I write EPIC FABLES on Universal Human Themes.
EPIC FABLES are simply told stories that also hold a larger context within the Worldwide Historical Record, and Human History, at least in terms of Anthropology and Sociology, always includes man's best friend, the steadfast K9, for beyond that there's only Prehistory, that is Archeology.
Here's my EPIC FABLE detailing how this most ancient and enduring of relationships between Humans and Dogs initially came about, and with a Science Fiction twist, of course.
It's included in my compilation of Short Stories dealing with the Elastic Limit of Time, TALES of the ELASTIC LIMIT, and as an aside, the book may be enjoyed in three different ways:
1) The Short Stories can be read at random, for each EPIC FABLE is a contained piece, standing on its own,
2) They can be read in sequence for a larger, Chronological Narrative of Human History,
But, given Time is linear,
3) The chapters can also be read backwards, for the Larger Narrative is the same regardless of direction, and that's why each EPIC FABLE has two titles.
By these criteria, this Epic Fable is either the last chapter or the first, or just an interesting short story about Time Travel.
Hope you enjoy, thanks:
How it all Started
The Short History of Dogs
The young upright man, in reality still only a boy, had smelled the cooking meat from quite a distance. It was compelling. The wafting aroma was mesmerizing, faint at first but unmistakable, growing only stronger with each tentative step that he took, tearing away at his empty stomach, forcing him ever forward.
Finding himself in unfamiliar territory, the youngster was understandably leery, but also being very hungry he continued through the thick underbrush with a determined purpose, in an unending quest. He knew he had to find nourishment or he would die. Then who would tell his strange story?
He’d eaten little the day before, too agitated by the gathering to come, for it was the first such endeavor that he’d ever been permitted to accompany. Due to his age, before this his never-ending chores of toting water from the river, or dragging tree limbs for the ever-present fire had always been in close proximity to his clan’s current, well-defended enclosure. No excitement there, to be sure.
Of course, the youth had often longed to join in one these gatherings, seemingly a hopeless wish, given his tender years. Still, he dreamed of the day for it was his undeniable path, as it was for each of the clan’s boys. His time would come.
Then, on one of his last wood collecting expeditions he’d found a heavy branch that made for him, with little augmentation, a fine club. All of the mature upright men had admired this new weapon, hefting and swinging it, testing its strength and balance. Each had been impressed by the unexpected discovery.
His uncle, headman of the clan, was most pleased, taking the find as an omen predicting a plentiful gathering. As a consequence, he allowed his nephew to join the upcoming venture. Sadly, this snap assessment had proved a mistake.
All gatherings were, and always had been unpredictable things, the outcomes ever in doubt. Still, the clan’s most recent location was extremely bountiful and of late all such expeditions had indeed been successful. Each time the upright men had returned from them both cheerful and fully laden with meat.
The gathering party took to the great river before dawn, paralleling its meandering path, following the clan’s standard operating procedure. Several times along the way the uprights noticed promising footprints of the four legs at the water’s edge, an event that engendered much excited interest. However, nothing came of them as they petered out once the ground became firmer inland from the river’s bank, and so the determined party had returned each time to its previous route.
Gathering from the four legs was the best possible scenario for they could be beaten off their kill with little trouble. Often this kill was a large animal. The four legs were formidable, always hunting in numbers that employed coordinated attack, and this strategy was highly effective in bringing almost anything down.
Yet, if they were attacked with sufficient preparation, successfully employing the tactics of surprise and overwhelming forces, the four legs would quickly relent and run off. The gathering party would then divide their efforts. Some would butcher while the others stood guard, encircling the kill, protecting the periphery of the grisly action.
The four legs always took a dim view of this, of course. They never retreated very far at first, but hung at a distance growling and snapping at each other in their displeasure over losing their kill. At some point though, compelled by hunger, they would be off in search of more game, and often this occurred before the meaty prize had been hacked into smaller pieces suitable for transport.
Other hunters in the area, such as the deadly long claws, were not so obliging. They were to be avoided at all times, for backing down and running away wasn’t in their fierce nature. No, they attacked to protect their kill, and they were much larger, highly aggressive and so more dangerous than the four legs were.
Fortunately, their deeply resonate growl and loud, piercing cries could be heard at great distance and usually the ferocious creatures could be given a wide berth. Of course, this was not always possible and chance meetings sometimes occurred. When they did, the standard outcome never favored the upright men.
The long claws had very long teeth, too.
The clan’s ancestors had learned all these hard-earned lessons well, ages ago in the olden times. They hadn’t been forgotten in the great interim since. Many well-known and oft repeated stories told of such horrifying encounters.
