ERB'S EMBRYONIC JOURNEY:
THE TRIMESTERS OF CASPAK
Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
(Dedicated to George McWhorter)
OUT OF TIME’S ABYSS
(Chapter 2 concluded)
We left our hero, Bradley, checking out of one of the weirdest
restaurants in the world of imagination. It seems that the Wieroo have
some kind of economic system because his meal is not free; someone has
to pay for it. It took a very brave man to wander into the establishment
alone with only the name of another Wieroo to allegedly protect him. As
it is, he still has his pistol and ammunition belt and can probably handle
himself if attacked by one or two Wieroos, but he would have little chance
if more than that were in the melee. We left him musing on the gradual
evolution of man into bird-man:
“As these thoughts flashed through his
mind, the Wieroo held out a pen of bone fixed to a wooden holder and at
the same time made a sign that Bradley was to write upon the paper. It
was difficult to judge from the expressionless features of the Wieroo what
was passing in the creature’s mind, but Bradley could not but feel that
the thing cast as supercilious glance upon him as must as to say, ‘Of course
you do not know how to write, you poor, low creature; but you can make
That was quite a fight, wasn’t it? At the end I was reminded of the classic
James Bond versus Red Grant fight aboard the Orient Express in From Russia
with Love. It almost went down in exactly the same manner, with Bond almost
a gonner when he flicks out the secret knife in his trick brief case and
saves himself in the nick of time. Like I said, ERB knew how to write action.
“Bradley seized the pen and in a clear, bold
hand wrote: ‘John Bradley, England.’ The Wieroo showed evidences of consternation
as it seized the piece of paper and examined the writing with every mark
of incredulity and surprise. Of course it could make nothing of the strange
characters; but it evidently accepted them as proof that Bradley possessed
knowledge of a written language of his own, for following the Englishman’s
entry it made a few characters of its own.
“‘Reassuring cuss,’ thought Bradley as he turned
and left the building.
“Outside were several of the Wieroos that had
been eating at the pedestals within. They immediately surrounded him, asking
all sorts of questions, plucking at his garments, his ammunition-belt and
his pistol. Their demeanor was entirely different from what it had been
within the eating-place and Bradley was to learn that a house of food was
sanctuary for him, since the stern laws of theWieroo forbade altercations
within such walls. Now they were rough and threatening, as with wings half
spread they hovered about him in menacing attitudes, barring his way to
the ladder leading to the roof from whence he had descended; but the Englishman
was not one to brook interference for long. He attempted at first to push
his way past them, and then when one seized his arm and jerked him roughly
back, Bradley swung upon the creature and with a heavy blow to the jaw
“Instantly pandemonium reigned. Loud wails arose,
great wings opened and closed with a loud, beating noise and many clawlike
hands reached forth to clutch him. Bradley struck to right and left. He
dared not use the pistol for fear that once they discovered its power he
would be overcome by weight of numbers and relieved of possession of what
he considered his trump card, to be reserved until the last moment that
it might be used to aid in his escape, for already the Englishman was planning,
though almost hopelessly, such an attempt.
“A few blows convinced Bradley that the Wieroos
were arrant cowards and that they bore no weapons, for after two or three
had fallen beneath his fists the others formed a circle about him, but
at a safe distance, and contented themselves with threatening and blustering,
while those whom he had felled lay upon the pavement without trying to
arise, the while they moaned and wailed in lugubrious chorus.
“Again Bradley strode toward the ladder, and
this time the circle parted before him; but no sooner had he ascended a
few rungs than he was seized by one foot and an effort made to drag him
down. With a quick backward glance the Englishman, clinging firmly to the
ladder with both hands, drew up his free foot and with all the strength
of a powerful leg planted a heavy shoe squarely in the flat face of the
Wieroo that held him. Shrieking horribly, the creature clapped both hands
to its face and sank to the ground while Bradley clambered quickly the
remaining distance to the roof, though no sooner did he reach the top of
than a great flapping of wings beneath him warned
him that the Wieroos were rising after him. A moment later they swarmed
about his head as he ran for the apartment in which he had spent the early
hours of the morning after his arrival.
