Birds erupted from the trees around us, screeching and flapping, upsetting the natural solitude of the place, the natural working order of the jungle behind us. There was no turning back after that had happened. After you disrupted nature, after you had upset the balance, my father had always said, itís your job to reset it.
Simultaneous with the clap of thunder from my fatherís rifle, the baby elephant staggered for a moment behind its father. It made an unidentifiable noise, half a loud yawn and half a trombone squeal, then fell face first into the ground, throwing up a plume of dust all around it and snapping one of itís undeveloped tusks at itís base. My father swore under his breath. The tusk was still partly attached to the babyís face, though, by way of some sort of pink connective tissue. The tusk, along with some of that stretched pink skin, was dangling out from under the small flap of one of the young elephantís ears like some sick vestigial organ.
The babyís tiny trunk was still hanging onto the tail of what I knew to be its father. The father turned towards us and trumpeted a sound like thick scrap metal being torn in half just before my fatherís firestick roared and the elephant father stopped dead in itís tracks. He wobbled on what looked to be liquefied knee joints for a moment, a quarter-sized hole in the right center of his broad forehead leaking a tiny line of black blood between his blank eyes, then began to tip over and fall onto his side slowly, almost comically. The monster of an animal just plopped right on his side with an ugly Ďthud!í into the water-saturated mud near the watering hole, firing raindrop-sized bullets of brownish filth in every direction. Blood poured like an obscene scarlet waterfall from the exit wound in the back of his blown-out skull case, spreading in tiny puddles and streams and mixing sickeningly with moist filth.
The mother elephant bellowed at us, backing up around her family, her ears flapping wildly around her head. My father just looked at her through his site for the longest time, watching her take tentative three or four step charges at us, all the time letting out brassy roars that were as loud as the blasts from my fatherís gun. He cleared his throat, quickly looking away from his target. Then he re-shouldered his rifle and took out one of her front legs.
The mother dropped, her leg jutting out to her side, glistening bone exposed. For a moment, she just crumpled to the ground, as if dead. I could see the awkward mountain of her torso gently rising and falling with each of her breaths.
Everything was all but silent for a while, the sun slowly poking itís head up on the horizon, the mother occasionally letting out thick nasal mewls that made my stomach turn and fall out from under itself.
Another blast from my father and the motherís left ear ripped in half and her rib cage imploded, her innards slowly began to leak out the side of her body. She made no sound.
After ripping the motherís side open with a grazing shot, my father threw his gun to the ground with a dry Ďclank-thump!í.
He pulled a long, silver, serrated-edged knife from its sheath on his belt. The razor edge winked at me in the mid-morning sunlight.
I sat down behind the massive trunk of the tree and looked into the jungle, six oíclock from where the mother was laying, my mind reeling, waiting for my father to pick up his gun again and finish her off, butcher her family, take their tusks, sell their ivory, whatever it was he did for his living out here. I heard my fatherís boots crunching the grainy dust of the ground under his heels as he walked towards me. I also heard a shuffling in the distance, the motherís dying, guttural high-pitched grunting, and then a noise like a heavy sack being dragged against dry sand.
I looked up over the fallen log, even though I didnít want to, and I saw the mother working her way towards us, pulling herself along on three legs, her gray dusty ears, one ripped in half, dried and rotten looking, dragging along the ground. Her trunk was upraised and she was trumpeting insanely, like she was choking on something. That noise, that deafening perversion of animal sound, it still rings clear in my head after nightmares, haunting me in that place between the unconscious and the waking.
I looked away as my father, his elephant rifle cast aside into a clump of grass sticking out from the brownish red dust of the ground, the huge knife firmly gripped in his hand, stepped over to me. He knelt in front of me, looking right on through me with those crystalline blue eyes, forcing emotions to pull back and forth through me like all the tides of all the oceans in history. He reeked of sweat and Old Spice mixed with burnt gunpowder and spiced rum.
This is a privilege, my father said, handing me the knife. I took it in my hands, palm on the handle and fingers gingerly supporting the blade. It was heavier than it looked. It was almost as big as my arm. My father and I were both standing up now, facing each other.
I could hear heavy shuffling, contorted rasping breaths, occasional bubbling trumpets.
I closed my eyes, feeling the weight of the knife in my hand and the weight of my fatherís hand on my shoulder.