FREE Cushing Horrors Story – Cornering the Congo Creature

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Cornering the Congo Creature

A Dr. Cushing Chamber of Horrors Prequel

by Stephen D. Sullivan

The Congo – Between the Two Great Wars

“Get up, you drunken sot!” Anton Macomber raged.  “You’re supposed to be the great big game hunter!  Prove it!”

The bullish circus magnate seized Paul Longmire by the shirtfront and dragged the sleeping man off the tent’s uncomfortable cot.

“What am I paying you for?” Macomber finished, hurling the target of his ire toward the tent flaps.

Paul staggered out into the steamy Congo afternoon, barely keeping his feet.  The stench of decaying greenery and the buzz of a million insects filled the air, making the pounding in his head even worse.  He squinted against the glare of the equatorial sun.

Macomber continued coming at him, fists clenched, but a slender form stepped between the men.

“Anton, stop!” Joan Macomber pleaded, putting her pale hands on her husband’s chest.  Macomber was a bull of a man, powerful, a former wrestler (though somewhat gone to seed).  Yet, this frail slip of a woman controlled him easily, like an expert trainer with a savage lion.

She reminded Paul of his late wife, Caliso, though the fair-haired, pale-skinned American looked nothing like his Filipino beloved; the bravery was the same, though, and that made Paul want another drink.

Joan gently backed Macomber away from Paul.

“Well, what’s he good for?” Macomber said, glaring at his wife, his eyes narrow, though his voice was now more a growl than a shout.  “Drinks all the time… Sleeps half the day away…  Where’s my exhibit?  I paid him good money to capture the creature, but where is it?  We haven’t seen more than a glimpse of the thing during our whole time in this God-forsaken jungle.”

“Paul has explained that—” Joan began.

“Oh!” Macomber burst in.  “‘Paul’ now, is it?  When did you and Mr. Longmire here become so cozy?”

Seeing the big circus owner browbeat his wife raised Paul’s ire, sobering him up quickly if not completely.

“Yes,” Paul said loudly, stepping toward the couple.  “I’ve explained it to you.  I explained it when I took on this commission.  There are no guarantees in this kind of safari.  If this ‘Congo Creature’ were a normal animal we’d have had it caged up and sent to the States in no time—but it’s not.  It’s more myth than reality.  Even the natives don’t know much about it.

“Before I brought you into this jungle and found this backwater tributary and its hidden series of lagoons, no white man had ever even seen the thing.”

Macomber continued glaring but focused on Paul now.  “Yes, we’ve glimpsed it, but that’s all—and only twice.  If we’d shot it, like I wanted to…!”

He picked up a shotgun from a nearby camp table and tossed it to Longmire.

Paul caught it, despite the sun’s glare and the pounding in his head.  He scowled back at his employer.  “If you’d shot it, then you’d have a trophy for your wall, not an exhibit for your circus.”

“Besides, Anton,” Joan broke in, “you know that Paul… Mr. Longmire… doesn’t shoot animals.  He’s a live capture hunter.  That’s why you hired him.  Remember?”  She gazed sympathetically at her husband, stepped closer to him, and gently touched his shoulder.  “You’re just frustrated.  It’s been a long, difficult expedition, and all of us hoped to have more to show for it by now.”

Macomber looked from Paul to his wife and back, as though the two of them were conspiring against him.

He’s a fool, Paul thought.  Why did I ever take this job?

But the answer was obvious: He took the job because he needed the money, he needed the work, something to do… And most of all, he needed to get as far away from the Philippines and reminders of his dead family as he could.  The deep jungles of the Congo fit that last requirement nicely.

But I can’t outrun the memories.

“Well… Better a trophy than nothing,” Macomber fumed.

“We’re lucky we’ve gotten as far as we have,” Paul told him.  “But there’s nothing more we can do on this trip.  Our supplies are running out.  We’ve barely got enough left to get ourselves and the bearers back to Stanleyville safely.”

