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´╗┐Title: The Soul Stealers
Author: Geier, Chester S.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Soul Stealers" ***

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                           THE SOUL STEALERS

                          by Chester S. Geier

            Wraithlike, they came out of the darkness--dead
         men who walked among the living. What grim secret lay
         in their sightless eyes--a warning to all other men!

           [Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
              Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy
                             October 1950
         Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
         the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

A chill touched Bryan as he looked down at the figure on the hospital
bed. He had seen dead men before--too many of them. He had seen them
sprawled on European battlefields, had seen them huddled in wrecked
cars or lying waxen and stiff on morgue slabs.

But he had never seen a dead man like the one who lay there on the bed.
For, paradoxically, this man was still alive. He still breathed, his
heart still pulsed. Yet it was clear that these were little more than
automatic processes. In the only respect that mattered, he was as truly
dead as though in the last stages of dissolution and decay.

He lay on the bed with an unnatural supineness, his head lolling at a
slack angle. His eyes were open in a blank stare, eyes as empty as a
waiting grave. He did not move. He made no sound. A thread of saliva
ran from a corner of his gaping mouth and made a glistening path down
the side of his jaw.

A mindless idiot would have shown more animation than this man.
Something vital and precious had gone from him, leaving him a mere
shell. His was a death-in-life, a thing somehow more terrible than a
shattered skull or a torn chest.

Bryan fought back a shudder and turned to the balding white-clad man at
his side. "What can you tell me, Dave? Just what seems to be wrong with
this fellow?"

The doctor sighed. "Wish I knew, Terry. I've never seen anything like
it in over twenty years of medical practice. Not even the specialists
seem to know. And we have several good ones here, who donate their
services to the hospital--men with experience in unusual cases."

"But don't you have any idea at all about how he got this way?" Bryan
persisted. "Isn't there any possibility that he has some sort of rare
brain disease?"

"We gave him a careful examination, Terry," the doctor returned. "We
could find no evidence of disease--no evidence of concussion or injury,
either. Except, maybe, for one thing."

"What's that?" Bryan asked quickly.

"When he was first brought in, we found a sort of reddish mark near
his left shoulder. As though something hot had touched him. The skin
wasn't broken or burned, however." The doctor shrugged. "It's gone now.
I doubt if anything so light and temporary could have been important,
anyway."

"This might be a case for the psychiatrists," Bryan suggested slowly.
"Maybe this fellow had a terrific shock of some kind--a psychic trauma,
or whatever they call it."

"That's quite possible. But we've done the best we could at this end."
The doctor's voice dropped. "I don't think there's going to be time for
anything else, Terry."

"You mean that he--"

The doctor nodded. "He's dying. I've seen the signs. It's as though
he's lost all will to live."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bryan looked at the man on the bed again, grim speculation in his
eyes. His voice was solemn and soft. "Maybe I'm just a superstitious
Irishman, Dave--but I think I know what's the matter with this
fellow. I knew it the first time I looked at him. He's lost
something--something you can't see with microscopes or X-ray machines.
It's something damned important--and that's why he's dying. What he's
lost, Dave, is ... his soul."

"I'm not laughing, Terry. Oddly enough, I have the same opinion. A
doctor keeps running into situations like this, where ideas thrown into
the discard by the so-called scientific attitude have to be dusted off
and put back to work."

There was silence. An elevator made distant noises somewhere in the
building. White-clad nurses moved crisply by in the hall beyond the
open door. Late Spring sunshine was bright behind the drawn shade at
the window. Life and movement, the mundane and familiar. But in this
room thoughts probed beyond the earthly facade and found a mystery, a
wonder as old as Man.

Bryan moved his muscular shoulders as though against an invisible
resistance. Then, slowly, still fighting that resistance, he reached
into the breast pocket of his rumpled tweed jacket and produced a
pencil and a wrinkled but otherwise clean envelope. Most reporters
carried notepads about with them; some even went in for stenographers'
shorthand notebooks. But to Bryan news was something more than mere
details. It was a thing of human and emotional qualities, and these
he carried in his head like songs--some gay and humorous, many more
tragic and sad. This characteristic had given his by-line its great
popularity with _Courier_ readers. When he needed to remember details
at all--comparatively unimportant facts like dates and numbers--he
recorded them on envelopes.

"Anything else you can tell me about this man, Dave? Who he is, where
he lives?"

The doctor fingered a slip of paper from a pocket of his white smock.
"Here's his name and address. I had an interne copy them down from the
stuff we found in his clothes. Knew you'd want them, Terry." He grinned
briefly, a grin of real affection, then sobered. "The police did some
checking on him. I talked to a detective just before you showed up.

"Seems this patient lived alone at a rooming house. A widower. No
family. Worked as a dental technician for a small company in the Loop.
It appears he was in the habit of spending his evenings in Grant Park.
He was found there this morning, you know, just the way he is now."

"Grant Park," Bryan echoed. "That makes three. Three, Dave."

The doctor looked puzzled. "I don't get it, Terry."

"I didn't get around to this business until now, but two other men were
found in Grant Park. Like this. They were taken to private hospitals."

"Good Lord!" the doctor breathed, startled. "This goes deeper than I
thought. There must be something in Grant Park--"

"Something that I intend to look into," Bryan said quietly. "There's a
story here--if I can dig it out."

He thrust the envelope and pencil back into his jacket, together with
the slip of paper he had been given. "I'll be running along, Dave.
Thanks for your tip. It was swell of you to remember me."

The other gestured as he followed Bryan into the hall and toward the
elevators. "Maybe I had an ulterior motive. Ruth and I have been
wondering why you never drop in any more."

"I've been running a rat-race," Bryan said.

"You look it, Terry. You don't look as well as you did when you first
came back from overseas."

"What a big medicine bottle you have, doc!"

"I'm serious, Terry. I've had an idea you weren't happy about things,
and now I'm sure of it. What seems to be the trouble? Your job?"

"The job's all right."

"You won't tell an old friend?"

Bryan lifted his hands. "Hell, Dave, I don't know just what is wrong.
But it might be something like this. I fought a little war of my own,
a personal war, to make the world a better place. Now that I'm back,
though, it's the same old world--only a lot worse. And a reporter
gets to see too much of the worse side."

"One man can't change the world, Terry," the doctor said. "All he can
do it make the best of his small piece of it.... What you need to do
is to get married and raise a family. And while on the subject, what
became of that pretty girl reporter you brought around with you a
couple of times?"

"Joyce? She's still with the paper."

"She seemed like a sensible person. Make a nice wife."

"Yes," Bryan said. He stopped in front of the elevator and held out his
hand. "Thanks again, Dave. I'll drop in some evening, when the rat-race
slows up a little. My love to Ruth."

"Take care of yourself, Terry." The doctor stood watching as the
elevator doors closed on Bryan's figure. A worried frown deepened the
lines in his forehead.

       *       *       *       *       *

Outside, on the sidewalk before the hospital, Bryan lighted a
cigarette. He stood there for some minutes, a big man in a rumpled
tweed suit, his hat pushed back on thick brown hair that had a coppery
glint in the bright sunshine. He had powerful shoulders, and the hands
that went with them, but his face was fine-carved and sensitive--the
face of an artist, or a dreamer. There was that paradox in him. And
in that paradox was his personal tragedy. For while his strength took
him easily through the deceit and cruelty of life, the stupidity and
ugliness, the memory of each encounter remained with him like a scar.

The scars were beginning to show a bit too plainly. It had taken Dave
to make him realize that.

Dave.... What was it Dave had said? There was an importance in the
words.

"_One man can't change the world, Terry._"

That was it. Bryan considered the remark now, intently.

Was that what he really wanted to do--change the world? He groped among
old ideals and ambitions for the answer.

In the beginning he had wanted to create--to create by writing about
people, about life. But to write about life required knowing it. He had
become a reporter.

What he had learned of life was evilness, greed, suffering, ignorance.
He could not write of that and still create as he had dreamed. But
he could fight it. He could fight it wherever he found it, little by
little. And he had fought. It was all that had kept him going.

A fool's mission, doomed to failure. Dave was right.

Bryan had his answer now. He didn't want to change the world. He wanted
to do something even more impossible--he wanted to make a world of his
own.

He grinned sourly and flipped the remains of the cigarette away.
Hailing a cab, then, he rode to the _Courier_ Building.

       *       *       *       *       *

The city room was filled with the old familiar clamor, the rattle of
typewriters and teletypes, the shrilling of telephones, the undulant
babble of voices. Bryan waved in answer to greetings as he threaded
his way to his desk. He rolled a sheet of paper into his typewriter,
lighted a cigarette, and rubbed his face. Then he straightened with a
jerk and began hitting the typewriter keys with the first and second
fingers of each hand.

Managing Editor Frank Sanders hurried past with a bulging file
envelope, his vest open and his stiff white hair a usual disorderly
tangle. He whirled as though Bryan's presence had only then registered
on him.

"Terry! Where the hell have you been?" He jerked a thumb. "My office.
Right away."

Bryan finished a paragraph and then followed Sanders into his
glass-enclosed cubicle. He slumped into a chair and waited.

Sanders tried without success to light a clogged pipe. He dropped it
back into the ashtray and said abruptly, "That Holzheimer story, Terry.
You did a nice job clearing the kid, but your copy was pretty rough on
the district attorney. Too rough, Terry."

