Sunday, January 4, 2015

"Mask of the Swahili Terror" by Dean Franklin

Mask of the Swahili Terror
Dean Franklin

"The natives just become wild-eyed and speechless when I ask them to describe the monster," Larry Kincaid, the American big game hunter told his host, District Commissioner Fleming on the latter's verandah overlooking the headwaters of the Nile.

"No wonder!" Fleming snorted. "None of Giganto's victims has ever lived long enough to talk. But some of the natives swear that the devil is not a gorilla but a man. Others declare that it must be part man and part beast. Whichever the case, the monster is the worst scourge that has attacked my district since I've held the post."

Larry Kincaid rose from the wicker chair and flexed his sun-bronzed arms. There was a trace of a grin in the corners of his mouth. "I've heard many stories about the monster. That's why I came up here in my amphibian. With the horns or head of every African game animal among my trophies, I thought this monster would give me an opportunity to bag something unique. Get your Mauser and we'll fly up to the pool and see if we can spot the Swahili Terror."

Commissioner Fleming boosted himself from his chair. His eyes were icy as they met Larry's. "I'm afraid you haven't taken the reports seriously," he said. "The best hunters in my district have hunted this gorilla. Those who didn't find his tracks came back. The hunters who picked up the monster's trail were later found—horribly mangled. Are you still game?"

"You bet!" Larry exclaimed. "I'm all the more anxious to meet Giganto."

Larry Kincaid ran down the stringer to where his plane was moored, and he got the engine purring by the time Fleming showed up with his Mauser rifle. But Fleming didn't utter a word while Larry taxied to midstream for the takeoff, and it wasn't until the plane was winging over the dense jungle until Larry broke the silence.

"You'll have to tell me where to set her down." Larry told the commissioner. "There's quicksand along the shores of the pool, and we want to get out on hard ground."

"There's a ledge by a cluster of thorn trees," Fleming told him. "You can tie up there."

Larry brought his ship down on the surface of the long, algae-coated pool and coasted her over to the ledge. Grabbing his double-barreled magnum rifle he hopped from the amphibian's bow and made a line fast to the nearest thorn trunk. Fleming followed him up the dusty bank.

Fleming pointed across a sun-baked veldt. "We'll have to cut across here to reach the thickets. Sometimes there are lions in this grass, so keep your eyes open."

There was a sparkle in Larry Kincaid's eyes as he fell in step behind the commissioner. It was rough going through the saw-toothed grass and both hunters were out of breath when they reached the dense growth of thorns that bordered the far side of the veldt.

They sat down and lighted cigarettes, their rifles resting across their knees. The sun was already dipping in the west.

A scuffling sound in the thorns behind them made Larry turn suddenly. He grasped his rifle, snapped off the safety and lunged to his feet. Larry was swinging his rifle around to take aim at the huge shape which had parted the thorn bushes when a large rock struck his forehead a glancing blow. Stunned for an instant, Larry tripped and fell over Fleming who was starting to get up.

For several seconds both men were helpless as the huge gorilla lumbered out of the thorns behind them. Larry pulled his rifle to his shoulder and squeezed the trigger. But his gun failed to fire!

Cold sweat beaded Larry's forehead. He knew that when he had dropped the rifle the trigger spring must have been jarred loose. Fleming's Mauser had fallen out of reach, and there was no way to halt the gorilla's charge!

The monster was within three strides of the commissioner as Larry's hands tightened around the end of his gun barrel. Larry swung the rifle in a wide arc, and the walnut stock struck with a sickening thud against the gorilla's skull. For an instant the huge ape swayed on his heels, then he crashed at Fleming's feet.

Fleming swung the sights of his Mauser down, firing as he stepped back. The mushroom bullet tore a wide hole in the back of the gorilla's head.

As Larry bent over the hairy body he let out a short yell. "The natives were right!" he exclaimed. "This thing isn't a gorilla. It's a man — a human in a cleverly fashioned gorilla skin!"

Larry stuck his hunting knife into the black hide below the neck and pulled the blade down. The leathery gorilla skin spread apart, revealing a sweat-drenched human back. "Who the deuce would pull a stunt like this?" Larry Kincaid demanded.

Commissioner Fleming was already loosening the gorilla mask from the head. As he pulled it free he gasped out: "Bongalu — Chief Bongalu! The natives thought he had vanished over a year ago!"

Fleming handed Larry the gorilla mask and rose to his feet. "I can't understand this," the commissioner said. "The only thing we can do now is cover the body so the vultures won't devour it, and go back and ask the Swahili witch doctor what was behind Chief Bongalu's disappearance.

They covered the body quickly with stones and dead thorn branches. When they were ready to leave, Larry picked up his rifle and discovered that there was a deep dent in the wallnut stock. "I must have given him a terrific wallop," he told Fleming. The commissioner examined the stock of Harry's rifle, nodded his head and grinned.

"My bullet didn't kill him," Fleming said. "He was dead before he fell. You showed a lot of courage, Kincaid. If your blow had missed, we'd both be dead now."

Larry Kincaid picked up the gorilla mask and they started back across the veldt. Crocodiles slithered down the bank as they approached the amphibian, and across the pool a lion roared.

It was growing dark by the time they came down on the river in front of the commissioner's bungalow. A small group of natives were waiting on the stringer, and when Larry stepped out with the gorilla mask under his arm, the natives began chattering wildly.

Larry held up the mask for them to see. "Giganto is dead, boys. Bwana Fleming and I killed him. Call your witch doctor. There's something very important we want to ask him."

Muttering happily, the natives backed off the stringer and were off at a run toward the nearby village. In ten minutes they were back, trailing behind their grotesquely masked witch doctor who hobbled on two canes.

The witch doctor came up to Fleming's verandah alone. When he saw the gorilla mask Larry held in his lap he made a hissing sound, nodding his head and swaying on his gnarled feet.

Fleming addressed him. "It was Chief Bongalu. How can you explain his actions? When he disappeared, all the natives thought he had fallen into a crocodile pool."

The witch doctor made a sign with his bony fingers to ward off evil spirits. "Bongalu have crazy ideas — you remember? He big fella, an' very proud. He think he too big to be just chief. He want to be god — gorilla god. But me an' elders — we say no! In few days Bongalu he go an' we never see him again."

Larry spoke up. "You wouldn't let him become a god, so he disguised himself as a huge gorilla and turned against everyone."

"You keep him mask," the witch doctor told Larry. "My people thank you."

"Thank your people for me," Larry said. "This gorilla mask will be the prize trophy in my collection!"

No comments:

Post a Comment