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Title: Pigeons from Hell
Author: Robert E. Howard
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Language: English
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Title: Pigeons from Hell
Author: Robert E. Howard


Contents



1 The Whistler in the Dark

2 The Snake's Brother

3 The Call of Zuvembie





The Whistler in the Dark

Griswell awoke suddenly, every nerve tingling with a premonition of
imminent peril. He stared about wildly, unable at first to remember
where he was, or what he was doing there. Moonlight filtered in
through the dusty windows, and the great empty room with its lofty
ceiling and gaping black fireplace was spectral and unfamiliar. Then
as he emerged from the clinging cobwebs of his recent sleep, he
remembered where he was and how he came to be there. He twisted his
head and stared at his companion, sleeping on the floor near him. John
Branner was but a vaguely bulking shape in the darkness that the moon
scarcely grayed.

Griswell tried to remember what had awakened him. There was no sound
in the house, no sound outside except the mournful hoot of an owl, far
away in the piny woods. Now he had captured the illusive memory. It
was a dream, a nightmare so filled with dim terror that it had
frightened him awake. Recollection flooded back, vividly etching the
abominable vision.

Or was it a dream? Certainly it must have been, but it had blended so
curiously with recent actual events that it was difficult to know
where reality left off and fantasy began.

Dreaming, he had seemed to relive his past few waking hours, in
accurate detail. The dream had begun, abruptly, as he and John Branner
came in sight of the house where they now lay. They had come rattling
and bouncing over the stumpy, uneven old road that led through the
pinelands, he and John Branner, wandering far afield from their New
England home, in search of vacation pleasure. They had sighted the old
house with its balustraded galleries rising amidst a wilderness of
weeds and bushes, just as the sun was setting behind it. It dominated
their fancy, rearing black and stark and gaunt against the low lurid
rampart of sunset, barred by the black pines.

They were tired, sick of bumping and pounding all day over woodland
roads. The old deserted house stimulated their imagination with its
suggestion of antebellum splendor and ultimate decay. They left the
automobile beside the rutty road, and as they went up the winding walk
of crumbling bricks, almost lost in the tangle of rank growth, pigeons
rose from the balustrades in a fluttering, feathery crowd and swept
away with a low thunder of beating wings.

The oaken door sagged on broken hinges. Dust lay thick on the floor of
the wide, dim hallway, on the broad steps of the stair that mounted up
from the hall. They turned into a door opposite the landing, and
entered a large room, empty, dusty, with cobwebs shining thickly in
the corners. Dust lay thick over the ashes in the great fireplace.

They discussed gathering wood and building a fire, but decided against
it. As the sun sank, darkness came quickly, the thick, black, absolute
darkness of the pinelands. They knew that rattlesnakes and copperheads
haunted Southern forests, and they did not care to go groping for
firewood in the dark. They ate frugally from tins, then rolled in
their blankets fully clad before the empty fireplace, and went
instantly to sleep.

This, in part, was what Griswell had dreamed. He saw again the gaunt
house looming stark against the crimson sunset; saw the flight of the
pigeons as he and Branner came up the shattered walk. He saw the dim
room in which they presently lay, and he saw the two forms that were
himself and his companion, lying wrapped in their blankets on the
dusty floor. Then from that point his dream altered subtly, passed out
of the realm of the commonplace and became tinged with fear. He was
looking into a vague, shadowy chamber, lit by the gray light of the
moon which streamed in from some obscure source. For there was no
window in that room. But in the gray light he saw three silent shapes
that hung suspended in a row, and their stillness and their outlines
woke chill horror in his soul. There was no sound, no word, but he
sensed a Presence of fear and lunacy crouching in a dark corner. . . .
Abruptly he was back in the dusty, high-ceilinged room, before the
great fireplace.

He was lying in his blankets, staring tensely through the dim door and
across the shadowy hall, to where a beam of moonlight fell across the
balustraded stair, some seven steps up from the landing. And there was
something on the stair, a bent, misshapen, shadowy thing that never
moved fully into the beam of light. But a dim yellow blur that might
have been a face was turned toward him, as if something crouched on
the stair, regarding him and his companion. Fright crept chilly
through his veins, and it was then that he awoke--if indeed he had
been asleep.

He blinked his eyes. The beam of moonlight fell across the stair just
as he had dreamed it did; but no figure lurked there. Yet his flesh
still crawled from the fear the dream or vision had roused in him; his
legs felt as if they had been plunged in ice-water. He made an
involuntary movement to awaken his companion, when a sudden sound
paralyzed him.

It was the sound of whistling on the floor above. Eery and sweet it
rose, not carrying any tune, but piping shrill and melodious. Such a
sound in a supposedly deserted house was alarming enough; but it was
more than the fear of a physical invader that held Griswell frozen. He
could not himself have defined the horror that gripped him. But
Branner's blankets rustled, and Griswell saw he was sitting upright.
His figure bulked dimly in the soft darkness, the head turned toward
the stair as if the man were listening intently. More sweetly and more
subtly evil rose that weird whistling.

"John!" whispered Griswell from dry lips. He had meant to shout--to
tell Branner that there was somebody upstairs, somebody who could mean
them no good; that they must leave the house at once. But his voice
died dryly in his throat.

Branner had risen. His boots clumped on the floor as he moved toward
the door. He stalked leisurely into the hall and made for the lower
landing, merging with the shadows that clustered black about the
stair.

Griswell lay incapable of movement, his mind a whirl of bewilderment.
Who was that whistling upstairs? Why was Branner going up those
stairs? Griswell saw him pass the spot where the moonlight rested, saw
his head tilted back as if he were looking at something Griswell could
not see, above and beyond the stair. But his face was like that of a
sleepwalker. He moved across the bar of moonlight and vanished from
Griswell's view, even as the latter tried to shout to him to come
back. A ghastly whisper was the only result of his effort.

The whistling sank to a lower note, died out. Griswell heard the
stairs creaking under Branner's measured tread. Now he had reached the
hallway above, for Griswell heard the clump of his feet moving along
it. Suddenly the footfalls halted, and the whole night seemed to hold
its breath. Then an awful scream split the stillness, and Griswell
started up, echoing the cry.

The strange paralysis that had held him was broken. He took a step
toward the door, then checked himself. The footfalls were resumed.
Branner was coming back. He was not running. The tread was even more
deliberate and measured than before. Now the stairs began to creak
again. A groping hand, moving along the balustrade, came into the bar
of moonlight; then another, and a ghastly thrill went through Griswell
as he saw that the other hand gripped a hatchet--a hatchet which
dripped blackly. Was that Branner who was coming down that stair?

Yes! The figure had moved into the bar of moonlight now, and Griswell
recognized it. Then he saw Branner's face, and a shriek burst from
Griswell's lips. Branner's face was bloodless, corpse-like; gouts of
blood dripped darkly down it; his eyes were glassy and set, and blood
oozed from the great gash which cleft the crown of his head!

