The Thing That Killed by Paul Chadwick
WE didn't kill old Doc. The rotten press campaign against us is
just low-down yellow journalism. The vicious attack of District
Attorney Gleason is a lot of political hooey, thrown out to catch a
few extra votes. Patsy Stevens and I are not guilty of the murder of
the world's greatest botanist, Dr. Heinrich Sigmund Bloch. Out of
respect for his family, and because I didn't want to chuck mud at the
name of a Nobel Prize winner, I've kept my mouth shut up till now.
I've refused to give the details of the craziest, creepiest
scientific experiment ever pulled off. Before that nightmare evening
when Bloch's mania for digging into the mysteries of life made him go
hog-wild, he was tops in science. I guess you know that his studies
in hybridism and his four-volume work, Osmotic Irregularities among
the Sarraceniaceous Plants, are classics. I still think of him myself
as a sort of intellectual dynamo, a great botanical genius. And, in
spite of the spine-jolting bumps he put me over, I can separate Bloch
the experimentalist from Bloch the man.
But I can't hold my tongue any longer. The only chance Patsy
Stevens and I have of clearing away the cloud of suspicion that's
making life tough for us is to tell the truth frankly. Then maybe
people will stop heckling us, stop whispering about us, stop pointing
at us as if we were a couple of homicidal crooks.
It all began when I got Sigmund's note, written in his crabbed,
Dear Jerry: You're the fellow I need to help me in a job of work
I've got on hand. It's terribly important. Please come out to my
place this evening. And--this will probably seem odd to you--don't
tell a living soul you're coming. Destroy this note, Jerry, if you
still respect your cranky old prof.
There were two reasons why that note bothered me. Doc was never
one to be furtive about anything. He was so honest and open he would
just as leave hand his bankbook to a confidence man as not. Now he
was acting as secretive as a spy. And I couldn't see why he had
picked on me to help him in a "terribly important" experiment,
inasmuch as I nearly flunked two of his courses at school.
As Doc had once said himself, I was better at the "dynamic
tropisms of the football field" than I was at lab work. There was
something phony about the whole set-up. But I was flattered up to my
neck that he wanted me to help him.
Grinning, I touched a match to the note and let the ashes drop. I
wouldn't have grinned if I had realized that in burning that note and
accepting Bloch's invitation I was letting myself in for a taste of
unadulterated scientific horror that would haunt me like a nightmare
the rest of my life.
But then, as I've indicated, I'm no mental Titan. I'm just one of
those chaps who, was thrown in the first round by the Einstein theory
and who's still fighting a losing battle with math.
I did what old Sigmund asked me to---said nothing to anybody about
where I was going. I slipped away right after supper and headed my
Lizzie, which runs in defiance of the laws of equilibrium,
gravitation and the conservation of energy, toward the Jersey hills
where Doc has his hangout.
It's quite a dump, too. Some of his breeds of crazy plants have
been bought by nurserymen all over the country. Doc has picked up
some dough to play with. He has put it into greenhouses and buildings
on his hundred-acre farm.
I got there just at sunset. Doc met me at the door and I thought
at first it was the sunset light that made him look so queer. Then I
figured he must be sick. For he was just about the color of the
sheepskin I almost didn't get. It was a funny kind of paleness, as if
he had a bad case of anemia.
HIS long nose was white and pinched. There were blue circles under
his eyes and his cheeks were sunken.
His voice was hearty enough when he said: "Hello, Jerry." But I
noticed when he shook hands that his fingers trembled. He turned and
led me into the house and I couldn't help seeing that his legs were
"You don't feel well, do you, Prof?" I said.
He turned and gave me a funny look. There was something strange in
it, something I'd never seen before. It was almost like suspicion, or
"I never felt better in my life, Jerry," he said. "But I've been
wotking hard; maybe not eating or sleeping quite enough--and this job
of mine is exacting."
I sensed suddenly that he was being evasive.
"What's the job?" I asked.
He ignored that, led me through several doors into a back room of
the main house, and I noticed something else that struck me as funny.
Every time he went through a door old Doc locked it after him.
