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Volume 1467
Chapter 3
Hybrid Of Horror
A Complete Novelet of Fearsome Mystery
John Coleman Burroughs
Jane Ralston Burroughs

Chapter 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 fire.

"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 insane.

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 rooms.

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 there tonight?

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 alluring.

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 wall!

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 my thoughts.

"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 thoughts were:

"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 night before.

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 next.

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 day.

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 was 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 the 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!

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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