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Title: Death Lives in Our House Author: Arthur Leo Zagat * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1304531h.html Language: English Date first posted: Aug 2013 Most recent update: Aug 2013 This eBook was produced by Paul Moulder and Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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The tremendous, satanic power of the mysterious East was unleashed in that little tenement home, where a young wife awaited the return of a stricken husband—while her baby daughter innocently cherished the secret for which strong men had died in ghastly agony!
DAN SAWYER was tired as he climbed the musty-smelling, dimly lit stairs of the tenement. Tired, hungry and despairing, he had walked the dreary streets all day, hearing again and again the grunted, "No job for you—sorry." Half the night he had paced the deserted sidewalks, trying to flog himself into coming home, into facing the mute question in Norma's eyes, into seeing hope drain out of them once more as his head shook in silent negation. She wouldn't say anything, but she would be thinking of Cora, of their little daughter's tattered shoes and the insatiate demand of the child's growing body for food they could not afford.
He hadn't eaten since his scanty breakfast, and there was no strength in his legs. They buckled under him as he reached the first floor landing, and he had to catch hold of the newel post to keep from tumbling back down the stairs. Peeling, scabrous wallpaper wavered in the flicker of a cheap light bulb, which revealed the blurred lettering on the door he faced. Sawyer couldn't read the sign, but he knew that it spelt:
Beyond the Veil
The door burst open, and the pungent odor of incense gusted out. Then it thudded shut. Two dark-clothed men crouched in front of it, taut, listening. Sawyer peered at them, dazedly.
"Gawd," one whined, a weazened, undersized fellow. "I had to do it."
"Shut up," the other grunted. "You're chattering too damn much."
One big-shouldered, simian-armed brute was Lefty Lane, Sawyer's neighbor across the landing, and the other was Hen Reddon, from the top floor. Tough customers. But they weren't tough now. They were shaking. Their faces were pallid, greenish, and their dilated eyes were dark with some creeping terror.
"Come on, let's beat it before—Hey!" Reddon jumped forward. His gloved hands grabbed Sawyer's shoulder, dug into it. "This guy's seen us..." His other arm swept up. Against the light Dan saw a stubbed, cruel rod of steel in its fist. His muscles were waterweak, and Reddon's grip held him paralyzed. The rod arced down to crash into his scalp, to scatter his brains... Lefty's big paw grabbed it, wrenched it from the snarling killer's hold.
"Be your age," he growled. "It's Dan Sawyer. Dan's all right. Ain't yuh, Dan?"
Sawyer couldn't talk, couldn't answer. The thug seemed to take his silence for assent. Lane's hand fumbled at Dan's and he felt something hard in his palm. "Cache this for me," Lefty whispered. "I'll get it from you later. My old woman gave it to Toorah for a reading, an' I just made him give it back to me. I don't want her to know about it, or she'll raise particular hell. Don't tell your wife about it—or nobody. An' here's a fin for takin' care of it for me."
Dan thrust the thing Lane had given him into a trouser pocket, snatched at the bill. His brain was in a whirl, he couldn't think straight. But he knew five dollars would mean the wolf pushed away from the door for another week. He'd tell Norma he'd earned it doing odd jobs ?long shore.
"Hide it good," Lefty repeated, shoving him toward the stairs.
Sawyer went on up mechanically. He didn't realize what had happened, to what he had committed himself. All he knew was that he wanted to get to Norma, to give her the money. A steel band was about his head, was tightening till the very bone threatened to collapse. He felt ill. There was a roaring in his ears.
Because of that roaring he did not hear Lane's whisper. "He'll know he's in the mess with us when he finds out where that come from. He's tied up pretty, an' he can't squeal."
Sawyer staggered, realized vaguely that he was on his own landing. The door gave to his shaking, blind hand. The cold grey of dawn filtered in through the window of his and Norma's room. He reeled in, fell across the bed.
"Dan," Norma gasped, "what's the matter?" Her voice was miles away and he couldn't see her. "Dan! You're sick. You're terribly sick. I'm going for Doc Baldwin..."
The grey fog receded a little and the outlines of the bedchamber were vaguely perceptible. Norma wasn't there. She had gone away. There was something he had to do. Oh yes! Hide what Lane had given him. Hide the... What was that?
Dan Sawyer's hand groped into his pocket. He stared at the thing in his palm. It glowed there with milky, secret fires, like a baneful eye glaring at him. It was a gem, an opal almost as large as a pigeon's egg.
"Hide it!" Lefty's urgent command hammered at the throbbing torture within Dan's skull. He lurched to his feet, started for the door. The pain was excruciating now, and black clouds swirled in his brain...
NORMA SAWYER came dreadfully awake. The nightmare still clutched her heart with its gelid fingers. Her decrepit cot creaked with the quivering waves of terror still shaking her. She was no longer asleep, but dread was still a tangible presence in the dark bedroom, a grisly threat.
Mother instinct directed Norma's wide, burning eyes through the gloom to the pallid glimmer that was little Cora's crib. There was no movement, utterly no movement there. Norma's scalp tightened, her throat clamped on a scream. She pushed against the mattress' yielding surface, shoved herself upright, swung cold feet over the side of the bed... Sound impacted dully against her ears, a dull thud, far off. It came again. It was a muffled pud from the front of the small flat. From the door! Someone was knocking at the door. That was what had awakened her. A knock on the door. But it was past midnight! Who could be demanding admission, so late?
"Daddy." The child's drowsy, small voice met her as Norma came erect. "Is it Daddy, Momma, comin' home?"
Cora was all right. Of course she was all right. But pain twisted in the mother's breast. "No, dear." It was hard to say it, so hard. "It isn't Daddy. He's gone away—and maybe he's not coming home any more. Go to sleep while mother sees who it is knocking. If you go right to sleep mother will let you have sugar on your cereal when you wake up in the morning."
"Awight. But I want my daddy." The six-year old's sleep-fuzzed wail tore at Norma's heartstrings. "I—want—my daddy—to come..."
The worn linoleum of the kitchen-living room was clammy-cold to the bare soles of her feet, and the darkness clotted into fearsome shadows in the corners. The knocking at the door was steady now, measured and curiously insistent. Queerly muffled, too, for all its persistence, as though the knuckles were swathed in thick gloves. Or as though they were flabby, boneless.
Suddenly Norma knew that she was afraid—deadly afraid of her midnight visitant. The strength seeped out of her legs, and, in the small hall leading to the flat entrance, she wavered, had to hold on to a door-jamb to keep from falling.
