The Lost City of Karahum
Onson Blade

An account of the good ship Melanie and the extraordinary events that befell her crew


Onsonfeld mushes through
the Alaskan Wilderness

Nightfall in the Alaskan wilderness just meant it was completely dark this time of the year, instead of the half darkness I labored under. The gray skies and softly falling snow, made it difficult to see across the river, but there was little doubt that the Kuskokwim lay before me. I had hoped to make the settlement of Stony River tonight, but in this weather that was out of the question. The best bet would be to cross over and pitch camp on the other side, making the most of what had been a rather poor day of travel.

The snowfall thickened as I clucked the dogs into movement. Everything seemed almost dreamlike as the falling snow soaked up the sounds of the dogs like a sponge, and all I could hear was the slither of the runners through the snow. It was a musical sound at these temperatures, and one could hear a chime-like sound as different densities of snow pack slipped beneath. I was lulled, I was tired, but I don't think it would have made any difference. The river would still have taken me.

The grinding of ice and the uplift of the flow caught me completely by surprise. I found myself looking upwards at the lead dogs disappearing over the lip of the ice slab, their voices raised in fear and panic. At the same time I lost my grasp on the sled, and slid backwards into numbing water. Something caught me in the back and I realized I had been hit by another flow. It drove me forward onto the icy slab where my sled was now teetering at the apex. As it tipped and vanished, the ice came crashing down, and I felt the pressure leave my back.

I was sobbing in blind fear as I scrambled on all fours toward the shoreline that was so close, yet so far. At some point I saw the sled slip under a flow, disappearing from view. By rights, I should have joined it, as I suddenly found myself in water again. But the bottom was there and I kicked against it, shooting up onto the ice. Then I was off the river.

I had never been so cold in my life and my back hurt. I rolled over laborously and gazed up at the snow flakes coming at me. I knew I was dead. You don't get wet at these temperatures and survive. I struggled against the thought and sat up, my already freezing parka shedding ice, but the pain in my back was so great I collapsed again. I lay gasping until the throbbing fire subsided somewhat. Soon I discovered, to my surprise, that I was drowsey. What the hell, I thought. There were much worse ways to die. I let my eyelids droop. That is when I heard the voice.

"Onsonfeld." I slowly opened my eyes and turned my shaking head to the left - and painfully grinned. She stood in the snow, billowous, sheer garments drifting lazily about her nude body as if they were in a slow current of water. Internally lit, her radience cast a glowing circle of light onto the snow.

"What...cha want?" I whispered. A bit of robe drifted toward me, and brushing my face I felt warmth. I chuckled at the craziness of it.

"She wants to find her home, Onsonfeld."

"Sure," I replied. "Can you... would my dogs?" She looked sad and slowly shook her head. The action galvanized her long black hair, and it rippled like ocean swells in slow motion.

"Maybe one, Onsonfeld. Maybe one... But she needs to find her way. Help her."

I wanted to ask her who, but there was a stiffness to my lips and mouth. I blinked and she was gone. Suddenly, the pain departed and I felt a wave of warmth wash over me. Somewhere inside I smiled at my approaching death and let myself sink into sweet oblivion.


Waves of agonizing pain...voices...sweet oblivian...more pain. Someone was holding a cup to my lips. I swallowed just to satisfy them - so they would go away and let me sink back into darkness. I coughed and sputtered over something hot, then slipped away again.

When next I awoke it was to shadows flickering across a crude log ceiling. My feet and hands throbbed with just bearable agony. I turned my head slowly to the right. In the far wall of the cabin flames danced in a small fireplace constructed of stone. In a crude chair before the fire, a man, boots extended to the heat, slept with his head on his chest. My need was too great to let him sleep.

"Water," I croaked. The weakness in my voice startled me. I managed to repeat it a little louder, and the man before the fire lifted his head. As he turned towards me I noted that he had a rather unusually triangular-shaped face, and his forehead was higher and bulged out more than most. He quickly rose and coming to me picked up a tumbler that sat on a small stand beside the bed. Placing a hand behind my head, he lifted me and place the container to my lips. I drank greedily. I had never felt so devoid of water, so dry, but it seemed I had hardly started to drink when he pulled the container away.

"That's enough for now." His voice was somewhat high, but had a pleasing quality. I lay back and started to thank him, but slipped into sleep before I could finish what I was saying.

I awoke when something wet slide across my lips. I opened my eyes to stare into what at first appeared to be a kind of baleful, Devil's face. Then it came into focus.

"Goddamn! Fuzzy! Goddamn!" I reached out and slide my arms about the shaggy huskie's neck as he licked again at my face. I could not hold back the tears. Fuzzy had somehow escaped the clutches of the frigid river. I held him for a long while, finally pushing him away to take in my surroundings.

Daylight streamed through the one small window the cabin possessed. Across the room, a bed of glowing coals in the fireplace continued to throw heat out into the space before it. To my left was a door just to the right of the window, and against the wall to my right was a small table. Three small chairs made from tree branches cleverly lashed together stood at the table.

Painfully, my head swimming, I levered myself to a sitting position, dropping my feet to the floor. It was not easy, but I finally found a chamber pot under the bed and managed to relieve myself. During the process I noticed that my shaking hands were black. Frostbite. How bad I wondered? My fingers seemed to flex alright, but not without pain. Clearly I had lost some skin, and was going to lose some more, but I believed I would not have to suffer any amputations.

Exhausted from my activities I fell back on the bed and pulled the musty blankets about me. My right hand fell down to caress Fuzzy's head, where he now lay on the floor.

I awoke again when the cabin door opened and two men stepped in, brushing snow from their parkas as they did so. The second man, a stranger, looked in my direction as he removed the heavy garment. "He's awake!" The other man was the fellow who I had seen asleep in the chair. When? He moved over to me.

"This is Doc Walker. He's been checking in on you."

I nodded my head and cleared my throat. "Guess I owe everyone some thanks. Thank you," I managed to get out. "How long...?"

"I'm E. Allen Poe. I pulled you in eleven days ago." Eleven days! I was aghast. Doc Walker stepped over and took my left hand, turning it this way and that, scrutinizing it minutely.

"You had more going on then trying to freeze yourself to death. You've been suffering from some kind of virus, likely an influenza strain. The so-called Spanish flu has been killing people all over the world, so I guess you can consider yourself lucky. Not totally lucky, however." He held up my hand. "This has to come off." I jerked the hand from his in alarm.


Doc Walker chuckled. "Not the hand. Your left ring finger. That spot on the end looks gangerous to me. Let it go and we'll eventually have to remove your arm to save your life." I looked closely at the spot and sniffed it. Yes, there was a faint smell of putrification. I sighed.

"Okay, Doc. Do I come to your office?"

"Naw... Here will do just fine."

"Here?" I looked about the gloomy cabin.

