Og, Son of Og
Dodd, Mead & Co. 1965
The Kidnapped Cave Boy pp 1-11,
The Fire Demon pp 12-16
SON OF OG
By IRVING CRUMP
|When the world was ruled by jungle beasts, a kidnapped cave boy battled an army of monsters. The odds were all against him until he remembered his father's secret weapon|
The screaming Ape Men charged as the youth flung his flaming club and rushed their leader.
illustrated by Albert D. Jousset
FOR DAYS NOW the rumblings under the earth had been striking terror into the hearts of the Ape People. They could not know, of course, that the world was slowly undergoing a tremendous change; that a great glacial ice cap was moving down from the north. To them the quakes that made the earth tremble and caused the mountain, far down the valley where the river disappeared, to belch fire and smoke and molten lava was evidence of the anger of the Fire Demon himself. They saw his displeasure in the great yellow cloud of smoke with flames that hung about the top of the mountain, and they became more convinced than ever that the Fire Monster wanted them to get rid of the Cave Boy. Vaguely some of them thought of killing him and leaving him on the mountainside in the hope that would pacify the Fire Demon. Only the savage anger of the ape leader and his mate prevented them from carrying out their plan.
The band of Ape People had hated the Cave Boy as long as he had been with them. That had been a long time now; so long that now the boy's memory of his real father and mother and the Cave Village in which they had all lived was so remote that it was only with great mental effort that he was able to recall them. Out of the vagueness of the first four years of his life, one incident was unforgettable. It was a recollection of the spring at which the Cave People drank and the day he and some children were playing there when suddenly the Ape People appeared in the forest. Og, his father and leader of the Cave People, had always taught him to fear the Ape People. They had been known to steal Cave children and make off with them. The mere mention of Ape People caused Cave children to become almost paralyzed with fear.
THAT was what happened that day at the spring. When the Ape People suddenly came swinging from branch to branch through the forest as they shrieked angry Ape words at the people in front of their caves in the cliffs, Og's son was helpless with horror. When the other children ran screaming up toward the village, young Og stood rooted to the spot staring in terror at the great apes as they swarmed toward him through the tree branches. Too late did he realize his danger and turn to run up the slope toward the village. He had scarcely taken three steps when suddenly a great female ape swung down from a lower branch, wrapped one hairy arm around his body and made off through the treetops. Og, Son of Fire, with Rue and Big Tooth and other Cave People, hunters, tried to follow. But the apes could travel through the treetops faster than the Cave People could beat their way through the thick' undergrowth on the ground. And when the apes headed for a great swamp through which ground travel was practically impossible, Og and his hunters gave up the chase. Og, with heavy heart, was sure that his son would meet a horrible death.
But the leader of the Cave People was wrong. The big female ape who made off with Og's son had just lost a son of her own. It was more to satisfy her yearning mother instinct than anything else that she had made off with the Cave child. After they got back to their valley, the apes began to gather around expecting the stolen child to be tormented and abused. The old female protected him, however, and snarled and gnashed her teeth in defiance. And her big mate beat his chest and roared. And because he was the biggest and strongest male in the tribe, he frightened off the boy's tormentors.
But how long the old male and his mate could hold the Ape People off was a grave question to them and to Og's son. Now the tribe gathered closer together in the grove beside the river. The largest and strongest of them swung into the great trees where the ape leader and his mate had built their nest of sticks and branches. There they crouched, roaring and beating their breasts as they glared at the old ape. Singly none of them would dare defy the big leader as they were doing now. But their courage grew as more and more males joined their group. Og's son, clutching a club as he crouched between his two protectors, realized that it would not be long before they worked up enough courage to attack. When that happened he knew it would be the end for him, and probably for the big apes who were his protectors. Valiant fighters though the old pair were, they could never stave off the largest and strongest members of the tribe. If the angry apes acted together, Og knew that he and his foster father and mother would swiftly be swarmed under and torn to pieces.
It looked as if it would not be long before they worked up courage enough to attack. Some were breaking off branches to be used as clubs. Others were hurling broken sticks at the three who crouched in their nest.
Suddenly one of the clubs, hurled harder than the rest, hit the old male ape in the head with stunning force, temporarily blinding him. He staggered and fell backward against the tree trunk. That was the instant for which the apes had been waiting. Several of them leaped from the branches on which they crouched into the big nest. Others followed and instantly the old leader and his mate were buried under a tumultuous, fighting throng of savage animals.
For seconds their very number and the fury of their attack made them get into each other's way trying to get at the pair who were protecting the Cave Boy. With the first attack Og was knocked backward by the big body of the female ape. For a moment he could do nothing but try desperately to get out from under her. But even as he struggled, the huge nest went to pieces. The Cave Boy suddenly felt everything give way under him and he started to fall. Frantically he clutched at the branches of the tree, trying to break his fall. But he was not as accomplished at this as the tree people were. They all managed to save themselves from plunging to the ground. But not the Cave Boy. Although he managed to interrupt his swift descent, he hit the ground with force enough to stun him.
