|Cave-Boy Erek, pp 564-566
The Triumph, The Boys' Best Story Paper
No. 466, Vol. 18, 558-580 (price 2d)
Week Ending Septermber 23, 1933.
THE FLATHEADED HORROR
THUD! Thud! Thud! Totally unaware of the figure that had scrambled into the basket behind him, Cave-boy Erek hacked away at the ropes of another of the series of ladders by which the shaggy-haired cliff-dwellers descended from their caves to the valley floor.
Erek did not know that Tala, his comrade, had been stunned by one of the stones hurled by the men above, and that an enemy had raised a flint hatchet to strike him down.
Erek and Tala, thrown together at a time when evolution was playing queer tricks, when man, ape-man and giant reptiles roamed the ever-changing earth, had had some amazing adventures on their trail to re-find Tala's country.
Tala was the sole survivor of a large hunting-party, and the only guide he had to his homeland was a carved mammoth tusk, which showed where certain painted stones had been placed to mark the route of the ill-fated hunters.
After having been caught by the shaggy cliff-men, who had tamed giant mammoths and other strange-looking monsters, Erek and Tala had obtained their liberty. Now on the back of one of these monsters they had prepared to make their escape.
The cliff-dwellers had been aroused, however, and when Erek had started hacking away the rope ladders which permitted them to descend to the ground, three men had dropped to the strange-looking beast's back.
Two had been knocked off by Tala, but when Tala was stunned by a falling stone, the other had crept into the basket attached to the tamed monster's neck and had raised his flint hatchet to strike Erek from behind.
But just when it seemed as if Erek were doomed, a huge stone came whizzing downwards and, missing Erek, struck the shaggy-haired attacker's shoulder, then his axe-shaft. Crack!
The sound of splintering wood and the man's scream of pain made Erek whirl round in alarm. As he glimpsed Tala lying limp against a side of the basket, and then saw the cliff-dweller, the cave-boy gave a shout of anger.
One blow of his club sent the would-be killer to the floor, and bending over Tala, Erek shook the brown-skinned lad back to consciousness.
Tala opened his eyes, and blinked up into Erek's face.
"Look, more come," cried Erek. "Beat them off. I will make the monster move. If we stay any longer we are lost."
Three or four more men had found a place on the giant beast's back and were racing upwards. Showers of stones and arrows were whizzing about the heads of the comrades, and so far they had been remarkably lucky to escape being killed or seriously wounded.
The moonlight was very clear, and they formed an exceptionally good target to the furious cliff-dwellers stationed in the caves above.
By cutting away many of the ladders, Erek had marooned a large number of the tribe in their cave homes, but already several of them had gained the ground and were preparing to impede the escape of the companions.
Erek, however, was now pricking their 50-foot steed with a sharp-pointed stick. The enormous creature was as stupid as it was docile, and the crowd gathering in the valley round it may have dazed it.
In either case it was a moment or two before Erek could get it to move at all. Swaying from side to side and with a peculiar hobbling movement of its hind legs, the giant creature started across the valley, leaving the cliff and the caves behind.
"On, on, stupid one!" yelled Erek.
He and Tala were rocked about in dizzy fashion in the frail basket attached to the creature's back. But gradually the monster gathered speed and left the vanguard of screaming cliff-dwellers behind.
But they sped on on through the jungle, and then, suddenly, Tala and Erek heard a sudden trumpeting from away at the valley foot.
"The mammoths!" said Tala. "They are bringing out the mammoths to come after us." Erek frowned. The mammoths were animals of a much superior intelligence to the monster they rode, and if they could catch up on the fugitives they would have little hope of escape. Each mammoth could carry a large number of men, and the animals were formidable in themselves.
"We must get to the spot where the shaggy men took us captive," shouted Erek. "Then we will look for our horses, and we can soon put a long way between us and these strange folk."
Some time previously Erek had formed a trap and captured a pair of wild horses and trained them to bear him and Tala.
They had hidden the horses in a thicket above the valley the previous evening when they had been captured by the shaggy-haired men from the cliff-caves.
"It will be a while before the mammoths can come after us," said Erek as they went on, to suddenly emerge from the jungle. "Look, we shall soon be at the spot where we were caught."
He pointed up the slope ahead to the rim of a tiny plateau, the very spot frorn which they had first looked down on the valley where the strange tribe lived.
