Taster #2

Another glimpse of Milele Safari ~ if you'd like to read some more you can find the paperback on Amazon.com and other leading online bookstores supplied by my distributor, Ingrams.

NOW ALSO AVAILABLE in Kindle format on AMAZON.com

I use flashbacks a lot for some of the characters so here's some quick 'flashes' from the Trophies chapter as told by game guide and raconteur Harry Burton...

On the making of the Kariba Dam and 'Operation Noah'...
‘’Course it took almost five years for the valley to gradually flood and they had to move the Ba Tonga people and all the animals on as the water levels rose. Most of the people went and resettled around the south-western end of the lake in Binga District, or went to the Zambian side, but the wildlife mostly ended up on the south eastern side of the lake here and we got the Matusadona National Park as a result. And the Tiger Fish thrived in the water - game fishing fans love ’em! Not to mention all that lovely hydro-electricity as well. But there had to be an Ark - lots of ‘em as well, because the animals got stranded on the new islands like Fothergill and Spurwing. It was a little bit like a wildlife Dunkirk, with everyone who had a boat chipping in to help Rupert Fothergill, who’d started Operation Noah... 
‘Harry!  Watch yourself!  You saw the crocs not ten minutes ago. They may have looked sleepy on the sandbars but they wake up pretty quick if they see something moving that looks tasty!’ 
He grinned cheekily at his Ma but pulled his hand out of the water all the same and joined her at the front of the boat.  She was looking at the cormorants and darters, already drying out their wings from the first hunt of the day in the naked Leadwood trees. 
‘They seem to like the dead trees more than the live ones don’t they?’ Helena smiled at her nine year old son and he nodded without much interest. She sighed, shaking her head  ‘Go on then - take the bins...’
‘Thanks Ma!’ 
‘Just put them down every so often - the rubber will go all sticky around your eyes when it gets hotter!’ Helena laughed, then carried on watching the birds on the skeletal remains of the drowned Leadwoods, thinking how eerily beautiful they looked in the early morning light.
He scanned the foreshore with his mother’s light but powerful binoculars looking for buffalo, which he found without too much trouble, but hoping for elephants. It had been all over Kariba Town last weekend that Mr Fothergill, despairing of getting a herd of females moved from one of the rapidly shrinking islands, had got them to the southern edge and had been surprised to see them all wade out into the water and then start to swim for the southern shore towards the Matusadona Hills, despite having four very young calves. They’d apparently been in the water for about twenty minutes and out of their depth for about half that time. Harry had been enthralled with the account in the newspaper and had pestered his mother all week to be allowed to go out with her on Saturday to help with the rafts for the smaller animals, but of course hoping to see even one elephant swim...
‘I never saw them swim that day, but about a month later I went out with mother again and saw three bull elephants take to the lake. Very impressive sight! Seen them swimming many, many times since. They’re pretty good at it but better snorkelers - and yes, before you ask, they do keep their trunks out of the water, so they look a bit like sea serpents with their noses up and then you see a bit of their heads and then their backs.’ He stopped for a puff of the pipe and watched the smoke curling up into the night.  ‘The calves take to it quickly - but they’re all water babies are ellies. They love it!’ 

