"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

If It Bleeds by Stephen King (2020) [50 Years of Stephen King]

If It Bleeds (2020) is the fourth collection of four novellas Stephen King has released in his career. Each collection of this type is its own animal, but the reader can be sure of one or more coming-of-age story and several horror tales.

Different Seasons (1982) I suspect is the most appreciated, and in hindsight seems less uneven than Four Past Midnight (1990) and Full Dark, No Stars (2010). King clearly has unique ambitions for tales he presents in these books.

Mr. Harrigan's Phone

"Mr. Harrigan's Phone" has moments that shock the reader as King makes inexorable connections that have irreparable impacts. It is an Answered Prayers story, and of course not all prayers get the answer expected. 

Retired magnate Mr. Harrigan's prayers are answered when he makes a connection with nine year old Craig, whom Harrigan hires to read to him after school.  Craig introduces Mr. Harrigan to the newly released Apple iPhone, and the old man is very taken with it. Ultimately, after Mr. Harrigan's death, Craig realizes through several crises that they still share a kind of link via their iPhones, and Harrigan still takes an interest in Craig's well-being. Craig feels compelled to call Mr. Harrigan's number at times of great need, and the results are truly uncanny.

....I made friends with Frank Jefferson, the paper's go-to IT guy, and one night over beer at the Madison Pour House, I told him I'd once been able to connect with the voicemail of a guy who was dead . . . but only if I called from the old phone I'd had when the guy was still alive. I asked Frank if he'd ever heard of anything like that.

     "No," he said, "but it could happen."


     "No idea, but there were all sorts of weird glitches with the early computers and cell phones. Some of them are legendary."

     "iPhones, too?"

     "Especially them," he said, swigging his beer. "Because they were rushed into production. Steve Jobs never would have admitted it, but the Apple guys were scared to death that in another couple of years, maybe only one, BlackBerry would achieve total market dominance. Those first iPhones, some of them locked up every time you typed the letter l. You could send an email and then surf the web, but if you tried to surf the web and then send an email, your phone sometimes crashed."

     "That actually happened to me once or twice," I said. "I had to reboot."

     "Yeah. There was all kinds of stuff like that. Your thing? I'd guess the guy's message somehow got stuck in the software, same way you can get a piece of gristle stuck between your teeth. Call it the ghost in the machine."

     "Yes," I said, "but not a holy one."


     "Nothing," I said....

The Life of Chuck

Chuck contains multitudes. And at age 39, Chuck is succumbing to cancer. But to the multitudes within, it seems that their reality is beset by inexplicable and entropic collapse. This is a tale of poignant and stoic maturity.

....There was another tie-up at the top of Main Street, and another close call. By the time he got home he had forgotten all about the billboard. He drove into the garage, pushed the button that lowered the door, and then just sat for a full minute, breathing deeply and trying not to think about having to run the same gauntlet tomorrow morning. With the bypass closed, there was just no other choice. If he wanted to go to work at all, that was, and right then taking a sick day (he had plenty of them stacked up) seemed like a more attractive option.

     "I wouldn't be the only one," he told the empty garage. He knew this to be true. According to the New York Times (which he read on his tablet every morning if the Internet was working), absenteeism was at a worldwide high.

     He grabbed his stack of books with one hand and his battered old briefcase with the other. It was heavy with papers that would need correcting. Thus burdened, he struggled out of the car and closed the door with his butt. The sight of his shadow on the wall doing something that looked like a funky dance move made him laugh. The sound startled him; laughter in these difficult days was hard to come by. Then he dropped half of his books on the garage floor, which put an end to any nascent good humor.

     He gathered up Introduction to American Literature and Four Short Novels (he was currently teaching The Red Badge of Courage to his sophomores) and went inside. He had barely managed to get everything on the kitchen counter before the phone rang. The landline, of course; there was hardly any cell coverage these days. He sometimes congratulated himself on keeping his landline when so many of his colleagues had given theirs up. Those folks were truly hung, because getting one put in this last year or so . . . forget about it. You'd be more likely to be using the turnpike bypass again before you got to the top of the waiting list, and even the landlines now had frequent outages.

     Caller ID no longer worked, but he was sure enough about who was on the other end to simply pick up the phone and say, "Yo, Felicia."

