Harry, a writer, and his wife, Helen, are stranded while on safari in Africa. A bearing burned out on their truck, and Harry is talking about the gangrene that has infected his leg when he did not apply iodine after he scratched it. As they wait for a rescue plane from Nairobi that he knows won’t arrive on time, Harry spends his time drinking and insulting Helen. Harry reviews his life, realizing that he wasted his talent through procrastination and luxury from a marriage to a wealthy woman that he doesn’t love.
In a series of flashbacks, Harry recalls the mountains of Bulgaria and Constantinople, as well as the suddenly hollow, sick feeling of being alone in Paris. Later, there were Turks, and an American poet talking nonsense about the Dada movement, and headaches and quarrels, and watching people whom he would later write about. Uneasily, he recalls a boy who’d been frozen, his body half-eaten by dogs, and a wounded officer so entangled in a wire fence that his bowels spilled over it.
As Harry lies on his cot, he is aware that vultures are walking around his makeshift camp, and a hyena lurks in the shadows. Knowing that he will die before he wakes, Harry goes to sleep and dreams that the rescue plane is taking him to a snow covered summit of Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa. Its Western summit is called the Masai “Ngàje Ngài,” the House of God, where he sees the legendary leopard.
Helen wakes, and taking a flashlight, walks toward Harry’s cot. Seeing that his leg is dangling alongside the cot and that the dressings are pulled down, she calls his name repeatedly. She listens for his breathing and can hear nothing. Outside the tent, the hyena whines — a cry that is strangely human.