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Fiction #251
(published November 3, 2005)
The Good-Bye Hyena
by J.R. Salling
The horror began near the Nyanga Mountains of Eastern Zimbabwe early on the day after Sister Angelina had been recalled by her Diocese. By the end of the month, eight people had been killed, their ages ranging from 4 to 72, and another two dozen had reported to the local hospital with various injuries. The survivors described a hyena with an angry disposition.

"I saw flashes of teeth and claw, and fire from the creature's mouth," one tearful man explained, who had witnessed the death of his 15-year-old son, while he stood nearby, unable to do anything.

The villagers finally trapped, and they said killed, the hyena who had terrified them, although they could not agree how they had killed him. One man described how he had severed its spine with an ax, another how he had removed its head with a machete; an old woman claimed to have choked the mad animal to death. She attempted to demonstrate on her husband until separated by force. The fact that the hyena still roamed the roads along the main Mutare-Harare highway, they all agreed, could only be a product of witchcraft.

"Where is Sister Angelina?" many villagers asked one another, associating her disappearance with the deaths. They gathered together for safety behind the solid cement walls of the primary school where she had taught, her replacement not due to arrive for another six weeks. Police and rangers set up a patrol and tried to reassure them, but they mistrusted the authorities and refused to budge until the evil spirit had been exorcised.

The dead and dismembered hyena, who had pulled himself together, found that he possessed other rare skills to help him elude capture. Discovering an ability to understand the village patois, he was able to eavesdrop on conversations, which is how he learned that he had already died once in theory, and that snipers had been added to the efforts to kill him again. Snipers, he gathered, were predatory birds similar to falcons.

Had he been less mad, the hyena would have headed directly towards the highlands of the national park and murdered reedbuck, blue druiker, and even other hyena, who had trouble organizing their defenses, but something compelled him to seek another human victim. He kept glancing into the sky as he approached the compound, still sane enough to take precautions, hence his surprise when the sharp beak pierced his coat without so much as a warning shadow or the flutter of wings. It did so again, and again. Covered in the little red kisses, he fled toward Mt. Nyangani, the highest point in the land, zig-zagging to throw off his pursuers.

The villagers remained fearful and unmovable when they heard the reports; that is, until one of their own men came. He described how the bright red blood sprayed from the animal's wounds like a tumbling sprinkler head. Where the liquid had soaked into the ground flame lilies had already emerged.

"Praise be to the Lord," the villagers said, wiping the sweat from their collective brow and making the sign of the cross, and then gathering their few items to return home. Mad hyenas, they assured themselves, always say goodbye with flowers.

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