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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 19 | Image of the Beast | CHAPTER 21