Friday, October 31, 2008

The Monkey Skin Cloak

This story was originally published in the Tattered Souls anthology (Cutting Block Press). It was inspired by several true accounts recorded in Peter Capstick's books about big game hunting in Africa. It is a period piece, set during an African safari in the early 1920s, so the language and attitudes (including racist and sexist attitudes) fit the era in which the story is told. However, it contains graphic descriptions of sex, rape and bestiality, and plenty of violence, blood, cannibalism, monstrous hermaphrodism, lycanthropism, and a generous bouquet of brains. So turn down the lights, curl up with a glass of Ripple, and enjoy...

She stood suddenly in the flare of our headlamps, eyes bulging in the dark oval of her dark face. Ndaro stood on the brakes, but she vanished with a surprised thud. The lorry slid to a teetering stop, throwing us back in our seats. The dust of our passage caught up to us, swirled briefly in a tawny cloud in the headlamps, then disappeared into the tall grass beside the road to Nairobi.
Our guide, Doc (Dr. Hugh Palmer), barked a question in Swahili to Ndaro. The old native shook his frosty head violently.

“Did we hit something?” Stanci asked, blinking sleepily as she sat up beside me. Doc leaped from the lorry, already running, stopping only to grab his .577 Westley Richards Double Express from the back of the lorry.

“A woman,” I said on my way out the door.

I found Doc forty yards down the road, kneeling over something in the dust. He pointed his rifle at the native woman’s prone body as though pointing with a stick at a dead snake. Moonlight reflected softly on her small breasts and the marble-smooth, bone-angular flesh of her exposed hips. A cloak of verdant monkey skins spread beneath her otherwise naked body, as composed as though she’d been laid out by an undertaker. A few anklets and bracelets of coiled copper wire and gaudy beads completed her costume.

“Dead,” he snarled as he stood. He slapped the dust from his trousers in disgust, then pushed the rifle and a pair of cigar-long cartridges into my hands. “Ndaro! Shadow!” he shouted to his gun bearer and tracker as he stomped away. Stanci stumbled past him, pushing her hair back from her face.

“Did you say we hit a woman?” she asked. I pointed with Doc’s big gun at the upturned, finely-boned face of the dead woman lying at my feet. Stanci paused, her breath catching, then eased around and slid up beside me, hooking her hand behind my left arm.

“What happened?” she whispered.

“That’s what I’d bloody well like to know,” Doc bellowed as his two servants approached. The old gun bearer, Ndaro, glared in horror at the woman lying in our dusty tracks, but Shadow, Doc’s tracker, only blinked at her for a moment before turning his inscrutable gaze to the night-dark bush lining the road.

“What happened? Did you fall asleep?” Doc demanded.

“No, Bwana,” the old native answered.

“Don’t lie to me!” Doc snarled.

“He’s telling the truth,” I said. “I saw the whole thing. There was no time to stop.” Ndaro nodded in agreement.

But there was something else, something I didn’t mention because I wasn’t exactly sure what I had seen. I had been half asleep myself, with a warm bottle of German beer between my knees and Stanci’s head resting on my thigh. But in that glaring instant before the woman went bump, I thought I saw a shadow dart almost from under the lorry and vanish into the tall grass beside the road.

“Why the devil was she walking down the middle of the road in the dead of night?” Doc shouted at no one in particular. “Couldn’t she hear us coming? Why didn’t she get out of the way?”

“Was she alone?” Stanci asked. Ndaro glanced quickly at her, and I knew then that he had seen the same thing as I. Stanci continued, “Aren’t there any villages near here?”

“There’s not another village for twenty miles,” Doc said.

“Maybe she was drunk,” I said.

“How bloody drunk do you have to be not to get out of the bloody road?” Doc roared.

Shadow said something in Swahili that made Doc cut short with a startled snort, and Ndaro laughed aloud, turning away in embarrassment, hands waving above his head.

“What did he say?” I asked.

Doc looked at Stanci and turned red. “I’d rather not say, if it’s all the same to you. These bloody savages...”

“Go on, old man. I’m older than I look, and I was raised with three brothers,” Stanci laughed. “No need to watch your language around me.”

“I’d rather not,” Doc repeated, shading a deeper, ruddier red, though he could not suppress an embarrassed guffaw. “Stinking bloody savages.”

Stanci pushed my elbow to move the muzzle of Doc’s big rifle out of the dead woman’s face. Kneeling beside the body, she sighed. “Look at her. She looks like a queen of Egypt.”

“She is a queen, Msabu,” Ndaro said softly. The old Kikuyu had a fear of dead bodies and looked terrified that Stanci might touch this one.

“Do you know her, Ndaro?” Stanci asked.

“No, Msabu,” the old man denied.

“Is she Masai?” I asked.

“She looks Somali to me,” Doc said. “Probably a prostitute, or some white bwana’s girl. It’s a long way from Nairobi, and the local savages couldn’t afford a girl like that, not even the chiefs. This little accident will cost me dearly, mark my words.”

A lone male lion suddenly coughed and groaned, miles away probably, but sounding damned close in the dark. I quickly chambered the two cartridges into Doc’s Westley Richards and passed the gun to him. He snapped the breach shut, while Shadow’s head swiveled round like a small ebony melon on the skinny pole of his neck, scanning the darkness. His earlobes hung in two loops almost to his shoulders, and he leaned on a long spear as he scratched the back of one leg with the other foot. A dark, oily cloth hung from a knot tied over one shoulder, revealing every muscle and sinew of his narrow chest and long, powerful arms. He was a remarkable individual, silent and savage, inscrutable as the dark continent itself. Not so long ago, he and his kin probably would have speared to death any white man who dared to cross these lands.

“What are we going to do with her?” Stanci asked.

“Leave her,” Ndaro said without hesitation.

“We can’t just leave her here, not with lions prowling about,” Stanci protested.

“And hyenas,” I added as a chorus of howls and whoops broke out behind us.

“Leave her with an offering of beer to appease her spirit,” Ndaro said.

“That’s how the natives handle these sorts of things around here,” Doc said noncommittally. We were all too aware that if the dead woman’s body were to succumb to Africa’s scavengers, it might save Doc a world of trouble with the authorities in Nairobi.

“It’s horrid. I won’t hear of it,” Stanci said. “You men pick her up. We have to do something with her. We can’t just leave her lying in the road. We should try to return her to her people.”

Ndaro refused to touch the body, and Doc didn’t press the matter, familiar as he was with the old Kikuyu’s superstitions. He passed the Westley Richards to Shadow and motioned me toward the woman’s legs while he knelt by her head. I bent and grasped the slim, narrow ankles. Grunting together, we lifted her between us, only to find her surprisingly light, no heavier than a child. What was more, her flesh had already grown cold, though it remained as supple as though still alive.

Stanci picked up the woman’s monkey skin cloak and followed Ndaro to the lorry, while Shadow walked behind us, watching the darkness, the big double-barreled rifle slung over one shoulder and his long spear clutched at the ready.

“What was it Shadow said back there that was so funny?” I asked Doc when Stanci was out of earshot.

“Nothing. Don’t worry about it. Just savages being savages,” Doc said.

“Come on now, old man. Stanci won’t hear,” I said.

“All right, Mr. Curious. Shadow said that before she stood up, this woman was making love to a hyena,” Doc scowled.

“That’s not what he said,” I said, smiling. “My KiSwaheli’s not so good, but I know all the curse words. He never said that.”

“Have it your way, old boy,” Doc shrugged. “He saw her fellating a hyena in the road. Does that make you any happier?”

Strangely, the image this conjured up failed to fill me with revulsion. More like curiosity, especially after what I had seen or thought I had seen darting away moments before we ran her down. I thought about telling Doc about it, but he seemed quite put off by the whole subject, and I didn’t want him to think I was crazy. Our safari was nearly over. In two weeks, we’d be aboard the steamship for America.

Doc walked backward, holding the dead woman beneath the shoulders, so that her eyes, frozen open in death but not yet glazed, stared straight at me with an almost knowing smile frozen on her face.

“Aren’t hyena hermaphrodites?” I asked.

“That’s a nice thing to talk about,” Doc said.

“Well, I heard...”

“From who?”


Doc began to laugh. Stanci leaned out the open door of the lorry, a freshly-opened bottle of German beer foaming over her knuckles. “What’s so funny?” she asked.

“Ndaro’s been filling your old man’s head with stories of bloody Africa,” Doc answered, still laughing.

She looked at the bottle in her hands. “Ndaro says we should offer this beer to appease her spirit,” she said with just a touch of embarrassment.

“He’s been at you with his stories as well, eh? Save the beer for your old man.” Doc laughed as he nodded to me. “Let’s toss her on the roof with the trophies. It’s a couple of hours to our camp yet, and I’m none too willing to share a bench all that way with this fine lady, even if she is a queen.”

Together, Doc and I lifted the woman onto the lorry’s roof rack and laid her out beside the heads of the two buffalo we’d shot that afternoon. I dropped to the ground beside Stanci and took the open beer from her. We stared up at the figure lying on our roof, the dead woman’s proud, almost Semitic nose profiled against the stars. “Hadn’t you better tie her down?” Stanci asked.

“Don’t worry about her,” Doc answered as he climbed into the lorry beside Ndaro. The Kikuyu driver sat at the wheel once more, his face strangely passive. I noticed beads of sweat clinging to his balding pate. Doc laid the Express across his lap and propped his boots on the dash. “Let’s get going. It’ll be midnight before we get back to camp as it is.” I’d never known Doc to travel in a lorry with a loaded gun, but I decided not to say anything for fear of worrying my wife.

Stanci climbed into the back seat, still clutching the dead woman’s mantle of green monkey skins. “Throw that rag out,” I said as I slid in beside her. “It’s full of lice.”

“It isn’t!” she protested. “It’s clean. It doesn’t even smell. I’m keeping it. If we can’t find her village, we’ll bury her in it.”

“We don’t have time to look for her village,” I said.

Ndaro fired the engine and we lurched away, wheels spinning up the dust.

The night grew cold. During the day, the heat beat down on you like hammer, but at night it often became cold enough to see your breath. I sipped the beer as we drove through the dust, watching over Ndaro’s shoulder as the long tawny ribbon of the flint-dusty road uncoiled into the darkness before us. It was easy enough to forget that a dead woman lay above my head, with the hypnotic hiss of the wheels cleaving through the dust putting us all half to sleep. Doc’s 1919 Ford lorry ran like silk, the engine a barely-heard purr; he kept it in immaculate condition because he didn’t like to scare away game with the noise of motors. He was a fine hunter and safari guide, and he kept as good a camp as anyone could want. He rarely mistreated his servants, except when something had gone wrong, like tonight, and he always apologized later and made it up to them. They were loyal and trustworthy because of this; Ndaro had been with Doc for six seasons now, but Shadow had been his tracker for nearly fifteen years. The cook was considered one of the finest camp cooks in all of British East Africa. Doc set a magnificent table and provided the best wine, scotch, beer and cigars that could be had in that country.

We had gone a long way this day in search of buff, the last of the big five game animals on our license, and this was the last hunting day of our safari. Doc hadn’t liked the size of the buffalo in the country around our camp, but it was otherwise a fine spot for hunting all the best game in Africa – lion, elephant, most of the more interesting antelope, leopard, even rhino, though they were sometimes difficult to find, unless you didn’t want to find them.

