Exploring the Life and Works of Edgar Rice Burroughs
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David Allen Smith is a family man who sees family in much of his stories. This time DAS tackles yet another John Carter and Carthoris Story, and a bit of life and death as well!
I Still Live—Dead!
David Allen Smith
Copyright © 2021
I woke in a featureless void, surrounded by an all-pervading environment of brilliant whiteness. Confused and perplexed, I rapidly ran hands over my body for injuries. The nightmarish memory of incipient death fresh in my memory.
No injuries; yet, more bewildering!, no wreckage, no terrestrial terrain, no sky, no stars, no night, only this all prevading white nothingness!
A sense of panic rose as I stood upon what I could not see. I glanced right, left, fore and behind, heartbeat accelerating. It took all my discipline to hold that surge of primal fear in check—else madness might ensue.
There was an equally dense fog in my mind. How? When? I cudgeled my memory for answers. I—I had been flying home from Ptarth. I recalled a state of complete exhaustion. Why was I so weary? Why— I had been searching for John Carter!
Again, why? I could not remember, but I should have set my flier down and rested. Instead I raced on recklessly through the cold Barsoomian air. Suddenly a pair of headlamps rushed directly toward me at speed. At the last instant I swerved to miss the errant flier, but too late! The other craft's propellers ripped my buoyancy tank. My vessel veered hard to one side, hanging for an instant then the nose dropped. Down, down, down, out of control I spiraled. The flier vibrated so violently that I feared I would be thrown off. I pulled on the controls so hard the device came off in my hands! At the last moment the craft struck a powerful updraft which lifted the flight angle dramatically. The sudden g-forces caused me to black out.
* * * * * * * *
I took a deep breath. Looking at hands before my face, I could see them flex, close into fists, open again. I felt blood coursing through my veins. I could hear my heartbeat in the silence of the mist.
Then, a smudge to my right! I turned, hand resting on longsword at my waist. More puzzlement, then some alarm, the smudge became shadow. The shadow resolved to human in form. A tall figure appeared and walked boldly toward me. A man with short-cropped black hair, wearing a tunic and a gleaming longsword. A Martian fighting man! As the mist between us diminished I ultimately recognized the man—the man I had sought—John Carter, my father! Unable to speak, I merely stood in awe.
"Carthoris, it is good to see you, son! It has been many years. How are you?"
I managed a shudder of understanding then hailed:
"I'm well enough—unless I am dead. My flier just crashed."
A grim smile, one of fond memory of my father since his return to Barsoom after a ten year absence on Jasoom, prefaced his embrace and hands on shoulders while gazing upon me. He took a deep breath, then released it with a heartfelt sigh:
"Reluctantly I must inform you that you are, indeed, dead. It can be a bit disconcerting initially. What do you say we go to my house and discuss the matter?"
Dumbfounded, I walked through the whiteness with him. I was so astonished to see him. I had never ceased searching for my lost father, investigating every possible clue to his disappearance throughout all of Barsoom. I had thought him long dead.
"We shall soon arrive at my cottage," Father said.
Meanwhile, as we walked side by side, the whiteness began to fade. Shapes and forms manifested, taking on color and textures. Each step revealed more to the eye. A dozens steps later the strange mist had dissipated and a long horizon was clearly visible, much like Barsoom, but subtly different.
"Where is here?" I questioned.
Father arched a brow, "I do not know that answer with certainty, but I know that although my heart no longer beats I still live. Yours, too."
Something he had said startled me, though I could not place my finger on what it was. "I do not understand." I thought about his words. This place. "So," I said with a sigh, "this must be life after death that some hold down the River Iss, or the plane beyond, or..." I stopped myself. "You say you have a house?"
"I do, although it is hardly reminiscent of my palace in Helium."
"Are we angels?" I asked, recalling his tales of religion on Jasoom, his birth planet, also known as Earth.
