MOONSTONE CLIFFHANGER FICTION!!! PART THREE OF THE SPIDER: CITY OF THE MELTING DEAD!
“Nita…” fighting back the choking sob in his throat, Wentworth made for there first.
The crumpled wreck looked unearthly in the pulsing glow of the dying emergency lights, haunted and forbidden. Wentworth’s jaw muscles flexed and he scrambled inside a misshapen, jagged window. A pocket lantern came from his clothing and he sprayed its yellow light over the destroyed interior. He barely recognized the gasp of horror that escaped his own lips.
There, engulfing the space of the center aisle of the train car, was a loathsome mass of putrefied flesh—a semi-congealed heap of human beings fused together in a fleshy tangle of writhing death!
What once were arms and hands reached wetly out toward him, boney, dripping fingers losing skin like melting candles. Black mouths split and gaped in gurgling, pleading agony as eyes long dissolved stared with hollow sockets in outrage and despair. Wentworth could barely believe it, never had he seen such an abomination.
He gazed in sickened awe at the phantasmagoric things before him, the grimly distracted Wentworth nearly failed to notice the sodden, hulking entity that came lurking from behind. Abruptly he spun, his long cloak swirling in mid-air like an exploding ink drop. For an instant the fearsome form of the Spider seemed to become one with the shadows. His automatic whipped up cocked and ready, but the moist misshapen blobs that once were human hands were already at his throat.
“P-pleassssssssssse…” the thing garbled from the liquefied gullet.
Possessed of a wild strength fueled by its death agonies, Wentworth barely wrenched himself free from the desperate grip of the melting man. Once out of the gruesome clutches he watched in helpless pity as the form
diminished before his eyes, drowning in its own tissues. Finally, slumping down to what remained of its knees, the last remaining mass poured from its clothing spilling onto the floor.
Wentworth stood utterly still over the hideous tragedy sprawled in a quickening puddle at his feet, his head bowed in mourning as the other awful liquescent vestiges also became silent and moved no more. A quick study of the engine found the train’s doomed operator in an identical death, the oozing flesh of his forearm bubbling down the brake stick like a burnt out useless wick.
The oppressive sight was so frightful even the battle- hardened Wentworth had to shut his eyes. It was the glacial orbs of the Spider that reopened, seething again with their cold steel fire. These miserable souls would
A muffled groan snapped Wentworth back from his deliberation. His heart quickened, his ears straining in a tense effort to detect the origin of the sound. Again, he heard the tormented wail. This was a fully human voice, weak but unfettered from the gurgling rasp of the victims he’d already encountered. The low moan had come from the last passenger car. It was less damaged than the others, and from his earlier observation of the car’s empty windows Wentworth had suspected it to be lifeless. It was not.
Using a broken section of track, he pried opened the doors. From within a pair of lovely violet eyes regarded him intimately, as if he’d been faithfully expected.
“Quick—I need something for another tourniquet,” she said, her pale face bruised, begrimed, and beautiful. “If we can’t stop the bleeding this mug’s a goner.”
Nita—! She was alive!
Wentworth’s throat tightened and for an instant his tear ducts brimmed, then the Spider responded to the crisis.
“I’ve just the thing,” he bent down over the grievously wounded man tended by Nita, observing several badly bleeding bone fractures. Stout, slender rubber tubing snaked from a pocket in his cloak and the black-gloved hands expertly stemmed the hemorrhage. Satisfied that the victim was no longer in imminent danger, the Spider swiftly surveyed the remaining perimeter within the passenger car. Others were there, also injured, and had been capably treated by Nita. Tightly rolled newspapers had become improvised splints, while strips of her own clothing served as bandages, with her expensive silk stockings providing effective life-saving tourniquets.
Nita Van Sloan, black and blue herself, had done all she could, and that had been considerable. The weight of the last couple hours showed for a mere moment in her wide, haunted eyes. Nita wanted so very badly to fall into Wentworth’s arms, hold him close, and breathe him in. Instead, she resumed her highly trained sense of calm.
