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Chapter 18 Tarzan: The Lost Adventure by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Underground, unaware of Tarzan's plight, or that of his comrades. Hunt and Jad-bal-ja proceeded. Hunt noticed there were large, rotting timbers throughout the cavern. Many of the timbers had crumbled down, and others were in the process. It appeared that at one point, whoever had used these caverns had abandoned them to whatever it was that lived down here. The bridge they had used to cross the chasm showed that the area was still visited periodically, but it appeared repairs were no longer maintained.

The reasons for these repairs seemed to be the gradual weakening of the cavern itself. The centuries had worn it down, and whoever was custodian of these caves had attempted to keep it in shape with the timbers, reinforcing it like a mine shaft. As this mission was abandoned, the timbers had begun to rot. In time, Hunt concluded, this entire cavern would fall in on itself.

The torch was still burning briskly, but Hunt knew that shortly it would be exhausted. He knew too, as Jad-bal-ja knew long before him, that the thing down here was stalking them now, almost playfully. Hunt could smell it. It had an odor. A strange odor. Like something dry and ancient, From time to time Hunt thought he could hear more than its footsteps, a kind of rattling and rustling of parchment skin, but ultimately it was an unidentifiable noise that reached down into some forgotten part of his brain and fired an alarm. Hell was coming.

Even the great lion that padded beside him had taken to looking over its tawny shoulder, watching for the appearance of something unnamable. Hunt and Jad-bal-ja turned as the tunnel turned, and shortly thereafter, came to a dead end. Hunt felt a tightening in his chest. It was not bad enough that he was being stalked by an unnamable thing, but now there was nowhere to run. He and Jad-bal-ja were trapped.

Going back the way they had come was useless. The thing would be blocking their path. It had known it was driving them into this corner, and now Hunt could hear that rattling and rustling sound louder than before. In fact, the only thing louder than the noise it was creating was the pounding of his heart.

The tunnel filled with the creature's foul smell, and Jad-bal-ja crouched, twitching his tail, not anxious, but ready to do battle when the moment arose.

Hunt moved the torch around the tunnel, lifted it upwards. Above them there was a split in the rocks. It wasn't a great split, but it was enough that if they could manage their way up there, they could slide through.

Hunt stuck the torch between two rocks, put the spear partially through his belt, and tried to find hand- and footholds. This was relatively easy. A large number of rocky slabs jutted out from the tunnel wall. Hunt began to climb. He moved swiftly. When he reached the summit of the tunnel wall, he turned and looked toward the hole, which from this angle he could see led into a narrow tunnel. It was a slightly precarious jump, but it was not a leap of great distance.

Hunt held his breath and jumped, caught hold of the interior of the tunnel, and pulled himself inside. He looked down. Jad-bal-ja had not moved. Hunt was unsure if the lion would understand him, but he knew he had to speak to him, try something. "Come."

The lion lifted his head and looked at Hunt above him. The lion studied Hunt for a moment, then the wall. He bounded up the slabs of rock, and as Hunt moved aside, the lion leapt easily into the open shaft.

A heartbeat later, the torch began to flicker, and something moved into the tunnel below. Its shadow creeped against the cavern wall. Hunt's pounding heart pumped furiously, knocking his temples like bongos. He could not see it clearly, there in the shadow of the dying and flickering torch, but what he saw of it unsettled him to the bone.

Actually, the flickering of the dying torch gave the creature an even odder appearance, as if its image had been painted on cards in various positions, and an unseen band was flicking the cards, giving the beast the illusion of movement. It had to be an illusion.

Because nothing Hunt had ever seen moved like that.

An instant later, Hunt decided its movements were not like flipping cards after all, but like old film, only faster. The thing clicked and clattered like an electrified poodle on a tile floor, but it gave the appearance of having been constructed of sticks glued to a single, larger shaft Sticks that substituted for arms and legs. Sticks wrapped in mummified leather, with knots where muscles should have been. A stick thing with great mantislike hooks on its "hands" and a head that resembled a great rotting pumpkin full of very nasty, twisted teeth constructed not of bone, but some kind of dark chitinous material like an insect's skeletal structure.

There were no doubts in Hunt's mind that this was what he had seen depicted in the cave drawings. But the drawings, which made it appear like a rabid praying mantis, did not do it horrid justice.

This was a thing from the pits. It moved its body as if it were not subject to the natural laws of musculature- animal or insect. It rotated its head completely around. It stalked about the dead-end corridor like a spoiled child that had misplaced a toy.

