Mokele-mbembe by Stephen J. Golds

Punk Noir Magazine

Submitted this story to a cryptids anthology. It didn’t make the cut. What the hell do you do with a story about a dinosaur still existing in the Congo? I don’t know. So here it is.

I swatted at a mosquito the size of a dime and stared off into the foliage. Had never seen so much green in all my life. Green on green on green. Sure I was going snow-blind. Jungle-blind, it had to be a thing. But I was a wedding photographer from New York, what the hell did I know about the jungle? I’d been relegated to the scientific group’s factotum, so evidently not a lot.

The tribe elders started going crazy, yammering on in their native tongue, sounding like the clicks and tuts of a pissed off ex-girlfriend. Clara and Karen were both big tutters. Bitches. The tribes people reminded me a lot of my exes. They seemed to get overexcited about almost anything. Pygmies. Taller than I’d been led to believe. Most of them were at least five foot. Vicious looking oompa loompa bastards. I glanced at the group huddled around a fire, bored out of my skull. Blake was holding up an A4 card with a sketch of a long-necked dinosaur on it. Bront-a-diplod-a-dick or some shit. The tribespeople were gestering to the card and then pointing back through the jungle towards the river.

Guttering, our kraut guide and translator, interpreted what they were yammering to Blake and Blake flashed a grin back across at Guttering, then at me. He frowned at the cigarette in my mouth, waving his hand in a quick gesture, I supposed was his way of saying ‘snub it out’. At this point in the expedition I didn’t know what was more annoying, the bugs, the constant screeching of animals and birds in the trees, or my cousin Blake. I flicked the smoke into the bush and lit up another.

The scrawny, little streak of piss, Guttering said was the chief of the tribe, shuffled over, reaching out for my Sterling Silver Zippo. I pushed his hand away gentle but firm. Smiling with all my pearly whites. You had to let these kinds of people know who was boss. Sure, you’re a chief of a tribe in the Congo but try getting loan credit writing that on an application form in a bank. Guttering had already bribed these people with half of our supplies. Gave them most of our toilet roll too. Hadn’t wiped my ass properly in days. Like they even needed toilet roll. I’d be damned if I was giving up my Zippo too. A birthday present from a woman I had actually loved who hated my guts the last time I’d checked. Before she’d blocked my cell number. Guttering said it was best not to offend any of the tribes folk, give them whatever they wanted. Sounded to me like we were being taken for a ride. I didn’t intend to give up all my shit. After the Zippo, they’d probably want the Rolex off my wrist. The boots off my feet. I didn’t intend to end up in a cauldron like on those old cartoons we all watched as kids, either. My mother didn’t raise no fool. Had a .44 Magnum I bought from a black market in Zaire a couple of days before we arrived in the Congo, tucked into the front pocket of my backpack. I’d give the little village in the middle of the jungle a little of the Dirty Harry treatment before I gave them all my stuff.

The chief shuffled back to the campfire, giving me the evil eyes as though I’d just deliberately took a shit in his mud hut and banged one of his wives. Blake flashed more cards of dinosaurs. T. Rex and the Velociraptors got nothing but stupefied silence. Evidently these people had never sat down and watched Jurassic Park. Primitives. They didn’t have basic cable. Or even televisions. So lame. My cousin, the Poindexter, returned to the old long neck dino card and started asking animated questions which Guttering clicked and tutted into translation. I wasn’t even listening. Itchy as Hell from paper cut insect bites all over my body. The bug repellent didn’t do shit. Was going to take it back to the store and get a goddamned refund as soon as I was back stateside. Back in the real world. The chief mumbled machine-gun tribal talk fingering the card. Mokele-mbembe, they called the creature. I couldn’t even pronounce the damn thing without a chicken bone stuck in my throat. Let alone believe in it. Blake believed. He’d sunk his entire trust-fund and inheritance into proving the existence of the dinosaur surviving and thriving in the Congo Basin. Judging on the equally frightened and excited spiel of the tribespeople it was probably safe to say they believed to. It was either that or they knew an idiot cash cow when they saw one and were intent on leading Blake on. Milking him dry. Would keep encouraging his fantasies until all our supplies were depleted and then they would eat us and wear our bones as jewelry. Similar to my ex-wife. I imagined my beautiful, shapely skull as a helmet worn on the head of some grinning fool and shivered. Took out my flask for a nip of vodka. Shook it. Empty. Dammit. A little girl or boy, I couldn’t tell which, came over and offered me some green fruits from a bowl made of leaves. I waved her or him away like one of the mosquitos. To think, I’d been foolish enough to let Blake talk me into this expedition. He’d sold it to me as a once in a lifetime trip, all expenses paid for by his trust fund and The National Geographic Society. It could be a big opportunity for me, he said. Just take some photographs, he said. Document. Record. National Geographic might bring me on as a staff photographer. I’d dropped my Nikon in the river as we crossed the boarder undercover of darkness, so that avenue of potential was currently closed. As for recording, I couldn’t even get Twitter and my cellphone was as useless as a brick once it had run out of battery anyway. #shitvacation. There were no hot babes either. I’d had images of Mutiny on the Bounty that movie with Mel Gibson, before he went crazy. Young girls strolling around butt naked. Most of these women were old and hadn’t worn a bra in their lives so their boobs looked like Snoopy’s nose, if Snoopy were depressed and suicidal. Luckily, the more ancient chicks were wearing clothes that were donated by bible-bashing missionaries probably so I didn’t have to bare witness to what eighty years of no bra looked like. Some old broad stumbled past me wearing a Bush/Cheney ’04 t-shirt with brown stains all over it. #WTF? I’d left Manhattan for this?

