My first novel, By the Gates of the Garden of Eden, is a story about a University student who hitchhikes the last part of his summer vacation. He is kidnapped by large beings who turn out to be Krampus, and is forced to work in their mines, digging tunnels. Chaucer leads a rebellion with the other humans with the culmination in an epicly large battle involving a summoned demon of monstrous proportions, Zamzum. There is heroism, truth, horror, and loss; but there is ultimately victory in the struggle against evil. Among the humans to rebel are the two heroes of this story: A combat veteran named Tugg, and a hillbilly named Hezzy. The two become friends in the novel, and this story is the first short story that I wrote after the novel had been completed. I enjoyed writing them so much that putting them together in the middle of the Congo seemed like a lot of fun. I hope that you enjoy reading it.
Ouesso to Epena
Tugg and Hezzy were almost to their 75 mile mark at the bai when things took a turn for the worse. It was July in the Congo and it was only 73°F but with the 100% humidity you would have thought that you were in Lucifer’s toilet. Working their way through the forest with the camera crew had proved to be the worst thing they had ever agreed to. Slogging behind as usual, getting stuck everywhere; the camera crew was tired and grumpy.
“Jeezmani Crispers!” Hezzy called out to Moise as he almost dropped one of the equipment bags in the water. “Be careful you nimwits!”
“Ce serait bien si vous ne l’auriez pas trouvé un tel endroit stupide pour vous traverser idiot!” Moise shot back at him, glaring.
“I don’t know exactly what y’all said, but did I pick out ‘stupid’ and ‘idiot?’ Hey, let’s remember who’s de dummy in tha show why dahn we?” He jerked his thumb back at Tugg and gave a sharp laugh.
“C’est suffisant. On est tout aussi stupide que l’autre.” Moise laughed and climbed out of the river. Christian and E-man were next with more equipment and then Tugg, climbing up on the bank, as smooth as a cat.
“What was that all about?” He asked Hezzy.
“Twern’t nuthin,” Hezzy smiled at Moise, “Mossy called yeh a dummy, but I got yer back pardner.” Moise, Christian and E-man looked around, not wanting to get between the two Americans in their conversation.
“Sure you do.” Tugg smiled. “Allons avant le mannequin tombe.” He said to the men. They all laughed.
“Hey!” Hezzy said, “What’d you say?”
“Hurry up before the dummy falls in.” Tugg said.
It was 5:05 in the afternoon and they deliberated on camping on the bank. They had meant to hit Ball River much north from where they were now, but the government people had told them to scout the route they were taking, so that’s what they were doing. The government had hired them to film the entire trip from start to finish. Getting the lay of the land so that they could put in either a road or a railway to connect the two areas. What the government didn’t know was that they were also filming their survivor show at the same time. Killing two birds with one stone? They were happy to do it. Get paid to survey the route, and then get the footage to put together a “Survive the Congo” documentary. They hadn’t even blinked before they said yes.
Hezzy looked at the bank and gave a small grimace. “I reckon we should get away from the Goliath Fish at least.” Hezzy said.
“You watch too much TV,” Tugg said. “Around here, it’s going to be Hippos.”
“C’est vrai.” Christian said. It’s true.
“Let’s move in a bit. Maybe a mile.” Tugg said. “Do a bit of filming right here though.” He judged the light. “We got around ten minutes.” Tugg grabbed the main box and opened it up. He handed the Sony HVR to Moise and the High Def model to Hezzy.
“You got words?” Hezzy asked. “Cause it’s yer turn.”
“Yeah,” Tugg said, putting things back in the box and sealing it shut. They took turns doing the camera work. They would video about the area and alternate who would be speaking.
Hezzy shuffled around and got the sun and crew behind him. “Alright Pardner. Ready in 3…2…” And then pointed at Tugg.
“It may not seem like much, but here we are on day ten of our journey after just accomplishing seventy five miles of this vastly overgrown and horrendous terrain…” Tugg trailed off because Hezzy had brought the camera down. “What gives?” Tugg asked.
“Horrendous terrain?” Hezzy said. “Yer serious? What’s so horrendous about this mess? Tain’t bad. Just taking a long time is all.”
