The Record of Currupira
by Robert Abernathy
This etext was produced from Fantastic Universe, January 1954.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
copyright on this publication was renewed.
This story contains what is, to us, at any rate, a novel
ideathat when we of Earth finally reach Mars we may find
there records of prehistoric Earth far surpassing those of our
paleontologists. Or, in other words, that creatures of Mars
may have visited this planet tens of thousands of years ago
and returned home with specimens for their science. A nice
idea well told.
THE RECORD OF CURRUPIRA
by ... Robert Abernathy
From ancient Martian records came the grim song of a creature
whose very existence was long forgotten.
James Dalton strode briskly through the main exhibit room of New
York's Martian Museum, hardly glancing to right or left though many
displays had been added since his last visit. The rockets were coming
home regularly now and their most valuable cargoesat least from a
scientist's point of viewwere the relics of an alien civilization
brought to light by the archeologists excavating the great dead cities.
One new exhibit did catch Dalton's eye. He paused to read the label
MAN FROM MARS:
The body here preserved was found December 12, 2001, by an
exploring party from the spaceship NEVADA, in the Martian
city which we designate E-3. It rested in a case much like
this, in a building that had evidently been the municipal
museum. Around it, in other cases likewise undisturbed since a
period estimated at fifty thousand years ago, were a number of
Earthly artifacts. These finds prove beyond doubt that a
Martian scientific expedition visited Earth before the dawn of
On the label someone had painstakingly copied the Martian glyphs
found on the mummy's original case. Dalton's eyes traced the looping
ornamental scripthe was one of the very few men who had put in the
years of work necessary to read inscriptional Martianand he smiled
appreciation of a jest that had taken fifty thousand years to
ripenthe writing said simply, Man From Earth.
The mummy lying on a sculptured catafalque beyond the glass was
amazingly well preservedfar more lifelike and immensely older than
anything Egypt had yielded. Long-dead Martian embalmers had done a good
job even on what to them was the corpse of an other-world monster.
He had been a small wiry man. His skin was dark though its color
might have been affected by mummification. His features suggested those
of the Forest Indian. Beside him lay his flaked-stone ax, his
bone-pointed spear and spear thrower, likewise preserved by a marvelous
Looking down at that ancient nameless ancestor, Dalton was moved to
solemn thoughts. This creature had been first of all human-kind to make
the tremendous crossing to Marshad seen its lost race in living
glory, had died there and became a museum exhibit for the multiple eyes
of wise grey spiderish aliens.
Interested in Oswald, sir?
Dalton glanced up and saw an attendant. I was just thinkingif he
could only talk! He does have a name, then?
The guard grinned. Well, we call him Oswald. Sort of inconvenient,
not having a name. When I worked at the Metropolitan we used to call
all the Pharaohs and Assyrian kings by their first names.
Dalton mentally classified another example of the deep human need
for verbal handles to lift unwieldy chunks of environment. The
professional thought recalled him to business and he glanced at his
I'm supposed to meet Dr. Oliver Thwaite here this morning. Has he
come in yet?
The archeologist? He's here early and late when he's on Earth.
He'll be up in the cataloguing department now. Want me to show you
I know the way, said Dalton. Thanks all the same. He left the
elevator at the fourth floor and impatiently pushed open the main
cataloguing room's glazed door.
Inside cabinets and broad tables bore a wilderness of strange
artifacts, many still crusted with red Martian sand. Alone in the room
a trim-mustached man in a rough open-throated shirt looked up from an
object he had been cleaning with a soft brush.
Dr. Thwaite? I'm Jim Dalton.
Glad to meet you, Professor. Thwaite carefully laid down his work,
then rose to grip the visitor's hand. You didn't lose any time.
After you called last night I managed to get a seat on the
dawn-rocket out of Chicago. I hope I'm not interrupting?
Not at all. I've got some assistants coming in around nine. I was
just going over some stuff I don't like to trust to their
Dalton looked down at the thing the archeologist had been brushing.
It was a reed syrinx, the Pan's pipes of antiquity. That's not a very
Martian-looking specimen, he commented.
