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Safari Joe
By RD Rivero



“Safari Joe”
By RD Rivero
March 26, 2000

I left the cabin for the last time at noon.  On the open plane the
decrepit wooden structure was all too out of place to the utmost degree
of memory.  I had no recollection of there ever having been a cabin at
that spot.  Yet it had been long since last I had visited the area and
my friend may have made improvements in the meanwhile.
At the distance, at the horizon, a strong, a wide river snaked off onto
infinity.  In ankle-high grass -- dense and yellow -- I stood while the
sun beat on Third Earth all over with oppressive heat.  The air bellowed
with gusts of alternately cool, alternate warm winds.  Trees echoed in a
mad cackle of leaves, of branches that rubbed together.  No where was
there silence but in the two days of my trip I had gotten to know of a
silence of a different sort.
Still I could not delay.  I took the air in and, refreshed, I set back
upon the trail.  I headed onward.  To my left was a chain of gray
mountains with bright white peaks that loomed far and away almost
indistinguishable with the clouded sky of the same colors.  To my right
was a set of small hills that rolled with luscious greenery sparkling,
shimmering with dew.  Before me was the forest.
The trail was badly kept and after an hour it was totally and completely
covered in an encroaching vegetation that through the years was
reclaiming the lost territory.  I was familiar with the terrain -- I had
worked it for the better half of my youth -- I did not need the comfort
of its overt presence but the entangled vines and often sharp, often
spiny leaves were not at all welcome to my feet.
The jungle, that had begun a loose orchard, gradually acame to the wild
randomness of natural selection.  Bushes and shrubs were everywhere, the
underbrush was especially hazardous.  There was darkness, not total, not
absolute but an omnipotent shadow  prevailed through the land.  There
was cold, coldness and for the first time that summer I shivered.
Undaunted I continued on my trek for my friend was quite desperate to
see me.  He had sent me the message through letter to my village.  He
had gone as far as to instruct that the envelope be delivered to me in
person.  That was not something done too often.
I had said that there was silence but I had not been too clear about
what I had meant.  Noises could be caused by anything, animate,
inanimate.  What I had alluded to were to those sounds of life that by
virtue of fact should polyphonate in forests, in jungles.  From the
moment I had left my village on the excursion I had yet to have heard a
bird flutter, a frog groat, a dog bark, a cat claw.  In short, neither
were there the sounds of animals nor even the animals themselves
present.
That was until I stumbled on it.  I could not -- no -- I will not say
what I thought it was at first but needless I approached cautiously.
Within the green vines of overgrown shrubs -- that I pushed aside with
my hands -- I found the rotted remains of a cheetah.  The cat had been
dead for a while, no doubt.  Most of the carcass had been eaten out from
the inside by hoards of ants.  The entire hide had collapsed into the
various hairs that formed what was nothing more than bundles of dust
that even the gentlest, that even the slightest breeze could blow away
in all directions in many ways similar to pussy willows.  The interior
of the dead beast was a hotchpotch of crisp organs, shriveled and dried,
baked by the heat of the sun.  Most of the head was gone, blown,
shattered by bullets, one or two of which I could see clearly still
imbedded in the exposed neck bones.  I was surprised there was no stench
of death.
I left the grizzly scene pondering the situation.  What could have
driven my friend to shot the animal -- he was a hunter -- and then leave
the carcass where it was?  Certainly not for sport.  Perhaps it had
attacked him, I convinced myself, perhaps the repercussions of the
attack were so serious that he wanted to see me before his own impending
death.  I stopped, my paranoid mind, my overly-worried mind had taken
the better of me.  I had to be sure that my friend was all right, just
as I had to be sure that there was a logical reason for everything else
I had encountered or had failed to encounter.
After two hours I managed to hike all the way around behind the green
hills.  At last I had entered the valley.  A small cataract sprayed
glassy water into a flowing brook whose edge I followed closely.  I
smiled again, I was happy again.
Then the trees ended, then the forests receded.  Open to view was the
mansion.  I myself had no small part in its construction.  The massive
stone house had taken five years to piece together from parts sailed in
from clear halfway around third earth.  In the course of that labor I
had met and befriended its owner, an exile, a man known infamously to
the rest of the universe as the enigma as Safari Joe.  Only I had peeled
back the layers of his pretended facade to the true man beneath and had
actually gained his respect in the process.  For a long while we were
inseparable.
