By Duane Hewitt
Copyright 1997/2017 Duane Hewitt. All Rights Reserved.
I will never forget the sound of their screams. Nor will I be free of those horrific and demonic visions: the carnage, the mayhem, broken limbs, shattered bone, the torn and ripped skin. Aye, and that was not the worst of it! There were the sounds; the sounds of men dying; of tearing flesh, of skin ripped away in large ragged swatches, of limbs bent and torn in methods the Lord had not intended. And the screams! The screams! For if it was not enough that man might be subjected to this ungodly cruelty, if it were not already sufficient that men might meet their ends in this most barbaric manner, there was something still far worse: It was the knowing, the dreadful knowing that this horrific demise was, for each man, inescapable.
Oh, that we would have given our very souls to escape the terror! Oh, that there might have been some way to escape the circumstances that led us to the beast; to return, to regress, like frightened little children to a mother who might protect and cajole us. But this was not to be. Forces of dark and despair had other plans for us; plans and visions of a macabre, unworldly intent, for we were led, destined, and maneuvered into the playground of the beast – the beast Grendel.
And I alone survived.
This is my story…
1848 – East Africa
It had been many weeks that we ventured forth through this strange and oddly beguiling land – these plains and rainforests of East Africa. Nowhere had I ever before known such a dark and mysterious place. It was a mystical, enchanting land: Ferns of such height that they might reach the highest yardarm, single leaves that could easily engulf a man, crawling bugs and flying insects larger than my hand and of deadlier sorts than the barrel of any musket. This was a place true only to itself, a reality of its own separated by eons of a distinct and singular past, a place where few men had ever dared venture. This was a land that cared for and catered to no one and nothing other than its strange, malevolent self. This, clearly, was not our world.
For many weeks did we toil through the heavy bush, hacking and cutting our trek with the large machetes we had the good foresight to bring. Yet progress was slow. So unforgiving was this jungle, so unsympathetic, it simply did not yield to our presence. Still, we toiled and pushed onward, motivated by our curiosity, our sense of adventure, and by the lust of our greed.
Weeks earlier, our good mother – HMS Lockhart – had set anchor off the eastern coast. So, with plans well laid and the assistance of a little luck, seven of us were able to skip ship. Aye, we were ship’s deserters. And we knew too that the Lockhart’s officers would make some attempt to seek us out and bring us to ship’s justice. But it was not to be, for our departure – our escape! – was well thought out and executed. Even though seven men would not be there to ship out again, she could still sail without us, and the remaining men and officers of His Majesty’s Ship Lockhart would likely spend little more than five days to a week pursuing us, especially in jungle such as this. After all, this land was much unknown and I knew full well that the officers and crew could not afford the time to seek us out. (God, now that I look back, how I wish we had been caught, no matter the punishment we might have faced.) But we were free, and we made godspeed to our unholy destination.
Forth we went, with the aid of a shoddy map and some faintly remembered directions told me two years earlier. Ah, had it been that long? Two years – and so many worlds ago – that I sat in the seedy underbelly of a tavern halfway across the world… an old ship’s captain gone awry, a long night of over imbibing in ale and whisky, and three months’ newly earned pay for the information that would lead me here, here on my quest with my shipmates, a quest that would make us rich men – a quest for diamonds!
Yes, diamonds! So often had I heard of the riches that beckoned men to Africa’s harsh interior. And so often before had I heard the tales of hardship that befell those who would attempt to bring the stones forth to the world. But I was young and foolhardy. I had survived much in my years, and to be honest and most bold, I felt the winds of grace upon me.
But the journey, we knew, would not be an easy one. What with the heat and the sudden rains that fiercely pounded Africa’s jungles, so dense were the downpours it sometimes became difficult to breathe. A man could almost drown while standing in the open onslaught of such rain. In one of a few cases, the seven of us were left in a frantic struggle for survival against a flash flood and what must have been tons of mud sent flowing from the steep hillsides that preceded the mountainous range.
And the jungle had its own life’s blood, its own code of death and survival. Other than the deep foliage, the intense heat, and the difficult terrain, there were the constant sounds of the jungle: Roars, cries, grunts, all of which may have been miles away, and yet frequently seemed so close. Life teemed within the jungle in its vast assortment of wonders and order in the food chain.