No, the four legs were clearly the best choice and the clan always preferred gathering from them, but where were they now?
Late in the day and far from home, the weary upright men turned a sharp bend in the river only to find there a large horned one lying dead on the bank. Nothing seemed to be near it, although it was evident that the fresh carcass had been fed upon. The group advanced with alacrity to investigate, but only when they were up on the beast did the shocking truth become known.
Behind it, shielded by its very size, rested two sleeping cubs of the terrifying great one of the forest. This was a most surprising turn having frightening consequences, for before the upright men could react, the cubs’ mother broke from the nearby scrub. Very large and bristling, she was already snarling in anger at this intrusion, berserk now in her attempt to protect her young ones.
The startled group of gatherers was no match for her massive claws and great bulk. Several of them were immediately mauled before they could move away, and more were quickly run down and dispatched as her cubs, awakened by the unknown sounds, began crying loudly in fear. This event propelled their mother into a true frenzy, and she viciously lashed out unhindered by any thought, fueled only by her terrible rage.
The young upright boy, proudly clutching his fine new club, had been among the first gatherers to reach the dead horned one. Soon he was caught with a tremendous, backhanded blow from the giant, swinging paw of the great one of the forest, who was madly thrashing about consumed by her impassioned slaughtering. It was as if a tree had hit him, and he was thrown unceremoniously into the great river.
This alone had saved him.
Of course, the youth couldn’t swim, none of the upright men could. The always churning and never-ending river was very much viewed as a mystical thing by the clan, and so they had yet to even learn how to fish. But the boy, stunned, had nevertheless somehow floated to a passing log that bore him downstream, and thus away from the horrid carnage still viciously transpiring on the now overly-bloodied and gory bank.
After some time of desperately clutching about the log, he was rudely deposited ashore after his transport was beached while traversing a long bend in the river. The exhausted youngster had pulled himself further up on the bank and collapsed in a heap. It was then that he smelled the cooking meat in the distance.
Naturally the boy was unsure of his location, but that didn’t matter. He had to eat soon or he would never live to find his way home, if that were even possible now. He began to move, honing in on the enticing scent of roasting flesh.
Evening was near, and approaching swiftly. Soon he wouldn’t be able to discern anything in the quickly growing gloom. Next, however, he saw the piercing light of a fire in the distance, shrouded by the surrounding forest.
The calling aroma was strong now. It turned his empty stomach into knots. He crept closer taking care to move as quietly as he could, always forward towards the illumination beyond, which at this point was enveloped by the deepening darkness.
At last he could see the entire scene through the underbrush. A fine campsite had been laid in a small clearing rimmed by huge boulders. A giant fire, blazing away, cast flickering shadows against the rocks and shrubbery around them.
He saw no one about. It seemed the whole area was deserted. He did see the meat though, sizzling on a spit very near the fire, a huge hunk dripping tasty fat.
Who would leave such a treasure unattended?
Instinctively he reached for his sharpened butchering stone, a most valued object that everyone carried during a gathering, a highly-prized implement carefully chiseled with precision to fit the owner’s hand. He found it missing as was, of course, his fine new club. He should have realized that the unforgiving waterway had already swallowed both of his precious tools.
The young upright man next judged himself not only lost and alone, which he was, but now totally weaponless as well.
Yet here he was wrong.
His finest instrument, possessed by every member of his clan as well as those scattered about like them, had been minutely honed through time itself, from the very beginnings of his kind. It was a natural development unique to the now fully defined species, and no other living thing possessed it. Nothing came close, not even the lumbering, flat-headed men in the area who were generally so similar in other ways to the uprights.
This singular, superior weapon, at present being furiously employed to assess the situation, was his very large human brain.
This particular circumstance, however, was difficult to understand. Where was the owner of the meat, he wondered? And why had they left such an item unprotected?
Upright men cooked their food, of course, but they weren’t the only ones to do so. The flatheads had fire as well, and they, according to the clan’s ancient lore, were the ones who’d first unlocked its hidden secrets. And they could be fearsome.
At last he could stand it no longer. He broke through the brush and dashed to the spit, thinking only at first of grabbing the roasting meat and beating a hasty retreat. Yet, after laying hands on the greasy haunch, he instead had a much better idea.
The boy sank to his knees and bit into the still sizzling flesh. Nothing had ever tasted so good to him, and he moaned in delight as the succulent juices dripped down his face. Despite his earlier trepidation, he sat by the fire and ate with gusto, unconcerned now with what might happen next.
After savoring several mouthfuls he reconsidered, thinking again of dashing off with his purloined meal, but he didn’t. He was so exhausted he found that he couldn’t move, only concentrate on the task at hand. He reasoned if the food’s owner did return and killed him, well at least by then he’d die with a full stomach.
