Complete Novelet of Fearsome Mystery
IV: Four Arms of Hell
For hideous minutes I
was deathly sick. But then a lifetime habit of logical reasoning began
to exert its therapeutic effect on my stomach. What I had mistaken for
a tattoo mark floating in my gravy was merely the purple brand often seen
on certain cuts of meat, especially port.
I felt much better
after that. Now sleep began to steal in on me. Faintly I heard the sound
of Rakor Gribold shuffling past my door to his bedroom down the hall. Then
I fell asleep.
Several hours later
I awoke, listening to the front door as it groaned on its ancient hinges.
I felt certain that Gribold had not left his room. I would have heard him
pass my door, unless of course, he had crept by, which he would have not
reason to do.
I hurried across the
room to the window. It was only a small, barred opening overlooking a short
field. One hundred yards away was Gribold Forest.
Little icy chills started
creeping after each other up my back My knees weakened. My heart thundered.
The light of a low moon sent a long, grotesque shadow stabbing across the
field. I followed that shadow to its source.
There, clutching a
short stick in one of its hands, and shuffling across the field to disappear
into the woods, was the four armed statue of Gribold come to life!
Frantically I rubbed
my eyes. Could it have been another illusion like the witch at the cauldron?
But I had seen it come from the house. Should I awaken Gribold? As far
as I knew, we were the only ones in t he place.
Then the trembling
started. My hands shook. The nerves in my body caused my muscles to twitch
uncontrollably as though volts of electricity were shooting through me.
Had I locked the door? I tested it. I ran back to the window, then back
to the door. I listened through the keyhole. The silence was so complete
that the throbbing of my own heart seemed like the distant roaring of surf.
Then I felt those cold
eyes, peering into my mind again, into the depths of my soul!
I crept back to the
window. Had the thing returned? Did it have any meat?
If I could only get
out of the place. If only I could have foreseen.
There was a faint scuffling
noise in the hall. I crept away from the door on my hands and knees, knelt
at the window, looked out.
Nothing. It must have
been rats in the hall. It had to be. I thought of things the sheriff had
told me -- The little pieces of green stuff that Plow Hendricks had shot
off the creature peering in his window were bits of the statue's arm I
had been called to fix! With what I already knew, I fitted together the
legends, the tales of the statue.
It hunted for meat,
human meat for itself and its master.
All the poor victims
probably ended up in the dungeon. I thought of the boiling cauldron --
of Mason, poor thin little Mason and his tattooed arms floating beside
each other in a nauseous, plastic green stew! My mind was groping around
in vicious mazes like a tortured animal in a cage.
I tried to calm myself,
get my once logical mind to working again. Would the statue find another
victim? I found myself wishing wit mad intensity that the thing would return
and have a corpse in its arms!
Mason was gone. There
was no more meat. If the statue failed to find any, I would be the next.
I would be the meat that Rakor Gribold and his pet would devour with lustful
greediness. Now that my work on the statue was completed, the thing could
use its four arms once more.
Then I saw it again.!
I strained forward
in the gloom, pressing my face against the iron bars. Was there something
slung over its shoulder?
No. It clutched only
the short stick with which it had set out.
Dully I watched its
shuffling glide across the field, into the garden. Again I heard the agonized
hinges. Then silence again.
God, what silence!
Something was passing
my room, going
down stairs. I moved to the door, turned the key,
opened it. For a moment I was an animal, wondering at things I heard but
could not see. My fear made me strangely curious. I just wanted to see.
And I saw. The thing
I saw penetrated even my terror-ridden brain. It was descending the stairs.
It passed through a brilliant shaft of moonlight. I saw its semi-draped
figure, four arms growing out of its hideous green body. It glowed in the
darkness after it had passed through the moonlight like a phosphorescent
monster from the awful depths of the sea.
I slammed and bolted
the door. Drunkenly I reeled against the wall, sweat running from every
pore on my body.
The thing I had seen
descending the stairs, four-armed and green was -- Rakor Gribold!
I staggered to my bed
and lay there trembling, conscious only of fear that writhed and mouthed
at me from every corner and shadow of the room. Fear stripped every shred
of common sense and logic from my mind.
How long I lay there
I have no way of knowing. Slowly I began to hear again. My senses began
to return. I could see the room as a room, not a torture chamber of untold
misery. I could hear sounds as they probably were, not the vagaries of
I heard music, beautiful,
melodious music. Soft at first, then swelling, mounting, ti grew hideous
until I knew what it was. A female voice was piercing through the manor
like a great stabbing knife -- a sickening chant of death. Echoing and
re-echoing until an unintelligible jargon whined monotonously up from the
dungeons below, it was like a never beginning and never ending din that
would drive me eventually to the depths of depravity. Then it gradually
subsided. It became the monotonous incantation of some medieval witch conjuring
all the rotting devils of her mystic creed.
Fro an eternity the
chant continued. But instead of going mad, my thoughts became more coherent.
Reason again erected a bulwark against the thundering, destroying waves
of terror. Reason told me that Rakor Gribold was some sort of four-armed
hybrid or freak that coincidence and the greenish moonlight made resemble
the Gribold Statue.
In the daytime it would
be a simple matter for him to hide his extra arms beneath loose clothing.
Perhaps the trait was inherited and all the Gribolds since the archduke
had been four armed.
That would explain
the legend of the archduke's bride going insane on their wedding night.