     "Where have you been?" his ex-wife asked him. "I've been trying to reach you for an hour!"

     Marty explained about the parent-teacher conferences, and the long trip home.

     "Are you okay?"

     "I will be, as soon as I get something to eat. How are you, Fel?"

     "I'm getting along, but we had six more today."

     Marty didn't have to ask her six more of what. Felicia was a nurse at City General, where the nursing staff now called itself the Suicide Squad.

     "Sorry to hear that."

     "Sign of the times." He could hear the shrug in her voice, and thought that two years ago—when they'd still been married—six suicides in one day would have left her shaken, heartbroken, and sleepless. But you could get used to anything, it seemed.

     "Are you still taking your ulcer medication, Marty?" Before he could reply, she hurried on. "It's not nagging, just concern. Divorce doesn't mean I still don't care about you, y'know?"

     "I know, and I am." This was half a lie, because the doctor-prescribed Carafate was now impossible to get, and he was relying on Prilosec. He told the half-lie because he still cared about her, too. They actually got along better now that they weren't married anymore. There was even sex, and although it was infrequent, it was pretty damn good. "I appreciate you asking."


     "Yes, ma'am." He opened the fridge. Pickings were slim, but there were hotdogs, a few eggs, and a can of blueberry yogurt he would save for a pre-bedtime snack. Also three cans of Hamm's.

     "Good. How many parents actually showed up?"

     "More than I expected, far less than a full house. Mostly they wanted to talk about the Internet. They seemed to think I should know why it keeps shitting the bed. I had to keep telling them I'm an English teacher, not an IT guy."

     "You know about California, right?" Lowering her voice, as if imparting a great secret.

     "Yes." That morning a gigantic earthquake, the third in the last month and by far the worst, had sent another large chunk of the Golden State into the Pacific Ocean. The good news was that most of that part of the state had been evacuated. The bad news was that now hundreds of thousands of refugees were trekking east, turning Nevada into one of the most populous states in the union. Gasoline in Nevada currently cost twenty bucks a gallon. Cash only, and if the station wasn't tapped out.

     Marty grabbed a half-empty quart of milk, sniffed, and drank from the bottle in spite of the faintly suspicious aroma. He needed a real drink, but knew from bitter experience (and sleepless nights) that he had to insulate his stomach first.

     He said, "It's interesting to me that the parents who did show up seemed more concerned about the Internet than the California quakes. I suppose because the state's breadbasket regions are still there."

     "But for how long? I heard a scientist on NPR say that California is peeling away like old wallpaper. And another Japanese reactor got inundated this afternoon. They're saying it was shut down, all's well, but I don't think I believe that."


     "We're living in cynical times, Marty." She hesitated. "Some people think we're living in the Last Times. Not just the religious crazies, either. Not anymore. You heard that from a member in good standing of the City General Suicide Squad. We lost six today, true, but there were eighteen more we dragged back. Most with the help of Naloxone. But . . ." She lowered her voice again. ". . . supplies of that are getting very thin. I heard the head pharmacist saying we might be completely out by the end of the month."

     "That sucks," Marty said, eyeing his briefcase. All those papers waiting to be processed. All those spelling errors waiting to be corrected. All those dangling subordinate clauses and vague conclusions waiting to be red-inked. Computer crutches like Spellcheck and apps like Grammar Alert didn't seem to help. Just thinking of it made him tired. "Listen, Fel, I ought to go. I have tests to grade and essays on 'Mending Wall' to correct." The thought of the stacked vapidities in those waiting essays made him feel old.

     "All right," Felicia said. "Just . . . you know, touching base."

     "Roger that." Marty opened the cupboard and took down the bourbon. He would wait until she was off the phone to pour it, lest she hear the glugging and know what he was doing. Wives had intuition; ex-wives seemed to develop high-def radar.

     "Could I say I love you?" she asked.

     "Only if I can say it right back," Marty replied, running his finger over the label on the bottle: Early Times. A very good brand, he thought, for these later times.

     "I love you, Marty."

     "And I love you."

     A good place to end, but she was still there. "Marty?"

     "What, hon?"

