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Title: Toffee haunts a ghost

Author: Henry Farrell

Illustrator: Enoch Sharp

Release date: September 15, 2023 [eBook #71659]

Language: English

Original publication: Chicago, IL: Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, 1947

Credits: Greg Weeks, Mary Meehan and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team at


Toffee Haunts A Ghost


Having Toffee the "dream-girl" around
was bad enough for Marc, but a ghost
named George was just too much.

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Fantastic Adventures November 1947.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

As a rule, in moments of acute peril, most faces can be relied upon to arrange themselves into the traditional expressions of open-mouthed, pop-eyed terror. Not so, however, the willful countenance of Marc Pillsworth. The lean Pillsworth phiz, openly disdainful of the accepted manifestations of fear, regally side-stepped into something that looked curiously like tight-lipped primness. At the moment it had tied itself into such a knot of horror as to appear downright priggish. As the sidewalk split under Marc's feet, throwing him against the unforgiving granite of the Regent Building, the only expletive vigorous enough to force its way through his tightly pursed lips was a sadly depleted, but nonetheless determined "damn."

What had just transpired was extremely upsetting, also quite impossible. Now, if Marc had been careless about looking where he was going. But he hadn't. He had been fully aware of the suspended safe ... an object of considerable tonnage by the look of it ... and its precarious position outside the sixth story window. Dangling threateningly out over the street like that, how could he have missed it? He had even taken special care to keep well outside the roped-off safety area. And yet, when the pulley had slipped, and the safe begun to fall, it was as though the great hand of Satan, himself, had taken hold of it and hurled it directly at Marc. It had missed him not by inches, but by the merest fraction of an inch. It was impossible that it should have happened that way; all the laws of physics forbade it. However, for Marc, the morning was already fairly bristling with impossibilities, and while this was not the least of them, neither was it the greatest. Staring apprehensively at the great black lump, now embedded in the sidewalk, he wondered if it were going to leap from its resting place and crush him against the wall. He wouldn't have been the least bit surprised if it had. In the last few hours he'd come to expect almost anything.

"Damn," he repeated breathlessly.

"You hurt, Bud?"

Marc directed bewildered eyes toward the entrance of the building and saw a workman running swiftly toward him. "No," he said weakly. "It missed me. I'm all right ... I think. If you want me to sign a statement to that effect, I'll be glad to." He leaned down to flick a bit of cement dust from his trouser cuff and, because of a hand that was trembling badly, did a more complete job than was strictly necessary.

If there was a hand, though, that had every right to tremble, it was the hand of Marc Pillsworth. Actually, it was a wonder the thing wasn't thrashing about like a hooked tuna. His nerves, by now, were as taut and as prickly as the strands on a barbed wire fence.

It had all started early that morning when absenteeism had reared its unlovely head among the ranks of his shirt buttons, thereby making him miss his bus. But Marc, long since hardened to life's minor misfortunes, had waited for a replacement, kissed Julie goodbye at the completion of repairs, and gone in search of a taxi with a certain amount of equanimity. And he had even managed not to be too dismayed when, after going to some lengths to snare a cab, the perverse vehicle had had a flat only two blocks from the apartment. It was not until, upon stepping out of the cab to inquire about the delay, he had looked up to see a truck, out of control, heading directly for him ... it was not until then that he finally came to the bitter realization that the routineness of the morning had been irrevocably shattered.

After picking himself stiffly out of a nearby hedge, into which he had hastily retreated for safety, and making sure that no one was injured, Marc had signed an injury waiver, shaken the dust from his soiled dignity and gone quietly in search of other transportation. Even then, all things being equal, the morning might still have resolved itself into a fair semblance of normalcy. Only all things were just about as equal as a private and a general on pay day. If Marc had only known it, further disaster, just three blocks distant, was already rushing toward him in the person of a bundle-laden, middle-aged woman, hurriedly returning home from an early-morning expedition to the neighborhood market.

The woman had walked sightlessly into Marc just as he stepped from the curb. Ordinarily, such an incident would have meant only a hasty exchange of insincerities. It would have, that is, if it hadn't happened on the very brink of a workman's ditch where some new and very iron pipe was being laid. Catapulted head-first into the trench, Marc would certainly have died of assorted abrasions and fractures if a beefy workman hadn't been standing in precisely the right spot to cushion his fall.

He had signed two waivers that time.

After that, it had only been the negligible journey of five blocks to the incident of the falling safe. It would seem that the fates, gotten up on the murderous side of the bed, were going a bit out of their way to give Marc an untimely nudge into the hereafter.

Now, after quaveringly signing papers for the Regent people, he hurried away from the building and started down the sidewalk. With a rather harassed expression replacing the one of prim fright, he moved toward the corner bus stop. After all, he thought, even if it was only a few more blocks to the office, he would probably do better to play it safe and put himself in the mechanized hands of the city bus company. They'd always taken good care of him before. Besides, his knees were feeling a trifle unhinged.

A small group had already assembled at the corner to await the arrival of the bus, and Marc drew close to it. He wanted to dispel the uneasy feeling that he alone had been singled out and set apart for disaster. He wanted the feeling of safety that is always inherent in any human gathering, no matter how small. It was unfortunate that this gregarious impulse only led to the brutal trampling of a delicate foot, the property of the most attractive lady in the assemblage.

"Ouch!" yelled Marc's diminutive victim. "You crazy ox!" She glanced significantly at Marc's feet. "Why don'tcha look where you're puttin' them big hooves? You could cripple a girl fer life!"

"Sorry," Marc murmured embarrassedly. "Terribly sorry."

"I should think so!" The girl turned away, still mumbling fretfully.

Edging back, Marc continued to stare at the girl. She reminded him of someone. But who was it? The angry flash of her green eyes, the flaming red of her hair, even the arrogant, curving lines of her supple young body were strongly reminiscent of someone he had once known. His wife? He immediately vetoed the idea. Julie was a stately blonde, and her eyes were blue.

Who then? Someone he'd dreamed? Marc's heart suddenly did a quick backflip. Why Toffee, of course. Toffee!

Marc glanced nervously at the people about him. For a moment he was almost afraid that he'd called out aloud. But apparently he hadn't, for no one was looking at him. Wasn't it odd, he thought, how Toffee faded from his memory almost the moment she was out of sight. Maybe it was because her existence sprang from so strange a source ... from the depths of his own subconscious mind. Maybe it was because she was really a part of him that he thought of her so seldom; it would be almost like keeping constantly in mind one's liver or kidneys. His smile was almost wistful as his memory returned to that hectic morning when he'd seen Toffee for the first time outside his dreams. Titian-haired mistress of his subconscious, it had been quite a shock when she had decided to materialize from his dreams, assume physical proportions and step full-blown, as it were, right into the center of his waking hours. Her penchant for building the quietest situation into an affair of raging insanity had made itself distressingly apparent right from the start. And yet, Marc had to admit it, she also possessed a rather endearing aptitude for clearing up the snarls in his life ... even if her methods were somewhat devious at times. Yes, Toffee was sweet in her way ... sweet, like a sugar-coated time bomb. Almost affectionately, Marc wondered what she was doing in his subconscious this morning. Probably seething with anger that he hadn't admitted her to his dreams last night so that she might have a hand in the morning's mishaps. Falling into ditches, being nearly crushed under safes or run down by trucks would be her notion of a real frolic; such was her disposition toward peril and threats of sudden death. Small matters in her gladsome existence. Marc's smile broadened, then vanished as he saw the bus approaching the corner.

Waiting his turn, he absently watched the well-turned ankle of the outraged redhead as its owner moved smartly up the steps, into the bus. That hazard out of the way, he reached for the gleaming handrail and drew himself up to the first step, a little surprised to find that he was still a bit shaky from the morning's excitement. Inside the bus, he steadied himself and reached quickly into his pocket and drew out a handful of change. He searched hastily for the correct fare, found it, and held it out toward the shining collection box. It was just as his hand drew even with the box that the red sedan suddenly came careening across the intersection and headed directly for the bus. It came head-on, for all the world as though its prime purpose in the scheme of things was to demolish the big vehicle. There was a rending, crashing sound, and suddenly all the air was filled with splintering glass and noise. The sound of Marc's fare falling to the floor was lost in the din of the crash.

Marc's thirty-two years seemed almost to have doubled as he climbed feebly out of the taxi and paid the driver. Turning, he gazed gratefully at the stairs leading to the Pillsworth Advertising Agency and started uncertainly toward them. Actually, though, for a man who had just suffered four consecutive escapes from lacerated death, he was in comparatively good shape. Nevertheless, having one's head wedged into the baggage rack of an interurban bus for over fifteen minutes is an experience that is bound to take its toll. Moving up the steps, Marc weaved and groped his way like a man in a drunken stupor. Finally reaching the door to the outer office, he threw his weight against it, wedged it open, and stumbled inside in a manner sharply reminiscent of the entrance of Dan McGrew into the Malamute Saloon. For a moment he just stood there, his arms dangling lifelessly at his sides, staring stupidly at his employees, who returned the compliment by remaining rigidly spellbound at their desks. Dazed as he was, Marc didn't see the girl coming down the aisle between the desks. And she didn't see him.

A racing cloud of disheveled hair and apparel, she stormed toward Marc in what was obviously a blind rage. The tap of her high heels sounded against the floor with the rapidity of a riveting machine, and an enormous handbag flapped angrily against her slender thigh. It wasn't until she was nearly abreast of Marc that she finally noticed him.

At the sight of Marc, the girl came to a sudden, jerking halt, as though she had run full-tilt against the face of a brick wall. More than that, she looked just as stunned. Going tensely rigid, like a cardboard cut-out of her self, she drew her arms stiffly to her sides, closed her eyes and screamed till it seemed that her vocal chords would snap under the strain. True and strong, her voice shrilled through the office ripping the silence to shreds. Finally completing this awful recital with a flourish right out of the Lucia mad scene, she opened her eyes and pointed a commanding finger at Marc.

"Stay where you are, Mr. Pillsworth!" she bleated. "One step and I'll scream!"

"You've already screamed," Marc reminded her thickly. "And you really mustn't do it any more."

"If you move," the girl replied vehemently, "I'll not only do it some more, but louder!"

Marc's blood ran cold at the thought. "Oh, don't," he pleaded, "Please. Whatever the trouble is, I'm sure we can...." Holding out a placating hand, he swayed toward her.

"Get away!" the girl yelped with honest terror. "Get away, you ... you wolf!" And grasping her handbag firmly by its straps, she took hasty aim at Marc's head and arranged a resounding introduction of the two.

Under the impact of the bag, which seemed to be harboring at least a couple of flat irons, Marc sat down heavily on the floor, like a sack of soggy meal. In the blurred starlit confusion that followed, he was vaguely aware of tapping heels and the thunderous slam of a door.

After a moment, in which the spinning universe settled down to a more reasonable pace, Marc prodded his head with a cautious finger and, finding it still where he'd remembered it, looked up. "What happened?" he asked.

He waited for a reply that was not forthcoming. The agency employees, still rigid at their desks, merely stared back at him with what appeared to be only faintly disguised contempt. Then a door slammed somewhere at the far end of the office and Memphis McGuire, Marc's current secretary, big as the city for which she was named and twice as colorful, swung heavily into view. Just barely avoiding a collision with a desk, she started down the aisle.

Angrily waving a sheaf of papers over her head, her multi-colored dress flapping loosely about her hammy legs, Memphis looked like nothing so much as a circus tent, flag unfurled, being blown along in a typhoon. Reaching Marc, she stopped in front of him, her weight settling itself around her with a sudden shake. She bent down and waved the papers accusingly under his nose.

"You louse!" she bellowed. "You utter, ring-tailed louse!"

Marc stared up into her scowling face like a bewildered child who had just been spanked for saying her prayers. It didn't make sense. None of it. Everyone ... the world, itself ... had chosen this day to turn on him. That Memphis, too, should enlist in the ranks of his demented attackers was just too much. He felt like crying. Always, from the very first day of her employment, Memphis had been his staunchest supporter. She had championed his every cause. It was inconceivable that, now, on this mad morning of meaningless outrage, she should turn against him. What had happened? Had she ... and everyone else in the world ... gone stark, raving mad?

"Wha ... what's going on here?" Marc stammered. "Has everyone gone crazy?"

"Crazy is the word!" Memphis thundered. "I must have been clear out of my mind to stay up half the night typing these reports! There's just one thing I want to know. When I sent Miss Hicks into your office with these papers, did you or did you not tell her to go hang them in the lavatory? Just answer me that! That's all!" She straightened up and glowered down at him, a trembling tower of fury. Marc only stared back at her in silent disbelief. "Well, did you!" Her voice pounded against the walls like the beat of a bass drum. "And did you leap at Miss Dugan when she went in with the mail? And chase her around the room! Deny it! I dare you! Just you try and I'll smash the ears right off your two-faced head!"

Marc winced. It didn't seem she was leaving him a very attractive alternative. His ears, though a bit large perhaps, had served him well and faithfully so far, and he was anxious to continue the association. Besides, even if the invitation to rebuttal had been made without threat of disfiguration, he was beginning to doubt his physical ability to accept it. The glove of challenge had been thrown down, but he was too weak even to pick it up. Already, Memphis' angry face was beginning to blur and drift lazily back and forth before him. A curious limpness had come into his body, and he felt himself sagging toward the floor.