Tugg closed his eyes. “Again with this?” They had talked about it at some length already. Hezzy wanted to give it to them straight, like the honest redneck he was, but Tugg felt it would be better to be a little more dramatic… Good TV.
“Alright… Look. We can just take every other turn filming like we’ve already been doing. It’s just that I will tell my stuff how I want to and you can tell ‘em how you want to.” He was tired and just wanted to get it over with.
Hezzy signed but raised the camera anyway. “Alrighty then. 3… 2…” And pointed again.
“Here in the vastly overgrown terrain, it may seem like an insurmountable task to walk one hundred miles, and believe me, at times it has seemed that way. But here we are on day ten of our journey, having walked through this primordial African forest and we have come across the Ball River, which lies just ten miles southeast of Lake Telle’. With enough luck, we will be able to reach the lake within two days. From there it should be another two to three days until we reach our destination in Epena.” He smiled until Hezzy pointed at him, He walked over and snatched the camera and walked back down to the bank.
“I like the ‘primordial African forest’ better Tugg. Heck, I’ve seen termites take down an Arkansas Maple and wouldn’t even call it ‘horrendous.’ Hezzy said.
Tugg never knew what Hezzy meant when he used those vague sayings but appreciated the imagination it took to come up with them. “Right…” Tugg said. “I’m gonna catch some B-Roll. Get the boys ready.” Turning, he stomped down the bank to the river.
“Whatever yah say boss!” Hezzy smiled and shook his head. Tugg was getting to be more and more closed off the longer this trip took. They had started three days late, gotten bogged down in the Ndoki River, and had been chased up the trees by a family of Elephants. Maybe it was a herd of them. Did five count as a herd? A family? He didn’t know.
“Hey Emmanuel! Yah almost done?” Hezzy called out to the three men, who were all three taking in the landscape with the camera and mic. E-man grimaced and looked back at him.
“Merde!” Christian exclaimed.
“Ve were taking een de sound! Qwaeeet!” Moise yelled.
“Hells Bells,” Hezzy mumbled to himself and sat down on the largest box. “Try to move things along and whadaya know? Gettin bitched at by everyone.” He reached into his vest pocket and unrolled a cellophane wrapped container, he opened it up. Inside that was a zip-locked plastic bag. Inside that was a pack of Camel Unfiltered Cigarettes and a book of matches. He lit one up and lay back on the box. It was going to be another one of those nights. He figured he could close his eyes for just a second or two.
He must have fallen asleep because he was hearing screaming now and there wasn’t any screaming that he could recall when he had closed his eyes. The sun was still up but the cigarette had gone out. He shoved the half-butt into his pocket and jumped up ready to see what was the matter.
“Crocs in the water!” E-man was shouting. That was action alright. He ran to where they were. Sure enough, three bumps with hungry eyes were leering at them.
“Get up, get up! Back up!” Tugg was shouting, running from downstream. He must have gotten some pretty good shots from wherever he had went to. “Back up!” He shouted again. The crocodiles moved slowly in the water but once they realized they had been found out and that stealth wasn’t helping them anymore, they quickly gave up and continued down river.
“You guys should pay more attention.” Tugg grunted as he walked back up the bank. “I want to bring back three whole and unscathed cameramen. Not anything less.”
“Yup.” Hezzy agreed, and fell in step behind him.
“C’est vrai.” Christian said.
“Shut up Christian.” Hezzy said.
They packed up and hit the road east. The bai, (or meadow) usually offered a respite to all the animals of the forest. You usually could find them all basking in the water and picking the rare plants that grew in the sunlight. The gentle Western Lowlands Gorilla would hang out with the Elephant and things were usually tranquil at the bai. But not when the crocs were around. Leaving the bai and going back into the forest was what they didn’t want to do, but getting away from the crocs was the best bet for everyone.
The sun was low. It set at almost exactly 6:00 PM every day and came up at 6 AM. It was the most dependable thing about the jungle, when you could see it. They came to a small clearing. Not exactly a bai, but not the mess that the jungle usually was. It was 5:35.
