14: Shot to Hell

It all happened so fast. When Jack would look back, try to work out if it could have ended differently, the speed and panic of the moment blurred everything together. They ran on instinct, with no care for rational action or logic. They just ran.

The lion exploded into the hut in a torrent of fury, noise and flying debris. Abebe pulled Lesedi out the door, clutching her baby, one scream of many, while Jack followed, wrenching Mosi away from the whiplashing beast, the boy’s skull dodging a cleaving razor claw by inches. The lion hit the central pole of the hut and brought it crashing down, but twigs, sticks and stones would not stop the rampaging Tau. They had only a few seconds head start, when it broke out the rubble after them.

Abebe and his wife ran towards the meagre shelter of another family home, as Jack slid in the dirt, still holding Mosi, then tried to push the skinny lad away. “Go with your father,” he yelled. “I’ll make sure it follows me.” But the beast was already skidding out of the ruined home, shards of wood prickling it’s hide, blocking the path Abebe and Lesedi had taken. Jack picked up the boy and they ran, blindly into the black, no plan, just panic.

His ears burst with his heart, breathless, squeezing the boy tight, hoping his body could be vain protection against the predator when it sprang. Stupid, weak man, he knew, when his knees buckled and brought them both down into the bush. Jack pushed Mosi underneath him, to hide the child from the deadly carnivore. My life for his, please don’t take the boy, not again. Then, still. Nothing. No ripping talon, no shattering roar. They lay in the mud, panting, trying not to breathe lest the lion should hear their hearts.

“Mosi, Mosi,” the cry came. It was Abebe, calling for his son. The proud father had followed his son into the plain. Jack turned, staggered up, the lad wriggled out from under him and ran for the heroic embrace of his papa. They hugged, joy following the fear that both had lost the other, then the growl returned. All three turned, but in every direction only darkness. The lion was there, they could hear it’s breath, only yards away, but it echoed with the wind’s whip around them. From which side would their killer strike?

“Don’t move,” shouted Hennessy, and the plain was flooded with the blinding white flash of jeep headlights. It exposed them all, the two natives, the white bait, and the lion. Caught in the beam of light Tau did not whimper and flee, instead he pounced forward, one last ferocious burst of hate for his two legged nemesis. It flew at Abebe, landing on his back, as a torrent of shots rained forth. The bullets thudded into each of them, puncturing both prey with equal abandon, their bodies suspended briefly midair by the sheer force of the impact, so they smacked to the ground as corpses together.

Abebe had thrown Mosi aside as the lion had sprung, and the boy stood wide-eyed staring at what remained of his courageous father, taken in a splatter of gore that shone bright red under the harsh beam of the headlights. Shadows crossed over the bodies, as the hunters walked over to survey their kill. Jack shielded his eyes to look at them, wanting to see the faces of the murderers, not just silhouettes.

Ralph and Blake stopped in their tracks when they saw the bodies, mouths agape with shock and the first pangs of guilt. Toby shook his head. Hennessy spat into the dust, then knelt down and pulled the lion off the guide, double checking what he already knew. The native was dead.

“It really was a man-eater then,” said Leo.

TO BE CONTINUED . . .

THIS IS THE FOURTEENTH CHAPTER OF ORIGINAL ADVENTURE SERIAL PROTECTED SPECIES. THE NEXT CHAPTER WILL BE POSTED ON MONDAY 3RD OCTOBER.

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