With all the gear and participants the convoy was three trucks long and accompanied by a host of horses. They sallied-forth into midday on the most well-used northern trail, Matadi Road. It was less a road then it was a muddy trail, however workable with the trucks. They puttered slowly into the consuming jungle around them and in only half an hour, Leopoldville disappeared in the thickness to the south.
The crew bantered amongst themselves, save for Sanderson and Schaffer, with whom Antoine was seated, along with the driver, one of the young Bantu men. Pipe smoke diligently left Schaffer and Sanderson kept quiet, brooding over notes.
"How far is it?" Schaffer asked Sanderson.
"Three or four hours . . ." He looked up and took note of their pace and with classic American dismissal, shrugged, "six hours."
The canopy already covered their skies, however rising humidity suggested a ritualistic storm was nigh.
--Laveaux 00:41, 9 December 2005 (CST)
The thickening air settled like a damp blanket around them. Their heavily sweating bodies attracting mosquitoes and flies, whose buzzes filled the air with a monotonous drone. Antoine drank heavily from his canteen, allowing the warm water to trickle down his throat and fill his belly. He offered the can to his companions.
?Keep drinking. You must keep your fluids up.?
He kept one eye on the gathering clouds judging if or when a deluge might occur, his whole body attuned to the wind and the heat and the air, sensing rather than rationalising when the weather might change.
He did not like being cooped up in the truck cabin. The ride was far from comfortable with the potholes and ruts in the roads shaking the occupants around, the movement unfamiliar to him. At least when riding, he and the horse could anticipate the uneven terrain, and the natural rhythm of horseback smoothed the ride. As it was, they were barely making walking pace along the road, and here he was being jerked around in the cabin, like an antelope in the jaws of a crocodile.
He turned to Schaffer.
?I will ride ahead a little way, scout out the road. If the weather closes in we may need to stop and camp. I?ll be a few hundred yards ahead.? He did not wait for acknowledgment or permission, trusting that his experience of the country would be accepted. The truck was moving slowly enough that he could jump out as it moved. He allowed the trucks to pass, and waited for the group of horses to reach him.
His mare was easily spotted, and he unleashed her from the pack and led her to the side of the road. She was a fine animal, nimble and sure-footed, and comfortable under his rein. He mounted and trotted forward, overtaking the convoy quickly and advancing along the road. Once ahead of the trucks he found that he could relax once again, and he settled into his regular riding routine ? scanning the trees and the horizon, listening to the birds and the insects, tuning in to the hum of the forest, alert to his surroundings, and yet perfectly at ease.
The bustle of the caravan seeped into the jungle behind him as he rode forward. Rumbling engines, although very -much near, could be separated much easier from the normal sound of the wilderness. Rain was eminent. Birds scrambled above the canopy, their instincts sending them away from lightning. Other creatures in the lower canopy disappeared into their shrub-hidden homes. In only a few minutes the clatter of the jungle became very quiet.
A thunderclap resonated and the strike was very near. A brilliant flash echoed through his vision and he could hear the horses reeling up from behind, although his stayed calm, albeit a restless calm. Immediately following the lightning was a torrent curtain of rain unleashing its relentless sheets onto the muddy path. Going forward was possible, but somewhat futile.
The Dutchmen persisted from behind, however, not slowing their already precariously rushed speed. Although Antoine didn?t know this particular path well, vague memories of a tributary stood out and if he was not mistaken, they could be close to a very treacherous ravine.
--Laveaux 00:41, 9 December 2005 (CST)
Antoine manoeuvred the mare into the centre of the road and waved down the lead truck to stop. As it did so, he walked the horse alongside the cab, and leant his head down to the open window. The rain beat furiously down on his hat, the wide brim channelling the water flow into the cabin.
The pummelling rain beat a drum roll on the metal roof, and he raised his voice to be heard.
?Monsieurs, we should wait here until the rain passes. There are narrow paths and steep drops ahead. Better to wait until we can see the road properly.?
?And the horses can?t be controlled in the storm. They don?t mind the rain, but the thunder and lightning?.?
He left the sentence unfinished. The conditions spoke for themselves, and he waited for the cabin occupants to agree to his suggestion.
