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Title: The City Condemned to Hell
Author: Randall Craig
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0604231.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: July 2006
Date most recently updated: October 2007

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The City Condemned to Hell
Randolph Craig





CHAPTER ONE

When the Beast Hungers

THE young nurse nodded downward at the mummy-like thing on the cot in
Ward Seven. "She's been trying to move, Doctor," she said. "Are you
sure you need the stimulants?"

Dr. Skull nodded absently. His keen brown eyes, the liveliest thing in
his gentle old face, were appraising the swathed figure of Mrs.
Purvins, and there was an ancient satisfaction in them, ancient as
medicine itself. He remembered the day, almost a month ago, when a
frightened woman stripped herself in his office, and whispered, "Is it
cancer, Doctor. Will I die soon?"

She had been ghastly, that woman, with the hard black growth ridging
her body like the tentacles of a deep sea monster. Ghastly even to the
case-hardened eye of the surgeon.

There had been something about the growth that suggested more than
medical abnormality, something uniform and patterned, as though a
deliberate perverted will had planned it so.

"Only the skin," Skull had told her. "It's operable. There's a good
chance. You're young--you have a young woman's heart, a young woman's
capacity for recovery..."

She had been brave, that frightened little Mrs. Purvins. And so she
had taken the chance, a greater chance than her surgeon cared to tell
her, and for weeks she had lain in a ward cot at the Mid-City
Hospital, too sick to speak, swathed like a mummy, but blessedly,
beautifully alive! Alive, and with the malignant growth ripped out
root and branch. Yet her greatest battle was just beginning.

With justifiable triumph Dr. Skull began to snip at the white bandages
and behind curtains veiling the procedure from other occupants of Ward
Seven, his surgeon's handiwork came to light. To no one but a doctor
or a nurse, used to the ravages of suffering, would Mrs. Purvins have
seemed anything but a horribly scarred and suppurating grotesque
imposed upon a human form. But to the two who watched her, she was
neither unbeautiful nor disheartening.

"It's a marvelous job, Doctor," the nurse said fervently. "Such a
clean incision...I don't think there's another surgeon in the world
who could have accomplished anything with her. And a man with your
skill, giving all his time to charity cases...Sometimes I just don't
understand it."

It was more than either skill or charity that the case of Mrs. Purvins
had called for, but the nurse didn't know that. And even now, Dr.
Skull, his brown eyes fixed almost unbelievingly on Mrs. Purvins,
wondered if he had succeeded. For she had been more than a charity
patient with cancer.

Her poor scarred body had been the battleground between Dr. Skull and
whatever it was that had been foisted on her--those marks that were
like nothing so much as the puckered souvenirs of some cruelly hungry
orifice, sucking at her skin!

A battleground for salvation against a fate medically uncharted--Dr.
Skull stared into his patient's eyes, and her own eyes stared back
unblinkingly. Suddenly he realized that those large grey eyes, which
had gazed on Ward Seven through slits in the bandages for days, had
not blinked before, either...No, he could not remember seeing her
eyelids move! His brows drew together thoughtfully. No, not since the
operation!

THE raw sutures would heal in time, he knew. The body would be smooth
again, and skin--grafting could take care of the scars that might be
left on her face. But--those markings! And those eyes!

He made a hurried examination, and a ghastly suspicion crossed his
mind. "Nurse," he said brusquely, "please leave me alone with the
patient for a few moments."

Alone with Mrs. Purvins, Dr. Skull repeated his examination more
carefully--but his hands still shook as though with ague, and his
lined old face was drawn and pale.

The sick woman seemed barely aware of the hands which felt for her
pulse, strove to locate her heartbeat--she did not even try to talk,
and her fixed, staring grey eyes had somehow an eerie, glistening
witlessness.

Dr. Skull took a blood sample, called the nurse back in, and went to
the laboratories on the third floor.

It was incredible, this thing that had apparently happened to Mrs.
Purvins; yes, utterly, fantastically unbelievable...But still it
made his palms wet and his heart race!

Under the white light of the laboratory lamp he tested the blood
sample. The thin fluid did not clot, didn't even smell like blood...

And then he steeled himself to the ultimate chemical analysis. He felt
his pulse pound in his veins as once more he repeated the test, to
make sure. There could be no mistake! The blood was of the temperature
and approximate consistency of sea-water!

A telephone sounded in the laboratory anteroom. Someone murmured, "For
you, Dr. Skull."

It was the nurse from Ward Seven. "Dr. Skull," she said tensely, "your
patient, Doctor--I started to take her pulse, and--and she hasn't
any..."

Softly, Dr. Skull put the phone back on its receiver. No pulse...? He
had found worse than that. Mrs. Purvins hadn't a heartbeat, either.
And yet, when he had taken the bandages off, she had given every
outward indication that the operation had been a success.

Sea-water! He opened a drawer marked with his own name, rummaged in it
for the newspaper clipping which had first interested him in Mrs.
Purvins: "Delirious Woman Picked Up Near East River," the headline
read...

They had found her, battered and half--crazed, the victim of an
inexplicable assault that left her almost drained of blood. And she
had moaned, repeatedly something about an octopus...

Dr. Skull frowned. There are no octopi in the East River--nor anywhere
in that part of the Atlantic coastal waters, for that matter. And from
his later conversations with Mrs. Purvins, after the first scars of
that attack had healed, leaving in their wake a still more
inexplicable cancerous growth, he was sure that her attacker had been
no monster of the deep, but rather some equally monstrous human being.

Yet the sea was the cradle of all life, for before living organisms
had made their slow progress onto land, eons ago, unicellular
creatures had taken their nourishment and vitality from the water of
primordial oceans. And all life still--even man himself--must carry
the chemical composition of ocean water within itself. All living
protoplasm cells on land are bathed in blood, which has the same
elements as sea-water. The lower forms of life are still bound to
ocean.

But blood and sea-water, as media of life, are separated by a million
years of evolution--and it was those millions of years that had
slipped from the heritage of Mrs. Purvins!

Either the phenomenon was inherent in those strange puckered markings
which had been unlike ordinary cancer--or else, he--Dr. Skull--had
created an atavism!

Dr. Skull rushed back to Ward Seven. Surgery couldn't--but it must
have been his own surgery, his clean simple excision of a cancerous
growth. Yet what strange, eerie quirk of the laws of chance had upset
in this woman a balance older than the oldest mountain ranges?

He brushed past the curtains which still veiled Mrs. Purvins from the
rest of Ward Seven. And then he paused, some deep-seated instinct
muffled the cry in his throat...

Mrs. Purvins' mouth was fastened like a suction pump on the nurse's
bosom, and in the staring grey eyes there was stark, maddened hunger!

DR. SKULL seized his patient's shoulders, his muscular fingers pulled
against that sucking, intractable force even as he gasped at the
hideous strength of those hungry lips...Then, with a soft whoosh, he
pulled her clear.

The nurse dropped like a dead weight, with a three-inch circle of raw
muscle bleeding over her heart, and even more terrifying in its
implications, he saw the shredded, torn remnants of part of her
uniform on the floor!

The Thing that had been his patient turned its shining unhuman eyes on
the doctor. Suddenly it reared--not on its legs, but with a swift
upward surge that seemed to involve every molecule of matter in its
body. He felt the white surgeon's jacket torn from him as though it
were cheesecloth, and suddenly he understood why the nurse had been
unable to give alarm when she had been attacked.

The Thing's clammy hand slapped against his mouth, jammed into his
throat, nearly suffocating him, while, with the swiftness of a
striking snake, that terrible mouth fastened on his shoulder, its
suction rending his skin, tearing with intolerable pain at the
muscular flesh beneath.

He lunged desperately with arms and legs--felt himself free, and
gasped for air. He cried out then, trying to call for help as his
staring eyes saw his erstwhile patient rear up at the window, and with
a peculiarly undulating movement slip outside. He staggered after it,
his fingers clutching the sill as the Thing descended the fire-escape
with unbelievable rapidity...And then he saw something else that
momentarily caused him to forget his pain, and his horror.

As the Thing passed the third floor, a shakily prehensile arm whirled
a net from the window, trapped the creature that had been Mrs.
Purvins, and pulled her back inside the hospital.

And that, he knew, was one of the windows opening from the maternity
ward!

He heard himself shouting orders to the internes who were streaming
into the curtained enclosure. The room was swaying crazily about him,
but someone had to look after the young nurse who was lying
unconscious on the floor. And someone had to capture the monster that
a short while ago had been his patient, Mrs. Purvins; someone had to
capture and kill the monstrous thing that had trapped her.

One of the internes was applying a hasty dressing to his shoulder
wound when Dr. Borden, head of the hospital, was suddenly and
excitedly among them.

Borden cried, "What's this about?"

Dr. Skull didn't answer, but he felt Borden's restraining hand on his
arm as he lunged forward.

"Come along, Doctor!" he gasped, "We've got to get--to the--maternity
ward!"

He leaned dizzily against Borden in the corridor, struggling to retain
consciousness in the descending elevator. The car came to a stop at
the third floor.

Skull started out, but a human form slammed into him with stunning
impact. He felt his knees folding, felt darkness sweeping over him,
and Dr. Borden's grip relaxing on his arm.

Desperately he twisted his body, even as he began to fall--through the
humming, drumming darkness that was closing over him he saw Borden
struggling--not in the grip of a monster, but of some human adversary.
A knife glinted in the hand of Borden's attacker.

His own hand stabbed downward, almost reflexively, and his fingers
grasped the small automatic which he carried with him on night calls
about the slum districts of the city. He hardly knew he had pressed
the trigger, but there was a deafening explosion in the clean white
corridor, and the man who had been grappling with Borden slumped to
the floor.

Incredulously, Skull stared at the man he had shot, as Borden shouted:
"Do you know this man, Doctor?" Nor did Skull miss the vitriolic
accusation in the hospital chief's voice.

At last, Skull nodded. "The--the husband of my patient--Henry Purvins.
He tried to kill you, didn't he?"

"Does it occur to you that he might have had a grievance?" Borden
asked coldly. "After what you did to his wife--Look!"

Skull's eyes followed Borden's pointing finger, and he saw internes
wheeling a stretcher out of the maternity ward--a stretcher on which
something formless and gelid struggled frantically against sheets that
tied it down--sheets covered with the pale pink compound that had
passed for blood in the veins of Mrs. Purvins.

Borden, with almost venomous deliberation, went on, "You did that to
her...And now, you try to silence a husband's reasonable indignation
by murder! Doctor, is it your duty to create malformations, and to
kill?"




CHAPTER TWO

The Skull Killer

SKULL'S eyes traveled from Borden's face to those of the three
internes who held him; to the nurses who stood about, almost
hysterically tense, and the white-jacketed orderlies who bent over
that body on the floor.

In the eyes of his accusers he read a completely unreasoning hatred--
and something more! Behind the irises of everyone of them, with the
exception of Borden, he saw flickering specks of color...And he
recognized in that color the mark of insanity! He had seen it before
in human eyes...

Again he looked at the face of the man he had shot. Even in death, the
gaping unseeing eyes had that unearthly purplish glint...Dr. Skull
remembered that even Mrs. Purvins had warned him of her husband's
"oddness." Oddness? Most damnable oddness! Murderousness,
rather...How close Skull had been to suspecting that Henry Purvins
might have been his wife's attacker when she had been found wandering
by the East River!

Then Borden stooped sanctimoniously over the corpse, and suddenly the
beginning of an incredible conviction snapped into Dr. Skull's mind.
The hospital chief's watch fob dangled from his waist. It was of gold,
heavy and carefully wrought, and repulsive as artistry could make it.
A golden octopus, with one jeweled purple eye gleaming in its head...
In her terrified delirium, Mrs. Purvins had babbled about an octopus--
and now Mrs. Purvins was hideously, unhumanly dead!

The internes holding Skull were not prepared for the strength and fury
of his attack. He bent over swiftly, and the man directly behind him
doubled up with his breath knocked out. With an ease that belied his
years, Skull ripped his arms free and sent another colleague spinning
with a hook to the jaw. As Borden was leaping for him, Dr. Skull side-
stepped and swung. Then he jumped for the elevator.

The man at the controls tried to rush him, and Skull grasped his arm,
and with a jiu-jitsu hold, threw him into the melee in the hall. He
slammed the doors, and his fingers were cold on the control lever as
he started the car downward.

His shoulder ached agonizingly, and after that brief desperate spurt
of energy, he was again dizzy and weak...twice the car bounced jerkily
against its basement springs before Skull remembered to release the
controls. Blindly, he levered the doors open, and staggered into the
cellar's cool dusk.

Into the darkness behind the huge heating unit he dived, leaning
heavily against a dusty, jutting plank. There was a brief whir of
chains, and a section of the wall gave way. Skull lurched into the
opening, and sank to his knees, completely exhausted. Behind him, he
dimly heard again the soft whir of the chains, and then he was alone
in the cool darkness of an unsuspected hollow in the wall.

SILENT seconds passed, bringing with them some return of strength to
the old doctor's nerves and muscles. And with the strength, a fiery
determination glinted again in his eyes.

Sparing the torn shoulder as best he could, he slowly removed his
white surgeon's jacket, and began briskly to rub his face with it.
Then it seemed as if a miracle occurred, for the sunken wrinkles
disappeared completely from his jaws, cheeks and forehead...He tore
off the strips which secured the grey wig, revealing a head of
lustrous dark hair beneath. The removal of two padded wire hooks from
his lower jaw altered the shape of his face considerably. It was a far
younger Dr. Skull who finally turned on his back, and lay motionless,
staring upward into the darkness with alertly thoughtful brown eyes.

A half-naked young man, his were an athlete’s trained and rippling
muscles...Weary as he was, with the bloody shoulder bandage, there
was an aura of health, strength and competence about him. Hospital
authorities would have recognized him as Jeffrey Fairchild, son of the
late Dr. Henry Fairchild, who had achieved medical fame and a sizable
fortune before his death.

Jeffrey, as administrator of his father's estate, had been
instrumental in the erection of the Mid-City Hospital, and from that
estate, large sums were still available to the hospital on request.
That much he had done for humanity in his father's name and his own.
There were people who said he might have done more, for Jeffrey, a
brilliant student, had graduated at the head of his class from the
best medical school in the country, and was not known ever to have
started practice.

But people did not know about Dr. Skull...

It was as Dr. Skull, the kindly philanthropic little East Side
surgeon, that Jeffrey Fairchild had been able to fight more battles
for humanity than confining his skill solely to the struggle against
disease. He had been born with a love of adventure and a genius for
compassion, and inevitably he had allied himself against those who
have no compassion, and who prey upon the defenseless and helpless. In
the slums, breeding--place of crime, Dr. Skull had been the unyielding
adversary of all criminals.

No Park Avenue surgeon could have done what Dr. Skull had done, known
what Dr. Skull knew. They came to him in the slums, the victims of
poverty and ignorance and fear, and they trusted him to heal more than
their bodies. For behind Dr. Skull himself, unknown even to his
patients, there was the almost phantom figure of the Skull Killer,
known only by the corpses he left behind him.

It was typical of Dr. Skull that he should have tried to find a reason
for that unholy glint of purple madness in the eyes of Henry Purvins
when he first began to treat the man's wife. Another doctor would have
either disregarded it entirely, or considered it a phenomenon he had
not been called upon to delve.

He'd labored through months and years of untiring research, research
that was also adventure--and then, in the half-factual, half--
superstitious chronicles of forgotten medieval savants, Dr. Skull had
found the reference he sought.

He had been excited, moved--and at the same time wondered if he were
allowing his credulity to be conditioned by the inevitable
superstitions of the patients with whom he worked. He remembered the
article he had actually written, intending it for the American Medical
Journal, and which he had then decided not to send, as too fantastic
for men of science to accept:

During every great social catastrophe in ancient history, purple eyes
have made their appearance as eternal harbingers of destruction. They
have been either the cause or effect of terror among a people already
ravaged by war or pestilence, inducing an unaccountable mass hysteria,
often leading to wholesale atrocities.

This mass hysteria reduced the population in some cases as high as
seventy percent in certain districts of Central Europe, after barbaric
invasions, and ruined entire sections of civilized society. By dint of
incredible and impoverishing taxes, terrorized peoples have sometimes
bought off self-claimed leaders of the purple eyes, who many insist
to have been the same person, living through centuries.

Superstition? Certainly. And yet, there was the undeniable fact of
those purple eyes in modern, up-to-date New York. But whereas the
medieval leaders of the purple-eyed ones had been able to operate
openly in a superstitious civilization separated by the thinnest of
veneers from chaos, their modern counterpart would be driven to
operate through the weak-minded and credulous. He would be forced to
use some startling and fear invoking disguise...

The Octopus! Mrs. Purvins, who had been marked for a sentence worse
than death, had babbled its name...Again Jeffrey Fairchild remembered
Borden's watch-fob of the purple-eyed octopus. Did Borden know its
implications, or was he an unwitting tool in a more sinister hand, as
Henry Purvins undoubtedly had been?

Jeffrey trembled slightly, as he rested in the coolness of his
basement chamber, which was the terminus of an abandoned water main
reaching far under the city's streets. He came to his feet, steadied
himself, and moved deeper into the subterranean passage. From a wall
niche, he took a concealed gun, to replace the weapon he had lost in
the scuffle upstairs, and thus armed, re-entered the basement of the
Mid-City Hospital.

Through the shadows he skulked, a pale moving figure in the darkness,
toward a little white-washed door. For a moment, he listened behind
it, and then Jeffrey Fairchild slipped into the cool sterile-smelling
interior of the hospital morgue.

One by one, he drew the sheets from cold white faces, with some innate
reverence in him asking forgiveness of the helpless dead for this
intrusion. One by one, among those silent speechless people who had
passed beyond earthly help or harm, he sought the man he wanted--the
man he himself had killed.

Jeffrey stared with growing concentration into the wide eyes of Henry
Purvins' corpse, and his mouth went grim. Was his imagination running
riot, or did he actually see even in the darkness, those inhuman
jewel-like eyes glowing purple...? No; someone had been behind that
series of concerted and unrelated incidents which he had just
experienced, a series too concerted not to be directed by some
purposeful malevolent agency. In life, Henry Purvins had been the tool
of the most malignant personality ever spewed out of hell, and in
death, the devil would claim his own!