     "The world is going down the drain, and all we can say is 'that sucks.' So maybe we're going down the drain, too."

     "Maybe we are," he said, "but Chuck Krantz is retiring, so I guess there's a gleam of light in the darkness."

     "Thirty-nine great years," she responded, and it was her turn to laugh....

If It Bleeds

"If It Bleeds" is an entertaining take on both the vampire and occult detective story. Private investigator Holly Gibney and several others discover that at numerous high-casualty news events spread out across the U.S. in time and space, one local TV reporter keeps appearing. He is not the same man each time, but then again he is not a different man, either. 

....Jerome rubs a hand slowly down one cheek and in the quiet she can hear the scritch-scritch of his fingers on the day's new bristles. "Sophomore year at Harvard I took a philosophy course. Did I ever mention that to you?"

     Holly shakes her head.

     "It was called—" Jerome makes finger-quotes. "—'The Problem of Evil.' In it, we talked a lot about concepts called inside evil and outside evil. We . . . Holly, you okay?"

     "Yes," she says, and she is . . . but at the mention of outside evil, her mind immediately turns to the monster she and Ralph tracked to his final lair. The monster had gone under many names and worn many faces, but she had always thought of him simply as the outsider, and the outsider had been as evil as they come. She's never told Jerome about what happened in the cave known as the Marysville Hole, although she supposes he knows something pretty dire went on there—a lot more than made it into the newspapers.

     He's looking at her uncertainly. "Go on," she tells him. "This is very interesting to me." It's the truth.

     "Well . . . the class consensus was there's outside evil if you believe in outside good—"

     "God," Holly says.

     "Yes. Then you can believe there really are demons, and exorcism is a valid response to them, there really are malevolent spirits—"

     "Ghosts," Holly says.

     "Right. Not to mention curses that really work, and witches, and dybbuks, and who knows what else. But in college, all that stuff pretty much gets laughed out of court. God Himself mostly gets laughed out of court."

     "Or Herself," Holly says primly.

     "Yeah, whatever, if God doesn't exist, I guess the pronouns don't matter. So that leaves inside evil. Moron stuff. Guys who beat their children to death, serial killers like Brady fucking Hartsfield, ethnic cleansing, genocide, 9/11, mass shootings, terrorist attacks like the one today."

     "Is that what they're saying?" Holly asks. "A terrorist attack, maybe ISIS?"

     "That's what they're assuming, but no one's claimed responsibility yet."

     Now his other hand on his other cheek, scritch-scritch, and are those tears in Jerome's eyes? She thinks they are, and if he cries, she will, too, she won't be able to help it. Sadness is catching, and how poopy is that?

     "But see, here's the deal about inside and outside evil, Holly—I don't think there's any difference. Do you?"

     She considers everything she knows, and everything she's been through with this young man, and Bill, and Ralph Anderson. "No," she says. "I don't."

     "I think it's a bird," Jerome says. "A big bird, all frowsy and frosty gray. It flies here, there, and everywhere. It flew into Brady Hartsfield's head. It flew into the head of the guy who shot all those people in Las Vegas. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, they got the bird. Hitler. Pol Pot. It flies into their heads, and when the wetwork's done, it flies away again. I'd like to catch that bird." He clenches his hands and looks at her and yes, those are tears. "Catch it and wring its fucking neck...."


"Rat" is one of the funniest (or perhaps drollest?) tales King has written. Of course it is about the writing life. 

Drew Larson, tenured professor of creative writing, fails miserably every time he tries to write a novel. His obsession with finding the right word, of not "losing" the right work, creates only ruin when it comes to long-firm composition. (Shades of E.I. Lonoff).

So when Drew gets an idea for a serious literary western, he convinces wife and kids he can get a running start on it in the solitude of their cabin in the wilds of northern Maine. There Drew faces a "storm of the century," a terrible flu, and the side effects of cold medicine. After a great start on the novel, the words start to go.

Until, at the height of the storm and his fever, Drew meets his savior.

....the rat was looking at him, its pink paws now curled against its furry chest.

     What the hell? Drew thought. It's only a hypothetical question. And one inside a dream, at that.

     "I guess I'd take the deal and make the wish," Drew said. Dream or no dream, hypothetical question or not, he felt uneasy saying it. "He's dying, anyway."

