Astounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930 online

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following her, found lying on the uneven earth floor within, a
half-skinned animal which resembled a small antelope. An obsidion knife
beside the carcass, the disordered condition of a couch of grass, the
sour odor of recent animal occupancy, all told their story.

"The owner left in a hurry," Kirby observed aloud.

Nini, who had gone beyond, to a larger hut which might have belonged to
a king ape, called out excitedly to them.

"A great number of apes have eaten a hurried meal here!"

* * * * *

Kirby entered the shadowed, foul-smelling interior of the central hut to
find her statement true. Broken meats, some raw, some cooked, lay on the
dirt floor, and scattered bits of fruit were mingled with them. The
ashes of a burned out fire at the hut entrance were cold, but had not
been for long.

"Do you think - " Ivana began.

"I think the whole of the Duca's horde came this way, fed, and went on,
taking everyone with them," Kirby finished.

"But which direction did they take?" asked Nini, who was standing at the
door of the big hut and had already begun to examine the crowding,
green, inscrutable walls of jungle which foamed up to the clearing on
all sides.

No less than seven trails wound away into the dark country beyond, and
Kirby saw that the question would not be an easy one.

Having hastily circled the clearing and peered down one trail after
another without finding a clue, he knew that it was the Duca's
intelligence which had made the ape-people depart without leaving even
tracks behind them. He did not like the situation.

"Well," he rumbled to his companions, "we may as well take our choice.
One chance in seven of coming out right!"

But the words were hardly out of his mouth before he pulled himself up
with a jerk, and cursed himself for having given in.

"Ivana! Nini!" Sharpness, a sudden ring of hope edged his voice. "Am I
seeing things, or is that - "

* * * * *

As he pointed to a huge aloe bush down one of the trails to their left,
they started to run. Then Kirby knew that he was not seeing things. What
his first inspection of the trails had failed to show, he saw plainly

Tied loosely to one branch of the aloe bush, almost concealed amidst the
deep green of foliage, was a bit of white cloth! In a second Kirby was
holding out to his companions a tiny strip of Naida's wedding gown.

"She knew we would come!" He stared down the trail with narrowed, keen

How Naida had contrived to leave her signal was more than they knew. The
fact that she _had_ done so, sent all three of them down the trail at
driving speed.

An hour passed, then another, and the morning which had been barely born
when they first took the trail, wore on to the sultriness and vast,
colored light of a tropical noon. Twice the main trail forked, and twice
they found an unobtrusive bit of cloth to guide them beyond the works.
When the hands of Kirby's still useful watch pointed to twelve, they
paused to eat and rest. Then they pushed on.

Meanwhile, the country through which they passed left Kirby with a clear
understanding of why Naida and her people had shunned the Rorroh forest
down the centuries of time.

Just one thing which stuck in his head was the sight of a small creature
like a marmoset, sticking an inquisitive nose into the heart of a
sickly-sweet plant which resembled a terrestrial nepenthe. No sooner had
the little pink snout touched the green and maroon splotched petals,
than the plant writhed, closed its leaves, and swallowed the monkey
whole. Little squeaks of agony and terror sounded for a moment, and

* * * * *

At midafternoon they paused in a spot where a forest of trees with
whorled tops were slowly being strangled to death by immense orchids of
every conceivable shape and color, and by a kind of creeping mistletoe
which grew almost as they watched. Here also, the ground was covered
with fluffy, grey-green moss which seethed constantly as if it were a
carpet of maggots. Both Ivana and Nini warned Kirby on his life not to
touch or go near the moss, and a moment later he knew why.

From the forest came the flash of a small, five-toed horse being pursued
by some animal with a hyena head that barked. At the edge of the mossy
glade the hyena swerved aside, but the terrified horse plunged straight
out on the carpet of moss. Instantly the air was filled with the sound
of animal screams, and a series of tiny, muffled explosions. A cloud of
greenish-red mist swirled about the horse. Quivering, still screaming,
the animal went down on its knees, and as the reddish green smoke fell
on him and settled, it became a mass of growing moss spores.