"Well, I don't really have an office. For that matter, I'm not really a doctor. I just kind of got pressed into it by the boys after someone saw I knew how to apply a bandage." He saw the stricken look on my face. "Hey, don't let that bother you. I've gotten a hell of a lot of experience over the last couple of years, and I've a couple of books I've been reading to kinda get caught up on things."

"Doc's too modest," interjected Poe. "He's done a couple of abdominable surgeries, and as far as I know, the patients are still walking around." Walker had been rummaging about in his bag during the conversation and he finally found what he'd been searching for. He pulled forth a smoking pipe with a long stem and a tiny bowl. He next pulled out a small leather pouch. Opening the bag he reached in thumb and forefinger and extracted a pinch of material.

"Opium and tobacco," he explained. "I'll be quick, but you are going to hurt." I grimaced. Feeling a nudge on my arm I turned to see Poe standing there holding a water tumbler. It was filled with an amber liquid.

"Whiskey. It'll work better than that shit."

"Thanks." I took the tumbler. "I'll use both."

"That oughta do it," he said grinning. He watched as I took a deep, long pull. "Damn, you can drink. I was waiting for you to turn red over that crap."

"It's not too bad," I said. As a matter of fact, in my weakened condition the stuff was hitting me like a ton of bricks. I took another pull. "I'm afraid I'm not gonna be around to enjoy the fun." I giggled at my joke. "What's that for?" Poe was tying a stout cord to the wrist of my drinking arm.

"That's to make sure you don't punch the good doc when he starts cutting. I'm tying you up short. Just bend over this way a bit and you can still drink." He was right. I emptied the tumbler. Poe shook his head.

"Fellow, in about five minutes you are going to be blotto."

"Did I tell you my name? I'm Onsonfeld, and I appre...shate what you guys are doing for me. Except cutting on me. Don't like that a whole lot... Got any more that joy juice?" Poe fetched a bottle and filled the tumbler half up.

"That water hot yet, Allen?" asked Walker. Poe walked over to the fireplace and came back with a large, steaming kettle, setting it on the stand by the bed. That, and the fact that I could feel the doc tying my left arm down, ended my memories of that day.


"So your in training to accompany this Admiral Byrd to the south pole? Wadda ya want to go to the south pole for?" Poe's voice, a little slurred, barely made it over the noise of a piano and an older blonde woman screeching out a song. Amazingly, the only saloon/hotel in Stoney River sported a very opulent interior. A product of the times when the gold flowed more freely through the community. Riches came only with lots of work now. Poe expected to work several years before building up a nest egg to head south with.

"No one's done it before. Maybe we'll find tons of gold just laying about." I grinned at the sudden glimmer of interest in his eyes.

"No shit?! Ya, never thought of that. But hell, a prospector would have a hell of a time getting in and out of there without lots of support... Hey, why's your finger all wrapped up again?"

I held it up for inspection. "No real reason. Walker pulled the stitches out today and it bled a little. The bandage is to keep me from banging it into things... If you're interested, I have a little pull with the Byrd expedition and could get you a berth?"

"Haha. Me? Hell no! I hate the fucking ice and snow! I'm here to make a few bucks then I'm heading to where they have some decent fucking weather and..." There was a sudden flurry of motion and with an arm about my neck a young woman in a lot of dress swung into my lap, squeezing between me and the table with a little difficulty.

"Handsome man have an ow-ow," she asked impishly, putting her nose up to mine?

"I don't feel a thing now," I grinned in reply. I snaked an arm around her and grabbing her buttock, pulled her into a more comfortable position.

"Oh, little man very strong!"

"Oh, little woman fulla flattering bullshit. Wait until little woman meet my big man!" She laughed and getting off my lap pulled me to my feet.

"See ya in a few," I said to Poe, looking over my shoulder as she pulled me toward the steps leading upstairs. He nodded with a leer and watched me as I disappeared.

Sometime later I staggered back up to the table. "Jesus! Twenty bucks! The price of pussy has gone up." Poe rolled his eyes upwards and motioned to someone standing a couple feet away. I looked and my jaw dropped.

An absolutely stunning creature, her delicate face framed by the very expensive wolf-hide parka that she peered out of, framed by black hair, sent a tingle through me. I knew I had never before beheld such a beautiful woman. It was a face that turned disproving when she turned to look at me. I threw up my hands with a sigh and looked questioningly at Poe.

"Ah, Onsonfeld, meet Miss Celia Taine. I was just explaining to her that you were the dog man." I bowed and pulled out a chair.

"Have a seat, M-Miss Taine," I stuttered.

"No thank you. I prefer to stand."

"Suit yourself," I shrugged. "I gotta sit." I collapsed in the chair.

"I take it you have been working hard," she sneered? I found the tone of her voice out of place and annoying.

"Pleasurable work, I can assure you." I felt like I had just reclaimed the moral high ground. She looked like she was about to make another crack, then caught herself.

"So what gives?" I inquired of Allen, as I poured a tumbler half full of Yukon Gold, a substance that passed for whiskey here.


"Miss Taine needs an escort into the mountains. She'll buy the team, supplies and pay you one hundred dollars a day." I whistled between my teeth and glanced again at the standing woman.

"Why so much? She could get anyone for a tenth of that," I asked, puzzled? Allen looked up at the woman with a cocked eyebrow. She hesitated a moment, then moved around and sat down in the chair whose back she had been grasping.

"I had a bad experience with the fellow I hired last year. I need someone I can trust." Suddenly, she looked vulnerable and unsure of herself. I had a feeling there was more behind her reaction to my dallying then just life style disapproval. The woman had either been hurt, or was a very good actress. "You look like someone I can t-trust." I didn't know what my face was showing, but she must have taken it negatively for she burst out with, "And as additional payment you get to keep the dog team!" I held up my hand.

"Whoa, lady. Slow down before you give away the store." I leaned back in my chair, studying her. "I admit, you are in the right place at the right time. I've been kind of vegitating here, recovering from injuries. I even need a team. Tell me more."

"We'll leave here heading northwest on the Rainbow Loop trail. As you may know, that leads to Malamute pass?" I nodded.

"I was headed that way from here before I fell into the river." She looked puzzled, but continued.

"I've taken this route before, but there is a possibility I went too far." Her voice had trailed off almost as if she was talking to herself.

"Too far for what?"

She looked up. "Too far for what I'm looking for."

"And what are you looking for?" She smiled at the question.

"That will remain my secret. But I'll know it when I've found it." I shrugged my shoulders. She went on. "I want to leave the day after tomorrow.' It was my turn to raise my eyebrows.

"We'll have to do our shopping tomorrow."

"Indeed. I'll meet you here early." She pushed her chair back and stood up, extending her hand across the table. "It was nice to have met you, Mr...?"

"Onsonfeld." I stood up also and took her hand. "Till tomorrow morning..."

