Sara C. Thomason holds an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. She was the winner of the 2014 RopeWalk Press Postcard Contest, and she was awarded second prize in the 2012 Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction Contest. Her work has previously appeared in Tin House online.
It’s been three days since the dogs have killed, and we wait at the foot of Darni’s bed for their calls.
“They’re hunting,” Darni says, cupping her hands to her ears. “Listen.”
We lean in—Tessa and me, close to the heat of her sunburned back and look out over the railing of the porch, into the darkness of the Okavango tented camp. Through the hum of the bush Darni hears grunting impala and the warning chirps of squirrel. Me and Tessa can only pick out the low growls of hippo at night, and that makes us weak.
“Bush meat,” Darni says. “Blind as worms.”
When the dogs paw up the path their ears are up and open—like satellite dishes, scanning the clearing around our tent. They listen for our light steps on the porch and when Darni says, “down,” we creep on our hands and knees over the boarded walkway and into the tall grass. We follow them through darkness. Bugs fog our heads like smoke, so we rise to our feet and run through the trees with the rest of the pack.
The dogs circle around us, jumping and biting at our elbows. They nudge our knees. We keep after them single file until the pack splits and spills like water into the mopane scrub. They flow in all directions, churning up thick smells of acacia and cat spray.
“The lions were here,” Darni says, pointing at smudged prints in the dirt. “Here and gone.”
“How do you know they left?” Tessa asks.
Darni stares us down, and locks her mouth with a pinched twist of her fingers. She throws away the key.
“Shhh,” she says. “Come on.”
When we get up close we see the kill, and Darni’s eyes go wild as the dogs tear apart a springbok. She drops and curls in a ball on the ground and we do too.
“Fetal,” she whispers. “This is what the babies do.”
The moon’s low, and it hangs like an eye while we wait for the dogs to drop bloody morsels at our sides. They do and take off for their den—back to their pups. We don’t kick the guts away like I want to. Instead we roll bits of organs like small balloons in the dirt until they’re powdered dry, and carry them back in the hems of our dresses. Darni calls this politeness.
At the edge of the marsh, she tells us this place is one big connected thing, that we can’t be wasteful, that something’s got to eat this stuff. She skips a kidney—and it hops three times like a minnow. We hear the slap of a tail, and dump all we have in the water.
“What was that?” I ask, but Tessa elbows me to be quiet.
Darni is standing in the moonlight facing us, eyes gleaming. She stretches one arm out in front of her and lets the other clap down like the snap of a jaw. She presses her finger to her lips and backs slowly into the tall grass. We follow her, and it closes around us like thick strands of hair.
We see them come in twos and threes, their muscular tails swishing through the marsh like snakes. They roll under, thrashing, looking for our gifts.