Zach Smith

Cecil the Trophy Hunter

“Which one grabs your eye? Tell me and I’ll tell you the story behind it.”

It’s a question, but also not a question.

There are two types of people in the world to which a “conversation” is actually a monologue. There are people who don’t understand conversation, who won’t let you speak while they tell you their latest world changing conspiracy theory, who talk over you the two or three times you open your mouth for courteous contribution, apologizing for talking over you while doing so.

The others have stories so intriguing, so engrossing that you don’t even remotely want to interrupt.

Dr. Lyons is the latter type.

His question that is not a question implies his many trophies. Not the kind you win in a race or for bowling a perfect game. These are heads, animal heads. Animals you don’t even recognize. There are many interesting ones to ask about: a small ugly birds head on a plaque much too big for it, and empty plaque displayed as robustly as any other in the room, a plaque covered by a sheet, and a massive pink tusked elephant just to name a few.

“That was a tough one,” he says referring to the elephant. “Took us five shots to bring him down. You try to get them in a soft stop, but there are few soft spots on an elephant, and you can’t damage the head of course.”

He adjusts himself.

“From our drop zone, we used an acoustic telescope to listen for a noise like thunder where the weather should have been clear. We’re some of the first hunters to employ this method. The telescope is mounted to the roof of the scout Jeep and wired to the radio inside. We tracked a likely noise east by north east of the drop zone but after several hours we realized it was actual thunder. We weathered the worst part of the storm in our vehicles, and set up camp when it passed. It wasn’t until midafternoon two days later that we picked up any sort of sound again on the telescope. This time we headed northwest, drove through the night and at just about the crack of dawn we found a herd of elephants, running hard. Then we saw why… poachers. Yes we may have been armed, but you don’t mess with those guys, they have Kalashnikovs and no hearts.”

He catches your eye.

“I know, I know. You’re thinking: ‘these poachers are heartless, chasing after these poor elephants in their Jeeps with heavy artillery.’ But then you think that: ‘oh wait, Dr. Lyons is doing the same thing, so how is he any better than the poachers?’ And you may answer yourself that: those guys are killing elephant after elephant for ivory, while I’m only killing one, for the head. Which makes what I’m doing less of a crime or a sin, but still not entirely innocent. And then you think that these poachers are very poor, and they are trying to find the money to feed their starving families, and who is more important the animals or the children? So you realize that these people do in fact have hearts, and that what they’re doing is nobler than just hunting for sport. So you meet up with them at a dive in some African village here or there, and you realize after talking to them that they don’t have families, or perhaps they do or did but they had left a long time ago. The money they are pulling in on the black market ivory trade is going straight into their pockets and not to the starving children of their home village, and they just take all the money and drink it or gamble it or whore it away.”

He looks off into the middle distance, somewhat upset.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “That’s a different story. A different kind of animal I stalked.”

He gives himself a moment. His attitude changes back and he continues.

“Anyways, the elephants were being chased by poachers. They brought them down one by one but didn’t stop until they killed half a dozen. Then they harvested the tusks, and wasted the rest. You see that elephant? It has pink tusks. That’s kind of a new thing. Conservationists have developed this dye that turns the ivory pink. It doesn’t harm the elephant but it makes the ivory worthless on the black market. It’s not completely fool proof though; some poachers are colorblind. Others have vowed to target the pink tusked elephants more harshly as a means of getting back at the conservationists. But in the grand scheme of things it has helped. The pink tusked elephants are still legal to hunt with a license. It was another three days of driving through the bush, but finally we found what we were looking for. Lots of them, twenty or thirty, in the distance, pink and white tusked mingling among one another. If we had driven up on them, they would have stampeded, just like the herd the poachers tracked. The caravan stayed hidden on the other side of the hill and set up camp, while my partner Reginald and I walked with our .577 caliber nitro express elephant guns into the grass. We were miles away, yet we still walked slowly, quietly. It took us hours to reach them. Hard work but we didn’t feel a thing, too focused on the hunt. At a few hundred yards from the beasts we found some tall grass to crouch down in. We took aim, and…”

He pauses for dramatic effect.

