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By:Shay Savage


I awake to cold and near darkness like I do every morning.

Around me is the chilled stone of the rocky cavern where I live. There is warmth from the animal furs that surround me, and it’s difficult to push myself away from them to crawl across the dirt and rock and add a log on top of the glowing coals in my fire pit. Within moments, flames lick around the edge of the wood, and I wrap my fur around me a little tighter to ward off the cool air until the fire can further warm the small cave.

The faintest glow can be seen coming from outside the crack that leads to the outside, but I can’t quite bring myself to venture out just yet. My body is weakened, and there is little inside my mind that wants to push on—to survive.

It’s been so long since I’ve eaten.

As I watch the flames grow higher, the need to relieve my bladder becomes urgent. With a deep breath, I force my muscles to push myself onto my feet and move to the ledge just outside my cave. The air is even colder on the outside, but the springtime sun holds the promise of a warmer day.

I listen to the morning birds sing for a while and wonder how long it will be before there are eggs to collect from their nests. I hope not long, though I know if I wait until that time it will be too late.

I need to eat.

Not for the first time, I consider just going back into my cave, lying down, and letting the hunger take me. I’m tired, cold, and alone. I’m not sure there is any reason for me to continue to work so hard just to keep myself alive.

With a long sigh, I decide not to give up just yet.

I look at the long, straight stick propped up against the edge of the cave’s opening and reach over to grasp it. It’s sharp at the end, but I’m not sure if it’s sharp enough to pierce the hide of a large animal. I know I can’t fail again, or it will mean my death, so I bring the stick inside and reach for a piece of sharp flint from my collection of simple tools.

With the end of the stick lodged underneath my arm, I begin to run the piece of flint over the end of the stick, further sharpening the point. I go slowly, being careful not to push too hard or work too fast—I’ve already broken two other spears with impatience, and I can’t afford to break another.

The effort takes most of the morning, and I am further delayed as I start to leave the cave because I see movement across the field of brown grasses. I position myself at the entrance to my cave and watch closely as a pack of canines trot into the valley.

They are enormous, the largest male nearly the length of two of me with his long tail. They have huge heads, long snouts, and short, stocky necks. The pack of predators moves swiftly across the field with their snouts moving from side to side as they track the scent of some other animal.


The first memory I have of hyaenodons was when I was a boy, and they came into my tribe’s area in the forest. My mother had grabbed me and two of my siblings and fled the area as soon as she saw them, and we didn’t come back until nearly nightfall. When we returned, the pack had destroyed much of the food we had stored for the winter, the meat from our recent hunt, and had killed two of the men who tried to keep them away from the rest of the tribe.

The animals are vicious predators and attack anything they encounter. Once, they discovered my small cave when the fire was low and not enough to scare them off. I had to leave my kill behind and hide in the forest until they left, but they ate all the meat from my kill, destroyed the hide, and scattered the bones.

I hold my breath, hoping they won’t notice me or my cave. Though the smell of fire usually keeps them at bay, their own hunger could drive them to ignore the odor like they had before. I grip the shaft of the spear and feel sweat from the palm of my hand collect there. The hyaenodons continue across the open area and then disappear into the trees on the far side. I let out a breath of relief to see them moving north, away from the steppes where I hope to hunt. I still wait a while longer before venturing out, wanting to be sure they will not backtrack and smell me.

Once I’m sure they are gone, I start the journey to my pit trap. The climb to the top of the plateau is rugged and difficult, but doesn’t take too long. The wind whips around me as I reach the top, and my fingers clench around the end of the pointed branch as I see the antelope herd at the far edge of the open space. I only hope the spear will be strong enough to pierce the hide of one of the antelopes coming over the horizon. Of course, they will first have to fall into the pit I spent three days digging. My mind flashes back to a time when there were others, and the hunt was much easier.

It feels like such a long, long time ago.

I am alone now.

Crouching down, I move slowly and carefully, trying to hide myself behind the rocks and stay downwind from the animals. My heart begins to beat faster in my chest when I see how close the herd is moving to my pit trap. I move into position and hunker down behind the protective boulders.