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Under the Andes Rex Stout


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"Anything on a chance," he answered, and we entered the passage.

It was quite narrow--so narrow that we were forced to advance very slowly, feeling our way to avoid colliding with the walls. The ground was strewn with fragments of rock, and a hasty step meant an almost certain fall and a bruised shin. It was tedious work and incredibly fatiguing.

We had not rested a sufficient length of time to allow our bodies to recuperate from the struggle with the torrent; also, we began to feel the want of food. Harry was the first to falter, but I spurred him on. Then he stumbled and fell and lay still.

"Are you hurt?" I asked anxiously, bending over him.

"No," was the answer. "But I'm tired--tired to death--and I want to sleep."

I was tempted myself, but I brought him to his feet, from some impulse I know not what. For what was the use? One spot was as good as another. However, we struggled on.

Another hour and the passage broadened into a clearing. At least so it seemed; the walls abruptly parted to the right and left. And still the impenetrable, maddening darkness and awful silence!

We gave it up; we could go no farther. A few useless minutes we wasted, searching for a soft spot to lie on--moss, reeds, anything. We found none, of course; but even the hard, unyielding rock was grateful to our exhausted bodies. We lay side by side, using our ponchos for pillows; our clothing at least was dry.

I do not know how long I slept, but it seemed to me that I had barely dozed off when I was awakened by something--what?

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There was no sound to my strained ears. I sat up, gazing intently into the darkness, shuddering without apparent reason. Then I reflected that nothing is dangerous to a man who faces death, and I laughed aloud--then trembled at the sound of my own voice. Harry was in sound sleep beside me; his regular breathing told of its depth.

Again I lay down, but I could not sleep. Some instinct, long forgotten, quivered within me, telling me that we were no longer alone. And soon my ear justified it.

At first it was not a sound, but the mere shadow of one. It was rhythmic, low, beating like a pulse. What could it be? Again I sat up, listening and peering into the darkness. And this time I was not mistaken--there was a sound, rustling, sibilant.

Little by little it increased, or rather approached, until it sounded but a few feet from me on every side, sinister and menacing. It was the silent, suppressed breathing of something living--whether animal or man--creeping ever nearer.

Then was the darkness doubly horrible. I sat paralyzed with my utter helplessness, though fear, thank Heaven, did not strike me! I could hear no footstep; no sound of any kind but that low, rushing breathing; but it now was certain that whatever the thing was, it was not alone.

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Under the Andes
Rex Stout

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