This is a short story that exaggerates the separation between introvert and extrovert human beings. It is about a tribe that shuns the thinkers, the artists and the reserved among themselves, and hunt them and feast on them.
They dropped their wet knives in the grass and ran fast, barefoot, into the fading sunlight. I watched them go with a lump in my throat. I stood upon the hill until their small silhouettes faded in the distance, then I crumbled on the cold grass and let despair overtake me.
Those arid lands offered no consolation. Black rocks stood threatening, cold wind howled indifferent and all around grass swayed day and night like waves on some green, angry ocean.
Darkness fell over those lands the way it fell over my heart; quick and sure and careful as to dim every inch. By then my despair had turned into rage. A fiery rage that burned inside and burned bright, consumed my mind and took hold of my senses. So big and blazing it shamed the timid flames countless striking on my flint rock succeeded to ignite.
I sat by the fire and waited for the warmth to chase away the chill in my bones. I could have waited for decades and felt no difference. The chill engulfed me, crawled beneath my cloths and embraced me like a mad lover. My body shivered then it started shaking uncontrollably and no amount of will could stop it. I could sleep and never wake up, I thought to myself. I heard a burst of laugh escaping me as I realized my pride has gotten me into this. I thought about carving my last thoughts on a rock and all I could come up with was something like:
Here lays the mighty Horic, chief hunter of his tribe.
He met his end while chasing Weaklings for their steel.
He was too proud to go back empty handed.
He dies of cold and hunger and leaves tormented and shamed by mere
I closed my eyes and listened to my breaths, wondering which one would be the last. How long until I die? How long until I rot and decay and filter through the ground, fuel the grass and let it sway some more? There will be no tomb for me, no ceremony, no wails, no tears, just the cold wind howling and darkness all around.
My breathing turned into shrieks, lamentations begging for relief. I coughed and coughed until my throat bled. I opened my eyes and saw a reaper sitting next to me, watching me with a sad smile. “Just take me already.” He shook his head, leaned forward and extended a bony arm to feel my forehead. I was ready for him to take me, but then he took off his cloak and covered me, brought back from the dead my fire, boiled water left in my waterskin, made me sip from it and fed me crumbs of bred he picked from my bag. My reaper then sat by the fire and withdrew into himself. I slipped into the deepest sleep.
It was still night when I regained consciousness. A little girl was sitting instead of the reaper, humming a gloomy tune. She looked like she had been rolling in mud for days. “I took you for a reaper, you really look like one.” I said, waking her from her revery. Alarmed by the sound of my voice, she leapt towards me, rejoice and relief on her face. She hugged me and wept on my chest and I could only pat on her back. We stayed that way until she came back to her senses and wiped with a quick gesture tears and snot all over her sleeve.
We sat around the fire in silence, looking everywhere except towards one another. It was awkward, not the way it used to be. I felt almost betrayed that she would remain a child and could still go roll in mud without me. We were once the same age, but now look at us, look at me. I’ve grown into this broken man, this empty being. I’ve met misery once and it fled at the sight of me.
I’ve been rude with her the last time we’ve been together, which seemed like centuries ago. I told her I didn’t want her around, I told her to go away.
Her name was Cora. She was my twin sister, my friend, my rival, my shadow, I could go on for days. I loved her dearly until she was declared a Weakling. Then I hated her with all my heart. I rejected her, I even rejoiced to see her kicked away from the tribe with the other Weaklings.
The frail ones, the shy, reserved, the ones who keep to themselves, the ones who showed no interest in raiding, no pleasure in gory battles, we call them Weaklings. They have no place among us. Every year we cast them away from the tribe, give them three days so they might try to hide or escape. We give them three days so they make it more enjoyable for us to chase them on the fourth day. And we chased them on the fourth day, hunted them, killed them and ate them.
They were not from us and we were not from them. And so we regarded them as flocks of sheep, and our hands were steady when it was time for the slaughter. We prospered this way and carved for ourselves a savage reputation in they eyes of our enemies. We prospered until, little by little, the ones who would escape our hunt among Weaklings formed a community. They lived in secret, hid from us for years. We mocked them when we saw them coming for us, coming for revenge. We mocked them until they made it rain over us with spears that could fly, pierce through flesh and break bones. They called them arrows and killed hundreds with them.
All the vanity we built throughout years of savagery, all the years we boasted of our superiority and insulted their inferiority, all of that turned into shame. They made their point, proved how wrong we were. They could have annihilated us, but they walked away leaving us crippled with shame.
The things their bodies were too weak to do, they built mechanisms to do them in their stead. They draw their strength from the minds they have. It wasn’t long before we started looking like primitives compared to them. We looked like wild apes when we desperately tried to get back our honour by raiding them. Us with our stone knives and wooden spears, them with their bows and arrows, their iron knives that cut through our toys and opened bodies from end to end.
Now my tribe wants me to capture a Weakling, one who would know how they work steel and make all they have. It’s been so long since I left them, they might be thinking me dead.
Cora was drawing on the ground with a small stick all sorts of figures. She seemed lost in her thoughts and weary of pains she hid from me. We sat in silence while fire crackled and her wooden stick scratched on dirt lines and forms of things I could not interpret. She has always been able to find shelter in her own company. I felt a knot in my stomach recalling how I burned all her art. As if she sensed my pain, she broke the silence.
“You know, night won’t always be this dark. Elders say there are omens. They say night sky will have its own sun and there’ll be a huge number of candles floating in the sky. So many you’ll always be able to find your way through the dark. Can you imagine?” Her smile was so bright it was contagious.
“Can’t believe you still believe in those things.” I said meaning it as a joke. Somehow I managed to sadden her with my words, I’ve always been so good at doing that. Silence fell back on us with all its weight, but before long she broke the stick in her hand in two and threw it into the fire.
“Can’t believe you still hate us.” She said that and locked her eyes with mine. It was a look of pain and suffering and she pierced me with it. It was a look of disappointment and I could not look back. She stabbed me with that look and all I could do was avert my eyes. She was hurt by me but I felt no hatred in her, only disappointment.
When morning came and I opened my eyes she wasn’t there. She would come to me when I sleep and break my heart every morning to think I only dreamed of her. She was long dead and who knows, I might have been given a morsel from her. I packed my belongings with the nonchalance of someone who lost interest in the whole world. I walked were the two Weaklings from yesterday were headed.
Truth is, I could have caught both of them days ago. I already caught a Weakling the first week after I left my tribe. She knew all about forgery, she even offered to show me how they made their first catapult, said it was something new. She would tell me all about it in exchange for her life. I told her to shut her mouth and disappear before I change my mind. I don’t want to hunt them, no more than I want to go back to the tribe. Let them think I’m dead. Somewhere inside I’ve been dead long ago.
The two Weaklings from yesterday have been expecting me. They know I’m after their steel. They dulled their knives on wet stones before they dropped them for me to see, for me to take the bait and carelessly run after them. It was a stupid ambush, they were hiding archers in the woods they ran to. I would know, I’m related to them and I killed more than I can count among them.
I walked toward the woods with firm steps. I could almost see Cora leaning on the trunk of the nearest tree. Weaklings. How I hate that name. How I hate my tribe. How I hate myself.