The Things of Flesh!
moment, as Kelsall’s wild cry echoed in our
ears, I was aware only of Darrell beside me, jerking me back, and of a
wild nightmare rush toward the wall of the jungle north of us which we
had left a few minutes before! I glanced back for one instant, glimpsed
Kelsall and Fenton running back from the great shaft, running back
toward the clearing’s tip.
Darrell and I, almost to the jungle’s dark
mass, flung ourselves toward it with one last effort. As we did so I
heard a sudden humming in the air behind us. Then, even at the moment
that we hurled ourselves inside the jungle’s thick cover, I half turned
and saw the swarming metal spheres, their white beams flashing still,
emerging from the shaft into the open air!
The next instant their great swarm or mass was
halting, hanging there above the shaft, their beams of light stabbing
and circling swiftly in all directions through the night, questing and
searching. Crouched there in the thick undergrowth behind the trunk of
a great tree, we realized that our bolt to the jungle’s protection had
saved us, for they had apparently not glimpsed us.
But as we crouched there I glimpsed Kelsall
and Fenton, still running toward the clearing’s tip over its bare
surface. Then dozens of the circling beams caught the two men in their
illumination and as they did so scores of the hovering spheres leaped
through the air toward them!
Instantly Darrell and I were on our feet, on
the point of leaping back out from our cover. From the spheres stabbed
other narrow beams, yellow instead of white. These yellow rays shot
over and past our two friends, striking the ground just beyond them.
As they did so the earth where they struck was
seemingly gouged by a giant invisible hand. A great crater was scooped
suddenly from it where the rays struck and at the same instant there
came to our ears a bursting detonation. As the ground before them
vanished thus, seeming to disappear with the speed of light, Kelsall
and Fenton hatted, stunned. The yellow rays snapped out and the rushing
spheres completely surrounded our two friends, came swiftly to the
ground in a circle about them!
Darrell jerked me back down into our cover.
“Wait, Vance!” he whispered tensely. “They haven’t harmed Kelsall and
Fenton yet—wait here and maybe we can save them!”
Down again into our sheltering undergrowths we
crouched. Then, as we gazed forth, we could see by the clear starlight
that the globes which had come to rest around our two stunned friends
were more than a score in number. The remaining scores of the great
spheres were hanging still over the great shaft.
As we watched with hearts hammering, we saw
that in the metal spheres were transparent circles or windows. In those
around Kelsall and Fenton round sections of the curved metal spheres
like swinging doors opened. From the interior of the spheres emerged
some scores of creatures, creatures at the sight of which Darrell and I
clutched each other’s arms with sudden fierce intensity.
For they were surely such creatures as men had
never looked upon before. Each of them was a great white mass of flesh
that seemed shapeless and sack like, a mass fully seven feet in height
and half that in width. The upper part of the flesh mass tapered a
Each was upheld by two thick and equally
shapeless lower limbs, half the thickness of the body they supported
and hardly more than a foot in length. Just above these limbs, at the
foot of the shapeless body mass, there projected two equally short and
thick upper limbs or arms, each ending in two tapering tentacles or
Above these grotesque arms towered the great
white mass of the body itself and set in the upper part, directly in
its white mass, were the only features visible, a single dark and
saucerlike eye, inches across and circular in shape. Beneath it was a
horizontal row of seven small round apertures which seemed to be the
Such were these things that moved out of the
spheres toward the motionless Kelsall and Fenton, as horror stricken as
Darrell and myself. And as they moved I saw that it was only with great
effort. Their strange thick limbs seemed to buckle and bend beneath
To all appearances they were quite
bone¬less, which I was to learn later was the truth. Great things
of flesh with no skeleton or bones of any kind within them, great
headless things moving slowly, half dragging themselves forward, out of
their spheres toward our two friends!
I saw, even through the daze of horror that
had settled upon me, that a number of than held within the tentacled
grasp of their strange arms small cubes of the same metal as their
spheres. I could comprehend by the carefulness with which they kept the
cubes held toward Kelsall and Fenton that they held the same terrible
yellow rays that we had seen gouge so swiftly and incomprehensibly that
crater in the earth.
BUT we saw that the great flesh things were
regarding our friends fixedly with their great single staring eyes.
Kelsall returned their stare, trembling a little, and I could see
Fenton’s hand steal down to the automatic at his hip, then move away
from it as though he realized that to use it would mean certain death
for Kelsall and himself.
