HE DIDN’T KNOW that anybody called him a Fuzzy. When he and his kind called themselves anything, it was Gashta, “People.”
There were animals, of course, but they weren’t People. They couldn’t talk, and they wouldn’t make friends. Some were large and dangerous, like the three-horned hesh-nazza, or the night hunting “screamers,” or, worst of all, the gotza that soared on wide wings and swooped upon their prey. And some were small and good to eat, and the best of them were the zatku that scuttled on many legs among the grass and had to be broken out of their hard shells to get at the sweet white meat. One hunted and killed to eat, and one avoided being killed and eaten, and one tried to have all the fun one could.
Hunting was fun if game was not too scarce and one was not too hungry. And it was fun to outwit something that was hunting one and make a good escape. And it was fun to romp and chase one another through the woods, and to find new things; and it was fun to make a good sleeping-place and huddle together and talk until sleep came. And then, when the sun came back from its sleeping-place, it would be another day, and new and interesting things would happen.
It had always been like that, for as long as he could remember, and that had been a long time. He couldn’t count how often the leaves had turned yellow and red and then brown, and fallen from the trees. All those who had been with the band when he was small were gone, killed, or drifted away. Others had joined the band, and now they called him Toshi-Sosso — Wise One, One Who Knows Best — and they all did as he advised. They had begun doing that when Old One had “made dead.” Old One had been a female; Little She, who walked beside him now, was her daughter, one of the very few Gashta who had been born alive and lived more than very briefly.
It was Little She who saw the redberry bush even before he did, and cried out in surprise:
“Look, redberries! Not finish yet; good to eat!”
It was late to find redberries; mostly they were brown and hard now, and not good. There would be no more for a long time, until after new-leaf time and bird-nesting time. In the meantime, though, there would be other good-to-eat things; soon, on a tree they all knew, would be big brown nuts, and when the shells were cracked they would be soft and good inside. He looked forward to eating them, but he wondered why all the good-to-eat things couldn’t be at the same time. It would be nice if they could, but that was how things had always been.
They crowded around the bush, careful to avoid the sharp thorns, picking berries and popping them into their mouths and spitting out the seeds, laughing and talking about how good they were and how nice it was to find them so late. Some of the younger ones forgot, in their excitement, to keep watch. He rebuked them:
“Keep watch, all time; look around, listen. You not watch, something come, eat you.”
Really, there was no danger. None of the animals they had cause to fear was about, and none of them could hear the voices of People. Still, one must never forget to watch. Not remembering was how one made dead.
It wasn’t fun, being Wise One. The others expected him to do all the thinking for them. That was not good. Suppose he made dead some time; who would think for them then? After they had eaten all the berries, they stood waiting for him to tell them what to do next.
“What we do now?” he asked them. “Where go?”
They all looked at him, wondering. Finally Other She, who had joined the band between bird nesting time and groundberry time, before last leaf-turning time, said:
“Hunt for zatku. Maybe find zatku for everybody.”
She meant, a whole zatku for each of them. They wouldn’t; there weren’t that many zatku. The day before yesterday, they had found two, only a few bites apiece. Besides, they would find none here among the rocks. Now was egg-laying time for zatku; they would all be where the ground was soft, to dig holes to lay their eggs. But they might find hatta-zosa here. He had seen young trees with the bark gnawed off. Hatta-zosa were good to eat, and if they killed two or three of them, it would be meat enough that nobody would be hungry.
Besides, killing hatta-zosa was fun. They were nearly as big as People, with strong jaws and sharp teeth, and when cornered they fought savagely. It was hard to kill them, and doing hard things was fun. He suggested hunting hatta-zosa, and they all agreed at once.
“Hatta-zosa stay among rocks.” That was the young male they called Fruitfinder. “Rocks more at top of hill.”
“Find moving-water,” Big She offered. “Follow to where it come out of ground.”
“Look for where hatta-zosa chew bark off trees.”
That was Lame One. He was not really lame, but he had once hurt his leg and limped for a while, and after that they all called him Lame One because nobody could think of anything else to call him.
They started, line-abreast, each keeping sight of those on either side. They hunted as they went, not very seriously, for they had just eaten the berries and if they found hatta-zosa there would be much meat for everybody. Once, Wise One stopped at a rotting log and dug in it with the pointed end of his killing-club, and found a toothsome white grub. Once or twice he heard somebody chasing one of the little yellow lizards. Finally they came to a small stream and stopped, taking turns drinking and watching. They followed it up to the spring where it came out of the ground.
This would be a good place to come back to if anything chased them. Trees grew close to it, with sharp branches; a gotza could not dive through them. He spoke of this, and the others agreed. And through the trees above, he could see a cliff of yellow rock. Hatta-zosa liked such places. The others hung back to let him lead, and followed in single file. Now and then one would point to a tree at which the hatta-zosa had been chewing. Then they came to the edge of the brush, to a stretch of open grass at the foot of the cliff.