The Martians, not having any lips, could hardly have had much use
for it, said Thwaite. This is of Earthly manufactureone of the
Martians' specimens from Earth, kept intact over all this time by a
preservative I wish we knew how to make. It's a nice find, man's
earliest known musical instrumenthardly as interesting as the record
Dalton's eyes brightened. Have you listened to the record yet?
No. We got the machine working last night and ran off some of the
Martian stuff. Clear as a bell. But I saved the main attraction for
when you got here. Thwaite turned to a side door, fishing a key from
his pocket. The playback machine's in here.
The apparatus, squatting on a sturdy table in the small room beyond,
had the slightly haywire look of an experimental model. But it was
little short of a miracle to those who knew how it had been builton
the basis of radioed descriptions of the ruined device the excavators
had dug up on Mars.
Even more intriguing, however, was the row of neatly labeled boxes
on a shelf. There in cushioned nests reposed little cylinders of
age-tarnished metal, on which a close observer could still trace the
faint engraved lines and whorls of Martian script. These were the
best-preserved specimens yet found of Martian record films.
Sound and pictures were on them, impressed there by a triumphant
science so long ago that the code of Hammurabi or the hieroglyphs of
Khufu seemed by comparison like yesterday's newspaper. Men of Earth
were ready now to evoke these ancient voicesbut to reproduce the
stereoscopic images was still beyond human technology.
Dalton scrutinized one label intently. Odd, he said. I realize
how much the Martian archives may have to offer us when we master their
spoken languagebut I still want most to hear this record, the
one the Martians made right here on Earth.
Thwaite nodded comprehendingly. The human race is a good deal like
an amnesia patient that wakes up at the age of forty and finds himself
with a fairly prosperous business, a wife and children and a mortgage,
but no recollection of his youth or infancyand nobody around to tell
him how he got where he is.
We invented writing so doggone late in the game. Now we get to Mars
and find the people there knew us before we knew ourselvesbut they
died or maybe picked up and went, leaving just this behind. He used
both hands to lift the precious gray cylinder from its box. And of
course you linguists in particular get a big charge out of this
If it's a record of human speech it'll be the oldest ever
found. It may do for comparative-historical linguistics what the
Rosetta Stone did for Egyptology. Dalton grinned boyishly. Some of us
even nurse the hope it may do something for our old headachethe
problem of the origin of language. That was one of the most important,
maybe the most important step in human progressand we don't
know how or when or why!
I've heard of the bowwow theory and the dingdong theory, said
Thwaite, his hands busy with the machine.
Pure speculations. The plain fact is we haven't even been able to
make an informed guess because the evidence, the written records, only
run back about six thousand years. That racial amnesia you spoke of.
Personally, I have a weakness for the magical theorythat man
invented language in the search for magic formulae, words of power.
Unlike the other theories, that one assumes as the motive force not
merely passive imitativeness but an outgoing will.
Even the speechless subman must have observed that he could affect
the behavior of animals of his own and other species by making
appropriate noisesa mating call or a terrifying shout, for instance.
Hence the perennial conviction you can get what you want if you just
hold your mouth right, and you know the proper prayers or
A logical conclusion from the animistic viewpoint, said Thwaite.
He frowned over the delicate task of starting the film, inquired
offhandedly, You got the photostat of the label inscription? What did
you make of it?
Not much more than Henderson did on Mars. There's the date of the
recording and the placethe longitude doesn't mean anything to us
because we still don't know where the Martians fixed their zero
meridian. But it was near the equator and, the text indicates, in a
tropical forestprobably in Africa or South America.
Then there's the sentence Henderson couldn't make out. It's obscure
and rather badly defaced, but it's evidently a commentunfavorableon
the subject-matter of the recording. In it appears twice a sort of
interjection-adverb that in other contexts implies revulsionsomething
Funny. Looks like the Martians saw something on Earth they didn't
like. Too bad we can't reproduce the visual record yet.
Dalton said soberly, The Martian's vocabulary indicates that for
all their physical difference from us they had emotions very much like
human beings'. Whatever they saw must have been something we wouldn't
have liked either.
The reproducer hummed softly. Thwaite closed the motor switch and
the ancient film slid smoothly from its casing. Out of the speaker
burst a strange medley of whirrings, clicks, chirps, trills and
modulated drones and buzzingsa sound like the voice of grasshoppers
in a drought-stricken field of summer.
