Sudha madhuri dash is a published author of many novels. Along with photography she loves horse riding and practices odissi dance.
She glowed in the dark
The great hunters of the pod
THE FIRST HYBRID
AQUA....MILLIONS OF YEARS AGO
He was about to enter a narrow cave when he stopped short to watch the slim, white form that was standing at the edge of the water. Its hands and feet were frail, weak, and glowing with a strange light. The creature looked up at him and nodded. They were no strangers to each other’s presence. The entrance to his cave was narrow. The cave though small was wide enough and comfortable for him. The floor was comfortably littered with bones, pieces of pelt and fish scales. The cave was longish and had a small rivulet of fresh water running across, then disappearing deep into the under belly of the cavern. A small pool had collected in one corner and there was enough water to last him for days. He got busy lighting up a small fire. He wanted to burn the fish before he ate them. They tasted better when cooked, than raw. A series of blood-chilling howls in the distance signalled that the dire wolves were out on the prowl. He patted his only friend, who whined and snuggled close to him. He always slept with his harpoon by his side.
It was on days like this when the sea had been stormy at night that he would find plenty of food...one just needed to scavenge. He was looking among the debris of sea plants and weeds when a soft moan alerted him to something that was lying under a cover of sand and weed. Harpoon raised, he poked at the shape that moved a bit. He stood wondering as he had never seen anything like this before, at least not so close at hand. Her body was naked-there was no fur upon it. In the morning sun, her skin glowed with a bluish sheen. Her eyes were large, like pools of coal, with high-arched eyebrows. It was a female of her species-of that he had no doubt-for she looked like the females in his family unit; she had long dark hair and very fine features, unlike the flat-faced ones that he had came across. Her breasts were raised and rounded, unlike the large droopy and pendulous ones that he had seen among females. He, somehow, liked their small round form and wanted to touch them; her legs were slender and the toes extremely long, with skin growing between them. As he was looking at her, she too was looking at him, observing him and waiting for his next move...he stood wondering what to do. He could always eat her...most probably she would taste like fish. Then he saw blood on the sand around her. She was wounded, and that too badly. He tried to touch, but she gave a loud terrified moan and moved away from him. An open wound ran down from her shoulders to her waist.
s heavy but he was strong; terrified, she thrashed about upon his shoulders for a while but wShe waeak due to blood loss, she went limp. Carrying her easily upon his strong shoulders, he took the narrow path on the ledge to his cave. She scrambled away from him, fear writ upon her face, as he lit the fire. She had seen creatures like him before but fire was new to her-she had always known it as something that fell from the skies. She felt afraid...the creature was ugly and had only one eye. She squealed out loudly as he came at her with a sharp piece of rock that was fashioned like a knife. He looked at the fear writ upon her face. Cutting her free, he moved away. She lay where he had left her; her eyes alert upon his every move. Singeing a fish upon the open flames, he threw it at her. She picked it up and sniffed; her fingers were long with skin in-between them and her nails curved at the edges giving her hand a claw-like appearance. She sniffed at the fish and then threw it back at him, hitting him in his bad eye. He yelped out loudly, while his loyal dog growled. She showed no reaction but slithered out of his way until she reached the tiny pool of water. He could hear her sliding into it and there she remained, refusing the raw fish that he threw in her direction. She was sleeping; he gently rubbed the fat into her wound. The bleeding had already stopped and the fat would prevent any infection and keep away the blowflies that could lay eggs in there. As she lay prone, he flicked back her long thick swathe of rough hair. He was surprised to see gills behind her ears...just like the fish he cooked and ate every day.
He did not intend to eat her now. He had liked the feel of her body when she had lain across his shoulders. He liked the feel of her skin under his palm, her body felt smooth and warm unlike the furry roughness of his own. Often at night when he was thirsty, she would not let him come near the pool. She would stand up with her back arched, and then draw her lips open in a snarl; her hands would curl up to lash out at him. He made soothing sounds, but all to no avail. These sounds always worked on his dog but why not on her.
Bloody fish, he thought to himself.
Should eat her then she will shut up for good, he smiled at his own thoughts.
