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The International Writers Magazine
: Dreamscapes Story about the origin of language

First Speech
Sam Barnes

In the heat of tropical sunshine, water vapour rose off the vegetation drifting slowly upwards into the sky. Strange looking ferns poked their fingers upwards in the forest, and parrots flew between tree vines looking for food. On the ground army ants marched in long lines, clambering over anything in their path. They carried leaves five times their weight with ease. Huge piles of black worms devoured dead creatures in hours, exploiting the rich source of protein. And swarms of bees collected rich nectar from brightly coloured flowers, which grew in abundance.

The forest eco-system was a well ordered food chain fuelled by the sun’s energy, and cultivated by frequent rains which were greedily soaked up, and transformed into plant life seething with insects.
The group had found it easy to survive ever since they could remember. Their family, for generations removed, had never gone hungry. They lived their established way of life, feeding on fruit or small creatures. There were many dangerous sources of food in the jungle, and they had learnt to avoid these through the teaching of their elders. The elders would utter a strange cry if a youngster was toying with a poison berry. It was a cry that somehow struck fear into everyone who heard it. It meant: beware!

Nin was eight years old and an intermediary in the social pecking order. He had matured rapidly over the last few years, and already had one son by his companion Lana. She was several years his senior, but had allowed him to mate with her, much to the irritation of some of the other men.
It was a close afternoon, and the skies had darkened with great fat rain clouds, that rolled in like clockwork at that time of year. The first drops of rain pattered down slowly onto giant leaves which surrounded the group’s temporary home. As the pattering erupted into a torrential downpour, the leaves were battered like a ship’s sail by the force of the water. Small streams of water appeared from nowhere trickling off the ends of branches, running from rotten tree trunks half buried in the floor.

Nin paced around in circles, feeling the rain splash down on his head. The battering produced a sound which he heard not only through his ears, but through vibrations in his skull. He was quite intrigued by this. Some of the others had taken cover under the giant leaves, not that it was doing them much good; they were still soaked through. They crouched down silently, waiting for the storm to end. Nin however continued to walk around, gently "whooping" to himself. His fur was sopping wet, but he didn’t care. Weather like this always made him feel exhilarated for some reason. He paused for a while and stuck his long fingers into a stream of water funnelled by a leaf, watching the water spatter of the back of his hand in all directions.
One of the others beckoned him to join them, with a soft descending call. He met the eyes of Kanzi, and for a moment matched his powerful stare. Why should he care if I’m with them or not? He thought. Before causing offence he averted his eyes down to the ground, but stayed put, tracing lines in the mud which were washed away in seconds.

The next morning he woke at dawn, and pranced around in the fresh sunshine. It was a routine which limbered up his muscles for the day’s activities, and helped get the blood circulating through his veins. He swung his arms round in big circles and jumped up and down. He was joined by Washoe and Ishar, who enrolled him in a game of morning chase. Washoe elected himself as ‘it’, and sprinted off through the trees shouting "aah! aah! aah!". The others set off in pursuit, crying with joy.

Not far ahead, Washoe vaulted over the roots of a giant cedar, and pulled himself up into the tendrils off a fig tree. The others had soon caught up, and relentlessly climbed after him grabbing at his ankles. They fell to the ground together, dancing around in amusement. Washoe’s pride was slightly bruised by his twenty second capture, and screeched at Ishar with eyes bulging as a sign of aggression.

The morning fun over, they set off to gather food. They walked stooped on their hind legs, with there long arms brushing at their knees, as they swung to and fro. Nin took the lead, followed by Ishar, and Washoe. This was no random ordering. Nin was the strongest of the three, and had a knack of climbing to precariously high places, or working out ingenious ways to trap animals. Ishar and Washoe had roughly the same physical abilities, but Ishar was the oldest. The friends walked along silently in line, senses alert for signs of danger.
Like the rest of his kin, Nin’s hair was naturally parted in the centre. A short crop of dark hair surrounded his face and his body was covered with a thick down. His mouth protruded outwards concealing a set of large teeth, and his small beady eyes were sunk back into his face.

