A shadow of thought…
Beyond the great iron gate, along a path that lay under an overgrown garden, stood, and only barely - a shabby old house that looked many years abandoned.
He knocked the door, and when there was no response he sat down by the porch, and fell almost into a half-sleep. ‘He must be out? Well, I’ve travelled too far to turn back. I shall wait.’
He was about to knock again, but before his hand reached the door, it opened. Nothing was there but shadows. ‘Forgive me, but my name is Robarh McFurl. Is this the Heartly Residency? Only, a good source told me that a Professor Rutger Heartly lived here. A professor of paranormal, and, if I am not wrong, studier of the strange… I have a matter that might be of interest to him… forgive me if I have made a mistake and turned to the wrong house…’
‘You have not made a mistake, my dear friend,’ said a gentle voice from out of the shadows. He appeared at the door then, a tall thin man, with a gaunt face, pale complexion, but piercing eyes. A puzzling, strange person, dressed in tweed, but with an odd look about him - there was something almost not human about him. ‘I am Rutger Heartly. Its been awhile since my door has been knocked.’
‘I heard things have been quiet for you, but, I have some business to put your way, sir, if you are interested.’
Rutger smiled, ‘I certainly am,’ and he waved the fellow in.
‘I was a sailor originally,’ he explained as he was walked along the dark, cobwebbed hall. So enthusiastic was he about the matter that brought him to this place that he did not look truly upon the stark and strange house the professor chose to dwell in. A house that seemed derelict, and unattended. The floor was bare and cold, the walls cracked or chapped, the windows were drawn over by old curtains. Dust went up and down and around and around, endless and without stop, like a strange mist that had settled within the house.
Robarh sat down in the chair and a cloud of powder rose up all around him, but he was too busy to notice this, and ploughed on with his tale.
‘Please, professor, feel free to stop me if what I speak about holds no interest to your unique vocation. It’s, just, well, I didn’t know who else to turn to, there are so many doubters who do not believe me. In fact, I think you are the only person who will believe me, or, will at least try to.’
‘I believe you already, sir, please proceed.’
‘Well, I don’t know how to, sir, but perhaps it will be best if I showed you this instead.’ So he put into his hand a strange sketch of a creature that looked as if it should inhabit some mad fairy tale. Rutger took the picture and pulled back one of the curtains and then began to examine it in a clear light. ‘What is this monster?’ he said, and Robarh, very eager to answer the question, stood up from his chair, strode to the professors side and prodded the picture saying, ‘The natives called it the Mokele-mbembe. It is said to haunt the heart of Lake Tele.’
‘This, professor, if you excuse my enthusiasm, is no daydream scribble. I have seen this monster, professor. Yes, I have. With my own eyes, I tell you.’
The professor braced himself and then sat down. He did not take his eyes from the sketch. ‘Tell me the whole story.’
So Robarh told him everything; ‘I was sixteen when I arrived in Africa,’ he said. ‘I was involved in one of the southern campaigns, but lost my way. That was when I came upon the great southern marshes, and encountered the monster. It was not far away from me, when it emerged from the water. I remember seeing a great wave at first, then hundreds of bubbles. Then it suddenly rose up. It sounds ridiculous, Rutger, but, I have seen whales, before on the sea, rising out of the water as they do, going up and going down, and this creature reminded me of a whale in some ways, in that it was huge, not particularly aggressive, but it had come up for air, and I had seen it by accident. It came up, its back was like a small island, and then it went back down again. I remember it quite vividly, but, I have spoken to so many doubters that they have almost jaded my mind, and I have almost convinced myself I dreamed the whole thing up…’
‘But you didn’t dream it, did you? You actually saw this animal?’
‘Yes, Rutger, I did see it. I really did. The sight of it haunts my memory, and for some reason I want to see it again.’
‘I believe you and your story,’ said the professor. ‘I have no reason not disbelieve something I know nothing about, and something I have not seen.’
‘So you don’t disbelieve me, and yet you don’t believe me either?’
‘My opinion is that you did see something extraordinary, but my beliefs I must hold in reserve, for now. What do you think this Mokele-mbembe was?’
‘Realistically, I suppose, some type of ancient, or great animal that has gone on living unrecorded.’
‘I think you have summed things up rather well there. I myself find it totally acceptable, that on this great Earth of ours, that great things still go fourth, without us knowing of them clearly. Things that lie low and secret even to our greatest adventurers, and carry on with their errands of life and no-one in the world knows of it.
‘If you don’t mind, Robarh, but I would like to put this matter into the hands of an old acquaintance of mine. Have you ever heard of Doctor Yoga?
‘Ha! Yes. Of course!’
‘He might find this matter very interesting.’
‘Good grief! I never knew you two got on? He has criticised a great many of your articles before now, and has labelled nearly all of your cases as being the invention of the imagination… or something to that affect.’
‘Yes…yes, indeed. He is a critic of mine. But I value his opinions, and he values mine I am sure. I will look forward studying his reaction to this.’
‘Do you really think he will be interested?’
‘His office is in Gloucester, in a few hours, we shall know the answer to that question, Robarh. And bring that picture with you! He’ll definitely want to see it.’
Where doubters dare…
There was a set of old ramshackle buildings, stacked up one on top of the other. The doctors office was one of the thin narrow buildings squashed in among a series of other taller and greater buildings - ugly constructions that seemed to lean over and want to squash everything that lay beside or between them.
A pale and extremely frightened looking secretary led them up the stairs to the little smoke filled office, and there was the doctor; a small thin man, with a pair of little round glasses and grey wild hair that stuck out on all ends. A strange man he was, hunched of the shoulder he was pacing about to and fro when they entered the building, and uttering and talking to himself, smoking a long stemmed pipe.
‘One moment,’ he said, when they first entered. ‘Just give me a moment while I think this over…’
A moment passed when he suddenly span round and observed them. He ignored Robarh, as if he wasn’t there, and instead fixed his eyes, which then widened, on the professor, and at the sight of him he chuckled. ‘Ha! I wondered when you would turn up. If this is what I wrote about you in my last article concerning that business between you and the supposed wolf-possessed man, I have no intentions to change what I wrote. My opinion remains the same. You are a fantasist, professor! A dreamer! There are those, in this world, like myself, who dedicate their being to real work. REAL work, professor! And we have fantasy stories to retreat into, for us they are to us a past-time. But you, professor Heartly, have no work at all, and you live always In fantasy. You have no skill, professor. You’re nothing more than an escapist!’
‘Thank you for that enthusiastic report concerning my career, doctor Yoga, but this visit has nothing to do with your recently published article about me. In fact, it has nothing to do with me at all. Let me introduce you instead to Mr Robarh McFey.’ Robarh stood forward and bowed his head. The doctor regarded him for the first time and curtly nodded. ‘He was a sailor, and, as you would imagine, has many stories to tell; but there is one story in particular I think which will hold firm even your interests, doctor Yoga.’
‘Well then, be on with it. As you can imagine, I am busy, I don’t have the time to drift about, like you professor. I am in the middle of solving a nasty case of flue that has broke out across the town.’
‘Well, I shall be brief sir,’ said Robarh. ‘But first I will show you this.’ And from his pocket he brought up a brown leaf; it was the sketch of the beast.
The doctor took the sketch, and he was tentative about it at first, showing a lack of interest, but as soon as his eyes met that sketch he seized the paper up and began to stalk about, excitedly, rubbing his chin with his one hand shaking the paper with the other, he sat down eventually to light up a fresh pipe and began to speak at last, more rationally than before; ‘So, a picture of the Mokele-mbembe Mambi?’
‘That was what the natives called the beast,’ said Robarh. ‘I have seen it.’
‘You’re the first European to have done so for twenty years,’ said the doctor.
‘You believe I have seen it? Really, friend, I didn’t think anyone would, except the professor here.’
‘The professor would believe anything,’ Yoga scoffed, then he cleared his throat, sucked his pipe, filled the air up with black smoke and then pointed and said, ‘You wonder why I believe, don’t you?’
‘Yes. To be plainly honest I do.’
‘Because I have seen it, son. These sane eyes have seen it!’
Robarh was so astonished he had to take a seat and sit down. He, and the doctor, sat down on their chairs, opposite each other, both quiet, and looking at the sketch, while Rutger stood in the back, and observed them with total fascination.
‘You… you have seen it?’ he stammered. ‘Then you are the first European I have met that has. I met natives of Africa who have sighted it, some who say they were attacked by it, but elsewhere and outside I have been ridiculed by most who have listened to my story. And yet, sat here before me, the greatest critic of fairy tales himself, and he says he has seen the beast!’
‘The Mokele-mbembe Mambi is no fairy tale, son. I wouldn’t be talking to you now, if it were. It’s an animal, like the elephant and the antelope and the other beasts of that land. It is a native of the African wild, that lives in the deep and unreachable parts of the world, and, it has achieved the miracle of living so far undetected and removed from scientific record. A mysterious creature. The news that you bring me is good, my friend, because, you see, forty years ago, while I was on an expedition, I killed the Mokele-mbembe Mambi, and you having seen one recently proves an old theory of mine - there is more than one, that they have a colony… somewhere.’
He poured himself a brandy in a sparkling crystal cup and then referred to the professor personally, saying, ‘amazing, don’t you think, Rutger. The creature, so mysterious, so secretive, that people don’t think it exists. A creature so huge and yet still so hard to find.’
‘It is remarkable,’ the professor replied.
‘You have never seen it, Rutger; but do you believe in it?’
‘I have no reason not to,’ he said. ‘It’s perfectly possible for this creature to successfully hide itself in so vast a territory.’
‘What do you think that it is?’ probed the doctor.
‘Personally? Some type of animal related to the seeds of prehistoric earth. I don’t think its too farfetched to think that this creature shares its ancestry with animals of a forgotten time. I mean, the crocodile made it through, didn’t it? Why shouldn’t this beast, if it found the right climate to live in, to propagate, to survive!’
‘I think there is an area in Africe, close to where the sightings of the Mokele-mbembe Mambi have occurred, where creatures of this sort have flourished,’ said doctor Yoga. ‘Now I have no proof of this, but I believe there is a colony out there, that it has survived the countless passing of infinite time, and I intend to discover it.’ He lifted his brandy glass. ‘Gather closer my friends, I have a rather…LARGE, proposal for the both of you.’
So they huddled about him, drawn up close with their chairs, and the doctor lit himself a fresh pipe. ‘How do you feel about exchanging this Gloucester air for that of the deepest Africa! My friends, I propose we find this creature. I propose we bring it back, to London, and be revealed as the greatest explorers and scientists in the world. Are you with me?’ Then he looked at Rutger Heartly personally, and said, under his breath, ‘Are you with me, Heartly?’
‘You know me too well, Yoga, to know that I would not repudiate the opportunity to go and adventure alongside my greatest critic.’
‘I had a feeling you would not turn this down. Ha! We will make a fine team, you and I. And what about you, Robarh? Are you in?’
‘Dearest doctor! This is what I have been yearning to happen for many months.’
‘Then friends, it is declared!’ and he lifted his brandy cup, ‘We go to Africa!’
News of their expedition, when it finally got wind, caught some enthusiasm from the local press, there being several reviews, the headlines on one paper being: “A noble Sailor joins forces with Two Mad Men on a wild goose Chase!”
Their was some encouragement from the local press, mentioning briefly: “A company of well known and respected citizens embark on a journey to prove the existence of a mythical beast of legend.” Then there were other ones like: “An otherwise respected sailor, and servant of the crown, abandons his excellent career in service to his country when he decided to join up with an eccentric professor and a mad clown of a doctor in a supposed quest to seek out an invented beast.”
News of their adventure was not well received, a local bar conversation between a port worker and a local and respected clergymen ran thus: “I have always doubted that Rutger Heartly and his ways. I never believed his stories. But he goes too far in this business concerning Africa. I hope he doesn’t return…’
By the time they set out, it was all forgotten.
They took with them a supply of food, to last a month, a change of clothes, some paper and ink, a knife, a rifle and with it a ration of bullets. The doctor also brought along a tinder box, two pipes, and a good measure of tobacco to fill them.
They departed the port of Bristol on the fifth of June; the ship was filled up and sent out on what was to be a very long, and at times, worrying journey. Sometimes the weather was good, but then it could be horribly bad. Robarh was quite comfortable, as this used to be his life - Rutger confined himself to his quarters. Doctor Yoga was completely oblivious to all the passing events, to the whole voyage in fact, and constantly he looked at his maps, would sleep in his chair, then wake up in dreadful moods and stalk about, then to return to the maps and look at them for many hours.
‘It’s going to be a dangerous journey,’ said Robarh, one evening, when a particularly dreadful storm had taken up, and the ship was rocked to and fro. He did not refer to the weather though, but to the maps, and he pointed, to the jungles of the Congo, and he said, ‘We may not make it through.’
‘We will,’ said the doctor. ‘I promise you, I have done this journey before, and whatever your plans are, I do not intend to leave back for home until I have set my eyes again on Mokele-mbembe Mambi.’
‘You say you killed one? How? What happened?’
The professor lit up his pipe and lay down on his bed. He lay his arm over his forehead and closed his eyes. ‘I was traversing the Lake Tele that lies with the Congo, on my boat, when the monster suddenly appeared out of the water beside me. Now I have nerves of steal my friend, I have faced many creatures, was almost dragged into a river by a crocodile once, before I cut my way out - but when I saw this creature I for a moment I fell numb with fear.
‘It looked at me, for awhile, and I looked at it, and it seemed to regard me with its black eyes. I saw its two knife-like teeth. Its tail whipped against my boat, and caught my arm. My companions jumped out of the boat and swam ashore, but in my fear I could not move. Then suddenly, my hand moved to my rifle, and I shot it, in the head! I made a great hole on its side, and it fell down into the water with such a tremendous crash that I was covered in water. Its body drifted ashore, but the natives feared it to be a demon. It had attacked their village a few days before I met it, and they had battled it off with their spears, and seeing it there on their shores, dead, they could not bear to look at it, so they put it on fire, and we all watched as the body burned away, to ash and bone. I left back home feeling a deep weariness in my heart, that I had committed an atrocity by killing out one of the last animals of its kind. But your story has filled me with hope, Robarh. I feel confident that this expedition will be a success.’
‘I do as well, in a way,’ he replied.
They departed each other then, and it was the last time that they spoke properly, until they had reached Africa, and once they had unloaded everything off of the ship they proceeded onward, by train initially, and when they reached their destination they pressed on by foot.
