|For the Adherent of Pop Culture|
Land of the Lost links:
By Tony Phillips
(Author's Note: Actually, sort of a conclusion to “Guardians of the Pit”)
When Holly Marshall descended into the seemingly bottomless chasm in search of Will, she was suddenly confronted by two mammoth pterosaurs. The giant, winged reptiles flapped up out of the Stygian darkness below, rending the blackness with their shrill cries. Holly shrieked and clutched to her rope. She gasped as she felt one of the beasts nip at her, its jagged, toothless beak ripping through her shirt, and gnashing the flesh beneath. Panic threatened to drown her, as the pteranodons’ wingbeats drummed in her ears. Some portion of her mind realized that the beasts were only playing with her at the moment, that the one who nipped her could easily have killed her it had chosen. But the creatures were clearly hostile, and Holly felt certain they would finish her off before much longer.
Her head spinning, her next action was on survival impulse. Holly thrust her hand into her pocket and grasped two of the crystals she carried in case of an emergency. A scream from the nearest winged reptile deafened her ears, and she took only one brief glance at the stones in her palm. But that was long enough for her to see clearly that she had selected a red and a yellow. Certain that one of the beasts would come at her in the next instant, thrusting at her with its barbed beak, Holly made to hurl the stones at it.
But then something extraordinary happened; the two crystals, now connecting with one another emitted a brilliant light, bathing Holly’s face and chest with white radiance. But it was the light’s effect on the pterosaurs which astonished her. They squawked at one another in apparent confusion, as they hung in the air about her, suspended by their thrashing wings. They did not attack. And then Holly noticed: there was a red crystal, identical to the one she held except that it was larger embedded in the pteranodon’s skull, square between its bird-like sockets, and directly below the boney crest. Holly looked at the beast’s companion to confirm, what she knew without looking. The other pteronodon had a yellow crystal embedded in the dead-center of its forehead as well. The pteranodons cried weakly, but ceased diving at her. After an impossibly long moment had passed, both reptiles flapped off in to the darkness below.
Holly shuddered as a sigh of pure relief passed through her. The pteranodons appeared to be gone, as the wingbeats faded into the dark, but she did not dare to relax her grip on the two stones.
Then she wondered: where had the pterosaurs come from? There was no hole anywhere in the vault of the cavern that she could see, other than the one she had come down through; certainly nothing that emitted daylight and therefore indicated a opening. The winged dinosaurs, therefore, must have their nesting area somewhere below. But that clearly made no sense either.
Holly strained her eyes as she peered into the darkness below her, and shivered. But she could see absolutely nothing, for which she was partially thankful. And yet…if the pterosaurs were down there, then this pit had to have a bottom after all, and another way out.
“Holly!” her father called from above. “Are you alright?”
“I-I’m okay, Daddy!” she managed to choke out. It frightened her how quaky her own voice sounded, and how faint the sound of Rick Marshall’s voice was.
At length, Holly felt her feet touch solid rock Still holding onto the rope with one hand, she swung off the makeshift platform, and began to take a step forward-and felt a dizzying nothingness beneath. Holly gasped and drew back, almost fainting with the fresh wave of nausea which swept over her. She now saw by the piercing light of the crystals that she was standing on a narrow ledge. The hole continued down further into unguessed depths. She drew the crystals apart, then, looking up from where she began descent she pressed the crystals together once, and then a second. She waited a moent until she received two answering flashes from Dad. Holly turned around, and, returning the crystals to her pocket, took several cautious paces into the darkness. There was a good measure of solid footing here, as she soon discovered. Soon she reached the entrance to a tunnel in the side of the chasm.
Holly reasoned that it might lead to wherever the Sleestak had taken Will (I’m assuming here that the “lizard men” mentioned in Ellison’s original story were indeed the Sleestak). She swallowed, and summoning her courage, began her way down the corridor. This chasm was fairly distant from the Lost City, but these caverns seemed endless, and clearly the Sleestak could get from there to here. She considered calling Will’s name, but decided that would be too dangerous. She would just have to search until she found him. She remembered the crystals she had brought in case she were attacked, and the thought brought mild comfort as she crept through the twisting corridors, here eyes scanning the gloom.