Resigned, the would-be explorers decided to set up camp at Antoine's advice. With the American's help, the camp was efficient, if it wasn't for him, however, the group could be mistaken for a shipwrecked group of wealthy landowners. Tents were thrown and the supplies were put under canopies to keep dry. Inside of two hours, one of the Dutchman, Jan, began heating water for potatoes.
In Belgian, Jan said, "You are Belgian, yes? You will like my cooking, I think. Wine?"
He offered a Dutch Reisling, without a glass.
--Laveaux 00:41, 9 December 2005 (CST)
The rain was still dripping from his overcoat, leaving a puddle around his stool, and he was slowly warming up next to the fire. He leant over, peered into the pot and nodded approvingly.
?It?s hard to go wrong with potatoes, yes?? The potato was a staple crop amongst the European settlers, growing well in the rich African soil alongside the yams and other root crops.
Antoine took the bottle gratefully and helped himself to a quick swig. He held the liquid in his mouth for a few seconds, savouring the taste, and then swallowed it down.
?Yes, Belgian, although I?ve never been there. My parents came out from Antwerp before I was born.? He paused, unsure of how to continue, and in the silence took another gulp of wine. It was a lame introduction, he knew, but small talk was never his strength.
?And you? Is this your first visit to Africa??
"First time to the Congo. Just three months ago we were in Egypt. November isn't any cooler than July I might add."
After sharing a few more pleasantries, the responsibilities of dinner took over and Jan tapered off into silence as he concentrated on his rather large meal. Sanderson then stole interest as he plopped onto the table and poot his muddy boots up.
"For the love of ..., listen Yank, you may like to eat in mud but Europeans tend to be a little more sophisticated," Jan barked.
"Really?" He said in strongly accented Dutch, "sophisticated enough to win your own war?"
The Dutchman glowered and brushed the American's feet away before continuing to cook.
He glanced over at Antoine and lit a cigarette, then offered one.
"You've seen beasts out here?" He asked in broken Dutch, "but you never saw beast like this."
--Laveaux 00:41, 9 December 2005 (CST)
Antoine had sat silently while the two companions exchanged banter, not yet comfortable in their company to attempt to join in. He took the cigarette when offered, lit it from the American?s and took a long drag. He studied Sanderson?s face as he spoke. Was the man boasting, or perhaps offering a warning?
?Plenty of big game. Crocodiles longer than the trucks out there. The gorillas on the higher peaks grow seven, eight feet tall.? He shrugged uncertainly. The creatures seemed plenty large enough to him.
?What does your beast look like? Forgive me for asking, but why is it that only you have set eyes on the creature? It doesn?t matter how large an animal is ? it normally ends up killed, skinned and on someone?s camp fire. The natives do not have much time for the wonders of the animal world ? it?s all just food to them.?
Sanderson squinted through the smoke, hanging on to Antoine's words and then removed his feet to lean forward.
"I am slow ... forgive me, I think you ask what does beast look like? Long neck. Snake. Beastly head. Similar to an anaconda, but with a body and legs. Many of the locals see it."
He waited for a response, but only partly so. Just then platters of boiled potatoes and salt was being passed around the table. The other men sat to enjoy the meal and the natives began cleaning the cooking supplies.
"Saunders thinks himself somewhat of a pioneer man," Schaffer said, "I call him well-funded."
The American chuckled at the quip and took some wine. Catmael sat down as well.
"Like a serpent? I've heard described more lizard-like. More of a water gecko of sorts," he said.
"Rubbish," said Schaffer, "weak descriptions of a prehistoric animal. Nothing more."
--Laveaux 00:41, 9 December 2005 (CST)
Antoine shuffled his stool to the side to make room for Catmael.
?Well, snakes and lizards are hard to catch in the jungle. They move through the trees, underneath the thickest growth. They don?t follow trails the way that a deer or big cat will.?
He stuffed a spoonful of potato into his mouth, and swallowed quickly, burning the roof of his palate. He sucked in air and gulped a mouthful of wine to ease the burning sensation.
?So how are planning on capturing it? And how large is it anyway?? He looked from face to face, wondering whether all present knew what was in store for them. They could not even agree on what the beast looked like. Did they all have an understanding of the plan ahead of them?
"Twenty men," Sanderson said simply.
The others were quiet. Whatever he meant, it seemed to be the only thing they could agree on.
Schaffer was the first to break the silence, "The beast is harmless except when cornered. Think of her like a rhinoceros."
"Killed twenty men," Sanderson said.