Griswell never remembered exactly how he got out of that accursed
house. Afterward he retained a mad, confused impression of smashing
his way through a dusty cobwebbed window, of stumbling blindly across
the weed-choked lawn, gibbering his frantic horror. He saw the black
wall of the pines, and the moon floating in a blood-red mist in which
there was neither sanity nor reason.

Some shred of sanity returned to him as he saw the automobile beside
the road. In a world gone suddenly mad, that was an object reflecting
prosaic reality; but even as he reached for the door, a dry chilling
whir sounded in his ears, and he recoiled from the swaying undulating
shape that arched up from its scaly coils on the driver's seat and
hissed sibilantly at him, darting a forked tongue in the moonlight.

With a sob of horror he turned and fled down the road, as a man runs
in a nightmare. He ran without purpose or reason. His numbed brain was
incapable of conscious thought. He merely obeyed the blind primitive
urge to run--run--run until he fell exhausted.

The black walls of the pines flowed endlessly past him; so he was
seized with the illusion that he was getting nowhere. But presently a
sound penetrated the fog of his terror--the steady, inexorable patter
of feet behind him. Turning his head, he saw something loping after
him--wolf or dog, he could not tell which, but its eyes glowed like
balls of green fire. With a gasp he increased his speed, reeled around
a bend in the road, and heard a horse snort; saw it rear and heard its
rider curse; saw the gleam of blue steel in the man's lifted hand.

He staggered and fell, catching at the rider's stirrup.

"For God's sake, help me!" he panted. "The thing! It killed Branner--
it's coming after me! Look!"

Twin balls of fire gleamed in the fringe of bushes at the turn of the
road. The rider swore again, and on the heels of his profanity came
the smashing report of his six-shooter--again and yet again. The fire-
sparks vanished, and the rider, jerking his stirrup free from
Griswell's grasp, spurred his horse at the bend. Griswell staggered
up, shaking in every limb. The rider was out of sight only a moment;
then he came galloping back.

"Took to the brush. Timber wolf, I reckon, though I never heard of one
chasin' a man before. Do you know what it was?"

Griswell could only shake his head weakly.

The rider, etched in the moonlight, looked down at him, smoking pistol
still lifted in his right hand. He was a compactly-built man of medium
height, and his broad-brimmed planter's hat and his boots marked him
as a native of the country as definitely as Griswell's garb stamped
him as a stranger.

"What's all this about, anyway?"

"I don't know," Griswell answered helplessly. "My name's Griswell.
John Branner--my friend who was traveling with me--we stopped at a
deserted house back down the road to spend the night. Something------"
at the memory he was choked by a rush of horror. "My God!" he
screamed. "I must be mad! Something came and looked over the
balustrade of the stair--something with a yellow face! I thought I
dreamed it, but it must have been real. Then somebody began whistling
upstairs, and Branner rose and went up the stairs walking like a man
in his sleep, or hypnotized. I heard him scream--or someone screamed;
then he came down the stair again with a bloody hatchet in his hand--
and my God, sir, he was dead! His head had been split open. I saw
brains and clotted blood oozing down his face, and his face was that
of a dead man. But he came down the stairs! As God is my witness, John
Branner was murdered in that dark upper hallway, and then his dead
body came stalking down the stairs with a hatchet in its hand--to kill
me!"

The rider made no reply; he sat his horse like a statue, outlined
against the stars, and Griswell could not read his expression, his
face shadowed by his hat-brim.

"You think I'm mad," he said hopelessly. "Perhaps I am."

"I don't know what to think," answered the rider. "If it was any house
but the old Blassenville Manor--well, we'll see. My name's Buckner.
I'm sheriff of this county. Took a prisoner over to the county-seat in
the next county and was ridin' back late."

He swung off his horse and stood beside Griswell, shorter than the
lanky New Englander, but much harder knit. There was a natural manner
of decision and certainty about him, and it was easy to believe that
he would be a dangerous man in any sort of a fight.

"Are you afraid to go back to the house?" he asked, and Griswell
shuddered, but shook his head, the dogged tenacity of Puritan
ancestors asserting itself.

"The thought of facing that horror again turns me sick.But poor Branner------" he choked again. "We must find his body. My
God!" he cried, unmanned by the abysmal horror of the thing; "what
will we find? If a dead man walks, what--"

"We'll see."  The sheriff caught the reins in the crook of his left
elbow and began filling the empty chambers of his big blue pistol as
they walked along.

As they made the turn Griswell's blood was ice at the thought of what
they might see lumbering up the road with a bloody, grinning death-
mask, but they saw only the house looming spectrally among the pines,
down the road. A strong shudder shook Griswell.

"God, how evil that house looks, against those black pines! It looked
sinister from the very first--when we went up the broken walk and saw
those pigeons fly up from the porch------"

"Pigeons?" Buckner cast him a quick glance. "You saw the pigeons?"

"Why, yes! Scores of them perching on the porch railing."

They strode on for a moment in silence, before Buckner said abruptly:
"I've lived in this country all my life. I've passed the old
Blassenville place a thousand times, I reckon, at all hours of the day
and night. But I never saw a pigeon anywhere around it, or anywhere
else in these woods."

"There were scores of them," repeated Griswell, bewildered.

"I've seen men who swore they'd seen a flock of pigeons perched along
the balusters just at sundown," said Buckner slowly. "Negroes, all of
them except one man. A tramp. He was buildin' a fire in the yard,
aimin' to camp there that night. I passed along there about dark, and
he told me about the pigeons. I came back by there the next mornin'.
The ashes of his fire were there, and his tin cup, and skillet where
he'd fried pork, and his blankets looked like they'd been slept in.
Nobody ever saw him again. That was twelve years ago. The blacks say
they can see the pigeons, but no black would pass along this road
between sundown and sunup. They say the pigeons are the souls of the
Blassenvilles, let out of hell at sunset. The Negroes say the red
glare in the west is the light from hell, because then the gates of
hell are open, and the Blassenvilles fly out."

"Who were the Blassenvilles?" asked Griswell, shivering.

"They owned all this land here. French-English family. Came here from
the West Indies before the Louisiana Purchase. The Civil War ruined
them, like it did so many. Some were killed in the War; most of the
others died out. Nobody's lived in the Manor since 1890 when Miss
Elizabeth Blassenville, the last of the line, fled from the old house
one night like it was a plague spot, and never came back to it--this
your auto?"

They halted beside the car, and Griswell stared morbidly at the grim
house. Its dusty panes were empty and blank; but they did not seem
blind to him. It seemed to him that ghastly eyes were fixed hungrily
on him through those darkened panes. Buckner repeated his question.

"Yes. Be careful. There's a snake on the seat--or there was."

"Not there now," grunted Buckner, tying his horse and pulling an
electric torch out of the saddle-bag. "Well, let's have a look."

