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Og — Son of Fire
Irving Crump
Dodd, Mead & Co.
1922

CHAPTER IV

THE FIRST CAMP FIRE

 
ALL the horrors of such a terrible death were apparent to Og and the two wolf cubs. The hairy boy stood with staring, fear-bulged eyes and watched the slow, irresistible movement of the earthy walls as they came together. He could feel the movement of the ground beneath his feet as it began to sink downward and he could feel the vibration of a rumbling thunderous noise that came up from the nethermost depths of the earth. A great fear clutched his heart; a fear that somehow he and the now whimpering wolf cubs had put themselves into the clutches of a great and evil spirit who owned this cave; this huge wound in the hillside.

Yet though almost paralyzed with fear Og's brain worked. The Mountain That Walked had been defeated. He had withdrawn. Perhaps he was waiting outside in the steam fog or perhaps he had gone back down into the valley. If he were waiting outside, to go out meant death. But to stay in here meant death too, the horrible death of being buried alive. Outside death was uncertain. Then too he had a marvelous new weapon in this fiery stick of his. Perhaps with its aid and his swift legs he could defeat the mammoth. It was worth trying. They were deep inside the crevice. They would have to move quickly to get out in time for the walls were closing fast. Already one of the wolf cubs had started for the opening. Og turned and called to the other one. It was struggling under a heavy clod of earth that had fallen upon it and held it down. Og saw its plight. He was about to turn and bolt and leave it to its death. But something made him hesitate. He could not understand this strange feeling. He did not know that within him was growing a sense of loyalty and unselfishness that the hairy people never knew. He did not realize that this marked him as being a higher type of human than any hairy man had ever been, but he did know that an overmastering desire to help the struggling wolf dog swept away any selfish thoughts of his own safety, and he sprang back toward the rear of the crevice, dug the wolf dog from beneath the caved-in earth, then, gathering it under one arm and with the burning resinous torch in the other hand, he began a mad scramble for the opening of the crevice.

The rumbling beneath his feet grew louder and more ominous. Earth and rock broke loose from the walls above and fell about him and on him. One huge stone struck him on the shoulder and its jagged corners cut deep through his hair and flesh. Og cried out with pain and staggered under the impact. Yet he stumbled and struggled onward while great beads of perspiration stood out on his low forehead, and his eyes dilated with fear. On and on he pushed, while the rumbling beneath him grew to an angry growl and the earthy walls on either hand and overhead rocked and swayed dizzily. The opening was only a little way ahead now. The first wolf cub had gained it and scrambled out into the steam filled air. Og envied him his salvation. He wondered vaguely whether he could make it or whether, there within a few short paces of freedom, he would be caught between the crunching, caving walls of earth and crushed to death.

He made a mighty effort to gain the opening. His great muscles swelled under the strain. Blood leaped through his arteries, the cords of his neck stood out and his breath came in great sobs as he struggled toward the air and light. One leap more and he would be free, one stride and he would be out of that terrible cave of grumbling noise, and crumbling walls. Og leaped.

At the same instant the rumbling developed to a roar, and a grinding crash, as the wall on either side of the crevice caved in and the earth settled. Og reached the air in a cloud of dust and a shower of earth and stones, and, in a perfect avalanche of debris, rolled over and over down the hillside, until he stopped with stunning impact at the foot of a huge bowlder. For the space of several seconds he and the wolf cub lay there in a semi-conscious condition. Then slowly Og came to and sat up. And the first thing that he looked for when he became himself again was his fire stick. He found it close at hand for he had clung to it even in his mad plunge down the hillside. But of course its flames were out.

Og picked it up and viewed this fact with disappointment. The knotty end was a mass of glowing smoking coals but the flames were gone. Og crouched beside the bowlder and looked at the hot end of the stick turning it over and over, and wondering the while how to rekindle it. He began to blow upon it softly. Why he did this he could not tell. But as he breathed upon it the coals grew redder and hotter and suddenly a tiny flame appeared, then another and another until the torch was rekindled.

Og gave a grunt of surprise at this and his low forehead wrinkled into a perplexed frown. Here was a thing that he could slay with his breath yet he could bring it to life again by breathing upon it. It was strange indeed, a thing he would have liked to puzzle over, for he had found that thinking was a strange and fascinating game. But he realized that the daylight hours were waning. Night was coming on and he knew now that with the Stalking Death abroad and probably many other animals down there in the valley feeding on the roasted horses, it would not be safe for him to linger. He thought of the cave under the cliff where he and the wolf cubs had taken refuge first and he decided to go there for the night.

