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Title: Four Wooden Stakes
Author: Victor Roman
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0606261.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: August 2006
Date most recently updated: August 2006

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Four Wooden Stakes
Victor Roman



There it lay on the desk in front of me, that missive so simple in
wording, yet so perplexing, so urgent in tone.

Jack, Come at once for old time's sake. Am all alone. Will explain
upon arrival.

Remson.

Having spent the past three weeks in bringing to a successful
termination a case that had puzzled the police and two of the best
detective agencies in the city, I decide that I was entitled to a
rest, so I ordered two suitcases packed and went in search of a
timetable. It was several years since I had seen Remson Holroyd; in
fact I had not seen him since we had matriculated from college
together. I was curious to know how he was getting along, to say
nothing of the little diversion he promised me in the way of a
mystery.

The following afternoon found me standing on the platform of the
little town of Charing, a village of about fifteen hundred souls.
Remson's place was about ten miles from there so I stepped forward to
the driver of a shay and asked if he would kindly take me to the
Holroyd estate. He clasped his hands in what seemed a silent prayer,
shuddered slightly, then looked at me with an air of wonder, mingled
with suspicion.

"I don't know what ye wants to go out there for, stranger, but if yell
take the advice o' a God-fearing man, yell turn back whence ye come
from. There be some mighty fearful tales concernin' that place
floatin' around, and more'n one tramp's been found near there so weak
from loss of blood and fear he could hardly crawl. They's somethin'
there. Be it man or beast I don't know, but as for me, I wouldn't
drive ye out there for a hundred dollars cash."

This was not at all encouraging, but I was nor to be influenced by the
tally of a superstitious old gossip, so I cast about for a less
impressionable rustic who would undertake the trip to earn the ample
reward I promised at the end of my ride. To my chagrin, they all acted
like the first; some crossed themselves fervently, while others gave
me one wild look and ran, as if I were in alliance with the devil.

By now my curiosity was thoroughly aroused, and I was determined to
see the thing through to a finish if it cost me my life. So, casting a
last, contemptuous look upon those poor souls, I stepped out briskly
in the direction pointed out to me. However, I had gone but a scant
two miles when the weight of the suitcases began to tell, and I
slackened pace considerably.

The sun was just disappearing beneath the treetops when I caught my
first glimpse of the old homestead, now deserted but for its one
occupant. Time and the elements had laid heavy hands upon it, for
there was hardly a window that could boast its full quota of panes,
while the shutters banged and creaked with a noise dismal enough to
daunt even the strong of heart.

About one hundred yards back I discerned a small building of grey
stone, pieces of which seemed to be lying all around it, partly
covered by the dense growth of vegetation that overran the entire
countryside. On closer observation I realized that the building was a
crypt, while what I had taken to be pieces of the material scattered
around were really tombstones. Evidently this was the family burying
ground. But why had certain members been interred in a mausoleum while
the remainder of the family had been buried in the ground in the usual
manner?

Having observed thus much, I turned my steps towards the house, for I
had no intention of spending the night with naught but the dead for
company. Indeed, I began to realize just why those simple country folk
had refused to aid me, and a hesitant doubt began to assert itself as
to the expedience of my being here, when I might have been at the
shore or at the country club enjoying life to the full.

By now the sun had completely slid from view, and in the semi-darkness
the place presented an even drearier aspect than before. With a great
display of bravado I stepped upon the veranda, slammed my suitcases
upon a seat very much the worse for wear, and pulled lustily at the
knob.

Peal after peal reverberated through the house, echoing and reechoing
from room to room, till the whole structure rang. Then all was still
once more, save for the sighing of the wind and the creaking of the
shutters.

A few minutes passed, and the sound of footsteps approaching the door
reached my ears. Another interval, and the door was cautiously opened
a few inches, while a head, shrouded by the darkness scrutinized me
closely. Then the door was flung wide, and Remson (I hardly knew him,
so changed was he) rushed forward and throwing his arms around me
thanked me again and again for heeding his plea, till I thought he
would go into hysterics.

