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
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 dollars.
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 place!"
"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
"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,"
"I'm a marked man. That's wot
I am -- a marked man!"
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
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 woman.
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
Mason had pulled his punches
when he described Raker Gribold.
Coleman and Jane Ralston Burroughs.