He got more and more excited and shaky. By the time we reached his
back-room den, there were small hectic flush spots on his paper-white
skin. I was more sure than ever that he was sick.
But he didn't talk like a sick or discouraged man. His voice held
excitement, elation. He seemed to have some big secret under his
"You're curious, aren't you, Jerry?" he said. When I nodded, he
added: "I don't blame you. You've a right to be eaten up with
curiosity. But before I tell you about my work, I want to prepare you
a little. I don't want you to think I've become a crackpot."
He looked at me with an odd mixture of defiance and appeal as
though he were begging me to be indulgent.
"Prof," I said. "I'd have faith in you if you told me you'd
transplanted strawberries to the moon. I'm only wondering why you
picked out a dumbbell like me to help you when you might have got a
whole bunch of sixteen-cylinder, valve--in-the-head brain
"There's a reason for that," Doc said mysteriously. "I'll explain.
But let me show you a few things first."
He drew a bunch of microphotographs from his desk and shoved them
toward me. They had things on them that looked like little boats with
the bare ribs showing. There were others that were round, like
circular sections of honeycomb with perfectly formed hexagonal
"You know what those are, Jerry?"
I nodded. "Diatoms. You can dredge them out of any pond. Every
amateur microscopist in the country has squinted at them."
"And you know, Jerry, that we botanists like to call them motile
plants. But--" he held up a trembling finger---"there's no absolute
assurance that they're plants except that they show traces of
chlorophyl. Old-timers thought they were tiny marine animals. They
have siliceous skeletons that withstand boiling in sulphuric acid.
They move around and behave very much like mollusks. They may be
plants or animals or both. They may be one of the missing links
between the plant and animal kingdoms."
Doc was on one of his favorite subjects. I nodded again.
"You used to tell us that in the classroom, Prof."
"Forgive an old man's lapse of memory," he murmured. "I just
wanted to be sure you understood, Jerry. Here's another picture. You
can identify that, too, of course."
"Sure, Prof," I said. "I'm no botanist, but we got several
specimens of those when you took us out on field excursions. They're
pitcher plants. Once we almost drowned in a swamp, I remember,
"Yes, Jerry. Very fine examples of Sarracenia. And you know, too,
that they're carnivorous, like the sundews, butterworts and
bladderworts. The pitchers have a gummy nectar in the bottom and
hairs pointing in one direction. Insects can get in, but not out. The
plant devours them."
AS Doc said this I thought suddenly of all those doors he had
locked behind me. A queer thought, but something in his face or in
the atmosphere, brought it to my mind.
Then I suddenly stared at Doc's wrist. His coat cuff had pulled up
a little as he reached for the picture, and I saw that there was a
strange--looking, bunchy scar on the skin. A little higher up was a
queer, lumpy bandage.
"You've hurt yourself, Prof," I said.
He yanked at his cuff quickly.
"It's nothing," he answered. "Only a scratch."
For a second there was an embarrassed silence. For a reason I
couldn't understand, Doc's eyes refused to meet mine. Then he looked
down at the pictures and spoke.
"Jerry," he said, "both of the photos I've shown you indicate that
the plant and animal orders aren't so far apart as some people think.
Some day--" He paused again.
"Some day what, Prof?"
"Well, suppose, Jerry, that human beings could borrow some of the
secrets that plants possess? Food from the air; untold energy from
the sunshine; mineral salts and nitrogen from the soil."
"We get all that by eating green stuff, Prof. Spinach, for
"I know, Jerry, but suppose a race of men were developed who could
do their own direct chemical synthesizing as plants do? Think of the
vast possibilities! No food shortages. No worry over droughts. No
international conflicts over land to feed growing populations."
I began to feel a little queer. "I see what you're driving at,
Prof," I said. "But chlorophyl and haemoglobin are two different
He stopped me, smacking his trembling hand down on his desk.
"That's it, boy--chlorophyl and haemoglobin! That's my angle.