Onward we trekked, my companions and I: seven souls with a destination. Of those closest to my heart, four were best mates. Tom, the biggest and strongest of us, walked the point. A brash man, Tom had the eyes of a hawk and the reflexes to match. He was a large and powerful man and best suited to lead. Brad and Gary had sailed with me before. It wasn’t so much that I could trust either man as much as they were both daring men, and with that spirit there was little they wouldn’t risk in the face of danger. That spunk was the most trustworthy part of their personalities. Finally, John and me, each of us somewhat reserved men, but John had the inner strength of a monk and the physical endurance of a bull.
With muskets, machetes and as much gear as we could steal away with, we marched onward, sleeping when possible, and always feeling the presence of life and mystery around us.
There came one day, on a late afternoon before setting camp, that we were all startled by a great shrieking and commotion coming through the trees. We headed toward the sounds straightaway. As we entered a less dense area of bush, we realized that the near-human cries we were hearing came from a colossal group of chimpanzees. They were so taken up with their focus that they hadn’t noticed our approach. Scattered through the trees, from the highest points to the ground, were a hundred or more chimps. Only then, after stopping to observe, did we take in the drama at hand. Many of the larger chimps were racing through the treetops in pursuit of other, smaller monkeys. In less than a moment after we entered the scene, several of the chimps had caught the smaller monkeys and immediately began ripping and tearing the monkeys apart – eating them alive! As this occurred, the remainder of the chimps were quick to gather at the base of the trees. Immediately, the remains of the dead monkeys were tossed to the ground where they were quickly and eagerly consumed by the group.
We had just witnessed a gruesome, and yet, fantastic hunt. We silently slipped backward and made haste from the blood feast and on again toward our destination.
On yet another occasion, we had a close encounter with one of the jungle’s big cats. It was Gary who was quickest with his musket: The leopard had barely begun to leap when it was blown apart by a blast of gunpowder and lead.
It was far into the journey, after we had reached the steep hillsides, much deeper within the mountainous rock and caverns, that we were aware a change had occurred. In hindsight, it was an almost intangible quality; a subtle difference surrounded us since we left the jungle, but there was a change, unidentifiable at first though it was.
John was first to make out the strange difference. And although this might seem obvious, I can’t quite say why it was so hard for us to determine, for it was silence! An eerie silence had surrounded us, but moreover it was the absence of life itself. True, true – for as we had first ascended into the rocky hills, there came a point when we realized that the cliffs and rocks – though still on the edge of the jungle – were completely void of the vast assortment of life we had left behind only a short while ago.
And it was the most incredible kind of silence, a nerve-racking sort, the type of quiet that might drive a man mad, or disturb the most confident of savage beasts. So very strange it was, as if something unseen gave the hills and jungle pause, as if in waiting. This dread silence was the most frightening, the most eerie, and the hardest to account for.
Nonetheless, we continued; upward and onward, hiking into the mountain range that once arrested our eyes from the horizon. Farther we went, into the rocky terrain.
And that was when we heard it.
It was on the third night of making camp within the rocks that we were startled awake by that horrendous, inhuman scream: A bloodless, gut-wrenching scream that transformed into a howl of such piercing and high-pitched intensity, it seemed to both emanate from and penetrate the rock itself. I still remember it so well. It was John who spoke first.
“Listen mates,” John exclaimed. “What is it?”
“Shut up!” Tom wailed. “Listen!”
The eerie howl continued. It was the most inhuman sound I have ever heard.
Contrary to what one might think would be our natural instinct, and as terrifying as the sounds were, the men were intent on knowing where the screams came from. I can only compare this behavior to the way one both withdraws from and yet is attracted to danger.
The hellish screams continued, and as nerve-shattering as it was, we grew more and more intent on learning what it was. This was not the sound of any animal we knew.
“Listen,” I said. “Does it sound like there’s more than one?”
“No,” Gary said. “There’s just one.”
True, the scream seemed to come from one creature, and I add we were driven by our fear and curiosity.
Yet, because it was the middle of the night and we were in treacherous hills and rocks that were unknown to us, there was no way we could have safely left the camp. And with the dark, what did we think we might find? Sensibly, we returned to camp shortly after the sounds faded and we made efforts to return to sleep – though, in truth, I think few of us had any real sleep from that point onward into the dawn.
