A Princess of Mars HTML version

The Escape Of The Dead
A sense of delicious dreaminess overcame me, my muscles relaxed, and I was on the
point of giving way to my desire to sleep when the sound of approaching horses reached
my ears. I attempted to spring to my feet but was horrified to discover that my muscles
refused to respond to my will. I was now thoroughly awake, but as unable to move a
muscle as though turned to stone. It was then, for the first time, that I noticed a slight
vapor filling the cave. It was extremely tenuous and only noticeable against the opening
which led to daylight. There also came to my nostrils a faintly pungent odor, and I could
only assume that I had been overcome by some poisonous gas, but why I should retain
my mental faculties and yet be unable to move I could not fathom.
I lay facing the opening of the cave and where I could see the short stretch of trail which
lay between the cave and the turn of the cliff around which the trail led. The noise of the
approaching horses had ceased, and I judged the Indians were creeping stealthily upon
me along the little ledge which led to my living tomb. I remember that I hoped they
would make short work of me as I did not particularly relish the thought of the
innumerable things they might do to me if the spirit prompted them.
I had not long to wait before a stealthy sound apprised me of their nearness, and then a
war-bonneted, paint-streaked face was thrust cautiously around the shoulder of the cliff,
and savage eyes looked into mine. That he could see me in the dim light of the cave I was
sure for the early morning sun was falling full upon me through the opening.
The fellow, instead of approaching, merely stood and stared; his eyes bulging and his jaw
dropped. And then another savage face appeared, and a third and fourth and fifth, craning
their necks over the shoulders of their fellows whom they could not pass upon the narrow
ledge. Each face was the picture of awe and fear, but for what reason I did not know, nor
did I learn until ten years later. That there were still other braves behind those who
regarded me was apparent from the fact that the leaders passed back whispered word to
those behind them.
Suddenly a low but distinct moaning sound issued from the recesses of the cave behind
me, and, as it reached the ears of the Indians, they turned and fled in terror, panic-
stricken. So frantic were their efforts to escape from the unseen thing behind me that one
of the braves was hurled headlong from the cliff to the rocks below. Their wild cries
echoed in the canyon for a short time, and then all was still once more.
The sound which had frightened them was not repeated, but it had been sufficient as it
was to start me speculating on the possible horror which lurked in the shadows at my
back. Fear is a relative term and so I can only measure my feelings at that time by what I
had experienced in previous positions of danger and by those that I have passed through
since; but I can say without shame that if the sensations I endured during the next few
minutes were fear, then may God help the coward, for cowardice is of a surety its own