The Ape-men of Xlotli
At the end of an hour he was still wondering.
At midday the canyon was chill and dank, lit only by a half light which at times dwindled to a deep dusk as the rock walls beetled together hundreds of feet above his head. Always when he stumbled through one of the darkest passages, he heard and half saw immense gray bats flapping above him. In the half-lit reaches, he hardly took a step without seeing great rats with gray coats, yellow teeth, and evil pink eyes. But rats and bats combined were not as bad as the snakes. They were almost white, and nowhere had he seen rattlers of such size. If his caution relaxed for a second, they struck at him with fangs as long and sharp as needles.
The tortured, twisted cedars, the paloverdi, occatilla, cholla, opunti, through which he edged his laborious way, all offered an almost animate, armed hostility.
Altogether this journey was the least sweet he had taken anywhere. Yet he went on.
Why had eleven Mexican bandits refused to advance even to within decent rifle range of the canyon’s mouth? What was there about the putrid yet gorgeous perfume that had made the stallion go off his nut, so to speak?
After a time, Kirby veered away from a fourteen-foot rattler which flashed in a loathsome coil on his left hand. Hungry, weakened by all he had been through since breakfast time, he plodded doggedly on.
But a moment later he stumbled past a twisted cedar, and then stopped, forgetting even the snakes.
At his feet lay the bleached skeleton of a man.
Beside the right hand, in a position which indicated that only the final relaxation of death had loosened his grip upon a precious object, lay a cylinder, carefully carved, of rich, yellow gold.
Of the science of anthropology Kirby knew enough to make him sure that the dolicocephalic skull and characteristically shaped pelvic and thigh bones of the skeleton had belonged to a white man.
As for the cylinder--But he was not so sure what that was.
Regardless of the dry swish of a rattler’s body on the rocks behind him, he lifted the object from the spot in which it had lain for no man knew how long. Of much the size and shape of an old-time cylindrical wax phonograph record, the softly gleaming thing weighed, he judged, almost two pounds.
Two pounds of soft, virgin gold of a quality as fine as any he had seen amongst all the treasures brought out of Mexico, Yucatan, and Peru combined!
But the gold was not the only thing. If Kirby was human enough to think in terms of treasure, he was also enough of an amateur anthropologist to hold his breath over the carvings on the yellow surface.
First he recognized the ancient symbols of Sun and Moon. And then a representation, semi-realistic, semi-conventionalized, of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent, known in all the annals of primitive Mexican religions.
But the mere symbols by no means told the whole story of the cylinder. The workmanship was archaic, older than any Aztec art Kirby knew, older than Toltec, older far, he ventured to guess, than even earliest archaic Mayan carvings.
God, what a find!
For a moment it seemed almost impossible that he, Freddie Kirby, native of Kansas, unromantic aviator, should have been the one to discover this relic of an unknown, lost race. Yet the cylinder of gold was there, in his hand.
After a long minute Kirby looked around him, then listened.
From up the canyon came the provocative rumble of the geyser. It was closer now, and Kirby, glancing at his watch which had been spared to him in the Wasp’s crash, noted that just forty-four minutes had passed since the last eruption. There was nothing to be done about the bleached skeleton. So, tucking the precious cylinder into his tunic, Kirby headed on up the gash of a canyon.
Far away indeed seemed the neat, maple-shaded asphalt street, the rows of parked cars and farm wagons, the telephone office and drug store and bank, of the Kansas town where he had grown up.
Time passed until again he heard the geyser, and again was dizzied by the perfume. As the fragrance--close and powerful now--died away, he flailed with one arm at a two-foot bat which flapped close to his head.
And then he trudged his dogged way around a deeply shadowed bend, and found the chasm not only almost wholly dark, but narrower than it had been at any previous point.
“Holy mackerel,” Kirby groaned. “Phew! If this keeps up, I--”
He stopped. His jaw dropped.
The beetling walls narrowed in until the gash was scarcely fifteen feet wide. Further progress was barred by a smooth wall which rose sheer in front of him.
Kirby did not know how many seconds passed before he made out through the gloom that the wall was man-made and carved with the same symbols of Sun, Moon, and Feathered Serpent, which ornamented the cylinder of gold. But when he did realize at last, the shout with which he expressed his feeling was anything but a groan.
It simply meant that the skeleton which once had been a man, had almost surely found the golden cylinder beyond the wall and not in the canyon. And if the dead man had passed that smooth, carved barrier, another man could do it!
Kirby jumped forward, began to search in the darkness for some hidden entrance.
Minute after minute passed. He gave another cry. He saw a long, upright crack in the stone surface, and a quick push of his hands made the stones in front of him give almost an inch.