While munching away, he heard movement in the brush, the sound of someone approaching. The youngster, still chewing as fast as he could, sat in place and awaited his fate. At this stage, no other viable option was left open to him.
An upright man then appeared, but unlike any that he’d ever seen before. He was very tall, as tall as a flathead, but unlike them he was thin and dressed in a bizarre fashion. He wore no stitched animal skins but some kind of covering that aside from his hands and face totally wrapped him, clinging tightly to his body.
“Welcome,” he said, but the boy didn’t respond.
The newcomer then held out his arms, his palms open and pointed toward the youngster, who had stopped his mastication at the action. After a few seconds, the strange upright man dropped his hands. Then he smiled.
“Welcome,” he said again, and this time the interloper replied.
“I’m hungry,” the young boy related, as if that would explain everything. It did. The upright man smiled again, and then sat on a large stone at the edge of the firelight.
“I know,” he answered. “I cooked it for you. I knew that you’d make your way here, to this clearing, tonight.”
The boy’s eyes opened widely as he considered this. Could it be so? Then with a shrug he commenced his meal, knowing now that no immediate danger awaited him.
Yet, after swallowing his latest mouthful, he asked, “How?”
Now the sitting man considered. He rearranged himself and, crossing his long legs, he leaned forward. After a bit he answered.
“I know much,” he stated as a fact. “I know that today was your first gathering, and I know the result. This adventure will make for you a fine story to tell.”
At this the boy only grunted. How would he ever get back to his clan, and how would he tell his story if he didn’t? He knew not.
Again he sunk his teeth into the roast but without frenzy now, in a slower and more deliberate pace, still thinking.
The stranger spoke no more, for the present only waiting for the boy to finish his meal. He understood that the youngster’s mind was racing, trying to comprehend. He was content to sit and let him try.
Soon enough the upright boy was satiated, his stomach now overly full. Still chewing his last bite, he stared down at the meat in his hands. Then he held it out to the stranger, offering the leftovers but the man shook his head, declining.
“Take it with you, on the morrow,” he said. “Just head back to the river and follow its bank, but moving against the current this time. You’ll be home by nightfall.”
The boy nodded. It made sense. He would do so.
Then he thought of something else.
“What of the others?” he asked. Of course, this question referred to the ambushed gathering party. Here the man, while giving no answer, answered all by his silence.
The boy sighed, already knowing the truth. He’d reflected on the horrific episode while clinging to the log in the river. The great one of the forest was the most fearsome thing known, and the females were ever tenacious when their cubs were involved.
He thought first of his uncle, and then the others, the best uprights in his clan, each gone. Who would gather now? How would they ever survive this horrible loss?
The strange man understood his concerns. He felt sorry for the boy, but only in a peripheral, disconnected fashion. He had to remain above the fray, so to speak.
After all, time does march on, and always it will have its due.
“Other clans would welcome you,” he said, in a comforting tone. “Your women and children are a wonderful asset, and greater numbers help insure the future. You must lead them, your clan, to another clan, and so save them.”
The young upright was rendered speechless by this bold suggestion. How could he lead them, or what was left of them? He was just a boy, lost and helpless.
“You now have a powerful story,” instructed the man, “for there’s a grander purpose behind it. It has meaning beyond the event itself, a lesson to be learned. So they will listen and agree with your assessment, why wouldn’t they?”
“What purpose?” asked the incredulous youth, who certainly saw none. The whole thing was senseless as far as he could judge, the gathering nothing but a colossal failure. He boldly looked the man in the face, awaiting an answer.
“You must change the way you gather meat,” calmly said the stranger, as if it were only a foregone conclusion. “Another way must be found. A better way.”
A moment went by, the boy deep in thought.
“How?” he asked for a second time.
The strange man then slowly stood and, after holding out his hands in reassurance, he stepped over and sat closer to the boy.
“Why do you always chase the four legs away?” he quietly asked. “They are the ones that find your meat, after all. Do you not have to go out and waste your time locating them all over again, when the next gathering is needed?”
Now the youngster was really confused. How could you not chase them away? The hard-earned carcass was their prize and they didn’t give it up freely, without some sort of altercation.
He began to answer as such, but the man cut him off by continuing, “Why not instead give them some of the kill? It’s easily done for they never run far, and you know this to be true. You could just throw them some of the meat.”
“Why?” blurted the boy. “It’s our food then. Why give it away?”
Again, the stranger smiled, understanding the boy’s perplexed state. Change once made could take hold quickly, but embracing this choice often required great amounts of time to accomplish. Yet, small steps were still forward progress.
