The Hyena-Man

22 Sep

Kha, with thirty years experience as a hunter, did not accept the common idea prevailing in Egypt that the western desert was a place of limitless evil. He had been born in the last village in a sand valley branching off the Lower Nile. His father, with untold generations in the desert behind him, taught him the hunting craft from the son’s earliest years.

Kha acquired all the skills needed for capturing the typical game: bubal antelopes, wild asses, gazelles, ostriches, onyxes, wolves, wild sheep and goats, foxes, lions, leopards, wild bulls, and giraffes. There was even participation by him in several royal hunts of the Pharaoh.

The skills of throwing nets over game were mastered by Kha. He learned the art of throwing the Egyptian boomerang, as well as shooting arrows from a bow. Like most desert hunters, he collected and trained a pack of four-legged grey hounds. But Kha also became one of those elite stalkers who kept tamed hyenas.

In the wild, this small carnivore was accustomed to feed on carrion. It was a unique creature, with short hind legs, a bristly mane, and extremely strong teeth. In captivity, the hyena grew larger, heavier, and more powerful as a fighter. It was an animal to be feared everywhere by everyone.

The wolf-like hyena, hungry for flesh, possessed a strong, distinctive scent that could cover and hide its movements as it neared approaching game. It was known for shrill cries and mad laughter that announced its presence wherever it went. Kha became expert at taming wild hyenas, until in time he acquired a team of five such hunting assistants. He could not have foreseen what might result from his dependence on them as his helpers.

The raids began slowly, but soon picked up growing momentum. Large packs of hyenas made night raids on outlying villages around urban centers. Not just animals, but humans were slaughtered, dragged away, and consumed. As news of such depredation spread, the population along the Nile became anxious, then terrified. When would this menace to life come to an end?

Why were such things happening? Evil Set, the god of the desert, seemed eager to take merciless vengeance upon civilization. The numbers of casualties and losses soared higher and higher. No one understood what was causing such havoc. Rumor abounded. Some came to the ears of Kha when he brought captured game to a frontier town in the province of Fayum.

“I have seen their night marauders!” said a merchant. “These are tall, gigantic hyenas. At their head was a creature who resembled a man more than an animal. I could not believe what my eyes revealed to me.”

“That is interesting,” muttered Kha, ruminating on what it might mean. Could a human individual lead a tribe of wild hyenas? What would be his purpose, unless he too had become feral and uncivilized? That was what he had to conclude.

As he heard tale after tale of sheep and cattle stolen, of watchmen killed and devoured, the one report of a human being amid the mad hyenas, directing their attacks, stuck in the memory of the hunter. Was this a wild fantasy imagined by a victim? Kha doubted it could be anything but that. He decided to make an attempt to find out if there existed such a hyena-man.

Kha made his proposal to a goat-pasturer who was an old friend of his. “I believe that I can set up a trap to catch the one who is leading the notorious pack of wild hyenas,” he told the elder named Hebo. “With only three or four expendable animals, I can entice the troop of invaders to enter a location surrounded with plots, trenches, and nets. It can be done.” The old man searched the face of the hunter. “You believe the story of a hyaenix then?” Kha gave a look of confidence. “That seems to me a reasonable explanation of all the mischief.” “But what will you do with such a person if you catch him?” asked Hebo with anxiety. “Such a half-man is surely dangerous.”

A strange smile crossed the thin mouth of the huntsman. “I am curious, to find out what occurred to him to change his nature. Once the thing is in captivity, the brutal attacking should come to an end.” The two men looked at each other a short time. “Yes,” decided Hebo. “I shall provide you the goats you need for such a venture.”

Kha, all by himself, dug trenches and traps over an area in the desert, near the outer limits of a village of herders. He led the goats furnished by his partner to the outer and tied them to the stakes. Then he hid himself in a simple lean-to he set up. From here, he had a view of the arrangement and the approaches to it over the sand.

This will take considerable patience, the hunter said to himself again and again. Five nights of waiting occurred before a small group of hyenas came out of the dark, slinking slowly out of the dim desert.

It was at once plain to Kha that these were mammoth animals, resembling short humans. Sharp white teeth gleamed as if with internal light. The strong, recognizable stink of the species grew stronger as the line of animals advanced slowly, carefully toward the sleeping goats. At the end of the column of hyenas was a shape that appalled the watching hunter. A medium-sized human being covered with wild tufts of hair moved on two legs, in an upright posture. The body had human characteristics, but the face possessed none. Swollen lips and nose, wildly projecting eyes, heavy overhanging brow. All of these features conveyed a terrifying measure of potential physical hazard.