Now, the drive back to our last night in base camp had been ruined by this accident, this killing of the queen of Egypt in the green monkey skin cloak who fellated hyena in the dark in the middle of the road. All the joy of the day’s hunt had drained out of me with her death, and the beer was doing nothing to replace it. It tasted like tin in my mouth. I was too tired and hungry to feel it.

With only half the beer finished, I’d had enough. As I turned to pass the bottle back to Shadow, I saw something moving through the grass beside the road, just outside the light of our headlamps. I motioned for the electric torch. Shadow passed it up and I flicked it on, shining the beam out into the night. And in that flickering instant when the circle of light struck the racing grass, I saw a huge, hunched shape with a tawny, spotted hide galloping beside the lorry, keeping up with its speed, and less than five yards from the door. Then it was gone, angling off into the moonlit grassy plain, a titter of demonic laughter following it out of sight and hearing.

“That was a hyena!” I shouted.

“What’s that?” Doc asked, turning round in the seat.

“A hyena – biggest one I ever saw. It was running beside us.”

“Away from us, you mean. Probably we surprised him over his dinner by the road.”

I thought about this for a moment, realizing how much more sense it made than my own brief impression – that it was following us. “You’re probably right,” I said at last.

“Of course I am,” he said with a smile. He looked at my wife beside me. “Poor old Memsahib.”

I looked at her. She had fallen asleep again, the monkey skin tucked up under her chin. Her hair hung in strands of spun copper over her eyes, stirred occasionally by the dusty wind swirling through the open lorry. Her face, though ruddy and freckled from a month of African sun, still held something of its otherworldly porcelain beauty. Her lashes long and full rested upon her cheeks. Her lips, pale pink and moist, were parted, revealing the pearl tips of her teeth in the small, satisfied smile I knew and loved so well.

“Poor old Memsahib,” I agreed.


The whole camp turned out in celebration as we rolled off the road and into the short-cropped grass beneath the trees. Ndaro cut the engine and we glided to a stop on the soft, springy turf. They had kept a bright fire burning for our return, and we found the table set and hot baths ready. We climbed out of the lorry, stiff from the trip and the cold. Doc unloaded his gun and handed it to Ndaro, who glanced briefly at the roof of the lorry before disappearing among the shadows of the tents. Doc and I climbed up before the other servants reached us, to keep them from seeing the dead woman among the trophies. Stanci stood below us and refused to give up the green monkey skin cloak, clutching it tightly about her chin.

But we found the rack empty. The meat and trophies were still there, tied down in their bundles and matted with road dust. But the woman was gone. Doc looked at me and shrugged.

“She must have bounced off,” he said. “Ndaro!”

“He’s gone already,” I said.

“I told you to tie her down!” Stanci barked, stomping her foot. “Now we have to go back and look for her!”

“How far back do you think we should look, Mrs. Jackson?” Doc asked. “Ten miles? Twenty? We won’t find her, not with the hyena the way they have been around here since the war.”

“And don’t forget the lions and leopards,” I added. “Like as not, she’ll be long gone before we can turn around.”

“It’s a disgrace!” Stanci said. “Hugh, I think you did that on purpose.”

“Did what?” Doc asked innocently.

With a disgusted huff, she spun and stalked off to the tents, the monkey skin cloak billowing behind her. As she stormed through the press of servants, they glanced in wonder at her odd garment, before continuing on to help us unload the lorry.

Doc drew a sheath knife from his belt and began cutting through the cords holding our buffalo trophies. “Well, at least now I won’t have to pay some bloody bastard for killing his whore,” he said with a wink.

“Remind me never to invest money with you,” I said. “But what about Ndaro and Shadow? Aren’t you afraid they’ll talk, raise a fuss with the authorities in Nairobi?”

He grunted, lifted a head and passed it down to the waiting servants. “There’s no need to worry about Shadow. He’s still bloody African. Ndaro won’t talk for fear that someone will make him pay blood money for the woman. After all, he was driving, and it makes no difference to these bastards who is responsible, just so long as someone pays them their damned blood money.”

The servants crowded around the lorry now. I passed down a bundle of impala meat while Doc lifted the other buff trophy and swung it over the side, grunting and swearing at its weight.

“By the way, old man,” he said as he sat back on his heels. “It goes without saying, but I’d appreciate your not talking to anyone about what happened.”

“Sure, Doc,” I said, a little taken aback.

“I wouldn’t ask, but for the little Memsahib’s outraged sense of justice,” he explained.

“I understand,” I said. “I’ll talk to her. She’ll come around.”

“Thanks,” Doc said with genuine affection. He clapped his huge, scarred hand on my shoulder. “I wouldn’t ask otherwise. It just isn’t done, you know. But she seemed so put out by us bastards tonight.”

“I’ll talk to her, smooth things over. She’ll understand,” I said as I climbed down.

“Thanks, Yank,” he said as he scrubbed his palm across his lips and glanced worriedly at the darkness beyond our campfires.


She didn’t understand, of course, but after the first bottle of wine, Stanci seemed not to care so much. She finished her glass while still soaking in the canvas bath tub. I sat on a trunk beside the tub and polished off the bottle while she scrubbed. Then we changed places. She dressed while I bathed, then left me alone in the tent to dress while she hunted up another bottle.

The bath helped to wake me up and put a keen edge to my hunger, so that when I stepped out of our tent, the sight of the table laid for supper started the juices rushing into my mouth. There sat Doc, swirling a cup of the giant killer between his broad, scarred hands. Stanci stood across the table from him pouring herself a sundowner while a boy waited with water for mixing.

Before Doc stood a man in an oily leather toga, promising an interruption to our dinner. He was a local chieftain of some sort from one of the villages beyond the river, leaning on a stick decorated with bones and tufts of fur from God knows what animal. But he had a noble round skull on his bony neck and a voice that spoke with authority. As I approached, he was complaining to Doc at length in a language I couldn’t understand.

Doc did me the favor of translating without my even asking. “This fellow is a hetman of the local village,” he said while he passed me a tumbler of the giant killer. “He wants us to shoot some hippo meat for them tomorrow. He says they haven’t any meat and they prefer hippo.”

“Will we have time?” I asked, gratefully accepting a glass of scotch from Stanci. “When do you plan to break camp and pull out for Nairobi?”

“We won’t leave until the afternoon,” Doc answered. “If you want, we can pop down by the river after breakfast and see what’s swimming about.”

Stanci edged around the table and sank into a canvas-backed chair, sighing contentedly. The old witch doctor started and glared at her. She nestled down with her glass and propped her mosquito boots on the table. The witch doctor turned and began a new tirade, his voice shrieking to the heavens. For a moment, I wondered what the old fellow was going on about, shaking his stick and rattling his bones, but then I noticed him eyeing the monkey skin cloak wrapped around Stanci’s shoulders.

“Constance, why don’t you throw that thing away?” I asked as the old chieftain continued his dissertation. Doc nodded diplomatically the whole time. “It’s upsetting the native for some reason. Take it off, why don’t you?”

“It’s warm,” she said sullenly.

“It’s hideous,” I said. “We have blankets, if you’re cold.”

“What’s the matter with you? This is an authentic piece of Africa, as authentic as you can get. I think it’s beautiful,” she said, rising from her chair. She struck a regal pose, clutching the tattered edges of the cloak to her breast. “Don’t you think I look like an African queen?” she asked.

The old native paused and glared open mouthed, eyes nearly popping from his brown skull. One quivering hand reached out and touched Doc’s knee. The witch doctor bent close and whispered fiercely into Doc’s ear.

“You’re likely to catch an authentic African disease,” I said to Stanci. “Something you may not be able to cure.”

“Theo, you’re no fun,” she muttered sullenly as she sank into her chair. “You ought to try to live a little. Don’t be so cautious. Just for once, try to let a little adventure into our lives.”

“Adventure?” I exclaimed. “You’re the one who didn’t want to come to Africa. I practically had to drag you onto the boat.”

“So I was wrong. I love Africa now,” she said. “Did you want me to hate it?”

The old witch doctor grew louder and shook his stick at Doc. “What is he saying?” I asked.

“I’m not sure,” Doc answered. “It’s something about trouble with a pack of local hyena, but I’m not sure what it’s all about. I think he wants us to kill some hyena that have been sneaking into their village at night and carrying off children and drunks.”

“That means I’m safe,” Stanci laughed. “But you and Theo had better watch yourselves.”

Doc smiled at her. “That’s a good one. Have another and you’ll feel better.”

“I feel fine. I’m in fine spirits, thank you very much” she said.

“Who do you think is the child and who is the drunk?” Doc asked me.

“Both of you,” Stanci answered. “You’re both children and you’re both drunks, but I love you both. Hopefully soon.”

“She’s tight,” Doc said. He turned to Stanci. “Mrs. Jackson, I believe you are tight.”

“Quite,” she said with a smile. “Good of you to notice, Hugh. Ask me again later.”

The witch doctor shouted something and shook his stick.

“What did that bastard say?” Stanci asked. She seemed more put out than either of us by the witch doctor’s presence. She pouted prettily, but she seemed to be avoiding looking at the old man.

Doc frowned at her. “He wants to use his magic on our bullets,” he said. “He says our bullets are no good without his magic.”

“Tell him we’ll shoot his hippo without his help,” I said, more perturbed with Stanci that I was with the witch doctor. I’d seen her drunk before, but she had always been a nice drunk – a little tipsy and she was ready for the pillow. But then again, I’d never seen her drink scotch, and she was already pouring herself a second. And that on top of half a bottle of wine back in the tent, during our baths.

“It isn’t the hippo he’s worried about,” Doc said. “It’s Fisi, the hyena. He thinks our bullets are no good against him.”

“Has he seen those buff we shot? Has he seen our lion skins?” I asked. “What does he really want, Doc? What do you suppose is his game?”

Doc asked him diplomatically, and the old man answered. “He wants one cartridge from each of our big guns. Probably for the gunpowder to mix in his potions.”

This surprised me, as I thought he was only after baksheesh. Feeling more generous, I said, “Is that all? Tell Ndaro to give him one from my .375, unless he wants Msabu’s Winchester as well.”

“He says Msabu’s Winchester is our little gun and his magic can’t help it,” Doc said. The old man nodded as though he understood and agreed.

“Go on and give him what he wants,” I said, “so we can eat our supper in peace. I’m starving.”

Doc summoned Ndaro out of the shadows between the tents. The old gun bearer appeared, eyes wide in awe as he gazed at the wizened old chieftain. Doc told him what was wanted and Ndaro hurried off to fulfill the order. With a trembling hand and bowed head, he offered the bullets to the old man – one of my .375’s and one of Doc’s big No.2 Nitros. The witch doctor took them in his bony claw and stalked off into the African night, sticks and bones a-rattle. Ndaro watched him go, obviously shaken by his visit.

Read Part 2

The Monkey Skin Cloak Pt. 2

With the old man gone, we pulled our seats up to the table and the servants gathered around to fill glasses and carve meat. As it was so late, Esa the cook hadn’t prepared a full meal. Instead, they had roasted meat from the day’s kill over the bright fire burning at the center of our camp. Esa served up roasted buffalo tenderloin carved into thick steaks that smoked in the chill night air, and slices of spicy Impala heart and kidneys cooked on forks held close to the fire’s embers. Hunks of brown bread and white cheese, and deep goblets of red Italian wine, completed the fare.

