Night of Knives - By Jon Evans Page 0,1

tendril of anxiety slithers into her gut and begins to tighten into an icy knot. Susan was right. Something is wrong.

Elijah completes his rotation, considers a moment, and says quietly, "We must turn back."

It is Michael, outraged, who breaks the silence. "What? No. We can't go back now."

"You may return tomorrow."

"No. Out of the question. We have to go to Kampala tomorrow, we've got a flight the next day. We are absolutely not going back now. We've already climbed an hour, we're already here. They can't be far away now. You said it would only be an hour."

"Really, Michael, if he thinks it's better -" Diane begins, looking like she wishes she had never come to Africa.

He cuts her off. "We paid four hundred dollars each, for a full hour with these gorillas, and we're going to stay here until we find them. You can bring these other folks back tomorrow. My wife and I need to see them today."

Veronica winces. She hates being around Americans like Michael, the ugly tourists who give her country a bad name. Elijah is wholly responsible for their collective well-being, in this jungle literally on the edge of civilization, and Michael is berating him like he would a dishonest taxi driver. He reminds Veronica of her ex-husband Danton at his worst. She wants to shout at him but knows it wouldn't improve the situation.

Elijah doesn't answer directly. Instead he barks out something in an African language, and both guards unsling their rifles. Michael takes a step back, eyes wide, as if they might respond to his demands with gunfire.

Elijah says, "We go back, all of us, now."

"What's going on? Poachers?" Derek sounds icily calm.

"Yes, poachers," Elijah agrees quickly. "Now go."

The group turns around and begins to retrace their trail, moving fast, any remaining reluctance snuffed out by the sight of readied weapons. They move through silence, the birds and monkeys have all ceased their chatter. Veronica is right behind the guards. She can see the tension in their muscles, and feel her heart thumping rapidly inside her ribcage. She tells herself that nothing will happen, this has nothing to do with her. Just poachers hunting gorillas, they won't come after tourists, and even if that were to happen, they have two armed guards with them, they'll be fine.

She jumps as the silence is broken by a loud crack from somewhere within the jungle. It sounds like the breaking of a sturdy branch. Veronica thinks she might have seen a camera flash. One of the guards twitches, slips on the mud and falls face-first only a few feet ahead of her.

"Stop!" Elijah shouts. He sounds alarmed now. Frightened. "Fall down! Fall down, all of you!"

None of them obey. Veronica turns to stare at him, unsure that she even heard him correctly: fall down? Elijah's eyes are wide and he is waving his arm violently as if miming a falling tree. He grabs Jacob by the shoulder and actually shoves him to the ground. Beside him, without further encouragement, Derek drops gracefully into a push-up position. Tom, Judy, Michael and Diane, closer to the guards, stand frozen in place.

Veronica turns back towards the fallen man. An awful notion has birthed in her mind. The world seems to be moving in slow motion. His uniform is now thickly stained by a dark liquid, and he is twitching erratically, like some kind of broken machine. The other guard seems to have disappeared into the jungle.

"Down!" Derek shouts. "Everyone get down!"

The fallen guard's breath is fast and shallow, blood is seeping from his torso into the dark mud beneath him. Back at park headquarters, only an hour ago, Tom and Judy started talking to him, and he told them proudly he had five children. Veronica knows she should try to help him. She is the only person here with medical training. But she doesn't move.

Another hollow crack erupts from the jungle, louder and closer than the last, from where the other guard disappeared. It is followed quickly by two more, even louder, even closer. Veronica slowly starts to back away from the fallen guard, telling herself it's too late, she can't do anything for him. Then she sees movement in the greenery beyond him, less than ten feet away, and she freezes again.

A levelled rifle emerges from the jungle, held by a short and wiry man dressed in rubber boots, ragged khaki shorts and a black Tupac Shakur T-shirt. His face is marked with vertical scars. His gun is