It looked up and saw Hunt and Jad-bal-ja looking down. And the thing smiled. If a blackened pumpkin full of gnarled, chitinous teeth can be said to smile. The torch flickered over the smile and gave the teeth a reddish glint.

Then the torch went out.

The sun rose pink against a startling blue sky, and the day grew hot early. All night Hanson had sat by the body of Small, his rifle pointed at the bound Wilson. Neither he nor Wilson had spoken or slept. Wilson was not in a position to do much of anything, bound the way Hanson had bound him, and Hanson was in such a black, raging fever it was all be could do not to empty the rifle into the man, even though Wilson lay in a helpless position.

During the night, Hanson had listened for Billy's return, or the stealthy reappearance of Cannon. To prepare for such, he had built a small fire in the middle of the trail and surrounded it with dirt so that it would not spread, then he had dragged Small's body and Wilson into the jungle, and there they had sat. Hanson, hot with revenge, throbbing with pain from his wounds, alert to the return of Billy or an assault by Cannon, had positioned himself in such a way he could see the fire, and if Cannon were to return with murderous designs, drawn by the light of the campfire, Hanson hoped to get the man in his sights and kill him. It was all he could think about. Cannon and Wilson were responsible for so much misery, they deserved to die.

Jean was lost, now Billy was out in the jungle, searching for Cannon - possibly dead by Cannon's hand - and Cannon had slain Small. Wilson and Cannon, they had initiated all that had gone wrong.

Small. God bless him. Without his intervention, he and Billy would still be hostage. Dead perhaps. Cannon was certainly inclined to murder, and Wilson was only marginally better.

This marginalia was all that kept Hanson from putting a bullet in Wilson's heart and telling God he died.

So the night had crawled on, and out in the darkness, from time to time, Hanson heard movement, a few rifle shots. Even though Billy had the rifle, Hanson feared for him. He watched for Cannon to return, but Cannon did not appear. Once a leopard had come very near them.

Hanson could see its yellow eyes glowing in the dark like demon lamps. The eyes had observed them for a long time, and Hanson was so unnerved by their steady gaze, he considered putting a bullet between them, but could not bring himself to kill the animal, not if that was its greatest threat- the demon-yellow stare. He could more easily have killed Cannon and Wilson than an animal he did not intend to eat.

All night Hanson feared sleep would creep up on him and lay him down, but it was a useless worry. He was so charged with fear and hatred and disappointment he did not feel sleepy at all.

He thought of Jean often. He had little hope she was alive. If she had been captured, not killed right away, then her captors had a purpose for her, and Hanson found to his dismay that he could imagine a multitude of purposes, none of them comforting.

He should never have let her come. It was his fault. All of this. Small's death. Hunt's probable death. The bearers, dead by storm, or captured. Billy out there in the jungle, perhaps dead by Cannon's hand.

And Tarzan. Small said that Tarzan was alive, but perhaps he had said that to unnerve Cannon. To make him think things had not entirely gone his way.

It had been a mistake. Tarzan, dead or alive, was a sore spot with Cannon, and the possibility that he might be alive had driven Cannon to rage. A rage that resulted in Small having his throat cut.

Thinking about it now, Hanson's finger sweated on the trigger of the rifle. He wanted Wilson to pay. He wanted Cannon to pay. And Wilson, well, he was here now. It would be so easy. One small squeeze. One shot. And it was all over. The man was out of the gene pool.

It was tempting.

Hanson looked at poor Small. The early morning light was growing and he could see the savage wound in Small's throat. The wound was covered in flies, each jockeying for position. Ants were crawling on Small's face, onto his open eyes. He remembered Small's last words and suddenly he understood them.

He had not wanted to die, or be left here in the jungle, in his underwear. In one sense, it was a silly thing to be concerned about, but in another it was a last desire for dignity.

Hanson stood up and lorded over Wilson, the rifle pointed at his head. Wilson glared at him.

"All right," Wilson said. "Go on. You been wantin' to all night. Go on. Quit thinkin' about it and do it."

Hanson was quiet for a long moment. "That's too easy," he finally said. "It's what I want, but it's too easy. I'm going to cut you loose, and I want you to take off your pants for Small to wear."

Wilson studied Hanson carefully. "Say what?"