Doc, as usual, doled out the delicacies, splitting the kidneys between us while Esa heaped Stanci’s plate with tenderloin. He then reached for the heart. Stanci held up her plate, smiling at him.

“Do you want some of this?” Doc asked, eyebrows wrinkling his pink forehead in surprise.


“You never liked the sweetbreads before,” Doc said.

“I want to try them. That’s the heart, right? I’d like to try some before I leave Africa.” She seemed sober enough now. The firelight twinkled in her bright green eyes.

Doc forked a slice of Impala heart onto her plate. She settled back with a smile and picked up her fork and knife. She cut a piece and put it in her mouth, testing it, rolling it around her teeth before chewing. She smiled. “It’s good,” she said as she set to the meat and devoured it lustily.

Doc looked at me for a moment, then tucked in, knife sawing and fork clicking, while servants filled and refilled our goblets and the pile of hot smoking meat gradually diminished. Eventually, Doc sat back, tugging at his belt with a sigh. I had already finished, and he joined me in watching Stanci scrub her plate with a hunk of bread. She popped this into her mouth, then looked round the table for more while she chewed. She frowned when she saw there was nothing else to eat.
“Still hungry?” Doc asked her.

“No, I’m finished,” she answered with some disappointment. Doc nodded and the native servants quickly cleared the table. They brought Doc’s whiskey, two tumblers, and a box of cigars. Esa stood by with a flaming brand from the fire to light us up. Doc poured the first round, mixing the whiskey with water from a canteen. Then Stanci pushed her glass across the table to him and he filled hers as well, although I noticed he mixed hers with more water and less whiskey. I chose a cigar and lit it from Esa’s stick. He then lit Doc’s cigar. Stanci leaned back in her chair, wrapped in her monkey skin cloak, and watched us smoke.

“This is lovely,” she said. “Why is that you never truly appreciate a place until you are about to leave it?”

“One of the mysteries of life,” Doc sighed.

“We’ve had a wonderful time, Doc,” I said.

Stanci smiled prettily. “The night’s still young,” she said.

Doc yawned, stretching like a bear. “I hated to take you so far away from camp to get your buff, but there weren’t any around here worth shooting,” he said.

“It was fine. We got to see some of the country,” I said.

“And kill a native,” Stanci added with eyes twinkling in the firelight.

Doc frowned at me. “Still, the trip’s used up your last day here. Tomorrow you start for the coast. The lorry from Nairobi will be here in the afternoon.”

“We had a good time, didn’t we Stanci?” I asked.

“We most certainly did,” she answered, beaming happily over the rim of her scotch. “Africa is a marvelous place. I find that I have no desire to leave. I could live here forever, just like this, out in the bush under the stars with the lions and the hyenas and everything. So long as there is plenty of Hugh’s excellent scotch and Esa is doing the cooking. Is that why you stayed here, Hugh?”

“It was more the poor quality of the ivory hunting back in Blighty,” Doc answered. “But this place does get into your blood.”

“We didn’t see any snakes,” I said.

“Wrong time of year,” Doc answered with a nod.

“It isn’t at all like in the books. I half-expected to find that lions lived exclusively on hunters and their hapless wives, and that every elephant you came across had it in for white people. But the only real danger seems to be walking on the road at night,” Stanci said, still smiling charmingly.

“Mrs. Jackson is one of our bright comedic stars,” I said to Doc.

“She ought to write a book,” he replied bitterly.

“Oh, I intend to,” she said. “It will be a marvelous tale of murder and intrigue. I’ll call it, 'The Sleepy Driver and the Loose Rope.' Of course, I’ll have to use a pseudonym. And it’ll have to be a man’s name. But I’ll be sure not to use your real name, Hugh.”

Doc looked at me, his face splotchy red. “There’s no need for you two to be up for the hippo hunt. It’s a messy business, no real sport. Butchery, really.”

“Oh, butchery! I’d love to see some butchery, provided it’s done properly this time,” Stanci said with a fierce smile. Her teeth gleamed unusually red in the firelight.

“But it’s late, so I’d better be going on to bed,” Doc finished.

“That’s a wonderful idea,” Stanci said. “Why don’t we all just go to bed?”

“You two can stay up and enjoy your last night in camp, if you like,” Doc said, ignoring her. He stood and tucked his shirt into his pants.

“Well, good night then,” I said, rising. We shook hands vigorously. “Thanks. We’ve had a fine time.”

“And we’ll have fine times still,” Stanci said, laughing. “See you in a little while, Hugh. Wait up for me, darling.”

“In the morning,” he replied. “See you in the morning.” Without looking at her, he walked across the open, lighted area and ducked through the flap of his tent. A few moments later, the paraffin lamp inside his tent flickered and went out.

I turned to Stanci. She had risen from her seat and stood wrapped in her monkey skins, fingering the box of cigars still sitting on the table. “What was that all about?” I asked angrily.

“Nothing,” she said. “Just a little teasing. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings by not seeming interested in all the amenities offered by the Great White Hunter.”

“What’s got into you, Constance?”

“Nothing!” she protested. “Don’t worry your pretty head about me. I’m fine.” She flipped open the cigar box and removed a cigar. She held it up to her nose and sniffed.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I thought I might try one. Last night in Africa, you know,” she said.

“You hate cigar smoke,” I said.

“It’s different when you’re the one doing the smoking,” she said as she eased around the table and stood beside my chair. She rested one hand on my shoulder, letting the tips of her fingers brush lightly across my ear. “That’s what you always tell me, darling. Besides, I wanted to dip it in my scotch, like old Doc does. Make room.”

“Room for what?”

“So I can sit.”

I scooted my chair back from the table and she settled herself in my lap, wrapping one arm around my neck, and crossing her legs. The green monkey skin cloak fell aside, revealing her pale white thigh, bare to the hip.

“Jesus Christ, Constance!” I exclaimed, glaring around at the camp to make sure the servants weren’t watching. Thankfully, we were alone. “Haven’t you had any clothes on this entire time?”

She smiled and bit the tip of her cigar. “Is this how you do it?” she asked.

“What’s the matter with you?”

“It’s only a cigar, Theo,” she said, the smile fading momentarily from her lips. Then she brightened again. “Let me light mine from yours.”

She took my cigar and held its burning end up to her unlit one. Gently, as though she had done this many times, she drew at her cigar, her cheeks drawing inward, eyelids drooping. The flame gradually caught, white smoke escaped from her lips, and she smiled and returned my cigar as she puffed contentedly at her own.

“A cigar is a fine thing,” she said at last, holding it at arms length to examine it. “I should have tried them before now. I should have done lots of things before now.”

“Like what?” I asked.

“We’ll have to come back next season, Theo. I’d like to hunt something next time, too, not just spend my time sitting around congratulating you chaps on your bravery. It must be marvelous to be a killer. I want to kill something big and marvelously dangerous.”

“You hunted,” I said. “You shot nearly every day.”

“Francolin and guinea fowl don’t count, dear. I’m talking about big game. I want to shoot a lion. Not elephant, because that’s just butchery. But a big shaggy-maned lion would be a grand thing to kill.”

“We’ll see,” I said. “It’s late. We should go to bed so we can get an early start tomorrow. I think I’d like to go with Doc on that hippo hunt.”

“And we must be sure to hire Doc when we come back. It wouldn’t be the same without Doc around, and lean beautiful Shadow, and old Ndaro. Funny old Ndaro.” She looked down at me, her green eyes glistening in the firelight. “What did Shadow say?”

“About what?”

“Back on the road. You asked Doc, didn’t you? What did Shadow say that made them all laugh?”

“It’s not something to talk about,” I said.

“Oh come on, Theo. It’s bloody Africa. I want the full experience. Don’t hide anything from me.”

“Very well, then. You asked for this. I hope it makes you sick. Shadow said that, just before we ran her over, the woman had been doing with a hyena what your mother told you never to do with me,” I said.

“What do you mean?” Stanci asked coyly.

“You know very well what I mean,” I answered.

“You mean this?” she asked as she slid out of my lap and onto her knees. Tossing aside her cigar, she placed her hands on my thighs and spread my legs apart. “You mean that beautiful woman was doing this to a hyena?” she asked. Her fingers toyed with the buttons of my trousers.

“Yes,” I said, my voice catching. “That’s what Shadow says he saw.”

“And do you believe him?” she asked. Her fingers splayed out, sliding down the inside of my thighs and coming to rest on my knees once more.

“I saw it, too.” I answered.

“Did it excite you?” Stanci whispered.

“No!” I said.

“Did you think she was beautiful?” she asked.

“For a native, yes.”

“What do you mean ‘for a native’?” Stanci said, rising imperiously. “She was a queen! If she were here now, where I am, would you stop her?”

“I don’t know,” I answered, but the look in her green eyes drew the words out of me. I couldn’t stop myself. “No,” I said. “I wouldn’t stop her.”

Stanci laughed hugely, throwing back her head and laughing at the stars. I feared the natives would hear her and come out to look. Then, looking sharply down and smiling wantonly, she shrugged out of the monkey skin cloak and let it fall about her feet. She stood before me, naked and pale as a virgin. “And am I as beautiful as she?” she asked.

“Yes,” I answered. All thoughts of the natives vanished from my mind. I no longer cared if they watched, or if Doc watched. I wanted them to watch. I wanted them to see Stanci’s pale, elfin body in all its glory beneath the gloriously swollen African moon.

She dropped to her knees once more. “And will you stop me?” she panted.

“No,” I groaned.


I didn’t remember going to bed at all, but I woke with two very clear impressions. The first was that a hyena was near, for I heard the echo of its cry. The second was of Stanci stirring under the blankets of our two-man cot. I thought for a moment that the hyena had disturbed her, until she threw one arm across my back. Her bare leg slid across my legs until she was almost on top of me, with me lying face down beneath her. She nestled her chin on my shoulder and her hair fell down over my cheek. Outside, the fire had burned low, and there was a wet sharpness in the air that spoke of dawn. A couple of hyena chortled from the direction of the river, swiftly building into a chorus of madhouse giggling.

Stanci settled more of her weight onto my body, then she grabbed my wrists and pinned them above my head.

“What are you doing?” I asked wearily.

“My turn,” she growled into my ear, answering both questions.

Sighing, I tried to turn over. Despite just being awakened, the hunger I heard in her voice didn’t fail to arouse me. But she held me down, purring excitedly at my struggles. “What’s the matter, Theo?” she asked.

“Let me go so I can turn over,” I said. “We can’t do it this way.”

“Yes we can,” she whispered.


“Just relax.” Her voice had grown husky, guttural; her breath was hot and reeked with some unnamable odor. “This is something you should experience once in your lifetime, darling, just so you can know how it feels.”

“Constance, let me up. What are you doing?” I asked.

“Relax, darling,” she whispered. “Remember what you said to me that night in Springfield? It only... hurts... once...”

And then I felt it – a probing around my buttocks, a living thing seeking, pushing, finding. I convulsed, all the muscles of my body tightening as I fought to keep it out. I heard Constance sigh, yet it was not Constance. Her fingernails dug into the flesh of my wrists, but they were not her carefully manicured nails prone to breaking – they were hard as horn, stabbing, tearing. I pressed up, and her weight was like that of a dozen men. The blood pounded in my temples, my teeth ground together. I felt the thing press harder, more insistently, until it broke through the tightness and tore into me.

