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.
With that word ringing in my ears, I opened my eyes and found myself – not in heaven, but on a mossy bed at the base of a twenty foot pillar of chalk – gray, dirty chalk. A forest of these pillars hemmed me in, but over them glowed that dull, ghastly early-morning light, now brighter but still livid. No bones were broken, but my wind-breaker sleeve was ripped off and my left arm a welter of bruises. I figured that I skidded down the stalagmite that broke my fall, to this bed of weird, gray moss.
This shout grew louder, and was taken up by scores of guttural voices somewhere to my left.
The bats had vanished. Not a wing sound in the still, gray air. Yet I could distinctly hear the movement of many feet, walking, running, climbing, stumbling. All were moving to a point at my left.
Louder and more vociferous grew the cries of “Zorimi!” I was curious but also cautious. I, too, wanted to call out to Kenvon and Harker and Lacrosse. Yet something told me to be wary, to hold my tongue lest I attract attention to myself.
As I stood and steadied my groggy senses, I heard the din of voices suddenly silenced. The stillness of the great cavern was appalling – especially to myself who had been so recently accustomed to the roar of the Junkers’ motors, the reverberations, the screeching bats. For a moment, I thought that it would unnerve me.
Then a voice cracked the quiet like a musher’s whip. It was deep, guttural and to me, uncomprehensible. Yet someone was talking and hundreds of ears were listening. That I knew, sensed.
Sometimes the voice broke and went shrill. Again it was a falsetto and then a deep bass. I could not make out whether a man or woman was talking but I was certain I was listening to one person.
The name “Morgo” was mentioned several times. Each mention evoked a dull hum, a wave of displeasure from the listeners. At length the speaker ceased his harangue and the cries of “Zorimi!” rose up to the vault miles above like a pagan paean. I couldn’t help the shudder the name sent up and down my spine.
The speaker uttered a piercing cry and then another, not unlike that of the human-faced bats who had brought disaster to my black bird. There was an instant flurry in the air, wings stirred that awful gray stillness, and two of the bats sailed over my head, moving quickly to the left.
“Zorimi! Zorimi!” The shouts were repeated to a crescendo. A people seemed to be pay unholy homage to some king, some diety. The air seemed permeated with feeling and I caught it.
The voice that I had been listening to now appeared to be higher up. Was the speaker climbing a rocky eminence? Was he flying?
The bats swam into view – something caught between the legs of one of them. I gasped. It was a man’s body – Harker’s; I recognized the man’s flying suit. Between the other bat’s feet was a head held like a football – a human head, white and bloodless.
And I closed my eyes to what I saw next.
A hand dangled from the body carried by the first bat man. In it, iridescent in that ghastly light, besplotched with red, was the three-headed thing I last saw being taken from Jim Craig’s lifeless form by the dacoit in the hangar at Darjeeling the night before. At least, it was something similar and of identical design. How could I ever forget that pectoral poor Jim Craig called a diamond, with its three heads – the bat’s, the woman’s and the lizard’s.
The two bats rose higher and higher, into the grayness and were soon lost to sight in what I took to be the west. Again I heard the movement of many feet, this time dispersing rather than coming together. The footfalls echoed loudly in the still air.
A group of them were coming toward me. I was unarmed, ill-equipped to put up a fight. Escape was the better part of valor for me. But where to?
Twenty yards away was a broken stalagmite, its crest no more than fifteen or twenty feet from the floor. I ran to it without hesitation, tore around to the far side and started climbing. Footholds were few, but my eager feet cut into the crumbling chalk, and up I went. On reaching the top, I threw myself prone on its scant surface and raised my eyes just over the edge, facing the mossy bed onto which the Junkers had flung me.
Forty or fifty men can throw the forest of chalk teeth, morose and silent. They were a good six feet tall and some of them seven. They were dressed as in the hour of their birth, but a shaggy, coarse gray hair was matted about their breasts, loins and limbs. Their heads were surprisingly small and, while suggesting the ape’s, were not apelike.
