WHILE the sea with an eerie moaning sound surged restlessly among the dripping slime-covered boulders at the base of the scarred cliffs, and wheeling sea birds shrieked strident calls of warning as they flashed through the swirling mist overhead, Og stared in terror at the gruesome evidence among the rocks that told him grim fate had brought him to the place of missing men. And Ru and Tao, and Big Tooth, as they stood beside him, were equally aware of this horrible truth, for there among the rocks clotted with yellow foam, two human skulls with vacant eye sockets staring and bared teeth grinning, had been rolled together by the heaving wash of receding waves, and now bumped each other with a lugubrious hollow sound as the wash of sea water moved them gently.
Moreover, strewn among the rocks were human bones and other skulls scoured white by the waves and the weather, some in the water and some higher up on the shore. Og saw with a creepy feeling of horror a skeleton arm and hand, bony fingers clutching at dangling shreds of kelp. Tao and Ru stared down at the bones of a man's leg in a half-flexed position, while Big Tooth, the thick hair on the back of his neck bristling with fear, looked at the crushed and battered remains of an old log canoe; a dug-out that had once been the property of Crooked Foot, the fisherman from the Flat Head village.
"Whoo," he grunted finally, "this be place we look for, Og: place where poor Crooked Foot and other Flat Head go and not come back from. But now we find this place Big Tooth him not so very happy 'bout it."
"Hi-yah," breathed Og softly, "I am not so happy about it either, Big Tooth. This is a place of death. Crooked Foot and his friend, Long Thumbs, met their end here, and so did all the others who did not come back from turtle hunting."
"But how did they die, Og'" asked Tao as he bent closer to examine one of the skulls. "There is a mystery here I think."
"Bah. No mystery at all, Tao," scouted Ru trying to strengthen his own courage. "Their log canoe was upset, as ours was, by the current that carried us here, and they were drowned. Their bodies were washed up on shore. Do you not think so, Og'"
Og's brow puckered thoughtfully and he was silent for some time before he answered. Finally he said:
"Of that I would not be so sure, Ru. For one thing Crooked Foot was a good swimmer. So was Long Thumbs. If we could swim ashore after our canoe upset, they could, too."
"Not if the seas ran high. If there was a storm they could not swim ashore. They would be flung ashore by the waves and dashed against the rocks. They would be killed that way," replied Ru quickly.
"But they were not killed that way," said Tao, moving one of the skulls with his hand as he examined it closely. "There are no broken bones, and bones would have been crushed if they had been flung against these rocks with force enough to kill them. Besides there are marks on this skull. Look here, Og."
Tao's disclosure caused all three of his companions to bend closer, and study a series of strange gougings on the hard frontal bone of the skull. For a moment all were thoughtfully silent, then Big Tooth exhaled suddenly with a loud, snorting sound.
"Hi-yi-yi!" he exclaimed. "Them be tooth marks all right. Some kind of big animal be round this place, Og. But what kind Big Tooth not know much about. Him never see tooth marks like them before."
"Nay. Nor have I, Big Tooth," said Og softly as he stood erect to let his eyes roam the bleak and rocky vastness of this strange shore, and scrutinize the ragged, ugly cliffs that hemmed them in. "I have never seen the marks of such teeth before and I do not know the creature who made them. But whatever creature it is, I am sure it had much to do with the death of our friends here."
"Whoo. And him could easy make us die same way if him find us here, Big Tooth think," decided the leader of the Flat Head tribe as he, too, began to search the ugly shore line for evidences of the mysterious creature who had left these gruesome remains as evidence of his savagery.
FATE and a strange tenacious sea current had brought Og and his companions to this unknown shore, far away from the caves of Big Tooth's people, as it had evidently brought Crooked Foot, Long Thumbs and other turtle hunters of the Flat Head people.
For many suns past something had been happening to the turtle hunters from the Flat Head village. Several canoes had floated down the river toward the turtle beach where the stream joined the sea, to hunt for turtles and their eggs. But none of these canoes had come back. A superstitious fear had begun to grip the people. Some strange force; some one of the gods or devils that Pong had built up in their imagination was angry that they hunted turtles and their eggs, and these gods or devils had destroyed the hunters. That was the belief that prevailed among the Flat Heads, and finally, when the people began to talk about the taboo that the gods had put on turtle hunting, and to suffer for want of food because of their fear, Og and Big Tooth decided that they must solve the mystery. So they, with Ru and Tao, much to the alarm of the village, decided to go down river to the turtle beach in the big hollow-log canoe Tao had made, just as Crooked Foot and Long Thumbs had gone not long since.
They had no sooner reached the mouth of the river where it joined the sea, however, when they realized full well that some sinister force had indeed been responsible for the disappearance of all the adventurers who had gone before them. As they cleared the river mouth their canoe was swept into the grip of a strange but very strong sea current, against which even they could not paddle, and in spite of their struggles their canoe was borne out to sea. At dawn of the third day the sun revealed that they were approaching another land; a strange, frowning, rock-bound shore, with cliffs that towered high and were draped in mist.
