In the Dark
By RONAL KAYSER
It was a tale of sheer horror that old Asa Gregg poured
into the dictaphone
The watchman's flashlight printed a white circle on the frosted-glass,
GREGG CHEMICAL CO., MFRS.
ASA GREGG, PRES.
The watchman's hand closed on the knob, rattled the door in its frame.
Queer, but tonight the sound had seemed to come from in there.... But
that couldn't be. He knew that Mr. Gregg and Miss Carruthers carried
the only keys to the office, so any intruder would have been forced to
smash the lock.
Maybe the sound came from the storage room. The watchman clumped along
the rubber-matted corridor, flung his weight against that door. It
opened hard, being of ponderous metal fitted into a cork casing. The
room was an air-tight, fire-proof vault, really. His shoes gritted on
the concrete floor as he prowled among the big porcelain vats. The
flashlight bored through bluish haze to the concrete walls. Acid fumes
escaping under the vat lids made the haze and seared the man's throat.
He hurried out, coughing and wiping his eyes. It was damn funny. Every
night lately he heard the same peculiar noise somewhere in this wing
of the building.... Like a body groaning and turning in restless
sleep, it was. It scared him. He didn't mention the mystery to anyone,
though. He was an old man, and he didn't want Mr. Gregg to think he
was getting too old for the job.
"Asa 'd think I was crazy, if I told him about it," he mumbled.
Inside the office, Asa Gregg heard the muttered words plainly. He sat
very still in the big, leather-cushioned chair, hardly breathing until
the scrape of the watchman's feet had thinned away down the hall.
There was no light in the room to betray him; only the cherry-colored
tip of his cigar, which couldn't be visible through the frosted glass
door. Anyway, it'd be an hour before the watchman's round brought him
past the office again. Asa Gregg had that hour, if he could screw up
his nerve to use it....
He took the frayed end of the cigar from his mouth. His hand, which
had wasted to mere skin and bone these past few months, groped through
the darkness, slid over the polished coolness of the dictaphone hood,
and snapped the switch. Machinery faintly whirred. His fingers found
the tube, lifted it.
"Miss Carruthers!" he snapped. Then he hesitated. Surely, he could
trust Mary Carruthers! He'd never wondered about her before. She'd
been his secretary for a dozen years—lately, since he couldn't look
after affairs himself as he used to, she had practically run the
business. She was forty, sensible, unbeautiful, and tight-lipped.
Hell, he had to trust her!
His voice plunged into the darkness.
"What I have to say now is intended for Mrs. Gregg's ears only. She
will take the first boat home, of course. Meet that boat and bring her
to the office. Since my wife knows nothing about a dictaphone, it will
be necessary for you to set this record running. As soon as you have
done so, leave her alone in the room. Make sure she's not interrupted
for a half-hour. That's all."
He waited a decent interval. The invisible needle peeled its thread
into the revolving wax cylinder.
"Jeannette," muttered Asa Gregg, and hesitated again. This wasn't
going to be easy to say. He decided to begin matter-of-factly. "As you
probably know, my will and the insurance policies are in the vault at
the First National. I believe you will find all of my papers in
excellent order. If any questions arise, consult Miss Carruthers. What
I have to say to you now is purely personal—I feel, my dear, that I
owe you an explanation—that is——"
God, it came harder than he had expected.
"Jeannette," he started in afresh, "you remember three years ago when
I was in the hospital. You were in Palm Beach at the time, and I wired
that there'd been an accident here at the plant. That wasn't strictly
so. The fact is, I'd gotten mixed up with a girl——"
He paused, shivering. In the darkness a picture of Dot swam before
him. The oval face, framed by gleaming swirls of lemon-tinted hair,
had pouting scarlet lips, and eyes whose allure was intensified by
violet make-up. The full-length picture of her included a streamlined,
full-blossomed and yet delectably lithe body. A costly, enticing,
Broadway-chorus orchid! As a matter of fact, that was where he'd found
"I won't make any excuses for myself," Asa Gregg said harshly. "I
might point out that you were always in Florida or Bermuda or France,
and that I was a lonely man. But it wasn't just loneliness, and I
didn't seek companionship. I thought I was making a last bow to
Romance. I was successful, sixty, and silly, and I did all the damn
fool things—I even wrote letters to her. Popsy-wopsy letters." The
dictaphone couldn't record the grimace that jerked his lips. "She
saved them, of course, and by and by she put a price on them—ten
thousand dollars. Dot claimed that one of those filthy tabloids had
offered her that much for them—and what was a poor working-girl to
do? She lied. I knew that.