“Here,” Tugg said, dropped his bag, pulled out his machete and started making the clearing larger. He chopped down a few of the Megaphrynium plants and started to pad the ground. They would sleep in hammocks like they usually did, but for some reason the leaves seemed to make the jungle cats steer clear. The cats are bad news around here. Leopards and Servals were everywhere and nobody wanted to take a chance.
“Fire?” Hezzy asked.
“Yep.” Tugg said, and it was all it took for the unspoken agreement to take place. Tugg laid a ring of the massive leaves around a shallow pit and Hezzy got to work making tinder. The camera crew were unpacking the five hammocks and arranging their gear into the neat little pile they made every night. They elevated it on a couple of sticks just in case it rained and put the High Def box on top. They never knew when Tugg or Hezzy would get a wild hair up their butt and want to get to it.
Hezzy was quick with the fire but it took longer than they wanted just the same. The hammocks and mosquito nets were all up about the time that Tugg returned to the camp.
“Hey I didn’t even know you took off.” Hezzy proclaimed, a little offended. “You hunt?”
“Yep.” Tugg said, and held up a couple of walking catfish. One was still twitching.
“Aw. That mean I gotta clean em?” Hezzy asked.
“C’est vrai.” Christian said.
“Shut up Christian.” Hezzy said.
He knew the drill. Never clean where you sleep. The better rule was never eat where you sleep, but they had abandoned that a long while ago. They had enough cat repellent to last them a couple of weeks. And they only used it when they cooked fish. One, it was good to keep the cats away. Two, it was actually quite delicious on fish. A little Olbas Oil, Black Pepper, Lemon, Eucalyptus, Cinnamon, Rosemary, Garlic and Lavender made a tasty concoction that did both things well. A strange list, but the most effective they had found, so they stuck with it.
Hezzy walked back down the path towards the river. When he could no longer see the fire, he got out his flashlight and went to work. Walking catfish almost tasted as good as Channel catfish, but they were easier to catch and easier to clean. Truth was, they walked right up to you around the river and you could hear them almost a mile away. The freaky little guys actually walked on land with their fins, if you believe it.
He got a Mega leaf as a work surface. Zip, zip, zip with the knife on the back and the head, break the neck and scoop out everything inside. He threw the head, dorsal fin and guts as far as he could back down towards the river and did the same to the other one. They weren’t large enough to cut the tail off to bleed, so he just wiped up as best as he could and with another Mega leaf, wrapped them up and bent to the task of cleaning his hands.
He usually peed on his hands to clean them, but he didn’t have to pee right now. That was a bad sign. He was dehydrated most probably and would need to fix that. He rubbed them into the dirt around him and scrubbed furiously. Then, with as much spit as he could muster he used the spit to clean off the mud. It would have to do. He picked up the Mega leaf parcel and headed back. Along the way he relit the cigarette that he had in his pocket. Not much there, but enough for a couple of puffs before it burned his fingers.
The fire was ready and they had already sprayed the repellent. It had come to be the delicious scent of safety, even though sometimes it burned their eyes. They cooked the fish and ate, burning the skin and the bones when they were done. It would have been foolish to try to walk it down the path, so burning it was the best solution.
The camp was quiet. Tugg, usually liked going over the next day’s plans so he was fidgeting with the camera, watching a small clip over and over.
“Whatcha got there?” Hezzy asked him, not moving from his spot.
“Hmmm… Just something I found on the bank. Tracks… Strange tracks.” Tugg said.
Hezzy was interested. He hopped up and walked over.
It was a footprint. It was huge alright, but it was nothing more than an ape or a big chimp. Hezzy didn’t care about gorilla attack so he dismissed the whole thing and curled up in his hammock and went to sleep, leaving Moise, Christian, and E-man to do whatever, and Tugg to obsess over the cameras.
It was pitch black when E-man woke him.
“Sssst!” He hissed in Hezzy’s ear and placed an arm on his shoulder. “Wake up but be still.” E-man said, his mouth so close that it tickled Hezzy’s ears.
Hezzy was up in a heartbeat.
“What is it? What happened?” He whispered, quiet but alert.
“There are voices in the dark. But I do not understand what they say.” E-man said.
