Complete Novelet of Fearsome Mystery
III: The Fearful Workroom
Rakor Gribold was waiting
for me at the door. We went immediately to the dungeons. I saw that Gribold
had set up some oil lanterns around the statue. They illuminated the crouching
figure, but only served to make the surrounding darkness more Stygian.
Rakor Gribold stood
by with folded arms while I made a careful examination of the statue. As
I had suspected the night before, it was not chiseled stone. It seemed
to be a composition what I was completely unfamiliar with. The arm should
be repaired with the same material. Gribold moved over to the cauldron.
"This is what you will
need," he said, anticipating my question.
He brought an iron
dish filled with some of the substance from the cauldron. It was a remarkably
light plastic, and of the same greenish hue as the statue -- and strangely
like the greenish pieces of stone the sheriff had picked up. I hardened
and modeled easily.
I found it impossible
to become absorbed in my work. LIke an unclean servant of Belial, Rakor
Gribold hung over my shoulder. His rancid panting irritated me almost beyond
endurance. He scarcely spoke a word, merely grunting with satisfaction
as the work progressed. His eyes continually feasted on the hideous statue.
He caressed it, drooled on its squat hand.
The murky chamber,
the crouching horror on the pedestal and Rakor Gribold suddenly became
synonymous with everything that was inhuman and evil. I dropped the tool
I was working with. A timid knocking sounded at the door. Sweating with
relief, I turned from the statue. Rakor Gribold yelled fiercely as he saw
the latch slip.
"Put that tray down
outside, you blundering idiot, and stay out! Stay out, I say!"
The tray clattered
to the floor. Cursing softly to himself, Gribold crept across the room.
He jabbed the sharp broken end of his cane viciously through the large
keyhole. If Mason had been there, he would have been blinded. I shuddered.
This whole business was getting on my nerves.
Gribold put the tray
on an improvised table and grabbed a chicken leg. The meat was gone in
one gulp. Gribold tossed the bone to a far corner of the room. There was
a sharp squeal, a scurrying of feet. I saw beady, unblinking eyes gather
from every corner of the room to stand just outside the feeble circle of
light. Gribold talked to them, flung them bones and bits of meat. It occurred
to me that the rats had always been there, waiting for bones and meat!
I forced myself to
eat something, lit a cigarette.
Gribold's eyes blazed.
With one bound he reached me, struck the cigarette from my hand into the
"You fool! Would you
take the chance of destroying the statue with a careless cigarette tossed
too near it?"
Then he calmed himself,
but with difficulty. I stared at the hideous, mouthing face. The man was
Gribold was muttering
apologies, placating me, but I determined to double my energy and finish
the statue's arm. Why was he so afraid of a cigarette when that pit was
always burning, filled with flames?
That night at dinner
it was the same thing again -- the horrible wolfing of meat in one form
or another. I felt my appetite dwindling away before the carnivorous voracity
of Rakor Gribold.
Mason came in wit the
wine on a tray. I noticed that the cockney was even more haggard than he
had been the night before. He was trembling so violently that I wondered
if he had seen a ghost.
He poured my wine and
moved around the table to serve Gribold. His trembling upset the bottle
and it rolled off the tray, striking the table. Its contents poured over
the Master of Gribold.
Gribold jerked to his
feet. He flung his chair spinning to the wall. His face was a contorted
replica of the statue in the dungeon. He seized the unfortunate man by
the scruff of his neck. One mighty arm held the petrified servant dangling
in mid-air. Gribold swung him gently back and forth. Mason's face started
to get purple. I arose, suddenly angry, and advanced toward my host. Then
Gribold flung Mason ten feet across the room to slam into the door and
roll out of sight into the pantry.
"Now stay out, you
incompetent fool. That was our last blunder."
Gribold roared with
laughter. The sound made me collapse suddenly into a nearby chair. The
man was the devil's twin. His laughter came straight from the sulfurous
depths of hell.
Sometime after midnight
I awoke. The old manor was vibrating with sound. It took me a moment to
come to my senses. Then I realized what I had heard. A man's scream of
mortal agony had set the echoes reverberating through the corridors. Even
now I could still faintly hear it rolling away through the vast halls and
I grabbed up my robe,
paused to light a candle, and rushed down the stairs. The light from my
candle flickered and almost went out. I stopped, shielding it carefully
with my hand. The shadows on the ceiling and walls were hideous, threatening
ghouls reaching for the trail light that was my only guide.
