As we progressed the voices in our rear became more faint, and yet the whistling volleys of screeching voice bombs passed us as before. I shuddered in anticipation of the sight that was surely to meet our gaze, and could not but tremble for fear. Then I stopped and recoiled, for at my very feet I beheld a huge, living human head. It rested on the solid rock, and had I not stopped suddenly when I did, I would have kicked it at the next leap. The eyes of the monster were fixed in supplication on my face; the great brow indicated intelligence, the finely-cut mouth denoted refinement, the well-modeled head denoted brain, but the whole constituted a monster. The mouth opened, and a whizzing, arrow voice swept past, and was lost in the distance.
"What is this?" I gasped.
"The fate of a drunkard," my guide replied. "This was once an intelligent man, but now he has lost his body, and enslaved his soul, in the den of drink beyond us, and has been brought here by his comrades, who thus rid themselves of his presence. Here he must rest eternally. He can not move, he has but one desire, drink, and that craving, deeper than life, can not be satiated."
"But he desires to speak; speak lower, man, or head of man, if you wish me to know your wants," I said, and leaned toward him.
Then the monster whispered, and I caught the words: "Back, back, go thou back!"
I made no reply.
"Back I say, back to earth or"—
Still I remained silent.
"Then go on," he said; "on to your destiny, unhappy man."
"This is horrible," I muttered.
"Come," said the guide, "let us proceed."
And we moved onward.
Now I perceived many such heads about us, all resting upright on the stony floor. Some were silent, others were shouting, others still were whispering and endeavoring to attract my attention. As we hurried on I saw more and more of these abnormal creatures. Some were in rows, resting against each other, leaving barely room for us to pass between, but at last, much to my relief, we left them behind us.
But I found that I had no cause for congratulation, when I felt myself clutched by a powerful hand—a hand as large as that of a man fifty feet in height. I looked about expecting to see a gigantic being, but instead beheld a shrunken pigmy. The whole man seemed but a single hand—a Brobdingnag hand affixed to the body of a Lilliputian.
"Do not struggle," said the guide; "listen to what he wishes to impart."
I leaned over, placing my ear close to the mouth of the monstrosity.
"Back, back, go thou back," it whispered.
"What have I to fear?" I asked.
"Back, I say, back to earth, or"—
"Or what?" I said.
"Then go on; on to your destiny, unhappy man," he answered, and the hand loosed its grasp.
My guide drew me onward.
Then, from about us, huge hands arose; on all sides they waved in the air; some were closed and were shaken as clenched fists, others moved aimlessly with spread fingers, others still pointed to the passage we had traversed, and in a confusion of whispers I heard from the pigmy figures a babble of cries, "Back, back, go thou back." Again I hesitated, the strain upon my nerves was becoming unbearable; I glanced backward and saw a swarm of misshaped diminutive forms, each holding up a monstrous arm and hand. The passage behind us was closed against retreat. Every form possessed but one hand, the other and the entire body seemingly had been drawn into this abnormal member. While I thus meditated, momentarily, as by a single thought each hand closed, excepting the index finger, and in unison each finger pointed towards the open way in front, and like shafts from a thousand bows I felt the voices whiz past me, and then from the rear came the reverberation as a complex echo, "Then go on; on to your destiny, unhappy man."
Instinctively I sprang forward, and had it not been for the restraining hand of my guide would have rushed wildly into passages that might have ended my misery, for God only knows what those unseen corridors contained. I was aware of that which lay behind, and was only intent on escaping from the horrid figures already passed.
"Hold," whispered the guide; "as you value your life, stop." And then exerting a power that I could not withstand, he held me a struggling prisoner.
"Listen," he said, "have you not observed that these creatures do not seek to harm you? Have not all of them spoken kindly, have any offered violence?"
"No," I replied, "but they are horrible."
"That they realize; but fearing that you will prove to be as weak as they have been, and will become as they are now, they warn you back. However, I say to you, if you have courage sufficient, you need have no fear. Come, rely on me, and do not be surprised at anything that appears."
Again we went forward. I realized now my utter helplessness. I became indifferent again; I could neither retrace my footsteps alone, nor guide them forward in the path I was to pursue. I submissively relied on my guide, and as stoical as he appeared to be, I moved onward to new scenes.
We came to a great chamber which, as we halted on its edge, seemed to be a prodigious amphitheater. In its center a rostrum-like stone of a hundred feet in diameter, flat and circular on the top, reared itself about twelve feet above the floor, and to the base of this rostrum the floor of the room sloped evenly. The amphitheater was fully a thousand feet in diameter, of great height, and the floor was literally alive with grotesque beings. Imagination could not depict an abnormal human form that did not exhibit itself to my startled gaze. One peculiarity now presented itself to my mind; each abnormal part seemed to be created at the expense of the remainder of the body. Thus, to my right I beheld a single leg, fully twelve feet in height, surmounted by a puny human form, which on this leg, hopped ludicrously away. I saw close behind this huge limb a great ear attached to a small head and body; then a nose so large that the figure to which it was attached was forced to hold the face upward, in order to prevent the misshaped organ from rubbing on the stony floor. Here a gigantic forehead rested on a shrunken face and body, and there a pair of enormous feet were walking, seemingly attached to the body of a child, and yet the face was that of a man. If an artist were to attempt to create as many revolting figures as possible, each with some member out of proportion to the rest of the body, he could not add one form to those upon this floor. And yet, I again observed that each exaggerated organ seemed to have drawn itself into existence by absorbing the remainder of the body. We stood on the edge of this great room, and I pondered the scene before my eyes. At length my guide broke the silence:
"You must cross this floor; no other passage is known. Mark well my words, heed my advice."
