Arkham: Tales from the Flipside

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This is Professor Wilmarth and your friendly neighborhood Cthulhu welcoming you to another journey within the world of the macabre and the strange. In this season’s issue we have several tales of Death, Assassination, War, X-husbands..., the Fall of Civilizations, and the simple truth you are what you eat that turn like a wheel and spiral into one another. Tales from new masters and old. We have Stanley Mullen, Philip K. Dick, Charles Vincent de Vet, and Robert E. Howard along with this generation of masters Deschenes, Dowgin.

 

Some stories touch on historical fact and others you will hope are just pure fiction. Let’s see if you can figure out all the connections between the tales. Who knows, you might even find more than I reveal at the end of our installment from Arkham: Tales from the Flipside.

 

So excuse me now as I leave to share a campfire with the Jersey Devil and some smores deep within the heart of the Jersey Pine Barrens. I bet you thought the Revolutionary War ended at Yorktown...Silly Rabbit the last battle was in the Pines.

 

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Norge Forge Press

 

P.O. Box 249

 

Salem, MA 01970

 

Text Copyright © 2020

 

Illustrations Copyright © 2020

 

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof

 

may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever

 

without the express written permission of the publisher

 

except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

 

Spring Issue: 2020

 

ISSN: 2689-7911

 

 

 

Table of Contents

The Battle at Cedar Bridge Tavern
by Christopher Jon Luke Dowgin

 

 

There is a Reaper

 

by Charles Vincent de Vet

 

 

Black Colossus

 

by Robert E. Howard

 

 

Things that go Bump

 

by Lisa Deschenes

 

 

Shock Treatment

 

by Stanley Mullen

 

 

Beyond Lies the Wub

 

by Philip K. Dick

 

The Battle at Cedar Bridge Tavern 2

 

by Christopher Jon Luke Dowgin

 

Authors and Illustrators

 

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:My Books:The Sinclair Narratives:Battle at Cedar Bridge Tavern:Illustrations:William-Howe.pdf

 

The Battle at Cedar Bridge Tavern

By Christopher Jon Luke Dowgin
Part of the Sinclair Narratives

 

I had recently been promoted lieutenant general of the ordnance and appointed to the Privy Council. Now the real William Howe was the grandson of Sophia von Kielmansegg, Countess of Leinster and Darlington, an acknowledged illegitimate half-sister of King George I. So I was a disreputable cousin of King George III.

 

The surrender of Yorktown had happened on October 19, 1781, and for all intents and purposes, the war with the Colonies was over. Or was it?

 

Well its been almost a year since the House of Commons agreed to end all further military actions against those on the other side of the pond and about 5 years since I resigned my post as Commander-in-Chief of British land forces. Being a Whig, I was in the employment of those who controlled the Bank of England, or at least they thought I was, and the Whig’s sought an end to the hostilities for the commencement of silver to return to the London merchants who suffered from unpaid debts from prior to the outbreak of the war.

 

They smartly opined that it is not the one who wins the battle, but in truth—the victory goes to the one who holds the purse strings. So we have seen, just last month, the creation of the Bank of North America. Prior Hamilton, the prime pupil of the Whig Reverend Knox, had been appointed Secretary of the Treasury on September 11th. Upon the creation of The Bank of North America, Hamilton was mentored by William Bingham, the future financier of bank. Bingham just happened to be married to the bank’s president’s daughter. Now their daughter would in time marry Alexander Baring; of Baring Brothers Bank who controlled 1/3 of the Bank of England through his father’s bank and another 1/3 through being the controlling partner in the English branch of Hope & Co. Now the future prosperity of this diverse continent with all of its resources has been guaranteed to come back to the mother country without future bloodshed. So it was for the Rothschilds to set up stakes, for at the moment they have not found inroads into the federal bank of this new country nor the grand continent it found itself within.

 

So how did I become William Howe, you might ask? Well you can blame it on the rains of Cape Breton.

 

It was the Second Siege of the Fortress of Louisbourg. It was the French and Indian War and I, Henry Sinclair was with Rogers Rangers with General Wolf making a beachhead. We were fighting to move cannons through a bog when this young officer was yanking the front of our barrel as me and my distant nephew Arthur St. Clair and John Young was pushing from the rear fighting to push it out of the bog over this slimy rock when...Israel Putnam distracted the young officer just as we got the rear out of the bog and it fell forward with a great thrust and crushed William Howe.

 

We were pushing up the last cannon in a long line and we were the only ones to have noticed. At the time I was just a foot soldier, cannon fodder. Nobody would notice if I was gone? Arthur was kin and John was appointed by my great, great, great grandson to be Grand Master of North America and the West Indies of The Ancient and Accepted Scottish Rite of Freemasonry and Putnam, who got the poor boy killed was at the time an Apprentice Mason; our secret was safe. We figured it would be a good ploy, for the eventual freedom of Scotland and to keep a hand on the future growth of this new world. I figured it would not be bad to be related to a king. It was uncanny how much I looked like Howe and how his uniform was such a good fit.

 

All there was left was to try to bribe Sophia, and when she refused, blackmail for she had taken up her father’s philandering. Which was OK for Ernest Augustus the Elector of Hanover, but not for a woman even if she was a royal bastard or not.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:My Books:The Sinclair Narratives:Battle at Cedar Bridge Tavern:Illustrations:Cannon.pdf

 

So in time I headed the British forces against the Rebels, not by my desire, and it was I who conceded the war when I waged the campaign on Philadelphia and not Albany. The loss at Saratoga brought the French, at the bequest of the Marquis Lafayette, and the Spanish into the war on the side of Colonies, which led to the defeat at Yorktown.

 

Now during a campaign, I met this ineffectual young general who was only worse at poker. We met at Welch’s Tavern after the Battle of Brandywine. In those days all hostilities ended at sunset and the officers on both sides would gather together over pints. I won a piece of property, a dogleg, on the southern tip of General Lacey’s bog iron operation.

 

Yeah I know, you are getting bogged down in this story from Louisbourg bog to NJ bog; so I will get to the point.

 

The Ark of the Covenant.

 

Ark of the Covenant

 

___

Yes!

 

That Ark of the Covenant.

 

It was not one of the original Templar treasures that I sailed to the new world and hid within the tunnels of Salem in 1398. In fact, it had just come into the hands of the Sinclairs at Roslyn toward the time of the Intolerable Acts. My old friends John Young and Arthur St Clair met Israel Putnam and myself in Salem, prior to the Battle of Lexington, to deliver it to me from my grandson William. Intrigues against Scotland, from England, at the time threatened its safety as the Rothschilds sought it out; believing it should be within Jewish hands and not Christian. They also believed it could create gold out of thin air and it would provide means for them to take over the Bank of England away from Baring Brothers.

 

Their mercenaries from their city of Hesse were becoming a major force within the politics of Germany and England, which have been melded together since William of Orange. Not to mention William I of Hesse, who the Rothschilds controlled financially, was married to King George II’s daughter. It was fair to say the Rothschild financed the British Regulars as well. Ever wonder why they wore red coats? The Red Coat family sponsored them; the Rothschild family with the coat of arms of a red shield.

 

So as General John Burgoyne headed south with his Hessian force, I was moving the Ark deep into the woods of the Jersey Pine Barrens out of Philadelphia. I had made terms with Benjamin Franklin, fellow Mason, to hide the Ark under Independence Hall the night President John Hancock applied his signature to the Declaration of Independence.

 

Prior, when General Leslie brought his assault in the days prior to the Battle of Lexington, his order was to attack Robert Foster’s blacksmith shop.

 

Along with 27 cannons from Richard Derby’s ships, Foster was affixing the Ark to a field carriage to be pulled safely out of Salem. When locals put up the Old North Bridge they stopped Leslie from crossing the river, where the shop was just on the other side. Prior to his arrival the Ark was safely removed to Jonathan Mason’s home on the hill, but they still had to distract him with several verbal assaults as the citizens hung from the bridge as they pushed the 27 cannons to Mason’s house as well. Only after the cannons were moved, did the British cross. This was the hidden piece of Leslie’s Retreat.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:My Books:The Sinclair Narratives:Battle at Cedar Bridge Tavern:Illustrations:Leslies-Retreat.pdf

 

Loyalist Dr. Edward Augustus Holyoke, a double agent, had informed us of William Brown’s and George Perkins’ treachery informing the British about the Ark. When word got out about Brown, he was forced to escape with his life as the locals came out after him and confiscated his property. Later the house of blood in which Elias Hasket Derby Jr. infamously drained his victims in would be built on that, Salem’s lot. George Perkins also fled Salem for Turkey where he was funding the Bank of England through his sales of opium from their ports to China. His cousins James and Thomas Perkins, who had also profited greatly from those sales, remained. The Perkins cousins worked with Samuel Ward, Baring Brothers agent, to confiscate the Ark. The two families were holding strange cabals at Brown’s Folly on top of Castle Hill where the infamous Indian Massacre had happened in 1624, just less than a mile away on the same ridge was the site of the hangings. That story of how I escaped with the Ark against their maniacal obsession, is for another time.

 

William Brown just became Governor of Bermuda this month. Just a little side note...

 

Afterward, through Reverend William Bentley and John Hancock I was able to secure a meeting with Benjamin Franklin within the Essex Lodge to secure a home under Independence Hall for the Ark. Franklin wanted to study it and see if it could be used as a weapon for the Patriots cause. Prior to the French and Indian War, I had ran a tavern on Winter Island in between Fort William and Richard Derby’s Wharf in which Bentley drank at as a young man. He and Putnam were the only ones who remembered my old alias, before I became Howe, within Salem. You can only be twenty-five years old for so long till someone notices…

 

So now you can understand how President John Hanson, Arthur, Israel, John, and myself find ourselves pinned down outside of Cedar Bridge Tavern deep in the Pines of NJ by some Pine Robbers led by John Bacon and Refugee Hessians, who have stolen the Ark. This tale of mine is about the last official battle of the Revolutionary War on December 27, St. Stephen’s Day. Pinned down in the mud and snow dressed in humiliating straw mummers costumes...

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:My Books:The Sinclair Narratives:Battle at Cedar Bridge Tavern:Illustrations:Mud.pdf

 

___

 

The Ark. Why were the British after it? It is a large electrical capacitor. A box of acacia wood that acted as an insulator between two gold plates placed within and without. On top were two cherubs which acted as terminals of opposite polarity. Carrying the box between two wooden posts it could be moved safely as it traveled through dry climates where the friction of the sand on the wind would build up an immense electric charge within. Its great electrical charges could be directed against an opponent and it could be used to power any sort of device. Franklin, an early proponent of electricity knew full well of its potential and it was his son the Loyalist Governor of NJ who sent these Pine Robbers to my quarters at the southern edge of General Lacey’s bog iron operation to steal the Ark.

 

The Hessians, in the employ of the Rothschilds, were hoping to be paid handsomely for this prize which could secure that family within the hallow halls of the Bank of England. What a prize it was turning out to be with the resources and wealth of this continent being guaranteed through the Bank of North America to the Bank of England.

 

When I had captured Philadelphia, Franklin had understood that there were many officers under my command that would break orders and steal the Ark for Rothschild’s Hessians. August 29, 1781 was the end of The Masonic Congress of Wilhelmsbad, Germany. William I of Hesse’s brother Karl called together the conference which was attempted to be held within the Rothschilds’ castle. Instead at Hanau-Wilhelmsbad spa the fate of Rite of Strict Observance, which was being infiltrated by Weishaupt’s Illuminati, was to be settled. Rite of Strict Observance was making a break from our Scottish Freemasonry centered in Roslyn. The new Rite was the only Masonry at the time that permitted Jews, and the Rothschilds stepped on in and learned about the removal of the Ark for Salem.

 

Now the Ark was not the only reason in which I had to run away to the Pines.

 

See earlier on May 24th 1777 I received correspondence from my friend who had just been relieved of his command of Canada by Burgoyne. He informed me that I was to move north from New York City up the Hudson to provide support for Burgoyne and his Hessian force at Saratoga. But, I already had plans that were agreed to and signed by Lord Germain that I was to start the Philadelphia Campaign instead. Lord Germain also signed Burgoyne’s plans, which Burgoyne expected me to support him in New York. There was no love loss for Burgoyne within the ranks of officers who had fought during the French and Indian War with our American friends. Burgoyne and his Hessians would bayonet all the Rebel wounded that were left on the field of battle. As a man of wealth he was able to buy his rank. So by the time of the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777, I was preparing to follow that stagecoach road that led to Clamtown NJ on the shore once more, the home of the Leed’s Devil.

 

“Sir, if it was not too bold for me to speak out of my place, I would call you a damn fool!” said my old cabbie Louie. He had not recognized me yet in this life. He was a mere boy of 16 when I met him this time. Louie was my helmsman when I sailed my third-generation Viking crew from Orkney to Salem a 100 years before that Italian. “The Pines are a dark mysterious place filled with scoundrels. Many running from something. Criminals each and everyone of them. Highwaymen, Hessians, cutthroats, and lawyers. The only wealthy profession that is so disreputable, besides bankers, who could fit in with these heathens.”

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:My Books:The Sinclair Narratives:Battle at Cedar Bridge Tavern:Illustrations:Jersey-Devil.pdf

 

“Young man, I believe you are painting with too wide of a brush. I could say the same of you and that blue scarf you wear,” I said as I started bringing him down the garden path, “Is that not, the scarf of the Sons of Liberty who gather around Center City in the taverns? The sign of the whelps who don’t have the courage to take up the musket and do more than just lauding over the foolish of what they would do, if given the chance and so on?” I was baiting the temper I knew only too well from countless times from his previous incarnations.

 

He was fit to be tied, jumping up and down in his seat as he turned to me to the road and back again. Spittle flying from his jowls like some great mastiff. Ears standing out and face turning red “Sir. Sir! It would not be hard to slit your throat and lose you in these woods where no one would ever find you…” My laughing just stopped his rage as he looked me in the eyes and saw something of a friend staring back at him offering him my flask. I was splitting my sides when he took my flask and raised it to his lips, never letting his gaze into my eyes drop. He wiped his mouth and began to crack up as well. “I do believe sir, that you are crazy enough to scare away the Leed’s Devil himself. Strange enough, I feel safe with you in these woods.”

 

Franklin’s rival almanac publisher was Titan Leeds. Franklin called him the “Leed’s Devil”. The Quakers in the area were worried about the occult and pagan symbols that his father Daniel would place within his almanac which many feared opened up ways for the Dark Man and the Elder Ones to enter the dark places of the Pines. Many accuse his father of strange practices that he wrote about within his almanac that produced the deformed child of Titan’s aunt Deborah, locals knew as “Mother” Leeds. The Jersey Devil was to be the 13th child, born in 1735, during a lightning storm. Mother Leeds cursed the child to the devil during the labor. Born as a normal child, but he soon changed into a creature with hooves, a goat’s head, bat wings, and a forked tail. Growling and screaming, it beat everyone with its tail before flying up the chimney and heading into the pines within his 13th year.

 

Not sure about the goat head and bat wings, but I bet he was dam ugly and large. Just a deformed child left to fend for itself scarring any that would fall upon him on a dark stormy night. Though on the almanacs was the Leeds’ family crest depicting a wyvern, a bat-winged dragon-like legendary creature that stands upright on two clawed feet.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:My Books:The Sinclair Narratives:Battle at Cedar Bridge Tavern:Illustrations:Louie.pdf

 

Then there were rumors, that Japhet Leeds was possessed by Yog-Sothoth when he bedded Mother Leeds so he could father Crom Cruach. Maybe it was Zhothaqquah they gave birth to, for the child was rumored to take on bat like and dragon like qualities. In my opinion it does not matter which the child was rumored to be, for the tales are only that. Tales.

 

Franklin refused to join me on my trip. It seems he predicted Titan’s death by making up strange occult traditions within his almanac. Well Titan did die in fact. Now many believe they see his ghost walk through the woods. Franklin is not taking any chances… So I left on my own to meet with General Lacey.

 

Well me and my crazy young friend who led the horses through this dark dense wood where the trail vanishes every three feet behind you with just as much in view to the fore.

 

___

 

It was from Lacey’s I sent my resignation in October of 1777. I had been walking these woods, day and night, for over 3 months and I had not seen any sign of the Leed’s Devil. Nor did I stumble upon any dark masses with sacrifices of deer. Or had I found any backwood wizard who captured the soul of the fox to torment one of his neighbors. Neither Had I seen the sword of the Hessian which was said to have fled to these woods, only to step out to slice the throat of a Patriot to pay for his daily bread. Nor was I in truth looking for any of them. Never less, as Louie accompanied me through our many walks along the rivers, creeks, and ponds Lacey plied for the oil stains on the water that gave up the ghost of iron ore that lied below the peat, Louie did so with pistol and saber always in hand.

 

“Sir, I must say they are a clever sort,” Louie stated looking over his shoulder.

 

“Who is that? The Devil or the Hessian my dear friend?”

 

“The Devil of course, sir. For the devil resides in the heart of both. He is everywhere. Even in the hoot of the owl and the swoop of the bat.”

 

“Nonsense. The owl sits in the window of the barn outside of my own bedchambers and keeps me company; with the bat, coming out at sunset to eat all of those mosquitoes I see now that you are swatting. If it was not for the bat you would not have enough hands to swat them. Now be careful with that pistol and sword you are flailing about. You’re likely to skewer out one of your eyes or shoot your cap off through your soft palate.”

 

Many of our walks down the deer paths and those mysterious trails that led to nowhere were much the same. As we ventured I always wondered what Native city must have been here prior to the coming of the white man to have the economy to produce these infinite roads, the purpose of which have been lost aeons ago. Only a great commerce could of brought a race together to cut so many roads linking various means of production and sales together. A commerce now lost to all with only the mystery taking its place.

 

Many times I had taken the upside down sword and waded through these bogs to cut squares of peat out and dove below to find the ore grown from the bacteria which was going to be made into the cannon ball or bullet that the Quaker’s call the Devil’s Pill. Strange, how I was digging the ore that could be used to kill one of the soldiers within my ranks. Or perhaps a soldier I had fought alongside with during the French and Indian War who now sided with the cause of the Patriots, much like my young friend Louie. It was a distressing time, but it seems to be over soon.

 

On many nights within the dark silence only broken by the sound of the whippoorwill that broke the cadence of the cricket and the peeper my mind would set back to many a campaign or event during the war in which I was forced to participate within. On one such night I recalled the ill luck of a Patriot who was on the run within New York City who took to hiding on the rooftops. Till! He found himself falling through the old thatch and landing in the middle of a garrison of British soldiers. With his luck I looked up from my chair in the east and this young fellow who had grasped the situation he had found himself in made the correct hand signals lickety-split. This lad, one Joseph Burnham, we fitted out with a horse to make his way to a fishing sloop sailing south deep into the shores of the Pines. I do wonder how he ever made out; for us Lodge Brothers look out for each other no matter what side you may turn up on.

 

By April of 1778, I received news that my resignation was approved. I headed back for Philadelphia and my troops held a party for me on May 18th. Many of the Hessians already deserted deep into the Pines. Six days later I sailed back to England and I arrived in port on July 1st.

 

I had left the Ark with General Lacey and Israel Putnam back at my quarters in the woods by the bridge over the stream. What a mistake…

 

Both were almost court-martialed at different times. I rigged the battle of Breed’s Hill for Putnam to win the day, but first of all it was no easy deed, he was stationed on the wrong hill. Then he later retreated when I made the battle look like he was winning with a small force. Within the years to come many would believe he was the hero who said ‘don’t shoot till you see the whites of their eyes’. Lacey was stripped of his rank just out of pure stupidity…

 

Well Franklin’s son had spied on his father and having found out about my hiding place, informed the Rothschilds’ Hessians who had intermingled with Bacon’s Pine Robbers. They found it within the old outhouse hole, two to the left of the one that was in current use. It was guarded by Lacey’s bog workers who had plenty of cannon balls and shot, but no cannons or rifles…

 

So I was called back from England and sailed on HMS Cerberus and arrived in Clamtown on Christmas Day.

 

___

 

I went up the old Clamtown Stage Road for Philadelphia and veered off for Jones Road. An obscure Indian road that led to the edge of Lacey’s property. He had owned about 5 square miles of woods with no neighbors on the southern section; who was to figure anyone would ever find my quarters. Nobody did when I lived there. I was in complete isolation. There would have been members of Rothschilds’ Hessians at that time who were hunting me down for their defeat at Saratoga. Now those same Hessians had found the Ark and had burned some of the Rebel supporters homes down with its electric death rays.

 

John Hanson, who had just vacated the Presidency, had come down with Arthur and Israel Putnam, Ol’ Put, from Philadelphia. Along with them came Benjamin Franklin who they were able to get so drunk that a prostitute was able to mount their carriage with them and keep him entertained enough so that he never realized where he was heading. We needed him to dismantle the Ark safely, for we have heard the Ark had been gathering so much energy that it had become unstable and continued to discharge from the cherub posts setting thus many of the woods on fire. He received quite a shock when he realized he was in Leed’s Pines though! He swore Titan’s ghost was going to get him.

 

“Hello Franklin!” I said as I stepped down from Louie’s carriage. This was the first I had seen Louie in months. I had tried to get him to come to London with me, but he swore to never touch the soil of the King again. Now that this soil was free.

 

Franklin and the rest arrived from Philadelphia first.

