Fiction Excerpt: “Tumithak of the Corridors”

Sunday, April 27th, 2008 | Posted by Web Master

By Charles R. Tanner

Illustrated by Chuck Lukacs
from Black Gate 5, originally published in Amazing Stories, January 1932. Copyright © 1931 by Teck Publishing Corporation. Original illustrations by Leo Morey.
It is only within the last few years that archeological science has reached a point where we may begin to appreciate the astonishing advances in science that our ancestors had achieved before the Great Invasion. Excavations in the ruins of London and New York have been especially prolific in yielding knowledge of the life that those ancestors led. That they possessed the secret of flying, and a knowledge of chemistry and electricity far beyond ours is now certain; and there is even some evidence that they surpassed us in medicine and some of the arts. Taking their civilization as whole, it is quite doubtful if we have even yet surpassed them in general knowledge.

Until the time of the Invasion, their discoveries of the secrets of Nature seem to have been made steadily in regular geometric progression, and we have good cause to believe that it was the people of earth who first solved the secret of interplanetary flight. The many romances that have been written by novelists dealing with this time testify to the interest which we of today take in the history of what we call the Golden Age.

But the present story deals neither with the days of the Invasion, nor with life as it was in the Golden Age before it. It tells instead of the life of that semi-mythical, semi-historical character, Tumithak of Loor, who, legend tells us, was the first man to rebel against the savage shelks. Although innumerable facts are still lacking, recent investigations in the Pits and Corridors have thrown much light on what was obscure in this hero’s life. That he really lived and fought is now certain to be true; that he accomplished the miracles accredited to him by legend is just as certain to be untrue.

We can feel sure, for instance, that he never lived for the two hundred and fifty years that are ascribed to him; that his wonderful strength and imperviousness to the rays of the shelks are mythical, as are doubtless the stories of his destruction of the six cities.

But our knowledge of his life increases as our credibility in the legends decreases, and the time has come when we can grasp dimly, but with a more rational viewpoint, the truth about his deeds. So, in this tale, the author makes an attempt to rationalize, to place properly in its historical setting, the early life of a great hero who dared to strike boldly for Mankind, in the days when the Beasts of Venus held all the earth in thrall…

The Boy and the Book

As far as eye could see the long somber corridor extended. Fifteen feet high and as many wide it ran on and on, its brown, glassy walls presenting an unvarying sameness. At intervals along the center line of the ceiling large glowing lights appeared, flat plates of cool white luminescence that had shone without attention for centuries. At intervals equally frequent were deep-cut doors, draped with a rough burlap-like cloth, their sills worn down by the passing generations of feet. Nowhere was the monotony of the scene broken unless it were in some places, where the corridor was crossed by another of equal simplicity.

The passage was by no means deserted. Here and there, throughout its length, scattered figures appeared — men, for the most part blue-eyed and red-haired and dressed in rough burlap tunics that were gathered at the waist by wide, pocketed belts with enormous buckles. A few women were also in evidence, differing from the men in the length of their hair and tunics. All moved with a furtive slinking air, for though it was many years since the Terror had been seen, the habits of a hundred generations were not easily thrown off. And so the hall, its frequenters, their clothes and even their habits combined to complete the somber monotone.

From somewhere far below this corridor came the steady beat and throb of some gigantic machine; a beat that continued unceasingly and was so much a part of the life of these people that it was only with difficulty that they could be brought to notice it at all, Yes its beat bore down on them, penetrated their minds and, with its steady rhythm, affected all that they did.

One part of the hall seemed to be more populous than any other. The lights here glowed brighter, the cloths that covered the doorways were cleaner and newer, and many more people appeared. Sneaking in and out of the doorways they went, for all the world like rabbits engaged in some big business enterprise.

Out of one of the side doorways, a boy and girl appeared. About fourteen years of age, they were exceptionally tall for children, apparently having already reached their full growth, though their immaturity was evident. They, too, like their elders, were blue-eyed and red-haired; a complexion due to the eternal lack of sunshine and lifelong exposure to the rays of the corridor lights. There was a certain boldness and quickness about them that caused many of the folk of the corridor to frown disapprovingly as they passed. One could see that these older ones felt that the younger generation was fast riding to destruction. Certainly, sooner or later, this boldness and loudness would bring down the Terror from the Surface.

But sublimely indifferent to the disapproval that was so in evidence around them, the two youngsters continued upon their way. They turned from the main corridor into one less brilliantly lighted, and after traversing for nearly a mile, turned into another. The hall in which they now found themselves was narrow and inclined upward at a decided angle. It was entirely deserted and the thick dust and neglected condition of the lights showed that it was long since men had lived here. The many doorways were without the draped curtains that concealed the interior of the inhabited apartments in the larger corridors; but many of the doorways were almost entirely covered with draperies of cobwebs covered with dust. The girl drew closer to the boy as they continued up the passage; but aside from this she showed no sign of fear. After some time the passageway grew steeper, and at last ended in a cul-de-sac. The two seated themselves in rubble that littered the floor and presently began to talk in a low tone.

“It must have been years since men have come here,” said the girl, softly. “Perhaps we will find something of great value which was left here when men deserted this corridor.”

“I think Tumithak is too hopeful, when he tells us of possible treasures in these halls,” answered the boy. “Surely there have been men in these halls, searching as we are, since they were abandoned.”

“Tumithak should be here by now,” the girl said after a while. “Do you think he will come?” Her eyes strove vainly to pierce the gloom down the hallway.

“Why, of course he will come, Thupra,” said her companion. “Has Tumithak ever failed to meet us as he promised?”

“But to come here, alone!” protested Thupra. “I should die of fright, Nikadur, if you weren’t here.”

“There isn’t really any danger here,” he said. “The men of Yakra could never enter these halls without passing through the main corridor. And many, many years have passed since Loor has seen a shelk.”

“Grandfather Koniak once saw a shelk,” reminded Thupra.

“Yes, but not here in Loor. He saw it in Yakra, years ago, when he fought the Yakrans as a young man. Remember, the Loorians were successful in their campaign against the Yakrans and drove them out of their city and into the corridors beyond. And then suddenly there was flame and terror, and a band of shelks appeared. Grandfather Koniak saw but one, and that one almost caught him before he escaped.” Nikadur smiled. “It is a wonderful tale, but I think we have only Grandfather Koniak’s word for it.”

“But really, Nikadur — ” the girl was beginning, when she was interrupted by a rustling noise from one of the web-hung doorways. Like a flash, boy and girl both leapt to their feet and sped in panic down the passage without so much as a single glance backward, totally unaware of the youth who had stepped from the doorway and who was now leaning against the wall, watching their flight with a cynical smile on his face.

At a glance, this youth seemed not unlike the others who lived in the corridors. The same red hair and clear translucent skin, the same rough tunic and enormous belt characterized this lad as it did all the others of Loor. But the discerning eye would have noticed in the immense brow, the narrow, hooked nose and the keen eyes, a promise of the greatness that was to some day be his.

The boy watched his fleeing friends for a moment and then gave a low bird-like whistle. Thupra stopped suddenly and turned around, and then, seeing the newcomer, called to Nikadur. The boy stopped his flight too, and together they returned, rather shamefaced, to the end of the passage.

“You frightened us, Tumithak,” said the girl, reproachfully. “What in the world were you doing in that room? Weren’t you afraid to go in there alone?”

“Nothing is in there to hurt me,” answered Tumithak, loftily. “Often and often I have browsed around through these corridors and apartments and never yet have I seen any living thing, save the spiders and the bats. I was seeking for forgotten things,” he went on, and his eyes grew suddenly brighter. “And look! I have found a book!” And, reaching into the bosom of his tunic, he drew forth his prize and exhibited it proudly to the others.

“This is an old book,” he said. “See?”

It certainly was an old book. The cover was gone, more than half the leaves were missing, and the thin metal sheets of which the leaves were composed were even beginning to oxidize on the edges. Certainly, this book had been lying forgotten for centuries.

Nikadur and Thupra looked at it in awe, the awe that an illiterate person naturally holds for all the mysteries of the magic black marks that transmit thoughts. But Tumithak could read. He was the son of Tumlook, one of the food men, the men who held the secret of preparing the synthetic food that these people lived on, and these food men, as well as doctors and the light and power men, retained many of the secrets of the wisdom of their ancestors. Foremost among these secrets was the very necessary art of reading; and as Tumithak was intended to follow in his father’s footsteps, Tumlook had early trained him in this wonderful art.

So, after the two had looked at the book and held it in their hands, and wondered, they beseeched Tumithak to read it to them. Often, they had in wide-eyed wonder as he read to them from some of the rare works the food men owned, and they never wasted a chance to watch the apparently mystifying process of changing the queer marks on the metal sheets into sounds and sentences.

Tumithak smiled at their importuning, and then, because secretly he was as anxious as they to know what the long-forgotten script contained, he motioned them to be seated on the floor beside him, and opening the book began to read:

“The manuscript of Davon Starros; written at Pitmouth, Sol 22nd, in the year of the Invasion, 161, or in the old style — AD. 3218.”

Tumithak paused.

“That is an old book,” whispered Nikadur in an awed voice, and Tumithak nodded.

“Nearly two thousand years!” he answered, “I wonder what the figures A.D. 3218 stand for?”

