When John Caine, an obscure midlevel banker from Detroit, accepts the opportunity of a lifetime to manage the backroom business functions of an important National Institutes of Health research lab in Bethesda, he believes his ship has finally come in. But his quirky penchant for illicit tinkering results in the creation and accidental release of a powerful new virus with effects no one could have imagined. Only he holds the answer to how it can be stopped, and he's not telling. Caine finds himself confronted with a desperate White House and an onslaught of rage from all quarters of the world's bureaucracies.

Fast paced, provocative, and offbeat, this cautionary story is thick with political satire and intrigue. It occurs in a world of government turned upside down, where Nancy Pelosi is president of a dysfunctional United States under her ultraliberal regime, while George Bush is a convicted felon and Rush Limbaugh a fugitive. Caine's Pestilence brings together present and former U.S. presidents, would-be assassins, two Supreme Court chief justices, familiar national media political commentators, and the infamous prison at Guantanamo Bay, all in a story readers will find engaging and controversial.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


short fiction by John Bascom
Copyright © 2014 John G. Bascom

From:                "John Bascom" <john.bee@cheapnet.com> 
To:                   "Eliot Tongas" <Eliot.Eliotstrophybearhunts@AlaskaiNet.com>   
Date:               August 16, 2014
Subject:           Bear Hunt Final Arrangements

Hello, Eliot

I've dropped the check in the mail for the last payment on our fall black bear hunt with you at Que-eye-ow Island.  My son-in-law, Curtis, is sending his today, and this should complete the arrangements for our hunt to end all hunts the week after next.

Just something I wanted to mention to you about Curtis, although it probably isn't really necessary.  He's eagerly looking forward to this and I really want him to have a good time and a successful hunt.  It's also important to his wife, my daughter, Beth, since she feels he needs to do this for his self-esteem.  Unlike me (I've taken mulies and antelope in Montana, whitetails in the Texas brush country to name only a few), he's only shot a handful of small birds and local deer, and badly at that.  I'm afraid he has something of a delicate constitution, being an English literature major in college and all. I think you get the picture. Anyway, he may be in over his head on this hunt.  I'll help him as much as I can, but it would be great if you could be aware of his limitations and go the extra mile to nurse him through this.  And, remember, this is just between the two of us.

I'm looking forward to stalking big bears up the wild rivers and over the Alaskan rain forest mountains of Que-eye-ow Island.  I've been doing a little extra to get in top shape (not that it's needed) like running miles each night and serious weight training daily.  I'm ready!

See you in two weeks.


From:               "Curt Kendall" <curtisken789@gmail.net>
To:                   "Eliot Tongas" <Eliot.Eliotstrophybearhunts@AlaskaiNet.com>   
Date:               August 17, 2014
Subject:           Last Payment

Greetings, Eliot

I just posted the balance of my bear hunt guide fee to you.  I can hardly wait for the hunt to end all hunts to begin aboard your boat, Bruin Cruiser, on Kee-owe-ee Island in barely two short weeks.  I've been reading up on bears and wanted you to know I'll be holding out for a real trophy, one that squares somewhere above 7 ½ feet.  Boone & Crocket record book material.  I'm accustomed to rigorous hunting for long periods and using my advanced skills honed over many hunts to take exceptional animals.  Indeed I am ready, willing and able to do whatever it takes. 

I did want to make you aware on the Q-T of some issues with my hunting partner and father-in-law, John.  He's elderly (up into his 70s, now), quite overweight and getting a little "addled", if you catch my meaning.  He tries hard enough by ambling a few blocks a night or two each week and attempts to exercise now and then with a pair of two-pound dumbbells.  He puts up a good show by telling everyone he is "running" and doing "weight training," an innocent enough exaggeration if not a delusion!  Ha ha. Anyway, my wife, Beth, and I want this to be a great hunt for him as it may be his last, given his age, physical condition, and flagging faculties.  I'm sure you understand.  I'll do what I can to prop him up and humor him along, but if you could be mindful of his "issues" also and make necessary allowances, it would be great.


From:               "Curt Kendall" <curtisken789@gmail.net>
To:                   "Beth Kendall" <beffy.boo@hotmail.net>
Date:               September 1, 2014
Subject:           Arrived Magnificent Kee-owe-ee Island

Hey, Babes

Arrived at Bower's Bay on Kee-owe-ee Island  in Southeast Alaska's inside passage.  You wouldn't believe the beauty and isolation of this place.  I'm amazed we can send e-mails over the sat-phone.

I reaffirmed to Dylan, the guide I'll be hunting with (Eliot's assistant—I wanted the younger guide who can keep up with me), that I'm after a nice boar bear, over 7 ½ feet in hide length.  I've been doing my reading and know they sometimes get them that big up here. 