I begged him to brace up, and the sound of my voice seemed to help
him, for he apologized rather shamefacedly for his discourtesy and led
the way along the wide hall. There was a fire blazing merrily away in
the sitting room, and after partaking generously of a repast, for I
was famished after my long walk, I was seated in front of it, facing
Remson and waiting to hear his story.

"Jack," he began, "I'll start at the beginning and try and give you
the facts in their proper sequence. Five years ago my family circle
consisted of five persons; my grandfather, my father, two brothers and
myself, the baby of the family. My mother died, you know when I was a
few weeks old. Now..."

His voice broke and for a moment he was unable to continue.

"There's only myself left," he went on, "and so help me God, I'm going
too, unless you can solve this damnable mystery that hovers over this
house, and put an end to that something which took my kin and is
gradually taking me.

"Grandad was the first to go. He spent the last few years of his life
in South America. Just before leaving there he was attacked while
asleep by one of those huge bats. Next morning he was so weak that he
couldn't walk. That awful thing had sucked his life blood away. He
arrived here, but was sickly until his death a few weeks later. The
doctors couldn't agree as to the cause of death, so they laid it to
old age and let it go at that. But I knew better. It was his
experience in the south that had done for him. In his will he asked
that a crypt be built immediately and his body interred therein. His
wish was carried out, and his remains lie in that little grey vault
that you may have noticed if you cut around behind the house. Then my
dad began failing and just pined away until he died. What puzzled the
doctors was the fact that right up until the end he consumed enough
food to sustain three men, yet he was so weak he lacked the strength
to drag his legs over the floor. He was buried, or rather interred,
with grandad. The same symptoms were in evidence in the cases of
George and Fred. They are both lying in the vault. And now, Jack, I'm
going, too, for of late my appetite has increased to alarming
proportions, yet I am as weak as a kitten."

"Nonsense!" I chided. "We'll just leave this place for a while and
take a trip somewhere, and when you return you'll laugh at your fears.
It's all a case of overwrought nerves, and there is certainly nothing
strange about the deaths you speak of. Probably due to some hereditary
disease. More than one family has passed out in a hurry just on that
account."

"Jack, I only wish I could think so, but somehow I know better. And as
for leaving here, I just can't. Understand, I hate the place; I loathe
it, but I can't get away. There is a morbid fascination about the
place which holds me. If you want to be a real friend, just stay with
me for a couple of days and if you don't find anything, I'm sure the
sight of you and the sound of your voice will do wonders for me."

I agreed to do my best, although I was hard put to it to keep from
smiling at his fears, so apparently groundless were they. We talked on
other subjects for several hours, then I proposed bed, saying that I
was very tired after my journey and subsequent walk. Remson showed me
to my room, and after seeing that everything was as comfortable as
possible, he bade me goodnight.

As he turned to leave the room the flickering light from the lamp fell
on his neck and I noticed two small punctures in the skin. I
questioned him regarding them, but he replied that he must have
beheaded a pimple and that he hadn't noticed them before. He again
said good night and left the room.

I undressed and tumbled into bed. During the night I was conscious of
an overpowering feeling of suffocation--as if some great burden was
lying on my chest which I could not dislodge; and in the morning when
I awoke, I experienced a curious sensation of weakness. I arose, not
without an effort, and began divesting myself of my sleeping suit.

As I folded the jacket, I noticed a thin line of blood on the collar.
I felt my neck, a terrible fear overwhelming me. It pained slightly at
the touch. I rushed to examine it in the mirror. Two tiny dots rimmed
with blood--my blood--and on my neck! No longer did I chuckle at
Remson's fears, for it, the thing, had attacked me as I slept!

I dressed as quickly as my condition would permit and went downstairs,
thinking to find my friend there. He was not about, so I looked
outside, but he was not in evidence. There was but one answer to the
question. He had not yet risen. It was nine o'clock, so I resolved to
awaken him.