I stood in shock.  The mansion had the air of neglect and of abandoned
abuse.  The gray rocks were dulled, cracked and had badly eroded in far
too many places to have been caused by nature.  Much of the mortar and
of the stone masonry was gone.  The windows on the first two floors were
boarded up, the windows on the top floors were broken all of them, all
of them, cracked, dulled by dirt, by dust.  Interior rooms were exposed
but no lights were visible.
I had reservations.
The front doors, nestled in a slight alcove, were open, not wide open,
not locked, simply ajar.  Without a creak, with out so much as a low
moan I pushed one forward all the way.  I stood confined in the fringes
of light and of shadow, confident that my face could be seen by anyone
within.
Silent, I had heard nothing.  “Joe!  Joe!  It’s me,” I said, “it’s me!”
No answer.  I did not want to be awkward but I had come so long a way
already, it would have been rude otherwise so I entered the house and
waited for my eyes to adjust to the darkness.  I announced my presence
once more then I went on.
The first room was large and empty except for the furniture that lay
scattered in torn pieces everywhere, along with papers ripped to
shreds.  I was met by two doors.  One led to an interior hall that was
simply too shrouded to be trusted.  The other opened to a room where
there were enough gaps in the boarded up windows to allow thin traces of
light to enter.  It was the dining hall, I remembered, with its long
table broken in three places.  Behind that room was the kitchen but I
explored no further for there were too many pots, too many pans in
scattered chaos for me to walk with safety.  I had no choice but to
enter the dark hall.
I could not recount how my heart raced, how I was afraid and the
strangest part was how unnatural the whole ordeal was to me.  I am a
humble man, not prone to the oft arrogant, to the oft wild exaggerations
of my friend.  When I said I was afraid I truly meant it.  For comfort I
hugged closely the ornate wooden walls.  I walked slowly and I felt
everything.  I came across a door but it was locked.  I knocked, I
pounded, I announced my presence yet again, yet again without success.
So I headed onward.  I was greeted by a door that actually opened -- to
a deep passage from which there evolved the faintest, the coldest air
along with the eeriest blue light.  Something about that light
intoxicated me, drew me.  I followed, I followed down the passage, down
the steps, down in to the basement.  Otherwise the absolute darkness
would have been unbearable, the illumination that yet unseen source
provided was a welcome relief.
The first room I encountered was one directly below the kitchen.  The
dumbwaiter was open, piles of dinnerware were strewn about the floor
replete with broken glasses, deformed utensils.  In the center of the
room was a circular pit, unfathomably deep.  Of that feature I had no
previous recollection.  The three walls that faced me each had an open
doorway but only one had the light I had honed in on all along.
I wished I had stayed back.  I wished I had never come so far.  The lit
hallway terminated in a small antechamber.  In that room the stone walls
held torches, burning torches, flaming in the oddest blue substance.  At
first I thought that the floor was covered only by scraps of cloth.  I
reached down to pick one up and by chance, by mere chance, by causality
I looked to the side.
I was in a crypt, covered from floor to ceiling with eaten out,
fleshless skeletons.  Wollo skeletons intertwined in the most hideous
assortments.  The skulls, the jaws, the flailed arms.  The terror, the
absolute terror.  I was about to scream but my mouth was promptly
covered by a single hand, by a strong hand.
I turned around -- though cast in shadow, though a decade old, even if I
had been blind I would have recognized my friend.
He led me quickly out of that chamber of horrors back into the larger
room with the inconceivable pit.  He hugged me, kissed me, then hugged
me again.  He was very happy to see me.
“I came as fast as I could,” I said.
He looked at me squarely in the eyes.  “You got here all right?  Nothing
happened to you?”
“No, I'm fine, Joe, really, I am.  But you?  You’re so old.  So much
older.”  He could have laughed himself silly.  Honestly, I had never
seen him in such a state of elation.  I had to ask.  “What happened
here?”
He looked around the room, around the pit.  “Up stairs.  It’s not safe
down here.”
Safari Joe led me back to the upper floor by the hand and guided me into
that darkened hall with the locked door.  Up a staircase to the second
floor we were met with a spaghetti cluster of small and of large and of
strangely contorted room that he had obviously remodeled a long time
after the mansion had been itself completed for I had no knowledge of
the wild, of the ludicrous layout of the floor scheme.
More than anything else the floors were littered with scattered books.
The furniture, where there was furniture, was used to barricade both
doors and passages.  Compounded with the dark the trek to the third
floor was a curious hazard of obstacles and of traps of which my friend
took careful note in that he reinforced the barricades and reshuffled
the stumbling blocks in random orientations.
