Second prize is TWO months in Berengia

Past Horizons: Paleontologists find ancient rock art in Alaska.

I’ll never forget the year my parents sent me off for summer camp the far side of Beringia. Boy, was I bored. And uncomfortable. It was cold, even in summer. It was wet. Even the ground was wet, those parts that weren’t froze. You know how they teach you to dig hip holes so you can sleep better when you can’t make it back to the cave? Don’t try that here, ’cause your…hips… will freeze to the ground and they’ll have to pry you off with flaming sticks.

I did all the usual stuff you do at camp. I learned to get along with Neanderkids, despite their funny looks. I learned to grind up charcoal and mix it with bear fat and paint it on my face, so that I looked like someone with stripes painted on their face. I learned to make a lanyard from mammoth intestines, and use it to carry a buzzard thigh whistle — which is useful if you ever get lost and are dying and there aren’t any buzzards around. I even learned how to paddle a birch log. The trouble with paddling logs up here is that your feet freeze in the water, while your crotch is rubbed raw, because these birches make really small logs.

One of the other things we learned was how to preserve a mammoth by digging a hole in a pond and stuffing it in. The Cave-Ec teacher said it should last a million years. What she didn’t say was that only works in Beringia, and if you try it anywhere south of Denisova you end up with rotten mammoth. Not that there’s anything wrong with a nice well-rotted mammoth, but it does make the water taste funny, and you don’t produce any throwable smellystuff for a week.

Then there was the celebration of multiculturalism. Boooriiing. Even the Neanderkids thought it was dumb. We gathered in this big meadow, and beat bones on bones and sticks on sticks and sticks on bones and rocks on… you get the idea. And we sang grunts. And we got lectured on how we are all children of the lightning god, except for those who were children of the buffalo god, or the aurochs god, or the other rocks gods. And so forth.

That’s when I got into trouble. You see, all the Neanderkids were into making noseplugs — these round disks that you would stick up your nose to make it look bigger. Of course, you wouldn’t be able to breathe, so they’d drill holes in the middle. Well one kid, Uk, was really shy, and I stole his plugs while he was beating his rock and scratched “Uk loves Su” on them. It was hard, because we were all illiterate, but everybody knew what it meant. That got Uk and Su mad, and they both complained. That’s when I got signed up for remedial multiculturalism.

They had three or four of us in the class, which was team taught by a Neander and a Person. Team teaching is a lot like the slap dance. When one got tired, the other would come out and drag them off and start over. We sat at these rock desks with a really nice view of the ocean, to remind us that we could be out there logging (and freezing our toes off) and got lectured at for a day and another day. While our teachers were contradicting each other over which proto-hominid had richest spiritual and intellectual lives, I sat there and carved “Uk is a seagulls ass” in the rock. Of course, it just looked like a bunch of lines, but they were spiritually and intellectually rich with meaning. For me, anyhow. And then I carved “Su is a pile of otter offal”. That pretty well filled up the rock, ’cause it’s hard to get lines to alliterate. I would have carved more, but our teacher won the argument, and the remaining Neander faculty came and dragged off their former colleague, and they gave us the rest of the day off so we could all go down to the marsh and dig for mammoths.

Next summer, I told my Aunt Ja I’d rather get a summer job harvesting emmerwheat.


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9 Responses to “Second prize is TWO months in Berengia”

  1. Kurt Says:

    Submit this. It’s terrific. If you aren’t sure where, ask Vandana.

    • FoundOnWeb Says:

      Glad you liked it (I’ve tweaked it a bit). And I might just follow your suggestion, once I get my nose above alligator level. The writing part is easy. The submission thing takes thought.

      • Kurt Says:

        Like a maiden aunt (Maggie Smith, anyone) I obnoxiously sent mail to Vandana pointing her at it and asking where she thought it might fit. It’s part of a minor but long tradition of writing in-century, where the century is thousands or more years in the past, often with humor (as here). You might try Strange Horizons–it’s better than some of the fiction I see there. Sorry for going behind your back, but it was for the best, dear.

  2. vsinghsblog Says:

    Ah, I am so glad Kurt sent this my way! I needed a reason to smile! But also, Steve, seriously, you should be sending out your stuff. This piece by itself is probably not long enough but along with say two other Aunt Ja pieces it would form a lovely triptych. More via email.

    I still remember your cowboys and dragons story way back when we were all so young and met face to face….

  3. FoundOnWeb Says:

    Thanks Kurt, Vandana. You guys are embarassing me. Those were / are just little no-brainer vignettes that pop into my head when I read the base articles.

    I promise I will buckle down and send … something … to … erm … somebody… this weekend.

    Meanwhile, did you read that they’ve found a paleolithic dog buried with a mastodon bone in its mouth?

  4. vsinghsblog Says:

    I just read out all the Aunt Ja stories to my daughter who laughed hysterically through the whole thing. She says: write more! write now!

    And I concur.

    Didn’t know about the paleolithic dog. Seems to be crying out for a story.

    • FoundOnWeb Says:

      I’m so glad she liked them. They are fun to write.

      I should have said that the Genetics and Shanidar3 stories should be read aloud in a “Damon Runyon” accent: a New York accent with no contractions, and in a very strange tense – the historical present.

      Runyon is this newspaper guy from New York, and he is writing a bunch of short stories about life during the prohibition era. I am not sure why Runyon is writing his stories like this, because I do not think that the average New Yorker is speaking in this fashion, even in the 1920’s, which are practically paleolithic on their own. About the only place you are hearing this accent is in the movie “Guys and Dolls”, which is starring Frank Sinatra and Marlon somebody and is a very good flick, in a 1960’s musical sort of way.

      Historical present is a very hard tense to pull off, and Runyon is really the only guy who is able to do this in my knowledge.

      Here’s the only story I could find:

  5. FoundOnWeb Says:

    I just noticed. Nobody clicked on the internal links for this story. They are what make it really funny. All of the Aunt Ja stories are linked to real life paleontology. Go back and check.

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