There was just a chance--more than a chance--that the evidence he
needed was here, in the form of Purvins' body, with those ghastly,
purplish luminescent eyes...Did it point to a hospital whose staff
would not bear investigation, to someone unknown who must, for some
evil purpose, soon commune with this body?

He uncovered the corpse, placed it on another stretcher. Then he took
its place, and pulled the sheet over him. Quiet as the dead he lay,
and the only sound in that half-way station to the tomb was his own
whispered breath.

OLD ANGUS BURKE, the morgue-keeper of the hospital, didn't like the
tone they'd used when they brought down the latest corpse.

"Shot?" grunted Angus. "Now that's the damndest yet! You've brought me
some funny stiffs lately, lads, but for a man to die of hot lead in a
hospital...!"

"You're not being paid for your opinions," the young interne had
answered tartly, and old Angus didn't like that. He'd been handling
stiffs before that whipper-snapper was born, and he knew how people
died in a hospital, and how they didn't.

They didn't die, for instance, of diabetes and lockjaw at the same
time. Not in a proper hospital, that is. Maybe in some beleaguered
army ward where the enemy had cut off surgical supplies--but even in
war, old Angus remembered, you didn't get much blood-poisoning.

He thought uneasily of the sort of cases they'd been bringing down
there recently. Tetanus, elephantiasis, and other things he couldn't
even name, and didn't like to think about--sure, they'd been bringing
him mighty strange stiffs lately!

And now this one, with a bullet between the eyes...The doctors must
be crazy, he thought; like as if they didn't know their business, and
the poor folks who trust 'em might better have saved their money and
die peaceful.

Well, he was glad to know about it, old Angus thought, as he played
double solitaire against himself in his cubby-hole of an office. He'd
been thinking of asking one of the doctors for something for his
rheumatism. He wouldn't now, no-sirree! Except he'd been sure of that
nice old Dr. Skull. A real gentleman, he was, who didn't treat a man
any different because he kept dead stiffs instead of dying ones.

But it was Dr. Skull, so they said, who'd made the latest stiff, the
oddest one of all. Shot him dead, they said. Old Angus shook his head.
A mighty peculiar business, and he didn't like any of it. Shouldn't be
surprised if they all lost their jobs of it, either...

"Can't you hear anything?"

Old Angus stood up, looking at his visitors, two of them, dressed in
civilian clothes. "I ain't so deaf that you have to yell loud enough
to wake these poor peaceful dead folks down here," he said with
asperity. And he added, "I'm the keeper here. I suppose you're looking
for that Purvins fellow?"

One of the men nodded. "I'm his brother. Where is he?"

A pretty strange sort of a brother, old Angus thought. Usually folks
came down here with their eyes red and sniffling, not caring what you
said to them...It's the world these days, he considered, as he led
the unfeeling brother and his companion into the morgue itself.

Old Angus hobbled up to the latest stiff, and lifted the sheet from
its face...

And then the corpse yelled at him, "Duck, they'll kill you!" And a
bullet sang above the old man's head!

He hadn't really ducked, it had been more like his knees gave way. And
then, in the darkness, the corpse and his brother started firing at
one another...

Angus tried to whine for help, but nothing audible was coming out of
his windpipe.

Like nothing dead, the stiff was letting them have it with the
revolver...

Old Angus shut his eyes, and his brain busied itself with a prayer.

When the shots stopped, he peered dazedly about. The two visitors were
dead, and the corpse was doing something to their faces.

"A-aah," managed old Angus.

The corpse glanced at him briefly, and then it darted out of the room.

Minutes later, the old man looked at his visitors. Red and plain on
their foreheads, the corpse had branded the mark of a human skull!

Later, when he told the newspapermen about it, old Angus realized that
he had been a hero.

"So that was the Skull Killer?" he mused aloud. "Him as always leaves
his mark, and never gets caught?"

"That's right, Mr. Burke," said the reporter. "You're the only man
alive who's ever seen him make a kill. It's a wonder you're here to
tell the tale. If you're not afraid--and I don't think you're the type
of man who scares easy, Mr. Burke--suppose you try to tell us what
you noticed about him. It would be a great help to the police, and a
big story for us."

Old Angus peered importantly at the reporter. No, he wasn't afraid. He
leaned over close. "They brought him down here dead," whispered old
Angus solemnly. "One o' my regular stiffs, with a bullet between the
eyes. And mister, they don't come deader than that!"

NEWSPAPERS didn't print it quite as old Angus gave it to them. They
didn't swallow that bullet between the eyes, although they did ask if
the Skull Killer were vulnerable at all.

For six years, that phantom image had preyed on the population of New
York's underworld, sporadically and without detection. No one had ever
seen him, but everyone had seen pictures, on the front pages, of the
corpses he left in various parts of the city, with that red brand
burned into their foreheads as if by acid.

His motive? The newspapers guessed him to be some lone fanatic,
crusading against crime. Or, as one newspaper guessed, he might be a
higher-up in the Police Department, for he knew so much about
criminals and where to find them. He must be a gangster, said another,
for it's the gangsters who kill their own kind. A prominent
psychologist, when interviewed, explained technically and at great
length, that a killer who left his mark was an incurable
exhibitionist. He had probably had a thwarted childhood, said the
prominent psychologist, quoting effectively from Freud and Jung.

In the end, people knew as much about the Skull Killer as they had
known before, which was nothing. There was a momentary connection
between the fact that a certain Dr. Skull had left the third floor of
the Mid-City Hospital under hurried circumstances, only twenty minutes
before the Skull Killer appeared in its basement.

But old Angus Burke, whose opinion had to be respected, since there
was no one to contradict him, swore that the Skull Killer was a young
man, a good thirty years younger than Dr. Skull, whom old Angus would
have known if he'd met him in hell. This seemed to tally with the
facts, for it was ridiculous to suspect an old man who has spent his
life in study and medical practice, of murdering the toughest
gangsters in the city single-handed, over a period of six years.




CHAPTER THREE

A Surprise for Dr. Skull

CAROL ENDICOTT, standing beside an old-fashioned roll-top desk in the
clean and shabby doctor's office, stared wide-eyed at a slip of paper
in her hand. For the second time she read the neatly typed words:

My Dear Dr. Skull:

I have followed with the greatest interest your efforts in behalf of
the unfortunate Mrs. Purvins, whose remarkable story regarding my
existence received so little credence on the part of the authorities.

Fisherman's luck! I find I am to be congratulated on the size of my
catch! When I set poor Mrs. Purvins out as bait for an old East Side
medico, I had no idea that I should shortly be playing a most
extraordinary young man on the end of my line.

By the time you receive this note, you will have met--and found out
how you may cooperate with The Octopus.

Carol's slim fingers sought out and rested on the bulky thing in the
pocket of her neatly starched nurse's uniform, and she frowned almost
imperceptibly. The note had arrived in an unsealed and unstamped
envelope in the doctor's morning mail, and she had neither been able
to reach the doctor--who had an important appointment at the Mid-City
Hospital in connection with the Mrs. Purvins whom the note mentioned--
nor had she been able to figure out the meaning of the missive. So she
had spent the past half hour oiling and cleaning the old revolver
which her father had used twenty years ago in France.

Consequently, at this moment, there was about Carol Endicott, little
of the immaculate nurse whom Dr. Skull's patients were accustomed to
seeing. Her white uniform had grease smudges on it, and a large smudge
bridged her freckled, pert little nose, while there was a rather
unprofessional competence about her movements. She was again the
independent and rather harassed New York slum girl, whom Jeffrey
Fairchild had persuaded to trust the old East Side doctor in order
that she might have a home, decency and security.

Decency had always been one of Carol's attributes, though often, in
the old days, she had had to fight for it. Young, tall, with a clear
ivory skin and lustrous dark hair that carried in it a reddish glint,
she had attracted considerable attention in the tenement district
where she lived. Personal danger wasn't exactly a new thing to her.
This particular type of danger, however, was.

She shivered a little, remembering Mrs. Purvins as she had looked when
the doctor had first interested himself in her case, shortly after
they'd found her unconscious near the East River, mumbling
incoherently about "the octopus." She shivered, and took a slightly
firmer grip on the butt of the old revolver. She didn't know whether
she could actualy fire it, or what would happen if she tried, but its
comfort was good.

The ringing of the telephone almost made her jump. Then, wiping her
hands on her skirt, thereby adding a few more spots to it, she picked
up the phone.

"Dr. Skull's office," she said.

"Board of Health calling. This is a routine call. Is the doctor in?"

"I'm his nurse. I'll take a message."

"Very well. We're warning all doctors not to hospitalize their
patients unless it's absolutely necessary, until further notice. We're
checking all hospitals, doing the best we can. Thank you."

"What!" she exclaimed. "Say, what's been--" Then she realized that she
was talking into a dead phone, and hung up.

This was serious, Carol thought. She couldn't tie things together, but
this was the second extraordinary telephone call she had received that
morning, after discovering the crank letter.

Dr. Steele had called, asking if Skull couldn't join him at once in a
consultation...and Steele had been most unprofessionally vague about
details. Then a little Italian boy, one of the doctor's former
patients, had run in a short while ago, to say his father was looking
for the doctor, and the doctor had better watch out.

She'd tried calling the Mid-City Hospital then, but the hospital
authorities had been most uncooperative about disturbing the doctor,
and she hadn't even been able to put her message through.

And now this warning about hospitals. Dr. Skull had another patient at
the Mid-City, besides Mrs. Purvins--one Robert Fairchild. Robert
Fairchild, the crippled eighteen-year-old, who idolized the old doctor
so that he had become a resident patient.

Robert had been taken to the Mid-City a few weeks ago for another of a
series of operations through which the doctor eventually hoped to cure
the boy, and lift him from the wheelchair, to which he now seemed
condemned for life.

Carol decided to try the Mid-City again, and see if she could talk to
Robert...Not that anything bad would happen to Robert--about whom
too many people worried already. There was Dr. Skull, for one, who
treated him like a son. And there was Jeffrey Fairchild, Robert's
brother, with whom, oddly enough, Robert couldn't get along at all...

Carol smiled a little grimly when she thought of the relationship
between the two brothers.

It was Jeffrey, whom she privately considered worth a half-a-dozen
Roberts, who made all the overtures, and it was Robert who rejected
them--the spoiled, ungrateful brat!

SHE dialed Mid-City Hospital again, and got the switchboard girl.

"Private Pavilion," she said, and tried to light a cigarette during
the ensuing pause. She had to laugh at herself, she was so nervous.
Three matches, and none of them took!

"Mr. Robert Fairchild," she demanded, when they gave her the floor
phone.

"Who's calling, please?"

"I'm his nurse. This is Dr. Skull's office."

"Oh--is the doctor there?" the voice inquired.

"No," said Carol. "He should be at the hospital. If you could find him
for me, it's impor--"

But a definite click at the other end of the wire told her that the
connection had been killed. And the operator informed her, "Your party
hung up, miss."

Carol's cheeks flushed, and then went white again. She was as angry as
she had ever been in her life almost angry enough to forget what she
had tried so very hard to remember lately, namely, that she was a
lady.

It was Jeffrey Fairchild who had first impressed that idea upon her,
when he had gotten Dr. Skull to give her her present job, and it was
for the sake of Jeffrey that she nearly forgot it now. If anything
were to happen to Robert Fairchild, it would break Jeffrey's
heart...and Jeffrey, at one point in her life, had been her very real
saviour.

The tough look that came over Carol's piquantly lovely features had
nothing lady-like about it. Rather, it reflected a portion of her life
she had nearly forgotten--her upbringing in a rough-and-ready slum
neighborhood, and the battle she had waged continually not only for
respectability among the worst elements of humanity, but for her very
survival.

She lifted the phone receiver again, and dialed Jeffrey Fairchild's
Park Avenue apartment. While she waited, her fingers again sought the
reassuring bulge of the ancient revolver in her pocket.

There was no answer.

Slowly Carol Endicott replaced the receiver. A stony determination
spread over her face as she turned toward the closet for her coat. If
the hospital authorities chose to be snooty about giving her
information about Robert Fairchild, she'd find a means of getting it
out of them!

It was at this point that the door opened, and a perfectly strange
voice told her to stand right where she was.

HER unexpected visitor's command to Carol carried farther than Dr.
Skull's office. In a small chamber hidden behind a basement wall in
the same building, a tall young man was in the act of changing from a
blood-stained surgeon's uniform into a custom-made tweed suit. He put
his ear to a wall amplifier as the stranger's command snapped out to
Carol Endicott.

Jeffrey Fairchild, after his battle in the morgue of the Mid-City
Hospital, had again taken his secret exit from the hospital basement.
From there, he had proceeded through a maze of abandoned gas and water
mains which peppered the earth under New York's streets. Relics of
another era, these passages had been forgotten by citizens and
authorities alike. Jeffrey had come upon them accidentally as a young
boy, and later they had suggested to him the feasibility of his double
life.

The terminals of that underground maze had been Jeffrey's chief reason
for the location of Dr. Skull's office, of his own apartment, and even
of the site he had chosen for the Mid-City Hospital.

The chamber where he was now dressing had been furnished with a cot, a
chair, and a bureau. Its wall amplifier enabled him to keep posted on
events in the office above, and its location made it a convenient
dressing-room for exchanges of personality between Dr. Skull and
Jeffrey Fairchild.

"What do you want?" he heard Carol demand.

There was a sinister purring note in the reply. "We're waiting for the
doctor--got a little present for him. O.K., boys, bring in the crate."

Shuffling sounds, the scrape of wood across the floor--and then
staccato little footsteps.

"You stay right here, sister!" snapped the intruder's voice. "You're
not going anywhere till the doctor comes--this is a surprise party!"

As Jeffrey finished dressing, into the silence above broke the screech
of metal, the scream of the girl. Carol, the innocent gambit in a
desperate battle whose stakes Jeffrey could only guess, was alone up
there with the spawn of hell...

Swiftly Jeffrey moved through the coal-bin door, took the cellar
staircase three steps at a time, and emerged through the rear door to
Dr. Skull's office, his gun drawn.

A startled oath broke from a man's lips, and the girl cried out
defiantly. Jeffrey saw the flare of explosive brilliance before he
heard the shot...and then Carol, entrenched behind the roll-top desk,
swayed dizzily. Her bloody hand unclenched and dropped, and the
shattered remnants of the revolver she had been holding fell to the
floor.

Somehow that gun had exploded in her grasp at her first attempt to use
it!

Jeffrey's bullet snarled just as one man reached the unconscious girl.
The startled intruder spun to his knees, and as Jeffrey leaped into
the room, he realized that he had drawn fire from two hostile guns.

He lunged forward as lead whined past his cheek, and let them have it
again. Two men were sprawled on the floor, and the third was
retreating. Agonizingly, Jeffrey shifted his bandaged shoulder to
avoid a shot and fired half-blindly in the same gesture.

The third man had fled.

And then they crawled out of the open wooden crate which Jeffrey had
barely noticed on Dr. Skull's floor. With a sick sense of fatality,
Jeffrey realized that he could not fire upon those obscenely crawling,
even if they killed him. His physician's instinct, outraged and muted
by the ghastly sight, still was strong enough to make him lower the
smoking weapon in his hand.

ONCE they had been a man and a woman. Jeffrey recognized their greyish
flannel bathrobes as the regulation equipment in the city's largest
charity ward. But the bodies under those bathrobes, spindly as matches
in the bony structure, hideously swollen and protruding at every
joint, were like no patients Jeffrey had seen in that hospital or any
other.

The man's shoulder-joints were bulbous as huge gourds on the frail
vine-like torso, and the woman's pelvic girdle was flattened wide till
she seemed to be sitting on a portable chair even as she moved
painfully toward him.

And their faces! The wide eyes stared, hideous with hatred and pain,
from their shrunken mummy sockets. The lower jaws were huge,
contrasting inhumanly with the shrunken craniums, like platters
supporting a pointed pudding.

So this was the surprise party!

Slowly, deliberately, the creatures were advancing on him...These
ghastly abortions, obviously abducted from hospital wards, would have
been further damning evidence against Dr. Skull--if there had been
anything left of Dr. Skull when his enemies were through with him.

"What do you want of me?" Jeffrey asked softly. His nerves were
stinging with pain and shock, but he stood erect and untrembling. "Can
I help you?"

The man-thing's monstrous lower jaw moved gigantically, and a hoarse,
unearthly laugh with no joy in it ripped from the match-stick chest.

"There--is no--help," he stated in harsh, deliberate gutturals, as
though speech had become difficult. "If you're--a doctor, I want to--
kill you."

The woman-thing started to laugh in high, tinny laughter. Maybe the
damned laugh that way in hell, Jeffrey thought feverishly. But this
wasn't hell! This was New York, civilization...

"I am a doctor, of sorts," he admitted to the monstrous creatures.
"And I don't want to hurt you. As you see, I have a gun. I can defend
myself, but hope that won't be necessary. I want you to trust me!"

He didn't finish, for at that moment, the two foul distortions of
human shape leaped upon him. Their huge hams of hands covered his
throat, his face, pinned his arms to his sides...unutterable
repulsion rose in him, as he smelled the faint but undeniable tinge of
putrescence in that sick flesh...

He twisted his body at the waist, used his upper torso as a club, and
then he was free. A guttural howl thudded against his ear-drums, and
then a powerful lower jaw sank into his arm. With both hands, Jeffrey
seized the man-thing's throat, squeezed till the eyes popped and the
jaw loosened.

The woman-thing fell to her knees beside the sprawled figure of her
mate, and from her round bulbous eyes a few tears squeezed out.

"He's not dead," Jeffrey gasped. "He--won't die. You two...I've got
to--help you."

THE man's body was clumsy, but no heavier than any other body. As
Jeffrey dragged it haltingly down into his cellar, the woman followed.
He noticed that she stopped for something which had been in the crate,
wondered if it were some kind of weapon.

It was only when he had stretched the man-thing on his cot in the
underground chamber behind the coal-bin that the woman stretched out
her hand. In that vast swollen palm, there was an ordinary glazed
electric bulb.