In the cave above, Rick Marshall felt the rope go lax. Momentary fear flushed through him. Had Holly finally touched the floor of the huge cavern….or had she tumbled into the vast unknown darkness? Rick didn’t even want to contemplate the latter, but he braced his mind to be prepared for the worst.
“Holly!” he called down into the endless chasm. “Holly, can you hear me?”
There was nothing.
Panic surging through him, Rick strained his eyes down into the pit. After what seemed to be interminable seconds, he saw the two welcome flashes of light from Holly’s crystals. The signal was alarmingly faint-little more than a flicker. But at least it registered that Holly was still safe. Quickly he gave two answering signals back.
Quickly, Rick secured his end of the rope to a stalagmite, making certain it was anchored. He heard Grumpy roar again from the cavern’s entrance. It had been many hours now since the tyrannosaurus rex had them trapped in the cave near Emily swamp. Rick relighted one of the torches, and waved it at the beast’s muzzle. At the sight of the orange flame, the carnosaur retreated roaring in disgruntlement. Grumpy reared up, but did not retreat.
Then Rick saw Spot the coelophysis emerge from a thick crush of cycads at the edge of the forest beyond. The small, fleet theropod, skittered up to grumpy, and pecked the tyrannosaur on the tail. Enraged, Grumply turned to attack Spot, as the coelurosaur sped off into the jungle. As the screams and roars of the two dinosaurs faded, Rick turned his attention back to the hole in the cavern floor.
Will Marshall lay on the carvern floor with his hands bound to a stalactite with thick cords. It seemed like an eternity since the sleestak had seized him, though he reasoned that it probably couldn’t have been more than half an hour ago. His head was still swimming were one of the reptiloids had struck his skull with some manner of blunt implement. Blearily, Will saw that he was in an antechamber, which opened up into a larger cavern, which lay beyond him. This other chamber radiated with weird, violet-colored light. As his eyes focused, he could see clearly the reason for this: the chamber a few meters in front of him was embedded, floor to ceiling with purplish-colored crystals. They didn’t have the exact shade or hue of any of the other crystals they had seen in the matrix tables or caverns. And Will guessed the new crystals contained some power foreign to the others. What they might do he had no way of knowing-nor did he particularly wish to at the moment- but he guessed they might be giving off some sort of deadly invisible rays-something like the waves of light that were invisible to the human spectrum-or like the gamma rays he’d read about in science class. Or perhaps something worse. A faint but nonetheless high-pitched wail emitted from the chamber (reeeeeeeeeeeeeeee). Will guessed the crystals were somehow the source of the sound. Faint though it was, something about it ate into his eardrums and up into his brain. But there was nothing Will could do about it until he got out or was rescued-if and when that ever was. He wondered if Dad or Holly would be able to find him, -if they had been even able to follow. He had tried rubbing his bonds against the rough, granulated stone, but the cords were two thick. Though he might eventually be able to work his bonds loose, by then, Will somehow felt certain, it would be too late.
Will tried to guess why he had been left here. At first he had assumed , naturally, that the sleestak had captured him to appease the hunger of their god. But he wasn’t taken to the god-chamber, even though he feared that wherever he was, his fate was to be equally unpleasant. And the source of that unpleasantness, he felt with equal certainty, lay in the direct center of the chamber of purple crystals. What lay embedded in the crystals that e carpeted the very floor of the chamber was what appeared to be an egg. Will had not seen a sleestak egg before-at least nothing he knew was a sleestak egg, and not a dinosaur’s-but somehow this object felt…..wrong-in a manner that a normal sleestak egg wouldn’t. It was almost as large as a basketball, and a deep, ugly shade of muddy green, but so dark that it bordered on being black.
