"The day may yet come, my unknown friend,
when we shall stand together, you and I,
in battle against unknown foes."
Lin Carter ~ Sky Pirates of Callisto
It had been raining for two days, which made
for slow progress along the narrow, rutted road that led through the jungle
to the dig site. The rain wasn’t helping my mood any. I’d taken a red-eye
flight to Cambodia at the request of my old friend, Samuel Quinn, and was
going on thirty hours without sleep.
Quinn’s plea had come to me, his voice thin and strange,
on a bad international phone connection two days before. His daughter,
Althea had gone missing while on a college sponsored archeological dig
in Cambodia. Quinn had been in London at the time, attending a symposium
on paranormal studies. The state department had found him and told him
that Althea had vanished during the night while the college group was camping
near some recently discovered ancient ruins.
The local authorities suspected foul play because the girl’s
clothing had been found cast down a sort of well within the ruins. Quinn
had called and asked if I would come. Why he wanted me there or what he
thought I could do, I couldn’t really explain, but Quinn and I had been
friends a long time.
A couple of phone calls later and I was on my way to the
Atlanta airport. The flight had been a twenty-two hour blur with stops
at Seattle and Tokyo. I’d flown to Japan years earlier and the flight was
just as long and just as boring as I recalled. Quinn had arranged for ground
transportation once I reached Cambodia. When I got to the airport, only
the rain was waiting to greet me.
There had been a seemingly interminable trip up river and
then a gut-jarring ride along the rough jungle roads. Finally I saw the
tents and temporary wooden shacks of the dig. The rain even began to let
up as we reached the site. Quinn came out of one of the tents. He’d apparently
heard the sound of the jeep. He didn’t look good. His skin was pale, despite
the tropical sun and there were deep shadows under his eyes. He grasped
my hand firmly as I got out of the jeep.
“Thanks so much for coming, Charles,” Quinn said. “I really
need a friend around right now.”
“Well you’ve got one. I don’t suppose there’s been any
He shook his head. He wiped his arm across his bald forehead.
“Nothing. The police here are doing what they can but Althea seems to have
just vanished into the proverbial thin air.”
“What happened exactly?”
“Come into my tent and I’ll tell you about it.” I followed
Quinn into one of the tents. He sat down in a folding chair and nodded
toward another one. I sat. “Professor Stamp, the man in charge of the dig,
is letting me use this tent while I’m here,” he continued. “The facts are
few and pretty grim, Charles. You know Althea was studying at Oxford.”
I nodded. My last memory of Althea Quinn was from her high
school graduation four years earlier. I remembered her as a slender girl
with pale blonde hair and equally pale green eyes.
Quinn said, “These ruins were discovered just recently.
Or really, I should say rediscovered. A British professor named Jerrolds
originally found them in the early seventies. Anyway, there was a lot of
trouble in the area around the end of the Viet Nam War and Jerrolds lost
permission to continue his studies here. I think Jerrolds died before he
could get back into Cambodia. The exact location of the ruins was lost.”
There was something familiar about the name Jerrolds but
I couldn’t place it. I said, “I take it someone stumbled across the ruins
“Yes, earlier this year. A mapping crew found them. The
British Museum financed a dig and Althea’s archeology professor managed
to wrangle a field trip for his best students.”
“Are the other students still here?”
“No. The authorities thought it best to get them out of
the jungle after Althea…after she disappeared.” Quinn looked down at his
lap. I didn’t say anything. After a few moments he went on. “I did talk
to the professor and Maggie Sloan, the girl that Althea was sharing a tent
with. Maggie said that both she and Althea had gone to bed that night about
eleven. That was the last Maggie saw of her. She supposed that Althea must
have gotten up and gone for a walk or something.”
I said, “Doesn’t sound likely. Althea wouldn't just go
blundering around the jungle at night.”
“No,” Quinn agreed.
“You said something about her clothes being found.”
“Yes, there’s a plaza at the center of these ruins and
there’s a deep hole, sort of like a well there. That’s where they found
“Any signs of a struggle?”
“Nothing. Just her clothes and her rings and necklace.”
I said, “That’s odd. If she were attacked you’d think whoever
did it would have taken her valuables. Can I have a look at that well?”
He nodded slowly. Quinn looked years older than the last
time I’d seen him which had only been a few months before. He said, “Yes,
I’m sort of hoping that warped brain of yours might spot something the
locals have missed. Let’s go have a look if you’re not too tired after
“Nah, I’m wired now. Let’s go.”
We followed a rough path through the jungle. The camp had
been set up well away from the crumbling city, and a few minutes walk brought
us to the vine choked walls of Arangkhor. Arangkhor? The name slipped around
the edges of my memory, familiar, yet just out of reach. In fact the entire
walk was giving me an almost overwhelming sense of Deja Vu, as if I'd been
The vast city loomed up above the jungle, its conical spires
and towers stark against the storm clouds that still hovered above us.
The outer walls looked to be made of sandstone. They were carved with odd
hieroglyphics in some long forgotten language. In the center of the wall,
above the gate, was carved a massive stone face. It glared down at us as
Quinn led me into the city.
I was taken aback by the engineering prowess of whoever
had built the stone buildings and towers. The blocks they had used were
huge, comparable to the stones employed by the Egyptians on their pyramids.
I ran my hand along one rough, sandstone surface as I passed, noting that
there was no space between any of the blocks, and apparently no concrete
had been used, or was indeed necessary to hold them together.
Quinn and I made our way through wide streets and open
plazas. In some places the jungle had completely covered parts of the city,
but in other areas, the streets and structures were amazingly clear of
undergrowth. It was oddly quiet within the city walls, as if the thick
stone somehow muted the sounds from the surrounding jungle.
