Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Life is Red

Koh woke as cool breeze drifted across his face.  The fire was low and the light was growing.  Standing up and stretching with a loud grunt, he looked around the cavern.  Ta was outside, sniffing the air. The others were still asleep.
            Koh  joined Ta as they looked over the valley where they came as the days got short.  It smelled cool and had the tang of dying leaves in the air.  The thing was going to happen before the night sun faded again.
            Others were waking now.  Nee squatted near the warm coals and gently blew on them. She had small sticks and dried grasses ready to catch the flame. In a moment the coals glowed and she dropped the grasses on them. A flame burst up and she quickly dropped the sticks on it.  More flames leapt up and Koh brought in some larger branches and wood. Together they broke them and put them on the growing fire.
            All the cave was awake now, and the little ones were babbling or crying.  Nee fed her youngest at her breast while the others scrounged around.  The biggest girl went down to some trees to gather nuts for the smaller ones.
            Koh and Ta wandered back outside, sniffing the air again. After a short while they both wandered down to the woods.  Ta’s last spear had broken when he used it to cross a cold fast stream.  Koh had a spear, but wanted another one. They found two long branches that would make good strong spear shafts.  Bringing them and some grasses and sticks for the fire, they returned to the cave.
            Ta took a sharp stone and chopped at the smaller limbs on his spear branch.  Inspecting each of these, he put it aside or tossed it near the fire.  Koh’s branch didn’t have as many limbs, so he began scraping the bark off with his sharp stone.  They both worked on their spears until the day sun began to go down. 
            Koh stretched and walked outside again.  Being hungry, he grabbed his other spear and left.  Sniffing the air, he headed toward the stream.  Once there, he crouched in some reeds, waiting and watching.  After a long time a creature waddled to the water to drink.  Koh remained still until just the right time, and then his spear flew, hitting the body in the chest. The creature squealed one high pitched scream, then was still.  Satisfied, Koh picked it up and went back to the cave. 
            Nee came out to see him as he approached. Without a sound he handed the creature to her.  With her sharp stone, she quickly took off the skin, then chopped off the head, scooped out the insides, and put the rest on hot rocks surrounding the fire.  The smell of roasting meat had all of them standing or sitting near the fire.  When the meat was done, Nee used two sticks to grab it and gave it to Koh.  Koh ate and then gave it to Ta.  Ta ate and gave the remains to Ree, his mate.  By now there was very little left, and it was tossed on the floor where the little ones scrambled and screamed for it.
            Koh and Ta went outside where it was getting dark. The night sun was up, getting smaller. Koh knew what he would do during the next day sun.
            A cooler breeze woke Koh, and he sniffed it hungrily. The smell of leaves was stronger, and there was another musty smell, faint, but definitely there.  Ta was already outside and the two men stood, sniffing and nodding together.
            Grunting, Koh gestured to Nee.   She came out and sniffed as well. Koh took a finger and swiped it across his face. Nee understood and left, walking down a rocky bank.  Koh and Ta went in and grabbed their spears.  Ta called to  Ree, and showed her his spear. She also knew what he needed and left a different way than Nee had.
            As Koh and Ta finished smoothing the spear shafts, both Nee and Ree returned.  Nee went over to a corner of the cave where there was a natural basin that held rainwater. She took her smooth stone, dipped it in the water, then began grinding the red rock she had gathered for Koh.
            Ree had sap from the green trees and some long fibers from near the stream.  Carefully she tore the fibers into long thin strips. Each strip she coated with sap, then held it briefly over the fire, making it soft.  Ta grabbed one and used it to attach his spear point to his spear shaft. Koh did the same.  They let the sap cool, then carefully tested the spears in soft dirt. Ta’s was coming loose so he added another fiber coated with soft sap.  Then both of them coated the base of the spear point and all of the fibers with the remaining sap.
            Nee had ground up her rock into a red mud .  Calling Ta and Koh over, she muttered a series of sounds under her breath (Lah erk da lah erk da.)  Putting down her stone, which was red from all the grinding, she put all her fingers in the mud.  Still muttering, she carefully put her hand on Koh’s cheek, leaving a handprint that looked like blood.  She did the other cheek. Then she used three fingers and drew red lines across his forehead.  Swiping both hands in the mud again, she made long blood lines along his arms, then legs.
            Ree came over and began the same muttering, and she put her hands in the mud.  On Ta, she put her fingertips under his eyes, then drew lines down his face.  With blood red hands she cupped his neck, so he looked as if he’d been strangled.  Moving his skins aside she put bloody hands all over his trunk.
            Both women then made their man’s feet red, up to the ankles.  Ta and Koh stood still, for all of this.  As the women finished the men walked to the edge of the cave, then lifted their spears and said as one,” Lah erk da, lah erk da!”    Then they left together, walking quietly down to the valley where the large herd of horned beasts awaited them.