"I told her to bring the letters to the office after business hours,
and I'd take care of her. I took care of her, all right. I shot her,
He mopped his face with a handkerchief that was already damp.
"Not on account of the money, you understand. It was the things she
said, after she had tucked the bills into her purse ... vile things,
about the way she had earned it ten times over by enduring my beastly
kisses. I'd really loved that girl, and I'd thought she'd cared for me
a little. It was her hate that maddened me, and I got the gun out of
my desk drawer——"
Asa Gregg reached through the darkness for the switch. He fumbled for
the bottle which stood on the desk. His hand trembled, spilling some
of the liquor onto his lap. He drank from the bottle....
This part of the story he'd skip. It was too horrible, even to think
about it. He didn't want to remember how the blood pooled inside Dot's
fur coat, and how he'd managed to carry the body out of the office
without leaking any of her blood onto the floor. He tried to forget
the musky sweetness of the perfume on the dead girl, mingled with that
other evil blood-smell. Especially he didn't want to remember the
frightful time he'd had stripping the gold rings from her fingers, and
the one gold tooth in her head....
The horror of it coiled in the blackness about him. His own teeth
rattled against the bottle when he gulped the second drink. He
snapped the switch savagely, but when he spoke his voice cringed into
"I carried her into the storage room. I got the lid off one of the
acid tanks. The vat contained an acid powerful enough to destroy
anything—except gold. In fact, the vat itself had to be lined with
gold-leaf. I knew that in twenty-four hours there wouldn't be a
recognizable body left, and in a week there wouldn't be anything at
all. No matter what the police suspected, they couldn't prove a murder
charge without a corpus delicti. I had committed the perfect
crime—except for one thing. I didn't realize that there'd be a
splash when she went into the vat."
Gregg laughed, not pleasantly. His wife might think it'd been a sob,
when she heard this record. "Now you understand why I went to the
hospital," he jerked. "Possibly you'd call that poetic justice. Oh,
His voice broke. Again he thumbed off the switch, and mopped his face
with the damp linen.
The rest—how could he explain the rest of it?
He spent a long minute arranging his thoughts.
"You haven't any idea," he resumed, "no one has any idea, of how I've
been punished for the thing I did. I don't mean the sheer physical
agony—but the fear that I'd talk coming out of the ether at the
hospital. The fear that she'd been traced to my office—I'd simply
hidden her rings away, expecting to drop them into the river—or that
she might have confided in her lover ... yes, she had one. Or, suppose
a whopping big order came through and that tank was emptied the very
next day. And I couldn't ask any questions—I didn't even know what
was in the papers.
"However, that part of it gradually cleared up. I quizzed Miss
Carruthers, and learned that an unidentified female body had been
fished out of the East River a few days after Dot disappeared. That's
how the police 'solved' the case. I got rid of her rings. I ordered
that vat left alone.
"The other thing began about six months ago."
A spasm contorted his face. His fingers ached their grip into the
"Jeannette, you remember when I began to object to the radio, how I'd
shout at you to turn it off in the middle of a program? You thought I
was ill, and worried about business.... You were wrong. The thing that
got me was hearing her voice——"
He gripped the cold cigar, chewed it. "It's very strange that you
didn't notice it. No matter what station we dialed to, always that
same voice came stealing into the room! But perhaps you did notice?
You said, once or twice, that all those blues singers sounded alike!
"And she was a blues singer.... It was she, all right, somewhere out
in the ether, reminding me....
"The next thing was—well, at first when I noticed it in the office I
thought Miss Carruthers had suddenly taken up with young ideas. You
see, I kept smelling perfume."
