Dig Me No Grave by Robert E. Howard
First published in Weird Tales, February 1937
Also published as "John Grimlan's Debt"
THE thunder of my old-fashioned door-knocker, reverberating
eerily through the house, roused me from a restless and nightmare-haunted
sleep. I looked out the window. In the last light of the sinking moon, the
white face of my friend John Conrad looked up at me.
"May I come up, Kirowan?" His voice was shaky and strained.
"Certainly!" I sprang out of bed and pulled on a bath-robe as I heard him
enter the front door and ascend the stairs.
A moment later he stood before me, and in the light which I had turned on
I saw his hands tremble and noticed the unnatural pallor of his face.
"Old John Grimlan died an hour ago," he said abruptly.
"Indeed? I had not known that he was ill."
"It was a sudden, virulent attack of peculiar nature, a sort of seizure
somewhat akin to epilepsy. He has been subject to such spells of late years,
I nodded. I knew something of the old hermit-like man who had lived in his
great dark house on the hill; indeed, I had once witnessed one of his strange
seizures, and I had been appalled at the writhings, howlings and yammerings
of the wretch, who had groveled on the earth like a wounded snake, gibbering
terrible curses and black blasphemies until his voice broke in a wordless
screaming which spattered his lips with foam. Seeing this, I understood why
people in old times looked on such victims as men possessed by demons.
"—some hereditary taint," Conrad was saying. "Old John doubtless
fell heir to some ingrown weakness brought on by some loathsome disease,
which was his heritage from perhaps a remote ancestor—such things
occasionally happen. Or else—well, you know old John himself pried
about in the mysterious parts of the earth, and wandered all over the East in
his younger days. It is quite possible that he was infected with some obscure
malady in his wanderings. There are still many unclassified diseases in
Africa and the Orient."
"But," said I, "you have not told me the reason for this sudden visit at
this unearthly hour—for I notice that it is past midnight."
My friend seemed rather confused.
"Well, the fact is that John Grimlan died alone, except for myself. He
refused to receive any medical aid of any sort, and in the last few moments
when it was evident that he was dying, and I was prepared to go for some sort
of help in spite of him, he set up such a howling and screaming that I could
not refuse his passionate pleas—which were that he should not be left
to die alone.
"I have seen men die," added Conrad, wiping the perspiration from his pale
brow, "but the death of John Grimlan was the most fearful I have ever
"He suffered a great deal?"
"He appeared to be in much physical agony, but this was mostly submerged
by some monstrous mental or psychic suffering. The fear in his distended eyes
and his screams transcended any conceivable earthly terror. I tell you,
Kirowan, Grimlan's fright was greater and deeper than the ordinary fear of
the Beyond shown by a man of ordinarily evil life."
I shifted restlessly. The dark implications of this statement sent a chill
of nameless apprehension trickling down my spine.
"I know the country people always claimed that in his youth he sold his
soul to the Devil, and that his sudden epileptic attacks were merely a
visible sign of the Fiend's power over him; but such talk is foolish, of
course, and belongs in the Dark Ages. We all know that John Grimlan's life
was a peculiarly evil and vicious one, even toward his last days. With good
reason he was universally detested and feared, for I never heard of his doing
a single good act. You were his only friend."
"And that was a strange friendship," said Conrad. "I was attracted to him
by his unusual powers, for despite his bestial nature, John Grimlan was a
highly educated man, a deeply cultured man. He had dipped deep into occult
studies, and I first met him in this manner; for as you know, I have always
been strongly interested in these lines of research myself.
"But, in this as in all other things, Grimlan was evil and perverse. He
had ignored the white side of the occult and delved into the darker, grimmer
phases of it—into devil- worship, and voodoo and Shintoism. His
knowledge of these foul arts and sciences was immense and unholy. And to hear
him tell of his researches and experiments was to know such horror and
repulsion as a venomous reptile might inspire. For there had been no depths
to which he had not sunk, and some things he only hinted at, even to me. I
tell you, Kirowan, it is easy to laugh at tales of the black world of the
unknown, when one is in pleasant company under the bright sunlight, but had
you sat at ungodly hours in the silent bizarre library of John Grimlan and
looked on the ancient musty volumes and listened to his grisly talk as I did,
your tongue would have cloven to your palate with sheer horror as mine did,
and the supernatural would have seemed very real and near to you—as it
seemed to me!"
