46 comments

Drama

The old man moaned. So low, so feeble came the cry that the others never heard it over the whistling and howling outside the cave.


But the boy squatting near the old man had tuned his senses for the slightest breath. He glanced at the mound, unmoving beneath the bear pelts, and drove the stick between his palms into the plank at his feet, spinning it with a speed that made his palms burn. The wolf fur slipped from his shoulders, but he poured all focus into the wisp of smoke curling from the dry grasses tucked into the notch. Within moments, flames twisted and danced, casting a glow on the craggy walls. 


He ran to a woman at the far end of the cave who was bundling bones into deerskin in preparation for the next day’s journey. The boy held out a small turtle shell, uttering tones understood only among their people. She dipped the turtle shell into a hollowed stone that held water collected from the mountain’s springs.


The boy balanced the shell with both hands and crouched by the old man’s head, trying to prop him up so he could sip. Parched lips clamped shut and the man withdrew a bony arm from beneath the pelts, a weak movement indicating that the boy, instead, should drink.


Stillness filled the alcove where the old man lay and the fire crackled. The boy peeked around the stalagmite that reflected the fire’s heat, watching, listening. Clinks of stone on stone echoed throughout the cavern as two boys, muscles just beginning to form on lanky arms and legs, slammed flint into basalt, flaking away razor-sharp pieces that would serve as the most basic of tools. In another part of the cave, older men, skin grizzled and toughened, bent over a deer carcass, preparing the bones, skin and meat for the journey. A young mother nursed a newborn while other women tied skins and grasses into bundles for easy carrying.

Several adult males had left the cave days earlier, trekking down the mountain to scout the way forward and hunt.


The boy knew not where they were going or why they were leaving, but he sensed an urgency among his people. He could not remember an earlier time, a time when his mother had strapped him against her chest and trudged over tundras, through forests and up this mountain to the cave. He knew only these jagged walls and the scrubland surrounding it. The incessant howling that comes from living on top of the world, that pushed clouds around and into the cave, both lulled him to sleep and chilled his small bones. He learned how to start fires before he could walk.


The old man grunted, more force in his tone this time. He opened cloudy eyes, which were no more than slits and turned to the boy, hand searching for him. Contorting his body, he shifted under the pelts. The boy understood he wanted to sit up and braced his small body against the old man’s. But the old man did not stop there. Rasping and panting, he leaned heavily on the boy and pushed himself to his feet, swaying unsteadily.


Alarmed, the boy shouted and three women came running. Their voices rose as they waved their arms and tried to bring the old man back to the ground. But with unexpected strength, he pushed them aside and gestured for his spear.


Steadying himself with the spear, he allowed the boy to drape a bear skin around his brittle shoulders. Though the boy stood only as high as the old man’s chest, he wrapped an arm around his waist and supported him as he shuffled to the cave entrance. The others watched in silence as they moved.


At the mouth of the cave, the boy guided the old man to a rock, which he collapsed against. The boy pulled the bear skin tighter around his shoulders, trying to shield him from the blasts that whipped his few strands of grey hair wildly around his head. 


The boy snuggled against the old man, looking into the night. Millions of stars blinked back at him, feeling so close and so thick that he imagined reaching up and plucking a fistful right out of the sky. Far below their ledge, shadows of bushes and trees, frozen in the night, appeared no bigger than an ant he had tracked earlier that day.


The old man stirred and reached for a small stick. He began scratching it into the dirt on the ground. The boy peered closely.


Rough figures appeared. He recognized them as the animals they hunted. Behind them, the old man scratched out another group. He grunted and pointed from the drawing to the others in the cave. Yes, the boy understood those lines were their people. 


The old man lifted a trembling hand toward North. He mumbled and gestured to the air whipping past them, tightening the bear skin around his shoulders. He looked at the boy to see if he understood. Yes, the boy did. The air, with such power and ferocity, came from the direction of the old man’s hand. Satisfied, he indicated his drawing on the ground, again pointing North suddenly scratching out the animal figures. Then he scratched out the people figures and the boy knew why they were leaving. 


The animals wouldn’t be able to survive what was coming. If they animals couldn’t survive, neither could his group. 


The old man began moving the stick on the ground again. His entire arm quavered and he breathed heavily. The boy laid a hand on him and murmured gently, willing him to rest. But the old man jerked abruptly and focused on his drawing with insistence. When the boy looked again, he recognized the outline of the cave. At the bottom of the mountain, he saw the lines representing his group. But outside the cave, he saw a lone figure. The old man pointed to group in his drawing and then to the others working behind them. He touched the stick to the shape at the cave and then pointed to himself. The boy looked from one to the other, eyes widening as he began to understand. Low moans emerged from his tiny mouth. 


