Daniel was a Dik-Dik.
He was the smallest dik-dik in his herd, which included his parents, Dagon and Daeva, his uncle Dreka, aunt Dasa, cousins Drema and Drama, his brothers Dumas and Doobie, his sister Darcie, and his beloved Grandfather Steven. Now, if you have never seen a dik-dik, perhaps a few words of description are in order. Dik-Diks are small antelopes found in certain parts of Africa. Today they live above the ground, but this was not always true. They are named for the sound that lady dik-diks make when frightened, which sounds like they are yelling “Dik! Dik!” and is quite funny until you realize that those lady dik-diks were warning you about the lion that was stalking you, and you find your face consumed.
Dik-Diks are delicious. They taste not unlike Pronghorns or Blackbucks, except perhaps leaner and therefore healthier. Since they are tasty and healthy, they find themselves prey to all manner of other creatures. Birds and big cats, snakes and lizards, monkeys and Man all love to gobble dik-diks, and although dik-diks have tiny little horns, they are not capable of fighting off Lions or Eagles. If everything in the Savanna would enjoy eating you, you would certainly learn to be careful, and Dagon, Daeva, Dreka, Dasa, Drema, Drama, Dumas, Doobie, Darcie and Grandfather Steven were all very careful. It is for this reason, above all others, that dik-diks dug ditches and lived in holes underground. Sometimes, at night, the biggest and bravest dik-diks went above ground to bring back food, but they didn’t always come back.
The family of dik-diks that Daniel belonged to lived in a hole that was part of a network of holes, and their neighbor was Francois the Fennec Fox, who was fun and friendly and would probably never eat them.
But Daniel the Dik-Dik was, perhaps, not as careful as his brother and sisters and cousins and the rest of his dik-dik kin, and he probably wasn’t even as careful as Francois the Fennec Fox. He did not want to keep living in a hole eating tubers and roots. He thought that perhaps one day the Dik-Diks could live above the ground, and wander the plains of Africa and see the sky and the sun and the stars and play with the other animals of the Savanna. But his parents always told him that this would not be possible.
One evening, when Daniel had at last had enough of living underground, he went to see his Grandfather Steven, who was old and very wise.
“Grandfather Steven,” said Daniel, “Why can’t we go above ground?”
Grandfather Steven chewed on a few berries, stroked his beard with his hoof, and looked over at Daniel.
“That question again? I will give you the same answer as before: because, Daniel my boy, there are monsters above us.”
“Monsters?” Daniel asked, more fascinated than afraid.
“Yes,” said Grandfather Steven, “Many monsters. Lions! Leopards! Baboons! Lizards! Snakes! And the worst monster of them all: Man!”
“What’s Man?” Daniel asked his grandfather.
“Man is a monster made by Shezmu, the dik-dik Devil, from the parts of many other monsters,” the old dik-dik explained, “He is big; oh, neither so big nor so strong as a Lion, but big enough is Man. Much bigger than a dik-dik. He has the legs of an ostrich, the twisted hooves of a baboon, the mane of a lion, the eyes of an eagle, and a squashed snout with no fangs. And other than his mane, he has very little fur because he burned most of it off playing with Fire!”
“He has no fangs and no claws? Then why is he the worst monster of them all?” Daniel couldn’t imagine that Man could be as bad as all that.
“Because,” Grandfather Steven said, lowering his voice, “he is meaner and crueler than even Shezmu himself! Because Man makes his own horns from the rocks, which he can hold in his twisted hooves and throw with his mighty front legs; legs which he uses only for violence and never for walking! Because he can climb and clamber and run and dig with just his two back legs! Because even the Lions and the Eagles are afraid of Man, because Man knows the secret of Fire!”
“This Man sounds like the bogey-antelope!” said Daniel, “But even he must be afraid of something!”
“Oh, yes,” said Grandfather. “Other Men. You see, Man lies to, cheats, steals from, and even kills his own kind just for the fun of it!”
“But what if there was something worse than Man? Something that all Men were afraid of?”
“There is,” said Grandfather, “There must be. There’s always something worse.”
“But what?” asked Daniel.
“My, my! So many questions!” said Grandfather, “No one knows what is scarier than Man. Because if it was worse than him, would any dik-dik ever come back from seeing it?”
“But what if it were our friend?” Daniel said hopefully.
Grandfather laughed. “Such an imagination you have! How would such a creature be our friend?”
“I’ll find him,” said Daniel, “And I’ll give him a present! And he’ll keep the Savanna safe for dik-diks!”
“What kind of present could you give him?” asked Grandfather.