Crying out in pain, I twisted beneath her and fell back in the cot, ripping it out of me. She was surprised by my maneuver, but maintained her grip on my wrists. The move had nearly wrenched my arms from their sockets. For a moment, I looked into her face, and though it bore the outward physical features of the woman I had married, this was not my Constance. This was an animal. The dim firelight outside our tent shone in through the flap, kindling fires of animal lust in her green eyes. The smile that twisted her face was one of unquenchable hunger. I didn’t know her at all.

Doubling my legs to my chest, I thrust upward, flinging her off me. She crashed among the camp tables and trunks. In an instant, she was on her feet, glaring at me, and I rolled off the other side of the cot to put it between us. She was nude save for the cloak of monkey skins. Her lithe, pale body writhed lustfully as she crouched as though to spring at me. Her small pink nipples were tight and hard as acorns, her disheveled hair clung to her damp cheek, beads of sweat stood out on her chest and belly and thighs. But the firelight threw her shadow large and menacing against the inside of the tent, exaggerating the length of her arms and claw-like fingers and the size of her head.

And then she edged more fully into the light, revealing a huge, tumescent organ protruding from the fleshy lips of her labia. Its skin was crimson splashed with black, as big as the arm of a young girl. It looked like some alien root clutched between her thighs, only it was alive, throbbing, dribbling a thin strand of clear liquid.

With a bestial scream, she launched herself across the tent. I grabbed the cot and flung it in her face. A stream of insane gibberish spewed from her lips while she tried to claw through the cot. I shoved with all my strength, forcing her back. Screaming expletives and giggling hysterically, she tumbled over a trunk, and I pinned her to the sandy ground with the cot. She howled, writhing beneath me as she tried to claw her way free.

By that time, Doc had burst through the tent flap, a 12-guage double-barreled Greener held at the ready. Seeing me fighting for my life, he shouted, “What is it? Hyena?”

“It’s my wife!” I screamed back at him, just as she slithered out from under the cot. I retreated, but not before she was on her feet and at me again, clawing at my face and biting anything that came within reach of her snapping jaws. She sank her teeth into my ear, ripping off a sizable chunk. I howled in pain, ducking away from her as she shrieked with insane delight.

Doc stood in the tent flap, staring stupidly at us as though he didn’t quite believe what he was seeing. She turned and lunged at him, and only at the last instant did he throw up a hand to protect his naked throat. Steel-trap jaws snapped shut over three of his gnarled, callused, sun burned fingers, snapping the bones like so many matchsticks. Without thinking, he clubbed her across the forehead with the barrel of his shotgun, momentarily staggering her with a blow that would have knocked a grown man sprawling on the ground. But in two heartbeats, she was back at him. He swung again, but this time she caught the barrel with the flat of her palm. With superhuman strength, she wrenched it from his hands and sent it flying into a corner of the tent.

I dove, catching her around the knees and tumbling her to the ground. Growling, she twisted round and tore my back into hamburger with her nails. Doc caught her around the neck with his arm, but too slowly to avoid her flashing teeth – she gnawed at his forearm while her claws flailed at his head, seeking eyes, ears, any vulnerable point. He maintained his hold despite the mauling, and together we lifted her between us. She writhed and bucked, throwing us, two grown men, around the tent as though we were children.

But slowly, as we held her free of the ground, her struggles lessened until finally she lay still between us. She was barely panting, while we sucked air like two mountaineers. She gazed at us languidly while her hideous alien member stood throbbing with weird life and dribbling fluid from its tip.

“Do you like it?” she purred though barely-parted lips. “I want both of you I want one of you in my cunt and the other in my ass you fuckers.”

“Constance!” It amazed me that I could still be shocked.

“Suck me, Theo. I want you so badly I want to put it in your mouth,” she giggled insanely, yet mocking me with my own words. “It’s your duty Theo other wives do it I promise to pull out before I cum honey I won’t cum in your mouth.”

“Shut up!” I screamed hysterically.

“Go on you faggot you fucking queer,” she spit. “You know you want it you’ve just never had the balls to get your knees dirty I know who you want you want that...”

Doc mercifully clapped a hand over her mouth, wincing as her teeth sank into the heel of his palm. “Clearly she’s lost her mind,” he said, stating the obvious.

“Are you a real doc, Doc?” I asked.

He nodded. “There’s some morphine in the medical kit,” he said. Turning his head, he shouted for Ndaro.

“What’s wrong with her?” I asked.

“We’ll sedate her, then we can figure out what to do.”

In a few seconds, Ndaro appeared at the door wearing only a kikoy wrapped around his hips, but he had Doc’s big gun and a five-pack of cartridges in his hands. Thankfully, Doc blocked Ndaro’s view into the tent. The rest of the camp had been roused by the screams and were gathered around outside, but not too closely, just in case whatever it was we were fighting in here broke loose.

Doc spoke to Ndaro over his shoulder. “Go and bring the medkit. Hurry. But leave the bloody gun.”

After laying the gun on the ground just inside the tent, Ndaro vanished without a sound.

“Let’s see if we can set her down and get that... thing covered up before someone sees it,” Doc said. I nodded and checked to make sure there was room on the floor. I kicked aside a corner of the cot to clear a space, and we gingerly began to lower Stanci to the ground.

“Now, Mrs. Jackson,” Doc said softly, “we’re going to put you down. You have to be good and not fight us. Will you be a good girl?”

Her only response was to release her hold on the heel of his palm long enough to shift her head and bite his thumb. As we laid her on the ground, her back arched and she began to thrust her hips in the air rhythmically, gasping and moaning. I threw a blanket over her, but there was no hiding that hideously probing member. If anything, the blanket only made it seem larger and more prominent.

“You’re going to have to hide it,” Doc said.

“How?” I asked as I stared helplessly at the thing.

“Sit on her legs, then use your hands to press it against her belly.”

“I’m not touching it!” I exclaimed.

“You had better do something, Mr. Jackson. Ndaro will be here any second, and if the blacks catch sight of that thing...”

I glanced around for something, anything to lay across her to hide it, but there was nothing within reach and I dared not release my hold on her legs. I looked up and saw Ndaro crossing in front of the campfire, a big metal box swinging from one hand. Cringing, I reached out with both hands and grabbed hold of the thing near the tip.

Her bucking suddenly grew more violent as she thrust it up through my fist. She spit out Doc’s hand and loosed a long moan of pleasure. “Theo, oh God, Theo!” she cried. “Stroke it, Theo, yes!”

“Shut her up, will you?” I said as I shoved my knees into her thighs, forcing her hips to the ground. Leaning forward, I bent her thing until it lay against her stomach. She continued to squirm and moan until Doc managed to stuff a corner of the blanket into her mouth.

Ndaro entered the tent and squatted next to my wife. He laid the big metal medkit on the ground and opened it. Doc pointed to a compartment. “Morphine,” he said. Ndaro nodded once and set to work filling a bulb syringe. He had a surprisingly delicate and professional touch with what I assumed would have been unfamiliar medical equipment. Doc’s kit was surely one of the best in all of British East Africa, rivaling the stores of some American hospitals.

“Is Msabu hurt?” Ndaro asked as he handed the syringe to Doc.

“Yes. Now go and tell Esa to boil some water and tear up a sheet for bandages,” Doc ordered. “And send Shadow to me at once.”

“What’s the water and bandages for?” I asked when Ndaro had gone.

“To give them something to do,” Doc answered abruptly. He jabbed the needle into my wife’s arm and squeezed the bulb. Within seconds, I felt the wire-cable muscles of her legs relax. Her eyes rolled back, and she sighed as a hot, wet stain seeped through the blanket beneath my hands.

“Jesus!” I cried, recoiling from her. Her member rose up cobra-like, swaying menacingly, the stain in the blanket spreading. But otherwise, she lay still, breathing deeply and contentedly.
Doc looked at me sympathetically, taking note of my condition while ignoring his own injuries. “She took a sizeable chunk of your ear, old boy,” he said.

In the madness of the moment, I had forgotten. I clapped one hand to my head and felt the blood covering the side of my face and neck, clotting in my hair.

“Let me clean that up for you,” Doc said as he shifted across her prone body and sat down next to me. “I don’t see the other half lying anywhere. She must have swallowed it.”

This realization only added to my horror. My hands began to shake so badly that I doubt I could have lit a cigarette, had I one to smoke. I didn’t, but I badly wanted one at the moment.

“What the hell is wrong with her?” I asked as he set to work on my ear. “And what is that... thing?”

“I take you to mean she has not always had... it?” Doc asked diplomatically.

“Hell, no!” I exclaimed. “You think I would...”

The old hunter shrugged as he continued examining my ear. “I could sew this up for you if your missus hadn’t broken my fingers, but you’re going to need a new hairstyle. As for your wife, I don’t know what’s wrong with her. If I were a Catholic...” His voice trailed off into thoughtful silence.

Doc had cleaned off most the blood from my ear before Shadow made his appearance. Neither of us heard his approach. We looked up to find him standing in the door of the tent, his eyes wide as he gazed at my wife’s still-engorged member rising beneath the blanket.

“Christ!” I swore, lunging across her body in a pointless attempt to hide what he had already seen.

“Don’t worry,” Doc said. “I asked him here so he could see this.” He pulled the tracker deeper into the tent. Shadow entered reluctantly, his eyes flickered over us, acknowledging and appraising our wounds in one instant.

“Have you seen anything like this before, Shadow?” Doc asked.

After a moment’s consideration he nodded. “Fisi,” he said. “Hyena woman’s magic.” Though we had been in camp for a month, these were the first English words I’d ever heard him speak.

“What the devil is hyena woman’s magic?” I demanded.

“Msabu is filled with the spirit of this woman we killed tonight,” Shadow said. “This woman we killed is not a woman, she is a spirit of Fisi, the hyena people.”

“This is ridiculous!” I said, turning to Doc. “You don’t mean to tell me you believe this... this...?”

“You do not believe?” Shadow asked. His voice held a bitter accusation. “You sit here next to Msabu who is your wife, who this night has grown a prick like a hyena and has the strength of three men, and still you do not believe what I tell you?” He looked at Doc with undisguised contempt. “This white man is a fool.” He turned to leave.

“Wait,” Doc said while glaring at me.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “In my country, we’re taught not to believe in such things. To have it thrust upon you...”

“This magic is very bad even when you have known of it all your life,” he said.

“What can we do?” I asked. “Maybe we should send for that witch doctor.”

“He would not come,” Shadow said. “This camp is surrounded by the hyena people.”

Doc surged to his feet, snatching up his Westley Richards in his good hand. “You’ve seen them?” he cried.

“They wait in the tall grass outside camp. They wait for her to come and reclaim her spirit from Msabu,” Shadow said without moving.

“Show me,” Doc ordered.

“You cannot kill them,” the tracker said fatalistically. “Your bullets cannot harm them, for these bullets have no magic, only noise and fire, which the Fisi do not fear. And their queen commands them. If she commanded it, they would not shrink from God.”

“Well, what the devil are we supposed to do? Just sit here and wait for them to come and slaughter us while...” I began, but Shadow cut me off with a hiss. He nodded toward my wife.

She had sat up while we were talking. The blanket had dropped into her lap, revealing her small, firm white breasts and hiding her huge bestial organ in folds of gray cloth. Her head hung down, chin against her white breastbone, wet curls of copper-colored hair spilling over her closed eyes. But her lips moved, speaking in a barely audible whisper.

