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Page:Weird Tales volume 30 number 01.djvu/24

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WEIRD TALES

human skin so made as to react to such an agent as that described by Harley—assuming the man hadn't been simply amusing himself by working up his hopes on a hoax?

The more Littell studied it, the less he could determine. And of course he dared ask no one who might know. You don't advertise an escape.

"Have you got any of this stuff in here with you, Harley?"

"No, scum."

"Then how——"

"It could easily be made. The ingredients could be gotten from the prison hospital. Potassium manganate is the base."

Littell didn't sleep nights. Harley was grimly kidding him! Or was he? Human flesh wasn't like lizard flesh! Or, in respect to contractile, pigment-bearing cells, was it? You couldn't actually break jail by taking a drug! Or—could you?

What was the secondary effect produced by Harley's drug? What horror lay in the thing that the man wouldn't use it himself, and was bleakly amused to offer it to the fellow prisoner whom he hated most on earth?

Littell shuddered away from the mystery, and decided to forget the whole thing. And then, in the dining-hall, he tried to sneak meat from the plate of the man beside him. It took a lot to support that soft paunch of his. The man beat him up till he was a quivering, groaning mass before the guards could intervene.

"I've got to get out of here! I've got to! I can't stand it!"

He sought again the man who loathed the ground he walked on.

"Harley, I don't care what your drug does to a man. I don't care what the aftermath is. Let me have some. There's a hack-saw blade in my cell, stuck with chewing-gum in the angle-iron of the side rail of my bunk. I can get out of my cell, if there's a way for me to get across the prison yard and up the outer wall after that.... Harley, give me some of that drug."

"You fool!"

"Maybe I am a fool. But I can't stay here any longer."

"You know I hate you. Yet you'll take a concoction from me and swallow it, after I've told you the results are such that I wouldn't think of taking it myself?"

"I've got to get out of here!"

Across the yard, the man from whom Littell had tried to steal food snarled at him. Littell's soft flesh crawled with memory of the beating he had taken.

"I've got to get away!"

Then the day when Harley, with ferocious mockery in his eyes, slid a little vial of blood-colored liquid into his hand. Harley was occasionally called to the prison hospital to help with cases that baffled the regular physician. It had been easy for him to get what he needed.

"Here you are, scum. Escape—if you're fool enough to take it. But remember, there are some things worse than the penitentiary."

"Nothing could be worse! I'll risk whatever may happen to me—afterward."

There were directions, delivered like the vial: in bitter mockery.

"Wait for a foggy night. This stuff isn't perfect. And it goes without saying that you must take your clothes off and go naked. Otherwise the guards would be treated to the spectacle of a seemingly empty suit of prison denim walking across the yard. The drug doesn't act on hair, either, but the prison hair-cut takes care of that, I guess. You're actually going through with it, Littell?"

"I am. If I'm caught, I'll get solitary for a little while, that's all. They can't extend a sentence when it's already life."