“But if you gave them some they would stick close by,” he explained, “and they’d gladly follow you home if you fed them along the way. Then you wouldn’t have to find them when the meat was gone. Once you stop feeding them they’d just go off in search of more, yet you could then follow them, is this not so?”
“But they are killers,” said the boy, now the one trying to explain. How, he marveled, could such an absurd thing even be contemplated? This was not the established way.
“But do they kill,” asked the man, “after they’re chased off? Do they attack you as you butcher the carcass, as the long claws would? No, they just get angry and then move on.”
The boy shook his head. This was too much. It was unheard of.
“That’s never done,” he stated flatly, as if it closed the subject.
Again, the stranger paused. Another approach was needed now, that much was evident. He held one in reserve, of course.
He leaned in some and quietly asked, “How did the upright men first come by fire, I wonder? There was a distant age, long ago, when you had none, is this not true? Many stories from the olden times say as much, do they not?”
The boy had to admit that this was so. Everyone knew that the uprights had stolen fire from the flatheads, for they were the only ones who knew how to make it. As such, keeping the fire lit was always a prime concern for the clan.
Sometimes it did go out, of course, a big problem. Other clans had to share then, but they only did so after some price had been paid. Finding fire in the forest was always possible, it had happened before, but it wasn’t very likely and the more prudent course was to make sure that it never died in the first place.
But the boy, young as he was, had made this vital connection. Things change. Even the oldest of established ways must have been new once, he currently saw.
Yes, now he understood that change was very real, and perhaps inevitable. The day’s bizarre events had proved as much. And he certainly didn’t wish to repeat that particular change if he could help it, not if it could be avoided, that is.
So, he mused after reflection, “Perhaps this would be better.”
Then the young boy causally made another, most crucial connection. It was one that went beyond the moment at hand, critical as it turned out, to the very future of his entire species. And this simple train of thought would soon beget profound historic ramifications, for the conception easily defined by example the most important, pertinent tenant of humanity itself.
“Well,” he said at last, “I guess I’ll never know unless I try.”
It turned out that he did try, and he succeeded, too. Once his decimated clan had effectively joined with another, the novel procedure was instigated and it proved most advantageous. The four legs indeed followed the gathering uprights home, and they hung close by until the meat was gone, as predicted.
Gatherings then became hugely profitable. After the clan took to the forest, almost at once the four legs would find a scent and, with little trouble they would then run some prey aground. Abundant meat was thus found every day.
There were also other benefits to the new arrangement.
The four legs were wonderful sentries. Nothing in the night could creep up on them or, by extension, the clan. They still kept their distance, but the animals inherently understood the advantages too, and they protected them.
Living near the upright men supplied a safe environment in which to raise their young. True, their kill was taken from them, but the meat they were always given was enough, and this was their main concern. They stayed.
There were only five of them at first, a small pack consisting of an alpha couple and three juveniles, two males and one female. Soon enough more pups followed. This event was viewed as a good omen by the clan, and it was.
Then, after several seasons had passed, the four legs one night raised a cry in the dark. The hair-raising shrieks of the long claws were soon heard in the distance. A loud altercation then ensued, very brief but brutal, then all was quiet.
The next morning the boy, who was now a strapping teenager, found at some distance a dead four legs, lacerated by the long claws. Her pack was nowhere to be seen, having run off in angry pursuit in order to harass the retreating perpetrator. The boy was unconcerned by this as they often ran off and, he knew from experience that they would soon return, demanding more meat.
It was then that he discovered the pups, newly orphaned and whimpering in the grass. They were young, hardly weaned, and almost without thinking he took them inside the clan’s fortified enclosure. They became instant celebrities.
Again they were five, four brothers and a sister. They snapped and growled much, but due to their tiny size they posed no real problems. That soon changed.
The two largest males, angling for dominance, became a danger because they consistently wished to demonstrate their fierceness. Within weeks the boy, again without a thought, clubbed them both. That left two males and the female.
These pups grew and in time joined the pack outside the upright’s base. While not really tame, at a distance they interacted much more with the clan, and were even permitted entry into their enclosure if they wished. They were easily tolerated there, if not provoked by being approached too closely or quickly.
Once the young female bore pups, being proud, she brought them in for inspection, and they became instant celebrities, too.
Again the boy, now a man in earnest, clubbed the most vicious babies, and the offspring of the tamer survivors were more tolerant still. This now, entrenched protocol continued unabated. By the fifth generation, taking less than ten full seasons, the newest born pups, while hunting every day in the forest, stayed every night within the enclosure, content if still irascible at times.