“…Fired! I shot first and the herd ran. It was the most dangerous part of the hunt. We made sure to stay on the edge of the herd before firing. They generally run away from the noise, but that’s not a guarantee. They didn’t charge us, but they did run, including the one that I hit. Reginald shot a second time, just after the beasts started to take off, he hit the elephant too. It was a good shot, but it takes a lot to bring one of them down. I took a third shot but it went wild. The elephant we hit ran slower than the rest of the herd, but faster than we could on foot. We radioed for the sweep and he came barreling from the hill, hardly even slowing down for us to jump in. We followed the beast and fired from the jeep. I know shooting from a vehicle may seem in poor practice, little better (if any) than those poachers, but let me explain. Our first three shots were on the ground, and had the beast not taken flight we would have made the rest of our shots from the ground as well. Had we not followed by vehicle, the elephant would have gotten away, wandered off to some undisclosed location, perhaps to where he was born (if the old wives tales are to be believed), suffer and eventually die slowly from his wounds. Chasing him as we did was the more humane thing to do. Okay, maybe not as humane as just leaving him alone but that’s beside the point. It took five shots to bring him down, two from the ground, three from the vehicle, and two more shots that missed altogether. Reginald and the sweep went back to the camp, picked up the scout and returned to the kill zone, while I began the process of quartering the great beast. By the time they returned I had barely scratched the surface. It wasn’t until midnight that we had the last of the carcass back to the camp.”

 

He leans back in his chair and puffs on his pipe a few times in a certain meditation. He offers you a cigar, brandy. You accept one and decline the other.

“You seem a bit confused,” he says.

You tell him why.

“I’m sorry. Let me start from the beginning. I’m a trophy hunter, obviously, but not like that fucking dentist. That guy spent 50 grand to go out and kill a lion, and all he took was the head and hide. Yes, I take the head, and I take the hide too, but I do more, so much more. I do four safaris a year, half of them in Africa. We have guides but their role is more as translator than anything else. I have my own team, my own vehicles. Few people put this kind of dedication into their hobby. There are two Jeeps (a sweep and a lead), a Range Rover for myself, a refrigerated truck, and a tanker truck full of diesel. We leave a full month open for the hunt. Sometimes I don’t catch anything, but that’s rare. All the trucks are shipped to a drop zone adjacent to the safari region. The team consists of a local guide, a tracker, a mechanic, three additional drivers, the occasional guest, and myself. We venture out from our drop zone using various methods, Google earth, sound tracking, witchdoctors, etc., until we get in range of our target. We set up a basecamp and top off the trucks. Sometimes we take one Jeep into the bush, sometimes both, and sometimes the Range Rover as well, but not the refrigerator or the tanker, too much risk for little advantage. We don’t shoot from the vehicles, it’s unethical and illegal. When we get near our prey we go by foot. If we hit it and it runs then we give chase, but you already know all that.”

You nod your head.

Did he say witchdoctor?

And also how does he have time for all these hunts?

Dr. Lyons seems to sense this second question and answers it without actually being asked.

“My job gives me a lot of free time. Plastic surgery, it’s like the “Midas Touch” of the medical world. I only work 18 hours a month, and that’s including the pro bono work I do for burns victims. I paid my way through med school as a butcher. In fact I didn’t really have an interest in med school, until someone saw what I was able to do with a knife and a piece of meat and said: ‘hey you could do that to people and make a lot of money.’ turned out he wasn’t kidding.”

Dr. Lyons takes a sip of his beverage to wet his throat and then continues with his explanations.

“Once the animal is caught it is hauled back to base camp, skinned, mounted and butchered. I do all this myself. Maybe there’s a little help here and there from my team, but not too much. The meat vacuum sealed and stored in the refrigerated truck for the remainder of the safari. Once we return the drop zone the meat is packed in dry ice and sent back to the states. There’s a lot of paperwork and wheeling and dealing to get this stuff imported but we take care of that well in advance. All the meat is eventually consumed. Crafts are made from body parts, bones are saved for carving and so on.”

He cracks his knuckles and makes a show of looking at his hands.

“My job gives me a lot of free time, and my hands are … skilled. This is just the trophy room, I have another room dedicated to carvings. Some people find them even more impressive. Some pieces go to special clients, carvings and furniture to friends, filets to statesmen with a taste for the exotic. These gifts help make connections, and connections help with the exporting/importing, which then leads to more ‘gifts.’ I always tell the story too, that’s important, and it also happens to be my favorite part. Sometimes a piece will be auctioned for charity. They can fetch outrageous bids.”

He looks off into the middle distance proudly for a moment, perhaps remembering an auction past where a carving of his bought an orphan a new heart, or something.

“The point of all this is that the animal gets used, all of it. Others may kill for the head and hide, but for me it’s all or nothing. When I was a kid, through various circumstances that I’m not going to go into now, I became an honorary member of the Blackfoot Nation, a northern Native American Tribe if you’re not aware. They survived on buffalo hunting, and used the whole animal. When the white man came with his trains, there were millions of buffalo, and these “men” would just shoot from the train, dropping as many as they could. The buffalo were hunted nearly to extinction. Pure wasted. They didn’t even take the head. Some people think all hunting is like that, but it’s not. Likewise, people hear about this dentist and think that he’s the embodiment of all that is the hunt, but again that is wrong… dead wrong.”

