Fiction

DEATH IN THE TOY PARADE

Santa Claus and his comic court meant fun for the jampacked cheering kids. But to the terror-stricken girl fleeing through Toronto from the madman with the gun it spelled the threat of

VERA JOHNSON December 1 1953
Fiction

DEATH IN THE TOY PARADE

Santa Claus and his comic court meant fun for the jampacked cheering kids. But to the terror-stricken girl fleeing through Toronto from the madman with the gun it spelled the threat of

VERA JOHNSON December 1 1953

DEATH IN THE TOY PARADE

Santa Claus and his comic court meant fun for the jampacked cheering kids. But to the terror-stricken girl fleeing through Toronto from the madman with the gun it spelled the threat of

VERA JOHNSON

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 14, 1953. Some days the sun rose behind a bank of grey brooding clouds, lurking in the vapors while its milky light spread desolation over Toronto. But not this day. This day it rose warm and bright and full of treacherous promise. When Ellen awoke it was as if the sun came up within her. She could feel

the glow spreading, radiating to every corner of her being, until the intensity of her happiness was more than she could bear. She opened her eyes and smiled at the ceiling as if it were an old friend. “Saturday,” she said, “November the fourteenth.” Then she rolled off the bed and rummaged beneath it for her slippers.

Everything this morning held a special delight—the air, the sky, the sound of bacon sizzling in the frying pan, the look of her new black hat with its jaunty red feather, the smell of the coffee as it bubbled in the percolator. Even the sound of the phone ringing brought her a sudden joy. “It’s Bill!” she thought, and held her breath while it rang a second and a third time. Slippers slopped along the hallway, flap-flap, all the way to the phone. Then Mrs. Jarecki hollered, “Hello?” There was a silence—a long silence, it seemed—before she bellowed, “Ellen!” and the slippers flap-flapped back to the kitchen. Ellen clattered down the stairs.

“Hello!” she said happily—but the voice that replied was not the one she was expecting.

“Hello, Ellen. It’s Harry. I trust you’re well this morning.”

“Oh,” Ellen said—and then, flatly, “Yes, thank you. Quite well.”

“I hope I didn’t get you out of bed. It’s such a fine morning, I thought we might pack up a lunch and go somewhere for the day.”

He had a high voice, raspy and unpleasant. Hearing it, she could see him at the other end of the line—the intent brown eyes, the narrow pointed nose, the thin lips, the prominent Adam’s apple. He was a singularly unattractive boy.

“I’m sorry,” Ellen said, “but I’ll be busy all day.”

"Oh. I see. Well, what about tomorrow?" Ellen tried to sound regretful. "I'm afraid I've made other arrangements, Harry." "That's not very considerate of you." His voice Continued on page 73

Continued on page 73

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 28

was squeaky with anger. “It’s two weeks yesterday since we went out together.”

“I know, but . . .” Ellen floundered. She had always been careful not to hurt his feelings, but now there was another reason for her hesitation—a dread of what he might say, or do, when he heard the truth. She steeled herself. “I won’t be having any more dates with you, Harry—ever.”

There was a long pause. Then his yoice, with a new sharpness, said, “What are you talking about?”

She told him bluntly, “I’m going to be married. We’re picking out the ring this morning.”

Another long pause.

Then Harry said slowly, “You’re going to marry me.”

His arrogance stunned her for a moment. I mustn’t make him angry, she told herself, I mustn’t let him know how the idea revolts me. Carefully, she said, “I’m sorry, Harry, I could never marry you, even if there weren’t someone else. It just wouldn’t work.”

In the silence that followed, the air seemed to press on her like a weight.

“You shouldn’t talk like that, Ellen,” he said at last. “It’s sacrilege.” “Sacrilege! What do you mean?” “It’s the will of God. You can’t go ■against His judgment, Ellen. If you do, He’ll strike you dead.”

It’s nonsense, Ellen told herself— but her hands were clammy and at the pit of her stomach a cold ball of fear was forming. She tried not to let it show in her voice.

“Harry,” she said, “you wouldn’t want to harm me.”

“Not me, Ellen—God. Rut He might use a human being as the instrument of His vengeance.”

Ellen said nothing for a moment. Like cat claws the implications of his statement sank into her. “This is just Harry,” she told herself frantically, “Hopeless Harry from the office. Everybody laughs at him.” She attempted a laugh now, but it stuck in "her throat.