"Good grief! He's sick!" Memphis' voice came to him distantly, as though through water. Then he felt her arms about his shoulders, holding him away from the floor. "Well, don't just sit there, you gaping parasites, help me carry him into his office!" Though commanding and brusque, the voice carried a faint overtone of self-reproach.

Being carried ... or dragged, as it seemed ... into the quiet confines of his private office, Marc was only half aware of what was happening. However, as he felt the softness of the lounge beneath him, his head began to clear a little. He opened his eyes. The door was just closing on an assortment of backs and a confusion of whispered conversation. Memphis, sitting in a chair next to the lounge, was staring at him with worried concern.

"I didn't mean to let go at you like that, Mr. Pillsworth," she said regretfully. "But, really, you shouldn't have done it. I was so disappointed."

"Disappointed?" Marc asked weakly. "Shouldn't have done what?"

She waved a hand vaguely through the air. "Oh, everything. Drinking in the office. Making passes at the girls. Chasing them. All the—rest. Somehow it just doesn't seem right to go on like that in a business office."

"Drinking?" Marc looked deeply perplexed. "Who's been drinking?"

"It's all right," Memphis replied soothingly. "And it doesn't matter now that it's all over. I'm sure it won't happen again. Will it?"

Marc raised himself slowly to one elbow. "What won't happen again?" he asked. "What's been going on here, anyway? I demand to know."

"Who knows better than you?" Memphis returned, a touch of temper creeping back into her voice. "Just look at this office."

For the first time Marc turned his attention to his surroundings. The office was a shambles. Paper was strewn everywhere, and in the center of the room, a chair, turned on its back, lay discarded and forlorn. Across from him, by the leg of another chair, a suspicious-looking half-filled bottle stood on the floor. The air was redolent with the odor of liquor. Unbelievingly, Marc swung his legs over the edge of the lounge, rose shakily to his feet, and toddled toward the offending container. Drawing abreast of it, he squatted down and reached for it. Then, blinking incredulously, he withdrew from it, empty-handed. The battering his head had taken that morning must have affected his sight. He could have sworn the bottle moved out of his grasp of its own accord. Shaking his head, he turned to Memphis.

"How did that get in here?"

"I guess you hauled it in here when you came in this morning."

"Came in this morning?" Marc was more bewildered than ever. "But I'm just now getting here. I was held up. I had an accident a whole lot of accidents."

Bemusement crept stealthily across Memphis' face. "You weren't here until now?" she asked slowly. "I'd be the last one to call you a liar, but I saw you with my own eyes. So did Miss Hicks and Miss Graham. Oh, Lord, and don't they wish they hadn't!"

Under a wave of dizziness, Marc made his way unsteadily back to the lounge. "You did not," he said fretfully, sitting down. "I wasn't here."

Exasperation finally flashed in Memphis' eyes. "All right," she said unhappily. "So you weren't here. I didn't see you. You're absolutely right, Mr. Pillsworth. And ... and that isn't all you are!"

She may have said more, but if she did, Marc didn't hear her. As he sank back onto the lounge, the room suddenly started to spin. Then it stopped, and began to fill with writhing, surging waves of blackness. Ink-like liquid was seeping in everywhere, its whispering tide rising swiftly toward him. It was coming so fast! In a moment it covered Memphis, hiding her from view, and he wondered fleetingly why she allowed herself to be submerged without a struggle.

Then, quickly, the blackness washed over the edge of the lounge, and Marc felt himself, light and buoyant, being lifted upward. Up, up and up he moved and then, just as he was nearing the ceiling, there was a terrible sucking sound and he was drawn swiftly downward into unbroken, unending, fluid blackness.

He moved in a drifting delirium that seemed endless and brief all at the same time. Time, hours ... or were they really minutes? ... dissolved and were lost beyond remembrance. He drifted lazily through ages, shot fleetingly through racing seconds. Then, just as he had resigned himself to this curious state of timelessness, he was lifted upward once more, and shot out of the darkness, into brilliant, nearly blinding light. Borne on the crest of an ebony wave, he was hurtled forward and heavily deposited on what appeared to be a grassy beach.

He lay flat on his stomach for a time, listening to the dying rumble of the wave. And when it was gone, there was a deep stillness, broken only by the lingering lap-lap of the receding blackness. Rolling over, he saw that he was resting on the topmost point of a grassy knoll. The black waters had entirely disappeared now, and the greenness of the little hill stretched out endlessly in all directions. Here and there, clusters of strange feathery trees swayed gently at the command of a blue vaporous mist. It was so blissfully quiet.

Then something shot past his ear and struck the earth behind him with a soft thud. He turned just in time to see a glistening apple ... golden and perfectly round ... rolling down the far side of the mound. He sat up and watched it quizzically.

"Darn!" a voice said shrewishly. "I should have hit him right between his fishy eyes."

Marc swung around, but there was nothing and no one behind him ... nothing, that is, except one of the strange trees. Curiously alone and aloof, it was the only tree on the little hill. Getting to his feet, Marc moved warily toward it. Then he stopped short as he noticed an odd fluttering motion in its foliage. Then, all at once, there was a flash of red along one of the branches, and he wondered if it were afire. He drew closer, then stopped again. What he was really looking at was a mop of agitated red hair. A hand suddenly appeared and brushed the hair aside, and two green eyes, wide with aggravation, glinted down at him.

Marc recognized them at once. "Toffee!" he exclaimed.

"Miss Toffee to you, mushhead," the girl replied hotly. "I shouldn't think you'd have the brass to show your sniveling face around here after the way you've treated me. A crime, that's what it is!"

"What are you doing up there?" Marc asked noncommitally.

"I'm falling out," Toffee snapped. "Right now, I'm just barely dangling by my toes. But in a second I'm going to let go, and if you know what's good for you, you'll catch me. I lost my balance chucking that apple at you."

"Serves you right," Marc said. He stepped forward, under the tree, and looked up. It was true. Toffee was dangling precariously between two branches. Her foot acting as a grappling hook on one branch, her hand grasping the other, she looked like nothing so much as a shapely pink hammock. Her transparent tunic, always an aloof bystander at best, was hanging loosely to one side, unconcerned that its wearer was left shockingly exposed. Marc quickly averted his eyes and held out his arms.

"Okay!" he called. "Let go!"

Toffee came down promptly and heavily, her sudden weight rocking Marc back on his heels. For a moment it was touch and go between the staggering man and the forces of gravity. But Marc finally won out and righted himself. Then, looking down, he discovered, to his horror, that Toffee had landed face-down in his arms. Obviously, certain adjustments needed to be made immediately. With a timid hand, Marc tried to do what he could about them.

"Stop pawing me, you wrinkled adolescent!" Toffee yelled. "Put me down!"

And with that, she sank two talon-like fingernails into the flesh of Marc's thigh. Marc's trousers might just as well have been made of tissue for all the protection they afforded him against the cutting nails.

With a piercing scream of agony, he promptly gave Toffee over to the ground, where she landed with a resounding thump. "You little beast!" he cried, clutching his leg. "Of all the ingratitude!"

Toffee looked up owlishly from over her shoulder. "I told you to put me down," she said vindictively. "Surely, you didn't expect me to just hang there while you made finger prints all over my—"

"I was only trying to set you right," Marc cut in quickly.

"Hah!" Toffee jumped lightly to her feet. "From now on," she said, placing a slender hand on a sculptured hip, "I'll take care of my own setting, and don't you ever forget it."

"Do what you like with your precious setting," Marc put in, his irritation mounting. "See if I care. You can hurl the fool thing out the window for all of me."

"I wouldn't even tilt it over the sill for the best part of you," Toffee sneered. "Not after the torture you've been putting me through lately."

"I torture you!" Marc laughed bitterly. "That's good, that is!"

"Then what do you call it?" Toffee made a quick gesture that encompassed the whole of the valley. "How would you like to be locked up in this place months on end? The valley of your mind! Hah! The sump hole would be more like it. You haven't had an original thought in the last six months."

"You're so depraved," Marc said, rising to his own defense, "you wouldn't know an original thought if you saw one. And if you think I'm going to dedicate my days to the contemplation of smut, just for your sweet sake, you're mistaken. Just because you're nasty minded, doesn't mean the rest of us are."

"Why you hypocritical old heller!" Toffee flared. "Some of the thoughts you've had were enough to singe the hair right off a censor's head. It makes me fairly blush sometimes, just being in the same mind with them."

"I've a fine picture of that!" Marc snorted. "You haven't got a modest blush left to your name."

Toffee shrugged her shoulders. "Anyway," she said, "you might at least have dreamed me up in time for the excitement this morning. The one morning in your dull life when something happens, and you keep me chained up in your subconscious!"

Marc's features suddenly fell into lines of deep meditation. The morning and its frantic adventures had gone completely out of his memory until now. Toffee's remark had stirred vague remembrances. All of it was slowly coming back.

Toffee started toward him with sudden concern. "What's wrong, Marc?" she asked softly. "Is it anything I can help with? Even if you are a low viper, I still love you, you know. I guess I just can't help it."

Marc shook his head. "I don't quite know what's wrong myself," he said slowly. "That is, I know what's happened, but I don't know why."

"You sound a little mixed up."

"I am. All mixed up."

Then they both swung quickly around as an odd lap-lapping sounded softly behind them. At the foot of the mound, the black tide was already rising swiftly toward them, each successive surge blotting out more and more of the little valley. For a moment, they just stood looking at it, too surprised to move.

"Here we go again," Toffee said happily, turning to Marc.

Her voice seemed to wake him from a sort of trance. "Go again?" he asked. "We?" A frightened look came into his eyes. "No! No, you don't. Things will be bad enough without you!"

"Oh, don't be silly," Toffee giggled. Then seeing that the speeding tide was already near their feet, she suddenly turned to Marc and swung her arms around his neck. "You need me."

"Let go!" Marc yelled. He ducked, tried to break her grasp, but it was no use. Then it was too late. All at once, the tide caught them up and hurled them toward the sky. And just as it seemed they were going to touch the clouds, there was a horrible sucking sound and they were drawn down into the inner current of the flowing blackness.

The light of day returned to Marc slowly and without welcome. Partly opening one eye, he wished he hadn't, for his head instantly began pulsing like a heavily burdened steam engine pulling out of a mountain way-station. Somewhere there was a faint, intermittent hissing sound, which Marc expected was probably caused by gases shooting rhythmically from his ears. He opened the other eye and tried to clear his head by concentration. But the hissing continued. He lay back and turned his attention to the restful blankness of the ceiling. When Toffee's pert, puckish face swam into view just above his own, he was only mildly surprised. After everything else, it seemed only to be expected.

"It's so lovely to be materialized again," she sighed happily. "I feel all alive and wonderful. I even begin to like you a little." Unmoved by these glad tidings, Marc nodded absently and closed his eyes again. "You look simply awful," she added.

"You wouldn't win any titles, yourself," Marc mumbled, "if you'd been kicked, pummeled and bashed all over town like I have."

"What happened. Who kicked you?"

Sitting up and holding his head in his hands, Marc tried to give her a brief and coherent summary of his havoc-ridden journey to the office. Also, he included the depressing welcome afforded him by the staff upon arrival.

"Very strange," Toffee mused, moving thoughtfully around the disordered room. "Something has obviously gone amiss."

"Amiss!" Marc groaned. "Something's gone completely berserk." Suddenly he stopped speaking, looked up, and inclined his head in a listening attitude. "Do you hear something?" he asked.

"That hissing sound?" Toffee said. "Gets on your nerves, doesn't it?"

"Thank heaven," Marc sighed. "I thought maybe it was in my head. What do you think it is?"

"Sounds like someone sleeping, breathing heavily," Toffee said. Then her roving eye lit on the half-filled bottle at the other end of the room, and she moved swiftly toward it. She started to reach down for it, then suddenly stopped, tilting her head to one side. "That noise is louder over here." She straightened and pointed to the chair beside the bottle. "It seems to be coming from that."

"Don't be silly," Marc said shortly. "Why would a chair hiss?"

Leaning down again, Toffee extended a slender finger, and jabbed quickly at the cushion of the chair. Instantly, a horrible grunting sound echoed through the room, and she jumped back, her eyes wide with surprise.

"Good grief," a voice said thickly. "Haven't you any sense of decency at all? Keep your prodding fingers to yourself. Go exercise your low instincts somewhere else."

Toffee swung quickly around to face Marc. "This," she said sternly, "is no time to be sitting around throwing your voice. If you must give vaudeville entertainments, go to a cheap theatre where your vulgar talents will be appreciated."

Marc's face twisted with wonder. "I didn't throw anything," he said innocently. "Least of all my voice. But I heard it, and it was awful."

"It was your voice," Toffee insisted. "I'd know that rasp anywhere. And if you try it just once more, I'll...." Suddenly her voice froze into silence as she saw Marc's expression swiftly change to one of undiluted horror. Slowly, she turned and followed his gaze to the garrulous chair, and promptly started back with a hysterical sob.

