Complete Novelet of Fearsome Mystery
I: A Note from Hell
Mason would be as damned as I, cursed by seeing
things occur that could not happen. We would be cursed by those fiery eyes,
the long shrieks and the longer silences - cursed by the thing in the dungeon!
The fate of Mason I have never explained
I am certain that the secret is locked forever
in that little New England valley, buried in the ashes of old Gribold Manor.
We were rattling on our way to the place
that first night. I was still temporarily elated, for I had become one
thousand dollars richer that morning on account of Mason.
"Mason," I said, "if I were you I'd try to
forget those legends and get a little rest. There'll be some simple, logical
explanation that you've overlooked."
I settled comfortably on the green plush
and through half squinted eyes studied the chiaroscuro parade of tree goblins
and phone pole ogres as they chased each other by the train window. Idly
I was trying to figure how many phone poles one could buy with a thousand
I felt Mason's little fear-round eyes quiver
on me for a second.
"No, Gov'nor," he came in slowly. "Hit hain't
right, that's wot. Hit hain't right!"
"What isn't right?" I asked.
""Yer takin' that thousan' dollars I was
sent to give yer. Yer shouldn't of took hit!" Mason's lip corner twitched
nervously. "Yer ought've locked me up in jail, kept me from goin' back
there. That's wot yer ought to've done -- kept me away from that orful
"It will be a sorry day, my friend," I replied,
"when I refuse a thousand dollars in gold nuggets and then have my generous
benefactor locked behind bars."
I had known Mason only twelve hours. In the
quiet of dawn he had knocked at my studio door. Even then, after I had
stumbled out of bed and let him in, he had seemed frightened. He gripped
a tanned leather sack as if it might strike at him.
There was an uncanny sensation when I took
that sack from Mason. I know good leather, and my fingers are trained to
remember the feel of things. Once I had felt stuff like it in the forbidden
crypt of a cannibal witch doctor. It was tanned human hide.
But my gruesome idea fled when I saw the
contents of the bag. What I judged to be about a thousand dollars
worth of gold nuggets poured out.
I tore open a scroll of parchment Mason handed
me. The writing was large and bold.
These nuggets are yours if you come at once to Gribold
Manor. The Gribold Statue has been damaged. Only a competent sculptor can
mend it. I make this offer to you because I have seen your work in the
galleries of Edinburgh.
If you successfully heal the Statue of Gribold you
may have the twin brother to this bag of gold. A life depends upon your
succeeding. My servant will guide you to the Manor.
Rakor Gribold X
Master of Gribold Manor and Estates.
I had heard of the Gribold Statue myth. With
the exception of the Gribolds, no man had set eyes upon it for two centuries.
Exactly what the statue was no man knew. To see it was to die, hopelessly,
horribly insane. My conclusion at the time was that stupid people or neurotics
like Gribold's new little cockney servant believed such rot.
Myths did not bother me. One thousand dollars
was already mine. An equal amount would soon follow. I needed every cent
of it. Any man in similar circumstances would have made his way to Gribold
Manor that night.
The train whistled drearily. I dug out the
parchment and read it again. I noticed casually the queer use of the words
"mend" and "heal" in regard to repairing the statue. The statement "a life
depends upon your succeeding" puzzled me. My eyes kept returning to Rakor
Gribold's tremendous signature. It was in reddish brown ink.
"Hit's writ in blood, that's wot hit his!"
rasped Mason. "Hit's witch's blood!"
"If it's blood," I said, "it will be partly
soluble in moisture."
I wet the tip of my finger, dragged it across
the name. The stuff smeared.
"I told yer so, Gov'nor. Hit's witch's blood
all right -- the witch of Gribold!"
Mason fell off into an exhausted sleep soon
after that. I noted his sunken cheeks, the nervous twitches that pulled
at his eyes and mouth even in slumber. Our ancient car was air-conditioned
on the warm side, so Mason's head was pillowed on his coat. His rolled-up
sleeves revealed a pair of thin tattooed forearms. In addition to a couple
of nude mermaids, each arm bore the insignia of his Queen's navy. Like
a giant black caterpillar in the moonlight, the train wove its lonely way
up the steep slope. We were approaching a high valley where, Mason had
told me, the village of Gribold nestled.
With a start, the little cockney awoke. His
eyes clouded with the old terror. He pointed a shaking finger toward a
dark mass on a wooded hill rising above the valley. As if he had been wound
up and was powerless to stop himself, Mason began babbling.
"That's it," he said. "That's the place --
crouchin' on the 'ill lookin' over the village like a bloomin' beast of
"Oly Writ. Hit's the livin' place of the Grimbold Stature!
Mason leaned closer.
"I've heard hit up there," he rasped monotonously.
"I've heard hit -- that statue shriekin' at night. Hit's the voice o' the
witch comin' outa the monster's throat. Blimey, I've trembled like a bloomin'
wench lyin' there in bed, listenin' to eerie noises all over the place!"