 

“Henry, I should’ve realized it was you who was behind this!” said Franklin with much alarm and feigned hate.

 

“Did I not, arrange for you to have fine company?” I asked half jokingly.

 

“Well, she has some fine points. I was quite enjoying myself, but you brought me to his woods. Henry you know better to bring me to this warlock’s place!”

 

“That is still half a days ride away...”

 

“The dead move with no restriction, Henry, as you well know!”

 

Arthur chimed in, “Henry, we have word that Bacon has headed for his home in Pemberton right before the lake in Browns Mill. We have some troops moving in within a few days.”

 

I replied that we could not wait that long, expecting that many of the troops would not be able to move after the Christmas celebrations. Plus many among their number had just wandered off for home after the surrender of Yorktown. It had been hard for Washington to keep troops within their ranks before Yorktown, now it seemed impossible after Cornwallis’ surrender. “Arthur, we are going to need a better plan.”

 

“Henry, I think I have an idea!” said Israel. He had me worried.

 

___

 

So that is how we found ourselves in straw mummers costumes penned down with our faces in a bog.

 

It was St Stephen’s Day in which mummers went from house to house in straw costumes performing humorous skits and singing song. Israel picked the skit, it was one in which the Jersey Devil replaced Krampus walking with St Nick. Israel loved teasing Franklin.

 

“Henry why did you let Putnam choose this silly play; you know he just did it to get my goat?” complained Franklin.

 

“Oh quiet now,” I hushed him as I opened the door to the Cedar Bridge Tavern and led the way dressed as St Nick. Arthur was dressed like a straw priest and Franklin as a straw Friar Tuck. Putnam was a straw Jersey Devil who acted as the clown. We stood in the center of the room as the Robbers grabbed their arms and we began to sing as Putnam bumped and jostled into the crowd as he openly searched for the Ark. After a few circles he chased one of the tavern girls upstairs after a few slaps on her rear. The Hessians didn’t think much of it, but they were questioning our singing. Hell I was questioning our singing too; we were horrible. Then all of a sudden Putnam came running down the stairs with the Ark being held up on the end of two wooden poles. He was straining to keep it aloft, with the girl tossing vases at him, with most of them hitting their mark. He ran past us and we joined him in a hurry. Sparks were flying from the Ark everywhere.

 

Then Bacon leads the Pine Robbers and Hessians out into the field firing at us. We end up face down in the bog under the bridge. Putnam became overstrained and dropped the Ark in the water. We all jumped out of the bog in a hurry for we were beginning to be electrocuted. How to pick it up before they regained it again? “Henry, we can leave it for now. Putnam, Arthur; grab the poles!” yelled Franklin. We crossed the river and hid behind the bridge and loaded our pistols.

 

This was not the first plan of Israel’s.

 

___

 

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We had a little taste of the Jersey Devil. I had lunch with the Pooka and the Devil just last week and I still have some fingernails stuck in between my teeth. I remember the good old days when the mafia ran the state; we were always eating Italian in the Pine Barrens then... Get it? Eating Italian?

 

Cthulu in jalopy with moon in background and pine trees.

 

 

There is a Reaper

by Charles Vincent de Vet

 

There is a Reaper Illustration man with dark entities gathering around him

 

 

The amber brown of the liquor disguised the poison it held, and I watched with a smile on my lips as he drank it. There was no pity in my heart for him. He was a jackal in the jungle of life, and I … I was one of the carnivores. It is the lot of the jackals of life to be devoured by the carnivore.

 

Suddenly the contented look on his face froze into a startled stillness. I knew he was feeling the first savage twinge of the agony that was to come. He turned his head and looked at me, and I saw suddenly that he knew what I had done.


“You murderer!” he cursed me, and then his body arched in the middle and his voice choked off deep in his throat.


For a short minute he sat, tense, his body stiffened by the agony that rode it—unable to move a muscle. I watched the torment in his eyes build up to a crescendo of pain, until the suffering became so great that it filmed his eyes, and I knew that, though he still stared directly at me, he no longer saw me.


Then, as suddenly as the spasm had come, the starch went out of his body and his back slid slowly down the chair edge. He landed heavily with his head resting limply against the seat of the chair. His right leg doubled up in a kind of jerk, before he was still.

 

I knew the time had come. “Where are you?” I asked.

 

This moment had cost me sixty thousand dollars.

 

Three weeks ago the best doctors in the state had given me a month to live. And with seven million dollars in the bank I couldn’t buy a minute more.

 

I accepted the doctors’ decision philosophically, like the gambler that I am. But I had a plan: One which necessity had never forced me to use until now. Several years before I had read an article about the medicine men of a certain tribe of aborigines living in the jungles at the source of the Amazon River. They had discovered a process in which the juice of a certain bush—known only to them—could be used to poison a man. Anyone subjected to this poison died, but for a few minutes after the life left his body the medicine men could still converse with him. The subject, though ostensibly and actually dead, answered the medicine men’s every question. This was their primitive, though reportedly effective method of catching glimpses of what lay in the world of death.

 

I had conceived my idea at the time I read the article, but I had never had the need to use it—until the doctors gave me a month to live. Then I spent my sixty thousand dollars, and three weeks later I held in my hands a small bottle of the witch doctors’ fluid.

 

The next step was to secure my victim—my Collaborator, I preferred to call him.

 

The man I chose was a nobody. A homeless, friendless non-entity, picked up off the street. He had once been an educated man. But now he was only a bum, and when he died he’d never be missed. A perfect man for my experiment.

 

I’m a rich man because I have a system. The system is simple: I never make a move until I know exactly where that move will lead me. My field of operations is the stock market. I spend money unstintingly to secure the information I need before I take each step. I hire the best investigators, bribe employees and persons in position to give me the information I want, and only when I am as certain as humanly possible that I cannot be wrong do I move. And the system never fails. Seven million dollars in the bank is proof of that.

 

Now, knowing that I could not live, I intended to make the system work for me one last time before I died. I’m a firm believer in the adage that any situation can be whipped, given prior knowledge of its coming—and, of course, its attendant circumstances.

 

For a moment he did not answer and I began to fear that my experiment had failed. “Where are you?” I repeated, louder and sharper this time.

 

The small muscles about his eyes puckered with an unnormal tension while the rest of his face held its death frost. Slowly, slowly, unnaturally—as though energized by some hyper-rational power—his lips and tongue moved. The words he spoke were clear. “I am in a … a … tunnel,” he said. “It is lighted, dimly, but there is nothing for me to see.” Blue veins showed through the flesh of his cheeks like watermarks on translucent paper.

 

He paused and I urged, “Go on.”

 

“ I am alone,” he said. “The realities I knew no longer exist, and I am damp and cold. All about me is a sense of gloom and dejection. It is an apprehension—an emanation—so deep and real as to be almost a tangible thing. The walls to either side of me seem to be formed, not of substance, but rather of the soundless cries of melancholy of spirits I cannot see.

 

“I am waiting, waiting in the gloom for something which will come to me. That need to wait is an innate part of my being and I have no thought of questioning it.” His voice died again.

 

“What are you waiting for?” I asked.

 

“I do not know,” he said, his voice dreary with the despair of centuries of hopelessness. “I only know that I must wait—that compulsion is greater than my strength to combat.”

 

The tone of his voice changed slightly. “The tunnel about me is widening and now the walls have receded into invisibility. The tunnel has become a plain, but the plain is as desolate, as forlorn and dreary as was the tunnel, and still I stand and wait. How long must this go on?”

 

He fell silent again, and I was about to prompt him with another question—I could not afford to let the time run out in long silences—but abruptly the muscles about his eyes tightened and subtly a new aspect replaced their hopeless dejection. Now they expressed a black, bottomless terror. For a moment I marveled that so small a portion of a facial anatomy could express such horror.

 

“There is something coming toward me,” he said. “A—beast—of brutish foulness! Beast is too inadequate a term to describe it, but I know no words to tell its form. It is an intangible and evasive—thing—but very real. And it is coming closer! It has no organs of sight as I know them, but I feel that it can see me. Or rather that it is aware of me with a sense sharper than vision itself. It is very near now. Oh God, the malevolence, the hate—the potentiality of awful, fearsome destructiveness that is its very essence! And still I cannot move!”

 

The expression of terrified anticipation, centered in his eyes, lessened slightly, and was replaced, instantly, by its former deep, deep despair. “I am no longer afraid,” he said.

 

“Why?” I interjected. “Why?” I was impatient to learn all that I could before the end came.

 

“Because … “ He paused. “Because it holds no threat for me. Somehow, someday, I understand—I know—that it too is seeking that for which I wait.”

 

“What is it doing now?” I asked.

 

“It has stopped beside me and we stand together, gazing across the stark, empty plain. Now a second awful entity, with the same leashed virulence about it, moves up and stands at my other side. We all three wait, myself with a dark fear of this dismal universe, my unnatural companions with patient, malicious menace.

 

“Bits of … “ He faltered. “Of … I can name it only aura, go out from the beasts like an acid stream, and touch me, and the hate, and the venom chill my body like a wave of intense cold.

 

“Now there are others of the awful breed behind me. We stand, waiting, waiting for that which will come. What it is I do not know.”

 

I could see the pallor of death creeping steadily into the last corners of his lips, and I knew that the end was not far away. Suddenly a black frustration built up within me. “What are you waiting for?” I screamed, the tenseness, and the importance of this moment forcing me to lose the iron self-control upon which I have always prided myself. I knew that the answer held the secret of what I must know. If I could learn that, my experiment would not be in vain, and I could make whatever preparations were necessary for my own death. I had to know that answer.

 

“Think! Think!” I pleaded. “What are you waiting for?”

 

“I do not know!” The dreary despair in his eyes, sightless as they met mine, chilled me with a coldness that I felt in the marrow of my being. “I do not know,” he repeated. “I … Yes, I do know!”

 

Abruptly the plasmatic film cleared from his eyes and I knew that for the first time, since the poison struck, he was seeing me, clearly. I sensed that this was the last moment before he left—for good. It had to be now!

 

“Tell me. I command you,” I cried. “What are you waiting for?”
His voice was quiet as he murmured, softly, implacably, before he was gone.
“We are waiting,” he said, “for you.”

 

THE END

 

First Appeared in Imagination Stories of Science and Fantasy August 1953.

 

 

 

 

 

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Black Colossus

A Tale of Conan the Cimmerian

Authored by Robert E. Howard

Illustrated by Christopher Jon Luke Dowgin

 

Only the age-old silence brooded over the mysterious ruins of Kuthchemes, but Fear was there; Fear quivered in the mind of Shevatas, the thief, driving his breath quick and sharp against his clenched teeth.

 

He stood, the one atom of life amidst the colossal monuments of desolation and decay. Not even a vulture hung like a black dot in the vast blue vault of the sky that the sun glazed with its heat. On every hand rose the grim relics of another, forgotten age: huge broken pillars, thrusting up their jagged pinnacles into the sky; long wavering lines of crumbling walls; fallen cyclopean blocks of stone; shattered images, whose horrific features the corroding winds and dust-storms had half erased. From horizon to horizon no sign of life: only the sheer breathtaking sweep of the naked desert, bisected by the wandering line of a long-dry river course; in the midst of that vastness the glimmering fangs of the ruins, the columns standing up like broken masts of sunken ships—all dominated by the towering ivory dome before which Shevatas stood trembling.

 

The base of this dome was a gigantic pedestal of marble rising from what had once been a terraced eminence on the banks of the ancient river. Broad steps led up to a great bronze door in the dome, which rested on its base like the half of some titanic egg. The dome itself was of pure ivory, which shone as if unknown hands kept it polished. Upon it was an inscription which sprawled about the curve of the dome in a grey hieroglyphic yards long. No man on earth could read those characters, but Shevatas shuddered at the dim conjectures they raised. For he came of a very old race, whose myths ran back to shapes undreamed of by contemporary tribes.

 

Shevatas was wiry and lithe, as became a master-thief of Zamora. His small round head was shaven, his only garment a loin-cloth of silk and a sash about his head. Like all his race, he had the vulture-like face set off by his keen black eyes. His long, slender and tapering fingers were quick and nervous as the wings of a moth. From a gold-scaled girdle hung a short, narrow, jewel hilted sword in a sheath of ornamented leather. Shevatas handled the weapon with apparently exaggerated care. He even seemed to flinch away from the contact of the sheath with his naked thigh. Nor was his care without reason.

 

This was Shevatas, a thief among thieves, whose name was spoken with awe in the dives of the Maul and the dim shadowy recesses beneath the temples of Bel, and who lived in songs and myths for a thousand years. Yet fear ate at the heart of Shevatas as he stood before the ivory dome of Kuthchemes. Any fool could see there was something unnatural about the structure; the winds and suns of three thousand years had lashed it, yet its ivory rose bright and glistening as the day it was reared by nameless hands on the bank of the nameless river.

 

This unnaturalness was in keeping with the general aura of these devil-haunted ruins. This desert was the mysterious expanse lying southeast of the lands of Shem. A few days’ ride on camel-back to the southwest, as Shevatas knew, would bring the traveller within sight of the great river Styx at the point where it turned at right angles with its former course, and flowed westward to empty at last into the distant sea. At the point of its bend began the land of Stygia, the dark-bosomed mistress of the south, whose domains, watered by the great river, rose sheer out of the surrounding desert.

 

Eastward, Shevatas knew, the desert shaded into steppes stretching to the Hyrkanian kingdom of Turan, rising in barbaric splendor on the shores of the great inland sea. A week’s ride northward the desert ran into a tangle of barren hills, beyond which lay the fertile uplands of Koth, the southernmost realm of the Hyborian races. Westward the desert merged into the meadowlands of Shem, which stretched away to the ocean.

 

All this Shevatas knew without being particularly conscious of the knowledge, as a man knows the streets of his town. He was a far traveller and had looted the treasures of many kingdoms. But now he hesitated and shuddered before the highest adventure and the mightiest treasure of all.

 

In that ivory dome lay the bones of Thugra Khotan, the dark sorcerer who had reigned in Kuthchemes three thousand years ago, when the kingdoms of Stygia stretched far northward of the great river, over the meadows of Shem, and into the uplands. Then the great drift of the Hyborians swept southward from the cradle-land of their race near the northern pole. It was a titanic drift, extending over centuries and ages. But in the reign of Thugra Khotan, the last magician of Kuthchemes, gray-eyed, tawny-haired barbarians in wolf skins and scale-mail had ridden from the north into the rich uplands to carve out the kingdom of Koth with their iron swords. They had stormed over Kuthchemes like a tidal wave, washing the marble towers in blood, and the northern Stygian kingdom had gone down in fire and ruin.

 

But while they were shattering the streets of his city and cutting down his archers like ripe corn, Thugra Khotan had swallowed a strange terrible poison, and his masked priests had locked him into the tomb he himself had prepared. His devotees died about that tomb in a crimson holocaust, but the barbarians could not burst the door, nor ever mar the structure by maul or fire. So they rode away, leaving the great city in ruins, and in his ivory-domed sepulcher great Thugra Khotan slept unmolested, while the lizards of desolation gnawed at the crumbling pillars, and the very river that watered his land in old times sank into the sands and ran dry.

 

Many a thief sought to gain the treasure which fables said lay heaped about the moldering bones inside the dome. And many a thief died at the door of the tomb, and many another was harried by monstrous dreams to die at last with the froth of madness on his lips.

 

So Shevatas shuddered as he faced the tomb, nor was his shudder altogether occasioned by the legend of the serpent said to guard the sorcerer’s bones. Over all myths of Thugra Khotan hung horror and death like a pall. From where the thief stood he could see the ruins of the great hall wherein chained captives had knelt by the hundreds during festivals to have their heads hacked off by the priest-king in honor of Set, the Serpent-god of Stygia. Somewhere near by had been the pit, dark and awful, wherein screaming victims were fed to a nameless amorphic monstrosity which came up out of a deeper, more hellish cavern. Legend made Thugra Khotan more than human; his worship yet lingered in a mongrel degraded cult, whose votaries stamped his likeness on coins to pay the way of their dead over the great river of darkness of which the Styx was but the material shadow. Shevatas had seen this likeness, on coins stolen from under the tongues of the dead, and its image was etched indelibly in his brain.

 

But he put aside his fears and mounted to the bronze door, whose smooth surface offered no bolt or catch. Not for naught had he gained access into darksome cults, had harkened to the grisly whispers of the votaries of Skelos under midnight trees, and read the forbidden iron-bound books of Vathelos the Blind.

 

Kneeling before the portal, he searched the sill with nimble fingers; their sensitive tips found projections too small for the eye to detect, or for less-skilled fingers to discover. These he pressed carefully and according to a peculiar system, muttering a long-forgotten incantation as he did so. As he pressed the last projection, he sprang up with frantic haste and struck the exact center of the door a quick sharp blow with his open hand.

 

There was no rasp of spring or hinge, but the door retreated inward, and the breath hissed explosively from Shevatas’s clenched teeth. A short narrow corridor was disclosed. Down this the door had slid, and was now in place at the other end. The floor, ceiling and sides of the tunnel-like aperture were of ivory, and now from an opening on one side came a silent writhing horror that reared up and glared on the intruder with awful luminous eyes; a serpent twenty feet long, with shimmering, iridescent scales.

 

The thief did not waste time in conjecturing what night-black pits lying below the dome had given sustenance to the monster. Gingerly he drew the sword, and from it dripped a greenish liquid exactly like that which slavered from the scimitar-fangs of the reptile. The blade was steeped in the poison of the snake’s own kind, and the obtaining of that venom from the fiend-haunted swamps of Zingara would have made a saga in itself.

 

Shevatas advanced warily on the balls of his feet, knees bent slightly, ready to spring either way like a flash of light. And he needed all his co-ordinate speed when the snake arched its neck and struck, shooting out its full length like a stroke of lightning. For all his quickness of nerve and eye, Shevatas would had died then but for chance.

 

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His well-laid plans of leaping aside and striking down on the outstretched neck were put at naught by the blinding speed of the reptile’s attack. The thief had but time to extend the sword in front of him, involuntarily closing his eyes and crying out. Then the sword was wrenched from his hand and the corridor was filled with a horrible thrashing and lashing.

 

Opening his eyes, amazed to find himself still alive, Shevatas saw the monster heaving and twisting its slimy form in fantastic contortions, the sword transfixing its giant jaws. Sheer chance had hurled it full against the point he had held out blindly. A few moments later the serpent sank into shining, scarcely quivering coils, as the poison on the blade struck home.

 

Gingerly stepping over it, the thief thrust against the door, which this time slid aside, revealing the interior of the dome. Shevatas cried out; instead of utter darkness he had come into a crimson light that throbbed and pulsed almost beyond the endurance of mortal eyes. It came from a gigantic red jewel high up in the vaulted arch of the dome. Shevatas gaped, inured though he was to the sight of riches. The treasure was there, heaped in staggering profusion—piles of diamonds, sapphires, rubies, turquoises, opals, emeralds; ziggurats of jade, jet and lapis lazuli; pyramids of gold wedges; toecallis of silver ingots; jewel-hilted swords in cloth-of-gold sheaths; golden helmets with colored horsehair crests, or black and scarlet plumes; silver scaled corselets; gem-crusted harness worn by warrior-kings three thousand years in their tombs; goblets carved of single jewels; skulls plated with gold, with moonstones for eyes; necklaces of human teeth set with jewels. The ivory floor was covered inches deep with gold dust that sparkled and shimmered under the crimson glow with a million scintillating lights. The thief stood in a wonderland of magic and splendor, treading stars under his sandaled feet.

 

But his eyes were focussed on the dais of crystal which rose in the midst of the shimmering array, directly under the red jewel, and on which should be lying the moldering bones, turning to dust with the crawling of the centuries. And as Shevatas looked, the blood drained from his dark features; his marrow turned to ice, and the skin of his back crawled and wrinkled with horror, while his lips worked soundlessly. But suddenly he found his voice in one awful scream that rang hideously under the arching dome. Then again the silence of the ages lay among the ruins of mysterious Kuthchemes.

 

 

Chapter 2

 

Rumors drifted up through the meadowlands, into the cities of the Hyborians. The word ran along the caravans, the long camel-trains plodding through the sands, herded by lean, hawk-eyed men in white kaftans. It was passed on by the hook-nosed herdsmen of the grasslands, from the dwellers in tents to the dwellers in the squat stone cities where kings with curled blue black beards worshipped round-bellied gods with curious rites. The word passed up through the fringe of hills where gaunt tribesmen took toll of the caravans. The rumors came into the fertile uplands where stately cities rose above blue lakes and rivers: the rumors marched along the broad white roads thronged with ox-wains, with lowing herds, with rich merchants, knights in steel, archers and priests.

 

They were rumors from the desert that lies east of Stygia, far south of the Kothian hills. A new prophet had risen among the nomads. Men spoke of tribal war, of a gathering of vultures in the southeast, and a terrible leader who led his swiftly increasing hordes to victory. The Stygians, ever a menace to the northern nations, were apparently not connected with this movement; for they were massing armies on their eastern borders and their priests were making magic to fight that of the desert sorcerer, whom men called Natohk, the Veiled One; for his features were always masked.

 

But the tide swept north westward, and the blue-bearded kings died before the altars of their pot-bellied gods, and their squat-walled cities were drenched in blood. Men said that the uplands of the Hyborians were the goal of Natohk and his chanting votaries.

