VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of www.fictionstories.ca Informational Site Network Informational
Privacy
   Home - Science Fiction Stories - Western Stories


Freedom







From: At The Earth's Core

ONCE OUT OF THE DIRECT PATH OF THE ANIMAL, fear of it left me, but
another emotion as quickly gripped me--hope of escape that the
demoralized condition of the guards made possible for the instant.

I thought of Perry, but for the hope that I might better encompass his
release if myself free I should have put the thought of freedom from me
at once. As it was I hastened on toward the right searching for an
exit toward which no Sagoths were fleeing, and at last I found it--a
low, narrow aperture leading into a dark corridor.

Without thought of the possible consequence, I darted into the shadows
of the tunnel, feeling my way along through the gloom for some
distance. The noises of the amphitheater had grown fainter and fainter
until now all was as silent as the tomb about me. Faint light filtered
from above through occasional ventilating and lighting tubes, but it
was scarce sufficient to enable my human eyes to cope with the
darkness, and so I was forced to move with extreme care, feeling my way
along step by step with a hand upon the wall beside me.

Presently the light increased and a moment later, to my delight, I came
upon a flight of steps leading upward, at the top of which the
brilliant light of the noonday sun shone through an opening in the
ground.

Cautiously I crept up the stairway to the tunnel's end, and peering out
saw the broad plain of Phutra before me. The numerous lofty, granite
towers which mark the several entrances to the subterranean city were
all in front of me--behind, the plain stretched level and unbroken to
the nearby foothills. I had come to the surface, then, beyond the
city, and my chances for escape seemed much enhanced.

My first impulse was to await darkness before attempting to cross the
plain, so deeply implanted are habits of thought; but of a sudden I
recollected the perpetual noonday brilliance which envelopes
Pellucidar, and with a smile I stepped forth into the daylight.

Rank grass, waist high, grows upon the plain of Phutra--the gorgeous
flowering grass of the inner world, each particular blade of which is
tipped with a tiny, five-pointed blossom--brilliant little stars of
varying colors that twinkle in the green foliage to add still another
charm to the weird, yet lovely, landscape.

But then the only aspect which attracted me was the distant hills in
which I hoped to find sanctuary, and so I hastened on, trampling the
myriad beauties beneath my hurrying feet. Perry says that the force of
gravity is less upon the surface of the inner world than upon that of
the outer. He explained it all to me once, but I was never
particularly brilliant in such matters and so most of it has escaped
me. As I recall it the difference is due in some part to the
counter-attraction of that portion of the earth's crust directly
opposite the spot upon the face of Pellucidar at which one's
calculations are being made. Be that as it may, it always seemed to me
that I moved with greater speed and agility within Pellucidar than upon
the outer surface--there was a certain airy lightness of step that was
most pleasing, and a feeling of bodily detachment which I can only
compare with that occasionally experienced in dreams.

And as I crossed Phutra's flower-bespangled plain that time I seemed
almost to fly, though how much of the sensation was due to Perry's
suggestion and how much to actuality I am sure I do not know. The more
I thought of Perry the less pleasure I took in my new-found freedom.
There could be no liberty for me within Pellucidar unless the old man
shared it with me, and only the hope that I might find some way to
encompass his release kept me from turning back to Phutra.

Just how I was to help Perry I could scarce imagine, but I hoped that
some fortuitous circumstance might solve the problem for me. It was
quite evident however that little less than a miracle could aid me, for
what could I accomplish in this strange world, naked and unarmed? It
was even doubtful that I could retrace my steps to Phutra should I once
pass beyond view of the plain, and even were that possible, what aid
could I bring to Perry no matter how far I wandered?

The case looked more and more hopeless the longer I viewed it, yet with
a stubborn persistency I forged ahead toward the foothills. Behind me
no sign of pursuit developed, before me I saw no living thing. It was
as though I moved through a dead and forgotten world.

I have no idea, of course, how long it took me to reach the limit of
the plain, but at last I entered the foothills, following a pretty
little canyon upward toward the mountains. Beside me frolicked a
laughing brooklet, hurrying upon its noisy way down to the silent sea.
In its quieter pools I discovered many small fish, of four-or
five-pound weight I should imagine. In appearance, except as to size
and color, they were not unlike the whale of our own seas. As I
watched them playing about I discovered, not only that they suckled
their young, but that at intervals they rose to the surface to breathe
as well as to feed upon certain grasses and a strange, scarlet lichen
which grew upon the rocks just above the water line.

It was this last habit that gave me the opportunity I craved to capture
one of these herbivorous cetaceans--that is what Perry calls them--and
make as good a meal as one can on raw, warm-blooded fish; but I had
become rather used, by this time, to the eating of food in its natural
state, though I still balked on the eyes and entrails, much to the
amusement of Ghak, to whom I always passed these delicacies.

Crouching beside the brook, I waited until one of the diminutive purple
whales rose to nibble at the long grasses which overhung the water, and
then, like the beast of prey that man really is, I sprang upon my
victim, appeasing my hunger while he yet wriggled to escape.

