The herd of gray-eared caribou, two thousand strong now, grazed slowly on the last of the summer’s wild wheat. Their white tails twitched and worried at the flies in air. The cows and yearlings, intent on their feeding moved slowly about and the bucks, sometimes eating, sometimes lifted their wary heads and listened intently, their eyes scanning the nearby woods and the distant horizon for signs of trouble. The summer had been a hot, dry time of great difficulty and death for the herd. A herd that used to number in the tens of thousands and could take a full day to pass by any given point. Death had followed the herd, snatching the old and weak first and then the young ones who could not keep up in the endless search for food as the herd migrated from the plains to the lower mountains of Rundergrip. The elders of the herd stood at the fringes of the mass of slow-moving brown shapes, watching for the tell-tale signs of predators. An unexplained movement in the grass, a scent of mange on the breeze, a distant roar that could signal the silent approach of a lion or wolf.
There was a light gray mist hovering a foot or two off the ground and the caribou waded through it, their brown flanks appearing as ships on a vast, swirling foggy ocean. The warmth of the day had yet to burn off this mist and the crunching of the caribou feet and the sapping of their mouthfuls of food seemed to exist in a strange, somewhat muffled universe which was only broken by the occasional sound of a soft snort or whinny.
Suddenly, one of the large males at the front of the herd struck a silent rigid pose and his head, turned to one side with the big ears twitching, seemed frozen in place. He had heard something. The ears twitched again, re-positioning themselves to pinpoint any disturbance. One by the one the other males near the periphery of the group took up this pose. All ears and heads turned to the south or west. There was something. Something unusual. And because of its oddity, therefore a reason for attentiveness. Now the others of the herd were becoming aware of the notion and even the young, dismayed by the actions of the elders, stood still and silent as well. Then they too began to hear something.
Far in the distance came a sound as if large rocks were falling off a hill onto the ground below. But the rocks fell in a rhythm. Slowly the sound increased in volume, but the same steady beat of the thudding remained the same. Thud... pause... thud... pause. The large male caribou circled around to the south-west to get a better position from which to listen. The thudding grew louder, and the herd started to pace nervously, all ready to take flight the instant the leaders took alarm.
Then the thudding stopped as suddenly as it had started. A low-toned bellow drifted up to the ears of the nervous herd. It started lightly, floating up from the valley below, and then began to increase in volume and depth. It was a horn. A mighty horn blowing a sound of danger up to the mass of moving caribou.
The sound stopped. A moment of silence. Then another blast, louder and much closer this time. The big male caribou reared up on his hind legs and in a flash, was at the head of the herd and off along the side of the mountain. The other males immediately joined and then the entire herd was off, eight thousand hooves grinding into the earth as the whole mass of swirling brown hide moved off at top speed.
They flew across the ground, leaped over a small rise and across a narrow stream and up the side of the mountain valley. Their eyes wild with fear and some, losing their footing and being trampled by the following hoard, struggled to regain their feet to move on as best they could.
Now the great heavy thudding could be heard again, faster now and loud, even over the great mayhem of the panicked herd. And then the horn again, closer and brash. The herd, led by the great male with the large golden rack of horns, veered off suddenly and careened down into a rill and thereafter through the mouth of a large canyon. The entire herd passed through the entrance to the canyon before the great male, forced to a stop by the rocky wall at the end of the enclosed canyon, realized that they were trapped. It was a dead end. Frantically he tried to force his way back to the rear of the herd, to turn the herd around, but the surging mass of animals was too much and he couldn’t make headway against it. Animals, reaching the stone wall themselves turned around as others, behind them, turned too.
Then the herd went quiet. The thudding had stopped just outside of the canyon entrance. A few animals near the mouth looked around and paced nervously. Then an immense rock, perhaps forty feet across, rolled into the mouth of the canyon, blocking it completely. They were sealed in. Dust rose and fell and settled around the herd. They were quiet now, facing the west and the afternoon sun. The breeze had stopped.
Then the sun could be seen no more. A vast shadow eclipsed the star and fell over the now motionless herd. The shadow increased in size until a massive foot the size of a hay wagon came crashing down inside the canyon. A brief pause and a second foot came down some distance from the first.
The herd started to panic again and attempted to ram itself against the side walls of the canyon, some animals trying to leap up the wall, only to fall back again on top of the animals below them. They ran back and forth in the cramped area frantically trying to find a way out. To no avail.
Then a huge hand, dark and covered with a coat of wiry, black hair descended upon the writhing mass of caribou and with one swipe, picked up three of the squealing caribou. The caribou disappeared up into the sky as another hand reached down and grasped two more animals, their legs and tails flailing in the air and their bellows echoing up and down the canyon.
Four more times, the huge hands, with their long, dirt encrusted nails descended, scooping up those members of the herd unfortunate enough to be in their path. Then the hands stopped and descended no more. There was a momentary pause and then one great leg lifted and then the other, and now the shadow started to clear away from the path of the sun. The herd stood still once more, only a few continuing to move about. The great male was gone, one of the first to be lifted. The other males, without their leader, had no idea what to do next and looked nervously at each other and up at the sky.
Then the great gray rock blocking the canyon started to move once more and with a crash it rolled off to one side and out of the way. The mouth of canyon was clear again and the herd realized that their path of escape was now open to them. With a loud snort and a bellow one of the strong males nearest the mouth took off through the opening. The rest of the herd then followed suit, and in a cloud of dust and grass thrown up by thousands of terrified hooves, the mass of caribou flew through the opening and stampeded down the side of the mountain, following the path of the river to the safety of the woods below. They had no fear of normal predators now, the woods would offer them cover. Cover from the hands and the awful bellowing of the horn.
Standing beside the massive rock that he had rolled away as if it was made of cotton, Wundrus smiled and watched the herd disappear down the rill. Over his massive shoulders, the great sack he carried wriggled slightly with the bodies of the dying caribou in it. He smashed the sack down on to the ground and what movement there had been ceased. It was quiet in the valley now, with the last sounds of the hooves disappearing into the distance. Some blood started to soak through the side of the sack. Wundrus looked down at it and his brow creased. He shook his head and looked up to the mountains, towards his home. His dark face with its deep-set chestnut eyes was furrowed and a look of worry crossed his countenance through the folds of greasy, jet-black hair. The snow would come soon, he thought.
The long, leather tunic that he wore creaked as he turned slowly about. He picked up the mammoth club that he had hewn from an ancient great oak tree and strung it from his belt. It hadn’t been needed. He turned the great horn that he had blown to frighten the herd towards the canyon where he had prepared the trap, and he hung it from his belt as well. Then, with a great sigh, he started the long, difficult climb back to his cave.