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Title: The Wood Devil Thing
Author: Gordon MacCreagh
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0606071.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

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The Wood Devil Thing
Gordon MacCreagh

SERGEANT McGRATH, "Moro" McGrath, as he was called, of the Burma
police, squatted chunkily on the ground cloth of a green waterproof
E.P. tent and regarded with thinlipped cynicism the uppermost of a
sheaf of printed notices which the dak runner had just brought in.

Fresh from the government press, they announced, in English on one
half and neat, round Burmese on the other, that five thousand rupees
were offered for the capture, dead or alive, of one Boh Lu-Bain,
convicted of dacoity, with murder, robbery under arms, arson, and an
appalling list of subsidiary crimes.

The windproof acetylene camp lantern threw sharp, angular shadows
across the hard-grain mahogany of the sergeant's face as it suddenly
cracked into a grim smile.

"Huh! Looks like a pretty durn safe offer---seein' things is as they
is," he grunted to himself aloud, after the manner of white men who
spend much time in the far corners of the earth, with only natives to
talk to. "Mister Boh is some slick conundrum."

His lips pressed slowly together again, and he caressed his wooden
block of a chin in perplexed introspection. As he turned the case over
in his mind and swore impatiently at the queerness of its attendant
circumstances, another link was suddenly added to the chain of
uncanniness. From out of the dense, black jungles that ringed the
clearing there sounded a wild, quavering cry, so long-drawn and so
pitiful that the subdued clamor from the other tents of the little
camp stopped short as though cut off with a knife.

Before the long wail had ceased to vibrate through the still, hot air,
in some miraculous manner a rifle had appeared in Sergeant McGrath's
hands and he stood outside of his tent, stepping with instinctive
caution away from the thin shaft of light which cut far out across the
blackness from the tent flap. He listened in the intense silence which
had fallen. Then---

"Hussein Jemadar!" he called.


A tall, uniformed figure appeared out of the darkness and saluted.

"Take two men and see what that cry was about."

The jemadar saluted again and disappeared; and McGrath stood peering
like a nighthawk into the blacker shadows across the clearing.
Presently an altercation was apparent among the men's tents. It waxed
fiercer; and shortly the jemadar loomed up again.

"Huzoor, the men are mutinous. They insist that it is the Nat devil
who shrieks as he rends some unfortunate, and their knees are limp
with fear."

"Fathers of many fools!" barked the sergeant. "This is no time to make
monkey-chatter. There is need of speed. I'll attend to the men later--
when I come back. Make lights and double the sentry. Swift, now!"

For an instant he was a darker blot under the shadow of the trees, and
then he merged into the blackness. The native jemadar had to marvel
for the hundredth time at the speed and silence with which his
superior melted into the undergrowth; and then he went to carry out
his order and to acquaint the men who were afraid of nats of the
greater hell which would presently occur to them when the sahib

The sergeant glided swiftly on in the direction from which the cry had
come; but, for all his unhesitating promptness, the chills kept racing
up and down his spine. There was something mysterious about this case,
something not altogether wholesome--to say nothing of plunging at
night, and alone, into an inky tropical jungle where soft scufflings
and padded footfalls sounded disquietingly from behind the tree
trunks, how far or how close to be judged by ear alone. But if there
had been light enough to distinguish details by, the sergeant's face
would have shown the same alertness and relentless ferocity as the
other night prowlers as he slipped in and out with hardly any more
noise than they, and with all his muscles tensed to jump like a cat in
any direction at any moment.

Presently he became aware of a gentle crackling of twigs before him.
Instantly he pressed himself against a tree, motionless as the trunk
itself, straining his eyes into the gloom, while pictures of all the
things that might drop on him from above raced through his mind. The
bushes swished again, and a dim shape crept out not twenty yards
distant and crouched, a shadow among the shadows. Most men would have
yelled and fired point-blank at the shape; but Moro McGrath never
stirred, only his fingers tightened slowly over the stock of his rifle
which hung easily at arm's length. He had graduated from that most
efficient training school, the Philippines. Seven strenuous years had
he put in as an independent scout before the high tides of his
turbulent soul had drifted him just round the corner into Burma; and
he rested secure in the knowledge that he could shoot from the
shoulder or the hip or in midair with the speed of an electric spark.

The crouching shadow swayed up on all fours and came uncertainly
forward; then it sank behind another bush, only ten yards away this
time. The muzzle of the sergeant's rifle, still at arm's length, swung
slowly and noiselessly round, and the thick forefinger curled round
the trigger, just a fraction of an ounce below the necessary firing

Then the thing groaned.