She watched him smile and making strange sounds to himself. What a monkey! She thought aloud to herself.
What would he taste like? She wondered...she had never eaten a monkey before.
He looked at her making strange ticking sounds with her tongue, he liked eating tongues, especially those of the lizard-this one may taste better, and then she would stop making those stupid sounds.
She stepped back into the pool the monkey was again talking, that furry skin of his would make a warm wrap; she thought aloud to herself and smiled.
Growling like his dog, he left the cave to get a drink of fresh water and to pee. She would not let him pee on his corner stone. Miss Clean, he grumbled. As if the cave belonged to her, even his corner place where he passed his digested food had been covered with soil and she had thrown out all his bones and fish-scales. The cave looked so bare now and smelt different too- more like her than him. He would eat her tomorrow for sure.
She watched him leave and thought aloud, dirty monkey had no shame! Tried to pee in front of me...her people would never dream of disgracing themselves in this manner in front of a woman.
The night was stormy and he almost slipped on the ledge while peeing. Somehow clinging on for his life, he vowed, I will eat her tomorrow. The women in his tribe had always loved to watch a male pee. This one was acting funny. The cold drops were chilling; he ran back to the cave, cursing the female who was watching him silently. Shivering to the bone, he threw in a few more pieces of wood into the fire.
The furry animal was again muttering to himself, She grinded her sharp rows of serrated teeth. The sooner she ate him the better; she somehow liked her cave life and the small pool of fresh water that kept her skin moist. She did not want to go back. Life in the sea was not easy. They always moved...predators would tail them when they migrated to warmer waters. The pod had tried to take shelter in the caves inland where the river flowed, but had been attacked by those whom they had always feared. She had somehow escaped with her life. As the days passed, she healed and was soon able to come out from her cave. She often scoured the horizon in the hope of finding her kind, fearing the worst in her heart.
Now as she looked at him, he was searing the fish in the fire. She felt strange warmth spread within her...she could hear the sound of her heartbeat. This side of his face was fine and she liked his deep-set eyes- they were small pools of blue, just like her home.
The sky had cleared up, there was no food; the female was eating too much, he should throw her out or at best, cook and eat her. She looked at him- there goes the monkey mumbling and muttering again, she thought aloud to herself. The sounds that she was making were hardly any language at all...primitive fish, he thought to himself as he threw her a funny look. Then, he kept sharpening his stone-tipped harpoon and knife that he had fashioned from a large piece of volcanic rock. He was proud of his creations; especially of the red and green shiny stones that were embedded into them...they would shine brightly in the sunlight. He looked at her-she was sleeping now. The female had made a nest for herself near the pool-all the best corners in his cave taken by her. Strangely, instead of feeling angry, he somehow felt happy that she was doing so. He left, throwing one last glance at her. She watched him leave. The silence in the cave kept disturbing her. She had started to like the idea of having him around.
He left a fire burning. In the warmth, she felt herself doze away. He headed for the beach. He had poor luck today-it was the breeding season for horseshoe crabs and the massive arthropods were feeding voraciously, scavenging on whatever that lay upon the beach. They came at him and his dog, their claws clacking loudly. He did not intend to get into a confrontation; their shells at this time of the year would hardly yield any meat. Catching one and killing it would not be that easy, at least not when there were hundreds of them rallying around the beach. He left the beach and headed for the burnt tree line. He hesitated, but for a second. He was not afraid of the predators but of something else, that lurked beyond.
He entered the jungle upon stealthy feet. There was not even a flicker of green anywhere. The fire had ravaged all the plants-it was many years now but there had been no rejuvenation of new life. Most of the ground was covered with black mirror-surfaced rocks that now glowed in the morning light.
Stepping carefully among the sharp tipped rocks, he moved deeper. He came as far as he knew. He did not want to go any further than this. This part of the land was their territory. He was hungry and so was she. For the first time in his life, he dropped caution and crossed the shallow rivulet; he was now in their territory. He knew that once he crossed the termite mounds that now stood empty and bereft of life...he was prey-no longer a hunter. Here, beyond the termite mound, surprisingly, green grass had found its roots. One could hear a bird in the tree. The sun had burnt his back by the time he reached the river. The wide blue expanse was like a shimmering sheet of blue. He crept ahead until he could hide behind a large boulder. The river was full of sweet-tasting fish and crabs; as a child, he would often come here. He did not have much time-he had to get back to the cave before it got dark. With harpoon in hand, he glided into the depths. He was a good swimmer and he knew his hunt well.
