Alice Kelley ~ Beast

A Non-Incident near Dongou

part of: Fiction

by Charly Hoge

What I’m seeing right now isn’t there.
That’s what I told myself. All the same, I reminded my rational brain that caution is never unhealthy, and so that’s why I’m staying behind this tree until I’m absolutely sure. And I’m also trying to keep my internal monologue from leaking out of my mouth.
So the thing I wasn’t seeing was supposedly standing right in the middle of the East Dongou Trail, about twenty feet away from me.
In a more general sense, it wasn’t standing in the middle of early twenty-first century Africa, under a sun-drenched canopy in the empirical world, blazing defiantly across my field of vision.
And in a more literal sense, it wasn’t a large reptilian elephant-type creature with a huge lizard’s tail hanging off of its backside. Again, it wasn’t there, but if it were, I would describe it as, well, an assembly of animals. A haphazard casserole-style collection of fauna. The loud gray of its skin stood out as an inflamed pimple against the dripping green sea of forest. Elephant-like. But there was no trunk or big elephantine ears, though, and I guess the head, upon closer consideration, was more like that of a blunt-toothed crocodile. What a weird illusion!
It was grazing, noisily and wetly, on some cycads.
Oh yes, and it had a giant, smooth horn jutting out from the end of its beak-like snout. I certainly couldn’t forget that little detail.
Again, though, all of this description was academic, as I was, of course, not actually seeing anything. This was a hallucination; I knew that. It was polite enough, at least, to hang in the air long enough to for me to take in the entirety of its appearance, fictitious as it was.
I should emphasize that I was not prone to misidentify a local animal, or to visualize an animal shape from inanimate formations. I was firmly rooted in reality, as I had moved out here six and a half years ago, into the beautiful heart of the “emerging Republic of Congo” (and I don’t use the term in any insulting manner toward the residents here, who have never really needed the western world’s help to “emerge” and who have by-and-large taken me into their culture with a generosity a crunchy misanthrope such as myself probably does not deserve). I came here in retreat from an urban world of East End London noise, cruelty and stupidity; amid that suffocating nastiness, I was suddenly and fortuitously offered a chance to hop continents and take a position at the water treatment plant just outside of the Likuoala swamp. I jumped at the opportunity, of course.
Long-story-short, as soon as I found lodgings in the British quarter at the tiny expatriate section of the village just outside the new Likuoala facility, I familiarized myself with this East Dongou Trail, as it connected my workplace to my home. Dark, wet, and overgrown. Gorgeous! I walked this trail, back and forth, six days a week, almost from the first day I arrived. And every time I set foot on it, I remembered that I had been lucky to be able to leave a reality I hated for a reality I wanted, and so I did my best to get a grip on what this new reality offered. I did so with a sensual hunger, demanding that my eyes, ears, nose and fingers be unconditionally absorbent of everything they came across.
Quite simply, by now, I knew the East Dongou Trail. By this point, I could have walked it with my eyes closed. I should have walked it with my eyes closed today. If I had taken such a precaution, I would not have been hiding behind a tree from an illusion right now.
Six and a half years of walking this trail had crafted me into an unintentional local animal expert of sorts, as I was no novice to this forest’s beasties. Basically, at least one representative from every member of the Congo’s zoological collection had granted me an appearance, at one time or another. I knew the animal shapes that were out here, by this point.
But this thing was completely new to me. And, I reminded myself again, completely illusory. My imagination had simply taken hold of an image that had been described to me through some unreliable tale-teller; somehow, local folklore had managed to sneak in behind my eyes while I wasn’t paying attention.
The imaginary creature in front of me continued to graze.
And this area certainly had its share of folklore. Both locals and resident-expatriates were always buzzing about the latest monster supposedly inhabiting this region. It was particularly famous for its stories of alleged ape-humans, brontosauri, water lions, pterodactyls, and man-eating bears, along with the less spectacular giant pythons, crocodiles and shrews (a personal favorite there).
One living here really cannot escape hearing the incessant accounts of these impossible creatures. However, what I have found is that one never actually sees any of these things oneself; rather, one absorbs them second-hand, whether one wants them or not. And, for what it’s worth, the actual storyteller never sees anything himself, either, but gets the scoop from unnamed sources and distant relatives. And at the rate that these hazy third-hand informants catch glimpses of silly dream-creatures in the Likuoala region, one would suspect that this path would be swarming with them.
Well, this has gone far enough.
I addressed my rational mind directly, but without actually speaking. Simply put, it had let me down and I wanted it to be aware of my disappointment. After chastising its lack of vigilance in allowing this impossible image to manifest itself in front of me, I concentrated its efforts on a new task.
How should I get rid of this?
Rapid blinking? Yes, that seemed a good solution. After all, my eyes were simply dirty, polluted by folklore-spreaders; therefore, my lids could pass a cleansing moisture across them and wipe clean the smudge that was currently obscuring my vision.
Blink, blink.
It wasn’t doing the trick.
Blink.
Why was this imaginary thing still there?
Blink.
My frustration slipped out, as a “dammit” seeped from my lips before I could stop it.
My monologue was no longer internal.
The thing lifted its massive head, continuing, loudly, to chew. Slowly, it shifted a shoulder, raised a forelimb somewhat dramatically, swiveled its head in my direction, and seemed to squint, if a face like that could squint, at me.