This frightened Hezzy to the bone. Years ago, in the heart of Missouri, he had been a prisoner of strange creatures who had forced him to submit to their whims. They were creatures straight from the bowels of hell and they too had not spoken in languages that could be understood easily by men. He and Tugg and his friends had escaped with only their lives. The sick, nauseating creep that moved in his stomach and into his throat gagged him.
“I don’t-” Hezzy began, and then he heard them too.
Soft mutterings, maybe twenty feet away in the forest. One voice and then a second responding. It took every ounce of determination to slowly grab E-man’s arm and lower himself out of his hammock. He went to his pack which was among the pile and slowly unzipped the outer pocket. A loaded Smith and Wesson 1911 was in his hands. With the other hand, he unzipped a side pocket. Cat spray. Without moving, he started spraying all around him. As the mist worked its way into the bush, he slowly stood and spoke loudly in a very steady voice.
“I know you’re there and we don’t want any trouble! We are on a job from the government! We are charting this area for the survey group! Again, we don’t want any trouble!” He sprayed the spray again around him. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Tugg slowly getting out of his hammock and crawling toward the bag as well. Hezzy slowly bent down, grabbed Tugg’s bag and had it unzipped by the time that Tugg was there. Now they had two guns against whatever would happen.
Finally, after more than a hundred heartbeats, footsteps were heard in the bush slowly moving away from the camp.
No one slept the rest of the night.
Three hours later, the sun rose. Five feet away from camp there was a large pile of tiny red bananas and two more catfish.
They couldn’t figure it out. Who in the world had it been? Was it villagers nearby? Hezzy hadn’t seen any signs of people out in this area. It was pretty strange. He had heard stories of apes gifting food to humans before. Maybe that was it.
“We had visitors,” E-man said.
“C’est vrai.” Christian said.
“Imma thinkin maybeh some friendly chimps was down here last nigh’ then.” Hezzy said, his drawl worse than usual this morning.
“Quite possibly.” He looked at E-man. “You guys ever heard of this before?”
All three men were wide eyed and obviously deep in doubt of reality at this moment. Finally, Christian spoke up.
“Ees a storie from my motha from when she was as girl. She had gotten lost een the forest. A orang-outan gave her a coeur de boef and led her back to the trail. She remembas eet often,” he said.
Tugg pulled on his beard and frowned. “It gave her a beef heart?” he said.
Christian looked at Moise who said : “No. The fruit. Ah… You call sour soap?”
“Soursop? Ok. That makes more sense. I was thinkin that Tan must be crazy.” Tugg said and waved his hand at the idea.
Hezzy was visibly relieved as well. He could only imagine an Orangutan getting violent enough to kill an ox. That would be strange indeed.
“Where you gonna find an ox in the forest anyways?” Hezzy thought out loud as he bent over the pile of food. “Guess we might as well eat up.” He said as he bent over the pile of fruits and fish. You want to get another fire going real quick?” he asked, separating the pile.
Suddenly he screamed. Eyes peered up at him from under the tiny bananas. He kicked and crab-ran backwards on his hands and feet away. Black eyes stared upwards. Obviously dead. It was a chevrotain. A tiny deer that looked like a mouse. Everyone laughed. Hezzy cursed them and went to clean the chevrotain and catfish back down the trail.
As soon as the meal had been cooked and eaten, they decided to do a little exploration of the immediate area before heading out. Tugg was extremely interested in the friendly apes. Whether they would be chimps or orangutans remained to be seen. It would be nice if they could find them, document them and mark their home on their map.
The worst thing that Tugg could think of, was ruining a habitat with a train-route, yet this was exactly the plan of the government. The Ubangi river was the main lifeblood north to the Central African Republic, and the Congolese government wanted to start working with Gabon more and the Democratic Republic of the Congo less and less. Even though they shared the name of the jungle they both inhabited, Congo wanted to distance themselves from their eastern neighbor.
Make a viable road from Ouesso to Epena. No problem. Get paid a little here, and make a documentary on the way. Hezzy was resourceful and jungle-smart and… After the whole Missouri thing, Tugg had found in Hezzy the best friend that he had ever had.
