The Thing That Walked in the Rain - Otis Adelbert Kline - ebook

The Thing That Walked in the Rain ebook

Otis Adelbert Kline

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Those readers who had been charmed by Otis Adelbert Kline’s swashbuckling sci-fi adventures would not have long to wait before they were treated to that novel’s follow-up thrill ride. „The Thing That Walked in the Rain” provides another interplanetary adventure. Considered by many to be the only true equal of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Otis Adelbert Kline was a master of the sword and planet genre. From his position on the original editorial staff of Weird Tales and as the literary agent for Conan creator Robert E. Howard, Kline helped shape the face of science fiction as we know it. Kline represented Howard from the Spring of 1933 until Howard’s death in June 1936, and continued to act as literary agent for Howard’s estate thereafter. This one is doing all of those things you expect and want a classic pulp sci-fi to do, not the least of which being to put a smile on your face.

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Liczba stron: 60

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Contents

I. THE MOUNTAIN OF MYSTERY

II. THE DIARY

III. THE THING THAT WALKED IN THE RAIN

IV. IN THE POWER OF THE ADEPT

V. THE SACRIFICE

VI. THE LAST SACRIFICE

I. THE MOUNTAIN OF MYSTERY

CERRO VERDINEGRO is only one of the lesser volcanic peaks that clutter tip the Nicaraguan landscape in such generous numbers. But to the members of our party, trudging doggedly toward it through the dense tropical jungle, it had an importance out of all proportion to its diminutive size.

Pedro Ortiz, our guide, a swarthy mestizo with a thin, carefully trained black moustache, an admirable tenor voice and a penchant for flamboyant raiment, usually avoided speaking its name, when he had occasion to refer to our destination, but merely mentioned it as “that mountain,” or “that place.” When its name was spoken in his presence he invariably crossed himself piously with a fervent: “Maria Madre preserve us!”

The two Misskito Indians whose keen machetes were carving the way for us, and the eighteen others who trudged behind in single, file, bearing our supplies, had grown more fearful day by day as we drew nearer our destination, so we were kept in constant trepidation lest they bolt and leave us stranded.

Tall, gaunt, bespectacled and bewhiskered, Professor Charles Mabrey, explorer and naturalist, had undertaken the leadership of the expedition for the purpose of clearing up the mystery surrounding the strange disappearance of his friend and colleague, Dr. Fernando de Orellana. And he made it plain that he did not, for one moment, countenance the weird, incredible story which linked that disappearance with the traditional mystery of the extinct volcano. It was his frank and unalterable opinion that the doctor had been murdered by the natives, and that they had invented the outré story of a man-eating monster inhabiting the crater lake purely to shield themselves from punishment. Although I had called his attention to the fact that as soon as the doctor had disappeared the natives had sent a runner to Managua to announce the fact, and that it did not seem likely they would do such a thing, if they had killed him, his only retort was that it was obvious I was not conversant with the complex ramifications of native cunning.

But to one member of our party, Verdingegro was a mountain of tragedy–a tomb, perhaps, that concealed the remains of a beloved parent. Anita de Orellana, motherless for many years, and now a full orphan if the native report of her father’s death were true, bravely bore the rigors and hardships of our expedition despite the fact that she had been gently raised–had, in fact, been called from a young ladies’ school in New York by the news of her father’s strange disappearance. She appeared so small, so slight, so fragile, that often on the trail I felt like picking up the slender, khaki-clad form, as one might pick up and carry a tired child. In her big brown eyes, which she endeavored to keep cheerful, I frequently detected the hint of tears which she bravely hut vainly tried to suppress.

As for me, Jimmie Brown, the least important member of the party, I had joined the expedition at the invitation of Professor Mabrey, my friend and companion of many a jaunt into strange places and dangerous situations. I may as well confess that my hobby is exploration, and my means of livelihood a portable typewriter and a camera. There is a strain of the Celt in me, which perhaps accounts for my penchant for adventure, as well as for my red hair, blue eyes, and scant sprinkling of freckles. To me, the peak of Verdinegro was, at first, merely another adventure. But after I came to know Anila, it was something more. A mystery that must be solved. Perhaps a death to be avenged. The professor had introduced us at the dock and we had become acquainted on the voyage to Nicaragua.

As we suddenly emerged from the humid jungle into the clearing where the native huts were clustered, Cerro Verdinegro loomed up, sinister, menacing gigantic in its nearness. Our last view of the mountain, previous to our plunge into the jungle, had been from a distance of more than ten miles, from which it appeared in a blue haze. On close observation the reason for its name was manifest, for the vegetation that covered its sloping sides was a darker green than that of the surrounding country–probably, the professor told us, because its soil was more fertile.

On entering the village we were greeted by barking dogs, pot-bellied brown-skinned children, slouching, greasy looking squaws in various states of undress, and their no more attractive appearing lords and masters.

Pedro addressed a few words to a white-haired and exceedingly wrinkled old fellow, who pointed toward a path which led up the mountainside, and beside which a little stream trickled. Leaving the natives still gaping and chattering, we filed away between the small gardens of squash and beans, and on up the slope, following a path which cut through the riotous tangle of dark green vegetation.

After about a half hour of climbing, we came to a small clearing, in the center of which was a cottage with a screened porch. Near the cottage was the source of the little stream we had been following–a clear spring that gushed from the mountain side. Opposite this, was a native hut. A neglected, weed-choked garden mutely attested the recent cessation of human care. The dark green rim of the crater loomed not more than a quarter of a mile above us.