We talked about hunting spots and I insisted on Halla-Luki Creek that empties into Chatham Straight behind some little islets just around from the mouth of Bower's Bay where we're anchored aboard "Bruin Cruiser."   I think the creek name means "Giant Bear" or something like that in Tlingit, the language of the local Indians.  I'm not positive.  Should be salmon running up it now.  It's apparently harder to hunt than some other streams but I learned online it has harbored a few monsters in the past.  I think it's the one.  Anyway, they tried to talk me into hunting one of the smaller and easier streams.  Ha ha.  Might be fine for your dad but they don't know me!  I'm definitely up to it if that's what it takes to get the big one.

And speaking of your old man, he seems eager if clueless, and I mean that in a good way.  I just hope he can handle the extreme hunting.  Eliot's taking him up Brown Creek tomorrow, one with few bears but an easy walk.  Hopefully your dad will enjoy it if nothing else.  I'll keep an eye on him for you.

I miss you but, honestly, am so excited about this hunt it's all I'm thinking about.  I know the time apart doing "our own thing" will actually be good for us.

Expecting to get the big one soon if not tomorrow.  I'll let you know when I do.


From:               "Curt Kendall" <curtisken789@gmail.net>
To:                   "Beth Kendall" <beffy.boo@hotmail.net>    
Date:               September 2, 2014
Subject:           Horrible Halla-Luki Creek Today

Dearest Beth,

Today was rugged.  We hiked up "Big Bear Creek" all day.  It was a tangle of deadfalls and thick brush.  The underwater stones were like boulders.  My feet kept catching between them.  If there had been a bear, I couldn't have seen him at ten yards!  But there was NOTHING.  We heard something ahead a few times, but could never tell what it was.  And my guide, Dylan, kept getting so far in front of me he'd have spooked anything way before I could have been in a position to shoot.  I only fell because I had to rush to keep up with him.  I just can't believe they took me up there.  Still, given the circumstances I think I did extremely well.

I'm going to talk to the guides at dinner and suggest a different place tomorrow with more shooting lanes and a chance to see a nice seven foot bear.

Your dad is still out hunting.  I doubt he saw anything but just hope he's holding up.

Love and miss you,


From:               "John Bascom" <john.bee@cheapnet.com>
To:                   "Nickie Bascom" <nickiegirl@cheapnet.com>
Date:               September 2, 2014
Subject:           End of First Full Hunting Day

Hello, Nickie-Dear, from Que-eye-ow Island

Well, I'm back from hunting up Brown Creek all day and it was interesting.  The going was hard but I did well.  Only fell a couple of times and then just because I was led into impossible areas.  My waders never filled completely with water.  It wasn't hard keeping up with my guide, Eliot, as he stopped to watch and glass for bears frequently.  He actually slowed me down.

The creek was thick with salmon and we saw lots of bears.  I had a shot at a nice boar that Eliot said was nearly seven feet, but my sights were off.  Through no fault of mine, I missed due to a defective scope, and my gun jammed when I tried a follow up shot.  Saw other bears over six and a half feet, but they were too small to take.  Glad I took the time to get in shape and practice with my rifle.  I'm going to re-sight it and check the function of the action tomorrow.

Your loving husband,

From:               "Eliot Tongas" <Eliot.Eliotstrophybearhunts@AlaskaiNet.com>
To:                   "Sara Tongas" <Saratong@AlaskaiNet.com>
Date:               September 2, 2014
Subject:           From Eliot on Kuiu

Hello, Sara

Well, we're off to an unusually shaky start.  The one client, Curt, insisted against our advice that Dylan take him up Halla-Luki, which as you know means Impassable Creek.  Claims he read on the Internet about big bears there, but it's news to me.  We've never taken one up that creek like I tried to tell him.  He floundered and fell several times, and scared off a few doubtless smaller bears Dylan heard splashing while they were chasing salmon in the shallows up ahead.  The client couldn't keep up and came back beat-up and exhausted.  Of course he blamed everything on Dylan.  He originally maintained he would take nothing unless it was over seven and a half feet, but this evening is talking about looking for one "near seven feet." 

The other guy, John, is just as bad.  He kept falling, and even when he didn't I constantly had to stop and wait for him, pretending to be searching the area for bears so as not to embarrass him.  Then he wounded a seven-footer at eighty yards and blamed it on his gun.  Like I haven't heard that excuse before!  And neither can pronounce Kuiu for some reason.  It's getting irritating.

As usual, it's beautiful here and even with the first-day commotion, it's good to be out hunting I guess.  Still, I've been thinking again about the opening at the fish cannery we talked about.

