Monster of the Blue Nile

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic


Oct. 5, 101 A.D

 

Captain’s log

 

We arrived today at Port Said, after a night of heavy wind and rain, to a morning that I hadn’t seen better the entire journey. We made good time across the dreaded Mediterranean Sea, its unpredictable nature, known to take out even the most weathered of crews.

 

A hunting party was put together by Avi to head up the Nile River to a newly added territory of the Roman Republic, in search of the massive crocodiles that live there. Smaller versions can be seen from the ship, napping in the sun, with their mouths ajar and their tails stretched out behind them. Even the young ones don’t look like something to be trifled with. If we can manage to bring back anything the size we were told about, then they will catch a pretty price at the Arena and our trip won’t be for not.

 

 Avi won’t leave empty handed. There are always a number of prey and predators along any river the size of the Nile, but the Egyptian God of Death is what we have traveled all this way for.

 

Captain Otho

 

 

 

A wild cry echoed from below decks up to Avi’s private quarters. The ship was humbly crafted, so nothing on it could claim grandier, but his quarters were cozy and worn in like a favorite pair of boots.

 

Avi paused in the letter he was writing home and listened. The wood sides of the ship creaked and his lamp hummed, deeper into the bowels of the ship the cry came again, now turned desperate. One wouldn’t guess the sound was coming from the docile creature they captured off the coast of Spain. He had learned a long time ago that any animal can become dangerous if pushed far enough.

 

Avi topped his inkwell; his letter home would have to wait. They relied on every denarii earned for these trips to be profitable and he couldn’t trust the men to not cause injury. Tucking the unfinished letter into his pocket he rose to see what was going on below decks.

 

He arrived to see that one of the shaggy bison had wandered out of its stall and was refusing to return. Its broad width filled the aisle, leaving nowhere to move but forward or back.  With each poke and prod, the whites of its eyes grew more prominent. It was only a matter of time before it charged the men.

 

It let out another cry, this time laced with pain as the men dug sharp edged spears into its thick hide. A spot of sticky red could be seen oozing from its front thigh.

 

“Enough!” Avi ordered before a second jab landed.

 

Two of the three stepped back, looking relieved that he was there to take over the situation. The third, so intent on his actions, hadn’t noticed Avi’s arrival. The man lunged forward with the blunt end of his spear and smacked the bison across its tender fleshy nose. The bison’s nostrils flared as it threw its head back with a snort. The man seemed to take no notice of the warning and raised his spear once more. Avi reached out and stopped it mid-strike.

 

“I said enough.” He wasn’t sure the man could understand his words, but his tone was clear in any language.

 

The man released the spear to Avi, with an apologetic bow, before scurrying over to the others. Avi turned his attention to the bison and replaced the spear with a handful of grain from the open barrel, likely the bison’s destination. Herd animals moved for two reasons:  predators or food.

 

“Easy Indomitus.” Untamed.  

 

“I won’t hurt you and you won’t hurt me,” he said in low even tones, as he took a single step forward, raising his hand for the bison to smell the offered food. It let out a snort followed by a loud sniff.  Avi held still, allowing her to come to him. Her eyes rotated in their sockets as if searching for more men with spears. Avi waved the three men back and dropped the handful of grain onto the floor and stepped away to give the bison some space. The wait was shorter than anticipated, as she eagerly began licking the grain from the floor, not even aware of Avi’s approach with a bucket of more grain.  

 

She must not be getting enough food, because once finished with the floor, the bison was happy to move on to the bucket Avi offered, allowing him to lead her out of the narrow aisle and then back to the stall, munching on grain the entire time. Once she was secured he went in search of Otho.

 

 

Avi found Otho in his quarters with a small leather bound book open, the print was crammed in around the sketches.

 

“Tis a lot of effort to get our hands on these,” Otho held up the book to show Avi one of the detailed sketches.

 

“Great cats and bears have become routine in the arena. Monsters from the water will stand apart. There are also snakes that can kill with a single bite.” Avi said.