"Holy gee!" she breathed. "If that isn't the most hair-raising sight ever!"

From the chair an apparently disembodied hand swung downward and grasped the bottle on the floor. Then, even as they watched it, it raised the bottle rakishly over the center of the chair and poured a portion of its contents into ... into nothing! This done, the hand and bottle moved downward again, and a resounding burp rumbled messily through the room.

"Holy gee!" Toffee repeated breathlessly.

"What ... what's...." The words died in Marc's throat.

The floating hand, now at rest on the arm of the chair, had suddenly been matched by another on the opposite arm. Marc and Toffee, struck dumb by this spectacle, remained rigid, staring with wide-eyed amazement. And as they watched, two feet, as though to add balance to the already gruesome picture, slowly appeared on the floor in front of the chair. After that things seemed to really get under way, and it was only a matter of seconds until, a section at a time, a whole body had come into view, complete with everything ... except a head.

"Ulp!" The sound came from Marc.

"You said it," Toffee murmured. "I think I'm going to be hysterical." With a shudder she turned away and gazed intently out the window.

"You ... you see it too?" Marc asked wretchedly.

"I'm doing my level best not to," Toffee replied. "It's the most horrible thing I've ever set eyes on. It's positively haunting. I'd be just as pleased if you wouldn't remind me of it."

"What do you suppose it is?"

"I don't know," Toffee returned miserably. "And I don't care. I just want to forget all about it. Maybe if we simply ignore it, it will go away and leave us alone. Let's just look out the window and engage in casual conversation. Maybe it'll get the idea it's not wanted."

"I wonder if it can go away?" Marc said. Shakily he rose from the lounge, and with one last tormented glance at the headless figure, moved rapidly to Toffee's side. "Suppose it ... it can't move ... any more?"

"It can move all right," Toffee said gloomily. "The way it was whipping that bottle around I wouldn't be surprised to see it get up and start doing an Irish jig, though the mere thought of it makes my flesh fairly scamper."

"That's right," Marc mused. "Whatever it is, it seems to be in splendid working order."

"Too damn splendid," Toffee agreed.

"Maybe we should assert ourselves," Marc suggested. "Maybe we could throw it out."

"I, personally," Toffee replied firmly, "would rather slash my wrists than lay a finger to the clammy thing."

"As I recall," a voice said hollowly from across the room, "you didn't mind in the least laying a finger to me a while ago. And a shockingly intimate finger it was too. In fact I was quite embarrassed by it. And if you two mental cases really want something to do, I suggest you open up that window and throw yourselves out into the street. Your feeble-minded gibbering is keeping me awake."

Marc and Toffee nearly collided as they swung about. Then, in perfect unison, they gasped. The figure, now graced with a head, was glaring at them evilly.

"Wha ... who?" Marc sputtered. Turning away, slightly, he passed a trembling hand over his eyes, then looked again. "OOooo!" He looked like a man who'd just received a ball bat across the stomach. The face into which he gazed was an exact duplicate of his own. It was like looking at his own reflection ... only there wasn't any mirror.

"You," the figure observed dryly, "sound like a bilious Indian. For that matter you may be one, for all I know. But, in any case, if you can't say anything intelligent, please go away. I'm very tired."

This seemed to jolt Marc out of his state of temporary paralysis. With the air of one who had had quite enough, he stepped forward and leveled a long finger at the figure in the chair. "Who ... who are you?" he asked.

"Why, I'm...." The figure turned and regarded Marc closely for the first time. A look of astonishment came into its face. "Who are you?" it countered suspiciously.

"I'm Marc Pillsworth," Marc returned impatiently. "This is my office. And whoever you are, and whatever kind of trick you think you're playing, I'll thank you to clear out before I call the police and have you dragged out ... er ... bodily." He cleared his throat uneasily. "A section at a time if need be."

Suddenly the figure was on its feet, staring at Marc in unmixed alarm.

"You're lying," it said. "You can't be Marc Pillsworth. I'm Marc Pillsworth ... at least, in a sense I am." It turned to Toffee. "He isn't Marc Pillsworth, is he?"

"I thought he was," Toffee replied confusedly. "Now I'm not so sure. Right now, I don't even know who I am. Maybe I'm Marc Pillsworth and you two are Toffee. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if it turned out that way."

"He can't be!" the figure insisted. "Marc Pillsworth was due to die at eight-thirty sharp this morning." Suddenly it turned to Marc. "You're dead!" it said firmly. "You'd better stop running around like this. It isn't right. I was ordered here to haunt this place, and how can I do it with you around? It ruins everything. I'm a self-respecting spectre and I won't have this sort of thing. I won't!"

"I'm not dead," Marc snapped peevishly. "And ... and...." Suddenly he stopped short and blinked. "You ... you're a ghost?"

"Naturally," the figure replied with solemn dignity. "Yours. What did you think? So you see, you simply can't be alive. It just isn't possible. These things just aren't handled that way."

Fearful uncertainty crept into Marc's eyes. "Well," he murmured, "I did have a lot of accidents this morning, and maybe I did.... I don't feel so good." Suddenly he shook his head. "No! This is insane. I'm just as alive as ever."

"Holy smoke!" the figure cried. "You mean you loused things up and didn't get killed? You're actually here, you and that naked lady?"

Toffee drew her brief tunic closer around her. "Ghost or no ghost," she said icily, "I'll not be referred to as that naked lady."

The ghost looked at her appraisingly. "You may not be any lady," he said, "but you are certainly naked."

"For heaven's sake!" Marc cried desperately. "This is no time to be going on about naked ladies."

"It's as good a time as any," Toffee said pertly. "You stay out of this. It may develop into something interesting." Her hold on the tunic relaxed slightly. "Naked ladies don't grow on trees, you know."

"I don't care if they grow in ash cans!" Marc rasped, a little out of control. "I don't care about naked ladies at all!"

"You don't?" The ghost stared at Marc wonderingly.

"No, I don't! What I care about is this mess you've gotten me into. It's got to be straightened out!"

"Oh, that," the ghost said, suddenly unconcerned. "That's easy, now that I think about it. There was some sort of slip up this morning, but I'm sure it was all your own doing. Our office never makes mistakes. All you have to do now is just bump yourself off, and everything will be all right. Better late than never, I suppose."

"What!" The word shot from Marc's mouth like a handful of gravel. "You expect me to commit suicide just for the sake of your precious records! I never heard of anything so callous!"

"Oh, come now, old man," the spirit smiled blandly. "Let's not be sentimental about it. Why don't you just toddle down to the corner and slip quietly under a truck?" Suddenly he burped and his legs, in simultaneous accompaniment, disappeared up to the knees. For a moment he seemed to hover, half-legless, in mid-air. Looking down at this curious phenomenon, he smiled apologetically. "It's the liquor," he said. "Can't handle my ectoplasm worth a damn when I'm drinking." Closing his eyes, he seemed to concentrate a moment, and the legs reappeared in their entirety. He looked up, beaming proudly.

"Oh, good grief," Toffee moaned. "As long as I live I'll never see anything worse than that!"

"And now," the spirit began, turning to Marc, "as I was saying...."

"No!" Marc looked like an animal at bay.

Moving to the chair, the spirit sat down, crossed his legs and elegantly lifted the bottle from the floor. After a long swallow, he looked up and shook his head. "It's on the books that you're dead, and I've got my ectoplasm and a job to do. I don't care what you do, I'm going to stay and haunt this place." He crossed his arms defiantly over his chest.

Marc glanced up peevishly. "Haunt this place?" he said sarcastically. "A wrecking crew could do the same thing, if that's what you call it."

"It's the new method," the spirit said languidly. "The old-fashioned moaning and chain rattling is out nowadays. The new haunting manual tells us just to use our own imagination and initiative. You know, make the thing more personal through self-expression." He leaned forward and looked at Marc more closely. "Say, you don't look so good." He held out the bottle. "You better have some of this."

Marc accepted the bottle with hesitation, regarded it suspiciously for a moment, then, with a shrug, took a long drink. After savoring the taste and the feel of the warm liquid, he thoughtfully took another ... and another.

"Let's not get greedy about this thing!" the spirit said with some show of alarm. "Let's not go overboard. That grog was hard come by. I had to hi-jack a delivery truck and nearly got a free ride to the next city."

"That would have been awful," Marc countered wryly. He returned the bottle and turned to Toffee. "You are naked," he mused. "Awful naked. And things are complicated enough without it. Why don't you trot off and put on some clothes?"

"And where do I get these clothes?"

Marc waved an expansive hand toward a door at the far end of the room. "I think the boys were doing some models in there yesterday. There are probably some clothes left over."

"Good night!" Toffee said, scandalized. "What were those boys doing to the poor things. What, with clothes left over, it must have been awful."

"They were photographing them for ads."

"Oh," Toffee said disappointedly, and pivoting, went to the door. Opening it, she paused a moment to look back. "This won't take long. Don't go away." She stepped into the dimness of the next room, and softly closed the door.

Marc directed his attention back to the spirit. "Now there must be some way out of this, Mr. ... uh...."

"Just call me George," the spirit said. "It's your second name, you know. You're already using the Marcus part of it yourself."

Marc nodded gravely. "Well, anyway, George, you must understand that this thing can't go any further." George yawned expansively, and Marc increased the volume of his voice. "You've simply got to go, George. I'm sure that...."

His voice trailed off into the distant reaches of the room and faded into nothing. George had suddenly disappeared, and a hollow snoring sound rattled ominously from the depths of the now empty-looking chair.

"In here, Miss McGuire?" The voice was Julie's and it came from just beyond the outer door.

Marc leaped to his feet in alarm, started frantically toward the chair, the door to the photographer's room, then, hopelessly, he whirled about, threw himself down on the lounge and closed his eyes tight. Maybe if Julie thought he was sleeping, she would leave. There was the sound of a hand on the door knob.

The door whined open, and muted footsteps sounded on the carpet. From the sound of it, there seemed to be several people, among them a man. Marc wondered desperately who it was, but kept his eyes determinedly shut.

"There he is," came the sound of Memphis' voice, "just as I left him."

"Is that good, doctor?" This time it was Julie's voice, anxious and fearful.

"I really couldn't say, Mrs. Pillsworth. Maybe. Maybe not."

The doctor's voice was a solemn one with sonorous, church-like overtones.

"Well, I'll leave you two with him," Memphis said. "I hope everything will be all right."

"Thanks so much for calling me," Julie returned.

As the door closed with a snap, Marc struggled valiantly against a driving impulse to open his eyes ... one of them at least ... just a little.

"Smell the liquor, doctor?" Julie was saying. "This sort of thing has never happened before. I just don't understand it. If what Miss McGuire tells me is true, he's been behaving like a regular hoodlum."

"Sometimes," the doctor replied, "they just snap all of a sudden. There's no telling what sets them off at all. It might be anything."

The footsteps came closer and Marc felt a hand on his shoulder. It shook him gently. "Wake up, dear," Julie's voice cooed. "It's Julie."

Marc opened his eyes and looked up guiltily. Julie's anxious face was just above his own, smiling a tragic little smile. And just beyond her shoulder there was also the face of a man, studious and intelligent in a musty, smug sort of way. Marc disliked it on sight.

"Do you feel very awful?" Julie asked.

Marc nodded. "Yes, dear," he murmured wanly. "Terrible."

Her hand patted his shoulder reassuringly. "Well, everything's going to be all right," she said. "I've brought Dr. Polk to see you. He wants to talk to you."

Marc's thoughts raced wildly as he boosted himself into a sitting position.

He glanced nervously at the chair across the room and the door behind which Toffee was dressing. The situation, he felt, was almost too atomic to be endured. It might explode at any minute if he didn't get Julie and the doctor out of there. He regarded the doctor with mistrust.

"I don't want to talk to him," he said peevishly. "I won't."

Undismayed, the doctor calmly sat down on the edge of the lounge. "You mustn't feel that way, Mr. Pillsworth," he said soothingly. "We're going to be great friends, you and I."

"Want to bet?" Marc scowled. He turned to Julie. "What kind of quack is this guy, anyway?"

"Dr. Polk is a ... a...."

"I'm a psychiatrist," the doctor broke in. "You're suffering from a nervous disorder, Mr. Pillsworth, and I'm here to help you."

Marc's eyes widened with astonishment. They thought he was nuts! What was he...! His mind leaped to other things as the hissing noise from George's chair suddenly increased in volume. They were bound to notice it in a moment.

"I'm all right, doctor," Marc said, his voice unnaturally loud. "I'm perfectly okay. So you see, I really don't need you! It was just a little joke. Hah, hah!" His laugh was false and a little hysterical. "So you can run along back to your nuts ... ah ... patients." He glanced nervously at the door to the photographer's room. Everything was ominously quiet. The hissing from George's chair had stopped.

The doctor cleared his throat, glanced significantly at Julie. "Well, yes," he said, edging closer to Marc. "I'll run along. But I want you to answer a few simple questions for me first. Is that all right?"

"Sure! Sure," Marc said feverishly. "I'll answer your questions. Only make it fast, doctor. I'm a busy man, you know."

"All right," the doctor said, taking a pencil from his pocket and carefully spreading a notebook over one knee. "I'm going to give you a list of words and I want you to give me the first response that comes into your mind. Understand?"