He puzzled over the book for a moment and then resumed his reading.

“I am an old man, in these latter days, and to one who can remember the day when men still dared to fight, now and then, for liberty, it is indeed a bitter thing to see how the race has fallen.

“There is growing up among men in these days a hopeless superstition to the effect that man can never conquer, and must never attempt to even battle with the shelks, and it is to combat this superstition that the author here writes the story of the conquest of earth, in the hope that at some future time, a man will arise who will have the courage to face the conquerors of Man and again do battle. In the hope that this man will appear and that he may know the creatures against whom he fights, this story is written.

“The scientists who tell of the days before the Invasion inform us that man was once little more than a beast. Through thousands of years he gradually worked his way upward to civilization, learning the arts of living, until he conquered all the world for his own.

“He learned the secret of producing food from the very elements themselves, he learned the secret of imitating the life-giving light of the sun, his great airships sped through the atmosphere as easily as his waterships sped through the sea. Wonderful disintegrating rays dissolved the hill that stood in his way, and as a result long canals brought water from the ocean to inaccessible deserts, making them blossom like earth’s most fertile regions. From pole to pole, man’s mighty cities grew, and from pole to pole man was supreme.’

“For thousands of years, men quarreled among themselves, and great wars tore the earth, until at last their civilization reached a point where these wars ceased. A great era of peace settled down upon the earth, sea and land alike were conquered by man, and he began to look out to the other worlds that swung about the sun, wondering if these too might not be conquered.

“It was many centuries before they learned enough to attempt a journey into the depths of space. A way had to be found to avoid the countless meteors that filled the paths between the planets. A way had to be found to insulate against the deadly cosmic rays. It seemed that no sooner was one difficulty overcome than another arose to take its place. But one after another the difficulties in the way of interplanetary flight disappeared and at last the day came when a mighty vessel, hundreds of feet long, lay ready to leap into space to explore the other worlds.”

Tumithak again paused in his reading.

“It must be a wonderful secret,” he said. “I seem to be reading words, but I do not know what they mean. Some one is going somewhere, but that’s about all I can make of it. Shall I go on?”

“Yes! Yes!” they cried; so he continued:

“It was under the command of a man named Henric Sudiven; and, of all the great company that manned it, only he returned to the world of men to tell of the terrible adventures that they met with on the planet Venus, the world to which they traveled.”

“The trip to Venus was a highly successful one, and quite uneventful. Week after week passed, while the evening star, as men called it, grew ever brighter and larger. The ship worked perfectly, and though the journey was a long one to those who were used to crossing an ocean in a single night, the time did not hang heavy on their hands. The day came when they sailed over the low rolling plains and broad valleys of Venus, under the thick mantle of clouds that forever hides the surface of that planet from the sun, and marveled at the great cities and works of civilization that were in evidence everywhere.

“After hovering over a great city for some time, they landed and were welcomed by the strange, intelligent creatures that ruled over Venus; the same creatures that we know today by the name of shelks. The shelks thought them demi-gods and would have worshipped them; but Sudiven and his companions, true products of earth’s noblest culture, scorned to dissemble; and when they had learned the language of the shelks, told them quite truthfully just who they were and from whence they came.

“The astonishment of the shelks knew no bounds. They were skilled far more than men in mechanical science; their knowledge of electricity and chemistry was quite as great; but astronomy and its kindred sciences were totally unknown to them. Imprisoned as they were under the eternal canopy of clouds that hides forever the sight of outer space, they had never dreamed of other worlds than the one they knew; and it was only with difficulty that they were at last persuaded that Sudiven’s story was true.

“But, once convinced, the attitude of the sheiks underwent a decided change. No longer were they deferential and friendly. They suspected that Jan had come only to conquer them and they determined to beat him at his own game. There was a certain lack of the more humane feelings in the make-up of the shelks, and they were quite unable to conceive of a friendly visit from strangers of another world.

“The Tellurians soon found themselves locked up in a great metal tower many miles from their space flier. In a moment of carelessness, one of Sudiven’s companions had let drop the remark that this flier was the only one yet built upon the earth, and the shelks decided to take advantage of this fact, to begin at once the conquest of earth.

“They took possession at once of the Tellurians’ vessel, and with that unity of purpose that is so characteristic of the shelks and so lacking in man, began at once the construction of a vast number of similar machines. All over the planet, the great machine-shops hummed and clattered with the noise of the work; and while the earth awaited the triumphal return of her explorers, the day of her doom drew nearer and nearer.

“But Sudiven and the other Tellurians, locked up in their tower, had not given up to despair. Time after time they attempted to escape, and there is no doubt but that the shelks would have slain them to a man, had they not hoped to extract further knowledge from them before they killed them. For once the shelks were in error; they should have slain the Tellurians, every one; for about a week before the date set for the departure of the shelks’ great fleet of machines, Sudiven and about a dozen of his companions managed to escape.

“At terrific risk they made their way across the country to the place here their space car lay. An idea can be had of the dangers of the journey when one realizes that on Venus, that is, on the inhabited side, it is always day. There was no concealing night to enable the Tellurians to travel without hope of discovery. But at last they came upon their car, guarded only by a few unarmed shelks. The battle that ensued is one that should go down in man’s history, to inspire him in all the ages to come. When it was over the shelks were all dead and only seven men were left to man the space-flier on its journey back to earth.

“For weeks, the great bullet-shaped flier sped across the vast emptiness of space and at last landed upon the earth. Sudiven alone remained alive when it landed; the others had succumbed to some strange disease, a disease that had been given to them by the shelks.

“But Sudiven was alive and remained alive long enough to warn the world. Faced with this sudden terror, the world had little time for any but defensive measures. The construction of vast underground pits and caverns was begun at once, the intention being to construct great underground cities, in which man could hide himself and from which he could emerge to conquer his enemies at his leisure. But before they were well started, the shelks arrived and the war was on!

“Never, in the days when man warred with man, had anyone dreamed of a war like this. The shelks had arrived by the millions; it was estimated that fully two hundred thousand space cars took part in the invasion. For days man’s defensive measures kept the shelks from gaining a landing space on the earth; they were forced to fly far above the surface, dropping their deadly gases and explosives where they could. From his subterranean halls, man sent up vast quantities of gases as deadly as those of the shelks, and their disintegrating rays sent hundreds of the space-cars into nothingness, killing off the shelks like flies. And from their fliers, the shelks dropped vast quantities of flaming chemicals into the pits that men had dug, chemicals that burned with terrific violence and exhausted the oxygen of the caverns, causing men to perish by the thousand.

“Ever, as men found themselves defeated by the shelks, they drove deeper and deeper into the earth, their wonderful disintegrations dissolving the rock almost as fast as man could walk through the corridor it dug. Men were forced from the Surface at last, and a million intricate warrens of corridors and passages honeycombed the earth for miles beneath the surface. It was impossible for the shelks to ever thread the mazes of the innumerable labyrinths, and so man reached a position of comparative safety.

“And thus came the deadlock.

“The Surface had become the property of the savage shelks, while far below them in the pits and corridors, man labored to hold on to the dregs of civilization that were left him. An unequal game it was, for man was sadly handicapped – the supplies of elements that produced the disintegrating rays gradually diminished, and there was no way of renewing them; they were unable to secure wood, or the thousand and one varieties of vegetation on which their industries were based; the men of one set of corridors had no way of communicating with the men of another; and always came hordes of shelks, down into the corridors, hunting men for sport!

“The only thing that enabled them to live at all was the wonderful ability to create synthetic foods out of the very rock itself.

“So it was that man’s civilization, fought for and won after centuries of struggle, collapsed in a dozen years; and over it was imposed the Terror. Men, like rabbits, lived a life of fear and trembling in their underground holes, daring less each year, as time went by, and spending all their time and energy in devising means to sink their pits deeper and deeper into the ground. Today it seems that man’s subjugation is complete. For over a hundred years, no man has dared to think of revolt against the shelks, any more than a rat would think of revolt against man. Unable to form a unified government, unable even to communicate with his brethren in the neighboring corridors, man has come to accept, far too willingly, his place as merely the highest of the lower animals. The spider-like Beasts of Venus are the supreme Masters of our planet, and -”

The manuscript had come to an end. Although the book had originally been much longer, although, indeed, what was left of it was probably little more than an introduction to some work on the life and customs of the shelks, the remainder was missing and the droning sing-song voice of Tumithak ceased as he read the concluding unfinished sentence. For several moments there was silence and then –

“How hard it was to understand,” said Thupra. “I only know that men were fighting with shelks, just as though they were Yakrans.”

“Who could have conceived such a story?” murmured Nikadur. “Men fighting with shelks: Of all the impossible tales!”

Tumithak did not answer. For quite a while he sat in silence and stared at the book as one who suddenly beheld some dazzling vision.

At last he spoke.

“Nikadur, that is history!” he exclaimed. “That is no strange impossible tale of fancy. Something tells me that those men really lived; that that war was really fought: How else can we explain the life that we live? Have we not wondered often — have not our fathers wondered before us — how our wise ancestors ever gained the wisdom to build the great pits and corridors? We know that our ancestors had great knowledge; how did they come to lose it?