“The bearers can make their own way,” Macomber grumbled.  “After all, this accursed jungle is their home.  We can use the extra supplies to stay longer—make another try at it.”

“Oh, Anton,” Joan said, shocked, “you can’t mean that.  These men don’t live in this jungle any more than you and I do.  Just because they’re more used to the climate than we are doesn’t mean you can treat them like animals.”

“I pay them better than I would animals,” her husband shot back.  “Maybe we should have brought beasts instead of men.”

“You can’t put mules in a canoe,” Paul replied.  “Bearers are the only option for this kind of thing.  And we’re lucky we haven’t lost any.  This is a dangerous place.”

“Not when you’re lying drunk in your tent all day,” Macomber shot back.

Paul seethed, but he forced himself to relax his grip on the shotgun still clutched in his hands.

It would be so easy…!

“Look, Mr. Macomber,” Paul said, struggling to keep his temper under control, “from what we’ve been able to find out, this creature we’re hunting is mostly nocturnal.  We think it spends its days sleeping in submarine caves or grottos.  That’s why we’ve only seen it briefly, and never in full daylight.  Tracking any animal at night is much harder, and nearly impossible with an amphibious one.”

“It’s amazing we’ve even gotten this far,” Joan put in.  “If not for Mr. Longmire…”

Macomber rolled his eyes.  “Yes, yes… I know.  ‘No white man has ever seen it before, and without Mister Longmire, we might never have seen it at all.’  But we’re close, blast it!  So close I can practically taste it!  Do you realize what kind of attraction a creature as rare as this will make in our circus?”

“We both understand that, Anton,” Joan assured her husband.

“So, what are we waiting for?  The sun’s almost setting.  We can make another try at it—at least one more.”

“We should head back to Stanleyville,” Paul reminded him.  “Our supplies—”

“Yes, yes.  Our supplies are running low, and we need to get back,” Macomber parroted.  “But we can’t do that tonight.  We’re almost at this ‘Emerald Cove’ as the natives call it, aren’t we?”

Paul frowned.  “Yes, if what we’ve heard is accurate, but…”

“But Anton,” Joan interrupted, “that’s at least an hour more through the jungle.  And you know the bearers won’t go any further.  The land around the cove is sacred to them—it’s taboo.”

Macomber seemed less angry and more excited now.  “If it’s taboo, that’s all the more reason to go.  These savages know something we don’t.  They think that’s where the thing lives.”

“Which is why we stopped here and set our nets and other traps here on this tributary,” Paul reminded him.

“Snares which the thing has cleverly eluded or destroyed,” Macomber noted.

“We can only assume it was the creature that caused the damage,” Paul said.  “None of us saw it happen.  It could have been other native fauna or fish.”

Macomber looked frustrated.  “But one of our boys thought he spotted the thing near the riverside just three days ago.”

“Again, that’s why we’ve stopped and set our traps here,” Paul said. “This is as close as the bearers will go.  Heading deeper into the jungle on our own would be foolhardy.”

“And that scout could have been mistaken,” Joan added.  “Oh, Anton, why won’t you admit it’s no use?  Next year, in the circus’ off season, we can try again.  We’ve come this far and have a better idea of where we’re going now.  Next year, we’ll make a better start and bring more supplies.”  She looked at her husband hopefully, as if he might see reason.

He didn’t.  “Next year…!” he scoffed.

“But we’ve done everything we can,” she insisted.

“Everything these superstitious natives can, you mean,” Macomber replied.  “But we’re not like them, are we?  We don’t believe in local taboos or that this Emerald Cove can be cursed or some other rot.  We don’t believe this thing is some kind of god or river spirit.  It’s just an animal that can be caught and put on display for the public amusement—the same as a lion or tiger.  Isn’t it?  We’re not afraid of monsters, are we, Mr. Longmire?”

The circus man’s glistening black eyes stared directly at the big game hunter.

“Or are we just as cowardly as these natives?” Macomber asked slyly.

