Judy Bolton Days

Judy Bolton Days
First annual in 1991!

Monday, August 5, 2013


All chapters through chapter 13 are now available on this alternate site:THE QUEST OF THE GOLDEN DRAGON https://sites.google.com/site/rickbrantfanfiction/dragon

or The South Seas City of Death Mystery



Scotty stood there on the rocks in astonishment. Appalled, his voice hardened with sudden anger. "For taking a swim and shower? Are these guys nuts or what? They gotta be kidding!"

"Cool it," Rick hissed at him in warning tones. "These men are primitive warriors. Like from back in the Stone Age!"

Jimmy nodded, almost imperceptibly. "And headhunters too," he grunted. "Look at those skulls and shrunken heads they're carrying!"

The men stood there in their outlandish tribal regalia, looking as tough and mean as a pack of nightmare ghouls. But Scotty, unconvinced of the seriousness of the predicament, rolled his eyes at Rick and Jimmy and let out an exasperated sigh. For him, it just didn't jive.

"Aw, come on, fellas," he sighed. "This is the middle of the twentieth century!"

"Right," Jimmy gritted, impatiently. "But this is also the middle of the New Guinea jungle!"

"Scotty, don't you remember the natives on Kwangara Island?" Rick asked, keeping a wary eye on the warriors as they began to move in closer. "They were just as primitive as these guys. And not friendly at all!"

Scotty scowled, stepping back as the natives got closer. "That was a really remote island, far away from anywhere, and there wasn't a modern city like Rabaul fifty miles away!"

"Calm down, bud," Jimmy warned him in a hissing whisper. "Don't be belligerent and give them a hard time. It'll just make things worse. My grandfather was a tribesman - the king! He probably was a headhunter, too. This is New Guinea! A lot of it still primitive, far back in time...."

His words choked off as the men moved in around them, three of the warriors surrounding each of the boys. With stark commands, two of the Wambutu grabbed each boy by the arms and began to coax and pull them off the rocks toward the jungle. The boys couldn't help but resist at first, fighting back only natural, and it only angered the native men who shouted and cried out in war whoops and prodded the boys with rifle butts and spears. The two men holding Rick were so strong that their grips were hurting him, and he watched in trepidation as Scotty struggled against the efforts of the warriors who were holding him. Rick nerved himself not to fight the two muscling him along. They were big and strong and he knew it would be futile to continue to resist them.

The native men stunk of sweat and filth, and the oily paint that covered their faces and hair was strong and pungent. Their bizarre collection of primitive and modern weapons, and the smoking skulls and shrunken heads they carried finished off the wild man picture they fit so well and added to the frightening nature of the experience. Rick kept trying to tell himself that this was just some kind of mistake, a joke of sorts because the men were mad at them, but it was, in truth, so sinister that he couldn't get himself to actually believe it.

Scotty's anger subsided somewhat by the time they were being herded through the swamp and led down a path through the jungle growth that skirted the ponds. The native men chattered amongst themselves in passionate dramatic talk, as if they had just done something eventful, heroic, something far more earth-shattering than just accosting three boys who'd been swimming in a pond.

"Well, so much for the Garden of Eden," Rick gibed with angry sarcasm, letting out a long sustained breath. He forced a grin. "I doubt Adam and Eve had to worry about this!"

Scotty harrumphed. "No, just that stupid Serpent. Can't we just buy these guys off? Give them money?"

Jimmy forced a chuckle. "They don't use money. They are primitive natives. There's nothing for them to buy!"

"What about the guns?" Scotty asked. "They had to buy them from somebody."

Jimmy shrugged. "They trade for stuff, probably guns and ammo. Maybe a few other things."

Rick groaned. "Oh darn! Speaking of money, we left our wallets in the jeep. Man, I hope we can get them back. And all our stuff, too. The weapons, the ...."

