A T T H E B E G I N N I N G O F D A Y S
Bryan Zepp Jamieson
First there was grass, and acacia trees, and animals
with a wide variety of cunning devices for ingesting other animals. Small
animals ate the grass, and larger animals ate the smaller animals, and
when that disagreed with them, they ate the grass so they could put the
smaller animals back where they found them.
It was a state of affairs that seemed to work
out. The trick was to reproduce before you were eaten. If you could manage
that, your species would survive. If your species survived, that was called
"evolution", and if it didn't, that was called "libertarianism". It was
a system that caused few complaints, since the victors had little to complain
about, and the nutrition was no longer in a position to complain.
But then one primate learned to look about,
and shout, "the world is not
and the human race began.
Humans were the first to demand that the universe
run itself in accordance with the interests of the humans involved. Since
this universe, as perceived by these humans, consisted of only a few hundred
square kilometers of savannah, and the sky was just above the reach from
the tallest tree, this was merely a preposterous demand, as opposed to
the utter insanity of making such a stipulation of a Universe 13 billion
light years in diameter and containing 25 quintillion suns in 5 trillion
Whether small stretches of savannah, or vast
concourse of stars with magnificent and alien civilizations, the universe
proved unresponsive to the unique human notion that it tailor itself to
their opinions of what it should be, and more importantly, the primacy
of individual human's roles in it.
So they cajoled and beseeched and genuflected
and created an amazing variety of explanations of unseen causes to . .
. well, to explain
all this inexplicability.
Like their cousins the baboons, humans learned
that they could be an implacable and frightening force on the savannah
if they worked together closely as a troupe, and managed not to end up
as nutrition at such a pace that they couldn't reproduce. A half-dozen
primates screaming and swinging sticks wildly will deter the hungriest
The pseudoscience of animism led to certain
oddities of behavior. On the rare occasion that a tribe could kill a predator,
they learned to check to see if the heart of the animal had stopped beating.
Failure to perform such a check had led to several on-the-job injuries
at a time when nobody had medical coverage. Subsequently, they equated
the heart of the big cat with its strength and courage as a fighter, and
it stood to reason that the heart, if ingested, would lend its properties
to the person who ate it. So the slayer of the cat would get the heart,
and would gain, in addition to an appalling cholesterol count, courage.
The hunter would eat the heart to gain courage, and because he now believed
that he possessed more courage, would have more courage. The courage came
from the person, but superstition insisted that it came from the cat, a
belief that not only lead to a dangerously skewed view of how the universe
functioned, but obviated the notion of self-worth in the believer. Humans
took no credit for their strengths, but instead assigned their valuable
features, along with any good luck they had, to an amazing variety of animist
phenomena, and dressed it up in ever-deepening and convoluted layers of
pure malarkey to prop it up.
It was perhaps the least productive and most
expensive discovery in human history.
Humans developed despite this, and devised
language. It was a bit limited at first, being used to describe the edible
as opposed to the inedible, but rapidly grew a syntax. Not only were there
words for grubs and melons (edible), but also for rocks and trees (inedible),
but it quickly expanded to incorporate such ideas as "my foot" (edible,
but probably not a good idea) or "club" (not edible, but useful for rendering
cats edible). Humans learned that language could be as powerful as deeds
in attaining social status, and that mysticism was a great way to brag
without getting called on it, and the downfall of humanity was nearly complete.
It was at this sad state of affairs that Makes
Impalas Edible Mook was found in the savannah, playing with two rocks.
The evening before, he had knocked a pair of rocks together to see if they
would make a pleasing noise to accompany the "We killed a gazelle" chant
(they didn't), and was started and amazed to see a spark fly from the rocks
as he banged them together.
Hunting had been good, and, with the afternoon
spent filling his belly and emptying his testicles, he was in a relaxed
and playful mood, which in humans usually means lots of trouble for somebody.
Now he was knocking the rocks together, trying
to figure out what force might be causing the spark. He happened to strike
the flint and iron together just right, and a satisfying shower of sparks
flew onto the dry savannah carpet. Certain he was on the right track now,
Mook exhaled a gust of satisfaction, and watched, bemused, as a tiny ember
on a piece of straw suddenly glowed brightly, even in the late afternoon
sun, and then winked out, leaving a tiny plume of smoke.
"Hey, Mook! Look what I have!" Mook, startled,
looked up to see Least Hunter Ook, proudly brandishing a very fat, very
dead rabbit. His flint and iron forgotten (and thus deferring the discovery
of the domestication of fire for at least another 1,500 years), Mook stood
up and inspected the rabbit. It met all the syntactical requirements of
edibility. It was dead, and it was in their hands.
