In the midst of a small, thick wood on one side of a wide-stretching lake that was bordered on the other side by a kind of scrubland — a combination of trees scattered in tiny clumps of twos and threes, low bushes and tall grass — stood tall on two legs a figure obviously female but not yet human. Her erect body, naked of fur, was covered with soft, golden-brown, short-haired down; her thighs were long and her feet large and flat, and she had beautifully rounded small breasts. But her face was ape-like, with a protruding lower part and a flat nose, a receding brow and an elongated, small skull. As a marked difference from any ape, though, the creature’s head was covered with long, flowing, dark-honey hair growing down to her waist; she could be a close specimen to what is known as an Australopithecus.
Her own people might have called her ‘Gloria’ had they had any kind of language, because she was a glorious sample of her species. Having just risen from noontime sleep, Gloria stretched long, opening her mouth in a wide yawn, demonstrating a pair of sharp though not very large canines among many other kinds of teeth.
The afternoon air was hot and heavy, suffused with blinding sunlight. The creature stood silent for a moment, listening to the soft sounds creeping in the bush; she then emitted a sharp whistle, breaking the stillness. Within a few moments, from all around her creatures like herself stirred and rose from among the tree-trunks or climbed down from hiding in the foliage. The adults were all females, accompanied by youngsters of both sexes; some mothers held tiny babies riding astride their chests, their mouths attached to elongated nipples, their tiny palms gripping fast at their mothers’ long hair. The small wood was filled with much movement and chattering, as the females of the species went about their business of reaffirming and teaching their young about sustaining their social ties.
A sudden disturbance interrupted their occupation. A movement through the low shrubs among the scattered trees surrounding the small wood seemed to be approaching in its direction with soft, velvety steps; the primates’ sharp eyes and noses were not late in understanding the characteristics of a large feline coming their way. Another piercing whistle bursting from Gloria’s mouth and all members of her tribe hurried toward the lake.
Reaching it, they jumped merrily into the water, the smooth surface of the glittering mass filling with bobbing dark heads with long hair spread like fans around them. Frustrated, the feline paced for a while in circles around the shore before giving up, turning and vanishing in the bush; there, its yellow hues were swallowed among the grass, its spots mingling with the shadows of the leaves fluttering in the light breeze. The females and youngsters, in the meantime, were behaving like most humans in water. They swam around, frolicking, splashing water all over themselves and others; unlike humans, though, they also opened their mouths from time to time, grabbing and munching some aquatic delicacies made up of insects and little fishes swarming in the water. The lake, evidently, served the females of the species not only as shelter from the hot sun and refuge from preying animals, but also as a provider of protein food as an addition to the fruit and vegetable supply of the bush.
Gloria, however, the large, ‘alpha’ female, mother and leader of her tribe, did not take part in the others’ occupation that day. She loomed out of the water which reached to her waist, her body gleaming sleek and golden in the slanting rays of the sun, her long shiny brown hair flowing on the face of the water; her golden-brown eyes which shone with a bright sparkle surveyed with affection the playing group surrounding her. After a while she turned her gaze away, sending it toward the bush. Stretching up, she pushed her head back and uttered a long piercing shriek totally devoid of all human character; then, with a splash, she dived into the water and started swimming away from the shore. She swam with slow, comfortable strokes, from time to time lifting her head and emitting again and again that same eerie sound. It could be heard for miles around the lake, shattering the silence of the land into a myriad of sparkling fragments.
Unlike most females of the tribe, who stayed in or close to the lake and preferred it as a way of life, most males chose a more wandering lifestyle, venturing far and wide into the bush. On the whole, they were shorter, sturdier and darker than the females, with more remnants of longer hair covering their bodies. They roamed the bush for food among various kinds of antelopes, and a variety of dog-like baboons who, like their two-legged apish counterparts, found it better to abandon the receding forest and establish a new kind of life in the advancing savanna.
In contrast to the noisy, boisterous baboons, the ape-like creatures seemed preoccupied, as if they had ‘no time for games’; some of them were busy digging roots or insects to eat, others tried with swift movements to catch the small rodents hiding in the bushes. Some of the males were standing in one place as if deep in thought, gazing with dark, brown eyes into the blue distances with a kind of forlorn look; they seemed to be expecting something to materialize from there — perhaps a return of their life in the paradise of the forest, which had vanished forever.
Most of the males spent their time in singles or small bands loosely connected. In one spot, however, a group of three seemed to be more tightly bonded, behaving as if they were conducting a special conference. They were sitting motionless together, watching from a safe distance a female antelope which had gone a little afar from the others; she was alternately standing and crouching as if in some difficulty, but the vibrations of her abdomen indicated that she was going through labor. After a little while she lifted her tail, and a pair of glossy hooves showed underneath it. The antelope crouched again, then rose, and the head of the fawn peeped from behind the legs. The beast shook herself, and after a few more minutes, the whole body fell to the ground, glowing inside its amnion sac. At once, before the mother had time to lick it clean, the three apish males leaped out from among the shrubs, snatched the newborn and ran away from the confused mother before she had time to raise her hooves for a kick; rather lost, she just shook her head, licking the place where the newborn had fallen.
The three winners found a large tree and sat in its shade for an uncharacteristically shared meal. Absorbed in their feeding, they did not bother much to communicate with each other except once in a while uttering low grunts expressing mild threats, resentment or agreement. In spite of the strong bond between the three primates, they looked very different from each other, both in appearance and behavior: one of them, sleek in shape and motion, could have been their leader had they had one; with his swift movements and quick eye he was fast to react and quite often managed to enforce his will on the other two. ‘Sleek’ was eating greedily but smoothly, biting into the good meaty parts of the body and not bothering much about the bones.