"Light," said the woman. "Give us light, or--we die."

Jeffrey frowned at the pleading, half-beaten quality in that harsh
painful voice. He removed his own bulb from the wall socket, and
inserted the bulb she gave him.

Instantly, the subterranean room was flooded with a pale but glaring
indigo radiance that hurt Jeffrey's eyes. Ultraviolet! Why, what...?

"Go!" commanded the monstrous woman. "It will hurt you; we need it. We
need it because doctors have...done this to us..."

The glare was dizzying. It hurt his skin, tickled a vibrant heat into
his bones. On the cot, the man-thing began to stir.

"There's a box of package groceries on the shelf," Jeffrey said, "and
water in the tap there. Here--" he made some adjustments in his wall
amplifier, transforming it into what it had been originally, a radio
loud speaker, "if you turn on that switch, you'll have a radio. I'll
be back later, with books, cooked food--"

The woman nodded again. Her gnarled flattened body might have been
twenty years old or a hundred, but it seemed now as ancient as human
tragedy itself. "Go," she said again.

The ultraviolet light was beginning to break his skin. Jeffrey left
them there and cautiously locked the door from the outside.

What had they been, what ghoulish distortion of the scientific mind
had made them monsters?

The question seared Jeffrey's brain, blazed a new scar of hatred
across it like the hot blade of a branding-knife. There was a passion
in him for health and normalcy, and he had discerned the ghost of
those things in that ungodly pair.

Their vengeful attack was understandable.

Beyond that murderous rage, their minds seemed unimpaired. He thought
again of the woman-thing's tears when she thought her mate was dead,
and of the way she had followed him...

Would he really be able to help them, as he passionately hoped to do?
He had not helped Mrs. Purvins--so far.

Suddenly the sick certainty dawned on Jeffrey that there would be more
cases, and more still, until the very name of doctors and healing
medicine were anathemas to an outraged humanity!




CHAPTER FOUR

Hell's Hospital

SHORTLY, he guessed, there would be more intruders in the office of
Dr. Skull. They would be men with badges from the police and health
departments, who had been informed that two medical monsters,
additional damning proof of malpractice, were to be found in Dr.
Skull's office.

He uttered a fervent inward prayer of thanks for that hidden chamber
where the two monstrosities might be safe until he found out what had
deformed them. In that discovery lay his only chance of helping them.

He stopped upstairs, dragged the unconscious Carol to a couch, and
bathed her blasted hand with antiseptic. That right hand would be
useless for weeks, but no other harm had been done.

"Good little soldier!" he whispered.

The homeless girl Jeffrey had befriended when she had no one else to
turn to, did not hear him. But her strong slender body seemed to
relax, as though she knew a friend was near...And Jeff guessed that
this wouldn't be the last time he got Carol out of a tight spot, just
as it wasn't the first.

He stared briefly at the two dead faces on Dr. Skull's office floor,
faces in which the sightless eyes glowed like purple grave-lights!
That was the characteristic of those who had given their souls to a
devil's keeping, but for what reward, Jeffrey did not know.

He bent down, and with a rubber stamp whose handle was a vial
containing acid, he burned the Mark of the Skull on the two cold
brows. Contrary to erudite psychological opinion, that brand was no
mere braggart gesture. In Jeffrey's ceaseless war on evil, he had
found that the brand gave him a definite authority over his enemy.
Sometimes indeed, it acted as a deterrent, for those marked corpses
were proof to the living that the Skull Killer was alive and
active...

His hands moved swiftly after that, exploring the clothing of the two,
in an effort to find some mark of identification. In the breast pocket
of one he found a sealed envelope--and its contents, as he eagerly
scanned them, caused him to forget everything but his immediate
mission.

Now, with the ghastly knowledge which a brief glimpse at the dead
man's papers had given him, he wondered if he would be in time. One
thing was sure--he had to leave Carol, and surmised that the next
intruders in his office wouldn't harm her. As a police siren sounded
outside, he raced into the street and hailed a taxi.

IT WAS night, a cold starry November night, with Orion making a clear
pale pattern above Manhattan, as it had done for the past five
thousand Novembers. Dark stone buildings squatted or soared in
contemplative peace above the small streets. But the Mid-City
Hospital--that modern medical colossus--seemed no part of the pattern,
seemed to be breaking out of the background in an ominous haze of
color.

Dim but unmistakable in the darkness, the hospital walls glowed like a
new earthbound star. Nor were they the color of stars--they were
purple!

He had seen that color in human eyes...He had seen it half an hour
ago in the incredible ultraviolet life-ray of two who were heirs to
hell. It was the color of damnation--and ironically now the color of
the building dedicated to the relief of human suffering!

Robert was in that building--Robert, who was the point and meaning of
his brother Jeff's existence...

As the cab slowed to a snail's pace then stopped amid a blare of horns
and carts of doormen in the Monday night theatre traffic, Jeffrey
handed his driver a dollar bill, and proceeded on foot.

If he could make it in time! But in time for what?

He didn't know, couldn't know yet, in just what fashion hell would
break loose in the Mid-City Hospital--whether it would take seconds
or hours before horror burst like shrapnel upon the thousand helpless
inmates. Whether, in some vile secret part of that magnificent
edifice, it had not already happened...

A nurse nodded to him pleasantly at the desk, and he brushed past
hurriedly into an elevator, and was soon in the eighth floor pavilion
where Robert had a private suite.

The boy was sitting in his wheelchair, reading a book of sonnets. One
lamp cast its glow on the chiseled beauty of the boy's dark head...
there was something almost unearthly in the boy's sculptured profile,
Jeffrey thought with a sharp pang of solicitude.

He himself was rough-hewn, fit for the hard eventualities of life, but
Robert wasn't. A fierce tenderness welled in the big man for the
crippled boy, a tenderness that played through his first half-humorous
phrase.

"It's moving-day, Robert. I've come to take you home."

"Are you crazy?" the boy asked petulantly. It was his whole greeting.
"If you think I'm just playing sick, I might tell you that Dr. Skull
said--"

"I don't give a damn!" Jeffrey told him, and then he lifted the boy
bodily from his wheelchair. Robert gasped, shut his eyes, and then
relaxed in his brother's arms. The book fell from his grasp, and
Jeffrey noted its title hastily, planning in some corner of his mind
to replace it later.

He ran into the corridor, and with that living burden clutched against
his chest, began a rapid round of the rooms.

"If you can walk or crawl or move in any way at all," he shouted to
one startled patient after another, "get out of this place! It's no
spot for the sick or the well!"

Screams echoed behind him, as patients and nurses alike recognized in
this enraged young man the chief patron of the hospital. The corridors
were becoming a chaos with those who tried to flee, and others who
tried to hold them back. And a few times, Jeffrey intervened to help
some frantic refugee get clear passage to freedom...

"Jeffrey Fairchild, are you insane?" There was excitement and anger on
the dignified professional face before him, as the man in white who
had appeared in the corridor excitedly waving his arms. "I've always
liked you, but you've gone too far this time..."

Jeffrey swept Dr. Borden, staff director of the hospital, aside with
one gesture of his left arm, and continued down the corridor, yelling
commands for exodus.

"Stop that maniac!" he heard Borden shriek behind him, and then three
husky orderlies were trying to wrest Robert from him...

It was then that the queer crackling began to echo ominously through
every part of the building's structure. For a second Jeffrey's heart
went acrobatic...and then the smell came!

It made him gasp. It was a little like acid, but stronger, a little
like smoke, but more throttling, and as yet invisible. The crackling
sound grew like the laugh of a giant devil.

An orderly shrieked, as he ran headlong from the man he was supposed
to detain. "The X-ray films! My God, the X-ray room's on fire. That
means poison gas!"

Jeffrey didn't remember the details later, but he would hold all
through his life the hectic impressions of that roaring chaos...How
he carried Robert to willing helpers in the air outside, and then
plunged back into the building.

How heavy the old woman was, when she fainted on her bed, and he had
to drag her to safety because everyone else had forgotten her. How the
young man went berserk, using the plaster cast on his arm for a club,
and had to be knocked out before Jeff could save him. And always the
dreadful, suffocating smell grew heavier, and the enormous crackling
laugh of the burning walls more taunting and hateful. Through it all,
his brain screamed in pain and desperation for vengeance on the
conscious agent who had caused all this...

Everywhere, now, firemen were dragging, wheeling and carrying, the
shrieking patients to safety. The lower floors had to be vacated
first, for that was where the deadly fumes were heaviest.

Jeffrey had nowhere seen Mrs. Purvins, who was reported under
observation at the hospital.

He choked his way up a staircase at last, passing white figures of the
thickening, swirling, deadly mist. Had she already been taken from the
hospital? Suddenly he found himself in a corridor where the trend was
downward, downward, with a frantic stream of refugees making their
tortured way toward the exit and into the blessed air of night.

He lurched against the door of the psychopathic ward where he guessed
the rescuers would arrive last. Here, most likely, they had sent Mrs.
Purvins.

And then he broke into inferno...

All who were left were strapped to their cots, or confined in
straitjackets. The others must have fled. A howling like the howling
of purgatory clangored with the wall-crackling. Crazed, twisted shapes
wormed across the hot floor, humping in torture toward escape, bound
as they were...

There was fury in Jeff's heart as he freed them, working over those
bonds with a superhuman reserve of strength, allowing the maddened
human things to scamper for their lives.

He found one cold and shapeless form on a far cot, knew it for Mrs.
Purvins. Was she dead, then? He didn't know, couldn't tell, for there
was no heart-beat to guide him. He slung the sloshing mass of flesh
over his shoulder, and fought through the smoke to freedom.

Fury rose hotly in his heart, and death seemed to clot his lungs...He
was blind, drowning in a sea of white acrid smoke, but he clung
tenaciously to that burden in his arms.

Then life was coming back to his tortured body, and somewhere above
him the stars were glowing serenely. He felt the burden lifted from
his arms, heard men's voices. Someone was holding cool water to his
mouth.

He saw--when he could be sure of what he was seeing--that he was on
the veranda outside the hospital, and that the men about him wore
black and red helmets of the fire department. Suddenly, from the
bowels of the doomed building, Jeffrey heard a woman scream in mortal
terror.

Maybe the others heard it--maybe they could persuade themselves of the
futility of rescue. Jeffrey didn't stop to argue. But before any one
could stop him, he burst back into the hot white hell of fire and
radium fumes that had been the Mid-City Hospital...

WHEN Carol opened her eyes, the office was dark. She touched a hand to
her forehead and felt the cloth.

Her hand--someone had bandaged her hand! She remembered now, how her
father's gun had exploded in her palm. Poor old Pop! He'd come back
from over there with an army gun and a lot of faith in nothing at all.
Other men gave their lives, and Pop had given his soul...She might
have known he'd never leave her anything useful!

Those men who had been waiting for Dr. Skull--had they gone? She
stumbled toward the wall switch, still puzzled by that big salt-
smelling bandage, thinking that possibly Dr. Skull had come after
all...

Carol cried aloud, a little cry of fear that died in her throat. Two
men--she recognized them as the intruders--were sprawled on the floor.
Gingerly, she looked at them more closely, afraid to wake them to
further activity. But there was no cause for such fear. They were
completely dead.

And on the foreheads of each, was the Mark of the Skull. The Skull
Killer! That half-legendary figure whom Carol, and many other New
Yorkers, had half-believed a fabrication of the newspapers...He had
been here, he had killed her attackers. And it must have been he who
had bandaged her hand!

She leaned against the wall, trying to puzzle out what had just
happened to her. There were things in herself that were new to her.
There was this desperate, uneasy foreboding, that was somehow worse
than actual fear...And then she remembered Robert!

That was where she should have gone, hours ago. She had been on her
way to the hospital when those men...

Carol struggled into her coat, ran out into the street. A policeman
looked at her idly, and she had the fleeting thought that this was no
moment to report a double killing. She hadn't the time. Later,
perhaps...

The streets were crowded with people, coming home from work, going to
the movies, laughing and talking and getting last-minute purchases for
dinner, but Carol's nerves were raw and angry with that queer unease.
She wanted to warn all the people, tell them it was no good going to
the movies or taking life calmly, while the forces of some cryptic
hurricane gathered over them, ready to bring its tragic destruction to
blight their lives.

What would she find in the hospital, what would it mean to her and to
all the cheerfully noisy people about her? She couldn't, no matter how
hard she tried, assure herself that it would be all right, that the
hospital would tower at it had always done over central Manhattan,
with every polite interne ready to explain that visiting hours were
almost over, but if she really wanted to drop in...No, it wasn't
going to be like that!

She knew it three blocks away, knew it from the sudden change in tempo
of the crowd about her, from the loud wail of hook-and-ladder sirens.

The hospital was on fire!

UNIFORMED men were beginning to throw a cordon about the flaming pile
of stone as she fought her way through the thick crowd. She heard
shouts, screams...And through it all ran the half-meaningless
phrase, "It's the X-ray films! They haven't a chance!"

Fires don't smell like this she thought, with that queer, cold tension
in her tightening to a certainty. Something unearthly, some thing
devastating as an earthquake, had happened to Robert, and to all the
other people in there!

It came to her, then, like a bolt from hell. Suppose that Jeffrey were
in there with Robert! The thought sent her whirling lithely through
the press of people right to the half-formed cordon of fire-fighters.
Her coat was ripped off and lost in the crowd as she pressed closer.
The hot flames made a blazing summer out of that November night,
poisoning the pure air with soaring smoke.

Behind that screen of smoke, she managed to slip into the doomed
building.

Heat and gas rolled like ocean waves through her body...She could
hardly bear it, she would die here, and no one would know what had
happened to her!

Figures brushed past her in the mist, and she could not identify them.
She merely guessed that they were refugee and human...She would
never find Jeffrey or Robert!

Out...She must get out, into the clean air...

Carol stumbled forward through the roaring smoke, arms outstretched
before her. She was nearly there, she could see the vague outline of
an exit ahead of her.

Someone caught her waist and she murmured faintly, "Take me--out of
here..." Then she relaxed simply into strong masculine arms, her
swaying body grateful for that support.

The smoke was getting worse, she thought dully; it must be all over
the city by now. And then she realized with sharp fright that she was
being carried away from the exit--back into the burning heart of the
building!

"It's the wrong way!" she screamed at the man who held her. "We'll die
if you don't--"

A strangely hollow laugh cut short her protest. She looked at the man
who carried her, and even in that heat, she felt a quick, hideous
chill. For it wasn't a human face at all! It was a--a--gargoyle...
And now there were other gargoyles, scampering toward them, returning
to sport in the hell they had created.

She had not thought herself capable of the mighty effort which pulled
her loose from the thing that held her...but she was on her own legs
again, running like a hunted thing for freedom...

They circled off her escape, all of them, devil-faced creatures of
poisoned smoke, and then they were carrying her back with them, into
unimaginable torment.

THEY were not gargoyles, Carol realized; they were men in gas masks.
She saw that as soon as they passed the door marked, "X-Ray Room. Keep
Out."

Here the smoke had cleared, but the heat was unbearable, and that
ghastly smell was stronger than it had been outside.

"Everything here's burned itself out," one of the masked men remarked
tersely. "That was quick."

Carol looked about wildly at the blackened interior. Strips of charred
wood clung to the twisted steel frame-work. She could only guess at
the immense heat which had twisted that steel. Her strength, she felt
was growing less. And meanwhile, the men's voices echoed in her ears,
like voices heard in a dream.

"The girl's going to die soon," she heard one of her captors say.
"This air must be terrific. Are we leaving her?" As he spoke, Carol
felt the hold on her relaxed. She sagged to the floor, shrieked as her
skin blistered at the contact.

One of the figures picked her up, held her at arm's length--and then
hot air seared her lungs as she gasped it in and began to scream--but
regularly, repeatedly. An evil staring mask wavered before her eyes,
seemed to grow larger and more hideous, just as the body beneath it
seemed to swell. A million tearing pains shot through her tortured
flesh, seeming to rend it asunder, and she knew that not one but four
arms encircled her, arms that held her not by a grip, but by powerful
suction.

The Octopus! It seemed to her as though a sudden silence had fallen in
the room, a silence through which a meaning clearer than words floated
into her consciousness.

"The Skull's nurse," it seemed to say. "She'll be a good object lesson
by the time he finds her!"

Into the dim haze of her consciousness came the memory of the morning,
and of the arrival of the threatening missive. This monster was human,
then; and the thought revived some of her ebbing courage. She tried
feebly to struggle.

But there was no strength in Carol anywhere, save in her voice, and
even her shrieks were growing fainter...

SHE had not quite lost consciousness--she insisted later--but she
could not remember how she came to be upright and on her feet again,
with the blood streaming dizzily through her veins, and the various
suction cups on her skin releasing their hold. She was leaning against
the wall, also against someone, and the fiery little room was loud
with shouts.

Fearfully, she turned her head. Jeffrey Fairchild had found her. How,
or when--that didn't matter. She realized that all the laughing
gargoyles had lost their masks excepting one who had last held her.
There was a smoking gun in Jeff's hand. He was raising the gun and
taking point-blank aim at the remaining devil--the Octopus.

Simultaneously with Jeff's pulling the trigger, she saw one of those
long green arms snake out and fasten around his wrist, and she thought
she could hear the audible click as the gun-hammer hit on a spent
cartridge. Jeff seemed suddenly torn from her side, but then she
realized that he had hit the monster with a flying tackle that carried
them both across the room.

They squirmed and rolled in a tangle of flying limbs, with those long
green arms encircling Jeff. Jeff had switched his gun into his left
hand which was still free, and with it he kept beading the monster
back, hitting it in the face, while he had managed to get his right
hand near his side in spite of the gripping scaly tentacle.

She saw his fingers flick briefly into the side pocket of his jacket,
and come out holding something that glistened in the dim light of the
smoke-filled room. He swung his fist, holding the shining object
toward the side of the monster's head, but the other eluded him by
throwing himself backward and releasing Jeff altogether.

The monster rolled over into a corner, one of the long arms reached
far back and threw something, and suddenly the room was dark, filled
with acrid, lung-searing gas.

