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The Raid on the Termites   By: (1899-1985)

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[Illustration: Denny bounded free and again sent the length of his spear into the body.]

The Raid on the Termites

A Complete Novelette

By Paul Ernst

Armed with splinters of steel, two ant sized men dare the formidable mysteries of a termitary.


The Challenge of the Mound

It was a curious, somehow weird looking thing, that mound. About a yard in height and three and a half in diameter, it squatted in the grassy grove next the clump of trees like an enormous, inverted soup plate. Here and there tufts of grass waved on it, of a richer, deeper color, testifying to the unwholesome fertility of the crumbling outer stuff that had flaked from the solid mound walls.

Like an excrescence on the flank of Mother Earth herself, the mound loomed; like an unhealthy, cancerous growth. And inside the enigmatic thing was another world. A dark world, mysterious, horrible, peopled by blind and terrible demons a world like a Dante's dream of a second Inferno.

Such, at least, were the thoughts of Dennis Braymer as he worked with delicate care at the task of sawing into the hard cement of a portion of the wall near the rounded top.

His eyes, dark brown and rimmed with thick black lashes, flashed earnestly behind his glasses as they concentrated on his difficult job. His face, lean and tanned, was a mask of seriousness. To him, obviously, this was a task of vital importance; a task worthy of all a man's ability of brain and logic.

Obviously also, his companion thought of the work as just something with which to fill an idle afternoon. He puffed at a pipe, and regarded the entomologist with a smile.

To Jim Holden, Denny was simply fussing fruitlessly and absurdly with an ordinary "ant hill," as he persisted in miscalling a termitary. Playing with bugs, that was all. Wasting his time poking into the affairs of termites and acting, by George, as though those affairs were of supreme significance!

He grinned, and tamped and relighted the tobacco in his pipe. He refrained from putting his thoughts into words, however. He knew, of old, that Denny was apt to explode if his beloved work were interrupted by a careless layman. Besides, Dennis had brought him here rather under protest, simply feeling that it was up to a host to do a little something or other by way of trying to amuse an old college mate who had come for a week's visit. Since he was there on sufferance, so to speak, it was up to him to keep still and not interrupt Denny's play.

The saw rasped softly another time or two, then moved, handled with surgeon's care, more gently till at last a section about as big as the palm of a man's hand was loose on the mound top.

Denny's eyes snapped. His whole wiry, tough body quivered. He visibly held his breath as he prepared to flip back that sawed section of curious, strong mound wall.

He snatched up his glass, overturned the section.

Jim drew near to watch, too, seized in spite of himself by some of the scientist's almost uncontrollable excitement.

Under the raised section turmoil reigned for a moment. Jim saw a horde of brownish white insects, looking something like ants, dashing frenziedly this way and that as the unaccustomed light of sun and exposure of outer air impinged upon them. But the turmoil lasted only a little while.

Quickly, in perfect order, the termites retreated. The exposed honeycomb of cells and runways was deserted. A slight heaving of earth told how the insects were blocking off the entrances to the exposed floor, and making that floor their new roof to replace the roof this invading giant had stripped from over them.

In three minutes there wasn't a sign of life in the hole. The observation if one could call so short a glimpse at so abnormally acting a colony an observation was over.

Denny rose to his feet, and dashed his glass to the ground. His face was twisted in lines of utter despair, and through his clenched teeth the breath whistled in uneven gasps... Continue reading book >>

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