“The Missouri thing”… When he said it like that, it didn’t seem so bad. In fact it had been horrific. He and Hezzy had moved to Alaska after a quick friendship had formed and lived by themselves out in the wild. They had both needed it. He had been burned pretty severely during their captivity. Molten glass had splashed on his neck and part of his face and it itched when he thought about it. Flashes of memory. Randal, Laers, Chaucer, and… Zamzum. The tunnel. Harmonizers flaring. Yip and Nanni and the flood. Sleeping at the church that first night. Hounded by reporters. The Army questions. The tests. A month in the Brig. Zamzum. Zamzum. Zamzum Come.
“Hey boyo!” Hezzy was squatting down in front of him about an inch from his face. “You’re ain’t there no more. You here. With me. Safe. Ain’t no boogymen out here. You alive and safe. Aight?”
Tugg’s mind slowly came back to the Congo. Yes, here he was. Alive and well and in the company of someone who loved him. His best friend and father figure, Hezekiah. A scruffy old coot who somehow loved him back. He shrugged, laughed and stood.
“Alright. Let’s go check out the area. Bound to be some answers in there somewhere. Maybe make a friend?” Tugg asked, smiling. He looked around. “How long was I out?” His face growing concerned again.
“Fifteen minutes this time. The boys say they trahed to talk to ya but you was just sayin: ‘Zamzum’ ovah and ovah. Hey boyo, how many times I gotta tell you? He dead!” Hezzy was serious and intent, still almost nose to nose.
“He’s not dead and we both know it.” Tugg insisted. There was a tension for several minutes and then Tugg relaxed and smiled. He put his hand on Hezzy’s shoulder. “Alright man. You’re probably right. And even if you’re not, and he is still alive… How can he find us all the way out here?”
“Damn tootin.” Hezzy said. He picked up his backpack and said: “Let’s go.”
“What time did you tell them we would be back?” Tugg asked after they had been walking a while.
“I told ‘em high noon.” Hezzy answered. He was just ahead, created a path with his machete. Ting, ting, ting was the sound with each swipe. The front man’s job was clear. Clear the path directly in front of you. The second man’s job was to scout out everything else around them. Tugg was alert and nothing happened in the first direction for a while.
It was quick going. Hezzy was a magician with a blade, yet they yielded no results. They doubled back and tried a different route. It was on the fourth route that they heard the grunts again. Hezzy stopped, panting. He slowly reached for his canteen on his belt, only to find it empty. Saying nothing he motioned to Tugg for a drink… Ears open for all signals. Three minutes later, distinct talking. It was in front of them and to the left. They crept closer.
From the shadows we had a view of their entire village. They weren’t orangutans, they were much shorter. They were not in a bai, but a clearing made from hands. The floor was clean of litter, and small huts had been erected from the trees. They looked like chimpanzees but walked on their hind two legs. The largest one was walking in the middle looking tough. It was a female, for her teats stuck out prominently and there was a young one walking next to her, holding her hand. The others around the ‘village’ were engaged in various sexual acts and one was doing something on the ground with a stick. They stood quiet in the shadows of the forest.
Suddenly they heard a snap followed by a snort. It came far out and to the left of the clearing but there was an immediate response from the group… Mostly fear and a lot of screaming. Neither man had moved, they were as frightened as everyone else and if they did move, they might compound the problem. Most of the beasts ran away upright, but a couple of younger ones were on all fours. After around two minutes, things began to calm down. Whimpers and sighs from the surrounding beasts, but the large female had stayed erect and at attention in the middle of the clearing. The only difference with her was that her young one was nowhere to be seen. She turned around and went to the edge of the clearing opposite them and returned to the middle with a stick that was four feet in length.
She screamed a challenge in a loud voice towards the sound that they had all heard. “Aroooooyeeaaaaaaaaah-ah-ah-ha!” she cried, and waited. A moment later, she was answered with a call.
“Ooooh Ah Ah oooo! Oh Ah Yaaaaaa-ah!” came the response from the forest.
You need not imagine what was going on in either Hezzy or Tugg’s head at the moment. They had seen the devils of hell themselves, so you would think that nothing would frighten them. You would be wrong. Living through something that horrible only reinforced everything else in the world. Once the human mind had been exposed to something so terrible, not much else seemed normal. It happened to most. Doctors call it: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Maybe nature calls it: “Waking up.” The issue is, once you are woken, you can’t get back down.
