This is a story I put together for the short story comp 'A shot in the dark'. I didn't win, and didn't get many votes.
I like the story but I think the problem was the writing is too dense for the type of story it's supposed to be.
I still like the story and I think if someone stuck with it to the end they would too, but I know that's not how readership works!
nzric - Twilight of Lascaux
I scratched at the Chosen wall part with a birch stone and smoothed at the bottom wall with the clay stone. Last time Gne-Runan had brought heat-light he first made me hide in the bedding chamber. Then when he beckoned he held the smallest heat-light dancing hot on a small birch. He showed me the new outline on the Chosen wall part. He said there was a head with horns. A huge body. Next he will shape the men outlines with spears but before that I should scrape in the Chosen wall part and fill it with the shade of darkness. He gave me a new hot birch stone and said he would return.
I felt the Chosen part wall outline then crushed the dancing birch light. Even the small heat-light hurt my eyes. And heat-light is not welcome in my place of sleep-and-awake-joined until the start of the Spring cycle. I scrape the birch stone in the Chosen wall part, my hands see that the outline stops before the rising mound and curves just below the running crack where water sometimes goes.
Gne-Runan said the next Spring cycle would be when he sees the One God through the seeing stone when the standing stone remains in shadow. He is a great sorcerer. He has shown me what shadows are but to me they dance with the birch stone and birch branch heat-light. Gne-Runan says when he walks in his world the shadows stop their dance and move nearly not at all. He says the One God is a great heat-light that looks small but gives shadow to the whole world at once. It moves nearly not at all but goes across the whole of the world in one day. He speaks in riddles. He says he would show me when I come of age but my place now is in this world of sleep-and-awake-joined, to sleep dream the hunt into life.
Sometimes he would enter my world and yell, the stone of my world yelling back to him in laughing. When he yells he would either hit me or give me meat. When the hunt is good he yells and gives me meat hot from the birch stone. Once he gave me a hide, wet with the salt-taste and hairy like bedding. He said it was a horned hide, and he said that its colour was dark and brown like the clay stone. I could not understand – the clay stone is not soft like bedding and the smell of the clay stone is of earth not meat so what is the colour? But when I question him like that he beats my head so I do not ask.
But his promise of the largest heat-light is an omen to me. The omen to him was the heavy tree falling nearby and the omen to our people was the death of a newly walking child from bad hunger and grass eating. He told our people he had to wait for the new Spring cycle to bring the largest birch heat-light to my world to read the meaning of the omen. They were not happy but he is a powerful sorcerer so they listened and waited.
When the new cycle was two of his sleeps away he brought the small heat-light onto the floor of the main chamber. It hurt my eyes and I hid in the bedding cave but he beat my head until I came near the heat-light on the birch stones. He told me to look at it and keep it with birch stones, or else the largest birch heat-light would hurt my eyes so much I would die. I was afraid so I did as he ordered. I could see the Chosen wall parts with animal and man shapes but they were wrong with the heat-light. They became fixed on the stone, not held suspended in half-sleep darkness like they should be. But I scraped the birch stone on the new Chosen wall part to make the shape closer to the shade of darkness.
Gne-Runan was not pleased when he came with the largest birch heat-light. When he is pleased and there is meat from the hunt he brings me a woman tasting of smoke ash. I take the woman and the stones yell along with our yelling until she thanks the stones and returns to the world of sleeping-and-waking-apart to bear child. But this time at the start of the new Spring cycle he says the omens are still bad and orders me into the storeroom chamber to hide. He brings the Big Men with their staffs and cloaks and they talk of the hunt, of the omens and of the Chosen wall parts.
It is all wrong. The heat-light fixes the pictures on the stone, the Big Men should not enter, they should not cleave the sleeping-and-awake-joined apart. I moan to my world in the storeroom chamber, slapping my hands on the cold stone in sympathy. The Big Men are frightened at the noise, they say this world is cursed, that if they stay here when there is no heat-light they will be trapped in the world where sleep and awake are joined.
“I am the stone alive!” I yell, “Do not bring your heat-light or I will tear your throats and drink your blood.”
The Big Men are afraid of me the stone and run from my world taking their heat-light away, but Gne-Runan remains. He tells me I have broken the omen and he beats my body until I can hardly breathe. He leaves me and I know it is for a long time because I am so thirsty I stop passing water, and my stomach growls with hunger.
When Gne-Runan returns his head is broken. He coughs and spits, and lies on the floor sometimes sleeping while not moving and sometimes awake sleeping. The Big Men were angry at the omens and scared of my shouts from the world of sleep-and-awake-joined. They beat Gne-Runan’s head and he escaped, but he said they will come with many largest heat-lights to burn the omens away. I tell him I will tear their throats if they come and instead of cursing and beating my head he only coughs.
They came when it is the time of Gne-Runan’s sleeps. His head was hot and wet with salt-taste and he groaned but didn’t move when I warned him I smelled birch smoke. I picked him up and carried him through the thickening passage to the deeper chamber, putting him on the farthest sitting furs. Shouts came from the main chamber and as I ran back up the thickening chamber I smelled heavy smoke and saw shadows dancing out of the stone. There was one Big Man and three other men, all with largest heat-lights giving smoke through the main chamber. I moaned at the smoke as it fixes then burns the Chosen wall part pictures, but I cover my mouth with my hands to make no noise. Some of the men held spears, some with armfuls of wet clay – the Big Man shouted at the Chosen wall parts and the men would throw the clay at the pictures, then smooth the dark clay over the pictures and return them into darkness.
