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ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



Weird Tales MARCH, 1946

Chanu

BY JIM KJELGAARD

I FIRST saw Chanu across the lobby of the Africa Club in Mabari. Even at a distance there was something cold and feral about him, something that made me afraid. A moment later he saw me, and came across to the chair in which I was sifting.

"You're George Roberts, aren't you?" he asked.

"Ah—yes. Won't you sit down?"

He seated himself beside me with, "I'm Chanu."

Even though Chanu had evidently heard of me, I had never heard of him. But I felt that I should have. I stole a sidewise glance at him, and found nothing to criticize. His clothing was immaculate and proper, his beard carefully van-dyked. Strange little reddish eyes blinked beneath a pink brassiere of lids. His forehead was high and domed, and a heavy ridge protruded over his eyes. Outwardly he might have been a scholar—or an elephant hunter.

But still something deep and insistent within me said that I should be afraid. Had I heeded that voice, or been able to look into the future, I would have strangled Chanu on the spot. But yon don't just kill people in the lobby of the Africa Club. You are frostily polite until you find out who their parents were back home, and whether they themselves might be an earl or a count, and while you are waiting this information you invite them to have a drink.

"Will you have a drink?" I asked.

Chanu chuckled, a low and throaty sound that reminded me very strongly of something I had heard before. It was vaguely like a tiny whispering wind that wishes to frolic with a few leaves, and yet doesn't wish to use them harshly. I had heard that sound before, and it had some terrible, almost unreal connotation. Yet, I could not place it. Chanu took a pair of delicate glasses from his pocket and polished them with a perfumed handkerchief. He put them on, and blinked at me with his sunken, bloodshot eyes.

"I cannot drink," he said. "It is against the law."

"Against the law?"

"Against my law," he amended. He stared into space and for one brief second, right in the center of the Africa Club, I had a mental image of something that should not be within miles of the place. And again I could not define it. But the rustling leaves were definitely there, and with them was something wild and fierce, and wholly brutal. Involuntarily I shuddered, and I wanted to run. But another thing you don't do in the Africa Club is abandon even an unwanted guest.

"Mr. Roberts," Chanu said, "you have been in Africa a long time. Right?"

"Right. I've been collecting all over the continent for eight years."

"What," Chanu asked, "do you think of the okapi?"

THAT question caught me unawares. I knew, of course, that the okapi is a sort of half-horse half-giraffe discovered by Sir Harry Johnson in the awful, tangled forest of the Semliki. It's like nothing else ever discovered, and certainly other creatures just as weird eventually will be found in the same country. But it is very disconcerting to be asked outright, and seriously, what one thinks of an okapi. Try it on one of your friends.

"Why—what should one think of an okapi?"

"That's right," Chanu agreed. "What should one think of it?"

He took the glasses off his eyes and resumed polishing them with the scented handkerchief. Beneath his cultured face, for one brief second, I had a vision of a snarling mouth and great fangs. But it was like looking at a face half concealed by a pall of mist or a spume of water, and the vision faded. Africa is full of queer things, and I told myself that Chanu was just another in a long line of them.

But at the same time I knew that he was more than that. I did not know exactly what. But—

"Tell me, Mr. Roberts," he said, "if you have studied the science of genetics."

"Not especially." I was becoming a little angry with his bland, yet somehow overbearing, impertinence. "Ordinarily I just take care of my own affairs."

"Oh," he missed the rebuke and seemed disappointed. "You have missed a great deal, Mr. Roberts. It is a most fascinating study, and yet, most geneticists are fools. They are concerned with their everlasting pedigrees, and this, and that. They ignore the basic truth that strength and beauty are the only desirable factors. They—"

"Good Lord!" I broke in.

Chanu continued as though he had not heard me. "Strength survives and rules, and beauty is the reward of strong things. Lacking strength to protect it, beauty cannot live. Lacking loveliness, strength has no reason to live. The geneticists, and all who wish for a better world, should proceed on that principle if they would be right. Do you ever wonder, Mr. Roberts, what will finally emerge from the welter and hodgepodge about us?"

"No," in spite of myself I was sweating. And an inner voice was still trying to warn me against this man. He was something terrible and twisted, something out of a hellish nightmare. But, when I looked, he was only a scholarly, bearded little person who might have been anything at all. His voice rose to a high, ecstatic pitch.

"I will tell you," he said. "There is a great and wonderful fore-ordained plan that very few of us appreciate or even faintly realize. After the weak and ugly have succumbed, the strong and lovely shall combine to create perfection! Strength, such as that found in the great gorillas! Beauty, such as— Ah-h!"

He leaned forward, his eyes seeming to reflect an u...

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