The rhinoceros stampeded through the countryside, and the hunter
followed. The stories said it was unlike any beast ever seen before, and
the famous hunter was inclined to agree. The evidence of its destruction
was everywhere; entire villages leveled by its stampeding, houses and
neighborhoods crushed into nothing. Those who had survived its rampage
lived in little more than ghettos, structures that barely passed as
standing, let alone passable homes. A thick pall of black smoke hung
over every village the rhinoceros demolished, as if the world itself
were in mourning.
The most curious thing, though, was that in its wake, the rhinoceros
left a crude, black sludge, something thick and tar-like. Excrement?
Some indicator of its madness? Or sign of illness? The hunter had never
seen anything like it. He knelt before clumps of it. Examined it.
Smelled it. Took samples. No one in his retinue could come close to
identifying the substance, but that did not dissuade the hunter.
If you want to find the beast, said one of the survivors, simply lift
The hunter did as advised, and he and his retinue followed the smoke
trail, went through village after village, all of them brought to ruin
by the stampeding rhinoceros, and in each one heard tales of its rage.
What is this beast? the hunter asked.
An old woman in a shawl told him that for generations they used to only
hear stories of it, only ever saw its smoke in the distance. It had been
a faraway horror, a bedtime story with which to frighten children.
Something that had only been possible in the same way earthquakes or
volcanoes or hurricanes were possible. But lately it had come closer.
And closer. And now the rhinoceros was a concrete fact.
We’ll see about that, said the hunter, in disbelief that such a beast
could exist. He had heard similar stories before, of creatures
supposedly endowed with legendary powers. A bulletproof crocodile. A
tiger who could vanish into wisps of smoke. An eagle large enough to
carry away children. All exaggerations.
But when they finally caught up to the rhinoceros, he didn’t know what
to believe anymore.
It was a horrid thing, far worse than the hunter feared. Not an animal,
but some strange automaton, a creature built in the general
approximation of a rhinoceros, only much larger, much more ferocious.
Its flanks were metal, welded together with thick rivets, and the hunter
could hear gears whirring and clanking beneath its metal hide. The thing
moved on what were less like legs and more like pistons that shot in and
out of its underside. Black smog had choked the sky wherever the
rhinoceros had been, and while at first the hunter thought it might have
been a portent, he saw now that it was coming from the rhinoceros
itself. It was exhaust. The creature had two large smokestacks sprouting
from its shoulders, and those stacks belched thick columns of smoke
whenever it moved.
The men in the hunter’s retinue shrank back from the monstrosity. There
were whispers that it would be okay to retreat from such a beast, that
no one would hold it against them. That it was no beast, but an actual
monster. After all, what firearm could pierce that hide?
Flee if you will, said the hunter, but he would stay and bag the beast.
The hunter took cover behind a tree, armed with his longest, most
powerful rifle. A single shot that had taken down creatures bigger than
this one. He was unsure if the rhinoceros possessed a sense of smell,
but he still hid himself downwind from it. The smell of the monster was
atrocious. Even at this distance, it was like sticking his face up to a
tailpipe and taking a breath. The hunter wrapped a kerchief around his
face, found it did little, but it would have to do. He took aim, knowing
where he would have fired upon a rhinoceros made of flesh and blood, but
unsure of the vulnerabilities of steel. Should he aim for one of the
piston-like legs, try to topple it? Or one of the gears he could see
churning in its back? The hunter settled for the head, thought that had
to control the rest.
He took aim, held his breath to steady his shot, and fired.
The round pinged off the head of the rhinoceros, and instantly the beast
wheeled upon the hunter. It zeroed in on him, as if it had known where
he was the entire time and believed he simply didn’t dare possess the
audacity to fire upon it.
The rhinoceros charged.
As the hunter struggled to reload his weapon, he was distantly aware of
his fleeing retinue. Behind him, men screamed and hollered, and some of
them even let loose volleys of their own, although all shots were fired
in vain; they either went wide, or bounced impotently off the hide of
the rhinoceros. The hunter managed to load one more round into his
rifle, squeeze off one last shot (although he was unsure if it found a
home), before the rhinoceros descended upon him.
The hunter had never been attacked by an animal before, never up close;
he’d always made his kill shots long before the creatures charged. But
while this rhinoceros may have looked like an animal, something about it
told the hunter that there was rage in its attack. Not simply
self-defense. It didn’t kill for food, or to protect its young. Not like
animals did. It may have looked like an animal, may have behaved in some
ways like an animal, but it was not one. The hunter knew, as the
rhinoceros descended upon him, that truth was in its eyes. He saw them
as the rhinoceros ran him through and raised him up, pierced him with
The hunter looked down into its eyes, the eyes of the prey that had
finally bested him, and he saw nothing. No emotions. No fear. Just a
simple shuttering, hunting, aperture. Terrifying in its familiarity.
He hung there for just a moment, forced to bathe in the uncanny horror,
and then the rhinoceros shook the hunter from its horn. One single,
powerful snap of its head that slammed him into the tree. He was aware
of a pain, but thankfully it was distant. Perhaps happening to another
man. In another body. The hunter was vaguely aware of the tree trunk
cracking, snapping in half as his broken body flopped to the ground.
Scattered leaves and branches fell down around him, as if nature itself
attempted to bury him, to provide him some small comfort.
The hunter could only watch as the rhinoceros turned and left him there,
as if he wasn’t even worth the trouble to finish off. He lay there, in a
tangle of his own broken limbs, and saw the rhinoceros depart, saw that
his round had struck somewhat true, torn a scrap of metal just above the
ear. Gears wound and churned within the monster’s head, metal grinding
and whirring, black smoke leaking out from the minor wound the hunter
managed to inflict. He could only hope, as he lay there, fading, that
one day someone else might see them too, and know the truth.