She coughed, struggled for breath with which to scream, and then she
felt Jeff's arms around her again, lifting her up, carrying her
outside.

She tried to ask him about it, when at last they were outside; what
was it that had made the monster suddenly release him and act as if he
were afraid? But Jeff wasn't listening. He wrapped his own torn coat
around her, and then she was in a taxi with Jeff and Robert. She was
growing ill, for that smell seemed to linger on every square inch of
her body...

Jeff seemed to know about the poison that seemed to be eating into her
skin. In his own apartment, he sponged her aching body with warm water
and some kind of liniment.

"Sorry to make you play nursemaid," she smiled faintly.

He didn't answer, merely pulled the cool sheet over her, and reached
for her wounded hand. Carefully, he began to wind a new bandage about
it.

"Where's Dr. Skull?" she asked. "There were some men, and a letter--
from that thing..."

She told him about the letter that had come in the doctor's mail, and
Jeff listened, quietly.

"I think Dr. Skull will take care of himself," Jeffrey said then. "You
try to sleep. And--better leave guns alone!"

She writhed into some kind of comfort in the cool darkness. How had
Jeffrey known that her hand had been hurt by the explosion of an old
revolver? Did it look that bad?

She fell asleep in the middle of plans for securing an up-to-date,
non-burstable, conveniently concealable police revolver. It was all
very well to be a lady in normal times--but when armed intruders
entered your place of business, and when you were likely to meet an
octopus--in a place several degrees hotter than hades...well, even a
lady might be pardoned for packing her own protection!




CHAPTER FIVE

While the City Sleeps

THAT Monday at midnight, a new beacon flared in the Manhattan skyline.
It seemed to waver at first, like a star trying to be born, and then
one brilliant plume of violet light shot upward and southward. A
sparkling spray edged electrically bright from either side...and then
the ray thickened, rose and seemed to comb the constellations. Feeling
its way among the scattered clouds like a thing alive--huge, probing
tentacle!

Then, after the momentary display which attracted a thousand eyes, it
settled into a steady purple glow.

Having erected a new and notable skyscraper on Columbus Circle, the
owner of the just-completed Victory Building had crowned his work with
a signal so starkly beautiful that the other steel peaks of Manhattan
paled by comparison. There was something eerie about the purple light,
something that suggested the dynamically victorious, towards
unattainable heights of sky.

So the men in the streets thought, as they clustered in little groups
to gape at the star-searcher. So the lone pilot thought, as the wing-
tip of his empty transport plane seemed to catch momentary violet
fire, two thousand feet above the crest of the Victory Building. But
almost instinctively, for reasons he could never explain, he sent the
ship into a steep bank, to avail that purple glow.

Jeffrey Fairchild, watching from his northwest window, read another
significance in the blazing beacon. It was the same light, multiplied
by millions of watts, as the one that those pitiful lost souls in the
basement chamber required for life. It was the same light,
concentrated and directed, as he had seen glowing on the walls of the
Mid-City Hospital an hour before its collapse!

The color of Satan victorious...In that beacon, Jeffrey thought, he
saw the risen flag of evil conquest over an already doomed city. Had
the Octopus laid his plans so well, was his position already so firm
that he could hoist his eerie standard boldly in plain sight of the
City's millions?

Desperately, Jeffrey assured himself that there might not be a
connection. The purple beacon was--must be--only a purple beacon. But
after all that had happened that day, he could hardly believe in such
coincidence.

It was the end of Dr. Skull--at least for a while. Already the city
itself was ready to prosecute that mild-mannered professional man for
murder and worse. If the enemy had raised his standard, his next
attack on the quarters of Dr. Skull would be neither insidious nor
subtle. Rather, it would be the high-handed devastation of the
conquering invader--there was no room in the same city for two
buildings representing such opposing philosophies as the humble
quarters of Dr. Skull, and the arrogant new temple of the twentieth
century Satan!

Some day, Dr. Skull might continue his offices and functions, and
heart-brokenly, Jeffrey hoped that he could. In the meantime, it was
for Jeffrey Fairchild to discover the true nature of that ominous and
brightly sinister banner.

CAROL woke with cold sweat draining from every pore. She had dreamed
of that time in Dr. Skull's office when two fiercely garnet-colored
eyes had attempted to stare her into hideous obedience...But now she
was safe in Jeffrey Fairchild's house and it was only the Broadway
dawn coming through the blinds that had caused her troubled dream of
that time when she had been kidnapped.

The Broadway dawn--New York's nocturnal neon life--but what a strange
color! She rose on her knees in bed, and drew the curtains.

A mile tall in the sky, sharp and radiant as a sword, pierced the
shaft of purple light. Carol gasped, and rubbed her cold arms. Was
this the end for them all; had the nightmare been realer than she
thought? Her body ached with weariness. It had been a hard day, a
dreadful day and she could still feel the chafe in her ankles where
those men...

Outraged, her mind shrank from the memory. Another woman might have
been hysterical for days. Not Carol--but she didn't want to think...

Someone else had to think for her, someone stronger than she. She
could act, she could fight, she could endure. But to anticipate and
face the terrors she knew to be waiting--no, she couldn't do that,
till her nerves and muscles forgot that too recent torture!

No one but Jeffrey was strong enough to help her. With Jeffrey beside
her, she could kneel and be calm in the valley of sinister shadow...

She pulled the curtains against that stark image in the sky, and
lurched forward on her pillow.

In the morning, she thought drowsily, when true dawn cleaned the sky
with serene sunlight, she would be sure that she had never wakened;
she would only think that her nightmare had taken some odd and
realistic twist...

JEFFREY passed softly into the dark room where Robert slept. Before he
went out into the night, he wanted to look once more at his brother's
face. That one look might perforce last him through eternity.

A wind rustled the half-drawn shade, and the boy sighed quietly. Was
he awake? Jeffrey half hoped so. If he could hear Robert's voice now,
the night ahead would be easier...But Robert did not stir.

The very darkness had a purplish cast, and that glowing arm of
radiance was clearly visible from the window. As his eyes grew more
accustomed to the dimness, Jeffrey saw that Robert was propped up in
bed, his face turned toward the window. There was an open book in the
boy's lap. He must have been reading it when the glow came, and he had
turned the light off the better to watch that curious beacon.

Jeff sat beside the bed and waited for Robert to speak.

"Funny looking thing, isn't it, Jeff?"

"Very. What were you reading?"

For seconds, Robert did not answer. Then he said, "Jeff, did you
notice, just before the hospital caught fire, that the walls were just
that color? Sort of--purple and alive?"

"Why, yes," said Jeffrey.

"It's funny," said Robert, "that you always show up when I need you.
Guess I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you...It's too bad, Jeff,
that we can't see eye to eye on things. I sometimes wish that I could
get along with you. If you'd only drop your sloppy way of living...
If you'd only look at things the long way, care about the things that
matter, the way Dr. Skull does..."

"Skull?" Jeffrey breathed. "Well, where's your Dr. Skull now?" In
spite of the fact that he himself lived in the two personalities, so
clear and separate an entity had Dr. Skull become to Jeffrey, that he
was almost jealous of his brother's affection for the old doctor.
Especially so since that affection was denied to him.

Robert's voice grew lower. "I think he's hiding somewhere, Jeff.
They're after him--oh, for all sorts of things he hasn't done!
Murder--human vivisection, or worse! You know, Jeff, I almost
understand why people believe that. Once I--" the boy broke off, then
spoke again. "It's hard to believe at first that anyone can really be
as kind and unselfish as Dr. Skull is. At one time, I even thought he
was the Skull Killer--and of course, that's crazy. But he's not that
way! He's good, clean through, and I wish I could find him and tell
him so!"

"I might find him for you," Jeffrey murmured.

"You? You wouldn't even know him. You've always been too busy, or too
lazy or just too snobbish, to meet him when I asked you to..."

To change the subject, Jeffrey said, "You still haven't told me about
that book you were reading."

"This book? It really belongs to Dr. Skull. He gave it to me a long
time ago, when he wanted me to do research for him on something called
the Purple Eye. He was writing a paper for the Medical Association.
There's something here I didn't tell him. Look here, Jeff--if you
should happen to run into him any time, if you should recognize him,
you tell him what it is, the way I'm going to tell you. Tell him about
the Mid-City Hospital fire, too.

"But this book...It's a book of legends--most of them just can't be
swallowed in any shape. And I didn't tell him what I found, because it
didn't have anything to do with eyes. There's a story here about
Rome--the night before it burned. They saw a purple light around the
Coliseum, and then the flames came. Only one man told about it--
Dorican Agrippa--but he isn't generally considered a reliable source."

"I'll tell Dr. Skull if I see him," Jeffrey said, his eyes narrowed
and thoughtful. Purple lights in the walls of doomed buildings! And
now the very sky was threaded by that forewarning of destruction.
"Think I'll let you get some sleep, Robert."

"Good idea," said the boy quietly. He sighed, and fell back against
his pillow.

Jeffrey turned for another look from the doorway, but Robert no longer
seemed aware of him. His face turned to the window, the boy
motionlessly watched that arrogant purple signal in the sky.

HALF an hour or so later, Jeffrey heard a faint scratching sound as he
tunneled toward the underground chamber below Dr. Skull's office. It
grew louder; and as he opened the door, he saw his monstrous pair of
half-human things scraping the wooden floor under his cot with the
nails of their thick spatulate fingers. The violet light there hurt
his eyes, and he blinked, standing there on the threshold.

Before he could open his eyes again, a shrill cry of surprise echoed
through the little chamber, and a rancid-smelling hand reached for his
throat. Helplessly, he flailed at the flesh that hemmed him in.

"It's--the other one!" he heard the woman say, and then he was free.
"Wait," she continued, her form seeming to waver and seethe crazily in
that dazzling light. "We can change the lights for a few minutes, so
you can stay--and talk to us."

In the charged darkness, Jeffrey scarcely knew whether or not another
attack would be forthcoming, and then the room seemed half-normal
again with the steady blaze of his own old hundred-watt bulb.

"We can last an hour without the other light," grunted the man-thing.
His great shrunken eyes traveled unblinkingly the length of Jeffrey's
person. "Are you--Dr. Skull?"

Jeffrey nodded.

"They hate you," the woman said. "They came for you." She paused. The
pair took turns in speaking, as though it were difficult for one alone
to sustain a conversation.

"I switched your radio," said the man. "Switched it both ways.
Upstairs--we heard men upstairs. They talked--they were detectives.
They wanted you and us. They went away soon."

"Then the others," said the woman. "The doctors--the bad doctors and
the one they call the Octopus...They came to find if Dr. Skull--had
been arrested. You're not one of them. They said so. They want to kill
you. You--may be all right."

"Help us," the man grunted in that thick, half-dead monotone.

Jeffrey backed against the wall. If he only could! Those pitiful
outstretched reeds of arms, flattened into hideous fronds at the
joints! He had come here to help them, but they would have to help
him, too. They would have to tell him what was the matter with them,
as best they could; who had done this to them; where he could find the
man or men responsible for these atrocities.

"Who was your doctor?" he asked. "When this happened to you, I mean?"

"His name was Borden," the man answered. "But he--there's another, who
tells him what to do. Another man--maybe another devil--the one whom I
told you about."

"Who is he?" Jeffrey almost shouted.

Tragically, the woman shrilled, "We don't know. We don't know who he
is, or how he did it. But he has his people all over. They call him
the Octopus, but they all have crazy eyes, except Borden, who's their
front. They took us here from the hospital...For a long time they
kept us apart. They were bad, bad...But we can't--prove
anything..."

Who was the man behind the whole hellish scheme? Jeffrey tried
agonizingly to think of a clue to his identity. "Why did they do it?"
he asked. "What reason could anyone possibly have for doing this to
you?"

For answer, the man squatted, and pulled something out from under the
cot. "Maybe--this is the reason," he said.

Jeffrey couldn't answer; didn't know how to answer. Cold little waves
of revulsion traveled up and down his spine, and he choked back the
spontaneous animal cry that welled in his throat.

The thing under the cot had been a man once, before those tooth-marks
had flapped the skin of its throat to loose ribbon.

There was no trace of blood at the severed jugular, no trace of blood
in the entire, shrunken, half-naked frame. It was a grey, dried body,
suggestively withered, with the flat layers of muscle and fat sagging
against a limp bony structure...even the whites of the eyes were as
bloodless as the belly of a dead fish. But the irises were a livid,
staring purple!

"You took his blood!" Jeffrey whispered, when he could speak at all.

THE bulbous misshapen head of the man--thing slowly rose and fell. "We
must--have living blood. Otherwise--we die. That may be why--they did
this to us. They are men who hate many people. They wanted us--to
drink the blood of their enemies."

Jeffrey remembered Mrs. Purvins...and he tensed expectantly, waiting
for some further attack on himself. It was impossible to tell from
those hoarse gutturals whether the monsters feared, respected, or
hungered for him. Their tones were utterly flat and emotionless, save
for that heavy undercurrent of dread tragedy.

"He came here," the woman said. "He--looked for us. He came in--but
he never told the others he had found us. He will never tell now--
about anything. We had to silence him...And then we were thirsty."

So the enemy had committed one boomerang atrocity! It was the first
time, to Jeffrey's knowledge, that such a thing had happened.

The man repeated, with a tense desperation somehow threading the
harsh, lifeless guttural quality of his speech, "Help us. Please help
us--Dr. Skull..."

Jeffrey said, "I'll need a blood sample."

The man's lips moved in what might have been a smile. He rolled his
bathrobe sleeve, baring a yellowish gash in his arm. "He did that,"
said the man. "That's--all I have for blood."

Jeffrey didn't have to analyze it. He tried to find the pair's pulses,
and couldn't. The yellowish stuff...was like that cold, primitive
compound which had been in the veins of Mrs. Purvins. Sea-water, in
human bodies! That's why they needed the constant renewing warmth of
living blood. But these people, unlike Mrs. Purvins, gave evidence of
logical reasoning.

Jeffrey asked them who they had been, their ages, and how they had
come under the care of Dr. Borden.

Her husband caught pneumonia, the woman said, and then she caught it
from him. Because there was no one to take care of them, they had both
gone to the hospital. And that was where, in the secrecy of a private
room, its horror guarded from public knowledge by the almost military
discipline of a hospital, the transformation had taken place.

The man was thirty, the woman twenty-six. Their name was Halliday,
Stephen and Eleanor Halliday.

From the wall amplifier, came a thudding interruption. Someone was
leaving the office of Dr. Skull...leaving in a hurry!




CHAPTER SIX

The Purple Warning!

THE man-thing threw himself on Jeffrey, keeping him from running up to
investigate. "You can't go!" the monster gutturaled. "We know what
they're doing--we heard them planning it!"

A deafening detonation roared through the chamber, rocked the walls.
For a breathless second, the fore-wall cracked and swayed, and then
the quake was over, with all walls in a jagged ungeometric pattern,
but they were still standing.

The man-thing kept his broad fingers clutched on Jeffrey's coat. "I
saved your life," he rasped. "Remember that. And unless you help us,
we will claim that life, as we claimed his--" his malformed thumb
gestured awkwardly toward the drained corpse on the floor. "We will
find you, wherever you are. They will help us find you, if we go back
to them. We don't care--we're not afraid of anything--not even of
them. That's why we were made like this--nothing worse can happen, and
there's nothing left for us to fear. That's why they expected us to be
good tools for them. But they made a mistake--when they brought us
here."

These monsters, even with their desperate threats, gave Jeffrey more
hope than anything else he had encountered. They seemed to know more
about the Octopus than anyone else was willing to admit...

"Do you know anything about the new purple search-light?" he asked.
"There's one over Manhattan tonight, and I think it's theirs."

The monsters looked at one another, and shook their great heads. "No.
And you'd--better go soon," said the woman, "We--must have our own
light on again."

Jeffrey turned toward the door.

"You can work for us in peace, Dr. Skull," said the man. "They think
you're dead, now. When one of their men disappeared--the one who found
us--they were sure you were somewhere--in the building. We heard them
say so. That's why they blew up the building. They think now that you
died in the explosion. Remember us...And we shall not forget you!"

The woman busied herself with the lightbulb. "I'll remember," Jeffrey
promised.

He could not lock the door again, for that first intruder had smashed
the lock. But he was sure the man and woman would await him peaceably
enough, secluded both from their enemies and cruel public scrutiny if
he came back within a reasonable time.

He wanted to stop at the office, to see if there was anything he could
salvage, but debris blocked the way. He couldn't even get past the
coal-bin into the basement. Then growing louder above him, he heard
the hungry crackle and roar of flames.

Through that voracious sound of destruction came the approaching clang
and whine of the fire-trucks...But Jeffrey knew that before those
raging flames could be tamed, the whole building and everything in it
would be lost beyond redemption.

For an instant a pang of heart-ache assailed him as he thought of the
associations which that humble edifice had for him during the past six
years...For Dr. Skull had made it a haven for the poor and the
ailing of this downtrodden neighborhood.

Then, after a few minutes, he emerged out on the street, the flaming
structure blocks away. He entered a drug store, stepped swiftly into a
phone booth, and dialed the number of his garage.

EXCEPTING for the powerful Diesel motor which he had designed and
installed himself, there was nothing to mark Jeffrey's car as
different from a thousand other sedans on the streets. He nodded to
the garage mechanic as the car was brought up to the drug store, then,
alone behind the wheel, he headed southward, toward the Holland tunnel
to New Jersey, while the purple beacon sprayed its light into the
heavens above Manhattan...

A hundred miles out at sea that night, sleepless navigators stared
with marvelling eyes at a harbor-light no sailor had seen before. On
Long Island, and in the Westchester and Connecticut suburbs to the
north of the city, residents wondered at the new splendor of New
York's nightlife reflected in the skies.

And in Manhattan itself, people stared--as Manhattanites will at each
new marvel their city produces--and some wondered if the glaring ray
would not blind aviators rather than guide them.

And if there shouldn't be a law, or an ordinance...