“Oh, I know that no legend of ours even suggests such a thing as men ruling this world,” he went on, as he saw the incredulous look in the eyes of his companions. “But there is something — something in that book that tells me it is surely true. Just think, Nikadur! That book was written only a hundred and sixty years after the savage shelks invaded the earth! How much more that writer must have known than we who live two thousand years later. Nikadur, once men fought with shelks!” He arose, his eyes gleaming with the first glow of the fanatical light that, in after years, was to make him a man apart from his fellows, “Once men fought with shelks; and with the help of the High One, they shall do so again! Nikadur! Thupra! Some day I shall fight a shelk,” he flung his arms wide, “some day I shall slay a shelk!

“And to that I dedicate my life!”

He stood for a moment with his arms outstretched, and then, as if oblivious of their presence, he dashed down the hallway and in a moment was lost in the gloom. For a moment the two stared after him in amazement, and then, clasping hands, they walked slowly, soberly after him. They knew that something had suddenly inspired their friend, but whether it was genius or madness they could not tell. And they were not to know with certainty for many years.

Charles R. Tanner (1896 – 1974)

Frank R. Paul’s cover for the 6th issue of Hugo Gernsback’s Science Wonder Stories (November 1929) is one of the most famous pieces of the early pulp era, depicting flying saucers making off with the Eiffel Tower & Woolworth building against the blue background of space. “$300 for the best short, SHORT story written around this picture,” declared the cover caption. The winner of Gernsback’s contest, with his first published story, was a Mr. Charles R. Tanner of Ohio. “The Color of Space” appeared in the March 1930 issue of Science Wonder and related the abduction of the great Dr. Henshaw by Russian scientists, who show him this scene from the window of their spaceship while en route to Venus. As war breaks out on Earth, the Russians demand Henshaw’s scientific secrets. After looking out the window, Henshaw calmly walks out the door, stepping into New York. What the Russians had shown was trickery done with special effects — which Henshaw realized was fake when he noticed the Russians accidentally colored space blue instead of black. [In an editorial note, Gernsback said the art blunder was deliberate.] Tanner wrote some 16 SF stories between 1930-53, but is remembered today chiefly for his tales of Tumithak.

[Cover at right by Frank R. Paul]

Charles R. Tanner wrote only a handful of SF stories, and no novels. But he made his mark on the field with the Tumithak stories, a trilogy of novellas published between 1932 – 1941. Detailing the struggle to re-take the planet centuries after a brutal alien conquest, when man has been driven deep underground and descended into near-barbarism, the stories were among the most popular of the pulp era, and influenced a generation of early genre writers. “‘Tumithak of the Corridors’ was far and away the best and most exciting story I had ever read,” noted Isaac Asimov in his autobiographical anthology Before the Golden Age. “Even now, though my hair is graying, I found myself stirred very much as I had been once in junior high school… I continue to be amazed at Tanner’s realism.”

[Cover at left by Leo Morey]

The Saga of Tumithak

“Tumithak of the Corridors” was popular when it first appeared, and reader response almost guaranteed a sequel. “Tumithak in Shawm,” in which Tumithak leads a human war party to the surface to confront the shelks — discovering both an ancient cache of powerful human weapons and new shelk horrors — appeared in June 1933. Fans had to wait nearly a decade for the third tale, in which Tumithak led his rag-tag band of human warriors to victory in “Tumithak of the Towers of Fire” (Super Science Stories, Nov 1941).

While researching this story we stumbled across this intriguing reference in Magic Dragon’s Ultimate Science Fiction Web Guide entry on Charles Tanner:

By an amazing coincidence, I had Charles R. Tanner’s son as a student in one of the classes I taught, and he gave me a copy of a manuscript of an unpublished 4th story in the Tumithak series. I have, to date, failed to have it published…

We contacted Tanner’s son, Jim Tanner, in early 2003 and he confirmed the story, adding:

The Tumithak stories… are to be printed in book form, the three already printed ones plus an unpublished fourth one. My father would be pleased, knowing there is still an interest in his stories after so many years. Publisher’s name is North Star Press of St. Cloud… Work on the book is progressing and [it] should be published in the latter part of this year.

The Stories:

  • “Tumithak of the Corridors” (Amazing Stories, Jan 1932)
  • “Tumithak in Shawm” (Amazing Stories, June 1933)
  • “Tumithak of the Towers of Fire” (Super Science Stories, Nov 1941)
  • “Tumithak and the Ancient Word” (unpublished)

The complete version of “Tumithak of the Corridors” appears in Black Gate 5.

Fiction Excerpt: “Tumithak and the Ancient Word”

Saturday, June 14th, 2008 | Posted by Web Master

By Charles R. Tanner

Illustrated by John Woolley
from Black Gate 12, copyright © 2008 by New Epoch Press. All rights Reserved.

As far as the eye could see, the strange buildings of a novel city stretched away in all directions. These buildings were not the great stone structures of the Golden Age, not the weird metal towers of the Shelks, nor even the mighty plastic edifices of our present world. No, these buildings were a curious hybrid sort that had never existed before and were doomed to be destroyed and forgotten before the generation that dwelled in them was to pass away.

They were the homes of people, built and adapted from the wrecked and fallen Shelk towers of the city that those people had conquered and destroyed. For centuries, these humans had dwelled in the long, underground corridors, and what was more natural, when they came to live upon the Surface, than that they should simulate, as closely as possible, the way of life that was most familiar to them? So the fallen Shelk towers had been dismantled, their huge, metal walls cut up into plates and rebuilt into long, low buildings, about fifteen feet high and as many wide, and anywhere from a hundred yards to half a mile long, the interiors of which resembled closely the corridors with their attendant side apartments.

Some of the largest even had side branches, and the general tendency of orienting the buildings to secure the best possible lighting had brought back what was practically the equivalent of ancient streets.

The people that walked these streets were far different from the ones who, ten years before, had cowered trembling in their corridors, miles below the Surface. Most of these folk were under forty, for the older people found it hard to endure the vast changes in their way of life that Surface living entailed; most of them still lived in the corridors, though not so far below the surface as they once had. But the younger folk, living in this age of new hopes, and possessing the disrupter, that mighty weapon that made human beings once more superior to the savage things that had for so long been their masters, these younger folk trod confidently about in their city and looked forward with neither fear nor anxiety toward each new campaign against the Shelks.

Now, on a certain day in late winter, one man, heavily clad in gaily colored, quilted jacket and leggings, ran wildly down one of the streets toward the center of the town, evidently in the last stages of hysterical fright. Twice he was stopped by pedestrians, who tried to find out what ailed him, but each time he gabbled something unintelligible, pointing as he did so to a flyer that was rising and sailing away into the west, its huge wings flapping faster and faster as it rose. Each time, he broke away from his questioners and continued his headlong flight into the city.

He came at last to the huge building that housed the administrative bureaus of the city, and at the entrance he was stopped by a guard. He gabbled wildly and tried to push his way past the guard, but the soldier forced him sternly against a wall and bellowed for his superior. By the time the officer arrived, the winded messenger had gained some control of himself, had managed to explain at least part of his message to the guard, who now became as excited as the messenger. Both guard and messenger now broke into rapid talk, but the officer silenced the guard and listened to the still excited messenger.

A moment later, all three were speeding down the building’s central corridor toward the main office.

They came to a door with a symbol on it — a Shelk’s head, with a gold band on the brow. The officer knocked, a secretary answered, and after a moment’s delay, they entered.

In the inner room a man sat at a desk littered with the thin, wooden paddles that were the closest humans had come to paper since his emergence. He was a tall, vigorous young man of about thirty, but already there were quite a few gray hairs mingled with the red about his temples. He wore a thin gold band around his head; his quilted jacket was tossed over the back of a chair, showing the blouse of the blue tunic he wore underneath. Vertical lines of worry were just beginning to show in his forehead above his nose, for the responsibilities that he bore were heavy, and he bore them almost alone.

But the messenger, the guard, and the officer paid little attention to his appearance. The officer opened his mouth to speak, but the messenger threw himself across the desk, crying out wildly: “Yofric has fled! Yofric the Stranger has fled in the Thirty-Seven, and has taken our lady! And the lord’s son! Even now he flies into the west!”

The man behind the desk looked questioningly at the officer. The messenger had poured out his statements in one breath, almost as one word, and his listener had grasped the purport of little of it. The officer, almost as excited as the other, attempted to elucidate.

“Yofric the Stranger has stolen a flyer, my lord Tumithak, and has kidnapped Tholura and your son!

Even now he is fleeing into the west in the flyer that he stole.”

For a moment, Tumithak of Loor, whom two hundred thousand men called Lord, stood uncomprehending and dazed. Then, white-faced and trembling with anger and anxiety, he exploded into action. He turned and began barking orders.

“Prepare Flyer number Twenty-One for immediate action, Luramo,” he snapped at the officer.

“Mount a disruptor and a long-range fire-hose with a needle beam. Find Nikadur and Datto and tell them to come at once. You!” He snapped at the guard, “find me Kiletlok the Mog and bring him here.” And lastly, “You, messenger! Return at once to my home and bring here Domnik, the lady’s servant. He’ll know most of the wherefore of this.”

The three flew out of the door as if on the wings of the wind, and Tumithak paced the floor impatiently for a minute or two. Then he picked up a bell and rang it vigorously. By the time a guard answered it, the Loorian leader had already donned his quilted jacket and was buckling it.