He picked up a stick and started swiping at things in his path. It was more a game than a serious way to cut out a route, but it helped to pass the time. After a while they came to some banana trees, Nin and Washoe swiftly scaled them and stripped off several large bunches which they threw down to Ishar. After they had got down, Nin picked up his stick again, and slotted two bunches of the green yellow fruit over each end. He then balanced the contraption like a scale on his shoulder, using his right hand to steady it. The others found sticks and did likewise.

They trekked some more until Nin turned and signalled for them to stop by showing the palm of his hand. What he was about to embark on required stealth, and he let his companions know this by placing his hand over his mouth, and looking both of them directly in the eye. They knew this meant an order, and would not think of disobeying. He placed his bananas on the floor, and they followed suit. He then bent down and stripped two large fruit from a bunch and peeled them, discarding the skins. He then left the bait on the ground, under a giant vine which snaked up into a cedar tree.

The three of them waited crouched on the vine, holding heavy rocks which they had gathered from the undergrowth. The rest of the bananas were well hidden nearby. Washoe began whooping gently with boredom, and Nin wasted no time in clouting him for breaking the code of silence. They had waited for over an hour and the heat of the day was beginning to set in, when they heard a shuffling sound coming from the nearby bushes. A wild boar appeared and trotted up to the trap. Unfortunately for the archaic pig, the sweet scent of the naked fruit had lured it from its path.

Nin extended his muscular arms outward directly over where he thought the creatures head was, and the others did the same. Despite his physique it was an enormous strain to hold the heavy rock out at arm’s length. He clamped his teeth together to prevent himself from grunting with the exertion.
From their perch, it was about twenty feet to the ground, thus the boar had no idea of the terrible danger it had walked into. It snuffled at the easy meal and began munching away at the soft aromatic flesh. It was truly a stroke of luck to have found a free source of food, untouched by any other hungry mouth in the jungle.

The minute he saw the old boar chow down on the bait he released his rock, and watch it grow mysteriously smaller as it plunged downwards. He had judged well, and the stone hit its target squarely on the top of its head. It fell over onto its side squealing, with mushed banana still in and around its long mouth. Its legs convulsed violently, as if it were trying to run away and kick at the same time. The others released their rocks, one hit it on the neck, one missed. The potentially dangerous creature was showing no sign of letting up, thrashing around, and shaking involuntarily. Though it’s awful screeching had died down somewhat to the occasional hoarse cry. From up on the vine it looked no bigger than a rat, but in reality it was considerably bigger.

Nin climbed down to the ground, and cautiously approached the terminally injured creature. As he got closer he saw its eyes were rolled upwards showing only the yellow white of the eyeball. Its eyelids were battering rapidly, like it is having a bad dream, he thought. Without delay he picked up the rock that had missed and brought it down on the boar’s head with a sickening crunch. The eyelids stopped batting and the thrashing ceased.

He felt a silence spreading through his body, as the others joined him from the perch. He felt joyful because they would feast tonight, but at the same time he felt strange. Thank you for giving us a feast tonight he thought, thank you for your body. He let out a low moan which sounded like someone in mourning. "Rahhh". The others joined in the chorus of respect.

When they got home the elders were very excited by the catch. Bananas were easy to find, but meat was something special. The boar took pride of place between Kanzi and Lomaz, guarded carefully against thieves. Once all had returned from their daily duties, it was dragged out into the centre of the clearing, and a sharpened piece of bone was used to remove its skin. Lana performed the task, as she was Nin’s companion. Its internal organs were removed and placed in containers made of leaves. Then the meat was cut from the body, and carefully shared out into fifteen containers again made from cone shaped leaves. The elders got more, as was the way, but Nin got the largest portion for orchestrating the attack.

