Anthony collected his guide, and began organizing gear that for the hunting expedition into the perilous jungle of Buhtan. A substantial budget was allotted by his military, for hunters and additional perceived rations; an impressive amount of gold value would compensate the men and in affect their families. However, Anthony was having a trial procuring the desired numbers for the hunting party.
“It is their responsibility to their village, is it not?” Anthony brought the subject up with his guide, a tall yet thin man, listened to his plight over a cup of coffee. Anthony packed his pipe with lavender scented tobacco and lit a match. “I’m not mistaken, but their crops are beginning to suffer.”
Dorji listened and sipped his dark drink. For a long time he did not speak, but focused solely on the distant lamp in the window of the store. When Dorji did speak, he ushered a light accent. “The people fear that what prowls in those jungle, is not from our soil.”
“Explain then,” Anthony huffed. “Is it a deity, some natural disaster?” He knew superstitious folk had the tendency to blame calamities on flesh representatives, but there had to be some physical and rational explanation to the disappearances.
“In the jungles,” Dorji began, softly. “Atrocities were committed against mortal men. Unspeakable acts. Death. Torture. Slaughter. My people alone did not suffer. But they were not wholly innocent of these crimes.” Anthony nodded. He fiddled with the tobacco pouch on the table, between his plate of uneaten fruit and a small cup of liquor. “Sometimes the pain manifests itself into something… abominable. An unspeakable apparition. The disappearances only began midway through the war, and have not ceased.”
“That’s explainable,” Anthony stated. “A predator of the jungle fed upon the disposed bodies of soldiers, and took a liking to it. Or, more dangerously, it could be gruella troops that refuse to surrender.” Dorji smirked.
“If it were man, we would have nothing to fear. The people believe it is best to hide and suffer, rather seek an early death.”
Anthony angrily puffed his pipe, but argued no more with Dorji. There was only one course of action open to Anthony, and that was to deduce what actually lurked.
The collected hunting party was not scheduled to leave until the following morning, when Anthony was assured word was spread and last details of the entourage were set. Near mid-day, he received word from Dorji that a family on the outskirts of the village was infiltrated in the night.
“Infiltrated?” Anthony questioned. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“As it sounds,” Dorji alluded to. “The night watchmen saw nothing, and heard nothing. But in the morning, his wife is gone. There are some tracks.”
“What sort of tracks?”
Dorji shook his head. “No one can say. We will look, but I doubt we will understand either.”
The breached home was on the other side of the village, and not difficult to locate. Some of the locals milled around conversing; others were knelt beside the clay and brick home. Anthony couldn’t understand the dialect, but Dorji gave him rapid translations. Dorji brushed aside some of the sightseers, and located the tracks; with some difficulty.
“These are strange,” Anthony admitted. “Do we know what way it came from?”
“The tracks around the house are the only evidence,” Dorji stated. He listened to a frail man beside him, make comment and gestures toward the home. “He says it came on the wind, and took the wife back to soul valley.”
“No doubt trampled by the daily traffic,” Anthony groused.
Dorji spoke with the man. After some back and forth discussion, and elder man presented a dark haired individual. “He is the husband. He cannot travel and can no longer hunt, but his son is willing to accompany you.” Anthony looked from his guide, and back to the young man that was speaking and bowing.
“Tell him, we will slay this beast, and the killings will cease. Let them all know.”
In the early morning before the sun had arisen, the hunting party gathered beneath the flickering glow of torches; seven men, five short of the final count Anthony would have felt unstoppable in the company of, but enough for a relatively safe expedition. Elephants were loaded with the essentials – rifles and ammunition's, medicines and camping supplies. As dawns pink and blue light illuminated the canopy of the jungle, the party began to move out and immersed themselves within the jungles.
It was reasoned to move on the heading, from the side of the village where the most recent disappearance/abduction occurred. After hours of combing through jungle undergrowth and miles of travel, they did locate evidence of the missing woman. A scrap of colored cloth tangled in the rough roots on the jungle floor – one of the lead elephants picked up the scent and halted.
