Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's
THE LOST WORLD – Blood Loss
This entry, dated May 21, 1919, can be found in the official expedition journal of George Edward Challenger:
There we came upon the treehouse, a model of ingenuity built some fifty feet above ground, encircling a massive Samauma tree. We ingressed by elevator – an engineering marvel in its own right – operating on pulleys and counterweights, and driven by rainwater collected from the jungle canopy. I estimate the tree's trunk at more than twenty feet in diameter. It is not so round as a typical English tree, but rather covered by irregular folds and crevices. One of which has been hollowed out to form a natural guide shaft for the elevator carriage –by these extraordinary means we were lifted up to a two-story hideaway in the sky.
The Plateau: June, 1923
Bound by the small confines of the elevator cage, the two men began their descent to the jungle floor.
"Only one of us is coming back from this trip." Roxton's voice was tense, measured –as if to say, I'm giving you this one chance.
The intruder only smiled in response –looking confident with a palm resting on his machete and Marguerite's rifle held level at his waist. The lift car bucked and the man adjusted his stance.
Instantly, Roxton closed the step between them. He brought his forearm up under the rifle, forcing the other man back against the bamboo frame. The machete was nearly clear of its sheath. Roxton dropped his free hand, pinning his opponent's arm, and began to grapple for control of the blade.
Jarred by the shifting weight, the carriage struck the guide shaft wall and pitched abruptly. Roxton used the momentum to press his advantage, forcing his elbow hard against his enemy's windpipe. In desperation, the man gave up on the machete and began to fight for breath, leaving Roxton free to pull the weapon.
Without warning, the rifle discharged. In sheer panic or as a warning to his cohorts the man had pulled the trigger. The errant shot shattered the tether ring and the thick vines supporting the lift snapped away. The elevator went into freefall.
Both men lost their footing, flailing for a handhold as the tilted carriage caromed down the vertical shaft. Roxton dug the machete into the tree-wall – beyond the cage – in a futile attempt to slow the drop. But the increasing velocity only ripped the hilt from his hand. Torque shredded the lashing at the bamboo joints. The lift frame was coming apart.
Roxton had been thrown face down, his head extending outside the cage –dangerously close to the swiftly passing wall. The position was bad. He'd lost sight of his opponent. A boot heel landed on the back of his neck, bouncing his forehead against the racing shaft. He tried to get clear, pushing against the frame struts at his shoulders, but the force only tore away the tattered lashing. A second boot slammed down. The attacker had found a secure crossmember to leverage his weight from above. The mounting pressure was more than Roxton could hold off and his cheekbone began to skitter treacherously along the rising wall.
With a sudden jolt, the tree-wall ripped away the intruder's handhold. In an instant he was dead –drawn up between the lift cage and the guide shaft. The elevator tilted into a bone crushing slide and rattled to a stop.
Roxton was disoriented but he knew where he was. He had fallen halfway down the shaft. He would not allow himself to fall any further. Still prone, he started to push himself up. A sharp pain blinded him and he lay back flat. A splinter of bamboo had pierced his side horizontally, still attached to the elevator floor. He was pinned.
If he had checked more closely, Roxton would have found that the bamboo was far too thick to be ignored. But he had already turned his thoughts to Marguerite and had severely underestimated his own danger.
I'll deal with this later, he thought. Cupping the wound with his left hand, he tried to pull away from the floor. The pain was paralyzing. He had imagined that the splinter would simply break. It did not. He dropped back down in a soundless scream, his legs writhing in protest. The motion was more than the wreckage could bear and the lift frame buckled. The carriage floor fell out like a trap door, secured by only one thin edge.
The surface hung nearly vertical now over a twenty foot drop. And with it, the whole of Roxton's weight bore down onto the wooden shank. Jagged streaks of light eclipsed his vision. The thick splinter slipped deeper and deeper into his flesh, until finally, the tip emerged from his abdomen –more than eight inches from the entry wound.
Just beyond the fleeting threads of his awareness, a voice was screaming his name. Through the plumes of rising dust and suspended debris – at the top of the elevator shaft – Marguerite's silhouette appeared. A gruff voice threatened to silence her and she was pulled back into the treehouse.
Earlier that morning…
"Aren't you a fat one," Marguerite praised. She pinched away the vine and delicately placed the tomato into her basket. A morning chill hung in the garden rows and she was eager to get the ripe fruit up to the treehouse while it was still cool. She and Roxton were on their own for the day and the fresh tomatoes would be a nice addition to an early lunch.
"Hello," came a whisper. The unexpected word hit like a gunshot. Marguerite dropped her basket and wheeled around.
"Easy, now." The stranger extended both palms in a show of innocence. He stood alone, just a few yards away. He was young – early twenties at best – but he had the scars and bearing of a seasoned warrior. Marguerite recognized the garb: tanned hides and crude furs, a crossbow on his back and a hand axe at his belt. They called themselves Horsemen and they never traveled alone.
The knee-high fence enclosing the garden suddenly felt like a cage. Marguerite had left her rifle leaning at the small entry gate and now the man stood closer to the weapon than she did. She thought it best not to contest his position. Instead, she knelt down to her basket and began gathering up the tomatoes.
