The fact that the man whom he feared had died ten years earlier did not in the least lessen Stuart McGregor's obsession of horror, of a certain grim expectancy, every time he recalled that final scene, just before Farragut Hutchison disappeared in the African jungle that stood, spe
ctrally motionless as if forged out of some blackish-green metal, in the haggard moonlight.
As he reconstructed it, the whole scene seemed unreal, almost oppressively, ludicrously theatrical. The pall of sodden, stygian darkness all around; the night sounds of soft-winged, obscene things flapping lazily overhead or brushing against the furry trees that held the woolly heat of the tropical day like boiler pipes in a factory; the slimy, swishy things that glided and crawled and wiggled underfoot; the vibrant growl of a hunting lioness that began in a deep basso and peaked to a shrill, high-pitched, ridiculously inadequate treble; a spotted hyena's vicious, bluffing bark; the chirp and whistle of innumerable monkeys; a warthog breaking through the undergrowth with a clumsy, clownish crash--and somewhere, very far away, the staccato thumping of a signal drum, and more faintly yet the answer from the next in line.
He had seen many such drums, made from fire-hollowed palm trees and covered with tightly stretched skin--often the skin of a human enemy.