"Just—a minute," she gasped. Her words seemed to fall flatly against the close air, but the one who knocked must have heard them, for his rapping stopped. Was he someone from the hospital? To tell her Dan was gone; that at last his tenuous hold on life had slipped? For a week, now, he had lain there, white, inanimate, only the faintest of possible pulses signaling that he was not the corpse he seemed. If she could only have stayed there with him—but she had to come back to Cora. Cora must not know how sick her father was...
Sleeping sickness, they had told her. But she knew they did not believe it themselves, as she did not believe them. They had found him in the hall, his eyes open, a look of unspeakable terror in them, but otherwise as one from whom life was gone.
They had taken him away to the hospital, but the terror had lived on, almost tangible in the destitute flat. It had been a black pall overhanging her, a brooding, intangible threat. And this summons out of the night seemed a part of it.
"Open up." Door-muffled, a hollow voice jerked Norma back to actuality "Let me in."
Her hand was on the cold doorknob, was supporting her lax weight. She licked her dry lips. "Who it is? What do you want?"
"The room. I've come to take it."
Momentarily Norma's dread gave way to elation. The sign she had only tonight persuaded the corner druggist to let her put in his window, had brought results already! Her desperate need had demanded that she find a lodger for the chamber from which searing memories barred her. The money that had been in Dan's clenched, deathlike hand was spent. A dollar or two, whatever she could get from a lodger, how much it would mean!
Before her fears surged back she had opened the door... Icy prickles scampered along Norma's spine. She could see no one in the vague light filtering up from the dim bulb on the landing below. But the sense of a presence here before her was eerily strong. Involuntarily she closed her eyes against it, shrinking back.
"What's the matter? Are you ill?"
There must be something wrong with her. She had not, perhaps, altogether awakened from her dream. He had been there all the time, the man who spoke. He must have been there. He could not have formed, as her first terrified impression had been, from an uncanny up-swirl of the shadows that lay as a heavy, ominous pool between her and the stairhead. He was real, tangible, for all that his long black ulster made his tall form shapeless, and his broad-brimmed hat darkened his face so that Norma could see nothing of it.
"You—you must excuse me." The muscles around her lips tightened, but she knew that she had not contrived the smile she intended. "I was asleep when you knocked."
"Asleep? Is it so late?" he asked.
Queer. Didn't he know what time it was? "Yes—very," she admitted.
"Ah—then if you will take me to the room, I shall not disturb you longer."
"But—but I did not intend to... I am alone here with my child. I thought—some woman..." An eerie dread of the man was thickening her tongue, was making it hard for her to talk.
"I understand." What was there about his intonation that was so outlandish? "But I am helpless as any woman. I am—blind."
"Blind!" Quick, feminine pity leaped up in Norma, "Oh! How terrible!"
"I shall not be—for long. I shall recover my—sight—very soon." It sounded like a threat, strangely, reawakening Norma's fear of him. "Nothing can stop me from getting it back." He moved, coming toward her, as if to enter. But Norma held her place in the doorway, barring his entrance.
He halted. He stopped short, there in front of her, just before he reached her, just before he touched her. How had he known that she had not made way for him? Had the loss of his sight sharpened his other senses so that the fragrance of her breath, some warm aura, had warned him of the impediment to his progress?
A quivering aversion, some psychic alarm bell deep within her, warned Norma against him. But how could she turn a blind man from her door at this hour? How could she send him out to wander in the dismal streets...?
"I can pay." His misunderstanding of her reluctance to admit him seemed almost deliberate. "I can pay well." There was a coin in Norma's hand. She stared at it, the little hairs at the nape of her neck bristling. He had not handed it to her. She was certain he had not given it to her. But there it was, clutched in her small fist, hard, and round and cold. "I imagine that will be quite enough for a week."
There was some hint of mockery in the way he said it, as though he were laughing at her. Enough! Good Lord! It was gold. It was a verdigris-encrusted, worn disk of gold, and although the almost obliterated letters graven on it spelled words in some language Norma did not know, it was the size of a ten-dollar piece. Ten Dollars. Shoes for Cora! A dress... She had no right to refuse it. No right...
"This is the room. In here." He could not see. She must guide him. She must lift her hand, put her fingers on his sleeve. Her muscles were rigid, fighting the command of her brain which itself quivered with inexplicable aversion. But she managed it. She managed to touch him. Light as was that touch, the fabric of his coat gave under the pressure, dented as though... as though there were no arm within it.
His feet made no sound on the bare boards of the floor. He was swallowed by the dense lightlessness within that room. Norma started after him to turn on the light, checked herself, remembering that he had no need for light.
Her throat twitched with hysterical laughter. To stop it she spoke. "The—the bathroom is next door. Right next door, here to the left, Mister—Mister...?" He had not told her his name.
He didn't answer the questioning inflection. For an eternally long minute he did not answer. And suddenly it seemed that the blackness of the room was starkly, staringly empty—that he was no longer there...
And then the name rustled out to her "Malwa." It was a bodiless whisper hanging in the dark. "I am called Malwa, the Seeker." There was finality in its tone, dismissal.
Norma was conscious of a barrier before her, shutting her out. The door was closed. It had swung silently shut, like a dark curtain dropping. Stunning realization seared her. She had closed that door days ago, and she had not opened it now for Malwa!
THIS was madness. Nerves shredded by terrific anxiety were breaking her long control at last, were tricking her into insane illusions. For Cora's sake she had had to wear a smiling face, to mask with laughter the fierce agony of her breaking heart. Destitution, abject poverty, had made a long purgatory for her; the strange illness of her husband, her lover, a searing, poignant hell. Only in sleep had she found relief, strength to endure. The breaking of that sleep tonight was pushing her over the brink.
Norma's teeth bit into her lip. She would not give way. She would not. There was nothing strange, nothing fantastic about the blind man who had come out of the night. She should be happy, grateful, that he had taken her room that he was paying so well for it. She should thank God...
But she was trembling as she turned, as she made her way back through the hall, through the kitchen, to the little back room.
"He's gone, Mother," Cora's small voice greeted her, whimpering. "Where did he go?"
"Hush, dear." The mother's admonition was inattentive, automatic. "Hush. Why aren't you asleep?"
"I was. But he waked me up."
The child's amazing statement impacted on Norma's consciousness. "Who woke you?" she questioned sharply. "What are you talking about."
"Daddy. He kissed me and waked me up. There was a kind of blue light all around him—and he looked awful scared. He was going to tell me something, but the brown man put his hand on Daddy's mouth, and pulled him away, and then it was all dark again—and he wasn't here any more."
A tide of grisly terror rose about Norma once again. "You were dreaming dear. You didn't really see them."
"I did so see them. I saw daddy and I saw the brown man. He had a towel wound around on top of his head and he had a funny mark on his face, like my vaccination."