Poe and I watched her pass through the doors then we sat down.

"What was that all about, Allen?"

"I don't know. I know she has been coming here for the last three years I've been here, hiring a team and mushing out. Roy," he nodded at the bar tender, "told me that something she said once led him to believe she was hunting for an old homestead."

I started as unbidden a thought flowed through my mind. "Help her find her home, Onson..." Where in the hell had that come from? Poe was still talking.

"Roy says she is filthy rich. She is supposed to have a diamond mine or something to do with jewels. She comes up every year at this time and mushes out. It's all kind of weird and mysterious."

"What happened last year?"

"Fella named Jeb Langley took her out last year. Two days later he stumbled into town with a bullet in his guts. He said the lady had gone crazy, drew down on him, then shot herself. He claimed that in his state he wasn't sure where all this had taken place. Unfortunately, for him, Miss taine staggered into town the next day, claimed that he had tried to rape her. Jeb died shortly thereafter, and as part of his story was obviously false, no charges were brought."

"Whew! And here she is again... She's either very stubborn, or she's searching for a very valuable prize."

"I've had the same thought," said Poe, his finger rubbing the side of his nose. "A lost mine or something? Maybe she was sold a map by some con man." He chuckled.

"Maybe. She doesn't look too easy to fool, however." I stood up, pushing back my chair. "I'll get a room in town, Allen. Sounds like she expects me to be here when the cock crows." I shook his hand. "I'll see ya later." He nodded and I strode through a connecting door into the hotel lobby. There was a sign there that read, "Grab a key. Pay in the morning." I took number twenty-seven and went up the stairs.


"How about this one?" Celia turned to me, pointing at one of three sleds in a row parked against the back of the smithee's shed. With the hood down, her inky black hair rippled over her shoulders like water. I suddenly understood Jeb Langley a little better.

"No." I walked up to the sled she had indicated. "These all have too much metal for the trail. They're okay for commuting a couple of miles to town on broken roads, but they're much too rigid for the rigors of the mountains." I turned to the smithee, a large, red-haired Irishman named Shawn O'Clair, a man I had traded drinks with a couple of days before, who stood looking on. "Anything else, Shawn?"

"Got an older sled inside, but it needs a little work on the binding." He went into the smith and returned shortly, dragging out the vehicle.

"See all these rawhide bindings?" I pointed them out to the woman. "This sled has give. Fall down the side of a mountain and it will likely still be in shape to carry you to your destination. Those high-metal sleds will turn to junk on a rough trail."

"Well, I hope we aren't going to fall off any mountains..." She stopped as it became obvious that I was counting something as I inspected the conveyance. "What are you doing?"

"Counting the brass - bolts, screws. An old superstition among the prospectors says that if the sled has more than six, then it isn't reliable."

"You believe in that?"

I hesitated, then replied. "Six is as good a cut-off as any. Seems to work. Anymore than that and you'd be using screws where you need rawhide." I could feel her eyes on me as I turned back to the smithee.

"Can you redo these bindings before morning? I know you'll be working late on it, but we'll pay you extra."

"No problem. It'll be like new come morning."

"Thanks." I looked across the yard at the penned dogs. "Anything I need to know about the canines?"

"Good dogs, all. But they haven't been worked in a while. They're raring to go, but I'd cut short the first couple of days."

I nodded. "You can cut out the lead dog, I won't be using him."

"Is that wise? I assume you are going to use a spike strange to the team?"

"I am. I'm not anticipating any problems after the first few hours. My dog won't take any challenges to his authority." The three of us walked over to the pen to study the dogs, who immediately begin howling their complaint about being behind wire.

"Ten dogs with mine," I said, turning to Taine. "That's all the dogs I want to handle, and more than enough to pull our freight." The woman nodded, although I'm not sure she understood as she had her mittened hands over her ears.

"Why do they always have to howl like that?" she grimiced.

"Huskies can't really bark. The howl is their normal mode of communication."

After selecting all of the necessary tach, we bid our adieus to Mr. O'Clair, and headed down to the general store to purchase our supplies. I had a checklist so the task went rather swiftly. It was with approval that I notice Celia bought no worthless junk to take along. Then I remembered that she had probably learned this on the trail, having headed out at least twice before. In little more than an hour I walked her back to the hotel, and we promised to meet inside over eggs and coffee just before daybreak the following morning. A light snow was falling as I walked out of town to go spend my final evening with Poe.


"We'll make the pass tomorrow if this wind lets up." I leaned forward, holding the flask out to her.

"No thanks. I don't drink," she said quietly. The flapping of the tent almost hide her words. The candle, secure in its glass holder, swung wildly from the center rail of the tent. "Are we going to be okay?" I realized then that she was scared.

"Sure. This will blow over in a few hours and morning will bring a whole new, sun-shiney day. ...A nip of this will make you feel better. " I held out the flask again. To my surprise, this time she took it. Without hesitation she tipped it up and took too big a swallow. I grabbed the flask before her convulsive coughing could cause her to drop it.

"That's horrible crap," she finally managed to grind out. I grinned.

"If the storm blows over before morning, we should be in the upper reaches of the pass by noon." She looked up, her pixie face framed in her thick black hair. I felt warm and fuzzy just looking at her.

"I thought you said the storm would be over by morning?"

"Well, that's my guess, but one never knows for sure."

She was silent for a moment, then, "Give me that flask again." I passed it over.

"That's all there is. I just carry that for emergencies."

"This is an emergency." This time, however, she took only a small sip and returned the container.

The wind howled all the next day and Celia sat glowering at me. The whiskey was all gone. That night there was a lull in the wind and while checking on the team I managed to shoot a fox whose eyes I had seen gleaming in my lamp's light. It wasn't much, but it would help a little towards saving on the dog stores. They had it ripped apart and eaten before I got back into the tent.

Quarters were tight and it was difficult straightening out my sleeping bag while sitting on it. Celia lay in hers, her back to me. I made a mental groan as the wind slowly picked up and the tent walls resumed their flapping. I knew this enforced cowering from the elements was taking it's toll on her. I removed my parka and insulated pants, and spreading them over the bag, crawled inside it. Surely tomorrow would bring better weather. I reached for the candle lamp - and her hand grabbed mine. I looked down into her dark eyes.

"Do you have a rubber?"

"," I stammered, taken back.

There was a short pause, then she said, "So be it." Raising up, she slipped her feet into my bag and wiggled in. I could feel the heat from her body through my clothes, even though she wore some heavy long johns. "You don't have to do this. We're going to be fine," I protested, rather weakly.

"Shut up. I'm not scared. I'm bored." She slipped her hand behind my head and pulled my lips down to hers.