He strode up the broken brick walk as matter-of-factly as if he were
paying a social call on friends. Griswell followed close at his heels,
his heart pounding suffocatingly. A scent of decay and moldering
vegetation blew on the faint wind, and Griswell grew faint with
nausea, that rose from a frantic abhorrence of these black woods,
these ancient plantation houses that hid forgotten secrets of slavery
and bloody pride and mysterious intrigues. He had thought of the South
as a sunny, lazy land washed by soft breezes laden with spice and warm
blossoms, where life ran tranquilly to the rhythm of black folk
singing in sunbathed cottonfields. But now he had discovered another,
unsuspected side--a dark, brooding, fear-haunted side, and the
discovery repelled him.

The oaken door sagged as it had before. The blackness of the interior
was intensified by the beam of Buckner's light playing on the sill.
That beam sliced through the darkness of the hallway and roved up the
stair, and Griswell held his breath, clenching his fists. But no shape
of lunacy leered down at them. Buckner went in, walking light as a
cat, torch in one hand, gun in the other.

As he swung his light into the room across from the stairway, Griswell
cried out--and cried out again, almost fainting with the intolerable
sickness at what he saw. A trail of blood drops led across the floor,
crossing the blankets Branner had occupied, which lay between the door
and those in which Griswell had lain. And Griswell's blankets had a
terrible occupant. John Branner lay there, face down, his cleft head
revealed in merciless clarity in the steady light. His outstretched
hand still gripped the haft of a hatchet, and the blade was imbedded
deep in the blanket and the floor beneath, just where Griswell's head
had lain when he slept there.

A momentary rush of blackness engulfed Griswell. He was not aware that
he staggered, or that Buckner caught him. When he could see and hear
again, he was violently sick and hung his head against the mantel,
retching miserably.

Buckner turned the light full on him, making him blink. Buckner's
voice came from behind the blinding radiance, the man himself unseen.

"Griswell, you've told me a yarn that's hard to believe. I saw
something chasin' you, but it might have been a timber wolf, or a mad
dog.

"If you're holdin' back anything, you better spill it. What you told
me won't hold up in any court. You're bound to be accused of killin'
your partner. I'll have to arrest you. If you'll give me the straight
goods now, it'll make it easier. Now, didn't you kill this fellow,
Branner?

"Wasn't it something like this: you quarreled, he grabbed a hatchet
and swung at you, but you dodged and then let him have it?"

Griswell sank down and hid his face in his hands, his head swimming.

"Great God, man, I didn't murder John! Why, we've been friends ever
since we were children in school together. I've told you the truth. I
don't blame you for not believing me. But God help me, it is the
truth!"

The light swung back to the gory head again, and Griswell closed his
eyes.

He heard Buckner grunt.

"I believe this hatchet in his hand is the one he was killed with.
Blood and brains plastered on the blade, and hairs stickin' to it--
hairs exactly the same color as his. This makes it tough for you,
Griswell."

"How so?" the New Englander asked dully.

"Knocks any plea of self-defense in the head. Branner couldn't have
swung at you with this hatchet after you split his skull with it. You
must have pulled the ax out of his head, stuck it into the floor and
clamped his fingers on it to make it look like he'd attacked you. And
it would have been damned clever--if you'd used another hatchet."

"But I didn't kill him," groaned Griswell. "I have no intention of
pleading self-defense."

"That's what puzzles me," Buckner admitted frankly, straightening.
"What murderer would rig up such a crazy story as you've told me, to
prove his innocence? Average killer would have told a logical yarn, at
least. Hmmm! Blood drops leadin' from the door. The body was dragged--
no, couldn't have been dragged. The floor isn't smeared. You must have
carried it here, after killin' him in some other place. But in that
case, why isn't there any blood on your clothes? Of course you could
have changed clothes and washed your hands. But the fellow hasn't been
dead long."

"He walked downstairs and across the room," said Griswell hopelessly.
"He came to kill me. I knew he was coming to kill me when I saw him
lurching down the stair. He struck where I would have been, if I
hadn't awakened. That window--I burst out at it. You see it's broken."

"I see. But if he walked then, why isn't he walkin' now?"

"I don't know! I'm too sick to think straight. I've been fearing that
he'd rise up from the floor where he lies and come at me again. When I
heard that wolf running up the road after me, I thought it was John
chasing me--John, running through the night with his bloody ax and his
bloody head, and his death-grin!"

His teeth chattered as he lived that horror over again.

Buckner let his light play across the floor.

"The blood drops lead into the hall. Come on. We'll follow them."

Griswell cringed. "They lead upstairs."

Buckner's eyes were fixed hard on him.

"Are you afraid to go upstairs, with me?"

Griswell's face was gray.

"Yes. But I'm going, with you or without you. The thing that killed
poor John may still be hiding up there."

"Stay behind me," ordered Buckner. "If anything jumps us, I'll take
care of it. But for your own sake, I warn you that I shoot quicker
than a cat jumps, and I don't often miss. If you've got any ideas of
layin' me out from behind, forget them."

"Don't be a fool!" Resentment got the better of his apprehension, and
this outburst seemed to reassure Buckner more than any of his
protestations of innocence.

"I want to be fair," he said quietly. "I haven't indicted and
condemned you in my mind already. If only half of what you're tellin'
me is the truth, you've been through a hell of an experience, and I
don't want to be too hard on you. But you can see how hard it is for
me to believe all you've told me."

Griswell wearily motioned for him to lead the way, unspeaking. They
went out into the hall, paused at the landing. A thin string of
crimson drops, distinct in the thick dust, led up the steps.

"Man's tracks in the dust," grunted Buckner. "Go slow.I've got to be sure of what I see, because we're obliteratin' them as
we go up. Hmmm! One set goin' up, one comin' down. Same man. Not your
tracks. Branner was a bigger man than you are. Blood drops all the
way--blood on the bannisters like a man had laid his bloody hand
there--a smear of stuff that looks--brains. Now what------"

"He walked down the stair, a dead man," shuddered Griswell. "Groping
with one hand--the other gripping the hatchet that killed him."

"Or was carried," muttered the sheriff. "But if somebody carried him--
where are the tracks?"

They came out into the upper hallway, a vast, empty space of dust and
shadows where time-crusted windows repelled the moonlight and the ring
of Buckner's torch seemed inadequate. Griswell trembled like a leaf.
Here, in darkness and horror, John Branner had died.

"Somebody whistled up here," he muttered. "John came, as if he were
being called."

Buckner's eyes were blazing strangely in the light.

"The footprints lead down the hall," he muttered. "Same as on the
stair--one set going, one coming. Same prints--Judas!"

Behind him Griswell stifled a cry, for he had seen what prompted
Buckner's exclamation. A few feet from the head of the stair Branner's
footprints stopped abruptly, then returned, treading almost in the
other tracks. And where the trail halted there was a great splash of
blood on the dusty floor--and other tracks met it--tracks of bare
feet, narrow but with splayed toes. They too receded in a second line
from the spot.

Buckner bent over them, swearing.

"The tracks meet! And where they meet there's blood and brains on the
floor! Branner must have been killed on that spot--with a blow from a
hatchet. Bare feet coming out of the darkness to meet shod feet--then
both turned away again; the shod feet went downstairs, the bare feet
went back down the hall."  He directed his light down the hall. The
footprints faded into darkness, beyond the reach of the beam. On
either hand the closed doors of chambers were cryptic portals of
mystery.