Steady. Steady. She must not frighten the child. Whatever dark dread writhed screaming through the recesses of her own soul, she must fend terror away from her little daughter.
"How could you have seen them?" Norma laughed. "It is so dark here you can't even see me. You dreamed it. And now you must go right back to sleep, or you won't be able to get up on time for school in the morning. Look. Mother will tuck you in, nice and warm, and shut each eye with a kiss. There. Sleep—sleep."
"Sleep! There will be no sleep any more for me," Norma was thinking. "I must lie here, awake, staring with burning eyes into the dark. Watching, waiting for God alone knows what. Tensed, quivering, deathly afraid. Sensing dark evil closing in about me. Closing in. Praying that when it strikes it will take me only, and leave little Cora unscathed. God shield her. Dear God, protect her. She is so tiny, so helpless, so sweet..."
DAYLIGHT came—and with it the bustle of getting Cora ready for school, of combing the blonde curls twining so tightly about the child's scrubbed and shining face, of running with her down the long, drab stairs and listening to her bubbling prattle for the two long blocks to the schoolhouse gate.
All this served to dispel Norma's fears. Even though a phone call to the hospital had brought the response that Dan's condition was unchanged—that he still was motionless in living death—the sun was warm and comforting and there was money in her purse, nine crisp dollar bills old Levi, the pawnbroker, had given her for the blind man's gold. Nightmare was almost forgotten in the unaccustomed joy of buying thick sweet cream and a box of Cora's favorite marshmallow cookies, with chocolate icing...
The shoe store window beckoned her. After school she would get Cora a pair of sandals with sharkskin tips that couldn't be easily scuffed. They were only two dollars. But she had better hurry home now. Mr. Malwa's door had been closed when she left. He must still have been asleep, but he would be up now; she would have to sweep out the room, make the bed. Perhaps he would want her to serve him his meals. She had better figure out how much to charge him. He probably didn't eat much, he was so thin...
Wasn't that a police car in front of the house? A crowd was on the stoop, peering in through the vestibule door. Norma's heart skipped a beat. Had they brought Dan home...?
"What's the matter, Tony?"
The iceman turned to Norma, shrugged expressive shoulders. "I dunno, Mis' Sawyer. Mist' Walen, da janitor, he runna out, calla da cop. Say somet'in about somebod' deada."
"Dead! Oh! Let me through. Let me through, please. I live here."
The hall resounded with the sound of clumping feet. Men were clustered about an open door on the first-floor landing. "Dat's all I knows about it, I tell you," sounded the janitor's voice. She could see him, pallid-faced under black stubble, talking to a grey-haired policeman. "I ain't seen neither o' dem for a week, an' I thinks I better find out is anyt'ing wrong. So I uses me pass-key—an dat's what I sees."
The knot shifted, and Norma could look past them, into a room hung with heavy, silken folds of dark blue and floored with a carpet of the same midnight hue. She saw a heap on the floor, its whiteness marred by a brown and grisly splotch. A limp arm flung out from that gruesome heap was dreadfully still, and the drawn lips of a brown face—a visage of waxen death—was bisected by a scar puckering the festering cheek, like Cora's vaccination mark!
Norma was cold all over, trembling. But the sight held her spell-bound. She could not move, could not take the step she so terribly wanted to that would carry her up and away from that spectacle of gruesome death.
The hem of the corpse's robe just touched a silver platform on which stood a great jeweled vase, and beyond that there was a three-legged stand of iridescent mother-of-pearl. It seemed to the staring woman as though the tripod were incomplete, as though something should have rested atop it that was not there. There seemed to be some obscure message for her in that circumstance, some occult meaning. That was absurd! What possible connection could there be between her and this—murder?
"Where's the other fellow, this servant? What did you say his name was?"
"Ganda," Walen answered the officer's question. "How should I know where he is? He went away a week ago, told me Toorah was sending him somewhere."
A hard-faced man in a derby and a grey suit who had been standing alongside the policeman intervened. "It's just one o' those things, lieutenant. This Ganda had conked his boss, an' beat it. What gets me is his leaving a couple hundred grand in stones behind. This pot here is nothin'. You ought to see what's in the back rooms, an' I'll swear none of it's been touched."
"Yeah, he did take somethin'," the janitor interjected, stabbing a grimy thumb at the gleaming tripod. "There's a skull belongs on that stand an' it ain't there no more."
"A skull! Hell! What would the killer want with a piece of bone. It just got thrown out with the garbage."
"I wish it wuz in the garbage. I'd quit my job if it come down the dummy. It had big jools in its eyes an' the place where its nose ought to be. White jools with lights in ?em all green an' gold an' red. I seen one like that in Levi's window once—an' the tag on it said a hunnerd an' fifty bucks. That one wasn't no bigger than the nail on my thumb, an' these was big as—as a baby's fist."
"You're crazy. Opals that big would be worth a fortune..."
"They was there, though. I seen ?em. An' the skull talked when anyone came in for a readin'. It talked like it was alive. Toorah asked it questions, an' it answered him."
"Trick stuff," the police captain sneered. "Old stuff. Telephone wires and a loudspeaker... Hey, Flaherty, clear the hall. What's this, a public meetin'?"
A florid-faced patrolman jerked around.
"Move along, lady. Yuh can't stand there."
As Norma obediently started up the stairs she heard Walen's flat, unemotional voice. "I dunno. All I know is the skull talked, an' it had a name. Toorah called it the Head o' Malwa."
A chill tremor prickled Norma's spine. Malwa!... It was coincidence, the merest coincidence, that was all.
Then a black figure lurched at her from the embrasured gloom of her own doorway. The packages spilled from her arms, and an abortive scream fluttered in her throat. A hand closed on her elbow, a brutal visage hung in the murk, and a gruff, hoarse voice was sharp with menace.
"I been waitin' for you," it said. "I been waitin' for you a long time."
The moment of frantic panic passed. This was someone she knew. It was the man who lived across the hall.
"What—what do you want?" she squeezed out of a throat still tight with fright. "What...?"
"You got a sign down in Ginsberg's window. How much do you want for th' room?"
"The room! But you live right here. What do you want to rent another room for?"
"I—uh—I got some folks come to stay for a couple days. I gotta get me a place to sleep—an' when I sees your sign I thinks, ?Geez, what luck! Right on me own floor.' "
Somehow the explanation did not ring true—but it didn't matter, anyway. "I'm sorry, Mr. Lane; I can't let it to you."
"You can't...! What's the matter with me? I ain't got smallpox, have I? Ain't my money good's anyone else's?"
"Of course it is—but the room is already taken. It—"
"Taken!" His utterance was suddenly ugly, bullying. "That's a lie. I been watchin', an' there ain't nobody been here all mornin'."