Then I drank from the clear pool, and after washing my hands and face
continued my flight. Above the source of the brook I encountered a
rugged climb to the summit of a long ridge. Beyond was a steep
declivity to the shore of a placid, inland sea, upon the quiet surface
of which lay several beautiful islands.

The view was charming in the extreme, and as no man or beast was to be
seen that might threaten my new-found liberty, I slid over the edge of
the bluff, and half sliding, half falling, dropped into the delightful
valley, the very aspect of which seemed to offer a haven of peace and
security.

The gently sloping beach along which I walked was thickly strewn with
strangely shaped, colored shells; some empty, others still housing as
varied a multitude of mollusks as ever might have drawn out their
sluggish lives along the silent shores of the antediluvian seas of the
outer crust. As I walked I could not but compare myself with the first
man of that other world, so complete the solitude which surrounded me,
so primal and untouched the virgin wonders and beauties of adolescent
nature. I felt myself a second Adam wending my lonely way through the
childhood of a world, searching for my Eve, and at the thought there
rose before my mind's eye the exquisite outlines of a perfect face
surmounted by a loose pile of wondrous, raven hair.

As I walked, my eyes were bent upon the beach so that it was not until
I had come quite upon it that I discovered that which shattered all my
beautiful dream of solitude and safety and peace and primal
overlordship. The thing was a hollowed log drawn upon the sands, and
in the bottom of it lay a crude paddle.

The rude shock of awakening to what doubtless might prove some new form
of danger was still upon me when I heard a rattling of loose stones
from the direction of the bluff, and turning my eyes in that direction
I beheld the author of the disturbance, a great copper-colored man,
running rapidly toward me.

There was that in the haste with which he came which seemed quite
sufficiently menacing, so that I did not need the added evidence of
brandishing spear and scowling face to warn me that I was in no safe
position, but whither to flee was indeed a momentous question.

The speed of the fellow seemed to preclude the possibility of escaping
him upon the open beach. There was but a single alternative--the rude
skiff--and with a celerity which equaled his, I pushed the thing into
the sea and as it floated gave a final shove and clambered in over the
end.

A cry of rage rose from the owner of the primitive craft, and an
instant later his heavy, stone-tipped spear grazed my shoulder and
buried itself in the bow of the boat beyond. Then I grasped the
paddle, and with feverish haste urged the awkward, wobbly thing out
upon the surface of the sea.

A glance over my shoulder showed me that the copper-colored one had
plunged in after me and was swimming rapidly in pursuit. His mighty
strokes bade fair to close up the distance between us in short order,
for at best I could make but slow progress with my unfamiliar craft,
which nosed stubbornly in every direction but that which I desired to
follow, so that fully half my energy was expended in turning its blunt
prow back into the course.

I had covered some hundred yards from shore when it became evident that
my pursuer must grasp the stern of the skiff within the next half-dozen
strokes. In a frenzy of despair, I bent to the grandfather of all
paddles in a hopeless effort to escape, and still the copper giant
behind me gained and gained.

His hand was reaching upward for the stern when I saw a sleek, sinuous
body shoot from the depths below. The man saw it too, and the look of
terror that overspread his face assured me that I need have no further
concern as to him, for the fear of certain death was in his look.

And then about him coiled the great, slimy folds of a hideous monster
of that prehistoric deep--a mighty serpent of the sea, with fanged
jaws, and darting forked tongue, with bulging eyes, and bony
protuberances upon head and snout that formed short, stout horns.

As I looked at that hopeless struggle my eyes met those of the doomed
man, and I could have sworn that in his I saw an expression of hopeless
appeal. But whether I did or not there swept through me a sudden
compassion for the fellow. He was indeed a brother-man, and that he
might have killed me with pleasure had he caught me was forgotten in
the extremity of his danger.

Unconsciously I had ceased paddling as the serpent rose to engage my
pursuer, so now the skiff still drifted close beside the two. The
monster seemed to be but playing with his victim before he closed his
awful jaws upon him and dragged him down to his dark den beneath the
surface to devour him. The huge, snakelike body coiled and uncoiled
about its prey. The hideous, gaping jaws snapped in the victim's face.
The forked tongue, lightning-like, ran in and out upon the copper skin.

Nobly the giant battled for his life, beating with his stone hatchet
against the bony armor that covered that frightful carcass; but for all
the damage he inflicted he might as well have struck with his open palm.

At last I could endure no longer to sit supinely by while a fellowman
was dragged down to a horrible death by that repulsive reptile.
Embedded in the prow of the skiff lay the spear that had been cast
after me by him whom I suddenly desired to save. With a wrench I tore
it loose, and standing upright in the wobbly log drove it with all the
strength of my two arms straight into the gaping jaws of the
hydrophidian.

With a loud hiss the creature abandoned its prey to turn upon me, but
the spear, imbedded in its throat, prevented it from seizing me though
it came near to overturning the skiff in its mad efforts to reach me.





Next: The Mahar Temple

Previous: The Beginning Of Horror



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK


Viewed 418