"This is the Drunkards’ Den. These men are lost to themselves and to the world. Every member of this assembly once passed onward as you are now doing, in charge of a guide. They failed to reach the goal to which you aspire, and retreating, reached this chamber, to become victims to the drink habit. Some of these creatures have been here for ages, others only for a short period."
"Why are they so distorted?" I asked.
"Because matter is now only partly subservient to will," he replied. "The intellect and mind of a drunkard on surface earth becomes abnormal by the influence of an intoxicant, but his real form is unseen, although evidently misshapen and partly subject to the perception of a few only of his fellow men. Could you see the inner form of an earth surface drunkard, you would perceive as great a mental monstrosity as is any physical monster now before you, and of the two the physically abnormal creature is really the least objectionable. Could you see the mind configurations of an assembly of surface earth topers, you would perceive a class of beings as much distorted mentally as are these physically. A drunkard is a monstrosity. On surface earth the mind becomes abnormal; here the body suffers."
"Why is it," I asked, "that parts of these creatures shrink away as some special organ increases?"
"Because the abnormal member can grow only by abstracting its substance from the other portions of the body. An increasing arm enlarges itself by drawing its strength from the other parts, hence the body withers as the hand enlarges, and in turn the hand shrinks when the leg increases in size. The total weight of the individual remains about the same.
"Men on earth judge of men not by what they are, but by what they seem to be. The physical form is apparent to the sense of sight, the real man is unseen. However, as the boot that encloses a foot can not altogether hide the form of the foot within, so the body that encloses the life entity, can not but exhibit here and there the character of the dominating spirit within. Thus a man's features may grow to indicate the nature of the enclosed spirit, for the controlling character of that spirit will gradually impress itself on the material part of man. Even on surface earth, where the matter side of man dominates, a vicious spirit will produce a villainous countenance, a mediocre mind a vapid face, and an amorous soul will even protrude the anterior part of the skull.
"Carry the same law to this location, and it will be seen that as mind, or spirit, is here the master, and matter is the slave, the same rule should, under natural law, tend to produce such abnormal figures as you perceive. Hence the part of a man's spirit that is endowed most highly sways the corresponding part of his physical body at the expense of the remainder. Gradually the form is altered under the relaxing influence of this fearful intra-earth intoxicant, and eventually but one organ remains to tell of the symmetrical man who formerly existed. Then, when he is no longer capable of self-motion, the comrades carry the drunkard's fate, which is here the abnormal being you have seen, into the selected corridor, and deposit it among others of its kind, as in turn the bearers are destined sometime to be carried by others. We reached this cavern through a corridor in which heads and arms were abnormal, but in others may be found great feet, great legs, or other portions of self-abused man.
"I should tell you, furthermore, that on surface earth a drunkard is not less abnormal than these creatures; but men can not see the form of the drunkard's spirit. Could they perceive the image of the real man life that corresponds to the material part, it would appear not less distorted and hideous. The soul of a mortal protrudes from the visible body as down expands from a thistle seed, but it is invisible. Drink drives the spirit of an earth-surface drunkard to unnatural forms, not less grotesque than these physical distortions. Could you see the real drunkard on surface earth he would be largely outside the body shell, and hideous in the extreme. As a rule, the spirit of an earth-surface drunkard dominates the nose and face, and if mortal man could be suddenly gifted with the sense of mind-sight, they would find themselves surrounded by persons as misshapen as any delirious imagination can conjure. Luckily for humanity this scene is as yet withheld from man, for life would otherwise be a fearful experience, because man has not the power to resist the temptation to abuse drink."
"Tell me," I said, "how long will those beings rest in these caverns?"
"They have been here for ages," replied the guide; "they are doomed to remain for ages yet."
"You have intimated that if my courage fails I will return to this cavern and become as they are. Now that you have warned me of my doom, do you imagine that anything, even sudden death, can swerve me from my journey? Death is surely preferable to such an existence as this."
"Do not be so confident. Every individual before you has had the same opportunity, and has been warned as you have been. They could not undergo the test to which they were subjected, and you may fail. Besides, on surface earth are not men constantly confronted with the doom of the drunkard, and do they not, in the face of this reality, turn back and seek his caverns? The journey of life is not so fearful that they should become drunkards to shrink from its responsibilities. You have reached this point in safety. You have passed the sentinels without, and will soon be accosted by the band before us. Listen well now to my advice. A drunkard always seeks to gain companions, to draw others down to his own level, and you will be tried as never have you been before. Taste not their liquor by whatever form or creature presented. They have no power to harm him who has courage to resist. If they entreat you, refuse; if they threaten, refuse; if they offer inducements, refuse to drink. Let your answer be No, and have no fear. If your strength fail you, mark well my"—
Before he could complete his sentence I felt a pressure, as of a great wind, and suddenly found myself seized in an embrace irresistible, and then, helpless as a feather, was swept out into the cavern of the drunkards.