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Og — Son of Fire
Irving Crump
Dodd, Mead & Co.
1922

CHAPTER III

THE CRACK IN THE EARTH

 
IT seemed strange to the hairy boy that he should awaken with the same thoughts in his brain that he had gone to sleep with. Why did they persist? He could not understand, yet his brain still turned over the problem of why the Fire Demon, who could give so much that was good, could also destroy hundreds of horses, the fleetest and wariest of the animals he knew. He could not answer the question but as he pondered it he began to understand that if all the good of warmth could be had from the Fire Demon perhaps it would be possible to make friends with him and not fall a victim to his wrath. The hairy boy did not know just how this could be done but his interest was stirred beyond anything heretofore.

He got up, and although still bloated with food, he could not resist tearing off a strip or two more of the roasted horse, then munching on one of these he began wandering through the swirling steam, the wolf cubs following him.

Presently he found himself walking through a layer of black ash that was still warm and felt very comfortable to his feet. He knew as he recalled the valley before the eruption that this had been a huge forest. The heat from the hot lava lake somewhere down there in the bottom of the valley had fired this and burned it to cinders. Only an occasional rampike, charred and gaunt and weird looking in the blowing steam, told of the forest that grew there before. The hairy boy looked at these mute monuments to the wrath of the Fire Demon with a mingled feeling of awe and wonder. To see these tree giants charred and blackened, their twisted limbs shorn from them and scattered half burned on the ground, revived to a certain extent the fear that he had had. He stood and stared at the charred mass a long time before going on, and then not until he had broken himself a stout knotted club from one of the fire hardened rampikes, as if to provide himself with some sort of a weapon with which to face the mysterious danger of the Fire Demon.

Yet, despite his fear and trepidation, the hairy boy was enough a master of his will power to force himself into exploring the valley further. Deeper he pushed his way through the misty, swirling steam, realizing the while that the air and the earth were growing hotter. From this he understood that he was approaching what had appeared to him from the hilltop to be a red hot lake where the lava had gathered in the valley bottom.

The steam grew thicker and hotter and ahead of him and on either hand he heard peculiar hissing noises, that agitated him a great deal, for he could not know that it was the hot lava cooling off by its contact with the cold and moist earth. He went on but he went with great stealth and caution, always peering through the steam with club raised as if expecting at any moment to come face to face with the Demon that made the fire.

Suddenly the hissing grew more intense and the air very much hotter. At the same time loomed through the steam a vast stretch of smooth, black, polished rock that took queer forms as if it were so much soft dough that had been poured over the ground and allowed to harden. All about its edges, where it came into contact with the ground, jets of steam were spurting out, each hissing and curling like huge evanescent reptiles. The hairy boy gasped and drew back. Then he stopped and stood staring, club upraised. He was alert and ready for danger, but he was frankly curious too. He could not understand why this black rock that never had been in the valley before could give out such intense heat and cause the snaky spouts of steam that hissed so ominously and lingered in the air like a swamp fog. He crouched on his haunches and stared for a long, long time while the wolf-dog cubs, crowding close to him, looked at the black rock curiously while their tongues lolled because of the intense heat.

Finally the hairy boy got to his feet. His curiosity was mastering his fear and suspicion. He began to approach the edge of the hot lava bed very cautiously. As he advanced the heat grew more intense until his hairy coat dripped perspiration and water from the condensing steam. Closer and closer he moved until he was almost within touching distance of a big black globule of the cooling lava that was detached from the main mass. Then be reached out with the stick he still carried and tapped it curiously.

A strange thing happened. Each time the stick came into contact with the hot rock a wisp of blue smoke went up as the heat scorched the wood. This was puzzling to the hairy boy. Why did this happen? He tapped and tapped again; then he examined the scorched end of the stick and felt of it. It was very hot. It burned him. He grunted and pulled his hand away. Then he sat and thought for a long time until his slow brain reasoned that the rock burned the stick, and the heat that the stick carried from the rock burned his hand. The stick carried the heat from the rock for a little while; then the heat mysteriously disappeared.

Still he sat and thought and slowly a question took shape in his mind. If the stick carried the heat for a little while just by tapping on the rock, why wouldn't it carry heat for a long while if he held the stick onto the rock a long time? Perhaps it would, then that would be a way of taking with him the good of the Fire Demon and leaving behind the bad. He wanted the heat the Fire Demon could give but he wanted to leave behind the power it had to kill and destroy.

He decided to try an experiment. He reached forth and held the stick against the rock. Slowly the blue smoke appeared. It grew and grew in quantity; then suddenly a tiny red flame began to lick at the end of the stick, for the lava had set the pitchy knot on fire.

When the hairy boy saw the flame he grunted in terror, dropped the stick and leaped backward in fear. Of course, the tiny flame went out. The boy sat and watched the stick for a long time, and his brain was so busy that his round head positively hurt. What were these sinister red and orange things that had licked at the end of the stick? Were they the fingers of the Fire Monster? If they were, why had they not held the stick and consumed it?

He picked up the stick and tried the experiment again. Once more the flames appeared, but went out when the stick was dropped. Again he tried, but this time he held the stick longer. While he held it he found that the flames waxed stronger and grew bigger. He studied them curiously, holding the stick at arm's length, and, while he watched, he wondered whether, after all, these flames were not the beneficial thing that the Fire Monster had to give him. They were hot. He could carry them by carrying the stick away. Yet he could kill them by merely dropping the stick or tapping it on the ground. He tried it again and again, and each time he lit the stick and put it out he sensed a feeling of elation within him. He felt as if he were doing a masterly thing. He could awaken or conquer the Fire Monster at will. It was wonderful; almost a triumph. The hairy boy felt as proud as he had the day he had leaped out from behind a rock and slain his first wild goat with a stone hammer that he had borrowed from his father's cave.

