A STRANGE WORLD
I was unconscious little more than an instant, for as I lunged forward from
the crossbeam to which I had been clinging, and fell with a crash to the floor
of the cabin, the shock brought me to myself.
My first concern was with Perry. I was horrified at the thought that upon the
very threshold of salvation he might be dead. Tearing open his shirt I placed my
ear to his breast. I could have cried with relief--his heart was beating quite
At the water tank I wetted my handkerchief, slapping it smartly across his
forehead and face several times. In a moment I was rewarded by the raising of
his lids. For a time he lay wide-eyed and quite uncomprehending. Then his
scattered wits slowly foregathered, and he sat up sniffing the air with an
expression of wonderment upon his face.
"Why, David," he cried at last, "it's air, as sure as I live.
Why--why what does it mean? Where in the world are we? What has happened?"
"It means that we're back at the surface all right, Perry," I
cried; "but where, I don't know. I haven't opened her up yet. Been too busy
reviving you. Lord, man, but you had a close squeak!"
"You say we're back at the surface, David? How can that be? How long
have I been unconscious?"
"Not long. We turned in the ice stratum. Don't you recall the sudden
whirling of our seats? After that the drill was above you instead of below. We
didn't notice it at the time; but I recall it now."
"You mean to say that we turned back in the ice stratum, David? That is
not possible. The prospector cannot turn unless its nose is deflected from the
outside--by some external force or resistance--the steering wheel within would
have moved in response. The steering wheel has not budged, David, since we
started. You know that."
I did know it; but here we were with our drill racing in pure air, and
copious volumes of it pouring into the cabin.
"We couldn't have turned in the ice stratum, Perry, I know as well as
you," I replied; "but the fact remains that we did, for here we are
this minute at the surface of the earth again, and I am going out to see just
"Better wait till morning, David--it must be midnight now."
I glanced at the chronometer.
"Half after twelve. We have been out seventy-two hours, so it must be
midnight. Nevertheless I am going to have a look at the blessed sky that I had
given up all hope of ever seeing again," and so saying I lifted the bars
from the inner door, and swung it open. There was quite a quantity of loose
material in the jacket, and this I had to remove with a shovel to get at the
opposite door in the outer shell.
In a short time I had removed enough of the earth and rock to the floor of
the cabin to expose the door beyond. Perry was directly behind me as I threw it
open. The upper half was above the surface of the ground. With an expression of
surprise I turned and looked at Perry--it was broad daylight without!
"Something seems to have gone wrong either with our calculations or the
chronometer," I said. Perry shook his head--there was a strange expression
in his eyes.
"Let's have a look beyond that door, David," he cried.
Together we stepped out to stand in silent contemplation of a landscape at
once weird and beautiful. Before us a low and level shore stretched down to a
silent sea. As far as the eye could reach the surface of the water was dotted
with countless tiny isles--some of towering, barren, granitic rock--others
resplendent in gorgeous trappings of tropical vegetation, myriad starred with
the magnificent splendor of vivid blooms.
Behind us rose a dark and forbidding wood of giant arborescent ferns
intermingled with the commoner types of a primeval tropical forest. Huge
creepers depended in great loops from tree to tree, dense under-brush overgrew a
tangled mass of fallen trunks and branches. Upon the outer verge we could see
the same splendid coloring of countless blossoms that glorified the islands, but
within the dense shadows all seemed dark and gloomy as the grave.
And upon all the noonday sun poured its torrid rays out of a cloudless sky.
"Where on earth can we be?" I asked, turning to Perry.
For some moments the old man did not reply. He stood with bowed head, buried
in deep thought. But at last he spoke.
"David," he said, "I am not so sure that we are ON
"What do you mean Perry?" I cried. "Do you think that we are
dead, and this is heaven?" He smiled, and turning, pointing to the nose of
the prospector protruding from the ground at our backs.