“It was but a short distance from the top of
the ladder to the doorway, and Bradley had almost reached his goal when
the door flew open and Fosh-bal-soj stepped out. Immediately the pursuing
Wieroos demanded punishment of the jaal-lu who had so grievously maltreated
them. Fosh-bal-soj listened to their complaints and then with a sudden
sweep of his right hand seized Bradley by the scruff of the neck and hurled
him sprawling through the doorway upon the floor of the chamber.
“So sudden was the assault and so surprising
the strength of the Wieroo that the Englishman was taken completely off
his guard. When he arose, the door was closed, and Fosh-bal-soj was standing
over him, the hideous face contorted into an expression of rage and hatred.
“‘Hyena, snake, lizard!’ he screamed. ‘You would
dare lay your low, vile, profaning hands upon even the lowliest of the
Wieroos – the sacred, chosen of Luata!’
“Bradley was mad, and so he spoke in a very low,
calm voice while a halfsmile played across his lips; but his cold, gray
eyes were unsmiling.
“‘What you did to me just now,’ he said – ‘–
I am going to kill you for that,’ and even as he spoke, he launched himself
at the throat of Fosh-bal-soj. The other Wieroo that had been asleep when
Bradley left the chamber had departed, and the two were alone. Fosh-bal-soj
displayed little of the cowardice of those that had attacked Bradley in
the alley-way, but that may have been because he had no slight opportunity,
for Bradley had him by the throat before he could utter a cry and with
his right hand struck him heavily and repeatedly upon his face and over
his heart – ugly, smashing, short-arm jabs of the sort that take the fight
out of a man in quick time.
“But Fosh-bal-soj was of no mind to die passively.
He clawed and struck at Bradley while with his great wings he attempted
to shield himself from the merciless rain of blows, at the same time searching
for a hold upon his antagonist’s throat. Presently, he succeeded in tripping
the Englishman, and together the two fell heavily to the floor, Bradley
underneath, and at the same instant the Wieroo fastened his long talons
about the other’s windpipe.
“Fosh-bal-soj was possessed of enormous strength
and he was fighting for his life. The Englishman soon realized that the
battle was going against him. Already his lungs were pounding painfully
for air as he reached for his pistol. It was with difficulty that he drew
it from its holster, and even then, with death staring him in the face,
he thought of his precious ammunition. ‘Can’t waste it,’ he thought; and
slipping his fingers to the barrel he raised the weapon and struck Fosh-bal-soj
a terrible blow between the eyes. Instantly the clawlike fingers released
their hold, and the creature sank limply to the floor beside Bradley, who
lay for several minutes gasping painfully in an effort to regain his breath.
“When we was able, he rose and leaned close over
the Wieroo, lying silent and motionless, his wings dropping limply and
his great, round eyes staring blankly toward the ceiling. A brief examination
convinced Bradley that the thing was dead, and with the conviction came
an overwhelming sense of the dangers which must now confront him; but how
was he to escape?” (OTA/2.)
And you have to hand it to Bradley – he managed to kill the Wieroo without
wasting a round of ammunition and giving away his trump card. Now he must
ask himself, what would Indiana Jones do in this situation?
“His first thought was to find some means
for concealing the evidence of his deed and then to make a bold effort
to escape. Stepping to the second door he pushed it gently open and peered
in upon what seemed to be a store room. In it was a litter of cloth such
as the Wieroo’s robes were fashioned from, a number of chests painted blue
and white, with white hieroglyphics painted in bold strokes upon the blue
and blue hieroglyphics upon the white. In one corner was a pile of human
skulls reaching almost to the ceiling and in another a stack of dried Wieroo
wings. The chamber was as irregularly shaped as the other and had but a
single window and a second door at the further end, but was without the
exit through the roof and, most important of all, there was no creature
of any sort in it.
It first appears as if ERB got his seasons mixed up here. According to
my calculations it is September 15, 1916, the following day after his capture;
in fact, almost Autumn, and far from Spring in the Northern Hemisphere.
But we are, of course, down under where the seasons are reversed, so he
is just having a little fun.
“As quickly as possible Bradley dragged the dead
Wieroo through the doorway and closed the door; then he looked about for
a place to conceal the corpse. One of the chests was large enough to hold
the body if the knees were bent well up, and with this idea in view Bradley
approached the chest to open it. The lid was made in two pieces, each being
hinged at an opposite end of the chest, making a snug, well-fitting joint.
