An Appetite For Trouble by Chantal Boudreau
Location: A Jungle Temple
Blessing: Candy Bar
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An Appetite for Trouble
When Doctor Toyin Katabe, professor of anthropology, had been preparing for a journey to examine a potential find in the jungles of East Africa, the association awarding her the research funding had insisted she not go alone. It didn’t matter that she had originally come from that area and was familiar with the language and customs there. It also didn’t matter that she had been studying ancient cannibalistic civilizations since completing her masters three decades before. Despite the fact that she was perfectly healthy, far fitter than the average woman her age and stronger too, they had insisted she take a graduate student along with her, and preferably one who was both young and male.
While not surprised that the old-fashioned, old-money codgers who chaired the association had placed such foolish demands upon her, Doctor Katabe had still been insulted. She had always been perfectly capable of taking care of herself while on these outings. Extinct ancient tribes hardly posed a threat to the living. Insects were a much bigger danger, so unless a grad student was intending to follow her around with a giant flyswatter, she didn’t need him for protection.
Besides, Toyin knew her away around a jungle and had a talent with handling wild animals. She even owned a trained monkey, Bobo, as a pet. More than a pet really – she considered Bobo a service animal because he could do things for her she couldn’t manage for herself. He could scale heights or squeeze into tight spots to retrieve things for her, and he had a few other special tricks he could perform with the right incentive. As far as she was concerned, he was better than any graduate student playing assistant. And while she might welcome human companionship while searching for evidence of Neolithic cannibals in Europe or South America, she preferred to visit her home turf alone.
At least, this is how she had felt initially, before it had turned out that the extinct ancient tribe of cannibals hadn’t been quite so extinct after all. Doctor Katabe and her six-foot-two twenty-something chaperone, Derek, had been searching through the aged evidence of ritualistic cannibalism – cannibalism similar to that of the Mangbetu tribe that had brought them to the Congo Basin in the first place – when they were ambushed. The swarm of mostly-naked jungle natives that surrounded and seized them had painted faces and wore jewellery made from carved pieces of cranial bones. It reminded Toyin of a scene out of an old adventure serial.
Derek had tried to fight but was quickly overcome. Toyin had known better. She would wait until the odds lay more in her favour. That way, unlike Derek, she was conscious when they bound her arms. She could bunch her muscles as much as possible to allow some slack when she relaxed them later. It might provide her with the opportunity to escape when they were paying less attention.
Along with being taken by surprise and frightened by the cannibals aggressive swarming, Doctor Katabe also suffered the disappointment of watching Bobo scramble screaming into the jungle. His loss was more grievous than watching Derek succumb to a well-placed blow to the head. She had never counted on any real help from the grad student anyway. He was there merely as a watchdog for the privileged old men who had funded her trip to prove to their cronies they supported education and the exploration of different cultures, like good gentleman should. Bobo, on the other hand, was her right arm. Without him, her chances of escape dropped to almost zero.
Now, captured and held in their secluded village, Doctor Katabe had to admit that taking Derek along had been worth it after all. The cannibals had taken one look at his youthful form and brawn and decided to eat the grad student first. In their place, Toyin likely would have made the same choice. One look at her silvering hair, lean muscle and wrinkling dark skin, and she would have assumed such a person would make for a tough and stringy meal, like chewing old leather.
She had been forced to watch as Derek had begged for his life, the young man in tears as they had prepared him for decapitation with a well-balanced blade that resembled the Ngombe cult weapons. Toyin didn’t see the point to grovelling. If she ended up at a place past any hope of escape, she would accept her fate with dignity. Why get upset when death was inevitable?
But she wasn’t there yet – she still had hope despite watching blood gush from the place where Derek’s severed head had once rested and his brawny form twitch in its death throes. She had time too, the lost tribe still full after cooking and devouring her grad student. She only prayed Bobo would make an appearance before it was her turn. If he did, she might not end up serving as the second course.