 

Otho sat the book down with a sigh and asked, “Have you stopped to wonder why they aren’t done? We don’t even know if they will survive the trip back.”

 

“I’ve done my research; if you didn’t trust me you wouldn’t be here.”

 

Avi took the seat across from the captain, they had served together as Legionairs in the Roman army during the slave rebellion. Now they were both civilians, but Avi had found it hard to return home to a life of farming. His father disapproved of this kind of work, saying it was the work of Italian Clients, not a Roman Citizen like he was.

 

 

Otho pushed the drink pitcher to the center of the table and Avi poured himself a cup. “My men and I leave at first light. There are a few things to discuss beforehand about the bison. Their rations are too lean and their stalls need to be cleaned daily.”

 

Otho pulled a face at the increase in rations. Food was coin and all he saw was the profit being eaten.

 

“Celi won’t buy an unhealthy animal.” Avi spoke the truth and they both knew it. “You captain the ship and leave the animals to me.”

 

“I know you’re right, but I have seven children and a wife with expensive taste. These trips are my livelihood, not a reason to get away from sheep.”

 

“You know why I do this,” Avi’s mood instantly blackened.

 

Otho ran a hand through his beard before saying, “I shouldn’t have said anything.”

 

Avi took a gulp from his drink, letting the topic drop.

 

“A toast,” Otho said, holding his cup up. “Let the Goddess of Furtuna be with us.”

 

Avi clinked his cup against Otho’s, thinking Artemis was who they needed.

 

 

 

They left when the morning sun was still fighting the moon, and the fog was so thick you couldn’t tell where it stopped and the water began. Outlines of trees and shadowy movements began appearing to accompany the array of sounds being heard. The men became less jumpy when they could put sight to sound; a false sense of security.

 

It was a slow procession up river. The boat Avi was on could make better time, but the flat bottom boats weighed down by supplies and cages would be left behind. For now, he wanted to keep together, later he could scout ahead.

 

 

They came across their first natives by high-noon. Avi had brought a translator, but he didn’t need one to know that they were trying to warn them.

 

“They say that the river is too dangerous to travel, it is better to go by land,” Yafeu translated. “Or to turn around.”

 

“Ask them what makes it so dangerous,” Avi told him.

 

“The river is cursed—those who spend too much time on it waste away and their flesh becomes like rotten fruit.”

 

“My uncle lost a foot to the rot,” Otho said, coming up beside Avi. It wasn’t unusual for him to adventure off the ship, he said he didn’t want to become complacent and fat like the others in his station.

 

“It was slow and agonizing. By the end of it he was begging the surgeon to put him out of his misery. Said he couldn’t take another day trapped with my aunt.” Otho gave a goofy grin.

 

Yafeu laughed, but he sounded unsure if it was a joke before continuing with the translation, “They also speak of creatures as large as boats and of another that will drag a man to the bottom, never to be seen again.”

 

“Then we're on the right track.” Avi said, not heeding their warnings. "Tell them what we are looking for and ask them where we can find the largest?"

 

The fishermen talked excitedly back and forth.

 

"Do they not know?" Avi asked.

 

Yafeu shook his head, "They disagree on whether or not to tell us."

 

Avi frowned, "We could offer something for the information."

 

Before they got a chance one of the fishermen stepped forward and pulled back his wide brimmed hat revealing a web of jagged scarring that spread from the eye and down the side of his face to his neck. The eye was fogged over and Avi doubted he could see out of it. He spoke moving his hands as if acting out the attack.

 

“He says to find the largest, go past the split to where the water pools so deep you can’t reach the bottom. There lives a monster, he eats man and boat whole. No one goes there for fear.”

 

He pointed at his scars and Yafeu translated. “I only escaped because it let me go to chase off another. The rest in my boat were not so lucky.”

 

“How many days by boat?” Avi asked.

 

“They say they don’t travel the river. They go by land.”

