Tiger Tiger book 1

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Chapter 5: Cows

The volcano was huge, but no closer after another two days’ walking. The forest had thinned out – not that there were a lot of trees to start with. They got thinner and smaller until they were little more than the odd bush. The trees were replaced with grass: tall grass, and lots of it. The valley had ended up as a grassy plain which ended up at a very small hill, only to be followed by more small hills. An easy stroll. With the volcano dominant on the skyline I was sure I would not get lost. The hills got closer together and bigger. Going down was easy but getting up the other side was starting to become harder. I had not had water in two days and no food in four and thought, “If I don’t get any soon things are going to be nasty.”

I found a small stream in the next valley (or in the gap between the hills as, being nearly flat, it was not – in my opinion – a valley). I thought I should walk down the valley and follow the water. At least I could have a drink. I stopped for a rest, as the walk was getting harder, or I was getting weaker. Sitting by the stream I noticed what looked like strawberries – very small – not as big as my little fingernail. But they looked like strawberries, smelled sweet, and were the best taste ever: tart and sweet at the same time. I searched the area for the rest of the day and only found a handful. I decided to try the first one I found while I collected the rest, waiting to see if I had a reaction to the one I had eaten.

As the sun was going down I was still OK so I had several, and a drink, and awaited the result. Nothing: no problems, no grumbling from my guts, and no being sick, which was my real concern. I curled up on the grass and went to sleep next to the stream. It was a pleasant night: not cold but not warm. Being naked, I was acutely aware of the temperature as well as the feeling of the grass.

Just before dawn I was awakened by a strange sound: not quite a moo but something very like a moo. “Cow,” I thought, as I rolled over. “Cow.” My brain screamed at me and I sat up with a start, which frightened whatever it was. It did not look like a cow … more like an antelope or a long-legged deer … with tusks like a sabre-toothed tiger: great big tusks sticking below its chin. It bolted up the valley when I sat up. It was the size of a big dog with long thin legs: not quite waist-high to me, and it did not look heavy. “No more than twenty kilos,” I thought.

These animals were making a strange sound – almost like a bark, but more of a huff. “Definitely a panic sound or an alarm call,” I thought, as it was answered from the other side of the stream. I looked to where the sound came from to see a small herd of the cows all heading up the valley and at a good speed. “Food,” I thought. “Just need to get one. I can make fire, and now I see food I will need something to kill it with without getting up close and personal. Sabre-toothed deer might be small but it had really big teeth. I could get a club easily enough – just a length of branch would do – but, looking at the speed the cows were moving at, chasing them down was not an option.

It would have to be an ambush then, or a trap of some kind. I think a trap would be better. I would need rope and a cutting edge of some kind. I had no metal so it would have to be stone. Flint was the stuff I needed. Just had to find some. Back home it was a common enough rock and easily worked. Man had been making tools from it for thousands of years. It could not be that hard … Ha!

As a boy I had tried to chip a bit of flint into an edge. Not easy. Not easy at all. I once spent all afternoon attempting to make a blade out of a flint rock. All I got was more bruised knuckles than I care to remember: I got cuts and scrapes but no blade, not like I had seen in the museum. I was just happy I had not tried for an arrowhead.

I had a lot of respect for Stone Age man. He had to make tools. I was better off than him as I knew what he had made and what the tools were for. He had to solve his problems by himself: I just had to copy what he had done. True, he was much better at it as he had had a lot more practice.

I started to look in earnest for usable rocks. Flint normally had a light grey-brown covering with a dark interior: sort of glassy, but with a grain to it. I did not find any that day or the next.

I did find that I could follow the cows easily. They let me get close, but not so close that I could club one. Trap, I decided. I would need a trap. Having almost no idea how to make a trap – without digging a big hole and covering it with sticks, so something would fall down it – I was at a loss.

The cows were still heading in the same direction as I was – towards the volcano – so, taking a chance, I went round them and got in front and started to look for a place where I could make a trap.

I had seen a dead fall trap in a book. It did not look hard to make … just needed an axe and a length of rope and a biggish tree. The axe … Not a chance. The rope … well, I could use bark and twist it into a rope like cord. That might work. I gave it my best shot but the cows did not cooperate at all. I did, however, manage to twist together enough bark to make a sling. True, an old-fashioned type – which is really just an extension to your arm to get more power to the stone you’re throwing.

I got some stones of the correct size – about the size of the bird’s egg, and quite heavy – and attempted to hit a tree as the first target … missed by a good metre, at the first attempt. After an afternoon of slinging stones at trees I was getting better – eight hits out of ten – so I thought, “Time to try for a cow.” I waited at the edge of the trees until they came closer to my position and picked out one to have a try for.