Dalton listened raptly, as if by sheer concentration he might even
now be able to guess at connections between the sounds of spoken
Martianheard now for the first timeand the written symbols that he
had been working over for years. But he couldn't, of coursethat would
require a painstaking correlation analysis.
Evidently it's an introduction or commentary, said the
archeologist. Our photocell examination showed the wave-patterns of
the initial and final portions of the film were typically Martianbut
the middle part isn't. The middle part is whatever they recorded here
If only that last part is a translation.... said Dalton hopefully.
Then the alien susurration ceased coming from the reproducer and he
closed his mouth abruptly and leaned forward.
For the space of a caught breath there was silence. Then another
voice came in, the voice of Earth hundreds of centuries dead.
It was not human. No more than the first had beenbut the Martian
sounds had been merely alien and these were horrible.
It was like nothing so much as the croaking of some gigantic frog,
risen bellowing from a bottomless primeval swamp. It bayed of stinking
sunless pools and gurgled of black ooze. And its booming notes
descended to subsonic throbbings that gripped and wrung the nerves to
Dalton was involuntarily on his feet, clawing for the switch. But he
stopped, reeling. His head spun and he could not see. Through his dizzy
brain the great voice roared and the mighty tones below hearing
hammered at the inmost fortress of the man's will.
On the heels of that deafening assault the voice began to change.
The numbing thunder rumbled back, repeating the pain and the
threatbut underneath something crooned and wheedled obscenely. It
said, Come ... come ... come.... And the stunned prey came on
stumbling feet, shivering with a terror that could not break the spell.
Where the squat black machine had been was something that was also
squat and black and huge. It crouched motionless and blind in the mud
and from its pulsing expanded throat vibrated the demonic croaking. As
the victim swayed helplessly nearer the mouth opened wide upon long
rows of frightful teeth....
The monstrous song stopped suddenly. Then still another voice cried
briefly, thinly in agony and despair. That voice was human.
Each of the two men looked into a white strange face. They were
standing on opposite sides of the table and between them the playback
machine had fallen silent. Then it began to whir again in the locust
speech of the Martian commentator, explaining rapidly, unintelligibly.
Thwaite found the switch with wooden fingers. As if with one accord
they retreated from the black machine. Neither of them even tried to
make a false show of self-possession. Each knew, from his first glimpse
of the other's dilated staring eyes, that both had experienced and seen
Dalton sank shivering into a chair, the darkness still swirling
threateningly in his brain. Presently he said, The expression of a
willthat much was true. But the willwas not of man.
* * * * *
James Dalton took a vacation. After a few days he went to a
psychiatrist, who observed the usual symptoms of overwork and worry and
recommended a change of scenea rest in the country.
On the first night at a friend's secluded farm Dalton awoke drenched
in cold sweat. Through the open window from not far away came a hellish
serenade, the noise of frogsthe high nervous voices of peepers
punctuating the deep leisured booming of bullfrogs.
The linguist flung on his clothes and drove back at reckless speed
to where there were lights and the noises of men and their machines. He
spent the rest of his vacation burrowing under the clamor of the city
whose steel and pavements proclaimed man's victory over the very grass
After awhile he felt better and needed work again. He took up his
planned study of the Martian recordings, correlating the spoken words
with the written ones he had already arduously learned to read.
The Martian Museum readily lent him the recordings he requested for
use in his work, including the one made on Earth. He studied the
Martian-language portion of this and succeeded in making a partial
translationbut carefully refrained from playing the middle section of
the film back again.
Came a day, though, when it occurred to him that he had heard not a
word from Thwaite. He made inquiries through the Museum and learned
that the archeologist had applied for a leave of absence and left
before it was granted. Gone where? The Museum people didn't knowbut
Thwaite had not been trying to cover his trail. A call to Global Air
Transport brought the desired information.
A premonition ran up Dalton's spinebut he was surprised at how
calmly he thought and acted. He picked up the phone and called
Transport againthis time their booking department.
When's the earliest time I can get passage to Belem? he asked.
With no more than an hour to pack and catch the rocket he hurried to
the Museum. The place was more or less populated with sightseers, which
was annoying, because Dalton's plans now included larceny.