That was the place. I remember it well," agreed Tala. "But listen! What was that?" Their giant mount had suddenly come to a halt, quivering in every limb, its breath coming in great gusts. From out of the forest close at hand rose a terrific screaming sound, followed by the crashing of branches.
Peering forward, Erek and Tala stiffened in horror and clutched the sides of the basket. Rushing out of the forest straight towards them was a great carnivorous reptile, with a huge, flat head and wide, gaping mouth lined with long, glistening teeth.
The pals' mount stared at it like a thing paralysed, then let out a cry, and turned, to run straight for the nearest clump of trees as if to take shelter.
Screaming in bloodthirsty anticipation of an easy prey, the carnivorous monster sped after it, its feet shaking the ground. Suddenly it took a jump through the air and, shooting out its head, set its teeth in the tail of Erek and Tala's mighty steed.
There was a shriek from the doomed beast, and it whirled round, terrified, to make a last but desperate fight against its natural foe. Erek saw that he and Tala were in deadly peril. As the branches of a tree swished past them he rose in the basket and shouted to his companion.
"I am jumping! Jump after me and catch my feet or we are lost!"
Even as he spoke, Cave-boy Erek hurled himself into the air and clutched for the branch of the tree alongside.
EREK CAPTURES A RAFT
EREK'S quickness was certainly responsible for both he and Tala not being hurled from the basket and breaking their necks, as the flat-headed horror and the strange-looking monster got to grips.
The cave-boy jumped upwards with all the force of his lithe, muscular body, and his hands locked round the branch above, making it bend and creak.
Tala, quickly following his comrade's instructions, had leaped also.
His arms locked round the cave-boy's legs with a jerk that almost tugged Erek's arms from their sockets.
The pair of them formed a human pendulum that went shooting back and forwards among the branches, while the night echoed to the dreadful noises of a prehistoric battle.
"I can't hang on much longer with your weight on my legs," shouted Erek. "Jump for one of the nearest branches. I will help you."
The cave-boy exerted all his strength, and as they swung forward again, he drew up his knees with a jerk. Simultaneously, Tala let go and went shooting through space, to land in the foliage of a branch a few feet lower down in the tree.
Panting heavily, Tala drew himself up into a secure position. His face and limbs were all scratched and bleeding, but he cared not. He and Erek were safe for the moment.
Perched in the tree, the pair watched the battle of the beasts.
Their late mount was getting the worst of it. Though greater in bulk than its attacker, it did not have the means of defence or attack that the reptilian monster had.
Round and round the pair whirled and crashed, flattening bushes and knocking over small saplings in their terrific struggle. Suddenly, with a crash, the two conflicting bodies thudded against the bole of the tree in which Erek and Tala were perched.
The shock was more than even the big tree could stand!
There was a loud splitting sound, and with a creaking and a splintering of its branches it fell backwards upon those behind it, knocking down two smaller trees and finally coming to rest against another tree, its summit ten feet from the ground.
Erek, half-stunned, had hung on to his perch like grim death. The moment he dared move he called for his comrade.
Tala's voice answered him from the ground. "I am here, Erek. I am safe. I fell into a bush."
Erek clambered down the leaning trunk and dropped to the ground beside his comrade, just as the forest echoed to a dreadful long-drawnout screaming.
It was the death-cry of the monster that had carried the pals to safety. Its attacker had at last obtained a fatal hold, and bitten through the spine close to the neck. Now came a creaking and smashing among the shrubbery.
The victor was dragging its victim into a more open space, where it could feast at its leisure.
Erek caught Tala's hand.
"Quick let us away!" he whispered. "We must find the horses. There is one thing at least. Having heard the fight, the shaggy men from the cliffs will not dare pursue us into the forest. They will be afraid."
With the noise of the gruesome feast behind them gradually dying away the pair raced off. There was still sufficient moonlight for Erek to recognise landmarks.
Twenty minutes and they were making for the thicket where they had tethered their horses the previous evening. Would the animals still be there, or had they escaped?
A stamping among the thicket brought relief to their hearts.
The animals were still there, and neighed shrilly when they heard the comrades approach.
"They seem glad to have us again," said Erek, as they started to untie his animal and it nuzzled his shoulder.
