The Face that Stared Back at Blaisdell

by Edwin Carty Ranck

Black Mask | Aug. 1920 | Vol 1, No. 5

The statements given here were contained in a carefully written paper in Blaisdell's handwriting, that was found in Blaisdell's desk by Dr. Hamilton several days after the man's death.

Table of Contents

These are the facts in Blaisdell's queer case, taken from a communication addressed to his best friend, Dr. Maynard Hamilton. Dr. Hamilton vouchsafes no explanation, nor do I.

Indeed, there are phenomena in this old world that cannot be explained, as Hamlet pointed out to Horatio in a much-quoted speech.

The statements given here were contained in a carefully written paper in Blaisdell's handwriting, that was found in Blaisdell's desk by Dr. Hamilton several days after the man's death. From this paper he has pieced together the extraordinary narrative that follows:

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Chapter 1

The Nightmare

Blaisdell thinks it must have been shortly after midnight that he fell asleep. Horrible nightmares racked him as he tossed upon his bed and one of them was so frightful that he woke up with a scream — or thought he did. At any rate, he suddenly found himself in the centre of his bedchamber, dressing with feverish haste. And here is the queer part of the narrative: for he affirms that, while he was dressing, another man lay in his bed — an exact counterpart of himself. This other ego lay quietly asleep, his head on his arm. Blaisdell studied him carefully and said he felt as a locust must feel when he looks at his outworn shell.

All the time he was dressing, Blaisdell says he seemed to be impelled to haste by queer promptings that were as insistent as if some person were at his elbow saying "Hurry! Hurry!" He finished his dressing in mad excitement and then hurried out of the room, casting a backward glance over his shoulder at his sleeping counterpart.

Once outside his apartment house in Gramercy Park, Blaisdell hurried along, his persistent mentor seeming to walk at his elbow. A puzzling feature of this nocturnal prowl was that he felt a sense of familiarity, a feeling that he was on his way to keep an appointment that could not be postponed. The streets were deserted except for an occasional prowler or a patrolman who made the night echo with sharp blows from his club as he struck a metal post occasionally to remind the unlawful that the law was abroad.

On, on, hurried Blaisdell! By this time he had lost all sense of location, but he was aware that he was in a downtown section of New York — a section that he had never visited during his waking moments. But, although he knew that he had never been in this neighborhood during his conscious moments, he felt that he was on familiar territory.

Finally he paused in front of an old, three-story, brownstone front residence in Washington Square — paused with the air of one who has reached his destination. He walked up the steps and let himself into the house with a pass-key. Nor did it seem strange to him that he had a pass-key for a house that he had never visited during his waking moments. It all seemed ordinary and commonplace.

Blaisdell quietly mounted the stairs until he reached the second floor and there he paused before a closed door, overcome by a suffocating sense of fear and repugnance. He half turned away and then retraced his steps as if fascinated. Something seemed to warn him away from that ominous door, behind which lay a mystery that the everyday Blaisdell, millionaire and bon vivant, did not care to penetrate, but which this nocturnal, prowling Blaisdell seemed to insist upon. Then, without any conscious volition on his part, Blaisdell placed his hand on the knob and the door opened noiselessly.

He found himself in a large, square living-room, tastefully furnished and lined with built-in bookcases full of handsomely bound volumes. Everywhere he looked, he saw bizarre weapons of defense and men in Chinese and Japanese armor looked threateningly at him from dim corners of the room. It was either the apartment of an art connoisseur or a globe-trotter with a propensity for the unusual.

From this room he stepped into a bedchamber and then started back with a little gasp. It was a luxuriously furnished room that appeared to have been transplanted by Aladdin's wonderful lamp straight from the perfume-scented Orient. Blaisdell advanced further into the room and his feet sank into a wonderful, moss-like carpet. To one side of the room was an old-fashioned four-poster bed, topped by a crimson canopy. In the exact centre of this bed lay a man asleep, with his mouth open.

There was something strangely familiar about the sleeper, and Blaisdell drew closer and gazed at him steadily. He was an oldish man with a sallow complexion and a wisp of a beard that was slightly tinged with grey. The ghost of a smile lingered upon his lips — a cruel smile that sleep could not make gentle nor mirthful.

And as he gazed upon the sleeper, rage grew in Blaisdell's heart, a rage so furious that it almost suffocated him. Without a moment's hesitation he seized the sleeper by the throat and began throttling him. The man struggled furiously. His eyes popped open and gazed up into Blaisdell's with a look of freezing despair. A slight froth gathered upon his purpling lips and he squirmed and writhed like a snake in Blaisdell's unrelenting grasp. God how he struggled!

Blaisdell's fingers sank into the throat as if it were satin, and then, suddenly, there were no more struggles. The body fell back inertly as the steel-like fingers relaxed. Blaisdell pulled the bedclothes over the mask of horror and stole quietly from the room. He felt that his errand had been accomplished.

As he went back over the route that he had just pursued, he felt again that weird sense of unfamiliarity that had at first possessed him, and this feeling of strangeness increased as he neared his own apartment house. He walked in and hurried past the sleeping hall-boy without waking him. Once inside his apartment, he rushed into the bedroom, but his counterpart was gone.

Blaisdell undressed with trembling fingers, but his head had scarcely touched the pillow before he was sound asleep.

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Chapter 2

The Grip of The Nightmare

A shaft of sunlight fell across Blaisdell's face and he awoke with a shudder.

