way, they would get the blade where itwould do them the least good and him the most.

The way out did not come easily, however. The passageway ran intoa stairwaywhich led steeply upward into the shadows. He backtracked to look forone-waywindows or entrances to rooms but could find no unlocking controls. He returned to the stairway, which he walked up with as little weight on his feetas possible, He stuck the sword through his belt and held the flashlightin his teeth while he braced his arms against the walls. If the stairwaystraightenedout, it would not drop him down a chutey-chute.

The stairs held, and he was on a narrow landing. The door waseasily openedby a conventional knob. He stepped cautiously out into a curving- walled room with a great window lit by the moon, a dim pale eye in the haze. Looking throughthe window, he saw the yard and trees and driveway at the front ofthe central portion. He was in the cupola on the left wing, just beside theoriginal Spanishbuilding. It contained three rooms, two of which were empty. The doorto the third was part way open, and light streamed through it. He crouchedby it andslowly extended his head, then had to withdraw it while he shook andspurted andclenched his teeth and clamped his lips to keep from groaning.

CHAPTER 18

Afterward, he looked through the doorway again. The baron'sgreat-grandmother was sitting on a high stool before a high tablewith a slopingtop, such as old-time bookkeepers (Bob Cratchit) used when they wroteaccounts (for Ebenezer Scrooge). He could not see what was on the table exceptthat it was a large paper of some sort. Her jaws were moving, and now andthen he could hear something but could not tell if the words were English or not. The only light was from a single lamp suspended from the ceiling directlyoverhead. It dimly showed walls with large, thick, black painted symbols, none ofwhich he recognized; a long table with racks of bottles containing fluids; aglobe ofEarth with all sorts of curlicues painted in thin lines over it, sitting at theend of the table; a large birdcage on a stand in one corner with araven, itshead stuck under a wing; and a robe hanging on a hook on the wall.

After a few minutes of muttering, the baroness got down off thestool. Her bones snapped and creaked, and he did not think she would make it tothe robe, she shuffled so slowly and shakily. But she got the robe down and putit on with some difficulty and then proceeded with one foot dragging after theother toward the long table. She stooped, groaning, and straightened up with morecreakingsand with an enormous book in her arms which she had taken off a shelf beneath the table.

It did not seem likely that she could get far with thisadditional burden, but she made it, huffing and creaking and even lifted the book aboveher head to slide it over the front of the tilted-top table. The book slid downuntil stopped by a strip of wood fixed horizontally halfway up the top. Another stripat the lower edge of the top kept the paper from falling off. Hecould see that it was a map of the Los Angeles area, just like the maps servicestations giveto their customers.

His view of it was blocked by the baroness, who climbed back uponthe stool, swaying so that he once started to go after her to catch her. She didnot fall, and he settled back, asking himself what he cared if she fell. Butconditioningtook over at the oddest moments, and he had been taught to be kindand respectful to old ladies.

The back of the robe was white with a number of large blacksymbols, some ofwhich duplicated those on the wall. The old woman lifted her arms toflap thewide sleeves as if she were an ancient bird about to make a final flight. Shebegan chanting loudly in a foreign tongue which sounded like thatused at times by others in the household. Her arms waved; a large gold ring on afingerglinted dully at times, seeming like an eye winking at him.

After a while she quit chanting and clambered down off the stoolagain. Shetottered to the table and mixed up several of the fluids in thebottles in a glass and drank the contents. She belched loudly; he jumped at itsloudness and unexpectedness. She got back on the stool and began to turn the pages of the huge book and, apparently, read a few phrases from each page.


Childe guessed that he was looking upon a genuine magical ritual, genuine inthat the witch believed in her magic. What its object was, he did notknow. But he felt chilled when he suddenly thought that perhaps she was tryingto locate or influence him by means of this ritual. Not that he believed shecould. It was just that he did not like the idea. At another time and underdifferent circumstances, he would have laughed. Too much had happened tonight, however, for him to make light of anything in this house.

Nor did he have any reason to crouch here in the doorway as ifwaiting to beborn. He had to get out, and the only way was past the baroness. There was a door beyond the table; that door, as far as be knew, was the soleexit from the cupola, except for the way by which he had come. That door probablyled to a hallway which would lead to a stairway to the lower floors or to awindow to the top of a porch.

He doubted that he could get by her without being seen. He wouldhave to knock her out or, if necessary, kill her. There was no reason why heshould be gentle. She had to know what was going on here and probably hadparticipated inher younger days or, for all he knew, still did.

Sword in hand, he stood up and walked slowly toward her. Then hestopped. Above her, a very thin haze, greenish-gray, shapeless with some shortcurlingtentacles, had appeared. It could be accounted for if she weresmoking. She wasnot. And the haze grew thicker and spread out sideways and down butnot upward.

Childe tried to blink it away. The smoke flowed over her grayPsyche knot ofhair and down her neck and over the shoulders of the robe. She was chanting evenmore loudly and turning the pages of the book more swiftly. She couldnot be looking up to read the book; her head was bent so far forward thatshe had to be staring at the map.

Childe felt a little disoriented again. It was as if somethingwere wrongwith the world, however, not with him. Then he shook his head anddecided to tiptoe by her if he could. She seemed so intent, she might not seehim. If the smoke grew thicker, that is, if there indeed was smoke and he was notsufferinganother hallucination, he would be hidden from her.

The smoke did expand and become denser. She was sitting in aragged columnof it. And she was suddenly coughing. Smoke blew out of the way ofher breath and then coiled back in to fill the gap. He caught a whiff of a tendril and stepped back. It was acrid, burning, filled with the essence of amillion automobile exhausts and smokestack products of chemical factories andrefineries.

By now, he was opposite her and could see that the cloud hadspread downwardand was beginning to cover the map.

She looked up, as if she had suddenly detected his presence. Shesqualledand fell backward off the stool but whirled and landed on all fours and then was up and running toward the doorway through which he had just come. Hewas startled for a second at her swiftness and agility but recovered andwent after her. She had slammed the door before he could stop her, and when heturned the knob and pulled on it, he found that the door was locked. To break itdown was useless, since she would be long gone down the stairway and thepassageway.

No, there was Dolores. She might stop the old woman. Then, again, she mightnot. Her position in this situation was ambiguous. He suspected thatshe would do what was best for Dolores and that might not coincide with whatwould be goodfor him. It would be good sense to quit chasing after the baronessand try toget out before she could warn the others.

The smog over the table was disappearing swiftly and was gone bythe time he left the room. The door led directly into an elevator cage which musthave been made about 1890. He hated the idea of being trapped in it but he hadno other way out. He pressed the DOWN button. Nothing happened except that asmall lightglowed above the button and a lever near it. He pushed down on thelever, andthe elevator began to sink. He pressed more on the lever, and therate of descent was a little faster. When he pushed the lever upwards pastthe neutral position, the elevator stopped. He pressed the UP button and thenpushed thelever upward, and the elevator began to ascend. Satisfied that hecould operateit, he started it downward and stopped at the second story. If thealarm had been given, they would be waiting for him on the ground floor. Theymight alsobe waiting on every floor, but he had to take some chances.

The door was just like the other doors, which was why he may nothave known about the elevator. He turned the knob and pushed it and foundhimself near the door to Magda's bedroom. At the same time, increasingly loud voicesand rapidfootsteps came up the stairway. He didn't have time to run down thehall and tryother doors. He slipped into the room again. Glam's body was still inthe marble enclosure, the boots sticking over it. The wall-section was open. Heconsidered for a moment hiding under the many pillows and cushions inside theenclosure but decided that he would be found if they moved Glam's body. There wasnothing todo except enter again the passage behind the wall.

He hid behind the inner wall and waited. The first one to stepthrough wasgoing to get a sword in his guts. The sword trembled in his grip, partly fromweariness and partly from nervousness. He had had no experience inswordplay, nofencing lessons, no conditioned reflexes built up, and so he suddenlyrealized that he was not as dangerous as he would have liked to be. To handlea sword expertly, a man had to know where to thrust and where not to thrust. An ill-placed stab could hit a bone and glance off and leave theintended victim only lightly wounded and able to run off or attack, if he were toughand experienced. Even a hard musculature could turn an inept thrust.

He swore. He had been so intent on what he was going to do withthe sword that he had not noticed that his penis was working up to anotherorgasm. Stormed, he dropped the sword with a clatter but did not care aboutthe noise for a few seconds. He jetted, the chlorox odor rising strong in thedusty hotpassageway. Then he picked up the sword and waited, but he was evenmore uneasy. Those people out there might have nostrils more sensitive than humanbeings--headmitted by now that they were not human, as he knew human--and theymighteasily detect the jism. Should he move on? If so, where? To the samecircuit?

He had been running long enough. It was time to fight fire with

fire. Fire. He looked through the opening. The door of the room was still

shut. Loud voices came through it. A savage squeal which chased cold over him. It sounded like an enraged hog. More shouts. Another squeal. The voices seemedto drift away, down the hall. He crept out and inspected the room and foundwhat he wanted. There were books in the shelves, the pages of which he toreout. He crumpled up a Los Angeles Times and piled crumpled book-pages overthem and ripped open several pillows and sprinkled their contents on the pile. The cigarette lighter in the purse touched off the papers, which soonblazed up andbegan feeding on the wall-drapes under which the fire had been built.

He opened the door to the hall to open the way for a draft--if itshould exist. Taking the classified ad sections of the Times and a number ofbooks, he went into the passageway. Having found a one-way mirror, he broke itwith the hilt of his sword to make another draft or a reinforcement of the first. He started a fire in the passageway, which was made of old and dry woodand should soon be blazing like the underbrush in the hills at the end of a longdryseason. He then entered the room with the broken mirror and built a fire under a huge canopied bed.

Why hadn't he done this before? Because he had been too harriedto have time to think, that was why. No more. He was fighting back.

If he could find a room with windows to the outside, he would gothrough it, even if it meant a drop from the second story. He'd let them worryabout the fire while he got over the walls to his car and then to the police.

He heard voices outside the door to the room and went back into the passageway. He ran down it, using his flashlight, although the firewas providing an adequate twilight for him. A corner took him away fromit, however. He stopped and sent the beam down one corridor to check ahead of him. Nothingthere. He started to turn to probe the corridor on the other side ofthe intersection, and he froze. Something had growled at the far end.

Faint clicks sounded. Claws or nails on the naked boards of the

floor? A howl made him jump. It was a wolf. Suddenly, the clicking, which had been leisurely, became rapid.

The wolf howled again. He turned his flashlight on the corner of thepassageway at thefar end just in time to see a big gray shape come around it, eyesglowing in thebeam. Then the shape, snarling, was bounding toward him.

And behind it came another.

Childe thrust almost blindly at the hurtling shape. His swordtraveled in the general direction of the beast as it sprang, but its speed andferocious voice disconcerted him. Despite this, the blade struck it squarelysomewhere. A shock ran along his arm, and, although he had leaned forward in whathe hopedwas a reasonable imitation of a fencer's lunge, he was thrownbackward. He landed on his rump but scrambled to his feet, yelling as he did so. The flashlight, which had fallen, was pointing down along the floor atthe second wolf. This was several yards away and crouching as it advanced slowlytoward Childe.

It was smaller, the bitch of the pair, and presumably had sloweddown to find out what was going on before it attacked.

Childe did not want to expose his side to the bitch, but he didnot want to meet her charge without a weapon. He grabbed the hilt of the rapier, put hisfoot on the body, and pulled savagely. The carcass was palelyilluminated in the side-wash of the flashlight. The sword shone dully, and darknessstained the fur around the beast's neck. The rapier had gone in three-quarters of itslength, through the neck and out past the bottom rear of the skull.

The rapier pulled out reluctantly but swiftly. The shewolfsnarled and bounded forward, her nails clicking briefly. Childe had a few inchesof blade to withdraw yet and would have been taken on the side. Her jaws wouldprobably haveclamped on his shoulder or head, and that would have been the end ofhim. A wolf's jaws were strong enough to sever a man's wrist with one snap.

The bitch, however, slipped on something and skidded on oneshoulder into the rump of the dead wolf. Childe leaped backward, taking the swordwith him and then as quickly lunged and ran her through the shoulder as shebounded to her feet. She snarled again and her jaws clashed at him, but he pushedwith all his weight against the hilt and drove her back so that she fell over thedead wolf. He continued to push, digging his heels into the wood. The blade sankdeeper andpresently the tip ground against the floor. Before that, the bitchwas silent and still.

Shaking, breathing raspingly as if his lungs needed oil, hepulled therapier out and wiped it on the she-wolf's fur. He picked up theflashlight andran its beam over the wolves to make sure they were dead. Theiroutlines were becoming indistinct. He felt dizzy and had to shut his eyes and leanagainst thewall. But he had seen what the bitch had slipped on. A smear of hissemen.

Voices drifted around the corner from which the wolves had come. He ran down the passageway, hoping that they would become too occupied withfighting thefires to chase him. The corridor ran into another at right angles toit, and hetook the left turn. His beam, dancing ahead of him, picked out asection of wall and a locking mechanism. He went through it, his sword ready, but hewas unable to restrain his wheezing. Any occupant of the room, unless he weredeaf, wouldbe warned.

The room was broad and high-ceilinged, so high that it must havedisplacedtwo rooms above it and may have gone almost to the roof. The wallswere paneledin dark oak, and huge rough-hewn oak beams ran just below the heavilyshadowed ceiling. The floor was dark polished oak. Here and there was a wolfor bear skin. The bed was a framework with eight thick rough-hewn oaken logs, low footboard and headboard, and planks laid across the framework.


Lying on the planks was a huge oak log squared off at thecorners. It had been gouged out on its top with axe and chisel. The gouge was wideand deepenough to hold a tall man. It did hold a man. The baron, covered witha bearskin to his neck, lay on his back in the hollow. There was dirt beneathhim and dirt humped under his head for a pillow.

His face was turned straight upward. His nose looked huge andlong. Hislower lip had slipped a little to reveal the long white teeth. Hisface was as greenish-gray as if he had just died. This may have been because ofthe peculiargreenish light flickering from four fat green candles, two at eachcorner of the log-coffin.

Childe pulled the bearskin back. The baron was naked. He put hishand on the baron's chest and then on his wrist pulse. There was no detectableheartbeat, and the chest did not move. An eyelid, peeled back, showed onlywhite.

Childe left the baron and pulled two drapes back. Two enormousFrench windows were grayly bared. It was daytime, but the light was verydark, as ifnight had left an indelible stain. The sky was dark gray withstreamers of green-gray dangling here and there.

Childe looked in the darkness under the planks supporting thelog-coffin. Hefound a roughly-worked oaken lid. He felt cold. The silence, thesputteringgreen candles, the heavy dark wood everywhere, the ponderous beams, which seemed to drip shadows, the roughness, indeed, the archaicness, of the room, and the corpse-like sleeper, who was so expected and yet so unexpected--thesefell like heavy shrouds, one over the other, upon him. His breath sawed in histhroat.

Was this room supposed to be a reproduction of a room in theancestral castle in Transylvania? Why the ubiquitous primitively worked oak? And why thiscoffin when Igescu could afford the best?

Some things here accorded with the superstitions (which, as faras he was concerned, were not superstitions). Other things be could not accountfor.

He had a hunch that this room was built to conform to specifications farmore ancient than medieval ones, that the oak and the log and thecandles had been in use long before the Transylvanian mountains were so named, long beforeRumania existed as a colony of the Romans, long before the mothercity, Rome, existed, and probably long before the primitive Indo-European speakers began tospread out of the homeland of what would someday be called Austriaand Hungary. A type of this room, and a type of this man who slept in the log, inone form or another, had existed in central Europe, and elsewhere, when men spokelanguagesnow perished without a record and when they still used flint tools.

Whatever the origin of his kind, however closely or distantly heresembled the creature of folklore, legend, and superstition, Igescu was forcedto be as good as dead when daylight arrived. The rays of the sun containedsome force responsible for diurnal suspended animation. Perhaps some otherphenomenonconnected with the impact of the sunlight caused this strange sleep. Or, perhaps, it was the other way around, with the absence of the moon? No, thatwasn't logical because the moon was often present in the daytime. Butthen, maybe the moon's effect was greatly reduced by the other luminary.

If Igescu had not been forced to do so, he would never have quitthe search for Dolores and Childe. Why, then; had he not made sure that he wouldnot be vulnerable? He knew that both Dolores and Childe were in the intramural passageways.

Childe felt colder than before except for a hot spot between hisshoulder blades, the focus of something hidden somewhere and staring at hisback.

He looked swiftly around the room, at the ceiling, where theshadows clungabove the beams, under the oaken frame of the bed, although he hadlooked there once, and behind the few chairs. There was nothing.

The bathroom was empty. So was the room beyond the thick roughoaken door on the west wall. Nothing living was there, but a massive mahoganycoffin with goldtrimming and gold-plated handles stood in one corner.

Childe raised the lid, fully expecting to find a body. It wasempty. Eitherit had housed a daylight sleeper at one time or it was to be used insome emergency by the baron. Childe pulled up the satin lining and foundearth beneath it.

He went back to the oaken room. Nothing had visibly changed. Yetthe silence seemed to creak. It was as if intrusion of another had hauled in the slack of the atmosphere, had hauled it in too tightly. The shadows abruptlyseemed darker; the green light of the candles was heavier and, in some way, even more sinister.

He stood in the doorway, sword ready, motionless, repressing hisbreathingso he could listen better.

Something had come into this room, either from the passageway entrance or through the door at the west wall. He doubted that it had used thepassagewayentrance, because any guard stationed there would have challenged himbefore he could get into the room.

It had to have been in the other room, and it must have beenwatching himthrough some aperture which Childe could not see. It had not movedagainst himimmediately because he had not tried to harm the baron.

Perhaps the feeling was only too-strained nerves. He could seenothing, nothing at all to alarm him.

But the baron would not have left himself unguarded.

CHAPTER 19

Childe took one step forward. There was still no sound exceptthat which his mental ear heard. It was a crackling, as if the intrusion of a newmass had bent a magnetic field. The lines of force had been pushed out.

The rapier held point up, he advanced toward the enormous log onthe bed. The noiseless crackling became louder. He stooped and looked underthe frame. There was nothing there.

Something heavy struck him on his back and drove him face down. He screamed and rolled over. Fire tore at his back and his hips and the back ofhis thighs, but he was up and away, while something snarled and spat behind him. He rounded the bed and whirled, the sword still in his hand although he had nomemory ofconsciously clinging to it or of even thinking of it. But if hisspirit hadunclenched for a moment, his fist had not.

The thing was a beauty and terror of white and black rosettedfur, and tautyellow-green eyes which seemed to reflect the ghastly light of thecandles, andthin black lips, and sharp yellow teeth. It was small for a leopardbut largeenough to scare him even after most of the fright of the unexpectedand unknown had left him. It had hidden in the cavity of the log, crouchingflattened on topof Igescu until Childe had come close to it.

Now it crouched again and snarled, eyes spurting ferocity, clawsunsheathed.

Now it launched itself over the bed and the coffin. Childe, leaning over thebaron's body, thrust outward. The cat was spitted on the blade, whichdrove through the neck. A paw flashed before his eyes, but the tips of theclaws were not quite close enough. Childe went over backward, and the rapier wastorn from his hand. When he got up, he saw that the leopard, a female, was kicking itslast. It lay on its right side, mouth open, the life in its eyesflying away bitby bit, like a flock of bright birds leaving a branch one by one asthey startedsouth to avoid the coming of winter.

Childe was panting and shaking, and his heart was threatening tobutt through his ribs. He pulled the sword out, shoving with his footagainst thebody, and then climbed upon the oaken frame. He raised the swordbefore him bythe hilt with both hands. Its point was downward, parallel with hisbody. Heheld it as if he were a monk holding a cross up to ward off evil, which, in away, he was. He brought the blade down savagely with all his weightand drove it through the skin and heart and, judging from the resistance and mutedcrackingsound, some bones.

The body moved with the impact, and the head turned a little toone side. That was all. There was no sighing or rattling of breath. No bloodspurted fromaround the wound or even seeped out.

The instrument of execution was steel, not wood, but the hiltformed a cross. He hoped that the symbol was more important than the material. Perhapsneither meant anything. It might be false lore which said that avampire, to betruly killed, must be pierced through the heart with a stake or thatthe undead feared the cross with an unholy dread and were deprived of force inits presence.

Also, he remembered from his reading of Dracula, many years ago, somethingabout the head having to be removed.

He felt that probably there were many things said about thiscreature that were not true and also there were many things unknown. Whether thelore was superstition or not, he had done his best, was going to do his bestto ensure that it died a permanent death.

As for the leopard, it might be just that--a leopard. Hesuspected that itwas Ngima or Mrs. Pocyotl because it was so small. It did not seemlikely thatPocyotl, who was Mexican, some of whose ancestors undoubtedly spokeone form or another of Nahuatl, would be a wereleopard. A werejaguar, yes. No, itmust be, if not a genuine leopard, Ngima or the Chinaman Pao.

Whatever it was, it showed no sign of changing after death. Perhaps itreally was not a metamorph but a pet trained to guard Igescu.

What am I thinking of? he thought. Of course, it is. There are nosuch creatures as werewolves and wereleopard's and vampires. Maybe thereare vampires, psychological vampires, psychotics who think they are vampires. But anactual metamorphosis! What kind of mechanism would be involved, whatmechanism could effect a change like that? Bones become fluid, change shapeeven in the cellular structure, and harden again? Well, maybe the bones are notour kind of bones. But what about the energy involved? And even if the body couldshift shape, the brain surely couldn't! The brain would have to retain itshuman size and shape.

He looked at the leopard and he remembered the wolves. Theirheads were wolf-sized, their brains were small.

He should forget this nonsense. He had been drugged; the rest wassuggestion.

Not until then did he become aware that the leopard, when it hadbeen fastened to him for such a short time, had done more than he hadthought. It hadtorn off his shirt and pants and belt, and his hand, feeling his backand hipsand legs, was wet with blood. He hurt, and he was alarmed, but acloser examination convinced him that the leopard had done more harm to hisclothes than to him. The wounds were superficial or seemed so.

He went into the next room, which was a small study, and pickedup an armfulof newspapers and magazines. Returning to the huge room, he wadded upthe papersand-ripped out pages and stacked a pile on each side of the baron'sneck. After dripping some lighter fluid on the two piles and over the baron'shair and chest, he touched off the fluid.

Childe then opened the large windows and built another fire belowthe central plank. A third pile below the left side of the frameworkblazed up. In afew minutes, he added a wooden chair to that fire. After a while, theoak of the frame and the plank were blazing, and the log was blackening andsmoking. Thestench of burned hair and flesh rose from the baron.

More paper and lighter fluid got the drapes over the windows toburning. Then he struggled with the body of the leopard until he dropped it onthe fire. Its head burned fiercely with lighter fluid; its black nose lost itswet shininess and wrinkled with heat.

Opening the entrance to the passageway made a stronger draft. Thesmoke in the room streamed out through the hole to meet the smoke in thepassageway. Theentrance did not seem big enough to handle all the smoke, which soonfilled the room. He began to cough and, suddenly, as if the coughs had triggeredhim, hehad a long shuddering orgasm the roots of which seemed to be wrappedaround his spine and to be pulling his spine down his back and out through his penis.

Just as the last spurt came, a shriek tore from the smoke in thecenter of the room. He spun around but could see nothing. One of the two hadnot been dead and still was not dead because the shrieks were continuing with fullstrength.

And then, before he could turn again to face the new sound, agrunting andsquealing shot from the wall-entrance. There was a rapid clicking, much louder than the wolves' claws, a tremble of the boards under his feet, andhe was knocked upward to one side. Half-stunned, his left leg hurting, hesat up. Hebegan coughing. The squealing became louder and the boards shookunder him. He rolled away under cover of the smoke while the thing that had hit himchargedaround, hunting for him.

Crawling on his hands and knees along the wall, his head bentnear the, floor to keep from breathing the smoke, he headed for the Frenchwindows. The swine noises had now given way to a deep coughing. After a dozenracks that seemed strong enough to suck in all the smoke in the room during thein-breaths, the hooves clattered again. Childe rounded the corner and slid alongthe wall until he came to the next corner. His hand, groping upward into thesmoke, feltthe lower edges of the French windows. The open ones were about tenfeet away, as he remembered them.

The hooves abruptly stopped. The squealing was even moreferocious, lessquesting and more challenging. Hooves hit the floorboards again. Punctuating thetwo sounds was a loud hissing.

A battle was taking place somewhere in the smoke. Several times, the walls shook as heavy bodies hit them, and the floor seldom ceased totremble. Blows--a great hand hammering into a thick solid body--added codas to thecrackling ofthe fires.

Childe could not have waited to see what was going on even if hehad wished. The smoke would kill him sooner, the fire would kill him later, butnot so much later, if he did not get out. There was no time to crawl on arounduntil he gotto the west door. The windows were the only way out. He climbed outafter unfastening and pushing out the lower edge of the screen, let himselfdown until he clung by his hands, and then dropped. He struck a bush, broke it, felt as if he had broken himself, too, rolled off it, and then stood up. Hisleft leg hurteven more, but he could see no blood.

And then he jetted again--at least, his penis had not been hurtin the fall--and was helpless while two bodies hurtled through the window hehad justleft. The screen, torn off, struck near him. Magda Holyani and Mrs. Grasatchow crushed more bushes and rolled off them onto the ground near thedriveway.

Immediately after, several people ran out of the house onto theporch.

Both the women were bleeding from many wounds and blackened withsmoke. Magda had ended her roll at his feet in time to receive a few dropsof sperm onher forehead. This, he could not help thinking even in his pain, wasan appropriate extreme unction for her. The fat woman had struck asheavily as asack of wet flour and now lay unconscious, a gray bone sticking outof the flesh of one leg and blood running from her ears and nostrils.

Bending Grass, Mrs. Pocyotl, and O'Faithair were on the porch. That left Chornkin, Krautschner, Ngima, Pao, Vivienne, the two maids, thebaroness, andDolores unaccounted for. He thought he knew what had happened to thefirst three. Two were dead of rapier thrusts in a passageway and one wasburning withIgescu.

The clothes of the three on the porch were ripped, their hair wasdisarrayed, and they were bleeding from wounds. They must havetangled withMagda or Mrs. Grasatchow or Dolores or any combination thereof. Butthey werenot disabled, and they were now looking for him, their mouths moving, their hands pointing at him now and then.

Childe limped, but swiftly, to the Rolls-Royce parked twenty feetaway onthe driveway. Behind came a shout and shoes slapping against theporch steps. The Rolls was unlocked, and the key was in the ignition lock. Hedrove awaywhile Bending Grass and O'Faithair beat on the windows with theirfists and howled like wolves at him. Then they had dropped off and were racingtoward another car, a red Jaguar.

Childe stopped the Rolls, reversed, and pressed the acceleratorto the floor. Going backward, the Rolls bounced O'Faithair off the rightrear fender and then crashed to a halt. Bending Grass had whirled just before itpinned himagainst the Jaguar. His dark broad face stared into the rear windowfor a few seconds. Then it was gone.

Childe drove forward until he could see the Indian's body, redand mashed from the thighs down, face downward on the pavement. The outlines ofhis bodylooked fuzzy; he seemed to be swelling.

Childe had no time to keep looking. He stopped the Rolls again, backed it upover O'Faithair, who was just beginning to sit up, went forward over him again, turned around, and drove the wheels back and forth three times eachover the bodies of Holyani, Grasatchow, Bending Grass, and O'Faithair. Mrs. Pocyotl, whohad been screaming at him and shaking her little fist, ran back intothe house when he drove toward the porch.

Flames and smoke were pouring out of a dozen windows on all threestories of the left wing and out of one window of the central house. Unchecked, the first would destroy the entire building in an hour or two. And there wasnobody tocheck it.

He drove away. Coming around the curve just before entering theroad throughthe woods, he saw part of the yard to one side of the house. The redheaded Vivienne, her naked body white in the ghastly half-dark daylight, Mrs. Pocyotlwith her shoes off, and the two maids were running for the woods. Behind them came the nude Dolores, her long dark hair flying. She looked grim anddetermined. The others looked determined also, but theirdetermination was inspired by fright.

Childe did not know what she would do if she caught them, but hewas sure that they knew and were not standing to fight for good reasons. Healso suspected that Pao and the baroness had not come out of the housebecause of what Dolores had done to them, although it was possible that Magda orMrs. Grasatchow bad killed them. He could not be sure, of course, but hesuspectedthat the two had been in metamorphosis as pig and snake and that theyhad been unmanageable.

The three women disappeared in the trees.

He struck himself on his forehead. Was he really believing allthis metamorphosis nonsense?

He looked back. From this slight rise, he could see Bending Grassand Mrs. Grasatchow. The clothes seemed to have split off the Indian, and helooked black and bulky, like a bear. The fat woman was also dark and there wassomethingnonhuman about the corpse.

At that moment, from behind the house, the biggest black fox hehad ever seen raced out and tore off toward the woods into which the three women had disappeared. It barked three times and then turned its head andseemed to grinat him.

The chill that had transfixed him when he first saw Dolores went through himagain. He remembered something now, something he had read long ago. The shape-shifting fox-people of China. They lost control of theirability to change form if they drank too much wine. And, that first evening, the baronhad been trying to restrain Pao's wine consumption. Why? Because he had notwanted Childe to witness the metamorphosis? Or for some other reason? For someother reason, probably, since the baron could not have been worried about Childeescaping totell what be had seen.

He shrugged and drove on. He had had too much of this and wantedonly to getaway. He was beginning to believe that a 150-pound man could becomefluid, twistbone and flesh into a nonhuman mold, and, somewhere along thetransformation, shed 125 pounds, just tuck them away some place to be withdrawn laterwhen needed. Or, if not cached, the discarded mass trailed along, like aninvisible jet exhaust, an attached plume of energy ready for reconversion.

The gate of the inner wall was before him. He opened this anddrove through, and soon was stopped by the outer wall. Here he left the Rolls on thedriveway, after wiping off his prints with a rag from the glove compartment, and walked through the big gate to his own car, parked under the trees at theend of the road.

He found the key he had hidden--how long ago? it seemed days--anddrove away. He was naked, bloody, bruised, and hurting, and he still had anerection that was automatically working up to yet another--oh, God!--orgasm, but he did not care. He would get into his apartment and the rest of the world, smog, monsters, and all, could go to hell, which they were doing, anyway.

A half-mile down the road, a big black Lincoln shot by him towardthe Igescuestate. It held three men and three women, all of whom were handsome or beautiful and well dressed. Their faces were, however, grim, and heknew that their destination was Igescu's and that they were speeding becausethey werelate for whatever sinister conference they had been scheduled toattend. Or because someone in the house had called them for help. The car hadCalifornia license plates. Perhaps they were from San Francisco.

He smiled feebly. They would be unpleasantly surprised. Meanwhilehe had better get out of here, because he did not know whether or not theyhad noted his license plate.

Before he had gone a mile, the sky had become even darker, growled, thundered, lightninged. A strong wind tore the smog apart, and thenthe rains washed the air and the earth without letup for an hour and a half.

He parked the car in the underground garage and took the elevatorup to hisfloor. No one saw him, although he expected to be observed. He had no excuse for being naked with a hard-on, and it would be just like life, the greatironist, to have him arrested for in decent exposure and God knows what elseafter all he had been through he, the abused innocent. But no one saw him, andafter lockingthe door and chaining it, he showered, dried himself, put on pajamas; ate a ham and cheese sandwich and drank half a quart of milk, and crawled intobed.

Just before he fell asleep, a few seconds later, he put out hishand to feel for something. What did be want? Then he realized that it was Mrs. Grasatchow's purse, which contained the skins. Somewhere between the Baron'sbedroom and this bedroom, he had lost the purse.

CHAPTER 20

Childe slept, though often restlessly, for a day, a night, andmost of the next day. He got up to empty bladder and bowels, to eat cereal or asandwich and sometimes wake up at the end of a wet dream.

His dreams were often terrors, but were sometimes quite pleasantcopulations. Sometimes Mrs. Grasatchow or Vivienne or Dolores rodehim, and hewoke up jetting and groaning. Other times, he was riding Sybil orsome woman he had known or some faceless woman. And there were at least two dreams in which he was mounting a female animal from the rear, once with a beautifulleopardess andonce with a bitch wolf.

When he was awake, he wondered about the dreams, because he knewthat the Freudians insisted that all dreams, no matter how terrifying orhorrible, werewishes.

By the time he was slept out, his pajamas and sheets were a mess, but the effects of the cone were gone. He was very happy to have a flaccidpenis: Heshowered and breakfasted, and then read the latest Los Angeles Times. Life was almost normal now; the papers were being delivered on schedule. Industries were running full-time. The migration back was still going on but was onlya trickle now. The mortuaries were overloaded, and funerals were taking placefar into the night. The police were swamped with missing persons reports. Otherwise, the citywas functioning as usual. The smog was beginning to build up butwould not become alarming while the present breeze continued.

Childe read the front page and some articles. Then he used thephone tocheck on Sybil. She had not come home. A call to San Francisco was answered bySybil's sister, Cherril. She said that their mother had died, andSybil wassupposed to have come for the funeral. She presumably left as soon asshe had packed. She had been unable to get a plane out, and her car wouldn'tstart, soshe had phoned back that she was coming up with a friend who alsowanted to getout of town.

Who was the friend? Cherril did not know. But she was frantic, and she had tried to get hold of Childe. When he had not answered after fivetries, she hadgiven up on him. The state police had reported that Sybil was notinvolved in any of the many accidents between Los Angeles and San Franciscoduring thattime.

