Complete Novelet of Fearsome Mystery
II: Master of the Manor
The man bowed low, in apelike mimicry of an
ancient human greeting.
"Good evening, David Renton. I welcome you
to the cozy hospitality of Gribold Manor."
I drew back involuntarily. Speech shouldn't
have flowed so easily from the mouth of an atavism like that. And his breath!
God, it was as fetid as though he had been dead for centuries.
A cross between a snarl and a frozen smile
lifted the corner of his flabby mouth, revealing a dirty, yellow fang.
I was immediately struck by the prominence of the supra orbital ridges
and the short, receding forehead -- the indication of an extremely thick
skull. His round, owl-like eyes gleamed like twin holes into hell. The
short cane he grasped in one hairy hand seemed to be fashioned of some
greenish stone. It had been broken, leaving a wicked, jagged end.
"I trust you enjoyed my concert, Mr. Renton?"
the rasping voice went on. "I often have them, much to the discomfort of
my splendid servant here."
Rakor Gribold shuffled over to Mason, and
poked him with his cane.
"Get up and take our guest's bags to his
room, you stupid fool! What do I pay you for -- to sleep on the floor?"
Mason cowered as the giant, bearded figure of the Master of Gribold threatened
him with his boot.
"Gribold," I interrupted, "if you don't mind,
I'd like to see the statue you want me to repair."
I found myself struck with a strong desire
to get the job over, collect that extra thousand, and get out. Gribold
came close to me again. He blew in my face and grinned. Then he shuffled
off sown the hallway.
I took a thick tallow from a nearby stand,
lit it, and followed Rakor Gribold down into the dungeons.
Tortuous winding corridors led ever downward.
The air was damp with the chill of a lonely grave. Strange noises whirred
through the hanging moss and roots. Bats, I thought. Carefully I shaded
the candle with my hand.
I slipped suddenly. The candle fell, rolled
away into a tunnel off the main corridor. I cursed, wiped the slime from
my clothes and groped after the flickering light. It had rolled against
the rusty bars of a tiny cell.
I clutched the tallow firmly and turned to
go on. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of something white.
I swung around, held the candle high. Mutely staring down at me was the
bleached skull of some long dead human There came a mirthless chuckle behind
me. Gribold was fingering his necklace of teeth.
"An ancient enemy of the Gribolds," he purred.
"It was an exquisite torture. They hung him on the wall -- very carefully,
so he wouldn't strangle. Then they covered his body with molasses. Our
little friends did the rest."
Gribold pointed to the walls and beams supporting
the roof of the tunnel. They were covered with a pulsing blackness. I drew
back as something fell on my hand. I brushed it off, crushed it under my
heel. It was a shiny, black cockroach!
Gribold slashed at the beauty of a fragile
moss-flower with his broken cane.
"Of course, Mr. Renton, you realize that
this was done in centuries past. We don't think of doing those things in
He moved to the main corridor. I followed,
noting with relief that the tremendous beams and the supporting walls of
the main tunnel were free of the repulsive insects. But each side tunnel
seemed to move with a hideous life of its own. Now and then flickering
lights would start and disappear in the murky darkness.
The cobblestones under my feet had been worn
into a trough like path by Gribold's ancestors. The hollows between the
stones were filled with puddles of black water that blinked up like evil
eyes as the light of the candle glanced over them.
There was a sharp turn and the corridor ended.
Rakor Gribold stood before a huge iron door. He fumbled under his thick
robe, drew forth a key, fitted it into the lock. It was then that I noticed
the curiously voluminous clothing that covered him from neck to foot.
The door moved slowly inward, sighing as
though it were eternally weary of being opened and shut.
When Rakor Gribold entered the chamber, I
felt an urge to turn and run. The evil that poured out of the room was
as potent as the smell.
Then I saw the pit.