Kha feels his pulse quickening.

Is that head, is that face human? he wondered.

How can there be such combination of a man’s features with the hyenic? The animals in the foreground, having reached the goats, formed a circle around them. On the verge of descending upon the sleeping victims, the pack looked at the hyena-man as he approached their formation from the rear.

At that moment, Kha decided he had to act. I need not kill the being, with bow and arrow. Better to bring it down with a throw stick. He rose up out of the lean-to, the wooden weapon in his right hand, and hurled it with force at the head of the form in command of the marauders. The missile struck somewhere in the high rear of the head, bringing the target down to the sand. Instantly, the hyenas ran in all directions, disappearing into the dark. In moments, only the felled leader and the sleeping goats were left on the spot. Kha realized at once what he had to do: pick up the one he had brought down and examine it. If it still was living, new knowledge would be available.

Carrying the hyena-man to the house of Hebo was a hard, exhausting task. The unconscious organism was placed on a low cot, and allowed to rest. Its breathing was slow, but regular. Kha took a seat and sat beside it the rest of the night and through the morning of the next day. Shortly past noon, the frog-like eyes opened and stared around. “Where am I?” asked the one taken prisoner, surprising Kha and Hebo with its human speech. “It was I who caused you to fall to the ground and lose consciousness,” answered the hunter, taking control of the situation. “Since you were with a group of hyenas attacking this man’s goats, I took the responsibility of driving off the assaulters with a tossed weapon. My hope is that no permanent injury come to you. I carried you here in order to bring you to health and safety. I had no ill feelings toward you, none at all, believe me.”

The one on the cot raised his head; his eyes fixed on Kha, and started to speak in a low tone.

“You must help me get back to my pack brothers. They depend on my direction and will be lost without it. I am their father, their elder, their leader. They are waiting for my return. How can they survive as a family without me?” Kha decided on a bold inquiry. “How is it that you came to dominate these creatures?” Several moments of thought preceded the reply that was given.

“It is hard to remember all that happened. I know that I lived in a village on the edge of the red desert. Something horrible took place. In the period of a terrible drought, the inhabitants of the sands overran our location. Many people, including my parents and brother and sister, died or were killed. What happened to me was the strangest. I was taken away and adopted by certain hyenas. They made me a member of their pack. Since I already knew the speech of my parents, it became an inheritance that was never lost to me.

“But I learned to live and survive as one of them.”

The hunter posed a delicate question. “How do you define yourself, as human or hyenic?”

All at once, the being that would in the future be called a hyaenix leaped up off the cot and threw itself at its questioner. Startled and taken by surprise, Kha was unable to defend himself from the sudden, unprovoked attack. What occurred as the hunter fell to the floor would have forever remained impossible to have foreseen or predict.

The wild, maddened hyaenix moved its mouth to the exposed neck of Kha and tool a deep, bloody, bite. Its fanglike canines cut completely into the flesh, shredding vein and even arteries.

Hebo watched the mayhem in horror, unable to help the hunter in any way whatsoever. Slurping sounds came from the floor, where Kha lay in a coma of terror. Only after the hyaenix ran from the room, out of his house, did Hebo dare go over to examine his partner’s body. A large gash was visible on the side of the neck, where a painful, serious wound had resulted from the insane attack of the hyena-man.

Hebo ran for help from the villagers, shouting on the extent of injuries to his partner. He was able to find the local physician. Soon the latter was dealing with the severe wounds of the unconscious Kha.

Recovery took considerable time; the victim losing all track of its passing in the house of Hebo. A room was assigned to Kha for rest and restoration. The mind of the hunter seemed to lose its power of focused attention. His eyes wandered from wall to wall, as if trying to locate something unnamed and invisible.

Eventually, the patient was moved to a chamber with an opening looking out onto the western desert. His head raised up on a cushion, Kha stared at the sand for hours. His neck had linen bandages wrapped tightly about the slowly healing wounds. What were the thoughts coursing through the uneasy mind? An eerie attraction was drawing him toward the hyenic wastes where his attacker wandered in a pack.

Am I to become another hyaenx? the hunter asked the desert again and again.

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