Childe told Cherril not to worry, that many people were stillmissing. Sybilwould show up safe and sound. He would not rest until he found her. And so on.

When he hung up the phone, he felt empty. The next day, he was ashollow, and he had to admit that he knew no more than what Cherril had told him. The "friend" he suspected Sybil to have driven off with, Al Porthouse, denied havingseen her for two weeks.

Childe gave up, temporarily, and turned his attention elsewhere. The baron's house had been burned out, although the rains had kept it from beingcompletelydestroyed. There were no bodies in the ruins, in the yard, or in thewoods. Mrs. Grasatchow's purse was not found.

Childe remembered the automobile that had raced by him after hehad driven away from the baron's. Whoever the six had been, they had cleaned upthoroughly.

But what had happened to Dolores?

He drove out to the estate and went over the wall again, thepolice havinglocked the main gate. His poking around uncovered nothing. The policedid not know his story, of course. He knew better than to tell them anythingexcept thathe had visited the baron just once and that briefly. They hadquestioned him andthen had said that they were puzzled by the disappearance of thebaron, secretary, servants, and chauffeur, but so far no information hadcome in. For all they knew, the household had left for parts unknown, the househad burned byaccident, and any day now they might hear from the baron.

Late that afternoon, he returned to his apartment. He wasshrouded in his thoughts, which were concerned with moving to some place where smogwould not be a problem for years to come. It was some time before he realized thatthe phonemust have rung at least a dozen, times. It had started while he was unlocking

the door. The voice was a pleasant baritone. "Mr. Childe? You don't know me. We haven't met, fortunately for

you, although I think we passed each other on the road outside the Baron Igescu's estate several days ago."


Childe did not reply for a moment, then he said, "What do youwant?"

His voice was steady. He had thought it would crack, as if itwere crystallized with the ice encasing him.

"You have been very discreet, Mr. Childe, in not telling thepolice. Or, asfar as we know, anybody. But we want to ensure your silence, Mr. Childe. We could easily do that by methods you well know by now. But it pleasesus to have you know about us and yet be able to do nothing."

Childe shouted, "What did you do with Sybil?" There was a silence. And then the voice, "Sybil? Who's she?" "My wife! My ex-wife, I mean! You know, damn you! What have you


done with

her, you filthy monster, unnatural...!" "Nothing, I assure you, Mr. Childe. "The voice was cool and mocking. "We rather admire you, Mr. Childe, because of what you

accomplished. Congratulations. You managed to kill, permanently, a number of ourfriends who have survived for a very long time indeed, Mr. Childe. You could nothave done it without the help of del Osorojo, of course, but that was somethingwe did not foresee. The baron did not anticipate it, and for his carelessness, or ignorance, he paid, and, those with him. Some of them, anyway."

This was his last chance to find out anything about them. He said, "Why the films? Why were they sent in to the police?" "The films are made for our private use, for our entertainment,


Mister Childe. We send them to each other all over the world. Via privatecouriers, ofcourse. The baron decided to break a precedent and to let the othersin on some of them. Because we would enjoy the furor and the shaking up of thepolice. Theshaking up--of all humans, in fact. The baron and his group weregoing to moveout soon, anyway, so there was no chance of our being connected withthe films.

"The baron planned on mailing the films of earlier subjects, workingbackward chronologically, to the police. Most of the subjects hadbeen listed as missing persons, you know, and the earliest had been dropped by thepolicebecause the cases were so old. You found their skins. And lost them.

"You were lucky or smart. You used an unorthodox method ofinvestigation andstumbled across the truth. The baron couldn't let you go then becauseyou knewtoo much, so he decided you would become the latest subject. Now, the baron won't have to leave this area to get away from the smog..."


"I saw the old woman, the baroness, trying to conjure up smog!" Childe said. "What..."

"She was trying to get rid of it, you fool! This used to be anice place tolive in but you humans...!"

Childe could feel the fury making the man inarticulate. However, when the voice returned, it was again cool and mocking.

"I suggest you look in your bedroom. And remember to keep silent, Mister Childe. Otherwise..."

The phone must have been moving down to the rest. But, before theclick, heheard bells tolling and an organ playing the first bar of GloomySunday. Hecould imagine the rest of the music and the Inner Sanctum rusty-hingescreeching.

He stood for a while with the phone in his hand. WoolstonHeepish? That callcame from the house of Woolston Heepish?

Nonsense! There must be another explanation. He did not even wantto think about the implications, if...no, forget this.

He put the phone down, and then remembered with a start what theman had advised. He slowly walked into the bedroom. The bedside lamp had beenturned on during his absence.

She was in bed, staring straight up. A sheet was draped over herto justbelow the naked breasts. Her black hair was spread out on the pillow.

He came closer and murmured. "I didn't think they could harm you, Dolores."

He pulled the sheet back, expecting to find the evidences of somehorror committed upon her. She was unmarked. But her body tilted upward, thefeet rising first, the stiff legs following, and then, as the body beganto pointstraight upward, it rose toward the ceiling. The heavy hair, and thelittle red valve on the back of the neck, stopped it from floating up all theway.

The makeup was very good. It had given her skin a solid fleshyappearanceand kept him from seeing through it.

Childe had to leave the room for a while and sit down.

When he came back, he stuck a pin in her. She exploded with abang as loudas a pistol's. He cut her up into strips with scissors and flushedher down the toilet, except for the head hair, which he put into the garbage.

A century and a half of haunting, a brief fleshing, a few shortand wild copulations, a few killings of ancient enemies, and here she was. Rather, thereshe went. One dark eye, long eyelashes, a thick black eyebrow whirledaround and around and then were sucked down.

At least, he had not found Sybil's skin in his bed. Where was she? He might never find out. He did not think those


"people" knew. The "man" had sounded genuinely puzzled.


It was not necessary to postulate those "people" to account forher disappearance. Human beings had enough monsters of their own.

CHAPTER 21

It seemed that the rain would never stop.

On the evening of the sixth day, in a city like the planet ofVenus in a 1932 science-fiction story, Herald Childe followed VivienneMabcrough.

A few minutes before, he had stopped behind a big black Rolls- Royce, waitingfor a light change at the intersection of Santa Monica Boulevard andCanon Drive in Beverly Hills. The Rolls was equipped with rear window wipers, andthese enabled Childe to see Vivienne Mabcrough. She was in the back seatwith a man and turned her head just as the light changed to green.

For several seconds, while horns blared behind him, he had animpulse to lether go. If he trailed her, he might find himself the object ofattention from her and her kind. That was something no sane man and very few insanewould wish.

Despite this, he moved the 1972 Pontiac across the street afterthe Rolls, cutting off a Jaguar which had swung illegally to his left to passhim. The Jaguar's horn blared, and the driver mouthed curses behind his glassand plasticenclosure. A spray of water covered Childe's car, and then the wipersremoved it. He could see the Rolls turn west on Little Santa Monica, goingthrough ayellow light. He stopped for the red and, seeing no police car in anydirection--though he could not see far because of the gray curtainsof water--he went left on the red light. He saw the taillights of the Rolls turnright andfollowed. The Rolls was stopped before the Moonlark Restaurant, andVivienne and her escort were getting out. They only had to take one step to beunder the canopy and a doorman assisted them. The Rolls drove off then, andChilde decided to follow it. The driver was a uniformed chauffeur and possibly hewould take the car back to Vivienne's residence. Of course, the car could be herpartner's, but that did not matter. Childe wanted to know where he lived, too.

Although he was no longer a private detective, Childe had kepthis recordingequipment in the car. He described the car and the license platenumber into the microphone while he tracked it back across Santa Monica and thennorth of Sunset Boulevard. The car swung onto Lexington, and in two blocks drove onto the circular driveway before a huge Georgian mansion. The chauffeur gotout and went down the walk along the side of the house to the rear. Childe drovehalf a block and then got out and walked back. The rain and the dusky light madeit impossible for him to see any house addresses from the street. He hadto go upthe driveway, hoping that no one would look out. The house was litwithin, buthe could see no sign of life.

He returned to the car, which he entered on the right sidebecause he did not wish to wet his shoes and legs. The dirty gray-brown water hadfilled the street from curb to curb and was running over onto the strips ofgrass betweenstreet and sidewalk.

In the car, he recorded the address. But instead of driving off, he sat a long time and considered what he should do next.

They had not bothered him since that night in Baron Igescu'shouse, so whyshould he bother them?

They were murderers, torturers, abductors. He knew this with thecertaintyof personal experience. Yet he could not prove what he knew. And ifhe told exactly what had happened, he would be committed to a mentalinstitution. Moreover, he could not blame the authorities for putting him away.

There were times when he could not believe his own vivid memories. Even the most piercing, of when he had flushed the complete skin of Doloresdel Osorojo, eyes and all, down the toilet, was beginning to seem unbelievable.

The mind accepted certain forms and categories, and hisexperiences in thatenormous old house in northern Beverly Hills were outside theaccepted. And soit had been natural that his mind should be trying to bury theseforms and categories. Shove them down, choke them off in the dusty dusky cellarof the unconscious.

He could just go home to his place in Topanga Canyon and forgetall about this, or try to.

He groaned. He was hooked and couldn't fight loose.

If he had not seen Vivienne, he might have continued to ignorehis desires to take up the trail once more. But the sight of her had gotten himas eager asan old bloodhound that whiffs fox on the wind from the hills.

He drove away and did not stop until he pulled into a SantaMonica service station. There was a public phone booth here, which he used to callthe Los Angeles Police Department. His friend, Sergeant Furr, finallyanswered. Childe asked him to check out the license number of the Rolls. Furr said he would call him back within a few minutes. Three minutes later, the phone in the booth rang.

"Hal? I got it for you. The Rolls belongs to a Mrs. Vivienne--V-I-V-I-E-N-N-E--Mabcrough. I don't know how you pronouncethat last name. M-A-B-C-R-O-U-G-H. Mabcrow, Mabcruff?"

"Mabcrow," Childe said. The address was that of the house where the Rolls was parked. Childe thanked Furr and hung up. Vivienne was confident that he


would not bother her anymore. She had not changed her name. Evidently shebelieved that he had had such a scare thrown into him, he would under no circumstances come near her or her kind--whatever that was.

He trudged through the rain and got into the car and drove slowlyand carefully back to the house in which Vivienne Macbcrough lived. Itwas nightfallnow, and the streets of Beverly Hills in the downtown district werelittle rivers, curb-to-curb and overflowing. Although this was a Thursdaynight, therewere very few pedestrians out. The usual bumper-to-bumper traffic wasmissing. Not half a dozen cars were in sight within the distance of threeblocks in anydirection. Santa Monica Boulevard traffic was heavier, because itserved as a main avenue for those on their way to Westwood or West Los Angeles orSanta Monica on one side of the street, and on their way to Los Angeles, orparts ofBeverly Hills, on the other.

The headlights looked like the eyes of diluvian monsters burningwith a fever to get on the Ark. A car had stalled as it was halfway throughmaking aleft turn from Santa Monica onto Beverly Drive, and the monsters wereblaring orhooting at it. Childe nudged his car through the intersection, takingtwo changes of light to do so because cars in the lanes at right anglesinsisted on coming through instead of waiting so that the intersection could becleared.

When he got through, he proceeded up Beverly Drive at abouttwenty miles anhour but slowed to fifteen after several blocks. The water was so high that hewas afraid of drowning out his motor, and his brakes were gettingwet. He keptapplying a little pressure intermittently to the pedal in order tokeep thebrakes dry, but he did not think he was having much success. Fourcars went byhim, passing from behind or going the other way, and these traveledso fast theythrew water all over his car. He wanted to stick his head out of the window and curse at them for their stupidity and general swinishness, but he didnot care to be drenched by the next car.

He parked half a block down from the Mabcrough residence. Hourspassed. He was impatient at first, and then the habits of years of sitting andwaitingwhile he was a private eye locked into his nervous system. He pisseda couple oftimes into a device much like airplane pilots use. He munched on somecrackers and a stick of beef jerky and drank coffee from a canteen. Midnightcame, andhis patience was beginning to thin out against the grindstone oftime.

Then the chauffeur came out from behind the house, got into theRolls, anddrove off. Childe could see the dark figure, outlined by the lightsfrom within the house. He wore a slicker and a shiny transparent covering overhis cap. Asthe car went by, Childe hunkered down behind the wheel. He waiteduntil it was a block away and then swung out to follow it without turning his lightson immediately. The rain had not ceased, and the streets were evendeeper in water.

The Rolls picked up Vivienne and her escort at the club and thenwent back towards the mansion. Childe had hoped it would; he did not feel liketrailingher from one spot to another. The Rolls stopped before the big porchto let its passengers off, and they went into the house. The chauffeur drove thecar away, presumably to the side entrance and into the garage behind the house.

Childe had gotten out of the car by then and walked down alongthe side of the house. He saw the lights in the story above the garage come on. The chauffeur, he hoped, lived there.

He went to the side door, which was surrounded by dense shrubberyand a wall behind him. The people next door could not see him, and anybodypassing by onthe street would not be likely to see him.

The door opened after a few minutes of trying a number of keys. He shot his flashlight around, looking for evidences of a burglar alarm and couldnot find any. He went on slowly into the house, ready to run if a dog gavewarning. Therewas no sound except for the chiming of a big grandfather clock on thesecond floor.

A moment later, he was crouched outside the partly opened door ofVivienne's bedroom.

CHAPTER 22

The room was very large. There was a single light on from thelamp on thefloor. Its base was at least four feet high and was some red-shotquartz-likestone sculptured into two naked nymphs--or female satyrs--back to back. The shade looked like thin parchment or skin. Childe, seeing this, waschilled through as if a huge icicle had been shoved up his anus all the wayto his hindbrain.

There were paintings in red, blue, and purple on the lampshade, outlines of semihuman figures writhing in flames.

The walls were covered with what looked like heavy quiltwork. This had three figures, repeated over and over. There was a satyr standing on a lowstone on one hoof, the other slightly raised. His back was arched and his armsand head were raised while he blew a syrinx. A nymph was crouched before himsucking onhis enormous purple penis. Behind her was a half-human, half-snakecreature. Its lower part was that of a gargantuan python with white and purplemarkings, andthe upper part was a woman's from the belly button up. She had fulland well-shaped breasts with spearpoint scarlet nipples, a lovely three- cornered face and long silver hair. Her slender fingers were spreading theegg-shapedbuttocks of the nymph, who was bent over, and a long forked tonguewas issuingfrom the snake-woman's mouth and just about to enter the anus or thevagina ofthe nymph.

Beyond the lamp was a tremendous twelve-postered bed with acrimson many-tasseled canopy. On it were Vivienne and the man, both naked.

She was on her back and he was on top with her legs over hisshoulders. He was just about to insert his cock.

Childe watched. He expected either something strange coming fromthe man or something strange, but not unfamiliar, from the woman.

"Put it in for me, baby," the man said. He was about thirty-five, dark and hairy and beginning to flesh out. And then the man screamed andsoared backwards off the bed, propelled by his sudden movement and his push upwardswith one arm and by a snapping movement of his body that could only have beeninduced byutmost terror.

He went back and up, trying to stand up at the same time that hemoved awayfrom Vivienne. Her legs flew apart as if they were two white birdsthat had startled each other.

The man fell off the bed and crashed onto the floor. By then, hehad quitscreaming, but he shook and moaned.

Vivienne got onto her knees and crawled over to look over theedge of thebed at him. Something long and dark-headed between her legs slid backinto the slit and disappeared.

"What's the matter, Bill?" she said, looking down at him. "Did the cat getyour cock?"

He was sitting up by then, intently handling and eyeing hispenis. He lookedup at her with surprise.

"My God! What happened? You ask what happened? I thought...Ireally didthink...you got teeth in your cunt?"

He stood up. The gray of his skin was beginning to redden out. Hewaved his prick at her.

"Look at that! There are teeth marks there!"

She took the limp organ, which looked like a giant but sick worm, and bent over to examine it.

"How can you say those are teeth marks?" she said. "There aresome tinylittle indentations there, but nothing serious. There! Does that makeMommy'sboy feel better?"

She had kissed the big purple-red glands and then run her tonguealong theshaft.

He backed away, saying, "Keep your distance, woman!"

"Are you out of your mind?" she said. She was sitting up on theedge of thebed with the magnificently full and conical breasts pointed at him, Her pubiswas a large triangle of thick dark-red hair, almost the same shade asthe longthick rich auburn hair on her head. The legs were extraordinarilylong and verywhite.

Bill continued to keep his distance. He said, "I tell you; something bit me. You got teeth in your cunt!"

She lay back down on the bed with her legs stretched out so thatthe tips ofher toes touched the floor. She said, "Put your finger in, darling, and find out what a fool you are."

He eyed the reddish fleece and the slit, somewhat opened by the

posture. He said, "I like my finger, too!" Vivienne sat up suddenly, her beautiful face twisted. "You

asshole! I thought you were a normal healthy man! I didn't know you werepsychotic! Teethin my cunt, indeed! Get to hell out of here before I call the psychoward!"

Bill looked as if he felt foolish. He said, "Honest to God, Idon't know how to explain it! Maybe I am going nuts! Or maybe I just had a suddenstrain, maybethat was the burning sensation I felt! No, by God, it felt like tinyteeth! Or a bunch of needles!"

Vivienne got down off the bed and reached out a hand to Bill.

"Come here, baby. Sit down on the bed. Here!" She patted the edgeof the bed.

Bill must have decided that he was making a fool of himself. Moreover, thesight of the superbly shaped Vivienne, with her outrageously beautiful face, overcame his fears. His penis began to swell, but it did not rise. He seated himself on the bed, and Vivienne walked around the side and got a pillow. Returning, she threw it on the floor and got down on her knees on it.


"I've got teeth in my mouth, baby, but I know how to use them," she said. She picked up the semi-flaccid organ and ran her tongue out to flickthe slit on the end of the glands. He jumped a little but settled back to lookdown at her while she took half of the cock into her mouth. She began to work herhead back and forth, slowly, and the organ disappeared entirely, then emergedslick and shining red as far as the head.

Bill shook and moaned and kept his gaze fixed upon the penisdiving in andout of those full red lips. He was evidently getting a heightenedecstasy out ofwatching his cock pistoning into her mouth.

Herald Childe did not know whether he should stay there or not. He wanted to explore the house for anything he might be able to use for evidenceagainstVivienne and her partners. If he could find names and addresses, documents, recordings, films, anything that would tend to prove their criminalactivities, he should do it now. Vivienne was occupied, and she was unlikely tonotice anynoise outside this bedroom.

However, he was worried about the man. His behavior made itevident that he was not aware of Vivienne's peculiarities of physiology or her fatalactions. At least, Childe supposed that they were fatal for others. He had neverseen her kill or even harm anyone, but he was certain that she was nodifferent from her monstrous associates.

Bill was an innocent in the sense that he was a victim. He had probablynever done anything to offend or hurt Vivienne and her group. He wasjust apickup, as Childe's partner had been a pickup.

Childe shuddered at the memory of that film that had been shippedto the LAPD by the killers. It had shown his partner being sucked off, asBill now was. The woman had removed her false teeth and inserted razor-edged ironteeth, andbitten off the end of his partner's cock.

The blood was a crimson fountain that burst out frequently in hisvisions and his dreams.

Childe decided that he would have to interfere. This meant that he could not prowl around the house now. He would have to make sure that the manwas safe. He should do so now, but he could not. He wanted to find out what wouldhappen. Hewould wait a while and then step in.

Vivienne abruptly stood up, revealing Bill's red and pulsing beakstickingout at a 45-degree angle.

She said, "Slide back onto the bed, baby, and lie down."

Whatever reservations he had about her had diminished with the increase in blood pressure. He moved back and lay down with his head on thepillow while sheclimbed onto the bed. She mouthed the head of his penis for a minuteand then said, "Bill?"

He was flat on his back, his hands spread out, his face turnedupwards. Hiseyes were open. He did not answer.

"Bill?" she said again, a little louder.

When he did not respond, she crawled down to him and looked intohis face. She pinched his cheek and then raked it with her fingernails. Bloodflowed from four rows on his flesh, but he did not move. His penis, however, reared up, thick, squat, red-purplish, glistening.

Vivienne turned then, and Childe saw the smirk. Whatever she wasplanning, it was proceeding smoothly.

It was then that he should walk into the room, but he was toofascinated to make his move as yet. Bill seemed to be paralyzed, though how it hadhappened, Childe could not guess. Not at first. Then he realized that thatthing hadbitten Bill's peter with poisonous teeth. The venom had frozen him, with the exception of his prick. The blood was still pumping into it.

The woman straddled him with the intention of easing down on hiscock and letting it slide up into the slit of her vagina. But she only allowedthe head to enter and then she stopped descending. She crouched there forabout thirtyseconds, during which she shook as if she were having an orgasm.

Immediately after, she withdrew, exposing the penis, which wasstill upright. But there were tiny rills of blood running down its sidefrom several places between the head and the shaft.

Vivienne turned around to straddle him facing away from him. Sheput herhand below her buttocks to grab the penis and to slide it in again. This time, however, she let her weight slowly down to guide the cock into heranus. And when its head was engulfed, she stopped.

Childe anticipated what would happen next. He felt sick, and heknew he should halt the monstrous rape, but he also was gripped with thedesire to witness what, as far as he knew, no man alive had seen. Emphasis onthe alive.

Vivienne waited, and then the lips of her slit bulged open. Thethick meat of rich red hair was pushed aside, and a tiny head emerged. It wassoaked with the lubricating fluids within her cunt, and it had the features of a man. Its hair was black; it had a tiny moustache and goatee; its eyes were twogarnetsunder eyebrows no thicker than the leg of a black widow spider. Thelips' wereso thin as to be invisible; the nose was long and curved.

The head moved forward as the body continued to slide out fromthe vagina. It raised upon the shaft of the body like a snake, and Childe heardit hiss but knew that that had to be his imagination. It glided on over thewrinkled sac of the testicles and underneath, apparently headed for the anus. Then itdisappeared while the uncoiling body kept issuing from the slit. Bythen, itshead must have gone deep into the man's bowels.

Childe unfroze abruptly. He shook his head as if trying to clearaway sleep. He was not sure that he had not fallen into a semihypnotic statewhile watchingthe bizarre scene.

He stepped through the door just as Vivienne eased herself downon the penis, driving it all the way up her own anus. Her eyes were closed, and her face was ecstatic. He managed to get close to her while she wasmoving up anddown on the shaft and moaning phrases in a foreign language. The onlysounds were her voice, the striking of rain against the windows, and thesqueak of thebed springs as she slid up and down on the cock like a monkey on astick.

Now that he was closer, he could see that the pale and slimy bodyof the thing was in the man's anus. It apparently had gone in as deeply asit could, oras it cared to, because the motion was stopped. Childe felt sickbecause he could imagine that golfball-sized head with its vicious eyes blind inthe nightof the bowels and its mouth chewing on whatever it was that it founddelectable in there.

CHAPTER 23

He reached out and touched the pink-red and swollen nipple onthat superbbreast.

She reacted violently. Her eyes flew open, exposing the beautifulviolet, and she rose up off the bed, leaving the throbbing penis sticking upand dragging the body of the thing out of the man's body. Both came loosewith a slurping sound, and the tiny mouth of the thing chattered a high- pitched andangry stream of expletives. At least, they sounded like cursing toChilde, although he did not know the language. The words seemed to be Latin in origin, they were vaguely French or perhaps Catalan or something in between.


On seeing Childe, the thing reared up on its body, which coiledbehind the head as if it were a rattlesnake. Vivienne continued to move awayfrom Childe, however, retreating to the opposite end of the bed. There shecrouched, whilethe thing swung between her legs and then started to slide back intothe vagina. The head was fixed on Childe while this withdrawal occurred. Its red- gleamingeyes were hateful and deadly. Then the head was gone into the slit; the labia closed; it was as if the thing had never existed. Certainly, thething shouldnot exist.

Childe moved up along the bed and reached out and slapped the manin the face. The hand left a red imprint,, but that was the only reactionfrom him. He continued to stare upwards, and his chest rose and fell slowly. Hisdong wasbeginning to dwindle and sag.

"That will do no good unless I give him the antidote," Viviennesaid. Her color was beginning to return, and she was even smiling at

him. "Then give it to him!" "Or you'll do what?" The tone was not hostile, just questioning. "I'll call the cops." "If you do," she said evenly, "you'll be the one hauled away.

I'll chargeyou with breaking and entering, threatened rape, and assault, andbattery on myfriend here and maybe even attempted murder."

Childe wondered why she would not charge him with actual rape, then it occurred to him that she would not want a physical examination.

He said, "I'm not in too good a position, it's true. But I don'tthink youcould stand much publicity."

She climbed down off the bed, brushing against him with one softhip, andwalked to her dresser. She picked up a cigarette, lit it, and thenoffered him one. He shook his head.

"Then it's a Mexican standoff?"

"Not unless you give this man the antidote," he said. "I don'tcare what it costs me, I'll raise a howl that'll bring this place down around yourears."

"Very well."

She opened a drawer while he stood behind her to make sure thatthere was no weapon in it. She picked up a large sewing needle from a littledepression intop of a block of dark-red wood and walked with it to the man. Sheinserted its tip into the jugular vein and then walked back to the dresser. By thetime she had replaced the needle, Bill was beginning to move his legs and hishead. A few minutes later, he groaned and then he sat up, his feet on the floor. He looked at the naked Vivienne and at Childe as if he was not sure what was happening.


Childe said, "Were you conscious?" Bill nodded. He was concentrating on Vivienne with a peculiarexpression.

"I can't believe it!" he said. "What the hell were you doing withme? You pervert!"

Childe did not understand for a moment. The accusation seemed so mild compared with what had happened. Then he saw that Bill had notwitnessed the thing issuing from her vagina. He must have believed that she hadstuck some object up his anus.

"Your clothes are over there," she said, pointing at a chair onthe other side of the bed. "Get dressed and get out."

Bill stood up unsteadily and walked around the bed. While hedressed clumsily, he said, "I'll have the cops down here so fast yourheads'll swim. Drugging me! Drugging me! What the hell for? What did you intend todo?"

"I wouldn't call in the cops," Childe said. "You heard what shesaid she'd do. You'd end up with all sorts of charges flung at you, and, believeme, thiswoman has some powerful connections. Moreover, she is quite capableof murder."

Bill, looking scared, dressed more swiftly.

Vivienne looked at her wristwatch and said, "Herald and I havesome thingswe're eager to discuss. Please hurry."

"Yeah, I'll bet you two perverts do!" Bill said, glaring at both. "For Christ's sake!" Childe said. "I saved your life!" Childe watched Vivienne. She was leaning against the dresser with


her weighton one leg, throwing a hip into relief. He hated her. She was soagonizinglybeautiful, so desirable. And so coldly fatal, so monstrous, in allsenses of that overused and misused word.

Bill finally had his clothes on, except for his raincoat andrubbers. These, Childe supposed, would be in the closet in the vestibule downstairsjust off theentrance.

"So long, you queers!" Bill mumbled as he stumbled through thedoor. "I'll see you in jail, you can bet on that!"

Vivienne laughed. Childe wondered if he should go with him. Nowthat he had followed her and was in this den of whatever it was that she and her colleagueswere, he wondered if he had made a very wrong decision. It was truehe had rescued a victim, but the victim was so stupid he did not realizewhat he had escaped. Certainly, he did not seem worth the trouble or the risk.

Vivienne waited until the front door loudly slammed. Then shemoved slowly towards him, rolling her hips.

He backed away, saying, "Keep your distance, Vivienne. I have nodesire for you; you couldn't possibly seduce me, if that's what you have inmind."

She laughed again and sat down on the edge of the bed. "No, ofcourse not! But why are you here? We left you alone, though we could have killedyou easilyenough at any time. And perhaps we should have, after what you did tous."

"If you were human, you'd understand why."

"Oh, you mean the monkey sense of curiosity? Let me remind you ofhow Malayans catch monkeys. They put food in a jar with a mouth largeenough for themonkey to get his paw into but too small for him to withdraw the handunless he lets loose of the food. Of course, he doesn't let loose, and so thetrappertakes him easily."

"Yes, I know that," he said. "Your analogy may be a fairly exactone. I'm here because I still think that your bunch had something to do withmy wife'sdisappearance. I know you denied that, but I can't get it out of mymind that you did away with Sybil. You're certainly capable of doing that. You're capableof anything that's cruel and inhuman."

"Inhuman?" she said, smiling.

"All right. Point well taken," he said. "However, here we are, alone together in this house with no one except Bill knowing that I amhere. And he not only does not know who I am, he isn't going to say anything aboutme. Not after he considers the possible repercussions, especially the factthat he mightbe suspected."

"Suspected of what?" she said, her eyes widening. Before he couldreply, shesaid, "I doubt that he'll say anything to anybody."

"What do you mean?" he said, although he thought he knew what shewas goingto say.

She looked at her watch and said, "He ought to be dying of aheart attack about now."

She looked up at him and smiled again. "So pale! So shocked! Whatdid youexpect, you babe in the woods? Did you think I'd let him go so hecould talk to the police? I could make him regret it, of course, with charges thatwould puthim in jail, but I don't want any publicity whatsoever. Now, really, Herald Childe, how could you be so naive?"

Childe broke loose from the casing of ice that had seemed to bearound him. He leaped at her, his hands outstretched, and she tried to roll awayfrom him on the bed to the other side, but he seized her ankle. He dragged her tohim, although she slammed one heel into his shoulder. He leaned downbetween her legsand thrust three fingers into the wet vagina and probed. Somethingfiery touchedone of his fingers, and he knew he had been bitten, but he plungedhis hand in as far as he could.

Vivienne screamed with the pain then, but he kept the hand inand, despitethe agony of more bites on his other fingers, managed to seize thattiny head. It was slippery, and it resisted, but it came on out of her cunt, itsmouth working, the minute teeth glittering in the light, its eyes lookinglike red jewels stuck into its bearded doll face.

He pressed his left shoulder against her right leg to keep itfrom kickinghim and braced his right shoulder against her other leg. She reacheddown and grabbed his hair and pulled, and the pain was so intense he almostlet loose of the thing. But he clung to it and then threw himself backward as hardas he could. The snakelike body shot out from the slit while the tiny mouthscreamed like a rabbit dying.

As he fell on his back on the floor, he saw the tail slide out ofthe slit. It came loose much easier than he had thought it would. Perhaps hehad been wrong in thinking that it was anchored to her in a plexus of flesh.

But there were red and bloody roots hanging from the end of thetail, andVivienne was down on the floor by him writhing and screaming.

He jumped up and threw the thing away. Its slimy muscle-packedbody and thegrease-soaked head and unadulterated viciousness of the face and eyeswere so loathsome he was afraid he was going to vomit.

The body soared across the bed, hit the other edge, flopped, andthen slithered off the edge to fall out of sight.

Vivienne quit screaming, though her skin was gray and her eyeswere greatareas of white with violet islets. She said, "Now you've done it! Ihope I canget back together again!"

He said, "What?"

He was having difficulty standing. The pain in his fingers waslessening, but that was because a numbness was shooting up his arm and down hisside. The room was beginning to be blurred, and Vivienne's white body with theauburn triangle between the legs and torn fleshy roots hanging out of theslit was starting to spin and, at the same time, to recede.

"You wouldn't understand, you stupid human!"

He sank to his knees and then sat down, lowering himself with onearm that threatened to turn into rubber under him. Vivienne's pubis wasdirectly underhis eyes, so he saw what was happening despite the increasing fuzziness of vision.

The skin was splitting along the hairline of the pubis. The splitbecame a definite and deep cleavage as if invisible knives were cutting intoher and the operators of the knives intended to scoop out the vagina and the wombin one section.

Cracks were appearing across her waist, across her thighs, herknees, hercalves, and her feet.

He bent over to see more clearly. There were cracks on herwrists, herelbows, around her breasts, her neck. She looked like a china dollthat had fallen onto a cement sidewalk.

When he looked back at her cunt, it had walked out of the spaceit had occupied between her legs. It was staggering on its own legs, a scoreor more of needle-thin many-jointed members with a red-flesh color. Its back wasthe pubis, the rich auburn hair, the slit, and the mound of Venus. Its undersidewas the protective coating of the vaginal canal. The uterus came next on itsmany tinylegs, following the vagina as if it hoped to reconnect.

Out from the cavity left by the exodus came other organs, some ofwhich he recognized. That knot and fold of flesh certainly must be thefallopian tube andovary, and that, what the hell was that?

By then the cleavages around the base of the breasts had met, andthe breasts reeled off the steep slope of the ribs and fell down, turningover. One landed on its legs and scuttled off, but the other breast lay on itsback--its front, actually--and kicked its many red spider legs until itsucceeded in getting on its feet--so-called.

The belly had split across and down, as had the upper part of thetrunk. The anus and the two cheeks of the buttocks crawled off. The legs of thiscreature were thicker but the weight of the flesh seemed to be almost toomuch. It moved slowly, whereas the hands, using the fingers as legs, ran across theroom quickly and disappeared under the bed.

The head was also walking towards the underside of the bed. Itwas lifted off the floor by legs about three inches high and perhaps a sixteenthof an inch thick. Four longer legs that had sprouted from behind her earssupported thehead and kept it from falling to one side or another. Vivienne's eyeswere openand blinking, so that she seemed to be as aware in this state as shewas in the other. She did not, however, look at Childe.

He felt sick, but he did not think be was going to vomit. If hewas, he could not feel anything churning up. His insides were too numb foranythingexcept a vague feeling of queasiness.

He fell over on his side and could not get up again no matter howhard he struggled. Or tried to struggle, rather, because his efforts were allmental. His muscles, as far as he could tell, failed to respond with even atremor.