It was a long, wonderful night, and I found I was disappointed when she shook me awake to exclaim that the sun was shining. I would have been content to spend another day in the tent dallying. Dressing, I dug us out from under the night's snow, fed the dogs, and after a small breakfast for Celia and myself, stowed everything on the sled. Tucking the woman in between the handle bars, I gave her a small kiss, and while she returned it, I was surprised that it held little warmth. Crestfallen, I set the dogs to moving, wondering who she had made love to during the night while using my body.

Vexed, I drove the dogs and myself pretty hard, making only a few short stops to rest the canines, have a drink of water, and to pass the woman a couple of pieces of jerky. So it came to pass that rounding a corner, we were almost startled to see the small frozen lake that marked the summit of the Malamute. It was 2:00pm, long passed time for a little lunch and toiletries. I set things up and started a can of Heat.

We survey Little Malamute Mtn. from Malamute Lake.

"Some bacon and beans," I asked?

"Yes," came the reply from the little privacy curtain I had set up. "And some hot coffee. I'm freezing my arse off!" I grinned. Taking a dump could be a problem at freezing temperatures, and the pass was at forty-nine hundred feet. Only rarely was Malamute lake completely free of ice, and then only for a very short time in August.

Soon we were both eating, holding our plates as we leaned back against the sled. The air temperature was freezing, but the sun on our faces made us feel warm. We both ate with our gloves off.

"Well, lady...Malamute pass. Ahead, about a day and a half, lies Yellow Leg, a small community of trappers and indians. About three days beyond Yellow Leg is Healy. One can catch a train to Fairbanks at Healy." She cleaned up her plate then replied as she scrub it with snow.

"We're not going any further north, Mr. Onsonfeld." I was surprised.

"We're heading back?"

"No. We're going west, around the south end of the lake."


"And then around the slope on that small mountain."

"Little Malamute mountain, and no, we can't go that way."

"Why not?"

"The slope. The dogs might pull us straight up the mountain, but trying to go around it on that slope is asking for trouble. If the sled loses its grip and starts sliding downhill, it could drag the dogs to their deaths. Ours also, for that matter."

She turned to me and pushed her parka hood to the back of her neck. I could see a heartfelt plea coming on. "Onsonfeld, I have searched all the easy spots. I have no choice now but to search the difficult."

"I'm sorry, but I'm not risking the dogs and ourselves. Why not come back in the summer, come up here on horseback, and hike back in there for a looksee." She looked at him a long moment before replying.

"I can't explain, but I must only find my goal at this time of the year - and we've already wasted precious time on the slopes below. I have a feeling about this. Maybe this time is it. You must take me beyond Little Malamute Mountain."

I shook my head slowly. She gazed at me a moment more, then turned to the sled and begin to undo the supplies lashings.

"What are you doing," I asked?

"I'm making up a pack. I'm going to walk in."

"Don't be silly. Start making sense, else I'm going to tie you to this sled and take you back to Stoney River." She straightened slowly and turned to me.

"Let's get something straight. I have to do this. I'm also the sponser and final authority of this trip. Is that clear?"

I pursed my lips and looked across the frozen lake. "And I'm responsible for our safety. We're not going around the mountain."

"I'm sorry you feel that way." Something in the tone of her voice made me look back at her. Her arm was extended and in her hand was a small, silver-plated pistol. It was aimed at me.

"I'm sorry you feel that way."

"Move over to that rock and sit down." She gestured at a large, ice-covered boulder to my right and behind me.

"Celia, this is bullshit! Quit aiming that thing at me." Not believing she was serious I stepped forward. There was a loud crack, and the bullet entered my chest, high on the left side. The impact, while light, caused me to lose my footing on the icey ground, and I spun about, landing heavily on my stomach. The wind knocked from me, I fought for a breath. A gut-shot Jeb Langley came into my thoughts, and I quickly rolled over, expecting a second bullet.

None came. I crawled over and got behind the rock she had indicated earlier - the one I should have sat on without protesting. Looking over I saw that she was not interested in me, but was finishing up with the pack. I opened my parka and shirt and grinned. The little .25 slug, after burrowing through my winter clothes, had embedded in my skin - about half way between the nipple and the top of the shoulder. Inconsequential, but I decided it would probably be best to not let her know that.

I grabbed the lead between thumb and forefinger and yanked. It's amazing how tightly the skin can hold an object that has penetrated it. I had pulled my hide out to a long point before the slug popped free. The blood flowed freely for a bit, then I wadded up my handerchief and put it against it. Over this I put my insulated glove, then buttoned my shirt back up. The wound burned like fire.

Through it all she only glanced at me once or twice - just to make sure I was not about to jump her, I guess. Not a chance of that. Even a .25 slug would kill if you took one in the head. What I did do was gather my feet beneath me, ready to bolt if she should decide it was in her best interest to finish me off.

Slipping her arms through the pack straps and buckling the belt, she gave me one final look, and put the pistol into her parka pocket.

"Don't follow me" she ordered without emotion. I said nothing, and she turned and moved off across the frozen lake.

I waited until she was about a hundred yards away, then made my way to the sled. Sure enough, she had not touched my rifle. I slid it out of its oilskin, slipped in one round, and took careful aim. I wanted her to know I could kill her at any time. I fired into the lake ice about twenty feet to the right and beyond her.

She never even paused or so much as turned around. That's when I realized she had me figured out and felt perfectly safe leaving the rifle intact. It was going to make it damn difficult to run her down and get her back to Stony River. I could not leave her here as she would probably succumb to the elements. Even if I did, too many people knew about our leaving together. They would probably haul me in on something or other, suspecting foul play. Might as well play the patsy.

I dug out the first aid kit, and after I dressed my wound properly, I tied the sled securely with a rope around a large rock. No doubt, if I was too long at this, the dogs would chew themselves free and head back on the trail. I threw them a goodly quantity of the meat and the rest of the stores I tossed up out of reach atop a large boulder. At least I hoped they were out of reach. I would need them to get back to Stoney River.

She would know I followed, but I wanted to build a small bit of doubt in her mind. Somewhere, I would have to waylay her, and that doubt might make it easier for me to set up an ambush. Clearly, talking her into returning, at least at this time, was not an option. So I fixed myself a good meal while I took my time making up my own pack.

I was pretty-well laden when I set out. I had included the tent and one sleeping bag, along with plenty of consumables. I carried the rifle, wrapped in its oilskin. I would not be in a hurry, so the weight would not prove to be too onerous. I knew the woman did not have that much snowshoe time, and until one learned the 'shuffle' they could be quite tiring. I set out on her tracks.

I could no longer see her. She had crested a ridge on the flanks of the mountain and had disappeared to the other side. It took me an hour to reach the ridge, and I climbed over it warily. The woman could be unpredictable, as I well knew now. Her tracks continued on around the slope, and I resumed my pace. Much to my chagrin, a light fall of tiny snow flakes begin. There was no danger of it covering her tracks soon, but it raised hell with my visibility ahead. Surprises could lurk in the mist.