Mason dragged a finger around under his collar.
"Hit's death to 'ear hit," he said.
"I'm a marked man. That's wot I am -- a marked
I listened quietly, reserving my own opinions
to feed my disgustingly normal outlook on such tripe.
Save for a lone brakeman awaiting the next
train, the old Gribold Village station was dismally deserted. I shuddered,
pulled up my coat collar against the biting mountain winds. Mason gathered
the bags together. Then we trudged off through the village and finally
hit a narrow, forlorn path leading up to Gribold Manor.
The way led through a forest of gnarled oak.
It was a step climb and we had to stop often to rest. Our little lantern
cast ugly black shadows. Mason stayed as close to me as possible and I
noticed his eyes constantly striving to pierce the gloom about us.
We came at last to the forest's edge. One
hundred yards ahead of us loomed the great manor, dark and lonesome. We
sat down on our bags. Mason stared at the place for a long time before
he started to whisper.
"Hit's old, Gov'nor, so old it scares yer.
Two 'undred years old. The Archduke Gribold built the place for 'is bride,
a village girl. They says she was lovely on the weddin' day, dressed in
lavender and lace with snow-white skin an' pink cheeks. Bur Gord, Gov'nor,
their first night in Gribold Manor --" Mason paused and drew a hand across
his trembling mouth. Turrible screams came from the manor. Hit was 'is
bride. She'd gone stark, ravin' mad -- that's wot she did." Mason gulped.
"An' nobody hain't never knowed why!"
He clutched my arm and went on, his eyes
staring at the place before us.
"Mean an' cruel 'e became, the archduke did,
an' him an' 'is mad wife they ruled the manor and estate like divils down
Hades way. They 'ad a wee one, finally. A little boy, an' 'e later inheritated
the estate an' carried on the Gribold name. But before that --" Mason whispered
the next words very softly. "The archduke's wife became bewitched!
She was a young 'un but blimey, they says she appeared like an old wizened
"Then the archduke vanished! Some says the
witch of Gribold done it with 'er divil's brew in the basement of the place.
Sore 'cause 'e drove 'er mad, she changed 'im -- 'ardened 'im into stone."
I could scarcely hear his next words.
"The Gribold Statue, Gov'nor -- hit's the
archduke hisself changed to stone, locked for a century an' a half in a
dungeon of the old manor. Hit's the witch of Gribold I've listened to,
shriekin' at night -- an' the voice comes out o' the statue's mouth! It
shrieks when it's hungry, wails like a banshee until Rakor Gribold lets
it out to roam the countryside searchin' for meat -- meat fer itself an'
its master -- human meat!"
Mason buried his head in his hands and rocked
back and forth. I had never seen such terror and I felt sorry for the man.
But I couldn't understand then.
Before we got up to go on, I asked him a
question, one that I had no business to ask.
"Why," I asked, "if Gribold Manoris so distasteful
to you, are you coming back to it? Why didn't you take the bag of gold
and, well, scram?"
His answer startled me.
"Hit's 'is eyes, that's wot hit is. Hit's
'is eyes. Blimey, they wouldn't let me. Oh, God, how I've tried to beat
it, anywhere. I'd even go ack to the old country, enlist again in the navy.
But I can't. Hit's 'is eyes. They ain't human. You'll see, Gov'nor!"
I know now that he was talking of Rakor Gribold,
the man I was soon to meet.
Fifty feet from the huge doorway, Mason dropped
the bags and shrank behind me, clutching my coat to save himself from collapsing
to the ground. A shrill cry had cut the night like a knife stab. It was
the voice of an incredibly agonized woman.
"That shriek, every night hit's like that!
O Gord, wot is hit?"
Mason sank to the ground, grasping my knees.
I jerked myself free and started for the
manor. I covered the huge stone steps in five leaps. The wail had subsided
into a chant when I reached the oak-paneled portal. The door was moving
I rushed into the hall to be met by sudden
silence. It was as uncanny as the cry had been.
A mildewed odor of stagnant age wafted up
on chilling drafts from somewhere below. I opened my mouth to shout, closed
it again quickly. Far down the hallway I heard the groaning hinges of another
door. I listened. I could hear running footsteps.
Then I fell forward, Something had racked
violently against my back and things began falling all around. I sprang
to my feet. Mason lay on the floor behind me, bags scattered all over the
place. He had rushed through the door and collided with me.
Someone was laughing.
I have never heard a laugh with less mirth.
It was cruel, insane laughter. And it came from over my shoulder!
Turning, I saw the dim form of a huge man
standing two feet from me. He flicked a match, lit a candle held in one
hairy hand. It lighted his face from beneath.
And what a face!
Once, in a museum I had seen the reconstruction
of a Piltdown man, an abysmal brute who was an early link between and ape
and a hume. Now this living counterpart loomed before me.
Mason had pulled his punches when he described
John Coleman and Jane