     "You finish your book and Stamper dies," the rat said, as if to make sure Drew understood.

     Drew gave the rat a cunning sideways look. "Will the book be published?"

     "I'm authorized to grant the wish if you make it," the rat said. "I'm not authorized to predict the future of your literary endeavor. Were I to guess…" The rat cocked his head. "I'd guess it will be. As I said, you are talented."

     "Okay," Drew said. "I finish the book, Al dies. Since he's going to die anyway, that seems okay to me." Only it didn't, not really. "Do you think he'll live long enough to read it, at least?"

     "I just told you—"

     Drew raised a hand. "Not authorized to predict the future of my literary endeavor, right. Are we done here?"

     "There's one more thing I need."

     "If it's my signature in blood on a contract, you can forget the whole deal."

     "It's not all about you, Mister," the rat said. "I'm hungry." He jumped onto the desk's chair, and from the chair to the floor. He sped across to the kitchen table and picked up an oyster cracker, one Drew must have dropped on the day he had the grilled cheese and tomato soup. The rat sat up, grasping the oyster cracker in its paws, and went to work. The cracker was gone in seconds.

     "Good talking to you," the rat said. It disappeared almost as quickly as the oyster cracker, zipping across the floor and into the dead fireplace.

     "Goddam," Drew said.

     He closed his eyes, then sprang them open. It didn't feel like a dream. He closed them again, opened them again. The third time he closed them, they stayed closed....


30 June 2020

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Boogens laugh last

The Boogens by Robert Weverka (1981, Bantam Books)

Film: https://youtu.be/fUq5C8MiCwA

Are you looking for a novel where young men and women from several directions arrive at a nearly abandoned Colorado silver mining town, band together to thwart a rich local villain, then risk life and limb underground to seal-up tentacled, acid-oozing creatures forever? 

If so, look elsewhere.

The Boogens is not that novel.

Despite what filmgoers and video renters have seen for the last three decades, the moral of The Boogens is: you can't win. [I'm not sure what motivated last-minute changes to the film, or whether they were even last-minute, but it does make the novelization's climax more interesting, and perhaps more "real," or "realistic."]

Whether visiting Summit, CO to reopen a neglected family home for horny college-age renters, or arriving to inspect the serially abandoned Hatcher Mine on behalf of a new owner, humans do not have the last laugh. The Boogens do.

And so does wheel-chair-bound local magnate Otis Blanchard. Which seems fitting, since the Boogens put him in the wheelchair when he was previously trapped in the Hatcher Mine, trying to find a way to swindle his partners.

….God, how he hated those things. Every morning when he swung his shriveled legs out of bed, he had a painful reminder of the damage they could inflict. The ones that had attacked him had been no more than five or six inches across, but there had been dozens of them, all clamped to his legs and over his groin, their yellow poison eating into him.

     When Victor had finally found him in that mine shaft, Blanchard had been mercifully unconscious and as close to death as a man could get. And now he was an impotent cripple. He was lucky, the doctors in Denver had said. He was lucky that the upper part of his body had been buried in enough debris to keep the creatures from feasting on nothing more than his legs and genitals.

     That was the price he had paid for the gold. And that was the gold that Tolivar and Lucas wanted him to share with them, the gold that Tolivar suggested he might have to pay back to the owners of the Hatcher mine. He would be happy to give the gold back—or share it with anybody—if in return they could make his body whole again.

     Well, it didn't matter now. The Boogens would soon be spilling out of every hole in that mountain. Blanchard didn't care. He had sold his house and all his property in Pineglen; the papers had all been signed in Denver last night. He would be gone, and it didn't matter to him if those monsters spilled out all the way down to Bealton or across the Rockies to Denver.

     "Shall we go, sir?" Victor asked.

     Blanchard nodded. "Don't forget that car over by the mine entrance."

     "No, sir," Victor said. "I'll take care of it."

     As they moved quietly down the road, Blanchard peered off at the mountains to the west. It looked like the skies were clearing. A few shafts of sunlight were breaking through. It might turn out to be a nice day after all.




27 June 2020


Thursday, June 25, 2020

Lovecraftian horror in Maple White Land

....Summerlee raised his hand.