Doctor Katabe was depending on Bobo to follow the tasty trail she had left him while on route to the secluded tribal village. Knowing Bobo’s affinity for sweets, the anthropologist had secured a small bag of stuffed figs from a vendor outside her hotel, which she kept in her pocket as rewards for the monkey. She also had a chocolate bar secured in her shirt flap, but that needed to be saved for emergencies only. With her hands only loosely bound in front of her, she had managed to ease the figs one by one out of her pocket and drop them along the way. As long as Bobo’s appetite for treats drove him forward, he would reach her eventually. Toyin was relying on that.
In the meantime, she had been worrying at the ties that bound her wrists and she was close to the point where she would be able to free her hand to use as she pleased. She would need that free hand when Bobo arrived, in order to reach the chocolate bar in her possession. Her fate would be decided in that one moment: would she be liberated or would she be lunch? She certainly was aiming for the former rather than the latter.
Toyin had been pretending to sleep on the mat they had laid out for her, still struggling with her bonds, when she heard the first delightful signs of that Bobo had arrived, making curious little noises from the shelter of the trees. His arrival happily coincided with the somewhat painful removal of one hand from the ties. She smiled inwardly. The cannibals had no idea she was about unleash her worst weapon upon them.
Unbeknownst to the cannibals, the anthropologist truly had trained her monkey to protect her with the right prompts and the right incentives. Fortunately for Doctor Katabe, Bobo would do anything for chocolate, including attacking people upon her command.
“Chocolate, Bobo – chocolate,” she whispered, sliding the candy bar from her shirt flap. It was squishy, melted from the heat, but the monkey wouldn’t care. Toyin tore the oozy packaging in two, passing one to Bobo who had emerged from the shadows of the trees with his mistress’s tempting summons. She returned the other half to its original location. “You know what you need to do for the rest of it,” she told Bobo as he sucked the last of the brown, sugary sludge from his half of the wrapper.
The next few seconds that followed were pure chaos, when Bobo’s shrill shrieks attracted the cannibals. Once they came into view, he set upon them as if rabid, leaping upon heads, scratching at faces and biting at ears, gouging at eyes and clawing at scalps. Multiple attempts were made to grab at him, but he was more agile than those who sought to snatch him up. Soon cries of agony and blood from the rending of flesh added to the pandemonium. Toyin took the opportunity to free her ankles from their ties, while her captors were fully distracted by Bobo’s rampage. After a few hearty rubs to restore some feeling to her numb legs and feet, she lurched away from her mat and sprinted off into the jungle.
Her flight was hurried and haphazard, trying to put as much distance between her and the cannibal village before they noticed she was gone. The adrenaline generated by the memory of what had happened to Derek kept her running long after she normally would have succumbed to fatigue. When she finally did slide to a shaky stop, she had to count herself lucky for not tripping on some root or stone in her path, or impaling herself on some unfortunately-placed tree branch. She could no longer hear Bobo’s enraged hoots or the cannibals’ shouts of distress. Either they had managed to subdue him, drive him off, or Toyin had succeeded in running far enough that they were all now out of earshot.
She hoped Bobo had survived unscathed and had made his own escape. If so, she would definitely see him again. He would most certainly track her by scent, demanding the remains of his prize once he had found her. Doctor Katabe, in the meantime, would rest as best she could until morning, when she would reorient herself using the rising sun and make her way back to base camp and then the hotel. She had gathered more than enough data by that point to consider her venture into the Congo Basin a successful one.
Toyin realized, as she settled down into the greenery to relax under the moonlight, that her stomach was grumbling. She hadn’t eaten in over a day, the cannibals having only provided her with water to drink. For the briefest moment she contemplated devouring the second half of the gooey chocolate bar resting securely in her shirt flap. She reminded herself that it would be far better not to, despite the temptation. The melted candy would only dampen her hunger temporarily. After the crash from the sugar high, she would feel far worse.
And then there was Bobo. If and when he returned to her, she could only imagine how he would react to the fact that she had robbed him of the other promised half of his reward. His response to her would likely be more violent than his attack upon the cannibals. Toyin didn’t want to risk that, not when her monkey had such an appetite for trouble.
With that in mind, she left the chocolate bar where it was. She’d rather not invite that kind of pain.
Closing her eyes, with the vague chance of sleep, Doctor Katabe prayed that no other denizens in the area would also decide she looked and smelled like lunch. She had had enough of playing potential snack for a lifetime.
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