"Don't talk about it," Jimmy interrupted, tossing him a warning look. "Some of these guys know a little English. The less they know about us, the better. When we get away from them, all the stuff will be waiting there for us. It should be! Hardly anybody drives by this way."

Rick clamped his mouth shut, hoping Jimmy was right. But Scotty was now getting back into his usual antsy humor and he couldn't keep quiet. "Get away? Ha! How we gonna do that? These guys probably want to put us in a pot and cook us for dinner!"

Scotty had meant it in jest, but he and Rick couldn't help notice the wide-eyed look of horror Jimmy flung at them.

"What? Are you kidding me?" Scotty glared at Jimmy in response, trying to fathom his meaning. He began to struggle with his captors again. "You mean these guys are ...?"

"Don't even say it, Scotty," Rick warned him.

" ....cannibals?" Scotty said it anyway, getting cuffed on the shoulder by the warrior on his left.

Jimmy growled in frustration as he was shoved on by strong muscular arms. "Possibly, Mr. Scott! It is possible." He shot Scotty an especially exasperated look, struggling as he was with his desire to act like he wasn't afraid. "And if they are, buster, they'll sure have a feast on all that American boy beef of yours, won't they?"

Scotty grunted, at last realizing just how serious the situation could be. So he did what he usually did in a tight spot, he forced a laugh. "You bet, Mr. Tomato! Pure Grade A American beef, both me and
Rick. What a treat for these Wambutu monkeys, huh? You can provide the dark meat."

Jimmy's blue eyes looked like they could shoot darts. "It all tastes the same, buster. Skin color doesn't matter."

"Says who?" Scotty demanded, shuddering at the thought.

Now it was Jimmy's turn to laugh. "The old people. Information gets handed down through the generations, you know."

All Scotty could do was scowl back at him, horrified that this boy's ancestors had known what human flesh tastes like.

Rick shook his head, dismayed, but he couldn't help chuckling to himself as he was horsed along the trail. From panic and fear to ridiculous humor in seconds, and back again! Well, what better way to deal with what was happening? Laughter and bravado in the face of danger wasn't anything new to Scotty and him. It was all so frightening it didn't seem real, and who knew what was yet to come? He couldn't help but think of his mother at home on Spindrift Island, how horrified she'd be to know what was happening to them right now. The thought pained him mercilessly, and got his teeth gritting and his heart began to bang with anxiety. Like Scotty and Jimmy, he had to fight it with humor. The heck with these headhunter guys!

"If they do cook us, Scotty," Rick tossed out, "what do you think Mom will have to say about it?"

"Ho!" Scotty burst out in a devil-may-care tone. "These Wambutu guys don't want to mess with Mom Brant! If they don't spice us up the best they can and make one darn heck of a meal out of us, she'll really let them have it!"

The three boys' nervous energy burst its holds and they guffawed into gales of laughter, angering the warriors who shook them and yelled at them in their chop-chop syllables, trying to bully them into silence. The leader, the man who had shaken his spear at them earlier, did so again from the head of the line and shouted:

"Yu savvy me! No talktalk! Dis fellas no laikim, shut-up!"

"Puh! Even I understand that," Scotty muttered with a derisive grin, and the men holding him immediately began to knock him about and cuff his shoulders.

"Jeez! Okay! Okay!" he grunted, rolling his eyes in mock dismay. "Man, can't we even have a little fun while being led to the slaughter!"

The boys began to hear the sound of drums as soon as the roar and splash of the waterfalls fell behind them. A few minutes later, as they approached the tribesmen's village, the monotonous beating grew louder. They exchanged glances warily, and quieted down, even Scotty. They managed not to say much of anything for the next hundred yards or so lest they continue to aggravate the native men.

Rick looked ahead stoically, wondering what was in store for them. The jungle canopy was high above, the ancient trees rising up to dizzying heights and almost blocking out the blazing equatorial sun. Vines and creepers hung in profusion and the big-leafed mangrove branches arced closer down overhead along the swamp edges. The heat was intense; already the cooling comfort of the waterfall pool was forgotten.

