Horror

Oh, the horror!

101: Regret the Puppy

“Here we are,” Chandra said as the two women spilled out of the pickup truck that had given them a lift from Mutanda junction.  Their bags tumbled out on top of them.  When the truck door was shut the drive gave a slight nod of his head and pulled away.

“Where are we going?” Chelsi asked filling her arms with reusable grocery bags while trying to balance a box of strawberry plants on her head.

“The path way there by the red sign,” Chandra gestured to pathway on the other side of the tarmac road. The two women waddled across the road under their burdens, towards a neatly swept compound of houses.  About half way up the path a yellow puppy with an excited tail came bounding up to them.  “Oh, Regret, hi how are you?  This is my host brother’s puppy Regret.”

“Oh he’s so cute, he reminds me of Daisy when she was this size.  Just so excited about everything! Aren’t you so excited!” Chelsi cooed to the puppy. “Alright, which house is yours?” she asked starting to feel the weight of the bags in her arms.

“There, that one,” Chandra nodded to a tall house with a thick thatch roof that swooped down over the door, nestled between a standalone storage room and a long laundry line.  They closed the last few meters and Chandra balanced the box she was carrying as she fumbled for her keys.  She slipped the key into the lock, twisted it open and pulled back the bolt.  The door swung open, they stumbled in, opening their arms onto the floor. “Welcome to my home,” Chandra smiled. “Everything is kind of anywhere because I haven’t had the time to make any furniture yet.”  A rainbow of plastic basins was stacked in the far corner.  A myriad of kitchen utensils, pots, pans and mixing bowls were piled around a couple of large black food bins.  Prominently placed in the moderately sized sitting room was a familiar looking futon.

“Where the hell did you get a futon?” Chelsi asked, bewildered, trying to take in her surroundings.

“No, Regret, you stay outside,” she scolded the little puppy, who connected his backend with her door mat. “What do you mean? It’s the futon from the Prov house. We got that new couch from Molly, so Laura said I can have this one.  Haven’t you noticed it’s been missing from the house for like, eight months?” Chandra laughed.

Chelsi and Chandra went about unpacking and organizing their things.  Chelsi only had with her a day pack, the pack she a taken with her when she left Jeremy alone in her house for site visit.  This was the last day of site visit, and Chelsi could have gone home that afternoon.  But I have what? 10 days left in the Kamijiji house?  What difference is a couple of days going to make?  So she decided to go home with her friend Chandra, a health volunteer whose house was another 50 km down the turn off to Chelsi’s house

The rest of the evening passed relatively uneventfully.  When they finished unpacking Chandra introduced Chelsi to her host family.  Her sisters welcomed Chelsi warmly, with hugs and smiles. All the while Regret the puppy was tow, wiggling his body and lapping excitedly at his nose.  Chandra’s host family scolded him when he got too close to the cooking pots, but otherwise treated him gently.

After a dinner of rice and vegetable the two women tucked themselves into bed.

The next morning Chandra started the brazier and Chelsi cooked the eggs.  When their plates were clean Chandra went off to greet her family for the day, let them know about the programs she had going on for the day.  Chelsi hung back to finish washing the dishes from the night before.  When Chandra returned her face was painted with distress. “My host parents said that Regret got hit by a car this morning over by the borehole.  He went with my host sisters to fetch water this morning, and a car that had pulled of the tarmac clipped his back end.”

“Is he okay? Well I mean, obviously not,” Chelsi started to stand up.

“He’s over there, curled up in the bush with my host brother.  They asked if we had any medicine for him.” She hesitated, “I don’t know what to do.”

“Well, let’s go have a look,” Chelsi was nervous that the injury would be gruesome, but walked over to the bushes where the boys were standing around.  They watched as she approached.  One of the smaller boys was making an attempt to catch the puppy, who Chelsi faintly see between the brush was limping about. Well he’s walking for now, so that’s good. 

By the time Chelsi and Chandra closed the space between the house and the bushes the boy had chased the puppy up against a wall of brush.  He was curled up tightly in a ball.  The rear foot on top was starting to swell rapidly.  “Oh baby boy, who’s such a brave puppy,” Chelsi used the voice she used to calm Daisy whenever she needed a shot.  “Are you being such a good a boy,” she continued crouching down. The boys both backed away and leaned closer.  “I know it hurts, but you’re being so brave,” She lifted the top leg gently see the other one.

Where skin had been torn away, dirt, sticks and leave were stuck to exposed muscle. There was a limited about a bleeding around the ends of the torn skin, and this paw wasn’t swelling as fast.  It could have been a lot worse.  “Alright baby boy, let’s get you cleaned up.” Chelsi scooped Regret up gently, cradling him against her chest.

“How is he?” Chandra, who was still standing closer to the house, asked.

“It not as bad as it could have been.  He really needs some stitches and a split, but do you have some gauze, ace bandages, antibiotic cream, some alcohol pads.” Chelsi adjusted her arms around Regret and kneeled to pick up Chandra’s welcome mat.  She crossed the few meters between Chandra’s front door and her chinzanza, shook out the mat and laid the puppy down on top of it. “There you go baby boy,”  He made a lame attempt to stand up and move away but kept him down by scratching behind his ears and placing a kiss on the end of his nose.

Chandra came out of her house with the supplies Chelsi asked for.  She placed them down beside the puppy in the chinzanza. “Iiii, that doesn’t look good.  That kind of stuff really grosses me out.”

Chelsi start picking the large debris out of Regret’s wounds.  She talked to him gently all the while and he eventually let his head rest on the mat, resigned to his fate of being helped.  As she worked, the pile of debris, alcohol pads and gauze wrappers grew high before Chelsi was satisfied with her work.  She finished by securing the gauze with the ace bandage and stroked Regret’s neck.  She would have liked to wrap the other paw to help control the swelling, but there was only one bandage and keeping the open wounds clean was more important she decided.   “Alright baby boy, you’re all set. Tomorrow I’ll change your bandages again.  Now don’t play to rough on it.” She smiled and the puppy looked up as she backed away.  “I’ll ask Chandra for some water for you.”

