The sun-baked African savannah was usually not a quiet place, but right now, it was. The lions, rhinos and elephants were apparently content to lay low today. In the red oat grass and sour plums all was still, barring the rustling of a light breeze, an occasional bird flying past, chirping insect or small mammal on the move; and the hunting party of Sir Henry Samuel Dartforth III.
Henry was not very pleased at the moment. He and his party had expected more game out today. Consisting of Henry, William (another hunter he knew from Scotland), and a native guide, the party in question had been searching for suitable hunting for a number of hours. That only made the uncharacteristic lack of animals on that particular day all the more irritating.
"Musele!" the gray-moustached, pith-helmeted hunter called to his native guide. The tall ebony man was by his side in a matter of seconds. "We've been out here for ages. Why in the bloody Hell isn't there anything out here?"
"Well, sir…I'm not sure. I expected more as well."
"Blast! I can only spend so much time in country, you know. At this rate I'll only have three kills to show the lads back at the club. Most disappointing." He proceeded to take a drink from his water canteen. Musele rolled his eyes. He wasn't exactly crazy about the rich foreigners who more and more often traveled to his home land to shoot innocent animals, but unlike most from his tribe, he very much preferred guide work. He hoped Ngai would understand.
"Aye, better be something out there. I didn't bring this little wee gun for nothing." The large red-haired Scotsman spoke up in his broad accent while patting his .50 caliber elephant gun: the largest firearm any of them owned. Henry looked at his own rifle. True, it had gotten him through quite a number of scrapes, but for a moment he found himself wanting a bigger gun.
"Took the words right out of my mouth, old boy," Henry agreed as he replaced his canteen. "Our chances would be improved if we kept a stiff upper lip, I should think."
As the party continued trekking in silence through a particularly dense stand of camelthorn trees, Musele thought he noticed something out of the corner of his eye. It looked like he was the only one who could see it in the first place.
What he saw was a gorilla of average size, half-hiding behind a nearby tree. Which was quite surprising; gorillas weren't very common in this part of the land. What was even more surprising was the unusual, self-satisfied smirk on the gorilla's face. The cold, unrelenting eyes. He suddenly felt a chill run down his spine. The gorilla's mouth split into a wide smile…almost too wide. Musele shivered involuntarily and closed his eyes.
A second later when he reopened them, the gorilla was gone, yet the feeling of insecurity and chaos still lingered. He had almost no idea why a common animal shook him so. Was it his guardian? Musele felt it wasn't his place to know, which was disconcerting at best. The African turned back to his company, and Henry must have caught the shaken visage of his guide when he did.
"You look like you've seen a ghost! Is anything the matter?"
"No." Musele shook his head. "Maybe I'm feeling a bit under the weather." It was probably for the best that the Englishman stayed in the dark. The jungle seemed even more humid.
"Well, you know what I always say. A little bit of endurance in the face of adversity never hurt anyone, what! You can persevere my good man, I know you've got the strength of your kind." He playfully punched the arm of his black guide. Musele nodded.
Wiliam, his interest piqued, turned to look at Musele, and the tribesman looked back in turn. The look on his face told the Scot all he needed to know: something wasn't right. Musele took a swig of water from his canteen. That would have to do for now until he found out what was in store for him. William for his part didn't believe in ghosts.
The hunters eventually reached an open plain, with a few umbrella thorn trees scattered about. The grass grew halfway up their shins, the afternoon sun hung in a cloudless sky, and grazing on one of those trees a short distance away was a solitary giraffe. Henry and William almost jumped for joy, then realized that would have probably scared the thing away.
"You see it?" the Scot half-whispered. "That one's mine."
"The devil you say," Henry replied likewise. "You got that elephant back by the river two days ago, and the lion that was stalking it. This one's mine, old man." This was his first good potential kill in what felt like eons, and even if it was just a giraffe he wasn't about to let it slip away.
Always the good friend, William conceded, but that didn't stop him from huffing as his fellow compatriot readied his weapon. The other two men stepped back as he quietly prepared his rifle. Musele thought he could feel the same piercing eyes from before watching him from behind. He didn't really know what to make of the situation, so he just stood still and hoped the actions of his bloodthirsty charge didn't herald anything odder to come. He'd been through worse situations. Why was this one so tense?
Sir Henry kneeled and looked down the ironsights of his Magazine Lee-Enfield, drawing a bead on the unfortunate giraffe's head. He idly wondered if those leaves tasted as good as the creature made it seem, the way it was eating like that. He dismissed the thought. No time for that now. His finger caressed the trigger, and his breathing slowed. He was in his element, and soon he would have his trophy. The distant rumbling noise served as a…distant rumbling noise?
Henry looked up from his quarry to see a distant white streak in the sky, some distance away. The rumbling grew louder as it became apparent the streak was becoming less distant. In fact, it almost seemed like…
The giraffe looked up from its delicious meal. It saw the hunters. The hunters in turn saw that the streak in the sky was heading right for them, getting closer by the second. What seemed like an almost comical moment quickly became one of chaos as someone cursed, the sky darkened and the three men turned tail and ran, yelling in fright. The giraffe paused in its eating, ears swiveling about, then fled from the scene, long legs swinging.
The men were near the forest from which they emerged when they heard an outstandingly loud BOOM, saw a white flash of light on the trees before them and were knocked forward by a mighty shockwave. The last thing Henry did was go flying forward, bound for a hard landing with the red earth.
When Henry eventually came to, he was sprawled on the ground, rifle and helmet lying a few feet ahead of him, and he was plagued with a terrific headache. He staggered to his feet, fighting back a wave of nausea and brushing the dirt off of him. What he saw was his companions lying beneath the now orange sky in front of several trees, which were mostly bereft of leaves. What in the blazes happened?
He turned around. The ground rose up in a small ridge a distance from where he stood. A faint column of smoke rose from behind it. Henry finally put two and two together as he ran up to the edge.
The crater was easily 20 metres across, and had a smattering of glass-like material at the bottom. Beyond the far edge, he could make out the stunted, burned remains of a tree. He briefly wondered what type of animal would eat from a tree like-
He saw no sign of it amongst the strewn soil and rock matter. He seriously doubted it survived.
He was aware of footsteps behind him. He turned to see Musele approaching.
"It's gone," Henry said, deadpan.
The black man stopped.
The white man paused. Then he whipped around to face his guide.
"Well of course it's bloody gone! You didn't hear that giant explosion?!" Henry gesticulated towards the crater. "Come and have a look at this hole in the ground!"
The African chanced a look over the crater. A blanket of blackened soil greeted him, yet there was no sign of any giraffes. Henry sank to his knees, helmet off-balance; which it rarely ever was.
"To think…I haven't even shot half a dozen of the things. And now this." He gestured towards the hole again, now more disheartened than angry. "Still. I guess this might make a smashing story. Just wish I could've bagged the bugger."
The largest man among the group stumbled up to the crater's edge, groaning; seemingly as if he were half out of it.
"It's not fair, you know. Only three kills."
It seemed William was more than half out of it. Musele stumbled out of the way as the Scotsman tripped over an errant rock and crashed into Henry, who only noticed too late to move, sending them both over the lip.
He looked at them, rolling downward over the debris in one angry, noisy mass, to the helmet lying at his feet. The image of a grinning gorilla entered his head, and despite being the only one standing over the crater he didn't feel alone. Gone was the anxiety he felt before. Ridiculous laughter escaped his lips as he closed his eyes and spread his arms in the dry breeze.
And in the far reaches of the heavens, a trickster laughed as well.