"But in God's name, man!" I cried, for the tension was growing unbearable;
"come to the point and tell me what you want of me."
"I want you to come with me to John Grimlan's house and help carry out his
outlandish instructions in regard to his body."
I had no liking for the adventure, but I dressed hurriedly, an occasional
shudder of premonition shaking me. Once fully clad, I followed Conrad out of
the house and up the silent road which led to the house of John Grimlan. The
road wound uphill, and all the way, looking upward and forward, I could see
that great grim house perched like a bird of evil on the crest of the hill,
bulking black and stark against the stars. In the west pulsed a single dull
red smear where the young moon had just sunk from view behind the low black
hills. The whole night seemed full of brooding evil, and the persistent
swishing of a bat's wings somewhere overhead caused my taut nerves to jerk
and thrum. To drown the quick pounding of my own heart, I said:
"Do you share the belief so many hold, that John Grimlan was mad?"
We strode on several paces before Conrad answered, seemingly with a
strange reluctance, "But for one incident, I would say no man was ever saner.
But one night in his study, he seemed suddenly to break all bonds of
"He had discoursed for hours on his favorite subject—black
magic—when suddenly he cried, as his face lit with a weird unholy glow:
'Why should I sit here babbling such child's prattle to you? These voodoo
rituals—these Shinto sacrifices—feathered snakes—goats
without horns—black leopard cults—bah! Filth and dust that the
wind blows away! Dregs of the real Unknown—the deep mysteries! Mere
echoes from the Abyss!
"'I could tell you things that would shatter your paltry brain! I could
breathe into your ear names that would wither you like a burnt weed! What do
you know of Yog-Sothoth, of Kathulos and the sunken cities? None of these
names is even included in your mythologies. Not even in your dreams have you
glimpsed the black cyclopean walls of Koth, or shriveled before the noxious
winds that blow from Yuggoth!
"'But I will not blast you lifeless with my black wisdom! I cannot expect
your infantile brain to bear what mine holds. Were you as old as I—had
you seen, as I have seen, kingdoms crumble and generations pass
away—had you gathered as ripe grain the dark secrets of the
"He was raving away, his wildly lit face scarcely human in appearance, and
suddenly, noting my evident bewilderment, he burst into a horrible cackling
"'Gad!' he cried in a voice and accent strange to me, 'methinks I've
frighted ye, and certes, it is not to be marveled at, sith ye be but a naked
salvage in the arts of life, after all. Ye think I be old, eh? Why, ye gaping
lout, ye'd drop dead were I to divulge the generations of men I've
"But at this point such horror overcame me that I fled from him as from an
adder, and his high-pitched, diabolical laughter followed me out of the
shadowy house. Some days later I received a letter apologizing for his manner
and ascribing it candidly—too candidly—to drugs. I did not
believe it, but I renewed our relations, after some hesitation."
"It sounds like utter madness," I muttered.
"Yes," admitted Conrad, hesitantly. "But—Kirowan, have you ever seen
anyone who knew John Grimlan in his youth?"
I shook my head.
"I have been at pains to inquire about him discreetly," said Conrad. "He
has lived here—with the exception of mysterious absences often for
months at a time—for twenty years. The older villagers remember
distinctly when he first came and took over that old house on the hill, and
they all say that in the intervening years he seems not to have aged
perceptibly. When he came here he looked just as he does now—or did, up
to the moment of his death—of the appearance of a man about fifty.
"I met old Von Boehnk in Vienna, who said he knew Grimlan when a very
young man studying in Berlin, fifty years ago, and he expressed astonishment
that the old man was still living; for he said at that time Grimlan seemed to
be about fifty years of age."
I gave an incredulous exclamation, seeing the implication toward which the
conversation was trending.
"Nonsense! Professor Von Boehnk is past eighty himself, and liable to the
errors of extreme age. He confused this man with another." Yet as I spoke, my
flesh crawled unpleasantly and the hairs on my neck prickled.