CHAPTER 24

When he saw the golfball-sized head of the thing poke out frombeyond theend of the bed, Childe realized what he had done. By yanking sosavagely on thatthing, he had jerked it loose from some base in her body, probably inher uterus. This was what he had intended. But he could never have visualized that pulling the thing was like pulling the cord on one of those burrodolls--what were they called?--that were hung up in Mexican homes on Christmas. Pull the string, and they ripped open, and all the goodies spilled out.

The thing had been her string, and when it was torn out, she fellapart, andall her goodies, separate entities, spilled out. And began a walkthat only aBosch could paint.

Now the thing was gliding snakelike towards him, its forepartraised off the ground and the slimy, goateed, shark-toothed, scimitar-nosed, garnet- eyed headwas pointed at him. Its mouth was writhing, and a piping was issuingfrom the invisible lips.

Childe could do nothing but lie on his side, his eyes fixed onthe approaching thing. He wondered what it had in mind for him. Its bitewas poisonous, and while its poison had paralyzed Bill but left hissexual organsactive, it might be fatal if he were bitten again. Moreover, Viviennesaid an antidote had to be given, and she, as far as he knew, was the onlyone who could do that. But not while she was in this condition.

A glob of coiled intestines crossed before him, cutting off hisview of the snake-thing. Behind it came the spinal area, a flesh centipede. Thisreeled blindly into a foot, which was traveling upside down, its solepointed towardsthe ceiling, while twenty legs bore it to wherever it was going. Thespine andthe foot fell over on their side and kicked their legs for a whilebefore managing to get back up.

The snake-thing crawled nearer. Childe watched it and speculatedon whether or not its underside was equipped with many moving plates to enableit to progress so serpentinely. Did it have an ophidian skeleton?

He was so numb that it did not occur to him to wonder how this whole processcould come about. He just accepted it.

Presently, the many-legged cunt, still followed by the many- legged uterus, walked towards him. The hairy-back animal bumped into his stomach, staggeredback, half-turned, and bumped along his body. It stopped when it cameinto contact with his chin, slid along it and around to his mouth, whereit stopped. He could not see it, but he had the feeling that it was leaningagainst hislips. Its hairs brushed his nose and made him want to sneeze. Theodor from it was clean and faintly musky, and under other circumstances he wouldhave enjoyedit very much.

The cunt remained by him, pressing on his mouth, as if itrecognizedsomething familiar in its blind and deaf world. The uterus wasnestled againsthis neck, its wet skin on his skin.

The snake-thing kept on coming towards him and then itdisappeared aroundhis head. He tried to throw his head back and to turn it, but hecould not. Within a few seconds, he felt it crawling up over the back of hishead. He wanted to scream, to make a superhuman effort that would enable himto burst out of his own skin and run out of the room. Then the thing was coiled upon his cheek, and the wet beard was tickling the lobe of his ear.

The voice was tiny and tinny.

The words were unintelligible. They were in that same language hehad heard before, in between French and Spanish. Like an unnasalized, untruncated French. An archaic French, perhaps.

The tiny tinny voice raged on. Its forked tongue flicked againstthe inner part of his ear.

Suddenly, there was a silence. The body was still there, but itwas motionless. The vagina-thing abruptly scuttled away with the uterus- thing nosingafter it. Vivienne's head appeared from under the bed and stalkedslowly towardshim. Her tongue was sticking out from her lax lips, and her brighteyes staredat him.

Her head stopped a few feet from his eyes. Her eyes looked up, evidently atthe thing on his cheek. Her lips moved, but no voice issued. This wasto be expected, since she had no lungs. The lungs were twin creatureslurching likesick dinosaurs along a drying swamp towards the far wall.

Maybe, Childe thought, maybe the thing can lip-read. Maybe she'sgiving him instructions for starting the reassembly process.

But what if there is no reassembly? What if this is final? Whatdo I know about her or others of her kind? All were strange, but Vivienne wasthe strangest. She did not fit into any categories of vampire or werewolfor lamia or ghost. Maybe, when the cord is yanked, the lanyard pulled, she hashad it. Surely, she--her parts that is--can't survive long in this condition. They haveto eat and to excrete, they are as subject to natural laws as anyother creatures, even if they seem to be unnatural.

There is nothing unnatural in this universe. Anything that seemsso justisn't explained yet. All things can be explained by natural laws. Ifyou don'tknow certain laws, then you think a thing is unnatural.

The snake-thing slid down over his eyes onto the floor. Itcrawled to Vivienne's head and coiled there while the upper part rose to a pointa few inches before her eyes. It swayed back and forth like a cobra, andsometimes its head turned. Its mouth was working, and its face was twisted withrage. Onlywhen its head was turned towards him could Childe hear the faint piping voice. It was still using the unknown tongue.

Presently it communicated something or it tired of trying tocommunicate. It turned and crawled to a point just past his chin. He could not seewhat it was doing until a moment later. It crawled out past him, towing theuterus behind it. Its tail had been inserted into the interior and probably wasbeingimplanted again.

When it was a little distance past his head, it stopped andturned again. Itcrawled back towards him, stopping with the uterus leaning up againsthis forehead. The vagina moved away, and he was able to see that thesnake-thing wasbutting it with its head. Herding it.

When it had the vagina maneuvered into the proper position, itslippedthrough from the rear of the vagina and emerged through the slit. Thevaginamoved backwards as if impelled by telepathy until it was reunitedwith the uterus-thing.

Now what? Childe thought, and then he was able to worry abouthimself for the first time. Maybe the poison did wear off; maybe Vivienne hadbeen lyingabout the necessity of the antidote. She must have wanted to giveBill an antidote to get him going more quickly. And at the same time she hadadministered the poison that would stop his heart. If she had notlied about that, of course.

He tried to move but was as unable as before. However, his thinking and his vision were not as unfocused.


Now he began to be impressed with the utter alienness of the lifebefore him. That a living body could fall apart into discrete creatureswhich were mobile was unthinkable. But there they were. And how did they surviveso long? The blood system, for instance, had been cut off, sealed into eachcreature, butthe circulation, of course, had stopped. That was easy to see. Therewas the heart, its veins and arteries closed up, moving away from him towardsthe underside of the bed on thirty frail legs. Something about itreminded him of a headless chicken.

But how did these things, live without the bringing in of oxygenand the carrying away of waste? They had to have some auxiliary source ofenergy andexcretion. Had to Nave!

And how did Vivienne manage to hide all these fissures andcleavages, allthese legs and God knew what other biological mechanisms, in herbody? Sheshould have looked fat and lumpy, but she had not. She had a superbbody andthat face, that painfully beautiful face, now walking around on ascore of skinny legs and four support legs from behind her ears!

The snake-thing dragged itself in front of him, trailing theuterus, inchase of the anus and buttocks. Obviously it intended to unite withthem. But what then? It was becoming unwieldy and could not corner too manyother piecesand unite before it became too heavy and too awkward.

The head had been busy while he watched the snake-thing. It hadkicked and pushed shoulders and a neck until they were huddled together in acorner of the room. Then the head went off in pursuit of various entrail thingswhile the snake-thing backed into the buttocks and anus and hooked up as arailroad enginewould hook up several cars with another.

At that moment, he felt the floor vibrate slightly under him. Asecond later, two large shoes were by his head. Then the shoes moved on outpast him, and he saw the chauffeur. He was a big man with a skin as dark as asunburned Sicilian's, but his features were Baltic. He had a broad face withhighcheekbones and a high forehead and straight dark hair. The scenebefore him did not seem to bother him in the least.

With swift but efficient movements, he began to reassembleVivienne Mabcrough. The parts were placed together or one inserted intoanother, andpresently she was stretched out on the floor in a unit. The fissuresclosed; the cracks disappeared; the cleavages filled out. When her skin was againunbroken, he hit her over the heart with his fist. She gasped for air, breathedfor a while, and then sat up. She was a little unsteady but waved the handof the chauffeur away.

The head of the snake-thing came out of her slit and stared

angrily at him. "Barton," she said, "put him on the bed and undress him." Wordlessly, Barton picked Childe up in his arms and laid him out

on the bed. He proceeded to take off all of Childe's clothes and to hang them upneatly inthe closet. The shoes and socks went under a chair. Childe could see this because he was able by then to turn his head. He could not, however, talk.

"You can go now, Barton," Vivienne said.

The big dark man looked emotionlessly at Childe. Then he said, "Very well, madame," and left.

Childe wondered what his place was in Vivienne's group. If Bartonwas whollyof human origin, then he was one of the vilest collaborators inhistory. Or inunhistory, since history, or any human science or scientificdiscipline, refusedto acknowledge the existence, or the possibility of existence, ofthese beings.

Vivienne stood over him and bent down so that one breast hungabove his mouth a few inches.

She said, "You frustrated me, my beautiful Herald Childe, and Idon't like to be frustrated. You took away my Bill, a stupid ass of a man but agreat cock. So you will substitute for him, even though you are now forbidden."

He wanted to ask her what she meant by "forbidden" but could noteven openhis mouth.

Vivienne kissed him and thrust her tongue into his mouth and felthis tongueand teeth and gums while she played with his cock with one hand. Despitehimself, he responded. His penis felt slightly titillated; it warmedup andswelled a little, if his sense of feel was any indication.

Vivienne moved herself up then and put her nipple in his mouth, but he was unable to suck on it. If he had been able, he would have refused. Shewas the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, but she was by now far fromthe most desirable. He did not care for murdereresses at all, and he loathedher for that thing coiled in her womb. He hoped it was still there, but he doubtedit. His anus was beginning to contract in dread of its coming.

Even though he did not suck or tongue it, her nipple grew largeand hard in his mouth. She withdrew it and put the other one between his lips, and it grewlarge. Then she began to kiss his nipples and to stroke his cheeks with her fingers. She slowly traced her tongue down his belly, working backand forth and across, drawing geometric designs with its tip.

When she came to his pubic hairs, she ran her tongue along theedge of thehairline and then worked her tongue over the hairs until they werewet. His penis swelled some more. He did not want it to be affected in theleast by her, but the paralyzing effect of the bite made him unable to resist. Heloathed her and he wanted to scream at the thought of the snake-thing. But theloathing andthe horror were numbed, far away. The pleasure of her tongue and lipswas the immediate entity.

When he felt her mouth closing around his testicles, he began tobe flooded with a hot sensation. It arose from under his navel and spreadoutwards but chiefly towards the base of his penis. When it oozed into his penis, it filled it out so that it rose up straight and hard.

After a while, she pushed the testicles out with her tongue andlowered her head over his cock. Her lips went softly and wetly around the head, and her tongue pressed against the slit in its end. He groaned deep withinhimself and could not repress a desire to move his hips upward to drive his prickdeeperinto her mouth. The desire was all that resulted; his hips remainedmotionless.

Vivienne continued to suck on the glands and occasionally to moveher head down so that the shaft went in all the way. The warmth at the base ofhis penisbecame a rod of fire which stretched from the tip of his spine to thetip of hiscock. The heavy gray fluid was moving slowly, rubbing against excitednerves, towards the entrance to his shaft.

Suddenly, Vivienne got up and turned around, presenting thatlovely back andthe egg-shaped buttocks. She squatted over him and reached down andtenderlytook the head between her fingers. This she guided into her anus asshe lowered herself down on it. The head stuck in the tight mouth for a minuteand then abruptly slid in. It moved against a warm slick surface until theflesh of her ass was against his pubic hairs.

She lowered and raised herself slowly several times, causing himto feel ecstatic. It would not take much of this to make him come. And he did not like buggering. Though he had done it several times to women who liked it, he had a distaste for it. Now his repulsion was on the edge of his mind. Itbulked largeenough for him to be aware of it, but it did not bother him.

She stopped on an upward movement, leaving his cock half in.

Knowing what was about to happen, he mentally gritted his teeth. The horror did not draw any blood from his engorged penis, however.

Suddenly, something slipped down over his testicles. It slid overthe sac and under, and something--the thing's bearded little head, ofcourse--touched his anus. Then it entered and was pushing into his anus and then uphis rectum. It felt hard and solid and unpleasant, as when a doctor stuck afinger up himfor a prostate examination. But this disagreeable sensation did notlast long. Something, perhaps its bite or the substance released by its bite, turned unpleasantness into a warm and relaxing feeling.

A few seconds later, Vivienne began to move up and down on hiscock, and hecould feel the body of the snake-thing sliding back and forth in him. Its motion seemed to be independent of hers; it was moving much faster then hermotions could account for.

The warmth and relaxation within his rectum and his bowels gaveway to analmost hot feeling and a tension. The tension was, however, near- ecstatic. His insides felt as ready for orgasm as his penis. Both exquisitenessesacted as sine waves out of phase with each other. But as Vivienne increasedher slidingsup and down his pole, and as the snake-thing continued at the samerapid pace, the waves slowly came into phase.

There was a moment of glory: a flashing red light across hiseyes, a spurtof metal rubbing against his pleasure nerves, a breaking through of ared-hot drill in the center of his brain, and he exploded. It was as if hehad been turned inside out as he passed through some fifth-dimensionalcontinuum. He was a glove of flesh removed from a hand, inverted, and exposed toradiations that would never have reached him otherwise, intensely delightfulradiations.

Vivienne sat on him for a while but rotated on his cock so that she could face him. The action pulled the snake-thing along, but it, apparently, wasthrough. It slid out of his anus and then was facing him. Its shaftand head were smeared and it was still expelling a musky gray fluid from itsmouth. When the flow had ceased, its forked tongue flickered out and began toclean its face. Within a few minutes, its face and beard looked as if it hadshowered.

Though it did not look as vicious as before, it still lookeddangerous.

Childe was glad to see it withdraw, although he wished that ithad not first moved up her body and kissed her on the lower lip with its thinmouth.

Vivienne scooted up when the thing disappeared into her cunt, andhis penisslipped out of her anus. She kissed him and said, "I love you."

He could not reply, but he thought, "Love?" He wished he could vomit. At that moment, three men entered the room. One of them had a


cane, fromwhich he pulled a thin-bladed sword. He stuck the point of it againstVivienne's neck.

She turned pale and said, "Why are you breaking the truce?"

CHAPTER 25

Forrest J Ackerman, hiding in the bushes, was getting wetter. Hewas also becoming madder.

Three days ago he had received through the mail a large flat box. This had come from England, and it contained an original painting by BrainStoker. The painting depicted Count Dracula in the act of sucking blood from thethroat of a young blonde. Many illustrations have done this; a number of reprintsof Dracula, written by Bram Stoker, have shown Dracula going down on asleepingyoung beauty, and innumerable advertisements and stills for variousDracula movies have shown this.

But this was the only painting of Dracula done by the authorhimself. Until a few months ago, its existence had been unknown. Then a dozen oilpaintings anda score of ink drawings had been found in a house in Dublin, onceowned by afriend of Stoker's. The present owner had discovered the works in aboarded-upcloset in the attic. He had not known what the paintings and drawingsrepresented in money. He had sold them to an art dealer for severalpounds andthought himself well ahead.

But the dealer had brought in handwriting experts who verifiedthat the signature on the illustrations was indeed Bram Stoker's. ForryAckerman, readingof this, had sent a wire to the Dublin art dealer and offered to topany pricesubmitted. The result was that he got his painting but had to go tothe bank to get a loan. Since then, he had been waiting anxiously and could talkof little but the expected arrival.

When he unwrapped it, he was not disappointed. Admittedly, Stokerwas no St. John, Bok, Finlay, or even a Paul. But his work had a certain crudeforce that a number of people commented upon. It was a primitive, no doubt ofthat, but apowerful primitive. Forry was glad that it had some artistic merit, although he had no knowledge of what constituted "good art" and no desire tolearn. He knew what he liked, and he liked this.

Besides, even if it had been less powerful, even crude, he wouldnot have cared. He had the only original painting of Dracula by the author ofDracula. No one else in the world could claim that.

This was no longer true.

That night he had come home to his house in the 800 block ofSherbourne Drive. It was raining then as now, and water was pouring down hisdriveway intothe street. The street was flooded but the water had not yet risen tocover the sidewalk. It was after one o'clock, and he had just left a party atWendy's tocome here because he had to get out one of his comic magazines. Aseditor of Vampirella and some horror magazines, he had hard schedule dates tomeet. He had to edit Vampirella tonight and get it out in the morning, air mail, specialdelivery, to his publisher in New York.

He had unlocked the door and entered the front room. This was a rather largeroom decorated with large and small original paintings of science- fiction and fantasy magazine covers, paintings done on commission, stills fromvarious horror and so-called science-fiction movies, photographs of LonChaney, Jr., asthe Wolf Man, Boris Karloff as Boris Karloff, and Bela Lugosi asDracula. Each bore a signature and a dedication of best wishes and fondest regardsto "Forry." There were also heads and masks of Frankenstein's monster, theCreature from the Black Lagoon, King Kong, and a number of other fictional monsters. The bookshelves reached from floor to ceiling at several places, andthese were jammed with the works of science-fiction authors, Gothic novelwriters, and somevolumes on exotic sexual practices.

Forry's house had to be seen to be visualized. It had once beenhis residence, but he had filled it with works evaluated at over amillion dollars. He had moved into Wendy's apartment and now used the house as hisbusiness office and as his private museum. The day would come--perish theday!--when hewould no longer be around to enjoy, to vibrate with joy, in the midstof his dream come true. Then it would become a public museum with the greatRayBradbury as trustee, and people would come from all over the world toview his collection or to do research in the rare books and with the paintingsand manuscripts and letters. He was thinking about having his ashesplaced in abronze bust of Karloff as Frankenstein's monster and the bust put on a pedestal in the middle of this room. Thus he would be here in physical fact, though not in spirit, since he refused to believe in any survival after death.


California law, however, forbade any such deposit of one's ashes. The morticians' and cemetery owners' lobby had insured that, thelegislature passedlaws beneficial to their interests. Even a man's ashes had to be buried in a cemetery, no matter what his wishes. There was a provision that ashescould be scattered out over the sea; but only from an airplane at a suitabledistance and height. The lobby ensured that the ashes of a number of deceased werestored until a mass, thus economical, flight could be made.

Forry, thinking about this, suppressed his anger at the money- hungry andessentially soulless robbers of the bereaved. He wondered if he couldnot make some arrangements for an illegal placing of his ashes in the bust. Why not? Hecould get some of his friends to do it. They were a wild bunch--someof them were--and they would not be stopped by a little illegality.

While he was standing there, taking off his raincoat, he lookedaround. There was the J. Allen St. John painting of Circe and the swine, Ulysses'buddies. And there, pride of his prides, and there...and there...!

The Stoker was gone.

It had been hung on a place opposite the door so that anybodyentering couldnot miss seeing it. It had displaced two paintings. Forry had had ahard time finding space in this house where every inch of wall was accountedfor.

Now, a blank spot showed where it had been.

Forry crossed the room and sat down. His heart beat only a littlefaster. He had a faulty pacemaker; it controlled the heart within a narrowrange, and thatexplained why he had to take stairs slowly and could not run. Nor didexcitement step up the heart. The emotions were there, however, and they madehim quiverwhen he should have beat.

He thought of calling the police, as he had done several times inthe past. His collection had been the object of attentions of many a burglar, usually ascience-fiction or horror addict who brushed aside any honesty hemight havepossessed in his lust to get his hands on books, paintings, stills, manuscripts, masks, photographs of the famous, and so forth. He had lost thousandsof dollars from this thievery, which was bad enough. But the realization thatsome of the works were irreplaceable hurt him far worse. And the thought thatanybody coulddo these evil things to him, who loved the world as he did not loveGod, hurt.

Who loved people, rather, since he was no Nature lover.

Putting aside his first inclination to call the police, hedecided to check with the Dummocks. These were a young couple who had moved in shortlyafter the previous caretakers, the Wards, had moved out. Renzo and Huli Dummockwere broke and houseless, as usual, so he had offered them his hospitality. Allthey had todo was keep the house clean and fairly well ordered and act ashelpers sometimeswhen he gave a party. Also, they would be his burglar insurance, since he no longer lived in the house.

He went upstairs after calling a number of times and getting noanswer. The bedroom was the only room in the house which had space for residents. There was a bed and a dresser and a closet, all of which the Dummocks used. Their clothes were thrown on the bed, the floor, the dresser top, and on a pile ofbooks in one corner. The bed had been unmade for days.

The Dummocks were not there, and he doubted they could beanyplace else inthe house. They had gone out for the night, as they quite often did. He did not know where they got their money to spend, since Huli was the only oneworkingand she did that only between fits of apathy. Renzo wrote stories buthad so far been able to sell only his hardcore pornography and not much of that. Forrythought they must be visiting somebody off whom they were undoubtedlysponging. This increased his anger, since he asked very little of them inreturn for room and board. Being here nights to watch for burglars had been theirmain job. Andif he reproached them for falling down on this, they would sneer athim and accuse him of exploiting them.

He searched through the house and then put on his raincoat andwent out to the garage. The Stoker painting was not there.

Five minutes later, he got a phone call. The voice was muffledand unrecognizable, although the caller had identified himself as RupertVlad, afriend and a committeeman in the Count Dracula Society. Since Forrytook all his calls through the answering service, he could listen in and determineif he wished to answer any. This voice was unfamiliar, but the name got thecaller through.

"Forry, this isn't Vlad. Guess you know that?" "I know," said Forry softly. "Who is it?" "A FRIEND, Forry. You know me, but I'd just as soon not tell you


who I really am. I belong to the Lord Ruthven League and the Count DraculaSociety, too. I don't want to get anybody mad at me. But I'll tell yousomething. I heard about you getting that painting of Dracula by Stoker. I was going tocome over and see it. But I attended a meeting of the Lord Ruthven League...andI saw it there."

"You what?" Forry said shrilly. For once, he had lost his self-

control "Yeah. I saw it on the wall of, uh, well..." There was a pause. Forry said, "For the sake of Hugo, man, don't keep me hanging in

air! I have

a right to know!" "Yeah, but I feel such a shit finking on this guy. He..." "He's a thief!" Forry said. "A terrible thief! You wouldn't be a

fink. You'd be doing a public service! Not to mention servicing me!" Even in his excitement and indignation, he could not keep frompunning.

"Yeah, uh; well, I guess you're right. I'll tell you. You goright over toWoolston Heepish's house. You'll see what I'm talking about."

"Woolston Heepish!" Forry said. He groaned and then added, "Oh, no!"

"Uh, yeah! I guess he's been bugging you for years, right? Ikinda feel sorry for you, Forry, having to put up with him, though I must say hedoes have a magnificent collection. I guess he should, since he got some of itfrom you."

"I never gave him anything!" "No, but he took. So long, Forry."


CHAPTER 26

Fifteen minutes later, Forty was outside the Heepish residence. This was two blocks over from Forry's own house, almost even with it. In the darkand the driving rain, it looked like an exact duplicate of the Ackermansion. It was a California pseudo-Spanish bungalow with a green-painted stuccoexterior. The driveway was on the left as you approached the house, and when youstepped pastthe extension of the house, a wall, you saw the big tree that grew inthe patio. It leaned at a forty-five degree angle across the house, and itsbranches laylike a great hand over part of the tiled roof. At the end of thedriveway wasthe garage, and in front of the garage was a huge wooden cutout of amovie monster.

You turned to the right and onto a small porch to face a woodendoor plastered with various signs: NO SMOKING PERMITTED. WIPE YOUR FEETAND YOUR MIND BEFORE ENTERING. THE EYES OF HEEPISH ARE ON YOU (hinting at theclosed-circuit TV with which Heepish scanned his visitors before admitting them). ESPERANTO AND

VOLAPUK SPOKEN HERE. (This bugged Forry, who was a long-time and ardent Esperantist. Heepish not only imitated Ackerman with the Esperanto, but, in his efforts to go him one better, had learned Esperanto's closest rival, Volapuk.)


Forry stood for some time before the door, his finger held out topress onthe doorbell. The skies were still emptying their bins; the splash ofwater was all around. Water roared out of the gutter drains and covered thepatio. Thelight above the door gave a ghastly green illumination. All that thescene needed was thunder and lightning, the door swinging open slowly andcreakingly, and a tall pale-faced, red-lipped man with sharp features and blackhair plastered close to his head, and a deep voice with a Hungarian accentsaying, "Good evening!"

There was no light from the interior of the house. Every windowwas curtained off or boarded up or barred by bookcases. Forry had notseen the interior of the house, but it had beep described to him. His ownhouse was so furnished.

Finally, he dropped his hand from the doorbell. He would scoutaround a little. After all, he would look like an ass if he barged indemanding to havehis painting back, only to find that his informant had lied. It wouldnot be the first time that he had been maliciously misinformed so he would getinto an embarrassing situation.

He walked around the side of the house and then to the back. There should be a room here which had once been an anteroom or pantry for thekitchen. In his own house, it was now piled with books and magazines; in fact, hekept hiscollection of Doc Savage magazines just off the kitchen door.

The curtains over the windows were shut tight. He placed his earagainst thewindow in the door but could hear nothing. After a while, he returnedto the front. That there were two cars in the driveway and a number parked, in the street might indicate that Heepish had guests. Perhaps he shouldreturn to his house and phone Heepish.

Then he decided that he would confront Heepish directly. He wouldnot givehim a chance to deny he had the painting or to hide it.

Having made up his mind, he still could not bring himself to ringthe doorbell. He went to the front of the house and stood in the bushes for a while while the rain pelted him and water dripped off the branches. Theconfrontation was going to be dreadful. Highly embarrassing. For both of them. Well, maybe not for Heepish. That man had more nerve than a barrel of brass monkeys.

A car passing by threw its water-soaked beams on him for aminute. He blinked against the diffused illumination and then walked from underthe shelter of the bush. Why wait any longer? Heepish was not going to come outand invite him in.

He pressed the button, which was the nose of a gargoyle facepainted on thedoor. A loud clanging as of bells came from within followed byseveral bars of organ music: Gloomy Sunday.

There was a peephole in the large door, but Heepish no longerused this, according to Forry's informants. The pressing of the doorbell nowactivated a TV camera located behind a one-way window on the left of the porch.

A voice from the Frankenstein mask nailed on the door said, "As Ilive and don't breathe! Forrest J (no period) Ackerman! Thrice welcome!"

A moment later, the door swung open with a loud squeaking as ofrustyhinges. This, of course, was a recording synchronized to the door.

Woolston Heepish himself greeted Forry. He was six feet tall, portly, soft-looking, somewhat paunched, and had a prominent dewlap. Hiswalrus moustache was bronzish, and his hair was dark red, straight, andslick. He wore square rimless spectacles behind which gray eyes blinked. He hunchedforward as if he had spent most of his life reading books or working at a desk. Or standingunder a rainy bush, Forry thought.

"Come in!" he said in a soft voice. He extended a hand which Forry shook, although he wished he could ignore it, let it hang out in the air. But, afterall; he did not know for sure that Heepisb was guilty.

Then he stiffened, and he dropped Heepish's hand.

Over Heepish's shoulder he saw the painting. It was hung atapproximatelythe same place it had hung in his house. There was Dracula sinkingthose longcanines into the neck of a blonde girl!

He became so angry that the room swirled for a moment.

Heepish took his arm and walked him towards the sofa, saying, "You look ill, Forry. Surely I don't have that effect on you?"

There were five others in the room, and they gathered about thesofa where he sat. They looked handsome and beautiful and were dressed inexpensiveup-to-the-latest-minute clothes.

"My painting!" Forry gasped. "The Stoker!"

Heepish looked up at it and put the tips of his fingers togetherto make a church steeple. He smiled under the walrus moustache.

"You like it! I'm so glad! A fabulous collector's item!"

Forry choked and tried to stand up. One of the guests, a womanwho looked as if she were Mexican, pushed him back down.

"You look pale. What are you doing out on a night like this?

You're soaked! Stay there. I'll get you a cup of coffee."


"I don't want coffee," Forry said. He tried to stand up but felttoo dizzy. "I just want my painting back."

The woman returned with a cup of hot coffee, a package of sugar, and a pitcher of cream on a tray. She offered it to him, saying, "I am Mrs. Panchita Pocyotl."

"Of course, how graceless of me!" Heepish said. "I apologize fornot introducing you, my dear Forry. My only excuse is that I was worriedabout yourhealth."

The other woman was a tall slender blonde with large breasts, aDiana Rumbow. The three men were Fred Pao, a Chinese, Rex Bilgren, amulatto, andGeorge Bunyan, an Englishman.

Forry, looking at them clearly for the first time, thought therewas something sinister about them. He could not, however, define it. Maybe it wassomething about the eyes. Or maybe it was because he was so outragedabout the painting he thought that anybody who had anything to do with Heepishwas sinister.

Mrs. Pocyotl bent over to give him the coffee and exposed largelight-chocolate colored breasts with big red nipples. She wore nobrassiere under the thin formal gown with the deep cleavage.

Under other circumstances, he would have been delighted.

Then Diana Rumbow; the blonde, dropped a book she was holding andbent over to pick it up. Despite his upset condition, he responded with aslight poppingof the eyes and a stirring around his groin. Her breasts were just asunbrassiered as Panchita's. They were pale white, and the nippleswere as largeas his thumb tips and so red they must have been rouged. When shestood up, hecould see how darkly they stood out under the filmy gown she wore.

He was also beginning to see that the bendings over were notaccidents. Theywere trying to take his mind off his painting.

Pocyotl sat down by him and placed her thigh against his. DianaRumbow sat down on the other side and leaned her superb breast against the sideof his arm. If he looked to either side, he saw swelling mounds and deepcleavages.

"My painting!" he croaked.

Heepish ignored the words. He drew up a chair and sat down facingForry andsaid, "Well! This is a great honor you have done me, Mr. Ackerman. Ormay I callyou Forry?"

"My painting, my Stoker!" Forry croaked again.

"Now that you've finally decided to let bygones be bygones, and, I presume, decided that your hostility towards me was unwarranted, we must talkand talk!

We must talk the night out. After all, what with the rain and all, what else is there to do but to talk? We have so much in common, so much, as somany people, kind and unkind, have pointed out. I think that we will learn to knoweach other quite well. Who knows, we might even decide someday that the CountDracula Society; and the Lord Ruthven League can band together, become theGreater Vampire Coven, or something like that, even if witches and notvampires havecovens? Heh?"

"My painting," Forry said.

Heepish continued to talk to him, while the others chatteredamongthemselves. Occasionally, one of the women leaned over against him. He became aware of their perfume, exotic odors that he did not remember everhavingsmelled before. They stimulated him even in his anger. And thosebreasts! And Pocyotl's flashing, dark eyes and Rumbow's brilliant blue eyes!

He shook his head. What kind of witchcraft were they practicingon him? He had entered with the determination of finding the painting, taking itdown from the wall or wherever it was, and marching out the front door with it. Now that he considered that, he would have to find something to protect itfrom the rain until he could get it into his car, which was across the street. Hiscoat would do it. Never mind that he would get soaked. The painting was theimportantthing.

But he could not get off the sofa. And Heepish would not pay theslightestattention to his remarks about the painting. Neither would theguests.

He felt as if he were in a parallel universe which was in contactwith that in Heepish's house but somewhat out of phase with it. He couldcommunicate to a certain degree and then his words faded out. And, now that he lookedaround, this place seemed a trifle fuzzy.

Suddenly, he wondered if his coffee had been drugged.

It seemed so ridiculous that he tried to dismiss the thought. Butif Heepishcould steal his painting and hang it up where so many people wouldsee it, knowing that word would quickly get to the man from whom he hadstolen it, andif he could blandly, even friendlily, sit with the man from whom hehad taken his property and act as if nothing were wrong, then such a man wouldhave no compunction about drugging him.

But why would he want to drug him?

Thoughts of cellars with dirt floors and a six foot long, sixfoot deeptrench in the dirt moved like a funeral train across his mind. A furnace in the basement burned flesh and bones. An acid pit ate away his body. Hewas roasted in an oven and this crew had him for dinner. He was immured, standingup, whileHeepish and his guests toasted him with Amontillado. He was put in acage in thebasement and rats, scores of them, big hungry rats, were releasedinto the cage. Afterwards, his clean-picked skeleton was wired together and stood upin this room as a macabre item. His friends and acquaintances, members of theCount Dracula Society and the Lord Ruthven League, would visit here becauseHeepishwould become king after the great Forry Ackerman disappeared somysteriously. They would see the skeleton and wonder whose it was--since so manypeople playHamlet to the unknown Yoricks--and might even pat his bony head. Theymight evenspeak of Forry Ackerman in the presence of the skeleton.

Forry shook himself as a dog shakes himself emerging from water. He was getting a little psycho about this. All he had to do was assert hisrights. IfHeepish objected, he would call the police. But he did not think thateven Heepish would have the guts to stand in his way.

He stood up so suddenly he became even dizzier. He said, "I'mtaking mypainting, Heepish! Don't get in my way!"

He turned around and stood up on the cushion and lifted thepainting off itshook. There was a silence behind him, and when he turned, he saw thatall were standing up, facing him. They formed a semicircle through which hewould have to go through to get to the door.

They looked grave, and their eyes seemed to have become largerand almost luminous. It was his imagination that put a werewolfish gleam inthem. Of course.

Mrs. Pocyotl curled her lips back, and he saw that her canineswere verylong. How had he missed that feature when he first saw her? She hadsmiled, andit seemed to him that her teeth were very white and very even.

He stepped down off the sofa and said, "I want my coat, Heepish."

Heepish grinned. His teeth seemed to have become longer, too. Hisgray eyeswere as cold and hard as a winter sky in New York City.