There was no lock. Bradley raised one half the cover and looked in. With
a smothered ‘By Jove!’ he bent closer to examine the contents – the chest
was about half filled with an assortment of golden trinkets. There were
what appeared to be bracelets, anklets and brooches of virgin gold.
“Realizing that there was no room in the chest
for the body of the Wieroo, Bradley turned to seek another means of concealing
the evidence of his crime. There was a space between the chests and the
wall, and into this he forced the corpse, piling the discarded robes upon
it until it was entirely hidden from sight; but now how was he to make
good his escape in the bright glare of that early Spring day?” (OTA/2.)
“He walked to the door at the far end
of the apartment and cautiously opened it an inch. Before him and about
two feet away was the blank wall of another building. Bradley opened the
door a little farther and looked in both directions. There was no one in
sight to the left over a considerable expanse of roof-top, and to the right
another building shut off his line of vision at about twenty feet. Slipping
out, he turned to the right and in a few steps found a narrow passageway
between two buildings. Turning into this he passed about half its length
when he saw a Wieroo appear at the opposite end and halt. The creature
was not looking down the passageway; but at any moment it might turn its
eyes toward him, when he would be immediately discovered.
We’ve had enough experience with Ajor to know that Bradley is looking at
a Galu woman. He left out the part, of course, about her right breast and
vulva being exposed; however, he suggested a little more covering by changing
Ajor’s “belt” into the Galu girl’s “loose girdle.”
“To Bradley’s left was a triangular niche in
the wall of one of the houses, and into this he dodged, thus concealing
himself from the sight of the Wieroo. Beside him was a door painted a vivid
yellow and constructed after the same fashion as the other Wieroo doors
he had seen, being made up of countless narrow strips of wood from four
to six inches in length laid on in patches of about the same width, the
strips in adjacent patches never running in the same direction. The result
bore some resemblance to a crazy patchwork quilt, which was heightened
when, as in one of the doors he had seen, contiguous patches were painted
different colors. The strips appeared to have been bound together and to
the underlying framework of the door with gut or fiber and also glued,
after which a thick coating of paint had been applied. One edge of the
door was formed of a straight, round pole about two inches in diameter
that protruded at top and bottom, the projections setting in round holes
in both lintel and sill and forming the axis upon which the door swung.
An eccentric disk upon the inside face of the door engaged a slot in the
frame when it was desired to secure the door against intruders.
“As Bradley stood flattened against the wall
waiting for the Wieroo to move on, he heard the creature’s wings brushing
against the sides of the buildings as it made its way down the narrow passage
in his direction. As the yellow door offered the only means of escape without
detection, the Englishman decided to risk whatever might lie beyond it,
and so, boldly pushing it in, he crossed the threshold and entered a small
“As he did so, he heard a muffled ejaculation
of surprise, and turning his eyes in the direction from whence the sound
had come, he beheld a wide-eyed girl standing flattened against the opposite
wall, an expression of incredulity upon her face. At a glance he saw that
she was of no race of humans that he had come in contact with since his
arrival upon Caprona – there was no trace about her form or features of
any relationship to those low orders of men, nor was she appareled as they
– or, rather, she did not entirely lack apparel as did most of them.
“A soft hide fell from her left shoulder to just
below her left hip on one side and almost to her right knee on the other,
a loose girdle was about her waist, and golden ornaments such as he had
seen in the blue-and-white chest encricled her arms and legs, while a golden
fillet with a triangular diadem bound her heavy hair above her brows. Her
skin was white as from a long confinement within doors; but it was clear
and fine. Her figure, but partially concealed by the soft deerskin, was
all curves of symmetry and youthful grace, while her features might easily
have been the envy of the most feted of Continental beauties.” (OTA/2.)
He also left out the leopard’s tail descending from her left shoulder,
but big deal! It must have been a real shwing! moment just the same. Now,
the only question that remains is whether or not Bradley regards himself
as a ladies’ man.
“If the girl was surprised by the sudden
appearance of Bradley, the latter was absolutely astounded to discover
so wondrous a creature among the hideous inhabitants of the City of Human
Skulls. For a moment the two looked at one another in unconcealed consternation,
and then Bradley spoke, using, to the best of his poor ability, the common
tongue of Caspak.