Mook felt some surprise. Ook, as a hunter,
was a dead bloody loss, and only his good nature and willingness to help
the women with construction of night nests prevented him from being kicked
out the tribe and sharply demoted on the food chain.
"You de Man", Mook said, saying the ancient
prayer chant Praising Success in Slaying a Fat Rabbit, "You de Man." Ook
beamed and looked insufferably pleased with himself. Mook was the only
accepted male tribal member who would speak pleasantly to Ook, and even
then, praise was rare.
Mook gave Ook an admiring glance (which then,
as now, meant, "I don't know how you pulled this one off, you lucky bastard!")
which quickly turned to concern when he saw Ook was bleeding from his left
ear. "How'd you do that?"
Ook put a hand to his ear and examined the
stain on his fingers. "Pure carelessness on my part, I'm afraid. I was
swinging my spear around in the ritual to Make It Fly True and Far, and
I managed to hit my ear with the point of the spear." Mook frowned, trying
to imagine that.
"Then, moments later, I spotted this big fellow.
I was so excited, I forgot all about my owie until you mentioned it. Say,
I really clipped myself, didn't I?"
"You better put some leaves on it or something.
Evil spirits might get in."
Evil spirits did not get in, which, given the
course of things, showed religious observers that they were, indeed, quite
Over the following week, Ook's ear healed.
Unfortunately, the improvement in his hunting skills proved even more transitory,
and he returned from his next three expeditions empty handed. He even managed
to break his spear once while performing the ritual to Make It Fly True
and Far, something he really needed to work on a bit more.
Even worse, the hunting turned sour for the
rest of the tribe. Mook, too, returned empty handed, and discovered, to
the dismay of his testicles, that the women of his tribe had little interest
in hunters who didn't bring back at least a rabbit or two.
Unease was just settling into desperation after
ten days when Ook showed up, two rabbits in hand and bleeding from his
left ear. Even the tribal guardsman, Believing is Seeing Look, deemed this
worthy of a victory dance and holler to alert the tribe.
The tribal shaman and keeper of memories, Persistence
of Olfactory Book, noticed this time. "We're all very pleased, of course,"
he said to Ook, "and I'm particularly happy that you're starting to show
some promise. I always knew that if you only applied yourself . . ." Book
tailed off, noticing a patch of acacia leaves on Ook's ear. "What's with
Ook gingerly peeled back his wrappings, and
Book sniffed at the wound. "It looks like you hurt your ear earlier, here."
"I did, and it happened the exact same way.
I was doing the Make It Fly True and Far Ritual..." he picked up his spear
and started to demonstrate in slow motion. Mook, who had sidled up behind
Book to listen to the discussion, prudently pulled the shaman back a couple
of paces. The two men watched with some bafflement as Ook twirled the spear,
ending up with the point passing through where his earlobe would have been,
had he not had time to pull his head to the side this time.
Book shook his head in disbelief and looked
at Mook. "Can you do that with a spear?" He asked.
Mook stepped forward. "I see the problem, Ook.
When you get to the part where you are showing the spear what a rib looks
like, you are waving it toward the spine, rather than away. After that,
the whole thing is running backwards, and you end up with the spear in
your aureolas labialis, rather than pointed at the animal. Do you see?"
Syntax had made amazing progress over the past few weeks.
Book looked thoughtful. "Didn't you tell me
that when this happened last week, you caught a rabbit, Ook?" At Ook's
nod, he continued, "And that was your first rabbit in nearly two dry seasons
of trying, wasn't it? No, don't look like that. I understand some people
develop faster than others." He turned to Mook. "Nobody else caught anything
today, did they?"
Book tapped the bridge of his nose, always
a sign that he was having big, ponderous thoughts of the sort nobody else
could support. The hunters waited respectfully. After all, there was no
better knowledge than secret knowledge.
"Let's let things play out for a few days.
Maybe the tribe will start catching some chow. Maybe it won't. If they
don't, I want to be prepared. Ook, you're on leave for a few days until
that ear heals. I don't see how you can hear anything out of it anyway.
I want you to practice that ritual you've developed."