He knew they were in malarial jungle swamps infested with deadly insects and other dangers; not the least of their worries, man-eating crocodiles. Escaping from this captivity was a must, but he knew it would be difficult and best if they could do it at night, in the dark. And that was a really big order, if it'd even be possible at all. And then getting back to the jeep in this dangerous terrain would be treacherous in the dark night jungle.

He scowled at the thought of it. He was so unnerved that he couldn't shake off his anger at this unexpected and seemingly impossible delay. They had been well on their way to Storms End. In a day or two they'd have surely been headed out to Palua Pae on a boat. They had been so close to the completion of their quest, only to be waylaid now because of the angry and aggressive Wambutu!

Yet Rick was still firm in his conviction when they soon came upon the village and the clearing could be seen ahead through the interlacing fronds and branches. They must escape! There was no alternative! They must continue on their journey to find the golden dragon that guards the treasure of the City of Death and the cavern of light below it. Where, hopefully, they would find his dad and the other two missing scientists. His lips drew together in a grim hard line. There was no room for failure in his plans!

He heard Scotty chuckle. "Hey, Junior Scientist, you're thinking too hard. It's all over your face. I can see the wheels turning in your brain!"

"Just doping things out," Rick returned, harshness in his voice. "Keep your eyes and ears open, boys. This is a situation we just gotta get out of, and as soon as we can!"

"Right," Jimmy agreed. "Not my idea of a cozy situation!"

Scotty grunted. "Tell me about it! Just a real quick hello and then a smash-up bangin' goodbye!"

Burly arms and spears parted the vines and fronds and the boys stumbled into the clearing muscled along by the warriors. The area was vast and filled with thatched huts of several different sizes and shapes, all elevated on stilts. Surrounding them along the perimeter was a multitude of totems sticking up from the ground and painted bright colors. They all had several faces piled on top of each other, grisly looking animal faces with the top ones being long-snouted crocodiles.

A big white cockatoo was sitting on top of one they passed by, fluffing its feathers. One of the warriors swatted at it with a hissing grunt and the bird screeched in fright and rose up into the air with a great squawking and beating of wings.

"The crocodile is king of the gods," Jimmy told them. "His spirit demands constant  reverence and adoration."

"I guess that bird was not welcome to perch there, huh?" Scotty asked.

"No way. You can't sit on the crocodile spirit's head. You gotta keep him happy or he will retaliate by sending one of his own to eat you!"

Rick shuddered at the thought. They began to hear voices raised in frenetic song accompanying the throbbing rhythm of the drums. Ahead were visible a couple hundred or more natives dancing about in a frenzy. As one, when the people saw the warriors hastening the boys into the village, they surged ahead and rushed toward them like a swarm of ants. Shouts and cries chorused into a tumult as the crowd surrounded the men and the boys.

Rick cringed at the site of them - men, women, and young people his age all worked up into a state of mania. They grinned and laughed and snarled and snapped at the boys, reaching out to them with arms covered with tribal tattoos and markings and laden with clanging shells and bracelets. The women wore woven grass skirts and skimpy tops, and the men wore breech cloths or ratty shorts like the warriors. Faces were painted into hideous masks and mops of hair colored in the strange bright hues, and the ubiquitous large bird feathers adorned them all.

"Why are they so riled up?" Scotty wanted to know, as the throng surged along with them toward the center of the village.

"Look, that hut in the middle!" Jimmy had to shout at them to be heard above the racket. He pointed ahead. "Those heads and carcasses there. The witch doctor has already been making magic for payback!"

Rick and Scotty struggled with their captors to see ahead. In the center of the village was a large hut, higher-stilted than the others. In front of it were a dozen or so of the crocodile totems, each one with the head of a pig stuck on it, the eyes wide and staring, tongues lolling. Hanging from rafters under the hut were the animals' carcasses, and there were small fires nearby awaiting to roast them.