"Not this morning. Last night. I rented it last night—to a blind man."
"A blind—" His hold on her arm was suddenly gone, and he staggered back as if from the impact of a blow. "Cripes!"
The fetid hallway seemed to pulsate again with inexplicable menace. There was terror in Lane's eyes, curiously akin to the terror she had glimpsed in Dan's. "What's the matter?" she asked.
The man seemed to collect himself with a tremendous effort. "Nuttin'," he husked. "Nuttin'. Only I pulled the scab off this sore on my hand where a dog bit me. It hurt, kinda."
Norma bent to pick up her scattered parcels. Why was he so anxious to rent the room? His excuse had been palpably false.
"Listen, Mrs. Sawyer," the man said, his apelike countenance livid, his thick lips leaden, "I'd like to ask you somethin'. I'd like to ask you, did Dan say anything that night? Did he tell you to talk to me about anything?"
"I don't understand. Why should he have...?"
"I just thought—Aw hell, skip it."
"But—" He slid past her. The door of his flat crashed shut behind him.
What did it all mean...? In God's name, what did it mean? Norma's furtive happiness of the morning had vanished. She felt as though she were struggling against grey, impalpable filaments that were enmeshing her in some inexplicable web of evil, as though that which had mysteriously stricken Dan was watching her with a beady, malevolent gaze...
SUN streamed into Norma's kitchen from the backyard that was the flat's only outlook, but somehow it had no warmth, no cheeriness. A chill shook her, a trembling ague that quivered in her very bones. Someone had been in here. Small things told her that, tiny trifles only a meticulous housewife would notice. The row of cereal canisters over the sink was slightly askew. A few grains of cracked wheat were gritty on the edge of the shelf, and cornflakes were the cereal she had given Cora for breakfast. The garbage can cover was not on quite tight.
Her glance drifted through the door of the back bedroom, where she had swept, made the beds, while the child had been busied with her morning functions. There was a barely perceptible dent on the surface of her cot's pitiful spread, as though a hand had lightly rested while its owner peered under the bed. Who had intruded?... A sneak-thief?... Ludicrous? Only an imbecile would expect to find anything of value in this poverty-stricken household. Who then...?
Perhaps Mr. Malwa had heard the prowler. Norma recalled that his door was still closed—but he might be awake... She went to it, could hear no sound from the room—not even the deep sigh of a sleeping man's breath.
She knocked. There was only deathly stillness behind the drab panels. Fingers of dread closed on her heart. A thought filtered into her throbbing brain, an appalling question.
Murder had entered this tenement once, not long ago. Had it struck again? What was behind this silent door? Almost without conscious volition her hand was on the knob, twisting it. The room was open before her and it was empty! Malwa was not there, and the bed had apparently not been slept in, and there was no evidence that the room had been entered, since she had cleaned it after Dan's still form had been taken to the hospital.
He must have gone out. The blind lodger must have waked, dressed, made his bed, and gone out.
"I been watchin', an' there ain't nobody been here all mornin'." Lane seemed to be saying it again, thrusting his stubbled face into hers.
Long, faint lines lay across the floor, marring the spotlessness of the boards she had scrubbed. Norma stooped to see them closer. They were dust lying along the crevices where the wooden strips joined. Paint was chipped from a nail-head at her feet, from another. Every nail in that floor had been drawn from its hole and replaced. Malwa, or someone else, had lifted all the boards, had reset them...
A shriek sliced through the cloaking silence. It was a thick, burbling ululation of terror and unendurable pain. It crescendoed, higher and higher, to become a shrill, mad voicing of anguish. It came from outside the entrance door, and other sounds underlay the somehow obscene scream—muffled thuds as of a heavy body tumbling, step by step, down hard stairs.
Norma whirled, flung open the door. The shriek cut off, but the thumping continued, pulled her wide-eyed glance to the stair-flight from the top floor. A dark bundle pounded down the final step, sprawled. It was the body of a man that arched, suddenly in ultimate, awful agony, writhed, was still—dreadfully still...
She was out beside it, was looking down at a face convulsed, distorted out of all human semblance, its throat torn as if by bestial fangs. From the gullet spurted a scarlet fountain, to inundate a weazened, twisted frame. A hand lay motionless in a gory pool.
There were marks on that hand, a semi-circle of deep lacerations from each of which a single scarlet drop oozed and dripped away. Norma stared at those marks, and her own blood was a dark surge in her veins. They were the marks of teeth. They were the marks of human teeth.
Behind her something made a rolling sound, like a great ball revolving across the floor. Norma heard it through the daze that cloaked her brain. It meant nothing to her then, but afterwards she was to remember it—and wonder...
"Gripes almighty!" Somehow Lefty Lane was beside her, his exclamation a guttural, shaken moan. "It's Hen. It's Hen Reddon." He was down on his knees beside the slain man, tearing at the corpse's waist. Did he think he could do anything for him? Did he think he still lived?
The dead man's shirt gave way with a ripping hiss, and Lane fumbled within it. He tugged at something, pulled off a belt of khaki canvas studded with pockets. One of the pockets was slashed, gaping open.
"Hell," Lane muttered. "It's gone. The fool wouldn't cache it like I told him!" He flung the money-belt away from him. It struck an upright of the banister, writhed, reptilian, dropped out of sight. Lane came up from his haunches. His eyes were glazed, a muscle twitched in his swarthy cheek.
Footsteps pounded far below, clumping footsteps of men running up. Lefty seemed suddenly to realize Norma's presence. His hand lashed out, his fingers dug fiercely into her shoulder. "I wasn't here," he grunted. "If you spill what you seen I'll cut your brat's throat."
He was soon out of sight, and behind the shut door of his flat. In a second men were crowding around Norma, vague in a swirling mist.
"God!" someone said, in a sick voice. "Look at that." It was the derby-hatted detective, but his face wasn't hard any more. Above his starched collar it sagged in horror, and his Adam's apple slid up and down, as if he were swallowing something he would have liked to spit out.
"Upstairs," Norma blurted. "He fell from there. His wife..."
"Stay here, Flaherty, and watch it," the detective snapped. There was a gun in his hand, and he was climbing the stairs. Slowly, as if he would give his chance of promotion not to have to, he went around the bend...
"What do you know about this?" Officer Flaherty was asking her. "You was here pretty quick."
"I live in this flat," she pointed. "I heard him scream and I came out."
Norma hesitated. Lane wasn't the killer. There hadn't been any blood on his hands, or about his mouth. It was only his ghoul's search of Reddon's money belt that had prompted his terrible threat. He would kill Cora if she told about that.
"No—there was no one here," she answered. "No one could have passed the body as it tumbled down, and I was out here before it had stopped falling."