“Get me my arms,” he demanded.

The complete version of “Tumithak and the Ancient Word” appears in Black Gate 12.

Fiction Excerpt: “Tumithak of the Towers of Fire”

Sunday, April 27th, 2008 | Posted by Web Master

By Charles R. Tanner

Illustrated by Denis Rodier
from Black Gate 7, originally published in Super Science Stories, November 1941. Copyright 1941 by Fictioneers Inc.
“Tumithak of the Towers of Fire” is the sequel to “Tumithak of the Corridors” (Black Gate 5) and “Tumithak in Shawm” (Black Gate 6).

Incredible Rescue

The room in which the workers toiled was about a hundred feet square, and windowless. The fact that the floor, walls and high ceiling were all of the same glassy brown composition suggested that the room was underground, as indeed it was. And on the far right, a flight of stairs running up the side of the wall, a broad flight with an ornate, carved balustrade, added any necessary proof to the fact.

There must have been thirty of the machines at which the workers busied themselves. On the side of the machines nearest the workers, a complicated series of thermometer-like tubes appeared, a half-dozen levers, and a small hopper. Each worker was engaged in slowly pouring into the hopper a substance that had the appearance of powdered iron, meanwhile watching carefully the gauges, his free hand hovering over the levers.

Most of the workers were old men, weak old men with looks of hopeless despair on their faces. Others, a few, were younger looking, but the same look of almost resigned hopelessness covered their faces. Indeed, there were but four in the entire company whose faces showed any signs of vigor or of hope. And these four sat close to the platform and the bottom of the steps, where their masters might keep a sharp eye on them and be ready at a moment’s notice to whip back any signs of rebellion.

Their masters! There were two of them, standing on untiring limbs on the low dais-like platform at the foot of the stairs, with their assistants squatting at their feet. Strange as those assistants would seem to men of today, their strangeness was nothing compared to that of their masters.

For their masters were not men at all, but shelks, savage but intelligent beasts from another world, who had ruled over the Surface from time immemorial. They were crustacean-like creatures; indeed, they might have been mistaken for gigantic lobsters at a distance. They had ten limbs, hairless and not at all unlike greatly elongated fingers.

Their bodies, reddish in hue, were shaped a good deal like a wasp’s abdomen, and seated directly upon that body, with no sign of a neck, was a head that was startling in its resemblance to a human one. Save for the fact that it was hairless and had a grim thinness to the lips that no man had ever had, a shelk’s head might have been that of a man.

Their assistants were men. At least, they had the form of men. But none of the toiling slaves considered them as such. To them they were mogs — fawning, dog-like descendants of the men who had surrendered to the shelks in that ancient day when the beasts of Venus had conquered earth and driven most of the race into the pits and corridors where they still lived.

Time and breeding had changed the mogs considerably. Few of them were less than six and a half feet tall, and most of them were closer to seven. Their hair was black and they wore full black beards, and all were as lean and supple as greyhounds. And like greyhounds, their chests were developed out of all proportions to the rest of their bodies, which were bony and gaunt.

So the workers toiled at their machines, and the shelks and mogs sat and watched, drowsily; and the mogs even dozed. For they knew well that no man would dare to raise his hand against their masters. Besides, the masters were armed with the terrible fire-hoses, curious weapons consisting of a small box which was strapped on each shelk’s back, from which emerged a hose that ended in a long tube thrust in a scabbard. Deadly weapons these were indeed, for they could throw a searing beam of heat that, even at a hundred yards, was fatal.

Of the four younger toilers, the mightiest was Otaro. He had been a slave of the shelks but a few weeks. Before that he had been the chief of the Kraylings, a powerful tribe of pit dwellers who lived in a man-pit many miles from where he now toiled. Like all the Kraylings — indeed, like all the toilers in this room, who had once been Kraylings, too — he was black-skinned and woolly-haired. Unlike the others, however, the look of nobility on his face had not yet been erased by the knowledge of his servitude.

His mind was dwelling on the events of the past as he worked, and on the probabilities of the present. All of his life he had dwelled with the fear of the shelks upon him, for ever and anon, as long as the records of his tribe told of, the shelks had made periodic raids on his pit and carried off living prisoners to some unknown destiny. He and his people had always looked upon these raids as inevitable, and had come to accept them as part of the scheme of things. When it came Otaro’s turn, there had been a fight. Yet the end was the same — when the battle was over, a living but unconscious Otaro had been picked up by the shelks and taken from his pit, to live and learn what the shelks required of living Krayling prisoners.

He was wondering now what might be going on back in the pit of the Kraylings. Had his brother Mutassa acceded to the chieftainship? If so, he might almost be content, for Mutassa would certainly make a great chief. But there was one Koudok —

Otaro gasped suddenly, his hand half raised to his mouth in an uncontrollable gesture of surprise. Then, instantly, a mask of immobility swept across his face and he turned to face his machine again. But his heart was pounding, and ever and anon he stole a look, out of the corner of his eye, at the doorway high up at the top of the stairs.

For a man had appeared there, and Otaro had been looking straight at the doorway when he appeared. The man had withdrawn immediately, but not before Otaro had seen him plainly. Never had Otaro seen such a man — indeed, it was only in the oldest legends of his tribe that such a man had even been told of. He was a white man, tall and well-built, clad in a loose-sleeved tunic with a wide-pocketed belt. Around his head was a simple gold band such as the governors of shelk cities wore, and in his hand was a fire-hose, the weapon of the shelks!

In the legends of the Kraylings were stories of the miztas, mighty men of old who had once battled with the shelks and ruled over the Kraylings. And legend said that the miztas had gone away, long ago, promising some day to return and set free the Kraylings from their fear of the savage beasts that ruled the Surface! So Otaro the Krayling bent to his work, trembling a little, and stole glances out of the corner of his eye at the doorway above.

And presently the man appeared again, stooping, cautious, so that the shelks would not see him. He moved toward the steps. Behind him another man appeared. Otaro’s heart skipped a beat, for this second man was a mog! And the mog stepped forward cautiously and spoke softly to the first man. Quite certainly these two were friends, but what could a mizta, a free man, have in common with a mog? Otaro had no time to answer this question, however, for just then a third man appeared, and his identity caused Otaro to lose all control of himself and to gasp audibly.

He hastily turned the gasp into a cough as one of the shelks raised his head, and bent to his work more busily than ever. For several moments he dared not look up again; yet every fiber of his being shrieked with curiosity.

For the third man had been his brother Mutassa, whom he had believed to be back in the Krayling pit, ruling in his place!

Thoughts sped through Otaro’s brain like the shadows of dancers about a fire. Who was this white man, so like the miztas of legend? Why was the mog seemingly his friend? What, above all, was Mutassa doing with them? And what — he stole a look at the stairs again — what were they about to do, as they stole silently down toward the shelks? Was it possible that they meant to attack them?

Yes, it must be that, for the foremost man, the mizta, had raised his fire-hose —

At just that moment one of the mogs raised his eyes. He saw the three, and, giving a startled yelp, flung himself at them. The fire-hose in the hand of the mizta spat flame and fury, and the mog, smoking and screeching, flung himself, dying, in front of the man.

The white one stumbled, almost fell, and to save himself, dropped his fire-hose nozzle and flung himself back. He was on his feet instantly, but before he could recover his hose, he saw that the shelks, aroused by the mog’s cry, had leaped up and were raising their own hoses to burn the white one down.

And then Otaro saw a sight that in his wildest dreams he had never conceived. The mizta screamed, a disconcerting scream that seemed almost a madman’s yelp of panic. Leaping from his place, some six steps from the bottom of the flight, he flung himself directly upon the shelks, legs kicking and arms flailing, a very embodiment of a whirlwind. The mog and Mutassa, who seemed a little uncertain what to do, waited but the slightest part of a second and then followed the white man’s example. By this time the shelks’ second mog had joined the fray, and Mutassa and the strange mog devoted their attention to him.

For the mizta was handling the two shelks alone, and a very good job he was making of it. With a god-like consistency, he had paid no attention to the shelks themselves when he landed among them. It was their fire-hoses that were dangerous and it was their fire-hoses to which he directed his attention. He grasped the nozzle of one even as he kicked viciously at the box on the back of the other. His foot missed the box, but landed on the jaw of the shelk who wore it, and as he wrenched the nozzle from the hose in the first shelk’s hand, he flung himself at the other and crashed a foot into its face.

The second shelk, almost blinded by the vicious kick, staggered back and raised his fire-hose again. The white mizta abandoned his attack on the first shelk, whose weapon was now useless, and leaped at the other. In a moment, his weapon, too, was useless and the two shelks, unable to conceive a man who could be victorious in a battle with shelks, rushed in to the attack unarmed.

And then, unarmed as he was, the shelks learned what ensuing generations of their kind were to face from aroused and infuriated mankind. With feet and hands and even teeth, the white man tore at them, ignoring claws and snapping fangs, gouging and tearing at their limbs until he literally tore them apart. One attempted at last to flee, but the strange mizta seized him by a dragging limb and pulled him back even as, with the other hand, he choked that shelk’s companion into black insensibility.

