At a discreet distance behind the bandstand the goat was being slaughtered. Two park guards held the struggling, bleating creature down on the ground with its neck across a log and hacked its head off with a machete, holding the bunch of leafy twigs against it to staunch the eruption of blood. The goat took several minutes to die.
Once it was dead, they cut off one of its back legs for the dragon behind the fence, then took the rest of the body, and fastened it on to the hook on the blue nylon rope. It rocked and swayed in the breeze as they winched it down to the dragons lying in the gully.
The dragons took only a lethargic interest in it for a while. They were very well fed and sleepy dragons. At last one reared itself up, approached the hanging carcass and ripped gently at its soft underbelly. A great muddle of intestines slipped out of the goat and flopped over the dragon's head. They lay there for a while, steaming gently. The dragon seemed, for the moment, not to take any further interest.
Another dragon then heaved itself into motion and approached. It sniffed and licked at the air, and then started to eat the intestines of the goat from off the head of the first dragon, until the first dragon rounded on it, and started to claim part of its meal for itself. At first nip a thick green liquid flooded out of the glistening grey coils, and as the meal proceeded, the head of each dragon in turn became wet with the green liquid.
"Boy, this makes it big, Pauline," said a man standing near me, watching through his binoculars. "It makes it bigger than it is. You know, with these it's the size I really thought we'd be seeing." He handed the binoculars to his wife.
"Oh, that really does magnify it!" she said.
"It really is a superb pair of binoculars, Pauline. And they're not heavy either."
Others of the group clustered round.
"May I take a look? Whose are they?"
"My gosh, Howard would adore these!"
"Al? Al, take a look at these binoculars and see how heavy they are!"
Just as I was making the charitable assumption that the binoculars were just a diversion from having actually to watch the hellish floor show in the pit, the woman who now had possession of them suddenly exclaimed delightedly, "Gulp, gulp gulp! All gone! What a digestive system! Now he's smelling us!"
"He probably wants fresher meat," growled her husband. "Live, on the hoof!"
It was in fact at least an hour or so before all of the goat had gone, by which time the party had drifted, chatting, back to the village. As they did so a lone Englishwoman in the party confided to us that she didn't actually care much about the dragons. "I like the landscape," she said, airily. "The dragons are just thrown in. And of course, with all the strings and the goats and the tourists, well, it's just comedy really. If you were walking by yourself and you came across one, that might be different, but it's kind of like a puppet show."
When the last of them had left, a park guard told us that if we wished to we could climb down into the gully and see the dragons close to, and with swimming heads we did so. Two guards came with us, armed with long sticks, which branched into a "Y" at the end. They used these to push the dragons" necks away if they came too close or began to look aggressive.
We clambered and slithered down the slope, almost too scared to know or care what we were doing, and within a few minutes I found myself standing just two feet from the largest of the dragons. It regarded me without much interest, having plenty already to feed on. A length of dripping intestine was hanging from its open jaws, and its face was glistening with blood and saliva. The inside of its mouth was a pale, hard pink, and its fetid breath, together with the hot foul air of the gully combined into a stench so overpowering that our eyes were stinging and streaming and we were half faint with nausea.
All that remained by now of the goat which we had followed as it struggled bleating down the pathway ahead of us was one bloody and dismembered leg hanging by its ankle from the hook on the blue nylon rope. One dragon alone was still interested in it, and was gnawing moodily at the thigh muscles. Then it got a proper grip on the whole leg, and tried with vicious twists of its head to pull it off the hook, but the leg was held fast at the ankle bone. Then, astoundingly, the dragon began instead very slowly to swallow the leg whole. It pulled and tugged, and manoeuvred itself, so that more and more of the leg was pushed down its throat, until all that protruded was the hoof and the hook. After a while the dragon gave up struggling with it and simply squatted there, frozen in this posture for at least ten minutes until at last a guard did it the favour of hacking the hook away with his machete. The very last piece of the goat slithered away into the lizard's maw where, bones, hooves, horns and and all would now slowly be dissolved by the corrosive power of the enzymes that live in a Komodo dragon's digestive system.
We made our excuses and left.