All my love from your husband,


From:               "Curt Kendall" <curtisken789@gmail.net>
To:                   "Beth Kendall" <beffy.boo@hotmail.net>    
Date:               September 3, 2014
Subject:           Unbelievable Brown Creek

My Darling Wife,

I didn't believe anything could be worse than yesterday, but today on Brown Creek took the cake.  The bottom was jagged, slick rubble and I lost my footing nearly every other step.  The walking was so noisy the bears could have heard us coming a mile away.  There were huge downed trees across the entire narrow creek at every bend.  We saw a few tiny cub-like juveniles, but that was it.  And Dylan kept racing ahead of me again.  It was dark by the time we got down to the bay where the skiff had been left for us.  You wouldn't believe the water I drained from my waders back at the boat.  I gave Dylan and Eliot a piece of my mind at dinner this evening. 

And your father is insufferable.  I'm just being honest, not critical.  He rants at dinner with his far-right political drivel and tries to bait me about my centrist political beliefs.  Fortunately our guides see right through him and are sympathetic to my well thought out views as opposed to his psychotic diatribes.  He keeps bragging about the size of the bear he missed yesterday, and the others he saw but "passed on."  I'm sure!  And he's blaming his poor shooting on his gun.  Spare me!  I'm embarrassed for him.  I don't know how or why Nickie puts up with him.

We may take a break tomorrow and do a little fishing to let the bear-thing reset for a day.  It was Eliot's idea, but I think it would be for the best.

I miss you desperately and can't wait to get home.  I'm not sure this trip was such a good idea, but I felt it should happen only because it is probably your father's last chance.  Pray for me.  Still hoping to get that six and a half foot bear and get this over with.


From:               "John Bascom" <john.bee@cheapnet.com>
To:                   "Nickie Bascom" <nickiegirl@cheapnet.com>
Date:               September 3, 2014
Subject:           Second Day

My Dearest Wife,

Well, I started this morning by shooting my rifle at a target Eliot set up on the beach.  Amazingly it was back on "zero."  And the action was working properly again.  I must have bumped it a second time on my way back last night and knocked everything back as it's supposed to be.  Like when I kick the lawn mower at home to get it running.  Go figure.

No bears today, though.  We sat on a hill above the mouth of a tiny creek that comes in from Bower's Bay.  I was looking for wolves Eliot said were often there, or bears fishing in the creek.  It was filled with salmon, but no game.  Eliot seems to think I may have winged that bear the first day up on Brown Creek.  By Alaska law, that would end my bear hunting.  I'm sure I didn't hit it and told Eliot as much, but I hope he didn't bring me to Little Fish Crick just to keep me occupied and away from bears.

Curtis has been piece of work.  Apparently he pretty much staggers down the rivers like a drunk and makes so much noise no respectable bear would hang around.  That's what I put together listening to his guide, Dylan, talking with Eliot out of Curt's earshot.  They're going to give him a rest by taking us fishing tomorrow (which is fine by me) and leading him down easier streams after that.

And he is a pain in the backside at dinner, spewing his ultra-liberal crap.  I had to call him out on it a few times to set him straight.  The guides just rolled their eyes; no liberals in the Alaska outback.  I think they respected me for speaking out.

I can't believe what poor Beth has to put up with.  I had no idea.  She is a saint!

Love you tons and can't wait to come home.  Don't know why I did this except to help young Curt.


From:               "John Bascom" <john.bee@cheapnet.com>
To:                   "Beth Kendall" <beffy.boo@hotmail.net>
Date:               September 4, 2014
Subject:           From Kuiu Island

Dearest Daughter Beth,

Just a quick note to say Curt and I are well.  No bear yet, although I nearly bagged a big one but for an equipment malfunction.  Curt is struggling along as best he can and I think, in his own way, is trying.

Remember, Nickie and I will always be here for you.  If you ever need some time to yourself, a place to stay, or simply someone to "talk to," just say the word.  It must be very difficult.  I hate to say "told you so," but…

Thinking of you.  Stay strong.

From:               "Curt Kendall" <curtisken789@gmail.net>
To:                   "Nickie Bascom" <nickiegirl@cheapnet.com>
Date:               September 4, 2014
Subject:           From your son-in-law


First, John is fine, through no doing of his own.  I've been caring for him as best I can.

Spending this time with him has made the cross you bear all too apparent.  You have my undying admiration and respect.  And Beth feels exactly the same.  If you ever are at the "end or your rope," need to talk, to get away, or simply be consoled, remember we will be there for you.  We understand and love you all the more for your trials and tribulations.  Hopefully you will find solace knowing Beth and I share your terrible secret and are ready to support you.