“What the...” Doc swore quietly. “There’s enough morphine in her to down a rhino.” He knelt beside her and tilted his head to listen. A puzzled expression crossed his face. He leaned closer, almost touching her shoulder with his forehead. I tensed, waiting for her to spring on him.

“What’s she saying?” I asked.

Doc shook his head. “It doesn’t make any sense,” he said in a low voice. “It sounds like... it sounds like Fanagalo, but there isn’t a native speaker of Fanagalo within three hundred miles of here. I only know a smattering of the language.”

“Ndaro speaks this language, Bwana,” Shadow said.

Doc turned to the door of the tent and shouted into the firelit darkness. “Ndaro!” There was no answer. “Ndaro!”

“Yes, Bwana,” a frightened voice said some distance away. It sounded like it came from up in the air.

“Come here at once,” Doc said. “I need you.”

“I do not think so, Bwana,” Ndaro answered. “I do not think I can come to you.”

“And why not?”

“Because there is very large Fisi standing next to the tent.”

Read Part Three

The Monkey Skin Cloak Pt 3

Shadow knelt quickly beside my wife, his head tilted to listen. After a few moments, he hissed, “This is not Fanagalo. It is the old language, the language of the ones who came before. She is calling to them.”

“Who?” I asked.

“The hyena woman’s people,” Shadow said. “They hear her. They have come.”

At the tracker’s words, Doc broke the breach of his gun, dumped a pair of asparagus-long brass cartridges into the twin chambers, and snapped it shut. Shadow looked at him and shook his head, then placed his fingers to his lips.

Outside, we heard a light footfall and a quiet scuffling, as if someone were searching for a way beneath the canvas wall of the tent. I snatched my .375 Holland and Holland Magnum from the floor and dug three of the big solids out of a box of cartridges I found beside the cot. I crammed them into the magazine as fast as my fingers could work, then slid the bolt back and fed one into the chamber. I took another handful of cartridges and laid them on top of a nearby trunk withiin easy reach. Meanwhile, Doc silently slid the safety catch on his own rifle and raised it to a ready position.

His eyes narrowed, and I noticed a sharp inward bulge in one wall of the canvas, outlining a huge, dog-like snout. Doc nodded at me, making sure that I had seen it, and then took aim. I held my breath, waiting for the cannon-like explosion from his huge .577, while my own gun shook in my hands.

But suddenly, he spun round, and the gun exploded as he staggered back. A huge, mottled hyena, its underbelly wet from the dew-soaked high grass outside the camp, lunged into the tent and clamped its teeth onto his right arm. For one stunned moment, I watched the thing chew his arm into hamburger while it tried to drag him from the tent. Then I raised my rifle and fired.

With a yelp, the creature released his arm and leaped backwards out of the tent. Doc collapsed beside my wife, who had not moved. I stepped to the doorway, working a fresh cartridge into the chamber, and fired at one of a pair of shadows I saw slinking near the fire. It rolled over and came up already moving in an ungainly, crouch-legged lope toward the tall grass at the edge of the camp. I fired again, rolling it over again, and this time it didn’t rise.

I turned and handed the rifle to Shadow, who was already passing Doc’s big gun to me. “Our bullets are no good against this magic, eh,” I laughed as I took the gun from him. Over his shoulder, I saw the canvas wall split as through cut by a knife, and a huge, misshapen head pushed through, fanged jowls slavering and rheumy yellow eyes burning like fire. I pushed the muzzle of Doc’s big gun against the side of its head and pulled the trigger.

The recoil of the weapon took me by surprise. I had never before fired such a massive gun. Its power was brutal. It was a wonder the trigger guard didn’t rip my finger off as the weapon bucked wildly from my hand. As it was, the recoiling barrel struck me a glancing blow across the side of my face. I fell to one knee, staggered, with the index finger of my right hand bending back at an unnatural angle, dislocated and broken. Of the hyena whose head I had surely obliterated, there was no sign. Not even any blood, just a clean, burnt-edge hole in the canvas about as big around as my thumb.

By this time, Doc had recovered somewhat. With Shadow’s help, he was able to make use of his Westley Richards. Propping the heavy double-barreled rifle on Shadow’s shoulder, he stood in the doorway of the tent, firing at anything that moved outside (and no doubt permanently deafening his tracker in the process), while shouting to the staff to stay in the trees if they didn’t want to be shot. When he had used up all his own cartridges, he switched to my .375, awkwardly pushing the bolt back with his undamaged off hand while his good arm hung at his side, sheeting thick red blood onto the sandy ground.

Eventually, I was able to stand and take the gun from him, but by that time, he had used up all my cartridges as well. I looked out into the open space of our camp and found it littered with low, dark humped shapes. The old man leaned against a table, his face deathly white from loss of blood, his whole body alive with nerves. Shadow knelt beside him, patiently wrapping his shredded arm in a sheet.

My wife had not moved throughout this deafening naval barrage, save to tilt her head heavenward. Her eyes were open but rolled back, revealing only the whites, while her lips continued to writhe in whispered chant. Shadow had noticed this as well, and we knew without his saying so that there were more Fisi out there in the dark, waiting for us.

“There’s only one thing for it, old boy,” Doc said in a quivering voice as Shadow lit a cigarette and placed it between Doc’s lips. I didn’t respond, dreading what he was about to say. He nodded to his tracker. I stepped between Shadow and my wife, eyeing the panga knife protruding from a fold in the native’s toga.

But Shadow turned, and still kneeling, began to draw a circle in the sandy, blood-soaked soil with his finger. “The hyena people are led by their queen and their magic is woman’s magic. But the lion people are led by a king, and they are the blood enemies of the hyena people. Lion magic is men’s magic,” Shadow said as he removed a pouch from beneath his greasy toga. “I am not a sorcerer like the old man from the village. There is nothing I can do against the magic of this monkey skin cloak. But the claws of the lion may give us some protection.”

“The cloak? Are you saying that ratty old fur is part of this?” I asked.

Shadow nodded, blinking his heavy lids. “I would not have let Msabu keep it,” he said.

“Why didn’t you say something, then?” I asked angrily.

“Would you have believed me?” he said.

“He’s got you there, old boy,” Doc laughed weakly.

“But what are you suggesting...”

Sensing my fear, Doc shook his head. “No, it’s not Msabu’s fault. The cloak’s the key – we’re going to have to destroy it. We’re going to have to give it to the fire.”

Shadow opened the bag he had taken from his toga. “This is men’s magic of my people. It has things to protect a man from the magic of women and from witches like this hyena queen,” he said as he upending the bag into the circle he had drawn in the soil. “There are lion’s claws and whiskers, hair of...” his voice ended in a hiss and he recoiled involuntarily, his eyes wide with awe.

Among the various oddments from his medicine bag lay two cartridges – one a .577 Nitro, the other a .375 Magnum. Both cartridges had been painted with weird, white and red geometric shapes, with a jagged green line like a lightning bolt running from blunt tip to brass firing pin. I saw nothing to fear from them, but Shadow seemed genuinely frightened, where I had never before seen him afraid of anything, not even of a charging lion.

I picked up the cartridges and looked at them. “This looks like one of mine, Doc. It’s my brand.” I handed the longer cartridge to him.

“This is one of mine. I can tell by the load. I have them specially ordered,” Doc said after examining it. “Shadow, did you take these?”

“No, Bwana,” the tracker answered fearfully. “I have never seen these cartridges before. I do not know how they came to be here.”

“Maybe that old sorcerer slipped them into your bag while you weren’t looking,” I said. “We did lend him a couple of cartridges tonight. Maybe...”

Doc looked at Shadow for a moment, then shook his head. “Let’s not look a gift horse in the mouth, eh?” He passed me the .375 and I fed it into the chamber of my gun. It fit reluctantly because of the native’s paint. Doc loaded his own weapon, then told Shadow to take the monkey skin cloak from my wife’s back. Still, she didn’t move.

“You stay here and cover me from the tent,” Doc said. “Protect her, and don’t let anything get to her.” I nodded. Doc looked at Shadow for a moment, unspoken words passing between them in the silent language that had grown through their years of shared danger.

Then, without a backward glance, they moved out into the camp. Shadow drew his panga knife and held it at the ready, while Doc covered the shadows with his Westley Richards. Because of his injuries, he was forced to carry the heavy gun left-handed, with the barrels clutched awkwardly in the crook of his mangled right arm. He would be lucky to get off a shot if something attacked, and it would be a miracle if he hit what he aimed at. He gripped the seedy green monkey skin cloak in his teeth, having no other hands to spare. Maybe it helped to keep his teeth from chattering.

They were halfway to the fire when it came. I saw a dark blur to my left, emerging swiftly from the tall grass at the edge of the camp. I swung my rifle up, but the thing moved with supernatural speed, crossing the clearing in three bounds. Though obviously a hyena, it was many times larger than the spotted hyena I had occasionally seen loping through the scrub miombo we had hunted for the past month. It was like some primordial hyena, man-tall at the shoulder, transported from an age when men hunted these plains with flint and bone and fire.

Doc turned, though the creature had made no sound that I could hear. But before he could fire, it bowled into him, flinging him across the clearing like a child struck by a careening lorry. With dizzying speed, the monster reversed direction and leaped at Shadow, who was even then raising his panga for a beheading slash. But even the native tracker, long trained in the hunt, was too slow to match the monster’s quickness. In lunged beneath his slashing blade and caught him by the throat. Blood spurted from Shadow’s lips as he cried sharply in surprise, then his scream was cut short as the monster’s teeth sheared through muscle, tendon and bone, severing his head in one rending crunch. Shadow’s body fell like a sack before it, his head still gripped in those awful fangs. With a quick toss, the hyena gulped it down, swallowing heavily. I saw the lump pass slowly down its throat. Then its yellow eyes locked on mine.

Slowly, I lifted the rifle to my shoulder. My mind screamed for speed, but my body seemed frozen, my arms like wood and the gun nightmarishly heavy. Closing one eye, I peered down the gun barrel at the dark form hurtling toward me, jaws agape, four ivory parentheses of death grouping a mottled pink tongue dripping with gore. The warthog ivory bead of the foresights danced like a moth across its snout, forehead, chest, never seeming to remain in the same place for longer than half a blink, until finally it settled like a roulette ball into the V of the rear sights. I aimed at the plunging, low-sloping head for a heartbeat, then dropped my aim a touch and squeezed the trigger. My dislocated and broken finger screamed with pain against the heavy pull. As the gun exploded, I closed my eyes, waiting for the blow that never fell.

At the sound of a stumbling step and a muttered curse, I opened my eyes. I found Doc, amazingly still alive, standing at the door of the tent, his big gun gripped by the end of the barrels and dragging the ground behind him. Between us lay, not a huge, primeval monster, but a man. And a white man, at that. He was naked as the day he was born, his broad, sun-burned back hairy as an ape’s. He lay on his stomach, head turned to the side and eyes glazing, one outstretched hand almost touching my foot. A grapefruit-sized hole between his shoulder blades quietly oozed blood into the sand.

Doc stood over him, shaking his head in amazement.

“What the hell is going on, Doc?” I asked, still not sure of what I was seeing. “Who is this, and how did he get here?”

“His name is Robert Bell-Warren, a good friend of mine. He was a bloody fine white hunter, one of the best, until he walked into the bush one night and was never seen again. His servants said he was bewitched, but the authorities in Nairobi didn’t believe it and hanged the lot of them for murder.” Doc shuffled around the body, his eyes never leaving it. “As for where he came from, you shot him, so you should know.”

