An interlude: Honey Badger

A little silliness after an informative Wikipedia search at a party earlier this week.  Put this in your toddler’s flashcards; the world does not stop at the farmyard.

Honey Badger

After the previous day’s antics, the hunting party set up camp a little further from the river. By now, dinner was finished, and clusters of people gathered around the three campfires in front of the tents. The closest fire to an Umbrella Thorn tree sat two men in canvas camp chairs. One was called Charlie, a native to Africa. The other was Douglas, and he’s not.

“Bloody good cigars,” said Charlie.

“Savour it,” said Douglas. “I have two left, and short of a miracle, they’ll have to last a while.”

The two men blew out smoke and looked at their quarry.

Peter Van Straun was leaning near the native who was cleaning his gun for him. On his application he had described himself as a gifted amateur with firearms, but after three near-misses it became obvious he couldn’t handled a gun to save himself.

“One day left,” sighed Charlie. “What are we going to do?”

“You’re the animal expert. I only bring them here,” said Douglas, polishing his signet ring. He had picked it up in a market for a couple of dollars, and had no idea whose family crest was on the face. It just seemed to suit his carefully constructed persona.

“Is he seriously going to withhold the bonus?”

“Unless he gets to shoot something ‘juicy.’ His words.”

“Thought narrowly being mashed by a hippo would have been enough.” Charlie looked at the ash on the end of his cigar. “Bonus for saving his life?”

“Are you sure we can’t pick up the trail of that cat?”

“It’s gone, Dougie. And we’re not likely to come across another in the next couple of hours. Are you sure you can’t convince him of a hyena?”

Douglas jetted out smoke. “Not juicy,” he said.

The two men stared.

“You know,” said Douglas. “We could try pulling a Henderson on him.”

“No, Doug,” said Charlie.

“Come on, Chuck, we’re desperate,” said Douglas. “You’re the animal expert. Choose an animal, spin a yarn about it going rogue or something. You know, carried off a couple of babies from the local villages.”

“No!”

“And if you get the right story, it doesn’t matter what we end up shooting. It could be a tapeworm just as long as he thinks it’s a psychopathic killer. It won’t matter. In his mind he’s the hero of the hour. He goes back home with a trophy and a story.” Douglas sucked on the cigar and blew. “If he’s convinced enough to pay us the bonus it even won’t matter if he finds out later. We’ll have cigars to spare!”

Charlie said nothing and looked deep into the fire.

Van Straun was coming over, one hand in a pocket and the other holding an enamel mug, rifle slung over his shoulder and a sullen look spread over his face.

“Last day tomorrow,” he said, thudding his heavy backside into a camp chair. “Not long left, Dougie-boy. Remember what I said. Juicy!” He slurped loudly from his enamel mug as Douglas glanced at Charlie and rolled his eyes.

The three sat in silence. Douglas toyed with his signet ring, wondering if he should at least get the ball rolling, or whether he should leave it up to Charlie.

There was a surprised yelp from the natives, and a sudden movement of the group around the other fire. Van Straun lifted his gun, and Douglas automatically pushed the barrel to the sky.

“Oh dear,” said Charlie.

“What are they saying?” said Van Straun.

“Something dangerous…” said Charlie. Out of sight of Van Straun, Douglas turned and gave a thumbs-up. Charlie didn’t see, staring into the moving shadows around the other campfire. Something was moving among the other men who were jumping back out of the way.

Charlie stood so quickly it knocked his chair backwards.

“Oh Jesus God we have to move right now!” said Charlie. Douglas was up next to him, working hard to keep his grin to himself.

“What is it? What is it?” Van Straun was saying, holding the rifle under his arm and aiming randomly at the shadows. Some of the other men noticed, and the scrambling took a more frantic edge.

“Up the tree!” Charlie was already going for the lower limbs of the Umbrella Thorn. “Off the ground, right now!”

Charlie helped to pull Van Straun’s bulk into the branches, and Douglas scrambled to his own.

“So Charlie, what’s down there? Something juicy for us?” he hoped his voice didn’t sound too put-on. Van Straun was straddling his branch while trying to aim his gun one-handed into the camp site.

“One of the most horrible creatures on God’s earth.” Charlie’s voice was a low murmur.

“Good God, what?” hissed Van Straun.

“A Honey Badger.”

“A what?” Douglas found himself saying in unison with Van Straun.

At that moment the creature came waddling into the firelight. It’s walk reminded Douglas of his father’s sheep dog at the end of its life, all arthritic and forlorn. The animal waddled into the firelight, pausing to snuffle loudly at chairs, and Van Straun’s dropped mug. It’s back was entirely white, while the rest of it was black. It had a round head, entirely unlike a dog’s, and somewhere in the hair was the end of the nose and suggestion of eyes.

“That?” said Van Straun, his eyebrows hiked high. Douglas looked from his face to Charlie’s. He’s not buying it, he thought.

“I’ll have it stuffed for my daughter,” said Van Straun continued, trying to get a bead on the animal. “Save buying a teddy bear from the airport.”

“Don’t shoot, you fool!” Charlie put his hand across the top of Van Straun’s rifle, nearly causing Van Straun to lose balance. “You’ll only anger it!”

“This will blow it to pieces-”

“They are tougher then they look.” Charlie lowered his voice further. “Their skin is as tough as oak. I have seen arrows and spears glance off a badger’s pelt without leaving a mark. My brother saw three men set upon a Honey Badger, and only one still lives to tell the tale. And they were armed with machete!

“Jesus Christ!” said Douglas in a tone he hoped sounded like he was being drawn into Charlie’s story. “Oh, yes, Peter, listen to Charlie, he knows. If Charlie says don’t shoot, then go with Charlie.”

The animal had finished investigating the mug, and was wandering through the open door of the nearest tent.

“Three men?” Van Straun’s voice contained incredulity.

“Those claws,” Charlie was pointing. “They have inches-long claws that will disembowel you with a single thrust.  Snap your Achilles like a piece of string.”

“Claws,” said Van Straun slowly, running a hand over his belly. Douglas felt it the right moment to amp the story.

“I wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of one of those things, no sir,” said Douglas. “Actually, didn’t that last village say a couple of babies got carried off by one of those things? In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the what the bloody hell does it think it’s doing?!

The flat face had reappeared at the tent’s door. Two cigars poked out of its mouth like fingers, and were quickly disappearing as the animal’s jaws rapidly worked.

Douglas’ mouth opened and closed, then in one movement he dropped to the ground and ran at his tent, waving his arms.

“They’re mine, you horrid little creature. Go on! Get out of here! Shoo! Shoo-”

~*~

“And what did you do after the Honey Badger tore the man’s arm off, papa?”

Van Straun sat on the edge of the lounge chair and mimicked holding a rifle in front of this awed daughter.

“I remembered my rifle lessons. I took aim, breathed, and ten rounds later I managed to stave it’s head in with a rock.”

“That was extraordinarily brave of you, papa.”

Van Straun leaned back in his chair, surveying the taxidermy remains of the Honey Badger. It was reared up and snarling, the massive disembowling claws at their fullest extent. And for a little extra, the taxidermist had done a fine job of working into the beast’s jaws the severed hand wearing a signet ring on its finger. He drew heavily on his cigar and blew out some fine smoke.

“Certainly was, m’dear. Hero of the hour.”

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