I woke up cold and naked on a rock shelf. I could feel the air moving over my body, making my body hair stand up. It was quite dark yet I could barely make out a rough outline of a doorway or passage off towards my left, or above my head as I lay. I heard the sound of flowing water in the other direction. A woman's voice spoke out of the darkness.
"Your old life is over and your new life has begun. You will find yourself young, healthy and unimpaired. You have been judged and found to be less despicable than most despite many mistakes made early in your previous life. I will be watching you and the others that you shall meet. We shall meet in your dreams when I have anything of import for you. A small cache of gifts will be left for you to help you survive."
"May I ask what I should call you?"
"You may call me--Mother. Above all my commands to you is to use your mind."
With that I felt the air stir, then felt a brief, sharp earthquake. A crack opened high in the far wall of what revealed itself to be a long, low cave with an irregular floor. As I swung my legs down off of the rock shelf in the wall I had been lying on I saw a small pile of things on what looked like a piece of dark canvas. I reached down to find a small sack containing a flint and steel, a simple fixed-blade knife, a wood cup, a heavy iron pot with a bail that would fit both my fists, an enormous hank of black nylon cord and a piece of heavy canvas approximately six feet wide and twenty feet long. A hole in the center told me it would make a wonderful poncho. I put it on, folding up the excess at my front and back, then tying it around my waist using a piece of the cord which I cut from the hank. I used two more pieces to tie the fire bag and the knife around my neck. Another piece of canvas lay at the bottom of where the pile was. It was roughly eight feet wide and eight feet tall. I had no idea what it was intended for. A door? A blanket? I folded it in half and lay it on the sleeping shelf. to keep it out of the way.
I decided to explore my new home. I kept my right hand in touch with the wall as I walked the periphery of the cave, exploring and observing as I went. I tried to look up as well as down as I walked. Soon I came to a break in the wall where a small rivulet of water poured along the edge of the floor for a couple yards, then dissapeared through a wide crack in the wall. It was large enough to accomodate my body but it was pitch dark. I didn't want to walk into an open void. I was certain that Mother would be dissapointed with a "fool's mate", in chess terms. I found fourteen more 'shelves' of various sizes cut into the rock walls. In two places the shelves were just over my head high. I suppose in hindsight that it was foolish but I reached up to feel the surface of each small shelf and found a small depression in each.
I smiled to myself. Grease lamps! I had two perfectly placed lamps already made. All I needed was fat and some twisted vegetable matter. And fire, of course. I'd have to find some lightning-struck vegetation to get some charred material or my firestarting attempts would be dismal at best.
I continued around the cave until I reached the entrance. It was narrow, and doubled back until I came out about four feet above ground level. The cave opening was in the face of an overgrown cliff. I could hear frogs so a wetland had to be close. I again followed along the cliff with my right hand, watching for anything I could eat or use as well as watching out for anything I should not step on or in. As I came around an outcrop I almost peed myself when I spotted the bear. I quickly realized that it wasn't dangerous, but a marvellous find. When the earthquake occured it dropped a fairly large tree. The tree swatted a foraging black bear into its next life, leaving me the windfall of its fur, meat and organs. It had been digging up wild potatoes, which would be another windfall for me. The bear's head had been crushed by the falling tree. I stripped off the hide as quickly as I could, rolled it up and carried it into the cave to work on later. I wanted to strip out the tenderloins and as much fat as I could. I found a rock with a primitive edge and used it to crack loose the ribs on one side, next to the spine. That allowed me access to the inside of the bear's thorax. I knew that the tenderloins ran to either side of the spine, and the leaf lard lay around the kidneys, near the center of the body, close to the back I had nothing to haul the game in so I quickly cut the bottom three feet from the front of my poncho, doubled it over to a three-foot by three-foot square, punched small holes in both layers with my knife and strung cord through the two side seams. Upon turning it inside-out I had a fairly functional carry bag. In went the fat, then the meat. I scampered away with my find before any predators came to investigate the smell of blood.
