Maybe it was a boulder. But Yub Yub had never seen a boulder like it before. It was like a river stone, washed smooth on each side, but with sharp edges, and wings like a bird jutting out on two sides. On the flat front side of the boulder was a black, shiny, surface. It shone bright under shafts of morning light that broke through the canopy. One edge of the boulder was buried in a rugged scar in the ground. The bushes and ferns around it looked ripped and matted.
Yub Yub peeked over the ridge with wide eyes, shielding himself with fronds of the greenery around him. He could not remember how long he crouched there, but his knees were beginning to hurt. He was almost ready to believe that the boulder would not attack him. But he could still hear the bizarre clunk in his head from when his rock hit its surface.
A fallen star? He had never seen a fallen star so close. But it had to be a fallen star. What else? Yub Yub wasn’t a cub anymore, but he still loved the elders’ stories, stories about the gods warring in the heavens. If it was a fallen star, did one of the gods ride it down? Or did the gods send it down from a catapult? Or maybe the boulder was the god.
Yub yub weighed his options. If it was just a boulder from a catapult, he could get closer. But if the boulder was a god, and he hit it with a rock– he shuddered to think. He thought about his little village from earlier that morning. When he pretended he was a god, he squashed an entire village when he got mad.
It was an accident. He didn’t mean to hit it with a rock. He was hunting a mouse. Maybe he could explain.
After what seemed like another hour, his aching legs decided for him. He had to investigate or lie down and die. He had to be brave. Besides, he figured that if it were a god, or a god were nearby, sneaking away would be tough anyway. Yub Yub was clumsy. He was no hunter. He would make too much noise.
He finally mustered up the courage to creep over the hill one little step at a time, glancing over his shoulder at every chirp and rustle in the leaves. Every twig and dead leaf that snapped under his paw sounded like thunder in the brush. Still, the closer he got to the boulder, the more confident he felt the danger was in front of him, not behind.
Finally, he came within a few spear lengths. Yub Yub forced his legs to a crouch for another cautious look. Nothing moved in the little valley, except a bird or two high overhead. Yub Yub could see now that this was not a boulder . Stars were made of something else, like arrowheads left too close to the cook fire. The whole thing looked smooth, and Yub Yub noticed brightly colored vines growing out of small grooves here and there. The vines were different colors– some were blue like the sky, others red like the berries that grew near his village, or the caps of his favorite mushrooms.
He also noticed all sorts of sticks, and mid-sized rocks with sharp corners, spilling out from inside the main boulder. But they were unlike any sticks or rocks Yub Yub had ever seen before. His curiosity pushed him onward. Until he tripped over a small ridge in the ground.
The fall caught him by surprise, and he rolled under a bush to hide as quick as he could. Did the god see him? Trip him? But on closer inspection, he saw just a hardened boar-wolf print in muddy ground. He panicked for nothing. Foolish Yub Yub. It was just a print.
Recovering from the fall bolstered his confidence, and he stood boldly to survey his surroundings. All was quiet, except for the normal forest song. Yub Yub chittered to himself. What was there to be afraid of? It was just a big, strange boulder.
He walked forward with his chest up and discovered a big hole in the side of the smooth rock. It looked like a large flat piece of it had sheared off. And inside, it was hollow, and large enough to climb around inside. Inside there were more vines, tied to the walls in curious patterns. He also found more of those square rocks everywhere. Looking in and toward the smooth, shiny black rock near the front, he discovered that he could see right through it to the forest outside. He could also–
Yub Yub jumped back in terror, burying himself under as many of the rocks as he could. He thought he saw– it couldn’t be– but he thought–
One of the gods. Sitting in a chair inside the boulder. He shook in his makeshift hiding place, cursing himself for being so stupid and strolling in so boldly. For a while he thought he heard deep growls, that sounded something like a boar-wolf. Then nothing. He was still alive. The god didn’t kill him.
It took Yub Yub another fifteen minutes to work up the courage to move again. His stomach growled. And if his stomach didn’t give him away, he was sure he’d die of starvation soon. If it was a nice god, maybe it would have food for him.
But as he made his way closer to the chair, he found decaying flesh on bones of something he’d never seen before. It looked like a hunter from one of the taller tribes. But then, he had never seen even a hunter this tall. The limbs were much longer, and there was no sign of any fur. The body was strapped in by more of the unusual vines and ropes.
If it was a god, it looked like a dead one. But what about all his stuff?
Yub Yub turned around slowly. It dawned on him that perhaps these sticks and weird rocks were something more. They were god-sticks and god-rocks. Who knew what they could do? Who knew if they were dangerous?
He approached one and looked at it more closely. Near the top, he found a small seam, like at the bottom of a basket lid. When he pulled against it, the top popped right off and a wonderful smell wafted out.