It was a long and hideous trek. The days were filled with endless journeying, endless toil. The air was hot and heavy, the leafs of trees and deep foliage gleamed with the dampness of the heat. The trees, as old as English oaks, towered ahead like building blocks. Great shadow lay over the floor. Strange animals chatted in the wilderness on either side, and the insects were large and numerous.
They camped in canvases above the ground, with great nets hanging down over them from the trees to ward off the night creatures - the numerous hoards of midges, the silently snooping snakes and the great spiders that crawled about under the leafs.
There was no road, or track for them to follow, and lost they all would be right now, but fortunately doctor Yoga had a good friend who lived among one of the local native tribes - a most splendid fellow - his name was Umbada. The doctor had sent word ahead, before they departed Bristol, that his help was needed, and he was informed fully of the details of the expedition. He met up with them just before they started to make their way into the jungle.
This was the land Umbada had been born in, and so he knew it like he knew his hands and feet. He guided them fourth with immense confidence. The others were in awe at how he ploughed fourth through the thicket without hesitation. The climate, the creatures, none of it upset him, so it seemed. He walked briskly onwards as if the jungle was to him some type of a peaceful country park, like the others would know back home in England.
Twelve days they marched, an endless winding journey, and really, they never thought it was going to end, when one evening, after a painful march through the mosquito ridden depths of one particularly dark and dank wood, slipping on the weeds, roots and vines as they went along, sunlight shone on their faces and then the trees slowly separated, and below, by wonder, a wonderful vista ranged beneath them. They reached the edge of a great cliff, but down in the valley stretched a remarkable lake, the ends of it flooded into the skyline. This was it then, Lake Tele, which they had sought from so far. Long, dark and still its waters stretched, endlessly rolling. The wild thicket of the jungle clambered right up to its shores, some trees growing out or into the water itself. Great lilies, large enough for you to lie flat on, stretched over its murky surface. The skies were grey and gloomy, and there was this heavy feeling of waiting, and brooding.
‘Yes, this is it,’ said Robarh. ‘This is where I saw the beast. My word! I never knew I would find myself here again! Ha! To think of it! One day, it seems, I roam the fields of England, and now here I am, roaming freely in this lost and wild place.’ He looked at his friends, and nodded and said, with a sense of contentment, ‘But I am happy.’
‘Now that I can see it, first hand,’ said the professor Rutger Heartly, ‘I can truly see how it could be possible for a great monster to live here, undisturbed and undetected. You know, to just see this place, now, really does make you believe that a monster must live here, somewhere.’
‘I believe that anything could live here, in secret, and that their lie in front of us a multitude of undetected animals,’ said doctor Yoga, wiping the lenses of his glasses with a handkerchief and then readjusting them back in front of his eyes. He lit a pipe, to celebrate the occasion. ‘My friends!’ he said, ‘let me introduce you to Mokele-mbembe country! Let us go fourth now, and explore.’
Water and shadows…
They made their way down from the cliffs by the way of a great stooping hill that ran behind. They walked to the rim of the lake, and gazing over it began to plan the next stage of their quest.
‘Well, our monster lives in this lake,‘ said Dr Yoga. ‘I propose we put together some sort of boat. There’s enough wood about, so let us get to work!’ All around the lake was a great dark wood, a foul territory of roots and weeds and dank wet leafs. A sweaty horrible journey proceeded, as they went about scavenging parts for their boat, and all their equipment was made wet in the dank air.
Stringing the raft together took some time, and effort, but Dr Yoga and Umbada seemed to know what they were doing, while Rhobar watched, and Rutger stood about looking at something in the distance, and not really doing much. Eventually they were ready to set their boat into the dark waters of the lake.
Forward they rowed, with a yard-long piece of wood strapped to a palm leaf as a paddle, beneath the black water oozed. In the distance, a large black lump suddenly rose out of the murky mire - and they all jumped with horror, and joy, thinking they had found their quarry, and so quickly as well; but then they saw the flickering ears of a hippo, and knew that this was not the great monster they sought, and fell into a disappointment.
Then a large object made the water move in front of them, and there was something of a wave, that lashed water up onto the top of the raft. Rhobar said that he saw a huge tree-log drift by, but Umbada pointed out, to their discomposure, that this was no tree, but in fact a great African Crocodile. Good grief! This was a monster in its-self, with jaws large enough to snap up their little raft, and all of them in it at once.
The sight of this creature going by unsettled them so much their was immediate talk of heading back to land. ‘If we can’t handle a creature like this, then how will we fare when the Mokele-mbembe raises up from the water before us!’ snapped Dr Yoga, who among them all managed to keep his nerves.
So, this was their first day on the lake, and it was disastrous, for two reasons - their nerves were shattered, and secondly because they had not found anything that related to their great monster. They pulled their boat up onto a little island, and made camp. Around them, the disconcerting sounds of growling lions, grunting hippos, crackling crocodiles, squealing monkeys, creaking toads - all made their camp, and their sleep that night, a thoroughly miserable affair.
The next day their boat was upon the water again, and they journeyed forward carefully across the strange misty lagoon.
It was a warm and humid day, and plagues of flies hovered around their hats, and they were all feeling tired, and their clothes and gear were damp, and the boat was proving its worth, for a leak had let a lot of water in before they blocked it up, and then they had to pull ashore emptying the trapped water out.
They rested for a little while, and then continued with their business. For about an hour they had to almost pull the boat through a part of the lake where the reeds grew so tight and thick and tall they became tangled and at times completely netted in the cords. Umbada and Rhobar, being the younger and more fitter members of the company, got out of the boat and had to help guide the boat through the matted reeds. The work was hard and strenuous, especially for the two in the water, who risked their life’s in many ways - to drowning, to creatures… to snakes…
When they pulled through the forest of giant reeds they came once more to one of the open areas of the lake. Here the dark brown water rolled on in front of them, and to the side - flat, still, and uninterrupted. They rowed fourth casually, hours must of gone by, and all of the companions kept their eyes posted in one direction or the other, making sure they did not miss a single sight of something strange, or unusual.
‘Do you know what I think is strange about today?’ said Dr Yoga, whipping the dew from his spectacles and adjusting them back round his fearsome looking eyes. He was the only one in that company to not have lost much heart, or sleep, so it seemed, and when the others spoke of going back, he drove them on with persuasive sermons of “success,” and, “nearing the end of their search.”
‘Yesterday we saw and heard a wide variety of creatures native to this land. Remember the hippos we mistook for the back of our monster? Where are they? What about the crocodiles, and we saw many of them before we began the exploration of this part of the lake. And yet there are no bird noises, no primates nearby in the trees, no creatures like before. And listen to that! Listen my friends!’
‘There’s nothing to listen to,’ said Rhobar, wearily. He wasn’t getting the Doctor’s point, and starred out at the lake with despondent eyes.
Dr Yoga pointed at him. ‘Exactly my boy! Its too quiet!’
‘Like something has frightened the animals off?’ said Rutger.
‘You’re getting me,’ the Doctor replied. ‘It shouldn’t be quiet like this. Something sinister is afoot.’
‘You saying that we’ve found the lair of the Mokele-mbembe?’
‘No lad. But we are nearing it.’
The lake looked the same, everywhere you looked. Rhobar had not been here for a long time, and his memory of the surroundings was jaded by time. Was this the place he had seen the beast? He couldn’t remember. Then they saw something towards the end of the day which rumbled his memories back into order again. The smashed wreckage of an old boat. The wood was festered and moss ridden, but, without doubt, this was the boat Rhobar had crashed in. He had disbanded the wreckage here before he had fled, he could remember now. There was an old mark on the piece of wood, he scratched home on the side of the boat and the markings were still there.
‘Look familiar?’ said the doctor. Rhobar nodded quickly his head. ‘Yes my friend! Here is where my boat crashed after I was attacked!’
‘Then we are nearing the beast?’ said Rutger Heartly, gazing about as if expecting some monster to suddenly rear up out at them.
‘We are now in its lair,’ said Doctor Yoga, in his usual over-excited fashion. He was a methodical man, very deep and often depressed, but every now and then, when onto a clue or some find, he would burst out in uncharacteristic bloom of passion and fervour. This whole expedition had seen him express blasts of enthusiasm you would never have thought he was capable of in the old days. He took many of his companions by surprise. Back home, he never left his office - now out in the wilderness he was all over the place!
They returned to their makeshift boat and continued the journey across the water. The day was growing old, and they would have to find land, before it grew to dark, and make a camp, but none of them were eager to leave the lake just yet. It had been a long day, and apart from a moored boat, they had seen absolutely nothing exciting, and were determined to find something - that something should happen to end the day with. They would have been grateful for another crocodile attack, just to ensure the day was not completely uneventful.
But it really did seem that nothing was going to happen. They turned the boat to the shore, and began to row forward, when their wooden oar was suddenly snatched by something underneath the water. It was spat back up, and landed in Doctor Yogas lap - completely broken in half as well.
Then there were large bubbles in the water, right by their side, and boat began to tip this way and that. ‘Get back to the land!’ the doctor cried. They paddled with their hands, as quickly as they could, but the boat was tipped completely over.
They managed to swim ashore, reaching the far bank, and clambering, socked wet, crawling up onto a muddy grassy piece of land. They fell down here, exhausted, but Doctor Yoga sat up suddenly and looked ahead. He tapped his chin. ‘Now what do you suppose happened then?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Rhobar, angrily. ‘But we’ve lost our boat!’
‘I saw large bubbles,’ said Rutger. ‘Perhaps they were released from the lower parts of the lake, and by bad luck we were in the wrong place and the phenomenon tipped us right over.’
‘A possibility. I however think something more astonishing just happened.’
‘We’ve made our first contact with the beast!’
Nobody responded. They looked out over the dark waves of the lake beneath the darkling sky, and wondered if, at last, they were in reach of one of the most noteworthy discoveries in the history of the natural world.
And finally they see it…
The only light available to them that night was the little round glow from their campfire, but in front of this they could see absolutely nothing, except of course, the great darkness.
What made their camp so uneasy, was the quiet. It was never quiet in the jungle, but now there were no sounds at all. Dr Yoga could not sleep and kept looking out ahead, and once or twice he snatched a blazing brand of wood, and walked as far as he could without loosing sight of the camp, then he would return quietly, and say nothing.
Every now and then the uncanny quiet would be disturbed by strange, uncanny noises - one was like the sound of a tree, suddenly toppling over and crashing to the ground. Then they heard a tremendous splash - like something huge, an elephant, maybe, had plunged into the lake, the bank of which lay only a few metres away from their camp.
Then it would be quiet, again, for a very long time. Then in the middle of the night they heard a succession of strange noises - strange echoing cries - very similar to the sound of a whale of the ocean. An ominous sound it was, and, as doctor Yoga put it very precisely, ‘not like the sound of any animal inhabiting the lands of wildest Africa.’
Rhobar then said, absurdly, ‘Do we have a whale in the Lake? The water is great enough for one to live in. I have seen whales before, and that is the sound of one I am certain.’
‘Good grief!’ the doctor cried. ‘Really man. Just think about your words! Do you honestly think a whale is going to somehow escape the sea and sneak into this fresh water lake?’
‘You never know?’
‘Yes! I do know! It is not a whale!’
‘Then what on earth is it?’
‘I only wish I knew,’ the doctor replied, and he fell suddenly quiet and contemplative.
‘That is the sound of no normal animal,’ said Umbada. ‘I know these parts, and no creature of the earth makes that sound. It is the sound of a devil. Of the beast.’
‘I agree with you, my friend, to an extent,’ said doctor Yoga. He managed to roll up Into his canvas, eventually, and grasp a few hours of uneasy and unhappy sleep before morning arrived.
The next day they had recovered the boat, the pieces of it that is, did a good job of fastening it all together again, and took once more to the water. The mysterious Lake of this land rolled before them, in all directions, and they could see no land at the end of it, and a mist veiled the farthest points of the distance. They went fourth carefully, and all remained alert, for something strange was indeed living out here in this misty waste. They had been attacked by it the day before, and most likely the sounds of the previous night were the work of this mysterious menace.
But by midday, they really had discovered nothing, and it seemed again that another long and completely uneventful day lay before them.
‘I am think now, very seriously,’ the professor Rutger began, ‘that if we see nothing by tomorrow, we prepare for a return journey.’
‘I beg your pardon?’ Doctor Yoga snapped, and the look of his face changed dramatically, warped suddenly by horror and surprise.
‘I believe that this expedition has been a very great success, and that between us, we have proven that something uncharted in the analogues of the natural world does live, or survives in this hostile region of earth. We have also proven that we cannot confront it face to face, and even if we did, we could not prove our critics at London wrong, unless we brought the creature home, which, taking into account our limit resources, would be impossible. And it is the is the matter, or problem of resources, that I now turn to. I think we have enough supplies to keep us till we reach the port, but if we stay here I would say in a weeks time we would be facing the prospect of starvation.’
‘I am surprised, Rutger, of all of us, you would be the first to turn their attention to desertion. I thought you, like myself, resolved to find this creature, to pursue it to the end, and now you talk of abandoning the whole affair, and after coming so far? You surprise me professor!’
‘I am thinking logically my friend,’ he replied. ‘What good are our discoveries if we end up dead. I say we quickly make a map of this area, and then return in several months, perhaps with a larger team, and with more equipment, and wage a proper search.’
‘I see the sense in his words,’ said Rhobar. ‘I am with the professor on this one. There is definitely a monster out there, in the water,’ and he gazed over the lake as he spoke then, with a look of fear and suspicion in his eyes; ‘we all know it is there. But there is nothing more the four of us can do. I say we turn our heads for home, and return again, later, better prepared. I for one would be willing to return to this land at any time, but really we have exhausted ourselves, and I just don’t think we are going to find anything new.’
Rhobar had just finished talking, and hardly a second had passed, when there was a huge ripple in the water; tremendous and unnaturally powerful it rose over them and almost turned them over, and then it felt like they had struck a rock, and the boat was pushed about a foot out of the water, before splashing back down. A spray of water trickled over them, and when the wet haze cleared they looked, with amazement and horror, to see a vast black object swim underneath them.
It swam right by, slowly, and purposeful, and then it went down and they could not see it anymore. Dumbfounded their starred at each other.
‘I think we’ve just seen it!’ Doctor Yoga cried.
‘We thought that last time and it turned out to be a hippo,’ said Rutger.
‘Again your pessimism amazes me!’ Yoga was incensed.
‘I just don’t want to work our hopes up, you know, in case what we saw just then is not what we want it to be. It could have been a shoal of fish!’