Before Kirby's eyes, the pitiful animal was covered by a shroud of green
that spread over him and cloaked him, licking over all with tiny sounds
like far off muffled drums as fresh spore cases developed and burst. The
screams died. Even as Kirby drew the girls to him and they passed on,
the horse's nostrils, eyes, mouth were filled with choking green moss;
and he lay still.

* * * * *

On and on, deeper into the jungle Kirby pushed, and never for a moment
did his companions falter. But the way was not so easy now, for nerves
were jaded, muscles sore, and no human will could have been powerful
enough to cast aside the growing fear for Naida.

Fear came finally to a head when, toward dusk, Kirby sighted a fork
ahead of them, approached it confidently to look for Naida's sign, and
found nothing.

"Oh Lord!" he muttered, and realized that it was the first time any of
them had spoken for long.

"There must be something to guide us!" Ivana exclaimed as she searched
with questing eyes through the swiftly deepening gloom of evening.

Nini, making an effort to keep up hope in spite of the paleness which
came to her lovely face, darted down both paths, glancing as she went at
every bush and shrub. But she returned in a moment, and as she shook
her head, her great eyes were somber.

Kirby grunted, scratched behind his ear. Then, however, he stifled an
exclamation, and clutched at the hands of both girls.

On one of the two trails appeared suddenly in the dusk an ape-creature.
Kirby saw at once that the thing was small - a female undoubtedly - and
that it had spied them and was moving toward them with all speed. And
borne in upon him most certainly was the fact that the ape-woman was
making signals of peace. In her outstretched hand flickered through the
gloom a strip of cloth that was gauzy and white.

Again - a strip of Naida's gown.

"If you know any words of her tongue, call to her," Kirby said sharply.

* * * * *

Ivana obeyed. All three of them started forward. The ape-woman, after
returning the hail in creaking gutturals, came up to them, and with an
unexpected look of pathos and entreaty in her face, began to address the
girls with a flood of talk.

Word after creaking word she poured out while Nini and Ivana listened in
silence. Finally Kirby could stand the suspense no longer.

"What is it, Ivana? What does she say? Your eyes are lighting up with
hope! Tell me - "

Ivana smiled and turned toward him, while the ape-woman still looked her

"She says," Ivana announced bluntly, "that she and the other women
amongst their people, do not want any of the girls of our race to be
taken by their males. Already the men are quarreling about Naida. They
will not look at their own women. Naida told this woman that we would be
following, and sent her to lead us to the place where the ape-people are

Kirby felt his lips tightening in a grim smile at the thought that
jealousy was not unknown even to the semi-human creatures of this
neither world. He looked at Nini and Ivana during a stretched out
second. Then he moved.

"Good," he snapped. "We go on at once."

That was his only recognition of what was surely one of the important
happenings of a lifetime. But for all that, his tired brain, which so
lately had felt the chill of black depression, was suddenly set on fire
with triumph and thanksgiving.


As they marched rapidly, the ape-woman, who called herself Gori,
succeeded in making them understand that most of the ape-tribes,
commanded by the Duca and his caciques, were assembled in the central
community toward which they were heading, that grave danger of some sort
threatened Naida, and that the need for haste was great. But what the
danger was, the two girls could not understand.

"We can't make out what is going to happen - what they plan to do
to-night," Ivana whispered at last to Kirby. "All Gori says is that we
must rescue Naida and take her away, and must take the Duca away so that
he cannot influence the men any more. And she keeps repeating that we
must hurry."

"And you can't find out what we must rescue Naida _from_?"

Ivana shook her head.

"I'm afraid we're facing something of an appalling nature, as dangerous
to ourselves as to Naida. But I know nothing more."

By the time the silver glow which corresponded to moonlight flooded the
jungle, Gori had left the open trail, and was leading them across
country which humans could not have negotiated without the guidance she
offered. Advancing cautiously always, she stopped for long seconds at a
time to reconnoitre, shifting her huge ears about and changing their
shape, twitching her nostrils, and glancing hither and thither with
bright little eyes. Sometimes they passed immense spike-tipped flowers
ten feet in diameter, with fleshy yellow leaves which gave out a
nauseating stench. Vines with long, recurved thorns and blossoms of deep
scarlet, laced the undergrowth together and made passing dangerous.
Fire-flies drifted past, and all above and about them flapped moths as
big as bats.

