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05 March 2007 @ 02:59 pm
New Blood  

 First of all, hello everybody! Like all of you, I too am a great fan of PJ's Kong remake, and have been writing fanfics about it ever since. Currently, I post at fanfiction.net under the name Nate The Ape. At the same time though, I've known about this community for quite a while, and today I just couldn't bear to lurk any longer!

 So without further ado, I'll be presenting my stories. Here's one of my first pieces.

 Title: Of Memories and Hyenas.
 Author/Artist: Nate The Ape/Zaphod236
 Pairing: None
 Rating: PG
 Warnings: Just some brief endangerment of a character, no blood spilled. :)
 Summary: Jimmy has been a member of the Venture's crew for a couple years now. He's learnt the ropes fast and proven himself useful. But how will he do when Hayes and Englehorn decide to kick his development up a notch? Also contains an eerie recollection of our captain's encounter with one nasty cobra.
 Disclaimer: Please, I'm just as likely to ever own the Hope Diamond as King Kong.

In the turquoise blue waters of Dar es Salaam’s harbor, the Venture loomed over the dhows, canoes, yachts, and other lesser vessels as she stood at anchor parallel to a loading dock. East Indian, Swahili, and European men alike swarmed around the ship in a diverse mixture of heights and skin colors as cargo was loaded onboard with the ship’s massive block and tackle.
   Some of it was inanimate in nature of course, goods ranging from the diamonds and silver dug out of Tanganika’s legendary mines, to coffee and cotton grown on the vast colonial-administered plantations, to ebony, that sleek, raven-black wood from the inland forests.
   The Venture’s crew through, unofficially specialized in animal transport, and the first of this living cargo was being loaded on deck right now. As Captain Englehorn bellowed out orders to both port staff and crewmembers alike in a voice worthy of the male lions they’d captured, Jimmy stood on the sunlit deck, rushing forward to each crate every time Mr. Hayes gently placed it down with the colossal machine. Working with another crewman, an East Indian man named Devapasha, he helped detach the slings, nets, and chains from the crates and cages as they came to rest.
   Like most people who work closely with animals, Jimmy understandably always bonded with the captives, getting to know them utterly and intimately as individuals. And despite Mr. Hayes’ warnings that as touching as it was, giving the animals names would only set him up for heartbreak if they died on the way or when they were offloaded at their new homes, he couldn’t help but chronically go against that advice.    
   Besides, all the others, even Mr. Englehorn, did the same sooner or later. Captain and Choy even teased him playfully about being the ship’s “Official Animal Namer.” Mr. Hayes himself had asked the boy once if he wanted some water to baptize each beast with, trying and failing to keep a straight face.
   And as each crate fluttered down on deck, the moniker Jimmy had already given to each animal came unspoken into his mind, along with the daring memories of its capture. First there was Nefertari, the leopardess, growling in agitation and pushing against the sides of her iron cage as Nathan and Natalie, her fox terrier sized cubs mewed in fear. They’d caught her in a simple box trap baited with two guinea fowl, and her cubs, refusing to leave their mom’s side, were easy enough to run down and grab. Looking at her spotted form, Jimmy had thought she looked so graceful and royal, and recalling the beautiful tomb he’d heard about in Egypt’s Valley of the Queens, promptly named her after Ramesses II’s wife.
   Next came Ahab, the huge rock python, thicker than a man’s thigh and staring off into space with his dull, stupid brown eyes. He’d been tracked to a marsh where the Venture’s men had found him soaking happily. In an epic struggle, four men had gone for and wrestled with the huge serpent in the water, Englehorn himself grabbing Ahab behind the head and braving those saw-blade teeth. Snakes didn’t thrive in the dark of a ship’s hold, so later the big guy would be transferred to a special box with a glass top, and then be put on the deck to enjoy the warm sun.
 Jimmy knew Ahab wouldn’t be lonely, for the next crate housed another python, dubbed Gigantic Goldie. And she’d been even bigger when he’d first laid eyes on her, for a native man had come to them saying in excitement that he’d just seen a python catch a half-grown wildebeest calf only a few miles away. Upon arriving, the snake was just finishing swallowing the hindquarters of the calf, her jaws as wide as anything. They’d actually had to roll the engorged reptile into a net to carry back to camp.