"Sure, doctor," Marc replied. "You say a word and I come back at you with the first thing it reminds me of. Only hurry, will you?"

"Fine." The doctor poised the pencil over the notebook. "Now this is the first word. Black."

"Future," Marc answered absently, gazing fearfully at George's chair.

"Hot," the doctor continued.

"Seat," Marc replied, still absorbed in the chair.




Marc glanced frightenedly at the door to the photographer's room. "Closed!" he yelled, taking advantage of the situation. "Keep the door closed!"

The doctor turned worriedly to Julie. "These are very strange responses, Mrs. Pillsworth," he said. "Frankly, I don't know what to make of them. There's some sort of anxiety complex here that's not quite clear."

"Ask half-witted questions, and you get half-witted answers."

The voice was Marc's, but still it hadn't come from Marc, though it appeared to. Obviously George was awake and entering into the spirit of things again. Marc's gaze went wild and finally stopped at the chair. It was still empty.

"What did you say?" the doctor asked politely, turning back to Marc.

"I said," the voice broke out again, "that I wish you would get the hell out of here and leave me alone. If I have to listen to you any longer, I'll probably get sick all over myself."

The doctor stared at Marc, his face heavy with incredulity. "Now," he whispered, "he's talking without even moving his lips."

"Marc Pillsworth!" Julie put in severely. "I don't care if you are sick, you can at least be civil."

"Oh, stop your silly yapping," the voice returned. "You're no seasick remedy, yourself."

"What!" Julie's blue eyes were suddenly as hard as ice and twice as chilly. The very sight of them put icicles on Marc's spine.

"I didn't mean it!" he cried. "I mean, I didn't say it!"

"You've made your bed," Julie snapped. "Don't try to lie out of it."

It was at this juncture that the door to the photographer's room suddenly started to open. But it didn't open all the way, just a crack.

"Oh, Marc!" Toffee's happy voice trilled. "Just wait till you get a look at me in this. I'm a scandal to the jaybirds!"

Toffee, in a whimsical mood, had apparently decided to make her entrance a memorable one. Instead of swinging the door all the way open, and walking into the room as anyone else would have, she held it open just enough to allow the seductive passage of one exquisite lace-clad leg. "That," she called, "is only a promise of things to come. There ought to be music to go with this."

Julie, who had remained transfixed up to this point, suddenly came to life with a vengeance. "I'll give you something to go with it, you little tramp," she raged. "How about a fracture!" She started toward the door, but reached it too late. Already it had slammed to, and there was the sound of a key being turned in the lock. She pounded on the panel with both fists.

"Come out of there, you little sneak!" she yelled.

"Go away," Toffee's voice came back demurely. "I'm dressing."

Julie kicked the door in a fit of frustration. "You little ... little ... social leper!" she fumed.

"What was that!" Toffee called back, anger rising suddenly in her voice. "What did you call me?"

"Leper!" Julie screamed. "Leper! Social leper!"

"Oh," Toffee's voice was suddenly mollified. "I thought you said lecher."

"Take it either way," Julie shot back. "It won't make any difference what you are when I get hold of you!" She swung around to Marc. "Let's hear you explain that!" she demanded menacingly, pointing to the door. She moved toward him. "Stand up, Marc Pillsworth." Her voice was deceptively quiet now. "Stand up so I can knock you down. I'm going to lay you out colder than a cast iron cuspidor, you philanderer!"

"But ... but," Marc searched for something to say against desperate odds. "What ... what about our marriage?" he asked lamely.

"Marriage!" Julie snorted. "From now on, this isn't marriage, it's mayhem! Prop him up, doctor, and stand back!"

Marc was stunned. The transformation in Julie was almost unbelievable. He'd seen her angry before, but never this angry. Apparently the old jealousy that he'd thought cured had merely been lying dormant all the while. Now it was all the worse for having been suppressed. He got slowly to his feet, without quite realizing he was doing it. He stared at Julie in blank amazement.

"That's the good boy," Julie approved nastily. "Now just hold it." Moving swiftly to Marc's desk, she picked up a heavy ornate inkwell. Raising it over her head, she sighted a target squarely between Marc's bewildered eyes.

"Stop!" Dr. Polk was suddenly at her side, grasping her arm. "You mustn't do that, madam," he cried. "Your husband is a sick man."

"He's going to be a lot sicker when I get through with him," Julie grated. "The rip has probably been revelling around behind my back all the time."

She continued to rage. But she became so absorbed in an analytical description of Marc and all his forebears, she wasn't aware of the doctor removing the inkwell from her hand and leading her toward the door. It was unfortunate, though, that in passing George's chair her foot fell against the bottle standing beside it. For a moment the bottle teetered dangerously, then righted itself as though of its own will.

"Pick up your clumsy wedgies, tanglefoot," came George's voice. "What are you trying to do, trample the place down?"

Miraculously, the doctor managed to pull Julie out of the office. But he didn't get the door closed in time to ward off her final shriek of outrage. It was enough to sear the paint from the walls.

"I'll see you in court, Marc Pillsworth!" she yelled.

The minute the door closed Marc leaped for George's chair. Groping for the spirit, he was rewarded with a foolish giggle.

"Stop it!" George tittered foolishly. "You tickle!"

Marc's hand finally came in contact with what seemed to have the general feel of an arm. He tugged at it. "Get up," he commanded. "We're getting out of here."

"Where we going?" George's voice asked.

"I don't know," Marc sighed wearily. "Anywhere. Come on!"

The arm rose under his hand and the bottle beside the chair suddenly darted into the air and remained there, lazily suspended. Reassured, Marc moved away, and the bottle followed. At the door to the photographer's room, he knocked. "Come on out!" he called. "They're gone. We've got to get out of here before they come back."

A key scraped in the lock, and the door inched warily open. Finally, Toffee's head appeared in the opening. "What happened?" she asked innocently.

"What a time you picked to play footsie!" Marc groaned reprovingly. "Come on, let's go."

The door opened and Toffee stepped out, a wayward vision in a black lace negligee. The garment, inspired by the peek-a-boo idea, had been translated by Toffee's lovely figure into a wide open stare. In terms of visibility, the ceiling was practically unlimited.

A low whistle generated from the vicinity of the dangling bottle at Marc's side. But Marc's own reaction was somewhat varied.

"Good night," he said. "Did you have to pick that? It's darned near the nakedest thing I've ever seen. It's indecent."

"Thanks," Toffee said sweetly. "I knew you'd like it." She fell into a languorous pose beside the door. "By the way, what is the nakedest thing you've ever seen? It might be interesting to know."

"You and your evil mind," Marc sneered. "Anyway, we haven't time for that. We've got to get out of here." He grabbed Toffee by the arm and shoved her toward the door at the rear of the office. "We can go down the fire escape, into the parking lot. Julie probably left the car there, and we'll need it."

Toffee continued to the door, opened it and passed through, holding her lacies daintily away from the floor. "I'll bet it wasn't the naked truth," she murmured reflectively.

On the summit, under the roseate glow of a pink-and-lavender sunset, it was even conceivable that life could be beautiful. Scented breezes played wantonly among the pines. Everything dwelt under a spell of hushed loveliness there. That was before the blue convertible charged onto the scene in a heavy cloud of dust and dark words.

The car seemed almost in the throes of a spasm. Appearing to paw the pavement with its tires like a live and avenging thing, it sighted the nearest pine and charged it headlong. Then, at the last possible moment, it veered in the opposite direction and transferred its attack to the guard rail on the far side of the road. Rushing to the brink, it peered momentarily into the canyon below, hastily reconsidered, and reeled back to safety, its tires screaming with fright. Then, its passions apparently expended, it came to a sudden, jolting halt. Everything was quiet, except for a loud hissing sound.

Marc's voice was shaken, but nonetheless sincere. "You ever do anything like that again," he said heavily, "and I'll wring your ectoplasmic neck. Now we've got a flat."

On the other side of the car, George, now fully materialized, sighed resignedly and leaned his head back against the cushions. "I don't see why you're making such a stink about it," he said drowsily. "Why don't you just try looking at this thing from my side for a change? After all, you've got to pop off sometime. Now, just one good twist of that wheel and everything would be over in a second. Splat!"

Marc winced as George's hands slapped together. The word "splat" was too descriptive. "Wouldn't you know it?" he lamented. "Wouldn't you know that my own ghost would turn out to be a homicidal drunk? Why can't you be satisfied with just ruining my life? Isn't that enough?"

George shrugged, and reaching for the bottle at his side, helped himself to a long drink. Winking at Toffee, who was seated between him and Marc, he burped and vanished completely. "My head aches," his voice came back dispassionately from space. And almost at once soft snoring began to issue from his side of the car.

"I shouldn't wonder his head aches," Toffee mused. "He's the most loaded spirit I've ever seen." She giggled. "A spirit full of spirits."

"This," Marc said sourly, "is no time to crack bum jokes." He opened the car door and stepped out onto the road. "I'll have to change that tire."

A moment later, business-like scrapings and clankings in the rear of the car announced that Marc had set to work. Toffee leaned back and gazed absently out of the window. There wasn't much to see, only a lot of trees and bushes. And everything, to her way of thinking, was entirely too quiet. For a time she toyed with the idea of rousing George, but finally decided against it.

Then there was a faint rustling sound and Toffee glanced up to see a man scurrying out of the bushes at the side of the road. He was old, except for his eyes, which were remarkably blue and clear, though rather eclipsed by two enormous shaggy eyebrows. The rest of his face was nothing more than a tangle of yellowish grey hair, for there was no telling where his hair left off and his beard began. His clothes were in such a state of disintegration as to make them unattractive to street urchins in sub-zero weather.

"Howdy," the old fellow rasped. He locked a bony hand over the edge of the car door and peered at Toffee nearsightedly.

"Howdy," Toffee replied, glad even for this diversion. "What can I do for you?"

"I was wonderin'," the old fellow said with sudden shyness, "if you'd like some squeezin'?"

Toffee started visibly. "Aren't you being a little direct?" she asked coolly. "Do I look like the sort that would be interested in your squeezings?"

"They're mighty good," the old fellow went on hopefully. "I'll let you have 'em at a bargain, too."

"What!" There was real shock in Toffee's voice. "You expect me to pay you for these ... ah ... squeezings, as you so quaintly call them?"

"Naturally," the old man nodded. "Can't give 'em away, you know."

"I should think not!" Toffee cried. "Not to me, you couldn't. I wouldn't have them if you paid me."

"I could give you a sample," the old fellow offered. His smile was starkly toothless.

Toffee edged quickly away. "No, thank you," she said loftily. "In fact, I'd really rather not hear any more about it. Why don't you just take your filthy-minded squeezings and slither back into the bushes where you came from? For my part, I'll just sit here and try to forget everything you've said."

"Well, okay," the old man said sadly, "but you don't know what you're missin'."

He started to turn away, but Toffee suddenly held out a restraining hand. It was too late now. She was already intrigued. Maybe there was something here she should know about. "Wait," she said, lowering her voice. "If you can tell me in a nice way, what's so terrific about these squeezings of yours?"

"They send you clean outa this world," the old man grinned. "Just a little bit, and you won't even know what hit you."

Toffee frowned. "It seems you could be a little more modest about it," she reproved. "Aren't you married?"

"Oh, Lord, yes," the old man sighed wearily.

"Doesn't your wife mind you running around, doing all this squeezing?"

"Naw. The old lady helps me."

"What!" Toffee looked horrified. "You mean she's mixed up in this squeezing business too!"

"Sure. Her and the whole family."

"Oh, my gosh!" Toffee moaned. "This is too much. I suppose it shows a nice enterprising spirit on the part of you and your family, but isn't it all a little hard to get used to?"

The old man shook his head. "Don't know why it should be," he mused. "You city people sure do get some strange notions in your heads."

"We don't hold a candle to you country people," Toffee retorted. "But I suppose, being up here alone and all, squeezings do begin to take on a certain importance after a while."

"That's right," the old man agreed. "They're mighty comfortin' on a cold night. Mighty nice when everyone's scrouged up around the fire."

"Scrouged up?" Toffee asked timidly. "You mean you have to be scrouged up for these squeezings?"

Marc suddenly appeared at the opposite window, wiping his hands on a rag with an air of finality. He regarded the old man mildly. "What can I do for you, old timer?" he asked.

"For heaven's sake!" Toffee cried imploringly. "Don't ask him!"

"What?" Marc stared at her questioningly.

"The old boy's as daffy as a snowball in July," Toffee whispered. "He's wild on the idea of going around squeezing people. He claims it's more darned fun. Says he has some sort of new technique or something where people get all scrouged up, whatever that means. He started harping about it the minute he got his nose out of those bushes. It's the worst thing I've ever listened to."

"I saw you folks stopped down here," the old man put in, "and I thought you might like some real mountain squeezin's. How about it, mister?"

"You see!" Toffee cried. "He's off on it again. Him and his squeezings! It's likely that if I have to listen to any more about either of them I'll be a gibbering idiot."

The old man looked distressed. "I think there's somethin' serious wrong with that gal," he told Marc regretfully. "I didn't want to tell her to her face, but she's too excitable. She got all skitterish just because I tried...."

