Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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DAVID WRIGHT O'BRIEN
(WRITING AS JOHN YORK CABOT)

THAT DREADFUL NIGHT

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Ex Libris

First published in Fantastic Adventures, September 1942

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2019
Version Date: 2019-08-08
Produced by Paul Sandery, Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan

All original content added by RGL is protected by copyright.

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Fantastic Adventures, September 1942, with "That Dreadful Night"



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Headpiece from Fantastic Adventures.



IT all started from the discussion we were having about superstitions. As all such discussions generally do, this one got off on a tangent until we were talking about the terrors lurking in the other world.

Of course I was right up there in front of the conversation, shooting off my mouth at great length and generally letting it be known that there was nothing in existence which could turn my hair to silver because of fright. "Nothing?" one of our group demanded incredulously.

I found all eyes suddenly focused in my direction, and several expressions of frankly admiring awe.

I cleared my throat.

"Of course not," I told them.

There was a silence. One of those silences which I should have had sense enough to know meant that everyone present was combing his mind in an effort to hit on something that would force me to back up the bravado of my words.

I got a little uneasy.

"There's nothing," I repeated a little less confidently, "that could frighten me for even an instant."

Nobody said a word. They were still at it. Searching for something to knock me off the roost.

"Think of something," I said. "Think of anything."

I knew that that was precisely what they were all doing, and so I figured I might as well beat them to the punch. It sounded good, anyway.

"Anything in existence?" some one asked.

I nodded nonchalantly. "Anything in the other world," I declared.

The meditation continued. Finally one of the oldest of our group spoke up.

"I remember a place once that darned near scared me solid," he declared. "It was a house."

Everyone supplied the adjective at once.

"A haunted house?" they cried.

I had a sudden chill. This was definitely taking a turn I didn't relish.

The old fellow nodded.

"That's what I mean," he said, "a haunted house,"


EVERYONE was buzzing with suggestions then. Everyone but me.

I just stood there, wondering why, at my age, I'd never gotten sense enough to keep my mouth shut.

Then someone broke in over the buzzing.

"Listen," he said, "who knows a really haunted house in these parts?"

I decided to speak up then before I was completely railroaded.

"Haunted houses," I sneered, "are nothing. Nothing at all." I gave the statement all the scorn I could muster.

The old guy who'd mentioned the haunted house idea in the first place gave me a solemn glance.

"Have you ever been in a haunted house?" he asked me.

Everyone was looking at me again.

"Of course not," I told him. "They're a lot of nonsense. Stuff for superstitious weaklings to shudder about."

He shook his head sadly.

"I have," he declared, and he shuddered, then, as if at the mere recollection of it.

I gave him a tolerant smile and went on with my effort to get the topic off haunted houses.

"Can't anyone think of something tougher?" I begged. "You might as well pick something really stiff or nothing at all."

No one had any suggestions. I was breathing a little easier.

"Good lord," I said smilingly, "surely you ought to be able to think of something."

Sometime I will learn when I have said enough. Sometime I will become smart enough to know when to stop talking. Up until my last bright remark I had been talking them all out of the idea. Now I'd talked them right back into it. At least the old guy, who suddenly shook his head.

"No," he said. "There couldn't be anything worse. I know that for a fact. And if it's so very silly, I'm sure you won't mind taking us up on it."

I looked around the group. The expressions on the faces of all showed that they heartily agreed with the old guy's sentiments.

Definitely, I was in a spot. But nevertheless I had to make one last stab at writhing loose.

"Of course I wouldn't mind," I told them all. "I wouldn't mind a bit. I still say it's silly superstition, and I'm game to prove it. But, of course, finding a place that's supposed to be haunted is another thing to think of."

I looked around. Most of the group were frowning, combing out the old gray matter again in an effort to think of a house that had the reputation of being haunted.

They didn't seem to be getting anywhere, and once again I was all set to breathe easily, when once again the old guy popped back into the center of my trouble.

"There's an old house not so very far from here," he told me. "Everything I've ever heard about it points to the fact that it must be haunted. In fact," and he paused dramatically, "I've heard the story of one some of us might know, who spent a night in there and never came out again in the state in which he'd entered."

Everyone in the group caught the chilling impact of those words. And I think I caught them harder than the rest.

I gulped, and then I realized that the old guy and everyone else in the group had turned to stare at me questioningly.

Of course I forced a smile.