"Well," shrugged Conrad, "here we are at the house."
The huge pile reared up menacingly before us, and as we reached the front
door a vagrant wind moaned through the near-by trees and I started foolishly
as I again heard the ghostly beat of the bat's wings. Conrad turned a large
key in the antique lock, and as we entered, a cold draft swept across us like
a breath from the grave—moldy and cold. I shuddered.
We groped our way through a black hallway and into a study, and here
Conrad lighted a candle, for no gas lights or electric lights were to be
found in the house. I looked about me, dreading what the light might
disclose, but the room, heavily tapestried and bizarrely furnished, was empty
save for us two.
"Where—where is—It ?" I asked in a husky whisper, from a
throat gone dry.
"Upstairs," answered Conrad in a low voice, showing that the silence and
mystery of the house had laid a spell on him also. "Upstairs, in the library
where he died."
I glanced up involuntarily. Somewhere above our head, the lone master of
this grim house was stretched out in his last sleep—silent, his white
face set in a grinning mask of death. Panic swept over me and I fought for
control. After all, it was merely the corpse of a wicked old man, who was
past harming anyone—this argument rang hollowly in my brain like the
words of a frightened child who is trying to reassure himself.
I turned to Conrad. He had taken a time-yellowed envelope from an inside
"This," he said, removing from the envelope several pages of closely
written, time-yellowed parchment, "is, in effect, the last word of John
Grimlan, though God alone knows how many years ago it was written. He gave it
to me ten years ago, immediately after his return from Mongolia. It was
shortly after this that he had his first seizure.
"This envelope he gave me, sealed, and he made me swear that I would hide
it carefully, and that I would not open it until he was dead, when I was to
read the contents and follow their directions exactly. More, he made me swear
that no matter what he said or did after giving me the envelope, I would go
ahead as first directed. 'For,' he said with a fearful smile, 'the flesh is
weak but I am a man of my word, and though I might, in a moment of weakness,
wish to retract, it is far, far too late now. You may never understand the
matter, but you are to do as I have said.'"
"Well," again Conrad wiped his brow, "tonight as he lay writhing in his
death- agonies, his wordless howls were mingled with frantic admonitions to
me to bring him the envelope and destroy it before his eyes! As he yammered
this, he forced himself up on his elbows and with eyes staring and hair
standing straight up on his head, he screamed at me in a manner to chill the
blood. And he was shrieking for me to destroy the envelope, not to open it;
and once he howled in his delirium for me to hew his body into pieces and
scatter the bits to the four winds of heaven!"
An uncontrollable exclamation of horror escaped my dry lips.
"At last," went on Conrad, "I gave in. Remembering his commands ten years
ago, I at first stood firm, but at last, as his screeches grew unbearably
desperate, I turned to go for the envelope, even though that meant leaving
him alone. But as I turned, with one last fearful convulsion in which
blood-flecked foam flew from his writhing lips, the life went from his
twisted body in a single great wrench."
He fumbled at the parchment.
"I am going to carry out my promise. The directions herein seem fantastic
and may be the whims of a disordered mind, but I gave my word. They are,
briefly, that I place his corpse on the great black ebony table in his
library, with seven black candles burning about him. The doors and windows
are to be firmly closed and fastened. Then, in the darkness which precedes
dawn, I am to read the formula, charm or spell which is contained in a
smaller, sealed envelope inside the first, and which I have not yet
"But is that all?" I cried. "No provisions as to the disposition of his
fortune, his estate—or his corpse?"
"Nothing. In his will, which I have seen elsewhere, he leaves estate and
fortune to a certain Oriental gentleman named in the document as—Malik
"What!" I cried, shaken to my soul. "Conrad, this is madness heaped on
madness! Malik Tous—good God! No mortal man was ever so named! That is
the title of the foul god worshipped by the mysterious Yezidees—they of
Mount Alamout the Accursed—whose Eight Brazen Towers rise in the
mysterious wastes of deep Asia. His idolatrous symbol is the brazen peacock.
And the Muhammadans, who hate his demon-worshipping devotees, say he is the
essence of the evil of all the universes—the Prince of
Darkness—Ahriman—the old Serpent—the veritable Satan! And
you say Grimlan names this mythical demon in his will?"