It appears to me that the Wieroo was worried about the girl being sexually
defiled by Bradley. For if she is cos-ata-lo, then she was born vaginally
as a Galu, and did not come up from the beginning with the obvious amount
of sexual partners that that encompasses. In other words, she is a virgin
through and through. And I don’t know about you, but that Wieroo wail reminds
me of the wail of the pod people in Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Creepy to the max.
“‘Who are you?’ he asked, ‘and from where do
you come? Do not tell me that you are a Wieroo.’
“‘No,’ she replied, ‘I am no Wieroo.’ And she
shuddered slightly as she pronounced the word. ‘I am a Galu; but who and
what are you? I am sure that you are no Galu, from your garments; but you
are like the Galus in other respects. I know that you are not of this frightful
city, for I have been here for almost ten moons, and never have I seen
a male Galu brought hither before, nor are there such as you and I, other
than prisoners in the land of Oo-oh, and these are all females. Are you
a prisoner, then?’
“He told her briefly who and what he was, though
he doubted if she understood, and from her he learned that she had been
a prisoner there for many months; but for what purpose he did not then
learn, as in the midst of their conversation the yellow door swung open
and a Wieroo with a robe slashed with yellow entered.
“At sight of Bradley the creature became furious.
‘Whence came this reptile?’ it demanded of the girl. ‘How long has it been
here with you?’
“‘It came through the doorway just ahead of you,’
Bradley answered for the girl.
“The Wieroo looked relieved. ‘It is well for
the girl that this is so,’ it said, ‘for now only you will have to die.’
And stepping to the door the creature raised its voice in one of those
uncanny depressing wails.” (OTA/2.)
“The Englishman looked toward the girl.
‘Shall I kill it?’ he asked, half drawing his pistol. ‘What is best to
do? – I do not wish to endanger you.’
You have to hand it to Bradley; he’s one tough customer. But now he’s lost
his trump card just when he needed it most.
“The Wieroo backed toward the door. ‘Defiler!’
it screamed. ‘You dare to threaten one of the sacred chosen of Luata!’
“‘Do not kill him,’ cried the girl, ‘for then
there could be no hope for you. That you are here, alive, shows that they
may not intend to kill you at all, and so there is a chance for you if
you do not anger them; but touch him in violence and your beheaded skull
will top the loftiest pedestal of Oo-oh.’
“‘And what of you?’ asked Bradley.
“‘I am already doomed,’ replied the girl; ‘I
“Cos-ata-lo! cos-ata-lu! What did these phrases
men that they were so oft repeated by the denizens of Oo-oh? Lu and lo,
Bradley knew to be man and woman; ata was employed variously to indicate
life, eggs, young, and reproduction and kindred subject; cos was a negative;
but in combination they were meaningless to the European.
“‘Do you mean they will kill you?’ asked Bradley.
“‘I but wish that they would,’ replied the girl.
‘My fate is to be worse than death – in just a few nights more, with the
coming of the new moon.’
“‘Poor she-snake!’ snapped the Wieroo. ‘You are
to become sacred above all other shes. He Who Speaks for Luata has chosen
you for himself. Today you go to his temple’ – the Wieroo used a phrase
meaning literally High Place – ‘where you will receive the sacred commands.’
“The girl shuddered and cast a sorrowful glance
toward Bradley. ‘Ah,’ she sighed, ‘if I could see my beloved country once
“The man stepped suddenly close to her side before
the Wieroo could interpose himself and in a low voice asked her if there
was no way by which he might encompass her escape. She shook her head sorrowfully.
‘Even if we escaped the city,’ she replied, ‘there is the big water between
the island of Oo-oh and the Galu shore.’
“‘And what is beyond the city, if we could leave
it?’ pursued Bradley.
“‘I may only guess from what I have heard since
I was brought here,’ she answered; ‘but by reports and chance remarks I
take it to be a beautiful land in which there are but few wild beasts and
no men, for only the Wieroos live upon this island and they dwell always
in cities of which there are three, this being the largest. The others
are at the far end of the island, which is about three marches from end
to end and as its widest point about one march.’
“From his own experience and from what the natives
on the mainland had told him, Bradley knew that ten miles was a good day’s
march in Caspak, owing to the fact that at most points it was a trackless
wilderness and at all times travelers were beset by hideous beasts and
reptiles that greatly impeded rapid progress.
“The two had spoken rapidly but were now interrupted
by the advent through the opening in the roof of several Wieroos who had
come in answer to the alarm it of the yellow slashing had uttered.