“I’ll come and explain it to you,” Harry said. “It won’t take long.”

In sudden panic, Ellen cried, “No!

I won’t be here!”

Once again there was silence—a palpable weighty silence.

Then the raspy voice, terrible in its sureness, said, “You’ll be there, Ellen. I’m coming over right away.” He hung up.

Ellen stared at the phone blankly. It would take him half an hour to get here; by that time she could be dressed and out of the house. Only, she must hurry. Like an automaton, she laid the phone in its cradle and climbed the stairs with leaden feet. “Hurry, hurry,” her mind whispered, but her body was numbed.

The bacon had burned to cinders. She turned off the gas and began to dress sluggishly, with long halts while she gazed at nothing and remembered.

SHE HAD never liked him, although she had tried hard. How could you like a boy who was thin and knobbly and ugly, a boy who stumbled and stammered when he spoke and looked at you with twitching brown eyes? He reminded her of some of the stray animals she had mothered as a child — the bedraggled alley cats with torn ears and the mangy curs who slunk about garbage cans. They were unlovely and unloved, but she had been driven by compassion to feed and pet them and

pretend an affection she could not feel.

The same impulse had led her to befriend Harry. When he came to work as mail clerk six months ago he had been made the butt of the whole office. The others had jeered at his gaucheries, provoked him into further clumsiness and stupidities and behind his back imitated him with cruel relish.

Only Ellen had treated him as a fellow human. Three months before she had begun spending one evening a week with him, encouraging him to talk about himself and express his ideas on various subjects—not that he required

much encouragement. All the dismal details of his life poured out: the lonely childhood with a widowed mother who substituted religious tracts for bedtime stories, the bullying he had suffered from physically stronger boys, the gradual realization that he was destined to be a martyr among the Philistines. He was proud of being “different.” The rest of humanity was rushing headlong to the fires of hell, but he and a select little band would taste the joys of paradise. He promised Ellen, his eyes blazing with the zeal of a fanatic, to save her too.

Perhaps she should have told him frankly that the prospect was not exactly enthralling, but at the time it had seemed easier to listen and nod and smile sympathetically. That was before she met Bill, of course. In the month since then—a month which seemed like a century—she had gone out with Harry only once, on an evening when Bill had to work late stocktaking.

Actually, that was when she first began to feel afraid instead of sympathetic. She had known from the beginning that he was emotionally and

menially unstable, but she had not realized before that he regarded most people as vermin, beneath contempt, and anticipated their ultimate destruction with sadistic enjoyment.

Even more frightening than the way he gloated was his assurance to Ellen, “You don’t need to worry. God sent me to show you the way to everlasting glory. As soon as you’ve been saved, I’ll tell you what plans He has for you.”

Ellen hadn’t told Bill about it— there was no point in upsetting him —but she had talked to Boris, the hairdresser at Silvio’s Beauty Shop. Every Wednesday for two years Boris had set and combed out her hair, and while she relaxed in the chair they discussed each other’s affairs with an easy camaraderie.

Boris had warned her against Harry at the outset. “Look, Ellen, I know ycu've got a soft heart, but you don’t need to have a soft head. Those religious crackpots are always the most dangerous.”

“Harry—dangerous?” She had been able to scoff then. “Go on.”

“I’m serious,” Boris said. “If you

don’t keep away from him, you’re just asking for trouble.”

And now—and now . . .

The doorbell rang with a sudden clamor.

Ellen’s heart gave a great bound and then seemed to stop beating. She sat rigid on the bed, unable to move.

Then the front door opened and a voice called, “Hydro!” Only the man come to read the meter, Ellen thought, and her heart began to beat again. Her torpor had vanished. She looked at the clock—ten to nine. That left her ten minutes to get ready.

SHE JUMPED up from the bed and began frantically to pull on her clothes. A stocking sprang a run as she fastened it to the suspender, but there wasn’t time to change it. She zipped up the skirt of her red suit and thrust her arms into the jacket, ran a comb through her hair, jammed the new black hat with the jaunty red feather on her head and grabbed her purse from the dresser. It was nine o’clock exactly.

She ran the two blocks to the car stop and then leaned against a pole to recover, breathing in great gasps. There was no sign of Harry. The Harbord car crawled toward her. She straightened up and waited for her heart to stop its mad pounding. When the streetcar was half a block away she stepped out on the road.