   Grinning at the memory, Jimmy wondered how much Goldie’s new master would sensationalize the circumstances of her last meal. Most of these animals were headed to a circus menagerie in Kentucky, whose owner planned to show them as “The Most Savage Beasts of the Dark Continent,” no doubt getting a lot of excited attention from curious and fearful spectators.
   A male leopard, snarling like a demon in rage, was next in line. He had been a very wily animal to try to trap, and twice had even escaped soon after being caught in one. When they did finally take him captive, the cat put up a real fight, and they’d had to use the chloroform. His resistance recalled that of a famous Apache chief, and so the leopard was dubbed Geronimo.
    Then came Cassie and Crystal in their separate cages. The two lioness sisters had, in a stroke of luck, both fallen into the same pit trap, tempted by half a goat hanging above the screen of grass and branches. After that, it had been a simple matter of pouring in some chloroform, and each growling, hissing lioness had soon gone limp.
   Even better, it was suspected that Crystal was pregnant, and it would sure be wonderful if she bore cubs on the trip back, Jimmy thought. Lion cubs were perhaps the cutest things in existence, and Mr. Mills would likely also give them a cash bonus on learning of the surprise. 
   A whole bunch of baboons arrived on deck in quick succession, two adults in each crate, barking and screeching in indignation. “What the devil is this all about?” they all seemed to be saying. There was Heath, Fred, Jake, Dan, Big Guy, Bad Baboon, Ron, and Pete as the males. And there were even more females and babies, Lady Gray, Mary, Jane, Denise, Eva, Rebecca, Barbara, Rachel, Matt, Baby, Lady Cynthia, the Little Princess, Gene, Dave, Goblin, Lucy-even he couldn’t remember them all!! 
   These huge monkeys had been ridiculously easy to capture. Like people, baboons enjoy alcoholic beverages, especially rum. So they’d found a tree where the baboons were feeding, put a vat under it, filled it two-thirds full of rum, and left. When the troop cautiously tried it in the crew’s absence, they’d liked it-and liked it wayyy too much. As expected, Jimmy, Hayes, Lumpy, Englehorn, and the rest of the Venture’s crew found a lot of intoxicated baboons when they came back, and picking them up was no problem at all.
 Suddenly, even before the crate was visible, came a demented, cackling giggle from the dock. Jimmy’s eyes widened, and involuntarily, he turned hesitatingly to gaze at the block and tackle. Mr. Hayes’ brown eyes met Jimmy’s blue ones, filled with a mixture of pride and nervousness. The first mate understood why very well, and nodded as the female spotted hyena, still cackling like a witch in agitation, swung towards the Venture’s deck. That was Mrs. Stink, and did Jimmy know her well. God, did he know her well….
 
   Ten days ago…
 
   In the huge tramp steamer, half the crew was safely residing below the Venture’s decks, guarding the cargo from thieves, making sure no one tried to stow away onboard, checking the condition of the ship’s machinery, eating whatever passed as a meal in Lumpy’s eyes, or just relaxing.
   Capitan Englehorn though, accompanied by Hayes, Jimmy, and the other half of the crew, was sitting at that moment in a simple camp deep in the bush, surrounded by thorn bushes, grass, and the cooing of Namaqua doves as the shadows grew longer. The day had been a fairly good one, as far as catching dangerous beasts went. With the help of experienced locals, they’d actually managed to drive a black rhino into a sturdily constructed stockade of thick logs built the day before. When the door had been hastily shut, several rags soaked with chloroform had gone onto the anti-social creature’s horn and face, knocking him out. After that, it was just a matter of using a system of pulleys, slings, and ropes to move the heavy rhino to a cast-iron cage.
 Later in the day, they’d found the African snake everyone feared, a black mamba, ten feet of swift, elegant gray death. Colin, an experienced British colonial who they’d hooked up with, had thrown his shirt at the mamba, enveloping its head and preventing it from striking as he used a forked stick to pin it down. With Hayes holding a bag, Colin grabbed the lethal black mamba behind the head and shoved it inside in one fluid motion.
