The Trophy Room
Cured Hides – Stuffed Heads
The Trophy Room – He lounged in his recliner – the patina of the leather richly burnished by the constant use. Feet up on the elevated rest – ankles crossed – one slipper dangled from a calloused big toe. His stubby fingers surrounded the etched crystal tumbler. The thirty year old Scotch was perfect – a single malt – a drink for a man of his status. His eyes scanned the room – his hands were moist. He remembered every shot – every glorious kill. The absolute, sublime and exquisite power – the taking of life. His fame and glory fashioned by brutality and made whole – made real by money, connections, power, arrows and bullets. A reputation for the ages.
His eyes returned as they always did to the magnificent head mounted over the fieldstone fireplace. The glass eyes seemed to follow the man’s hand as he lifted the tumbler to his lips. The killer drank deeply. He relished the memory of the charge – the bellowing trumpet of pain and rage as the first bullet slammed into the elephant’s right shoulder. The massive bull faltered but did not go down. The second shot smashed into the animal’s left ankle. Now the killer was just having fun. Safe in the back of a retreating Jeep – he shot the bull in the chest – changed guns – and then twice in the trunk. Small, deep, painful wounds – holes – but nothing to mar the trophy.
When the third shot penetrated his chest – just a whisper from his heart – Groot Tande (big tusk) gasped in shock. His shoulder and ankle were no longer capable of carrying his bulk evenly and he didn’t understand why his steps were awkward. Pain racked his body when he tried to draw a deep breath. His trunk was off centre. He tried to flip it up and over one of his magnificent tusks but it wouldn’t respond. It lolled to one side and dangled. His steps slowed – no longer a charge but a slow motion pacing of step after step after faltering step – laboured, painful. Blood spewed from his chest with every breath and ran down his front legs. He stopped – his head bowed and rested on his prized six foot tusks. His left ankle buckled – the full force of his weight followed his tusks forward and his mighty body crashed sideways to the ground. After forty-eight years of joyful roaming and freedom Groot Tande was down.
The vehicle stopped. The killer fist-pumped the air, glorying in his accomplishment – what a man he was! The Jeep rounded and approached the bull – best to be careful. This was the time he loved the most. Eye to eye with his conquest. He jumped down from the open back seat and walked over to the elephant. Every rise and fall of his chest was raspy and shallow. The man squatted down and ran his hand along the tusks – close to the mouth – intimate and personal. He plucked a few blades of grass from Groot Tande’s lips and flicked them to the ground. “You are my prize”, he whispered, “How does it feel to have been conquered”?
Groot Tande looked at the face of the man who was relishing the taking of his life. He had seen his brothers and sisters murdered over the years and he knew the killer was enjoying this moment. He wanted to summon up hatred and rage from the depth of his soul and to think of revenge, animosity and retribution. Instead he felt only a deep disdain for the pathetic lost soul of this ghoulish man. He was a person devoid of kindness, empathy and compassion. An ugly shell of a human – without value and destined to languish and finally drown in his own rot.
The killer stood up and held out his arm. Other complicit hands passed him the gun. He flipped back Groot Tande’s massive ear, shoved the gun into the side of the elephant’s head and pulled the trigger. Groot Tande’s body heaved and trembled and then was silent. The killer felt a shot of adrenaline course through his body. He was triumphant – he was a man. The feeling faded as quickly as it had come. He would get them all on this one trip. The Big 5 were not safe. He felt that familiar urge to kill in his chest – then his gut – finally it settled in his groin. The Cape Buffalo was next and then the leopard – the rhino and the lion. What a trip this was going to be!
The killer awoke from his reverie when the door to the trophy room opened and his precious grand-daughter entered the room. Next to killing – she was the only thing in the world that mattered to him. This small, determined girl would carry on his legacy. She was so similar to his own boyhood pictures – she should have been his daughter. She was smart, funny, challenging, curious and at seven, under his masterful tutelage, she had killed her first deer. The next year she took down a black bear.
