CHAPTER 46: "LAIR OF DEATH"
Novelization of the JCB strip by Dale R. Broadhurst
The rush of air into the Earthman's bursting lungs came
not a moment too soon. Panting and reeling from the terrible experience,
John Carter pulled himself from the dragon-fish's rent side and onto the
giant creature's long scaly back. From this position he could hear the
great dragon's hissing cries echo dismally through the vast underground
cavern. The scaly hide offered Carter good handholds on the brute's back.
He was surprised to find that he could vaguely make out the features of
the scales and fins of the huge animal.
"So, there is light in this hell after all," the swordsman
sputtered, clearing his nostrils and ears of the same mixture of blood
and intestinal acids that covered the rest of his body.
Indeed, the illumination in the cavern was strong enough
that John Carter could make out where it was that the sounds of waves lapping
upon rocks were coming from -- perhaps twenty yards away. There he saw
the shadows of the cavern walls meet the even blacker shade of the underground
lake. Returning his long-sword to its sheath, the Earthman moved cautiously
toward the tail of the long creature. As he did this, the thing began to
sink slowly into the lake, raising the water first to Carter's knees and
then to his waist. He was readying his earthly muscles for a strong leap
in the direction of the adjacent shore when the dragon-fish went into its
final death throes. An unexpected flip of the gargantuan tail fins hurled
the man far into the air.
Head over heels John Carter tumbled through the gloom.
Then one foot struck the hard stone wall of the cavern and the remainder
of his body alighted in something soft, sticky and very foul smelling.
Try as he might, the Earthman could not disengage himself from the gummy
mass. In fact, the more he struggled for freedom the more tightly the thick
strands of the "something" adhered to his body and fighting man's harness.
In a matter of seconds the man was totally immobilized, with only his left
foot and his right arm still not tangled in the sticky web.
"Yes -- that's what this is -- something like a spider
web, only much much larger!"
He listened to his own words echoing through the dark:
"much larger -- much larger..."
With the one foot still free from the sticky entanglement,
the Virginian pulled his entire body toward the creviced wall of the underground
chamber. With his free hand he pulled the dagger from his leathern straps
and with that blade he began to cut the hundreds of adhesive strands, one
by one. By this process he gradually worked his way over to the wall from
the center of the enormous silken web. Along the way he encountered the
mummified remains of various animals he could not identify. At one point
in his arduous peregrinations his knee struck a bat-like animal, securely
bound in a cocoon of silken ties. The thing bit him and he put the sharp-toothed
captive out of its misery with a single thrust of the dagger.
On the far side of the web, within an arm's length of
the rocky wall, he broken through the webbing and fell part way into a
second sticky mass, directly below the first. Carter cursed his poor luck
and struggled to loosen the hundreds of strands that held him tight, from
feet to elbows, in a morass of glue and spider silk. It was while in this
hapless position that the Earthman first heard the whistling hiss of the
grazoon upon whose webs he had so unintentionally alighted.
The Barsoomian grazoon is very much unlike the earthly
spider, except for the fact that it spins webs to capture small flying
creatures. The animal is neither an insect nor an arachnid, but is closely
related to the flying sith of the dying planet's equatorial regions. The
grazoon is distributed around the globe of the sun's fourth companion in
numerous varieties, ranging in size from the microscopic denizens of the
polar ice fields to the mammoth tree climbers which haunt the Tonoolian
swamplands. The animal's bite is deadly, if it cares to inject a full dose
of its venom into a victim -- if it does not, the bite merely paralyzes,
with effects lasting according to the measure of poison it inflicts. While
all grazoons are born with twelve legs and four wings, eight of those legs
are highly atrophied in most species and all of them lose their wings upon
The grazoon John Carter had awakened was one of the kind
that moves on four legs, supporting a body nearly the size of an adult
African elephant, though weighing far less. Such creatures are content
to spend their lives close to their sticky webs, catching in them various
living things and sucking away their paralyzed captives' life fluids over
a period of several days or weeks.
The Earthman had saved the four-legged monster a good
deal of trouble by his falling so neatly into a sticky, web-bound cavity
from which escape was just about impossible. So it was that the old grazoon
of the Plateau of Eo made no hurried rush to subdue his new prey. It was
quite evident that John Carter was not going to be leaving any time soon.
Sola was scratching Woola under the chin. It was a sight
unimaginable in all of Thark just a few weeks before. The great calot was
obviously enjoying the familiar attention and the green girl's smile was
one of good will, not the typical sadistic leer displayed by the green
giants when watching torture or the agony of a prolonged death. Oman, who
had dealt with the neighboring green race for hundreds of thousands of
years, was especially impressed by the gentleness of the six-limbed maiden.
She was fully capable of running an attacker through with a sharp blade,
but Sola was perhaps the only one of her people Oman had ever encountered,
who might shed tears of grief over having to take another's life in defense
of her own.
"As I said, there is no being on this plateau blessed
with the telepathic powers that would be necessary for us to influence
the two dreamers' fantasies directly and in predictably effective ways.
That is why I am now turning to you. Sola, you are a friend of both the
sleepers and you have their trust -- perhaps even their love. You have
already shared thought transfers with both Dejah Thoris and Dotar Sojat,
have you not?"
Sola did not answer. For a long time she sat playing with
the calot. She now understood the logic of Oman's entreaty and why the
robot had insisted that she come to Vovo's laboratory. Despite all of this,
his question surprised her. If Tharks dream at all, it is nothing they
could describe in words or would want to share with another person. As
for telepathy, the sum total of her experiences with that, up until very
recently, had been responding to Sarkoja's work commands and giving her
own, similar commands to hatchlings and dumb animals. She asked herself,
silently, "What do I know of trust or love? I have no skills in these human
"You understand what I am saying, don't you..." Oman began.
"No." Sola finally replied -- and that was all she said.