"The killer must still be up there then, unless he went over the roof. If he's still there, Lusano will get him."
"He won't get him. He didn't go over the roof, but Mr. Lusano won't get him." Now what made her say that? What inner voice was it that made her so certain there would be no trace of the slayer up there?
"Hey, lady. Come up here. Maybe you can do somethin'..." Lusano was peering over the banister.
Norma went up the stairs.
There was a trail of blood on the steps. It went across the landing, spattered the threshold of the Reddon flat just over hers, was a grisly spurt on the wall of its inner hall. A low, moaning babble came from the bedroom which opened into the little passage.
"She was like that when I got here," said Lusano. "I can't get anything out of her."
An obese woman clad in a blood-drenched, bedraggled apron sat on the bed and swayed from side to side as she moaned. A dribble of saliva drooled from one corner of her mouth, and her fat-pouched eyes were glassy. Her face was a billowing lump of yellow dough, animated only by a jelly-like quiver. A wave of revulsion swept Norma, and then she was in the room.
"Mrs. Reddon," she said sharply. "Mrs. Reddon, what happened here? What did you see?"
The woman swayed, moaned. Her glazed eyes stared right through Norma, as though she still saw unutterable horrors.
"It's the damnedest set-up," Lusano muttered, behind her. "I've searched the flat, gone up to the roof. The bolt on the trapdoor is rusted into its socket; it ain't been opened for years. The fire escape window in back is locked. The space that's left ain't wide enough for anything bigger than a cat to get through— an' no cat did that."
Norma scarcely heard him. Her teeth bit into her lip. There was one way to bring this woman out of her hysteria—only one way. Her hand flew back, flailed out. The spat of her palm against the flabby cheek was like a pistol shot.
The woman screamed. She heaved to her feet, screamed again. Words spewed from her, incredible words. "The head! The head of death! Sainted Mary, defend us. It's the head of Satan himself."
Lusano had hold of the gibbering woman. "Cut the yelling," he growled, "and tell us what you saw."
"I am telling you. It was a head, only a head. There wasn't any more. It was hangin' to Hen's neck, and Hen's blood was spilling over it. He was fightin', battlin' it. But his fists were plowin' thin air, ?cause there wasn't any belly there for him to hit. There wasn't any legs or arms. There was just the head bitin' him. I went to help him, and his blood spilled on me, and then the devil's head dragged him out into the hall. He went tumbling down the—" Intelligibility shrilled again into a high and dreadful scream that went on and on.
"Loony," the detective grunted, struggling with the woman. "Clean loony. She did it herself. She went batty and she ripped the windpipe out of her old man."
A metallic click penetrated his words and black metal encircled the screaming woman's wrists. Lusano wrapped his hand about the clinking chain joining the manacles. "Get Flaherty," he snapped. "Tell the cop to come up here. It'll take the two of us to handle her."
Norma was glad to get out of the horror of that place, and away from the stench of blood, her feet skidding in its slippery viscidness. She heard Flaherty's hoarse objurgation, "Get back. I don't care if you do live up there. You can't pass till the boss says it's okay."
She delivered her message, reeled past a mass of white faces floor-high in the stair-well, and got the door shut between her and the gory form that lay out on the landing. But she could go no further. She leaned back against the portal and fought retching nausea.
After a while Norma felt a little better. The familiar length of the corridor cleared somewhat. A flat beam of light, from the window in the rented room, lay on the floor before her. Her eyes found it, clung to it, as if that bit of sunlight filtering through the gloom of a tenement airshaft represented sanity, which seemed to have fled from within the gaunt, rain-streaked walls through which it penetrated. Her mind began to function again.
It's lucky, she thought, that Cora goes to the school lunchroom for her midday meal. By the time she comes home they will have taken Henry Reddon away—and Mr. Walen will have washed up the landing. She won't see the..."
Thought failed in her throbbing brain. A blurred shadow had suddenly jogged the lane of sunlight, there before her! She focused her gaze on it. Outlines became firmer. It was the silhouette of a head, of a bodiless head floating in empty space!
Terror clutched the heart of the staring woman. A rasp in her throat was a soundless scream. She was motionless, rigid in the grip of a nightmare paralysis. She could see only that grisly, terror-filled blotch on the floor, only... Good Lord! It wasn't a head. It was a great bat, a tremendous, fluttering bat.
The wavering stopped. The shadow no longer was of something eerie, appalling. It was only the shadow of a man—of Malwa, her roomer. But Malwa hadn't been there before, and, if he had gone out, Flaherty would not have let him return.
Norma found strength to take the three steps that would bring her to that room door. She got to it, looked fearfully in. Mr. Malwa was standing in front of the window. A black dressing gown enveloped him, draped loosely from shoulders so straight and sharp-edged that it seemed almost as if the robe were suspended from a clothes hanger. Its sleeves were so long that they covered his hands. His head was swathed in bandages, chin to scalp, but there was a tiny opening where his left eye should be, and through the aperture a red spark flickered, blinked out, showed again.
"Good morning, Mrs. Sawyer." His voice was intonationless as it had been the night before. "You seem surprised to see me."
Norma moistened dry lips. "I—I thought you had gone out."
"I was here by the window when you looked in. Perhaps this closet door hid me from you, but I saw you—"
"I saw you... Oh, pardon me! Of course, you could not know. I have, Mrs. Sawyer, recovered my—the sight of my left eye."
"FOUR and what make ten?... Four and six make ten." Norma Sawyer looked lacklusterly at her small daughter, bent over a school-book across the kitchen table that was cleared now of supper dishes.
"Five and what make ten?... Five and five make ten."
Light, spilling down from the single, shaded bulb, tangled in the golden loveliness of Cora's hair, lost its harshness as it bathed her downy cheek. The whispering, rapt undertone in which the child conned her lesson was like a rough file rasping the mother's raw nerves.
Dread anxiety throbbed a pulse of dull pain in Norma's temples. Nothing more had happened after the events of the terrible morning. Morbid excitement, surging through the drab hallways of the tenement, through the sleazy street, had finally subsided with the departure of the police and their prisoner, of the morgue wagon with its grisly freight. Malwa had shut his room door, had remained within, noiseless, non-existent, all the long day. But the thought of his presence had been a pall of eerie fear brooding over the small flat.
"Eight and what make ten?... Eight and two make ten." There was a shadow in the corner behind Cora, like some black-coated, noisome animal crouched, watching, waiting its chance. Norma's hand went to her breast, pressed against the flutter of her heart. It was nothing. It was cast by the unused gas jet of the converted light fixture, and it had always been there.
"Ten and what make ten?... Ten and nothing make ten." Cora closed her book with a bang. "Mother, it's early yet. May I play jacks for a while?"
