Robert Bloch: The Cloak (via Tales of Mystery and Imagination)

The sun was dying, and its blood spattered the sky as it crept into its sepulcher behind the hills. The keening wind sent the dry, fallen leaves scurrying toward the west, as though hastening them to the funeral of the sun.
     „Nuts!“ said Henderson to himself, and stoppedthinking.
     The sun was setting in a dingy red sky, and a dirty raw wind was kicking up the half-rotten leaves in a filthy gutter. Why should he waste time with cheap imagery?
     „Nuts!“ said Henderson, again.
     It was probably a mood evoked by the day, he mused. After all, this was the sunset of Halloween. Tonight was the dreaded Allhallows Eve, when spirits walked and skulls cried out from their graves beneath the earth.
     Either that, or tonight was just another rotten cold fall day. Henderson sighed. There was a time, he reflected, when the coming of this night meant something. A dark Europe, groaning in superstitious terror, dedicated this Eve to the grinning Unknown. A million doors had once been barred against the evil visitants, a million prayers mumbled,“ a million candles lit. There was something majestic about the idea, Henderson reflected. Life had been an adventure in those times, and men walked in terror of what the next turn of a midnight road might bring. They had lived in a world of demons and ghouls and elementals who sought their souls—and by Heaven, in those days a man’s soul meant something. This new skepticism had taken a profound meaning away from life. Men no longer revered their souls.
     „Nuts!“ said Henderson again, quite automatically. There was something crude and twentieth century , about the coarse expression „which always checked his introspective flights of fancy.
     The voice in his brain that said „nuts“ took the place of humanity to Henderson—common humanity which would voice the same sentiment if they heard his secret thoughts. So now Henderson uttered the word and endeavored to forget problems and purple patches alike.
     He was walking down this street at sunset to buy a costume for the masquerade party tonight, and he had much better concentrate on finding the costumer’s before it closed than waste his time daydreaming about Halloween. – –

     His eyes searched the darkening shadows of the dingy buildings lining the narrow thoroughfare. Once again he peered at the address he had scribbled down after finding it in the phone book.
     Why the devil didn’t they light up the shops when it got dark? He couldn’t make out numbers. This was a poor, run-down neighborhood, but after all—
     Abruptly, Henderson spied the place across the street and started over. He passed the window and glanced in. The last rays of the sun slanted over the top of the
building across the way and fell directly on the window and its display Henderson drew a sharp intake of breath.
     He was staring at a costumer’s window—not looking through a fissure into hell. Then why was it all red fire, lighting the grinning visages of fiends?
     „Sunset,“ Henderson muttered aloud. Of course it was, and the faces were merely clever masks such as would be displayed in this sort of place. Still, it gave the Imaginative maa a start. He opened the door and entered.
     The place was dark and still. There was a smell of loneliness in the air—the smell that haunts all places long undisturbed; tombs, and graves in deep woods, and
caverns in the sarfch, and—
     „Nuts.“
     What the devil was wrong with him, anyway? Henderson smiled apologetically at the empty darkness. This was the smell of the costumer’s shop, and it carried him back to college days of amateur theatricals. Henderson hiad known this smell of moth balls, decayed furs, grease paint aind oils. He had played amateur Hamlet and in his hands he had held a smirking skull that hid all knowledge in its empty eyes—a skull, from the costumer’s.
     Well, here he was again, and the skull gave him the idea. After all, Halloween night it was. Certainly in this mood of his he didn’t want to go as a rajah, or a Turk, or a pirate—they all did that. Why not go as a fiend, or a warlock, or a werewolf ? He could see Lindstrom’s face when he walked into the elegant penthouse wearing rags of some sort The fellow would have a fit, with his society crowd wearing their expensive Elsa Maxwell take-offs. Henderson didn’t greatly care for Lindstrom’s sophisticated friends anyway; a gang of amateur Noel Cowards and horsy women wearing harnesses of jewels. Why not carry out the spirit of Halloween and go as a monster?