 

 

They would continue to travel the river. Going by land would be impossible with the weight they were carrying. As the day grew longer the heat and bugs seemed to be the only danger. The crocodiles basked in the sun on the edges of the river, but none were larger than a child. They seemed content and ignored the boats and men as they passed.

 

An assortment of other animals came to the river to drink, some were brave enough to climb in for a soak.

 

Birds sang songs as colorful and lively as their feathers. Feathers rich in color could be sold for a large sum, perhaps on their return trip.

 

 

Captain’s Log,

Oct. 10, 101 A.D

 

We made good progress the first day, with little trouble, but it didn’t last into the night. Grunts and stomping awoke the entire camp, it sounded like a herd of elephants tearing through. The hippopotamus they saw earlier lazing about were attacking the camp and didn’t appear to be distinguishing between tents and men.

 

Avi ordered them to salvage what they could and return to the boats. The river was the lesser of two evils at the time.

 

The next night didn’t fare any better, nor the night after, nor the next. The day after that one flipped a boat, sending supplies and men into the water. Some of the food stores were lost, but the men were all able to make it to land. It would’ve been better to lose a few men and find the food. I know I don’t mean that. It's the lack of sleep talking. It’s getting to the entire crew and morale is getting low. Who would’ve guessed that the biggest obstacle for this trip would be fat river cows?

 

 

As they entered the branch in the river that turned into the Blue Nile, the terrain began to change and Avi noticed that the birds didn’t sing as openly and the animals that came to the river drank more cautiously.

 

Going ahead of the rest, Avi was able to observe a sleek young lioness lapping at the water. Seeing her in her natural habitat was something he knew the arena could never replicate.

 

Waiting for the others to catch up, Avi pulled out his sketch pad and tried his best to capture the life of the river. He thought his mamma would like the odd bird that he was able to see eating berries off a bush. He scribbled a detail of the coloring and markings on a separate page. On the trip home he would go back and add color to it.

 

Otho napped, with his cap over his eyes to block the sun and bugs from his face. It was one of those peaceful days that didn’t come around often. One that made Avi think that he enjoyed these adventures and could continue this life even after the debt was fulfilled.

 

“I never imagined a savage land could look so majestic,” Fig gushed, breaking the peace and quiet.

 

Otho snorted from under his cap.

 

Fig was a young man from Avi’s hometown who had been raised by his grandmother before she passed away a year ago. With no other ties, Fig longed for a life of adventure. This was his first one, so Avi would see how much he longed for the next one. Adventuring was often funner in thought, no one ever took into consideration the discomfort and grueling effort it took.  

 

“The secrets these waters must hold. A place where something could disappear, swallowed whole by the roots and muck,” Fig said.

 

Avi rolled his eyes. “You spend too much time at the arts theater.”

 

“If someone doesn’t stop talking I know something else that might disappear.”

 

Fig’s young face looked crestfallen.

 

Avi laughed, “Ignore Otho, he’s just upset that for once someone is talking more than him.”

 

Avi went back to his sketching, he wasn’t long into it when he looked up to see Fig with his shoes off and his feet dangling over the edge.

 

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Otho said beating Avi to it.

 

“Why not? It feels refreshing against the heat.”

 

His answer came when out of the water, faster than Avi believed possible, rows of sharp teeth leading back into a pit of blackness appeared as if flying from the water. Fig let out a startled noise and fell to the floor. The crocodile sank back down into the water, leaving behind ripples and the floating feathers of its prey—the only sign of its powerful attack.

 

“Maybe next time it will be your foot,” Avi said, throwing a boot at Fig’s head.

 

He shoved his feet into the boots looking flushed.

 

“What do you think about the story the fisherman told us?” Otho asked.

 

Avi wondered if he was actually curious or just trying to scare the youth.  “A monster that can eat a boat and man whole. I wish it were true. I’d capture it,” Avi said.

 

“But the scars,” Fig said.

 

“Could be made by anything.”

