My name is John. I live over
there near those far trees on the side of that slope. You want to know where
on the planet I live? I don't know. It is here or over there; that's all I know---that's
all I've ever known. I have lived here all my life, but now we must move. My
herd has been talking about this for several days now. We must move because
there is little food this year and the Dark One comes almost every night now.
Whenever there is little food for us, the Dark One becomes hungry, too. The
Dark One comes and circles our camp at night and begins to take some of us in
the herd for its food. We are all frightened. The Dark One has always lived
near us and he likes to eat the same four-footed hoofed animals that we do.
When there is plenty to eat he does not come for us. Sometimes when we make
loud noises together, we have noticed that it scares him for a while and it
keeps him away. He stays away for a while, but his hunger always drives him
toward us. We have decided that if we move, perhaps, besides finding food, we
will leave the Dark One behind forever.
We gather in the first morning's light and form our usual small groups. We have observed that in the morning is when the danger of attack from any foe is slightest. We sit or lay in the grassy areas and groom each other. We like this time, as it calms us. It is here that we routinely pass news of yesterday's events and guess about things to come. Usually the news is about who is mating with whom; the hard but brief rain yesterday; the birth of a new child; or a serious injury; or -- like today -- the lack of food and our herd's impending move. To us, it is very important information that effects our everyday life. Do you, in your time, still chat idly in the mornings? Do you still groom each other?
In the mornings it is cool and we can see far into the distance across the plains onto the far plateau. From here we have been able to see which of the hoofed four-legged ones are feeding on the grasses below us. It is in the mornings that we hunters used to plan our moves for the daily hunt. I say used to, because the big beasts did not come this year, only small groups of little animals that are not all that good to eat. Plus, they are fast and difficult to catch. But we eat them when we can, because we must. Not long ago, another hunter, thought he saw a large column of smoke raise on the other side of that mountain over there. The Sun is to our left in the mornings and off to right before the darkness comes. The hunter said that it looked like the same smoke that always follows the four-footed hoofed ones. We decided that it was the Sun shining all the time and keeping the rain away that, made the grass grow less. We began to think that if there were no grass to eat, then the four-legged beasts would not come. We then decided that if there is grass, then there must be rain. If there is rain and Sun, in balance, then all would be like it used to be. Now unfortunately, it's over there where the raising smoke was seen. The herd has decided to move toward that smoke, in search of where the four-legged hoofed beasts are eating grass. We decided to go that way -- between the morning-Sun and the before-dark-Sun where the smoke was last seen rising.
I have heard stories from the old ones about the Dark One. No one knows for sure if it is the same Dark One who comes to visit us again and again, or more than one; but we all fear the Dark One. One hunter who saw the Dark One up close said that it was a 'he' because the hunter saw his penis hanging between his legs. All we know that it is four-legged, black in color, is low to the ground -- and that its skin shines in the moonlight. The ones who have seen it say its tail is very long. We all have heard him many times as he circled the camp; it is a terrible sound. It's growl seems to go on forever; low, deep and powerful.
We fear him because we do not know where he will strike or who he will take. When he does take one of us, it is fast, loud and terrifying. The one taken lashes about and screams in pain until he is silent. It frightens us so much that we say nothing until the early light when we form our groups again.
The night before the move across the plains we all sat around our separate campfires and talk of the move ahead and, of course, the Dark One. We are all sure that he will follow us, since he also is without food, and assume he will attack us every day we are making the crossing. The hunters agree that the move will take two Suns. Then the talk turns to whom we think will be the two chosen by the Dark One. This has happened before, this guessing game we hunters play, this choosing amongst ourselves to see who would most likely fall behind or drift to the outer edges of the herd and be eaten by the Dark One. When we talk of these things, some of the hunters laugh at the one who will fall. Their joy is in the fact that it will not be them. Sometimes, even in good times, I have seen this "separation" occur. Once a weak male drifted in from another herd. He was different in the color of his hair and eyes and said things in a different way. Because he was different from us, we were afraid that he may do some sort of harm to our herd, take our women perhaps, or our food. He was never allowed into the inner circle or to have access to any of the females. It is not fair, and I do not like this way, but I do as the others do.
Some day we will all be older and not as fast. I am already 36 years old. I know that I can not run as fast as the younger ones. Soon, my time will come. But for now, I know that it will be someone else that the Dark One takes. On some occasions some of the ones picked to be the Dark One's food are obvious. The very old, the injured, the small baby who has lost both parents, the funny born. It is hardest when a friend and fellow hunter is injured and there is nothing that you can do for them. When the bone sticks out of the flesh we know that he will not last long. Some in the group have said that perhaps we should eat the badly injured ones as they will soon cease to talk and move and grow cold. But somehow we could not do this. Perhaps, if there were nothing either to eat or drink. But it has never yet come to that.
It is morning and the time has come. Somehow we manage to move. We carry what we can in small animal pouches. A hunter brought the idea back from a hunt when he discovered water lying on top of a partly eaten carcass when he needed a drink badly. We learn much from watching the things around us. It is still early in the morning and the mist raises from the little stream of water that supplied our herd. It will be missed, but had it not rained yesterday, it would be just mud today. We must move now. We do not know if we will find another place like this one. All we know is that if we remain here we will die. "But we could die on the way," says a small boy who wants to be a hunter like his father. I say to him: "Better to die trying a new way that could save our group than dying here for sure."