On the third floor, where it was apparent that he lived alone, I found a
warm dinner for two awaiting us.  “I was expecting you but not so
early.  Still the food’s cooked and I guess we should eat it.  You
haven’t lost your appetite, have you?”  I nodded.  “Ah, well, sit down
anyway so you can listen to me.”  He served himself a bowl of what I
took to be rice.
No meat, there was no meat.  “When did you become a vegetarian?” I
asked.
“I can’t bear the sight of meat anymore -- of dead flesh, of rotting
flesh, cut free from the vitality of life.  About a year ago.  I was out
on expedition in the surrounding countryside.  A small Wollo village had
reported that a tiger -- a man eater -- was on the loose terrorizing
local farmers.  I was hired to put an end to it.”  He stopped suddenly
and looked out beyond me, out beyond to the distance where there were
only dancing shadows cast by the weak, by the quivering candles.  It
seemed to me that he had heard something but without uttering a word to
explain the interruption he went on exactly where he had left off.
“I’ll spare you the details except that I caught the tiger after two
months, after it had about killed half my squad.  The other half had
threatened to walk out on me when what do you know but mister stripes
showed up.  I hadn’t even aimed but with one shot of my gun I knocked it
down, I killed it.  With one shot,  With one shot!”  He lunged forward
at me but the edge of the table kept him back.  He started to eat more
of the food and I moved my chair closer to his.  “Now.  Now I know what
you’re thinking.  ‘There goes old Joe with his stories.’  But I tell you
it’s true.  Believe it.”  He paused and there was total silence.  Even I
had stopped breathing.  I was caught off guard by a hiss and I
understood: the candles themselves flickered in terror.  “I examined the
beast.  It was dead all right but no blood.  No blood.  Not a wound of
any kind.  Hell, no one ever found the bullet.  The Wollos were grateful
and all but there was one woman.  Her name escapes me.  She saw evil.
She said something to the effect that I was cursed but I wasn’t sure if
she meant that she had cursed me herself or if it was something I had
done or both.  Spooked.  The other villagers tried to console me ‘cause
they thought it was she who had put a hex on me.”
“What did she have to do with tiger?”
“That particular village believed that souls can transmigrate from
sapient beings to, to, to animals.  Her husband had been killed by a mob
of farmers, the very farmers the tiger had victimized.  Apparently she
thought that her dead husband’s spirit was exacting revenge and that by
stepping in the way I did that I --”
He stopped, he looked around.  His bowl still steamed though half
eaten.  “Not too long ago I received a package.  Well not really a
package.  It was a box, it was a crate, unmarked, unaddressed.  One of
the ground keepers spotted it and I went out to look at it.  We opened
the box and inside we saw a statue -- it was the most perfect statue
ever, not even old Mike’s ‘David’ could come close.  Works of genius are
immortal!  It was a tiger in full color, in full force.  Carved from a
single piece of stone.  I think it’s stone.  It was too heavy for wood.
If you didn’t know better you would have mistaken it for the real
thing.  Its claws, its paws, its stance -- leaping for the attack -- an
image of motion captured in still, captured forever in time.  I moved it
into the house.  Later that same day I killed a cheetah.”  He put his
hands around his mouth, around his lips to keep me from seeing how they
were curling.  For a moment I thought he was about to cry.  “It was
almost evening.  I saw it while the men moved the statue into the
house.  It sprung to attack, I fired into its head, it thrashed into the
forest.  I followed.  It got stuck in a bush and I fired again.  That
time the head shattered like a water balloon, like a god damned water
balloon everywhere the gore spilt everywhere on my hands.”  He looked at
his hands and began to wring them though he tried to wipe away the
stains of something he alone could see.  “I killed it, I put it out of
its misery.”  He smiled and he giggled to himself, he spoke in a
whisper.  “By then there weren’t any other animals around and I had
heard from some friends that the woman from the village had died days
before.  Any ways I put the statue into the house and from that moment
on everything began to fall apart.  One by one my servants were killed
-- except for the man I sent out with your letter.  I let him go but the
others were eaten, the corpses dragged down to that room in the basement
by that impossible source of evil, of evil itself.  Every time it was
the same story.  I tried hard, I tell you, I tried hard but I could not
stop it.  I’ve boarded up the house, the whole second floor is one
gigantic booby trap.  Yet I hear it.  I hear it.  Stalking, crawling,
prowling through the darkness.  Night after night it comes up higher, it
comes up closer to me.”  He looked at me with the most penetrative gaze
that I thought his eyes would pop out of the sockets.
