Astounding Stories of Super-Science, December 1930 – various authors

T HE two batalões turned from the open waters of the lower Tapajos River into the igarapé, the lily-smothered shallows that often mark an Indian settlement in the jungles of Brazil. One of the two half-breed rubber-gatherers suddenly stopped his batalõe by thrusting a paddle against a giant clump of lilies. In a corruption of the Tupi dialect, he called over to the white man occupying the other frail craft. Fate’s retribution was adequate. There emerged a rat with a man’s head and face. “We dare go no farther, master. The country of the Ungapuks is bewitched. It is too dangerous.” Fearfully he stared over his shoulder toward a spot in the slimy water where a dim bulk moved, which was only an alligator hunting for his breakfast. Hale Oakham, as long and lanky and level-eyed as Charles Lindbergh, ran despairing fingers through his damp hair and groaned. “But how can I find this jungle village without a guide?” The caboclo shrugged. “The village will find you. It is bewitched, master. But you will soon see the path through the matto.” “Can’t you stay by me until time to land? I don’t like the looks of these alligators.

” “It is better for a white man to face an alligator than for a caboclo to face an Ungapuk. Once they used to kill and eat us for our strength. Now—” Again his shrug was eloquent. “Now?” Hale prompted impatiently. “The white god who put a spell on these one-time cannibals will bewitch us and make us wash and rejoice when it is time to die.” HE shuddered and spat at a cayman that was lumbering away from his batalõe. Hale Oakham laughed, a hearty boyish laugh for a rather learned young professor. “Is that all they do to you?” he asked. “No. All who enter this magic matto die soon, rejoicing.

Before the last breath comes, it is said their bodies turn into a handful of silver dust—poof!—like that.” He snapped his dirty fingers. “Then the life that leaves them goes into rocks that walk.” Hale sighed resignedly. There wasn’t any use to argue. “Unload your batalõe,” he ordered testily, “and get your filthy carcasses away.” The half-breeds obeyed readily. As the departing batalõe turned from the igarapé into the open water of the river, the young man repressed a sudden lifting of his scalp. He was in for it now! His long body sprawled out in the batalõe, he paddled about aimlessly for several minutes until he found an aisle through the jungle—the path that led to the jungle village which he was visiting in the name of science, and for a certain award. Before plunging into that waiting tangle where life and death carried on a visible, unceasing struggle, he hesitated.

Instinctively he shrank from losing himself in that mad green world. HE had first heard of the Ungapuks at the convention of the Nescience Club in New York, that body of scientists, near-scientists and adventurers linked together for the purpose of awarding the yearly Woolman prizes for the most spectacular addition of empiric facts to various branches of science. One of the members of the club, an explorer, had told a wild yarn about a tribe of Brazilian Indians, headed by Sir Basil Addington, an English scientist, who was conducting secret experiments in biochemistry in his jungle laboratory. The explorer had said that the scientist, half-crazed by a powerful narcotic, had seemingly discovered some secret of life which enabled him to produce monsters in his laboratory and to change the physical characteristics of the Ungapuk Indians, who, in five years, had been transformed from cannibals into cultured men and women. And now Hale Oakham, hoping to win one of the Woolman prizes, was here in the country of the Ungapuks, entering the jungle path that lead to the unknown. Fifty feet from the igarapé, the path curved sharply away from a giant tree. Hale approached the bend with his hand on his gun. Just before he reached it, he stopped suddenly to listen. A woman’s voice had suddenly broken forth in a wild, incredibly sweet song. Hale stood entranced, drinking in the heady sounds that stirred his emotions like masata, the jungle intoxicant.

The singer approached the bend in the path, while the young man waited eagerly. The first sight of her made him gasp. He had expected to see an Indian girl. No sane traveler would imagine a white woman in the Amazon jungle, with skin as amazingly pale as the great, fleshy victoria regia lilies in the igarapé. When she saw Hale, she stopped instantly. With a quick, practiced twist, she reached for the bow flung across her shoulders and fitted a barbed arrow to the string. SHE was a beautiful barbarian, standing quivering before him. In the thick dull gold braids hanging over her bare shoulders flamed two enormous scarlet flowers, no redder than her own lips pouted in alarm. There was a savage brevity to her clothing, which consisted only of a short skirt of rough native grass and breastplates of beaten gold, held in place by strings of colored seeds. The girl held out an imperious hand and, in perfect English, said: “Go back!” Hale drew his long body up to its slim height, folded his arms, and gave her his most winning smile.

His insolence added to his wholesome good looks. “Why?” he exclaimed. “I’ve come a couple of thousand miles to call on you.” He saw that the eyes which held his levelly were pure and limpid, and of an astonishing orchid-blue. “Who are you?” Her throaty, vibrant voice was a thing of the flesh, whipping Hale’s senses to sudden madness. “I’m Hale Oakham,” he said, a little tremulously, “a lone, would-be scientist knocking about the jungle. Won’t you tell me your name?” She nodded gravely. “I amAña. I, too, am white.” Her rich voice was quietly proud.

