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The Cavern of the Shining Ones   By: (1900-)

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The Cavern of the Shining Ones

By Hal K. Wells

Layroh's hiring of husky down and outers for his expedition is part of a plan made ages past.

It was shortly after midnight when a persistent nightmare aroused Don Foster from sleep. For a moment he lay drowsily in his blankets there on the sand, with memory of the nightmare still vivid.

It had been a monstrous flying thing like a giant blue bottle fly that he had been battling in his sleep. Memory of the thing's high pitched, droning buzz still rang in his ears. Then abruptly he realized that the peculiar buzzing was no mere echo of a nightmare. It was an actual sound that still vibrated from somewhere within the camp.

[Illustration: ... Yet that thread held. ]

Startled into full awakening, Foster propped himself up on one elbow. The sound was penetrating, but not particularly loud. He was apparently the only one whom it had awakened. In the gray gloom of the desert starlight he saw the blanket shrouded figures of the rest of the men still deep in slumber.

He realized the source of the sound now. It came from inside the black walls of Layroh's tent, pitched there in its usual isolation on a slight rise fifty yards from the sleeping group. Foster grunted disgustedly to himself. More of Layroh's scientific hocus pocus! The man seemed to go out of his way to add new phases of mystery to this crazy expedition of his through the barren wastelands of the Mojave.

For a solid week now they had been working their way back and forth over a thirty mile stretch of desert, while Layroh labored with his intricate instruments searching for something known only to himself. Whatever reason Layroh had for recruiting a party of fifteen to accompany him was still a mystery. So far the men had done practically nothing except trail along after Layroh while he worked with his apparatus.

It was a state of affairs that caused the men little worry. As long as they had enough to eat they were quite content. They were down and outers, all of them, human derelicts recruited from the park benches and cheap flop houses of Los Angeles. They had only one thing in common: all of them were large and powerful men.

Don Foster was the youngest of the fifteen, and the only college man in the group. A succession of bad breaks had finally landed him broke and hungry on a park bench, where Layroh found him. Layroh's offer of ten dollars a day and all expenses had seemed a godsend. Foster had promptly jumped at the offer. Layroh's peculiar conditions and rules had seemed trivial details at the time.

Foster scowled as he lit a cigarette and stared through the gloom at the violet lighted tent from which the disturbing sound still came. Seven days of experience with Layroh's peculiarities had begun to make them a little irritating. His sternly enforced code of rules was simple enough. Never approach Layroh unless called. Never touch Layroh's instruments. Never approach Layroh's tent. Never ask questions.

Layroh neither ate with the men nor mingled with them in any way that could possibly be avoided. As soon as they made camp each night he set up his small black tent and remained inside it until camp was broken the next morning. No one knew whether the man ever slept. All night long the violet light glowed inside the black tent. The men had wondered about the unusual color of that light, then had finally decided it was probably something required by the same eye weakness that made Layroh wear heavily smoked goggles, both day and night.

Strange sounds in the night as Layroh worked with his apparatus in the black tent were nothing unusual, but to night was the first time that Foster had ever heard this peculiar whining buzz. As he listened it rose in a sudden thin crescendo that rippled along his spine like a file rasping over naked nerve ends. For one shuddering second there seemed to be an intangible living quality in that metallic drone, as though some nameless creature sang in horrible exultance... Continue reading book >>

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