"God! An' I near drilled him!" exploded the sergeant. He sprang
forward, all thoughts of things that might drop or jump out from
behind trees banished from his mind, and lifted the broken thing in
his arms. It only moaned.

"Pret-ty durn bad hit," he muttered. "Got some kind of a gun, too.
Feels like---Curse this darkness!" He fumbled a while with the inert
arms and legs, and then presently swung them easily over one wide
shoulder and strode swiftly to the camp.

The clearing was a blaze of lights, and the sentry had contrived to
collect three other supports round himself in the event of an attack
by the expected nat. The jemadar and others came running. McGrath
handed over his burden.

"Our uniform--what's left of it. Who's the man? Bring a light."

A man ran up with a petrol flare.

"Allah, have mercy!" burst from the jemadar. "The man has no face!"

The light flickered ghastly on a clotted smudge where the face should
have been. Livid strips of twisted flesh were all that remained. Moro
McGrath had seen what was left after the terrible sideswipe that a
bear may sometimes deliver; but this thing was just a horrid crimson
mess. It was as if some malignant giant hand had deliberately blotted
out all chance of recognition. The sergeant drew in his breath with a
whistling sound.

"Take him to the doctor, babu, quick! An'---here, take also this
remnant of a rifle. Prepare report. I follow."

He went to his own tent to wash up, for he was one of those men who
somehow contrived to look neat and trim under the most impossible
circumstances--a remnant of his soldier training. As he cleaned up,
his eye fell again on the reward notices. The cynical look came back,
tinged this time with something of awe.

"Five thou is a heap o' money; but--personal I don't want it bad
enough to go scoutin' up that valley. Can't altogether blame my
fellers for talkin' nat. Wonder what in thunder could 'a' done that to
that poor devil." Thank Pete it's Brandon's district--" He broke off
and listened again, with his head cocked alert like a lynx. From out
the jungle came another rending of undergrowth, heavy-footed and
ponderous this time. The sergeant slipped out of the tent and once
more became a motionless shadow at another point in the clearing. The
crackling came nearer.

"Man!" muttered McGrath. "A big un. White, an' a city feller, I'll

A tremendous figure broke out of the bushes not four feet from him,
and plunged on past him, all unconscious. The man made straight for
the lighted tent, and the watcher glided after him like a ghost. The
big visitor strode into the shaft of light from the tent flap, and
then wheeled like a bull gaur as the sergeant's voice broke on him
from right at his heels:

"Durned if it ain't Dickie Travers! How'd you blow up here? Fired from
the laboratory job in Rangoon?"

"Moro, old scout! Say, I'm dashed glad to see you! They told me back
at the village that I'd find your camp on the Kindat Road. Tried to
scare me at the same time by swearing that the woods here were full of
devils, all red-hot and howling. But say, I want to see you awful bad;
you're the only man in Burma who can help me out, and I had to risk
the devils." The big man laughed and stretched his great shoulders.

"An', since you think you can lick your weight in devils any day, you
jest came along, hey?" the sergeant grinned quizzically. "Well,
there's more in heaven an' earth, son, an' particularly in the
almighty jungle, than is dreamed of in Rangoon city. C'm' on in an'
moisten up an' unload your chest."

The younger man needed no more urging to break into a long and
enthusiastic harangue, the coherence of which was considerably marred
by continuous and unnecessary digressions devoted to glowing
descriptions of a certain third party. The sergeant chewed on a pipe
and grinned tolerantly at his friend's ardor, though, as the story
progressed, his dark face took on an expression of concern. Finally he
rose very deliberately and knocked out his pipe, carefully dropping
the ash into an empty tobacco tin.

"Well," he announced, with conviction, "if you think the girl's worth
this damfool scheme of yours, you got it good an' proper; worse'n I
ever gave you discredit for. Now lemme tell you somep'n about this Boh
man. Listen careful, now.

"This Lu-Bain chief is the hardest proposition in dacoits since the
famous Boh Da-Thone. An' he's no ignorant savage, lemme tell you. He's
a Pali scholar an' a graduate of Rangoon College. Also he's a high-
class gun artist, an' incidental the ugliest brute in Burma. Got a
face like a gorilla; an' his actions are just about as inhuman."

"I don't care," persisted Travers doggedly, setting his lips with grim
determination. "I've got to get that money."

Moro McGrath spun round on him from his short walk up and down the
tent and shot out a sinewy forefinger at him.

"Wait a minute, son! Don't be so malice an' prepense against the man.
The parade ain't commenced yet. Listen! This Boh party accrued a
considerable gang an' waltzed around the country in the usual way,
destroyin' the populace most prodigal, an'---Well, we had to get after
him with two or three detachments, an' we hived most o' the bunch--
there's some eighteen or twenty heads stuck up in the Taungyen market
place for identification right now--but this Boh ideal is a slick
number, an' he gets away clear. I chase him an' one or two other hard
citizens into this valley of Hankow, which is the thickest, stinkiest,
malariest jungle in all Chindwin, an' which, thank Pete, is out o' my
district; an' here he lays up, bottled.