"You may have your coat, Forry, since you don't want to be

friendly." Forry understood the emphasis. Coat but not painting. He said, "I'll call the police." "You wouldn't want to do that," Diana Rumbow said. "Why not?" Forry said. He wished his heart could beat faster. It should be, but it

wasn't, evenunder this strain. Instead, his muscles were jerking, and his eyeswere blinkingtwice as fast as usual, as if they were trying to substitute for thelack of heartbeats. "Because," the blonde said, "I would accuse you of rape." "What?" The painting almost slipped from his hands. Diana Rumbow slipped out of her gown, revealing that she was

wearing only agarter belt and nylon stockings. Her pubic hairs were long and verythick and a bright yellow. Her breasts, though large, did not sag.

Mrs. Pocyotl said, "Maybe you'd like two for the price of one, Forry."

She slipped out of her gown, revealing that she wore onlystockings and abelt. Her pubic hairs were black as a crow's feathers, and herbreasts were conical.

Forry stepped back until the backs of his knees were in contactwith the sofa. He said, "What is this?"

"Well, if the police should be called, they would find this housedeserted except for you and the two women. One woman would be unconscious, andthe other would be screaming. Both women would have sperm in their cunts, youcan bet on that. And bruises. And you would be naked and dazed, as if you had, shall we say, gone mad with lust?"

Forry looked at them. All were grinning now, and they looked veryevil. Theyalso looked as if they meant to do whatever Heepish ordered.

He was in a nightmare. What kind of evil beings were these? Allthis for a painting?

He said, loudly, "Get out of the way! I'm coming through! Thispainting ismine! And you're not going to intimidate me! I don't care what youdo, you'renot getting to keep this! I might have given it to you, Heepish, ifyou'd becomea good friend and wanted it badly enough! But not now! So out of theway!"

Holding the painting as if it were a shield or a battering ram, he walked towards Heepish and the naked Rumbow.

CHAPTER 27

Herald Childe drove slowly through the rain and, the high waters. His windshield wipers were not able to cope at this moment, so dense wasthe downpour. His headlights strove to pierce the sheets with littleeffect. Other cars, driven by more foolhardy Angelenos, passed him with greatsplashings.

It took him more than two hours to get to his house in TopangaCanyon. Hedrove up the steep side street at ten miles an hour while water, several inches deep, poured down past him. As he turned to go into his driveway, he noticed the car beneath the oak tree by the road. Another car that had beenabandoned here, he supposed. There had been seven automobiles left here within thepast severalweeks. All were of the same model and year. All had been by the oaktree when he awoke in the morning. Some had been left for a week before the copsfinally cameand towed them away. Some had been there a few days and then haddisappearedduring the early morning hours.

He did not know why somebody was abandoning cars in front of hishouse or, if not outright abandoning them, was parking them for such a longtime. His neighbors for two blocks on either side of the house and both sidesof the street knew nothing about the cars.

The cops said that the cars they'd towed away were stolen.

So here was the seventh. Possibly the seventh. He must not jumpto conclusions. It could belong to somebody visiting his neighbors. Hewould find out soon enough. Meanwhile, he needed to get to bed. To sleep. He hadhad more than enough of that other bedtime activity.

The house was his property. He owed nothing on it except theyearly taxes. It was a five room bungalow, Spanish style, with a big backyard and anumber of trees. His aunt had willed it to him, and when she had died lastyear, he hadmoved in. He had not seen his aunt since 1942, when he had been achild, nor hadhe exchanged more than three letters with her in the past ten years. But she had left all her property to him. There was enough money so that he hadthe house left after paying off the inheritance tax.

Childe had been a private detective, but, after his experienceswith Baron Igescu and the disappearance of his wife, he had quit. He wasn't avery gooddetective, he decided, and besides, he was sick of the business. Hewould goback to college, major in history, in which he had always beeninterested, get amaster's and, possibly, a Ph.D. He would teach in a junior college atfirst and, later, in a university.

It would have been more convenient for him to take an apartmentin Westwood where he would be close to the UCLA campus. But his money waslimited, and heliked the house and the comparative quiet, so he drove every day toschool. To save gas and also to find a parking place easier on the crowdedcampus, he rodea motorcycle during the week.

Just now the school was closed because of vacation.

It was a lonely life. He was busy studying because he wascarrying a fullload, and he had to keep up the house and the yard, but he still needed someone to talk to and to take to bed. There were women who came up to hishouse from time to time: teachers his own age or a little older, some olderstudents, and, occasionally, a younger chick who dug his looks. He resembled arough-hewn LordByron. With a clubfoot mind, he always added mentally when someonecommented on this. It was no secret to him that he was neurotic. But then who wasn't? If that was any consolation.

He turned on the lights and checked the windows to make sureagain that nonewere leaking. It was a compulsive action he went through beforeleaving andafter coming back--at least three times each time. Then he looked outthe back window. The yard was narrow but deep, and this was good. Behind ittowered a cliff of dirt, which had, so far, not become a mud flow. Water pouredoff it and drowned his backyard, and the water was up over the bottom steps ofthe back porch stairs. He understood, from what his neighbors said, that thecliff had been closer to the house at one time. About ten years ago it had sliddown and covered the backyard almost to the house. The aunt had spent muchmoney havingthe dirt hauled away and a concrete and steel wire embankment builtat the foot of the cliff. Then, two years ago, in the extraordinarily heavyrains, the cliffhad collapsed again. It had, however, only buried the embankment andcome about six feet into the yard. The aunt had done nothing about it, and, ayear later, had died.

The entire Los Angeles, Ventura, and Orange County area was beinginundated. The governor was thinking about having Southern California declared adisaster area. Houses had floated away, mud slides had buried other houses, acar had disappeared in a hole in Ventura Boulevard, a woman, waiting for abus in downtown Los Angeles had been buried in a mud slide, houses wereslipping in thePacific Palisades and in the canyons everywhere.

There was only one consolation about the deluge. No smog.

Childe went into the kitchen and opened the pantry and took out abottle of Jack Daniels. He seldom drank, preferring marijuana, but when he wasdowncast and upset, marijuana only made him more gloomy. He needed somethingto dull his mind and nerves, and Tennessee mash on the rocks would do it.

He sipped the stuff, shaking and making a face as he did so. After a while, he could swallow it without repugnance. A little later, he could sipon it with pleasure. He began to feel numb and even a trifle happy. The memoryof Vivienne was still with him, but it did not shake him so much now.

The three men had entered and one had delicately placed the tipof his sword against Vivienne's neck. She had said something about his breakingthe truce.

What truce? He had never found out. But the man with the sword cane had accused her and her people--he called them Ogs--of first breaking thetruce. The Ogs had captured Childe and abused him. This was definitely againstthe rules. He was not even to be aware of their existence or of that of the Tocs.

Moreover, they had endangered Childe's life. He might have beenkilled because of their irresponsible behavior. In fact, the Tocs were notsure that the Ogs had not had it in mind to kill Childe.

"You know as well as you know anything that we agreed on The Faceof Barrukh and the Testicle of Drammukh that we would let The Child developuntil he was ready!" the swordsman said.

"The Child?" thought Herald. "Or did he mean The Childe?" Later, he thought, "Possibly the two are the same." Vivienne, still crouching on the bed, had said, "It was an

accident that he came to our house--to Igescu's, I mean. He insisted on breaking inand spying onus, and the temptation to partake of his power was too much for us. In that, wewere guilty. Then things got out of hand. We did not handle himcorrectly, I'lladmit. We forgot that he would have to be watched very closely; helooks so human it's easy to do, you know. And he acts so stupidly at times, hemade us a little contemptuous of him."

"Of The Child?" the swordsman said. "I think you are the stupidones. He is not an adult yet, you know, so you can't expect him to act like one. Anyway, Idoubt the adulthood of any of you Ogs."

Vivienne, looking then at Childe, said, "We've been talking inEnglish!"

She burst into a spew of a language which he had heard beforeeven if it was unintelligible to him. It was the same language that his captors hadused when he was a prisoner in Igescu's.

Though he did not understand what followed, he was able todetermine the name of the swordsman. It was Hindarf.

Hindarf seemed inclined to run Vivienne through, but she talkedhim out of it. Finally, Hindarf pricked him with a needle, and presently he wasable to function almost normally. He got dressed and allowed himself to beescorted out of the house. He was still too shaky to drive, so Hindarf drove whilethe two men followed in their car. Hindarf refused to answer Childe's questions. Hisonly comment was that Childe should stay away from the Ogs.

Apparently, he had believed Vivienne's story that Childe was the intruder in this case.


A few blocks before they came to the turnoff to Topanga Canyon, Hindarf stopped the car. "I think you can drive from here on."

He got out and held the door open for a moment while rain fellinto the car and wet the driver's seat and the steering wheel.

He stuck his face into the car and said, "Please don't go nearthat bunch again. They're deadly. You should know that. If it weren't..."

He was silent for several seconds and then said, "Never mind. We'll be seeing you."

He slammed the door shut. Childe scooted over into the driver's seat and watched Hindarf and the others drive away. Their car swung around andwent down Topanga Canyon.

As he sat in the front room and tried to watch TV while he swigged JackDaniels, he thought of that evening. Almost nothing made sense. Buthe did believe that Igescu and Krautschner and Bending Grass and Pao and theothers had not been vampires, werewolves, werebears, or what have you. They wereverystrange, bordering on the unnatural, or what humans thought of asunnatural. The theory advanced by Igescu, and presumably invented by the early 19thcenturyBelgian, "explained" the existence of these creatures. But Childe wasbeginningto think that Igescu had led him astray. He did not know why he wouldlie to him, but there seemed to be many things he did not know about thisbusiness.

If he had any sense, he would follow Hindarf's advice. That was the trouble. He had never shown too much common sense. Fools rush in, and so forth. After four shots of mash whiskey on an empty stomach, one also


unaccustomed to liquor, he went to bed. He slept uneasily and had a number ofdreams and nightmares.

The persistent ringing of the telephone woke him. He came up outof a sleepthat seemed drugged, and was, if alcohol was a drug. He knocked thephone offwhile groping for it. When he picked it up, an unfamiliar male voicesaid, "Isthis McGivern's?"

"What number did you want?" Childe said.

The phone clicked. He looked at the luminous hands of hiswristwatch. Three o'clock in the morning.

He tried to go back to sleep but couldn't. At ten after three, hegot up andwent into the bathroom for a drink of water. He did not turn on the light. Goingout of the bathroom, he decided to check on the condition of thestreet before he went back to bed. It was still raining heavily, and the street hadbeen ankle-deep in water when he had driven up before the house.

He pulled the curtain back and looked out. The car that had beenparkedunder the oak tree was pulling away. The lights from the car behindit showed that a man was driving it. The car swung around and started slowlydown the street towards Topanga Canyon. The lights of the other car shone onthe paleface of Fred Pao, the Chinese he had seen at Igescu's. His lightsthrew the profiles of the three men in the other car into silhouette. One ofthem looked like Bending Grass, the Crow Indian, or Crow werebear, but that couldnot be. Bending Grass had died under the wheels of his car when Childe hadescaped fromthe burning Igescu mansion.

He turned and ran into the bedroom and slipped into a pair ofpants andshoes without socks. He ran into the front room, put on a rainhat andraincoat and picked up his wallet and car keys from the dining room table. Hegot intothe car and took off backwards, splashing water as if he were surf- riding as hebacked onto the street. He drove faster than he should have and twice skidded and once the motor sputtered and he thought he had killed it.

He caught up with them about a quarter of a mile up Topanga. Thelead car was slowing down even more and looked as if it would swing into aprivate roadthat went up the steep hill. He had never been up it, but he knewthat it led to a huge three-storied house that had been built when the road was adirt trail. It stood on top of a hill and overlooked much of the area, includinghis own house.

Abruptly, the lead car stopped. The car behind it also stopped. He had to goon by them; they would become suspicious if he also stopped. At thetop of thehill he slowed down, found a driveway, turned in, and backed out. Hecame down the hill again in time to see the two cars heading back down TopangaCanyon.

He wondered what had made them change their minds? Had theybecome suspicious of him? Perhaps they had seen his lights as he turned ontoTopanga.

Childe followed them into Los Angeles. The cars proceededcautiously throughthe heavy rain and flooded streets until they reached San Vicente andLa Cienega. When the light changed to green, the two cars suddenlyroared into life. Shooting wings of water, their tires howling even on the wetpavement, they sped away. He accelerated after them. They swung left onreaching Sixth andskidded into the traffic island, bounced off, and continued back upSan Vicente on the other side of the boulevard, then skidded right as they turnedon Orange.

The green light was with them and with Childe, who was about ablock behind. His rear tires hit the curb of the island and one wheel went over and there was a crash. He supposed his right rear fender had struck the trafficlight, but itdid not seem to impair the operation of the car. He shot after theother two cars, though he wondered why he was risking his limb and life. Butthe fact that they were trying so desperately to get away, that they haddeliberately led himastray from that road up to the house on top of the hill kept himgoing.

Nevertheless, when the car turned west onto Wilshire Boulevard, he began tothink strongly about giving up the chase. They had gone through a redlightwithout stopping and by the time he reached the intersection, he sawtheir taillights a block away. They were still casting out great sheats ofwater.

He continued after them, increasing his speed. He did not knowwhat he would do if he caught up with them. Four against one? And at least one ofthem, andprobably all four, was a being with some very strange and deadlypowers. Heremembered Hindarf's words.

At Wilshire and San Vicente, the two cars went through a redlight twoseconds after it had changed. Two cars coming south on San Vicentemet them. The lead car slammed broadside into Fred Pao's automobile, and the carbehind the lead car smashed into its rear. The car following Pao rammed into hisrear. A moment later, Childe's car, turning around and around on the wetpavement, slammed its rear into the car that had been following Pao's. Thewhole mass, five cars jammed into each other, swung around like a five-pointedstar, aroundand around.

CHAPTER 28

"Very well, Forry," Heepish said. "If you want it that badly..."

He bowed and made a flourish. Forry felt his cheeks warming up. He said, "DoI want it? It's mine! I paid for it with my money! You stole it, likea common thief!"

"No common thief would touch it," Heepish said.

Forry, deciding that absolutely nothing was to be gained bystanding there, plunged on ahead. The others opened a way for him, and Heepish evenran up andopened the door for him.

"See you, Forry," he said. "Yeah. In jail, maybe!" As soon as he was in his own house, Forry placed the painting on


the wall and then checked the doors to make sure they were locked. TheDummocks had not come home yet, so he decided to stay and sleep on the couch thatnight. Then heremembered that he was supposed to get the latest edition ofVampirella out. Hehad completely forgotten about it!

He made himself some coffee and went into a rear room, where his"office" was. He worked away steadily until 2:30, when he heard a slight noisesomewhere in the house. He rose and started out of the office when the lightswent out. That was all he needed to put him hopelessly behind schedule!

He fumbled around in the desk drawer for matches, which he didnot think he would have, since he had never smoked. Finding none, he gropedthrough to thekitchen. The pantry shelves were filled with books and magazines. Hedid not eat at the house but took all his meals out or ate at Wendy's. Theicebox, exceptfor some cream for coffee and a few goodies, was filled withmicrofilm.

As he felt around in the porch room for a flashlight, the lightssuddenlycame back on. He continued until he found the flashlight. If thepower failedagain, he would work by its light.

On the way back to the office, he looked into the front room. TheStoker painting was gone!

There was no time to stand around and think. He put on hisrainhat and raincoat and rubbers and walked as fast as his heart would let him out to the car. He got into the big green Cadillac and backed out into the lakewhich Sherbourne Drive had become. He went as fast as he dared and within two minutes was before Woolston Heepish's. Fred Pao, the painting in his arms, was justturning away from the car.

Forry blasted his horn at him and flicked his brights on. TheChinese was startled and almost dropped the painting. Forry cried out in anguishand then lowered the window to shout at Pao.

"I'll call the police!"

Pao opened the rear door of the car and shoved the painting intoit. He ran around to the other side, got in, and the motor roared. His Mercurytook off with a screaching of tires and sped towards Olympic. Forry stared athim for several seconds and then, biting his lip, took off with a similarscreeching oftires. At the same time, he honked furiously at the Chinese. The manwas takinghis beloved Dracula where he could hide it until the search was up.

And then Woolston Heepish would receive it!


But not if Forrest J Ackerman, the Gray Lensman of Los Angeles, had anythingto do with it! Just as Buck Rogers trailed Killer Kane to his lair, so FJA would track down the thief!

Pao's car swung west on Olympic. Forry started to go through thestop sign, too, but had to slam on his brakes as a car going west on Olympic, sheets of water flying from its sides, honked at him. His car skidded and slidsidewise out onto the main boulevard. The oncoming car swerved and skiddedalso, turnedaround once, and ended up still going westward. Forry straightenedout the Cadillac and ran it as if it were a speedboat. Waves curling out onboth sides, he passed the car he had almost hit and then continued building upspeed untilhe saw Pao's taillights going right on Robertson. He went through ared light, causing two drivers to apply their brakes and honk their horns. Hechased Pao upRobertson and down Charleville Boulevard. Despite its multiplicity ofstopsigns, neither stopped once. Then Pao turned up to Wilshire, wentwestward back to Robertson, up Robertson, through all intersections with stop signsand signallights, red or green, and skidded right on Burton Way. He ran a redlight goingto San Vicente and so did Forry. In the distance, a police sirenwhooped, andForry almost slowed down. But he decided that he could justify hisspeeding and, even if he couldn't, a fine would be worth it if the cops caught Paowith the stolen goods. He hoped the cops would show up in time. If theydidn't, theymight find one dead Chinese.

Pao continued down San Vicente, ran another red light at Sixth, with Forrytwo car-lengths behind him. Despite their recklessness, neither wasgoing overforty. The water was too solid; at higher speeds it struck the bottomof the car like a club.

At Wilshire and San Vicente the light was green for them, but twocars raced through the red; and Pao hit the lead car broadside. Forry appliedhis brakes and slowed down the car somewhat, but it crashed into the rear of theChinese's car. His head hit something, and he blacked out.

CHAPTER 29

Childe was half-dazed. After the screaming of metal, the crashingand ripping and rending of metal, and the shatter and tinkle of glass, there was a moment of silence--except for the rain and a siren in the distance. Some of the cars still had operating headlights, and these cast a pale rain- streaked halo over the wreckage. Then a huge black fox leaped onto the top of hishood, pausedto grin through the windshield at him, leaped down onto the street, and trotted off into the darkness behind Stats Restaurant.

The police car, its siren dying, pulled up by the cars, and twoofficers gotout. At the same time, a big dog--no, a wolf--passed by him, also onthe way tothe rear of the restaurant.

An officer, looking into the cars, swore and called to hispartner. "Hey, Jeff, look at this! Two piles of clothes in this one and another pilein this car and nobody around that could have worn them! What the hell isthis?"

The policeman had a genuine mess in more ways than one. No oneseemed to be dead or even seriously hurt. Childe's car was bashed in in the frontand side but was still operable. The car of a Mr. Ackerman had a smashedradiator and would have to be towed away. Pao's car was destroyed. The others wereleakingbadly from the radiators and could not be driven far.

One policeman set out flares. The other still could not get overthe abandoned clothing. He kept muttering, "I've seen some freak things, but this tops them all."

Another patrol car arrived after ten minutes. The officersdetermined that no one needed to be hospitalized. They took down the necessaryinformation, gaveout some tickets, and then dismissed the participants. The case wasfar from over, but there had been so many accidents because of the rain and somany otherduties to perform that the police had to streamline normalprocedures. One didsay that Mr. Pao and Mr. Batlang would be sought for leaving thescene of an accident. And if the clothes meant anything, they might be arrestedfor publicnudity, indecent exposure and, probably, would be subjected to apsychiatricexamination.

One of the passengers in the car said that they must have beendazed He knew them well, they were responsible citizens, and they would never leavethe scene of an accident unless they had been rendered half-conscious in astate of shock.

"Maybe so," the policeman said. "But you have to admit it'srather peculiarthat all three should take off their clothes--slide out of them the way it looksto me--and run away. We were right behind you, and we didn't even see them

leave." "It was raining very heavily," the passenger said"Not that heavily." "What a night," the other policeman said. Childe tried to talk to the others in the accident, but only

Forrest J (noperiod) Ackerman would reply. He seemed very concerned about apainting in therear seat of Pao's car. He had removed it shortly after the policehad arrived and put it in the back seat of his Cadillac. If the police observedthis, theydid not say anything. Now he wanted to get it back to his house.

"I'll take you as soon as they let us go," Childe said. "Yourhouse isn't far from here; it won't be any bother."

He did not know what Ackerman's part in this was. He seemed to bean innocent victim, but then there was the transfer of the painting fromPao's car. How had Pao gotten hold of it? Also, there seemed to be two Paos. Were theytwins?

Forry Ackerman told him something of what had happened on the wayto his house. Childe became excited, because he had met Woolston Heepishwhen he was investigating the disappearance of his partner, Colben.

Childe decided that he would appear to go along with Ackerman'sstory. Theman seemed to be sincere and genuinely upset and puzzled by what hadhappened. But it was possible that he was one of the Ogs, as Hindarf calledthem. It was also possible that he was one of the Tocs.

When he drove up before Ackerman's house, he looked at it throughthe dark and the rain, and he said, "If I didn't know better, I would thinkHeepish livedhere."

"That man deliberately fixed his house to look like mine," Forrysaid. "That's why he's called 'the poorman's Forry Ackerman,' though Idon't think he's so poor."

They went inside and, while Ackerman hung the painting, Childelooked around. The layout of the house was the same, but the paintings andthe other items were different. And this place was brighter and more inclinedto science-fiction subjects than Heepish's.

When Forry stepped down off the sofa with a satisfied smile, Childe said, "There's something wrong about this accident, other than thedisappearance ofPao. I mean, I was chasing Pao in one car and the three men with himin the other. Yet you say you were chasing Pao, too."

"That's right," Forry said. "It is puzzling. The whole eveninghas been puzzling and extremely upsetting. I have to get the latest issue ofmy comic book out to my publisher in New York, and I'm far behind. I'll haveto work twice as fast to catch up."

Childe interpreted this as meaning that he should leave at once. The man must really be dedicated to his work. How many could go back to theirdesk and work on a piece of fiction about vampires when they might have beenassociatingwith genuine vampires, not to mention genuine werefoxes andwerewolves?

"When you get your work done, and you're ready to talk,?" Childesaid, "we'll get together. I have many questions, and I also have someinformation youmight find interesting, though I don't know that you'll believe it."

"I'm too tired to believe in anything but a good night's sleep, which I'm not going to get," Forry said. "I hate to be inhospitable, but..."

Childe hesitated. Should he take up more of this man's time bywarning him? He decided that it would be better not to. If he knew what danger hewas reallyin, he would not be able to concentrate on his work. And knowing thedangerwould not help him in the least unless he believed in it and fledfrom this area. That did not seem likely. Childe would not have believed such astory ifhe had not experienced it.

He gave Forry his phone number and address and said, "Call mewhen you'reready to talk this over. I have a lot to tell you. Maybe together wecan get amore complete picture."

Forry said he would do so. He conducted Childe to the door butbefore he let him through, he said, "I think I'll take that painting into my officewith me. I wouldn't put it past Heepish to try again."

Childe did not ask why he did not call the police. Obviously, ifhe did, hewould be held up even more in getting out Vampirella.

CHAPTER 30

Herald Childe did not get home until seven in the morning. Therain had stopped by four-thirty, but the canyons were roaring streams. He wasstopped bythe police, but when he explained that he lived off the main road, hewas permitted to go on. Only residents could use this section of TopangaCanyon, andthey were warned that it would be better if they stayed away. Childepushedon--literally--and eventually got to his driveway. He saw threehouses that had slipped their moorings and moved downhill anywhere from six to twentyfeet. Two of the houses must have been deserted, but outside the third a family was movingsome furniture and clothes into the back of a pickup truck. Childethoughtmomentarily about helping them and then decided that they couldhandle their own affairs. The pickup truck was certainly more equipped to move throughthe highwater than his low-slung car, and if they wanted to break their backsmovingtheir sofa, that was their foolish decision.

Another car of the same year and model as the others was parkedunder the branches of the oak tree. The water flowing down the street was uppast the hubsof the wheels. So strong was the force of the current, it sometimeslifted Childe's car a fraction of an inch. But at no time was more than one wheel off the ground.

He parked the car in the driveway. The garage floor was floodedand, besides, he wanted the car to be available for a quick takeoff. Hewas not sure that the water pouring off the cliff and drowning his backyard wouldnot lift the garage eventually. Or, if the cliff did collapse, it might movefar enoughto smash the garage, which was closer to the cliff than the house.

He unlocked the door and locked it behind him. He started to cross the room when, in the pale daylight, a shapeless form rose from the sofa. Hethought hisheart would stop.

The shapelessness fell off the figure. It was a blanket which haddisguisedit. For a moment, he could not grasp who was standing before him. Then he cried, "Sybil!"

It was his ex-wife.

She ran to him and threw her arms around him, put her faceagainst hischest, and sobbed. He held her and whispered, over and over, "Sybil! Sybil! Ithought you were dead! My God, where have you been?"

After a while she quit crying and raised her face to kiss him. She was thirty-four now, her birthday had been six days ago, but she lookedas if she had aged five years. There were large dark circles under her eyes andthe lines from nose to mouth had gotten deeper. She also seemed thinner.

He led her to the sofa and sat her down and then said, "Are youall right?"

She started to cry again, but after a minute she looked up at himand said, "I am and I'm not."

"Is there anything I can do for you?" he asked. "Yes, you can get me a cup of coffee. And a joint, if you haveone."

He waved his hand as if to indicate a complete change ofcharacter. "I don't have any pot. I've gone back to drinking."

She looked alarmed, and he said, hastily, "Only a shot veryinfrequently.

I'm going to school again. UCLA. History major."

Then, "How did you find this house? How did you get here? Is thatyour carout in front?"

"I was brought up here by somebody--somebodies--and let into thehouse. I took off the blindfold and looked around. I found my photograph onyour bedsidetable, so I knew where I was. I decided to wait for you, and I fellasleep."

"Just a minute," he said. "This is going to be a long story, Ican see that. I'll make some coffee and some sandwiches, too, in case we gethungry."

He did not like to put off hearing what had happened, but he knewthat she would not want to be interrupted after she got started. He dideverything thathad to be done very swiftly and brought in a tray with a big pot ofcoffee, food, and some rather dried-out cigarettes he found in the pantry. Heno longersmoked, but he had gotten cigarettes for women he had brought intothe house.

Sybil said, "Oh, good!" and reached for the cigarettes. Then shewithdrew her hand and said, wearily, "I haven't smoked for six months, and mylungs feelmuch better. I won't start up again."

She had said this before and sounded as if she meant it. But this time her voice had a thread of steel in it. Something had happened to changeher.

"All right," he said. "You left for your mother's funeral in SanFrancisco. I called your sister, and she said you'd phoned her and told her youcouldn't get a plane out and your car wouldn't start. You told her you werecoming upwith a friend, but you hung up without saying who the friend was. Andthat was the last I heard of you. Now, over a year later, you show up in myhouse."

She took a deep breath and said, "I don't expect you to believethis, Herald."

"I'll believe anything. With good reason."

"I couldn't get hold of you, and, anyway, after that horriblequarrel, Ididn't think you'd want to ever see me again. I had to get to SanFrancisco, butI didn't know how. Then I thought of a friend of mine, and I walkedover to his apartment. He only lived a block from me."

"He?" "Bob Guilder. You don't know him" "A lover?" he said, feeling a pinprick of jealousy. Thank God


that emotion was dying out, in regard to her, anyway.


"Yes," she said. "Earlier. We parted but not because we couldn'tstand one another. We just didn't strike fire off each other, sexually. But weremained fairly good friends. Anyway, I got there just as he was packing to leave for Carmel. He couldn't stand the smog anymore, and even though thegovernor didn'twant people leaving, he said he was going anyway. He was glad todrive me all the way into San Francisco, since he had some things to do there."

They had driven out Ventura Boulevard because the San DiegoFreeway wasjammed, according to the radio. At a standstill. Ventura Boulevardwas not much better, but ten miles an hour was an improvement over no miles.

Just off the Tarzana ramp, the car overheated. Guilder managed toget itinto Tarzana, but there was only one service station operating. Theproprietorsof the others were either staying home or were also attempting to getout of the deadly smog.

"You won't believe this," she said, "but I stole a motorcycle. Itwas sitting by the curb, its key in the ignition. There was no one insight, although the owner may have been only thirty feet away, the smog wasthat thick. I've ridden Hondas before, did you know that? Another friend of mineused to take me out on one for fun, and he taught me how to ride it."

And other things, thought Childe without pain. The thought wasautomatic, but he was glad that it did not mean much now.

There had been no use in her trying to reach 'Frisco on theHonda. The traffic was so thick and slow-moving that she did not see any chanceof gettingto her destination until the funeral was over, if then. She decidedto return to her apartment. Eyes burning, sinuses on fire, lungs hurting, she rodethe Honda home. That took two hours. The cars were filling both sides of thestreet, allgoing in the same direction, but there was enough room, if she tookthe sidewalk now and then to travel.

She got to her apartment, and five minutes afterwards, someoneknocked on her door. She thought it must be another tenant. Without a key, itwas difficult to get into the building.

But she did not recognize the two men, and before she could shutthe door, they were on her. She felt a needle enter her arm, and she becameunconscious. When she awoke, she was in a suite of three rooms, not including thebathroom. All were large and luxuriously furnished, and throughout hercaptivity she wasgiven the best of food and liquor, cigarettes and marijuana, andanything shedesired, except clothes. She had one beautiful robe and two flimsynegligeeswhich were cleaned each week.

When she first awoke, she was alone. She prowled around and foundthat there were no windows and the two doors were locked. There was a big color

TV set and a radio, both of which worked. The telephone was not connected to theoutside line. When she lifted it, she heard a man's voice answer, and she putthe receiver down without saying anything. A few minutes later, a doorswung open, and two men and a woman came in.

She described them in detail. One of them could be one of the Paos; thewoman had to be Vivienne Mabcrough. The second man did not sound likeanyone heknew.

Sybil became hysterical, and they injected her once more. Whenshe woke upagain, she controlled herself. She was told that she would not beharmed and that, eventually, she would be released. When she asked them whatthey wantedher for, she got no answers. Over the year's time, she concluded thather captors were planning on using her, somehow, as a weapon or leveragainstChilde.

Childe, thinking of the sexual abuse he had suffered during hisshort imprisonment in the Igescu house, could not conceive that she was notmolested in any way. He asked her if she had been raped.

"Oh, many times!" she said, almost matter-of-factly.

"Did they hurt you?" She did not seem to be affected by hisquestion or anypainful memories.

"A little bit, at first," she said.

"How do you feel now? I mean, were the experiencespsychologicallytraumatic?"

He was beginning to feel like a psychiatrist, or, perhaps, aprosecutingattorney.

"Come here, sit down by me," she said. She held out a slim andpale hand. Hecame to her and put his arm around her and kissed her. He expectedher to burst into tears again, but she only sighed. After a while, she said, "I'vealwaysbeen very frank with you, right?"

"Yes. But I don't know that a compulsion to honesty was the mainfactor," hesaid. "That may have been your rationalization, but I thought thatyourfrankness was more to hurt me than anything else."

"You might be right," she said. She sipped on some coffee andthen said, "I'll tell you what happened to me, but it won't be to hurt you. Idon't think so, anyway."

CHAPTER 31

Sybil exercised, smoked more than was good for her, watched TV and listened to radio, read the magazines and books supplied whenever she askedfor them, andgenerally tried to keep from going crazy. The uncertainty of herposition wasthe largest element pushing her towards insanity. However, it was notas bad as being in solitary. The man who answered the phone would talk to her, and she gotvisitors at least five times a day. The woman who brought the mealswould sit with her and talk when asked to do so, and a man called Plugger and awoman, called Panchita came quite often. Occasionally, the fantasticallybeautiful Vivienne Mabcrough would drop in.

"They talked to me about many things, but they also asked manyquestionsabout you," Sybil said. "Mostly what I knew about your childhood, although theyalso wanted to know about your personal habits, what you read, yourdreams--imagine that, your dreams!--and other things I might justhappen to knowbecause I was your wife."

Sybil had seen nothing damaging to Herald in this. Besides, herdrive to honesty almost forced her to give them complete answers. Or that washer rationalization.

After a while, she began to suffer from sexual deprivation. Hernipplesswelled whenever they touched cloth. Her cunt itched. She foundherself sittingwith her foot under her and rocking back and forth on the heel orrubbing upagainst the bed post or the back of a chair. She even kept a bananafrom her meal and masturbated with it.

"If it's any consolation to you," she said, "I fantasized thatyou were mylover. Mostly, that is."

He did not ask her who the others were. Actually, he did not careanymore. And that was strange, because he was feeling a genuine warmth andaffection for her, perhaps even a love. He was happy to see her again and to bewith her. Sybil may have changed but she had not changed completely. She stillhad to tell him everything.

"You needn't be jealous of the other man," she said. "He doesn'texist. He's a fiction. Can you guess who?"

"This isn't exactly the time for guessing games," he said. "Butno, I don'tknow who you imagined at the other end of the banana."

"Tarzan!" she said.

"Tarzan? Oh, for cripe's sake! Well, why not? Bananas, big dongs, and all that. It only stands to reason that the superman of the jungle wouldbe heavyhung."

He was sarcastic, but he was also surprised. There were stillthings about her he did not know. Tarzan!

There might have been a closed circuit TV monitoring her, shesaid. Otherwise, why would Plugger enter that evening and tell her she didnot need to suffer anymore?