The Saga of Tumithak

“Tumithak of the Corridors” was popular when it first appeared, and reader response almost guaranteed a sequel. “Tumithak in Shawm,” in which Tumithak leads a human war party to the surface to confront the shelks — discovering both an ancient cache of powerful human weapons and new shelk horrors — appeared in June 1933. Fans had to wait nearly a decade for the third tale, in which Tumithak led his rag-tag band of human warriors to victory in “Tumithak of the Towers of Fire” (Super Science Stories, Nov 1941).

While researching this story we stumbled across this intriguing reference in Magic Dragon’s Ultimate Science Fiction Web Guide entry on Charles Tanner:

By an amazing coincidence, I had Charles R. Tanner’s son as a student in one of the classes I taught, and he gave me a copy of a manuscript of an unpublished 4th story in the Tumithak series. I have, to date, failed to have it published…

We contacted Tanner’s son, Jim Tanner, in early 2003 and he confirmed the story, adding:

The Tumithak stories… are to be printed in book form, the three already printed ones plus an unpublished fourth one. My father would be pleased, knowing there is still an interest in his stories after so many years. Publisher’s name is North Star Press of St. Cloud… Work on the book is progressing and [it] should be published in the latter part of this year.

The Stories:

  • “Tumithak of the Corridors” (Amazing Stories, Jan 1932)
  • “Tumithak in Shawm” (Amazing Stories, June 1933)
  • “Tumithak of the Towers of Fire” (Super Science Stories, Nov 1941)
  • “Tumithak and the Ancient Word” (unpublished)

The complete version of “Tumithak of the Towers of Fire” appears in Black Gate 7.

Fiction Excerpt: “Tumithak in Shawm”

Sunday, April 27th, 2008 | Posted by Web Master

By Charles R. Tanner

Illustrated by Denis Rodier
from Black Gate 6, originally published in Amazing Stories, June 1933. Copyright © 1933 by Teck Publishing Corporation. Original illustrations by Leo Morey.
“Tumitahk in Shawm” is the sequel to “Tumithak of the Corridors” reprinted in Black Gate 5.

The Approach to the Surface

They came to the narrow flight of stairs, ascended it, and saw in the distance the opening that was the entrance to the Surface. But to Tumithak’s surprise, no reddish light appeared, as it had on his previous visit. In fact no light at all shone down into the hall from the Surface! Tumithak was puzzled. He motioned the other three to wait there, and then crept softly to the opening that was the goal of the long trek through the corridors. Cautiously, the slayer of the shelk raised his eyes above the level of the pit and looked about him. It was true, as he had thought, all the Surface was in darkness! He felt a pang of fear. Had the shelks discovered the approach of his men and somehow plunged the Surface into darkness, he wondered. Were they even now in hiding, waiting for the men of the lower corridors to emerge, that they might slaughter them?

Involuntarily, Tumithak drew back into the corridor and there he stood, lashing his failing courage. Once again, as in the days when he had come this way alone, his cold, fanatic reasoning overcame his emotions, as he remembered that all the legends that he had ever heard of the shelks told of their hatred of the dark. Indeed, his wonderbook, that manuscript that he had found when a boy, had told him that the shelks had originally come from a land where there was never darkness and that story — combined with the vague legends of his tribe which said that no shelk would ever, from choice, do battle in the dark — convinced him that the darkness could not be of the shelk’s contriving.

So, once again he returned to the pit and, greatly daring, leapt out of it and stood upon the Surface!

After a short while, it seemed as if his eyes began to adapt themselves to the darkness, and faintly he could see certain forms in the distance. The trees, those pillars whose tops were covered with strange green billows, he could see as dense black blobs against a background only slightly less dark. A few hundred feet away and directly in front of him, rose the homes of the shelks, obelisk-like towers, leaning at crazy angles, silhouetted against the sky. And, looking up into the sky, Tumithak was amazed to see that that ceiling, as he thought it, was covered with hundreds, yes, thousands of tiny pin-points of brilliance, twinkling and glittering unceasingly, yet giving off so little light that the dense darkness could hardly be said to be diminished at all by them.

For some time the Loorian stood there and then, as nothing happened to disturb the stillness and calm of the night, he returned to the pit and called to his friends. In a few minutes Datto emerged from the pit, closely followed by Thorpf and Nikadur. They looked around them, obviously worried by the darkness, but afraid to ask questions, for fear that the sound of their voices might betray them. So they stood, awaiting an order from Tumithak, until in sudden decision, the Shelk-slayer fell on his face and began to crawl slowly in the direction of the towers of the shelks, motioning them, as he did so, to do likewise.

The trip to the towers took some time, for the slightest whisper of wind in the trees would frighten the pit-men and cause them to lie motionless for many minutes at a time, but at last they arose and stood in the shadow of one of the towers. They were panting, not so much with the exertion of wallowing through the grass, as with the realization of the frightful danger they were facing, but after many minutes of tense listening, they grew bold enough to look around and take an interest in their surroundings. It was a strange building in whose shadow they found themselves, composed of some strong metal that was strange to the pit-men; a four-sided building that rose nearly a hundred feet high and was not more than fifteen feet square at the base. And it leaned at an angle of nearly twenty-five degrees in the direction from which the men had come. Towering over them, it seemed that at any moment it must fall and crush them, yet when they looked at its firm strong base, they realized that it might stand thus for centuries.

Having come this far, the waning courage of the men of the pit forbade their penetrating further into the town of the shelks, and so, undecided, they stood for many minutes, wondering what to do next. And though they stood in utter silence for long, in all that time they heard no sound of shelk, nor did they see a moving form.

But at last, Nikadur spoke softly in Tumithak’s ear.

“Something is happening to the wall of the Surface on our right, Tumithak,” he breathed. “It seems to be giving off a faint light.”

Light on the Surface

Tumithak started. It was true! A faint, uneven light dimly shone in the sky at his right. Even as he gazed at it, he realized that the glow was penetrating all over the Surface. He could distinguish the faces of his comrades and make out details on the ground! And Datto and Thorpf were commenting softly on the amazing wonder of the trees, which were now sufficiently visible to be distinguished separately.

Tumithak addressed his comrades: “The light is returning, or another is being prepared. It is strange, for it is in the opposite side of the Surface from the light which I saw when I came here before.”

“Soon it will be light enough for the shelks to be about,” whispered Datto. “Had we better retire to the pit, Tumithak?”

The Loorian was about to reply in the affirmative when Thorpf gave a gasp and, trembling violently, pointed to a spot under the trees beyond the pit. There, faint forms were visible, moving toward the towers, and to them from the distance came the sound of clacking voices! A group of shelks was moving toward them!

In a moment, the terrible fear that was almost instinctive in man had seized the four. Panic-stricken, they looked about them for some means of flight. To return to the pit was impossible – already the group of spider-like creatures had passed it. To attempt to flee to the trees on either side was equally impossible — they could not fail to be seen almost immediately. But a single direction offered possible protection, and the hair of all four rose at the thought of taking that direction. Yet if they did not do so, and at once, discovery would be inevitable in another minute, so they fled around the side of the tower, further into the shelk-city, intent only on avoiding the present evil, and leaving the future to take care of itself. Even as they did so, rustling noises and here and there a clacking voice, told them that the city was beginning to awake. Utterly beside themselves with fear, they hugged the walls of the tower — and then, suddenly there was a door before them, an old, badly dilapidated wooden door, and Tumithak had pushed it open and was hustling them into the interior of the tower.

Had there been an enemy within, he might have easily slain them as they entered, for the transition from the rapidly increasing light without to the dismal interior gloom made the room seem dark as Erebus. But before long, their eyes adjusted themselves and soon they could distinguish faintly the details of tower. And great was their relief as they realized that this could hardly be one of the inhabited homes of their enemies.

The Web of Ropes in the Tower

The floor was uncovered, just bare earth, queer, thickly packed dust that covered all the floor of the Surface; and there was no furniture of any description visible, unless a pile of straw in one corner might pass as a bed of sorts. But here and there about the room hung ancient frayed ropes, and looking aloft, Tumithak could notice dimly that these ropes led up to where, about twenty feet above, a great mass of twisted cables, ropes and cords crossed and recrossed the entire interior of the tower. It was a veritable nest of ropes, a web, he thought, as the similarity of the shelks to spiders again came to him. And, indeed, he was not far from wrong, for the shelks used the towers only as sleeping quarters and, at night, retired to the upper parts of them, where, in a bed made of hundreds of cables and ropes hanging criss-crossed from the sides, they slumbered the dark hours away. Fortunately, this tower in which Tumithak and his companions found themselves was an old one, no longer considered fit for occupancy by the builders, and the use to which they now put it, we shall soon see.

The frightened pit-men stood for several minutes in the narrow confines of the tower, and their hearts were just beginning to again take up their normal beat when once more there came the ominous clacking voice of a shelk, this time almost without the door. It grew louder and the men knew suddenly, without a doubt, that the shelks were approaching this tower! They glanced wildly about them for a place of concealment, but even as they looked they knew there could be but one, and an attempt to hide in the maze of ropes and cables above the small room on the ground seemed tantamount to voluntary surrender. Nevertheless, no other alternative was possible, so in a moment, they were scrambling up the ropes and losing themselves in the thick maze of twisted cords and cables above. The crisscrossed ropes were not numerous near the ground, but some ten feet beyond where they began, they were so thickly placed that it would have been impossible to detect anyone hiding in them, from below. So here the adventurers halted their climb, and reclining in the thick web, lay listening to the sounds that were now immediately without the door. Indeed, by parting the ropes that concealed him, Tumithak found that he had an almost unhindered view of the floor beneath. That they had not concealed themselves a moment too soon was evidenced by the fact that hardly were they comfortably fixed among the ropes when the door was opened and a strange party came into view.