"But for that, David, I might believe that we were indeed come to the
country beyond the Styx. The prospector renders that theory untenable--it,
certainly, could never have gone to heaven. However I am willing to concede that
we actually may be in another world from that which we have always known. If we
are not ON earth, there is every reason to believe that we may be IN it."
"We may have quartered through the earth's crust and come out upon some
tropical island of the West Indies," I suggested. Again Perry shook his
"Let us wait and see, David," he replied, "and in the meantime
suppose we do a bit of exploring up and down the coast--we may find a native who
can enlighten us."
As we walked along the beach Perry gazed long and earnestly across the water.
Evidently he was wrestling with a mighty problem.
"David," he said abruptly, "do you perceive anything unusual
about the horizon?"
As I looked I began to appreciate the reason for the strangeness of the
landscape that had haunted me from the first with an illusive suggestion of the
bizarre and unnatural--THERE WAS NO HORIZON! As far as the eye could reach out
the sea continued and upon its bosom floated tiny islands, those in the distance
reduced to mere specks; but ever beyond them was the sea, until the impression
became quite real that one was LOOKING UP at the most distant point that the
eyes could fathom--the distance was lost in the distance. That was all--there
was no clear-cut horizontal line marking the dip of the globe below the line of
"A great light is commencing to break on me," continued Perry,
taking out his watch. "I believe that I have partially solved the riddle.
It is now two o'clock. When we emerged from the prospector the sun was directly
above us. Where is it now?"
I glanced up to find the great orb still motionless in the center of the
heaven. And such a sun! I had scarcely noticed it before. Fully thrice the size
of the sun I had known throughout my life, and apparently so near that the sight
of it carried the conviction that one might almost reach up and touch it.
"My God, Perry, where are we?" I exclaimed. "This thing is
beginning to get on my nerves."
"I think that I may state quite positively, David," he commenced,
"that we are--" but he got no further. From behind us in the vicinity
of the prospector there came the most thunderous, awe-inspiring roar that ever
had fallen upon my ears. With one accord we turned to discover the author of
that fearsome noise.
Had I still retained the suspicion that we were on earth the sight that met
my eyes would quite entirely have banished it. Emerging from the forest was a
colossal beast which closely resembled a bear. It was fully as large as the
largest elephant and with great forepaws armed with huge claws. Its nose, or
snout, depended nearly a foot below its lower jaw, much after the manner of a
rudimentary trunk. The giant body was covered by a coat of thick, shaggy hair.
Roaring horribly it came toward us at a ponderous, shuffling trot. I turned
to Perry to suggest that it might be wise to seek other surroundings--the idea
had evidently occurred to Perry previously, for he was already a hundred paces
away, and with each second his prodigious bounds increased the distance. I had
never guessed what latent speed possibilities the old gentleman possessed.
I saw that he was headed toward a little point of the forest which ran out
toward the sea not far from where we had been standing, and as the mighty
creature, the sight of which had galvanized him into such remarkable action, was
forging steadily toward me. I set off after Perry, though at a somewhat more
decorous pace. It was evident that the massive beast pursuing us was not built
for speed, so all that I considered necessary was to gain the trees sufficiently
ahead of it to enable me to climb to the safety of some great branch before it
Notwithstanding our danger I could not help but laugh at Perry's frantic
capers as he essayed to gain the safety of the lower branches of the trees he
now had reached. The stems were bare for a distance of some fifteen feet--at
least on those trees which Perry attempted to ascend, for the suggestion of
safety carried by the larger of the forest giants had evidently attracted him to
them. A dozen times he scrambled up the trunks like a huge cat only to fall back
to the ground once more, and with each failure he cast a horrified glance over
his shoulder at the oncoming brute, simultaneously emitting terror-stricken
shrieks that awoke the echoes of the grim forest.
At length he spied a dangling creeper about the bigness of one's wrist, and
when I reached the trees he was racing madly up it, hand over hand. He had
almost reached the lowest branch of the tree from which the creeper depended
when the thing parted beneath his weight and he fell sprawling at my feet.