"I should have thrown a street-car at him," Bryan said. "Trying to
frame a kid and build up a record."

"Circumstantial evidence and re-election, Terry. It happens all the
time--you ought to know. And you ought to know we're politically on the
D.A.'s side of the fence. Stories like the one you wrote about the
Holzheimer case will only hurt the campaign this paper is putting on."

"Sometimes there's too much incompetence to whitewash--even if it comes
from the right side of the fence."

Sanders shook his disorderly thatch. "You ought to know better than
that, Terry. You've been around long enough. This is no time to get a
rush of ideals to the head."

"I've never pulled my punches," Bryan returned quietly.

"I know. But we just can't have any more stories like the one on the
Holzheimer case." Sanders leaned forward at his desk, his eyes suddenly
shrewd. "What's eating on you, Terry?"

Bryan shrugged. "Things like the Holzheimer business."

"It's all part of a system," Sanders said slowly. "You can't change
that system any more than you can change human nature, Terry. All you
can do is make the best of it. I hope you'll look at it that way. I've
seen too many good reporters go sour over what they keep running into."

A telephone jangled on the desk. Sanders spoke into it briefly and
returned his attention to Bryan.

"Working on anything now, Terry?"

Bryan explained about the three weirdly afflicted men who had been
found in Grant Park. "I'm planning to look into it," he finished.

"Sounds like something big is involved," Sanders approved. "Go ahead
with it, Terry.... And take things easy, will you?" he added as Bryan
started toward the door.

"Sure," Bryan said.

Back at his desk, Bryan finished typing his copy. He was pencilling
corrections when Joyce Mayhew appeared.

"Hi, Terry!" She perched on the edge of a neighboring desk, a slim
dark girl with a wide humorous mouth and expressive hazel eyes. She
was simply dressed as always, but gave a characteristic impression of
fashionable elegance. "What have you got there--a scoop, or a love
letter?"

"It could be my last will and testament," Bryan said. He stood up and
called to a copyboy. "Have you had lunch?" he asked Joyce, then.

"I was hoping somebody would ask me. Somebody like you, Terry."

"Consider yourself asked. Let's go."

       *       *       *       *       *

They sat in a booth in a small restaurant on a side street near the
_Courier_ Building. Joyce's eyes were grave as she studied Bryan's face
over the top of her menu.

"Anything in that last will and testament crack you made, Terry?" she
asked at last. "I saw you come out of Sanders' office."

He shrugged, mobile lips twisting into a wry grin. "Nothing that
serious. I just had my wrist slapped. Over the way I handled the
Holzheimer story."

"There was quite a bit of talk about that up at the office. Sanders let
you off easy. But Terry, you seem to have been hitting out at things a
little too hard. What's the matter--a disappointed love life?"

"You know as much about my love life as I do."

"Really?" She looked down to finger a spoon, sudden pain and
wistfulness in her averted face.

"I saw Dave at the County Hospital," he went on. "You remember Dave."

"Yes--and his wife's cooking and his lovely children."

"Dave mentioned you. He seemed to feel I've been neglecting him."

"Maybe you've been neglecting a lot of people, Terry."

He drew a deep breath and let it out slowly, an action compounded of
agreement, weariness--and despair. "I suppose that's true. People and
I seem to have been going off in opposite directions. Take Dave. He's
satisfied with what he's doing. I can't talk to him without being
reminded of my own dissatisfaction. He can't talk to me without knowing
that something's wrong."

Joyce reached across the table and caught his hand. "Terry--don't let
it get you!"

He forced a grin. "With me it's work as usual. And this time it's
something off the beaten path--something darned queer." He told her of
the dead-alive man at the hospital and of the link to the other Grant
Park victims. He straightened, animation quickening in his face, his
melancholy forgotten.

"Three men," he finished grimly. "There's a kind of continuity to the
thing. I'm going to watch the park, Joyce. I have the idea that what
happened is going to happen again. I want to know just what was done to
those men, just what sort of agency is at the bottom of it."

Her face was troubled. "Terry ... it frightens me! If something strange
is really going on, you might get hurt--the way those men were hurt.
I wish--" She broke off with a helpless gesture. "Be careful, Terry!
Please be careful!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Bryan sat on a stool in one corner of a small dimly lighted bar,
frowning down at an envelope on which he had drawn a diagram of
Grant Park. He had spent part of the afternoon checking on the
locations where the three men had been found. These, it appeared,
were concentrated roughly near the middle of the park, around a large
sandstone memorial pavilion which was the center of numerous converging
walks. He had visited the spot while daylight remained, familiarizing
himself with it in preparation for his night vigil.

Glancing at his watch now, Bryan slid off the stool and went to a
telephone alcove. He dialed a number quickly. There was a delay while
an extension connection was made.

"Dave?" he said, then. "Terry at this end. How's the patient?"

"Dead, Terry. Not half an hour ago. We tried everything--oxygen, heart
stimulants. It was no use. I knew it was going to happen all along and
stayed to do what I could. I was just getting ready to go home."

"I checked up on the others who were found in the park," Bryan resumed.
"They died, too. In about the same length of time as your patient."

"Good Lord, Terry! It ... it's horrible somehow. What in the name of
reason could be back of it?"

"I'm working on that angle right now. I'll let you know if I turn up
anything.... Thanks, Dave." Bryan hung up and went back to the bar. He
finished his drink, lighted a cigarette, and strode outside.

Darkness had thickened along the street, a soft warm darkness, rich
with the promise of approaching summer. A block's walk brought Bryan
to the boulevard. Grant Park lay just across from him, lights shining
fairy-like throughout its shadowed length.

He crossed with the traffic light, hands in his pockets, a man just
strolling along on a pleasant evening. But his gray eyes were alert and
grim. Vivid in his mind was the memory of a man in a hospital bed, a
man who breathed and yet was not alive.

The park swallowed him. He walked directly toward the memorial
pavilion, moving without haste, without apparent purpose or destination.

The pavilion took shape in the quiet gloom, a temple-like place
of flowerbeds and radiating walks. On the benches around it was a
scattering of romantic couples and lonely men sprawled in sleep. The
atmosphere was one of serenity and peace. To Bryan it seemed briefly
incredible that danger could threaten here. Yet in this vicinity three
men had been struck down by something that had left them mere shells of
flesh without the will to live.

He made a complete circuit of the pavilion without a glimpse of
anything unusual or suspicious. Finally, choosing a bench thick in
shadow and partly screened by bushes, he sat down to wait.

Time passed slowly in the lulling murmur of leaves and the distant
drone of passing automobiles. The sleeping men on neighboring benches
awoke one by one, stretched, and plodded away into the darkness. The
spooning couples shared a last embrace and vanished in turn. Before
much longer the benches around Bryan were deserted. But he knew that
other persons might still be lingering in spots not visible to him.

The quiet had deepened. Bryan shifted cramped and protesting muscles
and peered impatiently at the radium dial of his watch. The hour was
already a late one. Soon it would be too late for what he had hoped
would happen. Everyone would have left the neighborhood of the pavilion.

Hope was fading in Bryan, but he forced himself to remain where he
was. More time passed. A deep somnolent hush lay over the pavilion.
Even the continual rustling of leaves now seemed muted and remote. The
sky pressed down, a soft dark blanket lavishly strewn with points of
brilliance. In the silver gloom the lamps spaced along the walks shone
with an ethereal phosphorescent quality.

Bryan slumped on the bench in resignation. He was certain now that
nothing would happen. Not tonight, at least. And in his disappointment
he wondered if there had been some warning of his presence. Or had what
he had been waiting for already taken place, without his having been
aware of it?

His tiredness blunted the question. Rest seemed more important now.
He'd go to his furnished room and sleep. This was just the first night.
There would be other nights. He'd wait and watch until something
finally happened.

But right now there was no further need for caution. He could have a
smoke. He could stand up to ease his aching muscles.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was reaching for his cigarettes when he heard the sound rising above
the murmur of leaves. The sound of wings. There was a rushing power to
them, a massive beat. And listening, Bryan had the swift certainty
that it was nothing familiar that flew through the night. He crouched
on the bench, frozen, searching the jeweled sky.

Then another sound--a girl's questioning voice, shrill with alarm.

Bryan swung and saw two figures against the pale outlines of the
pavilion, one evidently the girl he had heard and the other that of a
man accompanying her. They must have been nearby without his having
noticed them. The sound of approaching wings had drawn them into view.

Bryan's pulses leaped in dread excitement. Was it going to happen
now--like this? Did whatever it was that had deprived three men of the
will to live ride the air on great wings?

The thought brought a chill dismay. His eyes widened on the two figures
before the pavilion. If some strange attack portended, he could not
stand idly by and watch it happen. The man and girl were too clearly
exposed, in possible great danger.

Bryan was tensing his muscles when the beating wings swept by overhead.
His glance jerked upward. He stared in numbed disbelief.

A huge bird-like shape was gliding down toward the pavilion. Flying
beside it, grotesquely like fighter planes escorting a giant bomber,
were a number of smaller shapes--vaguely man-like. But it was not this
sight alone that filled Bryan with nightmare amazement. For astride
the bird-thing was a slender-limbed figure in veil-like garments--a
girl. And against the dark backdrop of the sky, girl and winged
creatures alike all seemed to shine with an eerie glow, a luminous
radiance.

