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Chapter Eleven
Blood-Bank Of The Damned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carol screamed at the sight that met her eyes.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White, her rescuer, was the Skull Killer!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arid Carol shivered at the sight of his smile.

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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