 

Raids from the desert were not uncommon, but this latest movement seemed to promise more than a raid. Rumor said Natohk had welded thirty nomadic tribes and fifteen cities into his following, and that a rebellious Stygian prince had joined him. This latter lent the affair an aspect of real war.

 

Characteristically, most of the Hyborian nations were prone to ignore the growing menace. But in Khoraja, carved out of Shemite lands by the swords of Kothic adventurers, heed was given. Lying southeast of Koth, it would bear the brunt of the invasion. And its young king was captive to the treacherous king of Ophir, who hesitated between restoring him for a huge ransom, or handing him over to his enemy, the penurious king of Koth, who offered no gold, but an advantageous treaty. Meanwhile, the rule of the struggling kingdom was in the white hands of young princess Yasmela, the king’s sister.

 

Minstrels sang her beauty throughout the western world, and the pride of a kingly dynasty was hers. But on that night her pride was dropped from her like a cloak. In her chamber whose ceiling was a lapis lazuli dome, whose marble floor was littered with rare furs, and whose walls were lavish with golden frieze work, ten girls, daughters of nobles, their slender limbs weighted with gem-crusted armlets and anklets, slumbered on velvet couches about the royal bed with its golden dais and silken canopy. But princess Yasmela lolled not on that silken bed. She lay naked on her supple belly upon the bare marble like the most abased suppliant, her dark hair streaming over her white shoulders, her slender fingers intertwined. She lay and writhed in pure horror that froze the blood in her lithe limbs and dilated her beautiful eyes, that pricked the roots of her dark hair and made goose-flesh rise along her supple spine.

 

Above her, in the darkest corner of the marble chamber, lurked a vast shapeless shadow. It was no living thing of form or flesh and blood. It was a clot of darkness, a blur in the sight, a monstrous night-born incubus that might have been deemed a figment of a sleep-drugged brain, but for the points of blazing yellow fire that glimmered like two eyes from the blackness.

 

Moreover, a voice issued from it—a low subtle inhuman sibilance that was more like the soft abominable hissing of a serpent than anything else, and that apparently could not emanate from anything with human lips. Its sound as well as its import filled Yasmela with a shuddering horror so intolerable that she writhed and twisted her slender body as if beneath a lash, as though to rid her mind of its insinuating vileness by physical contortion.

 

“You are marked for mine, princess,” came the gloating whisper. “Before I wakened from the long sleep I had marked you, and yearned for you, but I was held fast by the ancient spell by which I escaped mine enemies. I am the soul of Natohk, the Veiled One! Look well upon me, princess! Soon you shall behold me in my bodily guise, and shall love me!”

 

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The ghostly hissing dwindled off in lustful titterings, and Yasmela moaned and beat the marble tiles with her small fists in her ecstasy of terror.

 

“I sleep in the palace chamber of Akbatana,” the sibilance continued. “There my body lies in its frame of bones and flesh. But it is but an empty shell from which the spirit has flown for a brief space. Could you gaze from that palace casement you would realize the futility of resistance. The desert is a rose garden beneath the moon, where blossom the fires of a hundred thousand warriors. As an avalanche sweeps onward, gathering bulk and momentum, I will sweep into the lands of mine ancient enemies. Their kings shall furnish me skulls for goblets, their women and children shall be slaves of my slaves’ slaves. I have grown strong in the long years of dreaming …

 

But thou shalt be my queen, oh princess! I will teach thee the ancient forgotten ways of pleasure.” Before the stream of cosmic obscenity which poured from the shadowy colossus, Yasmela cringed and writhed as if from a whip that flayed her dainty bare flesh.

 

“Remember!” whispered the horror, “The days will not be many before I come to claim mine own!”

 

Yasmela, pressing her face against the tiles and stopping her pink ears with her dainty fingers, yet seemed to hear a strange sweeping noise, like the beat of bat wings. Then, looking fearfully up, she saw only the moon that shone through the window with a beam that rested like a silver sword across the spot where the phantom had lurked. Trembling in every limb, she rose and staggered to a satin couch, where she threw herself down, weeping hysterically. The girls slept on, but one, who roused, yawned, stretched her slender figure and blinked about. Instantly she was on her knees beside the couch, her arms about Yasmela’s supple waist.

 

“Was it—was it-?” Her dark eyes were wide with fright. Yasmela caught her in a convulsive grasp.

 

“Oh, Vateesa. It came again! I saw It—heard It speak! It spoke Its name—Natohk! It is Natohk! It is not a nightmare—it towered over me while the girls slept like drugged ones. What oh, what shall I do?”

 

Vateesa twisted a golden bracelet about her rounded arm in meditation.

 

“Oh, princess,” she said, “it is evident that no mortal power can deal with It, and the charm is useless that the priests of Ishtar gave you. Therefore seek you the forgotten oracle of Mitra.”

 

In spite of her recent fright, Yasmela shuddered. The gods of yesterday become the devils of tomorrow. The Kothians had long since abandoned the worship of Mitra, forgetting the attributes of the universal Hyborian god. Yasmela had a vague idea that, being very ancient, it followed that the deity was very terrible. Ishtar was much to be feared, and all the gods of Koth. Kothian culture and religion had suffered from a subtle admixture of Shemite and Stygian strains. The simple ways of the Hyborians had become modified to a large extent by the sensual, luxurious, yet despotic habits of the East.

 

“Will Mitra aid me?” Yasmela caught Vateesa’s wrist in her eagerness. “We have worshipped Ishtar so long-”

 

“To be sure he will!” Vateesa was the daughter of an Ophirean priest who had brought his customs with him when he fled from political enemies to Khoraja. “Seek the shrine! I will go with you.”

 

“I will!” Yasmela rose, but objected when Vateesa prepared to dress her. “It is not fitting that I come before the shrine clad in silk. I will go naked, on my knees, as befits a suppliant, lest Mitra deem I lack humility.”

 

“Nonsense!” Vateesa had scant respect for the ways of what she deemed a false cult. “Mitra would have folks stand upright before him—not crawling on their bellies like worms, or spilling blood of animals all over his altars.”

 

Thus objurgated, Yasmela allowed the girl to garb her in the light sleeveless silk shirt, over which was slipped a silken tunic, bound at the waist by a wide velvet girdle. Satin slippers were put upon her slender feet, and a few deft touches of Vateesa’s pink fingers arranged her dark wavy tresses. Then the princess followed the girl, who drew aside a heavy gilt-worked tapestry and threw the golden bolt of the door it concealed. This let into a narrow winding corridor, and down this the two girls went swiftly, through another door and into a broad hallway. Here stood a guardsman in crested gilt helmet, silvered cuirass and gold-chased greaves, with a long-shafted battle-ax in his hands.

 

A motion from Yasmela checked his exclamation and, saluting, he took his stand again beside the doorway, motionless as a brazen image. The girls traversed the hallway, which seemed immense and eery in the light of the cressets along the lofty walls, and went down a stairway where Yasmela shivered at the blots of shadows which hung in the angles of the walls. Three levels down they halted at last in a narrow corridor whose arched ceiling was crusted with jewels, whose floor was set with blocks of crystal, and whose walls were decorated with golden friezework. Down this shining way they stole, holding each other’s hands, to a wide portal of gilt.

 

Vateesa thrust open the door, revealing a shrine long forgotten except by a faithful few, and royal visitors to Khoraja’s court, mainly for whose benefit the fane was maintained. Yasmela had never entered it before, though she was born in the palace. Plain and unadorned in comparison to the lavish display of Ishtar’s shrines, there was about it a simplicity of dignity and beauty characteristic of the Mitran religion.

 

The ceiling was lofty, but it was not domed, and was of plain white marble, as were the walls and floor, the former with a narrow gold frieze running about them. Behind an altar of clear green jade, unstained with sacrifice, stood the pedestal whereon sat the material manifestation of the deity. Yasmela looked in awe at the sweep of the magnificent shoulders, the clear-cut features—the wide straight eyes, the patriarchal beard, the thick curls of the hair, confined by a simple band about the temples. This, though she did not know it, was art in its highest form the free, uncramped artistic expression of a highly esthetic race, unhampered by conventional symbolism.

 

She fell on her knees and thence prostrate, regardless of Vateesa’s admonition, and Vateesa, to be on the safe side, followed her example; for after all, she was only a girl, and it was very awesome in Mitra’s shrine. But even so she could not refrain from whispering in Yasmela’s ear.

 

“This is but the emblem of the god. None pretends to know what Mitra looks like. This but represents him in idealized human form, as near perfection as the human mind can conceive. He does not inhabit this cold stone, as your priests tell you Ishtar does. He is everywhere—above us, and about us, and he dreams betimes in the high places among the stars. But here his being focusses. Therefore call upon him.”

 

“What shall I say?” whispered Yasmela in stammering terror.

 

“Before you can speak, Mitra knows the contents of your mind-” began Vateesa. Then both girls started violently as a voice began in the air above them. The deep, calm, bell-like tones emanated no more from the image than from anywhere else in the chamber. Again Yasmela trembled before a bodiless voice speaking to her, but this time it was not from horror or repulsion.

 

“Speak not, my daughter, for I know your need,” came the intonations like deep musical waves beating rhythmically along a golden beach. “In one manner may you save your kingdom, and saving it, save all the world from the fangs of the serpent which has crawled up out of the darkness of the ages. Go forth upon the streets alone, and place your kingdom in the hands of the first man you meet there.”

 

The unechoing tones ceased, and the girls stared at each other. Then, rising, they stole forth, nor did they speak until they stood once more in Yasmela’s chamber. The princess stared out of the gold-barred windows. The moon had set. It was long past midnight. Sounds of revelry had died away in the gardens and on the roofs of the city. Khoraja slumbered beneath the stars, which seemed to be reflected in the cressets that twinkled among the gardens and along the streets and on the flat roofs of houses where folk slept.

 

“What will you do?” whispered Vateesa, all a-tremble.

 

“Give me my cloak,” answered Yasmela, setting her teeth.

 

“But alone, in the streets, at this hour!” expostulated Vateesa.

 

“Mitra has spoken,” replied the princess. “It might have been the voice of the god, or a trick of a priest. No matter. I will go!”

 

Wrapping a voluminous silken cloak about her lithe figure and donning a velvet cap from which depended a filmy veil, she passed hurriedly through the corridors and approached a bronze door where a dozen spearmen gaped at her as she passed through. This was in a wing of the palace which let directly onto the street; on all other sides it was surrounded by broad gardens, bordered by a high wall. She emerged into the street, lighted by crescents placed at regular intervals.

 

She hesitated; then, before her resolution could falter, she closed the door behind her. A slight shudder shook her as she glanced up and down the street, which lay silent and bare. This daughter of aristocrats had never before ventured unattended outside her ancestral palace. Then, steeling herself, she went swiftly up the street. Her satin-slippered feet fell lightly on the pave, but their soft sound brought her heart into her throat. She imagined their fall echoing thunderously through the cavernous city, rousing ragged rat-eyed figures in hidden lairs among the sewers. Every shadow seemed to hide a lurking assassin, every blank doorway to mask the slinking hounds of darkness.

 

Then she started violently. Ahead of her a figure appeared on the eerie street. She drew quickly into a clump of shadows, which now seemed like a haven of refuge, her pulse pounding. The approaching figure went not furtively, like a thief, or timidly, like a fearful traveller. He strode down the nighted street as one who has no need or desire to walk softly. An unconscious swagger was in his stride, and his footfalls resounded on the pave. As he passed near a cresset she saw him plainly—a tall man, in the chain-mail hauberk of a mercenary. She braced herself, then darted from the shadow, holding her cloak close about her.

 

“Sa-ha!” his sword flashed half out of his sheath. It halted when he saw it was only a woman that stood before him, but his quick glance went over her head, seeking the shadows for possible confederates.

 

He stood facing her, his hand on the long hilt that jutted forward. The torchlight glinted dully on the polished blue steel of his greaves and crested helm. A more baleful fire glittered bluely in his eyes. At first glance she saw he was no Kothian; when he spoke she knew he was no Hyborian. He was clad like a captain of the mercenaries, and in that desperate command there were men of many lands, barbarians as well as civilized foreigners. There was a wolfishness about this warrior that marked the barbarian. The eyes of no civilized man, however wild or criminal, ever blazed with such a fire. Wine scented his breath, but he neither staggered nor stammered.

 

“Have they shut you into the street?” he asked in barbarous Kothic, reaching for her. His fingers closed lightly about her rounded wrist, but she felt that he could splinter its bones without effort. “I’ve but come from the last wine-shop open Ishtar’s curse on these white-livered reformers who close the grog-houses! ‘Let men sleep rather than guzzle,” they say—aye, so they can work and fight better for their masters! Soft-gutted eunuchs, I call them. When I served with the mercenaries of Corinthia we swilled and wenched all night and fought all day aye, blood ran down the channels of our swords. But what of you, my girl? Take off that cursed mask-”

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Conan:Black Colussus:First-Meeting-BW.pdf

 

She avoided his clutch with a lithe twist of her body, trying not to appear to repulse him. She realized her danger, alone with a drunken barbarian. If she revealed her identity, he might laugh at her, or take himself off. She was not sure he would not cut her throat. Barbaric men did strange inexplicable things. She fought a rising fear.

 

“Not here,” she laughed. “Come with me-”

 

“Where?” His wild blood was up, but he was wary as a wolf. “Are you taking me to some den of robbers?”

 

“No, no, I swear it!” She was hard put to avoid the hand which was again fumbling at her veil.

 

“Devil bite you, hussy!” he growled disgustedly. “You’re as bad as a Hyrkanian woman, with your damnable veil. Here—let me look at your figure, anyway.”

 

Before she could prevent it, he wrenched the cloak from her, and she heard his breath hiss between his teeth. He stood holding the cloak, eyeing her as if the sight of her rich garments had somewhat sobered him. She saw suspicion flicker sullenly in his eyes.

 

“Who the devil are you?” he muttered. “You’re no street-waif—unless your leman robbed the king’s seraglio for your clothes.”

 

“Never mind.” She dared to lay her white hand on his massive iron-clad arm. “Come with me off the street.”

 

He hesitated, then shrugged his mighty shoulders. She saw that he half believed her to be some noble lady, who, weary of polite lovers, was taking this means of amusing herself. He allowed her to don the cloak again, and followed her. From the corner of her eye she watched him as they went down the street together. His mail could not conceal his hard lines of tigerish strength. Everything about him was tigerish, elemental, untamed. He was alien as the jungle to her in his difference from the debonair courtiers to whom she was accustomed. She feared him, told herself she loathed his raw brute strength and unashamed barbarism, yet something breathless and perilous inside her leaned toward him; the hidden primitive chord that lurks in every woman’s soul was sounded and responded. She had felt his hardened hand on her arm, and something deep in her tingled to the memory of that contact. Many men had knelt before Yasmela. Here was one she felt had never knelt before any one. Her sensations were those of one leading an unchained tiger; she was frightened, and fascinated by her fright.

 

She halted at the palace door and thrust lightly against it. Furtively watching her companion, she saw no suspicion in his eyes.

 

“Palace, eh?” he rumbled. “So you’re a maid-in-waiting?”

 

She found herself wondering, with a strange jealousy, if any of her maids had ever led this war-eagle into her palace. The guards made no sign as she led him between them, but he eyed them as a fierce dog might eye a strange pack. She led him through a curtained doorway into an inner chamber, where he stood, naively scanning the tapestries, until he saw a crystal jar of wine on an ebony table. This he took up with a gratified sigh, tilting it toward his lips. Vateesa ran from an inner room, crying breathlessly, “Oh my princess-”

 

“Princess!”

 

The wine-jar crashed to the floor. With a motion too quick for sight to follow, the mercenary snatched off Yasmela’s veil, glaring. He recoiled with a curse, his sword leaping into his hand with a broad shimmer of blue steel. His eyes blazed like a trapped tiger’s. The air was supercharged with tension that was like the pause before the bursting of a storm. Vateesa sank to the floor, speechless with terror, but Yasmela faced the infuriated barbarian without flinching. She realized her very life hung in the balance: maddened with suspicion and unreasoning panic, he was ready to deal death at the slightest provocation. But she experienced a certain breathless exhilaration in the crisis.

 

“Do not be afraid,” she said. “I am Yasmela, but there is no reason to fear me.”

 

“Why did you lead me here?” he snarled, his blazing eyes darting all about the chamber. “What manner of trap is this?”

 

“There is no trickery,” she answered. “I brought you here because you can aid me. I called on the gods—on Mitra—and he bade me go into the streets and ask aid of the first man I met.”

 

This was something he could understand. The barbarians had their oracles. He lowered his sword, though he did not sheathe it.

 

“Well, if you’re Yasmela, you need aid,” he grunted. “Your kingdom’s in a devil of a mess. But how can I aid you? If you want a throat cut, of course-”

 

“Sit down,” she requested. “Vateesa, bring him wine.”

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Conan:Black Colussus:Proposition.pdf

He complied, taking care, she noticed, to sit with his back against a solid wall, where he could watch the whole chamber. He laid his naked sword across his mail-sheathed knees. She glanced at it in fascination. Its dull blue glimmer seemed to reflect tales of bloodshed and rapine; she doubted her ability to lift it, yet she knew that the mercenary could wield it with one hand as lightly as she could wield a riding-whip. She noted the breadth and power of his hands; they were not the stubby undeveloped paws of a troglodyte. With a guilty start she found herself imagining those strong fingers locked in her dark hair.

 

He seemed reassured when she deposited herself on a satin divan opposite him. He laid his helm on the table, as she watched his massive shoulders. She saw more fully now his unlikeness to the Hyborian races. In his dark face there was a suggestion of moodiness; and without being marked by depravity, or definitely evil, there was more than a suggestion of the sinister about his features, set off by his smoldering blue eyes. A broad forehead was topped by his long mane.

 

“Who are you?” she asked abruptly.

 

“Conan, a captain of the mercenary spearmen,” he answered, emptying the wine-cup at a gulp and holding it out for more. “I was born in Cimmeria.”

 

The name meant little to her. She only knew vaguely that it was a wild grim hill-country which lay far to the north, beyond the last outposts of the Hyborian nations, and was peopled by a fierce moody race. She had never before seen one of them.

 

Resting her chin on her hands, she gazed at him with the deep dark eyes that had enslaved many a heart.

 

“Conan of Cimmeria,” she said, “you said I needed aid. Why?”

 

“Well,” he answered, “any man can see that. Here is the king your brother in an Ophirean prison; here is Koth plotting to enslave you; here is this sorcerer screaming hell-fire and destruction down in Shem—and what’s worse, here are your soldiers deserting every day.”

 

She did not at once reply; it was a new experience for a man to speak so forthrightly to her, his words not couched in courtier phrases.

 

“Why are my soldiers deserting, Conan?” she asked.

 

“Some are being hired away by Koth,” he replied, pulling at the wine-jar with relish. “Many think Khoraja is doomed as an independent state. Many are frightened by tales of this dog Natohk.”

 

“Will the mercenaries stand?” she asked anxiously.

 

“As long as you pay us well,” he answered frankly. “Your politics are nothing to us. You can trust Amalric, our general, but the rest of us are only common men who love loot. If you pay the ransom Ophir asks, men say you’ll be unable to pay us. In that case we might go over to the king of Koth, though that cursed miser is no friend of mine. Or we might loot this city. In a civil war the plunder is always plentiful.”

 

“Why would you not go over to Natohk?” she inquired.

 

“What could he pay us?” he snorted. “With fat-bellied brass idols he looted from the Shemite cities? As long as you’re fighting Natohk, you may trust us.”

 

“Would your comrades follow you?” she asked abruptly.

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“I mean,” she answered deliberately, “that I am going to make you commander of the armies of Khoraja!”

 

He stopped short, the goblet at his lips, which curved in a broad grin. His eyes blazed with a new light.

 

“Commander? Crom! But what will your perfumed nobles say?”

 

“They will obey me!” She clasped her hands to summon a slave, who entered, bowing deeply. “Have Count Thespides come to me at once, and the chancellor Taurus, lord Amalric, and the Agha Shupras.

 

“I place my trust in Mitra,” she said, bending her gaze on Conan, who was now devouring the food placed before him by the trembling Vateesa. “You have seen much war?”

 

“I was born in the midst of a battle,” he answered, tearing a chunk of meat from a huge joint with his strong teeth. “The first sound my ears heard was the clang of swords and the yells of the slaying. I have fought in blood-feuds, tribal wars, and imperial campaigns.”

 

“But can you lead men and arrange battle-lines?”

 

“Well, I can try,” he returned imperturbably. “It’s no more than sword-play on a larger scale. You draw his guard, then stab, slash! And either his head is off, or yours.”

 

The slave entered again, announcing the arrival of the men sent for, and Yasmela went into the outer chamber, drawing the velvet curtains behind her. The nobles bent the knee, in evident surprise at her summons at such an hour.

 

“I have summoned you to tell you of my decision,” said Yasmela. “The kingdom is in peril-”

 

“Right enough, my princess.” It was Count Thespides who spoke—a tall man, whose black locks were curled and scented. With one white hand he smoothed his pointed mustache, and with the other he held a velvet chaperon with a scarlet feather fastened by a golden clasp. His pointed shoes were satin, his cote-hardie of gold-broidered velvet. His manner was slightly affected, but the thews under his silks were steely. “It were well to offer Ophir more gold for your royal brother’s release.”