Impossibility! Madness! Bryan's thoughts whirled in chaos. This bizarre
scene couldn't be real. He was suffering a delusion. His long vigil
on the bench had lulled him into a dream-like state in which he was
experiencing a fantastic vision.

But even as he told himself this, he knew he was very much awake. And
he knew that what he saw was no mere vision. For a scream from the girl
before the pavilion testified that she and her companion saw it also.

The fantastic winged shapes were slanting downward. Bryan realized
they were moving directly toward the man and girl. The couple stood
immobile, rigid, as though spell-bound by the utter weirdness of what
they saw.

Bryan shouted a hoarse warning and started forward. He did not know
what he could possibly do. No rational purpose motivated him. His
action was instinctive, an appalled protest against what he feared was
about to take place.

Bryan's warning registered upon the couple. They seemed abruptly aware
of their danger. The man caught at the girl's arm as if to draw her
with him in flight. But now terror struck her with its full impact,
and her body began crumpling in a faint even as she turned to follow.
Her companion hesitated in dismay, concern for the girl obviously
struggling against desire for escape.

One of the smaller flying monstrosities had pulled ahead of the others.
Skimming several feet above the ground, it darted at the man.

Closer now, Bryan was able to make out details that previously had
escaped him. The creature was the size of a child, with two pairs of
arms, its lean body human in shape. It had large bulging eyes in a
small hairless head. Its face projected in a long tapering needle-like
proboscis, which together with delicate gauzy wings gave the appearance
of an enormous insect--a mosquito. The luminous radiance that
glowed from the thing was not the only remaining unearthly feature;
Bryan discovered that it was mistily transparent as well, somehow
unsubstantial.

The man saw the winged apparition coming at him. His hands lifted in
defense, but in the next instant the creature's needle-shaped snout
plunged into his chest like a thrust sword. Then, with a blur of wings,
the creature pulled free and circled away. The man did not move again.
He stood with hands still defensively raised, statuesque, frozen. It
was as if a lightning paralysis had struck him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bryan checked himself sharply, shocked by what he had seen. There was
a wrenching unexpectedness about it, a chilling weirdness. And yet
it held a certain logic, a deadly significance. For Bryan recalled
what Dave had told him about the previous park victim. The man had
been found with a queer reddish mark near the shoulder--a mark that
presently had vanished. Now Bryan thought he knew how it had been
caused. But how could an object penetrate flesh and bone--as he had
seen the flying thing's needle-like proboscis pierce the chest of the
man before the pavilion--and still make no wound, leave only a reddish
mark that soon faded?

Only a few instants had passed. The winged band was still descending
toward the pavilion. But Bryan's presence on the scene had been
noticed. Two of the mosquito-men--their appearance automatically
suggested the term--were even now curving toward him.

Bryan saw them approach. He tensed, fighting back his dismay.

Flight was out of the question. He had seen the mosquito-men in action
and knew they could easily overtake him. That left only--

Bryan whipped off his jacket. He flailed at his attackers with it as
they closed in. They darted back, their huge eyes widening as if in
startled confusion. There was a quality about them as child-like as
their shapes, appealing--and somehow not evil. It was a thing Bryan did
not understand and which at the moment he had no time to fathom.

He pressed his advantage, beating at the shapes with the jacket. It was
as though he beat at phantoms. He could feel no contact with solidity
through the cloth. And the mosquito-men seemed to realize their
immunity, for abruptly they closed in, their sharp snouts thrusting at
him. He twisted aside to evade one--but the second reached him before
he could move again. Its needle-shaped organ speared his shoulder.

Bryan felt a brief pain, a sensation as though electricity had surged
through him. Then a complete terrible numbness gripped his body. He
could not move. He could still see, could still think, but his muscles
were fettered by an overwhelming paralysis.

He could still think--but it was difficult. His mind seemed detached
and vague, and somehow touched by a pulse of thought not his own. Alien
rhythms beat in it, formless, confused. And then--

"Leeta! This one resisted! He did not fear us as did the others."

Child-like, piping, filled with excitement. And yet through the thought
ran an undercurrent of wistful yearning, of trembling hope.

Then another thought: "Take him, Leeta! He is brave."

"Patience, little ones." Strangely soft and clear, this thought,
ringing like delicate silver chimes.

At the edge of his field of vision, through eyes he could no longer
control, Bryan saw movement--the sweep and flutter of great wings.
Then a slim figure moved into his sight, a figure in a simple draped
garment, walking as lightly and gracefully as though on air.

[Illustration: There was danger in the presence of this girl--and yet
somehow, Terry Bryan knew he must reach her....]

Leeta, he knew. Wonder rose in him--and sudden fascination.

Spectre? Witch? He could not decide. His eyes told him that she was
woman--a woman like few he had seen, slender yet softly rounded,
dainty yet with a suggestion of strength. Her small features held an
odd startling loveliness, elfin, somehow ... _other-race_. Her eyes
were tilted and strangely large, the nostrils of her tiny nose deeply
indented and flaring, her chin pointed. Her gleaming black hair was
long, thick, gently curling, a contrasting frame for flawless white
skin.

She glowed luminously. And--he could see through her. Like the
mosquito-men, like the giant bird, she was mistily transparent,
inexplicably unsubstantial.

       *       *       *       *       *

She stood before him, then. Her great liquid eyes gazed at him in
wonder, with a searching curiosity. There was a tenseness and urgency
about her, as though she were driven by some desperate all-important
purpose. And there was an air of tragedy about her, a despair,
a quality of wistful yearning like that Bryan had sensed in the
child-like piping thoughts. The mystery of this woman caught at him,
drew him.

Witch? Again he wondered. He could find nothing evil in her face,
nothing of cruelty or guile. Behind the compelling anxiety in her eyes,
the sadness that touched her full lips, was ... innocence.

The curiosity faded from her face. The tenseness and urgency that had
been lurking in her abruptly became dominant.

Her hands lifted. Bryan saw now that she held an object in them, a
globe of cloudy gray crystal, within which seemed to lay a core of
pale rose light. And the light, he noticed, waxed and waned in a slow
pulsing.

Bryan detected a sudden eagerness in the winged shapes that hovered
beyond. And with the eagerness came the child-like piping.

"Take him, Leeta! He has courage. This time you may succeed."

An answering thought; soft, holding a delicate note. "Patience...."

Then Bryan saw the crystal globe being lifted still higher--toward his
face. Behind it the girl's large exotic eyes seemed very intent. Within
the globe the pulsing of the pale rose core quickened.

Bryan felt something draw at him. A strange force--like insistent
hands. Hands immaterial and yet tangible, that reached into him ... and
pulled.

It was not a physical sensation. Nor was it purely mental. It was
something that went beyond even this--something that gripped at the
very foundation of being.

Bryan felt himself being drawn. And he did not understand. There was a
purpose here and a means he could not grasp.

He resisted.

In a moment the force left him.

The globe lowered. Over it the girl peered at him, startled, perplexed.
And from the background came a piping despair.

"Failed.... It has failed...."

"He has a strength I have not met before." An echo of that other
despair lay in the silver chiming. And an overtone of awe. "He cannot
be taken--and that is strange. He has qualities I cannot quite explain.
But his will is great--great enough, I think, to penetrate the veil
unaided."

"He cannot be taken...." The piping again, sorrowfully resigned.

Bryan was aware of the girl's eyes on him. The wistfulness in them
seemed to have grown. And from some deep recess within him rose a
sudden queer aching.

"Farewell...."

Farewell? Protest surged in him. He struggled to make a detaining
gesture--but it was futile. She turned away.

       *       *       *       *       *

The hovering winged shapes followed her. Moving swiftly and lightly,
she went toward the pavilion, before which the statuesque man stood
beside the prone figure of the unconscious girl.

She lifted the globe to the man ... its inner pulsing quickened. A
radiance grew in it, as though some energy were being absorbed. The
pulsing was very rapid now--triumphant.

Then the girl turned, hurrying back to the giant bird, which was
waiting nearby. Behind her, even as she turned, the man swayed--fell.
He fell loosely, emptily, his eyes open.

The girl leaped to the bird's back. In another moment it sprang
into the air, huge wings beating. Higher it lifted, and higher. The
mosquito-men followed. All soared beyond Bryan's range of vision, and
the beating of wings faded ... died.

Slowly the paralysis left Bryan. He flexed his limbs stiffly. His
muscles ached, as though from cramp.

He went over to the sprawled figures of the man and the girl, then. The
man had the same terrible unresponsive limpness as the man Bryan had
seen at the hospital. He was beyond any aid Bryan could give.

Bryan turned his attention to the girl in an effort to quicken her
return to consciousness. Shortly her eyes opened--then flared with
recollection. She glanced swiftly about her, fright twisting at her
face.

In the next instant she saw her fallen escort and seemed to realize for
the first time that Bryan was a stranger. She went quickly to the other
man and lifted his head.

"Tom!" she cried. "Tom! What is the matter?" Horror grew in her voice.
"Why don't you answer me?"

Empty eyes that looked sightlessly into the night. Slack gaping lips
that did not move.

The girl turned to Bryan with an expression of bewildered grief.
"How ... how did this terrible thing happen?"

Bryan hesitated. What he had experienced now seemed too wildly
improbable to discuss. The very improbability of it could only add to
the girl's suffering. And for a reason he did not fully understand
he wanted to keep to himself the knowledge of that strangely lovely
apparition whose name, it appeared, was Leeta.

