The Meteor of Fate

by Neil R. Jones

The Fultonian

Set an adventure story in darkest Africa inspired by Burroughs and Haggard. Add a meteor to keep the reader guessing and give the story a sort of science fictional twist. Mix well and, at least in the hands of a young Neil R. Jones, out comes “The Meteor of Fate.”

There is no record of when Jones’ second published story was actually written, it was published in 1927, although the stylistic improvements to the story would lead us to guess that it was written after “Vengeance of the Ages.” There is more description throughout the story, setting both mood and location. Dialogue seems more natural and the action sequences are quite clear and concise. There is also a sense of the passage of time and what makes the story work is the suspense of the meteor and the why of its trip to Earth—landing at last in the best Burroughsian Tarzan fashion in the midst of the protagonists’ hour of need.

Granted, the characters and situations are forgettable and could be found in most any any other adventure story or film, but taken as a whole, the story works. Obviously, Neil had discovered Amazing Stories by this time, since the pseudo-science of a meteor of the size described in the story crashing to Earth without killing everyone in the vicinity would have appealed to Gernsback.

“The Meteor of Fate” originally appeared in the 1927 edition of The Fultonian, the class yearbook of Fulton High School.

Bob Gay
April, 2019
Introduction © 2019 by Bob Gay

OUT in space, 432,000 miles from the earth, there exists a strange and weird panorama. The perpetual dark of the ether void is punctuated with beautiful clusters of fiery stars, most of which are lost to the sight of man because of the earth’s atmosphere. Off in one direction gleams the sun and in the opposite direction the earth, its satellite, rotates and careens on its journey around the solar luminary.

At this particular time, out of the dark void, came a huge meteor, one of the cosmic wanderers of the seas of space. With the speed often miles per second, this forty-five ton giant sped through the vacuum straight at the rotating sphere 432,000 miles distant. Only one power could have stopped the inevitable collision between earth and meteor. The moon could have swerved the meteor from its course by lunar attraction but at this time such a thing could not have happened for the moon was around on the other side of the earth. The meteor traveled so fast as to be lost from sight immediately after passing.

THE hot tropical sun beat down upon the dense foliage of one of East Africa’s unexplored jungles. Through the jungle plodded a party of hunters accompanied by twenty British soldiers and as many native bush-beaters. The hunting party consisted of Phillip C. Hastings, his son, John, his daughter, Mary, and Harry Kent. Representatives of the English elite, they had but recently arrived in East Africa to hunt big game in the vicinity of Lake Tanganyika.

“Let’s strike off from the main party and join the rest later,” ventured John Hastings, “perhaps we shall have the luck of scaring up some game.”

“We are going to do a little hunting of our own,” stated John’s father to Captain Barton. “We shall rejoin your company at the clearing north of here.”

This was rather a foolish idea, for a short time later the four hunters found themselves lost.

“Well, what shall we do?” queried, John disconsolately as he sat on a log and dropped his gun to the ground.

“I have a little compass in the back of my pocketmirror,” ventured Mary. With these words she produced the combination mirror and compass which she sat on a log while the little group studied it to ascertain their bearings.

“That way is north,” began the elderly diplomat, “and in this other direction . . .”

But he never finished; a noise of snapping twigs and trampled bushes followed by a shrill war cry sounded in back of them. Turning quickly, the intrepid four gazed upon a horde of black warriors. One look at the filed teeth, the faces daubed with paint, the regalia, the spears and other warlike appearances was enough to impress the four with the realization that they were in the hands of cannibals!

Harry raised his rifle and fired point blank at the leading savage who fell in his tracks. The remaining cannibals charged the four and a battle royal ensued for a few brief moments. Phillip C. Hastings fired and wounded one of the demons before two more downed him. Mary had laid down her rifle when she had sought her compass so she had not had time to retrieve it but she beat with her fists at one of the warriors who roughly tried to sieze her. Before he was overpowered, John felled this particular savage with his rifle butt. When the savages charged, Harry gave one a blow with his fist, doubled another one up with a kick in the stomach, after which he grappled with two more until he sank unconscious in the jungle verdure from a rap over the head with a spear.

The determined fight had proved futile from a practical standpoint but each of the four felt a certain consolation in knowing that they all had done their best in resistance to capture.

All except Harry, who had no idea on the matter for at the present he lay dead to the world.

ON through space catapulted the huge meteor. On and on toward the great revolving earth hurtled the forty- five ton mass eating up the distance at the rate of 36,000 miles per hour in its mad speed. It now had but 360,000 miles to go. The great rotating sphere loomed up larger than ever as the meteor lessened the distance between earth and stellar void.

WHEN Harry regained consciousness, his first sensation was a steady jogging and numb pains at his wrists and ankles. Opening his eyes, he gazed into the ferocious countenance of one of the cannibals who was carrying the handles of two spears to which Harry was bound. Turning his head slightly sideways, he discerned another savage in back of him who carried the other ends of the two spear shafts.