As our group begins to move down the hillside from our plateau home onto the plain, we begin to form the same "circle of life" that we had on the plateau. The mated women and children were in the center, along with young females who do not yet have mates and children. The next layer surrounding this inner core are the young males without mates and then comes the old ones, the ones who can no longer hunt or bear children. Then, in the outermost circle, are the hunter-warriors. It is our duty to help defend the "circle of life" as best as we can. It is because of our strength and courage that custom has placed us here. We are the ones who make the loud noises to try to keep the Dark One away. But we have never done this while moving. This is new to us. At the campfire it is different, as nothing moves and we can hide in bushes or behind a tree when one is near. But this is the plain. There are no large bushes and only a rare tree every now and then. We are not as brave as we talk.
It is now hot. Very hot. Some of the hunters have begun to look back in the direction from which we came and can see nothing but wavy lines near the horizon. It does that when it is hot. We do not understand it except we know that we can only see something as we get closer to the object. A hunter shouts. "Yayeee!..." and points in the direction from which we came. It is a small black dot that is moving near the horizon. The word is passed through the herd in no particular fashion, but it spreads quickly. And it seems that as soon as the word is passed, the pace of our herd group becomes faster. Mothers take the small hands of children who have learned to walk and want to explore. Dust begins to raise higher and now goes into our teeth and makes our eyes squint.
I look back and now can see the black dot better. It is the Dark One, someone shouts. Yes it is. Now there is no separation between the Dark One and the horizon. The Dark One is on the ground and moving swiftly, straight for our group. The word is spread again, and again the pace of our the herd quickens. It is a fast walk. The women begin to make sounds that I have not heard before, but I know that they are not sounds of bravery. They are noises of fear. The mothers now pick up the small children whose hands they were grasping. It is difficult for them, but we know well enough that when a mother protects her child, she possesses much strength. The children begin to whimper with fear and it makes us frightened and hopeless that we can do anything about it. The Dark One is large compared to us little people.
We can see him clearly now. He is moving at a quick pace. A hunter next to me says that the Dark one's stomach is not low to the ground. That means that he is hungry. We hear the first growl of his voice. It sends a deeper fear though the herd and some scream in horror. Now we begin to run as fast as we can. The group is still together, but fear and the pace of movement has begun to split the group. If that happens, than the Dark One will just pick and choose the closest of us to strike. Together, we are difficult to attack as this moving mass of our herd is strange to him. But we all know that whatever we do, someone will die today. Another growl, and another reaction from our herd. This time some began to have bowel movements in order to lose weight. If you lose weight, you move faster. It comes from fear. I have seen this before in our hunting of large animals, when they turn on us and we have to escape quickly. Some in our group begin to drop the items that we need to eat and drink in order to survive. Nothing matters now but survival.
Then something happens. One in our groups stops running. Because of the dust and confusion I can not see who it is, but it appears to be an older woman. Perhaps she is tired and can no longer run. It matters not. Since she stopped running, she will be the one most likely to be eaten by the predator. We still have a few moments separating our group and the Dark One. As the group continues on its path a few of us hunters stop and watch as the Dark One quickly approaches the old woman. To our amazement, we see her pick up a large stick and when the Dark One jumps to make his kill, the old woman swings and strikes the Dark One in the head. The Dark One is stunned and does not know what to do. It looks at the old woman, who is now shouting words that we can not understand. But they seem to confuse the Dark One too, as he just looks at her and circles nearer. Most of the herd is moving farther and farther away from this scene.
The Dark One jumps again, and again the old woman tries to hit him in the head, but on his second jump the Dark One manages to grab the arm that carries the big stick. With a few jerks of his head and a few growls, he rips her arm off and the red water jumps from her body. It is over. She screams in pain, but it does not last long. The Dark One finishes his kill and calms enough to squat and eat. We hunters decide to move from our viewing place and return to our herd, still moving away from the killing place. We know that the Dark One will have his fill today. Perhaps he will eat so much that he will want to go back to his own home and not follow tomorrow. He must know that we go farther than ever from him and he must know that we go to a place that is different than his usual surroundings. Perhaps he will decide that we are not worth the trouble.
When we reach our herd, the herd is still somehow together and still moving toward the mountain across the plain. The group is moving slower, as the word was passed that the Dark One has made his kill, but there is a loud buzz of gossip and excitement amongst everyone as it moves. Many people ask us what happened back there and did I know? "Know what, I ask?" They tell me that my mother just stopped running and stood there as our herd passed by. It was she that was eaten by the Dark One. I was numb with a feeling that I could not explain. I found that all I could do was sit near a tree and look out at the plain and think of the things that my mother had taught me. I watched my mother be braver than any hunter or warrior that I have ever seen. My mind was racing with strange thoughts.
As we stopped and rested for the night, many came over to me and rubbed up against me. It was not grooming, but something else. I could tell from their faces that they were not angry, but glad, almost happy to see me. We talked of my mother and how this standing and fighting the Dark One was new to us. We did not know what to call it, but someone said that it helped to keep the Dark One away from the children and that was the important thing.
The next day went well, and the Dark One was not seen on the horizon again. We made it to the new mountain and from the top we could see into the new plains below that mountain. There were the four-footed hoofed animals. When we saw them we all laughed and smiled at each other. That night we gave praise to my mother for making it all possible.
Origin: July 1994