     Henderson stood there in the dusk, waiting for someone to turn on the lights, come out from the back room and serve him. After a minute or so he grew impatient and rapped sharply on the counter.
     „Say in there! Service!“
     Silence. And a shuffling noise from ths rear, then—an unpleasant noise to hear in the gloom. There was a banging from downstairs and then the heavy clump of footsteps. Suddenly Henderson gasped. A black bulk was rising from the floor!
     It was, of course, only the opening of the trapdoor from the basement, A man shuffled behind the counter, carrying a lamp. In that light his eyes blinked drowsily.
     The man’s yellowish face crinkled into a smile.
     „I was sleeping, I’m afraid,“ said the man, softly.
     „Can I serve you, air?“
     „I was looking for a Halloween costume.“
     „Oh, yes. And what was it you had inmind ?“
     The voice was weary, infinitely weary. The eyes continued to blink in the flabby yellow face.
     „Nothing usual, I’m afraid. You see, I rather fancied some sort of monster getup for a par— Don’t suppose you carry anything in that line?“
     „I could show you masks.“
     „No. I meant, werewolf outfits, something of that sort. More of the authentic.“
     „So. The authentic.“
     „Yes.“ Why did this old dunce stress the word?
     „I might—yea I might have just the thing for you, sir.“ The eyes blinked, but the thin mouth pursed in a smile. „Just the thing for Halloween.“
     „What’s that?“
     „Have you ever considered the possibility of being a vampire?“
     „Like Dracula?“
     „Ah—yes, I suppose—Dracula.“
     „Not a bad idea. Do you think I’m the type for that, though?“
     The man appraised him with that tight smile. „Vampires are of all types, I understand. You would do nicely.“
     „Hardly a compliment,“ Henderson chuckled. „But why not? What’s the outfit?“
     „Outfit? Merely evening clothes, or what you wear. I will furnish you with the authentic cloak.“
     „Just a cloak—is that all?“
     „Just a cloak. But it is worn like a shroud. It is shroud-cloth, you know. Wait, I’ll get it for you.“
     The shuffling feet carried the man into the rear of the shop again. Down the trapdoor entrance he went, and Henderson waited. There was more banging, and presently
the old man reappeared carrying the cloak. He was shaking dust from it in the darkness.
     „Here it is—the genuine cloak.“
     „Genuine?“
     „Allow me to adjust it for you—it will work wonders, I’m sure.“
     The cold, heavy cloth hung draped about Henderson’s shoulders. The faint odor rose mustily in his nostrils as he stepped back and surveyed himself in the mirror. The light was poor, but Henderson saw that the cloak effected a striking transformation in his appearance. His long face seemed thinner, his eyes were accentuated in the facial pallor heightened by the somber cloak he wore. It was a big, black shroud.
     „Genuine,“ murmured the old man. „He must have come up suddenly, for Henderson hadn’t noticed him in the glass.
     „I’ll take it,“ Henderson said. „How much?“
     „You’ll find it quite entertaining, I’m sure.“
     „How much?“
     „Oh. Shall we say five dollars?“
     „Here.“
     The old man took the money, blinking, and drew the cloak from Henderson’s shoulders. When it slid away he felt suddenly warm again. It must be cold in the basement—the cloth was icy.
     The old man wrapped the garment, smiling, and handed it over.
     „I’ll have it back tomorrow,“ Henderson promised.
     „No need. You purchased it. It is yours.“ .
     „But—“
     „I am leaving business shortly. Keep it. You wilt find more use for it than I, surely.“
     „But—“
     „A pleasant evening to you.“
     Henderson made his way to the door in confusion, then turned to salute the blinking old man in the dimness.
     Two eyes were burning.at him from across the counter —two eyes that did not blink.
     „Good night,“ said Henderson, and closed the door quickly. He wondered if he were going just a trifle mad.
     At eight, Henderson nearly called up Lindstrom to tell him he couldn’t make i t The cold chills came the minute he put on the cloak, and when he looked at himself in the mirror his blurred eyes could scarcely make out the reflection.
