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Michael Cavendish 2027







From: The Crowded Earth

Mike was just coming through the clump of trees when the boy began to
wave at him. He shifted the clumsy old Jeffrey .475, cursing the
weight as he quickened his pace. But there was no help for it, he had
to carry the gun himself. None of the boys were big enough.

He wondered what it had been like in the old days, when you could get
fullsized bearers. There used to be game all over the place, too, and
a white hunter was king.

And what was there left now? Nothing but pygmies, all of them,
scurrying around and beating the brush for dibatags and gerenuks. When
he was still a boy, Mike had seen the last of the big antelopes go;
the last of the wildebeestes and zebra, too. Then the carnivores
followed--the lions and the leopards. Simba was dead, and just as
well. These natives would never dare to come out of the villages if
they knew any lions were left. Most of them had gone to Cape and the
other cities anyway; handling cattle was too much of a chore, except
on a government farm. Those cows looked like moving mountains
alongside the average boy.

Of course there were still some of the older generation left; Kikiyu
and even a few Watusi. But the free inoculations had begun many years
ago, and the life-cycle moved at an accelerated pace here. Natives
grew old and died at thirty; they matured at fifteen. Now, with the
shortage of game, the elders perished still more swiftly and only the
young remained outside the cities and the farm projects.

Mike smiled as he waited for the boy to come up to him. He wasn't
smiling at the boy--he was smiling at himself, for being here. He
ought to be in Cape, too, or Kenyarobi. Damned silly, this business of
being a white hunter, when there was nothing left to hunt.

But somehow he'd stayed on, since Dad died. There were a few
compensations. At least here in the forests a man could still move
about a bit, taste privacy and solitude and the strange, exotic
tropical fruit called loneliness. Even that was vanishing today.

It was compensation enough, perhaps, for lugging this damned Jeffrey.
Mike tried to remember the last time he'd fired it at a living target.
A year, two years? Yes, almost two. That gorilla up in Ruwenzori
country. At least the boys swore it was ingagi. He hadn't hit it,
anyway. Got away in the darkness. Probably he'd been shooting at a
shadow. There were no more gorillas--maybe they had been taking the
shots, too. Perhaps they'd all turned into rhesus monkeys.

Mike watched the boy run towards him. It was a good five hundred yards
from the river bank, and the short brown legs couldn't move very
swiftly. He wondered what it felt like to be small. One's sense of
proportion must be different. And that, in turn, would affect one's
sense of values. What values applied to the world about you when you
were only three feet high?

Mike wouldn't know. He was a big man--almost five feet seven.

Sometimes Mike reflected on what things might be like if he'd been
born, say, twenty years later. By that time almost everyone would be a
product of Leff shots, and he'd be no exception. He might stay with
people his own age in Kenyarobi without feeling self-conscious,
clumsy, conspicuous. Pressed, he had to admit that was part of the
reason he preferred to remain out here at Dad's old place now. He
could tolerate the stares of the natives, but whenever he ventured
into a city he felt awkward under the scrutiny of the young people.
The way those teen-agers looked up at him made him feel a monster,
rather.

Better to endure the monotony, the emptiness out here. Yes, and wait
for a chance to hunt. Even though, nine times out of ten, it turned
out to be a wild goose-chase. During the past year or so Mike had
hunted nothing but legends and rumors, spent his time stalking
shadows.

Then the villagers had come to him, three days ago, with their wild
story. Even when he heard it, he realized it must be pure fable. And
the more they insisted, the more they protested, the more he realized
it simply couldn't be.

Still, he'd come. Anything to experience some action, anything to
create the illusion of purpose, of--

"Tembo!" shrieked the boy, excited beyond all pretense of caution.
"Up ahead, in river. You come quick, you see!"

No. It couldn't be. The government surveys were thorough. The last
record of a specimen dated back over a half-dozen years ago. It was
impossible that any survivors remained. And all during the safari
these past days, not a sign or a print or a spoor.

"Tembo!" shrilled the boy. "Come quick!"

Mike cradled the gun and started forward. The other bearers shuffled
behind him, unable to keep pace because of their short legs and--he
suspected--unwilling to do so for fear of what might lie ahead.

Halfway towards the river bank, Mike halted. Now he could hear the
rumbling, the unmistakable rumbling. And now he could smell the rank
mustiness borne on the hot breeze. Well, at least he was down-wind.

The boy behind him trembled, eyes wide. He had seen something, all
right. Maybe just a crocodile, though. Still some crocs around. And he
doubted if a young native would know the difference.

Nevertheless, Mike felt a sudden surge of unfamiliar excitement, half
expectancy and half fear. Something wallowed in the river; something
that rumbled and exuded the stench of life.