Your devoted son-in-law,

From:               "Eliot Tongas" <Eliot.Eliottetrophybearhunts@AlaskaiNet.com>   
To:                   "Sara Tongas" <Saratong@AlaskaiNet.com>
Date:               September 4, 2014
Subject:           HELP

My Beloved Wife, Sara

Just when I thought it couldn't get worse…

John's rifle turned out to be fine after wounding his bear the first day, although he won't accept that fact.  Keeps insisting he missed and he should still be allowed to take another.  I took him up to Little Fish Crick yesterday, where, as you know, there are no bears.  We wasted the day there looking for "wolves."  Ha ha.  Curt went with Dylan on upper Brown Creek and nearly killed himself again.  He kept trying to get a shot at a few cubs they saw along the way.

And they both do nothing but harangue everyone about their lunatic political beliefs at dinner EVERY night!  It's actually painful.

Tomorrow I'm taking John "wolf-hunting" (sure) again, and Dylan will go down the easy Bower's Creek with Curt.  Only small, if any, bears in it, but at least he won't finish the job of killing himself there, which he seems so set on.

And see if you can get that cannery guy's phone number for me to talk to when I get home.  Seriously.

Miss you,



Check out the complete story "UNDELIVERABLE: ERROR CODE 32776" in Bascom's upcoming book, Beneath a Hunter's Sky in 2015

Thursday, September 25, 2014


Excerpt from The Fight of the Century

by John Bascom (Copyright 2014)

No fiction here, this story is true to the most minute detail.  At least according to my recollection.

Boxing historians say it was the 1923 Dempsey-Firpo bout with eleven knockdowns between the men before Jack, the Manassa Mauler, ended it for good in round two.  Then there are those who swear by the Joe Louis-Max Schmeling rubber matches of the '30s, with the Nazi-era German white hope Schmeling KOing the Brown Bomber in twelve the first time, only to be mercilessly destroyed by Joe in the first round of the rematch.  The second fight between Ali and Smokin' Joe Fraser, the Thrilla in Manila, is still touted by fans as the most memorable of an era.  Bitterly contested, it ended in the 14th with a TKO of Joe, but
only after punishment had been heaped upon Mohammad.  My personal best Ali fight was the Rumble in the Jungle when unbeaten, powerful, and overwhelmingly favored George Foreman, an Olympic gold medal winner and reigning world heavyweight champion, at the time in his absolute prime, was knocked reeling across the ring, clutching at the air for nonexistent support before crashing slow-motion-style to the canvass in the eighth.  He didn't get up. 

But for my money none of those qualifies as the fight of the century.  That occurred in 1956 at the Catholic Youth Center, the CYC, in the old, quiet and treed, the idyllic close-in St. Louis suburb of Webster Groves, Missouri.  I was one of the combatants.

That year marked an era apart from the twenty-first century world of today.  The nation was heady in the glory of our righteous and still fresh triumph over power and evil in World War II.  Korea was a fast-fading memory and a "can do" attitude of pride and optimism defined our national psyche.  The GI bill had given thousands of vets a previously unthinkable opportunity to attend college.  Jobs were abundant; tract houses sprang like new June corn from recently vacant, rag-and-milkweed choked lots just on the outskirts of cities and towns.  

General Eisenhower, the war's conquering hero, gray and steady, wise and strong, was our president.  Crews constructed new and awe inspiring expressways across the nation, while families bought cars and appliances they had seen advertised on television, back then still regarded as an innovative and amazing new technology.  

Lucy & Ricky mugged, Jackie Gleason and his Honeymooners clowned, and Elvis made his appearance wailing and gyrating to Hound Dog while he wooed hysterical teen girls down Lonely Street to the Heartbreak Hotel.  A brand-new stick shift Chevy or Ford V-8 fresh from the showroom floor could be yours for under two thousand dollars.  Every family seemed to have a new one, many were adding a second.  They could be fueled with premium hi-test ethyl for twenty-five cents a gallon.  Hand dipped ice cream was a nickel for a one scoop cone, and dime if you wanted two.  And I was a twelve year old, seventh grade student at the local Webster Catholic elementary school, Holy Redeemer, unsuspecting that I was about to have the fight of my life.

Father Kaletta, a young and hip priest, wavy haired, good-looking and energetic, was the assistant pastor—today he would be called a youth pastor.  It was he who would come to our school classroom across the parking lot from the church to talk to the students about religion or some activity or event being planned.  Father Ernst, the old and serious and gray-headed pastor, stayed secluded in the rectory.  As far as we children knew, he concerned himself with Sunday sermons, grumbled about parish finances, and in general dealt with the adult parishioners, with our parents, on serious and mysterious matters beyond the understanding of mere kids.