"It's the payback ritual," Jimmy struggled to tell them. "The animal sacrifice, the drums. The people chew betel nut and drink kava to get zonked out, and then they dance and sing-sing and work themselves up into a ...."

His words were cut off by a whack from one of his warrior captors.

"Yu no talk-talk!" the native spat out at him. He motioned to the other warriors. "Dis fellas no laikim!"

Jimmy snarled at the man, wanting to strangle him. But he could do nothing, of course, helpless in the strong grip of the warriors.

Rick's lips were set sternly and he stared hard ahead as they were roughly escorted to the village center. The babel of the crowd was rising to the point of hysteria. The warriors stopped in front of the large center hut and the men holding the boys pulled them ahead of the crowd close up to the totems bearing the pig heads.

Rick could feel his blood stirring and his heart banging away to the throbbing of the drums, which now grew to even more maniacal cadence as did the chanting and shouting of the crazed natives. The boys could only look at each other in consternation, not knowing what in the world was going on. But a moment later they understood the reason for the heightened frenzy.

A figure emerged from the hut and the tumult rose yet another notch. Tall and very old, but still muscular and lithe, the man who stepped forward was attired even more hideously than the warriors. He wore a breech cloth of purple leaves and his body was almost completely covered with intricate tattoos and tribal markings. His face was painted as a white skull with a huge mouth filled with big square teeth. His bush of hair was a jarring rainbow of colors and his earlobes, stretched and distended down to his shoulders, were laden with decorative cuffs and piercings. Bird claws stuck out of his nostrils and facial piercings on his eyebrows and lips glittered with supernatural-looking trinkets. He was the ugliest man Rick had ever seen and he stared at the boys with an evil grin as the warrior leader spoke to him, shaking his spear triumphantly.

"That's the witch doctor, the humbug man," Jimmy grunted out to them above the din. "The warrior is telling him how they found us at the waterfalls."

A moment later the witch doctor burst out into a tirade of screeches and cries and climbed down from the hut, waving his arms wildly and gesticulating like a madman as he advanced upon the boys. The crowd and the drums roared on along with him and he stopped to gaze curiously at Rick and Scotty, then lumbered over to Jimmy. He shook his fist at the boy and his armful of bracelets jangled loudly even in the uproar as he let out a volley of angry words.

Jimmy's light brown face actually looked to be flaming red with anger. His hands were clenched fiercely at his sides as he faced the witch doctor without even a flinch. When the old man finally stopped shouting at him, Jimmy turned to Rick and Scotty.

"He said I should have known better because I am one of them. I should not have let you bathe in the sacred pool. They are sacrificing the pigs for payback because of the gold prospectors digging up their lands, for they believe all this jungle belongs to them." He grimaced and looked back at the witch doctor a moment and Rick thought he might jump the man. But then he turned back and said, "Now they will sacrifice us, too, and I will be the last to die so that I can suffer the more by watching you two being killed!"

Scotty simply grunted and his jaw molded into a hard line. Rick, fretted by the horror of it all, experienced a jolting sense of shock. He was appalled. How could this be happening? Would this really be the end for them, slaughtered here and eaten by these people, same as the pigs, as a sacrifice to their mythical gods, never to be seen or heard from again? But, no! It couldn't be! It just couldn't, Rick thought with quaking resolve. He spoke out in anger. "Can't you talk to him, Jimmy? Reason with him? Can't you ..... "

But there was no use continuing. His words tore off as he and Jimmy and Scotty were hustled up to the hut past the staring-eyed pig heads to the ladder leading up into it. The crowd of natives had surged back and broken into wild dance formations as the boys were prodded up the ladder by the warriors' spears. They were forced inside and two of the Wambutu came in to guard them.