It was then she heard it—a raspy voice calling, “Ellen!”

He was at the other end of the block, walking swiftly in her direction. She mov'ed out to the tracks and willed the streetcar to hurry. It had never moved so slowly. At last it ground to a halt in front of her and the doors opened. As she walked down the aisle she could see Harry, running now and shouting. She found an empty seat at the very back and slid into it as the doors slammed shut. The car started up.

Harry stopped and stared after it. As he caught sight of Ellen peering through the rear window, one hand went to his pocket and he pulled out a

gun, then dropped it back again. It must be the Luger his father had taken from a German in the first World War, Ellen thought; he had told her about it. But would he have bullets? She shivered. I’m safe now, she reminded herself, and watched his figure growing smaller.

Then she saw him look up the tracks. Another Harbord car was approaching. Resolutely, she turned her head. I won’t watch, she promised herself. It doesn’t matter, anyway, he can’t catch up to me now. He’ll be a block behind all the way. By ten o’clock I’ll be at Yonge and Dundas and Bill will be waiting.

But what if I get there early and Bill hasn’t arrived yet? Is there any place I can hide? She tried to remember the buildings on that corner, but the only one she could think of was the Brown Derby. I can duck inside there, she thought. He would never think of going into a cocktail lounge. But what if it isn’t open yet? And, anyway, Bill will be on the other corner, outside—Child’s Restaurant, that’s it. I can’t wait inside Child’s; it’s too open, too exposed.

She looked behind her. The other streetcar followed relentlessly. He would be sitting up near the driver, trying to keep her in view. She dug her fingernails into her palms to still her rising panic. As soon as the spasm had passed she got up and found a seat near the front.

IT WAS strange to pass along the familiar route and see it all as something new and foreign. Everything had a vaguely sinister quality. The little stores jammed close together, the idlers who lounged in front of them, the crowds of people scurrying blindly along the sidewalks, the old brick houses with their grimy gingerbread ornamentation—it looked like the setting for a movie, the kind of movie where tension mounts to a sudden eruption of violence.

She turned away from the window and tried to think of Bill, but she couldn’t concentrate. There were too many distractions. Every time the car stopped and the door opened she held her breath, fearing that somehow Harry would be among the passengers climbing on. He could easily have left the ether car and hailed a taxi to catch up to her. And every time the doors closed the tension drained out of her, leaving her limp and exhausted.

More passengers pushed on at every stop, but it wasn’t until they reached Spadina Avenue that Ellen noticed what a large proportion of them were children. There was a holiday look in their scrubbed shining faces, as if they were heading for the circus. The sidewalk, too, was crowded with children, pulling at the hands of their mothers and fathers to hurry them eastward.

There was something frightening about the mobs of children, some additional threat implied in the way they rushed east along Dundas. What was it? She felt the answer nibbling at the back of her mind, but it wouldn’t penetrate.

Ellen glanced at her watch. It was a quarter to ten. Now only fifteen minutes separated her from Bill, and safety. Fifteen minutes and how many blocks? Eight or nine—she couldn’t remember.

The streetcar had slowed down to a snail’s pace. It frequently stopped in the middle of a block and then started again, crawling past the intersecting streets. They were nearing University Avenue when it stopped for the last time, tightly wedged in a huddle of traffic.

Ellen sat tensely, hands squeezed tightly together, waiting for the car to

start up, but nothing happened. The other passengers were growing restive. First one, then another, headed for the side exit. Compressed air hissed as the door opened and shut behind them. A group of people got up to follow

them, and suddenly everybody was crowding into the aisle.

Ellen sat still for a moment longer, trying desperately to make a sensible decision. Bill was so close now that the car might start moving at any time, carrying her to safety. But, if it didn’t ... ? Every moment she waited, the other car was drawing closer and closer. In sudden blind panic she pushed her way to the front door.

Outside, no traffic was moving. Pedestrians jammed the sidewalk and overflowed on to the road, weaving their way between the stalled cars and trucks. They were all in a rush, all heading east.

Ellen merged with the scurrying stream, wondering what fear was driving them. What were they running away from? Or rather because she could see now that their faces wore a look of happy expectancy what were they running to meet?