And with a great crashing and a great many of fears, out from the jungle stepped an enormous gorilla, walking on his hind legs, carrying a spear. Later, Tugg would describe it as a Gigantopithecus Blacki, but all Hezzy would say about it was that it was ‘Some Damned Sasquatch.’ What it was, remains a mystery for us, but I will go so far to describe it to you. If you are a book reader I would like to refer you to a couple of stories that it most definitely isn’t. It was not similar at all to Robert E. Howard’s description of the horrible beasts that Conan the Barbarian faced, nor was it the more current bizarre grey-furred beasts of Michael Crichton’s book: ‘Congo’. Though each story does take place in the deep Congo, these fanciful imaginations are rooted in myth, where the issue that was happening in front of our two protagonists is something closer to the line of science and fact.
The being in front of them was close to seven foot tall, almost twice as tall as the small female, and it was covered in dense black fur. It was stooped over, like an old man, every now and again using one of its knuckles to help it. But it was no gorilla that either man had ever heard about. To make things even more bizarre, it greeted the female with a gentle kiss on the nose with its lips.
In the presence of the larger giant, the rest of the (now diminutive) beasts were humble and submissive. He gently sat in the middle of them all and they brought him what appeared to be sugar cane and figs as well as guava and other fruits. As he was eating, the females all came to him. He laid back and was fed by them and then they began to lay on him and stroke his body. What accompanied the feeding was cooing and flirtation with the females as to what could only be described as foreplay. One by one he had relations with all of the females there and then they all lay down for a nap. The entire process of this was no less than forty minutes.
After this, in a most astonishing moment, the large male turned and looked directly at the two men. Evidently, he had known they were there the entire time. Their skin crawled with worms that only the deepest fear could invoke. With as little noise as possible, they walked backwards until they could no longer see the town through the forrest.
It was dusk by the time Hezzy and Tugg returned to the camp. Moise, Christian and E-man were in the middle of a game of Gin Rummy but put it away when they saw their faces. Hezzy and Tugg hadn’t talked about it with each other and would not talk about it with the men. They were distant and when they returned, automatically eating some fruit and drinking water. They went about their tasks without communication and their eyes never met the others. Without conversation they both lay down for sleep leaving the three cameramen to do the camp cleanup for the day.
The next day, instead of travelling on their east track, they ventured north. Tugg and Hezzy had figured that if “Blacki” came in from the south, that was their only hope. The cameramen overheard their conversation and Moise demanded to hear about Blacki but stopped cold when he looked into Tugg’s eyes. E-Man was still adamant about it until Hezzy brought his blade into a tree with a solid thwunk.
“Next person ah hear talkin ‘bout it, is gonna get hisself a new mouth.” he said slowly.
Not one of them brought it up after that until they were well past what Tugg considered to be the danger point. Hooking east, they made for Lake Telle. They hoped they would be safe.
There is no river that flows into Lake Telle and no river that flows out of it. It’s a swampy hole to hell and everyone knows it. The survey was supposed to hit the southern tip of it, but they were definitely not walking through a cross species mating ritual with seven foot tall, weapon wielding apes, so they walked around. About a mile from the actual lake, the ground became a peat-moss mush. What was interesting was that the closer they got to the lake, the less smaller animals there seemed to be. Water meant an oasis in the jungle, but the birds, the monkeys and everything else small seemed to be vacant. The only animals that seemed alright with the idea were the larger ones. What they saw instead were Water Buffalo and Elephant. They were everywhere. It was almost surreal how many herd dwelling large beasts came to the lake.
From everything that they knew, the apes of these parts lived a gentle and harmonious life on the ground with those around him and they should be here too. Western Lowland Gorillas were the most numerous of all four of the species of Gorilla and they were all over the Congo, but you wouldn’t know it. The only ‘apes’ here were the five humans.
On the second day of walking, just as they had moved around the northern horn of the lake and into more of an eastern path, they encountered a very large herd of stampeding elephants. Of the five, only Moise had seen elephants running in the wild, usually they were very gentle. Courteous even. The silent slogging stampede that faced them was more than a little freaky.