Her mother was insignificant and her father (his son) was a tree-hugging wimp – always spouting off about kindness and compassion. He knew that in time he’d be able to fashion a world renowned huntress out of this feisty girl and by god she would be magnificent. Slow and steady wins the race. She was intrigued by his prize trophies and Bella stayed in “the room” for long hours asking about each animal. She was fascinated by his stories of their final moments – the tremble of a life departing – the flicker as the spark that moments ago had been a life was extinguished – the final flicker of now vacant eyes.
His eyes wandered around the great room – a 25 foot ceiling in the space – real trees, ferns, vines and exotic flowers. A water fountain anchored the space right in front of Groot Tande’s massive head. His trunk was raised in the air and his magnificent ivory tusks – polished to perfection glistened with sparkling water droplets every time the fountain gushed skyward.
He remembered every delicious kill from the family of grey rabbits to the crocodile and alligator. The ibex – the wild boar – the elk and caribou. A black panther, mountain lion, cougar and bobcat stood atop a massive rock facing Africa’s mighty lions. A Siberian Tiger and a polar bear shared another outcropping of jagged granite. Deer of every variety teased the mighty Grizzlie and a family of fine black bears. A spirit bear from British Columbia was a sublime treasure that he’d shot just as the bear caught a salmon. They were mounted that way – predator and prey.
Gazelles were suspended over a grassy corner and in a nearby pond a massive hippo lurked – eyes at water level – waiting for eternity. Nearby three zebra stood testing the wind as they had on the day he’d shot them. Two bullets – three kills – such was his prowess as a hunter. The giraffe and her baby. Two mighty baboons and a moose with an impressive rack – mounted together for the fun of it.
As a man it was his right to take life and he loathed the loud-mouthed animal advocates who spewed forth their vile rhetoric about animal rights – cruelty – the bloody planet and the oceans. They existed for his pleasure – animal lives were his for the taking.
The killer felt the familiar rage boiling in his blood – the need to kill – to dominate and see the final moment of a life extinguished forever by his hand. All this shit about endangered animals, poverty, climate change, poor people, garbage in the oceans, drought and pollution. Such tripe.
He sat there pondering – completely unaware that Groot Tande was in turn watching him. Not the stuffed, glass eyed mockery of the elephant hanging on the wall but the stolen, ageless spirit of the magnificent bull. He looked at the human who had taken his life with a remarkable calm. He was devoid of hatred – not actively seeking revenge – but with a pity as real as the pulsing life on the plains where his blood had soaked into the ground – connecting him forever to Africa. He looked around the room at all the murdered animals. Their souls had not departed the trophy room. They were connected by an energy – fierce and primal – that bound them together eternally.
Across from Groot Tande the body of a powerful sword fish was mounted on a massive slab of stone. It’s head was twisted into an ugly, unnatural angle – forcing the sword to curve four feet out into the trophy room. It might seem to an observer to be a potentially lethal weapon – but the killer wasn’t worried – these creatures were dead – stuffed – mounted and defeated. His for the taking – his to enjoy – to satisfy his lust for power and to feed his ever present addiction for killing. Sliver the swordfish looked knowingly at Groot Tande. They shared the same powerful connection with all the creatures in the trophy room. Every life had mattered.
At night when the grand house was quiet and the killer slept fitfully in his bed – as he always did – the silent spirits of the animals convened and told stories about their families – their offspring – their home lands and the lives that had been denied them. They imagined what might have been and they lamented the senseless killing – the taking of each beautiful life.
They watched over the years – as the killer lounged, self-satisfied, on his recliner. Each being was entitled to his or her feelings. There was no judgement of one another. No soul was denied sorrow or rage. Some forgave – some plotted – some hated – some sought revenge – some sought solace in peace and some never forgot.
On a morning – like so many others – the killer opened the trophy room door at precisely eleven o’clock. Things looked as he had left them. He was too self-absorbed to notice that the balance in the room had shifted. There was a subtle flow of energy – a soft tingling – a change noticed by all who inhabited this chamber of shame. They had been waiting a long time. Every animal had voiced an opinion. Each had voted. A decision had been made.
But the killer was oblivious. He wandered and touched and stroked and invaded the bodies of those who were there. Then he sat, as was his wont on the leather recliner. His eyes travelled again to the face of each of the dead. He re-lived the sighting – the ever so slight quiver of his trigger finger – the kick of the gun – the bullet in flight – the impact – the wounding – the fall and the final fucking, glorious kill. He was a god.
