CHAPTER 49: "A WILD RIDE"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
Of all the places in a world that John Carter might just
then have elected to visit, the belly of an angry venomous grazoon ranked
at the very bottom of the list. As quickly as his earthly muscles could
respond to the shocking development, he attempted to leap away from the
terrible thing. But the monstrosity's silken capture-line held him back
and the Earthman was only partly successful in his struggle. He managed
to jump as far as the outer edge of the creature's underside and there
he toppled over the side. His momentum and weight provided exactly the
amount of counterbalance the grazoon required to right itself. Flat on
his back and entangled in the adhesive strand, the man gazed up at the
monster's approaching pincers. Captain Carter fumbled for his long-sword
and then, to his despair, he realized that it was pinned down by his own
weight under his backside.
Woola whimpered unhappily in protest but he obeyed Sola's
command to stay back from the two glass-encased figures. Eventually the
brute ran off among the forest undergrowth and stayed out of sight for
a considerable amount of time. When he returned it was with something strange
between his toothy jaws.
"Let me see what you have there, you silly hound!" Sola
scolded. "Oh -- you've gone and uprooted a clump of man-flowers! Here,
give them to me; this isn't a proper meal for a big mean calot like you!"
The green girl carefully unfolded the mangled plants.
Woola's hard tugs had bent their arm-like branches, serrated leaves and
strangely patterned petals, but they were tough little things and the handful
of insect-eating flowers did not appear to be greatly injured. Sola used
her dagger to carve out a few holes in the forest floor. She transplanted
the wilted weeds near the sleeping man's head and gave them no further
Now it was the old grazoon's turn to misstep. The spider-like
creature lurched down to puncture its prey and inject a copious measure
of poison, but it too was entangled in the line and the grazoon's lunge
missed John Carter's throat by a handbreadth. That was all the advantage
the warrior needed. He rolled over twice in the thick mud of the cavern
floor and sat up in the slimy ooze, long-sword in hand, while the grazoon
was tearing at its own silk.
Where another, less experienced fighter might have stooped
to rub the muck from his eyes and look for a path of possible escape, John
Carter lunged out to meet the peril of inhuman death head-on. Six times
the Earthman sank the great Orovarian blade into the giant's bristly hide.
The spider-like monster sprawled into the deepening muck, but one strand
of silk still joined the grazoon with its human attacker. In mud up to
his shoulders now, John Carter reached out and slashed into the creature's
great peering eyes. The grazoon split the cavern's silence with an ear-piercing
shriek, the silk broke and the creature was gone.
Twice before, in his recollection, the Virginian had found
himself feet down in deep mud or quicksand. From those critical experiences
he had learned that his only way out of the morass was to lower his head
into the blackness and flatten out his body as best he could. The Earthman
half-swam and half-crawled through the thick stuff until one knee finally
touched bottom. Then the mud rose up on three sides, in strange surges
that propelled him forward -- forward in the sense that he moved in a direction
of greater light and a lower rock ceiling. The waves of ooze continued
to roll in, from the right as well as the left, and from each wave a grotesque
face seemed to stare out at him.
The depth of the ooze had diminished to the point that
the mud-spattered warrior could move unsteadily through the stuff on two
limbs rather than four. He rose to his feet, a dirty shadow of his former
"The spider disappeared so quickly." he thought out loud.
"That seems strange. I suppose I should be thankful it is gone -- that
there was only one of them. But -- it still seems unnatural. No, more than
that; it seems unreal!"
John Carter continued to stagger toward the light, climbing
over slimy boulders and wading through pools of black viscous material
which was neither liquid nor solid. His progress was slow -- frustratingly
slow. He lifted a foot to move forward and took a dozen breaths before
he felt it touch bottom again. Then he lifted the other foot and it too
passed through the muck as slowly as a snail on a cold spring morning.
When he sought to move faster, his efforts to escape were as those of a
man caught in a hideous dream.
"This can't be real," he said to himself. "Not even on
Mars does mire come alive!"
Still, the living mud waves rolled onward tirelessly battering
him from all sides. Where before there had been nothing but slime, muck
and rocks the Earthman now stumbled over dead roots and broken branches.
The light continually increased overhead and now John Carter could see
that the rocky ceiling had given way to dense vegetation. Ahead of him
sunbeams pierced the canopy of foliage and he could make out the shapes
of huge mushroom-like growths.
Twice he fell to his knees and had to tear away twisted
roots, hidden amid large piles of decaying leaves, in order to move on.
But when he reached the giant mushrooms the ground was at last clear of
the tangled debris and firm enough to support his weight. Glancing over
his shoulder he beheld the living darkness of the cavern, forming distorted
faces and clutching hands. The animated gloom was calling him back in hypnotic,
enticing surges. John Carter felt the strong pull, like a thumbtack in
the attraction field of a powerful magnet. He hesitated and wavered. Then
the weary fighter heard the queer growths in the foliage above urging him
forward out of the blackness.
The unexpected sight so startled the green girl that for
a moment she simply sat and stared. Then it happened again. For the first
time since she had seen the Jasoomian stretched out upon the slab in Vovo's
tower, he had moved. The first motion she saw was but a slight twist of
the man's neck. It came and went so quickly that the daughter of Tars Tarkas
could not be certain that her eyes were not playing tricks upon her. But
that small spasm was soon followed by a more obvious backward jerk of his
chin. The second event was an undeniable fact. John Carter's muscles had
moved of their own accord and that must signify something. But what?
Following the stiff lurch of his head the Jasoomian returned
to his former motionless state and the man's entire body went flaccid.
"Oh! Dotar Sojat -- have you died!" Sola cried out. Then
she recalled Oman's warning about not disturbing the dreamers with loud
sounds and she lowered her voice. "I fear I have lost you now, man of another
world. Is this my punishment for taking you away from the robot's safekeeping?"
Just then an alien thought sprang from out of nowhere
and reverberated within the green girl's telepathic consciousness: "I yet