Kirby, his clothes almost torn from his body, sweat pouring from every
pore, heard the labored breathing of the girls, and wondered how they
could hang on. But they did, and after a long time, Gori, halting in the
midst of a slight clearing, held up a warning hand.

* * * * *

A queer sensation came over Kirby. As he stared and listened, he
realized that the twinkles he saw far ahead were not fire-flies, as he
had thought, but lights. In the frosted moon glow, Nini and Ivana drew
close, and Kirby clasped their hands and pressed them for a second. Too
tired to exult further he was, even though they seemed close to their
goal of goals.

Gori swung her hairy arm in a signal, and with rifles clasped carefully,
they began to advance. When, five minutes later, they stood in the heart
of a rank glade beyond which they could see nothing, Gori spoke to the
two girls in her creaking whisper, and Nini laid a restraining hand on

"We have gone as far as Gori dares! She says we must climb a tree here,
and watch what will go on in a clearing just beyond this thicket."

"And we still don't know what we're getting into," Kirby muttered.

But at any rate they had reached the end of their march.

Exultation did come to Kirby now, but still he was too completely
fagged, as were both girls, to give much sign. Gori pointed to a tree
some fifty feet away, which shot up to a great, foliage-crowned height.
They moved toward it, and in a moment were climbing, Gori first, the
girls after her, and Kirby last.

"Here we are," Ivana presently whispered, at the same time drawing
herself out on a limb just beneath one on which Gori and Nini had

Kirby found himself hedged in by tasselated leaves through which he
could not see. The foliage thinned, however, and soon Ivana halted,
perched herself in a comfortable position. Kirby, making himself at ease
beside her, and seeing that Nini and Gori were in place, turned his eyes
slowly, expectantly downward.

* * * * *

At first, all that he saw from his bird's-eye perch, was a circular
clearing two hundred yards across, which was surrounded on all sides by
lowering jungle. In the exact center of the circle, like a splotch of
ink on gray paper, there gaped a deep hole which might have measured six
feet in diameter. Around this hole, eight poles as tall and stout as
telephone poles stood up in bristling array. The moonlight showed that
the whitish earth of the clearing was tamped smooth as though thousands
of creatures had danced or walked about there for centuries. But not a
living form was visible.

A grunt of disappointment escaped Kirby after that one look. When he
looked beyond the clearing, however, a change came to his feelings.

A quarter of a mile away, lights were twinkling - the same ones which had
been visible on the last stretch of the journey. And the moonlight
touched the little conical roofs of fully two hundred huts of the
ape-people. No sound was audible save the soughing of night wind in the
trees, the shrilling of insects. Nevertheless, there stole over Kirby
all at once a feeling that the great ape-village was crowded to
overflowing. What was more, he felt himself touched by an eery
sensation - familiar these days - of evil to come.

Ivana, seated with her rifle across her knees, stirred on the limb
beside him.

"Oh," she whispered suddenly, "I am afraid of this place!"

Kirby took her hand.

"I know. Maybe it is the sensation of all the legions of the apes herded
together so silently in their village. I wish we knew what to expect
from them. I wish - "

* * * * *

But he broke off, and called softly to Nini on the limb above. She
looked down with a drawn expression about her mouth.

"Are you all right?" Kirby whispered.

"Yes. But - Well, are both of _you_ all right? Gori says we have reached
here in time, but I - " A gasp of uneasiness escaped her, and Kirby heard
Ivana echo it. "There is something about that black, silent hole out
there in the clearing, and about those poles sticking up like fangs,
that makes me terribly, terribly afraid. Oh, what are they planning?
Where is Naida? What are they going to do to her?"

Kirby whistled in a low key. He had not thought about the black hole in
the clearing.

"Hum," he muttered, "that's interesting. Ivana, Nini, what do you
suppose - "

But he got no answer. Gori's twitching lips grimaced them to silence.

The next instant, the stillness of the night was hurled aside by a
howling, gurgling shout from a hundred, a thousand hysterically
distended ape throats. With the sickening sound came from the village
the sullen roaring of drums.

