Thursday, August 21, 2014

Tales from the Trunk: That is the Law

I had completely forgotten that I ever wrote this story until I read this item in the news this morning. I don't remember if I ever submitted it anywhere -- maybe one or two places -- but I think it's kind of fun.

But hey, what do I know? Judge for yourself:



              The old bear grunted and hummed as he worked, his broad bottom spread wide across the damp cave floor. His claws held a stick of ocher which twitched spastically against the rock, trying to capture what he had seen.
             It had puzzled him for a long time after he saw it, its meaning unclear: finally he had repaired to the cave to consult with his fathers, their heads all in a row from youngest to eldest in the innermost chamber.
             Now he painted what he had seen: the buffalo, the Men who hunted them -- and, drawn with the most fervid strokes, the Man who had carried the stick. He bore horns on his head like those of the buffalo, and each time he pointed his stick at one of the buffalo the other Men would converge on it. This man had magic.
             Every bear knew something about Men. They knew that they came in two kinds, the Big-nosed and the Small-nosed, or as some bears had it the Heavy-browed and the Light-browed. They knew, too, that Men could walk and talk as bears did, but that both kinds were much the lesser in craft and in wisdom. No bear had ever feared a man, not even when they had taken up sticks and rocks and begun to hunt prey much larger than themselves. No bear would ever let himself be trapped like a buffalo, or driven off a cliff as they were.
             Still, something about the horned man had disturbed the old bear, and when the Men were done with the buffalo he had followed them. Instead of bringing the meat to their camp the horned Man had led the others to carry it to the camp of the Heavy-browned Men. Then, when those had fallen hungrily on the gift, he had pointed his stick again -- and the heavy-browed Men, every last one, had been killed.
             The old bear had waited a long time after that, anxiously licking at the greasy fur of his belly. He did not understand why the Men had killed their cousins; they had not taken their bodies for food, but had left them to rot. And so the old bear had gone back to the cave, to hear the wisdom of his fathers.
             Now he drew on the cave wall, trying to capture that wisdom so all bears could see it. Scenes of Men and beasts covered the rock, telling the story that they had to hear. He heard the first of them arriving at the mouth of the cave, tried to organize his thoughts.
             It was wisdom, more than anything else, that Men hated and feared; it was craft they could not suffer to live. That was why they hunted their cousins and left the bodies uneaten -- and, the old bear knew, they would do it to him if they knew.
             All bears had to be told. Men could not be allowed to suspect -- had to think they were only beasts, like the buffalo. Only if a bear was sure to die, or to kill all those that saw him, could the truth be shown.
             Would Men remember? Would they tell, around the fires of their camps, tales of the days when bears had spoken and walked as they did? Or, when they saw the paintings and the homes that the bears had made, would they ascribe them to their own fathers? The old bear worried on that question for a while, let it go. So long as all bears bound themselves to the rules he gave, they would survive.
             One by one the bears came into the cave, drawn from all the corners from which he had called them. The old bear uttered a prayer to his fathers and turned to speak.
             Not to go on two legs. That is the law.


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