EPISODE 011 - The Slaughter
12,000 years ago
Mihko and his twin brother Mahkate shadowed their uncle Owone through the dawn-side forest. They had traveled a great distance to get to this hunting ground, going so far as to cross the big river in a dugout canoe. It was not their first hunt, but it was the first time they’d ever gone so far and without the protection of an entire party. Owone led the way because he knew the forest well. Most of their tribe kept to the sunset-side of the big river, but Owone promised them they would find much game here.
As they passed through the pines Owone pointed out the plants and insects, describing their importance to the world around them.
“Listen,” he said, “this is a young forest. It began growing before the days of my grandfather’s grandfather, but to the world that is not a long time. Once ice and snow covered this world. Before the trees could grow here, the ice had to melt. Then, slowly moss and fireweed came in scattered patches among the gray rocks. It took two generations of people before the first pines took root here. Yet look how tall they grow now.” Owone gestured at the dense spruce canopy that blocked out most of the morning sun.
“How do you know what was here before your grandfather?” asked Mahkate.
“His grandfather told him and he told me.” responded their uncle, “But even if he hadn’t I still would know. The dream spirit speaks to me.”
“The dream spirit?” asked Mihko.
“Yes. He is an old spirit. Older even than the ice. He told me to bring you two here.”
“The dream spirit told you to bring us hunting in the dawn-side forest?” asked Mahkate.
“No. We are not here to hunt.”
“Then why are we here?” asked Mihko. “I came here to hunt. I made many spearheads and stone blades. I stayed up all night flaking.”
“The dream spirit will show us the reason,” said Owone.
“This is unfair!” spat Mahkate. “We are meant to be hunting, not joining you on a spirit walk. Mihko and I came here because we want to kill the long-nose beast.”
“There is much left to this day. If you wish to hunt, then hunt. That is not the reason for this trip, but it will do no harm. Find yourself a long-nose or as many beasts as you like. Just know that something greater than the hunt is coming.”
“Greater than the hunt?” gasped Mihko, “What is greater than the hunt?”
“You will see.”
Mahkate rolled his head back in frustration, his arms crossed over his chest. “Uncle! Come now. We are hunters, not spirit-talkers! Let us-”
The sound of a branch snapping cut him off. The two young hunters whirled around and peered through the underbrush to discover the source of the sound.
Mihko moved a spruce bough that blocked his vision and caught his first glimpse of the massive animal that had caused the noise. He had never seen anything like it before - a towering beast with leathery skin, enormous curved tusks, and a snout that moved like a mighty snake. The animal's wrinkled skin glistened in the sunlight, and Mihko could hear the sound of its deep, rumbling breaths as it snuffled about the clearing. For a moment, the young hunter stood frozen in awe, his spear held limply in his hand. The sheer size and power of the creature were almost too much to comprehend.
“Ka-TAH!” Mahkate shouted the traditional battle cry that lends strength to hunters as he lunged at the beast with his spear.
The surprised long-nose did nothing to avoid the point as the young hunter pierced its flesh.
For a long moment nothing happened. Both brothers gazed in awe as the creature stood before them, a spear jutting from its side.
Then, as if woken from a reverie, the long-nose reared up on its hind legs and punted Mahkate across the clearing, into a blackberry bush. The beast made a trumpeting sound as it spun to face the prone Mahkate and frozen Mihko, its long tusks curled upward toward them, ready to gore.
“Strike it!” choked Mahkate, his mouth pooling with blood.
Impelled to action at the sight of his injured brother, Mihko hefted his spear and threw it with all his might directly into the eye of the beast.
The long-nose let out an agonizing shriek and spun in a full circle twice, attempting to dislodge the spear from its skull. The weapon held fast and the bleeding goliath staggered and snorted as it fixed its good eye on Mihko.
“Fall beast! Fall!” shouted the boy, but the long-nose bent its head at him and ran forward to trample Mihko.
