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Volume 1466
Chapter 2
Hybrid Of Horror
A Complete Novelet of Fearsome Mystery
John Coleman Burroughs
Jane Ralston Burroughs

Chapter 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 this day."

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 like this.

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 Gribold!

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 place.

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 dog.

"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 outside."

Puzzled, I went to the front door. I saw a wizened  man with ferret eyes, pulling impatiently at a large black mustache.

"Follow me," the man said crisply in a cracked voice.

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 that night?"

"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."

"What description?"

"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.

The Authors
John Coleman BurroughsJane Ralston Burroughs portrait by John Coleman Burroughs
John Coleman and Jane Ralston Burroughs
Chapter 1
A Note From Hell
Chapter 2
Master of the Manor
Chapter 3
The Fearful Workroom
Chapter 4
Four Arms of Hell
Chapter 5
Battle for Life

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