I got my first surprise while crossing a stretch of hardpan - well-packed snow that one didn't sink into. There lay her snow shoes! I was puzzled. She knew better than that. Sure enough, another hundred feet on she encountered soft snow and the signs showed she had to flounder her way. There was a chance I would catch up to her before nightfall after all. I moved on at my deliberate pace.

Rounding a large boulder, where the terrain below it was particularly steep, I suddenly found myself looking up a small canyon, or maybe it became a wash when things warmed up. The snow had thickened, but I could make out a dark object on the ground ahead in the dimming light. It was her pack. Had the woman gone completely nuts? I peered through the falling snow warily. Shuffling forward slowly I moved upwards. I could still see her tracks, and suddenly they swerved off to the right and went up the steep side of the gulch. As I started to climb I heard her curse somewhere above, and a shower of small pebbles and snow bounced down towards me. She was not having an easy time of it up there. The thick snowfall made it impossible to see what went on above, but I called anyhow.

"Celia!" There was no answer. "Celia!" If I had any doubts before they were settled now. I was dealing with a deranged woman. Again I debated leaving her to her fate, and again I decided against it. I begin climbing the slope, following her sign. That way, if she got stuck I would come upon her. If she did not I wouldn't be taking a route that might lead to a dead end of my own.

I'm not too fond of heights and as the slope steepened rapidly I was glad the snowfall hid the ground below. I also was not overjoyed at the thought of catching up with a woman with a pistol who had already shot me once - the burning in my chest a constant reminder. To say I was pissed at my situation said far too little.

Very quickly the slope turned into a climb where I was looking carefully where to place a foot and get a hand hold. And now I could see the woman above me, gingerly pulling herself up out of sight onto a ledge. I stifiled a call to her. I was too close to that pistol and in a position where I could not dodge if I had to. I climbed to the ledge, poking my head up for a look slowly.

That's when the weirdness begin.

Before me lay the mouth of a cave a little more than man-high. There was no sign of Celia. Obviously, she had gone in. For the first time I had the thought that maybe she had some idea of where she was going. What raised the hair on the back of my neck, however, was a very low thrumming sound issuing from the open. What it could be I had no idea, but there was something ominous in it.

I gained my feet and moved forward. The noise grew louder. A lot like the rapid strumming of a string on a bass, it continued to gather strength. Frankly, I was more than a little uneasy. Something strange was going on and my heart thudded in my chest. Inside, I became aware of a dim blue glow ahead. It waxed and waned with the rythym of a heart beat, and with each beat it grew brighter and the strumming grew more strident. A bend in the cave hid the source of the activity and I stepped carefully over the rocky debris on the floor until I could see. What I saw caused my eyes to widen incredulously!

The cave opened onto a wide, room-like area, about seventy-five feet across. In the center, from a depression, issued what seemed to be a pulsating blue flame that towered to a height of twenty feet. After a closer look I realized it was not fire, although as to its true nature I had not a clue. Inside the haze I could see writhing tentacles of a more solid blue than the cloudy fog about it. I had never seen anything like it in my life, but I knew instinctively that it was not natural.

The tentacles seemed to be reaching out then receding, but mostly in one direction - towards Celia, who stood on a nearby rock - removing her clothes. Clearly, she was an attractant to whatever lay in the flame.

"Celia! Get back! Get back!" She straightened up and looked my way with a smile, the light playing on her naked body in a ghastly fashion. The tentacles of blue kept reaching for her and retreating. She raised a hand, and blowing me a kiss, stepped forward to the flame. The writhing bands seemed to sense her nearness and they snaked out, coiling about her body in an obscenely, senuous manner. I rushed forward, but she was lifted from the floor and pulled within the upward flowing torrent. I saw her spinning slowly for a moment, then she disappeared, her long black hair the last thing I could see.

Stupified, it took me a moment to realize that I was now the object of interest to the presence in the flame. A tentacle slowly snaked about my lower leg, another curling about my left arm. In horror I felt something passing into me - coming through my clothes and very skin. A force that in its very pleasent sensation, still terrified me. I kicked and struggled, but it held me firm, pulling not ungently. I dug in my free foot and clutched a nearby boulder. It would not have me, whatever it was, while I had the means to resist.

Suddenly I was free and I almost toppled over a railing pressing against my hips. Everything had changed. The sight before me was so different that it took my mind a moment to comprehend what I looked at.


I peered down from a great height. Below me was a rolling veldt peppered with trees. I could see a herd of large animals. I gasped for air from the shock, my mind refusing to deal with what was happening. Finally, I got control of my muscles and staggered back from the wooden railing that had stopped me from toppling into the void.

"Glenn. I think Onson's having one of his fits." The female voice came from behind me and I turned slowly, still taking ragged breaths. The scene started to make some sense. I stood on the deck of what appeared to be a small, sea-going vessel. In the middle of the craft a man was feeding some sticks to a boiler flame. To the left of the boiler stood a man and woman, looking at me. Raising my eyes up I beheld a giant balloon above us. The boat was actually some kind of aireal craft.

"You okay, Pop," asked the man standing next to the woman? My brain was starting to function, but not to the extent that I was ready to deal with conversation. Where was I? How did I get here? Who were these people? My mind gave in to the shock and I felt myself falling to the deck in a swoon.


When I awoke I was bitterly cold. I lay in the pit where the blue 'fire' had twisted upwards. It was gone. Celia was gone. The vision I had so clearly was gone. Could it have been something real? Where had celia gone, transported in the heart of the flame? My head hurt. I got to my feet, cold and exhausted, and staggered from the cave.

The dogs still lay where I had left them and after pitching them some meat I set out for Stoney River. I timed my final day's travel so as to pass through the community in the wee hours of the morning. I did not want to be questioned by anyone. I went straight to Poe's where, staggering through the door, I told him I needed sleep, and falling into the fireside chair, went out like a light.

Late that afternoon I was awakened by a gentle shaking. It was doc Walker. He removed the dressing I had put on the wound, replacing it with a band aid. "You just don't want to be rubbing the scab off," he had said. When I awoke again it was late in the night, but Poe sat at the table, looking at me, a tendril of smoke curling up from the pipe in his hand. He got up and threw a couple hunks of wood onto the fire.

"Okay, what's the story?" he asked, sitting back down.

"You won't believe it," I said. He just shrugged. So I told him everything that had happened, leaving nothing out. When I finished speaking there was a long moment of silence, then Poe stirred.

"Men see funny things out on the snow, under stress." He set out a couple of glasses and poured whiskey into each one. "Maybe you were under a lot of stress?" He handed me a glass.

"I was, but not that much. I told you the story was unbelievable"

"It is, but you believe it. What do you want me to do?"

"I want you to go into town in the morning and get me some traveling supplies. I'm lighting out of here back to the south." He nodded.