Dorji translated as the newcomer spook. “That was a veil she wore when she left the house. She would have put that on before going outside.”
Anthony mulled over this. “Do you mean to propose she willing stepped out into the night? On curfew?”
Dorji continued, as the man went on. “That does not represent her behavior. And she was terrified of the dark.”
The bit of clothing was presented to the youth. He wrapped it a spare cloth and tucked it away. As mentioned, it was unlikely that anything else of the woman would be located.
“We’re on the right track, then,” Anthony ventured. “This animal must have safe area. A din. The elephants can pick up the trail. Hopefully, we’ll find more sign of it before we set camp.”
The elephants offered trouble and attitude with the prospect of moving on from that area. They grunted and shook their heads, but with the proper motivation they were convinced this was their only course. This did not mean that the elephants became entirely compliant; every mile or so they would insist on turning in different directions, becoming uncooperative and difficult to reenlist. It was mind-boggling, and Anthony feared that the elephants chosen route may be one devised out of their collaborated self-interest. It never became easier.
“They do not favor our judgment,” Dorji admitted.
“Yes, I can see that,” Anthony retorted. “Could it be people? Elephant poachers?”
“Unclear,” Dorji presumed. “Elephants enjoy tracking. They do not enjoy penalty, or unfamiliarity.”
Camp was made at early dusk. The party was exhausted with controlling the intolerable animals, and moral was delving below the low that the group initially began with. No sign was found of the creature, and as anticipated, no remains of the woman, or any of the victims. But the jungle was full of scavengers, from the mid-sized carnivores that cleaned up after the apex predators, to insects, and the ravenous appetite of the jungle floor.
The hunting entourage found a relatively sizable clearing, and butchered out unfavorable foliage for the addition of tents. Once they ceased moving on their undesirable journey, the elephants calmed somewhat and took to grazing. The night endured uneventfully; the group ate one meal, and a watchman was up at every hour. All hands accounted for when they made preparations to move in the next dawn.
It was the same sequence of events with the elephants. The march through the jungle proceeded as planned, but as the elephants picked up the scent they became inconsolable and all but manageable. In the ruckus Anthony was smoking his tobacco pipe, but lost hold of it in restraining his elephant and shouting. In the confusion he didn’t bother with it, fully aware that this hunting trip would be beyond conventional.
A small reward for their efforts would have aided in the mood, even if the elephants insisted on being their primary obstacle. It took every ounce of training from the hunter party to keep the elephants on route – some of the massive titans began to take close quarters with the mangled tree growth and rub at their cargo, other became detestable to their riders. If the men had not trained with the animals their whole lives, they would most likely have been torn free and crushed without a second thought.
After hours of panful travel, they came upon a animal trail in the undergrowth. The trails girth made control of the elephants easier by leagues, it at least kept them from rubbing at the buckles and boxes on their sides.
“Our priority are the guns,” Anthony called. Dorji translated the words, as Anthony jabbed an arm towards the collection of hunters, and the weaponry. “We can risk losing rations, we can hunt with the rifles. But if we meet what spooks the elephants, we won’t see another day.” It was overly dramatic to speech in such a fashion, but Anthony hoped the urgency was conveyed.
The path came to a slight bend, and at this point the elephants were done. They refused to go on. Possibly, there was a scent in the shrine, which put them on guard. The shrine in question was built onto the side of the visible path; its construction was primarily feathers, numerous bones hung by woven vines, and the weathered skull of a predator.
“What is that?” Anthony muttered. He couldn’t grasp a good look of the thing, his elephant backpedaled and stumbled on a thick bed of roots. The animal bellowed, drowning out Dorji’s words.
“A totem,” Dorji managed. “A protective mark, and warning. Captain, we may need to seek an alternative path.”
“We will. But first, can someone bring me a piece of it? Calm, Calm Toa.” Anthony jammed his hook behind the elephants ear. “I want to check its authenticity. Dorji. Give the order.”
“I will not, Captain,” Dorji snapped. He forced his elephant around and retreated past Anthony. “Authentic or not, its presence is all the same. It is bad fortune on those that vandalize it.”