Your eyes move and notice a most unusual thing on the table next to Dr. Lyons. There may be any number of objects you would expect to see in such a trophy room, but an action figure, still inside its plastic bubble, sealed onto a cardboard backer, is not one of them. You can’t make out the figure because of the glare from the deer foot lamp also on the table, but it is most curious.

“You’re wondering about the action figure. I admit I’m not much of a toy collector. In fact this is the first one I’ve bought in… I don’t know how many years. You already know what my real passion is.”

He picks it up, but continues to hold it at an angle so that you can’t see the figure inside.

“I got this from the artist himself. The guy works in small run, highly detailed, action figures. This is his newest, a hundred made I think, or ninety-nine, something like that. When I heard about it I just had to get it. Take a look.”

He hands you the action figure.

There’s a logo for the artist who made it. The figure is an anthropomorphic lion (a lion’s head on a man’s body) wearing hunting fatigues. He has an exaggerated blunderbuss with flared barrel, and “bait” consisting of Slim Jims and soda. But the more ominous accessory is a dentist’s head on a plaque.

The back artwork has instructions showing that the lion’s head can be removed, as can the head on the plaque. They can be switched or even placed on top of the blunderbuss. Below the instructions are pictures of other figures in what’s called the “Ass-Hole” line. One is an anthropomorphic donkey with a hole in the center. But that one’s a little too literal.

“I want the Count Krauthammer Action figure,” you say.

Dr. Lyons gives a chuckle.

 

“So now we get to the unveiling,” says Dr. Lyons. “I know you’ve been waiting for this for a while. But first I must tell you the story. This is something I’ve always wanted to have on my wall. A game only hunted in legends. To the best of my knowledge no other hunter has such a beast in their trophy room. My collection is complete. Well almost complete.”

At this your eyes dart away briefly, noticing and wondering about the empty plaque again. Perhaps it’s just a spot holder for a future conquest, or maybe a symbol that there is always something left to kill, or perhaps something else.

Dr. Lyons sinks in his chair, returning to his narrative stance.

“Like so many of my other hunts this one too started out in Africa, and was set into motion by forces outside of my control. I picked up my hunting partner in Zimbabwe, and then we returned to the states. Getting him into the country was no easy task. No border guard in the world that would let him through. We had to charter a Learjet to pick us up and then fly us to a private airport. It’s not easy, you have to deal with some corrupt people, but it can be done. We first went to Minnesota, where my partner picked up the scent, which led us to, of all places, Canadian, Texas. Yes that’s actually a real town, zip code 79014. If you know anything about Texas you’d know that every town claims to have the world’s biggest whatever. This particular town has the world’s biggest boot spur. We were pulled over by a patrol car en route. The officer took one look at my hunting partner, and radioed for backup. Evidently he was a rookie, in the habit of pulling pranks like this, so the operator just laughed and…”

For the first time all night, you actually interrupt Dr. Lyons.

“I’m sorry, but what exactly is so strange about your hunting partner?”

He pauses, smiles, and yells:

“Cecil, would you come in here please.”

The door opens.

A silhouette of a huge lumbering man with an impressive mane of hair comes into the trophy room. As he approaches the dim light from the deer foot lamp illuminates him, all the better to see him with, though perhaps you wish you couldn’t.

“Cecil,” says Dr. Lyons. “This is my friend I was telling you about, please shake his hand.” To you he says. “Don’t worry, he won’t bite.”

The man offers his hand to you. You take it. You are surprised that his hand is not nearly as meaty or harry as expected, and his nails are fairly well kept.

“If he does bite,” says Dr. Lyons. “It won’t hurt for very long, I can promise you that.”

You don’t really hear this, you’re too shocked by the Doctor’s hunting partner.

You notice you’ve been holding his hand and looking at… it, perhaps a beat or two longer than would be polite.

“Perhaps I should tell you the story behind my partner.”

“Please,” you squeak out.

“After that dentist killed the most famous lion in Zimbabwe a year ago, the head was taken to a local taxidermist to be mounted. I always do it myself, but I understand, it’s not a skill that a lot of people have. After the news broke about the lion, the head was taken by the authorities as evidence. But then the head was stolen from custody, and I know who took it. I’d tell you the name but it would mean nothing to you, and I’d probably butcher it anyways. The name’s not important. What is important is that she is a voodoo witch, very powerful. She had already captured the guide who helped kill the lion. She used some sort of hocus pocus to decapitated the guide and fused the Lion’s head onto his body, creating a real life Cecil the Trophy Hunter.”