The interior of the hut was dark and smokey and the boys moved into its center by the prodding of the guards. Pallets of woven fronds on the floor offered some comfort, and the boys sat down on them as the guards stationed themselves on either side of the doorway. On the wall across from the entrance was a small window overlooking the center of the village behind the hut. Below this was an altar on which two bowls of a charred scented substance burned in obvious veneration of other items on the altar, among them a shrunken human head, a bloody pig's head, and several hand wrought wooden items that appeared to be talismans of magic.

Jimmy jerked his head in that direction. "Hooka pooka," he explained. "Hocus pocus, magic, whatever you want to call it. They've obviously been at it for some time today. They get all riled up and crazy over it. Finding us was a stroke of good luck for them. They can add us to their sacrifice list!"

"They'll actually kill us?" Scotty wanted to know, still not fully believing.

Jimmy nodded gravely. "Yes!" He faced them with outthrust jaw and steel in his voice. "They firmly believe they must offer sacrifice for payback. The gods must be appeased for all transgressions, like the gold hunting and our swimming in the sacred pool. Something similar happened to an American recently, the son of a politician. He was working here with missionaries and disappeared. Signs of him were later found in a remote mountain village on the mainland. It appeared he had been sacrificed and eaten."

Rick nodded slowly. "I remember reading about that. It was a governor's son. New York, I think."

Scotty pressed clenched fists against the floor pallet and tossed back his head. "Then why do they act like headhunting and cannibalism don't exist anymore, especially someplace like this, so close to Rabaul?"

Jimmy shrugged. "Commerce, tourism probably. They don't want people to be afraid to come here. And the missionaries want the world to believe they have been successful in completely converting the people."

Rick snorted. "So what you really have are Christian natives who still chop off human heads and eat the bodies because they still actually worship the old gods too?"

"Right. Some of them," Jimmy reluctantly agreed. "And lucky us, we ran smack dab into them!"

"When will they do this?" Rick asked, cocking an ear to better here the tumult outside.

Jimmy let out a sigh and shook his head, as if to shake the problem away. "Later in the day. most probably. Right before it gets dark. They'll have a sing-sing all day and work themselves into a tizzy. Then they'll come and get us."

Scotty twisted into a position to lean on his elbow. His lips formed a slight grin. "Will they cook us in a pot?" he asked, after a moment, "or will they roast us in a pit?"

"Morbid interest, huh?" Jimmy grinned back. "Neither. First they bop you on the head to kill you. That part's easy. Then they lay the bodies out in a bed dug in the ground. Probably out back there in that fenced-off area. Looked like some kind of thatching out there, perhaps the covering for their roasting beds."

Rick pushed himself to his feet to take a look out the back. He stretched idly, as if to loosen stiff muscles, so that he wouldn't alarm the two guards who had stiffened their stances at his movement. Outside the small window above the altar he could see the large squared off area surrounded by  a bamboo-like fence. The center of the area was covered with large thatched pallets that could be moved aside by way of their long poles. The sight of it made him shudder. Was this where the natives had their beds for cooking humans?

He sat down with a thump. "So you're already dead when they cook you?" he asked Jimmy.

The boy nodded. "Yes."

Scotty laughed. "Thoughtful of them, ain't it? These bozos better feed us first! Man, I'd sure hate to die on an empty stomach!"

"If you do, Mr. Scott," Rick tossed back, "it'll be the only time since I've known you that your stomach will have actually been empty!"

Jimmy looked from one to the other with widened eyes. "You two guys are nuts. Only Americans would laugh in the face of being cooked and eaten by South Seas cannibals!"

Rick's voice hardened as he spoke. "That's because it's just not going to happen, Jimmy. There's got to be a way out of this. I don't believe for a second that this is the end for us."

Sweat glistened on Jimmy's forehead and he wiped his brow with the back of his hand. "But what can we do? We have no aces up our sleeves. Nobody knows we're here. We have no friends in the area, even if somebody did. We're all alone in this!"