"Er, the ritual I've
"Precisely. See if you can find a way to perform
it that does somewhat less damage to your ear." Preferably no damage at
all, Book thought to himself, but with this lout, I'll settle for minor
A week of general privation passed. Worse,
the rains had ended early this year, so there wasn't as many berries and
grubs for the taking. Book was annoyed to have to explain this state of
affairs not once but twice to the tribal leader, Url of Dook. Dook, who
had a free-floating but acute desire to see the definite article applied
to names, knew that his leadership qualities were in direct ratio to the
fullness of the bellies of the people below him, and was dissatisfied with
Book's performance in bringing home the bacon. Book, in turn, was looking
for someone to Make An Example Of.
Other hunters, who should have known better,
were beginning to view Ook as their potential salvation. Mook watched the
diminutive Ook flail his spear about wildly, and knew the poor little guy
was toast if he didn't come back the next time with at least a rabbit.
Bellies were growling, leaders were nervous,
and hunters were disparaged in the local media. There was talk of attacking
other tribes in the area and eating their hunters in order to gain their
competence, but it stayed just loose talk, since, being better fed, the
other tribes were stronger.
With ceremony, Book handed Ook a new spear,
and commanded that he go forth, and with the new juju that Book had bestowed
upon him, save the tribe from starvation. Trembling, stuttering, and barely
able to avoid spearing himself, the tiny Ook shambled off across the savannah.
Mook shook his head sadly, and left the tribal patch, moving in a slightly
Ook went to the area where he had found both
the rabbits, and crouched in some brush, and waited patiently. After several
hours, he heard rustling in the brush about 200 feet away. It was a large
rustling, like a tapir, or maybe even a gazelle. Moving as quietly as possible,
Ook performed his variation on the Make It Fly Straight and True maneuver,
whimpering only faintly as the obsidian edge sliced his outraged earlobe.
Squeezing his eyes tightly against the pain--they were flooded with tears
and wouldn't have been of any help anyway--Ook let fly. The spear flew straight
and true and into the bark of a sequoia tree.
Ook rubbed his eyes and stared in dismay at
his spear, still vibrating in the soft trunk of the huge tree.
Suddenly, to his side, there was a trashing,
and the death scream of a gazelle. Ook pulled at his spear, and when the
sequoia wouldn't give it up, ran barehanded to the location of the commotion,
in brush about 50 feet away. There he found a gazelle lying on its side,
feet still kicking ineffectually, its life ended by a spear jutting from
the side of its chest. Ook stared, his bleeding ear and stuck spear momentarily
Grinning, Mook stepped from behind a tree.
"Boy, I still got it, even at the ripe old age of 24."
Ook stared. "What are you doing here? I thought
you were going to hunt up by the cliffs!"
"Well, I kinda wanted to keep an eye on you.
You're under a lot of pressure to perform right now, thanks to that idiot
Book." Mook took a meaningful glance at the giant sequoia. "A good shot,
but we're going to have a hell of a time dragging that back home. I suggest
we just settle for our upside-down deer here".
Ook struggled with his emotions. "But this
was my hunting area. I scouted it out, I found the rabbit warren..."
"So you did, so you did!" Mook waved his palms
at Ook. "I'm not here to steal your thunder. I'm here to help. Look, this
is your deer. You did your thing with the ear--get something on that,
by the way--and Book and Dook expect results. You bring this back, the
tribe eats, and then you're off the hook. You can quit gouging your ear,
and the rest of us can quit worrying so much about game being scare. Mook
poked at the now-still gazelle with his foot. "Besides, it looks like the
game have returned, anyway."
But the game hadn't returned. Mook was wrong.
The gazelle was all they had for the next week. Day after day, hunters
returned empty handed.
Ook's ear, by now distinctly tattered and no
longer very good at receiving sound, healed, and he was called in to see
Dook and Book. "One more time, Ook." Book said, while Dook looked on avuncularly.
"For the team." The next morning, the slightly crestfallen Ook went out,
his ear already tingling, and prepared to do his cockeared ritual. He did
so, and then he speared a rabbit. Then another, then another. He prepped
and tied off the corpses, using the ear from one as a bandage on his ear,
which was now not bleeding so hard because wasn't much left to bleed from.
Mook burst from the trees, out of breath. "I
say, Ook, did you see a pair of rabbits come through here?
Ook pointed to the carcasses. He had already
split and gutted them.
of them? That's marvelous! I flushed two of them, and hoped you might get
one! Where'd the third one come from?"
Ook shrugged. In his mind, the rabbits were
further apart, each from the other and from him, making his feat all the
more heroic. He would have quite the tale to tell upon his return, and
this time, the credit was truly his.
But damn, his ear hurt!