Jeffrey headed under the Hudson, and on the Jersey shore he made for
the Newark airport. Occasionally, he had found use for a trim little
two-seater kept there. It had a lofty wing-spread, which gave it some
of the qualities of a glider, and powerful little motor. At the
airport he was known as a wealthy and idle young man, with a penchant
for playing with air currents and the scientific side of flying.

The little ship took to the heavens like a bird, and in ten minutes he
was circling above the heart of Manhattan, with the jewelled crest of
the Victory Building glowing below him. He dared not fly through the
beacon itself, if its nature were what he feared, such an attempt
might mean suicide.

He cut his motor, doused his riding lights, and silently circled in
the upward air currents caused by the canyon streets. As he neared the
column of purple glare, he felt an almost unbearable heat in his open
cockpit.

Holding the stick between his knees, he reached into his pocket for a
piece of cloth, which he smeared thickly with a heavy, tar-like
substance from a long, narrow flask. After waiting for the cloth to
dry, he wrapped it around his hand.

Despite the upward air current, the weight of his little plane carried
him lower and lower. The heat intensified momentarily as he dipped
into the purple glare, and he felt his hands and face almost
blistering--all but that part of his right hand which had been covered
with the saturated cloth.

A grim look of satisfaction on his face, he pulled back on the stick,
and soared skyward. The beam of light trembled beneath him, then swung
slightly, seeking him out. He threw the plane into a steep bank,
barely avoiding that purple radiance, and momentarily the little
craft, not built for such quick maneuvering, fluttered like a leaf. He
steadied her in a long glide, and again nosed up...

Then he knew! The ray on the Victory Building was the purple arm of
death--an ultraviolet ray!

Now he was sure that the new building in midtown Manhattan was his
enemy's citadel. From the air, it was impregnable. No craft could hope
to remain aloft above that death-dealing flare.

By land...Jeffrey frowned, guessing that the light could be
deflected downward as well as up. No army in the world could march
through a street swept by the purple beam.

Excitedly, Jeffrey tried to imagine the purpose of the citadel, and
its connection with the monsters that the Octopus had created. It was
important now for him to warn all aircraft in the vicinity about the
light.

HIS plane was equipped with a two-way transmitter. As he switched it
on, he heard a loud spluttering that ran through all wave lengths, as
though an important political speech were being broadcast over every
station.

As he tried to clear it, he ran into the broadcast itself. It was the
most bizarre and unholy announcement, Jeffrey realized, that had ever
gone through ether:

Station WVI, on top of the Victory Building, New York City. We bring
you our half-hourly announcement again. All other stations please sign
off. The life of every man, woman and child in New York City is at
stake.

A short, spluttering pause. And then a deep, indefinably sinister
voice that sent the nerve-ends in Jeffrey's spine into a dizzy jig.

Citizens of New York! You are in the grip of an epidemic with which
your ordinary health facilities cannot and will not deal. Even more
than your lives are at stake.

Tonight there will walk among you the patients of your hospitals. They
have been hospitalized for the ordinary diseases, but now they come
from the hospitals unrecognizable as human beings. They are monsters.

Another pause. Jeffrey's plane stirred southward for seconds, poised
above Radio City, and circled there during the broadcast.

Not one of you is immune to this spreading plague. Do not trust your
doctors! Do not trust your hospitals! They are the chief agents of
this unnamable disease! In their hands; you too may become unfit to
bear the name of man.

There is one way, and one way only, to keep the plague from torturing
yourselves and your families. We have gathered here, in the offices of
the Victory Building, all those doctors who are still worthy of the
name--men of national and international reputation, who will co-
operate with you to stamp out this plague. They have come together
under the name of The Citizens' Emergency Medical Committee.

Tomorrow, all citizens employed in gainful occupation, whether by
private or government enterprise, are requested to send one day's pay
to the Citizens' Emergency Medical Committee, address, the Victory
Building, New York City, as the only safe form of health insurance for
yourselves and your families. Thus insured, you will receive medical
treatment by New York's only safe doctors in the event that disease
strikes.

To outlying territories, we broadcast this warning: Do not permit
trains, busses, pleasure cars, boats or aircraft to cross your borders
from metropolitan New York, lest you bring the epidemic on yourselves.
Warning especially the State of New Jersey; Westchester County and the
City of Yonkers in particular. Since all of Long Island has been
stricken also, we warn the State of Connecticut to prohibit ferry
traffic across Long Island Sound to and from the counties of Nassau
and Suffolk.

Do not hesitate to comply. This is for your own good. Do not attempt
to enter the Victory Building until you require the services of a
physician. Send all insurance money by mail, and you will receive your
receipt-cards the following day. To those cranks and fanatics who are
always ready to attack a new development, we broadcast a warning: By
attacking the Victory Building, you cut New York completely off from
medical salvation. You doom millions of innocent human beings! We
welcome an investigation by proper authorities, peaceably conducted.

We will bring you another broadcast within the half hour.

JEFFREY stared at the silent transmitter as the broadcast ended,
almost wishing it were alive, so that he might throttle the thing that
had uttered those words. Extortion--with the stakes not mere loss of
reputation, nor even life itself, but a warping in body and mind of
great sections of the population!

He was almost directly above Radio City, then he switched on his own
short-wave transmitter, and spoke into it. "This is the Skull Killer,
calling Radio City. Please rebroadcast over your regular wave length.
Reply when ready."

There was no answer...

"Skull Killer, still calling Radio City. This is in relation to the
broadcast by the Citizen's Emergency Medical Committee, which you have
just heard. Please reply."

For silent seconds, Jeffrey despaired of receiving any response. They
must have taken the first broadcast as a practical joke, as they might
be taking his own plea. And then, faintly and uncertainly, a voice
said, "Ready. Go ahead, Skull Killer..."

And so that night, the voice of the Skull Killer, whose face no man
could describe, was heard through the length and breadth of a thousand
square miles through the City of New York.

"Citizens of New York!" he began fervently. "This is the Skull
Killer...I wish to advise you about this so-called Citizens'
Emergency Medical Committee. It is not a joke. Neither is it to be
taken at face value.

"I have only this to go by: The purple light seen over the Victory
Building tonight is an ultraviolet ray of hitherto unknown strength.
All aircraft are warned not to venture near or through the light. The
motives of the new medical committee seem bent more toward destruction
than conservation of human life.

"They have invited the investigation of authorities; see to it that
your authorities really do investigate. And in the meanwhile, on my
own part, I tell you that there will be a thorough private
investigation. That is all."

As Jeffrey flew southward from Radio City, there was a fresh broadcast
from the Victory Building:

Tonight we are submitting to the authorities undeniable proof of the
Skull Killer's identity, and of the fact that he himself, in the guise
of a doctor, is responsible for several of the monstrosities which you
see on the streets tonight.

What would New York's streets be like, during the remainder of the
night, Jeffrey wondered as he headed again toward Newark. As he had
expected, no emergency measures, had as yet been adopted; no cordon of
official planes were quarantining Manhattan. Most people who had heard
that early morning broadcast from the Victory Building would have
taken it as a practical joke--gruesome, perhaps, but a joke still.

And that broadcast of the Skull Killer? Didn't the very fact that the
Skull Killer had been granted a use of popular airwaves bespeak the
fact that the Citizens' Emergency Medical Committee's speech had made
some impression. He wondered how many people he had reached, and what
they thought--or had they really given him a wavelength at all?

They must have, for the Medical Committee's last words had been an
oblique answer to his message! Jeffrey Fairchild felt a thrill of
elation. He was starting his greatest battle; already he had made some
progress and must make more if he hoped to save the nation's greatest
metropolis from ghastly destruction!

He was allowed to land at the airport without interference, and to
drive back to the City through the tunnel.

He wondered at the ability of his enemy to make broadcasts at regular
half-hour intervals without interference from the authorities. WVI
must be a newly-licensed station--and the threat in those
announcements of the Citizens' Medical Committee had been so cunningly
veiled, that outside their definite disquieting influence, even those
who took them seriously might never recognize them for the sinister
demands they were. Unless the true nature of that purple beacon was
known, listeners would not even look upon those announcements as
threats.

That much he had accomplished, but even now some sort of account must
be had from the City authorities regarding the Committee...And that
account he knew, it was his responsibility to get at once.




CHAPTER SEVEN

Creatures That Once Were Men

DR. ANTHONY STEELE took the position which had been assigned to him,
at the entrance to the Victory Building. It was an hour after
midnight, and up the steel canyons, came a sharp Hudson wind. Dr.
Steele shivered--the War must have been like this, he thought, the War
in which his uncle had been an army doctor, from which he had not come
back.

Thus it was to serve your country, or even your city, against a still-
unconquered enemy, an enemy even more formidable in its hidden,
sinister mystery. Dr. Steele had been shivering a little bit all day.

When they'd told him that old Dr. Skull was responsible for a new and
ghastly form of disease, he'd been upset about that, and had tried to
get in touch with the man. But Dr. Skull could not be reached...

Then, the call from Borden, at Tony Steele's customary comfortable
bed-time, impressing him into this Emergency Medical Committee...

Wild talk, frightening talk--that had been his impression of the first
Committee meeting in the new Victory Building. If it hadn't been for
Borden, he wouldn't have been there; he wouldn't have trusted any of
the others. And if ever he had seen the fires of insanity reflected in
human eyes, he had seen them in the eyes of several of the supposed
leaders of the Committee, and they all seemed to belong to a secret
order of sorts; all wearing watch fobs in the shape of a purple-eyed
octopus.

But how could you tell? Those might have been fever-lights, signs of
this growing pestilence! The men might have been stricken with the
first stages of the malady, and were working on nevertheless,
sacrificing themselves for their fellows, for nobody could tell yet
how this thing really started.

There was nothing really to go by, except the talk, and a few
apparently unrelated facts. The Mid-City Hospital had burned down, and
some Committee members had openly accused the monstrous patients, who
apparently hated doctors and hospitals. Borden and a few of his
medical friends had accused Jeffrey Fairchild, of all people! Said his
wealth had made him a thrill-criminal. Borden even claimed to have
seen Jeff at the fire, purposely, he said, contributing to the
confusion. Jeffrey Fairchild, that amiable and intelligent young man
about town who had been so helpful when Steel first started practice,
four years ago!

And now the monsters were coming, for aid, for treatment, and it was
Steele's job to admit them. It hadn't been hard getting them out of
hospitals, he surmised, or away from the care of their private
physicians--it seemed part of the disease to mistrust any known sort
of medical help. Tony Steele looked at them, not realizing how he
trembled...

Hundreds of headlamps, from ambulances and private cars, played a
false dawn on the pavement about the Victor Building. Escorted by
police, by internes and nurses, by private citizens who seemed normal
in all but their distraught perplexity, they were coming. Hundreds of
them, scrambling for the lighted doors of the Victory Building. As
though the lame and the halt of the world had converged at the purple
point...As though the lame and the halt of history had risen half-
rotting from their graves for some weird rite of resuscitation.

And the overpowering odor! Not even the effluvium of stale sweat, this
thing; It was more like the humors that might arise in an overheated
morgue...

And he was supposed to help, to cure, he who had specialized in those
diseases which are a luxury.

A policeman joined him, and then the crowd became something between a
mob and an Act of God. For what seemed hours, Dr. Steel stood there,
assorting those who sought to surge inward, allowing only the damnably
sick to pass, and in spite of the dark morning's chill, he began to
sweat. His voice grew hoarse with shouting directions. All about him,
he sensed the press of grotesque and tragic humanity, hobbling toward
possible salvation from God knew what hell of self-loathing...

He didn't know! He hardly knew what great work he was engaged in, what
was the beginning and the end of this process which began when the
monsters left their ward beds, to end their grim trek upstairs on the
forty-fourth floor of the Victory Building. He somehow felt himself a
sentient tool, taking orders standing at the doorway between mystery
and mystery...

How had they sickened? How would they be cured? What was he about
here, and how had this vast and grisly chaos come so unpredictably, so
violently, into his pleasant life? He wondered if Charon had felt as
he did, bound forever to the Styx, witlessly rowing souls between
remembered life and anticipated death...

ANOTHER man tapped Tony Steele's shoulder, and said, "I'll relieve
you, Doctor. You're needed upstairs."

Steele sighed, the breath coming hard through his nostrils. Upstairs,
at least, was more where a doctor belonged. Tony Steele was no tough-minded man. He liked people, liked to see them well and happy. It was
for that reason, as much as for anything, that he had concentrated on
rich patients. The rich, when they were ill, could be cheered so
easily, could be sent to handsome hospital suites, could be ordered to
take Napoleon brandy as a tonic, or luxury cruises on palatial
liners...

But the poor...No, there was less you could do for the poor. You had
to see them hungry-eyed and listless, in those airless sunless flats,
worrying about money, worrying about bills, worrying about the cost of
medicine...You had to see a fifth child born into a three-room
hovel, knowing that from its birth that the child would have to fight
for its right to food, its right to a corner of the world, its very
right to live...

But now, Tony Steele was looking on human suffering in a stark and
inexplicable shape. What good was a bedside manner for these shapes
that might have been conceived in hell?

It was more than a clinical manner they needed, something of the all-
wise, little father attitude...Tony Steele went up to the forty-
fourth floor, where the emergency clinic had been equipped to diagnose
these patients.

Shuddering at some internal chill, Steele took his place in the busy
clinic, and waited for the monsters to file in. He had not long to
wait, for a nurse escorted a hobbling thing to him, a thing that
looked at him with strange malevolence out of its huge unblinking
eyes...

"Name?" he asked, trying hard to remember the clinical manner.

The thing grunted its response. Steele asked the other questions,
insanely irrelevant questions, about age, address, and occupation.
Those are the things you ask a man, he thought. But this thing isn't a
man--not any more! It's a shell around a private hades...

"You cannot help me," the thing said, after it had answered all the
questions. There was the ghost of manhood in those harsh tones. "I
prefer--to die."

"Now, now, Mr. White..." Steele protested, half-heartedly. Hell, why
shouldn't the thing prefer to die! Who was he to interrupt that
choice? "If you'll just trust us, we'll do so much for you...We'll
make you well again!"

The man said, "Fool." That was all, and the nurse led him away.

Steele stared after him, trembling. He was unaware of another patient
in front of him, a patient whose mind had gone, who struggled
wordlessly, and had to be held by two strong young men.

"Fool." What had that meant? It had been so concise, so
unemotional...Steele saw another doctor at his elbow. There were a
lot of them standing around.

"Here," he shouted at his fellow-practitioner. "You take the cases.
I've got to see somebody."

It wasn't quite suspicion--it was more like a passionate disquietude.
So much suffering, so much madness...fool, the monster had called
him, after saying also, I prefer to die.

That living, suffering organism who had once known a man named White--
he'd sounded so like an educated man. A little like Steele's usual
well-mannered patients. There might be something, maybe neuro-
vascular tests that could relieve him. Perhaps it had been done
already, but Steele knew a million men could take the same experiment
and only one of them read anything like a correct diagnosis out of it.

He'd have to check with Borden on that. Borden would have to give him
that much of a free hand. It might be simple, there might be a simple
magic solution that would make the world right again, that would send
Tony Steele back to his fine offices on West End Avenue, where he
could believe again in the innate cheeriness of things.

Monster and nurse were vanishing down the corridor. He knew they were
going to the treatment rooms on the floor above. Borden was in charge
of all that--Borden was there, too.

Steele went down the corridor after them, but he took a different
elevator. Somehow, he didn't want to face White again...

BORDEN was sitting in that important-looking office, giving
directions to tired and respectful-looking doctors. Steele considered
that he hadn't been paid a cent, and so owed no respect to anyone.

"Give me a laboratory," he demanded of Borden without prelude.

Borden's eyes assumed a surprised expression. No one else spoke. "Why
should I?" Borden inquired.

Steele, a nerve specialist, attacked the problem from that angle
almost out of habit. "It's their whole systems," he explained. "I'm
sure of it. There isn't a breakdown in any one place--it's the whole
system getting wrong stimuli, as nerves transmitting wrong stimuli to
the body cells. Almost as though they were reacting to a different
environment--as different, say, as though they'd all been transplanted
to the moon."

"Pardon me if I seem skeptical," Borden remarked wearily, "but I've
been approaching the problem from so practical an angle myself, that I
haven't much patience with theories. Medicine is medicine--it's
complicated, detailed, difficult...And you don't get cures by saying
your patients have been transplanted to the moon."

"I didn't say that," Steele answered hotly.

Borden shrugged. "Very well. You're needed downstairs, but if it's
going to make you any happier, you can have your laboratory. I'd
suggest, however, that you first take a good look into the ward,
unless it's against your theories to clutter your mind with factual
details about the people you're supposed to cure."

The two older doctors in Borden's office snickered, and the three
younger ones looked sympathetically crushed. Steele felt the hot flush
under his cheeks, checked an impulse to tell Borden to go to hell. The
old coot was getting so darned officious lately...

"I'll take a look," he said, mustering some kind of calm into his
tone. Borden pointed to the large door on his left.

"Right down that corridor," Borden directed. "If you have the heart to
waste time on theories after you see those people, you're a harder man
than I think."

But he wasn't hard! Tony Steele only wished he were. He was sorry now,
that he made the gesture of going into the ward. As he walked down the
short corridor between Borden's office and the ward, he had an
overwhelming sense of repugnance. He knew they were sick, not ghastly,
only sick...But he could smell them even before he entered the
ward...

As he stepped across the threshold, an eerie howl, like the baying of
a dog, sent the short hair bristling up his spine. Then the howl
turned into a chorus, and Steele turned, would have fled, but a
shapeless and gelid force grasped him, pulled him back into the room.

The monsters--what did they want with him?

As they circled about, pawing and clutching at him, he screamed that
he was a doctor, that he had come on a routine examination.

The last thing he heard, before the blood roaring in his ears drowned
out all external sound, was the wild unearthly laughter that greeted
his protest. He realized that he was being held as a rabbit is held by
a pack of dogs...that naked teeth were ripping the covering of his
flesh...searching for veins and arteries.

Weakly, he could see his own blood dribbling richly over their
enormous chins, the stuff of his life. He could feel the seeping of
cold air into his emptying arteries...

And then he saw the monster called White standing a little way apart,
arms folded over his chest.

