Just because we happened to have lived through an apocalypse, it didn’t mean that Mrs. O’Donnell stopped being a teacher. She loved teaching.
“So, class,” she said to the five grubby children who sat in the cave before her, “Let’s talk about long ago when people lived in caves. Why did they live in caves?”
Bobby’s hand shot up. “Yes, Bobby?” The boy answered, “Because they’re cool!”
“Well yes,” Mrs. O’Donnell had to admit, “they are cool. But they lived there because, like us, they didn’t have any houses.”
Karen raised her hand. “Did they live through an apocalypse too?”
Mrs. O’Donnell chuckled. “No, honey. They didn’t live through an apocalypse. They lived through the Ice Age. They didn’t have the skills that we have, like how to use a computer or a thermostat. But they had different skills. Like they knew how to build a fire without matches.”
The kids pulled their knees up and hugged themselves. Everyone was cold.
“And,” Mrs. O’Donnell continued, “they knew what plants were edible and which weren’t…”
The kids remembered how hungry they were. They fantasized about chocolate bars.
“And,” Mrs. O’Donnell continued, “they knew how to hunt. And there were animals available to hunt.”
Bobby piped up, “We have animals. We have rats.”
Mrs. O’Donnell said, “Bobby, please don’t speak out of turn. Yes, we have rats. We also have squirrels and crows and cockroaches and lots of small animals. But the big animals, that were difficult to hunt, that were worthy adversaries, we’ve killed them all. They’re not around anymore.”
The children were silent. Mrs. O’Donnell took a piece of charcoal and started drawing on the cave wall. “Now in the old days,” she began, “when the men would go out to hunt, they would practice in the cave first. They would conjure the big animals because they were difficult to hunt. They were worthy adversaries. And they would bring them alive within the caves, in drawings, and plan how the hunt would go before they actually did the hunt.”
The children watched her draw a lynx. Quickly the cat’s head emerged from the stone, as if by magic. Part of the cat was still a drawing, but part of it was alive.
She said, “In order to conjure the animal, the shaman had to know it from the inside-out. He had to go into the animal in order to know what the animal was thinking, and how to hunt it. And once he came out, he would have to remember that he was human. So he would mark the wall with his hand, to remember a human drew this. She dipped her hand in paint and pressed it against the wall.
The children gasped as the lynx emerged from the wall and in one bite, swallowed her head. While it leisurely ate the rest of her, they ran screaming from the cave.