There were seven hatta-zosa there, gray beasts as high at the shoulder as a person’s waist, all gnawing at trees. They wouldn’t be able to kill all of them, but if they killed three or four they would have all the meat they could eat. By this time, everybody had picked up stones and carried them nested in the crooks of their elbows. He touched Lame One with the knob of his killing-club.
“You,” he said. “Stonebreaker. Other She. Go back in brush, come around other side. We wait here. Chase hatta-zosa to us, kill all you can.”
Lame One nodded. He and his companions slipped away noiselessly. For a long time, Wise One and the others waited, and then he heard the voice of Lame One, which the hatta-zosa could not hear: “Watch, now. We come.”
He had a stone in his free hand, ready to throw, when Lame One and Stonebreaker and Other She burst from the brush, hurling stones. Other She’s stone knocked down a hatta-zosa and she brained it with her club. A stone he himself threw dazed another; he threw his other stone, missing, and then ran in, swinging his club. There were shouts all around him and a blur of fast-moving golden-furred bodies. Then it was all over; they had killed four, and three had gotten away. The others wanted to give chase.
“No. We have meat, we eat,” he said. “Then we go away, hatta-zosa come back. Next light time after dark-time, we come back, kill more.”
The others hadn’t thought that far ahead. That was why they were willing to let Wise One think for them. They all looked around for stones to break to cut up the hatta-zosa, but the stones here were all soft. They would have to use their teeth and fingers. They helped each other, one standing on the neck of a hatta-zosa while two pulled it apart by the hind legs; they used stones as hammers to break the bones.
At first, they ate greedily, for it had been sun-highest time the day before since they had tasted red meat. Then, their hunger satisfied, they ate more slowly, talking about the killing, boasting of what they had done. He found the flat brown thing that was so good, ate half of it, and gave the other half to Little She; the others were also finding and sharing this tidbit.
It was then that he heard the sound of fear, more a rapid vibration in his head than a real noise. The others also heard it, and stopped eating.
“Gotza come,” he said. “Two gotza.”
They all looked quickly above them, and then began tearing loose meat and cramming their mouths. They would not have long to enjoy this feast. He put up a hand to keep the sun from his eyes, and saw a gotza approaching — the thin body between the wide pointed wings, the pointed head in front, the long tail. It was closer than he liked, and he was sure it had seen them. There was another behind it and, farther away, a third. This was bad.
They all snatched their killing-clubs and the big hind legs of the hatta-zosa which they had saved for last in case they might have to run. The first gotza was turning to dive upon them and they were about to dash under the trees when the terrible thing happened.
From the top of the cliff above them came a noise, loud as thunder, but short and hard; he had never heard a noise like that before. The nearest gotza thrashed its wings and then fell, straight down. There was a second noise like the first, but sharper and less loud; the next gotza also fell, into a tree, crashing down through the branches. A third noise, exactly like the first, and the third gotza dropped into the woods. Then was silence.
“Gotza make dead!” somebody cried. “What make do?”
“Thunder-noise kill gotza; maybe kill us next.”
“Bad place this,” Lame One was clamoring. “Make run fast.”
They fled, carrying all they could of the meat, back to the spring. Everything was silent now, except for fright-cries of birds, also disturbed by the loud noises. Finally they were still, and there was nothing but the buzzing of insects. The People began to eat. After a while, there was a new sound, shrill but not unpleasant. It seemed to move about, and then grew fainter and went away. The birds began chirping calmly again.
The People argued while they ate. None of them knew what had really happened, and most of them wanted to go as far from this place as they could. Maybe they were right, but Wise One wanted to know more about what had happened.
“A new thing has come,” he told them. “Nobody has ever told of a thing like this before. It is a thing that kills gotza. If it only kills gotza, it is good. If it kills People too, it is bad. We not know. Better we know now, then we can take care.” He finished gnawing the meat from the legbone and threw it aside, then washed his hands, dried them on grass, and picked up his club. “Come. We go back. Maybe we learn something.”
The others were afraid, but he was Wise One, One Who Knows Best. If he thought they should go back, that was the thing to do. Sometimes it was good for one to do the thinking for the others. It saved argument, and things got done.
At the foot of the cliff, one gotza lay on the open grass, and feekee-birds had begun to peck at it. That was good; feekee-birds never pecked at anything that had life. They flew away, scolding, as he and the others approached.