“I shot a hyena,” I protested.

“I know that. I saw it with my own eyes. But where the hyena fell, there lies Robert Bell-Warren with a bullet hole in his chest big enough to stop an elephant. I don’t know how we are going to explain this. Likely, they’ll put us all away for good.” He moved past me into the tent, and after glancing for a moment at Stanci, who still sat entranced, he lowered himself onto our cot. Gritting his teeth against the pain of movement, he dragged his gun into his lap and checked the bore for obstructions.

I looked at the dead man’s body again, noticing a curious pattern of scars that covered his shoulders, arms, back, and neck. Also, someone had woven a fair quantity of colored beads and copper wire into his shaggy black hair and beard. The evenness of his sunburn showed that he had been living naked in the bush for quite some time. “I wonder if we don’t all need putting away,” I said. “This is insane. It can’t be real.”

“Bloody Africa, old boy,” Doc coughed wearily. He snapped shut the breach of his Westley Richards. “And there is still one thing to do,” he said.

I looked at my wife, who still sat naked on the floor of the tent, her head thrown back, eyes rolled up, lips muttering. “The cloak,” I finished for him.

Doc started to rise, his face blanching white with the effort. I put my hand on his shoulder. “This time you cover me, old boy,” I said.

He nodded wearily, settling back and resting the gun across his lap. I looked around the tent for some kind of weapon, a spear, anything. Finally, I saw the butt of Doc’s double-barreled Greener sticking out from under an overturned table. I snatched it up, checked the breech to make sure it was still loaded, and snapped it shut. Doc handed me a pair of triple-aught buckshot shells. “Choose your target,” he lectured slowly, as though each breath was a labor. “Don’t shoot from the hip. Pick a target and follow through. Make sure of your shot, and don’t shoot until you are sure. It’s better to be right than fast.”

“I know, old man,” I said. “I know all this from before.”

“You’ve only got four shots, so make them count,” he finished.

“And you’ve only got one,” I responded with a smile. “Don’t waste it. And for God’s sake, don’t miss.”

“I won’t,” he answered.

We looked at one another for an infinitely long moment, he sitting on the cot with his tattered, blood-soaked clothes, me standing there naked, an unfamiliar gun gripped in my sweating hands. He nodded once, his bloodshot eyes assuring me that I could do this.

I turned, facing the dark empty space between the tent and the dying fire. The false dawn was just beginning to gray the sky, but down here beneath the trees and the scrub hills of the African vlei, it was still as black as a mamba’s soulless eyes. I looked around and saw the trees filled with terrified Africans, all staring down in mute witness to the insane comedy playing out beneath them. Beyond the perimeter of the fire, there was no light, no green reflection of eyes, no shadow, only a true Stygian blackness of mythic dimensions, and a silence as though this were the only place in the world.

I leaned forward onto the balls of my naked feet and drifted out of the tent, covering the dozen yards to Shadow’s headless corpse in less than two heartbeats. I slowed, staring in fascinated awe at the body that only moments before had been electric with life. Now it was only so much meat for the jackals and ants. He didn’t look real. He looked like a scarecrow carved of mahogany that had lost its pumpkin head. And then I remembered that that pumpkin head had been swallowed whole by the white man now lying dead in my tent. I moved on.

Casting about, I soon located the monkey skin cloak where Doc had dropped it when he was attacked. It lay in the dust a few yards from the fire. I knelt quickly beside it, but now a strange revulsion to touch it came over me. That some simple inanimate object, sewn together from the flayed hides of a score or so verdant monkeys, should be the source of such horrors as I had witnessed, seemed not only impossible, but the very embodiment of nightmare-wrought madness. A queer impression that I might indeed be insane and hallucinating took hold of me and overcame all other considerations, denying even the truth of my own senses – the bodies littering the camp, the reek of blood and death, the coppery taste of fear flooding my mouth.

I looked at the cloak and said to myself, if I pick that thing up and fling it on the fire, it will be the last step into total madness. It’s only a tattered old cloak. This nightmare is not real, it is the product of heat stroke or malaria or some undigested bit of bloody Africa. If I accept this as reality, I will never escape it. So I refuse to accept it. I refuse to destroy this cloak, for if I do, I destroy myself with it.

I turned back to the tent.

Dark and beautiful as the clouds skimming before the moon, limned in silver, tinkling with bells, she stepped out of the tall grass beyond the tent like some black Aphrodite emerging from the foam. And indeed, the grass seemed to withdraw from around her like the surf. She writhed with life, like a flame given flesh yet retaining its insatiable destructive hunger. Her naked body glowed with lust, her small breasts, like two halves of a pear, glistened and swelled. I smelled the unrequited ache of her loins; her odor struck me like a thunderclap, dizzying my senses. I felt my own member swelling, hardening into a stone that would never be eased until it fleshed itself inside her like a hungry spear.

She crossed the space between us with nightmarish slowness. The swelling throb of desire became unbearable, a pain like being stretched on a rack – I felt I might come completely out of my skin. She seemed not to walk but to float in a lazy, wanton teasing dance. All the civilized restraints were stripped from me by her coiling movements. I wanted only to crush her to me, to impale her mercilessly, to eat of her flesh and feed her my own flesh, to take and take again, to obey an irresistible need, a profound and primal urge to spread my seed as far and wide as I could before swift death took me.

Finally, she twined her long, supple arms around my head and brushed my cheek with her full lips. She drew back from my sudden kisses, gazing at me with her dark, inscrutable eyes. Her hard nipples, like two halves of a walnut shell, pressed painfully into my chest. I sank to them, searching hungrily with my mouth, but she twisted her body away from my questing lips. The wiry furze of her loins brushed my swollen member, sending a jolt through me that weakened my legs, and slowly she sank before me, her lips brushing my shoulder, nipple, belly. Her fingers raked down the sensitive flesh of my ribs, raising deliciously painful welts. I felt her teeth sink into my swollen head, then scrape down the length of my member, tearing my flesh. I staggered in ecstasy, drawing free of her voracious mouth.

She stood up before me, rising imperiously, a look of triumph and lust on her face. Her bloodstained lips drew back in a ferocious smile of sharp, ivory fangs. She growled lustily as she swirled the monkey skin cloak up and over her shoulders, fastening it about her neck by two claw-like clasps.

Then she stepped toward me again, mouth parted hungrily. Her clawlike hands gripped my shoulders and her nails, hard as horn, dug into my skin. She pressed me down, down the length of her body, past the dark round flat of her belly, and my weakened legs buckled. I fell to my knees with my eyes locked on the curly, dew-speckled hair of her loins. The smell of her sex sang across the nerves, heightening my lust to almost unbearable levels.

I gazed up at her, wanting to witness her pleasure as I took her. For a moment, she smiled down at me, lips parted to reveal her dripping canines. Then, her face dissolved into a red and gray haze. Gore splashed across my upraised face. She jerked once and fell backward. I sat back in the dust, staring at the hyena thrashing out the last moments of its life before me, its head a mass of blood, brains, teeth and shattered bone. The echo of Doc’s gun rang in my ears. I turned, half dazed and blinking through the blood, to see my wife, pale and naked and alone before our tent. She dropped the heavy rifle and folded like a lifeless marionette to the ground.


Ndaro draped a blanket over my shoulders and pressed a tall glass of pure, pale Highland single malt into my fist. I sucked at it greedily, feeling the warm burn light me up from the inside out. Esa stirred up the fire and added sticks to get a blaze going, while the other camp staff dragged the bodies out into the tall grass. Although the sun had crawled less than a handspan above the red horizon, vultures already circled overhead.

Doc limped past me, dragging something. He flung it on the fire, and I smelled the sharp, bitter odor of burning fur.

He slumped heavily into a folding canvas chair that someone had set out for him. Ndaro poured him a large belt into a battered tin cup. Doc thanked him, then tossed it back with hardly a shiver. He dropped the empty cup to the ground.

Ndaro bent beside the old man and retrieved the cup, poured another round. He stood holding the cup, his malarial yellow eyes staring into the distance. “Msabu asks if we are leaving today,” he said. Then he drained the cup in a single gulp.

“Bloody hell yes,” Doc said. “You bastards had better get me to hospital before septicemia sets in, otherwise it’s going to be a long, smelly ride to Nairobi.”

“Tell her we are leaving soon. Tell her we are leaving now,” I said. The old gunbearer nodded, turned, and strode away, the bottle of whiskey clutched protectively to his chest.
“How is she?” Doc asked me.

“She seems fine,” I said.

“Does she remember anything?” he asked.

“She says she doesn’t remember a thing,” I answered.

Doc glanced away, looking out over the tall grass toward the river. After a few moments, he said, “But you don’t believe her, do you?”

I stared into the crystalline amber depths of my whiskey glass, no longer sure what I believed.

©2006-2008 Jeff Crook

Thursday, October 09, 2008


This story was originally published in Sol's Children by DAW Books. It is partially inspired by the work of Richard Hoagland, though much of the idea for the story and the alternate astronomy behind it was born long before I read any of Hoagland's theories.

Tubo starts awake in his gravi-chair, Earth impact alarm screeching. He has fallen asleep. Yawning, he aborts the autocorrect three seconds before burn initiation. He then fingers the controls, feels the Walter Scott awaken and move beneath him, the deep volcanic throbbing, a dragon stirring under the floor. The timer starts and he targets a trajectory in the naviscreen that will bring the ‘roid back to an orbital approach. He also keeps a close eye on stress indicators in the docking piles, for they weren’t built to withstand the repeated strain of these corrective burns. Walter Scott’s engines are among the most powerful machines ever built, powerful enough to rip the Walter Scott apart should a single docking pile fail. Each pile is sunk 500 meters into the ‘roid and fixed directly to the structural frame of the ship. If one pile were to break, the engines could rip the other pile out of the ship before Tubo could even react, leaving it imbedded in the ‘roid with the ship’s guts still attached and dangling, like a bee sting ripping out of the bee. Tubo remembers being stung by a bee; he has not been on Earth in 37 years. Three seconds have passed. He lifts his finger off the trigger. The engines power down and the ship shifts slowly back onto its support coils, gradually settling in the .1G pull of the ‘roid’s gravity. He checks fuel reserves, mentally calculates how much that one cost him, then glances at the naviscreen.

In the screen, Mars is a left parentheses in 12-point font, a bloody fingernail clipping, the old warrior god with his back turned. Earth hides behind Sol, that bright point of light to the left and a little lower than Mars. Below this, a long irregular gray tongue of carbonaceous chondrite stretches out into the uniform blackness of intrasolar space. Already, it has drifted .01 points back toward an impact trajectory.

At the bottom of the naviscreen, a small fossil is visible poking up out of the pockmarked meteoric stone. It looks like the flare of a hipbone. Other shadows suggest a skull, legs, possibly an arm, and part of a tail. Tubo has been looking at them long enough that the surprise has worn off. Now they are merely puzzling, and a little frightening. He noticed the bone as he swung around the backside of Jupiter and the shadows cast by the rising sun gradually resolved into these suggestive features.

