The bullet strikes the lion behind the left shoulder, the great beast springing into the air before taking off, disappearing into the undergrowth.
Lowering his rifle, the hunter smiles. It was a clean shot, straight through. The lion doesn’t have long. Stepping down off the truck he hands the rifle to his guide.
‘Good shot Bwana, good shot, you get ‘im.’
Ignoring the guide the hunter unscrews his canteen and drinks.
Let nature run its course, he thinks. It was a clean shot, he doesn’t have long.
‘We go get ‘im Bwana? He big one, real big.’
Reclaiming his rifle the hunter slings the weapon across his back and wipes the sweat from upon his brow. The heat gets to him; he is no longer the young man he used to be. This will be his last time to the continent.
The hunter walks from the road, the guide following close behind, bouncing back and forth as he continues to praise the hunter’s skill with a rifle.
They reach the spot.
Blood sits heavy on the earth, the yellow grass stained red.
‘He go this way.’
The hunter nods, the destruction wrought by the wounded animal obvious.
He doesn’t have long.
They follow the path, pausing every few feet to check for blood.
‘You get ‘im good,’ claps the guide, dancing on ahead, searching for the next sign.
But he cannot find it.
The blood has stopped.
The hunter kneels, his keen eyes scanning the vegetation. There is nothing, the lion has disappeared.
‘We must have passed his body,’ he says, standing and moving back the way they’d come. They reach the last drop of blood, a crimson smear upon a rock.
‘You go that way, see if you can see him.’
‘Yes Bwana, I find.’
The guide leaves and the hunter studies his surrounds once more.
‘What did I miss?’
Frantic, urgent. The hunter runs, crashing through the brush in the direction of the guide’s voice.
The hunter slows, something is wrong. He unslings his rifle and checks the chamber.
There is no answer.
Something flits through the undergrowth to his left. He spins, raising his rifle in one fluid movement.
He continues forward, parting the dense foliage with his rifle.
Then he sees it.
What’s left of the guide’s body is slumped across a broken tree stump, no vestige of humanity visible on his eviscerated corpse.
The hunter steps back, rifle at the ready, returning to the sanctity of the truck his only thought. He starts back through the undergrowth, every footfall, every heartbeat deafening.
Movement, to his right.
He trains the rifle on the spot, ready to fire, but there is nothing there.
The truck is visible now and he rushes towards it, throwing open the door and climbing inside. Then, and only then, does he pause to catch his breath.
He is lucky.
Removing his hat he retrieves the keys from the dash and proceeds to start the engine, the ancient machine groaning as it rumbles to life. Forcing it into gear he moves forward, wanting to leave this day far behind and return to the lodge.
The truck shudders, the engine coughing out plumes of black exhaust. The hunter grips the wheel, willing the truck forward. But it does not heed his call and the engine cuts out, the truck rolling to a stop beside an old tree.
It comes alive at night.
His father’s words echo in the hunter’s mind as he stares out of the windscreen at the vivid sunset. Under any other circumstance this vista would have been beautiful, tranquil. But not today. Darkness is coming and darkness means death.
Leaning out of the window the hunter illuminates the searchlight, turning the beam on the vegetation around him, grateful that at least something is working. Perhaps all is not lost, he still has some control.
He kills the light and leans back in his seat, the rifle against his knee. Now, he waits.
At first he thought he imagined it. A sound, almost imperceptible amidst the symphony of insects. But then it returned, closer. There was no mistaking it, something was out there.
The hunter sits up, looking out at his surrounds, silver in the moonlight. He lingers on every shadow, each patch of night, sure that he is being watched.
His fingers instinctively reach for the gun, depressing the safety.
A shadow detaches itself from the others and slinks across the front of the truck. The hunter watches as it disappears once more. Unable to get a true understanding of its size or shape he turns the light on, blasting the undergrowth with light. But there is nothing there.
He is alone once more.
The truck rocks, waking him from his slumber. He doesn’t recall falling asleep and sits up with a start, cursing himself for being so careless.
Something is next to the truck. Touching it.
The hunter lifts his rifle and turns on the light, illuminating the vegetation. He pans the light down, trying to illuminate the darkness beside the truck but he cannot achieve the necessary angle.
He fires blindly into the night, startling a flock of roosting birds from the tree overhead.
He was sure that he would hit something.
The truck rocks once more.
Turning, he looks out the rear window at the tray. Is there something there?
He looks forward and is just in time to see the shadow return, moving slowing back across the front of the truck. He fires, ejecting the round and slamming the bolt forward again before firing a second time into the darkness.
He pulls the bolt back to reveal the empty chamber. Frantically he searches through his pockets, looking for the rounds he knows are there, somewhere. Leaning over he pulls open the glove box, empty soda bottles and paper tumbling to the floor.
‘Where are they?’
His heart sinks.
Turning he looks out of the rear window, the small white box glowing in the moonlight, right where he left it. For a second he thinks about going out and getting them and then he thinks again, common sense getting the better of him.
This will be a long night.
Retrieving his pipe from within his breast pocket he proceeds to pack in his tobacco, stamping it down with his thumb before lighting a match on the steering wheel, filling the cabin with light.
There is an explosion of glass and the hunter is pulled from the cabin, his great frame being swallowed by the night.
He doesn’t have long.
The Australian Literature Review