We gathered together in the early morning and again continued our trek, following our map and certain that we were on course. By our estimations, we hoped to arrive within the rocky caverns that housed our riches within the next few days.
And as one might guess, all conversation centered on speculation of the sounds from the night before. The mystery would only deepen.
We hiked onward and upward but, again, the going was slow and difficult. Fortunately, some parts of the deep bush still existed into the rocky hills, so we were able to help ourselves to berries as well as to water from a number of streams and springs. It was about five miles from the point of our night camp that we made a bizarre discovery, a discovery which only added to the mystery of the earlier night’s sounds. Every man there felt the connection between the haunting screams and what we saw before us.
We had stumbled upon several mutilated wildebeest carcasses, in a place where wildebeests should not be. Our elevation was too high, the going too rough for this grazing, African-type buffalo to habitat. And surely, no lion or other predatory cat would be equipped to carry wildebeest carcasses from the killing plains so many miles and days behind us.
But it wasn’t just the presence of the mutilated carcasses that puzzled us. No – there was something far stranger, and upon examination, far more terrifying.
Embedded in one of the carcasses, impressed within the very meat and bone of this huge buffalo, was a huge animal track – a footprint!
Aye, though not complete was it. For whatever beast had stepped into the wildebeest’s carcass, only a good half of the foot made the impression, but it was unmistakable. Much like a human’s or perhaps an ape’s foot, it had one large toe like a man’s, but with only two slightly smaller toes next to it. Farther down and set to the left was yet another large appendage, separate and almost claw-like. To the farthest right of the imprint was another smaller little toe or claw. Overall, the width of the imprint would have been two feet across. The length we couldn’t determine, for as I stated, only the first half or third of the foot was imprinted in the wildebeest’s body: The surrounding ground was shale rock, so there were no other imprints that we could see.
But the very weight of those carcasses! What creature could have carried them, for each must have weighed well over 1,200 pounds! And carried them we assumed it must, for no wildebeest lived in these parts.
Each man’s eyes gazed at the scene. Then, slowly, each man looked at one another and finally all eyes settled on me. The tension was thick as a Tyne fog.
“What the bloody hell are we gonna do now?” Brad asked.
“Aye to that,” Tom said, turning to me. “What! This ain’t somethin’ anyone’s come across before.”
But after some pause and discussion, we loaded the muskets and voted to move on.
We continued the journey, this time, however, we were much more intent upon our surroundings, for we were interested in knowing if we might find other footprints.
We found nothing.
Again we continued. Moving at what seemed an increase in elevation, the journey was nothing easier. The air had changed, and as evening approached once more, the temperature was clearly a great deal cooler – a stark difference to the heat during the day. As for our nerves and the mood of the men, what fool wouldn’t be uneasy about what we had seen and heard to this point in our journey? I can only say that, instinctively, I never felt we had left the danger behind us and, what was more frightening, I felt we had an unseen presence following us from a distance – a presence that was most unwanted.
As day came to a close, we again had to establish camp. Through one of our descents down a rather steep hill, we observed a spot on the other side of a deep gorge where we thought we might find shelter and, finally, a place to give in to the day’s strains.
Approaching the gorge, it became evident that we would have to cross a slim ledge, a dangerous precipice that extended a good 50 yards in length over a deep culvert that rose 800 feet above a rocky formation. Although we estimated it might take as long as a half hour to cross the precipice, it did in fact take over an hour, due to the difficult and risky nature of the crossing.
No mishaps occurred, however, and for that we were all grateful. Having reached the other side, we were able to establish camp under a large rocky overhang. Behind us, the rock tapered downward into a slit where loose shale was sandwiched between two large slabs of rock, no more than 18 to 20 inches wide. Before us was the vast chasm, and a sheer drop downward.
The men finally settled down into the evening. A fire was set to warm ourselves and we sang into the dusk to ease our nerves. None of us spoke of our fear, but there wasn’t a man in the group who didn’t think it. For though we had walked well for a day, our distance travelled was not far, and so it was that we each carried with us the sounds of the night before, and the strange scene of the mutilated wildebeests.
