Page:Weird Tales volume 36 number 01.djvu/21
THE MAN WHO LIVED
ger-pain had given way to an ache that throbbed between his eyes and the top of his head.
Picture this Penderby. Picture him as he lay, while the room darkened, on the soiled coverlet of the truckle-bed. Lanky, ill-shaven, black hair in need of cutting, eyes quick even in defeat, suit now so ragged that any employer would have been repelled; and in dubious control a clever, savage brain scheming ever to no purpose.
And ask why he was chosen.
Whatever the quality of Penderby's faculties, worry and fatigue had numbed his mind beyond the power of directed thought that night, and he stared as unthinkingly as a human being can at the lamp-thrown window-pattern taking shape on the slanted ceiling.
When that pattern was sharpest, he had fallen asleep, one leg still hanging over the side of the bed, and it was three hours after the automatic extinguishing of the street-lights wiped the design away that he awoke.
"If it weren't so infernally hot" he said, "I'd stay in bed"
Then he saw that he had slept in his clothes, and cursed. They would stick to his sweating skin more than ever. As he swung onto the edge of the bed, he felt the clamminess of them already.
But he washed, tiptoed down through the fetid lodging-house air, and stepped into the freshness of the street. He turned toward London's heart, and walked slowly.
What impelled him, what had caused him to leave his room so early and make a miserable day longer than it normally would have been, he did not know.
The first body was outside a store at the corner. It was an old newspaper-seller's, in a greasy blue suit that shone. Copies of the Evening Standard and the Star had fallen from his arms to the sidewalk, Penderby, determined not to be an inquest witness, hurried past.
But beyond the corner was another body, a girl who had been standing in a doorway. Her body had folded into the attitude of a sleeper on the step, and her cigarette had burned away in the palm of one hand. There was no blood, so far as Penderby could see. But she might have been murdered; so might the old man, only a few feet away; and Penderby turned and ran.
He stopped short to avoid a bundle of rags and what had been a slum harridan.
He was frightened, now. He retreated to the middle of the street, and looked swiftly up and down. Two more bodies were about fifty yards away. And one was that of a policeman.
"What in thunder is this?" Penderby asked aloud. "Am I awake, anyway?"
He undeniably was, and the bodies still were there.
"They can't be asleep, all together," he said. "Nor drunk—look at that cop."
But he went back to the sidewalk, and touched the two bodies on it gingerly. He said, "Hey, wake up!"—and felt a little sacrilegious, as he tried to shake what had been the girl. They were corpses, without a doubt. So, he found, were the bodies of the policeman and the well-dressed youth nearby.
Five bodies! And not noticed, apparently till now.
"I don't give a damn," Penderby muttered. "Let someone else be a witness. I'd get no thanks for it, I'll bet."
On he went. A pair of cats had died on the steps of a house. What he assumed to be the body of a man lay on the other side of the street. "Let him lie there!"
He found himself counting the dead on Warwick Way. They seemed natural after a time; most, at a distance, were dark bundles that matched the drab street. His