These were primitive men, the Pithecanthropus Erectus I read about in science books. How startlingly like the pictures I had seen of them, pictures conjured up from stray limb and jaw bones, for scientists had never found a complete skeleton of this type that roamed the earth six hundred thousand years ago, before the first glacial age. Were these men I was looking at their cousins, their direct descendants?
A dozen of them hesitated and sniffed the air over the bed of moss on which I had lain. They stooped and smelled it. They muttered, scanned the forest of monoliths about them and then slowly, dumbly shook their heads. The entire party presently moved on, passing directly beneath my lair.
I waited breathless. God knows what my fate would have been in the hands of those primitive beast men! Their footfalls grew fainter and died away. The awful silence once more fell upon the scene that I commanded.
Getting up and stretching my aching bones, I looked about. High in the air, in the direction from which the inhabitants of this cavern had come, I saw the remains of the Junkers G-38, festooned between two stalagmites. A broken aileron flapped slowly like the wing of a wounded bird, impaled on a fence picket.
I needed food and arms. I was in a strange world but life still flowed in my veins, and it was only natural that I make a fight to keep it coursing through me. It was up to me to pit my civilization and its knowledge and the resources of this wilderness of space, air and chalk of savage men and bats.
Clambering down from the broken mound of chalk, I pushed forward and, presently, came under the Junkers. It was a good thirty feet above me and about forty yards from the bed of moss into which I fell. I guessed that I was thrown clear of the fuselage the first time the plane struck a stalagmite and that the machine was carried forward by its great velocity to two peaks yards away.
How to reach the plane and its supplies was my problem. I was certain that it had not been looted, for what would the primitive men know of its stores? First I circled one pillar and found it unscalable; then I began to wend my way around the other.
My feet recoiled from what my eyes saw. Involuntarily, I leaped backward a pace.
There at the base of the stalagmite was a headless body – Kenvon’s. But how had the head been severed? The decapitation seem to be a clean one. And I had seen no knives or weapons on the persons of the hoary men on this cavern.
Kenvon was beyond my help. I stepped over the torn leather flying outfit and found, a few feet farther on, footholds on the pillar of chalk. They had been freshly made. But by who? It was beyond me.
I started climbing. The stillness remained unbroken save by my breathing. The ascent was not an easy one – but it had to be made. And make it I did, those towering thirty feet with chalk crumbling beneath every touch.
The plane was safely caught, its wings resting on the tips of the gray monoliths. I crawled over one, hung over the cabin and swung through the hole my body made when I was ejected from the ship in the first crash. Lacrosse was not to be seen nor had I expected to see him. Probably the hoary men carried him off. Yet why should they behead Kenvon and send Harker aloft with a bat man?
I broke open a tank of water and drank my fill. The biscuits and canned beef were equally delicacies. Then I turned to the store of arms and found besides three rifles, four automatics and ammunition, a machine gun of all things and a box of Very lights. What on earth did Kenvon expect to do with a machine gun if we had fallen in the Nepalese jungle? Surely he didn’t expect us to cart it on the trek back to Darjeeling, along with the rest of the arsenal and the food.
A blanket served me for a sling, and I filled it with all the rifle and pistol ammunition I could lay my hands on, besides the weapons themselves, of which I took a rifle and three automatics. I found two bowie knives and added them to a pile of canned beef, crackers and a water tank. The compas went in, too, together with four torchlights that weren’t smashed in the crash.
Having done this, I suddenly wondered why. Where was I headed? What could I do to get out of the caverns? I was several hundred miles away from – and below – the Door of Surrilana. And if I ever reached the Door, what good would it do?
I sat down and began to laugh. My eyes fell upon a dozen cartons of cigarettes and, still laughing at my foolishness, I broke one open and was soon puffing away.
At length, I decided that the plane was not a safe place for me. I knew nothing about the winds in this cavern, but I figured a good breeze would shift the Junkers’ weight and send it to the floor below. Dropping two slings of food and arms from the hole, I made my way back to the pillar of chalk and, trying to climb down, slid most of the last fifteen feet. Again no bones were busted.