 Afterwards, they’d seen a puff adder basking on a dirt path, looking so much like just another large stick. Although the puff adder is a pretty deadly snake too, being a fat and slow-moving animal it was comparatively easier for Colin to grab behind the head and shove in another bag.
 Now Englehorn was telling Colin, in his thick German accent, as the sun began to set, about a very harrowing escape he’d had in Zululand with an Egyptian cobra. “Mein Gott, you wouldn’t believe how huge this cobra was Colin. He was as long as I am tall, with beautiful dark bands.” Pausing, he added, “But he was nothing of the sort when he had me up against the wall.”
   “Two meters, you say? Yes, that’s sure one bloody big cobra indeed,” an astonished Colin replied in his British accent. “I’ve caught plenty of Egyptian cobras in my time as a snake man, but not very many like that one. But do tell me how that dreadful situation played itself out.”
   “Well,” Englehorn reminisced, “some local villagers found that beast one night in their chicken coop. He’d clearly gone there for a good dinner and was actually eating a pullet when the people arrived.”
   “I suppose they wanted to bash its head in for that,” Colin mulled.
   “ Ja. But the headman arrived then, and when he saw the size of the thing he ordered them to leave it. And no matter how you may feel about what he says—“ “The headman’s word is as good as law,” Colin finished.
 “Absolutely,” Englehorn replied, nodding. “Anyway, he told the men that a cobra this big would be a real prize for the animal dealers, and they could probably get at least twenty shillings for it. So one man grabbed it by the tail, dropped it into an old orange crate, and the snake was a captive.”
 “So then how did it get into your thick old hands?” Colin inquired.
    Englehorn grunted in mock indignation, and then went on with his story. “They got up the next day and carried the crate to the nearest town, about a day’s walk away. When they got there, we were by chance in the same town, looking over some zebras that a group of men had captured by chasing them into a corral.  
   We purchased the ones that we thought were the most handsome, and took them back in their cages. As we got back to the compound where we were storing all the animals, one of the servants came to us and said that there were some men nearby trying to sell what they said was the largest cobra ever found in the bush.”
   “Many of those things that they claim about the creatures they have are total misrepresentations through,” Colin interjected, “and I know that all too well. Bloody deceitful prats. ”
   “I know that too,” Englehorn said as he nodded in agreement, “and Mein Gott, it is so infuriating when you find that they’ve just been leading you on. But sometimes, once in a while, they are right, and I felt it could be to my gain to at least inspect their catch. When I looked through the crate’s slats and saw that great cobra, I knew it was a prize animal, one that any zoo would kill for.
    So I gave the headman thirty shillings for that cobra, and even though his friends would split it with him when they got back, the greedy fools had to complain and curse me until I gave the three of them four shillings each to shut them up. Then I put the crate under my arm and presented it to the crew.”
 “What did they think of it?” Colin asked.
 “Except for Lumpy, -he is terrified of snakes-all the others congratulated me on my magnificent find, and called me a master bargainer. Of course,” Englehorn slyly added, “when you are the captain, no one ever thinks that you can ever do any wrong, and every action is met with approval for some reason.”
   Colin laughed in understanding, then prodded, “But Capitan, how did that devil snake get out of his box? And what happened to you when it did?”
    “I’m getting to that now,” the captain responded. “When we returned to the old house we’d been staying at during that time, we unloaded the zebras and put them into a makeshift paddock. Then I decided to leave my crew and check on the smaller animals. I’d seen that the box was starting to rot too, and wanted to put that cobra in one of the glass-topped snake cages right away. 
     We kept them in a nearby shed during that time, with mongooses, duikers, parrots, monitor lizards, hawks, porcupines, and of course snakes in smaller cages. As I appraised them, one of the Zulu boys came in with the orange crate on his head, with a friend beside him.”
    “But,” pointed Englehorn, blue eyes growing distant, “that crate’s bottom was rotten, and the boy tripped over something. Suddenly it dropped out, and the cobra landed belly up right in front of me. You should’ve seen both boys. They ran out of there like a whole pride of lions was after them.”
