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Death In The Darkness

This evening we stayed in our Daily Strange's Sponsor Office until long after darkness had fallen. We turned on every light in the place and let their brilliance shine forth unrestricted into the night air. Then we looked out the window over the city with its billions of similar lights reflecting a great glow in the sky and we thougt, ''Thank God, we still can do this!''

We were remembering the story told us earlier in the day by a man who had but recently returned from war-ravaged Europe in the beginning of 1940's

It was in Berlin he had said shortly after England and France had declared war on Germany.

The nightly black-out was in full force, and finding one's way about after dusk had fallen was something of a problem, especially to one as unfamiliar with the city as I was. Therefore it was with great relief and joy that, the second evening after my arrival, I encountered a friend. She was a German girl whom I had met while she had been visiting relatives in the United States an extremely lovely and entirely delightful young woman of twenty-odd.

We came across each other entirely by accident in a smoke-filled and vilely lighted cafe. We had one or two drinks together, and then she said she would show me the night life of a blacked-out city. I asked her if she were not afraid of an attack or a hold-up in the impenetrable darkness of the streets, but she pooh-poohed the idea. The argument continued for a while, and, eventually I was shamed into agreeing to her proposal.

We left the cafe and never have I experienced as bleak and forsaken a felling as I did then. I could sense life about me a few people hurrying past, sometimes bumping into us with a muttered curse or apology; an occasional car or bus slowly feeling its way down the street, its shaded headlights all but invisible beyond a distance of a few feet but it all seemed fantastic and entirely unbelievable. I felt that I was in a vast wilderness, alone except for the frail girl to whose arm I held so firmly, and that wild beasts of prey surrounded us on every side. We did have lighted cigarettes in our hands, but if you've ever tried to find your way down a lonely country road at night with only the aid of a cigarette, you can understand how much aid that is. If anything, its glowing tip increases the sense of encircling desolation.

For perhaps fifteen minutes we walked along, strumbling over curbings, bumbing into corners of buildings. Several times I was saved from falling only by the alertness of my charming guide, who seemed to have sixth sense for this kind of travel. Suddenly I became conscious that we were encountering fewer and fewer fellow walkers and that for some time past, not a single car had passed us on the street.

I inquired as to the reason for this. ''Oh, most people stick to main streets,'' she laughed. ''We're going to ----''

She mentioned the name of a cafe, located in a district of the city that even I knew had a not-too-savory reputation. ''We're almost there now, so don't scold me.''

I wasn't going to scold her---I was going to demand that we turn back immediately, but as I turned my head to speak, I smashed into something bulky and soft. It was a man and he cursed loudly and fluently. I lighted a match to see if any damage had been done, and in the sudden flare I could see that his eyes were fixed with glittering, beast-like intensity upon my companion. He was drunk, but I had the immediate conviction that there was something innately evil about him---someting more than mere alcholism.

The match went out and sudden darkness rushed over us again, more intense, more fearful than before. I was completely blinded. I muttered something that could pass for an apology and reached for the girl's arm, which I had released to light the match. I grasped only emptiness!

And at the same moment I heard a choked scream beside me, the muffled sound of a fist striking flesh, and then quick, running footsteps. I grabbed out again, wildly, failing my arms, but my hands encountered nothing more solid than the night air. The man had slipped away as silently as a ghost --- and he had carried the girl with him!

Frantically I fumbled for another match, but by the time I found one and lighted it, there was nothing to be seen. I was standing alone in a tiny circle of flickering light, and all around me was an impenetrable blanket of darkness. I was completely helpless. I could not even guess in which direction they had gone....

I will not describe the rest of the night. My memory of it is hazy even now. Somehow, I managed to summon the police; but they could do no more than I until daylight came. Eventually someone brought me back to my hotel and I fell into an exhausted slumber.

It was late the next morning before they found her---dead, strangled, her once--lovely body cruellly bruised and beaten. She, for whom the black-out had held no terrors! . . . .

The man who told us this pitiful and tragic story is a former war-correspondent. He was completely broken by the experience, though he had been long injured to the usual horror of war, and returned home as soon as possible, vowing never again to spend a night away from the bright lights of peace . . . .

We wonder if any of our visitors have ever undergone an experience as horrible as this? It would be interesting to know . . . .

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