He was so elated by the knowledge that he was master of the fire that he began to dance up and down in a peculiarly weird sort of a way and drum on his chest with his fists, chanting the while, "Og, og, og, og, og," which to him meant "I am a great man now; no longer a boy. I am the conqueror; Og, the conqueror." And thus it was that he gave himself a name, after the manner of the hairy folk. Og he was to be thenceforth, for he felt that he had won this name, for among the hairy men only the people who had achieved something notable were entitled to a name.

After that for almost an hour he amused himself by lighting and putting out the stick and slowly a sense of self-confidence grew within him, and he no longer had the awe and fear of the Fire Demon. Indeed he held the burning end of the stick quite close to him, watched the flames curiously, felt their heat, broke off slivers from the other end of the club, lit them and knocked them out. Once he breathed hard upon one of these splinters and it went out. Here was a discovery, indeed. With his very breath he could kill the Fire Demon. He blew hard upon the flames that curled about the pitchy knots of his club to prove it and they went out too. After that he lost all fear of the Fire Monster. Anything so weak that he could conquer it with his breath was not at all to be feared.

He held the stick to the lava to light it again, his mind intent on what he was doing; indeed he had been so fascinated with his experiments that he had forgotten everything, even the wolf-dog cubs. He had not noticed how the hair on the back of their necks bristled or how they cowered with tails between their legs while they looked furtively into the swirling steam behind them. In truth, the first that he realized that anything was amiss was when both cubs with a frightened snarl tried to crowd between his legs for protection. At the same moment a snort sounded behind him, followed by a strident trumpeting.

Og, flaming stick in hand, jumped up with a start to behold but vaguely through the steam a massive hairy and tusked head with upraised trunk and sinister little eyes, looming above him. Og knew only too well what it was and his heart all but stopped when he saw the evil thing. His people called it The Mountain That Walked, the great shaggy haired mammoth. They were so big and so strong and so fearless that even Sabre Tooth, the great cave tiger, slunk from them.

For one horror-fraught second the hairy boy stared at the terrible, massive head and trunk that waved slowly back and forth above him. He knew the great beast had marked him as an enemy. He knew that the curled trunk would strike swiftly and surely, that the great coils would close about him and that with one powerful toss he would be hurled skyward to fall and be trampled under the heavy feet of the ponderous beast. It was a terrible death to face and Og shrank back and shuddered as he watched the great trunk. He was so frightened he was no longer master of himself. It was as if the wicked little eyes had hypnotized him and held him spellbound. Slowly, with a weaving motion, a sinister swaying from side to side, the great trunk bent toward him, ready to strike.

Suddenly the boy thought of the stick; the fire brand that he held in his hand. It gave him courage. With a wild yell he leaped and whirled the burning club above his head aiming a blow at the big beast. The flaming end swept within a foot of the great animal's face and with a snort it drew back. In that instant the hairy boy, still clinging to the lighted stick, bolted off through the fog of steam, the wolf cubs at his heels.

As swift as the wind he ran, and the giant mammoth, now thoroughly aroused, vented a thunderous trumpet and raced after him with an awkward shambling gait. Although he was clumsy and ponderous the mammoth covered the ground as swiftly as Og did, his long trunk reaching out before him ready to seize his victim the instant he came within reach.

Had it been a long race Og most certainly would have been captured. He knew this too and he fled with swiftness borne of utter panic for he could hear the heavy thuds of ponderous feet close behind him, and the whistling, snorting of its breath seemed almost at his back. But fortunately as he raced on through the steam fog there suddenly appeared before him a great crevice rent in the hillside by the earthquake that had attended the volcanic eruption. It was like a deep but narrow wound in the hill, and Og knew that if he climbed into this the great mammoth could not follow. True, his snakelike trunk could reach inside but Og felt that if he could crawl beyond its length the animal could not force his body into the narrow opening.

With safety in sight Og leaped forward with renewed speed and literally hurled himself into the crevice, the wolf-dog cubs falling over each other to scramble in behind him. In a panic all three struggled, stumbled and crawled over rocks and earth clods and forced themselves back into the deepest, narrowest confines of this crack in the earth. There in the darkness that was lighted only by the tiny flames of the still burning torch that Og had clung to, they waited.

Presently The Mountain That Walked, with thunderous tread and whistling breath, reached the crevice. For a moment the great beast stopped and peered inside. Then scenting his enemy within he reached his snaky trunk into the earthy cave, and groped about.

The hairy boy and the wolf cubs shrank back trembling. To have this horrible thing within a few feet of their faces, was a terrible experience and for a time it shattered the courage of the trio. But when it became apparent that the animal could not reach them Og grew braver, so brave in fact that presently he fell to shouting terrible insults at the beast and brandishing his fiery stick. Indeed he mustered the courage to crawl close enough to the twisting trunk to jam the fire stick into its folds.

With a roar the trunk was withdrawn immediately and the hairy boy, laughing with glee, turned toward the cowering wolf cubs as if seeking their approval for his brave deed.

But the smile on his face was transformed into an expression of horror, for as he looked toward the end of the crevice he saw to his consternation that the walls on either side were slowly drawing closer together. Clods of earth and heavy stones were falling, jarred loose by the slow but irresistible movement of the walls. The earth that had been pushed upward by volcanic action was slowly settling again. The crevice was closing and they would be buried alive.


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