At once the elephants went ballistic. They reared up and trumpeted; legs swinging midair. One man was thrown from his saddle and hit the forest undergrowth with an audible thud, but the man was intact by appearance. He darted forward as the elephants bellowed and smashed at the ground, trunks thundering through the air.
“For Christs sakes! Get your beasts under control!” Anthony held tight to the bar above his saddle, and hammered his hook into the elephants neck nape. The animal gave no mind to him, but continued to rock about. He was spinning so fast he felt his head would have no choice but to unscrew and go bouncing away.
Two men screamed; there was a terrible eruption of hide and a fountain of blood. A bit of ivory went flying, and another man fell from his seat. A tree splint up its center and creaked into a fall, taking with it bundles of vines and casting up a mountain of earth. Then little by little the gargantuan animals began to sober; without aid from the riders hooks. The animals swayed their trunks and tottered this or that way, exhausted, and badly shaken. It was over. The men and their transports both undone by the trial.
“Rigden is hurt,” Dorji spoke, without turning his eyes from his elephants backside. Dorji’s arm was bleeding from the rubbing of the bar; he sat straight like a board, but in his eyes there was pain. “He dropped by the shrine.”
Anthony waited a moment, quivering. He didn’t want his voice to tremble. “We should see to him then.”
Three men dismounted their elephants. One of the titans had fallen to a spearing through its chest, and two of its herd mates could not be budged from the dying animals side. It was a tragic scene to behold.
The man that had fallen was one of the largest that had joined their party, Rigden. He was older than Dorji by three years, and had thick facial hair. He lay slack beside the shrine, eyes lidded but the man himself did not respond to touch or voice. A man leaned over Rigden’s limp form and spoke.
“He breathes,” Dorjin announced. “But he cannot talk. Cannot tell us what happened.” He watched as the men hauled Rigden quickly from beneath the shrine. The skull of the feline bore down on them, hatefully. Dorjin shuddered. “They believe a viper.”
“With his symptoms?” Anthony uttered. “I failed him too. One of the elephants may have clipped him.” He had a better view of Rigden as he was brought near and laid out. Indeed, the man appeared coherent in some sense, but the orders his head sent failed to reach his limbs.
One man began speaking, and Dorji voiced the words. “He went near the shrine. That was bad.”
“We’ll make preparations then,” Anthony announced. “We’re short an animal, and a rider. The others won’t be in the mood to travel, but Rigden needs to return to the village. From there, we can send for a medicine. He needs care.”
Even the hunters were reluctant to strip the dying animal of essential supplies, and subsequently execute it. It was the humane thing to do.
The entourage turned their animals around and made the difficult and long trek back to the village. It went relatively smoothly, but whatever scent the elephants picked up remained on the trail; still they insisted to make travel difficult. The hunting party moved off the direction they ventured from, and attempted to find their way back on a fresh trail. This helped and made travel more bearable, the spirits of the hunters was invigorated. They failed the village and failed their people, but there was relief in survival.
When dusk began nearing and the shadows within the jungle darkened, they stopped and built camp. The elephants remained restless and refused to be easy, wouldn’t graze. Their eyes glistened as the first sparks of the fire were cast. The hunters collected dead wood but wouldn’t venture far into the jungle; they threw down green branches full of leaves and forced the oily smoke to rise. More flames, more embers. The hunters begin singing a prayer by the fire.
Anthony came out from Rigden’s tent and watched. “What are they saying?”
Dorjin, singing with the others, paused and turned to Anthony. “A prayer beseeching safe passage. Ask the gods to watch over us, and hold the evil at bay. Conceal us from evil intent. Spirits.”
Anthony said nothing. He sat on the remnants of a cracked log with his rifle across his lap; he poked through his pockets for his pipe, but recalled it was lost earlier that day. He used the firelight to check his pocket watch, and with the time in mind he went to the ration box to pick out something to curb his hunger. He didn’t feel like eating much of anything. He returned to where Dorjin sat and tried to offer him some rations, but his guide refused.