At this point around the lake, the underbrush was as thick but the ground was spongy. What they heard first was the crashing of leaves and branches. The only thing to do was find the biggest tree and place your back to it. Something crashing like that would not be a predator and it was easy to use a tree for protection against, say, a charging Rhino, or more Elephant. Fortunately there was a large Kapok tree nearby that all five of them were able to squeeze into the vertical folds. They ducked down and held on in the face of the oncoming stampede.
When it came, the earth didn’t shake like it did on the savannah. A sound and violence so loud, quick and unnerving that you would think that the world is spilling down around you, without the actual vibration that you would associate with it. This is what happened to our friends. If you would like to believe it, it felt as if almost all of the Elephants in Africa descended upon them. In truth, it was around seventy-five… And something else.
The cause for stampede was anything out of the ordinary. It could be wasps, a tree falling, or even a predator, like the infamous Elephant Killer: Emela-Ntouka… Which it was in this case, and which came in last place in the great elephant race around the lake. Although, he wasn’t so much participating as much as he was just eating the other racers.
The elephants had rushed by, one or two of them nicking the tree they were hiding in, and that gave everyone a fright. The last elephant was the one that the Emela zeroed in on. And this happened directly out of view from where they were crouched down. In an almost comical scene, all five of them slowly lifted their heads from the wrappings of the Kapok, only to see the ungainly form of the Emela devouring a smaller elephant. It was not a calf, but probably a juvenile.
As if on cue, they all sunk their heads behind the root. The slavering and snapping from the mastication was almost as loud as the stampede had been, but more savage. Crack! over and over as the bones of the ribs were gone through and the Emela gorged on the innards.
The parts that weren’t covered in elephant blood were dark purple and pale orange striped. Often, the orange was white in places and the purple was mainly on its snout and forepaws. The stump-like paws held retractable claws. With these, it held on to the sides of the elephant as it dug its face and terrible horn into the beast.
After the initial shock of the splashing and crunching Tugg reached quietly into his bag and handed out the gas masks. Quietly he showed the men how to place them on their head and then held up five fingers with his right hand while he held a grenade in the other. Furiously waving him off, Hezzy pointed to his watch and then put his hand across his throat. “Wait! Stop!” he signed. Tugg nodded, pointed to the tree above them. Moving silently, but with an unearthly grace, were the smaller apes they had seen two days ago. They climbed and swung from tree to tree with one long arm, their other arms holding something.
Slowly they arrived above them in the trees all around the area. They waited to get in position. They were quiet as they all raised their arms in a frozen position, then all at once, it began to rain stones.
Well, it wasn’t exactly rain. These were the apes they had seen two days earlier. In an interview after the event, Tugg denies that they were the same ones, but no one could deny that it was the same Blacki that challenged the Emela, seeking to protect the men. No one had seen him before, but as soon as the barrage had ended, there he was. With a sharpened wooden spear, he dropped down in front of the beast and screamed the challenge.
The Emela didn’t know what to think. It probably wasn’t threatened. It reminded Hezzy of a kitten with a slice of lunch meat. A little growl came from it, and it continued to eat the Elephant. Blacki showed he was serious. He looked to the trees.
“AAHHEEHAHAHAAAAAAA!” He cried. He was joined by four more Blackies who fell from the trees like silent shadows. Each were as big, and they each had spears. The Emela stopped eating, took one step back and gave a deep and quiet growl. Alright, things were serious.
On cue, the apes in the trees screamed and threw rocks again. The Blackies balked and stabbed the air with their spears, one of them connecting with the side of the Emela, to show they meant business. An over-the-top scream of rage from the great horned beast and a shaking of the head. It snorted and hooted, sniffed the elephant, and trotted away.
In comparison, the Emela would have crushed the Blackies, for it was the size of a full grown elephant itself, but maybe letting it get large enough of a meal had been the plan of the Blackies in the first place.
Hezzy and Tugg, having taken off their masks, slowly stood. In an unexpected turn, they had been saved by one of the most mythical beings on earth. After all they had been through in Missouri, the impact wasn’t lost on them. God had a sense of humor after all maybe.