Harry craned his neck to look farther down the trail and saw his chum, John Hastings, treated in the same manner. Harry took it for granted that Mary and her father were being carried along the trail behind him. They journeyed on in this fashion for about two hours before they came to a palisaded village from which came sounds of life.

Before entering the village, the warriors stood the captives on their feet with the bonds still on their wrists but removed from their ankles. Pushing the four captives before them, the savages opened the village gate.

Through the filth of the one and only avenue of the village walked the prisoners accompanied by their captors and stared at by the inhabitants from toddling infants to aged men and women. On each side of the village street stood twelve or fifteen cylindrical thatched huts, eight feet across and seven feet high. At one end of the village was a hut about twice the size of any other and to this it was apparent that the captives were being led.

As they passed down the street between lines of blacks, one old toothless crone reached out bony fingers and pinched Mary’s shapely arm. Mary shrank away in shuddering disgust as a nausea swept over her.

“Dainty meat, dainty meat.” cackled the old black hag to one of her neighbors. “Food for all, if that old nilly-wit of a Bongo does not aspire to add the lovely white creature to his retinue of mates.”

The four prisoners did not understand the guttural language of the East African natives so the remarks about them went unheeded. They passed on to the most spacious hut of all, which was approximately fourteen feet in diameter and nine feet high. The cannibal chief, Bongo, stood at the entrance and stared at the approaching party.

One of the captors addressed Bongo: “Great Bongo, our hunting party was favored by the forest devil who watches over us We chanced to find and capture these four persons though it cost us the life of Wrangowa and a wound to Sragk.

Bongo looked over the ill-fated four who had not exchanged words since their capture. He gazed with avid eyes on Mary for even such a blunt, ignorant savage as Bongo could not but take notice of her unusual personality. If asked why he was attracted to her, Bongo would probably have said that her beauty captivated his attention, but a psychologist would have known better. Mary was charming as well as beautiful. A woman does not have to be beautiful to be charming, but she has to be charming to be beautiful.

“I shall reserve the woman for my mate; take her, witch doctor, and feed her of the magic herb which will drive from out of her all evil spirits,” instructed the cannibal chief. “Tonight, we shall feast well on the other three. Prepare the fires, the flesh pots and the stakes. In the meanwhile secure these prisoners from escape.”

“Just as I thought!” cursed the aged crone on the outer edge of the assembled crowd of savages, “a good morsel lost in order to appease the vanity and pleasures of that old buzzard! May the vultures tear out the eyes from his living body.”

As the aged witch doctor hobbled away with the frightened girl, warriors seized the three men and promptly tied them to stakes driven into the ground in preparation for the death-dance which would take place after dark.

“There is but one hope for us,” spoke the elderly diplomat to the boys as the three were escorted to their respective stakes, “and that is the arrival of Captain Barton and his soldiers.”

"They will have to make good time,” stated John, “for already, the sun is beginning to sink below the western horizon.”

AT the close of the afternoon, the hunting party discovered that the diplomat, his son and daughter, and Harry Kent were missing. Captain Barton instructed one of the negroes, who was proficient in the arts of trailing, to follow the trail of the lost four. It was near nightfall before they came upon the dead cannibal and the signs of recent conflict.

“In the hands of the cannibals!” exploded Captain Barton. “Quick! We must rescue them before it is too late!”

Impeded by the darkness and knowing only the general direction of Bongo’s village, the rescue party made slow progress through the jungle where detours were often necessary to avoid impenetrable undergrowths. Chester Barton urged on his followers with a dread feeling that his rescue party would prove but one of revenge, arriving too late to save the unhappy prisoners from their cruel fate.

NOW entering the shadow cast by the huge sphere, the meteor whizzed on toward the darkened half, or night side, of the earth. It was now but 90,000 miles distant and its speed had not slackened in the least. Its speed was increased by terrestrial gravitation, if altered at all.

DARKNESS settled over the cannibal village where preparations were being made for the feast. The fires were built and the cooking cauldrons dragged forth to be put into use after the torture of the death-dance. The captives waited in suspense, nervously wondering which one of them would be first to go.

Presently two huge negroes entered, bearing on their shoulders a long heavy pole which they drove into the ground exactly in the center of the village street.

Bongo, with some of his warriors, approaching the three victims, suddenly reached a decision. He turned to his tribesmen and spoke: “First, untie the old one and lead him to the stake; his flesh is old, therefore tough, and must stand longer cooking.”

The savages did their chiefs bidding and soon Phillip C. Hastings, English diplomat, stood tied to the post facing death by slow torture. Before he had been bound to the stake, his clothes from neck to waistline had been rudely torn off.

