Fire Eyes – a palaeolithic story
Deep in the distant dark the stick-fire dances as the boy watches.
The stick-fire is old — three clans old. The Hill clan stole it from the Sea clan who stole it from the Wolf clan who, so the story goes, stole it from the sky.
And tonight it will belong to the Tree clan. The boy’s clan.
The boy waits throughout the night because the fire bites brightest at night and the boy does not want to be bitten.
He waits until the sky-fire licks the land.
In this, the almost-day, the stick-fire is quiet. The Hill clan is quiet. The boy must be quiet or he will be discovered.
The stick-fire purrs in its pit. Its fur flashes when the boy lifts it.
He is quiet.
He is careful.
The Hill clan do not stir and the boy is able to steal the stick-fire away.
Quick as a hunted fox, the boy runs from the Hill clan’s caves.
The sky-fire raises its eye to watch the boy. The stick-fire stretches, yawns, then pricks up its ears at the first shout.
The Hill clan has woken. They see the stick-fire has gone.
The stick-fire runs as the boy runs.
The stick-fire leaps as the boy leaps.
Chase the stick-fire!
Chase the boy!
The boy must hide. But where?
There are caves. But in the dark the stick-fire will be seen.
There are trees. But in the wood the stick-fire will bite and run away.
There are hills.
The boy climbs.
On top of the hill, the boy crouches low.
On top of the hill, the boy holds the stick-fire high.
In the mud, the boy is hidden and against the sky-fire, the stick-fire is hidden.
The Hill clan does not see him.
The boy is safe.
The boy is tired. The stick-fire is tired.
Over the grasses and onto the stones, the boy runs.
He is almost home…
…when the stick-fire vanishes.
The boy whispers to the stick. The boy shakes the stick.
But the fire has gone.
The fire has gone and no matter how much the boy calls to the sky or dances or screams or cries the fire will not come back.
The boy grows angry and drops the stick onto the stone floor.
He raises another stone into the air and strikes.
He strikes stone upon stick upon stone again and again until…
He strikes again.
Until a tiny yellow feather flies to the stick.
Then another. And another until a golden eagle screeches along the stick.
Fire eyes blaze in the fire light as the boy who stole another clan’s flame learns the secret of the sun.
The boy in our story lived in a time we called Palaeolithic. This means ‘old stone age’. It was up to two million years ago.
We have found clues which tell us that about 500,000 years ago people began to understand how to MAKE fire. This may have been in China or it may have been in South Africa (it’s very hard to say for sure because everything was so long ago).
Before this time, fire was known about but it always came from natural places – like a lightning strike or a forest fire. Nobody knew HOW to make it happen.
Anyone who knew the secret of how to make fire would have been very powerful. Any clan who owned fire would have been very powerful.
In the story, the boy makes fire by accident. He strikes one stone (probably flint) against another (this would have contained iron). We don’t know for certain how people first learned to make fire but an accident seems like a good guess.
The boy would have lived in a cave although we have some evidence that Stone Age people may also have built temporary shelters out of animal skins and branches.
The landscape was very different 500,000 years ago. Until people began to farm (and so cut down trees and dig the soil) forests would have been thick, hiding people and animals very well.
Tools were being used before people evolved into what we now call ‘human’. But this is less special than you might think. Tools are used by other animals and we are finding more all the time.
You can support Dom Conlon’s writing by visiting Unbound and pledging for his new collection of short stories.
Ancient thanks to Carl Pugh for the illustration. It is amazing – just think what an entire book might look like!