“How is he?” Chandra asked hearing her name.

“Time will tell.”

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086: TAZARA

​“GOD FUCKING DAMN IT!” Chelsi screamed as her body was suddenly lurched forward, buckling her knees and slamming them into the metal bench of the train’s third class passenger seating.  But no one could hear her over the train’s screeching.  She gripped the back rest of the bench and braced herself the oncoming halt of the train car.

As the trains pace quicken, the screeching soften so that Chelsi could hear her friend Jason’s wet laughter, “This mother fucking train! You just don’t know what the train’s gonna do!”

It’s true, in the truest sense of itself, Chelsi thought, gripping the bench tighter. It was hard to keep herself from relaxing. She knew, as soon as she let go the train would come to an abrupt halt, probably throwing me on to the ground.  And sure enough, in a matter of moments the train car’s wheels let out a deafening screech, and Chelsi was jerked backwards.  

Quickly, she relaxed her position and started re-stuffing her backpack before the train engineer decided to give ‘going forward’ another try.  “Neal!” Chelsi called over her shoulder.  “Are you still glad we decided to take the train back to Zambia?” She risked a quick glance over her shoulder to see his reaction.  

“Are you kidding?” A semi-smile was stretched over his face. “This is great.  We get to see the train derail, then we get to see it fixed. And look how fast and kind of efficient it’s getting fixed.” Neal took a quick glance at his watch, “We’re only a total of 18 hours behind schedule.  Had the train derailed another 30 kilometers further, in Zambia, we would have been screwed.”

“But so, do you think this means we’re leaving the dining car behind?” Jason asked with a serious thread of concern in his voice.  But before anyone could inject their opinion the train car door towards the back of the train slid open. 

“If you could all go back to your first class cabin now,” a portly Zambian sounding man instructed them. “We will be starting again soon, and the next stop there are dangerous people. You need to go fast, fast.” His last fast, fast was covered up by the sudden forward lurch and screech of the train, and Jason, Sami, Neal and Chelsi being nearly thrown on to the floor.  

When all had recovered the portly Zambian man gave them one more “fast, fast,” before exiting the car. Their group followed closely behind, with Chelsi at the rear.  They reach out and steadied themselves using the back of the benches, when Neal turned around asking Chelsi to go back and make sure nothing was left behind.  

She was double checking under the bench, when she heard the train car door slide open behind her.  Looking over her shoulder she saw another Zambian man, a short skin one, compared to the portly gentleman of before. Righting herself, Chelsi made her way towards him and the exit to the car. 

“Mad ‘am, I just want you to give me,” he started.

But Chelsi cut him off, “No, I’m giving you anything.”

“But mad ’am,”

“No!” She yelled, and the whole train car went dark.  What did he mean when he said ‘there are dangerous people at the next stop? It had been a long time since Chelsi last felt uneasy in Zambia.  When the train pulled out of the tunnel, Chelsi pushed past the man standing and front of her and hurried to the back of the train to be with her friends.  

She reach first class cabin number six and pulled back the door. “Oh look! It was nice of them to remake our beds.” Chelsi surveyed the small cabin; two bench-bunks against either wall with a short table between, and above one more bunks above each lower bench-bunk. Laid out across the tight leather bound foam of each bunk was a blanket, bed sheet and pillow. “Neal can you help me get this up there?” Chelsi motioned her hand to the luggage compartment above the door way.  

“Sure,” and he stood up, relieving her of backpack, hoisting it above his head and into the alcove. But before he could properly regain his seat, he was jerked back into it by the stopping of the train car.  Chelsi’s shoulder was slammed into the door frame.  

Jason laughed, “God damn, it was not like this when Tyler and I took the train last time.”

“What do you think that guy meant when he said ‘there were dangerous people’ at the next stop?” Sami ask push the blonde strands of her hair out of her eyes.  Just then there was a sudden thud that shook the floor, but distinctly different from the lurching and jerking of the train so far.  Chelsi peered out, down the hallway, to see 200 kg worth of rice sacking being pushed into the train car by a Zambian man on the train platform.  

“Holy moly you guy, you’d better see this,” and Chelsi left the cabin doorway for the window just across, Jason, Sami and Neal closely behind.  Hanging their heads out the window they could see a people mobbing the train cars at the head of the train, pushing all sorts of goods through the doors and windows; mattresses, bags of maize and mealie meal, boxes of dishwares, baskets of fish.  

Neal turned back towards his friends from the window, “good thing that guy came by and told us to get out of there fast!”

“Looks like we’re not in Tanzania any more Toto,” Chelsi sighed. 

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081: Albert the Turkey

​“Just let me do it this year,” Chelsi had responded to Hannah and Sami’s email about preparing for Thanksgiving 2016.  “I just need you to make sure that the turkey arrives on Monday, alive and well.  DO NOT let them put it under the bus!”  What Chelsi had realized was that she just needed to make her instructions simple and clear. She was taking it upon herself to organize the meat course for this year, and rightly so, she thought, remembering last year’s ‘meat leader’ Paul, who had taken on the position out of some poorly placed sense of manly duty.  

“The entire time we were cutting up the pig last year he kept complaining that he was about to vomit.” Chelsi tried to explain to anyone who would listen.  

“So then what else do you need?” Hannah and Sami had responded after accepting her bid for the position.  

“Charcoal… Just charcoal. I’ll talk to Neal about what else he needs for the pig.” Slightly against her better judgement, Chelsi had delegated the task of cooking the pig to her nearest neighbor Neal.  She had been swayed by his genuine passion for the project and her confidence in her ability manage and rectify his inevitable failure. 

“He wants to put the pig in a pit, doesn’t he?” 

“Yeah…”

“Do you think that’s a good idea? Do you think it’ll work?”

“He’s very confident it’ll work, I think there’s about a fifty-fifty chance.  But this year I can guarantee that the turkey will be good and next year Neal will likely be the one leading the meat, so it’s better that he gets all of his wackiest ideas out of him now.”