I rinsed off both myself and my poncho in the water flow in the cave. It was cold! I had a taste and smiled. It was sweet, not unduly mineral-laden. I was losing my light. The sun was setting and I hadn't made a fire yet. I quickly tied the bear's tenderloins to a cord, then tied the rest to the nearly-full bag of un-rendered lard. The tenerloins went into the flowing water to keep cool while the bag acted as an anchor to keep the contraption from floating away into the depths of the mountain.
I thought to myself as I lay on my pallet, waiting for sleep. I had to get a fire started, somehow, and begin the never-ending process of gathering firewood. I needed to eat. A day or so without wouldn't hurt me but any longer and I would weaken. I needed a weapon--at a bare minimum something to fend off an irate animal. I needed a door to dissuade univited guests. I would soon have to explore and inventory the area around my cave. The sound of the frogs reassured me that a bounteous food and tuber supply was close. I could easily make a throwing stick, and the materials for a bola were at hand. I was hoping to find a chalk cliff. That usually meant chert deposits from which I could form scrapers and axes. Baked chalk would give me quicklime with which I could restrict my doorway. Just before I dozed off I thought to myself; "Thank you Mother, for another chance. Your gifts are truly appreciated..."
I woke as grey light first came in through my 'skylight'. I rose, washed my face, peed, dressed and went out to greet the day. I gingerly checked on the site where the bear had met its end. There wasn't much left. I turned around and went in the opposite direction so as not to startle any remaining diners. They no doubt had better personal defenses than I did. It didn't seem wise to test that theory. I carried my knife, fire kit and cord. I walked towards the sound of the frogs. It wasn't far--perhaps a quarter mile or a bit more. I was right in supposing that it was a wetlands--it was a cattail and lilly-bed swamp. It was bordered by a small woods floored by green sphagum moss. Now a sphagum moss swamp is dangerous. The stuff compresses underfoot up to several feet and can easily hide broken off tree limbs that can skewer you at your next step. However, I knew that I would visit this place many times to take armfuls back to the cave. When dried it burned wonderfully and would make for comfortable stuffed hides. I was searching for a lightning-hit tree. I blazed my path with double horizontal cuts six feet up. As I walked I checked to see if I could still see the previous blaze. When I couldn't I traced back my steps until I could see it, then made another. I found my lightning-hit tree but had to shinny up it to harvest some charred wood. I filled my fire bag with the tinder. Just before leaving the swamp for my cave I harvested a big double-armful of the driest moss I could find and made my way home. I had a handful of cattail fronds in my belt for fibers.
I set aside the moss near the door to dry. It would be insulation, toilet paper, lamp wick, short-lived scrubbies for the dishes and anything else I could think of. I searched out a depression in the floor near my 'skylight' to make my fire. I realized that I'd neglected to retrieve any firewood! Fat lot a flame would do with nothing to feed it. I went out once more to gather wood. Squaw wood is composed of dry, dropped or hanging dead branches. If the branches are still attached to the tree then it can't be damp from the ground, now can it? I went back to the swamp and selected two dead trees still standing in the water, without bark. They were almost laying down but not quite. I pulled them free of the swamp and hauled them back to camp, carrying the small remaining root balls and dragging the tips. I did this twice more, then searched out smaller wood--branches to get the fire started with. Note that I began harvesting wood the furthest that I could from camp first, to preserve the easier-to-harvest wood for a time when I was tired or sick. There were many dead trees at the edge of a closed-off portion of the swamp. It must have shifted or grown relatively recently.
After returning to the cave I looked down at my mud-streaked legs. I had a thought about footgear, and felt for winter clothing. I returned to the bear's carcass and cut away at the paws until they came free. I wanted to tie them high in a tree until they dried. When I needed hide glue I could boil them. I needed lime to de-hair hides as well to harvest the hair. From the looks of the plant life around the cave it was middle-to-late-summer. Hopefully I had enough time to build up my larder.
With my arm-full of firewood I returned to my firepit-to-be. I emptied my firebag onto a flat place on the cave floor, retrieved my flint and steel, carefully set some charred wood over some wood shavings and had at it. Within a half hour I had a small blaze going. I carefully fed it, then went outside for one of my dead and dried deadfall trees. I bashed it against the floor to break off a few pieces, then put the smaller end in the fire. I filled the pot half full of meat and then to the top with water. It was put near the fire to cook while I insured that I would have an easier time of staring the fire the next time. I carefully cut a strip three fingers wide and six fingers long from the bottom of my poncho. Using two sticks I carefully browned, then charred it in sections so that if I burned up one section the rest would remain useable. I made charcloth. I tied the sections into round bundles and put all but one on a dry shelf.
