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The Killing Moon – a short story

The Killing Moon

A short story written by Finn Calder

It was closing in on sunset now. Elvis, our guide had timed the game drive to perfection. We had arrived under the great Baobab tree for sundowners just on cue. The low rumble of the vehicle cut out as Elvis scanned the bush for danger. We awaited his signal. On this night the bush was alive with activity, Night Jars twittering, antelope grazing, and the unmistakable sound of the Cape Turtle Dove resonating across the savannah. The low-veld lacked innocence tonight, new growth was scarce.  In the air the smell of the promised rain hung high despite the lack of clouds. In front of us, a great hippo wallowed in the mud, every so often rolling over in a bid to prevent his back from drying out.

 

Elvis nodded and we flooded out of the vehicle without a second thought. In the following minutes everyone was busy, setting the scene for a perfect sunset. We all needed a drink and biltong was a necessity. From the depths of the vehicle out came a table, and a cooler box full of snacks and beverages. For years I had been told an African sunset was second to none, the colour, the emotion and above all the speed of the dropping sun. To understand this, one must experience it and finally here I was. The bush around us was golden. Even the age-old rotting acacia tree surmounted by one lone Stork had an air of majesty in this lighting.

 

Minutes passed. The setting sun dipped lower below the horizon. The sky, once vibrant like a bush fire slowly faded into dark blue, providing a fresh canvas for starlight to illuminate the savannah. In this trying light, even the silhouette of an innocent Duiker had a conviction of malice.

 

‘Crack’, the snapping of branches and thudding of hooves broke the serenity. A herd of thirty or so buffalo came stampeding down the dried up river bed, making a bee-line for the water. The animals were alert, as if they were being trailed. Taking turns, one drunk while the other stood watch. Behind the group a lone mother and her calf lay isolated from the protection of the herd.

 

As darkness encroached, the mystique of the bush gradually revealed itself. ‘We need to get back in the vehicle now. It’s getting dark’, Elvis muttered. Swiftly we clambered into the vehicle. I sat in the back-corner seat, elevated above everyone else. In the darkness I strained my eyes and scanned the bush for movement. A few metres behind the lone mother and her calf a large silhouette lay in the bushes. Focusing closer on the outline I noticed the mountainous silhouette was rising and falling ever so slightly with each breath that was taken.

 

‘Elvis, I think there’s something in the bush over there.’ I whispered quietly. ‘Tau*’, he replied ‘its stalking’. The cat was slowly edging up the river bed, closer to the buffalo, every step, swift and calculated. The conviction of its movements were distinct and its intention clear. In striking distance now, on its haunches it waited, preparing to pounce, while the buffalo and its calf lay blissfully unaware.

 

In one fluid movement the lion leapt forward with explosive power. Outstretched, its legs came thundering down on the hind of the buffalo. Its talon-like claws burrowing deep into the buffalo’s flesh.  A stifling wail pierced the night. The calf bolted, leaving the mother for dead as it struggled to find safety in the group. Blood poured from the growing gash in its rump as the lion ripped it apart. Bleating, the half-dead buffalo struggled. A hopeless struggle. The afterlife was near. Within minutes, the buffalo drew its last breath. Vultures flew overhead, ever so often eclipsing the moon. The scene was one of death and horror. Scrape marks. Loose fur. Blood stains and one calf, now motherless.

 

Game fanatics all around the world would spend weeks in Africa and never experience a scene such as this. I should count myself lucky. However, having seen it first-hand I come to question the reason why we seek to experience a kill. After all, the smell of blood, the sound of ripping flesh and the desperate cries for help are nothing short of chilling. It is said that death is vital for life in the animal kingdom, and there is no doubting this. However, this experience left me questioning what if that was one us? A minute earlier and it would have been.

 

Glossary-

Tau- Lion

Duiker- Small African antelope

Finn travelled with our family in 2018 to Southern Africa and wrote this for his Level 2 English

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