“Ho!” shouted Owone as he ran out of the brush and plunged into the beast on its blind side. A mere man had no hope in tackling such a brute, but he managed to push it off course. Rather than Mihko, one of the tusks cleaved the trunk of a young spruce tree in two.
Mihko lifted Mahkate’s arm over his shoulder and helped him stumble back into the forest. Owone followed them. The beast wrestled its tusk out of the broken tree, but it did not follow them. Instead it collapsed on its side, exhausted.
Owone guided the two behind a copse of large trees.
“The beast is still, but we must remain cautious. The long-nose travel in herds. Should his brothers be near we may not be so lucky,”
“Lucky?” said Mahkate, “That beast broke my ribs. I’m fortunate to be breathing at all,”
“You were the one who rushed in.” scolded the uncle. “That is not how we hunt the long-nose.”
“Well, how were we to know? You gave us no guidance in hunting it.”
“The long-nose will soon not matter.” said Owone, “The spirit tells me the time of great beasts will end and the time of humans is upon us.”
“The dream spirit tells you of the future?” asked Mihko.
“He tells me what must be done.” said Owone, “Come nephew. Let me bind your chest and we will prepare for the ritual.
“Ritual?” said the boys in unison.
“That is our true purpose here. We are to provide a sacrifice to the masked being and he will prepare the land for what is to come!”
“Is the long-nose meant to be a sacrifice?” asked Mihko. “That is not fair. My brother and I killed it. We are to take it home in triumph.”
“How do you expect to get the long-nose home?” asked Owone. “It is too large to fit in a canoe.”
“I had not thought of that.” said the boy.
“Of course not. It is not for you to think of what will be. The masked being knows and the masked being alone. He only shows me glimpses.”
“What does he show you?”
“A face of red and black. A master of the hunt will watch over this land, but it will not be a hunting ground forever. It will become a place of permanence.”
“Permanence?” said Mahkate as if he’d never heard the word.
“Our people move with the seasons. But that will not always be so. Here we will prepare the ground so that future generations will stay. They will not merely hunt to eat, but they will grow food from the ground.”
“Like berries and roots?” asked Mihko.
“At first yes, but in time we will learn to make the land provide for us.”
“The land already provides.” said Mahkate .
“Yes,” said the uncle, “But not enough. The new people will need more food. More land. We must prepare so that they can build permanent dwellings. They will build big huts of stone and wood that will rise into the sky.”
“The spirit showed you this? And this is his will.” asked Mihko.
“I do not claim to know the spirit’s desires. Only that he told me this is what will happen and this is what we must do.”
The trio made camp and set about the task of butchering the long-nose. They would not be able to carry most of it home, but continued to gather what meat they could store and as much of the hide and bones as they could reasonably carry. The sun dipped below the trees by the time they were finished.
“Ho now,” said Owone. “We must soon commence with the spirit’s plan.”
“We’re tired.” said Mahkate, “It is time for rest.” Mihko nodded in agreement.
“It will not be much work,” said Owone as he reached into his pouch and pulled out three small bundles. One contained charcoal ash. Another contained red ochre. The third remained sealed.
Owone gestured for the boys to kneel before him at the campfire. He painted the left half of each of their faces in black ash. Then he covered the right half in the red ochre. In the flickering firelight they resembled fiendish spirits.
As he worked, Owone chanted in a language older than the tongue of the grandfathers. The boys were shocked into silence by the sound of it and dared not ask what words he sang nor how he had learned them.
Owone produced a long braided rope from his packs. Mihko and Mahkate looked at one another in confusion when Owone tied one end into a loop and did the same with the other. The uncle continued to chant as he worked.
The full moon peeked out above the trees, fat and red against the darkening sky.
Owone tossed one loop over a strong tree branch above the fire. Then, to the boys’ astonishment, tightened the other loop around his own ankles.
He tossed the third bundle into the fire and aromatic white smoke suddenly billowed out of it. Owone bent his head and inhaled the smoke, gesturing at the boys to do the same. They heeded uncle's command. The strong, sweet-smelling smoke made them cough a bit, but somehow drove away their exhaustion.
