Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Papa sat and studied the entrance to the cavern. He wanted to go in. He knew he would have to. But he was afraid. What did a life-eater look like? He'd never seen one. How would it treat him? Was it human? People said they were shaped like humans. But who knew the truth. So he stalled and he prayed and he wept. Humters did not show fear. They might feel concern, but not fear. Well, he felt fear. Sometimes he'd explore the nearby thickets. The game here was similar to at home. A few more rabbits. A few less voles. There was a small herd of ass-like horses in a little meadow not far away. Still it would take more than a person to bring one down, so he made due with berries, greens and rabbits. One day, there was a strange scent on the breeze, like human, but not human. He followed it, quietly progressing on his belly till he saw them, a couple, two wood gnomes. We would call them Neanderthals and know them for what they were, simply an exotic strain of people. But to Cro Magnons they were magic, possessed of stout, strong bodies and coarse hard working hands. They were able to endure wintry blasts and searing heat. They spoke. They communicated. But their language was rich with clicks and clucks and other tongue noises, for their jaws and throats could not shape many sounds. Papa watched them work. The  female appeared to be smoothing skins. The male finished chipping off the edge of a fine hand ax. Oh, they knew he was there. That was a given. For their senses were even sharper than Papa's. Yet none would make the move. Violence was not necessary. The Neanderthals picked up scents too. And they had not tasted the scent of a woman or of another man. They knew he was alone and possed no threat. So he studied them for a while. And they studied him in return. Maybe six or seven cubits seperated them. Some horse flies settled on them all and began to bite. The Neanderthals with their heavy, prizefighter-like faces were stoic. Such was life and they had work to do. Papa would have liked to slap the demons away (yes, everyone knew they were demons), but he feared for the noise. Now his tunic provided some upper body protection, but his loin cloth did little to save his lower body, so he had to endure the torment. After a bit, the female pulled out a small, carved out piece of wood, a bowl of sorts. It contained some solidified fat, an oinment. She dipped in her thick fingers and smeared some all over her body. Then she passed the bowl to her mate who did the same. It was warm. They were naked. The oinment seemed to help. Papa sighed. He thought he was quiet, but the male acknowledged him. He stretched out his arm and offered Papa the bowl. Papa slowly inched forward and took it, smoothing the rich, soothing salve onto his exposed skin. Then he said 'thank you' in his own language and gave it back. The Neanderthals never actually made eye contact with him, nor with each other for that matter. The woman picked up the bowl and returned it to her sack. Papa fished in his belt pouch. The Neanderthal stiffened for a moment, but relaxed when Papa placed a few large. pierced beads down on the dirt. He motioned for the male to take them. He did. The gift of graditude was accepted. Each subspecies gathered up their belongings and left. But later that night, Papa sat by his fire thinking about the encounter. And he wondered what his meeting with the life-eated would be like. Now he  knew they were prone to go wandering by moonlight. So there was more chance of a meeting out here than in  there. So he got up, smoothed his tunic, adjusted his loin cloth, prepared a small torch and went inside. The first chamber was large. The band, obviously used it to butcher and dress meat. You could still smell it. Scattered hearthstones littered the floor. The rotting corpse of a child occupied a corner. Strange that this one was not burned and buried (the bones anyway) with the rest. Yet it appeared more sad than grotesque in the weak, orange flickering light. And he wennt in deeper, winding through a rough walled tunnel till he came out into a small chapel. There is nothing else to call it. The undulating walls held beautifully rendered images. Animals, all sorts of bovine creatures. All facing the same direction. He could just barely make out an even larger presentation up ahead in a grander chamber. But he was afraid to move so far from the exit. So he turnned around and left. The torch still burned,but not much. The light was weak. He thought as he passed through the tunnel. Who could have painted such fine dreams? Who could see well enough, even with torch light to do it? It had to be the life-eater. Everyone knew night vision was one of their special powers. He hurried along, anxious for the moonlight. But then he heard it, a breathing, soft but strong. Then came a low, gutteral laugh. Papa froze. His heart almost stopped. After all he owned thirty two or three summers. Slowly he raised what was left of the torch. He saw it. He saw the flickering outlines of a sizeable individual blocking his way.....It was a female...And he saw the fearsome teeth when it smiled.....

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