I lined up the shot and, stepping into it, let fly. It was a nine or ten shot. Missed the target by a good half metre but, as the stone went past the target, a calf stuck its head out from behind its mother and found the stone – thwack – right on the temple. It was dead before it hit the ground. The cows did not even notice. They kept moving at their slow pace, leaving the dead calf where it lay.

So now I had dinner but no way to remove the skin to get at the meat. I had seen a documentary on Aboriginal hunters in Australia: they just tossed the kill on the fire and burned the fur off when it was cooked. It was easy to just rip a leg off and gain access to the meat.

I started the fire quickly that night and had my first meal in a week. It was the best I had ever eaten. Not like beef or chicken and not as strong as horse or goat, and nothing like antelope. I had eaten antelope in Africa. It was good but not this good, ‘Cow’ was really good. Unfortunately the stomach exploded during cooking, which was very unpleasant. Fortunately I had turned the carcass over to cook the other side when it went bang. If I had been on the other side of the fire I would have been covered in stomach contents – very hot stomach contents, which appeared to be mainly liquid full of grass and the tips of twigs.

It was a revolting smell and did not look nice, but I was so hungry it did not stop me from eating. I took the explosion as a sign that it was cooked and attempted to rip off a leg. It did not work but I did manage to open it up, and the cooking went faster and better. The rear leg came out at the next attempt.

I had eaten way too much and my stomach did not approve of the rich food. I had an ache and heartburn but could not have been happier. With the back legs removed from the carcass I had access to the body cavity. I picked the flesh from the inside of the skin: I found the heart, liver, and kidneys and cooked them on the coals, eating the burnt wood and ash as well. I feasted for two days before it was gone and I intended to move on. I urinated on the fire to make sure it was out and splashed one of the rocks I had been using to retain the fire.

It broke in two. I only noticed as one half fell out and almost landed on my foot that the inside was glassy … and it looked like flint, or what I recognised as flint so, using a stick, I pushed it out of the mess that was the fire and gave it a good looking-at. “OK,” I said to myself, “How do I knap this? What do I need? Round hard stone … for one, quite big and heavy, but hand-sized.

Down to the river for a look. Found several which would do the job. Even found one which was elongated. Perfect for what I wanted. When I returned to the area of the camp fire the stone was only warm, not hot, so I gave it a whack on the undamaged side and was rewarded with a sliver – or a slice really. Six millimetres on one side and nothing on the other. Thinner that a sheet of paper and sharp enough to shave with.

I would keep it. It was almost round: apart from that, perfect. I turned the fire stone around and examined it from all angles. I was unsure of my next attempt so I went for the same again. I missed completely and it broke at right angles to where I expected. It did leave a good edge on one side, so I went to work on the back edge of that. I had seen a hand axe in a museum. It looked a lot better than what I had in my hand but it was roughly the same shape. Mine would do the same job: just needed some fine adjustments.

The flint was very hard and the river stone was soon marked. It was not good for rubbing down edges. It worked well for breaking lumps or even slices of the main block but it marked when used as a file.

I started the fire again. Even used the sharp blade to cut a branch into a fire starter by cutting thin bits from the branch. It was kindling and small wood easy to get aflame. I still had the bag that I had made so the flints went into that first thing in the morning, and I was off. The cows were nowhere to be seen but I had seen other animals and seen more signs of them. Bare feet … not good for walking through the countryside. Poo is poo, and should not meet feet unless the foot is in a welly boot.

With the sling I could bring down birds with ease. The birds were mostly wading birds and ducks that were flocking in the hundreds of thousands in the wetlands by the increasingly bigger river. They would all take off at the same time, covering the sky. It was a really big target: one stone could bring down several birds at the one time. I had attempted several times to get a small furry rodent (a bit like a groundhog) but I missed and they dived down their hole fast.

The more I practised the better I got with it: within days I was getting more hits than I missed. I found that I could gut and skin one of them within seconds: practice makes perfect, as the saying goes. The skins were easy to stretch and easy to clean but would not last long. They would rot quickly (the smell as the first clue) but the gopher, groundhog, or ratlike thing was easy to get. I would have to look for something bigger even if I could not eat it all. I would need to prepare the skins so they did not rot. I would have to think on it: I had seen how to make leather but could not remember how to do it … something to do with brains – the animal’s brains, not mine.

The longer I walked the less I saw when looking for habitation or signs of modern man. No trails from aeroplanes in the sky, no tracks in the grass, no roads or power lines nothing.

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