Paul’s mouth went dry, and in his mind’s eye, he saw other natives—the superstitious islanders who had set his home ablaze, killing his wife and daughter, all because they thought Caliso was some kind of shape-changing water-monster, an isda-asawa.

Cowards!  They were just like these natives!

He tried not to compare the Filipinos’ hated mythical water monster with the one he was helping to hunt now.  But a hatred of all such superstitions rose up strong within him.

Seeming to take Paul’s momentary distraction as weakness, Macomber continued.  “Or is it Dutch courage you need to continue, Mr. Longmire?”

“Anton, don’t…” Joan pleaded.

“Very well,” Macomber continued, ignoring her.  “Look, Longmire, I’ll give you a thousand-dollar bonus—that’ll buy a lot of that rotgut you favor—if you take me to this so-called Emerald Cove to make a try for this thing tonight.”

Paul’s mouth was still dry, which didn’t sit well with his rising ire; he needed a drink.  “A thousand dollars…”  He hadn’t seen that much money all at one time since he’d married Caliso and his family disowned him.

Macomber smiled, a cat with a canary within reach.  “One night… a thousand added to your fee without any further expenses.  Think of it!  That’s a better payday than you had even when you were sober, I’ll bet.  Besides, we haven’t had a chance to try that rotenone powder you brought along.  The still waters of a cove should be the perfect spot to try it—knock out the fish and the monster, too.  What do you say, Mr. Longmire?”

“But the natives won’t go,” Joan protested.  “They won’t take you there.  You’ll be all alone in the jungle.”

“Just you and me, Longmire,” Macomber wheedled.  “We’re men, aren’t we?  We don’t believe in any foolish native superstitions.  What do you say?”

Paul’s head ached and his tongue felt like sandpaper, but he managed to nod his agreement.

A thousand dollars…!

For that kind of money, he could go away from all this—very far away.

I can find a nice spot and just drink until nothing matters anymore.

“Well, if you two idiots are going, then I’m going, too,” Joan announced.

Both men looked at her, surprised.

“Don’t be daft!” Macomber said.

“No more daft than the pair of you,” she replied.  “I’ve made it this far through the jungle with you, haven’t I?  Wasn’t it me that shot the leopard that had been stalking our expedition last week?  And didn’t I help right the canoe on the Ganges in India during our tiger hunt, Anton?  Anything you two can do, I can do as well.”

Macomber scowled at his wife, but Paul had to admit (now that he thought about it) she was an impressive woman—attractive, too, even in the sweaty heat of the jungle.

He tried not to compare the sweat beading on Joan’s forehead, neckline, and arms to the fine sheen of sweat that used to form on his wife Caliso’s skin in the tropical sun.

“All right, have it your way, Joan,” Macomber agreed.  “You’ll just sulk and make things difficult if I try to stop you, and we need to get going.  Time’s wasting.”

He turned to the leader of their African guides.

“Kojo, ready the big canoe.  The three of us are leaving immediately.  And be sure to pack in the rotenone.”

*

It took nearly two hours of hard paddling to reach the place the natives called the Emerald Cove.  The bearers’ headman, Kojo, had filled the large canoe with more supplies and equipment than three people needed—or that Paul hoped they would need, anyway—including a shotgun, a rifle, three tri-pronged fishing spears and three pistols, a flare gun and surfeit of flares, enough food for at least three meals each, mosquito netting in case they needed to overnight, machetes for clearing their way, plus clubs for subduing their prey, as well as nets and ropes to secure it, and the rotenone powder with which to poison the water and hopefully capture the mysterious amphibian they’d all come to find.

Unfortunately (in Paul’s estimation), Kojo had neglected to include any alcohol among their provisions.  Denied the “hair of the dog,” Paul’s headache had grown worse, not better, by the time the little party arrived at their destination.

“It’s amazing!” Joan opined, her blue eyes wide with wonder.

Even through his pounding hangover, Paul had to admit she was right.