The stars shone beautifully with a near full moon overhead, and we all finally fell into a deep slumber, both from our physical exhaustion as well as from our raw, nervous energy. The night air cooled considerably and one would not have thought that the nights anywhere on this vast continent could be so cool, in contrast to the heat of the days. Yet, it was all so beautiful, and so very surreal. We slept as exhausted men sleep, each falling into the sweet caress of their dreams.
Somewhere in the dead of night came that horrific awakening.
Only a few of us woke at first. For shortly after we had fallen to sleep, sounds of a great commotion – a struggle! – came from an area near one of the men.
What I saw that night still makes my blood run cold. Outlined in the moonlight was the silhouette of some huge, grotesque, man-like thing. And though it was bent over the bodies of one of the men, I could see that it was enormous but not ape-like in appearance nor in the way it moved. As I became alert and my eyes focused on the scene, I quickly became nauseated at what I witnessed. As the thing crouched over one of the bodies of the men, the monstrous wretch was devouring our man like a meal! And it was so intent that it didn’t see we others were waking. Pulling and tearing at its victim’s flesh, it consumed its meat with great concentration.
As the reality struck me, I began screaming.
“My God! TOM, JOHN!”
As the others woke to the terror, we all began screaming and throwing rocks at the thing, hoping to scare it off. The beast, startled, reeled back and stood erect. Although in the dim light I couldn’t make out all the details, the shadow and outline of the monster was enough.
The beast was awesome in size, for it must have been 12 feet high when it stood erect. And much like a man it was, with two legs and two arms. Aye! And it was the arms that seemed to create the greatest awe about the creature; they were long, long enough that they might reach the ground though he stood straight up. And muscular! Yet, it was not ape-like; this was something unknown – a creature of its own kind.
So shocked were we that we, in turn, had startled the beast. It was then that it let out that wretched wail we had heard nights before! Piercing! Such a loud shriek and howl. And to this demonic scene to which we woke, that howl was enough to chill a man’s blood. We froze in our tracks. Then, before we had a chance to reach for our muskets, the thing spun and was gone.
How might I describe the feelings of the men? How might I say what the night was like from there on? Of heaven and Earth, what could prepare a man for such a horror? There is no way to describe our state of mind.
We stood staring at the scene where the thing had been. We were frozen in fear, our minds were racing. Finally, after moments that seemed like hours, we began lighting fires, checking our muskets and drawing out machetes. Who could know if the beast might return? As time raced by, our shock and fright gave way to nervous muttering and speculation.
My heart wrenched when I saw that the poor bastard who had been killed was John: He was half devoured. Nausea overwhelmed me and I fell to my knees and retched. Much like the wildebeests we saw earlier, he had been torn apart. Suddenly, I was struck by the seriousness of our predicament and by the loss of a friend.
That night I wept, though I kept it to myself. Morning came and I needn’t say that none of us slept in waiting for the dawn.
We had to gather ourselves and decide what was best for the group, as well as what each man wanted to do. Turning back was an option but not one any of us wanted to consider. We had spent weeks coming this far, and we were close to our goal – an area, as marked by the map, that would be deep and cavernous and would lead downward from the elevation we now held.
Despite our tragedy and the terror, the consensus was to continue. In truth, each man knew we had little choice. Dangers were a part of our expedition. That was something we understood from the beginning. And although this demon was unknown to us, we agreed it must still be a beast, and must be subject to the laws of life – and death.
We therefore checked, yet again, all muskets and made sure extra gun powder was at the ready. With machetes in hand, we would continue as before, but we would try to double our pace. As well, we stayed tighter as a group and planned not to let any man out of sight. Flints were also at hand, which were there to help us light a fire or torch. We buried John’s remains, covering him with shale, sand and rock. Few of us said anything during the burial. We then made our way.
Though we spoke little of it, each man must have wondered what that monster was. One couldn’t help but think were being watched, like a little flock of sheep due for slaughter.
That must have been the longest day of the entire journey. Yet it was uneventful, for with the exception of sighting and slaughtering a wild boar, we saw little of any creature that day.
We made good time and began our descent into the cavernous rock. With luck, we would find the goal of our journey by mid-afternoon of the next day. But for now, we would have to settle into one of the caverns and again establish camp.
It was on each man’s mind that we find a cave where we could set camp; someplace from where we could defend and protect ourselves should the beast return. We passed various small caverns and overhangs of rock, but nothing as ideal as we hoped to find.
