Og, Son of Og
Dodd, Mead & Co. 1965
Chapter 4 The Thundermakers pp 22-27
illustrated by Mort Künstler
The huge tracks were those of a Thundermaker, a Mountain-That-Walked, to mention only two of the many names by which the hairy mammoth was known to the cave people. But whether it was a family group, or a large migrating herd, which formed when they traveled from one section of the country to another, the cave boy could not be certain.
He had just come upon the tracks in the mud. There were many of them, and they were fresh. The makers of them had passed that way recently, perhaps during the time of darkness. The mud at the edge of the big footprint had not yet dried out and begun to crumble as would have happened had the tracks been exposed to yesterday's sun. So the mountainous beasts with the shaggy hair, the tiny wicked eyes, the snaky trunks and the long, gleaming, up-curved tusks were not so long gone. They might indeed still be in the neighborhood. They could well be hidden in the tremendously tall grass, the plumed tops of which waved three times higher than the cave boy's head.
Young Og was trying hard to think, sometimes almost a painful process. He wanted to get back to the cave village where his father, Og, son of Fire, was the leader, and from which he had been stolen by the tree people so many years ago that he could scarcely remember when the ape mother had run off with him. The village was on the bank of a river that lay in the direction of the sunrise. But to travel that way the cave boy would have to cross that wide, grassy plain that skirted the edge of the big swamp. And to do that he would have to travel some of the trails that the hairy mammoths had made through the tall grass.
Suppose he met the great creatures while traveling one of those trails! The mere thought of it caused the cave boy to have a strange sensation at the roots of the hair on his neck, while his heart pounded faster. Unless he could outrun the beasts and reach some kind of safety he knew he would be snatched up by a curling trunk, flung to the ground, and trampled to death under massive feet. Young Og shuddered at the thought, and his eyes fearfully swept the wall of tall grass around him.
An erupting volcano had made it possible for Og, son of Og, to escape from the tree people. When, as a very young child, he had been stolen by an old mother ape to replace a baby she had lost, young Og had not been very popular among the anthropoids. They wanted to destroy him, and only the fighting prowess of the mother ape and her mate kept them from doing it. During the years that he was growing up the ape people made repeated attempts to steal him from his foster parents and kill him because they superstitiously seemed to hold him accountable for any ill luck that befell their band of tree dwellers.
Young Og felt, as he made his way through the steam carrying the firebrand for a weapon, that he was moving through a fearsome place of swirling vapors toward the edge of the world. He was sure that at any moment he might step into space and disappear into a pit of monsters who were supposed to dwell in space. But fear of the apes drove him on, and he was truly amazed when the steam gradually thinned out and he found himself emerging into quite the same kind of country that he had come from on the other side of the area of steam. It was rugged, rocky, treeless river shore, but it was sanctuary for the cave boy, for he knew none of the ape people would follow him through that barrier of weirdly twisting mist.
But as careful as he was, he lost his fire. He stood the smoking brand up between some rocks while he tried to catch some fish in a pool left by the receding river. Forgetting to be careful, however, in his eagerness to catch his quarry, he made a great pother and splashed a lot of water around. Some of it knocked down the firebrand, and it fell into the water with a hissing sound. Though young Og frantically grabbed for it, he was too late. In that one careless moment he lost his only instrument of protection and comfort.
It was a serious blow. For a while the cave boy was frightened. He crouched beside a rock and struggled to think. His mind went back the ten years or more that separated him from the time when, as a three or four year old, he lived in the cave village with Og, son of Fire, and the cave people. And as he worked at this business of thinking, he was surprised to discover how many things he could recall about his people. He remembered that Og, his father, had a stone axe he carried in his belt, and a sharp stone knife. He had a spear with a stone tip, a bow, and some feathered and stone-tipped arrows. But most clearly of all young Og remembered that his father had two black stones he called fire stones which he struck together and from which sparks flew, Og, son of Fire, trapped those sparks in some bark and wood punk and, breathing on them, made them break into flames. Thus did Og make his own fire.