     But after a few drinks he felt better about it. He hadn’t eaten, and the liquor warmed his blood. He paced the floor, attitudinizing with the cloak—sweeping it about him and scowling in what he thought was a ferocious manner. He was going to be a vampire all right. He called a cab, went down to the lobby. The driver came in, and Henderson was waiting, black cloak furled.
     „I wish you to.drive me,“ he said, in a low voice.
     The cabman took one look at him in the cloak and turned pale.
     „Whazzat?“
     „I ordered you to come,“ said Henderson gutturally, while he quaked with inner mirth. He leered ferociously and swept the cloak back.
     „Yeah, yeah. O. K.“
     The driver almost ran outside. Henderson stalked after him.
     „Where to, boss—I mean, sir?“
     The frightened face didn’t turn as Henderson intoned
the address and sat back.
     The cab started with a lurch that set Henderson to chuckling deeply, in character. At the sound of .the laughter the driver got panicky and raced his engine up to the limit set by the governor. Henderson laughed loudly, and the impressionable driver fairly quivered in his seat. It was quite a ride, but Henderson was entirely unprepared to open the door and find it slammed after him as the. cabman drove hastily away without collecting a fare.
     „I must look the part,“ he thought complacently, as he took the elevator up to the penthouse apartment.
     There were three or four others in the elevator; Henderson had seen them before at other affairs Lindstrom had invited him to attend, but nobody seemed to recognize him. It rather pleased him to think how his wearing of an unfamiliar cloak and an unfamiliar scowl seemed to change his entire personality and appearance. Here the other guests had donned elaborate disguises— one woman wore the costume of a Watteau shepherdess, another was attired as a Spanish ballerina, a tall man dressed as Pagliacci, and his companion had donned a toreador outfit. Yet Henderson recognized them all; knew that their expensive habiliments were not truly disguises at all, but merely elaborations calculated to enhance their appearance. Most people at costume parties gave vent to supressed desires. The women showed off their figures, the men either accentuated their masculinity as the toreador did, or clowned it. Such things were pitiful; these conventional fools eagerly doffing their dismal business suits and rushing off to a lodge, or amateur theatrical, or mask ball in order to satisfy their, starving imaginations. Why didn’t they dress in garish colors on the“ street? Henderson often pondered the question.
     Surely, these society folk in, the levator were finelooking men and women in their outfits—so healthy, so red-faced, and full of vitality. They had such robust throats and necks. Henderson looked at the plump arms of the woman next to him. He stared, without realizing it, for a long moment. And then, he saw that the occupants of the car had drawn away from him. They were standing in the corner, as though they feared his cloak and scowl, and his eyes fixed on the woman. Their chatter had ceased abruptly. The woman looked at him, as though she were about to speak, when the elevator doors opened and afforded Henderson a welcome respite.
     What the devil was wrong? First the cab driver, then the woman. Had he drunk too much?
     Well, no chance to consider that. Here was Marcus Lindstrom, and he. was thrusting a glass into Henderson’s hand.
     „What have we here? Ah, a bogyman?“ It needed no a second glance to perceive that Lindstrom, as usual at such affairs, was already quite bottle-dizzy. The fat host was positively swimming in alcohol..
     „Have, a drink, Henderson, my lad! I’ll take mine from the bottle. That outfit of yours gave me a shock. Where’d you get the make-up?“
     „Make-up? I’m not wearing any make-up.“
     „Oh. So you’re not. How . . . silly of me.“
     Henderson wondered if he were crazy. Had Lindstrom really drawn back? Were his eyes actually filled with a certain dismay?
     „I’ll . I’ll see you later,“ babbled Lindstrom, edging away and quickly turning to the other arrivals. Henderson watched the back of Lindstrom’fi neck. It was fat and white. It bulged over the collar of his costume and there was a vein in it. A vein in Landstrom’s fat neck. Frightened Lindstrom.