The old man rubbed out the outline of himself and scratched in a figure lying down in the same spot. The boy’s moans turned to wails and he threw his arms around the old man’s shrunken frame, digging his fingers into his skin and bones. The old man held him, stroking his head and murmuring.


The others ran over and surrounded the pair. The old man nodded at one of the adult males who squatted down and helped them up. He allowed the boy to cling to the man as he half-carried, half-walked them back to the dwindling fire.


They drew the animal pelts over the old man and the boy. Though exhausted, pain radiated through the old man keeping him awake. The boy refused to let go, kicking and whimpering throughout the night.


When the sun rose, the group said solemn good-byes to the old man, wrapped their pelts tight around them, gathered their packs and set off down the mountain, the boy at his mother’s side. They descended the steep slope slowly and carefully.


Partway down, the boy looked back up at the cave and saw the tiny figure of the old man bent, yet standing at the cave’s entrance leaning heavily on his spear. The boy stopped moving and continued to stare until one of the women barked at him.


They reached series of jagged boulders and a near-vertical drop. The group’s progress stalled as the men moved painstakingly, helping the women and then the children, knowing the tragedy that would come from one misplaced step.


Another group would one day find themselves traversing those same boulders. Climbing up 9,000 feet toward the cave with nylon ropes and steel carabiners, over rocks cracked, smoothed and reshaped over millenia. Chattering in a way indistinguishable to those who lived before the dawn of modern language. Outfitted in Gore-tex hiking boots, moisture-wicking cargo pants and wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses. Archaeologists who would make their way into the cave and unearth – with their specialized tools - the shards of 30,000 year-old-stone and remains of ash. Researchers who could expound upon survival techniques of the Upper Paleolithic, the Last Glacial Maximum and early human migrations. 


But none of that mattered in the moment the boy made it safely over the final boulder. Because when he looked back to the cave entrance, the old man was gone. 

September 17, 2020 20:03

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46 comments

Kristin Neubauer
20:10 Sep 17, 2020

Author's Note: Ummmm....so I may have overreached on this one. You know when something makes perfect sense in your head? But you're not sure you've conveyed it in a way that will make sense to a reader coming in cold? That's where I'm at with this. A bit about the evolution of this one: I was so intrigued by this weather prompt. For the life of me, I couldn't figure out what to do. My partner, Brad, suggested a funny one about a cave man doing a weather forecast, but I couldn't make it work. Still, I liked the idea of exploring a ...

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I think you did awesomely. (: This was beautiful, and like Maggie said, you have a wonderful way with your writing. You had me intrigued the whole time.

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Kristin Neubauer
17:23 Sep 18, 2020

Thank you, Melony! I really appreciate such confidence-building feedback. I've enjoyed everything that I've read of your writing and am looking forward to a new one whenever you have time to write another!

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your welcome kristin! i really apperciate you saying that, it makes me feel really good.

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Josh C
09:51 Sep 23, 2020

Thanks for the backstory behind it. Always interesting to see where people's ideas come from. I thought the story worked great, not an overreach at all.

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Kristin Neubauer
20:03 Sep 23, 2020

Thanks so much! I love hearing about the story behind the story from other authors. It adds so much to my perception of it. I appreciate your taking the time to read - it was a long one!

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Josh C
00:27 Sep 24, 2020

Was it a long one? My word counts are nearly always just below the 3k mark. This one felt on the shorter end for me.

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Ryan Dupont
23:44 Oct 05, 2020

I really liked your story. I thought you did great describing the relationships between the characters and explaining what was happening in the story - without using dialogue! The words and actions you used to paint a picture of the winds and cold outside were done well. The furs, fire-building and drinking water out of a turtle shell were all very descriptive. It told the story of a harsh and unforgiving life in a very unhospitable environment.

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K. Antonio
19:31 Sep 27, 2020

I read the story very quickly (so I may have to reread it) and I checked the author's note later. Made sense what you commented. I felt that the story had some loose ends and I'm sure you could write more, really pushing towards the 3k limit, but offering more clarity and details that would tighten up the story as a whole. Nice job overall! I really liked that you refrained from naming the characters, came the story a more ominous feel. Reminded me a bit of what some of my favorite authors (like Jeff VandeMeer) do.

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Kristin Neubauer
20:01 Sep 30, 2020

Thanks so much! And apologies for the late reply. I've been buried under a very boring paper for school this week. You are so right - there are many loose ends. This was such a strange story because I started out thinking about the weather prompt. Then I forgot about the weather and figured I better find a way to stick it back in somehow. It's funny - I have a hard time getting to 3,000 words. I work on my stories in bits and pieces all week, between work and school....by the time the Friday deadline rolls around, I'm usually so ...

