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Weird Tales JANUARY, 1945

Chariots of San Fernando

BY MALCOLM JAMESON

Indian legend swore we were headed for a hell peopled with unspeakable devils.

FOREWORD

It may be to the credit of the skeptical scientific attitude that no single important group or individual has accepted the sensational account by Dr. Stephen Taussig of the discovery of new, amazing fauna in the San Fernando country at the Amazon's headwaters. Taussig, sole survivor of the Museum of Living Science Expedition, was plainly deranged when he reached the outposts of civilization. Bits of alleged evidence—a glassy object some ten inches long by six wide, of a pointed oval-shape and convex like a cupped hand; a length of coiled-transparent tubing, perhaps thirty feet long and tapering, from the diameter of an inch to half as much; and a huge bone, unfortunately shattered in transit to America—have invited curiosity, but not diagnosis.

I came into the mystery by pure chance. I was secretary-companion three years ago to John J. Beazle, a wealthy dabbler in exploration and adventure, with some pretension, to botanical and zoological education, and sailed far up the Amazon in his yacht, the Tethys. News came of a white man, sick and delirious, at a settlement on one of the uncharted side-streams. We sought the place and found it to be the outpost Cruxite mission of Youmbinque.

Father Hundig, who was caring for the sick man, welcomed our appearance and loans of bedding, ice, and medicines. The patient, though wasted, screamed and struggled so that we could not move him from the missionary's cot. Beazle, not much interested, spent most of the days that followed among liquor bottles on the Tethys. It was I who heard Stephen Taussig's story, which I have tried to set down in his own words from my short-hand notes.

The specimens mentioned above lay near Taussig's cot. When whole, the bone was as massive as the femur of a dinosaur, some six feet long, with its very center a roughly cubical bulge a foot a thick. Tapering both ways from this central lump, the ends of the bone terminated in spherical knobs, ivory-hard and perhaps eight inches in diameter. As it spindled toward these ends, the bone showed round and smooth but for shaped grooves running lengthwise from, small holes toward the middle.

It was plainly fresh, to judge from the oily moisture and clinging fragments of tough flesh. I was surprised to find no sign of terminal cartilage on the knobs. About this and the two crystal pieces clung an odor of rot, strangely and chemically pungent.

Father Hundig told how Taussig and others had stayed at the mission on their outbound trip some weeks before, and how Taussig had returned in a native canoe, alone but for sullen Indian paddlers whom he kept in hand at pistol point. Though seriously ill, Taussig begged the priest to take charge of the specimens the boat carried, then collapsed. The Indians paddled away in patent relief.

The recent death of Father Hundig leaves my account almost unsupported, but his diary might prove interesting to scholars with open minds. Meanwhile, here is Taussig's story, to be read either as scientific data or mere curiosa. I am not expert enough to suggest which.

I

OUR up-river trip was mostly uneventful. All had been well planned and Dooling, who. had previously visited this basin, acted as interpreter and go-between with the Indians. We had no difficulty until we reached the confluence of the Caquini.

You must have heard the Indian legends about the San Fernando as a hell peopled with unspeakable devils. We did. not fall into the error of disregarding these entirely; savage tabus are often founded on a practical basis. We guessed that in the region were real dangers, perhaps unknown predatory animals, and we hoped to find them and prove how exaggerated folklore can be.

But neither, threats nor promises could induce a single native1 to accompany us beyond the great falls of the Caquini. We were faced with the unsatisfactory job of going ahead without guides or bearers. The solution of the problem was somewhat disquieting.

Two days journey below the falls, we stopped at man's uttermost habitation, the village of the Chicupes. The natives appeared more apprehensive about the country just beyond than any of the down-river peoples.

Their fear had created a bizarre custom—each year they selected two prime warriors to go as sacrifices into the unknown land. If one of these should survive, they said, for the space of a single moon, his safe return would show that the devils had been propitiated. Such a survivor would be rewarded with the chieftainship. But none had ever returned.

By a fortunate coincidence, the selection had been made only, a few days before we arrived. The two young warriors were undergoing some interesting rites of purification before leaving. After tedious negotiations and the paying of substantial bribes, we arranged to go along with the party that escorted them.

We had bearers at least, but with them came disquiet. If two warriors, and of the best, went Into the San Fernando yearly and did not return, what became of them? We could not guess. Neither, I am sure, can you. But we found out.

A short distance from the falls we established a base camp. Beyond here our Indians would not go. The next three weeks were uneventful. We set up our field laboratories and explored the heavy forest in widening circles. There was little of interest and less of danger in our findings. Hedrick identified some poisonous plants, there were, a few snakes and insects, and I shot one wildcat. It was like many another district in the jungle.

Our Indians huddled timorously at our base camp, but we overcame our own sense of vague apprehension. How false were these senses of security we were soon to learn.

As we prepared to move on, only the sacrificial braves, Itai and Tubutu, could be persuaded to help carry our tinned foods, cameras and other supplies. This pair, really splendid youngsters, had slept and eaten apart from their friends and were seemingly regarded as already dead. Camber remained in charge of the base, with instructions to bring every day as much food and other necessaries as he could carry to a certain advance base we chose as point of departure into the unknown, Hedrick, Dooling and I, with the two Chicupes, pressed on.

Nine miles on our journey, among thinning trees that hinted open savannas ahead, I almost tripped over a neat ball of crushed and splintered bones. Just beyond lay the neatly severed head of a Capuchin monkey. As we gathered to look, there seemed to hang about us a heavy odor more suggestive of the chemical laboratory than the jungle. Hedrick, stooping, identified the smashed bones as belonging to the monkey whose head lay beyond. They were jammed into a rough sphere the size of a melon, broken and pressed as if by some ramming device, and covered with chemical-smelling slime.

"Looks as if it had been chewed up and spat out," commented Hedrick. "But what jaws could crumple a pelvis like that?"

As to the head, it had been sliced off as smoothly as by a machete, and its hair was dry and clean. None of us could think of an animal large enough to take such a bite with, at the same time, such sharp, guillotine-like incisors. We rejected both lions and anacondas. Whatever had killed the monkey would be in a class by itself, a class unknown to us, a class that might prove decidedly unpleasant to study.

The Indians showed fright, but only for a moment. Steeped in tradition, they seemed to recognize their brotherhood w...

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