Short Story by George B
Eva and Credo were alone at the outskirts of the Boneyard to survey the Clan’s chances of locating food. Though it was early morning, she did not expect to encounter a Terror Bird. While an attack was possible, Eva’s intuition told her they were temporarily safe. Credo had alerted on a dragonfly and was preoccupied by its erratic flight pattern. She quickly gave Credo hand signals to ignore the large insect and to instead survey the surrounding perimeter.
Credo was always at Eva’s side unless she ordered otherwise. He bonded with her at his birth five cycles ago. Eva was a leader of her people and was worthy of his attention and loyalty. Others of his kind were not as lucky. Saber cats were intensely hunted by Eva’s tribe, the two species competed for the same food resources. One of Credo’s eyes was damaged at birth and he would not have survived without this symbiotic partnership with his human benefactor. Eva was flawed also. Her left leg was deformed and her ability to hunt was thus limited. However, her keen sight, hearing and intuition assisted by Credo’s legs and enormous strength made them the best providers of the entire Clan. The two were inseparable and were relied upon to find game when others failed.
Eva’s value was significant because of her second sense when it came to reading hunting signs. She could also anticipate changes in weather conditions. She felt impending danger before others and was the early warning system for all that fell under her care. The Clan had a territory that covered several hundred square miles. At the center of this area, was a group of thermals that belched heat, steam and sulfuric gases all year round. This area attracted animals of all types, especially during the bitterly cold winter months and many of the sojourners were killed or died there, leaving their bones as a temporary reminder of their fate. The area was thus known by the Clan as The Boneyard. This place was the hunting ground of last resort because it held a fearful, mystical, and magnetic quality that both attracted and repelled humans and most likely other animals as well. The dominant species, other than humans were the Apex Predators of the Mega Fauna of the late Pleistocene. However, the most feared and formidable was the Terror Bird, it was flightless, was over eight feet tall and weighed approximately 330 pounds. Their heads were large, with huge, axe-like beaks. Being enormously quick and vicious, they ran at speeds exceeding forty miles an hour in short spurts. These birds could track, attack and kill prey much larger than themselves. They worked in groups of two or more and were intelligent, and fearless. This species always came to the Boneyard during specific seasons and Eva was very aware of their customary behavior.
By Dmitry Bogdanov – email@example.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2991184
However, this year was particularly bad for hunting and the Clan was pushed to take more chances than they have normally. Eva and Credo were critical to the tribe’s survival. She knew she could not make a mistake. An error on her part could result in her death and the possible demise of the entire Clan. In desperation Eva headed for the Boneyard. Though the risks were great the Boneyard represented the only true guarantee for food. Eva knew the Terror Birds would most likely
be there as well. The Clan’s weapons were spears and slings along with their coordination, unity of purpose and their capacity to adapt to changing and dangerous events. While alert and in a hunting party, her people could adequately defend themselves. However, as individuals or in small groups, humans were too slow and vulnerable, unable to defend against two or more Terror Birds if the attack was in unison. During resting periods and at night the danger was at its peak. These birds loved to hunt in the early evening and early morning hours. Eva maintained watchmen all day long and deep into the night to alert for any danger. Other than these terrible flightless birds, the Dire Wolves who weighed an average of 150 pounds were a concern because they were also pack hunters. Fortunately, since the Clan was in bird territory the wolves were not going to be present. The wolves feared the birds more than the humans.
Eva was concerned and more frustrated than normal because her people had been decimated through disease and starvation. The older members and the very young could travel no more and without enough food the entire Clan’s endurance was at its end. Being now half their normal numbers, the Clan could not both man multiple hunting parties and adequately protect the elderly and children. Eva had to find a solution and was desperate to do so. At this point the Boneyard would be the best answer to the Clan’s need for a food source. Eva decided to put every able body out to gather food and hunt, praying the worst would not happen. While pondering the serious issues in front of her, Eva remembered a dream she had not long ago. The stones from a mountain fell on her and Credo. She expected to die, instead they survived without a scratch. Could this dream have been pointing her to the survival or inevitable destruction of her clan? This was a puzzle and she had to solve it and solve it soon.
Eva was thinking, The Boneyard might just be their last stand, but was jolted back to the reality, when she saw Credo returning from his survey of the thermals. He was acting differently shown by his speed and directness of approach. Eva sensed his excitement. This meant food or danger and maybe both. In anticipation, she took out her sling and place a large stone in it. As he approached, he made a set of quick clicking sounds “kee, kik, kee, kik” She knew to follow him immediately.