And he smelled it now. It was like a miasma in the dark.
"It isn't anything that Carruthers wears," he grated. "It comes
from—yes, the storage room. I realized that about a month ago. Just
after you sailed—one night I stayed late at the office, and I went in
there.... It seemed to be strongest around the vat—her vat—and I
lifted the lid.
"The sweet, sticky musk-smell hit me like a blow in the face.
"And that isn't all!"
Terror stalked in this room. Asa Gregg crouched in his chair, felt the
weight of Fear on him like a submarine pressure. His cigar pitched to
his knees, dropped to the floor.
"You won't believe this, Jeannette." He hammered the words like nails
into the darkness in front of him. "You will say that it's impossible.
I know that. It is impossible. It is a physiological absurdity—it
contradicts the laws of natural science.
"But I saw something on the bottom of that vat!"
He groped for the bottle. His wife would hear a long gurgle, and then
a coughing gasp....
"The vat was nearly full of this transparent, oily acid," he went on.
"What I saw was a lot of sediment on the golden floor. And there
shouldn't have been any sediment! The stuff utterly dissolves animal
tissue, bone, even the common ores—keeps them in suspension.
"It didn't look like sediment, either. It looked like a heap of mold ...
"I replaced the lid. I spent a week convincing myself that it was all
impossible, that I couldn't have seen anything of the sort. Then I
went to the vat again——"
Silence hung in the darkness while he sucked wind into his lungs. And
the words burst—separate, yammering shrieks:
"I looked, night after night! For hours at a time I've watched the
change.... Did you ever see a body decompose? Of course not! Neither
have I. But you must know in a general way what the process is. Well,
this has been the exact opposite!
"First, I stared at the heap of grave-mold as it shaped itself into
bones, a skeleton.
"I watched the coming of hair, a yellow tangle of it sprouting from
the bare round skull, until—oh, God!—the flesh began making itself
before my eyes! I couldn't bear any more. I stayed away—didn't come
to the office for five days."
The tube slipped from his sweating, slick fingers. Panting, Asa Gregg
fumbled in the dark until he found it.
Exhaustion, not self-control, flattened his voice to a deadly
monotone. "I tried to think of a way out. If I could fish the corpse
out of the tank! But I couldn't smuggle it out of the plant—alone.
You know that, and so do I. Besides, what would be the use? If acid
can't kill her, nothing can.
"That's why I can't have the lid cemented on. It wouldn't do any good,
either! Until three days ago, she hadn't the least color, looked as
white as a ghost in the vat. A naked ghost, because there's been no
resurrection for her clothing....
"I've watched her limbs grow rosy! Her lips are scarlet! Her eyes are
bright—they opened yesterday—and her breasts were rising and
falling—oh, almost imperceptibly—but that was last night.
"And tonight—I swear it—her lips moved! She muttered my name! She
turned—she'd been lying on her side—over onto her back!"
The record would be badly blurred. His hand shook violently, bobbled
the tube against his lips. Gregg braced his elbow against the desk.
"She isn't dead," he choked. "She's only asleep ... not very soundly
asleep.... She's waking up!"
The invisible needle quivered as it traced several noises. There was
his tortured breathing, and the clawing of his fingernails rattling
over the desk. The drawer clicked as it opened.
The loud click was the cocking of the revolver.
"Soon she's going to get out of that vat!" Gregg bleated.
"Jeannette, forgive me—God, forgive me—but I will not—I cannot—I
dare not stay here to see her then!"
The sound of the shot brought the watchman stumbling along the
corridor. He crashed against the office door. It banged open in a
shower of falling frosted glass. The watchman's flashlight severed the
darkness, and printed its white circle on the face of Asa Gregg.
He had fallen back into the chair, a blackish gout of blood running
from the hole in his temple. He stared sightlessly into the light with
his eyes that were two gnarls of shrunken brown flesh, like knots in a
Asa Gregg was blind ... had been, since that night three years past
when the acid splashed....
This etext was produced from Weird Tales August-September 1936. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.