"If you're hungry we have plenty." She smiled and held up the plumpest of the lot.
The distraction failed. "Let us help," the young man offered, as he beckoned to the western edge of the clearing. Then he stepped over to her rifle and lifted it to his shoulder.
Two Horsemen emerged from the jungle, carefully ducking through the electric fence. Now focused in that direction, Marguerite could see the faint outline of horses tethered in the shadowy undergrowth beyond. She had dealt with these barbaric riders in the past. They were aggressive tribesmen who marked their territory with the bones of their enemies, and drank from human skulls. What they were doing this far from the high plains was unclear, but with every passing second she felt their noose tightening.
Another Horseman stepped up to the fence line –a big man, easily six and a half foot tall. He carried the limp body of a clansman. With great care, he lifted the unconscious man above the live wire and over to his waiting friends.
Marguerite saw an opening and seized it. "Roxton," she called out. "We have an injured Horseman here; bring down the first aid kit." She put as much emphasis on the word Horseman as she felt she could, without being obvious. The warrior with her rifle took a threatening step in her direction.
"I can help," she continued, defensively.
The man's posture relaxed. "That's all we're asking," he said, but it was clear that his requests would not be denied. He summoned the big man to his side and Marguerite could now see that this young warrior was in charge. Continuing with their absurd guise of civility, the two men escorted her aboard the elevator.
The counterweight dropped and the lift car began its climb up to the jungle canopy. Without a word the young Horseman started to fish through the garden basket. Eventually he selected one of the tomatoes and handed it over to his large companion. Marguerite tried to engage the intruders in small talk, but the only response was the slurp of ripe pulp.
As the carriage reached the landing she spoke up loudly, "I'm sure we have everything you need."
From behind, the big man gripped her arm and pushed her forward. He was using her as a shield as they stepped off of the elevator. The lead Horseman was astute; he had watched her operate the levers and he released the car back down to his waiting men. The situation had spun out of control and she made a silent plea to Roxton.
And then he was there. He rounded the corner from the common room and immediately extended both arms out to his sides. "Whoa, steady lads," he said with a start.
The hunter had not heard the warning call. In fact, he could not have been less prepared for what was happening. Both of his prize Webleys were dismantled, the working parts on the balcony soaking in kerosene. He was barefoot, wearing only a pair of loose white trousers and an undershirt. By all appearances the man planned on being back in bed before lunch.
Marguerite focused her eyes with intent and struggled to keep a level voice, "They just need some rest and a few stitches."
"A few stitches," the big man mimicked her words –wet with tomato pulp. The juices still dripped from his stubbled chin and Marguerite could feel ooze running down the back of her neck. She tried to pull away but the brute's grip was absolute.
"We don't mean to be any trouble," the younger man said, "but your woman here offered us some assistance." And he held up Marguerite's rifle as if to indicate some kind of arrangement.
Roxton gave the man a sarcastic nod of understanding. "Of course," he said, "let me take that for you." With a step, he reached out for the weapon. Effortlessly, the big man slid Marguerite to intercept, nearly throwing the woman from her feet.
"Enough!" She channeled her mounting panic into a scream. "There's an injured man on his way up here; please let me help."
As if on queue, the lift car began its return trip. More trouble was coming.
Her eyes pleaded with Roxton; this was not a fight they could win. "Please," she said, again, and he backed away. The big man relaxed his grip. Marguerite jerked her arm free and quickly turned to face the intruders –stepping backwards alongside the hunter.
The elevator arrived with two more armed Horsemen. All pretense of civility evaporated as they pushed their way out onto the crowded landing. The unconscious man had been left lying on the carriage floor. Angered by the sight, the big brute shoved the others aside and knelt down to his fallen clansman.
The young leader took charge of the chaos and pointed to Marguerite. "You," he ordered, "tend to my man."
Eager to earn a bit of trust, she hurried towards the injured Horseman. As she advanced, the fetid odor of rotting flesh overwhelmed her. His leg was shattered and fatally gangrenous. She took shallow breaths as the big man carried the limp body from the elevator.
The leader beckoned to one of the new arrivals – armed with only a machete – and handed him the stolen rifle. "Take him below," he said, with a nod to Roxton. "Have him shut down that damn fence and then see to the horses. If he acts up, shoot him." An understanding seemed to pass between the two men.
Marguerite's hands began to shake. If Roxton got onto that elevator she would never see him again; her own fate was likely to be even worse. The newly armed Horseman held the hunter at gunpoint, steadily backing him onto the lift. Once aboard, the man kicked the release lever and the carriage started into a slow drop. Roxton held her eyes with confidence until he sank below the sightline.
"Only one of us is coming back from this trip." She heard him say, and she knew that he was making her a promise.
She could barely breathe. Her thoughts began to scatter –give Roxton time –wait for these men to make a mistake –press on. The big man stood at her side, still holding his injured friend, looking to her for instruction.
A scuffle sounded from below and the thick vines holding the lift cage began to sway. All attention had turned to the commotion... a sudden flash lit the dim shaft.
Suspended in a haze of denial, Marguerite never heard the gunshot.
