Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931: Dark Moon - Chapter VIII by@astoundingstories

Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931: Dark Moon - Chapter VIII

"The Valley of the Fires," Harkness was to call it later, and shorten it again to "Fire Valley." The misty smokes of a thousand fires rose skyward from the lava beds of its upper end.
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Astounding Stories of Super-Science May 1931, by Astounding Stories is part of HackerNoon’s Book Blog Post series. You can jump to any chapter in this book here. Dark Moon - Chapter VIII

CHAPTER VIII. The Half-Men

"The Valley of the Fires," Harkness was to call it later, and shorten it again to "Fire Valley." The misty smokes of a thousand fires rose skyward from the lava beds of its upper end.

Where the lava flow had stopped and the lower valley began, came vegetation. Sparse at first, then springing to luxuriant growth, it contrasted strongly with the barren wall beside it and the equally barren waste of high ground where the fires were.

Mountains hemmed it in; their distant peaks showed black, with red and green striations of mineralized deposits. The valleys about them were dense with foliage, a green so startling and vivid as almost to offend the eye.

Trees were in the lower end of the valley. They were of tremendous growth, and the dew of early morning dripped from them like rain. Trunks smooth and ghostly white, except where the bark had split into countless fractures and the scarlet color of the sap-wood showed through. Outflung branches forked to drop down dangling stalks that rooted again in the ground; these made a forest of slender white supports for the leafy roof—a forest of spectral shapes in a shadow-world. Only here and there were arrows of sunlight that pierced the dense foliage above to strike through and down to the black earth floor and the carpet of rainbow hues.

And that carpet of radiant colors was trampled into paths that wound on to lose themselves in the half-light of that ghostly world.

From one of the paths came sounds of tramping feet. Cries and snarling grunts resounded through the silence to send lizards scurrying to the safety of the trees. Animal cries or hoarse voices of men—it would have been difficult to tell which. And a sight of the creatures themselves would have left an observer still in doubt.

A score of them, and they walked upright. Some bodies were naked, a coppery-black in color; on others the skin was covered by a sparse growth of hair. Noses that were mere nostril-slits; low foreheads, retreating flatly to a tangle of matted hair; protruding jaws which showed the white flash of canine teeth as the ape-like faces twisted and the creatures tugged at ropes of vines thrown over their shoulders.

The Neanderthal Man had not learned to use the wheel; and these man-animals, too, used only the sheer strength of their corded muscles as they hauled at the body of a beast.

It dragged along the path behind them, rolling at times to show the white of its belly instead of the flexible armor-plating that protected its back. Fresh blood flowed from a wound in the white under-skin; this, and the dripping flints that tipped their spears, told how death had come. One curving horn that projected from a wrinkled snout caught at times in the undergrowth, and then the ones who dragged it would throw themselves upon the head with snarls of fury and twist the big horn free.

The rocky cliff was honeycombed with caves. A cry, half-human in its tone, brought an avalanche of figures scurrying forth. Children, whose distended abdomens told of the alternate feasting and hunger that was theirs, were cuffed aside by women who shouted shrilly at sight of the prize. Older men came, too, and in a screaming mob they threw themselves upon the carcass of the beast that had been dragged into the open.

Flint knives came into play, then sharpened stakes that were thrust through the bleeding meat. Young and old seized what they could, leaped across the little stream that trickled downward through the valley, and raced for the nearest fires.

The fumaroles made places for roasting, and these half-men had learned the taste of cooked meats. Their jaws were slavering as they waited. The scents were tantalizing.

A hunter was reaching to snatch a shred of half-cooked meat when a woman of the tribe gave a scream that was shrill with fear. She pointed her gnarled hand upward on the face of the cliff.

An opening was there, a black cave-mouth in the black cliff. Above their own caves, was this higher opening, yet they must have explored it often—must have followed it as far as they dared, where it led to the mountain's innermost depths. Yet from this familiar place there stepped forth an apparition. Another followed, and another—three strange creatures like none the savage eyes of this world had ever seen.

Clothing torn to rags—faces black and smeared with blood—hands that reached groping and trembling toward the light, until the half-blinded eyes of one saw the trickling brook.

Then, "Water!" he croaked in a voice hardly more human than the grunts of horror from below, and he took the hand of another to help in the steep descent—while the tribe beneath them forgot their anticipated feast, forgot all but their primordial fear of the unknown, and, with startled cries, broke and ran for the safety of the forest....

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Various. 2009. Astounding Stories of Super-Science, May1931. Urbana, Illinois: Project Gutenberg. Retrieved May 2022 from https://www.gutenberg.org/files/30532/30532-h/30532-h.htm#Page_148

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