“I… well, I don’t know,” said Daniel.
“Of course not,” said Grandfather, “Now it’s getting late, and when it gets dark your father and your brothers and your uncle and your cousin should be coming back from their search for food, dik-dik gods permitting, and you should be asleep.”
But Daniel didn’t sleep that night. He sat awake in his room until he heard Dagon, Dreka, Drama, Dumas and Doobie come home from their search for food. He was happy they all came home safely, but sad that they never let him come along because he was too small. But tonight he would finally go out (though he hoped his family wouldn’t find out) and find something better than food. He would find something scarier than Lions, and Leopards, and Eagles and Snakes and Lizards and even scarier than Man! And he would be its friend, and then all the dik-diks would get to roam the Savanna.
That night, after he was nice and sure his family was asleep, Daniel crept as quietly as he could out of his room, and out of his family’s hole, and past Francois the Friendly Fennec Fox’s hole and all the way up to the surface of the Savanna. And it was beautiful! Those bright things up in the sky must be the Stars that Grandfather had told him about. How they twinkled! And that great big glowing potato up there must be the Moon! It was so very pretty, and so very shiny! And all of those grasses growing on the ground looked so yummy!
Daniel ran. He could run up here! He jumped and he skipped and he hopped! And he ran for a long time, and then he ran some more. Finally he became tired and stopped running. He looked around. He did not see the entrance to his family hole. He was lost! Now he was worried. How would he get home? The Savanna was so much bigger than he thought and so much of it looked the same.
Then he heard a voice behind him. “Daniel!”
Daniel turned around. It was Francois the Fennec Fox.
“Hello, Daniel! What’re you doin’ so far out here, so late? Do your parents know you’re here?”
“I… uh… well, um…” Daniel stammered.
“Takin’ that as a ‘no,'” said Francois, “What were you thinkin’, ya young whippersnapper?”
“I have something I have to do,” said Daniel.
“This late? This far from home? There are baboons and snakes out here!” Francois said, “I have to take you home and tell your parents what you’ve done!”
“But Francois! I have to find my friend!”
“Your friend?” Francois narrowed his foxy little eyes, “What friend is that?”
“I don’t know his name. I don’t know if he’s a he, either, actually. But my friend is a creature more frightening than Man!”
“More frightening than Man?” said Francois, “The elder Fennec Foxes speak of such a creature, a dreadful, furred grey beast whom they name Beshekee. What kind of beast, I don’t know. Maybe a dragon. But Beshekee is only a myth, Daniel. He is just a story the elders tell. He is not real.”
Beshekee! So this being had a name!
“Where is Beshekee?” asked Daniel.
“According to the stories, anywhere he wants to be. Anywhere Man is wicked,” said Francois.
“Isn’t Man wicked everywhere?” asked Daniel.
“So the stories go,” answered Francois, “and they say Beshekee was sent by Man’s God to punish them for perverting His Gifts. But it’s not true.”
“His Gifts? Is Man’s God Shezmu? Why do you think all this isn’t real?” Daniel was very curious as to Francois’ skepticism.
“I am a fox. I live in a foxhole,” said Francois, “My kind are atheists. We don’t believe in Man’s God, nor in the dik-dik gods, nor in Shezmu, nor in Beshekee. But the stories are fun, are they not? Now, I must take you home.”
“But you are a fox! Aren’t you curious? What if Beshekee is real? Wouldn’t you want to find him?” Daniel didn’t want Francois to make him go home before he found Beshekee.
“It’s true I am curious,” said Francois, “But not that curious. If Beshekee were real, he would be worse than Man. He would certainly be worse than foxes and dik-diks. He would probably eat me.”
“But if he didn’t, if you became his friend, he could protect you from Man!”
Though Francois had denied Daniel, the young dik-dik could see a gleam of something in the fox’s eye.
“Though it isn’t possible,” Francois said slowly, “If you did want to befriend Beshekee – and keep in mind, this is only for a laugh, because such a thing could never happen even if he was real, which he isn’t – how would you do it?”
Daniel smiled. He had Francois now!
“I’d need to give him a present. Something very special. Someone as powerful as Beshekee can take whatever he wants, so we’d have to find something he couldn’t get otherwise.”
Cautiously, the fox whispered, “Such a thing would be difficult to find. And we’d have to back before morning, or your parents would gore us both.”
“We certainly would!” said the dik-dik.
“Then,” Francois began carefully, “I might know where we could start. But we must make haste!”
And with that, Francois the Friendly Fennec Fox and Daniel the Dik-Dik began their adventure…
To be continued…