He was already a thief, prepared to steal again. He didn't know that he
himself was only booty!
Phil Garfield was thirty miles south of the little town of Redmon on
Route Twelve when he was startled by a series of sharp, clanking noises.
They came from under the Packard's hood.
The car immediately began to lose speed. Garfield jammed down the
accelerator, had a sense of sick helplessness at the complete lack of
response from the motor. The Packard rolled on, getting rid of its
momentum, and came to a stop.
Phil Garfield swore shakily. He checked his watch, switched off the
headlights and climbed out into the dark road. A delay of even half an
hour here might be disastrous. It was past midnight, and he had another
hundred and ten miles to cover to reach the small private airfield where
Madge waited for him and the thirty thousand dollars in the suitcase on
the Packard's front seat.
If he didn't make it before daylight....
He thought of the bank guard. The man had made a clumsy play at being a
hero, and that had set off the fool woman who'd run screaming into their
line of fire. One dead. Perhaps two. Garfield hadn't stopped to look at
an evening paper.
But he knew they were hunting for him.
He glanced up and down the road. No other headlights in sight at the
moment, no light from a building showing on the forested hills. He
reached back into the car and brought out the suitcase, his gun, a big
flashlight and the box of shells which had been standing beside the
suitcase. He broke the box open, shoved a handful of shells and the .38
into his coat pocket, then took suitcase and flashlight over to the
shoulder of the road and set them down.
There was no point in groping about under the Packard's hood. When it
came to mechanics, Phil Garfield was a moron and well aware of it. The
car was useless to him now ... except as bait.
But as bait it might be very useful.
Should he leave it standing where it was? No, Garfield decided. To
anybody driving past it would merely suggest a necking party, or a drunk
sleeping off his load before continuing home. He might have to wait an
hour or more before someone decided to stop. He didn't have the time. He
reached in through the window, hauled the top of the steering wheel
towards him and put his weight against the rear window frame.
The Packard began to move slowly backwards at a slant across the road.
In a minute or two he had it in position. Not blocking the road
entirely, which would arouse immediate suspicion, but angled across it,
lights out, empty, both front doors open and inviting a passerby's
Garfield carried the suitcase and flashlight across the right-hand
shoulder of the road and moved up among the trees and undergrowth of the
slope above the shoulder. Placing the suitcase between the bushes, he
brought out the .38, clicked the safety off and stood waiting.
Some ten minutes later, a set of headlights appeared speeding up Route
Twelve from the direction of Redmon. Phil Garfield went down on one knee
before he came within range of the lights. Now he was completely
concealed by the vegetation.
The car slowed as it approached, braking nearly to a stop sixty feet
from the stalled Packard. There were several people inside it; Garfield
heard voices, then a woman's loud laugh. The driver tapped his horn
inquiringly twice, moved the car slowly forward. As the headlights went
past him, Garfield got to his feet among the bushes, took a step down
towards the road, raising the gun.
Then he caught the distant gleam of a second set of headlights
approaching from Redmon. He swore under his breath and dropped back out
of sight. The car below him reached the Packard, edged cautiously around
it, rolled on with a sudden roar of acceleration.
The second car stopped when still a hundred yards away, the Packard
caught in the motionless glare of its lights. Garfield heard the steady
purring of a powerful motor.
For almost a minute, nothing else happened. Then the car came gliding
smoothly on, stopped again no more than thirty feet to Garfield's left.
He could see it now through the screening bushes—a big job, a
long, low four-door sedan. The motor continued to purr. After a moment,
a door on the far side of the car opened and slammed shut.
A man walked quickly out into the beam of the headlights and started
towards the Packard.
Phil Garfield rose from his crouching position, the .38 in his right
hand, flashlight in his left. If the driver was alone, the thing was now
cinched! But if there was somebody else in the car, somebody capable of
fast, decisive action, a slip in the next ten seconds might cost him the
sedan, and quite probably his freedom and life. Garfield lined up the
.38's sights steadily on the center of the approaching man's head. He
let his breath out slowly as the fellow came level with him in the road
and squeezed off one shot.
Instantly he went bounding down the slope to the road. The bullet had
flung the man sideways to the pavement. Garfield darted past him to the
left, crossed the beam of the headlights, and was in darkness again on
the far side of the road, snapping on his flashlight as he sprinted up
to the car.
The motor hummed quietly on. The flashlight showed the seats empty.
Garfield dropped the light, jerked both doors open in turn, gun pointing
into the car's interior. Then he stood still for a moment, weak and
almost dizzy with relief.