“Listen. Listen,” Dorjin hissed, as he leapt from his seat. His movement caught the attention of the men, lost in their trance. The hunting party fell silent, and only then were they able to perceive a distant chant replying to their hymn.
Someone sang back.
For a while the they listened intently to the distant voice weaving through the still, unnatural serenity of the jungle. The world beyond the fires touch ceased to be, aside from the gentle croon of reply roving over a gentle melody.
Anthony leaned over to Dorjin. “What are they saying?” Dorjin shook his head. The man was shaking at the shoulders.
“I do not know. I do not.”
“Is that honesty?” Anthony challenged. “No idea?”
“No. It is a dialect I am unfamiliar with.”
A few more minutes, and the voice ceased abruptly. The jungle retained its eerie calm; those nocturnal varmints which would call and twitter the dark hours away with their nightly dramas, refused to comfort the hunting party with sound. Except for the elephants. They groaned and thumped endlessly, forming deep troughs.
The night was shattered by a grotesque shrill; a pained shriek, or anguish bellow. The elephants shifted and bellowed. The cry was close, but that could have been an illusion of its pitch.
The hunters shifted back, and huddled closer by the fires swirling flames. They trembled in spite of the unbearable heat.
“We sleep with a pair on watch,” Anthony announced. “We’re a man short.” Dorjin gave the hunters the word, and the camp began working towards turning in for the evening.
Two men were left on watch for the first few hours on watch. One tent was reserved for the entourage of hunters, and their paralyzed comrade. Anthony slept in a separate tent, with his rifle across his chest. He didn’t plan on getting much sleep, and planned to sleep as little as possible. He kept observing his pocket watch by the glow of the raging fire, watching the slow march of the short hand up and down the spherical face. For three hours he and Dorjin took a shift on watch, fed the fire and listened to the silent night.
Within half an hour, Anthony got up the nerve and returned to the fireside that Dorjin sat. “Did you really not understand what that voice was singing? It sounded Dzongkha.” Dorjin wouldn’t speak a word. He watched the distance, hands gripping the rifle in his lap.
The elephants swayed where they stood in half-sleep trance, gurgling. They seemed calm, but their judgment as of lately was unreliable.
Dorjin never answered Anthony’s question. The two men kept watch over the camp for three hours, and fed the fire when its glow weakened. At four Anthony raised the next shift, and he and Dorjin took to their separate tents. The fire light glowed through the fabric of his frail shelter, and by the frail sheen he watched the large hand on the watch make a gradual pace around the face of the clock. One hour. Five minutes. Two minutes. Exhaustion won out and Anthony blacked out.
He must’ve blacked out for less than an hour. Gunfire rocketed through the air, blasting away the night. Anthony lunged off the mass of blankets and ducked out of his tent. People left and right screamed, jabbering in Dzongkha’s. The elephants bellowed – two of the remaining six were gone – the remaining four swung their tusks down at the men, at the surrounding brush. Anthony ducked under the rickety cry of the rifle; beyond the blaze of the fire he saw the end of a silver barrel flash.
“Where’s Dorjin? Dorjin!” Anthony had his rifle, but in the confusion there was a higher chance of hitting one of the men.
The jungle floor was aglow with dawn light, mist hung in the under canopy of the trees. Rifles ignited in disjointed sequence, and somewhere beyond the thicket came a woman’s shriek.
Anthony snared one of the men as he bolted by; he swung the man by his shirt towards the elephants and shouted a word for control; one of the few he knew of Dzongkha. “Dorjin! What is happening? Where is it?”
Dorjin lunged out of the hunters tent and caught Anthony as he hurried in the direction of the action. Briefly, Dorjin snapped a phrase of to one of the men nearest, and sent him off to the remaining elephants.
“One man stepped out. All I heard was a scream.” Dorjin turned his attention as one of the men hobbled back over thick shrubs; he listened as the man went on and on, waving his rifle. “They hit it.”
“One of the watchman looked away to greet his friend, and that’s when it lunged. He insists they hit it several times.”
“Truly?” Dorjin didn’t answer Anthony’s praise right away.
“The victim. He did not survive.”