"Hush!" he cried. "Surely I hear something?"

From the utter silence there emerged a deep, regular pat-pat. It was the tread of some animal—the rhythm of soft but heavy pads placed cautiously upon the ground. It stole slowly round the camp, and then halted near our gateway. There was a low, sibilant rise and fall—the breathing of the creature. Only our feeble hedge separated us from this horror of the night. Each of us had seized his rifle, and Lord John had pulled out a small bush to make an embrasure in the hedge.

"By George!" he whispered. "I think I can see it!"

I stooped and peered over his shoulder through the gap. Yes, I could see it, too. In the deep shadow of the tree there was a deeper shadow yet, black, inchoate, vague—a crouching form full of savage vigor and menace. It was no higher than a horse, but the dim outline suggested vast bulk and strength. That hissing pant, as regular and full-volumed as the exhaust of an engine, spoke of a monstrous organism. Once, as it moved, I thought I saw the glint of two terrible, greenish eyes. There was an uneasy rustling, as if it were crawling slowly forward.

"I believe it is going to spring!" said I, cocking my rifle.

"Don't fire! Don't fire!" whispered Lord John. "The crash of a gun in this silent night would be heard for miles. Keep it as a last card."

"If it gets over the hedge we're done," said Summerlee, and his voice crackled into a nervous laugh as he spoke.

"No, it must not get over," cried Lord John; "but hold your fire to the last. Perhaps I can make something of the fellow. I'll chance it, anyhow."

It was as brave an act as ever I saw a man do. He stooped to the fire, picked up a blazing branch, and slipped in an instant through a sallyport which he had made in our gateway. The thing moved forward with a dreadful snarl. Lord John never hesitated, but, running towards it with a quick, light step, he dashed the flaming wood into the brute's face. For one moment I had a vision of a horrible mask like a giant toad's, of a warty, leprous skin, and of a loose mouth all beslobbered with fresh blood. The next, there was a crash in the underwood and our dreadful visitor was gone.

"I thought he wouldn't face the fire," said Lord John, laughing, as he came back and threw his branch among the faggots.

"You should not have taken such a risk!" we all cried.

"There was nothin' else to be done. If he had got among us we should have shot each other in tryin' to down him. On the other hand, if we had fired through the hedge and wounded him he would soon have been on the top of us—to say nothin' of giving ourselves away. On the whole, I think that we are jolly well out of it. What was he, then?"

Our learned men looked at each other with some hesitation.

"Personally, I am unable to classify the creature with any certainty," said Summerlee, lighting his pipe from the fire.

"In refusing to commit yourself you are but showing a proper scientific reserve," said Challenger, with massive condescension. "I am not myself prepared to go farther than to say in general terms that we have almost certainly been in contact to-night with some form of carnivorous dinosaur. I have already expressed my anticipation that something of the sort might exist upon this plateau."

"We have to bear in mind," remarked Summerlee, "that there are many prehistoric forms which have never come down to us. It would be rash to suppose that we can give a name to all that we are likely to meet."

"Exactly. A rough classification may be the best that we can attempt. To-morrow some further evidence may help us to an identification. Meantime we can only renew our interrupted slumbers."

"But not without a sentinel," said Lord John, with decision. "We can't afford to take chances in a country like this. Two-hour spells in the future, for each of us."

"Then I'll just finish my pipe in starting the first one," said Professor Summerlee; and from that time onwards we never trusted ourselves again without a watchman....


....It was on the third day after our forming our camp near the Indian caves that the tragedy occurred. Challenger and Summerlee had gone off together that day to the lake where some of the natives, under their direction, were engaged in harpooning specimens of the great lizards. Lord John and I had remained in our camp, while a number of the Indians were scattered about upon the grassy slope in front of the caves engaged in different ways. Suddenly there was a shrill cry of alarm, with the word "Stoa" resounding from a hundred tongues. From every side men, women, and children were rushing wildly for shelter, swarming up the staircases and into the caves in a mad stampede.