The boy, currently a fully mature man, realized they now preferred the company of the uprights to their wilder kin, still ensconced at the encampment’s edge.
Ten more seasons came and went. The boy, having lived nearly thirty years, was now an old man. He had many good dogs by then, and they all loved him.
One day he sat on the great river’s broad bank. The scene was idyllic, shaded with the air neither hot nor cold, but he was thinking of another instance along the water’s edge. That particular time, he recalled, had not been so pleasant.
He was remembering the day it had all started.
Then he heard someone approaching and the strange, upright man appeared, stepping from the brush. He looked exactly the same, as if the passing seasons had no hold on him. They didn’t, of course, for he was a time traveler.
“Well, my friend,” the man said to the one who was once only a lost and hungry boy, “you have done much good work. I knew that you would. Does it please you?”
The old one, pausing to consider, reached over and scratched the ear of his nearest companion, which wagged its tail in response to the tender action. Then the upright realized that none of his dogs, before ever vigilant, had reacted in the least to the stranger’s advance. Yet upon short reflection, given the context, the upright man knew this wasn’t a surprising circumstance.
“I am content,” he announced at last, “for the clan has much meat. And I’m amazed that the dogs now love and protect us. So yes, I’m very pleased that a change was made, and that it was you who found me in the forest so long ago.”
This sentiment caused the time traveler to laugh aloud. He sat near to the upright, as he had done the last time. Then he caressed the dog stretched prone between them.
Again the animal wagged its tail, thumping slowly this time.
“But you were the one who found me,” the tall man pointed out. “You could have given up in the river, or at its bank. Yet you didn’t relent, only bravely pushed on.”
The old man hunched his shoulders, replying, “I was hungry.”
They both enjoyed this banter, each chuckling some.
After a time the old man asked, “What will happen now?”
“More change,” was the time traveler’s answer. “It is always so. It will always be so, forever.”
The old man nodded, knowing it was true.
“But how?” he probed, wishing clarification. “What new changes come? What will happen next?”
The stranger leaned in, again as he had done at their last encounter, and after a bit he answered with, “The upright man is a strong animal, and he thinks. Now he can hunt, not just gather. So, he can provide for, and protect himself well.”
The old one nodded.
“But when an upright man takes himself a family,” came next,
“he will always protect them, too.”
The old one nodded again, adding, “Yes.”
“The families of his kin are also his family,” the stranger next explained, “for they are related, and when many such families join they become a clan, as yours did. Each member of this clan is now also his kin, for they are all connected in some way. So a man will protect his clan as well as his own, for they are the same.”
“Yes,” the old one said once more.
“Now,” the man said, “you have dogs in your family, and they will protect you too, for they are a true part of your clan, as well. Because of them, your clan will become much stronger. Other clans will do this also, and then all clans will grow stronger.”
“I see it,” nodded the old one, but next he saw something else. It was another correlation. He didn’t like its portent, but still he understood it well enough.
“They will squabble with each other for the best meat,” he predicted. “They will fight over the finer ground that has it. And soon they will club each other to acquire it, in order to provide for, and so protect their family.”
“Yes,” the stranger concurred, but then he added, “Yet, at some point certain clans will join together, forming a tribe, and things become very different then.”
The upright man was surprised by this assertion.
“These new tribes, they will not fight each other?” he asked.
“No, they will fight,” was the answer, “that’s not my meaning. I mean that tribes fight for a different reason, a new reason. Tribe members will do battle for those not related to them, for in tribes there are many that aren’t connected by family ties.”
This new concept once more took the old one aback. Who would fight for those who weren’t related? Then he thought of his beloved dogs, so different from the upright men and he understood, again making the proper connection.
Next, once seeing the consequences, the old man expanded upon them. Yes, he easily sensed the broader implications involved. His very large human brain, ancient by current standards still worked, and it worked very well.
“Such new tribes, after growing ever stronger, will then band together?” he asked of the stranger.
“In the far future, yes,” was the answer. “Tribes become states, and states become mighty nations. The strongest of these nations will grow further still, becoming vast empires.”
The old man was amazed by this insightful declaration. It was a great vision, no doubting that. He was humbled.
The stranger slowly stood, and added, “All because of the dogs, my friend. It will happen because you made this vital connection and took them in. Everything now changes because you tried something different by thinking in a new and unexpected way.”
The astounded upright sighed after this lofty pronouncement. He turned to look at the time traveler before him. Again he hunched his shoulders, adding a wistful smile.
“I was hungry,” he reiterated, as if that explained everything.
It did, and the tall stranger then walked away for the last time.
The man, the mystery, the time traveler, and epic fable author