While waiting for dinner to cook I used my cup to almost fill another depression in the floor with water, then dropped in several handsfulls of raw bear fat. I'd noticed several hand-sized stones near the root ball of the tree that fell and took out the bear. I went out to pick up a double handfull. These I dropped in the fire. When dinner was almost ready I used a stick to retrieve them one by one and skitter them across the floor and into the 'fat pit', being careful to stay low in case one of them exploded from the sudden cooling. With just three rocks I had it simmering nicely. My bear soup may not have been a balanced meal, nor very tasty because there was no salt in it whatsoever, but it certainly hit the spot. After drinking/eating a couple cupsfull I refilled the pot with more water and pulled it a bit away from the fire. I cleaned the cup out with a bit of moss which I pitched into the fire, then carefully dipped out the rendered bear fat, a quarter cup at a time and filled the lamp depressions. I had a handful of moss soaking in the hot fat in one of the depressions. I kept switching out rocks until I got tired. Then I put the root ball in the fire for a nice, slow night log.
As I lay back, thinking over the day, I was happy with what I'd done. The next day would be a firewood and moss day. A nice, big bale of moss backed by a couple of big logs would make a perfectly respectable door. I'd try to get my lanterns going as well. Maybe I'd work on fire tongs or some wood cutlery. I had a good start. I remembered my "Thank you, Mother." and fell asleep.
What should I be thinking about? I had shelter, food, water and fire. I needed weapons, not only for defense but for hunting. It would be tedious cutting down a straight sapling, but it had more chance of gaining me a good spear. I also needed to go foraging. a digging stick was simple to construct compared to a spear. I tended the fire then had a couple cups of bear-meat porridge, refilled the pot and headed out to do some quick moss and firewood harvesting. I thought about how to better use the trees I was hauling. If I just burned off the root balls they could be used for a travois to haul heavier loads than I could carry, such as a deer carcass. If I stacked the poles against the cliff wall half-tipi fashion and covered with hides they would make a smoke house which would preserve meat much more efficiently than drying racks would. I spent half the day harvesting loads of moss and water-killed trees. The afternoon was spent digging potatoes and looking for likely hardwood saplings. I didn't find any the first day. however, I did find a half-dozen two-inch rocks that I could fashion into a pair of bolas. I accidentally tasted the water at the end of the swamp which held the dead trees. It was brackish! Somewhere around that section of the swamp was a salt deposit and I was determined to find it. Regrettably it was getting dark and night was not the time to be scouting new territory. The predators come out at night.
As soon as I made it back to the cave I made the bolas. I felt more secure with a distance weapon in my hands. I spent a couple hours eating and rendering bear fat before going to bed. I said my prayers and fell asleep.
I rose, tended the fire, ate, dressed and headed for the salt-swamp. I had cut a strip of canvas from the rear of my poncho to make a shoulder strap for the foraging bag. It left me with both hands free. Once I discovered it, it was pretty obvious where the salt was coming from. There were grey-brown strata in the hillside. I filled the bag several times before I was too pooped to do more. I made seven trips that day and vowed to make more the next. I had a large mound of salt filling one of the larger storage ledges. That evening I slowly tended the fire, ate and began wrapping a huge bale of moss into a plug for my door. I remembered to bury a handle in it to pop it loose or I'd have to destroy it to get outside! It was a snug friction-fit. The handle gave a good brace point for a staff to prop it firmly in place, using a defect in the floor to brace against. I said my prayers giving thanks for the beautiful gift that day, and quickly fell asleep.