"It is the truth," Conrad's throat was dry. "And look—he has
scribbled a strange line at the corner of this parchment: 'Dig me no grave; I
shall not need one.'"
Again a chill wandered down my spine.
"In God's name," I cried in a kind of frenzy, "let us get this incredible
business over with!"
"I think a drink might help," answered Conrad, moistening his lips. "It
seems to me I've seen Grimlan go into this cabinet for wine—" He bent
to the door of an ornately carved mahogany cabinet, and after some difficulty
"No wine here," he said disappointedly, "and if ever I felt the need of
He drew out a roll of parchment, dusty, yellowed and half covered with
spiderwebs. Everything in that grim house seemed, to my nervously excited
senses, fraught with mysterious meaning and import, and I leaned over his
shoulder as he unrolled it.
"It's a record of peerage," he said, "such a chronicle of births, deaths
and so forth, as the old families used to keep, in the Sixteenth Century and
"What's the name?" I asked.
He scowled over the dim scrawls, striving to master the faded, archaic
"G-r-y-m—I've got it—Grymlann, of course. It's the records of
old John's family—the Grymlanns of Toad's-heath Manor,
Suffolk—what an outlandish name for an estate! Look at the last
Together we read, "John Grymlann, borne, March 10, 1630." And then we both
cried out. Under this entry was freshly written, in a strange scrawling hand,
"Died, March 10, 1930." Below this there was a seal of black wax, stamped
with a strange design, something like a peacock with a spreading tail.
Conrad stared at me speechless, all the color ebbed from his face. I shook
myself with the rage engendered by fear.
"It's the hoax of a madman!" I shouted. "The stage has been set with such
great care that the actors have overstepped themselves. Whoever they are,
they have heaped up so many incredible effects as to nullify them. It's all a
very stupid, very dull drama of illusion."
And even as I spoke, icy sweat stood out on my body and I shook as with an
ague. With a wordless motion Conrad turned toward the stairs, taking up a
large candle from a mahogany table.
"It was understood, I suppose," he whispered, "that I should go through
with this ghastly matter alone; but I had not the moral courage, and now I'm
glad I had not."
A still horror brooded over the silent house as we went up the stairs. A
faint breeze stole in from somewhere and set the heavy velvet hangings
rustling, and I visualized stealthy taloned fingers drawing aside the
tapestries, to fix red gloating eyes upon us. Once I thought I heard the
indistinct clumping of monstrous feet somewhere above us, but it must have
been the heavy pounding of my own heart.
The stairs debouched into a wide dark corridor, in which our feeble candle
cast a faint gleam which but illuminated our pale faces and made the shadows
seem darker by comparison. We stopped at a heavy door, and I heard Conrad's
breath draw in sharply as a man's will when he braces himself physically or
mentally. I involuntarily clenched my fists until the nails bit into the
palms; then Conrad thrust the door open.
A sharp cry escaped his lips. The candle dropped from his nerveless
fingers and went out. The library of John Grimlan was ablaze with light,
though the whole house had been in darkness when we entered it.
This light came from seven black candles placed at regular intervals about
the great ebony table. On this table, between the candles—I had braced
myself against the sight. Now in the face of the mysterious illumination and
the sight of the thing on the table, my resolution nearly gave way. John
Grimlan had been unlovely in life; in death he was hideous. Yes, he was
hideous even though his face was mercifully covered with the same curious
silken robe, which, worked in fantastic bird- like designs, covered his whole
body except the crooked claw-like hands and the bare withered feet.
A strangling sound came from Conrad. "My God!" he whispered; "what is
this? I laid his body out on the table and placed the candles about it, but I
did not light them, nor did I place that robe over the body! And there were
bedroom slippers on his feet when I left—"
He halted suddenly. We were not alone in the death-room.
At first we had not seen him, as he sat in the great armchair in a farther
nook of a corner, so still that he seemed a part of the shadows cast by the
heavy tapestries. As my eyes fell upon him, a violent shuddering shook me and
a feeling akin to nausea racked the pit of my stomach. My first impression
was of vivid, oblique yellow eyes which gazed unwinkingly at us. Then the man
rose and made a deep salaam, and we saw that he was an Oriental. Now when I
strive to etch him clearly in my mind, I can resurrect no plain image of him.
