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To Those at the End · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
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Written on the Wall
Cloud Chaser stretched his limbs and got to his feet. Yawning, he seized his tattered leather hide, put it on, then strolled to the threshold of his cave and watched silently as the early rays of the morning sun daubed the surroundings in blood and crimson. With a grunt, he walked back inside, picked up the scant leftovers of his yesternight meal, next to the ashes of the dead fire, and chewed them thoughtfully.

“I’m dying.”

This realisation was not new. He was the last of this tribe. He had witnessed his kindred pass away one after the other. Mishap for some. Unknown, incurable illnesses for others. Old age had claimed its lot, too. Starvation had swept the rest. He cast a glance at his spear, with its polished, piercing stone end. What use he had of it anymore? Big game had vanished. The smaller one was quick, too difficult to shoot from a distance.

Of course, there remained the fruits and berries borne by trees and shrubs. But they were too meagre a pick to sustain him in the long run, and they couldn’t be harvested when trees lied dormant in winter.

Cloud Chaser took a fawn bone and rummaged randomly into the ashes. It didn’t use to be so. When he was a boy, food was abundant. He remembered wolfing down hunks of deers, boars, even elks and bears. Then the weather had changed: less snow, more sun, more heat. Summers became parching. The animals moved away. His tribe didn’t follow suit. As far as their collective memory harked back, they had always dwelt here. There was no reason to move, game would eventually return. Nor would the shaman have authorised it, given how many souls haunted the cave. Elsewhere, without the gentle caring of their dead, they would surely fall prey to evil foes. So he used to claim.

But he had died, too. Like the others. And the animals hadn’t come back.

Was that even real, Cloud Chaser wondered, or just a way to cover up laziness? Or worse, cowardice?

The final blow had come when the strangers had appeared. They were alien. Their faces were weird. Cloud Chaser could see how they looked the same, and yet unlike. They were taller, lighter of build, darker of skin, less hairy. They ran faster, they hunted in big packs. They had no respect for nature: they killed more than they needed, and discarded most the carcasses which turned into carrion. They killed for fun rather than need. They had even slain a few of Cloud Chaser’s folks, and maimed others. He didn’t know why. He always had had friendly meetings with other people before. The only explanation Cloud Chaser could come with is that these aliens were intentionally cruel.

When they had hunted down all but the most elusive preys, they had gone, trailed by death and desolation, leaving him, alone and starved.

Now his last hour was drawing near. Soon he would join his ancestors whose souls lingered in the cave, and his body would rot away, unless some predator, attracted by the stench, would feed on it first. No one would adorn it with small trinkets and bury it deep in the back of the cave, where all the others lay.

He shook his head in defiance. He couldn’t resign to die like this. He had to leave something behind. Futile and pointless, maybe, but something that would survive him, something which meant “I was here, you know?” Something other than brittle and dry bones.

But what?

The bone he was holding fell from his hand right into the ashes. Cloud Chaser growled in anger. He fetched it back, and stood up. He felt weak. His head reeled. He had to drop the bone and press his hands against the wall to keep his balance.

When he recovered, he pulled his hands back. They had left two dark, five-fingered shapes on the wall. Cloud Chaser smiled. He rushed to the nook where he kept the brown powder he smeared over his body to better conceal himself while hunting. He dived his hands deep into the brown dust heap, walked back to where he stood, and pressed them again on the wall, only this time harder.

When he drew them back, they had left two other unmistakable, sharp prints.

Cloud Chaser stepped back, sat in contemplation, and nodded.

Now, he could die in peace.
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#1 ·
· · >>Monokeras
First impression: the name "Cloud Chaser" made me think for a moment that this was a pony story. Ha.

Anyways, I liked your central idea, here, with the contemplative neanderthal thinking about, but not quite able to grasp, the concept of extinction. You do a really good job of making his thoughts seem simple/neanderthal-ish without making him seem childish/stupid.

Now, this might just be me and my love of two-characters-having-a-conversation stories, but I think having Cloud be completely alone with his own thoughts felt a little, um, dense, I guess. IMO, it's generally easier for readers to engage with dialogue rather than a lot of basic thought-narration, because dialogue feels more like there's something happening.

There are definitely a couple of moments where I felt like the story was just giving me all the information I needed to understand the context, such as when Cloud thinks about the "alien" humans and describes them. As dumb as it sounds, in my opinion a story like this needs to make the reader kind of feel like they're figuring it out on their own.

So my knee-jerk reaction is that if I were writing this story, I'd have Cloud Chaser talking with another neanderthal about how awful the "aliens" are. But, well, I'm not the author, so feel free to not write what I would. :P My only real advice would be to try to find a way to present the information more smoothly/effortlessly to the reader.

Thanks for entering!
#2 · 1
· · >>Monokeras
Is "yesternight" a real word?

