Posted Monday, October 2nd, 2006
Sherry Allyn Norman
"Food! Woman, get food now!" he roars.
Startled, she spins from the rock cradle where she's just laid her sleeping girl-child. The child who is no longer sleeping thanks to the man's bellowing, but is now screaming as only a frightened child can.
Her eyes narrow, as she looks her mate up and down-- slowly. She wonders what in Moonz she saw in him the day he dragged her to this very cave. She should have fought harder. She should have bashed his brains in with a rock. There'd been one close enough to hand; but she'd allowed the moment of conquest to take her. And that's all it'd been too, a moment, a very small moment.
She makes an effort to stop the curling of her lips into a sneer before he sees her defiance.
He growls and shouts, "Food!"
Thoughts of self-preservation flee. Flushing in anger and hands on hips, she retorts, "And just what am I supposed to feed you? You've brought home no bronto. You bring home less and less. Now you bring home nothing!"
He points to the cave opening. "You hunt today or you not eat."
Hunger rumbles deep in her belly. She looks from him to the cradle and back again, considering. If she doesn't eat, her child will go hungry too; but to have to bring food to one such as him...
She shakes her head. She should have stayed with her clan and never exposed herself to this back-of-the-rockhills lump, barely removed from ape-dom.
With a snort, she picks up her child and straps her against her own chest where, in a matter of moments, the babe snuffles her way into sleep.
Snatching a spear from the rocky floor, the woman stalks past the man's towering bulk, treading on his toes, hard, before scurrying out of his reach.
Skirting slush-filled water, she heads for sparsely wooded hills. Simmering, she hunts and stalks. Unknown to the man, she's good at the hunting. Some instinct prompts her to keep the extent of her skills and knowledge hidden from him; and she is glad for this.
Now she schemes. There must be a way out of her misery. Must. But, for the life of her, she can think of nothing that won't risk her girl-child and herself. He's already angry about the babe; he wanted a boy-child and blames her for the lack. She feels it's most likely his own quickness to blame. Time must be taken in the mating to set a boy-child, not over and done before it's barely begun.
Inside her, hunger rumbles again. Up ahead, she hears the sound of cluck-birds and smiles. She knows if she moves quickly enough, she can take down four or more. There would be no hunger for a full day with that many. On near silent feet she glides forward and climbs a boulder to look down on a small valley of the witless and near flightless birds. She wonders to see so many in one place.
One leap and she's down among them, flipping her spear from side to side, twisting and turning in the hunting dance of her clan, breaking heads and spilling bird brains in the wake of her weapon and her feet. She only stops when the sound of squawking no longer reverberates within her head.
Straightening from a crouch, she looks about. She sees enough birds down to feed her small family for several days if she packs the most of it into the ice at the back of the cave. Longer if he were not there.
She sighs regretfully.
With a downward thrust, she sets her spear point into the ground and steps forward. A plump and squawking cluck-bird runs on spindly legs from under a bush and into her path, sees her and struggles to lift in flight.
Instinctively, she steps forward into a spin that brings one foot up and around to connect with the fragile, feathery head. Bones snap, the sound crisp and clear in the near silence. The bird lands with a heavy whooshing thump, flops once and then lies unmoving; one leg pointed upward, toes curled in death.
Walking among her harvest, she looks into mounded piles of grasses and greenery. Amongst the grassy knolls she sees small round objects in each. Many of them. She studies them, wondering.
The babe stirs, nuzzling at her chest. She remembers she must hurry.
She gathers her kill, binding their feet together with long grasses and greenery. Looking back at the round objects, she sees one broken, a shining wetness the color of the heat in the sky spilling between its broken edges.
She dabs a finger in the glistening wetness and raises a dollop to her nose. She sniffs and then touches it to her tongue. Not exciting, but not too bad either. Yet she knows unknown foods can kill. Still, she decides if the birds felt the objects worth collecting, maybe she should think on them further.
She goes from mound to mound, gathering the round objects and tying them into a piece of fur. Her return to the cave is difficult and exhausting, but she is home before full darkness falls.
While the man stomps about and complains of hunger, kicking at things in his path she cleans and roasts two birds. The longer he goes on, the more her eyes stray toward the fur bundle she's laid to the side.
When his noise wakes the babe once again she moves swiftly and surely to open the bundle and passes two of the round objects to him. Opening a small hole in one, she pantomimes an action for his benefit.
