Email: [email protected] TOMB HUNTER The Adventures of Larra Court Episode 4 Larra and the Lost World Chapter 3 The Apeman Larra sat in the copilot’s seat as she guided the aircraft over the dense rainforest. She was not an experienced pilot. Katie had learned to fly first and was teaching her. Flying was a much faster way to travel than trekking through the African wilderness. There were only two problems associated with it. One was that the mountainous rainforest region below the aircraft offered few places to land. The other was that the plane needed to be refueled at regular intervals and there was not an abundance of places offering refueling facilities. And so they had chosen a compromise. Katie had flown the Westland Wessex trimotor on several missions over the African landscape, eventually locating a landing area close to the region that they wished to explore. Then she had flown in a load of fuel and supplies for the expedition. Finally, she flew in Larra, Jia Li, and Amy. Sarah remained behind in Kampala. Someone had to look after Larra’s two children. As they approached the landing zone, Katie took over the controls. Larra was not ready for a rough surface landing yet. Katie eased the aircraft down toward the landing area. It was about as remote from anywhere else in Africa as it was possible to get, but they had to go still farther. Still, the plane had doubtless saved them considerable time trekking across the African landscape. Larra believed from the description given her by Burroughs that they should be very close to the area that she was seeking. They would use the area Katie had chosen to land as their headquarters, and scout the area around it by air. It should save them months of footslogging. The plane bumped to a stop and immediately a dozen black Africans swarmed around it. There was not much for them to unload this time. The four women were the main cargo. Within a few minutes all of the passengers and gear had been removed from the plane. Larra and her friends huddled under an awning attached to the main tent, poring over a map of the area. “This is about as good a map as I could find,” said Larra, “and as you can see it lacks many details. However, it should enable us to plan our search of the area. Burroughs gave me general instructions on where to look, but he was quite vague about most of the area. Of course, he freely admitted that he had never been here in person. He was given the information about this region by someone called John Grey. Supposedly, this John Grey lives like a hermit somewhere near here.” “And you are sure that this John Grey exists and isn’t some figment of Burroughs imagination?” asked Amy. “I can’t be sure.” answered Larra. “Burroughs could be completely mad or even more likely just a fraud trying to make himself more important. However, the British foreign office says that there is indeed a German expedition headed for this area by way of Mozambique. That would seem to indicate that someone else is quite serious about the exploration of this region.” Katie pointed to the map. “I think the best plan is to break the map into quadrants and then check out each quadrant from the air. If I find anything promising we can investigate it more thoroughly on foot.” “I agree,” said Larra. “We will start tomorrow.” The search went as planned. For several days Katie went up with one of the other women and scouted out each quadrant. On the fourth day Jia Li, who happened to have especially sharp eyes, spotted something. “Look there,” she said. “I think I see a man-made clearing.” Katie flew over the area Jia Li had indicated, swooping low over the treetops. Sure enough, there was a definite clearing in the forest. And at the edge of the clearing there was what appeared to be a small ramshackle building. “This looks worth checking out from the ground,” said Katie. And she turned the plane around and headed back to camp. The clearing Jia Li had spotted was quite close to the base camp. It was only a matter of a few miles away as the plane flies. It would, however, be a tough trek through the rainforest. The day after Jia Li’s discovery, Larra and Jia Li set off with five porters. They were well equipped with food, weapons, and other necessary gear. It might only appear to be a one-day walk, but Larra’s experience had taught her that short walks in the rainforest could turn into ordeals that might last several days. This time, however, their progress was swift. They covered the seven-mile distance in only half a day. Shortly after noon they entered the clearing. As had already been determined there was a small shanty in the clearing. To Larra’s disappointment, it seemed to be clearly deserted. It was apparent from its ruined state that no one had lived in it for along time. Nevertheless, Larra decided to check it out. There might be some clue that would help her out. Approaching the building cautiously, Larra spotted a footprint in the damp soil near the front door of the building, but the print was pointed away from the building toward the forest. There was no sign of footprints going in. Larra and Jia Li followed the footprints toward the forest. The print was interesting in that it was of a bare foot. Whoever had