The animals were glad. They were unhappy without company, and perhaps a trifle afraid. They had also learned to understand and like the humans who had mastered them.
Half an hour later Erek and Tala had left the thicket far behind, and were riding off on a wide detour that would take them far away from the land of the cliff-dwellers.
"BEYOND the river lies a great desert, and beyond that the mountains of snow and fire, which are the last barrier before we reach my country. We have come a long way."
Tala pointed down towards the broad, sluggish river at their feet, and then looked up at the great oblong stone with ochre paintings that stood upon the bank.
Behind him and Cave-boy Erek the two horses cropped contentedly at the grass. Two days' travel had taken the comrades to the next of the painted stones that marked the route to Tala's country.
The river, broad and deep, presented them with a problem. They could easily have crossed it straddling a fallen tree-trunk if they had been alone.
But they had the horses, and swimming was out of the question. The river teemed with giant crocodiles and carnivorous water-snakes of gigantic proportions.
"We will have to make a raft!" said Erek.
"But, stay! What is that?"
He pointed to something that was floating down-stream something that seemed like a small island. As the comrades watched they saw that it was a large mass of solid weed and other vegetation. Similar smaller clumps were floating down after it.
They had been broken away in some flooding higher up the stream, and were now drifting at the mercy of the current. Erek's eyes gleamed at sight of the larger mass. "There, Tala," he cried. "Our raft! It is large enough to support us and the two horses, if we can get hold of it."
Tala stared at his comrade in perplexed fashion.
"But you would not dare swim the river to reach it?" he demanded. "Even then, how could you bring it to the bank single-handed?" Erek laughed.
"I will do no swimming," he said. "There is a much simpler way. Follow me!"
He picked up the bow and arrows he had left with his horse when he had gone with Tala to spy upon the shaggy-haired men. At the same time he started uncoiling a rope of twisted vine-fibres which was wound round his waist.
"If I run out along the branch of that big tree I should be able to reach it," thought the cave-bay.
Tala followed, wondering what Erek's idea was. Soon he discovered how simple it was.
The cave-boy mounted to a branch of an enormous tree that spread far out over the river. There, straddling the branch, he fitted an arrow to his bow.
To the shaft of the arrow he quickly attached one end of his light rope; the other end he tied to the branch on which he sat. Now, a smile on his face, Erek awaited the approaching mass of vegetation.
When it was almost directly opposite the end of the branch he drew his bow as hard as he could, and let fly with the arrow.
The arrow hummed off like a bee and buried itself deep in the side of the floating island.
"There," said Erek, in triumph. "We have only to wait now till it drifts into the side of the bank below us."
Tala eyed his comrade in admiration. The rope attached to the branch had tightened, and slowly but surely the mass of vegetation was drifting in towards the bank.
"See, it is thick and solid!" cried Erek. "It will easily bear us and the horses. But we will need to cut ourselves long and stout poles for steering the thing."
Ten minutes later the island was bumping against the bank, and, dropping down upon it, Erek saw that he had guessed correctly. It was solid and thick, roots and weeds going down for, perhaps, two or three feet below the surface of the water.
He chopped with his hatchet at a reed-snake that rose hissing from between his feet, and then leaped back to the bank.
"This has saved us much time and work!" he shouted gaily. "Let us fetch the horses and cross at once!"
They fetched the horses, and then remembered that the poles had to be cut. By the time they had this done they were both perspiring and hungry.
Erek had some dried deer meat in a wallet attached to his horse, but that was all. They were thirsty, and the river water did not look too appetising.
"Oh, for some fruit!" cried Tala.
Fruit!" grinned Erek. "You shall have some. Look up there!"
He pointed to the branches of a tall tree that overshadowed them. It was hung with great clusters of luscious-looking red fruits just the thing to slake their parched throats. As Tala stared upwards, Erek fitted a flint-headed arrow to his bow and aimed it at the stem of one of the clusters.
The arrow hummed up into the air, struck the stem, and half-severed it, so that several of the red fruits were jerked from the cluster and came sailing downwards.
"Watch out, Tala!" cried Erek.
Tala jumped too late. A big bunch of three fruits came whizzing down and caught him right on the forehead, bursting with a squirting of juice and yellow pips that drenched the lad.
"Ho, ho, ho!" roared the cave-boy. "You do look funny, Tala!"