“Why call me here?  Why bring me into this mess?  Can a satanic spirit
be fought by mortals?”
“I know what it is.  I know what it has been all along.  Can’t you see
it?  Can’t you see it?”
For the first time I wondered if it could have been my friend all along
who had perpetrated the gruesome horrors he had described and that I had
seen.  I held my tongue back and to make sure that my mouth was busy I
got myself a bowl of the rice too and began to eat to drown out the
sound of his voice while he explained his theory.
“I’ll show you,” he said in conclusion.
“How do you plan to get rid of it?”
“And that’s why I called you.  I need your help.  You and I have been on
many adventures before, you’ve seen how I hunt.  I trust no one else.
We’re going to box the statue then we’re going to wait in the basement,
to wait in its den.  You saw the hole I dug?  I’ll have it covered.
I’ll lure it into that trap and finish it with impunity.”
His face emitted the unquestioned impression of demented determinism.  I
decided to placate him.  I knew he would not hurt me.  He was never as
close to others as he was close to me.  After I finished my bowl of
rice, I stepped toward one of the windows and looked out onto the
darkness, onto the horizon.  The once oppressive sun was no more,
nothing more than wild orange, yellow.  The heat of the day gave in to
the coldness of the oncoming night.  Wind howled and echoed so well that
perhaps there was no need for animals at all.  I was no longer so
nervous at least in so much I convinced myself.
I was led downstairs through the cumbersome maze of the second floor.
Habit was engraved in my friend.  He tidied up after each hurdle,
obstacle and trap we passed.
Back into that painfully dark hall Joe opened the door that had
previously been locked.  Within there were more blue torches, only
brighter, awfully brighter.  The crevices beneath the door had been
blocked by heavy cloths that cut off to the outside the traces of
light.  My friend opened the door very cautiously, attentively -- he
listened for Lord only knew what.
In the chamber I saw what he had eluded to earlier.  The sculpted tiger
was magnificent.  The legs were strong, visibly strong, the paws were
pressed firmly down -- rather had the desired effect of looking of being
pressed firmly down -- on the green base.  The tail curled in the
fragments of semicircles pointed up in the air.  The back was arched.
The head!  Eyes, moist eyes.  Whiskers gnarled.  Mouth wide open.  The
beast seemed though it would leap in attack.
While my friend walked feverishly through the room I approached the
statue.  I had said that the paws rested on the green base but when I
looked again -- after I had turned my head for a moment -- the figure
had changed.  The front two paws were then slightly, so slightly, so
imperceptibly slightly off above the base.  The effect was so minuscule
one would have had to have been mad to have noticed.  But that -- even
that -- was not all.
Intrigued by the possibilities I studied the sculpture even further.  It
was the most exact replication of life I had ever seen.  The only
competition,  the only form of comparison was reality.  Every detail
down to the matted fur, to the form of each individual hair was complete
and to my horror, with every blink, those self same strands moved,
swayed slightly as if caught in motion, as if caught in a current of
air.
All the while my friend talked but even his drone --
uncharacteristically forced -- could not hide the sound of the drip.  I
distinctly heard the liquid drip.  Beneath the open mouth was the
slightest pool of a thin, clear liquid.  Before my eyes, plain in sight,
I saw a drop of it fall and I looked up.  I screamed back in horror.
The statue’s mouth, the tiger’s mouth, glimmered in the pale blue light
for the slowly-secreted fluid had bathed entirely the toothed, the
jagged orifice.
“Hurry, we don’t have much time left.  Here’s the hammer, the nails are
on the work bench behind you.  The statue's already on the wooden base
of the crate.  Hurry!  Old friend.  Day light has all but wasted.”
The walls of the crate were put up in record time.  While I hammered the
nails in he held the hickory boards steady.  The lid required the use of
a ladder.  When the operation was complete Joe inspected the work we had
done.  He turned to one of the many workbenches and came back with a
hand full of screws.  A whole half-hour passed but together we got all
two hundred and fifty six screws tightly in place.
The box was impenetrable certainly a statue could not break free from
it.
He gave me a riffle and bullets.  We walked out of the chamber whose
door he locked behind us.  “It took me a whole week to drag that statue
in there, into that room.”