And I believed then Father Kaletta hated me.

As a prepubescent seventh grader I was boney-ribbed skinny, small for my age and an only average student on my best day.  And I was painfully shy to the point of being withdrawn.  Girls, of course, a world apart from mine in those days, absolutely terrified me.  
I hung out enough with other boys from school or in the neighborhood, though, but recoiled from any group attention, particularly so if the audience contained adults or other, especially older, kids I didn't know.  Reciting lessons in class among students I knew well was one thing.  It caused a little nervousness but was something I managed through.  But the thought of participating in a school-wide play in front of everyone or being asked to say something to a collection of parents caused me to tremble in panic.  Occasionally students would be enlisted to take part in a church service, leading a prayer or reading from the Gospel.  Naturally I would shrink away from anything that horrifying.

So it was that I, slight and pale-skinned, freckled and redheaded, quiet, unsure and unaccomplished, would hang back in safe obscurity when Father Kaletta came to recruit kids for his latest activity....continued in the book Beneath a Hunter's Sky  


Look for The Fight of the Century and other stories in Bascom's upcoming book, Beneath a Hunter's Sky, due to be published in 2015

Friday, September 12, 2014


Kuiu Island, Inside Passage, Alaska

Kuiu Island, Alaska has the largest 
population, and the largest size, black bears in the world.

"Emydon" at sunset

The 50' diesel powered vessel
Emydon (right) was our floating base in the waters of Kuiu Island


Guides Kyle (lft), Eli (rt) and client Curt (ctr)
Sea life such as these breaching humpback whales were abundant in the surrounding waters, in addition to otters, sea lions, seals, bald eagles
Curt's big bear
John & Curt hike to trout stream
John with big Coho caught from stream


John Bascom in Petersburg AK
Look for the Kuiu Island adventure story, "Curt's World Record Kuiu Island Bear Hunting Trophy" in Bascom's upcoming book of outdoor stories Beneath a Hunter's Sky in late 2014

Monday, June 2, 2014


by John Bascom (Copyright 2014)