Then Schaffer and Sanderson fell into a squabble drenched in English. Catmael took the opportunity to speak to Antoine directly.
"They say the creature is over 3 meters high and 6 meters long. The largest beast to roam the land. The locals think it is a god, one that protects a bottomless abyss. Sanderson is the only living man that has laid eyes on it, but Schaffer lost his own son on the very same expedition not two years ago."
--Laveaux 14:03, 14 December 2005 (CST)
Antoine took the news as calmly as he could. Could an animal really be that large? Although amazed by the claimed size of the beast, his face showed no outward expression other than a slightly raised eyebrow. Knowledge of Schaffer?s son gave him pause for thought. The old man had seemed an eccentric, an entrepreneur, more a shallow salesman than a serious hunter. But was this expedition really just a money-making venture? A boost for Dutch pride? Or was he working his own private agenda ? perhaps the expedition was really about facing his own demons, confronting the beast that killed his son.
?That?s certainly a large animal, Catmael? he said, a master of understatement. ?And so my question remains ? how do we capture it? It sounds as though there is some disagreement over what is involved?
The argument between Schaffer and Sanderson rang on, and Antoine was in no mood to interrupt it.
?And you, Catmael?? he said softly, so as not to disturb the argument, ?What brings you here? If the beast killed twenty men before, what?s to stop it doing the same again? Wouldn?t you rather be home with your family, than risking your life on this venture??
"Capture it??" Catmael snorted, "We mean to kill it."
After a pause he formed his words and said, "The war put my family in a bind. You were born here, so you probably haven't heard of how bad off Northern Europe is. Amsterdam is a ghost town. Completely ravaged. The few times I've seen Belgium since '45 shows the same is true there.
"I lost everything to those bastards."
Anger jumped out, but he quickly suppressed it.
In a more quiet tone he said, "Schaffer is paying us each one hundred marks. That would be enough to get my land back. Purely selfish you see."
The argument next to them suddenly ended with Sanderson storming off. Schaffer cackled under his breath and said, "He shouldn't be so surprised that I am skeptical of his abilities. He did lose twenty men."
The others quietly ate their meals and since the rain refused to let up, the camp went to their respective tents for the night.
--Laveaux 14:03, 14 December 2005 (CST)
While others were settling in for the night, Antoine went about his normal routine. He approached the corral of horses to check the condition of his mare. He groomed her coat, more to reassure her with his presence, than because she needed brushing. He made sure that she was fed and watered, and that the rope holding her in place allowed her sufficient space to turn and lie down. His saddlebags, he placed inside his tent to dry during the night.
While there was still activity around the camp, he would not be able to sleep. He paced the camp for a further hour or two, occasionally exchanging words the Congolese boys as they tidied the camp, but mainly alone with his thoughts and with the night-time sounds of the jungle.
How to kill a six meter-long lizard? Something so large would have a hide as thick as his wrist, and it would likely take a high calibre bullet to pierce. His own rifle, while powerful enough for most creatures, would struggle to take down a bull elephant unless the shot was perfect. Did they have the firepower to take down mokele-mbembe? And if they did, how would you keep out it?s way before it finally succumbed to the bullets ? trap it first perhaps? His ponderings drifted on, until he became aware that he was the last man still up. The camp was silent and the jungle insects were reasserting themselves, keeping up a never-ending chatter that he found reassuring.
He spent a few final moment listening to his environment, memorising the layout of the camp in case he needed to rise in a hurry, and then made his way to the tent. He lay down quietly on the bedroll, and as was his custom, slept with his boots still on, and his rifle loaded and by his side.
It was almost as if he just closed his eyes, but morning dew and brisk humidity lurched with dawn. It wasn't the cracking sun that woke Antoine ecause it was still dark. It something far more jarring. It was the sound of a predator.
Stepping carefully through moistened foilage, one step at a time. Pausing ever carefully before proceeding. It was light on its feet, but reckless enough to choose a rustling path not four meters from Antoine's slumber. Recalling the layout of the camp, the sound would place the beast outside the fire pit about a meter, directly in front of Catmael's tent. Schaffer and the others f
From the sound it seemed to be feline, but its reckless path suggested a young one, perhaps learning to hunt. If its parents were teaching it, they wouldn't be too far off.