"Suppose your crazy tale was true," Buckner muttered, half to himself.
"These aren't your tracks. They look like a woman's. Suppose somebody
did whistle, and Branner went upstairs to investigate. Suppose
somebody met him here in the dark and split his head. The signs and
tracks would have been, in that case, just as they really are. But if
that's so, why isn't Branner lyin' here where he was killed? Could he
have lived long enough to take the hatchet away from whoever killed
him, and stagger downstairs with it?"

"No, no!" Recollection gagged Griswell. "I saw him on the stair. He
was dead. No man could live a minute after receiving such a wound."

"I believe it," muttered Buckner. "But--it's madness! Or else it's too
clever--yet, what sane man would think up and work out such an
elaborate and utterly insane plan to escape punishment for murder,
when a simple plea of self-defense would have been so much more
effective? No court would recognize that story. Well, let's follow
these other tracks. They lead down the hall--here, what's this?"

With an icy clutch at his soul, Griswell saw the light was beginning
to grow dim.

"This battery is new," muttered Buckner, and for the first time
Griswell caught an edge of fear in his voice. "Come on--out of here
quick!"

The light had faded to a faint red glow. The darkness seemed straining
into them, creeping with black cat-feet. Buckner retreated, pushing
Griswell stumbling behind him as he walked backward, pistol cocked and
lifted, down the dark hall. In the growing darkness Griswell heard
what sounded like the stealthy opening of a door. And suddenly the
blackness about them was vibrant with menace. Griswell knew Buckner
sensed it as well as he, for the sheriff's hard body was tense and
taut as a stalking panther's.

But without haste he worked his way to the stair and backed down it,
Griswell preceding him, and fighting the panic that urged him to
scream and burst into mad flight. A ghastly thought brought icy sweat
out on his flesh. Suppose the dead man were creeping up the stair
behind them in the dark, face frozen in the death-grin, blood-caked
hatchet lifted to strike?

This possibility so overpowered him that he was scarcely aware when
his feet struck the level of the lower hallway, and he was only then
aware that the light had grown brighter as they descended, until it
now gleamed with its full power--but when Buckner turned it back up
the stairway, it failed to illuminate the darkness that hung like a
tangible fog at the head of the stair.

"The damn thing was conjured," muttered Buckner. "Nothin' else. It
couldn't act like that naturally."

"Turn the light into the room," begged Griswell. "See if John--if John
is------"

He could not put the ghastly thought into words, but Buckner
understood.

He swung the beam around, and Griswell had never dreamed that the
sight of the gory body of a murdered man could bring such relief.

"He's still there," grunted Buckner. "If he walked after he was
killed, he hasn't walked since. But that thing------"

Again he turned the light up the stair, and stood chewing his lip and
scowling. Three times he half lifted his gun. Griswell read his mind.
The sheriff was tempted to plunge back up that stair, take his chance
with the unknown. But common sense held him back.

"I wouldn't have a chance in the dark," he muttered. "And I've got a
hunch the light would go out again."

He turned and faced Griswell squarely.

"There's no use dodgin' the question. There's somethin' hellish in
this house, and I believe I have an inklin' of what it is. I don't
believe you killed Branner. Whatever killed him is up there--now.
There's a lot about your yarn that don't sound sane; but there's
nothin' sane about a flashlight goin' out like this one did. I don't
believe that thing upstairs is human. I never met anything I was
afraid to tackle in the dark before, but I'm not goin' up there until
daylight. It's not long until dawn. We'll wait for it out there on
that gallery."

The stars were already paling when they came out on the broad porch.
Buckner seated himself on the balustrade, facing the door, his pistol
dangling in his fingers. Griswell sat down near him and leaned back
against a crumbling pillar. He shut his eyes, grateful for the faint
breeze that seemed to cool his throbbing brain. He experienced a dull
sense of unreality. He was a stranger in a strange land, a land that
had become suddenly imbued with black horror. The shadow of the noose
hovered above him, and in that dark house lay John Branner, with his
butchered head--like the figments of a dream these facts spun and
eddied in his brain until all merged in a gray twilight as sleep came
uninvited to his weary soul.

He awoke to a cold white dawn and full memory of the horrors of the
night. Mists curled about the stems of the pines, crawled in smoky
wisps up the broken walk. Buckner was shaking him.

"Wake up! It's daylight."

Griswell rose, wincing at the stiffness of his limbs. His face was
gray and old.

"I'm ready. Let's go upstairs."

"I've already been!" Buckner's eyes burned in the early dawn. "I
didn't wake you up. I went as soon as it was light. I found nothin'."

"The tracks of the bare feet------"

"Gone!"

"Gone?"

"Yes, gone! The dust had been disturbed all over the hall, from the
point where Branner's tracks ended; swept into corners. No chance of
trackin' anything there now. Something obliterated those tracks while
we sat here, and I didn't hear a sound. I've gone through the whole
house. Not a sign of anything."

Griswell shuddered at the thought of himself sleeping alone on the
porch while Buckner conducted his exploration.

"What shall we do?" he asked listlessly. "With those tracks gone there
goes my only chance of proving my story."

"We'll take Branner's body into the county-seat," answered Buckner.
"Let me do the talkin'. If the authorities knew the facts as they
appear, they'd insist on you being confined and indicted. I don't
believe you killed Branner--but neither a district attorney, judge nor
jury would believe what you told me, or what happened to us last
night. I'm handlin' this thing my own way. I'm not goin' to arrest you
until I've exhausted every other possibility.

"Say nothin' about what's happened here, when we get to town. I'll
simply tell the district attorney that John Branner was killed by a
party or parties unknown, and that I'm workin' on the case.

"Are you game to come back with me to this house and spend the night
here, sleepin' in that room as you and Branner slept last night?"

Griswell went white, but answered as stoutly as his ancestors might
have expressed their determination to hold their cabins in the teeth
of the Pequots: "I'll do it."

"Let's go then; help me pack the body out to your auto."

Griswell's soul revolted at the sight of John Branner's bloodless face
in the chill white dawn, and the feel of his clammy flesh. The gray
fog wrapped wispy tentacles about their feet as they carried their
grisly burden across the lawn.







The Snake's Brother

Again the shadows were lengthening over the pinelands, and again two
men came bumping along the old road in a car with a New England
license plate.

Buckner was driving. Griswell's nerves were too shattered for him to
trust himself at the wheel. He looked gaunt and haggard, and his face
was still pallid. The strain of the day spent at the county-seat was
added to the horror that still rode his soul like the shadow of a
black-winged vulture. He had not slept, had not tasted what he had
eaten.

"I told you I'd tell you about the Blassenvilles," said Buckner. "They
were proud folks, haughty, and pretty damn ruthless when they wanted
their way. They didn't treat their slaves as well as the other
planters did--got their ideas in the West Indies, I reckon. There was
a streak of cruelty in them--especially Miss Celia, the last one of
the family to come to these parts. That was long after the slaves had
been freed, but she used to whip her mulatto maid just like she was a
slave, the old folks say. . . . The Negroes said when a Blassenville
died, the devil was always waitin' for him out in the black pines.