Inside, he saw rows and rows of soft, white stones. They looked like how a mushroom might look if they grew as squares. They smelled sweet, and, cautiously, he raised one to his lips. A warm, hearty taste filled his palette, and tears sprang to his eyes. He was saved! By god-food!
The feast began. He reached into the rock again and again, stuffing the mushroom squares in his mouth as if it were a hunting celebration. He could not place the flavor. It wasn’t like a mushroom–more like mashed seeds, and sweet, too! But it could have tasted like dirt. Yub Yub was so hungry he hardly cared.
It took about ten mushroom squares before he thought about the other boxes. Were they all filled with mushroom squares? Or maybe there were more than mushroom squares? He hoped beyond hope for a mouse square or a rabbit square.
But as he popped open another shiny rock, inside he just found sticks– like walking sticks, with a handle at the top, but made of the same shiny stuff the rock and boulder were made of. He shrugged and went back to the mushroom squares, forgetting all about the weird boulder, the god in the chair, or even being chased from his village. Nothing mattered. The mushroom squares tasted like heaven–
Yub Yub stopped chewing and perked his ears. He thought he heard something over the enthusiastic champing noises he made with each bite. He listened for a moment. Nothing. Must have been a mouse.
But as soon as he began to chew again, he heard it. A faint, low rumble, coming from the back of boulder. He froze, his paw halfway to his lips. The boulder felt suddenly cold, and his fur stood on end all over his body. Nausea devoured the food in his stomach, and he thought he might throw it all up.
He inched toward the noise. If he could just get a tiny look. Maybe it was just the god-boulder’s energy. Maybe it was pleased to have a new worshipper. He could worship it. It saved him from a hungry death.
Yub Yub slowly nudged one of the shiny rocks to the side. There in the dark, he saw a snarling, ugly boar-wolf.
The boar-wolf shot hot breath from its snout in quick bursts and growled. It was nearly three times Yub Yub’s size. A hundred stories flooded his mind, told by his mother, of savage boar-wolves killing packs of hunters. Yub Yub was no hunter.
The boar-wolf pawed itself closer. Yub Yub saw its stout muscles ripple under its fur. Instinctively, Yub Yub looked to the mushroom square in his hand, and threw it. The boar-wolf stopped and sniffed the mushroom square for a moment, before lapping it into its mouth with a raspy tongue.
Maybe Yub Yub was saved. He had a whole box of mushroom squares, he could just–
His thoughts were broken by a gagging noise. The boar-wolf spat out the mushroom square, and gave an ugly howl. Yub Yub was not saved, and he ran for his life.
Idiot Yub Yub, boar wolves wouldn’t like mushroom squares! He threw over a god-rock behind him, spilling mushroom squares everywhere. If he could just get to the opening he could climb a tree? Or find a rock? He didn’t know when the boar-wolf pounced, but it cut off his path, and swiped his arm with a knife-sharp claw. Blinding pain seared through Yub Yub’s spine. How could it come to end like this? Yub Yub, the non-hunter, killed by a wild beast?
He course corrected to the front room in the god-boulder, toward the god. Yes, the god. Maybe the god could save him. Maybe it wasn’t dead all the way. Without thinking, he kicked over another god-rock, and it landed squarely on the boar-wolf’s paw. It squealed furiously.
Yub Yub reached the god in the chair and pulled at the strings and odd vines around it. Please, I will be loyal! I always watched the sky! I always believed! But the god stayed silent. And in a moment the boar wolf was in the small opening, blocking Yub Yub’s way out. It lunged, and Yub Yub fell backward, with a thud. He closed his eyes tightly. Hopefully it’d be over quick. But when he opened them again, the boar-wolf struggled in the vines, tangled.
Yub Yub crawled under the chair and toward the other room. His arm was bleeding and it stung bitterly. When he got to the doorway, he could see the boulder’s opening and the green forest outside welcoming him. If he could just get out.
But the vines betrayed him as well. He felt it around his ankle too late, and he fell to the floor with a crash. He tumbled into several of the god-boxes, and they clattered down on top of him. He groggily tried to lift his legs, but the rocks pinned him down, the walking sticks made of shiny rock strewn all over him. He craned his neck and saw the boar-wolf freed from the vines, and making his way toward him. Drool oozed out of its mouth in long strands.
Yub Yub tried to wriggle, tried to stretch, but his arm hurt badly, and he felt weak. The boar-wolf approached. He grabbed a walking stick and threw it, hitting the predator on the head, but it shook it off without much thought, and continued its advance.
Yub Yub tossed another, and another, but he felt weaker each time. This was it. The end. He grabbed a walking stick tightly. He wished he could have grown old enough to need one. He felt the handle and gripped it tightly. He wished he could have grown old with Libna. He wished harder, tighter.
Suddenly a loud scream rang out, and a bright red light illuminated the boulder. Yub Yub felt fire on his arms, and he dropped the stick reflexively.
On the ground in front of him, the boar-wolf lay still, smoke rising from a burned hole in its skull.