This story is by MC D’Alton and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
Well here I am. Stuck, quite literally, in a hole, in the middle of the bush.
Not just any hole, but a narrow muddy dug out, used to trap elephants.
It’s deep; almost touching the center of the earth, deep.
How’d I get here?
Poachers! Stupid ass hat poachers, bound my ankles and wrists and gagged my mouth – blagh. Then dropped me in like a sack of potatoes.
Crap! Crap! Crap!
The guys back at HQ are never going to let me live this down; if I get out of here alive that is. I’m the only female bush ranger at Kwelanga Station. I work with seven other rangers, all male and all with something to prove.
It’s a combination of chauvinism, and what I am. Grace Chandimal, a nice little mixture of Afro-Asian, please to meet you. I’d shake your hand, but I’m a little tied up and freaking my bean at the moment.
I knew Larry was up to no good. Those beady little eyes darting all over the show. Putting passwords on his office laptop. Our head ranger blew a gasket over that the other day, cited him and ordered him to remove it – which he did not.
It was pure luck I happened on him and his slimy partner.
I arrived earlier than usual this morning. Caught them discussing their murder for the day.
It was bad luck that they spotted me.
I pray Thabiso finds the SOS and partial co-ordinates I scribbled on his desk calendar, before they grabbed me!
So here I am, bound, gagged and left for… Brahma not dead, please I’m too young and full of sass to die, and I have a debt to pay.
Oh, yes ‘Larry buffalo butt of the year’, it’s you and me when I get out of here!
My legs are on fire! This hole was not dug for comfort. I’ve been on my feet since dawn, and it’s probably well after midday now. My bladder’s bursting and my nerves are fried.
I wriggle and jump. The only thing I succeed in doing is knocking dirt onto my face and nearly wetting my pants. I must get out of here. Larry and his marauders are planning a hit to go down at dusk.
No wonder those ass-hat poachers could evade us. Larry was feeding them our patrol routes and times – ‘Moegoe!’ I can’t wait to get my hands on…
“Lokho esikwenzayo nalokho wakhe?” Two tall shadows come to stand at the edge of the hole.
A chill, races down my spine. Please decide to let me live!
“Leave her, she won’t make it to the morning.”
I know that voice, it’s Larry, ‘I wanna bash your face in, backstabbing mamparra!’ Bile and anger rush up my throat and burn the back of my eyes.
“Besides, we can’t waste any more time here. It’s a long hike and we need to prepare before the target arrives.”
I scream, but the gag chokes any sound I make.
“I’ll come and cover the hole when we’re done.”
He leans over and looks down.
I can’t see his face. The sun is behind his head, his features blanketed in shadow. He spits. A glob of hot sticky saliva hits my neck and slides into my cleavage.
“The injakazi deserves to suffer. Thinks she can outsmart me?”
Shit! Shit! Shit!
I must get out of here!
The two men walk off, but not before Larry’s boot bumps a stone into the hole. It’s not large, but it’s flat and lands on my head.
I lean forward and tip my head back.
Please fall into my hands. Shakti, if you’re there, please save my ass so I may avenge every one of those innocent creatures they’ve slaughtered.
The stone slips and whaddya know! It plonks into my eager palm.
I pinch the stone between thumb and middle digit, then trace the edges with my index finger. It’s not the sharpest, but… ah, wait… yes, a nice jagged edge.
Now to get the toothy bit to slice the plastic tie down strap, binding my wrists together. It worked on Mac Gyver so it should work now, right? I twist and turn, and begin the arduous task of cutting through my bond.
It’s been forever. The sun is sitting lower in the sky and my wrists want to fall off my arms. The stone cutting thing hasn’t worked – tv lies. A cramp shoots down my arm and into my hand. The stone ends up on the ground, along with all my hope.
‘Don’t cry Gracie, now is not the time.’ Mom’s sweet encouragement echoes in my heart.
I sink onto my haunches. A light bulb moment! No, this is not the end.
I fold up like a concertina. Using my back and feet, I crab walk my way up the sides of the hole. It’s so not comfortable. It’s hard to breathe and I may wet my pants.
It’s not as easy as the telly makes it look.
The light is bright at the top and I don’t have much strength left. If this doesn’t work and I fall back in… it will be tickets for both me and the Rhino.
I reach the surface and kick hard pushing half my body onto solid ground. Quick as a flick I perform a clumsy backward somersault, landing face down on the dry bushveld dirt. The gag slips. I gasp. Red dust and grass seed stick to the roof of my mouth, blagh.
‘No time to waste Gracie my girl.’ Mom warns.
I roll onto my back. Look this way, check that way. Nothing. No wild beast, or baddies in sight. I sit up. The world swings and sways then comes to a standstill.
Right, now to get out of these blasted bonds. I slip my arms under my bum and legs. Uuurg, I’m sore and so gonna feel every inch of this adventure tomorrow, Brahma willing.
