The sun is climbing from its bed. Treasure trucks lumber in from the city to dump their loads. Waraba is wetting the side of a rusted Bajaj. Little wheels point skyward, a three-legged carcass in a savannah of refuse. Waraba finishes and scans his domain. “Have you found anything good yet?”
Amadi rips open another black bag. He pulls out a stained shirt. A pointy-eared blue figure offers a playful smile, the foreigner’s benevolent interpretation of a jinni. He snorts and tosses it over his shoulder. “No luck yet.”
The best luck is in finding deliveries from the hotels. Harar has been polished and presented to the world as the jewel of Ethiopia. There are more farenjo than ever before, hungry for a taste of the exotic. Clumsy tourists are a blessing. A few years ago Amadi found a diamond ring. That was the day Waraba decided to become his best friend.
A rustle snaps Amadi’s attention from his sorting. A big hyena has wandered around one of the taller hills of garbage. It stops twenty meters away and their eyes meet. The real thing is gangly like Waraba, a deep belly suspended on too-long legs. Amadi relaxes and returns to rooting though tin cans and shreds of plastic. The hyena drops its nose to the ground and sniffs.
There is a flash of brightness in the dust. Amadi sweeps papers aside and gasps. The pistol is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. He lifts it with tender care. It glistens silver-blue like a liquid piece of sky. On the handle a purple light appears, a triangular shield surrounding the outline of a brain.
Waraba’s ears prick up. He dislodges some unidentifiable sliminess from his foot and trots over. The hyena has found a sheet of greasy cardboard. It rips off a chunk and watches the man’s movements with lazy interest.
Waraba holds out his hand. “Let me see it.”
There is an unnatural lightness to the weapon. The brain symbol flashes from soothing lavender to a sharp red. It pulses. Amadi sets it down. He does not find it so beautiful anymore.
Waraba shakes his open palm. “Did you hear me boy?”
Amadi hears rumors when the young men get together to chew khat. Countries where people bring their dead children back to life in new bodies. Wars fought between armies of robotic soldiers. The symbols on the gun tease another scrap of the impossible from memory. “I don’t think we should touch it. Some things now, they can only be used by the person that owns them. Sometimes there are traps for people they don’t recognize.”
Waraba’s world is too small to keep up with the tides of change. It pains him to feel so old. He laughs away the twinge in his gut which locks on to the tension in the youth’s voice. The hyena looks up from its meal and cocks its head. Waraba shakes his palm again. “Do not speak nonsense.”
Amadi puts a plastic bag over his hand and picks up the pistol. The elder takes it with a khat-stained grin. Amadi moves a few paces away and sits to process another patch for valuables.
Waraba checks for ammunition. His grin widens. He tests the weight and runs his fingers over the polished surface. “What luck! Hey, you are full of good ideas. We should get together and plan something. One look at this, and people will give us anything we want.”
Amadi pauses to watch the hyena for a bit. Its fuzzy ears swivel every time one of them speaks. “Not tonight. I’m seeing a girl.”
Waraba’s vision swims with images of future riches. He practices poses and imagines intimidating phrases he might use. “Soon, then?”
Amadi pretends to be too engrossed with hyena-watching to hear. There is a strange relaxation in observing the animal, which always seems to find exactly what it is looking for.
Waraba puts on a stern look. He aims at the hyena. “You! Give me your jewelry! Do it!”
The hyena flinches back at the explosion of sound. It pins its ears and bobs its bulky head up and down. The bushy tail makes a few agitated swishes.
Waraba pulls the trigger.
Amadi’s eyes pop wide.
The gun makes a soft ping. The hyena licks its nose and flicks an ear.
Waraba growls. He checks the ammo again, looks down the barrel, and examines the glowing symbol on the handle. The red brain pulses brighter, faster.
Amadi takes a few steps back. “Maybe we should forget about it, yeah? It could be calling for the police to come here.”
Waraba aims again. “Not cooperating, eh? How about this!”
He pulls the trigger. Ping. His eyes are hard, as if he is facing down some enemy who has done him a great harm. Ping. Ping. Ping.
Waraba screams. He flings the gun, which arcs to land on a pile of rotten goat hides.
The hyena bolts. Its tail curls over its back in a puff of black fur.
Curious, Amadi takes a stick and lifts a flap of hide off the gun. It is glowing ember-red. Burnt hair joins the smell of putrid meat. In the center of the blazing handle the shield and brain have returned to their original purple hue. He tucks the gun deeper into the pile and flips another hide over it.