When the day before Thanksgiving came, all preparations commenced.  A proverbial grave was dug, a funeral pyre lit inside and when the sun began to sink low on the horizon the pig, wrapped lovingly in banana leaves and chicken wire was buried in the pit. At that time, Chelsi could have sworn that she had seen a matching graving spring up just beside, all of your hopes and dreams, the headstone had read.  But Chelsi had walked away with confidence in her own project; dressing the turkey, Thanksgiving’s real star, she thought to herself. 

With some patience and agility the bird, who had been free to roam the expansive yard of the provincial office it’s last few days of life, was caught.  Though a larger crowd than Chelsi had expected showed up to watch the bird bleed out, it died well with little commotion. “Which is what you want,” she had instructed her friend and assistant Oliver.  “Next we’ll dip it in the water I’ve been heating on the brazier and we’ll feather it.”

The cleaning and cutting went smoothly, and nine plump piece of meat where dropped into brine and stored in the fridge till the next morning.  
“What time to you think we should unbury the pig?” Neal asked Chelsi Thanksgiving morning around the breakfast table.

Chelsi shrugged, “What’s your confidence level like that it’s finished?”

Neal paused for a moment in quiet reflection, “97%. I am 97% sure that in like an hour it will be perfectly done.”

“Alright then, I’ll meat you out there with a shovel.” Chelsi laughed, “get it? I’ll MEAT you out there?”

Chelsi passed the next hour rinsing, drying and rubbing her bird with barbeque spices and setting the fire on the brazier.  And when the time came she meandered out to the front yard.  

Neal and Oliver where on their hands and knees brushing aside the dirt over the pig.  “It doesn’t really feel warm…” Neal said with a strong strain of concern in his voice.  When the pig was finally uncovered and hoisted out the outlook was not promising.

“This, this little spot here is the only part that cooked.” Neal said, deflated but with rising inflections of worrying and haste in his voice.  

“So what do you want to do now?” Chelsi ask, feeling genuinely sorry that the scheme hadn’t been successful.  

“I don’t know… I don’t know, do you think it’s still safe to eat?”

Chelsi looked it over; it smells, but not unlike any piece of meat, the color’s fine, the flesh still has integrity. “I think its fine.  I got the grill going. Why don’t we just put it up there, cover it and see what happens.”

When Chelsi looked up, she could see Neal’s face covered in full blown panic.  A thousand reasons of doubt exploded from his mouth.  

“Since there is not much more we can do,” Chelsi tried to retain all of her cool, calm and collectedness, “let’s put on the grill and see what happens.”

With the effort Chelsi, Neal and Oliver managed to situate the pig on the grill and Chelsi was able to return her focus to the turkey.

For the last time, she removed the piece from the refrigerator, rinsed them then patted them dry.  She placed a grate over her fire and laid out the pieces as far from the fire as she could.  She checked her watch, about 4 hours till dinner, perfect.   

With the remaining time Chelsi bathed and dressed, and periodically turned her pieces on the fire.  She enjoyed the parade of fanciful dishes passing by; green bean casserole, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce, freshly baked diner rolls, pies, cakes, cookies. Everything one would expect for a Thanksgiving feast.  

“And how’s the pig coming?” Chelsi asked Neal as the dinner hour approached. 

“I think it’s going to be okay.  It looks good, it smells fine.” And Chelsi couldn’t help but notice that the color in Neal’s face was looking better as well.  “Oliver and I are going to take it off the grill and remove all of the edible pieces.”

“Great, I think the turkey is done too.  I’m going to grab someone to help me pull it apart and plate it.”

After removing it from the brazier and setting it to rest, the meat pulled away perfectly from the bones of the bird. 

“Oh my goodness,” Chelsi’s friend Allison cried, “this has to be one of the best turkey’s I’ve ever tasted.”

“Thank you!” Chelsi said blushing.  
When the dinner table was complete, all the volunteers gathered around and shared what they were thankful for.  For Chelsi, it was finding family so far away from home.  

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072: Colosseum

Chelsi’s champion strode out on to the front porch of her house.  The tuxedo colored kitten was a mere seven weeks, but confident in his stride.  Upon his appearance small group of village boys, Giddie, Willie, and Kingston, let out a squeal from their seat on the bench.

Look, look!” Willie said to the others.  “Ka ka push.”  All their eyes widened, like it was the first cat they’d ever seen.  Chelsi watched them from her seat at the edge of the porch.  She was sure their gleeful nature wasn’t false, but this was far from their first interaction with a cat.  After all, this is my fourth cat, Chelsi thought to herself, regretfully remembering the demise of the previous three.  And I know Mike had at least two cats at some point during his service.

“Jizhina?” Giddie asked, fixing his round, dark eyes on Chelsi.

“Ka ka push? Ka Tulip.”

“Tulip, Tulip, Tulip,” the three boy practiced between themselves.  Tulip paused to clean one of his paws, and Chelsi wiggled her fingers at him to get his attention.

“Giddie, Giddie!” Kingston exclaimed, grabbing the attention of his friend.  “Those small animals we found today, where are they?”  Giddie’s face beamed with a smile and he leaned forward, tugging on the string of his toy truck.  The truck, made of discarded plastic and wire, rolled towards him on its bottle top wheels.  A really engineer that one could be someday, it was clear to Chelsi that Giddie was the best toy car maker in all the village, and every day nearly he was pulling about a new style.  When the truck’s rolling came to a stop, Giddie gingerly picked it up and from the back compartment plucked up toy baby dormice.

“Crickee,” Chelsi said with some surprise, “it’s even got passengers today. Mwatanna pi?”  Chelsi didn’t fully understand the answer, but gathered that he found the nest out in the bush by his house.  She continued to watch with great interest as to what the boys had in mind next.  When just then Giddie dropped the two round, fuzzy grey bodies on to the cement and nudged them towards Chelsi’s kitten.

The baby dormice were too young to make any meaningful get away.  One wiggled its undersized legs, pushing itself on its belly to the corner by Chelsi’s door.  Its litter mate squeaked.  The less intelligent move, Chelsi noted as Tulip’s ear perked up in its direction.