The hands of the clock were almost straight up before I was ready to go the following day. I shook Poe's hand.

"I owe you a lot, Edgar."

"Hey, maybe someday we'll meet again and you can buy me another drink."

I grinned at that and reached into my parka. "I drew a map while you were in town. Sometime when you have nothing better to do, take a trip up to the Malamute and check things out."

"I will. And I'll write. Take care." I turned to the dogs and shouted them into motion, giving Poe a final wave as I moved down the trail.


I put my thoughts of Poe, Alaska, and the strange events that had befallen me so many years ago, out of my mind. I at least understood them slightly better now.

The trail along the lake had begin to climb upwards. Ahead I could see a mountain, its top hidden in clouds. I hoped we were not going to tackle that. I was already weary. And that turned out to be the case, but what we did tackle was almost as bad.

The trail now hugged a cliffside hundreds of feet above the surf crashing into the rocks below. When we came to a wide spot, Captain Wayne called for a welcome rest.

"I hope this goes on through and we don't have to go back and up the mountain," mused Glenn.

"It does go on through," I said. Glenn raised his eyebrows.

"How do you know?"

"Some of these step-up areas are not natural. They were hewn out of the rock by people."

"I'll be damned. I never noticed, but if people made this then it has to go somewhere..." His voice trailed off, then, "Jesus! Look at that!" He was pointing up the coast. The mists of distance had cleared and we could see, possibly, a distance of forty miles. Just where the coastline disappeared in the haze, a dark pinnicle stood off-shore. Its height had to be incredible - maybe a quarter mile - yet it was relatively slim.

"That does not look like a natural feature, at least not from here," I offered.

"It isn't," said Captain Wayne. We all turned to look at him. "That's the Black Tower, our goal."

"Maybe now is a good time to come clean," I suggested.

"It is. I only kept you all in the dark to make sure of your participation in the expedition. You wouldn't have come on the evidence I had." He fished a lighter and cigar out of his shirt pocket and set the latter alight as we waited for him to continue.

"A man came to me. A ragged man. A bum. I only listened to him because he was an acquaintance from my youth." He spit a piece of tobacco to the ground. "I discounted what he had to tell me, and ignored his story. He had no proof, and he only kept prattling on about a 'great prize' refusing to let me in on what it was. And I'll tell you right now, I still don't know." We all glanced around at each other as Wayne continued. "But I became convinced that indeed, some great prize did exist. Because Gerald Murr, that was his name, was so tireless in his efforts to get me to mount an expedition, I ran a check on him. Seems that part of his story was true. He had worked for the government in an African country for a number of years. Still, I remained unconvinced without more to go on. Then one day he showed up looking as if the hounds of hell were on his trail - and I guess they were. He told me that 'they' had found him, and that he was doomed. He pressed this map on me." Wayne waved the paper in the air. "Then, with a laconic grin, he told me that the prize was mine - if I had the guts to go get it." After mulling his visit over, I came to the conclusion that I did indeed believe him. I decided that the following day, if he didn't show up, I'd search him out, but I was too late. He was found in the wee hours of the morning, his throat ripped out as if by a wild beast. That clinched it for me. I saw the man. His story was true."

"Well," I nodded to the north, "it's a damned sure thing that something is here." But I quailed inside at the thought of the night we had heard the devil pass by in the dark. What was the connection of that with the dark tower ahead? I kept my misgivings to myself, but I was pretty sure that everyone was having the same thoughts. "Do we have any idea at all what the 'prize' could be?"

Wayne shook his head. "Nothing. Gerald left not the slightest clue. I'm leveling with you. And I'll keep on leveling with you, because I have a very bad feeling about the tower." He hung his head. "My feeling has gotten so bad that I've come to the conclusion that maybe it would be best for our party if we bypass the tower. Give it up... make our way home."

"Some good men have died for the prize already," I pointed out.

"True, but that doesn't mean more have to die. I've just got this feeling the worse is yet to come. Let's move on. We'll find a suitable camping spot, sleep, then vote on what to do in the morning. "

"That works for me," muttered Melody, picking up her pack.

Before nightfall we had made it off the cliff face. The cliff continued, but not as high, and the trail turned inland to bypass the rigors of it and the ravines associated with it. When we pitched camp it was under the leafy boughs of a forest canopy. After helping to gather a little firewood, I sat against a tree, and my head quickly nodded to the buzz of conversation and the crackling of the fire. I was awakened by Glenn. He held a plate of pork and beans with a slice of bread out to me.

"Nothing but fart berries tonight," he grinned. I smiled as I took the plate. The fare was surprisingly good, and I realized I had eaten little during the day. The next time I awoke it was almost pitch dark and Glenn had hold of my arm.

"Sssh. Something moving out in the brush." Embers from the fire lingered, but they threw off insufficient light to show our surroundings. Glenn crawled off toward where Captain Wayne had bedded down. There was a whispered conversation, then a spark as the Captain used his lighter to light his lamp. Its glow spread across the camp. We heard a commotion off in the brush toward the lake then a voice shouted out.

"Hello! Hey there!" I grinned to myself. I knew that voice.

"What the fuck!" yelled Glenn. "It's Mike! Mike! Over here!" There was more shouting back and forth then the Bosun, followed by Tombora, beat their way out of the brush and into the light.

"Goddamn! Thought you were both dead," said Glenn, throwing his arms around Mike. Tombora looked over at me and raised a weary hand. I replied likewise, and he stumbled over to sit on the ground next to the fire Melody was busy building up.

"We need some food, man. Got some food?" asked Mike, as he also joined Tombora on the ground before the fire. Then he spied the pot, still hanging above the glow. He took it off the stick and looked inside. The leftover pork and beans were cold, but he didn't hesitate, plunging in his hand and grabbing what he could hold. He handed the pot to Tombora who did the same thing. Glenn tore the pan bread that remained into two hunks and passed that over to them.

"Last I saw of you," said the Captain, "you were disappearing under the surface of the lake with the ship's boiler on top of you. How did you get free?"

Even from a distance we could see an entrance into the dark tower.

"Man, it was a moment of sheer horror! The boiler landed on my legs. If the lake bottom hadn't been muddy they would have crushed. Even so, I was unable to pull my legs free. Then suddenly, there was Tombora. He lifted the boiler just enough to allow me to extricate myself. He saved my life." He nodded at the big black man. It was clear that a new relationship existed between the two men. I smiled to myself.

"When we surfaced we yelled and yelled, but heard nothing over the wind. We could see nothing through the rain. We grabbed some lumber that came from the Melanie and made a kind of raft. It was two days before we made shore. That's about it. What about you guys? What's been going on?"

As the good Captain brought the weary survivors up to date, I let my tired eyelids drop and drifted into slumber.


It was surprisingly cold at daybreak, and there was little more than grunts and monosyllables from the party members until breakfast had been consumed and hands were wrapped around steaming cups. Then the captain called everyone to the fire.

