The roar of laughter from the men surrounding the fire filled the night air. Kuumo shifted uncomfortably in the dirt next to his mother. She smiled a knowing smile, but said nothing. Another burst of laughter soared through the village and found its mark in Kuumo’s heart.
He could feel hot tears of anger and frustration building and willed them to disappear with fierce determination. Warriors do not cry. He forced himself to focus on the dried leaves beside him. Years of practice had given him the ability to weave them into many patterns without much thought. This was just another curse on nights like these.
She did not look up as her hands danced. Kuumo watched them intently. Although he had seen it countless times, he was still amazed by the beauty of their fluid movements. His father had told him that the first time he saw her weave he knew that she was the one for him and Kuumo could see why. She spoke softly, but with unmistakable strength that few ever challenged.
“Go. I will finish for you.”
Kuumo bowed his head in a gesture of gratitude, respect, and shame. He slid into the night, leaving the circle of women and children to gossip and give advice. The fire and laughter from across the village taunted him. Only men who had passed the test were allowed in the circle of warriors. Kuumo was approaching his fifteenth summer and had still not killed on his own.
The fire inside him burned hotter with each passing day filled sharing the duties of women and children. Its white-hot flame blinded him to everything else. There were five who sat in that circle that were younger than him. Boys that were considered men, commanding him to do their bidding. No one would speak of his shame publicly, but each look, giggle, or aversion of his eyes stung him deep inside like a black scorpion beneath his skin.
Kuumo turned his back of the fire and walked to his family’s hut. He tried to vent his frustrations on his spear, but each stroke of the sharpening stone only stoked the flame of frustration. His black hands cradled the finest spear in the village and yet in those hands it only struck rocks. If only he could draw blood from rocks! With the spear still in his grasp he rested his head on his mat and envisioned the next day’s hunt. Other thoughts began to slowly trickle in. At first he pushed them away, but it became more difficult to resist and soon they swept him away like a river, leaving the world far behind.
The river of dreams that swept him away ran its course and washed him up onto the shore of reality once more. Kuumo became aware of breathing other than his own and knew that his father and mother were still asleep. He opened his eyes and let them adjust to the darkness. As quietly as he could, he gathered his spear and father’s knife before slipping out into coming morning. Only the brightest of stars were still visible as streaks of red and orange pushed the night sky back.
“I should be able to make it to the stream before the sun rises. If I cannot find a kill there I will search for fresh tracks.” he thought as he tied the knife around his waste.
Kuumo set off in the hunter’s shuffle his father had taught him to kick up as little dust as possible while moving quickly and quietly. It had not rained in several moons. This would bring more animals to the stream and increase his chances of a successful hunt.
The cool night air evaporated as the sky grew lighter and Kuumo had to slow his pace to avoid sweating and alerting the animals to coming arrival. When he reached the base of the hill that overlooked the stream he got down on his hands and knees. The sun rose behind him, helping to shield him from the gaze of any animals that might still be present. Anticipation caused his heart to pound against his chest, but he forced himself to crawl at a snails pace. Noise, motion, and the wind were the biggest adversaries of a hunter. Poor aim didn’t help much either.
As he reached the crest of the low hill Kuumo held his breath. He lifted his head to peer over the top. The small stream cut through the desert without an animal in sight. Kuumo let out his breath in a sigh and stood. At least he could get a drink before moving deeper into the desert. His strong shoulders hung limp as he walked down and knelt by the muddy water. It tasted like dirt, but it was cool and he knew he would need its strength later.
After he finished drinking he began to search for tracks. A light breeze threatened to erase signs of visitors from the previous night. Kuumo walked upstream until two sets of tracks appeared in the reddish brown dirt. They looked like crescent moons facing each other. Kuumo recognized them as warthog tracks. One set headed straight to the stream and the other disappeared into the bush to the west. Warthogs were very dangerous and could gore even the strongest warrior if they were not careful. Fear began to rise in Kuumo’s stomach, but the shame of returning empty-handed again quickly crushed it. He held his spear ready and followed the track into the waiting desert.
The tracks wove expertly through the brush using brush for cover and stopping at plants that might hold a meal. They were definitely fresh. Kuumo hoped another set would join them. Females were much less aggressive. The tracks twisted and turned in a seemingly random path, but the longer he followed the more they seemed aimed at a small bluff in the distance. It was an ideal place for a warthog’s home. The rocky cropping would provide protection from predators and shade in the heat of the day. He abandoned the trail and headed straight for the jagged rocks. It was a risk to leave a fresh set of tracks, but if he could get to the bluff first and climb, he could kill his prey as it approached to enter its burrow.