To some surprise, Chelsi was not immediately overcome with moral outrage at the activities that were unfolding before her.  First, not that the infant mice were disturbed from their nest, nor that they had then been pulled around by a child in a toy truck all day, and not now, seeing that the boys intention were to watch this baby on baby animal battle, hoping no doubt for it to end in the bloody demise of the dormice.

Tulip started towards his first contender.  When the kitten pressed his nose in the plump body of the mouse it let out low chirt chirt chirt sound.  Tulip, surprised, recoiled.

What could I say that the boys would understand…? Not much, she decided.  She knew the children went in to the bush on necessity, looking for food and that mice, particularly dormice, were not off the menu.  Not to mention mice, particularly dormice, are a grievous house pest. Better food for the kitten.

Tulip had revised his approach to the protesting dormouse and was now slapping it with his paw.  With every slap, the baby dormouse let out a squeak, chirt chirt chirt.

The boys were pointing with interest, discussing the play by play amongst themselves.  And as Giddie had noticed the second baby dormouse trying to escape, he picked it up and deposited it in to his chest pocket.

I do want the kitten to learn to eat mice, Chelsi reasoned with herself, putting the best spin on the current circumstance that she could.  That why I keep trying to keep cats.  The truth was, just one week without a cat and her house was overrun with mice and rats.  She thought about the last rat she saw, not a few days before, just after returning home with Tulip from Mwinilunga.  Chopping vegetables for dinner that night at the table, she heard a rustling in the thatch of her roof.  When she turned to see what it was, a giant rat was jumping out of the grass of her roof on to the top of her wall. She could still vividly recall the green glisten to its eyes.

Tulip continued batting the baby dormouse with his paw.  The few attempts he had made to lower his head the baby dormouse had bit him on the nose.

Tulip’s probably never really eaten anything live before.  This kitten had come from her friend Oliver’s house, about 30 km south of Mwinilunga.  At the time she had gone to see him and retrieve the kitten Oliver was caring for: two dogs, seven puppies, a cat, six kittens and a flock of improved laying chickens, though thankfully those were not also sharing his house.  But Oliver is a dutiful keeper and Chelsi was sure all of his animals had been plumped on its most appropriate animal feed. And with so much food about there would have been no need for Tulip’s mother to hunt.

When there was the sound of soft bones being crushed, one of the boys let out a gasp breaking up Chelsi’s train of thought.  She reigned in thousand mile stare, and focused on her kitten.  Tulip had finally mustered up his courage and had gone face first, mouth open, at the tiny fuzzy body.  Bright red blood began to bead-up on its grey fur.  With the last of its fight there was a furious chirt chirt chirt. 

It makes sense now, why animals are so attracted to squeaky toys.

Tulip pressed down with his paws and gnawed with his needle like teeth.  Shortly thereafter the incessant chirting ceased.

The boys, still perched on the bench giggled.  As the first mouse disappeared inside the kitten, Giddie revealed the second one.  The human beings attraction to blood sports can’t be denied, for even Chelsi had a hard time looking away now.

The second baby dormouse sat stock still, hoping not to be noticed.

Like two beasts in the colosseum.  Chelsi watched at Tulip followed his blood covered nose towards the second little dormouse.  Or more like the lion and a Christian martyr. 

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066: Funeral Pyre

Chelsi looked down at the garden bed in front of her feet.  Just yesterday it had been covered in promising little radishes; now all it was filled with was dashed hopes and dreams.  The bed coverings were strewn about, dirt was piled up at the bed edges and claw marks were clear on soft beds center. “Gorged out the by a gardens worst enemy.”

“Cock-a-doodle-doo,” the black bared rooster crowed from Chelsi’s front porch.

“If you could get my hands on you…!” she exclaimed in an empty threat.  But still, the fantasy of the bird, breast up on a roasting pan always calmed her down. Dues owed she thought.

It was the feeling of be burgled. To come home after a long day’s work and find that all your prized possessions had been stolen and the window smashed; you’re angry for a moment and then overwhelmingly sad.  Only Chelsi knew who to be angry with, her host family, the Kalulu’s. It was their chickens and goats that were always destroying her garden. “And then! When and if things do grow they’ll have the audacity to come over and tell me to give them some,” steam poured out her ears. ‘No’ she practiced over and over in her head, ‘you’re chickens already ate your portion. Go eat them!

The whole purpose was it improve child and family nutrition. The whole purpose of my garden is to improve my nutrition. Some of the mothers in Kamijiji had asked for nutrition traing, they know their first graders look like toddlers and the toddlers look like infants. Others in the village just didn’t know or seemed to care. Chelsi hating seeing some of her favorite children eating nothing but packaged cookies and nshima, the local staple of maize mush.

Ahh, but the chickens aren’t for eating’ she was told.

Then why don’t you come to the gardening workshop. We can have some small gardens, they’ll be easy to take care of all year round, improve nutrition that way.

Ah, but there are no vegetable seeds.

If you dig a garden I will give you seeds to start.

Ah, but the chickens, they will just dig up the garden.

Build a fence.

Ah, but it’s a lot of work.

So lock up the chickens in a chicken house and tie up the goats.

Ah…

‘Fine then let your children starve.

But look, they are fat!’

They’re not fat! They are swollen with fluid because their kidneys are shutting down.

Chelsi sighed. Her fence did help. The number of chickens rolling through was greatly reduced, but only one was needed to undue weeks of watering and care. Fuck it, when I go to town next I’m getting fifty meters of chicken wire. She no longer cared that it would cost her an entire pay check. She then had a thought about how well scare crow actually worked.  She took a few deep breaths, started to feel better.  “Because do you really want to be that one?” She asked herself. “The volunteer who totally loses it and acts out rashly?” She had been voted most likely to, for swear-in superlatives last year.  “Most likely to: burn a goat in a funeral pyre.” She had been downgraded, from ‘Most likely to:’ make their house sustainable, after a conversation with PC Zambia’s then CFO, from which the designation was born.