“So,” I addressed it out loud. I knew I would have to make a stand at some point, because my imagination wasn’t going to chase this thing away for me. “I know that you aren’t really there. I suspect that you know it too. Be that as it may, I’m your daddy, so to speak, any way you look at it. I gave birth to you; you popped out of my lazy imagination, the weaker parts of my head, fully armored, and, hey, armed, apparently. Check out that horn! Yes, you’re the Athena to my Zeus, aren’t you? You know, I’ve never fathered anything else that I’m aware of, conventionally or otherwise, so you must be my first-born.”
It turned its make-believe head a bit sideways. Was this working? I continued talking; perhaps rambling speech would occupy enough of my mind to choke the grip my imagination had on it. “In fact, I hardly remember my own father, except that he didn’t father anything except me. So, hey, we both know the torments that only the only child can know, don’t we?”
It narrowed its eyes, contorting them into an expression that told me “you shouldn’t be here.”
“Oh, don’t give me that look. I pulled you out of my head, and, hey, I can put you right back in there, if I want to.”
It took a step toward me.
“So, what are you, anyway? What kind of crazy crap planted you in my imagination, huh?”
Its expression intensified. “You shouldn’t be here.”
Suddenly, it hit me. “Oh yeah, I know you; you’re that new one, that big thing that’s supposedly lurking about in the swamps all over here, aren’t you? It’s…wait a minute, I’ll get it…it’s a local…Linkala word that’s been given to you…Emele…Emele-Ntouka! Yes! Emele-Ntouka, the killer of elephants, right? That’s it! That’s your name! Now I remember! Ivan was talking about you the other day! He said, let me get this straight, that a friend of his neighbor had seen you, somewhere, in a river, or something like that. So, hey, why don’t you manifest yourself in front of him, huh? He’s the one that’s interested in you. Do you want me to give you his address?”
Its face read differently. Now it said “you aren’t here.”
It lowered its shoulders and tensed its limbs.
“What? What does that mean? Have I manufactured you as a killer somehow? You’re not supposed to be aggressive to people, as I recall. No no no, that’s not your story. You’re just the killer of elephants. I don’t know where the elephants are. Truth be told, I think they were chased out of this area decades ago. Hmm, no, I don’t have any elephant addresses to give you.”
“You aren’t here. You never were here.”
“What? What are you so angry about? I’m the one who can’t get home, because I can’t seem to walk through an illusion I’m generating. But hell, you’re already home, aren’t you? You’re nicely entrenched in my imagination, nestled into the accommodations of my contaminated little mind, and you’re not paying rent, might I add.”
It took another step toward me.
“And that’s where you’ll stay, too. In my imagination. I’m not your Zeus, all right? I’m not releasing my scaly Athena out of my head and into the world. Papa’s putting his foot down here! Sorry! Things like you need people like me to tell stories about you, don’t you? That’s how you live. You aren’t anything unless I go home and tell all my friends about you. Well, I won’t! Nobody will ever know about this! How do you like that? I’m going to stunt your growth, my child, and nobody’s going to know about you at all! How do you like that?”
“You never were here.”
Its next few steps toward me were so quick I didn’t even see them. I think I may have heard the horn rip into my abdomen before my body allowed me to feel it.
I felt my rational brain retreat to some corner of my head that was unaware I had been impaled. My vision went fuzzy and throbbing, and my limbs flapped uncontrollably outward. As I was lifted off the ground, I became immediately and horribly aware of being a solid physical thing, and of having my solid physicality violated. I tried to get out a “now, why would you do that to your daddy?” before my consciousness was swallowed up. I don’t think I even opened my mouth, to be honest.
The next thing I remember was the face of Roger, my onion-breathed neighbor who lived four houses down the road, consuming my entire field of vision.
I have no idea what it was I tried to say, but something was gurgling out of me. As I felt my liquefied speech roll thickly down my cheeks, my mind couldn’t fight free of this question: how could anything so hot come out of my body?
“Don’t try to say anything,” Roger’s expression of concern looked to be a new one that his face wasn’t used to making. He was a hardened expatriate. He swallowed. “I don’t think you’re going to make it.”
His face disappeared from view and I heard his voice, above the hum that was suddenly peeling away at my inner ear, talking to another person I couldn’t see. His wife? His kid? (Did he have a kid? A wife?) I don’t know.
I thought I heard something like, “yeah, he’s done for, this guy. Got a damn hole straight through him. Never seen anything like it. He’s leaking everywhere. What? I don’t know. Lemme see if he knows.”
The giant face appeared again, but it was shimmering, and its features pulsated. “What happened? Who did this? What the hell did this to you?” The face had apparently forgotten its earlier injunction against my talking.
There wasn’t much left of me, but I knew I needed a good story, and I strained, groaning and squinting, until I made one come to me. I hadn’t been attacked by some nonexistent animal. I knew that much. My imagination didn’t spill out of my head and puncture my body like this. No, no, no, that doesn’t happen. Maybe I was dreaming. Maybe I wasn’t out here at all.
My rational mind slithered back to me, whispering you never were here, you never were here.
Now, now, yeah, now I had a story, and I just had to conjure the strength to tell it. You never were here. That’s it. I bubbled something up from my throat that felt like a fish. You never were here. A steaming blob of blood greased down my cheek, and somehow its expulsion supplied me with the ability to speak again. I never was here.
Or at least I thought I was speaking when I said “I never…was…I…no…I…I’ve been…shot by my brother…my brother…my son…no…my…my Athena…Athena…my daughter…daughter…she…she… why did she…she shot me…with her rifle…”