There was no one inside. The sedan was his.
The man he had shot through the head lay face down on the road, his hat
flung a dozen feet away from him. Route Twelve still stretched out in
dark silence to east and west. There should be time enough to clean up
the job before anyone else came along. Garfield brought the suitcase
down and put it on the front seat of the sedan, then started back to get
his victim off the road and out of sight. He scaled the man's hat into
the bushes, bent down, grasped the ankles and started to haul him
towards the left side of the road where the ground dropped off sharply
beyond the shoulder.
The body made a high, squealing sound and began to writhe violently.
Shocked, Garfield dropped the legs and hurriedly took the gun from his
pocket, moving back a step. The squealing noise rose in intensity as the
wounded man quickly flopped over twice like a struggling fish, arms and
legs sawing about with startling energy. Garfield clicked off the
safety, pumped three shots into his victim's back.
The grisly squeals ended abruptly. The body continued to jerk for
another second or two, then lay still.
Garfield shoved the gun back into his pocket. The unexpected
interruption had unnerved him; his hands shook as he reached down again
for the stranger's ankles. Then he jerked his hands back, and
straightened up, staring.
From the side of the man's chest, a few inches below the right arm,
something like a thick black stick, three feet long, protruded now
through the material of the coat.
It shone, gleaming wetly, in the light from the car. Even in that first
uncomprehending instant, something in its appearance brought a surge of
sick disgust to Garfield's throat. Then the stick bent slowly halfway
down its length, forming a sharp angle, and its tip opened into what
could have been three blunt, black claws which scrabbled clumsily
against the pavement. Very faintly, the squealing began again, and the
body's back arched up as if another sticklike arm were pushing
desperately against the ground beneath it.
Garfield acted in a blur of horror. He emptied the .38 into the thing at
his feet almost without realizing he was doing it. Then, dropping the
gun, he seized one of the ankles, ran backwards to the shoulder of the
road, dragging the body behind him.
In the darkness at the edge of the shoulder, he let go of it, stepped
around to the other side and with two frantically savage kicks sent the
body plunging over the shoulder and down the steep slope beyond. He
heard it crash through the bushes for some seconds, then stop. He
turned, and ran back to the sedan, scooping up his gun as he went past.
He scrambled into the driver's seat and slammed the door shut behind
His hands shook violently on the steering wheel as he pressed down the
accelerator. The motor roared into life and the big car surged forward.
He edged it past the Packard, cursing aloud in horrified shock, jammed
down the accelerator and went flashing up Route Twelve, darkness racing
beside and behind him.
What had it been? Something that wore what seemed to be a man's body
like a suit of clothes, moving the body as a man moves, driving a man's
car ... roach-armed, roach-legged itself!
Garfield drew a long, shuddering breath. Then, as he slowed for a curve,
there was a spark of reddish light in the rear-view mirror.
He stared at the spark for an instant, braked the car to a stop, rolled
down the window and looked back.
Far behind him along Route Twelve, a fire burned. Approximately at the
point where the Packard had stalled out, where something had gone
rolling off the road into the bushes....
Something, Garfield added mentally, that found fiery automatic
destruction when death came to it, so that its secrets would remain
But for him the fire meant the end of a nightmare. He rolled the window
up, took out a cigarette, lit it, and pressed the accelerator....
In incredulous fright, he felt the nose of the car tilt upwards,
headlights sweeping up from the road into the trees.
Then the headlights winked out. Beyond the windshield, dark tree
branches floated down towards him, the night sky beyond. He reached
frantically for the door handle.
A steel wrench clamped silently about each of his arms, drawing them in
against his sides, immobilizing them there. Garfield gasped, looked up
at the mirror and saw a pair of faintly gleaming red eyes watching him
from the rear of the car. Two of the things ... the second one stood
behind him out of sight, holding him. They'd been in what had seemed to
be the trunk compartment. And they had come out.
The eyes in the mirror vanished. A moist, black roach-arm reached over
the back of the seat beside Garfield, picked up the cigarette he had
dropped, extinguished it with rather horribly human motions, then took
up Garfield's gun and drew back out of sight.
He expected a shot, but none came.
One doesn't fire a bullet through the suit one intends to wear....
It wasn't until that thought occurred to him that tough Phil Garfield
began to scream. He was still screaming minutes later when, beyond the
windshield, the spaceship floated into view among the stars.
E-text prepared by Robert Cicconetti, Susan Carr,
and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team
Transcriber's Note, This etext was produced from Worlds of If January 1962. Extensive
research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this
publication was renewed.