Book 1: CALL OF THE GUINEA FOWL

This is a chapter from the first book of the series! Please know that it is still in first draft phase and needs a lot of work before it will be ready for publishing.

Let me know what you think in the comments, please.

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THE BEAST

The bright moon shone down upon earth, lighting the forest for God’s eyes to linger over. As far as his gaze traveled, he could see no movement from any of the villages on that continent called Africa. As He looked over Congo, the quietness of the night touched His heart with sadness. The dust that rose from dancing human feet had settled. The swaying hips, the jumping knees, the shimmying shoulders, and waving hands all laid unmoving in sleep covered by hut or cave. The pits where the fires blazed were now cold. The light of fire that inflamed the dark skins of the dancers were gone. The eyes that shone brightly rested behind closed lids. The ring of glistening wet bodies that snaked across the sand existed no more. The sounds of beating drums, clapping hands, and chanting voices had long ago faded away. All that could be heard now was the sound of the animals, some snoring like the humans, others creeping through the darkness looking for prey, or hiding from the hunting beasts.

It was on one such beast that God’s eyes fell. His gaze swept right past, but then, on second thought, noticing the nearby village, He turned his head slightly until He caught sight of the beast again. It was crouching in the shadows of a canopy of trees, but when the wind blew slightly, its full head of hair gleamed golden under the touch of the moon’s beams. God smiled slightly, love surging in His chest at the sight.

The beast was a magnificent animal, strongly muscled and sharp toothed with large paws. It was also hungry. Lifting its head, it smelled the night air, never taking its eyes off the object of its focus. God followed the line of its sight to find the figure of a human male, a sentry, asleep against a tree. The spear and shield, meant for defense of those asleep in huts behind him, were hanging unsteadily from his limp fingers. For a split second He pondered the dilemma before him. Should He wake the human, or allow the beast to feast?

But then the beast moved, probably unaware of the Higher Power’s thoughts. It did not flash towards the figure against the tree, instead it turned away slightly, circling around the sleeping sentry. It moved slowly, silently, tenaciously. It sniffed the air again, and then adjusted its direction accordingly. To its left, the cattle murmured in the safe enclosure of branches from the thorny bushes. The bushes grew wildly in the forests around the village. For years the tradition of building shelter for the cattle had passed to each new generation, and seldom had a beast taken food from their village. Unlike the humans, the cattle were not all sleeping, and they have caught the scent of the beast. They started to move away from the beast, as far away as the shelter allowed them, and there they milled and mewed restlessly.

Despite their commotion, the sentry slept, his senses dulled by home brewed beer, his head lolling almost to his shoulder. The beast did not even glance at the cattle. Upon its head and shoulders, if one was inclined to look, were the scars of previous attempts to snatch a cow or calf from the thorny arena. Tonight it was following another scent. A weaker prey.

A cry rung out in the night.

Soon it is repeated by many beaks, its piercing clatter echoing into the forest as feet scurried in the loose sand for safety. The guinea fowls, who were sleeping just outside of the human village, ow formed a large circle around their young, and in a group moved left, away from the beast’s advance. Their alarm continued to ring into the night, warning all the creatures of the earth.

Inside one of the huts a woman stirred for a moment, but then fell back to sleep.

The beast ignored the fowls, and, crouching lower to the ground, continued on his hunt. Again, it sniffed the air, and then reached the edge of the first hut, set a little to the side of the rest of the village. Here, the beast lowered its snout, sniffed again, and then moved around the hut until it found what it was looking for: a door covered by nothing but a soft cow skin, which was moving slightly in a slow breeze.

The smell of the target was overwhelming here, and the beast stepped forward, moving into the hut of sleeping humans, his soft padded paws hardly making a sound. Inside, there was no moon to light the way, but instinct guided him to the forms on the floor, huddled together for warmth. What he wanted was the small form in the middle.