"So far, fine an' dandy, thank you. But now listen, son, careful. The
Burmans an' my fool Punjabi constables say it's plumb impossible for
any human bein' to live in that jungle 'count o' fever an' snakes an'
beasts an' hell all else. Wherefore, with pucca native reasonin' most
circumstantial an' proper, they prove that he's changed himself by
means o' magic into a highclass wood demon, or not, all teeth an'
claws an' smoke."

"Hold on!" interrupted Tracy eagerly. "How d'you know he's bottled?
What proof have you that he's not gone out of the valley?"

"Proof an' to spare. Every now an' then some jungle man comes in
scared stiff an' reports how he seen the famous yellow silk gaungbaung
headdress an' the rifle with the solid-silver stock; an' once in a
while friend Boh sends along a little proof, extra an' unsolicited,
jest to show he's happy an' keepin' his end up. F'r instance, a jungle
man comes in the other day with his hands tied behind him an' his ears
hung around his neck on a string, an' he throws up a yarn about devils
howlin' an' dancin' in the dark that'd paralyze you. An' not long
after, a raft floats down the river with one o' my own men, crucified
an' generally used up somethin' horrible." The sergeant grimaced and
shuddered at the recollection. Then he continued with deliberate
conviction: "Now all that's plain dacoit humor, an' don't raise my
belief in devils any; but---Now, mark me, I maintains right here that
the Boh's gone crazy with the heat or the hardship or the loneliness
or somep'n; but the rest o' the story ain't normal; there's somep'n I
can't figure out, somep'n outside human range. Listen:

"More recently these outbursts of enthusiasm has taken on a--a kinder
unwholesome nature. Two jungle men come in in a canoe with a body
whose arm is wrenched complete off. Torn, mind you, not hacked. Then
comes another, crushed jest to pulp; every bone broken, like he'd
fallen out a flyin' machine. The Burmans say right away it's a nat;
the strength required to do those stunts ain't human. An', by God, it

Sergeant McGrath paused and looked darkly up through his eyebrows at
his friend. Travers was visibly affected by the uncanny recital; his
usual attitude of careless confidence had left him, but the
determination showed relentlessly in his face.

"It's weird, Moro, old scout, and maybe dangerous; but you don't head
me off yet," he maintained seriously. "I'm out after that reward, and
I'm going to get it."

"Hm!" grunted the older man. "Sudden death or sudden matrimony; you
lose either way. Well, there's another chapter been added to the story
just before you come in. Maybe we can get some information at
firsthand--if the poor devil can talk. C'm' on to the hospital tent."

The fussy little native doctor explained with much circumstance in the
exaggerated whisper of his kind that his skill had so far revived the
man that he was able to talk and anxious to make his report.

"Have you found out who it is?" asked McGrath in a responsive whisper,
unconsciously affected by the technical jargon and calculated
impressiveness of the "profession."

A mass of bandages heaved itself up onto an elbow on the cot and

"It is Misri-Khan, sahib, nambar sebentin," mumbled a muffled voice
from out the wrappings, and then proceeded, weakly and with many
relapses, to unfold an amazing story, the gist of which was: First,
that he, Misri-Khan, was a brave man, and, therefore, ignoring the
devil stories, had scouted up that dim valley where all others feared
to go, looking for tracks of the Boh. Secondly, that the total absence
of tracks convinced him that the Boh had indeed become a Nat--for
Nats, of course, traveled over the ground without leaving trace.
Nevertheless, did he continue on the trail for the honor of the
service, and would the protector of the poor see that he received
suitable reward therefore? And finally: "On the second day, sahib, as
I sought in the darkest part of the forest among great trees of Padouk
and Sal many cubits high, it happened that I heard a great rending of
wood, and--Allah is my witness, sahib--lifting my eyes, I beheld the
father of all the Nats tear a great tree asunder and spring at me from
the bowels thereof. The face was the face of the Boh, only more
terrible, but the arms were of the thickness of a man's leg, and hairy
as those of a spider. Huzoor, I have distinguished service medal; but
at that sight my knees were turned to water, and I fell upon the
ground; yet did I remember to fire my carbine. I am also secondclass
marksman, sahib, and at that distance could I assuredly not miss. Yet
the ball went through the devil, and he leaped upon me, howling magic
words which I knew not. That is all, sahib. He left me for dead; yet
by the favor of Allah did I recover and crawl with much tribulation to
the jungle's edge, where the sahib, may Allah reward him, found me.
There is yet one more thing, sahib. The Nat, having smitten me, took
my carbine and bent the barrel as a bow is bent. In witness whereof
the gun is now in the hands of the jemadar. Bus, I have finished."

