Land of Terror

Chapter Twenty

Edgar Rice Burroughs

CAPTIVITY is a state sufficiently harrowing; but captivity that can end only in death is infinitely worse; and when your captors are creatures with whom you cannot communicate, the horror of the situation is increased many-fold. If I could have talked with these creatures, I might have ascertained what they intended doing with me. I might even have been able to bargain for my release; but as it was, I could do nothing but wait for the end. What that would be I could only surmise, but I assumed that I had been brought in as food.

The creature dragged me a short way into the interior of the hill and then up a short ascending tunnel into a large chamber, which was evidently situated just beneath the surface of the ground, for there was an opening in the dome-like ceiling through which the sunlight poured.

My first hasty survey of the chamber revealed the fact that there were a number of ants in it, three of them with enormously distended abdomens hanging from the ceiling by their feet. Occasionally an ant would come through the opening in the ceiling and apparently force something down the throat of one of these creatures, which I later learned were living reservoirs of honey which supplied food for their fellows and creatures which were being fattened for food. I recalled that, as a boy, I had read of the existence of these honey-pots in some families of the Formicidae. I recalled that the idea had intrigued me; but I had always pictured ants as being tiny creatures; but now the sight of these enormously distended, pendant bodies was peculiarly revolting.

My captor had dropped me unceremoniously upon the floor of the chamber; then he had gone to a couple of other ants, and they had felt each other with their antennae, which I came to discover was the means they adopt for communicating with one another. After this the creature left the chamber and the other ants apparently paid no attention to me.

Naturally, uppermost in my mind were thoughts of escape; and, seeing the ants engaged in their own affairs, I moved cautiously toward the aperture through which I had been dragged into the chamber.

My hopes rose high, for I knew that I could find my way out of the ant hill, and there was a chance that I might thus escape if I moved slowly and with extreme caution so as not to attract the attention of the creatures working upon the outside of the hill; but no sooner had I reached the opening than one of the ants was upon me and, seizing me in its mandibles, it dragged me back into the room.

“Don’t waste your energy,” said a voice from the shadows close to the wall. “You cannot escape.”

I looked in the direction from which the voice had come, and saw a figure huddled against the wall not far from me.

“Who are you?” I demanded.

“A prisoner like yourself,” replied the voice.

I moved closer to the figure, for that human voice had imparted to me renewed courage and renewed hope. Even though the owner of the voice were a stranger and doubtless an enemy, he promised companionship of a sort; and among these silent, ferocious insects, companionship with another of my own species was a priceless boon.

The ants paid no attention to me as I moved closer to my fellow prisoner, for I was not going nearer to the doorway; and I finally was close enough to see him. No wonder I had not seen him before, for in the shadowed part of the chamber close to the wall he appeared as black as night. Later I was to discover that there was a slight copper tint to his skin.

“You are the only other prisoner?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “They have devoured the others. It will probably be my turn next, though it may be yours.”

“Is there no escape?” I demanded.

“None. You should know. You have just tried it and failed.”

“My name is David,” I said. “I am from Sari.” “I am U-Val,” he said. “I come from Ruva.” “Let us be friends,” I said.

“Why not?” he asked. “We are surrounded by enemies, and we shall soon be dead.”

As we talked, I had been watching an ant extracting honey from one of the honey-pots depending from the ceiling. I watched it clamber down the wall and cross the floor in our direction; and then, suddenly, to my surprise, it leaped upon me and threw me to the ground upon my back and, holding me down, squirted honey into my mouth. It forced me to swallow it, too. When this forced feeding was over, the creature left me.

U-Val laughed, as I spluttered and coughed. “You will get used to it,” he said. “They are fattening you for food, and they won’t leave it to you to choose the kind or quantity of food which you consume. They know exactly what you should have, in what quantities, and at what intervals to get the best results. They will feed you grain presently, which they have partially digested and regurgitated. It is very good and quite fattening. You will enjoy it.”

“I shall vomit,” I said, disgustedly.

He shrugged. “Yes, perhaps at first; but after awhile you will become used to it.”

“If I don’t eat, I shan’t get fat; and then perhaps they won’t kill me,” I suggested.