The Hounds of Hun-Pna

A shelk was the first to enter and Tumithak felt the ropes, on which he and his companions lay, shake as the other pit-men trembled with fear at this, their first sight of one of the savage beasts from Venus. The creature was a fair representative of its kind; about four feet high, and ten long spider-like limbs and a head that, save for the fact that it was hairless and noseless, might have been that of a man. Held high in two of its limbs, as a man might hold a twig between thumb and forefinger, this shelk held a rod of metal, the tip of which glowed with a brilliant light. On its back was a queer-looking box, from which a hose emerged that was coiled up and ended in a long rod that was set into a sort of scabbard fastened on the box.

Following him came another, that might have been his twin, and bringing up the rear of this strange party were two men! And the strangeness of these men made the party above gasp with astonishment. The men were tall, taller even than Tumithak; in fact, the larger of the two must have been nearly seven feet in height. It was not their height though which astonished Tumithak and his friends; it was their incredible thinness and the savage look on their faces. Their legs and arms were long and stringy; their thighs, indeed, being little bigger around than Tumithak’s arm. Their waists, too, were surprisingly narrow, their necks were lean; but their chests were enormous, as were their hands. Not that all these members were out of proportion, no, there was something about them that made one feel that for certain purposes, these men might be better proportioned than even Datto, that colossus of the corridors. But, in comparing the two, it would be evident that these men were of another race, just as it had been clear that the Esthetts were. If one should compare a picture of those ancient dogs of the Golden Age which were called greyhounds with our dogs of today, one would he able to understand the difference between the men of the corridors and these creatures of the shelks.

Tlot and Trak

These men were clad only in a single garment, a cloth wrapped around their middle and dropping to their knees; but over this cloth a belt was strapped, and from this belt dangled a sword. In their hands, each held a vicious-looking whip made from the hide of some animal; and, as if all this were not enough to distinguish them, their hair and their luxurious beards were black! The pit-men, who had never seen hair of any other color than their own fiery red (save the yellow Esthetts) would not have been more surprised if their hair had been green.

These men followed the shelks into the room and at once cast themselves down on the beds of straw. The shelks muttered something to them in a low clacking whisper, and then, extinguishing their lights, they turned and left the tower. The men remained, lying on the straw in a manner that clearly indicated fatigue. After a moment, one of them spoke languidly.

“I have seen real hunts in Kaymak, Tlot,” he said, and there was a decided sneer in his voice. “I have known the time when three and even four of the wild ones would be bagged before night fell. You should see some of those hunts in the great city, Tlot.”

The man called Tlot grunted.

“When you see a hunt in Shawm, Trak, you know that you are really flushing a wild one. Those so called wild ones that you hunt in Kaymak are domesticated, and bred for the purpose, and you know it.”

Trak looked crestfallen and turning to his bed, produced a small jug from within the straw. He poured some oil from it into his hand and began to oil his whip. Presently he made bold to speak again.

“Not for nothing is Hun-Pna called the cautious one,” he remarked. “Never have I seen a hunter proceed with such caution. One might almost think that he expected one of the wild ones to turn and kill us. We might have brought down that one we pursued and reached Shawm before dark last night, had it not been that he feared to let us out.”

Tlot sat up in his straw, and looked across at his companion. It was obvious that he shared the other’s opinion of the shelk that was their lord and master.

“When you have belonged to Hun-Pna as long as I have,” he stated, “you will be more used to his ways.” He rummaged in the straw, pulled out another larger jug, and after drinking from it noisily, went on: “I have seen him give up a chase and call us off after hours of pursuit, because the wild one showed fight when cornered!”

“Why, they always show fight when cornered, don’t they?” asked Trak, who was evidently the younger man and deferred to the other’s knowledge.

“Only about one in five really fights,” answered the older one. “The others struggle weakly, but make no defense worth worrying about. They have sense enough to know that, if they showed signs of defeating us, the shelks would immediately finish them.”

The speakers were silent again, for a while, and above them, four silent watchers wondered in perplexity over what they had heard. Presently the older man spoke again: “But I have seen quite pretty vicious battles put up by some of the wild ones. The women of the Tains are notorious for their fury. I am reminded of a hunt which I had about two years ago. That was the hardest battle I ever did have. It was a woman, too. But she didn’t get away, like this one did, yesterday. Her scalp is decorating Hun-Pna’s tower, right now.”

Tlot looked interested.

“Tell me about it,” he suggested.

A Great Hunt

“Well,” began the other, and there was a certain boastfulness about his manner that infuriated the pit-men who were listening from above, “you see, Hun-Pna was having a great feast to celebrate the Conjunction, and half the shelks in Shawm were invited. Nearly a hundred shelks were there, even old Hakh-Klotta himself; and, of course, one of the main features of the feast was to be the sacrifice to the mother planet. They don’t sacrifice Esthetts at the Conjunction Ceremonies as I suppose you know, and so we were taken out to see if we could get some wild ones alive.

“Well we decided to look for Tains; Hun-Pna always hunts Tains because their corridors are so near the Surface. To go down into some of the deeper corridors, would be too much like risking his head, to suit the cautious one. He just drove us into the entrance to the pit and sat down to wait until we flushed some of the wild ones and chased them out to him.

“So I, with two other Mogs, started down into the corridors of the Tains. I had a sword, of course, and my whip and so had each of the others, for that is plenty of protection against a Tain. They’re smart, the Tains are; but they’re afraid of their own shadows.

“Well, it wasn’t long before one of the other Mogs had spied a Tain and soon had him running to the Surface, and just as they disappeared up the corridor, I ran across a woman with a baby in her arms. Now, that was some find, as you’ll agree; the shelks are always pleased to have you capture a live cub. So I bore down on her, expecting to find her an easy prey, but she turned on me like a wolf. She had a club in her hand, and before I could raise my whip, she had struck me a dizzying blow on the neck and was off in a flash, running toward the Surface. She must have been beside herself with fright or she would never have taken that route, for there wasn’t a side passage or a branching corridor, all the way to the Surface. I was stunned by her blow, and stood for a moment, gathering my wits, before I took after her.

“I followed her, without hurrying greatly, to the entrance. I expected the shelks would seize her the minute she appeared, but unfortunately they were busy with the mule Tain that the other Mog had flushed; and when I reached the open, I saw, to my dismay, that she had cleared the crowd and was running like mad into the forest. I shouted to Hun-Pna for help, and dashed in pursuit, never once glancing back to see if they were following. Naturally, I supposed they were.

“Well, the Tain had quite a start on me, and you know how hilly and stony it is in the neighborhood of the Tain’s pit. So it was that even my legs refused to carry me fast enough to catch up with her until she began to get winded. But at last she threw herself down by a rock on the hillside and faced me, snarling viciously. I approached her with care, for I still remembered that I must catch her alive, if possible. I turned to see how far behind the shelks were, and to my surprise, I found they were nowhere in sight! For a moment, I began to fear that I must give up my quarry, for none of us are used to fighting without a shelk at our back, you know, but at last I made a bold decision. I would attack and conquer this Tain single-handed. And so I approached her as diplomatically as possible.

The Single-Handed Attempt to Capture the Tain and Her Baby

“She stood there panting with fatigue and still clinging to her baby and as I approached her she began to swing her club about her in circles.

” ‘Give up, you fool,’ I said, ‘I’m not going to kill you. I want to take you alive.’

” ‘Alive!’ she sneered. ‘For what purpose? Mate or meat?’

“I didn’t answer. What was the use? I wouldn’t mate with one of those wild ones, if I died for not doing it, and if I told her I wanted her for the sacrifice, that wouldn’t help any. So I lashed out with my whip, and the battle was on.

“And it was a battle, too! As we struggled there, minute after minute, I took more than one blow from that infernal club of hers, while she was a mass of blood from where my whip had cut her skin. At last an idea came to me, and I began to direct the blows of my whip not at her but at her child! After that, it seemed that my victory was going to be an easy one. She was so taken up with protecting her child that she had not time to devote to hurting me. Presently she began to sob, and to curse me. Said I was a demon, and that I didn’t deserve the name of man. You know what I mean, you’ve heard the wild ones give the same kind of talk. Well, that sort of stuff has never bothered me. I was born a Mog, and a Mog I’ll die. But I knew, when she began that, that she had almost reached the breaking point, and I begun to have new hopes of bringing in the mother and the baby, both of them alive.

The Death of the Baby and Its Mother

“But just as I expected her to cower down and give in, she suddenly shouted ‘No!’ — and raising the child over her head, she dashed it to the ground and brained it with a club. Then she rushed at me in a fury, clawing, biting and spitting, until in sheer self-defense, I was forced to use the sword on her.

“I returned with nothing to show for my hunt but the scalp of the woman, but Hun-Pna hung it up among his trophies and it’s there yet.”