Both cubs were close at hand, though the one he had rescued was unable to walk. Og gathered this one under his arm and calling to the other started out of the valley and toward the towering cliffs that he could see in the distance through the steam. As they made their way forward Og glanced at the hill where the crevice had been. What had been the crown of it was now a deep depression still filled with dust clouds. Og turned his head away for the thoughts that he and the cubs might even now he buried under that mass of rock and dirt were very unpleasant.

They were a long way from their refuge and Og hurried for he feared to be caught down there in the valley at nightfall. Night was the time when all the great beasts hunted and feasted and he knew that he would make a choice meal for the Stalking Death, the great panther, or Sabre Tooth, the huge cave tiger, as had many another hairy man in the past. Indeed, it was with a sense of relief that the hairy boy scrambled up the steep mountain side and crawled in under the shelter of the overhanging cliffs, for already the terrific hunting roar of the giant cave tiger was waking the echoes and in the gathering twilight this was a blood chilling sound to hear for the hairy men of that age.

Shelter gained, Og's attention came back to the fire stick which he still carried. It was then that he noticed for the first time, and with consternation, that the stick, once as long as his arm, was now less than a quarter its original size. Here was another perplexing phase of this new thing that he thought he had mastered but which he now found he could not at all understand. Why had the stick grown shorter? Where had the rest of it gone? Did this thing devour the wood? Was that what it ate?

Crouched up there on the shelf under the cliff Og experimented anew. He tried to see if the thing ate wood. He found another stick and held it into the flame. The red fingers reached out and took hold of it and, because this was soft wood, the fire consumed it quickly; ate it all so fast that Og had to drop it before it burned his fingers. There on the stone ledge it burned itself out. Og tried to feed the flames leaves. These were eaten up so swiftly that the hairy boy was frightened for a moment. He tried more sticks and more leaves, then he tried to feed it a stone. This it would not eat and Og marveled, for had he not got it from a stone originally? — yet here it refused to eat other stones. This red thing, this animal that could be slain or brought to life with a breath, that came from stone yet would not eat stone, was indeed a mystery.

Og held the fast shortening pitchwood torch in his hand and pondered. He saw the charred remains of the stick and leaves he had burned lying about him on the ledge. From these he gleaned still a new idea. He gathered more sticks and leaves in a pile, then laid the burning torch among them. And presently he had a fire that delighted him; a fire that gave him warmth and light and which he could keep alive so long as he fed it sticks and leaves.

Thus was born five hundred thousand years ago up there on the ledge below the cliff the first campfire, and as this hairy boy crouched before it and watched it with consuming interest while he basked in its warmth and light, he chanted softly to himself, "Og, Og, Og, Og," which was his way of telling himself and the wolf cubs that he was a great man, that he had made a wonderful discovery and that he well deserved the name he had given himself.

And as he crouched there the roar of Saber Tooth, the tiger, and the wail of the Stalking Death, the giant panther, floated up to him through the night, from the valley below where they quarreled over the cooked horses, but somehow Og felt strangely happy and comfortable by his fire. The light and the heat and the flickering flame tongues gave him a sense of protection in the night, a sense of protection that no other hairy man had ever felt; and the wolf cubs, sprawled in the warm glow, gave him an added feeling of companionship. He was happy, so happy that he wanted other hairy people to know about it; to see what he had achieved; to witness his triumph over the Fire Demon.

He began to think then of the other hairy people who had fled from the wrath of the volcano. He thought of Wab, his father, who was a mighty hunter with the stone hatchet. Og had a vague feeling that he was even a greater man than his father now.

He thought of Gog, the fierce old warrior with the scarred face and ugly disposition who was chief of the hairy people because no one had the courage to dispute it. Og hated him for many a hard cuff and unnecessary beating. He was a greater man than Gog now and he found malicious pleasure in the thought of taking his fire animal among his people and making Gog jealous with the flame that would be his. If he could conquer the Fire Demon assuredly he could conquer Gog. The old chief would never dare come near him while he held a fire brand in his hand.

Og decided to set out to find the hairy people again since the roars and wails that came up from the steaming valley told him all too plainly that it was no longer safe for him to remain in that vicinity.


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