McGrath asked a few more questions, gave some directions for the man's
comfort, and then, with significant and pointed silence, took his
friend by the arm and led him out to examine the rifle. It was as the
man had said. The steel barrel was bent into an arc. McGrath took it
to the light and examined it with critical, narrowed eyes. The puzzled
expression on his face increased to dark amazement.

"Now that's durn queer," he muttered. "I figured it might possibly
have been hammered that way, or even bitten by some powerful animal;
but lookut here, Dick, there's not a mark; the bluein' ain't got a
scratch on it. An' a durn queer story; of course padded out a whole
heap with the good old Oriental fairy stuff; but there's somep'n
mighty unhealthy in this whole business, Dick, my son. D'ja still feel
all het up to go Boh devil huntin'?"

The determined lines on Travers' face assumed an expression of dogged

"Queer it is, Moro," he admitted grudgingly. "But this bogy talk is
all hot air. Anyhow, if it was the devil himself, I'm not going to
back out now. I've got to get that reward, and in a hurry, 'cause if I
don't, her old dad's sending her home to God's country next month. But
look here, Moro, old scout, you don't stand to gain anything out of
this; you don't have to come. In fact, I'd hate to drag you into it; I
can get a guide and go alone."

McGrath looked sourly up at him from under one raised eyebrow.

"You're in love," he snorted, "so I ain't takin' offense at anything
you say. Sure I don't have to come. I ain't gettin' married; so I
don't have to figure on a violent death as a cheerful alternative. But
I know you when you look that way, an' if you're so durned desperate
as all that, someone's got to take care of you. 'Tain't my district,
an' I ain't hankerin' to prospect that valley, but--well, I got a
feelin' that I'm the goat."

Travers shot forth a great paw and gripped his friend's hand with an
enthusiasm which amounted almost to adoration in his frank, open eyes.
The sergeant extricated himself hastily and hid his confusion under a
gruff growl of:

"Aw, I need a holiday, anyway; an' I got a new gun to try out. 'Sides,
don't you talk to me about a guide. You can't get any man to take you
into that valley; an' I can't send any o' my fool Punjabis; they'd be
worse'n useless. There's only one man I know who's got the guts, an'
that's Moung Tha--Dun, an old Burman hunter; an' he won't go without
me, you can lay to that. So it's got to be jest We, Us, and Company."

Moro McGrath was a man who knew men. His diagnosis of the morale of
his police constables was unerring. His natural impulse was to drive
them, as he well knew how; but he reflected that he could not very
well force them to accompany him on a private venture outside of his
district. He was also peculiarly accurate in his estimate of Tha-Dun.
The old tracker never hesitated. He came with direful warnings, it is
true, and much misgiving; but his confidence in McGrath's experience
and resourcefulness was infinite.

So it was that only three men stood the following evening shoulder
deep in a patch of kaing grass at the lower end of the
forbiddinglooking valley. They looked microscopically insignificant in
their giant surroundings. High overhead was a mat of huge, interlaced
branches through which the discouraged sunlight filtered with
difficulty. Below a dense tangle of undergrowth out of which giant
trunks shot sixty feet clear from the moist earth and gleamed ghostly
pale in the perpetual twilight.

McGrath surveyed the gloomy surroundings with deep disapproval.

"Travers, my boy," he growled, "we've got one helluva job in front of
us. It's goin' to take days to crawl through this, huntin' for a
trail. If we find one, an' spot the Boh an' his fellers first, well
an' good. If Mr. Boh spots us first--well, he can handle that silver-
plated gun of his like an expert. Meanwhiles, no noise, no campfires,
no dry clothes, an' no fresh grub. I'm goin' to have some holiday.
Whosit says, 'fools rush in where angels fear to tread'?"

"Meaning how?" demanded Travers.

"Well, we're havin' all this picnic so you can commit matrimonial
hara-kiri; an' I've read somewheres that in heaven they neither marry
nor are given in marriage. I infers that angels fear to tread."

"And that I'm a fool," laughed Travers, with a perfect understanding
of the deep strength and determination that lay beneath his friend's
misogynistic grumbling. "You're a cold-blooded beast, Moro, and a
wicked cynic; but you're a crafty hunter all the same, and I guess
you're right about cutting out all betraying fires and being mighty
cautious. Today's march wasn't so bad, but I suppose the real campaign
begins tomorrow."