The misfortune now was no longer amusing, for the beast was already too close
to us for comfort. Seizing Perry by the shoulder I dragged him to his feet, and
rushing to a smaller tree--one that he could easily encircle with his arms and
legs--I boosted him as far up as I could, and then left him to his fate, for a
glance over my shoulder revealed the awful beast almost upon me.
It was the great size of the thing alone that saved me. Its enormous bulk
rendered it too slow upon its feet to cope with the agility of my young muscles,
and so I was enabled to dodge out of its way and run completely behind it before
its slow wits could direct it in pursuit.
The few seconds of grace that this gave me found me safely lodged in the
branches of a tree a few paces from that in which Perry had at last found a
Did I say safely lodged? At the time I thought we were quite safe, and so did
Perry. He was praying--raising his voice in thanksgiving at our deliverance--and
had just completed a sort of paeon of gratitude that the thing couldn't climb a
tree when without warning it reared up beneath him on its enormous tail and hind
feet, and reached those fearfully armed paws quite to the branch upon which he
The accompanying roar was all but drowned in Perry's scream of fright, and he
came near tumbling headlong into the gaping jaws beneath him, so precipitate was
his impetuous haste to vacate the dangerous limb. It was with a deep sigh of
relief that I saw him gain a higher branch in safety.
And then the brute did that which froze us both anew with horror. Grasping
the tree's stem with his powerful paws he dragged down with all the great weight
of his huge bulk and all the irresistible force of those mighty muscles. Slowly,
but surely, the stem began to bend toward him. Inch by inch he worked his paws
upward as the tree leaned more and more from the perpendicular. Perry clung
chattering in a panic of terror. Higher and higher into the bending and swaying
tree he clambered. More and more rapidly was the tree top inclining toward the
I saw now why the great brute was armed with such enormous paws. The use that
he was putting them to was precisely that for which nature had intended them.
The sloth-like creature was herbivorous, and to feed that mighty carcass entire
trees must be stripped of their foliage. The reason for its attacking us might
easily be accounted for on the supposition of an ugly disposition such as that
which the fierce and stupid rhinoceros of Africa possesses. But these were later
reflections. At the moment I was too frantic with apprehension on Perry's behalf
to consider aught other than a means to save him from the death that loomed so
Realizing that I could outdistance the clumsy brute in the open, I dropped
from my leafy sanctuary intent only on distracting the thing's attention from
Perry long enough to enable the old man to gain the safety of a larger tree.
There were many close by which not even the terrific strength of that titanic
monster could bend.
As I touched the ground I snatched a broken limb from the tangled mass that
matted the jungle-like floor of the forest and, leaping unnoticed behind the
shaggy back, dealt the brute a terrific blow. My plan worked like magic. From
the previous slowness of the beast I had been led to look for no such marvelous
agility as he now displayed. Releasing his hold upon the tree he dropped on all
fours and at the same time swung his great, wicked tail with a force that would
have broken every bone in my body had it struck me; but, fortunately, I had
turned to flee at the very instant that I felt my blow land upon the towering
As it started in pursuit of me I made the mistake of running along the edge
of the forest rather than making for the open beach. In a moment I was knee-deep
in rotting vegetation, and the awful thing behind me was gaining rapidly as I
floundered and fell in my efforts to extricate myself.
A fallen log gave me an instant's advantage, for climbing upon it I leaped to
another a few paces farther on, and in this way was able to keep clear of the
mush that carpeted the surrounding ground. But the zigzag course that this
necessitated was placing such a heavy handicap upon me that my pursuer was
steadily gaining upon me.
Suddenly from behind I heard a tumult of howls, and sharp, piercing
barks--much the sound that a pack of wolves raises when in full cry.
Involuntarily I glanced backward to discover the origin of this new and menacing
note with the result that I missed my footing and went sprawling once more upon
my face in the deep muck.