Then from the foremost of the great
flesh-things, who swayed with his efforts to hold his great weight
erect upon his thick and boneless limbs, there came a strange
succession of high whistling sounds, sounds that seemed to have their
origin in the row of seven small openings beneath his eye.
It was as though the thing were expelling air
through the openings to produce the whistling sounds, rising and
falling swiftly in modulations which made it evident enough that the
creature was speaking, speaking in his own strange way to our friends.
To that whistling speech, neither Kelsall or
Fenton made reply, simply shaking their heads in a very evident gesture
of lack of understanding which must have been read correctly by the
creature before them. For a moment longer he contemplated them, then
turned and directed for a brief moment his whistling speech at some of
the other great flesh things about him.
At once they moved forward with infinite
effort, as though their great weight had been increased to a point
where they could barely move it. Toward Kelsall and Fenton they moved
and then, as we stared with hearts pounding from our cover, we saw them
grasp our two friends and propel them toward the open door of one of
the resting spheres!
As comprehension came to us, Darrell and I
uttered low exclamations, at the same moment straightening and taking a
step forward from our cover. In another moment we would have burst
forth into the starlight of the clearing in a wild effort to rescue our
two friends, regardless of the death that must have rewarded such an
But as we straightened, as Kelsall was marched
toward the open sphere with his companion, I saw him gaze for the
moment in our direction, a furtive glance to assure himself of our
escape. And when his eyes discerned our two figures on the point of
rushing out to him, we saw him make a swift and surreptitious gesture
toward us, a gesture that as plainly as words warned us back!
A moment we stood irresolute in the face of
that gesture, the attention of the flesh-things in the clearing upon
our two friends. Then, as calmer second thought came to us and made us
recognize the hopelessness of such an attempt, we sank back into our
Crouched there, with Darrell’s hand gripping
my shoulder tightly, we watched as Kelsall and Fenton were ordered
inside the sphere before them. Then there followed them inside a number
of the flesh creatures, the door was closed and with a sudden hum of
power the sphere and those resting about it rose upward.
The great metal globe that contained out two
captured friends moved with a half score others downward, into the
great shaft with swiftly mounting speed and out of our sight. Whatever
strange and unsuspected world within earth’s depths these flesh
monsters had come from it was back down toward that world that Kelsall
and Fenton had now been taken!
“Captured!” My whisper as we crouched there
was one of hopeless despair.
“Steady, Vance,” whispered Darrell beside me.
“Our one chance to get Kelsall and Fenton free, is to keep from being
discovered by these things now.”
Darrell’s caution to me came none too soon.
For now, with the sphere holding our friends having disappeared down
into the shaft, the great mass of spheres hanging above the clearing
was moving again. Still more than a hundred in number, the humming of
their operation sounding to our ears like the droning of a great bee
swarm, they were moving off in different directions, were taking up a
Their formation was one of a great ring, a
ring that expanded until it formed a circle perhaps a mile in diameter
of which the shaft was the center. In that ring the hundred spheres
moved slowly and steadily, one taking the place of the other so that
they always held formation, circling slowly and smoothly over the
It was plain enough that these hundred
circling spheres were guarding the shaft, were watching all the country
directly around it for possible intruders, their white beams searching
downward and outward as they hummed on in their ceaseless watch.
Three of the great spheres had separated from
the others when they formed their circle and had descended to come to
rest at equal distances from the great shaft’s rim, one of them being
on the side nearest ourselves.
As Darrell and I watched them intently, their
round doors opened and from each, slowly and with great effort, emerged
a half-dozen or more of the flesh monsters, two or three of the things
remaining in each sphere. These grouped together at the great pit’s
edge and as they stared down into it with their great single eyes we
heard the whistling sounds of their conversation with each other.
Their three spheres showed no signs of
reascending, It was, clear that the three globes and their occupants
had been deputed to guard the immediate mouth of the shaft while the
hundred others patrolled watchfully all the country around it.
DARRELL and I, crouching there, saw that we
had no chance whatever of escaping from our present position. For even
there in the darkness we were forced to crouch low to the earth every
few minutes or as one of the white beams from the circling spheres
above and about us would cut down through the night and through the
jungle about us.
It would be impossible, we knew, to attempt to
win free by crawling back through the jungle, since across it there lay
other clearings in which would be no shelter from the searching beams
and blasting yellow rays of the spheres. Also, neither Darrell nor I
would have left the great shaft itself, down into which we had seen our
two friends taken.