--Laveaux 18:47, 1 February 2006 (CST)
If he had had time to analyse the situation, a number of thoughts might have occurred to him ? why were the camp hands not up and about, preparing for dawn; why were the horses not kicking and screaming at the smell of a predator nearby; why would a big cat enter a campsite full of alien sights and unfamiliar smells. The logic of the situation though could wait. Despite his alarm at the danger he sensed, he initially did not move a muscle. He lay perfectly still for a few precious seconds, willing the sleep to leave his body, and allowing his eyes to accustom themselves to the gloom.
Although it was unusual for a wild beast to enter a campsite, he had heard stories of man-eaters entering tents or huts and making off with the unfortunate victim. He could cover his own tent opening quite easily with his rifle, but Catmael and the others were likely fast asleep, and thus defenceless.
With the predator so close, he could not safely crawl from his tent without leaving himself vulnerable to a mauling. Similarly, a wild lunge through the tent flaps would be reckless, and likely startle the creature into an attack. An even worse option was a blind shot through the tent canvas to where he sensed the creature to be ? a direct hit was unlikely, compared to the risk of sending a loose round through someone else?s tent wall.
Only one course of action appealed. Keeping the rest of his body still, he reached down to his rifle at his side, placed his finger against the trigger guard, and wrapped his palm around the stock. Ever so gently, he raised the rifle one-handed, pointed it at the roof of his tent, and fired directly into the air.
The sharp crack from the rifle would, he was certain, startle the animal into fleeing. With the shot ringing in his ears, he hauled himself into a one-kneed crouch and levelled the rifle at the tent opening. He paused there, listening intently he hoped to the sound of a fleeing cat.
It was unclear after the initial commotion if the predator was scared away. The dawn's sky crackled with the rifle blast and a cloud of birds swarmed from their nests in the canopy. Whatever men were not up already preparing camp were immediately awakened and rushed from their tents.
Rummaging and rabbling over what the ordeal was, the camp momentarily turned into a mob. No one knew who fired the shot or why.
Then from the chaos a loud voice sounded "SILENCE!"
It was Schaffer. He was toward the edge of the camp and his bellowing voice did what he intended. Peering at the ripped remains of a tent, everyone present could see what he saw.
All the remained of Catmael was a bloody stumped leg, raggedly removed from the rest of the body just below the knee.
--Laveaux 13:26, 5 February 2006 (CST)
It was clear immediately that the shot had awoken the camp, and Antoine emerged through the tent flaps with his rifle at his shoulder. In contrast to the mayhem all around, he stood silently, sighting down the gun barrel as he swung in an arc along the tree line, scanning for movement in the jungle. His breathing was calm and his palms dry as he did so, blocking out the camp?s panic as his peripheral vision wandered the emerald green patterns of leaf and dappled light.
It was the shout from Schaffer that broke his concentration, a distinctive snarl in the Dutchman?s voice that commanded obedience. Antoine lowered his rifle and turned, seeing for the first time the panicked look on people?s faces, and the remains of the unfortunate Catmael. The sight of a fresh kill was hardly new to him, but in some strange way a leg without a body was somehow more disturbing than a body missing a leg. He could feel colour reddening his neck and cheeks, and the bitter taste of copper in his saliva. He knew it to be Catmael?s tent that was destroyed, and the Dutchman was not to be seen in the crowd.
With the remaining party stunned to silence, Antoine seemed the only one able to act. He crossed the few metres to Catmael?s tent, stooping as he walked to grab a few square yards of ripped tent fabric, and approached the bloody stump. He crouched down next to it, swallowing the gorge in this throat but unwilling to look away, and draped the material over the limb.
From his crouched position he turned, catching the gaze of Schaffer, perhaps the only other figure in camp to keep his composure. In the quietened camp, he did not need to raise his voice to be heard. His words were heard by all present, although his eyes never left Schaffer?s, perhaps silently challenging the party leader to accept his lead in this matter.
?Nobody leave the camp or disturb the ground. Whatever did this will have left tracks.?
He rose to his feet, broke eye contact with Schaffer and moved towards the treeline, his eyes gently scanning the muddy ground for tracks.
There was reluctance in Schaffer's eyes and even a hint of waver. His eyes glanced to each of Antoine's and then conceded. Looking back up at the stunned camp around them he said, "You heard him. Report anything out of the ordinary and whatever you do, don't touch a thing."