"No, sir!" the other dissented immediately. "It begins right here,
tonight. This is Hankow Valley, son, an' we don't take no chances on
Mister Boh bein' away visitin' friend Nat this evening."

Tracy, with the omniscience of youth, was rather inclined to be
impatient at the old campaigner's caution; but he was reminded of the
reality of their nearness to danger with startling unpleasantness.
With the setting of the sun every insect sound hushed--birds there
were none in that somber tangle of trees. It was just that period of
brooding mystery which falls in the tropic twilight between the
sleeping of the day creatures and the waking of the beings of the
night, when the period of real silence brings a surprised realization
of the undercurrent of sound which has all the time been constituting
the voice of the jungle. As the little party gathered wearily round
their cold, cheerless meal, the eerie silence was suddenly broken by a
weird, wild, whooping noise far up the valley, beginning with a low
wail and ending up in a staccato, coughing shriek.

Moung Tha-Dun fell on his face and began muttering invocations to his
guardian spirits.

"Ahai!" he moaned. "The Nat! It is the Nat who calls Thakins; let us
depart from this evil place."

Even the white men were affected. The chill dusk, the gloomy valley,
and that uncanny sound, all combined with the fantastic stories which
they had been hearing to build up a creepy sensation of unwholesome

"What is it, Moro?" whispered Travers, with blanched face and wide,
staring eyes.

"Damned if I know," replied the other uneasily. "It sounds kinder
vaguely familiar, but I can't place it. Gee, I got chills crawlin' all
up an' down my back. Wish we dared risk a fire. Guess we'd better
watch two at a time tonight."

But the night passed without mishap, though once again, before
darkness closed down on them, the fearsome sound rose and swelled in
the distance. However, with the daylight came renewed confidence and a
feeling of self-conscious humiliation at their nervousness of the
night before. They discussed their plan of campaign eagerly, and
arranged to work carefully up the valley, abreast of each other, and
search for tracks; they were to separate so as to cover as much ground
as possible, but should always remain within calling distance, in the
event of anyone being pounced upon by some unknown thing. However,
even with the satisfying knowledge of the proximity of friends, it was
no drawing-room party. The undergrowth was appallingly thick and
thorny, and progress was black, as well as heartbreakingly slow. Tha-
Dun's attitude, with his imminent fear of the supernatural, was
positively heroic, and what lent weight to his gloomy theories and
forebodings was the fact that for five whole days never a track was
found, though regularly as the darkness closed in that ghastly cry
filled the air.

"It gets me," swore McGrath. "Not a durned scratch of trail of a
single live thing. Even the animals have been scared out. That poor
devil of a constable without a face spoke truer'n we ever gave him
credit for. There's been no rain for two weeks, an' if there was any
living thing in this unholy place we'd have found tracks by now."

Moung Tha-Dun dismally assured him that this was but to be expected,
for Nats left no footprints, and the only reason they had escaped so
long was that it was waiting for a favorable combination of the stars
to spring upon them and rend them.

But that day at last brought to light a trail which seemed only to
lend weight to the Burman's forebodings. McGrath, who was working up
the center of the valley, gave the mewing otter call which had been
agreed upon as a signal, and brought the others hastening to his side.
They found him with set lips, and the corrugations of his hard
forehead crowded together in disquieting thought, bending over a

"Look at that!" he directed their attention in a low voice. "His ribs
have been crushed in like eggshells. See, in two wide bands. Jes' 's
if some giant had taken an' hugged him."

"Giant is right," agreed Travers, with a feeling of awe. "No human
being could have done it. What do you think it can be?"

"Durned if I know," speculated McGrath, searching back in his mind for
some parallel. "A big snake might do it, but then a snake that could
do that would easily have swallowed him."

Both voices had unconsciously fallen to whispers as they stood in the
presence of this mystery, and they cast uneasy glances over their
shoulders, half-expecting to see some fantastic monster creeping on

Moung Tha-Dun had meanwhile been searching the surrounding bush.
"Thakin," he called tremulously. "Of a surety the Nat has done this
thing, for yonder lies his gun, and no man would have left such a
prize behind. Moreover," he added impressively, "the Thakin knows that
poor jungle people have no guns."

"Well, what of it?" queried McGrath, not catching the drift of his

"None but a follower of the Boh would carry such a gun, Thakin."

"God! I never thought of that. The Boh sure wouldn't go killing his
own people; an', if it ain't him, then who's doin' all this mysterious

"The Nat!" insisted Tha-Dun darkly.

"Nat be hanged!" growled McGrath. "Anyhow, it's durned funny, whatever
it is. Looks to me that it'd be healthier not to separate so
promiscuous. It'll take longer to cover the ground, but it'll be a
heap more comfortable to my spine."