Waraba is a good dancer. He shakes his hands and stamps his feet and bounces on the spongy ground. He invents new curses which Amadi commits to memory should they one day prove useful.
Amadi lifts a hand to shield his eyes from the growing intensity of the sun. The hyena has stopped a hundred meters away to greet another. They sniff each other between the legs and then go their separate ways, no doubt to find exactly what they are looking for.
Word count: 1,037
Inspired by Harar’s fascinating symbiotic relationship with the spotted hyena. I don’t think there is any other place on earth where dangerous animals have been integrated so smoothly into urban life.
She'll Just go to Sleep“She’ll just go to sleep.”
“I don’t know, Myra…”
“Remember the dog? No fuss, just lay down and went to sleep. Only took a few minutes.”
“I don’t think I can do this. My nerves are shot to pieces.”
“Perfect. Be hysterical. You gotta give them what they expect.”
“But what if it looks fake?”
“Come on, you got this. You’ve been complaining about going for days with no sleep. You had to park way out in the sticks and walk that heat in zombie mode. People want patterns, neat tidy explanations. It really is a brilliant idea. Wish I’d come up with it.”
“Thanks. You’re right. I shouldn’t be so worried. It happens all the time.”
“Exactly! Sure it’ll get hot for a while, but it’s not like they’re gonna charge you with murder. They aren’t mind readers.”
Seymore's SendoffJames Seymore
is no more.
soul stepped out the door,
what’s left a feast for beasts galore.
the greedy growl,
they stop to shop at his store.
Seymore sought reincarnation.
Adopted by hyena nation,
his essence in new eyes mother adores.
Just RightSomething was off about the Woods that morning. Papa Bear couldn’t define it, but the feeling lifted hairs on his back while he suggested the family cut their pre-breakfast walk short. The feeling solidified when they found the front door open. He poked his head inside the cabin and huffed in the intruder’s scent. A human female, young and injured. As he took in the last detail he noticed spots of blood leading to the kitchen.
Mama picked up Baby and held him tight. The scent of her fear pricked those hairs on Papa’s back as high as they could go under his shirt. He knew she was thinking the same thing. An injured human cub, in their house. Were the parents tracking it? Few things were more dangerous than a human who believed you were a threat to its cubs. Even unrelated cubs drew this ferocity from them. It hadn’t been a year passed since Big Bad Wolf found that out the hard way. Mama still made pies for Papa to drop off at the widow’s house on his way to
The King and the GhoulExcerpt from the Travel Journal of Dr. Babitunji, Chief Magician of King Sulakhan: Collected by T. P. Hade of the Nonhuman Cultural Illumination Project
Author’s Note: In 461BK, during the second year of his reign, King Sulakhan toured the outer reaches of the Saaraiah Desert to offer gifts to his citizens and learn more about his kingdom. This occurred in the town of Basieruz, now a popular tourist destination.
We did not tame magic with our intellect. The natural world perfected its use long before we attempted to define it with our convoluted theories. – King Sulakhan
The Head Man prostrated himself before us. Without waiting for permission to speak he told of the woes which had befallen the village. On every tenth day at noon an Ifrit would appear in the marketplace and demand money, food and drink, or women. If the spirit’s master was not satisfied with the previous offering a citizen would be taken at random, never to be seen again. As tomorrow was
Lizzie's Nightmare“Another raccoon?”
Jim popped up in bed, sleep shattered by the furious barking and his wife’s exclamation. This was getting ridiculous.
Amberlee bit her lip as she looked at the bedroom door. “Ohh, I hope this isn’t like last time.”
Jim grabbed his glasses and lurched to his feet. “Lizzie! Leave it!”
More barking. Jim lurched out of the bedroom, heading for the kitchen.
The grim events of the past weeks replayed themselves. Raccoon number one made it a few feet from the cat flap, presumably drawn in by the scent of the pet’s food bowls. Lizzie chased it on top of the kitchen cabinets. The thing screeched like a demon and wouldn’t budge even after he’d dragged Lizzie away and given it a chance to leave in peace. A wildlife rescuer captured it and released it far away, so that it could eventually become someone else’s problem. Raccoon number two didn’t reach the cabinets. Amberlee couldn’t stand t
HyperesthesiaShe’s not a princess, but her brain thinks she is. It feels peas everywhere. Peas in her cloths, her ears, her head. Prince not included.