Legend of the Amatshotsho, by David Edward Nell

The Indian Ocean was a shade of glittering emerald as they headed toward the mouth of Durban Bay in the month of April 1824. The winds cut in their direction that day, though the sea was at a rest, as the English passenger ship Royal Ranger left a foamy trail zipping toward Port Natal. General John Hennigan was on the foredeck with his assigned brigade of redcoats, watching the first of the ripe lands appear, those lands still fringed with mangroves where primal things lay hidden. The ship steered in a straight line toward civilization, past the wilderness, finding the beginning of the new harbour occupied by two anchored embargos. John had enough of the salt spray and the coarse enthusiasm of his men, and joined Ndlovu Motlanthe, his translator and guide, who was alone and peering over a ledge, his gaze fixed on the rollicking waves in some strange euphoria.

“You look a bit out of it,” John said, cracking a match for his pipe. “Are you still concerned, my friend?”

“Unfortunately so,” Ndlovu answered. “Coming back scares me, to be honest. It’s been five years.”

“Think of it as an affirmation of how far you’ve come. It’s just a visit.”

“True. However, this is dangerous. We’re stirring the pot when it doesn’t need to be stirred.”

“I agree, it is. But have you ever seen Amatshotsho up close?”

“No. By God’s grace. The bodies I saw in the veld, though, a result of some devil’s work. No veld animal does more than it needs to survive in the wild.”

“Probably nothing to it, though. The business of myth is just that.”

“When my people talk, they do not lie.”

“Like the spearman we’re going to meet?” John asked.

“Kabiso. Yes. Used to be a spearman. Not since he saw Amatshotsho.”

“Don’t you think that would be an ideal scenario, being able to return to England with evidence for the Queen?”

“If we return.”

“Cheer up, man, and imagine the gold, the possibility of knighthood. The scientific establishments would be in wonder, wouldn’t they?”

“At what cost?”

“Now come. We’re a dozen strong. I implore this beast, if it indeed exists, to test its might against the fire of our muskets. We’ll return to England either in glory or disappointment, but there will be no lives lost. God and the Queen are on our side.”

“I hope and pray so.”

With the harbour to their right now, its piquant aroma set their mouths to water in expectation. The bustling spice markets were visible, and they could see the Colony of Natal not too far off as well, a collection of partially-constructed townhouses above which sat a cloud of smog. In the streets, fishermen, tourists and colonialists made up a colourful crowd.

John said, “Ndlovu, do you see where that church spire is, by the monument? Right about there is where my sweetheart dwells. Jocelyn. That’s where we’re heading first, if you don’t mind.”

“No, of course.”

“Got a woman in your life currently? Surely a handsome bloke like you would.”

Ndlovu went sour, appeared to be choking up. “Bad memories.”

“How so?”

“When I still lived off the land, when I was young, there was a time when I married. One day, my wife was found dead. They wouldn’t tell me how. But I know.”

“So sorry to hear. I can’t imagine…”

Ndlovu looked away, toward the sun.

***

“I won’t be too long,” John told his fiancee as he closed the door against the stares of his men.

“No tea, then?” Jocelyn said.

“Unfortunately not. Can’t keep them waiting.” He touched her womb. “How’s Baby?”

“Got a bit of a kick today. Think we’ve got a soldier here. Just like Daddy.”

“Just like Daddy indeed.” He smiled proudly and met her lips with his.

“Doctor gives it about a week,” she said afterwards.

“Are you nervous?”

“Beyond exhausted, if anything.”

“Get some rest, dear,” he said, pecking her cheek and rushing into the next room.

“I will.”

John returned with three bags of rifles and ammunition.

“So what are you and the boys planning?” she asked, eyeing him curiously.

“A hunt.”

“Are you serious? What on earth for?”

“The Queen, my dear,” he said. “The Queen wants a great, big African dog.”

***

“Kabiso promised he’d be here by five,” Ndlovu said, standing by the entrance of the Chesterton pub where they were to meet. His pocket watch indicated 5:30, and he clicked his tongue in frustration. “Maybe we’re too late.”

John replied, “No worries. Let’s have a drink in the meantime.”

Before they could order gin shots, a hooded figure surprised them from an unseen corner. John saw the grey stubble on the mysterious man’s haggard face, his permanently wide, haunted eyes, and was about to dismiss him as a vagrant before the man and Ndlovu exchanged pleasantries.

John said, “Are you–”

“This is Kabiso,” Ndlovu intervened, translating greetings back and forth.

