The Memorial

Note: Greetings, all. I apologize for not updating in forever. Life has really been keeping me busy. I must also admit that it’s been difficult to write non-fiction items. Not only is it hard to add anything to the substantive debates in science, trying to write on things that are only accessible through paywalls is a huge drag. So, I have made a strategic pivot to posting my short stories. I may from time to time revisit my old topics. Hope you enjoy! The featured photo is from  Flickr as भीमबैटिका/Bhimbetka Cave Paintings by Raveesh Vyas.

The Memorial

I forgot her face. Shortly after she was born, I touched her soft, smooth skin. I smelled the pungent flowers that her mother used to wear. But now I could not see her eyes or nose or mouth. But I did hear that wretched noise from her throat. She made no other noise.

The Elder sat beside me, his face dimly lit by the fire. “She cannot come with us. We do not have enough,” he intoned, his words cutting like a claw through my chest.

I looked into his deep brown eyes. They were sympathetic. “I can take care of her. She will get better,” I said in a quiet voice. That noise from her throat came again, an invisible enemy stalking throughout her tiny body. I held her close.

The Elder shook his head. He turned away from me and stared toward the fire. “The mother is lost.” He gestured his hand toward the infant in my arms. “She is sick. None of the matrons can take her.”

I stamped my foot down, making a soft noise on the ground below. “What helped me will help her!” I cried. The blank featureless face stared back at me.

A wrinkled hand fell on my shoulder. I felt the gentle but firm grip as the Elder looked into my eyes. “First Hunter. She will not make it through the night. You know what needs to be done.”

A long moment passed in silence, except for that inhuman noise ravaging my daughter. Finally, I nodded and laid her down on my lap. I put my hand over where her mouth and noise should have been. I pushed.

The angry fist of the sky god startled me from my sleep. I scrambled onto my feet, the clouds roiling above me. Around, the small pond rippled and the ground shook in the presence of the sky god. I gathered my meager belongings: a spear; some herbs; rocks; and a sling. Pressing my back against a nearby rock wall, I looked around for any signs of shelter. Finding none, I walked along the wall as the skies grew darker. The sky flashed.

I stopped, waiting for the god’s fury to wash over the land. It came, a deep and tremorous rumble that shook me. It passed. I ran quickly as droplets of cold water splashed onto my bare skin. Almost missing it, I spotted a hole in the face of the rock wall. Running up the rough ground, I dove into the opening . The sky flashed again and I covered my ears. I peered around the cave. It was empty. I gave the sun god a small prayer of thanks as I huddled in a dark damp corner.

I forgot the hands of my father. I felt their weight on my shoulders, but I could not feel their texture nor their warmth. I did not see him, only felt his presence.

We stood in front of the Healer, her hands tracing the scar of my freshly healed leg wound. “We found him at the bottom of the pit. I do not understand. That fall has killed grown men.” His voice echoed in the Healer’s cave. I stood still, looking at the ground.

The Healer did not respond. She finished examining the scar. Her wizened face betrayed no emotion. She beckoned towards my father. He released his hands from my shoulders and stepped back. Her hands took hold of my arm and she brought her face closer. Her gazed followed a path from my shoulder to my fingertips. I felt her breath upon my skin, my hairs standing up in response to their rhythmic touch. She checked other parts of my body: my back, my chest, my head, and Down There. Finally she stopped, held her head up, and closed her eyes.

My father’s presence came closer. I still could not see him. He waited for her response. She opened her eyes and gave me a look. She then went to the back of her cave and came back with a small black knife. I held my breath. My father said nothing. The Healer’s free hand gripped my own and turned it palms up. The knife flashed. She cut deep, as quickly as a snake bite. The pain coursed through me. I gritted my teeth in order to not scream out. All of us looked at the bleeding wound.

We looked in wonder as the strands of skin pulled together, closing the wound. The pain vanished almost as fast as it appeared. My father gave a small gasp. The Healer’s callused hands reached towards my fater. “First Hunter!” she cried. “Your son has been blessed by the gods. See, no harm has come to him!”

Then, I felt my father’s presence all around me, its warmth and radiance overwhelming. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” he said softly.

I stared at the ground in front of me as the rain pounded outside. The cold seeped into my skin. I could not warm myself as there was not enough material for a fire. I shivered as the sky god punished the land again with light and sound. Water dripped in some recess of the cave. I stared at the palm of my hand, the old scar a reminder of the gods’ benevolence. Laying on the ground, I closed my eyes, wondering what would come next.

I forgot the beast that killed me. The black void snorted and roared under the hot midday sun. Blood poured from the hole in my stomach. I fell backwards onto the stream bed, its moving waters somehow louder than the fury of our prey. The voice of my huntmate cried out, his arrival too late.

My vision receded. The roars and cries grew quieter, as if muffled by a thick animal skin blanket. Points of light appeared above me. My mother’s delicate hum filled the silence. I again felt my father’s embrace and it seemed to be leading me somewhere. The smell of pungent flowers wafted through my nose. Soon enough, we stopped. An opening appeared before me, illuminated by an intense blue glow. But I did not go through. The lights, my mother’s voice, my father’s presence, and the smell of flowers came together. They fell through the opening, farther away from me. I tried to reach out.

When I came to, I found myself on the stream bed again. I saw the void next to me, and knew it was the beast, recently killed by my huntmate. He stood in front of me, breathing heavily, with tears streaming down his face. Around me, a pool of my blood flowed into the stream, shading it a dark red. I looked down at my stomach. The hole was closed, as if the beast’s attack had only barely caressed me. My huntmate whooped.

My eyes opened. The pounding in my chest grew faster as I realized I was going to lose it all. I cried out, striking the nearby rock wall in frustration. Sitting up, I leaned forward and frantically dug with bloody hands through the dirt of the cave floor, searching for those I had lost. The warm reach of the sun god entered the cave, but I did not pay attention. I had lived a very long time and seen the same events play out again and again. However, each memory was unique in its own way. If I forgot my first daughter, my father, and the Hunt that killed me, I would forget all the memories of the People. Long ago, when the same monster that killed my daughter killed the last of the clan, I vowed to preserve them forever.

Again and again, I tried to dig, but found nothing. Finally, long after the sun god began blessing the earth with his presence, I fell to the ground, exhausted. My eyes filled with tears. Who would remember the People if not me?

After a moment of sobbing, I looked at the ground where I had dug before. My eyes widened in surprise. There was a hole there, and in it, I saw my daughter’s faded face. Taking a nearby rock, I traced a circle around the hole. The face became clear and her dark brown eyes stared back at me. I added some lines and suddenly I saw the shape of my father, his presence both imposing and reassuring. I added more circles and lines nearby. The beast snarled back at me, its fangs bared and claws gleaming.

The skin on my hands grew wrinkled and mottles. I looked at them in wonder. Was this why the gods blessed me? I needed to hurry. I stared around, the stone in my hand. The shapes in the dirt would not last long. There needed to be something more permanent. I looked at the cave walls and remembered the marks left when rock hit rock.

Much later, I surveyed the results of my work on the cave wall. I shared our first Great Hunt, four men with spears struggling against two great beasts. Suddenly, I felt great pain in my fingers and knees. My hair fell off, once a dark black, now a shocking white. Steadying myself to the floor, I soon found it more difficult to breathe. Gasps and wheezes came out. Once again, I heard the same noise that claimed my daughter. But I did not despair. I was filled with joy as I craned my neck towards the figures on the walls. I may be forgotten, but I will not forget.

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