I only remember those piercing eyes and the yellow, fantastic robe he
We returned his salute mechanically and he spoke in a low, refined voice,
"Gentlemen, I crave your pardon! I have made so free as to light the
candles—shall we not proceed with the business pertaining to our mutual
He made a slight gesture toward the silent bulk on the table. Conrad
nodded, evidently unable to speak. The thought flashed through our minds at
the same time, that this man had also been given a sealed envelope—but
how had he come to the Grimlan house so quickly? John Grimlan had been dead
scarcely two hours and to the best of our knowledge no one knew of his demise
but ourselves. And how had he got into the locked and bolted house?
The whole affair was grotesque and unreal in the extreme. We did not even
introduce ourselves or ask the stranger his name. He took charge in a
matter-of-fact way, and so under the spell of horror and illusion were we
that we moved dazedly, involuntarily obeying his suggestions, given us in a
low, respectful tone.
I found myself standing on the left side of the table, looking across its
grisly burden at Conrad. The Oriental stood with arms folded and head bowed
at the head of the table, nor did it then strike me as being strange that he
should stand there, instead of Conrad who was to read what Grimlan had
written. I found my gaze drawn to the figure worked on the breast of the
stranger's robe, in black silk—a curious figure, somewhat resembling a
peacock and somewhat resembling a bat, or a flying dragon. I noted with a
start that the same design was worked on the robe covering the corpse.
The doors had been locked, the windows fastened down. Conrad, with a shaky
hand, opened the inner envelope and fluttered open the parchment sheets
contained therein. These sheets seemed much older than those containing the
instructions to Conrad, in the larger envelope. Conrad began to read in a
monotonous drone which had the effect of hypnosis on the hearer; so at times
the candles grew dim in my gaze and the room and its occupants swam strange
and monstrous, veiled and distorted like an hallucination. Most of what he
read was gibberish; it meant nothing; yet the sound of it and the archaic
style of it filled me with an intolerable horror.
"To ye contract elsewhere recorded, I, John Grymlann, herebye sweare by ye
Name of ye Nameless One to keep goode faithe. Wherefore do I now write in
blood these wordes spoken to me in thys grim & silent chamber in ye dedde
citie of Koth, whereto no mortal manne hath attained but mee. These same
wordes now writ down by mee to be rede over my bodie at ye appointed tyme to
fulfill my parte of ye bargain which I entered intoe of mine own free will
& knowledge beinge of rite mynd & fiftie years of age this yeare of
1680, A. D. Here begynneth ye incantation:
"Before manne was, ye Elder ones were, & even yet their lord dwelleth
amonge ye shadows to which if a manne sette his foote he maye not turn vpon
The words merged into a barbaric gibberish as Conrad stumbled through an
unfamiliar language—a language faintly suggesting the Phoenician, but
shuddery with the touch of a hideous antiquity beyond any remembered earthly
tongue. One of the candles flickered and went out. I made a move to relight
it, but a motion from the silent Oriental stayed me. His eyes burned into
mine, then shifted back to the still form on the table.
The manuscript had shifted back into its archaic English.
"—And ye mortal which gaineth to ye black citadels of Koth &
speaks with ye Darke Lord whose face is hidden, for a price maye he gain hys
heartes desire, ryches & knowledge beyond countinge & lyffe beyond
mortal span even two hundred and fiftie yeares."
Again Conrad's voice trailed off into unfamiliar gutturals. Another candle
"—Let not ye mortal flynche as ye tyme draweth nigh for payement
& ye fires of Hell laye hold vpon ye vytals as the sign of reckoninge.
For ye Prince of Darkness taketh hys due in ye endde & he is not to bee
cozened. What ye have promised, that shall ye deliver. Augantha ne shuba
At the first sound of those barbaric accents, a cold hand of terror locked
about my throat. My frantic eyes shot to the candles and I was not surprised
to see another flicker out. Yet there was no hint of any draft to stir the
heavy black hangings. Conrad's voice wavered; he drew his hand across his
throat, gagging momentarily. The eyes of the Oriental never altered.
