Amok, squatted, his rear hovering above the hole in the ground, his feet buried in ankle-deep mud on either side. Normally, he’d be in such a compromising position for the exact reason rolling around in your head. But this time you’d be wrong.
His stomach growled. He clutched his stick and cocked his head while his pea-brain wobbled. Ta (the woman who claimed Amok for herself) had a craving for water-shrew meat with her dino eggs. Amok knew his punishment for failure would be severe.
His long matted hair hung down partially blocking his vision as well as the hole he was eyeballing. He flung his mane aside, grunted, and used the broken tree branch, poking and prodding it into the hole, trying to flush out the mole-like shrew. They were tricky and wiry, and if you stuck your hand down the hole too far, you’d come away with one or two fewer fingers.
The shrew’s den, inconveniently located by an alligator-infested river, was squarely in a thorny patch of gooseberries. He chomped on the reddish berries while he continued whacking at the hole—jabbing, digging, breaking stick after stick. Amok feared the river lizards almost as much as the giant lizards that walked on land and occasionally made snacks out of his friends. But he simply despised gooseberry plants. With their spiny bristles, they could make quick work of his leathery skin, neatly slicing his flesh and exposing his nerves. Millions of years later, Amok would be credited with the discovery of the paper cut.
He’d been probing at the hole since daybreak without success. Ta would not be pleased. He hadn’t seen or heard anything, but there had to be something down there, he was sure of it.
Now the bright ball in the sky was directly overhead. As he worked, Amok wondered if the few bites of critter meat were worth the effort. Panting and sweating, he slacked off for a moment when this morning's memory of the Amazon woman called Ta popped into his head. She was shaking her fists and spewing gibberish. When the light bulb in his head finally switched on, he wiped the muck from his face and got back to the hole.
Ta knew her shrews. They were unpleasant, ill-tempered, and prone to bite—traits that mirrored hers. Ta was quite the catch among the clan. She was tall with hair down to her crack and wore a skimpy loincloth that draped over her hips. Amok’s man friends described her as hot. Paleoanthropologist later determined they were referring to her temper and not her looks, although no one knew it at the time.
Moaning and groaning, Amok squawked and tossed away another broken stick. He stood hunched over and scratched his scraggly beard, thinking how awful Ta’s nagging would be when he returned to the cave empty-handed. She would grumble and snort and never let him hear the end of it.
Amok fetched another stick. He was trudging his way back to the mud hole when he heard the gobbling of wild turkeys. He turned toward the ruckus just as he was being overrun. Slopping around in the mud, he saw condors and vultures flying overhead following the lead of their wingless, yet smarter, cousins.
Once he heard the guttural cry of the approaching carnage, he knew why there was so much excitement. The noise was deafening. By the sound of it, Amok knew the screaming urgency meant only one thing: it was dinner time.
The terrible lizard was approaching. What Amok, and Ta, and the entire clan feared most was coming: the giant lizard with jaws as wide as a cave and teeth as long as a spear. The beast walked upright (something that amazed Amok) destroying and eating everything in its path.
When he saw other beasts running for their lives, Amok took the hint and ran!
That was his first mistake. Not that he ran, but that he followed the other animals.
Amok scurried through the mud, flailing his arms and legs, and followed the turkeys, horn-billed ostriches, and raptors toward the riverbank. Since his back curved like a windblown oak, the other animals were faster, making him the near-sighted giant lizard's hors d'oeuvres.
Seeing the chaos in the water ahead turned on another twenty-watt bulb in his head: he could either sink to the bottom of the river or be eaten alive by an alligator. The only distinction his brain made between the two was not to go near the water.
He started in a different direction, stumbled, and fell face first in the muck. Lifting his head, spitting out a mouth full of sludge, he saw the other beasts rushing into the river. Some would make it to the opposite bank while the unlucky ones would fill the bellies of a river lizard.
It was then that he made his second mistake: he ran toward home with the giant lizard in hot pursuit. He figured he could hide inside the cave with Ta and the rest of the clan. He just forgot one thing: the cave was only the size of a small Winnebago, and the plush half was occupied by bats and rats.
Getting close to camp, Amok kept getting knocked off his feet. With each thunderous stomp of the predator, the ground shook. Amok grunted and howled as loud as he could, but the wails of the giant lizard nullified his warnings.
Breathing down Amok’s neck, the giant lizard roared. It knew dinner was close.
Noticing the commotion, Ugg and Zogg, who were standing watch, lost their grip and fell out of the sycamore tree they were perched on. It was a short drop. Ugg pulled up his loincloth. Zogg spoke to Ugg showing both teeth and motioned for Ugg to follow him. Zogg rolled his eyes as he mumbled something disparagingly about Amok and shook his head from side-to-side. They headed home.
Ugg and Zogg hobbled into camp. Amok was trailing close behind with the giant lizard salivating. Ta and the rest had already drawn bones.
If you had a long bone, you could push-n-shove into the back of the cave, wading through bat droppings, hoping you were out of reach of the predator's teeth and tongue.
If your bone was short, well…a short bone usually meant a short life. Your only chance was to run and hope you weren't on the menu.
Ugg and Zogg reached the cave entrance and were greeted with rocks and sticks. In this situation, this was standard operating procedure. Long ago, the clan figured if they sacrificed some of their friends (this time Ugg and Zogg drew the shortest of bones), that the terrible lizard would follow them and eventually leave with a full belly. It usually worked.
Ugg and Zogg ran to the edge of camp before being snapped them up by the giant lizard.
Amok stopped next to a boulder close to the cave entrance and took cover. The giant lizard, tall as the treetops and licking its chops, was coming fast after swallowing Ugg and Zogg who were still screaming as they slid down its throat.
Amok grunted to Ta to let him in the cave. She snarled and waved her fists, calling “shrew, shrew?” The other clansman hurled stones at Amok, hoping again that the giant lizard would follow Amok and have him for dessert, leaving them safe and sound.
The giant lizard was on top of Amok who held his ears from the roars. His loincloth (long soiled) fell off as he darted out of camp. The last thing Amok heard was Ta screaming at him, “Run, Amok, run!”
Ta shrugged her shoulders and gazed into the eyes of the man standing in bat excrement next to her, saying coyly, “shrew?”