That's what I'm working on. That's the basis of an experiment of mine
that will set the world by its ears. I may not live to see it
perfected--you may not. But centuries hence--"
He had a strange look on his face, the look of a fanatic who is
letting his mind chase along one line of thought till he sees
everything else cockeyed. The world's full of guys like that right
now--dictators who pop their eyes and preen their mustaches, and make
whole nations goose-step. I was sorry to see Doc, a scientist,
getting lopsided, too. But he went on.
"You don't know what this means to me, Jerry. It's the climax of
my whole life's work. I've already taken the first step across the
"You mean, Prof?"
"I mean I've got a plant closer to the animal kingdom than either
the diatom or the common Sarracenia. I want you to help me carry on,
Jerry, where I've had to leave off."
His voice faltered. His eyes dropped from mine again. Abruptly I
had a strange, creepy feeling of uneasiness along my back.
"You're young, Jerry," he added huskily. "You have enough
scientific curiosity to understand and appreciate, and enough
physical stamina to contribute... You were a football player. You're
robust, full-blooded. You'll help me, won't you?"
"Sure," I said a little weakly. "Sure. But what is it you want me
"Come and I'll show you," he said.
He led the way to a flight of stairs which seemed to go down to a
cellar. He locked the door behind us, descended to a small, square
hallway with double glass doors in the middle, which I recognized as
a sort of air lock. On the other side of that the atmosphere suddenly
got strange, unpleasant, and as humid as the tropics.
There was another door with bright lights showing around the edges
of it. As Doc opened this a girl in a white uniform came toward
I HELD my breath because she was so pretty. She had a mass of
copper-blond hair cut in a page-boy bob. Her features were like those
of some goddess on an old Greek coin. Her skin was warm, rich,
sun-tanned, and she had big, blue, long-lashed eyes.
It wasn't till I took a second look that I noticed the strange
expression in those eyes. The pupils were expanded, vacant, as though
she were heavily doped.
"This is Patricia Stevens, my assistant," Doc said. "She's a
trained nurse and a very competent young woman. Miss Stevens, meet
Jerry Lane, a former pupil of mine."
The girl said nothing. Her only response was a brief nod and a
vacant glance from her long--lashed eyes. I had the feeling that she
was looking through me rather than at me. I saw suddenly that the
lovely, sun-tanned complexion that made her look like an outdoors
girl came from a battery of blinding flood-lights overhead. They were
sunlamps, super-powerful ones, burning some kind of mercuty vapor, I
guessed, in quartz crystal tubes.
Without any word from Doc she went to the wall with the queer
mechanical steps of a sleepwalker or an automaton, and pulled a
switch. It was as though it were part of a routine job that she had
been trained in till her subconscious mind directed her actions.
As soon as the switch clicked the big flood--lamps dimmed to a
yellow glow and I could see beyond them.
Then I forgot about the girl, forgot even about Doc. Little cold
maggots seemed to crawl up my spine.
For there was a plant in the middle of that cellar room such as
I've never seen before and never want to see again. It was a
horrible, nightmare sort of plant. It had broad, thick leaves covered
with thorns and hair and ending in whiplike tendrils. Some of the
leaves were curled into deep cups. The stem of the plant was twisty
and shiny, It was at least twelve feet high; almost as high as the
room. And the color of the stem held me fascinated. That was a sort
of blue-red, waxy and feverish.
I drew in my breath, then felt my heart begin to hammer. For
something else was happening.
As the lights went dim the plant began to move. Not much--for it
was rooted in a tub. But the stem began a slight, snaky undulation
and the great, thick leaves started groping in a way that made my
One leaf that I watched seemed to open and shut like the palm of a
giant, fingerless hand. There was a strange, eerie energy here. That
moving leaf seemed to be a mute gesture out of the chill, prehistoric
past before living forms on Earth had become differentiated as they
A sweat broke out on my face and I don't know how long I might
have stared like a man in a dream if Doc hadn't spoken.
"Nepenthe Splendens!" he whispered, his voice shaking with pride.
"Its ancestors were the great Nepenthe pitcher plants from Malaya.
It's taken five years of cross-breeding to develop it. That's the
living experiment Jerry, that I want you to help me with."