"Stuff and nonsense," I said. "An old wives' tale."

The expression on the face of the old guy didn't change. He just continued to stare at me.

"Perhaps so," he said. "But the person I referred to, who failed to come out of that house as he had entered, was my brother."

I can tell you here and now that that statement didn't help my state of mind any. I looked at the old guy, trying to read from his poker faced expression whether or not he was pulling a fast one.

Then someone said in an awed, trembly voice, "So that's what happened to your brother!"

It wasn't a fast one. I was sure of that, then. And I was even more certain that I wanted nothing else to do with the topic of haunted houses and the suggestion that I spend the night in one. Particularly the one the old guy had pulled out of thin air.

But one glance around the group showed me only too clearly that there would be no backing down now. I'd stuck my neck out much too far. Much, much too far to ever hope to go back on my brave words and retain any respect among them.

I went 'way down for the smile I finally managed to come up with. And even at that it was a pretty weak effort.

"All right," I said with that hard-to-hold smile. "All right, I'll take you up on that challenge. I'll prove my contention."

What an absolute sap I was—but definitely...


AFTER I'd stepped in over my neck, everyone agreed that there would be no sense in waiting any length of time to have me prove myself. And on the suggestion of the old guy, the following night had been chosen for my demonstration of iron nerves.

Consequently all the group met at the same place the following evening, shortly after ten o'clock.

Everyone was especially festive. It was like a great big picnic—to all but me.

They weren't going to walk as far as the door of the chosen haunted house with me. Oh, no. There were none of them quite willing to do that. But the old guy—there he was again—had volunteered to accompany me as far as a half mile from the place. He was to point it out, and then, no doubt, watch from a distance to make sure I carried out my boast.

Of course I didn't like it. And a day of waiting hadn't helped a bit. My nerves, by the time eleven o'clock rolled by, were getting to a state, no fooling.

And finally, when the old guy stood up and said, "Perhaps we had better be starting toward the house," I felt like yelling in sheer relief.

All the group quite insisted on making a point of personal farewells before I set out with the old guy. It was just as if they thought, or hoped, they'd never see me again in the same condition.

There was little I could do about it, however, so I stood around shaking hands and joking and acting very brave until I'd finished the gauntlet of none-too-well wishers.

And then at last I was walking along beside the old guy, heading for a destination which anyone with any brains would never set out for.

For companionship I might as well have had no one, for all the solace the old guy provided.

He scarcely spoke at all. And his first words after we'd walked along a while set the tenor of anything he said afterwards.

"There is no moon in the sky tonight," the old guy said gloomily. "It was on just such a moonless night as this that my poor, dear brother entered the house to which I am taking you." He trailed off with a sad sigh.

There was scarcely anything I could say to that. It wasn't the happy sort of stuff I wanted to carry on with, so I didn't answer. But the old guy's words had succeeded in calling my attention to the fact that it was most certainly a dreadful night.

There was no moon, as he had remarked. Nor stars, for that matter. And the lonely, narrow little hillside roadway along which we walked was bordered on both sides by tall, gaunt trees. The wind was busy whistling eerily through the branches of these trees that night.

Now and then I could see the old guy, out of the corner of my eye, glancing dourly up at me to see how I was taking it. It was hard to be sure whether or not he was hoping I'd be in a dither, or just genuinely sorry for the brash venture I was starting.

It was natural, I suppose, trudging along there in the lonesome darkness of the eerie night, to imagine after a while that eyes were peering out at us from behind the trees bordering the road. At any rate, we hadn't gone very far before I was pretty damned sure that strange eyes were following us.

If the old guy had the same sensation, he didn't mention it. And it was certainly a cinch that I wasn't going to ask him about the matter.


AFTER a while the roadway along which the old guy was taking me, began a steep and unexpected rise. A minute later and we were standing on the crest of a hill, looking down at a bleak, black mansion on a smaller hill perhaps half a mile off.

"There," the old guy said sepulcherly, "is the haunted house."

My first reaction was an urgent desire to bolt off in the opposite direction posthaste.

Then I was aware that he was watching me narrowly, waiting for any such evidence of change of heart.

"Well, well," I said with as much cheer as I could muster. "Well, well, well. So that's the haunted house, eh?"

"That," said the old guy, "is it."

I laughed a little shakily.

"Well, well," I repeated inanely. "So that's the haunted house, eh?"

"I feel," said the old guy, with an icy stare, "that the fact that that is the haunted house has been fairly well established by now."

