PREVIOUSLY: Marooned on the island, and with Mariner becoming increasingly suspicious of Professor Huss' motives, the four travellers discover that the giant lizard that attacked them emits a weird glow, even in death! But before they can speculate further, another giant creature swoops out of the sky and carries off the professor's daughter, Mara...
Huss whipped his Luger from its holster, and was about to fire at the creature when Mariner knocked his arm aside.
“Don’t be a fool, man. A fall from that height will kill her. Come on,” he called as he ran after the giant insect. “It can’t go far or fast carrying Mara’s weight. We can keep up with it.”
Muttering something under his breath, the German jammed his pistol back in its holster. What infuriated him most was that the English swine was right. It was a bitter pill to swallow, for Huss was a proud man, and could not abide chastisement at the hands of what to him was a lesser breed of man.
His mind swirling with dark thoughts for Mariner, and fears for Mara’s safety, he quickly ran after the Captain as Ma-Ku followed close behind, equally concerned for the helpless girl, and silently calling on her gods to save them all.
Mariner forced his way through the tropical verdure that, like a voluptuous woman luxuriating in her own fecundity, had spread in untrammelled exuberance across the island’s earthy couch. Desperately, he sought to keep up with the dragonfly, cursing himself for not ordering their immediate departure from this nightmarish place.
Leafy branches flayed him with stinging blows as he crashed through their hindering limbs, and many times he barely saved himself from a disastrous fall as he sought to keep his eyes divided between ground and sky.
The aerial creature was all but invisible, concealed by the jungle canopy, and only occasionally did he catch a glimpse of sunlight flashing from the metallic sheen of its ten-foot wings.
Spurred on and guided by Mara’s
screams, he pushed his tired muscles to the limit of endurance, and was
rewarded with the sight of the dragonfly descending towards the base of
a small waterfall. The thing landed clumsily by the banks of the
foaming stream, still clutching Mara tightly in its claws.
God, he thought. I don’t
think I could run another step.
However, in his haste to rescue the girl, Mariner failed to notice that size was not the only difference between the giant insect and its smaller cousins. When he came within range it turned towards him, a living machine, a thing of deadly beauty -- armoured in green chitin of metallic luustre. The large eyes, shimmering with rainbow light, regarded Mariner with sinister intent. Suddenly, arching its tail like a scorpion, it sent its stinger plunging down towards his chest.
The deadly barb was a blur of motion as it arrowed towards him, but Mariner managed to block the thrust with the butt of his rifle, the force of the impact sending him staggering back. The dragonfly advanced and the man retreated, luring it away from the girl.
Again it sought him with its sting, but this time he leapt aside and fired point blank into its head. The rifle’s deafening roar erupted in the silence, blasting the insect’s head to gory fragments. The creature staggered, then tumbled into the stream, its demise witnessed by the Professor and Ma-Ku who had only now caught up with him.
Shouldering past Mariner, Huss ran to his daughter, who had risen weakly to an elbow.
“I’m not badly hurt, father,” she said as he knelt beside her, and hugged her to him. “The claws of that thing hooked mostly into my clothes rather than my flesh. I think my wounds are only shallow cuts.”
Naturally, the girl was badly shaken by her ordeal, but put on a brave face. She knew better than to show too many signs of weakness in front of her father, who believed in the supremacy of the German race.
“Ma-Ku,” snapped the Professor, rising to his feet, relieved that Mara was not badly hurt. “Attend your mistress while I examine the insect. Clean her injuries with the iodine the Captain gave you. If I find you’ve wasted it all on yourself I’ll be most displeased.”
The Chinese girl wearily brushed a strand of hair from her eyes and, with an air of resignation, sat down next to Mara. The train of alarming events had left her near to collapse, both mentally and physically.
Mariner walked over to the pair, feeling sorry for both of them, but not really knowing what words of comfort he could offer. Sitting down heavily beside Ma-Ku, he handed her a packet of sterile bandages, another bottle of antiseptic, and then began to reload his rifle.
“Thank you Captain,” she said with a smile, his reassuring presence drawing her out of herself. “My mistress must remove her clothes for me to treat her injuries, so …”
“You can stay, if you like,” interrupted Mara, grinning mischievously. “And thanks for saving my life. It was very heroic.”
Her flirtatiousness in this case was mostly a facade, a brazen persona she erected to hide her own fears engendered by the lurid drama that was unfolding with chilling reality upon the island’s stage.
Mariner returned her grin, seeing her offer for what it was. “I think I’d better go and keep an eye on your father,” he replied as he hastily stood and moved away.
The two girls watched him depart, Mara thinking erotic thoughts, Ma-Ku, stabbed by jealousy, looking forward to applying the stinging iodine to her Mistress’s cuts and, at the same time, ashamed of her own feelings.
“I’ll allow the girls a few minutes rest,” thought Mariner, “Then we’re leaving, and to hell with any objections Huss may have.” Then, looking about at the reeking jungle: “God knows what other monstrosities are lurking out there.”
Turning his attention to Huss, he watched the man wading out in midstream to examine the monstrous dragonfly, and shook his head in disgust, thinking: “He’s more interested in that bloody thing than his daughter.”
This story is copyright by Kirk Straughen. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)