Keta's Storybook!

CANYON, a novel in two parts

. . . CONTINUED FROM

What were they doing?? She watched in silence as three of them were trying to overturn a rock. There was much talking and grunting under the weight of it, but she was too far away to hear the words. Again and again they heaved and pushed, the rock teetered and swayed but did not roll over.

Finally she could bear her excitement no longer and stepped towards them saying, “You know, if you brace the bottom with a smaller rock you may be able to actually tip this thing over. Although I don’t see why you would want to, there doesn’t seem to be any use in it.”

At the sound of her approaching footstep and then her voice the three people jumped and turned to face her. Two of them dashed behind the big rock quickly, but one stood his ground and gazed back at her in amazement.

“Where did you come from??” he stammered, “I’ve never seen you before!”.

She was unsure how to react, the only people she had ever known she knew her whole life. They knew each other so well they could communicate without speaking. It had never occurred to her that there could be other people, that she had never met before, that she would encounter in her lifetime. She decided to play it safe, “Oh, we’re just travelling in a large pack looking for food when I decided to explore a bit by myself.”

She pretended to indicate that there were others just around the corner. By now the two that had ducked behind the rock, another man and a woman, came out to gaze in wonder at this stranger; just like them yet completely unknown. The four of them faced off against each other for a moment, trying to size each other up and trying to understand this unprecedented state of affairs. Teone broke the ice. “Look, you three heave on this rock like you were before and I’ll jam this smaller rock under it. That will act as a fulcrum and the four of us should be able to roll this thing over.”

The three strangers quickly took her up on her offer, and with some effort the great rock finally rolled away from it’s resting place. Underneath it was a rodent’s nest like no other she had seen before. The animals were caught off guard and before they could run were clubbed to death by the four humans, who quickly divided up their killings between them. As Teone jammed her share into her pouch she noticed that the sun was now beyond it’s daily height. ‘I must get back!’ she thought to herself. But the lure of the strangers held her there briefly.

The one that she had spoken to, that had stood his ground when the other two had ducked behind the rock, briskly introduced himself.

“I’m Jared” he said, “this is Lila and Tomas.”

This one was clearly a leader.

“I am called Teone” she replied. The four exchanged nods.

“I must get back, my people will wonder what happened to me.” She started to move away unsteadily. “Bring your people here” said Jared, “we should all meet and have a feast of celebration.” “

I will” she lied, “but probably tomorrow. Where do you live anyway?”

Lila and Tomas had already started to walk away, and Teone could see another set of stalagmites in the distance. Her heart soared at the sight.

“Do you live there?” she pointed.

Jared answered yes.

“We live this way” and this time she pointed truthfully in the direction of her home, “but it’s a long ways off and I really must go now! I will return another time.”

And before Jared could answer she dashed around the corner and broke into a brisk run towards her home. She could hear his voice calling to her but she dared not stop to listen for fear that she would never start back home again.

Teone ran all the way back to her dwelling, and made it up to the cave before darkness set in. The others were so happy at her bounty that they forgot to ask her where she had been gone for so long. Of this she was glad; she needed time to think about what had happened before she could talk about it with anyone.

She rested at the door of the cave in the gathering darkness as the others started to prepare their meal. Her mind was all in a whirl. How could there be a whole other community of complete strangers, just like hers? Why did noone know about this? How many others were there? Did Jared and them know about even MORE communities dwelling in the canyon? As she ate her mind wandered into the realm of imagination; she pictured a large collection of people, so many that they couldn’t all know each other! With space enough for each to be comfortable and have some privacy. She chuckled to herself at these thoughts, so far-fetched and impossible they were! She instructed herself to focus on how to tell the others of her discovery, because this was not something that one could just blurt out unexpectedly. She ate her meal in silence as the others chattered together loudly. When they were finished again the group gathered for the story-telling.

She wanted to scream out, “Forget the stories! I found out something today that is real!” but she didn’t.

She knew that if she did it would go to committee to be decided what to do about it, and she would be instructed not to venture there again until a decision was reached. Questions that went to committee rarely ever emerged. So she deliberated quietly on her own. She could hardly sleep that night, so excited was she about the decision that she had made. Something like this could not be left, it HAD to be investigated.