Plugger was a tall, rangy man with a deep tan, black hair whichcame down in a widow's peak, somewhat pointed ears, and a very handsome face. Hestood before her and stripped while she asked him what he thought he was doing, though sheknew well enough.

"He had a beautiful body with the smoothest skin, almost likeglass. But hiscock was big. Not enormous, just big and thick and it had the biggestknob at the end of it I've ever seen. I don't mean the glands. That was bigenough, buthe had a growth, I guess you could call it a wart, on the side of thehead. I told him that really turned me off."

"You sound as if you were pretty cool about the whole thing," hesaid.

"Well, I was suffering. The banana was a long way off from beingperfectlysatisfactory. Or perfectly satisfying. And he was a hell of a goodlooking man, and he had talked with me enough so that I rather liked him, even ifhe was mywarden. So I just told myself, you know, the cliche, if you have tobe raped, lean back and enjoy it."

"Really?" he said.

"Well, not really. I was scared. But then he said he wouldn'tforce me. That helped relax me a lot."

Plugger sat down by her and kissed her. She tried to turn herhead away, buthe turned it gently back. She protested that he was forcing her, andhe repliedthat he only asked for one kiss. If she did not like it, he would notkiss her again.

That seemed fair to her, really more than she had expected. Afterall, if hewanted to rape her, he could.

She lifted her face to him at the same time that he put her handon his cock and his tongue into her mouth.

The shock that went down her throat and up her arm was almost asif she had touched an electric eel.

"I mean, it was something like an electrical shock but muchweaker. I had an orgasm in my throat and up my arm."

Childe jumped up and said, "What?"

"Yes, I know. It sounds crazy. But it was true. I came, I meanyou know, when I come, I come with my whole body. But the ecstasy was denser, Imean, moreintense, in my mouth and throat and in my hand and arm."

He did not say anything more. His experiences with Igescu's crewhad opened doors to an exotic enough world. Plugger was one that he had not experienced, and he supposed that there were many other outre beings in that group.


Sybil had not resisted when Plugger took her robe and negligeeoff. She had allowed him to move her onto the bed, where he got between her legsand thrust his tongue into her cunt. It was like a spark in a cylinder full ofvaporizedgas. Orgasm after orgasm exploded in her, and then they beganbuilding up moreslowly, building until she could endure the exquisiteness no more andfelt that she would faint.

While she lay panting and moaning with the aftermath, he climbedonto her and pressed her breasts around his dong. The same shock passedthrough them; theecstasy was so intense she could see--but of course it wasimagination--bluesparks sputtering from the tips of her nipples.

"The funny thing was, his prick was soft," she said. "Even whenhe stuck it into my mouth, and transmitted that electrical come, it stayed soft."

"He didn't come in your mouth?" he said. "I mean, spermaticfluid?"

"There wasn't any jism, no. I mean, that shock, you might say, was a sort of electrical come."

She had gone into a series of orgasms, one after the other, sofast that she could not count them.

After this, he kissed her all over, and every inch of her skinfelt a minor orgasm until he stuck his tongue up her anus. That almost lifted heroff the bed, and she did faint after that orgasm.

She was silent then, as if dwelling with great pleasure on thememory. Childe finally spoke. "Well, did he ever stick his prick in yourcunt?" He had not meant to sound so harsh but, for the first time, hewas jealous.

"No. I tried to get it in even after he said it was no use. Itkept doublingback and falling out. But I got orgasms through my hand while I wastrying to doit. I said I was sorry I couldn't do something for him. He said itdid not matter; he was more than satisfied. I guess that I wasn't far wrongwhen I said his come was electrical. He had a high-voltage jism, you might say."

She had questioned him about this phenomenon, which becamefrightening whenshe recovered enough to think about it. He replied that he was builtdifferently, and he got up, picked up his clothes, and walked out.

He came every four days after that. She asked him why he did notvisit her more often, and he said it took time for him to build up a charge. She took him literally, but she was beginning to get frightened again. What kindof weirdos were these? However, when he touched her, her fright went away.

After about five visits from Plugger, two women, Panchita andDiana, came toher room. They talked for a while and left. Every few days, theywould drop in. Then, one afternoon, Panchita asked her if she would like some pot. Sybil wasvery eager to get some, because it would help to pass the many dullmoments. All three lit up.

"But it wasn't real pot," she said. "It smelled something likepot, but itmust have been something else. It really turned me on, but it alsomade me verysuggestible. I think it had some hypnotic element in it."

"Really?" Childe said. He anticipated what she was going torelate.

"Yes. I got pretty high, and all three of us were laughinghysterically. Ihad completely forgotten that I was their prisoner and at theirmercy. Theyseemed like very old friends and very lovable. In fact, uh, desirable."

"They made love to you?"

"Oh, yes. Panchita sat down by me and quite casually put her armaround myshoulder. The next I knew, she was cupping my breast with her otherhand and then stroking my nipple. I felt a great deal of love--and lust--forPanchita. It seemed the most natural thing in the world. You know I don't swingthat way, Herald. I have never had a homosexual experience in my life, notuntil then. In fact, the idea used to make me sick."

Childe said nothing.

She continued: "Diana, the tall blonde with perfectly enormousbreasts, satdown on my other side. She started to kiss me while Panchita pulledup mynegligee and began to suck on my nipple. I felt as if I was on fire. I tonguedDiana's mouth while she tongued mine. And then I felt Panchita'smouth goingdown my belly. She kissed me all over there but stopped when she cameto mycunt.

"Diana lifted me up then and walked me over to the bed, where shetook off my negligee. I got onto the bed and on my back and Diana and Panchitatook their clothes off. They stood on each side of the bed and each took one ofmy handsand placed it against her cunt. They were dripping with lubricatingfluid, sopping. I stuck a finger in each slit, and they moved their hipsback and forth and jacked themselves off."

"Is it necessary to go into such detail?" Childe said.

"It's good therapy for me," she said. Her eyes were closed, andher head was leaning against the back of the sofa.

The two women had climbed in beside her. Diana kissed and fondled her breasts while Sybil caressed Diana's left breast. Panchita again traveled down her belly with the tip of her tongue. After tracing a triangle aroundthe pubichairs with her tongue, Panchita got down between Sybil's legs. Shespread themapart and then slid a pillow under her buttocks. The next Sybil knew, Panchita was running her tongue over her clitoris end sticking it up her cuntas far as she could. She kept at it until Sybil had an orgasm.

"Then Panchita traded places with Diana, and Diana tongue-fuckedme," shesaid. "Diana stimulated me better, I came about five times. ThenPanchita got ontop of me, and I licked her cunt and put my tongue up her slit andvibrated its tip against her clitoris. She came a number of times, after whichDiana got ontop of me. Diana came almost at once.

"Then Panchita got down again and turned me on my side and lickedmy assholewhile Diana licked my cunt again. When I had come a number of times, we made a triangle, mouth to pussy, you might say, fingers up twats, and, and, it was wonderful!"

"You say that even in retrospect?"

"I didn't that night after they left. I cried, and I felt sodisgusted andso dirty. The drug had worn off by then, you understand. But Panchitaand Diana kept visiting me, and after a while, I quit having guilt feelings. Igot toliking it. Why not? What's so bad about making love to women? Does ithurt anyone?"

"No," he said. "Did their lovemaking lessen the effect ofPlugger's?"

"Not at all. Actually, if you were to rate orgasms on a scale, I'd have to rate him as Super A-Plus and theirs as B-Minus."

"Next you'll be telling me that Plugger and the two women gotinto bed with you at the same time," he said.

She opened her eyes and turned her head to look at him.

"How'd you know that?" she said. "Pour me another cup of coffee, will youhoney?"

He passed her the full cup and said, "Did Plugger touch off thetwo women, too?"

"Oh, yes. Once Panchita and Diana and I got down in a daisychain, and herammed his tongue up Panchita's ass. He said she had the sweetestasshole, whichmade me a little jealous. Would you believe it, all three of us feltthe shock in our cunts and our mouths? That, electricity or whatever it waspassed throughall of us."

"I can understand your making love to the women the first time," he said. "You were under the influence of that drug you smoked. But you knewhow it affected you, so why didn't you refuse to smoke it the next time theyoffered it to you?"

"Like I said, I enjoyed it. Anyway, I didn't think about refusingit the second time. I don't know why."

"Your mind shut down," he said. "You wanted to go to bed withthem, so youjust forgot how the stuff would affect you."

"I'm not a compulsive Lesbian!" she cried. "I don't have anyneurotic drive for women! I can take them or leave them!"

"You just got out of prison, so how would you know?" he said. "However, thatdoesn't matter. Not now, anyway. How did they explain giving you ahypnotic drugwhen they said they wouldn't force you?"

"They explained that they did not force me to smoke the pot, orwhat theycalled pot. And, later, they said I didn't have to smoke it now thatI knew the effects."

"You aren't hooked on the stuff?" "Absolutely not!" "Well, you may be right. Time will tell. I just don't understand


their nonsadistic treatment. If you hadn't described certain people that Iknow so well, I would say that another group besides Igescu's had you."

"What are you talking about? Another group?" "I'll tell you later about my adventures, if you can call themthat."

She continued with her story. He wondered if it was just that: astory. There was no doubt that she knew Panchita Pocyotl and Diana Rumbowand others and to do so she must have been held prisoner. But this sexualnarrative? Had it really happened the way she said, or was she unconsciously concealingsomethingmore terrible? Has she suffered such traumatic, handling that she wasrepressingit and substituting a fantasy? It did not seem likely, because shedid not act psychotic, but then a psychotic often acted normally.

If the Ogs, as Hindarf called them, had treated her relativelyconsiderately, then they had some sinister end in mind.

There was one confirmation of her story, he thought. That wasthat Vivienne Mabcrough had left her alone.

"And then, one afternoon, this fabulously beautiful woman, Vivienne, came tomy room," she said.

"Oh?"

Vivienne and Sybil smoked the marijuana-like substance, withSybil knowingwell what was coming. The two made love, but the snake-thing remainedwithin Vivienne's womb. Sybil was not aware of its existence, and Childe didnot mention it.

Vivienne came to Sybil many times after that, sometimes alone andsometimes with Panchita or Diana or Plugger or with all three. Then Fred Pao, or his twin, showed up. Both only wanted to be sucked off, but when Sybil refusedunless she was given something in return, they brought Plugger in with them. While Sybilstood in the middle of the room, bent over, sucking on Pao's longslim dick, Plugger pressed his electric cock against her anus or held its tipagainst hercunt. Sometimes, he got down on his knees and spread the cheeks ofher ass and rammed his tongue up it.

"Every prisoner should have it so good," Childe said. He wasthinking ofwhat had happened to Colben and the others and of what might havehappened tohim. But, now that he considered it, Igescu's group may not have beenplanningon mutilation and death for him. They seemed to have been aware thathe was something special, if he could believe what Hindarf and Vivienne hadsaid in their short conversation in English.

However, they had been trying to kill him after he had escapedand killed some of them. This could have been from self-defense only, not from adesire to murder for the pleasure of murder.

Mysteriouser and mysteriouser, he thought, paraphrasing Alice.

And Sybil had been a sort of Alice in Sexland. Certainly heradventures were as strange as Alice's.

"You never found anything peculiar about Vivienne?" he said. "No. Should I have?" This seemed to confirm her story about her gentle treatment. If


Vivienne had revealed the snake-thing, and the two had made love to Sybil, thenshe was beingvery considerate of Sybil.

Despite all this enjoyment and the use of drugs, Sybil had manyperiods ofdepression, frustration, and a desire to get away. There were timeswhen she felt as if she were a cow being fattened up for the slaughter. Andeven after she became quite at ease with her captors and talked fluently, shecould not getthem to answer one question about the reason for her imprisonment.

And then, two days ago, all her visitors, except for a woman whobrought hermeals now and then, quit coming. The woman would not even say goodmorning toher, let alone answer questions. Sybil had watched TV and smoked potand wondered what was going on. Her fears came to the surface, and shefantasized many dreadful things happening to her.

Then, this very night, she was awakened by a hand shaking her. She sat up inbed, her heart throbbing painfully, to find three masked men by herbedside. One told her to get dressed. She did so, while they packed for her. Theyhad broughther clothes in from someplace, presumably from a closet in the house.

Then theyblindfolded her and took her out of the house and drove her here. The drive, sheestimated, had lasted about two hours.

Childe did not say anything, but it seemed to him that she couldhave been located much closer than two hours drive to his house. If she were prisoner inthat house near his, her rescuers might have driven around to make itseem that she had been a long way from him.

On the other hand, she might have been held in, say, Vivienne'shouse in Beverly Hills.

"Do you feel all right?" he said.

"What? Oh, yes, I feel fine, except for being tired. And I amhappy that I'mout of that, although it wasn't an altogether unpleasant experience. But verypuzzling. What do you think made Plugger the way he was? I mean, howabout that electricity of his? Do you think he had a surgically implantedbattery of somesort? It sounds sort of science-fictiony, doesn't it?"

He kissed her and said, "What about some nice normal sex?"

"All right," she murmured. "It's late and I'm tired, but I wouldlike to have a man who's really in love with me. You are in love with me, aren't you? Despite all our troubles?"

"I must be," he said. "There have been times this past year whenI was almost out of my mind wondering what could have happened to you."

He stood up and said, "I'll get into my pajamas after I showerand shave."

"I'm clean," she said. "I'll wait right here for you. You cancarry me tobed. It'll be so nice."

Ten minutes later, having sped through his preparations, hereturned to the front room. She was sitting slumped on the sofa, fast asleep. Hegrinned wrylyand kissed her on the forehead, moved her so that she was stretchedout on the sofa, put the blanket over her, kissed her forehead again, and wentinto his bedroom. The rain had started again.

CHAPTER 32

Forrest J Ackerman awoke with his head on the desk and the finally editedpackage of the latest issue of Vampirella beside him. He got up andshook his head. When he had finished his work this morning, he had intended torush down to the post office on Robertson and mail it out. But he had somehowfallen asleep.

The first thought was: The painting! Had he been drugged so thatit could be stolen again?

But it was leaning against the wall by the desk. He sighed withrelief, partof which could be repressed anger at Woolston Heepish. Somethingreally shouldbe done about that fellow. He was not only a thief, he was dangerous. Anybodywho would get two women to strip in order to seduce him out of thepainting--andbefore witnesses--was not only dangerous, he was mad.

Forry stumbled into the kitchen, washed his face in the sink, andthen picked up the bulky envelope containing Vampirella. He was outsidebefore he remembered that he did not have a car. One more count againstWoolston Heepish!

At that moment, like the Gray Lensman or Batman arriving to savethe situation, the Dummocks drove up. Renzo crawled out of the car and, on all fours, progressed slowly towards the house. He was a youth of thirty- five, ofmedium height, black haired, ruddy faced, black moustached, paunched, and skinnylegged. Huli, his wife, could walk, but just barely. She was a shortwoman with a magnificent bust, a hawk face, dark hair, and thick spectacles. Shewas thirty.

Forry said, "I'd like to borrow your car. I have to run to the

post office." "All yours," said Renzo, not looking up at him. "The keys," Forry said. "The keys." "You want Huli, you can have her. The cunt's all yours. Just keep

me in cigarettes, food, booze, and typing paper, and she's all yours, Forry, old buddy. Ask her, she doesn't mind."


"I want the keys to your car, not your wife!" Forry said loudly.

Renzo continued to crawl towards the door. He turned his head and said, "Hull! Hurry up, help me up! Got the keys?"

Huli stood swaying and blinking, looking like a giant drunkenowl. "What keys? To the car or the house?"

"Fuck it! Forry, can you open the door for me?"

Forry looked into the car. As he had suspected, the keys werestill in the ignition. He did not see how Renzo could have driven in his conditionwithout smashing up, but the luck of drunkards and egoists had held out.

He walked back and opened the door for the two. After Renzo hadcrawled in and Huli had fallen on her face crossing the threshold, he started toclose the door. But be said, "Don't you dare puke on any of my stuff! You do, and out yougo! Pronto!"

"Why, Forry!" Huli said. "Have we ever puked on anything ofyours?"

"Just my Creature from the Black Lagoon bust," Forry said: "Iforgave you, since it could be cleaned. But if you vomit on any of my books orpaintings, or anything at all anymore, out you go!"

"You must really be mad at us, Forry darling!" Huli said. "I'venever seen you angry before. I thought you were a saint!"

"If I puke, you can have Huli," Renzo said, looking up at Forryfrom his supine position in the middle of the floor. "Just so you don't tossour ass out of here. I'm writing the Great Cosmic Novel now, Forry. Not the GreatAmerican Novel. The Cosmic Novel. It makes Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and NormanMailer look sick. I'm really the greatest creator of them all, Forry, myMaecenas, patron ofthe arts, protector of the gifted and the genius. Your name will godown in history as Forrest J (No Period) Ackerman, the man who gave RenzoDummock a roof over his head, a bed to sleep in, a desk to write on, food, booze, cigarettes, and typing paper. And got my typewriter out of hock for me, me, Renzothe Magnificent."

The pity of it was that Renzo believed that he was the greatest. He had believed it since he was eighteen. The world owed him a livingbecause the world was going to benefit. The world, as typified by Forry Ackerman, owedit to him.

Dummock had said he would do anything, even suck cock if he hadto, so hecould pursue the call of Apollo. He would do anything except work. Work degradedhim, tired him, took precious time from his writing. It was all rightfor Huli to work, she should support him while he wrote. Too bad Huli's apathyand occasional fits of hysteria kept her from holding a steady job. Butit couldn't be helped, and if she would suck a few cocks now and then to keep aroof over their head and booze and cigarettes and typing paper at his elbow, what was the harm in that? Forry had turned down an offer by Huli to blow him. Hesaid that he preferred that she keep the house clean and act as hostess now andthen when he had a big party. Huli had said she would, but it was easier, andmore fun, sucking cock. She kept her cunt reserved for Renzo, who got killinglyjealous atthe thought of another man sticking his prick into it. So far, shehad done a miserable job as a housekeeper.

Forry turned away from them, swearing that he would kick them outat the first chance, and knowing that he wouldn't. He got into the car, abeat-up 1960Ford with bald tires, and verified what he had suspected. The fuelindicator was on zero.

Despite this, the motor started up and got him one block downOlympic beforesputtering out. He walked to the nearest gas station and returned with a canful. Somehow, he never knew how it worked out, he always borrowed their car when it was out of gas.


When he got back to the house, he found Alys Merrie sitting onthe sofa in the front room. There was an odor of vomit in the house. Renzo had come throughagain.

"Hello, Alys!" he said, his heart dropping like an elevator withsnappedcables. "What brings you here? And how did you get in?"

"You gave me a key long ago, remember?" "And I asked for it back, and you gave it to me," he said. "So I had a couple of duplicates made in the interim. Aren't you


glad to see

me, Forry? There was a time..." "Excuse me, I got to attend to something." He walked to the foot of the steps and looked up. Halfway to the

landing was the nauseating pool. And Huli had not even bothered to clean it up!


He had returned because he had some vital correspondence to clearup beforehe went to Wendy's to sleep. But Renzo's spoor and Alys Merrie weretoo much to put up with at this time. He would take off like Seaton after"Blackie" Duquesne.

Alys Merrie thought differently. She was a blonde of mediumheight and goodshape, about forty years old. She had been married, but, on meetinghim at a world convention, had, as she put it, "gone ape over that divineForry." Forryhad been amused and flattered for a long time, but she had become anuisance. He wasn't in love with her, and, while her adulation was pleasing, itgot stickyafter a while. Especially since her husband had threatened to sue himas corespondent.

"The Dummocks are too busy to worry about that puke," she said. "I went upstairs to see what was going on, there was so much noise. Would youbelieve it? That fathead was sitting in the chair and Huli was blowing him! No big dealabout that except he was taking notes! Taking notes! I wonder if heuses his penfor his prick!"

"Why don't you go back up and watch?" Forry said. "I have to gonow, Alys. I've been up all night, my car is wrecked, I'm exhausted, I'mworried, and...inshort, I've had it."

"Yes, I know all about that."

He looked at her with amazement. "You know all about it? Who could have told you?"

"I've been in it from the beginning," she said. She took acigarette fromher purse, lit it, and looked coolly at him. She knew he allowed nosmoking inthe house--except in one bedroom upstairs--but she was doing this for a purpose. He decided to ignore the gesture.


"You've been in what from the beginning?" he said. Despite histiredness, hewas becoming interested.

"The whole business. Starting so many years ago that you wouldnot believe it. Or, if you did, you'd be frightened. Which you're going to be, anyway, because you'll believe before I'm done."

He sat down in the chair across the room and said, "How many

years?" "About ten thousand or so Earth years," she said. He was silent for a while. Alys Merrie was a great little kidder

when she wasn't mad at him or making love. She knew well how deeply immersedin science-fiction he was--sometimes he thought of himself as theleviathan in the great sea of sci-fi or as a sort of Flying Dutchman of the outerspaceways--andshe sometimes poked fun at him about it. This did not seem a likelytime for it, however. On the other hand, she just could not be serious.

"Look around you," she said, waving her cigarette. "Look at allthose wild paintings and photographs. Strange planets, alien forms of life, big- chested, elephant-trunked Martians; winged men; sentient machines; giantinsects; synthetic humans; what have you. You've been reading books aboutweird beingsand worlds, and you've collected a monument to science-fiction andfantasy and, incidentally, to yourself. A lifetime of love and labor isrepresented here.

"You must believe in this exotic otherworld of yours. Otherwise, you wouldnever have gone to such unique lengths to gather the artifacts ofthis otherworld about you."

Something was different about Alys Merrie. She had never talkedlike this before. She had seemed incapable of talking so seriously or sofluently.

"Ten thousand years," she said. "Would you believe that I'm tenthousand years old? No! What about twelve thousand?"

"Twelve thousand?" he said. "Come on, Alys. I could believe inten thousand, but twelve? Don't be ridiculous!" "I look a hard forty years old, don't I?" she said. "How about this, Forry?"

It was like watching She or Lost Horizon, only it was in reverse. Instead of the beautiful young woman wrinkling into ghastly old age, it was acase of a woman unwrinkling, becoming a beautiful young girl. Helen Gahagan andJane Wyattshould have had it so good.

He wished his heart could beat faster. Then he wouldn't shake so much. So it was true. Everything he had read and dreamed about was true! Well, maybe not everything. But at least some of it was true.

"Who and what are you?" he said. The room was beginning to seem alittle fuzzy, and the illustrations by Paul, Finlay, St. John, Bok, and therest of the wild crew had taken on three dimensions. He must be in a state of slight shock.

"Do you like it?" Alys said. "Of course," Forry said. "But you didn't answer my question." "I am a, uh, let's say, a Toc," she said. "We are the enemies of


the Ogs. You met some of them last night. Fred Pao, Diana Rumbow, Panchita Pocyotl. And Woolston Heepish."


CHAPTER 33


"Heepish!" he almost screamed. "You mean Heepish isn't human?"

"We're not only not human," she said. "We're extra-terrestrial. Extra-solar system. More. Extra-Galactic. The home of the Tocs is on the fourthplanetcircling a star in the Andromeda galaxy."

He thought, I've always been a lucky man. I wanted only to workin science-fiction, and I was able to make my living out of it. I wantedto be the greatest collector of science-fiction and fantasy in the world, and Idid that as naturally and as easily as a snail grows a shell. I need a job anda publisher wants to put out a series of horror-movie magazines forchildren, andwho else is more capable or more willing to edit those? I have knownthe greatsof this field, I have been their good friend, I have seen the firstmen land on the moon, and I hope to see the first men land on Mars before I die. I have been lucky.

But now, this! I would have rejected this as a dream that only alunatic could believe to be true, even if I have fantasized it many manytimes. The beings from outer space make contact with Earthlings through me!

That was not exactly true, of course. If what she said wascorrect, theextees had been in contact with Earthlings for ten thousand years. But had theyrevealed themselves to any before? That was the important thing.

"You're getting too excited, Forry," she said. "I know you have athousand questions bubbling in your mind. But you'll get things straighter andquicker ifyou'll just listen quietly to my story. Okay? Good! Lean back andlisten."

There was a planet the size and shape of Earth rotating around aSol-typesun on the edge of the Andromeda galaxy, which was 800,000 lightyears distantfrom Earth. The sky was a blaze of luminous gas and giant stars shining through the gas. The planet of the Tocs had no moon, hence was tideless.


The fifth planet out had two small moons but no seas in whichtides could occur. This was the dying world of the Ogs, an evil race.

"Geeze!" Forry thought, and the extent of his excitement could begauged byhis use of the mild expletive. He abhorred the use, even in his mind, of the most dilute of expletives.

"Geeze! This is just like Gernsback! Or Early Campbell!"

The Tocs and the Ogs were not human beings. They were amphibiouscreatures who passed back and forth from a state of pure energy to that ofmatter. Theyformed configurations of bound energy in one condition andconfigurations ofmatter in the other. Their shape depended on that which they wishedto imitate--or to create. But they did have limitations of size andshape. Thesmallest body that could be formed was about the size of a large foxor, if theytook to the air, a large bat. When they existed as, the smalleranimals, theycarried the energy excess in an invisible form as a sort of exhausttrail. Or perhaps the analogy could be energy packed into an intangible andtransparentsuitcase.

"What is your true shape?" Forry said.

"You were not to talk," Alys said, flashing white teeth. Shelooked so beautiful and so young that he felt a pang of desire. Or was it anache for his own lost youth?

"We have no true shape, unless you would call the shape we usethe most our true one. I suppose you could, since long utility of a particularshape resultsin a certain 'hardening' of that shape. It becomes more difficult tochange itas time goes on. And it requires more energy to keep it in a nonhumanform. So, since most of us have been in the human shape for so long, you mightsay thatthat is our true shape."

The Ogs and the Tocs had come into contact when space travel wasinvented. Neither used rockets or antigravitational machines. They traveledfrom one placein space to another by means of a very peculiar device. That is, itwas peculiarfrom the human viewpoint.

The device was made of a synthetic metal formed into the shape ofa largegoblet or chalice. That particular form was required because onlythat form could gather, or focus, the mental energies of a Mover. Perhaps acloser translation of the Toc word would be Captain. The Captain was theonly personwho could activate the device so that the Tocs could be teleportedfrom one point in space to another.

"Why would the Captain be the only one able to activate thedevice--this chalice?" Forry said.

"That is the limitation of this device, let us call it theGrail," Alyssaid. "It has a certain superficial resemblance to the grail of yourmedieval myths, although the inner surface has a geometry that would be alien, even terrifying, to human eyes.

"The Grail is matter, but it is activated only by a certain raretype ofenergy radiation. Of brainwave radiation, I suppose you would callit, but thereis more to it than that. Anyway, the Grail, to act as a spaceship, ora teleporter, must be controlled by a Mover, or Captain. And there wereonly abouta hundred Captains born for every million of us born."

"Born?" Forry said, his eyebrows raising. "How can an energyconfigurationbe born?"

She waved her hand impatiently and said, "I am speaking byanalogy only. IfI have to explain every detail of an exceedingly complex culture, we'll be here for twenty years. Let me talk."

The Ogs had discovered their Grails and found their Captains thesame time as the Tocs. There was travel between the two planets almost at onceand war a little later. The Ogs were evil and wanted to enslave the Tocs.

Forry had some mental reservations about this. He would waituntil he had heard the Ogs' side before he judged.

The Tocs had repulsed the Ogs with heavy losses on both sides. Finally, there was peace. The Tocs and the Ogs then turned their attentions toother worlds. Since distance meant nothing to the Grail, since a hundredthousand light years could be traversed as swiftly as a mile, that is, instantaneously, the universe was open to both races.

But with the billions on billions of habitable planets in theuniverse, andthe limited number of Captains, only a few could be explored. Earthwas one of them, and about a thousand Tocs had come here. Almost immediately, the Ogs hadsent an expedition here also. The peace did not extend to planetsoutside their system, so the Ogs had no compunctions about attacking the Tocs.

The Ogs and Tocs had waged a mutually disastrous war. They haddestroyedeach other's Grail and killed each other's Captains. And so they weremarooned on Earth.

"We lived among the humans but not of them," Alys said. "Ourability to takedifferent forms gave rise to a number of superstitions about thesupernaturalorigins of vampires, werewolves, fairies, and what have you. We Tocs were the basis of the good fairies, although we changed into animal shape, orother shapes, quite often. But we weren't hostile to human beings, that is, if theyfollowed the proper ethics we weren't."

Over the ten thousand years, the War, the occasional killing ofhuman beings, and suicide cut the original number of about two thousandTocs and Ogsdown to about a hundred each. However, every Toc or Og whose materialform was slain was not dead. He became an energy configuration again and couldregainmaterial form. But this process took a long time on Earth because themagneticconditions here were not the same as in the mother system.

"That accounts for ghosts?" Forry said.

"Yes. Human beings don't have ghosts. When they die, they areforever dead. But a Toc or Og who has died in material form needs to attach himselfto a locale where he has both the optimum magnetic conditions and humanbeings. Hehas to, shall we say, `feed' off the energy of human beings. And whenhe has gained enough form, in a phase which you humans call ectoplasm, heneeds blood or sex to get a completely material body. The Tocs need sex and theOgs needblood."

She paused and then said, "One of us recently regained corporealform bycontact with Herald Childe. She literally fucked herself into flesh. Of course, she was able to do it far more swiftly with Childe than she wouldhave with one who was completely a human being."

CHAPTER 34

"What the hell does that mean?" said Forry, who almost neverswore.

"I mean that Childe is the only Captain in existence. But hedoesn't know it as yet."

"Why not?"

"Because he was born half-human and raised by human parents. Because a Captain has a delicate psychic constitution and must be handleddelicately untilhe has fully matured. Childe is a fully mature man in the physicalsense, but heis a baby in regard to his psychic powers."

"Just one minute," Forry said. "I don't want to digress, but ifyou beingscan come back to material life after being killed, why haven't theseCaptainsthat were killed come back to life?"

"Some did and were killed by one side or the other because theirexistence could not be kept secret. Others never made it because conditionsweren't right. You see, if we had a Captain and a Grail, we could not only return toour home world. We could also bring all our departed comrades back intocorporeality. TheToc or Og in his pure energy-complex phase is a rather mindlessbeing. He hassome intelligence, but the main reason he gets back to matter is thathe has a drive to do so, an instinct. He wanders around until he happens tocome across a locale with the proper setup for reconverting him. And reconversiontakes a longlong time generally."

"Pardon the interruption," Forry said.

If he had not seen that transformation from middle age to youth, he would have thought he was experiencing the world's biggest hoax. But he wasconvinced. He was actually talking, face to face, with an extraterrestrial. Onethat would have made the strangest creature of science-fiction, or even those inWeird Tales magazine, rather mundane.

He thought, In a sense, she's telling me the story of theMartians and Venusians waging an underground war for control of Earth. Hugo, youshould be here! Oh, boy, if I could just flip a switch and let the sci-fi fansand the Count Dracula Society in on this!

And then he sobered. If this was true, and he believed it was, this was no mere fiction story or child's delight. It was a deadly war.

"Childe?" he said.

"Let's go back to 1788," she said. "To the birth of the male whowould become George Gordon, Lord Byron, the famous, if not great, Englishpoet. At thetime he was born, of course, no one, including us, knew that he wouldbecome world-famous. Nor did we have any way of predicting whether he wouldbecome a Captain or just another human being. Or just another Toc."

"I'm bursting with questions," he said, smiling. "But I refrain."

"He was our first birth," she said. "On Toc, where conditions areoptimum, births are very rare. That is, births from a copulation between, oramong, ourenergy configuration phases do not happen often. But then that iscounterbalanced by our lack of a death rate.

"Here on Earth, we had never succeeded in producing an infant inthe energyconfiguration. Then a Captain was reconverted into material form. Oneof us had the idea of preserving his genetic abilities in case he should getkilled, whichhe was later on. The Captain happened to be living near the Byrons atthat time, and he became the lover of Lady Byron with the purpose ofimpregnating her. There were a hundred of us, almost our full complement, gatheredtogether nearby the night she conceived George. I suppose it is the only case, exceptone, wherea hundred people copulated to produce one baby. We poured our mentalenergiesinto Lady Byron, and we succeeded. Coexisting with the fusion ofsperm and ovumwas the creation of an energy embryo. This embryo was attached, no, was fused with the body of the infant Byron. You might say that he was the onlyhuman being up to then who actually had a soul."

"Pardon me, but how did that energy embryo develop? Did it becomea separateentity or...?"

"It fuses with the nervous system and becomes one with thecorporeal entity. Not identical but similar. It survives after the death of the body.

"However, this creation of an energy baby requires muchoutpouring of energyon our part. At the same time that we were concentrating our metalenergies, wewere fucking like mad corporeally. It was probably the biggest gang- bang inhistory, if you will pardon such language, Forry dear. I know youdon't like to use dirty words or especially to hear them.

"Unfortunately, though the baby grew up to have some remarkabletalents, itdid not develop the psychic abilities of a Captain. Not that thatwould have done much good, anyway, because we did not have a Grail. But we hopedto make the metal for one; we had been creating the metal, bit by bit, overthousands of years. On Toc we could have done it in a year, but here, where theminerals are scarce and the materials for building the potentializers are evenmore rare, wetook an agonizingly long time getting what we needed. Then the Ogsmade a raid and stole what metal we had.

"They knew that Byron was to be our Captain. They moved in, became acquainted with him, and we could do little about it. Then theyabandoned him when they found out that he lacked the Captaincy.

"We were in despair for a while. But Byron still had the geneticpotentiality for a Captain, and we decided to take advantage of that. If he couldn't be a Captain, perhaps his child could be."