“Where can we find Amatshotsho?” said John as the man sat, not wasting time.

Ndlovu listened to Kabiso then referred to John, “There is no precise location, rather a legend, a tale of unknown origin. The elders say only under the Natal moon can Amatshotsho thrive, and only where the moon shines upon the path from the colony to the Zulu settlements. Amatshotsho is there, according to legend, preying on journeying innocents. But I stay away in those hours, even here in town. I hide, even though it has been a while since an account.”

“You claimed to have encountered Amatshotsho. Can you describe it?” John asked.

“It is the most grotesque thing under Iziko’s watch, unforgettable, unpredictable.” Ndlovu insisted on more information.

Kabiso started a sentence, abruptly stopped. The table was rattling; he was shaking. Promptly, he raised and left without a farewell, and John and Ndlovu passed incredulous expressions.

***

Just behind the colony which was now far from their trek, the sun was drooping into a quadrant. On each side of the battered road they were traveling, the early night savannas were calm and possessed by a crisp frost. Their torches danced in the dark, the trampling of their horses sounding like claps of thunder. Behind the carriage in which John and Ndlovu were passengers, the brigade was following, keeping watch. John signalled to the driver to stop, placed his hand on the door handle.

Ndlovu stopped him, sighing. “I can’t go out there,” he whined. “Please, John.”

“Where would I be without you?” John massaged his shoulder. “I’m glad you at least came all this way. It took great strength on your part, and that’s admirable.”

Ndlovu nodded. “For the gold,” he said, and they laughed together.

“Well, let’s hope we double. Keep this close.” John gave him a cross and a reassuring pat on the back, and stepped out to gather the brigade.

“I want each of you searching the area within a two-kilometre radius. But don’t get too far out. Three hours. Check yourselves. If it looks out of the ordinary, shoot it.”

The soldiers inspected the soil and trees for markings and evidence of its existence, waiting for any hint of its approach. Suddenly, there was a gunshot, and another.

“I’ve found him,” one of the soldiers announced. “General, come see!”

John saw what had been killed, and sank. “It’s a hyena, you oaf. Carry on and mind what you shoot, alright, Private? Another mistake and I remove your gun.”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.”

“Better not be all for bloody nothing,” he muttered while the rest of the brigade was in hysterics. John looked around and saw something odd by the carriage. The door was abridge, half bent. He went numb, and ran up to see inside. Ndlovu was gone. Except for his clothes, his ripped shirt and pants and bowler hat.

“Where’s Ndlovu? Where’s the bloody driver?” He tried to rid of the lump in his throat, and shouted, “Men, stop the search. We’ve got a situation. Jesus Christ, we’ve got a situation.”

And as he turned, there was an unusual sound in the distance, rising in tempo. John unholstered his gun. What they were hearing were howls, so shrill the men had to shield their ears. When the noise subsided, they saw it standing in the middle of the road from which they had come, the silhouette of a creature unbecoming of nature. It was of an immense girth, a hunchback, seven feet or more. The hairs on its skin protruded like razors, its teeth as long as each of their fingers, its claws seemingly large enough to crush a head in its grasp. All doubt was removed that instant.

“Fire!” John immediately commanded to his men, who were so shaken up they could hardly muster the strength. Their bullets ricocheted in the direction of the beast. But there seemed no effect. Instead, the thing eloped, heading towards the colony with the speed of a cheetah. John lost his words, went after it on foot. Eventually he arrived at the front gate of the colony, his wind taken. There was a commotion. All the townsfolk were out of their houses, telling of a monster, a bear, something foul and which shouldn’t be. And then John had a gut feeling, an omen. Slowly, he walked several blocks up while the world was darkening, and turned into his street. When he traced the hundreds of onlookers, where it was leading to, he almost lost his bearings. But something made him keep walking, keep pushing the masses until he was there, past the crowd. At his home, where his front door was open. Police officials were entering and exiting, themselves visibly traumatised. They were carrying out a young woman on a gurney. She was covered with a blanket, apart from her arms which were dangling out and trickling forth webs of fresh blood. Where her stomach was, there was a crimson blotch, and by her face.

“We’re sorry, General,” a voice began, but he went deaf, blind.

~~

David Edward Nell is a fledgling spec-fic writer from Cape Town, South Africa. Visit him at http://davidedwardnell.blogspot.com.
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Posted on December 28, 2012, in Issue 6: Big Bad Wolf in a Big Bad Universe and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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