Chapter III

The Things of Flesh!

THE NEXT 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 little.

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 feelers.

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 mouth.

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 them.

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 attempt.

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 cover.

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 new formation.

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 jungles.

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 light shaft.

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 speech sounds.

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 snapped out.

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 times.

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 interior.

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 them impossible.

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?


Original publication: Science Wonder Quarterly, Fall 1929  Copyright © 1929 Stellar Publishing, Inc. Revised version originally published in Fantastic Story Quarterly, Spring 1950  Copyright © 1950 Better Publications, Inc. Electronic version Copyright © 2009 Haffner Press. All Rights Reserved.