 

“It was made by teeth, large teeth,” Otho said, sitting up from his lounging position.

 

“Any number of crocodiles could’ve attacked that fisherman.”

 

“I think it would still be worth investigating.”

 

“Agreed. We will have to hunt different locations. Large males are territorial so they will chase away any that would compete.”

 

“Is this our first location?” Fig asked.

 

“Yes,” Avi pointed to the bank, “Do you see how worn those trails are?  That means this is a high traffic area and will be a prime hunting spot for crocodiles.”

 

 

Captain's Log,

Oct. 14, 101 A.D.

 

We spent three nights at our first location and managed to capture one large male and two large females. Avi sent three men back to the ship with the caged crocodiles. I worry about the cost of the extra manpower needed, but Avi reminded me of the mob's interest in everything Egyptian.

 

Scouts were sent ahead, but have yet to return. We decided not to wait on them, assuming we would catch them on their return. Only we didn’t. Nightfall came and still there was no sign of them. The number of hippopotami in the area kept us from stopping to set up camp and we were forced to keep moving with nothing but the light of the moon to guide our rafts. Finally, we came to a widening in the river. The water became so still it seemed more like a lake than a river and Avi ordered a halt. We will know whether this is a good spot to set more traps once daylight sets in.

 

 

 

 

Avi and Otho had settled in for a night cap, when a throat cleared interrupting them.

 

Justus, their head trapper, stood at the tent opening dripping water from the waist down, his skin pale in the flickering light of the lamp. “I think you are going to want to see this.”

 

Justus led them silently along the river, following a well traveled animal trail. He jumped at every sound.

 

Otho leaned in and whispered, “I wish he’d give us a clue to where he was leading us. I have a bad feeling about this.”

 

 

Once they arrived Avi understood why Justus had shown them instead of trying to explain, because Avi wouldn’t have believed him without seeing it for himself. A boat or what was left of one, was ripped down the middle, the two halves connected by a few splinters and a piece of rope.

 

“It was out in the water and I waded out to get it. I think it's one of ours.” He didn’t have to add what that meant.

 

Otho touched the edge of the boat, bringing his finger up to his nose. “Blood.”

 

Justus nodded his head. “I didn’t realize it until I got back to land.” He let out a ragged breath. “Gods I was a fool to go out there.”

 

“We will send out a search party at firstlight. Until we learn more, this is to stay between us. The last thing I want is to give the men a reason to panic.”

 

Otho raised a brow.

 

“Don’t you start. It was more likely a raging hippopotamus than a man eating crocodile.”

 

Avi could hear Justus swallow over the chirp of frogs. “There’s something else.”

 

Justus moved the lamp so the light illuminated the ground near the boat. Avi wanted to be sick. On the muddy bank was a single boot, with the foot still inside. The bone at the center stood out against the blackness around it.

 

“I don’t think we need to send that search party.” Otho commented, sounding as nauseated as Avi.

 

“I see one foot, not four.” Avi turned away, he’d seen enough. He was no stranger to death, but this felt different.

 

“We can bury it if you’d like.” He heard Otho saying to Justus. “Put what little we have to rest.”

 

Otho had been Avi’s superior in the army and at times like this it was easy to feel like he still was. While Avi felt at a loss of what to do, Otho was giving Justus solace. Justus had been close to the missing scouts and was the one to get Avi to bring the two siblings along on this trip. The thought had Avi stopping in his tracks and turning back. If they wanted to bury a foot then he would help and alive or dead they would find the other brother.

 

 

The next morning Avi was faced with panic. Yafeu was trying to calm down some of the crew translating for Justus. Both looked relieved at seeing Avi.

 

Yafeu jogged up to him talking fast and slipping into several different languages.

 

“There has been another attack,” Justus said cutting to the center of Yafeu’s jabbering.

 

“Another?” Yafeu asked, “I didn’t sign up for this.”

 

“Somebody tell me what happened,” Avi ordered.

