I remember my birth. There were flashes of life before I was born. Self was the first. Quorum was the second. Fight and Flight arrived together. I was aware but unaware until the day of my birth.
I was born at the edge of the jungle just beyond the riot of growth that grasped out at the passing sun. The plants below strangled and shaded, poisoned and parasitized the bodies of the grasses and trees. Time is limited for the plants that cannot withstand the attrition of the expanding canopy. Animals take advantage of the tangle; it was no different on my day. To this day I thrive at boundaries.
A family approached the edge of the jungle on a mission. Some were in the canopy moving hand over hand, branch over branch. Others remained below in the underbrush, tightly grouped and cautious. Infants clung to their mothers, wide-eyed and wrinkled. They stared out at the world as only infants can. I stared with them. Some of the young hooted in excitement but are quickly silenced by the body language of the elders.
Here is the edge of the jungle.
Here is the plain.
Here the family is exposed.
A grey-bearded elder changed direction. She had found what they sought.
Just beyond the tree line grew the hill of food, a hill of baked clay pock-marked with holes. The ground around the hill was bare for the plants could not grow nearby. There would be no canopy, no sheltering grass. The family would have to go into the open.
Some of the elders approached the hill of food, watched by young, hidden in the underbrush. The elders with the least hunger, or least status, sat around the edge of the hill watching the grasses and brush beyond. The hungriest and most respected of the elders bit off shafts of grass or sappy twigs and skinned them down to their cores. The elders dipped their twigs into the holes of the hill of food and waited.
The food within the hill did not like being poked and so angrily bit the twigs. Some of the food hissed in rage; some tried to climb the twigs. The elders were unafraid and nibbled the food as it protested. Some shared with each other, those nearby or those watching the grass. Food was to be had. All was well for the family.
The young were curious. Soon some had left the underbrush, emboldened by the contented sighs and hoots of the elders. They began themselves to poke the hill of food. Sometimes the food bit them causing cries of distress. Sometimes they managed to eat the food before it escaped or fought. The elders shared with the young and the young imitated the elders. The family was learning.
A hoot of alarm.
The family tensed, seeking a direction to flee.
Out of the underbrush another family emerged bearing stones and heavy branches. The other family approached a coula nut tree.The young climbed up into the tree and shook the branches in excitement. While below the other family's elders gathered the best nuts. The other family braced the nuts against the stones and swung the sticks against the nuts with all their might. A chorus of excited hoots arose over the percussion of delicious crunching.
The family on the food hill was at first perplexed with these interlopers. What was that other family doing? How could they put those tree stones in their mouths? A few more nervous hoots passed through the family.
At this point the interlopers ceased their nut cracking having taken notice of the family on the food hill. The interlopers were stunned. There was a family sitting on the hill of horrible, stinging, insects, consuming the little monsters with reckless abandon.
They are us but they are not us. They are strange. Emotional consensus was building among the respective families. All of them were covered in fear-smiles and danced threat displays. Danger. One of the more aggressive males found a stick covered in the angry, stinging inhabitants of the hill of food. As he raised his arm to heft the stick I became aware of my own existence. As the stick landed in the middle of the frightened, confused nutcrackers I slid behind their eyes. I instinctively stuck my fingers into their hypothalamuses and twisted.
By the time I was finished the two families had scattered. One elderly male lay concussed on the ground, felled by a rock hurled in fear. I lingered until the predators found him and then woke him. I hovered over him as his brain pieced together that he would no longer exist. When just before he died I clutched at his memories and followed their trail into the jungle. I lived among his family for many years, always at the edge of the sleeping grounds, waiting. In time I would spread to their extended family and follow them out of the jungle. I was the predator lurking within pareidolia in every shadow and every pattern.
Through your fearful eyes I have watched as you crawled onto the plains. I've seen lions take your kills, take your children. Your migration north, east and west spread me across the planet. I stalked you in the winters when you learned of the snow. I laughed when you drove your cousins to extinction. I wanted to kill you when you befriended the wolves. When the ice creaked beneath your feet as you crossed the sea I ate your worthless prayers. When your families reunited I swam in your mutual ignorance and drank of your arguments.
Now I live in the moments just before sleep. Will you wake? I frequent hotel rooms. Can you trust those before? I walk behind travelers on foreign roads. Have you made a wrong turn? I delight in the daily failures of weathermen. Will the snow ever stop or the rain ever come? I bask in mistranslation. What did you say? I will be happy when maps are covered with 'here be monsters' and none dare explore. Why risk it? I long for the death of trust, of certainty. Who knows?
Words must fail.