"Well, after the Civil War they died off pretty fast, livin' in
poverty on the plantation, which was allowed to go to ruin. Finally
only four girls were left, sisters, livin' in the old house and ekin'
out a bare livin', with a few blacks livin' in the old slave huts and
workin' the fields on the share. They kept to themselves, bein' proud,
and ashamed of their poverty. Folks wouldn't see them for months at a
time. When they needed supplies they sent a Negro to town after them.

"But folks knew about it when Miss Celia came to live with them. She
came from somewhere in the West Indies, where the whole family
originally had its roots--a fine, handsome woman, they say, in the
early thirties. But she didn't mix with folks any more than the girls
did. She brought a mulatto maid with her, and the Blassenville cruelty
cropped out in her treatment of this maid. I knew an old man years
ago, who swore he saw Miss Celia tie this girl up to a tree, stark
naked, and whip her with a horsewhip. Nobody was surprised when she
disappeared. Everybody figured she'd run away, of course.

"Well, one day in the spring of 1890 Miss Elizabeth, the youngest
girl, came in to town for the first time in maybe a year. She came
after supplies. Said the blacks had all left the place. Talked a
little more, too, a bit wild. Said Miss Celia had gone, without
leaving any word. Said her sisters thought she'd gone back to the West
Indies, but she believed her aunt was still in the house. She didn't
say what she meant. Just got her supplies and pulled out for the
Manor.

"A month went past, and a black came into town and said that Miss
Elizabeth was livin' at the Manor alone. Said her three sisters
weren't there any more, that they'd left one by one without givin' any
word or explanation. She didn't know where they'd gone, and was afraid
to stay there alone, but didn't know where else to go. She'd never
known anything but the Manor, and had neither relatives nor friends.
But she was in mortal terror of something. The black said she locked
herself in her room at night and kept candles burnin' all night. . . .

"It was a stormy spring night when Miss Elizabeth came tearin' into
town on the one horse she owned, nearly dead from fright. She fell
from her horse in the square; when she could talk she said she'd found
a secret room in the Manor that had been forgotten for a hundred
years. And she said that there she found her three sisters, dead, and
hangin' by their necks from the ceilin'. She said something chased her
and nearly brained her with an ax as she ran out the front door, but
somehow she got to the horse and got away. She was nearly crazy with
fear, and didn't know what it was that chased her--said it looked like
a woman with a yellow face.

"About a hundred men rode out there, right away. They searched the
house from top to bottom, but they didn't find any secret room, or the
remains of the sisters. But they did find a hatchet stickin' in the
doorjamb downstairs, with some of Miss Elizabeth's hairs stuck on it,
just as she'd said. She wouldn't go back there and show them how to
find the secret door; almost went crazy when they suggested it.

"When she was able to travel, the people made up some money and loaned
it to her--she was still too proud to accept charity--and she went to
California. She never came back, but later it was learned, when she
sent back to repay the money they'd loaned her, that she'd married out
there.

"Nobody ever bought the house. It stood there just as she'd left it,
and as the years passed folks stole all the furnishings out of it,
poor white trash, I reckon. A Negro wouldn't go about it. But they
came after sunup and left long before sundown."

"What did the people think about Miss Elizabeth's story?" asked
Griswell.

"Well, most folks thought she'd gone a little crazy, livin' in that
old house alone. But some people believed that mulatto girl, Joan,
didn't run away, after all. They believed she'd hidden in the woods,
and glutted her hatred of the Blassenvilles by murderin' Miss Celia
and the three girls. They beat up the woods with bloodhounds, but
never found a trace of her. If there was a secret room in the house,
she might have been hidin' there--if there was anything to that
theory."

"She couldn't have been hiding there all these years," muttered
Griswell. "Anyway, the thing in the house now isn't human."

Buckner wrenched the wheel around and turned into a dim trace that
left the main road and meandered off through the pines.

"Where are you going?"

"There's an old Negro that lives off this way a few miles. I want to
talk to him. We're up against something that takes more than white
man's sense. The black people know more than we do about some things.
This old man is nearly a hundred years old. His master educated him
when he was a boy, and after he was freed he traveled more extensively
than most white men do. They say he's a voodoo man."

Griswell shivered at the phrase, staring uneasily at the green forest
walls that shut them in. The scent of the pines was mingled with the
odors of unfamiliar plants and blossoms. But underlying all was a reek
of rot and decay. Again a sick abhorrence of these dark mysterious
woodlands almost overpowered him.

"Voodoo!" he muttered. "I'd forgotten about that--I never could think
of black magic in connection with the South. To me witchcraft was
always associated with old crooked streets in waterfront towns,
overhung by gabled roofs that were old when they were hanging witches
in Salem; dark musty alleys where black cats and other things might
steal at night. Witchcraft always meant the old towns of New England,
to me--but all this is more terrible than any New England legend--
these somber pines, old deserted houses, lost plantations, mysterious
black people, old tales of madness and horror--God, what frightful,
ancient terrors there are on this continent fools call 'young'!"

"Here's old Jacob's hut," announced Buckner, bringing the automobile
to a halt.

Griswell saw a clearing and a small cabin squatting under the shadows
of the huge trees. The pines gave way to oaks and cypresses, bearded
with gray trailing moss, and behind the cabin lay the edge of a swamp
that ran away under the dimness of the trees, choked with rank
vegetation. A thin wisp of blue smoke curled up from the stick-and-mud
chimney.

He followed Buckner to the tiny stoop, where the sheriff pushed open
the leather-hinged door and strode in. Griswell blinked in the
comparative dimness of the interior. A single small window let in a
little daylight. An old Negro crouched beside the hearth, watching a
pot stew over the open fire. He looked up as they entered, but did not
rise. He seemed incredibly old. His face was a mass of wrinkles, and
his eyes, dark and vital, were filmed momentarily at times as if his
mind wandered.

Buckner motioned Griswell to sit down in a string-bottomed chair, and
himself took a rudely-made bench near the hearth, facing the old man.

"Jacob," he said bluntly, "the time's come for you to talk. I know you
know the secret of Blassenville Manor. I've never questioned you about
it, because it wasn't in my line. But a man was murdered there last
night, and this man here may hang for it, unless you tell me what
haunts that old house of the Blassenvilles."

The old man's eyes gleamed, then grew misty as if clouds of extreme
age drifted across his brittle mind.

"The Blassenvilles," he murmured, and his voice was mellow and rich,
his speech not the patois of the piny woods darky. "They were proud
people, sirs--proud and cruel. Some died in the war, some were killed
in duels--the menfolks, sirs. Some died in the Manor--the old
Manor------" His voice trailed off into unintelligible mumblings.

"What of the Manor?" asked Buckner patiently.

"Miss Celia was the proudest of them all," the old man muttered. "The
proudest and the cruelest. The black people hated her; Joan most of
all. Joan had white blood in her, and she was proud, too. Miss Celia
whipped her like a slave."