‘A cloud of mud we might have by accident disturbed?’ suggested Rhobar, who like Rutger, didn’t want to become too overexcited by what they had just witnessed.
Doctor Yoga wasn’t listening to any of them. ‘That was not fish that passed beneath us! Come on now! You saw it. We have found the Mokele-mbembe!’
It was while they argued it happened. A shadow suddenly crept over them. Umbada saw it first, and then they heard a deep gush of air as it breathed through its powerful lungs. Umbada let out a dreadful cry, and everyone turned to look up and they saw it. It had appeared out of the water right behind them, having dived down from sight, originally, swam around, and come back up for air. Going fourth so swiftly they did not see it.
A truly huge monster it was. Its neck was liken to the body of a snake, long, and dark, and scaled, with a type of crook in the middle, almost forming a coil.
The head was hideous, and small at the end of its great neck, and it had one huge long tooth protruding from the upper jaw - perhaps some type of uncanny deformity? The rest of its body lay submerged beneath the dark frantic waves of the lake, that sloshed around, but it could be guessed that this monster was twice the size of an elephant.
Horrified and completely speechless, the companions didn’t really know what to do, but Rhobar, having with him the reflexes of a younger constitution, and a little military calm, seized the rifle that lay nearby, and aiming it at the monsters little head, took a single shot, and indeed he hit it, the bullet going completely through its jaws. The long neck sunk back under the water, and the water bubbled, and went still and quiet.
The doctor took off his hat and wept with joy. ‘We have seen it! At last the beast has been found!’
‘And killed, by the look of things!’ Rutger added.
‘One of our bullets wouldn’t harm a creature that big!’ the doctor replied. He removed and wiped his spectacles, then replacing them, took a long peer at the water, half-expecting something to come back up. But nothing happened, and he sat back. ‘Amazing!’ he gasped.
Then they saw it again, the strange dark shape beneath the water going slowly by. The great black cloud beneath the lakes surface passed right under them, and continued to go onwards, in a different direction. ‘We’ll follow it,’ said doctor Yoga.
The black shape in the water moved so slowly that it was easy to follow. ‘It is not swimming,’ said the doctor. ‘I think the creature is so large that its feet reach the bottom of the lake, and it is actually walking along.’
‘The water must be shallower here,’ said Rutger. ‘There must be land nearby. I think the reason why we couldn’t see the monster before was because it was so deep under the water.’
‘I think it is heading to its home,’ said Rhobar. The very thought of this without saying stirred the doctor up into such a great passion he almost fell out of the boat. ‘It may lead us to its nest! Think of it my friends! We may find another one!’
‘I hope not,’ said Rutger, quietly, and under his breath. ‘I think one is enough for our small band to contend with.’
‘Not if they are only hatchlings?’
‘I imagine the hatchlings would be elephant sized.’
‘We could catch one?’
‘That is beyond our means!’
‘We could find a way,’ said the doctor. ‘Anyway. Less talk! Just keep rowing, Rhobar, and follow that creature!’
Then, to everyone’s horror, the blackness in the water suddenly shrank, and disappeared from sight. ‘No!‘ Doctor Yoga screamed, throwing down his hat and almost jumping into the lake; luckily his friends were there to pull him back.
‘Right now let’s think about this,’ said Rutger. ‘It’s obviously still there. Perhaps it had gone down to eat something.’
‘The plant life at the bottom of the lake. It must feed on something in this water, or why else journey in it all the time. We will wait for it to submerge again, and continue the pursuit.’
And indeed they waited, hour after hour. Doctor Yoga was pale, and angry, but quiet. He took up a piece of rope they had brought along and started lassoing it together. Nobody knew what he was thinking, but many guessed he had gone mad. Flies buzzed erratically around their heads, and as the hot humid hours passed, all of them grew more miserable, and desperate.
When it seemed all was lost something struck the boat violently. Those that had been falling asleep, like Rhobar, who had succumbed to the dreadful heat, suddenly jumped awake, and Umbada threw him the rifle. Then they saw a great black coil; they thought it to be a snake of some type - but it was most likely a tail - with a whip-like end; it slashed the water, and then it struck again, splintering the boat, and almost breaking it.
When the tail came up, doctor Yoga stood on his feet, and with the rope he had spent the last two hours fastening, he cast it round the tip of the tail, and to everyone’s surprise it caught. ‘Now it won’t escape!’ he said, with an almost vindictive sneer of victory.
Then they started to be pulled along. Those were the most frightening hours. None of them had any idea where they would be taken, and Umbada begged the doctor to let go the rope, saying something bad would happen, that he would cause the beast to turn on them more violently than before. But the doctor would listen to nobody.
Later he would wish he had.
Suddenly the rope went taught, and was dragged so swiftly the doctor had to let go his grip before his hands were burned. Then the coiling whip-like tail lashed out of the waves and struck the boat they were in so savagely, it split apart.
When this was done, obviously, the water came over, and it is likely they would have drowned, but for a great wave that washed them all forward, and then they floundered in shallow parts, and wet and exhausted, dragged their way up to a nearby crop of land. They pulled themselves ashore, and in their exhaustion and in their fear, fell asleep.
A new world…
When Rhobar finally opened his eyes, the sky before him was red with the breaking mourn, and Umbada, who had awake before him, sat alone down by the shore of the lake, on the muddy sand, gazing over the water. He had managed to rescue some of their equipment, the parcels of food, and most importantly, the rifle and its ration of bullets.
Doctor Yoga was standing, leaning on a palm tree, looking into nothingness, and Rutger was sat on a large mossy rock, holding his head in his hands, and obviously in deep thought.
‘Have I missed anything?’ was the first thing he said.
‘No. You are lucky to have grabbed some sleep,’ said doctor Yoga. ‘The rest of us have been awake for hours now. We have been waiting for the light, which is now here, thank goodness. I am hoping today we can gather our bearings and figure out where we are.’
‘I should imagine on the other side of the lake?’ Rhobar speculated.
‘This lake is huge, my friend, you could fit Gloucestershire county in it, and when we set sail yesterday morrow we headed for the centre, I remember setting that particular course. Now when the beast struck, and I followed it, I noticed how it took us away to the north, far from the shore. Then the water became shallow, and I guessed it had brought us to an island. It would take more than a day for us to sail from one side of this lake to the other, with our little raft, and we spent most of the day immobile, probing the same particular waters.
‘I suggest that the monster has brought us to an island right in the middle of the Lake. I think there is a high chance this island is uncharted. There is no mention of it on our maps, as you will see if you take a look, and I think the largeness of the lake, and the great mist in this area, has so far veiled this new land from the eyes of previous explorers to these parts. I have taken a little look up and down the shoreline, and Umbada has also scouted about, and there is, without doubt, several miles of territory before us. I would guess this is an island of substantial size, and our monster, the Mokele-mbembe, lives here, and it is here, on this hidden island, that it has remained, undiscovered and unseen for all the years since human existence. It has eked out its own remarkable and secretive existence on this land, this land where man has never before tread. This is the Mokele-mbembe’s country now, so, when we begin to explore, we must tread carefully. We four are the pioneers of an undiscovered land - we should consider ourselves honoured, but also respect the animal life here, having no contact with humans may lead them to behave unpredictably. We should also start drawing our own maps of this new land, and perhaps we could think of giving the island a name?’
‘Let’s call it Doctor Yoga’s island!’ said Rhobar, and then he laughed, for, conceivably, he meant it only as a joke. The good doctor, however, offered him a very serious glance, adjusted his glasses, looked at the sky, hummed, and then said, ‘An excellent suggestion!’
‘Should we make a note of it?’ said Rutger.
‘Not yet,’ the doctor replied. ‘I find Doctor Yoga’s Island agreeable, but it should be used as a last option. Really it think we should think of a more natural name. Does anyone agree?’
‘What about Mist Island?’ said Rhobar.
‘No sir. This is a glorious geological discovery, not some fantasy story, which is what your name will conjure up in the minds of the people.’
‘I know! Mystic Island?’
‘What about Island Intrepid?’ suggested Rutger.
‘You are not getting it!’ snapped Doctor Yoga. ‘I was thinking myself something more along the lines of Island Cognitus!’
‘Well, that settles it,’ said Rhobar. ‘Cognitus it is! Now that we have a name, what do we do next?’
‘My friend! A new world lies before us. This could be as great as the discovery of the Americas! So, I say, without further ado, we go fourth and explore!’
A little way inland, and the island became suddenly forested. Before them now sprawled a great dark jungle, full of gigantic trees all grown together and roped about with green strings of living vine-root. The floor was rotten with leafs and grass, and muddy and wet in places, and tree trunks lay criss-crossing each other, covered in slippery mosses. And there were ponds, every now and then, covered in giant lilies, and then peat bogs, the ground was rarely level, or firm, and they were either climbing over fallen tree logs or stepping around ponds, or crossing stepping stones. It was, in every way, a relentless and difficult journey.
Yoga stopped them at one point, for he was the first among them to see the huge footprint in a great patch of mud. A little further beyond, there was a trail, where the trees, either side, had been pushed aside, and all lay splintered and broken. Broken spikes of wood lay above the snapped trunks.
‘Yes, that is an animal print,’ said the doctor, leaning by it and taking a very close examination. The foot-print looked like a hole someone had dug up with their hands - and you could easily stand and walking around in it. ‘We follow the trail,’ he said, and led on.
The jungle of the Island Cognitus was different from the jungles they had seen before, because it was so very quiet. There were no sounds of animals - no bird noises, no primates chattering to each other in the trees. There were insects of course, huge dragonflies, and the other swarms that usually frequented this regions, but nothing else.
And in this uncannily quiet, dark, forest, there brooded something strange - a feeling of unrest. It was as if there was some spell, on the trees, on the grass - in the leafs. Something wild was living there, in the shadows, waiting in readiness… for something…
Then Doctor Yoga suddenly stopped them. ‘Listen!’ his thin voice cracked.
There was a noise out there in the dark thicket, a sort of strange bleating, a type of wailing. The noise came from all sides, and was probably sounded by several creatures in different parts of the wood slowly converging. It may very well have been that they were presently holding communion with one another.
Then they fell back, hiding behind a tree as a most remarkable spectacle appeared out of the great giant leaf glades. Indeed, the four companions were not prepared for this. In the dark of the forest it was like one great moving shadow, but they made of the shape of it in the glimmer of sunlight that lighted the greyness of the wood here and there. An animal, possibly, larger than an elephant with a body similar in shape, and it walked with four great legs beneath it, yet unlike the elephant its neck was tremendously long, snake-like.
It walked ever so slowly, with slow ponderous footfalls, and with each pressed foot the land about seemed to wobble, and the leafs on the trees shook. The monstrous animal pushed through the trees that stood in its path, and broke them up with its great legs and walked on unaffected.
The four friends stood stunned, but then Doctor Yoga seized the initiative, snapped his friends out of their bewildered trance; he spoke briskly, saying, ‘We follow it!’
This was, without any more doubt, the monster they had come in search for. Its destination was a great murky quagmire, where the roots of the trees had rotted down, and many of the trees were fallen or had toppled onto one another. The monster joined another of its kind who had arrived beforehand, then another lunged out of the countryside with a youngling at it side. Because of the particular richness of the surrounding thicket this clearing had become a gathering ground for these creatures, and here they joined together, and feasted on the greens. There could have been more, but because of their size and dark rough hides you could have mistaken their legs for tree trunks.
The companions watched the scene, and Rutger was so surprised he fell down, and sat with his back against a tree, and gazed outwards with silent wonder. He would have whistled, if he had the breath to.
‘So there is a colony of them!’ said Doctor Yoga, and he cheered. ‘I knew there had to be!’
They sat back and watched. ‘Victory!’ said Professor Rutger. ‘This is more than what we expected to find!’
‘And they have etched out quite a marvellous life, so it would seem,’ said Rhobar.
The monster communicated with a strange, echo-like noises, and slowly, and ponderously, they worked around each other as they dug their heads into the hedges, or the great dark leafs in the high trees.
A they watched, another set of strange beasts entered the arena. They came stomping along in the same slow way. Not as huge as the snake-necked beasts, this new thing was a lizard-like creature of remarkable proportions. The bulk of its body, without little doubt, rounded about larger than the adult elephant. Its rough spiky hide was crocodile-like, but its gentle head and somnolent eyes made the creature seem like nothing more than a simple grazing beast.
There were at least twelve of these things, and they grunted as they went along, sounding like the herd beasts of the African plain.
‘What are these new things I wonder?’ said Rhobar, and he stepped fourth, almost leaving the cover, before his friends tugged him back.
‘I don’t know, but these are no normal beasts of the earth,’ said Doctor Yoga. He had brought up his pipe, but in his wonder had forgotten how to use it, and lay protruding from his mouth, unlit.
‘Good grief!’ Rutger cried. ‘Another new species of animal? What else do you think might live on this island?’
‘We have yet to learn,’ said Rhobar. ‘This journey has just began.’
‘This new animal does look familiar,’ said Rutger Heartly. ‘When I was at the University I saw a full skeleton of this huge extinct creature. Enormous it was. They called it an iguanodon - I think. The form is very similar. I thought the skeleton was large, but covered in skin and flesh these creatures are definitely larger.’
Then the professor turned to face doctor Yoga, then he lay fourth his hand, and said, with pride, ‘Peace, my friend! We have made a discovery of history today! We have had differences, concerning my work, before now, but this is one adventure where, you must agree, we stand united in our discovery of a great truth!’
‘You know Rutger,’ the doctor began, ‘before all this, I always felt you were nothing more than an overly-embellished stage actor,’ he then seized the professors hand, and shook it, vigorously, saying, with a pleasant smile, ‘I now know otherwise.’
They left the quagmire then and began to journey inland.
Pulling through the jungle they stumbled unexpectedly into a clearing, where the trees for about a hundred yards all around, had been smashed down. Before them was the hideous sound of hundreds of bussy flies - all swarming together, and then out of the glade a dreadful despicable stench flowed.
They had found the huge dead carcass of some great creature…
They walked around the body of this fallen monster, and found, by examination of the head and tail, that this was some other animal completely unlike the other monsters they had seen. Its legs were gone, and the ribcage was fully open, but its skull was left fully intact. They observed that it had a beak-like mouth, and at the back a huge collar of tough bone. The skull was adorned by a series of rhinoceros-like horns.
‘This was a fascinating animal, in its day,’ said the Doctor, adjusting his glasses, and closing his nostrils against the stench with a handkerchief.