The feast that evening was the greatest anyone could remember. In addition to the meat, they had nuts and berries collected by Lana and her team, figs and oranges. They even had some fish speared by Kanzi; that was his speciality. They sat in a large circle in the centre of the clearing, with all the day’s food laid out before them. When Kanzi started eating they all dug in, and gorged until no one could eat any more.

Over the next few months they passed into the season of rain. It was nobody’s favourite time of year, but years of conditioning had made most accept the damp fur and muddy ground. The group continued life as normal, gathering and occasionally hunting. As time passed, the food sources around them began to diminish, and the decision was made to move on. Although this promised a bounty of virgin fruit trees and other food, it was risky. There were others such as themselves, who had territory. If they were to stray unwittingly into such occupied ground, it could mean death.

The group walked in a long line through the dense undergrowth. There were "whups" of excitement from some, and others "kuttered" with nervousness. At one point they heard the warning calls of another tribe, far off to the west, and took a lengthy detour as a result. In an average lifetime one tribal member could expect to relocate roughly ten times. Thus it was that the elders had knowledge of the jungle, and could lead the others to a suitable living spot they had previously inhabited. Kanzi had led them this time, as he was the tribal chief.

After two days walking they finally arrived in their new home. It was easily recognizable by three large boulders clumped together, near a riverbank. Over the next few weeks they gradually settled down, the young ones exploring the unfamiliar surroundings. But the move had not bought contentment to all. Those who had resided at Riverstone last time around felt that it had somehow changed. The food supplies were not as plentiful as expected, many were having to trek for hours to collect enough to sustain the tribe. Stranger still was the weather. Though the rainy season was tailing off, it was not replaced by the sunny humidity that everyone was accustomed to. Instead, the sky was a milky white colour, and the temperature low enough to make Nin huddle close to Lana at night. Something was not right.

Nin awoke at dawn, at least he thought it was dawn. For the past three days it was hard to tell, as the sun had abandoned its place in the sky. Life was no longer a joy but a source of uncertainty. He saw that Ishar and Washoe had also woken, and were pacing around staring upwards, it seemed they felt the same. By midday the heavens had turned a grimy grey, and deposited light drizzle, which left a chalk like residue on his fur. He joined the others and they set out on their daily task, in spirits too low to spawn a game of morning chase.

When they returned to Riverstone, with just a few handfuls of berries, there was a crowd gathered near to the camp’s three stones. They were moaning soft cries of sadness, "ow ow ow", the men beating their chests. As Nin drew closer he saw Kanzi’s body neatly laid out on a bed of leaves, customary for the dead. A bone knife had been placed in his hand, and small colourful stones placed over his sleeping eyes. Had Nin had access to the medical knowledge of his distant descendants, he would have known that Kanzi had succumbed to pneumonia, a condition as mysterious to his tribe as the disappearance of the sun. Kanzi’s aging body was weak against this new predator, and he would not be the first to die.

His body was set afloat on the river, to drift to his final resting place. The tribe stood at the water’s edge and watched until he had floated out of sight. Nin remained behind as the others filtered away into the solemn evening. As his mind wondered, he spotted a Kudu that looked emaciated sailing past like a piece of drift wood, tongue lolling out of its massive head in a gruesome death mask. Kanzi had not been the only one to make his final departure that day. What is happening to us? Why has the sun gone and left us cold? He didn’t know the answer to these questions, but they were troubling him.

The next day another of the tribal elders and one infant passed from the land of the living. It seemed the very air was stagnant, and tickled the lungs like the smoke from a bonfire. A thick haze had descended into the jungle, and it was made up of tiny pieces of ash that drifted around, and settled on tree branches topping them with a ghostly layer of grey.

Nin was preoccupied with caring for Lana, who had developed a rasping cough. She was weakening, and didn’t have the energy to do anything other than rest. Alarmingly, her appetite had waned, and when she did manage to eat she threw up afterwards.