I saw then that the plant's stem, low down, almost at the base,
was split a little and that a length of flexible tubing was held in
place there by carefully wound bands of linen tape. The other end of
the tubing was coiled in a little box on the floor. The end of it
seemed to be forked. There were some dials and gadgets on the floor,
too, that I couldn't make anything of.
THE moving leaves of the plant seemed now to be dipping down
toward that tubing in a strange, monotonous pulsation that was like
the restless wings of a great moth. The lowest leaves of all bent
down till they almost touched the tube.
I had a feeling that the plant was struggling to make itself
understood; that some blind instinct was shooting powerful impulses
through all its cells.
"It's hungry," said Doc quietly. "Photosyntheses stops as soon as
we turn the lights off. The plant is growing very fast and has become
accustomed to cooperative nutrition the instant its own chlorophyl
He looked at me to see if I understood.
I did understand, with a growing sense of horror, as though cold
fingers were pressed around my neck. I understood so well that I
pretended dumbness, and forced myself to say:
"Better turn the lights on again and let the plant do its
"No, Jerry. That wouldn't solve the problem now. This is a
wonderful case of interdependence between two living
orders--vegetable and animal. The marine alga that finds its home on
the backs of horseshoe crabs is as nothing compared to this
partnership. This is a true mingling of chlorophyl and haemoglobin in
the most remarkable synthetic cooperation the world has ever seen.
The plant has reached the stage where, without periods of mutual
cooperation, it will die. It needs such cooperation now. I've served
it faithfully. I must rest awhile now for the sake of my health. I'm
asking you to take my place, Jerry, in the interest of science."
"You mean--" My voice was trembling so I could hardly recognize
"I mean that I'm going to connect your veins with the plant's
cells for a time just as I have done with my own veins for days."
He held up his arms, let me see both wrists and I understood the
full meaning of those strange scars. I was silent, stunned. "It's no
worse than a blood transfusion that is done every day in a hospital,"
Doc said quietly. "It's a small thing to contribute to an experiment
that probably ranks as the greatest in history."
"But--but--" I stammered. "You say this is a case of cooperation.
If my blood circulates in the plant, then the plant's sap will
circulate in me?"
"Exactly, Jerry. Your blood will be thinned a little, but that is
all. You will exchange some proteins for other nutritive elements
that the plant manufactures," he spoke very expectantly.
I stared at Doc's sickly, transparent skin and felt my gorge rise.
It didn't look as if he had got much out of his partnership with the
plant. He divined my thought and tried to head me off it.
"I'm old, Jerry. My cooperation with the plant has been slightly
onesided from the first. Because my stamina has lessened through the
years I haven't been able to give back my share of energy to Nepenthe
Splendens. But you can. You and he should achieve a perfect chemical
"Look here, Prof," I said. "I'd do almost anything for you--you
know it. But this--this is crazy, suicidal. That plant is growing
constantly. You said so. It's twelve feet tall now, I won't be able
to feed it long anyway. You're starting something you can't
"Can't I!" he said. He chuckled then and got a strange glint in
his eyes. "I can get other men," he said.
I realized suddenly then, insofar as his experiment was concerned,
he had slipped over the brink. He was so in the grip of his big idea
that he had lost all perspective. He wouldn't let anything stop
him--not even kidnapping, or murder. If I helped him in this wild
business now I'd just be leading him on to his own doom. He was
headed for terrible trouble as sure as Fate. But I made my voice
"You've proved your point now, Prof," I said. "You've fed this
plant and you say the plant's fed you. That's about as far as you can
carry the experiment till you've gone into all the chemical angles of
"You're instructing me in my own life's work, Jerry!"
His voice was cold, ironic for a moment. It was the first time I
had ever heard Doc talk like that. But it's the way all fanatics get,
dictators included. They don't want to be told anything.
"I was afraid you mightn't understand, Jerry, that's why--"
WHAT Doc did then was something I had not expected or anticipated.
He moved faster than I had supposed an old, weak, shaking man could.
