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by Tim Love

Under the crescent moon he blunders along the gorge, hurrying so he might return in time to leave with the hunters, otherwise he’ll have to eat with the toothless old women again. He scrapes through the bushes, seeking the rock face. He’s already cut holes for his hands and feet using a flint to ease his climb. With a few grunts he reaches the cave mouth, sitting on the ledge to catch his breath as he looks towards the other side of the gorge up where the stars begin, where the sun will soon rise, then he crawls down into the darkness. He knows the way by touch, he’s been there many times. Bats flit past his face. At the end, he stands up, fingers his leather pouch containing a wet powder. He tried blood before, and red berries. The marks they left didn’t last long. This time he’s mixed red clay with crushed red rock. He waits, listening to the drips, the rustling. A spider creeps up his neck. He flicks it away.

The sun’s glow lasts just a few heartbeats before the brightness hits him. He plunges his hand into the damp mix and smears it onto the wall, the curve of a buffalo’s back matching the rock’s contours. As the light sweeps past so does his hand, making the buffalo move until the gloom returns. There’s nothing more to do, so he crawls back towards the light, lowers himself over the edge feeling for a foothold. Then another. Only when he’s back on the ground does he relax. The bushes are in first flower, their fragrance strengthening with the sun, already hot. Overhead, swifts weave to and fro. He’d love to sit and watch their twisting flight, but he knows he must return to his tribe. They don’t like him, they’ll laugh when he tells them what he’s done. The girls will mock him. He’ll say how the sun only reaches to the end of the cave at certain times. We’ll bring fire, they’ll say. He’ll tell them how the buffalo stirs only at dawn, at a special dawn; with fire they’d only see their own shadows. Will they wait?

Some will. The ones who don’t laugh. Day after day they’ll wait — the witch-doctors, the fools — for years, for centuries. They’ll leave only to spend their lives in monasteries, and when the monasteries are destroyed they’ll create universities, study prisms in darkened rooms, seek the source of the Nile, Knossos, Everest’s summit — making connections so that now curried pizzas are available on Leicester’s Golden Mile; they’ll hack into command systems from bedsits, just for fun. It’s the British tradition of loving their eccentrics and mad scientists that keeps their ideas in circulation, developing the web. Brit Art survived the Momart warehouse disaster, Tate Modern expanding again though Emin’s tent and Chapmans’ Hell went up in flames. Along the Thames Path joggers clock up their miles before anyone else is up.

Tim Love’s publications are a poetry pamphlet Moving Parts (HappenStance, 2010) and a story collection By All Means (Nine Arches Press, 2012). He lives in Cambridge, UK. His short prose has appeared in Stand, Toasted Cheese, Journal of Microliterature, etc. He blogs at http://litrefs.blogspot.co.uk/