Dropping their burdens, our carriers grouped themselves around Pedro and began chattering vociferously. The professor led the way into the cottage. Anita and I followed.

Although the doors were unlocked, it was apparent that nothing had been disturbed. The professor pooh-poohed the idea of native honesty, but believed this singular phenomenon might be due to superstitious fear.

WE found ourselves in a large and roughly but comfortably furnished room, the walls of which were lined with books. A homemade desk, table and filing cabinet occupied one corner. Three doors other than that which led from the porch were cut into the walls. One led to a small bedroom in which there was a cot surrounded by mosquito netting. Another led to a larger room, evidently the doctor’s laboratory, the shelves of which were filled with bottles, jars and boxes. It was equipped with a number of small tanks, a large table on which were a compound microscope, numerous retorts and test tubes, and other paraphernalia of the biologist, bacteriologist and biochemist.

The third door led into a small kitchen, equipped with an oil stove, a small sink, table and chairs. It contained a considerable quantity of tinned supplies, neatly arranged on the shelves. The table had been set for one, and the dishes held the dried remains of a meal which apparently had not been touched.

“It is evident, Anita,” said the professor, gently, “that whatever took your father away did so quite unexpectedly. There are no signs of violence, so a ruse of some sort must have been used, tie was about to sit down to this meal, no doubt, when called outside on some pretext. But he never returned to finish the meal.”

The girl’s eyes filled with tears.

“Poor, dear Dad,” she said. “He was always so good to me, and I need him so.”

“There, there, my dear. I know just how you feel.” The professor spoke soothingly, and put his arm around her shoulders. In a moment she was sobbing in the hollow of his khaki-clad arm.

I felt a queer lump rising in my throat. It was the first time I had heard her cry.

At this moment, Pedro came in.

“Pardon, señor,” he said to the professor, “but those damn’ Misskitos raise too mooch hal outside.”

“What’s wrong, Pedro?” asked the professor, patting the girl’s head consolingly.

“They say mus’ go long way by dark. They would like to ‘ave the pay, now.”

“Go a long way? Why?”

“They ‘fraid thees mountain.” Here Pedro rolled his eyes and crossed himself.

“To be sure. I had forgotten.” The professor released Anita, who had stilled her sobbing and was gazing at Pedro, tears trembling on her long, curved lashes. “Tell them I’ll come out and pay them right away.” Pedro returned the questioning look of Anita with an expression of dog-like devotion. Fearful as he was of the mysterious mountain, I believe it was this devotion to Anita, more than the money we paid him, that kept him from leaving us.

He bowed politely to Mabrey:

“Si, señor. I tal them.”

We followed him outside a moment later, and the professor opened a pocket of his money belt. One by one, he handed each Indian his wages. When he had paid the last man, he addressed Pedro.

“Ask them,” he said, “if there are any brave men among them.”

Our guide spoke to the group collectively, and a vociferous chattering began, which lasted for some time. Presently it quieted down, and Pedro said:

“They say, señor, that they are all brave men. But they say, also, that they cannot fight a monster taller than a tree, weeth a thousan’ legs, and eet foolish to try.

“Tell them that we are going to try, and ask if there are two of them willing to stay if their daily wages are doubled.”

More chattering, and presently two men wearing the air of martyrs stepped out of the ranks, while the others filed away, traveling with far greater speed than they had ever attained during our journey.

“Quarter them in the hut,” ordered the professor.

“And now,” he said, turning lo Anita and me, “we’ll get settled, and then down to business.”

II. THE DIARY

THAT afternoon, when our luggage had been stowed away and we had partaken of a very satisfactory meal prepared by Anita in her father’s kitchen, the three of us, Anita, Mabrey and I, started to follow the well-worn path which led over the crater rim. Pedro and the two Misskitos, squatting around their cook-fire before the hut, watched us depart with ominous glances, much as if we were being led before a firing squad.

When we reached the rim, we looked down upon a lake of glassy smoothness, which faithfully mirrored the sky and the encircling crater. So peaceful and beautiful did it appear, that the idea of a man-destroying monster inhabiting its pellucid depths seemed ridiculous.

“This lake, according to an old tradition,” said the professor, “is bottomless, and inhabited by a terrible monster, which emerges from the water on rainy nights, searches until it has found a human victim, and returns to its watery lair deep in the bowels of the earth. Natives who profess to have seen this awful creature say it is taller and bigger than a tree and has a thousand snaky heads. Many years ago, the story goes, beautiful maidens with stones tied to their feet were thrown into the lake at regular intervals decided by the priests. These sacrifices, it is said, prevented the monster from leaving its lair and raiding the villages.

“With the advent of Christianity, the priests of the new religion abolished the custom, and it is said that for many years the monster again committed its terrible depredations. Then, so the story goes, it slept for three hundred years. But of late, it is said, the monster has awakened, and recommenced its raids on the populace. And now, when any man, woman or child disappears during a rainstorm, the monster is blamed and the new priests are cursed. There are, of course, boas, anacondas, jaguars and pumas in these jungles, but their depredations are never taken into account. I am inclined to think that the entire myth may have been started by the raids of an enormous boa, which is a water-loving snake, and often reaches a size that renders it fully capable of crushing and devouring a human being.

“So much for the legend. Now for the facts.”

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