I painfully rose, tended the fire, ate, dressed and left with the carry bag. In hindsight I should have made another and constructed a yoke to carry a balanced load but I neglected to think it through. After filling the shelf to over-flowing I stopped harvesting salt and continued looking for a spear shaft or two. I found a small valley filled with closely crowded young straight saplings that had no branches until their tops. They varied in size from four inches across the base to little whips. I identified several that were about two fingers across the base. I cut three of them, skinned them while they would slip the bark and carried them back to the cave to dry. I hung them from a piece of cord from the 'skylight' so that they would dry in the wood smoke. That done, I looked for reeds the size of my little finger. I wanted something to sit on to keep my ass off the cold floor of the cave. The answer was a Cherokee backrest. It takes some one hundred reeds close to two feet long, strung together into a tight mat. That became an on-again, off-again project that I pursued for over a month. Whenever I explored or harvested I cut off a few more reeds and stuffed them in my carry sack.
I was tired of wondering where the water in the cave was going. I harvested four of last year's cottony cattail heads on fairly stiff reeds. I gently soaked them in bear fat and lit one in the fire. It made an excellent, though drippy, torch. I'd use less bear fat next time! Besides, it was a precious resource. When would I harvest another bear? Holding the torch high over me I stuck my head through the hole and looked around. The water ran in a rivulet down a sandy beach to an underground lake. I was glad that I hadn't been using it as a toilet! The lake surface went out over twenty meters before the cave ceiling sloped down to meet it. The cave was perhaps eight meters wide. It was a beautiful spot. I'd have to debate with myself whether or not to use it, which would no doubt degrade its beauty.
That night I prayed once more to Mother, but this time I asked a question. "Mother, I have need. I have seen the beautiful water cavern that my spring drains into. Please, Mother I need to know your intent. Is this to be a place of worship or a resource? I hesitate to defame anything so beautiful and likely taking thousands of years to create."
With this, I fell asleep as if I had been switched off. I found myself standing before a giantess. She was handsome and had short white hair. Green veins ran through her silvery skin. Her eyes--I could not look into her eyes. "You have done well to ask me. This is the type of behavior that I cherish. Your cave shows little of the enormous slow-moving underground river that flows into the sea. You may use it as you will as long as feces and offal are not dumped there. It is a cold cave and the air does not stir. It would be good for storage. Sleep now."
When I awoke I was sleeping on a tanned bear skin. I was amazed at the gift. It would have taken me several weeks to tan the thing and I would never have approached the quality that I felt between my fingers. When I rose I kicked something that wasn't there the night before. There was a tall stack of canvas, another huge hank of cord and a good steel axe. I was curious why I was given these gifts. I could only guess that I was being rewarded for not being an ecological idiot. When I walked outside to void myself I found myself knowing that a half day's walk that way was a chalk cliff with chert nodules exposed at the cliff's foot. I turned and looked at a stand of bushes at the verge of the woods and knew that they would make wonderful baskets. I also knew how to weave baskets. What an amazing gift! I spent the day as I was commanded to, using my mind.
I came to the conclusion that I tended to go off half-cocked. I needed to think of a thing, put it away, then think of it again before acting. Being alone, I had to act efficiently to survive as I was already in a precarious position, having to protect myself, harvest and preserve for the winter, (which I hadn't even begun doing!) create winter clothing and shoes, find a source of grain, create the baskets in which to store whatever I collected. I was not in any sort of a "manifest destiny" position or culture. Perhaps others would attempt to foolishly continue that behavior and those I would have to beware of. The Mother wanted me to nurture that which was around me. I would have to think on how this affected hunting and animal husbandry. I knew enough to harvest vegetables, roots and tubers in strips rather than to strip out an entire crop, and to fertilize as I went, as I could so that the plants could more easily regenerate.
The axe would allow me to harvest firewood in a much more efficient manner, giving me more time for other demands. I made my first storage basket that day. It was half a meter across and 3/4 of a meter tall. I was amazed at how my fingers flew, weaving the slats in and out of the ribs. I filled it full of salt and left it in the sand cave. That night I retrieved the moss from the bear grease where I had it soaking, split it into two clumps, twisted them into rough tubes and wrapped them in cattail leaf fiber. I buried all but the end of each 'wick' into the grease in each lamp, then lit one. It was amazingly bright compared to the firelight. I fashioned a second harvesting bag with a carrying strap, then used the axe to fashion a rough shoulder yoke. I used a rock to smooth the surface of the wood and fashioned hooks at the ends of the yoke to keep the bags from slipping off. When I tried it on my hands naturally fell to each bag, stabilizing them as I walked across the cave.