   “Why didn’t you run too?” Colin said.
 “I wanted to, but I couldn’t,” Englehorn replied simply. “I was very close to the back and trapped between a stack of cages and a wall. The cobra righted himself, then immediately flared his hood and looked at me. I backed up maybe a meter and a half, and then collided with the wall. As I did, the snake struck, and missed my leg by this much,” he said, holding his thumb and forefinger parallel to each other.”
   Pausing, Englehorn went on with a solemn voice, “I am a strong man, and my crew can attest that I fear no person or creature. Once in a fistfight, I punched a man so hard that his jaw didn’t break-it shattered. And when a leopard in India attacked a local woman standing near me one night, I saved her by choking the cat to death with my bare hands.”
   Colin gave a whistle of total amazement and awe.
 “But I have no shame in saying that I was scared then Colin, very scared. It was an agony of terror. I’ve seen with my own eyes and heard about what happens to animals and people who die of cobra bite, and for once I felt sick with horror. And the snake was just coldly looking back with its soulless eyes. As a gifted snake-catcher, no doubt you’ve seen that look at close range yourself.”
 “Yes,” Colin answered quietly, “never in a dreadful mess quite like that, but still far too many times, and it makes your skin crawl. It’s like looking down the barrel of a Colt pistol.” 
 “Agreed,” was the captain’s response. “ We looked at each other some more. I didn’t want to die this way. It isn’t my notion of a decent, honorable death. If the Fates say I must die in a violent fashion, I’d rather be killed by a beast of prey or fighting against another man, and quickly. I knew that I had no knife, no pistol. There was nothing within reach that I could use as a club, or even just to push the snake away.”
 “When I was in the Dodoma district once,” Colin sympathetically replied, “I caught a three-foot Egyptian cobra, and got a fang in a finger. By the grace of God I lived, but the next four days were an agony. Felt like my body was literally going haywire.”
 “And this one was twice as big,” Englehorn added. “The cobra was getting ready to strike again, tensing up and gauging the distance. I knew that this time he wouldn’t miss. By then I wasn’t scared at all, or resigned, or angry. I just felt numb in head and body. Perhaps my compatriot Freud can explain why it was so,” trying to add a bit of humor.
 “Once again, am I correct in assuming that numb feeling isn’t something you are very accustomed to?” Colin queried.
 “ Ja. That goes without words,” Englehorn stated. “How I was going to meet that snake I didn’t know. Suddenly, I did something in my defense. I don’t think I even thought. As the cobra struck, I took off my shirt in one motion, held it in front of me, then jumped at the snake, landing right on top of it. Now the cobra was under me, and I could feel it twisting like an eel under my body. Every time it twisted, I pressed harder, hoping it wouldn’t be able to bite me.
   I shrieked like a man being tortured for the boys to come help. Meanwhile, the cobra kept on squirming. I was desperate, keeping on the pressure with my body, cursing the cement floor in my mother tongue for not having handholds that I could grab and use to bear down harder. You try to dig your fingers into a cement floor, and you’ll know the state I was in at that moment.”
 “Then,” said Englehorn, “part of that demon snake’s body got loose and began slapping me in the hip. In my fear, I honestly thought that that part was the head. Every time I felt it, I thought I’d gotten a bite. As I said, I know what happens to people after a cobra bite, and I quickly developed all the symptoms, my mind tricking me into being half-blind, feeling terribly thirsty, having trouble breathing, having locked and twitching muscles, and all the others.”
 “Dear, dear God,” Colin said.
 “How does that saying you Englishmen have go?” Englehorn questioned. “A coward dies a thousand deaths, but a brave man only one? I am brave indeed, but during the next few minutes, I died a dozen times.”
 “But my screams were heard. One of the Zulu boys appeared, and he said that the white man was mistaken. That was the snake’s long tail I was feeling, that was whipping me. Yes, it was the tail. The head was still under my chest. Couldn’t I feel it? If the white man was so intelligent, surely they should all be able to know a snake’s tail from its head?”
 “I bet it was one bloody heap of relief to hear that,” Colin said.