The speaker was silent at last, and, pulling some straw over him, apparently prepared himself for a nap. The other man, after a moment, evidently decided to follow his example, but his preparations were rudely interrupted by the decision that had been reached by the pit-men in the ropes above.

While this gruesome tale was being related, the watchers had listened in horror. That men could exist, so low and base as to hunt their own kind for the pleasure of the shelks, had never entered their heads. They had been prepared for the fact of the existence of the Esthetts by the story that Tumithak had told them, but here was a race of shelk-worshippers even lower in the scale of humanity than were the Esthetts!

As the tale progressed, the horror of these creatures grew in the minds of Tumithak and his companions, and as Tlot finished his story, the same thought showed clearly in the eyes of each of them. These creatures had surely lived far too long, they felt. Black, unreasoning anger choked the pit-men, and without a word, with only a questioning look from Datto and Thorpf and an affirmative nod from Tumithak, the four dropped suddenly to the ground in front of the astonished Mogs, intent on bringing an end to their foul existence.

There is no doubt but that the continued victories that had attended the men in the corridors had made them over-confident. The savages of the dark corridors had capitulated to the force of their arms, the Esthetts had succumbed without a struggle, and in the minds of the four was the idea that this would not be so much a battle as an execution. With the advantage of four to two and the added fact that the attack was a surprise they expected to dispatch the Mogs on the instant. But once on the ground, it took but a matter of seconds for them to realize their error. Almost before they knew it, the Mogs were standing back to back; swords in hand, were defending themselves so valiantly that the outcome of the battle seemed for a moment in doubt. And as they fought, the Mogs shouted – shouted loudly for their masters to come and help them!

The Folly of the Attack on the Mogs

Tumithak realized the folly of their attack almost as soon as it was accomplished, yet even in the realization, he could not help but feel that somehow they were justified. And, if they could but slay the Mogs, their lives would not be sacrificed in vain.

One of the tall, black-haired creatures was down now, and Thorpf pounced upon him and finished him with a vicious thrust at his throat; but in the brief moment that the attention of the other two was diverted by this, the other Mog turned and sped like a deer past Datto and out the door, still bellowing for the shelks.

Datto roared with anger and would have sped after him, but Tumithak laid a restraining hand on his shoulder.

“Quick, Datto, we must hide again!” he whispered excitedly. “Up the ropes! Quickly!”

Without an instant’s hesitation, Nikadur leaped for the ropes and began to climb, and the other three immediately followed his example. Without, the clickings and clatterings of shelk-talk were rising higher and the Loorians were hardly well-concealed by the strands of cables when the Mog rushed into the room, followed closely by a group of shelks. The creatures were all armed, each carrying the box and hose such as the shelk had worn, which had entered before. Only now the long, queer nozzle had been removed from the scabbard and was carried in two of the limbs.

The shelks looked about them in amazement for a moment, and then one of them pointed aloft. The pit-men had not ceased their climbing, apparently the web of ropes continued to the top of the tower, and so they climbed on, intent only on getting as far as possible from the savage masters of the Surface. But escape was utterly impossible, they felt, and what tiny grains of hope remained to them was lost when two of the shelks sheathed their weapons and with incredible agility began to follow them up the ropes.

Above, the four desperate pit-men could see little to do but to continue their hopeless climbing and to pray for some miraculous means of escape. Nikadur continued to be in the lead, closely followed by the agile Tumithak; but the great bulks of Datto and his huge nephew were handicaps to them and they were several feet below the Loorians.

The mazy web of ropes and cables became thicker and thicker as the men ascended, until it was impossible to see the ground; but the sounds from below left no doubt that the shelks were rapidly drawing nearer. Suddenly there was a cry from below Tumithak — a human cry, a cry of agony. And then there was a wild thrashing, a sound of bodies tumbling through the ropes and a crash! Tumithak looked back, but the thick tangle of ropes obstructed his view, until they suddenly parted and Datto’s fierce face appeared, its deadly pallor contrasting oddly with the red of his beard and hair.

Thorpf and the Shelks

“Thorpf!” he cried, in agonized tones. ‘They’ve got him, Tumithak, my nephew, Thorpf! It was he who fell. They leaped upon him and tried to tear at his neck with their infernal fangs! He struck back, but he lost his hold and fell. But he took them with him! He took them with him! You are not the only Shelk-slayer now, O Lord of Loor!”

The huge Yakran was weeping as he climbed, for his nephew had meant much to him and would have been his successor as Lord of Yakra. Tumithak, too, felt an ache in his heart at the realization that Thorpf was gone, but he made no answer to Datto, reserving all of his remaining breath for the climb. And then, Nikadur, who had been lost to sight in the web above, gave a cry and momentarily, Tumithak’s heart sank in increased despair. Was he to lose this friend, too? Had the shelks somehow attacked them from above? He hastened his climbing, wondering if he would reach his friend in time to aid him.

He parted the ropes above him, climbed higher, and saw a dim light filtering down through the web. A moment later and Nikadur’s form came into view, dimly against this new light. The light shone from one of the walls, and as Tumithak drew himself up beside his friend he saw the reason for his cry.

The light came from a small circular window set in the very top of the tower, and Nikadur had cried out involuntarily as he had looked out and beheld his first view of the Surface in the full light of day. As Tumithak raised his eyes to the level of the window’s ledge, it was all that he could do to keep from crying out himself.

The little window looked down upon the shelk-city, and from its ledge a cluster of strong ropes hung. The other end of each rope was fastened to the window of another tower; apparently the shelks used these ropes to go from tower to tower without returning to the ground. Below, Tumithak could see the bases of the other towers, and an ever-increasing crowd of shelks, with here and there a lean, hairy-faced Mog.

It was not the crowd below, nor the connecting cables, not even the vast view from the window that had caused Nikadur to cry out in surprise, however. It was his first view of the sun! Even in his desperate straits, that object had been the thing that most impressed him as he looked for the first time on the fully lighted Surface of the earth. And indeed, Tumithak, who had seen the sun before, was hardly less surprised. For the sun he had seen before had been a dully glowing ball of red, setting in the west, while this great orb, dazzling in its intense, white brilliance, hung in the exact opposite side of the heavens. For a moment, he was puzzled, but he quickly thrust his amazement to the back of his mind, and strove to concentrate on some means of escape.

The metal walls that fell away from the window’s ledge were as smooth as the blown glassy walls of his own home corridor — there was no chance of escape there. Indeed, could he have clambered down the side of the tower, it would have availed nothing, for the crowd of shelks below had by now grown to such proportions as to cover the ground, and Tumithak could see them pointing and gesticulating, exactly as a crowd of humans would do under similar circumstances.

Datto Joins the Other Two

Datto suddenly drew himself up between the two Loorians, leaning his huge form upon the ledge of the window. His eyes were still filled with the tears that had sprung into them at the death of Thorpf, but he spoke nothing now of his grief. His mind, too, was filled with the problem of escape.

“They are coming, Tumithak,” he said. “Other shelks are coming up through the ropes. What shall we do now? Turn and fight them?”

The Loorian’s heart felt a glow as he realized Datto’s willingness to fight the shelks. This was one man, at least, who had learned the lesson that Tumithak had preached so long and earnestly to the pit-men. He shook his head at Datto’s proposal, however, and continued to look out of the window. There did seem one course of escape left, but so small was it that Tumithak was loath to suggest it. At last, however, he heard sounds not far beneath him, and knowing that the pursuing shelks would soon reach the window, he determined to put his desperate plan into execution.

The far ends of the cables that hung from the window ledge extended to towers that were, most of them, inhabited. Tumithak could see the faces of shelks at the windows, and in one, even, the hairy face of a Mog was visible. But two of the windows were empty and toward the nearer of these, Tumithak pointed.

“It is our only chance,” he said, and tried to conceal the despair in his voice. “It is a slim chance, but perhaps we can get across and escape some way out of that other tower.”

Nikadur, who held the best position at the window, seized upon the idea at once and, climbing into the window’s opening, swung out upon the cable. Hand over hand he passed out on the rope, and Tumithak motioned to Datto to follow him. The big Yakran shook his head.

“This is no time for heroics, Lord of Loor,” he said. “The lower corridors need you far more than me. The chances are slim enough for escape now, without increasing them. Go you, and I will follow and guard from the rear.”

This arrangement was hardly to Tumithak’s liking and for a moment, he felt inclined to argue, but the increasing danger made him realize that time was precious and so he took his place at the window and followed Nikadur hand over hand across the cable.

The Escape from the Tower — Datto’s Sacrifice

Tumithak gave one look down as he swung ape-like along the rope but the vertigo that immediately resulted caused him to look hastily upward again. He found himself not far behind Nikadur and hesitated in his crawling pace long enough to look hack to see if Datto was following him. The sight he saw in the brief glimpse he had was something that remained in his memories for years.

The shelks had arrived at the window’s opening and Datto had been forced to turn and face them. As Tumithak looked, he saw the huge chief of Yakra, with one shelk clawing desperately at him from behind, pick up another and hurl him, clattering and squeaking from the window. Then he drew his sword and called to Tumithak.

