Friday, October 15, 2010


(Note: The original idea for this story was much longer and I spent, literally years, trying to figure out how to make it work. There were many starts and stops. This is the end result. Something much shorter than the original idea, but something that works well, I believe.)
1. She sat partially hidden in the jungle watching several chimpanzees as they searched for food. She could understand their cries and calls to one another which sounded like a primitive language to the trained ear. The alpha male, that she thought of as Lion, was directing one of the other, smaller males into a tree to chase down a dark-haired monkey. Chimpanzees ate meat when they could get it and the often went in search of it. She had actively hunted other primates in the past.

She was alone in her position, set back in the trees, away from the main group, watching as the monkey attempted to flee but found its way blocked. Two other males, smaller than Lion, stood on the ground, staring up, almost as if they were observers rather than participants. The monkey, jumping through the branches, looked back, at the Chimpanzee, and leaped. It misjudged and fell through the tree, hitting one branch, grabbed at it, but missed. It hit the ground stunned, momentarily unable to move.

The two chimpanzees on the ground which she thought of as Snake and Pig, moved toward the injured animal. One of them carried a stick about as big around as an arm. When it was close, it swung the stick but missed the monkey.

The monkey raised its head and shrieked, but didn’t move and she didn’t know why. Maybe it was hurt too badly.

The Pig advanced, grabbed the monkey by one of its feet and swung it up and then back down. It hit with a sickening crack and went limp. It made no more noise.

Lion, looking pleased with himself, advanced on the dead monkey. Both Pig and Snake retreated as if leaving an offering for their god.

Lion picked up the dead monkey, shook it and then bent close and bit into it. He pulled it from his face, looked upward, toward a small blue patch of sky and let out a cry. He was telling others that he ruled this section of the jungle and all that intruded became his. He owned the jungle until someone else took it away from him.

She stayed where she was, even as the rest of the Chimpanzees, including a new mother began to gather around the dead monkey. Lion took another bite and handed the prey to Snake for him to eat. They kept at it, handing the carcass, one to another, going from the alpha male to the most important of the females, until the monkey was gone.

Now Lion looked around, surveying the Chimpanzees with him as a king might study his subjects after a good hunt or a good job well done. With a single sharp cry, almost as if an order from Lion, they began to move again, away from that section of the jungle. Hunting, for the day, was over.

2. She trailed with them at a safe distance. This was the band she wanted to join because it was the strongest that she could find. The males would protect the females from much of the dangers of the jungle and the open lands when they came to them. These chimpanzees were big, strong, vocal and had even stopped lions from attacking, though they often avoided lions by climbing the closest trees. Lions didn’t climb well.

The other big cats, cheetahs and leopards never threatened them unless they were caught alone and were sick or injured. She made sure that she kept some of the band in sight at all times so that she wouldn’t become prey to those lesser big cats.

It was an interesting relationship. They recognized her and knew, instinctively, that she wasn’t one of them. Lion or Snake sometimes attempted to approach, but she was frightened by them. They were large animals with great strength and she knew they would kill her if she annoyed them. She knew that they would tolerate a female that was submissive, but they would kill one that was not. She knew this because she had seen them do it to other lone females.

Lion and his band had found two small Chimpanzees in the forest about three weeks earlier. They had threatened them, they had charged and retreated, but in the end, they had caught them and killed them both. They ate from the bodies, but left most of them behind for the scavengers.

Those two had been part of another band that had strayed into the territory Lion claimed. He was leaving a message for others that might do the same.

She had seen lions attack other lions in a similar way. She had seen lions kill cheetahs and leave them lying on the dusty plains. She’d seen lions and hyenas line up for a fight and then using claws and teeth, try to kill one another in a battle that sometimes saw a dozen killed or maimed. The lions, because of their size and strength, rarely lost. It was only when the hyenas caught a lion alone that they were able to kill it.
So, for the day, she stayed back, watching the Chimpanzees as they walked through the forest, stopping to eat nuts or berries, or to rest. As the day became hotter, they slowed their pace.
As darkness fell, they stopped. They spread out slightly so that they could protect one another. She stopped twenty yards from them, near a large bush.
She began to gather the wide, thick leaves from some of the trees to build herself a shelter for the night. Looking into the sky, when it was visible, she had seen clouds gathering and knew that they could mean a coming storm. She’d been smelling, for the last hour or so, a musty odor that reminded her of wet ground and wet fur. This too, she knew, meant rain.

