Robert Abernathy.

The Record of Currupira online

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This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe, January 1954.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.




_This story contains what is, to us, at any rate, a novel
idea - that when we of Earth finally reach Mars we may find
there records of prehistoric Earth far surpassing those of our
paleontologists. Or, in other words, that creatures of Mars
may have visited this planet tens of thousands of years ago
and returned home with specimens for their science. A nice
idea well told._




THE RECORD OF CURRUPIRA

_by ... Robert Abernathy_


From ancient Martian records came the grim song of a creature
whose very existence was long forgotten.


James Dalton strode briskly through the main exhibit room of New
York's Martian Museum, hardly glancing to right or left though many
displays had been added since his last visit. The rockets were coming
home regularly now and their most valuable cargoes - at least from a
scientist's point of view - were the relics of an alien civilization
brought to light by the archeologists excavating the great dead
cities.

One new exhibit did catch Dalton's eye. He paused to read the label
with interest -

MAN FROM MARS:

_The body here preserved was found December 12, 2001, by an
exploring party from the spaceship NEVADA, in the Martian
city which we designate E-3. It rested in a case much like
this, in a building that had evidently been the municipal
museum. Around it, in other cases likewise undisturbed since a
period estimated at fifty thousand years ago, were a number of
Earthly artifacts. These finds prove beyond doubt that a
Martian scientific expedition visited Earth before the dawn of
our history._

On the label someone had painstakingly copied the Martian glyphs found
on the mummy's original case. Dalton's eyes traced the looping
ornamental script - he was one of the very few men who had put in the
years of work necessary to read inscriptional Martian - and he smiled
appreciation of a jest that had taken fifty thousand years to
ripen - the writing said simply, _Man From Earth_.

The mummy lying on a sculptured catafalque beyond the glass was
amazingly well preserved - far more lifelike and immensely older than
anything Egypt had yielded. Long-dead Martian embalmers had done a
good job even on what to them was the corpse of an other-world
monster.

He had been a small wiry man. His skin was dark though its color might
have been affected by mummification. His features suggested those of
the Forest Indian. Beside him lay his flaked-stone ax, his
bone-pointed spear and spear thrower, likewise preserved by a
marvelous chemistry.

Looking down at that ancient nameless ancestor, Dalton was moved to
solemn thoughts. This creature had been first of all human-kind to
make the tremendous crossing to Mars - had seen its lost race in living
glory, had died there and became a museum exhibit for the multiple
eyes of wise grey spiderish aliens.

"Interested in Oswald, sir?"

Dalton glanced up and saw an attendant. "I was just thinking - if he
could only talk! He does have a name, then?"

The guard grinned. "Well, we call him Oswald. Sort of inconvenient,
not having a name. When I worked at the Metropolitan we used to call
all the Pharaohs and Assyrian kings by their first names."

Dalton mentally classified another example of the deep human need for
verbal handles to lift unwieldy chunks of environment. The
professional thought recalled him to business and he glanced at his
watch.

"I'm supposed to meet Dr. Oliver Thwaite here this morning. Has he
come in yet?"

"The archeologist? He's here early and late when he's on Earth. He'll
be up in the cataloguing department now. Want me to show you - "

"I know the way," said Dalton. "Thanks all the same." He left the
elevator at the fourth floor and impatiently pushed open the main
cataloguing room's glazed door.

Inside cabinets and broad tables bore a wilderness of strange
artifacts, many still crusted with red Martian sand. Alone in the room
a trim-mustached man in a rough open-throated shirt looked up from an
object he had been cleaning with a soft brush.

"Dr. Thwaite? I'm Jim Dalton."

"Glad to meet you, Professor." Thwaite carefully laid down his work,
then rose to grip the visitor's hand. "You didn't lose any time."

"After you called last night I managed to get a seat on the
dawn-rocket out of Chicago. I hope I'm not interrupting?"

"Not at all. I've got some assistants coming in around nine. I was
just going over some stuff I don't like to trust to their
thumb-fingered mercies."

Dalton looked down at the thing the archeologist had been brushing. It
was a reed syrinx, the Pan's pipes of antiquity. "That's not a very
Martian-looking specimen," he commented.