"Childe?" Forry said, ever alert for the chance to pun. Shenodded and said, "Exactly. We got specimens of his sperm by a method I won't go intoand froze it. Not with ice or liquid hydrogen but with an energy configuration. And we waited.

"We waited while our enemies, the Ogs, obtained more metal, enough to make aGrail. Then we chose a woman with suitable genetic qualities, humanlyspeaking, because those have to be considered, too. You wouldn't want theCaptain to be aninferior physical or mental specimen. And we deliberately settled on

Mrs. Childe because of the name. And its association with Byron, too. After all, we use human languages and so we think something like humans. Only like, notexactlyas."

"Thus, the Herald Childe from the Childe Harold?"

"If you said H-E-R-A L-D, yes. Herald. The Child that Heralds therebirth of our Toc energy ghosts, their rematerialization. And our return to thePromised Land of our native planet. The dead shall rise and we shall cross theriver Zion into the land of Beulah, if I can mix up a few quotations. You getthe idea."

"And what about Childe and the Grail?" Forry said.

Alys Merrie opened her mouth to reply, but she shut it whensomeone beat at the door and shouted

CHAPTER 35

At noon, the ringing of the doorbell awakened Childe. Hestaggered out intothe front room, past Sybil, who was still sleeping, and threw openthe door. A gust of rain wet him and covered the three men standing on his porch. He realized immediately that he should have been more cautious, but bythen it was too late. The first man stepped inside, holding a spray can. Childeheld his breath and ran towards his bedroom, where he kept a gun. He stoppedwhen the man called, "Childe! Your wife!"

The second man was by Sybil with a knife at her throat. Thethird, Fred Paoor his twin, held an air gun.

The first man sprayed a gas over Sybil just as she opened hereyes and said, "Wha...?"

She fell back asleep, and Pao said, "It won't hurt her. Now yourturn, Mr. Childe."

He could still run for the bedroom, he thought. But these menwould cut Sybil's throat if they thought they had anything to gain by it. Ofcourse, hemight be able to kill all three of them with his gun, but what goodwould that do Sybil? On the other hand, if he surrendered, wouldn't he and Sybilbe as goodas dead?

He did not know. That was the paralyzing factor. He did not know. And from what had passed between Vivienne and Hindarf he surmised that he wasregarded assomething special.

"All right," he said. "I surrender." The man with the spray can approached him and shot the vapor inhis face. He wanted to hold his breath, but it was foolish putting off theinevitable. After glancing at his wristwatch, he breathed in.

It was thirty minutes later when he awoke. He was lying on acomfortable bed and looking up at a canopy. He turned his head and saw Sybil besidehim. She was still unconscious. He got out of bed with some effort, noting that hehad a slight headache and a brassy tongue and gums. His teeth feltenlarged.

Their prison was a single bedroom and a bathroom. There was onedoor for entrance.

Sybil woke up. She lay there for a while and then got out of bed. She went to him, and he put his arm around her and said, "I'm sorry aboutthis. If I had made you leave, you wouldn't be in this mess."

"That can't be helped," she said. "Do you think that we'll everget out ofthis? I wish I knew what these people wanted."

"We should find out sooner or later," he said. He released herand prowledaround the room. There was a large mirror fixed in the wall above thedresser and another wall-high mirror on the opposite side of the room. Hesupposed thatthese were one-way windows.

An hour passed. Sybil had quit trying to talk and had started toread, ofall things, a mystery novel she found in a bookcase. He investigatedagain withthe idea of using something to help them get out. He observed thatthe door was heavy steel and was set tightly against the wall. It swung outward.

An hour and a half after awakening, the door was opened. Pao andtwo men entered: Sybil spoke to one. "Plugger!"

Plugger was a tall, well-built, dark-skinned man. His hands werelong andnarrow with long tapering fingers. These were covered with smallprotuberances, a feature Sybil had not described.

"Our enemies--and yours--were moving in fast," Pao said. "That iswhy we hadto take you two away. I am sorry; we're all sorry. But it had to bedone. Otherwise, you would have fallen into the hands of the Tocs."

"Tocs?" Childe said.

"Everything will be explained," Pao said. "Very quickly. Meanwhile, werequire your presence elsewhere."

"And Sybil?" "She will have to stay here. But she won't be harmed." Childe kissed Sybil and said, "I'll be back. I don't think they


intend us any evil. Not now, anyway."


He watched Plugger shut the door. There was a button in itsmiddle; whenthis was pressed, an unlocking mechanism was activated. Childereached out and pressed the button, and the door swung out swiftly.

Pao said, "What are you doing?" and pressed the button to shut the door. "I just wanted to see how it worked," Childe said. They started down the hall, which was wide and luxuriously

carpeted andfurnished. He stopped after a few steps. He had been right. Themirror was a one-way device. He could see Sybil still standing in the middle ofthe room, herhands clenched by her side.

He decided to see how valuable he was to them. "I'd like that mirror turned off," he said. "I don't like being


spied on." Pao hesitated and then said, "Very well." He pressed a button on the side of the mirror and it darkened. "I'd like the other mirror turned off, too," Childe said. "I'll see it's done," Pao said. "Come along now." Childe followed him with the other two men behind him. At the end

of the hall, they turned left into another hall and halfway down that turnedright intoa very large room. This looked like the salon of a millionaire'shouse as constructed for a movie set. There was a magnificent concert piano atthe far end and very expensive furniture, perhaps genuine Louis XV pieces, around the room. A peculiar feature, however, was the glass or transparent metalcube set in the middle of the room. Inside this was a slender-legged dark-redwooden table on top of which was a silvery goblet. Or half a goblet. Oneside seemed to be complete, but the other was missing. It was as if a shears had cutthroughthe cup part of the goblet at a forty-five degree angle,

Pao led Childe to the transparent cube and motioned to a man tobring achair. Childe looked around. There were six exits, some of them broadenough forthree men to go through abreast. There were also about fifty men andwomen in the room, a large number of them between him and the exits. All weredressed in tails and gowns. Pao and his two men were the only ones in businessclothes. He recognized Panchita Pocyotl and Vivienne Mabcrough. Vivienne wore ascarlet floor-length formal with a deep V almost to her navel. Her pale skinand auburn hair contrasted savagely with the flaming gown. She was holding a bigostrich fan. Seeing his eyes on her, she smiled.

The crowd had been talking when he entered but the conversationsoftened as he was brought before the cube.

Now Pao held up his hand, and the voices died away. A man broughta chair with three legs, a heavy wooden thing with a symbol carved into theback. The symbol was a delta with one end stuck into the open mouth of arampant fish.

"Please sit down," Pao said. Childe sat down in the chair and leaned against its back. Hecould feel the alto-relief of the carved symbol pressing into his back. At the sametime, thedull silver of the goblet inside the cube became bright and shimmery. The brightness increased until it glowed as if it were about to melt.

A murmur of what sounded to him like awe ran through the people.

Pao smiled and said, "We would appreciate it if you wouldconcentrate on the goblet, Herald Childe."

"Concentrate how?" Childe said.

"Just look at it. Examine it thoroughly. Let it fill your mind. You will know what I mean."

Childe shrugged. Why not? The procedure and the goblet hadaroused his curiosity, and their intentions did not seem sinister. Certainly, hewas beingtreated far better than when he had been a prisoner in Igescu's.

He sat in the chair and stared at the shining goblet. It had abroad base with small raised figures the outlines of which were fuzzy. After awhile, as hestudied them, they became clear. They were men and women, naked, andanimals engaged in a sexual orgy. Set here and there among them were gobletslike that at which he looked, except that these were complete. There was acurious scene in which a tiny woman was halfway into a large goblet while acreature that looked like the Werewolf of London, as played by Henry Hull, rammed along dickinto her asshole. At one side of the base, almost out of view, was a man emerging from a goblet. His legs were still within the cup, but hisstiff dongwas out and was being squeezed by the tentacle of a creature thatseemed to be a six-legged octopus with human hermaphroditic organs. While it wasjacking-offthe man in the goblet, it was also fucking itself.

Childe did not know what the scene represented, but it seemed tohim that it had something to do with fecundity. Not with fecundity in the senseof begettingchildren but of...

He almost grasped the sense of the figures and their play, but itdanced away.

The goblet stem was slender. A snake-like thing of silver coiledaround it, its head flattening out to become the underpart of the cup. Its twoeyes, distorted, were the only dark spots on the bright silver of thegoblet.

The outside of the cup, except for the serpent's head, was bare. But the inside bore some, raised geometrical figures that shifted as helooked at them. Sometimes he could pin them down for a half a second and the figuresbegan tomake sense, even if they were totally unfamiliar.

The goblet shone even more brilliantly. The room became quieter, and then, suddenly, he could hear the breathing of everyone in the room, exceptfor himself, and, far away, the impact of rain on the roof and the wallsof the house and, even more distantly, the roar of the waters down thestreet outside.

There was a hissing he could not at first identify. It was soweak, soremote. And then he knew. He did not have to turn his head to look, and it would have done no good if he had. The thing was hidden under Vivienne'sdress. It had slid out and was dangling between her legs. Its little bearded mouthwas open, the tongue flickering out, and it was hissing with rage or lust. Or, perhaps, some other emotion. Awe?

The light from the goblet became more intense. Surprisingly, hecould look at it without pain. Its whiteness seemed to drill into his eyes andflood his brain. The interior of his skull was white; his brain was a glowingjewel.

There was a collective intake of breath, and the light went out. The darkness that followed was painful. He felt as if something very muchbeloved had died. His life was empty; he had no reason to live.

He wept.

CHAPTER 36

When he was finished sobbing--and he still did not know why hehad felt so bereaved--he looked up. The people were not talking, but they weremaking somenoise as they shifted around. Also, several were passing through thecrowd and serving a liquid in small goblets. The people drank it with oneswallow and then put their goblets back onto the large silver trays.

Pao appeared from behind him with a tray on which stood a gobletfilled with a dark liquid and several sandwiches. The bread was coarse and black.

"Drink and then eat," Pao said. "And if I don't?" Pao looked stricken, but he shrugged his shoulders and said,


"This is one thing that we can't compel you to do. But I swear by my mother planetthat the food and drink will not harm you."

Childe looked at the goblet again. It was not quite as dull as ithad been a moment ago. It flickered when he looked at it. When he looked away, but could still see it out of the corner of his eye, it became dull once more.

"When will I find out what all this means?" Childe said. "Perhaps during the ceremony. It is better that you...remember." "Remember?" Pao did not offer to explain. Childe smelled the liquid. Its odor


was winey, but there was an unfamiliar under-odor (was there such a word?) toit. The under odor evoked a flashing image of infinite black space with stars hereand there and then another image of a night sky with sheets of white fire andgiant red, blue, yellow, garnet, emerald, and purple stars filling the sky. Andthere was a fleeting landscape of red rock with mushroom-shaped buildings ofwhite and red stone, trees that looked inverted, with their branches on the groundand their roots feeding on the air, and a thin band with scarlet, pale green, and white threads, something like a Saturn's ring, arcing across the sky nearthe horizon.

He drained the tiny goblet with one gulp and, feeling hungryimmediatelyafterward, ate the, sandwiches. The meat tasted like beef with bluecheese.

When the goblets had been passed around, and everybody wasstanding as ifwaiting for something to happen--which they were, Childe supposed-Pao raised his hands. He spoke in a loud voice: "The Childe must have power!"

That was a funny way to refer to him, Childe thought. The Childe? The crowd answered in a loud chorus, "The Childe must havepower!" Pao said, "There is but one way in which The Childe may gain thispower!"

The people echoed, "There is but one way in which The Childe maygain thispower!"

"And grow!" "And grow!" "And become a man!" "And become a man!" "And become our Captain!" "And become our Captain!" "And lead us to our long lost home!" "And lead us to our long lost home!" "And permit us to triumph over our enemies, the Tocs!" "And permit us to triumph over our enemies, the Tocs!" "Through the nothingness and the utter cold he will lead us!" There was more, none of which made any sense to Childe except for


the reference to their enemies, the Tocs. These must be the people ofwhom he had so far met only three. The three who had rescued him from, Vivienne andreproachedher for breaking the truce.

The liquor was making him feel very heady by then. And the foodhad infused him with strength. He looked at the goblet, which glowed as if hisgaze beamedradium at it.

Pao finally finished his chanting. Immediately, the crowd becamenoisy. Theystarted talking and laughing. And they were also stripping off theirclothes. Panchita Pocyotl shed her gown, revealing that she wore nothing underit exceptlong stockings held up by huge scarlet garters. Vivienne was not farbehind her; she wore a garter belt and stockings. The snake-thing had withdrawn; her auburn bush looked very attractive.


Pao, naked, his skinny dick dangling halfway down between histhighs, said, "Would you please undress, Captain?"

Childe, feeling dizzy, rose. He said, "Captain?" "You will know what I mean--I hope," Pao said. Childe remembered with a pang of dread his treatment at the hands


of the enormously fat Mrs. Grasatchow when he was a prisoner in Igescu'shouse.

He said, "Am I to be abused?"

"No one would think of that now," Pao said. "Vivienne made a verybad mistake, and if we did not need her so much, we might have killedher. But she was overcome by your power, and that is a reasonable excuse for heractions. Nevertheless, she will not be permitted to touch you tonight."

Childe, looking at the naked and superbly shaped woman, felt hispenisrising. The liquid seemed to have gone down warmly to the placebehind his navel and there caught fire. The blaze spread out, up, and down, but mainlydown. The base of his cock was rammed with a boiling and heavy liquid metal; itexpandedupwards, filling out his cock, lifting it up, and making it throb.

He said, "All right," and he undressed.

Pao took his clothes and left the room. Childe, standing there, felt foolish, and so he sat down. The others seemed to know what wasexpected ofthem; they began embracing and caressing each other, standing up, orlying downon the floor, or on the sofas. They were not putting their wholehearts into their lovemaking, however; they were waiting for someone orsomething.

Pao returned. He walked up to Childe, took his hand, and said, "Your blessing, Captain."

He placed his long slim peter on Childe's upturned palm, and thedead worm came to life. It became red and swollen and rose up off the hand asif launched. Pao backed away and bowed and kissed Childe's hand where his peterhad lain.

"I thank you, Captain," he said.

There was a scramble among the couples after that. They arrangedthemselves in a double line in an order of precedence which they seemed to knowwell. There was no quarreling or struggling to get ahead of one another.

The first two in line were Panchita Pocyotl and a big blond manwith Scandinavian features. They stood before Childe, between him and thegoblet inthe cube.

The man said, "Your pardon, Captain," and took Childe's hand andclosed the fingers around his half-erect dong. At the touch, the big-knobbeddong filled up like a blimp being engorged with gas. It lay hard and throbbing inChilde's hand, and a small drop of fluid oozed out of the slit in the glands. The man stepped back and Panchita got down on her knees and took Childe'spenis in onehand and kissed it on the head and the shaft. Then she arose, lookedonce into his eyes with her large luminous dark-brown eyes, and withdrew withthe man.

Childe watched them. They walked to a sofa and lay down on it. Panchita spread her legs out and over his shoulders, and he inserted himselfinto the thick black glossy bush and began pumping. His red Swedish ass wentfaster and faster and then, suddenly, both groaned and writhed. After they hadcome, theylay quiescent and then, a few minutes later, he was fucking her dogfashion.

This excited Childe, who wanted the next woman kissing his cockto continue. But she backed away, murmuring, "Thank you, Captain," and went awaywith her squat Indian partner and his thick stubby penis.

The couples came quickly, the men laying their dongs in his handsand the women kissing or licking his cock. There were exceptions, however. Some of the men also got down and kissed or even sucked briefly on him, and someof the women took his hand and placed it on their cunts.

Childe had been slightly repulsed by some of this at thebeginning. But asmore couples approached him, as more couples began fucking orsucking, heaccepted it as something natural to him. He began thinking of it ashis due, andthen as something old and familiar. The flashes of the exotic andextraterrestrial landscapes occurred more frequently, each timecoincident with the placing of a dong in his hand or the slide of lips over the headand shaft of his cock.

The goblet had increased its illumination during this ceremony. As each couple passed, it shone a trifle more brightly. And the white glow inhis skull was exceeded only by the hot whiteness in his penis. It was so stronga sensation, he was disappointed when he looked down and did not seeglands andshaft radiating with a white light.

Pao, he noticed, had no steady partner. He wandered around, andwhen he found a vacant cunt or empty mouth, he filled it. He did not seem tocare whether or not the other was male or female. He came each time he rammed his partner with a few strokes, and then he would withdraw his drippingbut still rigid dick and go on to the next person.

The only one missing, he suddenly noticed, was Plugger. He hadshown up early in the line and given Childe a slight shock when he closedChilde's hand around his warty cock. Childe had felt an increase in the ecstasybuilding up inhim but that was all. He had the feeling that Plugger waswithholding, that hehad, somehow, turned down his bioclectricity to a minimum. And thenPlugger, after briefly fucking his partner but leaving her passed out, haddisappeared.

Childe considered this for a second. He had an image of Pluggerwalking downthe hall towards Sybil's room. Was the bastard going to her? And thenhe forgotabout him when the next woman ran her tongue over the head of hispenis.

Although the line had been sedate enough, considering the actionsof the couples, the people became wild once they had left him. They talkedloudly, swore, smacked loudly when kissing or sucking each other off, andfilled the room with the slap-slap of wet cocks driving against wet cunts orinto wet assholes. They groaned and moaned or screamed with the ecstasy oforgasmoncoming or occurring. And the air was heavy and musky with the odorsof sweating bodies, lubricating fluid, and sperm.

The fantastically beautiful Vivienne, although denied touchinghim, wastaking advantage of her liberty with her fellows. She was standingbent over, sucking on a big black's cock while Pao thrust his dick into her anusand the snake-thing looped under Pao's balls and slid back and forth into hisanus. Theyall seemed to come at once, judging from their writhings andshakings. Theblack's cock dwindled to a half-erection and came out of the mouth of Vivienne, who swallowed the jism. Pao's dick withdrew and was at half-mast, dripping. Thesnake-thing left Pao's ass reluctantly with its mouth still vomitingspermaticfluid and coiling and uncoiling in the final spasms of orgasm.

At that moment, the last woman in line quit tickling his glandswith her tongue. Pao, his cock beginning to rise again but still expelling thegrayfluid, walked across the room to him. Childe looked at him with amute appeal. He was close to coming, and his peter was throbbing in the air. Inone corner of his mind, he noted the goblet had begun to pulse. The whitenessflared and dimmed, flared and dimmed.

Just before Pao reached him, he made the connection with fullawareness. The goblet was emitting pulses of light in phase with the throbbings ofhis dong.

Pao took Childe's hand and lifted it. His dick rose so high italmost touch his navel. Childe's own organ seemed to lurch, and its head touched his belly. The throbbings increased, the warm gray tide in his testicles and ducts rose more swiftly, and the glory in him threatened to shoot out.


"Come on!" he said fiercely to Pao. Pao waved his hand, and Childe understood that he was to take hispick.

Childe looked quickly around. He had a superb choice, becausethere were very few women in the room who were not extraordinarily beautiful.

Childe said, "Vivienne!"

Pao was startled and opened his mouth, apparently intending toprotest. Buthe closed it and crooked a finger at Vivienne.

Vivienne was startled, too. She pointed a finger at herself andmouthed, "Me?"

Pao nodded and gestured for her to come a-running. She did sowith the snake thing flopping between her legs, banging into her knees andprotesting againstthe treatment. When Vivienne got to Childe, she dropped on her kneesand said, "Forgive me, my Captain."

Then she started to suck on the end of his cock. The ecstasy camein slow waves, and from the inside of his navel to his knees he became ice.

He managed to gasp at Pao, "Jerk that thing out!" "What?" Pao

said. "Pull that thing out of her cunt! Quick!" Pao got down behind Childe and reached through his legs and

grabbed thesnake-thing, which was trying to wrap itself around Childe's thigh. Apparentlyit intended to climb up and into Childe's asshole, although it wasdoubtful that it was long enough to reach its goal. But Pao grabbed it behind itshead and gave a savage yank.

Vivienne fell apart.

Childe stood with her head between his hands and his penis in hermouth. The eyes stared up at him with a violet fire, and the lips and tonguekept onsucking and thrusting. The other parts of her body, having gottenonto their legs, began to scuttle around the room. The big black who had beensucked off byVivienne picked up the many-legged cunt and stuck it on the end ofhis cock and began sliding it back and forth. The cunt's legs kicked as if it werehaving anorgasm.

The goblet's pulses came faster and faster. Childe held the headby the earsand rammed his prick faster and faster between the lips. Its headdrove down her throat, backed out until it almost left those beautiful lips, andthen rammed in until the hairs around his cock were crushed against her lips.

Faster and faster. Brighter and brighter. Pulse and ecstasy.

The ice turned to fire. He spurted with a scream and a writhingthat was so violent he almost dropped the head. His pubis was against her nose and his dongwas far down her throat. He came and came, and the goblet glowed asif it were in the heart of the sun.

Pao got down underneath the head and swallowed the jism that felldown her throat and out the open neck.

The others scrambled to catch the drops that Pao had missed. Theyrolled him away, and stuck their heads under Vivienne's, and then they werepushed away. Those who could not get any directly ran their fingers over the lipsor down the mouths of those who had been lucky and got the stuff second-hand. Some tasted it and then rubbed the residue over their cunts or pricks.

Childe quit shaking and spurting. The goblet's light wanedswiftly, and soonit had only a faint glow.

He pulled Vivienne's head off his peter and threw it to Pao, saying, "Nowyou can put her together again. I had my revenge."

He sat down and stared dully at the goblet. He felt very tired.

The people crowded around and spoke in awed tones. At first, hedid not understand what they were talking about. When he heard a woman say; "It did grow, just a little, but it grew?" he saw what they were marvelingat.

The incomplete side of the cup of the goblet had grown more ofthe metal.

"You are indeed the Captain and The Childe," Pao said, holdingChilde's limpcock in his hand. "But you are no longer a child."

Childe understood what he was saying, although he did not knowthe details. During that last explosion of orgasm, he had seen many things on thescreen of his mind. Somehow, this experience had tapped a racial memory. No, not racial. That was not the correct term. A genetic memory was closer to anexact definition.

CHAPTER 37

Forry Ackerman jumped when the poundings, came on his door. Heopened thedoor without checking on the identity of the visitor, a lack ofprecautionindicating his upset condition.

A tall good-looking man with yellow hair and dark blue eyes stoodthere. Two other men were with him.

He said, "I'm Hindarf. This is Bellow and this is Grunder. We'refriends, old friends, of Alys Merrie. We'd like to come in."

"No smoking," Forry said and then remembered that Alys waspuffing on onecigarette after another.

He let them in and closed the door. Two sat down without asking his permission; Hindarf stood in the middle of the room as if he intendedto dominate it. And he did.

"I'm here to carry out the rest of our plan," he said. "What plan?" Forry said. He looked around the room. It had always seemed the center of the


universe, this room. It contained illustrations from all over the cosmos by menwho had never left planet Earth in the flesh. Memos from Mars. To others, itappearedweird, but to him it was home.

Now it was shifting from reality, slipping its moorings. The veryintrusion of genuine alienness rendered this place alien. The aliens were thereal people, and the products of imagination were fake. Contrary to what he hadalwaysmaintained, reality was more real than fantasy.

"You must be wondering why you've been chosen," Hindarf said. "Why should wering in an Earthling in our battle against the Ogs? Why do we needyou in oureffort to recapture the Captain?"

Forry bent his head and looked at them from under raisedeyebrows. Hedrawled, "Yes. I had been wondering about that. Many are called butFu are Chosen, as the Korean said."

Hindarf did not smile, but he did not look puzzled either. Hesaid, "Thereare some Earthlings who have what we call resonance. Through thechance of genetics, they are born with a psychic affinity, or a psychophysicalcomplex, which generates what, for want of a better term, we call white noise. This vibration is quite in phase with those radiated by the Tocs. It makesthe Earthling immediately sympathetic and empathic with the Tocs, and, conversely, it generates disturbance and confusion in the minds of the Ogs. Butit exists, and its effect is to blank out the vibrations radiated by the Tocs. In other words, we Tocs and Ogs know when we're near each other. We sense itjust as alion downwind from an antelope smells it. But when one of theresonant white-noise generator Earthlings is around, the Ogs can't sense us."

Forry put his fingertips together to form a church steeple. Hesaid, "I'venever been one to make everything black or white. There is much moregray inthis universe than black or white."

"Did you ever have a good word to say for the Nazis?" Hindarfsaid.

"Well, they did get rockets launched and that led to the firstmen on the Moon."

Alys Merrie guffawed and said, "Well, kiss my ass and call meHitler!" "Woolston Heepish is a member of the Ogs," Hindarf said. "He has not onlyset himself up as a rival of yours, he has become a caricature ofyou, and hehas stolen from you. Do you think he's more gray than black?"

"Black as the devil's hindbrain," Forry said. "Why, just lastnight...!"

Hindarf waved his hand impatiently and said, "I know. Thequestion is, willyou help us? It will be dangerous. But it will be less dangerous forus if youaccompany us. We intend to rescue Childe. He is a prisoner of theOgs. And theemanations from the house today indicate that he's participating in agrail-growing ceremony. He probably doesn't know what he's doing, butthat makes no difference. He is doing what they want him to do."

"Aren't there any other Earthlings you know who could go withyou?" Forrysaid. He remembered some of his youthful fantasies in which he hadbeen the focus of attention from the secret bands of Martians and Venusians operating inan underground struggle for control of Earth. Generally, in hisfantasies, hehad been on the side of the Martians. There was something sinister, damp, toadstooly, and creepycrawly about the Venusians. All that rain...Nowthat he thought about it, the deluge of the past seven days had turned LosAngeles intoa Venus such as the sci-fi writers had projected back in the good olddays ofScience Wonder Stories and Astounding.

"No," Hindarf said. "There are none available in this area, and none anywhere who can generate white noise to compare with yours."

"This may seem irrelevant to you at this moment," Forry said, "but why doesHeepish steal from me?"

"Because he wants your stuff for the collection he intends totake to the planet of the Ogs. He's a greedy and short-sighted person, and thatis why he'sstolen a few things from you instead of waiting to take the wholecollection just before he leaves."

"What?" Forry said shrilly. "The whole collection?"

"Oh, yes," Alys Merrie said, blowing smoke at him. "He hasplanned onemptying your house and your garage. He can do it in a few minutes, you know, ifhe can get a Captain to do it for him. The collection would be movedto a hugeroom in a barn behind the present headquarters of the Ogs. Then, whenthe Captain moves all the Ogs to their home planet, he will also take thecollection. Which, by the way, will consist of many of Earth's arttreasures in addition to artifacts and books and so forth, for the Og museums."

"You can visit our planet, if you wish," Hindarf said. "And youmight aswell have Heepish's collection, too. It won't do him any good afterhe's dead."

"Dead?"

Hindarf nodded and said, "Of course. We plan to kill every Og."

Forry did not like the idea of killing, even if Heepish diddeserve it. But the thought of going to an alien planet, one so far away that it wasnot even in this galaxy! He alone, of all men, would voyage to another world! Hehad wanted to be the first man on the Moon and the first man on Mars when he was a child and then that dream had glimmered away. He wouldn't even be able togo to thoseplaces as a tourist. And now, he was offered a free ticket to aplanet far morealien and weird than the Moon or Mars could ever be. Under a strangesun on an unimaginably exotic world!

"I can come back any time I wish?" he said. "I wouldn't want toleave Los Angeles forever, you know. I have my collection and all my wonderfulfriends."

"No trouble," Hindarf said.

"I must warn you, if it involves anything strenuous, I'll behandicapped," Forry said. "My heart..."

"Alys has told us all about that," Hindarf said. Forry's eyes widened. "Everything?" "Just the medical aspects," Hindarf said ambiguously. "All right then," Forry said. "I'll help you. But just as a white


noise

generator. You can't ask me to take part in any killing." The three men and Alys smiled. Forry smiled, too, but he was not sure that he was not making a

pact withthe devil. It seemed that the Ogs really were evil, but then the Tocsmight notbe so good, either. It could be one band of devils fighting another.

CHAPTER 38

Childe awoke with a feeling of emptiness and of shame. He lookedat Sybil, who was sleeping by his side, and then he stared upward for a longtime. Something had happened to him last night, or he presumed it was lastnight, since he did not know what time it was. His wristwatch was gone.

As if a key had been turned in him, unlocking a memory orreleasing aprogrammed tape, he had gone through that ceremony without a falsestep or beingtold, really, what to do next.

When he had evoked that pulsing light, he had felt an ecstasythat was superior, in some undefinable way, to that of sexual orgasm. It wasdifficult to untangle the sexual from the photonic, but a part of the glory hadbeen from that goblet.

That final incident, the one with Vivienne's unattached head, hadseemed at the moment to be fully justified and exquisitely delightful. But this morning itlooked ugly and perverted. He could not understand what had possessedhim.

The hell of it was, he thought, that the next time he was seatedbefore that goblet, he was likely to do the same thing or something equallyuninhibited. He did not fool himself about that.

The worst thing about this was that he was cooperating withpeople--beings, rather--who were evil.

But when he had been placed before that goblet, he had beenunable to refuse to act. In a sense, the goblet had activated him more than he hadactivated it.

What was supposed to be the final result of this ceremony and ofothers that would undoubtedly follow it?

He decided that he would refuse to do anything more unlesseverything wasfully explained.

He thought of Sybil. Would she be tortured if he refused to carryout the Ogs' desires? Knowing what he did of them, he could not doubt thatthey would dowhatever they thought was required. And so Sybil would be...Heshuddered.

Somebody knocked on the door. It was faint because the door wasof such thick metal, but he was aware of it. His sense of hearing seemed tobe sharperafter last night's experiences. He rose, noting that he was naked andnot caring, and went to the door. He rapped on it, and the door swungoutward. Vivienne was standing there with Pao behind her.

"You people are so technologically advanced, you could find someeasier wayto get my attention," he said.

"You indicated you wanted privacy in your room," Vivienne said. "So we polarized the one-way windows and turned off the TV monitor and theintercom."

"That's nice of you," he said, thinking that they were reallytrying to sellhim on how extremely nice they were. "Show me where this intercom is, and I'll contact you when I want you. And be sure to keep the other devicesoff."

"What the Captain wishes..." Pao murmured. "What I wish now, after a good breakfast, are answers to myquestions."

Pao said, "Of course," as if he was amazed that Childe could have any reasonto think otherwise.

"I'll see you in ten minutes," he said. "You'd better tell mewhere the breakfast room is. And leave the door unlocked."

Pao looked embarrassed. He said, "I'm sorry indeed, my Captain, but you'llhave to stay in here. It's for your own safety. There are evil peoplewho want to hurt you. You cannot leave this room. Except for the Grailing, ofcourse."

"The Grailing?" "Growing that goblet. The Grail." "There is to be more of that?" "There is." "Very well then," Childe said. "I'm a prisoner." Pao bowed slightly and said, "A ward, Captain. For your own


protection."

Childe closed the door in their faces and woke up Sybil. She didnot want to get out of bed, but he told her he wanted her to hear everything thatwould be said. He started towards the bathroom but stopped when he saw a hairypointedhead sticking out from under the bed. It looked vaguely like asleeping blackdog about the size of a Great Dane. He rapped it on its wet doggynose, and itopened its eyes wide.

"What the hell are you and what the hell are you doing under mybed?" he said.

The eyes were a dark brown and looked familiar. But the animalthat crawled out from under the bed was unfamiliar. Its front part resembled agiant waterspaniel, and the back part was monkeylike. It stood up on its semi- human feet and staggered over to a chair and sat down. It leaned its shaggyfloppy-earedhead on its two paws. The monkey part was hairy but not so hairy itentirelyconcealed a pair of human testicles and a warty penis.

"I was hungry," Childe said aloud. "But seeing you, whatever youare..."

He felt repulsed but not scared. The thing did not lookdangerous, not, atleast, at the moment. Its weariness and its big wet gentle eyes addedup toharmlessness.

One thing its presence did for him. It reaffirmed the sense ofalienness, ofunhumanity, about these people.

Sybil did not seem frightened; he would have expected her to bescreamingwith hysteria.

He said, "Was this your bed partner last night, Sybil?" "Part of the time," she said. "There was more than one?" The only one missing from the ceremony, as far as he knew, was


Plugger.

"I don't think so," she said. "He seemed to have changed intothis about a half hour before we quit."

He did not have to ask her what they had quit doing.

"He said he was almost emptied," Sybil said. "He had been to thethree Toc prisoners before he came to me. I suppose he buggered them, I mean, he appliedhis limp prick to their anuses and shocked them with the onlypleasant shockthat I know of. Then he came to me."

Childe did not feel that he was in a position to rebuke her. Whatgood wouldit do, anyway? She took sex where she found it and enjoyed it. And all the time professing that he was her only true love. The truth was, sex was heronly truelove. Impersonal sex.

The unbelievable element in this was not so much the metamorphosis ofPlugger into this dog-monkey thing as it was her calm acceptance ofthe metamorphosis. She should have been in a deep state of psychic shock.

"Why did Plugger feel it necessary to stimulate the prisoners?" he said.

"He told me that everybody in the house had to be hooked into theGrailingand that only if the prisoners and I had sex with an Og could this bedone."

A voice spoke from a jade statuette on a table against the wallnear the bed: "Captain, is there anything you want?"

"Yes!" he said, facing the statuette. "Get this thing out ofhere! Pluggeris making me sick!"