Not knowing which room he occupied, I entered one after another in a
fruitless search. They were all in various stages of disorder, and the
thick coating of dust on the furniture showed that they had been
untenanted for some time. At last, in a bedroom on the north side of
the third floor, I found him.

He was lying spread-eagle fashion across the bed, still in his
pajamas, and as I leaned forward to shake him, my eyes fell on two
drops of blood, splattered on the coverlet. I crushed back a wild
desire to scream and shook Remson rather roughly. His head rolled to
one side, and the hellish perforations on his throat showed up
vividly. They looked fresh and raw, and had increased to much greater
dimensions. I shook him with increased vigor, and at last he opened
his eyes stupidly and looked around. Then, seeing me, he said in a
voice loaded with anguish, resignation and despair:

"It's been here again, Jack. I can't hold out much longer. May God
take my soul when I go."

So saying, he fell back again from sheer weakness. I left him and went
about preparing myself some breakfast. I thought it best not to
destroy his faith in me by telling him that I, too, had suffered at
the hands of his persecutor.

A walk brought me some peace of mind if not a solution, and when I
returned about noon to the big house, Remson was up and about.
Together we prepared a really excellent meal. I was hungry and did
justice to my share; but after I had finished, my friend continued
eating until I thought he must either disgorge or burst. Then after
putting things to rights, we strolled about the long hall, looking at
the oil paintings, many of which were very valuable.

At one end of the hall I discovered a portrait of an old gentleman,
evidently a dandy of his day. He wore his hair in the long, flowing
fashion adopted by the old school and sported a carefully trimmed
moustache and Vandyke beard. Remson noticed my interest in the
painting and came forward.

"I don't wonder that picture holds your interest, Jack. It has a great
fascination for me, also. At times I sit for hours, studying the
expression on that face. I sometimes think that he has something to
tell me, but of course that's all tommy rot. But I beg your pardon, I
haven't introduced the old gent yet, have I? This is my grandad. He
was a great old boy in his day, and he might be living yet but for
that cursed bloodsucker. Perhaps it is such a creature that is doing
for me; what do you think?"

"I wouldn't like to venture an opinion, Remson, but unless I'm badly
mistaken we must dig deeper for an explanation. We'll know tonight,
however. You retire as usual and I'll keep a close watch and we'll
solve the riddle or die in the attempt."

Remson said not a word but silently extended his hand. I clasped it in
a firm embrace and in each other's eyes we read complete
understanding. To change the trend of thought I questioned him on the
servant problem.

"I've tried time and again to get servants that would stay," he
replied, "But about the third day they would begin acting queer, and
the first thing I'd know, they'd have skipped, bag and baggage."

That night I accompanied my friend to his room and remained until he
had disrobed and was ready to retire. Several of the window panes were
cracked and one was entirely missing. I suggested boarding up the
aperture, but he declined, saying that he rather enjoyed the night
air, so I dropped the matter.

As it was still early, I sat by the fire in the sitting room and read
for an hour or two. I confess that there were many times when my mind
wandered from the printed page before me and chills raced up and down
my spine as some new sound was borne to my ears. The wind had risen,
and was whistling through the trees with a peculiar whining sound. The
creaking of the shutters tended to further the eerie effect, and in
the distance could be heard the hooting of numerous owls, mingled with
the cries of miscellaneous night fowl and other nocturnal creatures.

As I ascended the two flights of steps, the candle in my hand casting
grotesque shadows on the walls and ceiling, I had little liking for my
job. Many times in the course of duty I had been called upon to
display courage, but it took more than mere courage to keep me going
now.

I extinguished the candle and crept forward to Remson's room, the door
of which was closed. Being careful to make no noise I knelt and looked
in at the keyhole. It afforded me a clear view of the bed and two of
the windows in the opposite wall. Gradually my eye became accustomed
to the darkness and I noticed a faint reddish glow outside one of the
windows. It apparently emanated from nowhere. Hundreds of little
specks danced and whirled in the spot of light, and as I watched them,
fascinated, they seemed to take on the form of a human face. The
features were masculine, as was also the arrangement of the hair. Then
the mysterious glow disappeared.