Schaffer picked up a nearby shotgun and as he did so he cocked it with one determined arm. Standing close to Antione he said only loud enough for him to hear.
"It's the beast. No cat could do this."
As Antoine scanned the trees and the ground, he saw distinct tracks in the mud. Shreds of clothing and pieces of the tent were dragged violently on the ground into an especially close thicket of vines and ground shrubs. Leaves inside the thicket were still jerking.
--Laveaux 13:39, 28 February 2006 (CST)
?Perhaps...?, replied Antoine somewhat distantly, his attention totally consumed by the activity within the thicket.
He had been in this situation before, having once followed a wounded lion into undergrowth. The danger was extreme, but if there was a chance that Catmael still lived, or that the creature might be caught whilst feeding, it was a risk he needed to take.
With his rifle stock against his shoulder and the barrel aimed at the rustling branches, he advanced. His index finger was applying gentle pressure to the trigger, ready to depress fully if necessary. He placed each footstep gently in front of the last, and with his eyes locked on the noise ahead, he moved silently into the undergrowth?.
--Orbost 23:48, 8 March 2006 (CST)
It was no cat.
Barely lit from the preceding firelight was a wall of scales accented by two serpentine eyes on either side of a jagged tooth-filled one-meter head. It stood six meters high on enormous clawed hind legs and had weak upper arms.
The lifeless torso of Catmael hung from its teeth like red spinach.
There was no other way to describe it. The creature was a dinosaur. As Antoine and Schaffer advanced, the creature snapped its head in their direction, freezing. Pieces of the unfortunate Catmael fell from its mouth as it lowered on its haunches.
--Laveaux 11:04, 13 March 2006 (CST)
Initially, it was hard for his brain to accept what the eyes were seeing, and as his heart started to race, he found his feet rooted to the spot. The creature he saw before him was like nothing he imagined could ever exist. It was a monster from the storybooks, or perhaps from his science books. The sheer size of it was?.unimaginable.
To many men, perhaps unused to the dangers of the wild, the sight might have driven them to panic or to rash action. For Antoine though, shocked as he was, his instincts soon took over - not eliminating the fear, but at least allowing common sense to control his actions.
Maintaining his grip on his rifle and continuing to sight down the barrel at the creature, he whispered quietly but firmly to Schaffer.
?No sudden movement. Step backwards slowly and calmly.?
And with that, he took a gingerly step behind him, then another and another. If the creature charged he could get a shot away, perhaps two. But it would take a lucky shot to stop the creature dead. Far better, he knew, to leave the creature to its meal, and to escape the fate that had befallen the unfortunate Catmael.
--Orbost 18:40, 23 March 2006 (CST)
The head stayed frozen as Antoine whisphered and when they carefully backed away the horrible sound of wet twigs snapping resounded. The creature's head snapped again, this time the side of its head was facing them. It was clear now that the beast was now looking at them. One large eye focused on them.
There was silence.
Then all hell broke loose.
The creature let loose an ear-wrecking howly and lunged forward, snapping its large jaws. Just missing Schaffer by a thread, he fell into a panic-striken run. The beast was on his heels and the camp was suddenly opened up to its violent pursuit.
Crashing through tents and trampling a few workers, it stumbled forward after its prey, apparently forgetting the fresh kill still hanging loosely from its teeth.
--Laveaux 22:11, 27 March 2006 (CST)
He had no way of knowing why the monster lunged for Schaffer rather than himself, but there was little time to reflect on his companion’s unfortunate luck. As the beast plunged past him, Antoine followed, ploughing through the undergrowth until he stood at the edge of the campsite to witness the chaos that ensued.
What can I do?
‘Nothing’ was the obvious answer. His rifle was little more than a peashooter against the heavily armoured scales rampaging through the camp. He needed a soft target to aim at – perhaps the underbelly, the mouth or one of those hideous, cold crocodile eyes. If the creature would turn, and hold still for just a moment he could take a shot. Otherwise, he was just wasting ammunition.
Antoine ran forward, leaping tent ropes and dodging panicked workers as he went. He had to keep the beast in sight
With his eyes on the target, and both hands on the rifle he battled through the camp for a clear shooting angle. He muttered to himself, the words fighting to escape through his gritted teeth.
“One shot. Just give me one shot.”
--Orbost 20:59, 26 April 2006 (CDT)