Looking up, we could see them waving their arms from the rocks above and beckoning to us to join them in their refuge. We had both seized our magazine rifles and ran out to see what the danger could be. Suddenly from the near belt of trees there broke forth a group of twelve or fifteen Indians, running for their lives, and at their very heels two of those frightful monsters which had disturbed our camp and pursued me upon my solitary journey. In shape they were like horrible toads, and moved in a succession of springs, but in size they were of an incredible bulk, larger than the largest elephant. We had never before seen them save at night, and indeed they are nocturnal animals save when disturbed in their lairs, as these had been. We now stood amazed at the sight, for their blotched and warty skins were of a curious fish-like iridescence, and the sunlight struck them with an ever-varying rainbow bloom as they moved.

We had little time to watch them, however, for in an instant they had overtaken the fugitives and were making a dire slaughter among them. Their method was to fall forward with their full weight upon each in turn, leaving him crushed and mangled, to bound on after the others. The wretched Indians screamed with terror, but were helpless, run as they would, before the relentless purpose and horrible activity of these monstrous creatures. One after another they went down, and there were not half-a-dozen surviving by the time my companion and I could come to their help. But our aid was of little avail and only involved us in the same peril. At the range of a couple of hundred yards we emptied our magazines, firing bullet after bullet into the beasts, but with no more effect than if we were pelting them with pellets of paper. Their slow reptilian natures cared nothing for wounds, and the springs of their lives, with no special brain center but scattered throughout their spinal cords, could not be tapped by any modern weapons. The most that we could do was to check their progress by distracting their attention with the flash and roar of our guns, and so to give both the natives and ourselves time to reach the steps which led to safety. But where the conical explosive bullets of the twentieth century were of no avail, the poisoned arrows of the natives, dipped in the juice of strophanthus and steeped afterwards in decayed carrion, could succeed. Such arrows were of little avail to the hunter who attacked the beast, because their action in that torpid circulation was slow, and before its powers failed it could certainly overtake and slay its assailant. But now, as the two monsters hounded us to the very foot of the stairs, a drift of darts came whistling from every chink in the cliff above them. In a minute they were feathered with them, and yet with no sign of pain they clawed and slobbered with impotent rage at the steps which would lead them to their victims, mounting clumsily up for a few yards and then sliding down again to the ground. But at last the poison worked. One of them gave a deep rumbling groan and dropped his huge squat head on to the earth. The other bounded round in an eccentric circle with shrill, wailing cries, and then lying down writhed in agony for some minutes before it also stiffened and lay still. With yells of triumph the Indians came flocking down from their caves and danced a frenzied dance of victory round the dead bodies, in mad joy that two more of the most dangerous of all their enemies had been slain. That night they cut up and removed the bodies, not to eat—for the poison was still active—but lest they should breed a pestilence. The great reptilian hearts, however, each as large as a cushion, still lay there, beating slowly and steadily, with a gentle rise and fall, in horrible independent life. It was only upon the third day that the ganglia ran down and the dreadful things were still.

Some day, when I have a better desk than a meat-tin and more helpful tools than a worn stub of pencil and a last, tattered note-book, I will write some fuller account of the Accala Indians—of our life amongst them, and of the glimpses which we had of the strange conditions of wondrous Maple White Land....

The Lost World by Sir A. Conan Doyle (1912)

Re-reading The Lost World by Sir A. Conan Doyle

By Arthur Conan Doyle (1912)

If there's a public statue of Conan Doyle anywhere, I wouldn't give it odds for survival this political season.

In 1909, the creator of Brigadier Gerard and Captain Sharkey wrote "The Crime of the Congo." Had he written a white-hot pamphlet against UK colonialism, and not the Belgian product, there might have been some point in his legal defense in the court of hindsight. 

In 1912 Conan Doyle wrote The Lost World, which ends with a race war. Ned, Roxton, Summerlee, and Challenger join with the Indians of the Maple White plateau to wage race-war against ape-man.

....Here then is my first despatch from a field of battle:

Our numbers had been reinforced during the night by a fresh batch of natives from the caves, and we may have been four or five hundred strong when we made our advance. A fringe of scouts was thrown out in front, and behind them the whole force in a solid column made their way up the long slope of the bush country until we were near the edge of the forest. Here they spread out into a long straggling line of spearmen and bowmen. Roxton and Summerlee took their position upon the right flank, while Challenger and I were on the left. It was a host of the stone age that we were accompanying to battle—we with the last word of the gunsmith's art from St. James' Street and the Strand.

