Chapter 3: Toward the Mountain’s Heart

Morgo the Mighty by Sean O’Larkin was originally serialized in The Popular Magazine in 1930. Over the next few weeks I’m going to be serializing it again here. Except for correcting the odd typo, I’m reproducing the text as printed in the original publication.

Terrified, Harker and Lacrosse fell back in their seats. They knew that if they leaped on Kenvon, he had but to press the trigger – and all of us would go hurtling to kingdom come. Miles of death hung below us.

“Well?” Kenvon demanded of me.

“Risk it!” Lacrosse shouted hoarsely. “We’ve no other choice!”

“Kenvon is insane!” Harker cried weakly. “We’re in the hands of a madman. Take a chance, McRory.”

Perforce, I bowed to the inevitable. There was still hope for my neck. A Chinaman’s chance. I prayed that my gods had a weather eye on me. So nodding to Kenvon, I brought the Junker about in a broad, swinging circle. I wanted to drink in one last sight of the outer world’s beauty.

And never, save in that moment when I face the Beyond, did it seem so sweetly glorious – never did I feel more full of life itself. This challenging the unknown powers was quite different from challenging an enemy to combat in the skies – for now I was coming to grip with natural elements the like of which I knew none.

We faced the Door of Surrilana.

I took aim with my black bird’s bat-faced nose. The motors hummed pleasantly, giving me a sense of thrilling life in the stick. Better Surrilana than a bullet! I’m that much of a gambler – when it’s force upon me.

Kenvon reached to the control board, still keeping me covered, and switched on the searchlight and the bulbs on top of the wings. He sat back then, unloosened his safety belt and, wary of me, watched the approaching hole in the glacier anxiously.

I saw the maw of ice and rock yawn wider and wider like a hoary mouth, the talons of icicles a brush mustache, a stumble beard beneath Kanchenjumga’s nose. There was something unclean about this orifice and the druid blood in me whispered of unholiness in violating a mountain in this manner. The blackness ahead grew larger and larger.

We shot through the gateway of ice. The vast arch encircled us – and then we were inside, our lights flooding a huge frost-encrusted cavern, its walls glittering like a palace out of “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” It would be easy to believe we were in a diamond world if we did not know about the ice.

It was just as Kenvon had described to us – a great cave covering an as broad as the plains of Kansas with the heavens thrown in. I estimated that this mountain hollow as at least fifty miles square and two miles high. The roar of our engines reverberated deafeningly from the distant walls of ice and stone.

I circled, I swept close to the floor, I mountained to the dripping vault above. Strange winds sucked us this way and blew us that. The Junkers slipped, slid and banked dangerously in the grip of these mighty blasts despite my efforts.

Harker and Lacrosse lost their fears momentarily beholding the site no mortal man had ever seen before – at least, so I thought then. Tat Kanchenjunga could hold such a hollow was unbelievable. Yet our eyes were not lying to us.

“There is a darker space toward the north,” Kenvon said, “make for it, McRory.”

I did, fool that I was.

The dark patch on our new horizon proved to be more than a shadow, more than a fissure in the cavern’s wall. It was another opening, a channel that dropped slowly downward. The beam of the searchlight told me that much.

“Be careful,” Harker warned me. “We’ve seen enough.”

“We’re not going any deeper into this,” Lacrosse shouted. “You’ve had and seen enough for one day, Kenvon!”

“Cowards!” the condor nose snapped. “Follow that channel, McRory!”

I was about to object when again I saw the muzzle of the millionaire’s automatic peering up at me. What other choice had I? Where there’s life, there’s hope. And so long as I kept the Junkers afloat, I had life at my command.

This tunnel into which we dove was some three hundred feet high and four hundred feet wide. Not enough room in which to turn about. Twice it turned, each time to the east. I thanked my stars this G-38 had no tail or we would have scraped the walls – gone a-crash.

After flying two miles and a half, dropping in altitude to ten thousand feet – a considerable drop from twenty-one thousand feet – we debouched into another cavern still greater than the one next Surrilana’s Door. I cannot calculate its size, but it must have been a hundred miles wide and three hundred miles long. Roof and floor were four or five miles apart and the air was appreciably warmer.

“For God’s sake, McRory,” Lacrosse cried out, “be careful.”

I caught his eye in the mirror and peered upward through my port.

Stalactites – long, fierce fingers – hung from the vault above. They glistened in our passing light like angry canine teeth, lustful incisors, jagged molars.

Beneath was a sea of mammoth stalagmites, sharp, jagged, stumpy – all horrible beds of instant death if the Junkers failed me. Such were part of Kanchenjunga’s digestion of the waters that seeped from her scales of glacier through her many pores.

“Say,” Harker cried out, “there’s light in this hole.” Pointing toward our wake, he watched a strange eerie glow.

Kenvon nodded. Without a word, he took the light switch and doused our illumination.

I held my breath as we hung in mid-air. The fool, out of sheer curiosity, would wreck us for a glimpse of this inner phenomenon.

But the cavern was aglow with light like that of early dawn. The teeth that jutted from the floor and roof were awash with it and gleamed on their easterly sides.

Though I could not see it, there was apparently some source of light in this cavern and it did not come from above, or from any visible opening. Rather, it diffused itself evenly through this vast room of fierce, ghastly teeth.

Again Kenvon switched on the lights. I brought the stick back sharply and we zoomed upward, over three lank stalagmites that had reached out to rip us asunder.

“Continue east,” Kenvon commanded.

It was mine not to reason why. The gun was still in his fist.