Another of the threesome had a large body and powerful limbs; he certainly could have felled a full-grown antelope with his fist if only he could catch it; it was clear that sometimes he tended to oppose Sleek’s strong personality by sheer force. ‘Big’ was tearing the meat and gnawing the bones with fiercely powerful teeth, which he showed menacingly the others in order to assert his right over what he thought belonged to him; this show of force was accompanied by a loud snarling, and there was no doubt the others tried not to get too much in his way.
The third creature was the most interesting from a human point of view; it was clearly he who had led the others to the laboring animal in order to catch her newborn for their meal. He was small of stature with weak muscles and slow, thoughtful movements, a mildly crooked body and strange, askew limbs; only his eyes were very bright and quick, with something behind them which indicated a quickness of the brain. It must have been that quality of ‘Clever’ for which the others allowed him to join their company.
As the three ape-like creatures were peacefully enjoying the reward for their effort, the land was viciously pierced by the first shriek from the lake, stabbing it like a sharp blade. It carved the clear air, hitting like a whip the ears of all the creatures around, but particularly penetrating the minds of those animals that were the male gender of the lake dwellers. All of them pricked their ears, pausing to listen; a hushed expectancy hung in the air.
Some of the males soon returned to their former occupations, while others kept waiting and listening. Clever was the first to drop his morsel with this commanding call, sat and listened.
When the second shriek came, Sleek threw away the chunk of meat he had in his hand, swallowed his mouthful and started leaping impatiently about, signing to his friends his intention to go but not daring to leave them to finish the bounty without him. Big took his time; with his muscular arms he had torn one of the animal’s limbs and was crunching the bone with his strong jaws. He had no intention of moving before finishing what he was holding in his hand at that moment.
The third call came in some urgency, and a wave of movement swept over the land; many of the ape-like males leapt to their feet this time, rushing toward the lake. The three feasting heroes no longer hesitated; forgetting all about their meal, they hurried together in the direction of the lake: Big with his long, heavy strides and Sleek in his swift, smooth running, soon overtook most of the hurrying creatures; Clever lagged behind in his strange, sideways leaps, driven by sheer will-power.
Only Gloria was now in the water; she had driven all the other females with their youngsters out of the lake, and they gathered in small groups on the shore or in the shallows, watching at a safe distance. All eyes were fixed at Gloria, who was swimming in large circles in the deeper water, still raising her head now and then to emit her inhuman call until the males began to appear.
While some of them hesitated on the shore, evidently not caring much for the water, the braver ones jumped right into the lake, swimming toward the calling female, disturbing the calm blue gloss and splashing all over; when they reached Gloria, they joined her circling round, trying to catch her. They were a rough crowd behaving in much disorder, chirping, growling and crying out to attract the great female’s attention; at the same time they grunted threateningly at each other, each trying to advance toward the coveted goal while pushing the others away.
It seemed to be Gloria’s task to put things in order; this she did by baring her canines, biting here and slapping there, until they were persuaded to keep within the circle, swimming after her in an orderly fashion.
She soon quickened her pace, cutting the water with the vast movements of her long, powerful arms. She was a very fast swimmer, and many of the males, who had spent most of their adult life on dry land, could not stay with her. One by one they dropped out of the race swimming leisurely toward the shore and joining the ones who had never left it. There, a boon awaited the males who had given up chasing Gloria; females without the encumbrance of young and affected by Gloria’s rut, were only too happy to accept the males who were not good enough for their leader. A general orgy took place in parallel to the happening in the lake, with youngsters and mothers with babies standing around to watch, taking part in the festivity with their grunts and calls of encouragement or disparagement.
In the lake, the chase continued, the number of persistent suitors having been reduced to only a few. Out of the three preying heroes, only Sleek remained, Big having abandoned the chase and Clever never venturing into the water. Those two had easily found mates on shore, the one through sheer force, the other through unusual cunning — both able to transfer their genes further down the line.
The ones remaining in the water were by now going in a sort of tranced inertia, not noticing much of what was happening around them, just pushing doggedly ahead with an effort not to fall behind. After a while there was a sudden break, and Gloria, with a few powerful strokes, pushed ahead of the group, made a turn and came behind the swimming males. While they kept on in the moving circle, she followed by their side, getting close to each of them in turn, looking them over as if examining them. There was no doubt as to who was the best swimmer; the best looking animal of the few left behind. The large female grabbed at Sleek, who had been gliding swiftly through the water, his beautiful dark brown fur shining like smooth velvet as he cut the blue sheet almost as easily as Gloria herself.
It was an exhilarating sight.
The two lovely animals started playing in the water, chasing each other, splashing, leaping in the air and diving in the water like a pair of sparkling dolphins. They grabbed at each other, evading, slipping away from each other and returning, jumping on top of each other, embracing and parting again, each of them taking the initiative in turns, until the final act.
When at last their bodies came together, Gloria was standing up to her waist in the water, Sleek clinging to her as the babies clung to their mothers. His lips gnawing at her breasts, his head wrapped with her flowing hair and his paws grasping tightly at it, his long legs encircled her waist as her palms supported his buttocks. Thus they stayed, their mating act covered by the sheet of water as they swayed with the rippling waves — Venus, rising from the water, holding her lover-son in her arms...
Copyright © 2003 by Tala Bar