And then the support vines sprang up, recoiling like severed tendons. Pulleys began to rattle and squeal –and finally spun free as the trailing vines whipped over the top, chasing after the falling carriage.
Violent crashes echoed from the shaft. Marguerite cried out and rushed forward. Her legs felt weak and she clung to a landing strut for balance. All sense of time had failed her. She called out Roxton's name again and again, until a meaty hand locked onto her shoulder and pulled her clear of the edge.
The hunter drifted in the safe harbors of his mind, cradled by the warm blue waters of the inland sea. His loose linen trousers and dark hair listed in the gentle current. From above, rose petals rained down and set lightly onto the crystal surface –drops of crimson suspended on their own reflections. The petals gathered around the man. And then, like hungry leeches, they bore into his belly.
Reality set upon Roxton in short fitful gasps. Agony contorted his face; masked in sweat, dirt, and blood. The torment narrowed to a thin primal moan – racked by spasms – until his lungs had no sound left to give. And finally, the pain ebbed. But through it all, he did not move.
Only the deep shard of bamboo piercing his side and a few vital degrees of slope held him from the fall. The base of the elevator hung nearly vertical. Roxton clung to its surface, pinned like the hands of a clock: his feet at three and his head toward the nine. The pain peaked again. He had seen animals gut shot; death could take hours, even days.
The guide shaft was dim, but stray sunlight filtered down through the crevices and lit the chaos that had once been the elevator. Heavy dust hung in the air. How much time has passed? The debris still settled with subtle ticks and pings. But the wet tree-wall answered the question –trails of blood ran freely from the crushed Horseman. Only minutes then, Roxton thought, and he looked away. He had his own bleeding to worry about.
Wary of his tipping point, the hunter extended an arm and gripped the top edge of his support. With a gentle pull, he lifted his weight away from the wound. The relief was startling. He was encouraged; with this motion he could pull himself clear of the splinter altogether. But try as he might, he could not will himself through the pain. His stomach muscles had constricted near the jagged wood. Even the slightest internal friction brought on waves of darkness. And with each attempt, he could feel himself teetering into the fall.
Think, John. The thirty foot climb back up to the landing seemed insurmountable, but that was what he intended to do. Urgency began to overwhelm reason. If he couldn't pull the bamboo free of his gut, he would break the damn thing off and leave it in there.
He had already tried this – when the splinter was in its infancy – to disastrous result. But this time, he would not allow himself to wince away. He clinched his abdomen tight, released his handhold, and pushed himself into the fall. The pain was immediate and debilitating. Every instinct for survival screamed, stop! But gravity had taken over with unflinching resolve.
Why wasn't I with her in the garden? Why didn't I have my pistols at the ready? The thought of Marguerite alone with those animals was more than he could bear.
As his body rolled away from the surface, Roxton felt the thick splinter crack free and slip below his skin. Adrenaline masked the pain as he twisted his torso and threw both arms towards his mark. His vision tunneled –eyes fixed on the target. The release assembly jutted out horizontally, still mounted to the fallen deck. Somewhere beyond pain and shadow the hunter landed both hands onto the thin metal lever.
The carriage base lurched but held fast. His fingers locked into a death grip. She was counting on him. He had made her a promise. Even if he lived through this fall, he was likely to bleed out before ever seeing her again. He could feel his heart pounding at his core, the warm wet bloom of blood and time slipping away.
Two more feet, Johnny boy. A crude ladder had been built into the length of the guide shaft. If needed, it could be extended to reach the jungle floor. Roxton's bare toes reached out to find a rung. At the far edges of his desperation, he considered descending –trying to make it to the Zanga village for help. But as he swung his upper body across to the ladder, he could look only upward.
With both arms folded over a rung, and two feet squarely supported, Roxton closed his eyes and took a moment to breathe. He focused his ears onto the treehouse. He feared silence or urgency, but heard neither. Marguerite was dangerously capable. He knew that she would manage these men. But there were some things... brutalities that she might be able to endure –but he could not. The tones were distant, muted and he listened until he found her voice. She was safe. He stifled a swell of relief; this battle was just beginning.
He tore his undershirt away from the wound and then removed the garment completely. Rugged jungle life had left the hunter trim. Now, he was thankful for what little padding he had. The splinter had receded into the entry wound, buried in the thin fat-layer just above his left hip. The tip reemerged near his belly button and extended a full inch beyond the skin. But the bleeding was controlled; the wood itself was slowing the flow.
"I was just getting a chair..." Marguerite's voice sounded from above and was cut short by a harsh masculine timbre. Challenger's lab was on the floor below the landing; it shared a wall with the guide shaft. If that was where she had taken the injured Horseman, then she was ten feet closer than Roxton had imagined.
Hastily, he wrapped the shredded shirt around his midriff, tying the extra length over the exposed tip. The makeshift bandage would do nothing to control the bleeding, but it would help to keep the wound clean. Each rung of the ladder wrenched at his gut. But the man was passed the point where pain alone could stop him.
He hugged the ladder close as he navigated the scattered wreckage, searching in vain for the stolen rifle. Once he'd reached the open shaft above, the muffled voices turn to words.
Marguerite was consoling, making assurances, "...smells bad, but he's going to be alright."
