Tuesday, July 31, 2012

An Excerpt from my new novel: The Last of the Bird People

This is the story of a tribe of peaceful hunter gatherers, but after they are uprooted from their valley, where they had lived quiety for generations, they become more wild and violent. This incident occurs during their exodus.  The story is related by an old man.

Book is available on Amazon, etc.

One day we came to a large pond surrounded by grasses and the curving trees Tracker called cabbage palms.  Lying on the banks we saw five or six animals that looked like huge salamanders, some the size of a man or woman.  I recognized them as members of the same species of demon I had encountered on the trail by the big river.

 For a variety of reasons, mainly because I did not want the people to know that death was even then stalking me, I had not mentioned this to anyone, not even Chanterelle. 

Randall took a few of the dogs and led Watson, Chanterelle, and some of the women through the brush with the spears and bows ready to hunt these animals.  I wanted to tell him to hold off. I wanted to announce that I had made a pact with one of these creatures, and perhaps they knew of this agreement .  But I said nothing. 

Randall was becoming a good hunter by then, and moved very slowly as he approached. When the hunters were close they all sat down and watched for a while, and then crept forward, holding back the dogs and making sure those immense salamanders stayed asleep.  When the hunting party was no more than a few paces away, Randall indicated through sign that each of the hunters should pick one salamander.  Then they and the hunting dogs charged out from the brush and speared those hideous looking beasts. 

The spear throws and arrow flights were true, and the spearheads entered the chests of those creatures just behind the forelegs.  The dogs grabbed the meaty fat legs and tails and refused to let go even though they were swung left to right by the twists and turns of the speared beasts.  The monsters thrashed and lashed with their dense fat tails and attempted to flee to the pond waters but the people were wild now in a hunting frenzy.  Randall himself was the wildest among them.  He charged from one monster to the other, heaving them back onto the shore by their tails, and yelling at us to do the same.  But, unlike the deer or the woodchucks of our valley, these vicious slashers refused to give themselves up to us willingly.  They twisted around in their pain, taking on more and more spear jabs, and attempting to bite us or knock us back with their tails, even though they were gravely wounded. They had huge long jaws with row upon row of sharp teeth, the fore teeth long and spear like, and one of them caught the hunter Tuttle and tore her calf.  Others thrashed their tails madly in defense and one of them tripped Watson, who fell into the melee and began slashing left and right with his brush spear, laying great bloody gashes in the struggling beasts, while they attempted to bite him. Randall saved him.  He charged in among them and speared the closest of them and kicked the others away, or grabbed their huge tails and heaved them off. 

Those hunters were all mad with the kill now. We had never experienced such a hunt, and there was a violence among the women I had never seen before.  Chanterelle, my own granddaughter was growling and barking with the dogs, yipping and jabbing left to right at the eyes of the fighting beasts and kicking them to keep them from the waters.

At one point, the largest of the beasts struggled into the pond water and having lost her judgment in the wildness of the hunt, Chanterelle snatched out her skinning knife and plunged in after him. She caught his snout under the jaw, drew back his head and began slashing at his throat, even as he rolled and twisted in the reddening, blooded waters.  Randall dove in after her without any weapons at all.  He waded up to that great thrashing beast and with his bare hands held its snout shut.  It continued to thrash wildly and beat the waters with its tail, but it could no longer bite, and little by little under the repeated strikes and slashes of Chanterelle’s knife it succumbed, rolling upward to reveal its yellow-white scaled belly. 

Back on shore the other beasts were losing ground.  Of the six we had seen on the shore, two made it back into the depths of the pond. But slowly, one by one, the others died there on the banks, although it took a long time for them to give up.

The hunters sat down then, shaking and dazed.  The dogs panted and lay watching their kill, as if to make sure they had finished their work.  The hunters whistled for us, and everyone came down to the shore to see this slaughter. 

We never in all out history of hunting and food gathering had had such a struggle with any animal.  The wrath of these creatures, the violence and defense that they put up was heroic, and it was only then, as they lay dead around us on the bank that we thought to ask Randall what they were. 

“These,” he said, “are the alligators I told you about back in the valley.  From now on we will be seeing many of these animals and they are very good eating.  Worth the struggle,” he said.

That much was true.  We butchered those alligators, cut the meat into strips and roasted the strips over the fires.