Something was rummaging inside the dead creatures remains, for the carcass, suddenly started writhing. Rhobar, who didn’t like the gory sight in front of them, and tried to suggest going back, but he was too late, for they had caught he attention of something and now a great bloody head pulled out of the corpse and looked down at them.
‘Good grief!’ Rutger cried.
Out from this poor gutted creature a huge lizard crawled. Like a lizard of the Galapagos, but obviously many times the size - a foul tongue flickered between its red teeth and it looked upon them with content eyes that were like black stones. Its mouth was covered in foam, and you could see its teeth, razor sharp, and deadly. It need only bite you, and even if you did escape, the poison there, in its saliva, would burrow away into your bloodstream to kill you completely only a few minutes!
Rhobar kept hold of his senses, took a shot at the creature, and it seemed the sound of the gun frightened it off. The huge bulky fat lizard-creature plodded off back through the thicket.
‘What do you make of that?’ said doctor Yoga, readjusting his spectacles.
‘I think we should be worried,’ said Professor Heartly.
‘We have giant beasts roaming about and he says we should be worried!’ and the doctor laughed.
‘Let’s be serious, just a minute,’ said Rutger, and then he proceeded to explain himself. ‘That lizard we saw did not kill this dead monster in front of us. Yes, the lizard was incredibly large, but it would never have been able to tackle a monster who, from the remains we see, was obviously larger, and armed with these powerful horn-like implements. I think the lizard was a scavenger, picking off the remains of someone else’s kill!’
‘What are you saying Rutger?’
‘We know nothing about this island, yet. We are exploring an uncharted and unrecorded land. We might as well be on another world. So far we have encountered creatures that have been either docile, or easily frightened. But, what if there are fearsome predators here? There is every chance that there could be. A creature that preys for blood. Whatever killed this beast before us must have been truly huge, and unbelievably powerful.’
‘And I would say it has also passed on,’ said the Doctor. ‘Now I think we should sink our qualms continue our exploration.’
‘And I think we should back out!’ said Rutger, suddenly, and his friends could see that he was deeply serious. Rhobar quickly saw the point the professor was making.
‘You speak of foolery again, professor!’ Doctor Yoga barked.
‘We have seen more wonders than any living mortal could hope in over a lifetime, Yoga,’ Rutger rejoined. ‘If we don’t get out, then all memory and knowledge of this place dies with us. We just don’t have the supplies or equipment to mount a proper expedition of this new world. We never expected to find this place, after all. This is a revelation we are wholly and completely inadequately set to deal with.’
‘Maybe so, friend, but I still think we should look ahead, a little more, before turning our tails to this land.’
The next part of there journey brought them to what appeared to be a great burial ground, full of the bones of tremendous creatures, now long passed away from earthly tribulations.
‘Like elephants it seems these creatures have elected a common ground in which to die,’ said Doctor Yoga.
‘That would appear to be the way,’ said Rhobar, and he was holding his rifle, and gazing about with sharp and stern eyes. What Professor Rutger had just said had left him alert, and edgy, after all the fellow had just made a darn fine point. There could very well be a gigantic predator out there - in the jungle - presently digesting its last meal, and it might soon be on the hunt again at any moment. If the creature was truly huge, like the other monsters they had so far encountered, it could make for a deadly enemy.
As he was thinking of this, something caught his eye. As he took note of it, he stepped forward and the others, intrigued, started to wordlessly follow him. There, in a huddle among the gigantic bones, was another skeleton, but very much smaller, and completely intact. It was indeed the bones of a human being!
Rhobar knelt to the ground, and picked up in his hand a round pellet. ‘This poor unfortunate was shot.’ He opened his hand and showed the bullet to them all. They were all aghast, apart from doctor Yoga, who took the bullet into his own fingers, examined it with his eyes, for a long while, and chucked it on the ground and said, ‘You presume?’
‘My good sir!’ Rhobar stepped in. ‘This is a human here. As far as we knew, there have been no humans to this land ever, excepting us. But it looks like we are not the first to be here. And the fact that there are bullets must mean that this person was not a local native that happened to stumble along by accident.’
‘Looks like murder to me,’ said Rutger. ‘This person fell back, and this bullet is what took him down.’
‘We have no proof of this,’ said the Doctor.
‘What else could it mean?’ the professor returned. ‘If the person shot themselves, the weapon would be nearby?’
‘Unless it was stolen?’
‘Either proposal would mean we were not the first without guns to walk Island Cognito!’ said Rhobar, ominously, and they all fell quiet, and thoughtful.
Then doctor Yoga started to pace to and fro, and seemed uncharacteristically nervous. ‘I say we press on from here,’ he said. ‘We have seen all that there is.’
‘You’re not worried about this skeleton?’
‘Of course not!’ he snapped. ‘So we are not the first Europeans to be here? But then, we don’t know nothing about these bones. It could have been anyone. And to say that this person was shot down is mere conjecture. Now, lets stop babbling and get on with our mission.’
He stalked away, leaving the others, standing looking at each other, and then again upon the skeleton.
‘I don’t think we shall ever know what this is,’ said Rutger. ‘This body shall forever remain a sad mystery.’ He knelt to his knees, picked up on one of the bullets, and after looking at it closely, again, he said, ‘If it wasn’t for this, I would ignore this find. But the bullet has been fired, and I reckon you will find traces of blood on it. I think we are looking upon a murder, and I don’t think it happened all that long ago…’
This new revelation frightened them, and they were uncertain about what the best thing was best to do, but a blood curdling scream, not far away, shattered their thoughts, and then they remembered Doctor Yoga, who by now had walked off and was gone from their sights.
Rhobar led the way fourth, with his rifle at the ready, and they eventually reached a spring, but there friend was nowhere to be seen.
Rhobar began to call the Doctors name, several times, before Rutger stepped up and said, quickly And quietly, ‘Best not to do that! Like I was saying, there could be something dangerous out here, and you shouting there would reel it happily towards us! We must began a new search. We’ll scout the entire island if we have to.’
‘Look at this!’ It was Umbada, and he had found a patch of blood smeared across a huge green fern leaf, and yet there was more blood as well, trailing away, on the rocks on the ground nearby.
Everyone placed their bets that this trail would lead to their friend, though what state he would be in none could tell - this blood had to be his, and the scream they heard had to be from him, so they went fourth, with hope and courage in their hearts, that they would find him alive and in no harm.
They followed the dreaded trail as best they could, but to their supreme disappointment it eventually stopped - their friend was still nowhere to be seen. And there werenot foot prints in the soft mud on the ground.
‘Something has attacked him and dragged him off,’ said Rhobar. He starred up at the treetops, and then levelled his eyes and gasped, wiping sweat from his brow. He had to pause and take a breath, the journey here along through the jungle had been exhausting and foul. Rutger now sat down, but Umbada scouted ahead. Rhobar swigged from his flask, and then sat by the professor, and rubbing his eyes, said, ‘What if we can’t find him?’
‘Then we have lost a fine and intelligent man,’ said Rutger, and he looked grimly upon the ground. ‘But we are in a strange country, and I have warned and warned of the danger, and have long feared something like this. But, I still think he is alive.’
‘There were footprints on the ground, they have stopped here for some reason, but I think he was attacked, and fled. I would say he has now bandage up the blood, and has proceeded there, over the boggy ground before us, to the land just beyond. The ground their would conceal his tracks because there is no grass, no mud, just hard clay, and it would make no print.’
‘Surely he would come back to find us, rather than leave us here frightened and worried for him?’
‘Unless he is trying to lure whatever it was that attacked him away from us, or, perhaps he is still being chased? I feel confident that he is alive, though. I know the doctor quite well, and believe me when I say he can look after himself.’
Rhobar smiled then, despite how dreadful he felt, and he said, with a slight chuckle as well when he recollected their obdurate companion, ‘Indeed! I can believe your words, professor!’
Just then Umbada came dashing out of the jungle screaming like some wild thing. Rhobar was immediately on his feet, and tried to grab the fellow, and calm him down, but Umbada was frantic with fear, tears almost drowning his eyes, ‘Horror! Horror!’ he was shouting. ‘It is after us!’ They could do nothing for him, he was in an irrational state, and dashed of into the jungle flaying his arms about.
‘Something has got him astir,’ Rutger speculated. ‘From what I have so far seen our friend Umbada has nerves faster than steel? We best go after him, and see what he is about!’
Behind them, the jungle reeds began to quiver, valiantly, and then they heard a venomous, terrifying cry of something in pursuit! Rutger and Rhobar readied themselves as out from the dark foliage, something truly awful showed itself; a snake of tremendous size! and it halted all of a sudden when it saw the two men, and its head and neck raised upright like a cobra about to strike, and then it looked with its great black orbs for eyes.
Rhobar or Rutger would never have thought the existence of such a monster possible before now. Its mouth opened, the lower jaw disconnecting, and the black tongue flickering out (the tongue like a snake itself), and Rutger stood, gazing at the orb eyes, frozen in one place, as the monster coiled its way before him, to bring him into his power. The great mouth of the snake seemed to almost roll back into a dark gleeful grin.
Rhobar, however, proved his worth again, snatching hold of his sense, he pushed Rutger aside, to safety, and standing before the serpent beast he held up the rifle and took several shots at it, emptying everything the weapon had into the dark monster, peppering its head and neck, till finally, riddled with holes, it flickered about, and with one great violent spasm, and to their relief, crashed dead on the ground.
‘Now there are snakes that are huge, and I have seen them before,’ said Rhobar, gazing down upon his riddled conquest, ‘but this is a snake beyond snakes, do you agree, professor?’
Rutger picked himself up and brushed himself down, and shaking his head trying to recollect his senses he walked fourth and offered the enormous creature his full attention. ‘This is an abnormally large beast,’ he said. ‘But then every creature on this island we have seen has been huge, so far.’
‘I have not seen anything like this before?’
‘Yes. And let us hope there are no more.’
‘We better go back and let Umbada know it is dead. Do you think this was the creature that attacked the Doctor?’
‘Maybe?’ said Rutger, and hummed and tapped his chin. ‘Though I think if our friend fell into the maw of this fiendish thing he would never have escaped. I don’t know, to be true, my friend. He will have heard the gunshots, though, and if he is fit in any way, and still sensible, he will be able to follow the sound at least. But for now we must bring back Umbada, before he does something foolish…’
Umbada had retreated back towards the coasts, and they found him there, fortunately quite safe, and putting together the beginnings of a new raft. ‘We must leave as soon as we can,’ he said. His nerves were shattered, and he was working unremitting enthusiasm of a clockwork machine.
‘And we will leave as soon as possible,’ assured Rutger. ‘But we must find some sign of our friend. We cannot leave until we know for certain what has happened to him. As soon as we find him, I promise you, Umbada, we will leave this place.’
The day was growing too dark to do anything else, so they set up a camp, and sat around the flames. They all fell into wondering thought. Rhobar remained on watch, all through the night. He had his gun ready, and though he heard things in the jungle, a strange grunt, or perhaps some large animal crashing through the trees, nothing really terrible happened.
Not until the early morning. Just before the sunlight rolled out from under the sky, there was a sudden commotion of sounds, and a herd of the iguanodon came marching out of the trees, and eventually surrounded the camp with groups of three or four of the creatures. But they were not here for trouble! They ignored the camp, and went about their business. Some of them dipped their heads in the lake water, others made for the trees and pushed them over and feasted on the green shoots came down.
Rohbar watched these strange creatures go about their affairs and one walked straight by him, and he was able to reach out, and touch the side of it, and he felt the harsh spiky crocodile-skin. ‘They are completely harmless!’ he said to Rutger, who was presently rising out of his sleep. He had slept all night, bundled up in his canvas, lying in one position, facing upwards, his pale face as still as stone. He slowly awoke, like a man that has slept for a hundred years and forgotten all about the world, and then with much effort he managed to stand, leaning on a tree he blinked, and looked at the grazing herd of giant beasts. ‘I suppose, unless they accidentally walk all over you,’ he replied. He refused to have breakfast, and left to check on the boat.
When Umbada awoke he was a different man. Ever since the snake he had been put into a frightful mood, and when he saw the monsters, rummaging in the land around their camp, he let out a great cry and started running around like some frantic madman. He shouted at the beasts, threw stones and even picked up a branch and jabbed one of the creatures in the face.
He then turned and attacked Rhobar, and tried to snatch the rifle from him, but luckily Rhobar proved the stronger man on that occasion, was able to pin Umbada down before he was given the chance to let his loss of self-control plunge them all into peril.
‘I saw something else in the forest!’ he cried. ‘I did not see the snake you spoke of. I saw something else! I cannot say what it was - some type of demon - but it will kill us unless we escape. Escape!’ and he fell into a mad fit, and they couldn’t stop him from shouting. Eventually Rhobar let go, and Umbada stood up and ran off, into the jungle, crying loudly and wildly.
‘He’s gone mad,’ said Rhobar. ‘I couldn’t hold him anymore.’
‘I have never seen behaviour like this,’ said Rutger. ‘I would say he was so scared, by something, it has left him deeply disturbed. Other than finding him, and tying him down, I can’t think what else we can do to control him.’
‘Let’s just hope the poor chap calms down. Did you see which direction he ran off to?’
‘I believe he headed that way, along the same path that led to the graveyard we saw yesterday. We best go now, before he goes too far.’ He shook his head and sighed. ‘Well,’ he said, with some effort, ‘now we have lost two friends! I don’t like the way this mission is going.’
‘We just keep together, professor,’ said Rhobar, as he swung the rifle over his shoulder.
They doused the camp, proceeded carefully through the iguanodons, and headed again into the dense thicket. The jungle around them was vast, and dark, and the branches of the great trees joined closely together forming a black cavernous roof of living leaf and root, through which not a sparkle of light could sneak through. Ahead they could hear their poor friend, Umbada, crying out in his terrible madness. They heard him shout, several times; now he sounded like he was far away. Rutger and Rhobar were running now, stumbling and falling over the giant tree roots, slipping on the mosses, and stopping every now and then to fill heir water skins from the springs or the little streams to help kill out the burning thirst their exertions raised.
Now an hour had gone by, and they had not heard nothing at all new from their missing friend. He had gone quiet, and Rutger and Rhobar were growing desperate. They stopped to catch their breath at a nice clear spot where there was a huge rock down over which tumbled a little stream. The stream tumbled over into a fine little green pond below.
Ahead of them stretched a stagnate bog, and there was a dreadful reek in the air, and floating all about the scene their eyes now absorbed. Something foul had happened, but they could not dwell on it overmuch.