It was in the center of the floor. From its
cavernous depths billowed red flames and a sickening odor that I can compare
only to burning flesh. Boiling sluggishly in a massive iron pot hanging
over the pit was a nauseous mass that gurgled and belched green fumes.
Suspended from chains that disappeared into
a seemingly endless ceiling were a dozen bleached skeletons. They swung,
still articulated, on giant hooks. I shrank from the wanton torture that
must have taken place there.
The room was so dry that it almost crackled.
Feeling a peculiar roundness under my feet, I looked down. I drew in my
breath. The floor was paved with human skulls! Hell would have a floor
Carved in the nearest wall were symbols of
the Black Arts, and a map of forgotten secrets of the Gribold blood cults.
Old musty books stood on a shelf -- black books of the Faith's Kingdom.
Again my eyes were drawn to the cauldron.
Through the smoke and flames I thought I saw a figure bent over the boiling
mass. A witchlike thing stirred the brew with a human leg bone! I had a
confused glimpse of red glaring eyes, matted hair, incredibly wrinkled
skin, a loose mouth moving over stained fanged teeth. But even as I peered
closer, the figure seemed to dissolve. I reasoned that the smoke from the
pit and the steam from the brew had caused an optical illusion.
Rakor Gribold was lighting giant candles
at one end of the room. He stepped aside.
I quickly joined him at the base of a thronelike
pedestal. I looked up, gasped! Before me crouched the famous Statue of
Never had I seen such realism used to depict
so fantastic a subject. It looked human, but the hideous grotesqueness
of the thing made the human qualities uncanny. If it were standing, I judged
it would be about the size if Rakor Gribold. The torso and legs were human.
But the features were so insanely cruel that I found myself marveling at
the hands that had modeled them. I saw some intangible expression, perhaps
a similar facial angle, that reminded me of the bearded Rakor Gribold.
The creature on the pedestal had four arms.
Two were short and two were long. ONe of the long arms had been broken
off at the elbow. Gribold pointed to the broken joint.
"This is why I needed you, a sculptor, to
mend my little pet."
He stroked the hideous head as though he
were caressing his dog. I examined the broken stub.
"How was the arm broken?" I naturally asked.
"Do you have the piece?"
My answer was a crooked smile from the Master
of Gribold Manor.
"Tomorrow you will start to work," he said.
"It will be quite cozy for you down here. But of course you will have to
work by oil light."
I was about to protest. Working by oil light
in a smelly dungeon would be a hardship for any artist, but for two thousand
dollars I could endure it. I'd repair the Statue's arm twice as fast as
any other sculptor could, and beat it away from that fantastically horrible
As we left the dungeon, I caught sight of
Mason scurrying around a sharp turn of the corridor. A fierce light flared
up in Gribold's eyes. I saw that yellow fang bared again.
My room was on the second floor at the head
of the stairs. I was tired and scarcely noticed much about it when I climbed
into the huge old bed. I did remember to lock the door, however.
The clock at the foot of the stairs bonged
twice. I awoke with a start, listening intently.
There was a soft shuffling just outside my
door. I sprang from my bed, flipped the lock and yanked the door open.
Mason was standing there, like a frightened
"They're starin' at me again, Gov'nor. Borin'
into me. Just like they do every night!" He clutched at my arm. "Can't
yer do something? Make 'em stop?"
In an attempt to quiet the fellow, I drew
him into the room and closed the door. I shook his arm.
"What's staring at you?" I asked.
"Hit's 'is eyes again -- They're tryin' to
make me go down to that dungeon," Mason whispered fiercely in my ear. "To
that place in the basement where that statue is. Keep me in here, Gov'nor.
Don't let me go!"
The fellow seemed sincere enough in his belief
that Gribold's eyes were hypnotizing him. I didn't have the heart to make
him go down again to his lonely room off the kitchen.
