Then, as the priests completed their third bow, I turned and faced the statue.
As my eyes fell upon the shutter behind the thick, grinning lips, the shutter which released the lethal force, a wild and desperate idea came to me. With a shout, I jerked the gun from my pocket and leaped aside. As I did so, I fired twice into the gaping mouth, and saw the bullets shatter the heavy shutter. Then, with the humming sound ringing in my ears like a note of death, I leaped clear, into the midst of the waiting guards.
For an instant, there was no movement, no sound, from all that vast crowd. Even the guards seemed stunned, and I tore my way through them with hardly a pause in my stride.
Then a shrill cry went up; a cry that drowned utterly the humming sound that issued from the shattered mouth of the idol. Blindly, the multitude surged towards the scarlet ray that dealt death, fighting their way toward the oblivion they so highly prized.
Those who had been holding Hope and Vic were surging forward with the rest, their erstwhile prisoners forgotten in their mad greed for death. The crowd jostling about me seemed blind to my presence; every eye was fixed on the altar-like hands of the idol, and the death that blew across them.
"Pete!" yelled Vic. "Coming, boy?" He was waiting for me, staving off as best he could the rush of bodies around him; shielding Hope from the savage jostling.
"Coming!" I leaned forward, butting with my head, both doubled fists working like pistons to clear a way to my companions.
"Nice work, Pete!" shouted Vic, as I joined them, breathless but triumphant. "Now for a break! Gun loaded?"
I snapped open the action and dropped in six cartridges.
"It is now. I'll go ahead; you bring up the rear with Hope in the middle. Ready?"
I plunged on, Hope's fingers gripping my belt. Fresh multitudes were pouring up the ramp, brushing aside the five or six priests that had hurried there in an effort to stem the tide.
One of the priests saw us, and cried out shrilly to his companions. With one accord they came toward us, obviously intent upon blocking our way. I have never seen in any other eyes such anger and hatred as blazed in the eyes of those strange beings.
"Watch them, Pete!" roared Vic. "We can't take chances!" His gun roared twice from behind me, and two of the priests fell writhing, to be instantly trampled into pulp. Another reached out long arms toward Hope, and I let him have it. There was nothing else to do. He went the way of the two others.
Twice again, before we reached the ramp they guarded, the angry attendants of the idol fell before our guns. Then, hurrying down ramp after ramp, corridor after corridor, fighting the rushing mob all the way, we came at last, shaking with weariness and gasping for breath, to the deserted streets of this black and terrible city.
"Are we free?" whispered Hope, holding tightly to my arm. "Are we really free?"
"I hope so, dear. We seem to be. If we can only reach the spot where we entered this insane world before something happens--"
"How much time have we?" interrupted Vic.
I glanced down at my watch, fearful, for a moment, that it had been broken or lost in the melee. It was still running, apparently undamaged.
"Let's see; it's four minutes of one. That gives us seven minutes. Can we make it?"
"I think so. It's not so far, and we're nearly out of the city. We have to make it!"
Vic led the way, Hope and I following. Anxiously, I watched the minute hand of the watch slide toward the "XII" of the dial ... touch it ... move on....
It was not far, as Vic had said, but we were weary from our battle with the crazed mob, and the best we could force from our legs was a sort of dog-trot.
One minute after ... two....
"Here's the spot! I marked it with these three pieces of stone. Quick!" Vic swept both arms about Hope and me, holding us in a close embrace, so that we all stood within the triangle formed by the three bits of black rock.
I glanced down at my watch. It lacked but a few seconds of the moment when the machine back in Vic's laboratory would function--provided my watch was correct, and the equipment worked according to schedule.
Suddenly, Hope screamed, and I followed her eyes. A score or more of the strange beings had suddenly materialized but a few yards away, and they were closing in on us swiftly.
I tried to draw my gun. Hands reached out to grasp me; to grasp all three of us. Then darkness closed in swiftly; I was whisked upward, on and on, breathlessly. I was suddenly very heavy; I was dropping in the blackness ... there was something solid beneath my feet ... a glare of light in my eyes.
"Nicely timed, I'll say that," chuckled Vic. "How does our own material little old world look?"
"Great!" I stepped quickly away from the machine, drawing Hope with me. "Doesn't it, Hope?"
She sighed, a long, shuddering sigh, and snuggled into my arms. Vic glanced towards us and grinned.
"Come to think of it," he remarked, "I believe I'll run along and see if I can find Mrs. Perrin. I haven't had a thing to eat since noon yesterday, and I've just realized I'm hungry. Will you join me?"
"In a moment," I nodded, and Vic, being the good scout he was, hurried away.
"And the machine?" I asked a few nights later. "Still experimenting with it?" I had really come out to see Hope, of course, but she was still upstairs, putting on the finishing touches.
Vic shook his head quite gravely.
"No, old son; I had enough. Off on another tangent now. Why--would you like to go back?"
"Not me! It doesn't seem real now; more like a nightmare, but it was terrible enough at the time."
"I can prove it wasn't a nightmare," chuckled Vic. "Come along, and I'll show you something you missed." He led the way to the laboratory, and unlocked a drawer, one of several, beneath the work table.
"I found this on the floor of the machine," he said. "Didn't notice it until later. The rays of the machine caught it and brought it back with us; made it solid matter, as we know it here. Do you recognize it?"
I nodded, shuddering. There was no possibility of mistake.
In a squat, clear bottle of alcohol that Vic had taken from the drawer was a sinister, claw-like brown hand, severed cleanly at the wrist.