Finally, near late afternoon, we discovered a deep cavern that seemed to be the closest ideal. The cavity itself was not too deep within the rock. In fact, we had only to climb down an eight or nine-foot escarpment of shale to reach the inner beginnings of the cave. It occurred to us that such a place might be inhabited by animals, be it wild cats or boars, but as we entered with lit torches it did seem free of life.
With every man now carrying a fully lit torch, we were able to examine what was to become our stopover. The cave continued deep into the back of the rock, and sloped downward to a point where it contained a small pool of water. The cave itself produced a huge maw once deep within it, with a ceiling that arched a full 20 to 25 feet overhead. The inner width may have been 50 to 60 feet across, and as I stated, it continued a good 75 to 80 feet back before it reached the pond. The pond itself was the full width of the cave at that rear, and continued for an additional 30 feet before meeting the wall. Having smelled and tasted the water, I can say that it was not stagnant, even though it had a very hard taste – doubtless from the rock and mineral influence. But for its degree of freshness, it had to have been spring-fed.
In some portions of this new dwelling, the cave walls were like granite, yet other walls were again shale. Some areas provided inner little overhangs and small cavities where a man, or an animal, might crawl for added shelter. We checked every crevice and cavity and found no reason not to stay. Although there was no other way out other than the main entry, it did seem defendable, should it come to that, and we certainly had room to move and stretch out in our new night-time habitat.
We gathered dry firewood and kindling to keep us warm and the cave well lit. Dark clouds had been gathering during the last bit of light that day and we expected heavy rain. As evening set in, huge thunderclaps shook the rock, which seemed ominous, but the rains never came.
We ate well that night, having roasted the wild pig that we killed earlier. Then came time for us to make plans for the night: It would not do to have us all sleeping should the beast, or the likes of it, discover our whereabouts.
A group decision was made that two men would keep watch at the mouth of the cave at all times during the night. Both would keep watch for a two-and-a-half-hour period, and then they would wake two others, who in turn would take over the watch. In this manner, all six men would have slept and contributed to the watch. This way, we would receive five hours of rest over a seven-and-a-half-hour period. It was also wise to have two men up together at each time to prevent the other from falling into slumber.
The two youngest lads volunteered to begin the shift, and the remaining four of us withdrew to the back of the cave and quickly found sleep.
We must have slept for close to two hours, but we were startled awake by a fierce scream and commotion.
The damnable beast was back.
The four of us woke to the scene of a living hell. It is a nightmare I will always remember. The two men, youths they were, were being preyed upon by the monster. And they died in agonies that even now I can scarce believe. As the creature held one at bay by pinning him down with its great leg, it held, at arms’ length, the other and glared into the man’s eyes. Then, with ferociousness unaccountable to God, it ripped the man’s right arm right out of its socket and drank the blood from the limb! Both men went hysterical, one from the pain and knowledge of his death, and the other from the sheer terror of the scene. The beast threw the remains of the arm far to the side, then bent inwards with its great jaw, and tore out the throat of the already semiconscious man.
Then, with a great coldness, we could see in the starlight how it let the twitching corpse fall to the rock, and beheld its second victim. With a shrill cry and cruel, massive strength, it sadistically tore each limb from the hellishly screaming man. It then ripped the remainder of the torso in half, and licked the blood from its hands.
The rest of us stood frozen; watching and unbelieving, with eyes glued to the nightmare before us. Facing this thing would take courage beyond any of us. Gary and Brad ran to the back of the cave – themselves on the verge of hysterics. Tom grabbed a musket and let fire a blast directly at the thing. Meanwhile, I was quick to light a torch, lest we all be fumbling in the dark.
Whether Tom missed or the musket was not felt by the monster I can’t say, but it had no effect, and just drove the thing into greater rage. It bent low; peering at us through the cave’s opening, and let out a series of fierce screams. It was that dreadful sound we had all heard before, and with everything we had just witnessed, it paralyzed us with fear.
I finally reached for a musket and fired but my aim was off, for I was shaking and not in charge of my senses. I screamed for Gary and Brad to come help us battle it, but I couldn’t blame them for their reactions. Their fear had taken over and they were of little use to us.