Guttering started packing up our supplies and Blake whistled me over like I was a Golden Retriever or something. Dick!

“They’re going to take us to the location on the riverbank they say the Mokele-mbembe basks and bathes,” he said excitedly. Breathlessly.

“Yeah, they say,” I said.

“I beg your pardon,” he pushed his spectacles up his nose and gave me another one of his condescending frowns.

​“My backpack is chafing my shoulders. You got anymore of that skin scream?”

“Cousin, we are on the very cusp of making scientific history. The first western people to witness and document an actual living, breathing dinosaur. A man-eater, they say! It will be groundbreaking. Richter-scale groundbreaking. Now, lets get all our equipment packed up, go and bag ourselves a gosh-darned dinosaur and not just one. They say there’s an entire family of the Mokele-mbembe,” he put his hand on my chafed shoulder and smiled. He had tears of joy in his eyes. It was gross. I shook the weight of his spindly claw off like a case of the crabs.

“Cool. Whatevers. I need to go pinch a loaf,” I said. The suckers. Blake and Guttering hadn’t caught onto the fact I needed to take a long-ass toilet break every time there was actual work to be done. The trusty old call of nature. Had been helping me avoid serious manual labor for years. I did actually need a piss, so it wasn’t lying entirely. 

I cut around a small hut that had piles of fruits and flowers piled up onto miniature tables and cut loose on a mossy tree trunk. I noticed a bunch of statues carved out of a dark wood, crudely painted in red and white with large gaping holes for mouths. Probably that weird kid’s toys or something. It was too tempting. I directed my stream of dark, yellow piss at the statues faces. Getting the mouths was one hundred points. I was at around two thousand points and coming to the end of my stream when Bush/Cheney ’04 came around the hut and started screaming and wailing like someone was trying to fuck her. Maybe she hadn’t seen a white dick before. I didn’t know. I was zipping myself up quickly when Blake, Guttering and the Elders swarmed around me worse than the mosquitos pulling at my shirt and cramping my style completely. Someone knocked my Gucci shades on the dirty forest floor.

“What have you done?!” You idiot!” my cousin shouted. All up in my grill. He was lucky I didn’t knock him out, right then and there. I could’ve but I didn’t want to. I was above all that. #toxicmasculinity.

The chief started bellowing like he was constipated. Still salty he didn’t get my Zippo. Guttering wiped sweat from his face with a crusty bandana and swallowed.

“You have desecrated their Gods,” he said.

“Desecrated is taking it a little far. Jesus, it was only a little piss. Rain’ll wash it right off,” I said. 

“I think we are in very deep trouble here, gents,” Blake said, his eyes popping out over the massing crowds of pygmies surrounding us. Most had spears, some had machetes. Reminded me of a movie but I couldn’t remember the title and it bugged me.

“Listen to me very carefully…” Guttering hissed under his breath. He opened his mouth to say something else as a four-foot spear impaled him dead center in the chest and all that came out of his lips were puffed and panted death murmurs.