She had probably killed him in a fury of horror, then modeled his likeness
with some plastic hardening material. Accidentally she must have evolved
the stuff in her cauldron as she dabbled in the black art of her insane
The Gribold Statue
was as inanimate as the cauldron itself in that lower dungeon, and only
a fool would believe otherwise. It was Rakor Gribold with his broken cane,
and not the statue that I had seen crossing the filed. I even found myself
explaining away the death chant that was rising up from t he dungeons below.
Gribold was probably
fond of music. The tones came from some female songstress on a phonograph
record somewhere in the house. Echoes and re-echoes would account for the
Suddenly it was quiet
again. The music had stopped. Everything had stopped. I hung suspended
in limitless space. Then something must have moved, because the stairs
began to creak and groan, one by one. Something was mounting to the top,
slowly, heavily ascending one step at a time.
All the framework of
my cold, beatific reasoning during the past few minutes tottered and collapsed
about me. I saw sections of myself floating in the cauldron, rats gnawing
at the parts of my body that Gribold did not want.
The thing on the stairs
came on. I heard it fumble at my door. It poked at the keyhole.
The key fell to the
floor. There was a scratching noise like a wire being shoved under to drag
out the key.
The door slowly opened.
I lay motionless on my bed.
I didn't realize that
I could hold my breath so long. My body felt as though the long dead witch
of Gribold had turned it to stone. Now, out of the dark shadow of the doorway,
something began creeping to my bed. IN the faint light from the moon I
could see it hovering nearer me.
It seemed to glow greenishly.
It was monstrous. Three arms rose up like hideous snakes. The fourth hand
grasped the heavy, broken cane of Rakor Gribold! It raised for the death
stroke . . . .
With a clenching effort
I jerked my benumbed arm and shoved my hand under the pillow. I touched
cold steel. It helped break the paralyzing spell that had taken my body.
I was positive now that the thing was Rakor Gribold, and that he was hungry.
The gun the sheriff had given me would save my life. I would kill Rakor
I raised the weapon.
Three blasts of yellow light ripped out from its muzzle.
Three round holes appeared
in Gribold's forehead just above the left eye. I lowered the gun, waiting
for the man to crash to the floor.
Rakor Gribold didn't
stop! The slow glide to my bed continued. An odor of rotting meat rolled
over me. I flung the gun at the leering face and scrambled beneath the
outstretched arms. He lunged a me with the cane. I tore the stick from
his grasp, shattered it over his head. Then I drove my fist into his face
and gasped aloud with pain.
My knuckles crashed
with terrific force against a face that felt like hard clay!
Out into the hall I raced, down the stairs.
The thing shuffled after me as swiftly as a great cat. Again panic, clammy
and grim, seized me. I reached the front door, struggled with the bolt,
pounded at the panels. It would not move.
I turned and ran down the hall toward the
entrance to the lower dungeons. I tried to swerve into the kitchen. The
thing almost caught me again. I had to dive through the basement door.
Then I realized it was deliberately herding
me into the dungeons down to the forbidden room!
I ran now for my life and sanity. One slip
and all hope would be gone. Frantically I pitched through the darkness
protecting my face as best I could. I seemed to remember the various turns,
the pools of water. I avoided them fairly well.
All the time the fetid, panting breath of
the thing drew closer. I caught a gleam of light ahead. The door to the
forbidden room must be open. I felt hope sweep over me like a breath of
If I could reach the room ahead of Gribold,
I could barricade the door with the cauldron. I sprinted around the last
sharp turn, paused, scooped up a rough cobblestone and hurled it with all
my strength. There was a noise like stone hitting stone, and the thing
Fifty feet ahead of me was the partly open
door to the forbidden room. In a few leaps I could make it.
Then I tripped over something that squealed
and bit me. Down I sprawled full length on the slimy cobblestones. The
momentum of my body scraped me along my belly. Stagnant water splashed
into my face. I could taste its bitterness. Lie forms squirmed under me,
kicked, croaked and crawled.
I slipped again when I tried to get up, crashing
down heavily on my elbow. A hand, hard and stony, plunged out of the semi-gloom.
It cracked down on my head, jerked me up by my hair. I dangled in space.
Nauseous blasts of foulness blew into my
face. Now form the depths of that creature's throat pealed forth the blatant
shrieks I had heard twice before in Gribold Manor. Still holding me up
by the hair, it began swinging me back and forth, timing the motion to
a subdued rhythm of the first horrible cries.
When I kicked and clawed, two other arms
came out to hold me in viselike rigidity. But never once for long, hideous
minutes did my body cease its measured sway in space. My body was the swinging
pendulum of a human metronome.
Gradually increased the crescendo of that
chant. Recurring with greater frequency were the beats. And my body was
moving closer to that diabolical face in the gloom . . . .
Death, certain and terrible peered at me
two feet away. Fiery, cruel eyes seared into my brain -- the same eyes
that had haunted me for the past two days in the manor.
But it was the nearness of death that temporarily
cleared my brain. It transformed me from a clawing, kicking bit of insanity
to a reasoning man again.
The creature gripped me in three hands! The
other hand I could see held to one side, as if it were wounded.
Wounded? Of course it was wounded. The and,
wrist and forearm were the same I had repaired during my stay at Gribold
Manor! As yet the arm had not healed. It would hurt to use it, now that
it was fired with life and feeling.
I wriggled my arm loose and grabbed out for
John Coleman and Jane