With my hands still tied, but in front of me, I pull off my boots and force a socked foot up, out of the tie down strap binding my ankles.
Gag off, boots on, I stand up.
‘Whoa, jelly legs.’
Now to wee!
Hands still bound I struggle to fasten back my belt buckle, and survey my surroundings.
A bundle of shadow catches my eye beneath a thorn tree. I stumble over.
The idiots left my gear behind. I plonk down and grab my Swiss army knife — Mac Gyver time.
I pull a blade out with my teeth and slice through the tie down strap around my wrists. Not easy.
I nick my palm.
I slip my knife into place on my belt. Lick my wound then pull my hat on and pick up my canteen. I twist off the lid and down the warm water – it’s delish. Where to now?
‘Please Thabiso find my SOS?’
There’s Warrior Hill and over there’s the old Baobab. Okay, it’s a helluv an impossible hike back to HQ.
I try to re-call the co-ordinates I heard Larry give his lackie.
Hold it, what’s that?
Larry – ‘I’m gonna kick his ass’ – is a rotten ranger. There are tracks.
I take off in a westerly direction, toward the old watering hole. That’s where they’ll be waiting for the rhino and her calf. Time is so not on my side, so I ‘shesha’.
Out of breath and foaming at the mouth like an injured buffalo, I reach the watering hole. Images of a thousand and one ways I will slice and dice every member of this poaching entourage, flash in my mind’s eye.
I glimpse the sky where the horizon cradles the sun.
‘Shakti, may I be on time.’
The brush to my left rustles.
It’s the Rhino and her calf.
Relief trickles down my spine, but it’s not over yet.
I duck behind a buffalo thorn tree, careful not to get hooked in its wicked little barbs. It’s lush, we’ve had good rains, and my dark khaki uniform blends in well with the greens and browns of the bush.
The cow and calf mosey on by. I must find those blasted poachers. My time has run out and obviously, HQ is none the wiser!
Shucks! Shucks! Shucks!
My leopard crawl is painful and slow. But I can’t risk being spotted by either Rhino or foe. I reach a clearing closest to the water hole and lie low. The Rhino mum and bub are on the far side.
I look left and right.
‘Where are they?’
A glint from the setting sun gives the shooter away.
With nothing left to lose, I jump to my feet and sprint, screaming all the way. Every bird, animal, lizard and beast take fright.
I dive into a rugby tackle as a crack, like thunder, splits through the air.
I land with my plentiful self on his back, reach above his head and grab at the rifle. The man huffs and rolls over laying on top of me. I lift my head and bite.
FYI… ears taste crap!
Angry voices and feet stomp toward us.
‘It’s now or never Gracie!’ Yes, mom, I know!
I bend my knee and bring it up between his legs, into his groin. The fool curls into a fetal position, letting go of the rifle.
I push off the groaning poophol and stand. Larry bursts through the bush.
I point the muzzle at his ugly face, “you low down piece of rubbish!”
His surprise fades to a smirk. I want to knock his front teeth out with a rock.
“I underestimated you,” his sneer almost pushes me over the edge.
The guy on the floor stands, wobbles, clutches his nuts and what’s left of his ear. Two more men pop through the bush. Larry orders them to take the injured man and run. In the distance, the chop, chop, chop, of blades and the rev of V8 engines announce the cavalry’s arrival.
‘Yus! Thabiso, you beauty!’
I point the rifle to the ground and pull the trigger. A shot echoes and dust flies, “no one is going anywhere!”
Larry steps toward me. I take aim.
“You won’t shoot an unarmed man?”
A split second of doubt. I lower the rifle a few millimeters.
He takes the gap and lunges toward me. I fall backward, knocking my head as air spills from my lungs. My vision pops and fades.
He straddles me and large calloused hands slip around my neck.
Great, so this is it. My sassy ass is at an end and I failed to save the Rhino.
I see you mom. ‘Get up! Come on Gracie, fight back!’ She waves me away, ‘it’s not your time Nunu.’
My brain sparks to life. I wrap my fingers around his wrists and push into the vulnerable flesh. I bend my legs and push down on my feet tilting my pelvis up. I buck the idiot off me. He flips forward. I mind my head just in time.
He eats dirt.
Ha! I got me some payback.
I twist my body and slide out from beneath him, gasping for air. My vision clears.
Larry pushes himself up.
“Oh no you don’t,” I vault to my feet and with the conviction of an angry elephant cow, I kick. My right foot connects with his rib cage. Air and spit explode from his mouth and he falls limp to the ground.
Six Rhino horns, two Elephant tusks, a Sable hide, antlers, and three leopard skins are found in a makeshift camouflaged camp of the poachers.
Will this slaughter ever end? Will the demand for what does not belong to us, ever be appeased? I do not know. But I do know this, as long as I am patrolling the bush, poachers beware!