"And who wouldn't get skitterish," Toffee snapped, "with old gophers leering out of the bushes, trying to squeeze them? It's enough to unbalance anyone."

"I didn't try to squeeze you, lady," the old man retorted with unexpected heat. "And I didn't leer neither."

Anger suddenly flared in Toffee's green eyes. "Don't you try to deny it, you old hayseed!" she yelled. "I remember every word you said."

Marc rushed into the breach. "Stop this wrangling," he commanded. "Let's get to the bottom of this thing." He turned to the old man. "Did you or did you not try to ... ah ... squeeze this young lady?"

"At my age?" the old man asked forlornly. "What do you think? I just came down here to sell you folks some corn squeezin's. I didn't know it was goin' to make all this trouble. Now I just want to forget the whole thing and go away. I think I'll go into the hog business."

"Corn squeezings?" Marc asked. "What's that?"

"It's a kind of likker," the old man said uninterestedly, as though it really didn't matter any more. "I make it myself. I got a still up yonder on the mountain. Right now I'm goin' up there and lay into the damn thing with a sledge hammer."

"Oh," Toffee breathed embarrassedly. "So that's all it was!" She reached a hand to Marc's sleeve. "Maybe we ought to buy some of his ..." she shied away from the word, "that stuff. Just to make it up to him. It seems the least we can do."

Marc nodded and turned to the old man. "Don't take it so hard, old timer," he said sympathetically. "You just made a sale the hard way."

It was some time before Marc and Toffee emerged from the woods and started down the hill toward the car. Leaving the shadows of the great pines, they stepped into a path of shimmering bright moonlight. Over one shoulder, Marc carried an old-fashioned jug, and his face had rather a wooden look about it, though it was set in a blissful smile. Toffee moved loose-jointedly along at his side, softly singing a song about a girl named Lil who had suffered a rather devastating fall from grace at a shockingly early age. They moved lightly and silently down the hillside like a pair of enchanted shadows. It was just as they were approaching the car that Marc suddenly stopped and grasped Toffee's arm.

"You hear voices?" he whispered thickly.

Toffee leaned forward in a listening attitude. "I think so," she said, "but they may be in my head." She leaned forward again, and after a moment, nodded vigorously. A voice that sounded like a bucksaw drawn across a block of cement was coming from somewhere on the other side of the car.

"I looked everywhere, Marge," it said, "but I ain't seen nothin'."

"But I hear it," a feminine voice replied. "It sounded like it's somewhere inside the car."

The woman's voice was the perfect mate to the one that had spoken first; it was as husky as an acre of Iowa corn.

"It's the most gruesome thing I've ever heard," the first voice continued. "What'll we do?"

"Look again. Whatever it is, it must be sufferin' somethin' awful."

The golden beam of a flashlight suddenly stretched out over the hood of the car, then moved back swiftly toward the interior. Marc started forward. "Company," he murmured happily. Then he called out; "Hello, there!"

Two startled faces instantly appeared over the top of the car. They were quite distinct in the bright moonlight. One was large and hard looking, like a product of Bethlehem Steel. The other was small, but all the worse for hard wear. Surrounded by a mop of gauzy blond hair, its makeup had been ladled on by a hand that was more lavish than loving. The owner of the large, hard head was the first to speak.

"Where did you come from?" he asked.

"From heaven," Marc answered inanely. "That's what my folks said."

"Holy smoke!" the man said, turning to his companion. "Marge! Look at that dame! She aint got nothin' on but a bunch of holes and a lot of skin!"

"Watch your temperature, Pete," Marge replied menacingly. "Remember what happened when I caught you with that blonde in Des Moines?"

Pete was immediately subdued. He fastened his eyes on Marc and carefully kept them there. By this time Marc and Toffee had reached the car and were moving toward the newcomers. The pair with the flashlight seemed to regard them with suspicion.

"You hillbillies?" the man named Pete asked. It was the forlorn conversational effort of a subnormal personality.

"Hah!" It was Marge who spoke up. "Just look at that dame, Pete. Does she make you think of hillbillies?"

"She makes me think of a lot of things," Pete answered promptly.

"Look, sister," Marge said, turning to Toffee. "You better clear outa here. You and me, we're goin' to tangle if you don't."

"Just because the boy shows a little good taste?" Toffee asked archly.

"He's got taste," Marge retorted, "like a mouth full of quinine."

"That must be why he got mixed up with you," Toffee said sweetly. "I understand there are things written on washroom walls about dames like you."

Marge made a small snarling noise, then lunged toward Toffee. "Oh, what a fresh babe!" she screamed. "I oughta belt you one. We'll just see how smart you are. I'll rip that sleezy dress right offa your back!"

Toffee ducked quickly behind Marc. "You rip off this dress," she giggled, "and you'll see a whale of a lot more than how smart I am."

That one stopped Marge cold. A naked redhead was bound to create more of a disturbance in Pete's life than just a fresh one dressed in lace. She was forced to content herself with only a murderous glare, but she put her all into it.

Marc, who had been watching these developments with an air of detached amusement, stepped forward, removing Toffee's protection. "You're all upset," he said to Marge, lowering the jug from his shoulder. "Have some squeezin's."

"Say," Marge drawled in a voice that was not altogether displeased, "are you tryin' to make a pass at me?"

"It's liquor," Marc answered amiably. "It hits the spot."

"Oh." Marge accepted the jug, tilted it and took a long, accomplished swallow. "Wow!" she gasped. "That stuff not only hits the spot, mister, it completely demolishes it. I bet my breath is radioactive."

Marc took the jug from her and turned it over to Pete, who drank from it deeply, without so much as a tremor. When the jug was returned, Marc put it on the ground. "Say," he said, "you two were looking for something when we came along. Can we help? What was it?"

"The owner of this here car," Pete said. "We can hear him snorin' in there, but I'm damned if we can find him."

"I told you," Marge put in argumentatively. "That ain't nothin' human that's makin' that noise. Leastways, it ain't nothin' that would own a car."

"You're nuts," Pete retorted. "That's somebody sleepin' in there."

For a moment they paused and listened. George's snoring was swiftly building to a stirring crescendo. It sounded like a sawmill in mid-season.

"Oh, that!" Marc laughed. "That's George. He's my ... uh ... my dog. I keep him locked in the back."

"You mean this here is yore car?" Pete asked.

"Sure," Marc patted the car fondly. "All mine."

Pete glanced at Marge. "Shall we do it?"

"Yeah," Marge said, helping herself to the jug. "We ain't got all night."

Marc and Toffee watched interestedly as Pete wedged an immense hand into his coat pocket and set it into a complicated series of fumbling motions. Presently, the hand seemed to locate what it was searching for and emerged once more into the bright moon light. It was holding a gun.

"Put up your hands," Pete growled, "before I blow your heads off." Then he glanced at Marge uncertainly. "Is that right?" he asked.

The blonde nodded. "You could put more guts into it, maybe, but it'll do in this case."

Pete nodded with satisfaction and turned back to Marc. "Will you give me the keys to this here car, please?" he asked politely. "Me and Marge, here, are goin' to steal it, if it's all the same to you."

"Oh, for the love of Mike!" Marge snorted disgustedly. "Now you've went and messed it all up. Don't be so polite. How many times do I have to tell you? And don't ever say please. Tell 'em to hand over the keys and no funny business. Make it sound professional. When you're snatchin' a valuable article like a car, the victim's entitled to a first class hold-up with plenty of rough talk. Please, he says! What're people gonna think?"

Pete grinned at Marc apologetically. "Marge is coachin' me," he said. "She's learnin' me the profession. Only I'm kinda dumb. I always louse up."

"Oh, I don't know," Toffee put in kindly. "I don't think you were so bad. I think a bit of politeness in a stick-up lends a refreshing new note. It's original."

"See, Marge!" Pete said triumphantly. "Did you hear? I'm original."

"You're the original dope," Marge snapped. "I don't care what she says, we're stickin' to standard methods. If they were good enough for my old lady, they're good enough for me. Now get them keys, and let's blow."

For a moment Pete looked crestfallen. "Sometimes," he murmured, "I wish I was just a juvenile delinquent again." Then, with a sigh, he jammed the gun into Marc's ribs. "Hand over them keys, buddy," he snarled. "And no funny business, see?"

Marc turned unconcernedly to Marge. "I like the other way better too," he said. "It's got more class."

"Who's runnin' this stick-up?" Marge said angrily. "Do I tell you your business? This is what I get for messin' with amateurs."

"Aw, Marge," Pete pleaded. "You ought'n to talk like that. I'm tryin' hard to do like you tell me."

"Sure," Toffee broke in. "Anyone can see he's sincere, and that's the important thing. Anyone who's sincere is bound to get ahead. You'll be proud of Pete someday. He may get to Sing Sing before you do, yourself."

"You stay out of this," Marge rasped, nearly at the end of her rope. "He's my boy friend, and I'll train him my way."

"What do you want the car for?" Marc asked, brushing Pete's gun gently away from his side. "Do you really need it, or are you just practicing?"

"We need the thing," Marge said wearily, tears of bitter humiliation beginning to well in her eyes. "We were makin' a getaway, our heap broke down about a mile back. We gotta get outa here, mister. Honest. Now, won't you please cooperate and let Pete stick you up?"

"Sure," Marc said agreeably. "Stick me up, Pete."

"What about us?" Toffee asked suddenly. "We need the car too."

"Yeah," Pete said, gesturing at Marge with his gun. "What about them?"

Marge threw her hand up in a gesture of despair. "That rips it!" she wailed. "I don't care what about anything anymore. You're all nuts ... or drunk ... or both." She sat down heavily on the running board and cupped her chin dejectedly in her hands. "Things have sure gone all to hell!"

A thoughtful silence fell over the little group for a time. Marc was the first to speak. "I tell you what," he said brightly. "We'll all go together. Toffee and I were only looking for a place to stay. You two come along with us, and when we find a place we like, you can stick us up all over again and steal the car. How's that?"

Pete smiled hopefully at Marge. "Yeah, Marge," he said. "That's fair, ain't it? And on the way you could coach me some more so's I'll do it right, the way you want it. I'll really stick 'em up this time, too. I'll scare hell outa 'em."

"Oh, all right," Marge said resignedly. "But if I wake up in a padded cell tomorrow, I ain't even goin' to ask how I got there."

Silently, the little party arranged itself in the car. Marge followed Pete into the back seat, scowling sullenly. Hugging the jug to her, Toffee slid across the front seat to make room for Marc behind the wheel. As she did so, the snoring, that had grown in intensity, was suddenly interrupted by a loud snort.

"If that was my dog," Marge said bitterly, "I'd strangle the beast."

When Marc turned off the ignition, the convertible seemed to sigh with relief ... so did the occupants of the back seat. Otherwise, everything was quiet. George's snoring had stopped completely some minutes before.

"Oh, Moses!" Marge murmured faintly. "Now, when they say death rides the highways, I'll know who they're talkin' about." She tugged at Pete's sleeve. "And did you see that jug floatin' around up there all by itself?"

"You're just excited, Marge," Pete told her soothingly. "You didn't see nothin' like that." He turned to Marc pleadingly. "She didn't see no jug floatin' around up there, did she, mister?"

But Marc didn't answer. He and Toffee were concerned with a light glowing through the pines just a few yards away from the road. Finally, Marc opened the door and got out of the car.

"I can't tell what it is," he said, "but I'll see if they can put us up for the night." He moved away in the direction of the glowing light.

It was several minutes later when Marc, followed by a balding little relic of a day gone by, retraced his steps through the open door and stepped onto the antiquated veranda of Sunnygarden Lodge, "A Haven For The Weary."

"You needn't come along," he said uneasily to the little man. "My friends are waiting in the car. I can get them myself."

"Oh, but I insist!" the little fellow piped in a managerial voice. "I always greet each and every guest of Sunnygarden Lodge personally. I just wouldn't forgive myself if they came in without a personal welcome."

Marc hurried down the steps as though trying to lose the little manager. "My friends won't mind if you don't welcome them," he said. "They won't care at all. In fact, I'm sure they'd rather you wouldn't bother."

"Tut, tut!" The manager clung doggedly to Marc's side. "I like to know my guests. I take it as a sort of responsibility. As a rule, my guests are rather elderly and come regularly for the quiet. I like to make sure that any newcomers are ... uh ... well, compatible. Courtesy of the house, you know."

Reaching the drive, Marc started energetically down its center, hoping the manager would tire of the pace and drop out. But falling into a sort of jittery dog-trot, the fellow tagged persistently along. It was just as they were rounding the first curve by the corner of the lodge that the blast of the horn suddenly shattered the stillness, and the blue convertible bounded into sight. Headlight beams searched wildly through the pines for a second, then fell to the graveled drive and stabbed forward.