An arch of overhanging jungle greenery made the narrow opening to Emerald Cove look like the entrance to an enormous verdant cave.  Beyond that sheltered strait, the waterway broadened out and became a vast placid pool, stretching at least a quarter mile into the depths of the Congo.  A bend in the lake made it impossible to see the far end, but the sound of a distant waterfall drifted across the cove’s still surface.

An uncanny coolness descended over them as they exited the strait and paddled into the broad river spur.  It seemed as though they’d entered a world apart from the rest of the jungle.  The cove’s water ran deep and clear, but its mirrorlike surface reflected the surrounding lush rainforest, making the isolated lake live up to every bit of its name.

“Emerald Cove…” Paul muttered through dry lips.  “…Yeah.”

“Nice,” agreed Macomber, the beauty of the place apparently overcoming even his ruthless cynicism.

The trio’s admiring pause lasted a few long moments.  Then…

“Let’s get to work,” the circus owner said, breaking the group’s reverie.  “Daylight won’t last forever, you know.”

Indeed, even now the equatorial sun was creeping toward the treetops, heralding the 12-hour tropical night to follow the equally long day, all part of the jungle’s unchanging and often brutal cycle.

Macomber kept paddling as Paul and Joan quickly prepared small weighted bags, filling them with white rotenone powder and then tossing them overboard, where the drug quickly dispersed into the clear water.

A pang of regret ran through Paul at poisoning this pristine waterway.  The rotenone would hopefully subdue the man-sized amphibian they were hunting, but it would likely kill all but the largest fish in the cove.

Of course, they didn’t even know this deadly tactic would work against the thing for sure.  The creature might be immune to the poison or prove even more susceptible to it than fish, though either of those responses seemed a remote possibility.  More likely, Paul thought, the drug would slow the thing down and make it easier to subdue and capture.  That’s what they all hoped, at least.

Paul did care about the smaller fish, too—he was a live-capture hunter, after all—but at the moment, he cared more about that thousand-dollar payday and getting out of this hothouse hell (and away from greedy idiots like Anton Macomber).  Fortunately, after its initial toxic effect, the rotenone’s potency would quickly decay, leaving not a trace for future generations of surviving fish.

And future gill-men, if there are any more… Assuming there’s even this one, Paul thought.

Already, small fish were floating to the surface in the milky-white trail of their canoe, as Macomber zig-zagged the craft across the lake, which was two-hundred yards or so wide.

The shores of the Emerald Cove were as diverse as night and day.  To their right, the landscape rose from the jungle floor into a vine-covered cliff of grayish granite.  On the left, the vegetation reached right down into the water, though a strip of tawny beach appeared near the bend in the watercourse.  It was almost as though the lake was a dividing line, a rift, splitting the  deep jungle into lowlands and even more forbidding highlands.  The cliffs cast ominous dark shadows across the brilliant green water.  The whole setting seemed almost… unreal.

Macomber grunted in discomfort.  “Take over paddling, Longmire.  My shoulders are getting stiff… And I want to spend some time with my wife.”  He grinned greedily.

Joan didn’t look too happy about the change in positions.  Paul had sensed a lot of tension between the two during this expedition, though Joan clearly remained devoted to the marriage.  So, Paul merely nodded and switched places with the businessman.  Despite the fact that it was cooler in the cove than in the river beyond, all of them were still sweating from their work.

That creature will smell us from a mile off—if it’s above water.

As if in answer to Paul’s thought, the lake surface near the bend suddenly roiled with a great disturbance from below.

“There!” Macomber cried from the back of the canoe.  “Paddle that way!  It’s something big!  Maybe what we’re looking for!”

“Or it could be just a goliath tigerfish, like the one we netted last week.”

“Let’s find out, dammit!” Macomber snarled.  “Paddle!  Double time!”

Paul paddled toward the spot quickly, putting all his frustration into the task.  When he’d been rich—before his family cut him off—he’d never would have taken orders from a self-important fool like Macomber.