From the bag that she had found, dropped near a village, she took a knife, being careful with it because she didn’t want the others to see the tool. She used it to cut away some of the lower branches of the bush so that she could use its center structure as a support for the leaves. She tried to orient it so that the coming rain would fall on them, leaving her dry, or as dry as she could expect in the rain during this season.

There was a light in the bag but she hesitated to use it. The Chimpanzees always reacted poorly to that. She was using things she had that they didn’t and they seemed to understand that meant she wasn’t really like them. She didn’t know if her appearance was different enough that they were sometimes as wary of her as she of them, or if it was because she used things they didn’t understand like the light.

Sometimes she would see them watching her from the distance. She believed that she was accepted by them as non-threatening and she now understood the commands of Lion as he lead them, but there was always the chance they would attack her. She had to be careful when she was within easy sight of them.

She created her nest and then sat down in the center of it, facing the rest of the troop. They were dark shadows moving among the trees and bushes, searching for a place to spend the night. They didn’t seen to understand that a storm was coming, though they could smell the air and hear the distant rumblings as well as she.

She ate the berries she had gathered earlier. She didn’t want to leave the shelter now that she had it finished and she was comfortable. Instead she leaned back, against the thick trunk, and kept her eyes on the others. They seemed to have no interest in her.

The rain came about an hour later and she had guessed right. The rain hit the thick leaves that she had loosely woven together and that provided adequate shelter from the rain. The sound of frying bacon filled the jungle and she found the steady white noise soothing.

When she woke in the morning, the jungle was steaming from the rain but the insects and animals were subdued after the storm. It was a quiet time and she enjoyed the silence until the birds began to scream at the sun and monkeys began to shriek at one another.
At first light the troop began to move again, Lion in the lead, hunting for something to eat for breakfast. He moved fast, unconcerned with those slower and weaker than he was.

She watched from the safety of her shelter for a few minutes and listened to the cries between Lion and the rest of the troop. They were more like orders as he got them moving toward the edge of their territory.

She gathered her tools, keeping them hidden from the others and left the shelter. She stayed fifty yards back so that she could retreat if necessary.
After only an hour, after they had stopped at a stream to drink and to wash, after they had raided a termite mount, and after they had walked out into a huge clearing at the edge of the jungle that fronted a mountain, they found another troop of Chimpanzees.

Lion screamed from just inside of the tree line and waved his arms. He voiced his outrage at seeing others in his territory and picked up a stone to throw at them. His hand-eye coordination wasn’t as great as it could have been and the rock sailed off to the left, falling harmlessly in the jungle.

But the alpha male of the other troop picked up a limb and waving it, attacked, running halfway across the clearing. It stopped and threw the limb which tumbled and fell far short of Lion or any of this troop.

The attack infuriated Lion. He looked toward Snake and Pig and shrieked at them. Pig picked up a stick and advanced on the enemy Chimpanzees, but Snake didn’t move. He stood there, silent, almost as if afraid to move or afraid to fight.

The displays were about over. Neither side seemed ready to retreat though she was sure that the others would have to give way. Lion was too large to be defeated in a contest of strength.
But the other alpha male shrieked and holding a limb over his head, ran forward. When he was a few feet away, he swung the branch like a club.

Pig tried to attack, but the big male turned on him and struck him in the head. Pig fell back and lay still. Now Lion turned toward the threat.

All this time she was using her knife, scraping a point on a straight stick about as big around as a wrist. Satisfied, she advanced but the males ignored her because she was a female and wouldn’t be part of the fight.

She ran forward suddenly but didn’t scream to frighten. She wanted to attack from stealth. The big male didn’t see her and didn’t know she was there until she thrust the pointed stick into his side. He screamed his rage and spun, jerking the stick from her fingers. She stepped back, almost cowering, and the big male ripped the weapon from his side. There was a gout of blood and the male shrieked with a sound like tires on concrete as he fell.

Lion looked at her and then at the enemy alpha male lying in the grass. It didn’t move and those with him were now retreating. They were screaming and throwing stones, but they were fighting a retreating action.

Lion ran forward and slapped the downed male on the head. He leaned forward and took a bit from the neck of the victim and then whirled, his face and teeth bloody. He was telling his troop that he had killed the male. That he had defeated the enemy and those who challenged him would suffer the same fate.

She stood there for a moment, watching and then she stepped back, toward the safety of the trees. Lion had looked at her, stared at her, and she could see the hate in his eyes. She knew that he would kill her the first chance he got because he now saw her as a threat to his dominance. She had been the one to defeat the enemy, though he had taken the credit.

