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ServiceScape Incorporated
ServiceScape Incorporated

Announcing the Winner of the 2020 ServiceScape Short Story Award

Dom Amatuzio of Ontario, Canada is the winner of the 2020 ServiceScape Short Story Award. Dom is a former journalist who now writes novels and screenplays.

Dom Amatuzio
Dom Amatuzio, author and winner of the 2020 Servicescape Short Story Award

You can find his winning submission below. We hope you enjoy it and we look forward to reading more great short stories for our 2021 award.

The Final Trophy

By Dom Amatuzio

Naobi cut back the thick brush with his sharp machete, his long muscular arm growing tired from the constant swinging of the heavy blade in the midday heat. It'd been two hours since they had picked up the rhino's track, but there still hadn't been any sighting of the big animal. He didn't like hunting the wild beast, but his family was very poor, and the great British hunter, William McKenzie, paid much for his tracking skills. Though the Namibian government's special conservation forces officially protected the black rhino, poaching still continued. And Naobi knew that if he didn't assist the white hunter, there were others who wouldn't hesitate to jump at the chance. He could only hope this outing would prove futile.

But his worst fears were realized when he spotted a young rhino out in the open grassland, foraging with its mother. He saw McKenzie brush back his thick lock of white hair, give the signal to his men for quiet, bend his lanky six foot frame down on one knee, and take careful aim with his rifle.

McKenzie's shot cracked like the thunder of an oncoming fierce flash storm across the open plains. He'd targeted the young rhino first, knowing full well its mother wouldn't abandon the injured offspring. The large rhino – despite sensing the fatal danger around her – tried in vain to nudge the calf back up to its feet.

Naobi looked on helplessly. He was torn between pity and admiration for the great beast as it stood its ground in a brave but futile attempt to protect its young. It turned its massive horned head in the direction of the men, but they were too far off for it to see them. Rhinos are notoriously near-sighted and the simple fact was McKenzie could have shot it from fifty feet away, and it still wouldn't have been able to make him out clearly, even if would pick up his scent and that of the others. Perhaps the mother didn't realize its calf was already dead. Or, as Naobi wondered, the mother knew its calf was dead and waited now to avenge the savage assault. He watched her stand alone in the desert sun, and he couldn't help think the animal was calling out the cowardly assassin to face her directly – without his high-powered hunting rifle. Naobi wondered how brave McKenzie would be then, and imagined him trying to kill the rhino with only a knife or a spear – like a true warrior. But the image was shattered as McKenzie positioned himself for another shot.

He took aim, smiled, and fired two quick shots in succession. The first shot tore into the rhino's side, momentarily knocking her off of her feet. She struggled defiantly to stand up and turned her head from side to side, trying in vain to make visual contact with her assailant despite her poor eyesight. Then, the second bullet ripped shreds of flesh from her neck and dropped the rhino to the ground in a powerful thud.

Naobi closed his eyes and turned away as the mother rhino's magnificent carcass collapsed onto its young.

"Dead on!" McKenzie shouted, raising himself and his rifle into the air like a victorious child at a carnival shooting gallery. "Three clean hits and two trophies! Quite a day, boys." He slapped one of the bushmen on the back in an uncharacteristic act of camaraderie, and ordered them to secure his prizes.

The bushmen did so jubilantly, but not Naobi. One of them even produced a camera from one of the backpacks as McKenzie posed him familiar stance with one foot over each of the dead animals.

Realizing he'd probably hit an artery, McKenzie watched in awe as the blood spouted from the adult rhino's neck like water from a garden hose. Still quite not dead, he gave the command to decapitate her. "Be very careful with that great horn of hers. Any damage to it and you forfeit all your pay." He then gave careful instructions on how to excise the calf's horn. They all knew too well that its horn was even more precious than that of its mother's, and that it'd bring a considerable sum on the black market – perhaps even enough to cover the cost of the entire expedition. But he had no intention of selling the adult horn.

Once the mother rhino was beheaded, McKenzie posed with its severed head while two of the bushmen used a hack saw and pick axe to pry off the infant horn, leaving only a large, bloody hole where it used to be. McKenzie grinned like a crowned champion accepting his medal on the podium.

