10 November 2019 / Fiction Out of the Dark Continent: Chapter 4 If we had not been on a small raft, floating like two water-rats down the byways of the White Nile, we might have seen Mount Bigugu that following morning, clouds encircling its topmost climes, as the sun attempted to cast an array of dramatic colors over its sheer cliffs: hues of pink, orange, and baby-blue. The moisture rank in the air gave light a strange quality of illusion, making the terrible appear friendly and the beautiful more breath-taking then ever before. I scarcely understood why so many writings told of the concealed terror in the jungle, for, in my mind, we arrived at a heaven-on-earth. The water was cool, devoid of beasts with fangs and barbs, and it babbled beautifully around us with welcoming voice. Tall waterfalls, slender and clear, trickled downward from the sheer cliffs that blocked the west side of the river. In other areas, the water gushed forth like the fountain of youth from some unknown source in the bulging outcroppings of earth and rock. On the East bank, the jungle grew up to the water's edge with impunity, with its manifold fruit trees unknown to me, its cacophony of strange colors, and dark shadows concealing the deeper places from view. The silence still prevailed. This very lack of naturally occurring wild-life is the only question I still consider as I write these words, for the Creature has revealed its location, and any danger seems to have fled for the moment. Yet, not only has danger fled, but every sentient being, down to the most insignificant insect, as if the isolation of the Nyungwe no longer availed the biological diversity. Scientifically, such a finding should have given us great pause as we advanced into the dark, but we were possessed of that twentieth century invincibility known to those of Anglo persuasion. The natives were right to fear it.When sun was directly over our heads, Brodeur and I saw it weaving and darting in the shadows of the east riverbank that morning; doubtless, it caught our scent and followed us with that curiosity known to all primates, human and chimpanzee alike. It moved fast, like the wind, and we could not make out its form to put down a proper description, so on we drifted. Such stupendous speed defies any data previously gathered on primates, and I could only look at Brodeur with amazement as the wide leaves of the trees bent and bucked at its leaps and bounds. How masterfully it moved from limb to limb, staying just outside the discernment of our eyes! Brodeur and I sat cross-legged on the raft like two children, fanning our field of vision from the bright noonday light, attempting to descry any details. At last, it disappeared from our view, and remained so. Regardless, we felt invigorated by our sighting, and I wrote these words in my field journal that balmy afternoon:Creature sighted, and our hearts are awakened, humming as nearer still we draw to the Truth of our very being.The smell of yesternight had increased in rankness, contrasting the beauty of our surroundings strangely. It seemed to cling to the effervescent mist that spun in sheets off the water, possessing a quality of touch and taste, along with its rotten odour. Brodeur crinkled his little nose like a Victorian lass asked to bed a mate for the first time. I was surprised by his lack of accoutrement; I noted this somewhat vaguely:"Few Frenchmen are seen on campaign with the light rations you take, Brodeur?""I only need what you need, mon ami."We continued our pleasure cruise down the White Nile, as I absent-mindedly did a sketch of the surrounding hedge of forest, the rippling waves of the water, the sheer cliffs to our west, and what appeared to be floating lumps of cloth somewhat further downstream, hidden in the mist, but bobbing with joyful lapping sounds in my imagination. The further on we went, the thicker the mists became. Brodeur looked rather terrified, to no great surprise. He wrapped his leather jacket tighter, and I also realized an uncharacteristic chill on the air. All at once, it seemed that the brightness of noon-day was obscured from every side, like a great bat or winged creature had settled in some clime far above us, blocking the light of the sun.What happened next – or was it sometime after...no matter – What happened next is the purpose of my present enscribement. A single frail white hand, what could have easily been an old woman's hand, grabbed Brodeur from the water causing him to leap aside in fright, and, looking for myself, I saw an array of ghastly faces: faces of hundreds of dead people, European, Rwandan, the whole array of folk, their eyes open and staring, their limbs rotten with a bacteria of some kind. Our path was water-logged with them, and the only thing more ghastly than their deadness was their silence and repose as they floated through the water. Brodeur shrieked, startling me from my study. A body had latched on to him again, seeming to arise from the water. He pushed with some effort, and it resumed its calm course in the river, which for us had become a strange type of River Styx. "Steady on there, old boy, just some dead natives, doubtless from some old engagement in the Rwandan war."The wind began to pick up, stirring the jungle canopy with a dull roar, driving us further down the river, as if some dark fate willed us to the port in which we soon found ourselves. Brodeur did not move but