I gulped, an action that was getting as frequent as breathing.

"Heh, heh," I stalled. "Big place, isn't it? Thought it would be smaller, somehow."

"It seems also somewhat evident," the old guy declared acidly, "that the house is a large one. Are you going on, or aren't you?"

"On?" I squeaked. "On? Oh, yes. Heh-heh-heh. You mean to the house. How silly. But of course."

"Then why don't you get moving?" the old guy asked.

The wind took that moment to howl weirdly through the trees on either side of us. I wasn't certain, but I had the sensation that those unseen eyes were watching us again.

My heart must have shared that sensation, for it suddenly seemed to take refuge somewhere down in my shoes.

"Well?" the old guy said.

"Well," I answered lamely, "uh, ah, so-long. Thanks for showing me the way. I'll, uh, see you later."

The old guy nodded cryptically. "Perhaps," he admitted. "At any rate I hope so."

"Thank you," I said bitterly. "Thank you so very much."

"I'll be watching from this hill," the old guy said.

"Sure," I answered, "sure. I get the hint. You'll see me enter that place, never fear."

The old guy didn't answer, and I started down the hill road. Never had I felt an impulse before as strong as the desire that made me want to turn for one last glance and a wave of the hand at the old guy. But of course I couldn't do that.

I had another sudden impulse to turn around and set a few dash records in any direction leading away from that ominously waiting mansion ahead.

The utter blackness of the night was getting me, now. And I began to wish for the faintest twinkle of a star, or the smallest ribbon of moonlight.

Instead I got an increased howling of the wind through the trees, and an awfully weak sickness where my stomach should have been.


IT was less than a quarter of a mile away from the blackly forbidding mansion before I was aware I'd covered that much ground. And now I slowed my pace, proceeding more cautiously.

There was a small, grass covered series of wagon tracks where a road had once been, leading off through the trees and up to the mansion itself.

I hesitated there an instant before turning up it, forcing myself to do so merely from the realization that the old guy back there on the hill was watching every move I made.

It got worse moving along that old side-road through the woods surrounding the mansion. Worse than I imagined it ever could be.

Then it was that I saw the light moving up in the third story window of the otherwise darkened mansion. It was the tiniest pinpoint of light, barely distinguishable. But it was there, and it moved, as if from room to room!

What kept me moving on toward that old house after seeing that light, I'll never know. It certainly wasn't courage, for my teeth were chattering louder than a brace of castanets.

At last I was in the weedy clearing which surrounded the grim old framework mansion. And now, looking up at the third floor again for the first time since I'd seen the moving light, I saw that it was gone.

The ominous old building was black and bleak once more.

There wasn't a sound now, save for the constant, moaning background of the wind through the gaunt trees. Tensely, I crossed the weedy clearing until I stood at last before the small porchway of the front entrance.

"The old guy is watching," I told myself. "I can't back down, now. The old guy is watching. He'll tell the others if I funk out."

I stepped up onto the porchway and stood there by the door, listening intently.

I heard nothing save the moaning of the wind and the kettle- drum pounding of my heart.

Closing my eyes firmly, I placed my hand on the cold, round surface of the doorknob.

Gently, ever so gently, I turned it.

I found the door opening inward under my pressure. Opening inward, and creaking ever so slightly on its hinges.


OF course I wanted to run like hell again. And of course I wasn't smart enough to do so. I just stood there, the door half open and my hand on the knob.

I stood there, trying to get up courage enough to open my eyes and look into the darkness that lay inside that doorway. My teeth were chattering double time.

Slowly, one at a time, I opened my eyes.

Ahead there was nothing but blackness. Highly uninviting blackness. Distinctly unpromising blackness. Ominously beckoning blackness.

My knees came in on an off-beat to accompany my chattering teeth with a knocking tempo that blended nicely. My pounding heart, of course, filled in the kettle drums to round out my private little rhythm section.

I turned to look longingly back over my shoulder, and was suddenly aware that the moonless night and the black, unfriendly woods were just as terrifying now as the blackness of the mansion yawning before me.

That was probably the only reason I pushed the door even further inward and stepped into the clammy darkness ahead.

Slowly, gropingly, I put my hands out before me and began a cautious exploration of the room in which I now found myself.

I had located a wall and was using it as a directional guide through the darkness while trying to focus my eyes to this new visual change when the door slammed. The door through which I had entered but an instant before!