"He's gonna be alright," a deep voice parroted back.
The big guy, Roxton thought, and waited for more, but nothing followed. He climbed six more rungs, to a spot just behind the wall of the lab. A large cabinet inside blocked any hope of peeking through the bamboo slats.
Finally, Marguerite spoke, "Is this your father?" The question was steeped with concern, as if the answer might save her patient's life.
Roxton heard the big man grunt in confirmation and repeat himself, "He's gonna be alright."
The woman was working her angles, buying time. He relaxed his grip and looked below, looping an elbow over a rung. Wherever the rifle had landed, it was lost. Climbing through the debris was a fool's errand –a glint of steel caught his eye. The machete. That, I can get to….
A shadow rose up from behind. Instantly, Roxton flattened himself against the ladder. The silhouette cast across the shaft, onto the far wall. A Horseman was standing directly above.
Stay calm Johnny, he doesn't even know you're here. He held fast, taking shallow breaths.
At length, the intruder began to walk away and then suddenly spoke out, "Where you goin', Big Boy?"
Roxton feared the worst, afraid the question was aimed at him. But he was reprieved by a familiar reply, "He's gonna be alright." The big guy must have come up from the lab.
The first man continued, "You can't leave her down there alone." The only response was heavy footsteps retreating towards the kitchen.
Clearly, he can, the hunter thought, with a glimmer of hope. And then the splinter's tip caught against the ladder. Roxton convulsed, unable to control his primal response. He cried out.
He was helpless, ten feet down and nowhere to go. He clung tight to the ladder, trying to stay out of sight. The landing had gone quiet. He waited. Slowly, the Horseman's eyes came into view and met his own.
From the collective journals of Edward D. Malone:
There is a tragic irony in Miss Krux's resilience. I have witnessed the effects of childhood abandonment and neglect. The innocent are left bitter and defeated, reaching out for any passing hand –yet never held. Given her indomitable nature, I can assure you, these same forces begat something entirely different in Marguerite. I have seen in her two distinct personalities: one of which might sit vigilant to cool my fevered brow, while the other would quite happily slit my throat.
The woman switched masks with seamless grace, an effortless shift that even she could miss. It was an art born in childish tears and perfected by years of misplaced trust. She no longer cried. She lashed out, seduced, and manipulated –but most importantly, she needed no one.
Marguerite had no use for delusion. She had seen the wreckage and the blood coated walls. Her captors had seen this as well. The Horsemen were counting both men dead; that suited her fine. Any suggestion that the hunter might still be alive would only make him a target.
She would sit and play nursemaid for these animals. Even if Roxton were in desperate need of her help, she could do nothing. He was on his own. A tremble set upon her lower lip. She felt her mask slipping. For one brief instant she had imagined John calling out her name... but she was courting delusion. Too many years on this bloody plateau had left her soft. She allowed herself a moment of weakness and then returned safely behind her mask.
She had convinced the young leader that the laboratory was the best place for her to attend the injured man. Challenger's unusual instruments and colorful concoctions had helped to make her case. But the truth was, the rear wall of the lab had the best access to the guide shaft. A few blankets spread over a workbench served as an adequate sickbed. From there, Marguerite had a decent view up the stairwell to the elevator landing above. If there were any chance of getting to Roxton, this was the spot.
The big Horseman hovered nearby, his concern apparent. The sick man was his father –and if she'd read the colors of his leather plaiting correctly, there was more. Without warning, he started up the stairs, leaving her unguarded.
On the landing, the third Horseman was standing near the shattered lift gate. This wasn't the first time she had seen him linger there. The big man passed by without a word and turned towards the kitchen. The other followed a few steps in his wake and then spoke, "Where you goin', Big Boy?" A distant reply sounded. The bewildered Horseman turned up his palms and looked down the stairwell at Marguerite. "You can't leave her down there alone." But the big man had already gone.
This was her chance. If the remaining guard gave her the slightest leeway, she would move to the back wall and pry loose the bamboo. Just a whisper or glimpse of Roxton… The guard abruptly turned and started for the open elevator shaft. Marguerite did not hesitate. She lept up and rushed toward the rear of the lab. She froze. What had caught that Horseman's attention?
She changed direction and quietly crossed to the base of the stairwell. The man's head and shoulders were just visible above the floorline. He was leaning out, looking down the shaft. She had seen him do this many times, but something was different. Warning bells were screaming in her head. In a blink, this moment would be lost –but for this too, she had a mask.
She took the stairs by twos – silent as the jaguar – and crossed the landing in a singular strike. The guard was nearly twice her weight. With a low shoulder and a racing heart, she slammed into the man. The impact was staggering. Marguerite recoiled violently and landed onto her back. But the Horseman's course had been set. His arms swung mad pinwheels, each desperate stroke prolonging the inevitable, until gravity called him home. Just above the adrenaline haze, she could hear the intruder's screams cascading through the wreckage below.
The telltale sound of kitchen chairs against the bamboo floor issued a warning. The petite woman planted a hand and sprung to her feet. Only seconds remained before she would be discovered. Set to bolt, she risked a quick look down the open shaft. She could scarcely believe her eyes. Roxton hung from the maintenance ladder, he was leaning out from the wall –staring back, mirroring her own grave expression.