But at dawn luck worked against her; even before she was properly awake she could smell the burning odour of the acid river passing below their cave. She decided to sleep in for once; there would be no venturing out today, and probably even tomorrow as the toxins left behind from the river evaporated. In the end it was a stroke of good luck because it gave her a chance to formulate a plan properly, rather than just rushing ahead in curiosity and excitement. Just because these people were like her didn’t mean that they may not be harbouring ill will towards her! She didn’t really think they were, but the harsh realities of her world had taught her to be cautious in all situations.

She spent the next two days close to the door of the cave, watching the beasts on the ground surface lead their own fearsome existences, and fashioning some few weapons of self-defence. Just some rocks she found that she sharpened against the stone crystal surface of the cave wall. These she could tuck into her pouch and various pockets to use against a surprise attack. Finally on the third day the canyon had evaporated all remnants of the recently passed river and it was safe to emerge once again. She fairly tumbled down the stalagmite wall in her haste to get as far as possible as fast as possible! As her feet hit the canyon floor she broke out into a brisk run. A group of surface beasts had dragged a prey to devour in the other direction, and were absorbed in ravaging up the spoils. She stuck close to the opposite canyon wall, out of sight, just to be safe and ran while dodging rocks and other obstacles. Soon she was past her usual point of turning-around. She still didn’t slow down. As she rounded the corner where she had met the others before, she almost collided into Jared.

He had been standing there for a while, deliberating what to do about the new person he and the other food-gatherers had met here that day, when suddenly she almost ran right into him.

“Easy there,” he said in surprise as he caught her arm when she stumbled. “Are you Ok?”

“Fine, I’m fine.” she breathed heavily, equally surprised to have met one of the new strangers so quickly, and regained her balance.

They stood a little bit apart from each other and again tried to size each other up. He was tall with dark hair and blazing dark eyes, lean as was everyone here, with an intelligent forehead. She was shorter but also lean, with curly lighter-coloured hair and light-coloured eyes. She had never looked at a person to see what their appearance was before; everyone she knew looked the way they looked and there was nothing to discover in it. Jared was looking back at her with the same kind of curiousity.

As she stammered trying to think of something to say, he spoke first, “Where do you live again? You never told me last time. Are you alone or do you have people with you?”

She thought there must be nothing dangerous in answering this question, since she knew where he lived. She could see the crystal stalagmites of his community from here.

She pulled him to the other side of the canyon and pointed around the corner, “There, a good distance this way is our dwelling. We have several families together in a cave just like yours are here.”

They both squinted into the distance.

“Have you been living here long? I can’t believe we never knew about each other’s communities before!”

He said, “As long as anyone can remember, we have lived like this. The elders tell stories about a time before when things were different, but that is far before anyone’s personal recollection.”

At the mention of the stories she made a face, he noted to himself to ask her about that later. The day was passing on and they were both starting to get hungry, she didn’t say anything because hunger was a permanent state with her.

But Jared had another idea, “We should eat, do you want to come to our dwelling for a meal?”

She wanted to, the thought of meeting even more people that she did not know interested her greatly. But her instincts told her to be cautious, so she lied, “I can’t go any farther than this, some of my people are stationed a ways up the canyon there and I was told to go keep to this distance.”

Jared looked at her as if he knew she was lying, but said nothing about it. “Well, let’s at least sit down here and have something to eat then.”

She was wary about keeping out in the open and started to move towards a crevice in the canyon wall. “What are you doing?” he asked her.

“Well, if we’re going to sit then it’s best to keep out of the open. Here, I think we can both fit into this space.”

“There’s nothing to fear,” said Jared, “our calculations show that the acid river won’t pass again for several days.”

She was stunned. Calculations? what was this word? She didn’t know the meaning. But the fact that they could determine when the rivers would come intrigued her greatly.

She decided to act as if she knew this too, “Oh i know that, but we must still be aware of the beasts that venture down into the canyon at times. There were some devouring a prey on the other side of our dwelling when I left this morning.”

Jared was surprised, “The beasts stay up on the ground surface. We have never seen them come down into the canyon.”

It was Teone’s turn to be surprised. “There is a path that they sometimes take on our side to get down. They use it to chase and kill a prey and then they devour it on the canyon floor. We must be careful in picking over the remains for our own meals, lest we become the prey ourselves.”

Jared grabbed her arm excitedly, “You have a way to get to the ground surface??” he demanded.

She answered yes as she noticed the feel of his hand on her arm, “But we don’t go there! To walk outside of the canyon means sure death.”

