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Edgar Rice Burroughs' John Carter®of Mars



72. "OUT OF DARKNESS" -- (for Apr. 18, '43)
(read novelization

P1: John Carter backed against the dungeon wall as the evil eyes moved toward him out of the darkness. 

P2: Closer they came until they reached the body of the jailer -- 

P3: And then he saw that the eyes belonged to a group of giant, six-legged rats. 

P4: With their yellow fangs clutching the jailer's body, the weird, snarling creatures began pulling the corpse back into the blackness. -- But the key to Carter's padlock was still fastened around the dead Martian's neck. 

P5: Half crazed now with the horror of his situation, the Earthman threw himself upon one of the rats. 

P6: But the ugly creature, squealing and biting, squirmed free. 

P7: Now with the jailer gone, John Carter was without food or water for two days -- and as he grew weaker -- the eyes moved closer again! 


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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 memories. 

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, six-limbed rodent. 

His situation had become hopeless! 


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