Marc and the manager stood transfixed as the car bore down upon them. Then, just in time, Marc reached out, hugged the little man to him, and leaped to the safety of the lawn. The car raced past in a flash, but not so fast that it did not disclose several disconcerting facts, not the least of which was the empty space in the driver's seat. Apparently driverless, the car streaked by, the wail of its horn horribly augmented by terrified shrieks from the back seat. In startling contrast to all this, Toffee leaned gaily out of the window, opposite the wheel, and blew Marc a hurried kiss. Coming abreast of the veranda a split second later, the car came to a sudden, jarring stop, spitting gravel to the winds like rice at a wedding. A final blast from the horn announced the completion of these demented operations, and everything suddenly fell into a deep, throbbing silence.

"Oh, my heavens!" the little manager gasped. "Oh!"

"I ... I can't imagine what happened," Marc faltered lamely.

"I don't think my guests will like this," the manager said reprovingly.

Together, Marc and the manager made their way back to the veranda. The door, on Toffee's side of the car, was just starting to open, and Marc made a dash for it. Arriving just as Toffee placed the first slender foot on the drive, he reached inside the car, drew out a plaid lap robe and draped it over her like a piece of wet wash.

"Hey!" Toffee cried. "What's the big idea?"

Marc turned and smiled wanly at the manager who was now standing on the lodge steps. Looking back at Toffee, his smile faded. "I wanted to be sure you wouldn't catch cold," he hissed. "Now, keep it on."

Marge's voice sounded weakly behind them. "Outa my way," she whimpered, fairly crawling from the car. Like the survivor of the wreck, she stumbled forward a few steps and turned baleful eyes toward the manager. "Shove a stretcher under me, pops," she gasped. "I think I'm going to pass out."

The words of welcome that had been determinedly forming on the manager's lips froze there like an epitaph in granite. Then they vanished altogether at the sudden appearance of Pete. The big man lumbered blindly out of the car, his momentum carrying him half up to the steps of the lodge. Then he whirled abruptly, sat down, and put his head in his hands.

"It ain't worth it," he mourned. "I'm going straight."

"Aren't you going to steal the car?" Toffee asked disappointedly.

Marge looked up ruefully. "Wild horses couldn't drag me back into that car," she said.

Meanwhile, Marc, staring inside the car, had stiffened in an attitude of panic-stricken fascination. The jug, that had been resting on the seat, had suddenly jumped into the air and was floating lightly out, through the opposite door. It wasn't until it had jauntily traversed the entire front half of the car and started to emerge around the edge of the right fender that the horrible possibilities of the situation suddenly bore down on Marc and pressed him into action. Leaping forward, he grasped the jug around the base and tugged at it. Hearing a gasp behind him, he glanced back over his shoulder and discovered that everyone, and especially the manager, was watching him with consuming interest. He grinned sheepishly and turned back to the matter of the jug.

With a defiant gurgle the jug immediately started to put up a fight. Shooting out of his hands like a live thing, it darted coyly behind him. He whirled and caught hold of it, just as it started to slip out of reach.

"Give me that thing," he rasped.

"You're always so greedy," George's voice came back. "If you want a drink so bad, why don't you just ask for it like a gentleman?"

"Good heavens!" the manager exclaimed from the steps. "Is he actually arguing with that thing?"

Marc wrenched the jug free and clutched it firmly to his side. "I lost my balance," he said self-consciously. "Gravel's slippery."

"Is it?" the manager asked coolly. He cleared his throat with an effort. "Well, if we're all ready, we'll go inside, shall we?" He glanced back at Marc disapprovingly. "Our guests," he added warningly, "do very little drinking here."

Marc awoke and instantly regretted it. Horrible memories of the previous day's events trampled each other in a rush for his attention. His head ached and his feet felt oddly heavy and immovable. He groaned and propped himself forward with his hands, then he groaned again. No wonder his feet felt heavy. Toffee was sitting on his ankles.

"I don't know how just one man can look so awful," she said lightly. "I should think it would take at least two ... maybe three."

"What're you doing here?" Marc asked thickly. "Go 'way."

"And a happy good morning to you, too." Toffee slid quickly toward him and brushed cool lips across his forehead. "You scare me," she laughed. Then, suddenly quitting him, she moved across the room to consider herself critically in the bureau mirror. "I don't know why you went to the trouble of getting me a room of my own," she murmured, running her fingers lightly through her hair. "You know very well I wouldn't get any use of it. I can stay materialized only when I'm projected through your consciousness. When you go to sleep, I have to return to your subconscious until you wake up."

"Haven't you ever heard of decency?" Marc asked.

Toffee nodded. "I've heard talk of it. But nothing interesting."

Marc shook his head sadly. "Where are George and those two criminal types we picked up last night?"

"How should I know?" Toffee shrugged. "Probably downstairs, stuffing themselves at your expense. That's what I'd be doing. It's nearly ten o'clock."

"Holy smoke!" Marc cried. "Is it that late? You mean those maniacs are probably running around loose down there?" He swung his long legs out over the edge of the bed. "Get out of here so I can dress."

Toffee started slowly toward the door. "Puritan," she said chidingly.

Marc looked up, startled. In day-light, in the lace dress, Toffee's exquisite body seemed merely to be passing through a lightly shaded bower, completely unclothed. Clutching a sheet to him, he jumped up, pulled a scarf from a nearby table and threw it to her. "Here!" he called. "Put that on!"

Catching the scarf, Toffee held it out full length. "It's not big enough to do much good, is it?" she asked innocently.

"Use it strategically!" Marc sighed, "where it will do the most good."

Draping the scarf lightly over her shoulders, Toffee left the room.

Only minutes later, still needing a shave, Marc joined Toffee in the hallway. Together, they hurried downstairs and made their way directly to the dining room. Toffee had guessed right. Across the room, at a corner table, were George, Marge and Pete. Of the three, George was the only one facing in their direction and he was so busy talking he didn't notice them.

George had done a good job of materializing ... except for one little detail. His trouser legs terminated in two gaping holes. One leg crossed jauntily over the other, he was nonexistent from the ankles down. The explanation for this oversight probably lay in the jug nestled next to the leg of his chair.

In a chair that was almost back-to-back with George's, a little white-haired lady was nearly twisting her frail neck double in an effort to have a better view of George's footless legs. Passing a trembling hand over her eyes, she shuddered with horror and finally turned away. Across the table from her, her elderly male companion cast her a questioning glance, but she ignored it and stared determinedly out the window. Her thin, colorless lips were silently forming the words: "I won't. I won't. I won't look again!"

It was apparent at a glance that the entire clientele of Sunnygarden Lodge hovered dangerously close to the grave. Wheel chairs, crutches, and ear aids were much in evidence in the hushed funereal atmosphere of the dining room that was only occasionally interrupted by the inadvertent clatter of a slipping denture. In contrast, however, a lively, greying woman in a comic-opera gypsy costume moved from table to table, at the far end of the room, with hateful persistence, like a bee searching for honey in a cluster of toadstools.

Toffee nudged Marc and pointed to the woman. "What's that?" she asked.

"A fortune teller," Marc said absently. "They always have them in dumps like this. They're considered quaint by the older set. She generalizes about your future at a buck a throw."

He started across the room, and Toffee followed. As they drew near the table in the corner, George suddenly glanced up for the first time and saw them. Blanching, he hurriedly handed Pete a piece of paper, then got quickly up from his chair and started away. By the time Marc and Toffee reached the table, he had passed behind a dusty potted palm and melted away like a cloud of smoke in a heavy gale.

Marge started as she looked up and saw Marc standing beside her. "How did you get there?" she asked. Her hand, that had been stretched out toward a dark object lying opposite her, on the table, darted back guiltily. Marc glanced down and recognized his own wallet.

"How did that get here?" he asked.

"You left it just now," Marge said confusedly. "I thought I'd better look after it while you were away."

Marc picked up the wallet and opened it. Two hundred dollars in bills were missing, but three hundred dollars and several checks remained. Obviously, George had lifted the wallet sometime during the night. But what could he possibly find to do with two hundred dollars in a place like Sunnygarden Lodge? Marc couldn't imagine. The matter would have to wait until George decided to reappear again. Helping Toffee into a chair, Marc seated himself in the place that had been George's.

Resting her elbows on the table, Toffee cupped her chin demurely in her hand and leveled an accusing gaze on Marge. "Having a little larceny for breakfast, dear?" she asked.

"Don't get smart," Marge mumbled. "I'm goin' straight."

"To where?"

"Say! I oughta chop you off at the pockets for a crack like that. You ain't no angel yourself. Why, if you ever showed up around headquarters in that dress you're wearin', they'd throw the book at you."

"Which book is that?" Toffee asked with genuine interest.

"Huh?" Marge said.

"The book they're going to throw at me. Which one is it?"

"Yeah, Marge," Pete put in from across the table. "Which book is that?"

"How should I know which book!" Marge cried with sudden confusion. "Any one that's handy, I suppose. I don't care if they throw the whole library at her. I wish they would."

"Now," Toffee said thoughtfully, "if this book was 'Forever Amber'...."

"Skip it!" Marge cried distractedly. "For the love of heaven, skip it, can't you? I'm sorry I brought it up."

"You should be," Toffee said sternly. "Besides, flinging books about seems a very loose way of upholding the law. I don't think you know what you're talking about."

Marge winced, completely demoralized. Across the table, Pete dug an affable elbow into Marc's ribs.

"You're plenty smart, Mr. Pillsworth," he said. "That business about the note is the nuts." He tapped his coat pocket. "It leaves Marge and me in the clear. Of course, I think the whole deal is kinda loopy, but if that's the way you want it...." He shrugged his beefy shoulders significantly.

For a moment Marc was completely mystified ... but only for a moment. Plainly, Pete was confusing him with George. The best thing, in that case, was probably just to string along with the gag and find out what was going on ... what kind of a "deal" George had made.

"Let's see the note," he said, holding out his hand.

"What for?" Pete wanted to know. "You give it to me to keep."

"I want to make a correction," Marc said quickly.

A crafty look came into Pete's eyes. "Say, you ain't tryin' to back out, are you? You said I wasn't to let you, if you did. Remember?"

Things, Marc could see, were going to take a bit of doing. Perhaps a little firmness.... "Give me that note," he ordered.

"In front of her?" Pete nodded toward Toffee. "You wouldn't want her to know about it. It'd shock her somethin' awful. You wanted this all secret."

Marc decided to drop the matter. Anything that would shock Toffee's rawhide sensitivities was better left in the dim regions of Pete's pocket ... for the time being, anyway. Uneasy thoughts of blackmail coursed quietly through his mind.

Pushing her chair back, Marge got to her feet. "Come on, Pete," she said. "Let's get outa here and get some fresh air."

"You ain't finished breakfast yet," Pete reminded her.

"All of a sudden I got sour stomach." She glanced meaningfully at Toffee.

Together, the two of them left the table and moved across the dining room, to the door leading onto the veranda. Marc stared worriedly after them.

"Don't look so glum," Toffee said gently, reaching out to pat his hand. "You still love me, you know, no matter what happens."

"I don't deserve you," Marc said sadly. "I've never been that mean."

It was then that he caught sight of the jug. It had begun to behave very strangely in the last few seconds. Surreptitiously, it was inching away from his chair like a footless penguin.

"So you're back, are you?" Marc said addressing the ambling jug.

The jug came to a guilty halt. "Uh-huh," George's voice said quietly.

"What have you been up to behind my back? What's this deal with Pete?"

"Nothing ... much."

"You sit down," Marc commanded irritably, "and materialize. I want to tell you what I think of you right to your treacherous face."

The jug swooped over to the chair that Pete had just left and settled on the floor. The chair moved briefly out from the table, then back again. Slowly, George came into view, looking very sheepish. That no one besides Marc and Toffee seemed to notice this singular occurrence was probably due to the failing eyesight of the other guests of Sunnygarden Lodge.

Marc leveled a tense finger at George's nose. His lips parted angrily, but he didn't speak. An alien hand had suddenly closed over his own. He looked up to find the decrepit gypsy standing beside him. She was bent over his hand, staring at it myopically.

"You," she said in heavy, theatrical tones, "are destined to live a long and happy life. It is written in your hand."

Toffee looked on these proceedings with high disapproval. "You quit holding his hand, you old moll," she put in heatedly, "or your life won't be worth living."

The woman looked up in alarm. "Alright, dearie," she said, dropping Marc's hand. "No harm done." She tottered briskly away from the table.

Not to be deterred by this interruption, Marc leveled his finger back at George's nose. "Now, listen, you ..." he began. But there he stopped.

A strange expression had come into George's face and he was beginning to look a little ill. He glanced uneasily around the room, then swallowed ... hard. For a moment he looked like he was going to speak, but all of a sudden there was a sharp popping sound, like a blown fuse, and he instantly vanished. In the same moment, the jug beside his chair began to tremble violently, then, astonishingly, leaped about a foot into the air, as though seized with a fit of anger. It lingered there, undecidedly suspended for a moment, then suddenly crashed to the floor, sending shattered crockery and liquid fanning out in a messy arc. Marc and Toffee stared at the wreckage as the little white-haired lady, who had found George's feet so fascinating, suddenly started from her chair.

"I can't stand it another minute!" she whimpered. "I must see! I must!" And whirling around to face Marc she stared at him wretchedly for an intensely silent moment. Then, with a quick movement, she reached quickly down beneath the table and started tugging at the legs of his trousers.

Marc was instantly on his feet. "Lady!" he yelped in surprise. "What a thing to do! Let go of my pants!"