My mammoth enemy was so close by this time that I knew I must feel the weight
of one of his terrible paws before I could rise, but to my surprise the blow did
not fall upon me. The howling and snapping and barking of the new element which
had been infused into the melee now seemed centered quite close behind me, and
as I raised myself upon my hands and glanced around I saw what it was that had
distracted the DYRYTH, as I afterward learned the thing is called, from my
It was surrounded by a pack of some hundred wolf-like creatures--wild dogs
they seemed--that rushed growling and snapping in upon it from all sides, so
that they sank their white fangs into the slow brute and were away again before
it could reach them with its huge paws or sweeping tail.
But these were not all that my startled eyes perceived. Chattering and
gibbering through the lower branches of the trees came a company of manlike
creatures evidently urging on the dog pack. They were to all appearances
strikingly similar in aspect to the Negro of Africa. Their skins were very
black, and their features much like those of the more pronounced Negroid type
except that the head receded more rapidly above the eyes, leaving little or no
forehead. Their arms were rather longer and their legs shorter in proportion to
the torso than in man, and later I noticed that their great toes protruded at
right angles from their feet--because of their arboreal habits, I presume.
Behind them trailed long, slender tails which they used in climbing quite as
much as they did either their hands or feet.
I had stumbled to my feet the moment that I discovered that the wolf-dogs
were holding the dyryth at bay. At sight of me several of the savage creatures
left off worrying the great brute to come slinking with bared fangs toward me,
and as I turned to run toward the trees again to seek safety among the lower
branches, I saw a number of the man-apes leaping and chattering in the foliage
of the nearest tree.
Between them and the beasts behind me there was little choice, but at least
there was a doubt as to the reception these grotesque parodies on humanity would
accord me, while there was none as to the fate which awaited me beneath the
grinning fangs of my fierce pursuers.
And so I raced on toward the trees intending to pass beneath that which held
the man-things and take refuge in another farther on; but the wolf-dogs were
very close behind me--so close that I had despaired of escaping them, when one
of the creatures in the tree above swung down headforemost, his tail looped
about a great limb, and grasping me beneath my armpits swung me in safety up
among his fellows.
There they fell to examining me with the utmost excitement and curiosity.
They picked at my clothing, my hair, and my flesh. They turned me about to see
if I had a tail, and when they discovered that I was not so equipped they fell
into roars of laughter. Their teeth were very large and white and even, except
for the upper canines which were a trifle longer than the others--protruding
just a bit when the mouth was closed.
When they had examined me for a few moments one of them discovered that my
clothing was not a part of me, with the result that garment by garment they tore
it from me amidst peals of the wildest laughter. Apelike, they essayed to don
the apparel themselves, but their ingenuity was not sufficient to the task and
so they gave it up.
In the meantime I had been straining my eyes to catch a glimpse of Perry, but
nowhere about could I see him, although the clump of trees in which he had first
taken refuge was in full view. I was much exercised by fear that something had
befallen him, and though I called his name aloud several times there was no
Tired at last of playing with my clothing the creatures threw it to the
ground, and catching me, one on either side, by an arm, started off at a most
terrifying pace through the tree tops. Never have I experienced such a journey
before or since--even now I oftentimes awake from a deep sleep haunted by the
horrid remembrance of that awful experience.
From tree to tree the agile creatures sprang like flying squirrels, while the
cold sweat stood upon my brow as I glimpsed the depths beneath, into which a
single misstep on the part of either of my bearers would hurl me. As they bore
me along, my mind was occupied with a thousand bewildering thoughts. What had
become of Perry? Would I ever see him again? What were the intentions of these
half-human things into whose hands I had fallen? Were they inhabitants of the
same world into which I had been born? No! It could not be. But yet where else?
I had not left that earth--of that I was sure. Still neither could I reconcile
the things which I had seen to a belief that I was still in the world of my
birth. With a sigh I gave it up.