 

“The man-eater attacked during the night. Quinto says it was three men wide.”

 

Yafeu was still trying to talk at the same time. “He just got up to make water. He didn’t even get a chance to scream.”

 

“It tore him in half with one bite, is what he says, Justus relayed.

 

“Yafeu, translate for me,” Avi was already walking, leaving Yafeu to catch up.

 

 

Avi was able to calm down the men, with promises of catching the monster and rewards.

 

“The calm will dissolve with the next attack,” Otho pointed out.

 

“We will just have to keep more attacks from happening.”

 

“Why didn’t I think of that?”

 

“We will set traps here, but camp up river.” Avi turned back to the men.  He could still see the fear, but it was pushed down by fresh determination. “Someone get me a head count. I want to know if anyone else is missing.”

 

“We have one unaccounted for,” Justus reported, not looking Avi in the eye. “Fig.”

 

Avi cursed that fool, while at the same time praying he had just wandered off somewhere.

 

“We will search for Fig immediately,” Otho said. “I’ll go by boat to cover more ground.”

 

“I’ll come with you,” Avi said.

 

“I’ll get a search party together.” Justus was already striding away to gather men.

 

“Two parties, and tell them to stay away from the water for now.”

“What’s going on?” A voice asked from behind. Avi turned to see Fig standing there holding a bucket of water in each hand. Looking curious and naive as usual.

 

Avi couldn’t stop his hand from reaching out and smacking the back of Fig’s head hard enough to knock his hat off his fool head. “Where have you been?”

 

“I went to get cook-water, the same as every morning.” Fig set the buckets down and rubbed at the back of his head with a frown.

 

“We have at least two dead and you went to fetch water!”

Fig grew pale at Avi’s words. “I didn’t know. Is it the man eating monster?”

“Just stay clear of the water for now and don’t wander off alone.” Avi walked off with a sigh.

 

 

Captain’s Log

Oct. 19, 101 A.D.

 

The search party was unable to find any sign of the missing scout. The rest of the men helped Avi build traps; they had worked at the other site, but I had a feeling they would fail us.

 

Moving camp seemed to help calm the men, but it also lolled them into a false sense of security. We were still on the same river and we underestimated the distance the monster would travel. No one else was killed, but it could be spotted skulking in the waters. Avi had made a sketch of its watching eyes, capturing the malicious intelligence in the slitted pupils and dark green irises.

 

After five days of moving and baiting traps, it was clear that the monster would not be tricked by dead bait. It didn’t want to eat scraps off the banks. It wanted to hunt and kill. I can see the wheels beginning to turn in Avi’s head. It will be interesting to see what reckless idea he has been brewing up.

 

 

 

Avi took a fresh kill to a favorite spot of the crocodile. The ground was like a sponge beneath his feet, with pockmarks of hoof prints and the occasional print of a lion, the rounded pad indents shallow by comparison. His own boot prints looked foriegn on the bank.

 

Avi dragged the gazelle back and forth along the bank, the blood running down and staining the water. The movement would make the monster think that the animal Avi held was wounded or that Avi was wounded, either would work.

 

With dusk upon them, the wildlife became more active and was the crocodiles prime hunting time, using the night as added camouflage. The monster in question was in the area, he had been spotted earlier in the day and there was no mistaking him for any other.

 

On the shore line, hidden behind blinds made of leaves, sticks and mud, Avi's team waited. Avi stopped at the water's edge to rest. Even while he rested he moved one hooved foot of the dead animal up and down, dipping it into the bloodied water.

 

 

Avi grew tired as dusk disappeared and slipped into night. The hollowed animal felt heavy in his arms and his legs were beginning to go weak. If the crocodile didn’t take the bait soon, they would have to stop and try again tomorrow. He heard a whistle pierce the night. The signal that their target had been spotted and just like that his fatigue was gone.

