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by Kevan Youde


Today had been a good day for Matt. The group was bonding and there were friendships forming across the lines that had divided his clients on their first day in the game reserve. They were used to the rigours of life in a two-ton truck and had accepted that the money they'd spent on the expedition had bought them adventure not luxury.

The clients were a mixture of types. There were recent graduates, four couples and two newly divorced women looking for a fresh start. Clients were often eccentrics and this group's misfits were Bob and Buddy: a pair – or possibly a couple – of tubby Americans who'd sold their e-business and were celebrating with a tour of Africa. They were accompanied by Mr Bubbles, a toy bison of whom they took dozens of pictures, gleefully uploading them to Facebook at the first whiff of broadband when the truck passed a game lodge.

Today they'd seen giraffes, elephants and crocodiles, as well as the ubiquitous gazelles that even the widest-eyed clients were tiring of. Their tents were pitched on flat ground that was reasonably rock-free and only mildly infested with scorpions and biting ants. Matt unrolled his sleeping bag and looked forward to a rest before another day watching his clients pixelate the savannah with their digital cameras.

However, Matt had some urgent business first. Over dinner, they'd drunk two crates of local beer provided by Jonathan, their park ranger. Despite the beer's astringent taste, Matt had sunk five bottles and, having gone on it's own safari through him, it was now eager to make an exit. Matt crawled to the end of his small tent, unzipped the flap and climbed into the inky African night. He'd got his head and shoulders out when a low growl made him freeze.

After ten expeditions, Matt didn't scare easily at night. He'd learned to tune out the background grunts and rumbles while staying alert for anything threatening. This was one of those times. The growl was a hunting lioness. Matt wondered if he should call for Jonathan, sleeping in the next tent. He had a rifle and if the lions got too close, they might need to fire a warning shot. He decided against it. Jonathan had drunk a lot of beer and Matt didn't want him using his gun unless there was no choice.

This gave Matt a problem. The beer was banging on his bladder, demanding a way out but he wasn't going out to spread his scent when there was a hunting pride around.

He decided to compromise. Ducking back into the tent, he arranged the two zips on the flap so that there was a small hole halfway up, then knelt and undid his flies. After a bit of awkward re-positioning all was ready and relief came over him in a wave.

Suddenly, the night exploded. A lion's roar merged into the agonised squeal of a warthog. Screams, howls and grunts fought for the air against ripping and tearing noises. The noise was almost a physical blow that knocked Matt onto his back. The terror he felt did nothing to stop the flow that he'd been enjoying so much. As his backside hit his sleeping mat, the stream in front of him continued and Matt heard splashing against the inside of the tent. He managed to get himself under control but a new roar set him off again and he had two more false finishes before he mastered himself. Afterwards, all he could do was push his belongings up to the far end of the tent and sleep in a tight foetus.

When morning came, Jonathan roused the clients to show them vultures and hyenas fighting over the carcass lying thirty metres from the campsite. Matt, wearing clean trousers and shirt, chatted with the clients as they excitedly related their experiences of the night. He was in a good mood until he went back to the tent to pack up.

As soon as he opened the flap, the smell hit him. He'd been expecting something bad but the stench almost knocked him over. Whatever foul chemicals had flavoured Jonathan's beer had turned his urine into something that would have launched a UN investigation if it had been used on a battlefield.

As he took the tent down, the smell worsened in the growing heat. When he stuffed the tent into its carrying bag, the full horror occurred to him. It would now sit all day in the tight nylon bag, baking in the African heat. The thought of what it would smell like come evening almost turned his stomach. Matt picked up the tent and carried it to where the clients were stowing their gear for the day. As he watched Bob and Buddy load their bags then run off to photograph Mr Bubbles by the warthog carcass, an idea came to him.

That evening the group were pitching camp when Bob and Buddy came to Matt's tent.

“Matt,” said Buddy. “There's something wrong with our tent. It smells...kinda gross.”

Kinda?” said Bob. “It smells, like, totally gross.”

“Let's have a look,” said Matt.. Next to Bob and Buddy's tent, two Danish housewives were pulling faces, and waving palms below tightly held noses. “Phew, I see what you mean,” Matt said when he got downwind of the putrid tent. “Of course, you know what's happened here.”

“No,” said Bob. “What is it?”

“Last night, some hyenas scent-marked your tent. They're very territorial.”

“Really? Hey wow, that's just great! Ingrid, did you hear that? Our tent got scent-marked. John, Julie, come and smell our scent-marked tent.”

That night, the group sat around their campfire and Bob, Buddy and Mr Bubbles basked in the glory of being the only scent-marked members of the expedition. Matt smiled, sipped his one beer for the evening and looked forward to a good night’s sleep in his fresh and fragrant tent.




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