She knew that Lion now believed that she would attempt to establish her dominance of the troop and to do that, she would have to kill him. That was the way it worked. The strongest ruled while the weaker waited for a chance to break that dominance. Until that moment, the males had been bigger and stronger and more aggressive. They ruled by brute force, but she had killed the alpha male of another troop who was almost as big and aggressive as Lion.
3. Lion came for her late in the afternoon, after they had eaten and were searching for a place to rest during the night. He came quietly to kill her so that the others wouldn’t see. He came slowly, as if wanting to befriend her, or maybe to mate with her.

But she knew the truth and wished that she had prepared another pointed stick. She wished that she hadn’t believed she would be safe for a day or so. She thought it would take Lion that long to attack.
She fled the shelter, moving to her left, back toward where the troop waited. She was in a circle of sunlight, almost as if standing in a spotlight waiting for her opening cue. In her hand she held the knife low so that Lion couldn’t see it though she knew that he wouldn’t understand what it was. He had seen them being used in the distance but he just did not comprehend the significance of them.

Now, as Lion approached, she lowered her head and looked at his feet. She was drawing him toward her with a display of submission. Lion stopped short, grunting, and then shrieked at her as if to intimidate her. She didn’t move, holding her ground, knowing that the others in the troop were watching the blood sport.

Suddenly, almost without warning, Lion charged. She sensed it and then saw him. She stepped to the side, spun, and slashed out with the knife. She cut him across the shoulder and saw the blood darken his fur.

Lion roared with the pain and in surprise. He stopped and whirled, looking first at her and then at the cut on his shoulder.

She knew that he was trying to figure out what had happened. All he knew was that there was a burning in his shoulder and if she had cut deep enough he might retreat to ponder the problem.
Lion had other ideas. He beat his chest, grabbed a limb that was six feet long and as thick as his arm. He held it with one hand and pounded the ground with it, staring up at her. Challenging her.
At that moment she knew that this would be a fight to the death. Lion was not going to give up no matter how badly she hurt him. He would press the attack until he had defeated her. Killed her, as he reasserted his dominance over the troop. There would be no help for her but there would be no help for him either.
He threw the limb at her but it hit ten feet short, one end low, and then fell back. As it did, Lion attacked again, but this time he was more careful. He tried to stay to her left, but she turned as he circled and as he did she knew that he was losing support. He was beginning to look weak to the troop. He couldn’t handle one lone female. The other Chimpanzees were seeing that. For the first time Lion was acting more like a jackal.

He lunged at her, missed but jumped back quickly, out of her reach. Around him the Chimpanzees were hooting and calling, almost as if they were laughing at him.

She sensed the change in those others. Once frightened of Lion’s strength, they no loner were. She knew that they wanted Lion killed.
She put on another display of submission, as if tired of the game and willing to let him win. He came in close, flailing his arms and fists. She didn’t move and that surprised Lion but didn’t stop him. When he was in close, she stabbed with the knife, feeling it sink into the softness just below the breastbone.
Lion didn’t scream this time. He just sat down suddenly, as if stunned. He looked down, at his chest to see the dark handle of the knife sticking in him. With a muted cry, almost like a young Chimpanzee calling for its mother, he pulled the knife out. He held it up, in front of his face, turned it over and then slumped to his side and didn’t move.

She understood the ritual as well as any of the males. She stood over the body of Lion and reached down to touch it, push it, attempting to get any sort of a response from it. She knew that Lion was as dead as the moneky they had killed the day before and as dead as the alpha male she had killed earlier in the day.

The problem was that she was female and the male Chimpanzees didn’t understand this. She had turned the hierarchy upside down by proving she was stronger than Lion and by default, she was stronger than anyone else in the troop. She had assumed the role of the dominate male but she wasn’t male. They didn’t know how to react to this change in their society, in their history.

4. That first night, as she took her place in the center of the troop, she showed them how to weave the leaves together to make a shelter that would protect them from the wind and the rain. Through gesture, she made it clear that she expecting them all to make a proper shelter.

And she showed them the flashlight, though she didn’t know exactly what it was or how it worked she knew that it created light in the dark and when the light began to dim that she only had to shake it and the light brightened.

The Chimpanzees reacted with fear as she showed them the light but once she let them touch it, let them hold it, they were fascinated by it. They flashed each other and then howled with their thrill.

The next morning, when they left their camp to wander their territory, she was in the lead as Lion had been the day before. Rather than patrol the edge of their territory, she lead them back, toward the center where there were caves and plentiful water and bushes that held berries. There were termite mounts about a mile away where they could snack when they wanted and not worry about other Chimpanzees attacking them.