A minute or so went by, and they decided to press on, and when they began to explore the dreadful bog when they heard, far away, a frail little shriek. It was their friend Umbada, of this neither Rutger nor Rhobar could doubt. They strode on, frantically, and forgetting themselves they cried out, several times, ‘Umbada! Umbada!’ He did not respond.
Then they stumbled upon another great corpse. This was the original sight from where the foul reek stemmed. Before them was the scene of a fresh slaughter, Another huge beast had been downed and half devoured. Stretched before them now, bloody and dismembered was one of the great iguanodon, no doubt separated from its herd, hunted down and destroyed by some other powerful beast.
The kill looked fresh, and the puddles of bog water and the mud were all completely red with the monsters blood. There was a foul steam rising over this slaughter ground. The air as alive with flies, the bodies of them, and the sound of their wings was all they saw and heard.
The two friends stopped where they were, and there was a terrible feeling.
‘I’ll look ahead, Rutger,’ said Rohbar, then lowering his rifle, he told the other to, ‘stay here, until I return. Keep an eye out for Umbada.’
He crossed the huge corpse, and eventually disappeared into the thicket out of Rutgers sight.
Then it all went dreadfully quiet. Rutger crept to one of the trees, and ducked into one of the great crevices in its wood. His plan was to wait there until Rhobar returned.
But he was gone a long time, and soon the professor grew anxious.
Then there was an amazing sound. Like a remarkable horn resounding, and then the ground began to rumble, and then shake, and trees started falling down, and from out of the dark foliage they came: iguanodons! several herds of them; too many of them to even count. The ground thundered beneath the marching weight of them, and they tore through the forest, making a strange trumpeting sound, like a warning call.
They marched over or through the great corpse of their stricken comrade, like it wasn’t there, but dashed around the tree where Rutger hid. How this fine piece of fortune came about Rutger could not imagine, but it was probably more to do with luck, than with some type of sense or recognition on the iguanodons behalf.
There was one final iguanodon, trailing behind the others, crying and desperate to keep up, and just keeping behind the monsters tail was something else, much smaller; a man in fact, and he was running in the same direction as the beast, shouting, ‘Run! For goodness sakes! run!’
It was Rhobar alright, and his face was gleaming with fear. Rutger joined him, and ran at his side, and said, almost in jest, ‘Looks as if the herd is running from you! They say elephants fear tiny mice, and so it seems these creatures fear our tiny forms instead!’
‘Just don’t look behind and keeping running!’ Rhobar cried - and Rutger could see his friend was being very serious.
‘Some type of unbelievable creature. A huge monster! We must run!’
Suddenly there was a terrific roar, so loud and blood curdling Rutger was stunned by it, and tripped and fell over. He badly gashed himself as he fell down, and in terror he crawled into a burrow under a tree root, and there, in this little muddy cave, he hid. He didn’t have the energy to run anymore, and so he lay quietly, and begged to mercy that he would not be seen.
In the jungle he could hear the breathing and the grunting of some vast creature behind him. Then out of the trees it came crashing onto the fold, a sight so awful Rutger almost passed out with shock and fright. The sheer horribleness of the beast was almost too much for even him to bear.
Huge it was, walking astride on two enormous legs, the enormous body must have weighed tonnes, and there was a huge long tail behind it, almost whip-like, slashing the tree leafs as it charged along. The most stunning thing about this monster was its head which was undeniably huge, and far larger than a man. It could be guessed that the head was the main weapon of attack - for the monsters arms were markedly small and feeble. The massive jaws were rowed with teeth as long as a mans hand. On a simple examination it was easy to detect that this monster was a carnivorous hunter, and it preyed upon the herding animals, and its face and especially its jaws were still red with blood from its last catch. No doubt it was responsible for the slain iguanodon they had previously observed.
To Rutger’s totally dismay this titanic beast suddenly stopped, and then started to sniff the air, in a way a lizard would, when seeking out its prey. The noise in its nostrils, of its breath, was like the hiss of air in a boiling cauldron.
It somehow knew Rutger was there. It searched about, looking this way, then that, and seemed lost for a moment, but then it came to the tree under which Rutger hid, and with its leg, kicked it down. The great tree snapped back, pulling out the roots, and Rutger was now lain there, out of cover and open to attack.
Frozen with sheer and unimaginable horror, he found himself unable to move, or do anything. The great head of the monster came down, till Rutger felt its hot breath upon his face, and he found himself gazing miserably down along its rows of dreadful teeth. He almost passed out with the stench of the beasts putrid breath.
He knew there was to be no reasoning with this thing, and his days were numbered, but he decided to make an attempt at escape - even though he knew it would be a feeble one. Grabbing a sharp stick which had been flung out from the recently shattered tree, he stuck it down the monsters great nostril, and as it recoiled its head with surprise, he climbed up and began to run away.
The thing thundered behind him, and it roared, and the sound of it was so awful it made Rutger almost trip again, and soon its shadow grew longer and larger behind him, and then it was almost on top of him, when suddenly a figure came crying out of the jungle thicket right at his side.
It was Umbada!
He dashed along, and purposely pushed Rutger out of the way just in time, but in his actions the monstrous head, which wasn’t too particular about which human to choose, came down and took him up instead. Rutger rolled on the ground and looked up in time to just see his friends legs kicking out of the monstrous mouth as he was then, in a moment, in a second with one great movement of the giant head, gulped down cleanly in one complete whole.
There was then gunshot fire, and there came Rhobar, dashing along like a madman; he let the giant beast have several rounds, though bullets seemed to have absolutely no effect against its mighty crocodile-like hide, but in those moments he managed to pull Rutger up again to his feet, and with what strength they had, they both ran away through the jungle.
Of course they did not know where they were going, but they made for the parts where the trees grew immensely tight together, where the trunks were almost knotted into one place, and in this thick monstrous bramble, the hunting beast could not pursue. It tried to stick its head through the trees, but it could not place its foot on good ground, and with a grunt that easily sounded like something very disappointment, it stalked away, thundering off back into the softer parts of the thicket, no doubt to resume its search of the poor iguanodons.
They lay in that bramble for a long while, exhausted with fear and just sheer tiredness from all the running. ‘I say it continuously hunts,’ said Rutger, after he regained his breath. ‘Hunts everything that it can. As soon as prey is in sight it will go after us. That’s why it dropped the other monsters and went after me. If it were not for these great trees it would not have stopped, till we were in its belly.’
Rhobar nodded, but did not speak, for awhile. A silence passed between them, a few minutes of peace and quiet, and for awhile they could have imagined they were anywhere, back in England, even, but finally Rohbar remembered the situation quickly, and then he said, in a very hushed voice, ‘Did you see Umbada? I heard him cry. What happened to him?’
Rutger shook his head. ‘The poor fellow,’ he struggled, and Rutger struggled to recall that horrific moment. ‘He saved me, you know?’ he said. ‘He must have been mad. I don’t know. The beast was going to attack me, but it got him instead. I saw as he was eaten whole. The creature just took him down his throat in one.
‘I always feared that some mighty menace might live in these woods, that some mighty predator stalked this island - I was proven true. We should have left when I said, at the beginning. This creature could still kill us all.’
‘Do you think the same thing might have happened to Doctor Yoga?’
‘I believe he was attacked by it, and then ran on for awhile. Whether he was eaten or not, I cannot say… I hope he is still alive, but this is a dangerous island, as we both now know very well.’
‘And to our great loss,’ Rhobar added, ominously.
‘But let’s not loose heart,’ said the professor, picking himself up and dusting himself down. ‘I think we should hunt for some high ground, and see if we can get a proper look at this island, get a feel for its size, as it were. Then we will start a fresh search for Mister Yoga, find him, and then escape.’
‘Sounds a fair plan, my friend,’ the other replied, and reloading the rifle, Rhobar led the way out the great bramble forest, and then a long and fearful journey through the dark jungle proceeded.
Their main aim was to find high ground, someplace high enough to give them a good idea of the geography of the whole island. Finally they found a place where the land began to steadily rise. Eventually the turf became rocky, and harsh, and then steep, and they had to move their fingers in between the grooves, and steadily crawl their way up the sheer incline.
They clawed themselves up onto what eventually turned out to be a kind of plateau, and up here they had what they were in search of - an almost perfect view of the island.
Rhobar draw up a quick and hasty map, noting the particular features, they being the enormous river that ran right from one end of the island to the other. There was also the many little streams that ran out of it, and these criss-crossed the whole island in every direction.
The island was like a type of archipelago, around it the vastness of Nahla Lake was all that could be seen - they could have imagined they were far out at sea, on some weird lost island in the middle of nowhere.
Presently they were atop what was like a sort of highland region, and many hills stretched off, in a U shape, covering their horizon to the north, their were steep cliffs on the one side going down to the lake. They could see the graveyard, now far away, and all around it there was the forest, beneath were hidden the islands marvellous creatures.
Their eyes though turned mainly to the far north, to a strange pinnacle of rock, that looked unnatural, like it had been carved and shaped out of some small mountain. The forest stopped before its feet, and it looked like some wild barren territory ranged for a mile or so before it, and there was clearly some type of path going up through the rock - leading to goodness knows where, it could only be guessed.
First the skeleton, then this carving; it was all signs of previous contact of intelligible beings with the island. ‘I don’t think we are alone with just the monsters,’ said Rutger, gazing at the ominous pinnacle.
‘I wish we were,’ said Rhobar. ‘If there are tribesmen on this island, they may never have held any contact with outsiders, may never have seen the face of a European before, and it is highly likely that they will treat with us in anything other than a volatile fashion.’
‘Then again they may have a different philosophy and be peaceful?’ said Rutger, but it was hopeful talk. ‘Then again I suppose there might not be anyone living here. Apart from a skeleton, which may have been part of some old expedition, we have seen no signs of tribal life. It is a little island, were people living here, they would no doubt be going about hunting - but we haven’t met any of them. Maybe this rock we see, now, is some ancient carving, etched by some forgotten civilisation lost in the midst of time?’
‘Maybe,’ said Rhobar. ‘I hope so. Do you think it is a good place to start looking?’
Rutger gazed ahead, again, shielding his eyes, and then he turned away and paced about, tapping his chin with his finger. ‘We will have to search this whole island up and down, if we hope to find Yoga, so I suppose it’s a good starting point as any.’
‘Then we make for the pinnacle!’
Rhobar turned to make his way back down the plateau path, when they heard the most awful noise - the bellowing roar of the dreaded monster, as it swept through the jungle floor, searching, hunting for new things to eat. You could hear the crying and the movement of the giant herding beasts, as they fled before the stalking menace, the king of this jungle.
‘It is restless, and relentlessly hunts,’ said Rutger. ‘As long as we are down in that jungle our lives are at high risk.’
‘I only wish my rifle had some effect on it. The bullets didn’t even stun the creature.’
‘We are defenceless against it, then?’ said Rutger.
‘It’s going to make our search extremely difficult,’ Rhobar replied. ‘How can we properly explore this jungle and try to find our friend with that thing lumbering around.’
‘If you can propose some way of shifting the creature, I will listen! I can’t think what we can do though.’
‘We become the hunter, my friend,’ said Rhobar, and his eyes narrowed with thought. ‘We turn the tables,’ he said.
‘We seek it out, which won’t be too difficult, and then we will build a trap for it.’
‘I still don’t see your plan?’
‘That thing is huge and if it were to fall over, it would kill itself. That’s why it wouldn’t follow us through the brambles. It couldn’t stand while walking through them, and it would fall and die. So somehow we must make it fall over!’
‘That’s one cracker of a plan!’ Rutger exclaimed. ‘I don’t know what we can do, but I am ready to give it a go!’
‘We need to find some sort of loose object, a fallen tree, or something, and somehow get it angry, and make it trip on it. That’s all we have to do, make it fall down!’
‘Then we will have freed ourselves from a great enemy, and avenge our fallen friend in the bargain?’
‘That is the idea.’
They eventually found the perfect tree for their purpose. It was the very same one Rutger had hid under, which the creature had kicked over in its efforts to get at him. It had fallen against another tree, and lay in a diagonal position. The trick now, was to get the tremendous creature to walk into it, rather on or over it.
‘I think we can do it,’ said Rutger, gazing at the toppled tree, then towards the jungle. ‘I’m guessing that the creature isn’t very intelligent. But I think we can get it angry enough, and lure it here.’
‘I will go and track it down,’ said Rhobar, ‘you, however, must sand here and be ready for it.’
Rutger nodded. He was to be the bait - but then they both were, and Rutger knew he had the better job, for it was Rhobar that would have to lure the thing here, and be chased by it, all the professor had to do was stand still, and move out of the way at the right time.
‘Its a mad plan!’ said Rhobar, hoisting his rifle over his shoulder, ‘but there is no more time to think about it. Be ready Rutger!’ And he was off, sprinting through the jungle, like he was some native, who knew the land and the paths - but really he did not know where he was going, but he followed the debris, and the sound of the monster, and when he came upon a newly slain iguanodon in a glade, with the sunlight glinting ruddily over its poor besmirched corpse, he knew he was on the right track.
Eventually he came to a clearing, with a pond ahead of him, but it was all quiet here, no sounds, no footprints, no creatures… and indeed he began to fear that he had lost the monsters trail. ‘How can one loose a beast that big?’ he wondered in his mind. ‘I will turn round,’ he said with resolve, ‘and begin afresh! I will find the crafty devil. He wont get past me!’
But obviously the monster liked sport, and it had picked up on the trail of some new animal, and so the monster followed this sent to the very same clearing our own Rhobar was now stand and panting and getting his breath back. It took only a few seconds for him to realise, as the shadow of some huge thing came rearing on him… The beast had found him first!
It lunged like some great steam machine out of the trees, and luckily Rhobar, with his military training, was able to swerve aside. The beast still hurtled forward, and smashed its huge ugly head against a tree, shattered the damp mossy trunk into shreds, but the beast stood and gazed and seemed totally unaffected. It flipped its head around, set its devil eyes on Rhobar and roared like some thing from the fiery black pits.
Rhobar had his rifle up, and took a good clean shot at the beast, in the face, to get its blood boiling, and then gave chase. The monster seemed rather amused at the whole affair, and followed him, its legs moving faster, bringing in it into a type of charging speed, but then eventually slowed down, and then after awhile, accelerated again - but every time it slowed it gave Rhobar the chance he needed to keep just ahead of it. But he needed to keep his nerve! And that was a hard thing to do, when you think of the terror that was almost bearing down on him. One fall, and Rhobar knew, he would be in the jaws of the monster, and poor old Rutger would be left alone and unawares in the jungle thicket. To much depended on him staying alive, Rohbar knew, so he kept his wits in his skull, and put a wall against fear, and exhaustion and tried to keep that mental wall as high and as strong as possible, as the great dreadful monster reared again on him. With its shadow drawing in, closer and again closer, with the sound of its terrible breathing right in his ears, and the stench of its carrion blooded jaws in his nostrils, Rhobar was force to draw upon all his mental powers to pin down his fear and keep his feet moving as quick as they could.