Something I liked:

In terms of thematic deepness, this entry is one of the strongest of the bunch, if not the strongest in my opinion. It's kind of a scary idea, that there was once a humanoid race who shared the earth with homo sapiens who may have been very similar to us, and that our ancestors had driven these people to extinction. We don't know much about neanderthals, at least from what I can recall. Did they have names? Did they know of poetry? When they looked up at the stars at night, did they wonder what lay beyond our world just as we did? Surely even a finger painting on a wall would be considered a victory for the legacy of neanderthals, having confronted their inevitable collective death. I'm sure we look at them now in much the same way a smarter and more cautious race will look at us thousands of years from now after we've surely destroyed ourselves. Of course, when they find the remains of our existence, they'll find something far more nefarious than markings on a wall...

Something I didn't like:

Is it obvious to criticize this entry for the use of a pony name? Yes, but I feel the need to bring this up, because it's actually connected to how our primitive protagonist is characterized and, by extension, how the human menace is characterized. Like I said, we don't know if neanderthals gave names to each other or themselves, so from the author's standpoint it might've sounded practical to give the protagonist a name that doesn't sound recognizably human. Why did it have to be a pony reference, though? Because at some point the protagonist might not have been a neanderthal at all, but a pony, and the story was retro-fitted to be original and not MLP-related. The way Cloud Chaser (ugh) describes the human invaders also smacks to me of xenofiction, since after all, neanderthals and homo sapiens didn't look that different from each other, and I doubt one race would've seen the other as akin to aliens. Honestly it sounds suspicious.

Verdict: Excellent in concept, but needs more work with the execution. Middle or upper half of my slate.
#3 ·
· · >>Monokeras
In which is a different Cloud Chaser. On another note, it warms my heart that, in a round with high sci-fi undertones, a primitive/neolithic(?) era story is the final entry on the list.

Let's talk about the elephant in the room: Cloud Chaser's name. A pony name in an original fiction round. Clever how you used it since some groups of people used (and still use) names like this. And, technically, the pony style of the name is ultimately a sensible one (even if I don't know how Cloud Chaser chases clouds here) since names started out that way anyway, with Britain's blacksmiths and so on bearing the last name of Smith and the like.

Regarding the story itself: first off, there seems to be too much exposition. While it's an excellent move to describe the history of Cloud Chaser and his people (especially given the ending and the implications of it), you went on for too long and therefore built up the ending too much, especially when some of that ending's value would inevitably come in post-reading reflection. Some tightening of the sentences or paragraphs and some cutting off of details that aren't really necessary and can be assumed by the reader realizing this is set in the era of stone—do that and this would be even better.

The above also implies that you should have put more expression and more detail and more of Cloud Chaser's thoughts in the present, about him dying and his next actions.

Which leads to the subtle ending and the wham implications behind it. Because, from the looks of it, the very subdued ending belies the fridge logic-esque implication that this story chronicles the first human cave drawing in human history. As someone who's currently reading Edward Rutherfurd's Sarum, this hits home a lot for me (so, yes, I'm also very biased, but still). It also helps that this revelation doesn't come out of nowhere since you hint at it with parts such as:

He shook his head in defiance. He couldn’t resign to die like this. He had to leave something behind. Futile and pointless, maybe, but something that would survive him, something which meant “I was here, you know?” Something other than brittle and dry bones.

But what?

indicating that he did not know how to do cave drawings because that has not been invented yet, and then you get this too:

As far as their collective memory harked back, they had always dwelt here.

combined with the mention of the shaman (who could also be the group's historian, and I don't think that's a far fetch), it leads the reader to think that it's all oral tradition and so on: no cave drawings yet.

Overall: an excellent story in the guise of a barely My Little Pony fan fic. Should appear as a medalist or at worst in a very close fourth place.
#4 ·
· · >>Monokeras
Evocative and interesting. I like the concepts at play here, especially with a character facing something that he can't even understand. I do have some concerns with the use of language here, and what this character knows versus what he doesn't, but that's just some nitpicky stuff on my end. Good work.
#5 ·
Kudos to our trio of medalists. Well done, peeps! :)

>>Comma Typer
>>Comma Typer

First, thanks for the overall appreciation which translated into this fiction getting the fourth place.

I apologise for the pony name. It was totally inadvertent. My idea was to find a name like the "Moon Watcher" who appears in 2001, A Space Odyssey by A. C. Clarke. I came up with this one, but I was miles away from imagining it was a pony name.

I have always been fascinated by the disparition of Neanderthals. What happened to them? Were they victims of a virus or bacteria our ancestors were better equipped to beat off? Was there a huge war, which Neanderthals lost? Were they exterminated? Starved? Did the climate change, and wipe them away? No one can say, but the truth is probably in-between. What was the life of the last of them, lost somewhere in the south of Spain? We will never know. So this was a simple story trying to pack a few of those question into 750 lines, with an extra reference to La Cueva de las Manos or the Pech Merle.

Now nothing much is known about Neanderthals, apart from the fact that they buried their dead, which surely means that they could think, speak and had religious beliefs. That I tried to impart these to my protagonist, which was a difficult balance to strike, since I had to find the halfway house between scientific ignorance and good practical knowledge. Apparently, I did, which is a huge win for me.

Anyways, thanks again for your benevolence, and see you next time. Short story round, if I have time and inspiration.