"The Martians, not having any lips, could hardly have had much use for
it," said Thwaite. "This is of Earthly manufacture - one of the
Martians' specimens from Earth, kept intact over all this time by a
preservative I wish we knew how to make. It's a nice find, man's
earliest known musical instrument - hardly as interesting as the record
though."

Dalton's eyes brightened. "Have you listened to the record yet?"

"No. We got the machine working last night and ran off some of the
Martian stuff. Clear as a bell. But I saved the main attraction for
when you got here." Thwaite turned to a side door, fishing a key from
his pocket. "The playback machine's in here."

The apparatus, squatting on a sturdy table in the small room beyond,
had the slightly haywire look of an experimental model. But it was
little short of a miracle to those who knew how it had been built - on
the basis of radioed descriptions of the ruined device the excavators
had dug up on Mars.

Even more intriguing, however, was the row of neatly labeled boxes on
a shelf. There in cushioned nests reposed little cylinders of
age-tarnished metal, on which a close observer could still trace the
faint engraved lines and whorls of Martian script. These were the
best-preserved specimens yet found of Martian record films.

Sound and pictures were on them, impressed there by a triumphant
science so long ago that the code of Hammurabi or the hieroglyphs of
Khufu seemed by comparison like yesterday's newspaper. Men of Earth
were ready now to evoke these ancient voices - but to reproduce the
stereoscopic images was still beyond human technology.

Dalton scrutinized one label intently. "Odd," he said. "I realize how
much the Martian archives may have to offer us when we master their
spoken language - but I still want most to hear _this_ record, the one
the Martians made right here on Earth."

Thwaite nodded comprehendingly. "The human race is a good deal like an
amnesia patient that wakes up at the age of forty and finds himself
with a fairly prosperous business, a wife and children and a mortgage,
but no recollection of his youth or infancy - and nobody around to tell
him how he got where he is.

"We invented writing so doggone late in the game. Now we get to Mars
and find the people there knew us before we knew ourselves - but they
died or maybe picked up and went, leaving just this behind." He used
both hands to lift the precious gray cylinder from its box. "And of
course you linguists in particular get a big charge out of this
discovery."

"_If_ it's a record of human speech it'll be the oldest ever found. It
may do for comparative-historical linguistics what the Rosetta Stone
did for Egyptology." Dalton grinned boyishly. "Some of us even nurse
the hope it may do something for our old headache - the problem of the
origin of language. That was one of the most important, maybe _the_
most important step in human progress - and we don't know how or when
or why!"

"I've heard of the bowwow theory and the dingdong theory," said
Thwaite, his hands busy with the machine.

"Pure speculations. The plain fact is we haven't even been able to
make an informed guess because the evidence, the written records, only
run back about six thousand years. That racial amnesia you spoke of.

"Personally, I have a weakness for the magical theory - that man
invented language in the search for magic formulae, words of power.
Unlike the other theories, that one assumes as the motive force not
merely passive imitativeness but an outgoing will.

"Even the speechless subman must have observed that he could affect
the behavior of animals of his own and other species by making
appropriate noises - a mating call or a terrifying shout, for instance.
Hence the perennial conviction you can get what you want if you just
hold your mouth right, _and_ you know the proper prayers or curses."

"A logical conclusion from the animistic viewpoint," said Thwaite. He
frowned over the delicate task of starting the film, inquired
offhandedly, "You got the photostat of the label inscription? What did
you make of it?"

"Not much more than Henderson did on Mars. There's the date of the
recording and the place - the longitude doesn't mean anything to us
because we still don't know where the Martians fixed their zero
meridian. But it was near the equator and, the text indicates, in a
tropical forest - probably in Africa or South America.

"Then there's the sentence Henderson couldn't make out. It's obscure and
rather badly defaced, but it's evidently a comment - unfavorable - on
the subject-matter of the recording. In it appears twice a sort of
interjection-adverb that in other contexts implies revulsion - something
like _ugh_!"

"Funny. Looks like the Martians saw something on Earth they didn't
like. Too bad we can't reproduce the visual record yet."

Dalton said soberly, "The Martian's vocabulary indicates that for all
their physical difference from us they had emotions very much like
human beings'. Whatever they saw must have been something we wouldn't
have liked either."