 

Avi’s eyes and ears were sharp and even so, he heard and saw nothing to warn him. The beast defied what should’ve been possible for its weight and size. Water came shooting up like a wave around a mouth that could easily fit an entire pig. Avi could hear the crunch of bone as the jaws snapped closed around the bait.

 

“Pull!” Avi yelled, yanking back on the bait with all his might. The monster's front feet, still in the air, came onto land a fraction more. If the beast got the chance, it would drag the bait and Avi into the water where it would have more of the advantage to kill and devour. Avi let go of the gazelle and stepped back.

 

The monster shook its prey from side to side, cracking more bones, before stepping back into the water and the thick net of ropes they had buried under the muck. The men in waiting pulled on the ropes drawing the net out of the mud and snaring the crocodile. At the same time Avi lunged forward and grabbed the ropes threaded through the gazelle. He wrapped them around its jaws making it unable to open its mouth to release the bait and go for one of them instead.

 

It thrashed, its thick tail pounding against the water. His men stumbled and had to fight to stay on their feet.

 

“Hold strong!” Avi commanded. “Together; One, two, heave…one, two, heave…”

 

They were able to wrestle the beast to land, where more ropes and a second net was used to restrain him. He rocked and twisted, using his excessive weight and strength to try to break free.

 

“Fig! Signal Otho to bring the cage.” The sooner they made the transfer the better. Avi preferred to move the animal as soon as possible—desperate animals were more dangerous.

 

Fig lit a torch and waved it side to side. The boat with the cage on it was wide and shallow to disperse the weight, and allowed several fingers of water from the river to flow freely along its bottom.

 

With everything in place, Avi gave the command to let loose the ropes. With its freedom, the crocodile would retreat back to the water, only with barriers on both sides it would have nowhere to go but into the cage. So was the plan.

 

Its movements were hindered, but still powerful. It made it to the edge of the cage and then tried to veer to the left, knocking into the barrier and men bracing it in place. The men dug their feet in, trying to hold the line as the crocodile pressed harder; Digging its own clawed feet and long tail into the ground for traction.

 

“The ropes. Pull them tight.” Avi yelled.

 

The crocodile barrel rolled to the right and knocked down the men and barrier on that side. The group slipped and fought to get traction under their feet. The ropes were pulled tight once more, but they were too tangled from the rolling and twisting to do their job.

 

Fig stood to the right like he just got caught sneaking sweets, with eyes wide and frozen to the spot.

 

“Fig, move out of the forsaken way!” Avi’s yelling got the boy moving, but he really was a fool, so instead of moving out of the way he rushed over to try to right the barrier.

 

“Leave it.” Avi’s order fell on deaf ears. The men that were on their feet began to right the barrier, putting Fig on the edge of the wooden wall instead of behind it where it was safe.  The crocodile still had its mouth restricted, but that didn’t stop it from hissing and trying to bite. It lunged forward and snapped at Fig, who on reflex threw his hands up. It was able to get enough of a hold to toss him back and forth by one of his arms.

 

Avi jumped on the crocodile's back and threw all his weight at the base of its neck. Fig was able to pull his arm loose. It was torn and bloody, but was in one piece. He moved out of the way this time when Avi told him.

 

“Leave the ropes and climb on.” Avi had seen this method used, but it hadn’t been on anything close to the size of this one, which was four to five men in length. It was a testimony to his team that they didn’t even hesitate. Each man climbed on like the crocodile was going to give them a horseback ride. The tired crocodile slowed and went still, overwhelmed by the weight of six men sitting atop it.

 

After the barrier was back up, Avi directed his team how to dismount and get out of the way. They dismounted one at a time in quick succession, retreating and reinforcing the hold on the barriers, with Avi being the last one. He pushed off the crocodile, who didn’t even attempt to attack. Sensing its freedom it gave a second attempt to run away, this time doing as planned and moved into the cage. Otho slammed the door down and the locks were put in place.

 

A twinge of sympathy went out to this ancient creature. It belonged here ruling this river, but all reigns came to an end.

 

 

 


Submitted: September 23, 2022

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