The CFO Jason, Chelsi and three other soon to be volunteers sat in a small office, more than a year ago now, discussing proper volunteer conduct. ‘Don’t take drugs, don’t steal, take only certified taxi’s unless you have no other options. Try not to travel alone, don’t burn down your house, don’t burn down anyone else’s house. Just try not to do anything that would ostracize you from your communities, like killing your neighbor’s goat and burning it in a funeral pyre.

The comment had been presented to off handedly; don’t kill your neighbor’s goat and burn it in a funeral pyre. Chelsi had to ask.

We had a volunteer, who had a garden,’ Jason had stated calmly, ‘not unlike a lot of volunteers. But there was this goat, this one goat, which I guess was always breaking down the volunteers fence and destroying their garden.  So apparently what had happened, is they came home one day, to find their garden again, completely destroyed and the goat just standing there. And the volunteer lost it, killed the goat and built a giant pyre and burn the body.

Chelsi now knew what that murderous passion must have felt like for that volunteer, but Jason had never described how that volunteer had committed that act.  In Chelsi’s imagination it was a knife, they just stabbed it over and over, until it was dead.

So we had to send that volunteer home, because there was no way to reconcile with the community.

And the proper way to handle the situation, would have been….?

You make arrangements with the owner of the offending goat, to purchase the animal. Then, you may kill the animal if you wish, and if there is too much meat for you alone, you share it with the community. You don’t burn it front of them.

That’s how the story played in Chelsi’s head every morning, when she went out to water her garden, to mentally prepare herself.  She would take Jason’s advice if she thought it would make a difference.  But if she bought all of her family’s chickens, they would just go out and buy more chickens.  And all chickens are offenders. So instead she figured she would keep buying identical copies of her family’s chickens the market, and roasting them, while secretly hoping all the chicken at home would catch New Castle Disease and die.

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064: Lancet

​Chelsi stared at the little, blue handled needle she held in her right hand. Then glanced over to her red and swollen index finger on her left hand. After a few moments she was looking back at the lancet. Then finger, then lancet. Finger, lancet. Finger, lancet. Finger, and lancet. She squirmed a bit on the red cushioned, dinning chair. You probably don’t even have malaria anyway, her left index finger told her.  But in all reality you could, the lancet wielding right hand argued. 

But you feel so much better now, now you’re just coughing and wheezing, not feeling too feverish, the left hand retaliated.

Maybe so, but just twelve hours ago you were shaking and shivering in bed with the sweats. The right hand was reasoning well, the most notable symptom of malaria is the oscillating cycle of feeling sick then well.  

Yeah, but the other most notable symptoms of malaria; vomiting. You might be nauseous, but you haven’t vomited. 

And if you have malaria you could die. But you won’t know until you take the test.

“Maybe if I just shut my eyes,” Chelsi knew her right side was correct, but the left side just screamed so loud. “It’s just a couple drops,” she reasoned with it.  

Chelsi brought her left index finger and the tip of the lancet together.  Maybe if I just push slowly, but her actions were broken up by a fit of coughing.  The pain in her chest was sharp, and the sudden rush of blood to her head made it pound.  Quickly, before each of her sides could gather themselves, she stabbed her left index finger. 

But nothing seemed to happen.  She checked to see that yes indeed the point of the needle was buried under my skin, yet blood was not welling around the intrusion as she had expected.  Maybe, she pushed the little needle a little farther in.  But still nothing. 

“All that grief, for nothing,” she said aloud pulling the lancet out of her finger.  Then the blood started welling up. “Shit,” it came quickly at first.  She fumbled with her free hand for the little plastic applicator cup to collect the blood.  “It’s bigger than it looks,” she said of the collection cup, having to message more blood out of the tip of her finger.  

After more moments that Chelsi would have liked, the applicator cup was full and she waded tissues around her bleeding finger.  Carefully, she emptied the cup of blood in the receiving well of the plastic incased malaria test.  “Five drops of buffer it says,” she applied them appropriately.  “Now, if there’s anything worse than waiting!” She set a timer for fifteen minutes, for which she would spend the entire time starting at the maturing test.  

The control strip was quick to light up, as soon as her blood was forced across the test by the buffer.  The second strip never revealed itself.  

Negative, her right side said contently.

Negative, her left side said contemptly.

“Negative.”

Categories: Health & Fitness, Horror | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

048: Fuko Feast

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Fuko, A Giant African Mole

“Ba Joseph, Right?” Chelsi double checked with the new acquaintance standing in front of her.
“Yes.  You know when I first heard that you had come I thought, Ahh but this isn’t for me.  Especially fish farming.  But I think what is was, is that I just didn’t have the time.  Now I’m thinking I am ready.”
“That is absolutely fantastic!” This was the way Chelsi wished it happened more often.  The she is just out weeding her garden and people just walk up her path and say that they are ready to learn.  “We can get started right now. I didn’t have any plans this morning.”
The tall man’s face twisted up a bit.  “Or, you can come tomorrow.  But while you’re here you should at least come see the example pond.  It’s just there.” Chelsi pointed into the bush at his back. “I’ll show you.”
“Okay, but I think I’ll also come back with my notebook on Friday.” Chelsi was listening but started walking away.
“Friday’s fine.  Hold on I’m just going to get my shoes.”
When she returned and the two turned up the path, Daisy came running up to them, furiously investigating the new comer with her nose.  “I’m afraid of dogs.” What Zambian isn’t afraid of dogs?
“Well you’re doing great, cause I couldn’t tell. And you don’t have to worry about Daisy.  This is my dog.  She just excited, but she won’t hurt you.  She’ll come with us to the pond.”  It had been some weeks since Chelsi had been to visit the ponds, and the grass on the path to the trees was so over grown, standing six feet tall, she had to guide her student walking backwards through it.  Once they reached the tree line the grass subsided and they could walk comfortable side by side.  Daisy went running on up ahead.
They chatted a bit. Joseph explained how he stayed in town but had his farm just past her house. Chelsi told him about Peace Corps and the role of volunteers in the community.  When suddenly, Daisy came bounding out of the bush, a big fuzzy ball in her mouth.  She set it down on the path to better sniff at it.
“We eat that!” Joseph exclaimed pointing and running towards Daisy.  The animal twitching on the ground was a shape Chelsi couldn’t really describe; Fat and stout? More like a Zambian cucumber though, with fur. “Just wait.” Joseph stomped on the critters head till it quit moving.  Then Chelsi picked it up.  The body was still warm in her hand.
“It’s a giant mole,” Daisy jumped, futilely trying to reclaim her prize.  “Good girl Daisy,” Chelsi patted her on the head. 
“Yes, it is a mole.  In kiikaonde we call it Fuko.” The two continued on to see the fish pond