     Henderson stood alone in the anteroom. From the parlor beyond came the sound of music and laughter; party noises. Henderson hesitated before entering. He drank from the glass in his hand—Bacardi rum, and powerful. On top of his other drinks it almost made the man reel. But he drank, wondering. What was wrong with him and his costume? Why did he frighten people? Was he unconsciously acting his vampire role? That crack of Lindstrom’s about make-up, now—
     Acting on impulse, Henderson stepped over to the long panel mirror in the hall. He lurched a little, then stood in the harsh light before it. He faced the glass, stared into the mirror, and saw nothing.
     He looked at himself in the mirror, and there was no one there!
     Henderson began to laugh softly, evilly, deep in his throat. And as he gazed into the empty, unreflecting glass, his laughter rose in black glee.
     „I’m. drunk,“ he whispered. „I must be drunk. Mirror in my apartment made me ‚blurred. Now I’m so far gone I can’t see straight. Sure I’m drunk. Been acting ridiculously, scaring people. Now I’m seeing hallucinations— or not seeing them, rather. Visions. Angels.“
     His voice lowered. „Sure, angels. Standing right in back of me, now. Hello, angel.“
     „Hello.“
     Henderson whirled. There she stood, in the dark cloak, her hair a shimmering halo above her white, proud face; her eyes celestial blue, and her lips infernal red.
     „Are you real?“ asked Henderson, gently. „Or am I a fool to believe in miracles?“
     „This miracle’s name is Sheila Darrly, and it would like to powder its nose if you please.“
     „Kindly use this mirror through the courtesy of Stephen Henderson,“ replied the cloaked man, with a grin. He stepped back a ways, eyes intents.
     The girl turned her head and favored him with a slow, impish smile. „Haven’t you ever seen powder used before?“ she asked.
     „Didn’t know angels indulged in cosmetics,“ Henderson replied. „But then there’s a lot I don’t know about angels. From now on I shall make them a special study of mine. There’s so much I want to find out. So you’ll probably find me following you around with a notebook all evening.“
     „Notebooks for a vampire?“
     „Oh, but I’m a very intelligent vampire—not one of those backwoods Transylvanian types. You’ll find me charming, I’m sure.“
     „Yes, you look like the sure type,“ the girl mocked.
     „But an angel and a vampire—that’s a queer combination.“
     „We can reform one another,“ Henderson pointed out. „Besides, I have a suspicion that there’s a bit of the devil in you. That dark cloak over your angel costume; dark angel, you know. Instead of heaven you might hail from my home town.“
     Henderson was flippant,, but underneath his bapter cyclonic thoughts whirled. He recalled discussions in the past; cynical observations he had made and believed.
     Once, Henderson had declared that there was no such thing as love at first sight, save in books or plays where such a dramatic device served to speed up action. He asserted that people learned about romance from books and plays and accordingly adopted a belief in love at first sight when all one could possibly feel was desire.
     And now this Sheila—this blond angel—had to come Along and drive out all thoughts of morbidity, all thoughts of drunkenness and foolish gazings into mirrors, from his mind; had to send him madly plunging into dreams of red lips, ethereal blue eyes and slim white arms. .
     Something of his feelings had swept into his eyes, and as the girl gazed up at him she felt the truth.
     „Well,“ she breathed, „I hope the inspection pleases.“
     „A miracle of understatement, that. But there was something I wanted to find out particularly about divinity. Do angels dance?“
     „Tactful vampire! The- next room?“
     Arm in arm they entered the parlor. The merrymakers were in full swing. Liquor had already pitched gaiety at its height, but there was no dancing any longer. Boisterous little grouped couples laughed arm in am) about the room. The usual party gagsters were performing their antics in corners. The superficial atmosphere, which Henderson detested, was fully in evidence.
     It was reaction which made Henderson draw himself up to full height and sweep the cloak about his shoulders. Reaction brought the scowl to his pale face, caused him to stalk along in brooding silence. Shelia seemed to regard this as a great joke.
