Smoke of Knowledge

“I was patrolling out near their encampment when I heard the creature. He was moving through the forest; walking slowly, trying to go unseen.

“He could have been trapped outside when nightfall came and failed to find a way back through the invisible walls they put up. Maybe there was something wrong with him. Maybe he had gone crazy and they’d thrown him out. Whatever the reason, he was there and I wasn’t going to turn down the chance of a hunt.

“He must have seen me coming with those special glasses they always wear, for as I started to get close he went still, crouching down in a shallow gully. Then, suddenly, he was up and moving; fast for such a small thing. I took chase, pursuing him through the forest.

“We dodged around the trees, breaking up the undergrowth as we went. I was quicker, but he was clever. They are always clever, aren’t they? Always trying to out-smart us. Well, not this time. He jumped from Hi’toth Point and into the river; a dangerous dive for anyone, but he was fearing for his life and would risk anything to throw me off the scent.

“I followed him in but did not go down the river for long. There was no need. Once I had reached the far bank I sprinted, always keeping one eye out for his little white head sticking out of the water. The flow is fast at that point, but I ran hard. My mind was set and I was determined that I would have this kill. He would not fall to some wild creature. He was my prey.

“When he realised I was keeping pace with him from the bank, he changed course, swimming for the opposite side. There was nothing for it but to drive back into the river. Like all of his kind he swam poorly, and I was well over halfway across as he got his footing.

“The mud slowed him further and it was then that I knew I would catch him without any difficulty. I let myself be carried further downstream and then put on a burst of speed as I took a wide arc around where I thought he would be. It was a good move, for I was lying in wait for him; in his path rather than at his back as he expected.

“The blow I dealt him was swift and clean. I used a branch to break his back. The noise of his spine cracking echoed through the forest. My muscles were still pumped and ready for further fighting, but there was no need. I don’t know if the blow killed him, or if he died from the shock and pain, but he did not move again.”

Silence hung in the air of the small camp where the hunting party had rested for the last few days. Calls from animals in the night could be heard beyond the parameter, but none bothered the group; the central fire and the torches kept them away. The air was sticky and warm, the oppressive heat of the day still lingering. Shafts of pure white light from the twin moons cut paths between the branches of the giant trees. Both globes hung full in the sky, giving the impression of a silver-eyed creature watching down on the world.

Fat dripped onto the fire from the basket of leaves suspended above it; the flames leaped higher for a moment. No one spoke. The pact of the hunters meant that the one who had taken the kill could command that night.

“Now, I will have what is my right. With this third kill, this third taking of the meat, the knowledge of these strange visitors will become mine. I will know their ways and I will teach you all. Then we will reach up to the sky and discover where they have come from. Their secrets will be ours.”

The flames stirred again as more fat dripped onto them. It flowed out of a vacant eye socket in the upturned human skull that held the steaming brain.

—————

1 January 2010
South African wildlife bodies fear that vultures will become extinct in the region within forty years if nothing is done to reduce the number that are being killed. The birds are captured so that their brains can be consumed. People believe that the sharp vision and hunting skills of the creatures will imbue those who eat them with clairvoyant powers.

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