“Come; I’ll see if Aimu will receive you.” With surprising, childlike trust, she held out her little hand to him. The gesture was so delightfully natural that Hale, grinning boyishly, took her hand and held it as they walked down the jungle path. “Sing for me,” he demanded abruptly. “Sing the song you sang just now.” “That?” asked the girl, turning the virgin-blue fire of her eyes on him. “That was my death-song that I practice each day. Perhaps soon I shall be released from this.” She passed her hands over her beautiful, half-clothed body. HALE’S warm glance swept over her.

“Do you want to die?” “Yes; don’t you? But you do not, or you would not have retreated from my poisoned arrow.” “No, Aña; I want to live.” “To live—and be a slave of this?” Again her hand went over her slim body. “A slave of a pile of flesh that you must feed and protect from the agonies that attack it on every side? Bah! But I am hoping that my turn will come next.” “Your turn for what, Aña?” “To enter the Room of Release. Perhaps, if Aimu approves of you, you, too, may taste of death.” Her gentle smile was beatific. “Do you speak of Sir Basil Addington?” “He was called that once, before he came to us. Now he has no name. We can find none holy enough for him; and so we call him Aimu, which means good friend.

” Her beautiful face was sweet with reverence. And now, in the distance, Hale saw that the path led into a large clearing. He slowed his pace, for he wanted to know this lovely girl better before he joined the Ungapuks. “Who are you, Aña?” he asked suddenly, bending closer to the crinkled, dull-gold hair. “I am Aña, a white woman.” She looked at him frankly. “But who are your parents, and how did you get among the Ungapuks?” Aña’s red lips curved into a dewy smile. “I thought all white men were wise, like Aimu. But you are stupid. How do you think a white woman could appear in a tribe of Indians who live in the jungle, many weeks’ journey from what you call civilization?” Hale looked a little blank and more than a little disconcerted.

“I suppose I am stupid,” he said dryly. “But tell me, Aña, how did you get here?” “Why,” she exclaimed, “he made me!” “Made you? Good Lord! What do you mean?” “Just what I said, Hale Oakham. If he can take a few grains of dust and make a shoot that will grow into a giant tree like yonder monster itauba, don’t you think he can create a small white girl like me?” Her orchid-blue eyes glowed innocently into his. T HE eager questions that he would have asked froze upon his lips, for a party of Indians approached. The six nearly naked red men came close and surveyed him, toying nervously with their primitive, feather-decorated weapons. A tall, handsome young fellow who possessed something of the picturesque perfection of the North American plains’ Indian stepped forward and, in perfect English, said: “Good morning, white stranger. What is it you wish of the Ungapuks?” “I came to see your white cacique,” said Hale. “Aimu? What is it you wish of Aimu? He is ours, white stranger.” “Yes, he is yours. I come as a friend, perhaps to help him in his great work.

” “Perhaps!” The young Indian folded his bronze, muscular arms over his broad chest and continued his cool survey of Hale. “White men before you have come: spies and thieves. Some we poisoned with curari. Others Aimu took into the Room of Release.” He turned to Aña, who was still standing by Hale, and his expression softened. “What shall we do with him, Aña?” he asked the question, a fleeting look of hunger swept his fine, flashing eyes. Aña flushed beautifully, and, moving closer to Hale, with an impulsive, almost childish gesture, slipped her arm through his. “Let us take him to our village, Unani Assu!” she suggested. “I like him.” It was Hale’s turn to flush, which he did like a schoolboy.

UNANI ASSU’S brows drew together in a scowl. The hand holding his blow-pipe jerked convulsively. “Aña! Come away!” he growled. “You mustn’t touch a stranger!” Aña’s blue eyes stretched with astonishment. “But I like to touch him, Unani Assu!” The tall Indian, with a half comical gesture of despair, said: “Don’t misunderstand her, stranger. She is young, very young, ah! And she has known only the reborn men of the Ungapuks.” He stepped firmly over to Aña, and, taking the girl by the arm, drew her away. “Run ahead,” he commanded, “and tell Aimu that we come.” Aña, her feathered bamboo anklets clicking together, sped away. Unani Assu bowed courteously to Hale.

“Come, stranger. If you are an enemy, it is you who must fear.” He motioned for him to proceed down the jungle path. The path ended at a clearing studded with moloccas, the Indian grass huts made of plaited straw. Altogether the scene was peaceful and sane and far removed from the strange tales that Hale had heard concerning the Ungapuks. Hale was conducted to a long, low stone building, where, in the doorway, stood a tall and emaciated white man. “Aimu!” said the Indians reverently, and bowed themselves. Over the bare, brown backs, the white man looked at Hale. “Sir Basil Addington?” asked the young man. “Yes.

You are welcome. Come in.” Hale entered the building.


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