"Yes," Toffee put in excitedly, rising from her chair. "You should have given up ideas like that long ago!"

The little woman hesitated in her activities, seeming to realize for the first time what she was doing. And, clearly, it shocked her even more than Marc or Toffee. With an agonized upward glance at Marc, she made an unintelligible sound, turned chalk white and slumped to the floor in a dead faint.

At this point the situation might have straightened itself out. It might have, that is, if the woman had only thought to release her hold on Marc's trouser legs. But she hadn't. Falling back, she dragged Marc's balance after her. Clawing the air in a sort of breast stroke, Marc crashed to the floor, and sprawled out full length.

At this, the woman's male companion, who had been watching these proceedings through a nearsighted haze, shot from his chair like an avenging angel. "He attacked my wife!" the little man screamed. "The fiend! I seen him! He attacked my old lady!"

The quiet atmosphere in the dining room suddenly gave way to riot. The patrons of the lodge were magically transformed into a league of formidable warriors ... no longer the slowly disintegrating remnants that they had first appeared to be. Summoning hidden vigor, from heaven only knew what source, they rose as a body and swarmed toward the scene of outrage. One of their number had been attacked and they were plainly not to be found wanting. Crutches, ear trumpets and miscellaneous silverware were instantly pressed into service in lieu of weapons. One old gentleman, racing his wheel-chair at break-neck speed, hurled himself into the fray with all the proud spirit of a knight astride a charger. Other ancient enlistees, in their near-sightedness, promptly engaged each other in ferocious battle, no questions asked. Crockery flew in all directions and crashed unheeded against the walls. The orderly dining room was reduced to a raging ruin in only a matter of seconds.

At the first signs of hostilities, Toffee had jumped to Marc's defense. It was her thought that the whole thing could be prevented with a few pertinent words of explanation. But no sooner had she opened her mouth than the arm rest of a crutch caught her rudely under the chin and pinned her against the wall, silent and helpless. Her captor was a wild-eyed little lady in subdued lavender.

"Hussy!" the little woman screamed. "Runnin' around with fiends! You're just as bad as the company you keep. Don't you dast open your painted mouth to me!"

Somehow, Marc, by this time, had managed to stagger to his feet. Seeing Toffee's predicament, he started toward her, but was cut off by his howling tormentors. Wildly, he swung about in the opposite direction. Then he stopped short. For an instant his gaze had swept over the open door leading onto the veranda. Coming up the steps, and losing no time about it, were Julie and Dr. Polk.

Marc whirled back toward the door. "Julie," he screamed.

Julie glanced frightenedly toward the scene of chaos. But Marc never saw her face, for at that same moment a warming dish, complete with heavy metal cover, came down thunderously over his head. Poached eggs were streaming into his eyes as he pitched toward the floor, but he wasn't aware of them. Everything had already gone pitch black.

The little lady in lavender started forward a bit as the crutch gave under her hand and jolted against the wall. She stared quizzically at the wall. Then, dropping the crutch, she removed her glasses and wiped them vigorously with a delicate lace handkerchief. Replacing the glasses carefully, she stared at the wall again.

"Well, I'll be blessed," she murmured. "I could have sworn I had that little harpy all the time."

Toffee had vanished into thin air.

A tiny bubble of awareness rose through the blackness of Marc's mind, reached the surface and exploded with a flash of light. It was immediately followed by another ... then two ... and three ... and a score. Marc stirred and opened his eyes. His vision was pulsing and dim. Objects leaped into view, then disappeared. A chair, a table, a door, a window with the blind mostly drawn. His hands fell against softness and he knew he was lying on a bed. He rolled over. The motion must have had a clearing effect on his head, for the objects were suddenly more distinct and remained in focus longer. A seated figure swam into view very close by. For a moment it hovered over him, then faded, vanished, reappeared and remained. It was Dr. Polk.

The doctor's precise features arranged themselves into a sparse smile. "Well, my boy," he said. "How are you feeling?"

"I ... I don't know," Marc faltered. "How did you find me here?"

"We gave the police the license number on your car as soon as you ran off yesterday," the doctor answered. "They didn't have much trouble locating you." He smiled sadly. "You've been a rather naughty boy. They tell me you've taken to beating old ladies."

"No," Marc murmured. "A mistake ... it was a mistake."

"Yes, yes," the doctor patronized. "But we must face things as they really are, my boy. It's the only way out, you know. Something has upset you badly, but everything can be set right again if we can get to the root of the trouble. You must be pronounced well again, you know, if you're to go to court against Mrs. Pillsworth. We'll have to re-establish your legal status."

"What!" Marc didn't know where the strength came from but he was suddenly sitting up. "Get out of here! I'll stay nutty the rest of my life if that's the way the wind is blowing." He fell back, exhausted, but he was beginning to feel better. Stronger, anyway.

"Now, you must be reasonable," the doctor went on, undisturbed. "You wouldn't want to be put away in an institution, would you?"

Marc shook his head. It was the truth; he wouldn't.

"Then you must help me to help you. First of all, I want you to go back in memory to your childhood, and tell me anything, everything that comes to mind. Just close your eyes and think back. Start with your earliest memory."

Marc glared at the doctor for a moment, then resignedly closed his eyes. There was a long period of silence. Finally, he said, "The first I remember is the night I was born."

"What!" the doctor's voice was excited.

"Yes. I recall that someone gave me a pair of soft blue booties."

"Yes, go on!"

"I used them," Marc said flatly, "to beat the doctor's brains out." He opened his eyes and boosted himself forward. "How's that for a memory?"

But the doctor wasn't listening. In fact, he wasn't even looking at Marc. Instead, his gaze was fastened in horrified wonder on the bureau across the room. A shudder crept through his thin body, and he turned away, one slender hand pressed firmly to his eyes.

The reason for the doctor's distress was instantly apparent; Toffee had materialized. Seated pertly atop the bureau, one perfect leg crossed seductively over the other, she was truly a vision from another world. There was something statuesque and unnatural in her pose. But when Marc looked at her, she came momentarily to life. Quickly, she raised one tapering finger to her lips, then shook her head. That was all. Immediately, she resumed the mannikin pose and held it rigidly. Marc nodded and slumped back on the bed.

"Well, doc," he said brightly, "what do you think of my childhood?"

The doctor drew his hand away from his eyes and stared at Marc stupidly: "Your childhood?" he asked bemusedly. "I ... I ... think ..." He glanced quickly over his shoulder at the bureau and shuddered again. "Tell ... tell me," he faltered. "What do you see on that bureau over there?"

With elaborate deliberation, Marc raised himself and squinted at the bureau. "A Gideon bible," he said pleasantly. "That's all I see."

The doctor's face turned ash grey. "Been working too hard," he muttered. "Got to ... to ... to take a rest." He turned misery-ridden eyes on Marc. "You'll have to excuse me. We will continue ... later ... maybe."

He got unsteadily to his feet and moved slowly toward the door. Reaching it, he stretched his hand toward the knob, then withdrew it. Clearly, the good doctor was struggling against some inner conflict. Suddenly, with a determined lift of his chin, he turned and gazed squarely at the bureau. It was a grave mistake.

It wasn't so much that Toffee met the doctor's gaze unblinkingly. The real damage was done when she smiled and winked at him. That was too much. With a cry of purest despair, the doctor pivoted, threw open the door and bolted into the hall. A second later his footsteps echoed on the stairs with machinegun rapidity.

Marc swung himself off the bed and impulsively crossed to Toffee and kissed her on the cheek. "You were wonderful," he said. "You certainly stewed his prunes."

Toffee leaned back and giggled. "You only say that," she murmured, "just because I'm gorgeous. I wonder if Julie ever found...."

"Julie!" Marc's eyes were panic-stricken.

Perhaps Julie was a bit high tempered at times, but she was still his wife. It seemed, now, that he had been caught in a raging flood of madness and Julie was the rock of reality to which he must cling at all costs. Whirling away from Toffee, he raced toward the door.

When Marc reached the foyer of the lodge, he was surprised to find it completely deserted, except for the little manager. Astonishingly, at the sight of Marc, the fellow clasped his hands ecstatically before him and ran to meet him. "Oh, Mr. Pillsworth!" he cried. "You don't know what you've done! You just simply don't know! You've absolutely rejuvenated my guests with that little riot of yours. They all said they didn't know when they felt so young. They've all gone out in the woods for a picnic ... with beer! They took up a collection for the damage in the dining room, and...."

Marc wasn't listening. "Where's my wife?" he asked. "Where's Julie?"

"The pretty blonde young lady?" the manager asked.

"Yes, yes. Where is she?"

"Out on the veranda, I believe. Down at the far end, around the corner. Poor dear, she was crying terribly when she went out."

Marc turned and darted for the door. Then he stopped abruptly. A large hand had fallen over his arm and was holding him back. He looked up to see Pete standing beside him.

"Let go," he said impatiently, "I've got to find my...."

"Never mind," Pete said. "You just come along with me. Let's get it over with, huh? Marge and me, we want to get outa here."

"Get what over with? What are you talking about?"

"You know. Our deal."

"What deal? Say, what is this all about, anyway?"

"You know. The deal you said I wasn't to let you back out on. Remember?"

Subsequent development had completely banished the scene at the breakfast table from Marc's mind. "No. I don't remember any deal." He tried to pull away, but the big man held him firmly.

"Oh, come now, Mr. Pillsworth. Remember at breakfast when you told me how you come up here to commit suicide 'cause your wife is leavin' you? Only you didn't have the nerve? Remember how you give me two C's to bump you off? And I wasn't to let you back out no matter what you said? And the note you give me, sayin' how you was knockin' yourself off over a busted heart, so's Marge and me, we'd be in the clear on doin' the job? Remember?"

"I've been framed," Marc said desperately, recalling the note he'd seen George give to Pete. "That was George you made the deal with. He wants me out of the way. You weren't talking to me. You were talking to George!"

Pete started to laugh. "That's pretty funny, Mr. Pillsworth!" he roared. "George, the talkin' dog, done it, eh? That's real good. I'll have to tell Marge." His hand moved close to Marc's side. It was holding a gun. "You paid me for a job, Mr. Pillsworth, and you got a job comin'. It wouldn't be honest otherwise. And I ain't goin' to let you talk me outa it, neither. Aren't you glad?" He gave the gun an extra shove. "I'd rather not do it right here. Let's go outside. Whaddaya say?"

As Pete shoved him gently but firmly toward the door, Marc peered frantically around the room. "George!" he called. "George! Oh, George, for the love of Mike!"

Behind him, Pete's laugh boomed out in a salvo of noisy mirth. "You're a card, Mr. Pillsworth!" he howled. "You sure are a card. When it comes time for me to cash in my chips, I hope I'll have the nerve to crack jokes like that."

All the way up the trail to the brink of the cliff, Marc had continued to call vainly for George, and the joke, as far as Pete was concerned, was beginning to wear thin.

"Can't you stop that?" Pete asked. "It kinda gets on a guy's nerves after a while. If it means so much to you to have that dog around, why don't you just whistle?"

"I don't feel like whistling," Marc said irritably. "I mean George isn't a dog. He's ... a ..." He glanced over the edge of the cliff, and his legs suddenly turned to sawdust. Yards and yards of nothing at all stretched out endlessly downward. He turned pleadingly to Pete. "Now, listen to reason, Pete. I don't want to commit suicide. That was all a mistake...."

"You told me not to listen when you started talkin' like that," Pete said doggedly. "I gotta do the honest thing, Mr. Pillsworth. I gotta bump you off."

"Do you have to be so honest?" Marc asked desperately. "Don't you want to get ahead in your chosen profession? Haven't you any ambition at all? A good crook would automatically go back on his word, just as a matter of principle. Think of your future, Pete. Where's Marge? She'll tell you."

Pete shook his head. "Marge is takin' it easy back at the lodge. She says we're goin' straight, and I'm to do exactly like you said." He stepped back and motioned toward the edge of the cliff with his gun. "Now, why don't you save us both a lot of trouble and just step off that there cliff? That way, I won't have to shoot you off. I'm goin' to count three, and if you ain't jumped yet, I'll shoot."

"No, Pete!" Marc cried. "No! You don't understan...."


Pete took a step forward and Marc edged back a little. He didn't dare look behind him. The edge of the cliff was only inches away.


Pete advanced again, and Marc nervously sidled to the left. Then a look of hopelessness swept over his face. Closing his eyes, he turned and faced the cliff. Waiting for the final, fatal number, his body was tense as a steel spring.

Pete raised his gun level with Marc's back and opened his mouth, but neither the gun nor the mouth spoke. Julie, a piece of paper clutched tightly in her hand, had suddenly appeared on the clearing at the top of the cliff. At the first glimpse of Marc, poised on the edge of the cliff, she stopped short, her lovely tear-stained face suddenly twisting with horror. Then she closed her eyes and screamed with all her might.

As the noise stabbed through the mountain air, Marc started as though he'd been kicked. Then, clutching his middle in a gesture of mortal pain, he teetered drunkenly on the brink a moment and ... plunged downward.

