Phosphor/Chapter 6

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CHAPTER VI.

When I regained consciousness, I found myself lying on the ground, near a bed of enormous fungi that emitted a strange phosphorescent light.

By its aid I saw I was in a large cave, of what extent I could form no idea.

Irregular masses of lava, pumice stone, rocks, and many colored crystals, composed the walls, which rose sheer from the ground until lost in the appalling darkness overhead.

The ground was covered with broken fragments of the same composition as the walls.

The crystals shining from the walls and strewn on the ground, reflected the phosphorescent light given out by the fungi, and showed to my horrified gaze numbers of enormous reptiles, gliding, wriggling, and struggling in repulsive masses on the ground.

I withdrew my gaze, shuddering, and looked upwards; here my eyes were met with sights even more hideous.

Huge bluish white birds, with enormous eyes and crooked beaks a foot long, sat on the rocks projecting from the sides, or with hoarse cries flapped from crag to crag.

Every now and then, uttering a shrill note, one of them would leave its perch, swoop to the ground, pick up a serpent and fly with it, hissing and writhing in its beak into the darkness above me.

All round me were beds of phosphorescent fungi, and by their weird light I was able to perceive these horrible sights.

On the ground, black liquid formed repulsive looking pools, into which, every now and then, with a hiss, a snake would plunge, and disappear.

My horror was absorbed in sheer amazement for some time.

Then, came a revulsion of feeling, swallowing up the astonishment, and leaving me trembling, in terror, wondering what I should next see.

In the vault I had been possessed by spiritual and moral terrors.

Here it was different.

Material ones, in the shape of these horrid birds, and still more horrid snakes, were the agents.

Around, over all, brooded a sense of everlastingness and infinity that deepened into and left on me an oppression as of madness.

Was I dead?

Was this hell?

Could these awful phosphorescent creatures be real?

My aching limbs left me in no doubt as to my being alive, and a serpent, gliding over my legs, causing me to shudder, made me realise it was no phantom of my brain.

I lay for some time trying to grasp my situation, and wondering how I came to be here.

Then I remembered having resolved to kill myself, and casting myself into the black abyss.

I must have fainted, for suddenly I was aroused by a feeling of horror; something had brushed across my face.

Opening my eyes, for a moment I thought it was a snake.

Then by the light, which it threw out as it came towards me, I saw it was one of the huge birds swooping to where I lay.

I picked up a stone, and waited until it was within a few feet.

Then threw it with what little strength I had.

Luckily my aim was straight.

The stone struck the bird on the wing; it fell, shrieking in the most horrible manner, and beating the ground with its unwounded wing, caused the snakes near to scatter in all directions, and woke the cave with a thousand echoes.

Its cries brought hundreds of its mates, who, after flying and shrieking around it for some time, finally fell upon it, and tearing it to pieces devoured it before my eyes.

I shuddered; perhaps my turn would come next.

But the horrors were not over; worse had still to come.

No sooner had the birds returned to roost on the crags and rocks, than, turning my eyes in another direction, I saw a light that seemed to be approaching.

At first it looked like a star, but, as it came nearer, it gradually assumed larger and larger proportions, until for a quarter of a mile the cavern was lighted up by its brilliancy.

At first my eyes were so blinded by its strength that I could see nothing.

When they became more used to it I able to comprehend in some degree what an enormous size the cavern I was in must be (allowing it to be a cavern). I was lying in a corner, and could see the two walls stretching away on each side for some hundreds of yards, and yet there seemed no end to them.

I could discern no roof, though I could see for a great height overhead.

The walls towered up and were lost in darkness.

More and more brilliant became the light.

At last I saw it was caused by the approach of hundreds of hideous, awful, terrible looking creatures, who, as they moved, lighted up all around them for some distance by the same peculiar phosphorescent light I had noticed emanating from the birds and fungi.

Fear took possession of me; I trembled.

I must be dreaming.

I pinched myself, and rubbed my eyes.