Her mind was blank. Heavy footsteps were closing in. She bolted for the lab, but she would never make it down all of the stairs without being seen. One, two, three stairs and pivot! She wheeled about and started back up the staircase. Both Horsemen had reached the landing and Marguerite nearly collided with the men as she emerged from the stairwell.
Acting as though she had just come running up, she yelled, "What the bloody hell is going on up here?" But she was ignored. Residual clatter still sounded from the elevator shaft and the men were heading straight for the ledge.
She stomped her foot and shouted, "Hey! I asked you a question." It was enough to stop their charge, although far more urgent than she had intended.
The big man pulled up short. But the young leader only slowed... then his posture changed dramatically. He leaned back, nodding his head, and began to laugh. It was the sardonic chuckle of realization. And Marguerite could see that he was beginning to piece together what had happened.
He slowly turned and looked her in the eyes. "Where were you just now?" he asked.
She feigned confusion and gestured down towards the lab. "I came up when I heard you people destroying my house."
"Of course you did," he said, through clenched teeth, "but I don't really believe you." And he closed the distance between them.
"It doesn't matter what you believe." Her voice was taunting. Every second she delayed was time Roxton needed to get clear.
She had made a connection and she played the card. "Regardless of what you think happened, I still need to take care of your father." She had seen it in their clan colors; the two men were brothers.
The leader tilted his head and smiled. Her gamble had been correct. He appraised her for a moment and then looked over his shoulder at the elevator shaft. Finally, he turned back and said, "I think perhaps you are too clever." His arm flashed out. An open palm landed hard across her temple and sent her reeling into the wall.
With a quick step, the big man cut between the two and grabbed Marguerite roughly at the elbow. Her head was ringing. He was pushing her towards the lab and she stumbled down the first few stairs before regaining her balance.
"You are too clever," he said, matching his younger brother's inflections. And then he nearly carried her down the steps. She craned her neck, desperate to see what was happening up on the landing. But the big brute blocked her view entirely. Without a word, he made his point, stabbing a thick finger towards his father. It was clear that she would not be left alone a second time.
She busied herself pretending to care for the injured man. But she couldn't shake the image of John's ashen face. She had seen that hollow expression during the War –and those same faces later covered with sheets. Tears began to collect in her eyes and she blinked them away. She knew that the big man was watching.
She took her patient's hand into her own. "I've done all I can for his leg," she said. "He needs time." She was thankful that rigor mortis hadn't set in yet. The man had died only moments after being carried to the lab. Still, she took great care as she dabbed his brow with a cool rag.
The big guy was looking at her with such hopeful admiration that she couldn't help but offer a bit of encouragement. "Don't worry," she assured, "he just needs some rest."
"...and a few stitches," he added, as if he were finishing her thought.
An artist's easel stood at the far end of the common room. The young Horseman appraised the unfinished canvas it displayed and then the lightweight stand itself. He reached out and wiggled the ungainly contraption; its delicate ingenuity taunted him. In a fit of rage, he sent the whole of it skittering across the room. The easel clapped against the far wall, landing in a twisted sprawl, while the painting raced end-over-end up the hallway.
It was over. He had lost his entire patrol. Every decision he had made since his father's injury had been wrong. Except for this absurd house in the canopy –for this, he blamed his brother. Once the half-wit had his mind set on a thing, he would never relent. The brunette in the garden had been his undoing. He had seen her as some sort of savior for their father.
But men in his father's state never woke. The young leader knew that. He should have just taken the mouthy woman captive and kept moving –but that, too, would have been a mistake. She would have surely killed him in his sleep –just as surely as she had pushed that fool over the ledge.
The treehouse dwellers had left a kettle simmering over a low flame. He crossed to the stone oven and lifted the heavy ceramic lid. Rich steam billowed from the pot. Like the weapons and woman, he would take what he wanted. He ladled himself a bowl of the thick stew and carried it to the table.
There was little chance that his clansman had fallen down the elevator shaft by accident. If she had done it, so be it; now he wouldn't have to kill the man himself. As leader, he couldn't return to the high plains until he buried this failure.
He had considered putting the woman down right then, but there was no telling how his brother might react. It was only a matter of time before their father died and then the big guy would become… unpredictable. He had seen it before. His brother was going to tear the pretty little thing into small pieces.
All that could be done now, was to wait. It could be days or hours, but death would come. He blew cool air over a spoonful of hot broth. He needed an update on his father's condition, but first, he would finish his lunch.
Roxton was ice cold and sweating. He'd seen this in the trenches, soldiers shaking, unable to catch their breath. He was slipping into shock.
Hooking the splinter against the ladder had opened his wound, and now, even the slightest effort was taking its toll. The front of his white linen pants were soaked through with blood. He had climbed down through the wreckage to retrieve the machete. The task had left him winded. He pinched his eye tight. Black halos chased his vision –always a glance away, but never gone.
I need to get off of this ladder, he told himself. Get a bit of strength back.
