Migration Through Fire
Dreamed 1999/9/3 by Chris Wayan
I'm a cave person. Not human, not prehuman, but nonhuman--a shambling herbivore, with sheepdog fur and a short shaggy deer-tail. We flake obsidian tools with our stubby paws, and don't fear fire, though we rarely use it. We come out to feed during the day, and sleep in deep caves at night.
Our caverns have two distinct zones, and we sleep in the warmer deep zone, where a glowing lava-well lights one great chamber, and keeps a mile of side-galleries warm and dim-lit. It's colder in the maze of outer tunnels where the night air enters--along with the occasional bold predator.
But recently, population growth has driven us to use the outer caves more, instead of just passing through to the safe deep zone. They're livable, if you bring extra furs for the cold and spears for defense and stay quiet at night--the huge cats who hunt us work more by sound than scent, and can't track us easily on stone floors. So the outer caves are cold but endurable--except for one thing. We can't sing there. Unsafe.
And that's intolerable. Song matters.
So our herd leader decides to lead us to a new home. After many sleeps, a dream comes to her to guide us. It is our way.
On exodus morning, we form a long line and leave the caves single-file as always. The usual jokes: "I hope we see some new scenery on this trip." "Aw, all you'll see is the tail of the one ahead of you." We don't walk fully upright so this is true--have to stop and rear up to see ahead, over the line, unless you use a walking-stick. Not that the scenery is worth rearing for anyway, till noon.
But then... our herd leader takes us through a new place, a strange place, full of smoke and steam, full of glowing little fire-pits, out in the open! Just reeds fringing the pools--a few dead trees. But living forest abounds quite close to the hot zone--it must be fairly stable.
As we enter this strange land she calls a caldera, our herd leader turns and calls back toward out old home:
"Turn back, you eaters!|
Yours, our old home.
We walk the dream--
Migrate through fire."
The cats don't follow. They can plainly track us, but they're true animals: they fear fire. The dream led us well.
Hours pass, in the land of steam and fire. But the dream was true. We always find a way through. There is even grass and brush, though bitter-tasting; we fast, and move on. Well before sunset, we near the end: a steep curving bank above us, much overgrown.
But up on the brink, silhouetted on the sky, is a straggling line of weird creatures walking single file like us. Not our kind, yet bearing tools and decorations--intelligent! They look like huge lemurs--wedgy heads, big eyes and ears, almost foxy. Longer tails, more gracile than we are. Darker fur. Wait--there's a second species among them! Smaller, different heads, fur, tails.... though their general build is similarly light. Can't be sure if they're pets or people. We'd heard rumors that the world held several other peoples, but these are the first we've met.
We climb the bank to meet them, and find... a THIRD line of people, a single file, coming across a meadow toward the crater's edge. This group clearly are intelligent apes--funny round ears, flat faces, a lot of bald brown skin. They too have pets, confusing us for a while--wondered if the dogs were yet another people-species. But the chickens tipped us off. We don't domesticate them, not being carnivorous, but we know they're dumb as rocks. Not everything domesticated is a person.
We have some mildly confusing but pleasant interactions with these "humans." I meet a woman with a baby in a sort of stone age stroller. We talk about our kids, trade childcare a while.
I'm pushing a stroller through the geyserfield, when suddenly I wake.
It's 6 AM, and I'm shivering though not cold; heart fluttering though not scared. It wasn't a nightmare at all, yet my body's acting like it. Strange. Strangely heated, like the geyserfield.
And... I miss it.
I was a stone age creature, and I was HAPPY. I felt rich. What a world! Four intelligent species, at least! Always someone interesting to talk to...
And not one of them exterminating anyone.
NOTES ON WAKING
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