The Last Heart of Darkness, Part III

Part I.  Part II.

Our hike took the better part of two days.  We were given a lift by Jeep for the first leg of our journey, but rough roads and the need for stealth quickly forced us on to foot.  Jarrod led us through deep valleys, narrow caves, and dense jungle, somehow managing to annoyingly vanish from sight a few feet ahead, only to pop out from behind a tree to wave us onward before disappearing again.

It was the morning of the third day, and the sun was already half risen in the sky when we reached the mouth of a large cave, sunk into the side of a hill.  Jarrod stood at the stony entrance, wearing his usual manic grin.  “Come, come, we are nearly to the beasts!” he cried to us.  “Simply through this cave, and we shall see them!”

For once, Jarrod remained close to us as we ventured through the cave, and I soon understood why.  The cave was a labyrinth of complex turns, narrow passages, and pitfalls, waiting to swallow the unwary traveler. My sense of unease was screaming at me to turn back, but I knew that I would be hopelessly lost.  So instead, we pushed onward, our lights doing a poor job of cutting through the darkness.

After what seemed an eternity of wandering slowly through the cold darkness of the cave, we emerged, blinking, into bright sunlight.  On a small ledge in front of us, Jarrod threw his hands wide.

“Behold, my friends!” he cried.  “Look upon nature, in its beauty!”  We both looked past him and stared in amazement.

We were gazing down into a huge valley, covered in long grass and spotted here and there with small clumps of trees.  Mountains rose sharply on one side of us, while plains stretched off into the distance on the other side.  The scene was beautiful.  But my eyes were fixed on the animals.

Fewer than a thousand feet away, a herd of rhinos was making its way through the tall grass, down the side of a hill.  A herd.  I counted no fewer than fifteen adults, and half as many juveniles.  All of them sprouted both horns.  There was no sign of guards, or indeed, any other humans.  This was impossible.

Beside me, the American’s mouth had dropped open.  I felt like I had the same expression.  “This is impossible,” I muttered.  “There’s no way that a herd of rhinos that size could still exist in the wild.”

The American shook his head.  “I think it’s more impossible than that,” he replied.  When I turned to look at him, confused, he extended a meaty hand to point skyward.

As my gaze rose, the meaning of his words instantly became clear.  Despite heavy cloud cover, the scene was still brightly lit.  Although clouds obscured one sun, the second sun, hanging slightly lower, was still shining down brightly.

There were two suns.  I took a step back, trying to comprehend what this meant.  “We aren’t on Earth any more,” I said hoarsely.  “Somehow, we’ve gone somewhere else.”  I turned on Jarrod, confused and angry.  “What have you done?”

Jarrod merely shrugged, still looking infuriatingly unconcerned.  “It is a different place,” he said, “but it is still Nature, yes?  And there are still the animals you seek, free and in the wild!”

“Not quite,” cut in the American.  He had been peering now at the rhinos as they traipsed their way through the tall grass.  Now that the first ones were emerging from the tall grass on the side of the small pond at the base of the hill, we could see that they had six thick gray legs, rather than four.

Other than these small differences, however, I realized that the scene still looked uncannily like Africa.  The trees seemed fairly normal, as did the grass.  The blue sky and white clouds were also reassuringly familiar. Next to us, Jarrod spread his arms.

“It is not quite the same, but it is still the quest, no?” he said, grinning at us.  “You against the wild, to bring down a great beast!  It is the hunt!”

I had to admit that he had a point.  I didn’t understand how we had come to this other world, but Jarrod was proof that we could theoretically return.  And here, the great horned beasts before us were unguarded, ready to face off against, to challenge.  I unshouldered my pack, sliding out my Mauser.

“He’s right,” I said, making up my mind.  “And I plan to meet that challenge.”

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