NineCONCLUSION: A New Beginning

After lunch back at camp Nickie and I relaxed, read a little, and socialized with camp manager Sharon.  Our hunting was over and Wil busied himself with the paperwork. 
It was mid-afternoon when the skinners brought the fleshed and boiled skulls of our
trophies with horns attached and arranged them in a display on the lawn against the backdrop of the Chenje.  The men stood proudly at parade rest behind the array, feet spread and hands clasped low behind their backs.  The skulls were brilliant white as if they had been baking under the sun of some desert for years, and the horns were dark black, boiled and cleaned of the dirt from the bush.  The skinners, rugged and scruffy appearing men compared with our starched and pressed waiters, wore wrinkled shorts and stained t-shirts.  Still it was an impressive sight and a statement on the tough, strong people of the Zambezi Valley.  We snapped a few photos, then Nickie and I posed with the trophies while Sharon took a few more.
We had an early dinner, a fine and fitting feast for our last night in camp.  We were to leave early the next morning to meet our pilot, Ahmad, at the Chenje airstrip and board the Centurion for our flight to Victoria Falls.  Nickie and I went to our tent immediately following our meal to finish packing.
Nickie was efficiently fitting our belongings into our duffel bags as only she can.  I had finished cleaning my rifle and was stowing it and the supplies in a hard, secure travel case.
"It's still unbelievable how well we did," I said.  "The entire thing was just outstanding."
"It was a fine safari.  I'm so glad it was successful for you."
"Did you really have a great time?  You seem sort of lukewarm."
"Everything we saw and experienced was wonderful.  It's just that it was a little hard on me physically."
"Seeing that lion crouched on the riverbank only yards away was a highpoint," I said.  "I'm sorry it was rugged at times.  I know it's not the Ritz.  Thanks for putting up."
"The heat was oppressive, and the walking before I was banished.  The worst was being crushed in the middle of that truck bench seat between you and Wil.  It wasn't built for three.  And when I sat in the open, up in the back, I was always getting swatted by low-hanging brush.  The pounding for hours on those excuses for roads may have actually been the worst.  My back is still sore."
"I know.  I'm still nursing my blisters and missing toenail."
"And Wil was insufferable.  He talks to himself, you know.  I could see his lips moving and hear the whispers as we were driving around."
I hadn't noticed, but still had to laugh.
"And he was so rude out in the bush.  Charming and talkative back at camp, but a different man when we were hunting.  I didn't like the way he treated us at all.  I hope you're not going to give him a tip."
"It got better near the end," I said.  "Sort of.  And I can't believe his knowledge and work ethic.  He's the most focused and goal-oriented soul I've ever met.  The results were incredible.  What a safari!"
"Still…I think he was unprofessional.  We were paying him, not the other way around.  I don't think he should get anything more from us."
"Honestly, Wil was part of the challenge and excitement.  For me, it made everything all the more satisfying.  His peculiarities were beyond interesting and added to the uniqueness of the entire experience.  And with his background—the heir apparent to a profitable farm, the boss man even as a teen—I'm sure I couldn't help being a little bitter myself if all that was taken through no fault of mine.  His behavior in the field is simply all he knows."
"Well…just so you know, this is my last hunting trip," Nickie said.  "It was wonderful and all.  But like we talked about when I agreed to come with you, next time we'll go to an all-inclusive resort in the Caribbean for our vacation."
"We had talked about an Alaska bear hunt instead of coming here.  There's always that still out there."
"I'm just saying."
"It was either-or, never both."
I recalled what Sharon had said a few days ago at dinner.  Our clients come to take an elephant, a leopard or lion only once.  But they come back for buffalo.  There was that to think about, too.  Maybe…just maybe…
Nickie continued packing and I made up the envelopes for the gratuities.  I expressed my appreciation by giving no less than the already generous amounts recommended by our booking agent.  There was Levi, the middle-aged and getting-thick-in-the-waist tracker, tireless and skilled, the man who could not do enough for me.  "Gun, Boss…," holding out his hand to relieve me of my burden during a particularly long and hard trek.  I placed something extra in his envelope.  And of course the game ranger, Gilbert.  Then there were Sharon and Jerry, who had made our stay wonderful in every way, who had become genuine friends.  The kitchen staff—waiters, cooks, clean-up—the outstanding meals, they all received something extra.  And Wil?  I placed the full recommended amount in his envelope, but no more in his case.  His talents had resulted in a remarkable take of game, but his poor communications skills, rudely critical behavior, and absence of coaching cost him what would otherwise have been an additional several hundred dollars, not a small sum in the austere Zimbabwean economy.
As Nickie was going through her nightly ritual of preparing for bed, I had a chance to reflect on the entire safari experience.  I'd heard it said Africa could be life-changing for a westerner.  I hadn't truly understood the import of those words, but did now.  It's a simple concept that everything has a beginning and an end.  And the end of a thing, especially if it was good, marks a new beginning for something else.  It's the most basic of ideas, but one that is fully grasped only by we humans, and it is the basis of all religion, for man's unique capacity to plan and design, for our dominion over the world's animals, and for civilization itself.  And I saw in that moment, at the end of our safari, I was a changed man.  The African bush and its animals had transfigured and resurrected me.  I knew, going forward, the end of this safari would mark the beginning of a new and better chapter in my life—in our lives.  That Africa had awarded me another chance at wholeness, however brief or enduring it may prove to be.
Nickie had completed her preparations, performing a few final tasks before getting into bed.  She was cheerfully humming a familiar popular tune, one I recognized well.  I could tell she was feeling happy and carefree, too.
"Are you going to be coming to bed?" she asked.  "They'll be shutting off the generator anytime."
I liked to act silly with her when we were both feeling lighthearted.  I liked to make her smile.  I stood in front of her and placed my hands on her shoulders.
"Today, while the blossom still clings to the vine…"   It was what she had been humming.  "I'll taste your strawberries, I'll drink your sweet wine."  I sang in my awful monotone, exaggerating it to be comical.
"You didn't give Wil a tip, did you?"
"What I did is invited him to come visit over Thanksgiving," I said.  I liked to rattle her chain a bit.
"You're not the least bit funny."
"He'll only stay through New Year's.  Or Easter at the latest."
"You think you're comical, but you're not."
I'll be a dandy and I'll be a rover," I droned.  "I'll feast at your table…I'll sleep in your clover…"  I could never hit a note or carry a melody. 
"Aren't you the flirty one, though."  She got in bed and put out the side-table light.  The overhead controlled only by the generator was still lit.  I crawled in beside her.
"It's really been a fine experience."  She changed the subject.  "I truly mean that.  I'm glad we did this."
I continued my little song, singing the refrain once more, teasing her, lying close beside, turning on one side to face her.  "Today while the blossom still clings to the vine…I'll taste your strawberries, I'll drink your sweet wine."
"Don't you be getting any big ideas, Buster.  The staff is still going about their business just outside."
"For the love of God, don't be ridiculous.  I'm seventy and still not over my last surgery.  Come on!"  I didn't mention that the end of our safari heralded yet a new beginning.  I'd tell her about that much later.
The generator spun down and died with a rough cough.  The faint illumination from the hanging light faded away with it.  I turned on my elbow, my face above hers only inches away.  It was dark inside the tent, with not even the light from a moon just beginning its rise or perhaps only forming the slightest crescent yet visible.
"I can't be contented with yesterday's glory."  I barely whispered it, not even trying to sing.  "Today is my moment and now is my story."  I hadn't realized I remembered so much of the lyrics.
"I can't wait to see Victoria Falls," she said, ignoring my shenanigans. 
"It'll be great.  And, maybe when we're home, we can at least talk about the Alaska thing again."  I knew I was pushing it, but her mood was fine.
She was lying on her back, the sheet pulled to her chin.  I knew her eyes were open, but in the dark of our tent I couldn't make out any colors at all.  Yet I remembered from long experience their dazzling, unique hazel with little flecks of green, bronze, and brilliant gold.  Even in the dark, I could see their color in my mind's eye.  And I could sense the warmth radiating from her face and the moistness of her mouth, as any man does when very near a woman to whom he is deeply drawn.
"A million tomorrows shall all pass away…"  I was singing softly once again.  Barely audibly.  Nickie was still.
"…'ere we forget…"  I moved close to see that she was still awake, then kissed her on the lips.  Once again, only fleetingly, I considered our safari, our shared experience, and the new beginning I was sure it portended.