Tom and I both frantically reached for the other two loaded muskets, but the creature was gone. Once again, in our heightened sense of panic, the whole thing seemed to be over as quickly as it had begun. Suddenly, all was very quiet – except for the screams of the beast and the sounds of the dying men that seemed to reverberate in my mind. Neither Tom nor I had the courage to approach the opening of the cave, lest the monster be nearby.
And no sooner had we felt the fleeting silence than a great “thud” was heard at the mouth of the cave. The beast was still with us! It was heaving a huge boulder against the foot of our only exit out of the cave!
“It’s trying to seal us in!” Tom screamed. “Grab the muskets. Hurry! Start firing!”
We quickly began shouting and firing our muskets, but it was no use. The beast rolled the boulder against the opening to the cave, locking us in as its prey! I will never forget the moment before the great rock sealed us in, for the beast stuck its hideous head within and gazed at us with cold, black eyes, and then screamed from its bowels. We covered our ears, for its howl was deafening and numbing. It then proceeded with its task to seal us in, and we could hear it throwing rock and sand against the giant boulder and committing us forever to our tomb!
Then, there was total silence as only a pure, cold silence can be. It was the darkest part of the night, and as shattered as our nerves were, we had to collect ourselves and prepare for the inevitable, the monster’s return.
“Brad, Gary,” I screamed. “Get back here, we need you here now!”
We needed the strengths of one another, and it was important that we keep our wits about us. Tom was less forgiving about the reactions of the two men. Hollering remarks of cowardice at them, he vowed to drag them out and sacrifice them to the creature if they didn’t come help us. With their hysteria subsided, they returned.
We lit another torch, rebuilt our camp’s fire to a small blaze, and loaded each of the muskets. No one would sleep again tonight. But in reality, what were we to do? Although there were four of us, we were like fleas to the strength and ferocity of the thing. Clearly, we had to think of a way to escape. None of us had the will nor desire to confront it.
Yet, in our hearts, we knew that a confrontation was likely unavoidable, for we were now its captives. We also knew from the time we first surveyed our cave that there was only the one entry. With the heavy rock now blocking our only escape, we had to assume that the beast was outside waiting. Nonetheless, we began searching the back of the cave, looking for any crevice or passageway out of our tomb.
We found nothing.
We examined all available alternatives. Since there was no other way out, we were left with the one exit. Could we move the boulder from the mouth of the cave? We would have to try. And the beast? It was clear that we could find ourselves in direct contact with the demon. But we did not have sufficient weapons to deal with a monster of such size and strength. We would have to do the best we could, and hope to get away. Everything would come down to speed and aggression on our part. But in the end, it would be every man for himself.
Each man checked his musket. As well, we gathered the bits of food that we still had with us. Whatever was going to happen, we had to be ready to run. And whether we were able to move the boulder, or the beast returned and did it for us, we would likely splinter as a group and do our best to escape.
Tom and I both had our eyes on Brad and Gary. At this point, both men seemed subdued but in control. Still, Tom and I exchanged looks. I think we both knew that neither of the two men would be their own best bet for survival. And yet, I always thought them to be fearless.
After several hours and not having heard any sounds outside, we steadied ourselves and approached the rock. Whether the thing was waiting or not, we had to risk leaving the cave, provided we could move the boulder.
The four of us leaned heavily against the rock and began trying to move it.
And that was as far as we got.
The fact that we could barely budge the rock didn’t matter. The beast was directly outside, and was now alerted to our movements and efforts to break free.
With one wild scream, the boulder was cast aside by just a few feet by the monster. Immediately, a huge savage arm reached in and grabbed Brad, who began shrieking in panic. The three of us eased around the rock just in time to watch Brad die. In the twilight, we saw the thing grasp its massive claw-hand around Brad’s head and rip it clean away from his body. The monster then upended the headless body and drank down the blood.
The three of us immediately opened fire. At least two of our shots hit the thing square in the chest. It hardly seemed to daunt it. Screaming wildly, it threw Brad’s body to the side and made a swipe at us. It missed each of us. With another swipe it nearly caught Tom. Then, taking a great stride, it stepped over and pinned down Gary. With sadistic glee, it began twisting and breaking every limb of the screaming, hysterical man! Tom and I were quick to reload our muskets, but before we could complete the load and fire, it glared at us with those cold, hellish eyes and then bent over and plunged its fist into Gary’s body, eviscerating the man right there before us.