I froze there, pressed back against the wall in terror, unable to do anything about it as my teeth and knees began knocking in harmony again.

But there wasn't any further sound. There was nothing else to indicate that something was in the room with me.

It must have been fully five minutes later, however, before I thawed from my frozen position. And in those five minutes surrounded by darkness and unpleasant possibilities, I must have heard a hundred minor creaking noises.

I moved on, then, a little more swiftly, for my eyes were beginning to focus a little better in the darkness and I no longer was forced to fear looming bulky objects—as long as they didn't move.

By now, I was thinking in terms of finding some spot, some corner where I could crouch against the protection of two walls and peer through the darkness for the rest of the night.


THE house was huge, probably large enough to have some eighteen to twenty rooms in all. But they could keep their eighteen or twenty rooms. All I wanted now was one room. A small one. A safe one. On the first floor, near a window, where I could jump if I had to.

By now, I was shaking like a pair of dice in the hand of a palsy victim. And I was just turning down what seemed to be a narrow hallway leading off from the big front room, when I heard the creaking of the floorboards in a room somewhere above me.

Of course I had to recall, at that unfortunate moment, the pinpoint of light I'd seen moving along the third floor when I'd been a quarter mile from the mansion.

This time I didn't breathe.

I stood there frozen, wide-eyed in terror, my lungs so full they threatened to burst. Stood there, listening.

The creaking floorboard noise was not repeated.

"An old house," I told myself. "Settling deeper and deeper into the foundations every day, I suppose."

Quick thinking. Easy explanation. Wishful thinking. Wishful explanation. I forced myself to move on through the darkness, down that narrow little hallway.

And then I heard the floorboards again. This time, followed by footsteps. Slow, measured footsteps. Growing louder with every instant.

And then I realized that I was standing near a wide, railed, gracefully turning staircase, and that the footsteps were moving to the top of the staircase, and then starting down!

There was a small, cramped, dark cave beneath the stairs, and I dived into it immediately. Now, the footsteps were right above my head, still measured, descending the stairs.

I tried to remember prayers to say. Especially prayers to cover situations like this. Prayers to deal with terrors of the unknown. It was no use. My mind was as frozen as my muscles.

The footsteps were now at the bottom of the staircase, and they paused for an instant, indecisively.

I could feel those unknown eyes probing slowly right and left through the blackness—searching.

No sound, at first. And then a creaking floorboard. Had I been seen? Did it know I was hiding here?

My mouth was cottony thick, my tongue dry and swollen from fear. I'm not at all sure that my heart bothered to beat during the next thirty seconds.

Another creaking floorboard broke the indecisive silence. And then the measured footsteps started again, away, off in the opposite direction of the staircase where I crouched limp with terror.


I LISTENED for another minute, as the footsteps grew less and less audible, finally blending into the awful silence. The thing was on the first floor, in some other section of the house. How long it would remain there I could not estimate.

But I felt fairly certain it would be back this way. And the under-staircase might not be a good hiding place twice in a row. A limply exhausted heap, I pulled myself out from under my refuge and stood up, shaking from head to foot.

I think I had the door in mind when I took those first few steps back in the direction from which I'd originally entered. But it made no difference what I had in mind an instant later. For I heard the footsteps, measured ominous, coming back to the room they had but recently deserted.

The under-staircase was out. And I wasn't certain that I'd be able to make the door before the thing re-entered the room. There was no window within leaping distance, either.

I had but one opportunity. Up the stairs—but rapidly.

It was all I could do to scramble fast and keep quiet all at once. But I managed it, gaining the top landing of the stairs before the sound of those footsteps below got much louder.

I found myself in a hallway, now. A hallway off which there were from four to six doors.

Inching along through the darkness, with one ear cocked toward the staircase I'd just ascended, I came to a door that was slightly ajar. The sound of the footsteps downstairs had stopped again. And now I stood there, listening for any noises from the room with the half opened door.

There was only silence.

And then I heard it. Heard it as my spine froze and icy fingers caressed the back of my neck.

Weird, eerie strains of violin music, coming from the floor below!

My knees were suddenly unable to support me, and every muscle was rigid with terror.

Somehow my hand found the knob of the slightly open door. And somehow I managed to drag myself into that room. I slammed the door behind me, but I didn't care. I was looking for a window.

The violin music had stopped with the sound of the slamming of the door. Then it started all over again, spine chilling, eerie.