After making plans to meet again and Joseph left, Chelsi commenced with the business of preparing the meat.  She cut the hide from around the hindlegs and started to peel it from the layers of fat and meat.  I always knew all the practice butchering would pay off.  Between this and the poor dove from last month.  She knew most volunteers would have handed the catch off to their host family’s to prepare, settling for a bit or two of the finished dish.  There can’t be more than a handful of bit to this thing either, she thought as struggling the hide over the substantial head.  The meat was a dark red, and smells a bit like a swamp. There was still a lot of excitement in her for tasting it, but she didn’t have high hopes.
After the intestines where unpacked and the suspicious innards where divided up among her animals, she dropped the naked mole into a brine. She was expecting another volunteer, Craig, for dinner today, but that was still some hours away.  A brine is probably the best way to keep it.
When all was done and cleaned up, she hoped on her bike to meet up with a farmer for an afternoon gardening lesson.

By the time Chelsi and Daisy returned to the house their shadows were long under the sun, and Craig sat on the bench of her front porch. 
“Alright! You made it, I thought maybe you’d let yourself in.” Chelsi let her bicycle roll to a stop. 
“We just got here a few minutes ago.  Oh and when I go here, that white cat is yours?”
“Yeah, it’s annoying as hell though.”
“Well it was sitting on your bird house.” Chelsi’s heart sank and the commotion level sky rocketed when Daisy discovered the little ball of black fuzz Craig was cradling in his lap. 
“Oh, I’m going to kill the thing,” Chelsi shouted over the barking and hissing. “It’s been eyeing my birds all week.” She ditched her bike and walk around to the side of her house. She could tell something had disturbed the flock.  They all sat stark still on the roof of her house.  Seven, yes the whole flock.  She inspected a little closer under the bird house.  Delicate white eggshells speckled the ground. Chelsi walked back over to Craig.  “You’ve got to take him with you when you go.  I can’t have him here anymore.”  She grabbed her white cat, meowing, off the bench and the dog, barking and locked them in the house.
“Well, this little guy hasn’t shown any interest in birds.”  He held up a tiny black kitten. It looked at her frightened; blue eyes ringed in yellow. Poppy had prettier eyes.
“Thanks man.” She took the seat next to him.  “We’ve got a special dinner tonight.  Daisy caught a giant mole this morning.  I know how you like your meet chewy.”

After they had settled in and the animals had become acquainted with each other, Chelsi set Craig to chopping vegetable while she set up the stove.  “So apparently I did this wrong. Or not wrong, but non-traditional.”
“What do you mean?” Craig briefly looked up from his potatoes.
“Well, when I was talking to Kennie’s wife at our gardening lesson today I was telling her about it. And apparently, you’re supposed to prepare a fuko like a pig; where you sear the outside, scrape off the hair then butterfly it open and roast it.” And this made sense to Chelsi, there was a lot of fat between the skin and the meat. “I didn’t know, so I did what I’d do with any fuzzy animal and skinned it.  But I bet the skin will make a great puppet when it’s done!”  Always look for the bright side.
“I think I probably doesn’t matter that much,” Craig confessed.
“Yeah, and we can’t really roast anything anyway.” The stove hot, she plopped on pot of water. “So we’re just going to boil it.”

With a little cooking and fragrant herbs, the swampy smell disappeared. 
“This is delicious.” Craig said pulling the meat off one of the hind legs.
“I know! And it’s not even chewy.  Who would have guessed that dirt and roots, and whatever else moles eat, would make you so tender.”
The two ate to their satisfaction, then divided the remained among their animals.  Stomachs full they settle back in their chairs to enjoy each other’s company.  

Categories: Action, Adventure, Food & Recipes, Horror, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

043: One by One

They come from above and below. They scale walls, walk on water and eat everything.  Now Chelsi was watching them haul away the tail of a scorpion.  She had found the scorpion, the little critter that it was, skittering in the bag on lime she was using. Though this particular variety was not particularly dangerous, Chelsi had be told its sting was as milder than a bee, she could not help her natural instinct of trying to squash it.  Yet, every time she pulled away her tin can squashing device the scorpion resumed its offensive mode.  On her fourth attempt, Chelsi pulled the can to find the severed tail of the scorpion stuck to the rim.  Evidently the scorpion had not realized, because it continued its creep towards her, puffing itself up. With the animal now rendered harmless, she let it out of her sight to find a receptacle for the tail.

“Daisy, go away, I’m working.” Chelsi’s puppy, nosing her way past the front door, wiggled and whined.  Anything Chelsi tried to keep away from her, she inevitably wanted. And now that Daisy’s shoulders stood at Chelsi’s knee the task of ‘keep away’ became harder and harder.  In a rash decision Chelsi wiped the rim of the can on the far side of the window sill.  “See? There’s nothing there,” now sticking the can in Daisy’s nose. Taking a few sniffs anyway and finding nothing, Daisy sauntered back outside into the sun. Not thinking much more about it, she put the tin can down and went back to the monotonous task of dabbing lime on the walls of her house.

She was told that a few layers on lime on the insides of the house walls would discourages termites from tunneling up to the surface of the walls and starting mounds, but the evidence around her pointed towards the likely hood that the lime did not make much of a difference.  Maybe, just now that the brown tunnels were against a white background and easier to spot she’d be more likely to knock them down before they accumulated in vast numbers.  But the termites are really another story.

Among the commotion with the scorpion, Chelsi had forgotten she left out her mid-snack; a spoonful of peanut butter and some crackers.  Remembering now that her arm was starting to hurt again, she put down the basin of lime and washed her hands.  The towel for drying them was hanging out the back window, where it would get a little sun for drying, in between frequent hand washings.  That’s when she saw the scorpion tail again.  Only now it was being hauled away by ants, the biggest one no more than 3 millimeters in length.