“Keep tossing those packets, Joan!” Macomber commanded.  “We don’t want it to slip past us and out into the river again!”

“Yes… boss,” his wife said, her reply dripping with sarcasm.

The jibe made Paul smile, but Macomber, intently focused on the disturbed water ahead, didn’t even notice.

“Gimme one,” he told to her, sticking out his hand.

Dutifully, Joan obeyed.

“More to the right, Longmire!”

Paul complied as Macomber threw his packet over the bow of the canoe and toward the now-settling water.

The loosely bound bundle practically exploded into a cloud of white liquid poison as it hit the water.

Paul blinked.  Had he just seen a huge shadow swim away from that spot?  Or did he imagine it?

“Gimme another,” Macomber ordered; Joan did.  “Keep paddling!”

“Which way?” Paul asked.

“Didn’t you see it?  Toward the beach!”

“See what?” Joan asked.

“Something big in the water, moving that way,” Macomber replied.

Paul kept paddling, the thrill of the chase springing up in his veins.

I didn’t imagine it!

Macomber kept throwing rotenone packets ahead of them as they went.  “We’ve almost got it now!” he enthused.  “It can’t escape!”

“Anton, I… I’m not sure we should be doing this,” Joan said, a slight quaver in her usually strong voice.  “We don’t know enough about this thing.  If we corner it, God only knows what it might do.”

“Make yourself useful!” Macomber barked. “Grab a net or one of the spears!”

Paul couldn’t look back.  He kept following the shadow in the water, but he heard Joan fumbling with the equipment Kojo had packed.

I never should have let him put this much into the canoe, Paul thought.  It’s slowing us down.

Sweat poured down his brow.  He wanted to rip open his shirt to relieve the heat, but he didn’t dare slow the rate of his pursuit.

This was the thing he used to live for as a professional hunter, back before…

He wouldn’t think of it, couldn’t think of it now!

Yet, images of a lovely, lost face, a terrible fire, and superstitious Filipinos flooded his brain.

Concentrate, you drunken fool!

They were nearing the beach now, and Paul saw the dark shape below them more clearly against the pale sand.  It looked almost… human.

M’maji the natives called the creature: the water-man, as near as Paul’s knowledge of Swahili could make it.  He hadn’t believed that before—hell, he’d barely believed the thing existed, despite the reports and scant sightings they were following.  He’d thought maybe it would prove to be some freakish lizard, but now…

“A spear!” Macomber shouted, standing up and rocking the canoe perilously.  “Give me that fishing spear, Joan!  I have it in my sights!”

The water had grown shallow now, less than a fathom and a half deep, and even in the dark shadows of late afternoon, the outline of the figure swimming away from them stood out clearly.

“Anton,” Paul began, “I don’t think…”

Thwish!

Paul’s urge for caution came too late.  Already, Macomber had hurled his spear at the watery silhouette.

“Another!” Macomber cried, holding his hand out for a second spear.

“Did you hit it?” Joan asked, her voice trapped between excitement and fear.

“I don’t know!” Macomber snapped.  “But throw more rotenone into the water!”

Joan tossed the packet she had in hand and reached for a second spear as the canoe suddenly heaved into the air.

“It’s under us!” Macomber snarled.  “Longmire, you idiot!  You overran it!”

Paul had no time to reply, as their craft suddenly tipped, spilling him, Joan, and Macomber into the cool clear waters of the Emerald Cove.

“Joan… Spear!” Macomber shouted, sputtering as all three of them broke surface.

She shoved the spear she’d managed to grab toward him and then swam for the shore, less than five yards away.

Paul splashed toward the gunwale of the canoe.  The craft had—Thank God!—stayed upright, though much of its contents had been dumped into the water.  “Where is it?!” he called, heart pounding.  “I can’t see it!”

“I’ve got the bastard!” Macomber replied, enthusiastically stabbing his spear into the lake.