He waited before the building till the coast was clear, then, with
handkerchief-wrapped knuckles, broke the glass and tripped the lever on
the fire alarm. In minutes a wail of sirens and roar of arriving motors
was satisfyingly loud in the main exhibit room. Police and fire
department helicopters buzzed overhead. A wave of mingled fright and
curiosity swept visitors and attendants alike to the doors.
Dalton, lingering, found himself watched only by the millennially
sightless eyes of the man who lay in state in an airless glass tomb.
The stern face was inscrutable behind the silence of many thousand
Excuse me, Oswald, murmured Dalton. I'd like to borrow something
of yours but I'm sure you won't mind.
The reed flute was in a long case devoted to Earthly specimens.
Unhesitatingly Dalton smashed the glass.
* * * * *
Brazil is a vast country, and it cost much trouble and time and
expense before Dalton caught up with Thwaite in a forlorn riverbank
town along the line where civilization hesitates on the shore of that
vast sea of vegetation called the mato. Night had just fallen
when Dalton arrived. He found Thwaite alone in a lighted room of the
single drab hotelalone and very busy.
The archeologist was shaggily unshaven. He looked up and said
something that might have been a greeting devoid of surprise. Dalton
grimaced apologetically, set down his suitcase and pried the wax plugs
out of his ears, explaining with a gesture that included the world
outside, where the tree frogs sang deafeningly in the hot stirring
darkness of the near forest.
How do you stand it? he asked.
Thwaite's lips drew back from his teeth. I'm fighting it, he said
shortly, picking up his work again. On the bed where he sat were
scattered steel cartridge clips. He was going through them with a small
file, carefully cutting a deep cross in the soft nose of every bullet.
Nearby a heavy-caliber rifle leaned against a wardrobe. Other things
were in evidenceboots, canteens, knapsacks, the tough clothing a man
needs in the mato.
You're looking for it.
Thwaite's eyes burned feverishly. Yes. Do you think I'm crazy?
* * * * *
Dalton pulled a rickety chair toward him and sat down straddling it.
I don't know, he said slowly. It was very likely a creature
of the last interglacial period. The ice may have finished its kind.
The ice never touched these equatorial forests. Thwaite smiled
unpleasantly. And the Indians and old settlers down here have
storiesabout a thing that calls in the mato, that can paralyze
a man with fear. Currupira is their name for it.
When I remembered those stories they fell into place alongside a
lot of others from different countries and timesthe Sirens, for
instance, and the Lorelei. Those legends are ancient. But perhaps here
in the Amazon basin, in the forests that have never been cut and the
swamps that have never been drained, the currupira is still real
and alive. I hope so!
I want to meet it. I want to show it that men can destroy it with
all its unholy power. Thwaite bore down viciously on the file and the
bright flakes of lead glittered to the floor beside his feet.
Dalton watched him with eyes of compassion. He heard the frog music
swelling outside, a harrowing reminder of ultimate blasphemous insult,
and he felt the futility of argument.
Remember, I heard it too, Dalton said. And I sensed what you did.
That voice or some combination of frequencies or overtones within it,
is resonant to the essence of evilthe fundamental life-hating
self-destroying evil in maneven to have glimpsed it, to have heard
the brainless beast mocking, was an outrage to humanity that a man
Dalton paused, got a grip on himself. But, considerthe outrage
was wiped out, humanity won its victory over the monster a long time
ago. What if it isn't quite extinct? That record was fifty thousand
What did you do with the record? Thwaite looked up sharply.
I obliterated thatthe voice and the pictures that went with it
from the film before I returned it to the Museum.
Thwaite sighed deeply. Good. I was damning myself for not doing
that before I left.
The linguist said, I think it answered my question as much as I
want it answered. The origin of speechlies in the will to power, the
lust to dominate other men by preying on the weakness or evil in them.
Those first men didn't just guess that such power existedthey
knew because the beast had taught them and they tried to imitate
itthe mystagogues and tyrants through the ages, with voices, with
tomtoms and bull-roarers and trumpets. What makes the memory of that
voice so hard to live with is just knowing that what it called to is a
part of manisn't that it?