The call sounded far back in the caverns, and it sounded like Holly’s voice. But it was so faint Will couldn’t be certain that he’d even heard it. He listened intently as innumerable seconds passed, but he heard nothing else beside the steady reeeeeeeee
Of the purple crystals.
Then he heard his name again. “Holly!” Will cried, certain this time that it was really his sister.
Holly followed the sound of Will’s voice until at last she located the chamber he was in.
“Will-are you all right?” holly cried as she knelt down and began working at her brother’s bonds.
“I’m okay so far.” Will answered. “Where’s dad?”
“He’s still up in the cave. Are there any sleestak around?”
“I don’t know. They could be anywhere….”
Holly looked toward the crystal chamber with the strange greenish black object. “Wha-what is that ?”
“I don’t know, and I’d hate to wait around to find out! Hurry!”
Holly kept working at Will’s bonds, but she found they were worked tighter than he’d first thought. Then they heard a loud snap from the crystal chamber.
“What was that?” Holly exclaimed.
Their eyes glued to the eye-hurting chamber, they witnessed the egg, if that’s what it was, begin to quiver, and to their horror saw a long crack knife its way down the side.
“That thing’s breaking up!” said Will.
“Or hatching!” Holly added.
“You had to say that…” Will murmured his gaze still frozen.
More cracks appeared in the glossy surface. Holly began working feverishly at Will’s bonds. She was horribly afraid that whatever the black egg might contain, it would be particularly nasty. Forcing back a rising tide of panic, she undid the last strands of chord. Will dizzily got to his feet.
There was another ear-splitting crack. The kids both looked once more toward the black object, which had now split entirely in two halves. They heard the creature it contained emit at harsh squeak, as it begin to emerge. It was slick and slimey, and shown like black oil in the crystals’ light, even reflecting the purplish gleams in the same manner that a pool of spilt oil sometimes will contain irridescant violet. It oozed up out of its shell, in appearance similar to a slug found at the bottom of a well-only it was somehow swifter than a slug, and both the kids felt certain it would be after them if they stayed longer.
“”C’mon!” Will cried. They dashed out of the chamber, but not before they had an impression of the creature’s two goggling eyes of deep crimson and an abundance of writhing feelers and appendages.
“This way!” Holly said, as she guided Will through the twisting labyrinth of corridors. They had not gone very much further when one of the Sleestak emerged from an adjoining tunnel.”
“Holly, run!” Will cried as they backed up in fear.
“No wait!” said Holly. Once more, she delved into the pocket of her trousers and found the two crystals. Hissing, the bulging-eyed reptilian staggered up the chamber. The kids backed up, but then heard more hissing further back in the tunnel. The other sleestaks must have discovered their escape. Holly was about to toss her crystals at the devolved Altrusian, but something in her mind stopped her. Instead she pressed the two crystals together once again, creating a brilliant light. Startled, the sleestak backed away with a shrill hiss, shielding his sensitive vision from the light with his pincers.
As Will and Holly began to edge around the creature, a sleestak crossbow bolt jarred into the wall above Will’s shoulder. They saw the other sleestaks already emerging up the tunnel, their crossbows at the ready. Their scales and neck ruffs were already clear in the diminishing light.
“C’mon!” Will shouted again, and they raced up the tunnel. “This way!” shouted Holly, as they plunged into a tunnel on their right. Holly continued to guide her brother through an array of tunnels until at last they reached the vast chamber of the pit. Even though he could see nothing of the extent of the chamber, Will had the impression of stupefying vastness. Holly reached out for the rope and platform she’d descended on, but found nothing.
“Will, the rope!” she cried. “It’s gone!”
“Great.” Said Will. “Now, how’re we going to get out of here.”
Frantic, Holly began groping around on the ledge. At length, her fingers found the chorded rope. Rising shakily to her feet, she pulled it up. “It…it’s been cut!”
“Something must have happened to Dad!”
A screeching cry echoed in the dark vastness above.