I told myself "work smart, not hard." I smiled after I figured out how to put out the grease lamp. You dunk it under the surface of the liquid grease, then pull it back up for re-lighting! I said my prayers and thanks, then went to sleep.
I awoke thinking about the benefits and construction of an atl-atl. It beat a throwing spear to flinders as far as range and killing power. It was a two-part system, using a throwing stick and a large slender dart, tipped with a penetrating head. I realized that the slender hardwood shafts in the over-populated valley would work quite well. I'd need to take some game so that I could cut vanes from the hides and boil them in fat to stiffen them. The six-foot-long flights required the stabilization of vanes, much as arrows did. They also required stone or metal points to make them front-heavy. First, however, I needed the chert to flake in order to make the points. I planned out a trip to the chalk cliff. I wanted to take the axe, some canvas, some cordage and two poles so that I could fashion a travois to haul the heavy stone back home. I carried a foraging bag as well in case I made a lucky find. The spears weren't quite ready yet. I always carried my knife. I emptied out the stew kettle and cleaned it out. The bear meat was nearly gone and was getting suspect in quality. I threw it away and spread out the fire coals to cool and burn out just before I left.
It was a morning's walk to find the cliff. I found the flint nodules just as foretold. I quickly loaded up some sixty pound's worth on a hastily constructed travois and headed for home. Just as I came to the far side of the swamp I noticed that I was being paced by a wolf. It must have been curious as it wasn't stalking me, just pacing me. Once I reached the cave I dragged everything inside, started a fire and boiled a few small potatoes for dinner. I missed a spoon to eat with. I supposed that I'd have to set aside a bit of time to figure out how to do it. I hadn't spotted any gourds that would substitute. I thanked the lady for a wonderful day and went to sleep.
I took some rabbits and a doe deer. The tree that had taken out the bear was a hickory. I found a likely fork and cut it free, then carved it into a throwing stick. I cut several flights for the atl-atl and once peeled hung them in the firepit's smoke to cure. I spent several days learning how to knap flint into useable scrapers, points and blades. I knew that I'd get better. I had to get better! Each evening I wove another storage basket. Once I'd moved all the salt to the sand cave I filled that shelf with empty baskets. I had finished processing all the bear grease. The tissue left after rendering out the grease was thrown out for the animals to feed on.
Atop the cliff that housed me was a long sloping field of grasses with big, fat kernels. I had my grain! I spent the last several days of the week climbing the cliff with a foraging bag and a piece of canvas, rubbing the kernels between my hands to catch the grain, tossing it a bit to glean out the chaff and pouring it into the foraging bag. a three foot by three foot bag turns into a short bushel. I tried a grain porridge with a little salt. It really needed some grinding as the centers of the kernels didn't soften. I knew of two ways to grind grain. You could pound it like the native american indians did in a hollowed out tree section, or scrape it like the mexicans did in a metate. I kept my eye out for a long smooth piece of granite with a central dishing.
Each night I prayed to the lady in thanks for showing me a better way to live.
There was a lot of grain to harvest, yet I couldn't do it to the neglect of everything else. I completed the atl-atl and hunted early each morning. If I got anything it was cut up, hung and smoking by noon. The smell of the smoke must have driven off the predators. The dried, smoked meat began accumulating. I had smoke-dried it until it was almost brittle to reduce the chance that mold would destroy it. Each afternoon I gleaned grain. Each evening I wove and filled a basket full of grain I cleaned out the excess growth from that valley, constructing A-frames and hanging horizontal bars covered in preserved meat across, then filling the rear of the cave. I spent one day harvesting chalk from the cliff. I began baking it into quicklime, one small batch at a time.
I prayed one night to Mother. "I shall have no problem staying fed thruout the winter. Are there any nearby that will have a problem?" I felt a great warmth, then fell asleep.
When I awoke another sleeping shelf was carved into the cave wall, far enough from the skylight to stay dry yet close enough to the fire pit to gain some warmth. It was quite deep.