“Well,” I mused, “I’m worse off than Robinson Crusoe. He had a man Friday to tote his stuff and a sea to fish in. I’ve only the contents of the food sling. I don’t fancy eating bats, mice or Pithecanthropus Erectus!”
I looked up suddenly, conscious that eyes were upon me.
A man – a white man – and one of the finest specimens it’s been my lot to behold, stood a few yards behind me, covering my back with an arrow poised in a drawn bow. Behind him stood three bat men, but unlike the others that beset the Junkers, these had arms and long, crooked fingers on horny hands. I grabbed an automatic.
The white man addressed me in the guttural tongue I had heard coupled with the name “Zorimi.”
I shook my head at him and grinned.
“What the hell?”
“You speak English?” he asked, dropping his bow and staring at me.
“They call it that where I’ve been,” I said. “Who are you – who talks English and lives in this God-forsaken hole?”
“I am called Morgo,” he said, and for all that meant to me at the time he might have been Isidore O’Reilly. Yet I was mighty glad to see him, to hear his human voice.
“Who’re those guys with you?” I asked, pointing to the bat men.
He puzzled at my slang and then understood.
“They are Bakketes – men who fly. They are my friends. Do not harm them.”
“It’s O.K. with me if it’s the same with you. Now, how do I get out of here, Morgo?”
He was still puzzled at my words.
“Get out of here? But where to? Where do you come from?”
I realized then that Morgo had no idea of the outer world. He could not conceive of it.
“How long have you been here? How old are you?” I asked him.
“By my sticks, I am twenty-six years old,” he said. I later learned that he counted days by a system of notched sticks and set aside each three hundred and sixty-five for a year. “I have been here for sixteen years. But I was born in another place – where men like you lived. They even had red hair, some of them.”
“Where is that?” I asked, thankful that my red mane had given me a distinguishing touch.
“I do not remember. I was very young. I even had another name and a mother and a father. I went to school with white-skinned boys like I once was. We talked English. But I forget much names and places, for I was in an accident down here. I fell from a rock and a lay in darkness a long time.”
Oh-ho, I said to myself, fancy finding an amnesia victim in the bowels of the Himalayas! Yet I believed the youth. One could not help but do that on looking into his dark, fearless eyes. He was a good six feet four in height, broad of shoulder and narrow of hip. His muscles were not bulky but rippled like titan strands beneath a weather beaten skin. The dark-brown hair of his was long and carefully knotted at the back. His loins were girded with a strange, fleecy pelt that was caught over one shoulder. And he was scrupulously clean.
“Are there any more white men like you in here?” I asked.
“No, I know of none. I have seen none but the beasts, the bats and the shammans.”
I took “shamman” to mean the primitive men and I was right.
“And just who is Zorimi?”
Morgo started and his eyes widened at the mention of the name. The bat men stirred and gazed balefully at me.
“Zorimi,” Morgo said, “is an evil one. I have never seen him – but all here fear him – beast and man. But I do not fear him because I have never seen him. He is a god that all worship and obey. He has but to reveal the Shining Stone, and all who would disobey him bow down and forget – so I am told.”
“The Shining Stone?” I had a hunch. “What is that?”
To my utter astonishment, despite my hunch, Morgo described Her of the Three Heads, the pectoral I had seen on poor Jim Craig. Here was mystery, and I couldn’t fathom the simplest phase of it.
Questions flew to my lips. I simplified them and stripped them of slang for this resident – a fellow white man – of this cavern world. How did he live? On the flesh of animals and herbs which came from the still lower caves. How did he move about? In the arms of the bat men he had behind him. They carried him on his hunts. He was a peaceful man and fought only when his life was endangered.
How did he amuse himself? By making drawings of this underworld and by perfecting himself with his bow and with his spear and with his sling shot. To demonstrate, he took a skinsling from his covering and sent a small stone through the Junkers’ wing thirty feet above us.
