Do (a) Little Haunting
Cephas Matekoni was sweating.
It was not the heat that was bothering him; it was the intermittent presence of the old doctor in the back seat of his cab. The man he had killed.
The old man flickered and buzzed like the images on an old television with bad reception. Cephas had skidded to a stop at the side of the road, in order to lunge at the apparition. He had caught nothing but hot dusty air. There was no one there. Cursing himself for behaving like a superstitious fool, Cephas had pulled back onto the road.
It was then that he first noticed the animals. Cephas was just ten minutes outside of Arusha when he had spotted the crowned eagle circling his cab in majestic loops as he sped toward the Kilimanjaro Airport. Two minutes later, as he passed an otherwise unremarkable pond, Cephas noticed a flock of maccoa ducks rising as one. These also kept pace with him as he sped along the highway. The old doctor flickering in the back seat smiled proudly. Cephas felt harried and persecuted. He tried to relax, discounting all that was happening as nerves and a guilty conscience.
The idea for murder came from the newspaper. Cephas had read about the famous doctor while awaiting fares in front of the hotel. The doctor - visiting from Europe the paper had said - would be giving a speech about improving human-animal relations at a health seminar later in the week. The doctor's reputation as a world-famous veterinarian had irked Cephas.
"So many people dying every day and this man attains wealth and fame because he is an animal doctor." Cephas thought. He had spat out his window in disgust.
The realization that the man in question was staying at the very hotel he was parked in front of sparked an evil idea in Cephas' mind. He would wait - all day if necessary - for the doctor to emerge from the hotel. If the elderly European entered a cab, Cephas vowed it would be his own. Then he would drive the doctor down some remote alley and force the old man to give over all his valuables. Surely the doctor would have much to give; as famous as he was.
As the plan sprouted like some malevolent weed in Cephas' mind, his attention had been abruptly drawn to the glass of the hotel lobby door flashing in the sun as it opened. Cephas had sat ramrod straight as the old gentleman approached, then stared in dissatisfaction as the doctor ambled past his cab. The man had continued strolling along the lane away from the hotel, and acting on impulse, Cephas sprang from his cab. He hadn't planned ahead for this possibility, yet Cephas felt driven into action. The time had to be now. Cephas sidestepped briefly into an alley and had returned grasping a loose brick. Holding it behind his back, Cephas had hailed the old gentleman. The doctor had seemed affable enough, and approached Cephas without a trace of mistrust. The European gentleman tipped his old-fashioned top hat in a salute that somehow infuriated Cephas. Cephas asked the time, and as the gentleman reached into his breast pocket for his timepiece, Cephas had struck. The sound the brick made as it collided with the old man's skull had set Cephas' teeth on edge. Realizing immediately that his victim was dead, Cephas had fled, not even searching the man's pockets for the tempting payoff that had set this whole horrific chain of events in motion.
Now, ten miles out of Arusha, the flock overhead seemed to form an accusatory arrow at him.
A herd of bushbucks raised their heads as if startled at his passing. Cephas wiped the sweat from his brow and pushed down on the accelerator. Only five miles to go. Then he would have time to consider his situation. No one would look twice at a cab circling the airport parking lot. Maybe he could even put together an alibi.
Cephas looked up in the sky to see if the birds were still visible and was not surprised to see that they were. He gazed at them with sick fascination. Then he checked his rearview mirror. The flickering apparition of the dead man was no longer smiling. His expression seemed to express regret and resignedness to what happened next. Cephas returned his eyes to the road just in time to see a massive elephant blocking his way no more than fifty feet ahead. Gaping in surprise, Cephas slammed on the brakes, causing the tires to screech in dismay as the cab skidded to a halt in front of the gargantuan beast.
The elephant lowered its head and charged, sending the cab lurching backward and into the opposite lane. Had the elephant charged from the side rather than head-on, the cab would have most certainly rolled. As it was, the windshield splintered into a spider web of glass. Cephas imagined the elephant charging again, sending its tusks straight through the remnants of the windshield. He fumbled the stick into reverse, but pressed the accelerator out of tandem with the clutch. The cab lurched and stalled. Through the fragmented glass, Cephas could make out the elephant lumbering toward the vehicle.
In a blind panic, Cephas bolted from the cab and sprinted into the Tanzanian brush. Cephas crashed through the bushes, staggering like a drunken man. The elephant didn't seem to be following. If he could just find cover, all might still be well.
Cephas saw the cape buffalo far too late to stop, slow down, or even change direction. The cape buffalo lowered its formidable horns and galloped forward. Man and beast collided, and Cephas heard his ribcage cave in with a sickening series of wet snaps. Cephas fell back into the brush, his body raising a small cloud of dust as he landed. Cephas felt like the weight of the world had been placed squarely on his burning chest. The ghost stood nearby, appearing to scratch the ears of the cape buffalo and speaking words that Cephas could not hear.
Cephas shuddered once, then knew no more.
Sightless eyes reflected the flock of maccoa ducks circling overhead, and the victorious cry of a crowned eagle fell on deaf ears.
An early draft of this story was featured in Dec. 2006 on the AlienSkin web site.