The answer popped into her mind unexpectedly, and with if a terrifying realization. This must be the day of Eaton’s annual Santa Claus parade. University Avenue would be lined with a solid, impenetrable mass of people. She was trapped.

Unless—and she grasped at a wild hope. There was a taxi parked on St. Patrick Street, the driver idly eating an apple. She ran across to him.

“I’ve got to get over to Yonge Street. Will you take me around the parade?”

The driver looked pained. “Oh now, lady, have a heart. Fd have to go right up to Davenport or way down to Queen, and the traffic’s so bad I might never make it. Why don’t you just relax and enjoy the parade?”

“1 can’t!” she shouted at him and

then, fighting hysteria, repeated, “I’ve got to get over to Yonge Street.”

“Believe me, lady, it ain’t worth it,” the driver said, unperturbed. “Cost you two or three dollars, and anyway you’ll get there faster if you just wait till the parade’s over.”

How could she make him understand? She took a deep breath and looked over her shoulder. The streetcar she had just left was still standing motionless, but twenty yards behind it, another Harbord car was slowly edging closer. There was no time to argue she had to get away. She hesitated a fraction of a second and then flung herself into the crowd hurrying along Dundas, hoping she could lose herself in the mob.

She dodged around people and cars, running whenever she found a few yards of clear space Even as she ran, a sick hopeless feeling knotted her stomach. She was really trapped now

caught between Harry somewhere behind her and the crowd ahead. She should have got into the taxi and told the driver to take her anywhere, instead of arguing with him.

The parade was already in progress down University Avenue. As each new float passed, a storm of applause and cheers arose. Over the heads of the crowd she could see the story-book characters gliding past the old woman who lived in a shoe, Cinderella, Snow White, all the others.

She stared at the solid wall of people blocking her way and for a moment it seemed an impossibility to breach it. But fear drove her on. She pushed her way in.

“May I get by, please? 1 have to get across the road.” Ten, fifteen, twenty times she made her explanation, and each time the barrier gave a

little and she advanced another foot.

Then a tall broad-shouldered man blocked her way. She touched his arm, but before she could speak he scowled at her over his shoulder and said ferociously, “Who d’ya think you’re shoving?” Others turned to look af her and in their faces she could see contempt for a girl who would try to push her way to the front contempt and a determination to resist her.

“I’ve got to get by!” she cried. “There’s somebody chasing me—he’s going to kill me!”

The man laughed. “Co on, tell us another,” he said.

A little old lady clucked disapprovingly. “Shame on you,” she said. “If you wanted to see it you should have been down here at eight o’clock, like 1 was. Stay where you are and let the kids have their fun.”

THE URCE to escape wilted before their scorn. She waited, forcing herself to stare ahead at the parade, telling herself without conviction that Harry would never be able to find her in this crowd. The seconds dragged by and the interminable line of floats crawled past, while the tension within her built up to an unbearable pitch.

Suddenly there was a loud, sharp explosion.

Involuntarily, one hand flew to her throat, she screwed her eyes shut and steeled herself against the pain. But there was nothing. Only, somewhere ahead of her, a child began to wail. Had he been hit? She opened her eyes and strained for a glimpse of birr , at last catching sight of a grimy face, contorted in misery. Ke was still howling. In one hand he held a stick with a fragment of rubber clinging to if the remains of a burst balloon.

“Never mind, we’ll get you another,” a woman said and the wails gradually diminished. As they faded out Ellen became aware of a child’s voice reciting in a dreary meaningless fashion, “Tom, Tom, the piper’s son . . .” When he came to the end, he took a deep breath and started on “Mary, Mary . . .” The expressionless chanting went on and on. Periodically it was drowned out by applause and cheers, but if always started again. Ellen heard it as a background noise, without consciously listening, until the childish voice began to pipe:

There was a little man And he had a little gun.

And the bullets were made of lead, lead. lead.

Fear gripped her again. Was he there, somewhere behind her, slowly edging closer? She turned and stood on tiptoe searching for his face in the crowd.

Then it happened—so quickly that

she almost missed it. The heads around her shifted, craning in different directions, and for half a second she saw Harry not more than fifteen feet away, his brown eyes glittering in a set white face. For half a second his eyes burned into hers; then there was another bobbing of heads and he was lost to sight.