The water in front of him surged, and—suddenly—Macomber flew through the air and landed with a grunt at the waterline of the nearby beach.

The circus man looked at his torn shirt and bloodied chest.  “I… I think it bit me!” he said, astonished.

Paul groped in the canoe, and his hand found the stock of the shotgun.  The water around him was too deep to gain his footing and shoot, so, he scrambled back aboard.

Joan had reached the shore by then, and now she ran toward Macomber, who was still lying on his back at the water’s edge, stunned and bleeding.

But she stopped dead in her tracks as the hulking form of the monster emerged from the lake between her and her husband.

It stood perhaps seven feet tall, and scaly greenish armored plates covered its massive body.  A long dorsal fin ran down its back, and smaller fins adorned its arms and legs, as well.  Its face looked like a cross between a man and a Congolese tiger fish.  Huge sharp teeth filled the amphibian’s mouth, and its webbed hands and feet ended in long, sharp talons.

Paul’s jaw dropped.

The Congo Creature was real, a physical manifestation of the natives’ frightful superstitions.  The Filipinos believed Paul’s wife transformed into just such a horror on moonless nights, but this was no mythical isda-asawa; the m’maji was real as death.

One of Macomber’s hunting spears dangled from the monster’s side as it lumbered out of the water.

Both Joan and her husband screamed.

“Mother of God,” Paul muttered, trying not to tip over the canoe as he swung the shotgun around.  “Anton… Run!”

The shout seemed to break the spell holding Macomber, and he scrambled to his feet, but the monster was already on him.

It croaked angrily as it bore in, claws raised.

Macomber managed to yank the spear from its side and stabbed at it just as it reached him.

The monster roared, slashed once with its left hand, and broke the spear in half.

Macomber bellowed and fell to the ground, bleeding from four deep wounds in his chest.

The creature staggered as it yanked the spear from its pectoral muscle, wounded, but clearly not badly.  It turned toward Joan, who was fumbling with the pistol holstered at her waist.

She drew quickly and leveled it at the beast.

Click!

She went pale.

Water must have gotten in the mechanism!

Paul took aim and fired.

BLAM!

The monster howled as the shotgun pellets struck it, but the kickback from the burst made Paul’s canoe pitch, flinging him overboard once more.

As he hit the lake, Paul imagined the man-fish surging through the water toward him, ripping out his guts before he had time to recover.

But the expected deadly blow didn’t come.

Instead, the hunter sputtered to the surface, coughing water from his lungs once more.

The canoe still lay within reach, and Paul grabbed its side again, but what he saw on the shore made his blood run cold.

The monster had seized Joan, who now lay unconscious in its arms.  A large bruise marked her forehead, and a trickle of blood ran from her hairline.   The creature was carrying its unconscious prey toward the waterfall at the far end of the cove.

“Hey!” Paul shouted.  “Hey, you!”

But the creature paid no attention; it kept plodding down the beach toward the falls and a deeper part of the hidden lake.

Swimming with all his might, Paul towed the canoe into the shallows where he could stand.  He looked for his as-yet-unused rifle, but it must have gone into the water.  Fortunately, his shotgun had fallen back aboard when he went in the drink.  It remained dry.

He grabbed the weapon again and pumped another shell into the chamber.  Then, realizing he couldn’t chance hitting Joan with a buckshot blast, he grabbed the remaining spear as well.

“Hey!” he screamed as he ran after the retreating monster, holding the spear and shoving the gun barrel into his belt.  “Put her down, you bastard!”

The creature’s breath seemed labored as Paul neared it—clearly it didn’t like being out of water for extended periods—and it stank like Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx.

So intently was the thing focused on its beautiful victim that it didn’t notice Paul stomping over the sand toward it until the last moment.

“Yaaaaah!” Paul howled as he stabbed the thing in the back with his spear.

He pushed with all his might, trying to drive the three-tined barb as deeply into the thing’s flesh as he could, though the monster’s thick scales blunted his attack.

