You must forgive me the horrors I am about to relate, if ever this missive finds its way to you. My hands falter in the writing, and yet I will stay true to my pledge, I will make my account known, in spite of its attendant darknesses.
What fools we were! What blind innocents, taken in by the first smiling countenance we stumbled upon! I know not how much time I have remaining to me, so I will relate what I can with due haste.
As of my last record, we were waiting for Chief Rezu, the devil, to organise a mission to guide us back to society. Ah! If only we had cleaved more closely to the exact wording of Mbubu’s translations! We ought to have seen this fate in wings – but, no, we must confront what this life gives us as per our station, lest we be unmanned in His vision. Forward!
As I said, we waited for this mysterious feast the Lord of the Mahagger told us of. A day passed, and another. As they ran by, spent in idleness here amongst these savages, our numbers began to thin, though we did not notice it at first. On the third morning, I was awoken by a great hubbub. Kaseem, who had since become the nominal leader of the Mohemmadans, in their reduced state, was accosting a rather ill-bred exemplar of the Mahagger. Of course, neither man, despite the invective ejected by both sides, could understand the other, and it wasn’t until Mbubu arrived that any sense could be made of the situation.
The noise of there altercation, though, was decidedly great, and crowd began to form. Soon enough, the ordained translator was located, and the two men were able to finally communicate. Kaseem, finding the first Mahagger he could, had started berating the man, demanding to know where his three compatriots were. It seemed that, over the course of the last three days, one after another of the Moslem mariners had simply disappeared. None had mentioned anything about leaving the camp to their brethren, nor had they elicited any odd behaviour, the way the bedeviled Faisal had before his own disappearance.
As dialogue was laboriously translated, one side to another, the gathering came to the attention of Chief Rezu. When the Head Man was made fully aware of the situation, it was as if a dark cloud passed over his Blackamoor’s face. All would be made clear to us in time, he said, and we were forced to concede to his authority in the matter.
Tensions rode high the remainder of the day, with a near-brawl between another two of the Arabians and a lone Mahagger tribe member. Thankfully, Kaseem was able to reign in his comrades, else, I’m not sure what would have happened. At last, night drew near, the appointed time for this mysterious feast, and for the revelation of the whereabouts of the absent Arabs.
We all gathered at the paved parade grounds that had been the site of our earlier celebrations. Evening was drawing on, and a great fire had been built in the centre of the space. A troupe of dancers began to wave and writhe before the flames, in a most diabolic manner – the twistings of their bodies, the infernal rhythm, it could in no-way be born of a well-intentioned purpose. Watching the spectacle, I grew aware of a strange furnace-like protrusion amidst the fire.
After a hair-raising crescendo of drums and wind instruments, the dancers abruptly withdrew, and, in their place – the missing Arabs! The three men, draped in chains and battered bodily, were dragged out from some hidden corner and forced to kneel before the raised dais of Chief Rezu and his Consorts. There were shouts from the imprisoned men’s peers, surprised to see their comrades returned in such a state. Before any could more than raise himself from where he sat, Mahagger guards armed with wickedly sharp spears cautioned against any brash action.
A Mahagger man, a Lieutenant of Rezu’s, stood on the platform and called for silence. These men, we were told, had committed the crime of assaulting the Chief’s Consorts, a crime for which there was only one punishment: death. Rezu’s grim face split into a smile, revealing those evil, cruelly pointed teeth. The men, for their own part, seemed to understand the gravity of what was said, and protested their innocence. Vicious blows from spear shafts silenced them.
Following a signal from the Lieutenant, two Mahagger approached the furnace, and, with the aid of pairs of metal tongues, removed a red-hot bronze vessel from the fires. The fiendish vessel, a bowl of broad dimensions, was carried to the first of the accused. Initially, we were at a loss as to what was meant to happen, and then, then it became all to clear. It was the first victim that understood ahead of us, letting out a low, animal howl before the glowing urn was up-ended over his head. I, I cannot put to writing the horror of that poor soul’s demise. I but close my eyes now and I see it playing out before me, again and again.
Amidst the howls and wild screeches, the Lieutenant once again signaled his accomplices. One of the chained Mohemmadans fainted dead away, and the other broke out into gibbering uncontrollably, at times laughing, others weeping, switching ‘tween the two in the blink of an eye. As the Mahagger brought a second bowl to bear, a great “Nein!” rolled across the plaza.