* * * * *

Ten minutes later, a Kirby who was cold with apprehension and wonder
looked down from his leaf-crowned height at such a spectacle as he knew
human eyes had never before seen. The shouting had died away, the drums
were silenced. Crammed into the clearing, their foul, hairy bodies
packed close together, the silver light glinting against rolling red
eyes and grinning white teeth, stood fully a thousand apes!

Once the first tumult of shouting in the village had died, they had come
on in silence, and in orderly procession. Those who bore the
drums - huge gourds with heads of stretched skin - had formed a line
entirely around the outer diameter of the circular clearing. Then
others, lugging vats of a dark, heady-smelling liquor, had deposited
their burden beside the drums, and formed a second circle. The balance
of the thousand had crowded itself together as best it might, leaving
bare the center of the clearing with its black hole and fangs of poles.
Kirby, looking down at these legions, did not wonder that cold sweat
wetted his back.

Capable of thinking about only one thing - Naida - he was trying with all
his strength not to think. Ivana, her face blanched in the light which
filtered their camouflage of leaves, sat rigid, her hands locked about
her cold rifle. On the branch above, Nini and Gori were as still as
mummies. No one had spoken since the vanguard of apes had appeared.

But at last Nini leaned close to Kirby.

"Have you any idea of what all this means?"

A draught of hot night air carried up a stench of drunkenness, and the
goaty odor of massed animal bodies.

"No," Kirby whispered. "I suppose, from Gori's having brought us here,
that Naida is going to appear somehow. We've simply got to trust that
Gori knows what she is about."

"But listen - " Ivana suppressed a shudder. "Suppose they should bring
Naida here presently to force her to take part in some ceremony at which
we can only guess. Gori, who thinks we can work miracles, supposes we
can rescue Naida. But I - I'm not so certain. Is there _anything_ we can

* * * * *

It was exactly that question which had made Kirby fight to keep himself
from thinking. His face turned gray before he answered. But answer he
did, finally.

"Yes, there is one thing we can do, Ivana. We've got to be frank with
each other, and so far, this is the _only_ thing I've been able to
figure out. If Naida is brought here, and they make any move to harm her
or torture her, we can, and we will, shoot her quickly, before harm or
pain comes."

A grim silence settled once more. During the last miles of march in the
jungle, there had persisted in Kirby's heart the hope that there would
be at least _something_ favorable in whatever situation they might
encounter. His spirits were so low now that he dared not speak again.

Amongst the noiseless sea of ape-men below them came, every now and
again, a little ripple of motion as some anthropoid shadow fell out of
his place, approached the liquor vats, and swilled down the black brew,
a quart at a gulp. But mostly there was little commotion. Ivana drew a
sibilant breath and said that she wished something would happen.

"I wish," Kirby answered tensely, "that we knew _what_ is going to

But the nightmare waiting was not to go on forever. Kirby leaned forward
and pointed.

It was only instinct that had made him know action must come. For a
second, no change in the expression of the ape-men, no movement in their
crammed ranks, was visible. Then, however, a queer, subdued grunting
rumbled deep down in many throats, and those who had faced the
hundred-foot space in the center of the clearing squatted down on their

In the back of the crowd necks were craned. The stronger shoved the
weaker in an effort to get a better view of the cleared stage, and a few
ape-men who had been drinking hurried on unsteady legs to their places.

"The drums!" Kirby whispered then.

* * * * *

With almost military precision, the scores of leather-faced creatures
who had led the procession into the clearing, clasped the skin-headed
gourds to their shaggy bellies, and stood with free arm raised as
though awaiting a signal. Nini moved in her position, and Kirby felt
Ivana shiver and edge close to him.

From the front rank of the crowd, there sprang up a great male creature
with the face of a gargoyle and the body of a jungle giant. Just once he
reeled on his feet, as though black alcohol had befuddled him, then he
steadied himself, flung both arms above his head, and rolled out a
command which burst upon Kirby's ears like thunder.

It was as if the whole cavern of the lower world, and the whole of the
round earth itself, had been rocked uneasily, dreadfully by the
bellowing, crashing explosion of the drums. Maddened by the turmoil he
had let loose, the gargoyle-faced giant ape-man leered about him with
blood-shot, drunken eyes, and beat on his cicatrized chest with massive
fists. Suddenly he let out a bellow. Straight up into the air he sprang
in a wild leap. When he came down, he was dancing, and the portentious,
the sickeningly mysterious ceremony for which such solemn preparation
had been made, was begun.