The figure closest to him stirred suddenly, turning around to peer into the darkness. A low growl of warning issued from the beast’s throat. The woman shook her head, then sat upright with a sharp scream, barring his way to the prey. The beast growled another warning, louder this time, and then pawed at the form, his sharp claws digging deeply into flesh, ripping wounds that began to bleed immediately. The woman screamed, but did not move away from the small figure. The beast shook his head from side-to-side, growling again.

“Lion!” the woman screamed, rising to her feet. “Lion! Lion! Lion!”

The smaller form awoke, and added volume to the warnings of its mother, and then the larger figure in the back awoke too. She did not scream, but her hand closed over the pouch with leaves, mud, bark and bones that hung around her neck. She came to her feet, whispering words, never taking her eyes off the shape of the beast in the hut, while pushing the small child behind her.

The lion burst forward, swiping again at the obstacle between him and his prey. The screaming intensified, and he became uncertain of how to proceed. Outside he could hear other humans approaching. His time was running out.

The woman used this moment of hesitation to attack. Despite her wounds, she threw herself on him, pushing him towards the door, away from her child. The lion shook his massive head, and she fell to the floor like a rag. Without any thought, he stepped across her, and reached out to the prey, his claw clutching out, hooking into the soft flesh of its thigh. He pulled the prey towards him, ready to grab it in his mouth.

Something hit the beast from below with enough force to push all the air out of his lungs. He gasped, froze and felt the prey pull out of his grasp. Another blow hit him, again from below. Angry now, he stepped aside, away from the attack. Before he could take a second step, something launched at him, pushing him off his feet and onto his side in the dust. Then a heavy weight landed on his side, and he could hear the soft pops of his bones breaking.

Almost immediately the weight lifted, and then he was half pushed, half dragged out of the hut, into the moonlit night. He pawed angrily into the air, but only managed to scratch the figure slightly. The smell of fresh blood was pulsing in his brain, making him slow and stupid. He scrambled to his feet, but the figure hit him again, full bodied, and he fell over like a tree in a strong storm, sliding over the ground. More sounds of popping bones, and this time the pain penetrated his mind, overwhelming all else, even his hunger. He clawed at his attacker, splitting open skin and flesh. The figure pulled away, screaming in pain.

The lion stood, unsteady on its feet. A wall of humans had formed around the fighting woman and beast, some holding spears, others holding nothing but wooden sticks. A wave of shrieks rang into the night. He did not fear them, or their noises, or their puny weapons. The night air had brought him a whiff of their fear, sickly sweet. He stepped towards the wall of humans, and the figures moved away from him, screaming and stumbling. He turned around just in time to see the woman’s approach. This time she had a spear, and she was holding it out in front of her as she ran at him.

He stepped aside, and she moved right past him on her bleeding legs, almost toppling into her own hut. He turned again, his mind set on her. She was already turning herself, and had the spear ready for him. She lunged, but he stepped aside, and watched her uncoordinated movements as she moved past him again. She was badly hurt. He could take her easily enough. They stood facing each other, a few feet apart. Both beast and woman’s chests rising and falling to fill their lungs with air.

A blow hit his hind left leg, hard. The leg folded beneath him, and the woman stepped forward boldly, sensing his weak state. She pushed the spear at him, but he turned his head aside, and felt it slip right past his face, cutting a long gash open from his mouth into his neck. His own blood pulsed out now, mingling with that of the woman already on his paws.

Another hit at his leg, and this time he growled into the night, loud and long. The woman pulled the spear back, and aiming well, plunged it into his neck, opening a deep wound. He tossed his head wildly, then swept at her with a claw, opening new wounds in her hip. She stumbled, her weight driving the spear deeper still, until it found his heart, and opened it.

She pushed back, using the spear to lift her weight, and stepped away, out of reach of his fierce claws. He pawed at her still, but feebly. His breath came in laborious gulps. She stood in front of him, her eyes finding his. They looked at each other, two desperate fighters, alone in the night, despite the noise and the moving figures around them. With his eyes he begged her to finish him, but she only squinted back, pulled her lips into a thin line, and lifted her chin. She stood there, her shoulders square, her head held high. This is the last thing he saw as he died, the woman leaning on the spear, waiting stubbornly for him to die.

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