Now they were approaching the trees bordering the bank. Mike checked
his gun carefully. Then he advanced until his body was aligned with
the trees. From here he could see and not be seen. He could peer down
at the river--or the place where the river had been, during the rainy
season long past. Now it was nothing but a mudwallow under the glaring
sun; a huge mudwallow, pitted with deep, circular indentations and
dotted with dung.

But in the middle of it stood tembo.

Tembo was a mountain, tembo was a black block of breathing basalt.
Tembo roared and snorted and rolled red eyes.

Mike gasped.

He was a white hunter, but he'd never seen a bull elephant before. And
this one stood eleven feet at the shoulders if it stood an inch; the
biggest creature walking the face of the earth.

It had risen from the mud, abandoned its wallowing as its trunk curled
about, sensitive to the unfamiliar scent of man. Its ears rose like
the outspread wings of some gigantic jungle bat. Mike could see the
flies buzzing around the ragged edges. He stared at the great tusks
that were veined and yellowed and broken--once men had hunted
elephants for ivory, he remembered.

But how could they? Even with guns, how had they dared to confront a
moving mountain? Mike tried to swallow, but his throat was dry. The
stock slipped through his clammy hands.

"Shoot!" implored the boy beside him. "You shoot, now!"

Mike gazed down. The elephant was aware of him. It turned
deliberately, staring up the bank as it swayed on the four black
pillars of its legs. Mike could see its eyes, set in a mass of grayish
wrinkles. The eyes had recognized him.

They knew, he realized. The eyes knew all about him; who he was and
what he was and what he had come here to do. The eyes had seen man
before--perhaps long before Mike was born. They understood everything;
the gun and the presence and the purpose.

"Shoot!" the boy cried, not bothering to hold his voice down any
longer. For the elephant was moving slowly towards the side of the
wallow, moving deliberately to firmer footing, and the boy was afraid.
Mike was afraid, too, but he couldn't shoot.

"No," he murmured. "Let him go. I can't kill him."

"You must," the boy said. "You promise. Look--all the meat. Meat for
two, three villages."

Mike shook his head. "I can't do it," he said. "That isn't meat.
That's life. Bigger life than we are. Don't you understand? Oh, the
bloody hell with it! Come on."

The boy wasn't listening to him. He was watching the elephant. And now
he started to tremble.

For the elephant was moving up onto solid ground. It moved slowly,
daintily, almost mincing as its legs sampled the surface of the shore.
Then it looked up and this time there was no doubt as to the direction
of its gaze--it stared intently at Mike and the boy on the bank. Its
ears fanned, then flared. Suddenly the elephant raised its trunk and
trumpeted fiercely.

And then, lowering the black battering-ram of its head, the beast came
forward. A deceptively slow lope, a scarcely accelerated trot, and
then all at once it was moving swiftly, swiftly and surely and
inexorably towards them. The angle of the bank was not steep and the
elephant's speed never slackened on the slope. Its right shoulder
struck a sapling and the sapling splintered. It was crashing forward
in full charge. Again it trumpeted, trunk extended like a flail of
doom.

"Shoot!" screamed the boy.

Mike didn't want to shoot. He wanted to run. He wanted to flee the
mountain, flee the incredible breathing bulk of this grotesque giant.
But he was a white hunter, he was a man, and a man is not a beast; a
man does not run away from life in any shape or size.

The trunk came up. Mike raised the gun. He heard the monster roar, far
away, and then he heard another sound that must be the gun's
discharge, and something hit him in the shoulder and knocked him down.
Recoil? Yes, because the elephant wasn't there any more; he could hear
the crashing and thrashing down below, over the rim of the river bank.

Mike stood up. He saw the boy running now, running back to the bearers
huddled along the edge of the trail.

He rubbed his shoulder, picked up his gun, reloaded. The sounds from
below had ceased. Slowly, Mike advanced to the lip of the bank and
stared down.

The bull elephant had fallen and rolled into the wallow once more. It
had taken a direct hit, just beneath the right ear, and even as Mike
watched, its trunk writhed feebly like a dying serpent, then fell
forward into the mud. The gigantic ears twitched, then flickered and
flopped, and the huge body rolled and settled.

Suddenly Mike began to cry.

Damn it, he hadn't wanted to shoot. If the elephant hadn't charged
like that--

But the elephant had to charge. Just as he had to shoot. That was
the whole secret. The secret of life. And the secret of death, too.

Mike turned away, facing the east. Kenyarobi was east, and he'd be
going there now. Nothing to hold him here in the forests any longer.
He wouldn't even wait for the big feast. To hell with elephant-meat,
anyway. His hunting days were over.

Mike walked slowly up the trail to the waiting boys.

And behind him, in the wallow, the flies settled down on the lifeless
carcass of the last elephant in the world.





Next: Harry Collins 2029

Previous: Harry Collins 2012



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