The top of the lift cage was wedged here –a flat surface jutting out from the tree-wall. It called to him, tempting him to lie down and rest. There were seventeen rungs back up to the lab-wall. He had counted. Twice. But he couldn't pull himself away from this horizontal perch, it was looking better than his own bunk. I just need five minutes. His addled mind was talking nonsense. He shook his head – short and fast – and put the foolish idea behind him.
One rung at a time, Johnny boy, he coached.
Earlier, when the intruder had been launched over the ledge, Roxton had expected to make his stand. But somehow, Marguerite had diverted the Horsemen's attention and so he had remained hidden, tight to the wall.
Now, he was nearly back to the area adjacent with the lab. He was panting like an old dog. He hung from the ladder with vague uncertainty, stalled, staring at the machete in his hand. A moment of confusion passed, and then another. He had been so focused on the climb that he had forgotten what he was doing.
The sound of Marguerite's voice called him back. "He just needs some rest," she said.
"...and a few stitches," the big guy finished her sentence.
Roxton felt his anger rising. The big oaf was just on the other side of the wall. He had a weapon now. He wanted to continue up to the landing and go straight at these men. But that was not his plan for the blade. He had seen hypothermia victims make irrational decisions –talk themselves into mistakes. He would not. As soon as Marguerite was left alone, they would make their escape together, right here.
With an elbow hooked around the outside edge of the ladder, he leaned as far left as he could. The machete slipped quietly between the bamboo slats, slicing the fiber lashings with ease. In no time the hunter had freed a small section of the wall. Now, only the interior cabinet held the loose bamboo in place.
He returned to an upright position and squared his bare feet, sticky with blood and dirt. He tangled his arms through the ladder for support and turned an ear to the lab. He would wait here for the Horseman to stray.
His head began to bob. The cloth tied at his waist had grown heavy and it clung wet to the jagged protrusion it covered. Hold tight, Johnny. She knows you're out here.
Finally, he faded completely, and his brow rested against a rung...
A clatter jolted Roxton straight to panic. His arms seized around the ladder. He imagined himself falling, but it was the wall. It was collapsing. He had dozed and now someone was pulling the cabinet away from the wall. The vertical struts were toppling into the lab. The dry yellow stalks of bamboo were in full cascade as Marguerite rushed into the gap. In Roxton's delirium she appeared as though she were painted onto the delicate folds of a silken fan. The image froze in his mind.
The nightmare was over. She was reaching out to him. He tried to take her hand –to guide her across and onto the ladder. But his muscles betrayed him; his arms were shaking with fatigue. Her grip filled his own and he made a feeble effort to pull her to safety. But she was pulling him. She was trying to wrestle him into the lab.
He shook his head in wide drunken denial. "No," he coughed out the word, trying to gesture down, down, down –with every part of his body that would respond. Stick to the plan, Johnny!
He pulled against her again. He was desperately overextended and losing the tug-of-war. Then his balance failed altogether. Marguerite caught his fall against her chest. Her slim frame would be no match for his weight, but rather than fight against the load, she was guiding him. He felt her hands slip beneath his arms –angling his momentum for the opening. With one mighty heave she propelled them both backwards, through the breach, and into the sea of bamboo struts.
The treehouse carried sound far too well. There was no doubt that the intruders were on their way. Even in his broken state, the hunter assessed his position. The laboratory was large, dim and cluttered. He was laying on the concealed side of the high cabinet and he knew that he still had some fight left in him.
Marguerite was standing above, backing her way towards the center of the room. She was looking at him with the most horrified concern, her hands extended, begging him to stay hidden. All he had wanted her to do was climb down the ladder, even if it meant leaving him behind. She could have made it out safely.
The Horsemen were thundering down the stairs. Roxton struggled onto a knee, still clutching the machete –his knuckles white around its hilt. The confrontation had started and Marguerite was spinning her web of words. He could hear the thin tremble in her voice. The ruse would not last.
Marguerite had no mask for this. Fear and anguish assaulted her from two fronts. She knew too well the hearts of dangerous men –and this one meant to kill her. It was in his eyes. From the moment he'd taken her rifle in the clearing, she had known his intentions. And now John lay behind her... dying ––there was no other word for it. What little resolve she had left was bleeding out with the man she loved.
The big guy was mumbling, repeating the same phrase, "She's not gonna cause no trouble." He had gone immediately to his father's side and he was gently brushing the man's hair away from his sleeping eyes.
The younger brother was coming straight at her. She began making excuses for the racket, but he didn't appear to be listening. His gaze was darting all about the disorganized lab, trying to discern the source of the commotion.
Marguerite held her breath. She watched as the big man ran his fingers across his father's cold, dead forehead.
"She's not gonna cause no trouble," he whispered again. There was a sad dawning in his tone, as if he had some inkling that he'd been tricked. The words had been her own, I won't cause any trouble. It had been that simple promise – and the aroma from the stew pot – that had sent the soft-headed man up to the kitchen.
The young leader's eyes fell behind her, onto the cabinet. He took a step in her direction, looking more closely. The unit stood distinctly askew –and he smiled.
Marguerite felt the rising swell of terror on her pulse. It burned at her face and choked off her breath. There was nothing left. No words or delays. She lifted her shaking arms and balled her hands into feeble fists.
