ground spin under my heels, and then it came flying up against my shoulders. Instinctively I had clutched upward at a throat with my right hand, clutched a handful of skin, loose and rankly shaggy. My left, also by instinct, flew backward to break my fall. It closed on something hard, round and smooth.
The rank odor that I had known at the séance was falling around me like a blanket, and the clashing white teeth shoved nearer, nearer, but the rock in my left hand spelled sudden hope. Without trying to roll out from under, I smote with that rock. My clutch on the hairy throat helped me to judge accurately where the head would be. A moment later, and the struggling bulk above me went limp under the impact. Shoving it aside, I scrambled free and gained my feet once more.
The monster lay motionless where I had thrust it from me. Every nerve a-tingle, I stooped. My hand poised the rock for another smashing blow, but there was no sign of fight from the fallen shape. I could hear only a gusty breathing, as of something in stunned pain.
"Lie right where you are, you murdering brute," I cautioned it, my voice ringing exultant as I realized I had won. "If you move, I'll smash your skull in."
My right hand groped in my pocket for a match, struck it on the back of my leg. I bent still closer for a dear look at my enemy.
Had the thing been so hairy? Now, as I gazed, it seemed only sparsely furred. The ears, too, were blunter than I thought, and the muzzle not so——
Why, it was half human! Even as I watched, it was becoming more human still, a sprawled human figure! And, as the fur seemed to vanish in patches, was it clothing I saw, as though through the rents in a bearskin overcoat?
My senses churned in my own head. The fear that had ridden me all night became suddenly unreasoning. I fled as before, this time without a thought of where I was going or what I would do. The forbidden grove, lately so welcome as a refuge, swarmed with evil. I reached the edge of the clearing, glanced back once. The thing I had stricken down was beginning to stir, to get up. I ran from it as from a devil.
Somehow I had come to the stream again, or to another like it. The current moved more swiftly at this point, with a noticeable murmur. As I tried to spring across I landed short, and gasped in sudden pain, for the water was scalding hot. Of such are the waters of hell. . . .
I cannot remember my flight through that steaming swamp that might have been a corner of Satan's own park. Somewhere along the way I found a tough, fleshy stem, small enough to rend from its rooting and wield as a club. With it in my hand I paused, with a rather foolish desire to return along my line of retreat for another and decisive encounter with the shaggy being. But what if it would foresee my coming and lie in wait? I knew how swiftly it could spring, how strong was its grasp. Once at close quarters, my club would be useless, and those teeth might find their objective. I cast aside the impulse, that had welled from I know not what primitive core of me, and hurried on.
Evergreens were before me on a sudden, and through them filtered a blast of cold air. The edge of the grove, and beyond it the snow and the open sky, perhaps a resumption of the hunt by the mob; but capture and death at their hands would be clean and welcome compared to–
Feet squelched in the dampness behind me.
I pivoted with a hysterical oath, and swung up my club in readiness to strike.