"Apparently, though an unorthodox one in that I practice swordsmanship and, like most Martians, I love to hunt. Consequently, I am having difficulty getting my wings."
"You are in need of wings?"
"Perhaps we had best return to that subject later." he said.
Presently we reached the front door. Father opened it purely by the power of thought. Inside was a humble living room furnished with a divan, two end tables and a rocking chair. An antique televideo sat across from the divan. A brutal wrestling match between two monstrous green men was in progress.
Noting my obvious alarm, Father said, "Do not be so surprised. It is not so different here as you may think,"
He went to the kitchen, where he produced a bottle of what he called Scotch. He half-filled a glass and handed it to me. Thus we toasted my arrival!
"First today!" he said as we struck glasses.
Flabbergasted, I took a drink, "That's a potent brew!" I said.
"There is nothing quite like it on Barsoom. It was Ed Burrough's favorite. Sadly, my neighbors prefer to drink from the milk plant, or Dusarian wine."
"As do I normally. What do you do for your entertainment?" I asked.
"I eat steak every night and go exploring and hunting at will."
"So being dead is not so bad?"
"There is but little choice to enjoy it, son." Father said.
Then he went to his bedroom and returned with a radium rifle and matching pistol, both in newly manufactured condition!
"I have a great affinity for swords, but likewise for guns. My reloading equipment is on the kitchen table if you care see it. I was just doing some reloading when you arrived."
I got up from the divan and walked to the kitchen. Atop the table were a pile of radium pellets, cartridges, primers and a reloading press. Below were perhaps a dozen metal boxes of ready made ammunition.
"Would you care to go practice shooting?" Father asked.
"God does not care if you shoot. You simply cannot shoot each other."
"So you just shoot targets?" I asked.
"No, occasionally I hunt banths and zitidars. No license is required."
I was beginning to like Heaven, other than the fact I would never see Thuvia or our children again.
"Is this an Earth Heaven or a Mars Heaven?" I asked.
"Largely it is a Mars Heaven, with some Earth accents. Let us watch the match for a while, then head out."
"That seems fitting."
As we watched the match, I looked around the room. The walls were hung with the likenesses of locomotives, cowboys wearing six-shooters and World War I fighter aeroplanes.
"I know something of Jasoom's violent history, but I had imagined Heaven would be a bit more peaceable," I said.
"It is doubtless because of me. You will understand more fully later. You just died and must allow yourself time for certain adjustments."
"What should we do now?" I inquired.
"Go shooting, remember?"
"Yes, of course."
"What do you want to shoot? Rifle or pistol?
"Have you got a good radium rifle?" I asked.
"Here you go," he said, tossing me one as he shouldered his own. "Let us repair to my flier."
We walked out behind the house where a shiny new five-man flier was moored. After stowing our rifles securely, Father took off with unexpected swiftness. Nonetheless, I felt relaxed as we sped toward our destination. Suddenly I had a few questions.
"Do you recall when we got into trouble in that cave in the Torquas Mountains?" I asked.
"I do. What of it?"
"Did you truly believe we would escape alive?"
"Most assuredly; you should know that by now. As long as there is life, there is hope." Father said.
"You had no doubts?"
"I do not harbor self-defeating concepts."
"Rarely have I experienced doubts for no matter the odds or my feelings, I always believed that I could win in any situation." Father answered.
"A mental game?"
"A method of self-control. All fighting men experience fear. The object is to overcome it."
"What about feelings?" I asked.
"I was a man with feelings like any other. I merely chose not to allow them to dictate my behavior."
"Still, you have feelings, and I selfishly never considered them until now. As Warlord, you lived under intense pressure and faced a heavy burden of daily responsibilities. Such an environment must have impinged on your feelings. I'm finally beginning to grasp something of that."
"Surely you must know that I was never fond of court etiquette, tradition or formal duties. Such involvements left precious little time for family life, but I could not let on that it was a source of annoyance." he said.
"I understand. I never mentioned it before, but there were times as a boy when I felt rejected by you, but now I see why it was so."