The chief was going apeshit — jumping up and down and pointing his finger at me and Blake as I yanked the Magnum from my backpack and let the old-timer have it right in the face. His head disappeared in a soupy spray of red, white and blue. USA! USA! USA! I thanked my lucky stars I’d bought the gun. Those Republicans finally got something right. The tribe scattered like cockroaches, and I was running, falling, sliding, sprinting back through the forest, down a hunting trail towards the river and the raft we’d arrived in days before.

Blake’s screamed my name and it echoed through the treetops. War drums and chanting following after. He was my cousin but I’m not ashamed to say as I sprinted through the foliage, jumped over dead trees, I prayed to a God I didn’t believe in that the tribe would catch him first. That way it would slow them down. Give me a better chance of making it. I ignored Blake’s shrieks for help and told myself he was heroically sacrificing himself for me. Decided that was the story I’d tell as soon as I got back stateside. Hell, maybe I’d even write a book about it.

Blakes screaming and screeching finally gurgled to a slightly sickening stop, the war drums faded out, and the rush of the river overwhelmed my senses. I’d made it. Against all the odds. My determined self-belief to prove the existence of the Congo dinosaur, Mbebeb-whatever-the-fuck. Guttering’s drunken attack on the cannibalistic tribe I had befriended and endeared to me with kindness and compassion. An escape through treacherous terrain. Dodging poison darts and spears. My cousins brave self-sacrifice so I may live. And the river escape on a dinghy. I’d survived it all. But… The goddamned raft was gone. Those no-good savages had stolen it probably. I slipped on my ass down the muddy bank and splashed into the river. My Armani cargo pants completely ruined. The drums started again. Dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum, dum. Made me remember that movie with Robin Williams about a board-game, something about the jungle in a suburb. Tried to recollect how that film had finished. All I could think about was Robin Williams killing himself.

Shouts. Calls. Hooting. Close. The tribe. So damn close. Thanks a lot for slowing them down, Blake. Not! 

I slung off my backpack and tossed it into the green, murky water. Feeling lighter, I waded out into the soft current. The water was warm. I pushed myself out, walking along the bottom like an astronaut on the moon. 

Halfway. Up to my neck, feet barely touching the riverbed. Trying to paddle, the Magnum still grasped in my fist. I felt something in the water change. The current suddenly seemed to get slower. Stiller. I felt something brush against my calf and let out an embarrassing high-pitched shriek. Just a fish. Weeds. Nothing, it was nothing, I told myself, looking down into the rancid smelling water. When I twisted my neck back towards the riverbank I spotted members of the tribe watching my progress with interest from the trees. The child that had offered me fruit just stood there with his small spear stabbed into the mud, watching with his beady little eyes.

“Ha ha ha, you little shits. Didn’t count on Dirty Harry, did ya? Huh? See you in Hell!” I lifted the magnum up out of the water, aiming at the kid’s leg. I wouldn’t kill him. Just maim the little bastard. After all, they murdered my cousin. 

The Magnum clicked, clicked, clicked damply. Dammit. I tossed it hard towards to the jungle, it splashed harmlessly in the water about a meter before the kid. I cursed. 

“Well, so long suckers!” I called out as I turned to swim to the other side. 

Freezing. Dead still. Eyes wide. An arm’s length in front of me, blocking my way was what looked like the top of a boulder protruding from the water. The boulder had dark shark-like eyes. I glimpsed a nostril twitch. Then it was rising up, growing. A crocodile-like mouth with crocodile-like teeth. A long neck grew longer. Another larger boulder appeared. Its back. And then it was towering over me. Craning its neck down to peer into my eyes. A real-life dinosaur. Its mouth became longer. The teeth sharper. I thought about the fisherman Quint from the movie Jaws. The drums started up again and I screamed.

Stephen J. Golds was born in North London, U.K, but has lived in Japan for most of his adult life.

He writes primarily in the noir and dirty realism genres and is the co-editor of Punk Noir Magazine.

He enjoys spending time with his daughters, reading books, traveling the world, boxing and listening to old Soul LPs. His books are Say Goodbye When I’m Gone, I’ll Pray When I’m Dying, Always the Dead, Poems for Ghosts in Empty Tenement Windows I Thought I Saw Once, Cut-throat & Tongue-tied, Bullet Riddled & Gun Shy and the story and poetry collection Love Like Bleeding Out With an Empty Gun in Your Hand.