     „Pull a vampire act on them,“ she giggled, clutching his arm. Henderson accordingly scowled at the couples, sneered horrendously at the women. And bis progress was marked by the turning of heads, the abrupt cessation of chatter. He walked through the long room like Red
Death incarnate. Whispers trailed in his wake.
     „Who is that man?“
     „We came up with him in the elevator, and he—“
     „His eyes—“
     „Vampire!“
     „Hello, Dracula!“ It was Marcus Lindstrom and a sullen-looking brunette in Cleopatra costume who lurched toward Henderson. Host Linstrom could scarcely stand, and his companion in cups was equally at a loss. Henderson liked the man when-sober at the club, but his behavior at parties had always irritated him, Lindstrom was particularly objectionable in his present condition—it made him boorish.
     „M‘ dear, I want you t‘ meet a very dear friend of. mine. Yessir, it being Halloween and all, I invited
Count Dracula here, t’gether with his daughter. Asked his grandmother, but she’s busy tonight at a Black Sabbath— along with Aunt Jemima. Ha! Count, meet my little playmate.“
     The woman leered up at Henderson.
     „Oooh Dracula, what big eyes you have! Oooh, what big teeth you have! Ooooh—“
     „Really, Marcus,“ Henderson protested. But the host had turned and shouted to the room.
     „Folks, meet the real goods—only genuine living vampire in captivity! Dracula Henderson, only existing vampire with false teeth.“
     In any other circumstance Henderson would have given Lindstrom a quick, efficient punch on the jaw. But Shelia was at his side, it was a public gathering; better to humor the man’s clumsy jest. Why not be a vampire ?
     Smiling quickly at the girl, Henderson drew himself erect, faced the crowd, and frowned. His hands brushed the cloak. Funny, it still felt cold. Looking down he noticed for the first time that it was a little dirty at the edges; muddy or dusty. But the cold silk slid through his fingers as he drew it across his breast with one long hand. The feeling seemed to inspire him. He opened his eyes wide and let them blaze. His mouth opened. A sense of dramatic power filled him. And he looked at Marcus Lindstrom’s soft, fat neck with the vein stand ing. In the whiteness. He looked at the neck, saw the crowd watching him, and then the impulse seized him. He turned, eyes on that creasy neck—that wabbling,-„
creasy neck of the fat man.
     Hands darted out. Lindstrom squeaked like a frightened rat. He was a plump, sleek white rat, bursting with blood. Vampires liked blood. Blood from the rat, from the neck of the rat, from the vein in the neck of the squeaking rat.
     „Warm blood.“
     The deep voice was Henderson’s own.
     The hands were Henderson’s own.
     The hands that went around Lindstrom’s neck as he spoke, the hands that felt the warmth, that searched out the vein. Henderson’s face was bending for the neck, and, as Lindstrom struggled, his grip tightened. Lindstrom’s face was turning purple! Blood was rushing to his head. That was .good. Blood!
     Henderson’s mouth opened. He felt the air on his teeth. He bent down toward that fat neck, and then—
     „Stop! That’s plenty!“
     The voice, the cooling voice of Sheila. Her fingers on his arm. Henderson looked up, startled. He released Lindstrom, who sagged with open mouth.
     The crowd was staring, and their mouths were all shaped in the instinctive O of amazement.
     Sheila whispered, „Bravo! Served him right—but you frightened him!“
     Henderson struggled a moment to collect himself. Then he smiled and turned.
     „Ladies and gentlemen,“ he said, „I have just given a slight demonstration to prove to you what our host said of me was entirely correct. I am a vampire. Now that you have been given fair warning, I am sure you will be in no further danger. If there is a doctor in the house I can, perhaps, arrange for a blood transfusion.“
     The O’s relaxed and laughter came from startled throats. Hysterical laughter, in part, then genuine.
Henderson had carried it off. Marcus Lindstrom alone still stared with eyes that held utter fear. He knew.
     And then the moment broke, for one of the gagsters ran into the room from the elevator. He had gone downstairs and borrowed the apron and cap of a newsboy. Now he raced through the crowd with a bundle of papers under his arm.