The creature dropped Joan and wheeled, nearly yanking the weapon from Paul’s hand as he pulled it out to stab again.

The m’maji slashed with its deadly talons, but Paul stepped back, avoiding them, and stabbed again, aiming for what he hoped was a vulnerable spot in the pit of his foe’s right arm.

His guess proved correct, and the triple tines of the spear bit deep into the softly armored underarm.

A croaking growl erupted from the fish-man’s throat, and it swiped at Paul.

He tried to get out of the way, but the awkward backhand still slapped him in the chest.

Paul hurtled through the air, feeling like he’d been hit by a truck, and landed a dozen feet away.

The impact knocked the breath from his lungs, and starbursts whirled around his head.

“Paul…  Paul…!”  Joan’s cry seemed to come from far away.

Then suddenly, she appeared next to him, her warm arms around his battered body.  “Are you all right?”

“Am I…?” Paul began.  “Are you?”

She nodded her head.  “I tried to fight, but it caught me across the temple.  I’m all right, now.”

Somehow, Paul scrambled to his feet.

The m’maji was lumbering away from them, still heading toward the deep pool at the base of the waterfall.  It yanked the spear out of its armpit and cast the weapon aside, wounded but clearly nowhere near dead.

Paul’s numb fingers found the butt of the shotgun and pulled the weapon from his belt.

He raised the firearm to his shoulder and took aim at the creature’s unprotected back.  His finger tightened on the trigger…

“No, Paul!” Joan pleaded, pushing the barrel away, spoiling his aim.

The monster toppled into the pool at the edge of the water and sank into the emerald green below, quickly vanishing from sight.

Paul looked at Joan, bewildered, his body aching, his head pounding worse than ever.  He needed a drink.  He licked his lips and asked: “Why?”

“We attacked it first,” she explained.  “And it didn’t really hurt me.  It could have… But it didn’t.  I was more frightened than anything else.

“And anyway, Anton needs our help.  We can’t waste our time chasing monsters.”

“Yes.  Yes…  I guess you’re right.”  Paul gazed back down the beach to where Anton lay bleeding.  Despite the gathering twilight, Paul saw that Macomber was still breathing.

It would be a hard paddle in the darkness back to camp, even with tonight’s full moon to light their way.

He prayed to God that the m’maji was wounded badly enough that it wouldn’t follow them.  And he hoped that the creature wasn’t man enough to want revenge.

Joan smiled weakly at him.  “Besides… I thought you only did live-capture hunts now, Mr. Longmire.  Or are you out for trophies again?”

Paul shook his aching head. “No.  No trophies.  Not this time.  Not anymore.”

Together, they bound Anton’s wounds and loaded him back into the canoe, leaving behind every piece of equipment they could spare, so they could move more quickly.

The little expedition left the Emerald Cove and returned to the main tributary as quickly as they could.

Though Macomber never roused as they paddled back downstream, Joan talked optimistically of his recovery and their journey back to Europe.

“Who knows?” she said as she and Paul paddled into the moonlit equatorial night.  “Maybe we’ll even make it home in time for Christmas.”

“Maybe,” Paul agreed.  “You should.  With a little luck.”

He’d have none of that luck himself, though.  He’d lost what little he had in a burning shack in the Philippines to a bunch of superstitious rabble and their fear of the isda-asawa.

Yes, Joan and Anton might have their merry Christmas, and even the m’maji fish-man might have one…

But what Paul Shaw Longmire needed for Christmas was that extra thousand dollars that Macomber had promised him.

He wondered if he’d get it.

Because if he did, he intended to buy himself a lot of really stiff drinks.

May you have a Blessed Christmas & an even better New Year.

ABOUT “CORNERING THE CONGO CREATURE”

This story sprang into my head in 2019 when I was contemplating what to write for my annual Cushing Christmastime tale.  I wrote it down in my commonplace book, but for reasons I don’t entirely remember, I didn’t write it that year.