Eventually he slipped up on a steep downward spiralling bank, that he didn’t know was there. It seemed fear had got the better of him in the end, and when he got back up he turned and ran the wrong way from where he intended. He fell down the bank and the beast steadily pursued. Eventually he reached a trickling stream and followed it. The water toppled over a rocky crevice as small fine fall, into a tiny mere that gleamed below, the sunlight dipped down from a crevice in the dense treetops above and sparkling in the green stagnate waters.
He jumped off and fell into this pond, and clambered up, wet and miserable onto the bank, but the horrendous beast just leaped off of the ledge crash landing on its mighty legs it pushed fourth, taking Rhobar unaware, before he knew it, he was holding onto its head, grappling with its jaws, as it swung him about, he was able to let go, falling into a tree, then crashing onto the ground. The monster then whipped the tree with its tail, and smashed it down with its clawed foot. It then tried to stand on Rhobar, but hot got of the way, quite sharply, and began running, moving in a loop, to try and recover his original path.
Soon he was back on course, and there was Rutger, and the trap before him. ‘Rutger!’ he screamed in exhausted desperation. ‘The beast is on me! Be ready!’
The giant monster came reared out of the trees, like some great bolder bounding out from some mountain top, crashing through the forest, roaring and snarling, and slavering, but then his prey suddenly ducked into a hiding position, a small little ditch he had cunningly dug before he had set out, it was covered over with leafs; then all of a sudden Rutger appeared before its eyes, so it turned on him, and in its blood-thirsty rage, it behaved according to plan, charged for the professor, who wisely ran out of the way in time, and the creature got its clawed foot caught under the tree trunk - taking it by surprise and so it fell right down, head first, skidding fourth, smashing along the tundra as its bones crashed, the air was filled with silt afterwards; a great cloud of earth, and then it settled, and the tremendous beast, the great slayer, lay there, dead as the roots of ancient mountains.
It still breathed, for awhile, and then it was silent.
Slowly, like little mice, when compared to the defeated beast, the two explorers emerged from their cover, and slowly a stepped up to investigate their conquest.
Rutger bravely climbed up and stood atop its head, and cried, ‘We did it!’ he ran down the spine and jumped into the floor and danced about with joy. ‘We got it! Rhobar my lad! The king is no more!’
Rhobar dabbed his sweaty brow with his sleeve. ‘Long live the king,’ he muttered, grimly.
More than a discovery…
They set down beside the defeated beast, and took some much required rest.
They rummaged through their supplies of food, and looking at their crudely sketched map of the island, planned out their root to the ominous pinnacle they had seen from the highland rise.
‘There is a stream just beyond here,’ said Rhobar, then he added, with a sense of nervousness in his voice, ‘or there should be. I remember noting it branching out from the main river, and I saw it led, in a northerly way, in the general direction of the pinnacle.’
‘Then we best pack up and find this stream.’
When they reached the stream they met a disheartening sight. The tobacco pipe of their old lost friend the doctor, that he enjoyed to draw from every now and the on the adventure, they found it then, lying helplessly and alone by the streamside.
Rutger gently picked it up, and furrowed his brow and handed it over to his companion who to looked at it, sadly.
‘It is the doctors pipe,’ said Rutger. ‘I recognise it. Not only that, but, my friend, who else do you think would be enjoying a pipe in this dreaded land?’
Rhobar put the pipe into the backpack he carried, but said nothing.
They continued down the stream. There was still no talk of giving up. On the contrary. It did not mean in anyway that the doctor was dead. He must have dropped it, somehow - he loved the pipe dearly so maybe he was being chased and just accidentally dropped it? But there was no signs of a battle, and if that despicable monster they had just destroyed behind had been here, they would know, for all the surrounding tundra would have been scuffed and turned up.
Eventually the trees thinned, and they were thankful for this, at first, for it allowed some nice light to fall down to them. Now they had a good perspective of the land that lay before them, and they saw the great ridge of rock which had been observed from far away, and there indeed, standing in the middle, was the pinnacle; it looked much closer now. They would reach it easily in the next few hours.
‘Caution Rutger,’ said Rhobar, suddenly, ‘we’re out in the open now, with the trees rolling back, as they are, we lie more unfasten than ever to the eyes of enemies.’
When they reached the pinnacle, there was indeed a set of stone steps leading up, and so they followed them, and as according to their suspicions, there was a type of settlement here, and they saw what appeared to be very simple buildings, carven out of the stone.
There was no-one to be seen living here.
One point of interest, which immediately caught their eye was the stone tunnel, at the side of a cliff, which they followed, for only a few hundred yards, it did not go on for long, and on the other side, through the opening, there was a stone slope leading down into a small valley. They did not see any sign of this place from far away, and on one side tall cliffs stood against the view, but there was an opening where the main river ran, flowing out into the lake water beyond.
More of the these strange stone huts flowed down the arms of the valley, and they began to explore them, but they were all empty, by the time their explorations were over, the sky was ruddy, the day itself waning, and so they decided they would set up camp.
They started to gather fodder for a fire, when the most remarkable bird plodded onto the scene. A huge fat, squat looking thing, with a huge beak, and simple looking eyes. It looked at them, pecked the ground, and made a charming little peeping sound.
‘Well!’ and Rutger couldn’t stop laughing. ‘Bless my soul! Bless my soul! It appears we have a dodo! And a living one! Ha! I have only seen one of these stuffed!’
‘A what?’ his companion exclaimed.
‘A supposedly extinct bird,’ Rutger explained. ‘There shouldn’t be any left alive on the earth, so it seems, except for this one… and I wonder if there are others?’
The dodo plodded off and the professor, now in a trance, followed the humorous looking bird, and there was a little pond, a few yards away, which they had seen, but not taken much notice of during their previous search, and the water here was clear and wonderful, and a little stream that trickled down from above splash into its fine water. And around and around this dodo dozens of dodos, squawking, bickering and playing about, and the little younglings, huddling together, or out exploring. They were a friendly bird, and as soon as the professor appeared they all plodded over to him, to see what he was about. He managed to pat one on the head, and then turned to Rhobar at his side and laughed. ‘This island is a truly amazing place! Creatures long gone, or so mankind thought, seem to live on here and quite happily - and by the look of these fine dodos, they are doing quite well for themselves! I don’t know how these creature live here, like this, and prosper, but I am glad of it, this little peace of the earth where the forgotten things can strive on and shape out a new place in destiny. I offer them my best wishes, and the best of fortune! The best thing we can do, Rhobar,’ he said to his friend, ‘Is to make sure no one discovers this island, and when we return home, we tell them, if they ask, that our expedition was a failure - and that we found nothing. My word! If London knew of this it would cause the next great extinction. I couldn’t be responsible for that! No indeed. This land and its inhabitants have been allowed to flourish, I believe, because of their disconnection from the human empire!’
‘Not completely professor,’ said Rhobar, and he pointed to one of the stone shacks. ‘These must be the work of man?’
‘Surely, my friend. But what type of man? And do they still live? I think we are gazing upon the ruins of some old forgotten tribe, people that vanished away, like the Mayas, the Aztecs, you understand me? Some strife took them, and all that is left are the bones of their old realm.’
‘Maybe, professor! But right now we have a spot of trouble!’ While Rutger was entranced by the magic of the dodos, a shadow had descended upon them, and Rhobar, ever vigil, had seen its fall.
‘Get back, professor!’ he cried, raising up his rifle, and snapping a shot at the air.
Out lunged a huge great cat, which at first they confused for a lion - but then they noticed its was very much greater in size and strength than that creature; in fact its burly physic resembled a bear. It did not have a mane, of any sort, but at the front of its jaws two long knife-like canines. It was a truly terrifying creature, and it stood their on its huge fore-legs, which were great and muscular, and it snarled at them, and Rhobar fired another shot, and the creature backed off, but only by a little, and seemed to then poise itself for attack.
‘A smilodon!’ Rutger cried, and his face cringed with disbelief.
‘It had sneaked in from out of that tunnel up there. I saw a huge shape coming down the mountainside, and I was frightened but didn’t know what to do. It was on us before I knew it! Should I shoot?’
‘It will be a shame, as this is another one of those animals that should be extinct. But it is likely for the best. Take care with your aim, Rhobar! But wait, look! It has a chain around its neck!’ He began to tap his chin in thought. ‘What’s that about I wonder?’ he said.
There was indeed a chain around it, huge and heavy, and then it was pulled and the creature was dragged back. Then its master, who held the giant cat back with the chain, stepped towards them.
What was this new thing? They couldn’t describe fully what it was. A truly gross and obscure looking creature - with a hideous complexion and deformed composer. Fascinatingly, it stood upright, on two short legs. Rutger likened it to some type of disfigured man - but no words could truly describe, save to say that it looked like some sort of ogre.
‘Is this another one of the supposedly extinct animals?’ said Rhobar, training the rifle on this new menace.
‘No, I have never seen this before. Goodness knows what it is? Seems to be like a man - but it obviously isn’t.’
‘If this is a man standing before us, I pity him.’
‘Leave them!’ snapped a sharp, but familiar voice. ‘Leave them, damn you!’
A figure came marching down from the slopes above, and he was holding a pistol and firing rounds in the air. The hulking ogre-man stepped back, pulling the great cat-creature to his side; he looked up at this new entry to the scene, and seemed to make a loud, peculiar, inaudible grunt. And yet, it seemed to have said something.
This new person flapped his hat at the monster, and when it had backed off completely, he stepped down to greet the others. There was some surprise, a little confusion, but it was plainly obvious that they recognised this person, for it could only be Doctor Yoga himself. It seemed an uncanny coincidence, after all the long hours of searching, he should find them first. And he seemed to be in good condition, well rested, no injuries; and he seemed in very good spirits
‘Well! A surprise indeed!’ Rutger cried, overjoyed. He stepped fourth and shook the other by the hand. ‘You found us first, old friend.’
‘Indeed, bravo,’ said Rhobar, who made little effort to hide his unease about the situation. ‘We have searched far for you! Our good friend, Umbada, loyal to the last, died in our mission. But it seems you have prospered since our last passing?’
Indeed it was true. The doctor was dressed in a sharp white new coat and trousers, and a new hat - the only thing he was missing was his pipe, which Rutger proceeded to hand back to him; Rutger, he had kept it all the time, and once this old companion was returned to the doctor he quickly stuffed it with tobacco and started puffing, and in the meanwhile, made the first of his brief efforts to explain himself.
‘Look here friends,’ he started. ‘This will be hard for you to understand, but I will place it too you straight, here and now! Forgive me friends, but I have been here before.’
Rhobar couldn’t believe it, but Rutger remained calm, maybe, perhaps, he had had his suspicions.
‘When I was at Lake Nahla first, many years ago, I found this island, but was unprepared to tackle it, so I withdraw, and returned a year later with a party. I was able to explore most of Island Cognito, and unravelled a hoard of its secrets. The most wonderful discovery, one which I intended to return and further investigate, was the discovery of this village, and the strange tribe of people that inhabited it.
‘But, unfortunately, I fell out with one of my team mates, and this brought an abrupt end to the wonderful discoveries - to the whole adventure itself. I returned back to Britain, embittered, but resolute to return one day. I got caught up in all my work, till we all met up that day, and the perfect opportunity arrived for me to return here.
‘Now I have a base here, which was established on the first visit. I shall lead you to it, and there you shall learn more. Follow, my friends! Do not fear Burrock here, he is tamed and obeys my signals, and should be trusted as a friend. We are quite lucky to have brute like him on our side, some muscle is always useful in a wild land like this!’
Of all the things…
Doctor Yoga had transformed one of the huts into his base. They were astonished to find it well stocked, with food, ammunition, several weapons, and there was even a shelf with some books, maps and journals - the doctor was presently writing his memoirs around a table beside a little candle.
As they entered he uncorked a bottle of burgundy, and poured them each a glass. ‘To success!’ he said, rising his drink, but the others looked blankly at him, and Rutger said, ‘To the success of what?’
‘Us. The end of the journey!’
‘What happens now?’
‘Now I shall tell you the greatest secret of Island Cognita!’
‘We are ready,’ said Rutger.
The doctor sat down, refilled his pipe, flicked through his papers and then cleared his throat. ‘It was five years ago I first left this island. I discovered this village, befriended the natives, and then I constructed this base. Burrock is one of the last survivors of the tribe that used to live here.’
‘So Burrock is that bestial man that almost attacked us?’ said Rhobar.
‘Indeed. He was not going to attack, but merely ward you off. Their people are not overly friendly, but Burrock is loyal to me.’
‘What is he? Is he human, or some kind of creature?’
‘He is human. Quite human. His appearance is fierce because his homeland is fierce. He has adapted with his surroundings. Think on, it Rutger, for awhile. Imagine living here, on this island, without modern inventions, having to hunt and survive in the jungles without your rifle, having to rely simply on spear, and rock. It would be dreadful, you agree?’
‘Yes, it would.’
‘His world has made him as he is. His people were all harsh.’
‘And where are his people?’
‘As far as I know, Burrock is the last - if there are other survivors, then they are scattered, and I do not know where they are. When I first arrived here, there were ten of these great people, all savages, like Burrock. They would have killed me, but they feared the sound of my rifle, and once I had fired it they would never attack me again. I spent many months observing them. They were fighting over the last remaining female in their tribe, and the battle was going on even when I departed for England. It would seem things have not fared well for them in the recent passage of time. I returned here, I found only Burrock. He recognised me, which surprised me, and this proved that this people, though primitive of aspect, have a fully operational and thinking brain able to store and recollect memories.
‘Burrock was bound to me since young. I rescued him from drowning in the River. His parents were near by, but these people did not seem to possess any type of paternal instincts, they would have let him die. Yet there is obviously some loyalty existing in that brain, probably dog-like loyalty, and so he has served me willingly since. I have to remind him of his place, from time to time, and I use the gun for that. The sound of it frightens him. I can also communicate with him by moving my hands. Talking with him as proven useless, and I have tried many times, but the people here seem to communicate with an odd, unsophisticated series of unintelligible grunts.’
‘Then what brought you back to the island? Surely not to make an acquaintance with your beast-man friend?’