With muskets now loaded, we leveled our weapons and fired. My blast caught the monster directly in the right shoulder, making it let out a hellish screech. But Tom’s weapon misfired. It was his undoing. Realizing Tom was defenseless, the thing strode up directly before Tom. Tom was quick to fight, swinging his musket and catching the beast in the jaw, but it had no effect. As the thing reached in and hoisted Tom up to its eye level, it peered intensely at its prey.
There was nothing I could do. There was never time to reload, so I took my machete and ran forward, hacking at the beast’s legs. Tom tried to reach his machete, but the beast had pinned Tom’s arms to his side as he was lifted six feet off the ground.
How can I describe all this? Everything seemed to speed by so fast, and yet for some moments, time was frozen.
I saw Tom, held at eye level to the great beast that was gloating before the kill. I saw Tom’s face: cold, terrified, covered in sweat. He knew he was about to die.
“Tom!” I screamed, not knowing what to do, “I –”
“Run!” Tom screamed. “RUN!”
And that was the last thing I heard Tom scream before he was torn, limb from limb.
God forgive me, I did run. While Tom was dying his horrendous death, and knowing I could not fight the beast alone, I used that moment to make good my escape. So I ran, and I ran, and I ran. To the echoing screams of Tom’s lingering death, I ran!
Up through the rocky escarpment and along the trails that we had come just a day earlier, I ran in terror like a child running in a nightmare. Was the thing behind me? I didn’t know! The more I ran the more the terror struck me. But I thanked God for the moonlight and the stars that helped me find my way. Though I stumbled often, I was powered by the energy of my fear.
After several hours, dawn began to break.
I continued, stopping only once to rest and consume what food I had with me. Who could know when I would have a chance to eat again? I no longer ran, but I paused occasionally to listen for signs of the creature. I heard and saw nothing.
By retracing our original path, I was able to make good time. And I was still fuelled by nervous energy. Before the sun was directly overhead, I was approaching our previous camp, facing the gorge, where John had died.
Knowing I could not continue much further without additional rest and nourishment, I made the decision to stop. I also realized that I had the precipice before me, and I knew I couldn’t make it across without gathering some energy.
As I came around the bend and approached the rocky overhang, I was struck with that feeling of merciless defeat that only a dying man can feel.
The beast, panting and bleeding, lay waiting at the junction where the path over the gorge met the rock. I had nowhere to run.
I had to think. I couldn’t turn back. I would lack for food and surely die of hunger and exposure. Plus, if it had been tracking me or knew that I might return here, then it would close on me if I did backtrack. I had nowhere else to go. For me to get away, I had to return over the precipice. The beast was injured, but I didn’t know how seriously. It may have been crippled from its wounds, but this thing must have had the strength and will for survival – and retribution.
I had no option. I would have to risk walking directly in front of the thing and going for the gorge.
I proceeded slowly, like a little child trying to sneak past a sleeping parent or watch dog. The reality, of course, was far more serious, the consequences for failure – lethal.
My breath pounded in my skull and I couldn’t quiet my senses. I thought my heart would burst from my chest, and the sweat that covered me was so cold, but bit by bit I inched forward until I was directly before the thing. Its breathing was deep and consistent as it slept. I was so close I could smell the creature’s vile odor, but I kept moving.
Then, suddenly and without warning, the thing began to stir. I froze, holding out for the chance that it would not wake.
With a deep guttural sigh, it sat up erect and stared directly at me. Then, with eyes fixed on me, it began to rise, half bent over but with its massive arms extended, as if to catch a meal that was ready to scurry away.
I wasted no time, for while the thing was coming to, I readied and aimed my musket at the thing’s chest and fired!
It wailed and actually fell back! I knew then that it must have been weakened from its wounds. I had to act quickly. Do I make a go for it across the gorge? Or do I return to the overhang where we set camp two nights ago? If I returned to camp the creature might never give up on me, and if I found myself trapped again, I would surely die for lack of food and water. Yet on the precipice crossing the gorge, I knew I had a chance.
I went for the gorge!
It was my only choice. In the few seconds I had before the beast could rally itself, I was on the steep cliff making my escape. I was fuelled by fear, but, by God, I had a chance. Having crossed the precipice once before with my companions, I knew I could do it, must do it, and in quicker time. Throwing caution to the wind, I made my best speed. And I knew, too, if death were to be my only escape from this nightmare, then I would rather die in the fall than at the hands of that hideous monster.
