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Authors: Arthur Leo Zagat

Tags: #Horror

Priestess of Murder

BOOK: Priestess of Murder
6.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
First published in
Terror Tales
, April 1936


A thing of terror lurked in hiding—waiting to work its
ghastly evil upon beautiful Leila Monroy!... Was her lover in truth the
monster who sought her? Was it lovely Eve, her best friend? Or were Leila's
darkest suspicions correct—could it be that she, herself, changed
periodically into the thing of horror and death that haunted that stricken


Terror Tales, April 1936





THE house was full of whispers. Leila Monroy, pathetically
small in the huge, wing-sided easy chair, fumbled at her throat. A sob was
trying to rise there, knotting her muscles with a sort of physical pain.

The house was full of whispers. The ancient farmhouse that always had been
her home was an abode of brooding dread, a place of dark despair. The
groaning of the old timbers' drying fibers seemed terribly loud in the
oppressive silence. They came from the very walls about Leila; from the
age-darkened rafters overhead; from the ominous gloom of the entrance hallway
that somehow repelled the living-room light; from the broad staircase
twisting upward out of that foyer to appallingly empty obscurity above.

The house was full of whispers, shredding Leila's frayed nerves with
terrible reminders of her day's long agony. Just such a place of muted,
ominous sounds had the courtroom been. Unshed tears, through the anguished
hours, had blurred its crowded benches; and the only reality had been the
gaunt, suffering figure of her grey-faced father in the prisoner's dock. But
the whispers had been inescapable. All day they had hissed at her, as they
were hissing now: mutterings of horror as witness after witness had damned
Justin Monroy with hushed tales of brutal, unutterably savage killing; gasps
of outrage when Leila herself gave halting testimony that she had been with
her father, here in this room, all the fatal hour between the time when Shean
Rourke had last been seen alive and the time when Foster Corbett had found
his hacked and mangled corpse beneath the poplars dividing the two farms.

Whispers had met the exhausted girl—whispers of tight-lipped
condemnation—when at last she had stumbled down from the witness chair;
and the farmer-women's Sunday silks had rustled, self-righteously, drawing
away from the defiling touch of the girl who, hostile eyes said, had lied
desperately to save a blood-guilty slayer.

Whispers, whispers, whispers—seething out of the pulsating silence
as the stony-faced jury marched back into their box.

And then the whispers had become a soundless scream searing Leila's breast
as the dreadful verdict soughed from the foreman's tight throat.

"Murder! While insane!"

Insane! The recollection flung Leila Monroy up out of her chair, held her
rigid in distress. Insane! The word hissed within her skull, hissed from the
stark vacancy in which she was so utterly alone with terror and despair.
Slithering foliage, stirred by a swiftly rising wind, hissed it at her from
the terrible outer night. Insane!

Insane! The kindly, tender old man to whose gnarled hand she had clung as
the brown clods thudded on the drab wood of her mother's coffin; the hard-
working, weather-beaten oldster who had been father and mother to her through
so many years—a madman! Her father! From whose veins came the blood
surging now so darkly in her veins.

Leila quivered. Tremors ran through the long, delicate curves of her slim
form. The tiny oval of her small-featured countenance blanched with a new
His blood in her veins!
What if that blood were tainted with a
foul lust to kill, with an atavistic urge to tear with fang and claw, to rend
human flesh and taste the warm, salt-sweet tang of human life-fluid on
smacking, gory lips? What if she had not really drowsed that half-hour whose
lapse fatally had invalidated her testimony? Had she run, instead, ravening
by his side while a fearful heritage of homicidal madness blotted memory from
her soul as the alienists said it had blotted recollection from Justin

Abruptly the light within was paled by a blue blaze glaring in through the
window on which her unseeing stare was fixed, by lightning that split the
sky's black vault with a jagged and blazing fracture. Thunder blast became to
the shocked girl the devastating roar of an enormous beast that leaped on the
house, that battered it, that shook it in huge jaws whose slaver was driving
rain. Storm tumult howled about the old walls, crashed through the empty
rooms, drowned out the whispers that had tortured Leila, drowned out the
whispers in her harried brain. Almost, after the first terrific onslaught,
she was grateful for the fury that would no longer let her hear those

But it could not drown her dreadful thoughts.

"No," she moaned. "Merciful Lord, no!" as she had moaned when Justin
Monroy's suave attorney had elicited from the bald-pated alienist glib
testimony that had saved his client from the death-chair—and condemned
him to a living hell. "No! It can't be true."

"I could have done nothing else," the lawyer had answered her reproaches
afterward. "It was your father's axe Foster Corbett found buried in the dead
man's chest. Your father's footprints were traced out of the trampled mess
around the corpse and across the meadow to your back porch. There was the old
boundary line feud between your father and his neighbor, his threats that if
Foster Corbett or his son Stanley or his farm hand, Shean Rourke, stepped on
Monroy land they would regret it. Against that we had only your word that he
was seated in the room with you all evening. And on cross-examination you
admitted that you had fallen asleep."