His thin hand dived into his coat pocket, came out with what seemed
to be a tiny toy pistol.
Before I could even open my mouth he touched the trigger and there
was a faint hiss of compressed air. I felt a tiny prick like a needle
against my side.
I reached forward, took the gun away from Doc.
"What's the idea!" I said. "You're liable to put a guy's eye out.
I didn't get any further. All at once I began to feel funny. It
was as though a kind of thick film was crawling over my skin. My
tongue felt thick, too.
"Why, Prof!" I said. "Now I get it! You've pulled a murder-mystery
stunt! That was a poison dart. I didn't think you--"
My tongue was so thick I couldn't go on. I tried to take a step
toward Doc, stopped.
There were tears running down Doc's cheeks. I realized suddenly
that he was putting up a scrap inside himself--the scientist and the
man fighting; an experimentalist who wouldn't stop at anything, and
one of the best-hearted guys that ever lived.
"It won't hurt you, Jerry!" he almost sobbed. "Don't be
frightened. It's just a harmless drug. It will wear off. But I hoped
I wouldn't have to--I thought you'd be willing--"
Either he was getting incoherent or else I couldn't understand him
on account of that drug in my body.
I was helpless now. I'd have fallen like a fool if Doc hadn't come
forward and held me up. Then he signaled, and I dimly saw the
white-clad nurse, Miss Stevens, coming up, too. Her face was a blank
mask and her eyes were still vacant. The old boy, in his hog-wild
experiment, had given her some other kind of drug. She didn't look at
me, didn't seem to feel much of anything. She just helped him get me
into a heavy, wheeled chair.
That was ready and waiting, and it was plain to me, even in my
dazed state, that Doc had planned this thing in advance. That's why
he had written that funny note. It showed how completely obsessed he
was--and how dangerous.
He had stopped crying now. His eyes were like bright lights
dancing before mine. I heard metal click, saw straps being buckled. I
felt my ankles and arms and body being fastened into that heavy steel
chair. Then Doc rolled my sleeves up and bared my wrists. Miss
Stevens brought the tube forward.
Doc worked like some great surgeon. He was dexterous, swift. He
made incisions in both my wrists near large veins. His knife was so
sharp that it hardly hurt at all. He slipped small metal suction cups
on the ends of the tubes over the incisions, and he did it so quickly
that hardly a drop of blood spilled. He clamped the cups to my skin
with rubber wrist bands, then stepped back.
All this time the big plant had been moving more swiftly. Its
dipping, throbbing leaves were almost like the arms of a man or an
ape, gesticulating. It bent toward me as I was strapped in the chair
and the suction cups were clamped on.
NOW the movements of the plant stopped abruptly. Its leaves were
quiet. I could feel a cool sensation in my wrists. There was very
little pain, but the coolness increased, crept up my arms, and was
accompanied by a strange dizziness and faintness.
I guess I was scared, too. And I was like a man who stands outside
himself and watches. I felt my mouth come open, heard sounds that
must have been myself yelling.
Miss Stevens was looking down at me. For a moment my yells seemed
to push aside the blank veil across her eyes. There was compassion
there, sympathy, understanding. Anyway it made me ashamed of myself,
made some of the affects of the drug wear off.
I stopped yelling, relaxed and stared up into the blue eyes of
Miss Stevens while I felt the coldness of the plant creep up my arms
into my body. I seemed to sink into a deep pool of horror and
dizziness. But I kept staring into her eyes, and there my thoughts
fell into another pool--a pool as clear and blue and quiet as the
skies in tenderest April.
Honestly, I could almost smell roses and hear birds sing.
"You've got the grandest eyes I ever saw," I heard myself saying.
"You're the sweetest--looking kid. I'm going to call you Patsy."
I was out of my head, of course, absolutely nuts, or I wouldn't
have talked that way to a girl I'd never seen before in my life. But
I was telling the truth, and people do go on that way when they're
doped or crazy scared. Ask any nurse who has ever worked in a
I wanted Miss Stevens to hold my hand. As the sap of Nepenthe
Splendens began to filter through my body I tried to reach out. But
my hands were strapped down.