Foot by desperate foot, I made my way; chest pressed close to the rock and musket and gear slung over my shoulder. I was less than 15 feet over the edge when the thing began its unearthly scream, trying to grab at me. Despite its wounds, it was still fierce. The howls and shrieks continued, terrifying me with what felt like a prelude to my death. Then, with surprising ingenuity, the beast had taken a long, dried tree branch and began trying to knock me from the face of the cliff!
But I continued. I was now 25 to 30 feet from the start of the cliff. Building itself to a fury, the creature abandoned the tree branch and began throwing rocks at me! It would not give up! By pure luck, none of the stones hit me, which may have been due to the beast’s injuries more than anything else. I was now 50 feet from the edge and the hellish thing.
I knew I had a chance of making it!
Then came the one thing I never would have expected. It stepped onto the ledge to pursue me! Though I had 30 yards to go, with that thing’s great stride and despite its massive size on the small ledge, it would doubtless still reach me before I made it to the other side.
I had to keep going. There was nothing else I could do. I had no room to try and reload the musket, and I never would have had the time with that thing so close behind me. Step by step I made my way. I could swear I heard it breathing, as it too, pressed against the rock. My mind began to race. Was there nothing else I could do? I considered trying to knock away a portion of the ledge where I had just crossed, but there just wasn’t enough time.
I now had less than 20 yards to go with the creature gaining on me. Even if I did reach the other side, I would have to find time to reload my musket. Would I even have time to run? Would there be time to reload? I could only deal with one moment at a time.
As I closed in on the final 10 yards, the thing began its horrible scream. The beast was now less than five yards away from me and I knew I wasn’t going to make it. It was closing quickly and would soon have me within its grasp. Just before I thought the moment was upon me, I would jump for the final end of the precipice and risk my plummet to death.
As my pulse raced and both the end and the creature seemed to be each within reach, I resigned myself for the worst. I felt a well of anger rise up within me as I realized just how close I had come. But I was still too far from the end to risk the jump, and the creature was a moment away from reaching me. How cruel life can be, I thought, as a thousand different visions and regrets raced through my mind about the life I’d lived and how I came to face my death in this nightmarish place.
I was still young and I didn’t want to die. Something within me screamed out to survive! But fate had other plans for me. I would die like my companions, either at the hands of this monster or from the fall.
I could now smell the stench of the wretched thing closing in on me, and I knew it would soon reach out for me at any moment. With just five yards to go and still many feet over the gorge, I now had no choice – I would have to jump for it.
I said my prayers and held true contempt for the greed in my soul that led me to this land.
Then, as I closed my eyes and readied myself for the leap that I couldn’t possibly make, I heard that unmistakable sound – flintlock!
And, the immediate sound of rifle fire! Rifles! I spun my head to see that most welcomed scene. One of the Lockhart’s officers and two of her crew were firing rifles at the beast! – At the beast!
The Lockhart had sent a small party in pursuit of us after all. Now, here they were, with rifles! – More sure and more deadly than the muskets we had taken. Shot after shot rang out as I pressed against the rock. Shot after shot hit the damnable thing.
Then, with one final scream; a howl of torment and pain, the hellish monster fell from the cliff to the bottom of the gorge below – dead.
And I was saved.
Sussex, England – 1860
It has now been 12 years since my rescue from that encounter in Africa.
I was brought to justice and punished severely, as all deserters are, upon my return to the Lockhart. Yet, I sailed with His Majesty’s Navy for several more years before finally moving on.
I now work and live job to job, day to day, grateful for every blessed moment.
“The Land of Heorot,” my mother once told me as a young child, was where the great Beowulf defeated the most savage of beasts – Grendel.
Well, one thing I know: No Beowulf am I, but then again, I have lived to tell of a thing far more real and far more terrifying than that of any fable.
And life has never tasted so sweet.
Copyright 1997/2017 Duane Hewitt. All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. No part of this work may be copied or transmitted by any means whatsoever without the prior written approval of the author. Duane Hewitt asserts his rights as the author to this work and its plot, themes and characters, under International Copyright and Intellectual Property Laws.