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Nitika Sood
07:12 Sep 27, 2020

What a wonderful story! The descriptions are laudable and a beautiful portrayal of the relationship between that old man and the boy. I also really liked how you manage to connect a real life event to a fiction story. keep writing!

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Kristin Neubauer
12:12 Sep 27, 2020

Thank you so much! The more I write, the more I find that I like making those connections between real life and fiction. I feel like it grounds my story a little bit more and gives me some sort of reference point to build my story on. Basing something on complete imagination is a bit overwhelming to me!

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Julie Ward
17:55 Sep 26, 2020

This is such a touching and imaginative story, Kristin. I can hardly believe it started as a caveman weather report! That made me laugh out loud! I didn't read which prompt you used before I dove into the story, but I knew right away that it was about the weather. I would have liked it if you had ended it without the archaeologists, but I absolutely loved that touch and the contrast between the world that was and the world that is.

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Kristin Neubauer
19:53 Sep 26, 2020

Thank you, Julie! I appreciate your taking the time to read it. I really wanted that touch about the archaeologists at the end because what resonated most with me about this story was the overwhelming time span of 30,000 years - the connection between people who are so very different and yet still similar in some basic ways. I don't often think about taking any of these stories deeper, but if I ever get more serious about my writing, I might like to look at this one more in-depth.

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Julie Ward
21:36 Sep 26, 2020

I totally felt that connection and you absolutely should take this story further!

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01:48 Sep 25, 2020

Hey, Kristin would you be kind to watch the first video it's on Harry potter. https://youtu.be/KxfnREWgN14 Sorry for asking your time, This my first time to edit video

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16:13 Sep 24, 2020

This is a very touching story

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Kristin Neubauer
12:47 Sep 25, 2020

Thank you so much, Catherine!

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☆ Ariadne ☆
18:17 Sep 22, 2020

This was such a magical story - I absolutely LOVE the relationship between the boy and the old man. The mention of weather is subtle, but the story still works. Fabulous! Your characterization and descriptions are perfect - well done! Also, could you check out my stories and leave some feedback? I love your writing and would appreciate it if you could help me with mine. ~Ria~

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Kristin Neubauer
19:14 Sep 22, 2020

Thanks so much! I really appreciate your kind words. Yeah, the deeper I got into the story, the more I forgot about the weather. Whoops! I just read Notre Maison Sous les Etoiles....loved it. And I forgot to say in my comment that I loved the French title. It worked so well. I Google Translated it before I got to the end and loved the feel it created as I read the story. Well done!

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21:29 Sep 20, 2020

Ahh I love this. Love the relationship between the boy and the old man. Such a poignant tale and relationship with using any dialogue! Well done

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Jonathan Blaauw
13:50 Sep 19, 2020

Kristin! This is brilliant! Brad is becoming one of my favorite Reedsy writers, and he’s not even on here! Just kidding. But, I’m glad he’s pitching in with ideas, you guys are a good writing team. The actual writing, though, is all you. It has your signature clarity and flow, recognizable anywhere. After the first two paragraphs, I stopped reading and raced to check your author’s note (I knew there would be one) because I was convinced you were inspired by Jean M. Auel’s Clan of the Cavebear books. If you haven’t read them, they’re about...

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Kristin Neubauer
16:33 Sep 19, 2020

Thank you so much, Jonathan! I know you've been busy lately and really appreciate your taking the time to read and comment. I hadn't heard about the Clan of the Cave Bear, but after reading what you wrote and based on my sudden interest in this topic, I'm definitely going to read them. I just ordered the first. I'm so happy to hear that you were into the story enough that you felt you wanted more at the end. I'd rather have that than have the reader saying "thank god it's over!" I really got caught up in this story as I was writi...

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Dalyane Deblois
22:32 Sep 18, 2020

Beautiful story and amazing writing! The link with the archeologists at the end is a great idea!:)

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Kristin Neubauer
15:10 Sep 19, 2020

Thanks so much! What got me most about this idea was the link between primitive and modern peoples over these 30,000 years. Despite so many vast differences, there are some basic emotions that carry on. I think that's why I wanted to mention the archaeologists again. I don't often think about taking another whack at stories once they're posted on here, but if I ever have time, I feel like I'd like to explore a little more with this one.

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Dalyane Deblois
15:56 Sep 19, 2020

This would be a great idea and I would be very interested in reading more about this!

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Bianka Nova
12:59 Sep 18, 2020

This was heartbreaking. I couldn't help but imagine it as a lovely short silent animation. It's true that the weather element was mostly hinted at, but that's enough for me. I think it works! 😊👍

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Kristin Neubauer
18:13 Sep 18, 2020

Thank you, Bianka! Yes, the weather part of the story sort of drifted away (so to speak) the more I focused on the story itself. I didn't realize until I went to post it. If Reedsy needs to reject this one for that reason, I would totally understand! I appreciate your kind words and thought your story was fantastic! I can't believe you wrote it in a hurry!