 On game hunting reserves...
It was money for old rope almost and the client paid through the nose for literally everything - the pro hunter’s fee being almost the least of it. Silly prices, and paid at source, where it did most good and everyone, including the precious animals, benefitted in some way. Gun hunting was just not something he enjoyed doing anymore, however great it was for easy money. It was too crude and if the client was a bad shot it could get very distressing, especially if they didn’t miss but botched the shot and hit a non-fatal area...
... He was swearing under his breath as he tried to balance himself to take yet another shot at this bloody buff. Bloody client more like! Big Mr. ‘I am’, and he was ‘gonna git himself one of them big motherfuckin’ Cape bufferloes’... Flaming idiot! He should have listened to his instincts and refused to go out with Marjulies today - the amount the man’d put away last night it was a wonder he made it to lunch, let alone breakfast, but there were only two full days left of their stay here and the old dugga bull they’d found down by the river should’ve been feeling sluggish so late in the day... 
... ‘Shit!’ 
The blasted animal had literally charged and nutted the tree trunk so hard he’d nearly fallen out and his shot had missed by miles. Harry reloaded quickly, his face grim. He’d have to chance it and get back on the ground because he sure as hell wasn’t going to get a good killing shot in sitting up in a tree bole with this useless clot of a client, who’d managed to drop his weapon even before they’d both had to take shelter from the maddened buff in this ruddy tree.  He looked up at Marjulies, who was rustling the leaves on the next branch up he was so shit-scared. 
‘Stay put and try to be quiet - I’ll have to get down if it backs off again.’ Dear God, the man was actually crying now... ‘I mean it! Stay there.’
The old bull was puffing and blowing again. This one wasn’t going to let things lie and not because by rights it should be lying dead several yards off. All they’d done so far was get it so pumped up with adrenalin it was literally running on spite now. It had moved off a little at last, but was still glaring up at them in the tree. Harry raised his rifle and used the telescopic sight to assess the damage he’d inflicted so far. Despite himself he was impressed - there was blood everywhere down the forequarters, so he’d got it in the chest at least once and judging from the way it was spurting blood he’d hit a major vein, if not the heart. That was buffs for you - mean as hell and long on retribution. This old boy wasn’t too far past his prime either. He’d hate to meet up with the new guy who kicked him out - must’ve been bloody monstrous.
Very, very slowly he put his weight on the right leg and slid his left down and behind the trunk until his foot rested on the stub of an old branch, still looking at the bull. Finally it turned away and trotted off for fifty yards or so, breathing hard now. He only needed those few moments to drop lightly to the ground with most of his body hidden by the tree trunk. The buff had stopped, its chest heaving with the effort of its final strength, but it looked back at them, angling around so he had a choice of a head shot or one more to the chest. He had four shots and those should do it he thought as he raised the Browning. 
‘Burton! Behind us!’ Marjulies hissed at him loud enough for the buff to bellow out its anger and turn full on again. Harry slewed his head towards the slight movements from nearby mopane brush in time to see a battery bird fly away.  
‘Shut the fuck up!’ he growled viciously as he swung back and revised the low shot he’d contemplated in favour of the head. The wounded buffalo snorted aggressively and its muscles bunched in obedience to its final crack at vengeance.  
Hold tight Harry... Keep your focus... but this had gone beyond rationality now. He let off two shots in quick succession and still it came, even though both times he saw skin and blood flying away and the white of bone between the buff’s eyes. Another shot, another hit, into the eye itself this time and at last it stumbled as he began to lower the Browning. There was a scream above him from Marjulies that joined the echoing gunshots reverberating in his ears as, unbelievably, the animal heaved itself back into the charge. Harry inhaled and held it in a mixture of fury and fear as he took careful aim with his last shot, knowing he’d need to be bloody lucky to have time to reload if it didn’t go down this time. Wait. Wait. Make it count. Let it get close. He fired. 
He breathed out and stood his ground as the old buffalo finally crumpled forwards onto its knees and slowly fell onto its side as the rear legs splayed and faltered and then were still. It was about two yards away from him. He could smell its blood and sweat, saw the ever-present flies rise up with a buzz, then fall back onto its face, feasting on fresh blood and brains. His legs were shaking now and he breathed in sharply, squatted down on his haunches and bowed his head, trying not to throw up. 
‘Why’d ya shoot the bastid inna head! Ya could’ve spoilt ma trophy!’ 
The punch he landed on Marjulies’ ugly yellow mug smashed his nose almost to a right angle. It was worth breaking two of his own fingers and the mocking laughter back at the Lodge when the trackers asked him which one of them had really shot the buff’s tail off...
‘First rule in the Pro Hunter’s manual - follow up the client’s shot PDQ and be prepared to say yours was the one that missed, if you want your tip.’