 

“I strongly disagree,” broke in Taurus the chancellor, an elderly man in an ermine-fringed robe, whose features were lined with the cares of his long service. “We have already offered what will beggar the kingdom to pay. To offer more would further excite Ophir’s cupidity. My princess, I say as I have said before: Ophir will not move until we have met this invading horde. If we lose, he will give king Khossus to Koth; if we win, he will doubtless restore his majesty to us on payment of the ransom.”

 

“And in the meantime,” broke in Amalric, “the soldiers desert daily, and the mercenaries are restless to know why we dally.” He was a Nemedian, a large man with a lion-like yellow mane. “We must move swiftly, if at all-”

 

“Tomorrow we march southward,” she answered. “And there is the man who shall lead you!”

 

Jerking aside the velvet curtains she dramatically indicated the Cimmerian. It was perhaps not an entirely happy moment for the disclosure. Conan was sprawled in his chair, his feet propped on the ebony table, busily engaged in gnawing a beef-bone which he gripped firmly in both hands. He glanced casually at the astounded nobles, grinned faintly at Amalric, and went on munching with undisguised relish.

 

“Mitra protect us!” exploded Amalric. “That’s Conan the Northron, the most turbulent of all my rogues! I’d have hanged him long ago, were he not the best swordsman that ever donned hauberk-”

 

“Your highness is pleased to jest!” cried Thespides, his aristocratic features darkening. “This man is a savage—a fellow of no culture or breeding! It is an insult to ask gentlemen to serve under him! I-”

 

“Count Thespides,” said Yasmela, “you have my glove under your baldric. Please give it to me, and then go.”

 

“Go?” he cried, starting. “Go where?”

 

“To Koth or to Hades!” she answered. “If you will not serve me as I wish, you shall not serve me at all.”

 

“You wrong me, princess,” he answered, bowing low, deeply hurt. “I would not forsake you. For your sake I will even put my sword at the disposal of this savage.”

 

“And you, my lord Amalric?”

 

Amalric swore beneath his breath, then grinned. True soldier of fortune, no shift of fortune, however outrageous, surprised him much.

 

“I’ll serve under him. A short life and a merry one, say I—and with Conan the Throat-slitter in command, life is likely to be both merry and short. Mitra! If the dog ever commanded more than a company of cut-throats before, I’ll eat him, harness and all!”

 

“And you, my Agha?” she turned to Shupras.

 

He shrugged his shoulders resignedly. He was typical of the race evolved along Koth’s southern borders—tall and gaunt, with features leaner and more hawk-like than his purer-blooded desert kin.

 

“Ishtar gives, princess.” The fatalism of his ancestors spoke for him.

 

“Wait here,” she commanded, and while Thespides fumed and gnawed his velvet cap, Taurus muttered wearily under his breath, and Amalric strode back and forth, tugging at his yellow beard and grinning like a hungry lion, Yasmela disappeared again through the curtains and clapped her hands for her slaves.

 

At her command they brought harness to replace Conan’s chain-mail—gorget, sollerets, cuirass, pauldrons, jambes, cuisses and sallet. When Yasmela again drew the curtains, a Conan in burnished steel stood before his audience. Clad in the plate armor, vizor lifted and dark face, there was a grim impressiveness about him that even Thespides grudgingly noted. A jest died suddenly on Amalric’s lips.

 

“By Mitra,” said he slowly, “I never expected to see you cased in coat-armor, but you do not put it to shame. By my finger bones, Conan, I have seen kings who wore their harness less regally than you!”

 

Conan was silent. A vague shadow crossed his mind like a prophecy. In years to come he was to remember Amalric’s words, when the dream became the reality.

 

Chapter 3

In the early haze of dawn the streets of Khoraja were thronged by crowds of people who watched the hosts riding from the southern gate. The army was on the move at last. There were the knights, gleaming in richly wrought plate-armor, colored plumes waving above their burnished sallets. Their steeds, caparisoned with silk, lacquered leather and gold buckles, caracoled and curvetted as their riders put them through their paces. The early light struck glints from lancepoints that rose like a forest above the array, their pennons flowing in the breeze. Each knight wore a lady’s token, a glove, scarf or rose, bound to his helmet or fastened to his sword-belt. They were the chivalry of Khoraja, five hundred strong, led by Count

 

Thespides, who, men said, aspired to the hand of Yasmela herself.

 

They were followed by the light cavalry on rangy steeds. The riders were typical hillmen, lean and hawk-faced; peaked steel caps were on their heads and chain-mail glinted under their flowing kaftans. Their main weapon was the terrible Shemitish bow, which could send a shaft five hundred paces. There were five thousand of these, and Shupras rode at their head, his lean face moody beneath his spired helmet.

 

Close on their heels marched the Khoraja spearmen, always comparatively few in any Hyborian state, where men thought cavalry the only honorable branch of service. These, like the knights, were of ancient Kothic blood—sons of ruined families, broken men, penniless youths, who could not afford horses and plate-armor, five hundred of them.

 

The mercenaries brought up the rear, a thousand horsemen, two thousand spearmen. The tall horses of the cavalry seemed hard and savage as their riders; they made no curvets or gambades. There was a grimly business-like aspect to these professional killers, veterans of bloody campaigns. Clad from head to foot in chain-mail, they wore their vizor less head-pieces over linked coifs. Their shields were unadorned, their long lances without guidons. At their saddle-bows hung battle-axes or steel maces, and each man wore at his hip a long broadsword. The spearmen were armed in much the same manner, though they bore pikes instead of cavalry lances.

 

They were men of many races and many crimes. There were tall Hyperboreans, gaunt, big-boned, of slow speech and violent natures; tawny-haired Gundermen from the hills of the northwest; swaggering Corinthian renegades; swarthy Zingarians, with bristling black mustaches and fiery tempers; Aquilonians from the distant west. But all, except the Zingarians, were Hyborians.

 

Behind all came a camel in rich housings, led by a knight on a great war-horse, and surrounded by a clump of picked fighters from the royal house-troops. Its rider, under the silken canopy of the seat, was a slim, silk-clad figure, at the sight of which the populace, always mindful of royalty, threw up its leather cap and cheered wildly.

 

Conan the Cimmerian, restless in his plate-armor, stared at the bedecked camel with no great approval, and spoke to Amalric, who rode beside him, resplendent in chain-mail threaded with gold, golden breastplate and helmet with flowing horsehair crest.

 

“The princess would go with us. She’s supple, but too soft for this work. Anyway, she’ll have to get out of these robes.”

 

Amalric twisted his yellow mustache to hide a grin. Evidently Conan supposed Yasmela intended to strap on a sword and take part in the actual fighting, as the barbarian women often fought.

 

“The women of the Hyborians do not fight like your Cimmerian women, Conan,” he said. “Yasmela rides with us to watch the battle. Anyway,” he shifted in his saddle and lowered his voice, “between you and me, I have an idea that the princess dares not remain behind. She fears something-”

 

“No. One of her maids talked—babbled about Something that came into the palace by night and frightened Yasmela half out of her wits. It’s some of Natohk’s deviltry, I doubt not. Conan, it’s more than flesh and blood we fight!”

 

“Well,” grunted the Cimmerian, “it’s better to go meet an enemy than to wait for him.”

 

He glanced at the long line of wagons and camp-followers, gathered the reins in his mailed hand, and spoke from habit the phrase of the marching mercenaries, “Hell or plunder, comrades—march!”

 

Chapter 4

Behind the long train the ponderous gates of Khoraja closed. Eager heads lined the battlements. The citizens well knew they were watching life or death go forth. If the host was overthrown, the future of Khoraja would be written in blood. In the hordes swarming up from the savage south, mercy was a quality unknown.

 

All day the columns marched, through grassy rolling meadowlands, cut by small rivers, the terrain gradually beginning to slope upward. Ahead of them lay a range of low hills, sweeping in an unbroken rampart from east to west. They camped that night on the northern slopes of those hills, and hook-nosed, fiery-eyed men of the hill tribes came in scores to squat about the fires and repeat news that had come up out of the mysterious desert. Through their tales ran the name of Natohk like a crawling serpent. At his bidding the demons of the air brought thunder and wind and fog, the fiends of the underworld shook the earth with awful roaring. He brought fire out of the air and consumed the gates of walled cities, and burnt armored men to bits of charred bone. His warriors covered the desert with their numbers, and he had five thousand Stygian troops in war chariots under the rebel prince Kutamun.

 

Conan listened unperturbed. War was his trade. Life was a continual battle, or series of battles, since his birth. Death had been a constant companion. It stalked horrifically at his side; stood at his shoulder beside the gaming-tables; its bony fingers rattled the wine-cups. It loomed above him, a hooded and monstrous shadow, when he lay down to sleep. He minded its presence no more than a king minds the presence of his cupbearer. Some day its bony grasp would close; that was all. It was enough that he lived through the present.

 

However, others were less careless of fear than he. Striding back from the sentry lines, Conan halted as a slender cloaked figure stayed him with an outstretched hand.

 

“Princess! You should be in your tent.”

 

“I could not sleep.” Her dark eyes were haunted in the shadow.

 

“Conan, I am afraid!”

 

“Are there men in the host you fear?” His hand locked on his hilt.

 

“No man,” she shuddered. “Conan, is there anything you fear?”

 

He considered, tugging at his chin. “Aye,” he admitted at last, “the curse of the gods.”

 

Again she shuddered. “I am cursed. A fiend from the abysses has set his mark upon me. Night after night he lurks in the shadows, whispering awful secrets to me. He will drag me down to be his queen in hell. I dare not sleep—he will come to me in my pavilion as he came in the palace. Conan, you are strong keep me with you! I am afraid!”

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Conan:Black Colussus:Princess-Face.pdf She was no longer a princess, but only a terrified girl. Her pride had fallen from her, leaving her unashamed in her nakedness. In her frantic fear she had come to him who seemed strongest. The ruthless power that had repelled her, drew her now.

 

For answer he drew off his scarlet cloak and wrapped it about her, roughly, as if tenderness of any kind were impossible to him. His iron hand rested for an instant on her slender shoulder, and she shivered again, but not with fear. Like an electric shock a surge of animal vitality swept over her at his mere touch, as if some of his superabundant strength had been imparted to her.

 

“Lie here.” He indicated a clean-swept space close to a small flickering fire. He saw no incongruity in a princess lying down on the naked ground beside a campfire, wrapped in a warrior’s cloak. But she obeyed without question.

Conan the Barbarian smiling friendly and seductively

He seated himself near her on a boulder, his broadsword across his knees. With the firelight glinting from his blue steel armor, he seemed like an image of steel—dynamic power for the moment quiescent; not resting, but motionless for the instant, awaiting the signal to plunge again into terrific action. The firelight played on his features, making them seem as if carved out of substance shadowy yet hard as steel. They were immobile, but his eyes smoldered with fierce life. He was not merely a wild man; he was part of the wild, one with the untameable elements of life; in his veins ran the blood of the wolf-pack; in his brain lurked thebrooding depths of the northern night; his heart throbbed with the fire of blazing forests.

 

So, half meditating, half dreaming, Yasmela dropped off to sleep, wrapped in a sense of delicious security. Somehow she knew that no flame-eyed shadow would bend over her in the darkness, with this grim figure from the outlands standing guard above her. Yet once again she wakened, to shudder in cosmic fear, though not because of anything she saw.

 

It was a low mutter of voices that roused her. Opening her eyes, she saw that the fire was burning low. A feeling of dawn was in the air. She could dimly see that Conan still sat on the boulder; she glimpsed the long blue glimmer of his blade. Close beside him crouched another figure, on which the dying fire cast a faint glow. Yasmela drowsily made out a hooked beak of a nose, a glittering bead of an eye, under a white turban. The man was speaking rapidly in a Shemite dialect she found hard to understand.

 

“Let Bel wither my arm! I speak truth! By Derketo, Conan, I am a prince of liars, but I do not lie to an old comrade. I swear by the days when we were thieves together in the land of Zamora, before you donned hauberk!

 

“I saw Natohk; with the others I knelt before him when he made incantations to Set. But I did not thrust my nose in the sand as the rest did. I am a thief of Shumir, and my sight is keener than a weasel’s. I squinted up and saw his veil blowing in the wind. It blew aside, and I saw—I saw—Bel aid me, Conan, I say I saw! My blood froze in my veins and my hair stood up. What I had seen burned my soul like a red-hot iron. I could not rest until I had made sure.

 

“I journeyed to the ruins of Kuthchemes. The door of the ivory dome stood open; in the doorway lay a great serpent, transfixed by a sword. Within the dome lay the body of a man, so shrivelled and distorted I could scarce make it out at first—it was Shevatas, the Zamorian, the only thief in the world I acknowledged as my superior. The treasure was untouched; it lay in shimmering heaps about the corpse. That was all.”

 

“There were no bones-” began Conan.

 

“There was nothing!” broke in the Shemite passionately. “Nothing! Only the one corpse!”

 

Silence reigned an instant, and Yasmela shrank with a crawling nameless horror.

 

“Whence came Natohk?” rose the Shemite’s vibrant whisper. “Out of the desert on a night when the world was blind and wild with mad clouds driven in frenzied flight across the shuddering stars, and the howling of the wind was mingled with the shrieking of the spirits of the wastes. Vampires were abroad that night, witches rode naked on the wind, and werewolves howled across the wilderness. On a black camel he came, riding like the wind, and an unholy fire played about him; the cloven tracks of the camel glowed in the darkness. When Natohk dismounted before Set’s shrine by the oasis of Aphaka, the beast swept into the night and vanished. And I have talked with tribesmen who swore that it suddenly spread gigantic wings and rushed upwards into the clouds, leaving a trail of fire behind it. No man has seen that camel since that night, but a black brutish manlike shape shambles to Natohk’s tent and gibbers to him in the blackness before dawn. I will tell you, Conan, Natohk is—look, I will show you an image of what I saw that day by Shushan when the wind blew aside his veil!”

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Conan:Black Colussus:Natohk-BW.pdf

 

Yasmela saw the glint of gold in the Shemite’s hand, as the men bent closely over something. She heard Conan grunt; and suddenly blackness rolled over her. For the first time in her life, princess Yasmela had fainted.

 

 

___

 

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Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Authors:Lisa Deschenes:Things That go Bump:Steps.pdf

 

Things that go Bump

By Lisa Deschenes

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Authors:Lisa Deschenes:Things That go Bump:Flower.jpg Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Authors:Lisa Deschenes:Things That go Bump:Flower.jpg Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Authors:Lisa Deschenes:Things That go Bump:Flower.jpg

 

The mid-afternoon sun shone down, lending the early spring day a bit of warmth, as the regular walkers made their way around the larger of the two bodies of water located in Greenlawn Cemetery, known as Sargent Pond. On the opposite side of the cemetery, stood the smaller of the two ponds aptly named Fountain Pond, where a stone footbridge separated the two spraying fountains situated on each side. While too small for most of the exercise aficionados to lap, the pond did serve a purpose for the children who gathered with their parents to catch pollywogs in the shallow waters of the bank in late spring and then observe the fully grown adult frogs during the summer months. On one side of the pond a steep stone stairway climbed to the upper tier of the cemetery. Although charming in old worldliness, the ancient flight of steps, original to the early 1800’s in which they were built, was not for the faint of heart. Only those serious about an intense workout would attempt the asymmetrical stones that were carved into the declivitous hillside growth.

 

Greenlawn may not have been the first place that people thought about when identifying a location for exercise and dog walking, but this was Salem Massachusetts and anything that may have been considered unusual in other locales was just the norm in this city with an infamous history. Besides, one had to admit that the graveyard with its rolling green hills, abundant wildlife, and ancient giant trees provided a serene backdrop for fitness seekers that was also conveniently out of the way of the city’s traffic areas.

 

Mary Jo Wesley power walked through this very cemetery, picking up speed as the current thoughts in her head fueled her ire, translating into her increased stride. And only a select few topics could get her this aggravated. The current subject at hand was her former husband. She gave a curt, distracted nod of her head in greeting to her fellow taphophiles whom she passed on her way around the pond. Mary continued to fume over her most recent interaction with the man in question as she replayed their most recent conversation in her head.

 

Actually “man” was too decent a term for him. Rodent, maybe snake came close, but even those were a bit above his stature in her opinion. Scum of the earth, bottom feeder, now those were coming closer to defining him. Mary huffed as she walked along, now at more of a pace akin to a slow jog. Why couldn’t that maggot just drop dead and do her a favor, she wondered.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Bump-Scrolll.pdf

 

Mary Jo Turner, at the time, and Daniel Wesley had met in college back in 1995. She had been pre-med and he had been pre-law, both at BU in Boston. Both New England Natives, she was from Salem Massachusetts and he was from Deerfield New Hampshire, neither had traveled far from their homes to attend university. Each of their dorm roommates had been dating and thought it would be fun to set them up to join them on a double date one weekend during their Sophomore year. If it had been anywhere near finals, Mary would never have agreed and her life would have taken a different track, but as it was during the lull after the return from winter break, she had accepted. The two couples had met for dinner at Halftime Pizza and then went to see a Bon Jovi concert at the Garden across the street.

 

Then the two couples had taken the bus, known as the T to locals, back to a stop close to the dorms. Daniel had said a quick good-bye to Mary, before heading back to his own dorm at Myles Standish Hall, while her roomie’s boyfriend first walked the women back to their East Campus Brownstone, which they currently called home.

 

Mary was not impressed and let her roommate Jannelle know just as soon as they had shut the door to their building behind them.

 

“He was pompous, narcissistic, and mannerless,” she stated. “Do not ask me to go out with him again,” she finished emphatically.

 

And that would have been the end of Mary and Daniel’s intertwined story if it had not been for mono. This time it had been right after finals in mid-May when Jannelle had approached her once more about going out with Daniel.

 

“Listen, Mary, I wouldn’t normally ask you. I know how you feel about him. You told me in no uncertain terms after the last time,” Jannelle apologized, “but...well Gordon bought tickets to the Sox game Saturday night for my birthday and we fixed Daniel up with Gordon’s cousin Sheila and well now she has mono and can’t go with us. Gordon feels bad leaving Daniel alone at the dorm, especially since almost everyone has already headed home for the summer, so he is thinking of selling the tickets! Can you believe it?!” she asked. “Look, Mary, can you do your roomie a good deed just this one time? Think of it as charity work,” Jannelle begged.

 

Mary rolled her eyes, “OK, Jannelle. But you owe me,” she finally agreed.

 

And as it turned out, the night had not been as bad as Mary had dreaded. She believed that Gordon may have coached his roommate in the art of not being a baboon, but Daniel was actually rather pleasant, buying her a beer and Fenway Frank at the game. He even gave her the ball he had caught in the bottom of the third inning and walked her back to her dorm after the game instead of leaving her at the curb.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Bump-Scrolll.pdf

 

Thinking back, she wouldn’t have described it as a whirlwind romance, but Mary and Daniel’s relationship had grown after that second date. They had a few solo dates and continued to see each other during the summer. When they had returned to the university in the fall, things continued to develop. And as irony would have it, by Mary’s senior year, she was graduating as an engaged woman and her roommate Jannelle’s relationship with her boyfriend Gordon had sunk along with the Red Sox’s hopes of winning a World Series for another season.

 

And then things had turned drastically from the path Mary had envisioned for her career. She had been all set to continue on with the next two years of medical school, but Daniel had other plans for their future. He had reasoned how difficult it would be for a newly married couple to attend to equally rigorous coursework simultaneously. He had passed the LSATs and would be starting on the law school portion of his education at the start of the fall semester. Wouldn’t it be better for one of them to stay at home and raise their future children? There would always be time for her to go back to med school after he had passed the bar and established himself as an attorney, he argued persuasively.

 

And so it was that once they had married, they had settled down in a charming condo in Mary’s hometown of Salem, a close enough commute to Boston where Daniel now worked. She had left college for the “time being”, as Daniel had phrased it.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Bump-Scrolll.pdf

 

Being persuasive was the name of the man’s game; that’s what made him so go good at being the stereotypical sleazeball attorney that he was, Mary now thought, sidestepping around a sawhorse that had been set up in her path, as she continued to make her way around Sargent Pond. The cemetery was city owned and during the colder months of the year the groundsmen would block off paths that were deemed to be icy. The barriers were primarily intended to prevent cars from sliding into the pond, but most of the walkers ignored them at their own peril. Just two winters ago a man had been here during a nor’easter, of all things, and had inadvertently wandered onto the pond’s surface, falling through the thin ice to his demise. One of the ground keepers had spotted his glasses, sunlight reflecting off their lenses, floating in a pool in the breached ice the next morning. His poor family, Mary thought. She felt confident that this would not be her fate. She was careful about only being in the cemetery during daylight hours and never ever in bad weather conditions, let alone during a New England storm! That would just be foolhardy.

 

As Mary rounded the westerly bank of the pond’s path, she realize that the barrier had not been placed as a deterrent for icy conditions, but rather as a warning of needed repair. An orange cone confirmed this deduction, marking the affected area.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Authors:Lisa Deschenes:Things That go Bump:One-Cone.pdf At this end of the cemetery, a steep hill covered in trees and climbing ground growth ran up the hill to a fence separating the cemetery from the outside world that lay above. Across that outside road was the Kernwood Country Club which hosted a private golf course that neighbored the North River, a tributary of the Atlantic Ocean. The saltwater was utilized by the Kernwood to create natural water hazards as part of the golf course’s appeal. Overflow ran underground and out of a culvert that exited into Sargent Pond. A small bridge of sorts had been created at this point in the path’s journey around the water.