She seemed to get the idea, though, that I liked her. She laid her
white hand on my forehead, and smiled a funny, strange little smile,
like a dopey kitten that wants to do the right thing and can't quite
figure it out.
And because she was there, close by, smiling, I didn't so much
mind being a partner to a devil plant in a botanical hell that old
Doc had manufactured.
"Shoot the works, Prof, and see if I mind!" I heard myself say
He did. That was the beginning of the strangest, wildest night
I've ever spent. Every two or three hours I was unclamped from the
plant and the flood-lights were put on. When the plant wasn't
exchanging blood for sap it was getting fed by artificial
But I noticed that its leaves still waved a little and reached
toward me even when the lights were on. Once it swayed toward my
chair and almost tipped the tub over, and Doc, who stayed in the
cellar laboratory constantly, had to cut the photosynthetic period
short and clamp me back on the job.
Old Heinrich had a cot in the room, and I could see he was so
keyed up over his experiment that he intended to sleep right there.
His sessions with the plant before I arrived had made him weak and
groggy. He was crying for sleep, and if it hadn't been for his
wrought-up condition, he would have keeled over.
Every now and then his excitement left him and his eyelids
drooped. He kept up a running fire of apologies to me for what he had
done, mixed with wild conjectures as to where this experiment was
going to lead.
I didn't answer. Dumb as I may be I saw plainly where it would
lead. After only six hours of "cooperation" with the plant I was
beginning to feel like a guy who has been drawn through a wringer. My
blood was thinned with that hellish sap. I looked at my hands and saw
that they had a greenish color already. Lord knew what that
chlorophyl in my system would do.
But I knew I was weakening fast. The plant was huskier that when
Doc had fed it. I saw that I was headed for unconsciousness or a
breakdown, and that Dog-Face would have to get some other sucker to
help him. That would only be the beginning. If he got too desperate
he might even decide to strap Patsy in the chair.
THAT thought made me desperate. Maybe you'll think it was part of
my nutty condition, but I'd fallen in love with the kid. Yes, fallen
into those blue eyes of hers just like a guy falling into a well. And
I suddenly wanted to get her out, just as I wanted to get myself out.
She was too sweet, too fine to be mixed up in a hellish thing like
this. If Doc hadn't doped her she would never have helped him, I
I had to save her, but how? She had been trained in a mechanical
routine as Doc's assistant. Right now she was more like a robot than
a human being. There didn't seem to be anything I could do. Dog-Face
was determined to hold me, and Patsy was too much under his control
to unstrap me herself.
I tried talking to her once when Dog-Face went out to get himself
some cigars. I pleaded with her to unfasten the straps, even told her
I'd fallen for her head over heels, hoping that it would jar her out
of her dopiness.
But it was no go. Her mind was a blank except for the orders Doc
had given her. She was set to carry them out. Nothing I could say
would make any difference.
The hours ticked on and along toward morning Dog-Face lay down on
"I just want a wink of sleep, Jerry," he muttered. "Just a wink.
Don't begrudge it to me, and don't think too harshly of me. I'm
ashamed of what I've done, but--it had to be that way."
His voice was sincere. He meant what he said. According to the
lopsided way he had grown to look at things it was inevitable that I
be sacrificed in the interests of science. That plant was more
important to him than my life. And somehow, knowing how he felt, I
didn't get sore or anything.
I told him I forgave him, but even as I talked, I began to plot
secretly how I could get loose. There must be some way, I kept
telling myself---some way.
It's funny how bright even a dumb guy will get when it comes to a
matter of self-preservation. I was trapped, cornered, scared stiff
for myself and for Patsy Stevens, and I had an inspiration right then
that burst like a bunch of atoms exploding in my brain. My mind began
to focus on something Doc had once told me himself about pitcher
plants in general--something I thought I'd forgotten, but which must
have stayed down in my subconscious all the time.
I stared up at one big cup-shaped leaf of Nepenthe Splendens that
hung almost over my head.