It seemed in a dream of drumming revulsion that White's lips moved,
repeating the word, "Fool." And now Steele knew what he had meant when
he said, "I prefer to die."

Borden--Borden had sent him here. Borden must have known, and wanted
him out of the way, after he proposed a cure!

If he could only make them understand, these people! Understand that
he was worth more to them alive...

The last thing he saw was White walking toward him, but he never knew
whether White reached him or not...




CHAPTER EIGHT

When Hell Locked Its Gates

AS Jeffrey Fairchild drove up out of the tunnel under the river, he
looked again at the sky. Suddenly, he stiffened at the wheel. The
purple beacon atop the Victory Building went out even as he looked at
it. It was out for a full minute, while Jeffrey's roadster wormed its
way through the nearly empty Manhattan streets--and then it flashed on
again.

But now it was a different light. That illusion of topless height had
gone; the beacon's tip lost itself visibly into darkness. The glow was
steadier, without that eerie sparkle which had given it a queer light
of its own.

Jeffrey could have sworn that now the beacon was dead and cold as it
had not been before...Perhaps, he hazarded, there was an
investigation going on as a result of his warning broadcast. He
stamped on the gas pedal, and raced northward.

An ambulance siren's scream warned him of his recklessness. As he
slowed down, he heard others--ambulances, police cars, private
automobiles whose drivers seemed to jam one hand to their horns, as
they bore down, all toward the same point--the Victory Building in
Columbus Circle.

Jeffrey traveled with them, and it was soon unmistakable what grim
cavalcade he had joined.

The monsters were answering a summons that had been tacit in the
strange broadcast from Station WVI. In terrifying quantities, they had
come from their secret places, with their twisted and hideous bodies,
with unimaginable things reflected in their wide unblinking eyes...

And then Jeffrey saw the windows, knew why they came. For even behind
drawn curtains, a splash of purple threaded out from various lofty
angles of the Victory Building's interior--that was the life-light for
creatures of sentient death, the ultraviolet salvation of the
dreadful and pitiful malformed things that breathed and moved. He
parked his car, and pressed into the crowd.

Near the doorway, the pack thickened oppressively. From the harried
policemen who were keeping the thing from becoming a stampede, he knew
the authorities were in on this, at least to the extent of
cooperating. How much more did they really know...How far did they
really trust that surprise broadcast from the new station?

Soon Jeffrey would know...a heavy hand fell on his shoulder, and
someone said, "Jeffrey Fairchild!" in a voice almost too weary for
surprise.

Jeff looked up into the haggard face of Captain Manning, a grey-haired
and soldierly police officer, in uniform. "Hello, Captain," Jeffrey
said quietly. "You're just the man I want to see."

Captain Manning said, "Is it important, Mr. Fairchild? If it's not,
I've got my hands full enough..."

"Damned important," said Jeffrey grimly. "I want to search the Victory
Building, and I want you to come with me."

"It's been done," said Manning tersely. He added, in a lower voice,
"You shouldn't be here, Mr. Fairchild. The Commissioner's in there
now, talking to the head of this medical committee, whatever its name
is. I think they're talking about you. You'll probably never hear of
it--it's so cockeyed, but if you want to wait at the entrance and talk
to the Commissioner when he comes out..."

Jeffrey was known throughout the force as one of the Commissioner's
oldest friends, and though he would never have used that influence to
deter the humblest rookie cop from his duties, his word carried weight
with the entire department.

"Suppose you tell me what it's all about," he suggested. "Why are they
talking about me, and who's the head of the Committee, as it calls
itself?"

Manning swore, then answered, "Some of these docs are damfools when
they get away from medicine. Fellow named Borden--a big doctor, they
say--is boss in there. He's been talking high, wide and handsome,
about what the department ought to do to you for the Mid-City Hospital
fire."

Jeffrey gasped, and Manning continued, "Of course, there's nothing for
you to worry about. We'll settle that headache before it gets to you."

Jeffrey's lowered eyelids almost concealed the hard thoughtfulness of
his gaze. Borden! Borden, whom the monsters in his own basement had
accused of almost unbelievable malpractice...Borden, whom he himself
had elevated to a position of trust and importance in that ruined
hospital...Borden, head of this mysterious Committee...the streets
were violet with filtered light, but the lights in Jeffrey's brain
were red.

He thanked Manning, and pushed back toward the entrance. If he could
make Tom Wiley, the Commissioner, understand what was going on...the
Mid-City Hospital had been Jeffrey's, and at the core of Borden's
guilty soul, there must be a desperate, snakelike urge to accuse
before he was accused himself.

Borden couldn't be dismissed as a medical man gone haywire out of his
own sphere.

There was a man behind Borden--maybe a devil, the monsters had told
Jeff. And that could only be the Octopus himself! Everything Borden
said or did would be calculated to dupe organized medicine and
organized justice until it was too late to retrench, until New York
was delivered over to the enemy...

But it wasn't yet too late. It couldn't be. There'd been no report to
the public of an official investigation, and Jeff could reach Tom
Wiley before one was made...

But what if Tom Wiley never came out of that building? No--the man he
had to reach was Borden! And the report that must be made was the
revelation promised by the Skull Killer!

JEFFREY found himself in the great entrance hall of the Victory
Building. He had seen other skyscrapers when they were new, he had
seen the Queen Mary when that giant floating palace had first docked
in New York; he was accustomed to the city's newest and finest hotels.

But he had never--not in all his life--seen an interior like that
great hall.

It was lofty, nearly five stories high, with starkly subdued indirect
lighting that gave the impression of unfathomable violet depths and
heights. Each wall panel held its mural--and so cleverly had the
murals been designed, that the figures represented there also gave
that topless, boundless impression. Jeffrey realized that the
representations were simple, most of them merely huge, realistic,
portraits or impressions, of contemporary scenes from the city. Yet
somehow, they seemed to be the work of an artist with torture in his
eyes...

Then it came to him. They were exactly like the thing the city was
fast turning into! An eerie and uncertain place, with limitless
possibilities of stark tragedy, of malformed beings with crippled,
tortured souls!

Jeffrey shuddered, and made for an elevator. The crowd that had been
so dense in the street outside had ample room in the hall...Here,
even those incredibly warped figures seemed dwarfed to
inconspicuousness by the chamber's shadowed proportions.

"I want to see Dr. Borden," Jeffrey told the uniformed elevator man,
whose hard eyes measured him.

A denial seemed to hover on the other's lips.

Jeffrey said, "I'm Mr. Fairchild--Jeffrey Fairchild."

If Manning's warning hadn't been unfounded, and if the things he
himself suspected of Borden were true, that name should have an effect
on a henchman of Borden's--and it did. The hard look in the elevator
man's eyes was replaced by a queer purposefulness. "Forty-fifth floor,
sir," he muttered.

Jeffrey entered the car. He noticed that he was the only occupant of
the elevator, which made no stops between the first floor and the
forty-fifth.

In the gleamingly sterile corridor of the forty-fifth floor, a woman
in white sat at a desk. The place looked exactly like a hospital,
Jeffrey thought. This must be the headquarters of the Citizens'
Emergency Medical Committee. But a queer sort of hospital, for no
sound echoed through the long corridors, there were no red-checked
young girls in blue-and-white uniforms wheeling trays and smiling at
internes. About it all was that ominous sterility which seemed to
extend farther than germ life.

"I'd like to see Dr. Borden," Jeffrey told the woman at the desk.

Mechanically, she inquired, "Who's calling, please?"

"Jeffrey Fairchild."

The woman's eyes stared up at him.

"Straight down that corridor, then turn to your left."

Uneasily, Jeffrey strode down the long hallway. No lamps were visible,
but the windowless hall was bright as the sky at early dusk...

After narrow yards of walking, he came to a cross-hall, and took a
left turn. He had met no one, heard no one. It was almost too easy,
this entrance of his, and he sensed some abrupt reception that must
have been waiting, in these silent offices, for him.

The left hall ended after twenty yards at a sort of booth where a
young man in white sat cleaning surgical instruments. Jeffrey asked
him, "Can you tell me where to find Dr. Borden?"

A small dagger-like scalpel slipped from the young man's hands, but he
did not look up. In a strangely monotone voice, he countered, "Who did
you say you were?"

Jeffrey again gave his name--and the young man looked at him through
eyes as opaquely sharp and radiant as the steel of his surgical
blades. "Straight ahead," he directed, pointing down a turn in the
corridor. "Fifth door on your right. Just walk in."

The young man did not look up again as Jeffrey passed...

He opened the fifth door on his right, looked about before he entered.
The room seemed empty, but there was a curtain stretched across its
width, and he guessed Borden might be behind that curtain.

Jeff left the door ajar and stepped softly inside...

Then behind him the heavy door clicked quietly.

HE WHEELED about, pulled at the inside handle. The door was locked.
Jeffrey cursed aloud, and darted behind the curtains.

There was nothing. Not a chair, not a stick or a straw to indicate
that the windowless square chamber had ever been entered before. The
walls were white, and gave somehow the impression of porousness, like
the sound-proofed walls of a broadcasting studio. Jeffrey had been
locked inside a white square box, with ten cubic feet of air and a
curtain.

He tried shouting, and the sound of his own voice hit back at his
eardrums with hammer-force in that sealed chamber. From a distance of
a few feet he fired his revolver at the invisible door-lock, and the
detonation nearly deafened him, while his bullet caromed harmlessly
from a steel plate beneath that porous white substance.

He felt at those walls with his hands, searching a weak spot, and
suddenly felt the walls warm under his touch. That warmth was
increasing...

Jeffrey stepped back, and then, from under the white porous wall-
covering there shone a violet radiance, a strange pulsing light that
seared his eyeballs and radiated heat that seemed to penetrate with
rhythmic sequence beneath his skin, into the very marrow of his bones!

Now the walls seemed alive with that shimmering fluid glow, the light
and the heat were somehow rendered indirect by that asbestos-like
substance that coated the walls, so that his skin did not break, but
he felt the veins in his body swelling with excruciating pain, as
though his blood were reaching a boiling point. Then, as he fought for
breath to find release through his vocal cords, that seething
irradiance died, and the walls once more became dull and white.

The insufferable heat was seeping out of his veins, his heart, which
momentarily seemed to cease beating except in harmony with that
pulsing glow, slowly came back to normal. Jeffrey found himself
crouching unnaturally in the middle of the room, as though his flesh
had shrunk, causing contraction in all his muscles, dried and seared
by the heat.

Slowly, with infinite effort, he was able to knead his limbs to normal
semblance, then he stood silently--and waited.

For he knew now that the "treatment" would be repeated. It would be
repeated over and over, until he--Jeffrey Fairchild--had become a
monster, a dried and rotting corpse, requiring for its abnormal
functions the indigo glare of the ultraviolet light--needing for
sustenance the warm blood of his fellows.

The cause and the cure were the same--ultraviolet radiance
differently directed first caused these malformations, and later
enabled the monsters to survive. Penetrating into the very marrow of
the bony structure where blood corpuscles were manufactured, its heat
brought about an aberration of functions, broke down the stages of
evolution, reduced blood to its simplest elementals, and at the same
time effected the necessary changes in the living cells to enable them
to survive, provided they were subjected to that very radiance which
had first caused their distortion.

Far back, in the very first stages of evolution, when the simplest
forms of life had crawled out of the primordial swamps, the ultraviolet contained in sunlight must have caused parallel changes in the
structure of living things--distorted them, changed them into what
their fellows must have felt were monsters, until sunlight had become
a necessity, without which their life could not continue.

It was a matter, in some respects, of resistance, which culminated in
the building of a new type of life. The process would not be too
rapid, Jeffrey knew, as he experienced his breathing spell. These
things having become clear to him, certain elements of the fiendish
activities of his enemy were more understandable, also.

The Mid-City Hospital fire, and the purple glow which had seemed to
bathe the walls of certain parts of the building, had emanated from
walls built as the walls of his chamber were built, from rooms in
which transformations such as he was about to undergo had been
effected on other unfortunate humans...

Borden was behind it, and Borden had been ready to resume operations
elsewhere! The Mid-City Hospital had been destroyed so as to
obliterate all evidence of those indigo walls...

Borden, then, Jeff figured, had found another backer for his nefarious
activities than the philanthropic patron of the Mid-City Hospital, and
that backer was the builder and owner of the Victory Building. He must
be the Octopus himself!

But the other hospitals--the other sick wards whence also human
malformations had emanated--what about them? Would they, too be
destroyed tonight so that there would be no evidence, so that the
enemy would remain triumphantly unsuspected, entrenched in the very
heart of Manhattan in the guise of a philanthropic organization which
stamped out its own corruption and bled society in the process?

The walls were cool again, and Jeffrey moved painfully about the room.
Like a trapped animal he sought desperately for an opening in his
trap, a means of escape from this locked, white-walled hell...




CHAPTER NINE

Jeff Plays a Lone Hand

IT SEEMED a long while before he could actually bring his mind to bear
on any practical plan of escape. The torture he had undergone seemed
almost to have induced amnesia in his brain. Then he went berserk,
and, brutishly, desperately, insanely clawed at the walls of his
prison, while something he had meant to remember teased agonizingly at
the back of his mind.

Too many other things intruded. There was the futility of his own
plight, the ominous threat to all decency, all peace in this greatest
of all cities--all these things seemed to batter like a million fists
at his consciousness and prevented his concentration. He knew he was
wasting precious seconds, and was unable to do anything about it.

There was something he had anticipated, and desperately he tried to
think of what it had been. It hadn't been capture--at least, not this
kind of capture--but something else. Almost mechanically his hands
explored his person. There should be something, he felt, some
precaution he had taken...And then he found it.

It was a long flat tube of make-up grease. There, in his hands--
Jeffrey's mouth quirked a little crazily at the thought--he held
nearly all of the identity of Dr. Skull. And Dr. Skull was completely
unrecognizable, compressed, as it were, in this little tube!

Feverishly, Jeffrey's hands tore into his clothing, ripping open the
inner seams. Concealed in the shoulder padding of his coat, in the
upper seams of his trousers, were other tubes of makeup, but these
were the things he always carried...yet there was something else,
something important...

As he threw his coat aside, with a puzzled gesture, the thing he
sought rolled out of the inside breast pocket--a long, narrow
flask...

His brain suddenly clear, Jeffrey looked hastily at his watch. It had
stopped, the glass had smashed at some point in his struggles. He
tried to compute, from his knowledge of ultraviolet rays, how long it
would be before they would judge he could stand another dose, but all
concept of time had fled him and he set to work.

He undressed completely, and tore his inner garments to shreds. There
he wound puttee-like over as much of his anatomy as they would cover.
Bits of handkerchief he trussed into his mouth, inside the cheeks.
Then he attacked the curtain which had been hung in the middle of the
room, presumably to lure him in, and with thread-thin strips of this
managed to cover the rest of his torso.

Then he went to work, covering himself with the substance of the
various make-up tubes. The stuff sufficed barely to give him a coating
of tenuous grease, like a transparent, oily outer skin, through which
his bandages showed. Over his face spread the pale-yellow color of
age--and then Jeffrey Fairchild paused.

His fingers held the long black flask while his ears sought
desperately to detect some sound beyond the room. But there was only
silence.

HE TOOK a deep breath, and uncorked the flask. From it he shook some
of that thick, tarry substance with which he had experimented in the
plane--a zinc composition. Carefully, he began to smear himself with
that, then put on his coat and trousers.

The stuff congealed into a flexible, airtight covering over his body.
He wouldn't last long with that, even with the loose padding of porous
strips of cloth next to his skin, for it would close his sweat pores.
Somberly he hoped it would do what he meant that it should--protect
him at least to some extent, from those penetrating rays...

He had barely time to slip on trousers and jacket, when it came again.
The room began to grow warm. Jeffrey threw himself flat on the floor,
and cradled his unprotected face in the shelter of his arms. He could
feel the heat sweeping over him, feel his body struggling futilely to
exude moisture, and almost a wave of insanity crossed his brain at
this violence to his body processes.

It was worse than the first time, and as the heat abated Jeffrey lay
limp, unable to move. But there wasn't that dry contraction in his
muscles that the first treatment had given him...And then the door
opened.

Jeffrey Fairchild could hear it, though he didn't dare to look.
Somebody was coming for him, as he had expected they would. If they
didn't intend to kill him, they had to come in, as soon as they
thought him powerless, to prepare him for future treatments.

As the footsteps neared him, Jeffrey felt the enervating limpness
disappear from his muscles at the approach of danger. When the
newcomer came to a stop beside him, he rolled, groaning, on his back.
Then, almost in the same movement, his hands shot out to grasp the
ankles which came to his view, and he heaved with all his strength.

There was a startled exclamation from the other man, as Jeffrey
swarmed over him, but the yell was cut short by Jeffrey's hands
closing the other's windpipe. The man sputtered, tried to smash
something he held in his hand into Jeffrey's face, but Jeffrey dodged
the blow, and his own fist sent the object spinning from the other's
fingers.

Then the cold rage in him settled him grimly to his task. His
adversary's eyes grew wide and popping, then assumed that familiar
purple glow. Convulsively the other rose half-way in a last desperate
gesture, as though the evil spirit symbolized by that unearthly gleam
in his eyes were giving him strength to the last, and then the man
fell back limply.

Jeffrey rose to his knees. Caution against disclosing his identity
precluded his marking the corpse with the mark of the skull--besides,
the Skull Killer was stalking bigger game! But where was his deadly
quarry?

Jeffrey, as he staggered to his feet and out of the room, into the
lofty, medically clean corridors of the Victory Building, did not
know.

HE WONDERED a little at the emptiness of this part of the building.
Peering cautiously up and down the gleaming hall, he could see no
living soul, but slightly to the left and across the hall he saw a
door marked Washroom.

Lurching towards it, he made it, still unseen, and once inside, again
stripped himself. Carefully, he peeled off as much of the zinc coating
as he could, and then dressed once more, again emerged into the empty
corridors.

From the death-like silence of this part of the building, he drew one
important conclusion. It must be near that section of the VictoryBuilding which was purposely kept secluded. He wondered if even the
police, in conducting their baffled and openly invited investigation,
had penetrated here...

