This Ape’s on Fire

by Lazarus Gray

Her ancestors, offended, sent driving winds and rain to punish the tribe. 

The elder turned his painted thighbone toward her. His single, piercing primal shriek had decided her fate. She was the smallest, and malnourished. 

Few antelope had roamed the cruel savannah this dry season. The ground shook violently again and again, heaving with the ire of her ancestors. The bright skies darkened soon after, until the blazing light of the first ancestor dulled to a dark and cold orb. 

After three days, the veil of shadow began to thin. For more days than she could count on the fingers of one hand, she wandered, sacrificed by the tribe to the ire of their dead. Pools of fresh rainwater kept her alive, but she had not eaten since her banishment. 

As night fell, the wild skies screamed with distant power, and the light of the first ancestor transformed into branches of brilliant white which burned their tracks into her retinas, remaining to dazzle her for too many hard beats of her pulse. 

The flashes terrified her. As they advanced, she cowered beneath a small copse of trees—the only cover for many footsteps in every direction. The sharp scent of their passing carried strong on the whipping breeze, and the hair at the nape of her neck stiffened with an intuition of present danger. The odour reminded her of fresh blood. 

Beneath that sharpness, the unique stink of fear permeated her flaring nostrils, approaching rapidly, honing her senses to a fine focus. She reached for a sharp rock and swung onto the low branches of the tallest tree in the copse to wait while she was still upwind. She didn’t have to wait long. 

The small tusked beast flashed into view as her ancestors once again screamed from the darkness, sending more branches of incandescent light—this time for her to see. The beast was a juvenile, half the size of an adult. Its tusks were still dangerous despite their immaturity, but she had an advantage, and she used it with all the strength of desperation that she could muster. 

As it passed beneath, heading for shelter, she dropped silently onto its back and split its skull open with the sharp point of the rock, hammering at it again and again to make sure the beast couldn’t turn on her. She’d seen more than one member of her tribe impaled on tusks like those in the past. 

Ravenous, she used her rock to tear at the animal’s belly. The taste was foul, but the raw food lent her strength that she hadn’t felt for days. The tough skin of the carcass was unpleasant with bristle. The rain had stopped for now, but the screams of her ancestors still rolled across the black skies as she chewed. One bellowed with a powerful clap directly above, and sent down a bolt of light that split the tree in half. She was thrown backward by the powerful burst. 

A shower of sparks exploded from the tree. Mesmerised, she stared as the bough flared into bright orange flames, wary of the fierce heat that they radiated. The carcass lay out of reach, surrounded by large burning logs that had fallen from the shredded trunk. Edging as close as the heat allowed, she reached out her hand to snag the burning animal, but it was no use—the flames were still too intense. 

She circled at a safe distance until the fire began to die away. 

The distress of losing such a succulent meal to her ancestors made her howl with frustration. As soon as the heat no longer made her shy away, she was able to grab the animal’s hoof and pull it clear of the smouldering logs. Unexpectedly, the carcass had not been consumed by the heat. The bristles had been burned off, and the skin glistened with moisture. The scent from the roasted flesh made her mouth water. 

Utterly ravenous, she began to chew. 

For the first time, Homo Erectus experienced its first taste of cooked meat. 

The skies cleared soon after, and she was able to drag much of the carcass back to her tribe. 

They approved, welcomed her and gorged themselves, but they didn’t understand. 

The hunters began to strike rocks together, looking for sharp flakes to cut away the flesh. 

She watched, mesmerised once more as the flint produced sparks. 

She remembered the exploding bough, and she understood. 

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