Anthony looked from Dorjin, to the man. He brushed past them towards the clump of hunters several meters away. The excitement spiked his adrenalin, he was wide awake. “It was hit,” he stated. “Numerous times, if my estimation is accurate. There will be blood. It’s wounded.” Dorjin and the hunter caught up.
“We will not track this beast. It took all our fire power to force it into retreat, and the man did not survive.”
The group of men parted as Anthony neared. Anthony grimaced. The hunter – Puran, Dorjin offered – was untouched since the attack. The sun was risen enough that the dull orange light illuminated the fresh crimson streaks stained across fat leaves; Puran’s fingertips were raw and shredded, in his hands he still clutched branches. The remains of Puran’s legs were mangled, unrecognizable tatters with traces of sinew glistening across bone. The one mercy Puran was offered was the five holes across his backside.
“My god,” Anthony coughed. He pressed the collar of his shirt over his nose. The scent of blood was overwhelming.
“He fought well,” Dorjin murmured. He knelt, and the other hunters knelt one after the other. Dorjin began the soft prayer, and the others hymned along with him.
When they closed out of the farewell, far-far away and very faintly, a voice hailed back in reply melody.
It took a full hour to break camp, and prepare the remains of Puran for safe travel. Added on was the catatonic Rigden. The first good fortune of the day was that one of the two elephants that charged off was recovered; one animal was prepared to carry the corpse and invalid. This would leave two of the men on the ground, to lead the elephants.
Before packing himself up with the hunters, Anthony returned to the area where the men were certain they hit the attacker; in effect, sparing Puran his slow death. Strips of Puran’s flesh lay among the dirt, and insects were already swarming on the blood. Anthony poked around, seeking affirmative evidence of the culprit’s identity. It was hit, they insisted, and it must have been if it released Puran. Anthony couldn’t identify any tracks in the thick leaf litter. There was more blood, but it could have been from Puran.
The hunting party finally packed and departed the site. Working with the elephants was no easier today even with the guides; none fully recovered from the dawn attack. They pestered and resisted; Anthony fancied that the only appeasement the animals would be sated by was through releasing them to run it out of their systems. Their transport may have run wild until their legs became bloody stumps; it appeared to be their new ambition.
There was no pause to take meals, instead, rations and canned foods were passed around mid-march. The jungles heat swelled around them, but the sounds of wildlife persisted to fade in and out at unnatural intervals.
“We are not alone,” Dorjin spoke. Anthony adjusted his hold on his rifle, and finished off his rations – some dry biscuits.
“Yes,” he replied. “But it isn’t here with us.” Anthony managed to force his elephant to halt. “It’ll track the scent of blood. Another encounter may be inevitable.”
“We return to the village. Or get close,” Dorjin presumed. “It will come. It has no choice.”
Anthony wished for Dorjin to elaborate, but he judged it didn’t matter. Dorjin spoke the truth, and they needed to prepare.
Through their new venture through the jungle, the elephants behavior did begin to improve; the steps of the titans hastened, it was almost difficult to keep them together and keep the hunting party collected. The altered behavior forced the three men on foot to take saddle with their comrades, and aid with coaxing good manners from their carriers.
The light in the jungle shifted, and as the elephants weaved among a thick patch of narrow trees. Outright the animals spooked and went berserk; they splint apart from their tight formation, two stopped and heaved their massive trunks high.
“Good lord!” Anthony barked. He nearly missed it in the brush, five meters down the path; a flash of movement that melted within the shadows. “It’s here Dorjin! By god, it’s here! Tell them men to ready rifles—” His ordered was bludgeoned by the cry of a man falling from his perch. An elephant stumbled and fell over, as another barreled it over. “Bloody hell!” He saw out of the corner of his eye, Dorjin leap off his animal and dive off into the thicket.
“It is the trees! The canopy!” Dorjin howled. A rifle burst off. The elephants bellowed and thundered.
Anthony armed his rifle and turned it to his left, and then the right. He jolted backwards into his back brace as his animal reared upwards. Anthony cursed the elephant colorfully, and latched his arm over the front bar. His gaze turned up past the tusks of the panicked titan as something descended, right on top of him. Anthony wrenched forth the rifle, the chamber burst hot against his cheek. He and the beast tumbled from the saddle of the elephant and hit the jungle turf.