He shook his head. "I'm afraid I don't know."

The girl's control seemed to break. She covered her face with her
hands, convulsive sobs shaking her.

Bryan waited helplessly, with a feeling of guilt. In another moment,
over the muffled sobbing, he heard the sound of approaching feet. A
flashlight beam bobbed into view up one of the radiating walks, and
presently Bryan was able to make out the blue-clad running figure of a
patrolman.

"What's going on?" the patrolman demanded. "I heard a scream." He moved
his flashlight beam from the girl and the prostrate man, to Bryan. He
added in surprise, "You here, Terry?"

Bryan nodded a greeting, recognizing the other now as Pat Mulvaney, a
park officer. "This man seems to be hurt, Pat. We'd better get him to a
hospital."

Mulvaney bent over the sprawling figure, then returned to Bryan,
speaking low-voiced. "Hurt ain't the word for it, Terry. This case is
like the other ones we found in the park. And it would have to happen
tonight. Olson was supposed to be on duty at this end, but he sprained
an ankle. We're short-handed, what with the Department being on a
budget."

With the girl tearfully following, Bryan and Mulvaney carried the
stricken man to a call box, where Mulvaney telephoned his report and
requested that an ambulance be sent. Bryan was asked to accompany the
girl to headquarters, in a squad car, for questioning.

       *       *       *       *       *

It wasn't until shortly before dawn that Bryan reached his room and
began undressing for bed. He examined his bare shoulder in a mirror.
There was a reddish patch on the skin, the size of a half-dollar
piece, where the sharp snout of the mosquito-man had pierced him.
The mark convinced him further that the whole thing had been no mere
hallucination.

He felt no pain--but his body seemed faintly, oddly feverish. And he
had a light-headed feeling that could not have been entirely due to
tiredness.

He took a stiff drink of whisky and crawled into bed. Sleep would not
come at once. Confused thoughts revolved in his mind.

He saw himself at police headquarters, answering questions. The girl
had told her story up to the instant she had fainted, mentioning the
flying shapes. She was unable to describe them, except to say the
strangeness of their appearance had terrified her. Bryan was reluctant
to discuss his own experience, but the girl had told of hearing his
warning, and this placed him squarely on the scene. He could not claim
ignorance of ensuing events without laying himself open to suspicion.

He had told of seeing the flying shapes also, but claimed he had been
unable to make out details. They had moved too swiftly, his explanation
went, it had been too dark. One had rushed at the man, knocking him
down, then all had flown out of sight. A vague story--evasive. But the
police had seemed satisfied, to the extent that the story checked with
the girl's.

The flying shapes ... Leeta.... A curious excitement surged in him as
he thought of the wraithlike girl. Who was she? Where had she come from?

He recalled something she had said--something about his will being
strong enough to penetrate the veil unaided. It seemed important. But
what had she meant by that? What--and where--was the veil?

And--how had he been able to understand her? He realized now that
neither she nor the others had used audible speech, yet he had the
impression of intelligible spoken words, of voice tones.

He pondered the mystery with a growing fogginess. He slept.

And then he was not sleeping.

He was standing on a mountain ridge, looking down into a broad green
valley. It was daylight. In the sky hung a great red-tinged sun,
which immediately struck him as--alien. But for the moment his wonder
remained concentrated on the valley. There was something there that
drew him--that had drawn him there. A bond of some sort existed, an
indefinable ethereal linking, over which he had crossed like a bridge.
A bond, he sensed, that even now was somehow fading ... dissolving.

The valley was a pleasant place, idyllic. Peace and quiet were cupped
within it. He had the sudden, insistent feeling that he had been
seeking a place like this, a place where he could be happy, where his
blind strivings would find fulfillment. A place--_where_?

He turned to gaze on the other side of the ridge. And saw--horror.
The land here was a ghostly desolation, blackened, charred, lifeless,
bathed in an eery shimmering blue radiance. An unutterably deadly
radiance, he knew in some strange way. And he knew, too, that the
radiance lay everywhere--except in this lone valley.

He returned his attention to it with a mounting urgency. The scene was
growing dim, blurring. It was escaping him. He made a frantic exertion
of will, seeking in what few moments that remained an answer to a
certain question.

There was ... a shifting. The ridge was gone. He stood within the
valley, at the foot of a rocky slope, up which ran a curving stairway
of a building of some pink stone. The building was exotic in design,
terraced, domed, fairy-like. All around it strangely beautiful flowers
and shrubs grew in riotous profusion. He had the nostalgic impression
of heady fragrance and warm breeze, of serenity and peace. And he felt
a queer ache of longing.

Then, breaking abruptly through the deep stillness, he seemed to hear
a faint piping. He turned in search and saw a flagstone path through
a lane of trees. At the end of the lane was movement, a flutter as of
wings.

       *       *       *       *       *

He willed himself toward it. Again there was a shifting. And now he
stood at the edge of a broad shallow depression, like a sunken garden.
The path dipped down into this by a short stairway and ran on to circle
what appeared to be a pool at the center. All around the pool flowers
grew with an incredible luxuriance and splendor, thick masses of
flowers, startling in their size and beauty, that made the air almost
solid with their mingled perfume. It was as though they found some
abnormally rich nourishment here that stimulated their fantastically
prolific growth.

The very atmosphere of this place seemed charged with a vital energy.
Bryan had a feeling of surging life, of boundless power. And he sensed
that it came from the pool. Something more than water was contained
within it, something strange, supernal--god-like.

The pool was filled with a pearly opalescence, alive and seething
with delicate pastel hues, swirling, changing. Sparkles of chromatic
brilliance raced over its surface, blazing and vanishing. A glow rose
from it like a gorgeous rainbow-colored mist, spreading, charging the
air with vibrant energy.

But the weird magnificence of the pool held Bryan's attention only
momentarily. For kneeling at its brink like a nymph in an enchanted
setting was ... Leeta. In a semi-circle behind her a score or more of
the grotesque mosquito-men made a fascinated audience. The giant bird,
too, was visible, squatting, motionless.

In her hands the girl held the crystal globe, shining with its stolen
radiance. Now she leaned forward, lowering the globe to the surface
of the pool. It seemed to float, pulsing. Sparkles from the pool ran
to it in a growing boil of motion--and were absorbed. The activity
grew swifter and yet swifter, until the pool seethed and foamed with
brilliance. The air turned electric with a sensation of vast striving,
of super-human effort.

Watching puzzled, from his vantage point above the depression,
Bryan saw the globe begin to swell. Its radiance blazed feverishly,
its pulsing increased to a frenzied beat. Larger, it grew--larger.
Became misty, unsubstantial, unreal. The rose core of it grew also,
elongating, paling to pink. And now it was taking shape--the shape of a
man. Features began forming, and then--

Stunned amazement hit Bryan as he peered intently at the figure being
so weirdly created. For recognition had come. He was looking at the man
who, a short time before, had been attacked in the park by Leeta and
her bizarre followers.

The shape was taking on solidity. Dazed, Bryan recalled the events in
the park. Leeta's strange globe, he realized, had absorbed some vital
essence from its victim--perhaps the soul--and this essence was now
being released by the pool. Released, somehow, in a perfect replica of
the fleshly covering that originally had housed it.

The man hung over the pool. His closed eyes fluttered, opened.
Animation touched his face. Fear showed in it, a rising horror, a
frantic desperation. He struggled.

And began dissolving.

The pool boiled and seethed as though in a mighty effort to hold its
creation intact. It did not succeed. The shape thinned, shrunk,
faded ... was gone.

There was a moment of stricken stillness. The pool had quieted. Its
aura of supernal power had dimmed. An air of exhaustion lay over it
now, an exhaustion in which even the surrounding flowers seemed to pale
and droop.

Then a piping murmur rose like a sigh of mourning. "Failed ...
again...."

And Leeta covered her face with her hands, sagging. Her bowed shoulders
shook, with great sobs of mingled grief, disappointment and despair.

Bryan wanted to make some sign of sympathy, of consolation--but again
the scene was growing blurred, fading. He fought to hold it together,
fought as the pool had fought ... futilely. And then a hovering
blackness rushed over him, and he seemed to whirl dizzily across an
enormous gulf.

He awoke in bed, soaked with perspiration, breathing hard. He had a
feeling of anger, dejection.

He swung his legs to the floor and glanced at his watch. He had been
asleep for less than an hour, but at the moment he was too upset by his
strangely realistic nightmare to return to bed.

He lit a cigarette and fell to pacing the length of his room. Thinking
back over his disturbingly vivid dream, he wondered why he should have
experienced it in that particular way. The events of the preceding
night had been unnerving enough, but he felt there was a deeper reason.
Was it possible that the queer wound he had received in the park had
something to do with it? He recalled his feverishness, his light-headed
sensation.

Then he thought of the man he had seen in the dream, and came to an
abrupt stop. In another instant he sprang back into motion, hurrying to
the telephone near the bed. He dialed the hospital to which the man
had been taken from the park, waiting impatiently while the doctor in
charge of the case was put on.

Identifying himself, then, he asked quickly, "How is the fellow,
doctor?"

"Afraid I have bad news. He died about five minutes ago. There didn't
seem to be a single thing I could do to prevent it."

"I see...." Bryan muttered his thanks and hung up. He sat staring into
space.

