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Volume 2271
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Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter®of Mars

Volume 2271


71. "THE JAILOR DIES" -- (for Apr. 11, '43)
(read novelization

P1: For John Carter, chained in the palace dungeon, time dragged endlessly. 

P2: The strain of the awful silence, and the mysterious eyes in the darkness was beginning to affect the Earthman. 

P3: One day when the jailer came with food and water he saw his prisoner sprawled on the floor. With open mouth and eyes rolled back, Carter's body was floundering as in the last paroxysms of death. 

P4: Then as the jailer moved over to investigate, the Earthman swung the chain at the Martian's head. 

P5: The fellow slumped to the floor; Carter sprang forward to clutch the padlock key fastened around the Martian's neck. 

P6: The scurrying of other feet in his cell caused the Earthman to turn -- the gleaming eyes were coming toward him. 


1. Compare 


Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst

A single ray of light broke the midnight darkness of the subterranean cell. This scant illumination was constant, but other than a paper-thin crack beneath the blocked-up food hole in the bulky wooden door and a few dusty cobwebs, the tiny light revealed nothing. The remainder of the room -- John Carter guessed it was a room of some kind -- was bathed in inky blackness. He shouted but there were no echoes. He cast bits of rubbish into the air and tried to tell whether they were striking distant stone walls or merely bouncing upon the floor. In frustration he gave up that useless work. Probably it was a cell of no great dimensions, constructed entirely of steel-hard stone broken by a single entrance with a locked door. He pushed aside handfuls of decaying garbage and made a place to sleep in a corner two body lengths from the dim beam. 

How many days passed, he could not tell. But if the growth of his scant beard and other bodily signs could be trusted, the food hole at the bottom of the wooden door was only opened at intervals of two or three days each. The slop that arrived through this mysterious means was a unmentionably disgusting concoction delivered in animal bladders, but the Earthman downed each portion of the changeless menu of meat stew as though it might be his last. Slowly his former health and energy returned. 

He was heavily chained to the floor and walls but the bonds were flexible enough and the chains long enough to allow him two body lengths of movement -- the distance to the near edge of the doorway and an equal span, in the opposite direction, to his familiar corner. He was at least able to give his muscles some exercise. The Earthman's only physical preoccupation in the utter darkness was the monotonous lifting and lowering of his own body. That effort kept him limber and strong but not even his alien sinews could break free of those thick steel bonds. 

In conversations with friends Captain Carter has said that this confinement in the basements of Warhoon's royal palace was the most horrible experience of his entire life. Considering all that the great swordsman has been through, in years beyond number, survival in that silent dungeon must have been a terrible thing indeed. Often his thoughts verged on madness. He would recite every word he knew, in alphabetical order, and then recite the list again, backwards. He spoke to his shackles, as though they were living beings. Eventually he plucked out his light beard, lost count of the food deliveries and could not tell whether he lay there on that cold stone floor for weeks, months or years. Only his recollections of a red-skinned Martian maid and the one sweet kiss they had shared provided any mental comfort -- and that small happiness was broken by the realization that he did not know whether she had survived her attempted escape from the same cruel monsters who kept him penned up in his own offal, like a rat in a hole. 

"I've dined on worms and insects I could never recognize in the daylight," Captain Carter once revealed to Vad Varo of Duhor. "The place where the Warhoon threw me was filled with little crawling creatures; cold, sinuous bodies and unseen flying things, whose bites left excruciating sores -- I learned how to grab and eat them all, unwashed and uncooked. Perhaps that gave me the strength to stay live. At least it gave me one more reason to relish the thought of murdering my green jailers in a thousand different ways!" 

His wish regarding the fate of the jailers finally came to fruition, in a weird sort of way. Somehow the cover to the food hole became stuck in place and one lazy cell guard began opening the door to deposit Captain Carter's rare repasts, rather than expending the thought and energy needed to make the repairs. Each time the green man came he always advanced with his dim torch a few steps inside the door. In order to enter the ancient cell the jailer was forced to bend over, for the doorway had been constructed for a human being of normal size. Whenever the Warhoon cell-keeper placed the stew-filled bladders on the floor, his ugly green head was, for a moment, at the same level as his chained captive. And during that moment, when the green man's head dropped down so low, his ring of clanking cell keys dangled enticingly from his filthy leather harness, practically in John Carter's face! 

This change in the routine had gone on for half a dozen time before the Earthman conceived of a plan whereby he might kill the Warhoon, seize his keys and possibly even escape from the dark prison undetected. At the jailer's next arrival, just as the fellow stooped down to deliver the food, he saw his prisoner sprawled on the floor. With open mouth and eyes rolled back, Carter's body was gasping and floundering as in the last paroxysms of death! 

The green man hesitated. No doubt long years spent in his occupation had made him wary of any sort of deception. But this was something new -- if he did not act to save the little man it could mean trouble with his superiors. He leaned forward to probe at the spastic prisoner with his smoldering torch, and that was his last act, ere he was united with his fathers. John Carter swung a heavy chain above his head and crashed the links with all his strength down upon the jailer's skull. The fellow slumped to the floor without a sound, stone dead. 

Here was a small victory that might lead to freedom! But the mental strain produced by untold nights in that horrid cell had taken its toll upon the Earthman's thoughts. His plans were mixed up inside his brain. The green man had toppled over sideways. His upper body harness was out of sight and perhaps even out of reach of the closely confined Earthman. A long time must have passed before he decided what to do next. And during that lapse the scurrying of other feet in his cell told John Carter that he was not alone with the corpse. Gleaming eyes were coming toward him, reflecting the meager rays that entered through the still open door. Then there was a the slight sound of a body bumping against the wood and the cell door swung shut with a thud -- and a click! 

John Carter pulled himself atop the prone body and crawled over the double torso. At the very end of his chains, he was groping with his teeth to remove the keys from the dead Warhoon. Glancing up into the darkness he saw six spots of faint reflection fixed, unbliinking, upon him. Cautiously he backed away, but the evil eyes moved toward him out of the darkness. Moments later he was again at the limits of his chains, against the wall in the corner where he'd made a rude mattress from discarded animal bladders. Backed into that inky corner, he crouched and held his chained hands out into the blackness. Then the faint spots retreated. Their departure was accompanied by a strange grating sound, low in the room, but finally both the eyes and the eerie sound disappeared. Perhaps the unknown creatures had retreated into some distant recess of the cell, or perhaps they found a passage out of the dungeon. No matter, the Earthman continued to crouch in the corner, counting his own heartbeats and waiting. 


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