Land of Terror

Chapter Nineteen

Edgar Rice Burroughs

IMAGINE yourself the size of a microscopic microbe and that you are standing on the outside of a tennis ball, somehow miraculously suspended in space. The surface of the tennis ball would drop away from you in all directions, and no matter where you looked there would be a well defined horizon. Suddenly you are transported to the interior of the tennis ball, which is illuminated by a stationary sun hanging in its exact center. In all directions the interior surface of the ball would curve upward and there would be no horizon. Thus it was with me, as I stood beside that river in Pellucidar. It was as though I stood in the center of a shallow bowl some three hundred miles in diameter. The air was clear, the sun was bright, and under these conditions I assumed that the limit of my vision was about one hundred and fifty miles, although of course no object was clearly discernible at such extreme distance—the periphery of my bowl merely faded off into a vignette, blending into the haze of the distance which was beyond the range of my vision.

At a hundred miles, a single tree standing upon a plain was discernible, whereas a mountain was not. That was because, beneath the eternal noon-day sun, the tree cast a shadow, while the mountain did not, and there being no sky to form a sharply contrasting background it simply merged with the landscape behind it and appeared as level ground.

I may say that in order to recognize a tree at a hundred miles I was largely aided by my imagination; but I could easily distinguish land from water, even at the periphery of my bowl, for the water reflected the sunlight more strongly. I could see the river, upon the bank of which I stood, emptying into an ocean some fifty miles away.

To me, these aspects of the Pellucidarian scene were now familiar; but you may well imagine how strangely they must have affected Perry and me when we first broke through the crust from the outer world. However, though familiar with it, I have never become entirely reconciled to the loss of a horizon. Always, for some reason, it imparts to me a sense of frustration, perhaps because of a subconscious feeling that I should be seeing farther than I do. Again, notwithstanding the enormous size of my bowl, I have a quite definite feeling that I am a victim of claustrophobia. I am in a bowl from which I can never climb, because no matter how far I travel or in what direction the rim of the bowl moves steadily forward at the same rate. Fortunately for my peace of mind and my sanity, I do not let my thoughts dwell long upon this subject; and I only mention these things here to give you of the outer crust a little clearer conception of some of the conditions which pertain in Pellucidar so that you may better visualize the weird scene which is now commonplace to me.

As I stood there in the center of that great bowl, my only companion the great mastodons, I sought to arrive at some logical plan for the future.

It was within the range of possibility that the body of water which I saw in the distance was that great ocean, uncharted and unexplored, which has as many names as there are tribes along its shores. I had known it in one place as the Lural Az, in another as the Darel Az, and, below the Land of Awful Shadow, the Sojar Az.

If my assumptions were correct, I might follow its shoreline to Amoz, and thence to Sari.

I could see islands far out upon its bosom, isles of mystery whose secrets I could never know. What strange men and beasts inhabited those emerald gems floating upon the azure sea? The inaccessible and the unknowable always intrigue my imagination; and once more I determined, as I had often before, that if I were fortunate enough to return to Sari, I would build a seaworthy vessel and explore the waters of Pellucidar.

How little I knew of this land in which I had spent so many years! When I first came here, I spoke authoritatively upon many subjects concerning which I realize now I had little or no knowledge. I assumed, for instance, that those things which came within the range of my experience were typical of all Pellucidar. I assumed, for instance, that the Mahars, those ramphorynchus-like reptiles who were the dominant race of that portion of the inner world with which I was familiar, were dominant throughout the entire area of Pellucidar; but now I realize that I do not know this, for the land area of Pellucidar is enormous, and I had seen only a very tiny portion of it.

Likewise my assertion that three-quarters of the surface of Pellucidar is land, giving a total land area considerably greater than that of the outer crust, was based solely upon Perry’s theory that depressions upon the outer crust were protuberances upon the inner crust; so that land areas in Pellucidar corresponded roughly with the oceans of the outer world; but of course that is only a theory, and I do not know that it is true.

With a seaworthy ship and the navigating instruments that Perry has been able to fabricate, I could become a Columbus, a Magellan, a Captain Cook, and a Balboa, all rolled into one. For an adventurous spirit, the prospect was most alluring; but inasmuch as right at the moment I didn’t even know my way home the realization of it seemed slightly remote, to say the least.

I followed the river down toward the sea until I found a cave where I might sleep; and after gathering some berries and digging a few tubers with which to partially satisfy my hunger, I crawled in and fell asleep.

As I have repeated, probably ad nauseam, I do not know how long I slept; but when I emerged from my cave the mastodons were nowhere in sight, and though I called them many times they did not appear; and I never saw them again.

Now I was indeed alone, and I had never felt so lonely in my life. The company of the great beasts had not only given me a feeling of security but of companionship, and now I felt as one might feel who had lost his last friend in all the world. With a sigh, I turned my face toward the great sea; and, armed only with a puny stone knife, set out once more upon my perilous and almost hopeless quest for Sari.

Before long I found material for weapons; and once more I set to work to fabricate a bow, some arrows, and a spear. I kept at this steadily until the job was completed. Of course, I don’t know how long it took; but I was quite ready to sleep again by the time my weapons were completed. You have no idea with how much greater sense of security I faced the future, now that I was again adequately armed.

