First, Kill Your Mammoth

by Peter Coomber


A short story from my new collection of stories, due out on the 28th February 2018 - This Never Happened Too.

Arum the hunter squatted by the fire in the big cave. Also by the fire sat Ugg, Narum, Splog and Splig. They were looking at the sun chart Splig had drawn up, and trying to decide whether they were late Pleistocene or early Holocene, when Ugg's wife interrupted their discussion.

"Ugg," said Ugg's wife, Ugg-Ly, "me hungry."

"Get food," said Ugg, pointing to the communal pot hanging over the fire.

"But that's roots," she said. "Don't want roots. Want meat."

Ugg looked to the wall at the back of the cave, where a dead badger hung from a hook. "Eat badger," he said, pointing.

"Don't want badger," she said. "Badger stringy."

"Badger old and tough!" shouted another woman, Ugg-Ly's sister, from across the cave.

The five hunters looked round the cave and saw the hungry look in the eyes of the other women tribe members.

"We want fresh meat!" said a third woman, who was sat skinning a half-dessicated rat.

"Not season for deer," said Arum. "No deer or warthog."

"We want mammoth!" shouted twenty voices. "Mammoth in valley."

"But mammoth big," said Arum, "Hard to kill."

"Get fresh rat," said Ugg, "always plenty rat - even this time of year."

"MAMMOTH!" roared the women.

"OK," said Ugg. "Get idea. Get mammoth." He looked at Arum sadly.

Arum grunted and stood. "Splig - shovel. Ugg - pointed sticks. Splog - knife and axe. Narum - spears. Where's Rupert?"

"Rupert outside cave, having a leak," said Narum. "Tell Rupert - bring ladder," said Arum.

The five hunters busied themselves, preparing for the hunt. They all knew that a mammoth hunt would take many days - they could very well find themselves in the early Holocene before they had finished.

In the valley that night, the five hunters sat round a fire. Around them, sounds of sabre-toothed tigers roaring caused them to shiver.

"Good fire," said Splig. "Keep sabre-tooth and mountain lion away."

Eyes glimmered in the darkness outside the glow of the fire. Things rustled and squeaked and sniffled and growled. Small things flittered overhead. Suddenly, there was a loud trumping noise from behind a large tree.

"Mammoth!" said Narum, jumping up.

"No," said Ugg, "Rupert. Bad tummy."

A rustling noise told of an approach. Rupert appeared in the firelight.

"Sorry," said Rupert. "Ate bad rat."

"Sit over that side of fire," said Arum. "Downwind."

As they didn't know any camp songs, they decided to get their heads down for an early night; they would be hunting mammoth tomorrow.

In the early morning, the six hunters found mammoth tracks on the valley floor.

"Dig mammoth trap here," said Arum. The rest nodded.

They took turns to dig the hole. By noon, they had made a hole that was a mammoth's length and a mammoth's width, but it was only as deep as a rat's tail length.

"Let's rest," said Arum.

By late evening, they had increased the depth of the hole, so that it would possibly trap a small creature. A small creature that couldn't jump or climb.

"OK," said Arum, "enough for today."

Back at their campsite, they sat down to rest and eat dry roots. Rupert soon had a big fire blazing.

"Arum," said Splog, "how deep hole?"

Arum thought for a while: "Badger size."

"How big mammoth?" asked Ugg.

"About twenty badgers?"

"How many - twenty?" asked Splig.

Rupert counted his fingers, then counted his toes, then held these up to Splig.

Arum nodded: "Fingers and toes - twenty," he said.

Splig looked at his hands and his feet. He had one finger missing off both of his hands and only three toes on one of his feet. "Not many, then," he said.

"Mammoth should feed tribe for many days," said Narum.

"Twenty days, at least," said Splog.

Splig looked at his fingers and toes. "Not many days, then. What's favourite part of mammoth?"

"To eat?" asked Rupert. The others laughed.

"Yes, to eat," said Splig. "I like leg," said Rupert.

"Leg nice," agreed Splig, "Me like ribs."

"Ribs good," drooled Ugg, "but belly better."

"Ahh - belly!" sighed Splig. "What you like, Splog?"

"Me like trunk," said Splog. The others grunted and looked at Splog.

"Why trunk?" said Splig.

"No bones," said Splog, grinning, showing them his toothless mouth. "What you like, Arum?" Arum stirred.

"I like deer," he said. "No dig trap for deer." "Hmm," the others agreed.

They decided to have an early night; they would be hunting mammoth tomorrow.

The next morning, they stood by the side of their hole. There were fresh signs of mammoth prints: going to the hole; stepping in the hole; walking away from the hole.

"Good place for trap," said Arum. The others looked at their blistered hands and grunted in agreement.

Again, they took turns with the shovel. By the end of the day, the hole came to the top of their heads. They helped each other climb out and set off back to the camp. Rupert got the fire going.

"When hole dug, how we kill mammoth, Arum?" asked Rupert.

"When hole dug, we put pointed sticks in bottom of hole. Mammoth fall into hole. Fall onto pointed sticks and die," said Arum.

"How we get mammoth back to cave?" said Splig.

"Cut up mammoth with axe and knife. Carry mammoth bits to cave."

"What spear for?" asked Splog.

"Many trips to carry mammoth bits back to cave. Rupert guard hole while we carry. Rupert stop sabre-tooth from stealing mammoth," said Arum.

"Me good with spear," said Rupert, proudly.

Conversation went on for a short while longer, but they decided to have an early night; they were hunting mammoth tomorrow.

In the morning, they returned to their trap. There was more evidence of mammoths passing by - stepping into and out of the hole. This morning there was also a badger in the hole, running around, trying to escape.

"Me good with spear!" said Rupert, as he killed the badger with one throw.

They took turns to deepen the hole. By nightfall, it was twice the height of the tallest of them, and they had to stand on each other's shoulders to climb out. Back at the camp, Rupert got the fire going and they roasted the badger. No one spoke that night - they were all tired out, so had an early night; they were hunting mammoth tomorrow.

In the morning they climbed into the hole and continued digging. By mid afternoon Arum held up his hand and said, "Hole big enough."

They all looked up at the sides of their hole; surely now deep enough to trap a mammoth.

"Ugg, get pointy sticks," said Arum.

"Pointy sticks up there," said Ugg, pointing. "Need ladder."

"Rupert," said Arum, "where ladder?"

"Oh," said Rupert. "Oh." He looked up at the top of the hole. "Was that what it was? I thought it was firewood."

Arum clamped his hand over his eyes.

"What that noise?" he heard Ugg say. "Trumpeting noise."

"Sounds like mammoth," said Narum, "...coming this way."

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