A-dag remained, more because he didn’t have the energy to follow his groupmates than because he had a plan to take what should have been his. His hand gripped and regripped his cutter and his muscles etched sinewy ropes on his gaunt body. Hunger consumed him and he felt the heat of desperation wash over his face.
Only one Snarling-dog-that-protects-kill stood between A-dag and the scavenge. The canine snapped savagely, giving his pack time to eat. Sun had come and gone many times since A-dag’s last meat, and that was just a mouthful before Man-who-Preys stole the pregnant hare from him. It wasn’t just he who starved—his entire band suffered from the tall hominids that killed herds for food. They stole the band’s children, their women, and now their food. The males agreed they must find a new home base, one without these hunters, but everyone was too weak to travel. As A-dag rested one night with his female and child, a leopard dragged the boy off. By the time he tracked Cat, the youngster hung dead from a tree awaiting the feline’s return.
Snarling-dog gnashed its teeth, and A-dag snapped back. “Not again. This time, I eat.”
He brandished his cutter at the solitary sentry, and barked a threat when Snarling-dog growled. They had reached a standoff. Finally, others in the pack noticed that one of the odd slow creatures remained. It mattered little why he remained, just that he was weak, small, alone—and a source of food. One Snarling-dog left the scavenge, now half-eaten, to join the sentry, still hissing his dominance. Another sauntered over until, as a group, they moved toward the hominid, panting in the heat.
“They are leaving. I will get food. I will feed my band!”
If he hadn’t been so weak, he would have recognized not the departure of a predator, but the beginning of a hunt—stalking the weak member of a herd. A-dag stepped forward, flourishing his chopper and growling in his most fulsome voice. One Snarling-dog-that-hunts backed up, drawing A-dag into their field. The others stepped to the side, as though to depart, but circled around to the back. As A-dag moved forward, the pungent aroma of fresh meat assaulted him. His stomach, empty except for a few handfuls of roots, boiled and churned.
“They have eaten their fill. It is a big gazelle. My turn has come.”
But before he formed his next thought, they attacked from all sides. His howl rang out, but no one heard. By the time Snarling-dogs-that-hunt consumed this second kill, and the Vultures stripped the bones, and the smallest scavengers devoured what remained, no memory lingered of his bravery. The circle of life claimed another casualty, but Snarling-dog had fed his pack.
It was a good day.