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A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Founder & Owner
Ray Rasmussen, General Editor

Volume 11, Number 3, September 2017
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Marilyn Humbert
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


Cave of the Red Deer People

Not many strangers visit our tribe. We are the hunters of giant red deer inhabiting valleys near our cave home. I think I have seen the stooped, hairy ones shuffling through shadowy, tree-lined trails before the mists fall. Sometimes, members of the smooth-skin tribe stop to pay respect as we celebrate rites of the dead. They are strange people with sharp, angular faces and prominent noses, not like us with our all-over furred bodies, flat faces, and jutting eyebrow ridges that protect our deep-set eyes.

Once, when the smoke from the pyres was rising above our forests, calling all to honour those in endless sleep, I sneaked a look at one, a tall, straight warrior. He was watching me.

in a circle
bathed in smoke
the tribe gathers
chanting in unison
the same notes

After the blaze has eaten flesh and entrails, I help Old Mother, our Lorekeeper, collect and prepare the bones to send earthbound spirits on-journey.

pounding rock
mixing ritual-red ochre
with care
to decorate
bones of the dead

The final task after the painted bones have been laid in rest: our Lorekeeper prepares a map of the stars for each of the newly interned sleepers so they can find eternal peace.

hunters' spirits
follow Old Mother's map,
a path of night-fires
to the afterlife forest
home of giant red deer


Author's Note: "Cave of the Red Deer People" is an imagined story loosely based on fact. Bones (approximately 14,000 to 11,000 years old) from this tribe were discovered in China. It is possible there were a number of other humans living at around the same time as the Red Deer People, i.e., Neanderthal man, Denisovans, and Modern man.

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