George Carillion stalked through the sparse undergrowth of the African wilderness: the tanned stock of the shotgun heavy against the crook of his shoulder. Sweat trickled in fine beads down his creased forehead; the burning midday heat was relentless. George could feel patches of perspiration pooling under his armpits, the old, checked shirt he was wearing, sticking to his back like a large web. His throat was dry as the sun-bleached bones he had encountered in the shade of a marula tree moments before. He was exhausted. Overheated. Delirious. But all this discomfort was not enough to dissuade him. The fresh tracks of the beast were imprinted in the soil. Carillion was hot on the trail. As his expensive leather walking boots dug into the baking earth, George knew that he would not miss the white lion again.
Carillion was a true hunter. Born and bred for the pursuit and the kill. As a child in his native England he had known all along that it was his destiny. At barely eight years old George had gleefully revelled as he watched his father’s long-limbed hounds tear apart a screaming red coated fox. As a stocky, sandy haired teenager, he had felt ecstatic delight as his gunshot blasted forth, forever ending the life of a tawny antlered stag. It was his god given duty. To take life. To kill.
Thousands of creatures had met their end at his hands. George had travelled the world, slaughtering the great beasts of the tundra, the forest, the desert. Polar bears, rhinos, lions, tigers, panthers, the leopard. All of them fallen to his wits. He had gloried in the scream of a great elephant as he destroyed the beast with a shotgun blast, leaving its crying tuskless calf to fend alone. George had grown rich on the spoils of war. Many paid high prices for the beautifully skinned pelts of the animals he had slain, the ivory he had painstakingly cut. The known trophy collectors of the world turned to him when they wanted the job done and done well. They knew that when George was contracted to hunt for them – there would be no sentimentality. No tedious moral wrangling. George kept his word for the kill, no questions asked. And when word reached him that a rare white lion had been spotted stalking the South African landscape, the opportunity was too great to pass up. George would take the lion as a trophy, and the iridescent diamond white pelt would be his.
It had been many days since he began the search. Carillion had scoped out the area with the eye of a professional. Looked for the tell-tale signs that the great beast had passed through the land, marked it as home. Claw marks on tree trunks, scat in the soil. He didn’t sleep at night. Constantly alert and watching for his prey. George listened to the feral yips of a large hyena pack as they rustled fighting and fornicating through the undergrowth. He suspected they would lead him to the lion. Scavengers often followed predators in the hope they could steal some of their kills. For that reason, he was not going to turn his gun upon them.
Carillion sneered to himself as he listed to the whining devils. He had no problem shooting such vermin, and often did so. Deliberately aiming for the stomach so the wretched beasts would die painful, lingering deaths. Honestly. It was no more than they deserved. Might as well curse at a man for stomping on a rat or a cockroach. Vermin is as vermin does. Like the time he had strangled that scabby ginger haired prostitute at the sea front motel in Cape town. George had smiled as she struggled fruitlessly, drew one final desperate, wheezing breath. Whores were human parasites who lived off men’s blood. He was doing them a service. Causing them to die like that. If anything he should have been paid for the privilege. He remembered the golden haired call girl he met in a nightclub on the outskirts of Chicago. How she had screamed when he came towards her with the butt of his shotgun, caved her skull in like a boulder. There were many others of course. Good riddance to them all.
It took time. Many more hours. Many days. But the great search eventually paid off. Carillion saw the white lion walking alone – a vision in the far-off distance. The beast’s noble head was like finely carved marble. A truly exquisite sight. George grunted. He was an impeccable marks man of course but there was no guarantee he could make the shot at the distance. His aim was excellent but for that rich white pelt, George was not going to risk the off chance that he would potentially miss and spook the creature. It was his to hunt and he would make no juvenile errors. And so George tracked the lion. Tracked it through the African wilderness, not stopping to drink, to eat, to rest. Exhaustion bent him over double. But he would not quash the chase. Not now.
Eventually, Carillion found himself almost delirious from heat exposure and exhaustion. He was crouched in the thick scrub bushes hiding only a few metres away from his target. Trembling, shivering in a mixture of frenzy and exaltation he raised the shotgun and pointed it at the great beast. He aimed the gun directly at the lion’s forehead. No time to play around. The hunt needed to end. And quickly. George pulled the trigger, felt the sharp familiar kickback, the jolt as the gun slammed into action. The lion was hit immediately and crumpled to the ground like an oversized rag doll. Emerging from the bushes, Carillion walked towards it hazily and fell to his knees in an agony of fatigue and mania. The hunt was over. Finally he could rest.
Imagine his surprise when after a few moments the creature suddenly awakened, swiftly rose from the ground to stand firm on its massive paws. The gory wound between the eyes had vanished. The white lion stared at Carillion for a long bleak moment, then opened its mouth baring almighty jaws. It roared furiously, baying excruciatingly loudly into his face. George smelt the hot carrion breath. Felt the horrendous noise shake his entire body as it blasted deafeningly into his ear drums. And then it was over. The white lion turned around and fled, galloping magnificently into the far distance as if it had never been injured at all.
“No.” George groaned. Memories flooded through his consciousness. Suddenly he remembered. It had all happened before. Thousands of times he had hunted the white lion to the end. But no matter how frequently he shot it, the beast never died. It always awakened after the final gunshot then fled, leading him on a never-ending chase. Despaired Carillion hung his head only to be met with another horrific surprise. He gave a horrified screech. His hands and arms were nothing but bones, bleached, skeletal. He was already deceased. In fact, he had been dead a very long time.
George Carillion closed his eyes in an agony of despair. The first time the lion died, it didn’t get up. He remembered it all now. How the park rangers had caught him riding away with the skinned pelt in the back of his land rover. Waiting for bail at the local prison when some smart officer had entered George’s fingerprints into the criminal database and put two and two together. Crowds jeering as he stood handcuffed before the firing squad. The native tribes who had come to witness the execution, chanting a spell in the background to curse him for his crimes.
When he awoke in the boiling African heat, desperate for food and water, Carillion knew only that he sought the white lion. And as always, after George took the final shot to kill the beast, he longed desperately for one thing. The right to a proper end. The right to finally rest. As he fell into unconsciousness George prayed that he would not wake up again.
George Carillion stalked through the sparse undergrowth of the African wilderness; the stock of the shotgun heavy against the crook of his muscled shoulder.
Cordelia Harrison’s work can be found at Aphotic Realm, Idle Ink Magazine, and Mirror Dance, and has twice received Honorable Mention from Writers of the Future.