 

Skirting the affected area, Mary continued on her path with only a cursory glance at the cone, but after passing the marked spot on the bridge, a sound that could only have been described as a “bump” caught her attention. Turning to discover the source of the sound, Mary saw that the cone had been tipped on its side. There wasn’t any breeze that day. If there had been, it would have had to be pretty strong to push one of those heavy traffic cones over; they were specifically weighted to avoid just that sort of thing

 

. Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Authors:Lisa Deschenes:Things That go Bump:Tipped-Cone.pdf

 

She reasoned that she must have brushed closer to the cone than she had thought, thus knocking it off balance. Not wanting to be responsible for someone hurting themselves because of her carelessness, Mary went back to right the cone. In doing so, she could see that a small fissure had opened in the bridge’s roughly paved surface in the spot the cone had marked. It was more of a tripping hazard than anything else. It definitely was not large enough for anything to slip through the bridge’s surface. She positioned the orange marker back over the hazard and continued on her way, quickly forgetting the incident as her thoughts returned to her ex.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Bump-Scrolll.pdf

 

As time had slipped by, Daniel had graduated from law school, passed the bar, and established himself at a decently sized law firm that had been impressed with him during his internship. He quickly made his way up from just one of the attorneys on staff to junior partner. In the meantime, Mary had stagnated and for the “time being” had become a permanent state of being. The subject of children had been pushed to a back corner as Daniel reasoned building their careers while they were young should be the first priority. But he seemed to forget the fact that Mary had no career to speak of because she had never finished college, at his bidding. She basically had meandered her way through a series of dead end jobs, never committing to any field in particular and never building any significant skill set, because this was just the “time being”; eventually she would be returning to her med-school studies. Only whatever term defined the time known as after the “time being” never came. Before she knew it, Mary was thirty nine years old and knew that time had passed her by.

 

This made her more than just a little sad. She had always wanted children and not having any had left her with a dreadful emptiness. Her husband’s solution had been to suggest she get a dog, a “small one of course, nothing too messy or time consuming”. Her jaw had dropped at the audacity of his implication that a child, or lack thereof, could be easily replaced with a pet.

 

Then to add insult to injury, when her forty-year milestone had quietly come and gone unrecognized, Mary started to feel more than just resentment; she had begun to feel the first stirrings of bitterness. Lord knew that she did not want to be that stereotypical middle-aged woman whose irascibility was attributed to the approach of “the change of life”.

 

Just the year before, Mary had planned and thrown a surprise party to celebrate her husband’s fortieth birthday. She had saved up for almost a year so that she could pay for the event all on her own. It had been held at The Landing, an upscale restaurant located in Marblehead overlooking the ocean. Both of their families had attended, along with a host of Daniel’s colleagues and key clients. Attendees had commented about what a tasteful, enjoyable time the evening had been. Mary had been proud of her accomplishment. But then a year later when she had turned the big four-oh, nothing, not even a card. And the bitterness had wound its roots in tighter.

 

So when her husband had asked her to join him for dinner at Bella Verona, a small Italian restaurant in downtown Salem that they both favored, Mary was pleasantly surprised. This was shortly after her birthday and slightly before their twentieth anniversary. She even felt a bit ashamed that she had thought that he had ignored her momentous occasion, now believing that he had just arranged for something more intimate that would encapsulate both celebrations.

 

She had sat across from him at a private table in the corner, a glass of wine in her hand, a smile on her face. They had not even placed their dinner order yet, when her husband had caused that smile to vanish. He had reached across the table and held her hand, as he cleared his throat. Mary waited patiently, expecting some sort of an announcement from him about reaching their twenty-year anniversary and looking forward to many more, but what came out left her in shock instead.

 

“Look Mary, we had a good run, but we both know that this is going nowhere. In fairness to both of us, I made the decision that we should both move on, you know, go our separate ways,” Daniel stated.

 

Mary looked at him blankly, not quite grasping his intent. It sounded like he was talking about the division of a company, for Christ’s sake, not their marriage. Finally, she managed to ask, “Are you asking me for a divorce?”

 

“Now, Mary, don’t sound so surprised,” he chided as if speaking to a child. “Things haven’t been good for us for years. You know it’s true. I just think that we...well we have different goals in life; our paths are not aligned.”

 

“Who is she, Daniel? And don’t you dare lie to me,” Mary ordered.

 

It wasn’t the first time that she had suspected that her husband was unfaithful. There had been little signs over the years, late nights at the “office”, texts to strange women on his phone. Mary wasn’t proud of being a snoop, but Lord knew he had given her reason. However,this was the first time that he had even hinted about divorcing her. At one time, she had actually threatened to leave him as a result of her suspicions and he had pleaded with her to stay.

 

“Mary, lower your voice,” he hissed. “There is no need to make a scene. We are two sensible adults having a conversation.”

 

Mary leaned over the tiny square table with its checked table cloth and whispered, “A scene, Daniel? You don’t want me to cause a scene? Would that embarrass you? Well let me tell you right now, you don’t know embarrassment. Like when your spouse’s colleagues’ wives look at you with sympathy when they think you are barren because you have no children. Or when they shoot you looks of empathy at your husband’s birthday party, because as first wives they also know the shame of having been cheated on. So let me tell you right now, Daniel, if you don’t want me to “cause a scene” and “embarrass” you in spectacular fashion, you will answer me truthfully. I will ask again, — WHO IS SHE?”

 

Daniel started to speak, but before a stream of lies came spewing out, he thought better of it and started again. Mary, I didn’t intend for this to happen. It’s just that Elizabeth and I are much more compatible with our ambitions, whereas you…”

 

Before he could continue, Mary jumped back in, “Elizabeth? That twenty-something year old paralegal floozy from your office? Well let me tell you Daniel, I also had ambitions before I met you, but they were all ambitions you squashed!”

 

At this point Mary was at a loss for any any other words, so she stood from her seat and did what any righteous woman would do; she threw her still very full glass of Merlot at her husband’s face and saw with a tad of satisfaction that it spread all over his crisp, white linen dress shirt as she stormed out of the restaurant, past the shocked restaurant owner.

 

“Sorry for the mess, Giorgio,” she said to him as she left.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Bump-Scrolll.pdf

 

Now, as Mary finished her walk in Greenlawn she continued her thoughts on her ex husband’s most recent revelation, although why he felt a need to share it with her was beyond her comprehension. He had phoned her the previous evening to proclaim that he had proposed to Elizabeth.

 

“So? Do you want a medal or my blessing?” Mary had asked sarcastically.

 

It had been two years since their divorce became final, but the bitterness had never sweetened. The divorce had been relatively simple, after all, he was a lawyer and knew the ins and outs of the system. Mary hadn’t totally gotten the shaft, but she wasn’t exactly better off in the end or even whole again either. She had been granted a pittance for a monthly alimony, which bless his asshole soul, Daniel had not argued. She had also been able to keep the condo they had purchased together when his career had taken off, and he had also been required to continue paying the mortgage on it each month, as well. He had made full partner in his law firm after they had parted ways and so it was a drop in the financial bucket for him. In fact, he was able to purchase a nice home in pricey up-scale Melrose, making it a closer commute to work for him, while Mary struggled to figure out what she was even going to do for work.

 

The one decent concession she felt that she had received in the divorce from her husband, albeit off the record, was that he would allow her to keep her sports car in his new garage in Melrose until she could put it on the road. The car had been stored in her parents garage up until a year ago when they had decided to move down to Florida. Once their house was sold, she had been paying to rent space in a local garage, but with the divorce final, she wasn’t going to be able to continue storing it there; she just wouldn’t be able to afford it.

 

Shortly after they had married and moved to their condo in Salem, Mary had spotted the 1965 powder blue Mustang, four-speed convertible in a little used car lot near their apartment. Mary loved that little car at first sight and had insisted on buying it, even though her husband had lectured about its impracticality. But while he didn’t agree with her decision to purchase the car, he did assist her by signing the small loan as her guarantor, since she had not built up any credit to speak of at that time.

 

The little blue car now sat next to her ex’s two seater BMW in his Melrose garage. It was her little piece of nostalgia; a solid memory of happier times in her youth. So as much as she loathed her former husband right then, she was grateful that he had given her the garage space until she could register and insure it, although a part of her felt that he owed her at least that much.

 

She took a deep breath on her end of the phone, “Okay, well congratulations and all that.” But she couldn’t leave it at that; she couldn’t help herself, “Hopefully she won’t leave you for a younger, richer man someday,” she added.

 

“Jesus, Mary Jo, why do you have to be so sour?” Daniel asked.

 

“Gee, I don’t know, Daniel. Maybe it’s because you were a cheating asshole. Or maybe it’s because after twenty-five fucking years, you still call me Mary Jo,” she replied dryly.

 

Named for her Grandmother Mary, she had been given her Aunt Josephine’s name as her middle moniker, but since everyone had called the feisty old woman Jo, that was the shortened version she had inherited. And she hated it. She hated it when kids at school had called her Mary Jo, she hated it when people asked if she was originally from “down south” because her name was Mary Jo, and she most especially hated it when her former husband called her Mary Jo.

 

And Daniel knew it. This, probably more so then his un-asked-for-announcement, spiked her anger. But she wasn’t going to let him get to her, so she simply pushed the end call button on her phone.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Bump-Scrolll.pdf

 

Now at the end of her walk, Mary took a deep breath and decided to leave her negative thoughts about her ex husband behind her in the cemetery, rather than to bring them home with her where she would continue to dwell on them all night. Why should he get to ruin her evening, or for that matter, even her life any further? A nice hot soak in her tub with some Dr. Teal’s eucalyptus bath salts and a glass of chamomile tea while she watched the Bachelor on TV in bed would put her mood back in order as right as rain.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Bump-Scrolll.pdf

 

The next day had dawned dreary. At 5:30 am, Mary drove the short distance to her job at the children’s wing at Salem’s North Shore Medical Center, where she had worked as a pediatric lab technician for the past year. At midday the sky had opened up in a deluge of rain. By the end of her shift, the rain had abated, but still came down in a miserable drizzle. Occasional flashes of lightning parted the sky and thunder rumbled through shortly after each strike.

 

This did not please Mary. Her daily walks had become such an ingrained part of her routine, not only for their fitness benefits, but also for her state of mind. While she was not opposed to going out in light showers with an umbrella, the current weather just seemed a little beyond her tolerance for wetness.

 

But by late afternoon, the rain had stopped and looking out her living room window, Mary re-evaluated her decision to skip her walk. Internally she debated: the sky was still overcast; however, it was fairly warm out and a quick check on her phone showed that the rain had wrapped up for the day. It was a bit later than she normally headed out, but it was still light outside and doing a quick mental calculation, she estimated that her walk from her house to the cemetery, one lap around the pond, then back home, was about four and three fourths miles total and took her approximately ninety minutes at a good pace. If she left right then, she should be back home by 6:30, which still allowed her adequate time before late March sunset. She wasn’t opposed to walking after dark, but it did seem a bit creepy to be in the cemetery at night. Besides, city regulations posted at the entrance dictated that all visitors exit by dusk.

 

Still debating the pros and cons, Mary finally came to the decision that if she wasted time thinking about it, it would already be past her window of daylight opportunity. That settled it; she changed into her sweats, pulled on her sneakers and headed out her front door. Once walking, she didn’t even know why she had been so reluctant. Her walks helped to keep her sane.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Bump-Scrolll.pdf

 

After the break up of their marriage, Daniel had moved out of the condo. He had stated that he was moving into a room at the Homewood Suites out on route one, but Mary believed he had just shacked up with his paralegal. She had been angry. She tried to push down her emotions as much as possible and thought that she was successful, but one day they just got the better of her. Unfortunately, it happened at her job.

 

Mary had been working at a small tea room in downtown Salem, when one of her regular customers had come in for high tea. She was a bit of a pretentious woman. Margaret-never Maggie! Mary had made that error once—usually made reservations to come in once a month and was really particular about where she was seated, even though there were only three tables and a high top available in the tiny space. Knowing that she was coming in that afternoon at one o’clock, Mary went out of her way to make sure “her table” was made available, although her co-worker had booked it to another party. Mary then set up her table with the china tea service and would bring out her tea pot of Spiced Masala Chai, selection of patisserie and the cucumber and curried chicken tea sandwiches.

 

Upon sitting down, Margaret looked down her nose with disdain. “The tea service is hardly polished today,” she complained.

 

Mary took instant offense. “Actually, that is part of my daily job and I just polished all of the pieces this morning,” she offered in place of an apology.

 

“Well then, I guess you are hardly doing your job,” the woman countered rudely, holding up the offending cup as evidence.

 

Something snapped in Mary and although she knew it was inexcusable, it was too late to stop what came out next, “Well then, maybe you should shove it up your hoity toity rear and maybe it will come out polished to your satisfaction.”

 

Margaret stood up abruptly and stalked out of the tea room, making sure to toss it over her shoulder, “I will be speaking to the owner about this. Don’t make the mistake of thinking I won’t.”

 

And true to her word, Amy, the owner, had pulled her aside at the end of her shift that day. By that point Mary had been embarrassed and apologetic. All things considered, she had been kind to Mary.

 

“Listen, Mary, I really do like you. However, you really have left me no choice; I am going to have to dismiss you for this. If I may, let me give you some advice. You have been through a lot recently. No one can blame you for being angry, but please find someone to talk to. It may help.”

 

So in other words, “go see a shrink”, Mary thought as she dispiritedly left the shop. But maybe Amy was right; maybe she did need some professional help. So that afternoon she contacted her doctor and got a referral and a week later she found herself sitting in the therapist’s office. The petite woman with her shoulder length, brown hair reminded Mary of Doctor Melfi, the fictional psychiatrist on the HBO show The Sopranos.

 

The ironic thing was that the very reason that had prompted Mary to seek out a therapist in the first place, was the one thing that did not change in the end. Well not exactly anyway. When Doctor Maitland had asked why Mary felt she needed therapy, her answer was immediate.

 

“To stop being so angry,” Mary had offered.

 

“That’s just ridiculous,” Doctor Maitland had responded, taking Mary by surprise. “Emotions are part of what makes us human. You might as well tell a bird to stop flying or a dog to stop barking. No Mary, what you need to do is learn how to express your anger, and all of your other feelings for that matter, in a healthy manner. Not to eliminate them entirely. In other words, be constructive, not destructive.”

 

Mary had never thought of it that way, but she had, she realized, had every right to be mad, heck, to be furious. She had basically been robbed of a significant portion of her life; she had given up her pursuit of a medical career, had wasted her child bearing years, and then had been thrown to the curb like a piece of refuse. And so Mary had continued to be angry, but with coaching from her therapist, figured out strategies to control the way she dealt with that anger.

 

But her anger was not her only issue. Frankly, her train had derailed and she needed to get it back on track. Without a purpose in life, Mary had let herself go during her marriage. She had been slovenly, basically living in sweat suits, becoming a couch potato, watching endless reality shows on TV while eating a pint of ice cream. She had put on weight. Her hair, which she kept short out of laziness not fashion, had streaks of gray running through it. While her husband’s own encroaching gray had been referred to as “salt and pepper” and considered dashing, her’s was just looked upon as frumpy.

 

And then there was her lack of any actual ambition. Even though she had at least completed her Bachelor’s degree, she continued to work at minimum wage jobs that required no real aptitude.

 

Doctor Maitland had told Mary that having goals was a good start, but cautioned her to set one at a time. Putting too much on her plate at once could prove to be a recipe of failure.

 

“If there were just one thing you could fix, what would it be?”

 

she asked Mary trying to help her narrow her focus.

 

Mary didn’t hesitate, “To get in shape,” she replied. “I think that would be a big motivator in helping me tackle everything else.”

 

So Mary had joined a reasonably priced gym. Just ten dollars a month got her full use of the equipment any time she wanted to visit and one session with a trainer each month. She didn’t bother with the upgrade, knowing she would rather have the additional ten dollars in her pocket than use of the tanning beds.

 

Mary went to her first training session, she went to the gym for the four days following that session and on the fifth day she returned to her therapist. “I can’t do this,” she stated, totally defeated.

 

“Mary, you haven’t worked out in quite some time,” the doctor replied. “It is going to take some effort to build your stamina.”

 

“No, I didn’t mean that I can’t physically do this, I meant I can’t mentally do this,” Mary clarified. “I have discovered that I hate the gym. I can’t even force myself to go one day more.”

 

“Oh, well you don’t have to go to a gym to exercise,” Doctor Maitland offered. “Do you like swimming? Yoga? Walking?” she asked Mary.

 

Mary’s face brightened when she heard walking. “I like to take walks. I haven’t really taken any in a long time, but I used to love walking on the Esplanade by the Charles River when I was at BU.”

 

Doctor Maitland had smiled, “Mary, you’re going to make my job easy.”

 

“What do you mean?” Mary smiled back questioningly.

 

“Oh, you will see,” the doctor had answered cryptically.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Bump-Scrolll.pdf

 

Mary’s daily walks had begun. At first she had started with a mile, but had eventually worked her way up to over four miles that included her lap around the cemetery. And she did see what her therapist had been hinting at; she was getting a twofer. Walking had huge benefits, not just for the body, but also for the mind. She remembered a study she had read up on in college about how individuals who walked experienced much lower levels of stress in their lives.

 

And now Mary was living proof of that theory. She had lost a considerable amount of weight after keeping up her daily routine for over two years, but had also discovered that while she was walking, she could process her thoughts and emotions, especially her anger and she could leave it behind when she left the cemetery each day. Was she still angry at her former husband? Yes, she despised him, but she had found a way to cope with these feelings in a healthy manner. And she was okay with that.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Authors:Lisa Deschenes:Things That go Bump:Entrance.pdf

In addition to improving her physical and mental health, Mary had obtained her certification as a lab technician and promptly got the job at North Shore Medical Center’s pediatric wing. With the aid of grants and scholarship funds, she had then enrolled back in school at Salem State University part time to work on becoming a nurse practitioner. At this stage in her life, she felt it more realistic then going back to BU to become an MD.

 

With her new found ambition came confidence. She let her hair grow out, then had it styled and colored. Every time she reached a milestone in her weight loss goals, rather than celebrate with a can of Pringles, she treated herself to a new outfit in a smaller size. She had even gone on a few dates arranged through an online dating site. No love connection yet, but she no longer believed that it was out of the realm of possibility.

 

Things were looking up for Mary. The only thing that she didn’t have the power to change was her ability to be a mother. Her therapist had recommended doing some research into adoption, but it was not an affordable option. Finally Mary just had to make peace with this one failure, as she saw it.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Bump-Scrolll.pdf

 

Mary had reached the cemetery. After four o’clock in the afternoon, the vehicle entrance gates were locked by the grounds keepers before heading home from their shifts. Mary knew of a pedestrian gate on the southwest side of the cemetery that remained unlocked. This is where she entered. Given the diminishing time she had available until dusk, it would have been a shorter trip to Sargent Pond if she made her way down the stone stairs that led first to Fountain Pond, but knowing the not so desirable conditions the steps presented, she decided to take the longer path down that would lead to her destination.

 

The cemetery was quiet. Mary figured that her fellow exercisers’ routines had been disrupted due to the heavy rains earlier in the day. But she didn’t mind the solitude; it was actually kind of serene being the only living human present. Rain water dripped from the branches of trees, where tiny spring buds had begun to appear. The light had a weirdly beautiful orange tinge to it, which Mary had seen in the past after there had been thunderstorms. The afternoon sun caused a dappled effect on the ground where she walked, as it filtered through the leafless branches.

 

Arriving at the road that circled Sargent Pond, Mary was surprised to see the sawhorse barrier still in place. Typically the city was particular about addressing any issues within a day of discovery. For a moment, Mary considered that the barricade may have been placed there due to the heavy rainfall from earlier in the day and not the previous day’s bridge crack. The pond tended to flood out onto the pathway during rainy periods. But as she rounded the bend, that theory was contradicted by the sight of the bright orange cone directly ahead in her path.

 

Mary gave the cone a wide berth, remembering how she had knocked it over as she had gone by the previous day, but as she passed she heard the now familiar “bump” sound once more. She looked back over her shoulder to see the cone lying on its side staring back at her accusingly from the one black eye on its narrow side. How could that have happened again?, she thought. I made sure to stay away from it.

 

She turned around and headed back to the bridge. She could debate the circumstances that caused it to fall all afternoon, but it wouldn’t right the cone. She leaned down to tip the orange nuisance upright when she caught sight of the area in the pavement that it had marked. Only now, what had been a small fissure barely worth tripping over the day before, had opened into an actual crevice. The newly widened gap looked about big enough for a large dog’s paw or even the foot of a person with a small shoe size to slip through.

 

Mary found it peculiar that the tiny crack had had a chance to deteriorate so significantly over just one day. She had just had time to think that the city needed to address the repair to the bridge before they wound up with a lawsuit on their hands, when the “bump” came again. Only Mary knew that it hadn’t come from the cone falling; it had come from below the bridge and it was jarring enough that it knocked her off balance. She felt herself tumbling backwards and in reaction twisted her body so that she could break her fall with her hands, rather than the back of her head. She felt pain shoot up her ankle, as her foot caught in the crack. Laying still on the ground, she took a moment to assess her body for any breaks before turning into a seated position. She noted that her foot had definitely gone through the hole and then to add insult to injury, she heard an unmistakable wet plop knowing that her sneaker had slipped off her unseen foot, pulling her ankle sock with it and dropped into the water below.