The reproducer hummed softly. Thwaite closed the motor switch and the
ancient film slid smoothly from its casing. Out of the speaker burst a
strange medley of whirrings, clicks, chirps, trills and modulated
drones and buzzings - a sound like the voice of grasshoppers in a
drought-stricken field of summer.

Dalton listened raptly, as if by sheer concentration he might even now
be able to guess at connections between the sounds of spoken
Martian - heard now for the first time - and the written symbols that he
had been working over for years. But he couldn't, of course - that
would require a painstaking correlation analysis.

"Evidently it's an introduction or commentary," said the archeologist.
"Our photocell examination showed the wave-patterns of the initial and
final portions of the film were typically Martian - but the middle part
isn't. The middle part is whatever they recorded here on Earth."

"If only that last part is a translation...." said Dalton hopefully.
Then the alien susurration ceased coming from the reproducer and he
closed his mouth abruptly and leaned forward.

For the space of a caught breath there was silence. Then another voice
came in, the voice of Earth hundreds of centuries dead.

It was not human. No more than the first had been - but the Martian
sounds had been merely alien and these were horrible.

It was like nothing so much as the croaking of some gigantic frog,
risen bellowing from a bottomless primeval swamp. It bayed of stinking
sunless pools and gurgled of black ooze. And its booming notes
descended to subsonic throbbings that gripped and wrung the nerves to
anguish.

Dalton was involuntarily on his feet, clawing for the switch. But he
stopped, reeling. His head spun and he could not see. Through his
dizzy brain the great voice roared and the mighty tones below hearing
hammered at the inmost fortress of the man's will.

On the heels of that deafening assault the voice began to change. The
numbing thunder rumbled back, repeating the pain and the threat - but
underneath something crooned and wheedled obscenely. It said,
"_Come ... come ... come...._" And the stunned prey came on stumbling
feet, shivering with a terror that could not break the spell.

Where the squat black machine had been was something that was also
squat and black and huge. It crouched motionless and blind in the mud
and from its pulsing expanded throat vibrated the demonic croaking. As
the victim swayed helplessly nearer the mouth opened wide upon long
rows of frightful teeth....

The monstrous song stopped suddenly. Then still another voice cried
briefly, thinly in agony and despair. That voice was human.

Each of the two men looked into a white strange face. They were
standing on opposite sides of the table and between them the playback
machine had fallen silent. Then it began to whir again in the locust
speech of the Martian commentator, explaining rapidly, unintelligibly.

Thwaite found the switch with wooden fingers. As if with one accord
they retreated from the black machine. Neither of them even tried to
make a false show of self-possession. Each knew, from his first
glimpse of the other's dilated staring eyes, that both had experienced
and seen the same.

Dalton sank shivering into a chair, the darkness still swirling
threateningly in his brain. Presently he said, "The expression of a
will - that much was true. But the will - was not of man."

* * * * *

James Dalton took a vacation. After a few days he went to a
psychiatrist, who observed the usual symptoms of overwork and worry
and recommended a change of scene - a rest in the country.

On the first night at a friend's secluded farm Dalton awoke drenched
in cold sweat. Through the open window from not far away came a
hellish serenade, the noise of frogs - the high nervous voices of
peepers punctuating the deep leisured booming of bullfrogs.

The linguist flung on his clothes and drove back at reckless speed to
where there were lights and the noises of men and their machines. He
spent the rest of his vacation burrowing under the clamor of the city
whose steel and pavements proclaimed man's victory over the very grass
that grew.

After awhile he felt better and needed work again. He took up his
planned study of the Martian recordings, correlating the spoken words
with the written ones he had already arduously learned to read.

The Martian Museum readily lent him the recordings he requested for
use in his work, including the one made on Earth. He studied the
Martian-language portion of this and succeeded in making a partial
translation - but carefully refrained from playing the middle section
of the film back again.

Came a day, though, when it occurred to him that he had heard not a
word from Thwaite. He made inquiries through the Museum and learned
that the archeologist had applied for a leave of absence and left
before it was granted. Gone where? The Museum people didn't know - but
Thwaite had not been trying to cover his trail. A call to Global Air
Transport brought the desired information.

A premonition ran up Dalton's spine - but he was surprised at how
calmly he thought and acted. He picked up the phone and called
Transport again - this time their booking department.