She says, "Suckle."
He grunts in question.
She pushes one to his mouth and makes the suckling sounds of a babe.
He places his mouth to the hole and sucks tentatively at first and then with enthusiasm, taking one after the other from her bundle and sucking the insides from them before tossing the shells to the side.
She watches him carefully to see if he suffers any ill effects. When he doesn't, she tries to slow him down before they're all gone; but the boar refuses to cooperate.
"Rrrrr.. cluck? errr..."
The woman whirls around to see one of her kills struggling to its feet. Quickly, she separates it from the others and tethers it by one leg to a rock by the simple measure of sliding the free end of a length of woven grasses under the edge of a boulder.
The cluck-bird fights the restraint momentarily and then settles to the rocks and tucks its head under one wing.
Soon she has food ready and works to store the rest in the back of the cave, eating her share as she works. She knows there'll be none for her if she doesn't.
She returns to sit by the small fire and glowers at the man through the curtain of her dark hair as he grunts and growls and crunches on the remains of the meal. He's easily eaten more than two people should, leaving her less than a child would need.
The sleeping cluck-bird stirs, then struggles up and squawks loud enough to hurt her ears.
She sweeps the long length of her hair back over her shoulder and stares in stunned surprise as a round object drops from the creature's back-end and rolls forward. Not something the silly birds collected then, but their droppings! Remembering putting her finger to her mouth and tasting of a bright glob, she gags.
She realizes at the same moment he does what she's fed to him, and jumps up to run for her life. She doesn't make it far before his hand clamps deep in her hair and snatches her backward. Only after she hits the rocky ground does she realize he's falling as well. His hand loosens and she rolls away and onto her feet, crouched and backing away, ready for battle. But he's no longer looking at her. He's lying on his back and staring upward, his face blank and his eyes unseeing.
He's choked to death on the last of the leg bones. She can see the end of it sticking from his throat and into the top of his mouth.
She waits to be very sure he won't move again before dragging him from the cave and then rolling him into the icy slush at the edge of the water.
He sinks from sight, gone too quickly for belief.
She waits a bit longer and then returns to the cave. Her cave now, she realizes with a sense of quiet joy. She enters and looks around. Her safe and peaceful cave.
The cluck-bird bustles around in spite of its tether, pulling its own dropping back up beneath its body and settling into sleep once more.
She steps forward quickly, but stops. She thinks; Let it keep its nasty little droppings for now if it wishes. When its turn comes to roast over the fire, is soon enough to clean up whatever mess it makes.
She picks up a stick and makes a number of marks in a spot of sand on the cave floor. She looks at her hands. Enough marks to equal counting on her hands three times. She has food enough to leave the fat little cluck-bird alone for that many risings.
She smiles. "Now what am I to feed you, I wonder?
Comments [post a comment]
Posted by Margot Miller on Monday, October 2nd, 2006 at 7:33 AM
Sherry, I love this!
Posted by Jason Shaffner on Monday, October 2nd, 2006 at 7:53 AM
What a fun story! I wouldn't have thought it could be done so well. Great job!
Posted by Nonnie Augustine on Monday, October 2nd, 2006 at 9:52 AM
Sherry, the suspense you build here is wonderful. Good for the cavewoman! I've decided she'll figure things out with the cluck bird. Nonnie
Posted by Pamela Tyree Griffin [ firstname.lastname@example.org
] on Monday, October 2nd, 2006 at 9:59 AM
What a terrific and creative story. Great way to spend my morning break from the real world! You go!
Posted by Nancy Corbett [ email@example.com
] on Wednesday, October 4th, 2006 at 12:51 AM
Really fun story. You have a terrific imagination.
Posted by Philip Rader on Thursday, October 5th, 2006 at 3:08 PM
Good story, Sherry. I'm glad that guy choked on a drumstick, because once cavemen learn to suck eggs, you can't break them. They'll suck every egg in the cluck house.
Posted by Marie Shield [ firstname.lastname@example.org
] on Sunday, October 8th, 2006 at 12:19 PM
Shades of Clan of the Cave Bear only better. Thanks for an enjoyable read.
Posted by Norma Trent on Monday, October 9th, 2006 at 5:09 PM
I really like this story! Was this maybe how people found out what was safe to eat? Good idea and great execution.