We continued flying. I was looking forward to going shooting in Heaven!
"There are a few more things I'd like to ask."
"By all means, ask what you may wish."
"What were you thinking when the Apaches closed in on you and Capt. Powell?"
"I was thinking, 'I still live!' but was trying with great vigor to conceive of a means of escape."
"Did you hate the Indians?"
"No. In my mind, warriors have no fault. They are simply the defenders of their respective governments."
"Who do you miss most from your former life?"
"Your dear beautiful mother, of course! I think of her everyday. Additionally, I have greatly missed you, Tars Tarkas and Kantos Kan severely. But what can I do?"
"Life is a great test."
"It was a great test. We are in Heaven now."
"Yes, with that I must agree."
I was content. I realized some things about my father I'd never imagined before. He'd been through so very much.
Before I knew it we arrived at the shooting site, merely an angled dirt bank. But it was ideal for target practice. We set up a few rocks of varying sizes at the bank's base, backed up a fair distance and began firing. To our mutual enjoyment we fired half-a-hundred rounds. Father was still an excellent shot.
Finally, he turned to me, "I have depleted all but my reserve ammunition,"
"Me, too, but I'm very satisfied," I replied.
"Then I suppose we had better head back," he said.
We placed our weapons aboard the flier and took to the air. I was fairly quiet initially, feeling that I had already said too much. At one point I looked over at Father. As his eyes met mine I saw something I'd never seen before, an unmistakable sadness and vulnerability. The man was tough as Barsoomian steel, but tormented even in Heaven!
"I love you, Father!" I said as tears rolled down my cheeks.
He did not weep, but for the first time he smiled broadly. We thereafter settled into a discussion concerning the good things that had happened since we had last met. The time passed in a flash. At one point late in our journey he turned to me and silently mouthed the words "I love you," They were his last words to me.
Directly ahead of us two giant dust devils raged. Father thought he could guide us safely through them, but it was not to be. Suddenly, we encountered severe wind turbulence, causing us to assume an almost vertical climb, which led to a deadly stall. Although Father fought to regain control, the flier lost altitude rapidly and crashed in a deep gully, where it flipped over and burst into flames! We were trapped beneath the wreckage! I was badly injured and bleeding profusely. For a moment I lay there helpless... Looking over I saw that Father was unconscious. I tried to extricate him from the mangled cockpit, but couldn't! My life flashed before me quickly in the forms of cherished images. My last vision was of lovely Thuvia, dancing before me tantalizingly in a formal white dress. Then I felt the indescribably horrible pain of burning alive!
* * * * * * * *
Pain. Searing pain! If this is Heaven what must Hell be like?
I gathered my senses in great confusion. No searing fire, no—I lay prone in a hospital bed.
The room was brightly lit. Various medical machines buzzed and blinked. I attempted to rearrange the sensors attached to my body in order to attain greater comfort. Presently I looked up at the attending nurse. She smiled warmly and said something reassuring which I could not comprehend, then left the room. During her absence my consciousness returned sufficiently so that I could think more clearly. I had many questions. Upon her return I inquired as to where I was, the state of my health and the fate of my father.
"Prince Carthoris, you are in a hospital in Helium. You were infected by the Horz virus and suffered raging fevers. Ras Thavas performed medical miracles as only he can. You must rest."
Whatever she injected into my arm made that an order. I passed out.
* * * * * * *
Awareness slowly returned. I eventually opened my eyes. Almost instantly someone appeared at my bedside, blocking the over head radium light fixture. I blinked furiously to clear my vision and, when I was finally able to focus, I saw not a doctor or nurse, but my father standing over me!
"You are not dead!" I exclaimed with exultant joy.
John Carter laughed heartily. "Of course not, my son. I still live!
My father bent low, gazed into my eyes, and firmly gripped my shoulder. He leaned close and kissed my forehead and whispered:
"Do not rush to be one with the angels!"