“You’re going to eat even that!” Nothing safe from these insatiable ants.   They even cleaned up spilt cooking oil better than she could.  She had no idea the mechanism by which they were able to carry back to their nest, but if she spilt a little drop on the counter, when out and came back at the end of the day, there wouldn’t even be a greasy film.

When she first moved in, Chelsi thought of the little ants as nothing but pest. And in some times they still horrified and disgusted her. Chelsi thought of the other day when she opened the spout of her water filter and a huge balled up, clump of ants plopped into her cup. But now she tried to think of them a little more like Rumbas from hell; cleaning things she didn’t want to have cleaned.

“Like my lunch,” she sighed, now looking over are her spoonful of peanut butter.  A line of little ants pushed perpendicularly to line of remaining peanut butter. Each individual balled up a little bunch and as soon as it moved away another unburdened ant stepped up in its place.  Behind the line was clean shiny spoon. That is how she had to think of it though, to keep from losing her mind. I’m not just ready for my lunch to be cleaned up. Because there were other occasions where their service was nearly a blessing.

On her last trip from town she had carried a 5 liter container of cooking oil.  That undenounced to her had a crack in the cap.  So, when she threw her backpack, containing the container, in to the back of the taxi it leaked all over the inside of her bag.  Having been in Zambia for more than a year now, the knowledge of her best course of action didn’t even disgust her much.  She delicately removed the untainted contense. The oily remainders, including the bag, where laid out on the floor.   Within an hour a thick rivers of ants were flowing to and from the articles laid out on the floor.  Acclimated though she was, Chelsi still spent as little time as possible thinking about the happenings in her house. For days she did not gaze in their direction.  Until the river, became a stream and the stream a trickle, and like water in hot season, the flow dried up.  Only then did she take the articles out to the porch with water and soap for a proper cleaning.  But even before the soap was applied, she couldn’t even find a stain.

Categories: Drama, Horror, Nature | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

041: Two steps back

From the time Chelsi saw her first horror film as a child she had practiced mentally preparing herself for finding a lifeless body behind every door.  After all, she reasoned, crisis situations are no time be acting emotionally; especially if there’s an ax murder in the house. Over the last 25 years she had opened the door many limp, lifeless bodies.  Mostly fish, a few reptiles, lots of plants.  But coming home from Mufumbwe last Tuesday, two days later than anticipated, she skipped the mental.  Her house was too small for murder to hide and everything seemed accounted for as she pushed the door open.  Except the excited mews from Poppy, who usually sat just behind the door anxiously waiting for her to arrive. 
She had dropped her stuff just beyond to door and sat her basket full of doves on the table.  She had checked the bushes around the house he like to sit in. Nothing.  Maybe he’s napping in the trees somewhere, she thought returning inside the house.  Daisy wiggled and sniffed excitedly at the doves. 
“Leave’em alone Daisy,” Chelsi had said turning her gaze towards the table. “God damn it,” she sighed. Just beyond the table a lump of glossy black fur was sprawled on the floor. “Go outside Daisy,” she pushed the dog outside, shut the door and opened the curtains to let in the light. 
He still looked full of life, that if Chelsi had just called his name gently he would spring back up.  “This couldn’t have happened more than an hour ago.” Not only were his expelled feces still fresh, but the puddle of urine was still wet and his eyes were still plump and dilated.  There’s not even any ants on them yet, the true test of freshness of anything. 
Using a grocery bag, she picked him up and brought him to her host father.  The top contenders for his demise was poisoning, maybe he ate a rat that had been poisoned, snake bite and ju ju. And that’s where Chelsi stopped the conversation. She knew too many volunteers that had to be removed from their villages after accusation of black magic were made; whether against them or by them.  She had been sad about Poppy, but like so many situations in Zambia the truth wasn’t important, probably didn’t even exist.
But all that was yesterday, she put the break in her mind to help her deal with today’s visits from the reaper.  She was sitting in her folding chair stripping the feathers from her most prized dove.  She was one of four that Chelsi had carried from Mufumbwe. We haven’t even been home for a day… Just after feeding them that morning Chelsi had returned to the house to feed Daisy. Through the open window in the back of the house she sudden heard the fluttering of wings. Good thing I hung that net under the house, she thought. The birds had their flight feathers removed so they would learn that Kamijiji was their new home, and Chelsi had hung a net under and around the house in the event that one of them fell they wouldn’t end up on the ground where one of the other animals could get them.  She hurried herself outside to help the dove back up to the house, but quickly realized her had made a terrible mistake. 
Her host father’s dog Trigger sat just under the bloody net, where the dying dove was cradled.  “You fucking bastard,” she cursed at the dog and looked franticly around for something to chuck at him.  Before she could find something the sound of her voice sent him skittering away.  Daisy and Lion were in tow behind her.  She had never cared for that dog, but had never had a more compelling reason to dislike him.
She reached the dove house in time to hear the speckled white dove make one last coo.  After removing around her porch.  Chelsi tied the net back up, tighter this time and look up at the little girl’s lonely mate.  The odd number would torture her.  She had to call every single person she knew, dragged herself all over Sowlezi and even stopped random people on the street, trying to find people that would be willing to sell her doves and she had still only come away with four. Now it was three.  She needed eight to have an established colony.  Walking back towards her house she wildly threw the rock at Trigger, who took off towards the road with a yelp. 
So now, when she had planned on spending the morning weeding her garden, was feathering the little dove.   Chelsi had ask her host father yesterday to take Poppy to the farm and bury him there because she didn’t know what he died of she didn’t want Daisy digging him up and eating him.  The dove would most certainly be dug up and eaten by one of the dogs, and unjust reward and if she handed off to her host father one of the kids would just eat it, setting the precedent that they would get any dead doves.  She definitely didn’t want to go down that road. 
She had killed and eaten more things than she could remember, but the weight that this one had been so unintentionally it hurt for the first time.  All wanted was the body to be bare so she could at least pretend the circumstance of this meal were different.  When she was done she dropped the tiny bit of poultry into a brine and went out to start on her garden.
Her goal was to finish weeding just one bed of her eight beds.  All the plants had really taken off in the week she was away, including the weeds.  Chelsi was surprised by how long the weeding took too; after two hours she had only finished half a bed.  She stood up to stretch out her knees and back.  Lion and Daisy stood watching her just beyond the garden fence, watching her.  Man, I just built this and the termites are already destroying it, she thought when she notices a few of the fence poles slumped toward the ground. That’ll have to be really close to the top of the list getting fixed. Just beyond the fence though, through the passion fruit vine she saw a mother hen with her seven chick. Not really chicks any more, the plants weren’t the only thing that grew while was gone.
Her smile turned quickly to a frown, “Lion, No!” Chelsi’s yelled but not fast enough.  She rushed through the gate.  Little chicken feet protruded from Lion’s mouth. Lion took a quick leap away.  The commotion caught the attention of Chelsi’s host sister, Juliet. Lion was her husband’s dog.  She hurried over in just enough time to see the wind blow away the last few feathers; Lion’s fate was sealed.  Juliet cursed at the dog in kiikaonde and dragged her away by the rope tied around her neck.  From across the yard Chelsi heard an exchange of thwacks and yelps between Juliet and Lion. It was quiet again in a few minutes and with nothing left for her to do so Chelsi went back to weeding her garden.   
Chelsi retired into her house early that evening.  Before starting dinner she took some cuddle time with her darling Daisy.  She reclined into her chair and scooped her puppy up on to her lap.  Shortly after Chelsi heard Maurice, her host brother-in-law, return from wherever he goes during the day.  The conversation between Juliet and her husband was short, and though Chelsi didn’t catch all the words she understood the intention.  Daisy say quietly, Chelsi whispered sweetly into her ear.  She heard Lion, at the end of her chain, being dragged in to the bush just behind her house. 
THUMP!
YELP!
THUMP!
Yelp.
THUMP…

