John Martin has a nasty habit of writing short stories while wallowing in his persona as that irrepressible scoundrel "Bridge", a near-bandit of good-taste who tends to be facetious, silly, curmudgeonly, extravagant, and off-times completely bonkers. For that literary slumming we should all be eternally grateful!

—Editor

AN ENCOUNTER IN THE DESERT

John "Bridge" Martin


It had been a long time since Tarzan had attempted to cross a desert without so much as a canteen looped with a thong around the hilt of his father's hunting knife, and thus he was beginning to feel the physical effects of his long trek and, in addition, high in the sky was the circling form of Ska the buzzard.

Well he remembered a previous occasion when he had lured Ska down, close enough for him to grab, kill and eat the scavenger, and survive. But the flesh of Ska was not desirable and Tarzan was not yet at the point that he was ready to partake of it.

At least he thought not.

As the day pressed on, and the sun ascended higher into the sky, he began to feel woozy in a way that fooled him into not realizing what was actually happening to him. In fact, he was feeling a kind of euphoria so that, even when he pitched forward and landed with a thunk in the soft sand, he did not fully comprehend what was occurring and, in his delirious and hallucinatory state, began to move his hands into the warm earth as though embracing the soft body of his mate.

Tarzan was well on his way to becoming a clinical case of disorientation and was essentially, helpless. But he was saved from a visit from Ska merely due to the fact that he had been overcome late in the afternoon. And, before Ska felt it was safe enough to venture down, the beginning of the cool evening had lowered the temperature slightly, just enough to cause the ape-man to stir.

His senses returned and soon he was once again his old self. He realized with chagrin that he had actually been asleep and at the mercy of desert denizens. However, Ska was nowhere in sight.

Tarzan had no way of knowing it, but his swoon was not entirely the result of a hot sun and paucity of water. Rather, it was a combination of unusual phenomena which had come together at this time, and in this place, to cause an anomaly in time and space, one that would have a significant effect on the life of the ape-man. He arose and looked at the darkening sky. It was different somehow. Tarzan of the Apes was no astronomer, but long familiarity with his environment had impressed a sense upon his mind of the way the night sky was supposed to look, just the same as you and I, while perhaps unable to name, let alone spot, every constellation, would none-the-less notice immediately if viewing a radically different arrangement of heavenly bodies.

In the distance Tarzan could see a prominent string of rocky land which he did not recall having seen before. However, it might offer a spring of fresh water or other shelter, and so he began heading toward it at a trot which he could keep up for hours.

As he jogged on he was not fully aware that he was on another world and that the steady beat of his steps upon the surface were calling, summoning a massive unearthly creature of which Tarzan knew nothing.

But soon, it became obvious that something was heading his way. In the distance he could see sand mounds moving, seemingly on their own, and feel the quaking of the ground as something unseen was obviously moving toward him.

Although Tarzan did not know what was threatening him, he did know he would have to fight it. Drawing the hunting knife of his long-dead sire from its scabbard, he stood still, facing the as-yet unseen menace. And then, as he watched, it emerged from beneath the surface and he could see the giant round opening in the behemoth's front, encircled with row upon row of menacing teeth-like objects.

The ape-man smiled grimly and clutched his knife tighter. He waited as the creature, which resembled an impossibly giant Histah, advanced upon him. He stood there until, to an observer, it would seem he had tarried too long. But this was Tarzan, and he knew what he was doing. When the gargantuan destructive machine was within feet of him, the ape-man ran quickly to the side and then along the length of the monster, which seemed to stretch as long as a pair of Nairobi freights. Noticing the bark-like hide of the creature, he spotted footholds and quickly scaled the cylindrical body to its topmost point. Then, locating a vulnerable-looking crevice between sections of the thing's layered hide, he stabbed his knife again and again into the opening while the creature writhed in surprise and agony.

At last, it stopped moving and lay still.

 

Tarzan stood atop the beast and, lifting his head to the strangely arranged heavens, gave forth the victory cry of the bull ape.

Having vanquished the foe, Tarzan leaped from atop the carcass of the dead thing and landed lightly on his feet. To his surprise, he saw that a group of men had surrounded him. They wore dark clothing that appeared to be survival suits of some kind although their design was unfamiliar to the ape-man.

"He has slain a big one, Muad'dib," spoke one.

"Yes, Stilgar," replied the one whom he had addressed. "He shall pay dearly."

"You make it sound as if I have committed a crime by defending myself," said Tarzan. "Who dares challenge Tarzan and what is that crime?"

"Who we are is not important," said his adversary. "But as for your crime, you have upset the delicate ecological balance of Arrakis. Now, you shall die by my kris knife."

The aggressor produced a wicked-looking blade. Tarzan smiled grimly, still holding in his hand the perfectly balanced hunting knife of his long-dead sire.

The one called Muad'dib began moving toward him. "Soon we shall harvest your water," he said, "and the dried husk of your body will crumble to dust and mingle with the soil of Arrakis to replace what you have taken."

"I'll be Dune'd if you will!" snarled Tarzan, bringing his own blade to the ready.