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At sunrise in Africa, stygian darkness broken by an orange hue, a lion rises from under a solitary baobab tree. Legend informs, under such a tree, man was born. The lion’s belly is empty. It must hunt or go hungry. Hunger can mean death. The hunt begins.
Across the savanna, an antelope stretches. Tail twitching, the antelope prepares to run. It must run or surrender, graze to live, live to run, run or die. In Africa, legend reminds those who would listen, an antelope was first to notice the birth of man. –Ancient Awa creation story
Her done deal was inescapable, and now it was only a question of how many would die. Heeding the summons, the woman sat with a jolt to peer around but nothing. Her son squirmed again as if he knew, but he did not. Anxious, she touched at his head to make certain, even tugging his hair, and exhaled then fingered the netting that draped their bed.
She asked, “Apple, are you all right?”
“Yes, I need to go,” said the boy.
“It is between hours for electricity. Be careful. It is dark out.”
Apple’s bare feet lingered on the cement floor until the weak-shadowed room grew familiar. He scuffled towards the door without bumping into the small table or either chair.
“Use the community drum,” Jessica said.
Outside, in the inky night, thunder rolled until swallowed by the surrounding forest.
Seven feet from the bed, her only child neared the door. “Leave it open,” she said. A hungry mosquito whined near her ear.
The boy departed, leaving the door open.
“It is dangerous outside at night.”
“I will be careful, Mother. I promise,” Apple said, using a respectful and polite tone.
The muscular boy stopped in front of his home and listened to the thunder. As if in concert with the storm, his bladder rumbled, confirming an urgent need.
In a just-loud-enough voice, Jessica said, “Apple, I want what’s best for you.”
Apple ignored her and prepared himself, standing alone and naked, surrounded by the night. As his water began to stream, relief pulsed up his spine. Seconds from empty, a shape materialized at the edge of the bush in the homeless lot across the street. In and around his village, mongrel dogs regularly scoured the garbage for scraps. The boy blinked to assist his eyes in adjusting to the scene, but the shape remained unfamiliar.
“Here,” Apple said as he playfully patted the side of his leg.
Jessica swatted at the mosquito. “What? Apple, is someone else out there?”
The hesitant boy stared and squinted. An ordinary dog would have moved by now. Apple began to hurry. He forced his flow, his bladder emptied and he shook himself. Before turning to the open door, he heard an odd noise—monkeys or small nervous birds in a flock—impossible at night. He ran his now dry tongue along the edge of his teeth and shivered.
Her body shaking, Jessica asked, “Apple, did you hear that?”
Apple, named by his grandmother, using her uncle’s name because the family liked it, searched for something to throw, but the street, hard-packed sand and oil, lent nothing. Ten feet from the dog, eight feet from the door, the frightened boy froze.
The monkey-nervous-bird call came again.
Jessica shifted to the edge of the bed. “Apple, come back.”
Without taking his eyes off the dog, the naked boy eased backward, halving the distance to the door and safety in three steps. The dog did not move, whimper, or wag.
In two more shuffles, he would be inside. The boy smiled as he quickly glanced over his shoulder at the beckoning door.
But it was not a dog.
The beast readied itself, and when the boy took his eyes away, it released. The oiled sand provided great purchase for death-clawed paws. The beast sailed into the air like a spear, straight into the boy, and struck the child with such force that the blast of air rushing out of young lungs startled Jessica.
There are those sounds heard once and then remembered forever.
Covered by only a thin nightdress, Jessica slipped to the door and snapped it shut. Too horrified to scream, she threw a planting bar across the entry frame to further seal out the night. With her back against the cool metal, the woman held her breath and listened.
The night sky rumbled the storm warning again, but Jessica heard something else. On the other side of the heavy door, where her dead son rested, soft at first, like a mother reading a lullaby, then clear and distinct, came a wet snacking sound.
In the morning, the village discovered how the boy had died. What they saw shocked them. Panic spread like disease. And these were life-hardened Africans who had believed nothing on earth could terrify them.