     „Extra! Extra! Read all about it! Big Halloween Horror! Extra!“
     Laughing guests , purchased papers. A woman approached Sheila, and Henderson watched the girl walk away in a daze.
     „See you later,“ she“called, and her glance sent fire through his veins. Still, he could not forget the terrible feeling that came over him when he had seized Lindstrom. Why?
     Automatically, he accepted a paper from the shouting pseudo-newsboy. „Big Halloween Horror,“ he had shouted. -What was that?
     Blurred eyes searched the paper.
     Then Henderson reeled back. That headline! It was an Extra after all. Henderson scannedjthe columns with mounting dread.
     „Fire in costumer’s . . . shortly after 8 p. m. firemen were summoned to the shop of . . . flames beyond control. . . completely demolished . . . damage estimated at . . . peculiarly enough, name of proprietor unknown . . . skeleton found in—“
     „No!“ gasped Henderson aloud.
     He read, reread that closely. The skeleton had been found in a box of earth in the cellar beneath the shop… The box was a coffin. There had been two other boxes, empty. The skeleton had been wrapped in a cloak, undamaged by the flames—
     And in the hastily penned box at the bottom of the column were eyewitness comments, written up under scareheads of heavy black type. Neighbors had feared the place. Hungarian neighborhood, hints of vampirism, of strangers who entered the shop. One man spoke of a cult believed to have held meetings in the place. Superstition about things sold there—love philters, outlandish charms and weird disguises.
     Weird disguises—vampires—cloaks—his eyes!
     „This is an authentic cloak.
     „I will not be using this much longer. Keep it
     Memories of these words screamed through Henderson’s brain. He plunged-out of the room and rushed to the panel mirror.
     A moment, then he flung one arm before his face to shield his eyes from the image that was not there—the missing reflection. Vampires have no reflections.
     No wonder he looked strange. No wonder arms and necks invited him. He had wanted Lindstrom.. Good God!
     The cloak had done that, the dark cloak with the stains. The stains of earth, grave-earth. The wearing of the cloak, the cold cloak, had given him the feelings of a true vampire. It was a garment accursed, a thing that had lain on the body of one undead. The rusty stain along one sleeve was blood.
Blood. It would be nice to see blood. To taste its warmth, its red life, flowing.
     No. That was insane. He was drunk, crazy.
     „Ah. My pale friend the vampire.“ It was Sheila again. And. above.’all‘ horror rose the beating of Henderson’s“ heart. As he looked at her shining eyes, her warm mouth shaped in red invitation;
Henderson felt a wave of warmth. He looked at her white throat rising above her dark, shimmering cloak; and another kind of warmth rose. Love, desire, and a— hunger.
     She must have seen it in his eyes, but she did not flinch. Instead her own gaze burned in return.
     Sheila loved him, too!
     With an impulsive gesture, Henderson ripped the cloak from about his throat. The icy weight lifted. He was free. Somehow, he hadn’t wanted to take the cloakoff, but he had to. It was a cursed thing, and in another minute he might have taken the girl in his arms, taken, her for a kiss and remained to—
     But he dared not think of that.
     „Tired of masquerading ?“ she asked. With a similar gesture she, too, removed her cloak and stood revealed in the glory of her angel robe. Her blond, statuesque perfection forced a gasp to Henderson’s throat.
     „Angel,“ he whispered.
     „Devil,“ she mocked.
     And suddenly they were embracing. Henderson had taken her cloak in his arm with his own. They stood with lips seeking rapture until Lindstrom and a group moved noisily into the anteroom.
     At the sight of Henderson the fat host recoiled.
     „You—“ he whispered. „You are—“
     „Just leaving,“ Henderson smiled. Grasping the girl’s arm, he drew her toward the empty elevator. The door shut on Lindstrom’s pale, fear-filled face.
     „Were we leaving?“ Sheila whispered, snuggling against his shoulder.
     „We were. But hot for earth: We do not go down! into my realm, but up—into yours.“
     „The roof garden?“
     „Exactly, my angelic one. I want to talk to you against the background of your own heavens, kiss you amidst the clouds, and—“
     Her lips found his as the car rose.
