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Author: S.E. Harmon

Chapter 1


The world is big and I want to have a good look at it before it gets dark.

-John Muir




The shipwrecks were terrible in their beauty.

I stood on the shoreline at Cape Cross, watching the fur seals in the early morning mist. The same fog that created amazing photography conditions for me had sent countless ships straight for the shrouded cliffs.

I’d been around the world, but I’d never seen such a desolate place as the Skeleton Coast. North of Mowe Bay was usually closed to the public, but I had special permission and a guide named Suva from a local tribe. Suva had told me the coast was known as the Land God Made in Anger. I could see why. There was no civilization as far as the eye could see, only miles of the desert meeting the frigid embrace of the Atlantic. Any creature that dared call the coast home was truly an example of survival of the fittest.

I picked my way along the rocky shore, taking pictures of the seals adeptly navigating the waves for food. The view was beautiful, but it damn sure wasn’t peaceful. Between all the roaring, fighting, and barking in general, they were noisy as fuck. They didn’t smell the best, either. Eventually my ears and nose acclimated, and I got lost in my work.

Critics never talked about the hard part of getting the perfect shot.

It certainly wasn’t finding a worthy subject because that part was ridiculously easy. Hell, I almost felt guilty taking credit for my photos as a Journey James original. I shouldn’t be tagging the photos J.J. Sutton; I should be tagging them Mother Nature. It wasn’t like I’d created anything. I’d simply waited while Mother Nature did her thing, and then I captured the magnificence on film. So no, the hardest part wasn’t finding something to take pictures of. Instead, it was exercising patience in weird positions while my extremities fell asleep.

No one talked about that. They spoke of about getting amazing footage of wild animals, going to exotic locations most people never got a chance to visit, and seeing your images in print. If you were lucky, sometimes your work ended up in national magazines. They didn’t talk about squatting and kneeling on the hard ground for hours at a time, with your eye practically glued to the end of a telephoto lens.

The light started to change around eleven in the morning, becoming more perpendicular and creating less volume in my subjects, I took a quick break then for lunch, berating myself for not getting more early shots, since they were best. I was back at it by one o’clock, my belly full, ready to head down the coast. Suva and I took ATVs farther inland, down toward the riverbeds. I needed a picture of some springbok and wasn’t calling it a day until I got it.

Hours later, I was reconsidering my dedication. Sweat coated me from my prickly scalp down to my scuffed, dusty boots, but I didn’t move. As uncomfortable as it was, I needed the angle for the shot I wanted. Lying on the ground gave me a vantage point for a more dramatic impact, and the dimensions would make the target of my shot appear even more grandiose. Well, it would as soon as my target showed up.

My only company was Suva, who left me alone for the most part to do my thing. Oh, and a cheetah. Yeah, a cheetah. He sat on his ATV, leaning on the handlebars as he watched me with an air of mild amusement—Suva, not the cheetah. Suva had been a tour guide for most of his young life, so he was used to wildlife photographers and all of our quirks. He knew what lengths we’d go to in pursuit of the perfect shot, and he was used to corralling us when it was time to leave.

He cleared his throat, and I knew what was coming. Sure enough, he said, “You have less than twenty minutes before we need to get back to camp.”

I didn’t give him a response, and he didn’t expect any. Even if my target never showed, I never left without a sunset shot. A photo of Cheetah with the darkening sky in the background would go a long way to salvaging the day.

The cheetah was a rescue, according to Suva. She was also the nosiest damn cheetah in the world, according to me. She’d spent most of her childhood with humans and it showed. I’d been on the reserve four days this week, and most of those days, I’d felt her tracking me. This was the first time she’d decided to let me see her. She sat close enough to monitor what I was doing, but never close enough to touch. I was definitely all right with that.

“If I can’t get this shot in the next fifteen minutes, this whole day was a fucking waste,” I muttered to Cheetah. “Stellar company aside, of course.”

She groomed herself, clearly giving zero fucks that I’d been lying on my belly in the dirt for most of the afternoon with sweat trickling from my every pore. I didn’t miss the irony that I was lying next to a cheetah waiting for pictures of glorified deer, but the heart wants what it wants. In this case, National Geographic wanted what it wanted, and I didn’t intend to leave without a shot of some springbok.

Too bad Nat Geo wasn’t interested in a picture of an extremely nosy cheetah.

“Apparently, you’re passé,” I informed her.

She yawned, exposing a mouthful of wicked-sharp teeth, clearly not concerned that the powers that be didn’t want a picture of her beautiful mug. I’d taken several anyway, enough that she’d stalked off several times, tail flicking with irritation.

“I wish I could scratch you behind the ears,” I told her. “I think you’d like it.”

I widened my eyes in tandem with the narrowing of hers. “You’re not going to claw my face off now, are you?” I asked, alarmed.

She flicked her tail and it thumped against my camera bag.

Suva chuckled. “Lahja, she is good listener, yes?” His Afrikaans accent was melodic and sibilant. “I’ve told her many things. If she ever starts talking, I may have to kill her.”

“Well, now you’ve ruined any incentive she had to break the animal code of silence,” I complained.

Suva laughed, his teeth flashing white against his umber skin.

The sun began its descent in the sky, molten gold surrounded by red and streaks of pink. I took a few pictures of Lahja, and she yawned in the middle of one, making it look like she was sticking out her tongue. I chuckled. “Well, I was looking for a new screen saver, and that’s too perfect.”

Just as I was ready to throw in the towel, there they were. A gathering of springbok made their way across the desert, leisurely, like I hadn’t been waiting half a day for their asses. And just where the hell have ya’ll been? I was surprised they weren’t carrying yoga mats and Starbucks cups.

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