As they began to approach the region from which the nightly howlings
proceeded, they were able to distinguish the fearsome sound more
clearly. "Whoo-oo Wha-aa Aa-ee-ee!" it would rise, with blood-chilling
shrillness, trailing off into a high-pitched chuckle which had not
been audible before. But familiarity, in this case, surely bred no
contempt. Each time that the sound burst with startling suddenness
upon the dank evening air the three would instinctively shrink
together, and then look at one another shamefacedly.

"Damn it all!" exploded McGrath in exasperation. "It ain't the
infernal noise that gets us; we've all heard worse before. It's the
time an' the place an' the bogy stories mixed in with it that makes us
jump. We got to steady up our nerves for when we do come across the

"Tell you what," interposed Travers, "it seems that the Thing--I don't
know what else to call it---comes out only in the evening; if that's
so, we have nothing to fear as long as daylight lasts, such as it is
in this dismal hole in the ground."

The others immediately agreed with him, and the party accordingly
proceeded with more confidence. All thought of danger at the hands of
the Boh had left them. The total absence of tracks convinced them that
any human beings who might have been in the valley had long since left
it or were dead. But their assurance received a rude setback, and the
whole mystery was forced into startling prominence a day later, when
they came upon unmistakable tracks--human tracks.

Moung Tha-Dun, whose foreboding terror vanished at the sight of
something that he could understand, was down on all fours in an
instant, questing, nosing like a hound. He led them some little
distance, cunningly examining the ground and the bushes on either side
before he spoke.

"Thakin," he whispered, "the trail is that of a man running, fleeing
from some great fear, for he has run blindly, cutting his feet on the
stones. Yet--there are no footsteps that follow."

Moro McGrath, who was no mean tracker himself, had observed the same

"Funny! Damn queer!" he kept repeating in staccato barks. "What the
devil did he run from? Go ahead, Tha-Dun. Better load with buckshot,
Travers; your Paradox at close quarters is better than a rifle."

The trail led disappointingly to rocky ground, where it was speedily
lost; but Moung Tha-Dun, who was in the lead, presently uttered an
exclamation of delight and darted forward. He returned with a beaming

"Behold what I have found, Thakin!" he jubilated. In his hand he held
a long strip of yellow silk.

"Well, what's there to be so blamed happy about?" demanded McGrath
impatiently, even his drawn, wire nerves all of a jangle with this
dark enigma. "The gink has dropped his headdress in the scare, that's

"The Boh's gaungbaung, Thakin, was of yellow silk," grinned the other.
"And if it be the Boh who fled, why, then, he is assuredly not become
a Nat, and I have nothing further to fear."

Travers groaned. "Is that all? Damn it, that only deepens the mystery.
What the deuce did he run from? The Boh wasn't a man to be easily
frightened from what you all tell me. Then what was this awful thing
that scared him so?"

McGrath leaned, frowning, on his rifle for many minutes before he
spoke, as was his habit when thinking. "Boys," he stated at length, "I
ain't beginnin' to guess what kind of a banshee this is, but one
thing's clear. We ain't counted on the Boh any of late; an' if these
tracks is his, we got to watch out for him as well as for the Thing.
All we can do is be durned leery; an' I've a notion we're bound to
find out somep'n soon; we're right in the middle of things here."

He was right, though he was far from guessing the horrible way in
which enlightenment was to come.

That night as they sat in their camp, waiting with a sort of fearful
fascination for the familiar sound, a terrible cry rose on the night
air. A human cry of deadly terror.

"Amma-l!" it shrieked. "Spare me! Let me go! Let--" The words were
cut short by a scream of anguish. In the appalling stillness that
followed the three thought they could distinguish the low, fiendish
chuckle which usually terminated those awe-inspiring howlings. They
sprang to their feet with blanched faces, snatching up their rifles as
they did so. For a long time they stood motionless, peering
apprehensively into the dark.

"It's no use, boys," said McGrath shakily at last. "We can't do a
thing in the dark. We'll jest have to sit right here. An' I don't care
what happens; we're goin' to have a fire tonight."

"I'm with you!" agreed Travers emphatically. "A damn big fire!"