What were these awful monsters?

My last moments had evidently come; they would find and kill me.

When within about two hundred yards they stopped for a second or two, then going to a bed of fungi, commenced to pull it up and eat it.

While they were thus engaged, I had an opportunity to observe their strange movements and shapes.

Let me try and describe them.

In height, about half of them were five feet; the rest, not more than four.

These latter I took to be the females.

They were something like the cynocephali or baboons in general appearance.

But, when I carefully looked at them, I saw that though they possessed some of the characteristics, of baboons, they had others totally different.

The one in which they most differed from monkeys, was that they stood perfectly erect, and walked like human beings.

Their legs were perfectly white, with no hair.

Their heads were small, out of proportion to their bodies, and set in level with their shoulders, apparently without any neck.

Their eyes were large and almond-shaped.

Their foreheads retreating like a baboon's, their under jaws very prominent, with mobile lips which they moved about in the strangest manner as they talked to each other.

As they opened their mouths to bite the fungi, I saw rows of strong white teeth.

The noses of some of them were not like a baboon's, but were set between their eyes, in others, they resembled that of a dog.

I could hear the gnashing of their teeth as they chewed the fungi.

From the neck to below their loins they were covered with long, lank, coarse, bluish-white hair from beneath which their thin, white legs extended.

Their arms were long and sinewy, reaching nearly to the ground like those of a baboon, and covered with hair much finer than that on the body.

Some had short, rudimentary tails; others none.

One seemed to be the leader, and directed their movements.

He was a great deal more human-looking than the rest, and for a moment, on first seeing him, I thought he was a European.

His legs were much fatter than those of the others; his arms much shorter, with hardly any hair on; his head set better on his shoulders, with much smaller ears, and covered with short fine hair.

In fact he did not look much worse than many men I have occasionally seen bathing, except for his head, which had the retreating forehead and projecting under jaw of an ape.

After they had eaten for some time he called out something, I could not hear what, but it sounded like bad Latin.

All the rest immediately stopped eating and gathered round him.

He took a number of strange looking nets from two or three of the creatures and distributed them amongst the others.

At once returning to the fungi bed they proceeded to fill them with the fungi.

Several of them came near to where I was lying.

What could I do?

If I moved they would see me.

And directly they did would most likely tear me to a thousand pieces.

They came to where the birds had killed their mate, and saw its feathers and blood lying about.

Giving a shrill note like that of anger, they rushed back to where the leader of the party was standing, the others collected on hearing the cry, and all started gesticulating and making a frightful noise at the same time.

What would they do?

After a few moments they became calmer and quieter, and were evidently listening to the one I had noticed directing them, and whom I distinguished by the different sound of his voice.

When he had finished, they advanced in a body to where the bird had been killed and carefully examined the ground.

While they were thus engaged one of them gave a most awful human-like shriek of agony and fell down.

Looking in that direction, I saw one of the enormous reptiles gliding away from where the wretched creature was.

The others all got out of the way of the snake, and then clustered round the wounded one, who lay still, moaning in the most piteous manner; but not attempting to do anything.

Presently he tried to got up and succeeded in standing on his legs for a moment; then fell back again in convulsions—froth and blood issuing from his mouth.

I at once knew there was no hope for him.

In a few minutes he expired.

Some of the smaller creatures—who I thought were females—set up a most awful wailing.

This considerably strengthened my opinion as to their sex, for females, as a rule, never neglect an opportunity of making as much noise as they can.

The other and larger creatures seemed to take the matter very coolly, as if they were used to it.

They lifted their dead comrade to the side of one of the black looking pools and laid him down.

Then they pulled a lot of white creepers that grew among the fungi, and tying some stones to his body, pushed him into the water.

Then, as if nothing unusual had happened, they returned to the spot where the bird had been killed, and proceeded to hunt about as if looking for something.

For some time they continued examining the ground, then one, coming quite close, saw me, and uttered a yell.