Conscious winked out briefly.
Anthony knows it’s briefly by the sole fact he can hear the muffled wailing of the elephants, and the frantic shouts of his hunting party, faintly. He knows he is beyond hope; he’s aware enough to judge the distance from his companions. He is hauled swiftly through the pulpy undergrowth, the swift rustling churni8ng through his ears, and head knocking against crumbling logs and stiff shrubbery. Large paws churn the soil beneath his head.
Agony pulsed through Anthony’s shoulder; the jaws of his killer locked in his bone and tendons, saw through tender tissue. He sways into delirium, unable to contend with the misery, his inevitable fate. The beast runs and runs. And runs. It bounds through the thicket with ease despite the weight snagging every nick and tuft. It never tired.
But Anthony did. He dove into exhaustion, with nothing to occupy his mind but distressing black shadows and the grunting breath wedged in his neck. When next Anthony is fully conscious, the light that once coated the earth was diminishing in shades of blue and purple; the trumpet of the elephants – the last he had heard of his hunting party – was completely absent. The beast traveled for miles, for hours without cease.
Anthony’s chest tingled with numbness, his coat soaked and chilled through. But at last the trotting of the beast began to slow. It tugged Anthony’s body between a narrow wedge of moss coated boulders and wrestled him between two saplings. Anthony stiffened and prepared to give one final fight, once the predator dislodged its jaws.
But the predator did not release him. It leveraged Anthony against the leaf bed with its teeth, and pressed a paw to Anthony’s lower back. Anthony squealed like a newborn as the jagged teeth strained and twisted his shoulder joint, but failed to rip through flesh. It pulled and gnawed until Anthony saw splatters of black in his vision. It hit him. Rather than kill him, the beast sought to amputate his arm at the shoulder.
Anthony scrabbled at the dirt with his free arm, tearing up chunks of humus and rotted leaves. He threw the projectiles around and swatted at the muscle tensed shoulder behind his head; nothing dissuaded the savage, single-minded mission. It shook fiercely, finally dislodging teeth from Anthony’s shoulder and flipping the man sideways. Anthony willed both arms up and grappled with the muzzle— a spike of terror pierced his spine.
The massive canines clamped over his chest – the act itself terrifying – and compressed. A paw bore into Anthony’s collar, and the teeth grated on his ribs. Anthony pummeled his fists across the mutilated muzzled, snatching for handholds, a weak spot – his last mission seconds before undisputed death, would be to die fighting this nightmare.
But the anticipated butchery failed to initiate; the single-minded murder ceased instantly. The beast froze, in a trance if Anthony was one to guess. He didn’t dare move, his fisted hands locked onto the boney arch that ran beneath the hollowed, dry eye sockets. Light flickered within those deep pits; like the flame of a fire on a distant shore. After a long minute, Anthony stole back a frail breath, and fought past the wave of torment lumped in his ribs.
The jaws unlocked easily and dumped Anthony between its paws. It brought its teeth close to Anthony’s chest and tilted its head. It took many long seconds of gawking and confusion, before he realized the monstrosity was… sniffing him. It lacked the fleshy nub on its snout tip; instead, it sported a ragged ribbon of bone and tissue.
Teeth hovered at Anthony’s chest, and nudged his coat. Then, the canines moved to Anthony’s chin. It began licking his throat and lapping at the stiff collar fastened to Anthony’s coat. Anthony shuddered, and raised his good hand to his throat. He anticipated abrupt decapitation or more throttling by teeth, but the creature continued massaging his brutalized neck.
“Parfum est familières.” The voice stumped Anthony. He was certain it came from the creature; it reared its teeth back and cocked its head, again staring at his chest. Before Anthony could muster a thought, he whimpered out:
The creature lifted its eye sockets and looked Anthony in the eye. A frightening intelligence burned back. There was something else, as well. Something deep and primal, and starved.