"When's the earliest time I can get passage to Belem?" he asked.

With no more than an hour to pack and catch the rocket he hurried to
the Museum. The place was more or less populated with sightseers,
which was annoying, because Dalton's plans now included larceny.

He waited before the building till the coast was clear, then, with
handkerchief-wrapped knuckles, broke the glass and tripped the lever
on the fire alarm. In minutes a wail of sirens and roar of arriving
motors was satisfyingly loud in the main exhibit room. Police and fire
department helicopters buzzed overhead. A wave of mingled fright and
curiosity swept visitors and attendants alike to the doors.

Dalton, lingering, found himself watched only by the millennially
sightless eyes of the man who lay in state in an airless glass tomb.
The stern face was inscrutable behind the silence of many thousand
years.

"Excuse me, Oswald," murmured Dalton. "I'd like to borrow something of
yours but I'm sure you won't mind."

The reed flute was in a long case devoted to Earthly specimens.
Unhesitatingly Dalton smashed the glass.

* * * * *

Brazil is a vast country, and it cost much trouble and time and
expense before Dalton caught up with Thwaite in a forlorn riverbank
town along the line where civilization hesitates on the shore of that
vast sea of vegetation called the _mato_. Night had just fallen when
Dalton arrived. He found Thwaite alone in a lighted room of the single
drab hotel - alone and very busy.

The archeologist was shaggily unshaven. He looked up and said
something that might have been a greeting devoid of surprise. Dalton
grimaced apologetically, set down his suitcase and pried the wax plugs
out of his ears, explaining with a gesture that included the world
outside, where the tree frogs sang deafeningly in the hot stirring
darkness of the near forest.

"How do you stand it?" he asked.

Thwaite's lips drew back from his teeth. "I'm fighting it," he said
shortly, picking up his work again. On the bed where he sat were
scattered steel cartridge clips. He was going through them with a
small file, carefully cutting a deep cross in the soft nose of every
bullet. Nearby a heavy-caliber rifle leaned against a wardrobe. Other
things were in evidence - boots, canteens, knapsacks, the tough
clothing a man needs in the _mato_.

"You're looking for _it_."

Thwaite's eyes burned feverishly. "Yes. Do you think I'm crazy?"

* * * * *

Dalton pulled a rickety chair toward him and sat down straddling it.
"I don't know," he said slowly. "_It_ was very likely a creature of
the last interglacial period. The ice may have finished its kind."

"The ice never touched these equatorial forests." Thwaite smiled
unpleasantly. "And the Indians and old settlers down here have
stories - about a thing that calls in the _mato_, that can paralyze a
man with fear. _Currupira_ is their name for it.

"When I remembered those stories they fell into place alongside a lot
of others from different countries and times - the Sirens, for
instance, and the Lorelei. Those legends are ancient. But perhaps here
in the Amazon basin, in the forests that have never been cut and the
swamps that have never been drained, the _currupira_ is still real and
alive. I _hope_ so!"

"Why?"

"I want to meet it. I want to show it that men can destroy it with all
its unholy power." Thwaite bore down viciously on the file and the
bright flakes of lead glittered to the floor beside his feet.

Dalton watched him with eyes of compassion. He heard the frog music
swelling outside, a harrowing reminder of ultimate blasphemous insult,
and he felt the futility of argument.

"Remember, I heard it too," Dalton said. "And I sensed what you did.
That voice or some combination of frequencies or overtones within it,
is resonant to the essence of evil - the fundamental life-hating
self-destroying evil in man - even to have glimpsed it, to have heard
the brainless beast mocking, was an outrage to humanity that a man
must...."

Dalton paused, got a grip on himself. "But, consider - the outrage was
wiped out, humanity won its victory over the monster a long time ago.
What if it isn't quite extinct? That record was fifty thousand years
old."

"What did you do with the record?" Thwaite looked up sharply.

"I obliterated that - the voice and the pictures that went with it from
the film before I returned it to the Museum."

Thwaite sighed deeply. "Good. I was damning myself for not doing that
before I left."

The linguist said, "I think it answered my question as much as I want
it answered. The origin of speech - lies in the will to power, the lust
to dominate other men by preying on the weakness or evil in them.