I stood there quaking in the darkness of that room, my eyes peering through the darkness at my surroundings. It was a bedroom. An old brass fourposter was against the wall in the center of the room, and beyond that was the window.

The moon came out at that instant, throwing a chill blue light into the room and across the old bed.

This time I couldn't control my reaction. I felt my teeth chatter with the clattering noise of crockery bouncing on a shelf in an earthquake. It was loud, betraying, and I couldn't help it.

For there on that old bed, beneath white sheets, a figure stirred, and then two eyes were glaring at me through the semi- darkness!


I WAS unable to stop the moan of terror that escaped my lips. I must have been on the fringe of gibbering lunacy. My teeth never chattered more loudly.

And then the figure, covered completely by the sheets, sat erect in the old bed, emitting a piercing, ghastly screech!

I remember fumbling for the doorknob. I remember that the sheeted figure was climbing from the bed, gibbering and moaning, and moving toward me.

And then I was yowling madly, tugging at the door, almost knocking myself down as it suddenly swung open.

I raced down the darkened hallway, then, looking over my shoulder only long enough to see that the sheeted figure, still screeching and sobbing and groaning, was in the doorway.

And even as I put my hand on the bannister, I heard the violin music below me stop abruptly. There was a deep, ominous gurgle, then, and footsteps moved down there toward the staircase.

Trapped!

I looked back down the hallway, to see the sheeted thing standing there in the darkness, howling and leaping up and down. There was nothing else to do, so I bolted down the hallway in the other direction.

There were more doors, and I rattled the knobs of each of them, seeking any room with a window from which I could leap. They were all locked. And from behind several there came new hideous moanings and gibberings and ghastly voices.

I was adding to the din now, shrieking bloodily and often, my mind a red haze of hysterical horror.

Looking back but once again, I saw the sheeted figure in the darkness flapping madly around in the hallway at the top of the stairs.

The next five minutes were five eternities of madness.

The entire, ghastly house was alive with screams, shrill cries, gibbering moans, hideous yowlings.

Vaguely, I was aware that I was at the end of the hallway, and that there was no longer any avenue for my escape.

Collapsing limply in a heap in the corner, I continued my terrified screams for assistance.

And then I was aware that my head was knocking against a window sill directly above me. So great had been my terror that I'd failed to see the window at the end of this hall.

I dragged myself erect, still screaming hoarsely between gibbering moans. Dragged myself erect and struggled, with almost helplessly weak desperation, to raise that window.

At last it opened, and without looking twice, I hurled myself out of it.


THINKING back on it now, I realize I must have landed on my head in that desperate leap. For the next thing I recalled was a damp chill and moist ground, and I was opening my eyes.

I was still next to the house, lying in a clump of weeds.

Groaning, I managed to climb to my feet. Looking up, I saw that dawn was breaking. I must have been lying there unconscious for several hours.

And then I remembered. I looked up once at the grim, bleak old mansion, saw the open window through which I had leaped.

And then I took to my heels.

I was stumbling, dirty, breathless and ragged when I got back out onto the roadway. I'd taken a short cut through a thicket of brambles.

Then I saw the old man up there on the road hill. The old guy had kept his vigil as I thought he would.

It was all I could do to force myself to slow down, but I managed. When I finally came up to him I was breathing a little more easily, but from the look on his face as his eyes appraised me, I knew there would be no fooling him.

He was, in my estimation, no longer the "old guy." He was now the "wise old man."

"You saw them," said the wise old man somberly.

I nodded wearily. "I was a fool to scoff," I admitted.

"No matter," he said. "Now you have learned. And you were both fortunate and brave to stay there until dawn and emerge as you had entered."

I suddenly decided to say nothing about that leap out the window and the hours I'd spent unconscious. I decided not to mention the fact that I'd have been back, screaming madly, if I hadn't knocked myself out in that leap.

We started back down the road, away from the ghastly, haunted old mansion. Both of us were thinking.

"Perhaps you can tell the others," he said after a while, "that there is such a thing as the other world and creatures that exist in it."

I nodded, making a firm resolve to see that the word was spread convincingly. No more would I join the scoffers who professed scorn at the thought of the existence of the other world. No more would I refuse to believe in people. And never again would I volunteer to spend a night in a mansion haunted by human beings.

No, sir. Not this ghost. Not me!


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Administered by Matthias Kaether and Roy Glashan
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.