"—Amonge ye sonnes of men glide strange shadows for ever. Men see ye
tracks of ye talones but not ye feete that make them. Over ye souls of men
spread great black wingges. There is but one Black Master though men calle
hym Sathanas & Beelzebub & Apolleon & Ahriman & Malik
Mists of horror engulfed me. I was dimly aware of Conrad's voice droning
on and on, both in English and in that other fearsome tongue whose horrific
import I scarcely dared try to guess. And with stark fear clutching at my
heart, I saw the candles go out, one by one. And with each flicker, as the
gathering gloom darkened about us, my horror mounted. I could not speak, I
could not move; my distended eyes were fixed with agonized intensity on the
remaining candle. The silent Oriental at the head of that ghastly table was
included in my fear. He had not moved nor spoken, but under his drooping
lids, his eyes burned with devilish triumph; I knew that beneath his
inscrutable exterior he was gloating fiendishly—but why—why?
But I knew that the moment the extinguishing of the last candle plunged
the room into utter darkness, some nameless, abominable thing would take
place. Conrad was approaching the end. His voice rose to the climax in
"Approacheth now ye moment of payement. Ye ravens are flying. Ye bats
winge against ye skye. There are skulls in ye starres. Ye soul & ye bodie
are promised and shall bee delivered uppe. Not to ye dust agayne nor ye
elements from which springe lyfe—"
The candle flickered slightly. I tried to scream, but my mouth gaped to a
soundless yammering. I tried to flee, but I stood frozen, unable even to
close my eyes.
"—Ye abysse yawns & ye debt is to paye. Ye light fayles, ye
shadows gather. There is no god but evil; no lite but darkness; no hope but
A hollow groan resounded through the room. It seemed to come from the
robe- covered thing on the table! That robe twitched fitfully.
"Oh winges in ye black darke!"
I started violently; a faint swish sounded in the gathering shadows. The
stir of the dark hangings? It sounded like the rustle of gigantic wings.
"Oh redde eyes in ye shadows! What is promised, what is writ in bloode is
fulfilled! Ye lite is gulfed in blackness! Ya—Koth!"
The last candle went out suddenly and a ghastly unhuman cry that came not
from my lips or from Conrad's burst unbearably forth. Horror swept over me
like a black icy wave; in the blind dark I heard myself screaming terribly.
Then with a swirl and a great rush of wind something swept the room, flinging
the hangings aloft and dashing chairs and tables crashing to the floor. For
an instant an intolerable odor burned our nostrils, a low hideous tittering
mocked us in the blackness; then silence fell like a shroud.
Somehow, Conrad found a candle and lighted it. The faint glow showed us
the room in fearful disarray—showed us each other's ghastly
faces—and showed us the black ebony table—empty! The doors and
windows were locked as they had been, but the Oriental was gone—and so
was the corpse of John Grimlan.
Shrieking like damned men we broke down the door and fled frenziedly down
the well-like staircase where the darkness seemed to clutch at us with clammy
black fingers. As we tumbled down into the lower hallway, a lurid glow cut
the darkness and the scent of burning wood filled our nostrils.
The outer doorway held momentarily against our frantic assault, then gave
way and we hurtled into the outer starlight. Behind us the flames leaped up
with a crackling roar as we fled down the hill. Conrad, glancing over his
shoulder, halted suddenly, wheeled and flung up his arms like a madman, and
"Soul and body he sold to Malik Tous, who is Satan, two hundred and fifty
years ago! This was the night of payment—and my God—look! Look!
The Fiend has claimed his own!"
I looked, frozen with horror. Flames had enveloped the whole house with
appalling swiftness, and now the great mass was etched against the shadowed
sky, a crimson inferno. And above the holocaust hovered a gigantic black
shadow like a monstrous bat, and from its dark clutch dangled a small white
thing, like the body of a man, dangling limply. Then, even as we cried out in
horror, it was gone and our dazed gaze met only the shuddering walls and
blazing roof which crumpled into the flames with an earth-shaking