"Those first men didn't just guess that such power existed - they
_knew_ because the beast had taught them and they tried to imitate
it - the mystagogues and tyrants through the ages, with voices, with
tomtoms and bull-roarers and trumpets. What makes the memory of that
voice so hard to live with is just knowing that what it called to is a
part of man - isn't that it?"

Thwaite didn't answer. He had taken the heavy rifle across his knees
and was methodically testing the movement of the well-oiled breech
mechanism.

Dalton stood up wearily and picked up his suitcase. "I'll check into
the hotel. Suppose we talk this over some more in the morning. Maybe
things'll look different by daylight."

But in the morning Thwaite was gone - upriver with a hired boatman,
said the natives. The note he had left said only, _Sorry. But it's no
use talking about humanity - this is personal._

Dalton crushed the note angrily, muttering under his breath, "The
fool! Didn't he realize I'd go with him?" He hurled the crumpled paper
aside and stalked out to look for a guide.

* * * * *

They chugged slowly westward up the forest-walled river, an obscure
tributary that flowed somewhere into the Xingú. After four days, they
had hopes of being close on the others' track. The brown-faced guide,
Joao, who held the tiller now, was a magician. He had conjured up an
ancient outboard motor for the scow-like boat Dalton had bought from a
fisherman.

The sun was setting murkily and the sluggish swell of the water ahead
was the color of witch's blood. Under its opaque surface _a mae
dágua_, the Mother of Water, ruled over creatures slimy and
razor-toothed. In the blackness beneath the great trees, where it was
dark even at noon, other beings had their kingdom.

Out of the forest came the crying grunting hooting voices of its life
that woke at nightfall, fiercer and more feverish than that of the
daytime. To the man from the north there seemed something indecent in
the fertile febrile swarming of life here. Compared to a temperate
woodland the _mato_ was like a metropolis against a sleepy village.

"What's that?" Dalton demanded sharply as a particularly hideous
squawk floated across the water.

"_Nao é nada. A bicharia agitase._" Joao shrugged. "The menagerie
agitates itself." His manner indicated that some _bichinho_ beneath
notice had made the noise.

But moments later the little brown man became rigid. He half rose to
his feet in the boat's stern, then stooped and shut off the popping
motor. In the relative silence the other heard what he had - far off
and indistinct, muttering deep in the black _mato_, a voice that
croaked of ravenous hunger in accents abominably known to him.

"_Currupira_," said Joao tensely. "_Currupira sai á caçada da noite._"
He watched the foreigner with eyes that gleamed in the fading light
like polished onyx.

"_Avante!_" snapped Dalton. "See if it comes closer to the river this
time."

It was not the first time they had heard that voice calling since they
had ventured deep into the unpeopled swampland about which the
downriver settlements had fearful stories to whisper.

Silently the guide spun the engine. The boat sputtered on. Dalton
strained his eyes, watching the darkening shore as he had watched
fruitlessly for so many miles.

But now, as they rounded a gentle bend, he glimpsed a small reddish
spark near the bank. Then, by the last glimmer of the swiftly fading
twilight, he made out a boat pulled up under gnarled tree-roots. That
was all he could see but the movement of the red spark told him a man
was sitting in the boat, smoking a cigarette.

"In there," he ordered in a low voice but Joao had seen already and
was steering toward the shore.

The cigarette arched into the water and hissed out and they heard a
scuffling and lap of water as the other boat swayed, which meant that
the man in it had stood up.

He sprang into visibility as a flashlight in Dalton's hand went on. A
squat, swarthy man with rugged features, a _caboclo_, of white and
Indian blood. He blinked expressionlessly at the light.

"Where is the American scientist?" demanded Dalton in Portuguese.

"_Quem sabe? Foi-se._"

"Which way did he go?"

"_Nao importa. O doutor é doido; nao ha-de-voltar_," said the man
suddenly. "It doesn't matter. The doctor is crazy - he won't come
back."

"Answer me, damn it! Which way?"

The _caboclo_ jerked his shoulders nervously and pointed.

"Come on!" said Dalton and scrambled ashore even as Joao was stopping


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Online LibraryRobert AbernathyThe Record of Currupira → online text (page 1 of 2)