The remainder of the night I listened to
Mason's explosive snores and pondered over the man's strange terror. I
found myself becoming aware of that same sensation of being watched by
someone unseen. Only in this case it was my very thoughts that seemed to
be under cold scrutiny by some hidden evil force.
I attributed the feeling to Mason and the
power of suggestion. Finally, just as the first rooster was awakening,
I fell asleep.
That morning at breakfast, the iron knocker
banged on the front door. Its thunder reverberated through the manor, rousing
all the dormant echoes from the dungeons. I felt sure that I could never
accustom myself to that frightful din.
Mason, still worried, came in a moment later.
A man to see yer, Gov'nor. 'E said 'e'd wait
Puzzled, I went to the front door. I saw
a wizened man with ferret eyes, pulling impatiently at a large black
"Follow me," the man said crisply in a cracked
I followed him obediently out the door. When
we were some distance from the manor he stopped.
"I'm the sheriff from Gribold village' he
barked. Then he dug a bony paw into his coat pocket and pulled out a small
automatic, cold and blue. "Take it," he said suddenly.
Surprise must have been evident on my face
as I took the gun. The sheriff conjured a water-logged toothpick from behind
a golden facade of dentistry and blew it into space.
"That gun," he remarked. "Yuh can't kill
nothin' much with it -- but yuh can use it to call me up here with!"
The sheriff next produced a package of gum.
He undressed each piece and stuffed them all into his mouth. Then he dabbed
at his bald head with a pink handkerchief.
"I dunno what yer business is here," he said,
after a pause. "An' I don't say as I give a damn. But I ain't hankerin'
to have any more people around here showin' up vanished!"
I still must have appeared unconscious of
what he was driving at, but he kept right on chewing and talking.
"Shoot that gun off I give yuh three times
if yuh need me, son, an' don't ferget it. I'll hear it down at the office
an' hot-foot right up here."
"I don't understand," I finally managed.
"Why should I need you?"
"They's legends," he said, "among the villagers
an' farmer folk 'bout this place. They says the Gribolds has always been
meat eaters. It's part o' their religion, an' well -- some of the stories
is pretty goll durned screwy. Others? I dunno. I'm sheriff. I'm supposed
to deal in facts."
The sheriff paused to adjust his cud of gum.
"All I know is people come into this place
and they don't never come out. Farmers are murdered hereabouts or they
just disappear. I've come up here umpty-nine times with warrants, questioned
Gribold an' tried to search the damn place. But all I can ever find is
rats, cockroaches and a thousand smells. So this is just in case.
The sheriff peered about the gardens to make
sure we were still alone. Then he drew out a red bandanna tied into a sack.
He dumped out on his hand what looked like some green pieces of stone.
"In the dead o' night, a week back,' he whispered,
"a farmer down yonder, 'Plow' Hendricks they call him, woke up to see somethin'
peerin' at him through the window. He grabbed his shotgun and blasted away.
The critter, whatever it was, beat it. But here's a queer thing about it."
The sheriff bounced the greenish pieces of stone in his hand. "I found
these goll durned things all over the ground by that farmer's window!"
I took some of the pieces and examined them
closely. What at first I had taken to be a green igneous stone now looked
like some soft plastic material that had hardened.
"Ever notice anything like that around in
the manor?" the sheriff questioned.
I shook my head and handed him back the pieces.
He wrapped them up again carefully in his bandanna and slipped the sack
into his pocket.
"I just wondered," he said. "I'll be leavin'
now. Watch yourself, son, an' remember them three shots if yuh need me.
"That farmer," I asked quickly, just as he
turned to go. "Was he able to describe what he had seen looking in at him
"Well, yeah," admitted the sheriff. "But
every prowler 'round these parts fits the same description -- like it's
allus been since I was a kid an' my ole man afore me."
"Just as Plow Hendricks said, the critter
he seen lookin' in at him had four arms!"
I slipped the automatic into my coat pocket.
The sheriff turned and ambled off down the trail toward the village.
John Coleman and Jane