Something wakes Pyramie in the ferns. The tree he leans against stands just at the edge of the hill he scaled. . .


From below come the low sounds of men climbing upward, slowly pulling and stepping among the brush and trees on the slope. He cannot see them. The sun is low on the horizon. The canopy keeps it out. In spite of the pain, he reaches out his hand and pulls the club into his body.

The sounds move closer: quiet, breaking noises and the soft footfall of bare feet on leaves and grass. Pyramie listens.

Then a foot plants itself beside him in the undergrowth and pauses before moving on to its next spot. A second Hunter rises to the top of the hillside. The other clicks with his tongue and they both freeze. There is a whisper, and the Hunter to the right moves forward slowly. The Hunter to the left walks in front of Pyramie and stands.

Pyramie cannot see him through the ferns yet. He only sees the Hunter’s naked, grimed feet and ankles in the underbrush. The toes point toward the spot where the stone-headed club had lain just a moment ago. Then the feet turn and stop; they appear huge to Pyramie. Above the brush, the man sniffs the air. The boy sees the Hunter’s face now between ferns; he carries a woman’s braids tied around his neck.

The other Hunter in the distance then makes two clicks with his mouth, then a third. The feet turn toward the sound and move slowly off. Then they stop and turn again. Pyramie hears the animal from earlier squeal and the sinking sounds the spear makes in its flesh. The squeals grow muffled and sick-sounding, dwindling off into nothing. The last of theses noises Pyramie uses to cover his own sound.

He crawls on in his belly, dragging the club over the edge of the hill and back in the direction he came.

He moves this way, picking up dirt and crust as he snakes and worms downward terrified they will hear him. All the while he thinks of the trail his body leaves in the detritus as it slides down. The men will follow this trail and kill him, he knows.

It is dark by the time he reaches the bottom, at the ledge where he started his climb. Here he stands until he is certain no one is out in the gloom. Then he scales the wall down to the first ledge. In the moonlight, Kakoaw’s blood glistens crimson on the flat rock surface.

Pyramie pauses and observes it briefly but continues down face into the shattered stone field at the precipice bottom. Then he walks onto the savannah where the splintered rocks end in the tall grass. There he looks for food.

The grass glows pale in the night and makes sounds in the wind like whispers. He keeps moving forward, carefully picking his way through the tall grass until he reaches the forest edge where the berries grow. There, he waits and listens. The moon hangs bright above him. He breathes in deeply and heads into the forest where the Gatherers enter to pick berries. Once inside, he makes a pouch for berries and pulls down some large green leaves. He lays one leaf over the other then pinches the center where they meet and pulls and ties the outer edges with some savannah grass.

When he finishes, he goes slowly to the place where the red and purple berries grow and eats and eats until his stomach hurts. Then he finishes more and fills the leaf pouch to the brim. In the darkness, with only a thread of moon through the trees, he must be careful of what bushes he picks from. He is careful to choose between berries that are smooth and those that have little ridges in the skin. The ridged ones are the ones that cause bleeding and death. But he has done this many seasons and is certain he makes no mistake.

When he finishes filling his stomach and pouch, he ties the pouch to his waist and walks to the bower where he last saw Theo. Here the moon glimmers bright where the trees are all burned. On the ground he finds one of the leaves he’d wrapped into a flower and gave to her as a gift.

Instead of picking the flower up, he circles around to the edge by the hill and drinks from the small spring. When he finishes, he trots into the bower and retrieves the imitation flower. She must have dropped it when Marnea hurried her away. But he does not want to remain here thinking of her any longer. He must find a place to sleep where the Hunters cannot kill him.

Leaving the bower he heads through the burnt forest skirting the edge of the savannah until he reaches the shattered rocks at the precipice’ bottom. In the rocks he searches for a safe, covered place to hide now that the sun is rising.

He picks over the rocks and through the littered skulls and broken bone pieces, searching out what will be a home. In the one crevice he discovers large enough to fit in, he hears the hiss of snakes.  He then turns to the central rock behind which Acka’s body lies dead. The sun lifting behind him on the savannah hurries him to the spot where he knows there is room enough to hide.

He holds his breath as he walks past her down the smooth rock opening into the cavity where her blood dripped all night. He finds a place down low, away from the gore and mess where he does not have to look at her face, but can only see a glimpse of her back. There he cradles in against some bones that were torn down by the painted canines in years past and rests his head on an adult skull. Setting his stone-headed club where he can reach it, he closes his eyes.

The air is cool here, but the rock is warm. It does not take long before his beaten body submits to sleep and he drifts away into a place of dreaming he will not remember when he rises.