Complete Novelet of Fearsome Mystery
IV: Four Arms of Hell
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.
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.
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.
across the room to the window. It was only a small, barred opening overlooking
a short field. One hundred yards away was Gribold Forest.
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.
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
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.
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.
I felt those cold eyes, peering into my mind again, into the depths of
back to the window. Had the thing returned? Did it have any meat?
could only get out of the place. If only I could have foreseen.
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.
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.
for meat, human meat for itself and its master.
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.
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!
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.
I saw it again.!
forward in the gloom, pressing my face against the iron bars. Was there
something slung over its shoulder?
clutched only the short stick with which it had set out.
I watched its shuffling glide across the field, into the garden. Again
I heard the agonized hinges. Then silence again.
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
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.
and bolted the door. Drunkenly I reeled against the wall, sweat running
from every pore on my body.
I had seen descending the stairs, four-armed and green was -- Rakor Gribold!
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.
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 a madman.
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.
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.
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.
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 witchcraft.
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
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 unintelligible jargon.
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.
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.
on the stairs came on. I heard it fumble at my door. It poked at
fell to the floor. There was a scratching noise like a wire being shoved
under to drag out the key.
slowly opened. I lay motionless on my bed.
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.
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 . . . .
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 Gribold --
the weapon. Three blasts of yellow light ripped out from its muzzle.
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.
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.
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 fresh air.
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 paused!
Fifty feet ahead of me was
the partly open door to the forbidden room. In a few leaps I could make
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? 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 that wrist!
Coleman and Jane Ralston Burroughs.