The image of John's ravaged body hanging in that dark elevator shaft tormented her. She had seen the wood jutting from his belly. The cuts and bruises… her chest began to heave –pulling in short, sharp breaths. It was only then that she realized she was crying. Her face had contorted and tears were streaming down her cheeks.
"Just let us... go," she begged. She didn't recognize her own voice. The words were thick and stilted, and they came again, "Please... just let... us go."
The leader tipped his head –and he seemed to be looking inward. "Us?" he whispered.
She knew what she had said, but she saw no other course. The man was suddenly livid. Before she could even react he had knocked her aside and moved passed her. She spun to grab his arm, but she was abruptly ripped backwards by an astounding force. The big brute had latched onto her shoulder and the shear weight of it nearly knocked her to the floor.
The lead Horseman stepped beyond the back edge of the cabinet and turn towards the breach. Marguerite threw wild elbows and twisted against the brute's grip, to no avail. She looked on helplessly as the leader flew into a rage. He slammed his weight against the cabinet and sent it crashing into the lab. Books, glass, rock, metal and years of dust plumed and scattered – up and out – across the floor. The opening through the wall was now clearly visible. But no Roxton!
Marguerite was dumbfounded. The leader turned on her, wild-eyed, and was closing in. He was yelling directly at her –but her mind was reeling. Where had Roxton gone?
The idea that the hunter could still be alive had flipped a switch in the young leader. He was nearly pressed against her now – his spit wet on her face – screaming, "Where is he, where is he!"
She tried to step backward. But the big guy was right behind her, one hand on her shoulder and the other holding firm at her elbow. The leader cocked back a threatening arm, still spitting the same question, again and again.
Even if she had an answer, the lunatic wasn't taking a breath. And then he fired his fist. The big man had anticipated the punch and he twisted her away, taking the shot himself with his burly shoulder. Marguerite was forced to the floor, caged by four thick legs.
There he was. From the low vantage she spotted Roxton. He was under the workbench closest to the breach. Heavy work tables lined the laboratory and the elusive hunter was on the move. He was nearing the second table along the far wall. She was elated, yet guilty; it was her plea that had given him up. Seeing him now only renewed her tears, but this sorrow was different. They would make this final stand together and so her attention turned back to her captors.
The leader was looking down at his own feet, taking deliberate steps backwards. The floor peeled away, red and sticky against his boots. The man frenzied, tracing his own footprints back to the cabinet. The area was puddled with blood. Streaks and smears trailed along the back wall and disappeared under Roxton's workbench. Set on destruction, the leader tore the heavy table away from the wall. The wooden legs caught against the bamboo floor and the bench pitched up, dumping onto its side.
The area lay exposed. Marguerite looked on, in silent despair, as Roxton slipped away unseen yet again. Even she had lost sight of the hunter – now under the adjacent table – beyond the shadow and clutter. But the leader continued tracking like a rabid bloodhound, following the trail. Using the same tactic, he heaved against the second workbench. But it held firm to the wall. The first table had toppled at an angle and was now impeding his hunt.
He turned on her instead. And his intentions were clear. The enraged leader crossed quickly to Marguerite and took a fistful of her thick raven hair.
"I'll kill her!" he yelled out to the room at large. "Show yourself now or…"
"She's not gonna cause no trouble." The big Horseman cut his brother off.
But he continued, his head on a swivel, talking to every corner of the dim lab, "I'll cut her throat." And he unsheathed his belt dagger.
She could see John again, only ten feet away. He had made the corner and he was moving up the south wall. His face was beaded with sweat and his jaw shook uncontrollably. He was pulling himself forward using arm strength alone, his battered body dragging behind.
Marguerite was eye level with the blade. The leader yanked down on her head, hard and sudden, thrusting her throat skyward. The big guy's arm flashed out and locked onto his brother's knife hand. For the first time she saw fear and uncertainty on the young leader's face. He released her hair and raised his arm, gently cupping the back of his brother's massive neck.
"It's a trick you half-wit!" he said, but there was an intimate sympathy on his tone, and he pulled his brother's forehead against his own. The two men towered over her forming a wishbone.
"She can't save him. He's probably dea…" But the Horseman leader never finished his thought.
The instant that Roxton had seen Marguerite's throat exposed he rolled out from under the workbench. What choice did he have?
"Here," he said, his voice rough with pain, "I'm here." The men would come for him and the first one in range would catch his machete. You'll only get one swing, Johnny boy, so set it deep.
He could barely see, his head swam in deep shadows. He lay on his back only a few feet away from Marguerite. The Horsemen were locked in some strange embrace just above her.
The big oaf was holding his brother at bay! The turn of fortune was inconceivable. Instantly, Roxton set his foot and pushed himself into range.
"It's a trick you half-wit. She can't save him," the young buck was saying.
The angle was tight, but the hunter saw an opening. In one smooth motion he flipped the machete over to his left hand and lashed out with a vicious backhand.
"He's probably dea…" His words choked short in a twisted gasp and then distorted into the savage, broken screams of agony.
The curved edge of the machete set a full inch beyond his Achilles tendon. His light leather boot had done nothing to hinder the blade. The man collapsed on top of Marguerite and they both fell down to the floor –and so too, came the eyes of the brother.
