The forest stands over Pyramie now. Ahead something runs through the ground cover. Above, something crashes through the dark tree canopy. . .
Something else screams. It screeches. Pyramie falls back.
The Gatherers are not permitted on this side. It is not their way. There are reasons why, but he is not told. No more than rumors has he heard. And these, sometimes from children, are unreliable.
They say the ground is poisoned, or that wild men live up here, or that the forest is alive, or that Ashirah lives up on the high place and kills those who trespass.
He grips the stone-headed club and spear together in one hand and walks forward with the blood still dripping from his palm. The ground is steep. He has to scramble and grab hold of what he can. But his hands are an agony. As he climbs, the canopy grows thicker and the ground becomes steeper, causing him to crawl his way up the surface toward the spot where it flattens.
Fresh blood runs off his wrists and turns black in the daylight-dark of the forest. Above him, where the ground levels, there continues a constant noise. It is a knocking sound that echoes in his ears. The sound quickly becomes all that he can hear as he climbs higher and higher. His legs hurt from working, but he is nearly there.
As he gets closer the knocking grows louder, faster. Then he stands alone in the empty cave of trees, giving his eyes time to focus. The leaves here are thick and meaty, dark green and dewy. The sound ceases.
Now he trembles, thinking for certain that it is the wild man who was making the noise. He hoists the spear over his right shoulder and walks forward slowly, the blood still dribbling from of his palms.
Nonna said once that the wild man used to sneak in and steal babies when he was young. The wild man was what came about when a woman was taken by an ape. Some others say that he was a Warrior who went mad when the Astarte fought the Others in the forest. He fell in love with one of their girls but was not allowed to have her. Only the Leader then was allowed to take the Mother because of Ashirah’s command.
Some Warriors killed the one the wild man loved, and when they killed her he murdered as many of them as he could. Then he ran into the forest. He was not Astarte any longer. He was something else. In the forest he became wild. He would kill them when he could and they could not stop him for all they tried; even their many sacrifices to Ashirah did not help; he was beyond Her power.
Warriors hunted him for many times but he slaughtered them and disappeared. Since then he haunted the forest, only making attacks on the village at rare opportunities. But in Pyramie’s lifetime, some fifteen full cycles, he had neither heard nor seen evidence of the wild man.
Still, there was another story of where the wild man had come from and how he was made. The Hunter who tells stories said that it was not a man but a people who had turned wild. They climbed trees and squeezed men to death. And they did not wear clothes because they did not know how.
He said that they used to be a tribe of men with the Astarte, but they did not follow Ashirah in the new way and She cursed them for their backwardness and turned them into creatures who escaped to the forest where they lived with nothing.
This was long ago, when the ancient Leader and Mother came to hold them in Ashirah’s blessing.
It was said some still lived in the forest. One of the Hunters disappeared winters ago. The one who tells stories was hunting then, and he returned in fear. He said that the Hunters were chasing kudu. They followed the trail for many days. During this time something followed them.
On the fourth day, just before the sun rose, Lido went and pulled water from the stream within hearing distance of their camp. But soon after he walked away he began screaming.
The one who tells stories ran down the trail to the stream, and, by the water’s edge, saw the wild man holding Lido by the face with a hairy hand and arm. With the other hand he smashed Lido’s head with a stone. Then he ran off with the limp body behind him. The storyteller threw his spear but missed. He chased the trail of blood left in the leaves and emerged at the edge of a great open canyon of rock. There he saw the wild man fling Lido off the cliff face. The wild man turned and observed him, smiling. He had white long hair.
“My hunting grounds,” the wild man said, then leapt off the cliff and disappeared. The one who tells stories ran to the edge to see where the wild man fell, but all he saw was Lido’s mangled body lying on the rocks below.
There was no way down, and so he returned to the village. From that day on the Gatherers began to think the wild man had powers. The Elders did their best to change this thinking, but they could never stop the stories.
Of the one who told it, some said he was a liar and that he did not want to hunt anymore, and that he was too weak to defend his partner. But in truth, hunting was the thing he enjoyed. And in the village he had to accept the scorn of women. When he went down to where the flowers bloom he was turned away. Even the Elders were unsure of him and did not teach him as much as they might.
Times when Pyramie crept out at night, the one who tells stories had been there, standing on the platform that overlooks the savannah.
Then a noise echoes out in the forest before him – a sharp clicking, followed by noises in the bush grunting.
The leaves shiver. Pyramie holds the spear above his head, shaking – his muscles so taut they hurt.
Then a small hairy animal with yellow tusks shoots through the underbrush and ferns, running toward him and shrieking loudly, throwing its head from side to side. Pyramie reacts over quickly, without hesitation. But his aim is not true. The spear wobbles high in the air, and rattles against a tree where it falls to the dirt.
The little animal does not pay attention to the spear. Instead it charges toward the boy, who sprints away and drops the stone-headed club behind him in the ferns. He leaps onto the trunk of the nearest tree and clings to it for life, pulling himself a little higher with his hands and digging his knees in so that he does not fall back down.
His hands throb. He keeps his eyes closed and mumbles to himself while the animal runs beneath him, grunting and snorting, breaking up the ferns that grow thick.
Pyramie has no weapon – the club lies in the dirt where he dropped it. He holds on in this position, shaking, until the little animal walks away. After a sufficient time, when he knows the animal will not return and he cannot hold on any longer, he slides down the tree and collapses alone among the ferns.