 “Oh Gott, yes. My hysteria vanished, I was once again a Capitan, and I no longer felt the tail biting me. I felt like a nincompoop, the world’s greatest Dummer. But I ordered the boy to slip his hand under my chest and wad the shirt around the head. With my weight on top, it wouldn’t be able to strike. It was a delicate thing, but it could be done. I’d slowly get up and he’d twist it around the mouth.
 But that coward boy backed out on me,” Englehorn said, snarling at the memory. “He wanted to help the white man, but even my threats to personally throw him to the local Wessiehais did nothing to stop him.”
 “The white sharks!?” Colin said in surprise. “Well, definitely proved that you were serious at least, and I’d probably have done the same thing.”
 Nodding, Englehorn continued, “I started yelling again, and this time one of the Shagaan boys showed up. He was willing. And smart. When I cautiously got up a bit, but not enough for the cobra to strike, he slid his hand underneath my chest and grabbed the snake behind the head. As I slowly raised myself from the floor even more, he began to quickly twist my shirt over the cobra’s head, face, and neck until it was no longer a danger.”
 “And less then ten minutes later,” the Captain concluded, “the Egyptian cobra that had almost managed to kill me was dropped into his new, bigger box. When my crew heard about it, they were just as horrified as I’d been at the time, and some members even wept in their upset state. But that soon gave way to great happiness and thanksgiving that I was still alive and safe. I never ceased for a moment to be grateful to the noble Shagaan boy who came to my aid when the Zulu one walked out on me. Over the next few weeks,” Enlgehorn said grimly, “that Zulu boy got several cuffings that he’ll never forget. And I was the first one to start him out.
   As for the Shagaan boy, you’d think I’d given him ten bars of pure gold plus a million marks when he received the amethyst ring and wristwatch I bought him in Durban. I also offered him money, but he refused, saying that the watch and ring were payment enough, not to mention just doing something that was upright and good. He even got to go on the ship for a few days before returning home, and loved every minute of it. Wherever he is, I wish the kinder well,” Englehorn ended.
 Colin just looked at the Captain for a moment, brown eyes wide in amazement. Then, mouth open he exclaimed, “What a bloody incredible story Mr. Englehorn. You were very damn lucky and very good at keeping your head in that hellish situation too. And I’m glad you still got your cobra safely to the zoo when the day was done. Icing on the cake and all that.”
 During this time, the sun had almost completely set. Now, seeing the last of the orange orb going down, Englehorn said offhandedly, “Yes, I know to my bones I was. Now if you’ll excuse me, we all need to get back to our work of trapping. This is when the predators come out.”
 “I understand, it shan’t do to arrive late for a good sporting chance at them now would it?” Colin said, rising from the camp chair. “But I think it would be advisable to have a good feed off of that impala first.”
 “You’re certainly right,” Englehorn said, walking with Colin to a nice antelope dinner. Hayes had decided that it would be a good thing to have some fresh meat around that day after they’d secured the massive rhino, and so went into the bush toting a Winchester rifle, with his young companion Jimmy in tow. Hayes didn’t trust him with guns, but did need his muscle to help him if he did shoot game, and even more importantly an extra set of eyes to look out for lions, buffalo, and other dangers. And Jimmy’s eyes were some of the best on the Venture.
   About three-quarters of an hour after they’d left, Englehorn had heard a shot in the distance, than another one a minute or two later. Knowing that his first mate could handle any animal he encountered perfectly fine, he’d ignored it, idly wondering what the black man and youth would be hauling back.
   An hour and a half later, Jimmy and Hayes returned, each bearing a nice impala stag on their back, lashed to a shoulder pole. The impala were both dressed out and butchered, then it was time for cooking. Even though Lumpy was back at the Venture, a good number of the crew still knew at least some things about how to cook a savory meat dinner, and had gotten to work, providing Englehorn and Colin with some time for a chat.
   Dinner was startlingly good that evening. One of the sailors, an Irishman named Tall Al, served in Lumpy’s role, passing out some of the best food they’d had in weeks. There was impala liver with eggs, which Colin and Jimmy both agreed was “to die for,” spiced roast impala with boiled rice soaked in honey water, and impala tenderloin, so good that two sailors nearly fought each other for it.
