Lost In Antaria
Previously, the boy begins to suspect that his companion, Mister James Cooper, is hiding something. His trust for the airman wavers, and when he discovers that Cooper knows more about Antaria than he’s said, and that he cares nothing for anyone but himself, the boy decides to leave his companion and make his own way…
The boy would’ve been lost in the dark if not for the silver orb of the moon that arose just over the horizon – the first he’d seen since he’d awoken on the hill over the lake where the plane had crashed. It was smaller than his moon, though, and he thought it looked queer: something about it just wasn’t quite right. But it did the job he needed it for. He’d stumbled about in the dark for awhile, listening to the chitterof little animals at his feet and the wailing cries of much bigger creatures in the distance, his fear growing to alarm and finally panic, before the darkness was split by the cold silver light of the orb hanging over the horizon, though, so he welcomed it in spite of the foreignness of its appearance.
There was a wooded ridge some way from the bogland, and since the boy didn’t know where he was going, he made for this ridge now. The wood seemed to him safer than the open pools of rotting mire. Soon he was beneath the boughs of great oaks whose bark was as black as the night, and there he stopped to catch his breath. “The scoundrel!” he cried to himself, thinking again of Mister Cooper’s sin. For a moment he wanted to go back and throttle the coward in his sleep, but even the thought of it reminded the boy of a night in Londontown when the police had found the boy over the body of a man he’d murdered for bread, and he silently swore to himself he’d never have blood on his hands again.
He followed the edge of the forest awhile, feeling much safer with the trees leering over him with reaching shadows to cover his journey. But he still listened all the while to the eerie night sounds of creatures he couldn’t see. He didn’t know what intent they might have for him: breakfast seemed the most likely to his terrified mind.
When he grew tired he found a tree whose limbs he could climb, then up he went till he found a crook where he could sit. It wasn’t by any means comfortable, but without the guns of the airman he wouldn’t have slept on the ground for any stake. Now sleep took him by desperation, and he didn’t wake till the sun was in his eyes.
He’d only just rubbed the sleep away when he was aware of a noise at the base of the tree. The boy leaned a little to see, and the sight of the hound snuffling about where he’d climbed to the first limb made his blood run cold. Doubtless the creature had found his trail in the night and was following the scent, expecting a kill. The tree had confused the trail for a moment.
It wasn’t exactly a hound like the dogs the boy had known from his previous life in the countryside, where he’d once had a wire-haired terrier who was his friend. This creature had long ragged hair like a wolf and cold eyes. It’s fangs curled out beyond its lips, and down its neck ran a mane of bristling, silver tufts. It seemed to flex its claws like a barn cat, and it tore at the bark of the tree, sniffing in turn, to find its prey. The most unusual thing about it, though, were two bent horns that stuck out from it’s forehead: for horns belong to deer and goat and such, not hungry carnivore.
The boy clutched his hatchet in fear, for it was the only weapons he had. Now he was wishing he’d had a chance to take one of Mister Cooper’s revolvers from him.
The hound turned its head at a distant cry: a deer or antelope, perhaps, the boy thought; but if he’d had any hope the creature would leave he was mistaken, and it came back to the tree to resume its sniffing and scratching.
It was only a matter of time till it decided to climb up in search of him, the boy thought, and he had little doubt that it could. It was better to meet it on his own terms then. So he raised his hatchet over his head and prepared to drop to the ground. One swift unsuspecting blow might finish the fight before it could start. He waited until he thought the moment was right, then fell without a noise; for the boy was no coward.
It was regrettable that his first strike missed the hounds head. It was worse still that the creature turned in a flash and struck at his neck. It was only the wild swing of the boy’s free arm that saved him, for the hound’s jaws glanced from his wrist, and the only wounds he had were from the slide of its teeth as they gaped for him. He meant to strike again, as many times as it would take, but he needn’t, for in the next moment the hound fell back, then turned on its haunches, and fled from him.
The boy was startled, and took only a moment to catch his breath against the tree, for the fall had nearly winded him. If something had frightened the animal he didn’t know what; and he couldn’t imagine why else it would let him be when it had tracked him for this long.
He’d just decided to continue his direction, and was making to do so, when he saw the creature watching him through the trees. “What do you want?” he cried in frustration, knowing it would be a long walk to wherever he was going if a wild wolf was hounding his steps.
“He doesn’t understand you, and that’s why he doesn’t attack,” said Mister Cooper, who was coming along the edge of the wood just then, his hands on his revolvers.
The boy was alarmed that the airman had found him so easily, but he did his best to hide it. “What do you mean?” he asked.
“He can communicate and reason,” answered Mister Cooper. “And he knows you can, too. That’s why he holds off. If he thought you were food he would’ve killed you at once.” The man let out a sharp bark then, and the hound turned to him at once with inquisitive eyes. “See, he knows we are telling the truth.”