A moment later, the door swung out, and the blond man who hadbeen first in the line entered. Behind him came two women holding trays. The mantook one of Plugger's paws and led him out while the women served the food. Thecoffee was excellent, and the bacon and eggs and toast and cantaloupe weredelicious.

While he ate, he looked steadily at Sybil. She chattered on as ifunaware of his scrutiny. She had certainly acquired a set of stainless steelnerves duringher long imprisonment.

After breakfast, she went into the bathroom to fix herself up forthe day, as she put it. Pao and Vivienne entered. The first thing she did wasto get ontoher knees before him, murmuring, "Your permission, Captain!" Shekissed the head of his penis.

He did not object. When in Rome, and so on. The custom certainlybeat that of kissing the hand of royalty.

Pao touched his penis with one finger, also murmuring, "Yourpermission, Captain."

That was where the power and the glory were stored, Childethought. Nowonder that Igescu and Grasatchow and Dolores del Osorojo and MagdaHolyani hadbeen unable to resist using him sexually. The Ogs were supposed tohave left him alone to develop into something, according to what he had garneredfrom the brief conversation between Vivienne and the leader of the three who had rescued him from her.

He wondered if the two werewolves had intended to kill him, as hehad thought when they attacked. Maybe they had only meant to herd himback to his prison. And when he had been jumped by that wereleopard while he waskilling

Igescu in his oak-log coffin, she may have just been trying to drivehim away.

It was obvious now that he was supposed to develop into aCaptain. But therewere a number of questions to which he required answers. For onething, whatabout those abandoned cars in front of his house?

Vivienne said, "Several years ago, we had about half of a grailin our possession. It was the result of several thousands of yearscollecting thematerials needed to make the metal. Then the Tocs stole it. We pursued them andcornered the one with the grail after killing his two companions. Hehad run into a railroad yard to get away from us, and when he saw he couldnot escape, he threw the grail into a gondola full of junk. At that time, we didnot know that. Later, we got the information from him."

"I can imagine," said Childe, closing his eyes and shuddering.

"By then, the grail and the junk had gone into a steel millfurnace. We had to do some very intense detective work, very expensive, too, and wefound that that particular load had ended up as metal in a certain number ofcars of a certain make and model. So..."

"But you did not know which cars exactly?" Childe said. He wasbeginning tounderstand.

"Luckily, they were cars which were transported to this area. Wehad narrowed the number to about three hundred. And so we started to steal them and leave them in front of your house. We were lucky, very lucky. Threeof the cars contained traces of the metal in the grail. They activated when youwent near them, but you couldn't see that because the paint hid the glow, whichwas extremely feeble, anyway.

"We junked the cars and had them melted in a yard by a man whomwe paidwell. We strained out the grail metal, as it were, and used the tinybits as a detector for those other cars that contained the metal. When one bit of grail isbrought close to the other, both glow. We no longer had to leave carsin front of your house, because we knew exactly what group of cars containedthe metal. We had to do some more bribing of authorities to get the owners'names, and itwas impossible to steal all the cars.

"But we got enough to act as a seed for the growth of more metal. It is a procedure that is terribly tiring for the Captain. And it exhauststhose who take part in the ceremony. But it has to be done."

Childe did not completely understand. He asked that Pao explaineverythingto him. This took an hour and a half with several questions still tobe asked.

Nor did he accept Pao's word that the Tocs were the evil ones andthe Ogsthe good. The Tocs could be evil, but if they were, they werecertainly matchedby the Ogs.

However, what the Ogs wanted of him was not something that he hadto refuse for the good of Earth. Far from it. If he took the Ogs to their homeworld, hewould be doing his world a vast service. He would never be rewardedby humansfor his heroism. In fact, if he were to bring his deeds to theirattention, hewould be put into an insane asylum.

There were several disturbing things about being a Captain. Onewas that he could return to Earth and there arrange to transport the Tocs totheir home planet, too. If the Ogs could scrap cars and make a grail, the Tocscould do the same. There were plenty of cars left for that purpose.

The Ogs must have thought of this possibility. What did theyintend doingabout it? He hated to ask them, because he was afraid of both thetruth and the lies. If they meant to kill him or hold him prisoner on their world, they wouldnot, of course, tell him so. And if he asked them about its, theywould know that he would have to be killed or imprisoned. Either way, he wouldlose.

"It will be glorious," Vivienne was saying. "When the Grail iscomplete, then you, my Captain, can materialize all the Ogs who are wanderingthe face of this planet as energy complexes."

Childe was startled, and he had thought he was beyond beingsurprisedanymore.

"You mean that I am expected to give all your, uh, dead, newbodies?" he said.

"You will enable them to give themselves their material bodies," she said.

"It will be a resurrection day for us," Pao said. His slantingvulpine eyesglowed. The light from the lamp was reflected redly in them.

"And just where will this resurrection, or rematerializing, orwhatever youcall it, take place?" Childe said.

"They will, materialize in the barn behind this house," Viviennesaid. "There is more than enough room, even with all the goods stackedthere."

"Approximately nine hundred of them," Pao said. "They won't bebrought intomatter all at once. You can control that, Captain. Ten or twenty orso at a time, and these will be conducted out of the place into this house orinto rooms in the barn."

Theologistics of resurrection day, he thought. And am I really asort of god?

"Will Lord Byron, my real father, be among them?" he said. Pao said, "Oh, no. You forget that..." He did not want to continue. No wonder. Byron would be among the


Tocs, whowould not be materialized. And Pao must be trying to guess whatChilde was contemplating- How could he avoid the conclusion that the Tocs mightbe the goodones, if his own father was a Toc?

"Byron was a very talented but a very evil man," Pao said slowly. "Historydoes not reveal how evil, though there are hints. The world neverknew the storybehind the story, of course. If it had, it would have executed him. Iam sorryto say that about your father, but it has to be said. Fortunately foryou, wesaved you from the Tocs."

The implication was that they had also saved him from followingthe evil ways of his father.

"I have a lot of thinking to do," Childe said, "so I'd like to bealone. What are your plans for me today, if any?"

Pao spoke in an apologetic tone. "The Tocs will be gathering foran attack on this house. Time is more essential than ever because of this. We were hopingthat you would be quite rested by evening and ready for anotherGrailing."

"See me after dinner," he said. Pao bowed and Vivienne started to suck his cock again, but he


stopped her. "I'll save my power." Pao looked pleased at this, but the woman frowned and bit her

lip. Sheturned to go, but Childe said, "One moment, Vivienne. Last night. Youknow what happened? I mean, are you conscious when you, uh, come apart?"

She said, "I must be dimly conscious. When I came to, all puttogether, Iremembered vaguely what went on. It was like a poorly remembereddream."

"Can you have an orgasm when you're disconnected?"

"Not that I remember. If you were getting revenge, you got a paleshade of it, just as I probably got a pale shade of orgasm."

Childe said, "I can understand even the weirdness of the others, since theyare known in folklore and superstition. But I have never heard ofyour type. Wasyour kind ever known among humans?"

Vivienne said, "If you're referring to my structure, to the thingin me, tomy discreteness, as I call it, no. I am unique. And I am recent. Iwas rematerialized in 1562. I had died in 1431 A.D., by presentreckoning. The thingin my womb died in 1440 A.D. He was my very good friend then in ourpublic humanlife and in our private Og life."

"That thing was human?" "Yes. You see, when we succeeded in rematerializing in 1562, weconstructed ourself in our present arrangement. We can do that within certainlimits, youknow. We have to conform to biological laws, but if you have greatknowledge youcan do things with matter that you humans would think impossible.

"We had talked about just such a symbiosis as this, where wecould double the intensity of our sexual activities. So we materialized with thisstructure. Only we made a mistake. I did, rather. I had an idea that if I couldbe separated into various parts, and these parts could also have asexual life, orgasm, that is, and the parts could communicate each other'sorgasms...well itdidn't work out that way."

Childe wondered if he was being told the truth. It seemed toofantastic. Would anybody deliberately build herself like this? Wasn't it morelikely thather enemies, the Tocs, had caught her as she and the thing wererematerializingand shaped her like this? He did not know why they would do it, butit was more probable that someone would do this to another for a sadistic jokethan that anyone would purposefully do it to herself.

"Both of us had very traumatic experiences in our fifteenth- century lives," she was saying. "He was hanged and burned at the same time, and I wasburned at the stake."

"You were a witch?" Childe said. "Then all the witches burned were not innocent?"

"Oh, no! I wasn't innocent, but I was not a witch in the sensethat myexecutioners thought. It was the English that burned me, you know."

"No, I didn't know," he said. "Who were you? Anybody I mightknow?"

"I think so." she said. "I was Joan of Arc. And the being in mywomb was Gilles de Rais."

CHAPTER 39

After the two Ogs had left, Childe lay down on the bed. Sybil hadheard onlythe last five minutes, so he went over the entire conversation withher. She said, "I always thought Joan of Arc was unjustly burned by theEnglish, that shehad been proved innocent of the charge of witchcraft?"

"She was condemned by the Church, but it was the Church thatlater removed the charge and then canonized her. I think that that happened becauseshe was too big a hero to the French."

"I don't understand," Sybil said. "What was Vivienne or Joan, orwhatever she was, doing? Why would an Og try to save France from the English?"

"Maybe for herself. Who knows what she intended to do after shehad saved the nation for the French ruler? It's possible that she meant to takeover from him or perhaps to control France through him. She may even haveintended to drive the English out and then invade England and bring both nationsunder one ruler again. I didn't ask her what she and de Rais meant to do. ButI'll have a chance later on. Just now, I'm too stunned."

"Who was Gilles de Rais?"

"He was a Grand Marshal of France, one of the best warriors andgenerals theFrench had. He was also savagely sadistic, a psychotic homosexual whoabducted, tortured, mutilated, and sacrificed hundreds of little boys. Littlegirls, too, I think. A member of the royalty or the nobility could get away witha lot in those days, but he went too far. He was charged with witchcraft, ritual murder, and a number of other things, including sodomy, I think. He wasexecuted and quite properly, too. Few people have ever been so bestial. He madeJack the Ripper look like a gentle old fuddy-duddy."

Sybil shuddered but did not say anything. He got off the bed andundressed while she looked wide-eyed at him.

"Take your clothes off," he said. "Because I want to make love to you. Is that surprising?" "Yes, it is, after last night," she said. She started to unbutton her blouse and then stopped. "Aren't you supposed to save yourself for tonight?" "Here, I'll help you undress," he said. He began to unbutton her. "Yes, I am. But what they want and what I want do not necessarily


coincide.

Besides, if I'm dry, what can they do about it?" "Oh, no! You shouldn't do that!" "Whose side are you on?" "Well, yours, of course! But I don't want them to get mad at you,

Herald. Or at me."

"You can always tell them I made you," he said, grinning. "Inmore sense than one."

"I really shouldn't," she said, staring at his slightly swelled

cock. "Go ahead. Touch it." "I'm not an Og," Sybil replied. "But if you say so." He stripped her blouse and unhooked her bra and took it off. She

had full well-shaped breasts that had not yet begun to sag. He kissed thenipples and sawthem swell and then he sucked on both, one after the other. She stoodagainsthim, her back slightly arched, and moaned. She reached down andtenderly fondledthe shaft of his cock, which was expanding with his kissing and hercaressing. He kissed her breasts all over and then backed her towards the bed, where he eased her down. He removed her skirt and her panties, and moved inbetween her legs. The thick black fleece of her cunt was beginning to run; shehad alwaysoverlubricated. He licked along the slit, putting the tip of histongue inbetween the lips and running it up and down. Then he pressed the tipagainst theclitoris, ran it back and forth, and inserted two fingers into herslit and moved them slowly back and forth and then more swiftly. She camefinally with afierce deep groan and pulled on the hairs of his head.

After this, he came up from between her legs and slid on up byher. He pushed her head down towards his penis, which was sticking upstraight and hardand swollen.

The head, was purple, glistening, and the skin was stretched sotight itseemed about ready to burst. The blue veins stood out like unminedmineral under the reddish skin.

Sybil sucked on his testicles a while, one after the other, whileshe ran a finger partway up his anus. He moaned with the delight of the mouthand tongueand the finger. Then she ran her tongue lightly along the shaft ofhis peter, wet his pubic hairs with her tongue, and took the big head into herlips. Hertongue trembled on the slit of the glands, and her lips moved noisilywith their sucking. The edges of her teeth brushed against the tight tenderskin.

He blew into her mouth with a writhing of belly muscles and hipsand a feeling of flying apart.

Sybil continued to suck, having swallowed the fluid. She workedat him, occasionally stopping to murmur endearing words. His dong began torise again, and when it was fully rigid, he told her to lie down. He got down ontop of herand eased his prick into the slit until their pubic hairs werecrushing eachother. He lay there for some time, luxuriating in the warmth and themoisture and the tenderness. Her sphincter muscle squeezed on his cock, gentlyworkingit.

"I'm no superman, you know, Sybil," he said. "Once or twice anight, and I'mdone for, usually. But when I was at Igescu's that hog of a woman, Grasatchow, put a suppository up my rectum that acted as an aphrodisiac and anenergysource. And last night they gave me a drink that had the same effect. Maybe someof that effect is still with me, which is why I could get a hard-onso quicklyafter coming. Or maybe it's just because I've been so long withoutyou, andyou're my aphrodisiac. Anyway, I love you, and I intend to fuck all day." "I love you, too," Sybil panted. "Do you want to move now, Herald?"

He began to thrust, slowly at first and then more swiftly as hefelt the tide in him increasing its forward swings. He came with a moan at thesame time that she screamed with ecstasy. Tears rolled down her face onto thepillow.

His speculation that the drug he had taken was still affectinghim was probably true. He lost some rigidity after the shooting out of hissperm, but hekept his peter in her, and within a minute or two it was rigid andapparentlyready to tap on new reserves.

However, this time, the gray liquid in him would not rise sosoon. He hammered her for what seemed like fifteen minutes and though theecstasy builtup, he could not come. Sybil was having one orgasm after another. Hereyes wereopen and her hands were flung out and she was rolling her head backand forth and groaning and weeping.

Suddenly, she gave a scream and seemed to fall unconscious. Hewas not worried, since she had behaved like this frequently. When she had anespeciallyexquisite orgasm, she would faint.

But the white body beneath him became reddish. The smooth butwet-slipperyskin was covered with hairs as red as an Irish setter's and as wet as if it had just climbed out of the water. The face became elongated and snouted, the longhead hairs shrank to a bristle, the eyes shifted towards the side ofthe head, the small and delicate ears became large hairy pointed organs.

The long-fingered well-manicured hands became paws with blunthooked nails. The legs on his shoulders became hairy, and a big hard penis wasagainst hisbody. It was spurting jism over his belly and down onto his own cock, which was buried to the hairs in the hairy anus of the creature.

It was too late for him to stop. He had been just on the verge ofejaculating as the metamorphosis took place. Moreover, he hadsuspected thatthis thing was not Sybil. She had been too blase about the change ofshape ofPlugger, too calm about what was happening, and too eager to fuckhim. Sybilmight have wanted to fuck him, but she would have been too afraid ofemptyinghim and so making their captors angry. This thing should have beenafraid of that, too, and probably had been, but it could not resist thetemptation to getthe power and the glory of the Captain's cock all to herself.

That had been the thing's undoing. It had become overwhelmed andhad lost control. Apparently, it still was not aware of this.

He exploded inside the red-haired ass of the creature.

The intensity of the orgasm was such that, afterwards, he feltalmost forgiving. Almost but not quite.

Panting, he lay for a while on top of the wet and hairy body.

Then he got off the bed and seized its neck between his hands. Itwas as tall and almost as heavy as he, but it was terrified. Its brown eyesbulged outas its air was squeezed off, and its paws flailed.

Childe turned, swinging it off its feet, and then dragged it byits ears to the door. He shouted until the door was opened and then he shoved thething outwith a kick just under its long bushy tail. The three who received itlooked shocked.

"That'll be the last trick you play on me!" he shouted. "Where ismy wife? You had better produce Sybil, and quick, or you'll get nothing out ofme anymore! No matter what you do!"

The thing got off the floor, rubbing its spine with a paw, andwhined. It said something, but the shape of the mouth was not appropriate forhuman speech.

"Kill it!" Childe shouted. "Kill it and prove to me that you did! And then bring me Sybil, my wife, alive and well!"

The door was swung inwards and locked. He raged around the roomfor a while. Finally, he burst into tears and wept for a long time. Then he got upand took a shower and dressed again. Pao and the big Swedish-type blond, O'Brien, entered.

CHAPTER 40

At nine that evening, Forry Ackerman and four Tocs, includingAlys Merrie, set out for their rendezvous. Forry had had to exercise hisimagination to therupture point to explain to Wendy why he wasn't going to the monthlysoiree with her and to the host and hostess why he couldn't make it. He didn'tthink he satisfied anybody with his excuses, but certainly they were far moresatisfactory than the truth.

The rain had stopped for several hours after five o'clock, andsome of the clouds overhead thinned out. Then darkness and lightning had movedback in and thunder had come. A half hour later, it began raining savagely.

Every TV channel was filled with news of the damage done by thefloods and the lives lost. The radio seemed to talk of little else between bursts of rock music. Over two thousand homes had had to be abandoned. At least that number were in danger of sliding down a hill or being floated away. Most ofthe canyonswere closed even to those who lived in them. The rivulets and brooks roaringdown from the hills had become small rivers and frighteningtidewaters. The Basin and the San Fernando Valley were sometimes knee-deep in water. Business was at a standstill; most of the bus lines had quit running. Thegovernor hadfinally declared the three counties a disaster area. Citizens werescreamingabout flood control, and an insurance man was gunned down by anenraged citizenwho had lost his home under an avalanche of mud.

The grocery stores were beginning to run short of supplies. Therewas water contamination and a backing up of the sewers. Despite the almostcontinuous rains, fires were numerous, and one fire truck, answering thetwentieth call that day, dropped into a tremendous hole created by the torrentsslamming downfrom the hills. No one was drowned, but the truck was lost.

Just before he left, Forry received a call from Wendy. The partyhad been called off, even though most of the guests lived within a few milesof the house where the monthly party of science-fiction people and normals wasbeing held. Itshould have been canceled days before, but the hostess was unusuallystubborn.

He sighed with relief. Telling the lies had burdened him down, and at the same time he resented the burden. Why should he worry about breakingan engagement for a party when the fate of the world depended on what heand the Tocs did tonight? Nevertheless, he did worry.

Hindarf drove a pickup truck which was several times in waterhigher thanthe wheels. At Sunset and Beverly Drive, he pulled to the curb. Asemi with a big van came along five minutes later and stopped with a hissing ofair brakes. They got down out of the pickup and waded through water halfway uptheir thighsto the van. They had to hold on to each other to keep from beingswept off theirfeet by the current. A piece of timber, which looked as if it hadbeen a postfor a billboard, swept by them. If it had struck a leg, it would havecracked the bone.

There were twenty others in the van. The back doors were closed, and the truck pulled away. With its high body and its power, it should getthrough waterwhich would drown out an automobile.

On the way, Hindarf gave them instructions. Apparently, everybodyexceptForry had heard these before, but he was making sure that theyunderstood them. The instructions took about fifteen minutes, and the putting on ofthe divingsuits, flippers, tanks and goggles about ten. Forry objected that hehad never been scuba diving but was told that he would be underwater for only aminute. The main reason they were wearing the suits was to keep from gettingcold while they went through the water.

The truck stopped on a steep slope. The doors were opened and asmall ladder let down for Forry while the others leaped out onto the road. Theywere parkedon Topanga Canyon just outside the entrance to the road that ran upto the house of the Ogs. The brown flood running off it joined the deep currentcoming downTopanga. Forry was glad that he wore flippers and a suit and that thetank gavehim more weight to resist the current. But he did not think that hecould carryit up the hill.

"Sure you can," Hindarf said. "Put on the goggles and startbreathingthrough the mouthpiece."

"Now?" Forry said. "Now." Forry did so, and at the first breath he felt more energetic than


at anytime in his life since she had been a child. The air filled his whole body witha strength and a joie de vivre that made him want to sing. This wasimpossible, of course, with the piece in his mouth.

Hindarf said, "We may have a hard fight ahead. The vaporized drugin the breathing system will charge our bodies. The effect is intense butshort-lived."

They walked up the road, their flippers slop-slopping. Theylooked like Venusians, Forry thought, what with the frog feet, the slick blackskins of the suits, the humped air tanks, the goggles, and the big mouthpieces. Some even carried tridents or fishing spears. The rain fell heavily on them, and everything was dark and wet, as if they were under the clouds on thenightsideof the second planet from the sun.

Before they came to the turn of the road that would have placedthem in view of those in the house, they started to climb the hillside. This wassteep andmuddy, and they could only get up by grabbing bushes and pullingthemselves up. He appreciated the suit now, since it kept him from getting wet andmuddy. Theweight of the tank seemed negligible, so strong did he feel. Hisheart was chugging along at its accustomed pace, which meant that the extrademand for energy was being taken care of by the drug in the air system.

After slipping and sliding and hanging on to the bushes, theycrawled out onto the top of the hill. Another hill to their right hid them fromview of those in the house, although Forry did not understand how they couldbe seen in the dark.

Hindarf led them around the larger hill and up to a high brickwall. This was topped by a barbed wire fence about three feet high. Several Tocsunfolded a ladder, a stile, really, and put it over the wall and the wire fence. Hindarf cautioned everybody not to touch the wires, which were charged withhighvoltage. One by one, they crawled up the stile and over the wall anddown to the other side.

They were in an orchard which seemed to run several hundreds ofyards northand south from where they stood and an indeterminate distance west. The stile was taken down, telescoped, and placed under some bushes. Hindarf ledthem through the trees until they came to another slope. This rose steeplyto a low brick wall. There was a flight of steps made of some stone whichglowed red andblack in the light that Hindarf and others flashed on it.

Forry had been upset by their careless use of this light, butHindarf assured him that it was a form, of black light. Forry could see itsimplybecause his goggles had a specially prepared glass. Hindarf doubtedthat the Ogshad anything which could detect this form of illumination.

When they got to the top of the steps, they could see the blackbulk of the house about fifty yards away. It was dark except for a slit of light. They wenton and then were at the end of a long swimming pool. This wasbrimming over, flooding the cement walks, the patio, the yard, and running down thesteps upwhich they had just climbed.

Hindarf gave Forry his instructions again and then went down intothe poolvia the, steel ladder. The man assigned to watch Forry led him intothe pool. For a moment, everything was black, and he had no idea which was upor down, north or south. Then a light flooded the area around him, and hecould see his guide just ahead of him, holding the lamp. Hindarf's flippers werevisible justahead of the globe of illumination.

They swam the 100-feet-long pool underwater as near the floor asthey couldget. Forry caught glimpses of strange figures painted on the cementfloor. Griffins, werewolves metamorphosing from men to beasts, a leglessdragon, apenis-beaked flipper-winged rooster, a devilfish with a shaven cuntfor a mouth, a malignant-faced crab being ridden by a nude woman with fish headsfor breasts, and something huge and shadowy and all the more sinister for being soamorphous.

Then they were at the deep end of the pool, and Hindarf and hisguide were removing a plate from the wall. It looked like any other section ofthe wall, but it was thin and wide and its removal exposed a large dark hole. Hindarf swam into it, the guide followed, and Forry, after a moment's hesitation, and knowingthat the honor of Earth depended upon him, swam through the hole. Thetunnel had been dug out of the earth, of course, but it was walled up with manysmall plates screwed together. He wondered how long the Tocs had beenworking on this. It must have taken them years, because their time would be limited tothe earlyhours of morning before the sun came up.

It was possible, however, that this tunnel had been built by theOgs as anescape route. The Tocs, having discovered it, were taking advantageof it.

He did not know how long they swam through the tunnel. It seemedlike a longtime. It led downward, or at least he got that impression. Then theywere popping up in a chamber illuminated by a bright arc light hangingfrom a chain set into the cement ceiling. A ladder gave access to a platform atthe end of which hung row on row of suits. Shelves held many goggles and airtanks.

His second speculation was correct. This had been made by the Ogsfor escape. But then, wouldn't they have set up guards or alarms?

Hindarf explained that they could go no farther in thatdirection. The door in the end of the chamber was locked and triggered to alarms. So, they would gothrough another tunnel, which they had dug and walled themselves.

They dived again and Forry plunged to the bottom of the tunnel. He saw Hindarf go through a hole which was so narrow, that, the air tank onhis back scraped against the plates. The tunnel curved rapidly and took themat a course that he estimated would bring them about even with the ending of theOg tunnelbut about forty feet westward.

He came up in another chamber, much smaller than the first. Therewas a raft made of wood and inflatable pontoons. It was near the wall, whichheld a ladder that ran to the ceiling, twelve feet up.

Hindarf pulled Forry onto the raft. A man handed Hindarf a paperin a sealed package. He opened it and took out the paper and spread it out. Underthe lightsthey had brought, with the only sound the slight splashing of the menand heavybreathing, they studied the plates which constituted the ceiling ofthis chamber. The plates were being removed by two men standing on theladder.

There was a great boom from above them. The shock was sudden and savage. The platform rose into the airabove the water and the men on it went with it. Dirt fell in on all sides, striking themen and sending up gouts of water and chunking into the raft, whichwas tiltingto one side and then to the other.

But the walls did not fall in, though the plates were bellied outor buckled and broken here and there. The booming noise had come and gone, likean overhead explosion. All was quiet except for the loud slap-slap of theseesawing wateragainst the sides of the pit and the groaning of the platform movingup anddown.

Hindarf was the first to break the silence. He said, "That waseither an earthquake or the house is starting to slide. In either case, we goahead as planned. We'll be out of this place and into the house in a fewseconds."

The two men on the ladder had clung to it as it had threatened totoppleover. Now they went to work and removed plates to make a wide openingabove them.

Forry wondered why they worked so slowly. He felt like clawingthe platesout and anything else that stood between him and the open air. But hemanaged tosubdue the panic. After all, as he had already told himself, he wasupholdingthe honor of Earth.

Hindarf climbed the ladder and began to chip away at the dirtwith a small pick. Forry moved to one side to avoid the falling matter, which camedown in big chunks. His guide, pointing at the diagram, said, "We aredirectly below thefloor of the room where Childe should be held."

"How did you get hold of the diagram?" Forry said.

"From the city archives. The Ogs thought that they had removedall of the plans of the house, which was built long ago. But there was one planwhich had been misfiled. We paid for a very expensive research, but it wasworth it."

"Why do you think Childe is in the room above?"

"The Ogs have field important prisoners there before, both Tocand Earthling. We could be wrong, but even so we'll be inside the house."

Hindarf quit scraping away the dirt and was listening through adevice, oneend of which was placed against the stone. Then he put the device ina pocket ofhis suit and began to work on the stone with a drill. Forry listenedcarefullybut could hear no sound from it. His guide told him that it usedsupersonicwaves.

The removal of several blocks of stone took some time. Hindarf and another man stood side by side on the narrow ladder and eased the block downbetween them, and this was passed slowly between men standing together on the ladder. Then Hindarf listened again. He looked puzzled as he put the

device away. "There's a strange swishing and splashing noise," he whispered. He took the large square of metal which a man handed him and

screwed it to the underside of the floor. A wire led from one side of the metal square to asmall black metal box held by a man on the raft.

Everybody except Hindarf got off the ladder and stood to oneside. Hindarf nodded to the man holding the box, who pressed a button on its top.

The metal square and the section of floor within it fell downpast Hindarf.

A solid column of water roared through the opening. It knockedHindarf off the ladder, struck the small platform, sprayed out over the raft, andsweptthose standing on the platform into the well or onto the raft.

Forry Ackerman was one of those swept off.

CHAPTER 41

Pao said, "Your wife died three months ago."

"You killed her!" Childe raged. "You killed her! Did you tortureher before you killed her?"

"No," Pao said. "We did not want to hurt her, because we meant tobring herto you when you were ready for us. But she died."

"How?"

"It was an accident. Vivienne and Plugger and your wife wereforming atriangle. Plugger was stimulating Vivienne with his tongue in hermouth, yourwife was being stimulated with Plugger's cock in her mouth, andVivienne and your wife had their cunts almost touching each other, face to face asit were. Gilles was up your wife's cunt or alternating between her cunt andher asshole, I believe."

"I can believe that Sybil might engage in some daisy chains," Childe said. "But I can't believe that she'd let Vivienne even get near her. Thatsnake-thingwould horrify her."

"When Plugger is charging you, you get excited enough to do a lotof thingsyou wouldn't otherwise do," Pao said. "I have no reason to lie toyou. The truthis that Gilles was driven out of his mind--he doesn't have much, anyway, just apiece of brain tissue in that little skull, he doesn't even know hisown name and his talking is automatic and unintelligible even to him...Anyway, he went out of his head, too stimulated by Plugger, I suppose, and bit yourwife's rectum. He tore out some blood vessels, and she bled to death. Shekept moving and responding to Plugger's electric discharges even after she died, which was why neither Plugger nor Vivienne knew what was going on."


Childe felt sick. He sat down on the edge of the bed, his headbent. Pao stood silently.

After a few minutes, Childe looked up at Pao. The man's face wassmooth and expressionless. His yellow skin, thin-lipped down-drooping mouth, thin curved nose, high cheekbones, slanting black eyes, and black hair with itswidow's peakmade him look like a smooth-shaven Fu Manchu. Yet the man--the Og, rather--must be very anxious behind that glossy sinister face. He could not usethe usual methods to force cooperation from Childe. Even the worst of torturescould not extract the power for Grailing or star voyaging from a Captain. Underpain, theCaptain was incapable of performing his duties.

Childe thought of Vivienne, Plugger, Gilles de Rais, and thecreature that had metamorphosed itself to look like Sybil. What was its name? Brueghel?

O'Brien had left. Had he gone out to kill Breughel? Pao swallowed and said, "What can I do to make this up to you?" What he meant was, "What kind of revenge do you wish?" And he was


thinking, must be thinking, that Childe would hold him responsible for Sybil's death.


Childe said, "I only require that the snake-thing be killed." Pao looked relieved, but he said, "Vivienne will die, too!" Childe bit his lip. The revenge he was planning did not involve

killinganybody except the snake-thing, and that thing could not be called anentity. Not a sentient entity, anyway. He wanted the thing killed, but hewanted Vivienne alive to appreciate what had happened to her and the otherOgs.

"Bring Vivienne in," he said.

Pao left and a few minutes later returned with Vivienne behind him. O'Brien and several others also entered.

"I need a butcher's cleaver and bandages and ointment andmorphine," Childesaid.

Vivienne turned pale. She alone seemed to grasp what he intendedto do. "Oh, yes, and bring a wooden stool and a pair of long pliers," he

said. Trembling, Vivienne sat down in a chair. "Stand up and take your clothes off," Childe saidShe rose and slowly removed her clothing. "Now you can sit down there," he said. O'Brien returned with the tools ordered. Childe said, "I saw the film where you bit off Colben's cock with

your falseiron teeth. So don't plead with me." "I am not pleading," she said. "However, it was not I who bit hiscock off." "I won't argue. You are capable of doing it; you probably havedone that, and far worse, to others."

He wished that she would weep and beg. But she was very dignifiedand verybrave. What else could you expect from the woman who had once beenJoan of Arc?

"Hold on to her," he said to the others.

Pao and O'Brien pulled her legs apart. They were beautiful, perfect legs, with flawless white skin. The bush on the mound of Venus was thick and auburn. She probably had the most attractive pussy that he had ever seen. There was no hint of the horror that lived coiled inside it.

Childe felt like ordering one of the men to take the next step, but if he had the guts to order this, then he felt obliged to have the guts todo it himself.

Carefully, he inserted the pliers. Vivienne started and beganquivering, butshe did not cry out.

He pushed the pliers in and felt around. His original intentionto close the jaws of the pliers around the head now seemed foolish. He could notget themopen enough, and that thing was too active. But he could drive itout, and hedid.

Its wet, black-haired and black-bearded head shot out past thepliershandles. Its tiny mouth was open, exposing the sharp teeth. Itsforked tongueflickered at him.

With his left hand, he caught it behind the head. He pulled itout slowly asit writhed and then placed the head and a part of the body on thestool.

Pao sucked in his breath. Apparently, up to that moment, he hadexpectedChilde to yank the thing out by its uterine roots and so disconnectthe parts ofVivienne again.

Childe said, "Hand me that cleaver." Vivienne watched him take the chopper. She did not blink. "Inject the proper amount of morphine in her," Childe said to


O'Brien. "You do know how to do it, don't you?"


"I do," O'Brien said. "So, you've recognized me. Did I ever treatyou? No. Anyway, morphine will do no good. She is resistant to it."

"I don't want to inflict physical pain on her," Childe said. "Aslittle as possible, anyway. What kind of anesthetic do you have? I do want herto see this. She is not to be unconscious."

"Never mind that!" Vivienne said. "Get it over with! I want to feel the parting in its fullest!"

He did not ask her what she meant by that. He looked down at thesnake-thing, which twisted and hissed. Then he raised the cleaver andbrought itdown hard across the flexible spine.

Blood spurted out across the room. The head rolled off the stooland fell on the floor. Pao picked it up and put it beside the still bleedingtrunk. The head moved its mouth several times, and its eyes glared up at Childe as ifwishinghim evil even after its death. Then the eyes glazed, and the lipsceased to work.

Vivienne had turned gray. Her eyelids were open, but her eyes hadrolled upto expose only the whites.

O'Brien smeared an ointment over the amputation. The blood quitflowingentirely. Probably, that ointment was not known to Earth doctors norused byO'Brien in his Beverly Hills practice.

O'Brien bandaged up the body, and Vivienne was carried out on thechair. The snake body dangled down and scraped against the floor until one ofthe men coiled it up in her lap.