"…all the joysthat are ours…..today….."
Look for the complete "AFRICA SAFARI JOURNAL" and other stories in Bascom's upcoming book, "Follow Him Up the Mountain" to be published late in 2014

Saturday, May 24, 2014

FEAR & DEATH--Part 2

by John Bascom (Copyright 2014)

Eight(Part 2) Fear and Death Above the M'Kunga

(From Part 1)…I picked up the center of the buffalo's chest in the crosshairs.  Still, Wil had said the third one from the front and this one was only slightly farther back in the shifting herd.  I wasn't sure.
"The one I'm looking at is directly in front.  Between the two trees," I said.
"Yes, the bull between the trees," Wil said urgently.
"The one closest to us.  He's looking straight at us."
"No," Wil said.  "He's looking forward, and his head is partially behind that…no, wait.  Yes, I see, he's looking at us now."
"Closest, the bull looking at us, standing between two trees.  I can see his bosses and penis."
"Yes," Wil said impatiently.  "It's the only bull in the herd.  Between the trees, looking at us."
"I'm sure it's a bull," I said.  "Should I shoot?"
All the other animals had stopped and were now staring in our direction.  I was certain they were about to bolt."
"Yes.  That's it. Shoot!"
With the bull's quartering stance, I realized a center-chest hold, if pulled accidentally only slightly to my right, would risk angling between the brisket and away-shoulder, mostly missing the heart and lungs and risking a dangerously wounded Cape buffalo.  I moved the crosshairs slightly, between the brisket and shoulder positioned closest to my left, steadied the rifle, exhaled, drew a half-breath and held it, then smoothly squeezed off a shot.
Everyone was oddly quiet for several moments.
"It didn't look hit," Wil said.
"I had a pretty solid hold on his chest," I said.
"I didn't hear the bullet impact.  Are you sure you hit it?"
"Pretty sure." 
We all moved down to the area where the herd had been.  The trackers—everyone—searched the ground methodically.  No blood or hair.  No sign of a hit of any kind.
Levi and Gift led us along the track the buffalos had taken.  Their compressed hoof prints and the trampled ground were obvious.  We worked along their trail for about twenty minutes, about three-hundred-fifty yards or roughly a quarter mile by my estimate.  The trackers would cast to the left or right occasionally to see if an animal had straggled or stumbled on the edge of the herd.  The bush had thinned but there was thicker jesse just ahead as we paused to consider our next move.
"You're sure you hit something," Wil said, more as a statement seeking a reassuring response than a question.  "We can't find anything."
I was beginning to doubt myself.
Everyone was just standing around, waiting.  Wil lit a cigarette.  No one made eye contact with me.
It was Gilbert, the despised game ranger, who moved forward toward the leading edge of the thick jesse stand that stretched as far as one could see.  Gilbert, the optimist, thinking outside the box, with his positive attitude and friendly disposition.  Gilbert, who liked and generally wished to help people.  Who liked and helped me.
He moved up about thirty yards and a few yards to our left, then stooped to better see beneath the overhanging jesse bows.  He stretched his neck and head forward, paused, and pointed with his finger.
We all rushed over.  I squatted and looked beneath the jesse in the direction he was pointing.  There, some eighty odd yards ahead, lay the unmistakable black carcass of a Cape buffalo.

