CHAPTER 72: "OUT OF DARKNESS"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
He had not slept in a long time. That much, at least,
the Virginian was certain of. But his eyes were fast growing heavy and
he would not surrender to slumber without first determining what dangers
now awaited him. Having regained his composure (his courage he never lost),
John Carter essayed again to attempt to remove the keys from the dead body
of his green jailer. But as he reached out into the darkness to locate
it, he found to his horror that the corpse was gone. Other than a few still
moist animal droppings, the cell floor in front of him was empty! Then
the truth flashed upon the long-suffering prisoner; the owners of those
gleaming eyes had dragged his prize away, to be devoured in a far corner
of the cell, or, more likely in some adjoining space in the walls that
he had not yet discovered. They had first entered through the open doorway
but in their jostling about the room one of them must have kicked the door,
causing it to close again. That is why their eyes had grown so dim after
the slam of the ancient planks and the clicking of the lock cut off the
light from outside the cell.
His reasoning out an answer to the mystery left John Carter
with no feeling of satisfaction. Some carnivorous Martian creatures of
considerable size now knew where his cell was. If they had found a way
out, they could no doubt return by that same unseen passage. Nothing was
better for him; everything was worse! The only advantage the murderous
incident left in its wake was the grinding monotony of imprisonment had
been temporarily interrupted and that variation in his existence had helped
to restore the Earthman's distinctive clarity of thought in tight circumstances.
"I'm not dead," the swordsman laughed dourly -- with the
first trace of humor he had expressed for... for God knew how long!
John Carter waited in vain for investigating warriors
to come to his cell, seeking the missing jailer and his keys. But nothing
at all happened. He slept a dozen times. His hunger first became ravenous,
then shrank to a tight little knot of pain in his empty bowels. He began
licking the stone walls to capture the slightest seepage of moisture through
their thin cracks, but implacable thirst overcame his most ingenious efforts.
When his dry throat could suffer the deprivation no longer the Earthman
began to cry out for water in a rasping, faltering voice. A green guard
at last came to the door, tried the lock and left. But he later returned
with a set of keys and not long thereafter the parched mouth of prisoner
sucked down the life-giving fluid. Perhaps two or three days later a new
jailer appeared and the Earthman's incarceration went on as before.
"It defies comprehension!" he exlaimed to himself. "The
one thing the monsters look forward to, besides making war, is their Great
Games, whatever they may be. The jeddak himself orders that I be preserved
for the spectacle; but none of his subjects cares one whit that my warden
has disappeared! And, when at last one of the monsters looks in on me,
he asks not a word about where the prison guard has gone off to!"
Or so Captain Carter now recalls his jail cell soliloquy.
But the motives of the green men of Barsoom cannot be fathomed by logic.
They live in an eternal present where their only thoughts are to satisfy
their lusts. Perhaps one in a thousand wonders what will transpire on the
morrow. And the saddest part of all is that the civilized denizens of the
red planet grow more like the green barbarians with each passing generation.
The day is fast approaching when Mars will be nothing but dust and forgotten
Such were the thoughts of the hapless captive. Given enough
time in a Warhoon prison, even the roughest son of bloody Ares may turn
into a prattling sage.
Then the evil eyed creatures returned.
It happened when he was waking from a particularly nasty
dream. The Federals were on the road to Richmond and the city was in flames.
With a start Captain Carter opened his eyes and looked for the familiar
sliver of light at the bottom of the door. It was not there: blackness
reigned supreme in that stony cage. At once it occurred to the prisoner
that something was blocking his view. Guessing what that something might
be, he flung a fragment of trash into the blackness. A dark shape stirred
in the doorway and then moved past the dim glow to some new position, out
of sight. In that instant of movement the man of two worlds caught a glimpse
of a hairy body and numerous legs. There was no doubt about it, the intruder
was one of the great six-legged rats of Barsoom!
He saw its eyes now -- tiny sparks in the midnight shadows.
Two other sets of eyes appeared in the distance. There was a squeal and
the sound of claws upon the stone floor. Then nothing.
John Carter pondered his situation. The sharp-toothed
things he identified as rats are much larger and far more dangerous than
their equivalents on the blue planet. These vile creatures will attack
a calot, or even a banth, if hunger demands the gamble. Angry mothers eat
their own young. A starving Martian rat will gnaw off its own tail, and
a leg or two for the meager sustenance, and then it will dash around for
the remainder of its life on four -- or even three -- limbs, just as agile
as ever. They only occasionally attack adult human beings, most observers
will agree. That is, only occasionally, unless one or the other is cornered.
Chained down as he was, he could not hope to escape them.
Sooner or later, the rats would overtake him in his sleep. And then --
And then what? Before his could complete this line of thought another set
of unblinking eyes appeared between him and the door. Half sickened with
the horror of his situation, the captive instantly decided to throw himself
upon the shadow. Unchained, the Earthman's alien muscles and practiced
agility would have soon prevailed. But, of course, that was not the case.
Captain Carter had misjudged the thing's size, however. It weighed as much
as he did and carried in its mouth three sets of razor-sharp teeth. Two
legs sought for traction on the rough ersite floor, while the other four
struggled for freedom or slashed out at the attacker with wicked long claws.
I was impossible for John Carter to subdue the rat, chained down and limited
in his movements as he was. The stinking creature, squealing and biting,
quickly squirmed free.
The new jailer came to the Earthman's cell less frequently
than had his predecessor. When he did appear, more often than not he shoved
Carter's food through the half-opened door, without bothering to set a
foot beyond the threshold. There would be no second murder in that dungeon,
unless the prey happened to be the pale outlander and the predator a famished,
His situation had become hopeless!