stared directly ahead into the mists of the waters ahead of us. Out of the mists, arising like a black monolith from time immemorial, there rose a standing stone, not unlike some seen on the moors in the north of our country, but this was different: it held an energy of an indescribable quality. On an island it stood, untouched, save for the strange insignia scrawled around it in a spiral fashion. We beached our raft on the little islet and made our way ashore to observe the structure. "This is the place.""Yes? What place, good Amory?"Then he turned to me, and I had to blink for a moment to not see him as he would eventually become. The place to which I called you."Yes?" I said again. Brodeur fixed his gaze upon me, without a break in steadiness. Then it was I realized how very empty his eyes were, like dark pools of water in a German wood, before the Roman incursion, before anything...I felt the shiver once more. "The location that I believe our quarry uses as a camp of sorts.""Primates make camps, but not in solitary confinement devoid of food and shelter, exposed to the elements.""I mean not the Creature, More, but the information you spoke of earlier. We must meet with the wizard, Ngonkonya."The wind whipped the coarse earth and sand against us, like the Corinthians pelting Paul as he fled their city. "Ah, yes..." I said trepidatiously, shielding my face from the wafting curtains of mist and dirt. A sort of trap-door opened in the side of that tall monolith, and a spider-like figure emerged from the darkness, his body a dark spindly mass of wiry flesh outlined in the haze of white, clothed in garments of surprising reason and purpose. On closer inspection, he met us with a bright smile, with thin-rimmed glasses resting on the dark skin of his tall nose. He motioned us inside and quickly shut the door, shielding us from the elements. With excitement, he inquired in English, but with a thick Franco-African brogue:"Have you seen the Creature yet?""Yes."Brodeur and the "wizard" laughed, for reasons I have yet to understand. The pillar felt surprisingly welcoming, regardless of it being a glorified spiral staircase with a series of floors, on each a resting mat, a table, and books. It looked prepared to house many, like a small way-side inn prepared for Englishmen passing through Northampton. On the topmost level, to which we laboriously climbed, there was a small slit in the stone, letting in light, allowing the smoke from the cooking fire to escape. We could hear the wind buffeting against the walls in a strong, low-toned drone of musical quality, not unlike the music of the sea against the cliffs of Dover. Ngonkonya broke the music with his equally musical voice:"Friends, welcome to my abode, I'm glad you made it safely through the danger of the forest..."I looked quizzically at Brodeur, while Ngonkonya continued. "These days the forest is never safe, but especially so in the dead of night. It is then that the Great Shetani emerges to feed. Until we return it to its place, so it must be. Have you alone come to Nyungwe, or do you bring others with you?"It was then that I ventured to speak: "We came with a small party of scientists to study the Creature, that perhaps you refer to as Shetani? What is the meaning of this word?" "Ah, I see. Either for you or for them a dark fate awaits; possibly for them, since you have come here to this place of safe-harbor. Do you love your friends greatly? If so perhaps some warning could be sent to them, before it is too late? Why study you the Shetani? I do not understand, but you white men do strange things. You do strangely and understand incompletely. Perhaps you study the answers of the shetani? If so, you err, for such things are not for men such as yourselves to know, unless you have been marked.""If we wanted to send word of warning to our friends, such would be out of the question. They took our only radio with them, and we set out down this great river believing this to be near to the Creature's nest or home. My associate, Amory Brodeur lead me to believe you have information concerning this Creature's whereabouts and inclinations. Have you such knowledge, good man?"The wizard concealed a half-smile beneath his dark visage of wisdom, as the small cooking fire threw dancing shadows over his complexion and lit bright reflections in his delicate glasses. "I have the information you seek, good doctor More, but have you the heart to hear it?""Your dramatics exhaust me, please continue.""This forest was once apart of a large warrior kingdom, ruled over by the first Shetani. The Shetani were a wild people – a harsh and bloodthirsty people. They formed the corpses of their enemies into mounds of flesh and bone, great carrion heaped monuments to victory in war. The gentler tribes called them shetani, the demon-people, for their power in war was questionable at best, foul and dark at worst. Their weapons were no better; they were as bloodthirsty as any; yet they destroyed every warrior foolish enough to stand against them. Such were disemboweled and hung from trees by their entrails. Through the ages, the Shetani established dominance over this region, until all tribes for hundreds of miles traveled to bring them tribute. If a king failed to pay, he was mercilessly destroyed and his family with him. Thus, the terror of them filled the hearts of all. Yet one day, long before the white face was seen in these