Hans had leapt to his feet, brandishing a revolver he had secreted somewhere about his person. Without waiting to see if his directive was followed, he shot dead the men holding the bowl. There was a moment of stillness once the incandescent object thudded to the ground, and all gathered paused, trying to grasp what had transpired. Then Chaos was loosed.
A battle erupted, as Hans turned his weapon on those spear-wielding Mahagger closer to us, and the Moslems sought to avenge their murdered comrade. Several of us, Anhalt, myself, others of his company, repaired to our erstwhile dormitories to arm ourselves. We had, of course, not brought our rifles with us to the “feast.”
As I had said, these buildings were but sticks and mud, hardly defensible. Following Anhalt’s lead, once we had acquired our guns, we made for the stone pyramids and their trackless galleries. As formidable as our modern arms are, we were hopelessly outnumbered without sufficient shelter.
It was as we beat our way across the village to the relative safety that the worst betrayal of all befell us. Just as we were nearing the portal to the underground catacombs, I espied Mbubu. I called out to him, thankful to see that he had made it through the carnage thus far unscathed. A Mahagger warrior rushed out from behind a building, running at his top speed toward us, equipped with spear and shield. Anhalt, my dear friend Herr Anhalt, shot the knave down, the force of the well-struck blow knocking the kaffir back some yards. Alas, he proved his worth as sportsman at the end! As the German knelt to reload his rifle, Mbubu, the deceiver, picked up the fallen spear, and, before I could utter warning, hurled it at Anhalt. The deadly missile struck the man full-on in the chest, his topee tumbling off his head into the dust at his feet.
Had I not restrained him, Hans would have run to engage Mbubu, hand to hand. Alas, a troop of Mahagger, lead by none other than Rezu himself, had just rounded the corner. We made haste to find a secure position within the complex, but, before we had quit the scene, Mbubu called to us. His face, lit from underneath by fire, was terrible to behold. “I am slave no-longer, devil white!” It was the last I saw of him.
We made it into the tunnel, though another spear caught one of the accompanying Germans, a man named Alexis, in the leg. He bravely held the entrance while we travelled further in. I can only hold to hope that he passed quickly. As it was, the black demons were on our tails promptly enough. We paused for a moment at a junction, shooting off a volley back at our pursuants. There were four of us then.
Conrad was felled when the rogues rushed us once more – the tightness of the corridors, it made reloading our guns exceedingly difficult, and we didn’t have time enough to cover our own retreat. The situation was growing desperate. Seeing an opportunity, knowing that we would be picked off individually if we didn’t come some defensible redoubt, Hans ushered myself and Jorge, the doctor, into the first room we came upon. The door, made of stone, was quickly shifted into place. It was then that we took notice of what dungeon we had barricaded ourselves in, what our last resting place would likely be.
Once we got a torch going, we saw that the room was filled with a grotesque menagerie of artefacts, likely some store-house for the holy relics of these villainous Mahagger. It was at that point that any lingering doubts about the innocence of those poor Moslems, any vestige of confusion, was removed from my mind. Jorge examined what looked to be the flute used in the celebration at our arrival. Scheinbein. Mensch. Shinbone, human. A shudder ran through me, remembering the haunting melodies played on that macabre instrument. If only we had listened to what our bodies were trying to tell us! Too late. Under Jorge’s expert eye, it was determined that the flesh had been removed not by tools but by teeth, human teeth. Not only have we fallen in with a tribe of murderous barbarians, but they exhibit that most unholy of tendencies, that most vile of sins, cannibalism.
The other artefacts, and there were many, showed much the same source in their construction. Things too ghastly to describe in close detail, but the use of skin, and bone, is quite common. Or, I should say, was. Whatever our fate, I can rest easy knowing that we have destroyed these evil relics.
Our situation is grim. They have tried the door three times, and thrice we have turned them back. But time is on their side. We are short of shot, and, what’s worse, we have no food nor any water. We will stand to the last, but I fear for our fate should we be captured alive.
I doubt that this will ever reach you, but, on the faintest glimmer of hope, I write.
Goodbye, my love,
Hugh Octavius Pleasant
Posted on January 6, 2015, in (Mis)Adventures in Matabeleland, Mauve Prose, Short(er) Stories and tagged Adventure, Africa, Cannibalism, Colonialism, England, Horror, Imperialism, Racism, Satire, Victorian Empire. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.