Five minutes ago.... That would be shortly before he had
awakened--about the time the image of the man, in the dream, had
dissolved and vanished....

       *       *       *       *       *

That afternoon Bryan sat at a secluded corner table in the small
restaurant he frequented near the _Courier_ Building. The remains of
a fourth cup of coffee stood before him, the saucer littered with
cigarette butts. He was staring into the cup, brooding. His mind kept
returning to his strange dream and its incredible implications. And
tangled in the thread of his thoughts was the picture of Leeta, dainty
and elfinly lovely, struggling toward an end he could only dimly grasp.

A slim figure dropped into the chair opposite Bryan. It was Joyce,
crisp, fresh, giving her usual effect of elegance.

"Hi! A little bird told me I'd find you here, Terry." She studied his
face in swift concern. "What on earth happened to you last night? You
look like a fugitive from a horror movie."

"Maybe I am," Bryan grunted. And he grinned wryly at the element of
truth in his retort.

Joyce was solemn, probing. "Terry, I heard what happened in the park
last night. One of our fellow wage slaves is posted at Headquarters,
you know. And from what he told me, I gather you were mixed up in
something with a spook angle. But, Terry, it seems the police have the
quaint idea you didn't give them the whole story."

He shook his head. "I'm not ready for the booby-hatch just yet."

"Then you didn't tell the whole story." She leaned forward, her face
eager. "I'm dying with curiosity over what really happened, Terry. Want
to tell me--or are you saving it for your memoirs?"

He lighted a fresh cigarette, considering. Joyce was an understanding
person, he knew. And she had imagination. She could be trusted not to
misinterpret the fantastic nature of his experience.

Speaking low-voiced, he told her of Leeta's arrival at the park, of
the attack on the other man and himself by the grotesque and somehow
unsubstantial mosquito-men, of the complete paralysis that had resulted.

Joyce broke in, "But, Terry, if the things weren't solid, how could
they possibly have affected you?"

"I've been trying to figure out that angle," he said. "I think they
were energy projections of some kind and were able to use this energy
to stun their victims. It should work both ways--that is, some forms
of energy from our end should be able to affect them, too."

He went on to describe the crystal globe and the use Leeta had made
of it. Finally he mentioned his dream and his telephone call to the
hospital.

Joyce looked shaken. "It ... it's gruesome, Terry. If anyone else
had told me those things, I'd have said they were plain crazy." She
hesitated. "This girl with the strange way of making men friends, what
was she like?"

"She was ... beautiful," Bryan said. He stared into distance, seeing
Leeta in memory again. His voice softened. "I've never met anyone like
her."

"She's a witch!" Joyce said abruptly, an unnatural sharpness in her
tone. "A vampire--a ghoul. What she's done is horrible, Terry. Someone
should put a stop to her."

"She isn't a monster," Bryan returned in swift defense. "Not depraved
or vicious. I don't quite understand it, but I feel there's a good
reason for what she has been doing."

"She's a murderess, Terry!"

"According to our standards, yes. But I don't think she realizes she
has been causing harm."

"That's generous of you," Joyce said. Her mockery held bitterness. "But
your lady Bluebeard has to be kept from doing any more killing, Terry.
Aren't you going to try to do something about it?"

He nodded grimly. "I'm going to keep watching the park. If she shows
up again--and I think she will--I'll make an attempt to talk to her,
reason with her. I have an idea about how it can be done."

"That's fine, Terry. I'm glad I don't have to do anything drastic to
make an honest man of you."

He stared at her. "What do you mean by that?"

"This is a serious business, Terry. Men have died--and more men might
die. If you don't do something about it, then somebody else will have
to." She reached for her purse and rose abruptly. "I'll be running
along. See you around."

About to turn away, she paused and looked back at him. Her lips
quivered, her hazel eyes held an odd swimming brightness. Then, before
Bryan could overcome his bewilderment, she whirled and hurried toward
the door.

He stared after her with a disturbing sense of alarm. He had always
considered Joyce a friend, but now he realized her own feelings went
deeper than that. Deep enough so that she seemed fiercely to resent his
interest and sympathy where Leeta was concerned.

He felt--danger. Joyce, he knew now, had become an enemy.

       *       *       *       *       *

He walked slowly through the darkness, a big man whose tweed suit
was more rumpled than usual. The park was oddly deserted tonight. No
couples strolled along the walks, no figures occupied the benches.

And Bryan knew the reason for that. Patrolmen, on emergency duty,
guarded all the approaches to the park. People were being turned
away. He himself had gained admission only because he was personally
acquainted with the captain in charge of the guard detail. The only
formality had been a warning to remain alert.

An expectant hush lay on the air. Even the warm spring breeze seemed
stilled, the rustling of leaves muted. Bryan felt the atmosphere of
tension, and his excitement grew. He wondered if Leeta would appear
again, if he would be able somehow to attract her notice, speak to her.

Leeta.... He recalled the way she had looked when she had stood
close to him, with the crystal globe in her hands--lovely, strange,
wondering. He recalled the wistfulness that had radiated from her, the
urgency. And in his mind seemed to ring an echo of the delicate silver
chiming, voice-like, that seemed associated with her.

He couldn't deny his longing.

The pavilion took shape in the lamp-lit gloom. Bryan was walking toward
it, when a burly figure stepped out of a patch of shadow a few yards
ahead.

"Hold it, mister! Nobody's allowed in the park tonight."

Bryan chuckled, recognizing Pat Mulvaney. "Take it easy, Pat."

"Oh, it's you, Terry." Mulvaney strode forward. "How did you get in
this time--sneak past the men we have around the front of the park?"

"Miller passed me through," Bryan explained. He and the patrolman spent
several minutes discussing what had happened the previous night. Bryan
revealed nothing more than he had already told the police, but he
mentioned the death of the man he had seen attacked.

Mulvaney was grim. "Think anything will happen tonight, Terry?"

"There's a good chance it will."

"Well, I'll be ready for it." Mulvaney slapped his holstered gun. He
left, then, to continue his patrol of the area around the pavilion.

Bryan sat down on a bench and lighted a cigarette. An uneasy thought
had risen in his mind. He didn't know if Mulvaney would be able to
cause any real harm in the event that Leeta appeared, but he didn't
want the girl hurt.

Time passed with tortuous slowness. The tense hush that lay over the
park seemed to deepen. Bryan spoke to Mulvaney when the patrolman
reached him on his rounds, but otherwise the monotony of the wait
remained unbroken.

Bryan was fighting off a growing sleepiness, when at last he heard the
sound he had been alternately hoping and dreading would come--the sound
of wings. He saw the flying shapes, then, low against the star-studded
sky, beginning their descent toward the pavilion. The structure seemed
to be a favorite landmark, perhaps because it was situated in a
comparatively remote location and was easy to find in the darkness.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mulvaney seemed to have heard the approaching sounds also. He came
running from some point on the opposite side of the pavilion, cutting
through the columned structure itself as he returned to Bryan. His
burly figure appeared on the pavilion steps--and then halted in amazed
surprise as he caught sight of the eerily glowing shapes that were now
winging downward.

Eagerness had pulled Bryan to his feet. The soaring figures were
rapidly coming closer, growing more distinct. He saw the giant bird and
its escort of mosquito-men. He saw Leeta, slender-limbed, elfin, her
gossamer draperies fluttering behind her.

The appearance of Mulvaney momentarily tore his attention from the
scene. He realized that the patrolman was silhouetted against the
pavilion's pale backdrop--a clear target. Leeta and the others would be
drawn to him, unaware this time that possible great danger impended.

Anxiety hammering within him, Bryan launched himself into a headlong
run toward Mulvaney. Already two of the mosquito-men were pulling ahead
of the others, skimming directly at the patrolman.

Mulvaney seemed to overcome the shock produced by his first sight of
the approaching shapes. He reached swiftly for his gun, raised it in
deliberate aim--fired. There was a burst of luminous brightness. One
of the two onrushing child-like winged figures was abruptly gone--gone
as swiftly and completely as though it had never been visible.

Bryan stumbled in his frantic stride, caught himself, numbed by a
sudden dismay. Leeta and her people could be hurt! It was as though
the glowing energy of which they seemed composed existed in a state of
delicate balance that could be disrupted by the impact of a bullet or
its shock-wave.

He reached the pavilion steps, leaped up them toward Mulvaney. He had
to keep the man from firing again. Somehow he had to show Leeta that
his intentions were friendly, sympathetic. He had to talk to her, make
her realize what she had been doing. Perhaps, even, he could help her.

Mulvaney's blue-clad body loomed up before him. He caught desperately
at the patrolman's arm.

"Wait!" he gasped. "Don't shoot!"

"Are you out of your mind?" the other cried. "Let go of me!"

They struggled. Bryan's foot slipped on the steps ... he fell.

The mosquito-men seemed disconcerted by the loss of one of their band.
They swerved away, as though in sudden terrified realization of danger.
But the great bird, with Leeta astride its back, continued toward the
ground a short distance from the pavilion, its huge size evidently
preventing swift evasive action.

Leeta was almost in point-blank range. And again Mulvaney was lifting
his gun.

On hands and knees, Bryan threw himself back at the other. He caught
Mulvaney about the legs, pulled. The patrolman went down, his gun
blasting harmlessly into the air.