Instead, I had an odd flu-like reaction to my second shingles shot and, during that semi-delirium, wrote a story—“The Mummy’s Gift”—that I literally could not remember until I went back and re-read it earlier in 2020, this year.

Maybe that was fortuitous, because the supporting characters in that mummy tale made it into the Dr. Cushing’s Chamber of Horrors Role-Playing Game (RPG) this summer.  The supporting characters in this tale—Anton and Joan Macomber—aren’t as RPG friendly.  Though who knows what the future may bring?  While writing this, I did hatch an idea for a sequel…

This story—like all of the Cushing Christmastime tales so far—is a prequel to the original Dr. Cushing’s Chamber of Horrors novel.  Like the others, it focuses on one of our main cast members, Paul Longmire (future werewolf) in this case.

One of the interesting things about Paul is that I gave him a long and convoluted backstory.  This sets him apart from the Cushing twins, who are younger than he and, on the whole, only have stories related to their father and his explorations.  (Dr. Cushing is much older than any of those three, and there’s certainly plenty of room in his past for untold adventures, as well.)

Unlike Dr. Cushing, much of Paul’s backstory was hinted at in the original novel.  So, that makes it fun for me to go back and fill in pieces in stories like this—especially when said pieces might set up future books or stories.

Because while “Chasing the Congo Creature” takes place several years before the start of Dr. Cushing, things that happen in this short will echo into our lupine hero’s future and impact the rest of the Cushing cast as well.

Obviously, this story is a tribute to Universal’s Creature from the Black Lagoon series.  I assume you recognize the hallmarks of those classic films.  People who’ve listened to the B-Movie Cast or Monster Kid Radio know how much I love the gill-man.  (It’s MKR’s Derek Koch’s favorite monster film, too!)

At the same time, I hope I brought a slightly different tone and point-of-view to this particular fish-out-of-water tail… er… tale.  If nothing else, I trust I’ve helped tie Paul’s big game hunter past into the present and future of his arc.  And if you’re really clever, maybe you’ve spotted some tidbits that point to at least one of the deeper mysteries in the Dr. Cushing universe.

The Macombers didn’t spring full-blown into my mind as a circus couple.  Rather they were inspired by a movie, The Macomber Affair, which was based on Hemmingway’s story, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” both of which were created long after the “Between the Two Great Wars” setting of the Dr. Cushing stories.

Those Macombers bear no relation to the ones in this story.  I just decided to tribute the name because I like the film, and it’s the first Hemmingway tale I’ve read that I actually enjoyed.  (Sorry, Ernest!)  Plus, those yarns have some hunting action going on, and there’s hunting of a sort in my story.  So, there.

Joan Macomber is named for Joan Bennett, the Grande Damme of Dark Shadows who also appeared in The Macomber Affair.  If you’ve never seen Joan when she was young, you’ve missed quite a dish as well as a brilliant actress.  I understand that she dyed her hair dark after a certain point in her career to get more serious, noir-type roles.  I let my Joan retain her blonde coif as well as the stunning blue eyes of her namesake.

There is no conscious derivation for Mr. Macomber’s first name of “Anton,” though maybe Anton Diffring—who appeared in The Man Who Could Cheat Death and several other cool flicks—was lurking in the back of my mind.  The African name Kojo means “born on a Monday.”  So, that fills you in on all of the names.

Which I think wraps up this edition of “About the Story.”

Drop me a line on Facebook or my Patreon—www.PaySteve.com—or my site and let me know how you liked it.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and Happy New Year, 2021!

(It’s gotta be better than 2020, right?  Jeeze, let’s hope so!)

Stay safe and well!

— Steve Sullivan

December 17, 2020

Read my other FREE Cushing Horrors Christmastime stories:

A Shadow Over Christmastime” & Notes (2016), “Christmas Imps” (2017), “Krampus vs. the Werewolf” (2018), “The Mummy’s Gift” (2019)

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