Tala spluttered and shouted, and rubbed at himself till he felt clean, then joined in the laughter, too. Erek had shown a way of getting down fruit without climbing the tree, but it was an expensive way if one's arrow stuck.
"I will climb up and shake the branches," said Tala. "You stand clear!"
Erek obeyed, and in a few minutes Tala had shaken down a whole score or more of the fruit. Having made a hearty meal, they tackled the difficult job of leading the horses down the bank and on to the floating island that Erek had so cleverly commandeered.
The animals both shied at sight of the water, but Erek quickly put matters right by tying down the blinkers he had made over their heads.
This done, he took them for a short trip around, and then led them back to the island and aboard it without further mishap. A word of command and they each lay down on the floating mass of vegetation.
"Now, Tala, run back to the tree and loosen our rope!" commanded the cave-boy.
The rope released, Tala returned and joined his comrade on the natural raft. Using their long poles, they pushed the island out into the stream, and fought hard against the current to make a quick crossing.
Their poles were long enough to find bottom except in actual mid-stream, and the crossing was made without difficulty. Only once or twice a monster crocodile raised its head out of the water and nudged the island.
With a quick stroke of his pole on the saurians' noses, Erek soon drove them off, and the raft eventually bumped against the far bank, and was made fast.
"Now, gently with the horses," counselled the cave-boy, as Tala started leading them ashore. "Without them to help us we cannot make a quick crossing of the desert of which you spoke."
The animals were successfully disembarked and tethered to a handy tree. Then Erek set loose the raft, having extracted his arrow and coiled up the rope.
The whole process of transport had taken barely six hours, including time for cutting and preparing the poles and a rest and a meal. If they had been forced to build a raft it might have taken them days.
THE SAND STORM PERIL
"THESE bags will hold water for our needs, but we must also have a supply of food, Tala! There are no deer here, but many birds. I will make a trap to catch them."
Cave-boy Erek rose from the ground, where he had been busy tying the ends of the dried stomach of a dead lizard together. Several similar objects lay on the sand beside him, by a small, clear stream, where they had camped.
They were the water-carriers that the cave-boy had devised for the journey over the vast desert that lay ahead of them.
Desert, nothing but red or yellow sand, and great forests of cacti. Somewhere across it stood another of the painted stones that marked the road to Tala's country.
It was sight of the cacti which had given Erek an idea for a bird-trap.
They were the dwarf kind in height, but enormous when taken laterally, forming great round leaves some two feet in diameter, and nine or ten inches thick, and fringed with spikes.
Erek now marched for one of the plants, and, tackling it gingerly, managed to cut away a huge leaf from the stem. That done, he dragged it to a shady corner, and started work on it with his flint knife, cutting off the upper surface and removing the white acid pith within.
When he had finished he had nothing but the shell, a huge basin-like structure.
"How can you catch birds with that?" demanded Tala scornfully.
"You will see," said the cave-boy. "Follow me!"
Tala got up and followed him. Erek climbed the ridge and reached a small clearing among the shrubs, where he carefully propped up his cactus-leaf basin, concave side inwards, and spikes of the fringe facing downwards, by means of a light stick just balanced on the ground.
Attaching the end of a vine rope to the stick, Erek now spread a few berries under the cactus leaf, and signalled to Tala to get under cover, while he followed, paying out the vine-rope.
They had been hidden for at least fifteen minutes ere a bird flew down and started bopping about the clearing, picking at the berries. Two more joined it, and then others.
Soon there was a perfect squawking flock of them round and under the cactus itself. "Now," said Erek. "Watch!"
He gave a sharp tug to the rope in his hand, so that it tightened and jerked away the stick which supported the cactus-leaf. There was a twittering from the birds, but only half of them got clear in time.
The big leaf came down with a thud over at least eight of them, burying its spikes in the sand and imprisoning the feathered flock. "Wonderful!" yelled Tala, heaping to his feet. "Erek, thou art the cleverest of all. How did you think of it?"
Erek flushed with pleasure at the compliment and at the success of his trap! Nothing pleased him so much as an idea of his working out correctly.
That night they feasted on two of the birds. They cooked the others and wrapped them up in dampened heaves, and plastered them over with mud, which would dry in the morning sun and protect the meat from going bad.