"You heard me," Hanson said. "I'm going to cut you loose. Remove your pants. If you try and escape, I will shoot you full of holes. I would enjoy that. Understand?"

"The man's dead. What's he need pants for?"

"Because he didn't want to die like that, and I don't want him to lie like that."

"He's already covered in ants. It ain't a thing to him." Hanson's voice was as sharp as a razor. "It matters to me. Roll on your belly."

Wilson rolled on his belly. Hanson used the knife he had taken from the pack and cut Wilson's hands and feet loose. He stood back and pointed the rifle. "Take them off, or don't," Hanson said. "One way or another, I'll get them onto Small."

"I got an extra in that pack you was carrying," Wilson said. "Let him have a pair of them. I think maybe they was his or that other fella's. anyway. What was it? Hunt?"

"No," Hanson said. "You take those off. Take off the shirt, too."

Wilson removed his pants and shirt, tossed them to Hanson.

"Good," Hanson said. "Now sit down."

Wilson, wearing only his underwear and shoes, did as he was instructed. Hanson gathered up the cut portions of rope. There was still enough there to retie Wilson. He tossed Wilson a long piece of rope. "Tie up your feet. I'll check to see you did it right. You didn't, I won't be happy."

"Well, if there's one thing I want," Wilson said between clenched teeth, "it's to make you happy. I live for it, the making you happy part."

"Good," Hanson said. "That's real good."

Wilson tied his feet together. Hanson told him to roll on his belly and he did. Hanson carefully tied Wilson's hands behind his back, then lifted Wilson's feet and tied them to his hands.

Hanson brushed the flies and ants off of Small very carefully, pulled the pants on the stiff body, and closed the eyes with considerable effort. He carried the body to a low tree and placed Small in it, having to bend his legs like pipe cleaners so that he would rest there.

Hanson stood back and looked at his work. Flies and ants would still get to Small, but this way it looked as if he were merely resting in a tree. It was kind of silly, but somehow Hanson felt better about it. It was certainly better than leaving Small's body on the ground and undressed. There just wasn't any dignity in that. None at all.

Hanson broke open one of the packs, found some canned meat, opened it, and ate it with his fingers. Wilson smelled it, said, "Am I gonna get any of that?"

"I'll think about it," Hanson said.

Before the day broke and Hanson dressed Small in Wilson's shirt and pants and put him in a tree, a unique scenario had unfolded in the jungle. Billy, weak from his wounds, had begun to wear down. He had followed Cannon at first by sound, then by instinct. But by midnight he had become exhausted. The wounds, lack of food, it was all coming home to roost.

Billy squatted down with his rifle and tried to listen for Cannon bursting wildly through brush and weeds, but Cannon had finally gotten wise and had either started to steal through the foliage or had found a place to hole up. Billy was considering his next plan when he heard something, then realized he had heard it too late.

Cannon leapt from the brush and came down on top of him brandishing the knife, but the impact of the attack was such that it sent them both rolling up against a tree. This hurt Billy, but Cannon took some of the impact, so the stronger man lost his grip, and Billy, scuttling on all fours, minus his rifle, darted into the shadowy brush just as Cannon recovered the rifle and popped a shot at Billy.

The shot singed the air above Billy's head, but Billy stayed low and kept scuttling. He dove into the brush an Cannon, hot for blood, came charging after him.

Lying low, Billy watched through the foliage as Cannon's feet thumped past him. Billy was angry with himself. He had let his wounds distract him, and instead of being the pursuer, he had become the prey. He had fallen into that trap like an idiot. He realized now that Cannon had been making noise all along, leading him into an ambush, and by the time he realized the big man's game plan, it was too late.

No, thought Billy, I am being too generous with myself. I did not know his game plan, or that he had one until after he played it out. I am an idiot. He not only outsmarted me, he has both the rifle and the knife now.

Feeling weak and stupid, rubbing a chicken-egg-sized knot on his head, Billy sat still and waited. The night crawled on, and after a while he heard Cannon pounding back his way. "Come out, you little punk. Come out and get your medicine. You're gonna get it anyhow, so come and get it. I got the cure for what ails you, boy. Come on out."

Carefully, Billy crawled away from the sound of Cannon's voice, and after a tune on hands and knees, rose to a standing position and moved silently through the brush. He considered going back to find Hanson, but the idea of returning without the rifle and without Cannon did not appeal to his pride.