Mook, too, was happy. Not for his friend, but
because it would keep the elders satisfied, and off his back. The last
two expeditions had now assured that if hunting failed in the future, Ook,
and not he, would be blamed. Mook looked forward to the day when everyone
would be well-fed, and such politics would not go on.
Better still, during their return home, Mook
spotted fresh spoor in a number of places. The game were back, and hunting
would be good.
Book was delighted, and called together all
of the hunters, and had Ook demonstrate his Make It Fly True and Straight
ritual. Then he had all the hunters practice it, and after only a few moderate
injuries, commanded that each hunter, upon reaching his chosen ground for
hunting each day, perform the ritual exactly as Ook did it. There was minor
grumbling, but everyone knew that Book had Secret Knowledge, and it was
indisputable that the tribe's worst hunter, Ook, was the only one who was
getting out and scoring, so obviously a couple of ears was a small price
Hunting did get better, and Ook even attracted
a female, Uwana Fook, with whom he spent several deliriously happy weeks
before succumbing to an ear infection.
Over the next few weeks, the tribe suffered
several losses. The always amusing Practical Jook died when he failed to
hear a boar crashing through the brush toward him. The secretive Hidden
Nook was clumsy in his ritual and severed a carotid artery. Rightwing Kook
died of blood poisoning. And so on.
Book gave the matter much secret thought, and
decreed that hunters avoid such afflictions by cutting their right ears
to match. It even seemed to help for a while.
ONE YEAR LATER
JimBobwa, elder son of the tribe of Skipperies,
a small, dark-haired people, appeared in their camp with his hunters, four
of them, and two bedraggled and emaciated women who clearly were from the
The Chief of the Skipperies, Elron, regarded
the women with distaste. JimBobwa had been sent to trade with the Shooks
and bring new women to the tribe, but such tatty specimens! If his son
had offered anything more than a handful of salt for the two of them, he
was going to ream the little idiot with a giant sequoia.
But it turned out that nothing had been traded
to the Shooks for the women, because there were no Shooks. The two young
women were all that were left.
The story was simple, although perplexing.
The hunters all died of a variety of ailments, all related in some way
to their ears, or hearing. With the hunters all gone, the women had to
rely on gathering to survive-and the past year had been a tough one. Those
two were all that were left.
That evening, Elron sat outside the clearing
with his shaman, Huberd, to discuss the matter. The Shooks were not
the biggest tribe in the region, but they were capable and not prone to
being wiped out by invaders. Not in such a way that the Skipperies wouldn't
have heard about, at any rate.
Which meant the women were probably telling
the truth. Huberd had the two women brought to where the two men were,
and made them repeat the story, stopping to question them closely on the
ear-jabbing ritual that seemed to have been their downfall.
After they were sent back to the clearing,
Huberd mused for a moment or two. Elron had been known to question the
established religious order, and he needed an explanation that would work
to his advantage.
"Well," he said at length, "it seems clear
enough. The Shooks worshiped false gods, and they were punished by the
one True God by the vehicle of their own false and blasphemous worship."
"One true god?"
"Oh, yes. Oh, there's plenty of lesser gods
in the grass and trees and animals and whatnot, but this is The God. He
reigns over all the other gods."
"That's some god. When do I meet Him?"
Huberd paused to give Elron's incredulous tone
the disapproving stare it deserved. "You don't. He only speaks through
His representatives on earth, and it's His will that I should be one of
them. He does not appear to regular mortals."
"And this invisible god is speaking to you?"
"Even as we sit here having this conversation.
Oh! Elron! I wish I could share with you the bliss and joy of His presence!
He is majestic, and pure love, and fills my stomach with fine food and
my heart with bliss!"
Despite himself, Elron looked impressed.
"But Elron, He is an angry god, one who was
mocked by the false worship of the Shooks. That's why He destroyed them."
"Why didn't He just talk to one of them like
he talks to you?"
Huberd glowered. "Perhaps He did. Perhaps He
spoke through Book, but Book's fellows were silly and evil people, who
didn't believe Him."
Elron paused. Certainly, he didn't want to
be vulnerable to an accusation of being weak and vulnerable, and even though
he thought Huberd to be full of something other than fine food and bliss,
his political instincts told him to go along on this one.
As if reading his mind, Huberd winked. "Don't
worry too much about this one omnipotent being that destroys non-believers,"
he said. "Pretty soon everyone will have forgotten the Shooks, and the
story will fade. But for now, it's not only a great way to assert our authority,
but maybe, just maybe, it will stop some of our young fools from sticking
their spears in their ears!"
Elron knew a political winner when he heard
one. The two men guffawed, and went back to the clearing to spread the
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