Bryan was climbing back to his feet, when he saw the luminous
child-like shape of a mosquito-man darting at him, its needle-snout
spearing toward his chest. He sought to twist aside--too late. He felt
the brief pain: the electric sensation, and then paralysis held him in
its rigid grip.

A second of the mosquito-men dove at Mulvaney as he, too, struggled
erect, its needle-snout piercing his back. Mulvaney remained bent-over,
frozen, statue-like.

There was an odd hiatus, poignant, holding a realization of hopes
lost forever. Then a slim pale figure moved into Bryan's line of
sight--Leeta. She approached to stand before him, holding the crystal
globe, a vast wonder in her small face. He felt a pulse of thought,
soft and clear, holding a ring of silver chimes.

"It is you--he whose will cannot be overcome. Strange that we should
meet again ... stranger still that you should save my life. I do not
understand ... But I am grateful. And I wish--"

The silver melody broke as though against some cold unyielding wall.
Then it came again, sad, despairing.

"But what I wish cannot be, man of the mighty will. For you would not
willingly journey through the veil. You are bound to this aspect of
existence, as all the others were bound. But somewhere must be one who
is not.... And so my quest must go on. Again--farewell...."

       *       *       *       *       *

Once more she was slipping from him. And once more he could do nothing.
Despite his frantic, violent inner struggle, he could make no sound
or movement, could give no slightest indication of the purpose that
drove him. He was imprisoned within a cage of flesh as unresponsive and
immovable as stone.

She turned to Mulvaney ... held the crystal globe to him. Its pulsing
quickened, it brightened. And Mulvaney fell, limp--empty.

Watching through his despair, Bryan saw Leeta stand hesitating. Slowly
she glanced at him, as if somehow, throughout the weird proceedings,
he had been at the back of her mind. Her small face seemed to hold a
reluctance, a regret.

Then she turned and moved beyond his sight. And presently he heard the
flapping of wings, drawing away, fading. Stillness closed over the park
again.

Bryan felt the paralysis draining from him, more swiftly this time. It
was as though his body had adjusted to it since the first attack.

He was straightening awkwardly, painfully, when he heard a sudden
faint rustling of branches, followed by the sound of light running
feet. A figure appeared in the open space before the pavilion, hurrying
toward him. The figure of a girl. And then he recognized her. Joyce!

He felt a sharp surprise ... an unease. What was Joyce doing in the
park?

"I saw what happened," she gasped breathlessly as he came up. Her face
looked pale and strained. "Are you all right?"

He nodded. "Just getting back to normal."

She bent to make a brief, repelled examination of Mulvaney. "Can't
something be done for this man?"

"There isn't any hope for him," Bryan returned. "He's in the same
condition as the others." He studied Joyce for a moment, realizing that
she was oddly changed--somehow deliberate, hostile. "What are you doing
here?"

"I wanted to see what your girl-friend looked like, Terry. I sneaked
past the police in front of the park." Her voice took on a sudden
accusing edge. "I saw what that half-naked witch did to this policeman.
And you helped her, Terry. I saw you knock him down so he couldn't
shoot her. It was murder, Terry--murder! He isn't dead yet, but you
know he's going to be."

"I had to stop him," Bryan protested. "The girl deserved more of a
chance than she was getting. I told you she really didn't know she was
doing wrong. I thought I could reason with her, keep her from doing
any more harm--but things happened too fast."

Joyce shook her head coldly. "It's still murder. And you're in it up
to your eyebrows, Terry. If the police find out what happened here,
they'll lock you up and throw away the key."

In another moment her features softened, her voice grew pleading. "It
isn't too late, Terry. Forget that girl. Tip off the police so they'll
be ready for her the next time she shows up. They don't have to know
exactly what you saw--or what you did. We'll keep that to ourselves,
Terry. We'll start over again ... you and I."

       *       *       *       *       *

Bryan stared at her, shocked by the bargain she was suggesting. She
was asking him to doom Leeta, to sacrifice his pride and his hopes in
return for her silence. It was a kind of blackmail, in which she was
seeking to use the tragedy of Mulvaney for her own purposes. He found
in this a wrong somehow vastly greater than in what Leeta had done--for
this was knowing, calculating.

He had always regarded Joyce as a friend, understanding and
sympathetic. Now he realized these qualities were only a veneer, and
in the stress of what had happened the veneer had been stripped away.
An underlying ugliness was revealed--an ugliness that seemed to be the
very foundation of a world he had come to despise.

Slowly, grimly, he shook his head. "You're asking too much for what
you have to sell, Joyce. If I have to pick between you and Leeta,
then...."

She stiffened as though struck. "Leeta!" she spat. "So you know
her name, do you? Now I see you must have been cozy with her all
along--that's why you helped her commit murder!"

Her voice grew shrill and breathless with fury. "All right, Terry!
You're asking for it. I've made a fool of myself in front of everyone,
chasing after you, throwing myself at you. This is where I even up the
score.... The police might not believe what I just saw, but I'll tell
them a story they'll swallow without tasting. They just love people
who help kill cops. And they already have a crush on you over the
run-around you gave them after the last killing. If you aren't sent
to the chair, you're dead certain to get a job cracking shells in a
nuthouse. Everybody knows you've been going to pieces, and they won't
be surprised to hear you've finally blown your top."

She stood facing him a moment longer, her eyes blazing with deadly
promise. Then she whirled and was running swiftly toward one of the
paths that led away from the pavilion.

Bryan gazed after her, realizing that he might have made a serious
mistake. But he was somehow unable to care. He had an enormous sense of
futility, defeat. All his hopes, the very course of his life, had come
to center about this evening's meeting with Leeta--and she had slipped
from him. There would not be another chance. Joyce had made it clear
that the sands of time were running out for him.

He glanced down at the prone figure of Mulvaney, hesitated. It seemed
callous to leave the patrolman like this. But there was nothing
that could be done for Mulvaney now. Except, perhaps, to answer the
questions of the police about what had happened to him. And Bryan
didn't feel like answering questions. He'd had little sleep that
morning, and exhaustion made his body leaden. And he had the feverish,
light-headed feeling again, the aftermath of his paralysis.

He turned aimlessly and walked down one of the paths, until he found
himself at the edge of an invitingly dark grassy expanse. He dropped to
the ground behind some tall bushes and closed his eyes. He seemed to
be floating in a lightless, depthless sea. Soothing waves of sensation
washed over him. He drifted away on warm tides that held nothing of
sound or feeling.

       *       *       *       *       *

And then the nothingness was gone. He stood on a flagstone path that
ran between a lane of trees. At one end the path led to a curving
stairway that wound up a rocky slope to a building of pink stone.
Peace and quiet lay over the scene, like a crystal blanket of supernal
clarity.

Realization came to him, bringing with it an electrifying amazement.
He was back--back in that strange and exotically beautiful other-place
which seemed to be Leeta's home!

Leeta! Eagerness and wild joy flamed in him, then. There was still a
chance. It was not hopeless after all--not too late....

His senses rushed toward the other end of the path, and now he detected
a muted piping, like the shrill whispers of excited children. He sent
himself toward it.

The familiar shifting again. He stood at the edge of the broad shallow
depression he had seen before, with the pool of inexplicable force at
its center. The flowers that crowded here were as incredibly luxuriant
and gorgeous as he remembered them, filling the air with their thick
perfume. And once more he felt the aura of vital power that radiated
from the pool, boundless, awesome, god-like.

And kneeling beside the pool as before was the slender figure he was
seeking--Leeta. Only dimly was he aware of the other shapes around
her, the giant bird, the mosquito-men. She was holding the mystically
shining crystal globe, even now she was bending to lower it to the
surface of the pool.

Into his mind flashed the chilling picture of Mulvaney, horribly
sprawled, motionless-empty. He knew he had to prevent what was about to
take place.

Urgency leaping in him, he sent himself toward the pool. Leeta had to
see him this time! He threw all his will into the thought in a mighty
burst of effort. She had to see him!

And she saw him.

With the globe extended in her hands, she stiffened. Her tilted liquid
eyes flared wide. A stark unbelieving amazement seemed to grip her slim
body. And in a fashion that was somehow a normal function of his senses
here, he realized that she saw him as he had seen her back at the park,
mistily unsubstantial, weirdly glowing.

"You!" she said at last. The silvery chime of her thought held the
quality of a gasp.

Her stunned incredulity was echoed by the other presences before the
pool.

"He is the strange one--he is here!"

"He of the great will has come!"

Then the silvery chiming again, stronger now. "You followed me here,
man of the other aspect? Were you able so easily to penetrate the veil?"

"I don't know just how I got here," Bryan returned. "But I do know that
this is where I wanted to be."

She seemed to grasp the implications of the thought, for a sudden
delight stirred in her. Yet for the moment her wonder remained
dominant. "I do not understand how this can be. The others could not
penetrate the veil without the aid of the Vessel. It is as though they
were somehow bound to their aspect of existence--bound as you, man of
the mighty will, are not.... But why have you come?"

His answer was grave, deliberate. "Partly to ask you to stop the harm
you have been causing in my world, Leeta."

"Harm?" A silvery peal of shock burst from her. "I ... I do not
understand."

"You took something from those men in my world, Leeta--something they
could not live without. And because of this, they died."

"Died! But the pool could not incarnate them into this aspect. The
vital force escaped. I thought it returned to its shell in the other
aspect."

Bryan clearly understood the meaning behind the terms she used. He
shook his head. "The vital force did not return--not once, Leeta. The
shells died."

