Tales From The Dark Continent: The Zebra

Zebra_bw

When visiting the Dark Continent, you can order up animals to kill from a menu, like a do it yourself restaurant. When you think of it that way, it’s difficult to imagine going to a steak house and paying $14,000 to go hunt your own steer, even if you do get to keep it’s head, but whatever.

He killed a zebra. That’s right, my employer paid $14,000 to kill a zebra. A zebra. While technically not a horse, it’s pretty much a horse. John Wayne and The Lone Ranger rode horses. The horse is how the west was won. You know, Hi-yo Silver!, and all that shit. Girls love horses. I’ve seen The NeverEnding Story at least 100 times and still cry when Artax sinks into the Swamp Of Sadness. This zebra hunting business didn’t sit well with me. It seemed no different than hunting a dairy goat or a Saint Bernard. Horses, even if they are wild and striped, are a friend of man. Where’s the sport in that?

I wanted to tell him that zebra hunting was un-American but his mistress’s tongue was in his ear so he couldn’t hear me. After he shot the zebra, I heard him saying to the trackers, “Look how it’s fur glistens in the sun!” I looked down and saw I was standing in a little puddle of zebra blood. The clean up crew did their work; they wiped up all the mess and positioned the body like it was just taking a little nap, sunbathing in the African bush. I shot the photos, the ones that are now in magazines and on websites. When we were finished, some Africans were employed to scoot the stripey carcass on to a flatbed trailer. The trailer was 10 feet long so I don’t know why the zebra’s head didn’t fit, but they left it hanging off the end. While the good ole boys stood around congratulating themselves, I noticed that blood had begun to flow from the zebra’s nose and the soft skin around it’s mouth hung loosely, leaving the teeth naked and despondent. Drip drip drip drip drip. The boys were still pissing pretty pictures, one of them broke out a cigar.

We never ate any zebra steaks but a month or so later, back at the office, we ate some ham sandwiches. We sat around the glass table: my employer; myself; a girl who dropped out of homeschool because her parents, stating that girls shouldn’t put wood in their mouths, would not permit her to play the saxophone; and his mistress, who had come all the way from the Dark Continent and still didn’t realize she was the other woman. We sat there chewing on our sandwiches and it was during this meal that the International Hunter said the funniest thing ever. He said “You know what’s wrong with America? They don’t teach family values in school anymore.” I swallowed my food and said “You’re god damned right!”

He gave me a dirty look and I slurped on my juice box. It’s true what they say: knowledge is power.

An Unlikely Idea

I was going to write a story about a zebra. I still will, just not today. I’ve been trying all day to write this story about the zebra and, so far this is all I’ve got, which is to say that I’ve got nothing. The Dark Continent doesn’t want me to think about it right now, maybe Sunday is it’s day off. There’s nothing I can do about that.

I keep dwelling on a conversation that I got wrapped up in the other night regarding whether or not there is such a thing as a soul and further more, if there is, do animals have them? I’m an optimistic type and like to think that there is and they do, respectively.

This is a modern day dilemma, an acceptable topic for debate, but once upon a time there were people who had not yet begun to speculate what, if anything, happens after death. I was thinking about that and I can’t think of any reason why we should ever have wondered about it in the first place. I mean, it’s kind of an odd notion, that death is illusory. What would give us that idea?

People just take it for granted now, the notion that something happens when you die; the soul goes somewhere, and the disagreements over what happens next cause of a lot of conflict. It’s a concept that’s so ingrained in our collective consciousness that most of us cannot imagine what it would be like to be unaware of such an idea. Your opinion on the subject is not important, at least not to me but, what is important, is that you can’t un-know the debate. The existence of the soul is a viral idea that took off and spread like wildfire; enlightening or polluting the human mind, depending on how you look at it. To be human is to be polarized over the question of life after death.

But there was a time, once, long ago, when no one thought about it. We lived and died, just like everything else and then one day, someone had to go poison the waterhole.

Ancient men sat around the fire, getting drunk and waiting for their wives to cook dinner. They did this for thousands of years until one night in August, a big hairy fellow named Leonard says to his buddy, “Hey Sal, what do you suppose happens to us after we die?”, to which Sal replies, “what the fuck are you talking about?!?!”

And our fate was sealed.

Tales From The Dark Continent: The Hippo

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It seems weird now, seven years later, to return to the Dark Continent for these stories. I wish I had never gone there but people wish for a lot of things. The past tense of wish is regret.

I was talking to my former employer the other day and he told me that he quit hunting and sold all his trophies, and by trophies he means heads. He sold them all. It doesn’t seem right to kill something just to put it’s head on your wall but at least you can say, “I did that. I killed that thing and now you see it’s head there on my wall.” No one wants to say, “Aren’t all these heads beautiful? I bought them!” Now that I think about it though, it really is splitting hairs to differentiate one statement from the other. When a white man goes to Africa to hunt a wild beast, a team of baby sitters take him out, track the animal for him, point his gun in the right direction and tell him when to pull the trigger. After that they wipe his ass and present him with an invoice that ends in six zeros. So I guess it really doesn’t matter how one acquires their African animal heads; one way or another, they were all bought anyway.