Roxton pulled back on the weapon, trying to free it from the leader's heel. But he had no strength left. He had rolled onto his side and was nearly face-to-face with Marguerite. A massive boot slammed down between them. He struggled to plant a knee or an elbow, afraid he might never rise again –and then he was in the air.
A meaty hand had seized the nape of his neck and another gripped his trousers. With a wild lunge the brute lifted Roxton off of the floor and drove three full strides, slamming him into the fallen table beyond. He felt the air rush from his lungs –but with it, no terror or panic, only exhaustion. He just wanted it all to end.
The hunter's legs hung twisted and limp at the floor, his back pressed against the upended table. The brute had him pinned by the throat –but Roxton offered no resistance, he had none left to give.
The leader's death throes continued in eerie silence as Marguerite wrestled herself free of the writhing body. He wanted to yell at her, Run! Get down the ladder. But he could only look on –and even that was beginning to fade.
"It's a trick you half-wit," the big Horseman screamed his brother's words. "She can't save him!" And the hold at Roxton's neck tightened. But the oaf had made a mistake, he had given the woman his back.
The leader's belt dagger had fallen within Marguerite's reach. But instead, she grabbed a heavy chunk of quartz from the lab debris. It took her five strides to cover the same ground the big man had taken in three, but she landed with devastating force. If she had imagined that the rock might spare the man's life, she was wrong.
Roxton heard the thick skull split and then the soft, sickening sound that followed.
All three of them fell together. The iron grip at his throat released and he was overwhelmed by a rush of darkness. He felt Marguerite's shivering arms around his chest and heard her fervent whispers. Then he slept.
This entry can be found in the official expedition journal of George Edward Challenger:
It is said that glory is bestowed by others. If that is to be my legacy, then let it be known that the Plateau itself is owed a great deal of the credit. At the risk of sounding foolish, I shall use the term Mystic Science… and no field will be more profoundly impacted than that of medicine. The discoveries I have made here, in this lost world, will be the cure for illness yet unknown to man.
There were times when Roxton thought he was awake. He would try to respond to the gentle voices at his bedside, but then a deeper sleep would reclaim him. Three full days had passed before his eyes opened and even that had been fleeting.
It was only now, as he looked around Marguerite's bedroom, that he realized where he had been convalescing. The room was dark and from the look of the shutters, it was nighttime. Marguerite sat in a chair at his bedside –a quilt pulled to her breast, a book open on her lap, and a single candle burning on the nightstand. Her eyes were closed but her breathing was light.
He pushed his own blanket down and pulled up his loose nightshirt. His abdomen had been fully wrapped. He was clean and dry; it felt as though even his hair had been washed. With a light touch, he ran his fingers over the bandages, testing the wound below. His stomach was tight, but the pain was minimal.
"If you irritate those stitches, Challenger will shoot us both."
He looked up at her – intending to speak – but only smiled for a long, loving moment. Her eyes began to gather the candlelight and he felt his own doing the same. He quickly looked away, blinking.
Marguerite spared his pride. "We lanced your wound from end-to-end," she said, as she idly set her novel onto the nightstand. He had turned back to her. There were traces of tears in his eyes, but he didn't care.
"I was only a few yards away," he said, and he shook away the thought. "There were moments down there... I felt certain I'd die." He paused, trying to collect himself. "But it was the not knowing – to be so close to death without knowing that you'd be safe – it was unbearable."
He pulled the covers back and patted his hand at the open space. Ever so carefully she climbed into bed alongside him. She lay on her hip with her arm outstretched, tangled below her dark curls.
And then he continued, "I just couldn't imagine our story ending like that."
The two began arranging pillows and legs and chins and blankets and all those thing that they had become so very good at over the years. When they were finally settled, she turned back and blew out the candle. And the peaceful melody of jungle insects filled the night.
They were both exhausted, her voice already heavy with sleep. "A little sliver is not an ending, John," she said, nuzzling her cheek near his shoulder. "I think our story is just beginning."
The Big Man suffered from autism. It was his odd awareness that had helped the Horsemen navigate the electric fence. The Horsemen appear in The Source, S2-E10.
From the time the Horsemen entered the clearing up to the final blow, only one hour and twelve minutes passed. Marguerite's basket of tomatoes was still cool on the landing floor.
Challenger and Veronica returned home a little after noon. One hour later, Roxton was receiving a transfusion from the only universal donor in the treehouse –whose name we will not speak. (see The Elixir, S3-E18)
It took Challenger and Veronica three weeks to repair the elevator. Roxton was never well enough to assist.
It was Roxton who had made the stew that may have inadvertently saved their lives.
Veronica's easel was not damaged in the tumble.
Roxton picked a bad day to wear white.
An artist's easel stood at the far end of the common room. The young Horseman appraised the unfinished canvas it displayed and then the lightweight stand itself. He reached out and wiggled the ungainly contraption; its delicate ingenuity taunted him. In a fit of rage, he sent the whole of it skittering across the room like a drunken three-legged giraffe. The easel clapped against the far wall, landing in a twisted sprawl –but the painting (using a more sensible end-over-end technique) raced safely away.
Thank you for taking the time to read Blood Loss.