‘Indeed no, Rutger. In fact I hadn’t expected Burrock to be here, his presence, and his loyalty, are all entirely unexpected. Useful, but not looked for.
‘I am here for the gold. A hoard of it, apparently. I intend to take as much of it back to England as possible.’
‘Gold?’ said the professor, and he began to pace about. ‘This mission has been all about gold?’
‘More gold than you can imagine. Apparently Burrock’s people worshipped it, for some reason, and hoarded it in some deep cave. I have never seen the gold, not myself, but I know that it is here. My accomplice on the last expedition was Albert Sprat, a palaeontologist, and an all round clever sort of person, managed to follow some of the tribesmen to one of their secret meetings, and he found the cave and mapped it down. Unfortunately he died, but he had hid the map, and I hadn’t a hope of finding it for the entrance was hidden, and I had to leave, as things were growing dangerous in the village. Burrocks’ people were on the rampage, mad about something, and my gun couldn’t calm them. We were then attacked by these savage creatures and I just escaped with my life.
‘But, all these years later, I have returned, and here, as you will see, is the secret,’ and he drew out a leaf of paper, splayed it on the table, and upon it the rough and badly drawn treasure map of Albert Sprat. ‘Cunning fellow! It was back in England when it occurred to me, maybe he had hidden it in the graveyard, close to where we made our first camp, and where we started to name the rivers, and streams, and the different species of plant life we had discovered. It was our best day here, on the island, everything was so cheery and we couldn’t have imagined the dark times ahead. It is a shame things worked out as they did.’
‘So that human skeleton we saw was your friend?’
‘It was,’ said the doctor, solemnly. ‘A good decent chap. I miss that fellow, and our tireless arguments were most amusing. He died, eventually, the effects of the horrible fever that snared him…’
‘What utter bunkum!’ Rohbar cried. ‘There were bullets about him. This is what I think, doctor Yoga. I say he wouldn’t tell you where the map was, wouldn’t share the gold with you, so you shot him dead, and later stole his secret. What do you make of this Rutger.’
The professor had been very calm, and he tapped his chin, and his reply was slow and well thought out, and for some while he did not look at the doctor but then he eventually turned on him, saying, ‘I had my suspicions from the start. I thought it strange you being so willing to participate in this journey, especially you, doctor Yoga, someone who has constantly reported me as a fraud, and who had declared my company, on previous occasions, as deplorable. And yet you jumped at the chance to journey with me to Africa, to follow me on a road that was plainly dangerous from the outset.
‘I had truly hoped it was some sudden attempt at good will. When I saw that skeleton I then knew something was amiss. And then you vanished as you did, and did not return! I guessed you were up to something.
‘This is what I believe!’ and the professor cleared his throat. ‘I believe you were fleeing this very island, all those years ago during your last unsuccessful expedition, and you were in a great hurry, and on the way you argued with your friend, about the map - the whereabouts of the gold, and in a heated moment shot him, but you hadn’t time to burry him, and probably didn’t think there was the need to, for who was going to discover him in this wilderness? And you were probably being chased by something, some wild animal, for this island has no short supply of them, and so you made your getaway and you waited this long to return because you felt guilty about what happened, knew that we meant to journey here, so insisted on journeying with us to ensure we did not discover your foul play. You could deceive us, hide the body? Maybe that was your plan. I think finding the map was just an accident, but an accident you intend to exploit, at our expense.’
‘But think of the gold!’ said the doctor. ‘We could return wealthy men!’
‘You are not denying that Albert Sprat’s death was brought about by the actions of your hand?’
‘I will not speak of that no more,’ said doctor Yoga, and he got up and started to pace about. His humour had turned so sour he couldn’t smoke his pipe no more.
‘Do you deny it!’ Rutger charged him.
‘I say you are a damn murderer!’ Rhobar cried. ‘And I was a damn fool following you.’
‘And I saw you as a friend for a long time,’ the professor added, sadly.
‘When you went missing, and we searched for you, I was worried for you,’ said Rhobar, angrily. ‘I wasn’t going to rest till I found you. And then we found you here, making your plans for gold! You are no friend, Doctor Yoga!’
‘Very well!’ the doctor snapped. ‘You’ve unravelled me! Sprat’s death was of my own stupid fault! But I am not without a conscience. It has been with me all those days to now. But you don’t know what happened! We were fighting at the time, and I turned the pistol on him. It was one or the other. We were both fools. You might very well have discovered my skeleton here, years later, and my old friend Sprat would be living somewhere fine, with a pile of gold beneath him.’
‘We’ve only your word,’ said Rhobar. ‘And I no longer like your word, and I will not take it freely. For me this expedition is over, and now I am going home. Goodbye to you doctor, and I hope it was all worth it, but I want nothing to do with your filthy gold.’
‘It’s not that easy,’ and suddenly Yoga brought up his pistol, and it was fully loaded, and he ordered Rhobar to drop the rifle saddled over his shoulder. ‘I can’t carry the gold on my own,’ said the doctor. ‘I will need you both to help me. But don’t worry, you will get your share; but I am not having you leave me, not now.’
‘What do you propose?’ said Professor Rutger, calmly.
‘The morning is here, now. We will get things ready, and then,’ he opened the map before them, ‘and then we seek out the cave. I returned from the last expedition a poor and broken man. Things will be very different now. I am going to prepare for my retirement. Now all you two have to do is co-operate, and there will be no trouble. You Rhobar, you will stand in front of me, I don’t wont you out of my sight. A difficult journey lies ahead, and we must start to work together again. We have too many enemies in this jungle as it is, and we will only survive as allies, is this understood?’
‘I understand quite clearly,’ said Rhobar, but you could see the anger in his eyes, yet with some effort he managed to steady himself. ‘This is a fine trap that you have set up for us.’
‘And a rich one, hopefully, for which you will one day thank me. Now, let’s move!’
And still they saw great things…
For several hours they scrambled through, what was, ultimately, a foul country.
The dark and reeking jungle, and the constant fear of being attacked lay on them to the very end.
But yet they were frightened more of their old friend, Doctor Yoga, who led them on with a gun to their backs, and he never relented, never lowered the weapon. Forever he kept his eyes on them, and never did he trust them.
It was at this time they encountered another one of Island Cognitus’s mysterious creatures. It lumbered out of the forest, on the road in front of them, a huge mastodon, browsing among the fruits and the tree leafs, completely minding its own business, and paying the visitors to its territory no heed whatsoever.
Professor Rutger, momentarily forgetting that they were, in fact, still being held prisoners, stepped close to the creature, and gasped with amazement, saying aloud, ‘Is there never an end to the wonders of this island?’
‘Back in line, Rutger,’ said the doctor, sharply, and waving the pistol at him. ‘Not much further now! Just keep bearing with this track, and we will make it.’
They must have gone another two miles from that place where they had seen the mastodon, when the islands wild and jungle terrain changed, considerably. There was, all of sudden, it seemed, a clearing where the trees did not grow, and the ground became tough and harsh with jagged rocks. There was some grass, to begin with, but then there were only tufts and then nothing.
The foliage faded and before them rolled great waves of ashen rock, solid and smooth, rising ever and ever, rising, and then it seemed obvious to Rutger that they were ascending the remains of some old volcanoes, now long extinguished, and the great ridges of rock they know clambered was the ancient molten lava flow.
At this time Doctor Yoga fell suddenly contemplative, and allowed his company permission to reprieve, before the final march, and he sat down on the solid ground and gazed over the jungle behind, and said, to Rutger in particular, ‘You know, before Albert and I fell into feuding, my friend made great efforts, efforts greater than my own, to understand the strange natives of this island. He saw the treasure hoard with his own eyes, and part of the reason why we fell out was because he wanted to leave the treasure behind.’
‘He told me it was cursed. You know me, Rutger. I care little for superstition, but I would be interested in your opinion on the matter.’
Ruger rubbed his eyes, fell into thought, and slowly replied, ‘I believe there are more truths to these things than people care to consider.’
Doctor Yoga seemed to smile, but was obviously not pleased with the answer, and said to him, ‘Are you not even interested?’
‘My friend,’ the professor replied, casually, ‘I believed, to begin with, and I know at least my point of view, the reasons for this expedition were based purely upon science, and of course, exploration - but your mind was obviously elsewhere when we set out, and you have come here as looter in search for plunder, and because of this I see myself separate from this present mission. Do not bring anymore talk of this treasure before me again, please, Doctor Yoga. Now I think we have talked enough and better be going again.’
The great smilodon, which had been free from the chain around its neck since they set out, was at Burrocks side and it indeed it must be said it had been a very calm and composed creature. It had to be admired how Burrock had successfully tamed this wild animal, and although there were instances when it would suddenly look about strangely, or at times gaze in a severe and purposeful way, the creature generally seemed to be at ease with them.
Then suddenly without warning the creature abandoned its peaceful composure, and its face became a terrible snarl. The reason for its consternation lay immediately over the next ridge, where its glinting eyes now concentrated.
They explored a little way and they found a crater, full of bones, and creatures, half eaten, that had been dragged up here by something.
They elected to ignore the discovery, and put aside the troubled glare of their disquieting sabre-toothed companion, but within seconds felt like proper fools for not heeding the warnings of the animal when a large and unbelievable creature lumbered into view. It was some sort of bird, almost chicken-like, walking upright, tiny flightless wings at its side, a long neck, and huge grotesque almost demonic head, on which lay a dreaded beak that could, most likely severe limbs. It was, without doubt the largest bird any of them had ever seen, larger and great than an ostrich, it could tower over a man, a truly terrifying sight.
When it saw them, it flicked its had about, left to right, as if to size them up, and then it released a foul screech, loud enough to enough to unnerve the humans in the company, and to have the smilodon barring its great teeth.
Doctor Yoga looked at Burrock and nodded. Burrock nodded back. This was the strange way they communicated, for they could not understand each other by language, but had learned a way of interacting by deploying a serious of grunts and head shakes. Burrock carried with him the broken branch of a tree, which he used as a weapon, of sorts, and sometimes to strike the smilodon if it would suddenly loose control, and now he held it aloft and plunged into battle.
Burrock was indeed a great man, in sheer size and strength, and I imagine there were few mortals back in the civilised world who would have been brave enough to face down that bird-creature, but even so, the monster was with degrees still considerably more advantaged in size, and when it dived down on Burrock in a sudden mad attack it seemed all was lost for their native companion. But Burrock was a confident fighter, had probably fought battles like this before in his past history, he managed to grab the creatures neck, just behind the head, and with his strength keep the snapping jaws at harms reach. With the great branch he carried, he beat the creature atop the head, and then thrust the branch down its jaws - in this fashion he seemed to have killed it; but a second giant bird unexpectedly appeared into the fray, despite its size it seemed sneak in out of some secret place, and two more of the horrid creatures appeared from some hidden nook in the rocky valley below. The smilodon was loosed from its chains and now lunged into action, now atop the back of one of the birds, sinking its dreadful canines into its flesh, biting again and again till the wounds were so desperately terrible the monster-bird toppled over. Burrock, meanwhile, took up a stray rock, hurled it at the one bird, then dashed at the other, smacked it round the head with the branch so heavily he snapped its neck, and it fell right down dead. The other one picked itself up, but Burrock got under it, somehow, tipped it over, and the creature toppled over, breaking many of its bones along the way, and died.
The ghastly battle seemed to have met a fortuitous conclusion, but unfortunately the noise of the struggle had travelled far and wide, attracting new visitors, and so it was that other giants birds appeared, there were four now, and in a masterful, almost premeditated way, they circled around their native friend and his cat companion, till they were trapped on all sides.
‘They are going to be killed!’ Rutger cried, but Doctor Yoga aimed the pistol at him, and said, in a very harsh voice, ‘Not my problem, and not yours. Now! Let’s get moving before the creatures turn on us, which they will, when they have done their business here.’
‘You will leave your friend to die?’
‘He knows his work. And these creatures are merciless. They will hunt us to the end. I know these creatures from old. I have encountered them before, the last time they were here. The history they share with the natives on this is bleak, and it is they who carry the greater portion of blame in the terrible causes driving the natives into extinction. I’m afraid Burrocks destiny was sealed a long time ago. Now, forgive me, Rutger, if this may seem a little ruthless, but in times like these were must think of our own survival. The loss of our great minds would be far greater than the loss of this lonely primitive, so if you would oblige and obey orders, and start to walk very briskly in a line - and we were heading north, if you remember.’
‘I would never have thought this of you, Yoga. Not this, treachery.’
The terrible screeching and shrieking sounds of the battle, where they left the giant birds and their friends entwined, eventually disappeared behind them, whether because the battle had stopped, or because they were far away, none could easily say, either way they had escaped. The last stages of this journey up the extinct volcano were rough and hard going, but now before them, finally, stood the entrance to the hoard! The goal of Doctors Yoga’s expedition had been reached, and whether they agreed with his plans or not, they were all glad it was over.
The entrance appeared to be some nine feet high, and perhaps eight feet broad, huge like great dark mouth, perhaps once a natural fissure, lava may have flowed out of it in its time, but there were signs of excavation - perhaps the work the natives when they had existed in greater numbers.
‘Know that I will not enter this place happily, nor willingly in fact,’ said Rhobar, he was sweating in the heat, and he was looking at them with despondent eyes.
‘But you will enter,’ said the doctor, ‘and help move your share of the gold.’
‘I curse your gold.’
‘Just go in!’ the doctor snapped, and he waved the pistol at them again. Offering them little option, they entered one by one.
A few metres in they met with a new challenge. A pit, a great hole in the ground leading directly down. How the natives ever managed to go up and down this tunnel with its direct drop downwards will never be known, but no doubt they found some way, as the three companions would have to now.
‘We shall proceed one at a time,’ said the Doctor. ‘Rhobar first, then the professor, I of course, shall follow last. Are we ready?’ His companions nodded gloomily.
They navigated the gap with several yards of good strong rope the doctor had brought along as a cautionary procedure; it proved a good job that he had, for without its aid they would never have safely descended the dangerous gaping hole.
It was about a twenty foot drop, not the tremendous distance they feared, but it was disconcerting in the darkness, and you couldn’t see the floor, you just landed your feet on it by accident. Rhobar, then the professor, waited in blackness for the doctor to make his final descent after them. He carried all the equipment, and he didn’t want the others exploring without him. When he reached the bottom, he lit up two oil lamps, one for himself and the other for Rhobar at the head. They could see in front of them a tunnel, running directly in a straight line. Rhobar looked to Doctor Yoga and waited for instructions, but he simply nodded him and said, ‘Proceed.’