Tug captain Tubo Prohng shifts his weight in the gravi-chair. His ‘roid is the size of Manhatten, a fat haul, but it is displaying some unusual gravitational potentials. Every hour or so, wakened by the Earth impact alarm, he makes small adjustments to its trajectory, but even these require the expenditure of vast amounts of fuel. And this eats away at his profit margin. Every three-second burst of the momentum engines of the Planetary Hauler Walter Scott burns 314,159 units of fuel. At current market price, that’s close to a million EUs. He keeps a close eye on the Belgrade fuel markets through a DeepSat node, but it usually depresses him beyond words. This one is going to cost him, but it is too late to withdraw. He could radio for help, but that would cost even more. It is his ‘roid. He captured it and steered it into Earth orbital approach.

Seventy-three years ago, amateur astronomer Maxwell Franck catalogued this unremarkable piece of rock and named it Delilah. Mr. Franck never explained why. According to modern science, which hasn’t changed much in the last hundred years, Delilah had been in a regular orbit within the Asteroid Belt near the Trojans Resonance for nearly ten billion years, until Tubo Prongh drove the docking piles of the Walter Scott into its stony heart, fired up his ungodly engines, and nudged her into a slingshot trajectory around Jupiter, some 337 days ago.

Between the hourly burns, Tubo Prohng has time to study and meditate and form his own inexact theories about the history of the solar system. But he has no time for sleep, nothing beyond these brief naps. He has not slept longer than an hour in 744 hours, and he cannot, not if he doesn’t want the Walter Scott’s navigational computers to initiate their own indelicate corrective burn and ruin his fortunes. The strange gravitational potentials working on Delilah have him puzzled, but he doesn’t care to think of them. If he wants to make a profit, there is nothing he can do except to keep firing up Walter Scott’s engines for brief nudging burns. He is not ashamed to admit that he is not the equal of gravity.

But this bone, this curious arc of hip shadow thrown across the bottom edge of his naviscreen, almost like an afterthought, an oh-by-the-way, a wrinkle in the rug over which he trips. There was life here once, even here where no life should be, life so long that it could lay down its bones and turn them to stone. Such thoughts people the 3ยบ Kelvin shadows outside his ship with very real ghosts. Tubo Prongh has never been to Mars and seen its phantoms, though he has passed it seven times, and is approaching his eighth.

His grandfather could never have imagined such voyages. There was a gentle old white-whiskered man whose three great loves were pigs, children, and wives, in that order. He cared little for the world beyond the rice fields of his village. Tubo Prongh often thinks of his grandfather on these voyages to the Asteroid Belt, for he is fast approaching the age at which his grandfather died. But at eighty, his grandfather had been a beaming toothless monkey with one foot in the funeral pyre, while Tubo is still in the genetically-manipulated prime of his manhood. He has a boy at home, two years old, and a wife of twenty-three (the law still only allows him one of each). Tubo is wealthy and still considered handsome; he has all his original teeth. He has a 2,000 square meter geodwelling inside a rock in space above the dying Earth. He has a New Antilles bank account filled with digits.

Yet he cannot bear the clamoring of home life, the shrieking demands of wife and child. He prefers the dark empty spaces of his thoughts and his studies and meditations. He prefers the humming muscle of the Walter Scott, the Zen simplicity of its stark interiors juxtaposed with the extravagance of Io off his starboard bow passing into the shadow of Jupiter. He loves running the Kirkwood Gaps in search of asteroids of suitable mass and composition to sell to the military and habitat developers back in Earth orbit, like the whalers and ivory hunters of olden days. He likes his mercenary selfhood. Only he is alone, bleakly alone, on a ‘roid that won’t behave.

He leans forward in his seat and stares at the left edge of the screen. There is a boulder visible on the ‘roid’s horizon. He hasn’t noticed it before. It concerns him, because it might indicate the ‘roid is actually a conglomerate bound together by weak gravitational forces. This might explain the gravitational potentials he’s been fighting. But his initial geological survey indicated solidity with only minor faulting near an impact crater on the opposite side. He is sure the boulder wasn’t there before. It casts a rather long shadow across the surface, reaching almost to the ship. Tubo drags a navigational marker line across the screen so he can note any movement or change in either the object or its shadow after he performs the next correction. Then he calls up the Lisbon fuel markets on a com screen.


Tubo starts awake, Earth impact alarm screeching. It seems only a minute has passed. He reaches for the autocorrect abort button, but his hand pauses twenty centimeters above the board. The seconds continue to click down to burn initiation. Tubo stares at the naviscreen. The boulder has moved. Its shadow has reached the ship. It isn’t a boulder, it is a man-shape, bipedal, thick brachiated arms, large round head. Tubo blinks. His hand drops with .31 seconds to go.

Still watching it, he fingers forward the controls, the engines wake. Out on the ‘roid, the man-thing staggers, pauses, then starts to walk again, slowly, with the exaggerated movements of someone wearing gravitational boots. It is pulling something behind it on a type of travois. Its face is hidden in shadow. Tubo powers down the Walter Scott. He turns to the communications screen, pulls up a broad band com channel, initiates a scan.

A sound crackles low in the FM band range. The computer pauses to examine it, tunes, filters. A voice emerges into the empty air, speaking English “…inside the ship. Hello inside the ship are you reading me?”

Tubo waits a moment before touching the com. He takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly. He looks at his tongue in the reflection of a dark screen, grimacing. It occurs to him that he might be hallucinating, or insane, or asleep. He feels fine, just a little tired. He touches the com, but still he doesn’t speak. He lifts his finger without making a sound, unsure what to say.

“I heard that. Who are you? What’s that ship?” the voice says, a little out of breath. It is a male voice, English accent.

Tubo leans forward, trying to see closer into the navigational screen, to see a face. The head turns slightly as the figure stumbles. A glint of gold flashes where the face should be. tubo touches the com switch and says softly, blankly, “This is the Planetary Hauler Walter Scott.” He lifts his finger.

“Bloody wog. You sound like a bloody wog. Where are you from, woggy?”

Tubo touches the com, calmly, “Identify yourself.”

“Identify your fucking self.”

Tubo touches the com, repeats, “Please identify yourself.”

“Grover Nuttbalm, you wog bastard.”

Tubo laughs, fingers the com, “Please identify yourself.”

“My name is Grover Nuttbalm. Doctor Grover Nuttbalm. Look it up, wog.” He never pauses in his progress toward the ship. He is close enough now for Tubo to see what he is dragging on the travois – two small metallic canisters, flat, like old satellite battery casings. He wears an old-fashioned environment suit, once white but now dirty gray, patched, bulky, late 20th century NASA vintage, with a gold-visored helmet.

Tubo pulls up an archive search on the communications screen, enters NUTTBALM >ALT NUTTBAUM, GROVER, DR. It takes a few seconds for the information to arrive via the old NASA Deep Space Network. He reads it.

He reads it again.

Tubo touches the com. “Dr. Nuttbaum, it has been some time.”

“Not long enough, wog,” the figure responds as it disappears at the bottom of the nav-screen.

“I’m afraid there isn’t any way for you to get inside this ship, Dr. Nuttbaum,” Tugo says. “Not from where…” he pauses, his finger still on the com. It is impossible. Impossible for a man to survive this long along on an asteroid in an environment suit. “How…?”

“...survive?” the voice asks, laughing. It grunts, and he hears the gurgling of the environment suit through the com. “How did I survive? You’d like to know, wouldn’t you? Make yourself a fortune back on earth with my technologies, wouldn’t you? Fountain of youth, all that rot. To hell with you, capitalist pig.”

“How did you get all the way out here, Dr. Nuttbaum? We weren’t sending anything but robots out this far when you disappeared.”

Laughter over the com. There is a strange quality to the doctor’s laughter, even over the com. Tubo cannot identify it. He touches the com, his lips hang open, breathing the stale recycled air through his teeth. It is air that has been off Earth longer than he has. He has breathed it so many times now, it feels like a part him. A part of him that fills the entire ship, a part of him running like blood through the ducts to the recycling plant deep in the ship’s bowels. Suddenly, he feels something is wrong, an imbalance in his extended chi, a blockage of fiery yang.

Then an anchoring pile indicator flashes yellow. He removes his finger from the open com, and panting laughter again fills the small speaker. He punches up a ship diagnostic, initiates it, leans into the chair and without relaxing the sudden tensing of his back, waits, his brows furrowing over his dark eyes. While he waits, the anchoring pile indicator switches to red. The diagnostic returns with a volcanic stress reading deep in the pile’s bore chamber. Impossible. It is impossible. He reminds himself of this. He runs the diagnostic again. The ‘roid has been cold for ten billion years.

“You’d better pull out or you’ll lose it,” the doctor says over the com.

The indicator light winks red once more, then stays lit.

“What are you doing?” Tubo demands now. A warning appears on the nav screen. “You couldn’t cut through that pile, not even if you had a plasma saw.”

“Do you know how the pyramids were built?”

“The pyramids? What do the pyramids have to do with anything?” Tubo barks without touching the com. His fingers dance across the boards in front of him, pulling up stress projections, running simulations, calculating trajectories, fuel and engine readings. A geological window opens on his screen.

A shudder passes through the ship, rattling the little plastic container of dietary supplements sitting next to the naviscreen. “What was that?” Tubo asks no one. The geological window scrolls off a seismic recording of the event, showing epicenter and magnitude.

“I’ll bet you are wondering what the pyramids have to do with anything.”

Tubo slams the com with his fist. “Whatever it is you are doing, you had better stop. If you damage that pile, do you realize what will happen?”

But the doctor ignores him. “The pyramids have everything to do with everything. I’ll bet you think I’m suffering from paranoid delusions. Space madness, we used to call it.”

Another ‘roidquake shakes the Walter Scott, almost tossing Tubo from his gravi-chair. The geological window dutifully records the event. Meanwhile, stress indicators on the damaged pile reach critical, while the secondary pile is now showing non-fatal damage. A metallic groan echoes up through the ship. Tubo runs a repair schedule, inserts the mean estimate into his navigational calculations.

He sits slowly back in his chair, his eyes rising to the navigational screen. .5 outside safe orbital trajectory, and increasing. “Do you know what you’ve done?” he whispers. His fingers fumble along the buttons on the arm panel of his gravitational chair, thumbing through various monitoring cameras affixed to the ship’s hull. One shows him the intrasolar comdish hanging from a bent bracket. He clicks through several more images, finds the orbital antenna array. It looks operational, but its range is limited to .1 light minutes. Not powerful enough to call for help.

He leans forward and presses the com. “Do you know what you’ve done?” he asks softly.

“Do you know, no one has solved the mystery of how the pyramids were built. Oh, they think they know, simply because they know a way to do it. But there are always other ways.”

Tubo continues flipping through the monitoring cameras. He finds the port docking pile camera. A grainy gray image appears, showing the doctor in his suit sitting on a rock beside his travois. The two battery casings lie beside him. The pile is sheared almost in half, is guts spitting magnesium sparks. A spiderweb of fracture faults spread several dozen meters across the ground in all directions.

“Just because you have a solution that works doesn’t mean the mystery is solved.”

“Do you know what you’ve done!” Tubo screams.

“Of course I know what I’ve done, you stupid wog. If you light up those beautiful momentum engines of yours without uncoupling from this rock, you’ll tear your ship apart. So unhook and leave. I haven’t compromised your safety unless you do something stupid. This is my home. You’ve no right to steal it.”

“This rock is headed into an impact trajectory with Earth!” Tubo cries shrilly.

“So how can we expect to solve the mysteries of space if we don’t even know how the pyramids were built?”

“Shut up about the pyramids, ok?” Tubo shouts. He keeps his finger on the com. “Just shut up. The pyramids aren’t important. I need to contact Earth and get help, or else this rock is going to destroy everything down there. Do you have radio equipment able to contact Earth?”