"What is the secret of Blassenville Manor?" persisted Buckner.

The film faded from the old man's eyes; they were dark as moonlit
wells.

"What secret, sir? I do not understand."

"Yes, you do. For years that old house has stood there with its
mystery. You know the key to its riddle."

The old man stirred the stew. He seemed perfectly rational now.

"Sir, life is sweet, even to an old black man."

"You mean somebody would kill you if you told me?"

But the old man was mumbling again, his eyes clouded.

"Not somebody. No human. No human being. The black gods of the swamps.
My secret is inviolate, guarded by the Big Serpent, the god above all
gods. He would send a little brother to kiss me with his cold lips--a
little brother with a white crescent moon on his head. I sold my soul
to the Big Serpent when he made me maker of zuvembies ------"

Buckner stiffened.

"I heard that word once before," he said softly, "from the lips of a
dying black man, when I was a child. What does it mean?"

Fear filled the eyes of old Jacob.

"What have I said? No--no! I said nothing."

"Zuvembies," prompted Buckner.

"Zuvembies," mechanically repeated the old man, his eyes vacant. "A
zuvembie was once a woman--on the Slave Coast they know of them. The
drums that whisper by night in the hills of Haiti tell of them. The
makers of zuvembies are honored of the people of Damballah. It is
death to speak of it to a white man--it is one of the Snake God's
forbidden secrets."

"You speak of the zuvembies," said Buckner softly.

"I must not speak of it," mumbled the old man, and Griswell realized
that he was thinking aloud, too far gone in his dotage to be aware
that he was speaking at all. "No white man must know that I danced in
the Black Ceremony of the voodoo, and was made a maker of zombies and
zuvembies. The Big Snake punishes loose tongues with death."

"A zuvembie is a woman?" prompted Buckner.

"Was a woman," the old Negro muttered. "She knew I was a maker of
zuvembies--she came and stood in my hut and asked for the awful brew--
the brew of ground snake-bones, and the blood of vampire bats, and the
dew from a nighthawk's wings, and other elements unnamable. She had
danced in the Black Ceremony--she was ripe to become a zuvembie--the
Black Brew was all that was needed--the other was beautiful--I could
not refuse her."

"Who?" demanded Buckner tensely, but the old man's head was sunk on
his withered breast, and he did not reply. He seemed to slumber as he
sat. Buckner shook him. "You gave a brew to make a woman a zuvembie--
what is a zuvembie?"

The old man stirred resentfully and muttered drowsily.

"A zuvembie is no longer human. It knows neither relatives nor
friends. It is one with the people of the Black World. It commands the
natural demons--owls, bats, snakes and werewolves, and can fetch
darkness to blot out a little light. It can be slain by lead or steel,
but unless it is slain thus, it lives for ever, and it eats no such
food as humans eat. It dwells like a bat in a cave or an old house.
Time means naught to the zuvembie; an hour, a day, a year, all is one.
It cannot speak human words, nor think as a human thinks, but it can
hypnotize the living by the sound of its voice, and when it slays a
man, it can command his lifeless body until the flesh is cold. As long
as the blood flows, the corpse is its slave. Its pleasure lies in the
slaughter of human beings."

"And why should one become a zuvembie?" asked Buckner softly.

"Hate," whispered the old man. "Hate! Revenge!"

"Was her name Joan?" murmured Buckner.

It was as if the name penetrated the fogs of senility that clouded the
voodoo-man's mind. He shook himself and the film faded from his eyes,
leaving them hard and gleaming as wet black marble.

"Joan?" he said slowly. "I have not heard that name for the span of a
generation. I seem to have been sleeping, gentlemen; I do not
remember--I ask your pardon. Old men fall asleep before the fire, like
old dogs. You asked me of Blassenville Manor? Sir, if I were to tell
you why I cannot answer you, you would deem it mere superstition. Yet
the white man's God be my witness------"

As he spoke he was reaching across the hearth for a piece of firewood,
groping among the heaps of sticks there. And his voice broke in a
scream, as he jerked back his arm convulsively. And a horrible,
thrashing, trailing thing came with it. Around the voodoo-man's arm a
mottled length of that shape was wrapped, and a wicked wedge-shaped
head struck again in silent fury.

The old man fell on the hearth, screaming, upsetting the simmering pot
and scattering the embers, and then Buckner caught up a billet of
firewood and crushed that flat head. Cursing, he kicked aside the
knotting, twisting trunk, glaring briefly at the mangled head. Old
Jacob had ceased screaming and writhing; he lay still, staring
glassily upward.

"Dead?" whispered Griswell.

"Dead as Judas Iscariot," snapped Buckner, frowning at the twitching
reptile. "That infernal snake crammed enough poison into his veins to
kill a dozen men his age. But I think it was the shock and fright that
killed him."

"What shall we do?" asked Griswell, shivering.

"Leave the body on that bunk. Nothin' can hurt it, if we bolt the door
so the wild hogs can't get in, or any cat. We'll carry it into town
tomorrow. We've got work to do tonight. Let's get goin'."

Griswell shrank from touching the corpse, but he helped Buckner lift
it on the rude bunk, and then stumbled hastily out of the hut. The sun
was hovering above the horizon, visible in dazzling red flame through
the black stems of the trees.

They climbed into the car in silence, and went bumping back along the
stumpy train.

"He said the Big Snake would send one of his brothers," muttered
Griswell.

"Nonsense!" snorted Buckner. "Snakes like warmth, and that swamp is
full of them. It crawled in and coiled up among that firewood. Old
Jacob disturbed it, and it bit him. Nothin' supernatural about that."
After a short silence he said, in a different voice, "That was the
first time I ever saw a rattler strike without singin'; and the first
time I ever saw a snake with a white crescent moon on its head."

They were turning in to the main road before either spoke again.

"You think that the mulatto Joan has skulked in the house all these
years?" Griswell asked.

"You heard what old Jacob said," answered Buckner grimly. "Time means
nothin' to a zuvembie."

As they made the last turn in the road, Griswell braced himself
against the sight of Blassenville Manor looming black against the red
sunset. When it came into view he bit his lip to keep from shrieking.
The suggestion of cryptic horror came back in all its power.

"Look!" he whispered from dry lips as they came to a halt beside the
road. Buckner grunted.

From the balustrades of the gallery rose a whirling cloud of pigeons
that swept away into the sunset, black against the lurid glare. . . .







The Call of Zuvembie

Both men sat rigid for a few moments after the pigeons had flown.

"Well, I've seen them at last," muttered Buckner.

"Only the doomed see them perhaps," whispered Griswell. "That tramp
saw them------"

"Well, we'll see," returned the Southerner tranquilly, as he climbed
out of the car, but Griswell noticed him unconsciously hitch forward
his scabbarded gun.

The oaken door sagged on broken hinges. Their feet echoed on the
broken brick walk. The blind windows reflected the sunset in sheets of
flame. As they came into the broad hall Griswell saw the string of
black marks that ran across the floor and into the chamber, marking
the path of a dead man.