The water was deep and clear-he saw a large coelacanth gliding past. Dim and sluggish creatures, they were easy to kill. He went after the slow-moving form and harpooned it just as it was about to dive into the deeper depths. He started to cut up the fish into easy portions; the fish had a tough outer skin and his knife drew his own blood many a times. Packing the flesh in leaves, he threw the rest back into the river. The sun was already weaning away from the skyline. Little did he realise his folly. The blood trickled down, mixing into the calm waters of the river.
A line of caves lay submerged just below the surface of the water. A faint light from the sun followed the flow of the cloud of blood. First, to wake up was a dark male who had a row of spiny fur jutting from his head, ending at his tail bone. His eyes deeply hooded, flicked open and scanned the bright blue water around him. The large fish-like gills behind his ears were opening and closing rapidly with nervous anticipation. His body was streamlined and covered with scales. He raised his face and started to draw in the water through his gills. The smell of blood was familiar to him. They were the top carnivores, who when hungry would cannibalise even their own young. He could smell the fish and something else...that something else, which was making him hungry with each passing moment. The large female lay asleep, as she was heavy with child; the smaller males lay around her in a protective circle. Mating instincts were strong in these species-usually one large female formed a nest pod to which the males flocked. She, when hungry would kill and eat one of them-it was a very natural instinct in her, part of her survival.
She too could smell the blood. The smell reminded her of soft, warm flesh that she had devoured many, many years ago when the fire had not burnt down the jungle. The dark male who was her favourite, uttered a low frequency shrilled cry that she and the others like her could only hear. The small dolphins in the river heard it too...they scampered and scattered away in all directions. They knew the meaning of that cry. She rose and picked up a harpoon fashioned from the thighbone of a large mammal. The harpoon was short, and in her strong clawed fingers, extremely deadly. Her face was almost human-like; the raised crest on her head set her apart. The rough hair-like spines with serrated hooks at their tips covered most of her head and back, giving the appearance of a long-flowing mane. Deceptive in appearance she could use them to skin an animal alive, just by rubbing her spines against them. She stretched out her strong legs, the webs between her toes extremely defined; the claw on her big toe was her best weapon...she could disembowel her victims easily. The pod was a strong member of fifteen. While a few remained behind, the rest left the cave.
The scent of the hunt got stronger as they neared the shore-their deep-set eyes scouring the shores for the prey. Following a scent on land was as easy for them as it was in the water. The pod followed their queen, usually she always led such hunts. She picked up the scent of her prey...she was excited and her eyes were turning red with each passing moment. The only other time her eyes turned red was when she would be mating with the dark one...the dominant male of the pod.
The sun was just but an orange globe, and he hurried on. The load of fish on his back was slowing him down. He took the same path that had brought him here. The jungle was slowly waking up. He was worried about the female; he wondered to himself what the fish might be doing.
As he hurried on unaware of the fact that he was leaving a clear trail of blood behind, at every step, death was coming closer. Behind him, the pod had picked up speed behind. Any moment now, their queen would be closing on her prey. Something else was bothering her and she kept a thoughtful distance. The dark male running behind her was surprised at her hesitation. They followed, keeping the prey in sight.
He had reached the cliff. The sun was now but a gentle glow in the dark. Taking the narrow path, he hurried down to the cave, immersed deep in his own thoughts he forgot to be cautious. He entered the cave only to find it bare. He dropped his load and hurried out. The daylight though faint was enough; he scoured the horizon below him. The empty beach and the crashing waves met his eyes. Had she gone away? Good the fish was gone...