Footsteps sounded on the trail, and Dr. Polk, breaking through the clearing, ran breathlessly toward Julie. Reaching her, he placed an enquiring hand on her arm. Julie instantly opened her eyes, stared at the empty space where Marc had been and screamed again. She started to run forward, but the doctor caught her and held her back. She whirled angrily toward Pete.

"Why did you let him do it?" she screamed. "You just stood there!"

Slipping his gun into his pocket, Pete stared at her stupidly. "I'm sorry," he mumbled. "Seems like he just wanted to do it."

With a gesture of hopelessness, Julie turned back to the doctor and buried her face in his shoulder. "It was all my fault," she sobbed. "I drove him to it. And he was sick, too!"


The voice was from beyond the cliff. Also, it seemed to come from beyond the grave. There was a distant other-world quality about it.

"Marc!" Julie broke away from the doctor and ran swiftly to the edge of the cliff. Kneeling, she peered anxiously over the side. Not more than three yards below, spread eagle over the face of a sloping rock ledge, was Marc. He was clinging tenaciously to a small bush that had grown into the side of the cliff, and his feet were braced securely against the jagged protruding edge of the ledge. Though he could probably have remained there for days without any real danger, his upturned face was filled with undiluted terror.

"Julie," he cried weakly. "For the love of heaven, get me out of here. I've been shot."

After Dr. Polk and Pete, with the babbling moral support of Julie, had managed to haul Marc back over the edge of the cliff and convince him that he was not riddled with bullets, they left him lying on the ground. Julie knelt beside him and took him in her arms. Pete, after a hasty glance at his resurrected victim, hastily disappeared in the direction of the trail. Probably the apprentice gunman was worried lest Marc demand a refund of the two hundred dollars on the grounds that his services had been incompletely rendered. Dr. Polk, apparently somewhat recovered from his disquieting encounter with Toffee, stood by, observing Marc with unashamed directness.

"It's all right," Julie cooed comfortingly. "Everything is going to be all right ... even if you are crazy. I'll stick by you, darling. You'll have the loveliest padded cell that money can buy. I'll take care of you." She held him a little way out from her. "You mustn't ever do anything like this again. When I found that note in your room, I nearly went mad myself."

"Could ... could I see the note?" Marc asked weakly.

Julie reached into her pocket and held up a crumpled piece of paper. Her hand had perspired and smeared the writing until it was completely illegible, but there was no doubt that the handwriting was Marc's ... or an exact duplicate.

"But we don't want to see any more of that hateful thing," Julie said. She crushed the paper into a ball and hurled it over the edge of the cliff. "There, now, that's all over, that silly business about you killing yourself." She drew Marc closer to her.

Over Julie's shoulder, Marc glanced uneasily at the doctor. It seemed this was not quite the time for an observer. But the doctor was no longer interested in the reconciliation. Instead, his gaze was riveted on the trail. Marc's eyes automatically followed the doctor's, and the hair at the back of his neck began to bristle. Toffee, her filmy skirts held well above her knees, was running toward the clearing as fast as her decorative legs could carry her. Marc stiffened in Julie's arms.

"What is it, dear?" Julie asked.

"No ... nothing," Marc said faintly. Toffee, by appearing just at this moment, could easily set matters back to where they were in the beginning. Something had to be done ... quick! Marc's hand started forward in a gesture of warning, but in moving upward from the ground, it brushed lightly against a rock. And there it stopped.

As Marc's hand closed over the rock, his eyes clouded with pain. It was the only effective way to get rid of Toffee quickly. It had to be done. His hand moved upward, poised the rock squarely over his head, then quickly released it. Whack! It was a case of pinpoint bombing. Marc slumped in Julie's arms.

"Oh, dear," Julie murmured concernedly. "He's passed out again." She started to massage Marc's wrists. Then, noticing the trickle of blood over his left eyebrow, she added another; "Oh, dear!"

"Oh, Lord!" Dr. Polk breathed, and his voice was far more earnest than Julie's. Staring at the place where Toffee had been, he seemed almost in danger of bolting over the face of the cliff in a fit of terror. "She's gone!" he cried. "She just melted into nothing!" Avoiding the spot where Toffee had last stood, he edged cautiously toward the trail, and reaching it, broke into a dead run toward the lodge. He ran like a man possessed.

Not conscious of the doctor's odd behavior, Julie gazed softly into Marc's unconscious face. "I'll take care of you," she whispered. And slowly she lowered her lips to his.

But in the tranquil valley of his own mind, Marc was concerned with other lips ... the very singular lips of Toffee. One arm still around his neck, Toffee leaned back and smiled.

"Another day," she sighed happily, "another dilemma. You do live such a rapturous life. Never a sane moment."

"It has never occurred to you," Marc said dryly, "that you contribute somewhat to that insanity yourself?"

"Me?" Toffee asked, wide-eyed. "How can you say a thing like that? I'm always the one that has to straighten everything out."

"I suppose you were on your way to straighten things out when you ran out on the cliff. If Julie had seen you she'd have tossed me over the brink again."

"I was on my way to save your wretched life," Toffee replied haughtily. "I cornered Marge back at the lodge and made her tell me the whole story. She thought you were already dead, but I knew you weren't. If I still existed, you did too. So I ran up there to stop Pete from killing you. Now I get blamed."

Marc took her hand in his. "You were wonderful," he said sincerely.

"You bet I was," Toffee said self-righteously. "It was that fiend, George, that caused all the trouble."

Marc had almost forgotten the ghost in the excitement of the last half hour. "That demon! First I couldn't get rid of him, then when I wanted him, he wasn't anywhere."

"Of course not. George went back to ... well, wherever he came from. Remember how he disappeared at the table?" Marc nodded. "Well, George did his swan song right there."


"Sure. Because of that fortuneteller," Toffee explained. "It was the simplest thing in the world. She said it was written in your hand that you would live a long time. Well, George believed her. And if you were going to live, he had to get going. That's the rules, and he's a stickler for the rules. And it's only natural that George believes in fortunetellers. He's very superstitious, you know. After all, he's a ghost, himself, isn't he?"

"I see," Marc murmured wonderingly. "Then George is gone for good."

Toffee nodded and began to laugh. "You remember how that jug lurched about when George disappeared?"

"Uh-huh. What's so funny about that?"

"George," Toffee giggled in a fit of hilarity, "tried to take it with him."

Marc started to laugh too, then stopped. The earth was moving away from under him. Either that, or he was rising lightly in the air. Whichever it was, only he, himself, was affected by the phenomenon, for Toffee remained on the grassy knoll. He reached down toward her, but she only smiled up at him.

"It's all over," she called. "Goodbye. It's been lovely being with you again. Don't forget me."

Marc tried to force himself downward, but he couldn't. His will was too weak against the force that was lifting him. When he stopped trying, he shot upward all the faster. Moving away into the distance, he looked regretfully back at Toffee, a tiny waving figure, now, in the soft, loveliness of the valley.

"Goodbye!" he called. "Goodbye!"

Then, looking up, he saw the darkness racing down to meet him. He felt a little sad at leaving Toffee and the valley, and yet it was comforting to know that in a few moments he would be back in Julie's arms.

The next morning the sun glinted brightly over the hood of the blue convertible, then flashed against its rear bumper as it left the graveled drive of Sunnygarden Lodge and turned onto the pavement of the highway.

Behind the wheel, Marc, with an impressive-looking bandage over his left eye, glanced uneasily at Julie, who sat rigidly upright in the opposite corner of the seat. Marc wondered how he could reassure her. Probably the truth about Toffee and George would be worse than nothing at all when it came to restoring her confidence. Maybe just some nice, intelligent conversation.

"What ... what happened to that nice fellow, Dr. Polk?" he asked rather stiffly.

"I really don't know," Julie said, careful that her gaze remained on the scenery along the road. "He left without a word early yesterday afternoon."

That took care of that. A heavy tide of silence washed between them and bore the conversational topic of Dr. Polk away, beyond recovery. Marc hummed self-consciously to himself for a moment, then, in desperation, reached toward the car radio and switched it on. Presently, a sonorous voice broke dispiritedly through the silence.

"... in Europe," it said. "And now for the news, here at home. Probably the most provocative story of the day concerns the psychiatrist, Horace D. Polk. It seems that Dr. Polk, in a state of acute agitation, turned himself in for psychiatric treatment at his own clinic late last night. The doctor claims that overwork had caused him to be the victim of hallucinations that take the form of scantily clad women who suddenly appear, wink at him, and vanish into thin air. Before being taken into the care of one of his associates, the doctor told newsmen that his patients would be notified that any diagnosis pronounced by him within the last two months should probably be disregarded. He said that such people would be advised to place themselves in the hands of other, reliable doctors until his recovery. Dr. Grimes, a long-time friend and associate of Dr. Polk, stated that the clinic...."

Marc quickly turned off the radio, pressing his lips tightly together to hold back the mirth that was bubbling inside. He turned cautiously to Julie. She was looking at him now, and the twinkle that always foreshadowed laughter was in her eyes. Then, she edged closer to him, and suddenly they both began to laugh in the same instant.

Marc's laughter rang out, clear and unrestrained. Everything was all right again. He reached an arm around Julie and drew her closer. Yes, sir, everything was perfectly all right.

In a faraway time and space, on a drifting world of vagrant mists and shrouds, five strange figures had drawn together on what appeared to be a shapeless chunk of steam. Reclining in various attitudes of majestic ease, they seemed happily unaware that, by human standards, their physical contours left something to be desired. For reasons known only to themselves two of the party had seen fit to dispense entirely with the customary appendages, and were lounging in armless and legless splendor on their paunchy stomachs. Two others, even less ambitious, manifested only bulbous heads that terminated in trailing vapors. The fifth was merely a torso, or at least, a simulation of what the torso thought a torso should be.

In the foreground, fidgeting guiltily, George stood before them, his head bowed in an attitude of abject contrition.

From one of the five ... it would be difficult to say which under the circumstances ... a low rumbling voice issued forth. Really more of a sound than a voice, it seemed to produce only guttural snorts rather than words. It appeared to be saying:

"Spectre, George Pillsworth, the Council finds much cause for displeasure in your report. It is in fact, severely distressed over the whole matter. It would seem that you have gone to extravagant lengths to make us the laughing stock of all limbo."

George slowly raised his head. His eyes, the eyes of Marc Pillsworth, looked pained and darkly apprehensive.

"But, my lords," he pleaded, "what was I to do?"

"Do?" the voice thundered. "You were supposed to haunt the environs of your subject in a business-like and orderly manner, befitting an agent of the High Council. It seems that it was too much to ask. The only mortals you frightened even a little were two office girls who quite rightly mistook you for nothing more than an unscrupulous employer displaying his lower impulses. You may as well know that the Council is considering an action that will remove your ectoplasm credits permanently...."

"No!" George cried. "It wasn't my fault ... after all, the deceased refused to yield. These mortals can be unreasonable creatures when...."

There ensued a short series of rumblings as various anatomical fragments made brief appearances on the steam beds, then as quickly vanished. After an abrupt silence the ominous clearing of a throat sounded from a source impossible to ascertain.

"Hmm. Yes.... There ARE extenuating circumstances ... for which you may consider yourself fortunate, and hummph, from which we may still be able to salvage some slight measure of respect from our allied departments. Perhaps the blame can be laid at the door of the bookkeeping section, if you...."

A tiny gleam of hope crept timidly into George's eyes as he nodded in vigorous assent. "I have my release," he offered eagerly, "signed by the section head."

"But!" the voice resumed, "that does not explain your irresponsible conduct, or the disgraceful affinity you displayed for alcoholic beverages!"

George's head slumped dejectedly to his chest again, and he stared into the bottomless regions beneath him. Then he started visibly as he noticed that the gaseous substance upon which he was standing was no longer secure beneath his feet. Already, it had grown thin and unsubstantial and he was beginning to sink downward till his legs were obscured almost to the knees. It was apparent that his worst fears were being realized and he was being sent into—

"Wait! My lords! I admit my conduct was contrary to all the fine traditions of haunting ... but I'll never touch a drop again ... not for a thousand years!"

George's voice echoed away, and his feet stopped slipping. With another series of low rumblings, the voice spoke again:

"The Council is inclined to accept the penance you have imposed on yourself. There is the proviso, however, that the other departments must receive no inkling of this scandalous affair. Agreed!"

George's head bobbed up and down in such energetic agreement that it seemed almost in danger of becoming dislodged from his neck.

There was an abrupt sound. A loud clap that may have been thunder. The steam beds expanded, billowed outward, then faded away. From somewhere, it seemed a long way off, a voice was heard to say: "Council dismissed!"

And George, finding himself alone, dissolved his ectoplasm and sat down with a troubled sigh. Absently, he scooped a handful of steam cloud from the small embankment and tossed it lightly out, into space.

He would need a long time to ponder the narrow escape he had just had. Then, too, the fact that Marc Pillsworth, through his unreasonable obstinance, had nearly wrecked his career, was not a matter to be dropped without serious consideration. And beyond that there was also that shrewish little creature who called herself Toffee. Toffee. Yes, a singular creature indeed. He wondered what department she worked under. To be sure, she was a nasty tempered little package, but her legs were nice, and her figure.... He wondered, musingly, if someday they might meet again....