For a moment, the hunter pondered whether or not to remove the adult horn as well. He personally knew of a man in the Far East who made legendary elixirs from adult horns only, and who would pay handsomely for this one. It was literally worth its weight in gold. But he dismissed the notion. The rhino head would make an invaluable addition to his trophy collection. And what was a black rhino without its great horn? If I had more time, he considered, I'd hunt down another and sell its horn. But the beasts were getting scarcer by the minute, just some three thousand left. And he had taken too long to find these two. He wasn't the only one on the prowl after all – so were the conservation patrols. And like him, they usually shot first and asked questions later too. No, he'd gotten what he came for. It was time to leave.

Pools of blood from the dissected corpses parched the scorched ground, seemingly calling a variety of insects from their hiding places to dinner. Ever-ready opportunistic vultures circled overhead, appearing out of nowhere, aroused over the freshly killed pair and waited impatiently for the men to leave so they could join the feast.

Naobi first noticed the grimly shadows on the ground and looked up to see the buzzards doing their deathly dance in the sky. He wiped the sweat from his overheated brow with a thin cloth he kept in his pocket, and swallowed a long satisfying drink of cool water from his canteen.

The rhino head was packed into a heavy wooden case carried by two of the bushmen and the horn wrapped in cloth and stored away in a smaller, metal container. McKenzie watched curiously as Naobi crouched down over the mutilated corpses and spoke what appeared to be a prayer. When the tracker completed the ritual, McKenzie approached him.

"What's all that about?" he demanded, pulling over his Tilley hat to protect him from the blazing sun.

"I prayed to the slaughtered animals and asked their forgiveness."

"I think you've been in the day's sun too long," McKenzie scoffed. "It's affecting your senses."

"My people believe that the great creatures of the wild have souls as we do, and to avoid their revenge, we must pray and tell them we acted only out of necessity."

But McKenzie had little time or inclination to discuss philosophy.

"It's the conservation authorities' retribution you need to worry about, you ignorant fool – not some rotting animal flesh's ghost." The hunter slung his rifle back over his shoulder. "Now get us back to our rendezvous point. My transportation home will be waiting and so will your money, unless you'd rather not be paid."

Under different circumstances, McKenzie would have thought twice about talking to the man like that. Despite being armed with his hunting rifle and sidearm, (while the natives had only their hunting spears, machetes and knives) there were still five of them to his one. The hunter knew all too well there were a hundred different ways they could overpower – even kill him – along the way. Images of getting speared in the back or knifed in his sleep leapt to mind. But McKenzie put his fears aside, knowing that even should these men be inclined to hurt him for his lack or respect, they would stand to lose what was to them a great deal of money. And there would be no sign of such payment until he was safely back at the rendezvous point – where he would be safe with his own men waiting to provide transport for he and his cargo back to London.

Of course, McKenzie considered the possibility that the bushmen could kill him and try to cash in on the rhino horns themselves in lieu of the payment they had been promised, in which case they could savage his body too and leave the vultures an added bonus. But he soon dismissed the notion. They didn't have the contacts to fence the merchandise. The facts were simple: the bushmen were desperate; their homeland was ravaged by drought; their people were going hungry; many had already starved. McKenzie knew he had the upper hand. They knew it too.

"Naobi, when we get back, I'll give you a little extra something so you can buy a hat," the white hunter sneered. "The hot sun's making you delirious. This expedition proved productive though – two rhinos and a male African elephant with its glorious tusks. Maybe next time we'll try for one of those mountain gorillas in Zaire."

"This will be your final trophy."

"What do you mean?"

"Last night, I saw the dancing lights."

"The what?" McKenzie laughed.

"The old ones of my village say the lights are the protectors of the great beasts. When they appear, it is a sign, an omen, to beware."

"Protectors? Well, they didn't do a very good job, did they? I think your hunger's had lingering effects, it's playing tricks on your mind along with this sun."

The tracker said nothing further. McKenzie wondered if the man really knew something he didn't. It didn't matter though. It was time to get going.

