A Little Fiction – The Discovery of Fire

bonfire surrounded with green grass field
Photo by Vlad Bagacian on Pexels.com

The man on the high rocky platform raised himself unsteadily to almost his full height. He was still slightly unused to standing: he felt distinctly giddy when his knuckles were off the floor. Never the less he steadied himself against the rocky outcrop and peered down at the gaggle of fellow troglodytes that had assembled below him, squatting uncomfortably on the rocky ground and checking one another for edible parasites. He raised his hand and a hush descended on the crowd, broken only by the sound of scratching and the occasional ‘pop’ of a tick caught between thumb and forefinger.
‘Come on,’ yelled one of the homunculi gathered at his feet, ‘We haven’t got all day, you know. We got holes to go to, stuff to, wosname, hunt, stuff to gather.’ There was a gentle hum of agreement; the crowd were getting restless. ‘Best get on with it,’ thought the man on the rock, ‘Before they start chucking those sharpened flints about.’
‘Fellow cave dwellers,’ he began ‘I have brought you here today to disclose my latest, life-enhancing invention, which, I am sure you will agree, will revolutionise our very way of life.’
‘I hope it’s better than that flippin’ limestone boat you had us all in last week,’ said a man in goatskin. ‘Damn lucky we could all, what do you call it, swim.’
The man on the platform gave goatskin one of his hardest stares before stepping triumphantly to one side in order to reveal the fire that flickered behind him. ‘Behold,’ he said proudly. There followed a long silence, which at first he took for awe, but which was, in fact, fuelled by indifference. Eventually goatskin spoke for the crowd.
‘Very nice, I’m sure,’ he said. ‘What’s it do?’
‘It is fire!’ yelled the inventor. ‘It gives you warmth and light. It scares away the savage beasts of the night.’ The man in the goat skin leaned forward and rested a hairy forefinger on the glowing embers. It took him a moment to recognise the sensation as pain and, by the time he removed it, his finger was a blackened stump. ‘And,’ continued the firestarter, ‘You can cook with it.’
‘Cook?’ cried a woman examining goatskin’s charred digit. She turned to face the crowd. ‘He’s making words up now. What is cook?’
The man turned back to the fire and, with a flourish, withdrew a hunk of mammoth from the flames on the end of a stick. ‘Try that,’ he said, handing it to the woman, who took a rapid mouthful and then screamed in pain, waking the baby at her breast.
‘Not the stick,’ said the man. ‘Try the meat.’
Warily, the woman eyed the meat. ‘It’s all black,’ she said.
‘A little well done I’ll admit,’ he acquiesced. ‘I’ve not quite got on top of the timings yet, but just give it a try.’
Reluctantly, she gnawed on the wizened flesh and chewed. ‘It’s like meat,’ she said at last, ‘But hot. No blood.’ Whereupon she grabbed what was left on the stick and ate it before it could be taken from her.
‘Hold on,’ cried a woman from the back as the melee at the front began to subside. ‘How long does this cooking take?’
‘Depends on the size of the animal,’ answered the man on the rock. ‘I told you, I haven’t quite got it worked out yet. An hour or two I should imagine.’
‘So, who’s going to do that then?’ she continued. ‘I mean, whilst you’re all out hunter/gathering and we’re stuck in the hole looking after the kids, keeping the place tidy, who’s going to do this cooking?’
And even as her voice trailed away on the prehistoric breeze, every male eye in the gathering turned towards her.
‘Oh, I get it,’ she said, ‘Charming. Bloody charming…’