“But what did you say?” asked the boy.
“Only that we are off our trail and he needn’t worry about us,” said Mister Cooper. “Come now, boy, we have far to go today.”
The boy wouldn’t have gone anywhere with the airman if he could’ve helped it. But he could see that Mister Cooper was watching him intently, and with his hands at his guns, and the boy understood he was no better than a prisoner. There was nothing for it.
They went on together then. The forest gave way to swampland, then that to forest again. They saw a camp on the distant horizon, but it was not in the way they were going, and the airman said it was peopled by white savages. “They are horrible, feral people,” he said. “They have quills on their spines, and they skewer their enemies on long spears.” The boy didn’t believe him: he thought it must be the bronze natives, and after that he dragged his feet in hopes of losing Mister Cooper; but the airman only cast him annoyed looks when he fell behind and waited for him to catch up.
The forest dwindled then, and soon it was gone all together. They walked for awhile through a field of flowers, treading large, round mushroom caps that came out of the ground like granite boulders; and when mountains rose up to bar their way, they started the climb. The swamplands and fields gave way to deciduous ridges and hillocks. The trees swayed gently in their crimson and ambers; their trunks danced in their eternal course. Noon came and went, and the afternoon passed with the drone of the insects. Deer with twisted horns bounded out of their way, and dark-capped vultures spread their four wings and lifted themselves into the sky. Carrion jackals perked their heads above the grass and brush-weed, their long ears turning with the wind to catch every sound; and when they saw the airman and the boy walking through the grass their colours shifted and they vanished as if they’d never been.
Antaria was not like the earth the boy had come from, but as queer as all these things were, the boy was beginning to feel at home among them.
They were ascending a low mountain valley when the day started to fail. The boy was relieved, for night would afford another opportunity to leave the airman. He wanted nothing more than to slip away again under the light of the moon. But Mister Cooper didn’t stop to make camp as the boy had hoped, and instead they kept climbing higher into the foothills.
They came over a ridge onto a mountain lake, high granite crags hemming them in on all sides; and by this time the light was quite poor. It took the boy a moment to realize there were men on the shore ahead of them, perhaps five or six. They were dressed as men from home in boots and trousers. They had guns on their hips. And a cold shadow was overhanging the water.
“Damnit,” muttered the airman disjointedly. “How did he get that thing up here?”
The boy wasn’t sure what he meant, but he could see the men were watching them now. They’d been filling casks from the lake, and he could see plainly they had faces as white as his own. Then the wind changed: it blew cold off the mountain water, and he could hear on it a low hmmmthat might’ve been a bee in his ear. Now as he watched he realized the blackened sky was moving, and there were lights in it. It took him a moment to realize it was not the sky but a great mass of a thing hanging just over the water. It looked something like a steamship from below, for it was all iron and had no sail. The boy had never seen anything like it before. It sent a cold shudder down his spine, for it was unnatural that anything should be so big and so black against the sky.
He was just going to point it out to the airman and beg him to turn around when a lift was lowered from the ship hanging over the lake, and men came from it.
“It’s too late to turn back,” Mister Cooper was muttering to himself. “I’d hoped we could put this off for a few more days at the least.”
When they were close enough to the men to be heard, the airman called out, “Where is your captain, boys?”
The men scowled at him, and all of them had their hands on their guns. “Who are you?” they called.
“It’s me, Cooper,” answered the airman. “Captain Joyce knows me. I’m the one as killed the great lizard all them months ago.”
The men laughed at that and looked at the boy and the airman incredulously. It was a strange thing to see such a pair walking through Antaria together. “James Cooper is a big man with wicked black guns and the devil in his eye!” they cried. “He spent ten years alone in this world fighting beasts and monsters until he became one of them. So no, you are not him.”
“Who are youthen?” Mister Cooper called back.
“I’m Gundersen,” answered a man with a black beard that spilt over his face and a cat that peered from his shoulder with bright, smouldering eyes. “I’m the First Mate of the Iron Dog. I can see your guns there at your sides. You can put them on that rock with any other weapons you’ve got. Then we’ll take you up to see the captain. Or you can go the way you came and we’ll shoot you – it’s your choice.”
The wind blew from off the lake in cold mountain torrents with the scent of heather and alder. The lights of the ship above their heads were like bright stars in the night. And Mister Cooper laid both his revolvers on a rock and said, “If I don’t come back for these this whole world will burn.”
Then they went together toward the iron ship.
This work is written by AD Bane and published by adbane.com. It is solely the property of ADBane.com and may not be reproduced in part or in whole for any reason except at the exclusive permission of the author. © 2018 ADBane.com