Young Og decided that he was going to own all these things that his father possessed, but first he was going to have two of those black fire stones. So, as he traveled down the river shore, he constantly looked for pieces of stone that gave off sparks. Stone after stone he tested, and after a while he was pleased to discover that he had two which, when struck together, gave flashes of fire.
Then he found a thick growth of willows farther down the river and got some dried dead bark. For the better part of three days he worked and struggled to make fire. It was hard to trap those flying sparks and harder to fan them to flames. But after dozens of failures he finally succeeded in kindling his first fire, and he was tremendously elated. It gave him a great sense of achievement. His confidence in himself grew.
In his search for fire stones, he had found a sharp piece of flint that would serve as a knife, and another which made an excellent stone axe head. With tough willow bark and a stout shaft he made a rude but serviceable stone axe. With it and the stone knife sticking into the thong that held up the piece of bearskin about his middle, which was the only garment he had ever owned, he was as well equipped as any cave man ever had been until his father had found the secret of the bow and arrow.
The country had become softer and less rugged. To his right, young Og could see cattails and a great muddy slough in which grew tall, gaunt, weirdly shaped cypress trees laced together with hanging vines and bearded with gray moss. But edging the slough and reaching eastward and toward the north was a great plain of tall, plumelike, waving grass that the cave boy knew he could not traverse except by means of game trails. The tall grass was too thick for him to penetrate. But on the edge of the slough, where the plain and the swamp came together, the grass was not so tall,, and Og felt that he might find a trail there. And if he could keep out of the mud of the swamp, he thought he could make his way eastward.
But he had gone not much more than a fair walk when his confidence got a terrible jolt. The trail he followed seemed to be joined by other trails. Presently one, bigger and broader than the others, merged with it, and it was filled with giant footprints. This new trail was made by the mighty mammoths, the Mountains-That-Walked. The great Thundermakers came that way; indeed some had passed not so long since and might still be close at hand. Perhaps they were watching him with cold little eyes from somewhere in the tall grass. Any instant they might come charging out at him with thunderous trumpeting to seize him in their snaky trunks or to try to trample him to death.
It was a fearsome place to be. As the cave boy crouched over the tracks and studied them and alternately swept with troubled gaze the wall of tall, waving grass that surrounded him, he found it hard to restrain an impulse to turn and dash madly back toward the river. Caution suggested that he clear out of there fast. But he knew that if he did, he would probably never find the courage to travel toward the sunrise again and he would never see his people. So, in spite of his fear, he restrained himself while he considered what to do.
The trail of the mammoths skirted the swamp for a distance and then seemed to swing in toward the center of the plain. Maybe at that point, he thought, he might find another branching trail, possibly one not used by the Thundermakers. The bend in the trail was just a short way ahead. Young Og decided to go at least that far. So gripping his stone axe determinedly, though he knew that weapon would be of small use against one of the giant creatures, he began to move cautiously down the trail, his restless eyes searching everywhere for danger.
He had not gone far before he came across discouraging evidence that the Thundermakers had traveled that trail not long since. The big footprints grew in number and there were fresh droppings in the trail. Young Og's courage weakened. He was sure that the great beasts were not too far away, perhaps even now feeding in the great meadow. Suppose they should suddenly decide to come back along that trail! What could he do? He was sure he could not outrun them, for, though huge in bulk, they were also capable of lumbering along with surprising swiftness. It would not be long before they would run him down.
The cave boy's eyes moved in the direction of the big swamp to his right. There lay his only possible salvation. He knew that the ponderous beasts were incapable of traveling through such a big slough. They were so heavy that they would bog down, and he felt sure that if he could reach any of those gaunt cypress trees he could probably climb beyond the reach of the creatures' snaky trunks. Then he could make his way through the treetops after the fashion of the great apes. So he resolved not to leave the vicinity of the slough no matter where the present trail led.