 

“Ugh!” she groaned. Now she would have to walk home with one bare foot.

 

Well it couldn’t be helped at this point. She attempted to pull her unshod foot out of the crevice, but it stopped short at the rim. She scooted her bottom closer to where her foot disappeared below the pavement’s surface to get a better look. The crack was long and narrow. Maybe she just had her foot in the wrong direction and had to change its position to line it up with the opening so that it could slip back out. Not without some pain, Mary made an effort to turn her ankle so that her foot would match up with the hole. She tried to pull it out again, but found that her attempt was in vain.

 

That was when Mary’s medical background kicked in and she realized exactly what had happened. When she twisted her ankle, she had probably caused a sprain. Normally a shoe or boot would restrain a foot from swelling immediately, but with her sneaker falling off, the injured area had blown up almost instantaneously. Now her foot was bigger than when it went into the hole. And sitting here with her foot dangling, there was no chance the swelling was going to go down anytime soon; it needed to be elevated and iced.

 

“Shit, shit, shit!” she yelled.

 

Mary sat back. She had to think. What were her options for solving this problem? She was glad that she had thrown on her zip up fleece before she left the house, because even though the temperature had been warm, she could feel a slight chill in the air now that the sun was going down. The light weight jacket was keeping her upper body warm, but she could feel the coldness in the pavement working its way through her sweatpants and into her bones. While it wouldn’t be super cold out in the evening during this time of year, she couldn’t very well spend the entire night out here sitting on her ass with her foot hanging in a hole.

 

She looked around her surroundings. She didn’t see anyone from the direction she had come. Looking in the opposite direction was no more rewarding. She tried looking across the pond, but although the wall of the bridge was low, it was still too high for her to see over from her vantage point on the ground. To the west of her was the embankment that climbed up to the outer road. From here, she couldn’t be seen from inside passing cars.

 

She might be able to attract attention, but that didn’t seem to be a very viable option and frankly, she was too embarrassed to try it at this stage anyway. So what other choices did she have?

 

Mary knew she had her cell phone in her pocket. She pulled it out and started scrolling through her contacts. Although she didn’t have any really close friendships, she did have a few of her neighbors’ numbers. How awkward would that be? Hello, Mrs. Murphy? Yes this is Mary, your neighbor in 2A. Yes, the one whose husband dumped her at the curb for the stereotypical younger woman. Yes, that’s the one. Well now I am stuck in a hole in the cemetery and wanted to see if you could help get me out?

 

Nope, she would take a pass on calling any of her neighbors. She did have some of her coworkers and college peers phone numbers as well, but that would probably be a similar experience. She did still have Doctor Maitland’s contact information. Even though they had mutually agreed that it was time to successfully conclude their relationship, the therapist had told Mary to call her if she ever needed to re-connect…

 

Oh, this is just ridiculous, Mary thought. Even if she could convince any of those people to come out to the cemetery to help her, what would they be able to do? It wasn’t like they would be any more capable of pulling her swollen appendage out than she had been.

 

No, Mary finally decided, the only feasible solution was for her to call the Salem police. They would be able to in turn contact the DPW and have a city worker come out to free her. Still embarrassing, but at least she would be able to express her anger over the indignancy of being injured by their incompetence in having neglected their maintenance responsibilities. She would certainly let them know that they would be obligated to pay any medical charges she incurred as a result. She had been feeling foolish, but she was now actually quite pissed at the situation she found herself in.

 

Sitting there contemplating her situation, Mary had not thought to consider what had been the source of the “bump” that had caused her to stumble. Originally she had mistakenly assumed that the sound had emitted from the fallen hazard cone.

 

She had just pulled up her keypad to dial the police station. She had decided to call the station directly, instead of going through 911. She didn’t need her predicament being routed through multiple agencies and then winding up in some news story. But just as she started keying in the number, the “bump” came again, loud and reverberating below her. The jolt sent her phone flying. She watched disparagingly as it skittered out of her reach.

 

“Crap!” she shouted.

 

Mary was now forced to give some thought to what was causing the disturbance under the bridge. She thought that maybe a large piece of debris, maybe a shopping carriage, had made its way into the culvert below her and was now trapped, banging back and forth with the ebb and flow of the tide further out in the river.

 

Thus far, Mary had experienced only feelings of anger and foolishness, but now the first threads of worry had started to work their way into her consciousness. She knew that there would be other people and groundsmen coming first thing in the morning, but she couldn’t possibly spend a whole night in the cemetery. This thought prompted Mary to decide that it would be preferable to suffer some embarrassment then to endure spending an entire night on the cold ground with her foot stuck in a hole in the cemetery. And to make matters worse, what little daylight that was left was now growing dim.

 

Mary tested her voice tentatively calling, “Hello? Can anyone hear me?” her voice hitched at the end. She cleared her throat and tried raising her voice louder, “Hey! I need help! Hello?!”

 

She stopped yelling to listen for any response. The street light on the road directly above her came on, flickering a sodium orange, casting an eerie glow in strobe effect. Mary was about to yell out once more, when she suddenly felt the leathery brush of a wing against her face. She gasped in shock, her lungs filling with her quick intake of night air. Now her worry had grown into panic. She detested rodents. And if there was anything worse than a scurrying rodent in her mind, it was one of the winged species. She had clearly just been grazed by a bat. A shiver ran down her spine.

 

Mary knew she had to keep her wits about her. She had to remain calm to get through this. Did her scream attract the bat? She didn’t know enough about them to answer that question, but she decided that for the sake of argument,she was better off keeping silent.

 

She could hear rustling in the old dried up fall leaves on the hillside that climbed up to the road. Small (or large!) nocturnal creatures were coming out of their holes and burrows to hunt for their evening meal. Mary thought about what these animals could be and imagined skunks, opossums, raccoons. She knew that coyotes had been seen here more frequently as of late. Stuck on the ground with her foot caught in the hole, she was a sitting duck for anything that meant her harm. She concentrated on her breathing, inhaling slow deep breaths, exhaling them out through her mouth slowly, in an effort to calm her racing heartbeat.

 

A large full moon had started to make its way gradually above the cemetery, pale yellow, casting a modicum of light on the ground below. The tree shadows that had been whimsical earlier on were now elongated and ominously suggestive of a spectral nature. A mild breeze had taken wing, causing Mary to briefly shiver.

 

Mary talked to herself in a soft, soothing voice to keep cool and collect. “You are going to be just fine. You can make it through till morning. You’re going to have a good laugh over this tomorrow,” she lied to herself.

 

And then the “bump” came again, the ground reverberating under her. Mary felt something latch onto her ankle from below the bridge and all reason as she knew it left her, as full primal fear took hold. She could not even scream, her mouth open in the act, but no sound issuing forth.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Bump-Scrolll.pdf

 

When she had been a little girl, she had frequently taken walks in Greenlawn with her father. They had enjoyed watching the squirrels scampering about collecting fall acorns under the abundance of oak trees. They had fed the many varieties of waterfowl in both ponds. They had collected polliwogs in a glass mason jar from Fountain Pond. And during their forays into the cemetery, her father had entertained her with stories, many of which were tall tales. Among these short yarns was the urban legend of the giant turtle that lived in the unknown depths of Sargent Pond. Left alone for decades, the resourceful snapper had grown to mythic proportions, graduating from feasting on the fish that called the pond home, to larger fodder to satisfy its unsated appetite, perhaps even dragging prey from the pond’s muddy shores into the bottomless depths of water to drown before consuming whole.

 

“What types of things does he eat, Papa?” Mary had nervously asked her father.

 

“Oh, I don’t know,” he had hedged. “Smaller turtles, geese,” here he paused suspensefully, “maybe even small children,” he finally suggested.

 

Mary had looked at him with large eyes then giggled, knowing that her father was only teasing her.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Bump-Scrolll.pdf

 

But she was not giggling now as her mind raced to process what creature could possibly have her leg in its grasp. Whatever it could be was winding its way up her leg in slow progress, wrapping around her limb like a vine. Images flashed in Mary’s mind. A snake. An eel. No, not a snake or eel. Mary remembered as a child visiting her Grandmother whom she had been named after. Grandmother Mary had been fond of kissing little Mary on her cheek. Mary thought back now on how she had dreaded that sentiment of affection. Her Grandmother’s kisses were dry and crackling, like crepe paper, but still managed to attach to her face. The thing on her leg felt very much like those kisses, dry and...and scaly, not wet and slimy, as she imagined a snake or eel that had just emerged from the water would feel. And Mary could feel the creature’s body lift and reattach as it climbed, almost as if it possessed...suction cups. Oh my God, she thought, it wasn’t a snake, this was a tentacle, just one arm of something much bigger!

 

Mary could hear a low whimpering sound coming from somewhere nearby. She looked around, but could not locate the source of the mournful sound. That’s when she realized that it was coming from within herself. She was losing her mind and was powerless to stop it from happening. Her ability to think reasonably had gone numb, as she felt the thing continue its assent up her leg and she knew, just knew that when it reached the top, just under the lip of the crack, it would give a mighty tug and would drag her through the hole into the bottomless pond, where it would consume her whole, pulling her into its gigantic, horrifying black maw.

 

In the far recesses of Mary’s mind where logic still existed, she knew that this was physically impossible, the crevice was much too small for her entire body to fit through. But the part of Mary’s brain where sense still resided was subordinate to the part that wholeheartedly believed that this would be her fate.

 

And then Mary felt a sharp sting as something ejected from the thing’s tentacle stuck into her leg. It felt like a razor or small knife as it punctured, sawing in and out of her calf. She could feel blood running down her leg. She realized with horror that the thing did not intend to pull her down through the hole, but rather was planning to cut through her flesh, cartilage and bone until it could make off with her limb, leaving her to bleed out on the bridge above.

 

She let out a long, frightful moan. She started to plead with the thing, as if it were an intelligent being, "Please, please let me go! I'll do whatever you want, just let me go! I don't want to die!" Mary sobbed.

 

 

___

 

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Arkham...So many strange fates can befall you here. A few years ago a woman was ran over by a deer, yes, right in front of the post office! Now you can watch videos of the police officers escorting deer out of town. Been years since they have found any women with twigs shoved down their throats.

 

Death and its bargains. In the early story the man bargained several thousand for the elixir to find out what Death had waiting for him and in the last story Death only bargained for a single coin. Death is always in the market as we find out in The Merchant of Baghdad and Death.

 

A merchant was looking over the bargains on rugs from Afghanistan within the bazaar in Baghdad. As he was examining the quality of the weave the merchant looked up over the rug to the stall in the next aisle to see...Death talking to a great friend of his. First he felt fear for his friend, but then he heard his name. Death was looking for him. .

 

So the merchant jumped on his swiftest horse and made his way for the fastest boat to India.

 

The next day Death asked the merchant’s friend if he had seen him. The friend said he had heard that the merchant boarded the fastest ship for India. Whereupon Death said, “Fine that is where I bargained to find him tomorrow.”

 

Be careful with your bargains, Death can not be cheated. It is true a thief in the night freed Thugra Khotan from Death, but through Conan’s sword he returned.

 

By the way, the Conan statue in Salem, is not a witch, but you do have to wonder what he is doing with his right hand...

Shock Treatment

By Stanley Mullen

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Danvers-State.pdf

 

In Venusport, on payday-night, it is difficult to tell for certain where the town leaves off and the pink elephants begin. It is difficult to tell about other things, too. Spud Newlin had heard that a man could sometimes get rich overnight just tending bar on such occasions, and he was putting the rumor to the test. Not many bartenders had lasted long enough to find out.

 

The night had a good start. Clock hands over the bar in the Spacebell registered 1:18 Venus-time, and considering, things were almost dull at the moment. The place had been jumping earlier, but hilarity had worn itself out, the dead had been removed and excitement dulled. No relatives or widows of the dead sportsmen had yet appeared; all corpses-elect had died clean, with the minimum of messy violence and, surprisingly, only three more or less innocent bystanders had been burned down in the proceedings. After shattering uproar, such calm was disturbing. Newlin was actually getting bored. Then she came in—and he was no longer bored. But, perversely, he resented the surge of interest that ran through him at sight of this out-of-place girl.

 

At a casual glance, she might seem ordinary, but Newlin was never superficial. Her kind of beauty was something to be sensed, not catalogued. It was part of the odd grace of movement, of the fine, angular features, of the curious emotion which dwelt upon them, sad and subdued. Even her costume was as out of place in the Spacebell as her mood; the dress was simply cut and expensive, but drab for the time and place. It clung about a slight, well-formed body in smoothly curved lines that seemed almost a part of her. Only her hands and eyes showed nervous tension.

 

At first he thought her eyes were cold, but it was something racial rather than personal. He noticed that they were large and luminous—like moonstones—with a pearly opaque glimmer as if only upper layers colored and reflected light. In their depths was an odd effect, like metal flakes drifting through ribboned moonlight with abysses of deepest shadow beyond. There was pain, trouble, and sadness in them, and behind that, fear—a desperate fear. You thought of wailing, haunted moonlight, and of dreadful things fled from in dreams.

 

Newlin’s first thought was that she was one of the new-made widows, and was likely to be all too human about it. Later, when he had begun to doubt that she was all-human, her physical charms still went inside him and turned like a dull knife. He was no more immune to animal attraction than the next man, but in this particular woman there was something else even more intriguing and unpredictable. He felt a powerful impulse to do something to relieve her of that paralyzing supernatural dread.

 

A situation pregnant with violence was working up at one of the gaming tables but Newlin wilfully tore his attention from the mounting tension between the fat Martian gambler and an ugly character from Ganymede.

 

“Anything I can do for you, sister?”

 

Her smile was strange, thoughtful, preoccupied. “Yes,” she told him. “There is something you can do for me. Unless your question was purely professional. If so, forget it. I need something stronger than the—the liquors you serve here.”

 

Newlin grinned sourly. “You don’t know our drinks. One sip and a mouse snarls at a snow-leopard. The question was not purely professional. Not my profession, anyhow. I don’t know about yours. Or do I?

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Danvers-State.pdf

 

Her head jerked on its slender stalk of neck. Pale eyes stared into his; her lips twisted in cold scorn.

 

“I don’t think you do. And I’ll do without your help. Perhaps you’d better go back to polishing glassware.”

 

The rebuke failed to impress Newlin. He waited while her glance swung about the room, evaluating the place and its occupants in one quick sweep. Dissatisfied, she turned back to Newlin and again the moonstruck eyes probed and assessed him.

 

“Take your pick,” he said sharply. “But don’t judge them by their clothes. On Venus, a man in ragged space-leather may have heavy pockets. Now, take me—”

 

“I was told I could find Spud Newlin here. Point him out and I’ll pay your fee—”

 

Newlin was suddenly cautious. “Yes, he’s here—but what would a woman like you want with such a notorious—”

 

“I’m asking questions, not answering,” she said calmly. “And I’m well aware of his failings. I selected him because of his ... his reputation. It’s revolting, but even such a man may have uses. My requirements of him, and my reasons for the choice, I will discuss with him. No one else.”

 

“Free advice, sister. Forget it, and get out of here. He’s no good. Particularly bad, for a choice morsel like you.”

 

“I’m used to making up my own mind. Where is he?”

 

Newlin shrugged. “You win. I’m Newlin. You take it from there.”

 

Incredulity flooded her face and slowly drained away. “You! Yes, you could be Newlin. But you’re working here. A famous man like you. Why?”

 

Newlin laughed easily. “It’s very simple. I need money. If I can last through till morning, I’ll have it. Now I’ll ask the questions. You answer them. What do you want? Why me?”

 

A variety of expressions flowed over her mobile features.

 

“But—you could leave?” she faltered.

 

“I could, but I won’t. This isn’t charity night, kid. So go home and come back another time. Tomorrow.”

 

“Tomorrow won’t do. Maybe I’ve chosen the wrong man, but there’s no time for second chances. I wanted a man with courage, a man used to living dangerously and going his own way, a man who wouldn’t ask questions and would do anything for money. You sounded like something out of the old books; a rogue; a rebel.”

 

Newlin sighed. Did it show so much? From the gutter that spawned him, he had fought and gouged and elbowed his way up. To him all men were enemies. As a spacebum, he had explored the raw, expanding frontiers as Man surged from planet to planet. As a hunted outlaw he had existed perilously on the twilight fringes of civilization. Ruthless and savage, a thief and despoiler, a criminal and adventurer, he had found his way back to Earth, Mars, Venus and wrested a niche of sorts within the citadels he had attempted to overthrow. Despite the brittle amnesty, he knew that authority awaited only a single slip to deal with him according to their views. But in the bitterness of ultimate disillusions, he had found the fountainhead as lacking in civilization and sanity as its furthest ripples. He longed, now, only for the final gesture of rejection. Escape....

 

“I had expected more of Newlin,” said the girl.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Danvers-State.pdf

 

His reply was a short, bitter laugh. “So had I. My character is as corrupt as the rest of mankind. Poverty is undignified and degrading; it poisons virtue and debases the outlook. Without money a man cannot claim his birthright of freedom; getting money he loses his independence and his character.”

 

“You think money would make you free?” the girl asked.

 

“Not of itself.” Newlin scowled. “With money, a free man can be free; a slave with money is still a slave. Perhaps I want to learn for myself which I am. I want enough to pay for a spaceship, the best to be had. A one-man ship in which I can escape this madhouse and venture alone—beyond Pluto. Such a plan requires money, so I work in the Spacebell. Between wages, tips, graft and my winnings, I may have half enough, by dawn. If I live that long.”

 

The girl nodded, then spoke contemptuously, “I can pay very generously. You can set your own price. Enough even for your spaceship. But what do you expect to find—beyond Pluto?”

 

“Myself, first. After that, who knows? This solar system is a vast pesthouse. I am contaminated by fools, moneygrubbers, sheep and the corrupt authorities that rule them. What else I find isn’t important if I find myself. Even death.”

 

Newlin’s eyes burned with a hot glare of fanaticism. Dread sprang into the girl’s heart. Always with these people there was this fear, this panic-desire to escape, always an urge to destruction coupled with eerie mysticism, compulsions, conflicts—and always the final delusion of personal sanity in the atmosphere of chaos. Some of Newlin’s words found echo in herself, but she checked a momentary sympathy. The system was mad, true—but how sane was Newlin? How sane and trustworthy? He could be a dangerous tool in her unskilled, frightened hands.

 

She had chosen him on the basis of his reputation. From his police record, and other documents. A capable man, courageous and self-reliant, ingenious, but a person of tensions and conflicts, a man of violence, unpredictable, torn by contradictory impulses, a savage but not without kindness and generosity. For her purposes, he might do as well as any other. At worst a man, cast in heroic mold. Quickly, but not without revulsions and reservations, she made her fateful decision.

 

“For a man of your talents,” she said, “the task should be simple. I want you to break into a building and bring me something. There is danger you would not understand. If you fail, death for both of us. For success, you set the price. Are you interested?”

 

Newlin laughed cynically. “You promise the moon if I can steal it for you, nothing if I can’t?”

 

“No such shrewd bargaining,” the girl murmured uneasily. “But name the amount you hoped to make here. I will match it now—and double it if you accomplish my errand.”

 

“Fair enough,” said Newlin. “But keep your money. I’ll case the job first. Pay me later—if I don’t change my mind again.”

 

Ducking behind the bar, he shed his apron and buzzed for the stand-in bartender. Ed Careld forsook his interminable game of Martian chess and appeared to take over.

 

“Seems quiet,” he said. “What’s up?”

 

“Nothing,” Newlin told him. “Private business. I may not be back. Keep an eye on Table Three.”

 

Careld nodded, eyed the gamblers at Table Three dubiously. He tied his apron carefully and sidled toward the table to oversee the situation and clamp down a lid if necessary. Table Three picked that moment to erupt in profane violence. Three languages splashed pungently in dispute which passed quickly to a climax of crisscrossed heat-beam brilliance. Marksmanship was poor; both the fat Martian and his adversary from Ganymede survived, and only two questionable kibitzers blazed into sudden oblivion. Careld swept up the corpses into neat piles of ash, then tried to warn the combatants against further displays of short temper.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Danvers-State.pdf

 

He died in an outburst of majority resentment, punctuated by heat-beams. Newlin returned behind the counter and buzzed for Careld’s stand-in. Then clutching the girl’s arm, he left the place, dragging her along.

 

The street was dim, silent, deserted. “Where to?” asked Newlin.

 

Her quick nod indicated direction.

 

“Walking distance?” he persisted. “Inside the city? If not, I’ll have to get protection suits from a public locker.”

 

“Just inside. Monta Park.”

 

Newlin whistled. “Nice neighborhood. Do you live there?”

 

“No,” she faltered. “I’m just in from—Earth.”

 

Earth! It was a long time since Newlin had seen Earth. Few of his memories were pleasantly nostalgic. Born there, in the poorest quarter of the international spaceport of Sahara City, his early life had been hard. Both parents had died there, broken from strain and poverty, and Newlin escaped only by stowing away in the dangerous after-holds of a rocketship bound for Mars, risking the unpleasant death from leaking radioactives in preference to being poor on Earth.