“Great,” Tubo sighs. He punches up the undocking procedures and initiates them.

The doctor says, “I’ve been monitoring Earth broadcasts since I arrived here. I hear all about you bloody capitalists from your bloody capitalist media, twenty-four bloody hours a day. I don’t know how you stand it When the BBC went private, I knew it was time to leave Earth. I had more money than I knew what to do with selling back nuclear waste to the various space programs. The funny thing is, my family became wealthy leasing storage space for nuclear waste in the first place.”

With the remaining docking pile withdrawn, the Walter Scott rides lightly back on its support coils. A brief burst from two steering rockets is enough to lift it free of the .1G pull of the asteroid. The pocked surface of Delilah begins to draw away.

“Then, when I invented the momentum engine,” the doctor continues, “I intentionally used nuclear waste as its fuel. Thought it would make for a good way to get rid of the stuff, don’t you know, quit poisoning the earth. Instead, I created a market. Nuclear plants built everywhere just to produce waste, not even making electricity. I wanted to become a hermit. But there weren’t any mountains left that didn’t have an advertisement painted on their slopes with genetically-altered trees. So I came out here in a ship I financed myself, the first man to visit the Asteroid Belt, and I didn’t even get a write up in Science/Nature.”

As the Walter Scott continues to rise, Tubo switches through several cameras until he finds one pointed directly down. The doctor still sits in his environment suit beside the severed docking pile. He is already tiny, insignificant.

“You know, if early rockets had used fossil fuels instead of hydrogen and oxygen, we’d already be living among the stars. You might have been born under a different sun, wog. But capitalists can’t make money selling what can be had for the trouble of dipping your hand in the nearest ocean. That was the beauty of burning nuclear waste. It was a finite resource made suddenly valuable, and mostly in the possession of poor countries that had agreed to accept it from large industrialized countries for the sake of a little cash injected into their outmoded and uncompetitive economies. But there wasn’t enough to meet consumption demands, and now they’re destroying the earth, making it uninhabitable, just to make more of waste, so bastards like you can come out here and drag back asteroids for rich capitalists to build houses on safe and high above the clouds spewing from your reactors. You bastards have even used up your nuclear weapons making waste to burn. Now, militaries keep arsenals of asteroids ready to de-orbit and drop on whoever isn’t playing the game according to the rules. We’ve gone back to throwing stones at one another.”

Tubo thumbs the com. “How long will it take you to reach your communication equipment?” he asks.

“I can’t contact Earth,” the doctor answers.

“What do you mean? You said you have the equipment…” Tubo’s voice trails off.

“I do. I use it to melt water ice.”

Tubo sits stunned for a moment, his finger prodding at the com.

“I’m not going to call someone in to help you steal my home to make weapons for your capitalist military.”

“You’ve destroyed the Earth,” Tubo whispers. “You’ve done a million times worse that all the militaries in the world.”

“No I haven’t.”

“Yes, you have,” Tubo whispers. He thinks of the green fields of this grandfather’s farms, the pigs in the mud, the women young and supple and old and hoary, and a naked child standing in the doorway of the house. He is the child that he sees, a silvery streak running from his nostrils to his lip. He has been crying, wakened from a nap by a dream. This dream.

“No I haven’t,” the doctor taunts.

“Yes, you have,” Tubo insists.

“So what if I have? What possible difference could it make?”

“Everyone will die. By the time I reach com range, it will be too late to divert it. A dozen planetary haulers couldn’t divert it.”

“Do you know how the pyramids were built?”

“Shut up about the pyramids! Shut up about the pyramids. I don’t want to hear about no damn pyramids! All life on Earth will be destroyed.”

“When has all life on Earth ever been destroyed? You think you can destroy it with one asteroid? And yet you take it upon yourself to control the destiny of the entire world, all for a little profit?”

“It’s perfectly safe. It’s been done hundreds of times,” Tubo says.

“No it isn’t. Look at the situation you are in now.”

“You aren’t supposed to be here!” Tubo screams. He grasps the control, fires a steering series to turn the Walter Scott around and slow the ship’s ascent.

“Yet here I am. I could just as easily be a flu virus, or a faulty processor board, or a weak docking seal, and the same space rock would be hurtling along the same collision path and all life on Earth would be destroyed. You take for your own uses without consideration for the people who can’t get out of the way. The Earth deserves destroying if it allows capitalists like you to exist.”

“I’m just a small businessman, trying to make a living. I’m not a statecorp,” Tubo says. He punches up a trajectory projection, then begins running simulations. “You’ve no right to judge me, Doctor Nuttbaum. You don’t know me at all.”

“I’ve every right to judge you, wog. You tried to steal my home.”

“I didn’t know you were there.” He watches the simulations play out, with Earth impact the inevitable result each time.

“You think that just because it somebody’s name isn’t on it, you can take it? How does that make it yours?”

“Standard salvage law, Doctor. You know that.” He looks up at the naviscreen as the last simulation plays itself to an inevitable conclusion. The screen then snaps back to forward view, showing him the bloody fingernail paring of Mars. A thought occurs to him. He enters adjustments, then initiates a new series of simulations.

“The law of the jungle, you mean. The law of the scavenger. Finders keepers losers weepers, you mean.”

“Is that any less noble than intentionally steering a Manhatten-sized asteroid into an Earth impact?” Tubo asks, a grim smile spreading across his face as he watches the simulations play out.

“I haven’t done that, wog.”

“Yes, you have, Doctor.”

“No I haven’t.”

“Yes, you have,” Tubo says. He compares the results of the projections produced by the simulations to his available fuel supply. He then pulls up the stress specs of the Walter Scott’s spaceframe and hull.

“No I haven’t.”

“Look, Doctor Nuttbaum, I don’t have time to argue with you,” Tubo says. There is only one thing to be done. It isn’t to ram the ‘roid. That was his first idea, but the Walter Scott doesn’t have enough mass to counteract the ‘roid’s odd gravitational potentials. He grasps the controls and fires a steering sequence which takes him slowly across the sky of Delilah. In his screen, he sees the doctor stand up and watch him pass overhead.

“What are you doing, wog?” There is a note of concern in his voice.

“I’m going to push this rock into a Mars impact trajectory,” Tubo says calmly, victoriously.

There is a pause, then the doctor says gently, “What’s you name, captain?”

“Tubo Prohng.”

“You don’t have to do this, Tubo,” the doctor says. “How old are you? Are you married?”

But Tubo ignores him. “The force of the engines will probably crush the hull of this ship. But at least it can be done. There’s only a few small communities on Mars. The chances of an impact near one are negligible. It’s a chance I’m willing to take. To save Earth.”

Tubo steers the Walter Scott nose-first into a soft descent, aiming for a point three meters in diameter directly over the ‘roid’s adjusted estimated center of gravity. The push must be a direct push with the nose of the ship, as the remaining docking pile isn’t strong enough to withstand the force.

“Have you had your child yet?” the doctor asks. Tubo can no longer see him in his monitors. The doctor is beyond the ‘roid’s horizon, almost on the opposite side.

The blunt nose of the Walter Scott nuzzles up against Delilah with a scraping noise that echoes through the ship. She looks so close in his screens, Tubo feels like he could almost reach out and touch her.

“You don’t have to do this, Tubo,” the doctor says. He is running now, almost, if you could call running – a prolonged forward fall. Tubo cannot see him. But he can hear his voice in the com and know that he is running.

“Why not? Will it ruin your fun? You won’t get to die knowing you destroyed the world that you hate?” Tubo asks as he powers up the engines. The structural frame of the ship groans as the engines begin their inexorable push.

“Power back your engines, Tubo. Listen to me. This asteroid isn’t going impact Earth unless you keep trying to steer it into an Earth orbit. I came here to stop you, but I knew you wouldn’t stop unless I made you.”

“It’s too late. I don’t believe you,” Tubo says. “How can you possibly affect this ‘roid’s trajectory? You’re old momentum engines weren’t powerful enough.”

“Do you know how the pyramids were built?” the doctor asks. He is huffing into the com speaker of his helmet.

“I’m not listening to you anymore, Doctor. In a moment it will all be over, and you’ll be on your way to Mars,” Tubo says.

“You saw the fossil, didn’t you Tubo? You saw it. It was right there.”

Tubo pauses. The ship shudders throughout its frame, rattling. He hears bulkheads buckling. The air suddenly grows oven hot. “Yes,” he says.

“Haven’t you ever noticed the relatively low amount of crater density visible on most asteroids? You’ve been to the Belt a few times. Have you ever noticed it?” He is still running.

“Yes.” The ship lurches to starboard, and Tubo fights to keep the ship upright, its forces aligned in a vector which will guide the ‘roid into Mars impact.

“Planetary geology says that this is a result of an impact breaking the planetoid-body into smaller asteroid bodies, exposing surfaces to cratering relatively recently. But my analysis indicates a low amount of impact fracturing in this ‘roid’s crystalline substructures, while surface samples show that the surface of the ‘roid has only been exposed to sunlight for some 200,000 years. If you search planetary geology databases, you’ll find that most asteroid theory was formed and set in concrete a hundred years before the first visit by a craft capable of making a detailed analysis of an asteroid within the Belt.”

“So,” Tubo says, his teeth grinding. He is nearly blind from cryogases bursting from environmental systems. The nose of the ship is crushed, and his board is glowing with hull stress warnings. He blinks away the film to check the naviscreen and finds that the ‘roid is almost within a Mars impact trajectory.

“Listen to me!” the doctor shouts. He stops, gasping, bent over with his hands on his knees.
“Power down and listen for one moment! The 200,000 year old event, coinciding as it does with catastrophic changes in the Martian atmosphere and the emergence of modern homo sapiens on Earth, can only mean one thing. There was a fifth inner planet, and something had happened to it. Maybe it was some kind of catastrophic event, the planet exploding, but that really isn’t the way things happen in Nature. Likely it was something less spectacular if not less violent, a simple sheering of tidal forces as it passed through the Roche Limit of some large wandering body. There isn’t enough mass in the Asteroid Belt to form a planet because most of it was pulled away by whatever destroyed it.”

“Almost there,” Tubo hisses.

“The residents of that planet sent their children in escape pods to Earth, but those children arrived without their parent’s culture to guide them. They adopted the most advanced technology available on Earth – stone tools. But not all their knowledge was lost. Some passed it down. Some never forgot it. They built the pyramids, Tubo, using the same theories that allowed me to use the weak solar energy all the way out here to outmuscle your momentum engines. I discovered writings here on this asteroid, Tubo, writings that explain…”

In one wracking scream of metal, the Walter Scott’s three momentum engines tear through the ship’s superstructure in less than a microsecond and gouge their way sixty meters into Delilah before exploding. The now-hollow hull of the Walter Scott and a 200 hundred meter diameter of rock are blown free of the asteroid’s gravity. The pieces spray out into space, mingling, twinkling like fairy dust. Doctor Nuttbaum watches it a glittering arc appear above the ‘roid’s horizon, spreading and dissipating, a colorless rainbow, even as the shockwave passes beneath his feet, tossing him like chaff a dozen meters high. His gravity boots float him back to a surface jumbled and broken.

Delilah gradually returns to its original trajectory, a trajectory that will bring it past Earth and back into its original place in the Trojans Resonance, 12.3 Earth years from now.

©2002-08 Jeff Crook