For a moment he lay dazed at the foot of the big tree while high up among the branches the apes were fighting and struggling and trying to find him. Young Og saw them up there as he sprawled on the ground and vaguely realized that they had not seen him fall. But he also knew that it would not be long before they discovered him and came swinging down through the branches to capture him. Until then he had a chance to escape.
Scrambling to his feet, he slipped around the tree trunk and started running toward the river. He took that direction because he could travel a trail made by the hairy mammoths who came down for water each evening. In any other direction he would have to travel through thick jungle.
HE DID not go far, however, before the apes saw him escaping toward the river, and roaring in anger, they gave chase through the treetops. The Cave Boy had a good start, but he knew the Ape People could travel from branch to branch almost as fast as he could run on the ground. He wondered if he could reach the river before they overtook him and, swinging down from the trees, seized him in their long, powerful arms. He knew that if he were captured his end would be swift. Fear lent strength to his short legs. They fairly flashed down the path of the mammoths.
He was not holding his lead. The ape voices behind him grew louder. The hair on his head and the nape of his neck bristled with fear. The river was in sight, but still too far off for comfort. If he could only reach the water he would be safe. He knew the apes would not follow him there. They were afraid to leave the trees. They feared the demons of the river. Og feared them too, but again the apes were the nearest danger. If he could reach the wide stream, he would plunge in and hope somehow to struggle to the other side.
DARK, ugly forms were crashing through the branches on either side of him. They were trying to get ahead of him so they could swing down and seize him as he passed under some low-hanging limb. But the big trees were thinning out toward the river bank. There was just one ahead with branches spreading across the mammoths' trail. Two apes were trying to reach it. Just before the Cave Boy darted under it, one gained the tree and, swinging down, made a sweeping grab as Og flashed under him. The Cave Boy felt the fingers clutch at his naked back. The touch made him leap forward in another burst of speed, and soon he was dashing into the shallows of the river, spattering spray in all directions as he hurried out to a safe depth.
Because storms and violent winds had preceded the earthquakes and volcanic eruption, the river was high and filled with drift. There were sections of storm-shattered trees everywhere on the surface. Og saw one twisting and turning slowly toward him and, wading deeper, he clutched at it and drew himself up onto it. He was saved from the tree people.
Sitting on the log and clinging to the twisted roots of the old stump, he breathed a sigh of relief as he looked shoreward. The Ape People were swarming along the river bank roaring at him in anger as they followed his slow progress downstream. He tried to locate his foster parents in the band, but he could not find them. He concluded, with as much regret as he was capable of registering, that they had probably been killed by the Ape People.
As he crouched there on the log, young Og experienced some strange new emotions. He was relieved to be beyond the wrath of the Ape People. He had always intended one day to try to escape from them and make his way to the Cave People's village, of which he had vague and shadowy recollections. He had no idea where the village was located, nor how to get there, but in the back of his mind was a feeling that if he traveled long enough and far enough he would some day find his people.
But there was fear in his heart too. He was out on the river at the mercy of the dark, scaly demons who lived under water. Any moment a huge, horny snout might appear on the surface and great jaws seize him and drag him under as he had seen even a big saber-toothed tiger pulled down into the dark depths. And if the river monster did not claim him, what would be the end of this dangerous journey? Far down the valley where the river skirted the foot of the mountain that belched fire, a thick curtain of mist and smoke overhung the river. It had always been that way and no one knew what was beyond that curtain of mist toward which the drifting log was taking him. Perhaps it was the end of the world where he and his log might plunge off into the space that was peopled by fierce, ugly, winged monsters waiting to devour whatever prey the river brought them.
Young Og was worried. On the near bank the Ape People followed him, shrieking at him, hurling stones and mud in his direction and trying to reach him when his log drifted close enough so that it appeared as if they had a chance to seize him. He dare not try to land. His imagination had not developed to the point where he thought of using a stick or his hands to paddle the log toward the far shore. All he could do was drift helplessly toward that great curtain of steam and smoke that obscured the end of the river and the unknown fate that awaited him there.
That curtain of smoke and steam was worrying the Ape People too. As they followed the Cave Boy down the river, they kept their eyes on the blanket of thick, swirling vapors. The nearer they drew to it, the less enthusiastic they seemed about following him. Many were lagging behind, and as the forest thinned out and gave way to ugly dead and twisted trees and old lava formations, the creatures ceased to keep pace with the boy on the log.
Og felt a little sorry. While they were following him, he was not lonesome at least.
BUT luck was with the Cave Boy. He had not drifted far in the blanket of steam when his log swung shoreward and ran aground between two boulders. Og, with a feeling of relief, scrambled up onto one of them and, crouching there, peered off into the steam. He had landed on the Ape People's side of the river. But that did not worry him now. He was sure they would not venture into the blanket of steam.
As he crouched there listening to the hissing sounds, he became conscious of the fact that the air about him was warmer. And the warmth and the hissing sound awakened long dormant memories. These things suggested the nearness of the Fire Demon.