The journey forward through that tunnel was dangerous, especially for Rhobar at the front, who really couldn’t see very far in front of him. They slipped and slid altogether at times, but finally made it through, to the end of the tunnel to the great chamber that lay in wait there.
It was more than doctor Yoga could have dreamed! There, in this place, glittering in their little lamplights, the most wonderful collection of gold, raw gold, golden ornaments, crude gold bowls, gold cups, gold devices, gold weapons, all heaped up. The most wonderful were the gold statues, no doubt the craft of the natives, and the huge great golden plaits, large and round, almost shaped like a giant coin.
Doctor Yoga quickly mastered his joy, retook his serious and calm complexion, and he started by saying, ‘We will move it, little pieces at a time. Here, help me. We will fill our bags, first, and winch it all up. We will do this little by little, till it is all on the surface. I will stay at the top of the tunnel, you tie the gold to the bottom of the rope, then I will pull it up.’
‘I see you don’t want to help us load the treasure?’
‘I’m not a fool, my friends,’ he replied. ‘I can’t let you trick me, not now, not at the end. Can’t you look at things more brightly? I mean, for goodness sake! You will gain from this as much as I will. There is more gold here in the whole of the British Empire. Will be as rich as royalty. Does that mean anything to you?’
‘We will help you,’ said Rhobar, ‘but I think you are being hasty with this business. Loading this back to London is going to be hard work. And then you will have to explain where it came from.’
‘Its all in order,’ the doctor replied. ‘Now, I’m climbing back up. Let’s get on with this. And on’t try any tricks, remember who has the gun? Now, get filling the gold!’
So, little by little, they loaded the gold to the rope, and lifted it up. The huge gold coins, and the statues, were heavy to lift - extraordinarily heavy… the doctor gave up trying to lift these up, but he was able to easily winch up the lighter bits and pieces, and soon every cup, plait and gold crafted knife, spear and arrow, even, was dragged out of the tunnel, and brought up onto the surface of the volcano. It didn’t take an intelligent mind to know not all these objects could have been crafted by natives such as those of the tribe of Burrock, but whoever the credit must fall to for the fine craft which existed in that treasury would have to remain forever an unfathomable mystery.
When the work was done, Rutger, and then lastly Rhobar, climbed back up, to join the overjoyed doctor, who they expected to find revelling in his greatest triumph.
In fact they found him, sat down by the edge of the cave, in a desperate state. So desperate he actually lost all care and dropped his gun, and started placing about. He then threw off his hat, jumped on it and started pulling at his hair.
‘NO! NO! NO!’ he was shouting. ‘This cannot be it!’
‘What on earth has gotten into you?’ said Rhobar, brushing his sleeve across his brow. ‘Good grief man! You’ve gotten what you wanted? What could be wrong?’
‘This is wrong!’ he took one of the golden cups out of the bag, and held it up, and to the amazement of all, and slight amusement, the cup was no longer gold. By the look of it, after a simple examination, it seemed to have been knocked out of simple stone.
They rummaged through the bags, which, with strenuous efforts, they had hurled the whole hoard up, rummaged through the golden devices, just to find plain old stones - and nothing really of any true value.
‘So it was cursed after all,’ said Rutger, and he tapped his chin with his thin figure, and fell into a contemplative mood.
‘That or it was never gold, and somehow the natives found a way of decorating it, to give it the appearance of gold, till we brought it up, in the light and the air, and now they look different.’
‘Gold dust, maybe?’ said Rutger, and there was indeed some speckles of gold around the cave mouth, backing up this last theory. In fact this gold dust was real gold, and was probably the most valuable thing drawn up out of the cave, but the gentle wind blew it all away.
‘I was tricked,’ said the doctor with a truly heavy sigh and fell on his back and would not move. He just lay there, like someone half, or nearly completely dead.
‘You tricked yourself,’ Rhobar replied. ‘Blind greed tricked you, sir!’
‘Yes. You are indeed more than right, my good Rhobar! To think that all these years I have yearned after stone cups decorated in gold dust! This will make me look a proper fool, if it ever got back home. What a fool! An idiot! People have died over this. All over nonsense!’
‘I think this business is over,’ said Rhobar, calmly, ‘we have outstayed our welcome, I think. We don’t really belong here, and think Island Cognitio has had the last laugh on us with this silly business. I think that, despite everything, it really has been a successful adventure. we’ve made many fine, rapacious discoveries - but we wont survive here any longer. We have teased fate for his every last dreg of mercy for letting us live this long!’
‘Take all that you need from my old base,’ said doctor Yoga. Then he sat up, blinked, and looked upon the cave mouth with determination in his eyes. ‘Head back to Britain, but please keep this place a secret.’
‘We decided, together, in coition, to stick to this policy,’ said professor Rutger. ‘I feel confident that this place needs, deserves even, to be left in the mists of legend. I will speak to no-one outside this circle of our adventures here.’
‘I vow this also,’ said Rhobar. ‘The best tribute we can offer this island and the wonders it has filled our life’s with and imbued our memories, is to leave it in permanent peace.’
Doctor Yoga nodded them, and then smiled, grimly. ‘I shall not go,’ he said, in a thin little defeated voice. Indeed he looked a terrible broken figure, completely destroyed. ‘I am going to stay,’ he said. ‘I still think there is a hoard out there,’ he went on, and they could see the gleam in his eye. ‘This was a trick. A trick by my old friend! Blast the fellow! Of course he would keep the real location of the hoard a well guarded secret, known only to himself - locked up in the one most impenetrable vault, the human brain! He wouldn’t just write it down so that others, primarily like myself, could track down the treasure with ease. That wasn’t his way. He knew of this place, and he used it as a decoy to put off looters. But I will not give up. Not this time. I will search this island from end to end, to the end of my days even, if needs be. I will not rest till that hoard is found! I have nothing left in London, my friends,’ he said, standing and adjusting his glasses. With some pride he picked up his crumpled hat and placed the tatty boot-stamped thing back on his old head. ‘My problems there were financial. Always and always! I thought I was going to find a way out here, stupid fool that I always have been! I’m not going back friends. Leave me now, we will part here.’
‘We will end this union then, perhaps, as friends?’ said Rutger, in good faith, and he offered the other his hand. ‘We were comrades for the best part?’ Yoga nodded, took and shook it, but Rhobar, who still felt utterly betrayed, would not speak to him, at first, but eventually took the doctors hand, and shook it briskly. ‘We were comrades,’ he said, bitterly. So they nodded, and turned away, Doctor Yoga to the caves under the volcano, Rhobar and Rutger to their homes.
Yet their experiences on Island Cognito were not completely at an end. They returned to the crater, to find the giant birds gone - and they were of course relieved by this, but most importantly, another sight that lifted their spirits, Burrock and his pet sabre-toothed cat were sat there, both quite badly battered, but very much alive.
The cat, tired and weary, lay resting at his side, and Burrock was sat there, looking proudly at the many giant birds that lay stricken about him. It brought a deal of comfort to see these two had made it through. Burrock would live on, with the remnant of his tribe still fiery in his heart. When they met him, they spoke with him, and thanked him, and he grunted in return. They couldn’t understand each other, but there was indeed a friendship there, though a strange, quiet, incommunicable one, it was strong still indeed.
They made return visit of the native village, and took only some of the food supplies, enough to last a few days, at least till they found a village outside of the Island. They left most of the stuff behind, for doctor Yoga, for despite having completely betrayed and lied to them, it was certainly against their very base intentions to deprave him of a stock of provisions. In some ways they started to pity him, and his desperate search for gold, and other hidden and imaginary riches…
‘Do you think we will have see him again, I mean, outside of this loathsome, but wonderful land?’ said Rhobar to Rutger, and Rutger, not one to ever immediately reply to a serious and thought provoking question, pondered for awhile, and they said, with a great deal of consideration, ‘Mayhap.’
The professor insisted on waging one last investigation of the dodos, an attempt, on his behalf to launch the first scientific study of their life’s and habits - but the research as cut drastically short when they were set upon by more of those dreaded giant birds.
They were chased back to the base, where they could successfully hide themselves. The entrance into the building was too small for the creatures to fit in; one managed to squeeze a head through a window, and they had to shoot at it. Luckily doctor Yoga kept a small armoury here, in his base, and they picked up a rifle, and some ammunition, and with this were able to defend themselves. They blocked the door up with a huge wooden table they had used to write letters on, and waited for the vicious trouble-making creatures to go off in search of some other poor animal to hunt.
And you could tell when the creatures had gone, because you couldn’t hear them screeching and pecking outside. When it was over, and without hesitation, they snatched their things and made a run for it. The bird attack reminded them that Island Cognito was not a friendly place to visitors, and apart from the dodos the life here was extremely hostile - hang around in an the same area for too long and some creature will track you down and eat you. It was a lesson they had been slow to learn, but they had learned it in the end, and they did not stop really, till they had reached the island coast again.
They did stop every once and awhile in the last journey, to admire some more mastodons they met on the way, three of the huge creatures this time, bustling away in the jungle, sticking their heads among the leafs and plants, and pushing the trees aside with their great bulky bodies.
They noticed a particular change when crossed over what they called, the South Barrier, marked by a great River only crossable by a huge fallen tree log. The fallen tree had obviously been placed their by people, and they guessed the work of the previous expedition here must have leant a hand to this artificial bridge, but the life on either side of the River was different. It seemed to be this way - birds and mammals to the north, reptiles to the south. For as soon as they had crossed the River they met again those familiar slow and gentle beasts, the iguanodon, and the long necked giant monsters, the creatures out of which the Mokele-mbembe legend had been written, and the original cause to bring them all to this remarkable place.
Their boat was still there, drawn up onto the coast. Umbada had been busily repairing it before the course of their expedition went array, and it was in good enough condition to return to the water. It was now time to return to the Real world.
Home at last…
Giant monsters were one thing - London news reporters of the gazette were another nightmare altogether.
Obviously when Rutger and Rhobar returned to the shores of their homeland, having solemnly vowed not to reveal Island Cognito to any source outside of their circle, kept to their word and could not report any of the wonderful sightings, or relate any of their remarkable adventures. It didn’t matter though, in the end, for had they wished to turn their adventures into a news story, for reporters, critics, professors and other such humbugs to scoff at, they would have needed evidence of their findings - photos, perhaps even a specimen a creature, or bones, or something. They had brought nothing back from the Island, and so the handful of reporters that met them, eager for some sort of story to put on their papers, reacted with disgust when they were told, plainly, that the adventure was a waste, and led to frustration and failure. ‘There is no monster in the great African Lake of Nahla,’ said Rutger, to one gruff cockney that bore down on him the moment he stepped off their ship. ‘It was an interested trip, from a purely botanical point of view. The shrubbery of the African jungle always held my fascination - and the animals we saw were remarkable as well. You know, a crocodile almost destroyed our boat?’
It wasn’t weeks, but days, before their adventures abroad whittled out of public mind.
Eventually the talk was turned from the two survivors of the savage Island Cognito and to doctor Yoga, the one they had left behind. It was too his absence most media attention was drawn, for doctor Yoga was very much a public figure, and was held with regard in some sectors of London City, but they told reporters he was simply staying with his relatives, in Amsterdam. This was taken with some hesitation, but taken all the same.
Then one day, late in the year, Rutger, now safely entombed in his old shabby house back in Maismore, received the knock to his door, which brought, when opened, into his house his old friend, Rhobar, much refreshed from a holiday up north, and eager to talk with the professor of old times.
‘No word of him then?’ he said, meaning, of course, old doctor Yoga. Rutger bowed his head, and Rhobar knew that the answer was no.
They took their seats up by the great blazing fire, and Rhobar began tapping the arms of the chair with anticipation, like he was eager to either say or do something, but couldn’t think what it was. ‘I often think about that Island,’ he said. ‘It almost feels like we never travelled there. Maybe you understand what I mean? To me it all feels like it as a dream. It might as well as be one, as no-one knows about it.’
‘I do understand you,’ said Rutger, prodding the hearthstone flames with a great old iron rod. ‘I have been thinking of the place recently, as well.’
‘Would you ever go there again? I mean, if the opportunity was ever open to you. Would you go?’
Rutger, in a fashion unusual to him sat up and said, at once, ‘Yes, my friend! I would set off tomorrow!’
‘But it was a dangerous place. A miracle we survived any of it!’
‘What amazed me most, about Island Cognito, it was the first place on earth where mankind truly lost the struggle. Mankind could not conquer that island, and submitted to the inevitable. The natives were destroyed before our very eyes! The wild and inexorable powers of nature’s will swallowed them up! We’ve done a good job of keeping our heads above water here in our civilised world - let’s hope the damn doesn’t break, hay? and the seas pour in, and so be swept away by the savage tide like those poor souls of Island Cognito!’
‘I kept this,’ said Rhobar, after a pause, and he draw up, from a bag, a great irregular object as long as a cutting knife. Rutger took up the object; it was yellow, and tough, and heavy - and he presumed it to be a tooth.
‘And indeed you are right,’ said Rhobar, and he smiled with satisfaction. ‘It is one of the teeth belonging to that great monster we slew together.’
‘Good grief!’ Rutger exclaimed.
‘I kept it as a momentum!’
‘It does bring back memories! I wish I had brought something back. I would rather like to furnish my house with a pet.’
‘Ah! Like a pet smilodon?’ This was said in jest.
Rutger looked serious though.
‘I was thinking more along the lines of a dodo,’ he replied. ‘I think it would be a fine accompaniment to my old house.’
‘I think I agree,’ said Rhobar and he laughed. ‘I can imagine one, scuttling about.’
‘So can I,’ said the professor. ‘Though what would be really good would be to bring a living iguanodon back home. I think I could keep one in my garden. I can see it there now, eating the hedges.’
‘Yes, and the hedges of everyone else living here!’ said Rhobar. ‘I hope you’re joking about this though? But I never know with you, Rutger.’
‘Of course! Of course! But do you think we will ever return? I would like to visit the place again, one last time, and wage a proper expedition of scientific discovery.
‘Now that I believe can be done!’ said Rhobar, and he smiled. ‘It would be difficult of course,’ he then said, ‘and dangerous, as both know too well. Yet I am ready for it. Unfortunately we don’t know the location of the island - as we originally found it by accident, left it in great haste, and didn’t mark it down on a map… So, really, we don’t know where it is! Once we overcome that problem will be well on our way!’
‘But we would find it, again, eventually, like before? It is there, remember.’
‘I should say we would. With you Rutger, I imagine, anything is possible!’