Spooky-looking and weirdly developed as this nightmare creation of
old Heinrich's was, it was still one of the Sarracenia family. Those
leaf cups bore a resemblance to the common pitcher plants that I used
to pull up in the swamp when I was one of Doc's students.
And I knew there must be liquid inside it. The air of the room was
heavily humid. Besides that, there was a water spray hitched to a
pipe over by the wall.
Yes, there was moisture in that cup so near to me--and not just
plain water either!
My heart began to hammer, and my mind began to grope for words and
phrases buried under a couple of layers of sluggish gray matter.
Enzymes! A proteolytic acid, something like C14H10O9-2H2O. That was
tannic acid, and hadn't Doc once told us gaping students that all
pitcher plants secreted this powerful proteolytic acid from certain
cells inside the cups? This, mixed with water down below, acted an an
enzyme to digest the insects that fell in.
Look in your botany book and see for yourself. A proteolytic acid
that will soften and break up animal matter!
With my heart beating a swingtime rhythm I stared from the cup
over my head to the strap on my right wrist. It was leather, and any
kind of tannic acid would soften leather. Even water by itself was a
softener, and if water alone would do the trick, how much better it
would behave if it had acid in it!
THAT'S what I was thinking as I watched Doc lie down for his nap.
I was so excited suddenly I nearly keeled over. By the time Dog--Face
began really to relax I had it all doped out just how I was going to
get that acid solution in Nepenthe Splendens leaf cup exactly where I
wanted it. And I began to wonder right then if I hadn't been wrong
all my life in calling myself a dumb cluck. I leave it to you if what
I did next didn't take some dome work.
You've heard of a tourniquet, used to cut off blood circulation
and stop bleeding? Well, I shoved my arms forward and twisted both of
them sideward, elbows out, turning those straps on my wrists into
tourniquets. They hurt like hell. The straps pressed into my skin
till I almost yelled. But I held them there, stopping the blood
circulation in my arm veins through minutes that seemed like
After awhile what I wanted to happen did happen. Nepenthe
Splenden's sap couldn't get through into my blood any more. The big
plant began to show signs of restlessness as its food was cut
It was eerie, horrible, to see that unholy quivering begin to
start. Slow undulations convulsed the stem and the leaves began to
dip and vibrate. The cup over my head scooped lower and lower and the
thick, flat leaf next to it opened and shut like a ghastly,
fingerless human palm.
Patsy Stevens had been trained in a strict mechanical routine, as
I've said. Her doped mind couldn't grapple with the unexpected. The
plant was restless, sore as a boil. She could see that. But it wasn't
time for the vapor lights to go on and the photosynthetic period to
I was supposed to be feeding Nepenthe Splendens and somehow I
wasn't doing it. Patsy didn't know what to do. She just stood by
helplessly. And she didn't even try to stop me when the leaf cup
dipped so low that I was able to grab it with the tips of my
I hung on like a bulldog with my fingernails, digging into the
pulpy green flesh. And I held my breath, too, and even prayed I
guess. For I had my own life there in my fingers and knew it.
Slowly I eased my elbows in, drew the big leaf gently down till
the pitcher bowl tipped forward and spilled the acid water over my
wrist. Some of it splashed too wide, but most of it fell just where I
had hoped--on the leather strap around my arm.
I leaned back then, weak and faint, let go of the leaf, let the
blood circulate and let the plant feed again. But only for a few
minutes. Moving my arm a little, I could already feel that the
leather strap was softening, stretching.
It softened more and more as the proteolytic acid penetrated he
leather fibers. I worked my wrist back and forth, pulling till I was
nearly dizzy. And then it happened! My hand came free.
I yanked that ghastly feeding tube off my wrist, and Patsy Stevens
still stood by helplessly while I reached down with my right hand and
unbuckled the other straps. I was out of the chair the next instant
and staggering across the room to get my leg muscles limbered.
PATSY followed me, looking uncertain, and I did something I hated
to do, but which the occasion seemed to call for. I turned and
slapped Patsy right in the face till her cheeks got red and she began
to cry. It was one way I knew of to knock sense into a dopey person.