“Dick, I saw inside the front cars. What…what could have done this?” she stammered only slightly.
The slouch-brimmed head shook slowly, clearly in restrained astonishment. “Some kind of electromagnetic beam,” he mused. “An unknown highly advanced technique for rebounding and refocusing pure sound waves, aimed at the front of the train. It’s incredible, but it’s the only explanation.”
“My God,” Nita breathed, her face suddenly losing more color. “Then this could have been so much worse…!”
The implications were staggering.
“We can’t let Kirk and his policemen find us down here,” the Spider offered her his hand. “If you can walk—”
“I can do better than that,” Nita attempted a smile, rising quickly to her bare feet.
Her bruised toes stumbled painfully on a bit of debris, and in a blurring swoop, Wentworth swept her up in his arms. For a long, delicious moment their eyes were locked in a fervent gaze, and then their lips found each other.
“It’s unbelievable…unthinkable,” Stanley Kirkpatrick shook his head, his broad shoulders stooped and weighted from the tragedy. “All those people gone, so suddenly. In the past two days more than a dozen of the rescued passengers have also died from their injuries.”
Richard Wentworth refilled the Commissioner’s glass, and returned to Nita on the sofa.
“It’s a terrible business all right, Kirk,” Wentworth curled an affectionately protective arm around Nita’s shoulders, mindful of her arm’s sling. “You say there are still no leads?”
Kirkpatrick gratefully sipped his whisky and soda. “None. Those who have survived, who owe their lives to Miss Van Sloan here, aren’t talking. From the shock of it all, I’ll wager.”
“I don’t blame them,” Nita visibly trembled.
At that, observing her distress, Kirkpatrick promptly wished Nita a good evening, and a speedy recovery, as Wentworth walked him to the door.
“How’s she doing, Dick? I mean, aside from the sprained arm and the cracked ribs. I hope my visit hasn’t upset her more,” Kirkpatrick whispered, chancing a fretful fatherly glance back over his shoulder.
“Nita’s a scrapper,” Wentworth shrugged. “She’s as hungry for clues to this mystery as the rest of us.”
The older man frowned and paused in the doorway. “I wish I could provide one, but I only have this,” he drew an envelope from his breast pocket.
Wentworth examined the inner contents, a single ragged sheet of cheap paper. There were five brief words boldly typed in all capitals:
“It’s from the rusty typewriter of a suicide who took a ten story dive the day before the disaster,” Kirkpatrick put on his hat. “A washed-up old crime reporter named Bill Henry. Seemed like a nutcase at first, but in light of what I saw on that train, not to mention the coroner’s bizarre description of Henry’s
corpse…and, it could have been the alley rats like he said…but, well, now I’m not so sure.”
Wentworth handed back the scrap. “You could be on to something, Kirk. Let me know what turns up,” he
shook his old friend firmly by the hand.
Once the door was closed and locked, Wentworth’s mind was in a sudden cyclone. The jumbling of a dozen facts that had been unfathomable mysteries moments before seemed almost magically to fall into place. A weird, low, chuckling laugh escaped his lips. It was startling, even menacing, in the sudden silence of the room.
“We know that sound, Major,” Ronald Jackson, Wentworth’s tall, wideshouldered chauffeur and trusted aide, stated anxiously from across the room. Ram Singh, another fiercely devoted disciple in Wentworth’s war against criminals, regarded his master with g rim resolution, nodding his proudly turbaned head.
“Indeed, sahib,” the Sikh warrior responded, ominously stroking his bearded chin. “How may we serve you?”
Wentworth whirled around to find all eyes strained upon him. Nita’s haunted gaze was especially troubled. For a moment he was perplexed at the sudden tension he had caused, then—seeing himself across the room in the mirror—Wentworth realized the alarming reason. Standing there, in his expensive tailored suit, within his familiar penthouse suite, Wentworth hardly recognized his own reflection. Not only his face, but his whole physique had unconsciously altered.
It was the Spider who stared back at him.