On one of these occasions he heard a strange rumbling noise that came to him from somewhere deeper in the tall grass. He was troubled by that sound. He could not identify it. He was sure it was not made by three-toed horses, nor did it seem to be any animal sound he could recognize. Cautiously but curiously, he crept forward leaving the trail and venturing into the long grass in the direction from which the strange noise came. It grew louder, and as he parted the grass, he discovered its source with a sense of sudden alarm. He was on the edge of a great tramped-down clearing in the wide meadow and in the clearing he beheld, with gripping fear, the largest herd of hairy mammoths he had ever seen. They seemed as many as the leaves on a tree, and that strange sound, like subdued thunder, he discovered came from their rumbling bellies as they tore up and ate great sheaves of sweet young grass that was growing up between the dried stalks of the old grass.
Og's fear almost paralyzed him. Yet he was fascinated, too. Never had he seen so many of these great creatures. Nor had he ever been quite so close to them. There was a terrific number of cows and half-grown offspring. But there was one old bull who was bigger than any of the rest. He was the leader, and he was not eating as gluttonously as the other members of the herd. Instead, he moved about restlessly, his small eyes searching everywhere and his curling trunk constantly testing the air for danger smells.
With pounding heart, Og tried cautiously and quietly to withdraw and reach the trail of the three-toed horses so that he could clear out of there fast. But even as he began to step carefully backward, suddenly the old bull mammoth caught the slight movement he made in the tall grass. With a thunderous trumpeting sound he alerted the rest of the herd, as he launched his great bulk into a tremendous charge. There was a glare in his small eyes that boded ruthless destruction for whatever lurked in the tall grass, be it cave tiger or cave boy.
In panic Og fought his way back through the grass to the trail he had been following. Here he paused in a moment of uncertainty. But as more trumpeting sounded behind him, and as the earth began to tremble under the heavy pounding of the entire herd following the old bull to wipe out whatever danger threatened them, Og knew that he must find safety immediately or he had not long to live.
Young Og was splashing through mud by that time, trying desperately to reach the hummock. Once he staggered and fell in the slime, but he floundered swiftly to his feet and climbed out onto the higher ground of the hummock. Across this he ran, as loud trumpeting sounded behind him, and he could hear the threshing and splashing of the mammoths as they began to wade through the muck.
The cave boy realized, with sinking heart, when he reached the cypress tree, that it was not very big. One of those giant creatures could probably uproot it or break it down with his shoulders with ease. He looked desperately for a bigger tree. But there was none that he could reach in time. Indeed, it became a question whether he could even get safely up into this tree. The old bull, with a number of other great creatures crowding behind him, was floundering through the slime to the hummock. And that small piece of earth began to tremble like jelly as they climbed up onto it and tried to reach the cave boy who was scrambling up into the branches.
It was a close call. Og realized it with sickening horror. The tip of the old bull's reaching trunk wiped across his muddy foot. If he had not pulled it upward with a cry of fear, the beast would have seized him and dragged him out of the tree. As it was, the brute trumpeted with the rage of frustration and wrapping his trunk around the tree he began to shake it so hard that Og had to cling fast with all his strength. He was sure that it would not be long before the angry beast would pull that tree down and finish him. Fearfully, Og looked about for some way of escape from his predicament. Higher up he saw that long trailing lianas crawled across from the top of his tree to other cypresses farther out in the swamp. If he could reach those climbing vines, maybe he could travel across them, hand over hand like the ape people, to the next tree and so on through the swamp always out of reach of the mammoths. Despite the whipping of the tree as the old bull shook it, the cave boy climbed desperately upward. But as he reached the trailing vines in the top he became aware of a dull rending sound below him, as roots began to part and pull out of the mud. At the same time his tree began to lean perilously and he knew that the mammoths would soon have it down.
Young Og never knew that in their terrible rage scores of the great creatures were bogged down in the swamp and lost their lives, all because they wanted to kill one lone cave boy. Nor could he know that eons later scientists would find the skulls, tusks and bones of these great beasts in the sun-baked mud of the old swamp and wonder how so many of them had perished in the same place and at the same time.