So they journeyed back, through the outer ridges of Etosha National Park. McKenzie felt secure in the knowledge that his newest addition would display handsomely on his trophy wall.

The hunter was proud of all of his kills of course. But he drew his greatest thrills from the ones that were endangered – like the mountain zebra, which now numbered less than three hundred in the wild. He treasured their rarity, their scarceness and the fact that he could well be the last man on earth to bag such a prize.

When they finally reached the rendezvous point where McKenzie's associates waited with air transport, the bushmen received their long awaited pay. The trophies were loaded onto the plane. McKenzie tossed the extra coins he'd promised them on the ground deliberately, just to watch the men scurry like excited children for the trifles. He revelled in his own power but Naobi did not scramble like the others.

"I will do this no more," he said defiantly. "What we do, we do out of poverty. You do it out of privilege. I would not sleep easy if I were you."

"Is that a threat?"

"No sir," Naobi replied respectfully. "It is a warning."

"Suit yourself," McKenzie smiled. "While I prefer to work with people I know for obvious reasons, many others will gladly take your place." He boarded the plane and Naobi watched it disappear into the sky.

Once home at his stately manor, McKenzie sat by the fireplace, a drink in hand as he admired the newest additions to his wall. How proud he was over his rhino head and for a moment he even considered it to be the finest catch of them all.

The African elephant also greatly enhance the setting. His eyes flickered back and forth between the two monstrous heads. He could barely take his eyes from them. But he naturally he did, especially to compare them to his other kills: the mongoose lemur in Madagascar; the Nile crocodile in Zimbabwe where one of his guides was eating alive by this very croc; the Siberian tiger in India; the giant sable antelope in Angola; the giant panda in China (an extremely troublesome kill considering all the Chinese officials he had to bribe.) McKenzie laughed at that last thought. For a people who were supposed to be hell-bent on communism, they turned out to be capitalists like everyone else. As for shooting that great big teddy bear, it was little more challenging than shooting fish in a barrel!

Yes, extremely rare kills: the cheetah in Kenya: the great white grizzly bear in British Columbia; the hippo from Botswana; the red fox of Ohio; the Alaskan brown bear; the orang-utan of Borneo (which put up about as much of a challenge as the panda); the mountain zebra of South Africa – a donkey in referee's stripes!

How beautiful they all looked, stuffed and hanging there – preserved for posterity; his own private animated zoo; his own personal exotic animal morgue! He was so captivated, that he almost didn't hear his butler, Jeffrey, knocking.


"I'm sorry to disturb you, sir," the old butler said. "But there's something rather bizarre going on. I thought you should have a look." Jeffrey directed his master to the window and pointed to the sky. "What do you make of that, sir?"

McKenzie studied the unusual lights in the night sky for a minute. "Quite strange. Yes indeed. Report it to the police. Surely they can explain it. Perhaps it's just some military training exercises of some sort."

"I tried calling, sir, but the phones are down. As are the radio and television."

"Well, then, perhaps it's an invasion from outer space," he laughed. The butler did not. He simply stood rigidly, awaiting further instruction.

"I'm sure it's nothing to be concerned about. But make sure the doors and windows are all locked. Turn on the back-up generator to get the power up for our security system and lights at least – just in case some looters decide to try to take advantage of the power interference. Wouldn't want our latest additions making their way into the wrong hands, now would we?"

"No, sir. Very well, sir." The servant left to carry out his instructions. He almost called his man back to tell him to disregard the orders. McKenzie almost welcomed the thought of trespassers. He wouldn't hesitate in the least to shoot a would-be intruder. No such luck, unfortunately.

McKenzie poured himself a drink and sat down to contemplate his next expedition. There is that valued mountain gorilla, he reminded himself. Perhaps something different. What about a marine creature? A whale's head! What an extraordinary piece that would be, he thought. Hmmm, but much too large. I'd need an addition to my rec room to accommodate it! How about a dolphin's head then? Yes, a dolphin's head! Or a great white shark's! Even better. But why not a whale? Hell, I'll get them all! Yes, my own personal museum of natural history!