"You must have lost your jacks, dear. They weren't anywhere around when I straightened up this morning."
A smile broke Cora's precocious solemnity. Her blue eyes twinkled with a sly mischievousness. "I didn't lose them, ?If you count to a hundred and close your eyes,' " she chanted, " ?I'll show you something to make you wise.' "
"All right." Curtaining lids eased the ache beneath them. Small feet pattered, going away, and a childish chuckle came from behind, from the bedroom.
"Don't peek, now. Please don't peek."
This was a game they had always played, she and Cora and—Dan. It was a secret Cora had shared with her father, a laughing conspiracy against Norma. Dan had contrived some mysterious hiding place for the little one's small treasures, and the two had defied her to find it. She had never been able to, though she had tried...
"You can look now." Cora was back in the room, with the jacks and a ball clutched in her chubby hand. The bits of metal clattered on the table. "I'm going to get to tensies tonight without a miss. Watch me!"
Beyond the thump of the ball on wood, there was a slither of furtive sound. Nor-ma's breath caught in her throat. Her glance darted to the unlighted passage from which it had seemed to come. A tiny, lurid spark glowed in the blackness. Norma was out of her chair, was peering fearfully into the gloom of the short hallway. She had imagined the spark that was like a red-glowing, baleful eye. She must have imagined it. There was no one in the hall! Nothing...
Had a door closed down there, just as she got to the kitchen exit? The door of Malwa's room?
"What's the matter, mother? What made you jump like that?"
"Nothing, honey. Nothing. I—I thought I heard a mouse; that's all. I think you had better go to bed now—right away."
"Oh mother, I haven't finished. I've only got to foursie."
"Please, dear." She would shut the bedroom door, lock it. "I want you to." Lock it against—what? "I'll let you come into my bed and snuggle up close." With her arms tight around the warm, dear form no harm could touch Cora. What, in God's name, was she afraid of?
"Goodie. And you'll sing me to sleep like you used to before Daddy went away. You will mother, won't you?"
"Yes. Yes, I'll sing you to sleep."
"Sing ?Sweet and Low,' and maybe Daddy will come again—like he did last night—to kiss me. Do you think the brown man will let him come?"
Norma swallowed the lump in her throat. "Perhaps you will dream about Daddy again. Perhaps he will come back to you—in your dreams.
" ?Low, low, breathe and blow, wind of the western sea...' "
Tennyson's poignant words sobbed into silence. The nostalgic, infinitely mournful second stanza sang silently in Norma's brain. "Sleep and rest... Father will come to thee soon, father will come to his babe in the nest..." If only he could come. If only some perfumed, wind-filling gossamer sails could bring Dan back again, over a shimmering, moon-blessed sea, whole again to his loved ones. But that could happen only in poems, and in dreams...
Was Cora dreaming of him now? The soft whisper of her breathing against her mother's breast told that she was wrapped in sleep. It welled up in Norma's own brain, tugged at her heavy lids. She must not sleep; she dared not. She must keep awake, watching, listening...
The room was luminous with a hazy, blue glow. Norma could see the outline of the door she had locked, her dresser against the wall next to it, Cora's doll carriage—but they were wavering, unreal. It seemed to her as though a light, feathery touch on her shoulder had awakened her, as though the instant before she had opened her eyes someone had been there, right there beside her bed. It seemed as though, at that very instant, the air had ceased vibrating from the echoes of someone's voice, someone who had been calling to her...
It came from a great, an infinite, distance—worlds away. It was a mere breath of sound—a sensation, a thought within her, as airy, as phantasmal as the blue light pulsing about her.
The light was deeper, denser, obscuring the room and everything within it. The room was gone and she was suspended in some chill sector of outer space, formless, limitless, utterly unsubstantial.
It was Dan's voice, calling to her, calling... Dan's voice, close by, its timbre familiar to her as her own! "Norma. Norma, can you hear me?"
"Dan darling, I hear you," she gasped. "I—hear you."
"Norma! Listen. I have only a moment. Give it to him. Let him have it. It's in the... Oh God, don't! Let me tell her. Let me..."
The voice had been suddenly muffled, had burst out again, broken, shrill with tortured protest. Somewhere in the blueness Norma saw him, saw Dan, his face twisted, contorted by such agony as only a soul in hell could suffer. A black swirl in the cerulean haze was a malevolent, satanic visage, a purple scar bisecting its upper lip and angling away. Dan seemed to be struggling with the other. For an instant he broke away.
"Norma," he screamed. "Cora knows where..."
An impenetrable blackness descended upon her as she seemed to be catapulting downward, hurtling headlong into an abyss that yawned, a vast nothingness, to receive her. Then Norma Sawyer was dreadfully awake, gelid fingers clenched tight about her heart. She was awake, and now she knew out of what dream she had plummeted, the night before, to eerie, fear-shot consciousness.
Her slender frame was bathed in the cold sweat of terror. But no dull thud against the outer door came to explain her awakening. There was no sound at all except Cora's soft breathing, beside her. The blackness lay ponderous, inscrutable, in the small room. It crouched against the locked door, a vast monster...
It wasn't the darkness that pressed close against the door! The darkness wore no clothes to rasp, with a hiss just over the threshold of audibility, against the panel's wood. The darkness had no hand to close on the knob of that door and turn it, slowly, slowly, so that the grate of metal against metal was perceptible only because her senses, her hearing, were tensed to supernormal acuteness.
Norma could not move, could not cry out. She lay stony as some effigy on a medieval tomb, voiceless as the moldering skeleton within it. Only her brain was alive; only the quivering, freezing fear within it.
The knob clicked at the limit of its arc, slid almost soundlessly back. The intruder had discovered that the door was locked. Was he baffled? Would he go away?
The thump of heavier metal against the jamb answered her, tiny crackles as some sharp edge pressed in between door-edge and jamb. Norma heard the louder but still muted protest of riven fibers and the sharp snap of the bolt forced from its socket. The door swung open.
Its black rectangle was blotched by a blacker form, by an ape-shouldered, simian figure. The intruder poised motionless for an eternal moment, taut, tensed to determine if the cautious sounds of his entry had awakened the sleepers within. If she were quiet, if he thought her asleep, perhaps he would take what he wanted and go. Perhaps he would go, leaving her unharmed. And Cora...?
He moved. He was coming in. What was he after? What could he want in this destitute room? There was nothing here except the rickety furniture, a few toys. Nothing of any value...
The intruder whirled. He peered out into the kitchen, out into the lightless gloom from which he had entered. He crouched, and indrawn breath gusted in his throat.
Norma followed the direction of his gaze. A spark dotted the stygian murk, a single red spark just at the height of a tall man's head. A frigid quiver ran through her...