“No….no, I don’t think so.” quivered Holly, glancing in the sound’s direction. “Those pteranodons. They tried to attack me on my way down here. I think they must have cut the rope.”
“Then we’ve got to find another way out!”
“But there’s sleestaks everywhere!”
Will shook his head. “Then we’ll just have to fight our way through them!”
An awesome sound came to their ears-like the taut thrashing of canvas tarp.
“The pterosaurs-they’ve come back!” Will shouted. He was about to pull his sister back down the tunnel.
“No!” Holly cried. “Wait!” She waited on the ledge until the first of the winged reptiles hove into view. Its great leather wings beat the air, as it dove toward Holly like a hawk toward a ground squirrel, intent on killing.
Holly held out the crystals, jammed them together. The effect stopped the winged reptile in mid-flight. The beast hovered a few centimeters from the ledge. Its screams tore into the kids’ ears, but gradually they subsided into a submissive cooing that sounded almost docile. The second flying monster hove in beside his fellow and also hovered there, making no attempt to attack.
Then Will noticed. “The crystals…they’ve got crystals embedded in their foreheads.”
“Yeah, I noticed.” Holly said. “I think the sleestaks must have done that. They have some kind of control over them.”
“Like maybe they captured them when they were young, and trained them to be guardians.”
“But what are they supposed to be guarding?”
“I think that what-eve-it-was they had back in the crystal chamber.”
“Wait!” Holly said. “I want to see what happens….” She moved toward the edge of the ledge, still holding the stones together. The pterosaurs cried weakly and moved back, and then above her.
An idea came suddenly to Holly’s mind. She closed her eyes and concentrated on the two flying reptiles focusing her thoughts on what she wanted them to do, which right now was to stay where they were, and not flap off into the gloom like the last time. Stay here. Holly commanded in her mind.
She opened her eyes, but kept her mind focused on the flying reptiles. Don’t leave.
“What did you do?” asked Will.
“I asked them to not to fly away. I think maybe they can help us.”
Will sighed in exasperation.“C’mon Holly-you really think they’re going to carry us out of here?”
Holly shook her head. “I’m not really sure. I think the sleestak control them somehow, with those crystals. They must have a matrix somewhere, and that’s how they do it. But they’re really controlled by…our minds, I guess. Psychic energy, I think that’s what dad called it. The crystals are just senders and receivers…”
“Like for radio waves!” Will said excitedly. “You think you can control them?”
“A little.” said Holly. “ I think getting them to pick us up and fly us out of here would be a little too complicated. But this rope….”
“I know what you’re thinking-c’mon!”
They pulled up the rest of the rope and what remained of the platform. Will used his knife to cut the rope from the wood shafts. Holly made the pteranodons move closer to the ledge. They bound each of the pterosaurs’ hook-taloned feet with the rope, and then tied the rope around each of their wrists.
Nor were they one moment two soon, as they soon heard shrill hissing issue from the depths of the tunnel. The sleestak had found them.
Holly shut her eyes again against the chill of the abyss, as the great creature’s wings fanned above her. Now carry us. She willed. Fly up-up!
The pterosaurs flapped off into the darkness. The hissing of the sleestaks was blotted out but the deafening boom of their wings. Will looked back over his shoulder, and saw the tall green figures on the ledge behind them. In anger, the sleestak fired their crossbows off into the darkness after them, shooting low at Will and Holly, taking care not to injure their pets. But already the pteranodons were too far away, and the bolts hissed through empty air.
Holly felt an even fiercer chill rip at her shirt. There was a definite draft here, but it seemed to be coming from below. Then she realized…..
The flying reptiles were bearing them up toward the cavern ceiling at all, even though that was what she had willed them to do. Instead, they were bearing them deeper and deeper in to the black bowels of the planet. Horrified, Holly shut her eyes once more, and forced herself to concentrated projecting clear images of the sky and freedom into the pteradactyls’ brains.
Still, the beasts and their passengers spiraled down, down, down into the ungues sable reaches beneath Altrusia’s surface.