On the efficacy of carrying firearms...
‘Certainly not, most farmers carry rifles as a matter of course and have to use gameproof fencing to stop all kinds of wildlife getting into the crops, or taking domestic animals. Rifles are essential really and woe betide you if you forget to take them out with you - and ammo too of course...’
... Carl’d had a bitch of a day and, although the evening had made up for things a bit, he’d had to leave his mates back at the bar when his aunt had phoned the pub to say could he come back tonight instead of tomorrow morning. But right now he really was up shit creek, drunk as a skunk, no spare tyre for the slow puncture because he’d used that on the blow out he’d had on the way into town, and he’d gone and left his rifle back at the bar under his seat. At least that’s where it probably was. He was a bit hazy on where he’d left it but it was no use cursing himself over it - it wasn’t in the truck and the truck wasn’t going anywhere because he’d also run out of sodding fuel. He’d fouled up big time and he’d never hear the last of this for a year or more.
He was only about four miles from home... The moon was a day or so shy of full so it was bright enough to see where he was going and his big solid torch was new if it got too dark in places.  And heavy enough to use as a makeshift club if he needed to swat anything away.  So of course he’d decided to walk the rest of the way rather than stay with the vehicle and risk the ire of his uncle in failing to help him with the herd at dawn tomorrow.  If he’d not had so much to drink he’d have at least paused to consider his options but he was tired, hazy and just wanted to get home and sleep it off. So, like an idiot, he’d slammed out of the cab and stomped off up the road...
He’d been walking for about a quarter of an hour when he first heard them. They were ahead of him, but off in the bush, not on the road. It was just hunting calls he told himself and they were female, so they were probably after something else. And game didn’t like coming onto the road. Then he’d heard the terrified yelping of a bushbuck that cut off abruptly. The sound quashed the more mellow effects of his skinful of beer and suddenly he was stone cold sober and listening as hard as he could to what was happening up ahead, wanting to know how close to the road it had been brought down. He knew better than to go faster than a walk, so he kept going, glancing nervously off to the side, hoping not to see anything because it was too far off. Far enough off that they wouldn’t be looking for anything for dessert too soon.
There were growling and slathering noises. They were close. Then came a much longer, more aggressive grunt and a brief snarling scuffle as a male introduced itself to his worst nightmare.  A cloud that had briefly obscured the moon floated off and, out of the corner of his eye, Carl glimpsed two dark tawny shapes loping out of the depths of the brush, then slowing down to a softer, almost silent pacing through the undergrowth, still heading towards him. 
The last effects of his beer began to make its presence felt with twisted glee, but Carl did his best to ignore it and walked on at the same pace, resisting the urge to turn his torch on the two lionesses who were padding along parallel to him about twenty yards away from the road. All he could realistically do was to keep going and try to keep his head, which was now painfully clear. Also to ignore the urgent signals coming from his achingly full bladder. 
He kept telling himself that he’d be OK and just to keep going, not turn around and hope they’d lose interest. However, the need to take a leak was almost overwhelming but still he attempted to stave it off, trying to think of other things to take his mind off the merciless pressure. He’d been through what Kipling he’d had crammed into him at school and was down to lists now. A-Z of male names; same for females; English counties and African countries then finally, in desperation, he started on the states of America. That became his undoing as he decided to try that in alphabetical order and promptly landed himself in trouble in the C’s, wondering if DC was a county, or a state within a state like the Vatican... Before he could move onto the other D’s after deciding that DC fell neatly into the equation as a D, even if that was for District because Columbia came after Colorado anyway, he heard the sound of running water in a storm drain beside the track and passed the point of no return. 
With no option but to obey the imperative to start peeing, since it was now cripplingly impossible to resist any longer, he fumbled with his zip as quietly as he could, whilst still keeping up the pace. Too late. He’d started even before he managed to free himself from his Y-fronts, so he was already sopping wet and the bloody wind was blowing in his face too. The simple relief of emptying his bladder was momentarily worth it though, as the padding in the scrub beside the road had stopped... 
Jesus! Thank you for that! 
Carl was about to stop and turn around when he heard the soft athletic thud of two sets of feline paws on the sandy road. The bloody animals were having a good sniff of his urine! Miserably, cooling clammy shorts clinging unpleasantly to his groin and thighs and tickling drips down his bare legs into his boots, he trudged on, hoping they’d not like his scent and give it up but, knowing his luck, he was completely buggered. Sure enough, pad, pad, pad behind him again and he thought they were gaining on him. Stay calm. Keep going. He was really starting to sweat now but he knew he had to be within a half mile from the big meshed gates onto the farm and there was anyway no choice but to keep going now. 
At first he thought he was hallucinating when he saw a flash of light ahead, but about a half minute later he heard the sound of a motor and got another glimpse of the spotlight mounted on the Land Cruiser, that promptly disappeared as the vehicle turned into a kink in the road which meant that he was nearly at the gates! Thank God for Aunt Helena! She must have realised he was overdue and come out to look for him. The road curved around too so he didn’t see the spotlight, but he could hear the engine still and it was getting louder. A low growl from behind almost had him pissing his pants again, and suddenly his timely rescue seemed to disappear like morning mist as the gates came into view and the spotlight flooded the road, then doused altogether. The headlights went out too. Carl didn’t know whether to laugh or cry now but wisely remained silent and carried on walking. Helena’s bushcraft was second to none and he sent up another heartfelt prayer. Please God let her have seen them. Please God let her have seen me!
He kept walking. The vehicle was bathed in moonlight and he saw the driver get out. Oh, you beauty! She had a rifle with her. But why was she waiting? His answer came soon enough as he saw her raise the gun holding it up at an angle, but still she did nothing. Carl’s nerves were completely shot now and he was about to scream at her to fire when she spoke to him in a conversational tone as though she was asking whether he wanted a biscuit with his tea.
‘Keep walking, Carl. I’ll fire overhead but you’d better get to the side quickly if they stick around. Nod if you heard, lad.’ He moved his head frantically and another, louder growl came from behind him. 
Time slowed. He saw her aim high, the stock almost touching her chin and then smoke. He squeezed his eyes shut. Then there was the crack of the shot passing harmlessly high over his head. A half second of silence, then an echoing snarl as he veered to the right, finally looking back at his tormentors. Both of them were turning on themselves, deceptively soft, tawny muscles bunching with the power of adrenalin and panic. Then his own instincts kicked in as he began to run as fast as they were but in the opposite direction towards Helena and the Land Cruiser.
‘Get off me - you stink to high heaven Carl!’ He hugged his Aunt again anyway, but then pulled away and hung his head in shame. 
‘I’m sorry Helena. Thank you so much for coming out - I was terrified!’ She was laughing softly now and he joined her guiltily, feeling like an idiot.
‘I gathered that. Silly boy - why the hell didn’t you stay with the vehicle? I got the shock of my life seeing you in the road like that!’ 
‘Of course Cousin Carl ought to have stayed with the truck, but he wasn’t too smart when he was sober, let alone when he was three sheets to the wind!’ He laughed at the memory of Carl’s ashen face when his father had got in the next morning after spending an anxious night watching over the cattle in the lower meadows close to the lake. ‘He got the bollocking of his life when Pa came back and he had his pay docked for the petrol in the end and two replacement tyres too, as Ma had to take the Cruiser back into Kariba Town the next morning. But I came out of it OK as I got to go in with her and then I was allowed to drive the Land Cruiser back when we’d fixed the truck. I was twelve and it was the first time I’d ever driven on my own. I fell in love with Cruisers that day and that’s part of the reason why I wanted to be a Park Ranger, and then a Guide, because they’re such a pleasure to drive, even though they’re tougher than hell - and, for a 4 by 4, they’re comfortable inside too.’ 