     „Angel and devil. What a match!“
     „I thought so, too,“ the girl confessed. „Will our children have halos or horns?“
     „Both, I’m sure.“
     They stepped out onto the deserted rooftop. And mice again it was Halloween.
     Henderson felt it. Downstairs it was Lindstrom and his society friends, in a drunken costume party. Here it was night, silence, gloom. No light, no music, no drinking, no chatter which made one party identical with another; one night like all the rest. This night was individual here.
     The sky was not blue, but black. Qouds hung like the gray beards of hovering giants peering at the round orange globe ,of the moon. A cold wind blew from the sea, and filled the air with tiny murmurings from afar.
     It was also quite cold.
     „Give me my cloak,“ Sheila whispered. Automatically, Henderson extended the garment, and the
girl’s body swirled under the dark splendor of the cloth. Her eyes burned up at Henderson with a call he could not resist. He kissed her, trembling.
     „You’re cold,“ the girl said. „Put on your cloak.“ Yes, Henderson, he thought to himself. Put on your cloak while you stare at her throat. Then, the next time you kiss her you will want her throat and she will give it in love and you will take it in—hunger.
     „Put it on, darling—I insist,“ the girl whispered. Her eyes were impatient, burning with an eagerness to match his own.
     Henderson trembled.
     Put on the cloak of darkness? The cloak of the grave, the cloak of death, the cloak of th« vampire? The evil cloak, filled with a cold life of its own that transformed his face, transformed his mind?
     „Here.“
     The girl’s slim arms were about him, pushing the cloak onto his shoulders. Her fingers brushed his neck, caressingly, as she linked the cloak about his throat.
     Then he felt it—through him—that icy coldness turning to a more dreadful heat. He felt himself expand, felt the sneer cross his face. This was Powe!
     And the girl before him, her eyes taunting, inviting. He Saw her ivory neck, her warm slim neck, waiting. It was waiting for him, for his lips.
     For his teeth.
     No—it couldn’t be. He loved her. His love must conquer this madness. Yes, wear the cloak, defy its
power, and take her in his arms as a man, not as a fiend. He must. It was the test.
     „Sheila, I must tell you this.“
     Her eyes—so-alluring. It would be easy!
     „Sheila, please. You read the paper tonight“
     „Yes.“
     „I . . . I got my cloak there. I can’t explain it. You saw how I took Lindstrom. I wanted to go through with it. Do you understand me ? I meant to . . . to bite him. Wearing this thing makes me feel like one of those creatures. But I love you, Sheila.“
     „I know.“ Her eyes gleamed in the moonlight.
     „I want to test it. I want to kiss you, wearing this cloak. I want to feel that my love is stronger than this— thing. If I weaken, promise me you’ll break away and run, quickly. But don’t misunderstand. I must face this feeling and fight it; I want my love for you to be that pure, that secure. Are you afraid?“
     „No.“ Still she stared at him, just as he stared at her throat. If she knew what was in his mind!
     „You don’t think I’m crazy? I went to this costumer’s— he was a horrible little old man—and he gave me the cloak. Actually told me it was a real vampire’s. I thought he was joking, but tonight I didn’t see myself in the mirror, and I wanted Lindstrom’s neck, and I want you. But I must test it.“
     The girl’s face mocked. Henderson summoned his strength. He bent forward, his impulses battling. For a moment he stood there under the ghas tly orange moon, and his face was twisted in struggle.
     And the girl lured.
     Her odd, incredibly red lips parted an a silvery, chuckly laugh as her white arms rose from the black cloak she wore to circle his neck gently. „I know—I knew when I looked in the mirror. I knew you had a cloak like mine—got yours where I got mine—“
     Queerly, her lips seemed to elude his as he stood frozen for an instant of shock. Then he felt the icy hardness of her sharp little teeth on his throat, a strangely soothing sting, and an engulfing blackness rising over him.

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