Dr. Lyons taps on the action figure box as he makes this point.

“This action figure is a coincidence, there’s no way the artist knew of this magnificent creation that stands before us. Anyways, the voodoo witch contacted me, and the three of us joined forces, to hunt that most dangerous of game.”

Dr. Lyons gestures for Cecil the Trophy Hunter to sit down on a magnificent ivory and elephant hide throne that Dr. Lyons undoubtedly built himself.

“Now that you’re completely up to date, I can continue. We found a small hotel in Canadian, Texas. It would have been stupid to ask questions. I trusted Cecil’s keen tracking abilities, we knew he was there. We just had to hunker low and become somewhat inconspicuous visitors (easier said than done for my colleague I’m sure). Before long, he would show his face. I haunted the local bars and the pharmacy, by myself while Cecil hid. We were there for two weeks until one morning, when I was scouting the pharmacy, I finally saw him. He came in to buy some Sensodyne toothpaste. Evidently he has sensitive teeth, to this day I shudder at the irony. While I remained at the pharmacy Cecil broke into his hotel room and trashed it. It was our way of flushing him out so to speak, and it worked. We didn’t want him around people when we closed in for the kill. We headed south on 83, the only major highway out of town. We knew he would leave the hotel quickly, and we knew that he would travel south on 83 because north was closer to home, and trashing the room sent a message that it was still not safe for him to return. About 9 miles south of Canadian, route 83 splits off into route 33 and 60. We set up roadblocks to corral him down 60. Halfway to Miami, Miami, Texas that is, about 25 miles from Canadian, we set up another roadblock to lead him down state road 3367, where there’s nothing but a handful of silos and windmills. We set a modern Burmese tiger trap in one of the pot holes. Spikes covered with some straw scavenged from a nearby field then very gently covered with gravel. There were some cars that came down the road that did not belong to our prey. So I would step into the road nonchalantly to make them swerve out of the way. They usually cursed or gave some sort of off color hand gesture, but would go on their way unharmed. By the third, maybe fourth car, it was him. I could see him a mile off, eyes like a hawk. He hit the trap. After he pulled over, he slammed both of his fists onto the steering wheel, cursed low, then loud, and put his head on the steering wheel and just waited for a while. He changed his flat tire. He was angry, but he was not under the impression that he had been corralled. I did not use a gun, he had done his killing with a bow, so I would return the favor. The first arrow went into his tire, the spare he had just put on, though in hind sight this was almost unnecessarily cruel. At first he thought that it was just another flat, and he tilted his head up as if to say ‘why me,’ but when he looked back and realized there was an arrow sticking in it, and that it was the spare he had just put on, he finally understood. He stood up. Turned around and saw me with a bead on his head. He put his hands up, scared, but also somewhat honorably brave and he said, just what he had been saying all along: ‘I’ve done nothing wrong.’ When Cecil showed up next to me with his own bow, he let out a… less- brave cry of horror. I don’t know if he recognized who or what Cecil was, but I hope he did. We both fired at the same time, hitting our marks. I never killed a man before… I’m still not sure how I feel about it.”

Dr. Lyons doesn’t speak for quite a while, contemplating.

He says, more to himself then you: “At least now I can say I have the world’s most complete trophy collection.” Returning to his normal voice he says: “Cecil, will you do the honors.”

Cecil the trophy hunter pulls the canvas covering the plaque.

Yes it is exactly what you thought it would be. You knew what it was from when you saw the action figure. Somehow, even when you first sat down, you knew what manner of beast was beneath that cover.

A human head, balding, buzz cut, glasses and all.

Your eyes turn again to the empty plaque. Now, urgently, you need to know what the meaning of the empty plaque is. But you don’t want to know. You intentionally flash your life before your eyes. Have you wronged Dr. Lyons in anyway in the past? No you don’t think you have, but have you wronged someone else? Anyone else? Think. Finally you ask Dr. Lyons about the empty plaque, but you don’t really know if you really want to know the story behind it.

 

Zach is a graduate of Chestnut Hill College and has been writing for more than a dozen years, struggling all the while with Dyslexia. His work has previously appeared in: Crack the Spine, the Short Humor Site, Foxglove, the Corvus Review, and most importantly the Ginger Collect among others. You can find out more about him at his Blog: theobscuritysymposium.wordpress.com.