In the basement he unfurled a heavy canvas rug that matched near
perfectly with the color of the room’s floor.  We rolled the coarse
material over the circular hole of the pit he had dug out himself no
doubt.  The edges of the ensnaring cover were weighted down but not too
much, only enough to keep it from collapsing in on itself.
I hoped Joe’s spirit stalker would fall right through but I hoped a
whole week would not have to pass for that event to unravel.  I hoped
but then --
“The sun is down,” he said after the most casual look at this watch.
“Let’s be quiet and listen.”
I nodded in unilateral compliance.
He turned his head to the side in a quick jerk and pointed to the
darkness with an extended, arthritic finger.  A sound, I heard it, I
heard it come from above.  At first there was scratching only, softly,
loudly.  Boards fell, scattered.  I wanted to laugh but I did not, Joe
was too intensed, too caught up in the event and I did not want to
disturb him, unleash worser consequences.  The roar was unmistakable
though what it was remained on the tip of my tongue, caught in my
throat.  The scratching came again louder, more desperate.  Panicked, I
wanted to run but I could not move, I could do nothing but look out into
the blank darkness my friend still feverishly pointed to.
Next, two crashed sent Joe into a pitfall, head first, into one curse
after the other.  He swore at himself for not having properly barricaded
the doors but he was resolved that the matter would come to an end very
shortly.  He looked at me suddenly.  The whole house was unfathomably
quiet and he said:  “Your gun is ready, be ready, be at my side.”  I
stood up with him and aimed though he did not.  He shook, he quivered,
he approached the vaporous shadow slowly, slowly.  Eh was on the heavy
canvass at the edge of the pit.  I shouted at him to return, I tried to
get closer but every instinct within held me in place.
He ran and the sound of his footsteps echoed along side the roar and the
quick pace of that something else, of that satanic stalker.  The last I
saw he sunk into the hole, the canvass oozed down with him along with --
no! -- I could not, I would not believe it.  But it was true there
before me was the undeniable evidence, there was a struggled, screams,
shouts.
I got the courage to step into the darkens armed with one of the
blue-flamed torches.  The canvass base had completely fallen into the
pit.  I saw more than fragments, it was clear that a great struggle was
at work down there.  My ears were assaulted by the screams, by the
roars, by the sound of flesh ripping, tearing.  A shot fired, a single
shot and the combat ceased.  One of the cloaked and shrouded figures
fell back lifeless while the other continued to fight to break free.
I called into the hole but there was no answer.
Yet Joe had managed to crawl out from under the deep trenches of the
folds of the canvass and even tried to scale the inner wall of the pit.
But there was a problem.  He bled profusely, streams of blood poured out
of every would that covered his body.  His flesh did not seem to stick
to his bones anymore.  I could not see one of his eyes, his cheeks were
torn exposing teeth, his tongue was pointed out though one of the
rents.  His nose dangled off to the side.
Somehow, by the grace of god -- or by the handiwork of the devil -- my
friend reached the upper rim of the pit.  I crouched down to his level.
I extended my hand but he reached for my gun instead.  In one swift
movement he had the end of the barrel completely down his throat.  The
message was clear.  The message was undeniable.  I could do nothing else
but pull the trigger.  Instantly, in a dense cloud of blood and brain
matter that puffed into the air like smoke, like a cloud of smoke, his
head shattered with the explosion of the bullet.  His skull above his
eyes flew back into the air, back into the pit.  What was left of his
face fragmented into shards, into chunks of bone and of flesh.  Only his
jaw -- complete with teeth and curled tongue -- and what remained of the
lower parts of the back of the head were intact.  Blood squirted out in
short bursts from exposed and shredded arteries and veins that dangled
on the sides or that protruded vulgarly into the air.  All detail was
lost and thankfully the body fell into the hole, atop the canvass mat
with a damped thud, in the darkness eternally, eternally.
Up the stairs I ran with the torch.  I could see everything.  The walls,
the floor, the doors were adorned with claw marks, claw marks carved
into almost every last piece of wood.  Tables, chairs, books, papers,
all bore that unmistakable imprint.  I screamed, I yelled hysterically.
Then I looked in to the locked room whose door had been shredded to
splinters.  There inside the crate so meticulously, so carefully put
together had been torn asunder though it was mere paper and not the
thick hickory.  What was worse, still worse, still far worse -- I
stopped dead in my tracks at the very sight of it -- the green base of
the statue remained but not the tiger, the tiger was not on it, the
tiger was not on it anymore.






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