Categories: Horror, Law, Justice and Order, Mystery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

037: the Courageous Lion

Of all the other dogs that members of her host family had brought home, this was the one Chelsi liked the most.  She could never compare to my darling Daisy, but Lion was a sleek, elegantly fashioned dog, with long legs, big paws and a bold, shapely head. Her coat was more of a pale gold, compared to Daisy’s flaxen blonde, and her tail was docked so close that a half an inch more would have removed the upper portion of her anus.  Mostly importantly, she was well mannered, and always ready to slobber Chelsi’s hand with her tongue. 
Chelsi had first noticed Lion about a week before moving back in to her house at the beginning of December, while making a ‘checking in’ visit.  She had observed Lion and Daisy romping together, in the grass of her yard. Then Lion had had a shine in her coat, a glisten in her eye, and a playfulness to her nature.
“And look at you know,” Chelsi sighed looking at the emaciated dog, sitting, shivering in her door way.  Her eyes were dull, draining a white goop, the cresses of her ears were cracked and bloody.  When Chelsi had first seen her after returning with Daisy from Christmas break she thought the poor dog had broken out in some blistering skin disease; the hair all around her neck patchy, with white and blue lumps looking as if they were about to rupture from her skin. When she looked closer, running her figures through her coat she didn’t find blisters, but hundreds of ticks. Some swollen to the size of grapes.  “It was horrifying,” Chelsi said to her aloud, remembering. “It still is.” The onslaught of tick had started more than three weeks ago, and still the owner of the dog, her host brother-in-law, had done nothing to remove them. “Even if he really is giving you dewormer like he says he is, those are probably why you’ve still been losing weight.” Lion repositioned herself on her bony haunches, become anxious listening to Chelsi, without being able to respond. 
The rain began to pitter, patter ever harder beyond the edges of Chelsi’s roof.  Daisy pushed passed Lion, coming through the door looking to get out of the rain. “And look at you, so well mannered. You’re not going to come in unless you’re invited. Unlike that awful bitch Bingo, Gil brought home.  She took every chance she had to bust in here, even when I was poking her with a stick! to steal bags of dog food.  Always intimidating Daisy so she was afraid to come near me. He only likes her because she has that ridge of hair standing up along her back. And Jango, he had to be her brother, he wasn’t much better; skittish and fretful.” Chelsi hadn’t felt the same desire to careful the other dogs, the way she did for Lion. Particularly, she didn’t have any affection toward either of the owners. And perhaps that’s why I feel so much pity for Lion. “Because he doesn’t deserve you… You certainly deserve better than him.” Lion repositioned herself again, slapping her tongue against her nose; clearly unsure whether the continuance of the single-sided conversation was an invitation or not, but cautioning against it just encase a mistaken understanding resulted in a beating.  
From where Chelsi sat, on the stool beside her table she could see the totality of Lion’s thin body between her forelegs; the washboard of her ribcage cut in relief against the gray background of her front cement slab.  Looking on, Chelsi could feel them under her fingers, hear the xylophone-esk sound they made when she ran her fingers along them. 
She let out a deep breath and hung her head. 
Chelsi could see two futures in her mind’s eye:  One, a re-imaging of what she had seen happen to her neighbor’s dog Buma.  Skin and bones, the thick coated white and brown spotted dog curled up under tree, hidden behind tall grass.  When she had Daisy first approach him, on their walk in the bush, he had lifted his head. Daisy sniffed, and continued on. The next day, when Daisy saw him and approached, there was no response. The day after, it seemed less like a dog and more like a lump of matted fur.  They stopped walking that way. Two, take Lion under her care. At least try and ease some of her suffering. Lion’s ultimate fate would still be out of her hands. This isn’t my dog, and it can’t be. She couldn’t take in every animal she felt compassion for; and once you start how do you stop?
“Meow,” Chelsi lifted her head to see Poppy sneak through Lion’s legs and into the house.  The wet kitten shook himself off. The rain was pounding down now, starting to blow in through the open door. Chelsi stood and removed the rock jam, shutting out the storm on the outside. 

Categories: Drama, Horror, Nature | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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