None of the three slept a wink the whole of that interminable night,
and with the first breath of dawn they started out to discover that
grim tragedy of the dark. It did not take long. Signs were plentiful
enough. They soon came upon the ashes of a campfire under a great
tree. Alongside lay the body of a man, gaunt and emaciated with
starvation. But it was not the pinched frame with the bones almost
protruding through the skin, nor the expression of awful terror
stamped on the brutal gorilloid face that made the white men turn
aside with sudden nausea. Neither hunger nor fear had killed the man.
He lay on his back in a welter of blood with half his chest torn
completely out. From beneath his body protruded the butt end of a
rifle, gleaming silver through the clotted red. Even Moung Tha-Dun was
affected. Death was nothing to him, and he had looked on worse
mutilations before, the work of dacoits; but the horror of the
superhuman force that had been brought into play gripped his soul. He
shook it off, however, as instinctive habit began to assert itself,
and he commenced to search for tracks. Carefully he went over the
ground, examining every blade, every leaf. At last: "Thakin," he
whispered, "here also there are no tracks!"

"Damn it, man, there must be!" cried McGrath. "This thing ain't a
ghost. It can't vanish into smoke. If it's material enough to tear a
man in half, it must leave solid tracks somewhere." Suddenly an idea
struck him. "Travers," he barked, "d'you remember exactly how that
other fellow lay?"

"Yes, he lay on his back, too. Why?"

"Hell, no, I don't mean that! He lay under jest such a low-spreading
tree, didn't he?"

"By George, that's so! I never thought of that. You mean that the
Thing swoops down from a tree?"

"Pree-cisely. An' I'm goin' to see." With the prospect of immediate
action and probable danger the fierce leopard light glowed again in
his eyes. "Now you watch out good an' careful above. I got to rely
entirely on your shooting."

Without further hesitation he scrambled up the trunk into whatever the
leaves might hide, and began working his way along a great overhanging
bough which passed over the body some seven feet above. Travers waited

"Here it is!" suddenly came the excited voice from above. "Here's a
smear of blood--an' here's another! An' here's--well, I'll be damned!"
He was directly above the body now. His voice dropped. "Here's the
bark rubbed off in two wide bands!"

He swung clear and dropped lightly to the ground. "Now what d'you
think o' that?" he demanded.

"It's evident that the Thing comes from a tree," answered Travers in a
frightened whisper. "But what are those two wide bands always? The
coils of a snake?"

"A big snake gripping the branch for a stroke might leave jest such a
mark; but--there ain't no snake in the world could do that awful
thing. I'm beginnin' to have a idea, son. That there noise is strikin'
back kinder familiar. 'Jest the beginnin's of a idea. But it's too
horrible; too durned fantastic; I gotta see more before I can tell
you. But there's one thing clear. We got to keep away from overhanging
branches--an' we can build all the fires we want. The Boh, poor devil,
has squared up with the bank. There ain't nothin' owin'. Travers, my
son, we'll camp right here; an' I'll guarantee the big show for this
very night."

He selected a place nearby, free from low trees, and the day was spent
under his direction in clearing away the surrounding scrub to guard
against surprise and leave plenty of room for action. Then, as dusk
drew on, they built a roaring fire over the unfortunate Boh's camp,
and, at his further suggestion, retired to their clearing to wait.

"D'ja get me?" chuckled the cunning hunter. "That'll bring the Thing
into the light, while we remain hid."

They were still discussing possibilities and plans when Moung Tha-Dun
raised his hand with a warning gesture. His quick ear had detected the
approaching sound of swishing leaves. They lay silent, while the
disturbance came nearer. From the snapping of twigs and the soft thuds
among the high branches it was evident that some large body was making
its way toward them. Finally it could be heard in the upper branches
of the lit-up tree. The three watchers were keyed up to an intolerable
pitch of half-apprehensive excitement. What would the next few seconds
disclose? Their overstrung imaginations conjured up all sorts of
ghostly forms. But some fiendish, intuition seemed to make the Thing
suspicious. It made querulous noises and shuffled about behind the
screen of leaves above in evident hesitation about descending.

Suddenly McGrath reached for Travers' gun and glided off into the
darkness without a word. Even through his excitement the latter could
not help admiring the snakelike skill of his friend. The situation now
became intense. The unknown horror in the treetop, and McGrath
swallowed up in the silent dark! Travers had to keep a grip on himself
to prevent himself from shouting aloud. Suddenly the Thing moved
again. It shifted its position. Travers heard the quick click of a
lifted hammer, followed by a flash and a report. There came a short,
coughing roar, and a vast shape hurled itself full twenty feet to the
next tree, and went crashing off into the darkness.

McGrath rushed up, falling over his words. "Did you see it? What was
it like? What the hell have you got in this gun?" All in one breath.

"My God!" stammered Travers. "It looked like--like a devil."

Moung Tha-Dun was on his face. "Amma-l!" he wailed. "The Nat! It is a
Nat, indeed!"

