The tension became unbearable. The open door proved that Middleton, or someone, or something, had come into that room. Why would Middleton come save to kill? But why in God’s name had he not struck already? What was he waiting for?
Saul’s nerve snapped suddenly.
In stumbling haste he groped to the mantelpiece, fumbling for the lamp. And he cried out—a choked, horrible croak that could not have carried beyond his room. For his hand, groping in the dark on the mantel, had touched the hair on a human scalp!
He lighted a candle and turned, gun lifted in a shaking hand. There was no living man in the room except himself. But his distended eyes focused themselves on the mantelpiece, and the object on it.
He stood frozen, his brain at first refusing to register what his eyes revealed. Then he croaked inhumanly and the gun crashed on the hearth as it slipped through his numb fingers.
John Wilkinson was dead, with a bullet through his heart. It had been three days since Saul had seen his body nailed into the crude coffin and lowered into the grave in the old Wilkinson family graveyard.
Yet from the mantel John Wilkinson’s face leered at him, white and cold and dead.
It was no nightmare, no dream of madness. There, on the mantelpiece rested John Wilkinson’s severed head.
Robert E. Howard is considered the father of the Sword & Sorcery fantasy genre with his stories about Conan, Kull and Red Sonya. But he also wrote detective fiction, especially with a supernatural touch.
Graveyard Rats is one of Howard’s stories featuring police detective Steve Harrison.
Music by David Fesliyan (www.fesliyanstudios.com). Cover by Mats Ingelborn (Yabot AB) with illustration from Freepik.com.