“‘This jaal-lu,’ cried the offended one, ‘has
threatened me. Take its hatchet from it and make it fast where it can do
no harm until He Who Speaks for Luata has said what shall be done with
it. It is one of those strange creatures that Fosh-bal-soj discovered first
above the Band-lu country and followed back toward the beginning. He Who
Speaks for Luata sent Fosh-bal-soj to fetch him one of the creatures, and
here it is. It is hoped that it may be from another world and hold the
secret of the cos-ata-lus.’
“The Wieroos approached boldly to take Bradley’s
‘hatchet’ from him, their leader having indicated the pistol hanging in
its holster at the Englishman’s hip, but the first one went reeling backward
against its fellows from the blow to the chin which Bradley followed up
with a rush and the intention to clean up the room in record time; but
he had reckoned without the opening in the roof. Two were down and a great
wailing and moaning was arising when reinforcements appearead from above.
Bradley did not see them; but the girl did, and though she cried out a
warning, it came too late for him to avoid a large Wieroo who dived headforemost
for him, striking him between the shoulders and bearing him to the floor.
Instantly a dozen more were piling on top of him. His pistol was wrenched
from its holster and he was securely pinioned down by the weight of numbers.
“At a word from the Wieroo of the yellow slashing,
who evidently was a person of authority, one left and presently returned
with fiber ropes with which Bradley was tightly bound.
“‘Now bear him to the Blue Place of Seven Skulls,’
directed the chief Wieroo, ‘and one take the word of all that has passed
to Him Who Speaks for Luata.’
“Each of the creatures raised a hand, the back
against its face, as though in salute. One seized Bradley and carried him
through the yellow doorway to the roof from whence it rose upon its widespread
wings and flapped off across the roof-tops of Oo-oh with its heavy burden
clutched in its long talons.” (OTA/2.)
“Below him Bradley could see the city stretching away to a
distance on every hand. It was not as large as he had imagined, though
judged that it was at least three miles square. The houses were piled in
indescribable heaps, sometimes to a height of a hundred feet. The streets
and alleys were short and crooked and there were many areas where buildings
had been wedged in so closely that no light could possibly reach the lowest
tiers, the entire surface of the ground being packed solidly with them.
On this sad cliffhanger note, Chapter 2 concludes. What is to become of
“The colors were varied and startling, the architecture
amazing. Many roofs were cup or saucer-shaped with a small hole in the
center of each, as though they had been constructed to catch rain-water
and conduct it to a reservoir beneath; but nearly all the others had the
large opening in the top that Bradley had seen used by these flying men
in lieu of doorways. At all levels were the myriad poles surmounted by
grinning skulls; but the two most prominent features of the city were the
round tower of human skulls that Bradley had noted earlier in the day and
another and much larger edifice near the center of the city. As they approached
it, Bradley saw that it is was a huge building rising a hundred feet in
height from the ground and that it stood alone in the center of what might
have been called a plaza in some other part of the world. Its various parts,
however, were set together with the same strange irregularity that marked
the architecture of the city as a whole; and it was capped by an enormous
saucer-shaped roof which projected far beyond the eaves, having the appearance
of a colossal Chinese coolie hat, inverted.
“The Wieroo bearing Bradley passed over one corner
of the open space about the large building, revealing to the Englishman
grass and trees and running water beneath. They passed the building and
about five hundred yards beyond the creature alighted on the roof of a
square, blue building surmounted by seven poles bearing seven skulls. This
then, thought Bradley, is the Place of Seven Skulls.
“Over the opening in the roof was a grated covering,
and this the Wieroo removed. The thing then tied a piece of fiber rope
to one of Bradley’s ankles and rolled him over the edge of the opening.
All was dark below and for an instant the Englishman came as near to experiencing
real terror as he had ever come in his life before. As he rolled off into
the black abyss he felt the rope tighten about his ankle and an instant
later he was stopped with a sudden jerk to swing pendulumlike, head downward.
Then the creature lowered away until Bradley’s head came in sudden and
painful contact with the floor below, after which the Wieroo let loose
of the rope entirely and the Englishman’s body crashed to the wooden planking.
He felt the free end of the rope dropped upon him and heard the grating
being slid into place above him.” (OTA/2.)
Expect more thrills in Chapter 3.
(Continued in Part Twenty-Two)