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Yolanda Wu
07:11 Sep 18, 2020

Yay, another story! Two in a week, I feel spoiled. There's just something about the way you write, I guess, the whole vibe of your stories that creates such a distinct style that I absolutely love! All the little details throughout the story were perfect in capturing the primitive setting, which isn't something I usually read about. Your research definitely made the story a lot more intriguing. I love the bit at the end where you jump to 3,000 years after, and then that end line just made me wanna go ahhhhh. Also I totally get what you mea...

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Kristin Neubauer
17:57 Sep 18, 2020

Thank you, Yolanda! Your comments make me feel so much better about this one. Even as I go back and read it over, I'm still not entirely sure about it. I'd love to take another whack at this one and take a lot more time to do some really in-depth research to draw the reader into the world of the early modern human near the end of the last Ice Age. I hope someone else does the cave man weather forecast. When I tried it, my cave man just wound up sounding like Fred Flintstone. I couldn't make it work. Oh, and two stories is an anomaly...

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Yolanda Wu
23:31 Sep 18, 2020

Yeah, I figured that was why. I'm currently planning there to be six parts for this arc of the story. But I will definitely be writing more stories set in that world in the future!

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Yolanda Wu
00:27 Sep 20, 2020

Hi Kristin, I have another story out, it's separate from the Four Moon Cycles, but I would love to hear what you have to say about it. Fifth part will be coming later this week. :)

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Yolanda Wu
11:38 Sep 25, 2020

Hi Kristin, it's me again. I'm back with part five of Four Moon Cycles, would love to hear what you think of it! Can't wait until you have another story out. :)

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22:44 Sep 17, 2020

Despite your concerns, I think it is perfectly clear. Although I do like Brad's idea, too. Good job. Since you like researching these things, here is a more recent lone old man in a cave tale from up where I used to live. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/inspiring-monk-lived-new-mexico-cave-180973501/

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Kristin Neubauer
17:35 Sep 18, 2020

Talk about an interesting character! I'd never heard of Agostini or his travels. He reminds me a little of Forest Gump. Thanks for sharing that and for you kind words about the story. Even as I read it over now, I'm not too sure about it, but the encouraging comments I've read here help me think I'm not too far off my mark. This is one that - if the day comes when I have more free time - I'd like to do a really slow and thorough research job and rewrite it....(and not think about the weather-with-no-weather-terms aspect). I'd like to bui...

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19:40 Sep 18, 2020

Just a thought, but you might set your story of prehistoric hoo-mahns apart from what is usually done in that area, by making the characters something more than just stripped down moderns. Share what we lost, not just what we have gained. Hope that is inspiring!

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Kristin Neubauer
15:22 Sep 19, 2020

Yes! I love that idea. Something like that was sort of niggling in the back of my head as I wrote the penultimate graf about the archaeologists. I mean, I didn't address it as clearly as you just articulated, but there was something about the protection of all the outdoor techy clothing the scientists were wearing as compared to the bare bones of paleolithic lot that was eating at me. Maybe that was it - the concept of what we've lost as opposed to what we've gained. Thanks for putting into words!

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15:27 Sep 19, 2020

Quite welcome, my pleasure. :)

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Maggie Deese
21:06 Sep 17, 2020

Beautiful story, Kristin! You had a very unique style of writing in this and it drew me in right away. You said that you are not sure how you feel about this, but I thoroughly enjoyed it! It was extremely intriguing.

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Kristin Neubauer
17:21 Sep 18, 2020

Thank you so much, Maggie! I really appreciate it, esp after reading your very profound pieces. I definitely wasn't sure about this one, but you have given me an extra boost of confidence!

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Maggie Deese
17:35 Sep 18, 2020

Of course! ♡

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Daniel R. Hayes
05:05 Mar 18, 2021

Another great story. Very visualizing, and I think it worked out really well. I love that you did some research on this story and it shows. You brought us a wonderful story that I found to be very interesting, and you brought it to life with your beautiful writing!

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Kristin Neubauer
19:44 Mar 19, 2021

Thanks so much!

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Daniel R. Hayes
20:37 Mar 19, 2021

You're welcome, Kristin :)

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Dhananjay Sharma
09:30 Sep 25, 2020

Simply beautiful. I am speechless. Kindly go through mine. https://blog.reedsy.com/creative-writing-prompts/contests/60/submissions/35763/ Looking forward to collaborate with you.

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Kristin Neubauer
12:55 Sep 25, 2020

Thank you so much! I just ready your story and loved it!

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