We had not long to wait for our enemy. A wild shrill clamor rose from the edge of the wood and suddenly a body of ape-men rushed out with clubs and stones, and made for the center of the Indian line. It was a valiant move but a foolish one, for the great bandy-legged creatures were slow of foot, while their opponents were as active as cats. It was horrible to see the fierce brutes with foaming mouths and glaring eyes, rushing and grasping, but forever missing their elusive enemies, while arrow after arrow buried itself in their hides. One great fellow ran past me roaring with pain, with a dozen darts sticking from his chest and ribs. In mercy I put a bullet through his skull, and he fell sprawling among the aloes. But this was the only shot fired, for the attack had been on the center of the line, and the Indians there had needed no help of ours in repulsing it. Of all the ape-men who had rushed out into the open, I do not think that one got back to cover.

But the matter was more deadly when we came among the trees. For an hour or more after we entered the wood, there was a desperate struggle in which for a time we hardly held our own. Springing out from among the scrub the ape-men with huge clubs broke in upon the Indians and often felled three or four of them before they could be speared. Their frightful blows shattered everything upon which they fell. One of them knocked Summerlee's rifle to matchwood and the next would have crushed his skull had an Indian not stabbed the beast to the heart. Other ape-men in the trees above us hurled down stones and logs of wood, occasionally dropping bodily on to our ranks and fighting furiously until they were felled. Once our allies broke under the pressure, and had it not been for the execution done by our rifles they would certainly have taken to their heels. But they were gallantly rallied by their old chief and came on with such a rush that the ape-men began in turn to give way. Summerlee was weaponless, but I was emptying my magazine as quick as I could fire, and on the further flank we heard the continuous cracking of our companion's rifles.

Then in a moment came the panic and the collapse. Screaming and howling, the great creatures rushed away in all directions through the brushwood, while our allies yelled in their savage delight, following swiftly after their flying enemies. All the feuds of countless generations, all the hatreds and cruelties of their narrow history, all the memories of ill-usage and persecution were to be purged that day. At last man was to be supreme and the man-beast to find forever his allotted place. Fly as they would the fugitives were too slow to escape from the active savages, and from every side in the tangled woods we heard the exultant yells, the twanging of bows, and the crash and thud as ape-men were brought down from their hiding-places in the trees.

I was following the others, when I found that Lord John and Challenger had come across to join us.

"It's over," said Lord John. "I think we can leave the tidying up to them. Perhaps the less we see of it the better we shall sleep."

Challenger's eyes were shining with the lust of slaughter.

"We have been privileged," he cried, strutting about like a gamecock, "to be present at one of the typical decisive battles of history—the battles which have determined the fate of the world. What, my friends, is the conquest of one nation by another? It is meaningless. Each produces the same result. But those fierce fights, when in the dawn of the ages the cave-dwellers held their own against the tiger folk, or the elephants first found that they had a master, those were the real conquests—the victories that count. By this strange turn of fate we have seen and helped to decide even such a contest. Now upon this plateau the future must ever be for man."

It needed a robust faith in the end to justify such tragic means. As we advanced together through the woods we found the ape-men lying thick, transfixed with spears or arrows. Here and there a little group of shattered Indians marked where one of the anthropoids had turned to bay, and sold his life dearly. Always in front of us we heard the yelling and roaring which showed the direction of the pursuit. The ape-men had been driven back to their city, they had made a last stand there, once again they had been broken, and now we were in time to see the final fearful scene of all. Some eighty or a hundred males, the last survivors, had been driven across that same little clearing which led to the edge of the cliff, the scene of our own exploit two days before. As we arrived the Indians, a semicircle of spearmen, had closed in on them, and in a minute it was over, Thirty or forty died where they stood. The others, screaming and clawing, were thrust over the precipice, and went hurtling down, as their prisoners had of old, on to the sharp bamboos six hundred feet below. It was as Challenger had said, and the reign of man was assured forever in Maple White Land. The males were exterminated, Ape Town was destroyed, the females and young were driven away to live in bondage, and the long rivalry of untold centuries had reached its bloody end....

24 June 2020