His thoughts turned inexplicably to Naobi's fatalistic warning about the lights in the sky. Could what was circling overhead outside in British countryside be what Naobi had seen back in Africa? What he'd warned me about? "Nonsense," McKenzie said out loud. The drink is affecting my state of mind. Those were just the foolish beliefs of primitive savages. Nor wonder their nations are in the sorry state they're in, he told himself.

Then suddenly, the strangest sensation overcame him. He felt like he was being watched. McKenzie casually walked over to the bar, carrying his nearly full glass of brandy and went through the motions of pouring himself another drink. Then unexpectedly, quickly, he retrieved his revolver from underneath the bar. He made his way to the main light switch and flicked it on. The continued darkness alerted him that Jeffrey had failed to turn on the generator, as no back-up power was forthcoming. A quick study of the large den revealed nothing, even in the limited light from the burning fireplace. Gun leading the way, he approached the closed door to the den with the caution he would use in tracking a lion, wondering if would-be thieves hadn't done his butler harm. He opened with a sudden thrust, not really knowing what to expect on the other side. Silence and darkness greeted him.

"Jeffrey? Jeffrey are you there?" He heard no response. For all he knew, his butler had been rendered unconscious or worse. His mind instantly went into tactical mode. Instead of locking himself in the den and assuming a defensive posture, he decided the best offence was a careful offence. He was about to investigate the kitchen when his butler came up the stairs from the basement right into his boss's line of fire, and was almost shot for his troubles, though his expression was one of steadfast calm.

"Jeffrey, goddamnit, didn't you hear me calling you? I could have shot you."

"Yes, that would have been most unfortunate, sir. But as you can see, there is no luck with the generator."

"Check the outside connections. Find out what the hell's going on."

"Very good, sir."

McKenzie returned to his study and sat back down in his leather chair, depositing the revolver on an end table. He closed his eyes momentarily when a high-pitched sound stirred him alert. He instinctively reached for the weapon, which now, was nowhere to be seen. The sound was difficult to identify. It was almost mechanical but perhaps more musical somehow. Again, he felt the uncanny uneasiness that he was being observed.

He rose again to search the room. When he turned back, the gun was where he'd left it. Get a hold of yourself, old boy. As he looked around, he could swear he heard the faint growl of animals in the darkness – the snapping of the crocodile, the rhino's heavy breathing. More and more animal sounds appeared to emanate from the trophy wall, growing louder with each new addition. McKenzie stumbled in horror, covering his ears as the animals' roars and cries of death grew so loud that he thought they would shatter his eardrums. And then the haunting choir ceased like it'd never even happened. For the first time in his life, the great hunter felt actual fear. He felt something in the room with him, a presence. He reached for the large hunting knife on his wall of weapons when a bright light flashed across the room out of nowhere, accompanied again by the chorus of dead animals. Only this time, his silent screams joined them.

The following morning, Jeffrey – paper in hand – went to wake his master as usual, but not finding him in his bed, checked the den. He wanted to inform his boss that so many people had reported seeing what they called UFOs, that it had made front-page news. Jeffrey looked forward to Mr. McKenzie's reaction, which he knew would be one of scorn.

The butler also wanted to inform his employer that the power had come back on that previous evening without any doing on his part. He would have told him then, but when he'd returned, McKenzie's door was shut tight and the butler assumed that his boss had passed out from the combination of fatigue and booze, something he personally knew to be a regular occurrence.

Jeffrey knocked on the door. "Sir, are you there? Breakfast is served, Mr. McKenzie." Hearing no reply, the frustrated servant opened the den doors. "Mr. McKenzie?" He went inside, thoroughly observing the large room. All was as it should be, but his master was nowhere to be seen. Odd, he thought. The butler went about his duties and tidied the room. He adjusted the pillows on the sofa, put away the liquor, straightened out the huge Polar bear skin rug, and was just about to clean the bar counter when his gaze happened to shift upwards toward the animal trophy heads.

Jeffrey fell back in horror, for neatly inserted into the wall was his master's head – his terrified face frozen – right in between the heads of the African elephant and the rhino.

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