The first big score of our safari was the Hippo. They look docile but the 7,000 pound, wickedly territorial, sea bull is the undisputed king of the water. Even the crocodiles and venomous water serpents leave them alone.

On the first day, we went out to the Hippo pond and waited around, and around, and around. My employer got off a few shots, injuring his target which, when describing a Hippo hunt, means that he pissed it off and then it disappeared. To get a kill shot you have to shoot them right in the brain and that is difficult because they sit submerged in the water with only their eyes, nostrils and ears exposed. To kill a Hippo, you have to hit a target that is 50 yards away and roughly the same diameter as a beer bottle.

On the second day, a wild gun battle ensued. The injured hippo, having gone mad from it’s wounds, ran from the water and charged the camera crew. A few more rifle rounds to the ole noggin’ put ‘er down but not before it ran back into the pond, dieing in the water as a final act of vengeance.

When your Hippo dies in the water, it’s a little bit of a fucking problem. For one thing, it’s Hippo brethren just witnessed the massacre of their patriarch, which they find both frightening and upsetting. They’re not coming out and they stand guard in such a way that suggests you shouldn’t go in.

It was getting late, the sun was going down on the Dark Continent, and the Hippo I was supposed to photograph was at the bottom of the pond. I don’t know who thought retrieving it from the water with a helicopter was a good idea but, sure enough, a helicopter arrived all chop chop chop and gail force winds, to hoist the Hippo onto dry land. A discussion was held with the land owner, the trackers and the pro hunters who were actually in charge of this adventure, and it was decided that Crazy Barefoot Man would climb in his tiny canoe, that he paddled with his hands, and paddle on over to the fallen Hippo, wrap some chains around it’s feet and then hand the loose ends up to the helicopter. I never caught Crazy Barefoot Man’s name but he was there with his Crazy Barefoot Kid who probably called him Dad. Both of them were white and ran through the bush in their bare feet, somehow avoiding the giant stickers that carpeted the ground.

The sun was setting on the water and it looked lovely with all the ripples from the helicopter wind and the silhouette of Crazy Barefoot Man hand-paddling his canoe across the surface towards the family of Hippos, one of whom had sank to bottom.

The bulk of a Hippo’s 7000 pound body is not comprised of it’s brain and, because of this, they operate primarily on instinct. What little brain power they have is allocated to their senses, which are very keen.

This whole canoe scheme seemed like a bad idea but no one asked me and off he went. As the little boat approached the middle of the pond, the surviving members of the Hippo family saw, smelled and heard the intruder. They sounded the alarm and silent, angry water tanks mobilized in the direction of the hand paddled boat. I saw then that Crazy Barefoot Man could actually paddle backwards a hell of a lot faster than he had been paddling forward. He made a hasty retreat and the helicopter was sent home.

On the third day we left the lodge at 5:30am and sat in the back of a pickup for half an hour while we were driven back to the scene of the Hippo. During the night, the smell of death had permeated the water, choking the surviving Hippos until they forgot about being sad and grew more concerned over being grossed out. They were too disgusted to eat breakfast so they left the pond in search of greener pastures.

As the first rays of golden sunlight spilled over the horizon, we arrived at the pond ready to do battle, and by “we”, I mean an army of 15 Africans had been assembled to wade out in the water, tie chains to the now bloated and floating dead Hippo’s feet, and tow it back to the sandy beach where all the Americans and white Afrikaners waited patiently. Crazy Barefoot Man was there too but he didn’t bring his canoe.

Believe it or not, 7000 pounds of floating dead Hippo really doesn’t weigh anything. They towed it along effortlessly until it’s bloated sides started to drag the bottom and then 7000 pounds suddenly weighed a lot. A safari outfitted Toyota Hilux pickup, the same one we had just ridden in, was backed up to the shore and the chains were attached to the come-along winch on the back bumper. Moving dead animals is serious business in this part of the world.

Once freed from it’s watery grave, the carcass of the Hippo ceased to pollute the water and began at once to pollute our air, still seeking revenge for it’s untimely death.

The same team of men who were sent into the pond were now assigned the task of making the Hippo “photo ready”, which meant doing things like cleaning all the blood from it’s orifices, scraping barnacles and other unsightly debris from it’s body, prying it’s jaws open with a hydraulic car jack, thereby releasing a terrific stench into the morning air, and cleaning the swamp out of it’s mouth so that my employer could stick his head in there and tell me to take his picture.

I was supposed to wait until the Hippo was officially released from it’s hair and makeup chair to commence photography but I shot every detail of everything, all the while my employer saying “Just wait, you don’t need to shoot that.”

When the Hippo was finally deemed ready for it’s 15 minutes of fame, my employer knelt behind it, Pedorseli 45/70 hoisted over his shoulder. He looked straight into the camera and said “Isn’t it magnificent!”