Two women came in and began to clean up the mess. Pao said, "Whatshall we do with the head?"

"Put it down the garbage disposal." Pao said, "Very well. Will you be ready for the ceremony


tonight?" "I'll try," Childe said. "Of course, Breughel emptied me." "Breughel maintains that you asked him to go to bed with you,"

Pao said.

"I would think that his duty would have been to find some excusefor puttingme off. He knew that I should be full again for tonight."

"That is true, but the temptation is very great. And you did askfor what you got. However, if you require it, Breughel will be killed."

"Let him live," Childe said. "Now, if you don't mind, I wouldlike privacy. Complete privacy. Turn off everything, except the intercom, ofcourse. Don't bring me anything to eat until I ask for it. I want to meditate andpossibly tosleep later on."

"As you wish," Pao said.

Childe sat on a chair for a while. He had considered doing whatthe Ogswished, up to a point. He had intended to land them on some otherplanet. Maroonthem. They would find themselves on a world which could support lifebut would offer them little except hardship. And he would go on.

Pao had explained some of the results of the Grailing, and heknew that during the voyaging ceremony he would be able to scan through a partof the cosmos. He did not know how he could do this, but he had been assuredby Paothat it was open to him. The implication was that he could go on toany world hewas able to see during the ceremony. The idea scared him now, and hehad been frank enough to tell Pao that. Pao had replied that he would not bescared during the ceremony because the power would make him courageous.

But now, he had changed his mind. He wanted to escape. The chopping off ofthe snake-thing's bead had sickened him. He was becoming an Og byassociation with them. If he continued with them, he might end up as cold andcruel as they.

An hour passed. Then, knowing that he did not have too much timeto carryout the plan he had conceived, he arose. He went into the bathroomand turned on all the faucets. He used a nailfile to unscrew the grate over theshower drain, and he stuffed the drain with sheets. He put the plugs in the bathtuband washbasin drains. Then he looked around for weapons and tools. TheOgs had takenthe pliers and the cleaver.

The nearest thing to a weapon was the jade statuette, which hecould use for a club. He could also use it to listen in on anything on theintercommunication system, since it operated without wires.

He prowled around, looking for other useful items and could findnone. He sat down on the bed and waited. It would take a long time for thewater to fill the room as high as the canopy on top of the bed. He would be on topof it when that occurred, since he had determined that the canopy would supporthim.

The hours passed. The water flowed out of the bathroom and spreadover the bedroom floor. It rose agonizingly slowly. But the time came when hehad to climb up on the canopy and wait there.

The statuette in his hand spoke. "Captain, it is dinner time. Doyou wishanything to eat?"

"Not now!" he said. He gauged when the water would rise to thelevel of the canopy. "In about an hour. I'll take the same food as last night! Oh, by theway, when does the ceremony start?"

There was a pause and then the voice said, "About nine, Captain. Or later if you prefer."

"I think I'll sleep a little now," he said. "Be sure to wake meabout ten minutes before you bring dinner in."

When the waters lapped at the canopy, and wet his rear throughthe cloth, heswam out into the room. The door to the bathroom was almost under bythen. He dived through the door and came up to the airpocket between thebathroom ceilingand the surface. Then he dived down again. The ceiling light wasstill on, so hecould see somewhat in the clear water. He turned off all the faucets in one dive and then returned to the top. Another dive through the door, and heswam back to the canopy.

As he pulled himself onto it, he felt a shock. The water slippedto one side of the room, as if the house had been tilted, and then it rushed back.

For a moment the motion confused him. He was panicked. What thehell had happened?

The voice said, "Captain! If you felt that lurch, do not bealarmed! It's not an earthquake! We think that the front of the hill gave way! We're inspecting the damage now! But do not be alarmed! The house is atleast fortyfeet from the edge of the hill!"

Everybody in this house was so engrossed in the Grailing thatthey hadforgotten about the deluge and its possible effects. Other houseswere slippingand sliding, tumbling down hills which caved out from under them. Butthese people had felt themselves insulated from the disaster. They had farmore important matters to attend to.

Now was his best chance. If a large number of them were out ofthe house, looking at the slide, he had a clearer road out than he had hopedfor.

He spoke into the statuette: "I'll take my dinner right now." "Sir," said the voice. "It isn't ready yet." "Well, send a man in. The slide broke a waterpipe in here. It's


flooding my

room." "Yes, sir." He waited. He had slipped the statuette between his belt and his

stomach. He poised now, hoping that the pressure of the water would spring thedoor outwards even more swiftly than it normally traveled.

The caving in of the hill front had undoubtedly been the mainfactor in making the house lurch. But the enormous weight of all the water inthis room had helped. Now, if only things worked right.

Suddenly, the door swung out. The water churned and frothed as itplungedthrough the narrow exit.

Childe hesitated several seconds and then he dived. He was caughtby thecurrent and hurled through the doorway, brushing it as he went by andhurtinghis ribs and hips. He struck into the wall on the side of thecorridor oppositethe door and then was shot, turning over and over, helplessy down thehall. The house must have been tilted slightly forward, towards the road, whenit had shifted in response to the cave-in. Most of the flood seemed to becharging inthat direction.

CHAPTER 42

The water fell through the hole in the floor as if it were awaterspout. It pounded the narrow platform, making it shudder and threaten to breakup. Itswirled the raft around so that several men, clinging to the side ofthe raft, were crushed between raft and wall.

Forry, hanging on to another man on the raft, thought that thistime the house had slipped forward after another cave-in. This time, it wasnot going tostop. It would go down the hill, and everybody in it would be buriedunder tons of mud. Especially those in this underground hole!

The worst part of it was that they had removed their air tanksand so could not swim back through the tunnel.

Or could they? It was difficult to think coherently while thewater was roaring through that hole and the raft was spinning and he could notsee much because of the splashing and spraying around him. But it had seemedto him that the swim through the tunnel was a very short one and that he wouldnot have to swim under the surface of the swimming pool to its end. He couldemerge at once.

But the thought of going through the curving tube when its sidemightcollapse at any second unnerved him. Bad as it was being shut in thishole here, he would stay.

By then all the lights had been extinguished, and he was in totaldarkness.

Suddenly, though the raft was still turning, the turbulence wasmuch reduced. A light came on, and he could see another light. This wasshining downthrough the hole in the floor. Water was still coming through but itwas a trickle compared to the first discharge.

Hindarf was shouting at them to be quiet. Miraculously, he wasunhurt.

Under his directions they erected the ladder again, and heclimbed on upthrough it. His men followed him. Presently, a man pushed Forry andurged him toget going. Forry scrambled up the ladder swiftly but reluctantly. Hepoked hishead through the floor and saw a bedroom that had been submerged onlya few minutes before. The only exit was blocked with chairs, tables, andthe bed, which had been swept against the doorway by the current.

The Tocs worked furiously to clear the furniture away. Hindarfand another looked for Childe, but he was not in the room.

"What happened?" Forry said to Hindarf.

"I don't know. But I would guess that Childe or whoever was aprisoner inhere flooded this place. When the door was opened, he went on out, riding thewaters. He may have escaped."

"Good!" said Forry. "Maybe we can leave then?" Hindarf looked down the hall at the wreckage. Several tables andvases and a crumpled carpet were piled at the corner where the hall turned. Partof the wall, where the water had first struck, was broken in. A man with abroken neck lay against the wall. He was identified as Glinch, an Og who had onceterrorized medieval Germany as a werewolf. For the past twenty years, he hadbeen workingin the Internal Revenue Service, Los Angeles.

Hindarf gave direct orders. Part of the Tocs were to go down thathall, looking for whatever they could find in the way of Childe, the Tocprisoners, and the Grail. He, Ackerman, and the rest of the party would go theother direction.

As they split up, they were hurled off their feet by anothershock. Somewhere in the house, a great splintering and crashing sounded.

"We may not have much time left!" Hindarf said. "Quickly!"

They broke in a door which was jammed because of the twistedwalls. Theyfound the three Tocs, naked, hungry, and scared, in that room. Thenext room contained Vivienne, whom everybody except Forry recognized. She waslying inbed, moaning with pain, a sheet over her. Hindarf pulled off thesheet, andForry's eyes bulged. A three and a half foot long penis with anamputated headwas lying between her legs, its other end stuck into her cunt.

"So somebody killed Gilles de Rais at last?" Hindarf said. "Childe did it," Vivienne moaned. "Where is he?" She groaned and shook her head. Hindarf reached out and gave a


savage yankon the thing between her legs. What happened next was something that Forry would never be ableto forget.

Hindarf picked up the many-legged cunt and smashed it against thewall. "Here's something for your collection," he said, handing the headwith its kicking legs to Forry by the hair. Forry backed away and then ran outof the room.

There were shouts and then shots and screams somewhere in the house. Hindarf pushed past him and ran down the hall. Forry followed the others andeventuallyentered an enormous room where about twelve Tocs were struggling withten Ogs. In the middle of the battle was a glass cube with a dully glowinggray goblet ona pedestal.

A Toc shoved the cube over with his foot, and the enclosure fellwith a crash, taking the pedestal and the goblet with it. There was adesperatescramble, during which the floor suddenly tilted with a deafeningcrash and rending of timbers from nearby. The cube slid down to one end of theroom while the combatants, knocked off their feet, chuted after it.

Forry was knocked down and sent sliding on his face for perhapsten feet. He suffered friction burns on his hands and knees, but he did not noticethem at that moment. The goblet had tumbled out of the cube and come to resta foot before his face.

"Get it and run!" Hindarf yelled, and then an Og woman, whom herecognizedas Panchita Pocyotl, leaped upon Hindarf from behind and bore him tothe floor.

Forry would not have touched the goblet if he had thought aboutthe effects of his act. But, excited and impelled by the Toc's order, hescrambled to his feet, scooping the goblet up. Even in his frenzied state, he noticedthat it felt extraordinarily warm and that it seemed to pulse faintly. Healso felt a resurgence of energy and an onslaught of courage.

He ran, even though he was not supposed to run. He went out ofthe room and down the hall and then there was a terrible grinding noise, agroaning, ashrieking, and a rumble as of thunder. The floor dropped; he fell, though stillholding the goblet.

The room seemed to turn upside down. He struck the ceiling, whichcracked open before he hit it. The lights had gone out then, but a flashlightfrom somewhere, maybe held by an Og who, had just entered the house, threwa beam on the goblet and the surrounding area.

Half-stunned, Forry saw the goblet slide away from him. A darkfigurehurtled into the area of the light and sprawled after the goblet. Itwas not clad in a diving suit and it was not Childe, so he presumed it was anOg.

He kicked the Og as he rose with a triumphant cry, holding thegoblet to hischest. The bare foot--he had long since shed his flippers--caught theOg underthe cheek of his right buttock. At the same time, the house lurchedagain, andthe Og, screaming, went flying forward. The goblet fell from his gripand rolled out through a doorway which was collapsing.

Cold wet mud lifted Forry and carried him as if he were on arubber raft through the doorway just before it closed in on itself. He shot outthroughanother room as if he were a cake of soap slipping out of the wethands of a bather. The goblet appeared before him riding upside down on a waveof mud. Forry reached out and grabbed it and held it to his chest eventhrough histerror and his screaming.

Then he was turned upside down. Mud covered him and filled hisnostrils and mouth. He choked and fought against the wet heavy stuff killing him.

Something struck the side of his head; and he fell into a darkness and silence blacker and quieter than the mud

CHAPTER 43

Partly stunned when he hit the wall at the first turning of thecorridor, Childe was hurled down the next hall, spun off lightly at the secondturning, turned aside by a great curling wave, and shot down another hall. Atits end it opened onto the front door and, on the side, to a large room. Thewaters splithere, one torrent shooting through the doorway after having brokendown the door, and the other torrent spilling into the room.

The parting of the flood greatly diminished its force and itslevel. Childe scraped his knees and hands on the lintel as he went through thefront door and was deposited at the foot of the steps at the bottom of the porch. Staggeringbecause of the water that was falling on his back, he crawled awayand then gotto his feet. He took two steps and screamed as he fell outwards anddown. The mud of a very steep bank took him, and he slid face down for somedistance before plunging up to his shoulders into the sticky stuff. He foughthis way outand then lay on his back, staring upwards.

Light was streaming out through the open door and several otherwindows. He was lying on top of the cave-in. And if he did not get out of the waysoon, hewould be crushed by the entire weight of the mansion. It was groaningand swaying, and the slides of mud around him heralded a greater slide.

Though he would have liked to stay there and rest, he turned overand slipped and slid to his feet and sludged away from the buildinglooming abovehim as fast as he could go. Once he tripped over a solid object, which he would have thought a small boulder if it had not moaned. He got down on hisknees and felt the roundness, which was the head of a woman buried up to herneck.

"Who is it?" he said. "It's me," the woman said. "Who?" "Diana Rumbow. Who're you?" And then, "Help me!" Mud abruptly covered his legs to the ankles. He looked up but


could not see much except that the house seemed to be tilting a little more. Suddenly, the lights went out, and a great grinding noise came from the house.


He went on as swiftly as he could. It would take him a long timeto dig herout, and the house was surely coming down, on them at any minute. Besides, he owed an Og nothing except death.

When he had gotten to one side, far enough out of danger from thehouse, though not from the slippage of the hill beneath him, he turned. Justas he did, the great structure screamed and toppled down the steep slope. Thoughit was so dark, he could still see that it had turned over on its side, soswiftly had theearth beneath it fallen in.

He wanted to make for the ruins as fast as he could, but he wastoo emptiedand shaken. He sat down in the mud and wished that he could cry. After a while, he got up and sludged through the mud, sinking to his knees withevery step. Hewent even more slowly than the effort accounted for, because he wasnever sure that he would not keep on sinking.

The first body he found was Forry Ackerman's. It was lying on topof the mud, though sinking very slowly. He was on his back, his face coveredwith mud but his spectacles still on. A glow of headlights coming up the roadbelow showed him palely to Childe.

"Forry?" he said. The mud-covered lips parted to show mud-covered teeth. "Yeees?" "You're alive!" Childe said. And then, "How in bell did you get


here? What's

been going on?" "Help me up," Forry said. Childe hauled him up, but Forry got down on his knees and started

gropingaround. The headlights of the car came up over the top of the roadbelow them, and Childe could see much better. But he could see nothing that Forrymight begroping for.

"I had it! I had it!" Forry groaned. "What?" "The Grail! The Grail!" "You had it? How? Forry, tell me, what's going on?" Forry, feeling into the mud and uttering curses which were


completely out of character for him, told him.


Childe pulled him to his feet. "Listen, you'll never find it inthis mess. We better go into the house, if we can get into that mess, and lookfor our friends. If they are our friends."

Forry raised his head sharply. "What do you mean, if they are ourfriends?"

"How much do you and I really know about the Tocs?" Childe said. "They'vebeen nice to us, but then they have a reason to be so. Even the Ogsbecame better after they had a reason to get my cooperation. So..."

"I have to find that Grail," Forry said. "I want to go to theplanet of theTocs. It'll be the only chance I'll ever have!"

"All right, Forry," Childe said. "We'll get it somehow. I'd liketo have it, too, so I could settle this thing once and for all! But we'd bettersee who we can save. After all, Toc or Og, human or not, they feel pain, andthey're goingto need help."

The car had approached as closely as its driver dared. Fourpeople got outand walked through the mud to them. It took a few minutes ofquestioning by bothparties before it was established that the newcomers were Tocs. Theyhad been summoned from the other side of the world and had just managed to gethere.

"I wouldn't worry about finding it, Captain," the leader, Tish, said. "You can concentrate on it, and it will glow. The glow will come up eventhrough tonsof mud."

CHAPTER 44

The Tocs and the Ogs bad hired a hall.

Over two-thirds of the big dance floor of the American Legionpost had beenmarked off in squares. The remaining third was given over to thehundred or so surviving members of both groups. And to Childe, the Captain, theGrail and its pedestal. And to Forry Ackerman, who sat on one side to observe. Hewould participate in the ceremony but only as one caught in the sidewash ofradiation. When the time came for the voyaging, he would move into the directinfluence of the power and, if all went well, travel with the others to the stars.

Childe sat in a chair before the Grail. Beyond him the Tocs andOgs stood inranks of twelve abreast. They were naked. Everybody in the hall wasnaked.

They were here because Childe had ordered it. He had told themthat if both groups did not declare, and keep, a truce, he would destroy the Grailand would refuse to act as their Captain. If they agreed to keep the peace andto participate together, he would transport both groups to their homeplanets.

They did not take long in reaching an agreement.

Childe was still dubious about his ability to move them acrossintergalacticspaces and pinpoint the exact world for each. But he hoped that itwould work. It meant ridding the Earth of a number of monsters and potentialmonsters. He wished that he could also do this with others than the Tocs and the Ogs.

Hindarf and Pao had died under some heavy timbers and severaltons of mud. Tish had been elected master of ceremonies. It was he who had arranged that theauthorities did not investigate the ruins. With the spending of much money, hehad kept the police and others out of the area, and the Tocs and theOgs whosurvived had secretly buried the dead.

Now Tish called up the couples, one by one, to begin theceremony. Thesewere male and female with each couple composed of a Toc and an Og. There were about four females left over, and these were also to couple in thebeginning.

Male and female, they approached Childe and knelt before him. They touchedhis genitals and kissed his penis and then rose. He stared at theGrail while his cock became bigger with each kiss until it had reached its utmostrigidity. The Grail began to glow and to pulse. Its glow waxed and waned as thethrobbingsof his dong built up.

One by one they knelt and kissed or sucked his cock. Then theyreturned to their stations to wait, hand in band, or hand on cock or cunt, forthe last couple to return.

The light from the Grail grew brighter and brighter until itcould not be looked at directly by anybody but Childe. The light filled his eyesand his skull, but he could still see the Grail and the people beyond.

Finally. Tish approached Childe and knelt and stroked his ballsand cock and then kissed the glistening glands. Childe's body from behind hisnaval to his knees had turned to ice, and the peter was giving little jerks whilethe fluid moved more swiftly towards its exit. He beckoned to an exquisite Thaiwoman, aToc, and she ran to him and bent over to take his cock into hermouth. Immediately, the man who had been her partner came up behind her, gotdown between her legs, and buried his face in her cunt. Another woman gotdown on all fours and began sucking his dong; a man went down on her; a womancrawled between his legs and sucked on his peter; a man thrust his tongue upher slit; awoman got under him and started to work on the head of his penis withher mouth; and so forth. The result was a daisy chain with the woman on the endlying onher back blowing a man and nobody on her cunt.

Tish walked down the line of the grunting, moaning, smacking, writhing menand women. He straddled the last woman and let himself down, not tooeasily, into her slit.

But even while he was pumping away, Tish called out in a strangelanguage. He chanted, and Childe understood the words, though he was not ablelater to translate them.

Childe sat still and let the woman mouth his glands and run hertongue over his prick while the ecstasy mounted and mounted and mounted. Suddenly, he gave a little scream and spurted. The Grail seemed to burn; it shot out a pulsing light that drove away every shadow in the hall. Tish continued to chant. Apparently, he had not come yet. And then, as Childe's peter gave its final jerk and spurt, Tish cried out.


The air over the squares darkened. Little clouds formed. The airbecame verycold, chilling the hot and sweating bodies. There was a wind, as ifthe air was moving towards the clots of duskiness over each square. At first, theair moved gently, but within a minute it was whistling from every corner of thehall and rattling the windows. Dust from the floor rose up and whirled insmall cyclones.

The Grail continued to pulse dazzlingly, though Childe had ceasedto ejaculate. It did not obliterate the shadows above the squares; itseemed to make them darker.

The first one that Childe recognized was Igescu, the Toc whom hehad killed in his oak-log coffin by thrusting a sword through his heart. Afterwards, thebody had been burned to ashes in the fire of the great house.

Childe had never expected to see that long lean face with thehigh forehead, thick eyebrows, high cheekbones, and large eyes, nor the very longand skinnydick.

And there was Magda Holyani, the beautiful blonde weresnake. And there was Hindarf and beside him was Pao. They were all naked and all in their human form. And where was Dolores del Osorojo, the beautiful California-


Spanish "ghost" who had literally fucked herself back into a materialization of flesh and blood and bone, only to be killed and skinned by the Ogs?


He saw her in a square in the middle of the crowd. She wassmiling at him, and her hips were rotating as if she were relishing the memory oftheir times together.

The air warmed up, and the wind ceased.

The hall was filled with many voices. The living and the recentlydead were chattering, yelling, laughing.

Tish waited for five minutes and then shouted for silence.

It came slowly and reluctantly, because the Tocs and the Ogs werehuman in that they had to express their emotions.

"Now for the voyaging!" Tish shouted.

They all faced him expectantly. Childe noted, out of the cornerof his eye, Forry sitting on his chair. His eyes were bulging out, and he wascovered with sweat. Childe did not know whether this reaction was caused by theceremony hehad just seen or the thought of the trip.

It was up to him whether or not he went along. If he decided to go, he justhad to move from the side of the hall to the middle of the floor, andhe would be taken along automatically.

Tish had not liked the idea that Forry was not participating inthe ceremony, but he admitted that his noninvolvement would reduce theeffect of the Grail by only a negligible amount.

Tish indicated that a woman should bring up a bowl with a darkliquid in it. She took a position by Childe after kissing his penis and the secondceremonybegan immediately. She sprinkled his genitals with a few drops of thedark liquid before each person kissed his peter. Tish stood on the otherside and every third person dipped his finger into the bowl and passed it overChilde's lips. The stuff tasted like honey with a trace of rancid cottagecheese. When the bowl was empty, Tish signaled for it to be refilled, and theceremony wenton.

The Grail kept on pulsing brightly. Its white light was beginningto affect Childe. He did not become blind or any less able to see what wasgoing on aroundhim. But he was receiving flashes of strange scenes. Usually thesewere seen as if he was standing on the surface of a planet, but several times hewhizzed by astar burning redly, greenly, or amberly. He seemed to be no more thana hundred thousand miles from the great luminaries. Despite the brightness andnearness, he felt no heat, only a bone-crystallizing cold.

Tish began to chant in the foreign language. Childe beckoned toDolores, whoran gladly towards him, her big shapely breasts bouncing with theimpact of herfeet. She got down on her knees and buried her face in his crotch andwept. Thenshe took the end of his half-limp organ and began to suck on it. Itrose as if she were blowing air into it, became hard and throbbing, and gave himthat first warming under his belly button.

The Grail pulsed faster, and the flickers of alien topographiesand brilliantly colored stars increased in number and variety.

Dolores sucked harder and moved her head back and forth. Igescucame upbehind her then and lifted her up so that she was standing up butwith her knees bent. He rammed his dick into her asshole and began pumping. Pluggergot down onhis knees behind Igescu's lean buttocks, spread them, and thrust histongue upIgescu's asshole. His body rocked back and forth as he rode thevampire's asswith his face.

Even through the woman and the man, Childe could feel the shockof Plugger's tongue. He hoped that the others would form the daisy chain quickly, because if they didn't they were going to get caught short. He was going to comesoon. This would require starting the voyage ceremony over again, because thechain had to be complete, or nearly complete, when he came.

The room started to rotate. The naked bodies of the men and women seemed to be skating on the edge of a spinning disc. They slid here and there, catchingeach other, going down, tonguing cocks and cunts, ramming cunts, mouths, andassholes.

And there was Vivienne. And there was a tall man with a black beard and burning eyes. His face had much more distinct features, of course, but the resemblance was close enough for Childe to identify him as Gilles deRais. He had materialized in his original body, and he was sticking his donginto the spread buttocks of a slim blond man who was sucking off Vivienne.

Then Vivienne and de Rais and everybody receded on the edge ofthe whirlingplate that had been the big ballroom. Lightning was flashing from theGrail, white strokes, scarlet flashes, emerald zigzags, yellow streaks, purple swordswith jagged edges. The flashes spurted upwards from the Grail, bounced off the ceiling, spiraled down, caromed off the naked writhing bodies of themen and women, fell to the floor like colored and shattered stalactites.

Childe felt the gray fluid in him thrusting upward. But when helooked down, he saw only the red lips of Dolores, like an unattached cunt, squeezing aroundhis cock. He could see into his own body, and the gray fluid was redas mercuryin a thermometer and rising as if the thermometer had been thrustinto a furnace. The red thread sped upward and then leaped out between thedisconnected red lips and spurted like scarlet gunpowder exploding.

The Grail blew up soundlessly with a crimson-and-yellow cloudexpandingoutwards and pieces of whitely glowing metal flying through thecloud.

CHAPTER 45

Until the last moment, Forry could not make up his mind. He hadbeen repulsed at first by the orgy. Seeing such things in stag films wasone thing, but seeing them in the flesh was very uncomfortable and evensickening. After awhile, the aura of reeking sexuality, of uninhibited orgasms, ofpenises andvaginas and anuses and mouths, began to excite him. He even got jealous when hesaw Alys Merrie sucking on the red-skinned cock of a big Amerindian, and he felt an impulse to get off the chair and dive into the welter, that ragingsea, ofhair and flesh.

But he was, in the end (I always pun, even here, he thought), tooinhibited.

Nevertheless, the vibrations were getting to him, and he hopedthe ceremonywould not last too long. Otherwise, he might abandon his restraintsand join inthe fun.

A few seconds later, he got his first view of what was takingplace in themind of Childe. He did not know that it was Childe's mind that was broadcasting, but he surmised that it was. There was no doubt that Childe and the Grail, hooked together in some psychosexoneural manner, formed the focus andthe distributor of the strange power emanating throughout the hall.

The glimpses of the alien worlds were like seeing the paintingsof Bonestell, Paul, Sime, Finlay, St. John, Bok, Freas, Emshwiller, andother greats of science-fiction become three dimensional and then becamealive. Painting turned into reality.

The worlds were only slices; it was as if Childe was cutting thecosmic pieinto slim pieces and hurling them at him.

He jumped up from the chair and unsteadily made his way towardsthe complicated shifting structure of flesh. It was only a few feet fromhim but it seemed to have sped towards the horizon. Between him and the bodieswrithing inthe glory of the power from the Grail was a vast distance.

He had to hurry. The Childe--Child?--was coming.

If he did not get within that blaze, he would be left behind. Hewould be standing alone, naked and erect and weeping in the big AmericanLegion hall. This was the only chance he would ever get. He, Forry Ackerman, theonly humanto get a ticket to intergalactic space, to alien and weirdlywonderful worlds in a foreign galaxy. His childhood dreams come true in a universe wherehe had no right to expect that any dreams would ever be reality. Where he hadbuilt a house to embody dreams with only half-reasonable facsimiles. Wherethe pseudo-worlds had seemed to be real in the shadow world of his homebut real for split-seconds only. Where stars like giant jewels, and crimsonlandscapes, andtrees with tentacles, and balloon-chested Martians with elephanttrunks and six fingers, and huge-eyed feathered nymphs, and long-toothed red-lippedvampiresdwelt in startling fixity forever.

Now he could go voyaging.

He ran towards the dwindling figures while the Grail sent up amushroom cloud of red, green, yellow, purple, and white shoots. He ran towardsthem, andthey shot away as if on skates.

"Wait for me!" he cried. "I'm going, too!"

The horizon, so distant, suddenly reversed its direction andcharged him andwas on him before he could stop running. Like a locomotive appearingout of a tunnel, it ran over him with flashing emerald, topaz, and ruby lightsscreamingat him, and swiftly rotating puffs of brilliant white and deep-spaceblack cutting through him instead of iron wheels.

Whatever the objective length of time, to him it seemedinstantaneous. He was in the hall and then he was in a huge room with gray walls, floor, andceiling. It had no furniture and no doors or windows. The only lightwas that escaping in waves from the Grail.

Childe and the others were with him. They were all looking ateach other dazedly. Some of them had not yet uncoupled.

The Grail and its pedestal stood before Childe.

Hindarf strode, to the wall and spoke one word. A large sectionof the wall became transparent, and they were looking out over the bleakestlandscape thathe had ever seen. There was only naked twisted rock. There was novegetation orwater. Yet the sky was as blue as Earth's, indicating that there wasan atmosphere outside.

Childe said, "Come here, Forry. Take my hand." "Why?" Forry said, but he obeyed. Hindarf activated another window on the opposite wall. This


showed more windswept rock, but far away, near the horizon, was a spot of greenand what looked like the tops of tall trees.

"This isn't our world or the Ogs' either!" Hindarf shouted. Hepointed intothe sky and Forry could barely see the pale moon there. It looked aslarge asEarth's, but it was darkly mottled in the center and resembled themarkings onthe wings of a death's-head moth.

Childe beckoned to Dolores del Osorojo, who smiled and came tohim and stood on his left, holding his hand. Childe said something in Spanish toher, and shesmiled and nodded.

"That about uses up my knowledge of Spanish," Childe said. "Butshe prefersto stay with me. And I want her to be with me."

"That is the moon of Gruthrath!" Hindarf shouted.

He wheeled upon Childe. "Captain! You have brought us to thedesert world of Gruthrath!"

Childe said, "It's a desert, but it can support you and the Ogsquitecomfortably, if you get out and dig, right?" Hindarf turned pale.

Weakly, he said, "Yes, but surely you are not thinking of...?"


"My ancestral memory or genetic memory or whatever you call ithas been opened," Childe said. "I know that there is very little chance thateither youTocs or Ogs would let me go once I made the first landing on eitherplanet. Youhave Captains greater than I who could neutralize my powers longenough for yourpeople to physically capture me. You'd have to, because I am partlyan Earthman, and you could never trust me. And whichever planet I got us to first, the home of the Toc or the Og, the people there would catch me. And they wouldtake captive the enemy peoples, too.

"That isn't true!" Hindarf and Igescu yelled.

"I know," Childe said. "You two were taking a chance in a cosmiclottery, asit were. You did not know which planet I would pick out to land onfirst, andyou couldn't even ask me, because I would not know which one until Iwas presented with a choice. Also, if you tried too hard to sway me, Imight getsuspicious. So you took a chance. And both of you lost."

"You can't do this!" The Tocs and the Ogs rushed towards Childe. Forry almost let loose of Childe because it looked as if the


three of them

were going to be torn to bits. Childe gripped Forry's hand so hard that the bones cracked. He shouted, "Fuck you!" and they were off. There was a thin triangle of nothing wheeling by Forry, a gush of

soundless purple flame around his feet, and the familiar walls of the AmericanLegion wereall around him and the familiar floor was under his feet.

Forry did not say anything for a moment. Then, slowly, he spoke. "Where's the Grail?"

"I left it behind. I can do that, you know, although it meansthat the Grail is now forever out of my reach. Unless another Captain brings onehere."

"That's all?" Forry said. "You mean the trip's over?" "You didn't get killed," Childe said. "I made a better trip when I saw the movie Barbarella," Forry


said. Childe laughed and said, "You'd gripe if you were hung with a newrope."

They got dressed and prepared to leave the hall. Childe said, "Iwouldn't tell anybody about this, if I were you. And I think we'd better notsee each other again."

Forry looked at Dolores. She was dressed in a white-peek-a-booblouse and tight orange slacks that one of the Toc women had left behind.

"What about her?"

Childe squeezed the dark-haired woman and said, "I'll take careof her. She may have been one of them, but she was one of the good ones."

"I hope so," Forry said. He stuck out his hand. "Well, good luck. Adiau, aswe Esperantists say."

"Don't take any wooden grails," Childe said.

Forry watched him walk away with his arm around the slender waistof Dolores, his hand resting on the curve of her ass. How could thefellow so easily give up that power, that chance to go star-voyaging?

But he felt good again when he came out into the familiar worldof Los Angeles. The rains had stopped, the sky night was clear and full ofstars, carhorns were blaring, water was splashing onto the pedestrians asreckless drivers roared through pools, a radio was screeching rock, an ambulance sirenwas wailing somewhere.

A half hour later, he entered his house. He stopped and gasped. The Stoker painting was missing again!

Renzo Dummock came down the steps then, scratching his hairychest and swollen paunch. He said, "Hi, Forry. Say, could you loan me a couplabucks for ciggies and a beer? I'm really down in the dumps, I..."

"That painting!" Forry said, pointing his finger at the blankspace on thewall.

Renzo stopped and gaped. Then he said, "Oh, yeah, I was going totell you. That guy, what's his name, Woolston Heepish? He showed up about anhour ago andsaid you had told him he could have the Stoker. So I let him. Wasn'tit all right?"

Forry charged into his office and dialed Heepish's number. Hisheart chunked when he heard the smooth soft voice again.

"Why didn't you go with the others?" Forry said.

"Why, Forry! You're back! I thought sure you'd be gone forever! That's why Istayed behind. I like this life, and I couldn't pass up the chance toadd yourcollection to mine!"

Forry was silent for a moment and then he said, "Hold on! Ithought you wereburied in that landslide?"

Heepish chuckled. "Not me! I slid out as nice as pie and tookoff. I had enough of Childe and the Tocs and the Ogs, even if the Ogs are mypeople."

"I want my painting back!" "Would you consider trading it for a rare Bok?" Forry wondered if the fellow had slipped some LSD into his


coffee. Perhaps everything that had happened was only a lysergic acid fantasy?


Heepish's voice, fluttering like the wings of a bat in the night, said, "Maybe we could get together soon? Have a nice talk?"

"You can keep the painting if you'll promise never to cross mypath again!" Forry said.

Heepish chuckled. "Could Dr. Jekyl get rid of Mr. Hyde?"


home | my bookshelf | | Image of the Beast |     цвет текста   цвет фона   размер шрифта   сохранить книгу

Текст книги загружен, загружаются изображения



Оцените эту книгу