Jared fell into silence as he considered this, and he absent-mindedly handed her some meat and roots to chew on. Again her mind was racing, it seemed that these people lived somewhat differently than hers did. To only have to fear the acid river – and to know when it would come! – would reduce the precarious nature of their existences immeasurably. As she familiarized herself with these new surroundings, she realized that Jared had been sitting motionless, staring into the space in front of him for quite some time. She leaned forward and nudged him gently, “Are you OK? What’s the matter?”

He started slightly and frowned at having been interrupted so. “I was just thinking,” he answered.

He seemed to be perturbed so she turned away from him again and gazed into the direction of his dwelling. Perhaps it would be a good idea for her people to move down here, out of danger of the over-sized beasts that occasionally invaded the canyon floor? In fact, stopping to consider it, how many other communities could be scattered throughout the canyon that they didn’t know about? She wanted to discuss this with Jared, but it seemed like he didn’t like interruptions. She glanced at him quickly to see if he was still deep in thought.

This time he noticed her attention and kind of coughed uncomfortably. “I wonder if . . .” she started to say; “I was thinking . . .” he remarked at the same time.

They both laughed briefly and things seemed to settle between them again.

“I wonder if there are other dwellings with even more people further down the canyon that we don’t know about?” she said.

He grimaced, “Not that way. There is a steep incline that creates a waterfall when the acid rivers flow. Even when the canyon is dry it is impassable.”

“Perhaps in the other direction from where we live,” she said. “As far as I know noone has ever explored it.”

He did not comment, seeming to be lost in thought again. She did not know how to take these silences of his. She didn’t want to interrupt, but her time was going to be running short soon and there were many things to discuss.

She brushed his sleeve gently, “What were you going to say before?”

“Oh yes,” he answered, making an effort to break free from his thoughts, “I was wondering how we could organize an expedition up to the ground surface using this path you say is there. My people are fed up with this paltry canyon existences and have been trying to a very long time to find a way up to the surface.”

She could understand his being lost in thought; the ground surface was more dangerous by far than the canyon bottom. It’s true that there was much more food to be had, but the enormous beasts ruled the landscape and ate anything that moved. Besides their endless battles between each other squashed and smothered whatever smaller life might be trying to survive. But it would be good to be out of reach of the acid rivers, and to know a life more than just the caves.

“I am going to have to bring all of this to the attention of my community,” she said slowly. She decided to be honest, “I haven’t told anyone yet what I found here because i knew that it would go to committee for decision, and once something goes to committee with us it never comes out again.”

He looked at her in amusement and respect, “You came here all by yourself without telling anyone you were looking for us?” he said in awe.

And the amusement was at the way she spoke about the inter-workings of her community.

She shifted in her seat uncomfortably, “Yeah, well, they’d just hold me back and I’m best on my own in a fight anyway – if I had had to fight you which I didn’t think I would – but it’s not like I’m not prepared!” she added quickly and looked at him sharply.

He laughed again, “I think you must know now that you have nothing to fear from us.” To this she agreed.

“So how do you think I should bring this up to my people, so that they will view it as a good thing and not take forever deciding what to do?” she asked him.

He seemed like a capable diplomat and might know a way better than her usual sharp, up-front honesty. “Just tell them that only today you met me and the others. We should set a time tomorrow that delegations from both of our groups can meet at some middle distance. Only then can proper decision be made.”

Teone sighed, she was so much better at activity and action than at speaking in front of the group. “I’ll try,” she mumbled.

Jared looked at her, surprised, “You can do it!” he encouraged. “Tell them they are invited tomorrow morning to meet us. . . there, at that outcropping towards your dwelling. Bring five others besides yourself and I will do the same.”

She nodded. She did not want to leave just yet, preferring to soak up the company of this stranger than to return to the stiflingly familiar confines of her cave home. But she would need some time to prepare a speech. So they said their farewells.

“Until tomorrow then!” and parted for the day.

Again she ran back home, trying to cover the distance as quickly as possible. Her people hadn't eaten since yesterday, when the river's wake left a stinking residue of acid covering the canyon bottom, so when she got back to their home she ventured forward to see if there was anything left of the beasts' meal from this morning. Not much, but some bones that would make a good soup and flesh that could be dried for clothing material. She gathered what she could hastily, keeping a sharp eye out for any lumbering beasts that may have been lingering behind the scene. But all was clear, and she climbed quickly up the stalagmite wall to the safety of her cave home.

CONTINUED . . .