He remembered that the Cave People had tamed the Fire Demon. His father had been the one to bring fire to the Cave People. That was why he had been called Og, Son of Fire. Young Og remembered playing about the family fire before their home cave. He remembered how his people cooked meat over it; how the Fire Demon reached up its hot fingers and touched the meat and the meat tasted good. There was always a hissing sound when that happened. He was reaching far back into the shadows of his memory for these thoughts. The more he struggled, the clearer the pictures came to him. Maybe the Fire Demon was close at hand. Maybe it was even cooking meat somewhere near him. He tilted his head backward and sniffed the air. The smell of fire-scorched meat came to him. It awakened strange memories of his people and the Cave Village.
His heart was pounding hard, and he was actually shivering with fear. He could not resist the desire to climb down from the boulder and follow that appetizing odor. He had not eaten cooked meat in a long time. But he remembered how pleasant it had tasted. He climbed down from the boulder and began to explore the fog, watching fearfully meanwhile for dangers that might lurk in the steam.
He did not have to go far before the smell of fire-scorched meat grew stronger, and presently he found himself making his way among charred and smoking fragments of big trees. Og did not know it, but on this side of the volcanic mountain, only a few days before, had stood a forest. A succession of earthquakes followed by streams of flowing lava from the mountain had leveled the trees and set fire to them, and the flames had spread until the whole side of the mountain had been burned over. The forest fire had burned itself out now, but it had left destruction in its wake. Og came upon the body of a giant elk that had been killed by a falling tree. It was the flesh of this creature that had been touched with fire and made to smell so good.
Og approached it warily. It was still warm. So was the ground on which he walked. Crouching beside the dead animal, the Cave Boy, with strong fingers, tore a piece of the fire-blackened meat from the rump and tasted it. As a grin of pleasure wrinkled his countenance, he began to eat gluttonously, grunting with satisfaction as he tore strip after strip of meat from the charred elk. Not in years had he eaten anything so tasty.
The taste of cooked meat seemed to stimulate his mind. He recalled his father and mother and the rest of the Cave People more clearly than he had in years. He remembered the fire before each cave entrance, and as his appetite became satisfied he began to watch a nearby stump with wrinkled brow. There was fire in the stump. He could see wisps of smoke curling upward. He went over to it and studied it closely. Then he remembered how his father used to blow on the hot coals of a sleeping fire to bring it to life each morning.
HE BENT closer and blew gently on the smoking wood, and presently little tongues of flame began to curl upward. This pleased him. His grin broadened. Then he remembered fire had to be fed or it would die out again. He found charred and half-burned sticks and began to pile them around the smoking stump. In a surprisingly short time he had a merry little fire burning beside the stump. He sat close to it and held his hands in front of it as he remembered his father used to do on cold mornings. Then he piled on more wood and made it bigger, meanwhile growing more and more pleased with himself.
But young Og had been so preoccupied that he did not discover that the wind had changed and now blew down the valley. The curtain of steam had drifted away down the river. It was far below him now. The air had completely cleared, and he was no longer hidden from his enemies, the Ape People, by the thick fog blanket. He suddenly became aware of this as he heard the booming voices and familiar chest thumping of the big apes. He looked up in surprise to behold the entire clan watching him from among the rocks and boulders and dead trees on the river shore not very far from where he crouched.
The apes were too unpleasantly near and they were gaining courage from the fact that they saw he had ventured in among the fire-blackened rampikes of the burned-out forest and no harm had come to him. They were trying to work up the courage to follow him; to close in on him and do away with him as they would have done long ago if the old leader and his mate had not protected him.
For a few moments Og was worried. The Ape People were quite close. And drawing closer. But they were being cautious too. They did not like the black, charred stumps and fallen trees that strewed the ground around him. They did not like the blue wisps of smoke curling upward either. Og sensed this. But he also knew that if the band should find the bravery to charge him, they would finish him swiftly. Moved by fear, he reached for a heavy club, the end of which was in his fire, and stood up. As he did this, the Ape People, who had been coming warily toward him, all stopped suddenly. They seemed to freeze in their tracks. They ceased their chest-thumping and began to gabble among themselves and point in his direction.
Og was quick to sense the reason for their apparent consternation. His fire had been hidden by several tree trunks so when he stood up with a flaming stick in his hand they were taken by surprise. Now they were alarmed. They were afraid of his fire. All animals feared fire. Even the saber-toothed tigers and the treacherous hyenas would not come close to a cave if a fire burned before its entrance.
FEELING a tremendous surge of courage, Og yelled defiance and waved his fiery club in the air. Some of the Ape People drew back. A few of them ran for the forest. Nearest to Og was a savage old male, a fierce fighter. Og had always feared him. But now suddenly that fear was gone. With a shout of anger, the Cave Boy leaped over a tree trunk and started running toward the big ape, brandishing his burning club. A moment the beast stood his ground. But suddenly his courage failed and with a scream of fear he too broke into his queer, shambling, apish run and followed the rest of the band back to the jungle.
For a little way Og followed him. Then suddenly he stopped and waved his club in the air as he shouted:
"I am Og, Son of Og! I have mastered fire! I will master the beasts of the jungle! I am a man!"