"We are very happy that two of our party we thought dead are here with us once again. Still, it has been a harsh venture, and a fatal one for Poe and others. And an innocent girl and the man in black are here in the wilderness somewhere. Further, I cannot shake the feeling that the worst is yet to come. We'll vote on it, but my reccommendation is that we bypass the Black Tower and make our way home. We can do our best to find Melanie and the man in black as we pass through the area where we left them."

"That won't do for me." It was the bosun speaking. We looked at him, waiting for him to go on.

"I'm here to find my daughter. If I didn't find her out there," he waved at the jungle expanse, "I'd only return to search the tower. " He got to his feet and walking back and forth, confronting the assembly. "We also heard the tortured souls in the night." He gestured at Tombora. "And it filled us with dread. Let's be honest. That's the real reason for the cold feet here - not that our comrades have fallen." Captain Wayne looked at the ground without answering.

"Prize or no prize, I'll be checking out this tower." He returned to where he had been sitting and sat down.

"I'll be accompanying the bosun." I was surprised to hear my own voice, my decision was so rapid. "I must unravel the mystery presented by this tower."

"You got us into this," Glenn said, "no point getting chickenshit now, Wayne. Ha ha."

"Fuck you!" growled the Captain. "And Melody, Tombora?"

Melody shrugged. "We've come a long ways. The prize has to be worth something. Let's go get it." Everyone turned to look at Tombora.

"I'll go wherever the wiz... wherever Onsonfeld goes."

"Then it's settled. Let's get this camp packed up." He threw the cigar into the fire.

We knew the trail had to be used by humans and animals because of its good condition, and the feces we saw ever so so often. Sometimes we could see tracks in low wet spots - usually of large cats and monkeys. Only once did we see a human track. We easily were making 10-15 miles a day. We could have done better but saw no purpose in pushing it. We hoped to be on the beach opposite the tower on the morning of the third day. It was about noon of the second day that we had an interesting encounter. We had shed our packs, which were a lot lighter now that we had the bosun and Tombora to help, and had settled back against trees bordering the trails. The Captain had just lit up a cigar when he looked up and froze.

"Jesus H. Christ! What the hell is that, Onson?" About two hundred feet up the trail stood a tall, thin, man-like creature. The problem was his face was as much chimp-like as man-like, and its body, with the exception of its face and chest, was covered with hair. It (we couldn't tell if it was male or female) stood fully erect, and seemed as surprised to see us as we were to see it. In its right hand it held a long stick its point on the ground. It was a walking stick, I realized.

The tableau held but a moment, then the creature fluidly turned to its right and disappeared into the trees. The captain and I, with Tombora trailing behind, walked up to where the creature had stood. There was an odor present and while I couldn't quite place it, the smell made me uneasy. Maybe the thing had marked its territory and something in our cellular history remembered this activity. I say that because it was clear the creature was some kind of link between humans and their past. I had read the evolutionary theories proposed by Wallace about a year before, and this creature clearly supported Wallace's work.

We did not get another look at it, and knowing nothing of its temperament, decided it best to make no effort to follow. When we returned to the group Glenn was busy checking his pistol.

"That thing is perfectly capable of throwing rocks and, for that matter, spears. I think we'd best be prepared for anything." He slipped the pistol into its holster at his side.

"If this trail keeps angling south we are going to be getting further and further from the lake." We looked at the good Captain who was studying his compass. "And we won't be making the beach opposite the tower tomorrow morning if we must hack through that foilage north of the trail." He looked at me questioningly.

"We should be able to keep heading in this direction at least for the rest of today before we start drawing away from our goal. Maybe we'll get lucky and the trail will turn in our favor," I suggested. The Captain nodded.

"Makes sense to me," he agreed. We picked up our packs and continued on, paying a lot more attention to our surroundings then we had before we had sighted the man-like ape. About two hours later we came upon the village.

"What's that yuck smell," ask Melody? Apparently Glenn knew, as his face had gone ashen white. The village consisted of about a dozen thatched huts arranged in a circle, and in the center was a community fire pit, long since dead, and the source of the smell lay alongside it. What was left was maggot infested and hardly recognizable, but it was human. We found what appeared to be the remains of a mother and child in one of the huts, and remains of two or three more individuals nearby in the brush.

I tapped Captain Wayne on the shoulder. "Best to let nature have them. There is a danger of disease here. And I believe that's our trail to the beach." I pointed north. Two trails exited the village besides the one we had come in on. That trail continued west. But the other led north, and it seemed reasonable, from the clamshell and fish remains evident near the community fire, that much of the village's larder came from the lake. The captain nodded.

"What the hell went down here? Who attacked these people?" He shook his head.

"Most likely another tribe," I answered. "But we'll never know, I suppose."

No one was anxious to linger in the village of death, so we pushed north on the new trail. At dusk we set up camp in a somber mood - not because of the spectacle of death in the village, but because just over the jungle trees we could see the distant top of the dark tower. There was something ominous and evil in the way it dominated the skyline in the dying light. We were thankful when darkness was complete and it had disappeared from our view.

The sun had not risen far when we stood under the trees looking across the beach and the half mile of water that separated us from the tower. From this distance we could see the waves breaking on the rocks where the structure stood. The party stood silent, mezmerized by the spectacle. After a long moment, the Captain spoke. "No one is to go out onto the beach where they would be clearly visible. We'll set up camp back in that gully we traversed. Our night time fire won't be visible far from in there. No fire during daylight hours. The smoke could be seen for miles."

"What about those?" I asked, pointing at several dark shapes up the beach that appeared to be rolling in the surf. Captain Wayne lifted his binoculars.

"Jesus! It looks like... bodies! They are bodies!" He handed me the glasses and I could see that they were dead blacks. I counted seven. "I want everyone to carry a firearm at all time," the Captain went on, raising his voice. After peering through the binoculars, even Melody didn't hesitate to strap on a holster with a revolver.

The Captain turned to me. "Any ideas on how to build the raft?"

"Let's keep it simple. We have to be able to row it and not be at the mercy of the wind. How many people going out?"

"How about three of us - me, Glenn, and Mike?"

I shook my head. "I'm going."

"Okay, you, me and Glenn then."

"Bullshit!" roared the bosun. "I'm going out."

"So am I." It was Melody that spoke. I sighed.

"Dumb to risk so many of the party." I shook my head. "But maybe we can work this to our advantage." I pulled the good Captain to the side and spoke low. After a moment he nodded his head. Then he addressed the group.

"Everyone's going." There was a satisfied rustle from the group. "But only because Onsonfeld has come up with a plan that makes sense to me. But we'll take some time to mull it over - there may be better alternatives. For now, we'll go back and set up camp."