made it obviously did not own shoes. Larra wondered if that fitted the profile of John Grey. Perhaps it did. Anyone who lived alone in the rainforest could certainly be eccentric enough not to wear shoes. The footprints led to the trunk of a large tree and then stopped. Larra furrowed her attractive brow. It did not appear that the prints continued on the other side. Surely the maker of the prints had not gone straight up the tree. Larra and Jia Li gazed up the trunk of the massive rainforest giant. Numerous vines were twisted around the trunk. It would certainly be possible to use these to climb the tree. But what motive would anyone have for climbing a rainforest tree? Both women stepped back a little from the trunk, trying to penetrate the dense canopy of leaves and branches that spread out from the trunk about forty feet up. Jia Li gave a little start. “There is something up there,” she said in a whisper. Larra stared as hard as she could. Sure enough, she could make out the outline of some manmade structure farther up the tree. It appeared that someone had built some sort of platform among the interlocking branches of the canopy. “Well,” said Larra, “I guess one of us should take a look.” She shifted her rifle from her shoulder and lay it against the trunk. She also removed her light pack from her back and placed it on the ground. Then using the vines that encircled the trunk as climbing aids, she slowly ascended the trunk of the massive tree. She took her time. She did not want to fall and injure herself so far away from medical aid, and she did not know what was waiting for her farther up. As she ascended she gradually merged with the canopy. Now she could see that she was climbing toward not just a platform, but a complete and elaborate tree dwelling. Located about sixty feet from the ground, the treehouse completely encircled the trunk of the tree in a ten-foot diameter circle. It was sturdily lashed together with grass rope and thatched over to keep it dry during tropical downpours. Larra continued her climb. The route she had chosen took her directly to an opening in the deck of the treehouse. She poked her head through the opening and looked around. Seated on a stool about ten feet away, and looking directly at her was a white man! He was dressed in a tan shirt and a rather worn pair of shorts. He wore no shoes. For what seemed like an eternity Larra and the mysterious white man studied each other. Finally, the man spoke: “I don’t get many visitors, but if I did you would probably still qualify as the most beautiful guest I have ever had.” Larra stammered a reply. She felt like an intruder breaking into someone’s home. “I… I didn’t mean to startle you.” “Startle me? I have known you were coming for over half an hour. You made enough noise coming through the forest to alert anyone. Despite your weapons, I think that you are harmless. You are connected to that aircraft that flew over here a day ago aren’t you?” The man spoke perfect Oxford English. “Uhh, yes,” replied Larra. She was still halfway through the floor. “May I come in?” “Yes, of course,” said the man rising. “How rude of me. You must come in. He extended his hand to Larra and helped her through the opening in the deck. “I am John Grey. Please excuse my rudeness. The last guest I had was some strange American about 25 years ago.” “Burroughs,” said Larra. Then she introduced herself. “I am Larra Court. My female companion is Jia Li. We have been looking for you.” John Grey looked at her sharply. “Yes Burroughs. How did you know? Did he send you here?’ “Sort of,” said Larra. I think I should explain. But may I invite my friend up here?” “Certainly, you may. I am a poor host. You fetch your friend and I will get some refreshments.” Larra called down to Jia Li. She wondered what kind of refreshments could be available out here. Looking back to John Grey she saw that he had disappeared around the other side of the deck. As Jia Li began to climb up, Grey returned. He held a wicker bowl full of tropical fruits. “This is the best I can do,” he said. “I don’t have much contact with the outside.” “This will be fine,” said Larra. “Would you like some tea?” “That would be most welcome!” said Grey enthusiastically. “I will heat some water.” Larra called down to the porters asking them to place some tea and sugar in a basket that Grey had supplied her with. A seventy-foot length of grass rope was attached to it so that it could be pulled up. Jia Li arrived and Larra introduced her. The porters stayed on the ground, which was just as well considering that they were already disturbed enough by the discovery of the strange tree dwelling. “Grey seemed quite overwhelmed. “Two beautiful women! This is certainly a most eventful day!” Larra studied her host. He appeared to be not much older than about thirty-five years and was tall and well-muscled, with dark wavy hair. This puzzled her. Burroughs had written his first Apeman story about 1915. Could this John Grey be the same man? Grey continued talking. “I had a wife once. But she could not stand the isolation. I have not seen a white woman in over 15 years. I do see some people. I come into contact with Africans and they trade me items that I cannot