Here they were tossed upon a rocky reef off shore with such force that their canoe broke in half.
"Whoo!" grunted Big Tooth as he fully realized their plight. "This not be such good place we be in, Og. Not get out of here so easy, Big Tooth think."
"Nay, we cannot," agreed Og with a slow nod. "The only way will be to scale those cliffs, somewhere."
OG TOOK to studying the cliffs. Scaling those heights was their only course to freedom and gradually his keen eyes began to pick out a way by which they might, with some effort, climb to the top of the precipitous heights. While he studied he became aware of a tapping sound as Ru crushed clam shells with his stone axe somewhere among the boulders, and of the fact that Tao and Big Tooth, too, had gone in search of food.
Ru suddenly voiced a cry of surprise and pain as he dropped the big clam he held and lurched forward. But he did not move far. He seemed effectively anchored to the spot. His companions saw, with some alarm, that he was struggling with something that seemed to hold his foot, but it was Big Tooth whose keen discernment understood his predicament and began to laugh, as did Og and Tao.
But even as their guffaws rose loudest suddenly they stopped, and from broad grins the expressions on their faces turned to surprise, then horror. From the water of the cove came a heavy surging sound as of some great body rising out of the depths, followed a moment later by a loud blowing snort, and Og and Tao and Big Tooth looked up to behold the biggest, ugliest, grayish-green blob of a body, surmounted by two great savage yellow eyes, and a strange, scimitar-shaped bony beak of a mouth rising above the surface. At the same time they became aware of a mass of ghastly, long gray-green tentacles, a livid pink on the underside and armed with great sucking discs, sliding out of the water and feeling their way like great snakes among the boulders on the shore.
WITH yells of terror all three bolted off among the rocks, staring back over their shoulders at this giant devil-fish, the largest octopus they had ever beheld.
"Hi-yi-yi! This be bad, Og. That ol' devil-fish him go for Ru now," exclaimed Big Tooth.
"Aye. And he will get him too if we do not kill the creature. Come. At him with your stone axes! Follow me!" And with a ringing "Hi-i-i-i-yah" Og gripped his stone axe and started back toward the octopus, while Big Tooth and Tao followed.
Instantly the devil-fish prepared to meet the attack. With a loud blowing sound that resembled the hiss of a giant snake, the thing seemed to inflate its quivering mass of horrible flesh to twice its already enormous size, and appeared to rise up on two tremendous, ray-like fins. At the same time, four of its eight long wriggling tentacles rose up and swung toward the charging attackers, with sinister waving and reaching. The other four tentacles still slithered among the rocks toward Ru then, and one, darting out like a flash of light, wrapped around the helpless boy's body.
Og and Big Tooth and Tao came to a sudden stop just out of reach of the other four curling tentacles. The mere sight of the pinkish underside of those ugly serpentine arms, with their horrible sucking discs, made them cold with horror, and though the courage of each of them was great, still they could not bring themselves to advance within range of those hideous reaching things.
Instinctively Big Tooth battered at a tentacle as it writhed across the top of a big boulder and had the satisfaction of seeing a section of it severed by the blow of his stone axe. But the bleeding end rose in the air and reached for him again while the creature emitted another hissing snort.
"Hi-yah!" cried Og suddenly, "we could hold those feelers down with rocks."
Instantly Tao and Big Tooth saw the worth of Og's suggestion, and dropping their stone axes they seized massive boulders in both their hands, and holding them above their heads, sought a chance to drop them on one of the monster's feelers. Tao caught one of the arms between two boulders and crashed his rock down on top of it, successfully pinning it there and a moment later, Og pinned down another one of the ugly arms. Big Tooth made two tries to imprison the injured tentacle and with his second attempt succeeded in crushing it under a great boulder and holding it helpless.
Og, balancing a tremendous boulder over his head, saw a chance to charge in past those busy arms and with a yell he leaped over two writhing tentacles, and getting as close to the ugly body of the monster as possible, hurled the boulder down upon it with all his strength. As the heavy rock struck home with a soggy thud, the giant octopus seemed to collapse under its weight. Instantly the boy from the caves yanked his stone axe from his girdle, and with fierce blows sent the heavy axe head home between those two ugly, bulging eyes.
It was a telling blow. The creature collapsed still more. But Og was not satisfied. Again and again he sank that biting axe head into the soggy flesh with growing savagery, until the creature let go its hold on Big Tooth and the tentacles dropped from Ru's chest, dead things as they fell among the rocks. Only then was Og satisfied that this monster from the sea was harmless and would never again destroy any of the turtle hunters from Big Tooth's village who might be carried by the treacherous sea current to that grim cove among the cliffs. Ru was released then from the grip of the giant clam and, no longer interested in food, all of them hurried to seek a way to scale the towering cliffs and get out of this horrible place of missing men.