Buckner had brought blankets out of the automobile. He spread them
before the fireplace.

"I'll lie next to the door," he said. "You lie where you did last
night."

"Shall we light a fire in the grate?" asked Griswell, dreading the
thought of the blackness that would cloak the woods when the brief
twilight had died.

"No. You've got a flashlight and so have I. We'll lie here in the dark
and see what happens. Can you use that gun I gave you?"

"I suppose so. I never fired a revolver, but I know how it's done."

"Well, leave the shootin' to me, if possible."  The sheriff seated
himself cross-legged on his blankets and emptied the cylinder of his
big blue Colt, inspecting each cartridge with a critical eye before he
replaced it.

Griswell prowled nervously back and forth, begrudging the slow fading
of the light as a miser begrudges the waning of his gold. He leaned
with one hand against the mantelpiece, staring down into the dust-
covered ashes. The fire that produced those ashes must have been built
by Elizabeth Blassenville, more than forty years before. The thought
was depressing. Idly he stirred the dusty ashes with his toe.
Something came to view among the charred debris--a bit of paper,
stained and yellowed. Still idly he bent and drew it out of the ashes.
It was a note-book with moldering cardboard backs.

"What have you found?" asked Buckner, squinting down the gleaming
barrel of his gun.

"Nothing but an old note-book. Looks like a diary. The pages are
covered with writing--but the ink is so faded, and the paper is in
such a state of decay that I can't tell much about it. How do you
suppose it came in the fireplace, without being burned up?"

"Thrown in long after the fire was out," surmised Buckner. "Probably
found and tossed in the fireplace by somebody who was in here stealin'
furniture. Likely somebody who couldn't read."

Griswell fluttered the crumbling leaves listlessly, straining his eyes
in the fading light over the yellowed scrawls. Then he stiffened.

"Here's an entry that's legible! Listen!" He read:

"'I know someone is in the house besides myself. I can hear someone
prowling about at night when the sun has set and the pines are black
outside. Often in the night I hear it fumbling at my door. Who is it?
Is it one of my sisters? Is it Aunt Celia? If it is either of these,
why does she steal so subtly about the house? Why does she tug at my
door, and glide away when I call to her? Shall I open the door and go
out to her? No, no! I dare not! I am afraid. Oh God, what shall I do?
I dare not stay here--but where am I to go?'"

"By God!" ejaculated Buckner. "That must be Elizabeth Blassenville's
diary! Go on!"

"I can't make out the rest of the page," answered Griswell. "But a few
pages further on I can make out some lines."  He read:

"'Why did the Negroes all run away when Aunt Celia disappeared? My
sisters are dead. I know they are dead. I seem to sense that they died
horribly, in fear and agony. But why? Why? If someone murdered Aunt
Celia, why should that person murder my poor sisters? They were always
kind to the black people. Joan------'" He paused, scowling futilely.

"A piece of the page is torn out. Here's another entry under another
date--at least I judge it's a date; I can't make it out for sure.

"'------the awful thing that the old Negress hinted at? She named
Jacob Blount, and Joan, but she would not speak plainly; perhaps she
feared to------' Part of it gone here; then: 'No, no! How can it be?
She is dead--or gone away. Yet--she was born and raised in the West
Indies, and from hints she let fall in the past, I know she delved
into the mysteries of the voodoo. I believe she even danced in one of
their horrible ceremonies--how could she have been such a beast? And
this--this horror. God, can such things be? I know not what to think.
If it is she who roams the house at night, who fumbles at my door, who
whistles so weirdly and sweetly--no, no, I must be going mad. If I
stay here alone I shall die as hideously as my sisters must have died.
Of that I am convinced.'"

The incoherent chronicle ended as abruptly as it had begun. Griswell
was so engrossed in deciphering the scraps that he was not aware that
darkness had stolen upon them, hardly aware that Buckner was holding
his electric torch for him to read by. Waking from his abstraction he
started and darted a quick glance at the black hallway.

"What do you make of it?"

"What I've suspected all the time," answered Buckner. "That mulatto
maid Joan turned zuvembie to avenge herself on Miss Celia. Probably
hated the whole family as much as she did her mistress. She'd taken
part in voodoo ceremonies on her native island until she was 'ripe,'
as old Jacob said. All she needed was the Black Brew--he supplied
that. She killed Miss Celia and the three older girls, and would have
gotten Elizabeth but for chance. She's been lurkin' in this old house
all these years, like a snake in a ruin."

"But why should she murder a stranger?"

"You heard what old Jacob said," reminded Buckner. "A zuvembie finds
satisfaction in the slaughter of humans. She called Branner up the
stair and split his head and stuck the hatchet in his hand, and sent
him downstairs to murder you. No court will ever believe that, but if
we can produce her body, that will be evidence enough to prove your
innocence. My word will be taken, that she murdered Branner. Jacob
said a zuvembie could be killed . . . in reporting this affair I don't
have to be too accurate in detail."

"She came and peered over the balustrade of the stair at us," muttered
Griswell. "But why didn't we find her tracks on the stair?"

"Maybe you dreamed it. Maybe a zuvembie can project her spirit--hell!
why try to rationalize something that's outside the bounds of
rationality? Let's begin our watch."

"Don't turn out the light!" exclaimed Griswell involuntarily. Then he
added: "Of course. Turn it out. We must be in the dark as"--he gagged
a bit--"as Branner and I were."

But fear like a physical sickness assailed him when the room was
plunged in darkness. He lay trembling and his heart beat so heavily he
felt as if he would suffocate.

"The West Indies must be the plague spot of the world," muttered
Buckner, a blur on his blankets. "I've heard of zombies. Never knew
before what a zuvembie was. Evidently some drug concocted by the
voodoo-men to induce madness in women. That doesn't explain the other
things, though: the hypnotic powers, the abnormal longevity, the
ability to control corpses--no, a zuvembie can't be merely a mad-
woman. It's a monster, something more and less than a human being,
created by the magic that spawns in black swamps and jungles--well,
we'll see."

His voice ceased, and in the silence Griswell heard the pounding of
his own heart. Outside in the black woods a wolf howled eerily, and
owls hooted. Then silence fell again like a black fog.

Griswell forced himself to lie still on his blankets. Time seemed at a
standstill. He felt as if he were choking. The suspense was growing
unendurable; the effort he made to control his crumbling nerves bathed
his limbs in sweat. He clenched his teeth until his jaws ached and
almost locked, and the nails of his fingers bit deeply into his palms.

He did not know what he was expecting. The fiend would strike again--
but how? Would it be a horrible, sweet whistling, bare feet stealing
down the creaking steps, or a sudden hatchet-stroke in the dark? Would
it choose him or Buckner? Was Buckner already dead? He could see
nothing in the blackness, but he heard the man's steady breathing. The
Southerner must have nerves of steel. Or was that Buckner breathing
beside him, separated by a narrow strip of darkness? Had the fiend
already struck in silence, and taken the sheriff's place, there to lie
in ghoulish glee until it was ready to strike?--a thousand hideous
fancies assailed Griswell tooth and claw.