"Who's there?" the prowler gasped into the blackness. "Who's there?" His ejaculation was a husked susurration a-thrill with terror. "Who is it?"
The lurid spark drifted closer, swooping with increasing speed on the man's black bulk. Norma's breath stopped in her nostrils, a steel band seemed to clamp across her chest, constrict. Suddenly she saw a fluttering form beneath the red ember that was a Cyclopean eye in a pallid, spectral countenance.
"Keep back," the prowler squealed. "Keep back!" His arm jerked up. A vagrant light ray glinted on steel of a short, thick bar it held. The rod lashed down, crashed down on the swooping, terrible menace. Crashed through it.
A mocking laugh rustled, and the apparition was upon the other. The room was hideous with snarling, vicious combat; with grunts and squeals that were bestial in their ferocity.
"They'll wake Cora," Norma thought, agonized. "They'll wake Cora, and she will be crazed with fright." But the child was motionless, soft-breathing, by her side. From infancy she had been trained not to be disturbed when asleep. Their poverty had demanded that, the necessity for entertainment, for amusement in cramped quarters. Norma thanked God for it now.
"Got you," a hoarse voice grunted. "Got you!" A squat, ape-like figure lurched backward through the doorway. It was Lane. It was Lefty Lane, from across the hall. A fluttering, black shape hung flaccid from his great hands...
Malwa's sibilant, inhuman laugh was a hissing taunt in the ambient gloom. God! Oh God! Lane gripped the conquered body of the roomer who had come to her rescue, but Malwa wasn't there. His bandaged, spectral visage was a pale oval hanging bodiless and appalling in the darkness.
"You cannot kill the dead!" ghastly accents rustled from that horror. "You cannot kill the servant of Siva. But you must obey him! Robert Lane, where have you hidden that which is mine?"
That which he held dropped from Lane's nerveless clutch. Lane swayed, his breath a voiceless wheeze.
"Where have you hidden it?"
Lane did not answer. But there was animal courage, defiance, in his pose.
"You will not tell? Come then. Come to the fate which has been prepared for you."
Cora stirred, rolling over against her mother, whimpering sleepily. The touch of the little body freed Norma from the paralysis that gripped her. She was out of the bed, she was hurling herself at the open door. Cora was awakening. She must not hear, must not see...
Now the door was shut between Norma and the sight of horror. But it could not shut out the muffled sounds that came through the panel. Of stertorous breathing, clumping, labored footfalls ending in an unwilling shuffle, as if he whose heavy-soled shoes made them were being forced, step by fearful step, back from the kitchen into the passageway, down the short hall.
A door thudded into its jamb, cutting off the sounds. Silence fell once more against Norma's straining ears...
Then the silence was gone, and night pulsated with a vociferation that was neither scream nor shriek but a crescendoing ululation, a rounded, hollow yowl, as of a pain-torn animal baying his infinite torment out of some abysmal pit of hell...
Cora's frightened cry was more poignant, more terrible to the mother than the awful howl welling about her. It dragged her around to the dim bed, compelled speech from her of which an instant before she would have been utterly incapable.
"It's nothing to be scared of, honey. It's—it's only a dog—a hurt dog..."
"He must be awfully hurt, Mums. Listen to him. Go help him mother. Go help him."
"But—" The terrible outcry plucked at her nerves, and then it had ended in a low, sobbing moan.
"You must go and help him. Daddy always says one must help those who are hurt, even a dog."
Even a dog! But a thief, a skulker in the dark, caught red-handed violating the sanctuary of a home?
"You are going to help him, Mother?"
The faith of a little child! No fear, no shuddering terror of what might be out there in the terrible dark could justify its betrayal. "Yes. Yes, dear heart. I am going to help him."
The terrible dark waiting in the kitchen where that weird struggle had been waged, swallowing one, clammy and cold; in a hall whose black tunnel funneled a low moan of intense, unearthly suffering. The eerie, menacing dark through which one groped, quivering, till dank wood met one's hand and the piteous sound was just the other side of a door one must open.
The window was a yellow rectangle, lighted by the reflection of some belated lamp in the air shaft. It was a luminous frame for a bloated, horrible shadow blotching the pale radiance—a shadow that swayed slightly, swinging slowly, in time to the tortured, recurrent moan that came from it. Norma's arm moved up. Her fingers jerked a switch-cord. The thing was a shadow no longer...
It was the body of a man suspended by a rope harness that passed under his armpits and rose tautly to a spike driven deep into the top of the window sash! It was the naked body of Lefty Lane, unnaturally bloated, meshed by a blue pattern of swollen veins corrugating its bleached and bloodless skin. Eyes bulged from their retracted lids, eyes that were without pupils, without gloss—that were like the sightless orbs of a boiled fish. Yellow, rotted teeth grimaced from between pulled-back, colorless lips. A hairy chest heaved, and twitching belly muscles heaved to drive out each retching, racked moan.
"Don't," Norma sobbed, sheer lunacy gibbering within her skull. "Oh, don't!"
A thin, reptilian something issued from beneath the skin of one wrist lying lax against a quivering thigh, arced away and upward to a faucetted can high on a side wall. It was a tube, hard, almost rigid with the liquid in it syphoning down from the tin container.
A scene flashed across Norma's memory, a hospital ward she had visited once, where just such a can hung high from a crane over a sufferer's bed, just such a tube snaking down to a hollow needle thrust into a wrist's artery. But the flow in that tube had been regulated so that, drop by careful drop, a life-giving solution might seep into the patient's drained veins. Here there was no valve to stop this awful flow. The full pressure of a six foot drop was forcing some fluid into Lane's body, was swelling his veins, his arteries, to bursting.
Norma lurched across the intervening space, tore the tube out of Lane's pierced skin. A pinkish jet spurted from the opened wrist, sprayed over her. The suspended body writhed. The network of swollen veins collapsed.
She had her arms around the moribund man's knees, was fighting with her small strength to lift his weight from the cutting, cruel harness. She felt his legs batter with convulsive force against her breast. A hoarse voice came down to her:
"Oh God! Oh God! It ain't no use. I'm done for. He's done for me, and I had to tell him where mine was hidden." Agonized words breathed in defiance of impending death. "He's got Hen's now and he's got mine. There's only Dan's left. I came to look for it, an' he caught me. Give it to him. Let him have it before... before... Oh, dear God... take me!"
She was holding dead weight, the weight of a dead man.