When they reached the caves, she picked a limb from the ground, one that was fairly straight and about five feet long. Using the knife that she had pulled from Lion’s body, she whittled a point on it. Then, carrying the limb in front of her, the point out, and the light in the other hand, she entered the cave. She was prepared to find a big cat, a lone leopard or cheetah but there was nothing inside. Just the bones of some animal that had crawled in and died long ago.

She lead her troop into the cave and watched them scatter around the entrance almost as if they were picking their spots. They understood that this was going to be their home. This would be where they lived, away from the wind and lightning and rain. A place that didn’t require them to create a shelter every night, though they could do that if necessary.
She let her territory shrink because they didn’t need all the land that Lion had ruled. She knew that they could find all the food they needed near the caves and in those caves there would be shelter from the elements.
She lead hunting parties, but now, rather than chase the animals, she arranged ambushes, letting some of the troop frighten the prey, driving it through the jungle to the trees where others, with sharpened sticks waited to kill them. She always took the first bite but then shared the kill with each of the others. She was aware of the necessary hierarchy and followed it because she didn’t want to have her authority challenged.

5. In the year since she had killed Lion, she and the others had acquired more knifes and more flashlights, though some of them dimmed and all the shaking did nothing to revive them. She didn’t understand why some failed and some didn’t, but that she had one that had burned brightly from the moment she first showed it seemed like magic to the troop.

There were voices in the jungle outside the entrance to the caves. She heard them when they were far away and was suddenly frightened by them but still she walked to the entrance to look out. She saw a few members of the troop in the clearing outside the cave, sitting in the sun grooming one another. The others were around, close, maybe searching for food or drinking from the stream but close.

There was a shout that caught the attention of all those in the clearing. One of the females and two of the males stood up and moved forward, toward the sound.

There was a quiet thump and a brightly colored object struck one of the males. He swatted at it as he would a stinging insect and when it fell to the ground, he picked it up. Holding it in front of his face, at eye level, he turned it one way and then another. A moment later he closed his eyes and toppled over.

The female turned to flee and then stumbled and fell. She tried to push herself up, but couldn’t do it. She sank back to the ground and was still.

The last male charged and there was a sudden crash. A single sharp sound that sent birds flying and monkeys screaming. That Chimpanzee fell face first to the ground, skidding three or four feet. It didn’t move again.

She stood in the mouth of the cave and saw the men enter the clearing. They were tall, dark, and carrying long sticks that weren’t pointed on one end, just narrow. She understood them in a primitive way though she didn’t understand their operation. She knew them to be deadly.

One of the men stopped near the female that she had called Gazelle. A slender, young female that should produce offspring in the near future. The man pulled a brightly colored object from Gazelle’s back and gave it to another of the men.

They spoke in a way she didn’t understand. She had heard men talk before and had listened carefully to them, but their meaning was just beyond her grasp. The sounds were quiet and different and filled with a jumble that just alluded her. She believed that if she could get close enough to the men for long enough time she would be able to understand them as she did the calls of the lions and the laughing of the hyenas.

The men moved through the clearing until they were close to the mouth of the cave. She had stepped back, into the shadows so that she was concealed. She reached back and picked up her knife, holding it down, away from her body.

One of the man carrying a short stick in his hand came forward. He saw the cave and glanced at it, turned and shouted something and stepped into it.

She knew that there was now nothing she could do but attack. She lunged forward as the man jumped to the right. The blade caught him on the side, cutting the cloth and skin. He shouted and pointed the small stick at her.

There was a sharp, single crack that reverberated through the cave. She felt pain in her chest. She fell back, against the wall of the cave and sat down, losing her grip on the knife. It clattered against the stone. And then everything started to get dark, like the sun setting in the evening.
6. "Hey," shouted the man. "Hey."

Two of his friends, both carrying rifles, one a tranquilizer gun and the other a rifle that fired a bullet large enough and powerful enough to bring down a water buffalo, ran forward.

"What happened?"

"That ape pulled a knife on me," he said.

He held up a hand that was stained with blood. "She cut me," he said. "If I hadn’t jumped, she would have stabbed me good."

"Bull," said the man.

The wounded man stood up and pointed to the knife laying on the cave floor. "She knew how to use it."

The rifleman looked around, at the interior of the cave and said, "There’s an awful lot of stuff in here. Flashlights, spears..."


He reached down and picked up a long stick that had a point carved on one end. It was stained, probably with blood, though he wasn’t sure.
"A crummy spear I admit, but it was a spear."

The wounded man looked down at the dead chimpanzee and asked, "What was she? Some kind of genius?"

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