Land of Terror

Chapter Five

Edgar Rice Burroughs

THE CLIMATE of Pellucidar is almost eternally Spring-like; and therefore the apparel of the inhabitants of this inner world is scant, being seldom more than a loin-cloth and sandals. The atmosphere near the surface is slightly denser than that of the outer crust because of centrifugence; but for the same reason it is much shallower than that of the exterior of the globe, with the result that it is extremely cold upon the heights of the higher mountains; so you may well imagine that Zor and I did not linger long in the snows of the upper levels.

He had crossed the mountains by this same pass when he had come out of the Valley of the Jukans; so we were not delayed by the necessity for searching out a crossing.

The sun beat down upon us out of a clear sky; but it was still intensely cold, and in our almost naked state we could not have survived long. I can assure you that it was with a feeling of relief that we crossed the summit of the divide and started down the other slope. We were both numb with cold before we reached a warmer level.

The trail we followed had been made by game passing from one valley to another; and we were lucky that we met none of the carnivorous species while we were above the timber-line. Afterward, of course, we had the sanctuary of the trees into which to escape them. Our arms were most inadequate; for a stone knife is a poor weapon against a cave bear, the mighty ryth of the inner world, which stands eight feet at the shoulders and measures fully twelve feet in length, doubtless a perfect replica of ursus spelaeus, which roamed the outer crust contemporaneously with Paleolithic man. Nor were our slingshots much less futile, since we were far from proficient in their use.

Perhaps you can imagine how helpless one might feel, almost naked and practically unarmed, in this savage world. I often marvel that man survived at all, either here or upon the outer crust, he is by Nature so poorly equipped either for offense or defense. It is claimed that environment has a great deal to do with the development of species; and so it has always seemed strange to me, if this be true, that man is not fully as fleet of foot as the antelope, for in the environment in which he lived for ages he must have spent a great many of his waking hours running away from something—great beasts, which, not even by the wildest stretch of the imagination, could he have been supposed to have met and overcome with his bare hands, or even with a club or a knife. Personally, I feel that the human race must have developed in a wooded country where there was always a tree handy to offer a man an avenue of escape from the terrible creatures that must have been constantly hunting him.

Well, we finally got down where it was warmer and where there were plenty of trees; and it was very fortunate for us, too, that there were trees, for the very first living creature that we met after negotiating the pass was a tarag, an enormous striped cat, the replica of which, our sabre-toothed tiger, has long been extinct upon the outer crust.

For large animals, they are extraordinarily fleet of foot; and they act so quickly when they sight their prey that unless an avenue of immediate escape is open or their intended victim is sufficiently well armed and alert, the result is a foregone conclusion—and the tarag feeds. Like all the other carnivorous animals of Pellucidar, they seem to be always hungry, their great carcasses requiring enormous quantities of food to rebuild the tissue wasted by their constant activity. They seem always to be roaming about. I do not recall ever having seen one of them lying down.

The tarag that we met, Zor and I chanced to see simultaneously, which was at the very instant that he saw us. He didn’t pause an instant but charged immediately at unbelievable speed. Zor and I each voiced a warning and took to a tree.

I was directly in the path of the beast as it charged; and having its eye on me it leaped for me; and it almost got me, too, its talons just scraping one of my sandals as it sprang high into the air after me.

Zor was in an adjoining tree and looked over at me and smiled. “That was a close call,” he said. “We’ll have to keep a better lookout.”

“We’ll have to have some weapons,” I replied. “That is even more important.”

“I’d like to know where you are going to get them,” he said.

“I’ll make them,” I replied.

“What kind of weapons?” “Oh, a couple of bows and some arrows, to start with, and two short, heavy hurling spears.” “What are bows and arrows?” he asked.

I explained them to him as well as I could; but he shook his head. “I’ll make myself a spear,” he said. “The men of Zoram kill even the ryth and the thipdar with the spear. That, and a knife are all the weapons I need.”

After a while the tarag went away; and we came down to earth, and a little later we found a place to camp near a small stream. We were fortunate in not having to hunt very long for such a site, for places to camp in Pellucidar, which also mean places to sleep, must offer safety from prowling beasts of prey; and this means, ordinarily, nothing less than a cave the mouth of which can be barricaded.

It is a great world, this, and a great life; but eventually one becomes accustomed to being hunted. At first it used to keep my nerves constantly on edge; but after a while I took it just as casually as you of the outer world accept the jeopardies of traffic, hold-up men, and the other ordinary threats upon your life that civilization affords so abundantly.

We found a cave a couple of feet above high water in a cliff the face of which was washed by this mountain-stream—a clear, cold stream in which we knew there would lurk no dangerous reptiles, a fact which was quite important to us since we had to wade into the stream to reach our cave. It was an ideal spot; and since neither of us had had sufficient sleep since being captured by the warrior-women of Oog, we were glad of the opportunity to lie up in safety until we were thoroughly rested.

After investigating the cave and finding it untenanted, dry, and large enough to accommodate us comfortably, we carried in leaves and dry grass for our beds, and were soon asleep.

How long I slept, I don’t know. It may have been an hour or a week of your time; but the important thing was that when I awoke I was thoroughly rested. I may also add that I was ravenously hungry.

Land of Terror - Contents    |     Chapter Six

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