As they rounded a small thermal pool of green and orange algae, the billowing steam was blown away by a stiff breeze to reveal a set of five crude nests on the ground. The nests were full of several very large eggs. Eva knew immediately these were Terror Bird eggs. Because of her desperation she didn’t hesitate, she grabbed her carrying pouch and put as many eggs in it she could. She then fashioned a drag from some branches and placed several more eggs on it to take them back to the camp. She knew the Birds would follow her trail as soon as they discovered the missing treasure, but this was survival. She was ready to accept the consequences of her actions. At this very moment, Eva knew the Terror Birds could be attacking her vulnerable and unprotected Clansmen. This may well be a war of mutually assured destruction.
With her deformed leg her return with the added weight of the eggs was excruciating. She was weak for lack of food and knew she had little time to escape. Credo kept a constant watch for the birds. He moved around her, first in a wide circle and then kept getting closer and closer to her as they got further from the Boneyard.
As she returned to the camp, the old and young greeted her with warm hugs and talk. They wanted to hear the whole story, but she was too busy trying to share the eggs with the Clan. She soon collapsed from fatigue and they placed furs over her. Credo lay beside her. She slept for several hours and had the nightmare again about the landslide. When she awoke, she and Credo were given all the Terror Bird egg stew they could eat. The others who were out hunting returned without anything but shared in the eggs to their fill. Eva knew this was the calm before the storm. She ordered fires be started and maintained around the perimeter and she and Credo left the encampment.
Eva didn’t know just what she was looking for, but she knew she would recognize it when she saw it. The place the Clan was now living was too vulnerable to stay much longer. After a half-hour journey, she began to wonder if she was going crazy. What was she looking for? She spotted a pile of large rocks and boulders.
The pile looked like the results of a recent landslide. A large cave would have been better but there were none in this area and even if there were, her people would have to fight a family of cave bears for it. Never a good idea.
As she and Credo were climbing around the base of the pile, she heard the most frightening shrieks and screams she had ever heard. It was undeniable, the sounds were coming from the direction of the encampment. She immediately signaled Credo to run ahead. She followed as fast as she could. Upon arrival, one Terror Bird lay dead near the main fire pit and two clansmen were badly injured. It looked like one of the injured would soon die. Eva knew the war was now engaged.
Eva was told up to five Terror Birds had attacked the camp. They circled it and then rushed the adult defenders from two separate sides. While the two flanks were being attacked, a single bird came from a third direction toward the children who were surrounding the central fire pit. One of the elder men got off a perfect sling rock that hit the bird in one of its eyes. Two adults left the perimeter defense and attacked the injured bird with spears. The attacker was mortally wounded but had badly mauled the two adult defenders. After the bird was killed the rest retreated.
Eva was proud of her people but knew there would be future attacks. Unless her Clan left, the birds would continue the assault. The price was high but, in the end, they got some food and defended themselves. They would live to fight another day.
Eva slept that night but wrestled with her thoughts. The injured and the dying concerned her, but she would have sacrificed herself as they did for the same reasons. She was without mate or child because she was deformed. The ways of her people demanded that from her. She knew no other life. Her parents had long since succumbed to starvation. Credo was now her family. He was her child and companion. Her duty was to lead her people and help them survive and eventually thrive again. The weather had been harsh, and the rain had vanished for months now. There was hope the snows would come and next spring would return to normal, but she was afraid only the bitter cold would come instead. If they survived this winter, they might have to leave their hunting grounds to find other territory. This too might be a death sentence. They would most likely have to fight other Clans and other species to venture into their hunting grounds.
The hope was that with deep snow, hunting and tracking the scarce game would be made easier. The surviving bison would be encumbered by the snow and come into the range of the Clan’s spears and slings. She knew she could not leave, she had to fight the Terror Birds for what little game existed until the snows came. Her people were as desperate as she knew the birds were, possibly only one species would triumph, and Eva intended it to be her Clan. At least the killed Terror Bird would feed the group for several days and might give them the strength to accomplish much more than just surviving a few more days.
When Eva woke in the early morning Credo was already sniffing around the main fire pit for breakfast. Some cooked bird sounded like a good start to his day. Eva went over to the fire and cut off some large chunks off the carcass and gave it to Credo who devoured it quickly ending the repast without anything but a loud burp and the licking of his lips and paws. He purred and rubbed his long powerful body against Eva to thank her for his meal.
Eva felt it was time to call a meeting to discuss what was next. All were present, young, old, and injured, a total of maybe fifty people. The badly wounded male was still alive and was showing signs of improvement. The herbal based antibiotic bandages, laced with sulfur had prevented infection from taking the warrior’s life. The injuries were severe; however, the clansman presently was without infection and food was available, and if this continued survival was possible.