It pawed at Anthony’s coat lapel, dug at his shirt and gnawed through the pockets. Anthony fought to minimize his breathing. Finally, the beast produced the source of its fascination. The tobacco bag. It used Anthony’s chest as a surface, which allowed it to snap the cloth pouch open.
“Qu'est-ce que c'est. Qu'est-ce que l'odorat.”
The voice kept muttering, over and over – Qu'est-ce que and Qu'est-ce que. It took Anthony an embarrassing long time to come upon the conclusion – it was asking questions. He recognized its language, but was completely baffled.
“I don’t… understand. I don’t—”
The creature ceased pawing and ‘sniffing,’ and reared its head back. Its gaze delved off into the distance; Anthony couldn’t discern what it would be looking at, or whatever it may have heard in the looming dark. After what seemed hours, it returned its attention to Anthony and watched him for a while longer; its claws pressed firmly into his chest. Anthony gazed back at the monstrosity, looked into its blazing eyes. It was beneath Anthony to grovel, but he was staring death in the eye and he was at a disadvantage with no firearm to occupy his hands.
Without hesitation the creature stooped down and sank its teeth into Anthony’s wrist – very nearly cleaved through his throat beneath the hand with a single bite. It took the entirety of Anthony’s arm into its jaws and shook with such force it nearly ripped his arm from its socket; it succeeded in snapping the joint with a white flash and Crack!
But like that it released him. Dropped Anthony and walked around his stiffened body; Anthony lay groaning.
It was night already, and the creature weaved through ripples of moonlight and faded deeper and deeper into the jungle undergrowth. Anthony rolled over onto his side and watched the quiet deep for hours, half expecting the monster to saunter back and finish him off. It never returned for him. But the sounds of the jungle eventually returned, in gradual steps with the insects trilling, then the wanderings of lesser creatures; the cries of small animals seeking mates, or fighting for territory. Or food. At one point a prowling predator ventured from the deep; Anthony held his breath, believing that it was the returning creature. However, upon loose inspection of this newcomer, realized the shape of this beast was less impressive than his killer.
There had been so little light to see by when the monster wandered off, but he had witnessed enough of its silken outline to discern that it was nothing previously discovered by mortal men. It was a monstrous predator in a repulsive form.
The jaguar came closer, undoubtedly attracted by the saturation of blood in Anthony’s clothing. But it stopped and stared with its gray eyes glinting in the night. The jaguar spun away and ran, as if a pack of dogs was wailing after it. Anthony wished he could flee with it.
By some miracle, Anthony awoke the next morning. His body was badly damaged, but his legs were able to carry him. He stumbled through miles of jungle terrain, living on nothing but random berries and fruits, small insects – he was a survivor after all. He managed to make it to a small dilapidated village torn apart by war, where the natives took him in a cleaned his wounds. They did the best they could without a practiced doctor of modern medicine, and arranged for his safe passage to a Fort that could do more with him. For their efforts in aiding Anthony’s safe return, the villagers were given foreign goods and tools, which was valued above gold.
Anthony suffered no traumatic infections, but his mangled arm was beyond hope and subsequently amputated anyway. After making a full recovery, he booked passage back to the Americas. He debated writing about his encounter and publishing it in the papers, but decided against this action. It was one thing to romanticize war and the hunt, but what Anthony experienced was not a hunt; what Anthony rationalized his experience as, was the cold and clinical nature of predation. He was far outclassed by his intended trophy, and his survival was hinged on some random fluke. No other came forward and described the same beast they survived an encounter with, there were no other survivors. There would be no others, for as long as it stalked those jungles. Expanding on his experience would only encourage others to seek out the unkillable, for glory, for fame, for riches. There would be mounting victims.
For years thereafter Anthony wondered about his mangled arm, and eventually rationalized its damage was intended to ruin him from further hunting expeditions. Even without his rifle arm, Anthony may have been enticed by the thrill to continue his adventures, and overcome his handicap. However, this was not the case following his encounter with the strange creature, which should have killed him. He still smoked, and always made certain to carry a pouch of tobacco infused with lavender.
- Characters and content © 2017 Tempus Willow.