Stone Age Man
“This is where I leave,” said Thoősa.
“Ah don’t sulk. Just because you couldn’t find yourself a story.”
But Thoősa did not choose to explain. She took her bearing from the distant peak of Olympus and set off in the opposite direction. Hylas ran after her and gave her a push. “You can’t. We are reconnoitring.”
“No we’re not,” she said with open contempt. “Typhon only sent us this way to find out his Fate. He’s superstitious, isn’t he? Why else does he need a ‘lucky mascot’? He’s as superstitious as the rest – wanting to know his horoscope before he goes into battle.”
“Typhon makes his own fate!” bawled Hylas leaping in the air.
“Oh louder, please. Someone on Olympus may not have heard you. …The Fates might not have woven a fate for Typhon, but they’ve woven yours, haven’t they? - one for Typhon’s little armour bearer, for Typhon’s Boy. Well, Typhon wants to know what yours is, because he thinks you and he will both be there together: on Olympus: fates intertwined like honeysuckle. Aaaaah. Perfect couple – if he doesn’t eat you between meals. I hope you’re going to tell him what you found out: that it’s all just chaos and mess. Tell him there’s only one thing you found out from the Fates: we mortals all end up dead. Yay! How lucky are we?”
Hylas ran at her, head down, in a crude imitation of Typhon. Thoősa side-stepped him. “I’ll send the Laelaps to hunt you down!” he shouted after her.
“Why? I’m nobody. The Laelaps hunt down Nobody? That’s a paradox too. Make the sky fall in – Kplaxxity! Remember to be standing underneath when it does, horrible boy.”
Into this argument strayed the two elderly people they had seen in the cave. Heads wavering on the thin stalks of their necks, faces gentle and sad, they tottered tearfully downhill, hand-in-hand. Their clothes had faded and felted so much that they might have just hatched from that woolly nest of the Fates. Their colour was almost gone. Even the zebra they were leading along was in black-and-white rather than colour.
“Children, children. Don’t squabble,” murmured the old lady …or possibly her husband, for their voices were a the same quavering pitch and they had been together for so long that they began or ended each other’s sentences without knowing it. “Mortal life is too short. And it makes Father sad to see it – fighting, unkindness.” There was a smell on them that Thoősa knew she had smelled before if she could just remember where.
“We saw you at the cave. Were you looking for… someone?”
“We go there every time we are visiting our father. He told us not to, but if we could just find out what’s in store…” When they said ‘visiting’, Thoősa thought they meant a grave, a dead relation: there was such an air of tragedy about the old folk.
They said their names were Deucalion and Pyrrha, and Hylas (to show he was not just some ignorant boy) said, “What like the ones how built the Ark?”
“That’s right,” said the old man, head nodding like an ancient apple bobbing on a bough.
“We sailed the ark, you know?” said Hylas, oh so casually. “From Crete to … somewhere or other.”
That was it, thought Thoősa. There was where she had smelled the mixed savours of rotting fish, animal dung, salt and sawdust. But how was that possible… that these two people could have walked hand-in-hand down most of the corridors of history?
“So did we, boy, but long ago. Ah, so long ago,” said the Captain of the ark.
News of their old ship brought a nostalgic smile to the faces of Deucalion and Pyrrha. “We had so many animals back then.” And they laid shaky hands on the flank of the last remnant of their own voyage (a descendant of the original zebra, naturally.) A thousand years had passed since Deucalion and Pyrrha loaded one breeding pair of every species aboard the ark and set sail on the Flood. Their smiles were the saddest Thoősa had ever seen, as though a great undertow of tears was bearing them along. These milky eyes had watched the whole world drown: every man, woman and child.
“Turned them back into the mud he made them from,” said Pyrrha. ”Such a waste. Such a waste of all his efforts. We made replacements, but they were never as lovely as the ones Daddy made.”
Hylas knew better than to expect the ramblings of old people to make sense. Old people cup a boy’s face in their dry, wrinkled hands, say he’s beautiful and has skin like rose petals. Then they talk about arthritis and rheumatism and how they remember everything and nothing …when they ought to be talking about the black-and-white stripy beast and where someone could buy one as a pet.
Deucalion cupped Hylas’s face in a dry and wrinkled hand and said, “You have the look of an immortal. Are you?”
“Oh stop, stop!” cried his sister Pyrrha. “He’s a child, look! We cannot ask a boy to make that kind of sacrifi-?”
Thoősa was quick to assure them that Hylas was neither immortal nor perfect. Not a bit perfect, in fact. She asked what they had been looking for in the Cave of the Fates.
“A happy ending, dear,” said Pyrrha laying a papery hand on Thoősa’s sleeve. “A happy ending for our poor dear Father,” and she began picking strands of wool from the girl’s clothing.
Hylas was anxious to break away, be gone, return to Monstro and tell them… tell them that the gods would burn… the Heroes, at least…. one of the Heroes, at least. He did not want to creep along at the speed of two old dodderers - even if they did have a zebra and had once saved the whole animal kingdom by sailing their ark over the Great Flood.
But Thoősa was thirsty for details. How had they kept the lions from eating the deer; how had they kept their grain from rotting; had they taken along spare animals to feed the carnivores – (“We caught fish, dear, there was a great deal of water.”) “What was the worst part?” Thoosa asked.
“The loneliness,” said Pyrrha with a look in her eyes that said the loneliness had never quite gone away.
“Not after you made the new people, though!”
Deucalion lifted his shoulders and let them drop in an expression of supreme despair. “They were not the same, not the same. The ones our father made were so delicate, so crafted… such sensitive faces.”
Hylas felt himself getting left behind. Thoősa could do that, expecting a person to know things, expecting them to remember, when the world was stuffed full of stories. “Wait,” he said.
“Deucalion and Pyrrha are the…”
“I know. I know. I’m not stupid. They built the ark. But who did they make? How can you make a person?”
So Pyrrha described how, after the Flood, they had prayed to the gods (the old gods) and been told, Throw the bones of your mother over your shoulder as you go, and there shall spring up life.
“Of course it’s unspeakable - to throw about the parts and pieces of your own mother! We refused, naturally.”
“Oh. Right.” Hylas did nothing to hide his disappointment.
“But as soon as we understood…”
“… that they meant the bones of Mother Earth…”
“We picked up every stone we saw and threw it over our shoulders. And there they were.”
“There what were?” asked Hylas wide-eyed.
“Women when Pyrrha threw them.”
“Men when my brother threw them.”
“The little pebbles made children… though the wolves ate rather a lot of them. That was sad.”
“Can you still do it?”
The old people blinked at the force with which Hylas shouted it. “Well? Can you? Can you still do it?”
Deucalion frowned. There was a pouncing roughness about the golden haired boy, for all his godlike beauty. “My back, you know. We cannot bend down as far as we once could…”
Hylas ran this way and that, startling the zebra, grabbing up stones and rushing at Deucalion with them. He spotted loose shale on a sloop and gathered up an armful of the flat, grey stones, like a servant clearing plates, and brought them back to Deucalion. “Do it.” He brought none to Pyrrha - he was not interested in women – but he clawed up stones and boulders to give to Deucalion, until his hand were bleeding. “Do it. Make men!”