It was with confidence therefore that they rode their horses down into the great red desert and started out on the trail.
It was hot, terribly hot. Twice they halted and gave their horses some water from the water-bags, poured into the hollowed-out cactus-leaf which Erek had taken with them, after removing its spikes.
The spikes he had found to be strong and very sharp, and he had not thrown them away. His alert and inventive brain was again busy thinking out a way in which they could be utilised.
Attached to light arrows they might be useful for bringing down small game, but Erek, trying one on a shaft and firing it from his bow, found that the arrow lost direction owing to the lightness of its head.
It was when they camped in a hollow under the shade of some giant cacti that he saw something that gave him an idea!
Only a few yards away a great tumble of bones lay on the sand. Moving over, Erek inspected them. They were all that remained of the skeleton of a great running bird, and he saw that the long hones were hollow and light.
Selecting the thinnest and longest, he proceeded to bore holes at either end. When he had finished he had a rough but ready kind of blowpipe. Tala watched him in surprise as he took a long cactus spike from the bundle in his wallet and inserted it into the hollow bone.
"What are you playing at?" he asked the cave-boy.
"You see that tiny red lizard over there, crawling on the cactus-leaf?" he asked Tala. The brown-skinned boy nodded.
"Watch, then," said the lad from the northern caves, putting the long bone to his mouth and puffing hard.
There was a slight ping as something flew out of the tube towards the cactus. Next minute Tala gave a cry of astonishment and delight. The red lizard had dropped from the leaf to the sand, wriggling for a second or two before it went still.
As the pair ran over and examined it they found that the cactus spike had pierced it through the middle.
"There, Tala," shouted Erek, dancing in triumph. "A new weapon for us, and unlimited spikes to be had. I will find another bone for thee, and we shall gather spikes and carry them with us."
Tala was wild with delight. He would not rest till Erek had made a blowpipe for him and he could start practice. Till late that night they gathered spikes, and at dawn next morning they started practising.
Erek was the most adept, but Tala showed that he had gathered the principle of using the bone blowpipes. The horses had found some grassy patches among the cactus and had fed fairly well.
Erek gave them water again, drank sparingly himself with Tala, and then they once more took the trail!
Several times as they rode on they noticed mounds, which could not be anything but nests made by some of the larger reptiles that still lived in this part of the world. Indeed, on two occasions they passed hollows filled with the broken shells.
These sights warned them that they were by no means free from danger, even in the desert. It had its own particular fauna which might be just as dangerous as that of the forest or the swamp.
Accordingly, they made their camps deep in the heart of cacti chumps, where they were less liable to be discovered during the night by a hungry monster.
The following morning there was an accident. One of the horses, fretting with the heat, broke from Tala's hold and rushed off into the cacti again, and in this process ripped open one of the precious water-bags against a thorny plant.
Erek and Tala rushed to save the precious liquid, but too late.
"It means less for us, Tala," said the cave-boy. "The horses need it more than us." They set off, annoyed, but not dismayed. This morning a haze hung over the desert, and the heat was like that of a tremendous oven. Not a breath of air stirred anywhere. The horses and their human companions could scarcely breathe.
Tala, looking ahead, shivered. He had a strange premonition of danger. Something seemed to be brooding beyond the horizon.
"Trouble comes," he said to Erek at last. "I am afraid!"
Erek tried to reassure him, but they had barely gone another hundred yards when a curious droning sound reached their ears. The horses stopped short and neighed in alarm, their ears twitching.
Peering towards the horizon the companions now saw something like an enormous pillar sweeping towards them. It was this phenomenon that was causing the droning sound, and they were actually standing in the path of a desert sandstorm, formed in the same way over stretches of dry land as a cyclone is formed over stretches of-ocean.
"Death it is death that comes," yelled Tala. "We are lost!"
No!" cried Erek. "Be not afraid! We must hide somewhere! Get down hold your horse !"
But Tala's horse was already out of control. With a shrill scream it bucked in the air, and threw its rider to the sand, and then galloped off wildly in the direction whence it had come, and carrying with it the last of the full water-bags, the only supply of water that remained to Erek and his comrade.
Erek gave a shout of dismay, and turned his horse and raced wildly after the runaway. Sandstorm or not, he had to save the all-important water-supply, or neither he nor Tala would live to complete the trail of the painted stones!