Owone then lay upon the ground beneath the tree and gestured to the boys to grab the other end of the rope and pull him up off of the ground, dangling by his ankles.
They did so and tied the rope to the tree then steadied him so he would not sway as he hanged above the fire.
“Strike me! Strike me with your spear.”
Mihko balked at this.
“Uncle! I cannot harm you!”
“This is the spirit’s will. My blood must feed the fire.”
Mahkate hefted his weapon and thrust it into Owone’s side, piercing his flesh. The uncle did not cry out in pain, but merely chanted a phrase the boys had never heard before.
“Ha-Li-Kan! Ha-Li-Kan!” he sang as his blood dripped into the fire. The white smoke turned to black against the darkening sky.
Mahkate and Mihko joined in the chant.
“Ha-Li-Kan! Ha-Li-Kan!” the three shouted in unison.
The black smoke rose into the sky and contrasted with the rising moon. A stream of it covered the left side of the blood red moon, matching the coloration of the boys’ face paint.
The cloud of smoke grew and took form. Slowly the billows became the shape of a giant man, rising above the trees. His skin the color of charcoal and his face the moon, half black and half red.
“Ho!” shouted Owone, “Ha-Li-Kan! I call you. I seek you!”
The spirit whose head was the moon gazed upon the tiny trio. Then it reached down into the trees and parted them like clay. An entire swath of the forest molded and bent to the spirit’s desire, creating a vast opening in the woods.
Through the opening the hunters heard an unearthly chiming song.
(insert music here).
After a few moments they spied a strange beast moving slowly through the passage. It was as large as the long-nose, but strange in shape. The beast’s smooth white form bore colorful markings along its sides. Its squarish body moved on round black feet that never left the ground. Its broad white face was marked with a large black rectangle upon the forehead and its white eyes were set far apart beside its mouth, with many thin, long teeth of gray stone. It had no nose whatsoever. As it approached the music grew louder.
When it nearly reached their campsite Mihko saw that the black marking was more like an opening covered with a sheet of clear ice. Within the opening sat a spirit with a ghostly white face, curly hair the color of fire and a nose as red and round as the blood moon. A wide red smile covered nearly half of the white spirit’s face.
“Uncle!” shouted Mihko, pulling out his stone knife and cutting Owone free from the rope.
“What is this?” gasped Mahkate. “What spirit have you summoned?”
Owone, still bleeding, stood to his feet and called out to the gargantuan phantasm that dominated the night sky.
“Ho! Ha-Li-Kan!” he cried, “What would you have us do? What is this beast you have shown us? Is it to be our sacrifice?”
“Wait!” said Mihko. “It isn’t a beast, is it? Look! It’s a structure. Like a moving hut! And that white faced spirit is dwelling within it. The spirit is making it move!”
The moving structure stopped before them. The strange white spirit ducked deeper within it and out of sight. The music faded. Blue light erupted from behind the structure. The boys walked around in curiosity to see what was happening.
The rear of the construct had opened like a door and ghostly radiance spilled from it into the clearing. The spirit stood beside the opening and beckoned forth many beings from within the structure.
Children. Dozens of them. More than Mihko could count poured out of the thing. A multitude greater than could possibly fit within it. They wandered out and filled the clearing. They were dressed in a wide range of unusual outfits. Some had their faces painted in the likeness of skulls and beasts. Others wore masks and hoods that obscured their features. Most of them had pale skin, but they were clearly children, not ghosts.
The spirit closed the door and once more the clearing was lit only by the fire and the moon. The white spirit entered the construct from an opening on the side and the structure moved away into the forest and disappeared among the trees.
The children stared up at Owone. One of them babbled at him in a strange tongue. The hunters could not understand the children, but could see that they were lost and frightened. One began to cry and several others followed suit. Soon the clearing was filled with the wails of children calling for their mothers in an unknowable language.
Owone beseeched the vast spirit that hovered in the dark sky. “What is to happen here? What purpose do we serve?”