So great had the strain been on me that I was wet from perspiration,
although the night was quite cool. For a moment I was undecided
whether to enter the room or to stay where I was and use the keyhole
as a means of observation. I concluded that to remain where I was
would be the better plan, so I once more placed my eye to the hole.

Immediately my attention was drawn to something moving where the light
had been. At first, owing to the poor light, I was unable to
distinguish the general outline and form of the thing; then I saw. It
was a man's head.

I will swear it was the exact reproduction of that picture I had seen
in the hall that very morning. But, oh, the difference in expression!
The lips were drawn back in a snarl, disclosing two sets of pearly
white teeth, the canines overdeveloped and remarkably sharp. The eyes,
an emerald green in color, stared in a look of consuming hate. The
hair was sadly disarranged while on the beard was a large clot of what
seemed to be congealed blood.

I noticed thus much, then the head melted from my sight and I
transferred my attention to a great bat that circled round and round,
his huge wings beating a tattoo on the glass. Finally he circled round
the broken pane and flew straight through the hole made by the missing
glass. For a few moments he was shut off from my view, then he
reappeared and began circling round my friend, who lay sound asleep,
blissfully ignorant of all that was occurring. Nearer and nearer it
drew, then swooped down and fastened itself on Remson's throat, just
over the jugular vein.

At this I rushed into the room and made a wild dash for the thing that
had come night after night to gorge itself on my friend, but to no
avail. It flew out of the window and away, and I turned my attention
to the sleeper.

"Remson, old man, get up."

He sat up like a shot. "What's the matter, Jack? Has it been here?"

"Never mind just now," I replied. "Just dress as hurriedly as
possible. We have a little work before us this evening."

He glanced questioningly towards me, but followed my command without
argument. I turned and cast my eye about the room for a suitable
weapon. There was a stout stick lying in the corner and I made toward it.

"Jack!"

I wheeled about.

"What is it? Damn it, haven't you any sense, almost scaring a man to
death?"

He pointed a shaking finger towards the window.

"There! I swear I saw him. It was my grandad, but oh, how disfigured!"

He threw himself upon the bed and began sobbing. The shock had
completely unnerved him.

"Forgive me, old man," I pleaded, "I was too quick. Pull yourself
together and we may get to the bottom of things tonight, yet."

I handed him my flask. He took a generous swallow and squared up. When
he had finished dressing we left the house. There was no moon out, and
it was pitch dark.

I led the way, and soon we came to within ten yards of the little grey
crypt. I stationed Remson behind a tree with instructions to just use
his eyes, and I took up my stand on the other side of the vault, after
making sure that the door into it was closed and locked. For the
greater part of an hour we waited without results, and I was about
ready to call it off when I perceived a white figure flitting between
the trees about fifty yards off.

Slowly it advanced, straight towards us, and as it drew closer I
looked not at it, but through it. The wind was blowing strongly, yet
not a fold in the long shroud quivered. Just outside the vault it
paused and looked around. Even knowing as I did about what to expect,
it came as a decided shock when I looked into the eyes of the old
Holroyd, deceased these past five years. I heard a gasp and knew that
Remson had seen, too, and had recognized. Then the spirit, ghost, or
whatever it was, passed into the crypt through the crack between the
door and the jamb, a space not one-sixteenth of an inch wide.

As it disappeared, Remson came running forward, his face wholly drawn
of color.

"What was it, Jack? What was it? I know it resembled grandad, but it
couldn't have been he. He's been dead five years."

"Let's go back to the house," I answered, "and I'll do my best to
explain things to the best of my ability. I may be wrong, of course,
but it won't hurt to try my remedy. Remson, what we are up against, is
a vampire. Not the female species usually spoken of today, but the
real thing. I noticed you had an old edition of the Encyclopedia on
your shelf. If you'll bring me volume XXIV I'll be able to explain
more fully the meaning of the word."