Only one thing mattered now—she had to get away. She pushed her way past protesting women and shoved her way to the curb, stepped between the children who sat there. A policeman shouted at her, but he was too far away to be any help. She ran for an open space between two floats, brushed aside a clown who grabbed at her sleeve, and burrowed into the crowd which.lined the other side of the road.

At last she fought her way out to the comparatively clear stretch of Dundas and began to run. At Bay Street she paused and leaned against a car, peering around it while her heart pounded frantically and the air rushed painfully into her lungs. For a moment she had the wild hope that somebody might have stopped him. Then she saw him farther down the street and on the other side, his head twisting from side |,o side, searching for her, as he trotted along the sidewalk.

She began to run again. Only one block to go—then only three-quarters uf a block—but pain knifed along her side and she knew with agonizing certainty that she would never make it. She would have to find refuge somewhere—anywhere.

Her eyes flicked over the store fronts and suddenly a familiar doorway yawned. She stumbled through it.

THE THREE barbers in their white coats looked up from their work and Silvio called, “Hello, Ellen. I his isn’t your regular day, is it ?”

Ellen looked back at him and shook her head. As she turned again to mount the stairs she caught a glimpse of herself in the big mirror, and with sudden horror realized how Harry had been able to locate her in the crowd. It was her new hat, the lovely black hat with a red feather eighteen inches long.

She reached up to tear it from her head and then, realizing the futility of the gesture, let her hand drop and climbed the stairs wearily.

The upstairs room was crowded, as always, with customers having shampoos and permanents and sets. Boris was at his usual place near the window. He called “Hi, Ellen, this is an unexpected pleasure,” and then, taking a good look at her, “Hey, what’s wrong?” Ellen was already standing by the phone in the corner, fumbling in her purse for a dime. “It’s Harry,” she said, gasping for breath. “He’s following me. I’ve got to get the police.

The police number was on the first page of the phone book: EMpire

:l-2121. She dialed it with trembling lingers. Even now she could not talk properly — only stammer disjointed phrases. At the other end of (lie line somebody was asking questions, but Ellen’s attention was riveted on the street below the window, and suddenly she broke in loudly, “1 can see him now. He’s on the south side of Dundas. Now he’s crossing the street lie’s coming here. You’ve got to help me!

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She dropped the receiver and turned back to the room, searching for a hiding place. The customers and the operators were all silent now, staring at her. She thought of the washroom and darted toward it, but Boris was beside her, pulling at her.

“Somebody’s in there,” he said. “Get under a dryer. I’ll try to stall him till the police come.”

Ellen rushed past the head of the stairs into the little room at the other side where half a dozen women sat drying their hair under machines. She slid into an empty chair and tried to

pull the dryer over her head. The hat was in the way. She ripped it from her head and sat on it. She could hear Boris knocking on the door of the washroom and saying, “Mary. Stay right where you are. Don’t say a word and don’t come out until 1 tell you to.”

Ellen reached for a movie magazine and held it to shield her face. Through the narrow space between f lic top of the magazine and the rim of the dryer, she could watch what was going on.

Silvio’s voice came over the speaker, with the clatter of the shop behind it. “A friend of Ellen’s is looking for her—

I’ve sent him upstairs. And Mrs. Willis is here for her appointment.”

Boris spoke softly. “Don’t send anybody else up. I’ll be right down to explain.”

“Whadda ya mean . . . ?” Silvio protested indignantly, but Boris turned a switch and again there was silence. In the silence Ellen heard two pairs of feet climbing the stairs.

Harry was ahead. The raspy voice began a halting explanation. “I’m looking for Ellen . . .,” but Boris interrupted.

“She’ll be out in a minute. Won’t

you have a seat while you wait?” Harry stood a moment uncertainly and then perched uneasily on the edge of a chair.

A STOUT elderly woman with steel.grey hair pulled herself up the last few steps and subsided into the empty chair beside Harry. Gasping for breath, she wheezed, “Hello, Boris. 1 hope you won’t keep me waiting.”

“I’m afraid you’ll have to go downstairs for your shampoo, Mrs. Willis,” Boris said. “We’ve got a new system and the upstairs girls are all taking their relief now. All right, kids, you can all take your customers down and turn them over to the others.”

Mrs. Willis sat erect, indignation purpling her face. “That’s ridiculous,” she said. “1 shall certainly not go downstairs. I shall have my shampoo right here, just as 1 always do.”