"So it seems," Rick told him. "But I can't give up hope. Maybe that's what makes us different. We've been in tight spots like this before and got out of them."

Scotty nodded with an emphatic grunt. "And right at the psychological moment, too. Somehow good fortune has always trailed after us."

Jimmy looked at them in wonder. "I'm beginning to believe it! Like with that gunshot on the Mirandu last night, and how we escaped from the tong pirates. I sure hope your luck doesn't desert us now!"

Scotty rolled over onto his stomach and his voice slapped out, "The only luck we need right now is some food! Maybe they can barbecue us some of that pork we saw hanging outside." He grinned at Jimmy and Rick and winked, letting them know he wasn't afraid. "It's time to fatten the sacrificial lambs. Well, actually, in this case boys. I bet that old crocodile god doesn't like his sacrifices dying on an empty stomach!"

Scotty got his wish fulfilled about an hour later. Despite the intense heat and humidity in the hut and the wild ruckus outside of it, the three of them had fallen into uneasy slumbers stretched out on the mats.

The witch doctor climbed in and aroused the boys by dancing wildly around the hut and wailing in a dramatic sing-song manner. The old man bowed at the altar, moaning as if in a trance, and picked up one of the small vessels placed there. From this he took handfuls of tiny seeds as he continued to prance around, and tossed them at the boys as he circled them with the exaggerated dance movements.

"Nigoochee! Nigoochee! Nigoochee!" he cried out in low guttural grunts and then high screeches. "Nigoochee no laikim dis fellas! No! No! No!"

Scotty was watching him warily. "Who the heck is Nigoochee?"

"The crocodile god," Jimmy hissed.

Scotty snorted. "Well I don't like him, either!"

Rick sent him a warning glance. "Cool it! He's making magic. This guy's a nutcase, but he wholly believes in what he's doing. No telling what he might do if we anger him."

After invoking the god Nigoochee and tossing the seeds all around the boys, the witch doctor stepped back to the altar as several pretty young native girls climbed into the hut bearing trays laden with food and drink.

"Now this is more to my liking," Scotty said, sitting up in an attentive position.

Jimmy and Rick, too, sat up with smiles at the sight of the girls in their grass skirts and multi-colored bouncy hairdos.

"Here's that food you've been wanting," Rick said to Scotty with a grin.

"And pretty girls, too!" the Scott boy added. "Just what a fellow needs before he gets roasted!"

"Hey!" Rick gaped at him with feigned concern. "Behave yourself. I'll tell Barby on you when we get home!"

Scotty blinked and gulped guiltily as Jimmy asked, "Who is Barby?"

"My sister," was Rick's reply. "She's a pretty blonde a year younger than me, and she's got her eyes set on Scotty."

Jimmy let out a chuckle. "Right, Scotty. You'd better keep your mind on Barby Brant. These wild Wambutu girls would probably be a bit too much for you!"

But the tribal girls were friendly and sweet and full of smiles for the boys. They treated them as if the were special guests instead of intended sacrificial victims. They presented them with the food and drink and served them politely, talking to the boys in lilting sing-song voices in pidgin, most of which Rick and Scotty could understand. Jimmy talked to them in their own language and they gave deferential treatment to him, obviously fascinated with him because of his lighter-skinned Oriental version of their own tribal looks.

They were fed roasted pork with yams and coconut meats, coconut milk to drink and fruit juices. Rick and Scotty were surprised at how tasty the food was for such primitive fare. They ate their fill as the Wambutu girls hovered about and the witch doctor sat on the floor cross-legged by the altar, watching them with a stoney expression. When they were done, the girls whisked up the bowls and cups and bore them away on the trays, casting the boys beaming smiles as they left the hut.
Scotty harrumphed. "By the way they act, you'd think we were going to meet them again later for some cokes and dancing."

Rick couldn't help laughing. "I think they're just happy because three young healthy fellows like ourselves ought to really satisfy old Nigoochee."