Kirby drew a rasping breath. Knowing that there must be some definite
reason for the dance having begun just when and as it had, he looked
beyond the solitary dancing giant, on beyond the crowded legions of the
apes, toward the village. There, where the main trail from the community
approached the clearing, he saw precisely the thing which he had both
hoped desperately and dreaded terribly to find.

* * * * *

Headed directly toward the clearing, moving down the trail with slow,
majestic pace, came a procession headed by a bodyguard of ape-men and
augmented by other men whose nakedness was covered by unmistakable,
unforgetable priestly robes of gray.

All at once the ape-people in the clearing began to scuffle apart,
opening a lane down which the procession might pass to the central
stage with its dancer, its ink spot orifice, and its fangs of tall
poles. Kirby, watching the congregation, watching the majestic approach
of gray robes through the night, wiped away from his forehead a sweat of

"I think," Nini called in a voice pitched high to outsound the drums,
"that the - the Duca is with them!"

"Yes." Kirby pointed jerkily. "In the middle of the procession, there,
surrounded by his caciques!"

The Duca!

Yet his approach did not hold Kirby. Directly behind the priests were
emerging now from the jungle a new company of ape-men. Squinting his
eyes, Kirby saw that two of them were lugging on a pole across their
shoulders a curious burden - a sort of monstrous bird cage of barked
withes. Crouched on the floor of the cage in a little motionless, white
heap -

But Kirby closed his eyes. Ivana, cowering against him, gulped as though
she were going to be sick. Nini leaned down from above and looked at
them with dilated eyes. Although none of them spoke, all knew that they
had found Naida at last.

Kirby was the first to pull himself up. Opening his eyes, he stared long
at the white gowned, motionless shape within the cage. Next summing up
the whole situation - the cage surrounded by an armed band, the clearing
crammed with a thousand ape-men - he shook his head. Afterward, he made a
quick movement with his hands.

Ivana, seeing that movement, seeing the expression on his face, started
out of her daze.

"No! No! Oh, there must be some other way out for her! There must - "

* * * * *

Her cry, half a shriek, did not change Kirby's look. What he had done
with his hands was to throw a shell into the chamber of his rifle. Now
he held the rifle grimly, ready to carry it to his shoulder.

The procession with the bodyguard of ape-men at its head, the renegade
Duca and his caciques following next, and the cage bringing up the rear,
advanced relentlessly down the lane to the central stage. The
gargoyle-faced ape-man who held the stage alone danced with increasing
wildness, writhing, twisting, with weird suppleness. Upon the dancing
giant the procession bore down, and before him it finally halted.

The halt left the Duca and the king ape facing each other, and the ape
ended his dance. After each had given a salute made by raising their
arms, both Duca and the king ape turned to face the creatures who were
standing with the cage slung across their shoulders. Whereupon the
bearers of the cage advanced with it until they stood between two of the
tall poles. There, facing the ominous hole in the center of the
clearing, with a pole on either side of them, the ape-men lowered the
cage to the ground.

Kirby felt his last hope and courage ebbing. Now he noticed that each
pole was equipped with a rope which passed through a hole near its top,
like a thread through the eye of a needle. And while he stared at the
dangling ropes, the ape-men made one end of each fast to a ring in the
top of the cage. The next instant they leaped back, and began to heave
at the other end of the lines.

From the drums came a quicker pounding, a more head-splitting volume of
thunder. Over all the ape-people who watched the show, passed a shiver
of what seemed to be whole-souled, ecstatic satisfaction. Slowly, as the
two ape-men heaved hard, the cage swung off the ground, and slowly rose
higher and higher into the moonlit air.

* * * * *

When finally the thing hung high above the heads of the multitude,
swaying midway between its tall supports, the ape-men who had done the
hoisting fastened their lines to cleats on the poles. Then they turned
to the Duca and the giant king who stood behind them, executed a queer,
lumbering bow, and fell back to the rear.

The next moment it seemed as though every creature in the clearing - men
and those who were only half men - had gone crazy. The king flung himself

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Online LibraryVariousAstounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930 → online text (page 17 of 19)