Down the five hundred mile stretch we went, and lower still we dropped. My altimeter stood at eight thousand feet when the cavern seemed to level again. My eyes were wary with watching floor and roof – their teeth, some longer than others, suddenly dartling out of the gloom into the searchlight’s path.

Lacrosse screamed incoherently. I saw in the mirror that something on the floor had attracted him and now a horrible curiosity enthralled him.

I took one look and called upon my gods again.

The floor was seething with strange beasts. They ran to the right and the left, from beneath the path of the Junkers, darting around the stalagmites with a remarkable agility, considering their size. The shock of the sight diminished and courage returned to me, so I dropped lower.

These beasts were rodents – rats the size of horses, at least eight feet long and four tall. Their whiskers sprouted from their long noses like claws, and as they looked up in their flight, I was aware of their evil red mouths opened in screeches of terror. There were hundreds of them.

When, presently, we left this herd of rats behind us, the cavern again dropped. I thought it high time to turn back. It was one of my usual hunches that it was high time to be letting well enough alone. The gods had preserved us this far – but why tempt them further? I suggested this much to Kenvon but he shook his head.

“We’ll go on,” he grinned. “I haven’t seen half enough yet.” And he showed me the automatic again. I offered no argument.

The channel took an upward turn, veered to the north and then dropped sharply. Down – down – down the Junkers raced. The tunnel narrowed and I slipped through. It widened and I breathed a trifle more normally. I was famished for a cigarette but there was no time for allaying frayed nerves.

The altimeter touched five thousand feet. We were less than a mile above sea level and three miles below the point we where we had entered these caverns.

A new room engulfed us, and it was still more brightly lighted than the upper cavern. Its floor and ceiling held less threatening teeth, but all was pervaded with a loathsome gray tint. Everything was neutral colored. And this room was infinite in size. It was a veritable inner world.

We cruised without speech for about fifty miles to the east. The reverberation was less deafening, but I still could feel its mighty throb.

I had seen so much in the past two hours I no longer believed my eyes. They were tired of new sights, strange incredible things in gray.

And when I beheld creatures walking up upright, running like men, across the floor below, I put it down to imagination. I shouldn’t have been surprised if I had seen pink elephants and yellow snakes having tea together.

“Men! Men!” Harker screamed. “The place is alive with them!”

What next would we be seeing – I asked myself.

But men they were – or something uncommonly like us. And like the rats in the cavern above, they fled from us.

I swooped closer to the floor and saw they were brown, shaggy, hairy creatures, huge-boned and well-thewed but small headed – like primitive man in the Pleistocene period; I’d read bout such things.

There were score of these creatures and they scrambled over crumbled mounds of rock and hid behind thick monoliths that stuck their blunt noses up at us.

“Trepid hearts would not have won such a sight,” Kenvon smiled. “If Harker and Lacrosse had their way, we’d have missed all this and more.”

“Hell,” Harker snapped, “I’m ready to land and see more at close quarters. We’ll never get out and I’d like to have the satisfaction now of seeing everything.”

Lacrosse blessed himself and said nothing. He trembled with every nerve in his body.

I was thankful there were no landing spots. The floor remained a veritable sea of extant or broken stalagmites and peculiar dwarfed trees with gray trunks and leaves. I couldn’t get on what they thrived.

Then terror, swift and merciless, smote us.

The gray glow we were conscious of disappeared. Our own lights seemed to yield nothing but darkness.

The air was filled, as if a sudden squall of inky snow had hit us, wiht gigantic black flying creatures that hurled themselves upon the plane.

They were bats, their long, black bodies and fan wings inundating the Junkers. They dropped from the stalactites in the roof in hordes, pouring their filthy screams upon us so that we could hear them above the roar of the motors. Their bodies brushing against the plane, sent us tilting, bucking. The propeller blades cut dozens to pieces and I marveled that we did not crash then and there.

A face was battened against the port in front of me.

My blood chilled. It was a human face – a deformed man’s face.

These bats had the heads and faces of man – human eyes.

The face dropped away, the eyes closed by the stunning impact of the port glass against flesh and bone.

The left A-propeller blade snapped. The Junkers careened. And Kenvon screamed aloud with fright, appealing to me to save him, save his foolish life.

I fought with the stick to right my black bird. I wanted to climb, to turn about and flee. But the left wing was weighted with the bats’ bodies. They hung fast. I banked to shake them off, but they clung with feet and wings, screeching like unholy demons out of Dante’s Inferno.

The plane dropped, crippled bird that it was, and dropped slowly as I circled and circled. The darkness of a greater horde, turning out to meet a common enemy – our Junkers – descended from the vault above. They struck the plane with a a terrible impact and my black bird staggered, quivering in every stay.

I was zooming over the stalagmites now. The weight of these human headed bats on the wings grew greater. Was this a nightmare or reality? Hideous face replaced fiendish maw at my port – and the Junkers smashed them from my sight.

I managed to rise, to shoot upward, vertically. The mass of beating wings and screeching mouths was momentarily below us. Yet the horde was not through – nor beaten. I felt the wings turn leadend.

We dove into the midst of an awful tangle of wings, black bodies and half human faces with staring eyes. The Junkers plowed, cut, floundered.

Another squall of these flying mice-men struck the plane. Their high pitched, bloodthirsty screams rose in crescendo with pain, hate and fear. They were attacking us to save themselves from a monster.

I saw Harker and Lacrosse, white and haggard, unbuckling their safety belts.

Kenvon tried to stand up. He screamed advice to me, but I heard nothing in the din of motor and bat.

Crash! Darkness! The wind of a million wings!

I was hurled through the side of the fuselage into outer darkness. My eyes closed and consciousness left me.

To Be Continued!