obtain myself.” Grey had escorted the two women to his kitchen area. On the deck was a stone hearth where he had lit a fire under a battered kettle. “I have not had much use for this,” he said. “My last supply of tea ran out about three years ago and I have not been able to get any since. I have found a poor substitute in the leaves of some rainforest plant, but it is not the same as the real thing.” “When we leave,” said Larra, “we will give you all that we have.” “When you leave…,” Burroughs mused. “You still have not told me why you have come.” Larra smiled. “I will explain. It is a bit of a long story, so I hope you will have the patience to hear me out.” “I am not going anywhere at the present,” replied Grey. “I don’t seem to have any pressing engagements.” Larra used her smile again. It was a powerful weapon. She was beginning to like this strange man. The kettle had boiled and Grey handed her some tea in a tin cup. Larra began her story. “…and so you see,” she finished, “the trail has led to you, and will likely go no farther without your help.” “So it is the Germans again,” said Grey. “I killed quite a few of them in the last war, but am not looking forward to doing so again. I live here because I want to live alone. But if what you say is true, there may be considerable danger to a part of Africa that is best left undisturbed. Let me think about what you have told me for a day or so and then I will decide.” Larra and Jia Li finished their meal with the eccentric Grey. The fruit was quite excellent, and consisted of some varieties that Larra had never encountered before. After the meal Larra excused herself and Jia Li and made ready to climb down the tree. “Oh no!” said Grey. “It is much safer up here. There are fewer insects and prowling animals. You must spend the night on the platform.” “Thank you,” replied Larra, “but I have…” Her voice trailed off. How could she explain that she and Jia Li had business of a private nature to attend to? Grey seemed to guess her thoughts. “There are facilities on that side of the tree,” he said, pointing to the trunk of the tree and gesturing with a sweep of his hand that they should make their way around to the other side. Larra and Jia Li followed the curved deck around and found that on the far side a walkway led away from the deck toward the outer branches of the tree. Perched at the end of the walk was a wooden seat with a hole in it that would drop any body waste to the forest floor sixty feet below. It was a novel experience watching her body waste disappear into the depths. Apparently John Grey’s tree home had everything he needed. After hauling up their sleeping gear Larra and Jia Li settled down for the night. Below her the porters camped around a bright fire singing African songs. It seemed quite romantic. Grey was still a handsome man and he was sleeping only a few feet away from her. That somehow bothered her. If Burroughs’ story was true, Grey should have been about fifty or sixty years old, yet he seemed to be only in his thirties. But Grey himself had spoken of killing Germans in the Great War. It was a mystery. As she mulled over the contradictions, she fell asleep. Early the next morning Larra and Jia Li were awakened by the chattering of several brightly colored birds. Grey was already awake and brewing up some tea. Larra, who was not usually a heavy sleeper had not heard anything. She now noticed that when Grey moved, he made almost no noise at all. “I have thought over what you told me and I have decided to help you,” Grey said as Larra sat up. He was certainly not one for small talk. “I will not accompany you on your journey, but I will tell you how to get there.” Larra was relieved. She had not expected Grey to accompany them anyway. Of course, that was before she understood that he was not a sixty-year-old recluse living in the jungle. But whether he came or not, the information that he had was invaluable to her. Over breakfast Grey told Larra what she needed to know. After that, there was really nothing to keep her any longer, especially as every day that went by brought the German expedition closer to the same place that she was heading. So she and Jia Li said their rather awkward good-byes and climbed down out of the tree. They left Grey all of their tea and sugar, as well as a few other food items and trekked off back the way they had come. “He a handsome man,” said Jia Li teasingly as they marched off. Apparently the young Chinese girl had noticed Larra’s interest. “Yes,” Larra agreed. She had to admit that if circumstances had been different she would have liked to stay longer. The return to the base camp took a little longer than the march out. They ran into a heavy tropical downpour and had to shelter for an hour until the rain stopped. After that the wet trail made walking difficult, as they were slogging through mud for much of the time, but eventually they made their way back safely. After the usual round of welcoming hugs from Katie and Amy, they held a group meeting. Larra told of what she had learned. She now knew the way to get to Burroughs’ mysterious lost world. The next day, the expedition broke camp, and Larra and her companions moved off into the wilds of Africa.