The sun had risen almost to its peak when Kuumo reached to rocks and he could feel the heat radiating off their dark brown surface. He noticed older tracks around the base of the rock fortress and for the first time in a long time felt the stirring of hope. Using his spear for support, he climbed until he found a crevice he could use for cover and still have a good view of the desert below.
Waiting became a struggle between staying relaxed and keeping attentive. It was a game he knew all too well. Memories of mistakes that had cost him kills played through his mind. As the sun crept across the sky beads of sweat began to form on Kuumo’s forehead. The wind favored him today. It blew across his face sweeping away some of the sting of the hot sun and carried his scent away from the direction his prey was approaching from.
Kuumo saw the beast before he ever heard a sound. It’s dark brown hair was covered in dust. Two large tusks curved up like razors to the sky. Kuumo eased out of the fissure that had hid him and readied his spear. His heart beat so fiercely against his chest that he was sure the warthog would hear it at any moment. He knew he would only have one chance and prayed that his aim would be true.
The hog trotted calmly toward his home beneath Kuumo’s feet. As he raised his spear behind his head he was surprised by how light it felt in his trembling hand. Suddenly the beast stopped and raised its head. His nose flexed in and out as he searched the air for danger. He was farther away than Kuumo was hoping for, but he could not risk letting the animal get spooked. Every muscle in his body tensed. The warthog looked up and met Kuumo’s eyes at the same moment he threw. Time seemed to slow as he followed the spear’s arc through air. A high-pitched cry exploded out of the warthog’s mouth as spear pierced its side.
Kuumo let out a warrior’s scream. He felt like he could fly. The warthog had turned and run into the brush, but it would not be hard to track the trail and the exertion would help the animal bleed out quicker. He heard the echo of his father’s voice in his mind from hunts they had been on together.
“We are not done. An injured animal is the most dangerous kind of animal.”
Kuumo descended from his perch and steadied his breathing, but even the strength of the fiercest warrior would not be enough to pull down the smile that lifted his lips. Blood marked the place of his victory in the dirt and trailed into the brush. Even a child could have followed the path left by his prey. Broken branches and blood marked the way, but Kuumo walked with caution, heeding his father’s instruction.
The distance between the drops of blood was steadily shrinking, which meant the animal had slowed. When they were less than a step’s length Kuumo knew he was close. Shredded branches marked the entrance of the beast into a thicket of brush. If he had to crawl in there to retrieve his prize he would, but first he would check the other side to see if the warthog had come out on the far side. Kuumo walked silently around the edge of the thick bushes while looking for blood when he heard a sound that turned the heat into winter’s water on his skin.
Pulling his knife from his waste, Kuumo edged around until he could see the source of the sound. In an instant, all of his deepest fears came true. The warthog had escaped the thicket and lay dead on its side with Kuumo’s spear still lodged between his ribs. It would have been everything he had imagined the night before had the animal’s throat been hidden in a lioness’ mouth.
Only the fear of drawing the lioness’ attention stopped Kuumo from weeping. She had stolen his kill. Even if he could pry the warthog back from the lioness’ jaws, no one would believe that he had speared it before another animal attacked it. The teeth that clung to the warthog’s throat seemed to sink into his heart as well.
Night had almost fallen in the village and still Kuumo had not returned. His mother stood at the edge of the desert and searched the fading light for signs of her son. She felt a hand on her shoulder, but did not turn.
“I am worried.”
Her husband’s deep voice was calm.
“Kuumo is strong. He is young, but he knows the ways of the desert.”
She knew that if she asked her husband to go and search he would comply, but she held on to her husband’s strength as her own. Sending him would only shame Kuumo further if he were unharmed.
They waited like statues as the heavens lit a billion candles one by one. A squeeze from her husband’s hand sent her heart racing, but she still could not see anything but the night. His hand lifted from her shoulder and pointed. She followed his finger and slowly a figure emerged from the darkness.
With each step Kuumo took his mother gained a clearer picture of her son. He looked exhausted as he trudged toward his home. His shoulders were hunched in defeat. She had seen this before and each time it broke her heart. Her son had the heart of a warrior and only a foolish test had kept the village from recognizing him as one.
Kuumo stopped and stood up straight trying to look proud. His mother walked out to meet him. He met her gaze as she walked. A broad smile spread across his face. As she drew near she realized that he had not been hunched because of shame. His hands dropped to his side releasing the tail he had been holding over his shoulder. Behind him lay the body of lioness. She had lost the son that left that day, but could not be filled with more joy for in his place a warrior had returned.
Author’s Note: I believe that an author should let readers form their own opinions of a book or story, but… this story is crap. (Stupid 1 story a week deadline!) If this is your first visit here, please don’t judge me by this one.