The grain was so ripe that it almost fell from the heads as I gleaned it. I was working the field all day and bringing in two or three bags of grain each day. The distance I had to walk back to the cliff's edge each evening was getting further and further. I was running out of places to keep the grain baskets, which pretty well told me that I'd over-done it.
I was cutting up a dead tree a day, piling up the branches for nesting spots or mangers. The wood was piled up in face cords on the sand beach of the storage cave. I'd finally collected enough reeds and sticks to make my Cherokee backrest. I spent a day weaving the wands into one solid mass. When I was finished I used two four-inch-wide strips from my dark-dyed poncho to sew over the ends of the sticks. I used it to sit on not only in the cave but in front while knapping flint. It may sound like a desperately hard life to you but I found myself smiling at odd times, blessing the lady for her wisdom and her trust in me.
I noticed that a certain dark grass was almost oily when cooked. I boiled several handfulls of the kernels and collected the oil that floated to the top. Upon combining that oil with unslaked lime I had whitewash. Each evening I painted a small part of the cave, especially the rock walls behind the grease lamps. It brightened up the cave quite a bit.
While out hunting for more game I heard a scream I dropped the travois and loped in the direction of the cry. I soon came upon a bear--a rather large black bear--that was on its hind legs in a dominance dance. I took up my throwing stick and a shaft, then went down to my knee as I finished my lunge. The shaft caught the bear under the chin and came out the back of the neck. He fell like a tree. Just in front of where he fell I found a woman wrapped around a child, vainly trying to protect her little girl from the bear. They were both shivering, not expecting to live to their next breath. They were dressed in greasy, dirty half-tanned animal skins. I got them up and looking at me, then pointed at the dead bear. They both latched onto me like there was no tomorrow. I suppose that for them that had been the absolute truth. I knelt down, taking them with me, and prayed my thanks to Mother. A great warmth came over me as if I were being held. Obviously the others felt it as well. The woman fell to the ground, clutching my legs while the little girl grinned and hugged my neck. I tapped them both on their shoulders. "We have much work to do. The bear has given us a great gift in its body. Let us not waste it." They startled and rose with me. I jogged back to get my travois and returned. There wasn't any running water close so I stripped before I began the butchery. I had the skin off the bear within fifteen minutes, then used the axe to dismember it. We had the fat, the hams, the tenderloins, the paws, the kidneys, the liver and the tongue butchered out in about three hours. We wrapped it in the skin and dragged it back to the cave on the travois.
The woman and her daugher were frozen in place when I lit the grease lamp from the fire.
"Where are the others? Many must have labored to gather so much grain, hunt and smoke so much meat! And the wood! There is enough here to last to spring and more! How many mates do you have?"
I smiled at them. "Two, now." I pointed at them. "You and you."
She hugged me so hard I thought she was about to turn inside-out. "We will live. We will live through the winter! We will live!"
I nodded. "Yep. I need you and you need me. I take you as my mate, and your daughter as my daughter." I hugged them both. I looked down at the kid that was attached to my thigh like a limpet. "What is your name, daughter?"
She grinned at me. "Song."
"That's a pretty name, Song. What's you're mommy's name?"
She spouted back "Mommy is called Lilly."
I turned my head. "Well, mommy Lilly, let me show you what you've married into. Then we've got to get that bear meat on the smoke to cure it. All right?"
She buried her face in my chest. "Nothing could be better."
I took up a torch and lit it in the fire. I led the way into the storage cave. She gasped and almost fainted when she realized that we had over three hundred pounds of salt stashed away. (gritty, dirty salt, but salt none the less) She couldn't count that well but appreciated the amount of dried meat on the racks, and the vast volume of grain in storage. I'd pounded out a lot of firewood the last two weeks and it showed. I intended on doubling it until the fall rains stopped me. My prayers to Mother were heartfelt and joyous.
I turned to Lily and took her shoulders in my hands. "I need you to find root vegetables like orange-root and potatoes between now and the frost. We will need them to stay healthy and not loose our teeth. I do not know where to find such things, but you no doubt do." She was madly nodding her head and grinning. "I will come with you to guard. Song will stay here to tend the fire and we will gather for a while because we must."