“Don’t be too sure of that,” he said. “I think we are being fattened for the queen and her young, or perhaps for the warrior ants. If we don’t get fat, we shall probably be fed to the slaves and workers.”

“Do you think there is any advantage in being eaten by a queen?” I asked.

“It makes no difference to me,” he said.

“Possibly one might have a feeling of greater importance.”

“You are joking?” he asked.


“We do not joke much in Ruva,” he said, “and certainly I do not feel much like joking here. I am going to die; and I do not wish to die.”

“Where is Ruva?” I asked.

“You have never heard of Ruva?” he demanded.

“No,” I admitted.

“That is very strange,” he said. “It is a most important island—one of The Floating Islands.”

“And where are they?” I demanded.

“Now where would an island float?” he demanded. “In the sea, of course.”

“But what sea, and where?” I insisted.

“The Bandar Az,” he explained. “What other sea is there?”

“Well, I have seen the Korsar Az,” I replied, “the Sojar Az, the Darel Az, and the Lural Az. There may be others, too, that I have not heard of or seen.”

“There is only one sea,” said U-Val, “and that is the Bandar Az. I have heard that far away there are some people who call it the Lural Az; but that is not its name.”

“If you live on an island, how do you happen to be a prisoner here on the mainland?” I asked.

“Well, sometimes Ruva floats near the mainland; and when it does we often come ashore to hunt for meat, of which we have little on the island, and to gather fruits and nuts which do not happen to grow there. If we are lucky, we may take back a few men and women as slaves. I was hunting on the mainland when I was captured.”

“But suppose you should escape—” “I shall not escape,” he replied.

“But just suppose you should. Would you be able to find Ruva again? Might it not have floated away?”

“Yes; but I would find my canoe. If I could not find it, I would build another one; and then I would follow Ruva. It moves very slowly in a slow current. I should follow it and overtake it.”

The ants did not bother us except to feed us, and time hung heavily upon our hands. I learned to eat the food which they forced down me without vomiting, and I recall that I slept many times. The monotony became almost insupportable; and I suggested to U-Val that, as long as we were going to be killed anyway, we might as well be killed trying to make our escape. U-Val didn’t agree with me.

“I am going to die too soon, anyway,” he said. “I don’t want to hasten it.”

Once a winged ant came into the room, and all the other ants gathered around it. They were all feeling the newcomer and one another with their sensitive antennae.

“Oh ho!” exclaimed U-Val. “One of us is about to die.”

“How do you know? What do you mean?” “The one with the wings has come to select a meal, possibly for the queen, possibly for the warriors; and as we are the only prisoners here, it will be one of us or maybe both.” “I am going to fight,” I said.

“What with?” he demanded. “That little stone knife? You might kill a few of them; but it would do you no good. There are too many of them.”

“I am going to fight,” I repeated, doggedly. “They can’t murder me without a battle.”

“All right,” said U-Val, “if you want to fight, I’ll fight too; but it won’t do us any good”

“It will do me some good to kill a few of these hellish creatures.”

After the winged ant had conferred awhile with its fellows, it came over to us and felt over our entire bodies with its antennae, sometimes pinching our flesh lightly with its mandibles. When it had completed its examination it returned again to confer with the other ants.

“I think you are the fattest and the tenderest,” said U-Val.

“You mean you hope so.” “Well, of course, I do not wish to see you die,” he said; “but neither do I wish to die myself. However, whichever one they choose, I will fight, as you suggest.” “We can at least get a little revenge by killing one or two of them,” I said.

“Yes, that will be something,” he replied.

The winged ant left the chamber, and after awhile two of the great soldier ants came in. Again there was a conference of antennae, after which one of the ants led the two soldiers over toward us. It went directly to U-Val and touched him with its antennae.

“It is I,” said U-Val.

“If they start to take you away, use your knife; and I will help you,” I said.

The ant that had brought the soldiers over to us went away about its business; and then one of the soldiers advanced upon U-Val with opened mandibles.

“Now!” I called to U-Val, as I drew my stone knife.

Land of Terror - Contents    |     Chapter Twenty-One

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