Holly felt blind panic-panic as black and as deep as that darkness-engulf her in waves. Where were they going? The pteranodons must have a nest somewhere underground, where the sleestak fed and cared for them, but she had willed them to head for the sky. Perhaps the suggestion of their artificial nesting site had been programmed so deeply into the implanted crystals that it had completely blotted out their natural instincts.
Then the rush of wind redoubled its intensity. Holly stared, horrified, out into the black gulfs, her thoughts drowning in an vortex of fear.
And the darkness blow suddenly lessoned, then gave way to light. The black of the pit faded, becoming the clear blue of an afternoon sky.
But the sky was below them, a vast uncanny nothingness, while above….
Holly looked up- and saw the familiar terrain of the Land of the Lost, mountains, forests, all suspended above her in the vault of the heavens.
The effect caused the blood the surge from her head, and a dizzying nausea to grip her. She nearly screamed with the shock. Where the sun and clouds should have been, there was the crevasse that divided the valley, and the gorge with the towering mountains of pink, sedimentary rock, the ones that had always reminded her of a mammoth birthday cake. And beyond that, the vast forest of primitive conifers. She could even make out the lost city with its huge cliffs of white limestone in the distance…..
She thought she saw the moving forms of dinosaurs on the surface, and other pteranodons, gliding across the sky upside down, as though oblivious to the overwhelming incredulity of whole thing…..
And then she felt a sensation like an electrical jolt surge through the flying reptile’s talon and into her, course down her left arm, and engulf her. It nearly caused her to black out again, and left her dizzy.
But oddly, that was all that seemed wrong in the next instant, other than a slight tingling sensation. Holly looked down.
And saw what she somehow knew she would see. There was the world, spread out gorgeously, meters and meters below her. The high white cliffs, the jungles of giant conifers and tree ferns. From the emerald and blue-green depths, she thought she recognized the gleam of a pylon.
She saw the great swamp in the distance, as well as the cliffs where they’d found the cave where all this had started. She could even make out the lumbering, slate-gray forms of grazing brontosaurs.
Collecting her dizzied thoughts, Holly pressed the two crystals together, and forced herself to concentrate on the pterosaurs’ brains. She concentrated on the direction she wanted them to fly. To her vast relief, they obeyed, arrowing toward the swamp and the cliffs.
Back at High Bluff, after Will and Holly had cut the pteranodons loose and were reunited with their father, they were gathered around the table, having a second helping of Holly’s carrot cake. Rick had managed to snare one of the red-white-and-blue chicken-like birds, and all of them had eaten well after the past ordeal.
“And after we’d gotten away from the sleestaks, and the pteranodons had carried us off…. it’s like the world was upside down.” Will was saying. “We could see the crevasse, and the Lost City where the sky was supposed to be, only the sky and the sun were below us.”
“It was like that time in the Lost City.” Holly said. “When I saw the crevasse and the mountains above when I was hanging on to the rope, and I remembered to look at the earth.”
“Well,”Rick said. “I think maybe it’s because this is a closed universe. If we go far enough in any direction-even even up or down-we’ll end up back where we started.”
“Yeah, I guess that must be it.” Holly said. “But how did everything get turned around….back to normal?”
“Well, you said you both felt a current.” Rick said thoughtfully. “You know what I think that was? I think that’s partly the reason for the crystals in the pterosaurs’ skulls. Not only so the sleestak can have control over them, but to make it so they can interact with the physics of the Land of the Lost. I think the crystals can cause living matter to align itself properly in some way.”
“I wonder what the pteranodons were supposed to be guarding?” asked Will.
“Do you think it was that thing back in the cave? I can’t imagine what that thing was.”
Suddenly, Holly thought of something. “I know! I t could have been another sleestak god. You said what ever that thing is in the pit was ‘hatched’.”
“Maybe those crystals are some kind of incubator.” Will suggested.
Rick shook his head. “I guess we’ll never know.” He said. “But if we do happen to find out some day, I hope it’s not for a long time.”