On the third morning following Kanzi’s death, he woke up and Lana’s body was lying prostrated and motionless next to where he lay. Like the other unfortunate ones her body was set adrift on the river. Only this time it didn’t take long for it to disappear from sight, as the rain of ash particles obscured visibility to less than twenty meters. Nin wiped a tear from his eye, and sneezed as he returned to camp with Washoe to comfort him. He cried long and hard with anger, that his child’s mother had been taken so unexpectedly.

That night he dreamed of Lana’s body, disappearing down the river, engulfed by the fog of ash. Yet this time he was following her, on his own bed of leaves. The surrounding air grew so dense and impenetrable, that he couldn’t see more than a couple of meters. Lana could no longer be seen which worried him. He wanted to see her again, even if she would never wake up. Suddenly, he floated into the Kudu which he had seen after Kanzi’s funeral. The eyes were black holes that were seething with maggots, and the tongue was purple, and bloated to three times its normal size. But worse of all, the animal’s horse sized body had been devoured by hungry scavengers leaving only the head and neck. The flesh in the neck stunk, and crawled with worms which slithered out into the river. Behind him, upstream he could make out the sun dimly gleaming through the haze.

Nin woke with a start, the images from his dream still swimming around his head. He heard coughing coming from some of the others, they too were clearly not finding sleep easy. We have to go, get away from here! The idea struck him and he "whooped" with excitement. It was a solution the tribe’s ensuing crisis. All he could think was that if they stayed at Riverstone, they would all die. Something about the dusty mist was poisoning them, like deadly red berries could do to an ignorant infant. He clenched his fists in frustration at not having considered this before. Maybe Lana would still be alive if he had.

"Ahhh", he yelled. Some of the others stirred and began kuttering, wondering what was going on. "Ow Ahh". He was frustrated and angry. Washoe rolled over from his sleeping patch, and strolled over, to see what the matter was. Nin was agitated and paced around, thumping on his muscular chest.
He made and maintained eye contact with Washoe, who took a defensive step backwards, and averted his gaze. He grabbed him by the head, and forced him once more to look into his eyes. "Waaaa" He whimpered softly. Washoe had by now decided he wasn’t in danger, and freely met Nin’s meaningful gaze.
Nin slowly pointed at himself, and then at his friend, deliberately tapping his solar plexus. "Waaa", he again uttered.

Washoe did likewise, pointing first to himself and then to his comrade. "Waaa", he copied.
Then Nin pointed toward the north, from where the river flowed, he gestured movement, poking his arm forwards, drawing it back and then poking the air again. He whooped in frustration and then saw this wasn’t helping Washoe to understand his intentions. "Ooo" He blurted, eagerly pointing.
Washoe copied "Ooo" he barked, the noise was strange to him, and it felt funny to say it.
Nin tapped their chests and once again pointed upstream. "Waaa Ooo!" he screamed. "Waaa Ooo!" Then he gestured to the rest of the tribe, who were by now stirring and whooping themselves. "Waaa Ooo!" he blasted.
Washoe had stopped hearing just sounds, and now associated the sounds with a meaning. "Waa Ooo" he mouthed, and Nin congratulated him with whooping.
The others had gathered round in a circle, as a murky dawn rose over the sick forest. Some had died in the night, and those who had made it were wheezing uncomfortably. They were ready to take leader ship from anyone. Nin looked at them all with a steely stare, and pointed upstream.
"Waa Ooo".
They followed the course of the river day and night for several days, and as they did so, they moved out of the umbrella of ash that was spewing from mount Nasser. They found a new place to settle, and, over the next few years restored the tribe’s numbers to their original state.
As the infants grew and started to explore, they were taught to avoid poisonous foods by a strange cry, that meant beware! When the elders spotted a tiger or python, they would take the children by the hand, and cry "Waa Ooo!" it meant: We go.
© Sam Barnes Jan 2005
sambarnes24@yahoo.co.uk


See also The Elevator

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