So, hidden there, we watched, still somewhat
dazed by the thing that had befallen us, the great creatures in the
clearing before us. They had turned from the shaft, and were examining
the spectrographs and electrical apparatus at the clearing’s tip which
had been used by Kelsall and Fenton on the appearance of the fourth
All of this apparatus they brought back to the
shaft’s mouth and then, glimpsing the cameras and fluoroscopes lying a
little out in the clearing from Darrell and myself, were dragging
themselves toward these also. We melted farther back into the dense
growths as they came near, saw them gather up that apparatus also and
carry it back to the great shaft’s edge, never suspecting our presence
there in the growths so near them.
Then, after examining our tent and equipment
by the river’s edge, they seemed satisfied for the time and settled
themselves heavily about their spheres, conversing in their whistling
Then too the brilliant constellations far
above seemed fading a little as the gray light of dawn welled up
eastward, spreading a pallor over all the heavens. Flushing to rose,
then to crimson with the uprush of the red tropical sun, the skies
overhead marked the coming of day and as Darrell and I glimpsed now the
dark metal spheres of the flesh creatures circling hummingly still
overhead, we saw that their searching white beams of light had been
In the clearing there lounged still, grouped
watchfully about their spheres, the score or so of the flesh monsters
visible there. They seemed even more grotesque and terrible in
appearance in the light of day than they had been by night. And as day
shed its light upon them and upon us, the daze of astounded horror that
had been upon us since the first terrific blasting of the shaft and
uprush of the spheres seemed to lift for the first time.
“Darrell,” I whispered, “where do these things
come from? What does it all mean?”
He shook his head. “It’s
incredible—unbelievable,” he said. “But we saw them come up through the
shaft they blasted upward. We saw them take Kelsall and Fenton back
down—down to their world.”
“But what is their world?” I asked. “It’s
impossible that these things should have come from some vast space
inside our earth—yet what other theory can account for them?”
“I don’t know, Vance. But it seems as though
they might have come from some strange space inside earth, for they can
move only with great efforts upon earth as though accustomed to a
gravitational power far less than that on the surface.”
His reasoning was correct and I could only
shake my head, stunned and overwhelmed by the utter strangeness of the
thing. And as we stated into the sunlit clearing at the monsters and
spheres about the shaft, during the slow hours of that morning, their
strangeness and that mystery loomed larger and larger in my mind.
What and from where were these incredible
flesh creatures before us? Were they indeed from some vast space within
the earth? I had heard the possibility of such spaces discussed many
Always it had been proved by geologists that
such spaces, even if they did exist, could hold no form of life, since
with each foot that one penetrated downward into earth its interior
heat became greater, more unbearable. And if this were so, as it was so
even in the first few miles which were all that man had ever scratched
into earth’s surface, terrific and annihilating temperatures must reign
at earth’s heart.
It had long been known that earth’s
temperature increased approximately a degree for each sixty or seventy
feet that one descended. This meant that at a depth of a few dozen
miles all matter must be in a molten condition, flaming with fiery
heat. That theory, indeed, was directly borne out by the numberless
volcanoes upon earth’s surface in past and present, each of which flung
up from time to time masses of the molten rock from earth’s fiery
How then could any great space exist in
earth’s molten interior, how was it possible, even were such space by
some miracle to exist, for life to exist inside it at the tremendous
temperatures that reigned there? It was well enough for fancy to
conjure up great caverned spaces and peoples inhabiting them inside
earth’s huge mass but the undisputable fact of the molten fires made
Yet at the same time we had forced upon us the
equally undebatable fact that it was from a space or world within
earth’s mass that dim strange flesh creatures had risen. And how, in
the face of what we knew, could such a space or world exist? And,
greater mystery still, if such a great space inside earth existed it
must lie beneath ourselves, since it was straight up from beneath that
these creatures had blasted their great shaft.
Yet it was not only here that the great light
shaft had appeared but at three other places located with super
mathematical precision at three spots exactly on earth’s equator like
this one, all four being equidistant exactly from each other! What had
been the purpose of those four strange columns of light?
Why had the fourth only been followed by the
blasting of a shaft upward? Above all what was the purpose of the flesh
monsters in bursting up to earth’s surface in their spheres, in
guarding now so watchfully the great shaft that was their passageway?