 

He had been poor since, in many places, but never with the grinding hopelessness of those early nightmare years. Their mark stayed with him and colored his life. He knew every rat hole of the system, with the same intimacy the rats knew them. Once, on a non-stop express rocket from Mars to Pluto, he had lost a finger and all the toes from his left foot in ceaseless guerilla warfare with rats which had disputed possession of the hold in which he stowed away. More than once he had bummed passage near the atomic fuel vats of cranky old space-freighters that were mere tin cans caulked with chewing gum. As boy and man, he slept in jails from the dark, mad moons of Neptune to the fiery beach-head colonies of Mercury. And with fists, brain and nimble fingers he had written an epic biography in Security Police annals.

 

Like other cities of the space frontier, Venusport was raw and crude, exotically beautiful and cruelly violent. To Newlin it was old stuff, picturesque, with the spicy flavor of a perilous vacation spot. After abrasive years on a dozen planets and habitable moons, the ugly savageries of Venus had only a quaint charm. Survival was always comparatively easy there, and a man shed normal fears with the shredding, blistered skin of spaceburns. He was surprised when the girl shuddered and drew close to him. Her instinctive trust amused him, and he laughed brutally. The sound slashed between them like a chilled blade.

 

They went together, in silence. Faint, flat breeze from the city’s air-conditioners fanned their faces. It was dark enough, and for Venus, reasonably cool. Buildings strewn like a careless giant’s toys formed a vague and monstrous backdrop. Street-lighting was poor, for such luxuries are expensive and the city fathers cared little what happened to the poor, diseased, half-starved nonentities. All streets were crooked aimless alleys, all black and empty. Only near landing stages and space-freight elevators was there any activity. Darkness and the Cyclopean setting gave more menace than intimacy to the dim tangles of avenues and parkways.

 

The girl stopped, panting for breath. Newlin waited for her.

 

“You’re a fool to trust yourself alone with me in a place like this,” he told her grimly.

 

She hugged the loose mantle tightly across her shoulders and tried vainly to read his face in the murk.

 

“If you’re trying to frighten me, you’re wasting time,” she said, “I have more important fears.”

 

Newlin chuckled. Skinny wench, but she had something. There was pride in her, and scorn, and a hot spark that burned through the tones of cold scorn. Something else, too. A hint of desperate courage that baffled him.

 

“I still think you should have tried the panther sweat at the Spacebell,” he suggested. “One sip and—”

 

“I know,” she snapped. “And I hope you’ve had yours for tonight. You’ll need it. We’re almost there.”

 

“In that case, we’d better talk,” he said curtly. “I still know nothing about you. Who you are, what you want? I don’t even know your name.”

 

She spoke in low, vibrant tones, but the language seemed unfamiliar to her. She groped for exact words, extracted subtle meanings. But there was a hesitance, an uneasiness, about speech itself, as if she found it a tedious and inflexible medium for thought expressions.

 

“I told you. In a—building, there is a man I must see. He does not wish to see me, and there are barriers I cannot pass. The building is a combination workshop and living quarters, and something else you would not understand. You must go inside for me and induce him to come out to me. My name is Songeen. Tell him that. He will know me, and perhaps he will come. But it has been so long—”

 

Newlin grunted. “That man I must see. One who wouldn’t come when you whistled. However long it has been?”

 

“He has changed—greatly. He may be insane. He may be dangerous. In self-defense, it may be necessary for you to kill him. For your protection, I have provided a weapon. Use all other means to persuade him first, but threaten if you have to. And be ready to kill if he attacks you. But dead or alive, bring him to me.”

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Danvers-State.pdf

 

Suddenly Newlin disliked his errand. Even more, he disliked himself. For a brittle moment, he was moved to turn back, refuse to carry out a bargain he now regretted. Killing for pay, at the whim of a jealous or scorned woman, was too ugly even for his calloused morality.

 

“Preferably dead?” he asked thinly.

 

“Preferably alive,” Songeen murmured. “You would not understand, of course. It is because I love him. He will not come, but he must have the chance. And I must send a stranger to kill him, because he has—forgotten.”

 

Newlin stiffened angrily. He was on the point of rejecting the girl and her project when a battery of lights moved toward them from the winding lanes of the Park. Too well he knew what they meant.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Spotlight.pdf

 

The spotlight meant violence and sudden death.

 

As the wealthiest district of Venusport, Monta Park was smug, respectable, luxurious—and protected. Roving radio-patrols of Protection Police—privately hired thugs—guarded its dwellers and their possessions. A prowling mono-car slowed and maneuvered to cast a revealing spotlight on the loitering pair. Newlin, had he been alone, might have dodged into the dense shrubbery, but the girl knew better.

 

Calmly she turned to face down the occupants of the PP car, and her haughty expression would have chilled the blood of any PP constable presumptuous enough to question her. Her attitude and the obvious richness of her clothing seemed to satisfy the patrol, for the beam swung briefly and hesitated on Newlin. He dropped behind her like a servant bodyguard and hoped his scuffed space-leather was not too noticeable. The beam held for seconds, then flicked out. Soundlessly the patrol car vanished.

 

Neither spoke as the pair moved quickly into the precincts of the Park. As residence area, it was splashy; a series of interlocked estates rather than expensive mansions packed closely together. Each unit sat alone in sprawling, neatly sheared grounds, landscaped with flowering trees and set with the chill sophistication of statuary in gold, silver and platinum. Botanical splendors from exotic worlds rioted in orderly tangles of aromatic greenery, with sculpture of glass, marble and the noble metals glinting like pale ghosts against the darker masses.

 

Shadows parted before them. Half-hidden among trees rose a slender spire, needle-shaped, tall as a tower, but unwindowed. For a dwelling, its design was curious, and the interior must consist of circular rooms one above the other. At the base, an arched, oval aperture should have been the door, but neither handle nor keyhole showed on the flat, polished plate.

 

“Here we are,” the girl said needlessly, her voice soft as a hint of pain trembled in it. A tremor ran through her body as she thrust out two objects toward him. A key and a gun.

 

“You will need these,” she went on. “He will be in one of the upper rooms. His name is Genarion. Perhaps he will talk with you, especially if you surprise him. But remember, he is deadly. His scientific knowledge is a more frightful weapon than this. So do not hesitate to use violence.”

 

Newlin fumbled the gun into a pocket, fingered the key. It was slim as a needle and as smooth. Without comment, he stared at her as weariness and disgust strangled him.

 

“Tell me your price,” she said quickly, as if in haste to get words out before either could think too much. “I will pay—now.”

 

Shabby bargaining, he thought. But he would call her bluff and force her to back down. “Not money,” he said savagely. “I don’t kill for money. For a woman, yes. I want you.”

 

He expected anger, scorn, even hatred. She gasped and her face went pale and hard. Wilting under his glare, she nodded.

 

“Yes, even that—if you wish. I have no choice.”

 

Newlin felt sick, empty. He no longer desired her, even if she were willing. He despised her and himself. But a bargain was still a bargain. He shrugged.

 

Like an outsize toy, a child’s model of a spaceship, the oddly graceful structure towered upward into arching darkness. Like her, it was slender, radiant, beautiful. Bitterly, he caught the girl, dragged her to him, felt her flesh yielding to him. She leaned and met his lips with hers. The kiss was cold and ugly as writhing snakes. Cold. Ugly. Alien....

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Danvers-State.pdf

 

The key went in smoothly, did not turn. It must have been impregnated with magnetism. Somewhere electronic relays clicked switches faintly. The door was open, its movement indescribable in familiar terms. It neither slid, nor swung on hinges. There was no door, much as if a light had switched off.

 

A rush of air came out. It had the high, sharp tang of ozone, and something unfamiliar.

 

Newlin stood inside what was obviously an airlock valve. A door inside had opened soundlessly.

 

He went on. Beyond the inner doorway was a large circular room. Its dimensions seemed far greater than Newlin would have guessed from the exterior of the building.

 

This was no mere dwelling, no laboratory or workshop. It was a spaceship of radical design. Elfin stair-ladders spiralled up and down. The girders seemed impossibly delicate and fragile, as if their purpose was half-decoration, half-functional; and stresses involved were unimportant. Such support framework was insane—in any kind of spaceship. It had the quality of fairyland architecture, a dream ship woven from the filaments of spiderwebs.

 

But there was hidden strength, and truly functional design, as may be found in spiderwebs. Newlin was no engineer, but he sensed solidity and sound mathematics behind the toy structure’s delicacy.

 

The stair ladder supported him without vibration, without give or any feeling of insecurity. He climbed.

 

Walls and the floor and ceiling bulkheads were rigid to his touch, supported his weight firmly, despite their eggshell-thin appearance of fragility. There were no corners; everything fused together seamlessly in smooth curves. Walls were self-luminous and oddly cool.

 

The lower chambers were bare of all furnishing. Higher levels contained a hodgepodge of implements, all in the same light, strong formula of design. But none familiar, either as to material or their possible function. There were machines, but all too simple. Neither the bulk of atomic engines nor the intricate complexities inseparable from electric or combustion motors.

 

Newlin was puzzled.

 

He stopped to listen, feeling like an intruder into a strange world. The building, or spaceship, ached with silence.

 

Another stairwell beckoned. He climbed, slowly, with increased caution. It would do no harm to have the gun in hand, ready. Where was the man who lived in such a place? And what sort of man could he be? What would he have in common with the frightened, haughty girl outside? The obvious explanation no longer satisfied.

 

As Newlin ascended, another floor opened and widened to his vision. The stair-ladder ended here. It was the top floor. But this chamber seemed infinitely larger than the others. At first there was no sight of the man. Newlin stood alone in the center of a vast area. He did not seem indoors at all.

 

Endless vistas extended to infinity in all directions. In all directions save one, in which stood a tall shadow. Newlin gasped. It was his shadow, detached, seemingly solid.

 

Three-dimensional, it stood stock still. It moved when he moved. He gasped, then found the answer. By the shadow’s echo of his movements, he could trace a vague outline of encirclement.

 

The walls were a screen, a circle about the room upon which were cast pictures so perfect that the beholder had illusion of being surrounded by eerie, exotic landscapes. The scenes were panoramic, all taken at the same angle, by the same camera, and so cunningly fused into a whole that the effect was beyond mere artifice. For a moment, Newlin had stood within the strange world, its crystalline forms and strange jeweled life as tri-dimensional and real as himself.

 

It was a large screen, alive with light, alive with dancing, flickering figures. There was no visible projector, and the images were disturbingly solid and real. There was depth, without any perception of perspective. It was a reflection of reality, cast upon the plane of circling walls.

 

Then a man stepped from the screen. He had been invisible, because the projected images had flowed and accommodated themselves to his metal-cloth smock. For the moment, he had been part of the screen.

 

Newlin could not tear his eyes from that glaring plane of illusion. Something about the glare played havoc with nerves, and a faint hint of diabolical sound tortured his brain. No such world could exist in a sane universe. Not even with its terrible and heartbreakingly poignant beauty. It was a vision of Hell, bright with impossible octaves of light, splendid with raging infernos of blinding color, some of it beyond the visible range of human sight. And there was sound, pouring in maddening floods, sound in nerve-shattering symphonies like the tinkling clatter of many Chinese wind bells of glass, all pouring out cascades of brittle, crystalline uproar.

 

Sound and light rose in storming crescendos, beyond sight and beyond hearing. They ranged into madness.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Danvers-State.pdf

 

Newlin screamed, tried to cover eyes and ears at once. He tried to run, but nerve-agony paralyzed movement. He was chained to the spot.

 

Sound and color descended simultaneously into bearable range.

 

He stared at the man he had come to see. He stared and the man stared back.

 

“Genarion?” Newlin asked, his voice thin and vague among the tumultuous harmonies bursting from the screen.

 

“Who are you that calls me by that name?” cried Genarion. He spoke in the same curious manner as the girl. He showed amazement, mixed with an ugly kind of terror. “You’re not one of them!”

 

“Them?” Newlin said, striving for sanity as sound and light swelled again. His brain reeled. “Songeen sent me—!”

 

Speech itself was a supreme effort.

 

Genarion was beyond speech. Tigerishly, he moved. He leaped upon Newlin and thrust him back. Newlin sprawled painfully, his back arched and twisted by invisible machinery.

 

Genarion stood with a gun in his hand. Aiming hastily, he pressed trigger. The beam flashed and licked charred cloth and smoking leather from Newlin’s sleeve. There was an odd jangle from the invisible machinery which gouged so tangibly into Newlin’s body.

 

Instinctively, Newlin fired. He did not bother to aim. For him, such a shot was point blank, impossible to miss.

 

Genarion staggered. Part of his body vaporized and hung in dazzling mist as the projected images of light played over it.

 

Dazed, Newlin scrambled to his feet. He was sick. But the screen held him. He stared, hypnotized. Images jigged and flowed in constant, eery rhythms. They moved and melted and rearranged themselves in altered patterns, without ever losing their identities or the illusion of solidity. The scene was not part of Venus, or of any world Newlin had seen. He had seen every planet or moon in the Solar system. But this was different, alien, frightening.

 

And the screen was not really a screen at all, for the body of Genarion, hideous in the distortion of death, lay halfway through its plane. And it was changing, subtly, as he watched. It was no longer even a man, totally unhuman, as alien as the world it lay partway in. The body flowed, molten, hideous.

 

The screen was a surrealist painting, come alive, solid and real. And the solid, physical body of Genarion was part of it. He was dead, but real. His alien form was a bridge between two worlds, and now dead, Genarion was alien to both of them.

 

It was madness. The madness of the screen communicated itself to Newlin. Before his shocked eyes, Genarion’s body began to steam and rise in a cloud of vaporous, glittering crystals. Swiftly the haze dissipated. It was gone, gone invisibly into the alien world. Whatever Newlin had killed, it was not human, not a man.

 

Newlin turned and fled down the fairy stair-ladder.

 

He went through the still-open airlock doors and out into the screaming night. Behind him alarms were ringing frantically. Now they would be ringing in the stations of the Protection Police and call orders would go out to the radio-equipped prowl cars. Police would converge swiftly.

 

Sound shattered the night stillness. From far away, coming closer, was the shrill wail of a siren. Other sirens.

 

There was a harsh bleat of police whistles, near at hand. Newlin’s imagination quivered with the possibility of blaster beams thrusting at his back. He fled.

 

The alarms had burst into sound too quickly. Had the girl set the police on him, waiting only long enough to make sure he would accomplish his mission?

 

Whatever he had been set to kill, had not been human. Not a man. Intuitively, Newlin realized that the girl had anticipated everything. She knew what would happen, he reflected bitterly. She had promised payment only on delivery of a corpse, when there could be no corpse.

 

Spud Newlin, Sucker No. 1.

 

Conscience did not trouble him. After all, the man—or the thing—had fired first, without warning, without waiting to hear him out. Without waiting for details like identity, or even asking to hear the message he brought. It was self-defense, in a peculiar way.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Danvers-State.pdf

 

Newlin ran and tried to lose himself in the shadowy fastness of Monta Park. He was not surprised that the girl had not troubled to wait and meet him.

 

He was not even angry. It was part of the game.

 

The Protection Police radios were carrying the alarm. Soon the Security Police would take up the hunt. If the girl had turned him in, she would be able to give a detailed and accurate description. Newlin guessed that he would be lucky to last even the few hours till daylight—or what passes for daylight on cloud-shrouded Venus.

 

Long before then, his career might end suddenly in a wild network of blaster or heat beams. By dawn he would very likely be crumpled among the ash cans and refuse in any dark alley.

 

But still the city would be his best bet. No use beating his way to the spaceport landing stages. Space Patrol units must have been notified, and would already be searching all outgoing units.

 

For the moment, he had a brief interval of grace in which to think things over and try, if only for his own satisfaction, to figure out what had happened. It—whatever it was—had writhed hideously when the blaster beam drove home. Part of it vaporized instantly, and the organs revealed did not even look animal. Eerie, geometric, but not the naked electronic symmetries of a mechanical robot. Not metal. But what? Collapsed like wet sacking, it had lain half-inside and half-outside the screen. He could not recall clearly its rapid mutations of form after that.

 

Did it matter? The alarms were out. Blaring metallic clangor, and the uncanny banshee wailing of the hunting sirens. Police care little who is murdered in the nameless dives of Venusport, but let one of the lordly rich men die, and all Hell is loosed on the killer.

 

If the girl had turned in the alarm, it was only a matter of time. They would have his name and number; his ident-card would be listed and reproduced, sent everywhere. They would probably have the robot trackers out, those hideous electronic bloodhounds which can unerringly sort out a man’s trail from the infinity of other scents and markings, following not smell, but a curious tangle of electrical impulses left by his body like static electricity or intangible magnetism. No layman could even guess how such a robot worked, but fugitives had learned to dread its infallible tracking ability.

 

Newlin fled, and as he went, he cursed himself for getting involved in such a nightmare.

 

Figures moved and blundered about him in the darkness of the park, but none got in his way. None seemed to notice him. Since it was not a man he had killed, perhaps others hunted him; other remote, alien beings he could not see, or sense.

 

The girl would know, of course. If he could find her. But she had vanished before he ever issued from the strange tower, and it was highly unlikely that he would ever see her again.

 

Chance, and a sudden rush of blue-clad figures across a street ahead of him, turned Newlin back toward his own, familiar part of town. The scant shelter of shadows in deserted alleyways was a comfort, but little real protection. He had friends, of a peculiar sort, in the old native quarter, and the Spacebell lay just outside the fringe of the mutants’ district, where the half-human natives laired up. These friends might hide him, for a while, although such refuge was of little use against the robot-trackers.

 

By daylight, he could be smuggled outside the domed city, and once into the wastelands, there was a chance. Not a good one; but there, even the robot-tracker could hardly come upon him without his knowledge. A lucky blaster shot would leave a blank trail and a shattered robot for his pursuers to follow. He wondered if they would risk another such expensive machine merely to hunt down a murderer in the wastelands. Scarcely, when the wastelands would kill the fugitive sooner or later anyhow.

 

His first task was to reach the Spacebell and collect his pay. Then to get protection-armor, against the peril of sandstorms and the radioactive sinks that spot the old sea-beds outside Venusport. After that, the native quarter, if he lived to reach it.

 

Shortly before daylight, he turned the last alley-corner and came in sight of the Spacebell.

 

A shadow stirred with movement. A lithe, loosely draped figure hurried to meet him. It was the girl—Songeen.

 

“Don’t go in there,” she said. “They know who you are, and the police are waiting for you.”

 

Newlin felt numb all over. “How did they know? Did you tell them?” he snapped.

 

“Of course not. Don’t be a fool. Would I inform, then wait to warn you? I did not know he had automatic alarms, and automatic cameras to make records of anyone who came into the—the place. It was the pictures. They were identified with your ident-card at the Central Police Bureau. And the robot-trackers are out.”

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Danvers-State.pdf

 

Newlin and Songeen studied each other for a long moment of silence.

 

“I guess it doesn’t matter now,” Newlin said finally, “but I’m glad you didn’t turn me in. I might almost as well give up and get the thing over with. There’s no place to run. Not without money.”

 

Songeen produced a small sack of platinum coins which jingled as she offered it.

 

“That’s one reason I tried to find you. After the alarms, I knew I would only handicap your flight. I hid. Then I came here, because I thought you might come back. I’m sorry I have no more money, but the rest is all in credits. It would be no help to you in the wastelands.”

 

“I see,” muttered Newlin. “Why did you care? Were you afraid I’d talk if the Police caught me?”

 

Songeen shrugged coldly. “No, I hadn’t thought of that. But I think I owe you something. Murderer’s wages. I knew you couldn’t fulfil your bargain when you made it. But, in a way, I am responsible for you.”

 

“In a way,” agreed Newlin bitterly. He snatched at the bag of coins. “This will do. Thanks for nothing.”

 

“Don’t blame me too much. I had no choice, and I did not know it would work out like this.”

 

“Perhaps not, but next time do your own killing. It’s rough on both your victims.”

 

Songeen was crying, tearless wracking sobs that shook her frail body.

 

“I’m sorry,” she moaned. “But I couldn’t even get in to see him. He knew the exact vibration level of my body, and had set supersonic traps to kill me if I tried to enter. Even my bones would have shattered. I would have died painfully and horribly. I would rather have died myself than cause his death. Believe that. There is always a third victim. He was my husband, and I loved him. You can’t understand, of course—”

 

“I understand less than ever now.” Newlin knew that it was madness to remain so close to the Spacebell. But he could not force himself to leave Songeen. She seemed near collapse.

 

A thought struck him. “Say, is there anything there to tie you up with this business?”

 

Songeen gave a wry thrust of her thin shoulders. “Much—but does it matter? It was my—our home. Before he tricked me outside and would not let me return. They don’t know what happened—yet. But there will be enough evidence against both of us. Part of what you saw was illusion. His body is still there. Changed—but the trackers can identify it. The charge is murder, and they will want both of us. Not just you.”

 

“Come with me.” Newlin spoke harshly—sharply.

 

The girl’s eyes flickered. “Are you threatening me?”

 

“No. It’s just that I’ve led them to you. We’re in the same boat now. With the mechanical hounds on our heels. They will connect you through me, now that our trails have crossed. And they’ll follow both of us. How will you manage?”

 

Songeen smiled wearily. “One always takes risks. I came here prepared for—anything.”