Eva could count on possibly fifteen strong adults that could do some heavy lifting. Her plan was simple but strenuous. She was going to move the clan to the landslide and dig down and remove smaller rocks, silt, and dirt from between the larger boulders; making spaces where her people could fit within the rocks. The Clan had never tried anything like this. Their winter home had been moss, leaves, pelts and furs lining snow caves built into drifts of snow. In her mind, this excavation was not a permanent home but a safe room for the people left behind when the warriors went out to hunt and gather. This way the predators could not get to the young, wounded and elders. The openings for the Clansmen would be sized to allow their entrance but not their predators. Theoretically, a few spears wielded by the elderly would protect the narrow entrances from even the strongest, largest and most enthusiastic attacker. Thus, Eva’s landslide would now become the fortress for her people. Now the dream made sense!
She was in a race to move the Clan and start excavation before the Birds attacked again. Eva sent Credo to circle the formation as they moved, he would alarm them if the Birds were gathering for a new attack. She chided and pushed her fellow Clansmen to move quickly. They built drags for the two injured warriors and kept the young and old in the center of their formation. No one went out to hunt or gather, they stayed within sight and touch of each other. Though Eva got to the rock pile in thirty minutes before, this group would take two hours to make the same journey.
Initially, things went smoothly but within an hour Credo gave a warning growl. The others did not understand but Eva knew immediately. She had one of the men climb a tree and act as look out. She sent out an advanced guard of two warriors to do the same thing. She then sent five ahead to secure the rock pile. While on the move the group was most vulnerable. Within a few minutes of Credo’s warning. two Terror Birds appeared in front of the group. Two then appeared to their rear.
Suspecting the same tactics from the previous attack. Eva ordered the remaining warriors to align themselves on the two flanks of their formation. Within seconds, two birds surged from the underbrush towards the middle of the right flank of the group. One bird got to their center and killed two children instantly. The other bird never made it to the defenders. He was hit with several sling rocks and run through by at least three spears. The bird that reached the core of the Clan sliced straight through and had disappeared into the underbrush. Eva ordered everyone to get down. And to start torches. Hoping the fire would discourage a new assault.
After an hour there were no new attacks. Credo gave Eva an all clear growl and she ordered the clan to pick up the dead children and butcher the lifeless bird. Within a few minutes the group was on its way to the rock pile. She grieved for the two lost children but understood the way of life. They had survived by eating the bird’s eggs and these vicious birds had returned the favor. When and how this would end was now beyond her comprehension. They soon arrived at the landslide.
Eva gave the order to make camp. She placed lookouts on the top of the rocks and had the pile become the rear flank of the encampment. She sent several of the children with torches to look for gaps, cracks and clefts in the pile. Within a couple of hours, the group had settled down for the night. The pile was so irregular, she felt the birds could not easily negotiate it with any speed or ability to launch an attack.
She ordered all the brush and small trees removed in a wide arc around the camp and the rocks. The group worked continually for hours before they sat down to eat and mourn the death of the two children. Their custom was to leave the bodies of the dead in trees on small platforms. Because of their situation, they didn’t want to leave the children’s bodies for the Terror Birds, so Eva ordered them cremated. The Clan built a large fire pit on the outside of the encampment and burned their remains. The drought had made the availability of materials to build large funeral piers very easy.
Eva did not sleep. She wondered all night if their enemies would return. She had lost two children and had two badly injured warriors. She had killed two of the enemy and destroyed most of their next generation of chicks. The eggs she took to feed her clan were probably the last or only clutch before winter. To her knowledge, their small population, indicated they didn’t reproduce frequently, and then few hatchlings even survive into adulthood. So, their actions might have already struck deeply at their survival numbers for future generations. So be it. It was now a war of extinction as far as she was concerned.
Eva decided the Clan would not move again before thaw. This was now their winter home and maybe to become their four seasons home. Until now she had never considered such a thing. However, the food was available here all year long. The only reason they didn’t stay before was the Terror Birds. Necessity caused by drought had brought them here and the defeat/elimination of the Terror Birds might change their entire fortunes for generations to come.
Several days after the Clan settled into the new camp, Credo lays with his body next to his guardian and purrs delightfully, she is deep in thought. Eva is planning an offensive. She muses: now that the pile is properly prepared and fortified, it is a haven for the clansmen and the hunted become the hunters. I know where their nests are. She wonders: are they intelligent enough to move to a new location? It was obvious to Eva the Birds had never feared discovery. The Thermals had been their safe place for eons. It provided warmth, camouflage, and even obliterated their scent because of the sulfur laced gasses. Eva thinks; Credo discovered it and we will exploit it again, If they are not able to adapt and nest elsewhere, next year will be their fall. Next year will be their end! .
To be continues . . .