She looked stricken. "I had not thought that happened when the vital
force escaped. I had been certain that it returned through the veil,
drawn back by its bonds with the shell.... If it did not return,
then it must have perished here." The realization was one she found
startling, dismaying.

Bryan nodded slowly. "It perished in this aspect, just as the energy
projection of one of your winged creatures perished in mine. For I
assume that the creature did perish, Leeta."

"Yes," she whispered. "It was a thing I did not understand. But
now...." Her thought faded unhappily. Sorrow misted her eyes.

       *       *       *       *       *

He dropped down beside her at the edge of the pool. For the moment,
driven by his intense purpose, he forgot that he was somehow
immaterial, a projection. He forgot the strangeness of that bizarre
other-world garden and the tensely watching shapes nearby. There was
only Leeta and himself. That was all that mattered.

Earnestness heavily underscored his thought. "Leeta, you must stop what
you have been doing. You know now it has caused the deaths of those men
in my world. And there is another reason, Leeta--danger. My people will
be watching for you to appear again. They will try to destroy you."

She shook her head with a mournful determination. "But I cannot
stop. I have a duty to fulfill that is greater than any harm I might
cause--greater even than my own life."

"What do you mean, Leeta? What is this duty?"

"I shall tell you. But first--you have seen something of this valley?
You have seen that it is beautiful?"

"Very beautiful, Leeta."

"But only the valley is like that. All the rest of my world is bathed
in a terrible fire that destroys any life it touches."

"I have seen that, too," he said. "Was it always this way?"

"Not always. Once the entire world was like the valley, beautiful,
filled with life. There were fully as many people as on your own world.
And they had great knowledge--too much knowledge, perhaps. They lived
in vast cities and had many wonderful machines to serve them. They
could have been happy, could have climbed to even greater heights--but
there was war."

The silver chiming was dulled by sadness, and a kind of instinctive
horror. "It was a war fought with weapons of frightful, magic
power--weapons that used the very secrets of existence itself. Life of
all forms was wiped out, except in this valley. For a small group of
people had guessed what the war would do and had taken refuge here.
The valley, you see, was unique, not only well isolated from any
possibility of attack, but shielded on all sides by mountains which
contained an element capable of resisting the fire. Thus, while the
fire spread like a deadly blight into other refuges, it did not reach
here. Not entirely."

Bryan felt an awed wonder at the picture Leeta had drawn. Behind
her chiming thought images had moved--images that seemed to hold a
tantalizing familiarity. He had been puzzling over the location of
Leeta's world, and now he speculated startledly whether it wasn't Earth
itself. He recalled that she had spoken of their individual worlds as
aspects, as though they were different views of the same place rather
than completely different and unrelated places.

The possibility was supported by the fact that Leeta was undeniably
human. Further, he knew that the consuming fire she described was
radioactivity--and the people of his world were already well along in
their knowledge of atomic weapons. His wonder sharpened. Was Leeta's
world actually Earth--an Earth of the distant future? Was the veil that
separated them time itself?

       *       *       *       *       *

She appeared not to have noticed his fleeting thoughts. It was as
though her awareness was gripped by the tragedy of what she had been
describing.

Slowly she went on, "The fire's terrible breath touched the valley,
and its effects were felt by the creatures who had sought shelter
here--both human and animal. Some died, some ... changed. The winged
ones you see around you now are the results of that change. Even the
flowers and trees became different. And the pool was created. The fire
touched something in this particular spot--and the pool came into
being. The process was never understood, but I do know that the pool
has strange powers--that somehow it is alive ... intelligent. It is the
pool which made possible what I have done, supplying the knowledge,
tools and forces that were necessary."

"But how does it happen that you're the only person left in the
valley?" Bryan asked.

She moved her slim, gleaming shoulders. "There were not many here even
in the beginning, while the fire was still at its height. After its
destroying breath left the valley, only a very few were left--those,
that is, who were still human. And they somehow did not care to live.
My father was the last to die, but before he did he said I must find a
way to keep our race from perishing with me. He explained that I was
the first human truly adjusted to the changed conditions of the valley,
and only in me was there hope.

"That was ... and remains ... my duty--to keep humans alive in this
aspect. The answer to my problem lay beyond the veil. Matter was held
by the energy field of the aspect in which it was situated, and thus
could not be made to cross without the use of enormous power. But the
vital force contained in living matter could be made to cross easily
enough--with, of course, the means of a tool like the Vessel. And the
pool could incarnate the vital force, give it matter in this aspect
according to the pattern of the original shell. All I had to do was
bring the vital force of a man through the veil--and my race could go
on. Still, I have been unsuccessful, for it seems that the vital force
is also held to its aspect."

"I think that's because of what might be called psychic bonds," Bryan
said slowly. "The men you brought here, Leeta--they did not want to
come. And once here they did not want to stay. That, it seems, is why
you've failed."

He indicated the globe she was holding. "And that's why you'll fail
again. It's wrong to destroy a life uselessly, Leeta. Wrong. Surely you
realize that. You must release this man--if it's at all possible."

"It can be done," she said. Then her thought grew protesting,
rebellious. "But I cannot release him. I cannot give up my mission so
easily. I must keep trying until I succeed. Surely you in turn must
realize how great my duty is."

"Will you persist in it even if you know you are doing wrong, bringing
pain and grief to people in my aspect? Don't you know what grief is,
Leeta? Didn't you feel grief when your father died--when that winged
creature of yours died?"

"Yes," she said reluctantly. "Yes."

"And don't you know what love is? Haven't you realized that you were
tearing those men away from persons they loved deeply and didn't want
to leave? I don't mean the kind of love you felt for your father,
Leeta, but the love that exists between a man and a woman who are
mated. Don't you know what that kind of love is like?"

       *       *       *       *       *

She hesitated, startled, wondering. "No," she breathed at last.
"Then I'll show you," he said. Though he was somehow unsubstantial,
a projection, he knew he could still transmit feeling, just as the
mosquito-men had transmitted their paralysis to him. He bent toward
her, pressed his lips to hers. He felt her surprise--and then her
pleasure, her shy response. There was somehow a sweetness in that kiss,
an intensity, that moved him as no kiss had ever done.

Finally he drew away. "That is love, Leeta--something that would bring
a man willingly to your aspect."

Her small face was flushed, her liquid eyes shone. Then despair washed
over her. "But if you don't--" She gestured helplessly. "Where would
I find a man in whom there would be such a love?"

He looked at her intently, searchingly, then gestured at the globe.
"Leeta, if I were willing to stay here with you, would you release this
man?"

"For you--yes." In her was no guile, only an innocent directness. "I
have thought of you from the first moment we met," she admitted. "I
found qualities in you that were not present in any of the others--a
strength, and yet a gentleness, a sadness. I could not forget ... and
I know now that this was love. And if you will truly stay--" She broke
off eagerly. "Watch!"

She extended the globe toward the pool. She did not lower it, but held
it over the surface. Her slim body grew very still. She seemed to be
concentrating ... communing.

And as he watched, Bryan saw the mists from the pool thicken around the
globe. The supernal power that radiated from it took on an atmosphere
of tension, strain. For an instant, even though he still saw her, he
had the uncanny yet definite impression that the globe was--gone.

Abruptly, then, dismayingly, the scene dimmed, began fading, as it
had done on his first visit. Panic swept him. He couldn't leave
now--he didn't want to leave! He fought to keep the garden around him,
summoning all the force of will of which he was capable.

The scene steadied--but remained oddly blurred. He saw now that Leeta
had turned from the pool and was holding out the globe to him, smiling.
The globe's mystic brightness was gone. Once more it was a cloudy gray,
its core a faint rose, slowly pulsing.

"It is done," Leeta said. "He has been returned safely to the other
aspect." Then her smile vanished. She stared at Bryan in swift concern.
"Why, what is the matter? What has happened to you?"

Her questions seemed to come from a great distance. The scene was
dissolving again--and this time he could not hold it together.
Something was wrong, he knew, seriously wrong. He tried to send a last
message to Leeta ... failed.

Darkness closed around him. And from a distance even greater than
before, he sensed an anguished chiming, stunned, broken.

"A trick! It was just a trick!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Someone was shaking his shoulder roughly and insistently. He strained
away in dull protest, groping blindly for the fragile ethereal thread
that had slipped from him.

"Come on, snap out of it!" an impatient voice growled.

He forced open his eyes, then squeezed them shut again as the beam of
a flashlight struck them. His awareness sharpened. He struggled to sit
up, felt grass under his fingers, and realized abruptly that he was
back in the park.

Hands that were not gentle caught him under his armpits and helped
raise him to his feet. He saw the figures of two men now, one of them
in police uniform. This man held a gun, its muzzle pointed in silent
threat.

"All right, cop-killer," the man in the suit said. He had a detective's
unemotional face and flat hard eyes. Something bright glinted in his
hands as he leaned close--and Bryan felt the cold steel of handcuffs
close around his wrists.

"Let's go," the detective said, then. "We've got about two-dozen men
combing the park for you, friend. They won't like to be kept on the job
for nothing. Pete and I were just lucky enough to get to you first."

Rough hands gripped Bryan's arms, pulled him into motion. He walked
leadenly, unsteadily, the two men flanking him. His body was clammy
with the perspiration that had bathed him in sleep. He felt exhausted,
weak, sick, as though from some tremendous labor. The energy of his
body, it seemed, had been heavily drawn upon in order to sustain the
projection of himself in Leeta's aspect.