He began to feel that he would go mad if he did not leap to his feet,
screaming, and burst frenziedly out of that accursed house--not even
the fear of the gallows could keep him lying there in the darkness any
longer--the rhythm of Buckner's breathing was suddenly broken, and
Griswell felt as if a bucket of ice-water had been poured over him.
From somewhere above them rose a sound of weird, sweet whistling. . .
.

Griswell's control snapped, plunging his brain into darkness deeper
than the physical blackness which engulfed him. There was a period of
absolute blankness, in which a realization of motion was his first
sensation of awakening consciousness. He was running, madly, stumbling
over an incredibly rough road. All was darkness about him, and he ran
blindly. Vaguely he realized that he must have bolted from the house,
and fled for perhaps miles before his overwrought brain began to
function. He did not care; dying on the gallows for a murder he never
committed did not terrify him half as much as the thought of returning
to that house of horror. He was overpowered by the urge to run--run--
run as he was running now, blindly, until he reached the end of his
endurance. The mist had not yet fully lifted from his brain, but he
was aware of a dull wonder that he could not see the stars through the
black branches. He wished vaguely that he could see where he was
going. He believed he must be climbing a hill, and that was strange,
for he knew there were no hills within miles of the Manor. Then above
and ahead of him a dim glow began.

He scrambled toward it, over ledge-like projections that were more and
more taking on a disquieting symmetry. Then he was horror-stricken to
realize that a sound was impacting on his ears--a weird mocking
whistle. The sound swept the mists away. Why, what was this? Where was
he? Awakening and realization came like the stunning stroke of a
butcher's maul. He was not fleeing along a road, or climbing a hill;
he was mounting a stair. He was still in Blassenville Manor! And he
was climbing the stair!

An inhuman scream burst from his lips. Above it the mad whistling rose
in a ghoulish piping of demoniac triumph. He tried to stop--to turn
back--even to fling himself over the balustrade. His shrieking rang
unbearably in his own ears. But his will-power was shattered to bits.
It did not exist. He had no will. He had dropped his flashlight, and
he had forgotten the gun in his pocket. He could not command his own
body. His legs, moving stiffly, worked like pieces of mechanism
detached from his brain, obeying an outside will. Clumping
methodically they carried him shrieking up the stair toward the witch-
fire glow shimmering above him.

"Buckner!" he screamed. "Buckner! Help, for God's sake!"

His voice strangled in his throat. He had reached the upper landing.
He was tottering down the hallway. The whistling sank and ceased, but
its impulsion still drove him on. He could not see from what source
the dim glow came. It seemed to emanate from no central focus. But he
saw a vague figure shambling toward him. It looked like a woman, but
no human woman ever walked with that skulking gait, and no human woman
ever had that face of horror, that leering yellow blur of lunacy--he
tried to scream at the sight of that face, at the glint of keen steel
in the uplifted claw-like hand--but his tongue was frozen.

Then something crashed deafeningly behind him; the shadows were split
by a tongue of flame which lit a hideous figure falling backward. Hard
on the heels of the report rang an inhuman squawk.

In the darkness that followed the flash, Griswell fell to his knees and
covered his face with his hands. He did not hear Buckner's voice. The
Southerner's hand on his shoulder shook him out of his swoon.

A light in his eyes blinded him. He blinked, shaded his eyes, looked
up into Buckner's face, bending at the rim of the circle of light. The
sheriff was pale.

"Are you hurt? God, man, are you hurt? There's a butcher knife there
on the floor------"

"I'm not hurt," mumbled Griswell. "You fired just in time--the fiend!
Where is it? Where did it go?"

"Listen!"

Somewhere in the house there sounded a sickening flopping and flapping
as of something that thrashed and struggled in its death convulsions.

"Jacob was right," said Buckner grimly. "Lead can kill them. I hit
her, all right. Didn't dare use my flashlight, but there was enough
light. When that whistlin' started, you almost walked over me gettin'
out. I knew you were hypnotized, or whatever it is. I followed you up
the stairs. I was right behind you, but crouchin' low so she wouldn't
see me, and maybe get away again. I almost waited too long before I
fired--but the sight of her almost paralyzed me. Look!"

He flashed his light down the hall, and now it shone bright and clear.
And it shone on an aperture gaping in the wall where no door had
showed before.

"The secret panel Miss Elizabeth found!" Buckner snapped. "Come on!"

He ran across the hallway and Griswell followed him dazedly. The
flopping and thrashing came from beyond that mysterious door, and now
the sounds had ceased.

The light revealed a narrow, tunnel-like corridor that evidently led
through one of the thick walls. Buckner plunged into it without
hesitation.

"Maybe it couldn't think like a human," he muttered, shining his light
ahead of him. "But it had sense enough to erase its tracks last night
so we couldn't trail it to that point in the wall and maybe find the
secret panel. There's a room ahead--the secret room of the
Blassenvilles!"

And Griswell cried out: "My God! It's the windowless chamber I saw in
my dream, with the three bodies hanging--ahhhhh!"

Buckner's light playing about the circular chamber became suddenly
motionless. In that wide ring of light three figures appeared, three
dried, shriveled, mummy-like shapes, still clad in the moldering
garments of the last century. Their slippers were clear of the floor
as they hung by their withered necks from chains suspended from the
ceiling.

"The three Blassenville sisters!" muttered Buckner. "Miss Elizabeth
wasn't crazy, after all."

"Look!" Griswell could barely make his voice intelligible. "There--
over there in the corner!"

The light moved, halted.

"Was that thing a woman once?" whispered Griswell. "God, look at that
face, even in death. Look at those claw-like hands, with black talons
like those of a beast. Yes, it was human, though--even the rags of an
old ballroom gown. Why should a mulatto maid wear such a dress, I
wonder?"

"This has been her lair for over forty years," muttered Buckner,
brooding over the grinning grisly thing sprawling in the corner. "This
clears you, Griswell--a crazy woman with a hatchet--that's all the
authorities need to know. God, what a revenge!--what a foul revenge!
Yet what a bestial nature she must have had, in the beginnin', to
delve into voodoo as she must have done------"

"The mulatto woman?" whispered Griswell, dimly sensing a horror that
overshadowed all the rest of the terror.

Buckner shook his head. "We misunderstood old Jacob's maunderin's, and
the things Miss Elizabeth wrote--she must have known, but family pride
sealed her lips. Griswell, I understand now; the mulatto woman had her
revenge, but not as we'd supposed. She didn't drink the Black Brew old
Jacob fixed for her. It was for somebody else, to be given secretly in
her food, or coffee, no doubt. Then Joan ran away, leavin' the seeds
of the hell she'd sowed to grow."

"That--that's not the mulatto woman?" whispered Griswell.

"When I saw her out there in the hallway I knew she was no mulatto.
And those distorted features still reflect a family likeness. I've
seen her portrait, and I can't be mistaken. There lies the creature
that was once Celia Blassenville."



THE END




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