One cloudy night when all was quiet, Bree, Caeb and Jastin were on night duty patrolling the southern sector of the Park enjoying the solitude of the night.
The crickets chirped, the fire flies moved from tree to tree and a million stars shone from the night sky every time the cloud cover broke.
“How beautiful this place is,” thought Bree.
The peace of the night was broken by the shrill scream of a female gorilla.
It was Kali, Innocent’s mother.
Careering through the undergrowth, giving little thought to the scratches from the brush and the stings of the nettle, the three arrived to see a frantic mother searching through the undergrowth.
Kali was screaming hysterically, “Innocent! Innocent is gone!”
“How can that be? He sleeps in the nest with you,” Jastin said in a soothing voice.
“I don’t know! I woke and he was gone!” said Kali, distress and helplessness in her eyes.
Was this what the animals had feared? Had the humans snuck into the forest undetected and taken Innocent? Or had Innocent simply wandered off into the darkness? Either way, Jastin could not be certain, so he called the animals to arms.
The horn of central Africa sounded. It was time for action.
The animal families in the area woke at the sound of the horn and the night birds joined the distress call. Sectors of the Park were quickly divided as planned. Every animal now searched for Innocent.
Hopefully he would be safe.
The birds were in the air, scanning the undergrowth; the possums went from tree to tree; the buffalo went straight to the boundaries to stop anyone entering or exiting the park.
S.I.D. snakes sourced information from the animals outside the Park via any means -with Boas constricted, fangs dripping with venom, ready to threaten them unless they gave the information they wanted. Their spider cohorts scuttled into the villages and the nearby farmhouses to gather any information from their human occupants.
The plan was in full swing.
Jastin, Bree and Caeb were desperately searching for Innocent, the thoughts of losing someone so young weighing heavily on them all.
Out of nowhere, Innocent appeared, knuckles clenched, dragging himself across the ground. Terror filled his eyes.
The mixture of shock and relief felt by the animals was quickly replaced by fear. As Innocent was about to jump into Jastin’s arms, a net fell from the treetops. From the same direction Innocent came, a single shot rang out, thundering through the silent night.
Jastin’s right hand leapt to his left shoulder, a sharp pain was radiating down his arm.
Turning to protect Innocent, putting his own giant frame between his infant son and the direction of the sound of the rifle, Jastin began to run.
His legs were heavy and his vision began to blur and Innocent was all of a sudden much heavier than he was a moment ago. Sleep quickly washed over his body. He could no longer move and everything seemed to be in slow motion.
Jastin fell to the ground, Innocent fell safely to one side. Pulling at Jastin’s ear and arms, the frightened Innocent tried to wake his father. His father didn’t respond at first, his mouth open, his eyes closed, a small line of dribble falling to the ground and a soft deep snore emanating from deep in his throat.
He had been tranquilized. The red feather dart stood out in Jastin’s jet black fur.
Beneath Jastin’s prone shoulder, the mighty Caeb stood, having moved quickly from Bree’s shoulder. His body now green, wearing what looked like a torn pair of shorts, his arms extended. He was the jack that was going to raise the might of Jastin. He grunted, pushed and heaved. He felt useless. His chest was about to explode from exhaustion. The chameleon Hulk had been defeated.
Innocent roared his loudest roar and beat his chest in anguish, Bap, bap, bap ,bap.
Jastin’s eyes flickered, roused by the sound of his son’s distress. He woke, eyes half open looking towards Bree.
“Take Innocent back to Kali,” he whispered to Bree.
Then he fell into a deep sleep.
Innocent clung to his motionless father. Bree used all her strength to try and pry him away, but Innocent even at this young age, was too strong for the small baboon.
Gently she whispered, “Come, we must get you out of danger. Your father is a brave warrior and he will be ok. Your mother is worried about you and we need to get you to her, and get help to your father. Come now, Innocent.” Innocent’s eyes glistened with the tears of leaving his father in danger. However he understood.
Bree gently put Innocent’s arms over her shoulder and cradled him. As quickly as she could, she made her way back to the nest and the rest of Jastin’s family, with Caeb climbing onto her shoulder, adding to Innocent’s heavy load.
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