Leeta.... He thought of her with a crushing sense of tragedy. He knew
he loved her--incredible and weird as that love may have seemed. He
remembered the shyness of her kiss, the numbed horror of her belief
that she had been betrayed, that he had pretended love only as a ruse
to obtain Mulvaney's freedom. If only he were able to reassure her--

But he had the chill certainty that he would never see her again. For
she had learned the meaning of pain.

Despair rose in him, a despair that submerged even his concern over
the situation in which he now found himself. _Cop-killer_.... The
implications brought a kind of remote wonder. Joyce, it appeared, had
made her threat good. She had told the police a story that they had
swallowed without tasting. It was a story that had resulted in a swift
and thorough search of the park, a story that had required handcuffs
and drawn guns.

Bryan glanced at the detective beside him. "You boys taking me in
because of what happened to Mulvaney?"

"Mostly because of Mulvaney," the other grunted. "We don't know what
you did to him, friend--but you're going to tell us about it. In the
back room at Headquarters. You're damned well going to tell us all
about it."

"Mulvaney isn't dead," Bryan insisted.

"Not yet. But he's going to kick off sooner or later--just like the
others. I know about that, friend."

Bryan shook his head. "Mulvaney isn't going to die."

"That so?" The detective's flat gaze studied him without surprise or
interest. "But the other guys did--four of them. Don't forget that."

Bryan fell silent. Mulvaney wouldn't die--but he would tell of Bryan
knocking him down, of Bryan's co-operation with strange creatures that
had taken the lives of four men. Mulvaney, however, wasn't likely to
tell exactly what he had seen. His story, too, would be something that
could be swallowed without tasting....

Then Bryan saw that he and the others were crossing one edge of an open
space. The pavilion rose in the middle of it, a pale ghostly shape
against the darkness. It would remain a symbol for him. For within
sight of it his life had begun--and ended.

       *       *       *       *       *

A path swallowed him and his captors. The pavilion faded from view.
Ahead was the sprawling bulk of the city, dotted and splashed with
light.

It was against this backdrop that the sound came, rising out of
inaudibility. The flapping of great wings.

_Wings!_

A vast wind seemed to blow through Bryan. He stopped dead, staring up
into the sky.

The detective and his companion seemed to hear the sound also. They,
too, peered upward, puzzled.

Bryan thought he knew where to look. And glancing back in the direction
of the pavilion, he saw a vague dark shape against the stars. Sudden
urgency roared in him like thunder.

The pavilion! He had to go back!

He lifted his imprisoned arms and swung them in a sweeping club-like
blow. The policeman dropped before he could move his gun back into
line. The detective swore in dismay, sent a hand darting under his
coat--but Bryan was already whirling toward him. He kneed the man in
the stomach, then felled him with a chopping blow to the back of the
head.

Beyond hindrance now, Bryan ran. He ran recklessly, wildly, eagerness
driving away his exhaustion, sending an explosive power into his legs.

Behind him voices shouted, a whistle shrilled. Then the sharp blast of
a gun split the air.

He left the path and cut across a stretch of grass. A wall of shrubbery
rose before him, and he plunged into it without checking speed.
Branches lashed at him, tore at him. He fell, heaved himself erect,
fought his way clear.

More grass, and then another path, running parallel to the one he had
fled. He followed this, and presently the pavilion took form in the
gloom. Above it a dark shape circled on huge wings. The giant bird--and
it was alone. Bryan could see no other shapes accompanying it.

He was puzzling over the discovery, when a flashlight beam speared at
him out of an intersecting path. Shouts followed it, filled with a
swift excitement.

"There he is!"

"Stop, you!"

Bryan plunged on. Again a whistle shrilled. Then the running sounds of
a group of men came in pursuit.

The pavilion rose before him. He reached the open space around it,
halted, swung his bound hands in an urgent gesture at the sky.

"Here I am!" he called, not knowing if his call would be heard.
"Here--quick!"

If it did not actually hear him, the giant bird saw him. Swiftly it
descended. And as it dropped toward him, he saw it held an object in
its beak--the crystal globe. His perplexity mounted. For added to all
the other strangeness of this event, he now detected a desperation
about the bird, a consuming anxiety.

He sent his thought to meet the pulse that was reaching toward him.
"Where is Leeta? Has something happened?"

With a final sweep of its wings, the bird settled to the ground. Its
answer came, then, holding an odd deep twittering quality.

"The fire! Leeta is sending herself into the fire! Only you can stop
her. She has commanded the winged ones not to interfere--a command we
cannot disobey."

"Leeta--planning to destroy herself? But why?"

"It is because of this thing called love that you awoke in her. She
felt that without you there was no longer any reason to live." Anxiety
sharpened in the twittering thought. "Will you help to save Leeta, man
of this aspect? Will you come with me through the veil?"

"Yes," Bryan said. "Yes!" Eagerly he leaned close to the slowly pulsing
globe that the bird held out to him in its beak ... felt himself drawn
as though by immaterial hands that reached deep within him.

From an increasing distance sounds came to him, the pounding of feet,
shouts, the roar of a gun. Something struck his shoulder, but only
dimly was he aware of it. The last physical bonds were parting.

And then a pulsing darkness enclosed him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Through the darkness came light, a flicker of motion and a flash of
color, like the beating wings of a butterfly. The light grew, the
darkness vanished. He floated in a gorgeous rainbow-hued brilliance
that shimmered and swirled with the throb of a supernal laboring.
Beyond the brilliance outlines were taking form. He had a sensation of
swift movement--and found himself standing at the edge of the pool in
that bizarrely beautiful other-world garden he remembered so well.

"Haste! Haste!"

"Leeta is going into the fire!"

All around him the thoughts rose, beating at him. He saw the giant
bird, then, and the smaller winged shapes that hovered beyond.

"Haste! Haste!"

The dread anxiety communicated itself to him, kindled a swift purpose.
Sensing what was required of him, he hurried toward the waiting bird,
leaped to its back. It sprang skyward, its huge wings beating. The
garden dropped away, became a mere patch of bright color against the
mottled pattern of the valley floor.

"Haste! Haste!"

Swifter and swifter the huge wings beat. Bryan clutched at the feathers
under him, rocked by the surges of giant muscles, buffeted by the
torrent of air that rushed past.

The valley wall rose ahead, and through a deep cleft in the towering
masses of rock he saw a deadly blue shimmer. The bird descended toward
the cleft--and abruptly he felt its stunned dismay.

"Leeta has gone through the portal! She has reached the fire!"

Anguish flamed in Bryan. He had done this. If Leeta died, it would be
as though he had killed her with his own hands.

"Hurry!" he pleaded. "It may not be too late."

The bird dropped to the rocky ground at the entrance to the cleft.
Sliding from its back, Bryan ran through the opening, to the brink of
that ghastly desolation he had seen once before. He glanced around in
frantic search--and then, below him, he caught sight of a slender white
figure moving through the shimmering blue radiance that blanketed the
desolate landscape.

Too late! Leeta had entered the fire. For a moment the horrible
realization held him rigid, dazed, numbed beyond thought. Then, a
bleak purpose filling him, he hurried after her down a twisting rocky
descent. He might not be able to save Leeta now--but he could die with
her.

The blue radiance rose around him, and he felt its lethal touch. Leeta
was some distance ahead of him, mistily unreal behind the shimmering
curtain. And even as he found her, he saw her stumble, fall. She did
not move again.

With an inner desolation even greater than that of the scene itself, he
made his way over to the girl across the charred, tumbled floor. Gently
he lifted her, carried her back to the cleft. His steps were leaden,
faltering. A burning sensation was spreading through his body. Outlines
were blurring before his eyes, darkening. He forced himself on.

It was not until he emerged through the cleft, not until he lowered
Leeta to the ground, that he gave his ravaged body the oblivion it had
been demanding.

Oblivion--and yet.... In some dim, remote fashion he had a picture
of the great bird, hovering over Leeta and himself on beating wings,
grasping them carefully in its claws, carrying them through the air
over the valley, and then descending with them toward the pool.

Down ... down.... And then a swirling brilliance, a sense of delicious
coolness, of returning strength. He found himself floating in the
pool. And beside him, her liquid eyes even now widening with returning
awareness, was Leeta. He felt the god-like power of the pool throbbing
through him, and he knew that he and Leeta had been cleansed of the
deadly radiation, that life and not death now lay before them. And the
knowledge was a music within him that swelled into a mighty paean of
exultation.

Then he stood with Leeta at the edge of the pool, and she was staring
at him in wild disbelief. The silvery chiming of her thought held a
vast wonder.

"Is it really you? Have you returned--through the veil? Or is this
somehow only a dream?"

He shook his head gently, smiling. "Not a dream, Leeta. I've come
back--and through the veil. Back to stay."

Joy was a sudden brimming brightness in her eyes. "Then the love of
which you told me--it was not just a trick?"

"No--and I'm going to prove it, Leeta." He drew her to him ... and
knew, in the answering pressure of her lips, that he had convinced her.

He felt a deep content. Here was the world of his own that he had
sought, and life had a meaning, a purpose it had lacked. Together he
and Leeta would create a new race, as two others long before them had
done, who had come from a place called Eden....



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