A glance at the washroom mirror had told him that the disguise his
practiced hands had applied in that torture chamber a short while ago
would pass muster. The facial creams he had used to give the aged
color to the skin of his face, when he had wanted to masquerade as Dr.
Skull, now gave his smooth cheeks the pale, sweaty look of illness,
and the strips of rolled handkerchief in his mouth gave a swelling to
his lower jaws, which was at least a good imitation of the facial
shape of the monsters.

His speech through these impediments to the movements of his tongue,
would carry the resemblance further, and the bandages crisscrossing
his body produced the effect of deformity, which he could accentuate
with a dragging limp.

He passed slowly down the long corridor, and came to a door. There
were sounds beyond the door, and for a moment he listened, then
slipped through. Another long hall stretched before him, a hall
through which moved slowly a line of deformed monsters, not unlike
himself in appearance.

He joined the procession, which was flanked occasionally by orderlies
and nurses, and which led past a desk where a white-coated doctor sat,
taking down the case histories of the patients.

As he neared the desk, Jeffrey recognized the doctor. It was Anthony
Steele--a man whose acquaintance Jeffrey had cultivated after the
other had become a professional admirer and friend of Dr. Skull.

Was Steele involved in this, also? Jeffrey could hardly believe it.
His turn came, and Dr. Steele's eyes, tired, and with something aghast
struggling in their depths, were lifted to his.

"Name?" muttered Steele.

"White," said Jeffrey, "Robert White."

He knew suddenly that as far as Tony Steele was concerned, the
deception was unnecessary. Tony Steele looked as if he'd been through
hell, and might drop any minute--but because of that very fatigue, he
might not be able to keep a secret.

No; Jeffrey had to play a lone hand. Nor was it hard for him to become
immersed in the part he elected to play...




CHAPTER TEN

Fresh Blood for the Octopus

THE sun poured into Carol Endicott's bedroom, and she woke to an evil
memory. "It was only a dream," she thought, as reassuring daylight
made a bright thing of her room. "Only a bad dream..." She turned,
and tried to sleep again.

But the thing which had awakened her would not be silent.
Persistently, in another room, a telephone was ringing, and she knew
by its tone that it was the private wire between Jeffrey Fairchild's
apartment and the offices of Dr. Skull. Jeff had it installed in order
to keep in constant touch with Robert, who, when he was not at the
hospital, lived with the doctor.

Who, she thought through her troubled drowsiness, would be at the
doctor's office now? For she and Robert were here and the doctor was
missing.

She lifted the receiver, and announced primly enough, "Mr. Fairchild's
residence."

No response. Only a soft click...Alarmed, Carol tried to ring the
other end. It didn't work. The line was dead.

"Jeff!" She knocked at the door of his room, for it was a puzzle that
justified her awakening him. But Jeffrey did not answer either...

She heard the back door-bell ringing, and recalled that it was time
for the cook to come to work. It would be a relief, she thought, as
she went to the service entrance, to have someone else in the house to
talk to--Her hand turned the knob, and a smile of welcome was on her
lips when suddenly she stopped.

A scream eddied to her lips, a scream that was choked back by the huge
hand that closed clammily over her mouth.

They were vast, distorted, grotesque, the man and woman on the
threshold; half-human, half-nameless beasts. Carol struggled with all
the power of utter revulsion against that gagging grasp, but the man
was stronger than she.

"Don't be afraid," the man was saying in a harsh guttural whisper. "I
don't mean to hurt you...I only want to find Dr. Skull. Don't scream
when I let you go; I must talk to you."

The grip on her mouth relaxed, and Carol took a deep breath. Something
in the creature's tone banished her fear and oddly now--she felt only
pity.

"I'm Dr. Skull's nurse," she said. "But I don't know, myself, where he
is. What made you come here? Was it you who called a moment ago?"

The man nodded. "He had us--in his house, in the cellar. We found a
tunnel and it came to this building, but there were so many
apartments. Then we used the phone. You told us which apartment you
were in, and we found this place by the directory in the basement. No
one has seen us. No one--ought to."

"I'll call Mr. Fairchild," Carol said helplessly. "He may help you
more than I can. Just wait inside; I'll be right back."

She went back to Jeffrey's room, Knocked again, and then opened the
door. Incredulously, unhappily, she stared at four walls and a
ceiling, at the bed which had not been slept in. For Jeffrey was gone.

A QUEER sort of grimace, half-leer, half-tragic, came over his
ghastly features. "There must be lot of people--disappearing," the
man-creature said in his toneless, grunting voice.

"But, Jeffrey...You don't understand," Carol mourned.

For the first time, painfully, the woman of the pair spoke. "The
purple light," she said slowly. "Last night--he said--there was a
purple light. Maybe--that's where they all are. Do you know anything
about that?"

Carol remembered her dream--or was it a dream? "No," she said slowly,
"I don't know--but it's on that new building..."

"You've got to take us there," he said.

Carol took a last shocked glance at her visitors, and went for her
coat. No sense waking Robert--it wouldn't matter to him that Jeff was
gone. And he might be a nuisance about being left alone. So, to insure
privacy, she went down the back stairs with the grotesque pair, and
hailed a taxi.

She had expected, at the very least, that the cabbie would be
surprised, but he only looked at her with a queer I'm-glad-I'm-not-in-
your-shoes kind of sympathy and said, "Victory Building, miss?"

"I guess so," Carol answered bewilderedly. Things seemed to have
proceeded vastly during the night, so that the city was altogether
changed. She felt like a pawn in a game whose rules she did not know,
and she could not imagine at what point in the future she would be
again allowed to take her fate into her own hands.

Then she saw the traffic converging as though by design, upon a single
point. A whole corps of uniformed policemen were directing traffic
either to or from one central point--and ahead loomed the Victory
Building, its peak barely discernible in the low-lying late autumn
clouds.

As the cars packed closer to one another, she realized that hers was
not the only ghastly cargo of deformed humanity. There were others--
hundreds of others of the gruesome half-human Things.

A sob caught in her throat, and the woman--thing beside her said, "Not
nice, is it?"

Not nice...no, decidedly not nice. It was vast and terrifying and
inexplicable, like watching a stray star rush toward the earth,
knowing that collision would mean the end of history and of men. It
was cruel and mad, and there was almost nothing to do about it but
press through the crowd and wait...

The taxi drew up in front of the entrance, and a man in white helped
her get her passengers out. All three walked in the slow file across
the sidewalk, and at the great portals, a man with a badge asked
officially, "Your name, miss?"

"Carol Endicott," she said. "I'm a nurse, and these people are my
doctor's patients. We want to find him...it's Dr. Skull."

Even before the man-monster behind her gasped, "Don't tell him!" she
knew it had been a mistake.

The man with the badge stiffened; one hand fell heavily on her
shoulder, and the other brought a whistle to his lips.

"It's the Skull's nurse!" he shouted. "Don't let her get away...!"

The pack behind her thickened. Only ahead, into the building, was
there any sort of passage to escape. Carol writhed in the official's
grasp, and her eyes widened as she saw the man-thing slam into her
captor with terrific force. She felt the clasp of a cold hand on her
wrist, and one of her patients whispered, "Run!"

They ran--up stairways, into elevators, down bewildering corridors,
always with the hue and cry behind them, "The Skull's nurse! Don't let
her get away!"

This is how a mouse feels, Carol thought hectically, with a cat after
it...for she was not choosing her own route. Always, the pursuers
seemed to circle at all but one point, as though they were
deliberately leaving clear passage for her, but she dared not defy the
route they seemed to have chosen for her. After all, that might just
be an accident...

SUDDENLY, in a short hall between two doors, the sound of pursuit
ceased. Carol had no idea where she was--and when she looked
questioningly at her patients, she realized that they were looking at
her in the same manner.

Echoes of the chase sounded beyond the door to the right--that settled
it. Carol opened the left-hand door, and walked in.

It was very dark, but there were people moving about. Something rose
up in front of her, something that was sick in an ungodly way, and it
said, "What are you doing here? Do you want to be killed?"

Carol blinked, and then she saw the shape of the other occupants of
the room. They were dozens of monsters, in all stages of physical and
mental deterioration. Carol's monster-guide stepped in front of her as
though for protection, and she heard him ask hoarsely of the creature
which had just accosted her, "We were chased here. Are there many of
you? Will they hurt this girl?"

The creature--he was a man once, Carol realized--shrugged his
flattened shoulders. "Someone else got chased here," he said. "I'll
show you what they did to him..."

He elbowed his way through the sniffling pack who stared at Carol with
avid, hungry eyes, led them to a narrow cot on which lay a man. He
seemed well enough, save for the long angry gashes on his face,
throat, and bared chest.

Carol looked at him, and uttered a little gasp. "Dr. Steele! What have
they done to you? Does anyone know?"

Dr. Anthony Steele lifted his head ever so little, and tried to grin.
He didn't succeed, and Carol hadn't the heart to grin back at him.
"You're that cute little nurse--of Dr. Skull's," said Steele. "I
remember you--God, I'm glad to see--someone I know..."

Carol knelt beside the cot, unmindful of the stench of the sick flesh
all about her. Somehow, she was glad, too, that someone he knew would
be on hand when merry young Dr. Steele...No, she couldn't even think
the word. But he was very low; very low and helpless...

"You tell--your doc--it's Borden," Tony Steele whispered. "He--thought
I was trying to--find out too much. These people--half of 'em O.K. in
the noggin; the others...plain nuts. They--did this to me. Carol,
listen: Save the sane ones. Electric heart-beat--start the heart
working right again. Step it up. Seventy-two a minute, like it should
be. Just a hunch--but I'm sure."

CAROL stared miserably at Steele's white face. And at a light tap on
her shoulder, she turned.

The thing she faced was more bloated and twisted than the others, and
his skin was a vile yellowish color...But his brown eyes had bright
memories.

"You know what he means?" the monster whispered. "He means that
electric stimulation will cure this condition. When you get out of
here, tell that to the police!"

Something about the man's voice struck a familiar chord...She must
have met him somewhere, Carol thought, before this happened to him.
"The police are looking for me," she said bitterly. "I'm Dr. Skull's
nurse. That seems to be a crime."

The man said, "You are also someone's friend." He stepped backward,
and Tony Steele was trying to talk to her again...

"That's White," he said. "A good guy, White, and lousy trick they
played him...Carol!" He sat up suddenly, and his eyes were wide with
fright. Carol reached her hand into the groping clasp, felt it
squeezed hard. "Carol--it can't be over for me! I--didn't want to die!
Didn't even want--to be a damn hero! Don't let me go--for the love of
God, don't let me go!"

Carol put an arm behind the young man's shoulders, supporting him in a
sitting position. "Steady," she murmured. "It's all right...all
right..."

"Sure," said Tony Steele, somehow more calm. "That's better...Sure,
it's all right, now."

This time, he succeeded to grin. It was a transient, brave gesture,
then suddenly Tony Steele's body went heavy and inert against Carol's
arm. As Carol laid him back slowly against the cot, she saw the blood
spurt with scarlet finality from the long cruel line on the left side
of Steele's chest...It was his heart's-blood they had taken.

Borden, he had said, was responsible. The eminent Dr. Borden was a
murderer.

And then Carol heard someone else say it, heard the monster named
White crying at the others, "You all know who's at the bottom of
this--you all know now all of you whose minds haven't been wrecked,
who your real enemies are. I'm going after Borden and his gang, and if
you won't come with me, I'm going alone!"

A babel of shouts broke out, and Carol realized that most of the
monsters were following White as he hurled himself against the door.
She knelt beside Tony Steele's body, and wondered if the same thing
had happened to Jeffrey...

Someone grasped her wrist roughly; White had come back for her. "Some
of these people are staying," he said. "They're killers...You're
coming with us. You'll be safer."

There was something in the hideous man's brown eyes...

Carol rose, and walked by his side through the open door, down
seemingly endless corridors and rooms, and then one more door. White
kicked it open, and they were facing a green-colored figure wearing a
pointed mask, sitting across a desk on the other side of a glass
partition.

Carol gasped, "That's the man! The one who calls himself the Oc--"
but she could not finish.

For suddenly, underneath the mask, a purple light began to glow, grow
stronger and larger, until it covered the whole of the face of the
mask. Two gigantic eyes seemed to focus upon her, blinding her,
stopping her speech.

A tremendous wave of heat seemed to shrivel her skin, as it had done
on that previous occasion at the burning hospital. She heard guttural
shouts all abut her, miraculously heard someone calling her name, and
then she was falling, falling, into purple depths of oblivion. And
from a great distance she seemed to sense, rather than hear, the cruel
thin laughter of the Octopus!




CHAPTER ELEVEN

Blood Bank of the Damned

THE effect of someone speaking seemed to filter into Carol's
understanding as she opened her eyes. Through the dull ache of her
semiconsciousness she felt she had been aware of that sound moving
through her dream like the murmur of evil doom.

She saw that she was in the same room where the flash of purple light
had rendered her momentarily unconscious--and about her, were the same
monsters. White's arm circled her slim body with an impersonal
protectiveness--and somehow, though he was hideously sick as the rest,
that contact did not repulse her.

The monotone effect of their speech lingered with her, seemed to pound
with peculiarly sympathetic cadence against her tortured eardrums.
Perhaps it was because the very elements of her understanding had so
recently been outraged; perhaps, she thought, she was still only half-
conscious. Then suddenly it seemed to her that it was no human speech
she was hearing.

She couldn't distinguish words in that monotone murmur, that felt as
though it exuded from some sort of mechanism, yet the sound had
carried conviction, as though by cadence rather than by words, and it
seemed to penetrate somehow into the bases of her comprehension...And
it carried a message.

She looked about her again, and saw all the monsters, including White,
listening attentively. The message related to them. Carol became
somehow aware that these monsters had rights--they had a right to
live, they had a right to kill and perform atrocities, to preserve the
living spark that animated them...just as much right to all these
things as she had, as any normal person had!

Yet certainly these convictions of hers did not grow out of her own
reason! Her eyes transcended her immediate surroundings, and she
became aware of a cloudy glass-like partition in the middle of the
room, behind which were two figures. One was Borden, the other that
shapeless, bulbous mass with the long tentacles and the oddly gleaming
eyes, whose light was no longer directed at her...Its motionless
lack of feature suggested something ageless and evil that might have
come down through centuries of untold suffering and darkness...

The message she was hearing must be emanating from that gelid mass...
The purple orbs were moving, shifting. Perhaps this Thing was speaking
words, but before they came through the glass screen which divided the
room, they must have passed through some sort of mechanism that
removed from them the elements of speech, reduced them to an eerily
comprehensible murmur that carried with it a persuasive undertone of
menace.

"You'll believe, or you die..." Somehow that thought intruded into
Carol's mind, and every instinct in her body shrieked its willingness
to believe, crying for safety and self-preservation.

White's arm tightened perceptibly about her, and her bewildered
awareness was now absorbing another part of the message: The Victory
Building, she found herself realizing, was the only place where the
monsters could live. It was the only place where they could be fed the
food they required--the blood of living things...

The man who was speaking was their saviour; it was he who had set up
Borden in this most modern of all hospitals, specifically built to
withstand the ravages of this new disease that was turning men into
monsters with no blood in their veins...It was an altar dedicated to
the salvation of those unfortunates, who were what they were through
no fault of their own...

Abruptly she heard White exclaim beside her: "How will you provide us
with what we require--how can we be sure that you won't fail us...
That the authorities won't stop you, for you know what we need. Let us
take our chances on the outside..."

The monotone murmur seemed to snap an order. The room grew dark behind
the glass partition, and somewhere a door opened.

Carol screamed at the sight that met her eyes.

THEY were chained in a slave-file by the wrists and ankles, and their
faces were the faces of the damned. Carol sobbed aloud when she saw
them led in, for the prisoners of that evil orator were neither sick
nor mad. Except for the despairing horror on their faces, and the
marks of struggle on their persons and clothing, they were as normal
as Carol herself.

There was an elderly woman who might have been sweet-faced two days
ago, and there was a boy of thirteen who had forgotten the meaning of
courage. Young and old, of mixed sexes and conditions...nearly forty
of them, Carol reckoned, were led in chained by the purple-eyed guards
who applied whips and clubs when the file threatened to become unruly.

The evil voice continued, and Carol knew that the people in chains
were intended food for the monsters that had been human. Knew also,
with a strangely hopeless assurance, that these victims had been
carefully chosen for their ambiguous background, they were people
without relatives and without friends who might send authorities
investigating their disappearance!

That was the Satanic orator's answer to White's objection! "If you
were on your own, on the outside," that toneless murmur asked, "could
you do better. Indeed, could you do as well?"

She heard White cry out then, and as the pane lifted, angry-eyed
guards rushed toward him.

They were rushing toward him because he still retained enough of his
humanity to be unwilling to sacrifice those helpless ones for his own
survival...And they were also intent upon wresting her from his
protective arm.

How long, she wondered, had he been protecting her from his hungry
fellow-monsters, who were now making hungry gestures in her direction?

Startled, she heard them ask White whether he wanted her...and why he
wanted her, and she could read their thoughts in their shriveled eyes.
Sudden fright brought her close to collapse as she tried desperately
to divine White's intentions, and the other's brown eyes remained
unreadable.

She realized, through the stampede of bodies that jolted the struggle
between White and the guards, that the monsters were rushing upon
their victims. Shrieks pierced her ear-drums, which would re-echo to
those ghastly sounds as long as she lived--if indeed she could live
for more than a few minutes in this charnel house of misery.

God in heaven, she thought, nothing that had been born of woman should
value its own life so highly! Life wasn't worth the rending of your
fellow man, the bloody mouthing of raw and unkilled human flesh...

Carol heard her own shrieks joining with the rest, and she knew she
was not quite sane at that point. But sanity had ceased to exist,
sanity was a hopeless memory that had gone into limbo with all other
good things...

White was playing for space, dodging through the stampede, with the
guards gingerly following him, as if they feared that these
Frankenstein creations might slip from control, and turn red-toothed
upon those who fed them...

