In Search of the Black Rhinoceros

This is a 250 word submission I wrote in March 2014 in hopes of a scholarship to Writing by Writers Conference in Boulder. The piece made it through the first cut, into the top third of submissions (or so the sweet encouraging person answering emails said), but wasn't one of the three winners. The rules for the competition were to choose a genre, then use the word beetle, VW or Beatle somewhere in the piece. Triggered the reminder of an experience in South Africa, 2000. Had a blast writing it. Enjoy!

My guide, a man etched from obsidian and impeccably dressed in khaki that only wrinkled around his guns, led the way. To date, he'd shown us four of Africa's Big Five: lion, cheetah, leopard, elephant. Today, was number five: the elusive Rhino. Walking was the only option. 

I listened to his rules. "No talking. Never run. Stay close." 

Of the guests at Phinda, only I stepped forward. Then, with a head tilt, a cocked rifle and an unclipped holster, we set off in tandem down a vague, but musky trail. Casts of paw and hoof prints from last week's rain were eroding and being replaced with new tracks, this week's scat, last night's urine and timeless tufts of hair.  After two full days in a bucking topless jeep, it was bliss to walk.

For twenty minutes under a wilting sun, I methodically stepped into his tracks before the dust could settle - heel to toe, heel to toe. Suddenly, his chin lifted to point at a herd of giant water buffalo cresting the rise, parting the chest high grass. In stride, we veered away to shelter in a bushy ravine. 

Twenty breaths later, my guide sunk onto his heels. Like a shadow, I shrunk behind him, crouching and leaning forward.  Underfoot was a Black Rhino midden. The stench mingled with the stink of fear sweat. Through a screaming heartbeat, I scanned the circle and listened. Alert, but numbly calm, I followed his eyes to movement and caught my breath. 

Dung beetle!

©Kaci Cronkhite, 2014