Play With The Prose 7, Semifinals: Shawn Ashley

In this semifinals match, we were tasked to write a story where there is an impossibly cruel character. I think I achieved that.

The hematite had begun to crumble in his hand, so Bagu set it down on the cave floor. He leaned back and examined his painting. The auroch was a majestic beast and he was thankful for its service. Old age had robbed him of his dexterity. Forty-two summers had come and gone since his birth, and his hands were cracked and tired. But this painting was one of his best, a fair tribute to the earth that provided.

“Bagu? May I speak?” Only one person was allowed to bother him during this ceremony. Hoke had been his advisor for eight seasons now. He had proven himself wise over time and, more importantly, quite virile. He had fathered twenty-six, a great asset to his people.

“Yes Hoke, you may.”

Hoke took a long breath. “They’ve come.”

Bagu had been expecting this day and he prided himself on being far less dramatic than his advisor. “Let them.”

“But Bagu! They’re savage. And they speak strangely.”

Bagu waved a hand. “Maybe so. But we can learn from them. Provide them with food if they are hungry. And learn how to communicate with them.”

Hoke gulped, then nodded.

************

The sun had risen twenty times since their last conversation. Hoke knew not to speak until action was required. He visited several times per day, though, to bring food and supplies. Normally, Bagu would not break the silence, but his curiosity at Hoke’s anxiety had apexed.

“Tell me.”

“Bagu, it has been tiresome, but we have been able to learn a little. They seem scared. I believe there are only about one or two-hundred left of their kind. I think they want to live with us.”

Bagu nodded. “Can they help us?”

Hoke shrugged. “They say they can kill a mammoth.”

“Thank you Hoke. Fetch me some apples.”

************
Two days later Hoke returned. “They did it. It was extraordinary. Forty of them surrounded a mammoth and threw spears harder than you’ve ever seen. It was dead within minutes. Our men are collecting the meat right now.”

Bagu smiled, a rarity. “Then prepare a feast, and take this.” He handed Hoke a large bowl. “I will be there when the sun falls.”

Hoke startled. “You?”

“Yes. This is a celebration. Two groups are now one.”

*************

That evening Bagu walked among his people. He had last seen the other kind four summers ago while on one of his last hunts. He found they were not that different. Their heads were flatter, their noses wider. And their strength! Even in his prime he never could have taken one down in battle. He admired their perseverance.

He reached the roaring fire. The crowd was raucous. It appears his apple juice was quite popular. Hoke let out a whoop to get everyone’s attention.

Bagu was heard. “For too long we have been divided, scared of our friends from the west. We are divided no longer. Tonight we eat and dance. Tomorrow we prepare for the long winter. A winter we will survive, for we are now stronger.”

His men voiced their approval and smiles were universal among the camp. Except Hoke. He just stared at the moon, his arms crossed.

*************

It was the middle of winter before Hoke approached him again. “They have begun to mate with one another. I tried to stop them, but they do not listen.”

“Hoke! I know you mean well. Please, let them be. Things will be okay.”

Hoke snorted. “I wish I were as confident as you, Bagu. I still don’t trust them.”

“How is communication going?”

“Better,” Hoke replied. “They have begun to teach our men how to hunt large beasts. Our weapons are stronger.”

Bagu smiled again. “See? Things will be okay.”

************
It was springtime, though Bagu did not feel refreshed. He coughed, then wiped the blood with his arm. He had been working most of the night and was weary.

Hoke arrived with his breakfast, two plums and the meat of a rabbit.

“Thank you, Hoke. But I am afraid I will not be eating.”

Hoke glared.

“I do not feel well. You may tell our people that I am dying. I will not make it through the day.”

Hoke fell to his knees and closed his eyes. “What shall I do?”

Bagu reached out to his advisor–and friend–and held his hands. “You have been loyal and kind. You will be a great leader for our people.”

Hoke trembled. “Thank you. Shall I lead both groups as one?”

“Yes,” Bagu said. “It is because of the others that we are stronger than ever. I believe we shall thrive for generations to come.”

It was Hoke’s turn to smile.

“Take this bowl, Hoke. It is filled with a new tea I have created. Please give this to our new friends. Tell them it is a gift from me. Tell them my dying wish is for them to be in good health.”

Hoke grabbed the bowl and stood. “I will do as you wish. Shall I leave you to die alone?”

“Please.”

“May your rest be peaceful.” Hoke exited the cave.

Bagu coughed again. His breathing labored. It was time. He laid his head down on a pillow of hemlock, content as he had ever known.

K: I’m confident someone (or a lot of someones) have been poisoned here, but that’s primarily because I know the prompt; if I didn’t, I don’t think this would be anywhere near clear enough. These characters are interesting but I feel like the meat of the story could be told better if we saw more than the political machinations here; some time spent with the people could certainly drive home any intention you’re seeking.

CW: I was waiting for the cruel part… But it didn’t come. Hoke seemed wary of the newcomers but otherwise perfectly reasonable. As for the story itself, it seemed like an overview of something greater. Bagu brought his people together with another and then died, leaving Hoke to lead them. I would just liked to have seen more of the in-between stuff.

For those who didn’t quite catch it, the story is about the leader of a tribe of Cro-Magnons who decides to annihilate the Neanderthals after exploiting them. I was a little too vague maybe, and it wasn’t my best story. But I’m still proud of it.

Well, that’s the end of my season. I have played in four Play With The Prose contests now, and I have finished 4th, 2nd, 2nd, and 4th. One of these days, Alice…

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