He found a tree from which a number of vines dangled, and suddenly had an idea. He climbed the tree and found a spot where he could perch on a limb and twist the vine and unravel it. It was hard work and made his fingers bleed, but he managed it, then he did the same to another vine, and yet another, and plaited then together. The three vines made a sound lariat. He made a loop in one end, climbed down, and began to yell.

"Come get me, big man. Come get me."

A shot tore through the brush near Billy, and he knew Cannon was firing at the sound of his voice. He yelled again, and ducked low. Another shot tore through the brush. He continued to yell, and finally resorted to name-calling. It seemed to him that Cannon, having slyly outsmarted him earlier, would be aware that he was leading him into a trap; but it also occurred to him that Cannon might not care. He was an angry man who felt he had the edge. He had both the rifle and the knife, and he was larger than Billy.

Billy thought about that, and determined Cannon did have the edge. At least on those grounds. But to gain the edge over a superior opponent, one had to use his head. Billy bent low and tied a small loop in the opposite end of the vine, then, continuing to yell, he invited Cannon to come closer.

When the sound of the big man was almost on him, Billy turned and took to the tree from which be had procured the vines. He climbed out on a large limb and lay there like a great python. Billy had tried to time his retreat into the tree correctly, and had been successful. The shadowy shape of Cannon broke through the brush and advanced beneath the limb where Billy lay.

Billy almost let him pass, then regained. heart. It was now or never. He let the loop of his jungle-made lasso drop over Cannon's head just as the man made a step, therefore causing the loop to catch under his chin and tighten. Billy added to this by slipping his foot into the smaller loop, and dropping from the limb, he let his weight jerk the rope taut around Cannon's neck. Cannon let out a grunt and was yanked up. He let go of the rifle and grabbed at the vine rope with both hands. As he swirled, he saw the body of Billy glide down past him on the other end of the rope.

"Hello, big bwana," Billy said.

Cannon thrashed and spun about like a hooked fish. He continued to grab at the rope above his head, but this did nothing. The knot tightened, biting into his flesh.

Billy watched Cannon spin wildly and kick his legs Billy remembered how Cannon had cut the throat of the man Hanson called Small. He thought of how Cannon had put the coal in the palm of his hand and laughed about it. He thought about all this as Cannon spun and bucked against the rope. Then Cannon spun less fast and hardly kicked at all.

Billy, his foot still in the loop, watched and waited Even after Cannon had ceased to spin or kick, after he tongue protruded from his mouth like a black sod stuffed with cotton, he held his place. He listened to the sounds of the animals in the jungle and he looked up to see the moon through a slit in the boughs. The moon was as white as bone.

A full five minutes later, Billy took his foot from the little loop and dropped to the ground, allowing Cannon's corpse to crash into the brush. Billy recovered the dropped rifle and removed the knife from Cannon's body. Just to make sure, he carefully cut the big man's throat.

Billy climbed back into the tree and found a clutch of limbs on which he could rest. He fell into a deep sleep and when he awoke, sunlight was cutting through the boughs and vines and spraying him with heat.

Climbing down, he checked the corpse of Cannon. It was covered in insects. He left the body, and found plants with succulent roots. He dug them up with the knife shook the dirt from them, sliced them, and ate. They were pithy, but satisfying. Having eaten, Billy clutched the rifle and started back toward where he had left Hanson and the big black man.

A few hours after daybreak, Hanson's anger began to subside. His disposition was still dark, but he began to feel human again. He allowed Wilson to put on clothes from one of the packs and eat from a tin of meat. He made him sit with his feet tied, however, and he never once ceased to point the rifle at him.

He looked at where the fire had been in the trail. It had died out and there were only little wisps of smoke crawling up from it, coasting on air, climbing into the treetops. He drank from a canteen, poured some of the water into a cup, and offered it to Wilson while he held the rifle to his head. When Wilson took the cup, Hanson returned to his vigil, and this was interrupted by a voice.

"Bwana, it's me."

"Billy?" Hanson called.

Billy broke out of the jungle smiling. "I come up on you sneaky-like," he said. "But I didn't want to be too sneaky, so you shoot my head off."

"I thought I was being sneaky," Hanson said. "Camping off the trail like this."

"Not so sneaky," Billy said.


"No problem," Billy said, and drew his finger across his throat.

"Good," Hanson said, then to Wilson: " What do you think about that?"

Wilson sighed. "Well, I reckon that's all right. I didn't like the sonofabitch no how."

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