 

“Don’t be a fool! Protection Police don’t stop to ask questions. They’re hired Killers.”

 

“I suppose not. What do you suggest?”

 

“Run and hide. Come with me, if you like. But suit yourself. I’m getting out of here. Out into the wastelands. It’s almost dawn now. In the city, we’re lost. Outside, there’s a chance. A poor one, but—”

 

 

 

___

 

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Why can’t WOMEN just kill their husbands on their own. Mary Jo never even paid my little friend Cthulhu ‘s cousin under the bridge...

 

So the image of the building in the section break icon is of Arkham Asylum. Once a horrendous asylum for the deranged; closed and remodelled and turned into luxury condos.

 

Do you get the logic...

 

You have to be crazy to live in a mental asylum and for us in Arkham it is our pesthouse supervised by the Venusians. The wardens walk down the streets in Arkham and blend in perfect; for everyday in the Witch City it is Halloween.

 

Cthulu fishing on bridge with monster in the water raising a tentacle with a sign saying hi.

 

 

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Beyond-Lies-the-Wub.png

 

Beyond Lies the Wub

By Phillip K. Dick

 

"The slovenly wub might well have said: Many men talk like philosophers and live like fools."

 

THEY had almost finished with the loading. Outside stood the Optus, his arms folded, his face sunk in gloom. Captain Franco walked leisurely down the gangplank, grinning.

 

“What’s the matter?” he said. “You’re getting paid for all this.”

 

The Optus said nothing. He turned away, collecting his robes. The Captain put his boot on the hem of the robe.

 

“Just a minute. Don’t go off. I’m not finished.”

 

“Oh?” The Optus turned with dignity. “I am going back to the village.” He looked toward the animals and birds being driven up the gangplank into the spaceship. “I must organize new hunts.”

 

Franco lit a cigarette. “Why not? You people can go out into the veldt and track it all down again. But when we run out halfway between Mars and Earth—”

 

The Optus went off, wordless. Franco joined the first mate at the bottom of the gangplank.

 

“How’s it coming?” he said. He looked at his watch. “We got a good bargain here.”

 

The mate glanced at him sourly. “How do you explain that?”

 

“What’s the matter with you? We need it more than they do.”

 

“I’ll see you later, Captain.” The mate threaded his way up the plank, between the long-legged Martian go-birds, into the ship. Franco watched him disappear. He was just starting up after him, up the plank toward the port, when he saw it.

 

“My God!” He stood staring, his hands on his hips. Peterson was walking along the path, his face red, leading it by a string.

 

“I’m sorry, Captain,” he said, tugging at the string. Franco walked toward him.

 

“What is it?”

 

The wub stood sagging, its great body settling slowly. It was sitting down, its eyes half shut. A few flies buzzed about its flank, and it switched its tail.

 

It sat. There was silence.

 

“It’s a wub,” Peterson said. “I got it from a native for fifty cents. He said it was a very unusual animal. Very respected.”

 

“This?” Franco poked the great sloping side of the wub. “It’s a pig! A huge dirty pig!”

 

“Yes sir, it’s a pig. The natives call it a wub.”

 

“A huge pig. It must weigh four hundred pounds.” Franco grabbed a tuft of the rough hair. The wub gasped. Its eyes opened, small and moist. Then its great mouth twitched.

 

A tear rolled down the wub’s cheek and splashed on the floor.

 

“Maybe it’s good to eat,” Peterson said nervously.

 

“We’ll soon find out,” Franco said.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Butcher-Knife copy.pdf

 

THE wub survived the take-off, sound asleep in the hold of the ship. When they were out in space and everything was running smoothly, Captain Franco bade his men fetch the wub upstairs so that he might perceive what manner of beast it was.

 

The wub grunted and wheezed, squeezing up the passageway.

 

“Come on,” Jones grated, pulling at the rope. The wub twisted, rubbing its skin off on the smooth chrome walls. It burst into the ante-room, tumbling down in a heap. The men leaped up.

 

“Good Lord,” French said. “What is it?”

 

“Peterson says it’s a wub,” Jones said. “It belongs to him.” He kicked at the wub. The wub stood up unsteadily, panting.

 

“What’s the matter with it?” French came over. “Is it going to be sick?”

 

They watched. The wub rolled its eyes mournfully. It gazed around at the men.

 

“I think it’s thirsty,” Peterson said. He went to get some water. French shook his head.

 

“No wonder we had so much trouble taking off. I had to reset all my ballast calculations.”

 

Peterson came back with the water. The wub began to lap gratefully, splashing the men.

 

Captain Franco appeared at the door.

 

“Let’s have a look at it.” He advanced, squinting critically. “You got this for fifty cents?”

 

“Yes, sir,” Peterson said. “It eats almost anything. I fed it on grain and it liked that. And then potatoes, and mash, and scraps from the table, and milk. It seems to enjoy eating. After it eats it lies down and goes to sleep.”

 

“I see,” Captain Franco said. “Now, as to its taste. That’s the real question. I doubt if there’s much point in fattening it up any more. It seems fat enough to me already. Where’s the cook? I want him here. I want to find out—”

 

The wub stopped lapping and looked up at the Captain.

 

“Really, Captain,” the wub said. “I suggest we talk of other matters.”

 

The room was silent.

 

“What was that?” Franco said. “Just now.”

 

“The wub, sir,” Peterson said. “It spoke.”

 

They all looked at the wub.

 

“What did it say? What did it say?”

 

“It suggested we talk about other things.”

 

Franco walked toward the wub. He went all around it, examining it from every side. Then he came back over and stood with the men.

 

“I wonder if there’s a native inside it,” he said thoughtfully. “Maybe we should open it up and have a look.”

 

“Oh, goodness!” the wub cried. “Is that all you people can think of, killing and cutting?”

 

Franco clenched his fists. “Come out of there! Whoever you are, come out!”

 

Nothing stirred. The men stood together, their faces blank, staring at the wub. The wub swished its tail. It belched suddenly.

 

“I beg your pardon,” the wub said.

 

“I don’t think there’s anyone in there,” Jones said in a low voice. They all looked at each other.

 

The cook came in.

 

“You wanted me, Captain?” he said. “What’s this thing?”

 

“This is a wub,” Franco said. “It’s to be eaten. Will you measure it and figure out—”

 

“I think we should have a talk,” the wub said. “I’d like to discuss this with you, Captain, if I might. I can see that you and I do not agree on some basic issues.”

 

The Captain took a long time to answer. The wub waited good-naturedly, licking the water from its jowls.

 

“Come into my office,” the Captain said at last. He turned and walked out of the room. The wub rose and padded after him. The men watched it go out. They heard it climbing the stairs.

 

“I wonder what the outcome will be,” the cook said. “Well, I’ll be in the kitchen. Let me know as soon as you hear.”

 

“Sure,” Jones said. “Sure.”

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Butcher-Knife copy.pdf

 

THE wub eased itself down in the corner with a sigh. “You must forgive me,” it said. “I’m afraid I’m addicted to various forms of relaxation. When one is as large as I—”

 

The Captain nodded impatiently. He sat down at his desk and folded his hands.

 

“All right,” he said. “Let’s get started. You’re a wub? Is that correct?”

 

The wub shrugged. “I suppose so. That’s what they call us, the natives, I mean. We have our own term.”

 

“And you speak English? You’ve been in contact with Earthmen before?”

 

“No.”

 

“Then how do you do it?”

 

“Speak English? Am I speaking English? I’m not conscious of speaking anything in particular. I examined your mind—”

 

“My mind?”

 

“I studied the contents, especially the semantic warehouse, as I refer to it—”

 

“I see,” the Captain said. “Telepathy. Of course.”

 

“We are a very old race,” the wub said. “Very old and very ponderous. It is difficult for us to move around. You can appreciate that anything so slow and heavy would be at the mercy of more agile forms of life. There was no use in our relying on physical defenses. How could we win? Too heavy to run, too soft to fight, too good-natured to hunt for game—”

 

“How do you live?”

 

“Plants. Vegetables. We can eat almost anything. We’re very catholic. Tolerant, eclectic, catholic. We live and let live. That’s how we’ve gotten along.”

 

The wub eyed the Captain.

 

“And that’s why I so violently objected to this business about having me boiled. I could see the image in your mind—most of me in the frozen food locker, some of me in the kettle, a bit for your pet cat—”

 

“So you read minds?” the Captain said. “How interesting. Anything else? I mean, what else can you do along those lines?”

 

“A few odds and ends,” the wub said absently, staring around the room. “A nice apartment you have here, Captain. You keep it quite neat. I respect life-forms that are tidy. Some Martian birds are quite tidy. They throw things out of their nests and sweep them—”

 

“Indeed.” The Captain nodded. “But to get back to the problem—”

 

“Quite so. You spoke of dining on me. The taste, I am told, is good. A little fatty, but tender. But how can any lasting contact be established between your people and mine if you resort to such barbaric attitudes? Eat me? Rather you should discuss questions with me, philosophy, the arts—”

 

The Captain stood up. “Philosophy. It might interest you to know that we will be hard put to find something to eat for the next month. An unfortunate spoilage—”

 

“I know.” The wub nodded. “But wouldn’t it be more in accord with your principles of democracy if we all drew straws, or something along that line? After all, democracy is to protect the minority from just such infringements. Now, if each of us casts one vote—”

 

The Captain walked to the door.

 

“Nuts to you,” he said. He opened the door. He opened his mouth.

 

He stood frozen, his mouth wide, his eyes staring, his fingers still on the knob.

 

The wub watched him. Presently it padded out of the room, edging past the Captain. It went down the hall, deep in meditation.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Butcher-Knife copy.pdf

 

THE room was quiet.

 

“So you see,” the wub said, “we have a common myth. Your mind contains many familiar myth symbols. Ishtar, Odysseus—”

 

Peterson sat silently, staring at the floor. He shifted in his chair.

 

“Go on,” he said. “Please go on.”

 

“I find in your Odysseus a figure common to the mythology of most self-conscious races. As I interpret it, Odysseus wanders as an individual, aware of himself as such. This is the idea of separation, of separation from family and country. The process of individuation.”

 

“But Odysseus returns to his home.” Peterson looked out the port window, at the stars, endless stars, burning intently in the empty universe. “Finally he goes home.”

 

“As must all creatures. The moment of separation is a temporary period, a brief journey of the soul. It begins, it ends. The wanderer returns to land and race....”

 

The door opened. The wub stopped, turning its great head.

 

Captain Franco came into the room, the men behind him. They hesitated at the door.

 

“Are you all right?” French said.

 

“Do you mean me?” Peterson said, surprised. “Why me?”

 

Franco lowered his gun. “Come over here,” he said to Peterson. “Get up and come here.”

 

There was silence.

 

“Go ahead,” the wub said. “It doesn’t matter.”

 

Peterson stood up. “What for?”

 

“It’s an order.”

 

Peterson walked to the door. French caught his arm.

 

“What’s going on?” Peterson wrenched loose. “What’s the matter with you?”

 

Captain Franco moved toward the wub. The wub looked up from where it lay in the corner, pressed against the wall.

 

“It is interesting,” the wub said, “that you are obsessed with the idea of eating me. I wonder why.”

 

“Get up,” Franco said.

 

“If you wish.” The wub rose, grunting. “Be patient. It is difficult for me.” It stood, gasping, its tongue lolling foolishly.

 

“Shoot it now,” French said.

 

“For God’s sake!” Peterson exclaimed. Jones turned to him quickly, his eyes gray with fear.

 

“You didn’t see him—like a statue, standing there, his mouth open. If we hadn’t come down, he’d still be there.”

 

“Who? The Captain?” Peterson stared around. “But he’s all right now.”

 

They looked at the wub, standing in the middle of the room, its great chest rising and falling.

 

“Come on,” Franco said. “Out of the way.”

 

The men pulled aside toward the door.

 

“You are quite afraid, aren’t you?” the wub said. “Have I done anything to you? I am against the idea of hurting. All I have done is try to protect myself. Can you expect me to rush eagerly to my death? I am a sensible being like yourselves. I was curious to see your ship, learn about you. I suggested to the native—”

 

The gun jerked.

 

“See,” Franco said. “I thought so.”

 

The wub settled down, panting. It put its paw out, pulling its tail around it.

 

“It is very warm,” the wub said. “I understand that we are close to the jets. Atomic power. You have done many wonderful things with it—technically. Apparently, your scientific hierarchy is not equipped to solve moral, ethical—”

 

Franco turned to the men, crowding behind him, wide-eyed, silent.

 

“I’ll do it. You can watch.”

 

French nodded. “Try to hit the brain. It’s no good for eating. Don’t hit the chest. If the rib cage shatters, we’ll have to pick bones out.”

 

“Listen,” Peterson said, licking his lips. “Has it done anything? What harm has it done? I’m asking you. And anyhow, it’s still mine. You have no right to shoot it. It doesn’t belong to you.”

 

Franco raised his gun.

 

“I’m going out,” Jones said, his face white and sick. “I don’t want to see it.”

 

“Me, too,” French said. The men straggled out, murmuring. Peterson lingered at the door.

 

“It was talking to me about myths,” he said. “It wouldn’t hurt anyone.”

 

He went outside.

 

Franco walked toward the wub. The wub looked up slowly. It swallowed.

 

“A very foolish thing,” it said. “I am sorry that you want to do it. There was a parable that your Saviour related—”

 

It stopped, staring at the gun.

 

“Can you look me in the eye and do it?” the wub said. “Can you do that?”

 

The Captain gazed down. “I can look you in the eye,” he said. “Back on the farm we had hogs, dirty razor-back hogs. I can do it.”

 

Staring down at the wub, into the gleaming, moist eyes, he pressed the trigger.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Butcher-Knife copy.pdf

 

THE taste was excellent.

 

They sat glumly around the table, some of them hardly eating at all. The only one who seemed to be enjoying himself was Captain Franco.

 

“More?” he said, looking around. “More? And some wine, perhaps.”

 

“Not me,” French said. “I think I’ll go back to the chart room.”

 

“Me, too.” Jones stood up, pushing his chair back. “I’ll see you later.”

 

The Captain watched them go. Some of the others excused themselves.

 

“What do you suppose the matter is?” the Captain said. He turned to Peterson. Peterson sat staring down at his plate, at the potatoes, the green peas, and at the thick slab of tender, warm meat.

 

He opened his mouth. No sound came.

 

The Captain put his hand on Peterson’s shoulder.

 

“It is only organic matter, now,” he said. “The life essence is gone.” He ate, spooning up the gravy with some bread. “I, myself, love to eat. It is one of the greatest things that a living creature can enjoy. Eating, resting, meditation, discussing things.”

 

Peterson nodded. Two more men got up and went out. The Captain drank some water and sighed.

 

“Well,” he said. “I must say that this was a very enjoyable meal. All the reports I had heard were quite true—the taste of wub. Very fine. But I was prevented from enjoying this pleasure in times past.”

 

He dabbed at his lips with his napkin and leaned back in his chair. Peterson stared dejectedly at the table.

 

The Captain watched him intently. He leaned over.

 

“Come, come,” he said. “Cheer up! Let’s discuss things.”

 

He smiled.

 

“As I was saying before I was interrupted, the role of Odysseus in the myths—”

 

Peterson jerked up, staring.

 

“To go on,” the Captain said. “Odysseus, as I understand him—”

 

 

First Appeared in Planet Stories July 1952

 

Illustrator: Herman Vestal

 

 

 

 

 

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Death is full of surprises. You never know until you bite into it...then it is too late. That reminds me of Socrates’ last words, ‘I drank what?’

 

Well we left Henry face down in the mud under Cedar Bridge with Death waiting behind him in the field. So lets see if he survives.

 

Strange to think about it, Solomon was the first person to lose the Ark...

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Cthulu-Ark.pdf

 

 

 

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For only $5 you can flip these cards over and as easy as snapping a picture of the QR code on the back instantaneously have a fabulous new eBook on your device.

 

Look for them at your local stores!

 

If you would like to sell our cards and become part of our new distribution network that gives a fair shake to all authors, illustrators, and publishers please click here and get us out of the professional consingment industry. Artistic folk should not have an all or nothing life, we have the same right as a plumber to make a living wage and buy a house. That is all!

 

 

 

OUR AUTHORS and ILLUSTRATORS

 

Battle at Cedar Bridge Tavern

 

Christopher Jon Luke Dowgin: Author & Illustrator

 

There is a Reaper

 

Charles Vincent de Vet: Author & Illustrator

 

Black Colossus

 

Robert E. Howard: Author
Christopher Jon Luke Dowgin: Illustrator

 

Things that go Bump

 

Lisa Deschenes: Author

 

Sabrina King: Illustrator

 

Shock Treatment

 

Stanley Mullen: Author

 

Wilson: Illustrator

 

Beyond Lies the Wub

 

Philip K. Dick: Author

 

Herman Vestal : Illustrator

 

 

 

 

Bio...

 

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Christopher Jon Luke Dowgin:

 


Author and illustrator.
Chris has written over 16 books of which 14 he has illustrated including The Salem Trilogy, Tales from Mr. Pelinger’s House, Max Teller’s Amazing Adventure, and Tyler Moves to Gibsonton Florida. He is also the creator of The Sinclair Narratives which Battle at Cedar Bridge Tavern is one of the many short stories from the series. Look for the first novel of The Sinclair Narratives, Murder on the Common.

 

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Charles Vincent de Vet

 

(born October 28, 1911 in Fayette , Michigan ; died January 5, 1997)

 

Author. A first SF short story De Vets, The Unexpected Weapon, appeared in Amazing Stories in September 1950. In the following years until 1991 he published over 50 short stories and two novels. His first novel Second Game, co-written with Katherine MacLean , is about a person who has to take part in a dangerous tournament on an alien planet where social status depends on success in a chess-like game. The novel came in the short novel category in the final selection of the Hugo Awards in 1959.

 

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W. E. Terry

 

Illustrator. His works include The Beasts in the Void, Prelude to Space, Unthinkable, The Unthinking Destroyer, and Daughters of Doom.

 

 

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Robert E. Howard

(January 22, 1906 – June 11, 1936)

 

Author. Although a Conan novel was nearly published in 1934, Howard’s stories were never collected during his lifetime. The main outlet for his stories was Weird Tales, where Howard created Conan the Barbarian. With Conan and his other heroes, Howard helped fashion the genre now known as sword and sorcery, spawning many imitators and giving him a large influence in the fantasy field. Howard remains a highly-read author, with his best works still reprinted.

 

As the son of the local doctor, Howard had frequent exposure to injury and violence, due to accidents on farms and oil fields combined with the massive increase in crime that came with the oil boom developed his distinctly Texan, hardboiled outlook on the world. Sports, especially boxing, became a passionate preoccupation.

 

In 1930 he wrote a letter praising H.P. Lovecraft who was also writing in Weird Tales. This led to a long friendship between Lovecraft and his circle of friends who built upon each other mythologies they drew from to write their works. Before Conan he was famous for his boxing characters, Kull, Gaelic stories, and Solomon Kane. Conan was created in 1932.

 

Salem House Press offers Conan the Barbarian: Tales of High Adventure featuring all of the tales depicting Conan with the original illustrations from Weird Science.

 

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Lisa Deschenes

 

Author. Lisa is the author of the Salem Cemetery series of macabre literature. She is an early development educator and professor at Endicott College. She has lived in Salem her whole life and thrives in its 12 month out of the year Halloweenesque flavor. An avid car collector and hot shit.

 

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Sabrina King



Illustrator. Arkham native currently living in Portland Maine. An avid urban explorer of the dark recesses of civilization.

 

Þrúðr:Salem House Press:Arkham Tales From the Flipside:Spring 2020:Stanley-Mullen.pdf

 

Stanley Mullen

(June 20, 1911 – 1974)

 

Author. He was an American artist, short story writer, novelist and publisher. Mullen wrote over 200 stories and articles in a variety of fields. He became involved with the small press publisher New Collector’s Group (co-founded by Paul Dennis O’Connor and Martin Greenberg) before starting his own small press publisher, Gorgon Press, in 1948. Illustrator: Wilson.

 

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Philip K. Dick

(December 16, 1928 – March 2, 1982)

 


Author.
was an American writer known for his work in science fiction. He produced 44 published novels and approximately 121 short stories, most of which appeared in science fiction magazines during his lifetime. His fiction explored varied philosophical and social themes, and featured recurrent elements such as alternate realities, simulacra, large corporations, drug abuse, authoritarian governments, and altered states of consciousness. His work was concerned with questions surrounding the nature of reality, perception, human nature, and identity.

 

A variety of popular Hollywood films based on Dick’s works have been produced, although not always under the same title as the original work, including Blade Runner (1982), Total Recall (adapted twice: in 1990 and in 2012), Minority Report (2002), A Scanner Darkly (2006), and The Adjustment Bureau (2011). The novel The Man in the High Castle (1962) was made into a multi-season television series by Amazon, starting in 2015.

 

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Herman Vestal

( March 27, 191 -September 16, 2007)

 

Illustrator. In 1947 his pen and ink story illustrations began to appear in pulp magazines produced by Fiction House Publications, such as Action Stories, All-America Football, Baseball Stories, Fight Stories, Frontier Stories, Jungle Stories, Lariat, Planet Stories, Two Complete Science-Fiction Adventure Books, Two Western Books, and Wings.

 

During the 1960s he illustrated several young adult books published by Grosset & Dunlap and Companion Library.

 

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