He left the room and returned, carrying the desired book. Turning to
page 52, I read---Vampire. A term apparently of Serbian origin
originally applied in Eastern Europe to blood-sucking ghosts, but in
modern usage transferred to one or more species of bloodsucking bats
inhabiting South America...In the first-mentioned meaning a vampire is
usually supposed to be the soul of a dead man which quits the buried
body by night to suck the blood of living persons. Hence, when the
vampire's grave is opened his corpse is found to be fresh and rosy
from the blood thus absorbed...They are accredited with the power of
assuming any form they may so desire, and often fly about as specks of
dust, pieces of down or straw, etc....To put an end to his ravages, a
stake is driven through him, or his head cut off, or his heart torn
out, or boiling water and vinegar poured over the grave...The persons
who turn vampires are wizards, witches, suicides and those who have
come to a violent end. Also, the death of anyone resulting from these
vampires will cause that person to join their hellish throng... See
Calumet's "Dissertation on the Vampires of Hungary."

I looked at Remson. He was staring straight into the fire. I knew that
he realized the task before us and was steeling himself to it. Then he
turned to me.

"Jack, we'll wait till morning."

That was all. I understood and he knew. There we sat, each struggling
with his own thoughts, until the first faint glimmers of light came
struggling through the trees and warned us of approaching dawn.

Remson left to fetch a sledge-hammer and a large knife with its edge
honed to a razorlike keenness. I busied myself making four wooden
stakes, shaped like wedges. He returned, bearing the horrible tools,
and we struck out towards the crypt. We walked rapidly, for had either
of us hesitated an instant I verily believe both would have fled.
However, our duty lay clearly before us. Remson unlocked the door and
swung it outwards. With a prayer on our lips we entered.

As if by mutual understanding, we both turned to the coffin on our
left. It belonged to the grandfather. We unplaced the lid, and there
lay the old Holroyd. He appeared to be sleeping. His face was full of
color, and he had none of the stiffness of death. The hair was matted,
the moustache untrimmed, and on the beard were matted stains of a dull
brownish hue.

But it was his eyes that attracted me. They were greenish, and they
glowed with an expression of fiendish malevolence such as I had never
seen before. The look of baffled rage on the face might well have
adorned the features of the devil in his hell.

Remson swayed and would have fallen, but I forced some whisky down his
throat and he took a grip on himself. He placed one of the stakes
directly over its heart, then shut his eyes and prayed that the good
God above take this soul that was to be delivered to Him.

I took a step backward, aimed carefully, and swung the sledge-hammer
with all my strength. It hit the wedge squarely, and a terrible scream
filled the place, while the blood gushed out of the open wound, up and
over us, staining the walls and our clothes. Without hesitating, I
swung again, and again, and again, while it struggled vainly to rid
itself of that awful instrument of death. Another swing and the stake
was driven through.

The thing squirmed about in the narrow confines of the coffin, much
after the manner of a dismembered worm, and Remson proceeded to sever
the head from the body, making a rather crude but effectual job of it.
As the final stroke of the knife cut the connection a scream issued
from the mouth; and the whole corpse fell away into dust, leaving
nothing but a wooden stake lying in a bed of bones.

This finished, we despatched the remaining three. Simultaneously as if
struck by the same thought, we felt our throats. The slight pain was
gone from mine, and the wounds had entirely disappeared from my
friend's, leaving not even a scar. I wished to place before the world
the whole facts contingent upon the mystery and the solution, but
Remson prevailed upon me to hold my peace.

Some years later Remson died a Christian death and with him went the
only confirmation of my tale. However, ten miles from the little town
of Charing there sits an old house, forgotten these many years, and
near it is a little grey crypt. Within are four coffins; and in each
lies a wooden stake, stained a brownish hue, and bearing the
fingerprints of the deceased Remson Holroyd.



THE END



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