Jimmy looked warily at the witch doctor who was now rising to his feet. "You shouldn't speak that name," he warned. "We offended the god by bathing in the pool. so it's like blasphemy to talk about him now. At least this old humbug man will think so."

"Hah!" Scotty leaned back, a contented smile on his face now that he had eaten.
"The real offenders here are the Wambutu themselves, not us, because they never bathe, ever, according to the smell of them!"

The witch doctor began walking around them again, slowly, muttering his mumbo jumbo, making faces at them, and waving his arms and hands along with his incantations. The ruckus outside continued on, the beat of the drums so loud now that it seemed it would burst their eardrums.

Scotty growled, "We should've taken our guns along with us to the waterfalls instead of leaving them in the jeep!"

Rick nodded, eying the witch doctor with growing impatience. "Tell me about it! If we had them now, I'd sure give this loony-toon arrangement here a nice bullet in his left big toe!"

"They would have taken the guns away from us at the waterfalls," Jimmy reminded them, lowering his voice almost to a whisper as the witch doctor now started shaking a rattling device at them.

It was a small hollowed-out coconut painted like a death mask and filled with seeds or stone that clattered as he shook it about in rhythm with the drums outside.
"That's the death rattle," Jimmy hissed. "The time is approaching!"

The boys all looked at each other with searching, questioning eyes. What was going to happen now? Would they just be bopped on the heads and that would be it? They'd be cooked and eaten by these savage natives and no one would ever know what had happened to them? Or would sudden and unexpected good fortune somehow come their way and save them from this horrific predicament?

Rick didn't know what could possibly happen to help them now. It seemed to be too late for miracles, far far too late. There was no way they could possibly escape from all these people. He wondered what the next move would be. A moment later, he found out.

The cries and beat of the drums reached a maniacal crescendo and a commotion could be heard outside the window in the village center. Rick looked to see what was going on but the witch doctor now stood in front of the altar blocking the view. The ugly humbug man pointed to the doorway as he shook the death rattle with his other hand.

"Go!" he commanded hoarsely, his feathers vibrating as his body shook. "Yu go now meetum Nigoochee!"

The boys rose slowly as the two guards came at them with spears ready to prod them if they did not follow orders. Scotty led the way grumbling, "I'd like to Nigoochee him! Right in one ear and out the other!"

Jimmy snorted and rolled his eyes. His lips pressed tightly together to suppress a laugh.

"Scotty .... shut up!"

"Right," Rick hissed. "If you make us laugh, they may cook us alive! Yughhh! I'm just not in the mood for that!"

Scotty stepped aside to let Rick lead. "Brains before brawn, chum." Then he looked at Rick with a pleading expression. "Man, think of something!"

Rick cringed with helplessness and looked away. "We'll just have to make a run for it," he muttered. "Just keep alert for the right moment."

He looked out the doorway at a sea of black faces, many of them painted in the hideous death mask images, their owners singing and shouting and dancing to the drumbeats and looking at him with greedy gleaming eyes. He let out an uneasy breath and shrugged his shoulders. Think of something? No way. His mind was a complete blank. Was there any way in heaven or hell to escape this huge crazed mob who wanted to kill them?

"Here goes," he said to himself, and climbed down the ladder to the flank of warrior guards awaiting. Three of the men immediately surrounded him as Jimmy and Scotty followed.

Rick twisted his neck to look under the hut to the village center behind it and his eyes bugged wide in horror. A stabbing pain smacked his heart almost as if a knife had been thrust into it and sliced it in half. He felt a lump form in his throat and almost choked in fright. What lay there now in the very center of the village was far worse than he ever would have imagined! The grassy pallets had been removed. But there were no cooking beds in which to roast humans. No, that would have been almost a pleasure, he thought, compared to what he saw there now.

There was a deep pit about thirty feet across, its bottom filled with water and rocks and vegetation, and it was crawling with a half dozen or so angry snarling crocodiles!