lands, the Shetani suddenly disappeared, never to be seen or heard from after that time, without a single trace of evidence for their departure. None have answered the reason for this, though many have speculated. Some say they were claimed by their god, that nameless one whom the Shetani never dared to speak of in word. Others say the earth, enraged at the shedding of blood, opened and swallowed them whole. We do not know for certain. Nevertheless, howls can be heard in the nightly watches, shades move between the trees and rocks, and men still can be found hung from trees in like manner to the legend, mouths filled with the nests of poisonous insects, eyes missing or gaping with twisted horror. Thus the people call the forest haunted, and the Shetani are known to still walk these lands."I looked at Brodeur with a smile. "Most entertaining narrative, Brodeur; you never fail to take me to see the finest entertainment!"Brodeur said nothing but asked one question: "What does the word Shetani mean, Ngonkonya?""Demon-King, or, place of demons."That night the buffeting of wind against the walls of the monolith awoke me in a start. What I heard might have been a dream, but I know not now. Yet, I thought I had heard a scream of pain, followed by a bump – a bump against the outside of the monolith. The noise of what must have been a horrendous storm grew in intensity, obscuring that dull, rhythmic thudding against the outside of that queer, stone shell. The sheets of rain pelted the stone coffin in which I attempted to sleep. The pallet to my left where Brodeur had slept was vacant. I felt it, and it was cold, showing that he had been up and about for some time. The wizard Ngonkonya was no where to be seen, though he was perhaps nearby hidden in the darkness – his candles had all been put out. I clothed myself, and felt my way down the long passages of the winding staircase, feeling the stone of the dark walls on my skin, cold and smooth. I remembered seeing a box of matches on the first floor, set on a small, round table. I hoped to find that to light the rooms once more. Now, the storms intensity roared to the point that my thoughts seemed pale and insignificant in comparison to its own thunderous might; so, thinking ceased. On reaching the bottom floor, I found the floor wet with puddles of rainwater, and the secret door through which we had entered earlier left open. Clouds must have concealed even the moon, for little moonlight reflected off of those pools of water. I attempted to slam the passage-door shut, but found the door immovable, blocked by some unknown impediment.With a herculean effort to not slip, I moved across the slick stone floor to the inconceivably dim outline of the wooden table, hid off to one side in the corner. I knew that no hope of lighting the candles existed while the door was immovable and jammed ajar. I lit one candle, surrounded it with the loving shelter of my hand, and moved towards the door to investigate.Nothing stood near the bottom of the door to impede its progress. My candle was hit by a buffeting gust of wind and put out, so I lit one more to investigate the upper sections of the door, standing on my toes to see. In the instant before my second candle was put out, my blood froze to solid ice at what I saw: Two eyes empty and bloody, and a mouth full of writhing insects. The candle was out in an instant and darkness prevailed once more. Perhaps insanity drove me, but I opened the door yet further, exposing myself to the howling winds and sheets of rain to step outside and see if what I saw was yet another hallucination, another result of my weary mind and psyche, haunting me ever and always across the globe.The surrounding islet was dark, and the waves of the river moved around me as darker shadows in grim array. I looked up to descry the upper parts of the monolith. For some time, it remained dark, hidden, like a black hole hidden in the deeps of space. Still, there I stood, allowing myself to be drenched in rain for what was, doubtless, another one my queer brain-tricks.I clutched my chest in dismay as a flash of lightning ripped across the sky, revealing a terrible face, part gargoyle, part ape, part insect – I know not how to tell of its visage – fangs dripping with blood, brooding over the hanging corpse, the cause of that same rhythmic thudding: dear Mr. Amory Brodeur, hanging from his entrails, like a fly caught in the web of some great spider. With every fiber of my being, I fled towards the water, not caring if the storm should tear me apart on the waves of the Nile. I found the raft, by some miracle still at its place where we had left it. With dismay, I descried a rectangular mass sitting upon the raft, and fell headlong against it, striking my head with a white and red blast of light and pain. With a strange feeling of comfort, I realized it was the radio! I knew then that I could call for help. I grabbed the phone and listened to the hopeful void of static and silence, no doubt screaming in terror for someone to answer. One single answer broke the sea of static, with that gracious voice, like the Black Prince accepting the surrender of the French nobles:"7. 5. 1. 3. 2. 4."Then the howling of what could only have been a thousand savage beasts, slaked in blood and rage, proceeded from that line for a split second before the radio repeated its motif, and I knew no more, blanketed in darkness and silence.