“They have me, Tumithak,” he cried, “I can’t hold them off. There are many — ” he hesitated and then, as if an idea had suddenly occurred to him: “Hold fast the rope, Tumithak!”

The Loorian chief gazed in puzzled despair as Datto swung his sword. Again the Yakran cried: “Hold fast the rope!” and then the blade struck down the cable, half severing it. Fearful, at a loss to understand Datto’s reason for his actions, Tumithak gripped the cable even tighter, and then the sword struck again, cleanly cutting the cable from its fastening at the window.

Tumithak caught a single glimpse of Datto being jerked back into the tower, even as he struck; and then the Loorians were falling away from the tower. Nothing but death was in Tumithak’s mind, yet some inward instinct made him obey Datto’s last command and cling like grim death to the rope. He saw the ground approaching with terrible swiftness, saw that they were swinging toward the tower to which the other end of the cable was fastened; and then there was a terrific jolt, and beyond, he heard Nikadur scream fearfully. The rope had swung past the leaning tower, its end, weighted with the Loorians, acting as a huge pendulum and then the ground, which had approached with sickening closeness, was dropping away again!

Dimly conscious that they had somehow escaped death, the two had hardly realized it when Tumithak’s precarious grip on the rope began to slip. He grabbed at the nearest object, which happened to be Nikadur’s leg; heard his companion scream again, and then they were turning over and over in the air, to land, a second later, in the branches of a huge tree that stood beyond the group of towers.

The complete version of “Tumithak in Shawm” appears in Black Gate 6.

The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in April

Saturday, May 19th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

Hell Hounds Banner

Joe Bonadonna had the top post at Black Gate in April, with his review of Andrew P. Weston’s Hell Hounds, the follow-up to his 2015 novel Hell Bound, and the second novel featuring the Daemon Grimm and his adventures in the Heroes in Hell universe created by Janet Morris.

Not to be intimidated, both Bob Byrne and Fletcher Vredenburgh placed two articles in the Top Ten last month. Bob’s feature on Arthurian Elements in the Conan Canon came in at #4, and his post on Tolkien’s Magic Sword Anglachel placed 9th. Fletcher claimed the sixth slot with his review of Andre Norton’s classic Witch World, and his look at Fred Saberhagen’s long-neglected novel The Broken Lands landed at #10.

There were a handful of folks in the Top Ten who weren’t named Joe, Bob, or Fletcher. Our feature on 40 Years of Gaming in Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar grabbed the #2 slot, and Ryans Harvey’s celebration of My 300th Black Gate Post soared to #3. James Wallace Harris asked if we are Fans of a Dying Art Form in our #5 piece, and our Vintage Treasure article comparing The Best Science Fiction of 1974 anthologies from Lester del Rey, Terry Carr, and Donald Wollheim was good for #7. Rounding out the list was our brief history of Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine.

The complete list of Top Articles for April follows. Below that, I’ve also broken out the most popular overall articles, online fiction, and blog categories for the month.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in February

Sunday, March 25th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill


January sure was popular with readers. The most popular article at Black Gate last month was… our summary of the most popular articles at Black Gate the previous month. If that patterns hold, this will be the most popular article on the blog in March. To guarantee that, I’ve put a big picture of Godzilla at the top. You’re welcome.

Getting back to more regular fare, the second most popular post on the blog last month was Elizabeth Crowens’ epic interview with Buffy the Vampire Slayer author author Nancy Holder. Third on the list was a Vintage Treasures feature on Robert E. Howard’s Solomon Kane 1: Skulls in the Stars (which just proves Bob Byrne’s thesis that REH is a sure ticket into the Top Ten). Rounding out the Top Five were our look at a much more recent book, the new Looming Low anthology from Justin Steele and Sam Cowan, and my salute to a vanished book imprint, A Farewell to Roc Books.

As always, games were well represented in the Top Ten. Andrew Zimmerman Jones scored the #6 slot with his feature review of the new RPG Tales from the Loop, and M Harold Page entertained us with his report on I Love the Corps, which was good enough for #7. No Top Ten list would be complete without Ryan Harvey, and he made his appearance at #8 with the latest installment of The Complete Carpenter, this time featuring Big Trouble in Little China (1986). Wrapping things up was our look at Unbound Worlds on A Century of Sword and Planet, and the debut effort of new BG blogger David Neil Lee, with his review of Kong – Skull Island.

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The Top Black Gate Posts in January

Sunday, February 18th, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill


Ryan Harvey was the man to beat at Black Gate in January. He claimed three of the Top Ten articles — including our overall most popular post last month, a review of the new animated film Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters.

Bob Byrne came in at #2 with his Conan pastiche review round-up, “By Crom: Some Conans are More Equal Than Others…” Fletcher Vredenburgh took third with a look at J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Children of Húrin. Derek Kunsken’s review of Frank Herbert’s classic Dune was the fourth most popular post in January, and Fletcher rounded out the Top Five with “Why I’m Here – Part Two: Some Thoughts on Old Books and Appendix N.”

Our obituary for the great Ursula K. Le Guin was #6, followed by John DeNardo’s Definitive List of the Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of last year. Eighth was my article on vintage paperbacks, “Christmas for the Paperback Collector,” followed by Ryan’s review of Beyond the Farthest Star by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Ryan closed out the Top Ten with a piece on that Saturday morning classic, Warlords of Atlantis.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in December

Sunday, January 21st, 2018 | Posted by John ONeill

RuneQuest Griffin Island-small RuneQuest Griffin Island-back-small

Bob Byrne ruled the charts last month, with no less than three articles in the December Top Ten — a new record. Well done Bob! (But you’re still not getting a new office.)

Bob’s most popular piece was his report on the new Robert E. Howard pastiches coming in 2018, followed by a detailed look at the notorious takeover of gaming company SPI by its arch-rival TSR in 1982. His investigation of Heroic Signatures, a new venture to create digital properties based on Howard’s work, came in at #10 for the month.

The top article at Black Gate last month was another gaming piece: Michael O’Brien’s warts-and-all survey of Avalon Hill’s early Runequest releases, including classics like Griffin Island and Gods of Glorantha. Third on the list was our look at Frank M. Robinson’s legendary pulp collection. Rounding out the Top Five was Elizabeth Crowens’ far ranging interview with bestselling author Charlaine Harris.

Number six was our summary of the Top 50 Posts in November, followed by a sneak peek of the latest issue of Weirdbook. Closing out the list was our 2017 Christmas message, and Jess Terrell’s in-depth interview with Christopher Paul Carey, author of Swords Against the Moon Men.

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The Top Black Gate Posts in November

Sunday, December 17th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill


Sean McLachlan was the Black Gate MVP for November, with two articles in the Top 5: “Happy Halloween! Here’s Some Nightmare Fuel” at #3, and “Ten Ways You Know Your Evil Empire Is Doomed,” which scored the #5 slot. Hot on Sean’s heels was Ryan Harvey with two Pellucidar posts, his review of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Savage Pellucidar (#6) and the Series Wrap-Up (#10).

The most popular article last month was our survey of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Sword & Sorceress anthology series, which has been published semi-continuously since 1984. The post spawned at least one follow-up, a more personal look back on the series by Elizabeth Cady, to be published here in the next next few days. Coming in at #2 was Bob Byrne’s review of the film Murder on the Orient Express. Rounding out the Top Five was our look at S. A. Chakraborty’s new novel The City of Brass.

An update on Beneath Ceaseless Skies placed seventh, followed by Fletcher Vredenburgh’s review of Robert E. Howard’s The Road of Azrael. And Steven H Silver nabbed the ninth slot on the list, with his Michael Moorcock re-read “Elric and Me.”

The complete list of Top Articles for November follows. Below that, I’ve also broken out the most popular overall articles, online fiction, and blog categories for the month.

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The Top 50 Black Gate Posts in October

Saturday, November 25th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Tales from the Magician's Skull-small

Sword and Sorcery dominated the stage at Black Gate last month. The most popular topic in October was the new S&S magazine from industry pioneers Joseph Goodman and Howard Andrew Jones, Tales From the Magician’s Skull, which showed up twice in the Top Ten, first with a far-ranging interview with Joseph and Howard (and their undead overlord, the Talking Skull), followed by a report on the blockbuster Kickstarter that funded the first two issues.

Gaming and game news were definitely popular as well. The #1 article for the month was M. Harold Page’s review of Starfinder Alien Archive, followed by our look at the top-sellers at the semi-annual Games Plus auction in Mount Prospect. Goth Chick came in third with her trip report on the Cedar Point HalloWeekends event, featuring Midnight Syndicate’s 20th anniversary concert. Rounding out the Top Five were Elizabeth Crowens’ interview with horror master Nancy Kilpatrick, and M. Harold Page’s advance peek at the Elite Dangerous Role Playing Game.

Coming in at #7 for the month was Fletcher Vredenburgh’s touching reminiscence of his long-time gaming circle, “The Past Remembered.” Ninth was our feature on the very first piece of Greyhawk fiction, Gygax’s 1974 article “The Expedition Into the Black Reservoir: A Dungeon Adventure at Greyhawk Castle.” And closing out the Top Ten was our look at the popular Corpse-Rat King novels by Lee Battersby

The complete list of Top Articles for October follows. Below that, I’ve also broken out the most popular overall articles, online fiction, and blog categories for the month.

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