Thwaite didn't answer. He had taken the heavy rifle across his knees
and was methodically testing the movement of the well-oiled breech
Dalton stood up wearily and picked up his suitcase. I'll check into
the hotel. Suppose we talk this over some more in the morning. Maybe
things'll look different by daylight.
But in the morning Thwaite was goneupriver with a hired boatman,
said the natives. The note he had left said only, Sorry. But it's no
use talking about humanitythis is personal.
Dalton crushed the note angrily, muttering under his breath, The
fool! Didn't he realize I'd go with him? He hurled the crumpled paper
aside and stalked out to look for a guide.
* * * * *
They chugged slowly westward up the forest-walled river, an obscure
tributary that flowed somewhere into the Xingú. After four days, they
had hopes of being close on the others' track. The brown-faced guide,
Joao, who held the tiller now, was a magician. He had conjured up an
ancient outboard motor for the scow-like boat Dalton had bought from a
The sun was setting murkily and the sluggish swell of the water
ahead was the color of witch's blood. Under its opaque surface a mae
dágua, the Mother of Water, ruled over creatures slimy and
razor-toothed. In the blackness beneath the great trees, where it was
dark even at noon, other beings had their kingdom.
Out of the forest came the crying grunting hooting voices of its
life that woke at nightfall, fiercer and more feverish than that of the
daytime. To the man from the north there seemed something indecent in
the fertile febrile swarming of life here. Compared to a temperate
woodland the mato was like a metropolis against a sleepy
What's that? Dalton demanded sharply as a particularly hideous
squawk floated across the water.
Nao é nada. A bicharia agitase. Joao shrugged. The
menagerie agitates itself. His manner indicated that some bichinho
beneath notice had made the noise.
But moments later the little brown man became rigid. He half rose to
his feet in the boat's stern, then stooped and shut off the popping
motor. In the relative silence the other heard what he hadfar off and
indistinct, muttering deep in the black mato, a voice that
croaked of ravenous hunger in accents abominably known to him.
Currupira, said Joao tensely. Currupira sai á caçada da
noite. He watched the foreigner with eyes that gleamed in the
fading light like polished onyx.
Avante! snapped Dalton. See if it comes closer to the
river this time.
It was not the first time they had heard that voice calling since
they had ventured deep into the unpeopled swampland about which the
downriver settlements had fearful stories to whisper.
Silently the guide spun the engine. The boat sputtered on. Dalton
strained his eyes, watching the darkening shore as he had watched
fruitlessly for so many miles.
But now, as they rounded a gentle bend, he glimpsed a small reddish
spark near the bank. Then, by the last glimmer of the swiftly fading
twilight, he made out a boat pulled up under gnarled tree-roots. That
was all he could see but the movement of the red spark told him a man
was sitting in the boat, smoking a cigarette.
In there, he ordered in a low voice but Joao had seen already and
was steering toward the shore.
The cigarette arched into the water and hissed out and they heard a
scuffling and lap of water as the other boat swayed, which meant that
the man in it had stood up.
He sprang into visibility as a flashlight in Dalton's hand went on.
A squat, swarthy man with rugged features, a caboclo, of white
and Indian blood. He blinked expressionlessly at the light.
Where is the American scientist? demanded Dalton in Portuguese.
Quem sabe? Foi-se.
Which way did he go?
Nao importa. O doutor é doido; nao ha-de-voltar, said the
man suddenly. It doesn't matter. The doctor is crazyhe won't come
Answer me, damn it! Which way?
The caboclo jerked his shoulders nervously and pointed.
Come on! said Dalton and scrambled ashore even as Joao was
stopping the motor and making the boat fast beside the other. He's
gone in after it!
The forest was a black labyrinth. Its tangled darkness seemed to
drink up the beam of the powerful flashlight Dalton had brought, its
uneasy rustlings and animal-noises pressed in to swallow the sound of
human movements for which he strained his ears, fearing to call out. He
pushed forward recklessly, carried on by a sort of inertia of
determination; behind him Joao followed, though he moved woodenly and
muttered prayers under his breath.
Then somewhere very near a great voice croaked briefly and was
silentso close that it poured a wave of faintness over the hearer,
seemed to send numbing electricity tingling along his motor nerves.