Part 2

We quickly moved up through the jesse stand, stopping about thirty feet from the big
animal laying lifeless on his side.  Wil approached the downed buffalo carefully and nudged his head with the barrel of his rifle.
"He's a bull all right, but not the one I wanted you to shoot.  He's a younger one."
I surprised myself with the overwhelming feelings of joy and accomplishment that swept through me.  I was ecstatic, beaming I'm sure from ear to ear.  I walked up near the animal to admire him.  He was as magnificent in death as he had been staring sullenly at me a up near the crest of the hill a few minutes before.  He had gone perhaps four hundred yards before collapsing in the thick brush.  I knew an average human track runner could cover a hundred yards in just over ten seconds.  With the speed at which that herd took off at my shot, it couldn't have been over forty-five seconds, well under a minute, for my buffalo to run down here and die in this jesse stand.  I was glad it had been quick.
"Nickie's going to go crazy."  I meant to say it to myself but realized I had said it aloud.
I moved closer to the bull and inspected him carefully.  My shot had hit very near my precise point of aim, slightly above by only a few inches and perhaps an inch left.  The bloody wound on his front chest between the brisket and the animal's right shoulder displayed the track of the bullet on his hide as it had entered from the front, angling in such a way that it would travel through its body back and across to the organs behind on the other side.  It was clear the right lung had been raked from front to back, the crossing bullet probably hitting the rearward portion of the left lung as well, and going back into the body through its liver and deeper organs.  There was no exit wound.  I doubt the bull ever really knew what hit him.
My spirits were soaring, the adrenalin doing its work now more so than during the stalk or the shot.  I had thought upon our arrival in Africa that taking a buffalo was secondary to experiencing the bush and its animals.  But I understood now I had been wrong.  This was the thrilling and fulfilling culmination that had turned our safari into an unforgettable experience.
"We try not to shoot the younger ones," Wil said in his scolding tone.
"Look, Wil," I said, grinning.  I was not about to allow his condescension to dampen my moment.  "Shit happens.  I know shooting old animals is important to you.  And it's good with me, too.  But I described what I was looking at in detail three times so you'd understand.  And asked for your permission to shoot."
"I was talking about the older one between the tree and the bush."
This was the first he had mentioned bush.  It had been "between the two trees."
"You said it was the only bull in the herd.  I saw the bosses and penis sheath on this one right away."
"The older bull was farther forward, behind the brush.  He's the one I wanted you to take."
"You might have said as much, Wil.  I'd have been glad to do it.  But I didn't see any animal in that herd larger than this one.  And this one was clearly a bull."
"The older ones aren't necessarily always bigger."
"For my money, I shot the bull I wanted.  The one I described in detail and you cleared me to shoot.  If there was a miscommunication…well…you need to be more careful next time.  But I'm here to tell you I couldn't be happier.  This is what I came for."  I think I was close to laughing, not at Wil but purely from joy and excitement.  "I'm sorry if you're upset, but I'm the happiest man in Africa."
At that moment a visible change came over Wil.  A smile spread across his face, something that had not previously occurred while we took game together.  He spontaneously clasped my shoulder, another first.
"You came here to take your buffalo and you did it," he blurted, not measuring his words now.  "You kept up during our climb up here and while we maneuvered in on that herd.  It wasn't an easy thing, especially for a man who has reached seventy and has had health issues.  And your shot was spot on.  It was quite the achievement." 
He was grinning the whole time, his demeanor all at once joyful and spontaneous, like mine.  It was as if the death of that Nyati in the thick jesse in the hills above the M'Kunga had caused something in Wil and me to die along with it.  For Wil it seemed to be the awful weight of command, the fear of failure, purged by my joy at taking my buffalo bull.  A perfect completion of our safari.  It was as if the anger and discontent that seemed to simmer beneath Wil's surface had died along with that animal. 
And for me the thing that died on the hillside was the fear that I, battling cancer and reaching seventy, had passed a tipping point.  That I no longer could do the things I loved or achieve the things I once had.  I felt redeemed and resurrected by the sacrifice of my beautiful Cape buffalo bull.  And I somehow knew my strange dreams had become a thing of the past.
"It was an exciting kill," Wil grinned, "with its twists and turns."
"Fear and death in the hills above the M'Kunga," I laughed.  Perhaps I should have phrased it …the death of fear…

Wil lifted his radio to call in Mafios with Nickie and the truck.  I couldn't wait for her to arrive.

Look for "AFRICA SAFARI JOURNAL" and other stories in Bascom's upcoming book, "Follow Him Up the Mountain" to be published late in 2014