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My friend Caz is the adventurous type. As a child his parents were constantly taking him on epic family vacations that made my summer trip to the zoo pathetic in comparison. Mountain climbing in Sweden, tours of the Grand Cannon, jungle hikes in South America, Caz had done it all, so it was no surprise when he said he was going on a safari in Africa the summer of our junior year. I wished him luck, and didn’t see him for three months.
When he returned I knew something was wrong.
At first I blamed it on jet lag, Caz was moody, had trouble sleeping, and brooded indoors.
Usually an avid jogger and bike rider, Caz now preferred to stay in watching romantic
comedies. After a few weeks I finally got up the courage to ask him what was wrong. He looked at me with dark bags under his bloodshot eyes and heaved a deep sigh.
“It would be nice to talk about it but . . . you’ll never believe me.”
I assured him that whatever the trouble I wasn’t here to judge, only to lend a friendly ear.
He agreed as long as I didn’t try to offer up an explanation or laugh, only to take it seriously and silently. I agreed.
“While I was in Africa I joined this group of men on a safari. It wasn’t your regular tour group, these guys were professionals with conservation and exploration. They didn’t speak English but I had a translator with me. I was joining them on an exploration – I forgot what it was exactly, tagging, or tracking, something. It was going to be a little dangerous, we were camping in the heart of the savannah, so of course I had to go along.
“The first couple of nights went pretty smoothly. I joined the group in the day, and they took me out to watering holes, and even a pride of lions, but . . . that third night we had a flat tire on the savannah and had to walk back.
“That day we had found a pack of hyenas – a bit unusual since they’re usually nocturnal. They were harmless enough, following us from far away, but not willing to attack a large group. They were very rough looking, with long tattered fur falling over their spotted legs. We stayed together and had the car, we were safe, but one of the guys – an older man named Gael – seemed ill at ease. He kept snapping at the others when they started to joke around or have conversation. Eventually I asked my translator about it.
“ ‘He’s warning them not to talk too much, or say names.’
“ ‘Why’s that?’
“The translator asked Gael, who looked at me, and sourly answered his questions. The younger men laughed as he spoke.
“ ‘It’s an old superstition, he’s nervous about the hyenas. He says they’re listening, and that we shouldn’t reveal too much about ourselves. Especially our names.’
“ ‘Why?’ I asked.
“ ‘They listen,” Gael answered me himself in broken English.
“Before he could continue one of the younger men – Obasi – started to laugh. He pointed at the old man and yelled his name out to the plains. Gael looked like he was going to hit him. Then Obasi pointed at me and started yelling my name as well.
“ ‘Caz! Caz! Hahaha!’
“The others laughed as well, and I chuckled with them. We could hear the hyenas laughing in the distance, that unnatural clown chuckle, as if they were laughing right along with us. The old man glared at us, but didn’t say anything. I think the others were put off by his mood because they eventually quieted down and we walked in silence. The hyenas continued to follow us and we could hear them, laughing.”
Caz hesitated and hugged himself, shivering, “you ever hear a hyena laugh?”
“Like the Lion King?”
Caz shook his head, “It’s like a person laugh, like someone faking it. It’s almost like they’re copying you, an animal just trying to sound human.”
Caz took a deep breath and continued.
“As we walked the sun started to go down . . . I’ll never forget how supernatural it felt, how quickly it seemed to disappear and we were still so far from camp. The group lighted up real torches with fire to scare away any animals. They said the hyenas were still following us, and they would get more aggressive at night. Once in a while I would hear one of their little chuckles.
“We were almost to camp when we heard someone calling in the darkness. It sounded like a person yelling but we couldn’t make out what they said. We all jumped in fear and looked around, trying to see who in the group was missing. Everyone was accounted for. Gael snapped something at us, and we kept moving. I kept looking over my shoulder, but we were in the middle of nowhere, the darkness was absolute.
“ ‘Shouldn’t we check? What if someone’s in trouble?’ I asked. My translator shook his head.
“ ‘It’s too dangerous at night. We need to get back to camp.’
“Eventually we did. I was grateful to see our tents, but for the first time I wished I had something more than a sheet of fabric between me and the wilderness. The group built large fires all around the campsite and set up a couple of men to keep watch. I retired to get some rest.
“But I couldn’t sleep, I was nervous and my head was full of ghost stories. Just as I started to dose off I heard someone calling my name from outside.
“ ‘Caz . . . Caz . . .’
“I figured it was my turn to keep watch, so I crawled out of my tent and went to the bonfire, which had burned down low. I added more wood and got the flames high. In the dark I thought I saw the firelight reflect off animal eyes, but then they were gone.
“I didn’t see anyone around, which was odd. ‘Obasi?’ I asked. I heard movement in the dark.
“ ‘Caz . . . Caz!’”
I stared at that wall of night, the voice seeming to come out of nowhere.
“ ‘Stop it,’ I knew he couldn’t understand me, but I made my tone warning enough.
“ ‘Caz!’ The voice called for help, but I was reluctant to leave the safety of the firelight. Something was off, I couldn’t place the voice. Was it Osabi? Gael?
“ ‘Caz!’ The panicked tone rose, and I started to go after it, forgetting my doubts.”
At this point in the story Caz hesitated. He looked at me, sweating, shivering. “Osabi saved my life.”
“Was there something behind you?” I asked.
“Osabi was behind me. He grabbed my shoulder before I could run out into the dark. When I turned around his eyes were wide and he looked very scared. I started at him in shock, then looked back at the dark.
“ ‘Caz . . .’ I heard the voice one last time, teasing me from the shadows . . . Then I heard it laughing, that mad little laugh. Osabi and I woke everyone up, frightened. We did a head count, but everyone was there, no one missing. We all stayed up together that night, close to the fires, not moving or sleeping until the sun came up.”
I stared at Caz, waiting for the story to continue, but he was pale and seemed unsure.
“Did you ever figure out who did it?”
Caz whipped his head around, giving me a wild, mad look, “The hell do you think was doing it? I heard them every night after that, calling my name from the dark, laughing at me. I still hear them, even though I’m back home. Laughing at me in my nightmares . . .” Caz trailed off, shuddering, “they were listening, they heard my name and they tried to trick me . . . so I would come to them.”
Credit: Breanna Bright