   All the meat was flavored just right and not too tough at all. Like sailors everywhere, the Venture’s men were big eaters. But even they couldn’t consume a whole pair of antelope in a sitting, and the two impala stags would feed them for at least two days.
   Jimmy couldn’t help but notice however, that as Mr. Hayes sat across the table by Englehorn’s side, he’d occasionally talk softly in the captain’s ear, making quick, but obvious, glances in the youth’s direction. For his part, Englehorn would nod, look doubtful, or seem to be thinking hard, also briefly locking eyes with Jimmy.
  For the most part, Jimmy was caught up in his wonderful meal of wild game, and feeling pride at how he’d helped Mr. Hayes lug one of the heavy stags all the way back to camp, cleaning it right there alongside his mentor. But their talking made him nervous as dinner continued. Hayes and Captain didn’t look mad, but had he done something Mr. Hayes didn’t approve of somewhere along the line today?
 Frantically going over all his actions, he couldn’t come up with any major transgressions. He hadn’t begged to use the rifle too much; he’d kept absolutely still and quiet while Mr. Hayes was waiting for that first impala to come closer and stalking the second, he’d done what he was told while driving the rhino, he’d kept watch for dangerous animals that might be hunting them, he’d stolen Colin’s copy of Moby-Dick but had given it back when confronted, and had always obeyed the Capitan’s orders-for today at least.
 No, he didn’t see or know that he’d done any wrong. He just hoped it was good things Mr. Hayes was saying to Englehorn. After dinner, he’d ask his first mate about all it, and he knew that he could usually expect an honest answer.
   When everyone had stuffed themselves, it was time to get back to business. With Englehorn’s permission, five of the men went away from the camp in a northeast direction with a large cage, seeing if that big black-maned lion a herdsman had reported two days ago wasn’t in their pit trap. Getting a drink, Jimmy wiped his lips off with the back of his hand, walked a few yards-and came across Mr. Hayes.
 In his solemn, deep voice, Hayes said as he raised his hand, “Yes Jimmy, I know you’re looking for me, and I think I know why.” Once more, his intuition was right on the mark.
 “I saw you talking to Mister Englehorn at dinner a lot and looking at me. Did I do something wrong? I said I was sorry about swiping Colin’s book and he forgave me, remember? He’ll even let me read it tomorrow morning.”
 “No Jimmy, you’re alright. The reason I was talking with him was because it’s clear that you’ve learned a lot during your time with us about how to capture and handle wild animals. You were a big help today with the rhino you know.”
 “Aw, thanks Mister Hayes, but it wasn’t that much.”
 “Yes it was Jimmy,” Mister Hayes responded. “There was a time when you wouldn’t even touch a caged rhino, much less capture a wild one. But I know there’s something you haven’t done yet in your time as one of us. I know,” he said, seeing the sudden strange look on Jimmy’s face, “something that both thrills and yet terrifies you at the prospect.”
 Oh Jesus, Jimmy thought, he’s going to announce it, I knew this day would come but not so damn soon! I might as well start shaking now.
   “Jimmy,” the first mate said bluntly, “Captain Englehorn and I have agreed that it’s time you caught your first big carnivore.”
 “Not yet, Mister Hayes,” a shocked Jimmy pleaded. “I don’t want to get hurt or torn to pieces. Please!!”
 Hayes sighed. “Jimmy, you’ve seen how we handle and catch those animals many times before. If you don’t lose your head, act when you should, and remember the procedure, you’ll be fine.”
 “And always remember,” Hayes said, pointed to his head, “that even if you feel something is wrong, you have something that that animal doesn’t have. It may have teeth and brute strength, but you can reason and think your way out of danger. Besides, the animals we’re after aren’t all that difficult to trap, and nowhere as dangerous as a lion or leopard. You still don’t want to get bitten though.”
 “What are they?” Jimmy asked, a mixture of curiosity and suspicion in his voice. If it wasn’t a big cat according to Mister Hayes, how bad could these beasts really be?
   “Hyenas.”
   No, it was even worse.