"This place is huge," Quinn said. "Amazing that it's stayed
hidden for so long."
I didn't say anything. We had come out of one of the city
avenues into a wide plaza. And at the center of the plaza was a ring of
statues. The statues sat, cross-legged and facing inward. In their stone
fingers they clasped various objects, skulls, keys, flowers, wheels, and
swords. The statues looked inward to the well Quinn had mentioned.
The well itself looked to be about fifteen feet across.
Its outer lip was wide and set flush with the stone floor of the plaza.
I'm pretty sure my mouth hung open as I gazed at the well.
There was no longer any doubt. I had been here before,
mentally if not physically. Memories came rushing back from my childhood.
Arangkhor. Sir Malcolm Jerrolds... Jon Dark...
Back in the early 1970s, before the cult of J.R.R. Tolkien
had taken hold of the fantasy publishing genre, there had been a boom in
the sales of the works of Tarzan creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs. Publishing
houses like Dell and Daw had rushed into the breech with ERB pastiches
and imitations by authors like John Norman, Burt Akers, and numerous others.
One of the most popular series had been the Jandar of Callisto novels written
By Lin Carter.
The Callisto books seemed to be pastiches of Burroughs'
John Carter of Mars series and were written in a similar style, right down
introductions. In these introductions, Carter, as Burroughs had done
before him, claimed not to be writing fiction but to be relating true accounts.
He claimed that the eight Callisto manuscripts were actually the work of
a man named Jonathan Andrew Dark and that Carter was simply acting as editor.
The books told the story of Jon Dark, a civilian
helicopter pilot, working for the Red Cross in Vietnam back in 1969. Dark
had suffered engine trouble and been forced to land over the Cambodian
border. Trying to hike out of the jungle he had stumbled upon an ancient
lost city. There he found a strange well, lined with green jade-like stone.
During the night, a beam of intense light thrust up from the center of
the well. Dark slipped on the smooth green stone and slid into the light.
The light beam turned out to be a teleportation device
of some sort that deposited dark on another world. He eventually figured
out that he was on Callisto, the fifth moon of Jupiter, known to its inhabitants
as Thanator. How the moon, which should have been a lifeless chunk of frozen
rock, could support life, Dark had never learned. Somehow though, the moon
was covered by dense jungle and was peopled by many strange races.
It was all the stuff of grand adventure and as a kid I
never worried much about the plausibility of the books. My favorite of
the novels had been the sixth, Lankar of Callisto, in which Lin Carter
himself had made the trip to Cambodia, to the ruined city discovered by
professor Malcolm Jerrolds, and traveled along the transferal beam to Callisto.
Many times I had let myself believe that maybe, just maybe, it really was
Now as I walked toward the jade circle, it seemed that
my childhood wishes were being answered. There were the statues, just as
they were in Carter's book. Here was the well, exactly as it had been described.
It simply wasn't possible and yet, there it was. The Gate Between Worlds.
Quinn walked slowly around the edge of the wide expanse
of smooth stone that surrounded the well. Something tugged at my memory
again and I reached out and grasped his arm just as his feet began to slide
out from under him.
"Thanks," Quinn said. "This stone is remarkably slippery."
"Yeah, and it slopes down toward the well. If you slide
in you'll go all the way to the bottom."
Quinn looked at me. "You know something, Charles. Don't
you? Something you're not telling me."
"Maybe. It's crazy though, Quinn. I have an idea, but you're
going to think it's nuts."
"I'm a professor of paranormal studies, Charles. I specialize
I pointed him toward a slab of stone that must have once
served as a bench. "Have a seat. I want to tell you a story about a writer
named Lin Carter, and a man named Jonathan Dark."
Quinn sat and listened as I told him all about Carter and
Callisto. When I paused for breath, he stood up shaking his head. "Charles
that's crazy. My daughter is missing and you're telling me fairy tales."
"I know it sounds crazy, Quinn. I feel like an idiot
telling you all this, but look at the facts. How else could I know all
this stuff about Malcolm Jerrolds and Arangkhor?"
"Jerrolds published in several magazines back in the late
seventies about his discoveries."
"Yeah, but Jandar of Callisto came out in 1972, before
Jerrolds ever made it to Arangkhor. Yet he found exactly what Carter described.
Hell, until this moment I didn't even know Jerrolds was a real person.
I thought he was just a character Lin Carter made up. But there's the well,
and here are the statues just as the book described them."
"But the dig has been here for weeks. Don't you think someone
would have noticed a searchlight beam coming from the well? This is the
real world, Charles. Things like that just don't happen."
"Quinn, you said it yourself. You've made your life's work
studying things that can't happen. I don't have all the answers, but this
definitely raises the possibility that Carter's books weren't fiction.
If that well really is the Gate Between Worlds, then Althea may have stumbled
into it, just like you almost did. She probably got up to go to the bathroom
or something in the night, saw the beam and came to investigate. If she
stepped onto the lip of the well…"
Quinn slumped back down onto the stone bench. "So what
do we do?"
"We go on searching for Althea just as if the well didn't
exist. We assume she's vanished for purely mundane reasons. But, at night
we need to stay close to this well. Also I'll need you to help me round
up some clothing made entirely from cotton. No synthetic fibers. Maybe
some woven grass sandals too."
"Why do you need that stuff?"
"Because inorganic material won't travel through the gate.
If we run out of possibilities concerning Althea's disappearance, and if
the transferal beam does appear, I'm going after your daughter."
Continued Next Week