I grabbed her by the arm then, walked her back and forth till she
stopped crying and till her eyes got almost normal.
"We've got to get out of here quick, Patsy," I whispered.
She blinked a minute, shook her head.
"We can't!" she whispered back, "He'll wake up. He'll be mad at us
For answer I tiptoed over to the cot where Doc slept, slipped my
hand into his pocket, and pulled out his bunch of keys. He was so
sound asleep he never knew it. As a kidnaper Doc wasn't so hot.
I grinned as I stepped away from him. He looked so innocent and
calm sleeping like that! You'd never think that dome of his could
have hatched such a thing as Nepenthe Splendens. I turned then and
stared at the plant, and stopped grinning immediately.
The thing actually seemed to sense that I was leaving for good and
was sore. Its leaves had begun their monotonous waving again. The
tendrils twitched and vibrated, giving out a faint rustling that was
almost like the scraping scales of a snake.
Patsy Stevens shivered. Her eyes were wide now, staring at the
"I'm afraid!" she gasped, as though she just seen it for the first
time. "I want to leave this place, too."
"You bet!" I said. "Let's, before the old boy wakes up."
We went out of the cellar then with the rustle of the plant still
in our ears. I unlocked all the doors, and Patsy Stevens and I stole
into the early dawn. None of Doc's nurserymen was up yet. No one saw
My old flivver was in Doc's garage. In it we drove back to town
and in a little hash-house in the suburbs Patsy and I got really
acquainted over breakfast. We exchanged life histories the way kids
do, said things with our eyes that we were too shy to say with our
We got along swell, and I knew we were going to get along even
better the more we saw of each other. We did, as things turned
out--and now we're engaged to be married. But it's time to soft pedal
all that part of it.
The important thing is what happened to old Doc. We never thought
there would be any such startling climax. When the story broke it
knocked Patsy and myself right between the eyes.
We didn't hear anything about Doc all that morning or anything
from him. But the afternoon papers carried wild headlines.
FAMOUS BOTANIST DEAD
BODY IN CELLAR LAB
BRUTAL MURDER HINTED
The story below the headlines read:
Dr. Heinrich Sigmund Bloch, Nobel Prize winner and one of the
world's greatest experimental botanists, was found dead at noon today
in a cellar that he used as a laboratory. The presence of a cot in
the room indicated that he slept there while he watched over some
sort of plant experiment, apparently having to do with the
circulation of sap, about which he was an authority.
The workmen on Dr. Bloch's hundred-acre farm could give no
information concerning this experiment. They said Bloch had not taken
them into his confidence on this particular branch of his work.
The county coroner gives as his opinion that some tramp may have
broken into his laboratory and killed him, with possible robbery as
the motive. A large plant of unknown species stood in a tub in the
center of the room. This was tipped over and Doctor Bloch's face and
hands were scratched by its thorns.
There were other indications of a struggle, as if the doctor had
fought with some marauder and been slain by him. But there is also a
possibility that the plant may have fallen over on him accidentally
while he slept, and that he was scratched trying to extricate himself
from its thorns, and bled to death.
His body was partially covered by the plant when his housekeeper
found him. It appeared that the mysterious marauder might have
attempted to hide his victim's corpse and then been frightened away
by some sound in the house. The police are making a thorough
THERE was a picture of Doc's body with the plant, now dead and
wilted, half concealing him, and under it the caption:
MURDER OR ACCIDENT?
Patsy Stevens and I looked at each other. Her face was white. We
knew that the police would probably find clues connecting us both
with Dr. Bloch and proving that we had been out there that night.
That would be easy. Patsy had left some things behind, and so had I.
The tracks of my car could be traced--as the police afterward did
do---giving the D. A. his chance to get nasty.
But the police didn't know the name of the real murderer, and
wouldn't have believed us if we'd told them. They didn't know that
Nepenthe Splendens, cheated out of a cooperative session with its new
victim, had tipped its own tub over, attacked Doc with its thorny
leaves, and wilted to death when Doc's blood had stopped
You can't blame the police. I guess it's the first time in history
a plant ever killed a guy.