"Ugh! What a horrible nightmare!" he said aloud. "I feel as if I actually did kill that man!"

Then he yawned and rang for his valet. After a casual breakfast he was glancing through the newspaper when he received the shock that changed him from a careless clubman into a nervous wreck.


That was the headline he read. And then followed an account of the crime. A private policeman, while going his rounds, had found the front door of an old brownstone residence open and had investigated. On the second floor he had found another door ajar and, going in, had found a man lying in a queer bed that was overhung by a red canopy. He was about to steal quietly out, when something in the huddled attitude of the sleeper attracted his attention and he then discovered that the man had been strangled, the marks of fingers being plainly visible upon his throat. The police investigation had established the fact that the man's name was Stephen R. Rollins, a famous traveller and authority on spiritualism. He had lived for years in the Orient and a monograph of his on occult phenomena had attracted much attention in scientific circles.

"My God!" said Blaisdell, as the paper fell from his trembling hands. "My God! Did I go to that man's apartment while I was in the grip of that nightmare and murder him? Did I?"

These questions nearly drove him frantic. What should he do ? What course of action was there for him to pursue? If he went to the police and told them that he, Herman Blaisdell, descendant of a fine old New York family, had gone forth into the night and killed a man he had never seen before — in his sleep — what would they think of him? They would probably shrug their shoulders and advise him to consult an alienist.

And yet this man, this Stephen R. Rollins, was dead, and his description and that of his apartment coincided in every detail with the place that Blaisdell had visited in his dream. But was it a dream ? And who was the other man that lay in his bed as he went out? These questions revolved in his mind like a vicious circle, almost driving him insane.

Blaisdell aged after that. He looked ten years older and his friends were alarmed about him. Dr. Hamilton advised a change of environment and rigorous physical exercise, otherwise he would not be responsible for the consequences. The man jumped at every sound and had a mortal terror of the night. He would put off going to bed until the latest possible moment and then always slept with a light in his room. Sometimes his valet would come quavering to his bedside in the night, frightened out of his wits by frightful screams from Blaisdell.

"I didn't do it! I didn't do it! I couldn't have done it!" he would scream, his eyes staring! "The thing is impossible! The thing is impossible!"

When these spells were upon him he would shake and it would finally be necessary for his valet to give him a sleeping powder. These things became noised abroad and he resigned from his clubs, went nowhere and declined all invitations. He was a broken man!

"A hopeless hypochondriac! Just a morbid victim of nerves — or drink," said his friends — and dropped him.

Things went on like this for months, and then one day Blaisdell read another item in a newspaper that dumfounded him. It detailed the arrest of a man named Franklin Sears, who was charged with the murder of Stephen R. Rollins.

"But he couldn't have murdered him! I murdered him — murdered him in my sleep," mumbled Blaisdell.

That afternoon one of the sensational newspapers published a picture of Franklin Sears — and Blaisdell cried aloud in new fright.

His valet found him with the newspaper in his hand, mouthing and trembling — his nerves vibrating like a taut piano wire.

For the face that stared back at Blaisdell from the front page was his own face. Yet Franklin Sears' name was under it!

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Chapter 3

The Hour Of Three O'clock

Later Sears confessed to the murder. He told the police that he and Rollins had been chums and college mates. Rollins had fallen madly in love with Sears' beautiful sister and had persuaded her to go away with him under promise of marriage. They had gone to South America, where Rollins had amassed a fortune, and had then visited the Orient. She begged Rollins to make her his wife but he refused and finally deserted her.

A serious illness followed and she sent for her brother, who promised her that he would not rest until her betrayer had been brought to book. She died, assured that he would avenge her. And he had kept his word, although he had to trail Rollins all over the world before he finally ran him down in Washington Square.

Blaisdell followed the developments in the Sears case with absorbed attention. He read the newspapers feverishly and finally decided that he could stand the suspense no longer. He determined to go to the Tombs, confront his counterpart and tell him the story of the nightmare. Surely there was an explanation of it all. There must be an explanation. He had decided to visit Sears the next day, when the last queer thing happened in the tragic series of happenings.

On the morning of Blaisdell's intended visit, Dr. Hamilton read in his morning paper that Franklin Sears, the murderer of Stephen R. Rollins, had committed suicide in the Tombs by hanging himself to one of the bars by his suspenders.

The paper commented upon the somewhat unusual fact that the prisoner's watch was found on his body and that it had stopped at three o'clock. It was just a few minutes past three when the body was discovered — still warm.

Dr. Hamilton had scarcely finished reading this account when his telephone bell rang. The excited voice of Blaisdell's valet asked him to come at once to his master's apartment, as something terrible had happened.

He responded at once, and when he was ushered into Blaisdell's bedroom by the white-faced valet, he saw at once that he could do nothing further for his friend. Blaisdell was dead, and it was very evident from the stiffness of his body that he had been dead for many hours.

"It ain't his bein' dead that's so terrible," said the trembling valet. "It's — it's — well, look there!"

He pointed to the throat of the dead man. There was the distinct mark of a rope upon it and this mark extended clear around his neck.

"He — he couldn't have hung himself," quavered the valet, "because I was the first person who saw him — and there ain't any rope!"

Some unaccountable impulse made Dr. Hamilton pick up Blaisdell's watch from the dresser.

It had stopped running, the hands recording the hour of three o'clock.

~ The End ~

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