The women of the village, seated in a wide circle around the pole to which the ill-fated man was bound, carried crude drums and sticks. On the inside of the circle stood the warriors of the village, Bongo at their head; on the outside stood the old men, old women and the children. Bonfires cast a lurid glow over the whole scene, throwing into ghostly illumination the painted faces and the filed teeth of the cruel cannibals. Above, the starlit universe twinkled and on every side of the palisaded village towered the giant trees of the mysterious jungle.

John and Harry strained their ears for a sound of their friends who might yet arrive in time. They heard nothing and gradually the conviction grew upon them that the soldiers would arrive too late.

“I wonder where Mary is?” spoke Harry suddenly.

“Imprisoned in that second hut from the other end of the village,” said John.

“I’ll tell you what we can do,” offered Harry, “when they release us from these stakes to give us the death- dance, what do you say to making a break for the jungle. It is much better to die fighting than to submit to their fiendish torture.”

“Even though we should effect our escape in that manner, it would be too late to save father,” observed John, “but we can try it.”

“Anyway,” quoth Harry philosophically, “if we don’t succeed, I hope that I give them indigestion.”

At this juncture, the women of the village began beating their drums and chanting a wierd song to which the warriors formed a dancing circle that moved slowly around the doomed man. The song of death grew to a vibrant howling as the savage tribesmen danced themselves into a maniacal frenzy.

THE meteor was now so close to the earth that the topography was distinguishable. Straight ahead in the meteor’s path, 6,000 miles down through space lay the broad continent of Africa immersed in darkness. Ten minutes would elapse before the meteor entered the earth’s atmosphere to be heated red-hot by the friction of the air and then plunge its forty-five tons into the earth’s crust. Due to this same friction of the air it would take twenty- five seconds for the cosmic wanderer of space to penetrate the 200-mile depths of earth’s atmosphere in which it would appear as a brilliant shooting star.

HARRY and John gazed on the scene before them with dread for each knew what was coming as the death-dance neared its climax. Soon the leading savage would dart his spear lightly on the doomed man, drawing a red trickle of blood with its needle-like point. This would be the signal for at least fifty more spears brandished by the cannibals to pierce every square inch of the body, even the eyes. The two boys had hoped and prayed for the coming of the soldiers but their hope died within them for the fatal moment was at hand.

How long would it be before Bongo tapped the bound man with his spear? Thus soliloquized John as he gazed broken-heartedly at his father’s face. John lifted his face to the starlit heavens in mute supplication as from his entire being issued a silent prayer. Across his vision, far up in the sky, he discerned a shooting star. He dropped his eyes to the death-dance once more.

Horrors! A tiny stream of blood trickled from the diplomat’s shoulder where Bongo had touched lightly with his spear! Fifty or more spears were being raised by the cannibals in preparation for the death-dealing fusillade of body punctures!

But the spears were never cast! At the precise moment the spears were raised, a roaring, juggernaut of death precipitated itself into Bongo’s village! With terrific speed, the meteor, intensely heated by friction with the earth’s atmosphere, hurled itself into the cluster of huts with a vibrant explosion that threw up cascades of dirt, debris, stones and hut fragments! Pandemonium broke loose among the frightened and superstitious natives! Some were thrown violently to the ground by the concussion while those assembled nearest the spot where the meteor landed had their lives snuffed out instantly! The hell of the death-dance had been frustrated and the screaming, terror-stricken cannibals fled into the jungle!

Flying debris had cracked the pole to which Harry was bound, partially releasing him. He struggled desperately to complete his escape. Many of the thatched huts were aflame and the fire was spreading rapidly! Harry tugged feverishly at his bonds with the encouragement of John ringing in his ears! At last his hands were free and he started on the thongs that bound his ankles to the post. He must hurry for already flames were creeping up the sides of the hut in which Mary lay imprisoned!

With a final effort he freed himself and raced to the burning hut, the roof and one side already a mass of flames! At the entrance he fumbled with the latch and then withdrew the three wooden bars that secured the door. Flinging it open, he was met by a rush of thick smoke—and Mary lay unconscious on the floor of the hut! Lifting her supple body tenderly in his arms, he carried her to the outer air. With the draught of air created by the opening of the door, the hut they had just quitted burst into a seething furnace of flames!

When Mary opened her eyes, after breathing clear air once more, Harry left her for a moment to effect the release of her father and brother. Seizing a knife from the girdle of a dead savage, he cut the bonds of both father and son.

Suddenly they heard a hail of greeting and turning found Captain Barton approaching, followed by his soldiers and negro attendants. Hearty greetings were exchanged and explanations were forthcoming.

With the rising of the sun on the following morning, the hunting party slowly wended its way back through the jungle to the outposts of civilization. At the end of the long line walked Mary Hastings and Harry Kent, supreme in their paramount happiness.

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