Hennessy was scanning the plain with night vision binoculars when Jack wandered back into camp, revived by Abebe’s family meal and the village hospitality.
“Where have you been?” said the Scot. “It’s time to go to work.”
Jack was surprised. “Tonight? You want to shoot a lion at night?”
“It’s not me that wants. His lordship has a whim, ye wipe it for him.” He handed Jack the binoculars. “You aim for that ridge over yonder. There’s a pack of the wee critters around those trees. We’ve already laid a trail of some fresh antelope chunks. Just follow your nose.”
Jack looked through digital optics at where Hennessy pointed. He couldn’t see any animals, only the verdant glow of the bush, but at least he had a bearing on where to amble for.
“Are we finally ready for the off?” Leo, Toby, Ralph and Blake had changed again from their dinner party dress into safari jacket, riding boots and jodhpurs. They were wearing night vision goggles and carrying laser sighted, mahogany stocked rifles.
“You may want to take a dump when you get close, just so one picks up your scent,” said Ralph, causing a round of chuckles.
“We have some laxatives if you require,” said Toby.
“I don’t need them,” said Jack, his stomach already rolling from the vegetables and the sweat of his impending stroll. “How about some goggles, so I can see where I’m going?”
“Not for you,” said Hennessy. “Just go steady, your eyes will adjust soon enough. We’ll be watching from a distance, and these bad boys will provide cover when necessary.” He patted the rifle slung over his shoulder.
Jack set off into the blackness. He stumbled at first, boots finding unexpected rocks in the sun dried grass. He paused, a random twinge of fear rooting him to the ground and took a deep breath. What was he doing? He had to go on, this was his job, his reason for being. Rosie and Thomas, this is for you.
THE WORLD WAS ALIVE
He pressed on, as the lamps of the camp faded behind him his senses began to sharpen with each step, his eyes refocused and the twinkling panorama of the African night sky lit his way. The Scot was right, like every animal that survived Jack was adapting to his new environment. He began to enjoy the walk.
The world was alive. He could hear the buzz of the flies and insects, the rustling of the grass, the crunch of his boots on stone and earth. He was not alone in this world, there were a billion tiny neighbours sharing the plain. A light breeze curled around him, cooled his brow, prickled his arms.
Jack stopped. Ahead of him were two glowing dots shining in the darkness. They looked like car headlights, but that couldn’t be possible. Had Leo’s party driven around him into the bush? Was he going the right way still? Then he realised what the round orbs were. They were eyes, glowing in the night.
As he watched, the silhouette of a very big cat revealed itself before him. He had been walking straight towards it, and the animal had been watching him approach, predatorily still. He looked around, and the world flashed red. Involuntarily, he yelled, blinded for a second. Jack blinked and saw five red dots flicker around him. The laser targets of the hunting rifles. No bullets yet, but the hunters were somewhere to the right of him, homing in on their prey.
This was it. There was a low, soft growl and the eyes moved slowly towards him. Then, without warning the beast turned and ran to the left, away from Jack, crashing through the grass with a roar.
There was a yell from the darkness. “It’s heading for the village.”