Where the World is Quiet, p.1Henry Kuttner
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This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe May 1954. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
_The life of an anthropologist is no doubt filled much of the time with the monotonous routine of carefully assembling powdery relics of ancient races and civilizations. But White's lone Peruvian odyssey was most unusual. A story pseudonymously penned by one of the greats in the genre._
where the world is quiet
_by ... C. H. Liddell_
Fra Rafael saw strange things, impossible things. Then there was the mystery of the seven young virginal girls of Huascan.
* * * * *
Fra Rafael drew the llama-wool blanket closer about his narrowshoulders, shivering in the cold wind that screamed down from Huascan.His face held great pain. I rose, walked to the door of the hut andpeered through fog at the shadowy haunted lands that lifted toward thesky--the Cordilleras that make a rampart along Peru's eastern border.
"There's nothing," I said. "Only the fog, Fra Rafael."
He made the sign of the cross on his breast. "It is the fog thatbrings the--the terror," he said. "I tell you, _Senor_ White, I haveseen strange things these last few months--impossible things. You area scientist. Though we are not of the same religion, you also knowthat there are powers not of this earth."
I didn't answer, so he went on: "Three months ago it began, after theearthquake. A native girl disappeared. She was seen going into themountains, toward Huascan along the Pass, and she did not come back. Isent men out to find her. They went up the Pass, found the fog grewthicker and thicker until they were blind and could see nothing. Fearcame to them and they fled back down the mountain. A week lateranother girl vanished. We found her footprints."
"The same canyon?"
"_Si_, and the same result. Now seven girls have gone, one after theother, all in the same way. And I, _Senor_ White--" Fra Rafael's pale,tired face was sad as he glanced down at the stumps of his legs--"Icould not follow, as you see. Four years ago an avalanche crippled me.My bishop told me to return to Lima, but I prevailed on him to let meremain here for these natives are my people, _Senor_. They know andtrust me. The loss of my legs has not altered that."
I nodded. "I can see the difficulty now, though."
"Exactly. I cannot go to Huascan and find out what has happened to thegirls. The natives--well, I chose four of the strongest and bravestand asked them to take me up the Pass. I thought that I could overcometheir superstitions. But I was not successful."
"How far did you go?" I asked.
"A few miles, not more than that. The fog grew thicker, until we wereblinded by it, and the way was dangerous. I could not make the men goon." Fra Rafael closed his eyes wearily. "They talked of old Inca godsand devils--Manco Capac and Oello Huaco, the Children of the Sun. Theyare very much afraid, _Senor_ White. They huddle together like sheepand believe that an ancient god has returned and is taking them awayone by one. And--one by one they _are_ taken."
"Only young girls," I mused. "And no coercion is used, apparently.What's up toward Huascan?"
"Nothing but wild llamas and the condors. And snow, cold, desolation.These are the Andes, my friend."
"Okay," I said. "It sounds interesting. As an anthropologist I owe itto the Foundation to investigate. Besides, I'm curious. Superficially,there is nothing very strange about the affair. Seven girls havedisappeared in the unusually heavy fogs we've had ever since theearthquake. Nothing more."
I smiled at him. "However, I think I'll take a look around and seewhat's so attractive about Huascan."
"I shall pray for you," he said. "Perhaps--well, _Senor_, for all theloss of my legs, I am not a weak man. I can stand much hardship. I canride a burro."
"I don't doubt your willingness, Fra Rafael," I said. "But it'snecessary to be practical. It's dangerous and it's cold up there. Yourpresence would only handicap me. Alone, I can go faster--remember, Idon't know how far I'll have to travel."
The priest sighed. "I suppose you are right. When--"
"Now. My burro's packed."
"They won't go," I said wryly. "They've been talking to yourvillagers. It doesn't matter. I'll go it alone." I put out my hand,and Fra Rafael gripped it strongly.
"_Vaya con Dios_," he said.
I went out into the bright Peruvian sunlight. The Indios were standingin straggling knots, pretending not to watch me. My porters werenowhere in evidence. I grinned, yelled a sardonic goodbye, and startedto lead the burro toward the Pass.
The fog vanished as the sun rose, but it still lay in the mountaincanyons toward the west. A condor circled against the sky. In thethin, sharp air the sound of a distant rock-fall was distinctlyaudible.
White Huascan towered far away. A shadow fell on me as I entered thePass. The burro plodded on, patient and obedient. I felt a littlechill; the fog began to thicken.
Yes, the Indios had talked to me. I knew their language, their oldreligion. Bastard descendants of the Incas, they still preserved adeep-rooted belief in the ancient gods of their ancient race, who hadfallen with Huayna Capac, the Great Inca, a year before Pizarro cameraging into Peru. I knew the Quichua--the old tongue of the motherrace--and so I learned more than I might have otherwise.
Yet I had not learned much. The Indios said that _something_ had comeinto the mountains near Huascan. They were willing to talk about it,but they knew little. They shrugged with apathetic fatalism. _It_called the young virgins, no doubt for a sacrifice. _Quien sabe?_Certainly the strange, thickening fog was not of this earth. Neverbefore in the history of mankind had there been such a fog. It was, ofcourse, the earthquake that had brought the--the Visitant. And it wasfolly to seek it out.
Well, I was an anthropologist and knew the value of even such slightclues as this. Moreover, my job for the Foundation was done. Myspecimens had been sent through to Callao by pack-train, and my noteswere safe with Fra Rafael. Also, I was young and the lure of farplaces and their mysteries was hot in my blood. I hoped I'd findsomething odd--even dangerous--at Huascan.
I was young. Therefore, somewhat of a fool....
The first night I camped in a little cave, sheltered from the wind andsnug enough in my fleece-lined sleeping-bag. There were no insects atthis height. It was impossible to make a fire for there was no wood. Iworried a bit about the burro freezing in the night.
But he survived, and I repacked him the next morning with ratherabsurd cheerfulness. The fog was thick, yes, but not impenetrable.
There were tracks in the snow where the wind had not covered them. Agirl had left the village the day before my arrival, which made mytask all the easier. So I went up into that vast, desolate silence,the fog closing in steadily, getting thicker and thicker, the trailgetting narrower until at last it was a mere track.
And then I was moving blind. I had to feel my way, step by step,leading the burro. Occasional tracks showed through the mist, showedthat the native girl had walked swiftly--had run in places--so Iassumed that the fog was less dense when she had come by this way. Asit happened, I was quite wrong about that....
We were on a narrow path above a gorge when I lost the burro. I hearda scrambling and clashing of hoofs on rock behind me. The rope jerkedout of my hand and the animal cried out almost articulately as it wentover. I stood frozen, pressing against the stone, listening to thesound of the burro's fall. Finally the distant noise died in a fainttrickling of snow and g
I felt my way back to where the path had crumbled and rotten rock hadgiven way under the burro's weight. It was possible for me to retracemy steps, but I did not. I was sure that my destination could not bemuch further. A lightly clad native girl could not have gone so far asHuascan itself. No, probably that day I would reach my goal.
So I went on, feeling my way through the thick silent fog. I was ableto see only a few inches ahead of me for hours. Then, abruptly thetrail grew clearer. Until, at last I was moving in the shadowless,unearthly mist over hard-packed snow, following the clearly markedfootprints of a girl's sandals.
Then they vanished without warning, those prints, and I stoodhesitant, staring around. I could see
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