The spirit whose face was the moon winked at him then slowly faded away. The smoke dissipated, leaving only the blood moon in the sky.
“Spirit! You brought us to this place for a sacrifice! You told me that the payment of blood would prepare the land for growth! What is the meaning of this?”
The crowd of children cried and wailed. Some of the bolder ones moved to be near the smoldering fire. Mahkate waved his spear toward them to keep the strange children away.
Mihko gestured at his brother to let them come near and Mahkate held his spear low to the ground. Nearly a hundred children gathered around them. The hunters threw more logs onto the fire and it grew to bring light and warmth to the clearing.
As they gathered around, Mihko felt eyes upon them from the forest. He hailed Mahkate and nodded toward the trees. The brothers spun to see dozens of yellow eyes in the woods glinting in the firelight. Mihko’s heart exploded in his chest as he realized that the campsite was about to be overrun by a pack of great cats.
A half dozen colossal predators lunged out of the darkness, snarling. One of the children was too close to the edge of the throng and was quickly dragged off into the trees. The hunters sprang into action with their spears. Mihko was able to bring one of the huge felines down with a well placed throw, but another leapt upon him in the same instant. A cacophony of growls and screams filled the clearing as the land was bathed in blood.
Mahkate slew the beast that had pinned Mihko, and helped him rise back up. The two brothers stood back to back as they fought off the predators, but more and more tore out of the woods. A seeming endless supply of claws and sinew fell upon them. The boys lost themselves and fought like raging beasts. The world turned red and black. They slashed and stabbed and screamed and bled.
After a long while the clearing was silent under the blood red moon. The fire had died down once more. Mihko rose atop a pile of corpses. Some human, some beast. A landscape of claw marks and bruises covered his body like a map of pain.
He fell to the ground and all went black.
When he awoke, the sun had returned to the sky.
Stumbling away from the butchery, Mihko called out, “Mahkate! Uncle! Are you there?”
No answer came.
“Brother? Owone? Answer me!”
The broken bodies of the strange children piled upon one another. In the carnage Mihko spied his brother’s spear sticking out of the back of a male great cat, its mane spread out like the sun. Dashing for it, Mihko pushed the dead creature over with the last of his strength. The body of his brother and uncle lay beneath it.
Mihko fell to the ground and wept. He cried up at the sky and cursed the spirit who brought them there. He cursed his uncle for heeding the spirit’s call. He cursed the beasts. He cursed the land on which this bloodshed occurred.
When his tears ran out Mihko heard the cries of a child. Looking around the clearing he saw a boy of maybe nine years. He wore thin clothing dyed a brilliant red and blue color with a thin black pattern like a spider’s web. The boy had dark skin unlike most of the children brought by the strange construct and short hair with tight tiny curls.
The boy babbled at him in the same strange tongue as the other children.
Mihko ignored the boy as he set to work building a pyre. He would not be able to bury all of the dead, but he should provide what little funeral he could. He gathered sticks, brambles, logs, anything that would burn. The boy shadowed him as he toiled, but neither helped nor hindered.
The sun was high in the sky when Mihko set fire to the heap of wood and bodies. He wailed and chanted the songs that his mother had sung years ago when his father had died. He cried and shook his spear at the sky.
After a long time he stood and watched the fire die down. The young boy silently grabbed his hand.
The blood and ash of the slaughter seeped into the ground. Mihko and the boy returned over the big river and never again did he venture to the dawn-side forest.
Over the centuries the forest grew. Over the millennia people came and went through the hunting ground. The forest changed. Eventually the land became the home of the people who called themselves Lenni Lenape. They built their longhouses and grew crops in the land where the blood had soaked the ground. Owone’s ritual had worked even if he did not live to see it. The rich soil fed generation after generation until one day the Lenni Lenape were pushed out of the land and new people claimed it.
In the late 1700s a man named Nathaniel Amon built a house and a school on the spot where Mihko’s campsite had been thousands and thousands of years before.