Meanwhile, McGrath had snapped open the breech and torn out the empty
shell. "Oh, fool! Fool that I am!" he groaned. "To take up a gun
without looking at the load! Man, you've got No. 4, an' I told you
buckshot! Course I only tickled him. Here, gimme my rifle, an' load up
this toy with somep'n solid! Tha-Dun, father of an idiot, quit your
howlin' an' get up an' hustle! We got to build a whole circle of fires
now. It'll sure come back; an' there ain't no use in tryin' to hide

They threw themselves fiercely into the work, collecting up all the
brush which they had cut during the day, and frantically chopping
more, halting every minute to listen for the malignant Thing's
approach. Progress was cruelly slow.

"Moro," panted Travers, "we'll never do it; and don't forget we've got
to keep our fires going. I guess if we make two more big blazes in a
triangle they'll light up all lines of approach."

"Guess you're right, son," grunted McGrath. "Take one each. Tha-Dun,
you pile s'm' more stuff on the first!"

They had barely got their defenses lit, when a swoop and a crash in
the trees announced the creature's return.

"D'ja get that?" snapped McGrath. "It comes from another direction. It
can think!"

It almost seemed that he was right. With devilish cunning the Thing
kept out of range of the firelight, coughing and whooping with rage as
it circled round behind the high screen of leaves looking for an
opening, while the three men slowly pivoted with it.

For an hour this deadly game continued.

One of the fires began to burn low. A malignant ill fortune seemed to
direct that it should be just the most difficult one to tend. At this
point the rushing stream cut a swath between deep clay banks, and the
giant trees hung lower over the water than anywhere else. The men
watched the sinking flame apprehensively.

With uncanny intelligence the Thing quickly noticed its advantage, and
hung about at that point, growing bolder.

"We got to pile up that fire," muttered McGrath. "See here, fellers!
I'm goin' out a ways an' draw it to one side, an' one o' you make a
run for it."

He looked carefully to his rifle, and ostentatiously went off in the
opposite direction, almost disappearing in the dark shadows. It was
sheer heroism. The Thing began to circle round toward him. Moung Tha-
Dun thought he saw his opportunity, and raced out to the dying fire.
He piled on an armful of brushwood, when the creature saw the trick.
With a howl of rage it swung itself back and downward.

"Look out, Tha-Dun!" yelled Travers.

But it was too late.

An enormous leap carried the Thing to the nearest tree. From there it
dropped full thirty feet to the ground, and, with a bound, was on him.
The wretched man had barely time to draw his heavy dah and slash at
the hairy chest, when two long arms shot out and gripped him. There
was a quick spurt of blood, a choking shriek, and a dark mass rolled
together on the ground. Travers, pale with horror, dodged about,
leveling his gun and dropping it again, afraid to fire in that light
at the confused heap. Then Moro McGrath rushed past him, right up to
the clawing, howling mass of venom and fight, and, thrusting his rifle
close up against the thick, hairy neck, pulled both triggers at once.

The heavy charge almost tore the great head from its shoulders. A
convulsive shudder tensed the huge frame, and it leaped back, clawing
the air. It spun round, tottered a moment over the sheer bank, and
then lurched forward into the swift black water beneath. At that
moment the flames burst through the fresh pile of brushwood and lit up
the ghastly scene. Moung Tha-Dun lay with his neck and back and limbs
all twisted into the impossible contortions of a straw dummy. McGrath
did not need to lift the broken form.

"Poor devil!" he muttered, turning away his head with his customary
qualm. Travers leaned on his gun, white and shaken with horror.

"What was it?" he queried hoarsely.

McGrath looked darkly down the bank where the Thing had disappeared,
shaking his head with tightly pressed lips.

"I wonder," he replied finally. "I had a sort o' suspicion; that
noise, you know. I'd heard somep'n like it down in Borneo once." He
sank into gloomy contemplation again. After a while he added: "An'
those two wide bands always; they'd point unmistakable to the grip of
some enormously powerful hands an' arms. I'd 'a' said it was a freak
specimen of the Mai-As ape, or orang. They sometimes run to a size
like that; but--"

"But good God, Moro, what made the thing so malignant? Why should it
have become so malevolent?"

"Dunno," said McGrath shortly. Then he added suddenly: "Perhaps the
Nat. There's more things in heaven--an' the jungles, son, than all you
science sharps know about."

He sat a long while in gloomy introspection. At last he jumped up and
shook himself as out of a dream.

"Cm' on, son!" he barked, with swift return of his customary energy.
"We got a heap to do before we're through here. I want to get outa
this unholy place with the daylight. I've had enough holiday to go on
with for a long time; but--there's promotion for rounding up the last
of the Boh's gang--an' I guess you'll be wishful to find a telegraph
office in Kindat, an' send about ten dollars' worth o' message to
Rangoon city in a hurry."


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