The group sat, scattered across the clearing. The strenuous journey and the humid jungle air had drained us. The group was hungry, but searching for fruiting trees would just have to wait. Smaller monkeys screeched and howled in the canopy. The wind carried a stench that kept tensions high.
My mother fingered through my coarse black hair as I rested my head in her lap. She pulled a tick from my neck. I missed how she used to carry me against her chest while collecting figs in the forest.
We had only been on the move for a few days now. The fire that engulfed our old camp could still be seen smoldering over the peaks.
This jungle, though similar to our home, was foreign to all of us. The wind blew to a different rhythm, the trees seemed to whisper amongst themselves, and beyond the foliage we knew strange eyes gazed upon us.
Dad and older men had left to scout the area. The only reason we had even stopped was because my mother refused to go any further.
There were too many youngsters with us. My father was used to leading hunting parties, not his extended family. So with the others, he scouted the area for tracks, water, or a safe place to rest for the night.
Ants were busy along their highway. Groups of them were hauling large insects, spoils of war. Their hill must not have been far.
Youngsters had begun to wrestle in the middle of the clearing. Mothers ignored their children’s screeches and cries. I didn’t feel like playing; my father wasn’t playing, why should I. I wanted to go, but to my father I still was not old enough.
I began to explore the tree line along the clearing. Over my shoulder, mother moved her gaze to the others. I cut into the tree line. As I moved alongside the clearing, I preyed upon the unsuspecting members of our group.
Grandmother sat with my aunt, who was much younger than my mother. My grandfather wasn’t far from them. He reclined, covering his face, while one of my cousins pestered him.
I moved unseen through the underbrush. I came along a girl; she was close to my age. Her father was with the scouting party too. She was unaware of what lay lurking feet away, out of sight.
A large chimp burst from the underbrush. The lunging black mass was followed by more galloping brutes. They stormed the clearing, clubbing any startled victim within their reach. Before I knew what to do, her head was bashed by a lone fist. The clearing erupted into a chorus of shouting and warring chimps.
I stayed hidden in the tree line as I watched my family attempt to fend off these foreign monsters. The attacking chimps clawed and gnashed at the others, who failed to escape the cadre. From behind me I heard the sounds of branches snapping and foliage tear.
It was the scouting party. They rushed past me, leaving me still unseen. They burst out into the clearing driving into the group of rogues. I saw my father bash the face of one who had been feeding upon an infant. My uncle laid his teeth into the shoulder of another. The clearing had transformed into a mass of black mounds and a crimson mist began to drench everything within it.
The war party began to flee. They went off in their own directions dispersing into the jungle. My father and the others gave chase, leaving behind the
dying and wounded. I stayed in my hiding place, only to look out into that clearing where flesh had been ripped and torn. That girl’s eyes were still open. As her head rested upon the ground with her mouth agape, she stared back at me.
It was nightfall before any of the scouting party returned. There were no more than four of them left. They were greeted by the few survivors of the brutal assault. I finally crept out of the tree line and approached my father’s side slowly.
My father’s right eye had been gouged from his face. He was covered in an array of gashes and missing tuffs of hair. He grabbed me by the shoulder and hoisting me up, pulled me into his lap. His heart was still beating against his chest.
That night we sat there silently, hungry. With the little more than half dozen of us left we grieved in quiet, letting the jungle croon for those who had been lost. Sitting in my father’s lap, I fingered through mother’s black coarse hair.