There was a small bleeding hole under one of the gotza’s wings, as though a sharp stick had been stabbed into it, though he could not see how anything could go through the tough scaly hide. Then he looked at the other side, and gave a cry of astonishment that brought all the others running. Whatever had stabbed the gotza had gone clear through, tearing out a great gaping wound. Maybe it had been thunder that had killed the gotza, though the sky had been blue; he had seen what thunder flashes did when they struck trees. He looked at the other gotza, the one that had fallen through the boughs of the tree. There was a hole under its chin, and the whole top of the head was gone, the skull shattered. He thought of going to look for the third gotza, which had fallen in the woods, but decided not to bother. The others were exchanging shocked comments. Nobody had ever heard of anything being killed like this.
At first, he could persuade none of the others to climb to the top of the cliff, and so started up alone. Before he had reached the top, however, they were all following, ashamed to stay below. There were no trees at the top, only scattered bushes and sparse grass and sandy ground. Everything was still and, until he found the footprints, quite ordinary.
They resembled no footprints any of them had ever seen or heard of; they were a little like the footprints of People, and whatever had made them had walked on two feet. But there were no toe-prints, only a flat sole that widened at the middle and tapered to a rounded end, and a heel-mark that looked like the backward print of some kind of hoof. And they were huge, three times as big as the footprints of People. Whatever had made them had walked with a stride longer than a person’s height. There were two sets, only slightly different in size and shape.
He wondered for a moment if they might not have been made by some kind of giant People. No, that couldn’t be; People were People, and there were no other kind. At least, nobody had ever told about giant People. But then, nobody had ever told about something that killed flying gotza with noises like thunder, either.
Something immense and heavy had rested on the cliff top not long ago; it had broken bushes and flattened grass, and even crushed some stones. The strange footprints were all around where it had been. Those who had made the strange footprints must have brought this huge and heavy thing with them, and taken it away again. That meant that they must be very strong indeed.
And it meant that they must be People of some kind. Only People carried things about with them. One of the males, the one they called Stabber because he liked to use the pointed end of his killing-club instead of the knob, thought of that too.
“Bring big thing here; take away. We look for tracks, see which way go. Then we go other way.”
Stabber didn’t wait for Wise One to do all the thinking. He would remember that, teach Stabber all he knew. Then, if he died, Stabber could lead the band. They started away from where the heavy thing had been, to the edge of the cliff. It was there that Little She found the first of the bright-things.
She cried out and picked it up, holding it out to show. She should not have done that; she did not know what it was. But as it had not hurt her, Wise One took it to look at it. It was not alive, and he did not think it had ever been, though he could not be sure. There were live things, things that moved, like People and animals, and live-things that had “made dead.” Then there were growing-things, like trees and grass and fruit and flowers; and there were ground-things, stones and rocks and sand and things like that. Usually, one could tell which was which, but not this thing.
It was yellow and bright, and glistened in the sunlight — straight, round through, and a little longer than his hand, open at one end and closed at the other. Near the open end it narrowed abruptly and then became straight again. There was a groove all around the closed end, and in the middle of the closed end was a spot, whitish instead of yellow and dented as though something small and sharp had hit it very hard. Around this spot were odd markings. He sniffed at the open end; it had a sharp, bitter smell, utterly strange.
A moment later Stonebreaker found another, a little smaller and more tapered from the closed end to the shoulder. Then he found a third, exactly like the one Little She had found.
Three thunder-noises, one less loud than the others. Three bright-things, one smaller than the others. And two kinds of bright-things, and two sets of big footprints. That might mean something. He would think about it. They found tracks all around where the heavy thing had been, and also to and from the edge of the cliff, but none going away in any direction.
“Maybe fly,” Stabber said. “Like bird, like gotza.”
“And carry great heavy thing?” Big She asked incredulously.
“How else?” Stabber insisted. “Come here, go away. Not make tracks on ground, then fly in air.”
There was a gotza circling far away; Wise One pointed to it. Soon there would be many gotza, come to feed on the three that had been killed. Gotza ate their own dead; that was another reason why People loathed gotza. Better leave now. Soon the gotza would be close enough to see them. He could hear its wing-sounds very faintly.
Wing-sounds! That was what they had heard at the spring; the shrill, wavering sound had been the wing-sound of the flying Big Ones.
“Yes,” he said. “They flew. We heard them.”
He looked again at the bright-thing in his hand, comparing it with the other two. Little She was saying:
“Bright-things pretty. We keep?”
“Yes,” he told her. “We keep.”
Then Wise One looked at the markings on the closed end of the one in his hand. All sorts of things had markings — fruit and stones, and the wings of insects, and the shells of zatku. It was fun to find something with odd markings, and then talk about what they looked like. But nobody ever found anything that was marked with a circle with in a circle and strange script within the circles.
He didn’t wonder what the markings meant. Markings never meant anything. They just happened.