Even though the rafts were simple it took two days to build them for lack of proper tools. Four six inch logs, fifteen feet long, made up the main body, lashed with our meager rope supply. One ten foot log was set outrigger fashion. With three people on each raft it would have been difficult to stay upright without the outrigger log. Luckily, most of the logs were dead falls and fairly dry. And we had company. Some dog-sized, otter-like animals with long beaks played constantly just off-shore. They seemed to enjoy our presence.

Strange otter-like animals played along the shore

The plan was simple. Captain Wayne, Glenn and myself would take the first raft out. Then, like soldiers held in reserve, when we gained the rocks at the tower, the second party, Mike, Melody and Tombora, would launch. We estimated an hour to make the trip with our makeshift paddles.

Glenn shook me awake at 3am, and we gathered our gear and made our way to the beach. There was no Moon, but the stars were so brillient, aided by the glow of the planet Venus just coming up, that we had no trouble making out the lake and the tower. We dragged the first raft down to the water, and making sure our weapons were secure on our persons, piled on without further ado, and set our paddles to the water. I was rather pleased with the way the raft sped through the water. The trip woud likely be substantially less than the estimated hour. Our comrades who would follow us later were quickly lost in the shadows along the shore.


We floated silently, about a hundred feet from the tower. It was clear now, even in the darkness, that the narrow opening we had seen from the far shore, actually extended down to the water. A channel led through through the rock to the inside.

"Do we paddle in," whispered Glenn?

"No," replied Captains Wayne, in a low voice. "Take me over to the side about fifty feet, and I'll make my way in on the rocks. If all looks alright, I'll signal you guys to paddle in." No one argued with him and we paddled up to the jambled boulders that made up the base of the island.

"Doesn't look natural," I observed. "They look deposited, like jetty rock."

Glenn nodded as he helped the Captain off the raft and onto a rock. "Creepy, is what it is."

"Give me the lamp," said Wayne. Glenn handed him the flash. "See you guys inside," He turned and started climbing over the boulders. We kept pace with him in the water, and then waited as he reached the top of the rock at the opening. Gingerly, he moved slowly to look inside past the door frame. Then we saw him get down on his knees, looking at something near his feet. Straightening, he made his way down the rock to us.

"You aren't gonna believe this," he whispered! "The fucking tower walls are only a quarter of an inch thick, and they slice right down through the rock like they are a part of it!" I looked up the side of the thing. It must have been fifteen hundred feet tall.

"Going back up and in now." Captain Wayne turned and slowly made his way up the rock face again. Again we watched him per within. There was only a very narrow ledge of rock at the entrance, and we watched as he carefully made his way inside, disappearing into the darkness. I applied my oar and we moved slowly forward. I was almost under the opening Wayne turned on the lamp inside.

There was only a quick look., but we could see that inside the water route led to a wider pool, and it was surrounded by more of the rocks that made up the rest of the island. Wayne was out of sight behind the wall to our left.

Almost as soon as the lamp turned on, it went back out, and we heard the captain emit a blood-curdling screech!

"Holy shit!" said Glenn. His oar started backpeddling in the water. I tapped him on the shoulder.

"Stop rowing," I ordered! "He's fulla bullshit." I paddled forward.

"You mean...? The son-of-a bitch," ground out Glenn! Inside, the light came on again, and we could hear Wayne chuckling. "I'm gonna kill him," said Glenn.

I manuevered the raft forward into the circular pool that appeared to be just about at the center of the tower's floor space.

"Nothing in here but water and more rock. The rock is piled up high around this pool, then slopes downhill towards the wall," spoke the Captain. I pulled out my lamp, and switching it on, aimed upwards.

"What's that," I asked?

"Geez! I don't know," he answered. Glenn had his lamp out and our beams played across the object above. It appeared to be about one hundred feet up and a bit bigger than a washtub. In the beams it seemed a smokey-white color, and round, not unlike a full Moon. We could see supporting vanes running to the sides of the tower.

"Hey, I see a star up there," said Glenn. "This sucker is open on the top!" Sure enough. Switching off the beams we could see a tiny, faint square of night sky, far above. The tower had no roof.

We spent some time searching the rocky slopes within the structure, but found nothing of interest. As there was only about 15 minutes left before our second party started out, we decided, to start back and intercept them. It was when we were climbing down the rocks to the raft that Glenn made his grisley discovery.

"My gawd! Look there, in the water!" The Captain and I both swung our lamps to point below.


Now that we were not roiling up the surface with our paddles, and were looking down from above, we could clearly see through the several feet of water with our lamps. The bottom was littered with human skeletons. Worse, some of the bodies still carried remnants of flesh, and small fish, crayfish, and other denizens of the lake were partaking of a grisley meal. The Captain was the first to speak.

"Fuck the prize, whatever it is. We're getting out of here!"

"Seconded," said Glenn. I held up my hand.

"Listen!" The urgency in my voice stopped them cold. "I heard something. Shut off the lamps!" There came a distant drum beat - a slow repititive sound that we had all listened to with horror some nights ago. It was growing louder.

"Quickly, drag the raft up and over these rocks. We must hide it." No one argued. Somehow we all knew that whatever was out there in the dark was coming to the tower. We struggled in the dark, the Captain cursing as he barked a shin bone. We were thankful now that we had made a narrow, light raft that would be straddled. We had it pulled over the crest of rocks and well down the opposite side in a few minutes. The measured drum beat was much closer now, and we grew cold at the low moaning wail we could now also hear. The sound of life in utter and complete agony. Glenn's hand found my arm, his hand clenching tight.

"Jesus H Christ," he whispered!

It was too dark to see, but I could smell the sweat on the Captain's skin. I realized there was a chance of blind panic here. "Breath deep. Everyone, take deep breaths and get ahold of ourselves." I took my own advice as the sounds of hell grew louder. Suddenly, I realized I could see my companions. Our visitors had entered the tower with their lights. Then, just as I was sure we could not stand the unholy moaning for another second, it stopped. It was as if a switch had been thrown. I came to understand the meaning of that apt phrase, "a deafing silence."

Then there was voices, but it was low and not understandable. Putting my finger to my lips, I motioned the others to stay put and crept upwards. I had to get a look at what was transpiring. It was only a few feet, but I was being very careful not to dislodge a rock or make any other noise. I chose a viewpoint where two rocks coming together left a ray of light shining through a narrow crevice.

I did not, at first, see the details in the scene. A long, low watercraft, almost as wide as the channel before me. The bow was against the rock, and not forty feet below me a black man holding a rope kept the craft in position. Two, amazingly tall, blacks stood on the bow. They seemed to be waiting for something while in conversation. Down the length of the craft, on each side, were human rowers. I estimated about thirty-five on each side. Between the rowers, down the center of the craft, were about one hundred people. They were all roped together. Some were laying while others sat. They were mostly blacks, but I could see a few who appeared to be of arab linage. Then I noticed something that made my hands grow clammy.