The International Writers Magazine: Dreamscapes Story about
the origin of language
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 suns 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
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
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 groups temporary home. As the pattering erupted into a torrential
downpour, the leaves were battered like a ships 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 didnt 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 Im 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 days 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
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. Washoes
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, Nins 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
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
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 arms length.
He clamped his teeth together to prevent himself from grunting with
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 its 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 boars
head with a sickening crunch. The eyelids stopped batting and the thrashing
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 Nins 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
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 days food laid out before them. When Kanzi started
eating they all dug in, and gorged until no one could eat any more.
the next few months they passed into the season of rain. It was
nobodys 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 camps three stones. They
were moaning soft cries of sadness, "ow ow ow", the men beating
their chests. As Nin drew closer he saw Kanzis 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. Kanzis
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 waters 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 didnt
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
Nin was preoccupied with caring for Lana, who had developed a rasping
cough. She was weakening, and didnt 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 Kanzis death, he woke up and Lanas
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 didnt 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 childs
mother had been taken so unexpectedly.
That night he dreamed of Lanas 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 couldnt 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 Kanzis 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 animals 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 tribes 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 wasnt in danger, and freely
met Nins 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 wasnt helping
Washoe to understand his intentions. "Ooo" He blurted, eagerly
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
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 tribes 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
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