Joao dropped to his knees and flung both arms about a tree-bole. His
brown face when the light fell on it was shiny with sweat, his eyes
dilated and blind-looking. Dalton slammed the heel of his hand against
the man's shoulder and got no response save for a tightening of the
grip on the treetrunk, and a pitiful whimper, Assombra-meit
Dalton swung the flashlight beam ahead and saw nothing. Then all at
once, not fifty yards away, a single glowing eye sprang out of the
darkness, arched through the air and hit the ground to blaze into
searing brilliance and white smoke. The clearing in which it burned
grew bright as day, and Dalton saw a silhouetted figure clutching a
rifle and turning its head from side to side.
He plunged headlong toward the light of the flare, shouting,
Thwaite, you idiot! You can't
And then the currupira spoke.
Its bellowing seemed to come from all around, from the ground, the
trees, the air. It smote like a blow in the stomach that drives out
wind and fight. And it roared on, lashing at the wills of those who
heard it, beating and stamping them out like sparks of a scattered
Dalton groped with one hand for his pocket but his hand kept
slipping away into a matterless void as his vision threatened to slip
into blindness. Dimly he saw Thwaite, a stone's throw ahead of him,
start to lift his weapon and then stand frozen, swaying a little on his
feet as if buffeted by waves of sound.
Already the second theme was coming inthe insidious obbligato of
invitation to death, wheedling that this way ... this way ...
was the path from the torment and terror that the monstrous voice
flooded over them.
Thwaite took a stiff step, then another and another, toward the
black wall of the mato that rose beyond the clearing. With an
indescribable shudder Dalton realized that he too had moved an
involuntary step forward. The currupira's voice rose
With a mighty effort of will Dalton closed fingers he could not feel
on the object in his pocket. Like a man lifting a mountain he lifted it
to his lips.
A high sweet note cut like a knife through the roll of nightmare
drums. With terrible concentration Dalton shifted his fingers and blew
Piercing and lingering, the tones of the pipes flowed into his
veins, tingling, warring with the numbing poison of the currupira's
Dalton was no musician but it seemed to him then that an ancestral
instinct was with him, guiding his breath and his fingers. The powers
of the monster were darkness and cold and weariness of living, the
death-urge recoiling from life into nothingness.
But the powers of the pipes were life and light and warmth, life
returning when the winter is gone, greenness and laughter and love.
Life was in them, life of men dead these thousand generations, life
even of the craftsmen on an alien planet who had preserved their form
and their meaning for this moment.
Dalton advanced of his own will until he stood beside Thwaitebut
the other remained unstirring and Dalton did not dare pause for a
moment, while the monster yet bellowed in the blackness before them.
The light of the flare was reddening, dying....
After a seeming eternity he saw motion, saw the rifle muzzle swing
up. The shot was deafening in his ear, but it was an immeasurable
relief. As it echoed the currupira's voice was abruptly silent.
In the bushes ahead there was a rending of branches, a frantic
slithering movement of a huge body.
They followed the noises in a sort of frenzy, plunging toward them
heedless of thorns and whipping branches. The flashlight stabbed and
revealed nothing. Out of the shadows a bass croaking came again, and
Thwaite fired twice at the sound and there was silence save for a
renewed flurry of cracking twigs.
Along the water's edge, obscured by the trees between, moved
something black and huge, that shone wetly. Thwaite dropped to one knee
and began firing at it, emptying the magazine.
They pressed forward to the margin of the slough, feet squishing in
the deep muck. Dalton played his flashlight on the water's surface and
the still-moving ripples seemed to reflect redly.
Thwaite was first to break the silence. He said grimly, Damned
lucky for me you got here when you did. Ithad me.
Dalton nodded without speaking.
But how did you know what to do? Thwaite asked.
It wasn't my discovery, said the linguist soberly. Our remote
ancestors met this threat and invented a weapon against it. Otherwise
man might not have survived. I learned the details from the Martian
records when I succeeded in translating them. Fortunately the Martians
also preserved a specimen of the weapon our ancestors invented.
He held up the little reed flute and the archeologist's eyes widened
Dalton looked out across the dark swamp-water, where the ripples
were fading out. In the beginning there was the voice of evilbut
there was also the music of good, created to combat it. Thank God that
in mankind's makeup there's more than one fundamental note!