On arachnophobia of  the scorpion kind...
‘We were wondering whether it was the sight of us both naked and screaming our heads off or the scorpion that gave you the willies, Harry.’
‘Definitely the scorpion, Jim - I was enjoying the view until it decamped into the bathroom.’
‘Just as well you weren’t there first off when the bloody thing scuttered out of Eva’s trousers - I think I’ve got a couple of perforated eardrums from the screaming. Not that Sophie’s being too kind about that of course.’
‘I’m sorry honey - but I was petrified.’ 
‘Pity your vocal chords weren’t!’ Jim gave her a comforting squeeze on the hand anyway, ‘But what’s this about you having a too close encounter with one Harry?’
The guide made a face. ‘Long, long time ago. I was fourteen...’
Shit! Shit! Shit! Helena examined her hand minutely, although there was no difficulty in locating the puncture wound as her skin looked red and angry already.  Bloody sod’s law that this would happen today with Wayne’s mother flying in this afternoon.  She’d already killed the scorpion that had leapt on her from underneath the bed in the spare room as she was trying to sweep the dirt into the dustpan. She brushed the nasty specimen into the dustpan and stood up.
‘Harry! Come here a minute.’
‘What is it? I’ll miss the school bus, Ma!’
‘This is more important...’ She walked out into the hall as Harry came out of his bedroom doing up his shirt. ‘... I’ve been stung - can you look this thing up in your spotters book for me?’
Harry’s eyes grew wide as he took in the dark mangled head and torso with the unimpressive pincers and the relatively undamaged, wide, shiny tail carapace ‘Christ, Ma - I think that’s a poisonous one!’
‘She nearly died, despite doing all the right things. My Ma was a really tough lady and bush savvy so she stayed very calm - but she had an allergic reaction. By the time I’d ID-ed the animal - it was a black thick-tailed scorpion, she’d had a bath and called for me to come with her to the hospital.  Her right arm had gone numb and she couldn’t grip with her hand, so I had to drive her and she started having convulsions on the way. I was so scared I can’t tell you...’

These are the final versions of some of the original apochryphal campfire tales I'd wanted to include as part of 'The Guide's Tale' until I decided to use them as background for the various phases of the journey. With Harry the accent was on his formative memories growing up in Zimbabwe, for Sophie, her emotional responses to her earliest experiences as an aid worker and with David and Verity the psychological tone and background to their respective ordeals during the Zyandan genocide.

The approach varies, but has a visual constant in that most of them are italicised in the narrative at least, so the reader can differentiate between what is happening 'in the now' and what is being remembered.

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