How did he get along without human companionship, having once had it? He fraternized with these peace loving bat men, hunted with them, and he was on friendly terms with a tribe of primitive men in the lower cave where he lived. And how did he get into the caverns?
“My father,” he said simply, “was a man who loved to climb mountains. He said that there was one mountain he would climb before all other men. With a party of friends, my mother and myself, he climbed high over ice into a cold world. There was a great door in the rock -”
“The Door of Surrilana?”
Morgo’s face brightened. He remembered that name, probably having heard it before as a child. He tried to recall other names, but shaking his head sadly, gave it up. “I cannot say for sure. My father wanted to climb the mountain but my father urged him not to. But we did. My mother died of the cold. While waiting to return to wherever we came, we camped in a huge opening. Then one night there was a landslide, I think you call it. Ice came toppling down from the mountaintop. I remember seeing the tents crushed, and something struck me, wounding my head.
“When I came out of my sleep, I was in these caves. The bat men brought me here, and I have lived with them ever since, learning their language, teaching them a little of English. Baku,” he added, indicating a wiry little Bakkete, “understand and speaks English a little.”
I wondered what the Bakketes were doing in the neighborhood of Surrilana since this warmer climate seemed more indigenous to them. But then there many mysteries, I was to learn – and that was not one of them.
“Where does this Zorimi live?” I asked. “And where do you live that you do not see him?”
“I live in a lower cave – the Land of Kahli – where it is warmer. This is Zorimi’s cavern here, the Cave of Shamman.”
“And how did you happen to turn up here just now?”
I watched him suspiciously.
He sensed my attitude and smiled. “The Bakketes told me of the strange black bird that was in the caverns. I have not seen a bird in sixteen years. So I flew up here where I saw the fight between Zorimi’s bat men and bird.” He looked up at the Junkers. “The poor bird was killed.”
Excusing himself, he spoke to the Bakkete named Baku. The creature stood behind Morgo and threw its arms over his, clasping the horny black hands over the youth’s chest. Then the man and bat rose and soared over the Junkers. Morgo alighted and made his inspection of the plane. He was delighted, and I could hear his laughter while he chatted with the Bakkete. Presently he descended to my side.
“That is a wonderful bird,” he marveled. “Men have lived in its bowels. I should like to own a bird like that.”
“That’s the bird that brought me here,” I explained. Morgo was amazed, and I could see that his great respect for me and my red hair increased appreciably.
I told him of the food and arms I had, and he was only mildly interested. He said he had weapons of his own that sufficed in the caves. And he could get food easily. Yet he was interested in me, was curious about the world I came from. I could see that he craved my friendship and my companionship. It was a matter of one white man’s soul crying out to another’s for understanding, appreciation.
“Well,” I said at length, “I’m in your hands, Morgo. I despair of ever seeing the light of God’s day beyond Surrilana. I guess I’m here for keeps – and since I’m Irish, I might as well make the best of a bad deal. Take me to where you live and I’ll try to learn your ways.” And what else could I say, being in the hole I was?
“I shall be glad to call you a friend.” Morgo smiled at me. “And I will take you to my home.”
“Can I hoof it – walk there, I mean?”
He laughed and shook his head.
That meant I had to let a Bakkete hug me. It was not a thought to relish, but I soon conquered my distaste for such close contact with a bat. Morgo gave the orders in the strange guttural tongue. One of the Bakketes took my slings in his hands and flapped upward into the air. Another encircled me with his arms, catching his fists across my chest. I held my automatic in my hand suspiciously.
The bat man rose from the floor and I hung easily, my armpits over his forearms. And flying man that I was, used to every machine ever made, I got no greater kick out of any comparable to that of my first flight with a Bakkete. Morgo rose in Baku’s arms.
The vast, fan wings cut the air silently above the gray world below. I recalled pictures of the mighty pteranodon-pterodactyls, those batlike reptiles that flew over the seas that covered Kansas and Missouri in Mesozoic time. Now I was living a bad dream turned good.
To Be Continued!