The wind pounded against the door as their fists had pounded, coming to
accuse Dad of the awful deed. Foster Corbett, triumphant at last over his
ancient adversary. Stan Corbett—

Leila's pale lips writhed. Stan! In his arms she had known happiness,
against her lips his lips had thrilled. Defiant of the enmity between their
fathers they had loved. If State Trooper Stanley Corbett had fired his gun
into her heart, he could no more cruelly have slain that love than he had by
saying to her father, "You're under arrest, Mr. Monroy."

Rain lashed against the window in a spasm of new fury. The world was
ablaze with a flickering electric flare that spilled bluely on the tossing
poplars marching along the tree-marked boundary between the two farms. It was
just there that Shean Rourke's corpse—Something moved
stealthily—vague and black—among the wind-bent trunks!

Darkness smashed down again! Who was it? Who prowled the storm-drenched
night. The demoniac slayer who had made a ghastly horror of what once had
been a man? The real killer, stalking a new prey? Stalking her? Icy fingers
clutched Leila Monroy's throat, chill prickles tickled her spine. His
blood-thirst still unslaked, inflamed by his terrible crime for which Dad
unjustly had been condemned to terrible expiation, the murderer was creeping
up on her. On her!

An ancient legend of whispered terror trailed a slimy speculation across
her fear. A name breathed with shudders of apprehension by the gaffers
clustering around the cherry-bellied stove in the village. The Monster of
West Cliff! The traditional phantom that was reputed to haunt the stony
precipice whose sheer rampart rose behind the fertile plain along which, from
north to south, lay the three neighboring farms of the Corbetts, the Monroys
and the Stars! Often of late he had been seen stalking the dark belt of
primeval forest cloaking the base of that cliff, the elusive, appalling
wraith, it was said, of an Indian chief whose tribe had been massacred by the
plain's first settlers. Stalking the ages, waiting for a chance at gruesome
revenge. Every accident, every unexplained disaster of the countryside was
ascribed to him. Was it he who—

Storm-blaze arched the heavens once more, exploding into momentary
existence the tempest-tormented trees, the downpour-beaten pasture between.
They were deserted, vacant as the house itself. Nothing—no one was
anywhere in sight. The prowling shadow had been an illusion, a figment of her
anguished brain.

Wait! Wait! The imagined sight had recalled something to Leila. An
incident of the fateful night that she had utterly forgotten till now, till
it was too late. The girl groaned, beat her breast in bitter self-

Stepping to this very window, that evening, to pull down its shade, she
had seen, or thought she had seen, Foster Corbert dodging behind the tool
shed just visible left of the house. She had said nothing to her father,
fearing to excite him, fearing to jeopardize the reconciliation for which she
and Stan plotted. The terrible events following had obliterated the matter
from her memory. Utterly, till now. How could she have forgotten it, its
astounding implication? The murder-axe, whose blood-smeared helve had shown
no fingerprints, had come from that very shed!

Perhaps it was not yet too late. Perhaps if she told her story—

Shrill sound sliced across the thought. It stopped, spurted again.


It whirled Leila
around to it.


telephone! Three rings, the Monroy signal! Who could be phoning her. Stan?
Incredible! Eve Starr, perhaps? Eve, her neighbor and closest female friend,
calling to extend sympathy, consolation. Like Eve to remain loyal when every
one else shunned her.


—Leila, flinging across the room,
into the hallway's dimness, jerked the receiver from its hook.


"Lock your doors," a hoarse, unrecognizable voice grated without preamble.
"Lock your windows." A voice choked, coarsened by some inexplicable terror.
"Don't let any one in. Not any—"

The telephone was suddenly dead, with the flat, inanimate deadness of a
line from which the humming life of its current has gone. Dead! Had the storm
blown down a frail wire or had some human hand cut it? Some human hand, just
too late to stop the husked warning?

Some human hand! Icy terror once more struck at Leila Monroy. The hand of
some one who even now crept up on the house. Then she was moving, had flung
herself to the great front door, was thrusting into its socket the heavy bolt
clamped to its sturdy oak.

The back door was already locked, she remembered. The windows!
Old-fashioned shutters creaked out of recesses in their embrasured sides to
the frantic pull of her trembling hands, were also bolted. She rushed in
frenzied haste through dining room, through kitchen, clicking on light as she
went, light from which shadows fled that were black, sinister silhouettes
waiting around corners, behind doors, to spring upon her. The lower floor was
at last a blaze of light, was a locked and barred fortress against whatever
menace threatened. The lower floor—

BOOK: Priestess of Murder
6.67Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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