One by one the other customers stopped halfway through shampoo or permanent and headed swiftly for the stairs, the operators following them.

“As you wish, Mrs. Willis,” Boris said smoothly. “I’ll just pop down to see that everything’s under control.” While he was gone, the other room slowly cleared. Now there were only Mrs. Willis and Harry sitting at the head of the stairs—and in the drying room, six women with the roar of the dryers in their ears, unaware that anything had occurred, and one under a silent machine, waiting, waiting . . .

Harry seemed nervous. He shuffled his feet, cleared his throat. Once he leaned out and peered beyond Mrs. Willis into the drying room.

“Waiting for somebody?” Mrs. Willis boomed at him, and his head popped back.

“Yes, a friend,” he said.

Boris ran up the stairs.

“All right, Mrs. Willis,” he said. “If you’ll sit here I’ll do the shampoo myself. That’s right. Now we’ll just put this apron around you—there.”

Over the rushing of the water in the sink Ellen could hear the tap-tap-tapping of Harry’s fingers drumming on the chair arm. His right hand seemed to be in his pocket, on the side away from her. He was staring at the door to the washroom, waiting.

Boris was rubbing shampoo into Mrs. Willis’ scalp while she lectured him about the stupidity of this new system.

“Service—that’s what you’re here for,” she roared at him. “I don’t want to climb up and down stairs half a dozen times just to have my hair washed.”

“Well, Silvio’s the boss, you know,” Boris said easily.

“I’ll give him a piece of my mind too,” Mrs. Willis said.

“He’ll be glad to get your reaction,” Boris said.

Mrs. Willis snorted.

Silvio’s voice sounded over the intercom.

“Mr. Bradley’s coming up for the usual, Boris.”

Now the waiting is nearly over, Ellen thought. This must be the police. She listened to the sound of heavy

footfalls on the stairs. He came up slowly—a tall rangy man with a pleasantly homely face. He looked like the kind of man who wouldn’t be caught dead in a beauty salon. Holding his hat in his hand, he paused at the top of the stairs and said, “Hello, Boris. Fine weather for November.”

“Great day for the parade,” Boris said. “Be with you in a few minutes, Mr. Bradley. Have a chair.”

The man called Bradley moved to the chair Mrs. Willis had vacated, but before he l'eached it Harry got up and walked to the other end of the room. He stood with his back to the windows, watching them, his right hand in his pocket. Bradley sat down.

HARRY was suspicious now; it was apparent in the way he chewed on a knuckle while his eyes slid about the room. He moved toward the stairs, facing Bradley all the time. Maybe he’ll leave, Ellen thought, with a desperate hope—but the hope faded swiftly. He stood at the door of the washroom, still facing Bradley and with his back toward the drying room, and knocked.

“Hurry up, Ellen,” he called. “I’m waiting.”

A harsh voice called back, “What do you mean, Ellen? This is Mary.”

For a moment there was no sound but the running of the tap and the humming of the dryers, and no movement. Then Harry’s right hand came out of his pocket holding the heavy Luger. He looked at Boris and his voice, when he spoke, sounded as if he were about to cry.

“You lied to me,” he said. “You told me she was in there. Where have you hidden her?”

“Why, I thought she was ...” Boris said, and hesitated, his hands busy with the taps.

Harry shouted at him, his voice rising to a high-pitched squeal. “She’s got to take her punishment. Tell me where she is or I’ll kill you!”

“All right, I’ll tell you,” Boris said. “She’s in there.”

He lifted one arm to point, but as his hand reached the level of the sink a steaming stream of water spurted into Harry’s face. The gun fell to the floor and Harry clawed at his face while shrieks of agony tore the air.

Then there was bedlam. Bradley rushed Harry down the stairs, women popped their heads out from under the dryers and began shouting questions, the screams turned to blubbering, and over the noise Mrs. Willis could be heard storming, “What’s this all about, that’s what I’d like to know. What’s going on here?”

Ellen sank back in the chair and closed her eyes, weak with relief and happiness. The hubbub grew fainter and she felt herself slipping into a world of whirling darkness. I’ve got to see Bill, she reminded herself—hut she began falling through empty space, faster and faster, and through the black void she could hear a child’s voice chanting, “There was a little man . . .”

After that, there was nothing. ★