Welcome to chapter 20 of Arena of Souls, my new, Doc Savage-style, pulp adventure. A new chapter every week! If you missed the previous chapters, you can start at the beginning here:
Arena of Souls
Chapter 20: The Tribe
The tunnel leading into the cave was smooth stone, as if workmen had sanded down every rough edge. Behind him, Alex aimed a flashlight into the passageway. Stone felt as if he were entering a temple, but revised this thought when he saw what lay inside.
The walls were lined with bones stacked floor-to-ceiling. And they were no ordinary bones. Carefully, he withdrew from the top of the stack a massive femur and turned it over in his hands. It was twice the thickness of any he had ever seen, and half again the length.
“I’d hate to meet the owner,” Alex mused.
“It’s not the owner I’d be worried about.” Stone hefted the bone like a club. “It’s his living descendants that would put the fear of God in me.”
Trinity ran her hands over the piled bones. “Were these people giants?” she whispered.
“Cavemen, I think.” Moses pointed deeper into the chamber. Alex turned his flashlight beam at the back wall where an array of skulls leered back at them.
Each skull was impossibly large, with a low, wide cranium, pronounced brow ridge, large nose, and sturdy jaw.
“They look Neanderthal,” Stone said. “But they’re much too large. Neanderthal were shorter than modern man.”
“And they didn’t live in this part of the world,” Alex added. “At least, not as far as anyone knows.”
They continued their inspection of the cave and found a variety of primitive weapons, tools, and seashell jewelry lying in a deep pit in the center of the main gallery, which lay only a short distance from the cave mouth. The place had a ritualistic feel about it. Had they intruded on the religious center of an extinct tribe of hominids?
“Is it possible that Neanderthals could have lived here?” Trinity scooped up a handful of shell necklaces and let them spill back into the pit.
“Considering we’ve discovered living dinosaurs on this island, I’d say it’s not beyond the realm of possibilities that some larger cousins lived here.” Stone replace the femur and moved deeper into the cave.
“You mean live here,” Moses corrected.
“What’s that?” Stone turned and his instincts immediately went on full alert at the sight of his friend’s wide eyes and trembling hands.
Moses shivered and inclined his head toward the cave mouth. Down the hill, dark shapes gathered at the river.
Stone’s mouth went dry. Even at this distance, he could see them clearly— they were, indeed, giant, primitive humans. His sharp eyes passed back and forth across the gathered throng, taking in every detail. The largest stood a good seven feet tall with impossibly broad shoulders and powerful muscles. They were armed with a variety of weapons: heavy wooden clubs studded with shark’s teeth, spears tipped with stone points, slings, and long, sharp teeth that must have belonged to dinosaurs at one time, which they wore tucked into their simple hide belts like knives. Each wore simple armor made of hide and bones.
One man, the largest of the lot, gestured and moved his lips. Clearly, these primitives had developed some form of speech. This revelation sent a chill down Stone’s spine. The numbers and apparent physical prowess of these new arrivals presented enough of a challenge, but if they were intelligent enough to form a battle plan, they posed an even greater threat. Just as thought passed through his mind, the cavemen, as he found himself thinking of them, fan out and began making their way up the hill. There were at least forty of them, and they all knew how to use the terrain to their advantage, keeping low and using every available tree and boulder for cover.
“It’s almost like they’ve been exposed to gunfire before,” Stone whispered.
“They surely must know how to hunt,” Moses said, “and protect themselves from the dinosaurs.” He looked at Stone. “Can we stop them?”
“I don’t know.” Stone hated to admit it, but it was the truth. “We’d have to make every bullet count and hope our weapons pack enough punch to penetrate their armor and thick bones. And even if we succeed, we’d probably exhaust our supply of ammunition in the process, leaving us nothing for whatever lies ahead.”
“Then we run.”
“No good. The only way out is through their line.” Stone took a deep breath. “The map indicated that we had to pass through this cave in order to reach our destination. We just need to find the way out.”
“That could be a problem.” Alex called out. “I’ve been all around this chamber and there’s no passage leading out. Not anywhere.”
“There has to be.” Stone fingered his Webley. “You and Trinity keep looking. Moses and I will get ready for a fight.”