A soft knock on the door – blue eyes peeking – red curls framing the angelic face of Bella. A mug of tea for her Grandpa. “Tell me again about Groot Tande”, she said “Why is he so special”? Unknown to the killer and his young grand-daughter, the vibrations of spirits large and small had invaded the room. Groot Tande’s massive truck lowered inch by inch until it rested atop the high-backed, upholstered stool upon which Bella was perched. She sat with the killer every day, absorbing his stories and his evil.
In a move so unexpected, swift and sure that the killer was at a loss for words, Groot Tande’s trunk encircled the child’s waist. He hoisted her wriggling body high into the air. The killer, unable to move as he once had, struggled out of the leather recliner. He waved his cane frantically but it only sliced through the air – ineffective and impotent. Bella’s terrified shrieks filled the room.
Simon, the Snowy Owl had been chosen by his kindred spirits to speak for those departed. He flew down from the perch that he had occupied for so many years. His wings renewed – once again strong. “We have voted” he said. “Not everyone was in agreement but the majority ruled. We are taking life from you – as you stole life from us. You took our dignity – our families – our futures as they might have unfolded, and our lives”.
With a thrust that was powerful and true Groot Tande’s trunk pitched Bella’s forward in a perfect arc. Her body hit Sliver’s sword and slid down its length to rest by his face. Her spine was severed – she died instantly. Her red curls cascaded over face and her arms dangled – useless – never to hold a gun – never again to steal a life.
The killer’s anguished cries reverberated throughout the room but there was no one home to hear them. He fell to his knees, looked up at Groot Tande and screamed, “How could you murder a child”? Groot Tande replied softly, “With the same ease that you took our lives. Surprisingly, I voted to spare her life because my hatred for you has mellowed over the years to pity. My brethren were not so forgiving. May you have many years ahead to think about your deeds and to realize that for the evil you committed, there must be a reckoning. I wish you a long life – years ahead to ponder the life that your grand-daughter will never enjoy. Whatever you say by way of explanation – no one will believe you – because the spirits of murdered animals are unseen – but powerful and ever present”.
Simon the Snowy Owl flew back to his familiar perch and Groot Tande slowly raised his mighty trunk over his beautiful ivory tusks. Only Sliver the Swordfish endured the indignity of death until the killer was found by his chauffeur – crumpled on the ground – incoherent and inconsolable.
The months passed and the heir – the kind hearted son – grieved for his daughter, but not the blithering, hateful old man who was his father. Slowly and with great care and respect – he dismantled the repugnant Trophy Room. He took each creature – great and small – from land, sea and air who his father had slaughtered and he buried it on the massive estate. A beautiful granite stone topped each grave with a simple marker and the year of death. Tiger 1977 – Antelope 1969 – Grey Rabbits 1956 – Giraffes 1967 – Red Wolf 1959 – Hippo 1963 – the Big 5 – 1981. And so read the gravestones.
For Groot Tande – he added “Even in death I always felt your energy. Although I will never know for sure, I believe that you ended a chapter in the history of my family that will always be heavy with shame. I ask for your forgiveness”.
He turned the trophy room in the huge house into an Earth Centre For Children. All the classes, films, lectures, handouts, lunches and snacks are free. The cemetery and the lands around it are a magnificent park where people are free to wander, ask questions of the staff and sit quietly on the stone benches. There is an eerie but beautiful quiet in the park.
In the back of the house on the second floor – the killer – with stubble on his chin and drool on his pyjama top – lay propped up with pillows. His caretakers – as they did every morning shook him awake from the same nightmare that haunted his life. As his eyes cleared he pointed at the foot of his bed and mumbled “There he is – there – do you see him?”. And in the soft dawn of each new day the misty spirit of Groot Tande leaves the room and returns to the park that he shares with 267 other murdered souls – the spoils of a lifetime of depravity, cruelty and killing.
The old man lived to be 97 years old. Bella died when he was 72. He mourned for twenty-five years. It is unknown if the killer ever saw himself clearly or felt remorse for his actions. The animals thought “not”. Groot Tande finally rests in peace.