The house was silent,
chill, like a huge galleon at the bottom of the sea. The same chill, the
same awful silence hung over the evil Manor.
Down through the long
corridor to the kitchen I ran, through the back pantry to Mason's tiny
room. It seemed as though time stood still. There was a breathlessness,
a suspensive waiting for the same noise to break the spell. I called aloud.
"Mason! Mason, are
you all right?"
Mocking, echoing voices
mimicked me, flinging the words away into the darkness.
Mason's room was empty,
the floor ajar. Suddenly I thought of the dungeon. Mason had mentioned
the irresistible attraction it had for him. Could he have gone down
And then came that
same inexplicable sensation of eyes watching my every thought -- the cold
scrutiny of my brain by some hidden evil force. Somehow, the thought of
searching the corridors, peering into the dungeon for Mason, seemed fearfully
I found myself running
through the kitchen, down the long hallway to the massive oak door that
led to the dungeons.
Dodging the dank pools an d low hanging moss,
I hurried through the corridor. There were hundreds of bats beating wildly
through the moss and roots near the beamed ceiling. They dived a me, emitting
eager shrilling noises. The candle attracted them. It was all I could do
to beat them off.
I passed the cell where the bones hung, rounded
a sharp turn. The door to the forbidden room was closed. I tested it. It
was locked. I felt relief sweeping over me. Mason hadn't gone in.
But I had to look through the keyhole . .
The room was hazy, filled with a luminous
smoke. Faintly I saw a figure at the cauldron. It was stirring the brew
with mighty sweeps of the leg bone. First it was the witch. Then it had
four arms. Finally it was Gribold bending over the stream. I rubbed my
eyes. Why were all those impressions leaping at me? I looked again.
Steam, thick and fetid, poured out of the
cauldron. No figure bent over it. I tried to see more of the room, the
pedestal, the statue. My eye caught the glinting lights on the floor. The
rats were out again. Then I heard them. They were squealing, fighting viciously
over some dark mass on the floor near the fire-pit.
Suddenly, as though something had deliberately
extinguished it, my candle flame went out. The whir of wings swept my head
and face. The candle wick glowed briefly and died.
Fear swept through my veins. I stumbled ot
my feet, ran blindly forward. I crashed into the wall a the sharp turn.
It jarred me back to my senses. I slowed down, concentrating on the corridors,
the branching tunnels, any sort of landmark. I could make it. It would
just take a little time.
Waving my arms in front of my face, I groped
slowly along. The cobblestones were a help. The side tunnels were all planked
with wood. I could feel the difference if my feet didn't freeze. I had
lost a slipper in my blind flight. The slimy pools of the corridor were
unpleasant, but at least I knew that I was on the right track.
Then I lost my balance and crashed to the
floor. I had stepped on a huge toad. I felt it squash through my toes.
I almost screamed as the gelatinous mess oozed over my foot.
I floundered forward, dragging my foot over
the cobblestones, trying to free it from the mucosity of the entrails.
The swooping bats, the toad, the darkness,
all contributed to my hypnagogic state. I forgot the cobblestones by which
I had been guiding myself through the damned place. I ran, stumbling, cursing,
dashing my face and body against unresisting walls.
The pain of my cuts and bruises finally slowed
me down again. I groped against a wall, panting, hurt, cursing the day
that Mason had brought me the money and letter. It would take more than
two thousand to pay me for this. Welcome anger poured over me, replacing
my blind panic.
And then I felt it. The wall was moving under
my bare hands! I could feel it move where I had slumped against it
to rest. It crackled, rustled. The stench was nauseating.
My God, I had leaned against the cockroach
I flung myself forward, fell into the arms
of a thing that was huge, muscular beneath its baggy clothing. Several
arms seemed to grasp me. Rakor Gribold's voice cut into the nightmare of
"Are you lost, Mr. Renton?"
He struck a match, lit a candle. Then he
guided me out of the cockroach tunnel, into the main corridor. I was numb.
I couldn't think. I could hardly move. Gribold helped me thorough the long
hallways, up the stairs to my room.