“Uh. Well howdah there.” Hezzy said, with his palms up in the air. “You good little sasquatches huh?” He brought up his bag. “Y’all want some candy?” He slowly undid a side strap and got out a large bag. Reaching in, he pulled out a small bag and got four Baby Ruth bars. He opened one up, pulled it in half and took a bite. “It’s good.” He offered the opened one to the largest Blacki, the one they had seen at the campsite. The Blackie took the candy bar and sniffed it.
After a cautious lick, it devoured the entire thing and opened up another one.
“Oaaaah!” one of the other Blackies demanded. The big one relented and gave two out to the other four, throwing the other one up into the trees. The tree-apes caught it and chattered happily. He looked slowly and deeply at Tugg, blinked once and placed the spear on the ground. He kicked it towards them and only until Tugg climbed out of the roots and picked it up was the beast satisfied. The others were forced to do the same. Pick up the spear you fool. Look, you need to protect yourself out here. Don’t you know any better? It told them with its eyes. Once the humans had the spears, the Blackies walked off in the direction of the elephants and didn’t look back. It was then that we all noticed that the little tree apes had disappeared from the trees as well. The five men were alone.
Reaching Epena was anticlimactic. Realizing their need to evacuate the premises before anything else exciting were to occur, the men walked the rest of the way out of the jungle without stopping. Tired, hungry and afraid they walked for twenty hours straight. The good news is that no animal would frighten them now. Nothing really could. But they didn’t want to stick around and find out if anything would dare. How fast would the Emela become hungry again? Had it seen them at all? Was it tracking them now? Were the Blackies really gone? They walked, for fear drove them forward.
They didn’t come out of the jungle as much as they just suddenly appeared on the outskirts of the town, it was that much of a shock to them. Numbing. Here was their destination and here they were. It was a welcome slap in the face. They took off their bags, laid them in a pile and let the realization wash over them.
Epena wasn’t so much a town as it was a district of small villages. Hezzy pulled out the phone from his bag and called their contact Aminata for the pickup. She was from Epena and worked for the government, doing odd jobs here and there. She was in the 2012 Olympics and was pretty cool about picking them up.
“Everything okay?” she asked, when she arrived.
“Yep.” Hezzy said. The rest of the men were silent.
It took an hour to reach Impfondo in the van, a distance of a little more than fifty miles. Such a change in travel seemed almost like theft of life to Tugg. The value of something as common as a road seemed like a new privilege. Compared to the time it took them to travel one hundred miles, they could have driven it in two hours. He looked in the backseat. Everyone else was fast asleep, except Hezzy, who watched the forest go by silently.
At the airport, they said goodbye to their three traveling companions.
“Gonna miss ya boys.” Hezzy said, a tear forming in his eye. “Y’all have my number so don’t be a stranger.” He hugged them each. They each cried the relief and happiness from coming through a trial. Christian held him tight.
“Ey will miss you friend.” he said.
“C’est vrai.” Hezzy said.
They all laughed.
Thirty six hours later, Tugg pulled off his clothes and turned the water all the way up. Getting into the tub wasn’t hard. The hard part was relaxing. He needed to write all this down before he forgot about it. He had video to edit and a new spear to hang in his study… But right now, he figured, he had at least a little time to relax.
The first thing that Hezzy did when He got home was call Chaucer.
The phone rang but went to voicemail. Chaucer got the message the next day.
“Oooh boy, do I have a story for you!” was all Hezzy’s voicemail had said. Chaucer bought a plane ticket that night. Something told him that he should hear this in person.
It was after some months that Tugg received an email from Moise. The three had arrived back in Brazzaville and had turned in their footage and their report to the Forestry Road Commission. They were all commended for their service and had secured full time work in the government. No word was mentioned about the things they had seen, but they had suggested not to build the road.
Pauly Hart is a public speaker, actor, painter, singer, poet, and story-teller. His main focus today is writing. His latest works have involved novellas in the vein of “Classical Horror” from the Christ-centered world-view. The Horror story is the story where the character has to survive until the end. What better chance for survival than in Christ? Pauly writes not for the churchy types, but for those who would pick up a Stephen King book, giving them an alternative to the spirits. Pauly writes so that the Holy Spirit will have room made for him in modern day literature. He runs several websites all bent on leaving the mind of the atheist awash with the glory of heaven. You can find him at PaulyHart.com