"Give it to him. Let him have it!" Those were Dan's words, Dan's, in the dream she had had. But was it a dream? Thoughts flung up out of the whirling chaos of Norma's brain. "I am Malwa the Seeker." Malwa had killed Hen Reddon for some object he sought, had tortured Lane for another. "I have recovered my sight." But there was still another—and Dan had had it. It was somewhere here now—somewhere. He would torture her too to find it. But she did not know what it was. She did not know where it was... Then she remembered that Dan had said: "Cora knows!" Cora knows what Malwa seeks, and Malwa knows she knows. He is back there now!"
The child's name ripped from Norma's lips as she loosed the lifeless legs of Malwa's victim, as she whirled around. She threw herself across the room—crashed against the door.
It was closed. She hadn't closed it after her! She clawed for its knob. It wouldn't open. It was locked! He had locked it! He had locked her in here while he went to work his will on Cora!
Something made a hollow, rolling sound along the hall floor, going back to the kitchen, to the bedroom. Just such a sound as she had heard behind her while she stared at Reddon's gory corpse.
Norma flung herself against the unyielding barrier, beating battered, bleeding fists against it, scratching at the wood as one possessed, ripping her nails from her finger tips. Great sobs wrenched out of her breast, tore her throat.
Through the door, through her own wailing, Norma heard Cora's far-off scream. "Mother!" It sliced through her madness, silenced her, brought sanity to her for a fleeting second which was long enough for her to realize that under her foot something rolled and clattered. It was a steel bar; flattened at the end—the jimmy with which Lane had forced the bedroom door.
She snatched it up, struggled against frenzied clumsiness, against tearing haste to jab the chisel-like end of the thing into the crack between door-edge and jamb, to thrust with precise leverage at the other end of the burglar's tool.
Wood screeched, breaking away. Norma was out in the hall again. She whirled to the left. The kitchen, dark no longer, was aglow with a fitful blue light—the cerulean luminosity out of which Dan had spoken to her. The radiant haze waxed and waned, and it seemed to be alive with shadowy wraiths not quite visible.
Norma plunged into movement again, catapulting down the hallway toward the eerie flicker. She was in it; it was all around her. She thumped against the table, whirled around it.
Something caught her flying feet, tripped her. She fell for aeons through the blue light, fell down on hard boards. She tugged frantically at the robe Lane had dropped there, that had tangled with her and brought her down. Got it free and pushed frantic palms down on the boards to shove herself up again.
She froze with startled amazement. The bedroom doorway was before her—and Malwa was on the very threshold, gaunt, and stark, and appalling in his fluttering garment, his bandage-swathed head. But he was halted there. He was stark-still in the doorway, and his attitude—every line of his black-robed, emaciated figure—was taut, not with menace, but with... Could it be fear?
Norma's amazed stare went past him. Someone was there beyond Malwa. Someone—Good God!... It was Dan!
Straight and tall and terrible, Dan stood there with one arm straight out from its shoulder, its hand up-bent, its forbidding palm barring Malwa's advance. There was no agony in his face, only a blaze of terrible wrath, of awesome majesty.
And behind him—Cora. Tiny, cherubic in her white nightgown, the little tot was standing in the middle of the floor, her tiny arms up thrown as if to defend herself. Her blonde curls were rumpled, clustering about her small, startled face. She was looking—not at her father—but at Malwa. She was looking through Dan, as if he were not there.
"Mother," she whimpered. "Oh, Mother."
"Yes dear." From the very depths of hell, from the footstool of God's throne, the mother heart would answer that call. "Yes, dear. Mother's here."
"What does the man want, Mother? Why does he stand there like that? What does he want?"
"Tell her to give it to him," Dan said. "Tell her it's in the hiding place I made for her."
His lips had not moved. He had not spoken. It was with some inner hearing that she had heard him, with some ear of the soul. "Cora, dear," she whispered. "Don't be frightened. There isn't anything at which to be frightened. But there is something in the place you put your jacks and other things, that belongs to the man. You must get it for him and give it to him; and then he will go away."
"Oh, I know. The pretty stone daddy told me to hide when you went to get the doctor for him. I promised I would tell nobody about it, not even you."
There was a perceptible relaxation in Malwa's tenseness, an evident slackening of the silent, motionless struggle that in some weird fashion had existed till now in that blue-lit doorway.
"That's it honey; that's what you must give him," Norma encouraged.
"All right, mother." The child padded to her crib. Her small hands twisted at one of the posts. It turned in response to her purposeful tugging, was unscrewing. It came away...
Small objects spilled out of a hollow within it. Jacks rattled on the floor, miniature doll's roller skates, a broken fountain pen. Then flashing iridescent beauty rolled across the boards. It was an opal as large as a pigeon's egg, shimmering with secret fires, purple and saffron and golden and scarlet as sin itself.
Malwa bent, straightened. His hand came away from his head and, as he turned, Norma saw that two fiery eyes glowed now beneath his forehead. He went past her. He must have gone past her, but she did not see him. She felt only a cold draught whisper over her.
Tortured longing ripped the name from her, but Dan, too, was gone. Dan was gone! She knew what that meant. He was dead. His soul had gone from his body, and for a moment it had been permitted to come here, to save his loved ones from evil. Now it was indeed gone forever. Dan was—dead...
"Oh, Mother, I was frightened when I saw him coming in. I was so frightened. ?I want my eye,' he said. ?Where have you hidden my eye?' And then all of a sudden he stopped and he didn't say anything. And then you were running into the kitchen—and you fell..."
"Don't think about it, dear. Everything is all right now. Everything. Come back to bed. Come back to bed and I will sing you to sleep again."
But someone was knocking at the door, once more. Someone from the hospital, of course, to tell her Dan was dead. They couldn't know that she knew it already... It was Mr. Ginsberg, the druggist.
"Mrs. Sawyer. They just called up from St. Mary's..."
"I know. Dan is gone."
"No—he woke up just now. He is going to get better. They don't know what happened, but he is normal again, weak, feeble, but going to get well."
A BLUE-HUNG, blue-floored room was silent behind a door sealed by the police. The luminous blue light filling it from some invisible source lay heavily on a kneeling figure bowed in voiceless adoration before a jeweled censer, before an iridescent tripod carved from mother-of-pearl on which rested a grinning skull. From within its cavernous eye-sockets, from its triangular nasal orifice, the milky, secret fires of three opals glowed.
Finally the reverent Hindu rose. From the folds of his robe he brought forth a bag of azure silk. In a moment the skull was hidden in the bag.
Ganda was a flitting shadow descending the rusted, swaying fire escape into the tenement backyard. Then he had merged with the night, with the limitless night whose dark mantle covers secrets that are not dreamed of in the philosophy of the omniscient West.
But from high up in the drab face of the rickety tenement a mother's voice crooned:
Sleep and rest, sleep and rest,
Father will come to thee soon...
Rest, rest, on mother's breast,
Father will come to thee soon...
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