He re-entered his cave, now the cave was all his...no more irritating interference from that fish-like creature! He would now pee and pass out his digested food in his favourite corner. The fish creature was not here to snarl and snap at him. He tried hard, but could not bring himself to pee. He tried to light a fire-his hands were shaking and he failed miserably. He took out a piece of fish...fresh raw fish had always been his favourite, but now it was tasting like mud in his mouth. He sat back on his hunches; he could feel the tears flooding his good eye.
The hunters closed in with stealth and waited for the large female, who then turned around and halted her warriors in their tracks, with just a look thrown in their direction. They shrank low, almost as if swimming and then they moved away in one smooth fluid movement. She stood observing, her eyes well adapted to seeing in the dark. She observed her prey with keen interest, the fish that lay untouched...the fire that lay unlit and the tears flowing down his eye. She entered the cave, hardly making a sound. Just like a soft breeze of wind. Her intent quite clear in her eyes, yet her heart unsure...
She was surprised at her own hesitation-by now she would have made a kill...then why...? She was ruthless and a hunter who often fed on her own kind. She stood in the darkness, her eyes taking in the whole place, until her eyes fell on the small pool of water. She approached it...her gliding into the water without even a ripple was not surprising at all. A top predator, she knew her art of stealth well; her expertise lay in her being a heartless killer. She looked at her prey, just an arm’s length away he sat already looking defeated. What was wrong with the monkey, she wondered? She was not seeing the usual reactions...
She slithered closer, almost breathing down upon him. She was about to raise her harpoon when her eyes fell upon the string of shells that he was clutching tightly in his palm. The shells glowed with a deep blue tint in the darkness of the cave. She stopped, shell-shocked; her eyes turning misty with tears of recollection...the past still hurting. The others followed her as she hurried away. She stopped not until she entered her lair deep under the river. She was restless and in a mood so fierce that the others kept out of her way. The large dark male watched her with knowing eyes. He had been through her agony once before, but at that moment he was worried about his offspring that lay in her womb. She was happy yet reluctant to let go. She wanted to meet her, but she knew that she would not be accepted. The one born of her womb...the only one to survive. She felt a gentle hand upon her; her mate stood next to her, worry creasing his face. He was risking his own life...he knew it, yet she meant the world to him. She cried her heart out. It was good they were alone and the other hunters of the pod did not see her so weak and sad. The queen of the Mers could not afford to show such weakness.
Back at the cave, he sat; unaware of anything; he could only feel the pain and loneliness of parting from her. She had not gone far. Hunger had driven her to the sea. Without her bow and arrow, she was no good at getting a big catch but at that moment, she was only looking for something to eat and just then, the warm currents from the east brought in a shoal of fish. She hesitated only for a second; keeping a wary eye out for predators, she started to hunt, eating her way through, just like the dolphins and the porpoises that like her were swimming in and out of the large cloud of the migrating fish. After having had her fill, she caught a few and then stringing them with a long twine of seaweed, hurried back. She had almost reached the cliff when she saw them. She scurried behind a rock not wishing to be seen by any of them. The big menacing figure of the large female caught her attention...
She knew them well...they were hunters who had come for her, not once but many times. Her mother had laid down her life trying to prevent her abduction. Why did they want her? The whole pod had resisted but death had come swiftly in the form of the large dark female. She had survived; the female had spared her but why? Worry furrowed her brows, she waited for them to leave and then she rushed towards the cave, worst fears clouding her heart. She stopped short on the narrow slippery path leading to the cave...a trail of blood left her gasping. She fell to her knees crying out with agony. Again, she had lost everything...she sat there weeping salty tears, that flowed from her eyes nonstop. He heard her cry and rushed out. Laughing with joy he picked her up...holding her tight to his chest, he kissed her on her soft moist lips. She entered the cave with him, only to shiver with fear. She could smell the hunters...and she picked up the scent of the large female. She had been here...she would come again and this time the equations would be different. If they had to survive, they would have to leave. He could read her fear...there was no spoken language between the two...their love was enough. She led the way and he followed. The love between a land-dwelling still-evolving monkey and a creature adapted to life in sea...a most wonderful love story began that laid the foundations for the future to come...a future that would be strong and mysterious. A future for the hybrids...that who would be walking among us. TO BE CONTINUED
© 2022 sudha madhuri dash