If it had not been for White, Carol realized, she would have gone
shrieking with the rest, to tear into the monsters as they tore into
their hapless victims, to be trampled underfoot or torn to shreds for
her blood...But White never relinquished his hold on her, he always
kept a shifting arm's-length between her and the blood-crazed pack.

Through the hungry cries and the shrieks of the dying, rose the evil
voice, again and again as, with monotone deviltry, he was urging his
guards to capture White.

And then one of the guards reached them. Carol felt hasty hands laid
irreverently on herself, and even before she cried out, White's fist
came crashing against the guard's face. There was something sharply
shining in her champion's hand, and she heard the startled man screech
with pain as that shining thing landed between his eyes.

For a moment, they had a breathing-space, as the guard plunged
headlong before them. His face was turned, but not turned so much that
Carol could not see, between his staring purple eyes, the Mark of the
Skull.

White, her rescuer, was the Skull Killer!

IN AN awed voice she whispered "You've killed him!" though she did not
know how it happened.

White grasped her wrist, and pulled her rapidly through the crowd.
Voices jelled into a chorus--and the burden of the chorus was that the
Skull Killer had come among them.

Now the guards were even more loath to press toward the deformed
figure of that famous avenger, and even the blood-starved sick gave
him clearance of a sort in that awed moment of recognition.

It was only a moment, but by the time the madness had broken again,
this time on an even more terrifying note of rage and murderousness,
White had led Carol through the milling monsters.

She heard the rising babel of pursuit as he bolted the door behind
him. If they were caught now, she knew, the tortures of those pitiful
chained souls would be as nothing compared to her own. At the concept
of pain and horror such as that, her knees wavered under her, and her
breath came in sharp cold stabs through her lungs.

White looked at her, and something in those clear brown eyes gave her
a reckless courage. "Don't be afraid," he said. "I won't let them get
you."

Into a hidden corner of her soul she shelved her fears until such time
as the cause for them should be over. In the meantime, unthinking as a
child and glad of it, she trusted herself unreservedly to this
monstrous champion. Outside, the clangor of attack resounded ominously
against the door which was their barricade, and it could not hold
forever!

THEY made a silent exit through another door, into the sterile white
corridor, only to hear the approaching echo of many feet. They were
being headed off. She must not doubt, Carol told herself, that this
man could save her, for she would go mad if she doubted.

From both directions, that sound was growing in volume as White bolted
up the corridor, and hurled his weight against a jammed door.

Twice he rammed into it, and their pursuers were coming nearer.
Desperately, the third time, Carol also pitted her weight against the
door--and hurtled inward as it suddenly gave.

They were in another ward, she realized, with a sudden fresh access of
fright, and among other unspeakably alive things. Curiously, the
lumbering creatures stared at them.

White gasped breathlessly, "They've found a cure for us. If we can
only get out of here!"

A humming, monotone message interrupted him. It was the same sort of
message, half-words, half-sensation, that Carol had sensed in the
divided room where they had left other monsters to their dreadful
feeding.

"The Skull Killer is loose," it seemed to say. "There's a girl with
him, a girl with fresh red blood and they have disobeyed the rules of
the institution. Be careful--he's dangerous..."

Still, the lumbering monsters only stared, and the monotone message
droned on. It was clear to the girl that doors were no barrier against
that incarnation of evil, and Carol's hand tightened spasmodically
about the Skull Killer's.

The monsters stared and began to close in on them, in an ominous
circle. White's brown eyes met theirs, and there was a tension that
would break, if it broke at all, in murder--or worse...

But when it happened, the episode was too swift for Carol to realize
details.For seconds later she was aware of one of the malformities
springing directly at her in a wavelike, hungry surge. But even before
her nerves had time to carry a message of fear to her brain, White's
arm traveled in a semi-arc; there was an earsplitting yell of pain,
and the monster seemed to crumble at her feet.

On the sloping, fish-belly brow, the Mark of the Skull made a smoking
outline--but a fraction of that flashing action made her gasp her
horror. For she noticed that as the Skull Killer pulled back his arm,
the small object in his hand parted from his victim's forehead with a
distinct wrench, and she caught a glimpse of a sharp point in the
middle of the tool that made that fearsome print--a point that in the
practiced hand of White must have smashed right through the skull-
bone.

"That was self defense," she heard White murmur--and then she was
screaming a warning, as the door opened behind them.

LATER, she was conscious of remembering a sickening struggle of
nightmarish proportions. Through that open door had emerged two more
of the malformations, but these looked somehow familiar, and
afterwards she decided they must have been the monsters who originally
brought her into the Victory Building.

They delved past her and White, into the mass of those others,
fighting on her side...With peculiar dexterity she felt herself
extricated from the melee and drawn back through that door, and then
she and White were once more running through the endless, gleaming
corridors.

Something in the words White gasped to her while they were running
should have given her some kind of a message, she felt, though at the
moment she was unable to grasp it: "They won't kill their own kind,"
he said. "At least--I hope they won't. I've got to get you away..."

What was there in the simple statement that she felt she should have
understood--and didn't?

In the world outside, it would be late morning, a grey November
morning, with no harshness in it. But here in the Victory Building
there was neither night nor day, there were only miles of sterile,
luminous corridor...

"What are we looking for?" Carol asked. Partly, the Skull Killer was
leading her, partly he was dragging her. Her legs had long ago ceased
to feel as though they had life of their own...

"There's some way of getting to the part of the building behind that
glass-paned room," he whispered. "We'll get back the keys of the city
if we reach that far--and I'm pretty sure we're on the right track,
because the building's full of authorities and investigators, and none
of them seem to have gotten here." A queer grim smile came over his
yellowed face. "And if we persuade a few of these poor creatures, on
our way, that the Skull Killer is a better gamble than the Octopus, it
won't hurt our cause, either!"

And Carol shivered at the sight of his smile.

As their continued escape brought her never long-downed feeling of
confidence nearer its healthy norm, it occurred to her that she was
being something of a burden to this man--and her brain busied itself
with plans and schemes for getting into the stronghold of the enemy.

The toneless voice was sending its message out again--"The Skull
Killer is loose among us. Be careful--he is dangerous...you are
urged to kill him on sight..." And then followed directions for the
chase, giving what Carol surmised was their approximate location in
the building.

Carol said, "That must be a sort of broadcast--it follows us all over,
right through this part of the building. That means there's a wiring
system, maybe with photo-electric cells. He knows where we are because
we shut the connections...If we could find the wires, and trace
them, we’d have him. I'm going to look for them right now."

The brown eyes turned searchingly on Carol then, warmly appreciative.
"Bright girl," White said. "Though I doubt it's so simple."

Still, he made Carol feel good--so good that she immediately began the
search for hidden wiring, pressing her palms up and down the wall,
against the floor. Then a small electric shock made her hop back to an
erect position, and with rapidly beating heart, she announced, "I've
found it!"

THE wiring appeared only as a thinnish white ridge along the gleaming
floor. It was almost imperceptible to the casual glance, but once
recognized, it was easy to follow. Momentarily Carol wondered that it
hadn't been hidden more thoroughly, and the same idea seemed to have
occurred to White, who murmured.

"He probably didn't want this wiring out of reach of handy repair, if
it ever went wrong," White murmured. "That's why it's not in the
wall--thank God! Look, that's the direction we've got to go, because
there's a junction."

Suddenly the constant messages changed in tenor, became addressed
directly to Carol and her companion.

"Don't be fools, you two! I know you're coming--and what you seek to
do is hopeless. The city is full of the dead and deformed who have
only incidentally displeased me--how much more terrible do you think
my vengeance will be on you who deliberately seek to ruin me? You
still have a chance to save yourselves. Go back, before it is too
late!"

Carol shuddered, then she heard White whisper exultantly, "He's
scared! We must be almost there. He's afraid his men won't get to us
in time, and he's starting to bluff!"

Carol tried hard to be sure of that, and kept her eyes downward on the
guiding white ridge. Suddenly she cried out with dismay, for the ridge
ended in a blank wall.

And from somewhere on the other side of the wall came a muffled series
of shrieked pleas, as of a human being in prolonged death agony.

CAROL looked about the jointure of wall and floorboard, almost as
though she might find a loose seam there--and suddenly she was less
concerned with further progress than with defense. For people were
coming toward them, and already she was conscious of the peculiar
overpowering smell heralding the approach of that evil and parasitic
life.

White knew it, too. He stepped rapidly in front of her, and his brown
eyes, the only recognizably human feature in his face, grew suddenly
cold with alarm.

There were two people, a man and a woman. Carol recognized them as the
pair with whom she had come to the Victory Building. They hadn't
seemed evil then, only sick...But now she didn't know. For, as the
two came nearer, those grotesque faces were utterly without
expression.

The omnipresent murmuring voice broke into command to the two
approaching monsters. "Capture these people, and bring them to me!
They are enemies of your own kind."

Carol braced herself for swift attack, but there was only the guttural
voice of the man-thing, saying, "Give us light. Without the light, we
are too weak."

Instantly, a dull steady indigo glare flooded the corridor. It was not
strong enough to send Carol again into semi-consciousness, but her
eyes smarted to the point of dizziness and her whole body trembled.

She heard White's startled exclamation, and when her eyes could
penetrate the glare she realized that the dead-end wall had become
transparent in the glow. And beyond that wall, was the thing whose
voice had followed them through the building.

A young girl's nearly nude body was hanging taut, and suspended by the
wrists from a rope in the ceiling, her feet barely grazing the floor.
Her body was pitted with little black holes and it was only too
obvious what had caused those holes.

The gruesome Thing with its weaving tentacles stood beside the girl;
she could see the dark blood on the rim of the knifelike circular
suction cups of its tentacles. On the girl's other side stood a
deformed monster, drawing still more of the life-fluid from that white
body, by means of a sharpened metal pipe which he had inserted in the
victim's side. Carol stared, weak with horror, while the shapeless
living mass was finishing its ghoulish feast with passionate greed!

Carol looked behind her, almost ready now to run recklessly back the
way she had come, shrieking for human aid, but the passageway was
closed.

Over a score of the misshapen, ravenous monster-things choked the
corridor!




CHAPTER TWELVE

Voice of the Skull Killer

WHITE'S hand closed about hers firmly, as though he knew what berserk
madness was hatching in her brain. "They won't kill their own kind,"
White had said--but she, Carol, wasn't their kind! The girl--the girl
whose blood was being drained...They'll do that to me, Carol
thought, with only death as the end of agony...

But the monsters, though they circled impassably about, made no move
to attack. Their bodies seemed to wax in the purple glow, and an eerie
sheen played on the sick flesh...

The green Octopus seemed to laugh softly as a tentacle reached out
with a sinuously caressing movement that meant death. The nude girl's
body writhed a very little bit...

THE voice came again: "When I raise this wall, my people will attend
to the young lady. You, White--you're going to see that girl with you
drained as this girl is being drained. I know what you are, and it's
not what you pretend to be. The Skull Killer, monster though he
appears, is not one of our patients."

Carol could almost hear the rigidity of the diseased bodies about her
as they stiffened. "They won't kill their own kind!" but, as she had
half suspected, the Skull Killer wasn't their kind at all. He was
disguised, and now the Octopus had shattered the Skull's safety.

Then she realized that it was another thought which had caused the
monsters to become so tensely rigid. She could not read it in their
immobile expressions, but that very immobility was eloquent. It was
not the Skull Killer their leashed fury waited to attack, for the
Octopus, by stating that the Skull Killer was not one of his patients,
had undermined the very reason for the monsters' allegiance! The
disease was supposed to be epidemic, and in an epidemic, no man can
say who will, and who will not be stricken. Looking upon the hideously
malformed White, how could he say then, that the Skull Killer was
positively not afflicted? To all practical purposes, the monstrosity
had admitted to his victims that there was a deliberate plan behind
their deformity--and that the plan was his!

Carol's heart pounded almost triumphantly. She looked again at the man
named White, and her terror-numbed brain struggled with the thought
that she should have known him. Those brown eyes...No, the identity
eluded her.

Leering like a carrion thing about to strike, the Octopus rose erect,
his snakelike tentacles slowly waving, and the wall began to raise!

CAROL and White were fairly swept into the chamber by the onrush of
waiting monsters. Now the murmuring voice was loud with hatred. Carol,
strongly fascinated by the weird, sea-green thing before her, the
cupped, weaving tentacles, the hideously malformed legs, and the small
mask through which glowed the purple, luminous eyes, heard orders
concerning herself that chilled her to the marrow, but only for a
tense moment.

After that moment, their throats raucous with a battle cry of the
vengeful damned, the monsters rushed to the attack. But the object of
their attack was--the Octopus himself!

Now a new voice arose in command clear and calm. It was the voice of
the Skull Killer beside her and he seemed not at all surprised at the
turn of events. As Carol flattened herself against the wall to avoid
the trampling, seething mob of monsters, she realized that White and
the two man- and woman-things with whom she had come to the Victory
Building were working together as though by some carefully prearranged
plan.

Again her mind flashed back to the time when those two monsters had
aided her and the Skull Killer's escape from their fellows. Though she
had been too dazed to realize it then, that room where the monsters
had been kept, must have been a pre-arranged meeting place between
White and his malformed helpers. They must have made their plans at
some point either when she had been unconscious or had her attention
diverted.

It had been the duty of those friendly monsters to convince their
fellows that, in White's words, "The Skull Killer was a better bet
than the Octopus." They had succeeded, and then followed White and
herself through the long corridors, biding their time, waiting for the
opportunity to avenge their wrongs.

The sight of that vengeance now sickened Carol. Man after sniveling
man, Borden, and the white-jacketed orderlies, were being torn to
shreds by the fury of that attack. She felt the Octopus screaming, saw
the room grow darker, as those indigo eyes were extinguished. Then
merciful darkness closed over her...

Slowly she became conscious of the Skull Killer's voice again. He was
speaking into a microphone contained in a little glass cage set apart
in one corner of the room, like the control--room of a radio station.

"This is station WVI, on top of the Victory Building, New York City.
Skull Killer speaking. In reference to my previous broadcast, which
promised an investigation of the Citizens' Emergency Medical
Committee, that investigation has taken place. The Committee has been
purged of various vicious and deadly elements which had control of
it."

"The disease against which you have been warned in previous broadcasts
from this same station, is no natural disease at all--but was the work
of fiendish human beings. I speak of them in the past tense, because
they have ceased now to exist."

There was a pause, then White went on, "You will be glad to learn that
there is no further danger of contamination to you, nor need you send
any but voluntary contributions to aid your stricken fellow citizens.
A cure has been suggested for them by Dr. Anthony Steele, late member
of the Emergency Committee, who died heroically, doing his duty as a
doctor.

"Authorities are requested to come to the west wing of the forty-fifth
floor of this building, where they will find corroboration of what I
have just said, in a hitherto inaccessible part of the Victory
Building...That is all!"

White suddenly rushed out of the glass-enclosed booth. He paused
before her, his hideously swollen, yellow face inches removed from her
own.

HE WHISPERED, "I must go now. When the authorities come, tell them
what Steele said. That'll clear you--then tell them everything else.
These--people," his arm gestured briefly towards the monsters, who had
fallen silent and stood regarding him, "will corroborate your
testimony, and help clear any friends of yours from charges...Do
your best!"

He reached for a switch, and the room became dark. Carol was conscious
of an almost overwhelming physical relief as the purple glare of the
ultraviolent light was extinguished. She had hardly noticed its
torturous presence in the recent excitement, but now she was weak and
faint.

Strong arms encircled her, supported her. She thought they were
White's, but when presently the room was flooded again with the light,
she saw that he had disappeared. A frightened cry escaped her lips.
She was completely alone and surrounded by the hideous, half-human
malformations, and it was a woman who held her up.

"Don't worry," the woman said gutturally, "you'll be--all right."

And then the police, with their red and healthy human faces, were
entering that place of deadly violet dusk...

JEFFREY FAIRCHILD picked her up at Police Headquarters. She had told
her story, and had only been half-believed. Still, Jeffrey's influence
had been sufficient to secure her release, and the pending
investigation, the quizzing of the monsters, was all in her favor, and
thus, automatically, in favor of her employer, Dr. Skull.

She wondered a little where Skull could be, and remembered the brown
eyes of the monster, Robert White, the Skull Killer. She realized,
shuddering, that with a little altering of the lines about them, those
eyes might have been Dr. Skull's.

Had the elderly physician given himself those same treatments, that
turned men into monsters, simply so that he would be able to fight
that dread disease? Then she remembered the youth and strength of
White...it was impossible that old Dr. Skull could have been as
strong as that.

Seriously, however, she offered her surmises to Jeffrey, who laughed
at them.

"Silly kid," he said indulgently. "You've just risked your life with
the net effect of clearing Dr. Skull, and now it seems you've
convinced everyone but yourself! Personally, I always thought those
rumors about the doctor and the Skull Killer were much dream-stuff. I
just saw Dr. Skull, half an hour ago, and he was no more diseased than
I am."

Carol shook her head perplexedly. "I wish he'd have let me know that
earlier," she said. "I suppose my job's still open?"

Jeffrey nodded. "Dr. Skull's going to do some special work at the
Victory Building. You'll probably be working right there with him."

Already Jeff had opened negotiations for purchase of the skyscraper
whose owners could not be found. For he realized that, with its
magnificent medical equipment, the Victory Building would be a logical
substitute for the ruined Mid-City Hospital in service to the
community.

But the Octopus--that incredibly evil personality who had been the
skyscraper's first master--would his presence really be gone forever
from the place he had lorded? Jeffrey recalled those old legends of
the Deathless One, and he couldn't swear that the man was dead. It had
been impossible to identify all the mangled bodies after that dreadful
revenge.

He forced himself to think sensibly of the whole matter. It was true
that he could not account for the Octopus, nor for his purple-eyed
followers, neither in their origin or nature.

Albinism, attended by a mental aberration--he thought of that as an
explanation. But why should there have risen a leader for these
suddenly-appearing purple-eyed albinos?

Jeffrey sighed. He had done his part in the freeing of his city; he
could only continue to do his part in the interests of its welfare. If
sometime in the unpredictable future that essence of evil threatened
once more to test its malignant, deadly powers, the new owner of the
Victory Building would have to do his part again...


THE END




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