I taught them how to make a stew in my little iron pot. I let them know why never to let it get too low on water. I started a bear tongue and potato stew while they watched. She knew where to find peppers, something like bay leaf, wild garlic, wild onions and dill weed. The flavor of our stews took a dramatic step towards the better. A little ground grain added to provide body helped out a lot. Yes, there were wild carrots. A lot of them. There were a lot more wild potatoes as well. I was the beast of burden as we harvested. They lasted wonderfully while buried in the cold sand beach. The apples and pears were tiny yet flavorful. We harvested one hell of a lot of blackberries once the competitors (bears!) had been wiped out. We had seven bearskins to tan! I had one hell of a lot of rendered bear fat to store. Without that bee's nest we never would have been able to store the rendered lard. Once I soaked a few baskets in bee's wax they stored the fat wonderfully.
While exploring along the base of the cliff for more caves I came upon a low, wide entrance. I tied a cord to my waist and to a tree at the entrance, lit a torch with my fire kit and started in with my axe in hand. It soon sloped down to the point that without the cord I never could have escaped from the cave. It dropped over ten meters and I found myself sitting on a pile of litter. to one side I saw in the light of my torch a sow. She was barely breathing. I wondered how long she had been trapped in this cave without food or water. I prayed desperately hard. "Mother, one of yours needs your help lest she die in innocence."
WHAM. I felt her attention on me like a tornado landing on a barn. Like the barn, I wondered at my chances of out-living the experience.
A spring erupted from the floor of the cave. I used my foraging bag to transport water from the spring to the sow. She slowly began to drink Soon she was in pain from drinking too much, too fast. I comforted her as I could, wrapping her within my arms. She could have savaged me with her tusks yet she didn't. I had a bit of grain and some potatoes with me. She slowly ate them and drank some more. We fell asleep together.
Upon awakening I found her watching me. It was still dark. She nudged me with her snout. I wrapped my arm around her and we fell back to sleep.
Come the morning I discovered that the lady had done something--unusual. A gradual grade led to the surface. I led her up to the surface. She leaned into my leg and grunted several times. I scrubbed her ears and said "You're welcome. come back and visit sometime" She trotted off into the woods to make up for lost time. Winter was coming and she needed to bulk up to survive. I prayed to the lady to help the sow.
When I got back to the cave Lily acted strange. "You have changed. Your hair is all white. You are taller. What happened?"
I didn't really have an answer. "I was blessed by the Mother." She nodded. That was enough for her.
We got a good start on getting the bear skins tanned. They were scraped down, streched and greased with rendered bear fat. We spent a lot of time during the rains stretching the skins and working in the fat. I looked around the cave and counted the bearskins.
"Mother, where are the rest of them?"
I got this funny blush like someone was laughing at my expense.
"I wondered when you would twig to it. Soon, before the frosts, more will come."
I went out in the rains and harvested more deer. I even shot a bison. It took four trips to bring the carcass back to the cave. It was a good thing that I'd shot it. They followed the smoke from our smoke-house back to the cave. They had burned their village to the ground after living through a cholera epidemic. People kept getting sick until they burned the place down and left. Then they began to thrive. Regrettably they were skin and bones. They were death waiting to happen. We took them in. There were only six left out of forty four.
They were quite happy to join us in what appeared to them to be God's warehouse. Food, firewood, meat and water. What more could anyone want?
Sam, one of the new ones, was jealous of my wife and daughter. He found a large rock and one night captured my arms next to my body with his thighs, then raised the rock to bash in my brain. I awoke and did the only thing that I knew to do--
"Mother, I have need. Must I die now?"
When the others woke and were told what happened they were terrified that their bright futures were to be ripped from their hands. I did my best to calm them, despite Lily's and Song's best efforts to convince me to turn them out in the winter storms. I was distraught. No, I was past that. I was depressed to the point of despondency. "Mother, have I done enough? Is there another place for me? I no longer wish to live in a place where others attempt to kill me for my faith. If you have any grace at all, take me from here. If I awaken again, let it be up to you. Please, mother, show me mercy."
I fell asleep not knowing if I would awaken again or not.