I ran quickly to the birch stones. The men do not see me – Gne-runan has told me many times the men are tied to their heat-lights and the darkness makes them blind and tired-afraid. I felt past the warm birch stones to find the stones I sometimes use to warm my bedding. I filled my arms with the hand-sized stones but the clatter makes one man turn and he shouts with surprise. I hear a spear dancing off the stone near my head but they are too afraid to follow me into the thickening passage. Their shouts get more urgent and I hear the moist splatter of clay on the walls as they rush their work.
I turned back to the main chamber with a warm stone in each hand. There was one man standing with a spear and looking straight at me, but I could see his eyes were tied to the heat-light and blind to me. I drew my arm back like the Chosen wall pictures of the men with spears, then threw the stone with as much force as I could. I have seen the Chosen wall pictures but have never thrown so the stone easily missed all the men, but it makes them stop their yelling and turn to the loud noise.
I ran from the thickening passage, straight past the man with the spear. He is not my enemy. The heat-light is my enemy and I tear one of the birch branches from the Big Man, throwing it against the wall so it splinters and dies. This I do with the next heat-light, and the final one. The third burns me as I take it from one of the men and dash it against my chest where it splinters and dies. I scream in the darkness and the stone screams back to me with anger. The men are blind and afraid and stumble against each other, stumble into the wall stones. They are not my enemies. They are my prey. I hold the stone in my hand and beat their heads, one at a time. The last one tries to stay silent but he breathes and shuffles and I pull him into awake, throwing his head against the Chosen wall part so that the stone drips with wetness like during the raining seasons.
Silence except for the dripping of the stone, the last high breaths of the birch branch smoke. I go back to Gne-Runan but he is silent and heavy. I put my hands on his mouth and nose and he does not move them away – he has gone from this sleep-awake world joined, he has moved to the world of always sleeping death.
I know I cannot stay. The omens have torn the sleep-awake-joined from this world, it is now part of the world of always sleeping death. If I stay my hunger will grow until I always sleep, so I must leave to the awake-and-sleeping-separated world, the world of the small One God with the largest heat-light, larger even than the huge birch branches held by the Big Men. Gne-Runan said if I looked at the largest heat-light it would hurt so much I would die, but I have torn one from the man and struck it on my chest and I did not die. I could bring the omens to the One God and ask him to spare me until I can find another world of sleeping-and-awake-joined. I take some birch stones and the largest clay stone – I can find another Chosen wall parts to sleep dream the hunt and good fortune for me.
The sleeping awake separating passage is longer than I thought. It is marked with hand prints against the dark of the stone, and I follow them out. The passage opens up and I see many shadows on the ground, above me, wider and wider. They are black on dark but I know they are the birch trees Gne-Runan has told me about, and I run my hand over a standing birch stone that rises from the ground, wider than my arms and rough like a dry stone. There is wind but not like I am used to, it makes no sound and it is always from one direction. I walk towards the wind and the ground slopes upwards. Higher and higher I walk, the birch trees are all around me and the ground is thick with bedding branches and sticks that hurt my feet, but I walk on.
And suddenly the trees stop and the ground stops and I look down and wide and out and the trees are as far as the world until they go into welcome darkness. I see the trees below me, they look small but I know they are large and I would need to walk far to reach them. But I am scared of the height so I do not approach the edge. I look upwards and see the One God. He is curved and bright but I look at him and I do not die. Around Him, all above me are specks like that flies from a birch branch heat-light, but they are not hot, they are still and far away and the world is broad and wide and I yell in joy.
“One God thank you for letting me enter your world,” I shout. “Thank you for letting me beat the heads and drink the blood of the men.” The One God does not answer but I know He is pleased.
I show Him the birch stones and the large clay stone and say I will shape him good omens if he shows me to where I can find meat, where I can find another world of sleeping-and-awake-joined. I am patient, I wait and after a long time I look again and see He has moved from where He was. He is now in the direction where the wind blows and I ask “how can I climb down from this edge to follow you?” but he doesn’t answer. I sit for longer. My own sleeping is coming but I am scared of the wide and open and I want to return to the main chamber, but it is now belonging to death sleeping only.
I look around. There is a difference. The trees are shadow but now I can see more, further. Above me is not just black, it is lighter but with no heat. I wait for longer. I hear birds but they do not bother me, Gne-Runan has brought them into my world before where they sing and flap and dance. I listen to the birds, so many and so distant. The light-and-no-heat is larger but it still does not hurt my eyes so I stay.
There is more light, filling the world. I look to the One God but He is growing darker. Is he giving the light from Him to the world? But Gne-Runan said He should always be hot-light, always too bright to look at. The world above, that which is the sky, changes and I begin to see when the darkness leaves. Gne-Runan is right, the sky is turning the same shade as the clay stone, the shade of the berries he crushes to fill the shape of the men of the Chosen wall parts. I yell and cry out in thanks and I think I hear the world yell in reply far away.
And in the direction of the wind the sky becomes lighter still. It is so bright but if there is heat it is far away. And suddenly I see a splinter, brighter than the largest heat-light but far beyond the trees. It hurts my eyes and I turn away but I have to look. The splinter becomes a line, becomes a curve, rising and throwing light across the world. And that fading above is not the One God, THIS is the One God! It is the largest light but far and small and as I watch it rises into a great circle and I feel the heat-light. It warms my face as I drop to my knees and shelter my eyes because I know to look straight at this One God would truly kill me.
Gne-Runan, you were right! You were a great sorcerer and I see the shadows of the trees and my shadow are fixed in the awake by the One God, not dancing shadows but part of this world and fixed like the Chosen wall parts in a great heat-light.
The tears stream down my face as I thank the One God and show the One God the clay stone and the birch stone for omen shaping from my world of awake-and-sleep-joined. And I start down the long climb towards where the wind comes and towards from where the One God comes so that I can please Him and He can show me the way back to my world.
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