As I approached the river I saw a number of low hillocks in the distance. They appeared to be devoid of vegetation, which is rather unusual in this world of lush tropical verdure; but what aroused my interest more than this was the fact that I saw a number of animals moving about upon them. They were too far away for me to identify them; but because of their numbers I assumed that they were a herd of herbivorous animals. As I had eaten no meat for some time, I welcomed the opportunity to make a kill and therefore set about approaching as close as I could to them without being seen. I found good cover in the gorge of the river from which I could not even see the hillocks; so I knew that the animals would not be able to apprehend me until I was quite close to them.

I advanced cautiously and as noiselessly as possible, until I felt that I was about opposite the hillocks; then I clambered up the steep river bank and wormed my way on my belly through long grass toward a point where I hoped to get a closer view of my quarry. The grass ended abruptly at the base of one of the hillocks, and as I emerged from it I came upon a scene that quite took my breath away.

The hillocks consisted of sticks and stones and boulders of all sizes; and scurrying over them were enormous ants carrying on a Brobdingnagian scale the same activities that I had watched their diminutive cousins of the outer crust engaged in upon countless occasions. The creatures were of enormous proportions, their bodies being fully six feet long, the highest point of their heads being at least three feet above the ground—and such heads they were! These enormous heads presented a most ferocious appearance with their huge eyes, their jointed antennae, and powerful mandibles.

If you have watched the common ant in the garden carrying enormous loads often many times larger than themselves, you may be able to gain some slight conception of the enormous strength of these creatures. Many of them carried great boulders that it would have taken several men to lift; and I saw one with the trunk of a good-sized tree in its mandibles.

I could now see that what I had thought were natural hillocks were in reality enormous ant hills. At the foot of the hills was a clearing covering many acres where numerous ants were engaged in what, despite my incredulity, I presently discovered were agricultural pursuits. They labored in symmetrically planted fields where plants and flowers were growing. The rows were straight, and the plants equally spaced. Not a weed was visible, and there were rows evidently recently set out in which each plant was covered by a large leaf to protect it from the hot rays of the sun.

So astounded and fascinated was I that I remained for some time watching the creatures carrying on their building operations and caring for their crops. Some of the workers in the field were collecting tender shoots from the growing plants and others extracting honey from the flowers and carrying their burdens back into the ant hills. There were streams of ants moving constantly in opposite directions to and from the hills. All was activity and bustle.

I noticed that some of the ants were larger than others, and that the larger ones did no work; and then I noticed that their mandibles were much more powerful than those of their fellows, and I realized that they were the soldier ants guarding the workers.

It was all very interesting; but I realized that I could not lie there on my belly in the grass forever, watching these Formicidian activities no matter how enthralling they might be. I could never fill my belly with meat by watching ants at work; and so, with a sigh of regret, I arose to leave. That was an almost fatal error.

Lying quietly and almost entirely concealed by the tall grasses, the ants had not perceived me; but when I arose they were instantly conscious of my presence. I do not know whether they saw me or not, for notwithstanding their large eyes it is possible that they may be blind, as some species of ants are; but ants do not need to see, since they are furnished with delicate organs of hearing in the head, in the three thoracic and two of the abdominal segments, and in the shins of the legs, in addition to which their elbowed feelers or antennae are abundantly supplied with tooth-like projections connected with nerve endings which function as olfactory organs; therefore, though they might not be able to see me, they could certainly hear me or smell me—at any rate, they knew I was there; and several of the great soldier ants started toward me.

One look at those terrible faces and formidable mandibles was enough. I turned to beat a retreat; but glancing back over my shoulder I saw that I was too late. The soldier ants were racing after me on their six powerful legs much faster than I could run. My back was to the wall! It was a case of fight or die or, perhaps, fight and die.

I wheeled, and as I wheeled I fitted an arrow to my bow. My first shaft drove straight through one of the great eyes of the leading ant, and it dropped, writhing, to the ground. I brought down another an instant later, and then two more in quick succession; but my stand was futile. The others were upon me, and I was borne to the ground.

I remember the thoughts that flashed through my mind—that death had overtaken me at last, and that I was to die alone, and that no man would ever know how or where. My beautiful Dian, if she still lived, good old Perry, and my countless other friends of the inner world would never know.

I waited for a pair of those great mandibles to crush the life from me. Two of the creatures were feeling me over with their antennae, and then presently one of them picked me up by the small of my back, the pressure of the mandibles no greater than was necessary to hold me. The creature carried me as easily as you would carry a kitten, and it bore me off in that erratic manner which ants sometimes display, zig-zagging to and fro, often bumping my head or scraping my feet against obstacles or other ants.

Only occasionally did any of the other creatures pay any attention to me, though once or twice my captor stopped while another ant felt me over with his antennae. These, I thought, might be officers of the army or high officials. Perhaps they were inspecting me to see what I was and giving instructions for my disposal.

Eventually, after wandering around aimlessly, my captor headed toward a hole near the base of an ant hill. It was not a large opening, and he had difficulty in negotiating it with me in his mandibles. Twice I got stuck crossways, which was not very pleasant as the opening was rimmed with rocks. The creature tried to push me through, but he couldn’t make it; so finally he laid me down, grabbed me by my legs and backed into the hole, dragging me in after him.

I realized then how the flies and caterpillars felt which I had seen dragged into the nests of ants. Perhaps, as I did, they took one last, despairing look at the beautiful world they were leaving forever.

Land of Terror - Contents    |     Chapter Twenty

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