I flung myself on the bed, too exhausted
to care whether or not I had picked up any cockroaches, that my foot was
still slippery with toad slime. I fell into a deep sleep. My last conscious
"What had Rakor Gribold been doing in the
dungeons? Could he see in the dark like any nocturnal creature?"
Next morning I awoke to find myself stiff
and sore. In the light of the new day, my reactions of the night before
seemed unexplainable. I had never had nerve trouble before, had never experienced
a powerful phobia like the one that had driven me so near to madness the
Mason's disappearance was not mysterious
at all, I reasoned. He had probably taken the night train out of Gribold
village. He was so anxious to go that he hadn't bothered about the few
possessions I had seen in his room I had rather liked Mason in spite of
his perpetual terror. I would miss him.
I would finish the work by evening and leave
the following morning.
I went immediately to the dungeon. Gribold
unlocked the door for me and disappeared. I didn't see him again until
that night at dinner.
Working steadily all morning, I was grateful
for once of the deep silence of the place. The work progressed rapidly.
I felt my old joy of accomplishment returning. Around noon, I began to
get a little hungry and wondered why Mason did not bring the tray. Then
I remembered that he had gone. So I worked on.
I was finally ready for the finishing touches
-- those little cuts, the adding of a wrinkle or tracing a vein, perhaps
the smoothing and defining of minor forms. Those are the intangible factors
that make art approach reality.
Before I began, I stood back to look at the
figure as a whole. How hideous it was, yet awe inspiring, too! It seemed
to be the embodiment of all the evil grotesqueness of this world and the
It crouched as though about to spring. Two
of the muscular arms and hands were curled about the base of the pedestal.
The other two were curled about the base of the pedestal. The other two
were curved forward, bent at the elbow, the fingers clenched as though
to strangle the air between. The squat head was thrust forward with quivering
intentness. The eyes seemed to glitter, the mouth to drool.
For some reason I thought of Mason, poor
Mason. I shook myself free of the spell of the thing. Why had I said poor
Mason? He was probably miles from here by now, looking forward to joining
the Queen's Navy again.
I forced myself to laugh, swung my arms about,
relaxing the tired and sore muscles. Then I started to work again.
The rats seemed to be quieter than usual.
I didn't hear them scratching and squealing as they had done the previous
Only once during the day did my nerves go
back on me again. I had been working on the closed hand, rounding the knuckles.
I was using a sharp pointed instrument of fine steel that I had invented
for the numerous bits of detail in the final stage of reconstruction. I
had struck the tool in the forearm of the statue to have it handy.
Suddenly I heard a faint clawing noise at
the door. I turned to see what it was. A great rat was dragging a bone
across the floor. I threw a piece of the plastic stuff at it. The rat scurried
away into the darkness of the room.
When I turned back and reached for my tool,
it was clenched in the hand I had been working on! I was sure I had left
it stuck in the forearm. But my nerves were still shaky from the night
before. I must have experienced a brief period of amnesia. I had to get
out of this place before I really did break . . . .
Two hours later, I was through. At least
my work was as near complete as any artist will ever admit. I gathered
up my tools, gave the statue a farewell glare and went up to my own room.
Not having eaten all
day, I was as ravenous as GRibold that night at dinner. I as aware that
he was watching me constantly. When I told him the statue was done, he
seemed in high spirits, grinning and chuckling to himself. The meat juices
trickled through his beard, dripped off his chin in a greasy stream.
He began questioning
me about th e meat. Did I like it? Was it tender enough for me? He seemed
unusually concerned and I felt myself getting unaccountably angry at him.
I worried over the meat, pulling it here and there in the gravy. It seemed
more fibrous than usual, but hunger is a great factor for overcoming the
aversion to slightly unpalatable food.
I had almost cleared
my plate. There remained only a chunk of fat with a small piece of meat
stuck to it. I dug my fork into the fat. It fell apart.
Then I saw it, floating
half submerged under the fat in the gravy. I poked my fork at it tentatively.
Here again my imagination flooded my reason with a horrible thought. The
peristaltic muscles of my stomach began to reverse their digestive action.
I flung my chair back
from the able and ran out of the dining hall.
Staggering up to my
quarters, I retched miserably, fell on my bed, completely unnerved.
The thing that my fancy
had pictured floating, half submerged in my gravy, was a purple tattoo
mark. The mark of the Queen's Navy had once been on Mason's forearm!
John Coleman and Jane